Cooking Italy~Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce

30 01 2010

One of the things I love about Cooking Italy and the philosophy of our fearless leader, Angela aka Spinach Tiger, is that she’s out there hunting for HEALTHY, NATURAL, FAST FOODS!!  She’s a modern woman, who works like many of us.  Yet, she doesn’t want to sacrifice health and nutrition because of chaotic work schedules.  Here’s another example of being able to have a really quick dinner, without a lot of work, and still have healthy components.  I prepped, marinated and served dinner in an hour and 15 minutes, and spent a lot of that sitting down.  Gotta love that part!

Our sauce consists of anchovy fillets chopped fine, and smooshed into oblivion in olive oil.  I know it seems kind of gross if you aren’t on a nodding acquaintance with anchovies, but…try to give it a try.  If you use Worcestershire sauce, or fish sauce when cooking, this is pretty close to the same thing.  The anchovies are a substitute for salt, and they are a natural flavor enhancer.  Go figure.  If the quantity of anchovies really seems to much for you…use less and add salt to taste, but try to at least use some anchovy in the dish to get that “umami” factor going.  I swear we tasted NO fishiness.  Honest!  I can’t do fishiness.  *Ü*  I can’t even eat unagi on sushi dates.

I know my beloved, and my beloved needs protein at dinner time.  I decided that the best way to work this and keep my dish the way the recipe was written was to reach back to a starter we’d used earlier…shrimp marinated in olive oil and lemon.  That solved my problem.  If I served them at the same time, Bruce could eat shrimp with his pasta and feel complete.  I used broccolini rather than broccoli in my dish.  I chopped the stems into short lengths and cooked them in a small amount of salted water and saved the tops to cook only in the oil with the pasta.

In order to have everything ready at the same time, I put two pans on the stove…one for pasta, and one for shrimp.  They just needed a quick poach before they set for at least an hour in their bath of lemon and olive oil.  I’d have cheated and used the same water, except the shrimp needed some goodies in the poaching liquid, along with some vinegar.  While the shrimp was poaching, I did the rest of the prep work…got my veggies ready and chopped my anchovies, then measured my olive oil, and grated the cheeses.  That was it, besides scrubbing up.  I turned the pasta water to low to keep it ready for the Orecchiette.  Orecchiette are little ears of pasta.  For the next 45 minutes, it was all R & R time while the shrimp luxuriated in their bath.

When it was time to put dinner on the table, I kicked up the heat and set the pasta to boil, and started cooking the broccolini; set it aside; prepped the olive oil and anchovy sauce, and set it aside until the orecchiette were finished, then put it all together.  The whole process took maybe 15 minutes, start to table.

Tasting Notes~
The Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce wasn’t a dish I’d really think to use for broccoli, but it’s a dish I’d go to immediately for broccolini.  It was a little on the mild side for us…not quite enough flavor, even with the pepper flakes I haven’t mentioned anywhere yet.  The dish had a nice little bite, but not enough underlying flavor.  I wouldn’t want to add more anchovy…I don’t like fishiness, and more anchovy would lead to that.  Garlic…now that would be a thought, but then we’re changing the dish, and that’s never going to happen when I test a recipe for Cooking Italy…at least not the first time out!  It was good, but not fabulous, but it was fast!!   Actually, I’d like to try this again, only using the sauce from the shrimp with the broccolini and orecchiette.  With a little garlic…  I think that would go over a lot better.  Who knows?!

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Jousting~Nutmeg, Coconut Milk and Fish?

28 01 2010

Jenn, The Left Over Queen, hosts the Royal Foodie Joust each month, and each month Foodie Bloggers are challenged to create a dish containing 3 magical ingredients put together by the winner of the previous month’s joust.  This month we are challenged to use nutmeg and coconut milk in a dish…with fish.  The first two…no problem!!  Add that last one and wow, what a bank shot to the imagination.  What can I say…from the very first moment, my mouth went Thai, and there it stayed.

I swear, I turned this over in my mind at least a dozen or two times in my head.  I pulled out every Thai cookbook I own, as well as anything remotely Asian or Noodle related.   I just wasn’t finding anything that inspired my head, or that even sounded like it would all work well together.   I looked at noodles, I looked at rice, I looked at fried fish, poached fish, grilled fish.  Nothing excited me.  I finally decided to make steamed fish packets with spicy peanut noodles.

