September 30, 2011

Falling for Fregula

One of the best things to come out of Sardinia as far as I'm concerned is fregula (or fregola).  It is a toasted semolina pasta and it is similar in size to Israeli Couscous.  They are chewy, toasty little pearls and this is one of my favorite recipes for days when I need a little extra something.

I happen to live in a predominantly Italian neighborhood, so finding this isn't difficult but if you aren't that lucky you can find it online (or have a friend mail it to you!).  Another option if your grocery store doesn't carry it, is to ask them to start!  Most stores are happy to oblige if they know someone will buy it.

The first time I had fregula was in culinary school and I was instantly hooked.  The pasta is unlike anything else. It has a dense, chewy texture that you just don't get with regular pasta.  It holds up very well with hearty ingredients making it perfect for an autumn meal.

Fregula with Creminis and Caramelized Shallots
  • 2 cups fregula
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 large shallots
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 large or 2 small packages cremini mushrooms
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional, yet necessary)

1.  In a medium stock pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Finely slice shallots and add to pot.  Stir to coat and let them cook, undisturbed for 5 - 10 minutes until they begin to caramelize.

2.  Stir the shallots and let them continue to brown.  Once they have fully caramelized, add the wine.  Scrape the bottom of the pot to get all the yummy brown bits that have stuck to the bottom.

3.  Next, slice the mushrooms and add them to the shallots.  Let the mushrooms cook down and release their liquid.  Add salt and pepper, lower heat to medium.

4.  Mushrooms will need to cook down about 15 minutes, you'll see that they have released quite a bit of liquid and they are browned.  Smash the clove of garlic and add it to the pot.

5.  At this point, add the fregula, stir it to combine, and add the stock.  This is where you add the cheese rind if you have one.  I know not everyone has one of these in the refrigerator, but if you do,  this is the perfect use for it.  It will lend a depth of flavor that nothing else can provide. 

6.  Bring the fregula up to a boil and let it cook until al dente,  about 12 minutes.

7.  Turn off the heat. Chop the parsley and add it to the fregula.  Stir to combine.

8.  Serve with extra grated parmesan on top.

    September 24, 2011

    Farmer's Market Finds

    Everyone knows the behemoth that is the Union Square Farmer's Market
    I love it, but sometimes it's a bit overwhelming for me and getting all of my treasures home on the train is less than ideal.  
    So,  I opt for a smaller, more familiar Farmer's Market closer to home.

    This market may not offer the variety and sheer volume of vendors that the Union Square market does,  but it suits me just fine. 

    There is one particular vendor there that I make a bee-line for as soon as I step into market territory.  They make some of the best bread, cookies, pies and knishes I have ever had.  Their chocolate chip cookie makes my eyes roll back in my head.  The bread is crusty on the outside and soft and tender inside and the pies taste like they have a Midwestern grandma in the kitchen. But what I really go there for are the knishes.
    (oh the knishes...)

    Now, let me explain...  I have never been a fan of knishes.  The only ones I've ever had are those frozen squares that taste like cardboard.  You know the ones,  they need to be buried in mustard in order to get them down.

    THAT my dear friends is NOT a knish.  I have met the holy grail of knishes.  And I like it,  I like it ALOT.  This knish is so good you'll propose to it.  The mashed potato inside is sooo good (sour cream makes everything delicious), it is creamy and still has chunks of potato so you have a nice contrast in texture.  The crust is perfection.  It's not too thick, it is delicate and serves it's purpose of containing the mash quite nicely.  As soon as I get one, I put it in my bag and move happily along to the next vendor,  all the while thinking about sinking my teeth into it as soon as I get home and today was no different.

    A great day at the market, support your local farmers!

    September 17, 2011

    Soup's On!

    While I am not a fan of cooler weather,  the one thing I can appreciate is the comfort food that is ushered in with the chill in the air.   I love one-pot meals, mostly because I am lazy about washing dishes, but there is something rather "warm-fuzzy" inducing about a big pot of soup bubbling away... 
    The great thing about soups and other meals of this sort is they are fuss-free and that is a prerequisite during my hectic fall schedule  (besides the fact that my beloved Buckeyes are on every Saturday and I'm not one to miss a game).  Another added bonus is you can make a big batch and freeze it for days when you just can't fathom the thought of breaking out a saute pan.

    The variations on this are endless...  because it is fall I am using some root vegetables in the soup, however these vegetables can be changed out for any that you like.

    Autumn Minestrone

    • 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
    • 1 lg. Spanish onion, chopped
    • 2 stalks celery, chopped
    • 3 carrots, chopped
    • 2 tbsp tomato paste
    • 3 cloves garlic,  minced
    • 1- 15oz can chopped tomatoes
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
    • 1 med yellow squash, chopped
    • 1/2 butternut squash, chopped & roasted
    • 3/4 cup ditali pasta
    • 1-  16 oz can kidney beans
    • 2-3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
    • kosher salt
    • black pepper
    1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Add in carrots, celery and onion.  Cook until onions are translucent and carrots are slightly soft,  about 10-15 minutes.

