July 3, 2012

Garlic Scape Carbonara


We're fans of pasta alla carbonara.  Whole wheat  pasta combined with lots of garlic and pepper,  local eggs from healthy chickens, and just enough uncured center-cut bacon make the seemingly indulgent classic a relatively healthy meal as well. (You can even add fresh greens, if you'd like.)


This late spring/early summer version features spicy, tender garlic scapes (the stalks of the garlic plant cut off in spring so the plant can focus all its energy on the garlic bulb) instead of mature garlic cloves.  (Garlic scapes also make a lovely pesto!)


Garlic Scape Carbonara 
printable recipe
Serves 4

12 garlic scapes, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
2 ounces bacon, chopped fine
1.5 oz parmesan, freshly grated
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8oz whole wheat spaghetti

Set a medium pot of water to boil.

Beat eggs lightly and stir in parmesan and pepper, reserving some cheese for topping the finished dish.  Set aside egg mixture.

Heat a 12-inch skillet and cook bacon over medium heat for about 2 minutes, just until the fat begins to render.  Add the garlic scapes.  (Center-cut bacon has less fat, so I added about a teaspoon of grapeseed oil to keep the pan from being too dry.)

Continue cooking garlic scapes and bacon about 10-12 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the garlic scapes begin to shrivel and brown.  If at any point the pan becomes to dry and food begins to stick, add a splash of water to deglaze.

Meanwhile, generously salt the boiling water and cook pasta until al dente. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and drain the pasta.  Immediately add cooked pasta to the pan with the garlic scapes and bacon.  Toss over medium heat with a splash of cooking water.  Reduce heat to the lowest setting and add egg/cheese mixture, tossing over low heat, just long enough for the sauce to thicken and adhere to pasta.  If you notice the eggs beginning to cook, immediately remove pan from heat an continue tossing.

Serve immediately topped with remaining parmesan cheese.
June 15, 2012

Classic Basil Pesto and Pasta alla Genovese


It’s great to be back in the kitchen!  After spending the last few months buying a house, moving, attending night/weekend work events, and rehearsing and performing a show, we had one of our first free evenings at home.  It was wonderful. I put together a patio table, tended my tomatoes and herbs, and made dinner! I even had the time to make notes as I cooked and hauled out the camera to take pictures of said dinner.  It was CSA delivery day, so many of these ingredients made it onto the table the same day they left the farm.
Basil pesto is very dear to my heart (and palate for that matter).  It was one of the first recipes I mastered and one of my first forays outside the world of spaghetti and tomato sauce.

My "greener" pasta alla genovese is so called because this particular recipe has a much larger ratio of green beans and potatoes to pasta than the original.  For a more traditional version, halve the amount of potatoes and green beans and double the pasta (1 pound of each ingredient).

Classic Basil Pesto
printable recipe
Yields about 1 ¼ cups.
2 oz fresh basil leaves, washed
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 small-medium cloves of garlic
1/3 cup (1¾ oz) pine nuts
1 oz parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated (about 1 cup, if using a fine Microplane)
salt to taste (if needed)

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a food processor. Process about 5 seconds.  Scrape down sides and repeat.  Add cheese and process until ingredients are combined and reaches desired consistency.  Taste for salt and add olive oil if pesto is too dry.

Use immediately or store as follows:
refrigerator: in an air tight container with a layer of olive oil over the top (up to 2 weeks)
freezer: freeze in an ice cube tray; transfer to a freezer-safe sealed container (up to 3 months)

"Greener" Pasta alla Genovese
printable recipe
Serves 6 as a main course.

For a more traditional version, use 1 pound each of potatoes, beans, and pasta.
2 pounds small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch pieces
2 pounds fresh green beans, washed, ends snipped and cut in half
8oz farfalle pasta (or other short shape)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup basil pesto
freshly grated parmesan, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt.  Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. With a mesh or slotted spoon, remove the potatoes to a large bowl.

Return the water to a boil.  In a second large bowl, prepare an ice bath for the beans. Add the beans and cook for 3-5 minutes, until crisp-tender.  Remove beans with a mesh or slotted spoon and immediately submerge in ice bath to halt cooking. After a few minutes in the ice bath, drain the beans and add them to the potatoes.

Add more water if needed to cook the pasta. Return water to a boil, and add the remaining tablespoon salt.  Cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve ½ cup cooking water and drain pasta.

