Category Archives: Pasta

Hot Side or Salad – A Quick and Delicious Pasta Recipe

Snap your fingers, and it’s almost that fast!  We were minutes away from putting steaks on the grill when I started thinking about what to have on the side.  Actually, it went something like this……

Jerry: What are you having with the steak?

Tami: Something good.

Jerry: Like what?

Tami: You’ll see…..and you’ll like it…. (while heading down to see what might jump out of the fridge or off the pantry shelf).

Fortunately, the fridge yielded one and half bell peppers and a little clump of broccoli left on the stem, and the pasta bin held part of a bag of fregola sarda.  It seemed like a combination with definite potential.

And the result: he saw, he liked, we ate.  I liked it, too (a lot!).

If you’ve never had fregola before, try to find some.  Fregola is a solid little pea-sized toasted nugget of pasta from Sardinia, and it is delicious.  I came across it once when I wandered into an Italian store that seems to be the supplier for all the Italian restaurants here in our part of Germany (really, they sell 40-liter cans of olive oil!).  After I bought the pasta, I looked it up online and several of the recipes I found said to use fregola or Israeli couscous….so that might be something else to look for (but if you don’t find it, any small sturdy pasta will do).

This dish is as fast as they come – by the time the pasta is cooked, you can have the vegetables ready  Then you simply toss everything around in some hot olive oil, season, and it’s ready to serve.  We really liked the peppers grilled, but if you don’t happen to have the grill fired up anyway, you can sauté the peppers briefly in the olive oil before stirring in the cooked pasta and broccoli.

Fregola with Broccoli and Bell Peppers

  • 1 cup fregola sarda
  • 1-2 bell peppers (I used a whole yellow one and half a red one), cut into quarters
  • Broccoli florets – about a cup, plus the peeled and diced broccoli stem if you want
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar if you are making a salad from the leftovers (if there are leftovers, that is)

Put a couple of quarts of water on to boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Place the peppers skin side down on a hot grill with the lid down and cook for a couple of minutes, until the skin starts to blister and turn black.  Turn and cook on the other side for a few minutes longer, then remove to a small bowl and cover with a plate or lid to trap steam inside where it will loosen the peppers’ skins.

By this time the water should be boiling, so add a teaspoon of salt and start the pasta cooking (it will take about 12 minutes for fregola).

Cut up the broccoli into small florets, and peel and chop the stem.  The peppers will still be pretty warm, but you should be able to handle them now.  Pull of the skin (or scrape off with a knife) and cut into bite-sized pieces.  If you are sautéing instead of grilling the peppers, there is no need to peel – just go ahead and cut them into smaller pieces.

When the pasta has about three minutes to go, add the broccoli florets and stem pieces to the same pan with the pasta.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it in a colander.  Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the same pan (and quickly sauté the peppers if you didn’t grill them).  Return the pasta and broccoli to the pan (along with the grilled peppers) and stir gently to coat and let the pepper juices blend in.  Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.  I didn’t think of it until after we finished dinner, but a quick snip, snip, snip of fresh chives on top would be a nice touch if you have them.

    

    

If you are lucky enough to have some left over, drizzle it with a good balsamic vinegar, and just like that you have a salad to pack along for lunch.  Dress it up if you like with halved cherry tomatoes and/or a few olives or capers (or artichoke hearts, mmmmm!), and if you happen to have a little chunk of montasio or asiago cheese to cube up and mix in, you can look forward to a satisfying full-meal deal.

Of course, you can always make the whole recipe into a salad to start with – either way, you’ll like it!

Tami

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A “Something Different” Pasta Dish

It’s no secret we love, love, love Mexican food, but I’ve been doing a lot of Mexican cooking lately and sort of feel like I’ve fallen into a rut.  This past weekend, we were headed over to some good friends’ for dinner with “whatever you feel like” as guidance when we asked what we could bring, so I set out to make something a little different.  I had a small butternut squash on hand, and that was my starting point for a pasta dish.  I also had some big, beautiful medjool dates and though they are sweet, I thought they might be good with the squash.  Hmmm, the dates reminded me of the delicious lamb, date, and pistachio Turkish pizza recipe we tried over the Christmas holidays, and I figured a bit of pistachio crunch would be a good addition to the experiment that was taking shape in my mind.

Well, it was one of those happy occasions when the hunch in my head turned out to be really good to eat, and I’ll definitely make it again while there are still winter squash available.  For this dinner, I knew there were several kinds of meat on the menu already so I kept my contribution vegetarian, but it would also be good with the addition of some prosciutto or even sautéed chicken or a spicy cooked sausage mixed in if you want to turn the recipe into a main dish.

