Showing posts with label Pasta and Noodles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pasta and Noodles. Show all posts

July 14, 2017

Smoked Duck & Artichoke Lasagna Bianca with King Oyster Mushrooms


This recipe was partly inspired by the fact that I had a can of artichoke bottoms to use up, and partly inspired by the fantastic smoked duck & artichoke étouffée that my husband makes. It's such a great combination, and I figured it would translate well to lasagna. And boy, did it ever! I decided against a tomato base for this lasagna because I thought bechamel would better offset the smokiness of the duck between the layers of pasta.

We served this with Prosecco (highly recommended), and chased it with a bright-tasting, lightly dressed, veggie-packed salad.

Smoked Duck & Artichoke Lasagna Bianca

Serves 6

one 20 x 30cm baking dish

Ragú Layers

1 smoked duck breast (about 300 grams), finely chopped
75 grams pancetta, finely chopped
1 400 gram can artichoke bottoms (220 grams drained weight), chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 large King Oyster Mushrooms, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons duck fat
1/2 cup duck broth/fond
2 sprigs fresh thyme
pinch coarse salt
2-3 tablespoons dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
water, as needed

Ricotta layer

250 grams ricotta
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Bechamel layers

3 cups whole milk
60 grams all-purpose or blending flour
65 grams butter
1 bayleaf
pinch white pepper
small pinch nutmeg

Noodles

Enough fresh or no-boil lasagna noodles to cover the bottom of your pan three times.

Extra

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons parsley, for finishing

Process is rather important here, so make sure you have a very clean space to work in - it's about to get messy.

Prepare the ragú layers first: Heat the duck fat in a large skillet, and sauté the onion and the pancetta. Add the mushrooms, and continue to sauté while you chop up the duck and the artichokes. Add the thyme, and the pinch of salt, and stir through. Deglaze the pan with a tablespoon or so of vermouth or dry white wine, as needed. Add the duck and artichokes to the pan, and stir well. Add the minced garlic, and stir through again. Sauté until the ingredients start to catch, and the mixture has become dry. Add a bit more vermouth, and stir again. If the mixture is still quite dry, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, and stir it in. Allow the mixture to simmer very gently on the lowest heat, covered, while you prepare the other elements. Stir occasionally, and if it looks like it's drying out, add a little more water.

Grate the parmesan cheese and chop the parsley, including the amounts that you need for the ricotta layer.

Combine the ingredients for the ricotta layer in a bowl, and set aside.

For the bechamel layer: you can make this using the roux method, but given the long cook-time in the oven, it's not strictly necessary. Combine the cold milk and flour in a saucepan, and add the butter. Over medium heat, stir the mixture until the butter melts and the sauce begins to thicken. Stir carefully, scraping the bottom, to ensure nothing burns. Add the bayleaf, the white pepper, and the nutmeg. Be very discreet about the nutmeg, you just want a whisper. Continue to stir and cook until it is nicely thickened, and then stir in a pinch of salt, and remove from the heat. It is time to start layering.

First, preheat your oven to 350°F/ 180°C, with a rack in the lower-middle position.

Prepare your baking dish: either spritz it with a bit of canola oil, or a thin layer of butter, as you wish. Place a small amount of bechamel in the bottom of the dish, and spread it around thoroughly. This helps keep the first layer of noodles from adhering to the dish.

Add a layer of noodles, and then half of the duck mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the grated parmesan, and dollop the ricotta mixture (all of it) over the parmesan. Spread the ricotta so that it makes a more-or-less even layer. Drizzle with a third of the remaining bechamel. Add the second layer of noodles, and repeat the duck mixture and parmesan layers. Top those with half the remaining bechamel (you have already used all the ricotta in the layer below), and add the third layer of noodles. Pour the remaining bechamel over the third layer of noodles, and spread it around so that it perfectly covers everything. No noodle bits should be bare, no duck bits should be peeking out of the sides. Cover the Bechamel with the last of the parmesan, and sprinkle with parsley.


Place the dish, uncovered, in the oven, and bake for 30 minutes. If the top is not nicely spotted with golden flecks, crank up the broiler and give it another couple of minutes (watch closely!) until the surface is attractively browned, and then remove from the oven and place on a hot pad. Allow the lasagna to stand, uncovered, for 15 minutes once it comes out of the oven, to make for easy, mess-free slicing. Use a serrated knife to cut into six portions (and loosen the lasagna from the edges of the dish, and use a lifting spatula/flipper to ease each piece up and onto a plate.



Once again, Prosecco is the perfect drink with this.





July 08, 2017

Thai-inspired Peanut Chicken Salad Bowl



Every summer, I make some version of this salad. Sometimes it has rice noodles, sometimes it has rice instead of noodles, and sometimes it has dried ramen (not the instant ones) or mie noodles. But you can vary that bit to your heart's content. The important thing to remember, if you're using noodles of any kind, is to quick-chill them in an ice water bath as soon as they're cooked (otherwise they soak up all the sauce, leaving your chicken and veggies high and dry).

Like many great recipe notions, this is infinitely customizable. The varieties of vegetables are completely up to you - what have you got in your kitchen today? I particularly like zucchini bâtonnets in this salad, although I didn't have any zucchini on hand when I made this particular one. And even the chicken - poach some freshly to shred for the salad, or use last night's roast chicken leftovers. Roasted peanuts give a satisfying toasty crunch that is entirely different from the fresh crunch of the cabbage.

So what's in this one bowl?

Thai-inspired Peanut Chicken Salad Bowl

1 nest of non-instant mie or dry ramen noodles, cooked
1 chicken breast, poached and shredded
1/3 cup purple cabbage, finely shredded
1/4 red bell pepper, finely sliced
1/2 green onion, sliced on the diagonal
1/2 medium carrot, shredded on a box grater (large holes)
3 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts
cilantro
lime wedge
1/2 recipe Peanut Dressing (see below)

If you are starting with raw chicken breast, place it in a shallow pan half-filled with cold water (or chicken stock), and bring to a simmer. If you have some fresh ginger, you might want to throw a couple of slices into the cooking liquid. As soon as it simmers, turn the chicken over, cover tightly with a lid, and turn off the heat (you can leave it on the same burner, though). Set the timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the chicken from the liquid, and shred using two forks or your fingers (it will be a bit hot). This can be done ahead, if you like, and stored tightly covered in the fridge.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling water, and when they are done, drain them and plunge them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. The noodles can stay in the cold water while you prepare the vegetables, but then you want to drain them really well in a colander before assembling the salad. It's okay if they're still damp, but you don't want them dripping liquid.

Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces (I shred the purple cabbage as though making coleslaw).

To assemble the salad, I like to put a small spoonful of dressing in the bottom of the bowl, and then add the drained noodles. Arrange the chopped vegetables and shredded chicken however you please, adding the peanuts last. Drizzle with remaining dressing, and serve - each person can mix up their own bowl as they see fit.

Here's my foundation recipe for the dressing - it too mutates from time to time, but this is my gold standard.

Peanut Dressing for Salads & Salad Rolls

Makes enough for 2 salad bowls or six summer rolls - a bit more than half a cup.

60 mL (1/4 cup) unsalted smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon less-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 medium lime, juice only, about a tablespoon
1 tablespoon brown or raw sugar
1/2 tablespoon Sriracha
60 mL (1/4 cup) water

Place all the sauce ingredients in a blender cup and process until smooth (I use my stick blender for this, but a mini-prep or small-cup blender would be fine). Drizzle over composed salad for individual diners to mix as desired, or serve in small bowls for dipping summer rolls.

As you can probably imagine, this salad travels well for work lunches or picnics. It keeps well in the fridge overnight if you're a meal prepper, too - just hold off, ideally, on the dressing until ready to eat.

