Sunday, July 31, 2011

grilled calamari and nectarine salad

squid and nectarine salad
i'm pretty sure it's not cool to admit,
but i love my reality tv. and even less cool
to admit: i'm a fan of the food network.

are there food celebrities who i cannot stand?

are there recipes that make me
stand up and yell at the tv, accusing the
chefs of misleading the not-so-knife-savvy
that they can chop two onions and 3 cloves
of garlic in the time that it takes a tablespoon
of olive oil to warm itself?

are there times
that larry has to listen to 5 minutes of my
amazement that a chef will cut an avocado
and then tell us to use it as a garnish when
the stew will not be ready to be served for thirty minutes?

but, i'm still a fan of the food network.
i love that they've been a huge part of the
cooking movement, inspiring people to
get back to the kitchen, or more likely,
getting them into the kitchen for the first time.

i believe in a network that makes food fun
and cooking less of a chore and is trying,
very slowly, but surely to offer up a bit
of diversity, in the dishes and the chefs
they are offering.

and, i loved when they bit the bullet
and offered up their form of reality tv,
several years ago, with the
next food network star. i have watched
every season, and often - as is very unusual
with most reality television - my early
pick has won. (fingers crossed that the
streak continues - susie and jeff,
i'm pulling for you two.)

last year was no exception.
i loved aarti from the beginning,
as much for her fun personality
as my recent interest in indian food.
and, she herself was a food
blogger. the day after she won,
my mom texted me and said,
already scheduled the dvr to record
aarti's first show!

while i'll admit that it's rare,
these days that i'm watching tv on saturday
mornings, i'm thrilled when i am home and
am able to turn on the tv in time to catch
an episode. i always learn something or
get an idea for my own food.

and last weekend, when i caught less
than 5 minutes of her show before having
to run out to meet my family for breakfast,
that was all it took to decide what i was
making for dinner the following night.
nectarine wedges
she was pulling nectarine wedges off
a grill pan and adding them
to a bed of lemony greens, along with
garlicky squid. it was the kind of salad
i would have ordered without a second thought
on any day in a restaurant.

but, knowing that it had been nearly 100
degrees for days and that the last thing
either of us really wanted to do was
serious sunday night-cooking, this salad
seemed inevitable. in the best possible way.

while we have a grill that we use regularly,
we really wouldn't have wanted to head outside. i was so glad that
the recipe actually said to use a grill pan. sometimes,
i need a little pat on the back, a little that's-ok. and right
there, telling me that i could use a grill pan, that i didn't have
to go through the trouble of threading the teeny squid
onto soaked skewers and cook the nectarines in a basket,
that made the recipe extra appealing.

and here's the funny thing: when i cook a dish
for the first time, i obsess about it until
it's on the plate in front of me. i think about
what it will taste like, what it will look like,
if i should change the chives to scallions or
use almonds instead of pine nuts. i think about
it as i'm cooking it and still, i find myself making
changes even when i should be finished
and am one second away from
tossing it into a bowl.

but, with this recipe, there was none of that.
ok, maybe it's more fair to say there was very little
of that. i guess the truths are this:
the salad looked good.
i guess, as it turns out, i trust aarti
(i've yet to see her cut an avocado too early).
none of the ingredients were so tempting to mess with.
squid, drying
so, i bought the squid.
(coolest thing: the store divided the squid between
two trays: bodies and tentacles so i was able to ask
for a 50/50 ratio). i picked up two nectarines.
i grabbed arugula, a lemon and a few very juicy limes.
and that was it. the rest i had at home.
lime, halved
i prepared the ingredients, staying pretty close to
recipe with just a few tiny alterations. first -
and it pains me to say this - i had a lot of trouble
reading the recipe. several times, the recipe writer
in me wanted to stop, rewrite the recipe and then
make it. so, ultimately, i think i made everything
the way that it was intended, but i can't be sure.
also, there was this: the recipe called for
a couple pinches of a couple different spices and
when it comes to seasoning, i always believe
in going (carefully) bolder. and, because
we were eating this as our meal,
i added an extra nectarine.

but, i don't want you to think that i have any
complaints: we loved this salad. it was garlicky
and citrus-laced and, even with the extra spice,
still delicately kissed with garam masala.
but, all of the flavors managed to share the spotlight
without competing. the nectarines were really
amazing on the grill and the calamari, cooked
exactly as instructed, were tender and lightly
charred and easily the centerpiece of the dish.
grilled tentacle
it was the kind of summer salad, that as i was
eating it, i was thinking about the next time
i could make it. and it's the kind of dish, that
as i was writing this, larry came up and said,
that was really good. i hope we can make it again.

