Pucker Up

I’ve been behind the curve on many things in my life: growing hips, getting married, watching The Wire…just to name a few. Knowing this, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise (at least to me) that I’m only now discovering Meyer lemons, but it sort of is. Oh, it’s not that I haven’t tried to use them for the past couple of years; it’s that they were awfully elusive/sold out whenever I thought to look. But our local Whole Foods has had a good supply these past few weeks, so I’ve more than made up for lost time.

(For anyone else who suffers from the same predicament as me, you can find a good Meyer lemon disquisition here.)

It’s pretty easy to plan an entire meal around the Meyer lemon if you try just a little, so I dug around and found a simple, elegant pasta recipe at The Amateur Gourmet and put my own spin on it with smoked fish straight from my brand new Camerons Stovetop Smoker. (Thanks again for the birthday present, Naomi!) In that heady state of new toy-infatuation, I did two versions of the pasta — one with smoked salmon and one with smoked trout. I thought the salmon was delicious on its own, but too assertive for the rest of the flavors in the pasta. The trout, though, was perfection. It mingled nicely with the zest, crème fraîche and greens without overshadowing any of them.

Hard as it was to do, I saved a little room for dessert. Earlier in the day I found a recipe at Thursday Night Smackdown for a Meyer lemon curd so delicious it almost didn’t make it to the refrigerator. I put the leftover egg whites to good use and made pavlovas from Simply Recipes. So we ate, essentially, an upside-down lemon meringue pie, only I didn’t have to deal with the annoying crust.

Sweet lemon clouds. Heavenly.

From the Market: Week 1

Kofta with Spinach & Arugula Salad

The Ringwood Farmers’ Market opened this weekend, and not one minute too soon! I’ve been craving their fresh produce since the weekly market closed last November; winter market (new this year) only took place once a month, and the pickings were slim. It was winter, after all.

But now we’re back to greens, berries, honey and meats from small local farms, so let’s dive in.

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What I missed most about the early markets was the amazing spinach and arugula from Bialas Farms, not to mention the rest of the veggies and fresh herbs that always make up the bulk of my shopping experience on weekends. Because I was impatient to try the first haul, I made brunch as soon as we got home — a quick pesto with the spinach and arugula, some walnuts and grated locatelli, all smoothed out with a Ligurian olive oil. The pasta was a gluten-free selection from Fontanarosa’s, which I only visited for the first time this weekend. I now plan to shop there all summer long.

[About the gluten-free thing: I cut out the major sources of gluten about a month ago after reading The GenoType Diet. I’m highly suspicious of any diet at all (and definitely didn’t try this to lose weight — so don’t worry, those of you who know me), but thought I’d give this one a try since a lot of what the author said about my type rang true, given my experience. Anyway, I can honestly say that the mild-to-moderate joint pain I’ve had for the past few years has completely disappeared since I cut the out the gluten. (Other things I won’t go into here have cleared up as well.) Maybe it’s all unrelated, and I hope it is, but we’ll see how I feel when I re-introduce regular pastas and whole-grain bread into my meals.]

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Even though we were invited to a BBQ Sunday afternoon, I had to get in a little grilling of my own this weekend, so I threw together a quick-ish lunch. The appetizers were inspired by this post at Smitten Kitchen and I was thrilled with the way they turned out:

That’s a lot of good stuff packed into a couple of bites, and it came together with almost no effort on my part. I just grilled 1/2-inch-thick slices of homemade bread till they were toasted, smeared them with loads of truffle butter, some room-temperature robiola (one of my favorites, but you could try whatever you like here), and topped them off with ribbons of asparagus, crunchy fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper.

To make the ribbons, just grasp the tip of the spear and use a vegetable peeler to shave down the length of the asparagus.

Our main course was a kofta salad. The spinach and arugula made another appearance here, tossed with tzaziki sauce for the salad base. I had a few extra asparagus ribbons from the appetizers, so I threw them on as a garnish. But the real draw was the kofta made with ground lamb from Snoep Winkel Farm. I used the recipe that’s become my standard, substituting walnuts for pistachios since those were, um, about 18 months out of date. Oops.

