COOKING AHEAD: FIRST NIGHT IN FLORENCE SPAGHETTI REINVENTED

I’m trying, I really am, to be better about taking lunch to work with me. I know, it sounds strange – I work in a hotel kitchen, and could certainly have lunch on any given day from banquet leftovers. But I have a difficult time eating food that I’ve been seeing, smelling, handling for several hours, so I tend to go without. Which is a terrible way to eat (or not), let alone live. By mid-afternoon, I’m headachy, irritable, and sleepy.

When I take leftovers from home for lunch, though, everything changes. I actually sit down, eat a decent, enjoyable meal (I even transfer it from its portable container to a real plate), and read a book for 20 to 30 minutes. The entire tenor of my day is better. Lately, days have been sooooo long, and I’m so tired when I get home that I’ve cleaned out my treasured stash of leftovers in the freezer. The good news is that I’ve actually eaten dinner; the bad news is that there’s nothing left to take for lunch. Clearly, the moral of the story is that I need to remember it’s well worth the effort to prepare some lunches ahead.

I mentioned recently that the latter part of summer makes me very nostalgic for Italy. Just writing that led me to crave First Night in Florence Spaghetti. When that craving collided with my need for a few lunches, a spark of inspiration resulted in my reimagining it as a salad.

FIRST NIGHT IN FLORENCE PASTA SALAD

1 pound dry fusilli

Sea or kosher salt

3 ounces olive oil

1 pint grape tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled, minced

Juice of 1 lemon

5 ounce can tuna packed in olive oil

Fresh baby spinach

Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste

Red pepper flakes to taste

Additional olive oil as needed

 

Why fusilli? Because it’s sort of the shaped pasta equivalent of long angel hair. It cooks quickly. Besides, what fun to cook something whose name translates as “fuses.”

 

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After 9 minutes (read here about how much water to boil and how much salt to add to it), it was perfectly al dente (be sure to check the cook time on your package). I drained it, poured it back into the pot, filled the pot with cold water and a couple of handfuls of ice cubes, then swirled the pasta around with my hands until it was completely cooled.

 

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I drained it again, then poured it into a large mixing bowl, and stirred in 3 ounces of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.

 

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One pound of dry fusilli yields about 6 cups cooked.  I scooped a couple of cups into a ziplock bag which I stashed in the freezer for a night like the stretch I’ve just finished. I poured the remainder, along with all its lovely olive oil, into a large mixing bowl.

Using the moderately frightening tomato knife that KDub gave me (she rashly thought I was adult enough to responsibly handle such a tool), I reigned in my typically wandering thoughts and zenned in on halving the tomatoes lengthwise.

 

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Not only does this knife cut through tomato skins as if through butter, I believe it would shear through sheet metal with equal efficacy

 

The one hitch in the transformation from a cooked sauce to a cold one was how to take the sharp edge off the garlic without sautéing it. Here’s a good trick to know: there are all sorts of lovely acids present in both the tomatoes and lemon juice, so after mincing the garlic,  toss it together with them, along with a generous pinch of salt (to encourage the tomatoes to give up their juices more readily).

 

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The easiest way to extract juices from any citrus fruit is to stick a fork firmly into the center of each half, then work it back and forth as you squeeze

 

Set it all aside for about 15 minutes.

 

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You’ll be tempted to stop right here and eat the garlicky, lemony tomatoes just as they are. But persevere.

 

Open the can of tuna and add it and its olive oil to the pasta. Pour in the tomato-garlic-lemon mixture.

 

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Toss everything together, then season to taste with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  If it seems a little dry, feel free to drizzle in additional olive oil.

 

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To take this for lunch, since I don’t want the spinach to break down excessively, I filled some ziplock bags with a couple of handfuls each of fresh baby spinach. At work, I’ll toss the salad together with the spinach when I’m ready to sit down for lunch. And a book.

But first things first. Labor Day may have glided past us, so we ostensibly can’t wear white or linen any longer. But we can damn well have a great salad for dinner on a still-warm evening. After I’d packed some lunches, I placed 2 generous handfuls of spinach in my favorite salad bowl, spooned some of the pasta salad over it, feathered some Parmesan over the top, and sat down to a new and heavenly version of one of my favorite dinners ever.