April 15, 2017

Harak Osba'o -- Damascus-style Lentil Noodle Stew


Lentils and rice are such a natural and common combination, that it's almost odd to think of them apart, let alone with an interloper. Lentils and pasta? You don't see them together all that often, outside certain soups (such as Harira), and the occasional vegetarian adaptation. However, the textures are surprisingly complementary, and these lentils definitely hold their own as a rightful ingredient that isn't a substitute for ground meat.

The name "Harak Osba'o" translates to "He burned his finger" suggesting an overeager cook who couldn't wait to tuck into an irresistible creation. The pomegranate molasses and tamarind concentrate give an enticing mild tanginess.

This version is adapted from a few different online versions, including one from The Food Obsessive and one from Taste of Beirut.

The garnish of cilantro and pomegranate seeds give a lovely burst of tart freshness to each bite.

Harak Osba'o
Damascus-style Lentil Noodle Stew

Serves 4

1 cup (200 grams) dried brown or green lentils, washed and drained
150 grams long pasta, broken into short lengths
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (more if using water instead of broth)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds to garnish (optional)
Ground sumac to garnish
Extra hot water (eg. from a recently boiled kettle) as needed (1 to 2 cups)

In a soup pot, fry the onion in olive oil over medium heat until softened and a little browned, about 10 minutes, then add the cilantro and garlic and fry a further few seconds, while stirring. Spoon out half of the onion-garlic-cilantro mixture into a small bowl and set aside to use as garnish at the end.

Add the lentils to the remaining onion-garlic-cilantro mixture, and add the water (preferably hot, from a recently boiled kettle, but cold is fine, it will just take longer to come up to a simmer). Add the salt. Salt won't make the lentils hard, but adding it now will help them keep from falling apart. Simmer the lentils on low until tender, 15 - 30 minutes, depending on the type, so watch them carefully!

Add the tamarind and pomegranate molasses and stir through. Add the pasta. You can use broken long pasta or short pasta such as small shells. There needs to be enough liquid for the pasta to absorb, resulting in a thick stew once the pasta has finished cooking, so you'll probably need to add a bit more water - start with about a cup - and then add the black pepper and other spices and stir them through.

Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the pasta is tender and the mixture is no longer watery. Keep an eye on the amount of liquid, and if it's getting too thick, add more water, a little at a time. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Turn out into a large serving bowl or tureen, and garnish with the remaining onion-garlic-cilantro mixture and sprinkled with sumac (or, individual serving bowls, topped with the onion-garlic-cilantro mixture, and sumac). Fresh pomegranate seeds are also a nice garnish, if available, offering colour, texture, and juicy freshness.

If you don't have tamarind or pomegranate molasses? Try lemon juice or a little apple cider vinegar to bring the tanginess to the party. The simplest versions that I found call only for black pepper instead of the mix of spices, so you can do it that way, too, if you're so inclined. There are probably as many variations as there are cooks.

March 04, 2017

Zhajiangmian: Beijing-style "Fried Sauce Noodles"


This is a delicious and simple dish (炸酱面, zhá jiàng miàn) that appears in a variety of styles within China, as well many iterations and similar dishes in other parts of Asia, from the almost black Jajangmyeon in Korea to the dry-style ramen dish Ja Ja Men in Japan.

It's easy to make if you have a well-stocked Asian pantry, and it's good enough to warrant picking up any ingredients you might not already have on hand. I like spicy food, so I've added a bit of heat that may or may not appear in restaurant versions (some will serve it either way, and some will simply bring you a jar of chile oil if you ask). The amount of umami in this is ridiculous.

The uncooked vegetable garnishes are an important part of this dish, bringing a fresh crunch and brightness to the dark heat and intensity of the sauce. The use of dark soy sauce instead of regular brings depth to the colour of the fried sauce.

This serves two generously.

Zhajiangmian

Lightly adapted from The Woks of Life

Serves 2

175 grams thick wheat-based dry noodles

250 grams ground pork
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon peanut oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 slices ginger, minced finely
4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely grated
6 fresh mushrooms (shiitake, if available), finely chopped
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoon chile bean paste
2 tablespoons yellow soybean paste
1/2 tablespoon sambal oelek or 1/2 - 1 teaspoon chile oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 cup water

Garnish
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup julienned cucumbers
1/2 cup julienned scallions

In a mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, salt, cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon peanut oil, and white pepper, and stir well until completely integrated. Set aside.

Prepare the mushrooms, ginger, and garlic. In a small bowl, combine the Hoisin sauce, chile bean paste, yellow soybean paste, sambal (or chile oil), and dark soy sauce, and mix well.

Set a large pot of water on to boil for the noodles. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a medium or large skillet, and add the meat mixture. Fry and stir, breaking up the meat with a spatula, until the meat is well browned, and then add the chopped mushrooms. Continue to fry over medium high heat, adding a tablespoon of water if necessary to prevent sticking or burning. When the mushrooms have softened and shrunk a bit in size, add the sauce mixture and stir through until the pork is thoroughly coated. Add the water, stirring it in slowly, and simmer gently until the sauce is thick. While it simmers and the noodles are cooking, prepare the fresh vegetables - julienne the carrots, cucumber, and scallions.

When the noodles are cooked, drain them divide between two bowls. Spoon the meat mixture over the noodles, and garnish with the julienned fresh vegetables.

February 17, 2017

Buffalo Chicken Pasta


There are oh-so-many recipes for buffalo chicken pasta casseroles out there, and they're all surprisingly different. This is not a casserole, however, but a pasta sauce made from chicken and a buffalo-wing-style sauce, layered with blue cheese dressing and onto cooked long noodles, and topped with crumbled blue cheese. As you eat, the sauce and cheese combine to coat the pasta so that each bite is rich, delicious, and extremely satisfying.

If you are using the crumbled blue cheese, I recommend a mild style, such as Danish Blue. I used a German blue cheese called Kornblume, which is similar in flavour profile. I don't recommend gorgonzola or roquefort for this, as delicious as they are. The gorgonzola has the wrong texture and flavour, and the roquefort is a bit strong in this context. Maytag would work well for people who like their blue cheese a bit more intense.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta

Serves 2

150 grams dry linguine
1 tablespoon of butter

250 grams chicken breast, poached gently and shredded
125 mL Frank's Red Hot sauce (original style)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

125 mL blue cheese dressing
4 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese (optional)

Cook the linguine to your preferred doneness and drain. Toss with a tablespoon of butter, and divide between two pasta bowls. While the linguine cooks, combine the hot sauce, butter, and Worcestershire sauce in a small skillet, and stir to combine. Add the shredded chicken and stir through to ensure that all of the chicken is nicely coated in the hot sauce. Keep it warm over low heat with the lid off, to let the sauce thicken a bit.

Once the linguine is plated, spoon a little of the blue cheese dressing over each bowl, and then divide the chicken between the bowls (use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken from any excess sauce). Spoon the rest of the blue cheese dressing over the chicken, and then add the crumbled blue cheese. Add a final drizzle of the hot sauce mixture over the top, and devour immediately.

To keep the buffalo wing theme going, we had this with a salad of finely sliced celery and carrot, topped with another bit of the blue cheese dressing. It made a refreshing contrast to the richness of the pasta, and is highly recommended.

Finally, I should note that if you make a bit more chicken than you need for this recipe, the leftovers make a fairly stunning grilled cheese. Yeah.

