Pasta Carbonara (A Midwestern Hybrid)

I melt for this pasta.  I always have.

As a kid I grew up on heavy, roux laden Fettuccini Alfredo.  It was the rigor of the day and it was served everywhere and with everything mixed into the noodles, from shrimp to broccoli.  Unfortunately, and even though it was a childhood favorite, cream based pastas in the Midwest were bad, no, they were awful.

Fettucini Alfredo in the Midwest became a Parmesan cream with noodles.  Sometimes more soup then pasta.  The Italian heritage of the dish suddenly was nowhere to be found.  Alfredo in Italy is simply a pasta of butter and Parmesan cheese much like carbonara but without using egg yolks as an emulsifier.  When the noodles are hot out of the cooking water butter and parmesan are tossed with the pasta and melt into a beautiful, silky coat for each noodle.  Fettuccini Alfredo in its Italian form has nothing to do with buckets of cream reduced or thickened with a flour and butter roux.

In the same breath, Carbonara had its day too but it also comes with its own set of problems.  Eggs used to enrich the bacon lardon and Parmesan base often become gloppy and sometimes make the pasta more dry then wet while at other times, because to much egg is used,  the dish ends up with the noodles stuck together in a pasta pancake better cut with a knife then twirled onto a fork.   When made right carbonara can be sublime but when done wrong it can be one of the worst pastas in the world.   Making carbonara involves proper technique and quality ingredients if the finished pasta is to be anywhere close to extraordinary.

This pasta is not a carbonara but neither is it an Alfredo.  It is what I like to think of as a Midwestern hybrid.  Something we do really well here in the middle states, for better or worse, we make dishes to our liking.  For me,  I like several things about this pasta.  To begin, I like the use of ham instead of bacon.  There is no rendering of any fat and yet the typical Midwestern farm ham, piquant with its rosy cure, matches perfectly with the peas, garlic, and pasta.  While the recipe calls for cream it uses far less then one might imagine and the use of starch heavy pasta water to thicken the sauce is a perfect alternative to a classic roux or eggs.  While they might look like an unnecessary garnish,  the parsley and chives are important in flavoring the final dish and should be added in the last minutes of cooking.

©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reseerved
©Tom Hirschfeld 2016 all rights reseerved

Midwest Carbonara (Serves 4)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (55g)
1 tablespoon garlic
8 oz. ham, small dice (225g)
1/2 cup heavy cream (110g)
1/2 cup pasta water (110g)
3/4 cup frozen peas (170g)
1/2 cup sugar snap peas (110g)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon chive, minced
kosher salt
fresh ground white pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (110g)
1 pound vermicelli pasta (450g)

  1. Place a 6 quart (5.51l) pot, filled with 4 quarts (4l) of water, onto the stove. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and bring the water to a boil.
  2. While you are waiting for the water to boil heat a 14” inch (35.5cm) over medium heat. Add unsalted butter and let it melt. Add ham, stir then add garlic.
  3. When the garlic becomes fragrant but not brown add cream. Bring the cream to a boil and turn off the heat.
  4. This is about timing. The vermicelli only takes minutes to cook but if you are using a different noodle that takes longer adjust you timing.
  5. Add the vermicelli to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions.
  6. Place the cream back onto the stove top and turn the heat to medium high. Bring the cream to a boil, add peas, season with white pepper.
  7. If the cream reduces to fast add pasta water by the 1/4 cup. Use pasta water because the starch will thicken the sauce.
  8. Drain the noodles when the finish cooking. Add noodles to sauté pan, carefully toss them with the cream. Add half the cheese and carefully toss the noodles with the cream. Taste, add salt if necessary, and a few grinds of fresh ground white pepper, half the chives and parsley. Carefully toss again taking note that it will be hard to get the peas and ham to mix into the pasta. This is okay.
  9. Pay attention in order to keep the pasta from scorching on the bottom of the pan.
  10. When everything is hot, use you tongs to place the pasta onto a large platter. Top the pasta with remaining peas and ham. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese, and top with remaining chives and parsley. Serve.

 

Asian Spaghetti, Changing Seasons

Asian SpaghettiIf your weekend was anything like mine then you are comfortable having put summer to bed, tucked-in snugly with the knowledge it will sleep tight until it awakens again next year. Windows will close, doors are shut, and the nuanced smells of long simmered foods become more prevalent.

I can’t imagine a life without seasons.  Not because I like the hot and cold but because they are markers, clear delineations that it is time to get on with life, a deep breath of reflection before pushing on, no summit to conquer, no eye on a prize, just a moment to reflect on the journey.

