Puttanesca party in my mouth

Every Sunday when I put together our meal plans for the week, I ask Jeremy if he wants anything in particular. For whatever reason, instead of hearing my request for something that he might want specifically,  he always seems to hear “name every kind of food you’ve ever heard of.” I don’t usually make anything he mentions.

But this past week when I asked him, he just said, matter-of-factly “plan ol’ spaghetti.” OK, that I can do. Or can I?…….

I had a recipe from one of my last issues of Everyday Food (the now defunct, monthly, food-only, small-format magazine put together by the people at Martha Stewart – it now lives on as a small insert with her monthly Living magazine) that I really wanted to try. The recipe was for how to make your own basic marinara sauce, then on the back side of the page it had several different add-in combinations that would make your sauce something amazing, beyond basic marinara. Ie – add diced celery, carrots, onions and ground sausage – bam, you’ve got Bolognese.

One of the options was to add three small ingredients: anchovies, kalamata olives, and capers. And bam – Puttanesca.

Puttanesca

Almost everything you need to be Italian. Or at least to make Puttanesca.

Almost everything you need to be Italian. Or at least to make Puttanesca.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 anchovy filets
  • 3 tbs capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 c. pitted kalamata olives, quartered
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 28 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes, pureed
  • Pasta of your choice

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan and add the garlic, stirring until fragrant, then add the onion; sautee until very soft, 15 minutes. 
  2. Add the anchovies and mash with the back of a wooden spoon while stirring into the onions. Add the capers, olives and red pepper and cook an additional minute or two, until warmed through.
  3. Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and heat until thickened, 10 minutes or so.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta (I used whole wheat, thin spaghetti) according to the box, but drain it one minute before it’s ‘al dente’ and add the drained pasta into the sauce and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for 2-3 minutes until the pasta is tender and the dish is warmed through. Serve immediately with crusty bread and good olive oil.

And for those of you who don’t normally buy anchovies or don’t use them regularly, you will probably (like me) wonder what you do with the other dozen anchovies in the tin? Well, I researched it and according to many reputable websites, Italians store anchovies, packed in olive oil, on their counters all the time – they don’t even have to be refrigerated because they are so cured. But since I’m an American, I put the left over anchovies into a small glass container, covered with olive oil from the tin and my own, and then put it safely in my refrigerator. Apparently they are totally fine like that for months.  In this case, the fate of these anchovies is already determined for another fantastic recipe I have for tapenade, which I will happily share with you once I create it. It’s probably in my top five favorite things I make. And if you are scared of anchovies – don’t be. What they add is saltiness and oiliness. The flavor is subtle and if I never told you they were in there, you wouldn’t know. Don’t be afraid. Embrace their little, tiny deliciousness.

anchovies will keep,packed in olive oil, for months in the fridge

anchovies will keep,packed in olive oil, for months in the fridge

This dish was amazing. So simple, really, but so flavorful and it filled that desire for “plain ol’ spaghetti” but with a kick in the pants. Good suggestion, Jeremy . . .

 

 

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Pinterest Perfection

I’m sure many, if not most, of you have heard of Pinterest. I first heard about this little site where you could “curate” your own visual boards over two years ago when the site was still in Beta testing. I did some quick researchpinterest-logo on the trusty interwebs and lo and behold, I was able to track down the Pinterest CEO to his person twitter page, where I began a barrage of direct messages begging for a beta tester invite. I got it. His name is Ben, by the way, and he’s super nice. I was one of the first few thousand people to use the site, and use it I did. I currently have over 30 boards, 981 pins and 125 followers. When Pinterest first started it was much more of an art and design crowd. The cool kids who were developing the site had no doubt invited their other cool kid friends who I’m sure were all interior designers, graphic artists, and web developers in San Francisco (that’s where the company is based, not the valley, which is why the site and its people are so cool) to give it a whirl. As Beta opened up to user invites, and the site became a real, live thing, it became much, much, much more crafty, crock potty and crap to do with your kidsy. But you know what? I still love it. Despite the fact that I have to sift through hundreds of pins of maternity photo sessions to get to the thing I’m looking for, despite the fact that when I search the food category I have to ignore a million recipes that suggest throwing four different kinds of canned Campbell’s crap into your slow cooker and feeding it to your family of 10 for less than .30  cents a serving, I still think it is an awesome, amazing thing. And every once in awhile, you run across some real gems.

On Wednesday of this past week, I made THREE recipes for one meal that I found on Pinterest: A Roasted Garlic salad dressing, a rosemary and Parmesan overnight bread, and an Italian style beef and butternut squash stew. They were all the kind of things that keep me obsessed with the site. Diamonds in the rough.

The Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette is a MUST try to anyone who loves garlic on the level that I do. Two heads of garlic go into this dressing. And while you do have to roast the garlic for a good half hour, the dressing itself is really easy to make, and you probably have most of the ingredients on hand. I’m currently obsessed with making my own salad dressings and have tried several I’ve found on Pinterest, but this one is my favorite.

