Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Creamy Gingered Carrot Soup

As is my habit during the early days of the new year, I have been making and enjoying lots of soup.  It really is the perfect food for January.  Not only is it soothing and warm on a dark, cold…and more often than not, wet…day—it is just the thing after the dietary excesses of the holidays.
 

Not surprisingly, this is also the time of year when I have traditionally taught soup classes.  Most of the recipes that were part of my class rotation have already appeared on my blog.  The carrot and ginger soup I’m posting today was always a class favorite.  I’m not sure why I never posted the recipe here.  It might be because the presence of fresh ginger…and lime…and cilantro…put it just outside the reaches of my normal home pantry.  But I have had fresh ginger on hand quite a bit in recent weeks for various things I’ve been working on…and since I always have carrots (and I’ve been in the mood for soup)…the other day I thought of this soup.  I was so glad I did.  The warm color—and tummy soothing ginger—make it a great post holiday/mid-winter soup.
 
I’m sure that in previous posts for puréed soups I have had a lot to say about the process.  But since it’s been a while since I wrote one of those posts, I’ll just repeat a few essentials here:
 
First…make sure you aren’t shortcutting the initial cooking of the onions and carrots in the fat.  This process allows the flavors of these vegetables to infuse the fats and give a deeper flavor to the final soup.  And along those lines, make sure your vegetables are fully cooked before you purée the soup, or you’ll have a coarse purée.  (The cooked vegetables should be tender to the tip of a knife—and you should be able to mash them against a plate with a fork or spoon).

Also, when adding liquid to a soup that is to be puréed, always hold back some—adding just what is necessary to cover the vegetables well and cook them through.  If too much liquid is added at this early stage, the final soup might be way too thin (and I say this as someone who prefers thinner soups).  You can always (and likely will) add more liquid while you are puréeing the soup.  I like the final consistency of my puréed soups to be like thick cream—it shouldn’t mound in the bowl or on the spoon (and should be “sippable”).
 
If you are using a traditional blender, don’t fill it too full with the hot soup (2/3 full is about right).  The pressure build up when you turn on the blender will push the cap up and off and if the blender is too full you’ll have a mess—and possibly a burn. 
 
Finally, I always pass my puréed soups through a fine meshed sieve.  I think it gives the most suave and velvety texture.  But I understand that some find this step to be a bit persnickety…and it also adds to the washing up.  Be assured that the soup will taste just as good without straining out the lingering fibrous bits.  Whether you are straining the soup or not though, take the time to run the blender until the soup is super smooth (you’ll be glad you did!). 
 

If you make this soup, be aware that its flavors are an interplay of strong and subtle…and that they change a bit over time.  On the day it is made, the ginger flavor is strong…and the soup has a warm spiciness.  The next day, the ginger flavor will be much more subtle.   If you like a stronger ginger flavor, simply add a grating of fresh ginger when you are reheating the soup on subsequent days.  If you want to eat it the day you make it…and you don’t like the strong flavor of the ginger, just add the ginger with the stock—its flavor will soften under the longer cooking time.  As far as the lime goes, it is added to balance not only the sweetness of the carrots, but also the honey.  It should not really be seen as the addition of lime flavor (although it will add a little)—but rather as a way to lift and brighten the flavors of the whole soup.  If you want a stronger lime flavor, add a grating of zest to the final soup (or as a garnish). 
 
As I type this post today, I have a lovely view of snow covered trees.  For the most part, people in my area are staying in after last night’s snowfall if they can.  It is just the right kind of day for this soup.  And even if you don’t typically keep fresh ginger in your home pantry, you can still make a carrot soup (without a run to the store) because this soup also happens to be a great template for a basic carrot soup.  Simply omit the honey, lime & ginger and you will have a delicious soup, the makings of which will already be in most home pantries. 



 
Gingered Carrot Soup
 
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion (8 to 9 oz.), thinly sliced
1 T. unsalted butter
1 lb. carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 T. rice (Basmati, Jasmine, Arborio, etc.)
1/2  t. ground coriander
1 t. paprika
1 t. cumin
1 T. honey
3 to 4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
2 T. (18 g.) minced fresh ginger (or more to taste)
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 T. freshly squeezed lime juice (or to taste)
Salt & Pepper
Possible garnishes (alone, or in a combination that pleases you): Fresh Cilantro chiffonade, thinly sliced green onion tops, chopped peanuts, toasted pepitas, lime zest, olive oil, crispy fried shallots
 

In a medium stockpot or large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion along with a generous pinch of salt and sweat, covered, until the onions are soft and translucent—about 10 to 15 minutes.  