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And then we went to a BBQ where I consumed lots of steak and delicious veggie skewers, so I was pretty meated- and veggied-out by Sunday morning and took it easy with a little goat’s milk yogurt with fresh strawberries, blueberries and honey. (Sadly, the blueberries were store-bought since they aren’t quite in season here, but the The Orchards of Concklin‘s strawberries are as perfect as ever, and their peonies aren’t half-bad either. I’ll bring my camera next time we go so I can show you just how popular Rufus and Otis are with the proprietor. The honey is local, too — from Nina’s Red Barn Farm, where we buy our fresh eggs and where I’m evidently known as Rufus’s mom.)

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Hope everyone had a safe and relaxing Memorial Day Weekend.

Pastalaya, crawfish frittata, buffet at Pancho’s

The Hank Williams classic updated for 2009, which is a roundabout way of saying I spent last weekend visiting family in Des Allemands for my nephew’s 7th birthday. The food was terrific (as usual), and the company even more so, though the birthday boy completely ignored his auntie. Oh, well. That’s a little boy for you.

I didn’t take many pictures this time around, but did manage to snap this one, which is quickly becoming a favorite:

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My new cousin, who couldn’t quite decide about me.

While I was away, Gil and The Ambassador stopped by the farmers’ market to pick up a few things for me, but I didn’t have a chance to use all of the spinach and arugula during the week. After getting fresh supplies this Saturday, I decided to use the week-old produce in one shot with a pesto to go with some leftover whole wheat pasta. It was all very free-form, but here’s how it went.

I toasted two handfuls of walnuts until they were warm and fragrant, then put them in the food processor to cool while I worked on the the rest of the pesto.

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After they’d cooled somewhat, I pulsed them with a clove of garlic until the whole thing smelled like heaven, assuming your idea of heaven is warm walnuts and garlic.

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I added about one part spinach to two parts arugula, filling the bowl of the processor twice before pulsing; that’s the amount of the greens I had on hand, but you can adjust to taste.

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There was also quite a bit of Parmesan, good olive oil, zest from 1/2 lemon, and salt & pepper, all blended together until I was left with a satisfyingly bright green mess.

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Which, when tossed with leftover whole wheat pasta, became an easy, light lunch, perfect for the oppressively humid day.

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Rufus after the jump.

Continue reading “Pastalaya, crawfish frittata, buffet at Pancho’s”

On the shoulders of giants

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You guys know I usually like to wing it in the kitchen, right? It’s certainly not a surprise to poor Gil, who has to deal with my creations. (Btw — sorry for that particularly meh quinoa salad I made for dinner recently, honey!) But sometimes I do the thing up proper-like and follow real recipes from people who know what they’re doing — people like Mario Batali, Patricia Wells and Giuliano Bugialli.

Above, you see the first of two pasta dishes we’ve had in the last couple of weeks. Ground veal and ground pork sang a song of ragu from the freezer, and at their insistence, I did a web search for a real recipe to follow. The first link I clicked featured a video of Mario Batali making a traditional Ragu Bolognese. I’m so happy I followed the video’s instructions instead of the written recipe below; I never, ever, would have thought to cook each stage of the recipe for as long as instructed. But the prolonged cooking added a depth of flavor I’ve never achieved in my years of sauce-making. I might use slightly less wine next time because that flavor was especially strong (and not my favorite thing in the world, to be honest), but diffused with ample amounts of pasta, it was phenomenal.

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A few weeks ago, Gil and I got to spend three whole nights in the city during a pharmaceutical conference he attended for his magazine. I took full advantage of my time there and met up with friends on three consecutive nights for dinner and drinks. The first night I didn’t venture out of my work neighborhood, meeting my friend Scott at Bar Stuzzichini. I went mainly for the small plates (the arancini were disappointing this time, but I plan to recreate the zucchini alla scapece just as soon as my grill comes out for the season — possibly this very weekend), but the pasta dish we shared was the real revelation: macherroni alla chitarra, or pasta with pistachio and lemon cream sauce.

