spaghetti

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.

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This recipe comes from another Mary Taylor Simeti book, SICILIAN FOOD: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle. I’m fascinated by Sicily right now and have gotten more into making food that hales from there. Torta Paradiso from her book, Bitter Almonds, was just the beginning.  (For the chocolate truffle challenge, see the end of this post.)

This pasta recipe caught my attention because it uses copious amounts of anchovies in a single dish. I was skeptical about it since they can be so powerful, but I wanted to give it a try anyway, since we love anchovies: even when they’re too fishy.

spaghetti con acciuche e mollica AKA spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs

spaghetti con acciuche e mollica AKA spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs

The recipe also calls for ‘strattu (tomato extract), which in Sicily they make directly under their scalding summer sun with nothing but ultra ripe tomatoes, salt and basil. The tomatoes are chopped small, passed through a food mill to remove skin and seeds then the salt and basil are added. The mixture is spread on a wooden surface under the sun. You’re supposed to keep stirring it with a wood spatula until the water has evaporated and the mass becomes a thick paste. Mary writes that it might take a couple of days to get the desired consistency depending on how much sun you have in your area. That is a lot of work! Wow! I keep thinking how fun it would be to make my own ‘strattu. I wonder if my porch would work… Maybe in late Summer? For now, I’m using canned tomato paste and saving that adventure for another time.

This turned out wonderfully. Despite my initial apprehensions, the anchovies lent a mellow, earthy, briny, delicate layer of flavor to the dish. It was not overwhelming at all. Love it!

spaghetti con acciuche e mollica AKA spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs

1lb spaghetti
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
4 tbsp tomato paste
6 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled, partially crushed
crushed red pepper
black pepper
10 anchovy fillets, drained (1 small can)
2 tbsp Italian fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 cup plain water
1 to ½ cups water from cooked pasta

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil to a skillet on high. Add breadcrumbs and toast until golden. Transfer to a bowl and set a side.

Wipe pan with a paper towel. Add remaining olive oil and garlic to the pan and cook until aromatic. Add tomato paste, salt and peppers then cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Add one cup of water. Stir to completely dissolve paste then simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Add anchovies plus 1 tbsp of olive oil to a glass measuring cup (Pyrex) and half submerge the cup in the pot of boiling water (where past will be cooked). Cook anchovies in bain marie stirring until they become a thick sauce. Add anchovies to tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Set aside but keep warm.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente about 1 to 2 minutes before doneness indicated on the package. Drain reserving about 2 cups from cooking liquid.

To assemble the dish, reheat sauce. Add pasta, ½ of the toasted breadcrumbs, cooking water then toss together. Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with parsley and more breadcrumbs. Use remaining breadcrumbs at table for each diner to add to his or her own dish as they choose.

Chocolate truffle food blogging challenge:  The glamorous Heavenly from donuts to delirium and we at weirdcombos want to invite any interested food blogging folk to join us in a chocolate truffle cooking challenge.  All you have to do is contact us for the basic recipe, come up with a creative version of your own, and publish it with links to all the other participants for the challenge on Monday May 30, 2011.  This was incredibly fun when we did the tagliatelle challenge in March. So get your thinking caps on and your sweet… teeth(?) ready for some delicious fun in May!

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spaghetti with foraged sow thistle

spaghetti with foraged sow thistle

The Bay Area has been lucky this year with the rainy season. We’ve been getting plenty of water, so we’re all set for a beautiful spring. It’s fun to travel to the countryside right now to see the mountains completely green. When I first moved to San Francisco I wasn’t too sure about the so-called “golden” hills. They looked brown and withered to me. Back East is different: very green; Brazil, even more. I used to associate dry land with something sterile or lifeless.

It took me few months to see the beauty and harmony of the Northern California ecosystem with its vibrant flora and fauna. Even in the midst of the City, just at the park nearby my house, I keep seeing families of raccoons, skunks, and multiple types of birds. Another thing that grows plentifully nearby in springtime is sow thistle. It likes the rain. For whatever reason these are not available for sale at markets. If you want to eat this seasonal delight, you need to hunt for them yourself.

Foraging has been trendy lately. I like the idea. We went to a restaurant a couple weeks ago where the menu proudly proclaims that part of the food was gathered locally. In January, at the SF Public Library we heard a food blogger talk about his experiences as a Bay Area forager. His thing is much more large-scale. I’m a small-time forager with huge tastebuds.

On our way back from the Pacific Orchid Exposition, I harvested a bunch of sow thistle at the park nearby. This isn’t the first time.

Flavor-wise sow thistle resembles rustic green leafy vegetables such as escarole, chicory or frise. Like those, it matches well with olive oil, garlic and parmesan.

foraged sow thistle

foraged sow thistle

spaghetti with foraged sow thistle

1lb packaged spaghetti
1 full bowl freshly foraged sow thistle, rinsed in passed through a salad spinner
5 garlic cloves, cut into slivers
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper
Top notch grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Crushed red pepper to taste

Boil a large pot with plenty of water. Cook spaghetti al dente following package instructions. Drain, set it aside and keep warm.

