pasta

Pasta à la Romana has been a Friday ritual at home ever since our friend Kristen taught us how to make it a few years ago. We enjoy it so much that we’ve even posted the recipe twice on the WC for your pleasure.

spaghetti with salt cod and tomato sauce

spaghetti with salt cod and tomato sauce

Last week I de-salted a large gorgeous piece of cod. The steaks looked so chunky that Steven suggested… no really hounded me to prepare it other than my customary Portuguese businessman’s cod or the classic bacalhoada. I’d been flirting with the idea of revisiting Vitória’s lovely arroz de bacalhau com broccolis, but my demanding spouse vetoed the plan.

look at these stunning pieces of salt cod fresh from their long soak

look at these stunning pieces of salt cod fresh from their long soak

Previously I’d seen a recipe for salt cod somewhat like I’m showing here today. That one didn’t require the desalinated fish be pre-cooked (via boiling), which is a real time-saver. Though since you omit the boiling step, you’ve got to really soak the fish extensively to get enough salt out.

spaghetti with salt cod and tomato sauce

1 lb spaghetti
~1 lb thick piece salt cod (soak for 2 days, changing water multiple times, keep refrigerated), drained and cut into 2-3 inch wide pieces
3 cloves garlic
1 Bay leaf
½ cup Italian parsley, chopped fine
20 pitted Kalamata olives, halved
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt
Black pepper
28oz can of diced tomatoes
½ tsp dried oregano
2 dry chili de arbol, broken
1 red scallion, chopped fine

Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring it to a boil.

Add olive oil to a large skillet followed by the garlic. Cook on low heat until aromatic. Add cod fish pieces and sauté, turning occasionally so all sides brown. Add chili, bay leaf, parsley and scallion, cover and let herbs wilt and cook. Now remove the lid, add tomato and oregano, some salt and pepper, bring temperature to high then when boiling reduce again to medium and cook to reduce and thicken the sauce. Reduce temperature to low.

Boil spaghetti for about ¾ of the cooking time suggested on the package, mine was 10 so I cooked it for about 7 minutes. Drain.

Add pasta to sauce and carefully toss it around the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes more to finish. Lastly, toss in Kalamata olives and tomato halves.

{ 2 comments }

simple Israeli couscous finished with Maldon salt

simple Israeli couscous finished with Maldon salt

To me Israeli couscous looks like and almost has the same texture as fish eggs. Obviously this is a pasta variety but somehow it seems so different compared to spaghetti and her friends. I love it. This recipe is a snap as an elegant side dish. We had it with salt cod brandade. Mmmmm!

The Maldon salt isn’t strictly necessary but somehow the huge flakes of the stuff crunching in your mouth as you devour the chewy couscous are a match made in heaven.

simple Israeli couscous finished with Maldon salt

2 cups uncooked Israeli couscous
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
2 tbsp butter
Sea salt
Maldon salt to finish
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a big pot with water to a boil. Add a bit of salt. Cook couscous for about 4 minutes or until pearls are still al dente. Drain.

Heat up non-stick pan on stove top, add one table spoon of olive oil and garlic and cook just until garlic is aromatic. Add couscous and toss it around to coat. Add garlic and onion powders, Maldon salt, the remainder of the olive oil and butter and toss again. Immediately remove from heat and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and a bit more Maldon salt.

{ 3 comments }

artichoke leek lasagna

by Stevie on April 2, 2012

Is lasagna elegant enough to serve at a dinner party? That is the question that I have been pondering for the past couple weeks. I had invited about six friends over for a Saturday meal, including two, Jocelyn and Devin that we hadn’t seen in months. So I wanted to impress but also not be stuck in the kitchen all evening in order to have time to catch up. Naturally, in these situations, I always think: casserole!

artichoke leek lasagna

artichoke leek lasagna

My favorite “casserole” from childhood has to be lasagna. I like it even more than macaroni and cheese if you can believe it. (Maybe I’m exaggerating. What do you think, Mom?) But if you’ve read this far, you’re probably already wondering, “He’s talking comfort food here. Where’s the wow-factor?”

I made an absurdly fancy multi-step lasagna from Fields of Greens, a cookbook “from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant” in San Francisco. So there! The dish requires a tomato sauce, a ricotta “custard,” an herb béchamel, fresh artichokes, provolone and of course the lasagna noodles. With all the separate steps, to get the tray ready for the oven took me almost two hours. It smelled and tasted deliciously. But somehow, sadly, the pictures look just like any old lasagna.

