Staples: Pasta Puttenesca

2011/02/23

I’m sure this has happened to you before. You look in the fridge and proclaim there is nothing to eat. Maybe you were out of town and haven’t made it to the store yet. Maybe you went shopping without a list and therefore didn’t get everything you needed for the week. Whatever the reason, nothing in your fridge goes with anything else. Don’t worry; it happens to everyone. But you don’t need to reach for the takeout menus just yet. All you need is a strategically stocked pantry.

Every year at about this time, the end of winter (hopefully), I like to go on a pantry fast. I buy less food at the store, to force me to clean out my freezer and cabinets by eating the food that has been accumulating in the corners of my kitchen that I don’t see as often when there is so much fresh food available (like in the spring, summer, and fall). However, some things I like to keep around are the ingredients for vegetarian Pasta Puttenesca.

This dish is very simple and easy to make. It never tastes exactly the same way twice, but that is mostly because I don’t ever measure anything when I make it. First, I heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Then, I add an onion and a few cloves of garlic and cook until the onion turns translucent. Then I add chopped olives (black or kalamata, preferably jarred, not canned), chopped capers, some red pepper flakes, dried oregano, salt and pepper.

When this starts to smell really good, I add a pint jar of tomatoes and stir. Then I just let it cook down, stirring occasionally, while I boil the pasta.

When the pasta is almost done, I drain it and add it to the sauce to finish. I like to do this because the pasta will really soak up a lot of good flavor.

I like to shave pretty curlicues of Parmesan on top (just scrape at a hunk of it with a y-shaped vegetable peeler) and serve with a green salad and warm baguette (not pictured). However, since we had a friend over that night, I also put out an appetizer of a small piece of fontina cheese and a bowl of antipasto.

By the way, if you eat fish, the only other thing you need to keep on hand is some tinned anchovies or a tube of anchovy paste. Just add it in with the olives, and then you have authentic Puttanesca.

I don’t know about you, but at the end of a long day, I do not want to fight the crowds at the supermarket and then still have to come home and put together an elaborate meal. That is when I make things like this. I always have pretty much everything I need on hand, and popping into the store for bread and maybe a head of lettuce is far less of a hassle then trying to put together a whole meal. And it is a lot less greasy than takeout.


Why I Do What I Do

2011/01/13

Happy New Year. A lot of people ask me why I spend so much time and effort preserving my own foods when there are perfectly good grocery stores around selling quality jams, pickles, and canned tomatoes. And in the heat of August, when I am laboring in the kitchen over pot after pot of tomatoes, I often wonder myself. Given that I pay $0.49 per pound of whole tomatoes and it takes not quite a pound and a half to make one pint of canned tomatoes, I am getting a pretty good deal, but time is money, and canning is a lot of work.

This year, in addition to canning stewed tomatoes, I also made salsa, tomato paste (two tiny jars!), and slow roasted cherry tomatoes for freezing. Now I must say that these little beauties are spectacular. I roasted them at 180 degrees (the lowest my oven goes) for about twelve hours per batch, sometimes longer. The smallest ones dried out completely and taste just like sun-dried tomatoes, while the larger ones remained juicy but became oh-so-sweet. Seriously, they taste like tomato candy. But as good as they are, I only managed to get two and a half quart size freezer baggies of tomatoes. For all the chopping and electric bills involved, these seem like less of a bargain.

On nights like tonight, though, in the dead of winter when it barely ever gets above freezing, all that work seems worth it. Because for dinner tonight I made my favorite summer salad. Well, a variation of it. Actually, I have never made this salad the same way twice. The only mandatory ingredients are things I usually have on hand: avocados, mozzarella cheese, and (frozen) roasted corn. The dressing is made of two cubes each of Dorot’s frozen herbs – garlic, basil, and cilantro mixed with lime juice. Tonight I mixed it in with mayo because I had some homemade that needed using up. I wouldn’t bother with store bought mayo for this salad; it doesn’t really need it. I also added a handful of my frozen tomatoes to the salad tonight, defrosted with the corn.