Add the butter and melt.  


Add the carrots another good pinch of salt and cook for 5 to 10 minutes—until carrots are beginning to soften.  


Add the spices and the rice and cook another 2 to 3 minutes to toast the spices and rice.
  Add the honey, stirring and cooking until the vegetables are coated and everything is sizzling nicely.  Add 3 cups of stock (or whatever you need to cover all the vegetables so that they are moving freely—reserve the remaining stock to add as needed when pureeing the soup).  Bring the soup to a simmer, cover and cook until the carrots are very soft—about 20 to 25 minutes, adding the ginger during the last 5 minutes of cooking.  


Purée the soup (using a traditional blender or an immersion blender), adding more stock as is necessary to produce a smooth, thin purée.  Pass through a fine meshed strainer if you like to achieve an even more suave and velvety texture.
 
Return the soup to the pot and add the cream.  Heat through.  Remove from the heat and add the lime juice to taste.  You may also add more freshly grated ginger if you like.  Correct the seasoning and serve immediately, garnished as you please.  Makes a scant 6 cups.




Sunday, January 15, 2023

Cinnamon Bun Scones


It might surprise people who are familiar with my breakfast preferences to learn that I did not grow up eating cake for breakfast. Or even sweet cereal.
 My mother was into health food long before it was cool.  The only breakfast cereals in our house were things like Shredded Wheat and Grape Nuts…or hot grain-based cereals (oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, etc.).  My favorite breakfast as a child was buttered toast with a soft cooked egg (my mother was ahead of the curve on eggs too: she refused to believe they were bad for you.  Time has of course validated her belief.).  Given all of this, I assume that I inherited my sweet tooth from my father…who, much to my mother’s consternation, preferred sweet things for breakfast (if he even ate breakfast).  When he had cereal (hot or cold), he doused it liberally with sugar.  Most of the time he skipped breakfast altogether—choosing to down a glass of “Carnation Instant Breakfast” instead.  

But occasionally (to make all of us happy), on a Sunday or a holiday morning, my mother would make pancakes or waffles (often with a stealth addition of wheat germ) …or maybe a coffeecake…or cinnamon rolls.
  I don’t have a memory of her making regular yeasted cinnamon rolls.  Rather she made buttermilk biscuit dough and formed that into cinnamon rolls.  They were really good. 

In my restaurant days I occasionally made a version of her biscuit cinnamon rolls for morning staff meal.  Instead of buttermilk biscuit dough, I used the cream biscuit dough we used at the restaurant.  If my mother’s rolls were very good, the cream biscuit version was outstanding.  But that was a long time ago…and as the years passed, those biscuit cinnamon rolls fell off of my radar entirely. 

Then, about a year into the pandemic, as I was trying to come up with things I could sell to my clients that I prepared in my kitchen…and they finished in their kitchen…I remembered those biscuit cinnamon rolls.
  I had already sold regular cinnamon rolls (as well as my scones…and a sweet Danish-style braid).  It occurred to me that the finishing process for a biscuit style cinnamon roll would be easier for my clients to manage than the traditional yeasted style.  (They would just need to pull them out of the freezer and bake…as opposed to having to thaw and prove before baking.)  I decided to make them with my cream scone dough and dubbed them “Cinnamon Bun Scones.”  They turned out to be very popular (several people said they liked them better than regular cinnamon rolls). 


In a serendipitous turn of events, the cinnamon bun scones happen to bake best when they are baked from frozen.  You can of course make them, form them and bake them straight away, but they will not be as neat looking since the outer edge has a tendency to split or crack when the formed buns haven’t had some time to relax (in the fridge or freezer).   

If you have made my cream scones, you already know how easy the dough is to make. When you roll out the dough for the cinnamon buns, instead of pressing the dough into a thick disc as for scones, you will roll it out into a thin square.
  So, to begin, instead of forming the dough into a round, form it into a thick flat square.  This will help you keep the sheet of dough in a square shape during the rolling process.  It is not difficult; if you have ever struggled with yeasted cinnamon roll dough, I think you will find this dough very easy to work with.


