Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pasta alla Norma

If only more vegetables were as wonderfully meaty and smoky as eggplant, I might be willing to stick to a vegetarian diet more often. As it is, when eggplants are in season in the summer, I will substitute meat for eggplant at least one night per week. Generally, my vegetarian meal will consist of pasta with eggplant, and there is no greater eggplant pasta dish than pasta alla norma. Upon tasting this rich pasta, you will swear that there must be pancetta or prosciutto in it, but that will just be the eggplant talking.

Pasta alla Norma
Serves 4

  • 1 eggplant, peeled in alternating strips to make a "zebra" pattern and cubed
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt plus salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Ground pepper, to taste
  • 12 oz. penne pasta
  • 1 handful of basil leaves
  • Grated ricotta salata cheese, for serving
  1. Place the eggplant in a colander. Toss eggplant with 1 tbsp salt and set aside for 30 minutes.
  2. Rinse eggplant with water and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add eggplant cubes and cook until browned on all sides, about three minutes. Remove eggplant with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  4. Add tomatoes, pepper flakes, pepper, and a pinch of salt to skillet and simmer until slightly thickened, about ten minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted, boiling water according to package directions.
  6. When the pasta has two minutes longer to cook, add the eggplant and basil to the skillet. Taste for salt and pepper.
  7. Drain pasta and stir it into the skillet.
  8. Serve pasta in bowls topped with grated ricotta salata.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Roast Chicken: My Dish of Perfection

I think that most amateur cooks can agree that consistency is our greatest weakness. As our confidence in the kitchen increases, we free ourselves from the entrapment of recipes and measuring cups. Yet what was a tablespoon yesterday will be a teaspoon tomorrow. We might achieve culinary greatness with one dish, but we struggle to repeat it on a second try.

Part of the fun of cooking is trying new dishes to reach that great feeling (and taste) that a successful dish brings, just as an amateur golfer might play through holes and holes of frustration just for that one perfect drive. So we deserve to pat ourselves on the backs when we do produce a truly great dish that we can make time and time again with no recipes and no measuring utensils.

With that, I bring you my roast chicken. No matter what I season it with, it comes out perfectly every time. It's a modest dish, but it is one that I cook consistently time and time again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Salsa Verde

I have found that salsa is a great way to boost the flavor of the simple weeknight meals that I make in the summer. This tomatillo salsa goes nicely with any roasted or grilled meats. I served it with a pork tenderloin rubbed with a Mexican spice blend, and this week I will be reusing it on tacos containing pulled roast chicken. Best of all, it is incredibly easy to make and makes enough to last through a full summer of boring week night meals.

Salsa Verde

  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 1 lb. tomatilloes, washed and husked
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 cayenne pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Salt, optional
  1. Peel the poblano pepper by putting it under the broiler or on top of an open flame on the stove top. Turn it frequently, until all of the skin is charred. Place in a paper bag and let cool for ten minutes. Peel the skin off and discard it. Mince the pepper and place it in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Meanwhile, place the tomatilloes in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Simmer until tomatilloes are soft, approximately 10 minutes. Drain tomatilloes.
  3. Add half of the tomatilloes to the bowl of a food processor.
  4. Add onion, cayenne pepper, and cilantro to food processor. Process until no solids remain, about 1 minute.
  5. Add remaining tomatilloes to food processor and process until no solids remain.
  6. Taste salsa for salt (don't add any more salt than a small pinch).
  7. Serve at toom temperature.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Larb: A Perfect Dish for Summer

Larb may be a dish from Northern Thailand and Laos, but I can't help but wonder if its creators invented the dish knowing that many years later, inhabitants of New York would need some refreshing and hearty dishes to get them through their hot summers. Simple to prepare and best at room temperature, larb, bursting with the refreshing flavors of lime, galangal, fish sauce, cilantro, and mint, really is a perfect dish for a hot summer night.

The most difficult part of making larb is purchasing the ingredients, which will definitely require a trip to a well-stocked Asian market, and preferably one that serves a Thai or Lao clientele. While you're there, buy fish sauce, galangal, lime leaves, and roasted rice powder. The good news is that you will get to make many more larbs before you need to return (store the lime leaves and the galangal in the freezer). I cheated and used some powdered galangal that I already had on hand:

The remaining ingredients can be purchased at any store: oil, ground pork, mint, cilantro, red pepper flakes, and lime juice. Cook the pork in a skillet, mix it in a bowl with the remaining ingredients, and serve it with jasmine or sticky rice, and some summer rolls. The below recipe is a simplified larb recipe adapted from Penn Hongthong's Simple Lao Cooking, but the Significant Eater, who grew up eating plenty of larb herself, proclaimed its flavors just as authentic as the real deal.

Larb Moo (Pork Larb)
Serves 4

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp. peanut oil
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 tbsp galangal, minced, or 1 tsp ground galangal
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves, minced
  • 1 tbsp roasted rice powder
  • 1 tbsp lemongrass, minced
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mint, chopped
  1. Heat oil in a wok over medium heat. Add pork and cook until no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes.
  2. Set pork in a bowl and let cool for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Mix pork with remaining ingredients and serve with rice.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scallops with Sauteed Corn, Tomatoes and Bacon

This weekend, I cooked what I think is my greatest success with a recipe of my own creation. Sticky from 90 degree weather, and in no mood to spend too much effort cooking a meal for myself, I ventured to the store with not one idea in mind. I made a quick glance at the butcher counter, but I save simple pork and chicken dishes for the weekdays, and I did not feel like beef. Taking the weather into account, the seafood counter seemed like the best bet, but I had had fish the night before. Nearly ready to leave the store and scan through the list of dreadful takeout places in my neighborhood, I spotted some beautiful and well-priced Montauk sea scallops sitting in the far corner of the seafood counter. Knowing full well that this would be the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the scallop-hating Significant Eater being out of town for the weekend, I purchased five scallops. Let me tell you, I'm a scallop-izer, and I get pretty out of control when the Significant Eater is not around.

