Saturday, April 23, 2016

PASTA WITH BROCCOLINI AND ITALIAN SAUSAGE

















And still another veggie makes its Bookcook debut! Clearly, I’ve been feeling experimental lately. (Is it sad when one of the biggest thrills in your life is trying a new vegetable? Not to me.) I had tried broccolini (which is not baby broccoli, but a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli that my spell-checker doesn’t yet recognize) a few times on and off over the years and liked it, but it’s started making more reliable appearances at our farmers’ market, so I figured I’d better give a shot for real.

Naturally, I turned to pasta. The sausage-and-broccoli/broccolini/broccoli rabe combo is a classic one, but I had to comb through a surprising number of variations on Google that weren’t quite what I wanted before I found something near enough. I used this recipe from the Weekend Gourmande (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated) as a jumping-off point, doubling it and adding lemon zest and juice for a springy zip (what even is the point of a green vegetable without lemon?). I garnished with basil because I had some that needed to be used up, but it isn’t necessary. While hardly groundbreaking, this is a straightforward and delicious meal that lets the broccolini shine but gives veg-skeptics (ahem, A) enough meaty-spicy-cheesy-savory elements to sink their teeth into.

If you don’t want to shell out for broccolini (or just can’t find it), regular broccoli would work here. I’d love to try it with broccoli rabe sometime, but I’ve never spotted it at our farmers’ market. Broccolini does seem to be an up-and-comer, so maybe its cousin will be next to join the club.

1 pound orecchiette (or a short, curly pasta like rotini)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage (hot or sweet), casings removed
4 large cloves garlic, minced
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 to 1½ pounds broccolini (about 2 bunches), cut into 1-inch pieces, stems halved lengthwise if thick
1 to 1½ cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water before draining.
  2. Meanwhile, set a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s warm, add the olive oil and the Italian sausage. Cook until browned, breaking up the chunks with a spoon. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the broccolini, ½ teaspoon salt, and broth to the skillet. Cover for 2 minutes to steam, until broccolini is bright green. Remove lid and cook until broccolini is tender and most of the stock evaporates.
  4. Add drained pasta, lemon juice, lemon zest, and ½ cup Parmesan to the skillet and stir well, adding pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with additional Parmesan on top.
Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

ROASTED POTATOES AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH BACON

















Another new vegetable addition to my palate’s palette. Brussels sprouts have, of course, been rehabbed from their bad rap and served at the cool-kid tables for years, but I was slow to pick up on the trend because they’re basically tiny cabbages, and up until last year I wasn’t a fan of the full-sized version either. But you can’t throw a stone anymore without hitting a gastropub, and you can’t throw a stone in a gastropub without hitting a bowl of roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, usually the only green vegetable on the menu, so eventually I tried them and enjoyed them. I did roast them at home a few times, but apparently none of the recipes I tried were especially notable, because they never made it to the blog. This year I vowed I’d get better acquainted with Brussels sprouts.

I chose this recipe from The Kitchn because I knew the bacon would mollify A (as well as being a natural pairing for sprouts), mustard improves almost everything, and the addition of potatoes makes this an easy way to cover two-thirds of the protein + starch + veg meal formula (a template I don’t usually feel compelled to follow, but I needed something to serve with lemon garlic chicken and this seemed like a properly substantial side). It was effortless and excellent. I used a slightly higher sprouts-to-potato ratio because I like green things, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. I do think I should have put the sprouts in earlier, because my bacon was a little too toasty by the end (and I say this as someone who likes it extra-crispy) and my sprouts not quite dark enough for my taste, but that’s easily remedied next time.

So: Brussels sprouts: yes. Not sure if I’m ready to level-up and try them in raw salad form, but roasted, I’m on board with.

