Spicy Cold Noodle Salad with Charred and Raw Veg

There isn’t much of a backstory to this one, aside from I saw a photo on Instagram (maybe through food52?) of a ramen noodle salad, cold, liberally doused in chili oil, and I immediately ran to my pantry to recreate it. I had a small bottle of chipotle oil in there, given to me by a friend not that long ago, or so I thought, until I unscrewed the top, the smell of rancid oil hit me, and I realized it had been sitting in there for at least five years… maybe longer…

It happens. Then I remembered the bottle of yuzu hot sauce* I’d bought from Trader Joe’s with no clear idea in mind of what to do with it, and suddenly, delightfully, that little bottle had a decided purpose.

Continue reading

Chopped Challenge #6: Mystery Basket Revealed!

Course: entree

Ingredients: orzo pasta, onion, red wine, anchovies

 

What would you make? Give me your ideas in the comments, then come back tomorrow to see how I fit them all together…

(Note: tomorrow’s post will go live in the afternoon, not in the morning as per usual.)

 

* for an explanation of this year’s challenge concept, take a look at this post.

 

Lamb and Ricotta Baked Rigatoni

I didn’t have much experience with baked pastas growing up. Mom made tetrazzini occasionally to use up Thanksgiving turkey, and had a macaroni and cheese favorite, but lasagna was too much trouble, with noodles that had to be boiled ahead of time, and layered, and stacked, and then sold to her two lasagna-disinclined children (R. was picky and suspicious of casserole-type meals, and I was solidly against tomato sauce). I never even heard of baked ziti or stuffed shells until I was an adult.

How I’ve missed out! The beauty of baked pasta, if you remain uninitiated, is the contrast of textures – creamy and tender below, but bronzed and crisp on top, not to mention the opportunity to consume wicked quantities of bread crumbs and/or cheese. The edges of the pasta pieces that protrude above whatever final layer you’ve assigned the dish – cheese or crumb or sauce – toast and sizzle and become pleasingly dark and crunchy; they are the part everyone you feed will fight over.

No real story exists for how this pasta dish came to be, aside from as a way of using up a container of ricotta cheese and a few handfuls of mushrooms languishing in the back of the fridge. It came together as a “what if” sort of creature, with aggressively seasoned ground lamb and a tomato sauce bolstered by red wine and some parmesan rinds I found in my freezer, and it was so satisfying I dubbed it “blog-worthy” by my third bite.

Digging in, you get the richness of sauce soaked into the thick tubes of pasta, and the chew of the lamb, and the interspersed delight of great pockets of ricotta, since we aren’t mixing it in, but adding it in a series of large dollops, a years-old idea from Smitten Kitchen that simmered back to the surface as I faced a too-full skillet and wondered how to get everything combined and into the casserole dish I’d prepared.

This does take a little extra time and effort: the mushrooms roast separately, the sauce is better the longer it cooks, and then of course you have to boil and then bake the pasta. But listen, you probably have an afternoon coming up that could stand to have a cooking project added to it, and besides, each of these component parts needs minimal babysitting once you’ve gotten it started. It is, I would posit, a very good dinner party dish in that you can do the whole thing relatively in advance, shoving it in to bake just as your guests arrive so you are free to greet them, and, if you’re like me, fitting in time to tidy up a little during the preliminary steps: sweep up the dining area while the mushrooms roast. Do a round of dishes and set the table while the sauce simmers. Then gloat as your home fills with the aroma of melting cheese and simmering wine and earthy herbs and you have nothing else to do besides sip a little wine and relax while you nibble whatever your guests brought, because of course you’ve assigned them appetizers, right?