it's the reason that i refuse to apologize for
my love of the food network and my love of reality
tv. without either, i never would have found
aarti party. or, this salad. or, these recipes:
squid and nectarine salad
grilled calamari and nectarine salad
adapted from aarti party
as i said, i made a few changes to this recipe, but nothing major: i upped the number of nectarines from 1 to 2 and i used a good amount of garam masala compared to what was called for, in the marinade. a couple changes that i may make next time: i was not sure how necessary the lemon juice was (it's tossed with arugula), because i thought that the lime-garlic marinade was substantial enough to carry the dish. i'm including it below, so that you can make the decision. i also, loved (loved, loved) the tentacles and i may be 100% tentacles the next time around.

ok, when i just went to write up this recipe, it turns out that i may have left out the cumin. honestly, i don't remember putting it in, but i know that i read everything several times before i started cooking, so maybe i did? (i'm sure this is instilling a lot of trust.) i'm not putting it the ingredient list because i really don't think i used it, but if you want to add it in, use 1/2 teaspoon.

3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 juicy limes, halved
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for grilling
2 generous pinches tumeric
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
2-3 pinches red chile flakes
kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 large firm, but ripe, nectarines, pitted and cut into 6ths
1 pound baby squid, cleaned (tubes and tentacles) and patted dry
4 really large handfuls arugula, washed and dried
1/2 lemon, juiced

on cutting board, very finely chop garlic; sprinkle generously with kosher salt. let sit 5 minutes; using the back of your knife, mash the garlic to form a paste. place garlic in the bowl; juice the lime into the bowl. add the cumin (if using), tumeric, garam masala and red pepper flakes; whisk in the olive oil. season with salt and pepper.

transfer 3 tablespoons garlic marinade to small mixing bowl; add squid, tossing to coat. set aside.

heat grill pan over high heat. drizzle nectarines lightly with olive oil.

place nectarines on grill; cook 1 minute on each side, or until grill marks appear. (for me, by the time i put all of the nectarines down, it was time to turn the first ones.) transfer nectarines to plate.

make sure that the grill pan is still very, very hot. remove the squid from the marinade, letting the excess marinade drip off (discard any marinade remaining in that bowl). place squid on the grill, one piece at a time. cook 6 minutes, turning once. (if you are worried that the squid is overcooking as i was, here's 2 tricks, one from aarti, one from me. from aarti: if the squid sticks, it's not ready. give it 30 more seconds. from me: take one off the grill pan and taste it.)

remove the squid from the marinade. using a sharp knife, cut bodies into rings. toss hot tentacles and rings with the remaining garlic marinade.

toss the arugula with the lemon juice. divide among plates; top with grilled nectarines, grilled squid and the marinade mixture, if desired.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

snapshot: garlic scape butter

garlic scape butter
in a new job,
whether you've started with a
brand new business or are doing
the same thing in the same company
in a different place, like me, you're
always trying to find your way.

and that has definitely been me.
i've noticed that, i'm a bit different -
in several good ways, and some that
i'm working on. like this: i'm quieter.
i'm still getting to know everyone and
they're still getting to know the real me.

so, a few weeks ago, i think some people
had a shocking moment when i freaked out
(freaked!) after realizing that garlic scapes
were available and that i could buy as many
as i wanted for a very reasonable price.
it's true. when i was finished talking in a
run-on sentence about the tenafly farmer's market
and garlic scape pesto and looking everywhere for
more, i realized that i was not just having a conversation,
i was talking kind of loudly. and there was this,
somehow, i had gone from sitting to standing.