 

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Buon appetito!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in COOKING AHEAD, Lunch Goes to Work, Pantry Dinners, Pastas, RECIPES, Salads, WEEKNIGHT DINNER | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

MEATLESS MONDAY: A SIMPLE SUMMER SUPPER

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Say that three times fast. That’s about how long this takes to come together.

 

For the last couple of summers, I get very nostalgic for Italy around this time. The daughter had spent most of the summer at an international dance workshop in Florence. I flew over towards its end to see her final performance and afterwards to travel around Italy and France with her. Lost Shoes Risotto and First Night in Florence Spaghetti were among the offspring of those travels.

When I got home, one of the first things I did was go looking for a large bowl that reminded me of those in which we’d had great, gorgeous salads – everything was in season – and wonderful, simple pastas. It needed to be deeper than a pasta plate, but smaller than a conventional mixing bowl. I had a surprisingly difficult time finding just the right one. I finally found the perfect, classic white bowl at T. J. Maxx. For $3.99. Sold.

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And it was made in Italy! It was almost as though I’d brought it home with me.

 

This simple, Italian-inspired pasta is perfect for a warm summer evening. If you can step outside and pick a couple of handfuls of little tomatoes, snip some deep green leaves from a basil plant, lucky you.

As for the pasta, typically, a flat pasta would be used here, but I use angel hair because oh mio dio, it’s hot. Angel hair cooks so fast that very little time is spent generating any more heat than absolutely necessary.

Have all your ingredients prepared, as everything comes together very quickly.

ANGEL HAIR WITH GARLIC, TOMATOES, AND BASIL

Serves 2, or 1 with luscious leftovers

Extra-virgin olive oil – be generous: a good 2 to 3 ounces

3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes

8 ounces of  angel hair

Sea or kosher salt and grinds of pepper

Red pepper flakes

Fresh basil leaves cut into chiffonade

Parmesan cheese

 

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After you’ve rinsed the tomatoes, cut them in half from top to bottom. They’ll cook faster this way.

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Yes, I know the trick of sandwiching the tomatoes between two plastic lids, then carefully running a knife through the center. The problem is that no two come out the same thickness. Some at best have a sliver shaved off one side. So I halve mine the old-fashioned way. A kind friend gave me a tomato knife which slices through them as if through butter. It is shockingly sharp, which forces me to slow down, creating a sort of meditation on tiny tomatoes.

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Mmm hmmm, that’s a flat-bottomed rock that I use for smashing garlic. It’s also vaguely foot-shaped, but that’s a story for another time

Smash and peel the garlic cloves, then mince them well.

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Chiffonade (French for “ribbon”) a few leaves of fresh basil. As much as you like.

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Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Read about how much water and how much salt here.  Add about half of the package of angel hair. Set a timer for 4 minutes.

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Over medium heat, warm a skillet large enough to hold both the sauce and the pasta. Add the olive oil. When it shimmers, or “ribbons,” add the garlic. Cook it gently until it is nicely fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and red pepper flakes.

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About a half teaspoon

If the pan is spattery, reduce the heat a bit. The tomatoes want to cook very gently.  When the pasta is almost done, season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

When the timer sounds, use tongs to transfer the pasta to the skillet. Add a ladle of the pasta cooking water. Carefully toss everything together with the tongs, and let the pasta cook for a minute more.

Lift the pasta into bowls, and spoon the sauce over it.  Garnish with some strands of beautiful basil and some shavings of Parmesan.

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Pour a glass of chilled Italian rosé. Twirl some pasta on a fork. What does the scene you’ve set conjure up for you?

 

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Personally, I’m imagining sitting in a little trattoria in the daughter’s San Niccolò neighborhood, which graces the right bank of the languid, sultry Arno. The heat of the day is yielding to evening’s cooling touch. And I’m clinking glasses with the beautiful, graceful young woman whose mother I am so proud to be.

 

 

 

Posted in Entrées, Meatless Monday, Pantry Dinners, Pastas, RECIPES, Vegetarian, WEEKNIGHT DINNER | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

WORDLESS WEDNESDAY: SUMMER PRESENT, SUMMER FUTURE

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Posted in RECIPES, WORDLESS WEDNESDAY | 3 Comments

WORDLESS WEDNESDAY: BIRD ON A WIRE

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CHICKEN SOUP FOR MANY SOULS

Chicken noodle soup? In the summer? Really?

