Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Agnolotti with Butternut Squash and Parmagiano Reggiano

What you see here is my first attempt to make a stuffed pasta. I decided to try my hand at agnolotti, which seemed the most free form and more importantly, the most forgiving. While it was not a total success, I was extremely pleased with it, and there was the added bonus that I learned some things while making it.

The first thing I learned is that I need to roll out the dough a little bit more. It was good, but the pasta was on the thick side.

Which didn't help with this first batch I cooked. I boiled them for about three minutes even, and that was not enough. Not only were they a little thick, they were more than a little al dente.

But the butternut squash and parmagiano reggiano filling was sensational from the first bite. For this first batch, I cooked up a little butter and fried sage in it. It was tasty, but I wanted to find something a little healthier.

The next time I made butternut squash soup, I thought that might make a nice sauce for the agnolotti. It was rich and smooth, and it did go well. I over-sauced it, though, which overpowered the more delicate interior filling.

For the final version pictured at the top, I sauted onion and garlic in olive oil and butter, added a small amount of chicken broth and cooked it down, and then spooned that over the pasta. I finished it off with some grated parmagiano reggiano and chopped parsley. By then I had calculated the cooking time better, so except for being on the thick side, it was pretty near perfection.

The biggest thing I learned is that you can freeze homemade pasta. I had already test-frozen some noodles, which I let thaw and cooked normally and they were just as tasty as their fresh counterpart. For these stuffed pastas, I learned that you can just throw them in the boiling salted water frozen and add ten minutes to the cooking time.

One full batch of pasta made 36 agnolotti. I used my faithful empty 14.5-oz. coconut milk can with both ends opened as a pasta cutter, so they were about two-and-a-half inches in diameter. I cooked seven the first night and then froze the rest. Lay them out flat on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. After they are frozen, you can just throw them into a freezer bag. They will keep indefinitely, but you should use them within a few months or the pasta can break on you. I don't know if you can see it, but the one in the center up at the top did break apart while it was cooking. I was able to treat it carefully so it did not fall completely apart, but the water did dilute the filling, so it was not ideal.

I am still playing with sauces for this pasta. I liked the butter sauces the best (who wouldn't?), but I still want to find something healthier, and I want to lighten my hand with the amount of sauce I am using.

But this was definitely not bad for a first attempt. I will post the recipe when I have it down.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Three-Cheese Polenta (with Braised Beef Shanks)

I hope you Americans out there had a lovely Thanksgiving. I know I did, here in Austin with my family. This year it was just my brother's family and me. It was a very low key affair, but the turkey was beautifully roasted with tender juicy white meat and flavorful dark meat that was not too stringy. I always like to have a little white meat at the Thanksgiving dinner, and then I feast on the dark meat for the next few days. Being the only person who likes the dark meat, I have no competition. After my brother has cleaned the carcass of all edible white meat, it has become my job to take care of the dark meat. I pull the meat off of the wings, thighs and drumsticks. Half of it I cut into smaller pieces that can be frozen and made into pot pies or soup, and the rest of it goes into the fridge to last me through the rest of my visit.

But now that the last of the leftovers are disappearing, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that braising season is now officially upon us. It's the perfect time of year to take that hefty chunk of flavorful meat and simmer it in a pot full of rich, flavorful liquid, then serve it up over a nice mash of potatoes, root vegetables, or polenta, as I have done here. To me, it is one of the most delicious meals in the world.

For a while I was buying instant polenta, which is basically partially cooked and then dried so it only takes 5 minutes on the stove. I cannot tell the difference between the instant polenta and the regular polenta that takes over half an hour and a stirring arm of steel to produce, so I long decided the extra cost of the instant polenta was well worth paying.

And then I saw an episode of Sara Moulton's Weeknight Meals where she baked the polenta in the oven. It looked easy, so I tried it and discovered that it was as easy as it looked. No fuss, no muss, not stirring - what could be better?

Actually, I decided it could be a little bit better. It was a little too soft and pudding-like for me the first time I made it, so I experimented with less cooking liquid until I got the consistency to be just the way I like it. This time, I had little bits of three cheeses left over in the refrigerator so I just grated them all up and threw them in. With spectacular results, I might add.

While delicious with braised beef shanks, polenta can be served with just about any other dish you can imagine. It makes a nice change from mashed potatoes or rice.

You can find my braising method for the beef shanks here.

1 cup cornmeal (fine or stone ground) or polenta (not instant)
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 cups water
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.

