Category Archives: Italian

Quick and Easy Meal: stovetop lasagna

Bowtie lasagna

Another Quick and Easy Meal for new mothers/beginning cooks/harried-people-with-no-time-but-desire-for-a-hot-meal…

This meal made my husband’s eyes light up (we were in dire need of a home cooked meal). It makes both my meat-lover husband and pasta-carb-loving me, satisfied; my husband is not the kind of man who takes seconds of pasta dishes, but I caught him going for seconds, immediately. And then eating the leftovers the next day. We made this TWICE in the same week, it’s that simple and filling.

It takes about 15 minutes to cook–and even if you don’t time everything perfectly, the prep (what prep? there’s pretty much zero prep) and cook time is definitely under 30 minutes. There is no chopping involved, and minimal sautéing (aka exposure to spluttering oil). Again, I was able to cook this meal in its entirety with my 5 month old in a sling. Yes, even the past-draining part, because what I did was scoop out the pasta into a big bowl, drained the pot, and then scooped the pasta back into the pot. You could also set the baby down for about a minute while doing this step. And if you’re using a big-enough skillet/frying pan for the meat, you can just scoop the pasta into the pan holding the meat. This isn’t baking, so you can fudge quite a bit.

I think you could dress this up as you please–add some chopped black olives or a dash of red chili peppers or parmesan or whatever else you like in your pasta or lasagna. Make it your own!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 box (16 oz) bowtie farfalle pasta (or rigatoni)
  • 1 jar (3 cups) spaghetti sauce or marinara sauce
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 Tbsp basil
  • 2/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

MATERIALS:

  • 1 skillet/frying pan
  • 1 dutch oven/chef’s pan
  • optional: colander
  • wooden spoon for stirring

DIRECTIONS:
Salt and boil water in a dutch oven (enough to cook a box of pasta). When water comes to a boil, add pasta (farfalle takes about 11 minutes to cook).

Heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan. Add ground beef. Add a dash of salt (about 1-2 tsp) in the beef. Cook until meat is browned. Set aside unti noodles are cooked through.

When noodles are cooked, drain water (either with a lid on the pot and tipping the pot to drain–or drain in a colander and then put the pasta back into the pot–or scoop it out with something like a Chinese spider utensil, drain the pot, and then scoop the pasta back into the pot).

Start adding things to the pot of cooked pasta:
Add the ground beef.
Add garlic powder, basil, and oregano.
Add spaghetti sauce.
Add sour cream.
Add cheese.

On low heat, mix up all the items, until the cheese is melted.

DONE. This makes a healthy amount of pasta–so you’ll have enough for leftovers and meals the next day (always a good thing for new mothers).

Perilla Pesto

Kkaennip Pesto (aka Korean Perilla pesto)

I have a ton of Korean perilla in my vegetable garden. A downright surplus.

Korean perilla is one of the plants that the gopher did not touch, and with each passing week, the patch of perilla plants has loomed taller, leafed green, and cast its peculiar minty scent. Delighted with their initial growth, I’d refused to thin them early in their germination…and then, when they grew taller, I found it wasteful (there’s even a particular Korean word for this–“ahk goh wah”) to thin them further. And so, in the last few months, they have grown, a clump of crowded forest in the gopher-ravaged garden.

And thus, the surplus of Korean perilla leaves (or “ggaenip or kkaenip”).

Perilla Leaves

What to do with all of the leaves? If you’re Korean or Korean American, you’ll recognize these leaves–they’re used to wrap rice, and pickled/marinated as a side dish (ban chan), a common ingredient in Korean cooking. But it’s not like I have a family of fifteen to feed–and I just could not keep up with the plants’ production.

No matter how much I picked more leaves would sprout from the dense Perilla Forest. I used them to wrap around rice and bulgogi in a “ssam,” and I investigated ways to marinate and pickle them. My favorite method of cooking perilla leaves was tempura frying, by far.

Tempura frying them is a delicious idea, one that results in crispy, almost translucent leaves that remind me of stained glass windows, the green between the veins of the leaves were so clear and beautiful. Oh, and the crunch! Oh, and the taste. They taste marvelous, just the right balance between the minty/licorice flavor of the leaves and the savory tempura coating.

tempura perilla leaves

But tempura frying then and marinating/pickling them can only get you so far. For one, frying is not something to do in volume.

So, what to do? What to do with these beautiful, heart shaped leaves? Their edges are serrated and look as if they were cut out of craft paper with one of those special craft scissors with the peculiar serration.

