Monday, September 28, 2015

A Salad of Beets, Pears, Nuts & Cheese...with Bacon & Arugula

I had not planned on posting this salad this week...or ever, actually.  After all, salads with beets and goat cheese...or pears and blue cheese...are ubiquitous.  But as is almost always the case when a recipe persists in popularity over the long haul, there is usually a reason:  the original was—and still can be—truly delicious.   Preparing such a recipe—one that stands up to the original—is always about choosing the best ingredients...and of course, combining them with care.

I was reminded of this as I prepared a salad of roasted beets, pears, cheese, nuts and bacon—a combination of these two aforementioned salads—over the weekend for some dinner clients.  The beets were sweet...the pears were perfectly ripe and juicy....and both were set off to perfection by the spicy-sweet pecans, crispy bacon and pungent blue cheese.  It looked so good to me that I prepared it for dinner at my house the next night.  I didn't happen to have any blue cheese on hand...but I did have some nice goat cheese, which made a more than adequate stand in. 

This particular salad is from Frank Stitt's Southern Table, and his fondness for the ingredients of his native south is on full display.  Where some add olives for a salty counterpoint to the sweetness of the beets, he adds bacon...which also happens to go beautifully with the pears (and blue cheese).  And in lieu of the more commonly chosen walnuts, he uses pecans...all dressed up with sugar and spice.  I find his variations to be inspired.  And judging from my clients' enthusiastic enjoyment, so did they.  I think you will too.  Right now...while beets and pears are in the perfect time to give it a try. 

Autumn Salad of Roasted Beets, Pears,
Blue Cheese & Pecans

1 lb. Beets (trimmed weight), scrubbed & stemmed
Balsamic vinegar, to taste
6 oz. bacon, cut into 1-inch squares
2 large Bartlett pears or 3 small Seckel pears,
6 handfuls of arugula (about 4 to 6 oz.)
Sherry Vinaigrette (see below)
3/4 c. Toasted pecans or Spiced Pecans
4 to 6 oz. Fourme d'Ambert, Roquefort, Gorgonzola or Stilton...crumbled, cubed or sliced; Or, you may use crumbled goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°.  Place the beets in a roasting pan and add 1/4-inch of water.  Cover the pan with foil and roast the beets until they are tender all the way through—about an hour, depending on the size and age of the beets.  When the beets are cool enough to handle (although they should still be a bit warm), trim the roots and stems off and gently rub the skins off using a paper towel.  Cut the beets into thin wedges—or halve them and slice them cross-wise—and toss in balsamic vinegar to taste.  Season with salt & pepper and set aside. (The beets can be made ahead.  Chill until ready to serve.)

Render the bacon until crisp...set aside.

When ready to serve the salad, quarter and core the pears.  Cut each quarter into thin wedges (about the same thickness as the beet wedges) and toss with a small amount of the vinaigrette.

In a similar manner, dress the beets with a small amount of the vinaigrette.

Place the arugula in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with just enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat.  Toss well.  Arrange half to two-thirds of the beets, pears, bacon, pecans and cheese on the plates.  Divide the arugula among the plates.  Arrange the remaining beets, pears, bacon, pecans and cheese attractively over the greens (some on top and some nestled in among the lettuces).  Serves 6.

Sherry Vinaigrette:
2 T. Sherry vinegar
1 small shallot, finely diced
Salt & Pepper
6 T. olive oil

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and shallot.  Season to taste with salt & pepper and set aside for a few moments to allow the shallot to soften.  Gradually whisk in the oil, adding it in a thin stream.  Taste and correct the seasoning and the vinegar balance.

