It is unequivocally spring around here, and every day it’s as if there’s something new to savor: longer days, warmer weather, the trees finally budding back to life and offering some gorgeous color. I try to keep reminding myself of this while I’ve been struggling with some writer’s block recently for a variety of reasons ranging from being busy with social engagements to feeling ennui in the spring, and the latter feeling is totally bullshit. Spring should be the last season in which ennui should be able to take hold of me, because for once everything I love is coming back: the light, the lush greenery, and the better produce. How can I struggle with existential crises when spring onions are back in the market? Read More
It was a couple of weekends ago now on one of the few lazy Sundays we’ve had in a while and I was completely lacking any inspiration on what to make for dinner that night. I knew we were going to have steak because Michael had been letting one dry out for a day or so in the fridge (not so much dry-aging but just letting some of the moisture of the steak soak into a paper towel–it does make for a really good at-home slab of beef) and so really I needed to think of what could go well with that. Neither pasta nor bread/toast felt right for that night, so I started flipping through A Kitchen in France and immediately landed on Mimi Thorisson’s almond mussels.
My parents’ visit meant that our normal Saturday routine of foraging for something special for dinner didn’t take place, leaving us at a strange place to figure out what we were going to have for dinner. Neither of us felt like spending hours in the kitchen after cleaning the apartment in the morning and entertaining all afternoon, so I was struck with the idea to do as the Romans would do and make some simple cacio e pepe, sweetening the deal for Michael by adding in the suggestion of using up the fried okra we had purchased on our last trip to Fairway.
In theory it should have been perfect–neither dish takes long to make, and with so few ingredients we should have been in and out of the kitchen in less than a half-hour. That night, though, things didn’t work out quite as we intended either because we were distracted, tired or both: I forgot to save some of the starchy water to help incorporate the cheese more efficiently, leaving some pepper-laced clumps here and there, and Michael had a slightly heavy hand with the cayenne pepper. That aside, fried okra is a solid, quick, and reasonably healthy way to make a vegetable dish that is also delicious, even for this self-avowed picky eater.
The week of Thanksgiving, for me at least, means two things: getting ready to travel during the most hectic time of year, and already experiencing turkey fatigue without an ounce of tryptophan in my system. The latter I partially blame on watching The Food Network during the past two weekends, as a quick scroll on the DVR showed that every single show had something to do with turkey, stuffing/dressing, potatoes, and gravy, ranging from deep-fried turkeys to potatoes au gratin to “mapletinis”. As my fellow blogger The Kitchen Witch would say, it’s a lot of attention paid to a lot of beige food, and speaking as someone who grew up eating many a Thanksgiving-lite meal during the year, the mythos surrounding this one meal has mostly dissipated.
Fortunately for me, Michael has been craving duck after watching a recent Iron Chef rerun that featured them as the theme ingredient, so we picked out a recipe for roasting a whole one for our big weekend project out of The Silver Spoon..but those details must wait for another post. Today I want to share with you the first part of what ended up being a weekend-long food celebration: Saturday night’s antipasti.
Stuffed mushrooms are a particular favorite of mine, of course, but until we tried this recipe (also from The Silver Spoon), we’ve tended to favor very simple preparations that just involve breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic, and maybe some parsley for color and taste. These went well beyond that in combining sauteed shallots, anchovies and homemade breadcrumbs bound together with an egg and spooned into large caps, then sprinkled with more breadcrumbs and baked in the oven. The original recipe called for porcini mushrooms, but given that those are nigh impossible to find fresh in the U.S. (much less whole), we substituted cremini and button mushrooms in their place. Using a more neutrally-flavored base ended up working out perfectly as it allowed other ingredients to shine; the anchovies especially were able to lend a briny bite, albeit one cut by the breadcrumbs, eggs and shallots.
This is a great appetizer to serve whenever you’re in the mood for something light but different, and a great way to inject some non-traditional flavors into a typical Thanksgiving tableau without interfering with the star of the meal.
As for our star ingredient from Saturday? Stay tuned…
Among the few souvenirs we brought home from our honeymoon were two small cookbooks that now sit on our shelf. They are in Italian, and while I can barely speak the language, one of the ways I’m attempting to learn is by reading the recipes in order to pick up vocabulary and the like. They appealed to me because they had interesting recipes and gorgeous photography, to be sure, but also because the dishes they contained seemed different than anything I’ve come across in the Italian cookbooks we currently own (with the likely exception of The Silver Spoon).