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1¼ pounds small Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered
¼ pound (about 3 slices) thick-cut bacon, diced
¾ pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the ½ tablespoon olive oil, mustard, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss the potatoes and bacon in the bowl until evenly coated.
  2. Spread the potato mixture evenly on a large, heavy baking sheet. Roast for 25 to 40 minutes, or until potatoes are tender but not too browned, stirring every 10 minutes.
  3. Turn the oven up to 475 degrees. Toss the Brussels sprouts with the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil. Push the potatoes to one side of the pan, and arrange the Brussels sprouts on the other half of the pan, cut sides down.
  4. Continue roasting for about 15 more minutes, or until the sprouts are tender and browned, and the bacon is crisp. Salt to taste.
Serves: 4
Time: 70 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

SWEDISH MEATBALLS WITH PICKLED CUCUMBER AND RADISH

















I’m well versed in lefse, rosettes, spritz and krumkake, but somehow managed to live 27 years in Minnesota minus any memorable encounters with Swedish meatballs, which I attribute to (a) youthful pickiness, (b) a generally noncarnivorous nature, and (c) the fact that they didn’t open an IKEA in the Twin Cities until after I moved away. In exile from my Midwestern homeland, my interest in things Scandinavian has grown exponentially, and one of my favorite ways to eat meat now is in ball form (well-seasoned, bite-sized tidbits beat big boring slabs any day), so it seemed appropriate to finally get into Swedish meatballs.

I bookmarked a number of recipes over the years, but never felt inspired to take the plunge (who really needs more meat and cream in their lives?) until I saw a photo of this Jet and Indigo recipe somewhere online and fell in love with the idea of taking things to the Nordic next level with a gorgeously colorful topping of pickled vegetables.

I went with America’s Test Kitchen (via Elly Says Opa) for the meatballs themselves, and they’re the best I’ve ever made. I don’t quite know what does it (the mixture of beef and pork? the grated onion, which at least on my crappy grater turns into a watery, gelatinous mess that seems like it’s going to make everything sodden but is in fact the perfect way to spread oniony goodness through every cell of the meatball?), but dang, they’re tender and delicious. I found the inclusion of sugar a bit odd, especially in the sauce, and the first time I made this, everything just seemed off-puttingly sweet, especially when combined with the pickled veggies (which tend toward the sweet side as well). I investigated a number of other Swedish meatball recipes and found a few that had sugar in the meat but none that also used it in the sauce, so on the second go-round I omitted it and everything was perfect. It’s possible the sugar works better with heavy cream in the sauce—the first time I used creme fraiche because I happened to have some on hand, and the second time I opted for sour cream, which seemed more traditional. I also threw in a big handful of parsley, just to freshen things up, along with a ton of dill in the pickles. I hate that the recipe calls for just “1 slice sandwich bread,” which seems a lot vaguer than measuring the bread in ounces (I tend to keep odds and ends of various breads in the freezer for making crumbs, but rarely “sandwich bread” per se), but hilariously, on my second try it ended up forcing me to double down on Scandinavianness when it turned out that all I had on hand was marble rye. I can’t say I could taste the caraway in the finished meatballs, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

I know it might seem weird (it certainly did to me; kudos to A for encouraging me to forge ahead) to take a perfectly normal serving of meatballs in a nice gravy and then dump some cold, sweet-and-sour radishes and cucumbers all over it, but I’m telling you, that’s what takes this dish from solid to WOWZA. The brine cuts the richness of the meat and cream, and the cool crunch and beautiful pink and green hues are the perfect foil for the velvety beigeness below. If you simply can’t bring yourself to mix them, you can serve the pickles as a sort of side salad and alternate bites between the two dishes, but trust me on this one: PICKLES ON TOP 4 LYFE.

High-fives were exchanged over the dinner table during this meal (in a very brief pause from shoveling the food into our mouths; I’m a too-fast eater to begin with and yet still embarrassed by how extra quickly I devoured these meatballs every time). I’m ridiculously pleased with it, not only because I managed to merge two recipes and totally nail it (on the second attempt anyway), but also because, like many of the recipes I’ve been trying lately, it represents something that would have repulsed (or at least failed to interest) my younger self. It’s been fun to have the chance to discover foods gradually in my own time instead of just being a jaded sushi eater by age 8, but still, my younger self was totally missing out! I’ll just have to eat many more Swedish meatballs this year to make up for it.

