Cooking Italy: On my own with Sautéed Peas~

31 05 2010

One of the things our hostess and creator, Angela of Spinach Tiger, always reminds us, is to cook what’s available.  With that in mind, and vines weighed down with swollen pods, I ventured into unknown territory with Sautéed Early Peas with Olive Oil and Prosciutto, Florentine Style, by Marcella Hazan, as presented in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which is the book we’ve been working from for just about a year now.

The weather has been unseasonably mild for northern California, and I was away last weekend, so my edible pod peas had a whole week on me.  Once I was back home, it rained for 4 days straight, mostly when I was home, so getting out to pick was either going to be a wet experience, or one put off for another day.  The putting off worked out just fine.

I needed a little something to go with steamed King Crab legs tonight…a salad would do, but one of the 80° days we did have caused most of the lettuce to bolt.  That which is left is somewhat bitter, and not quite what I want to put beside crab legs.  Then I saw the poor neglected pea pods.  I picked all that I could see and then checked again and picked another big handful.  Off to the cookbooks to see what there is to choose from.

My first thought was minted peas, but for the heck of it, I grabbed up Marcella Hazan’s book.  Olive oil…check.  Garlic…ooh…check.  Prosciutto or pancetta…check, I had pancetta.  Parsley.  Just bought some yesterday.  We’re on!  Sauté the garlic in the olive oil until nut-brown.  Remove…hmmm.  Okay…if you insist, but…  Add pancetta, then peas with a bit of water, add a few twists of pepper, then cover, simmer, oh my.   This is too easy.   And what great results!  It was a really great accent, both in taste and in color, to the the crab.  We decided this is a keeper recipe.  It’s a great way to treat peas instead of merely boiling them.  The recipe can be used with frozen peas as easily as with fresh.  What are you waiting for??

By the way…that garlic that was removed from the pan?  It makes a lovely, crunchy little garnish!


Foodie Joust: Eggs, Cheese & Greens~

29 05 2010

After a short break, The Leftover Queen has once again opened the Foodie Joust!  Oh…how I missed this!  I love the Foodie Joust!  It keeps my imagination tickled.  I don’t cook half of what goes through my mind…and trust me…that’s probably a very good thing!  I get a few really wild ideas now and then!  This month Jenn selected simple, seasonal ingredients…eggs, greens and cheese.  How simple, yet adventurous, and with the potential of sheer elegance!

My submission is:

Baked Eggs with Swiss Chard and Ricotta Salata

1 bunch swiss chard, stems and thick veins removed, leaves thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic chopped
Olive oil
Sprinkling Kosher salt

Sauté the shallot in olive oil over medium heat until almost translucent; add garlic; stir; add chard leaves and cook until almost completely wilted.  Add light sprinkling of kosher salt, finish cooking and remove to bowl for “construction” step.

Half & half
Ricotta salata – grated – 2 Tbsp. per ramekin

You will need enough eggs and half & half to measure a scant 1/2 cup per ramekin; 1 ramekin per person.
For 4 servings I used 8 eggs and 1/2 cup half & half.

Preheat oven to 350°F;   put a 2 qt. saucepan of water on to heat.
Butter 1 ramekin per person.

Fill each ramekin with enough of the chard mixture to coat the bottom of each ramekin.
Add 2 Tbsp. finely grated ricotta salata.  This cheese combines fabulously with the chard.
Top each ramekin with almost 1/2 cup egg and half & half mixture.  The ricotta salata will provide sufficient seasoning.

Place the ramekins in a baking dish, and place the dish on the middle shelf of the preheated oven.
Fill the baking dish with hot water until it reaches the middle of the ramekins.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until the egg mixture tests done as for custard.
Serve with a fruit compote for a light brunch dish.

Tasting notes:
Bruce thought this could have taken more seasoning for his tastes.  This is a guy who adds Tabasco to almost all egg dishes, so…in that regard, probably so.  It came out as I anticipated.  The big taste comes from the wow combination of the chard and the ricotta salata!  They really compliment one another very nicely, and the egg quietly slips to the back to become the carriage to carry them to your mouth.  The ingredients tend to go adrift in the egg mixture so there’s a bit of seasoned chard and cheese carried in each bite.  By filling the ramekins all the way to the brim, we get a bit of a souffle effect with the top edges browning quickly to hold the shape then towering up above the dish.  This gave a nice extra layer of both flavor and texture.  What fun!  With a bit of fruit to act as a foil, this is a really nice brunch or light luncheon dish.

Real Food – Artichokes Aplenty~

17 05 2010

One of the best things about living in Northern California is that we aren’t that far from Castroville and all those marvelous artichokes!  This one is close to life size.  No…I’m not kidding.  These were HUGE.  They were also all of 87¢ each.  I got 3.  They were just so pretty!  I couldn’t resist!

I grew up with artichokes, so I’m not at all put off by them…except to gasp at the price most of the time!  When I was getting to know my husband, we discovered we both liked artichokes.  It was a wonderful moment, because neither of us really knew anyone else who cared much for them one way or the other!  It wasn’t until he sat down to cold artichokes with a mayonnaise dressing that we realized we hadn’t discussed preparation methods at all!  He’d never had a cold artichoke…I’d never had a hot artichoke!  How can one thistle be so versatile!??

All I’m sure of at this point is that the prolonged cool “Spring” weather we’ve had has been fabulous for the artichokes this year.  As a cut and come again crop, you want to get these big guys off the plant so smaller globes will set after the first cutting.  I confess, I’ve done my share to promote this crop this year.  I’ve bought well over a dozen large artichokes this year so far.   Not all at this kind of price, but quire a few!

