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Archive for the ‘pasta’ Category

Finally. The weekend. The end of a long terrifying week in my home town.

Friday was 70 degrees, overcast, and humid, but you barely knew it through closed windows and drawn shades. Several miles from the Watertown epicenter where I used to work, my own Cambridge neighborhood was eerily quiet. Once I turned off the barrage of breaking news reports on the TV in the background while I edited contracts, the only thing I could hear were the chirping bird sounds of spring. And an occasional siren. Stepping onto my tiny balcony for a breath or two of fresh air, I saw no one. No cars driving. No people walking. Nothing.

Yesterday was sunny, cooler. The city seemed to be waking from a deep slumber. I sat outside on that same balcony, writing this. Soothed by the slow but steady flow of traffic, joggers, and dog walkers.

Earlier in the week, after Monday’s marathon tragedy, I received an email from my friend Sarah: “I know from living in Israel through the 1990’s it isn’t easy. There were terror attacks almost every week and it took its toll.”

On Tuesday, I attended the Israeli Consulate of New England’s annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. Like celebrations of Israel’s independence that I’ve attended in previous years, I knew to expect security and policemen standing out front, bag checks and metal detectors inside. But as I drove to the back parking lot, past men and women in yellow vests and bright orange wands as if directing planes on a tarmac, I was struck to see camouflage-clad military holding rifles and leaning against humvees. To me, these men and women were oddly reassuring. They made me feel safe in the face of a bittersweet celebration. Normally bittersweet because the Israeli national holiday always follows Yom Hazikaron, memorial day, a remembrance of the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism who have given their lives for the ongoing existence and flourishing of the Israeli state. This year, palpably bittersweet.

On Thursday night, I made udon miso soup. I felt in need of comfort and the only place I could turn to was my kitchen. The soup was warm and salty, the noodles soft and slippery and slurpy. Little did I know how the next twenty-four hours would pan out and how welcome that soup would be.

The Friday night capture brought swoops and cheers and an impromptu party on Boston Common. I was relieved but couldn’t rejoice. It feels safer here but I can’t bring myself to celebrate.

It’s now the weekend. The sun is out, the air fresh, the windows open, the breeze chilly. I just finished the last of the soup and am heading out for a walk. Life is back to normal. But it’s not the same.

PS. For a powerful first-person account of this past week’s events, read this article written by a friend of a friend.

Udon miso soup

Udon miso soup

Adapted from Steamy Kitchen.

Before you add the miso, the soup will taste bland, but don’t worry because the miso is salty.  Make sure to add it to the soup after you’ve removed it from the heat. If miso gets too hot, it gets gritty.

It’s worth looking for fresh udon. You can find the most authentic of these fat white noodles in the refrigerated section of an Asian grocery store. Nasoya also makes a pretty good version and I’ve found it near the tofu. In a pinch, I’ve also have good luck with Eden dried noodles  that I frequently see  in the Asian or Japanese section of many grocery stores. Both the Nasoya and Eden noodles are certified kosher. I used Miso Master brand white miso (and you can use any extra to make one of these two slaws). Next time I make this soup, I’m going to add some small cubes of firm tofu.

Serves 4

- 3/4 pound pre-cooked (or, in a pinch, dried) wheat udon noodles

- 4 C vegetable or chicken stock (I used vegetable)

- 1 baby bok choy

- 5-7 cremini mushrooms

- 2 medium-sized carrots

- 1 large handful sugar snap peas or snow peas

- 3 T white miso

- 3 scallions

- sesame oil and hot chili sesame oil (optional)

Cook. Make the noodles according to the package instructions.

Boil. Bring the stock to a boil.

Cut. While the noodles are cooking and the stock is boiling, get to cutting. Thinly slice the bok choy, mushrooms, and carrots. I used a mandoline for the carrots. Cut the peas into 1/2-inch pieces or keep whole.

Simmer. Add the bok choy stems (not leaves) and cook for 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the mushrooms, carrots, and peas and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Stir in the bok choy leaves and remove from heat.

Assemble. Scoop miso into a bowl and whisk with a ladle-full of broth until completely dissolved. Then stir the miso mixture back into the soup, making sure not to boil or the miso will get gritty. Distribute the noodles evenly into four bowls and then add the soup. Slice the scallions and sprinkle over the soups. Drizzle with the oils to taste.

