Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Simple: Pasta with Smoked Salmon (or Ham) and Peas

I realize I have been laying out fairly complicated recipes recently, with numerous ingredients -- which is the way I typically cook. But I have student friends with both limited time and kitchen supplies. So here's an elegant dish for an upscale supper or for impressing a date, requiring few ingredients and limited time.

This surprisingly simple pasta composition is typical of northern Italian cooking. The basic recipe uses smoked salmon, but it's easy to switch to ham, or even smoked turkey, instead. Usually a pasta dish like this in Italy is served in modest quantity as the entry course to a dinner, coming after the appetizer course (antipasto, or before the pasta) and ahead of the main meat or fish course. But if, following the American custom, this is served as lunch or a light dinner, accompany it with a fresh salad and warm crusty bread.

The recipe serves six generously as a meal, even six students. A half recipe can be made if it really is for the pasta course of a large dinner. For the salmon (or turkey) version accompany with a crisp Chardonnay. The ham version would go with a medium-bodied Italian or Spanish red wine or a Pinot Noir.

Pasta with Smoked Salmon, or Ham, and Peas Tim

1 pound penne rigati pasta, small type (pennete) preferred
1/2 pound sliced smoked salmon or sliced cured ham (or sliced smoked turkey)
2 cups frozen peas, small type preferred
1-1/3 cups half and half cream
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley for garnish

Boil six quarts of water in a large pot, and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Prepare the sauce ingredients before cooking the penne.

Cut the salmon or sliced ham (or smoked turkey) into roughly 1/2-inch squares and set aside. Place the frozen peas in a microwaveable serving bowl, such as a pasta dish. Heat in the microwave 30 seconds, stir, and heat for 30 seconds more. Add the cream, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. (If using ham, add it at this point.) Microwave again, just until butter is melted. Set the bowl aside.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, and stir well at first so the pasta does not stick together. Boil, stirring occasionally, until a piece of pasta is just tender when you bite it, 4 to 6 or more minutes, depending on the pasta. Drain in a colander. Do not cool it with water.

While the pasta is cooking, place the serving bowl with the peas and cream back in the microwave and heat for about 1-1/2 minutes, or until the cream is close to boiling along the edges. Remove from the microwave and add the smoked salmon (or turkey), if used, and cheese. When the pasta is cooked and drained, toss it in with the sauce. Taste, and add a little salt if necessary (usually this is not needed, since some salt comes out of the salmon or the ham).

Serve immediately, dusted with the minced parsley. Accompany with more grated cheese.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cold Weather: Swedish Meatballs

Christina went to Ikea Sunday. And as a bonus she picked up some of their wonderful Swedish meatballs, which we enjoyed Monday evening. They're perfect in cold weather. That reminded me that I haven't put my version of the meatballs out on the blog.

Köttbullar, pronounced unexpectedly (to non-Scandanavians at least) shawt' bue ler, are those wonderful, tender little meatballs that show up in a sour cream and dill sauce in a chafing dish at smorgasbords, buffets, and Christmas Eve. You don't need access to Ikea to get them. In fact, we have prepared them often for wedding receptions, parties, and even occasionally on "European day" at our deli in Athens. I'm not in the habit of giving out our deli's secret recipes, but Swedish meatballs are a sometime thing for us, not a big money maker. And besides, I've taught them at my Evening at Emory cooking class.

The traditional meat for these is a combination of ground pork and veal or ground pork and beef (Ikea uses beef and pork, meaning more beef than pork). But they are also superior made with ground turkey. The traditional seasonings are lemon zest, onion, pepper, nutmeg and/or allspice. I have taken several (small) liberties in my ingredients, but they work.

The recipe makes plenty for 6 people. (Well maybe 4 to 5 if Hammad is one of them.) Typical accompaniments are buttered noodles, buttered steamed or boiled potatoes, or lightly salted white rice. For dinner, serve them in a warm shallow dish. Use a chafing dish when they're part of an entertainment buffet. A medium-bodied, spicy red or dry rosé wine, such as a Pinot Noir, Côtes du Rhône, or Spanish red, or a French or Spanish rosé, go well with this. But a rich chardonnay also works.