Am I pretty close to what you’re thinking? Well, as with most things in life, there’s a story to it.

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There are times when I simply need to cook

When the world is an unsettled, unsettling place, I cook. Airplanes fall out of the sky.  Four young boys’ day at the beach turns out to be the wrong beach. And it’s getting difficult to remember who’s at war with whom. Or why.

I can’t fix any of it. Hell, I can barely understand it. Cooking, on the other hand, makes sense to me. It organizes my thoughts, focuses them. It lets me feel productive in a small way. It is restorative.

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Only the best will do

And occasionally, a moment of sheer grace shines through the bleakness. A colleague with whom I work and his wife welcomed a beautiful little daughter a few days ago. A bunch of us were in the middle of a meeting the afternoon – timing being everything in this life – that they brought their sweet family in to share with us. While one of the little girls clambered up onto a dining room chair and proceeded to season her baby doll with salt and pepper, we cooed over the tiny baby and her gorgeous head of dark hair. The girls’ mom is a trouper; she had the baby on a Friday, and on Sunday was in church with all three girls. In heels. The mom, that is.

At some point, the reality of sleep deprivation will intrude on the the new-baby high. Remember hearing the well-intentioned, though utterly ridiculous advice to sleep when the baby sleeps? Good grief, when do people think dishes get washed; laundry, and lots of it, done and folded; dinner started? Sometimes even finished.

We could all use some soup.

Soup doesn’t really need a recipe. It just needs some ideas and ingredients. I was going for optimum comfort, ease, and nutrition. This one comes together fast, in about 40 minutes. It has tiny tender pasta for little mouths (I can so picture the little one who salted and peppered her dolly sliding them onto her fingertips!), vegetables for color and great flavor, beans and chicken, and relatively little in the way of onions and garlic – really, just enough for some flavor without passing on any more wakefulness than necessary to the sweet baby.

CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP

6 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in

Olive oil

Sea or kosher salt and pepper

6 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4″ dice

6 stalks of celery, trimmed, 1/4″ dice

1 yellow onion, 1/4″ dice

2 cloves of garlic smashed, peeled, and minced

1 pound mushrooms, stems removed (save them for your stock bag), quartered

35-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes

25-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1 quart vegetable or chicken stock

2 zucchini squash, 1/4″ thick slices

2 yellow squash, 1/4″ thick slices

1 pound small pasta such as little elbows or ditalini

Get all your vegetables ready to go, as this comes together fast.

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Quarter the carrots lengthwise after peeling them; slice them into 1/4″ pieces on a pretty diagonal

 

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Cut the celery stalks into halves or thirds depending on their size; also slice them on a diagonal

 

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Ready for the pot

 

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Quarter the mushroom caps

 

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Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper

Film the bottom of a heavy-bottomed soup pot with olive oil, and warm it over medium heat. When it’s hot, the oil will shimmer, or “ribbon,” add the chicken pieces to the pot, skin-side down. Allow them to brown gently, then turn them over, about 5 minutes on each side. When the other sides are also gently browned, add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Also add the can of tomatoes and their juices.

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Use scissors to cut up the tomatoes right in the can

Cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow the vegetables to braise for about 10 minutes, until warmed through. When the vegetables have begun to soften, use tongs to remove the chicken thighs to a cutting board.

While they cool, add the beans and stock to the pot. Raise the heat, replace the lid, and allow the soup to come to a simmer.

When the chicken pieces have cooled a bit, remove the skin and discard it. Use your hands to pull the meat from the bones, then cut it into small pieces. Return them to the pot. Simmer the soup for about 15 minutes, until the carrots (the densest of the vegetables) are tender and the flavors come together.

While the soup simmers, cook the pasta in a separate pan. If you add it to the soup in its dry state, it will tend to absorb too much liquid from the soup and likely overcook as well. Read about how much water and how much salt to use here. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the time indicated on the package. Drain it through a colander.