Korean perilla is similar to Japanese shiso, but from what I’ve read, are not the same thing, despite their similar appearance. My experience is that Korean perilla is much more pungent, while Japanese shiso is milder–enough so that I agree that they are not good substitutes for each other in cooking.

Observe. Aren’t they beautiful?

Korean perilla leaves

The other week, I gave a bunch of perilla leaves to a friend–and was again, at a lack for recipes. I wanted to at least provide her with suggestions on how to eat them!

But then I came across the idea of Korean Perilla pesto on Evil Jungle Prince’s flickr photostream while browsing Korean perilla pictures on flickr. Of COURSE. It made total sense–just the other day, I was explaining to a friend that they were a blend of mint and basil, and one could possibly do some fusion style cooking by substituting the perilla for basil in recipes. Duh. Pesto!

And so I forged on, using my basil pesto recipe…using olive oil, salt, roasted pine nuts, and garlic. To remarkable, tasty results. The garlic and pine nuts almost overpowered the flavor of the perilla so that it was very similar to basil pesto. But the undercurrent of perilla’s licorice/mint flavor was still there, enough to make it clear that this was something different, something new…something fusion.

I’m delighted by this fusion factor–and am now eyeing other traditional Korean ingredients to see what can be done with them. It’s a whole new world out there.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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lunch for one: pasta with tomatoes, pine nuts and basil

angel hair pasta with tomatoes, pine nuts and basil

I made myself lunch today. I thought about making a sandwich or grabbing some leftovers out of the fridge or a hunk of cheese and bread (or ahem, just eating chips and sour cream or some other crap), as I often do when I am home by myself, during lunchtime.

But–I just didn’t feel like making myself another sandwich or eating tidbits. And so I found myself wanting, meandering around the kitchen, wanting something a little more special, but feeling way too lazy to venture out for a meal (even more intimidating is eating alone in a restaurant for lunch).

Instead, I made myself a hot meal from scratch. I don’t know what made me do that–maybe it was the beautiful blue sky that made me feel a bit limitless…or the pile of overripe tomatoes in the kitchen that made me feel a bit pragmatic and want to use them…or perhaps I was just sick of leftovers and tidbits for lunch.

In any case, I eyed the ingredients on hand and decided, “I have enough ingredients to pull this off.”

I had fresh basil in my garden, tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts (a bit of excess from my pesto ingredient list), olive oil, and a box of angel hair pasta.

That’s all I really needed. That’s all you really need to make this dish and sit yourself down to a highly civilized and delicious lunch. That’s all you really need to treat yourself.

Why don’t I make meals for one more often? It’s a hassle, I know–but totally worth it!

The dish was ready within 15 minutes (including chopping and prepping). And the result? Simple, delicious, and fully reminiscent of the summer season–and a great treat for yourself. (btw, you can make this dish for quite a few more people, if you so desire).

Recipe follows after the jump…

making lunch

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Asparagus? Risotto.

asparagus

After a few months of eating out nearly every meal, I’ve turned towards homecooking again. I dreaded the return to the kitchen–it was so nice to be pampered, sit at a different table most meals, and have my meal brought to me, without a mess to clean up afterwards. But necessity drew me back to my beloved kitchen.

My love for cooking returned the instant I turned on the burner and heated up some butter, watching it bubble, filling the house with the rich and comforting smell of browned butter. I had forgotten the chemical, physical shifts of ingredients and how the process piques my curiosity and all my five senses. In this case, the smell tickled my nose, the butter’s transformation from a semi-solid cream colored square to a liquid brown, and its sizzling spatter made me feel so…alive. (No, I did not TOUCH the butter while it cooked–it would have been quite hot).

chopped asparagus

I was cooking a Spring asparagus risotto, an ode to the season, and an accompaniment to roast chicken. It was a practical choice, but it soon became one filled with fancy, at least in my own mind. It started out with chopping the asparagus–I diced the woodier stems into flat cylinders, falling into the rhythm of consistent shapes and sizes. I was soothed to no end. I left the spears intact, their characteristic heads in contrast with the chopped stems. Soon, I had a pile of asparagus that delighted me with its beauty.

Really, I thought it was beautiful.

lemon, zested

As with most dishes, I began to improvise throughout the process–I walked out into my yard and spotted the last lingering fruits on the meyer lemon tree. The deep yellow citrus fruits beckoned to me, “Take me! Pick me!” And so I did. But what would I do with them. One sniff of the fruit gave me an idea: zest the rinds for the risotto. Aha. (And I would juice them later for a nice hot lemon and honey drink).

asparagus risotto

The end result was a beautiful asparagus risotto–with shallots, parmesan and lemon zest.