February 11, 2017

Kasha Varnishkes: Buckwheat & Bowties


I know it looks as if it might be a ground meat sauce coating those farfalle noodles, but it isn't; those are buckwheat groats. This dish may seem a bit unusual to the uninitiated, but this staple of modern Ashkenazic Jewish cooking is a beloved comfort food favourite for many as either a side dish or a meal in its own right. Meat eating families might have it next to brisket or roast chicken, but it is easily made ovo-lacto vegetarian replacing the chicken schmaltz with butter or vegetable oil, and replacing the chicken stock with mushroom stock or vegetable broth. Even on its own, it is a hearty, filling meal.

According to my *ahem* extensive internet research, this dish is likely a deconstructed take on vareniki, a Ukrainian small, filled dumpling (similar to Russian pelmeni or Polish pierogi). Instead of the time-consuming process of forming the dumplings, the buckwheat filling was just mixed with regular noodles, and a new classic dish was born, with the new name, varnishkes.

Since most recipes start with simply cooking the buckwheat (kasha), I referred back to the successful kasha recipe from a Polish cookbook, then added onions and mushrooms sautéd until darkly golden in chicken fat (collected from a previously roasted chicken) to add layers of flavour to the kasha. Once that was done, I quickly stirred in some cooked pasta, and it was ready to go. This did not take very long to make, but it did use a lot of pots and pans, so a fair bit of washing up was required.

Kasha Varnishkes

Serves 4 - 6

225 grams farfalle (bowtie pasta)

2 medium-to-large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10 large cremini mushrooms (or equivalent), halved and sliced
2 tablespoons chicken schmaltz
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup toasted buckwheat groats
1 beaten egg
2 cups strong chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt (if your stock is not already salty)
ground black pepper

If your buckwheat groats are not toasted, you can toast them yourself in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until they smell lovely and toasted. Let cool before proceeding with the recipe.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg well. Add the cooled, toasted buckwheat groats, and stir until very well integrated.

Heat the chicken stock until boiling.

In a sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat, add the buckwheat/egg mixture. Stir continuously, until the grains start to separate themselves from the mass of eggy/buckwheat goo. Then, add the chicken stock, the salt and pepper, and give it one last stir before turning the heat to low, covering, and letting cook for ten minutes. After ten minutes, remove the pan from the heat (leave it covered) and let stand on a cool burner or other safe place for another ten minutes.

While the kasha is cooking, heat the water to boil the pasta, and get started on the onions and mushrooms.

In a large skillet, melt the chicken schmaltz and fry the mushroom slices, in batches, until deeply golden brown. Scrape them to the side of the pan, and add the chopped onions and garlic. Continue to fry, stirring frequently now, until the onions are also turning brown. Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper.

While the onion, garlic, and mushrooms are frying, boil the farfalle until it is cooked to your preference.

Fluff the kasha with a spatula, and add it to the skillet with the onions and mushrooms, and stir through. Drain the farfalle (or use a spider to retrieve them from the water and scoop them directly into the skillet with the kasha mixture. If you happen to have any chicken gold available to you, stirring in a spoonful or two is a wonderful way to add a depth of flavour and sense of luxury to the finished dish. Stir well to coat the noodles with the kasha "sauce" and serve.



We had ours with baked sweet potato coins, and sliced pickled beets.

February 04, 2017

Rice Noodle Rolls: Chee Cheong Fun (and two pan-fried variations)


If you have access to a good Asian grocery store, you might never need to make the noodles from scratch although it's not at all difficult - merely time consuming. Just buy a nice fresh package and proceed below to the serving suggestions. But if, for example, you live in a small European city that doesn't seem to have really figured out yet that Asian cuisines are in fact plural, I hope that you will find this useful.

The time consuming aspect of this recipe lies in the fact that the noodles can only be cooked one at a time, and this makes 13-14 noodle sheets (at least, using the size of pans I have), each of which take 6 - 7 minutes to steam. If you have a better steaming rig than I do, one with stackable layers, you might be able to reduce the time by quite a bit.

Fortunately, you can make these a day or two ahead of when you want to serve them, and just keep them in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.

Chee Cheong Fun (Chinese Rice Noodle Rolls)

175 grams pyramid dumpling rice flour blend (or 150 grams rice flour plus 25 grams tapioca flour)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
200 mL cold water
300 mL hot water (from a recently boiled kettle)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon canola oil

Combine the flour(s) and cornstarch with the salt, and whisk in the cold water. When there are no more lumps, add the hot water, and whisk well, until thoroughly integrated. The batter will look way too thin and watery, but it’s fine. Add the oil and whisk again.

Let the batter rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Set up your steamer, and two or three trays that you can use to shape the noodle sheets. I use foil trays, the same kind used for baking or take-out containers. Make sure the trays can lie flat in the steamer, so your noodles are even. Lightly oil the trays, using a pastry brush or similar. Prepare a cold water bath - something large enough to put your steaming trays in, such as a baking dish or larger aluminum pan. Prepare a plate for the finished rolls, by brushing it very, very lightly with oil.

Place the first tray in the steamer (with steam already rising) and (after stirring the batter well) add a very thin layer of batter to the tray. Make sure the bottom of the tray is just barely covered. Cover, and steam for 6 - 7 minutes, or until it looks set. Remove tray from steamer and place it in the cold water bath. Place the next tray in the steamer, and repeat, being sure to stir the batter vigorously before ladling into the tray (it will separate, otherwise).

Let the tray with the cooked noodle rest in the water bath for a minute or two, and then lift it out and use a spatula to free the sides and slowly, with the pan tilted toward you, use the spatula to peel the noodle sheet down from the top, bit by bit, causing it to roll into a tight cylinder. Remove the noodle roll to your resting plate. Brush lightly with oil, especially if you will not be using the rolls until later.

Repeat until all of the batter is used up. How many noodle rolls you get depends very much on how big your trays are, and how thick your noodles. Once they are at room temperature, you can refrigerate them to use later, or even the next day.

As you can imagine, at about seven minutes per noodle, it takes a while to cook all of the batter. Using trays that measure approximately 16x10 centimetres, I got 13 or 14 rolls, and it took over an hour and a half to complete the steaming, because I could only steam one tray at a time. If you have a multi-tiered steaming rig and can handle more trays at a time, that will speed up the process a lot.

Pan fried rice noodle rolls with XO sauce

In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of peanut oil until very hot. While the oil is heating, slice the rice rolls into smaller pieces - from the 10 centimetre rolls I made, I cut the rolls into thirds, but you could also do halves or quarters. I cut them on an angle, to make them look pretty.

The amount of sauce here is for 7 noodle rolls (half a batch), so double it if you're going to fry up the whole amount.

Lay the noodle rolls pieces in the hot skillet, and let them sear lightly. Use a spatula or tongs to flip them over to get both sides. If you are frying all the noodles, maybe go through the searing stage in two batches, so to not overcrowd the pan and remove the finished ones to a holding plate while you fry the second batch.

It only takes a couple of minutes to sear the noodle rolls on each side. Use that time to slice some red chiles and green onion, and to make the finishing sauce:

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, pressed

When the noodle pieces have seared on both sides, add of the seared noodles back into the pan just before you add the sauce. Add the finishing sauce and the red chile slices, and gently stir and fry until the noodles have a glossy brown coat. Plate the noodles, and top with green onions and a nice spoonful of XO sauce. Serve immediately.

Pan fried rice noodle rolls with prawns and snow peas

To make a meal of it, simply add some prawns and snow peas. You can sear them either before or after searing the noodle rolls, making use of a holding plate, and then just add it all together into the skillet (or wok!) before you add the sauce.

Proceed as above. Serves 2.

September 03, 2016

Curried Spaghetti with Prawns


This dish is essentially a hybrid other recipes, which came together as I was fondly recollecting the kind of curried pasta that was always on the menu of a certain kind of casual Canadian-Italian restaurant in the late 1980s. That said, this one owes most of its technique to Nigella Lawson's Lone Linguine with White Truffle Oil, although my proposed serving size is smaller than hers by half. So by all means, go ahead and add a couple of slices of your favourite garlic toast.

