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Cheesy Chard Pasta

7 Mar

Chard is one of those leafy greens everyone should eat more of. It’s actually as delicious in winter as in summer and provides calcium and all sorts of other nutrients and has a bit more body than spinach (but can be used in much the same ways with a little extra cook time).

My son loves spinach pasta (which appears in an earlier post “My kids loves spinach” https://hotcheapeasy.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/my-kid-loves-spinach/) and never notices the difference when I serve the chard variation. He especially digs in when I use curly, frilly or curvy pasta that he can get his eager litle fingers all over– I am attributing that to a chromosomal enthusiastic male response to visual stimuli that I have been hearing a lot about lately.  That’s hot!

It is also fast and easy and really hearty-comforting.

Chard Pesto for Pasta (serves four)

1 lb. fiore (pinwheel) pasta

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

3-5 cloves garlic, chopped

(1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes, optional)

1 lb. chard, washed, stems removed and chopped fine*

1 Cup broth or water

Salt and pepper to taste

Several Tbs grated cheese (preferably parmigiano reggiano or gran padano) or crumbled feta or, why not both?

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a generous skillet with a cover. Add garlic and stir around for a minute or until turning golden and fragrant. Add hot red pepper flakes if desired. Add chard and stir to coat. Sauté chard until bright and beginning to wilt, then add water or broth. Bring to a simmer and cover, turning occasionally. The idea is for the chard to really soften, which will take 10-15 minutes. If you run out of cooking liquid, add a ladleful of water from the pasta pot. If I want the chard really fine (to encourage more consumption by my toddler, I will spread the cooked chard on a cutting board and chop some more when it is a bit cool.

 Drain pasta and mix with sauce and a generous amount of grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

*Save the stems, chop and use in another recipe; they are delicious as part of a stir-fry or just sautéed with onions to top burgers.

Oh. My. Cod. Fresh Filets with Onions and Capers

20 Jan

As a Caribbean person, I often forget the existence of fresh cod.

In my world, cod is called bacalao, usually comes in salt-crusted bricks or paddles, much as it was when it arrived in the New World, masterminded by intrepid Basques and other seafaring peoples, to make an important (and tasty) protein source last and last and last. It has to be soaked for ages with many changes of water and, if you don’t like fishy-fish, you are probably not going to like bacalao.

I promise that I will get to the fresh (non-fishy, non-salty) version in a second and give you a killer recipe that is all flair and no hard work and can be used with any firm-fleshed white fish, but  indulge me for a moment as I take my tastebuds for a saunter down a Puerto Rican Cuisine Memory Lane.

Think batter-fried bacalaitos (best-eaten from a battered pot full of dubious grease bubbling over coals at a palm-roofed beachfront kiosk marshalled by an old lady in rollers and washed down with an ice-cold Medalla beer), or shredded into rice (arroz con bacalao) for the holidays, or dressed with vinaigrette and served with boiled tubers (serenata) on a Lenten Friday, or in a reddish sauce with hard-boiled eggs (bacalao a la vizcaína) any old time.

I am dabbing nostalgic tears from my eyes and nostalgic water from the corners of my mouth right now, overwhelmed by food memory.

Fortunately, my present latitude offers some solace.

As a Caribbean person adapting to living in the cruel Northeastern winter, frozen fish has taken the place of salted fish (and fresh too, to be honest). And so, I recently discovered the wonder of some vacuum-packed slablets of frozen fresh cod (a phrase which only makes sense in contextual comparison to salted fish) at, you guessed it, Costco Warehouse. As it is “Wild Alaskan”, it is also a good choice from a non-polluted environment and in terms of sustainability (visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch site if you are concerned about that sort of thing http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_recommendations.aspx). I sauteed a couple experimentally just for me and the result was a quick yet good-looking plate of big flakes of fish just sliding apart and yet another way to incorporate capers into a dish.

This one I would definitely serve on date night.

Sauteed Fresh Cod Dressed with Onions and Capers

(tilapia or any firm white fish would work well here)

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbs butter

2 small slabs fresh cod filet (5-8 oz each)

Salt and pepper

½ medium onion, peeled and sliced thin

1-2 tsp capers, mostly drained

Heat oil and butter together in a heavy skillet at relatively high heat.

