Amazing New Treats Discovered Regularly

I confess I’m still exploring our new Whole Foods almost every day and I usually find a little something to take home. I’ve been explaking the concept of the store to strangers who are walking around drop-chinned  and glassy-eyed at what is for many here a totally different food shopping experience. I need to find Manager Mark Heinz, formerly of El Paso’s Greenery, and ask for a job as a tour host.

Yesterday, I had a craving for scallops. I rarely cook them at home because, the ones we usually find here are limp and milky and not something I want to spend good money on.

When I looked at the scallops at Whole Foods, they were dry, firm and good-sized. I signed the papers for a second mortgage and invested in 10 lush scallops weighing in at just over a pound. The fishmonger told me their supplier ships them “dry-packed” instead of just in a box of ice.  It makes a big difference!

I browned the scallops in butter and minced garlic in two batches and set them aside.  I then added a generous splash of white wine and juice of half a lemon and let it reduce for several minutes. I tossed cooked and drained fettuccine into the pan sauce to warm the pasta, then stirred in about 3/4 cup green peas. A little salt and pepper balanced it out.

With the scallops, I served a romaine, baby spinach and small cucumber salad dressed with a wonderful creamy fennel dressing. The dressing had crushed fennel seed, sour cream, red wine vinegar and buttermilk.  I would roll in the dressing if the bowl were big enough!

Dessert was a simple bit if Vitorin and a hot soak in the spa on a chilly fall evening.

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Scallops browned in butter and minced garlic served atop fettuccine in a white wine pan sauce. A creamy fennel dressing on the salad compliments the scallops.

CREAMY FENNEL SALAD DRESSING

This recipe makes about two cups.  (About 12 servings) It can be halved easily.

Ingredients 

1 Cup mayonnaise

1/2 Cup sour cream

1/2 Cup buttermilk

2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

4 tsp red wine vinegar

2 tsp minced fresh garlic

2 tsp Italian seasoning

1-1/2 tsp fennel seed, chopped

salt and pepper to taste.

Method

Whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, parsley, vinegar, garlic Italian seasoning and fennel seed; season with salt and pepper. Cover dressing and chill at least two hours before serving.

Toss greens, sliced snacking cumbers and croutons, drizzle with dressing.  I used romaine and baby spinach greens.

SCALLOPS

No real recipe.  Melt butter in a wide pan, stir in garlic. Pan sear the scallops in butter and minced garlic, turning once after about five minutes until both side are browned and scallops are opaque. Remove to a plate.  Add a good cup of dry white wine and the juice of half a lemon to pan juices, stir loose any fond and reduce liquid to about half a cup.  Stir in cooked fettuccine to warm. Add about a half a cup (or more to taste) green peas and warm.  Plate fettuccine, top with scallops and drizzle with any liquid left in pan.  I used five plump scallops per serving. I could have gotten away with three per serving with more pasta, but I was after scallops!

 

New Twist on Pasta alla Carbonara and a Couple of Experiments

Pasta alla carbonara is a wonderful thing. It’s cream and egg, warmed slightly, then tossed with parmesan cheese, bacon and pasta hot enough to finish cooking the cream and egg. The pasta is usually either spaghetti or fettuccine. It is a showstopper when you toss the pasta and sauce at the table while guests look on with eager anticipation. The scent of parmesan hitting the hot pasta is captivating. This dish is so rich and wicked that I rarely make it. When I do, there’s never any left over and we always use a chunk of baguette to get the last bit of creamy sauce out of our bowls.

I ran across a recipe for a raw corn carbonara that whetted my appetite. It is so very good I made it two nights in a row. Of course I did a little tweaking the second night.

The first night I made a half recipe and used it as a side dish. That was a night of experimentation. Other elements in the experiment were fried green tomatoes two ways and a Williams Sonoma rub based on dried Sriracha hot sauce.

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From left, Raw Corn Carbonara, fried green tomatoes, two ways, and a new rub on pork chops.

