Tag Archives: Parsley

Quick artichoke pesto

The past month has been a busy one! From snowy New York City to chilly Ponte Vedra Beach, FL and back again to frigid–and I mean FRIGID–Chicago.

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You don’t really need another picture of this icy city, do you?

It’s hard to cook healthy meals when it’s this cold out. All my body wants is fatty, meaty and starchy things. And I usually listen to it.

But in this light, quick pesto, I combine artichoke hearts with fresh basil, parsley, lemon, garlic and pine nuts. So I pretty much eliminated the meaty, fatty (aside from extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan) and starchy parts.

…But then I went and tossed it with pasta. I’m only human, right?

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Artichoke pesto

Ingredients

    8 ounces frozen or canned artichoke hearts, drained
    1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
    1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
    1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
    Zest and juice of one lemon
    1 clove garlic, smashed
    1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    Extra virgin olive oil
    2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method: In a food processor combine the artichokes, basil, parsley, pine nuts, lemon zest and juice, garlic, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Run the machine to roughly puree all the ingredients, stopping the machine a few times to scrape down the sides. Then, with the machine running, drizzle in about 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.

Take the blade out, and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

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This recipe makes enough for pesto pasta for 4. You can also fold it into scrambled eggs, drizzle it on grilled meat, fish or vegetables, stir a little into vegetable soup just before serving, or smear it on a sandwich. To store the pesto, place in an airtight container and drizzle a little olive oil over the top. It should keep for up to 1 week.

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Filed under Sauce

Sueños de España

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

My best friend and I are turning 30 on the same day next year, and to celebrate, we’re planning a culinary road trip through northern Spain and Portugal, ending in Madrid. Last weekend, Sean was out of town and the weather wasn’t particularly great, so Penny and I spent a lot of time on the couch napping and watching episodes of the PBS series “Spain…on the Road Again,” which follows Mark Bittman, Mario Batali, Claudia Bassols and Gwenyth Paltrow on a 2008 road trip through Spain.

The only downside to my dreamy weekend is now all I can think about is España.

Sueños de jamon, vino tinto, tortilla Espanola, pan con tomate, pescados y verduras a la plancha. Sueños de bocadillos, cafe con leche y almuerzos y siestas largos.

I am really looking forward to exploring the parts of this beautiful country I’ve never seen, where some of the most exciting food in the world is being created.

So when I went to pick up a few groceries on Sunday, I couldn’t resist an expensive little can of oil-packed octopus from Galicia, a region in Spain that’s famous for seafood. While I was at it, I also bought some sardines, olives and anchovies. Clearly the hours spent watching Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali slurp down pulpos, berbecheros, aceitunas y anchoas has had a slight effect on my grocery shopping.

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Spanish canned food is a far cry from the water-logged tuna and clams we’re used to here in the states. Canned products made there (especially the seafood) are uniformly high quality, minimally processed, and they taste delicious even straight out of the can.

The pulpo is the only part of this pasta dish that’s actually Spanish, but the simple prep and flavors felt very reminiscent of the style of cooking I like so much there: unpretentious, savory, brightly acidic and finished with a glossy drizzle of good olive oil.

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Linguine with octopus and lemon
serves 1

    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
    1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    3 cloves garlic, sliced
    1 teaspoon lemon zest, plus another 1/4 teaspoon for garnish
    4 ounces canned octopus (I like Matiz Gallego), cut into bite-size chunks
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    125 grams (4 1/3 ounces) dried linguine
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
    1/4 cup torn parsley leaves
    A few chives, torn, for garnish

Method: Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil, red pepper, garlic and lemon zest. Swirl it around a few times before adding the octopus and about 1 teaspoon of the oil from the can. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for a few minutes to heat the octopus through. Turn off the heat if the pasta isn’t quite finished yet.

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Meanwhile, cook the pasta in heavily salted water until it’s just al dente. Heat the skillet over medium low, and toss in the pasta along with a few tablespoons of the starchy cooking liquid. Add the lemon juice, parsley and chives, and cook for another 30 seconds so the flavors meld. Heap the pasta into a bowl, sprinkle with chives and the reserved lemon zest, and drizzle with a thin stream of olive oil. Serve immediately, with a cold glass of albariño.