(clearly, if people want to get to know me,
they should wave an unusual piece of produce in
front of my face and watch what happens.)

when i got the scapes home, though, they sat
in the fridge for a while (ok, if you want the truth
there are still some in there. yes, i'm hanging my
head in shame.) i wanted to do something different
with them this time, but i could not figure out
what or how. then, i was driving home, thinking about
making garlic bread, and just like that:
garlic scape butter (and in turn, garlic scape bread)
popped into my head.

when i got inside, i pulled my
made up ingredients
out of the fridge
before even taking my pocketbook
off my shoulder.

i cut 4 garlic scapes into 2-inch pieces
and placed them into the bowl of the food processor;
i pulsed 5 or 10 times, until they were in tiny pieces,
before adding 1/4 cup of pecorino romano,
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, a couple generous pinches
of smoked paprika and 1 stick unsalted butter,
cut into large chunks. i let the food processor run
until everything was sort of smooth.

and i tasted it.
garlicky was an understatement. but, there was
no turning back at this point. i sprinkled in a touch
of kosher salt, whirled it around a few more times
and decided that i was committed.

so far, i've only spread it on lemon juice-drizzled,
bread and grilled it until it was nice and melty, which
i think is how this butter shines. i'm also sure i would
love it tossed with hot pasta, a bit of lemon and feta or
maybe used as a base for eggs, sunnyside-up.
i won't lie: it does need something
to temper its intense flavor.
but, as it goes with anything you're overly devoted to,
i've come to love this butter with bite. that doesn't mean
that if i made this again, or you were making it at home,
i'd be embarrassed to use only 3 garlic scapes.

that wouldn't make us wimps or shrinking violets.
it would just make us a bit...less in-your-face.
and, that's ok.
butter, pecorino romano, black pepper, garlic scapes

Friday, July 15, 2011

pickled cherries (times two)

i have never been a cherry person.
growing up, while all the other
kids were reaching for cherry
ice pops,
i held back because i always
knew the sour apple or grape
that i was hoping for was not
in danger of disappearing.

(oddly enough,
i had a conversation with my
sister this week about her
similar dislike of cherry starbursts.)

it wasn't until i was older
that i really understood that cherries -
fleetingly available, expensive, messy to eat cherries -
are lovely and fruity and offer the
very best of summer.
i hold true to my original belief -
i'm still not one for cherry flavored things.
but, apparently, i kind of love cherries.

last week, i, as many people i know,
came into a huge lot of cherries. i was torn
between eating them immediately or saving
and playing. ultimately, thanks to my work
schedule, i opted for the latter.

after a brief conversation with larry,
he asked if cherries could be pickled.
magic words. i recently told someone that
if i don't know what to do with a vegetable
lately, i pickle it or pesto it. i was not feeling
cherry pesto, and i was totally into making
the already tart cherries, ultra tangy.
star anise
i researched recipes and decided on something
i'm often guilty of - talking myself into making
something that i have a very good reason not to
make. (it requires a skill i don't think i can handle,
i can't find something that is vital to the recipe, but
make it anyway, or the worst
- and the culprit this time - convincing
myself that an ingredient i don't care for will be
delicious when utilized in this particular capacity.)

i haven't had five spice powder for years.
the last time i tasted it,
the mixture had been used to jazz up a sauce
for chicken. i wasn't crazy about. it was the star anise.
i'm just not a licorice person - hence my major issue
with fennel, anise and several other things.

but since then, i've sampled it in other dishes that
had not been so bad: larry's pho from mo pho,
a seafood dish on vacation, a dessert that's kind
of foggy in my memory.

when i saw a recipe that involved star anise,
i remembered the richness of the pho and i
decided to take a chance.
pickling the cherries was easy. larry poked
holes in their flesh as i mixed together the
brine of cinnamon sticks, star anise, black
peppercorns, red wine vinegar and brown sugar.
as it boiled, the house smelled delicious.
i poured the mixture over the cherries and let
them sit. an hour later, before leaving for
the evening, i sampled one. it reminded me of
something. when we returned home, i had a second
and it hit me: it tasted like medicine. and now
i had a whole big batch of medicinal cherries.
cherries, pickling
as i tried to go to sleep that night, my mind
wandered back and forth: why can't i sleep?
why did i think the star anise was a good idea?
why didn't i just go with a flavor profile
that i knew i liked? wasn't pickling cherries
risky enough? i will never be able to wake
up in the morning. i should have made them spicy!

