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.

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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.


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!


Jerusalem Artichokes for Passover

2010/03/30

As many people know, last night was the first night of Passover. I had completely forgotten, so we didn’t do anything special. However, tonight I remembered that I had bought some Jerusalem Artichokes last Saturday at the farmers’ market, and I thought they would be fitting to cook for dinner. Jerusalem Artichokes, also called Sunchokes, look like potatoes, but have a slight artichoke flavor. Last year, I had bookmarked this recipe for a Jerusalem Artichoke and Parmesan Tart from Whole Foods, but couldn’t find any, so I never made it. As written, the tart looked a little heavy (and I didn’t have all the ingredients for the crust or even the filling on hand), so I made a few modifications.

Step 1) The Crust:

The cornmeal crust in the Whole Foods Recipe sounded good, but I did not have any polenta on hand. Instead I used this Olive Oil Tart Crust made with part whole wheat flour from Chocolate and Zucchini, that I have made before. I followed the recipe exactly, and it came out well. I really liked the flavor, but the edges were sloppy. I really need a tart pan.

Step 2) Preparing the Jerusalem Artichokes

The sunchokes I bought were particularly knobby, which made using a peeler impossible. Instead I had to slice them and then take the skin off with a knife. This took forever. Then I simmered them for quite a while (longer than in the recipe), while I got everything else ready.

Step 3) The Filling

I sauteed some onions in garlic in butter, and then put them on top of the sunchokes instead of mixing them into the custard like in the recipe.

For the custard, I mixed 2 eggs (beaten), just less than 1/3 cup sour cream, and 1/3 cup milk (2%), until it was an even constistancy, then I stirred in about a teaspoon each of dried thyme, grey sea salt, and black pepper, and about 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. This was slightly lighter than the mixture in the recipe, which used an egg and 2 yolks and half and half with the sour cream. Then I grated some cave-aged Gruyere over the top. I baked it at 400 F until the custard was set (about 20 minutes).

I really liked this, and Ian seemed to like it okay, too. The Jerusalem Artichokes had a nice flavor, and the texture was nice, too.

With this tart, I served a really pleasant salad.

For the salad, I used a base of mixed lettuce. Then I added some Vidalia onion, shaved asparagus (made with the vegetable peeler like yesterday), and a slice of buffalo mozzarella (from Blue Ridge Dairy) seasoned with salt and pepper. I topped the salad with a lemon vinaigrette (dijon mustard, onion, grey sea salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice).

Dishes like these make me feel like Spring is really here. Apparently the weather this week won’t hurt, either.


Yellow Oyster Mushrooms with Wild Rice

2010/03/23

I fell in love with these beauties at the farmers’ market last Saturday. They were just so bright and seemed perfect for spring, and anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for produce in pretty colors, even if it doesn’t stay after cooking. I thought these would be good with some wild rice and chicken for Ian. For myself I had bought some Baked Tofu (savory flavor) from Trader Joe’s.

For the mushrooms, I melted some butter over low heat and sweated a couple teaspoons shallots until they were translucent. Then I added the mushrooms and cooked them for a couple minutes until they were shiny. Then I added about 1/2 cup white wine, and cooked until the mushrooms absorbed most of it. Then, since I didn’t have any cream, I added a mixture of 1 teaspoon melted butter, 1 teaspoon sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk (the butter will start to solidify again if the milk is cold, which isn’t a problem). When the sauce was mostly reduced, I added a little parmesan cheese.

I really like this wild rice blend, which contains brown rice, red rice, barley, and rye berries. I followed the instructions for cooking on the package, except I added a vegetable bouillon cube, because Ian thinks it isn’t very flavorful. It was a little salty, in my opinion, but Ian thought the salt level was adequate.

My tofu steak was not very good. Actually I didn’t like it at all and threw it away. Maybe the flavors just didn’t go together, but I could not eat it at all. Perhaps in a different preparation…

Ian liked his chicken a much better. I think some fresh chives or other herbs would have brightened up the dish and made it far more attractive, but I didn’t have any on hand. It was still quite good (without the tofu), just not as photogenic.


Steak, Asparagus, and Pepper Fajitas

2010/03/21

Saturday, I took my sister Phillie and her boyfriend Curtis to the Arlington Farmers’ Market to show them around. We bought quite a few interesting things, including a skirt steak, which we decided to use for fajitas. Unfortunately, fajita fixings are not quite in season, so everything else I had to buy at the grocery.

Phillie took these pictures for me because my camera was dead. This is a mix of asparagus, red, orange, and yellow, peppers, onions, and jalapeno that was seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder and then cooked in a little olive oil until slightly brown and caramelized. They were quite tasty, although the guys barely noticed they were there, so I will have plenty of leftovers to eat this week.

The steak, which was completely eaten, had been marinated in olive oil, lime juice, and tequila, with garlic, onions, cilantro, jalapeno, salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder. I then cooked it in a frying pan over medium heat for five minutes on each side. It was cooked medium rare, but the cut was a little fatty and hard to slice.

We had tortillas for wrapping,

Salsa, Queso Blanco (homemade, but I’m not posting the recipe because it didn’t turn out well) and guacamole* for topping,

and Green Onions, Cheddar Cheese, Sour Cream, and Guindilla Peppers (from Trader Joe’s) for garnishing.

*Guacamole- My guacamole recipe varies seasonally (no tomatoes in winter) but generally contains the following ingredients to taste:

  • Jalapeno
  • Cilantro
  • Onion
  • Tomato (in summer)
  • Salt
  • Lime Juice
  • Avocado

For this batch, I used 3 avocados, about 1 tablespoon each of jalapenos, cilantro, onion, and lime juice, and 1 teaspoon of salt. I mixed everything but the avocado and let it sit for a while and added the avocado right before serving.

Phillie, who does not like fajitas, got a cheese and green onion quesadilla, and seemed rather happy with it. I think everyone was generally happy with the meal, which was nice after the long day we had at the zoo.