Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mushroom Squash Carbonara

Are you growing tired of winter yet? After all, we are in the stretch of days that most people do not like about the Midwestern winter- post-holiday excitement, not much to look forward to until St. Patty's Day? Have no worries, the days are getting longer and spring WILL be here sooner than you think. Pitchers and catchers report in less than four weeks. Although they've been reporting to Roscoe's all winter long.

In the meantime, perhaps you need to make this for dinner to enjoy a warm, comforting meal.

The original carbonara is here, if you don't jive on squash or mushrooms.

It's taken quite a few years into my adulthood to appreciate the fungus among us, the lovely mushroom. It hasn't taken nearly as long to figure out the best way to cook them. First, buy them whole and slice them yourself. The 15-second time-saver of buying pre-sliced shrooms ain't worth it. Second, never crowd the pan you cook them in- you want an even layer, they should not be all up on top of each other like a frat bar at 3AM. Thirdly, you want to cook them in a dry skillet first. Once you have liberated some of the moisture that will quickly evaporate, then you add in a little bit of fat and flavor- butter and thyme in this recipe. The dry mushroom will now be a blank canvas for whatever you like/have on hand.

You can substitute the heavy cream with half and half if desired.

Mushroom Squash Carbonara
four servings

1/2 C + 2 TB parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated of course
2 large eggs plus one yolk
3 TB heavy cream
1/4 ts freshly ground black pepper
6 oz. good bacon, sliced and cut into 1/2" pieces
3 TB shallots, minced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 C butternut squash, 1/2" cubes
1 ts thyme, dried
2 C mushrooms, sliced- baby bella or crimini or button
1 TB butter, reserved
3/4 lb fettuccine, al dente
1/3 C pasta cooking water

Add the eggs and yolk to a medium bowl, stir in 2 C of the parm regg and pepper. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, start to render some fat from the bacon pieces. After a couple minutes, toss in the shallots. Stir after another minute to distribute and flip the bacon. Stir occasionally until the bacon becomes half cooked, some four minutes later, then add the squash cubes, garlic, and thyme. Season with a bit of S&P. Cook for about another 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Get your pasta going around this point.

In a large, dry skillet over medium-low heat, add the sliced shrooms in two batches in a single layer. Flip after two minutes, then add 1/2 TB butter and a pinch of thyme. Cook for another three minutes or so until slightly browned and softened. Add to the squash mixture. Repeat for the remaining mushroom. You wanna keep an eye and stir the squash mixture here and there while doing the shrooms. If the mixture starts to become too dry, use the lid to trap some moisture. You can keep this portion steady until the fettuccine is ready, lower the heat if necessary.

When the pasta becomes al dente, drain and reserve about 1/2 C. The easiest way to throw a few TBs of pasta water in the skillet is to grab the fettucine with tongs and add them to the skillet dripping. Using this method or yours of choice, add the pasta to the skillet with the squash, about 1/3 C of water total. Stir well and remove from the heat. Add the parm regg mix and stir well to incorporate all parts. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Finish with a grating of the undisputed king of all cheeses, and please do enjoy.

A wine pairing you might need? There's never a bad time for pinot noir, or a similar lower tannin red- I like this stuff here yeah. A Cali zin would be good, a calm syrah perhaps.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Proscuitto-Wrapped Pears with Arugula, Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onion, Balsamic Reduction

As it usually occurs, it is the quality of the ingredients, and not the chef's hand, which allows a dish to be extraordinary. In fact, the chef and a referee in sport have a similar goal- not to be noticed, to remain as background noise. Let the food or game be natural, let them be the highlight, the star of the show. This little snack is a great example of that credo- using high quality foods to let the dish speak for itself. Refs though, usually find a way to get noticed, at least by me. Word.

