Right now, I’m sure many of you are forming your Thanksgiving plans–choosing recipes, composing grocery lists, plotting your course to the Thursday feast. I am too; we’ll be driving to DC to spend the holiday with my daughter, son-in-law, and precious grandson. Plenty to be thankful for, in that one sentence alone.
We live in uneasy times. I think we always do–it’s in matters of degrees. The impact of global unrest, of violence, fear, loss and anguish has felt extreme to me of late. We all feel it, its heaviness, its power to constrict. I remind myself to keep an open mind, and even more so, an open heart. We’re all connected, part of a great family living on this planet. An open heart keeps those darker forces at bay, keeps the creative compassionate flow vital and moving between us.
Before I sign off, and wish you all love and peace, I want to share this totally retro recipe.
It’s similar to Swedish Meatballs, although there’s no nutmeg or allspice in the mix. It’s more of a Stroganoff–the meat seasoned with grainy mustard and Worcestershire. The beefy gravy is folded with sour cream. So 1960s. I can remember my mom making these, serving them in a chafer for festive gatherings with frilly toothpicks. On the flipside, I also remember the ghastly 1970s boxes of Hamburger Helper with a stroganoff version that she would simmer in a skillet for supper.
I hadn’t thought of them, these meatballs in sour cream, which, despite their “throwback” quality, are really quite delicious. I was reminded of them by a woman in a cooking class that I teach at Magdalene House. We were discussing what we could prepare for our December class, and she asked if we could make them. (potato latkes, too!)
Why not? Last week, I resurrected my recipe, jazzed the sauce with oyster mushrooms (!) and tested ’em out at our potluck. I served the stroganoff meatballs over a bed of buttered egg noodles.
Woo-hoo! Everyone went crazy, devouring every last one. “What inspired you to make them?” “My parents used to serve these at every party.” “Oh my goodness, I haven’t eaten this in years.”
The dish is hearty and potent, triggering memory, delivering comfort and taste. Well-worth bringing back—from time to time. You might like to serve a batch at a festive gathering of your own.
Here’s my wish, which is for myself, as much as for you:
As we move into the season of plenty, but also a time of rush and stress, remember to take time for yourself and your loved ones. Savor the moments together. Breathe deeply. Express gratitude. Feel joy. Be light.
3 pounds ground chuck
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons coarse grain mustard
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, mix and mash everything together until well-incorporated. The beef mixture will feel lighter and have a glossy look when that is achieved.
Form small (as in smaller than a golf ball) meatballs (again using your hands, or a small ice cream scoop) and arrange them on baking sheets.
Place into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside while you make the sauce.
(After they cool, you could place them into freezer bags and freeze for later use.)
Makes 6 dozen meatballs
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
8 ounces oyster mushrooms, torn or chopped
1/2 cup cooking sherry
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 quart beef stock
1+ cup sour cream
1 bunch green onions or chives, chopped
Place large pot on medium heat and melt the butter. Saute the onion until translucent, then add the mushrooms. Saute until golden. Add the cooking sherry and stir well. Let the sherry reduce, then add the flour. Stir vigorously to coat the mushrooms and onions.Let the flour gently “cook” for about a minute. Pour in the beef stock, stirring well. Season with salt, coarse ground black pepper. The brown gravy will begin to thicken.
Add the cooked meatballs. Simmer for 5 minutes. Fold in the sour cream, making sure it melds into the gravy. Taste for seasoning. Garnish with chopped green onions or chives.
Serve over a bed of egg noodles.
Serves a crowd–15 or more guests
Even though the days have been heating up, nights have ushered in a welcome cool here in Nashville. Not quite sweater or jacket weather—but soon. Autumn officially began last week, and you can sense the shift. Clear dry air, different quality of light, and just yesterday I noticed the tinge of orange and yellow on the maple trees. I’m ready.
With the onset of fall, I’ve been prompted to clean and declutter. Part of my “As above, So below” philosophy: straightening out a crammed closet, getting rid of unused stuff, doing that “deep cleaning” and organizing. When I bring order externally, it brings order within. It also sheds what I call “psychic dead weight.” Those two bundles of clothes I took to Goodwill? Ah, already I feel lighter.
You gotta keep the path clear for creativity’s flow!
And in the kitchen, I’ve been embracing the braise. Beef brisket for potluck. Cider pork shoulder for a cooking class. And today, chicken breasts in beer with apples, pears, and shallots.
The style of cooking suits not only the season, but also my temperament these busy workdays. Take a meat and brown it, building a foundation of flavor in a heavy duty Dutch oven. Cover it, and let it simmer, undisturbed, into succulence, while you go about the affairs of the day.
The beauty of this chicken dish is that, unlike big roasts, it doesn’t take hours to braise. Less than one hour, really. Inspired by a recipe on Cooking Light, I used beer as the braising liquid. I don’t drink beer, but I always seem to have a random bottle or two in my fridge, leftover from one of our potluck gatherings.
Add in shallots, coarse grain Dijon mustard, sliced apples and pears, and you have a luscious dish that makes me think of Belgian farmhouse cooking. As the beer simmers and reduces, it tenderizes the chicken. It melds with the fruit and mustard, transforming into a sauce imbued with the ale’s malt and hops.
There are a number of sides that would be excellent with this. Roasted root vegetables. Creamy polenta. Wild rice. You want an accompaniment that will capture all the savory juices.
I chose to make pearl couscous folded with chopped arugula. It is fast and easy—ten minutes of cooking—something you can throw together right before dinner. I relish the bitter edge imparted by the arugula. Use any type of green that you happen to enjoy, or have on hand.