the next night, i surveyed the chiles at the market.
i was not feeling jalapenos or serranos - and if i
had been, i have a stockpile in a pot on our deck (yay
for keeping something alive!) - nor, was i into
the other options. as i placed the habanero
into a bag, i was pretty sure i was crazy and
seriously sadistic when it came to these cherries.
white wine vinegar, habanero, cinnamon stick, kosher salt, palm sugar
at home, i tossed together the habanero, now
halved, cinnamon sticks, white
wine vinegar, palm sugar, left over
from the sriracha, and salt. i boiled the mixture
together and poked the cherries
(smarter this time - i used only a portion of my
remaining quantity). this time i notice that
when you poke holes in the cherries,
they make a mess. when the mixture
had boiled for a couple minutes and cooled
slightly, i poured it on top of the fruits
and while i was scared of the spice, i already
knew this batch was a winner.
cherry splatters
the other ones? they're ok.
in fact, i can see how someone who
is not me would really enjoy them.
but, the spicy cherries? they're the ones
i regret not making more of - and sadly,
that's now what's on my mind late at night
when i really should be asleep.
cooling down
pickled cherries (times two)
i'm including both recipes because i know that just because the first version is not my favorite, it doesn't mean it can't be yours. in both recipes, i poked the cherries about four times with a fork, a trick i learned from the internet. this makes it easier for the brine to infiltrate the cherries and helps the cherries to release their own juices into the brine.

star anise, black peppercorn and brown sugar pickled cherries
adapted from
i played around a lot with this recipe, changing the peppercorns, opting for brown sugar (and less of it) and eliminating the bay leaf and the fennel seeds, just to name a few. i also halved the amount of cherries, used two-thirds of the vinegar and did not reduce the brine.

2 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons granulated brown sugar
3 cinnamon sticks or 1 large cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
2 pieces star anise
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 1/4 pounds cherries

in small saucepot, combine vinegar, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise and kosher salt. rub the peppercorns between your hands as you add the to the pot. over high heat, bring to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer 5 minutes. remove from heat; let cool 10 minutes.

meanwhile, using fork, poke cherries 4 times. place in bowl. pour slightly cooled brine mixture over cherries, pressing on cherries to make sure they're all under the brine. let sit at room temperature 2 hours. cover bowl tightly or transfer to a cleaned glass jar with lids. chill in fridge.

habanero, cinnamon and palm sugar pickled cherries
i will not lie - these are spicy. but, they were nowhere near as spicy as i feared they would be when i opted to use the habanero. i used one very long cinnamon stick, which i think is equivilant to about 3 normal size cinnamon sticks. this is the same amount i used for the first cherries, but because i used a lot less vinegar, the cinnamon was significantly more prominent. and, opted for palm sugar, because i had it in the fridge, but i'm sure you could use whichever sugar you have in the house. oh, and one last thing, i used two cups of cherries, but i'm pretty sure i could have used at least 1/2 cup more, if not a full cup for the amount of brine i had.
these cherries were great in a salad with arugula, pickled onions and goat cheese.

1 1/3 cups white wine vinegar
3 cinnamon sticks or 1 very long cinnamon stick, broken into three pieces
1 habanero pepper, halved
1/4 cup palm sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 packed cups cherries

in small saucepot, combine vinegar, cinnamon sticks, habanero pepper, palm sugar and kosher salt. bring to a boil over high heat; reduce to heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. let cool 10 minutes.

meanwhile, using fork, poke each cherry 4 times. place cherries in a medium bowl. top with slightly cooled brine mixture, shaking slightly to make sure all the cherries are under the brine. let sit at least 2 hours at room temperature. transfer to a clean glass jar or cover bowl tightly. store in fridge.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

orecchiette with arugula-caper pesto, roasted tomatoes and pistachio breadcrumbs

little ears
there are times that i
think - even as i'm cooking,
even as i'm taking pictures -
that this is not a recipe worth
sharing with you. it's too
traditional, too thrown together
on a weeknight, too convoluted,
too unphotogenic, too...uninteresting.

but, i continue to cook the ingredients.
i continue to take pictures.
and usually, when it's all over and larry's
doing the dishes, i think yep, that was fine,
but, that was a dinner that was just for us:
no one will ever know about it.

but, other times, i take a bite,
still agreeing with my original
sentiment - that it's boring, simple,
fussy - but, also:
worth sharing.

and still, after all that, i almost
didn't write about this dish.
it's pasta with pesto, after all.
arugula and caper pesto
orecchiette, roasted tomatoes, olives, arugula-caper pesto
but, it was really good.
the arugula pesto, which should
have been bitter, was rounded out
with briny capers and roasted pistachios.
the kalamata olives added pockets of
saltiness and the roasted tomatoes
were bursting with garlicky sweetness.
they all came together thanks to the
toasted panko, pistachio and lemon zest
topping, which was sprinkled on
before serving.

