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Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh

September 12, 2013 1 comment

“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.”
― Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters

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And so, dear readers, we have moved again. From Tennessee where so many life events (some good, and some bad,) have come and gone, the winds of change have filled our sails once again and we have embarked on a new journey. This time lady fortune has lured us further Westward to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just east of The City of Angels. Had you asked me in June, I would never have guessed that we would end up living in Greater Los Angeles. But here we are, with a new home, and new jobs, getting back into the swing of things. Its a new swing but it has a nice groove; and with my penchant for produce, I could certainly do much worse than to end up in LA.

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Though we were sad to leave behind our phenomenal CSA program in Tennessee, we are so fortunate to have moved to an area where high-quality farmers markets are abundant. We have tried three of the area’s local markets so far and have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety of local ingredients and handmade goods. The knowledge and passion of the vendors and artisans gives the market its buzz and verve. Fruit vendors proudly pass out samples of their home grown produce and will gladly spend time with conscious consumers to explain their growing practices. Artisans offer up color on the inspiration for their wares which vary from market to market but include an immense variety of goods from beautiful handmade soaps, to aged balsamic vinegar, to home dried fruits, freshly popped kettle corn, local honey, and a multitude of baked goods. These are the markets I have been longing for – and with the scent of sweet summer fruit in the air and passion emanating from each booth, inspiration abounds.
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Now in its 13th year, The South Pasadena Farmers Market has a strong reputation as one of the best in Greater Los Angeles. Situated smack dab in the middle of what is arguably one of the most picture-perfect towns in the local area, the farmers market buzzes with activity every Thursday evening. The sense of community is immensely strong at this evening market. Parents bring their children to participate in sing-a-longs led by a local musician. Food stalls serve up dinner to hungry shoppers who set themselves down at communal picnic tables to enjoy their feast “en plein air.” Produce purveyors banter with their regulars while welcoming newcomers into the fold proffering up wedges of nectarines and samples of fresh pea pods for old and new shoppers alike, whetting their appetite for the weeks peak produce.

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It was one such sample of a tangy golden nectarine that seeded the inspiration for this salad. Only a stones throw from Georgia, we were plenty fortunate in Tennessee to be on the receiving end of the region’s well renown peaches. But despite Georgia’s claims of dominance in the production of peaches, I have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety and quality of stone fruit for sale at the Pasadena Area’s farmers markets. To preserve their delicate flesh from bruising, most peaches, plums, and nectarines are picked, packed, and taken to market just a day or so before they fully ripen. Though I have traditionally found underripe fruits to be unpleasantly tart, or lacking in flavor, some of the semi-firm nectarines offered up for sample struck a cord. Tangy but sweet, firm but not crunchy, the nectarine shows a different color and new versatility when eaten just before it reaches the pinnacle of ripeness. In this salad that sweet yet tart flavor plays well with the zesty chiles, sweet summer corn, and punchy onion; and the fruit brings a citrusy brightness acting as a foil for the earthy rye berries that make up the bulk of this grain-based dish.

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The original recipe called for cucumbers but I have adapted it here to include some lovely golden zucchini in its stead. As we typically prepare dishes for Dustin’s packed lunches in advance, I wanted to use a vegetable that would keep well in the salad for a few days and not leach too much water into the dish, hence the swapping in of zucchini for cucumbers. For similar reasons, I would strongly suggest using a golden zucchini over a yellow summer squash. If you cannot find golden zucchini at your local market, feel free to substitute a the traditional green variety that is so insanely abundant during the summer season.

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From place to place, vendor to vendor, and varietal to varietal, I find there is so much variance in corn. Some summer corn is so sweet and tender that I will happily eat it “raw,” cut straight from the cob (or perhaps still on it.) If you are lucky enough to happen upon corn that is brilliant in its naked state, simply remove it from the cob and add it to the salad uncooked. At times I find corn to be too starchy to eat without at least some cooking. There are countless ways to cook corn and virtually all will work for this dish. If you happen to be lighting up the grill you can simply wrap the shucked corn in foil and let them steam in the foil for a 10 – 15 minutes, or until the kernels darken ever so slightly in color and become tender allow the corn to cool before severing the kernels  from the cob. Another method I like involves removing the kernels from the cob and briefly blanching these in boiling water. Once the water has returned to a boil, leave kernels to bubble away for about two minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon to a prepared ice bath. The ice bath will halt the cooking process and brighten the color of the corn slightly. If using this method, allow the kernels to drain well before adding them to the salad.