Here’s to a new season of cooking, eating and sharing.
BEER BRAISED CHICKEN WITH APPLES AND PEARS adapted from Cooking Light
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 Chicken Breasts
3 tablespoons Coarse Grain Dijon Mustard, divided
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 Gala apple, sliced
1 Red pear, sliced
6 ounces beer
1 tablespoon honey
Place a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil. Liberally coat the chicken breasts with coarse grain mustard, then sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place into the Dutch oven, skin side down first, and allow the chicken to brown on one side–about 5 minutes.
Flip the chicken. Add the shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add the apples and pears. Stir.
Mix the honey into the beer and pour over the chicken.
Cover and braise for 15-20 minutes. Check for doneness. Stir and scrape up any browned bits.
Place chicken on bed of couscous. Spoon over apples and pears and drench the chicken in the savory juices.
TRI-COLOR PEARL COUSCOUS with BITTER GREENS
1 cup tri-color pearl (Israeli) couscous
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped arugula, or kale, or mustards
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fill a saucepan with 1 quart water. Season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Pour in couscous and cook according to package directions–about 10 minutes.
Drain and set aside.
Put chopped greens into the saucepan. Pour cooked couscous over the greens.
Add olive oil and stir over very low heat, stirring until the green collapse and wilt in the couscous.
Divide between 2 bowls. Top with chicken, fruits, and braising juices.
Many years ago, I lived in Holland–a few months as an exchange student with a family, and the remaining time on my own. When I arrived in the country, I was an avowed picky eater. But that changed during my stay. I got brave, and tried new dishes. I ate foods that I had long-distained. My palate woke up. It is odd to think about now, as Dutch food is not renowned for bold flavors or innovative cuisine. It is earthy, hearty, and basic in many ways.
But that is not to say that the Dutch prefer bland food. One of the more exciting and exotic experiences can be had at the Indonesian restaurants that are dotted throughout the country. Have you heard of “Rijsttafel” or Rice Table? It is a spicy and sumptuous spread of vegetables, meats, condiments and rice brought from the culinary traditions of various Indonesian islands, once part of the Dutch East Indies.
Just as loved are the Indonesian take-out dishes. My Dutch mother was an accomplished cook, but every now and then, she would hang up her apron for an evening and let us get take-out from one of the local Indonesian cafes. Of course, we were all very thrilled whenever she made this decision. Getting takeout was considered a real once-in-a-while treat, not the constant it is in Western culture today.
I recall trying the different Satays (chicken or beef skewers) cloaked in peanut sauce, Bakso, a “mystery” meatball soup, Nasi Goreng, a savory fried rice dish flecked with pork, chicken, egg, and veggies, and Bami Goreng, its sister dish, only made with fried noodles. Nasi and Bami were my favorites.
I haven’t eaten Indonesian cuisine in a long time, let alone prepare it. My friend Teresa and her partner Wouter, a Dutchman, have talked with me about recreating a Rijsttafel—but it requires a lot of planning. All those side dishes! Someday, we’ll take the plunge.
In the meantime, I can satisfy the desire for those tastes by making my own Bami Goreng. I found the recipe in Cooking Light’s latest cookbook offering: GLOBAL KITCHEN. Written by best-selling author David Joachim, it is a vibrant assembly of the world’s tastes, ingredients, recipes, and flavor profiles that travel the globe: Toasted Guajillo and Pork Posole from South America, Vegetable Sui Mai from Canton China, Ukranian Borscht, North African Lamb and Chick Pea Tagine, Punjabi Butter Chicken with cashews, sweet coconut Lamingtons from Australia.
The photographs are gorgeous. The recipes are designed for the home cook. There’s so much to inspire your cooking and spark a weary palate.
Like most stir-frys, Bami Goreng is easy to make. What sets the dish apart is the Kecap Manis (pronounced Ket-chup, Mah-nees) seasoning the noodles, meats, and vegetables. It is thick sweet soy sauce that gets extra pizzazz from garlic and ground anise. Sometimes it is called Indonesian Ketchup. If you can’t find it, don’t worry. it couldn’t be easier to make. I’ve included that recipe below.
With its foundation of pasta, wealth of proteins, crunch of veggies, and umami taste imparted by the Kecap Manis, this simple stir-fry makes a terrific one pot meal. I relished it not for its taste alone. It conjured memories of a fun time for a young woman with a novice palate, when her Dutch mother spread out the dining table with an Indonesian take-out feast.
BAMI GORENG (INDONESIAN STIR-FRIED NOODLES)
adapted from COOKING LIGHT GLOBAL KITCHEN
3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 ounces linguine
6 ounces boneless chicken breast or thigh, thinly sliced
4 ounces boneless pork loin chop, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
1 bundle green onions, green and white parts chopped
4 celery ribs, sliced (use leafy green tops as well)
3 tablespoons chicken broth
2 tablespoons kecap manis (recipe below)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add one tablespoon peanut oil and swirl to coat the pan. Pour in beaten eggs and swirl to form a thin omelet. Cook for 1 minute, then flip and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat. Roll or fold the omelet and cut into strips. Set aside.
Cook linguine according to package directions in lightly salted boiling water. Drain and rinse and set aside.
Heat a wok or large deep skillet over high heat. Add remaining peanut oil, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan. Add chicken, pork, and garlic; stir-fry for 1 1/2 minutes. Add napa, green onions, and celery. Stir-fry for another minute. Stir in broth, kecap manis, and soy sauce.
