Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

Stuffed Artichokes

February 14, 2010

Ingredients: artichoke, garlic, breadcrumbs, parmesan, olive oil, white wine, oregano, basil, black pepper, salt.

It seems to me that a majority of artichoke recipe titles end in “dip.” That’s a shame. The delicate flavor of a fresh artichoke should be lifted skyward and savored with simple, honest preparation — not drowned in cream cheese.

Then again, if your artichokes came from a can, it’s probably too late for glory. Now, I don’t hate tinned artichokes. They’re edible. The problem is how overpoweringly tart the preservative citric acid can be. I mean, it works out fine for dip and vinegary salads, but you aren’t really tasting artichoke.

Case in point: when I served one of these Italian-style stuffed artichokes to Senka, she remarked (with surprise) that it was nothing like what she expected from prior experience. Then she remarked that I should make them more often…

Working with fresh artichokes is definitely a challenge. The pointy outer leaves must be snipped, the stem must be peeled, and the thistly inedible innards must be scraped away with vigilance. [If you’re interested in doing this, I recommend studying one of the many illustrated guides online.] It’s also common practice to rub a wedge of lemon over shorn edges, which helps to prevent oxidization. With only 2 artichokes to stuff, I skipped this step.

For the stuffing, I mixed together a hearty pile of breadcrumbs, minced garlic, shredded parmesan cheese, Italian herbs, salt & pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil. I tucked the mixture into the gaps between leaves, plus down deep where the center “choke” was removed. I set my pair of artichokes in a shallow bath of white wine, covered the pan with foil (glass would probably have be better), and allowed for 30 minutes of oven braising. Toward the end, I removed the foil so as to crisp the breadcrumbs on top.

Stuffed artichokes are super fun to eat. You pluck one leaf at a time, then strip off the meaty underside with your teeth (and discard the rest). As you progress concentrically, each leaf yields increasingly more flesh. Exciting! Near the choke, however, the leaves become too thin to bother nibbling; at this point, you simply yank off the remainder and feast upon the delectable, dense heart. It’s not as gory as it sounds. In fact, I find it quite sensual, and rewarding after all that work.


Spaghetti with Clam Sauce & Seared Scallops

November 12, 2009


Ingredients: spaghetti, scallops, clams, green peas, butter, olive oil, flour, garlic, parsley, oregano, lemon, Parmigiano-Reggiano, chili flakes, black pepper, salt.

One item I always bring back with me to Sweden is canned clams. Canned mussels are sold here, but they have no texture at all, and pretty weak flavor. Canned clams kick so much ass in comparison. I love their seashore aroma and just-chewiness.

The best part, however, is the broth they are packed in. It’s liquid gold! If I didn’t have to smuggle the stuff, I would add it to just about everything I make. Clam broth has such a bright, warm, mineral-rich taste. It’s also a natural way to get more umami in your mouthful.

What I decided to make with my very last can of clams (until next visit home) is a simple classic from childhood: Mom’s spaghetti with clam sauce. She used to make huge batches of this, with plenty of plump tiger shrimp on top. If this wasn’t my favorite of her specialties, it was certainly near the top.

Here, as you can see, I chose to swap the tiger shrimp for seared scallops. They tasted just as good as they look! First I defrosted them slowly in cold water overnight (to preserve texture), then dried them thoroughly by wrapping them in paper towels for an hour. Scallops need to be as dry as possible before searing, or else they stay jellylike and don’t pick up any color in the pan. It’s also important not to move them once they start cooking; this is another way to ensure a nice crust.

I seared the scallops in ghee, which is the Indian name for clarified butter (which is when butter is simmered and skimmed of all water and milk solids). I like using ghee for jobs like this, because unlike whole butter, it doesn’t burn on high heat. Analogously, this is why “regular” olive oil should be used for frying, as opposed to Extra Virgin.

The sauce for the spaghetti was easy. I melted whole butter (not ghee) in a pan on low heat with some olive oil, then lightly sauteed 2 diced cloves of garlic in it for a minute. To this I added parsley, oregano, chili flakes, salt, pepper, and a big pinch of white flour, making sure not to burn anything. Then I poured in the clam broth, plus the juice from half a lemon, and let the sauce simmer and thicken. This is a good time for frozen peas to be added, because they help to quickly lower the temperature. I dropped the chopped clams in last, because they are pre-cooked and easily overdone.

I tossed the sauce with hot spaghetti, sprinkled a generous amount of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, and served it with the seared scallops. I’m sure Mom would be proud of this one.

Chinese Shrimp-Egg Noodles alla Carbonara

November 10, 2009


Ingredients: shrimp-egg noodles, dried shrimp, shallot, green peas, butter, egg, Parmesan, dry vermouth, parsley, black pepper, salt.

