Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer's Visit

Yes, springtime's all about asparagus, rhubarb and ramps, but 85 degrees in April calls for summertime food. I'm talking potato salad, some vegetables thrown together in a quick dressing, and a terrific new scallop dish that I can easily see becoming a regular meal around here once summer arrives for good.

The recipe comes from Rick Moonen's Fish Without a Doubt, a book I'd skimmed for months but hadn't actually cooked from until recently. The marinade caught my eye not only because of its sweet-spicy combination, but because it looked so simple (and I was really needing a simple recipe, having run a half-marathon that morning in 80 degrees, and having totally flopped at dinner the night before). Sea Scallops with Jalapeno-Grapefruit Marinade it was.

The marinade is pretty tart from grapefruit juice and zest, and considerably spicy, with about one and a half diced jalapenos, seeds, ribs and all. But you're only marinating the scallops in the jalapenos, not actually eating them, so it's a very palatable spice. The marinade's other ingredients are cilantro, scallions and dry vermouth (you could probably use a dry white wine)--all summertime staples around here. After marinating the scallops for an hour, we seared them on a griddle (obviously if you had a grill you would use it here) for about three minutes per side.

They were fantastic. A little spicy, and sweet from the grapefruit. Moonen says this is terrific with head-on shrimp, too, which I'll definitely try once summer's here for good.--S

Sea Scallops with Jalapeno-Grapefruit Marinade

Serves 4 (8 as an appetizer)

Grated zest of 1 grapefruit
Juice of 2 grapefruits (about 1 1/3 c, and pulp is fine)
1/4 c minced jalapeno chiles (with seeds)
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 c chopped scallions
1/3 c dry vermouth
3 T olive oil
16 large sea scallops, tough bits removed
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Stir the grapefruit zest and juice together with the jalapenos, cilantro, scallions, vermouth and olive oil in a baking dish or plastic container.
2. Immerse the scallops in the marinade, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. Prepare a grill so it's very hot.
4. Take the scallops out of the marinade. Season them with salt and pepper and brush them with vegetable oil.
5. Brush the grill with vegetable oil. Grill the scallops for 3 minutes per side. Scallops are like little sponges--they soak up the marinade, which will slow down the cooking. Don't expect these to get very brown, though you should have grill marks.

Recipe courtesy of Fish Without a Doubt

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thrifty and Good

So I hear, there's an elegant restaurant in San Francisco called Spruce where chef Mark Sullivan prepares dishes like California caviar with a potato blini and a brioche ($90) and buttered Maine lobster with gnochhi ($40). An article in Food & Wine a few months ago offered "thrifty" versions of a few of Sullivan's recipes, and while the whole idea of making these fancy dishes for less was a good enough gimmick, what really drew me in was the recipe for Cod with Artichokes and Chickpeas.

At Spruce, Sullivan makes this dish--which is essentially cod fillets browned in a skillet with some olive oil, served over a melange of veggies softened by simmering with chicken stock and seasoned with some herbs--with highbrow ingredients like chanterelle mushrooms and baby artichokes. He charges customers $29. For F&W's home version, they suggest using shiitake mushrooms and frozen artichoke hearts. (I wound up using jarred artichoke hearts, and they worked just fine.) I think Fork & I spent about $29 total for all the groceries we needed for this dish, and it served two, with plenty of vegetables leftover to toss with pasta for another meal.

The other ingredients in the dish are onion, carrots, garlic and chickpeas, so it's pretty healthy. And tasty; the cod was cooked just enough for buttery bite-sized pieces to flake off perfectly. Each bite was a little different, depending on which veggies you'd picked up on your fork. It was a lovely meal, no need for accompaniments, and we wiped our plates clean, thinking, "Twenty-nine dollars a plate--as if!"--S

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Cupcakes Win

I cooked a decent dinner for some friends the other night: macaroni and cheese carbonara with fontina, pancetta and peas, along with Mom's meatloaf. My lovely husband played bartender and made us all some delicious tequila sunrises with tequila we'd bought in Mexico. And I made homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert, using a vanilla bean I brought back from Martinique. But none of these things made me as happy as the Mini Chocolate Cupcakes with Seven-Minute Icing I made for dessert.

These cupcakes were divine, truly. Moist, light and just chocolatey enough. They kind of reminded me of Hostess cupcakes, the ones with that little dab of frosting in the middle and curlicue designs on top, because they weren't that sock-you-in-the-stomach rich chocolate flavor. Instead, they were like tiny chocolate pillows. The recipe calls for cake flour and all-purpose flour, but since only required a half-cup of each, I just used a full cup of all-purpose and sifted it. The batter also consists of unsweetened cocoa powder, dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, buttermilk and brewed coffee. Pretty heavenly stuff, wouldn't you say?