I’ll be making fried green tomatoes at our local farmers market in September. It is something I do for the Master Gardeners every fall. I slice big green tomatoes about 3/8 inch thick, dredge them in white flour, dip in egg beaters and finally in corn meal. I fry then in canola oil until the crust is golden crisp. My fried green tomatoes warm a southern guys heart! I did a coupe of tomato slices with corn meal and then tried a couple of slices with panko crumbs. I really like the crisp panko crust and my next plan is to mix corn meal and panko so I’ll have the crunch and the corn meal flavor.

I mentioned getting my meat cutter to start cutting thick pork chops again. He’s still doing it so I showed my gratitude by buying more. I used the Sriracha rub generously on both sides of the chops and let them sit about half an hour. I seared the chops on one side of my grill, then transferred them to the other side where I had not ignited the burners. I closed the lid and let them finish in the indirect heat. It keeps them moist and tender that way.

Who can top a meal that has both bacon and pork chops on the plate!

RAW CORN CARBONARA

 Four servings; the recipe can easily be halved.

INGREDIENTS

12 ounces spaghetti or linguine

Kosher salt

6 slices thick-cut bacon (about 6 ounces), cut into 1/4″ strips

4 ears of corn, kernels cut off (about 3 cups), cobs reserved

1/2 cup heavy cream

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan (about 2 ounces), plus more to serve

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped, divided

METHOD

Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain. Meanwhile, fry bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain (reserve fat).

Shuck and remove the silks from the corn and, holding it upright in a shallow bowl, cut the kernels off the cobs. Scrape excess corn milk from cobs over the kernels by firmly running the back of a chef’s knife down the sides. Add cream, half of the corn kernels, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, and 2 Tbsp. reserved bacon fat. Purée until a smooth sauce forms.

Toss hot pasta with corn sauce, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and half each of the remaining corn kernels, bacon, and basil in a large bowl. Divide pasta among bowls and top with remaining corn kernels, bacon, and basil. Season with pepper and top with Parmesan.

MY TWEAK ON RAW CORN CARBONARA

 The second time around, I again made a half recipe. I substituted 3 oz prosciutto chopped and crisped a bit in a fry pan. There were virtually no drippings, so I tossed a couple of teaspoons into the blender with the corn and cream.

This dish with a simple side salad would have been great as a meal. Of course, I had to mess with it a little bit. I admit I am a great fan of Williams Sonoma rubs and have at least half a dozen different ones in my pantry. I got out the Meyer lemon and ground pepper rub and sprinkled it on raw shrimp. I let them sit at room temperature while I made the carbonara, then gave them a quick sauté and served them as a protein garnish on the pasta.

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Tweaked Raw Corn Carbonara and Lemon Pepper Shrimp.

This raw corn version of a carbonara is sweetened by the fresh raw corn and, because it doesn’t have egg and only has 8 oz cream in the whole recipe (a quarter cup in the half recipe version) it more guilt free than the true carbonara.

 

 

 

 

 

Asparagus! A Hint of Spring

It’s an amazing world. We can get “seasonal” treats including strawberries, melon and asparagus almost year ’round. Spring vegetables are not quite the same when shipped from another hemisphere, but they are in the markets.  We’re beginning to get nice fresh asparagus in and I couldn’t be happier.

I saw a recipe on a magazine cover for a bucatini, pesto, asparagus and shrimp dish that got me all excited.  My basil is only about two inches high right now, so I cheated and used jarred pesto and it worked fine. I did throw in a handful of green peas just to make things a bit more springy. It only took shopping three stores to find bucatini! When it all came together it was worth the shopping hunt.

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Bucatini, pesto, asparagus, peas, shrimp and parmesan tastes like spring!

Hint of Spring Pasta

Ingredients

8 oz. bucatini pasta

3/4 lb. medium shrimp

8 or more oz. fresh asparagus spears

1-1/2 Tbsp butter or neutral oil

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

3-4 Tbsp pesto,  jarred, or your own favorite home made

Grated parmesan cheese

Method

Boil bucatini in salted water per package directions. I like it al dente. When pasta is done, set aside a cup of pasta water, drain the pasta and place in large bowl.

Cook shrimp in a dry pan over medium heat until it turns pink and curls. Turn and toss until both sides are pink.  I like shell on shrimp and don’t mind peeling it at the table.  If you are tidier than I, use already peeled shrimp.