Pasta with Butternut Squash, Dates, and Pistachios

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ leek, cut in half lengthwise and then thinly sliced
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into thin slices about an inch wide, or use half of a large squash
  • 1½ tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1½ cups light cream or milk (or a combination, and it would also be really good with a splash of dry white wine)
  • 8 ounces dry pasta (farfalle or similar shape is good)
  • 8 large dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped (mine were salted in the shell)

In a large nonstick skillet, sauté the leek slices until they are soft and starting to brown.  Remove the leeks and set aside; put the squash slices in the pan and toss around to coat, then cover and let them cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  The squash should be tender and starting to brown a little.  Add the leeks back into the skillet and sprinkle the mixture evenly with flour.  Slowly stir in the cream or milk and wine if you are using it, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the sauce bubbles and thickens up.  The squash will break up a little and help to thicken and flavor the sauce.

While the sauce is cooking, boil the pasta in salted water until it is al dente.  Drain, reserving a half cup or so of the pasta water.  Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce, adding a little pasta water if needed to coat the pasta well.  Check the seasoning and add more salt and/or pepper if needed.  Stir in the dates and most of the pistachios, then sprinkle the last of the pistachios on top and serve.

This recipe takes less than 30 minutes, and we all liked it.  I was cooking in a hurry instead of snapping photos, but here’s a shot of the leftovers.  Give it a try!

Tami

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When You Have a Poblano Sighting…

I love the gastronomic adventure of living in Germany, but as I may have mentioned, there are a few tastes of home that I really miss.  I can generally find jalapeños and serranos, but poblano chiles are something of a rarity.  Fortunately, there are several of us who look out for each other: whenever one of us spots poblanos, that triggers the alert.  One day a while back, I went with Deana and Gariann on a Saturday outing and the topic of poblanos came up.  That very week, Deana saw some and bought enough for all three of us.  Last time, I saw them first and called Gariann from the produce aisle.  Deana was on vacation, but Gariann passed the message on to Pat, who was tied up and wouldn’t make it to the store for at least four hours.  Knowing the poblanos are a hot commodity around here, Gariann went and bought her own plus a dozen for Pat.  Did I mention poblanos run around $6-7 a pound here?  So yeah, we pay a couple of dollars each for them….the first time I kind of winced as I bought $20 worth, but I decided since I don’t think twice about an occasional 0.2 liter glass of soda that costs three euro (yep, $4.00+ for less than seven ounces), two dollars a pop for poblanos is all relative and ultimately reasonable for treat.

Well, it’s poblano feast time around here.  Some of my chiles were roasted and frozen for future use, and I have three recipes to share – two are super-easy and the other one is well worth the effort.

The first step is to char the skin and then quickly steam the chiles by wrapping tightly so the blistered skin will peel right off.  I generally cut a slit in the poblano and cut away the seed clump before charring, but it is also fine to do it when you are peeling.  I have the best luck charring over a hot (450 F.) gas grill – turn every couple of minutes to char evenly and they’ll be done in no time.  Then put them on a plate, cover tightly with foil, and let them sit for about 15 minutes before pulling the skin off with your fingers.  I also know people who hold individual poblanos with long tongs over a gas stove burner.  If neither of those options is possible, you can char the peppers by turning frequently in a hot frying pan or put them a few inches from a hot broiler and keep a close eye on them.

To freeze the poblanos, you can put them on a plastic-lined tray in the freezer and then transfer to a freezer bag after they are frozen, or you can first cut the chiles into strips, which are called rajas (rrah’-hahss) in Spanish.  To use in recipes, thaw the chiles at room temperature for an hour or so.

The first recipe doesn’t really have a name.  I guess we’ll call it…

Poblano Potato Cakes

  • 2 medium baked potatoes, cooled and peeled
  • 2 poblanos, stems, seeds, and skins removed (char and steam as described above), cut into narrow strips
  • Salt, pepper, and Mexican seasoning to taste (I use Don Enrico brand Pico de Gallo seasoning mix)
  • 2 tablespoons potato flour (or substitute all-purpose flour)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • Corn oil or other vegetable oil for frying

Use a coarse grater to grate the potatoes onto a plate.  Stir in the poblano strips and season to taste.  Sprinkle on the potato flour and mix lightly with a fork to combine (I believe potato flour is the same as potato starch – in German grocery stores it is labeled Kartoffel Mehl and it is used for potato dumplings).

 

Spread half the bread crumbs out on another plate or cutting board; heat a thin layer of oil in a frying pan (use a pan that is at least as big as the plate full of potatoes).  Pour the beaten egg over the potatoes and mix with a fork to combine.  Divide the mixture into four portions and press together into patties.  Lift the patties with a pancake turner onto the crumbs, then sprinkle the rest of the crumbs on top and press them in.

 

Fry the potato cakes until golden brown, turning once.  Serve plain or with your favorite topping (I like crème fraiche mixed with Tapatio hot sauce).  The quantity given will make four side servings, or you could eat two of the potato cakes with a salad and call it a meal.

Next up, we have a nice easy and satisfying pasta dish.  It’s great when you want to take something for a potluck that is OK microwaved to reheat, and it also hits the spot whenever some cozy comfort food is in order.  This pasta dish could best be described as “rajas con crema meets mac and cheese.”  I’ve made it with a couple of different kinds of sturdy pastas: fregola sarda, which is solid little nuggets of pasta, is really good, and this time I used casarecce – I liked how it held the sauce, and the shape seemed to go well with the chile strips.  Macaroni or rigatoni would be fine but leave it a bit chewy so it has some substance.