I am back to doing what I love—cooking, my way.   This time of year I always cook Asian cuisine.  It is such a departure from what I have done all summer, cooked from the garden, be it mid-western or southern foods, or farm favorites.  Now I go to the Asian grocery and buy up bok choi, pigs liver, shiso peppers, lemon grass, and Chinese celery.  Foods that I have done without since last fall.

For a few months I will get my fill, until winter.

Asian Spaghetti (serves 4)

This is great for weeknights.  The sauce like many gets better with age and can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (you can even double the recipe and freeze half.)  Then simply make your noodles, warm the sauce, and serve.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lb. ground beef

1 medium red onion, fine dice (about 1 cup)

3 celery stalks, trimmed, fine dice (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

1 tablespoon garlic

1/2 cup Hoisin sauce

1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes with juice

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 Fresno red pepper, chopped

3 Shiso peppers, chopped

1/4 cup cilantro

rice noodles, cooked

  1. Set a 3 quart (3l) enameled cast iron pot, or any heavy bottomed pot onto the stove.  Turn the heat to medium high.  Add oil and let it become hot.
  2. Add the ground beef, break it into small pieces and let it brown.  Add red onion, celery, ginger, and garlic.  Stir, let the vegetables soften and become fragrant.
  3. Add Hoisin sauce, tomatoes, lime juice and soy.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and let the liquid reduce until it thickens, about 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  4. Place the hot noodles onto a platter, top with sauce, and sprinkle the peppers and cilantro over the top.  Serve with a nice stir fried vegetable like bok choi in oyster sauce.

The Unctuous Possibilities of Pan Juices

Spaghetti with Chicken, Black Olives, Lemon and Au JusWe all know gravy or pan sauce in large quantities might be good for our soul but it isn’t so good for our heart health. After all we are doing nothing more then adding flour or cornstarch to the fat in the bottom of a roasting or sauté pan to thicken it and adding back some stock, wine, or cream for volume. So we have deemed it less healthy which to me means it is an occasional treat and as such we reserve serving gravy for holiday feasts or occasional celebrations, and rightly so.

So why then when I look into the chicken-less roasting pan that held tonights dinner only a short time ago and I see those beautiful glistening juices that are on the edge of coagulating do I feel like I am throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t get me wrong I am no health nut. In fact I have this beautiful physique that could make me the poster child for a Bittman campaign on obesity. I am sure it goes back to my waste not want not way of thinking. Nevertheless all this made me think. pan jelly

When I make my own stock I always cool it down, put it in the fridge and then the next day I lift the disc of fat off the top. I know the stock is pretty fat free, although I haven’t calculated it and I have know idea how to do so, but it has to be pretty lean and I also know it has very little salt because I didn’t add any. So looking at it in this light I started refrigerating the roasting pan and the next day I remove all the fat cap and what is left is the reduced intensely rich jelly. I use a rubber spatula and scrap all the jelly up and into a small Ball jar. I have already made a plan for its use, did so before I even roasted the pork, beef or chicken, so I know when I store it in the fridge it will be used up in a day or two. I could freeze it but I don’t like to collect things like this and my motto is use it or loose it.

The jelly is infinitely better then bouillon cubes or stock base and can be used in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I like the jelly to have lots of debris(meat bits and spices) and other times I don’t but it is easy to heat and strain, if you need too, just before you want to use it. While you don’t have too I often try to keep in mind the flavors of what I roasted with the flavors of what I am going to make with the pan juices just to make sure they coincide.

Pan juice possibilities:

  • Of course it is always good to use the pan juices in soups.  Added to the broth it can give a flat soup the kick it needs.
  • Pasta or noodles of all kinds.
  • For chicken pan juices:  Make a simple fresh lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette with salt and lots of fresh ground pepper, take a couple big hand fulls of baby Bibb lettuces  and toss it with the dressing.  Just before serving heat the pan juices and drizzle over the salad for a “healthier” wilted salad.
  • For beef:  You could make Grits and debris.  Make a bowl of grits, pour on the warm pan juices and top with a fried egg.
  • For pork:  Ramen noodles.

