Spring Vegetable Pasta

Wow, what a busy summer this has been so far. I barely eked out two posts in June, and July isn’t off to a much better start. Blogging from the beach isn’t as easy as I thought it would be! So, I recently declared that a pasta night was in order. This is technically a “spring” vegetable pasta, but the ingredients are fresh all throughout the summer as well. The cooking style is unique (the pasta is cooked in a risotto style), but it results in an extra creamy (sans cream) pasta. The resulting dish is exactly what I’ve come to expect from America’s Test Kitchen…delicious!

Spring Vegetable Pasta – from America’s Test Kitchen
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and cut into 1/2 inch-thick slices (about 5 cups); 3 cups roughly chopped dark green parts reserved
1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off, chopped coarsely, and reserved; spears cut on a bias into 1/2 inch-thick pieces
2 cups frozen baby peas, thawed
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon finely grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound dried farfalle pasta
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Ground black pepper

Place dark green leek trimmings, asparagus trimmings, 1 cups peas, minced garlic, vegetable broth, and water in large saucepan. Bring to simmer over high heat, then lower heat to medium-low and gently simmer 10 minutes. While broth simmers, combine mint, chives, and lemon zest in small bowl; set aside.

Strain broth through fine-mesh strainer into 8-cup measuring cup, pressing solids to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have 5 cups liquid; add water as needed to measure 5 cups). Discard solids and return broth to saucepan. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add sliced leeks and pinch salt; cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until leeks begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus pieces and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Add remaining 2 teaspoons garlic and pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining cup peas and continue to cook 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to plate and set aside. Wipe out pot.

Heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes.

When wine is fully absorbed, add hot broth, Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove pot from heat, stir in lemon juice, Parmesan, half of herb mixture, and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, passing Parmesan cheese and remaining herb mixture separately.

Fresh Herb and Lemon Marinated Grilled Chicken

A thing I loved about the food when visiting Piedmont was the abundance of fresh herbs. They showed up everywhere. You found them in pastas, pies, salads, sauces, and risottos. It was then that I vowed to use less of the dried stuff, and now I feel so much more accomplished when using fresh herbs at home.

Fresh herbs play a central role in this recipe. Not only are herbs in season, it is a great time of year to invite over friends and throw some chicken on the grill. This recipe comes together quickly and is pretty hands off. Perfect for a summertime backyard (or rooftop) barbecue. The marinade below is enough for one chicken, but is easily adjusted up or down. Feel free to add or subtract herbs to your liking.

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon (approximately 1 tablespoon)
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
2 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 lemon, sliced
Large pinch of salt and pepper

Combine all of the ingredients, except for the chicken, in a large bowl. Whisk quickly to combine and pour into a large resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken. Seal the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken. Place the bag in a bowl and refrigerate for 4 hours, turning the bag at least twice.

Fire up your grill. Remove the chicken from the bag and shake off any excess marinade. Reserve the lemon slices for grilling as a garnish. Grill the chicken, being careful not to blacken it. Serve on a platter garnished with freshly torn parsley and grilled lemon slices.

Grilled Vegetables with Salsa Rossa Estiva

When I first saw the recipe for Salsa Rossa Estiva (Summer Red Sauce) in Cucina Piemontese: Cooking from Italy’s Piedmont, I told myself that I would resist making this sauce until it was summer. With Memorial Day as the official start of summer and grilling season, it was the perfect time to try out this recipe. I paired it with some grilled vegetables and it turned a sometimes bland summer BBQ side dish into something flavorful and uniquely Piemontese.

Salsa Rossa Estiva (Summer Red Sauce)
From Cucina Piemontese: Cooking from Italy’s Piedmont
Makes 2 Cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh sage
6 leaves fresh basil
1 cup canned peeled, crushed tomatoes
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the onion and garlic until tender. Tie the rosemary, bay leaf, sage and basil together with string and add the bundle to the pan; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes more. Add the tomato and peppers, and cook for 20 minutes more.

Pass the mixture through a food mill or puree briefly in a food processor. Return the sauce to the pan, and cook over low heat for 10 minutes more.

Serve warm.

I paired this sauce with grilled eggplant, zucchini, and green and yellow peppers. This sauce also goes well with sformato, anchovies, or grilled meats.

Springtime Risotto

It was a warm and sunny weekend in New York and summer was in the air. Why does spring come and go so quickly? I was determined to cook a spring themed meal even though my grill was calling my name from our terrace. The asparagus was fresh at our local produce store, so I decided a springtime risotto was in order.

Risotto seems like a cold weather dish, perfect for fall and winter, but I enjoy it year round. It is hands down my favorite thing to make. A good risotto is not as difficult to make as most people think. No constant stirring required. Just don’t ignore the pot for too long.

Springtime Risotto – serves 4
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cups vegetable broth or chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup asparagus, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring the broth or stock to a boil over medium high heat. Add the asparagus, and let boil for 1 minute. You don’t want it to over cook. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat this process with the peas. Reduce heat, cover and keep the liquid warm.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large metal pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, but not browned. Add the rice and stir until the grains gain a shiny complexion, much like a pearl. Do not brown the rice. Pour in the wine and stir until all of the liquid is absorbed.