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Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh (adapted from Kitchen Confidante)

128g (1 C) Cracked Rye
2 Ears of Sweet Corn, Raw, Steamed, or Boiled (See Note on Corn Above)
2 Slightly Firm Nectarines, Pitted and Diced
1/2 C Diced Red Onion
2 Small Golden Zucchini, Diced
1/2 Hatch Chile, Seeds Removed, Finely Sliced
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
1/4 C Chopped Mint
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Strained
1 TBSP Sherry Vinegar
1/2 TSP Agave
1/4 Cup Good Olive Oil

In a medium saucepan (with a lid) bring 3 cups of water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, place the cracked rye in a fine mesh strainer. Rinse the rye in several “changes” of water, as you would rice before cooking. Once the water has boiled add a pinch of salt and the grains. Once the pot has returned to a boil, place the lid on the pot and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for at least 5 minutes before removing the lid and tasting one of the grains. The grains should no longer be crunchy but should still have a somewhat firm texture. If they are not soft enough, return the lid to the pot and let stand several more minutes before testing again. Once the grains are to your liking, drain in a fine mesh colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Give the colander a few shakes to rid it of some of the excess water and leave the grains to drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Place corn, nectarines, onion, zucchini, and chiles in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add cilantro, mint, lemon juice, sherry, agave, olive oil, a liberal pinch of salt and several cracks of pepper and toss again. Add the well drained rye berries and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.

To Eat? Or Not To Eat (Meat)? – Black Bean Soup with Canadian Bacon

Right now my loving husband is working on our next post. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will hint at the fact that the love of my life, and our household’s chief engineer, is going to be presenting to you an essay and some technical hints on the preparation of one of our most favorite libations. But for more on that, you will have to wait, at least a teensy while longer.

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And now that I have piqued your interest with a glimpse of things to come I would like to switch gears entirely to discuss the topic that has been “top of mind” for me over the last few months. I have spent a great deal of time lately ruminating on ideas related to the grand theme (and current social buzz word) of “Sustainability.” More specifically, I have been reading, researching and listening to various different sources in hopes of developing some deeper understanding of how my decisions, as a consumer, impact the environment, and, furthermore, how environmental impacts may threaten future generations ability to thrive.

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The modern American Diet, with its focus on meat protein and packaged convenience foods, has taken a toll both on the health of our people and on the environment. I recently completed an eye-opening course on the American Food System on Coursera. The course provided an impactful overview of both historical and modern systems of agriculture and food animal production, as well as the policies, such as the American “Farm Bill”, which drive the complex networks of subsidies as well as the protocol governing food assistance programs and the dissemination of information related to nutrition. But among the many segments was most illuminating to me were the lectures on industrial food animal production systems and their environmental and health costs.

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Not only do Industrial Food Animal Production systems have a stark impact on the ecology of the immediately surrounding area, but the industry’s hunger for resources, from water, to energy, to pharmaceuticals is stripping the nation of many resources and putting us at risk for environmental disaster. And that is to say nothing of the nasty byproducts of the production such as animal waste, methane gas, and potential for diseases that come hand in hand with large scale facilities. It is clear that something needs to change, in terms of our patterns of meat consumption (which, until recently, had been on the sharp rise over the course of the last century) as current trends are simply not sustainable.

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While the facts of food animal production are certainly harrowing and, indeed, a bit off-putting, for me, the solution to lessening the impact of my food choices on the environment is not to simply forgo meat altogether. It is clear to me that meat protein should play a far smaller role in our modern diet. In our home, we have committed to eating less than a single small (3-4oz) serving of meat per day and endeavor to vote with our food dollars to support farmers who use sustainable practices in raising food animals. The recipe for black bean soup featured below was developed around a traditional practice of using a small portion of meat as flavoring for an otherwise plant-based meal. While the amount of meat used may be small, it’s smoky and savory favors make a big impact on the hearty soup, which is a warming treat to share with loved ones on a rainy spring day.