When I started up with my blog again a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t thinking about these cinnamon buns…or even what my next post was going to be.
  I just knew that I missed working on my blog and wanted to find a way to make it a regular part of my life again.  Then, when I opened up the “blog post” file on my computer to work on my Sweet & Spicy Snack Mix for New Year’s Eve, I discovered the beginnings of a post about my Cinnamon Bun Scones…written exactly a year ago.  It was a bit disconcerting to see that I had tried to start up again and failed.  But it also gave me an immediate topic for my next post…which I knew would help get me back into the habit.  So rather than seeing it as a failure, I’m thinking of it as advance planning.  


Cinnamon Bun Scones 

230 g. (2 c.) all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
50 g. (1/4 c). sugar
1 1/4 c (290 g.). heavy cream, plus more for brushing

30 g. (2 T.) butter, melted
50 g. (1/4 c. packed) brown sugar
1 T.  cinnamon

Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Powdered Sugar Glaze (see below)


Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl.  Whisk to blend well.  Stir the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula while pouring in the cream, continuing to stir until a soft dough is formed. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, dust lightly with flour, and knead briefly (8 to 10 times).  Roll the dough out into an 11-inch by 11-inch square (it will be about 1/4-inch thick).  Spread the melted butter over the dough, leaving a half inch strip without any butter across the top edge.  Combine the cinnamon and brown sugar in a small bowl.  Spread over the buttered surface of the dough in even layer…making sure to cover the dough right up to the two side edges. 


Starting with the edge nearest you, roll the dough up jellyroll-style. Be careful not to stretch the dough.  It should be just snug.  Pinch along the long seam to seal.


Using a sharp knife, slice the log into 8 or 9 even rolls.   


Place the rolls, cut surfaces up, on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush each roll with some cream and sprinkle generously with the raw sugar. 


The rolls may now be baked…or frozen.  To bake right away, place the tray in a preheated 425° oven until golden brown and springy to the touch—about 15 to 18 minutes. (You may also form them and refrigerate them for a few hours before baking. They may take a minute or two longer when baked from a refrigerator temperature...just keep an eye on them.)

To freeze, place the tray of sugared buns in the freezer.  When hard, transfer the buns to a freezer bag.  They may be kept frozen for 4 weeks (after that, the baking powder loses its potency).  When ready to enjoy, place the buns on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake directly from frozen in a 375° oven until golden brown and springy to the touch—about for 25 to 30 minutes.­

Cool the buns briefly and then drizzle with the powdered sugar glaze and serve.   Makes 8 to 9 buns.

Powdered Sugar Glaze
: In a small bowl combine 76 g. (2/3 cup) powdered sugar with 1 T. (15 g.) milk.  You should have a thick glaze that drizzles slowly from a spoon.  Adjust with more sugar or more milk as needed to obtain this consistency.

Printable Version



Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Sweet & Spicy Snack Mix for New Year’s Eve

Most of the cooking that I have done at home in recent years has been all about using up odds and ends.  Sometimes these things come from classes and private events (leftover partial containers of ingredients…things I over bought so as not to run short…etc).  Other times it is simply the familiar story of cooking for a small household (a head of cauliflower or cabbage…a bunch of kale or chard…a big winter squash—are all things I love and want to eat, but because of their natural size they have to be spread out and worked into several meals in interesting ways).  I joked in a recent Instagram post that I needed to write a cookbook called “This Has Got to Go.”  But the truth is, it is difficult to share recipes/foods that come about because you are trying to use stuff up.  Everyone’s leftovers look different! 

Today’s post came about because of the remains of a box of graham crackers that I had to purchase for my private dinner business.
  After the event, I had 2/3 of a box left.  They will obviously keep for a little while….  But they will also be a temptation for late night snacking.  Finding a good home for them as soon as possible would be my preference.

Believe it or not, this rotating pantry of odds and ends is always rolling around in my head—as I look at cookbooks, recipes on line, food images on Instagram, etc.  Thus it was that the graham crackers came to mind as I was thinking about what to take to my family’s annual NYE game night.  Coming up with contributions is not as easy as I would like.  Foods I take to this gathering have to be appealing to a wide range of palates…easy to eat…and due to a nut allergy, nut free.  (This last is difficult for me.  I love nuts…and I use them a lot—particularly in snack-type foods.)

