Posts Tagged ‘Pasta’

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.

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.