Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Arugula, Prosciutto and Black Garlic Pizza

I have many favorite restaurants. I'd be hard-pressed to choose if you asked me to pick just one, but more often than not, if I'm eating out (and if I can afford it) I can be found at my favorite Oakland spot, Pizzaiolo. There has never been a single item on the menu that I have not basically drooled over. I look at everything and think, WANT! So difficult to choose! It is a Sophie's Choice of menu's. From the appetizers, to the salads to the second course, the pizzas and desserts....and did I mention the cocktails? The impeccable wine list? The comfortable yet stunning atmosphere, and the fantastic Heath dishware? Oh! And the outdoor patio where they show movies during the summer, and the bocce ball court! Oh my.

What to do when you can't afford a dinner out at Pizzaiolo? You try your best to recreate your favorite at home (without the aid of the brick oven). My favorite? The Arugula and Speck pizza. Blistered and steaming, right out of the oven. Mmmmm....it's to die for.

I trotted home from Trader Joe's armed with a few choice ingredients. Arugula, Proscuitto (couldn't find speck, but it's basically a thinly sliced ham) pizza dough, some gorgeous Dirty Girl dry farmed tomatoes, fresh mozzerella and a red onion. Also, it was the perfect chance to use the black garlic Beth had sent me as a gift. Black garlic can be used just like regular garlic. I simply thinly sliced it and made it one of the toppings.

I rolled the pizza dough (too lazy to make it myself, thanks TJ's!) out with a tiny bit of flour, let it rest for a bit. Rolled it flat and spread some olive oil, herbs and garlic on top. I cooked it at 450 for about 10 minutes, and then took it out to add some toppings. 10 minutes more in the oven and it was set. I took it out, topped it with arugula and devoured it. Almost as good as Pizzaiolo....well, ok, not quite. But as close as it's going to come in my little studio.

Arugula, Prosciutto and Black Garlic Pizza

1 bag Trader Joe's Pizza Dough (or be ambitious and make your own!)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 tsp dry basil
1/4 tsp dry oregano
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
Kosher Salt

2 cloves black garlic, thinly sliced
2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced
fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced into rounds
2 cups arugula for topping

Preheat the oven to 450. Remove the pizza dough and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll out with a bit of flour. Spread the olive oil, herbs, garlic, salt and red onion on top of the pizza dough. Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and top with black garlic, tomatoes, mozzarella and prosciutto. Put back into the oven for 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is just beginning to brown.

Once the pizza is done, finish by topping with the arugula.

Pizza topping preference depends on the person, so add or delete according to taste. This is a particularly good combo though...especially with the black garlic, so unexpected!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Make. This. Now. - Plum Crumble

I want to sit quietly in a corner devouring this dessert as fast as I possibly can. The only reason to bring the fork out of my mouth is to scoop up another bite. I don't know how I'll be able to share! This is beyond delicious. If this is what fall portends, I say bring it on. I'm already dreaming up other fruit combinations for this dessert. I'll never stray from the topping though, it's pretty much perfect. I weep with the perfection of this plum crumble.

I love plum desserts. The second I saw this recipe on Orangette I knew I'd be bringing one of these out of the oven soon. I biked down to my farmer's market this morning (I got a bike!) and hightailed it over to the fruit stands, where there were some perfectly beautiful Black Kat plums and some other Italian varietals. I chose a combination and peddled home as fast as I could.

I adapted this only slightly. Molly's original recipe calls for crystallized ginger, of which I am not a huge fan. But I'd used cardamom in several desserts earlier this summer (in this cardamom peach pie and in these plum puffs) and thought that would be a perfect substitute. Lo and behold, it was. In the absence of a glass baking dish, I used a square cake pan. I cooked it about 10 minutes longer than the recipe calls for, but you should check yours often to be sure it doesn't overcook. Finally, I only used about 10 large plums (the original calls for 12-14). I was using a smaller dish, but when it comes to plums, I say the more the merrier.

Plum Crumble
adapted from Orangette

For the plums:
2 Tbsp. lightly packed brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cardamom
10-15 plums, halved and pitted (depending on how large your baking dish is and how big the plums are, best to eyeball it)

For the topping:
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 egg, beaten well
7 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375, with a rack in the middle of the oven.

In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. Add the plums, and gently combine. Arrange the plums skin side up in an ungreased deep 9-inch pie plate, cake pan or a large glass dish if you have more plums.

In a second bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the topping the sugar through the salt. Whisk to blend well and then add the egg. Combine by using your hands, mixing thoroughly and squeezing and pinching the dough together until it creates a shaggy mess.

