We were lucky enough to spend last weekend at our friends’ house on Whidbey Island. The weather wasn’t perfect, but it was clear enough to see the mountains, and it only rained a little on our last day (this is basically ideal spring weather for this area). And there was a beach! Continue reading
So we recently caved and bought another cookbook. We’ve really been very good recently, but the cover of this one had been making us drool during our last few bookstore visits and we finally just had to. The book is Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi of the London restaurant Ottolenghi, apparently a collection of recipes from his vegetarian column in the Guardian. One of the first things we tried out of it was a dish of noodles dressed with vast quantities of Moroccan spiced butter, fresh herbs, and pine nuts. I didn’t make the noodles from scratch with saffron mixed into the dough, although I’m sure that would have been lovely, but it just wasn’t happening.
Nearly every recipe in the book contains a ton of shallots. I hardly ever cook with shallots, so it seems novel to me. They got really sweet and melting after simmering in a stick’s worth of butter for ten or fifteen minutes (but who wouldn’t?)
Once the shallots were soft I added the mix of paprika, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, turmeric and red pepper flakes. After smelling the mixture Jon pointed out I could have just used the Moroccan seven-spice we have in our spice drawer, which smells exactly the same.
Then I mixed in a big pile of fresh mint and parsley. Our mint plant is producing particularly vast and fragrant leaves right now; when I was chopping these up Jon smelled them from two rooms away.
Then all that remained was to toast a handful of pine nuts and toss them in. We ate the noodles alongside small lamb chops and a pile of sauteed Swiss chard, and it was good. Buttery as all get out, but good. It was too rich for us to eat the whole batch, but I saved the leftovers and mixed albacore tuna into them for lunch the next day, which balanced it out nicely.
This pasta had a lot of things going for it. First, a pound of the newly available and awesome hot Italian sausage from the Skagit Co-op (we are very excited about their new line of housemade sausages). Next, a large bag of Blue Heron Farm’s braising mix of tender bitter greens, which I’ve been very much missing since they stopped coming to our local farmer’s market. Thirdly, a ladleful of bay- and garlic-flavored white beans left over from a previous dinner. Mixed up with gemelli and some fresh olive oil this was a really delicious dinner to eat in front of Jeeves & Wooster on a Friday evening at home. And, perhaps, even better a day or two later with a dollop of ricotta stirred into it.
We recently indulged ourselves in a Big City hunting and gathering trip, stocking up on supplies not commonly found in our neck of the woods. Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry from the Spanish Table, Sichuan preserved vegetable from Ping’s (finally identified by learning the Chinese words for it, cha choy), gochujang, curry leaves, Indian bitter melon, sea beans (also called samphire or glasswort) and noodles from Uwajimaya, and Toulouse sausage from the Paris Grocery. The bitter melon molded within a day and had to be composted (darn it), so the night which had been slated for curry suddenly had to be re-planned.
The main dish I came up with was simple – farfalle pasta tossed with garlic, chile, white beans and the sausage, which I seared in a skillet and cut into rounds. For the sea beans I took a flavor concept from the Zuni Cookbook, sauteeing them in butter and finishing them with a splash of sherry vinegar. Sea beans are so salty no other seasoning was needed, and the vinegar was a perfect complement. I think this was my favorite way of eating sea beans so far.
Sorry for being such a cruddy blogger this week. The above picture of spaghetti and meatballs is the only food photo I’ve taken in the past week – it’s kinda embarrassing. I made a really tasty Sichuan stirfry of green beans, pork and tofu a few days ago, but completely failed to document it. The mushroom lasagna and the roast chicken, while extremely delicious, have already been thoroughly blogged about. And last night I ate squid in tomato sauce, some sort of roasted meat and a yellow rice pilaf from a buffet in a retirement home (it was the kickoff party for an art show), and it seemed too strange to photograph.
Maybe next week.
We made it up to the Bellingham Farmer’s Market last weekend, always a welcome activity when spring is making itself felt but our local market won’t open for weeks yet. We placed an order for half a cow from Skagit Angus Beef, bought an astonishing quantity of leafy greens, two chunks of goat feta and some fresh, purple-tipped asparagus, then swung by the Bellingham Pasta Company’s table and picked up a pound each of lemon pepper linguine and nettle fettuccine.
