Pasta 2.0

Summer 2013 (Nick's camera) 110

I think there are some basic kitchen rules that everyone should know. They are some of my tenements of cooking, rules to live by. They include:

  1. Never put anything sharp in a sink full of soapy water.
  2. Always have butter and Parmesan in your house. They can turn anything (potato, pasta, rice, veg, bread) into a meal.
  3. When in doubt, or short of time, toasted bread with whatever foodstuff you have put on top usually makes a great appetizer – try cooked, mashed frozen peas with some olive oil, crushed garlic and Parmesan. Easy peasy, if you’ll pardon the pun.
  4. Not many people can really tell if you’ve used stock cubes rather than fresh. Save yourself the trouble.
  5. Always cook pasta in loads of boiling, heavily salted water. And not some silly pinch of salt. Heavy. It should taste like salty water from the sea.

Rules #5 is quite an important one in my books. Nothing worse than when someone cooks pasta in a small pot of water with a meagre amount of salt. Ick. Bland. Boring. Awful.

Hold on a minute.

One weekend this summer, as I sat happily by the seaside, indulging in a favourite pastime of flipping through food and cooking magazines, I came upon a pasta recipe that was so crazy, so contrary to everything I had ever been taught, and so against all the rules of pasta cooking that it shocked me to my core. It couldn’t work. It shouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work. But there it was, staring up at me, taunting me from the hallowed pages of Martha Stewart magazine, a tome held by some as almost biblical in the world of home and garden magazines. How could Martha recommend something that was this wrong??

The pasta was cooked in a saucepan with a fixed amount of water and tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili and basil that would become the sauce. The water would become the sauce. No draining, no shaking, no tossing in olive oil. Pasta, water and other ingredients become one. Absurd right? Totally. Or maybe, maybe it might just work.

We decided to test out this recipe while visiting our friends in France this past August. The night was warm, the kids were in bed, and frankly if the meal completely failed I knew we had bread (please see tip #3 above) and enough wine to make up for any dinner disasters.

Well. What can I say except wow. It worked. Pasta tossed in simmering water, water reducing while tomatoes and aromatics are softly poaching in the starchy flavoursome water, all fusing together into the one pot meal to end all one pot meals. Shocking. “Kind of like risotto but with pasta”, my friend remarked. And she was right. And it was delicious. Pasta 2.0 – the way forward.

One-Pan Pasta – from Martha Stewart Living, June 2013

Serves 4

Summer 2013 (Nick's camera) 120

  • 12 oz linguine
  • 12 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
  1. Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 tsp salt, 1/4 pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil mixture, stirring and turning the pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil.  Serve with oil and Parmesan.
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Ah, Mr. Anchovy! Do sit down.

As we continue on with my Jamie Oliver week theme, I am seriously considering renaming this “foods I used to be scared of and now love” week.  First lentils, and now anchovies.  I know.  Anchovies are delicious.  Who knew?

Well in fact, many people knew.  Like most of Italy.  And a lot of France.  And many other people in many other places I’m sure.  However let me clarify my new love of the anchovy for a moment.  I really don’t want to eat them on their own.  I think they’re too fishy and strong to sit on top of a salad or pizza.  Sorry to the Nicoise salad fans out there.  But when you saute them in a little olive oil and garlic and watch them just melt into nothingness, that’s when they are at their finest.  It’s kind of like Thai fish sauce in a way – on its own, it smells like feet.  But once you’ve cooked a Thai dish with fish sauce you couldn’t imagine pad thai without it.  Something about tiny fishy fish that just lend a great salty, savoury, umami quality to a dish.  Like magic.

Take today’s recipe as an example.  Broccoli and pasta.  Sounds nice enough, but just not very exciting.  And then BAM!  (Apologies for the Emeril Lagasse reference, I couldn’t think of a better explosive sound.)  You add some anchovies to the garlic and butter and chili flakes, let those anchovies melt away into nothingness, toss in some al dente pasta and broccoli florets, mix together and voila – you wind up, not with boring broccoli and pasta, but a fantastic dish that makes you a happy camper.  Amazing isn’t it?

Maybe you don’t believe me.  And that’s ok.  In fairness, I think I only tried a dish with anchovies the first time because somebody made me.  And we’re adults right?  We don’t need anyone telling us what to eat.  But if you’re a brave eater, I really encourage you to try the recipe below.  After all, it’s just a simple dish of pasta and broccoli right?  Nothing scary in sight!

