Weekly Winner: The Incredible Shrinking Tomatoes

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I love it when I have all day to prepare one single dish. Not the fussy, needy kind of recipe that demands my attention every minute, but the kind of dish that needs all day to cook, with minimal attention, but rewards you with an insanely good-smelling house as it either simmers, bubbles or braises away. Or in the case of this tomato conserva recipe — slowly shrinks and dries up (but in a good way — a very good way)

The recipe for both the tomatoes and the final pasta dish came from Fine Cooking.  And indeed it was fine.  The sweetness from the tomatoes was amazing.  Combine that with the pancetta and the overall aroma in the house from cooking these tomatoes low and slow all day …like I said, amazing.  Before posting the recipe, I thought I’d show you the before and after pictures of the tomatoes.

Going into the oven —

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20140429-104740.jpg and what they looked like coming out after 5-1/2 hours. 

The tomatoes themselves would be fabulous on almost anything.  But in my book, combining them with a pork product and pasta is always the way to go!

Tomato Conserva

 4 lb. ripe, meaty tomatoes, such as beefsteak or plum, cored and sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick

2 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

Divide the tomatoes and garlic between two large rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle the oil over the tomatoes and season with 1 tsp salt and several grinds of pepper. Gently toss the tomatoes to evenly coat with the oil and then spread in a single layer.

Put the sheets in the oven and lower the heat to 225°F. Slowly roast, switching the positions of the sheets halfway through, until the tomatoes look like juicy sun-dried tomatoes, wrinkly and slightly browned in spots, 5 to 6 hours. Let the tomatoes cool for at least 10 minutes before serving or using.

Spaghetti with Tomato Conserva, Pancetta, and Pecorino

Kosher salt

1 lb. dried spaghetti

5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

4 oz. thinly sliced fatty pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch strips

2 cups Tomato Conserva, coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 oz. finely grated aged Pecorino Romano (2 cups using a rasp grater)

1/2 cup packed whole flat-leaf parsley leaves

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 1 minute less than package directions for al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat 3 Tbs. of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown, about 3 minutes.

Add the conserva, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 cup of the pasta water and toss to combine. Add the pasta and cook, tossing, until al dente, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the heat to medium low and add the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil, half of the pecorino, and the parsley. Toss, adding more pasta water, if needed, to loosen the sauce. Season to taste with salt and serve sprinkled with the remaining pecorino.

 
 
 
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Weekly Winner: Playing with Your Food – Easter Pig-bunny

Easter PiggyThis is my husband’s creation.  Not the meal, mind you — I made that.  It was the design and plating of it that was all him.  And proud of it he was.  After all, you do eat with your eyes first, right?  I mean if the food doesn’t appeal to you on the plate, you’re probably not going to enjoy eating it.  So I say go ahead, play with your food! (It also may help to explain why I’ve never felt the need to have children … I already have one!)

Now, back to the dish.  This was our laid-back Easter Dinner.  We didn’t do much for Easter and we generally don’t have the traditional ham.  We were busy with errands and household projects so I definitely was looking for something easy … but festive.  It was a major food holiday, after all.

What attracted me to this recipe for Sautéed Pork Chops with Blueberry Sauce and Mashed Sweet Potatoes in Cuisine at Home Magazine was the picture.  The magazine picture, not my husband’s.  It was different, colorful and included some of my favorite things — pork, blueberries and … oh yeah, pork!  The recipe is simple, comes together very quickly and doesn’t require any fancy ingredients.  For the record (and my integrity – ha!) I’ve included a picture of my plate after the recipe.  You be the judge. And yes, he did add more sauce after snapping the picture.

Sautéed Pork Chops with Blueberry Sauce and Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 4

Pork Chops & Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless pork chops, ½-inch thick, halved crosswise, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced shallots
  • ¼ cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • ½ cup low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Chopped fresh parsley
  • Lemon wedges

Instructions:

Sauté pork chops in oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, 2 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate; keep warm. Add shallots to pan; sauté 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

Deglaze pan with wine and simmer until nearly evaporated. Stir in blueberries, broth, vinegar, and brown sugar; bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until blueberries begin to burst and sauce thickens, 2-3 minutes.

Off heat, stir in butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve chops with sauce and garnish with parsley and lemons.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes:

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions:

Boil sweet potatoes in a pot of salted water until tender, 10-12 minutes; drain. Return sweet potatoes to the pot, and cook 1-2 minutes over medium heat to dry them out, stirring constantly. Mash sweet potatoes with butter and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Easter Dinner

Weekly Winner: An Oddly Alluring Salad

It snowed yesterday.  April 15 in Chicago…. snow and bitterly cold.  Today: windy, sunny but still way too cold for the date on the calendar.  It’s ridiculous, is what it is.  And I’m over it.  I’m also over cold weather lunches — soups, stews, anything hot.  I want a salad but I also still require something to warm me up.

Roasted Cauliflower SaladAwhile ago I found this salad recipe in Chile Pepper Magazine (of all places) and found it intriguing.  Cauliflower and swiss cheese?  Really?  Yes, really.  It is amazing.  I have no idea why it was in Chile Pepper Magazine as it does not offer a modicum of spice, but I now know exactly why it will remain in my salad recipe file.  It works.  There are just a few things I added.  The original recipe has just an olive oil, salt and pepper dressing.  I added a splash of balsamic and I think the sweetness from that adds a lot.  Also the original recipe calls for just a very small amount of spinach on the plate with the cauliflower, cheese, nut mixture on top.  I wanted to make it more of a true salad and added much more spinach and some romaine I had left over.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Walnuts and Swiss Cheese

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 4 Tbsps extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tsps kosher salt, divided
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 splash balsamic vinegar
  • 8 oz swiss cheese, cubed
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts
  • 4 cups baby spinach or any salad greens

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400. In a bowl, toss together the cauliflower, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Place cauliflower on baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and golden, 30-35 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining olive oil with the remaining salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

In a large bowl, toss the salad greens with the cheese, nuts and warm cauliflower. Pour the oil mixture over the salad and toss until well coated.

Weekly Winner: Deconstructing and Dolling Up Dan Dan

I adore Dan Dan Noodles and I make a mighty fine version if I do say so myself.  (See: Dan Dan Noodles )But I’ve been making them quite a lot lately, both for myself and for others so I decided it was time to switch it up a bit.  Add to that fact that there has been one or two days when we could actually open up the grill and not freeze to death while using it and the choice for dinner was easy.

Asian chickenWe were going to try the deconstructed variation on the Dan Dan theme that I found in Cuisine at Home magazine: Grilled Asian Chicken. This is definitely a fancier take on the Dan Dan Noodles Recipe I have and would be much more “company friendly”.  It was easy, very tasty and a nice diversion.  But was it better?  No…. just different.  But sometimes different is good.

Grilled Asian Chicken with Peanut Noodles

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar, divided
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce, divided
  • 1 tsp peanut oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 oz dry spaghetti
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
  • ¼ cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Instructions:

Preheat grill to medium-high. Brush grill grate with oil.

Combine 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp oil and ½ tsp salt in a bowl; toss with chicken. Grill chicken, covered, until cooked through, 5-6 minutes per side. Remove chicken from grill; tent with foil.

Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water according to package directions; drain and return to the pot. Meanwhile, heat broth, peanut butter, remaining 2 Tbsp brown sugar, vinegar, lime juice, remaining 1 Tbsp soy sauce, ginger, and chili garlic sauce in a saucepan over medium, whisking to combine; simmer 1-2 minutes. Off heat, season with salt, then pour sauce over pasta and toss to coat.

Top each chicken breast with pasta and Cucumber Sambal; garnish with peanuts.

Cucumber Sambal

Ingredients:

1 cup seeded and diced cucumber

½ cup thinly sliced scallions

¼ cup diced red bell pepper

3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon salt

Toss all ingredients in a bowl until combined. Chill until ready to serve.