Monday, August 30, 2010

Recipe: Fresh Fettucini with Basil


I am very enamored with my basil bush right now. It is August; temperatures are in the upper nineties and heat indexes are topping 100 degrees. Unlike me, basil thrives in this weather. There is just enough rain to keep it moist and because it's in a shady spot it hasn't gone to seed. This is the first time I have actually planted basil directly in the ground and not in a pot; I had no idea what a difference that would make.

With this plethora of basil I was craving something simple and herby. The dish is basically pasta with a rough chop pesto. Instead of emulsifying the basil with oil, cheese, garlic, and pine nuts I rough chop everything and toss it together. To bring out a more intense flavor I always toast pine nuts before adding them in. I also make this with pistachios and walnuts as a substitute.

Fresh Fettucini with Basil

1 pound fresh pasta noodles
3 cups (approximately) fresh basil, cut into chiffonade
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Boil the pasta and drain. Place pasta in a serving dish and add remaining ingredients. Toss until well combined. Serve hot or cold.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

RECIPE: Blueberry Crumb Bars



This recipe for blueberry bars will hopefully be the solution out of my baking rut. The bars are very easy to make, are a great way to use all those summer berries and are delicious. Blueberries are still showing up at the farmers market here, but I think frozen would work just as well for other times of the year. The bars are best cut once chilled, if you can wait long enough. I did not. You can store them at room temperature for a couple of days, but they will also keep well in the refrigerator.

A few notes: If you use frozen blueberries, decrease the amount of lemon juice by 1 tablespoon. Frozen blueberries tend to have a lot more moisture and we would not want a soggy concoction. I use my hands to cut the butter into the flour/sugar mixture so as to flake the butter in.  When pressing the mixture into the pan for both the bottom and top layer, make sure it is evenly distributed and pat it down into the pan and then over the blueberries. If you don't, it will fall apart and the bars will not hold together. Use an off-set cookie spatula to easily remove the bars from the baking pan and make a prettier presentation. After all, we eat with our eyes first. I use a 12" x 12" pan since I bake in bulk, but if you cut the recipe in half an 8" x 8" pan is what you'll need and may be more practical for home baking. The bars are wonderful topped with vanilla or dulce de leche ice cream!


BLUEBERRY BARS

1- 1/2 cups sugar
4- 1/2 cups flour
3/4 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
1- 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

4 cups blueberries
juice of 2 lemons (about 3 tablespoons)
2-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Liberally grease a 12" x 12" pan. (see note about making half the recipe)

1. In a large heavy mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt and blend well. Add butter and cut in with a pastry blender or your hands until the mixture is a bit crumbly. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl until blended and add to flour/butter mixture.

2. Press a little over half of the flour mixture into the pan. Distribute evenly and pat down gently.

3. In a medium bowl, mix cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice. (if using frozen blueberries, reduce the amount of juice- see note). Add blueberries and toss gently.

4. Evenly distribute blueberries in pan, they will be in almost a single layer and should cover  most of the pan. Place remaining flour mixture over the berries and gently pat down.

5. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown. Allow to cool COMPLETELY, then cut into squares.





Sunday, August 22, 2010

RECIPE: Goat Cheese and Arugula Ravioli with Pine Nuts



I am certifiably obsessed! I can't stop making and eating ravioli. I am waking up in the middle of the night and pondering new fillings. Really, there is something wrong with this- but I truly don't care. I will work out extra hard just so I can eat these guilt free to my heart's content. Last night I made arugula and goat cheese ravioli for dinner again, the second time around was considerably easier (not making pasta from scratch obviously makes a big difference). I think they even tasted better, I ditched the original recipe and improvised with pre-made pasta. (As with all non-baking recipes, use the recipe as a guideline).


I was eating dinner with my girlfriends and I was so absurdly happy I sort of laughed to myself. The company was delightful, but the true source of my joy at that moment was the food. Dinner was sort of an impromptu thing, I had spent the better part of the day recouping from the night before. I had a wedding cake to finish and deliver that morning, it had been a very long day. I cancelled dinner plans that evening because I just simply did not think I would make a very good dinner companion in the state I was in. But, after a nap and bath I was surprisingly ready to go again and what I craved as my hang over cure was this concoction. The pre-made pasta sheets are a life saver, making ravioli from scratch is a lovely idea- but I do have other things to attend to, napping so spending 3 hours in the kitchen rolling out pasta was not in the repertoire.

Oh, and almost forgot, for dessert we had a very large dollop of Argentine Cajeta doused with Bailey's Irish cream. Frangelico or Amaretto would have been a better option, but I was out. So so easy and oh my god, it made for three very blissfully happy women.




Okay, so about the ravioli... that is why you're reading this, after all. The pasta sheets are actually labeled lasagna sheets. (yes, whole foods). I remove them from the package and wrap them in a moistened kitchen towel for about 10 minutes. I found that doing this rehydrates them a bit and helps keep them from cracking when folding them over. I cut them into perfect squares and then fold over into a triangle and seal with the tines of a fork. Depending on how moist the pasta sheets are, I will usually wet the edges with my fingers. Soggy ravioli is nasty, so be sure to seal well so water does not leak in while cooking.
I am generous with the filling, place a dollop (about 1.5 - 2 tablespoons) in the center of the square. Then fold over, squeezing out any air pockets as you go. (Another culprit for allowing water to get in- clearly, I dislike it when that happens!) I did not have enough Arugula to make the sauce, so I used the same amount of basil and chopped it into a chiffonade instead.