(Recipe adapted from Frank Stitt's Southern Table)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Pear & Walnut Torte to Welcome Autumn

I have been making a lot of noise this year about not wanting the summer to end.  I love autumn and autumn foods...and I always look forward to each seasonal shift—along with the accompanying shift in foods—with great anticipation.  My attitude this year has surprised me a bit.  Since I figured my attitude would eventually iron itself out, I have just continued to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of summer with great relish.  But yesterday evening, I was served a delicious kale, butternut squash and mushroom salad at the home of a friend.  What could be more autumnal than that?  And on Sunday—in preparation for a class—I made a pear and walnut torte.  It too was delicious...just what I was hungry for, as it turned out.  Suddenly autumn is looking pretty good.

Since I don't have the recipe for the salad, I will share the recipe for the torte.  I developed the recipe a few years ago for a class that had been advertised as having a dessert featuring fresh figs.  As the class approached, it became apparent that there were not going to be any fresh figs...I had scheduled it too late in the season.  Pears, on the other hand were abundant and delicious. 

And this cake is all about the pears.  When I was working on it, I chose each flavor element because of its natural affinity for pear: a hint of cloves to accentuate the aromatic and subtle spiciness of a good pear, lemon to heighten the flavor and at the same time provide balance to the sweetness of the pears, and finally, slightly bitter walnuts which add a little richness and a nice depth of flavor to what is essentially a pretty light cake.  When you take a bite, you might not be able to identify the tastes of clove or lemon or walnut.  But you will most decidedly be aware of the flavor and fragrance of the pears.     

Since the class was to feature stream-lined, weeknight fare, this cake is necessarily a simple one.  But this is the kind of cake I like to eat best any way.  It is moist, tender and flavorful and doesn't really need adornment of any kind....although, a light sprinkle of powdered sugar, or a dollop of whipped cream wouldn't be a bad thing.  If you happen to have ripe pears on your counter, it is likely your pantry will contain all the other ingredients necessary to make the cake.  You could bake it this afternoon and serve it for dinner tonight....sort of a "Welcome autumn...I'm so happy to see you" kind of treat. 

Fresh Pear & Walnut Torte

2 or 3 ripe pears (about 1 lb.), peeled, quartered cored and cut into scant 1/2-inch thick wedges (see notes)
1/2 T. lemon juice
2 T. sugar

1 c. all-purpose flour (120 grams)
1/4 c. walnuts, lightly toasted and finely ground (30 grams)
1 t. baking powder
1/8 t. ground cloves
3/8 t. salt

8 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. golden brown sugar
Zest of 1 small lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 c. plain yogurt or buttermilk
1 t. vanilla

1 T. sugar

Grease a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan.  Line with a round of parchment and grease the parchment.  Flour the pan and tap out the excess. 

Place the pears in a medium-sized bowl and toss together with the lemon juice and 2 T. of sugar.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, walnuts, baking powder, cloves and salt.  Set aside.

Cream the butter with the sugars and zest until light and fluffy—3 to 5 minutes.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Beat in the vanilla.  Fold in half of the dry ingredients.  If the pears have given up a lot of juice, add this juice, along with the yogurt, to the batter and fold in.  Fold in the remaining dry ingredients. 

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading evenly.  Arrange the pears in a snug spiral on top and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.  

Made with Bartlett pears
Bake the cake in a pre-heated 350° oven until a toothpick inserted in the center (in the cake, not the fruit) comes out clean—about 50 minutes to 1 hour.  Let cool in the pan for ten minutes before removing from the pan.  To remove, run a palette knife around the edge and flip the cake out of the pan.  Flip it back over onto a cooling rack and allow the cake to cool completely before serving.  If you like, dredge sparingly with powdered sugar before serving.  Serve with softly whipped cream or crème fraiche.  Serves 8 to 10.

  • Any ripe (but firm), fragrant pear will work well in this cake.  Bosc pears—because they are narrow with long necks—will look the most attractive.  Wedges of Bartlett or Anjou will leave a gap of plain cake visible in the center of the cake...which still looks very nice. 
Made with Bosc pears
  • I measured the thickness of my pears at the widest point.  If you have 2 pears, you will get about 16 slices per pear...if you have 3, you should get about 12 slices per pear.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fusilli with Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Bacon & Arugula

For dinner this past Sunday I made a quick and simple pasta that featured corn, cherry tomatoes, bacon and arugula.  At the time I wasn't thinking about a blog post (I post so many pasta recipes)...I was just thinking about dinner.  But as has occasionally happened before, it was so good I wanted to share it.  I hope everyone will forgive the consequent lack of "in process" photos.