Ah yes, another valiant vegequarian attempt to re-create a baconcentric dish using dried shrimp! Check out my first post about it here.

Pasta alla Carbonara is a very simple and satisfying meal. The idea is to use beaten raw eggs (along with grated cheese) as a sauce, and to let the hot pasta cook it. To be honest, until I looked it up online, I thought Carbonara was just Alfredo with green peas & ham. Beaten eggs? I guess all those classy Italian joints I went to growing up were confused, too. It’s okay fellas!

Since I already planned on replacing the pancetta with dried shrimp, I decided to push the Italian/Chinese fusion angle even more by using shrimp-egg noodles for pasta. These aren’t egg noodles; they’re regular wheat noodles, fortified and flavored with pink shrimp eggs. I saw them on Iron Chef once (Japanese version) and was intrigued, so I picked up a package at the Asian market soon afterward. Very tasty.

Preparation was simple. I soaked the dried shrimp in vermouth to soften them up, then diced and sautéed them in butter, quickly, with shallots and parsley. I poured this over steaming hot shrimp-egg noodles, along with some frozen peas (which don’t really need to cook much, merely thaw). Then I folded in beaten eggs and grated parmesan cheese, which set rather quickly into a creamy sauce. Salt, freshly ground black pepper, delicious!

Next time I try this, I will use scallions as a garnish, for a more distinct Asian flavor. I might even (bravely) substitute fermented tofu for the Parmesan.

Tortellini Puttanesca

August 14, 2009


Ingredients: mackarel in tomato sauce, kalamata olive, capers, garlic, parsley, red wine, chili flakes, bay leaf, basil, oregano, lemon, olive oil, salt.

Served with: cheese tortellini.

This was a quick meal I constructed in just a few minutes (aside from boiling the water for the tortellini). I didn’t even expect to photograph it, but it came out so vibrant and delicious that I couldn’t resist.

I’ve already written about Swedish makrill i tomatsås here. The fish fillets taste pretty much the same as tuna, but with the consistency of pork barbecue. The tomato sauce is thin and salty, which I like very much, and provides an excellent base for a quick pasta sauce. I figured the mackarel itself would go nicely with puttanesca, as a hearty replacement for the traditional anchovy.

I started by sautéing garlic, chopped kalamata olives, capers, chili flakes, and a bay leaf in olive oil. I kept the heat low so as not to burn anything. Next I added the mackerel and its tomato sauce, plus a big splash of red wine. After a couple minutes, I turned off the heat and crumbled in some herbs (dried oregano, dried basil, fresh parsley). A bit of salt and a twist of lemon after tasting, and done!

To serve, I tossed some cheap tortellini in the sauce. They soaked it up admirably, absorbing the rich flavors and doing a fantastic imitation of an expensive meal. I will definitely be making this again.

Scallops & Chanterelles with Edamame Risotto

August 3, 2009


Ingredients: arborio rice, onion, edamame, parsley, Grana Padano cheese, vegetable stock, beer, dry sherry, butter, olive oil, truffle oil, lemon, black pepper, salt.
Served with: scallops, chanterelle mushrooms, kale.

I don’t think there’s any way out of calling this a scallop dish. In truth, I only included those scallops because I had just purchased them (frozen) at an Asian market in Malmö, and wanted to see if they were any good. After all, who could forget the ousting of Spike from Top Chef Season 4 as a result of serving frozen scallops? For the record, I have never seen fresh scallops for sale here (nor should “fresh scallops” from a supermarket be trusted to have never been frozen). Also for the record, these big frosty suckers came out great. I thawed them gently in cold water, rested them on paper towels for 30 minutes to draw out as much moisture as possible, seasoned them with salt and pepper, then seared them on cast iron. The scallops didn’t split apart, nor did they have too much trouble forming a crust (which is a symptom of excessive water retention). They smelled fresh and had perfectly tender consistency. What a great day at the office! The large bag I bought wasn’t even that expensive.

The golden chanterelle mushrooms were marvelous, too. They appeared this week at the open-air produce stand in town, and I couldn’t wait to sautée them up. I really wasn’t too familiar with chanterelles, so I tried to keep things simple. This way I’d be able to commit the exact texture and flavor profile to memory. Basically I just tossed the chanterelles into the pan with the scallops, along with some leafy kale. I’d describe the mushrooms as mildly flowery in taste, buttery in texture. The Internet says chanterelle flavor is reminiscent of apricot; I would not have thought of that, but I won’t argue.

The real work for this dish was in the risotto. It’s like a rice stew, bursting with flavor, thick with a touch of Italian cheese. I could easily have served the risotto by itself, and in the future, I will. Truthfully I underestimated how much flavor it would have, which is a function of the stock (broth).

