Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Spoon Goes to China

The fortune cookie that accompanied my meal on the flight read "It could be better, but it's good enough." It was certainly an optimistic view of the awful food they served as we soared over half the world en route from Newark to Beijing. I worried: will I have to adapt this motto as I eat my way around China for the next 10 days? Seven days in, I'm happy to report: bu!

Despite a few missteps, the food I've had in China so far has largely been excellent. Every meal features at least three vegetables, one of which is often baby bok choi. There are flashes of familiarity--something approximating kung pow chicken, the occasional steamed dumpling--but other apparent staples here are completely new to me, like spicy green beans, which have appeared at our tables numerous times, each time better than the last.

Those green beans were a part of a mult-course feast at the beautiful South Beauty in Shanghai, where we noshed on lotus root stuffed with sticky rice, spicy chicken stuffed inside baby pumpkins, shark fin soup, and even a Chinese take on foie gras. We ate with a group of Chinese people I was introduced to through a friend, and laughed our way through the cultural differences between China and the West. Who knew they eat their rice after the meal?

The green beans also showed up yesterday, when we asked our driver to take us to a good local restaurant after trekking up and down the Great Wall at Mutianyu. It was a roadside cafe of sorts, and my friends and I were the only Westerners there. The food was delicious: crispy fried fish, a revelatory eggplant in a tangy brown sauce, spicy chicken with peanuts and of course those green beans. And the meal was punctuated with fireworks! No matter that it was the middle afternoon, and not a holiday. How festive!

Speaking of, it's already Thanksgiving here--and we're getting ready to stage a full-blown American feast over here in Beijing. Should be interesting!--S

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tortellini Soup

Still working out the last remains of soreness in my quads and trying to prevent a scratchy throat from becoming a full-blown cold before my big trip on Thursday, I wanted a simple dinner tonight. Italian White Bean, Pancetta, and Tortellini Soup was calling my name.

It's a recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis's Everyday Pasta. Very simple, very tasty. My yoga class ended at 7:45 PM, by 8 I was at the supermarket buying escarole, cannellini beans, chicken broth and pancetta, and at 8:40 Fork and I were slurping down some very delicious soup. It's filling but not heavy, with leaves of wilted escarole (which I used instead of Swiss chard) swirled throughout. We sprinkled it with grated Parmesan, more for effect than out of necessity, since the pancetta and little hats of cheese-stuffed pasta added just the right amount of flavor.--S

Italian White Bean, Pancetta, and Tortellini Soup

4 to 6 servings

3 T olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, chopped
3 large shallots, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 c chopped Swiss chard or escarole (1 bunch)
6 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 (9-oz) package cheese tortellini, fresh or frozen
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large, heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, shallots, carrot, and garlic and cook until the pancetta is crisp, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans, Swiss chard (or escarole), and broth.
2. Bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the tortellini and cook 5 minutes for fresh, 8 minutes for frozen, or until just tender. Season with pepper and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Pasta

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Let the Carbo-Loading Begin!

I've always poo-pooed the marathon eve group pasta dinner, snobbily casting it off as something for out-of-towners and people who eat jarred sauce. I imagined an unappetizing buffet of lukewarm, gummy, not-ribbed ziti, thin sauce pooled around it. I mean, how can they possibly make pasta for 39,000 people taste good?

In the words of my dear Aunt Mimi, I don't know how they make it, but they make it. Because tonight, on the eve of my fourth marathon, I decided to join the masses at the Barilla Marathon Eve Dinner at Tavern on the Green. And guess what? It was actually pretty good.

Some parts of the meal were stronger than others: the salad was overdressed and soggy, and the bowties in the cold pasta salad were too al dente. But the main pastas--gemelli in marinara sauce with mushrooms, and cellentani (corkscrew-shaped pasta) with peas and little bits of sausage--were very tasty. The pasta was hot and the pans were replenished frequently. Lest we forget who was paying for dinner, the tables were decorated with boxes of Barilla pasta, as well as lots of large bottles of Poland Spring.

And for dessert, one of my all-time favorites from the grocery store cookie aisle: Stella D'Oro Breakfast Treats. Not too sweet and just the thing to keep the carbo-loading going. Here's to a great run tomorrow.--S