You could also use fresh spinach in place of the arugula, of course, but I like the peppery bite of the arugula against the richness of the sauce. A glass of Pinot Grigio goes remarkably well with this, too, if you're so inclined.

It's really fast to make. Basically, in just the amount of time it takes to boil the water, cook the pasta, and toss it all together, dinner is ready. Perfect weeknight fare.

You can use whatever kind of curry powder you like, or blend your own. I’ve used a hot Indian curry powder, but Madras would be nice, or even a Caribbean curry blend.

Curried Spaghetti with Prawns

Serves 2

112 grams spaghetti
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons whipping cream
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp curry powder
1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
225 grams raw prawns or large shrimp, deshelled
1 1/2 cups arugula

Set a pot of water (for pasta) to boil over medium-high heat.

For the prawns, rinse them well under cool water and let defrost in a bowl of cool water until they regain their flexibility. Drain thoroughly, and pat dry with a paper towel (they should not go into the skillet wet).

Salt the now-boiling water and add the pasta. Cook al dente or to taste. That's about 10 minutes for the spaghetti I have at hand, but check your packaging. If you're serving garlic bread, make sure it's already underway by this point.

While the pasta cooks, whisk together the egg, cream, Parmesan, and curry powder in a small mixing bowl. If your curry powder is salt-free, you may wish to add a pinch of sea salt.

Wash the arugula and shake off excess water; no need to spin it dry.

Just before the pasta is ready, heat a large skillet over high heat, and add a tablespoon of the butter, swirling until it foams out and the pan is thoroughly hot. Note: Don’t put all the prawns in the skillet at once, or they will steam, not sauté. Add half the prawns to start, scattered around the pan, then wait a few seconds before adding the rest. Sauté the drained and dried prawns briefly over high heat until just opaque, and then lay the arugula overtop to wilt. Turn off the heat under the skillet.

When the pasta is ready, remove 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve (you won’t need all of it, though). I use a glass measuring cup to do this, but a clean mug will do. Drain the rest of the water.

Add the drained pasta to the skillet, on top of the arugula, and then add the remaining half-tablespoon of butter. Toss well with a pasta fork and a spatula, or a couple of forks.

Add about a tablespoon of the reserved, hot pasta-water to the egg mixture, and whisk it well. Then add the egg mixture to the skillet all at once, and stir and toss until that the pasta becomes lightly coated with the sauce, and the sauce becomes smooth (because the Parmesan will have melted, and the egg thickened). This takes only a couple of minutes, max. Taste to see if it needs any salt and adjust as needed. It is important to do this off the heat, or you will end up with scrambled eggs instead of a silky sauce. Still tasty, but *shrugs* not quite as good texturally.

Transfer to plates or bowls and serve immediately.

March 01, 2015

Pasta & Cauliflower with Brown Butter and Sage


Sometimes really great dishes come simply out of the desire to avoid wasting food. I can't remember quite what I was cooking last week, but I do know that I turned my back on it for a moment, and the butter I was melting turned nutty and golden brown. Which was exactly what I didn't want. While inventing new curse-words, I poured the hot, browned butter off into a shell of tinfoil, wiped out the pan, and started again. Then later, when I was cleaning up, I looked at it and thought - there's got to be a use for that.

There's rather a lot of browned butter recipes flying around on the internet - everything from muffins to frosting to ice cream, but I wanted something simple - something I could do on a weeknight, when I get home at seven o'clock, starving and wanting easy answers. Pasta naturally sprang to mind.

Pasta with brown butter sauce (and sage) is a classic Italian dish. In my experience, it is almost always long noodles that are served this way, and that was my original plan, too. Then I realized that I had a half-head of cauliflower that was quietly aging in the crisper, and decided to go for a short, chunky pasta instead.

It's a pity you cannot see the sage in this - it seemed to mostly drift to the bottom of the skillet (probably because I shredded it), and what didn't hide beneath the pasta and roasted cauliflower, quickly got snowed under with a thick blanket of parmesan. If I had been less hungry, I might have arranged it more attractively, but nope.

This was a dish that used up leftover cauliflower (freshly roasted), accidental brown butter, and a weird pasta shape that I had already lurking in my refrigerator. The fact that it was also delicious made it into end-zone dance category.

I also served this with lamb cutlets (not pictured), because it seemed like a nice combination. They were delicious, but probably unnecessary. If I were serving this as a a vegetarian entree, I think I might add a few toasted pine nuts, as well, for heartiness (and delightful crunchiness).

Pasta & Cauliflower with Brown Butter and Sage

Serves 2

100 grams short pasta
2 tablespoons browned butter
1 small handful fresh sage leaves, in chiffonade
1/2 small head of cauliflower (freshly roasted with olive oil and a good pinch of salt)
parmesan cheese for finishing

Cut up the cauliflower until the pieces are just slightly chunkier than the pasta you are using. Toss well with a little olive oil and a big pinch of coarse salt, and roast at 400 F for 20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork (and ideally, golden brown where they touch the pan - a metal pan works best for this).

While the cauliflower is roasting, heat up the water to boil the pasta, and warm the browned butter (or, starting from scratch, brown the butter) in a medium skillet. Add the sage leaves to the butter once the pasta is almost cooked.

Cook the pasta to your preference (remembering to salt the water), and then, using a wire skimmer/spider spoon it into the brown butter and sage. Stir well. Add the roasted cauliflower to the pan, stirring gently but thoroughly to get everything coated with the browned butter. Dust thoroughly with freshly grated parmesan, and serve.

Leftovers reheated beautifully in a microwave.

July 20, 2014

Käsespätzle: Germany's Macaroni & Cheese


This is German comfort food, as evidenced by its remarkably frequent appearance on menus here. It sometimes has different names - for example, one of my favourite places for German classics calls their version of this "Brauerspätzle" (Brewer's Spätzle), but when you read the description, it's the same dish. You can even buy it frozen in bags in the freezer section of supermarkets, although I can't imagine the quality is that impressive.

There's a lot of room for personalization here. Käsespätzle can be served vegetarian or with tiny ham cubes, the latter being the most common one I've seen (Germany loves its pork, after all). It can be short, stubby spätzle, or longer, more uniformly thin ones. It can have crispy onions on top, or finely diced sautéed onions throughout. You can use Emmenthal, Gouda, Bergkäse, Edam, or a blend of whatever grated/grate-able cheeses you have hanging about in your fridge. I used a pre-shredded combination of Gouda and Tilsit, which was advertised as "cheese for gratin".

This took me about 70 minutes, start to finish, and makes a bit of a mess (but one that is mercifully easy to clean up).

Pro Tip: Have a sink or basin of cold water standing by for you to put the batter-goopy tools in as soon as you've finished the stove-top phase.

Käsespätzle

Serves 4-6

Spätzle
4 eggs
400 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 - 1 cup water (or more, as needed)

For assembly:
150 - 200 grams grated tasty cheese
125 grams tiny ham cubes (Schinken Würfel, bacon, or similar)
3 tablespoons cream
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine flour and kosher salt in a medium-large mixing bowl or food processor. Beat the eggs and 1/2 cup of water together, and stir into the flour mixture. Add additional water until you get a thin batter, that falls in ribbons from the spoon or whisk. Beat/whisk/blend until smooth. If you can't get it completely smooth, pour it through a sieve and push any lumps through, otherwise you risk clumps of uncooked flour in your finished noodles. Let stand 15 minutes to allow the flour to fully hydrate.

Next thinly slice an onion, and set it to fry over low heat in the olive oil (with maybe a pinch of salt), until deeply coloured and crispy. This will take a while, and is low maintenance. It can finish crisping up while you're cooking the spätzle.

