30 Minute Dinners: Asparagus Carbonara

Easy Carbonara Pasta with Asparagus
Just do it – in a skillet: Pasta Carbonara with Asparagus.

My favorite cooking vessel is my cast iron skillet: it’s one stop shopping in the kitchen equipment department. Not only is a cast iron skillet handy on the stovetop, you can use it in the oven and even on the grill. Last night I used my skillet to make this simple carbonara pasta dish.

Carbonara is the Italian version of chicken soup – a comforting dish for all ages – which consists of pasta and cured pork (guanciale) or bacon, whisked in a slick sauce of eggs and gads of grated Pecorino cheese. The method is quick. It relies on the heat from the freshly cooked pasta to sufficiently cook the eggs and melt the cheese, while the sauce is vigorously stirred to prevent the eggs from scrambling. From start to finish, this dish can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes.

I often mix in vegetables to my carbonara, which add extra oomph to the dish and allows me to call it a one-dish family meal, replete with the nutrients from the veggies. Peas are a year-round contender, since frozen peas can easily be added to the mix. In the springtime, though, I like to add fresh asparagus.

Asparagus Carbonara

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves 4

8 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 pound orecchiette
3/4 pound thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook the bacon in batches in a large skillet over medium heat until the fat renders and the bacon is crispy. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel. When cool enough to handle, break into small pieces. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet.
2. Whisk the eggs and cheese in a bowl until blended and set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the orecchiette and cook according to the package instructions until al dente; drain.
4. While the pasta is cooking, add the asparagus, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until the asparagus are bright and crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Add the drained pasta to the skillet and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly add the eggs and cheese, stirring constantly to coat the pasta and to prevent the eggs from cooking. Add the bacon to the skillet and stir once more. Serve immediately and garnish with additional grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Easter Brunch: Asparagus, Prosciutto, Egg Mimosa Salad

Easter Brunch: Asparagus, Prosciutto, Egg Mimosa Salad

Asparagus salad tastefood

Have you been tasked with bringing a spring-y platter of food to feed a crowd for Easter brunch this weekend? I made this sunny salad for an Easter brunch last year. It’s a lovely way to serve asparagus; and prosciutto; and egg. There is not much else you need to add to this trio except a few squirts of fresh lemon and a splash of olive oil to coat and glisten. If you can get your hands on a bunch of baby greens, then use them as a bed for the asparagus to absorb the oil and lemony goodness. And if you have a few baby herbs unfurling their leaves in your garden, by all means, add them to the plate.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Egg
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 ounces prosciutto
2 hard cooked eggs
4 ounces mixed baby greens (such as kale, arugula, mizuna, spinach)

Heat the oven to 375°F. Spread the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil over the asparagus and turn to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the asparagus are bright green and crisp tender, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks. They should be crisp tender and not too floppy (unless you like them that way; then cook a bit longer). Remove from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool. Keep the oven on.

Arrange the prosciutto on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake in the oven until shriveled and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to the touch. The prosciutto will continue to harden as it cools. When cool enough to handle, break into shards.

Spread the greens on a serving platter. Arrange the asparagus over the greens. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the asparagus and greens and drizzle with a little oil. Grate the eggs over the asparagus, then sprinkle the prosciutto shards over the salad. Garnish with fresh black pepper. If you have any fresh herbs in the garden, such as parsley, chervil or mint, feel free to tear a few leaves and scatter over the salad as well.

Carbonara

carbonara tastefood

~ Spaghetti Carbonara with Sweet Peas ~

If there is an Italian equivalent to the classic Jewish chicken soup, then I think it would be Pasta Carbonara. You can’t get more comforting than a deep bowl of noodles slicked with an egg-rich cheesy sauce redolent of bacon. The optional addition of sweet peas to carbonara is essential in my opinion. Peas add freshness and a sweet counterpoint to the salty bacon, while providing the vegetable component to call this a complete meal in a bowl. A sating and soothing meal at that – pasta carbonara for the belly and soul.