I served it family style at the table, so everyone could help themselves and I wouldn’t have to be running around constantly. People loved it and ate almost everything.

The following afternoon, Hegui and I went to see Jocelyn and Devin at their place downtown. We talked about the meal. She said something along the lines of “I’d never thought to serve lasagna at a dinner party. It was really good.”

Hmmm…

So I ask you once again: is lasagna elegant enough to serve at a dinner party?

artichoke leek lasagna

for the veggie filling:

2 leeks, whites only, sliced thin and thoroughly rinsed
4 artichokes, cleaned with hearts and stems sliced (for cleaning instructions, click here)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice from half a lemon
¼ cup dry white wine
3 tbsp chopped fresh herbs: I used lemon thyme, parsley and oregano

for the ricotta custard:

3 to 4 cups ricotta (I doubled the recipe here—naughty)
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup grated parmesan
A few pinches fresh nutmeg
½ tsp salt
Pinch black pepper

for the herb béchamel:

2½ cups whole milk
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt
Pinch black pepper
Sprigs of fresh herbs: I used parsley, lemon thyme, sage and oregano

for the tomato sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, chopped fine
¼ tsp dried thyme
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup red wine
2 large cans chopped tomatoes with juice
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper to taste

for the lasagna:

1 box lasagna noodles (not the no-boil kind—they get too squishy)
1 cup parmesan, grated
1½ cups provolone, grated
…and items prepared above

Start by making the tomato sauce. This is fairly straightforward. Sauté onions in olive oil until they become translucent, then add garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Sauté a bit longer. Add red wine and cook until liquid evaporates. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook at least 20 to 30 minutes. Adjust flavors with salt and pepper as desired.

Prepare the veggies by sautéing leeks in olive oil with salt until they become tender and translucent. Add dried herbs and pepper. Add artichoke slices and garlic. Continue cooking, covered, until artichokes are tender. Add lemon juice then white wine. Fold in fresh herbs. Adjust salt and pepper. Set aside.
Quickly make ricotta custard be mixing all ingredients together.

Prepare béchamel much like any roux. Add butter to a saucepan on high. As it begins to melt, sprinkle with flour and mix together. Once fully absorbed, slowly add milk while stirring constantly. Add sprigs of fresh herbs (tie them together to make fishing them out later easier.) Once it thickens, add salt and black pepper to taste.

the veggie layer for artichoke leek lasagna

the veggie layer for artichoke leek lasagna

Preheat oven to 350F.

Prepare lasagna noodles following package directions. In a large baking dish, scoop some tomato sauce on the bottom then a layer of three noodles side-by-side. Pour some more tomato sauce over the pasta. Then add sautéed veggies. Sprinkle half the cheeses. Add another layer of pasta. Spread ricotta custard over that then more pasta. Add another layer of tomato sauce, the remaining cheese and another layer of pasta. Spread béchamel over that final layer (after removing the herbs). Cover and bake about 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 10 to 15 minutes.

That’s it! Simple…

{ 9 comments }

Until just this week when the rain finally hit with a vengeance, I’ve been feeling that light joyful mood that I always have in spring-like weather, you know: energetic, hopeful and hungry for something new. That, of course, has inspired me to continue my adventures in the kitchen. So here we are. I made a sun-dried tomato and red bell pepper tapenade as a party dip but had leftovers. The flavor was quite intense, so I thought it would work perfectly as a filling for ravioli.

ravioli filled with sun-dried tomato and red bell pepper tapenade and mozzarella

ravioli filled with sun-dried tomato and red bell pepper tapenade and mozzarella

I know that people shy away from making their own pasta, and I used to be like that, too. Now I love it. Sure it is a bit of a job—mainly the kneading is a pain. But I prefer to think of it as a necessary work-out to get my desired marvelous result. Running the dough through the pasta machine is a snap now that I’ve gotten a replacement clamp to hold the device to my countertop. Plus that part is really quite soothing.

my hand-cranked pasta machine

my hand-cranked pasta machine

I made the dough using the same recipe and technique from my last ravioli post, which I’ll copy-and-paste here to make things easier. This time I took pics of the pasta with each run through the machine so you can see how long it gets. This does take some space in the kitchen as the sheets of dough grow ever longer. I moved a lot of stuff out of the way and covered most of my counters with clean dishtowels before I started with the machine.

