August 29, 2007
A New Baby and Spiced Pepitas with Cilantro Pesto (the pepitas, not the baby)

First off - we'd like to congratulate Too Many Chefs alumnus Justin (once of Bogotá, now of Switzerland) and his wife Emily on the birth of their first son, Bennet!

Second, here's an application for that cilantro pesto we made last week. We had some last night on pasta (I know, pesto on pasta - who woulda thunk it?) with a handful of toasted spiced pepitas. Delicious.

Here's the recipe for the pepitas (pumpkin seeds which have had their shells removed so only the green inner seed is left):

Spiced Pepitas

1 cup raw, unsalted pepitas
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp chili powder or cayenne
3 tablespoons lime juice

Melt the butter in the pan. When it starts to foam a bit, add the pepitas and toss well to coat.
Add the salt, cayenne and lime and toss well. Cook, stirring frequently over medium-high heat until the pepitas start to take on just a little color.

Cool and eat with your fingers or better, add some to pasta dressed with a couple of tablespoons of our cilantro pesto - s'nice!


Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:07 AM | Comments (9)
August 23, 2007
Cilantro Pesto and Black Bean Cakes

Black bean cakes with heirloom tomatoes, Mexican pesto, and a little quesoIt got into my head recently, while enjoying a delicious caprese sandwich with pesto, that there ought to be such a thing as Mexican pesto.

Think about it - traditional Italian pesto consists of basil, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Mexico has counterparts to all those ingredients - cilantro, pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds with the shells removed), sunflower oil or corn oil, lime, garlic again, and queso añejo. What works for one culture might very well work for another.

For practical purposes (that is, I lacked the courage of my convictions), I stuck with olive oil instead of using corn or sunflower oil, but created my cilantro-based pesto based on the outine above. I also added a jalapeño because it seemed to want to be there, and in the final recipe, you can't taste the heat, but the jalapeño adds to the flavor.

Of course you can't exactly eat pesto by the spoonful Or at least normal people can't eat pesto by the spoonful. I needed something to put the pesto on, and black bean cakes/burgers seemed to be a good choice. This recipe makes much more pesto than you'll use on these black bean cakes, but who ever complained about leftover pesto? Uh, the black bean cake recipe also makes way too much and I currently have a batch of the stuff in the fridge for dinner again this week. That's what happens when you improvise, I guess.

This is not going to be a highly scientific recipe. I felt my way through both of these, and I can recapitulate some of the steps I took, but you will have to feel your way through these two recipes with me. If that's OK with you, here's how to make a vivid green cilantro-based Mexican pesto to enjoy with black bean cakes.

Cilantro Pesto and Black Bean Cakes

For the pesto:
Three big bunches of cilantro
1 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup olive oil (or so, that's a guess)
one jalapeño, seeds removed,
3 cloves garlic
salt to taste
1/2 cup queso añejo, a hard salty Mexican cheese like Parmesan

For the black bean cakes:
2 14 oz. cans black beans, drained
one large white onion, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder/cayenne
1 teaspoon oregano
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1/2 cup - 3/4cup bread crumbs

light vegetable oil for frying

two heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/4" dice as a garnish
optional chihuahua cheese as a garnish

Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse until minced well. Add the cilantro and process until you have a paste. Add the pepitas and jalapeño and pulse again until they are incorporated. Add the cheese and pulse until it is incorporated.

Using the feed tube, slowly add the juices and oil until you have a nice paste that flows smoothly. Taste and add more or less of any of the main ingredients as well as salt. You should end up with a bright fresh greens and citrus-y paste with earthy undertones.

Clean out the food processor and store the pesto.

Add everything but the breadcrumbs, oil, salt and pepper to the food processor and process until you have a purplish paste of even consistency. You'll notice the paste is a little loose. Add 1/3 of the bread crumbs and pulse until they are fully incorporated. Continue with the rest of the breadcrumbs until you have a sticky paste that hangs together.

Preheat the oven to 200 F and put paper towels on a plate into the oven.

Heat 1/3" of oil in a pan until it is shimmering but not smoking. With a large spoon and a silicone spatula carefully spoon some of the bean mix into the hot oil. Repeat making six or seven separate bean patties.

After about one minute in the oil, VERY CAREFULLY flip each bean cake so the uncooked side is now in the oil. Press lightly on the tops of the cakes with the spatula to flatten out the bottoms and cook an additional 60 seconds.

