Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A successful attempt to like fish.

This fall, my dear friend Courtney moved to London--and acquired swine flu fairly fairly soon after. I read this article on Epicurious called "Six Foods That Fight the Flu" and decided to pass it along.

The other funny thing about Courtney is that, while a serious foodie, she does not like fish. Courtney and I went to Thailand together this past summer, and in preparation, she began ordering fish at restaurants, determined to convince herself that she liked it. I hadn't eaten fish since I was a child--I can't remember what did me in, but I'm sure it was one forgettable unpleasant experience that made me vow, "Never again!".

So, in preparation for Thailand, where we all assumed we'd be eating fish, I also began ordering it out. I started with Salmon, at my favorite Philadelphia restaurant, Fork. If anyone could make me like fish, it was Fork. After a very pleasant experience, I decided to start ordering it more often (and found salmon to be often more exciting than the chicken or beef entrees).

Then, I cooked it for Laura and myself. This recipe, from the article, allows you to preserve as much vitamin D as possible by roasting--and allows you to avoid handling the fish too much. I made some tweaks to the recipe as far as the red pepper goes. We served this over cous cous the first time, which was delightful, but here I paired it with a lentil ragout (a Karen Hunter recipe).

Baked Salmon with Bell Peppers and Capers
Serves 2

1 lb wild salmon fillets
1 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 whole peeled garlic cloves
Kosher salt
Black pepper

1. Remove its core and seeds, and cut the red pepper into strips less than an inch wide and 1 1/2 -inch long.
2. Turn on the oven to 375°.
3. Wash the fish in cold water and pat it dry with paper towels.
4. Coat a baking dish with 1 tablespoons of olive oil. Lay the salmon down in the pan, skin side facing down if you have long fillets. Distribute all around the salmon the peppers, capers, and the whole peeled garlic cloves. Sprinkle with a liberal quantity of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the remaining olive oil over the fish. Put the dish in the preheated oven and cook for 16 minutes. Let it settle for a few minutes before serving.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

La Familia

I'm sure you all remember my post about Christmas Lasagna. I love lasagna, especially in the winter time, but my luck with lasagna (as you may recall) has been less than favorable.

When I found this recipe in Gourmet last year, I earmarked it and waited for a time when I would have enough people (about 6, I figured) to eat it.

Finals week at Laura and my apartment was a little less than traditional. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday in the library, writing papers, and then had very little to do for the rest of the week. Our house ended up as the "study house", which really meant that Aaron, Laura's boyfriend, and a few of our other friends came over, listened to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, and celebrated the end of the semester. I've been lucky enough to live somewhere that feels like home to more than just me--a place where people know they're always welcome, and there will always be a dessert or two lingering. While part of the magic lies with Laura, I'm proud to say I think some has rubbed off on me, as people continue to come for dinner (actually, Aaron is here doing laundry right now--we just finished some apple pie. He reminded me that I should finish this blog post).

After unfolding our dining room table and searching for extra chairs, we sat down for a meal--a big, family dinner. It was lovely, and one of my fondest memories from college thus far. In not so many words, it became apparent that this was the family the lot of us had chosen. I remember praying over the meal (something I don't do often with friends who are otherwise religiously unaffiliated) because I really did want to thank God for these people--and for this lasagna.

Oh yes, this lasagna was indeed that good. I'm pretty critical of my own dishes, and while I thought the meat filling was a little on the dry side, I'm pretty sure a second try would find it close to perfection.

Lasagne Bolognese with Spinach
Serves 6-8
From Gourmet, January 2009: In the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, lasagne bolognese is usually made with a besciamella sauce. Italian-American cooks often replace that time-consuming step with ricotta. In this wickedly good interpretation, food editor Melissa Roberts combines the two traditions by whisking milk into some of the ricotta, creating a billowy pseudo-besciamella (the remaining ricotta mixture is stirred together with spinach). We rarely call for specific brands, but we did find that widely available Barilla no-boil dried noodles produced an exemplary lasagne. An egg pasta, this one comes very close to the flavor and delicacy of homemade.

For bolognese sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds ground beef chuck (not lean)
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves

For Ricotta filling:
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach,thawed
2 (15-ounce) containers whole-milk ricotta
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 cup whole milk, divided

For assembling lasagne:
12 Barilla no-boil dried lasagne noodles (from 1 box)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Equipment: a 13- by 9-inch baking pan (3 inches deep)

Make Sauce: Heat oil in a 12-to 14-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Cook pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are golden and softened, 12 to 15 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up any lumps, until meat is no longer pink, 6 to 10 minutes. Stir in wine, milk, tomato paste, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of liquid has evaporated but sauce is still moist, about 1 hour.

Make ricotta filling: Put spinach in a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and twist to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Whisk together ricotta, eggs, parmesan, nutmeg, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Transfer 1 1/2 cups ricotta mixture to another bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup milk; set aside. Whisk spinach into remaining filling with remaining 1/2 cup milk.
Assemble and bake lasagne: Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Soak noodles in a bowl of very warm water until pliable but not softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Place on a kitchen towel (it's not necessary to pat noodles dry).

Spread 1 1/2 cups bolognese sauce in baking pan and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parmesan. Cover with 3 noodles, leaving space in between. Spread half of spinach filling on top, then 1 cup bolognese sauce, and top with 1 tablespoon parmesan and 3 noodles; repeat. Top with remaining bolognese sauce, 1 tablespoon parmesan, and remaining 3 noodles. Pour reserved ricotta mixture over top and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan.

Cover pan tightly with parchment paper and foil (or just buttered foil) and bake 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is browned in spots, about 15 minutes more. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes before cutting.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tomato Paste.

At the beginning of the school year, I bought a small can of tomato paste. I used about a tablespoon for something-or-other, wrapped the remaining paste it in foil and plastic wrap, and stashed it in the freezer (a la Karen Hunter).

The tomato paste returned for these meatballs--an atypical dinner choice for me--but since we have so much angel hair pasta laying around, I wanted to try and use some of it up prior to Laura's departure (Laura has gone to Morocco for the semester, have I mentioned that?). Matt was also over for dinner, and as you may recall, Matt loves spaghetti.

But the way this recipe uses tomato paste sent me running out for more. It deepens the flavor, and adds a really hearty richness to sauces and other recipes, like this one. I've been adding it to everything lately. Just a little goes a long way.

The meatballs were great, too. We used turkey bacon instead of the pancetta, which may have made the meatballs greasier than intended. The best thing about these meatballs is the fact that they're baked--no messing with hot oil!

Baked Chicken Meatballs
Serves 4
From Smitten Kitchen

3 slices Italian bread, torn into small bits (1 cup)
1/3 cup milk
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F with a racks the upper thirds. Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about four minutes.

Cook pancetta, onion, and garlic in one tablespoon oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Cool slightly.

Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, then discard milk. Lightly beat egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, pancetta mixture, bread, and parsley.

Form 12 meatballs and arrange in another 4-sided sheet pan (I used a 9×13 roasting dish). Stir together remaining tablespoons of tomato paste and oil and brush over meatballs (the paste/oil does not mix in any cohesive manner, but just smoosh it on and run with it) , then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes (though mine took a good 5 minutes longer).

Serve over angel hair pasta with plenty of grated Parmesan.