Showing posts with label Santa Monica Farmers Market. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Santa Monica Farmers Market. Show all posts

Friday, March 24, 2017

Best Ever Pasta With a Secret Ingredient

The holy grail of home cooked meals is a dish that takes practically no time to make, the ingredients are inexpensive and the results are delicious.

I found a pasta dish that fits all of those criteria.

The ingredients are basic. Olive oil, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and a green vegetable like asparagus. The seasoning is straight forward, just a little sea salt, black pepper and, if you like, a pat of sweet butter. By the time the pasta is al dente, the sauce is finished.
Anchovy filets are the special ingredient that creates an extraordinarily delicious pasta.

If you have enjoyed spaghetti alla puttanesca in an Italian restaurant, my recipe is similar but with more delicate flavors.

Even people who don't like anchovies by themselves fall in love with this sauce because the anchovies dissolve, binding together all the flavors. The result is an earthy, deeply satisfying dish.

Anchovies, a gift from the sea

Anchovies are a ubiquitous ingredient in Mediterranean cuisines. Stop in a neighborhood cafe in Northern Spain, as I did in the cathedral town of Burgos, and you will certainly have a tapas with an anchovy filet skewered along with a pepper, pickle and an olive or two. Those delicious filets are front and center on the dish, displayed in all their fish-filet-glory. With an espresso or an ice cold glass of beer, nothing is better for an afternoon snack.
Use high quality Spanish or Italian anchovies preserved in oil. Do not use salt preserved anchovies, ones wrapped around capers or filets with skin. 
Anchovies are sold in 2-4 ounce tins or glass jars. buy anchovies in larger quantities like Flott's 28 ounce tin. That way I always have them in the refrigerator to add to deviled eggs or tapenade. Kept in an airtight container and submerged in oil, the anchovies will keep for months.

Best Ever Pasta Sauce

Use a quality pasta like De Cecco or, if available, fresh pasta.  For this dish, I prefer a medium weight pasta like spaghetti, pappardelle, ziti, orecchiette or penne.  

Chopped fresh tomatoes can be used, but they are not as flavorful as roasted tomatoes which have an earthy sweetness. 

Roasted tomatoes can be prepared ahead and kept refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days or frozen for up to three months. 
During the winter at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, there are still farmers who bring tomatoes to market. Sold at a deep discount because they are misshapen and cracked. These "ugly" tomatoes are beautiful inside. With a little care and the discolored parts cut away, a roasted winter tomato has a delightful, deep-flavored sweetness.

To add crunch and visual contrast, add a lightly cooked green vegetable. Depending on what is available I use green beans, asparagus or broccoli greens. 

Serves 4

Time to prepare and cook: 15 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound pasta, a quality brand or fresh
1 tablespoon kosher salt
10-16 anchovy filets depending on taste 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 whole large tomato, washed, pat dried, stem and any blemished skin cut away
1 pound asparagus stalks, washed, stem ends snapped off
1 small yellow onion, washed, root and stem ends and outer skin removed, chopped into large dice
1 cup brown, shiitake or Chanterelle mushrooms, stems trimmed, dirt removed, lightly washed and pat dried, thin sliced top to bottom
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
Pinch cayenne powder (optional)
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves only, finely chopped for garnish
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 450F.

Cut tomato into 3 large, round slices. Line baking sheet with Silpat or nonstick sheet. Place tomato slices on sheet and place in oven. Cook 10 minutes. Remove from oven. 

Place large pot on stove filled with water to within 4" of the rim. Add kosher salt. Bring to boil. 

Cut asparagus stems into 1/4" rounds. Leave the last 2" of stem attached to the spear. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large frying pan on medium flame.

When the salted water boils add pasta. Stir well and stir every 3 minutes for even cooking. Do not cover. Place a colander in the sink next to a heat-proof measuring cup.

Sauté onions until translucent in the heated oil. Add mushrooms and asparagus. Stir well and sauté 3-4 minutes.

Push vegetables to one side of the frying pan to clear space for the anchovy filets. Add another tablespoon olive oil. Allow 1 minute to heat. Using a sturdy fork, gently stir the anchovies into the heated oil until they dissolve. Toss the vegetables in the sauce. 

Tear apart the tomato slices. Add the bits and pieces and all of the accumulated oils from the baking sheet into the sauté pan. Add sweet butter (optional) and a pinch of cayenne powder (optional). Stir to melt butter. Toss well to integrate the sauce and coat the vegetables.

Taste pasta after 10 minutes to confirm it is al dente. When you strain the pasta in the colander, capture 1 cup of pasta water in a heat-proof cup.

To prevent sticking, toss pasta.

Just before serving, transfer pasta into frying pan. Separate any that are sticking together. Toss to coat with sauce. If a little more sauce is needed, add 2 tablespoons pasta water and toss. Add more pasta water if more sauce is desired and stir.

Transfer pasta into serving bowl. Top with finely chopped Italian parsley and serve with freshly grated cheese on the side.




Friday, October 3, 2014

The Impact of California's Drought on One Farmer - James Birch and Flora Bella Farm

Much of the time when I'm at the farmers market I'm so intent on what I want to buy I'm focused on  the produce only noticing the farmers behind the flat tables loaded up with fresh leafy greens, stone fruit and root vegetables when I pay.
Flora Bella Farm holding pond 2001

Flora Bella Farm holding pond 2014

Years ago I hung out with one of the farmers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market because we were talking about doing a cookbook together (he would talk about the "farm," I would talk about the "table").









James Birch has a farm in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Fresno. The farm has a lovely name: Flora Bella Farm. But these days the farm has a problem. The area where he lives is called Three Rivers. Right now there are no rivers.


