January 31, 2010

Spicy Spaghetti with Fennel and Herbs

You probably wouldn't know it from this blog, but I love spaghetti.  When I was younger, my favorite food was spaghetti bolognese, but since I've grown up, my diet has changed it's focus to lighter dishes, a lot less meat, and not so much spaghetti.  While I still love a good pasta dish, I hardly ever choose it when I go out because I'd rather have something more exciting, something I couldn't easily whip up at home.  

The last time I ordered pasta (pappardelle alla bolognese) was at Sfoglia, a wonderful Italian restaurant with locations in New York City and Nantucket, and it did not disappoint.  Neither did the rest of the meal, which included mussels in a tomato broth, my first arancini (SO good), homemade Italian cookies, gelato, and a goat cheese and berry tart, but I'll stop bragging.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I haven't made or eaten spaghetti in a long time.  It's not often that a pasta dish catches my attention, but this one did.  I saw the recipe in last months issue of Bon Appétit and though it's relatively simple, it includes a lot of flavors that complement each other nicely.  There's the anise-flavored bite of the fennel (bulb and seeds), brightness of the lemon juice, hit of spice from the chiles, saltiness of the pancetta, pungency of the garlic, and creaminess of the Pecornio.  If you're looking for a simple yet inventive pasta dish, this just might be it.

Spicy Spaghetti with Fennel and Herbs
I made some small changes such as using less pasta, less cheese, and less oil (as usual all my changes are below and you can click the link fro the original recipe).  The original recipe also said to use packaged pancetta but I'd suggest buying a hunk of it from the butcher if you can, that way you can cut thicker chunks. I also added sriracha to mine at the end because it wasn't quite spicy enough for me.
Adapted from Bon Appétit

3 ounces pancetta (Italian bacon), chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 large red jalapeño chiles, seeded, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
2 large fennel bulbs, stalks trimmed, cut into thin wedges with some core attached
1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds
3/4 pound spaghetti [I used whole wheat]
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Pecorino Toscano cheese, divided
1- 2 tablespoons hot sauce (optional)

Sauté pancetta in large skillet over medium heat until pancetta is golden. Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towels. Add 1 tablespoon oil to drippings in skillet. Add garlic and chiles; sauté over medium heat 1 minute. Add fennel; cook until beginning to soften, 5 minutes. Mix in broth, 2 tablespoons parsley, lemon juice, and fennel seeds. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until fennel is very tender, 20 minutes (I did not cook mine this long to leave a little bite). Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta until tender; drain. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.

Uncover skillet with fennel mixture and return to high heat. Cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes. Add fennel to pasta. Stir in 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 cup cheese, and pancetta. Add cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if dry. Toss pasta; transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons parsley over. Serve with extra cheese.

January 28, 2010

Minimalist's Potato Leek Soup

We were having a relatively mild winter but recently, it's been getting pretty cold and I've been craving soup.  I've never made potato leek soup before but I recently decided that I love leeks (and potatoes aren't too shabby either).  This soup led to a lot of surprises:

1. So easy
2. Way more flavorful than you'd expect with such a short and simple ingredient list
3. Not all potato soup recipes are heavy and creamy (this was a surprise to me, at least)
4. Pretty, pretty, pretty filling

I thought I had chicken broth when I started this recipe but quickly realized the chicken broth I had in the fridge was most likely not ok to consume (i.e. I smelled it...).  I added Greek yogurt (magical of magical ingredients) to give the soup a creamier texture without the heaviness of cheese or, you know, cream.  This is also delicious with a nice hunk of crusty bread and a side of carb coma. Enjoy!

Minimalist's Potato Leek Soup

1 leek, quartered and chopped (only white and pale green parts)
1 teaspoon butter
3 cups potatoes peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (about 2 large russets)
2 cups water (or broth, if you're fancy)
1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt
dried thyme
fresh chives to garnish (optional)

Cook the leeks in butter with salt and pepper in a medium sized sauce pan. Cover the pan and cook on low heat until softened. Make sure not to brown leeks as it will cause them to have a burnt taste.

Add water and potatoes.  Bring to a low simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. Scoop about two thirds of the soup mixture (less if you want it chunkier) into a blender or cusinart along with the Greek yogurt and puree.  Return to pan. Add thyme and more salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with fresh chives.

January 21, 2010

Granola Cookies

I got the idea for these cookies from my friend Natalie, who I used to work with at Anthropologie.  Since breaks at Anthro. were few and far between, I always found myself hungry and in need of some good snacking.  One night when I was closing and on my way to the bathroom, I saw a delicious looking, albeit partially eaten, cookie laying on a napkin that said something along the lines of, "for Megan from N@."  Well, Megan was already gone, so that cookie was fair game, right?

Anyway, I broke off a little piece of the not too thoroughly baked confection (i.e. still gooey in the middle) and it was great.  It tasted like oats and brown sugar and butter with flecks of dried cranberries.  It reminded me of granola, but in cookie form.  I knew I wanted to re-create it, and perhaps healthify it a bit too.  So here's my attempt.  Not as buttery-ooey-goeey as Natalie's but pretty much spot on with flavor.  I like 'em a lot and hopefully you will too.