The filling was just the tapenade, some mozzarella and a bit of parmesan cheese. After I boiled my ravioli for about 5 minutes; I lightly sautéed it in olive oil, garlic and fresh spinach. Mmmm!

ravioli filled with sun-dried tomato and red bell pepper tapenade and mozzarella

for the dough:

2 cups flour (I used all purpose)
3 eggs

for the filling:

2 red bell peppers, stems, seeds and ribs removed, cut into large chunks
3 cloves garlic
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil
2 tbsp olive oil
12 kalamata olives, pits removed
Pinch dried oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 pound part-skim mozzarella
2 tbsp parmesan

for the sauté:

3 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch whole spinach leaves, large stems discarded
5 cloves garlic, sliced
Salt and black pepper to taste

to prepare dough for ravioli:

Usually you’re supposed to pour the flour on a work-surface then mix in the egg. Counter space is at a premium in my tiny kitchen so I beat the eggs for a couple minutes in a small bowl, then mixed them with the flour in another. Then I dumped everything onto a floured surface and kneaded it for eight (8) minutes. (I set my kitchen timer.) The kneading is the key step and really it is sort of magical as about seven minutes on, suddenly the flour-egg dough starts to do something amazing! It turns into pasta! You can feel it in your hands literally changing. Sure, that is what you’re making so should not come as a surprise to anyone. Nevertheless, whenever I make pasta, I am always stunned that it actually works!

my lump of dough after eight minutes kneading

my lump of dough after eight minutes kneading

Roll dough into a ball then cut it into six equal pieces. With your pasta machine on the widest setting, roll each piece through once. Then fold the edges of each piece together towards the middle and pass it through the machine again, still at the widest setting. Repeat with each piece so that they’ve all been rolled and folded about three times. When not working with a piece, lay it on a clean kitchen towel and be sure not to let it touch any of the other dough.

After that, reduce the width of your pasta maker by one notch and pass each piece through. They will slowly start to get longer. Repeat at next lower notch and so on until you get to the penultimate. By now, your dough should be quite thin and very long. Once you’ve finished set aside.

dough pieces after first setting on machine

dough pieces after first setting on machine

dough pieces after second setting of machine

dough pieces after second setting of machine

dough pieces after third setting on machine

dough pieces after third setting on machine

dough pieces after fourth setting of machine

dough pieces after fourth setting of machine

dough pieces after fifth setting of machine

dough pieces after fifth setting of machine

they're getting big now on the sixth setting

they're getting big now after the sixth setting

the seventh setting is getting blurry--I must have been more tired than I thought

the seventh setting is getting blurry--I must have been more tired than I thought

the dough after the eighth setting--we're ready to go

the dough after the eighth setting--we're ready to go

to prepare filling:

First make tapenade by sautéing red bell peppers and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add to food processor with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, oregano, salt and black pepper. If too thick, add a bit more olive oil. I used about one and a half cups.

Shred mozzarella. Mix cheeses with tapenade.

to assemble ravioli:

placing the filling on the pasta

placing the filling on the pasta

finished glider-shaped raviolis

finished glider-shaped raviolis

Place about a teaspoon full of filling along prepared dough strips, roughly three inches apart from one another. To seal, dab your finger in some water, rub water along edges of dough and between mounds of filling. Carefully fold dough over filling, press down to remove air pockets. Cut between mounds of filling to create individual ravioli. I folded mine into triangular shapes, thinking of our recent adventure with hang-gliders. Set aside but be sure not to let them touch one another. Makes about three dozen.

to make final dish:

Boil ravioli in salted water about 5 minutes. Meanwhile sauté garlic in olive oil for about a minute. Add spinach, salt and black pepper. Drain ravioli and toss into wilted spinach. Fold together and serve.

{ 5 comments }

I’m really excited about this dish because the pasta I’m using is made of corn! Can you believe it?!?

corn penne with tempeh in black pepper sauce

corn penne with tempeh in black pepper sauce

While I’m a huge fan of corn, I was just skeptical about it as pasta. Is it even possible to make good pasta with grains other than wheat? Okay, that’s a little dramatic as I’ve had wonderful Chinese noodles made of either rice flour or various kinds of bean. But we’re talking Italian here. Would corn produce something with similar texture and flavors to the “regular” semolina pasta that we’re all used to? I just couldn’t fathom the idea.

I had always thought using corn to make plastic was the final frontier for this New World grain, but after this marvelous corn penne, all I can say is that the Italians have taken this humble grain to a new dimension. So next time you spot corn pasta at your supermarket, don’t be afraid. Just go for it. You’ll be doing yourselves a huge favor.

