Whole Wheat Ziti with Butternut Sauce

Monday, October 30, 2006
Pasta with tomato sauce feels a bit too familiar at times. I was trying to find some more interesting vegetable sauces for pasta, and some fiddling with the Google translate tool to make sense of 'pasta e zucca' recipes inspired this satisfying and gorgeous plate of ziti with butternut sauce. Other pasta shapes like rotini or rigatoni would enjoy this sauce as well; if you have smaller pasta or a fine noodle like vermicelli you will want to do a thinner, smoother sauce that will not overwhelm the pasta.

This is a recipe that accomodates what you have on hand - you could easily omit the pepper, or add small amounts of other vegetables like corn, carrots, celery, or tomatoes. Coriander is my favourite seasoning with squash right now, but cloves, nutmeg, cumin, cinnamon, or ginger would all work. Just do not overdo the seasoning - it is very easy for these bold spices to overwhelm the delicate flavour of the squash. If you have cooked squash on hand you can start the water boiling for the pasta, make the sauce, and have everything ready by the time the pasta is cooked.

Cut one small onion, one small sweet pepper, one jalapeno, and two cloves of garlic and saute in one tbs of oil with some salt and 1/2 tsp coriander until softened. Blend vegetables with half a medium cooked butternut squash, adding 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of liquid to make a thick sauce. I used milk and pasta water for the liquid, but you could also use stock, or if you want a really luxurious sauce you can use cream. The amount of liquid you need will depend on how you have cooked the squash - if it is boiled, you will need less than if you roasted the squash. Pour/scrape sauce into a large pan, simmer for a few minutes, and taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, cook a pound of whole wheat ziti to the desired texture and pour drained pasta into the simmering sauce. Mix pasta into sauce, adding some pasta water if mixture is too thick, and let sit for a minute so they can get to know each other. Turn out onto plates and top with grated parmesan and, if the jalapeno is not asserting himself enough, a grind of pepper. Serve immediately to four to six people.

Orange and Pomegranate Salad with Pickled Onions

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This is a simplified version of a salad in Deborah Madison's The Savory Way, one of my most loved cookbooks. The original recipe includes pistachios and a kind of deconstructed vinaigrette - a separate drizzle of oil and vinegar or pomegranate juice. The nuts and oil would add a good bass note to round out and ground the dish, but even without them the flavours of this salad work amazingly well together - I love the pomegranate seeds with the onion.

You need a bit of planning ahead in order to make the pickled onions. Deborah Madison's pickled onion recipe appears in other cookbooks of hers as well, and is a great standby. The only thing I change about them is to add a few whole spices.

Pickled onions: Slice one medium red onion into very thin rings and sprinkle with about 1 tbs of sugar; cover with vinegar and add a couple of whole cloves or allspice. You can use the onions after about 20 minutes, but if you are using the spices it takes a week or more for the flavours to develop. Keep in a closed container in the fridge.

Salad: Cut peel off oranges and slice into rounds. Arrange orange pieces on a plate and put rings of pickled onion on top; scatter with pomegranate seeds and serve. Use one small to medium orange for each person you are serving. One pickled onion and one pomegranate is enough for several servings.

Pepper and Onion Stir Fry

Sunday, October 22, 2006

This very basic, almost non-recipe has fed me so many times over the last few months that I finally decided it deserved a post - onions and peppers, stir fried with a small amount of meat. The idea is to use a strongly flavoured cured meat with a lot of fat - I buy deli ends of things like capicolli and salami, but a piece of smoky bacon would work as well. If the meat I have is too lean I start it in a warm pan with oil and cook until the oil has absorbed some of the flavour. You want to cut all the elements into similar sized and shaped pieces for visual appeal. A sprinkle of vinegar at the end is a great finishing touch.