Spaghetti Carbonara with Sweet Peas

The heat from the pasta will help to cook the eggs when combining. Be sure to do this away from the direct stove heat to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

1 pound spaghetti or bucatini

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup (or more if desired) frozen sweet peas, thawed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain.
While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon, stirring to separate the pieces, and cook until fat is rendered and bacon is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel.
While the bacon is cooking, whisk the eggs and cheese in a bowl until smooth; set aside.
Drain off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pan. Add the peas, garlic and red pepper flakes  and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the pasta and stir to coat the noodles. Remove the pan from heat and quickly add the eggs and cheese, stirring constantly to coat the pasta and to prevent the eggs from cooking. Return the bacon to the pan and stir once more. Serve immediately with extra cheese for sprinkling.

Cooking for your Health: Asparagus Mimosa with Quinoa

Asparagus mimosa tastefood

~ Asparagus, Quinoa, Egg, Lemon, Mint, Olive Oil ~

As you can see, this is not a crazy savory cocktail to be confused with the brunch-friendly champagne and orange juice beverage. Mimosa in French culinary terms refers to finely grated or seived hard-cooked eggs frequently used to dust salads and vegetables or as a component of deviled eggs. You might understand why the eloquent-minded Français would prefer the term “mimosa” for such a preparation. Not only is it poetic and mellifluous, it’s also apt: the crumbled canary yellow yolk of the egg resembles the brilliant mimosa flower which blooms in early Spring. Spring is also the time for asparagus, and asparagus dusted with mimosa is a popular and elegant preparation. I took this recipe one step further and turned it into a healthy yet light main dish, serving the asparagus on a bed of nutrient- rich quinoa tossed with olive oil, lemon and mint. I dare say it would make a wonderful addition to any brunch menu – accompanied by champagne and orange juice (naturally).

Asparagus Mimosa with Quinoa
Serves 3 to 4

1 cup red quinoa
Salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound thin asparagus, woody ends trimmed
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1 large egg, hardboiled
Sea salt flakes

Place quinoa, 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until the quinoa grains are tender and release their white “tail”. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss to coat. Set aside to cool slightly.

Heat oven broiler. Arrange asparagus in one layer on a rimmed baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and lightly season with salt. Turn to coat. Broil on the top shelf until crisp tender, 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan once.

Add 1 tablespoon mint and 1 teaspoon lemon zest to the quinoa. Stir to combine. Spoon the quinoa onto a serving plate. Place the asparagus on top of the quinoa. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over the asparagus and quinoa. Press the egg through a sieve with medium-sized holes over the asparagus. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes, additional mint and lemon zest. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pear and Almond Clafoutis

~ Easy Pear and Almond Clafoutis ~

You’d think I slaved over this dessert, but I didn’t. And you won’t either. Clafoutis are an entertainer’s best friend. If you’re looking for an elegant dessert to finish a meal – something that’s comforting and rustic, but can hold it’s own on the finest china, following a fancy beef tenderloin dinner, than look no further than a clafoutis. Composed of the simplest of ingredients (sugar, eggs, cream) and showcasing the season’s peak fruit, clafoutis imply a heck of a lot more time and finesses than is actually required. In other words: they are an entertainer’s best friend. File this one the for holiday and party season.

Pear and Almond Clafoutis

This recipe is inspired by a recipe from Ina Garten (who, frankly, is another best friend when it comes to entertaining). Feel free to substitute other fruit, depending on the season, such as summer berries and cherries, plums and apricots. Serves 6.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon all natural almond extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Pear brandy or Almond liqueur
3 to 4 ripe but firm Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Butter a gratin dish or deep tart pan. Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour, cream, milk, vanilla and almond extracts, salt and brandy. Stir on low speed to thoroughly combine. Arrange the pear slices, slightly overlapping, in the gratin dish. Pour the custard over the pears. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds. Bake until the top is golden and the custard is set, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve with whipped cream.