Pickles:
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
7 ounces radishes, thinly sliced
2-3 small Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
About 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Meatballs:
1 large egg
¼ cup heavy cream (or half-and-half or milk)
1 slice sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into ½-inch pieces
1 small onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ pound ground pork
½ pound ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil

Sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup chicken broth
¾ cup beef broth
¾ cup sour cream or heavy cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 large handful fresh parsley, minced

For serving:
8 ounces egg noodles, cooked and drained
  1. To make the pickles, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl, and mix well until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the cucumber and radish to the bowl, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, mixing occasionally. When ready to serve, stir in the dill.
  2. To make the meatballs, whisk the egg and the cream (or half-and-half or milk) together in a large bowl. Add the bread and stir to combine. Let sit for 5 minutes or so.
  3. Add the remaining meatball ingredients, except for the oil, and mix together lightly with your hands or two forks, just until combined. Form into about 25 to 30 1-inch meatballs.
  4. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs in a single layer. Cook for a few minutes per side, until browned all over but still slightly underdone. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat with the rest of the meatballs.
  5. To make the sauce, return the empty skillet to medium heat and melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk constantly until it’s light brown. Whisk in the chicken and beef broth, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the sauce is reduced to about 1 cup, which will take approximately 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and return to a simmer. Add the meatballs and simmer for about 5 minutes to warm them through and finish cooking. Add the lemon juice and parsley, and season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over egg noodles and top with pickles.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; store pickles separately.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

CHOCOLATE BANANA BAKED OATMEAL

















Way back in 2013, when I discovered my beloved funky monkey baked oatmeal, I commented on the wrong-feelingness of eating chocolate in the morning (and, indeed, 75% of the time I’ve made that recipe since, I’ve omitted the chocolate and coconut so it’s just banana-peanut butter), and speculated about using cocoa powder so that the base of the oatmeal itself was chocolaty, instead of being studded with chocolate chips. I never bothered to follow up on this idea, or I would have seen that my trusted baked oatmeal recipe source, Budget Bytes, already had a chocolate banana version in its archives. I only spotted it recently, while posting about banana coconut baked oatmeal, and I immediately knew it was the next logical step in my breakfast journey.

It’s hardly shocking to reveal that this oatmeal is objectively delicious, but I was still surprised that I enjoyed it so much. I’ve never been one to crave chocolate cake for breakfast, even in my carefree youth, so it took a few bites to overcome the twin disconnects of (a) eating something that looked and smelled like a brownie at 8 a.m., and (b) eating something that looked and smelled like a brownie but was barely sweet. Once I recalibrated my senses, however, I loved how the deep flavor of the cocoa shone through (use a good-quality cocoa powder, because it’s going to be the main flavor here), and how I felt fully as satisfied and energized until lunchtime as I do from any other oatmeal. If you do actually hunger for dessert first thing in the morning, this may be a good way to trick yourself into thinking you’re indulging. For me, it’s another fun riff to add to my baked oatmeal rotation.

The original recipe suggested a number of possible add-ins, including coconut and peanut butter, but to make sure I got plenty of protein to carry me through the morning, I went with sliced almonds. I toasted them for added flavor, but they still got largely overshadowed by the blast of cocoa. I appreciated their crunch, however, so they’ll be making a return appearance.

