Saturday, June 27, 2009

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

This is a thoroughly non-seasonal dish, but given the weather we've been having in Boston this June (lots and lots of rain, for those of you lucky enough to be elsewhere), it seems quite appropriate. This is certainly not the first time we've had pasta carbonara, whether at home or out, and Mihai is generally in charge of making most of the dish. It is, without a question, an indulgent meal, something you eat when you feel like you've had to expend extra energy to keep yourself warm and dry.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(Serves 2)

½ lb spaghetti (half a box)
a few strips of bacon
2 raw eggs
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
4 garlic cloves
4 oz dry white wine (approximately)
a few sprigs of parsley

1. Cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions.

2. In the meantime, cut the bacon into small squares and cook in a pan with some olive oil and the garlic cloves. When the bacon squares have become somewhat crispy (but not too crispy, you don't want breakfast-style bacon here), add the white wine and wait until it reduces to a sauce. Remove the garlic cloves if you don't want whole cloves in your pasta.

3. Crack the two eggs into a big bowl. Add the grated parmesan and stir together.

4. Once the spaghetti is cooked (to your taste - I personally don't like it to be too al dente), drain it and add to the bowl with the eggs and parmesan. Stir, then add the bacon-wine sauce and stir again. The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs enough so that you don't have to worry about them being raw, and you'll end up with a deliciously rich and creamy sauce for the pasta.

5. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with some more grated parmesan and some chopped parsley.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Asparagus and Orzo Salad

I apologize for posting a second asparagus recipe in a row, but I am trying to take advantage of it while it's in season. Heidi of 101 Cookbooks recently wrote about this delicious "Orzo Super Salad", where asparagus featured prominently, so I had to make it for one of our healthy weeknight dinners. What makes this salad particularly tasty, in my opinion, is the delicate creaminess from the avocado, which nicely plays off the crunchiness of the asparagus and cucumber. (I skipped the broccoli though, since I have been out of my broccoli phase for a long time now and am not sure if and when I will come around to it again.) All in all, I have to say that expanding my horizon to warm salads has really opened up a whole new world of interesting and relatively healthy dinner options.

Asparagus and Orzo Salad
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 cup dried orzo pasta
8-10 medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch segments
small handful of cilantro, chopped
1 small clove of garlic, mashed with a big pinch of salt and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
a small handful of sprouts
⅓ cup almonds, toasted
½ small cucumber, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 medium avocado, sliced into small pieces
¼ cup feta, crumbled

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously and boil the orzo per package instructions. Avoid over-boiling, you want your orzo to be cooked through, but maintain structure. About 30 seconds before the orzo is finished cooking stir the asparagus into the orzo pot. Cook for the final 30 seconds, drain and run under a bit of cold water. Just long enough to stop the cooking.

2. In the meantime, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and more salt (if needed) into the dressing. Set aside.

3. When you are ready to serve the salad toss the orzo, asparagus, and cilantro with about half the dressing. Add more dressing if needed, and toss well. Now add the sprouts, almonds, cucumber, avocado, and feta. Very gently toss a couple of times to distribute those ingredients throughout the salad and serve.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Asparagus with Sauce Gribiche

One of my favorite food bloggers, Molly of Orangette, recently announced that she will be taking time off from her site, which was definitely sad news, as her site had the trifecta of good writing, beautiful photos, and delicious recipes. Given that it's still asparagus season around here, I decided to make some sauce gribiche in Orangette's honor and serve it over some cooked asparagus. (Sauce gribiche was one of the last things Molly blogged about before going on hiatus.) Molly wrote about two different types of sauce gribiche, and I decided to try out the one that sounded less like mayonnaise, as I have not quite advanced to the point where I am comfortable making my own mayo from scratch.

Hopefully the picture above indicates that this other sauce gribiche was rather a success. Why wouldn't it be? After all, it's pretty hard to resist a sauce made from hard-boiled eggs, tiny cornichons (so much tastier than their big brothers pickles), shallots, lots of herbs, and fruity olive oil. I followed Molly's adaptation of the Chez Panisse recipe pretty closely, but I did substitute the tarragon I planted on our porch for chervil, which I never seem to be able to find at the local Whole Foods.

Sauce Gribiche
Adapted from Orangette
(who adapted it from the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook )

1 large egg
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped chervil (tarragon seemed to work well too)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and finely chopped
3 cornichons, finely chopped
¾ cup olive oil
Salt, to taste

1. Put the egg in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, drain away the hot water and rinse the egg under cold water until it is thoroughly cool.

2. Meanwhile, combine the shallot and the lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside to macerate while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

3. Combine the parsley, chervil or tarragon, chives, lemon zest, capers, cornichons, and olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk well. Peel the egg, and then finely chop the yolk and dice the white. Add the egg to the bowl. Add the lemon juice, shallots, and a good pinch of salt, and whisk well. Taste, and adjust with more lemon juice and salt, if needed.

4. Serve over cooked asparagus. Should also be delicious over boiled potatoes.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Potato Gratin

I love potatoes. Pretty much in all variations, although I am particularly partial to my mom's fried potatoes (and for some reason I've never been able to really enjoy the red skinned potatoes when they are cooked with skins on). So of course, when Deb featured this simple potato gratin on Smitten Kitchen, I had to try it.

I cooked mine with the shiitakes as Deb suggests in the recipe notes, and skipped the butter since I used cream instead of milk. I am also pretty sure I used more than 2 ounces of cheese in between the potato layers. All in all, this was a winner, though next time I will use less cream/milk (I am guessing half a cup will do), because the end result was almost too creamy (and I'd rather it was more cheesy).

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Watercress Soup

A couple of years ago, Mihai and I were fortunate enough to be invited by our friends Adam and Lisa to come stay with them for a few days in a French villa they were renting in the Loire Valley. It was an amazing trip, filled with delicious meals and lots of relaxation, and finished off with a day and a half in Paris.

One of the two nights we were there, we went to a small bistronomique restaurant, L'Ourcine, as recommended by Clotilde. We ordered the prix-fixe menu, which was sure to be a winner since dessert was rhubarb soup, and I love rhubarb. What was a bigger surprise was the appetizer - a chilled watercress soup. I never would have thought that what was basically a purée of greens could be so tasty. I finally decided to recreate it at home using this recipe - it turned out all right, not as good as what I remember from L'Ourcine, but a good starting point for future tries to improve on it.