Broccoli and Anchovy Orecchiette

Happy Days with the Naked Chef (2002)

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  • 2 large heads of broccoli
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 2-4 small dried red chillies, crumbled, to your taste
  • 4 good pats of butter
  • 1 lb dried orecchiette
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 good handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Using a small knife, trim round the broccoli to remove the dark green flowers from the main stalks and put them to one side.  Peel the stalk, trim off the dry end and throw this away.  Finely chop the stalk and put into a large pan with the garlic, anchovies, chillies and half the butter.  Cover with a lid and cook slowly for 8-10 minutes while you cook your pasta in salted boiling water.  This should take about the same length of time – check the package.  Something I like to do that is slightly different (but better, I’d like to think) is to cook the broccoli flowers with the pasta for the last 4 minutes – this makes them soft enough to eat but leaves them with great colour and texture.

Drain the pasta and broccoli, saving a little of the cooking water, then toss into the other pan.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, the rest of the butter and a large handful of Parmesan.  Mix well, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the pasta and make it shine.  Serve immediately, sprinkled with the rest of the Parmesan.

To market, to market….

I’ve got a thing for markets.  It started many years ago with special trips to St Lawrence Market in Toronto, gawking at the dozens of vendors and displays of ingredients that I had NO idea what to do with.  Buying something different, taking it home and trying it out was great fun in those days.  On my first solo trip to Europe in 2004, I visited every market in every European city I was in, and drooled over the bounty of beautiful the things one could buy – Borough Market in London, the Cours Saleya food and flower market in Vieux Nice, San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale in Florence, rue Mouffetard market in Paris.  Years later, my very first job in London was working in the offices of London Farmers’ Markets.  A market to me is a place of wonder and excitement.  Why people choose to shop in a supermarket when they have a market nearby is absolutely crazy in my books.

We are spending this week in Paris, and for the second time this year, I have booked us into an apartment with a kitchen instead of staying in a budget hotel and eating exclusively in restaurants.  In April we took my mom with us for a week in Tuscany and were so pleased to have our Panzano “villa” to come home to at the end of long days of sightseeing.  Being able to cook the beautiful produce we saw in the amazing local markets everyday just put the icing on my holiday.  And so this week in Paris we are doing it again – but this being Paris, we have an enormous list of markets to choose from.

Yesterday we walked to Marche d’Aligre, an outdoor market in the 12th arrondissement and not far from our apartment.  This market is divided into a flea market, a large open-air produce market, and a covered market selling meat, fish, cheese and other specialty foods.  I don’t know if gritty is the right word, but this market is definitely for locals and didn’t seem to have much of a tourist draw, which was right up our alley.  We enjoyed our walk around, picked up some bits and pieces for dinner, and trolled through the piles of treasures in the flea market as most vendors began to pack up.  I was very pleased with my two purchases, adding to my ever-growing collection of odd, antique and mismatched cutlery!

This afternoon we walked to Marche Bastille, another large varied market near us in the 11th arrondissement.  Stretching over three blocks, this market is a great mix of ethnic produce vendors singing about their fruits and vegetables and their low prices, stalls filled with underwear, kitchenware, and childrenswear, alongside fishmongers, butchers, and flower stalls.  As we approached noon and our stomachs began to ache with hunger, we opted for a couple of galettes filled with meat and cheese and sat on a bench while watching the hustle and bustle of the market continue.

For dinner this evening, I concocted another version of a pasta dish that saw us through a few meals in Italy last spring, using all of the bits and pieces we had collected from our market trips these last two days.  I like to think of this version as a kind of ratatouille with added sausage, tossed with some penne pasta and garnished with some bits of your favourite cheese.

Ratatouille and Sausage Penne

This recipe is a great way to use whatever fresh vegetables catch your fancy at the market – it would be lovely with bacon instead of sausage if you preferred, or omit the meat altogether for a vegetarian dish.  Timings are all approximate here – I really don’t think you can over cook anything in this recipe, except for the pasta.  If you like your vegetables fresher, cook them a bit less than I’ve suggested.  Serves four, or two starving travellers who have walked almost 25 miles in their first two days in Paris! 