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Before I delve into the recipe, lets take a moment to talk about soaking beans. If you look through our blog history you will note that I have shifted away from using canned beans. Canned beans are a great convenience food and can make a quick addition to a dish in a pinch but what you gain in convenience comes at a nutritional cost. Canned beans are traditionally packed with sodium, while rinsing the beans before using them does make an impact on the amount of sodium that makes its way into the final dish, even proper rinsing techniques are only able to mitigate about 40% of the added sodium. Dried beans are not an ingredient that can be used instantaneously in the way that they canned counterparts may be, but I, personally, find them no less convenient. Not only do I find the home cooked beans to be superior from a textural perspective, but I appreciate the opportunity to soak, rinse, resoak, and rerinse the beans before cooking. Putting the beans through multiple (2-3) changes of water over the course of an 8+ hour soaking process helps to rid the end product of some of the indigestible carbohydrates that give beans the monicker of the “magical fruit.”

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One final note here on using dried beans, the dried nature of the beans used in this dish allows for them to be cooked for a much longer period of time without compromising the texture of the bean. With the longer cooking window the beans absorb a greater deal of flavor from the bacon and aromatics in the soup creating a richer end product. If substituting canned beans the overall cooking time for the soup will need to be much shorter in order to avoid reducing the beans to mush.

Black Bean Soup with Bacon (Serves 8)

500g (2.5c) Dried Black Beans
3 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Divided)
About 15 Slices of Thinly Cut Canadian Bacon
1 Large Yellow Onion, Chopped
2 Cubanelle Peppers, Diced
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1 TSP Chipotle Powder (or Hot Smoked Paprika)
1 TSP Ground Cumin
1oz Tequilla (Blanco, or Reposado are OK – I would Avoid Anejo)
1/2 a Bunch of Cilantro, Washed Well and Chopped
1 TBSP Lime Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Start by soaking your beans. I start mine in the evening after dinner and drain them and change out the water just before going to bed. If you are concerned about wasting water – the liquid drained off of the beans can easily be saved to water houseplants.

Once the beans have soaked for at least 8 hours, drain them again and set them aside.

Heat 1 TBSP of the olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the canadian bacon and cook until any fat has rendered and the meat is slightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Add and onions and sauté until soft, add the Cubanelles and continue to cook until they too soften.  Stir in the canadian bacon, garlic, chipotle, and cumin and sautee for another minute or so before tipping in about 8 cups of water. Add the beans to the pot and stir.

Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. While the soup does not require constant monitoring at this point be sure to periodically check on the pot to ensure that there is still enough liquid present to cover the beans. About every 20 minutes or so, skim off any foam that rises to the surface, and then give the mixture a few slow stirs to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Be sure to do this in this order, skimming first and then stirring, as you do not want to stir the foam back into the soup.

The cooking time for dried beans can vary widely depending on the age of the beans and length of soaking time. After the first hour and a half of cooking time test one of the beans to see if it is tender. To do so, remove a bean or two and set it on a plate, as the beans may still be rock hard it might not be the best plan to toss it in your mouth and chomp down – instead test one between your thumb and forefinger to see if there is any give. If the bean is still completely hard keep the pot simmering away and test again after another 30 minutes have elapsed. If the bean has reasonable give you can move on to an actual taste test to better gauge the texture. When Dustin is put in charge of testing the doneness of things he invariably asks me how to know when it is done – here I will offer the same advice I give to him, when you like the way the beans taste, and the texture is to your liking, they are done. Once the beans are cooked to your preference, stir in the tequila, about half of the chopped cilantro, and the lime juice. Taste the soup and determine if more lime, cilantro, or salt is needed and adjust these seasonings until they, too, meet your flavor preferences.