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turn to a can

My farmers market has a few last heirloom tomatoes, but their supply is dwindling and the market itself will soon close shop for the winter. (Winter? Yeah, winter tends to come early and stay late in my neighborhood.)

So, while you hunt from market to market, farmer to farmer, for the last of the season, eaten like an apple with a sprinkle of salt, I have some ideas for tomatoes during the winter.

Skip the tomatoes that look like they might be good – the uniform red tomatoes on the vine – and go for the ugly and the small, things that will cook up well. Anything that makes you think of basil when you take a sniff. Earlier in the summer, I used baby/cherry/pear/whatever-you-call-them tomatoes to make tarte tatins. Like the classic French dessert, traditionally made with apples, you caramelize the fruit, cover it in puff pastry, bake, and flip. The small tomatoes, the most reliably sweet winter orbs, concentrate their flavors in the oven, especially when bathed in tangy flavors – balsamic vinegar or pomegranate syrup. (And, Edible Boston just featured one of my caramelized tarte tatin (Creative Director Michael Piazza’s professional photo here) in The Tomato story (PDF here) of their fall 2012 issue. Woohoo!!!)

What else can you cook with tomatoes in the winter? Well, there’s always tomato sauce. Grab a bunch of plum tomatoes, also a decent option when the weather turns chilly, and get peeling. I’ve always found tomato peeling a  bit fussy – boiling water, slicing an X in the tomato’s bottom, dropping it in the water, waiting a few seconds, fishing it out, plunging it into ice water, waiting for it to cool, and then peeling the slippery fella.

Lucky for you, I found a tomato trick: freeze the tomatoes until hard (a few hours), take them out and let them defrost until  you can handle them (about 10 minutes) and the skins just slip off. When frozen, the liquid in the tomatoes expands (like an ice cube) — you can actually see the tomato skin stretch until it splits — and then contracts as it warms, leaving behind wrinkly skin too big for the shrinking tomato. Cool, no?

Of course, when your grocery store fails you, just turn to a can. In this realm, San Marzano tomatoes are the best for whatever you want to make.

And if it’s tomato sauce you’re after, Marcella Hazan’s recipe is the way to to. It has been circulating for years; I only discovered it last week — I’ve missed a few other bandwagons in my time — but I’ve been making up for lost time here, with three batches already under my belt.

Here’s the deal. Crack open a can of tomatoes. Empty it into a saucepan with an onion and a few pats of butter. Simmer for nearly an hour. When fat droplets form at the surface, it’s ready.

Fish out the onion and eat it if you’d like. Sprinkle the sauce with salt to taste, but don’t taste your way to the bottom of the pan. A little pepper, maybe a dust of parmesan, a scatter of basil, and you’re ready to top (drown?) some pasta.

If you have any sauce left, store it in the fridge. It’ll be gone in a few days.

PS – for some grilling ideas, head over to my latest Come to the Table article in JPost, “Grilling Time, Come Rain or Shine.”

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce

This recipe is all over the internet – the version I used is on Food52. The butter in the sauce provides just the right amount of indulgent cream and sweetness. 

Serves 4-6 (enough for about 1 pound of pasta)

- 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (whole); or 2 lb fresh tomatoes, peeled

- 1 onion

- 5 T butter (unsalted)

- salt and pepper to taste

- basil, parmesan, etc.

Crush. With your hands, crush the tomatoes into small chunks.

Simmer. Peel the onion and cut it in half. Mix in a saucepan the crushed tomatoes, onion, and butter, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer over low heat, stirring every once in a while and breaking up any remaining large tomato chunks into bite-sized bits with the back of a wooden spoon. The sauce is ready when bright red fat droplets rise to the surface.

Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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I promised you summer and here it is again.

This time it’s dinner. (Don’t worry, a fruit and almond tart is coming your way soon).