The filling and ravioli can be made ahead. You can put the ravioli together up to a day ahead of time, just make sure to wrap the pan with a damp towel before refrigerating. From start to finish, the recipe takes about 30 minutes to prepare.

Goat Cheese and Arugula Ravioli

Lasagna Fresh Pasta Sheets (1 package RP pasta)

3 cups fresh arugula
3/4 cup fresh ricotta (preferably whole milk)
1/4 cup softened goat cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons butter


Sauce:

3 cups fresh arugula
1/3 cup pine nuts
4 tablespoons butter
2 thinly sliced garlic cloves
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Directions:

1. In a large heavy skillet over medium high heat melt the butter and cook until all the foam is gone. (this clarifies the butter, removing the water and allows the butter to brown giving it a nutty flavor). Add the pine nuts, garlic and saute until lightly golden, (the pine nuts burn quickly- this is not the time to multi-task). Add the arugula and lemon zest season generously with salt and pepper.

2. In a small bowl, combine the goat cheese and ricotta, add the arugula mixture and set aside.

3. Assemble ravioli (instructions above). Set prepared ravioli on a sheet pan and either cover with a towel and refrigerate until ready to use or proceed to step 4.

4. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. While the water comes to a boil, start the sauce. In a large heavy skillet, heat butter until foaming, add pine nuts, garlic and lemon juice. Lightly brown, add arugula and season with salt and pepper. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

5. When water comes to a rolling boil, gently drop ravioli in and cook until they float to the top, about 5-7 minutes. Remove ravioli from water with a strainer or slotted spoon and drop directly into skillet. Gently toss ravioli in sauce and serve. Makes 12 large ravioli.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recipe: Tortellini Pasta Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil



I'm not even going to make up excuses to explain my absence, nor say I'm back permanently (I will try though). Thank you for all your kind emails. Thank you for continuing to sign up for the newsletter. No, the subscriber service is not broken, it's the newsletter writer- she took a hiatus- a long one. But, I have so much more to say, still. There are about a dozen unfinished posts in the edit posts section, hopefully I'll get to most of them soon. Be on the lookout for my grandmother's home-made tortellini, it's one of the unfinished posts and my very favorite. I just need a little motivation. A new camera would help- until then, we have Arthur and his camera. Recently, my friend A said to me, "Your blog should not be about food!" She said this in reference to all the shenanigans that go on in my life, maybe I'll incorporate both- it will certainly be much more amusing around here. It's a good thing I have the ability to laugh at myself! For now though, lets focus on food...


Living in south Louisiana with the temperature rising over 110 degrees makes staying cool while cooking a challenge. I moved to a new house not too long ago and my beast of a range does not have an adequate hood system. (Yes, I moved the range with me... we're attached to one another- mostly me). Turning the oven on is not so ideal right now, when it reaches 350- so does the kitchen. Since food is constantly on my mind, being both my livelihood and my hobby, I am constantly thinking up new concoctions. At present, it's any type of salad, cold soup or pretty much anything which does not require turning the oven on. This may not be one of my most creative meals, but it's great hot or cold, I find it is easy to make and the ingredients are typically at hand. When fresh tortellini is not available, dry pappardelle is a great substitute.

Even in this unbearable heat, my garden is bustling with basil. I can't seem to use it fast enough, soon it will be as tall as me (that, not being much of a challenge). I found a great high quality fresh pre-made tortellini at Whole Foods, the brand is RP Pastas. Mostly I like it because it just simply tastes good; when comparing it with other pre-made fresh pastas I think it is exceptional because the individual raviolis or tortellini are well sealed and don't fill up with cooking water while they boil. (it's a pet peeve of mine when the filling leaks out or water gets in, which makes for squishy ricotta inside and dilutes all the flavors).



I like to shave the parmesan cheese with a vegetable peeler as opposed to grating it so it remains in larger pieces (have I mentioned how much I love cheese?). When sauteing the garlic and pine nuts, make sure to keep heat moderate so as to not burn either- don't get distracted--I've burnt many a pine nut this way. Sometimes I saute half the basil in with the pine nuts- it fries up and turns crunchy which gives the dish added texture. Adding Boiled shrimp or shredded rotisserie chicken would be an easy way to make the salad a little more substantial.
From start to finish, you can prepare the dish in about 20 minutes or less. Serves 4 side servings or 2 entrees.

Tortellini Pasta Salad with Heirloom tomatoes and Basil
1 large ripe Creole or heirloom tomato, 1" dice
1 cup basil chiffonade
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup shaved Parmegiano Regianno
1/2 lb. container fresh cheese tortellini
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper and coarse sea salt

1. Boil pasta until cooked through, approximately 10 minutes. Drain and cool with running water. Set aside in a serving bowl.

2. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, heat about 4 tablespoons olive oil until almost smoking. Add garlic and pine nuts, cook until lightly browned. Remove from heat and toss with pasta. Add tomatoes, basil, and cheese. Season generously with salt and pepper and serve.


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