 

Poblano Pasta

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 ¼ cup milk
  • Good melty cheese, quantity to taste (I used three thick sandwich-size slices of gouda – munster or gruyere would also be good)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (maybe more, depending on the cheese)
  • 2 poblanos, seeded, peeled, and sliced (see instructions above, before the recipes)
  • 8 ounces pasta cooked al dente
  • ¼ cup crème fraiche, if desired

Cook the flour for a few minutes in the butter, then stir in the milk and whisk over medium heat until it starts to thicken.  Add the cheese and salt and whisk until melted and smooth.   Stir in the chile strips and pasta and crème fraiche if you are using it.  You can serve the pasta straight from the pan or turn it into a baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes at 350 (it might need a little more milk if you do that).

The last recipe needs a little background.  Not long ago, Gariann had a milestone birthday, and she and her husband had a Thai cooking party to celebrate the occasion.  Well, two of the guests were the afore-mentioned Pat and her partner Sue, Thai cooks extraordinaire.  And guess what Pat, Sue, and Gariann taught us how to make?  Thai scotch eggs – yes, really!  I’d never heard of them before, but I guess they are really a thing.  And let me tell you, they were delicious!  You start with boiled eggs and wrap them with a red curry-spiked ground pork mixture, then roll them in panko crumbs and chopped peanuts, and they are deep fried and served with a coconut milk-peanut sauce.  Well, I’ve gotten into traditional Scottish fare since our Christmas trip to Edinburgh, and after the Thai party, I got to thinking about other possible variations, and not surprisingly my thoughts turned to a Mexican influence.  And that, my friends, is how I came up with….

Poblano Scotch Eggs

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 poblano chiles, seeds, stems, and skins removed; cut each chile in half lengthwise
  • 1 pound ground pork (use unseasoned meat, not sausage)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Tapatio bottled hot sauce (or your favorite brand)
  • ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • a generous bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • ¼ – ½ cup finely chopped peanuts or pistachios, if desired

Cook the eggs to the desired degree of doneness – for hard-cooked eggs, put them in a pan of cold salted water and bring to a boil; as soon as the water starts to boil, take the pan off the heat and cover.  After 9 minutes, drain the hot water and fill the pan with cold water.  Peel by gently cracking all over; it is easier if you can find the little hollow spot on the big end of the egg and work your finger under the thin membrane that surrounds the egg.  Soft-cooked eggs are harder to handle, so use extra care if you like them that way.

Once the eggs are peeled, wrap each one in a long strip of poblano and secure with a toothpick.  Combine all the seasonings with the pork, then mix in about half of the beaten egg.  I started out with a tablespoon of Tapatio and a half teaspoon of cayenne, and then I took about a teaspoonful of the mixture and cooked it in a pan so I could taste the spice level.  We like our spicy food to have a kick, so I bumped up the heat with more Tapatio and cayenne – if you like a milder spice, start out with less seasoning and cook a little bit so you can taste test and adjust accordingly.  My poblanos were very mild, but if you have hotter ones you might want to cut down a little in what you add to the meat.

To cover the poblano-wrapped eggs with the pork mixture, divide the pork into four portions and pat each one out on a square of wax paper or parchment paper.  Think of an interrupted Mollweide map projection as you are patting the meat out, but you don’t need to worry about exact precision.  Place an egg on the meat and use the parchment to bring the meat all around the egg and press it together, then repeat with the other eggs and you will end up with four softball-sized meatballs.  If you are making one of these Mexican scotch eggs for someone who doesn’t like poblanos, simply skip the chile-wrapped-around-the-egg step (as I did in the photo below).

 

Put the bread crumbs on a plate and drizzle with melted butter, mixing to blend evenly.  Beat the tablespoon of milk into the remaining half of the beaten egg – you’ll coat the meatballs with the egg, and it is easiest to do if you have a small round deep bowl (like the one in the photo, an ice cream dish from Ikea).  After you dip the meatballs in the egg mixture, roll them in the crumbs and then, if desired, in the chopped nuts, pressing the crumbs and nuts into the meat.

 

Now here’s the easy part – instead of deep-frying, I baked the meat-covered eggs on a rack at 375 F for about 45 minutes.  The little bit of butter in the crumbs gave me a nice crunchy crust without the mess of frying, and it also is more economical since it takes quite a bit of oil to have it deep enough to do the job.

I didn’t try the microwave for leftovers, but reheating in the oven (uncovered) gave very good results.  One of these eggs makes a very generous serving, so depending on the rest of the menu you might go with half an egg per person.  These are really good with a spicy tomato or tomatillo salsa, rice, a simple roasted winter squash, and a crisp green salad.  Mexican scotch eggs are fun to make with people, so get a few friends together and try something new and delicious.

Tami

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