Remove the cakes to the paper towel covered plate in the oven to keep warm. Add a layer of paper towels to the top.

Repeat until you've made enough black bean cakes/burgers to serve your diners. Store the rest of the bean mix for another night.

On a plate, arrange three bean cakes per person. Top each with a dollop of cilantro pesto and add the diced heirloom tomatoes and chihuahua cheese as a garnish. Serve immediately.

You can also serve these as sandwiches on hamburger buns. Spread the pesto on the bun, and slice the tomato if you choose that route.

ANOTHER IDEA: We had the rest of the batch for dinner again and you can get great results if you put down half a pattie's worth of the black bean mix, then a stripe of cilantro pesto on top, then another half-pattie's worth of black bean mix to top it all off, and fry it up. The nice fresh citrus and cilantro taste in the center of the earthy burger is fantastic.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:49 AM | Comments (3)
August 22, 2007
Pasta with Vegetables and Goat Cheese Sauce

Goat cheese yesterday and now goat cheese today! The credit for inspiration for this pasta dish goes to Paul Goyette, formerly of this blog and currently of locussolus fame.

The Redhead and I visited Paul and his family a couple of weeks ago, and like always when we're at their place, we ate like kings. One of the dishes Paul treated us to was pasta with strips of farmer's market fresh sweet red peppers in a spicy goat-cheese based sauce. His version included tiny dried Italian hot peppers and was quite spicy, which I enjoyed.

It got into my head that this sauce would also be great in a less spicy preparation that emphasized the savory elements. Paul had also been experimenting with caramelizing onions until they were as sweet as candy, and as that also seemed like a great idea, I pinched that concept as well for this dish.

Now, you'll notice the main ingredients in the sauce are goat cheese and water. That doesn't seem like much to build on. The water, however, comes from the pasta pot, and the starches in the water from the pasta help to hold the sauce together even as we thin out the cheese. The salt in the water helps to flavor the pasta, but the most important flavors come from the onions, the strips of roasted bell pepper, and the garlic and oregano infused zucchini.

Watery cheese might seem like a strange base for a sauce, but you'll be making pasta like this all the time once you try this technique. Sauce is what you make it, and if a goat cheese and pasta-water sauce works, it works.

Pasta with Vegetables and Goat Cheese Sauce

2 large white onions
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

1/2 pound whole wheat linguini
salt for the pasta water
water for the salt and pasta

3 oz. fresh goat cheese - no need to use top quality, commercial will do
1 roasted bell pepper (I used a yellow one, you can use red if you wish), cut into strips
2 zucchini
2 more tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano, divided
salt and pepper to taste

one more tablespoon of olive oil

First, remove the goat cheese from the package and place it on a sheet of wax paper or parchment at room temperature to soften.

Cut the tops and bottoms off your onions and using a mandoline slice the onions into very thin slices. I always have to turn on the exhaust fans, open the windows, and have a moist paper towel ready for my eyes when I do this so work quickly (but use your hand guard for the mandoline so it's also safe). If you don't have a mandoline, go get one. It's one of the best kitchen tools you'll ever buy and you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on an infinitely adjustable one. I have this one, and it's been working great for me for over seven years.

Heat the oil and melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onion slices and stir well over medium heat. Continue sauteeing the onions over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until they color and turn brown. This may take as long as thirty minutes. You'll be tempted to turn the heat up to get it over with, but resist, and you'll be rewarded with intensely sweet caramel colored onions. Once you have these, set them aside for later use.

While the onions are caramelizing, cut the tops and bottoms off your zucchini and using the mandoline again on the thicker sliced setting, make 1/4" slices lengthwise along the zucchini, discarding the first and last peel slices. Cut these into 4" long sections, and slice these down the middle to create manageable sized pieces.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet (you can reuse the onion skillet, if you wish), and add two cloves worth of garlic. Add the zucchini pieces, and a teaspoon of oregano. Sautee the zucchini, stirring and flipping the pieces until tender, but not falling apart. Set aside.

Put a half gallon (two quarts) of water on to boil with a good tablespoon of salt in it. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until it's al dente.

Use a pasta fork to remove the linguini so you save the pasta water. Alternatively, spoon out three or four ladles of water into a bowl before draining the linguini.