Using about ¼ tsp salt, sprinkle fish on all sides. Do the same with the pepper, preferably fresh cracked.

When the foaming of the butter subsides, cook fish on each side at high heat until just white. Then lower heat and cook on each side from 4-6 minutes each (I prefer my fish somewhat undercooked; if you are just learning to cook fish, simply use a fork or knife in the center to check for done-ness: no more translucence).

Remove cod and set on a plate (preferably warm). In the same skillet, sauté the onions in the oil and butter at medium high until wilted and somewhat tender. Add the capers to warm them up. Then spoon the onions and capers over the fish and serve.

This fish would be great over wilted greens, polenta or couscous or with Snap and Go Asparagus. I ate my second slice cold over salad and it was yummy!

Three common ingredients = one uncommonly good pasta sauce, FAST

5 Jan

So we spent another evening in the emergency room and Leandro got another four stitches, this time in the forehead. With that kind of excitement going on, you can be sure that once the chocolate ice cream dinner for brave boys was up, I was STILL going to be too tired for anything elaborate in the kitchen.

Marcella Hazan to the rescue. This queen of the kitchen’s Essentials of Italian Cuisine is a much loved and much soiled recipe book over here. These days I don’t have the resources for some of the more ambitious dishes, but her tomato sauce with onion and butter is simple and perfect: three ingredients resulting in one glorious, sweet, rich sauce that you barely have to stir!

I have adapted it slightly to make it even faster (puree, rather than whole tomatoes, adjusted the butter, for example). The beauty of this one is that it can be done in the time it takes you to boil up the pasta.

Marcella recommends potato gnocchi under the sauce, but the pre-prepared ones are generally yucky and I ain’t making gnocchi myself any time soon (oh for the heavenly days that Fabiola made it for me in Rovereto!).

These days I buy fresh ravioli from Fairway Market (no preservatives and a variety of fillings – $6 for 24) and actually freeze it. It breaks off into convenient serving sizes and takes about 15 minutes to cook after you drop them in the boiling water and the boil comes back. They re-heat pretty nicely, so I make extra for my little guy’s lunch box, just adding a dab of butter to the hot ravioli so it doesn’t stick.

I used cheese ravioli this time. “Mama I really love this!”

 

Steamed broccoli can be dipped in the sauce

Tomato with Onion and Butter

28 oz. can tomato puree

6 Tbs butter

One onion, peeled and cut in half (I prefer red onion for extra sweetness, but use whatever you have; yellow is fine)

Cook all three ingredients together in a deep pot with a lid at medium to low heat until the fat begins to separate from the tomato (about 20 minutes, or the amount of time you spend boiling the pasta). The longer you cook it, the sweeter it gets, so if you have more time, use it!

Spoon over your favorite pasta and serve with loads of good grated cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano or Gran Padano)

Tapas 1: make your own mayo

17 Dec

This is the first in a bunch of posts about an evening of tapas, the Spanish snacks. On a recent evening I made tapas for some dear friends out in Greenport (an annual event) and you need to know how to do it too. It is an elegant yet friendly way to spend a long time at the table, eating and drinking in a leisurely fashion. The recipes are easy, but some can be time-consuming (I said hot, cheap and easy, but I didn’t say fast!) especially when you want to make several dishes. So choose things you can make ahead and serve cold or at room temp.

First off, make your own mayonnaise! It is lighter, creamier and fresher than what you buy in the store, doesn’t contain preservatives or other weird ingredients (it’ll keep for about a week in the fridge) and you can flavor it with garlic or herbs.

Homemade Mayo (with garlic mayo option)

2 yolks from fresh eggs

(2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, optional)

2 tsp lemon juice (or vinegar, if you must)

(1/4 tsp mustard powder, optional) 

pinch salt, grating of pepper

1 1/2 Cups light or extra-light olive oil (you can use different oils to achieve different flavors, but for basic mayo, light olive oils work best. I find regular olive oil too overpowering)

2 Tbsp warm water

Put the egg yolks, (garlic), lemon juice, (mustard), salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and buzz for a bit. Then leave the motor running and pour the oil in through the top in a very thin stream (I like having help for this part) and the mixture will get nice and thick. Add the warm water at the end.