Set shrimp aside in a large bowl, wipe out the shrimp pan.

Snap off though ends of asparagus and cut tender part into short segments. Melt butter over medium heat in the clean shrimp pan and sauté asparagus until tender and bright green. Don’t over cook. Add peas and warm them just a little. You want them to be bright green and have some texture. Remove from heat an place in a bowl to stop cooking.

Grate about 1/2 cup of parmesan.

Toss the bucatini with about 3/4 of the pesto. If it seems dry, add a couple of tablespoons of reserved pasta water to moisten. Don’t add too much water and make your dish soggy. Toss shrimp,  asparagus and peas with remaining pesto and add to bucatini.  Gently toss it all together. Check seasoning and add a little salt, if needed. Plate or serve in pasta bowls and sprinkle liberally with grated parmesan.

This dish is good at room temperature or cold.

 

 

 

Microgreens Explored

Marialella, my Master Gardener friend, is into micro greens.  She grows flats of sprouted herbs and harvests then when they are just an inch or two high and have their first two to four real leaves.  They have amazing flavor and texture.

Marianella has invited me to cook something for a school tour (80 third graders plus teachers and a few parents) at the teaching garden she manages for the Master Gardeners.  She gave me a tray of lemon basil microgreens and said, “I know you’ll come up with something good.”  No pressure, right?  I’ve enjoyed experimenting with the microgreens and have come up with an idea for the activity.  I’ll share that on May 5, after the program.

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Lemon basil microgreens on the kitchen windowsill.

In the meantime,  here’s another idea I came up with and enjoyed very much.

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On the plate from the top:  grilled romaine leaves topped with tomatoes stuffed with homemade ricotta and minced lemon basil microgreens with mixed olives for garnish; center stage is a sicilian sausage on a ratatouille of grilled eggplant, tomatoes, onion and red bell pepper tossed with a little balsamic vinegar and a splash of jarred marinara sauce. In the foreground, a foundation of farfalle (bow tie) pasta and parmesan peek out from under the ratatouille.  A few seconds on the grill wilts the romaine lettuce and gives it a slight char flavor. It is a quick process because you don’t want to burn the lettuce to the crumbling point.  It’s a nice touch for the occasional salad.

Co-chef Sarah Rich of Rich Table fame in San Francisco has a recipe for homemade ricotta in the May issue Bon Apetit.  It is simple to make and so very much better than the grainy ricotta from the store. Sarah is the daughter of my good friends Darryl and Susan Williams.  I am so enjoying the success she and husband Evan Rich are having with their restaurant and the reputation they are gaining in the culinary world.  I really love it when one of their recipes gets published and I get to try my hand at it. This ricotta is a keeper I’ll make again and again.

 

Butternut Squash Four-Cheese Ravioli

Butternut Squash Ravioli

I developed this idea much earlier in the year. After all these months, it is still good! Puree of butternut squash and chicken broth topped by four-cheese ravioli cooked and then tossed with brown butter and fresh sage. In the background, steamed mustard greens and onions with a bacon dripping and vinegar dressing topped with crisp chopped bacon. Sweet, savory, tart, bitter and salty. All the flavors complement and balance each other.

Sicilian Sausage Linguini

Sicilian Pasta

A link of Sicilian sausage. Whole grain linguini. While the pasta boils,  brown your sausages and cook until done.  Set the sausages aside. Add halved grape tomatoes to the pan and sauté until they release their juices. Nest, sweat sliced cremini mushrooms in the tomato juices. Add thinly sliced red and yellow bell pepper and a splash of pasta water and simmer until pepper slices are tender. Add some Newman’s Own fire roasted tomato and garlic pasta sauce (yes, it is a jarred sauce that I like to use as a base) and a very small splash of pasta water. Stir and reduce until reasonably thick. Plate pasta, top with thickened sauce. Add sausage and garnish with peppers, mushrooms, freshly grated parmesan and parsley. The pasta is whole grain linguine – a staple in my kitchen. If you are feeling adventurous, add a whole wheat bollio roll sliced, buttered, seasons and heated for an individual loaf of garlic bread.