While the pasta cooks, slice the zucchini and yellow squash

While the pasta cooks, slice the zucchini and yellow squash

When the vegetables are done, add the zucchini and yellow squash to the soup. Also stir in the pasta. Cook the soup for 2 minutes more. Last, season to taste with salt and pepper.

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A beautiful, bright, summertime soup in under a hour. You needn’t necessarily wait for someone to have a baby to try it.

Posted in COOKING AHEAD, Entrées, Pastas, RECIPES, Soups, STORIES, The Freezer is Your Friend | 4 Comments

BASTILLE DAY: QUICHE!

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I can think of few things more classically French than a quiche. And Quiche Lorraine at that. You know, bacon, eggs, cream, all in a tender pastry shell.

In the 16th century, it was prepared in a brioche crust and known in German as a Kuchen, or cake. The Quiche Lorraine familiar to us is a relative youngster, dating to the 19th century. Cheese, usually Gruyère, was added when the dish immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s.

Quiche, or Kuchen, originated in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. The two territories  had bounced back and forth between what eventually became France and Germany since the first half of the first century. They finally came to rest in France in 1945 at the end of World War II. It was in the beautiful city of Strasbourg, on my first trip to France, where I tasted Quiche Lorraine on French soil. I still think of that moment whenever I make one.

A Quiche Lorraine with the addition of onions becomes a Quiche Alsacienne, and in honor of both Bastille Day and the initial moments of what grew into a life-long love affair with a country, that’s what I decided to make.

FIRST, MAKE THE PASTRY

But first, a note about tart pans. I’m fond of those made of tinned steel with a removable base.

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Once lifted out, breaking the side crust while serving ceases to be an issue. I have many of them in several shapes and sizes, and they’re among the true workhorses of my kitchen. They are inexpensive and easy to find. I recommend them highly.

 

Read all about pie and tart pastry here. That post, for Perfect Flaky Pastry, is one of the most oft-viewed on the site. It’s one of those methods that is simply fail-safe.

After the disk (the recipe makes two, so don’t forget to freeze the other) has rested in the refrigerator, remove it, and unwrap it.

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Flour your work surface and the surface of the dough

As you roll the dough, slide it around from now and then to be sure it isn’t sticking.

 

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The diameter of the pastry should exceed that of your tart pan by about an inch and a half. Use a paring knife to trim it into shape. Roll it back over the rolling pin, then drape it over your tart pan.

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Carefully lift the edge with one hand, and ease it into the corner of the pan with the other. Gently press the sides of the pastry against those of the tart pan. Finally, if there is any dough which extends up beyond the edge of the pan, gently press it over the edge and run the rolling pin over the top to evenly cut it off. For some reason, I find this strangely yet enormously satisfying.

 

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Set the tart pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Be sure to pick it up by the sides, NOT the bottom!  While it is resting, begin preparing your other ingredients.

 

QUICHE ALSACIENNE

Makes a 10-inch round quiche, 6 or 8 servings

6 strips of very good thick-sliced bacon

1 onion, yellow or white

6 large eggs *

4 ounces cream

4 ounces Gruyère cheese (Jarlsberg or Fontina will do nicely, too), grated

1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt

Pepper

If you’re using a conventional pie plate rather than a thinner tart pan, you’ll need more eggs. The typical ratio for a quiche is 1 egg per person; however, for a deeper pie plate, add 2 more eggs and another two ounces of cream. 

Preheat your oven to 375º degrees.

You know the trick of cooking bacon in the oven, right? Much less mess, much less shrinkage, the oven eventually does the clean-up. Well, if you think the aroma of bacon cooking is the ne plus ultra of cooking, just wait till you smell bacon and onions together.

Lay the strips of bacon on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Cut off the stem end of the onion, then cut it in half from stem to root end. Leave the root end intact; it’s going to hold the onion together while you slice it. Peel each half.

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Lay each half flat on your cutting board, and slice them into half-moons 1/4″ thick. Discard the root ends.

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Toss the onions about on your board to separate them, then arrange them around the edges of the baking sheet containing the bacon. Sprinkle the onions with a bit of salt.

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Set the baking sheet in the oven. Bake until bacon is crispy and onions have softened and begun to caramelize, about 35-40 minutes.