This is one of my all-time favorite flavor combination. First, you hit the salty, yummy prosciutto. You can get some good pork from the deli or maybe an Italian supermarket. This stuff is fantastic. The funky, nothing-can-come-close-to-this-taste of the Maytag blue cheese and the sweet taste of the caramelized onion hit you next, then you reach the slight bitter arugula before finally coming to the sweet, juicy fruit in the pear slice. A drizzle with a balsamic syrup adds sweet and savory elements to continue the flavor profile. Umami indeed. A glass of Pinot Noir would be ideal here, or perhaps a tipple of port?

This has become a standard appetizer for those times when you have a few hungry people congregated in the same area. Or a party. Where you watch a sporting competition on television and complain about the officiating.

Another great aspect of this dish? You can make it a few hours in advance, keeping it chilled of course. The prosciutto will cover most of the pear flesh that might oxidize and brown, no worries there. Be sure to bring to room temp before serving. Party on Wayne.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pears with Arugula, Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onion, Balsamic Reduction
makes 24 pieces

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 TB butter
3 pears (I like d'anjou)
16-20 oz prosciutto, split lengthwise (depending on packaging)
6-8 oz blue cheese
2 C baby arugula, loosely packed
balsamic vinegar

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the thin onion slices and the EVOO. Stir to coat well, then turn down the heat to low/simmer. When caramelizing onions, you want the heat low enough so they are not sauteing, that's too hot. A very gently sizzle in the pan is enough, and will be somewhere in between low and simmer. Once situated, don't stir for the first twenty minutes or so, you want them to sit, undisturbed, to start browning nicely. Brown=flavor creation. You like flavor. Stir occasionally while cooking for about 60-90 minutes, depending on how much time you have, until very dark and tasty looking.

Slice the pears in quarters and remove the core, then make two more slices to each quarter so you have 8 slices per pear. Cut or slice your prosciutto accordingly so you have about 6" strips of meat. Lay out on a board, add a slice of pear to each, then a lil bit of stinky blue, a couple stems of baby arugula, then a touch of onion. Wrap up tightly yet delicately so you don't tear the prosciutto. Once plated, drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Be ready to slap hands of those who try to hog them.

For the reduction- In a small pot, add 1/2 C balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stir in the sugar, then let reduce by about 75%, you'll have a few TB's worth of a lovely thickened, syrup-like consistency. Which you won't see below, as they haven't made it to the party yet.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Broiled Salmon with Herb Mustard Glaze

Happy New Year!

You should probably start the year with some healthy initiatives, and that of course means eating well. It's up to you what 'well' means- small portions, low calories, good fats, lots of fresh veg and fruits, lowering red meat consumption, avoiding processed foods, eliminating sodas, etc.

One personal food goal for 2011 is to eat more salmon. And I hope to always get it from my local fishmonger, as these fillets were acquired, after they were very recently removed from the Atlantic.

My go-to glaze for salmon is usually a combo of brown sugar and dijon mustard, with a little bit of black pepper cracked in there. This recipe lends a bit of herbal slant to the usual. You ain't gotsta follow it exactly, use what you have and what you like.

Broiled Salmon with Herb Mustard Glaze
2 servings

2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 ts dried rosemary
1/2 ts dried thyme
1/2 ts lemon juice
1 TB dry white wine
2 TB dijon mustard
2 TB whole-grain mustard
2 6-8 oz. salmon fillets
Lemon wedges

For the glaze- In a small mixing bowl, add the garlic, rosemary, thyme, lemon juice, wine, oil, and mustards. Mix well to combine and set aside.

Fire up the broiler to high, position a rack about 6" from the flame. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray or rub a bit of oil all up on there. Line up the fillets on the sheet so they will be properly situated underneath the broiler, skin side down. Sprinkle with S&P. Once the broiler has been heated up for about 5 minutes, broil the salmon for 2 minutes, then remove and spoon the glaze on top, you might have a tad extra, do reserve if so. Once all sauced up, broil again until the fillets are cooked through and nicely golden brown and all delicious looking, about 5 mins. Rotate after a couple minutes if necessary for even browning. Serve with a lemon wedge, and of course, please do enjoy!

I have told you about mapping your oven's broiler, right? Yes I have, and here it is again.