This is really a “kitchen sink” style salad; pretty much anything can be tossed in. In the past I have added black beans, arugula, bell pepper, and anything else that was on hand. I bet boiled potatoes would be excellent. There is no real recipe, but I try to keep the proportions even on the cheese, corn and avocado. I overdressed it a little tonight, but it was still pretty good.

To go with the salad a made
this soup
by a href=”http://smittenkitchen.com/”target=”_blank”>
smitten kitchen almost exactly by the recipe. I ran short on cumin so I added some chili powder for depth and I didn’t want to use beef stock for obvious reasons, so I added an extra cup of tomatoes (my own of course) and then three cups of water with a vegetarian bouillon cube. The soup was really good and the flavors complemented the salad. All in all it was a tasty dinner, with plenty of leftovers.


Pizzas I Have Made

2010/06/17

I have had strange pizza cravings lately. They started before our recent trip to American Flatbread, but might have inspired the visit. However, the pizzas I wanted weren’t the kind you can find in restaurants, at least not around here. The cravings actually began around the time late spring vegetables began appearing at the market in all their abundant glory, which, coincidentally was about the same time I reached the section on Wolfgang Puck and Spago in the book The United States of Arugula.

The first, and by far my favorite pizza I have made so far, was a roasted beet pizza. To make it, I roasted some beets with onions, thyme, basil, and marjoram.

I spread out the pizza dough (from Trader Joe’s) dusted it with cornmeal and brushed it with olive oil. Then I arranged the beets, beet greens, and onions on the dough, and topped it with a generous helping of goat cheese, mozzarella, and Parmesan.

The oven had been preheated to 500 F for 10 minutes, and it only took about 7 minutes to cook.

This second pizza I made the same night as the beet pizza, because we had company over. I spread out the same Trader Joe’s dough (they say rolling pins are bad for the structure), dusted it with cornmeal, and brushed it with basil pesto. Then I topped it with caramelized onions, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese.

I baked it just like the beet pizza, but right when it came out of the oven I placed slices of proscuitto on top.

Dinner started with garlic bread and a simple salad of mixed lettuces, Parmesan, toasted pine nuts, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Dessert was ice cream with caramel sauce. There were no complaints.
More recently I made a roasted cauliflower pizza, which is something I have had before, with my CSA bounty. For this one, I roasted the cauliflower with olive oil, salt and pepper. I made the dough myself this time, which was insanely easy in my bread machine. Again, I dusted it with cornmeal and brushed it with truffle oil, then arranged the cauliflower (more on my side, less on Ian’s) with some purple basil and fresh dill, and topped it with mozzarella and Parmesan.

*

This pizza was good, but a little bland. Both the dough and the toppings needed more salt. With added salt and crushed red pepper on top, though, it was pretty tasty. *Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the final product, so you are going to have to imagine this with gooey brown cheese on top.


An Attempt at Kim Chi

2010/06/04

When I think of my first canning project of the summer, my thoughts usually turn to ruby red strawberries or tart rhubarb stalks, but the common denominator is sugar, and lots of it. However, this year, I broke out the mason jars for the first time over kim chi, slightly pickled but mostly fermented Korean vegetables. *Note: I did not process the kim chi in a boiling water bath, so it is to be used up within a month or so. *Related Note: Does anyone want any kim chi?
While the most common vegetable base for kim chi is Napa or Korean cabbage, there are actually many different types of kim chi based on all sorts of vegetables. Anyone who says otherwise does not know what he or she is talking about. Since I was blessed with an abundance of bok choy this week from my CSA membership (more details soon), I decided to make a kim chi based on bok choy, with Korean radish, Korean leeks, and green onions. *Note on ingedients: I went to the local GrandMart (a very extensive ethnic supermarket with an awesome produce department) to procure the Korean radish and chili powder, and I happened to see Korean leeks, which I had not known even existed, on sale for $0.99 a bunch.
I combined two different recipes to make my kim chi, because there were aspects of both that I liked and disliked. I still managed to miss a step and I may have ruined the kim chi, despite my best efforts to save it. I guess I will find out in a few days.