This soup is great on its own but also pairs well with homemade cornbread – I love the cornbread recipe featured on the Anson Mills website. The recipe is as simple as it gets but is remarkably good. If you have not explored Anson Mills’ site before, it is a stunning resource for information on grains such as Oats, Corn, and Rice and their freshly milled ingredients are a world above anything available in even the best grocery stores.

A Classic – Early Summer Ratatouille

In a flash, a bang, and a pop, the wedding has come and gone. Was it everything I could have hoped for? Yes, absolutely but at the same time it was also so much more. I want so much to thank all who attended, and all of those who, in presence or in absence, have  supported and encouraged our union.  Your smiles, your embraces, and tears of joy have affirmed what I have always known in my heart – that I have found my best friend, my soul mate, my partner in life.

I want to extend a special thank you to the Reverend Doss, who gave such eloquent voice to the feelings that Dustin and I share – to Kathy and Mike for lending their ceremony to us and allowing us to make it our own. Dustin and I hope to follow in your footsteps as we share times of joy and sorrow, holding on to the good memories, and learning from our missteps. A true thank you as well to all of the attendees (particularly to Ken and Alicia and the Padalino family) who were so amazingly understanding and patient with us through the date change – through your support and kindness, and patience with our vision, we were able to enjoy a truly beautiful evening as a unified family. To those who traveled in from far away we appreciate you making the trek to join us, you presence helped make the day a truly memorable occasion. To Kristen, our patient photographer – thank you for making me smile, for your grace and poise and keen eye for detail.

To my new sisters and brother, thank you for the hugs and kisses, and for the amazing warmth and acceptance you have shown me. To my own sister a thousand thank yous for your patience with me, I know I can be a real trial. You showed amazing grace and support in the nerve biting moments before the big event. Thank you for loaning me some of your keen fashion insight, we both know how clueless I can be. To Peggy, thank you ever so much for your support with the flowers, you helped make our big day a beautiful success. To Gram, thank you for your endless support, for your wisdom and your prayers, we know we have angels looking out for us.

To my own parents, its hard to even begin. Thank you for your years of teaching. For thousands of hugs and kisses, and for the occasional tough love it took to keep me, your “head in the clouds” daughter, on track. It is through your guidance that I have learned to be loving, and your perseverance through times of adversity has taught me to stand tall, and above all – to never let the [bad guys] get me down.  Thank you both for giving me such a special day, to Mom for her beautifully executed vision (it truly was a Mid Summer Night’s Dream) and to Dilip for his beautiful toasts and for that – often silent but always felt – support. Thank you both for the gift of allowing us to all share this day together as a family.

Just as love, family, and friendship are timeless and fill us with warmth, this dish that follows is a true classic. It takes advantage of the plenty of the summer harvest and transforms it into a light stew, full of sustenance and comfort. Leftovers can be easily transformed into a wealth of different dishes – from tarts, to pot pies, to soups, to bruschetta. To all of those who have supported us, this one is for you. We hope that it warms your hearts as you have ours.

Early Summer Ratatouille

2 Small Eggplant Cut in Half and Cut into 1/2 Inch Slices
4 TBSP Olive Oil, Divided
3 Red or Yellow Bell Peppers
3 Bay Leaves
3 Sprigs Thyme
1 Sprig Rosemary
2 Red Onions, Cut in Half and Sliced Thinly
6 Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
3-4 Zucchini or Yellow Squash (a Mix is Great Too!) Cut into 1-Inch Cubes
5 Plum Tomatoes, Scored with an X on the Bottom
At least 3 Cups Boiling Water
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
Small Splash of Good Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Heat the broiler to high. Place the eggplant in a single layer on a cooling rack atop a baking sheet (see the first photo above for an illustration.) Brush with 1 TBSP of Olive Oil, sprinkle with a spattering of salt and pepper and place beneath the broiler and grill until just browned (depending on the evenness of your broilers heat distribution you may want to rotate the pan half way though.) Remove the tray, flip the eggplant, brush the other side with another TBSP of olive oil, sprinkle on a bit more salt an pepper and repeat the broiling until just toasted and remove.