Combine the cornmeal, butter, salt and pepper in a 1-1/2 quart baking dish and mix everything together. Place on the top shelf of the oven and bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and stir well. Put it back in the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Add the cheeses and stir well until the cheeses have melted and are well mixed into the polenta. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from Sara Moulton's Creamy Baked Polenta recipe.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Curried Frittata with Mustard Greens

As I was making this curried frittata with mustard greens, I got to thinking about how easy it is to create new dishes once you have learned the basics of the original. I have actually been thinking about this quite a bit lately, because I seem to have crossed some threshold over the past year or so where I am using fewer recipes and creating my own dishes as I go. It's not that I am memorizing the recipes - it's more that I am using all of the information and techniques I have accumulated while following recipes in the past. If you are paying attention as you cook, you start to see the patterns of how a particular dish is constructed, and you can start constructing your own versions, rather than just exchanging ingredients.

That's what happened with this frittata. Once I mastered the original recipe, I quickly realized that virtually any vegetable and any cheese would work. At first I trod lightly - I used zucchini instead of spinach, and gruyere cheese instead of parmesan. Then I added thinly sliced potatoes, which added another dimension. Following that, adding sweet potato seemed like a logical conclusion. After that, anything seemed possible.
Last Tuesday I was gifted with two beautiful bunches of mustard greens. I was not in a position to cook them right away, so I rinsed them, trimmed the ends, wrapped them in paper towels, put them in the refrigerator and prayed that they would hold up until I could use them.

Which, as it turns out, was Saturday. I checked them for the last time on Friday and they were still ok, so I figured they could go one more day. They were locally grown, and organic, so I think that helped them stay sturdy enough to go the distance (as opposed to the conventional produce you usually find in the grocery store).

Saturday morning I decided they would be lovely in a frittata. As I was gathering the ingredients, I started thinking about what would happen if I added mustard seeds, a technique I learned when making Lentil Soup with Spicy Mustard Greens. I have used that technique often when cooking greens, either with the mustard seeds themselves, or a dijon mustard that has whole seeds in it. It adds a lovely little crunch and spice to the greens that I just love.

And as soon as I thought about adding mustard seeds, my mind switched to Indian mode, and I decided that if you can curry eggs, then surely you can curry a frittata.

Which is what I did. I consider this to be a new recipe, rather than an adaptation of a previous recipe. The techniques may be the same, and the basic ingredients, but I think the method and the flavor profile have changed enough for it to be considered new. What do you think?

Whatever you think, the end result was amazing, and succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. There are some adjustments that can be made; as I was writing about the potatoes I added to the original recipe, I was thinking they would be outstanding added to the curried version. And I might play around more with the spices. A tikka or garam masala might replace the curry powder. Maybe some coriander or cardamom would enhance the flavor.

Now that I know the process, the possibilities are endless.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 4 servings

2 bunches mustard greens, rinsed, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch strips (or any greens - spinach, chard, or kale would work just as well)
1/4 cup ghee, or 3 Tbsp oil and 1 Tbsp butter
1Tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
6 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
7 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, or any other desired cheese

Place mustard greens in a pre-heated large pot over medium heat. You do not need to add any water; they will cook in the rinse liquid. Turn the heat down as low as it will go, cover the pot, and cook for 10 minutes. Shock in ice-cold water, then drain the greems and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Put the squeezed greens on a cutting board and chop them about 1/2-inch apart in one direction, then 1/2-inch apart in the other.

Heat the ghee in a non-stick or cast-iron medium-sized (10-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop, cover the skillet. Leave it covered until the popping slows down. Add the onions and garlic and cook until they are translucent.

Add the spices and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add the greens, stir everything together, and turn the heat to low.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk thoroughly and pour into the skillet with the onions, garlic and greens. Lower the heat and cook until the eggs are set. If
necessary, run a spatula around the sides of the pan once it was started to set and lift up an edge to allow some of the unset egg mixture to flow to the bottom of the pan. You may have to do this more than once.

With an oven-proof skillet: Once the frittata has almost completely set but has just a little bit of unset egg on top, sprinkle the grated cheese over it and put it under the broiler for a minute or two, until the top sets and the cheese has melted and is golden brown. Remove from the oven and take out of the pan. Let sit for five minutes befrore slicing.

With a non-stick skillet: Once the frittata has almost completely set, either slide it into an oven-proof dish and continue as instructed above, or slide it onto a plate then invert it back into the non-stick
skillet so the top is now on the bottom and the egg can set. Sprinkle the cheese over the top, cover, and cook another minute or two until the cheese melts.

inspired by my Basic Frittata recipe, which in turn was adapted from James Beard's American Cookery, by James Beard (Little, Brown and Company, 1972).

