Posts Tagged ‘olive oil’

Maryland Crab Cakes

July 4, 2011

I recently finished a book called “I Loved, I Lost, I Make Spaghetti” by Giulia Melucci. The book was a quick read, and a wonderful mix between Sex in the City and Bon Appetit. The book takes you through Guilia’s dating life, along with the food she makes along the way. Recipes sneak into many of the pages, so the creations can be made by the reader.

When I read her crab cake recipe, made for her boyfriend at the time as an “all American dish,” I thought I could give it a try with the crab I had from a month ago (frozen) on this Fourth of July Weekend.

I have to admit I have tried crab cakes before and although they are always good, I could never get the texture just right. I am unsure if it was this particular recipe or my previous “practice,” but these cakes had the perfect crab cake texture. After reading more on the subject, I have a few tips for making crab cakes that don’t turn into crab scramble.
1. Make sure your recipe includes an egg as a binder.
2. Make sure your recipe includes some panko/bread crumbs as an additional binder.
3. Make sure to refrigerate for at least one hour to solidify before baking or frying.

Now that I have the basics down, I might get creative with this classic recipe – but for now, this is one of the best crab cakes I have ever had. I created a lemon mayo sauce to be served on the side.

Thanks to Giulia Melucci for her recipe, adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine.

MARYLAND COLONY CRAB CAKES
Serves 2

2 tablespoons celery, minced
2 tablespoons scallions, green parts only, minced
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 pound crabmeat
1 1/2 cups panko
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 lemon, cut into wedges

In a medium bowl, mix together all but the olive oil, butter (and lemon wedges, of course). Shape into 4 patties. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour.

Over medium heat, fry in olive oil and butter until browned, about 4 minutes per side. Serve with lemon wedges.Yields 4 small crab cakes (2 per person).

LEMON MAYO SAUCE
Add 2-3 tablepoons of mayo with lemon juice, cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Put a dollop on the crab cakes.

Homemade Fresh Pasta

May 22, 2011

There are certain things I just won’t cut corners on. I won’t make cookies from a box, bag or anything that says “break and bake.” I won’t ever buy marinara sauce from a jar. And I certainly wouldn’t dream of buying a pre-made cake.

But, before you think I don’t have a full-time job, multiple hobbies and a life outside the kitchen, let me tell you what I DO cut corners on. I will, every once in a while, buy a pie crust (my grandmother would cringe). I have been known to buy jams from a jar, salsa from a jar and – gasp – dips from a jar. But the one shortcut I did every week, every Thursday, without batting an eyelash, was buy fresh pasta. That is, however, until I went to Italy.

When I experienced a cooking class outside of Varenna with the talented Moreno, I had a new outlook on Italian cooking. Much like the view I have on cooking, Italians enjoy making the food as much as eating it. And, the more steps of the process your hands touch, make or mold, the more love you can put into the dish you will serve your loved ones. Dear Moreno made pasta from scratch. No attachments to mixers. No crank machines. Just his hands, a rolling pin and a few simple ingredients.

I would be fooling myself (and overestimating the size of my kitchen) if I thought I could make pasta with a rolling pin. But it did inspire me to make pasta. After all, I call it a sin to not make your own gravy, so why would I buy fresh pasta?

Step one was a pasta maker, and I was lucky enough to get one from my parents for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to try it. I searched back for Moreno’s recipe which had semolina flour (and I couldn’t find it anywhere) so I looked up a few recipes online for all-purpose flour. I cleared a Sunday afternoon, got out my machine, and went to work.

I would be lying if I told you the first time it was perfect – in fact, it was far from. The dough just didn’t feel right in my hands (sign one) then the crank number the recipe called for made the pasta feel too thin (sign two). But, it gave me enough hope to try again.

Four times, and four recipe alterations later, I finally got it. The perfect pasta noodle. While I am still mastering tagliatelle, I think ravioli might be a natural progression. However, anything more complex, I am buying from the store!