Recipe:

  • 1 large head bok choy
  • 1 Korean radish (could substitute daikon)
  • 2-3 Korean leeks
  • 5-6 green onions (mine had red bulbs)
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • A knob of ginger, 3 inches long and peeled
  • 1 1/2 cup Korean red pepper powder
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup kosher salt

1. Chop the bok choy and radish into bite size pieces. Cover with salt and let sit overnight in a glass bowl.

2. Drain the brine off the vegetables (the salt will have brought out the juices from the vegetables a la osmosis). Rinse the vegetables!

3. Slice the leeks and onions, press or finely mince the garlic, and grate the ginger, combine in a separate glass or ceramic bowl. Add the pepper powder and a little bit of the brine and stir to make a paste.

4. Mix the paste with the vegetables. I used a spoon; if you use your hands you might want to wear gloves.

5. Spoon the mixture into sterilized jars. Too off with brine, fresh water, or a mixture of the two, depending on how salty the vegetables were.

6. Let it sit for a few days at room temperature until it starts to ferment (bubbles will form), then move it to the fridge. Use within one month.

*Never eat anything if you are unsure if it is safe. “When in doubt, throw it out!”


Fiddlehead Fern Risotto

2010/05/13

Fiddlehead ferns are one of nature’s little gifts. They are only around for a brief moment every spring, and they don’t preserve very well (although I did see a recipe for fiddlehead fern pickles). If they were around year round, these curly-cues that taste vaguely like asparagus would probably be relegated to the pile of vegetables that people consider boring (Ian didn’t think there was anything special about them), but their scarcity, and the fact that most grocery stores don’t carry them so you usually have to get them from a farmers’ market, make them something to be cherished.

My fiddlehead ferns went through a lot to make it to my risotto tonight. I saw them at Wegman’s grocery store and had to buy them. Wegman’s grocery store is another story in itself. It was my first time there, and I must say I was a bit overwhelmed. Many people love this store, but it was just too big for me. Some of the things looked really good, but it was just too big, with too many things. Also, while the seasonal produce was great, I really don’t it when summer lasts all year long. I don’t want tomatoes and eggplant and peppers in May, I want the Spring bounty of greens and asparagus and radishes. Save the rest for August, when delicate lettuces can’t take the heat.

But enough ranting, I want to talk about risotto. This risotto was a little different from others I have made. The risotto I made according to the package directions, which is very simple. However, I usually make it with vegetable broth, and this time I used mushroom broth, and it changed the taste a little. I don’t think Ian was as enamoured with it as usual, although he did have a big bowl of seconds. I blanched the fiddlehead ferns first, since when raw they contain a toxin that can upset the stomach. After the risotto was finished, i mixed the fiddles and a generous amount of parmesan into the risotto. Voila! Spring in a bowl.


Happy Birthday Ian!

2010/05/12

I really like brownies. The very first recipe I ever posted was for a brownie with fruit and nuts. I like to experiment with brownies; once I made a pan that included ginger, cayenne pepper, and pine nuts.
The brownies I made last Monday night, however, were not for me. I made them for Ian to take to work for his birthday. (Honestly, I was not even sure I would get to taste them, but there was also a cake so a couple of the brownies were brought home.) Keeping in mind that Ian really likes caramel, and that pecans are one of his favorite snacks, I decided to make him turtle brownies.

For the brownie base, I used my tried and true brownie recipe, and mixed in one and a half cups of pecan pieces (the whole bag) and a little less than a cup of chocolate chips (I did not measure, but just eyeballed it). About halfway through the baking process I sprinkled some more pecan pieces on top of the brownies.

While the brownies were baking, I made a caramel sauce to go on top. While there are many caramel recipes floating around the internet (and in cookbooks) I decided to use the rather straightforward one found here. I liked that it didn’t have a lot of ingredients. The blogger who posted it did stress the importance of not undercooking the caramel, which is probably why I burnt it the first time. (Or it might have had to do with the size of the pan; the second time I used a wider pan and the shallower caramel didn’t keep cooking so rapidly.) Anyway, the second sauce turned out perfectly, so that was good. I didn’t have the time or crockery for a third.

After the sauce cooled a little, I drizzled it on the cooled brownies. Ian and his coworkers seemed to really enjoy them, and the one I had was pretty good. Happy Birthday!