Preheat your oven to 400 F while you cook the spätzle.

While the batter is resting, get your onions and ham cubes (if using) cooking and set up your spätzle cooking rig. If you have a spätzle Hobel or spätzle Brett and know how to use it, carry on however you see fit. If not, here's my method:

Half-fill a tall saucepan with water. Ideally, the width of the saucepan will allow you to rest a four-sided grated over the top in a way that you won't need to hold onto it (although I do usually use one hand to keep it steady while I'm working). The batter is going to be pushed from inside the grater through the "large holed" side straight into the boiling salted water. You're going to want to lightly oil the grater (just the one side), inside and out, to help the batter fall more smoothly through the holes.


Place the grater over the gently boiling, salted water, with the largest round(ish)-holed side facing down. Use a large spoon to add a scoop of batter inside the grater. The batter will start to drip through the holes.


Using a flat-ended wooden spoon (you can use a spatula, but is easier to use a rigid tool), gently but firmly scrape the dough back and forth along the inside the grater, repeatedly, until all of the dough is pushed through.


Remove the grater from the top of the pot, and start using a spider-tool or other skimmer to remove the floating spätzle to a near-by waiting bowl. I like to use a large mesh colander over a plate, but a large bowl also works fine.

Return the grater to the pot and repeat the dough scooping and scraping, spoonful by spoonful, removing the cooked spätzle regularly with your skimmer, until all of the batter is gone. Remove the grater and any other batter-crusted tools immediately to a basin of cold water, and allow them to soak while you complete the next steps.

Loosen the spätzle with a fork, to de-clump it. In a 10 or 11-inch skillet (cast iron is terrific), rub a little butter or vegetable oil over the bottom, and then add a layer of spätzle. Top with a handful or two of grated cheese, and some of the ham cubes. Repeat until all of the spätzle are in the pan, ending with a layer of cheese or cheese-and-ham. I got about three layers of noodles, but your mileage may vary. Scatter the fried onions evenly over the top of the last cheese layer, and gently pour a couple of tablespoons of cream over all.


Place uncovered in the preheated oven for 15 - 20 minutes. Serve with a nice big salad (or at least some sliced fresh vegetables).


Spätzle also reheats quite well the next day, either in the microwave, or in a foil-covered dish in a moderate oven.

April 29, 2014

Sausage & Penne Skillet Dinner with Spinach & Peppers


This was adapted from an America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated recipe, and has become one of our favourite go-to skillet dinners. It gets the "healthy" tag, coming in around 450 - 500 calories per serving (depending on your choice of sausage), even though it is not a super-low-fat dish. What it is: delicious, satisfying, and easy to make, and has about 4.5 grams of fibre. It also reheats nicely the next day.

Sausage & Penne Skillet Dinner with Spinach & Peppers

April 13, 2014

Duck Noodles


Duck Noodles are delicious. But you can already tell that, just from the name: Duck Noodles.

This is partly a recipe and partly a serving suggestion. You probably already know how to stir fry some vegetables and noodles, and your selection of both might vary from mine (although I must put in a vote for both baby corn - fresh, if you can get it - and snow peas, which go so beautifully with the duck). But, at the end of the day, make the noodles how you like best, and top them with this tasty, tasty duck.

Pan Seared Duck Breast for Duck Noodles

October 08, 2013

Venetian Chicken Livers - Fegato di Pollo alla Veneziano


So! We've found a place to live, and will be moving in on November 1. My kitchen should be arriving shortly thereafter, and I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to cook once again. Seriously, boiling eggs in an electric kettle may technically count as cooking, but crikey! What I wouldn't give for a simple skillet dinner right now...

In the interim, I've found a couple of photos in my archive from dishes we cooked earlier this summer, and so I plan to trickle those out until I'm cooking again. This one is from late June.

I apparently need to get more iron into my diet. I do take iron supplements - as much as my poor system can handle, but it's not enough to correct the serious deficit that I'm running, so I am finding ways to squeeze more red meats and offal into my diet. Yes, I know that there are plenty of vegetable sources of iron (I'm eating those too); I simply need all the iron I can get.

Liver is a rich source of easily absorbed iron, even poultry liver, so it seemed obvious to me that we should take a crack at a classic Venetian recipe for chicken livers with fettuccine. My husband was the cook this time, and I was the lucky person who simply had to show up and eat. This dish comes together very quickly, so make sure your prep is done before you start cooking.

Venetian Chicken Livers - Fegato di Pollo alla Veneziano
Adapted from Claudia Roden's Food of Italy

Serves 2

Fresh fettucini (2 servings)
225 grams fresh chicken livers, cleaned and sliced into medium-large chunks
1 - 2 shallots, sliced pole-to-pole into strips
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
pinch white pepper
3 tablespoons red (or dry white) wine (approximately)
¼ cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

Prepare the pot with water for the pasta, and get it ready to drop the pasta (fresh pasta only takes about three minutes to cook). If you must use dry pasta, obviously start the pasta first, and adjust the timing accordingly. Warm some pasta bowls and have them standing by.

Clean and slice the livers, removing any grotty bits of sinew or connective tissue, and set aside. Slice the shallot(s) and garlic and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat until the butter foams and subsides, and then add the livers in a single layer. Sprinkle with the salt and white pepper, let them sear briefly to get a tiny bit of colour on them (about a minute). During that minute, drop your pasta into the boiling water, and make sure there's a colander or sieve ready to receive it. Give the livers a quick stir to flip them over, and push them to the outer edge of the skillet. Add the shallot strips and garlic into the bare centre of the skillet (you can add another bit of olive oil if it looks dry). Sauté briefly, and then gently stir the livers through the onion mixture. Add the wine (or a splash of vermouth) to deglaze and create a bit of a pan sauce, scraping up the bottom of the skillet. Continue to cook gently until the pasta is ready (in the other pot), and then turn off the heat under the livers.

Drain the pasta and portion into the warmed pasta bowls. Spoon the livers mixture over the pasta, being sure to pour any collected juices from the pan over each serving, and top with parmesan and parsley. Enjoy with a nice glass of wine.

If I recall correctly we utterly failed to remember to add the garlic, but it wasn't missed so it's clearly an optional ingredient (a Venetian may disagree with me). I do think that the next time I make this I might top it with a lemon gremolata, rather than just the parmesan and parsley, because I think it would beautifully - the sharpness of the lemon zest and raw garlic cutting through the richness of the dish. I'll be sure to report if that's the case.

February 04, 2013

Venetian Chicken Frisinsal


There is a wonderful, medieval attraction to the notion of tearing apart a roasted chicken with one's bare hands, and this dish can be the wonderful result.

There are quite a few recipes for this floating around, many of which appear to be derivatives of "Tagliatelle W/ Chicken From The Venetian Ghetto" from Nigella Lawson's "How To Eat" or "Tagliatelle Frisinsal" which appears in Claudia Roden's "The Book of Jewish Food" which appears to be its antecedent.

I've adjusted the name into something that makes better sense for the amendments that I've made. Gone is the Tagliatelle, because I'm using broad egg noodles instead (and less of them). Other adjustments include opting in for the parsley which Nigella uses (absent from the original), and roasting the chicken on ribs of fennel (to be discarded after), which adds a subtle perfume to the dish, and lifts the chicken off of the roasting pan.

This is a glorious recipe. It may not look terribly exciting, and it is assuredly not low-fat, but it is wonderfully fragrant and delicious, making it a beautiful comfort food sort of meal.