4 Comments

Filed under Fish/shellfish, Pasta, Travel

Tuna melt

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I’ve always had a soft spot for tuna salad sandwiches. I love that people a mile away know when you’re eating one and that you carry a faint tuna smell around with you for the rest of the day, reminding you what a great choice you made for lunch that day. After many years of tinkering, I have settled on what I consider to be the perfect tuna salad recipe, which combines celery, capers, scallions, grainy mustard and mayo. I like my tuna salad to have a little crunch and a lot of brininess.

Whenever I make tuna melts, I prefer them to be open-faced, so the cheese gets a little blistered under the broiler. This also makes it easier to add hot sauce, which Sean and I like to do with abandon. Don’t use water-packed tuna if you can help it. Oil-packed tuna has a much better consistency and texture than the water-logged stuff.

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Open-faced tuna melts

    1 8-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil, drained
    1 stalk celery, minced
    2 large scallions, minced
    1 tablespoon drained capers
    1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
    2/3 cup mayonnaise
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    3 large slices country or rye bread (about 1/2-inch thick), lightly toasted
    3 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated
    Tapatio or other hot sauce, for serving

Method: Preheat the broiler on high. In a bowl, break up the tuna a little with a fork.

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Add the tuna to a large bowl with the celery, scallion, parsley, capers, mustard and mayonnaise. Mix until combined, making sure everything is coated in the mayo. Taste it before seasoning with salt and pepper, since the capers are already salty.

Place the toasted bread slices on a sheet pan. Top each with a third of the tuna and 1 ounce of shredded cheese.

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Place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes, checking frequently, until the cheese has melted and become bubbly. Remove and allow to sit for 30 seconds before slicing each tuna melt in half. Serve immediately, with a few varieties of hot sauce for dribbling. Serves 2-3, depending on hunger level.

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3 Comments

Filed under Fish/shellfish, Lunch, Sandwiches

Nothing soup won’t fix

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It’s been probably five years since I shared a drafty, old Chicago apartment with my best friend Maggie and my sister Maddy. We laughed, cried, fought, watched lots of bad movies, stayed up too late and drank too much. The three of us grew up a lot during those years and will always be connected by that funny old place with the slanted floor, the chronically smelly second bathroom and the bedroom with no door.

It was during that time that I decided I wanted to be a food writer. Since I was known to often panic over the uncertain future of my career (I was still a financial reporter at the time) and Maggie was sometimes homesick for Milwaukee, the best way I knew to fix our problems was through soup. I’d order her to take a seat on the stool we kept in the kitchen and DJ from her laptop while I chopped, sauteed, poured and stirred with my favorite beat-up wooden spoon. From potato leek to sausage & lentil to Italian wedding, I tested soup recipes on the world’s easiest food critic, all while we cured homesickness and performed amateur therapy.

Gossiping at my wedding

The old roomies trade gossip at my wedding

Now whenever I offer to cook for Maggie, she almost always requests soup. “Ooh, what about the Italian wedding soup you made that time?” she’ll venture. “But I don’t feeeeel like rolling all those tiny meatballs,” I protest. Then last week I finally caved, realizing it was high time for a little weddin’ soup therapy.

There are lots of interpretations when it comes to wedding soup, though they all involve those little meatballs. My favorite version is the one with pasta because that turns the soup into a meal. I am usually not a fan of ground chicken, but I like the idea of blending it with sausage for a lighter flavored, more delicate meatball. I also added a little lemon zest for brightness.

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Weddin’ soup
adapted from Ina Garten

Meatballs

    3/4 pound ground chicken
    1/2 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
    1/2 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
    2-3 cloves garlic, minced
    3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    1/4 cup grated Pecorino romano
    1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus additional for serving
    3 tablespoons milk
    1 extra large egg, beaten
    Salt and pepper

Soup

    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 medium onion, minced
    3 carrots, cut in 1/4-inch pieces
    2 stalks celery, cut in 1/4-inch pieces
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    10 cups chicken stock
    1/2 cup dry white wine
    1 cup small pasta shapes
    1/4 cup minced dill, plus more for garnish
    12 ounces baby spinach (could substitute finely chopped chard or kale, though I’d recommend adding it sooner)

Method: Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken, sausage, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, zest, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, salt and pepper until well mixed. With clean hands, shape about 50 teaspoon-sized meatballs and place them on parchment-lined sheet trays.