I have posted this particular, spare combination of flavors before (in a salad with corn cakes).  It is a favorite of mine....the interplay of sweet, tart and somehow just right.  The accent of the slightly bitter and mildly hot arugula provides the perfect finishing note.  Because it is made up of ingredients you are likely to have on hand during the summer months (if you shop at your farmers' market...or are a member of a CSA)...and it is fast and easy to's a pasta you can enjoy all summer long.  Unfortunately this summer is now rapidly drawing to a close and the days of sweet corn and sun ripened cherry tomatoes are numbered.  If you love these flavors, you should take the opportunity to sample this dish right now. 

Fusilli with Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Bacon & Arugula

4 medium ears of corn
4 to 5 strips bacon (about 4 1/2 oz.), cut in 1/2-inch squares
2 to 3 T. unsalted butter
2 c. mixed cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
Salt & Pepper
12 oz. fusilli
3 oz. Arugula, coarsely chopped
2 oz. freshly grated Parmesan

Cut the kernels off of the cob and scrape the cobs with a spoon or the back of a knife to get all the bits of corn that remain after cutting off the kernels.  You should have about three cups of kernels.  Set aside
Render the bacon in a large sauté pan set over medium heat.  When the bacon is crisp, remove to a plate, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.  Add the corn, along with a good pinch of salt, to the pan and sauté until just tender.  If the pan seems dry, add a couple of teaspoons...or more, depending on the fattiness of the bacon...of butter.

When the corn is tender, add the cherry tomatoes to the pan and toss to combine and warm through.  Turn off the heat and keep warm while you cook the pasta. 
Drop the pasta into 6 quarts of rapidly boiling water seasoned with about 2 Tablespoons of salt.  Stir and cook until the pasta is al dente. 

Drain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta water.  Add the pasta to the pan of corn, along with the arugula, a half cup of the pasta water and 2 T. of butter.  Toss until the arugula is wilted and the butter has emulsified into the pasta water, creating a light, fluid sauce.  If the dish seems dry, add more pasta water, and/or butter.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Toss in the cheese.  Divide the pasta among four plates and top with the reserved bacon.  Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Platter of Late Summer Vegetables

Tomorrow is Labor Day...the traditional "end" of summer (even though the calendar says we still have almost three weeks to go). I have lost count of the number of times I have heard this truism affirmed over the past few days.  I know the kids have all gone back to school (in some cases, almost a month ago!), but summer is not over for me.  It is still hot...and will continue to be warm for most of the month.  I will still wear shorts (even white ones!) for many days to come.  And most importantly of all, I will still eat every meal that I can out of doors as I continue to enjoy an array of summer vegetables that will still be available from local sources for at least a couple of more weeks.  Right now is in fact the peak of two of my summer favorites:  eggplant and peppers

I have been enjoying these fruits of the latter days of summer every chance I get—in pastas and pilafs, on pizzas and as the starring elements of late summer stews and ragouts.  This past week, on a particularly hot day, I layered them—along with some still-going-strong cherry tomatoes—into a stunning, room temperature platter.  Along with some crusty bread, it made a delightful late summer meal.  And I am certain it would be a perfect addition to a Labor Day spread.  The flavors are simple, straight forward and strong—making it a delicious partner for grilled steak or lamb...even burgers or brats—and at the same time virtually shouting that summer isn't quite finished yet.  