Add the noodles and continue to stir-fry for another 2-3 minutes, allowing the noodles to get coated and lightly brown. Fold in sliced omelet pieces. Sprinkle for a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve.
Makes 4 servings
INDONESIAN KECAP MANIS (sweet soy sauce, Indonesian “Ketchup”)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 clove finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat, and cook the mixture, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.
Cooking Light has kindly furnished me with a copy of COOKING LIGHT GLOBAL KITCHEN to give to someone. I’ve never hosted a giveaway before–but this one merits it! (And, with my own cookbook soon to be released, [ June 17th!] another giveaway could ensue!)
It’s simple–Just leave a comment below. Share a favorite global kitchen dish, if you like, or a global taste that sparks your palate.
In ten days, I’ll pick a name at random and mail you your copy. It is a beautiful book, filled with easy and enticing recipes. Thanks!
In the case of potato gnocchi, I have felt like I’m on a quest for something elusive. Once, a long time ago at a restaurant that no longer exists, I had a sumptuous plate of hand-formed dumplings, pillowy-light bites cloaked in garlicky brown butter sauce: a pleasure to eat. In the wake of that ethereal meal, I would often order potato gnocchi when I’d find it on a menu. Just as often, I would wind up disappointed. The dough was either gummy, or the restaurant had used something pre-fab, vacuum-sealed in a box, a factory line of same-shaped dumplings that cooked up rather dense and chewy. Blecch. No, thank you.
This fall, I had lunch at an eatery in downtown Franklin called Gray’s on Main. They offered a potato gnocchi dish where the dumplings were tumbled with Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and pancetta in a butter sauce. Ah! These cushions of potato had golden butter-crisp exteriors gleaned from a final spin in the skillet. That contrast made them exceptional. At last, I had found the elusive!
Before it vanished.
Their house gnocchi plate is no longer on the menu.
The solution: it’s time to learn to make them myself.
There’s an aspect of gnocchi-making that reminds me of biscuit-making. With a terse list of ingredients, it is not just the quantities of potato, flour, salt and pepper, eggs–or no eggs—that distinguishes the outcome. It’s the process–the light hand in forming the dough. Fluffy biscuits and pillowy gnocchi have this in common. You want to mix and fold the dough deftly, quickly, but not handle it too much. Overworking is what causes that unpalatable toughness.
Indeed, it a matter of practice: Learning the feel of the dough, that “right discrimination” that informs your hands and brain that, yes! this it. This has the right consistency.
The kind of potato you use is critical. Waxy reds or new potatoes won’t work. The humble Russet, boiled in its jacket, peeled and run through a ricer or food mill is The Way. Eggs or no eggs? I have found recipes espousing either. Rachel writes that the Romans prefer the dough with: sturdier in the boil and pan. Head north of The Eternal City, and gnocchi di patate are made without.
While I was mixing up the riced potatoes with flour, I could feel how an eggless dough would work. But I ultimately added the eggs.
It makes a richer dough. And, as I wanted to finish the gnocchi in the skillet–get that lovely crust—using eggs made good sense.
Divide the dough into quarters, rolling each one into a ropey length. After you cut them into little pieces, you’ll roll and press each one with a fork. My gnocchi look a little wonky, I know. No worries. They still tasted delicious. I’ll get better at forming them, with practice.
There is little doubt when they are done—the dumplings will rise to the surface after a couple of minutes in the rolling boil.
Look at these plump dumplings! At this point, they would be delectable, plunked into a red sauce. We are taking it another step:
Pan-seared in a skillet with a saute of shallots and parsnips in butter, topped with a few curls of shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano.
Elusive no more.
PAN-SEARED POTATO GNOCCHI WITH PARSNIPS
adapted from Julianna Grimes at Cooking Light
4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium parsnips, peeled
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting, rolling out dough
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup shaved Parmegianno-Reggiano
2 green onions, finely sliced for garnish
Place potatoes and parsnips into a large saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. After 12-15 minutes, remove the parsnips, which should be tender but still firm. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Continue boiling the potatoes until they yield to a fork–another 15 minutes. Drain and allow the potatoes to cool. Peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill (with a shredder-ricer blade) into a large bowl. Season the riced potatoes with salt and black pepper.
Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and rapidly mix by hand. Add the lightly beaten eggs. Mix well to incorporate the eggs into the mixture, but do not overwork the dough–otherwise it will become dense and tough. The dough will actually have a light airy feel to it.
Dust your work table with flour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope. If the dough becomes too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces. You may then roll each piece gently with the tines of a fork to make the distinctive indentations—but you don’t have to.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil on medium high heat. Drop the gnocchi in, a dozen or so pieces at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd them. Gently swirl them around in the boiling water so that they don’t stick to the bottom. They will cook quickly.
After a minute or so, they will rise to the surface. Allow them to cook another minute, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl.
Slice the cooled parsnips into bite size pieces.
In a large skillet set on medium heat, melt the butter. Saute the diced shallots until translucent. Add the parsnips and thyme. Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture. Increase the heat to medium high and add a layer of gnocchi to the skillet. Sear the gnocchi until they are nicely browned on one side and remove. When all of the gnocchi are browned, toss them with the parsnip-shallot mixture until well combined.
Portion into warm bowls. Sprinkle each with shaved Parmeggiano-Reggiano and sliced green onions.