I love fresh pasta, but seldom make it myself (perhaps because it often turns into a drama-filled production complete with tears and recriminations), so it’s always fun to have some different noodles in the house. The nettle pasta we used immediately for lunch.
One of my standby there’s-nothing-in-the-house-to-eat meals is pasta with canned tuna, capers, olives, chile pepper, and tomato. There are endless variations depending on what’s in the pantry, and it’s always good. I wanted to use tuna with the nettle pasta, but this time I didn’t want such a pungent sauce, for fear it would overwhelm the delicate green flavor. After a quick consultation with a few cookbooks, I tossed together a sauce of mashed tuna (the really good locally-packed albacore from Island Trollers) mixed with raw garlic, fresh chives from the garden, and a splash of cream to moisten it. The noodles, after their three minutes in the boiling water, went into the bowl with the uncooked sauce, and I swirled it all together. It was delicious – light, garlic-scented, but still highlighting the fresh noodles. One of my better ideas.
Or as I originally wanted to title this post, The Annual Pumpkin Ravioli Cock-up. It seems like we get worse at this every year.
The first thing that went wrong was the pumpkin. As usual we cut in in half, scooped it out, rubbed it with oil and stuck it in the oven. Instead of getting soft and caramelized, however, it dried out and got stiff. It was too hard to mash by hand, so Jon ran it through the Cuisinart. A little balsamic vinegar and grated Parmesan and it seemed fine, but it was much more work than usual.
Then the pasta. I made one egg’s worth, using all-purpose flour and semolina, and it felt fine. But it dried out very quickly, and once again the #5 setting on our Atlas pasta maker seemed to rip the sheets to shreds (I wonder if the calibration is off?) When we tried laying a sheet in our ravioli mold and added the squash filling, the pasta cracked and tore under the weight. We dumped the broken ravioli into the compost and cut up the rest of the pasta into ribbons. I cooked the pasta ribbons and served them with a scoop of pumpkin puree on top, with a hot Italian sausage on the side and a spinach salad. It was delicious. But it was assuredly not ravioli.
It’s a good thing I like this dish, because we made a huge pan of it last Sunday and I’m still eating it for lunch. We probably should have invited about eight people over to dinner when we first made it, although I’m not quite tired of it yet. It’s awfully good.
Pastitsio, if you haven’t heard of it, is the Greek answer to lasagna. Details differ, but the basic formula is hollow pasta (preferably bucatini, which we can’t get, but other shapes work) layered with spiced tomato meat sauce and an egg-enriched white sauce which forms a custardy topping. The textures are fabulous, creamy and chewy all at once, and the cool custard complements the meaty tomato flavors. It’s a bit of work to put together, but well worth the effort if you have a long Sunday afternoon to spare. And now that autumn is here and standing over a hot stove is actually a pleasant activity, why not?
On Monday I really, really didn’t feel like going anywhere, including the grocery store. I rummaged through the refrigerator, then tossed a tweet out asking for suggestions based on my main available ingredients: macaroni noodles, fresh tomatoes, feta and salami. Cook Local (as well as my cousin Katherine) came through with an improvised pasta idea – thanks! I decided to add arugula at the last moment, partly to add color but mostly because a friend gave us a bag of arugula that still needed to be finished off – I had forgotten to list it among my assets.
This week we did our annual car camping trip to Washington Park on Fidalgo Island. It rained. Welcome to a Pacific Northwest summer.
Fortunately the firewood we brought burned well, and we were able to successfully cook our dinner. Hebrew National hot dogs, blistered over the fire and dressed with sweet relish and very hot Dijon mustard, macaroni salad, Bonny Doon grenache, and toasted marshmallows. I tend to think that, if you don’t cook it on a stick over the fire, it’s not real camping food. Except the macaroni salad, which can be scooped directly out of its tupperware in case you don’t feel like washing extra dishes.