In a large skillet over low heat, heat one tablespoon of olive oil and add the pasta to the skillet. Add the softened goat cheese and stir well. As you stir, ladle a little of the pasta water in to help melt the goat cheese. Continue to add water until you have coating of cheese on all the noodles.

Once you have good even cheese distribution, add the caramelized onions a little at a time while you stir. The onion will want to clump, so distribute them slowly while stirring. Add the bell pepper strips similarly.

Finally, add the zucchini and toss with the pasta to coat and evenly distribute the vegetables. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve in warm bowls.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:31 AM | Comments (0)
August 21, 2007
Goat Cheese and Mushroom stuffed Sweet Peppers

Baby peppers stuffed with goat cheese and mushroomsI've had trouble coming up with new things to cook because we don't eat out as much as we used to. Restaurants are always trying out new dishes and coming up with interesting ideas that they hope will catch on, and that means exposing their customers to new ideas that can be borrowed and adopted.

A month or two ago, I ate at Jose Andres's Jaleo in Bethesda, Maryland with the Redhead and a friend and among the tapas we enjoyed was a plate of Spanish piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese and mushrooms. All three of us were very polite about sharing, but we all made very sure we got a fair portion of this delicious dish.

The dish was fantastic. The sweet flesh of the peppers contrasted with the earthy mushrooms mixed with the tangy fresh goat cheese. I could have just ordered a few plates of the stuffed peppers and been happy.

When I decided to recreate the dish at home, a discovered that piquillo peppers are not easy to find in the U.S., at least not at a reasonable price or not in a jar. The piquillo pepper grows in Northern Spain and has a wonderful sweetness that ordinary full-grown bell peppers just don't have.

I wasn't wiling to spend $15 for a jar of piquillo peppers, but when I came across a clamshell pack of small sweet bell peppers for less than $3, I tossed them in the cart and grabbed some baby portobello mushrooms and some fresh goat cheese.

The end dish I came up with isn't the same as the dish from Jaleo, but it does capture the contrast of flavors nicely, and because I didn't peel the peppers, it makes for a delicious finger food for parties. The only downside is that there is a lot of chopping involved. There's no reason you couldn't make these up well ahead of time for a party and heat them up in the microwave (yes, I said the "m" word) just before serving.

Goat cheese and mushroom stuffed peppers

Peppers:
10-12 small "baby bell", piquillo, or paloma peppers, no bigger than a large thumb
2 cups low sodium vegetable stock

Filling:
One small packet of fresh goat cheese (3-4 ounces)
6-8 baby portobello mushrooms with stems
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon dried sage
pinch of salt
grind of black pepper

Trim the tops off the peppers, and remove any seeds and membranes you can from the inside without cutting the sides of the pepper.

Heat the vegetable stock to a boil in a saucepan or skillet and introduce the peppers. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let the peppers simmer for ten minutes before turning them and simmering for another ten minutes uncovered. You want the peppers to soften without completely collapsing. If you find them starting to soften too much, turn the peppers early or remove them from the stock entirely. Drain and let cool.

Trim the very ends of the stems of the mushrooms. Mince the mushrooms, stems and all into very small pieces, about the size of a pea or smaller.

In a small skillet, melt the butter and introduce the mushrooms, sage, and a pinch of salt. Sautée until the mushrooms have become tender. Because you've minced them so finely, this will happen very quickly. Set the mushrooms aside.

Place the goat cheese in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 30-45 seconds until soft. Mix the mushrooms into the cheese until you have a uniform consistency.

Using a butter knife, stuff the mushroom/cheese mix into the peppers, packing it down to ensure the tips of the peppers are filled. Fill each pepper completely, but don't over-fill.

Set aside or refrigerate until you are ready to serve. Just before serving, microwave the peppers until they and the cheese inside them are warm, but not boiling hot. One minute or less should do it, depending on the number of peppers you have, whether they were refrigerated before serving, and the power of your microwave.

Serve warm as finger food or drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle herbs on small plates of peppers to be eaten with fork and knife.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:50 AM | Comments (6)
August 20, 2007
The Best Eggplant makes Great Sandwiches

People often debate about what kind of eggplant is best - long,skinny Japanese eggplants; big fat Sicilian eggplants; those little Thai eggplants that come in a variety of colors... I can finally settle this debate once and for all. The best eggplant is a free eggplant from a co-worker's garden.