Serves 4 as main dishes, 6 appetizer/first course
Almost an entire month has past since I last visited with you here at Good Food Matters, but be assured that I’ve been busy-busy, hands-on: making good—and beautiful—-food for the cookbook. In addition to the book cover shoot, we’ve had 4 separate photo sessions, working to capture the bounty of produce in this transitional season and the waning light. We’ve garnered over 60 stunning images that I can’t wait to share with you. And the dishes! Passion fruit Pavlova, German-style Pretzels with stout mustard, figs in syrup, figs on flatbread, Cornbread Panzanella, gazpacho with spiced grilled shrimp, ricotta gnocchi with arugula-three herb pesto, lofty strawberry sponge cake…
Patience, patience. It shall happen, in due time.
Meanwhile, what has transpired since I’ve been relegated to the kitchen and studio? I look up from my work and see that fall is upon us. The weather has shifted mightily. Days move apace, with dry, crisp chill in the air. Tomatoes have just about played out in our gardens, and the basil plants are looking rather ragged. No matter. Now the markets brim with all manner of greens, hardy squashes, leeks, onions, and peppers. Now I am ready to prepare dishes using them, aren’t you?
And now, I like to cook with sage.
I should use it in my cooking all year long–but for whatever reason, the grey-green leaf with its musty, woodsy taste, (I think of a forest floor, slightly damp) its paradoxical tough-velvet touch, finds its way into my fall and winter recipes: Larded with garlic into juicy pork roast, scenting cornbread stuffing for turkey, sizzled in brown butter sauce napped over pumpkin ravioli.
There’s nothing faint about my praise for the herb and today’s recipe uses it with vigor. Chicken breasts cut and pounded into thin scallops pick up the sage leaves first in the dredging. (For a great description of how to easily pound the cutlets, check this on Cooking Light’s website.)
I saute the chicken in a meld of butter and olive oil–the best of both!—which gives the coating a golden burnish, as delectable brown bits form in the pan. To this, I add minced garlic and More sage, before I scrape and swirl in the white wine and light cream. The sage is distinct, assertive–for me, pleasingly so. If that concerns you, don’t let it. The wine-cream reduction muffles it, blanketing the chicken.
Serve it with this orzo dish, which is more vegetable than it is pasta. Poblanos, leeks, and butternut squash make a harmony of fall colors, roasted to smoky sweetness. I think you’ll enjoy the undercurrent of mild heat imparted by the peppers.
CHICKEN SCALLOPINE WITH SAGE CREAM SAUCE
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin pieces and pounded
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
12 sage leaves, finely chopped
3 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup half-and-half
Slice through the length of each chicken breast into halves or thirds. Using wax paper or plastic wrap, pound them to an even thinness, using a mallet or small skillet.
Mix the flour, salt, pepper, and finely chopped sage together.
Place a large skillet on medium heat. Melt the butter and olive oil together.
Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture; dust off the excess, and place into the hot skillet. Brown the chicken, sauteing the pieces for 3-4 minutes on one side, before flipping. Remove the pieces from the skillet as they are finished, placing them into a baking dish. Keep them warm.
After you have browned and removed all the chicken, add the garlic and sage to the skillet. Saute for a minute, then pour in the white wine. Let it bubble and reduce by half as you stir it in the skillet, scraping up the browned bits. Reduce the heat to low and pour in the half-and-half. Stir well. The sauce should thicken nicely. Taste for seasonings. Pour hot sauce over warm chicken scallopine and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings
ORZO WITH ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH, LEEKS, AND POBLANOS
1 large butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into bite-sized cubes
2 large leeks, carefully washed, dried and chopped (discard tough dark green leaves)
2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
3+tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound orzo
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the butternut squash cubes onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and black pepper, and toss well to coat all the pieces.
Place chopped leeks and poblanos onto a separate baking sheet. Drizzle with oil, season with salt and black pepper, and toss well to coat the vegetables.
Place both baking sheets into the oven. Roast the butternuts for 15-18 minutes, roast the leeks and poblanos for 12-15 minutes. Rotate the pans about halfway through the cooking time.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil on medium high heat. Add the orzo and cook according to package directions (about 9-10 minutes.)
Drain the orzo and return it to the pot.
Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven. Scrape the butternuts in their roasting oil, and the poblano-leeks in their oil into the pot with the orzo. Toss the mixture well.
Makes 6-8 servings
Here’s a glimpse!
When Bill and I were in Rome last month, the weather–by Roman claims–was unseasonably cool and somewhat rainy. We decided, at a certain point, to rent a car and follow the sun. That trip took us first down to the Sorrento Peninsula, to a sleepy cliff town called Vico Equense. Brilliant sun, a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance–it was a lovely place to be. After two days, the rains came, so we headed east over the Apennines and then south—way south—to the heel of the boot.
We ended up in Lecce, a beautiful city sometimes called “The Florence of the South.” Particular to the region is a sandstone that is easily carved when first quarried, yet hardens over time. Lecce is replete with its own form of Baroque architecture made from this stone. The structures, churches and building facades, exhibit a more refined sensibility in their exuberant ornateness.
Ten kilometers inland from the Adriatic, Lecce also has a wilder feel to it–and I mean this in the sense of less traveled, less touristy, less sophisticated. Maybe bohemian is the right word. The pace is very laid back. The vibe is very friendly and welcoming. Perhaps because of its proximity to Greece and North Africa, it benefits from a confluence of cultures.