Swedish Meatballs Tim

1/4 cup quick oatmeal (not traditional, but works well)
1/2 cup unseasoned dry bread crumbs (or 3/4 cup freshly made crumbs, packed)
1 small-medium onion
1 small clove garlic
2 Tablespoons oil or butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
3/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (or 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract -- not traditional but works well)
2 lbs ground turkey (the original is veal, pork, beef, or a mixture*)
1 cup sour cream
4 Tablespoons minced fresh dill or 1 Tablespoon dry dill weed (fresh is highly preferable)
Extra dill for garnish

In a food processor, or on a cutting board with a chef's knife, pulverize the oatmeal. Remove to a mixing bowl. If making fresh bread crumbs, pulse the bread in the processor. Measure out crumbs and add to the oatmeal. Cut onion into pieces and place in the food processor along with the garlic. Pulse and scrape down to mince finely. (Alternatively, mince onion and garlic finely with a knife on a cutting board.) Fry onion mixture in the oil or butter, stirring frequently, until limp but not browned. Add to the oatmeal and crumbs. Push these all to the side of the bowl and lightly beat the eggs in the open area. Add salt and spices and mix everything well. Add the turkey (or other meats*) and combine thoroughly. If desired, chill the mixture for easier shaping.

Roll out the mixture into 1 to 1-1/2 inch balls, depending on preference. Wet your hands occasionally so the meat sticks less to them. Set meatballs on an oiled tray until ready to cook. Heat a pot with water 3-inches deep. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt. When boiling, add the meatballs (half at a time, if necessary, so as not to crowd them too much). Reduce heat and simmer 12 minutes, shaking the pot and gently stirring from time to time (the meatballs will float after a minute or two). With a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs to a bowl to cool, covering the top loosely with waxed paper. Boil the poaching water down, uncovered, to reduce to about 2 cups. The meatballs and broth can be refrigerated (separately) or even frozen at this point.

To prepare for serving, skim any fat off the meatball broth and heat broth and the meatballs together carefully stirring from time to time until gently boiling. Add the sour cream and stir it in gently. Let heat just up to the beginning of simmering. Taste the sauce and add salt if desired. Add a little black pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the dill.

Serve in a covered casserole or in a chafing dish. A few sprigs of dill can be used to garnish, if desired. Accompany with buttered noodles, boiled or steamed potatoes, or lightly salted rice.

* note: If using ground veal, pork, or beef, add 2 Tablespoons milk or water to the meatball mixture, along with the eggs.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Smoked Salmon Tartare

Here's a delightful appetizer I worked out for an upcoming cooking class on tapas and antipasti. Two things in the interest of full disclosure: first, the idea for this dish came from an ad I saw in a cooking magazine, second the class did not make. But guests I've guineapigged this one on have enjoyed it, as did I, so I'm putting it on the blog.

"Tartare", in culinary French "à la tartare", literally in the Tatar (or Tartar) style, means finely chopped raw beef, usually combined with raw egg, onion, and capers. The tradition of serving raw chopped beef was picked up by the Russians from their nomadic Mongol-Turkik Tatar neighbors. Steak tartare is now a well-established French dish, but sliced, chopped, or pounded raw meat is used for appetizers in Italian (carpacio), German, Lebanese (kibbeh nayeh), and Ethiopian (kitfo) cuisines, and raw fish is the height of elegance in Japanese (sashimi and sushi) and South American (ceviche) traditions.

My smoked salmon tartare is made with raw salmon, though cured and smoked, is chopped, contains capers, onion, and egg, albeit hard boiled. It is, I hope, a far cry from chopped tough cow of the Russian steppes. (Capers, by the way, are the pickled flower buds of a Mediterranean bush, and are imported bottled with vinegar, primarily from Spain.)

The recipe serves six as an appetizer, when spooned onto thin-sliced baguette, rye-crisp bread, or unsalted crackers.

Smoked Salmon Tartare Tim

1/2 pound smoked salmon, finely chopped on a board with a chef's knife
2 tablespoons finely minced onion, red or white
1 hardboiled egg, white only (use the yolk for another purpose), finely minced
6 hearty grinds of black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon drained capers, coarsely chopped if larger than peppercorns
1 tablespooned snipped or coarsely chopped fresh dill
Extra dill sprigs for garnish

Combine all the ingredients, except for the garnish. Taste, but generally salt is not needed because the salmon is salted. Refrigerate, covered, at least half an hour -- but this is better if made the day ahead.

Serve either in a decorative bowl or heaped up on an attractive plate or small platter. Garnish with dill sprigs.