I was the lucky recipient of one beautiful Italian eggplant from the garden of our gregarious receptionist who serves as our all-around beneficent minder of the staff at my workplace. She had grown a few of the purple lovelies and didn't know quite what to do with them. I gave her a couple of ideas and in return, she generously gave me a nice plump eggplant from her garden to do with as I wished.

And what I wished was that I had a good eggplant sandwich. My wife the Redhead wished for a good eggplant sandwich, too, but of a different sort. She rarely complains when I trash the kitchen while cooking, so I felt that accommodating her with a different type of eggplant sandwich was probably in order.

Now this is just a simple sandwich "recipe" so I won't go into measurements and instructions except to say that the two sandwiches we made were for me, sautéed eggplant, feta, roasted red pepper and mayo (actually Vegan mayo), and for her, the same eggplant with feta slices and basil/pine nut pesto, both served on toasted whole grain sandwich bread.

I infused a little extra flavor into the eggplant by blessing the oil with garlic. The instructions for that are after the jump:

Garlic -infused Eggplant slices for sandwiches

An eggplant, sliced on the bias into 1/4" rounds
salt
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
oregano to taste

Lightly salt the eggplant rounds and let stand for 30 minutes to drag out any bitterness. Blot the slices to remove excess moisture.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat with the garlic for about three minutes. Don't let the garlic start to color or brown. Remove the garlic from the oil and set aside for re-use.

Place half the eggplant slices in the pan, and swirl them around so the underside gets coated with the oil. Flip the slices over immediately, and give them the same treatment so both sides get a little of the garlic-blessed oil. Turn the heat up to medium-high and sautée the slices until the bottoms start to brown just a little - about four minutes. Flip and repeat until both sides are browned. Remove the slices to a plate and sprinkle with fresh or dried oregano.

Repeat with the other two tablespoons of oil, re-using your original garlic and letting it brown this time.

Use finished slices for sandwiches. One small Italian globe eggplant should be good for three-four sandwiches.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:53 AM | Comments (6)
August 18, 2007
Warm zucchini salad for a hot summer day

zukesalad.jpg

Did anyone grow up liking zucchini? Raise your hands. I don't think I see many out there. Zucchini is so easy to grow, so prolific and - in the hands of a 1970s working mother - so big, woody and boring. My mother and grandmother did their best to disguise the fact that we had too many zucchini by baking them in sweet zucchini bread or burying them in zucchini lasagna. But nothing could disguise the fact that, on their own, they were the most boring vegetable in the world. Or so I always thought.

Then I moved to Europe. I discovered this wonderful vegetable called a "courgette", that had a vague resemblance to a zucchini. It was the zucchini's younger, more elegant and refined cousin. And I fell in love. I have long loved grilling zucchini and eggplant and layering them in a salad with sweet grilled peppers. I love to include them in my non-authentic stir fries. I have even experimented successfully with turning them into mini-cheese tarts. But I think this new simple salad might be my favourite use for tender young zucchini. I will warn you: it's not low calorie. Oh yes, you saw the word "salad" and thought it would be a nice healthy side dish. Well, it will help you towards your 5-a-day goal for vegetables but it will also probably take you to the maximum limit on fat. But it's so worth it. Buttery, nutty, silky zucchini set off perfectly by sharp sweet tomatoes, with a side note of lemony basil. Even the Critic - who is no fan of the courgette - had a healthy (ahem) portion.

One of the things that surprised me most when I came to assemble this salad is how well the combination of butter in the cooking and olive oil in the dressing worked. Don't ask me why: I just take a leap of faith sometimes and it works. Don't skimp on the salt, either, as it will liven the flavours, always important when you have very simple ingredients.

Warm zucchini salad (serves two)

2 small zucchini (courgettes)
4-6 small very ripe cherry tomatoes
2-4 Tbs sweet butter
1-2 Tbs peppery olive oil
pinch of salt
good grinding of pepper
a small handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped.