Baked Lamb and Ricotta Rigatoni
Serves 6-8
Approximately 90 minutes (or more, if you want your sauce to simmer longer)
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided (3 for each)
2 cups chopped onion, from 1 large or 2 small onions
5-6 cloves garlic, finely minced
¾–1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
1½ cups red wine
28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 bay leaves
parmesan rinds, if you have any
1 pound crimini mushrooms, stalks removed, caps quartered
12 ounces rigatoni
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Additional dill, or fresh parsley or oregano, if desired

 

  • Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat while you chop the onions and garlic. Sweat the onions and garlic in the oil until softened and fragrant but not browned, 8-10 minutes.
  • Add the lamb, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, allspice, salt, and black pepper to the skillet, and work with a wooden spatula to break up the lamb and distribute the spices and vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the crumbled pieces of lamb are no longer pink in the center.
  • Next, add the red wine and simmer for about 10 minutes, to reduce slightly, cook out some of the alcohol, and mellow the flavor, then add the whole peeled tomatoes, the 2 bay leaves, and the parmesan rinds, if you have any available. Simmer, using your wooden spatula to break up the tomatoes as they cook, for at least 30 minutes (though you can cook it longer if you want).
  • While the sauce is simmering, you can attend to the mushrooms: preheat the oven to 400F and toss the quartered mushroom caps with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Roast 20-25 minutes, stirring once at around the halfway mark. When finished, remove from the oven and turn the oven temperature down to 375F.
  • As the sauce simmers, boil salted water and cook the rigatoni about a minute less than the package directions indicate; it will soak up sauce and continue to cook as we bake it.
  • When the mushrooms and pasta are done and the sauce has simmered at least half an hour, remove the bay leaves and parmesan rinds, then stir the dill, the mushrooms, and the pasta into the sauce.
  • In a large baking dish (something in the 9×13” range fits everything in), add the pasta and sauce mixture in small batches, interspersed with large spoonfuls of the ricotta cheese. The idea is to have pockets of the cheese throughout. Once the pasta, sauce, and ricotta are loaded into the dish, top with an even layer of the grated parmesan cheese, then bake at 375F for about 30 minutes. The sauce will bubble and the parmesan cheese will melt and brown over the top. The whole thing will be molten hot; you might want to wait 5-10 minutes before serving to let it barely cool.
  • If desired, serve with a few tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs scattered over the top.

 

Spaghetti with Miso Tomato Sauce

2016-food-blog-september-0763A lot of people focus, when they talk about their own recipes – the recipes they have created, or modified from already-existing dishes – on secret ingredients. There’s that one, singular item you add to “make it your own,” (or, if you’re the Colonel, maybe eleven). If you’re a certain kind of cook, you leave it out of your written recipes so no one can duplicate your masterpiece exactly, and they struggle for a lifetime trying to figure out why theirs doesn’t taste quite like yours. Secret ingredients puzzle your audience; they are intrigued but can’t quite identify that flavor combination – it blends just enough to keep it unidentifiable.

2016-food-blog-september-0737My one big secret ingredient used to be nutmeg in oatmeal chocolate chip cookies – it added another layer of warmth and interest, and it made one of my high school friends giggle about my cookies being aphrodisiacal. It was unexpected until you knew it was there, and then it made sense. My college roommate adopted it in her own chocolate chip cookies and at least once left it out of the recipe she passed along to a friend, so that the cookies would never be quite the same, thereby keeping them special.

2016-food-blog-septemberApart from that, my typical “secret ingredient” practice is just adding so many components that I likely won’t remember them all when I need to recreate whatever dish it was (clearly ideal methodology for a food blogger!). But suddenly, I have a secret ingredient. It fits all the qualifications: it adds a definite flavor without being obvious, and it would be difficult to guess at were you trying blindly to taste out every component of the dish.

2016-food-blog-september-07442016-food-blog-september-0747This came about by accident, as many of my masterworks do. We had just arrived home from our annual summer road trip, which meant a whatever-is-still-good meal. Pasta is easy here – a bag of spaghetti and a can of tomatoes are guaranteed to be fine and tasty – but being who I am, the urge to tinker kicked in and I was rooting around in the fridge looking for something to make it special. I found a container of heavy cream that, shoved to the very back, was not only still good, but almost frozen, and a tiny, hard, crusty little corner of miso paste. It looked okay, apart from being approximately the texture of granite, and in a moment of innovation genius “well, why not?” I tossed it into the sauce.

