Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yogurt Marinated Chicken Thighs on Cilantro Scallion Rice

This is the most delicious thing I've made in months. I knew I was onto something when I drooled a little just pulling the raw chicken from the marinade, but holy hell this is delicious. I'm not even sure I what I like better - the chicken or the rice. Thank God I don't have to choose.

I tend to put shallots in all my rice dishes but I decided to hold back here and try their less sexy cousin, the green onion (okay scallion, you Yankee) in lieu of having to saute anything.

Laziness pays off. The green onions/scallions/whatever you like to call them are what make this dish so lovely. They perfume the chicken without making it too oniony and lend their sweet bite to the rice - just a handful (about 3 tablespoons) is all you need here. You'll notice that I barely put any cumin in the rice and there's a reason for this. I want the rice to have just enough flavor to let the chicken shine, not get into a pissing contest with it. If you feel differently, use a heavier hand in seasoning but I think you're wrong.

One last note. Finally, finally I get all the fuss about dark meat - chicken thighs in particular. Thank you Nigella! You were right, as always.

Yogurt Marinated Chicken Thighs on Cilantro Scallion Rice
* Marinade adapted from Bon Appetit
* Cooking time is for 4 chicken thighs - if making more, you might need longer and might need a slightly bigger pan as well as another 1/2 onion to place them on.
* Most people can easily eat 2 chicken thighs, so be sure and calculate this if serving company.
* Garam Masala is a wonderful combination of all the spices you'd want at a party. If you can't find it in your grocery, order it online. Google will pull up a trusty source for you, I'm sure.

Chicken and Marinade Instructions:
4 bone in, skin on chicken thighs (marinade will hold up to 6 if you have the need)

1 (6 oz) container Greek yogurt, either whole or 2 % (you want whole, trust me)
1/4 cup buttermilk
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon garam masala
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped green onions (okay scallions, you yankee)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife to break up a little and impart their juice

1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into 1/8 " slices
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper

Mix the marinade ingredients (the yogurt through the garlic) all together in a large ziploc bag. Add the chicken and smush around to make sure each piece coated. Seal and refrigerate overnight, flipping over half way if you remember, then remove about 20 minutes before baking to take the chill off.

To bake, preheat the oven to 375. Grease an 8x8" glass or ceramic baking dish with nonstick spray. Lay the onion slices over the bottom, distributing evenly to form a bed. Drizzle the onions with a teaspoon of olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off excess, and place skin side up on top of the onions, distributing evenly. Place in the oven, uncovered and cook for 22-25 minutes, or until the skin is becoming mottled and brown in places and the onions are nice and soft and cooked through underneath. Serve the thighs on a bed of cilantro scallion rice - recipe follows.

Cilantro Scallion Rice Ingredients and Instructions:
1 cup jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup (large handful) fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cumin
pinch kosher or sea salt - optional

Place the rice, stock, and butter in a medium pot with a lid. Stir well, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, stir again, then lower the heat enough so that with the top on, the rice is only simmering gently and not spitting mad. Let simmer for 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and take off the heat. Let sit with the top on for 5 minutes, then stir in the peas, scallions, cilantro and cumin. Taste for salt and add any if necessary.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Golden Pan Seared Chicken with Quick Bacon Tomato Sauce

Tomato paste is the Spanx of ingredients. It gives an instant lift to practically anything - that little somethin' something'. You can use it for its hit-you-over-the-head tomato kick or simply to round out an unbalanced sauce by adding just a dab.

Here I do want that hit-you-over-the-head tomato flavor to play off the salty bacon and sweet shallots, but as you can see it doesn't take much. And I should caveat that when I say 'sauce' here, I don't mean the traditional Italian grandma kind you make by the bucket full. By the time you reduce the white wine and stir in the paste, there will be just enough of it to coat the chicken in its auburn stickiness. But what it lacks in volume it makes up for in flavor. (Spanx, remember?)

The most exciting part of making this is that you have a chance to steer the fates of others with a simple wave of your wooden spoon. You can add a luscious hit of carmelized garlic at the end cooking by mushing the cloves into the pan sauce (1 or both - depends on how much garlic flavor you want) or you can omit them. Garlic haters will never know it was there as the cloves remain whole throughout cooking infusing the sauce with an ever so subtle but important sweetness. As for me - I mushed in a clove on my own plate to avoid any grief from the husband. He tends to side with the vampires on that particular vegetable...