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This step will take you a little while, enough time for the dog to tire out from begging.

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Bake the meatballs for about 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through. It’s OK to cut one open and check that the juices run clear–you did make 50 of them after all. Set aside.

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For the soup, heat a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium, and add the olive oil, onion, carrots, celery, salt and pepper. Saute the vegetables until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Turn the heat up to medium high; add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and meatballs to the soup and simmer for another minute or two. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra dill and grated Parmesan. Serves 4 to 6.

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Filed under Chicken, Meat, Soup

Braised short ribs

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I like to think of braised short ribs as beef in a tuxedo, because there are few things more luxurious to eat. Seared until golden and braised for several hours, the meat is meltingly tender and rich, perfumed with wine and aromatics. I served it for my friend Paul’s birthday dinner last week with a sharp little frisee salad and a heap of grainy mustard mashed potatoes.

Midway through the meal, Paul said: “I forgot to eat the meat for a bit while I was eating the potatoes. I just had my first bite again. HOLY CRAP, that is good!”

My pathetic reply: “Just keep saying things like that to me for the rest of the dinner; cooking compliments are like my porn.”

Here are a few bits of advice that will help you achieve delicious short ribs and, as a result, receive compliments of possibly pornographic proportions.

1. Be patient when you sear the meat–I’m talking a full 4 to 5 minutes per side. The reward will be a gorgeous, seared crust jacket on the outside.

2. Give the meat at least 3 hours to braise in a fairly low oven to ensure the meat gets sufficiently tender and the bits of fat melt into the meat and liquid.

3. Braise the meat 1 day before serving! This removes the painful step of skimming the fat off the top. Cool the ribs in the braising liquid, and stick the whole thing in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, the fat will have hardened and you can simply pluck it off the top in pieces, sort of like really unattractive peppermint bark.

4. Serve the short ribs with a fresh, bright counterpart, like a gremolata of garlic, lemon and parsley; or, in this case, a bitter frisee salad with red wine vinegar, chives and parsley. This will make you appreciate the deep flavors in the dish even more.

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Braised short ribs with frisee salad
adapted from Chow.com

Ribs

    3 1/2 pounds beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
    3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
    1 medium onion, large dice
    1 medium leek, rinsed well and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
    3 carrots, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
    2 stalks celery, large dice
    Salt and pepper
    3 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
    2 cups dry red wine
    4 cups low-sodium beef broth

Frisee salad

    2 heads frisee, roughly chopped
    1 bunch chives, minced
    1/2 bunch Italian parsley, stems removed (keep the leaves whole)
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the ribs: Rub the short ribs all over with about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large Dutch oven or other oven-safe pot over high heat, and add the short ribs.

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Sear for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until the ribs are golden brown. Remove them from the pot, and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium. Drain most of the grease from the pot, and add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil along with the onion, leek, carrot, celery and garlic. Season with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and sauté the vegetables until they become tender and slightly caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes.

Pour in the wine, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, then add the short ribs back to the pot along with the beef stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and place in a 300F oven for 3 hours, until the beef is falling off the bone. Strain out the vegetables and return the braising liquid to the pot with the short ribs.

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Cool on the stovetop and then refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the fat from the top and slowly reheat the short ribs in their braising liquid over low heat on the stovetop until the liquid is bubbling and the meat is hot, at least 20 minutes.

For the frisee salad: Place the frisee, chives and parsley in a large bowl. In a separate non-reactive bowl, mix the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed. Just before serving, pour the vinaigrette over the frisee and herbs and toss well to combine.

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To serve, place 1 to 2 short ribs on each plate (depending on the size), along with a few spoonfuls of the braising liquid. Heap some frisee salad alongside the meat. This dish is made complete with a pile of mashed potatoes or creamy polenta for soaking up the juices. If preparing two-day short ribs is more than enough work by itself, simply tear off a few hunks of crusty bread for each guest. This recipe serves 4.

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Filed under Meat, Salad

Bucatini all’amatriciana

I fell in love with this dish when I had it at a little Italian restaurant in Wicker Park. Bucatini pasta tossed with cubes of pancetta in a slightly spicy tomato sauce, the menu description read. Who could resist?