I opened a cold can of coconut milk, and found that all the coconut fat had risen to the top and was solid.  The liquid had totally separated away and was at the bottom of the can.  I don’t know that it will matter though.  I used Basa Swai as my fish, but any firm, mild flavored fillets will work, such as sole or tilapia.  Pat your fillets dry, grate a bit of fresh nutmeg over each fillet, mix 1/4 cup coconut milk with 1/8 tsp. red curry paste and brush onto fish fillets.  Sprinkle with fish sauce and squeeze the juice of 1 lime over all.  Allow flavors to mingle for awhile. For each piece of fish: smash 1 lg. clove garlic; cut 1 thin oblique slice of ginger; cut a 2 inch length of lemongrass and split in half lengthwise.  Place aromatics at the widest end of the wrong side of the piece of fish and roll up.  Wrap in parchment, create packet, secure and place in steamer.  Steam for 15-20 minutes, or until fish flakes if prodded.

While the fish is steaming, cook and sauce the noodles and keep warm until plating.  I added some of the fish broth to the noodles as well.

When the fish is done, the packet will have several ounces of very fragrant broth in it.  You live you learn…  This was heavenly.  I’d recommend serving the fish in a shallow bowl to keep the broth with the fish.   Warn your guests that there are inedible, but safe, aromatics in the center of their fish filet so they don’t try to cut all the way through, or remove them prior to serving.   Even if this overcooks, the fish will still be somewhat moist prepared this way.

Tasting Notes:
The flavors are very Thai…garlic, ginger, lime, lemongrass, red curry and coconut milk all work together to impart a delicate flavor to the fish.  There’s the sour, salty, spicy, slightly sweet with the tiny hot bite from the curry just to warm things up a bit, and the fish is so moist and succulent it’s almost sinful.  I wasn’t pleased with my noodles, so they aren’t featured here.  I think I know what I needed to do…and so that’s another dish.  This was about the fish anyway.  There wasn’t any nutmeg in the noodles.  *Ü*  We were both pleasantly surprised by how the flavors of the ingredients worked together in the fish.  We’re looking forward to trying the combination again!





Top Chef it Yourself: Gauchos

20 01 2010

There’s a new kid in town…Forgive me, please…I’ve got a sinus infection, and I can’t get two brain cells to get on the same page at the same time. Ish.  So, I’m full of clichés today…therefore I beg your forgiveness in advance…and for any extra “m” letters that jump in. Tis my letter of the day, it seems (was meems….).

Back to business…There’s a new challenge afoot…Top Chef it Yourself.  This is her inaugural challenge, and I’m always game…if I can just fit it in!  Henceforth there will be 3 ingredients; one spice, 1 uncommon, and 1 wild card.  This month…prepare a dish that’s all about you!  So, I selected a recipe I created and call Gauchos.

Gauchos was born one night in a coffee shop.  One of those worrisome nights, when a loved one has been hospitalized too long, the news isn’t good, and time is passing ever so slowly.  There’s no appetite, no energy, but you know you need to eat.  I looked up and saw the special of the day was roast beef stuffed with green chiles and cheddar cheese. That actually sounded good.  I thought it was odd that the server asked me if I wanted baked or mashed with that, but had other things on my mind.  My husband and I chatted another couple of minutes that seemed to pass like hours, as many did in our lives just then, when dinner arrived.  I don’t know what I was anticipating exactly…but roast beef, stuffed with green chiles and cheddar cheese never brought to mind…(hollow, cavernous voice) Brown Gravy.  Yes, that took a minute to get past.  I commented at the time, you know…this wouldn’t be half bad if….it were something other than brown gravy…and on we went.  But the thing stuck in my head…and several months later it occurred to me to pair the rolled and stuffed roast beef with sopa seca de fideo, and perhaps put picante sauce on the beef rather than gravy and top it with more shredded cheese.  Since the rolled and stuffed beef vaguely resembles a leg in chaps, they were promptly dubbed “gauchos.”   I’ve never run across anything quite like them anywhere I’ve been, not that I’ve been all that many places, but I’ve never heard of them either.  Here we go…

Gather together our produce: onion, garlic, bell pepper, and tomato. A can of chicken broth, a can of diced green chiles and a jar of your favorite salsa or picante sauce, 8 full-face slices of deli roast beef, freshly cut, and about 1/2 pound of medium cheddar, grated.  Oh, and a 7-8 oz. bag of vermicelli.  I used to buy angel hair and break it up, until I realized the Mexican market has just what I want already in small pieces.  You see…white girls don’t know from sopa seca for the most part.  Nothing racial about it, we just aren’t brought up thinking of Rice A Roni as a dry soup.  Which is what it is.  So…back to preparing our first layer…Sopa Seca de Fidea, which translates into Dry Soup of Spaghetti.  I love this stuff.  Hubby too.  We have this instead of rice when I fix enchiladas, and always with gauchos!