3 large or 4 medium ripe bananas
2 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
⅓ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 cups milk
2½ cups old-fashioned oats
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mash enough bananas to make 1½ cups.
  3. To the bowl of mashed bananas, add the eggs, cocoa powder (I like to sift this in to eliminate lumps), brown sugar, vanilla extract, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Whisk together until smooth. Add the milk and whisk again. Make sure there are no clumps of cocoa powder. Stir the oats and almonds into the bowl.
  4. Coat the inside of an 8-by-8-inch casserole dish with nonstick spray. Pour the oat mixture into the pan.
  5. Place the oats in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes, or until firm. Cut into six pieces and serve warm, with milk.
Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great. Oatmeal will keep for a week in a covered container; reheat individual pieces in the microwave each morning.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

ASPARAGUS CARBONARA

















Despite being a lifelong fan of Calvin Trillin, who has famously claimed that spaghetti carbonara should replace turkey as the national Thanksgiving dish, I had never made (or, I think, even eaten) carbonara before—initially because I was grossed out by undercooked egg yolks, and more recently because I was afraid I would love it insatiably and perilously. But when The Brewer and the Baker posted this recipe last spring, I no longer had good reason to resist. Here we have a two-to-one ratio of springy green vegetables to pasta, perhaps not enough to counteract the richness of the bacon, egg and cheese, but enough to feel like a reasonable one-dish weeknight meal—and, honestly, much more interesting and appealing to me than plain old carbonara.

This is one of those recipes that comes together so quickly, it behooves you to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start. I always thought making carbonara was tricky, but the technique doesn’t get any more advanced than tempering eggs, which basically means stirring a little hot liquid into them so they warm up slowly and don’t immediately cook and congeal. Beyond that, the only hard part is the timing—making sure your noodles and your sauce come together at exactly the right moment. The good news is that if you muck it up a little bit, as I did the first time—foolishly believing that I could simplify things by simply mixing the pasta with the sauce in the hot skillet—and your eggs scramble a little instead of turning into a smooth sauce, it will still taste pretty great. When I returned to this recipe a year later and actually followed the directions precisely, it was even better. Working quickly and confidently is the key…and practice makes perfect, so clearly I’m going to have to try the entire range of spinoff recipes: Roasted cauliflower, my new BFF! Roasted broccoli! Spinach and sweet potato! What vegetable wouldn’t taste amazing in a peppery, smoky-salty, cheesy, magically creamy-without-a-drop-of-cream sauce? (Beets, probably.)

8 ounces spaghetti or other long pasta
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 slices bacon, cut into cubes
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1¼ pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt to taste
  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta. (If your asparagus is very thick or you like it very tender, once the water boils you can blanch your asparagus in it for a few minutes to give it a head start on cooking, removing it with a slotted spoon to a colander before adding the pasta to the same pot.)
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon pieces to a crisp and remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.
  3. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup of pasta water before draining.
  4. Add black pepper to bacon drippings in skillet and cook for two minutes. Add asparagus and cook about 5 minutes, until fork-tender, stirring occasionally.
  5. Whisk egg, yolk, 2/3 cup Parmesan, and ¼ cup very hot pasta water in the bowl with the bacon.
  6. Add drained pasta and the contents of the asparagus skillet to the bowl and toss, adding splashes of reserved pasta water to create a creamy sauce. Season with salt to taste and serve topped with extra Parmesan.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND MUSHROOM PIZZA

















I believe it’s safe to call my journey toward becoming a cauliflower eater complete, having toured four of my favorite food groups—soup, fritters, pasta, and now pizza—with successful results. I don’t want to play favorites, but this powerhouse recipe from Bev Cooks (found via the Kitchn) is my current obsession. Cauliflower in its best form (crisp and toasty) gets an assist from umami-bursting browned mushrooms, slivers of red onion, savory herbs, plenty of cheese, and, just to flirt with gilding the lily, a crust bathed in roasted garlic oil. Anyone still think vegetables are boring?

I made two slight improvements on the original, to help balance out all the earthiness: adding red pepper flakes for a welcome pop of brightness and heat, and complementing the creamy mozzarella with a sharper cheese—Parmesan on my first try and, even better, Pecorino Romano the second time around. I’m also going to note that you really should use fresh mozzarella here; I usually find it too watery for pizza and opt for the aged, low-moisture kind, but since the other ingredients in this case are fairly dry, the extra juiciness is welcome.