With marshmallow-ish Seven-Minute Icing on top, plus a smattering of rainbow sprinkles, these cupcakes were my favorite food of the evening. No offense to everything else (even those delectable cocktails), but these were just perfect.--S

Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes 6 large cupcakes, 24 mini cupcakes

1/2 c cake flour
1/2 c all-purpose flour [or use 1 c all-purpose flour and skip the cake flour]
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch processed
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t kosher salt
1 large egg
1/2 c firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 c buttermilk
1/2 c brewed coffee
1/3 c canola oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease the insides of muffin cups.
2. Sift the cake and all-purpose flours, cocoa powder, and baking soda together onto a piece of parchment paper or into a bowl. Stir in the salt.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg and the brown and granulated sugars.
4. In a small bowl, mix together the buttermilk, coffee and canola oil.
5. In 3 additions, alternately stir the wet and dry ingredients into the eggs. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.
6. Bake until a skewer inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the cupcakes from the cups by running a knife around the inside edge of the cup.

Recipe courtesy of A Passion for Ice Cream

Seven-Minute Icing

Makes about 3 cups

3 large egg whites
1 1/2 c sugar
1/3 c cold water
1 T light corn syrup
1/4 t cream of tartar
1 t vanilla

1. Combine all ingredients except vanilla in the top of a large double boiler or a heatproof bowl and beat until thoroughly blended.
2. Set over rapidly boiling water. Beat constantly with a hand-held mixer at medium-high speed, or with a wire whisk, until the mixture stands in stiff peaks, 7 minutes. Remove from the heat.
3. Add vanilla and continue beating until the icing is cooled to room temperature. Use at once.

Recipe courtesy of Joy of Cooking

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sunday Dinner with a Twist

Sunday dinner: it's rustic and cozy and homey and familiar. Right? Maybe, like, a nice hearty pasta dish? Rigatoni, perhaps, which holds marinara sauce like no other pasta? Add some sausage for substance. How about a little broccoli rabe, too? And wouldn't some heavy cream make it even better? Hold on.

Andrew Carmellini, who was until recently the chef at the fabulous restaurant A Voce, uses a curious ingredient to add smooth, rich texture and full, earthy flavor to Rigatoni Pugliese: chickpeas. It struck me as a little strange at first; wouldn't chickpeas pureed along with their liquids take things in a decidedly non-Italian, hummus-y direction? At least, I thought they would. But apparently, chickpeas are used all the time in Puglia. And the Pugliese know good food. So I went with it, and am very glad I did.

You start by browning a pound of spicy Italian sausage, out of the casing. Add about three cups of tomato sauce (I used my mom's recipe but any basic one would work). And then, in goes pureed chickpeas and liquid. They add a creaminess that looks a lot like heavy cream would, swirling into the sauce, lightening it in color while thickening it. For the final touch, you blanch and sautee broccoli rabe with a few whole chickpeas and garlic. You boil the macaroni until it's al dente, and then pour it into the sauce, tossing in the rabe and chickpeas. (I added a pat of butter and some pecorino cheese, but that's optional.)

It's a spectacular Sunday supper. I love the idea of substituting a legume for a heavy dairy ingredient. Just a little lighter, but still plenty comforting.--S

Rigatoni Pugliese

Serves 4 to 6

For the sauce:
1 15-oz can chickpeas
¼ c plus 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb spicy Italian sausage
3 c basic tomato sauce
½ t ground fennel seed

For the broccoli rabe and rigatoni:
1 bunch broccoli rabe, cleaned of outer leaves and bottom stems trimmed
1 lb rigatoni
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced Goodfellas thin
¼ t red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

To finish the dish:
2 T butter
2 t extra-virgin olive oil
1 c grated pecorino cheese

To prepare the sauce:
1. Drain the chickpeas well, reserving the liquid. Blend half the chickpeas (about 1 c) and all their liquid on high until the mixture forms a smooth paste, about 1 minute.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Squeeze the sausage out of the casing and add the meat to the pan. Brown it, stirring regularly and breaking the meat up into small pieces with a spoon or potato masher.
3. Add the tomato sauce and stir to combine.
4. Add the chickpea purée and the fennel seed and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat until the mixture forms a loose sauce and the flavors are combined, about 15 minutes.

To prepare the broccoli rabe and the rigatoni:
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Blanch the broccoli rabe until the stems are just softened and the color has deepened, about 90 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider to a bowl of ice water to immediately stop the cooking process.
3. Return the water to a boil, add the rigatoni and cook until it’s al dente. Drain but do not rinse the pasta.
4. Warm the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium sauté pan. Add the broccoli rabe, garlic, red pepper flakes, and the remaining half of the chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the greens are well coated, about 1 minute.

To finish the dish:
1. Return the rigatoni to the pot. Add the sauce and cook on medium-high heat, mixing well, until the pasta is well coated, about 1 minute.
2. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the butter, olive oil, and half the pecorino cheese.
3. Transfer the pasta and sauce to a large serving dish and pour the broccoli rabe and chickpea mixture over the top. Top with the rest of the pecorino cheese and serve immediately.

Recipe courtesy of Urban Italian