Slice meat into small pieces - you want to end up with about 1 tbs of meat, for one person - and fry over medium heat, with a tbs or so of oil if needed, until the fat is rendered and smells very fragrant. Turn up the heat a couple of notches, add one small sliced onion, and fry for a few seconds until it begins to soften. Add 1 medium sweet sliced pepper and fry together, stirring, until vegetables are cooked but not limp. Depending on how salty the meat is, you may need to add some salt. Sprinkle with vinegar, if desired, and serve.

French Toast

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fresh bread good. Stale bread better - and usually, way less expensive. There is nothing quite like pulling warm chunks off a fresh loaf to eat plain, but if you are going to do anything with the bread, even something as simple as slicing and toasting it, day old bread is easier to work with and is just as good as fresh. Dry bread absorbs the flavours of stuffing seasonings and bread pudding custards much more readily than fresh bread as well. One thing I really liked making this past summer was a bread salad using day old Parmesan sticks from my local bakery cut into pieces, toasted, and tossed with chopped tomatoes and a simple vinaigrette.

For French toast, beat two eggs with 2 tbs milk or cream in a shallow bowl and stir in 1 tsp vanilla infused sugar or plain sugar and half a teaspoon of salt. Coat four slices of at least day-old bread (I used whole grain bread) in the mixture, soaking it all up and wiping the bowl with the bread. Fry on both sides in a well greased pan over medium high heat. Eat with butter and jam or heated maple syrup - don't let cold, refrigerated syrup steal the warmth from your French toast. Serves 2.

Sophie of Sucré-Salé has a great looking oven baked, savoury version of French toast (Pain Perdu). I am really enjoying her blog - we don't usually associate French cooking with healthy food, but she is a dietician. I am planning to make her beet salad as well. Non-Francophones might be able to make it out with a page translate - pain perdu will come back literally as 'lost bread'.

Carrot and Apple Salad: Retro Recipe Challenge #3

Sunday, October 15, 2006

This challenge was far too fun not to accept: finding a recipe to blog that was originally published near the year of your birth. My first strategy was an Epicurious search for '1973', which yielded a pile of recipes from a House and Garden Drink Guide published in November of that year. There was Baltimore Eggnog, for anyone whom you might want to comatize with richness and alcohol. There was one cocktail named Between the Sheets, giving me a mental picture of some mustached, sideburned guy in a light colored, wide lapeled suit mixing up one of these...let's change the channel. One recipe, Shrimp with Avocados, was gorgeous but unfortunately not frugal. I then turned to the Edmonton public library catalogue for cookbooks published in that year, and came up with the dairy themed Cooking with Yogurt, Cultured Cream, and Soft Cheese. The author also had produced a book called Fondue, Flambé, and Side Table Cooking, which I am sure would have far more gems from the era.

The book has lots of recipes from before the fat phobic eighties like bacon cooked in sour cream or meats and vegetables covered with rich sauces. One I was happy to find was a grated carrot and apple salad. Carrot salad is less popular now but I love its brightness and crunch, especially in winter. The dressing has a good combination of sweetness, heat and sharpness as well - you could use some other heat agent like Dijon or black pepper if you don't have horseradish. I used apple cider vinegar but plain or other mildly flavoured vinegars like rice vinegar would work as well. The sesame seeds were not in the original recipe, but I could not resist adding them - I love carrot salad with raisins and sunflower seeds as well. Very seventies, yes.

Mix up dressing: 1 tbs vinegar, 3 tbs sour cream or lebnah, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp horseradish or to taste. Grate 2 large carrots and one large apple fairly coarsely. Mix with dressing and taste for seasoning balance. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve to 3-4.

Tag: RRC3


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sometimes in a foreign country, a mouthful of a completely new dish changes your idea of comfort food forever. This happened to me in Korea eating sollong tang, a full bodied soup made mostly from bones that I've never been able to duplicate. I had the same kind of revelation more recently in India, where hotel breakfast buffets often included a plain looking porridge with spices called upma. My first bite impressed me so much I flagged a server over to ask how it was made, but we did not have enough language in common for me to learn very much.

