Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer's Finally Here - Bruschetta

We just returned from a week and a half away in the mountains of West Virginia. No Internet. No Phones. No TV. Surprisingly, it was pure heaven. We went to this rustic resort called Capon Springs where the cold spring waters heal all, but the food will give you a heart attack if you stay for too long. While I love homemade cookies, breads, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and butter, by the end of the week I was dying for some fresh veggies.

Luckily, on the way home, hubby, baby girl and I stopped off at a great West Virginia farmstand and bought loads of peaches, tomatoes, corn, green beans and eggplants. I was so impatient for the watery sweetness of a fresh tomato, I couldn't wait to get home and ate the tomato like an apple right then and there. After the crazy cold weather we've been experiencing in New York, I finally realized summer was really here.

The next day, after picking up a still hot baguette from the bakery, I decided Tomato and Chickpea Bruschetta with Kalamata Olives and Feta Cheese was just what we needed. Baby girl's not a huge fan of raw tomatoes yet and for some reason she was boycotting her usual fave of chickpeas too so I tried that age old eat two chickpeas before you get an olive and a piece of cheese trick. It worked wonders until she started trying to secretly spit the chickpeas down her shirt. She's a sneaky little thing. I finally realized that baguette with olives and cheese wasn't a half bad lunch in and of itself so hubby and I demolished the bruschetta while baby girl became an honorary Greek baby.

It was a perfect way to detox from a week of good, but very heavy food!!

Marinated Tomato & Chickpea Bruschetta with Kalamata Olives and Feta Cheese
(Bruschetta is so easy. Use this recipe as an outline and create your own flavor combinations. Word to the wise, bruschetta depends upon the freshest local ingredients. Don't try this in the middle of winter in Maine.)

What You'll Need:

One ridiculously fresh baguette or loaf of Italian bread (if you can find whole wheat, more power to you)
One 15 oz. can of chickpeas rinsed
Two large beefsteak tomatoes chopped
2/3 cup good quality olive oil
1/3 cup good quality Balsamic vinegar
One pound of feta cheese
One pound of pitted Kalamata olives halved

In a medium salad bowl, add the oil, balsamic vinegar and one clove of minced garlic. Don't be shy, you want enough so that the tomatoes and chickpeas are immersed half way. Whisk vigorously and add the chick peas and chopped tomatoes. Stir until it's well coated and let it marinate for about half an hour, coming back occasionally to stir.

To serve, cut the baguette down the middle and then into squares. Brush a bit of olive on each piece, sprinkle with salt and pop into the toaster oven until they are lightly golden. Then arrange the bread on a platter and top with the tomato and chickpea mixture. Finally, sprinkle a bit of feta cheese and a few olives on each piece. Voila! A light and tasty meal with very little effort. This is the perfect dish on a hot, hot day when your air conditioner just isn't doing it and you don't feel like turning on the oven.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $7.00
• Leftovers – We're still eating them! I had to buy another baguette this morning. 7 servings and counting!

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Creamy Carbonara: Hold the Cream

As you probably know by now my husband and I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn during our engagement and a couple years into our marriage. We loved it. We loved it so much that when I was forced to move on up to the Upper West Side to a deluxe apartment in the sky (not deluxe, but it had a killer view!), I was bummed. Really bummed. Perhaps the thing that bummed me out most, aside from leaving all of our friends, was leaving Franny's, an incredible pizza and wine bar which started the upscale pizza trend now taking over Manhattan. About 5 years ago, Andrew Feinberg and his wife, Franny Stephens, created a pizza and wine bar around local, organic ingredients and meticulously made foods. It's truly Almost Slowfood because chef Feinberg cures his own meats and sardines and makes a pizza from scratch like none other.