A few tips when you make pasta:
1. Don’t cut short kneading the dough. If you don’t do it for at least 10 minutes, the dough won’t be right. You will be tired, and wonder why, but you feel it in your hands when the dough takes form.
2. Don’t forget to let it rest. It needs this time after being needed for so long. At least for 3o minutes.
3. Don’t be afraid to use flour once the noodles are made in order to separate them.
4. Go into the process knowing you will tweak your recipe many times before finding one that works.
5. Allow yourself at least an hour for the process (if not a little more).
6. It tastes better and is much more fun if you make it while sipping red Italian wine and listening to Italian music.

I would love to give credit to someone this recipe but I used one I found online and changed it so much, I don’t even recognize it anymore. So, I suppose I should credit myself (although there surely are many duplicates out there).

So in Italian fashion, when I make pasta, the whole meal tastes of the love I put into it. I recently revisited my pistachio cream pasta the time I finally nailed my noodle recipe. It was almost like a different dish – a dish entirely made from scratch. No shortcuts. But lots of love.

HOMEMADE FRESH PASTA
Serves 2-3

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs, plus one egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon olive oil
½ Tablespoon warm water

Put flour on a marble, wooden or smooth countertop and create a “volcano” and create a well in the center. In a bowl, mix the eggs, salt and olive oil. Pour the egg mixture into the well and slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs, pulling flour from the area around the well. You might have to add the yolk in multiple phases in order for it to fit in the well without spilling over.

As things begin to get incorporated, keep kneading (even if your well breaks) and add the water if necessary. This will be messy, but keep going! Once you have the mixture in a ball form, begin kneading the dough. Fold it in have and press against the counter. Start a timer and knead for no less than 10 minutes and you will see your dough begin to take shape.

Once your 10 minutes is up, cut your dough in half to form two little balls. Put them in a bowl (or two separate bowls) and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

If you are using a crank machine, take the first ball and press onto the counter to push into a flat pancake. Make sure your pasta maker is on the widest setting (mine is 7) and crank the dough through. Keep flour on the dough to keep it from getting sticky. Keep changing the setting every time until you get the thickness you want (for mine the perfect thickness is level 3). Then, crank it through the cutting side, keeping it floured and you have fresh pasta! This pasta can also be frozen, I am told, but I have yet to do it.

The flour with the well of egg mixture in the center.

My husband demonstrating how to knead the dough!

The balls of dough after they have been kneaded.

Passing the dough through the pasta press.

Cutting the pasta. The last step!

Dinner!

Spaghetti with Anchovy Carbonara

April 17, 2011

For those who have been reading this blog, there is no need to reiterate my love for carbonara. When you put pasta and bacon together, let’s face it, you just can’t go wrong.

It isn’t surprising that when we spent a few weeks in Italy last spring, this was the dish I was seeking out most. It is more common in the Umbria and Rome area (although you can find it many other places). So I knew when we arrived in that region, I wouldn’t need to look at menus very long.

We had spent a few days in our Villa by Spoleto and had decided to take a side trip to the religious mecca of Assisi (45 minutes away). It is a beautiful town, filled with amazing stone buildings, commanding views, and a spiritual aura. We had just visited Minerva and someone must have been scouring down on me because (I am convinced), because it was the one time on the whole trip that I didn’t cover my shoulders in the church. As we exited the building and went down the marble steps my clumsy feet just couldn’t get it together – and I slipped down the stairs. O Madon! No matter what country you are in – when you fall onto marble, it hurts like nobody’s business. So, after going to the pharmacia and showing the clerk, who got us appropriate bandages and some neosporin looking stuff (at least we think that is what it was), I needed a pick me up.

My husband joked that for me, carbonara, a glass of wine and a scoop of gelato will make anything better! (the truth is, he is right!) So we set out down some less traveled paths to find the perfect resting place. We saw a little restaurant, unassuming and filled with locals, and knew we had found the place.

The carbonara in Assisi, Italy

This was my first official carbonara of the trip and I barely needed to look at a menu to know what I would have. I took one bite and knew it was the best carbonara I had ever tasted in my whole life. The sauce wasn’t overly creamy, it had an amazing saltiness, and was filled with pancetta. There was something intangible in that dish – something that set it apart. Not sure if it was the state of shock I was in from my fall, the glass of wine I had to wash down lunch or the food itself.

