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Coming Back to the Chopping Block – Soba Noodles with Mango and Eggplant

Another few weeks have breezed by without a post. Moving and traveling, and other general insanity have interfered with successful posting. But finally, we are moved in, mostly unpacked, and are getting back to the chopping block.

I was listening to a show in NPR last week – the host was holding a discussion on “Moms” in honor of the upcoming Mothers’ Day holiday. More specifically she was discussing how we remember our mothers – how so many of these memories are centered on family traditions and often take place in and around the kitchen. The host opined that kitchen memories are particularly strong as they are associated with sounds, tastes, textures, and scents, and put extra emphasis on how scent memories can be exceptionally stirring and long lasting.

I have always been enamored with tradition. Perhaps it is because, with a small family prone to constant change, we didn’t have many of our own. But the memories of the ones we had could not be stronger. I remember, like it was yesterday, watching my grandmother circling about the kitchen reading thanksgiving dinner. I have these vivid images of helping her cut apples into a baking pan for her family famous deep dish apple pie, which I can still whip up today simply by memory.

Today’s featured recipe is another from the pages of Ottolenghi’s “Plenty.” It has particular significance to me as it was prepared by my friend Julie and served at my bridal shower on the 5th of this month. The individual ingredients are so wild but it marries beautifully in this summery noodle salad. It is a flavor memory of a beautiful day that I am sure I will enjoy remembering for years to come.

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango (adapted from Ottolenghi’s “Plenty”)

1/2 C Rice Vinegar
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 TSP Fine Grain Sea Salt
2 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
1 Fresh Red Chile, Minced
1 TSP Toasted Sesame Oil
Zest and Juice of One Lime

1/3 C Sunflower Oil
1 Large Eggplant Cut Into 1/2-Inch Cubes

8-9 Ounces Soba Noodles, Cooked According to Package Directions

1 Large Ripe Mango Cut into Small Chunks
1/2 Small Red Onion, Very Thinly Sliced
1/3 C Basil Leaves, Cut into a Chiffonade
1/2 C Cilantro, Chopped
1/3 C Roasted, Unsalted Peanuts, Chopped

To make the dressing place the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, about 1 minute, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat, add garlic, chile, and sesame oil. Allow the mixture to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Line a colander with a sheet or two of paper towels and set over a large plate next to the stove. In a large cast iron skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. Toss one eggplant cube in as a test. It should come out golden and crisp, not too dark, not too soggy, repeat test if needed. Once the oil is at the right temperature toss in about a third off the eggplant and fry, flipping once, until golden. Remove with a large slotted spoon or wire skimmer and place into the prepared colander. Add a bit of salt to season after removing each batch and toss to coat. Repeat the process with the remaining thirds, leaving about a minute or so for the oil to come back up to temp before adding the next batch.

Place cooked Soba noodles in a large bowl along with the red onion, mango, herbs and eggplant. Add dressing, a bit at a time until seasoned to your liking, add salt and pepper to taste. Toss, top with peanuts, and enjoy.

Bolognese and Homemade Pasta

Since receiving a pasta extruder from his parents for Christmas, Dustin has slyly been asking me if we could make pasta. Now, normally, I would jump at an opportunity to make something Dustin was asking for, but, you see, some part of me was dreading what an undertaking this might become. I had these visions of what might go wrong. I feared some huge time investment that would yield little return, and a big mess. I worried that my pasta might turn out like the chocolate cake I tried to bake 2 weeks ago, which, when inverted onto a cake rack crumbled into roughly 200 mite size bits and resembled nothing even close to the cake I had dreamed of producing.  If a mere cake could reduce me to a puddle of tears on the floor, I could only imagine the damage noodles might incur.

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And so, I did what any good home cook does when confronted by a daunting request, I stalled. As I stalled, I commenced my research. I watched several videos on You Tube on making home made dough, I browsed through 2 different book stores searching for an authoritative source on pasta making, I visited several different forums which detailed tips on using pasta extruders, and some which debated the finer points of OO vs All Purpose Flour, and read several discussions on the incorporation of semolina flour into dough recipes. Finally, after purchasing not one but  two (I tried but couldn’t help myself) books on Italian cooking, I felt I was ready to try my hand.

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I am so glad I took the leap and gave making home made noodles a try. After much research, I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to make a dough with a high ratio of egg to flour, and shape it in the form of a chunky noodle that would be able to stand up to the chunky, unctuous sauce, without being completely overpowered. The pasta extruder made the work of turning out the noodles as easy as can be. If you do not have an extruder you can use a pasta roller and cut the rolled sheets into thick noodles, I imagine a papardelle would stand up well in this dish. I employed my food processor to mix the dough, it seemed a bit dry to me at first and I worried that I had not added enough water, but as I began to knead the dough it became considerably more elastic and flexible and turned out beautiful noodles. The noodles keep well stored in a flat layer on a baking sheet in the freezer for several weeks, but something tells me they won’t last that long.