 Late Summer Vegetable Platter
with Olives, Feta & Herbs

3 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 fat clove of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
pinch hot pepper flakes (to taste)
6 T. olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 medium eggplant (about 2 lbs.), topped and tailed and sliced cross-wise 1/2-inch thick
Salt & Pepper
4 sweet bell peppers—mixed colors (red, yellow & orange)—about 1 1/2 lb., roasted, peeled, seeded, cooled and cut into 1/2- inch   wide strips
2 c. cherry tomatoes (multi-colored, if possible)—about 10 oz., halved
4 to 5 T. coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, basil and oregano
1/3 to 1/2 c. mixed black and green olives, pitted and halved
1/4 c. pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 oz. Feta, coarsely crumbled

Place the lemon juice in a small bowl with the garlic and whisk to combine.  Add the pepper flakes and 6 T. olive oil.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Spread the eggplant on a baking sheet and brush both sides with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Broil the eggplant until golden brown; turn and broil the other side in a similar manner.  Alternatively, grill the eggplant over a charcoal fire or in a cast-iron grill pan.  If, when the eggplant are nicely browned, they are not yet fork tender, stack them on top of one another while hot so that they will steam one another and cook through—eggplant should not be served al dente.

To build the salad, shingle the eggplant onto a platter or individual plates.  Drizzle the eggplant with some of the vinaigrette and scatter some of the herbs over all.  

Place the peppers with their juices in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and add one or two tablespoons of the herbs.  Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette and toss to coat.  Pile the peppers attractively on top of the eggplant.  

Place the tomatoes, olives and another tablespoon or so of the herbs in the bowl used for the peppers.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with some of the vinaigrette.  Toss to combine.   Arrange the tomatoes and olives on top of the peppers and eggplant.  

Scatter the pine nuts, cheese and more herbs over all.  

The salad may be served right away, at room temperature...or chilled and served cold.  Serve with warm crusty bread or garlic toasts.

Serves 4 as an entrée, 6 to 8 as a side dish.

Substitution:  Sliced vine ripened tomatoes may be substituted for the cherry tomatoes.  Arrange them on the platter in and among the slices of eggplant, drizzle with vinaigrette, season with salt and pepper and follow with a scattering of the olives and herbs.  Proceed as directed with the rest of the salad, arranging the dressed peppers, crumbled cheese, pine nuts and herbs over all. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Food Processor Mayonnaise

I am always surprised in my classes at the number of people who have never tried to make homemade mayonnaise.  This is unfortunate, because it is so very delicious...far superior to its commercial counterpart.  For this reason, I was pleased to see a recent edition of NPR's "The Salt" touting the ease with which one can make mayonnaise at home

For the story they had interviewed British chef Simon Hopkinson (British cookbook author and founding chef of Bibendum...for those familiar with the London food scene). The interview is educational and entertaining...definitely worth the few moments of your day that it will take to listen.  I was however disappointed to hear Hopkinson discouraging the use of a food processor.  He claims that the food processor produces mayonnaise that is thick and sticky...somewhat like peanut butter.  Since I couldn't disagree more...and since most Americans have a food processor...I thought today that I would devote an entire post to food processor mayonnaise. 

Classically mayonnaise is nothing more than a mixture of egg yolk, Dijon mustard, lemon juice/white wine vinegar, a neutral oil (like canola), and salt & pepper.  It is what is known as an emulsified sauce because the liquids (lemon/vinegar and water—present in the yolk itself and also often added at the very end to give a thinner consistency) are held in a homogenous and permanent suspension (called an emulsion) with the oil.  The thing that keeps the liquid and oil from separating (which they are naturally inclined to do) is the presence of an emulsifier—a naturally occurring permanent suspension of water and this case, the egg yolk.   Mayonnaise is made by gradually incorporating oil into the egg yolk.  When this is done slowly and steadily the homogenous suspension is maintained and the result is a thick, smooth, creamy sauce.  If the oil is incorporated too quickly, the suspension "breaks" and you end up with a bowl of thin, separated liquids and oil.