This dinner was eaten as close to outside as you can when you live in the city, and your balcony is barely large enough to hold your (flourishing!) herb garden let alone a chair, and your view, if you can call it that, is a parking lot and the City Hall belfry whose bell  chimes every hour from 9 am to 9 pm. So you open all the windows and doors and sit in the summer breeze stirred by the fan. Because no matter how nice it is outside, this just isn’t the type of dinner that can be tucked under a sheet of foil and into a picnic basket and carried to the park. This pasta must be eaten mere minutes out of the pot (or in my case, after a few quick frames and a prayer that at least one of them does the food justice).

The formula is simple. Cook and drain a handful of pasta. Quickly sauté some vegetables with oil in the same pot. Add back the pasta for a few minutes. Pour over hearty greens and let them wilt. Grate some cheese. Sprinkle with something crunchy.

Now I skipped one step, perhaps the most important step, because I wanted to give it a paragraph all to itself. Just before you lift the pasta pot off the stove and run over to the colander in the sink, scoop out some of the cooking water. Hold onto that starchy, salty water because you’re going to use it very soon. When the vegetables are cooked – softened but not so much that they no longer look like themselves – add in some of the set-aside water along with the drained pasta. As you mix everything together, the starch and oil will unite into a silky smooth sauce that just barely coats everything. The sauce all but disappears into the rest of the ingredients, but you know it’s there. Under its light gloss, the pasta shines, the vegetables sing.

And with that, I’m off for a  walk. Happy weekend everyone!

Pasta with tomatoes and arugula

This is not really a recipe, but more of a technique, so feel free to substitute whatever ingredients you like. I used orecchiette, that little ear-shaped pasta, but anything will do, even plain old spaghetti. Instead of grape tomatoes, try zucchini or mushrooms or peppers (though the peppers will probably need to cook a little longer). Any hearty green should work as well – how about young chard or spinach or my favorite, pea shoots? Herbs – basil can’t be beat in the summer, but mint would also be great. I’ve made this with mozzarella instead of parmesan. And for crunch, try other nuts (they really are better if you toast them) or ground pita chips. But whatever you do, don’t forget to scoop out that pasta water.

Serves 1

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high. Throw in a few pinches of salt and return water to a boil. Add 2 handfuls of dry pasta (about 1/2 cup) and cook for one minute less than the directions suggest.

While the pasta is cooking, throw a handful of blanched almonds into a 350ºF oven to toast for about 5 minutes or dry toast them in a small skillet over medium heat — watch them carefully because the window between toasted and burnt is a small one. Cut in half 2 handfuls of grape tomatoes (about 20-25). When the almonds are toasted, roughly chop them by hand or with a few pulses in a food processor.

When the pasta is ready, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and put it aside for later. Drain the pasta (do not rinse).

Return the pot to the stove, lower the burner to medium and drizzle in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Add in the tomatoes, another small pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the tomatoes start to release their juices and break down; don’t let them turn to mush — they should still look like tomatoes. Add back the pasta and about 1/4 cup of the pasta water and stir for a few more minutes. The starchy water plus the oil will make a nice silky sauce that lightly coats everything.

Arrange a handful of arugula on a plate or in a bowl. Pour the pasta and tomatoes over the arugula. Over the pasta, tear 3-4 basil leaves , grate 1-2 tablespoons of parmesan, and sprinkle a few pinches of toasted almonds.

Eat quickly. Have some gelato for dessert.

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I’d like to tell you the tale of my week in San Francisco. It was intrinsically tied to a book. No, not a cook book, but a book book.

The book is Ruth Reichl‘s Comfort Me with Apples. This is the second of her memoirs, and the third of her books that I’ve read.

Before we can fly out West, though, there’s a little history we need to get through.

Reichl and I met in 2001, the year I returned to medical school after a several year hiatus in the “real world,” also known as corporate America (I’m not sure that that’s the real world, but anything felt more real than my 17th year sitting in classrooms). We were introduced by my boyfriend at the time – he bought me a subscription to the now sadly out of print Gourmet magazine and inspired my purchase of a stand mixer (Kitchenaid, just like his). The mixer lasted until last year, its life much longer than the relationship, but its end no less tragic.