To add a bit more excitement and protein to the dish, I used tempeh to it make it my favorite East meets West sort of dish.

key ingredients for corn penne with tempeh in black pepper sauce

key ingredients for corn penne with tempeh in black pepper sauce

Oh, yes, and for a health note: if you happen to have a friend who’s allergic to gluten (i.e. someone with celiac disease) this would be an excellent way to treat them right for a memorable dinner.

corn penne with tempeh in black pepper sauce

9 oz corn penne rigate cooked al dente per package instructions
1½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp good quality arbequina extra virgin olive oil
½ cup finely grated Grana Padano cheese (or more!)
8oz piece garden veggie tempeh, cubed
1 tbsp canola oil
Kosher salt

Place canola oil in a non-stick skillet, add tempeh, bring temperature to high and cook tempeh on various sides until golden yellow. Remove from pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

Wipe remaining canola oil off the pan. Next add 3 tbsp olive oil, pepper and cook in low temperature for about a minute or so. Let oil get infused with the black pepper deliciousness. Add garlic, salt and cook for another minute or so without burning it. Toss in pasta and give it a good stir to coat. Transfer to a warm serving bowl, sprinkle ½ of the cheese over and delicately mix it in. Fold in tempeh. Garnish with the rest of the cheese and serve with a good red Tuscan or perhaps a Côtes du Rhône.

Have some extra cheese and olive oil on the table in case you or your guests want to splurge like I always do.

{ 10 comments }

black pepper fettuccine in chardonnay cashew nut sauce with asparagus, red bell pepper annd spinach

black pepper fettuccine in chardonnay cashew nut sauce with asparagus, red bell pepper and spinach

I spotted this recipe in the latest edition of Vegetarian Times magazine. The recipe is part of a funny article inviting loving couples to come spend their time and money at the Stanford Inn by the Sea for Valentine’s Day. The Inn’s renowned vegetarian restaurant, Raven’s, is run by Chefs Sally Owens and Merlyn Alvarado. I’ve checked both the hotel and restaurant (on-line) and they look sublime! These two local “celebrity” chefs have paired together to create vegetarian recipes with aphrodisiac properties just for the holiday. Everything uses locally and organically grown vegetables from Mendocino.

Among the several recipes, I was particularly excited by the creamy fettuccine with raw cashew nut sauce. It is completely vegan: no dairy at all! However, the name of the recipe in Vegetarian Times (“Black pepper fettuccine with chardonnay sauce and grilled asparagus”) omits the cashews, which is a major component here. I wonder why? We all know that black pepper for the most part comes from India and it’s been part of our culinary experience for so long that we don’t even think of it as a foreign ingredient. So why mention it and leave out the somewhat more exotic cashew? In Indian cooking cashew nuts have been used to thicken soups forever, or at least since the cashew plant made its journey from South America to India a few hundred years ago… And why praise the grilled asparagus over the more commonplace red bell pepper and humble baby spinach? Hmmm. Certainly it isn’t because the name becomes crazy long, as they’ve plenty of room for that in VT. So to prevent hard feelings among the lovely ingredients, I have renamed this dish accordingly. ;) lol

VT has adapted the recipe from the original and I have done the same, readapting it to my tastes. The proportion of each ingredient didn’t seem right to me so I modified them a bit. I have made dishes from VT in the past and have found that sometimes things are a bit off. I wonder if they have a test-kitchen? VT here’s a suggestion from me: test before you publish, like we do.

fettuccine in black pepper chardonnay cashew nut sauce with asparagus, red bell pepper and spinach

2 cups raw cashew nuts
2 cups chardonnay
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
Juice of a large lemon (~ 3 tbsp)
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lb fettuccine cooked per package instructions
2 cups baby spinach
1 bunch asparagus bottom tips peeled
½ red bell pepper cut into fine strips
Kosher salt

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Pre-heat oven to 400F.

Add enough water to cashews to barely cover them in a small bowl. Microwave for about 2 minutes. Remove and let rest a bit. Transfer cashew nuts and water to food processor and whiz until nuts have turned into a smooth paste. Do not skip the microwaving part otherwise the paste will not become smooth and glossy.

Place the wine in a saucepan and bring to near boil, turn temperature to low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add cashew nut paste, lemon juice, black pepper, kosher salt and whisk to combine, taste and adjust flavors. It should be creamy, tangy and a bit peppery. Add more warm water if too thick.

