Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Whole Wheat Pasta with Country Sausage, Wilted Greens and Ricotta

Now that colder weather is upon us, I've been craving and cooking dishes with heat.

Dishes like this lovely pasta I whipped up with crumbled pork country sausage (plain because the sweet/spicy versions always disappoint), cherry peppers, wilted greens, and my sweet and creamy "drunken onions," all topped with a cooling dollop of fresh ricotta cheese.
It's spicy, but not unpleasantly so -- it hits you with a slow, gentle burn, not a fiery fierceness. And, all of the other flavors help balance out the heat: spicy, salty, sweet, earthy, creamy, yum.

You could say it's like a warm blanket of flavor...

Whole Wheat Pasta with Country Sausage, Wilted Greens and Ricotta
13.5 oz. whole wheat, medium-sized pasta shells
1 TBS unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 TBS brandy
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb plain pork country sausage, casings removed, and crumbled
Kosher salt/ground black pepper
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 small hot red cherry pepper, seeds/stem removed, and finely diced
2 cups finely chopped kale, chard, spinach or a mix of greens
1 cup chicken stock
8 oz. fresh ricotta

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 2

To Do:
  • Fill a large pot with water and a few handfuls of salt, and bring to a boil. Boil pasta until al dente, then reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the rest and set pasta aside.
  • Meanwhile, make the drunken onions: In a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat 1 TBS butter over medium-high heat until melted. Add in the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and translucent. Add the brandy and cook a few minutes more, until alcohol has burned off.
  • Add the garlic and crumbled sausage to the onions, and cook until the meat is browned and the garlic is soft. Season with salt/pepper and add the chili flakes.
  • Stir in the cherry pepper and greens, and cook until pepper has softened and the greens are wilted.
  • Pour in the chicken broth and stir to mix well.  Cook for a few minutes, until all the flavors are combined.
  • Reduce the heat, then add the cooked pasta to the pan and heat until warmed through. 
    • Note: Stir in the reserved pasta water a bit at a time if the pasta mixture seems too dry.
  • Scoop into bowls and top each dish with a dollop of ricotta before serving.

A very tasty way to keep toasty!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Going Gaga for Babaganoush

So, I have to admit it. I'm in love with the humble eggplant.

Last year, it was kale -- this year, those deep purple oblong aubergines are all I want to cook.

I've curried them with tofu. I've simmered them with tomatoes, spices and garlic in zaalouk. I've grilled them to top everything from pizza to bison burgers. And, I've roasted them with chickpeas and bacon for a simple pasta sauce. I've even microwaved them Mark Bittman-style, with breadcrumbs, lemon and honey. But, I hadn't made the creamy, dreamy delicious eggplant dip that is Babaganoush.

Until today. And I must say, it is quite delish.

Gourmess' Babaganoush
Olive oil
3 medium-sized, firm eggplants
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Smoked sea salt
2 TBS tahini
2 TBS lemon juice
1/2 tsp honey
4 TBS, fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/8 tsp smoked paprika

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 1
To Do:
  • Prick the eggplants all over with a fork and drizzle them with olive oil before placing them on a baking sheet lined with foil, and into a 450 degree oven. 
  • Roast until they deflate a bit, and the skin is charred in spots -- about 20-25 minutes. (Note: You can also use a grill or char the eggplants carefully over your burner's open flame, but I had other things cooking on the stove, so I used the oven instead.)
  • In the meantime, on your cutting board, use your knife or the back of a spoon to smoosh the garlic and 1/4 tsp of smoked salt, into a paste. (Note: I love using the smoked salt in this dip, but if you don't have it, plain old Kosher salt will do.) 
  • Then, in a medium-sized bowl, mix together the garlic/salt paste, tahini, lemon juice, and honey until well incorporated, and set aside.
  • When the eggplants were done, I let them cool until they were easy to handle, then cut them in half lengthwise and scooped the pulp into my food mill, turning it several times until I had a lovely purée. (Discard the skins/stems.) Alternatively, you can put the pulp in the food processor and blast away, but I think the mill gives it a velvety texture and if you use a disc with fine holes, it gets rid of the seeds -- which can be plentiful if your eggplants are overripe.
  • Add the tahini mixture to the eggplant and mix well. Stir in the parsley (save a pinch or two for garnish) and season with a bit more salt, if needed. 
  • Transfer the dip to a serving bowl and top with the reserved parsley and the paprika.
  • Scoop up with warm pitas or spread on toasted bread and top with bacon, lettuce and tomato for a tasty spin on a BLT. I call it the BBLT.
And that, my friends, is how you put an eggplant (or three) to good use.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fantabulous Fancy Chicken Stew

