Making Pasta Less Ordinary (aka “The Importance of Sourcing Unique Market Ingredients” Post)

Memo: Pasta at home, from a box, does not have to suck. And it certainly doesn’t require being drenched in generic sauce from a jar. Promise.

Erin’s Easy Pasta Less Ordinary
Serves 1

1/8th box vermicelli pasta, or whatever you have on hand (I used De Cecco brand)
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 small tomato, diced
1/3 zucchini, chopped
fresh lemon juice
E.V.O.O.
fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 exceptional ingredient*

*Here’s your first tip: All it takes is one exceptional ingredient — in this case, I used this jar of Tonnino tuna fillets packed in olive oil that I found at my local health store — to make a quick pasta meal just a touch special.

Capers (optional)
Parmesan cheese, shavings (optional)

1.) While the pasta cooks, saute the garlic over medium heat for a minute or two; add the tomato and zucchini. Cook until mixture is warm throughout but not mush.

2.) Drain the pasta and place into a bowl. Top with the saute mixture.

3.) Drizzle dish with fresh lemon juice and premium E.V.O.O. (I’m currently working my way through a small bottle of Arbequina E.V.O.O. from Agata & Valentina)

4.) Add tuna fillets (break up in advance), chopped parsley. Repeat drizzle of E.V.O.O. and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

5.) Gently toss to mix pasta and ingredients.

6.) sprinkle dish with capers*, Parmesan slices.

*Here’s your second tip: Capers — those lovely, briny, green berries — are pasta’s best friend, esp. if the pasta is “nude” like this one (e.g. without sauce).

They will add a certain complexity to the dish, as well as the element of delicious surprise. A $3 jar will last for months. They make bagels extra-special, too. Basically, there is no excuse to not have capers on hand.

Tag … you’re it!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside? (aka the “Make This Hot-Hot Salad” Post)

Yes, temps are below freezing. And yes, I’m making a salad — no, not iceberg…

… I want all the nutritional value of something dark and green, plus some nice, nutty grains, plus the (possibly) one of the most perfect pork products I’ve yet to discover, loose sausage filling — fresh ground, seasoned, just minus the casing — $3.99/lb at Agata & Valentina, a favorite grocer.

Now THIS is a salad fit for the season:

Winter Sausage Salad
Serves 2

1 c. cooked brown/wild rice blend of your choice, (I had on hand a package of Lundberg’s Wild Blend, wild and whole grain brown rice)
1/3 lb. loose, uncooked sausage meat (you can always just remove the casing)
1/2 medium red onion, roughly diced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1c. – 1 1/2 c. chopped red cabbage (depending on your preferences)
3c. loose mixed greens
slivered almonds or other whole nuts (optional)
olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

1. First, get the rice going because it’s probably going to take an hour to cook. Follow instructions on the package to make the rice, which will yield 2 cups.

2. Start up the rest of the cooking about 20 minutes before the rice is done. Sautée the cabbage, onion and celery on medium-low heat in a tablespoon or two of olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until the onion and celery are translucent and the cabbage has softened somewhat. Set aside.

3. In same frying pan, cook the loose sausage meat until browned thoroughly (7-10 minutes).

4. Mix the cabbage, onion, celery mixture into the sausage; add 1 c. of the cooked rice. Mix thoroughly.

5. Now, here’s the trick: While hot, pack the rice and sausage mixture on top of the salad greens and let rest for 60 seconds — the heat from the warm mixture will slightly wilt the greens.

6. Toss evenly and sprinkle with nuts, then serve into bowls.

Friday: Rotisserie Chicken Leftover Pasta Improv

This Murray’s rotisserie free roaming herb chicken that I bought at Fairway Market is something else: The skin is crusted with a coarse lemon pepper blend, the cavity stuffed with fragrant sage, rosemary and whole garlic cloves that imbue the whole bird with seasoned goodness. That’s a whole lot of bliss for $7.99.

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Since I had some leftover saffron pepper fettucine from Wednesday, I decided to improv:

photo-3After sauteing some sliced red onion, I added to the skillet about 1 cup of cold, leftover noodles, which actually improved in the pan, crisping up a bit on the edges.

Next, I added shredded chicken and chopped flat leaf parsley, and when everything was mostly heated, at the last minute I added two handfuls of fresh spinach leaves.

photoOnce the spinach was wilted, I turned it all out into a bowl, topped with the baked garlic cloves from inside the chicken cavity, drizzled with E.V.O.O. and a little lemon juice, salt and pepper.

And, voila, a quick, balanced, well-seasoned meal, requiring nothing more than a few leftovers in the fridge — fridge scrounging at its best.

Wednesday: A Long-Delayed Emergency … Spaghetti. (aka the “Agata & Valentina Fresh Pasta Exploratory” Post)

So this was the night. After having clipped out the recipe for “Emergency Spaghetti” from some now-forgotten magazine years ago — the recipe itself an excerpt from a cookbook called The Seducer’s Cookbook published in 1963, according to the explanatory paragraph — after having taped it into a small, journal-type notebook that I had since moved cross country and all but forgotten about, and just rediscovered, I’m finally making Emergency Spaghetti.
photo-2…Only, with fettucine. Fresh, saffron pepper fettucine that sells for $3.99/lb at Agata & Valentina in the Upper East Side, also known as only $2.83 for more pasta than two people could possibly eat in one sitting, to be exact. (Who can say no to that?)
Paging through the notebook, I realized that I had every single ingredient — garlic, E.V.O.O., fresh parsley, white wine, salt/pepper, red pepper flakes — except for the base pasta, which was the perfect excuse to finally try one of the fresh made (and cheap!) pastas that I’ve been oggling at Agata & Valentina for months now.
Really high expectations never end well, and with the case of Emergency Spaghetti, which turned out okay. Scale of 1-10: 6. I realized that I have a lot to learn about cooking fresh pasta — the fettucine cooked faster, absorbed more water and was generally much more delicate than its boxed/dried cousins.

Still, a nice, if super simple, sautee of some of the other ingredients, all turned into the the pasta, with the addition of some fresh spinach, tomato and more olive oil — it’s worth a repeat. Really simple. Just so glad to check that one off the list.

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Tuesday: Happiness Is a Full Fridge (aka the “Can We Just Talk About This Cheese Plate for a Moment?” Post)

Q: What’s the first thing I dive into after an epic (relatively speaking) grocery shopping trip that involves stops at two excellent New York markets, Fairway Market and Agata & Valentina?

photo-4A: The cheese, the olives and the snack mix, of course.

Rinse the grapes and set them up to dry in a colander, pack the potential spoilables into the fridge, but you, Le Rustique cambert ($8.99), with your petit checkered napkin inside, you’re not going anywhere.

photoPlus, this snack mix that I discovered that at Fairway Market, the Society Hill [correct name to come], has to be one of the best value mixes in the city: There are salted peanuts,  honey crunch peanuts, little chip bits with whole flax seeds in them, sesame clusters, and so much more — $4.04 for nearly a bag that I’ll be lucky to get through before some of the bits start to turn stale. Really, one of the more perfect party mixes I’ve ever stumbled across in my life.

… If only I’d had just 30 more minutes of patience for the cambert to fully soften. But I had places to go!

Tuesday: The Fried Lunchmeat Experiment (It’s Really Good!)

The description of the Swedish Ham ($8.99/lb) at Agata & Valentina reads as follows: “This ham has more sweet fat strips throughout making it very lush, moist and buttery with a light, delicate hint of smoke.”

Yes. I’ve been more than a little obsessed. I’ve made broiled ham-and-blue-cheese sandwiches, I’ve diced it to add to scrambled eggs. And now it’s going into the brussels sprouts — you could say this dish is a riff on that classic, brussels sprouts and pancetta, only, with a lot more ham (that’s not pancetta) and a few extra goodies. The results? Spectacular. I happily ate this for several meals.

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Brussels Sprouts and Fried Deli Ham

Ingredients:

1 lb. brussels sprouts, washed, bottoms trimmed and cut into halves
1/3 lb. ultra thin-sliced deli counter ham, preferably fatty, chopped into strips (more or less)
1 small red onion (1/4 cup? more?), roughly chopped
blue cheese crumbles to taste
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

You’ll need a deeper pan and a medium-sized frying pan.

1. Cook the brussels sprouts in the deeper pan over medium heat (generously add olive oil). Stir regularly; what you’re looking for is for the vegetables to begin to soften and brown up a bit, but it’s going to take some time to get them all evenly cooked. be patient. (Total: 7-10 minutes?)

2. In the frying pan, sautee the red onion over medium-to-low heat, until it browns and softens. Turn out onto a spare surface.

3. Next, in the frying pan (no need to clean), dump the ham in and turn the heat up to medium-high. At this point you should still be agitating the brussels sprouts so they all brown evenly. The ham is going to brown, then crackle, then even smoke a bit — it’s the result of cooking a fatty protein on a hot surface, but the meat will actually crisp nicely. Keep pushing it.

4. Once the brussels sprouts are done, mix in the red onions and the ham into the deeper pot; plate.

5. Garnish each serving with a little crumble of blue cheese (it will get a little melty). Scarf.

Servings: 4

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