Pasta with Chicken, Black Olives and Lemon

(serves 4)

12 or 16 ounce box of spaghetti noodles

extra virgin olive oil

half a can of black olives, drained

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat

4 cloves of garlic, trimmed, peeled and slivered

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup chicken stock

2 to 3 tablespoons pan juices

1 tablespoon parsley, minced

parmesan cheese

1. Place a large pot filled with 4 quarts of salted water over high heat.

2. While you are waiting for the water to come to a boil place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add a good glug or two of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the garlic and let it gently cook until it just begins to turn golden, be careful because browned garlic can be very bitter.  Add the white wine and let the alcohol burn off.  Now add the lemon juice, stock and pan juices.  Bring them to a boil and season with salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Reduce the heat and let the liquid reduce.

3. When the water is at a roiling boil add the spaghetti.  Cook according to the directions on the box, I am guessing 10 minutes or so.  Once the pasta is just tender remove a cup of pasta water and reserve it, drain the pasta and immediately add it to the pan along with the chicken, olives and lemon zest.  Season the pasta with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Taste and make the necessary adjustments.  If it is to dry add a little bit of pasta water.  This is the kind of pasta that should have a broth.  Toss to combine and once the chicken is hot add the parsley toss again and serve with lots of parmesan.

Thai Pesto with Brown Rice Noodles

Thai Pest with Brown Rice Noodles

This dish has a history that is connected to two other dishes. The two dishes were last summer favorites and they were a pesto recipe from Saveur magazine, Trofie al Pesto, that called for green beans and potatoes. It is, and still is, by far my favorite Italian pesto dish. The second dish comes from Momofuku, a favorite cookbook, and it is a recipe called Scallion Noodles.

What both dishes do is chop or process the pesto ingredients fine enough that when tossed with hot noodles they cook. One of the things I don’t like about most pesto dishes is the raw garlic taste that you carry with you the rest of the meal and maybe even the rest of the day. These two recipes have solved that problem.

The pesto created here carries on with the finely chopped tradition but is also packed with a little more unami by its use of the traditional Thai flavors of fish sauce and lime.

If you want to round out this meal a steamer tray full of potstickers and a Thai style salad would definitely do the trick. Continue reading “Thai Pesto with Brown Rice Noodles”

Tuna with White Beans and Spaghetti

White beans and tuna have always been combined in salads and pasta and have long been purveyor’s of pantry dinners in Italy. I have taken up the habit of pantry pasta myself and while I don’t keep many canned goods I do keep tomato sauce, tuna in olive oil, dried beans and pasta on hand.

The cheese rind is imperative here. It is to the broth what bones are to stock. Besides you know it makes you mad to have to pay for this usually unusable part. So here is your opportunity. I Always try to have at least one cheese rind on hand and just store it in the fridge amongst the other cheeses.

This is not a skillet pasta but a long simmering sauce because it takes some time to build the flavors in the beans. As with all beans everyone has their own method to their bean madness. I have tried many and the one I use yields a tender beans with tooth. That is not to say it is crunchy or undercooked but what it means is it holds its shape while being tenders. I want to know I am eating a bean when I bite into one.

I also don’t make home made pasta for this dish because this is one time were store bought spaghetti noodles are the right choice.

I served this with a green side vegetable and after the pasta served a salad, as the Italians would.

Serves 6 to 8

2 heads of garlic, the top 1/4 inch of which has been sliced off

1/2 pound white beans

4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and trimmed

10 sun dried tomatoes (dried, not in olive oil)

water

1/2 cup yellow onion, small dice

1/4 cup carrot, small dice

1/4 cup celery, small dice

1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed, ground

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup strained tomatoes or tomato sauce

1 each 2 x 2 inch parmesan cheese rind

olive oil

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/3 cup bread crumbs, toasted in olive oil then seasoned with salt and pepper then mixed

with 1 tablespoon of minced parsley

12 oz. tuna in olive oil

1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to the instructions on the box

  1. Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Place the heads of garlic in a small ovenproof dish and drizzle each with olive oil then season them with salt and pepper.
  2. Cover the dish with foil and bake the garlic for 1 hour. At the end of the hour make sure they have taken on alight tobacco color and are tender. Cook them another 15 minutes if you need to. Once they are done remove them from the oven and set them aside.
  3. Place the beans, garlic cloves and the sun dried tomatoes into a sauce pan and cover by at least 2 inches of water. Place the pan over high heat and bring it to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes. Cover and remove the pan from the heat and let it sit covered for two hours or longer.
  4. At the end of two hours drain the beans. Rinse out the pot. Remove the sun dried tomatoes and chop them. Place the pot over medium heat and add a good 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When it is hot add the onion, carrots and celery and let them saute until they begin to become tender. Add the fennel, bay leaves and red pepper and saute until fragrant. Add the beans, sun dried tomatoes and garlic back into the pot. Cover the beans with water by 1 inch. Add the tomato sauce and cheese rind.
  5. Bring the pot to a boil then reduce the heat so the liquid is at a lazy bubble. Season them with pepper. Stir occasionally to keep anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  6. Near the end of the cooking season the beans with salt to taste and take the roasted garlic and squeeze out the garlic paste then add the paste to the beans. Stir it all in and taste. Adjust the seasoning.
  7. When the beans are tender cook the pasta. Once the pasta is done drain it and immediately toss the pasta with some of the oil from the tuna. Toss the beans and pasta together.
  8. Put the pasta into a serving bowl, top with tuna crumbles and then the bread crumbs. Serve immediately.