We became quickly captivated by the place and the people. We stayed in the centro storico-historic city center, in a flat on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Within the piazza confines is an amphitheater, circa 200 A.D. On the perimeters are numerous coffee bars, gelateria, and eateries with outdoor dining, where you could just sit in the breezy sunshine and soak up the beauty.
Cars are not permitted in the center; we could walk the maze of cobbled streets and discover what the old city had to offer.
In our meander, we found a restaurant that we loved: i merli
Contemporary in look, intimate in size, fresh and seasonal in menu offerings–it suited us. We snacked on delicious fritto misto di verdure–tempura-like fried vegetables, including the delicate zucchini blossoms—and petite mussels with pungent aioli. Bill enjoyed a risotto, creamy green with fresh asparagus, but we were both crazy for my pasta dish–a housemade tagliatelle tossed in good olive oil, sweet Sicilian cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mint, and ricotta salata.
All of the ingredients tasted so fresh, prepared with such care and immediacy, that it was a pleasure to eat. It was that touch of mint that elevated the dish from something predictably good to something unexpected and wonderful. I knew that I would try to recreate it after I returned home.
Rounding up the right ingredients would not be a problem: John and Tally at Fresh Harvest Co-op have their terrific Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and Zephyr squash, and fresh mint is everywhere! I located ricotta salata, the aged, salted, and pressed version of ricotta at Whole Foods.
But, making fresh egg pasta was another key piece.
I experimented with a couple of fresh pasta dough recipes–seeking that golden yellow I had been served on countless occasions.
In my research I found a winner by Lydia Bastianich, made—improbably–in the food processor.
She calls it “Rich Man’s Golden Pasta.” Five egg yolks whipped with olive oil and water are poured into the processor already filled with flour and salt. I was skeptical–shouldn’t the dough be diligently hand-kneaded for at least 8 minutes?
But Ms. Bastianich knows her pastas.
The dough comes together in a blink.
After you remove the doughball from the processor, just lightly dust it with flour, knead it 5 times, form a disc and seal it in plastic wrap. The dough should rest a minimum of thirty minutes at room temperature–and if it rests longer, so much the better.
I rolled the dough seven times—through settings 1-7 on my machine—before rolling it through the ribbon cut. The dough remained supple and elastic. It was easy to make, and easy to cook: scarcely two minutes in the boiling water.
The flavor of the pasta alone was incredible, and the texture light. Yet, it stood up well in the toss of vegetables, mint and cheese.
The recipe makes a big batch of pasta–enough for 8. You can cut the dough into half, reserving the other piece for another pasta dish, if you like.
“RICH MAN’S GOLDEN PASTA” from Lydia Bastianich, for Cooking Light
2 level cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Place flour and salt into food processor fitted with the swivel blade and briefly pulse, mixing the two together.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the water and olive oil.
Turn on food processor, and slowly pour, in a steady stream, the egg yolk mixture into the flour. As the flour absorbs the egg yolks, it will begin to form a ball. Once the ball is formed, cease processing. Remove and gently knead ( 30 seconds, that’s all) forming the dough into a disc shape. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.
When you are ready to roll, remove the plastic wrap and cut the dough into quarters. Dust with flour, and run each piece through the pasta machine, starting with notch 1–and go through notch 7 before using the fettuccine slicer. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of flour to dust the dough as you work with it. You don’t want it to get sticky!
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 lb. “Zephyr” summer squash (zucchini works well too) cut into julienned strips
3/4 pint “Sungold” cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 handful fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup ricotta salata, shaved or cut into thin batons
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste
Heat a large pot or saucepan on medium and add olive oil. Add julienned squash and saute for 2-3 minutes. Stir in halved cherry tomatoes and mint. Cook for another couple of minutes and remove from heat.
Bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta. The strands should only take a minute or two to cook.
Drain, reserving some of the starchy water.
Toss the pasta into the pot with the vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Pour in the pasta water, tossing and folding, so that the squash strips become enlaced with the pasta ribbons. Sprinkle in the ricotta salata as you fold.
Mound into bowls. Garnish with extra cheese and mint. Makes 2 huge bowls, or 4 small bowls.
Overseas flights haven’t gotten any easier over time and experience. On our overnight to Rome I slept a little. But I was ill-prepared for the shock of day as we emerged out of straight-jacket seats, stumbling bleary-eyed through the terminal, baggage and customs, and into a van that carted us off to our friends’ home in the north part of the city.
What I remember about those first few hours:
Poppies. So many poppies. Hosts of bright red growing wild along shoulders of highways, dotting fields, saturating hillside patches in scarlet brilliance.
Cooler springtime air. Blue sky jockeyed by dark clouds and a rumble of thunder, spit of rain.
Ancient pines trimmed and sculpted to make towering umbrellas. The surprise of tropicals: palms, lemon and orange trees.
Lush jasmine-like honeysuckle vines, tiny white blooms in thick patches of green that climbed up buildings, tumbled over balconies, made elegant trails from large stone urns.
Espresso. Dark with airy crema top, the sign of a proper pull. Smooth, with a slight bitter edge.
Taralli. ring-shaped fennel crackers from Puglia. Our friend Heather kept bags of these distinctive, delicious crisps around for snacking.
And, pasta. Oh, my. Our first lunch. Plates of fat rigatoni. Tagliatelle. Spaghetti. Bucatini. All fresh made egg pastas that were impossibly, deeply yellow in color. The type of flour, no doubt, and rich golden egg yolks must be the reason.
Over two weeks time, we ate a lot of pasta.
There are the Roman classics, such as
Cacio e Pepe–strands tumbled and coated in a generous shower of piquant Roman cacio cheese and black pepper–seductive and complex in its simplicity.