In a large bowl, combine the pesto and a splash of cooking water.  Stir, adding more water as needed to great a smooth sauce. Add warm pasta, potatoes and beans. Toss to combine. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

March 23, 2012

Whole Wheat Crackers with Poppy Seed and Thyme

Around here, we love snacking on crackers.  For all the things I insist on making from scratch, it wasn’t until recently that I even realized I could make crackers at home. 


I came across a cracker recipe in one of my cookbooks, Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, and decided to give it a whirl.  I was surprised at how easy and relatively quick it was to make crackers at home.


As always, one of the things I love about cooking from scratch is that I get to control the ingredients. A lot of crackers are too sweet or too salty, and many contain ingredients that we'd rather not eat.  These contain healthy oils, local honey, and organic whole wheat flour. As is generally the case with homemade food, they’re much less expensive to make than to buy in the store.

These crackers were inspired by the recipe in Whole Grain Breads. In my opinion, they’re just about right: crispy; not too sweet, not too salty; plenty of flavor on their own but still go well with cheeses and dips.

Whole Wheat Crackers with Poppy Seed and Thyme
printable recipe
Makes 14 servings (about 14oz of baked crackers).

2 cups whole wheat flower
¾ cups water
¾ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
1 ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir until ingredients come together and begin to form a cohesive mass.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 3 minutes until smooth.

Cover with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

On a clean work surface, drizzle a few drops of oil and spread in a thin layer.

Roll out dough with a rolling pin until about 1/16 inch thick.  If the dough shrinks back, allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then roll again. 
Cut the dough into strips using a pizza cutter. Carefully lift each strip of dough and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place strips about 1/4-inch apart. When the pan is full, cut the strips cross-ways to create squares.

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the crackers begin to turn golden.  (Cooking time will vary depending on dough thickness and they can go from just underdone to burned quite quickly, so check early and often.)

Place pan on a cooling rack.  Crackers will crisp as they cool.

Enjoy plain, with cheese, hummus, or however you like!
March 20, 2012

Kale Love

The first time I tried kale, I was pretty sure it wasn't for me. I had seen a post claiming that baked kale chips were perfect for people who don't like kale.  Since I didn’t know whether or not I liked kale, I thought the recipe would be a good introduction and a good use of the kale we had gotten in one of our weekly produce boxes.  We were more than a little disappointed.  Maybe I overcooked them (it's tough to tell when a dark green leaf starts to turn brown), but the chips tasted like burnt popcorn.

It was a couple months before we tried kale again, but when we did, we went for the other extreme: raw kale salad.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I (and the rest of my family) like it, and I started making a point of looking for kale whenever I was at the farmers market. 
Two years later, kale has become a staple around our house. It's one of my favorite greens and one we've practically survived on this winter (our first back in Arkansas without the luxury of the year-round Dupont Circle Farmers Market).  Even when local produce was scarce at our co-op and the pickings slim at the small winter market, there was always kale.  (And now that it's spring, we’re still seeing plenty of it.)

I've made this dish at least once a week over the winter. It's quick, and the ingredients are fairly easy to keep on hand.  If I don't know what to make for dinner or don't feel like spending the evening in the kitchen, I make this.  We’re still surprised at how good it is every time we sit down to a bowl of pasta with kale and carrots.
It's also a forgiving recipe. Have another vegetable on hand? Add it to the pan! Love lots of garlic in everything? Throw that in too! Veggies starting to stick to the pan but the pasta's not done? Deglaze with some white wine and keep them going until you’re ready to add the kale.
Pasta with Kale and Carrots
printable recipe
Serves 4.
8 oz. dried short pasta (whole wheat or regular; we love farfalle)
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or other sautéing oil)
2 medium carrots
½ red onion (optional)
2 small or 1 large bunch kale (we've been using a locally grown black kale)
2 ounces freshly grated parmesan
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a 4-quart pot of water to boil.
Wash kale, remove tough ends of stems, and roughly chop.

When water is boiling, salt generously and add pasta.
Heat about a tablespoon of oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet.  Peel carrots and slice about ⅛ inch thick.  Chop onion if using.  Add onions and carrots and cook until softened and just beginning to brown, stirring occasionally.  Add kale when the pasta is almost done and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
When pasta is al dente, reserve ½ cup cooking liquid and drain pasta.