What's more, Feinberg's such a perfectionist that if he isn't thrilled with a dish, he'll take it off the menu no matter how much two of his regulars plead its pardon. At least that's what the apologetic waiter explained to us all those years ago as we pleaded with him to put Bucatini alla Carbonara back on the menu. If you haven't had carbonara at Franny's and chances are you haven't because it was only on the menu for like a month, then you missed out. Unlike most recipes that call for cream and butter and all sorts of other things to make it creamy, Franny's carbonara was real and true like a Hemingway novel using only eggs, parmesan cheese, guanciale and pasta water.

At the time, I had no idea that's what Feinberg was up to, going back to basics in a hugely exciting way. But then, a couple years back, (after yet another conversation with friends about how friggin good that carbonara was and why oh why couldn't we have some!?!?) I found myself thumbing through Mario Batali's Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home, and I hit pay dirt. There it was, like a sign from the pasta gods, a recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara and it looked easy!

The very next night my husband and I made it and to our delight, it was everything we'd hoped for: al dente pasta lightly coated with a thickened sauce of cheese and egg and accented with bacon. It became a staple in our diets, a once a week meal due to its extreme ease and tastiness. Then something happened, a baby perhaps? and I kinda forgot about it. That is, until this weekend. We're headed out of town for a week and a half so I was doing my best to make dinner without buying anything. All I had was some farmer's market bacon, CSA eggs and a thing of fresh grated parmesan. That's all I needed!

My daughter went wild for it as she does for anything with noodles, but this was especially comforting to her as it was a gentle mix of her favorite ingredients and ours too. After a long recess, carbonara is back on my plate and it should make it onto yours too. Enjoy!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(Made from stuff you probably have on hand, it's an easy and delicious afterthought leaving you to wonder why you try so hard in the kitchen every other night of the week! -
Adapted from Mario Batali's
Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home)

What You'll Need:

One (4 serving) box of spaghetti or bucatini (if you can find it)
5-6 strips of good bacon (or a big hunk of guanciale or pancetta) cut into bite-sized chunks
4 large eggs separated
About a cup of parmesan cheese
A splash of pasta water

Over a high heat, boil a big vat of salted water. Cook the spaghetti until it's al dente. About 8-10 minutes. Reserve a cup or so of pasta water and set aside.

Over a medium-high heat, cook the bacon in a frying pan until it's gently crisped. Pour out the fat while preserving the bacon and return the pan to the heat. Add the cooked spaghetti to the pan with a splash of pasta water and about three quarters of the parmesan. Stir vigorously and turn off the heat. Still stirring, add the egg whites and mix well and fast so as to avoid scrambling. The heat will cook the whites and thicken the sauce.

To serve, quickly plate the pasta in four bowls and place an egg yolk on top of each portion. Batali thinks it's a nice way to present the dish to guests and I agree. However, if you are skittish about such things, go ahead and add the yolks when you add the whites. It's will be just as tasty!

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $7.00
• Leftovers – Expect 4 servings at $1.75 a serving.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Almost Slowfood Featured on Good Bite!

Good Bite is an awesome new website featuring recipes and how-to cooking videos from the web's best food bloggers. Think Gluten-Free Girl, David Lebovitz and Smitten Kitchen.

OK, OK and the point of all this is that Good Bite is featuring my recipe from last week for Simmered Kale with Bacon and White Beans.
Good Bite Says: "For a cool spin that remains true to the lazy dinner philosophy, we like this soulful interpretation from Almost Slowfood. The recipe combines the leafy green with bacon and white beans. Even healthy-food-o-phobes will enjoy this Southern-inspired dish: so, not only is preparation easy, but you won't have to fight with your kids to eat something nutritious. Relax..."
What an honor! I hope you'll check it out on Good Bite and leave a comment there for good measure! While you're at it, take a look at the other fabulous recipes and videos. Good Bite is really onto something magnificent!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sour Cherry Anniversary

The day after graduating college, I met my husband while out with one of my girls - one of the "my girls" I speak of so fondly in Gnocchi, Gah-nocky. Well, the hubby and I met the very night I had sworn off the emotional agony of dating. Before him, everyone was just not that into me and, of course, I never realized it until I was crying with one or all of my girls wondering why oh why couldn't I find love?