Once we made it home, I started researching recipes in my Italian cookbooks and decided to use a simple lemon-cream sauce adapted from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria and Giuliano Bugialli’s Bugialli On Pasta. I toasted shelled pistachios, cooled and chopped them, the steeped the smaller bits (pistachio dust, really) in lemon juice and cream while I made the pasta with my brand new Kitchenaid Pasta Rollers. (I happened to find them fairly heavily discounted on Amazon, but they’re worth paying an everyday price for.) After cooking the pasta, I tossed it with the cream sauce and grated Parmesan over a low flame until the sauce had thickened. Just before serving, I added more Parmesan, chopped parsley and more chopped pistachios. It was a great success, but not quite as pistachio-infused as the original. I have more experimenting to do before I give you a real recipe, but I’m pretty happy with the results of my first go-round. It’s hard to go wrong when you listen to the experts.

Prudently porky

Well, it’s been quite a couple of weeks, once again. Though work continues to occupy most of my waking thoughts (and many of my sleeping ones), I’ve still managed to keep my pointy-headed geek side fed with election and economic news as well. And I’ve been cooking, turning out lots of comfort food, mostly. It’s the perfect thing for the moment, with the nasty economic downturn, uncertain times ahead for many of us, and winter coming on strong. Comfort food is accessible, imminently affordable, adaptable and delicious to boot.

I’ve really been making an effort to buy quality ingredients and eat locally since reading about the abuse at large-scale farms and slaughterhouses. I just can’t stomach the thought of contributing to that kind of depravity, so when I got an email from the Bobolink folks announcing the sale of their whey-fed pork, I placed an order for some of the nasty bits that are pretty hard to find, anyway — feet, knuckles, and necks.

For my first meal, I made a basic, but delicious pork neck ragu shamlessly ripped off from inspired by Jen‘s post from a few weeks ago. You traditional types out there will be horrified, but my family’s red sauces always started with a roux, so that was my jumping-off point; it really adds a depth of flavor you just can’t get otherwise. I heavily salted the pork necks and browned them very well in the dark roux, moved them from the pan, then sautéed chopped onion, celery, garlic, carrot and a bay leaf in a little extra olive oil added to the roux. Once the vegetables had softened, I added a few tablespoons of tomato paste to a hot spot in the pan, stirring until it caramelized; a few glugs of dry white wine, some fresh thyme springs, and two cups of chicken stock went in next, and once it came to a boil, I nested the pork necks in the sauce. After covering the pan tightly, I put it in a 325-degree oven for about three hours.

I took the necks out of the sauce and pulled the meat from the bones once they were cool enough to handle. Then I simmered the shredded pork in the sauce until much of the liquid had evaporated, set aside 2/3 to freeze for a later meal, and served the rest (loosened with a little pasta water) with penne.

Totally comforting, completely delicious, and didn’t break the bank. I’d call it a success.

And Happy Halloween, everyone! May your evenings be filled with candy and costumes.

Porky pasta

Last night’s meal came courtesy of odds & ends from our kitchen and my deep and abiding love of tomatoes. With the abundance of lycopene in my system at any given time, it’s a real shame I don’t have a prostate, for if I did, it would surely be the most beauteous specimen in all the land. Neither showy nor unapproachable, but a humble and gracious gland, welcoming pilgrims from distant lands spurred to their journey by the appearance of the long-foretold wonder.

Or it would at least win many blue ribbons at county fairs.

But no, I’m just a girl, so my husband has to reap the benefits of my obsession, though our driveway isn’t exactly flooded with pilgrims or civic-minded ribbon-awarders, now that I think about it.

The odds & ends worked their way into a meal by virtue of me having no clue what to cook for dinner and remembering a couple strips of bacon, a few slices of sopressata and some onion hanging out in the fridge, the remnants of whole canned tomatoes I stuck in the freezer a few weeks ago, and a little bowtie pasta that looked pretty lonely in the pantry. Some garlic cloves demanded admittance to the party (as they always seem to do, the pushy little buggers) and hot pepper paste arrived masked as tomato paste and barged in before I realized what happened.

No, really — why is the packaging so similar between tubes of tomato and hot pepper paste? I didn’t realize anything was wrong until I’d put about a tablespoon of it into the pan and noticed it wasn’t the right color, consistency, or smell, so I looked at the tube to make sure it hadn’t expired and realized my mistake. Well, my screw-up turned out to be a stroke of luck. The paste added a real zing to the sauce I wouldn’t have gotten from pepper flakes alone, so now I have another ingredient in my arsenal I wouldn’t have if I’d been paying attention.