For eight years, I awaited Reichl’s monthly arrival in my mailbox, her letter from the editor the start to a cozy night or two, snuggled up under the covers and cradling my Gourmet by the light of my bedside lamp, folding over page after page of recipes to try. She wrote (well, still writes) with an ease that reminded me that with good food, everything would turn out all right. In an effort to rid my apartment of clutter (an ongoing battle), I purged all my food magazines. Only one Gourmet survived – April 2009 — and as I wrote this, I reread her letter to see what Reichl had to say almost exactly three years ago.

“Because that is what spring is all about: hope, possibility, and our endless capacity to rejoice in what nature has given us.”

A nice sentiment as the weather warms and I am in the very (very) early stages of contemplating a big change.

On a particularly sunny Sunday in March, I found myself sifting through cardboard boxes of books lining the sidewalk in front of the post office mere steps from my apartment. Wedged between a carpentry manual and Chemistry text in the last  box, I saw a blue book with Reichl’s name peeking out at me. Three dollars and it was mine.

As night fell, I curled up with Garlic and Sapphires, glad for a reunion. I devoured Reichl’s pre-Gourmet tales of visiting and reviewing the full spectrum of New York restaurants for the Times. In anticipation of this rising star Bay Area critic arriving in New York, chefs pasted pictures of Reichl in their kitchens so that staff could recognize and alert the team to her wielding  pen. As a result, Reichl often dressed in disguise amd adopted different personas to avoid special treatment.

Two nights later,  I ordered Tender at the Bone, Reichl’s first memoir. At some point — between stories of her childhood, stories of her move to Berkeley where she cooked for everyone from housemates to the now defunct Swallow Restaurant Collective, and stories of her early days as a restaurant critic — we became friends and I called her Ruth.

She flew out to San Francisco with me. We shared a cramped middle seat. I forced myself to watch a movie destined for a captive audience so that we wouldn’t have to part ways at wheels down.

Once in the Bay Area, I savored my time with Ruth, only allowing myself to read one or two chapters per day.

We spent the whole week together.

She accompanied me from Oakland to San Francisco to Half Moon Bay to Berkeley. She sat with me in cafes in between meetings. She joined me at the bar for dinner. She was the last person to speak to me before I fell asleep.

In between meetings, I thought of little other than food. Where would I eat next? Where might Ruth go? What disguise might she have worn and persona might she have assumed? What would she think of the food the atmosphere the service? How does the staff treat someone eating solo? Do they give you looks when its crowded and you alone linger at a table meant for two?

I wanted to taste everything. At dinner, I always started with a glass of wine and ended with a desssert and coffee. And there were one or two courses in between. One morning at breakfast, I sat down with a coffee (of course!), a tartine with butter, a croissant, and an orange-flecked breakfast bun. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

But what I had hoped would be the highlight of our time together didn’t go quite as planned. My Berkeley food crawl with my friend and expert eater, Joanne, was almost cancelled when she and her kids got sick. But Ruth and I soldiered on. We crossed the Bay Bridge, just the two of us, intent on exploring her old haunts. We drove past Channing Way where Ruth reminded me she had lived in a communal house (more like a commune) in the 70s. We arrived at Shattuck Avenue — “gourmet ghetto” central — and quickly found parking. I knew that Chez Panisse would be closed on Sunday, but didn’t expect its across-the-street neighbor, The Cheese Board Collective, to be closed as well. I saw the two landmarks, peered in from the outside, left fingerprints on the windows, and then sought out food (and, of course, coffee). A few frantic text messages to Joanne and a charming little cupcake was in my hand. Another hour or two and we headed back.

The next day, Ruth and I said goodbye at the airport on my way back to Boston.

It was a great week.

It was a hard week.

It was a long week.

It was a coffee-filled week.

It was a delicious week.

Fettuccine with asparagus, lemon, mascarpone, and almonds

I would never have come up with this dish had I not been traveling in San Francisco with Ruth. It was inspired by “Danny’s Lemon Pasta” – fresh fettuccine with a cream and lemon sauce – published in Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples, the book I carried around with me from cafe to restaurant to cafe . Having just read the recipe, and dining alone perched on a stool at the bar at A16, I pounced on the restaurant’s fregula with asparagus, mascarpone, meyer lemon, toasted almonds and pecorino riserva. With this ingredient list and Reichl’s directions, I developed this fresh, summery, nutty pasta. The sauce just barely coats the pasta, so if you like more sauce, adjust accordingly. Before draining the pasta, scoop out a cup of pasta water in case you want to thin the sauce. It’s best to have all your ingredients prepped and on hand because the recipe goes by pretty quickly and can be on your table within 15 minutes. This recipe serves 2 hungry people.