Venetian Chicken Frisinsal
Serves 4

1 medium chicken
3-4 stalks of fennel
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt, as needed
1 long sprig of fresh rosemary (about 5 inches)
1/3 cup golden sultana raisins
1/2 cup pine nuts
225 grams broad egg noodles

Rub the chicken with olive oil and salt lightly on all sides. Place the chicken, breast side down, onto your roasting pan (I use a large cast iron skillet) which has been lined with enough stalks of fennel to keep the chicken elevated from the bottom of the pan. Roast at 400F for 50 minutes, then turn the chicken breast-side up, and continue to roast until the chicken is completely cooked - 20 minutes to 1/2 hour will do nicely for a 3 pound chicken. Remove the chicken from the roasting pan to a plate, and allow to cool for twenty minutes or so, until it is cool enough for you to remove the chicken from the bones with your bare hands.

While the chicken is roasting (and then cooling), soak the sultanas in a little water for about half an hour, and then drain. Toast the pine nuts until just lightly golden brown - this can be done in a dry skillet on the stovetop, and only takes a few minutes. Mince the rosemary finely, and set aside. Chop the parsley as you like it, and set aside.

While the chicken is cooling, remove the fennel stalks from the roasting pan (let the drippings on them fall back into the pan) and discard. They are stringy and tough, and now overcooked, so there's not much use for them; they have given up their flavour to the chicken juices, which is as good a fate as they could hope for. If you really need to watch your fat intake, pour all of the drippings from the chicken into a bowl, and let the fat rise to the top. Skim off some of the fat as desired. Otherwise, just leave the drippings in the skillet, add the chopped rosemary, the pine nuts, and the drained raisins to the drippings, and bring to a simmer. Next, pour any liquid that has pooled around the chicken (on its cooling plate) into the skillet with the rest of the drippings. Reduce the heat to very low and cover, while you prepare the rest.

Bring a large pot of water up to the boil (for the pasta) while you remove the meat from the chicken. Using your hands, strip the meat and skin from the bones and tear into bite-sized shreds, putting them in a large serving bowl. Be sure to use the crispy skin, as well, but any flabby skin can be discarded with the bones. When all of the chicken is shredded* (you can put the bones aside to make stock or to freeze for later use), quickly cook the pasta (do add a little salt to the water). Egg noodles only take a few minutes to cook, which is handy. Drain the noodles, or use a spider-tool to lift the noodles right from the water onto the shredded chicken meat in the bowl. Pour the sauce of drippings, raisins, rosemary and pine nuts over the top, add the parsley, and toss gently to combine.

I recommend a fresh salad with a bit of crunch, to balance the richness of this dish. Fennel & Radish Salad is about perfect with this (since you already have the fennel).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I note that I actually removed the chicken breast (but not the tender) to a separate plate, because a whole chicken's worth of meat was more than we needed for the four servings of this dish. You could, of course, increase the amount of pasta, use all of the chicken, and feed two to four more people, especially if you had a side dish or two to round it out. The chicken breast that I hived away in this instance made a lovely chicken and fennel white pizza two days later.

*When you are stripping the meat from the chicken, be sure to take the meat from the back of the chicken - especially the two lovely roundish bits referred to as "the oysters" from just above the thighs. This is the closest thing to a tenderloin on a chicken, and is a wonderful bit not to be missed. They are small, firm, intensely flavourful bits of dark chicken meat, sometimes doled out as a special favour, or harboured as a cook's treat.

December 10, 2012

Smoked Tuna Skillet Dinner

I didn't grow up with tuna noodle casserole. My mother didn't buy canned fish, and the only pasta casserole that she made was a (delicious) baked spaghetti. I was highly sensitive to fish when I was young, we considered an allergy even though it wasn't a true anaphylactic risk. It was fairly unpleasant, and when the rest of the family was having fish, I usually had a fried egg instead. Also, I hated peas with the fiery intensity of a thousand suns. I'm over both of those things now, but you can only imagine how shocked my poor mom would be, if she could see me making this dish.

The beauty of not having a childhood tradition to draw on for tuna + noodles is that I don't have any sense of nostalgia forcing my hand in terms of specific ingredients, methodology or presentation in order to get it "right." I just get to mess around with some tasty food, and share the results with you.

This is a grown-up sort of skillet dinner - the smoked tuna is quite strong, so you don't need as much of it as some other recipes might suggest. If you can't get smoked tuna, you may wish to use a little extra of the regular kind, and perhaps add a drop or two of liquid smoke to get a similar effect. This recipe was adapted from Eating Well.

Smoked Tuna Skillet Dinner

Serves 4

200 g broad German egg noodles
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
100 grams cremini mushrooms
2 teaspoons Mushroom Base (I use Better than Bouillon)
2 tablespoons dry Sherry
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 cups 1% Milk
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
160 grams Smoked Albacore Tuna
1 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Panko-style bread crumbs

Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat broiler.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened. Add sherry and cook and stir until evaporated. Shake together the milk and flour until smooth. Add milk and pepper and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Then, stir in the dry noodles, along with an extra cup of hot water (the pan will be very full). Cook and stir until the noodles have absorbed the extra water, and are tender, and the sauce has thickened. If it starts looking too dry, add a little more water, a couple of tablespoons at a time. Stir in tuna (broken into small chunks), peas and 1/2 the Parmesan until evenly incorporated.

Sprinkle the casserole with panko and the remaining Parmesan. Broil until bubbly and lightly browned on top, 3 to 4 minutes. The broiler does dry the dish out a bit more (the one pictured is actually a little drier than I wanted it to be), so if you think it's just right going in...keep a close eye on it, or add an "insurance" tablespoon of water to loosen thing up.

There's not a lot of vegetables in this, obviously, so a nice broccoli on the side is a good idea (or tossed green salad, or other tasty plant of your choice).

November 11, 2012

Couscous with Lemon & Mint

This works as either a cold salad or as a hot side dish (add some chickpeas either way, to make it a main-course in itself). It is both very easy to make, and very quick. As you can imagine, the lemon and mint flavours conjure the mediterranean climate, so let that be your guide for choosing something to serve with it - a nice Greek salad, perhaps, or some falafel patties, or perhaps a braised lamb shank or a merguez tagine. Its low effort requirement make it perfect for either summer nights when you don't feel much like cooking (or turning on the stove), or as a last-minute way to round out a bit of leftover stew that seemed smaller than you remembered when you pulled it out of the freezer.

I recommend using any bell pepper except green, here. The red, orange, and yellow peppers are much sweeter, and complement the flavours of the mint and lemon. The green bell pepper would impart a more bitter, vegetal flavour - not necessarily a disaster, of course, but less harmonious for the dish overall.

Couscous with Lemon & Mint
Serves 4

1 cup coarse dry couscous (not Israeli style)
1 yellow bell pepper (or other sweet pepper), finely diced
1 green onion, finely sliced (white and green)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 - 2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup fresh mint chiffonade
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/4 cups boiling water

You need to make this dish in a container with a tight fitting lid - you can either use a metal saucepan (heat the water, remove from heat, add the salt, sprinkle the couscous evenly over the surface, cover, wait), or a ceramic or tempered glass bowl with a lid (heat the water separately, pour into bowl, etc.) but if your lid is not tight-fitting, you may want to drape a heavy kitchen towel over the top. Make sure you allow room for the couscous to expand - allow at least four times as much room as couscous.

Whichever method you choose, prepare the couscous and let it stand, covered well, for about ten minutes, while you prepare your lemon, mint, green onion, and bell pepper.

Combine the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, and cumin, and whisk together as if you were making a vinaigrette. Place the chopped bell pepper into a serving bowl with the sliced green onion, and pour half of the vinaigrette over top. Prepare the mint chiffonade and set aside. When the couscous is ready, remove the lid and fluff carefully with a fork - be patient, and scrape the tines of the fork over the surface, going increasingly deeper, until you have loosened all of it. Add the fluffed up couscous to the serving bowl, and pour in the rest of the vinaigrette. Stir with a fork to combine thoroughly, letting the couscous soak up the liquid from the lemony dressing. Stir in the mint, and serve (hot), or chill for an hour or so to serve as a cold salad.