Add pasta, half the cheese, and about half of the reserved pasta cooking liquid to the pan of vegetables.  Toss over medium heat about 2 minutes.  If it looks dry, add a bit more cooking water or extra virgin olive oil.

Serve immediately topped with remaining parmesan cheese.
Variation: This dish is also great with roasted tomatoes—not enough to make a sauce, but just enough to color the dish and add some extra brightness and flavor. Add them to the pan a couple minutes before adding the kale.  (Of course, I recommend using tomatoes preserved from last summer, but I’m sure a jarred store-bought variety would also be good.)
January 22, 2012

Greens alla Carbonara (a compromise)


It’s an almost nightly discussion—what to have for dinner. My meat-loving husband wants something…well, meaty and hearty, and I want something leafy and green.  Since I do most of the cooking and we don’t buy a lot of meat, I usually win on the dinner front. However, I almost never object to a bit of bacon or sausage for some extra flavor (and we almost always have a bit tucked away in the freezer). 


The following dish was born out of my desire for something a little healthier and Brian’s love for traditional spaghetti alla carbonara


For this version, I went heavy on the eggs and light on the bacon, with a big helping of sautéed greens.  Brian agreed that it wasn’t any less satisfying than the Roman classic. 


Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Leafy Greens 
printable recipe
Serves 2.

4 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
2 eggs
1 ounce freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1 large bunch tendergreen mustard* or other cooking green
2 teaspoons olive or grapeseed oil
1 ounce bacon, finely chopped
5 small garlic cloves, whole with skins removed
freshly ground black pepper

Set a large pot of water to boil.  Beat the eggs in a bowl.  Set aside.

To prepare the greens, remove the tough ends of the stalks (if any) and roughly chop the greens.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high in a 12-inch skillet.  When the oil is hot, quickly sauté the greens with a couple pinches of salt.  (This should be fairly quick, almost like stir-fry.)  When the greens are wilted, remove from pan and set aside.  Lower heat to medium.

Add the bacon.  When the fat begins to render, add the garlic cloves.  Sauté, stirring occasionally until bacon is cooked and garlic is browned.  Remove from heat. Remove garlic and press through a garlic press or chop.  Add back to pan.

In well-salted, boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Before draining, scoop out about ½ cup cooking water.  Drain pasta.

Return the pan to medium heat.  Add pasta to and about ¼ cup cooking liquid to bacon.  Toss over heat for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add half of parmesan and beaten eggs and quickly toss to coat pasta.  If needed for desired consistency, add a bit more cooking water.  Add lots of ground black pepper, most of the remaining parmesan, and the greens.  Toss to combine. 

Serve immediately topped with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

*I came across this locally grown green at our co-op, where it was simply labeled “tender greens.” A staff member assured me that it was a good cooking variety. Some searching revealed that this green is in the mustard family and is often called “tendergreen mustard greens” or “tendergreen mustard spinach.” The bunch I bought was quite long and slender and fairly pale green in color.  For a green related to mustard, it was surprisingly (and pleasantly) not spicy. 

January 12, 2012

Roasted Turnips and Sweet Potatoes

It's been two months since my last post.  I could tell you about how busy it's been and about the queue of recipes I've been meaning to post (which I will get to eventually), but for the sake of actually getting something posted, I'll just offer the following:

It's a recipe.  I made it last night.  It's simple and winter-y and satisfying, and the sweet potatoes are just the right compliment to the spicier turnips. The ingredients (except the salt and olive oil) came from the last delivery of our winter CSA.


Roasted Turnips and Sweet Potatoes
Serves 2-3.

8-10 small turnips (or 4-5 medium)
2 small sweet potatoes
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons olive oil
5-6 leaves sage, finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
6 small cloves garlic, whole in skin

Preheat oven to 400F.

Halve the vegetables lengthwise and slice into 1/4-inch-thick pieces.  In a 9x13 baking pan, toss all ingredients except the garlic.  Add the garlic (whole and still in the skin).

Bake in preheated oven for about 45 minutes, stirring halfway through, until vegetables are tender and edges are browned.

Remove dish from oven.  Remove garlic from skins and roughly chop.  Gently fold chopped garlic with the rest of the vegetables.  Serve immediately.