Great risotto, just like great jambalaya or paella, is all about the stock. If you use bouillon cubes, you end up with something that tastes like a microwave dinner. I don’t mind a little MSG here and there, but there’s always way too much of it in prepared soup mix. If you absolutely must buy your stock, at least look for a brand that eschews MSG. [Wow, I never thought I’d be giving stock tips!] To make my stock, I browned some vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, parsnip, leek, garlic, cabbage, mushrooms, bell pepper), added some spices (bay leaf, whole black peppercorns, parsley stems, thyme), and submerged it all under about 2 quarts of water. After an hour of simmering, the stock was ready to be strained and stored. I set aside half of it for the risotto, and froze the rest in ice cube trays (for easy portioning in the future).

To make the risotto, I started by chopping half an onion, parboiling and shelling some edamame (which I planned to use as a replacement for the green peas standard in risotto), and heating the vegetable stock from the day before. I sautéed the onion together with the uncooked rice until the grains became toasty and translucent. This helps the rice retain its shape and texture during the long cooking process. Next came the stirring. The idea is to add liquid very gradually while agitating the rice, so that the natural starch blends with the liquid and makes a creamy sauce (arborio rice works best for this, due to its starchy quality). I began with half a can of beer, then a splash of sherry, followed by the vegetable stock (in ladlefuls), each time waiting until the previous one had been absorbed. The final step was to stir in the edamame, a pat of butter, a drizzle of truffle oil, and heaping tablespoon of grated hard Italian cheese (I used Grana Padano). I served the plate garnished with fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon.

Spinach & Mushroom Fettucini

July 31, 2009


Ingredients: fettucini, button mushrooms, spinach, Grana Padano (cheese), garlic, green chili, butter, olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, parsley, salt, black pepper.

This was a quickly-improvised meal aimed at getting rid of some mushrooms and leaf spinach in my fridge. The flavors and textures weren’t exactly refined, but I devoured it in about 5 minutes anyway because it just felt so carby and nutritious going down.

While the pasta was boiling, I thinly sliced the mushrooms and a large clove of garlic. I also cleaned up the last of the spinach and roughly tore it into large pieces. At this point I realized that it wasn’t going to be a sufficient quantity, so I defrosted 3 “pucks” of frozen spinach to go along with it. I would rather have had all fresh spinach for this particular entrée, but I do like using the frozen kind in addition to fresh spinach when I’m making dishes that involve blender-ed spinach (eg. creamed, palak paneer, etc.) The fresh stuff has great flavor, but it’s relatively expensive, and its texture feels a little “slippery” to me when puréed.

A trick I learned for brightening up spinach is to incorporate a little minced green chili. The flavor isn’t distinguishable; rather, the spinach just tastes more spinachy.

So, I added a half a green chili to some olive oil, along with the garlic. A minute later, I added the sliced mushrooms and leaf spinach, letting the mushrooms brown and the spinach wilt a bit. Then I added the frozen spinach, parsley, salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and a shot of white wine. Finally, after the alcohol from the wine had cooked off, I added a pat of butter to the sauce, which has the effect of lightly emulsifying it (a form of thickening). Technically, the butter actually reverts to cream.

I tossed the fettucini in the sauce, then served it with grated Grana Padano. It tasted a bit too rich at first, so I squeezed a little more lemon on top, making it perfect.


July 24, 2009


Ingredients: tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, carrot, olive oil, red wine, bay leaf, chili flakes, oregano, salt.
Served with: penne pasta, Grana Padano cheese, HälsansKök vegetarian meatballs, salad (Romaine and iceberg lettuce, red onion, cucumber).
Salad dressing: white wine vinegar, yellow mustard, olive oil, canola oil, shallot powder, honey, Provençal herbs, black pepper, salt.

I have a rather stubborn impression in my head of good tomato sauce. I imagine it as light and fresh, not deep red at all, almost pink in color. The texture is chunky but uniform, like apple sauce, and soft on the tongue. It tastes mellow and salty and fruity-sweet. Somehow it manages to be thin and thick at the same time.

Marinara like that does exist. I’ve had it. Twice. The first time was while on vacation in New Orleans, a long time ago, at a little Italian cafeteria-style eatery called Gino’s that probably doesn’t exist anymore. Everything there was ethereally delicious, if perhaps a little similar (even the iced tea came baked with mozzarella on top). Certainly, what made the food at Gino’s so great was the tomato sauce. It was light and gardeny enough to lift up those heavy curtains of pasta and cheese, making the whole experience actually feel healthy. I fell in love that day, and I’ve been disappointed ever since.

Oh, but didn’t I say I’d had perfect marinara twice? Well, the second time was when I went back to Gino’s later in the week.