- 1/4 C sliced almonds

- 3/4 lb fresh fettuccine (or other shape)

- 1 large bunch of asparagus; thick or thin stalks work fine, but a thicker stalk will require an extra mintue or two of cooking.

- 2 T butter

- One lemon (for zest and juice)

- 1/3 C mascarpone

- salt and pepper

Toast. In a skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, shaking the pan to avoid burning. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Once you start to smell the almonds, they’re done. It’s best to stay nearby because nuts can turn from golden to black in just a few seconds.

Slice. Cut off the woody ends of the asparagus and then slice in 1 – 1 1/2 inch the remaining stalks.

Boil. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt and bring back to a boil. If you are using fresh pasta, drop in the pasta and asparagus together at the same time. This should talk about 3-4 minutes to cook through. If you are going to use dried pasta, follow the cooking directions and then 3-4 minutes before you plan to remove the pasta, drop the asparagus into the pot. When both the pasta and asparagus are ready, scoop out a cup or so of pasta water, and then drain everything in a colander.

Whisk. While the pasta and asparagus is boiling, melt butter in a large pan (that will fit all of the pasta). Zest the lemon into the hot butter. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in mascarpone until smooth. If you’d like a richer sauce, whisk in extra mascarpone. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss. Pour the drained pasta and asparagus into the pan and toss everything to coat the pasta with sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water to get it to your desired consistency.

Squeeze. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the pasta.

Sprinkle. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the pasta.

***

PS – Here’s where I ate.

Oakland and Berkeley:

Bocanova
Jack London Square
55 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Happy hour menu before 6 pm (great when you’ve just arrived from the East Coast)

Miette (additional locations in San Francisco)
85 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Try the chocolate sables, shortbread (lemon and lavender are my favorites), and pot de crème

Caffe 817
817 Washington Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Get anything with a poached egg

Love at First Bite Bakery
1510 Walnut Street, Suite G
Berkeley, CA 94709
The “pretty in pink” cupcake has just the right ratio of strawberry buttercream to not-too-sweet strawberry cake

San Francisco

La Boulange Bakery
All over San Francisco and the Bay area
This small chain has great pastries and breakfast (think egg on a croissant), and people were lined up outside the Marina location when it opened at 7 am
 

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Skip the tartine – thick toasted slabs of levain soudough – and go straight for the croissants: buttery and extra flakey, leaving a trail of shattered crumbs all  over the table and down your shirt

780 Cafe
780 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Huge space, great coffee, free wifi, tons of outlets, well-worn sofas; if you don’t have an Apple, you will be out of place

A16
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, California 94123
Ask for a few extra pieces of salted hazelnut brittle with your coffee (I thought it was better than my actual dessert)

Zaré at Fly Trap
606 Folsom St. (at Second Street)
San Francisco, CA 94107
If they have it, get the pistachio crepes with pistachio ice cream; the owner will probably stop by your table to say hi

tacolicious
3 locations in San Francisco
Try the albacore tuna tostadas

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mischievious

Last week, I asked Gedalia, an excellent photographer, over for dinner with his wife Rachela so that he could take a few pictures of me. No, they’re not for an online dating profile. I’ve sworn off of those. (I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going.) The head shot is for PresenTense magazine, which asked me to contribute content and photographs to their upcoming magazine. I’ll tell you more about that when it gets published, but for now, let’s chat about the picture.

Rachela helped me pick out an outfit and Gedalia snapped away. We all agreed that the mischievious ones were best.

Mischievious, not mischievous. Miss-cheeeeeee-ve-us. Rhymes with devious. That’s me. Mischievious, that is. Not devious.

To incentivize (bribe) Rachela and Gedalia to come over after a long day, I rewarded them with dinner. Check out what I made.

Penne alla vodka

A vodka sauce made with tomatoes, cream, and of course vodka, is one of my favorite pasta sauces and does take a little more effort than opening a jar, but this whole dish takes about 20 minutes. There’s no chopping! If you’re starving, snack on a few olives and pour yourself a glass of wine. I use Lidia Bastianich’s recipe as a starting point. Boil the pasta just shy of al dente because it will continue cooking when you add it to the sauce. Beware the sauce does splatter and make a mess of your stovetop. On second thought, that might just be me…whenever I cook I make a mess!

- 1 pound penne

- salt

- one 35-ounce can tomatoes (San Marzano are really good) – whole or chopped – if you use whole tomatoes, given them a quick whirl in a blender or food processor to break them up (but don’t over blend or you will end up with pink frothy aerated tomatoes)

- 2-3T olive oil

- 6-10 cloves garlic (depending on how big the cloves are)

- Crushed red pepper flakes

- 1/4 C vodka

- 1/4 – 1/2 C cream (I use a bit more than 1/4 C light cream but the original recipe calls for 1/2 C heavy cream)

-  3/4 C parmesan cheese (and more for sprinkling)

Boil. Put a huge pot of water on to boil. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add several large pinches of salt. The water should be as salty as chicken broth. Pretty salty. Cook pasta just shy of al dente and drain (don’t rinse), reserving a cup or two of the pasta liquid.

Saute. While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat (large enough to hold the cooked pasta too). Whack garlic cloves with the side of a heavy knife to remove skin and crush the meat a bit. Add the cloves to the hot oil and cook until light brown.

Step back. Add the tomatoes carefully and step back. There will be a fair amount of sputtering and splattering here.

Boil. Bring tomatoes to a boil and add salt and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, and boil 2 more minutes.

Simmer. Pour in the vodka and lower the heat so the sauce simmers and continues to splatter. When you first add the vodka, it seems to float on top, so simmer until the vodka gets fully incorporated (about 10 more minutes). Take out the garlic cloves and pour in the cream.

Mix. Add the pasta to the sauce and gently simmer until the sauce sticks to the pasta. If it gets too dry, add some of the pasta liquid to bring the sauce to the right consistency. Add grated parmesan to the pasta and mix. Serve with lots of extra cheese.

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down on paper

As I write this, I am gobbling down the best thrown-together dinner that I’ve made in a long long time. I just had to get it down on paper before it went the way of many of my other creations scrambled together in a hunger-induced frenzy. No pictures tonight because there’s no natural light and I’ve got to get  packing for Thanksgiving.

After walking in the door, I had a glass of wine in my hand before I even set my keys down on my table. Keys down, I grabbed a Diet Coke too. I had swiss chard in the fridge and nothing on my mind other than the need to feed my hungry belly.

Hold, on. I need to go get seconds.

I trolled around the web and turned to some tried and true sites because I didn’t have the time or patience to get creative. I found a recipe for sautéed swiss chard and one for spaghetti and swiss chard. With enough inspiration I set to work.

I rough chopped a big bunch of chard and swirled it in a huge bowl of water a few times, rinsing until the water ran clear.  I sautéed a chopped onion and a heaping tablespoon of garlic (right from the jar…classy, no?) in a tablespoon or so of olive oil. I put a pot of water on to boil. I cut the red stems from the leaves and threw them (the stems) in with the onion and garlic. I added a few tablespoons of the soon-to-be pasta water, covered the pan with my cutting board, and let it cook until the pot of water behind it started to boil. I threw a big pinch of salt into the water and added 3 handfuls of macaroni. I removed my cutting  board cover from the pan, added the chard leaves to the stems and sprinkled on a few more tablespoons of the now pasta water. I covered the chard again. I checked my email. Nothing from my boss. That’s good. Two more minutes to go on the pasta and the chard is nice and wilted. I threw it in the same bowl I had washed it in, added  salt and pepper and a few tablespoons of crumbled feta and stirred. As it melted, the feta turned pink from the red stems. My pasta timer went off. I poured the macaroni into a strainer and then straight into the bowl of chard. A few slices of butter, a final stir, and dinner was ready.

Wow. My quickest post ever. 46 minutes flat.

The best part – I have lunch for tomorrow.

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home, sick

I was home a few weeks ago with a summer cold. Yes, a summer cold. With little energy to work, let alone cook, but a few deadlines that could not be missed, I soldiered on, fighting battles in my pajamas with my laptop balancing precariously on bent knees.