When I saw “Trofie with five-herb pesto,” I had to say I was intrigued; I was in the mood for fresh pasta and this pesto relied on pistachios to provide the nutty flavor. Our normal fresh pasta dough was not quite right to make the hand-rolled twists, however, so we stuck with reliable linguini as we knew it would hold up well to the stiff sauce. I also forgot to buy thyme so we only used four herbs to make this pesto, but we didn’t miss it that much; in the future we could add some lemon zest instead to provide the flavors in a pinch. Come to think of it, adding zest would make this even more inspired from Liguria—as we learned during our stay, lemons (and subsequently limoncello) are one of the few things that they do well.
In keeping with the evening’s theme, we paired the pasta with simple breaded shrimp skewers that are so easy to make: marinate peeled and deveined shrimp in some olive oil, garlic and parsley for about an hour, toss with breadcrumbs, spear them onto skewers, and broil for about 6 minutes until they are pink and delicious. Served with lemon wedges, few things felt more appropriate for the last official weekend of summer.
We naturally made much more than we’d eat in one sitting of both things, and while the shrimp was saved to snack on for the next day or two, I was fortunate in being able to lug a sizable plastic container of the stuff to enjoy for my last two lunches, though to be civilized (and also to exert a little portion control lest I eat the entire container in one sitting) I use a little bowl from Pottery Barn that I purchased after I landed my first post-collegiate position. It’s traveled with me to several offices since then, and is as sturdy as ever:
Ligurian Four-Herb Pesto with Fettuccine (adapted from La cucina grande: Pasta):
- 1 bunch parsley, leaves removed from stems/stalks
- 1 bunch basil, well-washed with leaves removed from stem
- 10 springs marjoram, leaves removed from stem
- 15 mint leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- ¼ cup shelled pistachios
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Olive oil (about ¼ cup to ½ cup, depending on preferred consistency)
- 1lb fresh pasta
In a blender or food processor, combine herbs, pistachios, garlic along with some salt and pepper (though go easy here—season as you go along until you get the taste you want), then slowly add the olive oil in order to get a smooth, pasty consistency. Once the mixture is smooth, add the cheese and blend again to incorporate—adding it too early will make the sauce too thick too quickly. Toss with fresh hot pasta (we made enough to serve four), and serve with extra cheese to top if desired.
Here, Elizabeth’s early training in ‘innovation’ [Ed. Note: These are not innovation fingers. These are innovation fingers. And these are GOLD!] pays off in a very real and edible way. One night while making ourselves a delightful Saturday meal of tiny items, our intrepid heroine suggested we make stuffed mushrooms. I am a fan for sure; however, I shy away from these little guys because they never come out right. The filling ends up spilling all over everything and they don’t cook properly and I end up cranky. Every dauntless, that night she suggested employing our muffin tin to keep the little rascals together. Boy, did that make the difference. The mushrooms came out tender and moist, and the filling was sumptuous and crispy. Even better, they popped right out of the pans and held together splendidly. Da Recipe!
- 8-12 oz large white mushrooms, stems removed and reserved.
- 1 cup grated parm cheese
- 1 cup breadcrums
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley or herb of choice
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- salt & pepper
Mix all the ingredients except the mushrooms. If you like, dice the stems if they aren’t too woody, and throw those in too. Spoon the mixture into the up-turned mushroom caps, each one having been placed in a muffin creche. Cover the pan with foil and cook at 350 F for 30 minutes. To finish, broil for one minute, uncovered and serve. Innovation at work! A Good Eats moment in our humble TBYK kitchen.
A month ago, we decided to celebrate Elizabeth’s new job by spending her last free Saturday being creative in the kitchen. In an earlier post, we told you about our trip that day to A1 Fish Market to grab a whole fish or two. They required a little bit of dressing (I used shears to remove all the fins and a large knife to chop off the head and remove the remaining scales. Luckily, the Good Eats ep about whole fish prepared me for this task). Elizabeth had some fun photographing the dynamic duo below.
I had initially pictured a large snapper-like preparation for my catch, but after being talked into the croakers, I altered the game plan. We found a recipe suggesting a layer of blended onion and spices be applied to the dressed fish, then a coating of breadcrumbs and a joint in the frying pan is all that was required. Thinking simple is best, we proceeded thusly.
We opted for a first pasta plate, a simple variation of a Mario Batali dish. Little more than onions cooked with pancetta and red pepper flakes served with fettuccine, this can be a meal unto itself. The only reason I don’t serve it more often is that the pancetta is so delicious, I eat unending amounts of it whenever it’s available. Of course, top with parsley and Parmesan cheese.
As you can see above, the final second plate contents were the fishies, some roasted carrots and grilled spring onions which we found at the market and had to have. Grilling these guys is a traditional Spanish prep and usually a Romesco sauce is applied. Fans may recall that yes, we have done that before. As for the carrots, that’s a post for another time and I think I’ll hand that one off to Elizabeth.