Spaghetti Carbonara–laced with guanciale and egg beaten so creamy that it both sauces and binds.
Bucatini all’Amatriciana—guanciale and tomato, (pork and tomato–wow) sparked with peppercino, and pecorino
Tonnarelli alle Vedure–a squared-off Roman spaghetti tossed in green: both light sauce and an array of springtime vegetables. (Artichokes, if you are lucky!)
I tried the tonnarelli with green at three different eateries over my two week adventure. The first was at De Cesare on Via del Casaletto, where I met Rachel and Luca for lunch. The Vignarola had braised spring onions, fava beans, artichokes, and peas. You could order it with guanciale or senza–without. It was divine.
Subsequent samplings yielded different but no less delicious results.
When I returned home, I vowed that I would try to replicate that deep yellow egg pasta and the fennel-flecked rings from Puglia. A little research–and I’ll get back with you on those projects.
In the meantime, I got a hold of an early June treat: Garlic Scapes.
You can find these fabulous loops at the farmers markets now. Tally May of Fresh Harvest Co-op is offering them now. They have a vibrant–but not sharp—garlicky taste. Think green garlic. The stem makes a marvelous pesto for dipping crudite, or swirling into a batch of hot pasta and spring vegetables.
The recipe has some other elements to boost its green nature, give it texture and body–and increased nutrition. I used a mix of arugula and spinach leaves, (but you may use one or the other) toasted walnuts, and cannellini beans. It’s a thick pesto, creamy and luscious.
As a dip or a green “vedure” like sauce, we have loved it both ways.
GARLIC SCAPE PESTO
8-10 scapes, bloom cut off and discarded, cut into 2″ pieces
1 cup arugula leaves or baby spinach leaves, packed
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
3/4 cup cooked cannellini beans
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place scapes, walnuts, arugula, and cannellinis into a food processor bowl, fitted with the swivel blade. Pulse, chopping the scapes together with the other ingredients. Add lemon juice, salt and red pepper flakes. Pulse. Slowly pour in the olive oil as you continue pulsing. The pesto will become a lush creamy green, with nice texture from the walnuts. Taste for salt.
Scrape pesto into a clean lidded jar and refrigerate. Flavors will develop and intensify over a few hours. Makes about 2 cups.
PASTA WITH SPRING VEGETABLES AND GARLIC SCAPE PESTO (inspired by numerous “tonnarelli alle vedure” dishes dined on in Roma)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 green onions, chopped
4 young carrots, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces
1 bundle asparagus spears, cut into 2″ diagonal pieces
1/3 lb. sugar snap peas, strung
1/2 lb. paparadelle or linguine
1 + cup reserved pasta water
Recipe garlic scape pesto (1 1/2 cups at least)
Warm olive oil in a large deep skillet. Saute green onions, carrots, asparagus pieces and sugar snaps, cooking each vegetable for a couple of minutes as it becomes “tender-crisp” yet retains a bright color. Remove each successive saute from the pan.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, but set aside at least 1 cup of pasta water.
Add pasta water and garlic scape pesto to the skillet. Add all the vegetables and toss to coat. Add the pasta and continue tossing to coat all the strands. Add more pesto if you like.
Mound into warm bowls. Dollop with more pesto and serve. Makes 2 large or 4 regular servings.
The view from Heather’s kitchen window–honeysuckle vines, palm tree…
The Colosseum, one moment stormy, one moment blue.
The old saying for March, “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” isn’t faring well this year. It’s lion all the way: blustery cold, temperatures skirting the freeze point at night. The threat of snow might only manifest as a swirl of icy flakes, hardly worth mentioning. Except that there are competing signs of spring–pear and plum trees blooming; branches of forsythia fleck sunny yellow, tulips and hyacinths in varying purpled hues; Against the stark grey, they all glow.
So, the recipe that I’m sharing with you today is one of those that straddles the seasons. Like most members in the family of baked pastas, it is substantial, hearty. The kind of dish you’d want on a chilly March night, when that lion wind roars through the cracks of your doors and windows.
At the same time, it is lightened. The sauce combines sweet red bell peppers and tomatoes, roasted together and pureed to a gorgeous vermilion. The ricotta is whipped with baby spoon spinach into a creamy pale green smear. Impossibly thin ripples of speck, that marvelous cured ham from northern Italy, impart smoky woodsy notes. Ash, juniper, pepper, laurel.
And, they are dainty rolls.
While I do like squares and rectangles of beefy lasagna, and lush vegetable towers: layer upon layer spread with bechamel, ricotta, braised artichokes
I found that these small roll-ups had an endearing and easy way about them–
and made a delicious presence on the potluck table.
True to the way of lasagna, the most time is spent working with each component—prior to assembly.
Sauce pureed, filling whipped, pasta cooked al dente: you are ready to spread, cut and roll.
Lay out your lasagna noodles like fat ribbons on the counter;
spoon and slather the spinach ricotta from end to end. A little palette knife, used for icing cakes, is especially handy.
The slices of speck, almost transparent, seem custom made for the pasta roll, and fit neatly over the ricotta.
Make a cut through the center of each layered ribbon, creating two pieces to curl into clever spirals. I think you’ll like this smaller style roll-up, rather than the giant ones made from the entire piece.
For potluck, I also made a vegetarian version with shiitake mushrooms. They have a meaty texture and flavor that works well with the other ingredients. The recipe I’ve given below makes enough sauce and filling to make 2 casseroles: one with speck (or prosciutto, if you can’t find speck at your market) and one with shiitakes.