Some people actually beat their own mayo; if you are so inclined, then do NOT use an aluminum bowl – it will turn the emulsion gray.

I like this slathered on tortillas (recipe to come), boiled potatoes, seasoned shrimp, in sandwiches…every which way you might use mayo or tartar sauce.

Cool science: Mayonnaise is an “emulsion” or a blend of two unlike things, in this case, oil and lemon juice (liquid). The egg yolks contain lecithin and that is the element that holds this fragile union together. Without it, you would have separation, just like in salad dressing. The reasoning behind fresh eggs is not just about food poisoning; the fresher the eggs, the more potent the lecithin and therefore the better your mayo.

My kid loves spinach!

2 Nov

So yesterday’s lentil soup got the thumbs up from the little guy, who had it over rice this evening (spicy chorizo bits removed), and from his godmother, who took her share to work today for lunch (spicy chorizo bits most definitely left in!).

While we were eating that, I took my own advice and put a pot on the boil, because in my life you always have to be thinking about the next day’s grub.

The quicky solution for tomorrow’s lunch? What I call spinach pasta. It originated from the aglio-olio-pepperoncino dish that I learned to make immediately upon moving to Italy many years ago.

The original recipe is just good extra virgin olive oil, sauteed garlic and some hot, red pepper flakes on spaghetti. Couldn’t be more simple or more tasty. Somewhere along the way I started adding chopped spinach to the mix. Then, when Leandro was born, the hot, red pepper flakes fell out (which is really too bad, but, I anticipate, only temporary).

It became one of those sauces that I made a lot of, pureed and froze in ice cube trays to defrost for his lunches once he was eating solids and going to daycare.

(Important mommy note: start your kids on strong flavors from the beginning. Bland is bullshit and starts you on a long and boring road of pasta with butter and crappy chicken nuggets from which you and the children may never entirely recover).

Now that he’s a big boy, he gets the spinach chunkier and he loves it with loads of grated Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano or Gran Padano — I spring for the real grating cheese, as the powdered fake stuff is truly appalling. This is the recipe most requested by his caregivers at school! Make enough to freeze half and use it within a month.

BONUS EASINESS – frozen spinach works best! Yeah, I am a goddess.

Spinach and Garlic Pasta (serves 4)

1 lb  frozen, chopped spinach, thawed

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

3-4 cloves garlic, minced 

1/4 tsp salt

Abundant grated Parmigiano Reggiano, Gran Padano or other high quality grating cheese (do not add if freezing)

1 lb pasta of your choice (I like the corkscrew kind, like fusilli, because it traps more spinach that will then make it into a kid’s mouth). Use half the amount if freezing half the sauce.

Boil up the pasta following the package instructions and for God’s sake add the salt. Add lots of it. Please. Most of it will go down the drain and pasta cooked in bland water will taste like cardboard.

Now if I don’t feel like dirtying another pot, I just dump and drain the pasta when it’s ready and make the sauce in the same pot. Put it back on the heat to dry (lower it to medium), get the oil in there and warm it up, add the garlic, sautee until fragrant and just golden (lower the heat more to be safe), (ADD hot red pepper flakes now if you want some heat) then add the chopped spinach and coat thoroughly, warming through and adding about 1/4 tsp of salt. At this point, remove what you plan to freeze, then grate loads of cheese into the remaining spinach mixture. Add the pasta and serve, or pack up for heatable lunches the next day. Really. It’s that easy.

Variations: We get a lot of chard and collard greens and kale from our C.S.A. Remove the hard stems and chop fine, then give them the same treatment as the thawed spinach, except I cook it longer and add water in 1/4 Cup increments during the cooking until tender. I can fill it in with a last minute handful of spinach too. Leandro never knows the difference and dark leafy greens provide a lot of nutritional punch (even calcium!)

Latin Seasoned Ground Beef: Transforms into sauce, stuffing, chili…and more

27 Oct
Basic Seasoned Ground Beef

You can build on this dish to make many different meals

Mondays don’t completely suck, but they are the busiest day of my work/mom week.

