Shrimp Puttanesca

shrimp puttanesca x
~ Shrimp Puttanesca ~
It took me a long while to make puttanesca – that feisty Italian tomato sauce packed with briny, sharp, spicy, fishy flavors. I confess it was the anchovies. While I don’t mind anchovies, I don’t liberally cook with them either, harboring a childhood timidity toward their pungent fishiness. I should know better: Anchovies are a magical ingredient, a bright star in the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Asia (think fish sauce). When used with restraint, anchovies melt into a dish, amplifying flavor and producing an elusive umami quality that keeps us digging in for more. So in the spirit of the New Year and a kick in the derriere, I made this puttanesca-inspired sauce, and now I am smitten. Goodness knows why I waited so long.


Shrimp Puttanesca

Serve as is or tossed with spaghetti. This recipe may be prepared with other shellfish and fish such as clams, mussels, squid or firm fleshed fish filets.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 anchovy filets, finely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes, divided
2 cups grape or small cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup oil-cured or kalamata olives, pitted, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
Salt
Chopped fresh Italian parsley for garnish

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, anchovies and 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, olives, white wine and capers. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to break down and sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add a spoonful of sugar if needed. Keep warm.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in another skillet. Add 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes. Arrange the shrimp in one layer in the skillet and season with salt. Cook until pink on both sides and just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Arrange the shrimp on  a serving plate. Spoon the puttanesca sauce over and around the shrimp. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately with crusty bread.

Legends of Europe: Prosciutto Figs with Goat Cheese and Rosemary

My mission (should I choose to accept it):  To create an original recipe using Prosciutto di San Daniele from Legends from Europe. Legends from Europe is a 3 year campaign funded by the European Union and launched in the U.S. to increase awareness and celebrate “the legendary quality, tradition and taste” of five authentic PDO products (Protected Designation of Origin) from Europe: Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reffiano, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Grana Padano and Montasio.

As luck would have it, these 5 products happen to be some of my favorites. The biggest challenge I faced was not in accepting this mission but deciding which product to feature. Fortunately, the folks at Legends helped me with my choice and assigned me the Prosciutto di San Daniele.

Prosciutto di San Daniele is named for the region of San Daniele in northeastern Italy where it enjoys a unique micro-climate nestled between the Dolomite Alps and the Adriatic Sea. The ham is left to slow-cure naturally, following a 2,000 year-old tradition introduced by the Celts. Today, Prosciutto di San Daniele is considered a delicacy  with its mild flavor and delicate texture. This week, I will be posting a few recipes I’ve created with Legends’ Prosciutto di San Daniele.

Prosciutto Figs with Goat Cheese and Rosemary

A small rosemary sprig does double duty as a toothpick and aromatic, infusing the figs and goat cheese with its flavor as they bake in the oven. Makes 16 hors-d’oeuvres

8 ripe figs
2 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 slices “Legends from Europe” Prosciutto di San Daniele, halved lengthwise
16 3/4-inch rosemary sprigs with stem, plus 1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves for garnish
Extra-virgin olive oil
Runny honey
Finely grated lemon zest for garnish

Heat oven to 375 F. Halve figs lengthwise. Place figs on a work surface, skin side down. Gently make a small indentation in each center with a teaspoon. Mix goat cheese and pepper together in a small bowl. Fill the indentation with goat cheese, about 1/2 teaspoon. Wrap a prosciutto slice, cross-wise, around fig. Spear a rosemary sprig through the center to hold the prosciutto in place. Repeat with remaining fig halves. Place figs in a baking dish. Lightly brush prosciutto with olive oil. Bake in oven until prosciutto begins to crisp, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer figs to a platter. Remove baked rosemary sprigs and discard (they will be brown). Replace with a few fresh rosemary leaves, without stem. Lightly drizzle figs with honey. Sprinkle with lemon zest. Serve warm.

Fregola Sarda with Asparagus and Lemon

Fregola Sarda with Asparagus and Lemon

fregola tastefood

If you have never tried Fregola Sarda, then you should. Fregola (also known as fregula) is a semolina pasta hailing from Sardinia, Italy. It’s quite similar to pearl couscous which is made of wheat. It consists of tiny rolled balls which have been sun-dried then toasted, lending a satisfying and unique nutty flavor and mottled texture. Fregola is delicious on its own, served simply with olive oil, sea salt and a dusting of cheese, in  soups, or combined with vegetables and fresh herbs as a side dish or light meal.