Melt the butter until it froths in a nonstick frying pan and add the zucchini, sliced in rounds about 1/2 to 3/4 cm thick. You will probably need to cook them in a few lots, as you want them to be in a single layer. After a few minutes, turn over the slices. They should be just starting to brown. Remove when they are tender but not cooked to the point of falling apart and drain on a paper towel. While you are cooking, you may notice the butter has browned a bit - this is fine and adds a nutty flavour, but don't let the butter burn. You may need to add a bit more butter as you finish cooking the last of the zucchini. To assemble the salad, spread the zucchini out on a platter and sprinkle with cherry tomato slices and basil. Drizzle the olive oil over the salad and lastly sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. You can prepare this before you make the rest of dinner and just set it aside. For this reason, it's perfect for a dinner party as you can prepare it completely in advance. Just don't forget to serve it (as I tend to do whenever I prepare something well in advance of a dinner party, sigh).

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:17 AM | Comments (1)
August 17, 2007
Squash from Spaaaaace!

Klaatu Barada Ragu! - Loosely translated, Gort the robot is saying "Have some delicious UFO-shaped patty pan squash (also known as petit pan squash) for dinner!"

The first time I saw the flying saucer-shaped patty pan squash, I was convinced the aliens had landed and were voting Republican were propagating their species through these little green and yellow space eggs. It took me a while to get up the courage to actually buy some of these patty pan squash and try them out.

Uncooked, patty pan squash is very much like a sweeter zucchini with fewer seeds. (The extra seeds are clearly in the pods they use to replace humans with simulacrums.) They resist heat a bit more than regular zucchini (of course - they need the heat shields for re-entry into the atmosphere), but a little olive oil and salt over medium heat breaks them down effectively.

I enjoyed them in a sauce of chopped tomatoes in their juice with white beans and some nice Italian spices. The squash, beans and tomatoes are a classic combination and the bay leaves and oregano give it a Mediterranean favor that proves the Colloseum was built by aliens.

UFO's with White Beans

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 or 6 medium patty pan squashes, 3"-6" in diameter
1 - 28 oz can of chopped tomatoes in juice
2 - 14 oz cans canellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
up to 1 tablespoon flour to thicken
salt and pepper to taste

Slicing the squash can be a bit of a challenge because of their shape. The key is to give yourself a flat surface to do the finer work of slicing the squash thin. Start with well washed patty pan UFO's. First, trim the stem and the bit at the opposite side of the stem off because those don't have the best texture and don't taste the best. I assume that's where they put the tracking devices and mind-control rays.

Next, cut the saucer section in half front to back (not along the ridge line, but perpendicular to it). If the patty pan is too large (say more than five inches or so across), cut it in half perpindicular to the first cut so you have saucer quarters. Place the half (or quarter) saucer cut side down and make 1/8" - 1/4" thick slices parallel to the ridge line, eventually cutting the ridge down the center. Continue with all the squash.

Heat the olive oil in a pan until it starts to shimmer. Add the garlic and sautee for two minutes until the garlic smells wonderful.

Add the sliced squash and sautee for five minutes just until the squash starts to soften. Yes, during this time you will have Unidentified Frying Objects in your pan.

Add the tomatoes with their juice, the beans, the feta cheese and the oregano. Stir well to combine. Add the bay leaves just under the liquid from the tomatoes and turn the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for ten minutes.

Remove the bay leaves, add salt and pepper to taste. If the squash is too wet, add the flour slowly and stir to thicken the sauce. Serve with whole grain bread and with trepidations of the oncoming invasion from the Omega system. Have a Mars bar for dessert.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:08 AM | Comments (3)
August 16, 2007
Devilishly good turkey burgers

turkeydiabolo.jpgWe have been eating a lot of turkey lately. It started while we were on vacation in Italy; the nearest supermarket usually had slices of turkey breast and it made a nice change from the chicken breasts that show up on our menu with tedious frequency. (The Critic is a (chicken) breast man.) The turkey breasts not only made a change for us, but also made good substitutes in a lot of Italian recipes calling for thin veal cutlets. Like veal, they go very well with a fresh tomato sauce or bacon. When pounded, they are tender as veal. And when you run out of veal recipes, of course, there are the chicken ones. Say, for example, pollo alla diavola. Actually, in this case, I would argue that turkey works better than chicken if you have already decided to depart from the original recipe and grill cutlets instead of a whole bird. Turkey stands up better - both in terms of flavour and texture - to a grill than its tender cousin, the chicken. And it also stands up admirably to the strong garlic and pepper flavours. In fact, if you are not prepared to spatchcock a whole chicken and do it properly (don't you just love the word spatchcock?) I would argue that this is the best way to get the same basic effect. And then if you put it in a bun with a bit of mayonnaise and a slice of tomato, you really have grilling heaven. Trust me.