As I finish writing this post, this early spring snow has picked up: swirls of white past my windows, and a pretty dusting over the yard.
Lion March! It shouldn’t last.
And April, with the promise of balmier days, will be here soon. Memories of winter and cold will fade as we anticipate tilling and planting the garden, and dream of asparagus and sweet peas and strawberries.
LITTLE SPINACH-RICOTTA-SPECK (OR SHIITAKE) LASAGNA ROLLS WITH
SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE
Red Bell Pepper-Tomato Sauce:
4 red bell peppers, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
1 large onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
1-28 oz can plum tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Place red bell pepper halves onto one side of a baking sheet. Tuck onion pieces and garlic cloves underneath. Brush the tops with olive oil.
Pour remaining oil onto the other side of the baking sheet. Spoon the entire contents of the can of plum tomatoes and sauce over the oiled area.
Sprinkle tomatoes and red bell peppers with salt and black pepper.
Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 25 minutes until the skins of the peppers are blackened and blistered.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the blistered skins and discard.
Place roasted vegetables and juices into a bowl. Using an immersion blender, process the ingredients into a brilliant red-orange sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Spinach-Ricotta-Speck Filling: (for vegetarian version, use shiitake mushrooms instead of speck)
8 oz. fresh baby spoon spinach
2 lb. ricotta
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
1 ½ cups shredded or grated parmesan
4 oz. speck or prosciutto, very thinly sliced
4 oz shiitake mushroom, sliced and sauteed
1 box lasagna: 18 pieces, cooked according to package directions, drained and cooled
½ cup shredded pecorino romano to sprinkle over the top
Coat 2 9″by 13″ (or size thereabouts) casserole dishes with a little olive oil.
In a food processor fitted with the swivel blade, pulse the spinach until it’s chopped. Scrape into a mixing bowl and return the work bowl to the processor. Refit with swivel blade.
Add ricotta, eggs, salt, black pepper, and garlic and processor until well blended.
Stir the ricotta mixture into the spinach. Fold in the parmesan.
Lay out the lasagna in rows on your work counter. Dollop a few tablespoons of the ricotta mixture and spread it along the length, covering the pasta. Place slices of speck (or prosciutto) over the ricotta.
Cut the lasagna ribbons in half. Roll up each piece. You will have 36 nice lasagna roulades.
Cover the bottom of the casserole dishes with a layer of sauce. Arrange lasagna rolls in the dish. Spoon sauce over the tops. Sprinkle with pecorino romano.
Bake uncovered for 35 minutes in a 325 degree preheated oven. Serves 12-15
On fleet and chilly foot, this year is surely making its exit. I trust that your holidays have been full of joy and camaraderie, and good food shared with those you love. Ours have been exceptional, heralded by the birth of my first grandchild, Zachary James. He was due to arrive on the first of December, but he chose—wisely, no doubt– to wait until the 12th to make his wondrous entrance. For parents who married on 10-10-10, his 12-12-12 birthdate is all the more auspicious.
I was privileged to be a part of the birth team, and witness his entry. I was thrilled to be one of the first to caress his pink cheeks and welcome him into this strange new world.
A week after his arrival, I returned to my own home after a month-long absence to put Christmas together. A hectic pace, but the tree got trimmed, presents got wrapped, the beef got roasted, and the chocolate mousse trifle got mounded high in the bowl.
But what I’d like to share with you today veers away from the indulgences of the season.
It is a healthy, hearty dish using Escarole.
This great green bouquet resembles lettuce in appearance, but belongs to the Endive family. (The sprawling head made me think of the old wives tale imparted to children about where babies come from…) Also known as broadleaf endive, Bavarian endive, or scarola, it is one of its less bitter members. Escarole can be eaten raw in salads, but it is really luscious when braised into soups or stews.
I’ve never prepared these greens in any form before now. But the forces aligned. Friend and farmer Tally May of Fresh Harvest Coop had grown splendid rows of escarole, market ready on my return. A vivid description of this recipe from my cousin Cathy and her husband John (given as they drove me to the airport!) left no doubt that a pot of escarole with fusilli and cannellinis would be simmering on my stovetop soon.
It is a traditional Italian dish, which, depending on the amount of liquid that you choose to add, becomes either a stewy pasta or a robust soup. Either way, you’ll want to serve it in a bowl, with a spoon and hunk of bread to sop up all the sumptuous broth.
It’s a garlic-friendly dish, too. Don’t be timid with those cloves!
Highly seasoned cannellini beans are also key. I used Rancho Gordos mega-meaty, super creamy beans, which I prepared the day before. If you use canned beans, be sure to drain and rinse them before simmering them in good olive oil, garlic, and bay leaf.
Cathy also insists–and rightfully so–on using DeCecco brand fusilli. It’s an excellent pasta: full-flavored, with terrific texture. Those tight curls capture the broth while remaining resilient in the sauce.
Here’s a trick I used to add more body to the broth. I reserved a cup of cooked beans and pureed them before stirring them into the pot. The sauce becomes almost silken. And the greens themselves maintain integrity in the braise–toothsome, juicy, with a pleasant hint of bitterness.
In the waning days of 2012, we’ve been enjoying our bowls of beans, pasta, and escarole. Bill calls this peasant food, and he means it in the best possible way. Simple. Soothing. Nutritious. Satisfying. You really couldn’t want for anything more.