Spoon onto thinly sliced baguette, rye-crisp bread, or unsalted crackers.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Green Peppercorns: Meatballs in spiced cream

An almost metaphysical question struck me when I discovered an accidentally opened jar of green peppercorns of unknown age taking space in our refrigerator. What on earth to do with them that is not cute or Martha Stewartish? I have a recently graduated student friend who majored at Emory in phylosophy and metaphysics. But aside from making lattes or hosting at Chillies Restaurant while he waits for a grad school slot, he ponders, reportedly, questions of existence. The reality is that I got the peppercorns by accident, thinking they were capers. Now they exist in my fridge, waiting, like a supernumerary philosophy major, and seeking justification for their existence. I can't do much for Matt, but here's my effort at existentially rescuing the peppercorns.

The salvation idea came from the one type of thing I know that uses green peppercorns to advantage, certain French sausages and pâtés. Actually I know some other dishes with green peppercorns, but the peppercorns are fresh and still clustered on their stems: several traditional Thai curries, the kind you find only at open markets being ladeled out of huge pots by large ladies in Bangkok or Chiang Mai for your stunningly good and cheap lunch. But that is not relevant to my current effort. The tack I took was a meatball of "white" meat, chicken or pork. The peppercorns lend a rough and hearty piquancy to the meatballs, and some more of them worked into cream give vibrancy to the sauce. The mixture excites the palate when poured over a gentle foil like steamed potatoes, or buttered noodles, or lightly salted rice, or the more recently discovered quinoa.

A spicy red wine like a Spanish garnacha or tempranillo or a French Côtes du Rhône goes well with this. The grenache/garnacha grapes, and to a lesser extent the syrah/shiraz grapes, produce a spicy wine with black or white pepper overtones. Accompany with a salad.

Green Peppercorn Meatballs in Cream and Mushroom Sauce Tim

(serves six -- unless they are Hammad or certain Emory students, in which case the recipe serves four to five)

1 tablespoon bottled green peppercorns (in vinegar), drained
2 pounds ground chicken or lean pork
2 tablespoons grated onion
6 tablespoons quick cooking oatmeal
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 small eggs

On a cutting board, finely mince the peppercorns with a chef's knife. Reserve 1/3 of the mixture for the sauce. Place the other 2/3 in a large mixing bowl. Add the meat and other meatball ingredients to the bowl and mix well. Let sit 10 minutes to firm up, and mix again. Wetting your hands, shape the meat mixture into small walnut-sized meatballs. Set them on an oiled cookie sheet.

Bring 2 quarts water to boil in a low, wide pot or casserole. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Drop the meatballs into the water, reshaping them quickly if they have flattened. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, gently stirring from time to time. The meatballs will float. With a slotted spoon, lift the meatballs out into a bowl, and cover them with plastic wrap. Save 1-2/3 cups of the broth for the sauce. Rinse the cooking pot.

Sauce and Garnish
1 pound mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch wide
4 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1-1/3 cups reserved meatball poaching broth
1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
The reserved 1/3 of the minced peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1-1/3 cups sour cream
Minced parsley for garnish

Reheat the pot over medium-high heat and fry the mushrooms in the oil, stirring frequently. When the mushrooms are wilted and starting to lose some juice, add the 1-1/3 cups of poaching broth, salt, bay leaf, and reserved minced peppercorns. Let the mixture simmer 3 minutes. Stir in the sour cream, stirring until smooth. Taste and add salt if needed. Add the meatballs to the sauce and bring just back to a boil. Remove from the heat. Check, and if necessary adjust the salt again.

Serve over steamed potatoes, buttered noodles, lightly salted rice. or quinoa. Sprinkle with minced parsley.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Baked Apples: Autumn in New England

Although I have lived for many years here and enjoy the South, I am, hopefully, still a person of the world. But I was, unavoidably, a child of New England, from a small, pretty old town in the Connecticut River Valley. And I was a child long enough ago to have grown up with the local produce of the season, as anytime vegetables and fruits from California, much less from Chile, were not there. Somehow we survived. Even thrived.

All through the Fall and Winter my mother baked apples. They were our breakfast fruit and our dessert. They came out cold from the refrigerator -- or icebox as she still called it, despite its electricity. We were in luck, almost always, when we got a shot of heavy cream on the apple. I learned to distinguish the various apples and their purposes. Firm, dry-fleshed apples were the best for baking, and for making pies. And my mother really did make the world's best apple pie.