As you can imagine, preparing this emulsified sauce by hand (with a whisk) can be tedious and tiring.  It is not uncommon for people to produce a "broken" sauce on the first try or two.  And even though the procedure is most often successful, people generally don't want to expend the physical effort required.  This is of course where a machine comes in.  Hopkinson suggests the use of an electric whisk.  Some people use a traditional blender...or an immersion blender.  My preference is the food processor.  What all of these have in common is a blade...or whip....of some kind that moves quickly and at a uniform speed.  You simply place the egg yolks, lemon, mustard and salt in the bowl/blender cup, turn on the machine and pour in the oil in a thin stream as the machine runs.  In very short order...with no wear and tear on the have mayonnaise.

Since most people don't have a need for large quantities of mayonnaise, most home recipes are for small batches—made with 1 or 2 yolks and a cup or so of oil.  And for a recipe this size, a standard sized food processor doesn't work so well.  The volume of 1 or 2 egg yolks is quite small and the action of the blade sends what little volume there is out to the edges of the bowl.  It is very difficult to get the emulsion started because it is almost impossible to gradually incorporate the oil—which is also being sprayed to the outer edges of the bowl—into the tiny volume of yolk(s).  This is why Hopkinson recommends a narrow beaker type container when you use his electric whisk...and why an immersion or traditional blender work so well....all of the yolk is concentrated in a very small area and it is easy to gradually drizzle the oil right into the yolks.  If you are making a larger batch of mayonnaise (with 5 or 6...or more...yolks) the food processor does very well.

But it is not impossible to make a small batch of mayonnaise in a food processor.  And the trick I use to do it also avoids the thick and sticky consistency that Hopkinson deplores.  To make a small batch of mayonnaise in the food processor, simply use a whole egg...or a whole egg plus one the base.  The egg white effectively increases the volume...and the viscosity...of the initial mixture so that the oil is more easily incorporated a small amount at a time.  As a bonus, because egg whites have a wonderful foaming capacity when they are beaten, the addition of an egg white to a mayonnaise made in a food processor lends a light, fluffy quality that is the antithesis of thick and sticky.  The resulting mayonnaise is just about perfect...and almost never needs the usual addition of a bit of water to thin it down.

If you have never tasted homemade mayonnaise, you will be amazed by how good it tastes.  You may use it just as you would commercial mayonnaise.  I have posted several recipes calling for mayonnaise over the years (Basil & Garlic sauce to go with Basil & Garlic Roast chicken, Green Goddess, Blue Cheese & Ranch Salad Dressings, Waldorf Salad), and any one of these would be a great place to start.

Unfortunately your homemade mayonnaise will not have the same lengthy shelf life of store bought.  But if you make it with fresh eggs, from a source that you trust (hopefully a local farmer), it will keep safely in a cold refrigerator for about a week.   However, I predict that it won't last that long.  In fact, it is so delicious that you will probably be looking for ways to use it.  You can of course enhance it in any number of ways (with a spoonful of pesto...or roasted pepper purée...or a handful of minced herbs and some garlic...) to make a dip...or a spread...or a sauce.

You could also make a BLT...before the vine ripened tomatoes of summer disappear for the year.

Or you might whip up some old-fashioned deviled eggs....

or make a simple potato salad to go with burgers (don’t forget to put a smear of mayo on your burger too).

I am certain that as you begin to think about it, the possibilities will multiply....

Food Processor Mayonnaise

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (best quality organic and local)
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 T. lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 T. Dijon Mustard
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil or 1 cup vegetable oil combined with 1/2 c. mild tasting olive oil

Place egg, yolk, salt, lemon juice & mustard in the bowl of the food processor and process until smooth.  Add the oil in a slow stream through the feed tube.  A thick emulsion will form. Taste and adjust the lemon and salt. If the mayonnaise is too thick, let it out with a few tablespoons of warm water.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Deviled Eggs:  For each hard cooked egg, you will need about 10 grams (2 t.) of mayonnaise and a smidge of Dijon.  Cut the peeled, cooled eggs in half, and carefully remove the yolks.  Set the whites aside.  Press the yolks through a sieve or smash with a fork.  Mix with the mayonnaise and Dijon.  Add salt & pepper to taste.   Spoon or pipe the yolk mixture back into the whites.  Sprinkle each egg with a little Spanish smoked paprika.  Chill until ready to serve.