  1. In a large sauté pan, add 2 tbsp olive oil, one chopped shallot, and four fat cloves of garlic sliced.  Sauté over medium heat until shallots are soft.
  2. Add the meat from four uncooked sausages (we used Toulouse sausage with herbs today) to the pan, breaking into small nuggets, and continue to sauté over medium heat for 7-10 minutes.  If sausages are particularly lean, you might want to add a bit more olive oil to the pan to keep from sticking.  Keep breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon as it cooks.
  3. Add two chopped/sliced courgettes to the sausage mixture, and sauté until courgettes are just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Then add three chopped tomatoes (we used yellow and green heirloom tomatoes, but any ripe tomatoes will do) and continue to cook on medium heat for another 5 minutes.  The longer you cook the sauce, the more the vegetables will break down, so it is really up to your taste as to how long you leave the sauce to cook – I think the longer the better, but some folks prefer their veggies with more bite!  Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Meanwhile, boil a large pot with salted water and cook 400 grams of penne pasta according to package directions.  When pasta is just undercooked, drain and reserve a cup of the pasta water.
  5. Toss the pasta into the sauce and turn the heat up to medium-high.  Continue tossing the pasta in the sauce, allowing everything to become well coated.  Continue adding pasta water to the sauce and allowing it to reduce slightly.  When the pasta has a glossy sheen to it, you are done.
  6. A bit of cheese is always good to add at the end here.  When I was in Italy we used parmesan.  Today I had a piece of Swiss Emmental in the fridge which I grated and tossed into the pasta right before serving.  A bit of fresh cracked pepper on top is always nice too.  Oooo, and some fresh bread from the market.  Enjoy!

“It’s an honour just to be nominated….”

Greetings to you all, my lovely blog readers, after a couple of months away from the blogosphere – I have many excuses for my absence, some of them more convincing than others, but I won’t bore you with them now.  The bottom line here is that I am writing again and you are reading again, so let’s get back to talking about food and cooking and eating and other important world issues.

While I’ve been taking a sabbatical from blogging for the past two months, I haven’t stopped cooking or eating – don’t fear! One of my more interesting cooking experiences was again participating in the Recipe Relay, a fun adventure in recipe development, cooking, photography and finding friends willing to be your guinea pigs and eat the questionable things you’ve invented.  In case you missed it, have a gander at my interpretation of a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe – savoury leek pancakes accompanied by a spiced salmon fillet and some oozy dilly crème fraiche sauce on the side.  And if you have a go yourself, please let me know what you think. I’ll be handled the Recipe Relay baton again in June, so stay tuned folks.

A few weeks back I also threw my hat in the ring for BBC Good Food’s Home Cooking Month competition and created my own dish to feed a family of four for less than £5.00.  I was thrilled with the news that my little-pasta-recipe-that-could had been shortlisted and placed in the top ten out of hundreds of submissions, clocking in at an impressive £4.82.  Sadly the fame and glory (and £600’s worth of kitchen equipment) for the prize winner was not destined to be mine.  Sigh.

The good news is that my losing recipe is no longer the intellectual property of the BBC and can now be shared with all of you – whoopee!  Many thanks to everyone who “liked” my recipe picture on the BBC’s Facebook page and left lots of positive comments.  I hope you’ll still think that this is a winner!

Penne with Bacon & Prawns in a Creamy Tomato Sauce

This is an easy and quick dish I like to throw together on a night when I don’t know what else to cook.  It is also a good way to use up veg that might be past their optimal date – you can add sliced mushrooms or spinach in instead of the rocket if you prefer.  Slicing the prawns in half lengthwise is a great way to stretch an expensive ingredient and ensure that you still get many mouthfuls of pasta and prawn!

Ingredients

100g raw king prawns, sliced into two lengthwise

100g streaky bacon, cut into lardons

100ml single cream

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

25g rocket, roughly chopped

400g penne

40g Grana Padano, grated

Method

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, add the chopped bacon and diced onions.  Slowly cook these together until the bacon is cooked but not crisp and the onions are translucent but not brown.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  To this mixture, add the tinned chopped tomatoes and continue to cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the sauce has slightly reduced.

Add the single cream to the sauce along with a good pinch of salt and grinding of pepper.  Add the sliced king prawns to the sauce and stir the sauce on medium-low heat until prawns are cooked through, approximately 3-5 minutes.  The prawns are cooked when they turn pink in colour and are opaque.  Now add the roughly chopped rocket and give another stir to combine.

