Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grilled leeks with basil vinaigrette and grilled Mint Creek Farms ham steak

Here's another meal from the farmer's market. This is a fairly simple dish, so it was a good week night meal. For the leeks, just cut off the dark green parts, cut a slit, lengthwise, down the leeks, leaving a half inch intact near the base, and rinse the leeks. Braise in water with some bay leaves and peppercorns for about 15 minutes to soften them up. Remove the leeks, finish cutting them in half, and then grill for a few minutes on each side until they are slightly charred. Top the leeks with any vinaigrette and let sit for a few minutes to soak in the flavors. I made a vinaigrette from red wine vinegar, olive oil, basil, garlic, and mustard. While the leeks are marinating in the vinaigrette, grill the ham steaks for a couple minutes on each side. Since the ham is already smoked and cured, you only need to grill it long enough to warm them up and add grill marks. As with most other pork dishes I make, I finished them off with some fennel pollen.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My "Go-To" Pasta Dish

I probably make orechiette with rapini and sausage more than any other pasta dish. This is an easy dish to make, which may be why I turn to it so frequently, but it also has a really nice balance of flavors. Another nice thing about this dish is that you can leave the meat out without losing too much flavor, making it a nice option for vegetarians.

You can make this dish with regular supermarket brocolli, and it is quite good, but I prefer the more bitter rapini, or broccoli raab. This is a classic dish that appears on numerous restaurant menus and on this blog here and here. Because I make this dish so frequently, I have had the chance to tweak the recipe several times. The main difference between this dish and the last version that I posted is the addition of oven roasted tomatoes. In my opinion, the "brightness" and acidity of the tomatoes is a welcome addition to this dish. I've made this iteration of the dish three or four times and am pretty pleased with it, so I thought I should include a step-by-step on how to make it.

First, we'll start with the necessary ingredients. This recipe makes two large servings or four to five servings if it is served as the pasta course for a multi-course meal. If you gather and prep your ingredients ahead of time, assembly is a snap.
You will need 2 cups of dried orechiette, 1/4 cup walnuts (toasted), 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, 3 cloves of roughly chopped garlic, 2-3 oven roast Roman tomatoes, 1/2-3/4 bunch of rapini, 1 Italian sausage, 1-2 anchovy fillets, olive oil, and red wine or balsamic vinegar. You may also add 1/2 to 1 tsp of red pepper flakes if you want to add a little heat.

Start by bringing a pot of water to a rapid boil. Salt the water and blanche the rapini for a little over a minute.
Remove the rapini and rinse under cold water. Set the rapini aside and let it drain in a collander. Bring the water back to a boil and add the pasta (you can add a little oil to the water to reduce foaming in the pasta water). The pasta will be done in about 10 minutes, and you can use this time to finish the other ingredients. First, remove the sausage from the casing and break apart into small chunks.
Cook the sausage with 1 Tbsp of olive oil for 2 to 4 minutes over medium high heat. When the sausage has browned, drain on a paper towel, leaving the oil in the pan. Add the garlic, anchovy, and red pepper flakes to the pan and cook over medium until the garlic just begins to change color.
Once the garlic begins to turn golden brown, add the rapini and the oven roasted tomatoes. Before adding these ingredients, cut the rapini into 1 inch length, and cut the oven roasted tomato halves (you will have 4 to 6 of these halves) into quarters. (To make oven roasted tomatoes, just cut the roma tomatoes in half, length wise, toss with olive oil and salt, and roast in a 200F oven for about 8 hours).
Toss everything together and let the mixture cook for another couple minutes.
Next, you will need to add the walnuts. Make sure to toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan, toaster oven, or oven before using them. This brings out the flavor a bit. If you don't toast the walnuts, they can have a sort of stale flavor to them, so this step is key. Roughly chop the walnuts and then toss them in with everything else.

When the pasta is al dente, add it to the pan with all of the other ingredients along with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the cooking water.
Toss everything together, then add the parmesan cheese, 1 Tbsp vinegar, and season with a pinch of freshly cracked black pepper.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Roasted chicken, carrots, spring onions, and blue potatoes

A lot of times, you hear cooks say a key to good cooking is to buy good ingredients, and try your best not to mess them up. This was one of those dinners. The farmers markets here in Chicago are in full swing, and just about everything I used in this dish except for the olive oil, butter, and lemons, came from either the local farmers market or the community garden. What I love about the farmers market is that when you buy something like a carrot, you have a huge variety to choose from. The same goes for just about every other vegetable or fruit, including the onions and potatoes I used in this dish. While roasted chicken and root vegetables are typically thought of as a fall or winter dish, the way I look at it, anything I get at the farmer's market is, by definition, seasonal cooking, and it tasted just as good on a warm summer evening as it would on a cold winter night.

Here's the recipe. It could not be more simple.

Brine the chicken (look up your favorite brine recipe online).
Remove from brine, pat dry, and let come to room temperature.
Season with salt and pepper, put a lemon wedge, herbs, and some smashed garlic cloves in the cavity.
Truss the chicken.
Toss the vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
In a 12 inch skillet, arrange the vegetables and place the chicken on top. Add a few lemon wedges to the skillet.
Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the chicken or place a couple pieces of butter on top of the chicken.
Roast in a 450 to 475F oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 400F and continue to roast until the chicken breast is 160F.
Remove the chicken and let it rest on the cutting board for at least 15 minutes.
In the meantime, toss the vegetables in the pan to glaze them, and add any herbs. I used a bit of dill, chives, garlic scapes, and parsley.