I’m especially grateful for this recipe because it wouldn’t otherwise have occurred to me to combine cauliflower with mushrooms, but maybe that just goes to show what a cauliflower newbie I am. Clearly, further experimentation is still needed!

1 pound pizza dough
1 medium cauliflower head, broken into florets
½ pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2-3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
10ish fresh sage leaves
6 large garlic cloves, in their skins
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste
½ cup shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
5-8 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Place the mushrooms on one baking sheet, and the cauliflower florets on another. Nestle the garlic cloves in with the veggies. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and pepper, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, sprinkle with fresh thyme and sage leaves, and toss well (make sure the garlic cloves in particular are well coated with oil).
  3. Roast the mushrooms for 30 minutes and the cauliflower for 45, or until you get some good roasted color all over. Remove pans from oven and set aside. Increase oven heat to 450.
  4. Using tongs, fish out the garlic and press the cloves out of their skins into a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and mash into a paste.
  5. Roll out the pizza dough on a floured work surface and transfer to an oiled or cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. Evenly brush the garlic oil over the crust and par-bake for 2 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle Romano or Parmesan over the crust, and evenly top with the roasted mushrooms, cauliflower (don’t forget all the herbs on the baking sheets! I crumble the crispy sage leaves with my fingers and scatter it over the pizza) and red onion. Finish with the mozzarella and bake another 12 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbly, and the dough is cooked through.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

CREAMY POTATO, KALE, AND SAUSAGE SOUP

















This soup might look familiar. It’s apparently based on Olive Garden’s “Zuppa Toscana,”* and it’s quite the Internet sensation. I can anecdotally report that it seems to be approaching the cult status of the Mrs. Fields/Neiman Marcus cookie, and perhaps someday its origins will be as shrouded in mystery. I first had it years ago, when my visiting friend L improvised a soup based on one her aunt had cooked for her. It was tasty, so when I saw this version at Budget Bytes recently, I decided to give it a shot. Funnily enough, that exact week, my mom was describing a soup recipe she’d gotten from my aunt that she was planning to try that week…and lo and behold, it was just another variation on the very same ur-soup.

All this popularity isn’t unmerited. Sausage, potatoes, and kale are best friends (see this similar combo from my own soup archives), and adding cream only sweetens the deal. Apparently, the original soup contains bacon, although many of its imitators do not; the slightly lightened recipe I tried adds smoked paprika as a stand-in, dials down the cream to half-and-half, reduces the sausage and swaps in some white beans for added protein and creaminess. It’s delicious and I wouldn’t change a thing. The only slight tweak I made was adding the half-and-half near the end of the cooking process so it didn’t curdle, as some commenters suggested and most other versions do. I went ahead and used hot Italian pork sausage for max flavor, but you can substitute a chicken variety if you prefer.

*Insert obligatory foodie snideness about the Olive Garden here, along with the requisite disclaimer that I’ve only eaten there twice in my life, during my hungry/cash-strapped/silly college days. And you know what? It was fine.

½ pound Italian sausage (hot or mild)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
2 cups half-and-half
3 medium red potatoes (1½ pounds), quartered lengthwise and then cut into thin slices (about ¼ inch thick)
1 bunch (½ pound) kale, stemmed and chopped
1 pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Squeeze the sausage out of its casing into a large pot. Sauté over medium heat, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. (If you’re using chicken sausage, you may need to add a little olive oil to keep it from sticking.)
  2. Once the sausage is mostly browned, add the onion and garlic to the pot and sauté until the onions are softened.
  3. Add the beans, smoked paprika, chicken broth, water, and salt to taste (my chicken broth had no salt, so I added 1 teaspoon kosher salt; use less if you’re using a commercial broth that contains sodium). Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the potatoes and kale, stirring until the kale wilts. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for at least 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add the half-and-half, heating until warmed but not boiling. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.
Serves: 6-8
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.