My recipe follows… Continue reading

Unexpected Egg Pizza

An experiment: fried egg pizza, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

We went to Gioia’s pizza in Berkeley for a slice of pizza. There really is no better New York Style pizza in the near East Bay (or maybe the entire San Francisco Bay Area) than the crispy thin pies at Gioia’s Pizzeria in North Berkeley. They even, most days, have one pizza topping option that would satisfy the “California pizza” lovers out here (like asparagus). But my favorites are the more traditional cheese, and anchovy pizzas.

I ordered my usual slice of New York style cheese pizza and then spotted this thing waaay behind, in the back. “What is that? Is that an experiment?” It looked like a pizza slice with a fried egg on top of it. The employees smiled. “Nope, not an experiment, it’s just someone who’s crazy around here.” They pointed to the guy who was busy making pizza dough.

Then they gave me the slice. For free. (“Want to try?” they asked. I nodded, because I HAD to try–after all, I also had “cheese bibimbap” when I encountered it on a menu in Tokyo). They refused to take money for it–was that a sign? Was this pizza not worth the price? I said I’d tip them for the courtesy; they heartily accepted.

They stuck the slice in the oven to warm it up, and when it came out the egg that had been “easy over” with a yolk just a millimeter away from running out all over the pizza was considerably cooked. “It’s a little spicy,” they said; they didn’t need to say it, I could smell the spice from inches away. It smelled like salsa–the pizza’s toppings included chilis and ham and onions and tomatoes and a spicy salsa. This, I thought, would be like huevos rancheros on pizza.

It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. But it wasn’t bad.

I later got home and googled “egg pizza”–apparently, this isn’t so uncommon! On flickr itself, a search for egg pizza yielded lots of pictures of delicious looking egg pizza (better than this one I took of my slice–sorry, all I had was a cameraphone!). If you are so inclined, you can also make an egg pizza yourself–The Food Network has an egg pizza recipe in its database. Wowee.

Anyway. Consensus: It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. But it wasn’t bad. Maybe I was really hungry.

Lune with Butter and Sage

Because I’m a glutton for punishment (or perhaps just a glutton), I made the another recipe suggestion, lune with butter and sage, for this month’s ReadCookEat book club theme. The lune is basically homemade squash ravioli. The recipe initially calls for a pumpkin filling, but says that butternut or acorn squash are also acceptable. I chose to use butternut squash – the sugar pie pumpkins are not in season yet. When I looked at the recipe, I noticed that there was something missing – a recipe for the pasta itself. After some searching, I found it in the archives under the recipe for the asparagus ricotta ravioli. But I decided go with Buford’s suggestions in Heat instead.

I used three eggs and five yolks for one pound of flour (Buford says to use eight yolks, but I only had five) plus a little olive oil, instead of the four whole eggs suggested in the online recipe. It’s been a while, but I’ve made pasta at home before, and there are a few things that I’ve learned. I don’t have the ability yet to mix to eggs into the mound of flour on the countertop without compromising the integrity of the well. I can’t abide the idea of leaving a raw egg crust for any amount of time on my marble board, so I make the well in the flour while it’s in a bowl before turning it out to knead. It works out just fine.

When you knead, like kneading bread, put your back into it. It’ll save your arms. I know of friends who have rolled out their pasta by hand. I’m not that good – I just use a pasta roller. I mean, what can you expect? If it’s good enough for Mario, it’s good enough for me.

Rolling out the dough takes a bit of space. My kitchen is tiny, so I do it at the table. Also, the first time I made pasta by hand, I somehow thought that you were supposed to roll it though each of the 9 thickness settings (okay, maybe I was um, a little inebrieted). You don’t have to. Now I just roll it through the odd numbered settings. Also, make sure you guide the dough into the roller, and “catch” it as it comes out so that it won’t stretch out.

If you’re using some kind of cutout to punch out shapes, punch the dough out against a wooden board. Because the dough develops plenty of gluten from all the kneading and is rolled out quite thin, it gets pretty elastic-ky, so it can be tricky to punch out. I find that the sponginess of a wooden board is easier to work with than marble. Cutting the pasta into neat squares with a pizza wheel and a ruler instead just might save you some grief.