Out of the house with dressed toddler and breakfast and packed lunches in the car by 6:45 a.m., teaching and office ’till 2:15 then walk back to the daycare to pick up the little man; shopping or playground till 4 p.m. swim class (on the cheap at the county pool) then pick up vegetables at Sophia Garden C.S.A. (more on that in another post) to get home around 6 p.m. to make dinner — whew!

So, it is crucial that dinner be fast and and brainless and provide leftovers for the next day lunch.

WHEE-HEE!

This Monday was a triumph. Why? Because I had my Basic Seasoned Ground Beef at the ready. I make three pounds of it at a time, divide it in three and freeze it down in plastic bin things so when I am in a bind, I can do any number of things with it that get a relatively wholesome, tasty meal ready in a flash.

I had remembered to take a tublet out of the freezer in the morning, plus I had a bag of tortilla chips (organic blue corn are our favorites, low-salt works better, but oh well, not today) and cheddar cheese slices, so I was good to go.

Heated the oven to 350, spread the tortillas on a baking sheet, sprinkled some of the meat on top and sliced up the slices into thin shreds (why pay more for a chintzy bag of the pre-grated which is dry and tasteless?) and put it in for about 15 minutes, et voila! le diner.

Hot sauce for me (sriracha, my fave) and plain for the boy. Done! We usually have some sliced avocado on the side too, which counts as a vegetable in my world and should in yours too.

SAVE THE DAY!

Forgot to take the meat out? This is a problem many on-the-go moms I have spoken to say happens all the time. With Basic Seasoned Ground Beef, it doesn’t matter. You just switch gears. As Mark Bittman, The Minimalist from the New York Times and a personal hero, has suggested, whenever you get home, just put a pot of water on the boil, ’cause then you have it going for whatever comes up.

So I boil up some pasta (we love Bionaturae whole wheat organic – no kidding, better than white!) and dump the (still frozen) beef in another pot with a 28 oz. can of tomatoes (whole, peeled; diced; pureed – whatever I have) and an extra tablespoon of whatever dried herbs I am in the mood for (oregano for Spanish flavor; basil for Italian, for example; bay leaf never goes astray) and let that simmer up while the pasta boils. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Gran Padano on top and luscious!

FREE LUNCH

In fact, while we ate our insta-nachos this particular triumphant Monday, I had the next-day pasta on the boil and the remainder of my tublet of seasoned beef with half a can of tomatoes…easy-peasy.

The best part, of course, was that I actually had everything under control. Really! With a little more time, I might have taken the same beef, same 28 oz. can of tomatoes AND a 15 oz can of red kidney beans, added a tablespoon (or more) of chili powder and a tablespoon of cumin powder, put it on rice and called it chili con carne.

With loads of time, I would have boiled and mashed yuca and made Puerto Rican shepherd’s pie in the oven. What I am trying to say is that with a tub of Basic Seasoned Ground Beef in my freezer, I can do anything!

BASIC SEASONED GROUND BEEF (this is half of what I usually do to freeze. To do 3 lbs. at a time, double everything)

2 Tbs extra virigin olive oil

1 baseball sized onion, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, minced (go for more if you like – I do!)

1.5 lbs. ground beef

(Optional1/4-1/2 C. chopped red pepper fresh or roasted from a jar)

1/2 tsp adobo powder* (if desired – I generally don’t use it, but some people love the extra salt and the umami)

1 heaping Tbs capers, drained

10 manzanilla olives (pitted and stuffed with pimientos)

(optional 1/2 cup tomatoes from a can – diced, chopped, whatever or a spoonful of tomato paste you need to use up)

Heat oil on high in a large saucepan until thin and fragrant. Add onion and cook, stirring, for two minutes until well coated and getting translucent. Lower heat to fairly low and cook for five minutes, add garlic and cook for another minute. Raise heat to high and crumble in ground beef, stirring and breaking up frequently until fully-browned. Spoon out fat or pour off (don’t make it too dry!) into sink (carefully!).

Return to heat, add red pepper, optional adobo, capers, olives and optional tomato. Mix completely. Lower heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes until fat begins to separate from sauce. Serve or freeze.

 *instead of adobo powder, mix 1/4 tsp salt and 1 Tbs mixed chopped fresh herbs (oregano, rosemary, parsley) or 1 tsp dried

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