Scallops in my bag, I began to think of how I could prepare them. I thought of the items that needed to be eaten in my refrigerator before they went bad. I had an ear of corn purchased from the Greenmarket a few days ago, half an heirloom tomato leftover from a BLT earlier that day, and a package of bacon, which wasn't going bad, but bacon is always in my thoughts. Scallops, corn, tomato, and bacon sounds like something on a restaurant menu, I thought, so I went with the idea. I am glad I did, for in my mind, the dish could not have been improved upon. The corn, bacon, and tomatoes came together very nicely, and provided a perfect bed for the sweet scallops to rest upon.

Scallops with Sauteed Corn, Tomatoes, and Bacon
Serves 2

  • 2 slices of bacon, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ears of corn, shucked
  • 1 tomato, preferably heirloom, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 large sea scallops
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  1. Heat bacon in a deep skillet over medium heat. Cook until fat is rendered and bacon begins to crisp.
  2. Add garlic to skillet and cook until fragrant but not browned, no more than two minutes.
  3. Add tomato and corn to skillet and cook until tomato begins to break down, about three minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and set heat to low, stirring occasionally.
  4. Prepare the scallops by tearing off the muscle. Pat them dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Heat olive oil over in a skillet (preferably cast iron for the perfect sear) over high heat.
  6. Add scallops to the pan. After thirty seconds, reduce the heat to medium. Cook until well seared on one side, about three minutes.
  7. Flip scallops and add butter to pan. Cook for another 3 minutes, occasionally basting scallops with butter.
  8. Serve scallops on plates atop corn, bacon, and tomato mixture.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Penne with Eggplant, Olives, Cherry Tomatoes, and Basil

I always get excited when eggplants begin to show up in the New York Greenmarkets in the summer. To me, no vegetable is more delicious with pasta than eggplant. Its meaty and smoky flavor make even this simple meatless pasta dish a very hearty meal.

Penne with Eggplant, Olives, Cherry Tomatoes, and Basil

Serves 4

  • 12 oz. penne
  • 1 globe eggplant, cubed
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup black olives, pitted
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
  1. Place eggplant in a colander and toss with salt. Set aside for half an hour to allow eggplant to release water. Rinse eggplant and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is browned, about 5 minutes. Remove eggplant and wipe skillet clean.
  3. Add remaining olive oil to skillet and heat over medium-low heat. Add olives, eggplant, and pepper, and simmer.
  4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions.
  5. Three minuted before the pasta is cooked, add the cherry tomatoes and basil to the skillet. Continue to simmer, breaking up a few of the tomatoes with the back of a spoon.
  6. When pasta is al dente, drain, reserving 1/2 a cup of the cooking water.
  7. Add pasta to skillet and continue to cook for another minute, until sauce begins to coat the pasta. If necessary, add some pasta cooking liquid to the pan. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Migas: Breadcrumbs Fit for a Spanish King

I often marvel at the make more with less mantra that existed before the days of fast food and frozen meals. Migas, meaning "breadcrumbs" in Spanish, is the epitome of this thinking. Peasants from southern Spain had the grand idea to combine some very stale bread, cured sausage, garlic, olive oil, and a fried egg and call it dinner. It's certainly a gut bomb but a delicious one at that. Migas peasant food at its best; I can rest assured that as bad as the economy may get, I'll always have migas to eat.

Serves 4

  • 1/2 loaf of day-old European-style bread, torn into small cubes
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb. chorizo, diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic to pan and cook until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove garlic with slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl.
  3. Add chorizo to skillet and cook until slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the garlic.
  4. Add bread and stir to coat with oil. Sprinkle bread with a handful of water to moisten it a bit. Cook, mashing it with the back of a spoon so that it crumbles into smaller pieces, until golden and crunchy, about ten minutes. Add more oil if pan dries out.
  5. Add garlic and chorizo to pan and stir to until heated through, about a minute.
  6. Serve on plates topped with a fried or poached egg.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mussels with White Wine, Shallots, and Pancetta

Cooking dinner in my apartment in the summer is always a challenge. No matter whether I use the oven or the stove, my studio will remain about ten degrees warmer for the rest of the night. I can only enjoy so many cold suppers, so I have a few favorite dishes for the summer that are studio-apartment friendly. One of those dishes is steamed mussels. The dish can come together in less than half an hour, and the most time consuming part is scrubbing and debearding the mussels. Making the dish does fill my apartment with the aroma of mussels and butter, but that is much more tolerable in my opinion than a hot apartment.

Feel free to experiment with the ingredients in the recipe. As long as you keep the ratios the same, there is an endless number of possibilities. Substitute Belgian beer for the wine, cream for the butter, or add a mix of herbs to the broth. So long as you serve the mussels with a crusty baguette (heated in the toaster oven, not the oven), you'll have an easy and enjoyable meal in the comforts of your cool apartment.

Mussels with White Wine, Pancetta and Shallots
Serves 2

  • 2 lbs. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 large shallots, finely minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/8 lb. of pancetta, diced
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until fat is rendered and pancetta begins to brown, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and shallots and cook until shallots are soft, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add wine to pot and bring to a boil.
  4. Add mussels to pot and cover. Cook until most of the mussels have opened, about 6 minutes. Remove mussels from the pot and set aside in a large serving bowl, discarding any mussels that have not opened.
  5. Bring liquid in pot to a simmer. Whisk in butter and taste for salt and pepper.
  6. Pour broth over mussels and serve with a crusty baguette.


Related Posts with Thumbnails