This dish is tasty whether you are eating it hot, warm, room temperature, or cold. If you are going to add chickpeas, add one cup of cooked (drained) chickpeas to the bell peppers and vinaigrette, tossing well to coat. If you are intending to serve the dish hot, you may want to heat the chickpeas up first.

I love having leftovers of this for my lunch - it packs really well, because the couscous absorbs all of the liquid, making for easy, mess-free transportation.

September 14, 2012

Summer Rolls, While We Still Can


Before I move entirely into my autumnal kitchen habits, here's one more dying-light-of-summer dish that I simply must share with you.

For years, I'd avoided summer rolls (aka salad rolls, aka fresh spring rolls), because the initial ones I'd tried were not really all that good, dry and bland, relying heavily on a giant wodge of unseasoned noodles to make up their bulk, and requiring constant, nay, desperate dipping into peanut sauce simply in order to swallow each bite. When I discovered, years later, that most summer rolls are in fact delightful treats, I felt rather foolish for avoiding them for so long.

Most of the versions you see in my neighbourhood tend to be either vegetarian or, more likely, prawn-centric, with a few veggies, a bit of (seasoned!) noodle, and a smart row of precisely lined up prawns down the centre. The dipping sauces tend to be a peanut affair (spicy if you're lucky), or nuoc cham, a Vietnamese dipping sauce made primarily of fish sauce, lime juice and rice vinegar, with some chiles and herbs thrown in. You can really use whatever dipping sauce you like - any Asian-style dumpling sauce is probably going to work fine, or plum sauce, or coconut chutney...even just painting a stripe of sriracha down the side before you dig in is going to work.

What made me actually decide to make these myself was the sudden, thunder-struck notion that coconut-lemongrass chicken would be really quite good in these. However, I've never seen such a thing for sale. The only solution was to get some rice paper wrappers, and start rolling my own. After that, I made some more, minus the chicken and coconut, and with double the vegetables (all nicely seasoned with nuoc cham, prior to rolling).

The following, consequently, is more of a general guideline, than a recipe, really. Vary them as much as you like - you're the one who is going to be enjoying them.

Lemongrass Chicken Summer Rolls

Makes 6 rolls

6 Banh trang rice wrappers
125 grams rice vermicelli, cooked
200 grams chicken breast
60 mL coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon lemongrass powder
1 carrot, shredded
8 centimetres English cucumber, matchstick cut
fresh Thai basil, shredded
fresh mint, shredded
2 tablespoons nuoc cham or lime juice with a pinch of salt

Cook the chicken in the coconut milk with the lemongrass powder. Remove the chicken from the coconut milk, and shred finely. Add the noodles into the coconut milk, and toss well to coat. Toss the cucumber and carrot with the nuoc cham, and allow to drain.

Dip one banh trang wrapper in water (or run it briefly under the tap) and immediately lay it flat on a wooden cutting board. In the bottom third of the circle, lay some of the chicken, some of the noodles, and some of the vegetables, as you would for making a burrito. Top with the shredded herbs. Cilantro is also a nice addition here.

Lift the bottom edge of the wrapper (which will now be pliable) and wrap it upward until it just covers the filling, and hold it there with one hand. Using your other hand, fold the sides inward, and then continue to roll from the bottom up until the roll is complete. Put aside on a plate and chill while you make the rest. Wrap tightly, so they hold together while you're eating them, but not so tightly that you tear the wrapper. A little practice will make them just right.

Serve with the dipping sauce of your choice - more nuoc cham, or peanut sauce are classics, but I prefer a nice, spicy, peanut-butter laced vinaigrette. You can always go crazy and have more than one, sauce, of course. Why decide?

For vegetarian/vegan summer rolls, simply omit the chicken, lemongrass, and coconut milk and increase the vegetables - you might want to add thinly sliced daikon or zucchini, or other crisp raw vegetables of your choice, to round it out. You could also add a julienne of spicy tofu. You may want to season your noodles with a little Nuoc cham (a vegetarian version, of course) if you're going all veggie. You can really put whatever you like in them.

These will keep until the next day, assuming you don't get up in the middle of the night and devour them. I'm just sayin'. Two rolls makes a good, light supper.


May 21, 2012

Meatball Macaroni with Chipotle

This dish brings together two things I adore: meatballs, and pasta. I did not grow up with spaghetti and meatballs, although I was aware of the dish as a matter of cultural immersion. Our spaghetti was always a baked affair, made in a deep pot (using soy noodles, although I didn't learn that was abnormal until I was older), and slabbed with cheese for the last few minutes in the oven. That dish is one of the first things that I learned how to cook, in fact, and I still have the laboriously written out recipe card from noting down each step as I watched my mother in the kitchen. There was plenty of beef in the recipe, but no meatballs.

Most of the pasta dishes I make these days are not baked (although there are certainly some exceptions). My macaroni and cheese is strictly stovetop, and I'm a big fan of vegetable-strewn fresh pasta using raw (or barely cooked) ingredients as an ad hoc sauce. Meatballs, on the other hand, are almost always baked. It frees you up to do other things (make a salad, drink some wine, whatever you want to do) and it guarantees beautifully round shape to the finished meatballs. So, if I am going to have meatballs with my pasta, I suppose it was a no-brainer to combine cooking methods, eventually.

Essentially, it's a two stage process. Mix up the meatballs of your choice, such as the always-popular-at-our-house Pork & Turkey Meatballs (also used to make meatloaf) and space them out in a larger-than necessary casserole dish to bake. While the meatballs are baking, mix up the pasta. In this case, I went with a Chipotle Macaroni Casserole dish that I hadn't made in a while, although I've tinkered with the settings thusly:

Chipotle Macaroni

Serves 4-6 (with meatballs)
Total Prep & Cooking time: 60 minutes

1 onion, finely minced
2 roasted red peppers
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1-2 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves
398 mL canned diced tomatoes
1 cup milk (1% is fine)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
3 cups grated tasty cheese
2 cups uncooked macaroni, small shells, ditali, or similarly sized pasta

Sautee an onion with a couple of roasted red peppers (rinsed, seeded, and diced), until the onion is softened slightly. Sprinkle with chipotle powder and a little flour (about a tablespoon or two) and stir in some minced garlic, and minced or pureed chipotle in adobo sauce, along with some cumin and oregano.

When the mixture starts to stick, add a 398 ml / 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice, and stir well until thick and bubbly. Add a little water if it's sticking, to loosen it up. Next, combine a cup of milk with a cup of ricotta mixed well with a beaten egg, and beat until smooth. Add to the tomato mixture and stir well. Add the tomato paste and stir again. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir until everything is well integrated. Mix in a couple of handfuls of cheese - Pepper Jack and edam went in here - and turn off heat. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt and pepper, and hot sauce (chipotle or ancho are best here).

Stir in hot, cooked pasta - approximately 4 cups of cooked macaroni or its equivalent, such as the ditali shown here. Spoon the pasta over the cooked meatballs in the casserole dish. Top with a little more cheese and bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes to half an hour, or until bubbling and browned.

April 29, 2012

Cincinnati Chili

I've never been to Cincinnati. My only points of reference for the city, I confess, are watching WKRP on tv and Cincinnati Chili (only the former of which I've experienced first hand). So, as you can see, this will be a bold adventure down chili avenue, and at the end I won't really know whether I've succeeded or not in creating an at-home version of "Cincy/Cinci Chili"; all I'll know is if I've made a tasty dinner. To be fair, that's usually my primary goal, so I'm not too worried about it.