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One of the things Dustin loves most, and that he requests we make more often than any other dish is chili. Bolognese was an easy pick for a sauce, it is essentially an italian form of chili. It is a dish that requires building layers of flavor. First with a medley of herbs and vegetables, then with a mixture of meats, and finally with a sauce formed from tomatoes, alcohol, and dairy. Because the dish cooks for so long, and the vegetables practically melt into the sauce, this could be a great way of getting picky eaters to eat their veggies. While carrots and celery are the traditional veggies for the dish, I imagine that fresh fennel, parsnips, zucchini, and even winter squash, could be worked into the sauce adding valuable nutrients and subtle hints of flavor.

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This recipe makes a great deal of sauce. It can be frozen for a month or so and defrosts with great success. It is fantastic on pasta, but very versatile, it makes a fantastic topping for rice, could definately play well as a pizza topping, and would likely make a nice filling for a frittata. It is also great served on its own, with a great hunk of crusty bread. The sauce does take a good deal of time to prepare properly, there are a lot of flavor elements that need to properly blend to form the final sauce. I reduced the amount of cream in the original recipe. If you are a big fan of creamy sauces, feel free to add additional cream to taste. The mortadella makes a great finishing touch but is by no means a necessary component. Feel free to omit it if you cannot find a high quality specimen. Alternatively you could substitute prosciutto, a mild salami, or gently spiced capicola. However you serve it, the Bolognese really benefits from a finishing touch of freshly snipped herbs. Basil or parsley pair extraordinarily well, but I Imagine other herbs such as tarragon or chervil would map a nice twist on tradition. However you choose to enjoy it, this is definitely a dish for friends and family. So gather some loved ones, and enjoy!

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For the Home Made Rigatoni – From “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” by Domenica Marchetti

2 – 2 1/4 C OO Flour or All Purpose (I Used All Purpose But Have Read Much About The Wonders of OO Flour)
1 TBSP Semolina Flour – Plus Additional Flour For Dusting The Work Surface
1/2 TSP Sea Salt
Pinch of Freshly Grated Nutmeg
3 XL Eggs
1-2 TBSP Good Olive Oil

Place 2 C of flour in the bowl of a food processor along with the semolina flour, salt, and nutmeg. Pulse to mix. Break the eggs into the bowl along with 1 TBSP olive oil. Pulse the mixture until it forms small curd like crumbs. Pinch some of the “dough” between your fingers. It should not be crumbly or sticky. Try rolling the pinch in  small ball, it should form a smooth ball. If it seems too day add an additional TBSP oil, a bit at a time, until it reaches the right consistency. If it seems too wet, add more flour, a TBSP at a time, until firm but not crumbly.

Sprinkle a clean work surface with semolina flour. Turn the mixture out onto the surface. Remove the blade. Gently gather the dough into a ball. Using the palm of your hand, press the dough away and down in a firm, smooth motion to knead. Do this several times until the dough is smooth and slightly elastic. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 mins before placing it in the extruder to form the noodles. Alternatively, you can stretch the dough using a traditional pasta roller, either hand cranked, or electric. The sheets can be cut by hand into noodles, if you are planning to use the noodles with the Bolognese sauce, I recommend a thicker cut noodle, which can stand up to the hefty sauce.

The pasta will freeze well in a flat layer on a baking sheet that has been slightly dusted with semolina flour. Once frozen, you can transfer the noodles to a tupperware container and leave in the freezer for up to a month.

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For the Bolognese Sauce – Adapted from “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” by Domenica Marchetti

3 TBSP Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2-3 TBSP Unsalted Butter
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Large Carrots, Peeled and Finely Chopped
3 Stalks Celery, Finely Chopped
1 Large Yellow Onion, Finely Chopped
1 TBSP Parsley, Chopped
1 LB Ground Beef
1 LB Ground Veal
1 LB Ground Pork
1 C. Dry Vermouth or White Wine
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Pinch of Freshly Grated Nutmeg
3/4 C. Whole Milk
16 oZ Can Tomato Puree
3 C. Meat Broth, Homemade if Possible
1/2 C. Heavy Cream
4 Oz Thinly Sliced Mortadella, Minced

Warm the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat until the butter is melted.  Stir in the garlic, carrots, celery, onion and parsley and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Sauté for 10 to 15 minutes until softened and golden.  Add the ground meat to the pot and stir into the sautéed vegetables to distribute well.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is browned but still tender, about an hour.