Sour Cream & Dill Potato Salad:  Scrub a pound and a half of small red potatoes.  Place in a pan large enough to hold them in a snug single layer.  Cover with cold, salted water by about an inch.  Bring to a simmer and cook until tender to the tip of a knife.  Drain the potatoes.  When cool enough to handle, but still warm, cut into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together a half cup of sour cream, a third cup of mayonnaise and 2 generous tablespoons chopped fresh dill.  Season will with salt and pepper.  Pour over the warm potatoes and stir to coat.  Chill.  The potato salad tastes best the next day.  Serves 4 to 5.  (Recipe adapted from Beyond Parsley by the Junior League of Kansas City)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pasta with Arugula & Walnut Pesto and Summer Squash

I was immediately attracted to the summer squash pasta on the cover of the August issue of Food & Wine.  Not only did it look delicious, it bore a more than passing resemblance to one of my all time favorite summer pastas.  I posted this old favorite—a simple combination of pasta, olive oil, basil chiffonade, toasted pine nuts and thinly sliced zucchini—a few years ago.  Instead of olive oil, basil and pine nuts, the recipe in this issue of Food & Wine just uses Arugula & Walnut pesto...making it an even easier dish to prepare if you already happen to have some arugula pesto on hand.  Even though the recipes are similar, the arugula pesto version is so delicious I thought it deserved its own post.  

As is usually the case, I have made a few changes to the original recipe.  For one, I simply use my recipe for arugula pesto.  It is not that different from the one in Food & Wine and I happen to like it as is.  If you have a favorite version, that's the one you should use.  In my recipe, I give a choice of Parmesan or Pecorino...or a combination of the two.  If you are making the pesto just for this pasta, I would definitely use at least half—if not all—Pecorino.  The salty-tangy quality of this aged sheep's milk cheese is particularly good with summer squash...and walnuts. 

Another change was my method of incorporating the squash.  The Food & Wine recipe tells you to simply add the shaved, raw squash to the bowl of pesto with the hot pasta.  The idea is that the squash will cook sufficiently from the heat of the freshly drained pasta.  When I tried it this way, the squash had a bit more texture than I would like.  I have written my recipe with the same directions as my old favorite, directing you to add the squash to the pot of pasta for the last minute of cooking.  This has the added benefit of adding a little bit of the squash flavor to the pasta water (which you will then use to thin the pesto).

Finally, the original recipe includes a healthy dose of lemon juice.  This is an excellent idea since arugula, walnuts and zucchini are all enhanced by the presence of lemon.  But I suggest tasting the finished pasta before adding the lemon juice.  You may find (as I did) that farm/market fresh squash doesn't really need it.  If however when you taste the finished pasta, it seems flat...or one dimensional...go ahead and add some lemon.  It will give the dish just the right flavor boost.  

I should mention that this dish is admittedly pretty light.  For many it is probably most appropriate for a first course...or a small pasta course.  But, if you—like me—would like to serve it as an entrée, simply serve large portions...or maybe top it off with a grilled chicken breast or a salmon filet (pan-seared...baked...or slow roasted).  No matter how...or decide to serve this simple pasta...I'm pretty sure you'll love it. Certainly it has found its place on my rather long list of favorite summer pastas.

Pasta with Arugula & Walnut Pesto and Summer Squash

12 oz. Fettuccine or Farfalle
12 oz. small summer squash, trimmed and cut into very thin rounds on a slight diagonal
3 T. toasted and coarsely broken walnuts
3 to 4 T. grated Parmesan
Juice of half a lemon, optional

Place the pesto in a large bowl.  Set aside.

Bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot.  Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of salt.  Add the pasta and cook until almost al dente—it should still be quite firm in the center.  

Add the squash and stir.  Continue to cook until the pasta is al dente—about a minute more.  Drain, reserving some of the pasta water. 

Add enough pasta water (2 to 3 T.) to the pesto to thin it to a sauce consistency.  Add the drained pasta and squash and toss to coat, adding more pasta water or olive oil as needed to obtain a fluid sauce.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  If the flavors need a lift, add a squeeze of lemon and toss again.  Divide among individual serving plates

and top with walnuts and freshly grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Serves 3 to 4.

Note:  If you would like to make a full pound of pasta, you will need 1 1/3 recipes of the pesto (2 oz. arugula, a fat clove of garlic, 1/2 c. each walnuts, Parmesan/Pecorino and olive oil)

(Recipe adapted  from Italian Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis and Food & Wine, August 2015)

Printable Recipe  (click on "Arugula & Walnut Pesto" in the recipe for the printable version of the pesto)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Cold Soba Noodles with Beef, Red Bell Pepper, Mango & Fresh Herbs

Everyone needs to change up their routine occasionally.  I love the foods of France, Italy, Spain...basically the Mediterranean...and I never veer too far from these influences.  But today's salad is a departure.  I teach it in one of my summer salads classes and it is always a hit.  Because Asian food is not my area of expertise, I'm not going to elaborate too much on the details of the recipe.  Rather, I will just point out a few things that will help you navigate these flavors and ingredients if they are totally unfamiliar to you.

The salad features Soba noodles.  Made from wheat and buckwheat, their color is not particularly appetizing, but they are delicious and have the pleasant nutty character of buckwheat.  I have always enjoyed them cold, in salad-type preparations.  They should be cooked al dente and then rinsed under cold running water.  The rinse will stop the cooking process and rinse away excess starch.  You should keep rinsing until the water is clear and the noodles are cold.  Drain them well after they have been rinsed.  If they have a lot of water clinging to them, the salad will be watery and the flavor of your dressing will be weaker.  In his book Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi tells you to spread the rinsed and drained noodles on a kitchen towel to wick away the excess water.  I have found this works pretty well.

The recipe I'm sharing today was actually inspired by that salad in Plenty.  The original is vegetarian.  I have added fish sauce to the dressing and topped the salad with beef instead of it is no longer vegetarian...but the vibrant and contrasting flavors of the tangy sauce, fresh herbs and sweet mango are all still there.  I have never made the original (I'm not sure why...I love eggplant), but if you are vegetarian, I'm sure it would be delicious.

If you are unfamiliar with fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla), I tend to think of it as the Southeast Asian equivalent of anchovies.  It is fishy and salty...and should be used in small amounts.  Just as with anchovies, typically you shouldn't taste the dish and think that you are eating fish...rather, the dish should just be more well-rounded and well-seasoned because of its presence.  You could omit it and just increase the salt in your recipe, but you will lose depth of flavor and the intense savory quality that it adds. 

If you have never cut up a mango, the only difficulty is navigating around the big seed.  The seed is wide and flat and tall...basically taking up a large portion of the center of the fruit.  The flesh of the mango right around the seed is quite fibrous and not usable in the salad.  To cut the mango, after peeling it, 

cut a thick slice down one of the wide faces of the flattened oval shape of the mango.  

Then make a similar cut on the opposite side.  You should have a 3/4- to 1-inch slab--which encases the seed--remaining.  Turn the mango and cut a swath down the two uncut sides to get the last bit of flesh for your salad.   (The flesh remaining around the seed is typically considered a cook's treat...something to gnaw on in the kitchen when no one is looking.)  

The chunks of flesh that have been cut away from the seed can be diced...or you prefer.  

When you choose a mango for this salad, it should be ripe (the flesh will yield a bit to slight pressure) but firm.  If it is too ripe, it will tend to disintegrate into the salad as it sits.