Granola Cookies
Loosely adapted from Better With Butter and Whole Grain Gourmet

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1/2 cup dried fruit of choice [I used a mix of cranberries, blueberries, and golden raisins]
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons almond butter [I used Trader Joes' Roasted Almond Butter with Sea Salt]

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together.  Add the dried fruit into this mixture.  Then, in a medium bowl cream the butter and brown sugar and then mix in the egg, maple syrup, and almond butter.

Mix the wet ingredients with the dry.  If you want a thicker cookie, cool the dough in the fridge for 20 minutes before placing it on a cookie sheets.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Drop by teaspoonfuls on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for about 15 - 20 minutes or until lightly golden.

January 9, 2010

Mushroom Bourguignon

Liking mushrooms is new to me.  Let's just say I had a bad experience a couple of years ago because I thought buying (and subsequently cooking) frozen mushrooms was a good idea... it wasn't.  Prior to, oh, yesterday, I never appreciated the meaty texture or earthy taste of mushrooms but I think they're really starting to grow on me-- and partial credit for that goes to this recipe.

I've never had beef bourguignon before but I have no doubt that it's delicious.  I'm not sure what wouldn't be amazing covered in this thick, rich sauce of beef broth, red wine, tomato paste, and butter.

Don't be fooled into thinking this bourgingnon is lacking anything because it's "missing" the beef.  As Deb notes, this version is just as indulgent as the traditional but not quite as heavy, which is a plus in my mind.  I decreased the amount of oil and butter used to one tablespoon each (instead of two) and to my surprise, I was still full and satisfied after only a modest serving.

Another plus is that this dish comes together much more quickly and easily than if you were to use beef.  It's the perfect meal for a cold winter night and, lately, we've been having plenty of those.

Mushroom Bourguignon
Adapted from smitten kitchen

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, softened
12 oz cremini or portabello mushrooms, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices [I used a mixture]
1 carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup full-bodied red wine [I used merlot]
2 cups beef or vegetable broth [I used beef broth]
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup pearl onions, peeled (thawed if frozen)*
Egg noodles, for serving
Sour cream and chopped chives or parsley, for garnish (optional)

*pearl onions are a pain in the butt

Heat a half tablespoon of the olive oil and a half tablespoon of butter in a medium Dutch oven or heavy sauce pan over high heat. Sear the mushrooms until they begin to darken, but not yet release any liquid-- about three or four minutes (mine began to release liquid at this point :/ ). Remove them from pan.

Lower the flame to medium and add another half tablespoon of olive oil. Toss the carrots, onions, thyme, a few good pinches of salt and a several grinds of black pepper into the pan and cook for 10, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for just one more minute.

Add the wine to the pot, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn the heat all the way up and reduce it by half. Stir in the tomato paste and the broth. Add back the mushrooms with any juices that have collected and once the liquid has boiled, reduce the temperature so it simmers for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are very tender. Add the pearl onions and simmer for five minutes more.

Combine remaining butter and the flour with a fork until combined; stir it into the stew. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency. Season to taste.

To serve, spoon the stew over a bowl of egg noodles, dollop with sour cream (optional) and sprinkle with chives or parsley.

January 5, 2010

Tassajara Warm Red Cabbage Salad

This. is. so. good.  It's healthy but satisfying, simple but full of flavor, quick but complex, and eating it just makes you feel good.  It's perfect for all those resolutions we swear we're going to keep this year (you know the one's I'm talking about).  Make a better effort this year.  Make this salad.

Tassajara Warm Red Cabbage Salad
This is actually quite similar to the Warm Brussel Sprout Salad I featured a couple weeks ago.  Like the brussel sprout salad, it's great for winter because, well, it's warm!  Heidi's recipe uses feta but I enjoyed this salad with goat cheese-- it lent a nice creaminess and subtle tang, both of which worked well with the balsamic.  Experiment as you like, just let me know how it turns out.
Adapted from 101Cookbooks

1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
fine grain sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 pound head of red cabbage or radicchio, quartered and cut into thin ribbons
2 ounces golden raisins (or other plump, chopped dried fruit)
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Roast the sunflower seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Sprinkle on the sugar, and a couple pinches of salt. Stir until the sugar melts and coats the seeds (you pan will need to be hot enough). Transfer the seeds immediately to a plate so they don't stick to the pan. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and saute the onion for a minutes or two with a couple pinches of salt. Stir in the garlic, and the cabbage, and a few more pinches of salt. Stir and cook for just a minute or so, or until the cabbage softens up just a touch. Then stir in most of the raisins and the vinegar. The cabbage will continue to get more and more tender even after you remove it from the heat, so keep that in mind, and do your best to avoid overcooking it - where it collapses entirely.

Fold in half of the goat cheese, most of the sunflower seeds, then taste. Season with more salt if needed. Serve garnished with the remaining raisins, goat cheese, and sunflower seeds

Serves 4 to 6.

This recipe was adapted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown. Published by Shambhala (September 8, 2009)