Start with a medium, nonstick skillet, and add 2 Tbsp. oil or if you have lard handy, this is a good time to use it.  There’s not much being used, and it will impart a nice flavor, but don’t go out and buy lard just for this dish.  2 Tbsp. and brown the pasta over medium-low heat until it starts to brown.  Add 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, and 2 Tbsp. green bell pepper and stir well.  Then add 1 seeded tomato, chopped, and stir.  Finally, add enough chicken broth so that everything is barely covered.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until next step is completed.

While that’s simmering, we’re going to roll up some beef.  First lay out your beef slices with the narrow end farthest from you.  The meat never quite wants to hold together nicely as turkey would, but coax the pieces, and it will all hold after it’s rolled in the end.  Spread 1 Tbsp. of diced green chiles across the wide end of the roast beef slice, and top that with 1-2 Tbsp. of shredded cheddar.  It’s harder to measure the cheddar.  It depends how it’s been shredded.  You want enough in there to fill the roll up nicely, so don’t be afraid to put some cheese in there.  I think it’s only going to take 1/4 pound of cheese, but I say 1/2 pound so you have plenty!

I put the chiles down first, then the cheese on top of them, but I couldn’t hold the cheese and show you the measurement of the chiles AND take the picture all at the same time…but I tried.   So, spread the chiles out, put the cheese over the top of the chiles and roll the wide end up to the narrow end.

And a couple of minutes later you’ll have a bunch of rolls like this and a pan of sopa seca de fideo that’s nice and dry like this:

At this point, it gets really easy…mound the sopa seca into a 7 x 12 inch baking dish, and top with beef rolls.  Spoon the sauce of your choice…salsa or picante, but NOT enchilada sauce, it’s too intense, over the ends of the beef rolls to keep them moist.  Then top the whole thing with shredded cheese and pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes at 350°.  Just until the cheese melts, and no more.   A serving is two rolls topped with a dollop of sour cream and garnished accordingly.  Have fun!

So…how is Gauchos all about me?  One, I created it.  Two…it’s typical of me to take something I like a part of and retrofit, redact, twist, turn, and play with it until I’m happier with it.   Three, Gauchos is about combining foods to make something new.  I don’t have any ethnic base to work my cooking magic from, I don’t have any “learned from my grandma’s knee” recipes… I just have a passion for good food…all of it!





Cooking Italy~Lasagna…Step by Step 1

19 01 2010

First off, this isn’t the pasta box recipe for lasagna.  This takes time.  Plan to make the sauce on Day 1 and the lasagna on Day 2. Why?  Because it THIS IS Italian.  We made bolognese sauce awhile back, according to the recipe in Essentials of Italian Cooking.   Since then, there was quite a lot of discussion between the ladies in Cooking Italy about the differences between the Bolognese sauce recipe in Essentials and her original recipe in The Classic Italian Cookbook.  A couple of the ladies said they didn’t particularly care for the Essentials Bolognese sauce, because it was too sweet for their tastes.  I remembered that it was a bit on the sweet side, and when I compared the recipes, it was easy to see why.  There are a lot more vegetables in the Essentials recipe, particularly carrots which will add a lot of sugar.

We’ll be preparing the sauce from The Classic Italian Cookbook this time around, and I’m making a triple batch of sauce.

