Forever Now

two heads...

The problem with a move like the one we just had is that, in using all your resources to get to where you need to be, things can be a little tight once you get there. Luckily, I’ve become quite adept over the years at what we call “rocking the poverty dinners”, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing while we wait for things to shake out and settle into our new normal.

Hello, Union Square Greenmarket.

I decided to take a week off before starting my new/old job, both because I needed it after the craziness of the last few weeks, and because I wanted to be around to help our little guy get adjusted to this big new place he’s living in. This move, after all, was in large part so we can spend more time as a family, and one thing Mike and I were both looking forward to was introducing J to some of our favorite stops on our old “food safari” route. So we took a train into the city on Wednesday and did just that, taking on Union Square Greenmarket with a $20 budget, looking to supplement the few pantry items we had moved with us to our new home, with some good fresh produce.

broccoli cooked (almost) forever, with farro spaghetti

I’ve had my eye on Roy Finamore’s recipe for “Broccoli Cooked Forever” for months now, and this week I finally got the chance to try it out. With Greenmarket broccoli and fresh young garlic, plus good meaty anchovies and plenty of fruity olive oil, this dish was a big hit with even the littlest member of our family. Mike and I ate ours tossed with farro spaghetti, but Julian had his straight up, dusted with a little bit of grated pecorino. We’ll be making this again for sure.

Bits and Pieces

confetti

Part of getting back to the business of living, getting through the grief we’ve been feeling in this last week, has been to make plans, to reinstitute some structure in our lives. I sketched out a meal plan last weekend for this week’s dinners, with Monday’s ratatouille, and Tuesday’s comforting tortellini en brodo, with leafy greens swimming in the rich chicken stock Mike made earlier that day. Wednesday’s dinner plans got derailed early on, the result of some unexpected schedule changes, but I felt confident that I could put something together when I got home from work.

chard and chile

I had picked up some beautiful broccoli at last Saturday’s farmers’ market with the hopes of turning it into a batch of my friend Maria‘s Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli and serving it over farro, but when I pulled it out of the crisper it was long gone. My fall-back-and-punt had turned into a failure before I even got started, but I didn’t want to cave and order takeout – I wanted to cook a good, wholesome dinner at home. So I pulled out the chard I was saving to use in soup later in the week, carved it up in my usual manner, and sauteed it with olive oil, good, meaty anchovies, plenty of garlic and slivers of fresh red chile peppers.

Dinner: September 22, 2010

I tossed it all with just-cooked farro linguine, added a shower of parm, and dinner was served. And it was only today that I realized that I made nearly the same simple, comforting dish about 2 1/2 years before.

No-Sweat Cooking, Day 3

Dinner: July 27, 2010

31 dishes, 31 days – I’m cooking my way through Melissa Clark‘s “No-Sweat Cooking” from the August issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray

I’ve long been intrigued by the classic Italian dish Vitello Tonnato, but I had yet to try it or anything similar until last night, when I put together Melissa Clark’s Rotisserie Chicken Tonnato with Tomato Salad for our no-sweat dinner. The combination of roast chicken with a creamy tuna and anchovy sauce might sound odd, but the sauce is a classic for a reason – it’s simply delicious. It’s also dead easy – just combine the ingredients in the food processor, give them a whirl, and voila.

from the garden

The tomato salad was a delightful foil for the chicken, the acidity of the tomatoes and the fresh bite of the herbs cutting through the rich sauce. I had ferried home a mixed pint of tiny tomatoes from Kimball’s Fruit Farm at the Boston Public Market for the salad, but I was tickled to add the first of our home-grown gems to the mix.

tomato salad

Full disclosure: I didn’t use a rotisserie chicken for this, instead opting for a Pat’s Pastured bird roasted at home – not exactly no-sweat, but Mike took care of the roasting in the afternoon, the crispy chicken skin his reward. We both agreed the finished dish was worth the extra step.