Golden Pan Seared Chicken with Quick Bacon Tomato Sauce

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
kosher or sea salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
pinch sea or kosher salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly 'smashed'
4 strips good quality bacon, snipped with kitchen shears into 1/4 inch wide strips
1/3 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
1/4 teaspoon double concentrated tomato paste, such as Amore brand

Season your chicken on one side with salt and pepper then lightly dredge both sides in flour shaking off excess. Set aside. Add your olive oil and butter to a large, rimmed skillet and bring over medium heat until melted and coating the entire bottom. Add the shallots and garlic cloves to the pan, seasoning with salt and pepper and cook, stirring every so often until softened - about 5 minutes. If they fry and spit too much when you add them, reduce the heat a little. Slow and steady is the key to bringing out their sweetness plus you don't want to burn the garlic. Add in the bacon, stirring in and letting cook for another 5-7 minutes until cooked through and lightly crispy but not hard.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the bacon/shallots/garlic to a small bowl and set aside, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible. Bring the pan back over medium heat, adding in more olive oil if for some reason the pan looks dry. Once hot again, add the chicken breasts, placing them evenly around the pan and getting a nice sear.

Let cook for about 4 minutes on the first side (you can pick up the corner of one with your tongs - if it's nice and golden, it's ready to flip.) Then carefully flip and cook another 3-4 minutes on the second side or until cooked through. IF YOU HAVE UNUSUALLY THICK CHICKEN BREASTS, YOU CAN TRANSFER THEM TO A 350 OVEN TO LET FINISH COOKING OTHERWISE THE LEFTOVER RESIDUE ON THE BOTTOM OF YOUR PAN MAY BEGIN TO GET TOO DARK AND BURN.

Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the chicken to a plate and tint with foil to keep warm. Put the pan back on the heat and pour over the white wine or vermouth. Bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and reduce the wine by half. At this point, lower the heat and dump the shallot mixture back in stirring well to blend with the wine. Stir in the tomato paste then add your chicken breasts back in, nestling in the sauce to coat (I like to turn them over in it) and letting warm back through for a couple of minutes with the heat on low.

At this point you can decide the fate of the garlic cloves - either mushing them into the sauce or tossing them out - then plate up, piling the sticky shallot and bacon mixture over the top of each breast.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mediterranean Dip - for an appetizer or...dinner!

I think of this as a Greek version of pico de gallo. Every bite is a trip to a Mediterranean summer. You can make this lots of different ways. Just like pico or any other deconstructed dip, the measurements are to taste. You can add more cheese or omit the cheese altogether. More tomato or substitute with some roasted red peppers. And then there's the endless number of things you can add - red pepper flakes, chopped black olives, toasted pine nuts, or something I wouldn't even think of. This is after all, the point. A recipe is a beginning, not an ending - it's how nerds to get their kicks!

As far as serving, the possibilities abound there too. After indulging in Corner Bistro today (and a delicious but coronary inducing burger), I had this for a light dinner, piled onto a piece of toasted French bread that had been drizzled in olive oil and smeared with a garlic clove. I'm telling you - the combination of cucumber and tomato absolves all sins. You could also wrap this in warmed pitas for a scrumptious vegetarian dinner. And of course, there's the way I originally intended - as a dip served with rustic pita chips or tortilla chips.

Mediterranean Dip

1 medium tomato, seeded and pulped and finely chopped (just slice into quarters, then run your thumb over the pulp to scoop out the seeds/jelly part before chopping)
1/2 medium cucumber, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
3 tablespoons crumpled feta, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
fresh cracked pepper
zest and juice of 1/2 large lemon (if small, use juice of the entire lemon)
teeny pinch freshly minced garlic, or more to taste
3 teaspoons olive oil

Combine all in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to let the flavors marry and develop. Taste for seasoning and add any salt or pepper you need. Serve as a dip, over toasted French bread as an appetizer, or in pitas.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Blueberry Buttermilk Buckwheat Pancakes

I could write a thesis on pancakes. I feel very strongly about them, as to me they are one of the most abused, poorly made breakfast items around. When they're good, there's nothing better. When they're bad, you find yourself desperately adding more syrup and/or butter, practically wishing the lack of flavor back into them. I mean - what's so hard about flour, eggs, oil, and sugar?