In my own kitchen, marinara never comes out that great. It’s always decent, and certainly better than most jar brands, but let’s face it: I am still chasing the Gino’s high. What am I doing wrong? On the matter of the vine fruit themselves, I have always used crushed tomatoes from a can or box. That’s what most recipes call for. However, when I saw the summertime return of beautiful plum tomatoes last week, I decided to take another stab at recreating the perfect marinara. This time I would peel and crush the tomatoes by hand. I was hopeful, because those tomatoes tasted incredible on their own. The result of my labor was, unfortunately, yet another batch of “okay” marinara.

To peel the plum tomatoes, I dipped them 5 at a time into boiling water for 20 seconds, then sat them in an ice-water bath. Peeling off the skin was fairly easy afterward. Then I halved each tomato and scooped out the seeds to be discarded. I roughly chopped the remaining tomato halves, then cleaned up the mess.

I started the sauce with some olive oil and diced garlic, onion, and carrot (which apparently lends extra sweetness and color). After those got a chance to sautée a bit, I added a bay leaf and some chili flakes. Here’s a tip: always get your bay leaf into the oil before you add broth and/or tomato, because the bay leaf’s flavor is not water-soluble. However, you should add oregano and basil toward the end of cooking, because their flavors break down quickly with heat.

The tomatoes then went into the pot, where I let them stew for about 30 minutes total. When the level of moisture seemed to get too low for a calm simmer, I splashed in a bit of red wine. When I felt enough time had passed, I added a couple dashes of oregano, and a small handful of finely chopped fresh basil. I felt that the texture was a little too uneven, so I ran a hand blender in the pot for a couple seconds. That seemed to do the trick.

I served the sauce over penne pasta, accompanied by my favorite brand of vegetarian meatballs, grated Grana Padano (similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano), and a green salad plus vinaigrette. As I said earlier, this turned out okay, but not what I was hoping for.

Cabreze Sandwich

July 21, 2009


Ingredients: bread, mozzarella, tomato, basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt.

Simple is good. A sandwich like this one is a classic because it combines exactly the right number of components and lets each one shine. Of course, with so few components and each one shining, they’d better be good. Or at least not bad.

In my non-Italian opinion, the heart of a Cabreze salad (or sandwich) is the tomato. Some truly amazing plum tomatoes showed up at the supermarket this week, and I bought about two dozen of them. I’ll probably go back for more; they’re that good. I grabbed some fresh basil while at the store, already with this meal in mind. The mozzarella they sell isn’t literally fresh, but it’s the highly-perishable kind that comes floating in whey and tastes milky, sweet, and plenty delicious. The bread I sliced from a decent crusty loaf, then lightly oiled and grilled. For the final touch of Cabreze goodness, I reduced some balsamic vinegar in a saucepan until it became syrupy, let it cool, then drizzled it on top.

Italian Sausage & Peppers “Matchballs”

July 10, 2009


Ingredients: Match Vegan Pork, breadcrumbs, egg, feta, shallot, radish, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, tomato paste, fennel seed, sage.
Served with: green peas, carrots, fusilli pasta.

I am really pleased with how this dish turned out. My thought after taking a taste was, “this deserves a blog.” So here we are!

It began as a challenge: how do I use up this package of Match Vegan Pork and make it actually taste good? Earlier in the week, I defrosted the package and used half of it to whip up a recipe I found on the Match site for German-style pork schnitzel. What a failure. The recipe called for mustard and chopped pickles to be mixed into the patties, which I doubted but found intriguing. It was too sweet and didn’t make sense in my mouth. The larger problem, however, was that the Match Pork itself had a terrible soy protein aftertaste. For the record, Match chicken and beef don’t have this problem, but hell if I’m going to toss it in the garbage. I like a challenge anyway. It’s one of the most satisfying aspects to cooking vegetarian meals.

My first idea was to bake some meatballs and then slather them with hickory barbecue sauce. The bottle of sauce I have in the fridge is surprisingly tasty and, more importantly, aggressive. My strategy here was to present something so strong that no other taste could coexist.

As I began to prep for the meal, though, another idea occurred to me. Rather than overpower the aftertaste, could I “mask” it instead? I could pick a similar (but pleasant) flavor and fool my tastebuds into thinking that nothing’s wrong. This way I could also use subtleties like fennel and sage, which wouldn’t be worthwhile behind a barrage of barbecue sauce. To that end, I decided to blend in some soft feta. It worked perfectly. I couldn’t taste the cheese OR the soy protein.

What I did taste was the classic combination of onion, bell pepper, and sweet Italian sausage. Man, so good. The fennel seeds are key. They taste like licorice on their own, which may not seem logical for a savory dish, but they make sense in context. Sage I like too, but it was probably overkill here. It works best in breakfast sausage and Thanksgiving stuffing.

I included the chopped radishes for texture, but that was rather stupid. They just softened like potato bits. Frankly, I forgot they were even in there, so it wasn’t a big deal.

I served the meatballs with plain buttered fusilli, green peas, and carrots. There was more than enough flavor to go around.