So, when I started seeking out the perfect carbonara recipe upon my return, I did lots of research on the traditional way Italians make it. Much to my surprise, a common ingredient is anchovies – and I knew at that moment that it was the little fish that had made it into my dish that day.

Now, my husband claims to not like anchovies, yet I knew when you cook them in olive oil they actually disintegrate so you don’t bite into them, yet they infuse your sauce. So, I gave it a whirl.

Hands down it was the best carbonara I have had outside of Italy. I made my own tagliatelle (my new favorite past time) but you could surely use any spaghetti or fettuccine you would like. I also added a bit of pancetta – because let’s face it, everything is better with pancetta.

So nothing can quite compare to the throbbing pain in my knee, the refreshing wine out of a jug, the views of St Francis and the Italian language surrounding me. But, this dish at least transports me, just a little bit, to the land that invented carbonara.

Thanks to Food and Wine for this amazing rendition of an Italian classic. If you don’t like anchovies, still give it a whirl – just cut back on the amount a bit. They might just surprise you!

SPAGHETTI WITH ANCHOVY CARBONARA
Serves4

12 ounces spaghetti
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 2-ounce can flat anchovies, drained and chopped
Pinch of Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
Pancetta (optional)
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 large egg yolks
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil with the garlic and anchovies and cook over moderately high heat until the anchovies have dissolved, about 2 minutes. (If using pancetta, add and cook until cooked through.) Add the red pepper, zest, oregano and parsley, then add the pasta and toss to coat. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolks with the reserved cooking water and add to the pasta. Cook over low heat, tossing until the pasta is coated in a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Lamb Tagine with Dates, Almonds and Pistachios

February 4, 2011

I first discovered tagines last year when I was on the search for rich, winter comfort food. I found a lamb tagine that warmed your whole body, and paired perfectly with a glass of full-bodied red wine. I knew Moroccans were on to something…

A tagine is a spicy, rich stew from northern Africa. The name tagine is also given to the vessel it is cooked in – a shallow, round pot with a unique conical lid designed to lock in moisture and flavors, cooking the food gently in a small amount of liquid. My first few tangines I used my go to – my dutch oven. But as my love for the rich dish grew, I realized I needed to do it right. So, I bought a tagine at Sur la Table. And, of course, I couldn’t buy the tagine without a Tagine cookbook as well.

Although the tagine is big, bulky, and really doesn’t have a convenient storage location, it is well worth the purchase. The meat, when cooked in this vessel, is so tender and moist – despite being on a stove for so long (a testament to the cone-shaped lid). This particular tagine was my first in the authentic cookware and has a wonderful sweetness from the dates.

So, if you have a few hours to cook on a Sunday night (keep in mind about 2 hours is completely inactive cooking time), I would give this tagine a try. Cook it in any pot you use for long cooking, but if you get hooked on tagines like me, it is well worth the investment of an actual tagine. Plus, it is just plain cool to look at!

Thanks to Tagine: Spicy Stews from Morocco by Ghillie Basan for this fantastic recipe!

LAMB TAGINE WITH DATES ALMONDS AND PISTACHIOS
Serves 4

2-3 tablespoons ghee (or olive oil plus a pat of butter)
2 onions, finely chopped (I just used one)
1-2 teaspoons ground tumeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 1/4 lb lean lamb, from the shoulder, neck or leg, cut into bite-size pieces
8 oz moist, ready to eat, pitted dates
1 tablespoon honey
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
a pat of butter
2-3 tablespoons blanched almonds
2 tablespoons shelled pistachios
a small bunch of flatleaf parsley, finely chopped

Heat the ghee in a tagine or heavy-based casserole dish. Stir in the onions and saute until golden brown. Stir in the tumeric, ginger and cinnamon. Toss in the meat, making sure it is coated in the spice mixture. Pour in enough water to almost cover the meat and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer gently for roughly 1.5 hours.

Add the dates and stir in the honey. Cover with the lid again and simmer for another 30 minutes. Season with salt and lots of black pepper.

Heat the olive oil with the butter in a small pan. Stir in the almonds and pistachios and cook until they begin to turn golden brown. Scatter the nuts over the lamb and dates and sprinkle with the flatleaf parsley. Service with buttery couscous.