Here's my stance on them. They should be lightly sweet but not sugary. Thick but not heavy. And the addition of fruit and/or nuts in the batter is mandatory for texture (nothing beats warm, gooey blueberries - nothing.) Now if I could just boil down my feelings on politics to three sentences, I'd really be onto something...

These are thick and fluffy and flavorful but won't give you a pancake hangover that your favorite brunch place or diner might. Another way to curb that is to splurge for real maple syrup (real tomato ketchup, Eddie?) and not use the corn syrup laden variety. Not that I couldn't drink it by the gallon given the right hormonal circumstances, but it's not the best thing to pour over your breakfast first thing in the morning.

Not that you have to eat these only in the morning. A pancake dinner with these wrapped around a good link of sausage may well be in my future. As in right now.

Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes
Serves 3.

3/4 cup Buckwheat pancake mix (such as Hodgson Mill brand)
1/2 cup shaken buttermilk (low fat is fine)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese or cream cheese
pinch salt
3 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
1 cup blueberries, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces or pecan pieces

1 tablespoon butter, for frying
1/2 cup real maple syrup, for serving
Butter at room temp or spreadable butter, for serving

Mix the pancake mix through the brown sugar together in a medium bowl with a whisk. Let sit five minutes then fold in the blueberries and nuts with a spoon. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet or on a griddle pan. Gently push the butter around to coat with a butter knife and let heat for 30 seconds or so but not so long that the butter begins to brown.

Add the batter to the pan by large spoonfuls monitoring closely in case you need to turn down the heat (should remain on medium/medium low) cooking on the first side for just a little over a minute, depending on the size of your cakes.

These pancake will not bubble, so the way to test them for flipping is to see if your spatula will run underside it easily without sticking. If so, quickly slide underneath them and flip, cooking for just another 45 seconds or so.

You can remove all of the cooked pancakes to a baking sheet and place in a low oven to keep them warm until they're all done.

Serve with maple syrup, heated in the microwave for 30 seconds, extra blueberries, and additional butter to spread.

A Sad Tribute to the Cowboys Loss - Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Popper Chicken

I know, I know - no picture. But trust me, the one I took was so ugly I couldn't bring myself to share it. The battery was dying on my camera and my husband was starving, so I snapped a quick one in low light. The end result had a horror movie quality not seen since the height of the slasher era in the early 80's. So instead I uploaded a random pic of my Texas vacation in October. Someone it seems, had lost a longhorn. If you've seen it, call them.

Anyhow, this recipe is a tasty one and I love it because you can prep it ahead and keep in the fridge before baking off. Just flatten the breasts, stuff them, roll them and wrap them in bacon, then cover on your baking sheet with plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 12 hours. Just remember to give them 20-30 minutes at room temp to lose their chill.

Bacon Wrapped, Jalapeno Popper Chicken
• Serves 3.

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts flattened to 1/4 inch evenly all over

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large shallots, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
2 medium jalapenoes, seeded and finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup ricotta
3/4 cup shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese
1/8 teaspoon dried mustard
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

6 slices of bacon

Start with the filling. Heat up the olive oil and butter in a large, nonstick skillet for 30 seconds over medium heat. Add the shallots and jalapenoes, season with salt and pepper, and saute until soft - about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the ricotta, cheddar, dried mustard and additional salt. Let the filling cool slightly while you prep the chicken.

Rinse and dry your breasts, then pound to about 1/4 thickness. Divide the mixture evenly over the center of each of the breasts, then use a butter knife or spoon to spread evenly over, stopping about 1/8 inch near all edges to prevent leakage. Then, beginning at the widest part of your breasts, carefully roll them up. Take your bacon and wrap each chicken roll with the bacon (usually two pieces of bacon per chicken.) Transfer to a Pam sprayed, aluminum lined baking sheet.

Bake on 400 for 18-22 minutes, or until bacon is crisped on the outside and chicken is cooked all the way through. Let rest for 3 minutes before serving.