Set the cooling rack aside to cool and place the bell peppers on the baking tray. Pop the peppers in the oven under the broiler and cook until charred on all sides. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover with saran wrap and allow to steam for 5 mins.

While the peppers steam place the remaining 2 TBSP of olive oil in a large sautee pan over the stove. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary, sautee one minute, stirring often. Once the herbs are very fragrant add the onions and sautee until very soft (about 5-7 mins) and almost translucent.

While the onions sautee place the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 2-3 inches of boiling water. Allow to cool before removing them with a slotted spoon to a cutting board. Peel off the skins (these should slide off easily now.) Quarter the tomatoes and remove the worst of the seeds. Place seeded and skinned tomatoes on a cutting board and chop roughly. Transfer tomatoes along with their accumulated juices to a bowl and set aside.

When the onions have cooked for 5-7 mins add the sliced garlic to the onions in the pan and sautee another 2-3 mins, stirring often.

Remove the peppers from their bowl, leaving the accumulated juice inside. Peel and core the peppers. Slice thinly and return to the bowl with the juice.

Add the zucchini to the onion herb mixture and sautee stirring regularly for 4 mins. Add the peppers, tomatoes, and their juices and cook another 3 mins, stirring. If the dish appears too dry or starts to stick and brown on the bottom add a 1/4 cup of broth or water to loosen. Add the eggplant and cook until just heated through. Be careful not to overcook the zucchini.

Remove the pan from the heat. Scatter parsley over the dish and stir, taste and season as needed with salt and pepper adding a dash of balsamic if desired. Carefully fish out the bay leaves and what remains of the rosemary sprig and thyme (the parts that have cooked into the dish are fine to remain in place.) Serve warm, cool, or transform into a myriad of other dishes from tarts to bread soup.

Spring Clean Out – Bright and Herby Green Couscous

It’s a bit overwhelming to think we are moving again in less than two weeks. There are some ways in which I actually like moving. As a big proponent of the “use it or lose it” mantra, moving offers an opportunity to revamp, reorganize, and sift through any accumulated clutter. Having moved to Nashville within the last year, it was easy to determine which items we had not used since moving in and make judgements as to whether to donate them, recycle them, or hold out hope that we might find just the right use for that odd utensil, or the perfect occasion for a never worn dress.

The same clean out fervor carries over to the pantry. Spices that have not been used in the months that have eclipsed since the move in date should likely be tossed, especially if ground. And while I have a soft spot for “ancient grains,” the same does not apply to old stale ones. Nuts, too, begin to decline rapidly once they pass their peak. Dustin and I had a great wealth of couscous sitting in a Ball Jar on our grains shelf, and an old bag of shelled pistachios that were about to go over the proverbial hill. When I came across a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” for green couscous, that incorporated the tiny grains with a vivacious herb sauce and toasted pistachios, I knew I found a winner.

In the spring, more than ever, I love making bright herbaceous dishes. Perhaps it’s just that many of my favorite herbs are just starting to peek through the ground, and maybe it’s because green is the unofficial color of springtime, but bright punch flavors draw me in after the heavy stews, soups, and braises that dominate winters comfort cuisine. This salad actually pairs very well alongside a heavier dish like a Tagine, and is great a day (or even two) later over a bed of bright greens with grilled chicken, shrimp, or tofu.

From a health perspective this couscous salad covers its bases. Couscous is made from semolina flour, traditionally the semolina was rolled into tiny pellets and then tossed in flour to keep the pellets from sticking together, before left to dry. While couscous is more akin to a pasta than a whole grain, a whole wheat variety may be substituted for the traditional white variety adding additional protein and fiber to this dish. If you want to go a step further and up the ante to a full on whole grain, cracked bulgur wheat, millet, or quinoa may be swapped in for the couscous. It will alter the flavor slightly but should be a delicious and nutritious dish nonetheless.