2016-food-blog-september-0749As secret ingredients go, this is a good one. No, you don’t necessarily want to buy a whole tub of miso paste just for this, since you’ll only be going through a tablespoon or two, but the number of other sauces, soups, and stir-fry dishes that it will contribute to makes it a great thing to have at the back of the fridge. (And really, if you bought the stuff for Deb’s recipe in the first place, you’ll need a new recipe to use up that last stubborn chunk that has been hiding in your fridge for months anyway.) The miso adds all the salt needed to the sauce, but it also contributes a lux, complex quality that gives depth the tomatoes and somehow makes the cream feel lighter – more sprightly.

2016-food-blog-september-0754In the final incarnation, I added leeks for an onion-y aromatic base, a splash of wine to deglaze, and a smattering of chili flakes, and I was delighted with all of these additions, though you could certainly leave out the heat, replace the leeks with garlic or shallot (or some combination), and I wouldn’t say no to marsala in place of the wine.

In any case, though, scatter the top with a chiffonade of basil or some parsley fragments, and challenge your dinner guests to guess what that extra flavor is – I bet they will be stumped, trying to determine our new secret ingredient.

2016-food-blog-september-0762

Spaghetti with miso tomato sauce
40-45 minutes
Serves 8-10
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons salt for pasta water
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup finely chopped leek, white and pale green parts only
½ cup dry white wine
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 tablespoons white or red miso paste
28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
½ cup heavy cream, at room temperature (adding to the sauce at room temperature, rather than cold, eliminates the danger of curdling)
optional: 2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley or chiffonade of basil to scatter over the top

 

  • Fill a large pot with water, add the 2 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil. When it boils, add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions, stirring once or twice to separate pasta strands. When the spaghetti is tender but still has a slight bite, drain it and add it to the sauce as directed below.
  • While the pasta water heats, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When it is melted, add the leeks and turn the heat down to medium-low; sweat the leeks, stirring often, until they are tender. This should take about 8-10 minutes.
  • When the leeks are tender and translucent, add the wine and the red pepper flakes, stir to integrate, and raise the heat to medium-high. Simmer for 3-5 minutes to cook off some of the raw flavor of the wine.
  • Now, add the miso paste, using a wooden spoon or a whisk to break it up and integrate it evenly into the wine mixture. Cook 2-3 minutes to allow it to soften and distribute (the older the miso paste is, the more reluctant it will be to integrate).
  • Dump in the canned tomatoes and their juice, stir, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Periodically, crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon or with a potato masher (be careful: they squirt!).
  • When the sauce has simmered at least 20 minutes to let the flavors blend, and when the pasta is cooked and drained, take the skillet off the heat and stir in the room temperature cream.
  • Integrate the drained pasta (I use tongs for this), then place the skillet back over medium-low heat and cook, frequently manipulating the pasta with your tongs, for another two minutes. This lets the pasta absorb some of the sauce.
  • To serve, transfer to a large bowl or serving dish and, if desired, scatter the top with your parsley or basil. Warm garlic toast is a welcome accompaniment.

Arugula and Feta Pasta with Lemon Garlic Crumbs

2015 Blog August-0259I know what you must be thinking. I rhapsodize about meatballs, toss around semi-exotic ingredients you might have to go to multiple stores to obtain, advocate that you turn zucchini into noodles, and then disappear for almost three weeks with only a few photos to tide you over.

2015 Blog August-0227During those weeks, I must admit I didn’t cook much. We were traveling, making our annual pilgrimage to Oregon where we attended a wedding, stayed with good friends, single-handedly prevented the Cascadia quake by staying in a hotel that overlooked the ocean, N. bought a banjo, and I pulled a muscle in my back. (We also discovered the glory that is a chocolate stout float, but more on that in a few weeks.)