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Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Use tongs to transfer the bacon strips to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. With the same tongs, toss the onions in the bacon grease and let them cool at room temperature for about 10  minutes.

Leave the oven set to 375º to bake the quiche.

Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator and set it on a clean baking sheet. Once filled, it’s going to be much easier to handle, and if it overflows a bit, the mess is contained.

 

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Grate the cheese

 

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Scatter half of it on the bottom of the tart shell

 

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Use tongs to arrange the onions on top of the cheese

 

Transfer the bacon to your cutting board, and chop it into 1/2″ pieces. Scatter them over the onions.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, and some grinds of pepper.

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Look at the color of those yolks! I get them from a sweet friend who has five “ladies,” as she calls them

When fully blended, pour them over the contents of the tart pan. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top.

Set the quiche in the oven. Bake it for 35-40 minutes, until it has puffed up, and the top and edges of the pastry are gently browned. If you are using a deeper pie plate, yours may need to bake for 10 minutes or so more.

Remove it from the oven and allow it to sit for 5 minutes to stop cooking.

Using hot pads or oven mitts, carefully lift the bottom up from underneath and set it on a flat surface. Cut the quiche into as many servings as you wish. Those not consumed right away can be wrapped individually to take to work for a heavenly lunch.

Serve with a green salad and perhaps a glass of crisp Alsatian Pinot Gris or Gewuztraminer.

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This plate travelled home from Provence in my suitcase on a recent trip; amazingly, it arrived in one piece

 

Wherever you are, Santé to Bastille Day, and to the best of a warm July evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Entrées, Leftovers, Pies & Tarts, RECIPES | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

WEEKDAY BREAKFAST: POACHED EGGS OVER BABY GREENS

Weekday breakfasts need to be quick. For me, that usually means a smoothie of some sort. And while I love smoothies and also love greens, friends, I cannot do green smoothies. I just can’t. But that doesn’t stop me from incorporating greens into breakfast. And a fast one at that.

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I’m fond of a blend of 5: baby bok choy, chard, spinach, arugula, and endive. Use whatever makes you happiest. Drop a handful in the center of a plate. Drizzle it with some olive oil, then season with sea salt.

Bring about 12 ounces of water to a simmer. Not a boil; that’s too aggressive. A simmer. Add a pinch of salt. It will keep the whites from going all spidery when they hit the water. Gently crack an egg or two into the water. Let them cook for 2 to three minutes until the whites have set, but the yolks are still blissfully tender. Lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon, allowing water to drain away, and slip each onto your bed of greens. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt over them, along with some grinds of pepper.

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Start to finish, including eating, about 10 minutes. A welcome change from smoothies. And I didn’t have to wash the damn blender.

To clean up, set your plate in the sink, pour the hot poaching water over it to rinse it, set the pan in the sink, and head out the door. Go, be on your way. You’ve got things to do, places to go, people to see. The dishes will be waiting for you when you get home. Mine always are.

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#lazycats

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Breakfast, RECIPES | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

WEEKNIGHT DINNER: SEARED AHI TUNA SALAD

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I know, by the calendar it’s Friday. But my workweek being what it is, this is technically my Thursday. So it’s still a school night. Confused? So am I. I’ve been out of town on business for a couple of days, so I could roll dice and get about as close to what day of the week it actually is. While away, I ate happily and wonderfully, but I am so craving a dinner of my very own making. Some crisp/tender textures, bright flavors.

My local market sells frozen 4-ounce pieces of Ahi tuna for about $3.00. They aren’t consistently available, so when I find them, I pick up a handful and stash them in the freezer. They’re interestingly-shaped, clearly pieces of trim, but heck, both the price and the portion are perfect for my budget and my appetite.

When I was cleaning the freezer before I left, I happened upon one that I didn’t realize was there. After the long, cold, snowy siege that winter was, it’s finally safe to serve salad for dinner on a night when I desperately long for one. Oh, happy day.

SEARED AHI TUNA SALAD

I assembled the ingredients for the salad quite literally by strolling around the produce department of our brand new Lucky’s Market.  I knew I wanted some sort of cabbage for the base, and thought that a tender savoy would be perfect – a nice crunch, but not too much so, given the extremely tender nature of seared ahi. I also knew I wanted both a marinade and a salad dressing that leaned in an Asian direction and when I saw a basket full of beautiful Mexican papayas (they’re a manageable size, as opposed to football-sized Hawaiian papayas), I realized right away that I had the dressing’s base – not too sweet, and with a marvelous, silken texture. Right nearby was a basket of star fruit, which I utterly love.