    2. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes.   Add tomato paste and cook for a few minutes.

    3. Add chopped tomatoes, chicken or vegetable stock and kidney beans.  Season with salt & pepper.

    4. Add zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash and pasta.  Cook for about 10 minutes until pasta is al dente.

    5. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.  Check for seasoning and add salt & pepper if necessary.

    6. Sprinkle with grated parmesan when serving.

    September 10, 2011

    No Bones About It...

    10 weeks old

    Now that the "dog days" of summer are over, I find myself baking treats for my canine companion.  She loves sweet potatoes almost more than any other thing on earth,  so it was essential to incorporate them into her treats.

    For those of us that love our pets like we gave birth to them,  making something special for them is not out of the ordinary...  but for those of you that may not be pet-lovers I suppose it may seem a bit odd.

    Our dog Cleo used to love these treats when my Mom would make them for her,  so she sent me the recipe so I could make them for my little one.  They are pretty quick to get together and not complicated at all, so the whole process is pretty painless.

    Considering all of the unconditional love they give us and never ask for anything in return,  making our beloved pets a special treat every now and then is a pretty good trade-off.

    "Sugar" Cookies
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup wheat flour
    • 1/2 cup powdered milk
    • 1/2 cup wheat germ
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 6 tbsp. butter
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tsp brown sugar
    • 1 cup mashed sweet potato (you can use carrots or other vegetables, if not using sub water)

    1.  Combine flours, wheat germ, milk powder and salt in a large bowl.
    2.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
    3.  Beat the egg and add the sugar to the egg and whisk to combine.
    4.  Add the mashed sweet potato and make a stiff dough.
          (you may have to add more flour, it should feel like a biscuit dough)
    5.  Knead on a floured surface until dough is smooth and pliable,  then roll out to 1/4" thickness.
    6.  Use a small cookie cutter to cut out your shapes. 
          (I used a 2" star)

    ready for the oven...

    7.  Lay your "cookies" out on a lined sheet pan, egg wash the top (or brush with cream).
    8.  Bake at 325 degrees until light golden brown (about 30 minutes)

    Sweet Potato "Cookies"

    September 05, 2011

    From Market to Mouth

    Every summer when I see zucchini blossoms at the farmer's market,  I have an uncontrollable desire to make this dish.  The flowers are so beautiful that I just can't resist them.

    The finished plate is quite striking and it works perfectly for a dinner party or special occasion at home. 

    The biggest decision you have to make really is which cheeses to use.  Buy the best quality cheese that you can afford.   If there is one particular cheese you love,  make that the star of the show,  but remember it is all about balance.

    Each cheese brings something special to the plate: different textures, different levels of salt, one might melt better than another while a different one will help bind everything together.

    Sadly, summer is coming to a close so get these while you still can.

    Tempura-Battered Zucchini Blossoms stuffed with 4 cheeses
    For this you'll need:
    • 6-8 zucchini blossoms
    • 1 cup grated manchego cheese
    • 1/4 cup blue cheese
    • 1/2 cup cream cheese
    • 1/4 cup goat cheese
    • 2 cups rice or all-purpose flour
    • 2 cups water
    • 1 egg
    • canola oil

     First, make the cheese filling:  Combine all four cheeses in the food processor until smooth and completely combined.  Taste for seasoning,  add salt & pepper.  Fill a piping bag, or a quart-sized storage bag with the filling and set aside.

    Next, open the flowers very carefully and pull out the pistil:

    Cut the tip off of the piping bag, or the corner of the storage bag and carefully fill the flowers:

    Once all the flowers have been filled,  gently pinch them shut to seal the cheese inside.

    Put the flowers in the refrigerator for about an hour to set up.  If the cheese is not cold when you fry them,  it will melt immediately and run out into the oil.

    Next, make the batter by combining the egg with the water, then whisk in the flour. It should be a little thinner than pancake batter. Set aside.

    Heat approximately 6 cups of oil in a medium sized pot over med-high heat. If you have a thermometer, the oil should be at 350 degrees. Make sure you have at least a few inches to the top of the pot for safety. Boiling oil can be very dangerous, better to be safe and leave yourself a little extra room.

    Dip the flowers into the tempura batter and gently "sweep" it across the surface of the oil before you let it drop:

    Fry a few minutes until golden brown, then using a metal strainer or "spider", remove from the oil and set on paper towels to drain.

    Plate while warm and enjoy this delicate treat before warm, sun-filled days come to an end...  I hope you all had a wonderful summer and had plenty of good food with friends and family.

    Dinner Party with Friends:
    "family style"

    Dinner at Home:
    individual plates

    Happy Eating!