When finished, this salad should be an exuberant medley of flavors and textures.  Juicy, sweet mango.... crisp sweet red pepper and red onion.....aromatic basil and cilantro (use as much of both as you like)....juicy, rich and savory beef....all bound together by the backdrop of the nutty and slightly chewy soba noodles and a tangy-salty-slightly hot and sweet dressing.  Really....a party in your mouth.  You should feel free to adjust the flavorings and additions until you achieve this effect.

My next post will most likely be planted firmly back in my regular territory.  If you visit my blog expecting to find ideas for seasonal produce...most often utilizing the flavors of the Mediterranean...I hope you don't mind the departure today.  I find this salad to be refreshing and satisfying—not only in its own right—but also because it is so different from the foods I normally prepare.  If you try it, I hope you will agree that it is just the thing for a hot summer night.

Soba Noodles with Beef & Mango

6 T. rice vinegar
4 T. lime juice
zest of 1 lime
2 T. Asian fish sauce
2 t. sesame oil
1 1/2 to 2 t. chili sauce (Sriracha)
2 T. sugar
1 fat clove garlic smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 box soba noodles (8 to 9 oz.)
1 small red onion (4 to 5 oz.), sliced thinly (preferably with a mandoline) and rinsed and drained well
1 small red bell pepper (5 oz.), cored and thinly sliced
1 big mango, cut in scant 1/4-inch thick strips or in a 1/2-inch dice
3/4 to 1 oz. cilantro leaves (about 1 cup), cut in a rough chiffonade
3/4 to 1 oz. basil leaves (about 1 cup), cut in a rough chiffonade
Canola oil for sautéing
12 oz. Beef—strip, flank or skirt

Combine the first eight ingredients in a small bowl, whisking to blend.

Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still al dente—about 5 minutes.  Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking process.  Shake the colander and spread the noodles on a kitchen towel to wick away any remaining excess moisture. Transfer to a large bowl and combine with the onion, bell pepper, mango and half of the herbs.  

Drizzle in about a third cup of the sauce and toss until everything is well coated (adding more sauce if necessary).  Salt to taste.  Set aside for up to half an hour.

To prepare the steak, heat a large sauté pan (cast iron is perfect) over medium-high to high heat (or preheat the grill to medium-high).  Season the steak(s) well with salt & pepper.  

A small flank steak (about 14 oz.) ready for the grill...
Add enough oil to barely coat the bottom of the pan (oil the steak if grilling).  When the oil in the pan is almost smoking, add the meat to the pan.  Sear the meat on both sides until splotched with color.  Reduce the heat and continue to cook the steaks, turning at regular intervals (don't forget the edges) until the steaks have reached your preferred doneness.  (If you are grilling, simply place the oiled and seasoned meat on the clean, preheated grill and cook, turning once, to your preferred doneness.)  Remove to a plate, drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of sauce and scatter with a couple of tablespoons or so of the herbs.  Turn to coat.

Let rest, for at least ten minutes...longer is better.  Slice thinly, returning the sliced meat to the mixture of sauce and drippings and herbs.  Set aside.

When ready to serve. Toss the noodles with as much of the remaining sauce as you like (I usually use all of it) and mound on a serving platter or individual plates.  

Pile the beef on top and scatter the remaining herbs over all.  Serves 4

  • Depending on appetites, you may of course increase the meat to as much as a pound...or more. 
  • Temperature Guidelines for determining “Doneness” of beef (remembering that the temperature will increase by at least 5 degrees while the meat rests): 
Rare (cool red center) -- 120° 
Medium Rare (warm red center) --  125° 
Medium (rosy center) -- 130°
Medium well (pink center) -- 135°
Well done (no pink)  -- 140°
  • If you don't like fish sauce, leave it out. Season the sauce with at least a half teaspoon of salt. 
(Recipe inspired by one in Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)