Spoon the butter evenly over the topping, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is browned and the plums yield easily when pricked with toothpick. Cool.

Molly suggest serving this with creme fraiche or yogurt, I also think it would be fantastic with vanilla ice cream or some homemade whipped cream. But be warned! You might not want to share!

Yield: about 6 servings

Note: To reheat leftovers, it’s best to do it slowly, in an oven set to 300 degrees.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Too Much Zucchini - Cherry Chocolate Zucchini Bread

See those? Those are some VERY large zucchini. Kindly gifted to me by my friend Lesley, from her garden in Roseville. The picture doesn't really do them justice. They're huge, they weigh a ton and I had no idea what to do with them. A challenge! Actually several challenges due to the size.

To be honest, I never really know what to do with zucchini. Sometimes I peel them into ribbons and use them in place of pasta, and of course they're great in lasagna or on the grill, but beyond that, I'm a bit stumped. Except for the obvious of course. Zucchini Bread, made even more delicious by the addition of cherries and chocolate. A nice twist on a classic. I originally planned on making two loaves, but one of my loaf pans seems to have escaped. I split the batter into one loaf pan and 1 muffin pan, thereby giving me 1 loaf and 12 cupcakes (ok-they're basically muffins, but we already know I don't care for those, so therefore, cupcakes).

And dang! Did it feel good to be cooking again! Especially baking. Taking some time off definitely recharge the batteries. It doesn't hurt that my apartment now smells divine! If you have some zucchini lying around, this one's a keeper. Now. I have two giant zucchini left. Anyone have a recipe for me?

A note about the recipe. I found several recipes that called for 1 cup of oil. I used 1/2 cup and substituted 1/2 cup of plain yogurt in the interest of making the recipe healthier. I couldn't be more please with the results. They're light and moist (but not too moist) and they're absolutely delicious. You could even use whole wheat flour instead of white to make it even more health conscious. Just a thought.

Cherry Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Makes 2 loaves or approximately 24 muffins

3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (any other nut will do)
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 and grease and flour two loaf pans, or two muffin pans. I used one of each.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Mix in oil, yogurt and sugar, zucchini and vanilla.

Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cherries and chocolate.

Stir this into the egg mixture. Divide the batter into prepared pans.

Bake loaves for 60 minutes, plus or minus ten, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Muffins will bake more quickly, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Making it Stretch - Curried Coconut Shrimp Rice Bowl

I've been trying desperately to make summer stretch: an easy thing to do as we drove through Redding yesterday and glanced at the temperature which read 114 degrees. Wow. I used to live there! How does anyone survive that kind of heat? I seem to remember spending as much time as possible submerged in water. From Ashland through Redding down to Williams and all the way to Vacaville, there was no escaping the heat. Not until we reached the Bay Area of course, where the fog lay thick and cold. We unloaded our bags and headed down to my local bar, The Graduate, for a beer, just to milk the last few minutes of vacation. Today it was back to work, and back to cooking.

I haven't been in the kitchen for awhile. For such a tiny little town, Ashland seems to have no end to great places to eat, and we were happy to be spoiled for awhile. On Sunday we rented bikes in town, rode out to the winery and sipped on the porch overlooking the valley, we then rode back across town and up into Lithia Park. That evening after sushi we saw a show at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and then sat on the porch watching the stars.

It wasn't all relaxation however. A huge fire South of of Ashland had the whole town on edge. It had started right behind the winery we visited and quickly grew to 100 acres. Luckily it was quickly contained and did little damage, but the town was filled with thick smoke that turned the light orange. It was definitely unsettling. We were relieved to find the winery still standing on our way out of town. The fire department had set up an impressive headquarters in their parking lot.

Returning home brought the familiar challenges of catching up on work, emails and calls and opening an empty fridge. Luckily, this is an easy dinner to throw together with just a quick stop at the store and a few pantry staples. It's actually one of my favorites...such great flavors. Don't skip the mango or the coconut milk in the rice! Delicious!

Curried Coconut Shrimp Rice Bowl

For the Rice Bowl
1 1/4 cup jasmine rice
2/3 cup light coconut milk
2 cups water
3/4 cup shredded carrot
2 cups mango, diced
1 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup green onions
1 tbsp cilantro
1 tbsp parsley
1/2 tsp salt

For the Shrimp
1 1/2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp soy sauce
4 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp ground cumin
cooking spray

Cook rice using coconut milk and water. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients from the shrimp through the cumin in a large bowl. Toss to coat. Set in the fridge to chill. Toss the rice with the bell pepper, mango and onions. Set aside. Heat a grill pan or cast iron skillet over high heat, having oiled the pan with a bit of cooking spray or a tiny bit of olive oil. Grill the shrimp 3 minutes on each side or until done. Toss with the rice and veggies, serve.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Much Needed Vacation

Well hello there.