Nut free versions of “Chex mix” would obviously fit all of these criteria.
  But I have to admit I don’t like Chex Mix.  Furthermore I definitely don’t want any boxed cereal taking up space in my pantry.  But it occurred to me that shards of graham crackers would have the same textural impact as the cereal squares in the traditional mix…and would taste much better. 


After this “Aha” moment it was just a matter of coming up with seasonings. The sweet aspect of the graham crackers brought to mind an outstanding “Sweet and Spicy Seeds and Nuts” recipe from Sami Tamimi’s new book Falastin.  His unusual combination of curry, turmeric and hot pepper…along with sugar and salt…is positively addictive.   

As for the other components, pretzels seemed obvious.
  Yes, they appear in Chex mix.  But more importantly, they are the one “processed” snack that I occasionally buy, so having a partial bag in my pantry isn’t the end of the world.  And finally, I included Tamimi’s “seeds”: pepitas and sunflower seeds.  I love them both…and always have them in my freezer. 

There isn’t too much to say about the process of making this snack mix.
  Because the spice mixture is a bit sticky and thick, it will take a little extra effort to coat the components.  It works best to add it in two additions.  Drizzling the first bit over and tossing well…then doing the same thing again with the second addition.  Two rubber spatulas accomplish the job efficiently.  Just think of it as tossing a salad: dipping in from the sides of the bowl and moving toward the center before lifting the spatulas up and then rotating the bowl before the next pass. 


As for the baking, it is mostly about drying out the syrupy coating so that you don’t have a gooey, sticky snack mix.  When you can touch the mix without your finger coming away wet or sticky, it’s ready.  If you’re worried, leave it in for another five minutes.

Finally, snack mix recipes direct you to stir at regular intervals while baking.
  Don’t do that with this mix.  The stirring is mostly to separate the ingredients…and for this mix I want the seeds to stick to the pretzels and graham crackers.


Before I end today's post, it occurs to me I should mention my long hiatus.  It isn’t that I haven’t been cooking.  (If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I cook all the time!)  Rather, in addition to the difficulties inherent in translating recipes for one that have been created from odds and ends, for most of the past three years I have been too busy trying to cobble together an income from what remains of my professional work (after the pandemic) to spend the time it takes to write posts about the things I have been cooking. 

I don’t know if this will change too much in 2023.
  As much as we like to believe that things get a nice magical reset at midnight on new year’s eve, the sad reality is that they don’t.  But I have always loved posting to my blog…so as I am able, I will try to get back to occasionally (maybe even regularly!) adding to this catalog of foods and techniques that I find interesting, inspiring and delicious.

Sweet & Spicy Snack Mix

140 g. ( 3 1/3 c.) mini pretzel twists
140 g. (1 package) graham crackers, broken into rough 1-inch pieces (about 2 1/3 c.)
40 g. (1/4 c.) pepitas
40 g. (1/4 c.) sunflower seeds
45 g. (3 T. plus 1 t.) unsalted butter
40 g. (2 T.) pure maple syrup
37 g. (3 T.) packed brown sugar
1 t. (5 g). kosher salt
2 t. curry powder
1/2 t. turmeric
3/8 t. cayenne (more…or less…depending on your heat preference)

Place the pretzels, graham cracker pieces, and seeds in a large bowl.


Place the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally with a heat proof spatula, until the mixture is homogenous and bubbling.
 

Drizzle half of the spice mixture over the contents of the bowl and stir/fold to begin coating the ingredients.
  I find that two heatproof/non-stick rubber spatulas work best for this.  Add the remaining spice syrup (scraping the pan well) and continue to mix until all the components are evenly coated and sticky. 

Spread on an oiled/buttered/sprayed rimmed baking sheet/half sheet pan.
  Place in a 325° oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  I don’t stir during the baking process because I like the seeds to stick to the pretzels and graham crackers…stirring will keep everything separate.  Rotate the pan once.  When done, the graham crackers and pretzels will no longer be sticky/wet to the touch. 

Cool the snack mix completely on the sheet pan.
  Transfer to a bowl to serve…or a sealed container if making in advance.  Makes 7 to 8 cups.