From Fat Girl Trapped in a Skinny Body:

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

pinterest meal salad dressing

Ingredients:

  • 2 heads of garlic, roasted and peeled
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp honey

Method:

  1. Cut the pointy top off of the garlic. Brush them with olive oil and roast them in a pan in the oven at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, until it is starting to turn golden brown and soft. Remove from the oven, allow to cool. Once the garlic is cool, peel the skin off. Discard the skins, save the garlic. *Skin peels off really easily after they are roasted.
  2. Add all the ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.*If some of the skin get processed with the rest of the dressing, no big deal, it won’t change the flavor.

The salad dressing can be vegan if you sub the honey for agave. And it is dairy free, with no substitutions!

This dressing is tangy, but has that deep, rich caramelized taste from the roasted garlic. It’s a vinaigrette, but it’s creamy because of the garlic being processed right into it. Keep this for a week or so in your fridge in a covered container.

The bread recipe I comes from Simply So Good. I used her basic bread recipe, and put in my own additions. This bread is baked in your cast-iron enameled Dutch Oven (you have one of those, right??). I have a big, blue Le Creuset that is the Pride and Joy of my kitchen. Jeremy gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago. They are usually in the $300-$400 range, but sometimes you can score them at T.J. Maxx for half the price, which I believe is what he did (smartly). Other cast-iron enameled pots are fine for this recipe also, but when you have a Le Creuset, you tend to brag about it. Here is a view down on mine to give you an idea of the size of the vessel you might want to use:

I ❤ Le Creuset

OK, enough about my awesome piece of iron. Here’s the recipe.

Crusty Bread

Crusty Overnight Bread

Crusty Overnight Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water

 Method:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and yeast.  Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12 – 18 hours.  Overnight works great.
  2. Heat oven to 450 degrees.  When the oven has reached 450 degrees place a cast iron pot with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, pour dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and let set while the pot is heating.
  3. Remove hot pot from the oven and drop in the dough.  Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes.  Remove bread from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool.

To this recipe, I added 1/4 cup of fresh grated Parmesan Cheese, 1/8 cup of fresh rosemary (from my garden), and several cloves of smashed and roughly chopped garlic. I added that in to the dough at the very beginning and then proceeded as normal through the recipe.

pinterest meal bread cut

This thing turned out beautiful. There is nothing quite like making your own bread from scratch and this is really a pretty easy way to do it.

Finally, the main course – Beef and Butternut Squash Stew from Closet Cooking. I’ll be honest and say there are a few things wrong with the way this original recipe is written, so the recipe below has a few very minor changes from myself, just to make things more clear.

Italian Style Beef and Butternut Squash Stew

pinterest meal stew 2

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces pancetta (diced)
  • 1 pound beef (cut into 1 inch cubes) (My Note: he doesn’t specify what kind of beef to use here. My suggestion is to get a sirloin roast, if you can find one – that’s what I used. Otherwise a small round roast is fine or chuck if nothing else is available)
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional, to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon thyme (chopped)
  • 1 cup Italian red wine (My Note: I used a Zinfandel. It doesn’t have to be Italian, don’t stress out, just use a decent red wine that’s not sweet)
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 splash balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes (My Note: He doesn’t specify drained vs. undrained. Because he does not, I put them in without draining them. It gave my stew a more “soupy” consistency, which I was OK with. If you want this to be more like a traditional stew, then drain the tomatoes before adding).
  • * parmigiano reggiano rind (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes)
  • parsley (chopped) (My Note: optional for garnish. I used a bit of grated Parmesan instead).

Method:

  1. Cook the pancetta in a large pan on medium heat. (My Note: or Dutch Oven. Again, with my Creuset)
  2. Add the beef and brown on all sides in the grease from the pancetta and set aside. (My Note: I coated the beef cubes in flour first. I’ve always done this when searing beef that is basically going to be braised later. It also helps to thicken the sauce a bit, but it’s up to you).
  3. Add the onion and saute in the pancetta grease until tender, about 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary and thyme and saute until fragrant, about a minute.
  5. Add the wine and deglaze the pan. (My Note: deglazing means you add a liquid to absorb the browned bits from the pancetta, beef and aromatics. When you add the wine to the hot pan, it will steam up. Take a wooden spoon and use that moment to scrape up all the bits in the bottom of the pan, stirring them into the liquid to create a flavorful base).
  6. Add the beef, broth, balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, diced tomatoes, parmigiano reggiano rind, oregano, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the beef is nice and tender, about 1-2 hours.
  8. Add the squash and simmer until it is tender, about 15-20 minutes. (My Note: more like half an hour, at best).

This stew was filling, hearty and really quite healthy. Serve it with a glass of the same wine you used in the soup – superb! Always cook with wine that is good enough to drink. When you cook with wine, you are cooking off the alcohol, but intensifying the flavor. If you intensify a crappy wine, you will just get really intense crap. No Bueno.