Bolognese Ingredients:
2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped carrot
3/4 pound lean ground beef (chuck)
salt
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups canned Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice

As you can see, there aren’t any, what we consider “typical Italian” seasonings.  Restrain yourself.  This is the real deal. You don’t need to add to it.  It’s how they prepare meat ragu sauce in the Bologna region of Italy.  They use milk to season their meat.  I realize it’s a foreign concept, but roll with it for this one dish.  Think of it as an experiment…

The unique thing about bolognese, as well as the time consuming part, is that it’s cooked in layers of flavor.  The vegetables are cooked briefly in the oil and butter; the meat is added and cooked just until the redness is gone; wine is added and cooked until the wine has evaporated.  The picture above shows the last of the wine cooking out of my meat mixture.  The next addition is milk and nutmeg.  The milk is also cooked until the meat has absorbed the milk and the excess liquid has evaporated.

The final stage is adding tomatoes and simmering a minimum of 3-1/2 hours, preferably 5 hours at a bare simmer.  To achieve this “bare simmer” I put my Mexican comal on the burner, then my cast iron chicken fryer on top of that, and then put my heavy soup pot inside of that.  There’s an air space between the soup pot and the chicken fryer, but that’s ok…that means there’s no way there can be burning from contact.

Once you’ve added the tomatoes, you don’t need to pay close attention to the sauce any more.  An occasional stir, every 20-30 minutes will do fine.  Just enough to keep an eye on it.  A single batch will cook more quickly than a double or triple batch.  However, once you get a taste for it, if you’re going to invest the time in a single batch of sauce, you may as well spend the day with a triple batch!  I started my sauce at 11 a.m. and took it off the stove at 10 p.m.  Remember, I knew I was in for the long haul, and I didn’t care. I chose a rainy day when this was my game plan.  I roasted a chicken for dinner and made lemon bars while this was going on in the background.  It’s a great background dish that way!

Here we are a few hours later.  You can see by the line on the pan where we started off, and where we are now.  The excess liquid is evaporating, concentrating the flavors of our sauce.  The oil you see on top is primarily the olive oil and butter we added at the beginning when we cooked the vegetables.  And below is our finished product after correcting for seasoning ONLY WITH SALT!!

The sauce will actually be better if it has a chance to rest and mature, at least overnight.  You’ll need about 2-1/2 cups for the lasagna, so package the rest for the freezer or for use on tagliatelle…oh, so good!   Sauces that are dense like this need to be spread as thinly as possible to cool quickly so food borne pathogens don’t start growing…tomato is one of their favorite mediums to grow in!  40°-140° is the danger zone, so chill your work down quickly!  I’ll see you back here soon to work on the Spinach Lasagna Noodles!





52 Weeks of Cookies~Buttery Lemon Bars (Take 1)

19 01 2010

This recipe will come around again because there are some structural flaws in it.  They can only get better, and they’re pretty darn good to start with.  The crust is a very delicate, buttery shortbread that crumbles if you breathe on it, it’s so tender.  It’s also extremely susceptible to the heat, and knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t bake it in a pan I couldn’t see through.  Since it bakes twice you don’t want it to color the first time except perhaps barely.  Second…since it doesn’t specify salted or unsalted butter…I used unsalted and added salt to the dough…maybe it needed just a wee bit more.  Yet there’s no salt in the recipe.  I also put a bit of salt into the lemon filling, which could still have been more lemony to me.  So the recipe is a good place to start, but I’m going to play with it some, and we’ll be back with it when it’s been renovated some.

Buttery Lemon Squares

Prep and Cook Time: about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Notes: The lemon squares can be chilled airtight for up to 2 days.

Yield: Makes 24 bars
Ingredients

* 1  cup  (1/2 lb.) butter, at room temperature
* 1/2  cup  plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
* 2 1/3  cups  all-purpose flour
* 2  cups  granulated sugar
* 1  teaspoon  baking powder
* 1 1/2  teaspoons  grated lemon peel
* 6  tablespoons  lemon juice
* 4  large eggs

Preparation

1. In a bowl, with an electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in 2 cups flour until dough is no longer crumbly. Pat into a ball.

2. Press dough evenly into a buttered and floured 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Bake in a 350° oven until golden, about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a food processor, or in a bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, whirl or beat granulated sugar, remaining 1/3 cup flour, baking powder, grated lemon peel, lemon juice, and eggs to blend. Pour onto hot crust.

4. Bake until lemon mixture is no longer runny in the center (cut to test), 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and dust with remaining 2 tablespoons powdered sugar.

5. Let cool completely in pan, then cut into 24 bars.

Tasting Notes:
These bars tasted fine, with the following exceptions:
•  They over bake very easily, and I feel the temp is too high in the recipe, try 325°
•  Bake in a clear glass baking pan to be able to monitor the darkness of the crust on the bottom
•  And as we already noted there’s no specification of salted or unsalted butter, or salt in the crust.