and, i think, as i'm telling you about it,
that this pasta sounds both
expected and complicated.
but it's neither and it came together
quite quickly.
pistachios, garlic, pecorino romano
here's how:
i tossed some pistachios and panko
into the food processor, whirled them
around for a bit and then set them into
a pan over medium heat.
while one eye watched the
breadcrumbs, i pulsed the rest of the
nuts with garlic and cheese, pulsed in
arugula and capers and smoothed the
whole thing out with droplets of olive oil.

and, if we hadn't had a near oven fire - thanks
to a drippy packet of roasted garlic over the weekend -
here's what i would have done first:
i would have placed grape tomatoes in a dish,
with cloves of skin-on garlic,
olive oil, salt and pepper. i would have given
everything a good shake and then popped
them in the oven for about 4o minutes,
until their skins had burst,
the juice at the bottom was bubbly
and the garlic was tender.
but, we did have an incident that involved
a lot of smoke and so, instead, of starting with
that, i waited until larry came home from work
and very kindly gave the oven floor a scrub.
grape tomatoes, garlic
roasted grape tomatoes and garlic
while they cooked, the breadcrumbs sat,
the flavors of the pesto melded together and
the pasta cooked. once they were out of the oven,
everything came together in less than five minutes.

so that was it.
kind of traditional.
kind of seemingly fussy.
kind of enjoyable.
hope you don't mind me sharing.
pistachio, panko, lemon zest topping
orecchiette with arugula-caper pesto, roasted tomatoes and pistachio breadcrumbs
there are a couple items of note in this recipe. first, the pistachios that i used were already roasted, so i was pretty careful when i toasted them with the breadcrumbs. however, if they had not been, i would have toasted the 1/3 cup i used for the pesto. secondly, i used the saltiness of the capers to mellow the bitterness of arugula (i didn't want a repeat version of this one). but, because i had a lot of arugula, i tossed some leaves into the pasta before mixing. this definitely ups the bitter quotient, so if that's not for you, don't feel that you need to add the extra arugula. and as with all pestos, feel free to mix and match the nuts or hard cheeses that you use.

2 cups grape tomatoes
5 large cloves garlic, (3 cloves unpeeled), divided
1/4 cup, plus 1/3 cup shelled pistachios, divided
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 lemon
olive oil (1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon, plus about 1/3 cup for pesto)
1/3 cup grated pecorino romano
2 packed cups baby arugula, plus one or two extra handfuls, divided
3 tablespoons caper brine
3 tablespoons capers
1 box (16 ounces) orecchiette
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives

heat oven to 375˚f. in small dish (i used an 8 x 8 ceramic dish), combine tomatoes, unpeeled garlic, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper, to taste. shake to coat tomatoes and garlic. bake 35-40 minutes, or until tomato skins have split and garlic is soft. when cool enough to handle, peel garlic (the cloves should slip out of their skin) and coarsely chop or mash; set aside.

in bowl of food processor, combine 1/4 cup pistachios and panko; pulse 10 times, or until pistachios are ground into tiny pebbles. in small skillet over medium heat, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil. add breadcrumb mixture and cook 3-4 minutes, or until golden and fragrant, stirring often. transfer mixture to a bowl; season with salt and pepper. using a grater, zest lemon over breadcrumbs; stir to combine and set aside.

wipe out bowl of food processor. in bowl, combine remaining peeled garlic, pecorino romano cheese and remaining pistachios; pulse 5 times or until coarsely combined. add 2 cups arugula arugula and capers; pulse again to combine. with motor running, very slowly drizzle in oil, until the mixture is a lighter shade of green, smooth and fluid (this usually takes about 1/3 cup, but could take up to 1/2 cup). set aside.

before tomatoes are finished roasting, bring a large pot of water to a boil; cook pasta according to the directions on the box, reserving 1 1/2 cups hot pasta water 2 minutes before draining pasta.

place the same pot you cooked the pasta in over medium heat; add about half the water and half the pesto. stir to combine. if the sauce seems overly watery, add a bit more pesto. if using, add the arugula leaves. add the pasta, the kalamata olives, the cooked tomatoes, the roasted garlic and any juices from the baking dish; toss gently to combine, adding additional pesto, if desired, and more of the pasta cooking water if the mixture seems too dry.

divide pasta among plates or bowls; sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture.