Showing posts with label cheap and easy cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheap and easy cooking. 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.




Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summer Grilling: Skewered Shrimps & Cherry Tomatoes

Festive enough for a party, quick-and-easy for everyday cooking, skewered shrimp and cherry tomatoes are ready to serve in 30 minutes.

A few words about the convenience of shrimp. In my experience, shrimp that come already shelled and deveined have less flavor and are more susceptible to freezer burn. If you buy shrimp in the shell, the benefits outweigh the added work. Buy the large sized ones (30-35/pound).

Removing the shell is easy enough, if a bit tedious. Grasp the legs in one hand while you rotate the shrimp with your other hand. The shell will come off easily. If you want the tail meat to stay on the shrimp, pinch the very tip of the tail with your fingers and gently pull the meat away from the shell.

With a sharp paring knife, cut down the back of the shrimp, pull away the vein, and discard. Wash the shrimp thoroughly, drain, and keep cold until ready to use.

Save the shells. Put them in a pan with a 1/2 cup water and simmer 10 minutes. Strain and discard the shells. Use the stock to make pasta sauce. To save for later use, freeze the shrimp stock in an airtight container. If any ice crystals accumulate on the stock, while still frozen, wash the crystals off with cold water before defrosting.

To freeze shrimp without fear of freezer burn, toss the deveined shrimp in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. Place in a Ziploc-style plastic bag, squeeze out the air, and seal tightly. Flatten out the bag so the shrimp lay next to each other so they'll freeze individually. That way you can remove a few of the shrimp at a time. Lay flat in the freezer.

Skewered Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are plentiful in the summer. Grilled, their sweetness is accentuated.

Yield 4 servings

Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 basket cherry tomatoes, washed, stems removed
1/4 cup olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

If you're using wooden skewers, soak them in water at least 1 hour before grilling. Toss the tomatoes in the seasoned olive oil to coat well. Place 3-4 tomatoes on each skewer. Reserve the seasoned olive oil for later use.

Grill the tomatoes on a hot grill, turning frequently to prevent burning. They're cooked when the skin splits. Serve while hot.

Use any left-over tomatoes in a pasta or in a mozzarella-tomato salad.

Grilled Shrimp

Shrimp are naturally sweet and flavorful. Seasoned in a wet marinade or dry rub is all they need. If you're using wooden skewers, soak them in water at least 1 hour before grilling.

Grilled Shrimp with Olive Oil, Sea Salt and Pepper Marinade

Yield 4-6 servings

Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound shrimp, washed, deveined
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

Toss the shrimp in the seasoned olive oil, place 3-4 shrimp on each skewer and cook on a hot grill, turning frequently to avoid burning. Cook until the shrimp are lightly charred.

If a grill isn't available, the shrimp can be cooked in a 450 degree oven, preferably resting on a wire rack over an aluminum foil covered cookie sheet.

Grilled Shrimp with a Garlic-Ginger-Soy Marinade

Yield 4-6 servings

Time 30 minutes plus 1 hour marinade

Ingredients

1 pound shrimp, washed, shelled, deveined
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger, peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled, grated
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, cut into shrimp-size pieces
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 scallion, washed, thinly sliced, white and green parts
1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds

Method

Mix together all ingredients and marinate the shrimp for an hour but no more. Any longer and the shrimp will absorb too much of the marinade.

Put 3-4 shrimp on each skewer with a single piece of onion between each shrimp and cook on a hot grill, turning frequently to avoid burning. Cook until the shrimp are lightly charred. If a grill isn't available, the shrimp can be cooked in a 450 degree oven, preferably resting on a wire rack.

Grilled Shrimp with a Tex-Mex Dry Rub

Yield 4-6 servings

Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound shrimp, washed, deveined
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled, grated
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon beer

Mix the dry ingredients together. Toss the shrimp first in the beer and then with the dry rub.

Put 3-4 shrimp on each skewer and cook on a hot grill, turning frequently to avoid burning. Cook until the shrimp are lightly charred. If a grill isn't available, the shrimp can be cooked in a 450 degree oven, preferably resting on a wire rack.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Couscous and Bulgar Salads are Affordable, Easy to Make and Oh So Good for You

My wife is on her way to her parents' house in New Jersey. She packed her clothes, bathroom kit, and Walter Mosley's latest detective novel, The Long Fall. I wanted to contribute to the weekend's meals even if I wasn't going with her. I put together a small packet with a mini-apple pie, a banana chocolate chip walnut cake, freshly cooked black beans, brown rice, grilled broccoli, bulgar salad with celery, and a box of whole wheat couscous. All but the couscous were ready to eat.

When we visit her parents, I usually do some of the cooking under her mom's supervision. The first time I cooked in Helen's kitchen I was showing off my then-specialty: whole roasted chicken cooked at high temperature. The impact on her kitchen was regrettable. The "high heat" was so high that her corningware roasting pan exploded. The resulting splatter on the inside of her oven took several days to clean. Needless to say I didn't make the best first-impression on my prospective mother-in-law. Luckily the chicken was delicious but I haven't used her oven since.

Couscous is one of Michelle's staples, so she took along a box of whole wheat couscous from Trader Joe's. Since she hadn't made it before, I wanted her to have the recipe for the weekend.

The recipes for couscous are the same as for bulgar. They are delicious as salads and side dishes. They accommodate any number of vegetables and herbs.

Couscous or Bulgar Salad with Celery

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup instant couscous or fine grained bulgar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 celery stalk, washed, leaves removed, finely chopped
1 scallion, washed, ends trimmed, finely chopped
5 Italian parsley sprigs, leaves removed, washed, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Boil the water. Put the couscous or bulgar into a bowl, add the water, stir, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes.

Using a fork, fluff the couscous or bulgar, add the rest of the olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper to taste, toss with the celery, scallion, and parsley.

Serve at room temperature as a salad or a side dish.

Variations:

Add chopped raw tomatoes

Add Iranian cucumbers, washed, peeled, finely chopped

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

Add currants

Couscous or Bulgar with Grilled Vegetables

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup instant couscous or fine grained bulgar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, ends removed, cut into 1" long slabs, 1/4" thick
1 large broccoli crown, washed, cut into 1" long slabs, 1/4" thick
5 Italian parsley sprigs, leaves removed, washed, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Boil the water. Put the couscous or bulgar into a bowl, add the water, stir, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes.

Toss the carrots and broccoli pieces with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Grill or roast in a 350 degree oven until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool and finely chop.

Using a fork, fluff the couscous or bulgar, add the rest of the olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper to taste, toss with the cut up carrots and broccoli.

Serve at room temperature as a salad or a side dish.

Variations:

Add 1/4 cup corn kernels, seasoned with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, grilled or roasted

Add 1/4 cup olives, pitted, chopped

Add 1 cup spinach leaves, no stems, washed, roughly chopped

Ready. Set. Brine. Feta-Brined Roasted Whole Chicken

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