I based my recipe on the one in this cookbook which I have mentioned before. The first time I made it, in Italy, we just had the turkey cutlets with a side of pasta with garlic butter and Parmesan. Back in Paris, I decided to slap the cutlets into a hamburger bun and the result was even better. I would argue, in fact, that turkey burgers have a huge advantage over chicken ones as the cutlets are sold sliced at a uniform thickness and thus adapt better to being put in a bun. The chicken burgers I make tend to be messier to make and to eat.

Turkey Diavola Burgers

2-3 turkey cutlets
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2-3 dried red peppers (to taste - depending on how hot the peppers are and how hot you like your food)
1 shallot, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, pressed
4-6 small sage leaves, chopped finely

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and let them marinate for half an hour or more in the refrigerator. Heat up the grill. Slap the cutlets on the grill and smear the remaining garlic/spices/onion on the meat. Grill for a few minutes and then turn. In the meantime, toast a few hamburger buns and slice a tomato. Serve on the buns with tomato and mayonnaise. If you have some real he-men for dinner you can add a sliced jalepeno but if your marinade is properly hot you won't need it. You can also (as I did) grill a few shallots at the same time as the turkey and slice them up to add to the burger. It goes well with the garlicky meat and makes a nice change from onion slices.

Enjoy. With napkins to catch the juice...and perhaps a tomato salad?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:12 AM | Comments (3)
August 15, 2007
Silly Sandwiches


I have no idea what the story is behind these sandwiches, but you have to see them to believe them.

UPDATED: The site that hosted the sandwich pics is down. Here's a Google Cache of the site, which will load slowly.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:36 AM | Comments (4)
August 14, 2007
Curry in the U.K.

Damian Whitworth explores the importance of Curry to Britain's food culture in the TimesOnline.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:35 AM | Comments (2)
August 8, 2007
Chickpea Ragout (Wherin I Disrespect My Betters)

Chickpea Ragout with an Egg
Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way has a recipe for a chickpea ragout that was the starting point for this recipe. We started with the best intentions to stay faithful to Pepin's recipe, but as the ragout was developing, I felt it wanted a little bit of this and a little bit of that to bring out more flavor.

Jacques Pepin is one of the most important chefs of the 20th Century. He cooked for DeGaulle, revolutionized prepared foods for Howard Johnson, wrote for the New York Times, and taught America how to cook with Julia Child. He holds a Legion of Honor, is on the faculty at Boston University, and founded The American Institute of Wine and Food. The man is a legend. Obviously I'm not arrogant enough to say I improved on a Jacques Pepin recipe, I'm just saying my version tastes better... (Besides, did you ever eat at a Howard Johnson when they were around? Meh.)

So, having now offended all hard-core foodies -

My secret additions (well, not secret I guess because I'm writing them up on a public blog) are tomato sauce, oregano, and red wine vinegar (actually the remains of a bottle of Oregon pinot noir we let go vinegary - don't toss those little dregs of unfinished wine, use them as vinegars).

To my portion I also added some fake bacon bits, a smoky soy product. You could certainly use real bacon, crumbled up. I added the bacon bits to my portion only because my wife is not so meat-flavor crazy, while I think chickpeas and bacon (or at last the salt and smokiness I associate with bacon) are a perfect match.

Serve the ragout over a toasted piece of whole grain bread and top with a fried egg for a very nice vegetarian dinner in a bowl.

Chickpea Ragout inspired by Jacques Pepin

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, diced
1/2 cup diced scallions
1 small can (15 oz.) pomodoro tomatoes, chopped coarsely
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 16 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (or 1/4 cup red wine and 1/4 cup wine vinegar)
1/2 cup marinara sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon real or fake bacon bits
(up to) 1 tablespoon flour as thickener

2 eggs, 2 tablespoons butter for topping fried egg
2 slices whole grain bread, toasted.

salt, pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley as garnish

Heat the oil in a very large (12") skillet until shimmering. Add the garlic, shallots, and onions and sautee until the onions are soft.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, stock, oregano, sauce, and vinegar. Mix well. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer for 15 minutes. If the mixture is not thick enough (stew like), gradually add the flour while stirring until you get the consistency you want. Salt and pepper to taste

Add the bacon bits near the end and cook for just a minute longer after you've added them.
Put one slice of toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl. Divide the chickpea ragout into two bowls, (or four, see below), reserving some of the mix for leftovers or seconds.