Duck Sugo on Noodles

These kinds of dishes are always a personal favorite for two reasons.  It is very kid friendly but it is mature enough for adults.   I mean how can that be wrong?

Sugo basically means “gravy”.  I have always been a big fan of ragu too.   The difference between the two is sugo uses a good dose of tomato sauce while ragu traditionally uses red wine, stock and a small amount of tomato if any at all.

If duck isn’t your thing and lamb is make a lamb sugo, or beef, pork and even rabbit sugo.  The meat used is really up to the cook so be creative.  You could add all kinds of things to this but realize the simple recipe posted below is very satisfying.

Serves 4 to 6

oil

1 pound duck meat, trimmed of skin and fat, cut into small cubes, a chunk of fat reserved

1 cup yellow onion, peeled, trimmed and small dice

1/2 cup carrot, peeled, small dice

1/2 cup celery, small dice

1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

1/3 cup tomato paste

2 cups Pomi brand strained tomatoes

1 1/2 cup vegetable broth

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 pound of long noodles such as spaghetti, I used spaghetti made with corn flour

1. Place the duck fat into then add enough oil to barely coat the bottom of a 3 quart enameled Dutch oven.  Place the pot over medium heat.

2. Let the duck fat render.  Once it is spent remove the duck skin and add the onions, carrots, and celery.  Season the vegetables with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Sweat the vegetables until they are tender.

3. Add the garlic.  Once the garlic is fragrant add the tomato paste.  Stir the tomato paste around and let it caramelize a little.

4. Add the bay leaf, rosemary, tomato sauce, broth and meat.  Bring the sauce to a boil, season it with salt and pepper, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for at least an hour, the sauce has reduced and thickened and the duck is tender.  Let it simmer longer if you have used a tough cut of meat.

5.  Somewhere very close to the end of the sugo cooking time,  cook the noodles in lots of heavily salted water according to the time and directions on the box.  When the noodles are tender, drain them.

6. Plate the noodles,  sauce and serve.

Chicken, Basil, and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

Chicken and Basil Sausage with Cavatelli

The sausages used in this dish come from the book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn and is a book I highly recommend if you want to make sausage and any charcuterie in general.  Pictured at left are trays of home made ricotta cavatelli.  The essay The Great One that generated this recipe can be found and read at foodquarterly.

.

Serves 6

Chicken Basil and Tomato Sausage with Cavatelli

6 sausages, Italian sausages would be great too

olive oil

3 onions, peeled, halved and julienned

9 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped, about a 1/2 cup

36 ounces strained tomatoes or sauce

1 tablespoon double concentrated tomato paste

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1/4 cup cream

a handful of fresh basil

1 1/2 lbs of fresh cavatelli or dried gemelli pasta

lots of grating cheese of your choice, parmesan, romano etc.

1. Place a 4 quart pot over medium high heat and add good glugs of olive oil, a little more than just coating the bottom of the pan. When it is hot add the sausage and sear it until is is deeply browned but take care not to over heat it and split the sausage casings. Remove the sausage to a platter.

2. Add the onions to the pot, season them with salt and pepper, and let them cook until they become tender then add the garlic. Cook the garlic until it becomes fragrant and then add the tomato sauce.

3. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer. You will want to stir it occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. You want the sauce to reduce slowly and the sugars in the tomatoes to break out and concentrate. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and taste. Let the sauce simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. What I call mato gum will form on the sides of the pan and the sauce will be thick. Add the cream to the sauce, stir and raise the heat a little to get the sauce good and hot. Be careful with the sauce though it will burn easily at this point because of the concentrated sugars. You can either add the sausage back to the sauce or you can finish cooking them in a 400 degree oven.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions. When it is done, strain it and put it into a large bowl and toss it with the tomato sauce. Plate it, dress it with the basil, sausages, cheese and serve.