This year I’ve finally had my fill of plain artichokes and I’m ready to try some exciting new ways of cooking them!  Just tonight, I finally realized how to trim them for some of the Italian recipes.  Now I’m really excited!  I still have a few stashed away for those projects.  Fried artichoke crowns…  Artichoke gratin…  In a year like this, break out the fun recipes!!  In the meanwhile, they’ve made wonderful side dishes…both hot and cold!  My favorite is still a hot artichoke with roasted garlic aioli and a grilled steak to go with it.   Pure heaven.  A sure sign that God meant us to be adventurous with our food.

Can you imagine?  Who was first to decide to eat one of those things?  *Ü*

Roasted Garlic Aioli

2 heads garlic, split in half, drizzled with olive oil, wrapped in foil and roasted at 425° for 45 minutes or until garlic is caramelized and soft.
1/2-3/4 cup mayonnaise (fresh is nice, but not necessary)

Mash roasted garlic and stir in mayonnaise.  That’s all.  The garlic simply becomes more “dippable” when it’s mixed with the mayo.  It reminds me of an unguent.  An unguent for my tongue.  *sigh*  I just finished an artichoke…but if I don’t stop this I’m going to have to get into another one! LOL!

Cook the Books: Eating for England~

16 05 2010

Our latest read at Cook the Books was Eating for England by Nigel Slater.  Eating for England was an amusing listing of British food items, the memories they evoked in Mr. Slater, and the history they might have.  While thoroughly interesting, it ran a bit dull if one truly has no association with said items.  I found I enjoyed most reading about the items I’d run across in other books…jam roly poly for instance…treacle tart.  It’s a really good book to read if you know you’re going to be interrupted a great deal. The recitation is quite broken up, sometimes an entry is no more than a paragraph.

Next…what to cook?  Fish & chips?  A syllabub?  Should I trifle with a trifle?  Roast a joint of beef and make Yorkshire pudding?  Steam a pud?  Attempt to create a Spotted Dick?  Bangers and mash?

After careful consideration I knew it came down to something like a syllabub.  I recall discovering a reference to syllabubs in a book I read as a child.  However “fools” are very similar to syllabubs, with no alcohol.  So a food it should be!  No comments please… *Ü*

I hunted for British ingredients, and I hunted for British recipes, eventually discovering The Great British Kitchen site.  What a great site this is to accompany our book!  I selected a recipe from their collection and adapted it for 2. While there, I found a lot of recipes I’d really like to try, and took note of those.

Mango Fool

Serves: 4

1 Large Mango, peeled
1 Tablespoon Lemon juice
1 Egg white, whisked
150 ml Whipping cream, whipped (5 fl oz)
Remove the flesh from the mango and purée three quarters of it. Chop the remainder and stir in the lemon juice. Fold together the egg white, cream and mango purée.

Put the chopped mango into the bottom of 4 glasses and spoon over the fool. Serve chilled.
This recipe works very well with canned mango pieces as well.

Tasting Notes~
Oh my…my…my!  This is light and airy, and just barely sweet.  It takes it’s sweetness from the mango purée.  The egg white and the whipped cream folded together make such a light and delicate combination when they’re put together.  The addition of the fruit softens the weight from the fat, making this a real food miracle.  This feels like it will be a wonderful summer dessert.  You can bet we’ll be having this again real soon!

HB in 5 – Round 3~

15 05 2010

This time I decided to cozy up to a recipe that’s had me intrigued…the 10 Grain Bread.  There is, however, 1 crucial ingredient in this recipe, and that’s Bob’s 10 Grain Cereal…therefore we have an adaptation here.  We have, ahem…5 Grain Bread.  Bob didn’t send all 10 grains to my local market.  Seriously, you can find Bob’s Red Mill products just about everywhere, but you may have to encourage your local market to carry the single product you want (or need).  Not being one to be put off by details, I grabbed the 5 grain cereal, wondering which other 5 grains I was losing out on, and went forth with a passion!

Although I didn’t measure accurately, I measured reasonably accurately, but once again, had a liquid to flour ratio problem.  The dough was extremely wet this time, and didn’t even try to clean the edges of the bowl with all the ingredients added in.   Mulling it over in my mind, and looking at the ingredients, I saw a lot of raw grains that, given 24 hours, would take up a lot of the liquid…but how much?  Back to the mixer, I turned it back up and added whole wheat flour and unbleached bread flour alternately by the handful until the dough suddenly cleaned the edges of the mixer.   While it was still a bit stickier than I’d ordinarily like, there are still all those whole rolled grains in there to take up the extra liquid.  Keeping that in mind, I turned the dough into a container so it could rise and wait until the following day.  This is definitely a wait-until-the-next-day recipe, because the dough was much drier by Day 3, and being cold, handled well.  It shaped relatively easily, and was one of the easiest to move from rising surface to stone.

This particular loaf was scored and sprinkled with chernushka seed.   I haven’t quite gotten acclimated to the flavor of these little seeds yet, but they have an amazing reputation among the Eastern cultures.   The crust had an amazing crunch that was really delightful.  The bread itself, however, is heavy and not prone to the large, open bubble structure found in some artisan breads.  Remember, all that cereal is inside the dough now.  Although it’s one of the heavier loaves, it’s also got a huge amount of fiber and nutrition packed into a small footprint.   It really holds together so making a very thin slice is possible.  It made a lovely grilled cheese filled with muenster.  Of course, a big ol’ hunk dipped in olive oil and herbs is pretty delightful too.  Served toasted with peanut butter and apples (ok, or bananas…), it’s a breakfast on the go…what a bread!  It’ll do until we find the 10 grain cereal!