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chickpea Stew with Six Vegetables

Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook has not disappointed me yet, and Chickpea Stew with Six Vegetables is no exception. This recipe is marked as a Moroccan dish, but the spices are subtle, and there is no cinnamon in it, a spice with which I have come to associate Moroccan cuisine. The result is a vibrant, colorful stew with a lovely blend of flavors. The addition of a few strands of saffron infuses both the look and the flavor with an extra shot of richness. I don't usually have saffron on hand, given the expense, but a little goes a long way and I am glad I used it here. It only takes a few threads to make a difference, and there really is nothing like it.

I took this to our work potluck lunch, and it was well received. I cooked a batch of whole wheat couscous in vegetable stock to serve with it, but it looked like most people were happy with the stew by itself. It's certainly hearty enough to stand alone.

The beauty of this recipe is that you do not have to use all of the vegetables. The first time I made it I totally glossed over the fact that I needed potatoes and sweet potatoes, so I had neither. I simply cut the cooking time of the chickpeas and spices and added the carrots after ten minutes instead of twenty.

I also only had canned crushed tomatoes the first time I made it, so I drained them as best I could, added the crushed pulp first, then the liquid. The second time I purchased canned plum tomatoes and used them. Each provided a different effect, but both worked equally well.
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews


3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked, liquid reserved*
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, finely chopped, liquid reserved
2 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
5 to 6 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
5 to 6 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ginger powder
Saffron threads (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch thick pieces
3 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces

Put the oil in a large pot and place over medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir and fry for 5 minutes, or until it begins to brown around the edges. Add in the garlic and stir for about 1 minute, or until it turns golden.

Now add the chickpeas, 1-1/4 cups reserved cooking liquid, the tomatoes, potatoes, parsley, cilantro, salt, cumin, turmeric, ginger, saffron, and cayenne. Measure the reserved tomato liquid and add enough
water to make 2-1/2 cups of liquid in total. Add to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes.

Add the sweet potato and carrots. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat again, and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Add the zucchini, bring to a boil once again, and cook, covered, on low heat for 7 to 8
minutes or until the zucchini is tender.

*You can use canned chickpeas, but if you do, be sure to buy organic beans so you can use the liquid.

from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, by Madhur Jaffrey (Clarkson Potter 1999)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Burger on a Plate and Name That Station!

Ah yes, just one more of the many reasons I miss my home state. Apparently in an effort to raise money, they are offering custom license plates with company logos embossed on them.

And if that isn't surreal enough, apparently the Chicago CTA will be selling naming rights to train and bus stations. As if it isn't hard enough for people to know where they're going, try taking the Blue Line from McDonald's Station to Panda Express.

I see the future, and it ain't pretty.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tidbit of the Day: Say Cheese!

Marion Nestle addresses the USDA's schizophrenic stance on Cheese in The Atlantic Monthly.

One more example of the fox watching the chickens, or something like that.

(That's my pizza up there - light on the cheese.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Papardelle with Chicken and Broccolette

Now that I've shown you how easy it is to make pasta, I feel better about showing you my more recent efforts. It is so easy to make, in fact, that I find myself wanting to make it just for the sheer pleasure of doing so.

And I love how creative you can be with sauces. I have gravitated more towards white sauces with my home-made pasta. I am not sure why; I will have to explore that. But I don't want my white sauces to be loaded with butter and cream, so I have been experimenting with chicken or vegetable broth, adding just a touch of cream at the end to make it a little richer. That seems to be working

These noodles are a little less than an inch wide, which makes them papardelle, although they are on the narrow side. I thought this would be a good width to go with the leftover I chicken I had from what I had poached for the broth. I was fortuitous enough to find more broccolette at Treasure Island so I bought some of that.

I put the pasta water over high heat to bring it to a boil. Before I cooked the pasta, however, I dropped in the chopped broccolette, turned off the heat, and blanched it for about four minutes, after which I pulled it out and shocked it in some cold water to stop the cooking and help keep its vibrant green color. I turned the heat back on under the pot, and while the water was coming up to a boil I started working on the sauce.

I sauteed a few cloves of garlic with olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, being careful not to burn the garlic. After a few minutes I added about half a cup of chicken broth and brought it to a simmer. I seasoned to taste with salt and pepper and added a teaspoon of dried thyme. I would have used fresh thyme if I had any, but that was not the case. I added the broccolette and the chicken and turned the heat to low. Since both the chicken and the broccolette were already cooked, I just wanted to heat them through and reduce the stock a little.

