Friday, July 31, 2009

Quick tip: egg in your pasta

Here's a quick tip to add a little something to quick simple pasta sauces: crack and egg over your hot pasta before you add your sauce. 

The idea is to add a little creaminess, a little luxuriance, to your dish, but without rendering it heavy. This can bring a simple pasta with, say, olive oil, garlic, herbs, and cherry tomatoes to the next level.

Here's how you do it: when your pasta is ready, strain it and quickly return it to the pot (or to a separate bowl). Crack an egg over the pasta, and mix it in vigorously. The result should be a kind of airy creamy sauce (it should not be little bits of scrambled eggs). This essentially is the technique you use to make carbonara: add a bunch of cheese and bacon and you've got that dish. But add instead some veggies sauteed in olive oil, and finish with just a touch of parmesan, and you've got a brilliant summer dish: light and delicious, with just the slightest hint of decadence. Try it with ripe bell peppers, or with shredded zucchini brightened with lemon.  

One more advantage of this technique: it does great things to whole wheat pasta, which I don't normally love.

Here's my current favorite way of using this idea. It hardly seems like it necessitates a recipe, but here it is. Use about 1 egg for every 1/2 pound of pasta.

Heat water for pasta. Add pasta when water is boiling.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet and chop a bunch of garlic. Cook (along with some dried hot pepper, if desired) until garlic just turns golden. 

Add in a splash of white wine, a couple tablespoons of the pasta water, some salt, and let cook for a few minutes. Add fresh herbs just a couple minutes before the pasta is done.

When pasta is ready, quickly drain, return to pot, crack an egg over the pasta, and mix vigorously for about 30 seconds. You should have a light, airy creamy sauce.

Add some halved cherry tomatoes and the garlic/oil/herb mix and toss all together. 

Finish with a little parmesan and some fresh ground pepper, and serve immediately. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

White wine sangria: my new favorite summer drink

Sangria often sucks. In fact, I don't think I've ever encountered a red wine sangria I've really liked. Red wine seems to me to lack the brightness, the vitality, to make a good summer drink. Add that to the fact that most seem to think you should use the crappiest wine you can find to make the drink, and you've got a recipe for disgusting.

White wine, sangria, on the other hand, can be truly excellent. With higher acidity levels, less tannins, and generally less volatile components, white wine lends itself much better to this type of drink. I remember a version from a cuban restaurant in Portland (Pambiche) called the Palm Beach Cooler. I can't recall what exactly was in it, but it definitely involved lime and fresh sugarcane. That was good stuff: delicious, refreshing, vivacious, it was everything a summer drink should be. 

So this summer I've set about refining and perfecting a white wine sangria of my own, working off a recipe Lindsey originally used. This drink is brightened with lime juice, sweetened with ginger ale, and fortified with rum, creating a kind of Cuban/Caribbean flavor profile (I told you that palm beach cooler has been on my mind...). Then you add in whatever fruit is fresh and on hand (often peaches for me) and serve it over ice. I've dubbed the drink El Veraniego, which translates roughly to something like "the summery one".

A note on the wine: as you might have gathered from what I said earlier, I don't believe in using crap wine to make sangria. Boring wine, sure. Bad wine, no. The things you add in might mask some off flavors, but using bad wine will still make an inferior drink. Conversely, any subtleties of a good white will be lost, so don't bother using anything too nice. Dry and unremarkable is ideal. 

El Veraniego 

1 750ml bottle of decent dry white wine
10 oz. (1 1/4 cup) ginger ale
4 tbsp. (1/4 cup) rum
2 tbsp. (or more, depending on your wine) fresh lime juice
Fresh fruit, cut up
A few crushed mint leaves (optional)

Combine all ingredients. Let sit all together in the fridge for an hour or two.
Serve over ice.

Watch out!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer cookin' : quick fresh tomato sauce

Sorry for the interruption in the posts for a while there folks, but traveling got in the way... I'm back now (though Lindsey is off in Switzerland), so you can expect semi-regular posts.

Now that it's July, I am happily drowning in the summer goodness of tomatoes. They're coming in all colors: red, obviously, but also gold, purple, and even black. We are getting a serious bumper crop in the garden this year, and I'm loving it.

It is hot here in Carolina in the summer. So when you haul in plump, fresh tomatoes from the yard, you have the twin objectives of 1. preserving the deliciousness of the fruit, and 2. not killing yourself by standing over a hot stove for any length of time. Luckily, these two goals come together beautifully in the quick tomato sauce. How delicious the quick tomato sauce can be - when made right (which is not very difficult) and with peak fruit - cannot be overstated.
Really it should be called a tomato-olive oil sauce, since the oil is almost as important here as the tomatoes. It is the key to the luscious mouthfeel of the sauce, to the almost silky texture you get as the tomatoes break down.

As for the tomatoes, you can use almost any kind, but I think what works best here are meatier ones. We've been growing German Johnsons this year, and I find these work exceptionally well.

So there are really just 
three key things to remember here:

1. Don't overcook (not hard when it's really hot)
2. Use only really fresh, really ripe tomatoes. Your sauce will only be as good as your tomatoes are.
3. Don't be shy with the olive oil.

Now you can strip this recipe down even further if you want - really, the bare bones are simply oil, salt, and tomatoes - but this is how I like to do it, with copious amount of garlic.

Pasta with Quick Fresh Tomato Sauce

Heat water for pasta in a pot.

Chop up a head of garlic (seriously) and heat about 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet on medium-heat. Add garlic, and cook until it just starts to turn golden.

Add a splash of white white wine, let it cook off for a minute, then add 1.5-2 lbs. roughly chopped tomatoes. Salt, and crank the heat up to medium so it gets bubbling vigorously.

Meanwhile, add a pound of pasta to your boiling water (I recommend penne). Your tomatoes should cook for about as long as your pasta: 10 mins.

Drain the pasta just a little before it is done. Return to pot, add with tomato sauce, and put on low heat, stirring to mix everything together. Cook for 3 minutes.

Finish with a little parmesan, and consume with a bottle of chilled white wine.