Fregola Sarda with Asparagus and Lemon

Serves 4

1 pound fregola
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Salt
1/2 pound thin asparagus
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the fregola and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes or per package instructions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss to coat.
Cut the stalks of the asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces while keeping the tips intact. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until softened, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and chili flakes and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the asparagus stalks and tips. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Saute until asparagus brightens in color, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until asparagus are crisp tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and add to the fregola. Add the Pecorino and toss to combine. If the fregola are too sticky, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Serve warm with additional black pepper. 

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs


Spaghetti and Meatballs

One would think that since I have a food blog, dinner is always a happening, gastronomic event in our home. Wouldn’t that be nice? However, as any multi-tasking writer/parent may attest, after a day of meeting deadlines, planning a cooking class, driving kids to and from activities, bringing the dog to the vet and paying bills, dinnertime rolls around and the “what’s for dinner?” question looms with a blank stare in response. The most unfair aspect of this situation is that the supermarket was bypassed on the way to the vet, and I have spent a good part of the day immersed in the food web drooling over photos and recipes by many talented bloggers. So to add misery upon misery, not only is the family famished and the refrigerator empty, I am craving a delicious home-cooked meal worthy of TasteSpotting.

Yesterday this was the case. It was 6 pm, and I had no idea what to make for dinner. We were hungry, and the usual salad with cheese seemed so … wimpy. I pictured something warm and filling, a sturdy meal to feed a family. Peeking in the freezer, I spied a pound of frozen beef, and suddenly envisioned a Lady and the Tramp style platter of spaghetti with steaming red sauce and meatballs. The cook in me said, “Why not?” All the necessary ingredients were in the pantry. It would take less than an hour to prepare the meatballs and sauce, while filling the kitchen with tantalizing aromas as it simmered. I would rally and fight my fatigue. The reward was a perfectly delicious and rustic family-style dinner to launch the new week.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten. I used all beef for the meatballs (that’s what was in the freezer!) Feel free to substitute some of the beef with veal or pork. Serves 4.

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground beef (or 1/2 pound beef, 1/2 pound veal or pork)
3 slices prosciutto, minced
1 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beated
1/3 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 –  28 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to package instructions
Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving
Whole basil leaves for garnish

Combine the beef, prosciutto, breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, oregano, salt pepper and nutmeg in a bowl. Add the egg and water and mix in with your hands. Lightly form into 1 1/2 inch meatballs.
Heat olive and vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Carefully add the meatballs in batches, without overcrowding. Brown on all sides, turning gently with tongs or a spatula. Remove and set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel. When all of the meatballs are browned, pour off the oil. Without cleaning the skillet, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onion and saute until softened, 3 minutes. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Add wine and cook, scraping up any brown bits, until reduced by 2/3. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon. Add tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper. Return meatballs to the skillet. Cover and simmer over low heat until the meatballs are cooked through, about 30 minutes.
Serve over cooked spaghetti, garnished with grated cheese and basil leaves.

Boar Ragu with Pappardelle

Boar Ragu with Pappardelle

Ever since a trip to Umbria last year when we ate a succulent wild boar ragu in an obscure village restaurant, I have had boar on my mind.  The ragu was served over a platter heaped with pappardelle. The meat was falling apart tender, dissolving in a rich wine sauce perfumed with juniper and cloves. Since then, that meal has been a popular conversation topic in our family when reflecting on our trip. So, I decided to try and make my own boar ragu.

Boar meat may be ordered from your butcher and, depending on where you live, you may find it in specialty stores that carry game meat. I ordered my meat from Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas, where they raise ranch-raised boar. The meat arrived frozen in a cooler box and I popped it into my freezer, so it would be ready when I devised a recipe.

The flavor of boar may be likened to a cross between pork and lamb. Boar meat is very lean and rich in protein. It has more protein than beef or pork and is lower in cholesterol than chicken. Not bad for an animal deemed an exotic pest in the U.S. Due to its mild gamey flavor and lack of fat, boar meat benefits from marinades and slow cooking, and it’s well matched with spirits and aromatic spices such as cloves and juniper.