PS - I have this post listed under potatoes because the night I made this, I only had two chicken breasts and used the leftover cheese/jalapeno mixture (about 1/3 cup) to add to 4 medium boiled red potatoes, mashed with a splash of lowfat milk, and it made the best mashed potatoes I've had in a long time!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Chicken 'Panini' with Basil, Goat Cheese, and Sun Dried Tomatoes

Does it get any more delicious than basil, sun dried tomatoes, and goat cheese? I think not.

Does it get any simpler than stuffing a chicken cutlet with the above ingredients, folding it in half and throwing it in the oven? Nope. You know where to send my fan mail...

I also love this recipe because you get to play surgeon, pinning the little cutlets closed with toothpicks. As you can see from the above picture, it was a blessing in disguise that I nearly failed out of nursing school and decamped to advertising. Oh, all the people's lives I've saved by not becoming a nurse...

Chicken 'Panini' with Basil, Goat Cheese, and Sun Dried Tomatoes

2 heaping tablespoons goat cheese, divided
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
8-10 sundried tomatoes packed in oil, drained, divided
10 fresh basil leaves, divided
salt and pepper, for seasoning
12-16 toothpicks, for surgery

Preheat oven to 375.

Give your cutlets a little pounding with a mallet or frying pan until they're roughly the same thickness all over and provide enough surface area for piling on the ingredients and folding over. You don't need them overly thin - just roughly 1/4 inch or so to knock the stubborn out of them. For each breast, spread 1 tablespoon of the goat cheese down the center, breaking up and scattering with your fingers, stopping a good quarter inch from each end to prevent leakage.

Then scatter over the mozzarella the same way (how much you can sprinkle depends on the size of your breasts - don't overwhelm a small cutlet or it will all just ooze out - again you should be able to fold it over. For an average cutlet, I can usually get 2 tablespoons.) Then add your basil leaves (about 4-5 per breast) slightly overlapping in a line down the center over the cheese. Finally, weigh the basil down with the sun dried tomatoes - I can usually get 4-5 per cutlet but again this varies. Carefully but sternly fold the chicken over the stuffing, poking any runaways back in with your fingers.

Transfer to an aluminum lined, greased baking sheet, then use the tops with salt and pepper. Carefully secure them by applying the toothpicks at an angle all around the edges. Place in the oven and bake 22-25 minutes, just until the chicken is cooked through and any leaked cheese/drippings that have collected in the pan have turned a deep bronze. Let cool for 3 minutes before serving and slicing.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Snickerdoodle Cake with Citrus Glaze

Remember that scene in Erin Brockovich where she and her boss are visiting the family victimized by the evil corporation and Marg Helgenburger's character excitedly tells them she made a bundt cake? And then after they've visited and her boss is ready to walk out the door, Julia Roberts grabs him by the arm and says, 'Have some bundt cake, Ed."

Well it's funny how life catches up with you. I am now the frequent maker of bundt cakes. Every time I make one, I want to call up my friends and shout 'The bundt cake's ready! Come on over!" The only problem is, I live in New York, and my friends would likely suggest meeting for Bloody Mary's down the street instead (after wondering if I've hit up the medicine cabinet.) New Yorkers don't get bundt cake.

But I don't care. They're still my favorite thing to bake - all contained in their round, yet subtly elegant little pan. No icing and assembling like a layer cake. No piping fancy ganache over the top in frilly shapes. Bundt cakes don't need any of that. Bundt cakes are bad ass. Sure, they'll benefit from a rum or vanilla (or citrus in this case) glaze if you feel up to it, but this is optional. You can do nothing to a bundt cake but pull it out of the oven and you'll still get that jolt of accomplishment just by looking at it. (Whoever thought of creating those little rounded edges was a genius - there's something subliminal in them that shouts "I'm special! The person who baked me spent all day!")

I created this bundt cake today with my beloved leftover egg nog from the holidays. If I'm honest, I had intended for this to be an egg nog bundt cake, but it came out tasting more like a deliciously soft, oversized Snickerdoodle, so voile! That's what I'm calling it. I think the citrus glaze really sets this cake apart for me (after I just told you it was optional, ha!) but don't fret. My cat could literally make this glaze if I could find a humane way of taping a wooden spoon to her paw.