Per the recipe’s direction, I roasted the squash for the filling at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. It didn’t seem soft enough, so I let it roast for another 15 minutes. At this point, it seemed okay, but still not as soft as squash I’ve roasted in the past. I think that next time, I’ll roast it longer at a higher heat. I mashed it with a potato masher, and briefly considered putting it through the food processor, but decided to just let it be. I mixed with the cheese, nutmeg and balsamic, then piped it onto the cutouts. I’m not sure if I didn’t use enough filling per pasta, but I piped approximately 60 lune… the recipe says it makes 40. Previous experience has taught me that when sealing the pasta, you need to push out the air. Bubbles caught within the filling will expand when heated, which make your pasta fall apart. I was also worried that the seal wouldn’t “take”; instead of using water to seal the edges together (like when I make wontons or pot stickers), I was just pressing the pasta together. Also, because the filling was so wet, I kept having to dust the pasta with flour and turn them in order to prevent sticking. Amazingly, when I slid the pasta into the boiling water, none of them split! I’m not sure how that happened, but I was pretty happy with the results. The sauce doesn’t get any simpler – I ‘ll just add that you should be careful when adding the pasta water to the butter, itt’ll sizzle and splash something fierce! Also, be careful when grating the amaretti cookie over the pasta – it’s a lot more brittle than cheese and the whole thing will implode within your fingers if you treat it as such.

When I make pasta, I usually don’t make ravioli. Making the cutouts leaves a lot of scraps, and after all that kneading and rolling, I can’t bear to waste them (agnolotti wastes less), so I froze them all. I came home late tonight with a sack of my officemate’s homegrown heirloom tomatoes, so instead of picking up takeout, I threw it all together with some basil, parsley and parmagiano reggiano in what I have called a deconstructed pasta dish. Not pretty, but you can’t beat the ingredients.

Bucatini All’Amatriciana

In addition to the bouef bourgignon (in keeping with September’s book club themes), I also made Bucatini All’Amatriciana this week. I was already buying beef shoulder for the bourgignon from Cafe Rouge anyways, and their guanciale always intrigued me, so I bought some. I’d never thought of any use for it before, but here was the perfect excuse, for the recipe incorporated it. You can always just use pancetta (or even bacon or salt pork, I suppose), but the first time I attempt a new recipe, I like to follow it to a tee. and experiment with it whenver I try again. If you’ve never seen guanciale before, it’s a flat white hunk of fat dusted with herbs. When sliced, it’s about the width of a slice of bacon and two-thirds the length, with a pink streak of flesh running down slightly off-center. I had assumed it was the same sort of thing as lardo or prosciutto bianco, but as I learned from Heat, there are many different cuts of pork and cured pork products. Guanciale actually comes from the jowl. My butcher sliced it into whisper thin slices, while I went next door to pick up some dry bucatini from the Pasta Shop. When I got home, I tasted a slice and felt intimidated. It was very, very salty – enough so that I would hesitate before serving it on a charcuterie platter to guests. In addition, it just seemed like the recipe called for a lot of it. But since I had already purchased, I figured I might as well continue with the recipe.

I made the tomato sauce ahead of time last weekend, measuring out what I would need and saving the rest. It’s a pretty simple recipe – the only point I would add is that it still seemed pretty loose by the end of its suggested cooking time, so I let it simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes. On Wednesday, I browned the guanciale in two batches, draining the fat in between. It smelled wonderful cooking, and very different from pancetta or bacon. It was more, well, porky smelling – like chiccharones or cracklins. I did not use “half of the fat” from the cooked guanciale to saute the vegetables – there was already an awful lot of cured pork fat in this dish, I have to draw the line somewhere. Also, I was worried that the dish was going to be too salty. I wound up using whatever remained in pan after I poured off the fat. Bucatini, by the way, looks like regular spaghetti in the photo, but really, it’s about twice the diamater of spaghetti and has a small pinhole running down the center. I never boil (add enough salt to the pasta water so it tastes like seawater) my pasta until it’s done – I “finish” cooking it in whatever sauce i’m using. When I added the tomato sauce to the vegetables and guanciale, it seemed pretty dry, so when I tossed the pasta (al dente) into the sauce, I added a ladleful of pasta water.

The verdict? It came out pretty well. Zack loves spicy food and bacon, so he loved this dish. The acid from the tomato sauce really worked to balance out the salt. When you’re adding the pepper flakes to this dish, it smells and tastes like it’ll be very spicy, but as they cook, the pepper flakes mellow, and also balance out the salt. I think I’ll be making this dish again – maybe I’ll try it with pancetta next time.

Next up: The lune!