Boar Ragu with Pappardelle

As the ragu simmers, the boar meat will absorb a good deal of the liquid. The ragu may be made up to 2 days in advance, allowing the flavors to develop with time. As an alternative to pasta, serve over polenta. Serves 4-6.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound boar shoulder, cut in 1 inch chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 large garlic cloves
1 – 28 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with juices
2 cups full-bodied red wine
4 bay leaves
Bouquet garni: 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries, 8 black peppercorns, 6 whole cloves, tied in cheese cloth with kitchen string

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet. Season boar all over with salt and pepper. Add boar to the skillet in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer meat to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Sauté onion, carrots and garlic, scraping up brown bits, until they begin to soften, 4 minutes. Return boar with any juices to the pan. Add tomatoes, red wine, bay leaves and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer over very low heat, partially covered, until meat is falling tender and sauce is reduced by half, 2 hours. Serve with pappardelle and top with grated cheese.

Lasagna Night

Lasagna

My daughter announced the other day that she had just finished her 15th day of school. I was stunned. I could have sworn we had been back in the school routine for at least 3 months.

Since the beginning of September life has been a whirlwind of family activity revolving around school, carpool, activities, homework, dinners, entertaining and birthdays. As the children have grown older, it seems that time has sped up even faster with more and more commitments to attend to, including my work. I’ve already lost track of days, my car keys, a pair of flip flops and multiple shopping lists.

Yesterday was another blur, when at the end of day the inevitable question “What’s for dinner?” was directed to me and drew a blank stare. Luckily I had a stash of ricotta in the refrigerator, along with lasagna sheets in the pantry. A quick tomato sauce was easily prepared, and with a little assembly accompanied by a glass of red wine, a homey lasagna was produced to the satisfaction of all of us.

Lasagna

This recipe creates a dry and hearty lasagna, with little excess liquid and chunks of vegetables in the tomato sauce. If you prefer meat in your tomato sauce, add 1/2 pound browned ground beef along with the tomatoes. Serves 4-6.

For the tomato sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 sweet red pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 – 28 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with juices
1 small can tomato paste
1 dried bay leaf
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the ricotta filling:
1 pound fresh ricotta
1 large egg
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the lasagna:
1 pound dried lasagna sheets
Fresh mozzarella, grated
6 ounces fresh mozzarella, grated
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Prepare the sauce:
Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, carrot, red pepper and saute until the onion wilts, about 4 minutes. Stir in basil and oregano and saute one minute. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, bay leaf and wine. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper and taste to adjust seasoning.

Prepare the ricotta filling:
While the sauce is simmering combine all the filling ingredients in one bowl and mix well.

Assemble the lasagna:
Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C.)
Spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce in bottom of a deep baking dish. Lay a layer of dried lasagna sheets over the sauce, breaking the pieces if necessary to fit. Spread a layer of ricotta lightly over pasta.  Drop spoonfuls of the tomato sauce over the cheese without covering the sauce (or the lasagna will be very wet). Evenly sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and mozzarella cheese. Repeat layering process until the last amount of ricotta has been used. Top the ricotta with tomato sauce and cheese. Bake in oven until bubbly and turning golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Sunday Supper: Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

Orecchiette

Rumor has it that this summer has been one of the coolest on record in the San Francisco Bay area with even more fog than usual. Luckily, we missed most of it, but I am not gloating. Instead, we witnessed record breaking heat and torrential rains in Europe, 100 percent humidity on the East coast and the excuse to wear fleece in Iceland. This has, indeed, been a season of extreme weather (although, for Iceland, I think extreme is more the norm).

Now we are home and experiencing some of that chilly San Francisco weather, but I can’t say that I mind. After all, summer is winding down, school is starting, and my New England DNA has me programmed to look forward to a brisk autumn season. Not only does the fresh air beget fires and woolies, it also invites cozy, rustic cooking. And what better way to start the season than with a casual, comforting Sunday supper?

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

The heat of sausage mingles with earthy broccoli rabe and sweet red bell pepper. I like to serve this dish straight from the skillet, accompanied by a salad of mixed greens, fresh country-style bread and a glass of Côtes du Rhône. Serves 4.

1 pound orecchiette pasta

1/2 pound broccoli rabe, washed, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound hot Italian sausage, crumbled
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for serving:

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water until al dente; drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, bring another large pot of salted water to boil. Add broccoli rabe and blanch 30 seconds; drain. Plunge broccoli rabe into a bowl of ice water. Cool and drain again. Lay in one layer on a kitchen towel to thoroughly dry. Cut in 1″ pieces.
Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add crumbled sausage to the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel.
Pour off all but one tablespoon of accumulated oil in the skillet. Add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds.  Add red bell pepper, broccolil rabe, pepper and salt. Sauté one minute. Add sausage and cook until heated through.
Remove skillet from heat.
Add cooked pasta and cheese to the skillet; toss to combine. Serve with additional grated cheese on the side.