Wishing you all the benefits of peasant food in the coming year–
Many thanks for your continued visits to Good Food Matters.
ESCAROLE WITH FUSILLI AND CANNELLINI BEANS
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 head escarole, cored, washed, and chopped into ribbons
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups vegetable broth (you may use chicken broth if you prefer)
3 cups cooked cannellini beans (recipe below)
1/2 lb. dried fusilli (De Cecco is a preferred brand)
1/2 cup fresh grated pecorino-romano
In a large stockpot set on medium heat, warm olive oil and saute garlic and onions until translucent.
Add chopped escarole and stir well to coat the leaves.
Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Stir, allowing the heat to collapse the leaves.
Pour vegetable broth over the escarole. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Boil fusilli in lightly salted water until al dente–about 9 minutes. Drain.
Puree one cup of cannellinis, and return to bean pot. (discard bay leaves)
Combine pasta and beans (whole, pureed, and liquid) with the braised escarole. Toss well.
Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Serve with hunks of crusty bread.
Makes 6 generous bowls.
1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked for 3 hours (or overnight) and rinsed (Rancho Gordo’s cannellinis are big and meaty!)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup diced onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
Heat olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan set on medium. Stir in garlic and onions. Add salt and black pepper, and saute until translucent.
Add cannellinis, stirring well so that the beans are coated with oil.
Pour water over the beans–enough to cover them by two inches.
Stir in bay leaves and red pepper flakes.
Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Skim off any scum that may accumulate as the beans cook.
Cook, partially covered for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if needed.
Cannellinis will retain their structure, but will creamy to the bite. Discard bay leaves.
Five days old, Zachary in my arms
Sleepy Dreamy Babe
I wish that I had a clever name for this dish.
Pasta with Zucchini Sauce seems rather lackluster, a ho-hum title that belies its subtle garden-green flavors, its whipped up creamy texture–with nary a trace of cream!–and its overall brilliant use of the soon-to-be ubiquitous squash, which are already starting to show up at our farmers’ markets.
It is tribute to the Roman zukes, zucchine romanesche, whose appearance she likens to little zeppelins, or twee fluted Corinthian columns. Prepared in umpteen delectable ways–sauteed with tomatoes, stuffed with orzo, grilled and folded into a frittata, cut into batons and fried like pomme frites–the zucchini is prized in Roman cuisine for its versatility and taste.
While I am familiar with many of these preparations, I had never tasted, seen, even imagined zucchini braised in olive oil with garlic, and pureed into a lush green sauce for pasta.
With our community potluck looming, it seemed to be the perfect time to make it.
I followed Rachel’s lead–assembling the first of the summer green squashes. In place of garlic cloves, I substituted a bundle of spring garlic scapes, those delicious curly-ques clipped from forming bulbs. Beyond that, the list of ingredients is short–olive oil, a bit of butter, salt, pepper, water and white wine.
Plus, the pasta. Really, any shape you’d like will work.
Gigi had been praising Cipriani’s Tagliardi–imported, small, super-thin egg pasta rectangles that come boxed like some fabulous gift—so that’s what we chose as a base for the sauce. If you can find–try it. It is very very good.
Young zucchinis cut into rounds are piled into a heavy duty pot with the scapes; all are tossed well in olive oil, salt, and a dash of pepper. A small amount of butter—a knob, as Rachel likes to say—along with a slow braise, helps to coax out the zucchinis’ savory-sweetness.
It doesn’t take long for the squashes to release their inherent water. White wine simmered into the “soup” (indeed, this would be a terrific soup) adds depth, and a tinge of acidic bite. It’s important to check for salt—it is key in balancing the delicate taste.
An immersion blender handily whips this into a supple, somewhat airy sauce that still retains integrity. There are lively bits of squash flecked throughout. The color—ah. Beautiful, don’t you think? And the taste–surprisingly wondrous.
I hasten to add: In lieu of passing a few grindings of cracked black pepper over the pasta, I dotted the dish with Watercress Pesto. It is simply watercress, good olive oil, and salt. Another vibrant green, it adds a fresh peppery finish to the dish.
SURPRISINGLY WONDROUS ZUCCHINI SAUCE
Â½ c. Olive Oil
4 T. Butter
10 c. sliced Zucchini (5 lbs.)
1 c. chopped Garlic Scapes (1 bundle)
1 T. Sea Salt
1 c. White Wine
1 c. Water
1 lb. Tagliardi Pasta (or pasta of choice)
In a large (5-6qt. size) stock pot, heat olive oil and butter on medium. Add zucchini and garlic. Season with salt. Stir, coating the vegetables well. Saute for 5-7 minutes, as vegetables begin to soften.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Zucchini will collapse and release its liquidâ€”becoming â€œsoupy.â€ Add water and wine, and continue cooking uncovered for another 7 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Taste for salt.
In a separate large pot, cook pasta of choice according to package directions. (Tagliardi, thin egg pasta squares, require 4 minutes cooking time.)
Drain and return to pot. Spoon warm sauce over pasta, and fold throughoutâ€”gently coating the squares. Dot with peppery watercress pesto oil. Dust with cheese: parmesan or pecorino.
Serves a crowd at potluck!–or makes 8-10 generous servings
Not always easy to find at the grocer (but easily foraged in some creeks and riverbeds) watercress is crisp and peppery.
You could make an arugula pesto instead, if you are unable to locate the cress.
1 bundle fresh Watercress
1 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
pinch Sea Salt
Place all ingredients into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until watercress is ground fine. The infused olive oil will be bright green. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.