Having visitors from Ohio, the land of Johnny Appleseed, coming over yesterday to eat, and also needing to make the dessert the day ahead, the October season easily led me back to my childhood. Of course, my baked apples are a little fancier than my mother's. And the ones yesterday were new-crop north Georgia apples, "Rome" (sometimes called "Rome Beauty"), a magnificent baker, gorgeous to the eye, cheaper by a third than the "eating apples", and amazingly dull until cooked. I also used Georgia pecans for a highlight. But otherwise the apples have the subtle spices, butter, and brown sugar I grew up with.

New England Baked Apples Tim

(serves 4-8)

Set oven to 375 degrees

4 medium-large unblemished baking apples, such as Rome, Granny, Stayman, or Gala
A little salt
8 tablespoons brown sugar (you can get away with less)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 teaspoons butter
6 teaspoons finely chopped pecans
Heavy cream (optional) for topping

Scrub the apples well (no soap!) and wipe dry. Cut them in half from stem to blossom end. With a small sharp knife cut out the the seed cavity, leaving both ends of the apples intact. Place the apple halves, cut side up, in a glass baking dish. Sprinkle the apples lightly with salt. Mix the brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Place 1 tablespoon of the mixture over each apple, pressing it lightly down into the apple cavities and spreading some over the apple cut surface out to near the skins. Gently press into each cavity 3/4 teaspoon of chopped pecans and a 3/4-teaspoon piece of butter.

Place 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the baking dish as a bath for the apples. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until tender (time varies with the type of apple), testing the flesh with a tooth pick. Some of the skins, inevitably, will split.

Cool, then cover the pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate up to 4 days.

To serve, place an apple half in a shallow bowl or small plate and pour some heavy cream over it, if desired. Serve with a spoon plus a dessert fork.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Malaysian Soysauce Chicken: Recalling the "old days"

It's been a hectic while since I put out a posting, and with jury duty coming up tomorrow, I'm pulling up one from my past. It's not an old recipe so much as a recalled approach to cooking I learned during my nearly eight years in Malaysia. This is a Malay-style dish, which shares ancestry with Indonesian cooking but also has Chinese influences since the two cultures lived side by side, albeit sometimes fractiously, for centuries.

Soysauce, the Chinese extract of fermented soybeans and wheat flour with salt, is know in Malay as "kecap" (kee' chop) . That word, by the way, roughly meaning "cooking sauce", led to our word "ketchup" for a vegetable sauce, now pretty exclusively the tomato-based condiment. "Ayam", or chicken, actually originated in the Malay Archipeligo, where it was domesticated from the native jungle fowl, "ayam hutan". But back to the recipe.

This was developed many years after I was in Malaysia, a place with fantastically great food, as I pictured it my memory rather than from a recorded recipe. But like fiction, that is often based on reality as filtered through the writer's mind, this recipe is truthfully if not literally Malaysian.

Malaysian Soy Sauce Chicken Tim

The recipe serves four to six when accompanied by rice. (It's been pointed out to me that my "six" is skimpy for college-age students.)

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh
3 tablespoons soy sauce (not “lite”), such as Kikoman
1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or crushed hot red pepper flakes (or less to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil, such as canola, for the chicken
2 shallots or a small onion (or already fried onion, available at Indian groceries)
Oil for frying
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts for garnish (the red-skinned “Spanish” style are closest to the Malay style)
Chopped cilantro for garnish
Cucumber for accompaniment, ideally small pickling type

Remove fatty and tough parts from the chicken. Cut the flesh into1/2-inch thick slices and mix in the soy sauce, cornstarch, coriander, turmeric, and salt. Then mix in 2 tablespoons of oil. Let the chicken marinate 20 - 30 minutes.

If using fresh shallot or onion, slice it thinly lengthwise, and fry it in oil in a non-stick frying pan turning it frequently until golden. Remove it to a paper towel to drain and cool. Break it up into pieces.

Remove most of the oil (save it) from the pan and reheat the pan. Quickly fry half the marinated chicken, turning it frequently, until it begins to brown in spots. Thigh takes a little longer than breast. Remove it to a clean bowl. Add a little more oil to the pan and similarly fry the rest of the chicken. Add it to the previously cooked chicken.

Serve the chicken on a bed of rice (ideally rice cooked in coconut milk). Sprinkle with the fried shallots or onions, peanuts, and cilantro. Peel the cucumber only if the skin is tough or waxed. Cut it into 1/4-inch thick slices, or preferably into small wedges using a rolling cut. Rinse the cucumber pieces with water, drain quickly and surround the rice with the pieces.

Accompany with an Asian chili-garlic sauce.