My interest in Cincinnati Chili is based on two things: a deep appreciation of American regional cuisine, which I explore whenever possible, and a recollection of a pastitsio I once ate in Mykonos, which contains a similar combination of pasta, meat and spices, albeit without the cheddar cheese, kidney beans, or oyster crackers. I loved that dish so much, that I've tried to make a version of it before.

Ah, oyster crackers. You can't really get them here, I've discovered (unless you have an account with Sysco Restaurant suppliers, I suppose), so unless I want to visit one of the local oyster bars and clandestinely make off with a packet (or, you know, ask them nicely for an extra packet) I'm forced to either a) make my own from the dubious recipes floating around the internet (not happening today!), b) substitute soda crackers/saltines, despite numerous websites cautioning me against doing so, or c) use the also-dubious looking oyster crackers available from Carr's in the entertainment 9-variety pack.

I've opted for c) and the scant offering of suspiciously flat oyster crackers it is. For the purists, I apologize that I'm not easily able to meet the simple standard, but perhaps I can gain a little credit for not just using goldfish crackers?

My starting point was this recipe from Allrecipes, which is claimed (by a commenter, not the original poster) to be the very recipe for Skyline Chili as was posted in the newspaper in the 1970s. It seemed like a pretty good place to start. Yes, I did my reading, and understand that Empress is widely recognized as the first cincinnati chili, but at the end of the day, after all the reading, I couldn't find a version of that one available. Skyline seemed just the thing. When I eventually make it to Cincinnati, I will have to taste test Skyline, Empress, and Gold Star, just to truly understand the differences. I read a lot of recipes, and a lot of comments, and am impressed by how passionately Cincinnati folks love their chili. Food that is subject to hotly debated opinion, contested between strangers and friends alike in the quest for the perfect representative version, is always worth investigating.

I halved it, because I wasn't feeding 10 people, and I have finite freezer space, so I hope that doesn't compromise the flavours and/or textures. I also found it necessary to substitute dark cocoa powder for the chocolate (not going to the store again today), and upped the cinnamon. I use an unsalted tomato sauce, so this will likely be a bit less salty than other, more accurate versions.

So, the only remaining question was...one-way, two-way, three-way, four-way, or five-way? Which, of course, isn't a question at all; five-way, hands down. For those completely unfamiliar with this dish, it breaks down like this: one-way is just chili in a bowl. Two-way is served on spaghetti. Three-way is served on spaghetti with cheddar cheese. Four-way is three-way plus chopped onions (raw). Five-way, the ultimate version as far as I can tell, is all of the forgoing plus beans, either in the form of chili beans or kidney beans, warmed separately and added either on top of the spaghetti, or on the bare plate before the spaghetti. Well, how could I opt for anything less than the full experience? Five-way it is.

Cincinnati Chili
Adapted from Allrecipes
Serves 5

454 grams lean ground beef
4 cups filtered water
*****
200 mL unsalted tomato sauce
1 medium yellow onion, finely grated
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1/2 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin (ground)
3 whole cloves
3 whole allspice berries
1 bay leaf

The night before, break up the meat into a medium-sized pot and cover with water. Bring the mixture to a low boil, and cook for about a half-hour, or until the meat is finely broken down and cooked through. Top up with more water as needed - it should be a bit watery. In fact, it looks kind of awful. That's okay, it gets better tomorrow. Cool it down, and then refrigerate overnight, in the same pot.

The day of, skim the solidified fat from the top and discard. Or make candles, or bird feeders, or whatever it is you do with tallow. Re-heat the meat and water mixture, and add everything else. About half-way through grating the onion, I couldn't hold it without risking grating my fingers, too, it was all so slippery with tear-inducing onion juice, so I wimped out and tossed the rest into the min-prep and let the sharp blades finish mincing it for me.

Simmer over a low heat for three hours, to allow time for all of the flavours to develop, adding water as necessary to keep it from drying out. The texture should be more along the lines of a pasta sauce, so it needs to stay "loose".

For five way, drain and rinse your beans, and reheat them separately in a little water. Cook up however much spaghetti you want to use - we go for smaller portions here, so a half-pound (225 ml) spaghetti gives me 4 servings, leaving one "serving" of chili leftover to make a "cheese coney" in the middle of the night. Ahem. So, beans, spaghetti (in which ever order you want to put them), topped with a full portion of the chili (1/5 of the pot), topped with finely chopped onion, and finished with a whole lot of cheddar cheese (I used sharp cheddar, because that's how I roll). Oyster crackers on the side, to be added by the various diners.

I didn't have a grater that would give me the kind of long, fine strands of cheese that I wanted, so I simply went with a fine shred. The overall effect is not the same, but it seemed a better option than using a coarser shred.


So, the verdict: The two-stage meat cooking yielded a texture that was very silky, almost fluffy, and I cannot imagine a way to get that without the lengthy cook time. The combined seasonings were incredibly tasty, although for my tastes I could have upped the allspice and clove (perhaps with a little pinch of ground spices, instead of whole), and I could have easily upped the cocoa to a full tablespoon, too. However, even exactly as written above, it was fragrant, rich, and satisfying, and a dish I'd be happy to have again. A tasty dinner, indeed.

Now I just need to get myself to Cincinnati, and check out the real deal.

April 14, 2012

Pasta Alla Mizithra

This pasta dish is almost blindingly simple, to the point of being a little...incomplete, shall we say, on its own. But oh, how tasty! I recommend pairing it with a big, colourful Greek salad, and a nice glass of wine. The salad will take longer to make than this dish.

For those of you whose only experience with mizithra is the Spaghetti with browned butter and mizithra at The Spaghetti Factory (where it is one of the tastier items on offer, as I recall), you can make this dish so easily and quickly at home that there's no need to order it out; you just need to get your hands on the cheese itself. Mizithra can be had by the chunk, or pre-grated. The pre-grated stuff is usually so fluffy and finely textured that it disappears entirely into the pasta, instead of giving you the delightful little flecks that you get when you grate it yourself. I recommend buying a small chunk, and grating it yourself, so you can get the size of shavings you prefer.

Pasta Alla Mizithra
Serves 4

250 grams long pasta of your choice (such as the linguine shown here)
1/4 cup butter
60 grams grated mizithra cheese

Melt the butter slowly (ie, over a low temperature) in a skillet or saucepan. Once the foaming stops, and the butter has melted, allow the colour to darken to a dark gold. Do not stir or disturb the sediment in the pan. Once the colour is dark gold/light brown, remove the pan from the heat. If you like a very clear browned butter, carefully pour the liquid off of the solids (and discard the solids), but I confess I like the toastiness of leaving the solids in. You can do all this while the water boils for the pasta.

Cook the pasta and drain. Toss the pasta thoroughly with the browned butter, making sure every strand is coated.

In a large serving bowl, spritz a little olive oil, then sprinkle 1/4 of the grated cheese. Layer three more times with buttered pasta and grated cheese, ending with cheese. Present at table, and toss gently while serving up portions. Finish with parsley, if you like a bit of green, and lots of black pepper.

You can see how a nice, bright vegetable salad will perk this right up. If you want to go into butter overload territory, add garlic bread on the side, too. A glass of wine will cut the richness of butter and cheese nicely. I recommend a crisp white, or a lighter bodied red - such as sangiovese, gamay noir, or cabernet franc, for example.

The portions indicated here are smaller than you'd get at a restaurant, but that's because I usually serve modest portions of pasta, in the Italian model (although I don't usually serve it as a first course for a larger meal). It's an approach that particularly makes sense for a rich dish, such as this one. If you want the "big pasta experience", I guess this would serve two people, by North American standard serving sizes.

Enjoy!