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The fruit of a tree which has long been cultivated throughout Southeast Asia, it’s crisp and tart, and I thought would make a perfect garnish to offset the slightly sweet papaya and tender ahi. And when I saw that limes were a sane price of three for a dollar, I bagged some and headed for the check stand. Everything else I had in mind was waiting for me at home.

MARINADE FOR THE AHI

1 or 2 ahi tuna steaks, about 4 ounces each

2 ounces sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon unseasoned (meaning unsweetened) rice vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lime

2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

1/2 teaspoon Sambal Olek (chili paste)

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Whisk together all the marinade ingredients and pour them into a shallow, flat-bottomed baking dish. Lay the ahi steaks in the marinade and cover it with plastic.

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Let them sit at room temperature while you prepare the salad and dressing. Turn them over now and then.

PAPAYA VINAIGRETTE

Makes about 2 cups

1/2 of a Mexican papaya

4 ounces sesame oil

2 ounces unseasoned rice vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon Sambal Olek

Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste

Cut the papaya in half and scoop out the seeds.

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Use a peeler or a paring knife to remove the skin. Dice the papaya into 1/2″ cubes and place them in the bowl of a food processor or a blender.  Add the remaining ingredients, except for salt and pepper.  Purée until smooth. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Save the other half of the papaya and add it to your morning smoothie.

FOR THE SALAD

Makes enough for 1 or 2 dinners, plus leftovers for luscious lunches

4 ounces thin rice noodles (Maifun)

1/2 head of savoy cabbage

1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt and several grinds of pepper

1/2 red onion

Handful of  snow peas

Slices of star fruit – I used 3

Lime wedge

Rice noodles make me happy. I can’t fully explain why. Maybe it’s their silky texture, or the way they carry other flavors so beautifully. Hot or cold, they make me happy either way. But most especially in a salad. Open an 8-ounce package and pull off about half of the noodles. Place them in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Set a plate over the bowl to retain the heat. Let them sit for about 10 minutes. There. That’s all the cooking they need. When tender, drain them through a colander, rinse them under cold water to cool them, and use scissors to snip them into more user-friendly pieces.

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Let them continue to drain while you prepare the cabbage.

Peel away the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it in half through the stem. Trim out the core.

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Cut the half in half, from top to bottom, then slice the halves as thinly as you can, not more than 1/4″ thick. Place the cabbage in a large bowl along with the rice noodles. Add the salt and pepper and the dressing. Use tongs to toss the everything so that the dressing is well distributed. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. This will tenderize the cabbage some, and allow the rice noodles to absorb wonderful flavors.

Cut the red onion in half and peel it. Cut in half the long way again, then also slice it as thin as you can.

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Add it to the cabbage, but don’t mix it in yet.

Slice the snow peas about 1/4″ thick and add them to the salad.

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Now you can toss everything together.

Cut a few slices of star fruit.  Dice them into 1/4″ pieces.

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Leave them on your cutting board until you are ready to serve the salad.

 

TO SEAR THE AHI

Set a skillet or a ridged grill pan over medium heat. Add enough sesame oil to cover the bottom. If you are using a grill pan, brush it with sesame oil.

Remove the ahi steaks from the marinade and set them on paper towels to drain a bit while the pan warms. Turn them over once.

When the pan is warm, the oil with shimmer, or “ribbon.” At than point, gently add the steaks to the pan. Season the top with salt and pepper. Watch them closely. When you can just begin to see a band of white forming around the bottom, use a metal spatula to carefully turn them over.  Season the now top side with salt and pepper. Again watch them, and when you begin to see a while line forming around the bottom, remove the steaks to a plate and let them rest while you serve up the salad.

TO SERVE THE SALAD

Divide the salad between plates.  Remove the ahi steaks to a cutting board and carefully slice them into strips 1/4″ thick. Arrange them over the salad. Garnish with the diced star fruit and serve with a wedge of lime.

