Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Tribute

My blog focuses on food, but it is a reflection of my life.  It represents my life, through the lens of food, and right now, my life and my heart are broken.  Someone passed away recently who was near and dear to many hearts, but mine especially.  I thought there was a chance we might choose to walk through this life together, but instead he left this world and my life far too early.  Now, I remain in his absence, trying to make sense of the impossible. 

I did a lot of cooking for him over the last few months.  If you look closely, he is peppered throughout my blogs posts.  I would have written about him more explicitly, but I figured there was plenty of time for that, and I didn’t want to jinx our “blossoming romance” (as he referred it to).  Warren loved my love of cooking.  He certainly seemed to love the steaming plates of food I put in front of him.  However, I think he also loved to watch me happily smash garlic cloves or see me grin over the whirring of my immersion blender.  Being the thoughtful person that he was, Warren bought me a subscription to Cooks’ Illustrated, as part of my birthday present.  As painful as it will be to receive that in the mail for the next year, I owe it to both him and myself to cook from it, and cook from it with gusto. 

Below is a recipe for vegetable lasagna, adapted from the spring issue of my birthday present.  I made it for Warren just a few weeks ago, and it was excellent, prepared just as the recipe was written.  But I thought I could make it a little bit better, with some extra vegetables and a few other minor adjustments.  I planned on making it again for him, but instead I made it in honor of him.  Forgive me for not going into detail about it.  It’s currently beyond my capacity, but I will say the Barilla brand no-boil lasagna noodles are imperative.  I used them the first time as well, and while discussing the meal with Warren, I described them as “thin and tender, but not mushy.”  Warren responded, “that’s how I describe you to other people.”  I miss you dearly, Warren.         
Vegetable Lasagna for Warren (adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated)

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
10 oz. baby spinach
1 medium onion, diced
1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced thin
1 small carrot, julienned
1 large or 2 small zucchini, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
12 no-boil Barilla lasagna noodles
½ pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ pound Italian fontina cheese, shredded
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper

·      I would recommend prepping all ingredients before starting.  Mix together mozzarella and fontina cheeses.  Use a mandoline slicer for the carrot and zucchini (these vegetables are additions to the original recipe.  Feel free to leave them out).
·      Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
·      In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add all of the spinach, and sauté until it is just wilted (about 4 minutes), and season with salt and pepper.  Set spinach aside in a colander to drain.  When cooled, squeeze out liquid gently.
·      In the same skillet, over medium high-heat, add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil.  When hot, diced onion and sauté for 10 minutes, until softened.  Add mushrooms and cook for about 8-10 minutes.  Allow all liquid to cook out of mushrooms, and let them brown.  When nicely browned, season with salt and lots of pepper.  Add to a large bowl, and add drained spinach.  Mix vegetables together.
·      In the same skillet, add last tablespoon of olive oil.  Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes.  Sauté until fragrant (about a minute).  Add crushed tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Over medium heat, stir frequently and cook for about 15 minutes.  Stir in basil.
·      Pour sauce into a large measuring cup, and add enough water to have 3 ½ cups of sauce.
·      In a greased 9x13 pan, pour ½ cup of sauce and top with 3 lasagna noodles, making sure they are not touching each other or the sides of the pan. 
·      Add one cup of mushroom-spinach mixture, topped with 1/3 of carrots and 1/3 of zucchini.  Then top with 2/3 cup of tomato sauce, 1 cup mozz/fontina, followed by 1/3 cup of parmesan.  It’s a lot measuring, but it makes for a beautiful lasagna. 
·      Follow with 2 more layers, starting with noodles.
·      Finish with a fourth layer of noodles, the rest of the sauce (about 1 cup), last cup of mozz/fontina, and ½ cup of Parmesan.
·      Seal the pan with aluminum foil.  Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove foil, and cook for 15 more minutes.  Remove when cheese is spotty-brown.  Allow to stand for 10 minutes, and serve.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Linguine with Cauliflower and Bacon

This is a new twist on an old favorite:  linguine with cauliflower and bacon.  In the fall, I wrote a post about pasta with cauliflower, green olives, and almonds.  It was a lovely dish, with a perfect balance of savory flavors and textures.  This recipe is similar:  pasta with beautifully caramelized cauliflower, swathed in garlic and hot pepper flakes.  However, instead of saltiness from green olives, and crunch from toasted almonds, bacon takes over, boasting both salt and crunch. 
I will not try to be coy about it: this is not a low fat dish.  I started this by rendering chopped bacon in a pan.  When it was crisp, I set it aside, and proceeded to cook the cauliflower in some of the remaining bacon grease.  However, the cauliflower wasn’t caramelizing to my specifications, so I proceeded to add some butter to the pan.  Later, while tossing the pasta with the cauliflower, it seemed dry, and I added a drizzle of olive oil.  And, of course, the pasta is finished with the crispy bacon and feathery ribbons of parmesan. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that this was absolutely delicious. When I concocted this idea in my food-obsessed brain, I was most excited about the flavor the bacon grease would impart upon the cauliflower.  However, this did not fully live up to my expectations.  I made it a second time a week later, and cooked the cauliflower in olive oil, thus saving my arteries from unnecessary saturated fats, and difference was minimal.  Nonetheless, there is no substitute for the crispy bacon garnish.  Despite all the olive oil, and butter, (and potentially, bacon grease), if you follow the measurements below, this dish is loaded with cauliflower.  Cauliflower, in turn, is loaded with vitamin C and fiber, thus negating some concerns you may have regarding the bacon.  Personally, I think those crispy, salty, meaty morsels are worth their weight in gold.    
Linguine with Cauliflower and Bacon (makes 2 large servings)

1/3 pound bacon, chopped
1 ½ pounds cauliflower, chopped
1/3-1/2 pound pasta
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ hot pepper flakes
¼ cup parsley, chopped
½ tablespoon butter (optional)
olive oil
2 tablespoons of water

·      Preheat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon for about 8-10 minutes, stirring often, and until browned and crisp.
·      Remove crisped bacon from the pan and drain on a plate lined with paper towel.  Set aside (and try not to eat too much of it).
·      For the high fate version: using paper towels, carefully mop up all but 2-3 tablespoons of bacon grease.  For the lower fate version, wipe up all of the bacon grease and add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. 
·      Increase the heat to medium high, and add the cauliflower.  Stir to even goat with the olive oil or bacon grease.  Allow to cook, for about 20 minutes total.  Stir every 5-7 minutes, leaving it undisturbed when possible so it will caramelize.  If it isn’t browning well, add about ½ tablespoon of butter (it has a lower smoke point than olive oil/bacon grease, thus it assists with browning).
·      In the last 5 or so minutes of cooking, add minced garlic, hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
·      Meanwhile, cook linguine in a pot of boiling water according to package directions.  Drain linguine when it’s ready, reserving some of the pasta cooking water.  Or you can use tongs and pull the linguine directly from the pot and add to the pan of cauliflower.
·      Toss the linguine with the cauliflower and parsley.  Add a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water and/or a drizzle of olive oil if the pasta is dry.
·      Plate pasta and garnish with reserved bacon and parmesan cheese.