2015 Blog August-0237Not much makes you look forward to an eight-hour car ride less than having a pulled muscle in your lower back. Apart from trying to get comfortable and working to stay awake through the muscle relaxers I was taking (man do those things knock you out!), I sorted through what had become unexpectedly difficult to accomplish without the muscle just left of your spine: spitting out toothpaste without dribbling it down your front. Shimmying into a pair of shorts – your feet and ankles are suddenly so far away! Rolling over in bed. Hobbling across the street at a snail’s pace while the kindly drivers on either side regret waving you forward. Filling and then draining off a pot of pasta water.

2015 Blog August-0240Cooking, thus, when we got home, had to be simple at first, and required some of N.’s help for the parts that had become surprisingly heavy. Fortunately, I’d been hoping to repeat this simple little pasta dish: capellini, also known as angel hair, tangled together with lightly wilted arugula and salty crumbles of feta, topped with an aromatic, heavy dose of crunchy breadcrumbs flavored with garlic and lemon zest. The whole thing only uses two pans, it requires only a handful of ingredients, none particularly exotic, and it takes a mere twenty minutes or so to throw together, since most of the prep and cooking of the breadcrumbs can be done while you’re waiting for the pasta water to boil.

2015 Blog August-02422015 Blog August-0243

2015 Blog August-0246If you aren’t accustomed to having arugula in your fridge, you should be – it’s a wonderful go-to green for salads and a refreshingly different take on pesto. Delicate but peppery, it’s also called rocket and is one of my favorite salad bases. As for the topping, I’m using panko – those delightfully brittle shards that are Japan’s answer to the breadcrumb, and unquestionably my favorite type. You wouldn’t want them for your meatballs, where the goal is light, springy absorbency, but once toasted, they make an addictively perfect crisp topping for basically anything. Since they don’t taste like much, I’ve bumped up the flavor with lemon zest, a healthy bit of grated garlic, and some red pepper flakes for N., who likes that hit of warmth on the back of the throat.

2015 Blog August-0249Coming home at the beginning of August is a bittersweet proposition, because at once it means a glory of summer fruits and more vegetables at the Farmers’ Market than my market bag or my wallet can handle, but it also means the first day of classes looms ever closer on the horizon. And as nice as it is to be home, the fact that it will be at least another year before we see all the friends we just hugged goodbye is a pang quite different from my slowly healing back muscle. This week, then, we’ve covered a bit of the bitter, with the peppery greens and the briny sharpness of the cheese. Next week, inspired by a bourbon-loving friend I didn’t get to see on this trip, I want to make up for it with something sweet.

2015 Blog August-0252

Arugula and feta pasta with lemon garlic crumbs
Serves 4 very hungry diners, or 6 less hungry diners
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon grated garlic (from about 4 cloves)
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from 1 large or 2 small lemons)
8 ounces capellini or angel hair pasta
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large or 2 small lemons)
5-6 ounces baby arugula
4 ounces feta, crumbled

 

  • Heat a large, lidded pot of well-salted water over high heat. When it comes to a boil, add the capellini and cook according to package directions. While you wait for the water to boil, however, make the breadcrumbs and prep the other ingredients, as detailed below.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. When it is shimmering, add the panko breadcrumbs, the salt, and the red pepper flakes. Toast over medium heat, stirring almost constantly to brown evenly and prevent burning.
  • When the crumbs are golden, which for me was about 2-3 minutes, add the grated garlic and lemon zest and stir well to evenly distribute. The zest and garlic will want to clump up, so stir assertively. Cook, stirring, for another 1-2 minutes until the mixture is fragrant and nicely browned. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • By now, your water should be close to or already boiling. Add the pasta and stir to submerge it. Cook with the lid off to al dente, following the package directions. As soon as the pasta is done, drain immediately into a colander or strainer.
  • Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil to the now-empty pasta pot and swirl it over medium-low heat to evenly coat the bottom of the pot. Add the lemon juice, then the pasta, and toss with tongs to coat evenly with oil and lemon juice.
  • Dump in the arugula and use the tongs to gently integrate it with the pasta. When the arugula is gently wilted, turn off the heat and sprinkle in the crumbled feta cheese. Use tongs again to toss so the cheese is evenly distributed.
  • Serve hot in large, shallow bowls, and top each serving with about 2 tablespoons of the crumbs.