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Alternatively, if you are preparing this for yourself alone, just think how magnificent tomorrow’s lunch is going to be.

 

 

 

Posted in Entrées, Fish, Leftovers, RECIPES, Salads, WEEKNIGHT DINNER | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

WORDLESS WEDNESDAY: BIG CLOUDS IN THE BIG SKY STATE


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Posted in RECIPES | 4 Comments

WEEKNIGHT DINNER: FETTUCCINE ALL’AGLIONE

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There are abundant variations on this pasta sauce, but the two ingredients on which all agree is garlic (aglio in Italian, with a silent “g”) and plenty of it, and don’t stint on the red pepper flakes. Beyond that, to mince or thinly slice the garlic, to brown it in the (also abundant) olive oil or not, and to add or not to add tomato sauce, all appear to be a matter of one’s own preferences. Parmesan? That’s up to you, too.

I made a large batch because I want leftovers for lunch during what is going to be another pedal-to-the-metal week. At work, I really try to leave the kitchen and actually sit down to eat  lunch. Even if for no more than 15 minutes, to sit and enjoy something of my own from home while reading a few pages of a book is downright restorative. And comfort doesn’t get any better for me than garlic, tomatoes, and pasta.

The dish is traditionally known as Pici all’Aglione. It comes from around Montepulciano, in Siena, which is south and east of Florence a bit, almost in the exact center of Italy. Some of my most favorite red wines are produced in the same area. Che coincidenza.

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I digress. Pici is a long, thin, hand-rolled pasta, somewhat like a thicker, rustic version of spaghetti. It’s lots of fun to start with a small knot of dough and roll it back and forth beneath one’s palms on a board as it miraculously lengthens and grows thinner. The long pieces are then coiled up on a baking sheet sprinkled with semolina flour until it’s time to cook them. While making it is a great way to spend a weekend evening, this is a school night, and hand-made pasta is not happening. That said, the bold sauce needs a substantial pasta to stand up to it. I decided to use fettuccine.

FETTUCCINE ALL’AGLIONE

Serves 4, or fewer with leftovers

12 ounces fettuccine (3/4 of a package)

10 cloves of garlic, minced, but not too finely

6 ounces good extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

15-ounce can of good-quality tomato sauce

Sea or kosher salt to taste

Parmesan cheese

1.  Begin heating water to cook the pasta. For how much water and how much salt to add, see here.

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2. Open the can of tomato sauce. Pour the olive oil into a saucepan ( a decent, heavy-bottomed one is good) and warm it over medium heat. When it is hot, it will “shimmer,” or “ribbon.” Add the garlic and a generous half-teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Stir it about as it cooks, and do not let it brown. I find garlic takes on a bitter taste if it does. Once it is very fragrant, stir in the tomato sauce. Reduce the heat to a simmer and set a lid on the pan, but leave it cracked about an inch. Let the sauce reduce and thicken for about 20 minutes.

3. When the sauce is 10 minutes away from being done, drop the pasta into boiling water. Fettuccine has a cook time of about 12 minutes. Set a timer for 10 minutes, as the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce. Stir the pasta as it cooks so that it doesn’t stick together or to the bottom of the pot. Set a colander in the sink. When the timer goes off, dip out about 8 ounces of cooking water and pour it into the sauce. The starchy water, in combination with the olive oil in the sauce, is going to give the sauce a heavenly silkiness once stirred into the pasta.

4.  Strain the pasta through the colander, then return it to the pot.

5.  Stir the pasta water into the sauce, taste it, then season it to taste with salt and pepper. Pour it into the pot of pasta and return the pot to medium-low heat. Use tongs to combine pasta and sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of more minutes.

5. Serve the pasta into bowls and pass a wedge of good Parmesan around with a grater. You’ll be glad you did.

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Okay, it was all silky and spicy and more dente than al, just the way I like it. Deliziosa. Still and all, I’m quietly ecstatic over the leftovers. And Georgeanne Brennan’s memoir, A Pig in Provence that I’ve downloaded. I see some sweet lunches on the horizon. Starting with tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Entrées, Meatless Monday, Pastas, RECIPES, Solitary Cook, Vegetarian, WEEKNIGHT DINNER | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments