Friday, May 27, 2011

two-minute calamari, sicilian lifeguard style

I need to stop saying I don't like calamari. I guess I don't like the idea of calamari. I think because I used it as bait when I went fishing as a kid. But I've had it several times in restaurants, and the only times I haven't liked it was when it tasted fishy, and anytime that happened, I had reason to suspect the kitchen.

Still, I had never cooked with it.

So this was a first, and I loved it. Great dish.

The base is Israeli couscous, which is a pearl-shaped pasta. That gets hooked up with tomato sauce, pine nuts, currants and caperberries.

The two minutes in the title presumes your couscous is already cooked, but I'm willing to presume that. Once everything is mixed and heated up, throw in the calamari and get a spoon.

Up next: Not sure again. Either New York or tortellini.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sunday dinner

I talk to my parents on a Saturday night to determine where we'll meet for lunch the next day with my grandmother. I'm thinking that I'm not going to get to cook anything this weekend. So then the idea that they would come over to our house comes up. Problem solved.

But new problem started. What dishes can I acquire the ingredients for with minimal shopping. I have about 15 hours, and will be sleeping for most of that time.

I target two antipasto, one of which will become a main with the addition of steak, and a dessert.

Gulf shrimp and mahogany clams: Gulf shrimp are pretty easy to come by here, so that was no problem. My fish store didn't have mahogany clams, probably because they seem to come from New England, and since we are down here where there are plenty of Gulf shrimp, we have Florida clams. That seemed the way to go here.

Actually, the hardest thing to get was the purple basil that is shredded over the dish as a garnish. None of my markets carried it, and neither did Home Depot. But I stopped in at Dolin's Garden Center on the way home, and they had some plants. I needed 10 leaves, but had to spring for the whole plant. The price of authenticity.

Saute, steam, serve. Simple as that. It was impressive how much clam flavor got into the wine-and-oil broth. And the dish looked as good as it tasted. Will make this again.

Cool-roasted shiitake: The only ingredients for this dish that I didn't already have in the house were the mushrooms and some sage leaves. Neither of those were hard to find. The mushrooms get tossed in oil and garlic, roasted, then tossed with an anchovy vinaigrette. Grill some onions (or broil, in the event you haven't replaced your recently deceased grill yet) and dress with basil oil. Done.

Here's what the mushrooms and onions looked like:

I served the mushrooms with sliced skirt steak on top to make it more of a main. Here it is with the meat, and some olives:

Olive oil and rosemary cake: I didn't have to shop for anything for this. And I got the rosemary from plants in our yard.

Actually, the hardest thing was the fruit to accompany. We are only about 20 miles from Plant City, where they are somewhat famous for strawberries, and it was still strawberry season there. But I went to three stores, and every strawberry I saw was from California. For a previous dish, I had gotten organic Plant City berries from Whole Foods, but I didn't have time to drive there. But I was adamant that I wasn't buying California strawberries during Florida strawberry season. It wasn't even about regional pride, just common sense. So I stopped at a produce stand on the way home, determined to get whatever fruit looked good. They had Plant City strawberries. Not organic, but they looked and tasted fine.

Why did that part have to be hard?

Up next: Not sure yet, but a fun one is coming soon

Thursday, May 19, 2011

updates: garden and guanciale

I've done everything possible to kill all the plants I had growing for recipes for this project. And, I had a degree of success.

It wasn't all my fault. I set up the boxes in what I felt was the place that would get the most sun, because I've heard that can be quite important in growing things. That was in the front courtyard of our house. But the sun wasn't great there.

Then a tornado hit our neighborhood. It didn't do any damage to our house, or even knock over my planters, but it rained pine debris all over, and damaged a lot of the plants.

So I moved the boxes to a different spot, and put them up on racks that I made of pvc. I glued them together and everything. But one of them collapsed. Surprisingly little damage was done to the actual plants, but I had to replant several of the boxes.

Then I moved them to their current location, which seems to get a ton of sun. And I elevated them on a system of pavers and 2x12s. And I added a drip irrigation system.

Things started looking up at that point. The greens I'm growing -- escarole and dandelions -- have taken off. In fact, here is a photo of the escarole in the planter:

And here it is in the pan, with some roasted shallot:

This dish was a contorni, and I served it with a steak. I don't love bitter greens, so this wasn't my favorite. But, um, I grew it. Pretty freaking cool.

(Technically, for the rest of the book, I need exactly three escarole leaves. Anyone want some escarole?)

The tomatoes are doing pretty well. I have two kinds going, sungold and yellow teardrop. I started out with about a dozen of each kind, and I have them whittled down to six of each in EarthBoxes. The rest either withered or are in other parts of the yard, and some of those are doing fine, too.

But so far there are tomatoes on the vines of almost all the sungolds (as pictured at the top), so I hope to get some of those soon. And the teardrops are all blooming, so still holding out hope for them.

Speaking of hope, remember this photo?

Yeah, well, that was a sweet pea, back in March, and I was growing them for two dishes I'm looking forward to. The week before we left for vacation, they looked like this:

There were probably some actual peas in there. But no where near the 12 ounces I needed for one dish, or a pound for the other. So I set up an automatic drip system and left confident that the peas would go crazy while I was gone.

This is what I came home to find:

I know I started them too late, but I figured it was worth a try. I'm going to give it another shot in late fall, maybe. Sigh.

I also have a box of herbs, and they aren't doing great. My basil, in particular, looks bad. And I never had trouble with basil before. Weird.

I've also been curing my Mangalitsa jowl for guanciale, and I think it's ready. Here's what it looks like now:

Before I use it in recipes (I think there are two or three in the book that call for it), I'll probably try it by itself this week. But it looks pretty good so far, I think.

Up next: A Sunday dinner

Monday, May 9, 2011

Asparagus and ricotta ravioli

More asparagus! I was in Miami and knew I wanted to cook something as soon as I got home. I checked out the farmers markets there as we were about to head north, and was underwhelmed.

But I was committed.

So I popped into Whole Foods and found nice asparagus and decided that I would break out the pasta roller.

I first made Mario's pasta recipe a few years ago, and since I hadn't made much pasta, I assumed I did something wrong when it didn't come out right. But I'm usually pretty honest with myself on such issues, and I felt confident I hadn't screwed up anything. So before making it this time, I studied the recipe, looking for what could have gone wrong. And I hit upon a variable:

Four eggs.

The recipe calls for four eggs. My pasta dough was really hard and didn't want to roll. It needed more moisture. So, my theory was that Mario's eggs were bigger than mine. Believe me, I tried to find a different way to write that sentence, but that's just the way it's going to have to go into the permanent record.

So this time, I tried six eggs. Smooth as silk.

(I have since read, in the book Heat, that the recipe they use in the restaurant calls for eight yolks. I made all-yolk pasta once, from a Thomas Keller recipe, and I really didn't love it. It was fragile to roll, and tasted a bit like strands of souffle. I mean, it was good. I'd have it again. But it was a pain and not really worth the effort.)

So, I should probably just do a separate post on the pasta, but here's what happens:

Start with a mound of flour and form a well.

Add four eggs, or maybe six, and put them in the well. The walls of flour will act like a bowl. Start beating the eggs.

When the eggs are beaten, start incorporating flour from the mound into the eggs. This goes really well for about 10 seconds.

Then start chasing the eggs around the board, trying to recapture them in some modified form of flour mound after a wall breaks.

You'll have to excuse the fact that I have no photos of this happening. I was busy recapturing the eggs that were running around the board.

Eventually, all the eggs and flour will come together, and you knead it a little. Then let it rest. Or maybe you let you rest. That actually makes some sense at that point.

At this point, it is very easy to take its photo.

After it rests, it goes through the roller until long sheets are formed. Since I was making ravioli, I didn't have to cut the pasta. Woohoo.

It is hard to tell the scale from this photo, but I would estimate that this sheet of pasta is 17 miles long.

The filling is ricotta mixed with some blanched asparagus stalks.

A spoonful goes onto the pasta at regular intervals.

Then the pasta gets folded over.

Then it gets cut and sealed.

It's true, mine are not meticulous and beautiful. Oh well.

From there, the ravioli take a quick bath in boiling water, then get sauteed in butter with the tips of the asparagus. Actually, pretty easy. And I can't wait to make more pasta.

Up next: garden update

Thursday, May 5, 2011

asparagus vinaigrette with black pepper pecorino zabaglione

Pretty easy one. I saw good looking asparagus at the market and knew this dish was out there, so grabbed them.

Looking at the photo in the book, I thought the sauce on the asparagus was going to be mayonnaise-y, even after I saw that it said "zabaglione" in the name.

But it isn't mayo, which is a combination of oil and eggs. This is combination of eggs and whipped cream. It's a custard. Flavored with Marsala.

Super simple, but the quick sherry vinaigrette and the zabaglione both made the asparagus better. And it was good to start.

Even if it wasn't mayo, there was some leftover, and for several days, it ended up on sandwiches I made.

Up next: asparagus and ricotta ravioli

Monday, May 2, 2011

bonus: nutella cookies

This isn't from the book. I made these up. But these cookies certainly fit the theme of the Babbo book, and there are cookies not unlike this in there. I keep a ziploc full of these, unbaked, at all times if possible.

This was what we had at the end of the meal that has been the subject of the past five posts. Since its my recipe, I can post it here.

Nutella cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter
4 cups dark chocolate chips
4 eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread, refrigerated

1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

Melt butter in a saucepan. Over very low heat, add chocolate chips, stirring constantly until melted. Remove from heat and set aside.

In electric mixer, cream together eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Add chocolate. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then add that to the mix. Refrigerate dough for about an hour.

Take a spoonful of dough and roll it. It should be about the size golf ball. Stick a thumb in the ball to make an indention. Using two teaspoons, take a little of the chilled Nutella and put it in the cookie. Roll the cookie again to close it. (at this point, you can put them on a tray in the freezer, not touching each other, for a couple of hours, then transfer to a ziploc bag to bake later.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Top with the chopped hazelnuts (if frozen, the cookies can go straight to the oven from the freezer, but wait until about half-way through the baking time to add the nuts.).

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (13-15 if frozen). Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 3 dozen.