Pasta with Basil Pesto

November 18, 2010

Until spending time in Cinque Terre, Italy, I hadn’t had much pesto in my life. Not sure if it was the intimidating color, the name’s meaning (means “to pound,” yikes!) or the fact that my husband claimed he was never a big pesto fan.

Yet, on our first night in Vernazza, sitting at a restaurant on the sea, we followed an antipasti plate of fresh fish with a big, heaping bowl of spaghetti topped with the greenest, freshest, most flavorful sauce I have never had. And it was, of course, pesto.

As you can imagine, upon returning from the trip when I contemplated making my own pesto, I had no arguments from my husband. We had found a new love and new appreciation for this sauce that originates in the Ligurian coast of Italy.

I pulled this recipe from La Cucina Italiana (have I mentioned I am obsessed with this magazine?). Seemed simple and authentic – pine nuts, basil, parmigiano reggiano and pecorino romano, garlic, sea salt and olive oil. But the mistake I made was trying to make it the authentic way – without authentic tools.

Pesto is made is a mortar and pestle. Why not? If that is how the Italians do it, then that is how I will do it. The small problem (well big problem) was, that I didn’t have one. My substitution was a muddler, and it was a sad replacement. So, alas, my pesto ended up in a food processor. The result tasted fantastic, but it made me put a mortar and pestle (authentic marble, of course) on my Christmas list so I can be a true Ligurian next time I indulge in this green goodness.

Authentic tools or modern luxuries – either way I encourage you to try this simple sauce next you want to vary your color palate and your culinary palate.

PASTA WITH BASIL PESTO
Serves 4

¼ cup pine nuts
2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed, peel removed
Coarse sea salt
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb pasta of your choice

Place pine nuts in a medium skillet and heat over medium-low heat. Cook, occasionally shaking the pan back and forth over the heat, until nuts are toasted, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer nuts to a plate to cool completely.

Rinse basil and gently, but thoroughly, pat dry with paper towels. Place in a mortar with cooled pine nuts, garlic and pinch salt. Using the pestle with a rotary movement, grind ingredients against the wall of the mortar, until ground to a paste. Add both cheeses and grind into mixture to combine.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl. In a slow and steady steam, add oil, whisking constantly.

Pesto is best used the same day but keeps, its surface covered with a thin layer of olive oil and tightly covered, chilled, for 3 days.

To dress pasta, dilute pesto with a tablespoon or two of pasta cooking water, toss with hot pasta (just cooked and drained), add a tablespoon or two of butter and toss again. Serve at once.

Spaghettata Picante

July 11, 2010

It isn’t a surprise that when we were in Italy we tried to bring back some food. Some things were difficult like olive oil and balsamic vinegar (and unfortunately wine), but we did run into a plethora of spices when we were in the Cinque Terre. They were so simple – a bag of a unique blend of spices that you cook with olive oil to infuse it, then toss with pasta and top with cheese. It seemed so simple, yet like everything we experienced in Italy, the simple foods were in so many ways the most amazing.

So, we tried this at home with some bucatini and it was amazing. Perfect for summer, too, since it wasn’t too heavy. I know it might seem silly to blog this since the ingredients aren’t readily available here, but I will do two things to help. 1) I will translate the ingredients so you can make a similar spice mixture and 2) I will include the Web site of the company who makes the spies in the Liguri region (and I have an email into them to ask about shipping to the US).

Bon Appetito!

SPAGHETTATA PICANTA
Serves 2

1/2 pound bucatini or pasta of your choice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons spice mixture
Handful of cheese (parmigiano or whatever you like)

Boil water and cook pasta according to directions. Heat olive oil in skillet until it is hot but not smoking. Add the spices and cook on low-medium heat for a few minutes, until it is infused. Drain pasta and add to spice mixture. Toss to coat and top with cheese.

Antichi Sapori Liguri (spice mixture is called Spaghettata Picante)
http://www.antichisaporiliguri.com

Spice mixture contains a variation of: chili pepper, powdered garlic, dried parsley, salt, chervil


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