Place asparagus and red bell pepper on two different baking trays, sprinkle with a tiny amount of salt and black pepper and tiny drizzle of olive oil. Roast in the oven for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and keep warm.

Meanwhile cook pasta following cooking instructions from package, put spinach leaves in toward the last 30 seconds. Drain.

Transfer pasta with spinach to a bowl. Toss with half of the sauce, scatter asparagus spears and red pepper slices over and serve.

{ 7 comments }

sesame and onion seed crusted sword fish with buckwheat soba and chard sauté

sesame and onion seed crusted sword fish with buckwheat soba and chard sauté

I know eating swordfish is supposed to be naughty. But per our fish monger, this one was line caught off the coast of California. So that’s good. It looked super fresh with that beautiful seafood aroma and so after listening to his explanation he convinced me. I lost my guilt and purchased 3 steaks for our dinner party. The whole dinner had a Japanese, South East Asian flair to it. It is pretty easy to make and delicious.

sesame and onion seed crusted sword fish with buckwheat soba and chard sauté

for the fish:

3 swordfish steaks or other similar fish steaks of your preference
1 tbsp sesame seeds (or more)
¾ tbsp black onion seeds (or more)
Lime juice
Nori strips (edible seaweed strips)
Olive oil

the noodles:

buckwheat soba noodles for 4 people cooked per package instructions, rinsed and kept warm

for the veggies:

1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves roughly torn
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil

for the sauce:

1 clove garlic grated into paste
1 tsp fresh ginger grated into paste
1 tsp chile garlic paste
3 tbsp soy sauce (or more)
¾ tbsp rice vinegar
¼ tsp sugar
¾ tbsp toasted sesame oil
3 whole scallions, sliced

Prepare the sauce mixing all the ingredients together, except for the scallions. Taste it and adjust flavors. It should be bold a bit salty, tangy, smoky, sweet and spicy. Drop in scallions then set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Put chard in and cook for about three minutes. Drain and squeeze as much water as possible from it. Add olive oil to a skillet, then garlic and cook until garlic is aromatic. Add chard and cook for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle with some salt and black pepper. Transfer to a bowl, keeping it warm.

Rinse and pat dry fish steaks with a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Mix seeds together and sprinkle on both sides of steaks. Using the same skillet, add a tad of olive oil, bring temperature to medium high, add sword fish steaks and cook for 3 minutes on each side (if your pan is too small do it in batches). Remove from pan and let rest for a couple of minutes, keeping it warm. Cut into bit size strips. Squeeze a few drops of lime juice over the fish.

Place soba noodles on a serving platter. Toss with sauce. Top with sautéed chard, then the fish, nori and serve.

{ 4 comments }

chilled summer couscous

by Stevie on December 9, 2011

I didn’t make this recipe in the summertime, which was a mistake. It comes from David Rocco’s Made in Italy cookbook. I was completely attracted to the dish because of its delightful combination of many colorful veggies and the fact that it isn’t cooked. You just mix everything together and let it sit in the refrigerator for several hours. So this is “raw cooking” so far as I can tell. That’s unusual for weirdcombinations.

chilled summer couscous

chilled summer couscous

That said, the amount of couscous was a bit daunting for two people. I’d cut it in half or even in quarters next time. Plus, since it was chilled, it wasn’t quite right for our cooler weather. But this would be perfect to throw together the night before a summertime wine country excursion, so I’m going to file it away for then.

chilled summer couscous

2 cups couscous
½ cup olive oil
24oz can chopped tomatoes with juice
Juice of one lemon
1 red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
About a dozen cherry tomatoes, in halves
12 kalamata olives in halves
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

Mix everything together except half of the basil. Wrap and refrigerate for several hours. Stir at least once. When it is time to serve, add remaining basil. You can have this family style or mold and plate it for a more elegant presentation.

{ 9 comments }

orzo with spinach

September 9, 2011

I haven’t made this dish in ages! It is so satisfying and good, yet, for some reason orzo seems to have fallen out of fashion in our household. Now I am determined to make that right again. I only wish we could find more varieties here in SF. I remember in the Big Apple orzo […]

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kabocha pumpkin gnocchi with walnut pesto + cheesecake challenge invite

July 11, 2011

Kabocha is one of my favorite types of pumpkin. It has a nutty, sweet flavor with an intense, beautiful yellow color. It is perfect served as a side dish. The classic Brazilian way to prepare it is one of the simplest: sautéed with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of water, until […]

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