Turtle Brownies:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, melted
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli cocoa powder.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans (plus more for the top if you want)
  • 1 cup (or less) chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, blend melted butter, sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined.
  3. Add the flour, cocoa, and salt and mix until smooth. Fold in pecans and chocolate chips.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Add more pecans to the top halfway through, if desired. Let brownies cool, then drizzle with caramel sauce.

A Four Course French-ish Spring-ish Dinner

2010/05/06

Most people I know had been surprised to find out that I had not seen the movie Julie & Julia. Since it is about food and blogging, I can see how it would be easy to assume that I would have been first in line to see it. Well it is no longer true, last weekend we rented the movie and I finally saw it. It was pretty good, too. I actually found it inspirational, particularly during the beginning of Julie’s challenge, when she makes artichokes with hollandaise sauce.

So tonight I decided to make a four course dinner with a spring theme and a French influence. Don’t ask me why I decided on four courses on a Thursday night, but I did. It took a while, but it was totally worth it.

Course 1: Appetizers

The first course was inspired by the farmers’ market this weekend. The restaurant Willow has a booth there in the “summer” months, and they served up this tasty bite. It was a green onion pancake topped with marscapone cheese and a saute of more scallions, shallots, and radishes. I didn’t follow the recipe they handed out exactly, because their pancake used a rolled out dough, and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I made the same pancake batter I use for my Americanized okonomiyaki.

Recipe:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • milk or cream as necessary (I usually use milk but I had cream on hand for another recipe)
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • oil for frying
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 6 radishes, sliced.
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, minced
  1. Mix eggs, flour, and salt together. Add milk or cream until the batter reaches a desired consistency. Stir in the green onions.
  2. Heat the frying pan over medium heat, and add canola or vegetable oil. Spoon the batter into the oil and fry on both sides until golden brown.
  3. In a saucepan melt the butter. Let it cook a few minutes. Add the radishes, green onions, and shallots. Cook until the butter starts to brown.
  4. Assemble each pancake with a teaspoon of marscapone cheese and a teaspoon of the radish/onion mixture.

Course 2: Main Course

For the main course, I wanted things to be simple, so I just made the artichokes with hollandaise. They take a long time to eat and are sufficiently filling that I didn’t think I really needed anything else. Note: I did buy a baguette, and forgot to serve it, but no one missed it.

The artichokes were simple to cook. I just cut of the tops and bottoms with a serrated knife treated with lemon juice, then trimmed the thorny tips off the leaves with scissors, then rubbed the whole thing down with a lemon. Then I boiled the suckers until they were tender, which took about half an hour, but for a while my water was simmering, not boiling.

For the hollandaise, I adjusted Julia Child’s blender recipe, which I found here, to use a bowl and electric mixer because I didn’t want to get the blender out and potentially make a mess, and I already had the electric mixer out for dessert. It worked really well. Note: this recipe makes a decent amount of sauce, which was good because I dropped the bowl and half of it ended up on the floor. The sauce that stayed in the bowl (and subsequently got spooned into these little dipping bowls and topped with chives) was quite good: very buttery and a bit lemony, but not at all eggy.

Course 3: Cheese and Course

I made a small cheese and salad plate to break up dinner and dessert, which I think it accomplished, because it was half sweet and half savory. The salad was a mixture of shaved asparagus, and arugula and spinach from my garden dressed with a grapefruit infused oil that I bought a couple of weeks ago.

I had three cheeses on the plate. Camenbert on a “biscuit for cheese” made with hazelnuts and figs (it is like a cross between a cracker and a biscotti) that I bought at Whole Paycheck (a rare splurge). Mimolette Francaise with Green Tomato Chutney, and a baguette round with French blue cheese and local Blue Aster honey.

Course 4: Dessert

For dessert I wanted to use up the leftover egg whites from the hollandaise, and I was tickled pink when I found this Mousse au Chocolat from Pierre Herme. Most mousses use egg yolks, too, but this was super easy; just folding a meringue into a ganache. It took less than 10 minutes. The mousse was super rich but also light. It really is a great dessert. Note: Measuring ingredients on a scale in grams is awesome, because when you want to scale a recipe to 3 egg whites instead of 5, the math in metric is so much easier than trying to work out fractions to 4/9ths.

So in all, this was a great dinner. I’m back baby!