Weekly Winner: Herby, Nutty, Creamy Comfort. Almost Perfect Pasta

IMG_0533Pasta in any form makes me happy.   I’ll take plain with butter, extravagantly layered lasagnas or a luscious mac-n-cheese.  If it involves pasta, I’m in!

Rigatoni with Ricotta-Sage Pesto and Walnuts, which I found in a recent issue of Milk Street Magazine, has all my favorite things – cheese, nuts, and herbs — if it had bacon in it, it would be the perfect!.  Of course, there’s nothing stopping you (or me next time) from adding some bacon.  Note to self!

Rigatoni with Ricotta-Sage Pesto and Walnuts

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/2 cup fresh sage, chopped

6 Tbsp olive oil

3 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 oz grated Parmesan cheese

2 tsp grated lemon zest

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

1 tsp kosher salt

3/4 tsp black pepper

12 oz rigatoni or penne rigate

Chopped toasted walnuts, for garnish

Procedure:

  1. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the olive oil and sage.  Microwave on high just until hot and fragrant, about 1 minute but check after 30 seconds; it should not sizzle.  Cool to room temperature.
  2. In food processor, process the sage-oil mixture and parsley until finely chopped, about 15 seconds. Add parmesan and lemon zest and process until well incorporated, about 5 pulses.  Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Stir in ricotta, kosher salt and pepper.
  4. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil.  Add pasta and 2 tablespoons of salt; cook until the pasta is al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain.
  5. Toss the pasta with the ricotta pesto, then stir in the reserved cooking water; the pasta should be creamy.  Serve sprinkled with chopped toasted walnuts and additional parmesan.
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Weekly Winner: Perfect Picnic Pick

IMG_0536You know what I can’t stand?  Food snobbery.  By that I mean an elitist attitude regarding types of food, specific ingredients, or the origin of a dish.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for procuring local ingredients whenever possible, but I just think that fabulous food can come from anywhere and out of very humble ingredients.  If it’s prepared carefully and with love, that’s enough for me.  Good is good, end of story.

This little rant is my way of defending this pasta salad.  This will become my go-to summer potluck and picnic salad.  Italian Sub Pasta Salad is certainly not gourmet food.  There is nothing “artisanal” nor is any ingredient tricky to find.  The recipe itself comes from Kraft Food & Family magazine, and while I didn’t use all Kraft ingredients, you certainly could and it would be just as delicious.  This isn’t fancy and it shouldn’t be… it’s just super tasty, easy to pull together, and will be a fabulous addition to any cookout, picnic or summer get-together.

Italian Sub Pasta Salad

Makes 10 cups

1/2 lb spaghetti, cooked and rinsed

2 cups chopped, stemmed fresh kale

2 cups mixed red, orange, yellow and green cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup each slivered red onions and chopped pepperoncini peppers

1 can (16oz) chickpeas, rinsed

8 slices hard salami, cut into thin strips

6 slices Provolone cheese, cut into thin strips

1 cup Kraft Olive Oil Roasted Red Pepper vinaigrette

Procedure:

Combine all ingredients except vinaigrette in large bowl.

Add vinaigrette and mix lightly.

Refrigerate two hours.

Weekly Winner: Haters Gonna Hate – until they try it!

IMG_0529OK, some people might think I’ll need to give up my “personal chef card” (as if there is such a thing), after reading this post, and others are going to say to themselves “oh, wait a minute, I can see how that might work”.  That second group of people are who I’m talking to here.

So, first of all a bit of a back-story to this.  For quite some time now I’ve been seeing commercials for this product (not that it’s new, but obviously is going through a “rebranding”). I’ve also noticed it prominently displayed in grocery stores recently.  In a specific commercial they actually show said product in this exact dish with the tagline “Don’t knock it until you FRY it”.  Yes, that’s right I’m talking about Spam.  In particular Spam-fried Rice.  Something about the commercial immediately clicked with me.  I thought to myself, “Oh heck yeah, I’m gonna try that”!  And I did.  And it was fabulous.  And I’ll be making it again — possibly often.  Ah, the power of advertising!

I probably haven’t had Spam for over 30 years.  I’ve never had anything against it, and I definitely enjoyed it on the rare occasion my mom made it for us as kids.  I have never turned up my nose at it — to me, it’s far better than Canadian Bacon.  Oh wait!! Spam Eggs Benedict!  OK, add that to the list!  Maybe I should offer my services to the Spam recipe development people.  But I digress.

Without further ado — here is my personal recipe for Spam-Fried Rice.  As with all fried rice dishes it is open to all kinds of riffs and modifications.  This was simply the veggies I had on hand.