The pistachios in this dish provide a nice textural contrast to the chewy toothsome grains, leafy greens, and soft onion. From a nutritional perspective they add a great deal as a good source of healthy fat, B Vitamins, fiber, and pop of protein. I have upped the amount of parsley in this recipe from Yotam’s original 1/2 cup because, compared with cilantro, it packs a nutritional wallop. Not only is it high in dietary fiber, but is also a rich source of Vitamins K, C, and A. So go on and dig into this bright herbaceous dish, your body and your taste buds will thank you.

Green Couscous – from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “plenty”

For the Herb Paste
1/2 C Chopped Flat-leaf Parsley
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
2 TBSP Chopped FreshTarragon
4 TBSP Chopped Fresh Mint
6 TBSP Olive Oil

For the Couscous
1 C Couscous
3/4 C Boiling Water or Stock
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1 Lg Onion, Thinly Sliced
1/2 TSP Fine Sea Salt
1/4 TSP Ground Cumin

To Finish
1/2 C Unsalted Pistachios, Toasted and Coarsely Chopped
3 Scallions, Finely Sliced
1 Fresh Chile, Such as a Jalapeño, Finely Sliced (I Like This Spicy So I Substituted a Serrano)
1 1/2 C Arugula Leaves, Chopped

To make the herb paste combine all ingredients, save the olive oil, in a food processor and pulse. Add olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture resembles a smooth paste. Taste and add a bit of salt and pepper as needed.

To make the couscous, place couscous in a large bowl and add boiling water or stock. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand for 10 minutes. Fluff gently with a fork to break up any big chunks and set aside.

In a sauté pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, cumin, and salt and sauté until the onion is golden and soft.

In a large bowl, combine couscous and half of the herb paste. taste and add more herb paste a bit at a time until you like the balance of flavor. You can serve the remaining sauce on the side so that diners can adjust for individual taste. Add pistachios, scallions, green chile, and arugula and toss gently.

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.

Don’t Cry For Me Cipollini – Cipollini Onion and Rosemary Flatbreads

Its crazy to think that I have been wearing contacts for over 15 years. I received my first pair as a precocious 10 year old who had just lost yet another pair of glasses. My mom, at her wits end with my quirky penchant for misplacing everything from books, to lenses, to shoes, gloves, hats, and occasionally my entire backpack, was sincerely hoping this would be the last time she would bring me to the eye doctors for a replacement pair. My ophthalmologist proposed the idea of contacts, they would be far more difficult to misplace, and since a single pair would be far less expensive than a set of frames, in the event that I did misplace a lens, it wouldn’t be quite as damaging.

And so, for as long as I can remember, I have worn contacts. I cannot recall life without them, how my morning routine may have differed, how my activities were altered. For as long as I have been cooking I have been wearing my little Acuvue 2 friends. And until recently I had never prepped an onion without my lenses in. That is, until this morning, when, while prepping mirepoix for chicken soup in my brand new glasses, I sliced into an onion and felt a sensation I had never before felt. My eyes were on FIRE! I now know how the rest of the general population fees when slicing and dicing onions, and, for once, I feel blessed to be optically challenged.

These flatbreads, which I discovered on a blog post by one of my new favorite blog writers, Sarah, at the Yellow House blog, don’t employ just any old variety of onion. These beautiful little hors d’ouvres showcase one of my all time favorite varieties of onion, the Cipollini. Like many of my ancestors, Cipollinis hail from Italy. The name Cipollini, means small onion in Italian. And what these little beauties lack in size they make up for in flavor. Like Vadalia onions, Cipollini onions are a sweet variety of onion. They have far more residual sugar, when cooked, than their traditional counterparts. The variety can range in color from white to yellow to red, and can be found at many grocery stores, including Whole Foods, where I found these little beauties, on sale, lucky me.

This dish really highlights the beautiful soft flavors of the Cippolini. Though the onion is the proud “hero” of this dish, the earthy whole wheat flat breads play an important supporting role. It forms not only the literal base of the adorable appetizer, and lends it its name, but serves as a fantastic textural and flavor counterpoint to the silky sweet onion. The goat cheese is the glue that holds it all together, again, literally, in that it helps the onion “stick” to the flat bread and not slide off, but also brings a tangy, and classy element to the party. And, speaking of parties, these would make a fantastic contribution to your next shindig. They may even be the belle of the ball. So go on and try them! Just remember to wear your contacts, or goggles.