Have you given up on me? Assume I'm out of recipes and no longer cook? I can assure you, that's not the case. I just slipped out for a little vacation. Up to Ashland, Oregon for some wine tasting, bike riding, theatre and fantastic food. That sleepy little town was anything but boring, let me tell you. We had quite a scare due to a large fire in the South part of town while we were there. It came about 20 yards from the winery I worked at in college, the one we tasted at after a long bike ride. Luckily it was contained pretty quickly, it definitely had the whole town worked up.

Some highlights:

Wine from Weisinger's Winery
The Petit Sirloin Steak at Omar's (best steak ever!)
Sushi at Kobe Sushi
Breakfasts at Morninglory, Dragonfly and the Breadboard
a quick sandwich from Allison's of Ashland
a couple pints from the Beau Club and Standing Stone Brewery

I think we covered the town pretty well! It was a much needed vacation and I'll be back tomorrow with more details and a recipe, stand by!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Braised Cabbage

1 am on Saturday morning and I awoke to a CRACK! At first I had no idea what it was, I waited...a minute later it came again, a crack followed by a low rolling rumble. It hit me, thunder! You're probably wondering what's so interesting about this. Well, thunderstorms are an extremely rare occurrence in the Bay Area. The last time I can remember a thunder and lightning storm here was in 2005. I lay awake, just listening, the sounds reminding me of late summers as a kid, sitting in a chair at our huge kitchen window, watching lightning strikes over Mt. Lassen at night, counting the seconds till the huge clap of thunder followed, gasping in delight as the sky rumbled and listening to the storm get closer and closer, the sky streaked with purple and white light.

They said the Saturday storm was supposed to be dry, but it wasn't. The tap of the rain came soon after the thunder began. The smell was delicious. We'd had plans to go hiking that morning. Even though it was gray and damp, we decided to head out to Mt. Tam anyway for a hike to Cataract Falls. It turned out to be sunny and beautiful on the Mountain, though the evidence of rain was apparent. The hike was strenuous. Uphill the entire way, and the steep sets of stairs just keep coming, but once we got there it was beautiful. We had almost the entire trail to ourselves. Hawks, lizards, woodpeckers...we even spotted a crayfish in one of the pools. Cataract Falls is on the North East side of Mt. Tam, just above Alpine Lake. We'd agreed it would be a healthy day, just hiking, water and trail mix. That lasted until the end of the hike, where we found ourselves at the Marin Brewing Company for a post-hike beer and a bowl of steamed clams. Well worth it.

When we got back to the East Bay, the cloud cover was still in full effect. Dinner needed a warm and comforting side. Ilsa claims this is her favorite way to eat cabbage. I have to admit, adding wine, butter and Parmesan to cabbage really does make it more attractive and tasty. Nothing wrong with that!

White Wine Braised Cabbage with Parmesan
Can easily be made vegan by subsituting olive oil in place of butter, and ommiting the Parmesan.

1 head green cabbage, cored and chopped into good size pieces
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over high heat in a wide skillet. Once hot, add the cabbage. Turn the heat down to medium and let sit for about a minute. Stir occasionally for about 5 minutes more, reducing the heat if the cabbage starts to brown. Next, add the white wine. Stir and continue to cook for about 3-5 minutes more. Add salt and pepper, remove from heat and top with Parmesan.

Ok, this one's not vegan. But it's CLOSE!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Three C's - Curried Caramelized Cauliflower

Tonight's dinner consisted of the following:

1 large bowl air popped popcorn topped with a tiny bit of lemon juice and olive oil (people say that's weird, I say they don't appreciate acidity in their food)
1 small bowl curried caramelized cauliflower
1 vodka gimlet (ok, maybe 2)

And THAT my friends, is all I had the energy for. Even my trusty air popper seems to be giving up on me. Halfway through a batch it sputters and dies, only to reignite itself five minutes later to finish the job. Poor, dear and trusted Target bought air popper, I am so devoted to you, I don't want to have to replace you! Popcorn is an almost nightly tradition, er, addiction.