If you like this, you might enjoy these TasteFood desserts:
Chocolate Orange Pots de Creme with Fleur de Sel
Pear and Cardamom Tarte Tatin
Apple Cranberry Crisp

Swiss Chard and Kale Frittata

Swiss Chard and Kale Frittata

For the past month I’ve been receiving a box of organic produce each week from a new CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in the Bay area called Full Circle. They are the West Coast’s leading organic produce delivery service, and have recently expanded into Northern California, supplying farm fresh ingredients from local farmers to the Bay area community. They reached out to me with an invitation to try their service. Since I am a sucker for produce and buy organic as much as possible, how could I resist? Now, each Wednesday morning I wake to a carton outside my front door filled with a selection of fruits and vegetables supplied by local organic farms. It feels like Christmas. I never know what I will get (although, they are happy to supply any requests I might have), but I prefer the surprise. It saves me a few trips to the market, and my refrigerator stays full with just-fresh produce that I use for cooking inspiration.

I made this tart as an appetizer for dinner last night. It was a great way to use the Swiss Chard I received in my box this week. I also added kale, since I always have kale in my refrigerator. I served the tart at room temperature and cut it in random pieces that I arranged on a cutting board for everyone to eat with their fingers. It was a nice rustic presentation that tasted great with a glass of chilled rosé on a warm summer evening.

Swiss Chard and Kale Frittata
Loosely adapted from a recipe by Mario Batali

Serves 4 to 6 as a light course or 8 as an appetizer

2 pounds Swiss chard and/or kale, washed, tough stems removed
Salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 cup Italian parsley sprigs, coarsely chopped
4 large eggs
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I use Panko)

Heat the oven to 350 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the chard and kale. Blanch until the greens soften and brighten in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the greens, then refresh under cold water. Lay the leaves on a kitchen towel and blot dry. When cool enough to handle, coarsely chop.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large (12-inch) oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, chili flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté until onions are limp and turning golden brown. Add the chard and kale. Sauté until the greens are wilted and all of the ingredients are well incorporated. Remove the skillet from heat.
Whisk eggs, 1/4 cup grated cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper together in a bowl. Pour over the greens. Gently nudge the greens around to evenly distribute the eggs. Mix the remaining 1/4 cheese and breadcrumbs together in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over the tart. Bake in oven until eggs are set and the top of the tart is tinged golden brown, about 45  minutes. If desired, run the tart under the broiler to further brown the top, 1 minute. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pear Clafouti

Pear Clafouti

I was recently served a pear clafouti for dessert at a dinner party. Never a fan of egg-y desserts, I have avoided eating clafoutis and flans – pointedly ignoring them in favor of other fruit filled desserts without the baked custard. As I bit into my clafouti, I suddenly realized that I all of this time I have been making a grave mistake. This clafouti was airy and luscious, rippling with pear and scented with vanilla. It was the perfect end to a dinner: not overly sweet, elegant and light. What had I been thinking?

So, the other night I made a clafouti. At first I was tempted to improvise, but I decided it might be wise to follow an appealing recipe first. (After all, I didn’t want to jeopardize my new-found interest with a less than perfect result.) After a quick perusal, I took inspiration from a recipe by Ina Garten. What I liked about her version was the use of heavy cream instead of milk and the infusion of the custard with lemon and pear brandy. Rich, bright and spiked: How could I resist? The following is my adaptation:

Pear Clafouti with Lemon
Serves 8.

Clafoutis:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Pear Brandy
4 firm but ripe pears, peeled and cored

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon pear brandy
1 tablespoon sifted confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C.) Butter a 10 inch tart pan or ceramic baking dish.
Beat sugar and eggs in bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Mix in cream, flour, lemon zest, salt and pear brandy. Set aside.
Thinly slice the pears. Arrange slices in a circular pattern in the tart pan. Pour custard over the pears. Bake in the oven until the filling is golden brown and set, about 35 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

To make the whipped cream, beat the cream in bowl of electric mixer with whisk attachment until traces of the whisk are apparent in the cream. Add the brandy and sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form.