Spam-Fried Rice

Ingredients:

3/4 of a 12oz can of Spam Classic, cut into cubes

2 Tbsp peanut oil

1 tsp Sesame oil

3 cups cooked white rice, chilled

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp ginger, minced

2 large eggs, beaten

2 small carrots, diced

1 cup frozen peas

Salt and Pepper to taste

1/2 cup soy sauce

3 scallions, thinly sliced, whites and green parts separated

Procedure:

  1. In non-stick frying pan or wok, heat 1 Tbsp peanut oil.  Add eggs and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring gently until just set.  Remove eggs to plate and break up into small pieces.
  2. Add remaining peanut oil and sesame oil to pan or wok.  Add scallion whites, carrot and Spam.  Cook, stirring often until Spam is crisped on edges and carrots are beginning to soften, about 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic and ginger and continue to cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Add rice and cook, stirring about 3-4 minutes more until rice is heated through.
  4. Add egg, peas, and soy sauce.  Season with salt and pepper and toss until thoroughly mixed.  Serve immediately topped with scallion greens

Weekly Winner: Punched Up Pork Chops

IMG_0521It’s no secret that when the carnivore in me comes rearing her hungry head, it’s very rarely steak that she’s looking for…. its a bone-in pork chop!  And while I’m incredibly happy with a simply-seasoned, perfectly-cooked, juicy chop — every once in awhile I go looking for ways to up my pork chop game (or at least provide some interesting variations).

I found just the right inspiration in the latest issue of Bon Appetit.  Grilled Pork Chops with Pineapple-Turmeric Glaze.  These were awesome!  Just the right mix of spice and sweet but not so much flavor that it covered up the taste of the pork.  Everything came together in a super flavorful, super easy dinner.  This glaze would also be great on, well, anything!  I can see it on shrimp, chicken, beef…. more pork!  This just might replace my barbecue sauce this summer.

Grilled Pork Chops with Pineapple-Turmeric Glaze

serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil (for the grill)
  • ½ cup pineapple juice
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric
  • 4 1″-thick bone-in pork chops
  • Kosher salt

Procedure:

  1. Prepare a grill for high indirect heat (for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off; for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side); oil grate. Bring pineapple juice, honey, vinegar, mustard, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, and turmeric to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, swirling occasionally, until reduced to ¾ cup, 10–15 minutes. Let cool. Transfer half of sauce to a small bowl and set aside for serving.

  2. Season pork with salt. Grill over direct heat until browned all over, about 3 minutes per side. Continue to grill, turning several times and basting with remaining sauce, until charred and coated with a thick layer of glaze, about 4 minutes. Move to cooler part of grill and take internal temperature of pork. If needed, continue grilling over indirect heat until an instant-read thermometer inserted into chops near bone registers 130°, 1–4 minutes more. Transfer pork chops to a wire rack and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with reserved sauce alongside.

Weekly Winner: Salvation found in a Fabulously Fortifying and Stunning Salmon Salad

SalmonKaleSaladSalmon is my go-to salvation dish.  When I need to reset and rebalance, I inevitably turn to my favorite fish.  It is so versatile and incredibly easy to cook.  Since the temperatures are (finally) starting to rise here in Chicago and its beginning to feel like summer, an entrée salad is definitely the way to go.  I got this winner of a dish from Cooking Light Magazine.

Roasted Pistachio-Crusted Salmon and Kale Salad hits all the right notes.  It’s healthy and hearty all at the same time.  The nuts on the salmon add fabulous crunch and even more omega-3 fatty acids, the baby kale and red onion provide  crisp freshness, and the beets ground the dish in wonderful earthiness.  This salad will set you right with only about a half-hour’s worth of work. I streamlined this a bit further by getting pre-cooked beets.  Ain’t nobody got time to roast and peel beets for a mid-week dinner!

Roasted Pistachio-Crusted Salmon and Kale Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium-size pre-cooked beets
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped unsalted pistachios, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons grainy Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 (1 1/2-lb.) skin-on salmon fillet (about 1 1/2 inches thick)
  • 7/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 cups baby kale and spinach mix
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Stir together pistachios, mustard, and lemon zest in a small bowl.  Place salmon on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Spoon pistachio mixture on top of salmon; pat into an even layer.
  2. Bake at 425 until a thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 130F, 15-16 minutes.
  3. Whisk together oil, lemon juice, remaining 1/2 tsp salt and remaining 1/4 tsp pepper in a large bowl; reserve 3 tbsp. of the dressing.  Add beets, kale-spinach mix, and onion to bowl with dressing, and toss to coat. Place salmon fillet on salad.  Drizzle with reserved dressing.