Melt butter and fry 2 eggs individually, over easy. Top each dish with egg, sprinkle parsley as garnish, and serve.

Makes for a nice, filling dinner with a few leftovers or seconds with the egg. Alternately, serve three-four immediately, adding an egg and slice of toast for each person. You may need more than just this dish to satisfy four hungry diners.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:22 PM | Comments (5)
August 5, 2007
Can she bake a fishy pie?

fishpie2.jpg

The Sister has been to visit a lot in the last three months. She's susceptible to a baby magnet in the highest degree and as soon as number two son was born, she suddenly found her work as a flight attendant was taking her to Paris frequently. I'm not offended. As the mother of the baby who is working this magic, I totally agree that there is nothing more exciting in the world than spending time with him. It seems perfectly natural to me.

On her last visit, my sister brought along a friend of hers who also loves babies and small children, Robert. When she described this friend and colleague, oddly enough I knew exactly who she meant. When the (first) Boy and I travelled alone to Chicago last year, Robert was working the flight and helped me enormously with my energetic toddler, keeping an eye on him while I went to the toilet, pretending to be a swing for him, supplying us with empty water bottles and straws to play with, in short making the flight a dream for me. He told me about his children and their travels in Europe and showed me photos. Parent stuff.

When he arrived, it was clear that this memorable (for me) trip was just one of thousands for him. Well, that's normal enough - how many busy mothers had he helped before me and has he seen since? But I remembered and I wanted to make a memorable dinner to thank him. Because our on-again-off-again summer was distinctly off that night I opted for a warming fish pie to combat the wind and rain outside.

I based the pie on Nigel Slater's fish pie, an old dear favourite of mine. As the Critic couldn't find smoked haddock at the store (and the piece I was sure I had in the freezer seems to have disappeared) I decided to substitute some parma ham to bring in the smoked note. And this led to a few other changes...until I had a new fish pie to add to my stock of recipes.

Note: I was afterwards informed by the Critic that "Mushrooms have no place in a fish pie." Personally, I thought they were nice and silky, but you might want to drop them if you have a picky Englishman in the house.

Ham and Fish pie (serves four)

Nigel's fish pie just keeps getting simpler and less work in my hands. The original recipe called for mussels (which the Critic sometimes thinks he doesn't like) that needed to be washed and cooked before assembling the pie, and haddock, which also required pre-cooking in milk. In this incarnation, only the potatoes and onions need to be cooked before assembling, meaning the preparation time is only about half an hour.

350 g white fish, such as cod
150 g shelled shrimp
125 g parma ham, shredded in bite-sized pieces
3-4 shallots, sliced in fine strips
4 mushrooms, sliced finely (optional)
2 Tbs flour
1/2 litre milk
100 ml créme fraîche
50 g grated parmesan
450 g potatoes (about 10 small ones)
6 Tbs butter, divided
2 Tbs fresh thyme or 1 Tbs dried

Peel the potatoes and set them to boil in lightly salted water. While they are cooking, melt 2 Tbs of the butter in a deep frying pan and add the shallots. Fry the shallots until limp and sweet, but not browned. Add the flour and stir for a few moments. Slowly stir in the milk and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme, mushrooms (if any), ham, fish and shrimp and cover. Simmer for five minutes, until the fish breaks up easily when you stir. Gently stir in the crème fraîche and remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 180c/350f.

Next, mash the potatoes with the remaining butter and half the Parmesan. Add some of the milk from the fish mixture if it seems a bit dry. Pour the fish mixture in a small deep soufflé dish. Pile the potato mixture over the top, and smooth it over with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top of the pie and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the pie is slightly browned on top and bubbling away. If you are smart (as I was not) you'll place a sheet of tin foil on the floor of the oven before baking to catch any fish sauce that bubbles over while it's baking.

Serve with a nice dry white wine at the table. As mentioned in my earlier recipe, fish pie looks lovely before you serve it but is not so pretty on your plate. It's an ideal dinner for guests, though, as it can sit on the table for as much as 15 minutes (while you herd guests to the table) without losing much heat.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:24 PM | Comments (4)
August 1, 2007
D'oh!

Am I the absolute last one to figure out that food blogger Megnut and eclectic blogger Kottke are a couple?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:51 PM | Comments (2)
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