Cipollini Onion and Rosemary Flatbreads from a post by Sarah of “The Yellow House” blog

For Onions:
8-10 Cipollini Onions, Bottoms Still Intact, Peeled
2 TBSP Olive Oil
Several Sprigs Rosemary

For Flatbread:
1 1/2 C. 50/50 Flour (50% White, 50% Whole Wheat)
2 TBSP Olive Oil
1 TSP Baking Powder
1/2 TSP Sea Salt
1/2 C. Warm Water

For assembly:
Chèvre
More Rosemary to Garnish

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt for the flatbreads while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.  Add the olive oil, stirring gently.   Add as much of the water as necessary until the dough comes together into a sticky ball.  Once the dough is formed, let it rest while you move on to the onions.

Peel the onions (with contacts in if applicable), and toss in olive oil, roughly chopped rosemary and sea salt.  Place onions in roasting pan and roast for 30-40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes until caramelized and tender.

While the onions are roasting, heat a cast iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil (grapeseed or vegetable) over high heat.  Divide the dough ball into 8 pieces, roll each into a ball and flatten into very thin rounds on a wooden cutting board.  Add the rounds to the hot skillet, 4 at a time, and flip when they begin to blister and are lightly browned on one side.  The second side will cook more quickly, so keep an eye on them.

When everything is ready, spread the chèvre onto the flatbreads, top with an onion, smooshed down.  Sprinkle with chopped rosemary and serve!

Lighten Up Already – Greens, Grains, and Pecan Salad

Recently, I have developed this obsession for the Food 52 project’s website. Not only is the content great but their new design overhaul has made the site into an elegant source of culinary eye candy. I have found countless great ideas for this year’s thanksgiving dinner on the site and I admit that I may have a bit of blog envy. One of the site’s recent galleries featured a selection of healthy dishes that can be mixed into the traditional collection of classics and I found this a bit inspiring.

For most people, myself included, the holiday season is a time for family, but when it comes to holiday cuisine, for many this means a month and a half of over-indulgence. So this year I am trying to make a break from the norm by mixing in a good handful of healthy recipes to counterbalance some of the traditional, heavy handed staples.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating you completely ditch your family’s favorites for hippy dippy health food. But it certainly cant hurt to cut down on butter here and there and add some delicious salads and whole grains into the traditional mix. One of the inspirational recipes I came across on Food 52 called for mixing together a healthy selection of whole grains, like farro, and black rice, with hearty winter greens, heaps of herbs, pecans, and dried cranberries – it was just what I was looking for a beautiful healthy dish that would delight and nourish my family this thanksgiving.

The nuts and cranberries allude to classic holiday flavors while the grains and greens bring new players to the party. One of my favorite parts of the recipe would have to be the herbs, which make the dish scream with bright and zesty flavors and the radishes, whose bright bitter crunch will brighten up any butter laden holiday plate. So this year, try something different, add new flavors to the mix, and show your family you love them by encouraging them to take care of their health throughout the traditionally gluttonous holiday season.

Greens, Grains, and Pecan Salad – Adapted from Food 52’s Radish and Pecan Grain Salad

2 C. Mixed Grains – I Used a Mix of Black Rice, Farro, and Wheat Berries
3 C. Hearty Greens, I Selected Some Baby Kale Greens But Treviso, Arugula, or Endive Would Work Well
1 C. Minced Parsley
1/2 Cup Minced Tarragon
1/2 C. Minced Fresh Mint
1 C. Pecans
1/4 C. Walnut Oil
1/4 C. Sherry Vinegar
1 C. Watermelon Radishes Sliced Thinly
1/4 C. Shallot, Halved and Sliced Thinly
1/4 C. Olive Oil
1/2 C. Dried Cranberries

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, add the grains and cook until just tender, about 25 minutes.

Drain the grains into a colander, then set aside until almost cool.

Combine vinegar and oils in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Place all of the other ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. Pour dressing over the salad and toss again. Taste the salad and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.

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