Curry seems to be playing an integral part in my life these days. Whatever can that mean? Ilsa. Are you paying attention to this one? Do you recognize it? I've recreated it for you in all it's glory. Well, actually, "all it's glory" would mean adding approximately half a pound of butter to this recipe, so you could either say I've made it healthier, or ruined it. Your call.

If you really want to go nuts, add some sliced shallots to your baking sheet when you toss it in the oven. Heaven.

So with, or without the butter (or the shallots (damn you closed corner store!)). I present:

Curried Caramelized Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp curry powder
2 tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the cauliflower in a bowl with olive oil, salt and curry. Set on a rimmed baking sheet and bake of 10 minutes. At that point, stir and turn the pieces. Cook for 10 minutes more until the cauliflower is browned.

See how easy that was? Goodnight.

Wait. I just realized that if you forgo the butter, it's another vegan recipe. Wow. Again, how about that? It's like I don't even miss meat.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How About That? It's Vegan. - Morrocan Stew

A wet gray afternoon calls for breaking out the fall recipes. Even though I have a slight hunch that this cloudy episode won't last too long (Indian Summers are summer in the Bay Area) I don't mind taking at least one day to pretend fall has already arrived. That means breaking out the hearty stews, the dutch oven, and putting my saute pan to good use.

And wouldn't you know it? Turns out this recipe is vegetarian, actually, vegan without my even noticing. How about that? When something is this hearty, you don't miss the meat. A perfect accompaniment to the chill and the sound of the rain outside. I think my sister gave me a version of this recipe years ago. I found it scrawled in an old college notebook, between my astronomy notes and some Shakespearean soliloquies. Obviously my mind was elsewhere. Go figure.

I love the use of the artichoke brine as a component of the broth for this dish. It's like a flavor freebie.

Moroccan Stew

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper
1 cup green beans
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 13oz can artichoke hearts, drained and halved (reserve the brine)
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp thyme
pinch of saffron
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent. Add thyme, potatoes, green beans, bell pepper and tomatoes. Cook over medium high heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add vegetable stock and brine from the artichokes, simmer covered till the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in halved artichokes, olive and saffron. Continue to simmer gently for another 5-10 minutes. Add lemon juice, parsley and salt and pepper. Serve over couscous, quinoa or with bread.

Monday, September 14, 2009

If You Have the Time, Please Vote!

I decided to try my hand at a recipe contest on http://www.thekitchn.com/ and I would love for you to vote! Click here to vote for my Salmon in Parchment with Curried Yogurt Sauce. If I get enough votes, there'll be a shiny new Le Cruset headed my way (in beautiful Cobalt Black!) That means all the dutch oven recipes you can handle coming your way this fall and winter! Woo-hoo! Seriously though, vote! I'll "heart" you for it!

Again. You can do that here!

Salmon with Herbs in Parchment

Mentally, I feel as if my brain is going into some kind of state of hibernation. It's instinctual. It knows how challenging and full the next couple of months will be. It's storing up. Creating space for what's to come. The saying at work right now is "Head down, push forward...try not to think too much about what's to come and take it a day at a time." Don't think about several 15 hour days in a row coming up, just keep going! Yikes. What else can you do? You just have to get through it. One day at a time.

And you have to stay healthy of course, and maybe drink some EmergenC and eat a lot of fish (brain food, you know). And you try your best to talk your friends into cooking for you, or bringing home their leftovers from dinners at Chez Panisse (yes, that actually happened!). When you're not moaning happily over those leftovers, you're patting yourself on the back for finally getting around to using parchment to cook fish.

This is a very basic (not to mention healthy way) to cook fish. I don't even use any oil for this recipe. The parchment seals in the juices and fat in the fish. The meat is tender, perfectly cooked, and if the fish is high quality, you don't even need any sauce to accompany it. It's quite delicious on it's own. I like to serve alongside rice, couscous or lightly blanched vegetables. It's so easy I'm embarrassed I'd never tried it before!

Salmon with Herbs in Parchment
2 salmon fillets (I used wild king salmon)
1 tbsp basil
6 lemon slices
salt & pepper for seasoning the fish
a sprinkling of fresh parsley on top
2 sheets of 15 inch parchment

Pre-heat the oven to 400. Place each salmon fillet in the middle of your sheet of parchment. Make 3 deep cuts with your knife in each fillet. Stuff the cuts with the basil. Season the fish with salt and pepper and lay the 3 lemon slices on top of each piece. Fold the parchment paper in half, place fish on one side and fold the other side over so the edges meet. Fold, roll and press the open sides together until it creates a sealed package for the fish. Set each parchment package on a baking sheet and put into the oven for 20 minutes. Remove, cut open the parchment and top with parsley.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Revelation, If You Will - Braised Cucumbers

I was beside myself when the third course at Beast found it's way onto my table and the plate in front of me. The smell was out of this world. I consulted the menu: Fondue de Lapin a la Creme, or, Rabbit Stewed in a Light Curried Cream with Concombres Persilles, Braised Cucumbers with Parsley. There was a touch of marsala in the curry sauce, and the smell was literally driving us all a bit wild. It was a race to grab a fork and dig in.