Printable Version 



 

 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Raspberry & Almond Tea Cake


Way back in June one of my dinner clients gave me some beautiful raspberries from their garden.  They were just perfect for eating with my yogurt for breakfast.  But I also couldn’t resist the idea of adding them to a cake to enjoy with that bowl of breakfast fruit and yogurt.  So I made a simple raspberry almond streusel cake (a slightly tweaked version of my yogurt coffee cake).  The cake was delicious…made even better by the spectacular raspberries.  But as I was enjoying it I got to thinking about how much I really like the combination of raspberries and almond…and how I would really like to have even more almond flavor in my cake.  I decided I needed to make more cake.

A second reason I wanted to make another cake was that the streusel cake I had made didn’t really have enough structure to stand up to the damp addition of berries in the long term.  It was fine the day I made it…but the streusel (and even the cake) got a bit soggy as it aged.  This would not have been a big deal if I had been making it and serving it all right away to a crowd (for a brunch, for example).  But since I keep my cakes on hand for a while…and always freeze most of the slices…this wasn’t really ideal.


I thought that the best way to strengthen the structure might be to add some more egg.  I tend to make cakes that have what some bakers might consider an insufficient quantity of egg.  Classic pound cake is the poster child for “balanced formula” cakes—balanced in that the ingredients that give strength/structure (eggs and flour) are balanced by ingredients that add tenderness (sugar and fat).  I find the classic formula for pound cake to be a bit rubbery—even tough—because of the volume of egg.  (Some recipes add more sugar…or butter…or replace some of the egg with another liquid to work around the rubbery/toughness factor).

E
ven considering my usual preference for softer textured cakes, I had a couple of reasons to think more egg was the direction I needed to go with my raspberry cake.  First, when I began thinking I wanted to increase the almond flavor in my cake, Danish almond cake (probably my all time favorite cake) immediately came to mind.  Danish almond cake has an intense almond flavor because it is made with almond paste.  It also has a high proportion of eggs. This higher volume of eggs doesn’t make the cake tough because the eggs are well balanced by the tenderizing effects of the almonds and sugar. 


Then, in my quest to find ways to incorporate raspberries in my cake, I ran across some delicious looking raspberry cupcakes in
Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh. I noticed that they had used a higher proportion of eggs in their recipe. Helen Goh appears to be a precise baker (thoroughly testing all of her recipes)…I thought I wouldn’t go wrong by following her lead.  The cake I ended up making was essentially a cross between the cupcake recipe and the Danish almond cake recipe. 

When I finally got around to making my second version of the raspberry and almond cake, I decided that I was tired of always make streusel cakes for my breakfast cakes.
 There is of course nothing wrong with streusel.  (I will continue to enjoy streusel cakes!)  But somehow for this particular cake a topping of toasted almonds—glued in place with a buttery, powdered sugar drizzle—seemed particularly appealing.  If you don’t want to go to the trouble of adding icing and almonds, I discovered the cake is also very nice—and kind of elegant—with a simple dusting of powdered sugar.


I love this simple little cake.  It has enough structure to slice beautifully and stand up to the moisture in the raspberries…yet it is still very tender and moist.  Best of all, it has a delightful almond flavor—a perfect backdrop for the tart raspberries.  If you like raspberries in combination with almonds, I think you will find it to be delicious—and just the thing…whether you like to enjoy your cake for breakfast...or a little later in the day.  

Raspberry & Almond Tea Cake

150 g. (1 1/3 c.) all-purpose flour
1/4 t. fine salt
1 t. baking powder
1/8 t. baking soda
175 g. (1 c. less 2 T.) granulated sugar
85 g./3 oz. almond paste, (not marzipan)
5 oz./10 T. unsalted butter, divided—5 T. at room temperature and 5 T. kept cold and cut into 5 chunks
1/2 t. almond extract
3 large eggs (150 g.), at room temperature
80 g./1/3 c. plain yogurt
7 to 8 oz. fresh raspberries, divided
Powdered sugar for dusting
1 recipe powdered sugar glaze (optional)
2/3 c. sliced almonds, lightly toasted (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan.  Line the pan with a round of parchment, butter the parchment.  Flour the pan, knocking out the excess flour. 

Place the first four ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to aerate and combine.
  Set aside. 