When the pasta water was boiling I added the pasta and poured about 2 tablespoons of cream into the sauce. After two minutes, I drained the slightly undercooked pasta (reserving about a cup of the pasta water) and added it to the pan with the chicken and broccolette. I stirred everything together, letting the pasta cook for another minute or so until it was al dente, adding a little of the pasta water to help the sauce get to the perfect consistency. I turned off the heat, added about half a cup of grated parmiagiano-reggiano, and made sure everything was well mixed.

After plating the pasta, I added more cheese and sprinkled chopped parsley over the top.

It was delicious. The photo doesn't really do it justice - I have noticed that the cream sauces don't show up well in my photographs, which makes the pasta look dry. I don't like to drown my pasta in sauce, but there was a perfect balance of sauce to pasta on that plate.

What I like about this method is that it doesn't really matter what you use - broccolette, broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, peas, artichoke hearts - the possibilities are endless. And when you have made the pasta yourself, it goes from good to gourmet.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Mini Chef's Salad

I have been running low on chicken broth but haven't been cooking much chicken so I haven't had any chicken bones lying around to make some. I keep thinking I will just buy some and be done with it, but it is so easy to make my own that I just can't do it. So I went to the Apple Market and bought some chicken legs and poached them for the broth.

I thought I might make chicken salad with the chicken so I hard boiled some eggs, but I didn't really have anything with which to eat it and I didn't feel like making bread. It did occur to me that it might be nice to serve it in a lovely lettuce wrap, and out of that small thought a beautiful salad was born.

The red-leaf lettuce was beautiful at Treasure Island the next day so I bought that, a red pepper, a cucumber and some Campari tomatoes. If I had been thinking I would have grabbed a red onion or some scallions, but I wasn't so I didn't. At least I still had a regular onion on hand. There are some items I always have on hand. Onions and garlic are two of them, because they have a long shelf life and they make everything taste better. Everything savory, that is.

So here's what I did: I shredded, washed, and spun dry the lettuce and put it in a big plastic bag with a few paper towels to soak up any excess moisture that might make it go bad sooner. I peeled the cucumber, sliced it lengthwise, and spooned out the seeds, then sliced it and added it to the lettuce. Then I cut up the red pepper, a few stalks of celery and some onion and added that to the bag as well. I put it in the crisper of my refrigerator and had my own home-made instant salad. I did not put the tomatoes in the bag because they start to go bad the minute you cut them, and they do not do well in the refrigerator.

I put the hard-boiled eggs in a bowl in the refrigerator. I basically shredded the chicken from the bone and put it in a container in the refrigerator as well.

Come the next morning, I got out one of my disposable containers and put a healthy amount of the salad in it. I peeled an egg, quartered it, and spread it evenly around the edges. I quartered a few Campari tomatoes and spread them out over the top. Next came the chicken, laid over the tomatoes. After that, I sprinkled some gruyere cheese I had shredded earlier over the chicken. Finally, a healthy dose of chopped cilantro. There would have been parsley as well if I had any, but you go with what you have.

I had fresh ginger in the crisper that I had bought for some forgotten reason, so I decided to make an Asian-themed dressing. I put that in a small pimento jar I had saved for just such a use, and I took it all to work with me.

I hope the picture shows how fresh all of the ingredients were. I had enough of everything for four lunches. Leaving out the chicken, eggs, tomato and cheese until I was making each individual salad kept everything fresh longer, so the fourth salad was just as fresh and delicious as the first one was.

Doesn't that look much better than those pre-packaged salads? I probably paid as much for my four as one of those costs, too. It takes just a little effort and provides such a huge pay-off, you should really think about taking your own salad to work for lunch. It makes a nice quick dinner as well.

What's that? How did I make the dressing? It was easy - here's how you can make it too:

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard (I used my own and it was marvelous!)
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (or any vinegar)
5 Tbsp white wine vinegar (or any vinegar)
1 Tbsp honey (or to taste)
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tsp grated ginger (or to taste)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup grapeseed oil (or any vegetable oil)

Combine mustard, vinegars, and honey in a small sturdy bowl. Whisk together until all of the liquids are well combined. Add garlic, salt and pepper and whisk again.

Whisk continuously while slowly adding the olive oil, then the grapeseed oil. Taste and adjust for sweetness, tartness, and seasoning.

Store in the refrigerator. Will last for a couple of weeks at least. (I usually keep condiments, etc., longer than the recommended times and I haven't regretted it yet.)

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