I imagine if you don't have egg nog, you could substitute half and half for the nog along with a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and maybe add another egg to make up for the richness along with an additional 2 tablespoons of sugar as egg nog is sweetened. But don't hold me to that. It might come out tasting like poo, and as you can tell I'm campaigning hard to bring bundt cakes back in style...

One more thing - you can sub chopped pecans or walnuts or even dried cranberries or other fruit for the chocolate, or skip the addition altogether. I am married to a severe chocolate addict and unfortunately I believe it's worn off on me over the years. Help!!

Snickerdoodle Cake with Citrus Glaze

3 tablespoons finely minced candied ginger
2 tablespoons Contreau (or other orange liquor)
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, room temp
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (I usually add a tiny extra pinch as well...)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup eggnog
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 325.

Put the finely minced candied ginger in a coffee cup or small bowl and pour over the Contreau. Let sit while you get on with preparing the cake. Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a medium bowl and set aside.

Separately, add the butter to your stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Blend until light and fluffy - about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and blend until thoroughly incorporated, stopping to scrape down sides once or twice. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add the ginger and liquor and blend again. At this point, you want to add the flour mixture (dry ingredients), in several batches, alternating with egg nog (and extract), but beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape down sides of bowl again to make sure everything is honest, then use your spatula to add the chocolate chips into the batter by hand.

Pour into a Pam-sprayed, lightly floured bundt cake pan that's been placed on a large baking sheet (in case of spillover.) Bake at 325 for 50-55 minutes, until lightly golden all over the top and the sides have just begun to pull away from the pan. When the cake is almost done, prepare the optional orange glaze (ingredients below) by placing the orange juice, sugar, and butter in a small sauce pan. Bring over medium/low heat - you don't want it to boil so lower temp if necessary - stirring for 3 minutes, just until sugar melts. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and set aside.

Orange Glaze (Actually not optional for this cake, IMO):
1/3 cup orange juice
2/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup butter
dash vanilla extract

dark or semi sweet chocolate bar, for shaving

Remove cake from oven and let sit 10 minutes before carefully inverting onto cake stand, carefully pouring warm glaze over and all around. Garnish with shaved chocolate over the top, if desired.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Farro with Pesto Veggie Medley and Citrusy Spanish Mackerel

This is so damn satisfying and filling and luscious that I wouldn't believe it was so healthful unless I had watched my own two hands put it together. I had to bite my tongue before dinner to refrain from telling my husband how ridiculously good for you farro is, knowing that it would automatically lose points.

But when he took his first bite - I knew I was in the clear. "Add it to the blog," he said. My favorite five words in the whole world... Farro is easy to prepare (kind of like long cooking oatmeal) and very forgiving, provided you've had time to soak it in plain water for at least 30 minutes before you begin cooking it (I've left it up to 3 hours no problem.) And if you get your fish in the oven after your farro's already done - don't stress. Just put the lid on it and it should stay warm until the fish is ready.

One more note - Spanish Mackerel is my new favorite fish. Not too meaty like swordfish or too flaky/wimpy like tilapia. Just a nice, solid whitefish that takes on the flavor of citrus as eagerly as the Junior League takes on a cocktail party.

Farro with Pesto Veggie Medley and Citrusy Spanish Mackerel

1 box of Farro (usually 500 grams/1.1 pounds)
Big pot of water to soak the farro in

2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
2 lightly smashed garlic cloves
pinch salt

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium zuchinni, cut into medium dice
2 small yellow squash, cut into medium dice
1 yellow bellow pepper, cut into medium dice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

7 oz basil pesto (small tub of store bought, found in refrigerated pasta/condiment section)
zest of 1 small orange
good squeeze of fresh orange juice- either a half an orange or entire thing - up to you
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese
heaping tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley
handful chopped basil

2 (1/2 pound) Spanish Mackeral fillets
drizzle olive oil
1 orange
sea salt and pepper

Soak the farro in water for 30 minutes in a large dutch oven, drain, then return to dutch oven with lid adding the 2 cups water, 2 cups chicken stock, 2 garlic cloves and pinch kosher salt. Be sure there's plenty of liquid to cover the farro and if you need more - add more water (this may vary due to the size of your dutch oven.) Bring to boil, then remove the lid and stir. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 25 minutes with the lid off.