I stumbled several times over pronouncing “alla-matri… alla-mitri…” before the server graciously finished “amatriciana” for me. As it turned out, the name was the only complex part about this dish. What made this pasta so memorable was the simplicity of the technique and ingredients.

Sweet, slightly spicy tomato sauce clung to al dente bucatini that almost whistled as I slurped it down because of the little holes in the middle. Chewy, salty hunks of pancetta punctuated the dish with an almost wine-like complexity, and freshly grated pecorino delivered a pungent saltiness that lingered in my mouth long after each bite.

With a dish like this, it pays to buy the more expensive San Marzano tomatoes and the good-quality pancetta. It pays to freshly grate the pecorino and use bucatini instead of spaghetti. It pays to toss the pasta in the sauce for a few minutes instead of simply spooning it over the cooked noodles. All the little details and fuss are what make this pasta so special.

If you aren’t feeling up to pronouncing “amatriciana,” you can call it bacon pasta like I often do, but I don’t think that name quite does it justice.

Bucatini all’amatriciana (aka bacon pasta)

    Extra virgin olive oil
    1/4 pound thickly sliced pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
    1 small red onion, diced
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    2 large cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
    1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
    1 pound bucatini
    1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnish
    1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Method: Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until some of the fat has rendered and the pancetta starts to turn light golden brown, 5-7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In the same pot, add a bit more olive oil, the onion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sweat the onion for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes, and cook for another 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes, then fill the can about halfway with water and add that to the pot as well. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and add the pancetta.

Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in heavily salted water according to the package directions.

When the pasta is just al dente, add it to the bubbling sauce, along with a few ladlefuls of the starchy pasta water. Toss to combine, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the parsley and cheese. Toss well, and serve immediately. Serves 4.

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Filed under Pasta, Restaurant remakes

Summer on a bun

Fountain play at Millennium Park

Taking a break in the shade

Saturday was one of those perfect summer days in Chicago. Low 80s, grass-scented breeze, endless sunshine. As I was having coffee on the deck at 9 a.m., I decided on the perfect dinner to go with this day. Grilled Italian sausage topped with caprese salad on hoagie rolls. Summer on a bun, I thought. Unable to contain my excitement–which was fueled in part by about four cups of coffee–I snuck into the bedroom.

“I know what we’re having for dinner,” I whispered to a sleeping Sean. “Mmmmm,” he moaned halfheartedly.

Feeling guilty for interrupting valuable weekend snoozing time, I slowly backed out of the room while murmuring, “Italian sausage sandwiches with mozzarella and basil.” Hopefully the sandwich got into his dream somehow.

This sandwich, which is loosely based on a recipe from Bobby Flay, combines a lot of the flavors I associate with warm summer months–spicy grilled sausage on a bun, fresh basil and tomatoes. Make sure you get a sturdy bun or roll for these sandwiches; a flimsy hot dog bun simply won’t hold the filling. And don’t forget: the relish makes for a lovely salad all by itself, which is exactly how I used the leftovers.

Grilled sausage sandwiches with caprese relish

12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped shallot
2 teaspoons capers
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 hot or sweet Italian sausages
Canola oil, as needed
2 small French or hoagie buns, inside hollowed out on one half
Handful of arugula

Method: Make the relish. Toss the tomatoes, basil, parsley, shallot, capers and mozzarella in a medium bowl. Add the vinegar and oil, tossing well to coat everything in the dressing. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until 20 minutes before you’re ready to eat.

Heat the grill to 450F. Take the sausages out of the fridge about 20 minutes before grilling and rub with a little canola oil so they don’t stick. Put them over direct heat on the grill, and cook for about 4 minutes before turning them. Cook another 3 or 4 minutes, then move them to the cooler part of the grill to finish cooking. Once they’re firm to the touch and no longer red inside, they’re ready. (An instant-read thermometer should reach 150F when inserted into the middle of the pork sausage.) Remove and allow them to cool for at least 5 minutes.

When the sausages are almost done, sprinkle the buns with olive oil and toss them on the grill for a couple minutes to toast.

In a small bowl, toss the arugula with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, a little salt and pepper.

To serve, pile a bit of arugula on the bun, then place the sausage and top with a few heaping tablespoons of the caprese relish. Serves 2.

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Filed under Meat, Sandwiches