Meanwhile, cook 400g of penne in plenty of salted boiling water according to package instructions.

When pasta is cooked and sauce is ready, add the drained penne to the sauce and toss over a low heat for a few minutes to combine.  Add a few tablespoons of the pasta water to the mixture if you think it’s looking too dry.

Serve in warm pasta bowls with grated Grana Padano on top and another grinding of fresh pepper if you like.  Enjoy!

Happy St. Lobster’s Day!

 

Ok, so I’m NOT a Valentine’s Day girl….really. Really? Really.

Truth is I spent the better part of 30 years of my life not liking (caring) about the dreaded “V-day”, and instead would spend the 14th bonding (whining) with my single girlfriends about how commercial (tragic) Valentine’s Day was, how it didn’t mean anything (everything), and how we’d rather DIE than be stuck in some cheesy restaurant, with some cheesy guy eating way too much cheese (mmmmm cheese). Never. Nevernevernever. Never.

And then I met the love of my life. In a completely non-cheesy way of course – we don’t do cheese….well we like it on a board after dessert served with crackers, but otherwise nope. No cheese for us. And after a couple of forced Valentine’s Day cheesy dinner dates with N (we even technically got ENGAGED on the dreaded V-Day, something N had actually forgotten until I reminded him earlier, and of course it was the most non-cheesy engagement ever…as you’d expect from me….), I realised that the best way to spend a cold February evening with another human being you love is to stay home and cook a fantastic dinner. Screw the greeting card industry, screw very expensive red roses, screw crappy chocolates (although I will still accept all of the above – N take note). The thing you, me, and the rest of the world needs is something nice to do on a cold evening approximately halfway between New Year’s Eve and the start of spring – and when I think of something nice to do, I think of cooking delicious, rich, luxurious food and sharing it with someone equally nice. And that nice person CAN be your partner/spouse/sweetheart, but it could just as easily be your best friend or your favourite cousin. Find someone you like and make a great meal – this is an excellent excuse!

And so, I hereby re-Christen February 14th as St. Lobster Day.

I realise that I’m not in any official capacity to change holidays, and that lobsters probably aren’t saints (although they might have a patron saint – must check) but go with me here. If lobster isn’t your bag of tricks (and I’ll respect that – but I’m pretty shocked) then find something else that you wouldn’t normally cook for a Tuesday night dinner. A fantastic piece of steak, some fabulous pasta concoction with too much cream in the sauce, mussels, anything deep-fried – the point is to spoil yourself and the person you’re spending the evening with. And why not? You deserve it – because it’s St. Lobster Day!

Tonight N and I feasted on pancetta-wrapped tiger prawns (nice), mini-Yorkshire puddings with rare beef and horseradish cream (lovely), and the piece de resistance, Lobster Linguine (fantastic!). I will admit to cutting back the recipe from two lobsters to one – somewhat because at £18 a pop, it seemed a bit more fiscally responsible of me in these times of financial restraint, but also because when I got to the fish monger, he only had one lobster remaining. Shocking! I guess we’re not the only ones celebrating – happy St. Lobster Day everyone!

 

Lobster Fettuccine for Two

recipe courtesy of Canadian Living Magazine

We did use one lobster less than they suggested, and the results were just lovely. But heck, if you can buy two lobsters, why not go for it?!

Ingredients
• 2 cooked lobsters, (2 lb/1 kg total)
• 8 oz (227 g) fettuccine
• 1 tbsp (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 shallot, minced
• 1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
• 1 pinch hot pepper flakes
• 1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
• 1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley
• 1/4 cup (60 ml) whipping cream or double cream

Preparation
Place each lobster on cutting board; twist off tail. With sharp chef’s knife, cut tail in half lengthwise; remove meat from tail and cut into chunks. Place in bowl.

Remove claws from body. With blunt side of knife, crack claws; pull apart shell and remove meat. Cut into chunks and add to bowl. Pull off back shell; remove white protein clumps and discard. Keep green or yellow tomalley (liver) and add to bowl, if desired. Reserve shells for lobster stock, if desired. (Make-ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.)

In large pot of boiling salted water, cook fettuccine until tender but firm, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup (50 ml) of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, in large non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; fry lobster, garlic, shallot, salt and hot pepper flakes until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add wine; cook for 1 minute. Add parsley, cream, pasta and reserved cooking liquid; toss to coat and heat through.