This course was the highlight of the meal for me. Maybe just for the braised cucumbers alone.

Like every other food obsessed person in the country, I recently watched Julie & Julia. I read the book a couple years ago. I felt similarly about both. Loved the Julia parts and couldn't stand the Julie parts. There was far too little detailed cooking for me. I didn't want just the emotional turmoil, I wanted recipes, I wanted trial and error, I wanted every little detail of the cooking process. While watching the movie my ears pricked up at the mention of braised cucumbers. What a strange concept. What would that taste like? It sounded completely strange and just...well...wrong! But I was intrigued. I wanted to try it.

So there they were, on my plate at Beast. I sliced off a tiny piece, brought it to my mouth and tasted...it was love. Hot, cool, comforting and refreshing all at the same time. Not quite a pickle, but not just a cucumber. It's somewhat difficult to describe. The next night I fired up the stove and a saute pan and gave it a go. I came close. Perhaps I haven't quite hit the exact recipe, but it's close. I'll keep refining. For now, give this a try:

Braised Cucumbers
serves 2
Inspired by Beast and Julia Child

1 large cucumber, cut in half, seeds scooped out and discarded
2 tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp mint

Slice the cucumbers into half-moons. Toss in a medium bowl with vinegar, sugar and salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.

When the cucumbers are ready, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the cucumbers. Saute over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring often. Try not to let the cucumbers brown. Reduce the heat if necessary. Taste the cucumbers for consistency, they should be tender but not too soft or mushy. When done, remove and toss in a bowl with the mint. Serve while warm.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Beast - A Portland Restaurant

Sometimes vacations have a way of being less relaxing than you expect. You have to learn to expect the unexpected, as they say, but of course, no one ever does. The unexpected happens, things don't always go according to plan, and honestly, there's just not a whole heck of a lot you can do but just put your head down and press on.

If that paragraph makes my trip sound in anyway unappealing, let me assure you, it was not. I had a lovely time. I took a tour of my Sister and Brother in-law's newly purchased house where they are now the proud owners of a chicken coop that comes with exactly four chickens (eggs and all), walked the Japanese Gardens with it's streams filled with Koi Fish with Daniel, My Mom and my niece, wandered through the Pearl district and had cocktails at Ringler's Annex in the rain and, of course, ate. We ate and ate and ate. From Pok Pok to Veritable Quandary, Davis Street Bistro to Beast, we were nothing if not well fed.

I'd been looking forward to the meal at Beast for weeks. The Chef, Naomi Pomeroy, was recently named one of Food and Wine's ten best new chefs. She also happens to be a friend of my Sister's. Years ago, she made my sister's wedding cake, a chocolate and raspberry confection with candied raspberries and lavender scattered on top. It was to die for. I'd eaten at Beast when it first opened, and I was dying to go back. Beast seats around 20 at two common tables. Two seatings a night. It's a price fixe menu with six courses, and it's worth every penny. From the Soupe au Pistou to the Fondue de Lapin (delicious rabbit) the flavors were both intense and beautiful (the menu this week was a "homage to Julia Child" due to her birthday and the rather famous movie that just came out) the Braised Cucumbers with the rabbit were a revelation for me, and I couldn't wait to try them myself the next evening (mine need some work). By the time the 5th course rolled around, I was more than stuffed, but it was difficult to stop.

Beast is the kind of restaurant I dream of opening someday. It's not about choices. It's about what someone has carefully curated and crafted to set before the diner. It's about forethought and simplicity. With a pale pink backdrop and a chalkboard wall, boasting the recipe for a creme fraiche dough, it's beautiful, creative, homey and modern, all at the same time. If you're in Portland, OR. I highly recommend you make a reservation.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Guest Post by Leah - Summer Tomato Sauce

What? You think I'd give you meatballs without a recipe for sauce? No way. I leave you with a guest post from Leah. And by the way? If you have access to the Dirty Girl Dry Farmed Tomatoes she recommends, I highly suggest you pick some up right away. Just leave a few for me.