Place the sugar and almond paste in the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, mix on medium low to begin breaking up the almond paste.  Add the cold butter and increase the speed to medium high (you may need to put some plastic wrap around the mixer to prevent the almond paste, sugar and butter from being flung out of the bowl).  Beat until the mixture is smooth.  When no lumps of almond paste or butter remain, increase the speed to high and add the soft butter.  Cream until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the bowl add the almond extract and mix in.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly on medium-high speed after each addition to return the batter to fluffiness and scraping down the sides before each next addition.  Fold in half of the dry ingredients, followed by the yogurt.  Add the remaining dry ingredients followed by 4 to 5 oz. of the raspberries on top of the dry.  

By hand fold in this remaining flour with the berries.  It is not necessary to be too gentle….the cake is actually kind of nice if some of the berries break up.  Don’t overdo it though…you don’t want pink batter.  


Turn the batter into the prepared pan.
  Smooth the surface and scatter 3 oz. of berries evenly over the top.  


Transfer the cake to the oven and bake for about 40 minutes.  The cake is done when it is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.
  Run a small palate knife around the edge and invert the cake onto a rack or plate.  Place a rack on the bottom and reinvert so that the cake cools right side up.  Cool completely. 

The cake may be served simply—dusted with powdered sugar and accompanied by whipped cream.
  Or, serve as a brunch/breakfast cake by drizzling with a powdered sugar glaze and sprinkling with toasted almonds (see below).  Serves 10. 

Powdered sugar glaze:
  In a small heat-proof/microwave safe bowl combine 1 c. (120 g.) powdered sugar with 2 T. melted butter, 1 1/2 T. heavy cream, 1/2 t. vanilla extract and 1/2 t. almond extract.   Stir with a rubber spatula until smooth.  This frosting “sets” as the melted butter cools.  If it is too stiff for drizzling right after mixing (from cold cream straight out of the fridge…or a chilly room…for example), gently warm until the consistency is right.  If you overdo it, just let it sit for a few minutes and it will start to thicken/firm up again. 



To decorate the cake, generously drizzle some of the glaze over the surface of the cake.  Sprinkle the toasted almonds over to cover (the glaze will act as a tasty kind of glue).  If you like, drizzle more glaze over the almonds in a uniform, back and forth (across the cake) motion.  (Or, dredge the almonds with powdered sugar.)  If you want to insure perfectly clean cuts, portion the cake and then apply the glaze and almonds as for the whole cake (the sliced almonds might cause the tender and soft cake to tear when you cut it).

Printable Version



Monday, July 12, 2021

Cooking from the Summer Pantry: Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Corn & Pesto

I have been a bit bummed about my lack of attention to my blog…for some time now if I’m honest…but especially in recent months.  Over the past few years I have reduced the number of posts simply because I just don’t have the time to invest in it like I once did.  But during the pandemic I haven’t really had much in the way of new cooking/recipes to post.  The cooking I do for private dinners and new classes has been radically reduced (for a while it disappeared entirely).  The cooking I do for myself has been mostly cooking tried and true items (many of which I have already posted!).  My pandemic year (going on two, now…) has been spent cooking a lot of never-to-be-duplicated meals which are made up of leftovers from online classes (since I don’t serve tastings for those classes) and cooking from my pantry in an effort to minimize time spent out and about.  So the meals have been what some might consider boring (not blog-worthy?).  


Despite this feeling that the things I have made might not be interesting enough for my blog, I have never felt deprived by these meals:  they have been delicious!  And I have realized that in many respects the kind of cooking I have done for myself during this time is exactly the kind of skill I have always wanted to impart in my classes and on my blog.  It is, in fact, really cooking.  It is a cuisine of daily inspiration from what you have on hand—made possible from a lifetime of cooking that has produced an abundance of taste memory and a set of well-honed kitchen skills.  

Unfortunately this kind of skill can’t be acquired through a class, food TV, or a blog… unless you are engaging in the activity itself after you watch or read.  But—in the hope that people are cooking—I will continue (when I can!) to do on my blog what I have always done:  teach skills (see my catalog of basic techniques…as well as the incidental skills included in almost every single post) and describe as best as I am able how I arrived at a certain result (which I try to do in most of my posts and recipes). 

Today’s post is in the spirit of this kind of daily cooking.  It is not new…or exciting.  It is just my predictable favorite: pasta.  But it made a satisfying summer meal.  And it came together quickly and easily because it was just a matter of pulling together a bunch of stuff I had in my pantry… and applying techniques I use in the kitchen all the time.   
 