Raise the temperature to medium, stir in the vermouth and cook until the liquid evaporates.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add the nutmeg and milk and stir to distribute evenly.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until most of the milk is absorbed.

Layers of Love – Zucchini and Kale Lasagna with Lemon Ricotta

Its starting to feel like we’ve found our flow here in Nashville. I have found my go to places (grocery stores, farmers markets, hair salons, tailors etc…) and I can finally navigate about the city without getting too horribly lost. And by the Grace of God, Dustin has finally managed to secure a position with one of the city’s largest and arguably its best Civil engineering firms and we are both so excited and so thankful. To celebrate, I decided to buckle down to take on a project that Dustin has been hinting at for a few months and take another pass at making vegetable lasagna.

We made veggie lasagna for the first, and, until now only, time about 3 years ago, just after we first moved in together. The recipe was a MAJOR undertaking as it called for us to slice and roast all of 7 different vegetables. As each veg cooked at a different rate we were constantly pulling roasting pans out of the oven and checking the done-ness of the various ingredients. The final product was good, but sheesh, what a project!



I spent several days mulling over how I would attack another great lasagna endeavor. I was resolved to keep the baked pasta dish veggie friendly, and thus dismissed the idea of a typical bolognese style lasagna. I thought about what my favorite component of a lasagna is – and realized that, aside from the layers themselves, I was quite crazy about the smooth and creamy mozzarella and ricotta filling and decided that my final dish would need to employ this traditional component. For veggies I selected two of my current favorites – zucchini and kale. In homage to the original lasagna dish that Dustin and I made years back, I decided to roast the zucchini in the oven. The kale I simply sauteed in olive oil on the stove.

Like the first time we made lasagna, making this dish was a bit of a labor of love. It is a great recipe for a rainy day when there is not much else to do. I am really pleased with the way Dustin managed to capture the cooking process with his camera.Hopefully these will give you some useful visual pointers for carrying out the dish and inspire you to take on the great lasagna challenge.

Zucchini and Swiss Chard Lasagna with Lemon Ricotta

For the Zucchini Layer

4 Medium Zucchini Cut into Quarters and Diced into 1/2 Inch Segments
3 TBSP Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 jelly roll or other rimmed baking sheets  with tin foil.

Toss the zucchini with olive oil and a liberal grinding of pepper, add salt to taste. Mix well and then divide among the two prepared baking sheets and bake for about 20 mins, turning at least once.

For the Greens Layer

1 10-oz Bag of Washed and Trimmed Kale (I got this at TJs) or 2 Bunches of Kale Stems Removed, Leaves Trimmed and Washed
2 Cloves Garlic Minced
1 TBSP Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet, add kale in 2-3 batches allowing it to wilt before adding another handful or two. Immediately after adding the last batch, add garlic, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, 2 mins. Remove Kale from heat and place in a bowl until ready to use.

For Lemon Riccotta Mixture

1.5 Lb Fresh Riccotta Cheese
3/4 Lb Grated Mozzarella Cheese
2 Eggs
1 Mediun Lemon, Zested and Squeezed
1 TBSP Fresh Thyme or Oregano, Minced
Salt and Pepper

In a large bowl mix together the ingredients above. Add about 2 TSP Ground Pepper and about 1/2 TSP salt and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.


For Bechamel Sauce (recipe from Mario Batali)

5 TBSP Butter
4 TBSP Flour
4 C. Milk
2 TSP Salt
1/2 TSP Freshly Ground Nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use.

To Finish the Lasagna

1 Package Flat (not Curly) No-Boil Lasagna Noodles (I bought mine from Trader Joes)
1/2 Cup Fresh Pesto
1/4 lb Freshly Grated Mozzarella

By the time you get to the assembly of the lasagna you are in the home stretch. Pick a large roasting pan for this job, you want one with deep sides that will be pretty for table side presentation. I used a large Emile Henry pan that my mother gave to me as a Christmas present, it was the perfect size at 14 x 10 x 3. Use one at least this size (or larger) or you may have some overflow issues.

Start by stirring your bechamel sauce and pour about 1/3 of this onto the bottom of the pan. Top with 1/2 the mozzarella cheese and a layer of noodles. Next, layer on about 1/2 of the pesto, followed by about half of the ricotta mixture.  Then, gently add the zucchini on top of the ricotta, top this with another layer of lasagna noodles. Pour another third of the bechamel on top of the lasagna noodles. Repeat the process adding pesto on top of the bechamel, followed by cheese, greens, and another layer of noodles. Top this last layer with remaining bechamel sauce and wrap tightly with tin foil.

Bake in the oven at 350 for about an hour. Uncover the pan and top with remaining mozzarella and bake for an additional 20 mins or until the top is browned. Serve with or without a light topping of tomato sauce and enjoy!

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