Every once in a while, I would stumble to the kitchen for a fortifying meal. Cereal. Tea. Feeling adventurous? How about some toast?

And finally, I had an appetite but barely more than a few scraps in the fridge. I pulled together all my creativity and threw together something fabulous.

Wow. I didn’t know I had it in me.



Arugula pesto

- 1.5 – 2 handfuls baby arugula

- 4 garlic scapes (or you could use 2 cloves roasted garlic)

- 2 T olive oil

- juice of 1/2 lemon

- 2 pinches salt (or to taste)

- a nice wedge of gruyère (1-2 T)

- chopped tomato

Throw arugula and roughly chopped scapes (or roasted garlic) into a food processor and pulse a few times. Slowly add olive oil and continue to process until a paste forms. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Add cheese and continue to process until you have a slightly chunky pesto.

Make pasta (I used orzo) according to the package directions. I like mine al dente. Drain but don’t rinse. Toss with the pesto and chopped tomato while still warm.


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Egyptian takeout

I started a new job a little over a month ago, and with less time for cooking, I have been relegated to picking up soup almost every day from Milk Street Cafe, conveniently located across the street from my office. At first it was a treat, buying lunch every day, but as I’m adapting to my job, enough is enough. I like to know what’s in my food and I like my way of spicing things. And I like spice!

My lunch requirements are pretty simple. Warm (especially these days). Filling. A good mix of protein and carbs. But not too heavy to leave me sleepy.

This weekend, I finally recreated the koshary that I tried in Egypt about 2 months ago, and have found it to be a perfect pack-up-and-go lunch of comfort. This makes sense because koshary is a very inexpensive, ubiquitous, vegetarian street food. To get authentic koshary, I asked my tour guide to take me to one of the hole-in-the-wall koshary establishments. She suggested that the driver pick some up for me while I was at the Egypt museum, but I insisted on going to pick it up myself. Little did my tour guide know that I was hoping to ask for the recipe.

After the museum, I hopped back into the tour bus and reminded my tour guide that I wanted to get koshary. “Are you sure you really want to get it yourself?” she asked. Again. I tried to explain that I like cooking and wanted to take pictures as the driver left the main highway and turned onto narrower and narrower streets lined with parked cars and pedestrians. Eventually the driver pulled over onto the sidewalk and the tour guide walked me past the takeout window and into the restaurant.

The tour guide led me into the small restaurant lined wall-to-wall with customers. We joined the line in front of the register and I paid 5 Egyptian pounds (less than a dollar) for my lunch. I took my ticket about 6 feet over to the right to the cooking and serving station and picked up my lunch. I then asked the tour guide to help me inquire about the recipe. But she just wanted to get out and continue on our tour. So, I settled for a few pictures and left without my recipe. We were in and out in less than 5 minutes.

We hustled back to the bus and I settled down to eat my lunch.

The bus lurched to a start as I opened up the packages. The larger one contained pasta (a slightly bizarre mix of short spaghetti, a lentil and tomato sauce (with a few chickpeas thrown in), and covered with fried onions. The smaller one  tasted like white vinegar with salt and pepper.

About 20 minutes later, and almost at the bottom of my koshary, we arrived at the pyramids at Giza.

Koshary-esque

This recipe is my attempt to recreate the koshary that I tried. Its not necessarily authentic but it tastes great. My adaptation eliminates chickpeas and fried onions tossed on top. But I  could not neglect the splash of vinegar at the end. This is great served fresh or packed up for lunch the next day. You do need to plan this recipe a bit in advance as the lentils need to be soaked for 8 hours before cooking.

- 1 C French (de Puy) lentils, uncooked

- 2-3 T olive oil

- 2 medium onions

- 2 T cumin

- 1 T coriander

- 1-2 t cayenne pepper

- 2 t sumac

- 1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes

- short noodles, e.g., broken angel hair, macaroni, or ditalini

- white vinegar

Prepare lentils. Soak lentils 8-hours or overnight in more than enough water to cover. The water will turn a reddish brown. Drain and rinse, and then bring to a boil in a large pot of water. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Even though de Puy lentils are less likely than brown lentils to become mushy, you still don’t want to overcook.