Needless to say, I over baked these little gems.  They handled it well, and tasted fine regardless, but they were still over cooked.  Since I know we’re going to run this play again…sorry…it’s football season…I’ll be increasing the lemon juice to 1/2 cup, and the lemon peel to 1 Tbsp.   Those adjustments aren’t enough to keep it from gelling.  With that many eggs, you could easily add quite a bit more lemon!  I think the lemon curd will cook up nicer at a lower temp also.  So…watch this space.  These will be back in the not too terribly distrant future.  They were tasty and rich, oh my, but they’re rich!  LOL!





52 Weeks of Cookies~Vera’s Peanut Butter Cookies

12 01 2010

This week we’re checking out a most unusual peanut butter cookie recipe.  I forget where Vera R. told me the recipe originated, but she spoke extremely highly of the results, and said it was such a simple recipe even she couldn’t mess it up.  I usually chide someone about that time, but Vera has made it plain that one passion we don’t share is Culinary Arts!  Ok.  That being said, these ARE the easiest cookies EVER.  I can’t imagine it being any easier.

The recipe is 1 cup peanut butter mixed with 1 cup sugar, blended with 1 egg. Roll into balls.  Bake on a lined baking sheet at 325° for 12-15 minutes.   I don’t know how many cookies you’re supposed to get, I used a size 40 scoop and got 25 cookies, and I ate absolutely NO cookie dough.  I’m immune to cookie dough.   And yes, there’s a story there, but not for today.  Today is about peanut butter cookies…rich, peanutty, peanut butter cookies.  I realized when I got home with the peanut butter that it was crunchy…oh well.  It worked anyway.

I don’t know that I’m ready to toss my old favorite criss-crossed, sugar crusted slightly crunchy peanut butter cookies for these.  These are definitely softer, and more full-flavored.  I’ll try flattening and criss-crossing them at some point,  just to see how they come out.  I’m thinking they might need slightly less cooking time because they won’t be as thick.   These also might be really great candidates as bases for jam thumbprints.

Tasting Notes:
We really enjoyed these, but they’re super rich.  Therefore they lasted longer! LOL!  You don’t tend to want more than one or two at a time.  They aren’t super sweet…even though it’s just peanut butter and sugar.  The peanut butter takes on all that sugar just fine.  Think about how much jelly or honey we quaff down with peanut butter!  One interesting thing…these go fairly well with fruit drinks.  Again, the richness and the peanut butter help out a lot there.  I wonder…would this cookie survive the Summer Kool-Ade test??





Cooking Italy~Shrimp with Tomatoes and Chili Peppers

11 01 2010

It feels good to be back into my routine…and that routine includes Cooking Italy!  It actually helps me and keeps me disciplined to have a couple of recipes I “need” to cook every week.  It helps me focus my energy and helps me maintain a focus on cooking and eating decently fresh and healthy food.   Chopping vegetables helps relieve the odds and ends of little stress pockets that follow me home.  Cooking in general makes me happy, so quick meals like this are really celebrated at the end of a long work day.

Our cast of characters today are simply shrimp, onions, garlic, parsley, olive oil and chili peppers…or chili pepper flakes if it’s the dead of winter and there are NO fresh red chili peppers available.   I looked all over, but I haven’t been able to find San Marzano tomatoes in my area yet.  So, I used tomatoes I canned last summer.  I drained the liquid off and reserved it, and added little bits as the pan simmered dry while I cooked the sauce.  I also had to use dried parsley…it was either that or nada.  So…we added a little more happy tomato juice. *Ü*  One word of warning….watch it with those dried chili flakes.   I’m so glad I took half of them OUT!

Tasting Notes:
This goes together very quickly and is so full of flavors!  The heat is really there, but settles out quickly afterward.  It’s served with crusty grilled bread to soak up any wayward sauce (and to offset the fire!).  Now…it’s just our secret…but I served this over….shhhh…pasta.  I wanted to make sure we had enough food for supper, but I didn’t want to fix pasta first, then the shrimp…so I “cheated” on the true Italian fare.   Please forgive me…  I couldn’t help myself.  It really helped offset the spiciness though! Want a bite?