As I scanned my pantry Saturday there was a lot to choose from.  (The truth is that if you cook regularly, you will almost always have the means at your disposal to make some kind of a meal.)  Much of what I had required more cooking than I was in the mood for.  But my eyes fell on the last of some pesto that I had made for a quick meal for a client (it was carrot top pesto…but any green “herb” pestobasil, arugula, kalewould have been good) and some corn that I had “roasted” while I had the grill on to make a pizza a few days ago.  

Early in my career I started keeping a spiral bound notebook to jot down things I cooked or baked at home (I had other notebooks for the professional kitchens in which I worked).  This is a great practice when you are learning to cook.  Record your successes and your failures…along with a note or two about why it was a success or failure. (Make notes in your cookbooks too.)  All of this knowledge will come in handy and help hone your skills.  I have referred back to mine many times over the years.  It has been a while since I made an entry.  I probably should have been keeping notes in it during this past year.  (I actually have kept notes…knowing that many of the meals will be turned into recipes for my classes and clients.  Unfortunately they are on random pieces of paper that I will have to hunt for when I want them.)  Anyway, the pesto and roasted corn reminded me of a pasta that I was pretty sure I had jotted down in that notebook.  

When I looked, I found that I had. What I made wasn’t an exact duplicate of the original (I think I sautéed the corn in the original…and I’m certain I didn’t use carrot top pesto)…but having my notes filled out the rest of the flavors of the dish:  cherry tomatoes (always on my counter in the summer)…as well as standard pantry items (garlic, olive oil, vinegar, herbs and Parmesan/Pecorino). 

The method I used to prepare/warm the cherry tomatoes is from a long ago favorite from the book Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone by Alice Waters.  Cherry tomatoes are halved and warmed gently (they should hold their shape) in a generous quantity of olive oil, finished with vinegar, tossed with long thin pasta and topped with a shower of toasted breadcrumbs.  If you have an abundance of beautiful, tiny cherry tomatoes, Waters’ pasta is a great dish to make. 

For my pasta I started with Waters’ method for the tomatoes...then added a tiny clove of chopped garlic and my roasted corn...and warmed everything through.  I let it sit off the heat while I cooked the pasta so that the ingredients would have a chance to get to know one another.  When the pasta was done I combined this “sauce” with the pasta, pesto, pasta water, and a handful of arugula (chopped).  I topped it all with a finely grated mix of Parmesan and Pecorino. 

I will make it again.  I hope others will give it a try too.  But mostly, I hope people will be inspired to get into the kitchen and cook—even if it’s just something simple and “boring.” 


Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Corn & Pesto 

For 1 portion (multiplies easily for more):

1 1/2 to 2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. (75 to 85 g.) small cherry tomatoes, halved
A very small clove of garlic, minced
1 t. sherry vinegar (red or white wine vinegar will work, too)
1/2 c. (75 g.) cooked (roasted…grilled….) corn kernels
90 g. gemelli, gigli, fusilli (long or short cut), or strozzapreti—any noodle with some nice nooks and crannies will work
2 T. pesto
2 to 3 T. chopped arugula (or basil)
Parmesan and/or Pecorino, finely grated

Place the oil, tomatoes, garlic and a generous sprinkling of salt in a sauté pan large enough to hold the pasta and vegetables.
  Gently warm until the tomatoes have begun to soften slightly (but aren’t losing their shape.  Add the corn along with several grindings of pepper and heat through.  Add the vinegar and toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Remove from the heat and let sit while the pasta cooks. 

Cook the pasta in a large pot of well salted water until al dente.
  When the pasta is cooked, scoop out some of the pasta water and set aside.  Drain the pasta and add to the pan of vegetables along with the pesto, a tablespoon or two of the pasta water and the chopped arugula.  Toss until the pasta and vegetables are coated in a light, fluid, pesto-y sauce. Transfer to a serving plate and top with Parmesan and/or Pecorino.

Note:
  If you don’t have a sauté pan large enough to hold the vegetables and pasta, you can toss the pasta with the sauce/vegetables in the pot in which you cooked the pasta.  Just drain the pasta (not forgetting to save some of the water) and return it with the sauce to the pot.

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