Make sauce. Chop onions and saute in olive oil. Add spices and continue to cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes, adding lentils after the first 5 minutes.

Boil. Make pasta according to the package directions.

Assemble dish. Fill bowl halfway with pasta and top with the same amount of lentil sauce. Toss on a splash of vinegar.

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Despite being the penultimate day of November, yesterday was a stunner. The shining sun against the bright blue sky, usually a harbinger of frigid temperatures, beckoned me out to the fifty degree day. I donned a mere long-sleeved tee and fleece vest, long pants and sneakers. No hat, gloves, scarf or jacket.

I started my walk. A brisk walk. A brisk day. Heading towards the river. Admiring the few remaining flowers adorning my neighbors’ yards, here a yellow rose, there a few hydrangeas holding on to the vestiges of their dusty pink and blue before browning.

Crisscrossing the river, hopping from bridge to bridge, I did everything I could to stay in sunshine. My face chasing the sun like a field of sunflowers, happy when the sun emerged from behind buildings as I walked, and only turning to make my way home when the sun was definitively behind me.

Knowing that the week would be a bit more dreary, I decided to make a hearty meat sauce, similar to a Bolognese, when I got home to fortify me for the next few days.

Bolognese-style Meat Sauce

I have no pretensions of making a true Bolognese sauce, but I got some inspiration to spice up my normal meat sauce with the addition of vegetables and wine.

- 1-2 T olive oil

- 3 cloves garlic, minced

- 1 onion, diced

- 2 carrots, diced

- 2 celery stalks, diced

- 1 lb ground beef

- 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste

- 1.5 C canned tomatoes

- 1 C red wine (I used a Bordeaux)

- salt and pepper


Prepare the vegetables: Saute garlic, onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil over low heat until soft, approximately 20-25 minutes. Remove vegetables to bowl.

Prepare the meat: In the same pan, saute ground beef over low until brown, about 7-10 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir well. Then add tomatoes, sauteed vegetables, and red wine.

Simmer and simmer and simmer: Allow the meat and vegetables to simmer over low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water if the sauce gets too thick. The liquid should reduce down by about 1/3, leaving you with a thick, rich hearty sauce for your favorite pasta.

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no (e)scape from destiny

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Updated photo: I made this pesto again this summer and took a few more pictures. (September 2013)

garlic scape pesto

Joining a CSA has really expanded my food repertoire. Kale. Hakurei turnips and chard. Last week, dandelion greens (hmmm…yeah, they’re still in the fridge). I was most excited about the garlic scapes that I got a few weeks ago because I had read about them in the foodblogosphere and had just recently seen a recipe for scape pesto posted on Dorie Greenspan’s website.

I had grand plans to make this pesto in mid-June, even offering to take scapes off the hands of fellow CSAers who might be befuddled by the strange scraggly curly creatures, but kept getting side-tracked by travel, life, an extravagant meal, and a friend visiting from Paris. All good things, but my small allotment of scapes sat lonely in the fridge, the ends slowly turning from their bright green to a sad pale yellow.

scapes

A “fleeting pleasure” according to Dorie with their short June season (we’re not really on a first name basis, but calling her Ms. Greenspan seems a bit formal…I hope she’ll forgive me this gaffe). Would their long sojourn in my vegetable crisper ruin their delicate flavor?

I put them on my counter, playing with their beautiful curves, snapping photos along the way, and these wiley creatures seemed to cry out to be used up, literally crawling into my mini-food processor.

scapes, crawling up

scapes, crawling in

Apparently, a scape can’t escape its destiny, and who am I to deny this little guy its inevitable future? So, scape pesto I made. With only 3 measly scapes, I cut Dorie’s recipe down appropriately, failed to use any measuring cups (par for the course in my book) and probably added too many almonds, liberally dousing the mix with a mild extra virgin (not that intense Unió because I wanted to let the scapes shine in all their glory).

The end result was light and fresh, though not as green as Dorie’s. Alas, those several weeks I so thoughtlessly squandered! Perched atop some perciatelli with lots of parmigiana, and then mixed in, the scapes seemed at home. Destiny delivered on a fork and a spoon.

scape pesto on perciatelli

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