This wasn’t the typically meat-free meal I like to make on weeknights, but if I eat vegequarian 90% of the time, I don’t mind treating myself every now and then; it’s the only way to stay sane. And let’s face it, pork is the penultimate treat.

The ultimate? Tomatoes, of course.

Leftovers, schmeftovers

That thing I had against leftovers? Not a problem anymore. No sirree, not after last night, at least.

I had quite a bit of filling left after adapting the Plump Pea Dumplings recipe from 101 Cookbooks, so I pondered for a while what exactly to do with it. Then I remembered another recipe I’d bookmarked from Delicious Days (whose photography just kills me) for Egg Yolk Ravioli and dinner was taken care of!

So I mixed together a double recipe of pasta in my food processor (if it’s good enough for Lidia, it’s good enough for me!) and kneaded it until it was pliable, then formed it into a ball before setting it in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes.

Making ravioli from scratch meant digging out the pasta maker we received as a wedding gift and only used once. Not exactly sure why it isn’t in the rotation more often because it turned out nice, thin sheets of ravioli dough.

First, I quartered the dough and ran half of it through the machine to make sure the rollers were completely clear of metal shavings before I got down to it.

And then slowly I rolled, step by step, inch by inch.


Oh yeah, that’s why I don’t use this more often! My arm nearly fell off.

But, as I said, it turned out nice, thin sheets, which I then topped with about a tablespoon of leftover dumpling filling per egg yolk I planned to use. This left me with four frankly not-very-attractive balls of green stuff, into which I formed little craters so the egg yolks wouldn’t escape.


See? Unattractive, but just you wait.

Then I used the egg separators right at the end of my arms to separate the yolks from the whites. The whites went into a bowl and the yolks just sat very perkily atop the green mounds.

Well, ok, not ALL of them were so perky…


That guy at left? He was trouble.

After that balancing act was done, I brushed the dough all around the fillings with egg white and set the other strip of dough on top, carefully sealing each ravioli and doing my best to squeeze out all of the air. Not sure I succeeded on that count, but none burst in the water, which is all I need to consider myself a culinary genius. Set the bar low, kids.


I’m no Martha, but I do love a scalloped edge.

So these babies boiled for 2-3 minutes while I scurried frantically around the kitchen, warming the plates, melting the truffle butter (yeah, you heard me), and getting out the microplane grater so I could top each eggy pillow with cheese before it had a chance to cool off.

I’d say it all turned out well, wouldn’t you?

Pasta con le sarde

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With another issue of the catalog just about wrapped up, my main goal was to relax this weekend. To that end, I spent a good portion of today reading, wandering around like a zombie, and napping. Waking refreshed and hungry (for tasty human braaains), I cast about my Bloglines folders looking for inspiration from the host of food bloggers I follow. Inspiration struck, as it so often does, at the feed of Molly of Orangette fame. Months ago, she wrote about a tomato sauce recipe, the simplest one in the world that also just happened to be swoonworthy. Since it required only four ingredients — canned tomatoes, butter, onion, and salt — I thought that would make for a perfectly quick and delicious lunch.

And then I realized I had other bits and pieces in my kitchen that would make good additions to the sauce. The basil in my fridge wasn’t getting any younger, so I thought a few leaves would lend a subtle flavor to the dish. Then I remembered the fennel in the crisper drawer sharing space with the Italian flat-leaf parsley, and brought those out to the counter, too.

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Just then I spied some anchovies and locatelli on the upper shelves and shrugged my shoulders. Well, why not? And of course, when you have fennel and anchovies, it’d be a crime not to add sardines and golden raisins to bring the whole thing to a fabulous pasta con le sarde conclusion.

So that’s just what I did. Of course I added a few other things here and there as well, but the focus was still on the tomato sauce; it might’ve been more involved than the one I set out to make, but it was terrifically satisfying (and kept me from throwing out the contents of my crisper drawer next week).

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recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Pasta con le sarde”