They say it happens when you least expect it and I definitely least expected it while sitting in the dirtiest bar in New York, a little jewel called the Cherry Tavern, bored, grumpy and watching my friend try out her very fake English accent on a bunch of blokes who ate it all up. But then a tall blond came my way and parked himself next to me. There was talk of butterflies and cocoons - weird stuff to be sure - and then an exchange of numbers. While he may not remember this, my husband fell in love with me at first sight. Yes, it's true. He called me and wooed me, bringing wine and ice cream on the first date and a bouquet of flowers the next day for our second. With the exception of a three week break up at the end of our first year, we've been together for 9 years: two of them dating, one engaged and 6 married.

This past Sunday we celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary so I decided to make him a special dinner. I had bought a pint of sour cherries at the market and thought duck breast with sour cherries, wild rice and some veggies would be perfect. Oh and it was. So much so that baby girl ate as much duck as we did and got very angry when we didn't give her her own glass of wine. However, she did says cheers and clink her little water glass against our wine glasses as we toasted to ourselves and another 6, 12, 18, 24, 30, etc. - you know to the times-tables, right? - years.

Duck Breast with Sour Cherry Sauce
(This dish is as easy to cook as it is beautiful to look at. It's sure to impress anyone you decide to make it for whether it's a new flame or a lasting love.)

What You'll Need:

1 cup wild rice mix (I like the Lundberg wild rice mix)
2 cups chicken stock
2 Duck Breasts (Moulard or Pekin are tasty options)
1 pint sour cherries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 shallot, finely diced
1 bottle Pinot Noir (For cooking and drinking)
4 sprigs of thyme

About an hour before you'd like to eat, place a small pot over a high heat. Pour in the chicken stock and add the rice. Stir once or twice and bring to a boil. Cover and turn down the heat to a simmer.

Take the cherries, wash them and pit them. I don't have a cherry-pitter so I just cut the cherries and removed the pits by hand. Anyone have a pitter? Is it handy? Then add the sugar to the cherries, stir with a spoon and let them macerate.

Put a frying pan over a medium-high flame. While the pan is coming to temperature, take out your duck breasts, and, with a very sharp knife, gently score the skin in a cross-hatch design. Be careful not to cut the skin. Duck is very fatty - doing this will help render the fat. Sprinkle the skin generously with salt and pepper and place the breasts skin side down into the frying pan. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the fat has been rendered and the skin is a crispy brown.

Holding the breasts down with a pare of tongs, pour out the rendered fat into a container (you can discard this or use it for roasting veggies among other delicious things), sprinkle the uncooked side with some salt and pepper and flip them over. Cook for another 8-10 minutes or until it's medium rare. While I know this is sacrilege, I cut into one breast to see that it's a nice rosy color. You might like other meats well done, but duck is really at its best medium-rare. Remove the breasts and set on a cutting board to rest and reabsorb its juices.

Pour out the remaining fat keeping just enough to glaze the pan. Return the pan to the flame and add the pitted cherries, shallot and thyme, cook for a minute or two and then add about half a bottle of red wine. Let it boil gently until the sauce has reduced by two thirds. I also took a potato masher and squashed the cherries to distribute even more cherry flavor throughout the sauce.

To serve, spoon some wild rice on the plate. Then slice the duck breasts in quarter to half-inch slices and overlap about 5 slices together on the plate. Spoon a bit of sauce over the duck and have a lovely green salad on the side. I also served some roasted carrots and turnips we had leftover from our CSA. This is a wonderful meal for celebrations or for any night you want to eat like a king. Enjoy!

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Groceries - $33.00
• Leftovers – Expect 4 servings at $8.25 a serving.

Bookmark and Share


Blog Widget by LinkWithin