Preheat oven to 350. Place your fillets, skin side down, on a greased baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, then give a spritz of juice from a fresh orange and season lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside. (It only needs 20-22 minutes so you don't want to put it in too early.)

Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to a large nonstick skillet. Bring over medium heat, then add in your diced squash, zuchinni, and bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper, and saute until soft - usually takes about the time your farro needs to simmer - about 25 minutes. You definitely want the veggies nice and soft and beginning to turn to 'mush' when you stir with your spoon. Don't add them to the farro before this point or you'll be sad:( When they're getting pretty soft, but not quite ready, you can put your fish in the oven (you'd rather have your farro ready before your fish - it will stay warm with the lid on.)

Bake the fish for 20-22 minutes, just until the edges around the skin have begun to brown and the fish is cooked through and opaque when cut with a knife. Meanwhile, your farro should have absorbed most of the liquid by now and expanded. Drain it once again discarding whatever liquid remains along with the garlic cloves, then return it to same pot to stir in the pesto, orange zest and juice, cheese, and parsley. Add the sauteed veggies (when ready) and taste the farro for salt and pepper making adjustments if necessary, then put the lid on to keep warm until the fish is cooked.

Remove the fish from the oven and let rest for 3 minutes before gently prying the skin from the bottoms, by gently easing a spatula between the bottom and the skin, disgarding. Spoon the farro into serving bowls and lay the fish over, garnishing with chopped basil.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hearty Lamb Ragu for Non Lamb Lovers

Do you hate lamb? Find it odd and game-y, do you? I hear you. I used to be one of those people. Then I learned that by choosing the right cut of lamb (the once in a blue moon, top of the line lamb chops, thank you) or by 'cutting' it with a more familiar meat such as beef or turkey, lamb is absolutely delectable. The key to this ragu is to cut it with ground beef and also to skim off the grease before adding the traditional wet ingredients like wine and tomatoes. Yes it will be richer than your old ragu but not in that heavy, gamey way you're thinking. It will be like butta.

Of course if lamb makes you want to straight out gag, please sub all of the meat with beef please. I don't want any hex dolls floating around out there in my honor... Oh and one more note - if you do gird your loins for the lamb version - you will find the addition of pecorino cheese to be the secret to its seductively comforting bite.

Hearty, Homey Lamb Ragu with Herbed Ricotta
Serves 6 with a salad or light veggie side dish.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
1 red onion, finely diced
1 small orange bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed and minced
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
pinch black pepper for seasoning
1 tablespoon butter
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes in tomato puree with basil
1 1/4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
16 oz fresh spiral pasta or short pasta (a personal bias, but of course use what you like!)
3/4 cup fresh grated pecorino romano cheese
1/2 cup fresh torn basil

Herbed Ricotta Topping:
3/4 cup ricotta cheese mixed with 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and zest of 1 lemon
extra fresh grated pecorino romano
Handful of freshly torn basil

In a large cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over mediuj heat. Add the carrot, onion and bell pepper. Season with 1/2 teaspoon celery salt and black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, 5 minutes. Add the butter letting melt, then garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Next add the lamb and ground beef, kosher salt, coriander, fennel, cumin, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the liquid evaporates, about 8 minutes. Drain the excess grease (which should be pooling around the meat in various places in the pan), by using a wooden spoon to scoot the meat to one side of the pot then gently tilt the pot so that the grease runs to the other side and pools. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the excess grease and discard, leaving just a teaspoon or so behind in the pan. Now stir in the tomato paste. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Let boil for a few minutes, then reduce heat to low and cover partially to happily simmer away until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 30 minutes. Pluck out the bay leaf and discard bay.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, add the pasta and cook for just a few minutes. Drain, shaking well, and add to the pot of simmering ragu to cook further along with the half cup of fresh basil and 3/4 cup pecorino cheese, stirring well to absorb all the flavors (if using dried pasta, cook until al dente before adding to the ragu - fresh pasta is basically al dente going into the boiling water.) Spoon the pasta and ragu into your serving bowls, topped with a spoonful of the ricotta mixture and an extra grating of the pecorino romano cheese.