Pinterest Perfection

Pinterest Perfection

The dressing, served over a bed of Organic romaine lettuce, the garlic, rosemary and Parmesan bread and this stew altogether? Perfection. Pinterest Perfection.

 

Eggy Eggy Parm Parm

For you Tom Haverford fans out there . . .


ANYways. I’m a horrible blogger. Two weeks in between posts? Blogging suicide. But I have an excuse. The days/weeks/months have been FLYING by lately, have they not? I’m not sure if it’s because of the election and how much of the past several months I’ve had to just tune out and hum songs in my head while I consider moving out of a swing state to Texas before the next major election, or if it’s about daylight savings time and so the days just seem shorter, or if it’s just that ramp up to the holidays where we all sort of run around like chickens about to get their heads cut off, but in any case, the time between my blogs feels like hours. The last one was right before Halloween, which was like, yesterday, right?

In any case, I present to you: eggy eggy parm parm (aka Eggplant Parmesan):

Eggy Eggy Parm Parm

This is a super fun joke for you Parks and Rec fans. For everyone else I just sound a little spastic.

This meal came together in some fun ways. The sauce is my tomato sauce I’ve posted about twice, and now thrice, cause I’m obviously obsessed with it. And the eggplant came from Mattawoman Creek Farms on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Last weekend the organization that I direct, Buy Fresh Buy Local  Hampton Roads, helped organize a local food tour on the Eastern Shore. Several farms, restaurants and wineries participated and opened their doors to the public, gave free wine tastings and specials, etc. I’ve been up the shore a few times in my life, but never to spend any real, good quality time, so I was excited to spend the day up there. We took the dogs with us, and they even got a behind-the-scenes tour of Mattawoman Creek Farms, a beautiful and incredibly well run Organic Farm that produces what I think is probably world-famous lettuce, among lots of other things. They have an incredibly long season because they use green and hoop houses very efficiently. I’m really sorry I didn’t take any pictures there, but I was wrangling two dogs in a muddy field just a few days after hurricane Sandy blew through.

We also visited two wineries, Holly Grove Vineyard and Chatham Vineyard. They are both really great and we bought a bottle of Petit Verdot at Holly Grove and the Church Creek Chardonnay at Chatham. Also, they have winery dogs, so you can’t hate that:

Anyways, back to the parm. We didn’t get a chance to go grocery shopping yesterday, so when I went to put dinner together a box of spaghetti, an eggplant and my frozen tomato sauce just made sense. As per usual, I do not really have a recipe for this, but I can tell you my process.

First, I peel the eggplant and cut it into 1” thick rounds. This was a huge eggplant, so I took two of the rounds and diced those pretty small to add to the sauce.

I took the rounds and dredged them in egg, then a breadcrumb/flour mixture and put them on a baking sheet. They went into a 350 degree oven for 20 -30 minutes or until they were easily pierced with a fork. Tender, but not mushy. About 2 minutes before they were ready to come out, I topped them with shredded mozzarella.

The diced eggplant pieces went into olive oil in a large pot and were sauteed with garlic and Italian seasoning until they were tender. Then the thawed tomato sauce went into the pot, maybe two cups? But use however much you need for however many people are eating. To this I add tomato paste to thicken the sauce. Remember, the sauce I make is more like tomato sauce in a can than pasta sauce in a jar, it’s the base for sauces, so it needs to be thickened in some way before putting on pasta. I let this simmer while the eggplant baked.

Cook your pasta according to the directions, drain, then mix into the tomato sauce to keep warm while the eggplant finishes up. Serve the eggplant over the pasta, top with Parmesan and parsley or a little more mozzarella. Do not eat this without wine. Preferably a cab sav, shiraz or chianti.

Yes, those are Halloween napkins. See, I really think Halloween was just yesterday.

I know this is not the traditional way to make eggplant parm, where you bake it with the sauce and big slices of mozzarella right on top and then served without pasta, but I’m not Italian, so there ya go. I also know I have posted a lot of eggplant related dishes. I just love it. People are scared of it, I’ve realized lately. They think it needs to be salted and rinsed and fussed over and that if you don’t do it just right it’s bitter or tough. I have never found any of this to be true. I don’t salt or sweat mine, I peel it, roast, bake or saute it, and I’ve never had one that tasted anything but delicious. And because I like to eliminate meat where I can in our diet, eggplant is the perfect substitution for chicken in this dish, or for sausage or ground beef in the sauce. It just makes the meal heartier while also making it healthier. I also like to use my method above of peeling, cutting and then breading the eggplant slices, then I put them on a baking sheet and freeze them. Then you can take out individual slices of eggplant straight from the freezer to the oven and bake them whenever you want them throughout the winter. I use them in this dish, or baked and put on a sub roll with marinara and provolone in place of meatballs or just as eggplant “filets” topped with bruchetta, cheese, olive tapenade – whatever you want!

How do you like to prepare eggplant? Are you scared of cooking with eggplant? What eggplant myths have you been told?