Chicken Tonnato with Tomato Salad

Get the recipe: Rotisserie Chicken Tonnato with Tomato Salad

From food52: A Twofer

After Mike’s 40+ mile bike ride yesterday morning, he was craving a hearty dinner, and in looking at the recipes I had bookmarked for my week of food52 dinners, I had just the thing in mind.

Caesar Salad with Pancetta

First up, my friend Marie‘s Caesar Salad with Pancetta, the runner-up in the somewhat controversialYour Best Caesar Salad” contest. This salad has everything I love in a Caesar – rich egg yolk (in this instance, gently coddled), lots of garlic and anchovy, and crisp homemade croutons. Marie’s additions of pancetta and lime juice are what make this salad really special – we loved the crisp bits of pancetta in the salad, as well as the flavor the rendered fat gave to the croutons, and we could have eaten the lime-spiked dressing by the spoonful.

The (Not Barefoot) Contessa's Fish Pasta

For our main course, I went with The (Not Barefoot) Contessa’s Fish Pasta, an early food52 recipe challenge champ, and a really delicious dish. The olive and caper-spiked tomato sauce is evocative of a puttanesca, and the chunks of meaty white fish (in our case, halibut) give the sauce heft without heaviness. We would have liked a little more salt and acid in this dish (and perhaps a pinch of red chile flakes), though that’s totally a personal preference – this is a wonderful seafood pasta dish that we’ll definitely make again.

Something Fishy

little gems

The weather seems to finally have turned, and I’ve really been craving lighter, brighter flavors. It’s perfect timing, really, because the farmers’ markets around Boston are finally open for the season, which means that we can now shop at a farmers’ market in Providence or Boston nearly every day of the week. It’s really the beginning of the very best time of the year to cook and eat around these parts.

they look like they're marching

The warmer weather also means that I love to escape from my windowless office whenever possible and take a lunchtime stroll up the North End to visit my favorite fishmongers. Liz and Keri always have beautiful fresh seafood, and it’s always a treat to visit their adorable shop, chat with them, and know that I’m bringing home something delicious to cook up.

Dinner: June 9, 2010

For the second week running, one of those delicious offerings from the sea was soft shell crabs, in season right now, and particularly sweet and tasty. Last week I soaked some in buttermilk, dredged them in flour, and served the crispy little guys on a “broken” basil and lemon puree; this time around I went with a different take. They got a super light coating of seasoned Wondra flour, then a brief saute in a hot pan slicked with a little bit of grapeseed oil, then I served them up with a sprinkle of slivered almonds and a dipping sauce composed of tamari, mirin, rice wine vinegar, shaved green garlic, and a little toasted sesame oil.

cucumber salad

On the side, I served up a salad of cucumber ribbons dressed with a light rice wine vinaigrette, slivers of nori from She Sells Seaweed, and black sesame seeds, very much inspired by a dish we had at last years Farm Fresh RI Local Food Fest.

Dinner: June 10, 2010

Last night’s seafood preparation was even simpler. I had two gorgeous pieces of mahi mahi, which I salted, dried well, then seared in a bit of grapeseed oil until the skin was crackly-crisp. When I flipped the fish so the skin side was up, I added a nub of anchovy butter, which soaked into the flesh of the fish, infusing it with more rich flavor, and I served the seared filets on top of a basil and garlic scape citronette, with simply halved and salted tiny heirloom tomatoes from Kimball’s Fruit Farm scattered around. Quick, simple, delicious.

Done Right

I had to try again.

raw

After making such a terrible mess of Maria‘s Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli on my first attempt, I just had to try again.

roasted

This time around, I gave my young, tender broccoli florets 10 minutes in the oven, and they were perfect, stems bright green and purply florets just browned and crisp.

Dinner: May 24, 2010

I tossed them with some hot cooked pasta twirls, drizzled the glorious bagna cauda over the top, tossed everything well with a splash of the starchy pasta water, then added the toasted almonds and parmesan. A little sprinkling of red chile flakes for heat was a nice addition to the mix.

a perfect bite

Delicious.