Flora Bella Farm 2014
For Zester Daily, I wrote a profile of James and the way the drought is threatening agriculture in the West and California in specific. When the Water Runs Out: Farming in the Drought.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Planning a Dinner Party and Serving Winter Squash

A lot of work goes into hosting a dinner party. No one likes wasted effort, so it behooves the cook in the house to find out what the guests like to eat and what foods to avoid. 

With pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, shellfish averse and gluten-free friends all potentially coming to the same meal, putting together a menu can be a bit of a puzzle. Besides staying clear of food allergies and aversions, as with any menu, the dishes need to have a flow and there needs to be pairings and contrasts. All soft food would be unpleasant. Serving only crispy food presents the same problem. But a mix of flavors and textures enlivens the palate as the conversation twists and turns through different conversational topics.
Warming up a meal with winter squash
Writing about food when rain is hitting the windows and the wind pushes through the trees makes me hungry for hot, savory and filling comfort food. A salad anytime would be nice but what drives away the chill is a good bowl of soup, a nice braise or roasted vegetables.

Not being a squash-person, the great abundance of winter squash in the farmers markets hasn't much mattered to me. When we host a dinner party, included in the invitation are two questions: "What do you love to eat?" and "What do you prefer not to eat?"
Which is a long way of getting around to winter squash.

At a recent dinner party, one of our guests indicated a love of squash so I was encouraged to experiment with a vegetable rarely visited in our kitchen. In today's farmers market there were beautiful looking displays of acorn and butternut squash.
Versatile squash
Squash can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted, stewed, pureed, braised and grilled. Because the seeds and pulp inside are not edible (although the seeds can be separated from the pulp, washed clean, tossed with olive oil and soy sauce and roasted for a snack), squash needs to be cut open. After that, the squash can be peeled or not, sliced, diced or left half or in quarters. 

Squash soup is certainly a good use of the vegetable, but I was more interested in retaining the texture of the flesh. Aiming for softness with a bit of char, I settled on a double method of cooking. Seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and pepper, the slices were first grilled and then finished in the oven to soften the flesh.

After cooking, the slices could be presented on a serving dish or, as I ultimately decided, peeled and large-diced, which made them an ideal side dish to accompany the rest of the meal, which consisted of brown sugar pork ribs, baked chicken breasts topped with parsley, roasted vegetable salad, Caesar salad, grilled romaine lettuce with Parmesan cheese shavings, Brazilian style grilled slices of picanha (beef top sirloin), roasted salmon with kimchi and brown sugar, chicken wing and leek tagine with preserved lemons.

For an easy-to-make side dish or tossed with pasta, roasted winter squash is a great way to go. In 30 minutes you can make pasta, the squash and a tossed salad for a healthy, delicious meal.

Grilled-Roasted Winter Squash

You can buy a large squash or, as I prefer, two smaller squash. They're easier to handle and are sometimes sweeter.

Serves 4

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds winter squash, washed and pat dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Using a sharp chefs knife on a wooden cutting board, cut off the ends of the squash and then cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp and seeds, washing the seeds and reserving them for a later use, if desired.
Preheat the grill and oven to 350 F. Slice the the squash into 1/2" thick, lengthwise slices. Pour the olive oil onto a medium sized baking tray and season with salt and pepper. Coat the squash slices with the seasoned olive oil.

To get char marks on the squash slices, place them on a hot grill for 30-40 seconds on each side. Use metal tongs to turn them and put them pack on the baking tray.

Put the squash into the oven 10 minutes on each side and bake until al dente. Don't make them too soft. Remove and, using a pairing knife, remove the peel.

Serve warm.

Variations

In addition to sea salt and black pepper, season the olive oil with finely chopped fresh garlic (2 cloves, peeled).

In addition to the other seasonings, add finely chopped fresh rosemary (1 tablespoon) to the squash slices.

For heat, add 1/8 teaspoon cayenne to the seasoned olive oil.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving


There was a chill in the air today even if last week it felt like summer. The grocery store ads are carrying discount coupons for turkeys. It's beginning to feel a lot like Thanksgiving.

At the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market, the once a year $5.00-for-all-the-pumpkins-you-can-carry event was held in the middle of the intersection of Second and Arizona. Three and four year old kids were encouraged to pick out pumpkins too heavy to carry and "roll them down the street."
Adults were more ambitious. For $5.00, one person was allowed one trip to carry off as many pumpkins as they could manage, as long as they carried them 24 feet away from the pumpkin pile. No bags allowed. No help from associates. This was an individual effort. Everyone with a strong back, grabbed two, three and as many as four pumpkins and crab walked away with their treasure.

I managed to carry away three large pumpkins to use as house decorations and, ultimately, to turn into pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving.

We're working on our Thanksgiving dinner plans. We've invited our guests. We're figuring out the menu.

Coming back from recent trips to Morocco and New Orleans I've been looking for new ideas to use at Thanksgiving. Is there a way to make sweet potatoes in a tagine? What about Creole seasoning on roast turkey?

This weekend we've been invited to Localicious, the food and wine tasting fundraiser for Family Farmed, an organization that promotes local farming.

There's a good sampling of local restaurants including Tavern, Church and State, Rustic Canyon, Public Kitchen, Tender Greens, Joe's, The Curious Palate and FIG.

The event's this Sunday, November 4th from 6:00pm-9:00pm at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica on PCH.
The chefs will be cooking with products supplied by farmers from the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

The Localicious web site has the full list of participants and details about tickets.

It's for a good cause. There will be food and wine. And I'm hoping to get some inspiration for Thanksgiving.

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