Now you’re ready to add the broth. Ladle in enough broth to just cover the rice, approximately 3 ladlefuls. Season with some salt and stir. Let the rice rest until the liquid is mostly absorbed and small pockets appear on the top. Add some more broth, season, and stir. Repeat this process until your risotto has reached the desired consistency, checking for seasoning along the way.

Once the risotto is nice and creamy, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter, the grated parmesan cheese, and the asparagus and peas. Season with salt and pepper if needed, and serve immediately.

Focaccia

I love homemade bread, but I really am not patient enough to make it myself. Believe me, I’ve tried. No luck. However, I was recently gifted a copy of My Bread by Jim Lahey, a cookbook full of no-work, no-knead bread recipes. I knew I had to try the focaccia recipe. Boy, am I glad I did!

Focaccia has to be my favorite Italian bread because it is so versatile. You can top it with just about anything. I have tried to make focaccia before, but it turned out dense and bland. Nothing like the light and flavorful focaccia I had seaside in Liguria. Jim Lahey’s recipe was just what I was looking for. It produces an excellent focaccia time after time. Making this takes a bit of planning, but is virtually no-work and there is no-kneading involved. Try it for yourself and see!

Taken from My Bread by Jim Lahey
Ingredients:
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
2 1/2 cups cool water
4 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place potato pieces and water in a small sauce pan, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook potato until chunks fall apart when pierced with a fork or knife tip.

Use an immersion blender or a blender to puree potatoes with the cooking water until smooth. Let the mixture cool to 120 degrees F; it will feel very warm to the touch but not scalding.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, sugar and half the salt. Add the potato puree and, using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough is tripled in size, 2 to 3 hours.

Lightly oil a 13-by-18 inch rimmed baking sheet (I line the baking sheet with parchment paper to make for an easier clean up). Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the baking sheet; it will be quite loose and sticky. Gently pull the dough and stretch it across the surface of the pan, then oil your hands and press the dough evenly out to the edges. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Use your fingertips to create dimples all over the surface of the dough. Let the dough rise in a warm draft-free spot until it has risen just over the edges of the pan, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, with a rack in the center.

Top the foccacia with your desired toppings, such as onions, tomatoes, fresh herbs, etc. (I used fresh rosemary and thyme). Gently place the focaccia in the oven on the center rack (the risen dough is delicate; a bump going into the oven could collapse it) and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the top is evenly golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool, and give it at least a few minutes before slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

Torta Verde

Torta verde (green pie) is a traditional Piemontese dish to have at Easter. We first experienced a torta verde at a Pasquetta celebration (the day after Easter) when we were in Piedmont. I’ve combined a couple of recipes and received a little help from a culinary tour guide and cookbook author in Piedmont, Paolo Ferrero. Torta verde uses fresh greens and herbs and is perfect for any springtime celebration. The resulting dish is pretty close to what we enjoyed on a vineyard in the hills of the Monferrato.

Ingredients:
1 cup short-grained rice, such as arborio
1 1/2 pounds fresh greens, chopped (I used spinach, chard, kale and celery leaves)
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup olive oil
3 eggs
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup grated parmesan
1 cup grated fontina
Fresh herbs for seasoning, chopped (basil, thyme, rosemary, mint, etc.)
Nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large pot and saute the greens and rice for a few minutes. Pour in the broth, season with salt and mix well. There will seem to be too many greens and not enough rice. Don’t worry, the greens will reduce and the rice will become more prominent. Cover and let the greens reduce. Check the pot every couple of minutes and give it a few more stirs. Once the greens are reduced and the rice is almost done, remove from heat and let the mixture cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Once the mixture has cooled, add the scallions, garlic, cheese, herbs of your preference, a dash of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste the mixture for seasoning. Add the eggs. Pour the mixture into a 8×8 baking dish or a pie plate that has been buttered and coated with bread crumbs. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the torta is set. Let cool and eat warm or at room temperature. Buona Pasqua!

Anchovies in Salsa Verde

Fresh seafood is not abundant in Piemontese cooking. The Piemontese love to make use of fresh and local ingredients. With Piedmont being blocked by Liguria from the sea, seafood does not fall into the fresh and local category. However, the Piemontese make plenty of use of the preserved anchovy.

This dish features canned anchovies packed in olive oil. You can also use anchovies packed in salt. Unfortunately, anchovies packed in salt are much more difficult to find here in Brooklyn, especially in a pinch when the craving for anchovies hits. Don’t be intimidated by anchovies. They are delicious, especially when marinated in this garlicky green sauce (or salsa verde). This is the perfect appetizer, snack, or even a meal. It all depends on what you’re in the mood for. Just make sure you wash these down some nice Barbera. The pairing is excellent!

Ingredients:
1 cup Italian parsley
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Pinch of kosher salt
1 can (2 oz.) anchovy filets, packed in olive oil

Combine parsley and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until coarsely chopped.  Add olive oil, yolks, vinegar, red pepper and salt. Pulse until well combined. Be careful not to over process. Sauce should be smooth but not too thick. Add more oil if needed.

Drain the anchovies and arrange on a plate or serving platter. Pour sauce over the anchovy fillets, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours to let flavors combine. Bring anchovies to room temperature before serving. Eat the fillets plain, or serve over sliced Italian bread.