Summer Tomato Sauce - Guest Post by Leah

A few weeks ago I was visiting a friend in Brooklyn. She was living in an old Italian neighborhood – the kind where the old ladies sit in their lawn chairs on one side of the street and yell things back and forth with their men who “take meetings” on the other side.

One day, when my friend and I were walking back from a long day traipsing through the hot and muggy city, Viki, a 60+ white haired lady with a classic Brooklyn accent, yelled after us, “You gals want a tomato?"

Had I heard this dame correctly, was she offering us a tomato?

Yes, yes she was.

She pushed a tomato that looked a lot like herself: plump, bright and red. It was tangy, juicy, and deliciously cool and it came directly from her very own garden. It was summer incarnate.

Viki doesn’t eat the tomatoes herself. But her husband Mario told me that she does make a mean sauce.

When Elissa suggested making pasta with tomato sauce and lamb meatballs for dinner, it sounded perfect. I normally think of this as a cold weather meal, but it is certainly NOT cold here. In fact, it is downright hot. With some olive bread, a caesar-ish salad and a sauce made from fresh and tangy tomatoes, the delicious comfort of this dinner made everything seem a little better. Plus, I knew there would be some jug wine from Preston, and good teamwork-cooking involved. The thought alone brought me to my happy place.

I think it might have even made Viki smile.

This is a very simple tangy tomato sauce. If tomatoes aren’t in season, you can use canned tomatoes. I like to cook my pasta until just before it is al dente in salted water and then finish the last little bit of cooking right in the sauce so that the flavor really permeates.

Light and Tangy Tomato Sauce

3lbs fresh tomatoes (we used Dirty Girl Farms dry farmed tomatoes)

1 medium white onion diced

2 cloves garlic minced

1 can tomato paste

1 fresh red chili (jalapeño) cut in half with the seeds removed

1/2 cup Olive Oil

Salt to taste

½ tbsp Fresh Oregano – chopped (can use dried)

2 tbsp Fresh Basil – chopped

Peel the tomatoes by scoring an X in the bottom of each tomato. Bring a pot of water to a boil (you can save this water to boil pasta if you want) and drop each tomato into the water for about 30 seconds. Transfer the tomatoes with a slotted spoon or tongs into ice water. The peel should slide right off the fruit.

Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat in a sauce pot for 5-7 minutes or until translucent. Squeeze the peeled tomatoes into the onion and garlic mixture. Bring to a simmer. Stir in the tomato paste, and drop in the chili halves. Add chopped oregano. Salt to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

If the sauce is a little thick, you can thin it out by adding ½ -2 cups of the pasta cooking water.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

All Packed...Almost - Moroccan Lamb Meatballs

So I'm procrastinating. Just a tad. I should be packing my bag for Portland OR. It's halfway packed at least...ok, maybe 1/3 packed. Not an arduous task, by any means, it's just so HOT out! I'm dying for a cool breeze or a fan in the corner. Anything to cool down my apartment. But I'll be in cool weather soon enough, if the weather report for Portland is any indication. Rain, of course. Or as Oregonian's call it, "Oregon Sunshine."

Which means I have to get on a plane. Again. And I for one, am not a fan of flying. Luckily I'll have a seatmate to keep me company and calm my nerves. I hope he doesn't mind an iron grip on his arm during takeoff, turbulence and landing...honestly, I'm getting nervous just thinking about it.

So let's change the subject. It was hot as meatballs out, yet that's exactly what I wanted. Delicious meatballs. Lamb meatballs to be exact. My idea of comfort food. To be eaten in the backyard with friends and a cool breeze blowing through. This is only my second foray into balls of meat, and I have to say, they were delicious. I hesitated only a minute wondering if they would go with the tomato sauce. I needn't have worried, it was the perfect combination. Meatballs are wonderfully easy, quick and comforting. A good way to calm the nerves before a trip, eh?

Ben is America's Next Top Meatball Model

Moroccan Lamb Meatballs
adapted from Patricia Wells
makes 15-20

1 lb ground lamb
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix lamb, onion, spices and mint until the mixture just comes together. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Roll the meatballs into balls about the size of a ping pong ball. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over high to medium-high heat and sear the meatballs until brown on all sides. At this point, add the meatballs to a simmering tomato sauce if doing the classic spaghetti and meatballs. If you're skipping the sauce, turn the heat down and cook the meatballs in the skillet until cooked all the way through.