Theme and Variations

You’ve probably figured out by now that my Big Food Project for this week was to make homemade pasta. Now, this isn’t entirely new for me – in another time and place, I made pasta from scratch often, using a hand-crank pasta roller (one of the first kitchen gadgets I ever bought for myself). But as I got older, developed some issues with my hand and arm strength, and moved into a series of progressively tinier kitchens, that old hand-crank pasta roller did little more than gather dust. At our last apartment, there wasn’t a single patch of countertop or piece of furniture we could have attached it to to use it, so we ended up donating it in one of our mass culls before the move.

But I missed making pasta from scratch. I read with envy as bloggers near and far worked with varying proportions of flour and eggs and sometimes other things added to the mix, and kneaded and rolled and made gorgeous, silken sheets of dough. I missed the smell of it, the texture, and the satisfying feeling of sitting down to a meal that was truly a labor of love.

I yearned to make fresh pasta again, and my parents knew this, so a few years ago they gifted me with a shiny red Kitchen Aid mixer, my first ever, complete with pasta making attachments. I was so thrilled to receive yet another thoughtful gift from them, but there was one problem: we had nowhere. to. put. it. We had nowhere near enough counter space for it, but even worse, adding another box of stuff to our already cluttered apartment was just too much. So “Big Red,” as we had dubbed her, sat, unopened, under my desk at my old job until my last week there. As I neared my last day, I made arrangements to have her shipped, and she was waiting at our new place when we arrived. Big Red was the very first appliance I unpacked and set up in our new kitchen.

So I was here, and Big Red was here with her lovely attachments, and why it has taken me this long to get to the pasta making I have NO idea, but I finally did it, and the first batch was so quick, so easy, and so satisfying that I immediately made a second batch, varying the recipe just a bit.

There are probably as many ways to make fresh pasta as there are Italian grandmothers, but I decided to keep things straightforward to start, consulting my trusted Marcella Hazan for guidance. The proportions were simple: 1.5 cups flour (I did veer from her recipe by using “00” flour rather than unbleached all-purpose) plus 2 whole eggs. That’s it. No salt, no milk, no olive oil, no water, just flour and eggs and 8 minutes of kneading before I would have my dough.

This first batch didn’t take the whole amount of flour, but it still looked and felt right as I kneaded it, shaped it into a disc, wrapped it in plastic and left it to rest for a bit. I divided it into six pieces, removed one, wrapped the remainder tightly and held my breath as I turned on Big Red and began to roll out my dough. And in just minutes I had this:

Hello, lovely.

I rolled out my remaining pieces of dough, amazed at the speed and ease of which it was all happening, and after they dried just a bit, I cut them by hand into wide, pappardelle-like ribbons. They were, shall we say, “rustic.” But I was so pleased.

We had them for dinner that very night, dressed with an earthy chicken liver ragu. They cooked up beautifully, the pasta tender and delicate but still with a nice bite.

version 2

For my second batch of dough, I varied the recipe by using two whole eggs plus two egg yolks, to 1.5 cups of my “00” flour. This did take the entire amount of flour as I kneaded, and at 8 minutes the dough was definitely tighter than my first batch. Again, I let it rest for a bit before rolling it out into sheets, and I decided to break out the spaghetti cutter attachment. I let the ribbons of spaghetti dry before placing them into a zip-top bag and placing them into the freezer, where they remained until they became part of last night’s dinner.

Dinner:  May 15, 2008

The sauce was inspired by the linguine with sardines and fennel we love so much, a mixture of caramelized fennel and onions, lemon juice and zest, a few chile flakes for heat, and some beautiful marinated anchovies we picked up at Venda Ravioli recently. The finished dish got a sprinkling of fennel fronds, toasted breadcrumbs and more lemon zest. I was a bit worried about how the thin strands of spaghetti would do when they hit the boiling water – they looked so delicate – but they cooked up beautifully, and they had this great springiness to them which made them really fun to twirl around our forks and bite into.

Mike and I both agreed that this first foray into pasta making with the help of our turbocharged assistant was a big success. I can’t wait to do it again.

(You can view my Flickr photoset here.)