Add half of the olive oil to a large pan. Bring temperature to high, add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Don’t burn it. Add thistle, salt and peppers and sauté until fully wilted and volume reduced by half. Toss in the pasta. Drizzle remaining olive oil over everything followed by a good amount of grated cheese. You’ll love it.

emerald green hills in the California spring

emerald green hills in the California spring

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We at weirdcombos love eating broccoli rabe. This underrated vegetable is packed with distinct flavors, ranging from grassy, to spicy, pungent, bitter, sweet and nutty. Our most common way of eating it is sautéd with olive oil, garlic and tossed with ear shaped pasta topped by a generous amount of fine Parmesan. I think that orecchiette with broccoli rabe is probably one of my favorites. We’ve been eating this dish forever and I never find it boring.

spaghetti with broccoli rabe pesto

spaghetti with broccoli rabe pesto

The other day while perusing the Internet I found a couple of recipes for broccoli rabe pesto, which sounded interesting. Here’s the first, and the second.

I was excited by the idea of preparing broccoli rabe in a new way, and it got me thinking: how would it taste after going through the food processor? Would it get too bitter, or too squishy? Depending on how food is processed, sometimes one flavor prevails over the others, stealing that wholesomeness of scents, textures and tastes we identify with freshness. At times all the flavors are gone if the plant has volatile compounds. Try drinking a bottled juice and then eating the real fruit to see what I mean.

As for the broccoli rabe pesto, processing it made the flavor more mild. We liked it, so I’d guess you might, too. It tasted even better the following day.

I made this like basil pesto. Like with that recipe, you can use different nuts. I simply used what we had at home.

fresh broccoli rabe

fresh broccoli rabe

spaghetti with broccoli rabe pesto

1 bunch broccoli rabe, rinsed
1 cup packed baby spinach leaves, rinsed
2-3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pepitas
6 Brazil nuts
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Kosher salt to taste
Crushed red pepper to taste
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
Juice of half lemon
1 lb spaghetti, prepared by package directions

Bring a pot with plenty of water to a boil. Cook broccoli for about 4 minutes or until al dente. Remove from heat to a bowl filled with ice water to blanche. Reserve hot water to cook pasta. Once cold, separate leaves and florets from stems. Squeeze as much water as possible from leaves and florets. Set aside.

Place pepitas and Brazil nuts on a skillet and lightly toast them for a few minutes. Add garlic, salt, pepper, pepitas and Brazil nut and half of the olive oil to food processor and spin it for a couple of minutes. Use a spatula to push the mixture down to bottom in order to grind everything evenly. Add spinach and broccoli rabe leaves and florets. Run food processor until it reaches desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl. Mix in cheese, remaining olive oil and lemon juice.

In a large bowl, fold spaghetti with about half of the broccoli rabe pesto and the stems. Save the rest of the pesto in the fridge in a small container covered with a layer of olive oil to prevent oxidation. Use within a couple of days.

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I saw this recipe in the most recent edition of Wine Spectator in that story about cooking and wine tasting with Michael Chiarello. It reminded me of a dramatic and colorful variation of orecchiette with broccoli rabe.

spaghetti in zinfandel sauce with broccoli rabe, garlic and chile

spaghetti in zinfandel sauce with broccoli rabe, garlic and chile

The red wine really stains the spaghetti beautifully. Chiarello’s recipe calls for Calabrian chile paste, which we didn’t have. Instead I used my fall back Vietnamese garlic chile sauce. Also, he recommends finishing with pecorino cheese and adding a tablespoon of sugar to the wine sauce. I used parmigiano reggiano and held the sugar.

Reducing the wine intensifies the flavors a lot. I used an inexpensive bottle of Cline zinfandel. It is fruity with some spice box on the nose. Once it was reduced and cooked into the spaghetti, the spices: ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, were extremely prominent. Really, it was too much for Hegui who despises cinnamon in almost everything. But he was hungry so ate a lot anyway.

Next time, I’m going to more carefully select my zin and use a less powerful chile sauce. I might even add a pinch of sugar.

key ingredients for spaghetti in zinfandel sauce with broccoli rabe, garlic and chile

key ingredients for spaghetti in zinfandel sauce with broccoli rabe, garlic and chile

spaghetti in zinfandel sauce with broccoli rabe, garlic and chile

1 large bunch broccoli rabe
1 package spaghetti or similar
1 bottle zinfandel
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 tsp garlic chile sauce
1 tsp or more salt
black pepper to taste
grated parmigiano reggiano to finish dish

Rinse broccoli rabe and cut stalks into about three even pieces. Blanch by boiling in water a few minutes until just tender then rapidly cooling in an ice water bath. Drain and set aside.

Pour wine into a large pan on high and reduce by half. This takes about ten minutes.

Boil spaghetti in the same water that broccoli rabe was cooked in for about five minutes. Reserve a cup of pasta water. Drain noodles. Pour wine reduction into empty spaghetti pot, bring to a boil and toss par boiled spaghetti back in until fully cooked.

While finishing noodles, pour olive oil and garlic into a large pan on high heat. Add chile and cook a minute or two. Add broccoli rabe, salt, black pepper and warm through.

Fold broccoli rabe into noodles. If too dry, add some reserved water. Toss with cheese and serve.

reducing the zinfandel almost seems like a crime against wine, though it is pretty exciting too

reducing the zinfandel almost seems like a crime against wine, though it is pretty exciting too

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