Indian cooking has been the toughest for me to grasp, so far. The technique of toasting spices before using them is new to me, as well as many of the ingredients. While researching upma online, I found versions using different kinds of grains as well as bread and noodles, with quite variable seasonings and vegetables as well. (The first upma that I fell in love with had hardly any vegetables, but more peanuts and spices.) Many of the recipes did not make sense to me though - most called for a tablespoon or so of urad dal and channa dal. Yellow lentils - why two different kinds? And why such a small amount?

By this time I'd had enough theory and was ready to jump in and try it. I had channa dal and masoor dal (small red lentils) on hand, as well as some curry leaves (bought fresh from H&W but now dried) and black mustard seed. Ginger, garlic, mild peppers, and frozen peas rounded out the vegetables. For the grain I used cream of wheat, which I think is the same as semolina.

In one pan, I heated one cup cream of wheat over medium heat until golden and fragrant. Meanwhile, in the other pan, I heated a tbs of oil and added one tsp mustard seeds, ten curry leaves, 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1 clove minced garlic, 1 tsp minced ginger, one tbs masoor dal, and one tbs channa dal. These should be toasted gently until they are brown and fragrant. (Mine got a little too brown due to not gentle enough toasting.) I then added half a chopped onion, half a cup of frozen peas, and two small chopped mild peppers to the spices and sauteed them for a minute or so, then added two cups of boiling water and let everything boil together for a couple of minutes. I then added the toasted cream of wheat to the spices and vegetables and stirred til it was the proper consistency. I had to add a bit more water, and salt to taste. I then stirred in about 2 tbs of chopped mixed nuts.

I discovered that the toasted dal did not break down into the porridge, but provided a crunchy contrast. The result was very good, but could use improvements. Next time I will most definitely use clarified butter instead of plain cooking oil for toasting the spices for a richer flavour. I think I would just use a double amount of channa dal next time instead of masoor dal, which were a little too small to provide a really satisfying crunch, and maybe add coconut or other vegetables.

Smoked Whitefish with Watercress on Bulgur

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Pasta or rice covered with something in a white sauce is a classic frugal combination. The problem is that too often it is made to taste cheap, with pasty and stiff or flavourless sauce. I wanted to do an update using bulgur, which is my newest favourite grain - very fast to make with a bonus of fiber and flavour for less than 15 cents per serving.

A couple of days ago I made a version of this using canned salmon, but the canned fish broke down too much in the sauce. Smoked fish, while slightly more expensive, keeps its integrity much better and has that great bonus of smoky flavour. I got my smoked fish from a European grocery a few blocks away called K&K Deli, a great place to go for European preserved foods and smoked meats. The fish cost $2.52 whole and yielded about 3/4 lb of meat after the rather finicky process of boning it. I also steeped the fish skeleton for a couple of hours in 2 cups of warm milk to extract the maximum flavour. You can skip this step if you are short on time or if you are working with already boned fish.

I like to add lots of greens to the sauce - watercress was what I had on hand tonight, but a cup of frozen peas would work very inexpensively as well. You might choose to cook vegetables on the side instead. The right balance between watery or too-stiff sauce is important - I mixed the sauce together with cornstarch to the correct consistency before adding the fish and greens, since it's much harder to fix after the other things are added.

Bone one small smoked whitefish, or have ready 3/4 of a pound hot smoked fish in chunks. If desired, steep fish skeleton in 2 cups of milk over low heat for two hours and then strain milk, or just heat 2 cups of milk over medium heat. Chop 1 clove of garlic and add it to the simmering milk. Whisk 2 tbs corn starch into 2 tbs of water and add this to the milk, stirring, until sauce is thick. Stir in fish and 1 cup of chopped watercress (or 1 cup of peas), and heat gently til bubbling and flavours are mixed. Taste for salt. Meanwhile, put 1/2 cup of whole wheat bulgur with 1 cup of water and a few grains of salt in a vented container in the microwave and cook for 2 1/2 minutes, until bulgur is fluffy and water is absorbed. On a plate, mound bulgur with a hole in the middle and spoon in the fish sauce. Serves 2.