Have you made my Fancy Chicken Stew yet?

I've been making this lovely stew for years, and I posted about it being my favorite way to use a slow-cooker before, but I think it is worth re-mentioning how fantastic this chicken stew really is.

It's elegant enough to serve to company, but simple enough to make at least once a week. And, it is the one dish where leftovers are okay in my book. (I know!) The flavors just get better and better.

I didn't make this stew all summer, and now that it is soup season, it will be in full rotation. It always gets rave reviews -- a delightfully rustic chicken soup, with the lemons and olives adding a bright, briny flavor. You might be skeptical about the lemon and olives (not to mention all of that garlic) but I promise you, it's really quite delicious.

Better than delicious, actually. Scrumptious might be a better word. But don't take my word for it. Try it yourself:

Fancy Chicken Stew
12 oz. baby carrots, halved lengthwise
3/4 lb micro or fingerling potatoes, halved
6 fresh rosemary sprigs
18 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 shallot, minced
6-8 oz. pitted Picholine olives*
3-4 lb chicken, raised without antibiotics
2-3 large lemons
2 cups chicken stock or broth (not low-sodium)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Salt/Pepper to taste
Herbes de Provence
4 TBS unsalted butter

*Note: If you can't find Picholine olives, try another green olive that's equally citrusy -- I've found those taste the best in this recipe, but I've also used a mixture of black/pink/green Greek olives with fine results. Just don't use stuffed olives, canned black olives, or olives that are marinated in oil, and you should be good to go.

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 2

To Do:
  • Fill the bottom of your slow cooker pot with the the carrots, potatoes, three rosemary sprigs, six peeled and smashed garlic cloves, the minced shallot, and the olives.
  • Prep the chicken (remove gizzards, etc. if included) and pat dry. Stuff with 12 peeled garlic cloves, 3 rosemary sprigs, and 2-3 lemons (seeded and cut into wedges), then tie it up tight. My chicken was a beautiful, local heritage chicken, raised without antibiotics from Epicurean Farms in Lancaster, PA.
And, can we just take a minute to acknowledge the world's largest lemon? 
My hands are pretty small, but holy moly!

  • Place the chicken, breast-side down on top of the carrots/potatoes/olives and then cover with the stock, lemon juice, a pinch or two of salt/pepper, and the herbs. Dot all-over with the butter.
  • Cover with the lid and set the cooker to the 6-hour setting (high).
  • When it is ready, carefully remove the chicken -- it will most likely fall right off of your fork, so have a cutting board and bowl close by and be ready to catch the stuffing. 
  • Carefully remove the meat and discard the string/stuffing/skin. You can toss the bones, or keep them in the freezer for a future batch of homemade chicken stock, like I do. The chicken should be so tender that it will shred itself, but if there you have any large pieces, chop them into bite-size pieces.
  • Fish out the rosemary sprigs and any large pieces of garlic and/or wandering pieces of lemon/stuffing from the stew pot and discard. Adjust seasonings to taste (more salt/pepper if needed).
  • Return the shredded chicken to the stew and stir to incorporate before serving. (If not serving right away, just reheat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over low heat.)
  • Ladle big scoops of meat/veggies/olives and broth into bowls. Serve with plenty of crusty bread for sopping up all of the juices, and a side salad if you feel like making one. Otherwise, a bowl of this and a hunk of bread is all you need.

It's the perfect thing for a chilly fall day...I hope you try it!