Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Giving Another Classic A New Twist - Spicy, Smoky, Corn Risotto

In my last post I decided to shake up common expectations of pesto and made a green sauce that visually resembles your basic Pesto Genovese, but takes the taste buds in a completely different direction.  Sure there was some traditional basil, but the sauce was all about the shiso.

This week I took my love of summer produce and rebuilt (or some people might say destroyed) a classic risotto recipe.  This time of year many cooks will incorporate fresh summer corn into risotto.  I wanted to take it one step further.  Most risotto recipes rely on the same Italian formula: onions, garlic, wine, parmesan, and occasionally seasonal vegetables.  I wanted to ditch the formula and give that bowl of creamy rice a different flavor altogether.

Is this wrong?  Should it not be done?  Am I spitting on the sacred?

Anne Burrell is not my favorite cook on TV, but she did say something that made sense to me.  She said risotto is a method, not a recipe. 

So I don't care.  I want to have fun with my favorite recipe bases, and keep creating, and keep finding new ways to use my favorite ingredients.  This food blog would be boring if I made the same recipes the way everyone else makes them.

I have talked about my love of smoked turkey tails.  They are the best unhealthful, fatty, treat in the world next to bacon.  If you are cooking for someone who doesn't eat pork, you can get that richness and smokiness with a tail or three (and it's way better than turkey bacon which is just weird and processed tasting).  While Sir Pickypants has become far less picky and now does eat pork occasionally without gastrointestinal incident, I don't want to always be serving him pork when I don't need to.  This is why I used the tails instead of the classic pancetta.

I also substituted the traditional white wine with whiskey.  I felt strong liquor would hold up to the strong flavor of the turkey tails and still complement the sweetness of the corn.

I used caramelized onions, cayenne, and smoked paprika for the flavoring.  This was way off the beaten path for Italian risotto.  Mine had a definite southwestern flair.  I used too much cayenne when I made this.  I thought a half teaspoon would be enough.  The recipe below cuts that amount in half.  The risotto was delicious, but a half teaspoon cayenne straddled the line of being overpowering.

I bought cilantro with the intention of adding it at the end and forgot.  I encourage anyone trying this recipe to add it and see if it improves the recipe or not.

Sorry for the hastily-snapped phone photo.  Risotto is something you have to eat right away, so I didn't want to fuss with the light box and camera settings.

When I see you again I will have a travel post to share with you.  I am leaving for a short trip to Prague on Friday.  I am looking forward to the meat-and-carb-fest that is Czech food.  I will be taking a food tour while I'm there, so I should have plenty of interesting meals to share. 

Spicy Corn Risotto
  • 2 ears fresh corn, cooked and kernels cut off the cob
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup whiskey (bourbon is optimal, but Irish will do just fine)
  • 3 smoked turkey tails, cut into small pieces*
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2-4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Heat the chicken stock and whiskey in a small saucepan.  Keep warm on the back burner.

In a medium saucepan cook the turkey tail pieces over medium heat until the fat is rendered.  Remove from pan and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat (roughly).  Add the olive oil and cook the onions until they are very soft and starting to turn golden.  Add the peppers and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the garlic and cook another two minutes.  Add the rice to the pan and cook another minute or two until they are well coated.

Begin adding the stock mixture one ladelful at a time.  Stir well after each addition, adding more after the previous one has been absorbed.  Keep adding liquid and stirring until the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

Remove from heat and stir in the pepper, cilantro, and paprika.  Sprinkle with cilantro.  Stir in the corn kernels and serve immediately.

*You can use bacon, smoked sausage, turkey bacon, or your favorite vegetarian bacon facsimile.  Just make sure you use something with a smokey flavor to complement the flavor of the whiskey and the corn.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Farm Market Experience Continues with a New Twist On Pesto

During my trip to Hawaii this past winter I discovered shiso.  It is a large-leafed, herb that has minty and citrus flavors.   It complements tomatoes well.  I couldn't wait for summer when I could get my hands on some at home.  I was pretty sure Lani's Farm would be selling it at both of the farmers' markets I attend (Larchmont and Dag Hammarskjold plaza).   There doesn't seem to be an exotic green they don't carry.

When I had it in Hawaii, I ate it whole as part of a salad.  I felt the unique minty flavor would be perfect in a pesto sauce.  Would my pesto have cheese?  Would the traditional parmesan go well with the shiso?  Maybe pecorino would work well (pecorino and mint make a delicious pesto when mixed with pistachios).  I knew I was in short supply of those cheeses at home and that would mean a trip to the supermarket for cheese.  Were there any cheeses I could buy at the farmers' market that would be suitable?

The salad I ate in Hawaii contained goat cheese.  Coach Farm just happens to have a booth at the market.  Why not try mixing goat cheese into the sauce?  I went to the booth and inquired about their firmest cheeses.  The vendor suggested a well-aged, raw milk cheese.  I took a taste and was surprised it didn't have any of the funky flavors raw milk cheeses tend to have. I thought the shiso, the goat cheese, some shallots (I had onion mignonette in the salad in Hawaii), basil from my garden (to make sure there was some expected flavor in the sauce), and  toasted pine nuts would be perfect over gnocchi for dinner.  I also included some roasted, heirloom cherry tomatoes.

I would love to have served this to someone without saying what the ingredients were and then watching that person taste it. I was kind to Kevin and gave him a warning.

Gnocchi with Shiso-Goat Cheese Pesto and Roasted Tomatoes

  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 Tbl rice wine vinegar
  • 20 heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 +1 Tbl olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 bunch shiso (about two cups of leaves)
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 2 Tbl toasted pine nuts
  • 4 oz. firm, aged goat cheese
  • 1 package of your favorite gnocchi
Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the shallots and vinegar in a small bowl and allow to sit while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

Toss tomatoes with 1 Tbl of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast for about 10 minutes.  You want them soft, but try to avoid having them burst.

Combine basil, shiso, remaining olive oil, pine nuts, shallots, and vinegar in a food processor.  Process until fairly smooth.  Add the cheese and pulse until combined.

Cook gnocchi in salted boiling water until they float to the top of the pot.  Combine with the pesto and top with the tomatoes.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Vacation Recovery Meals

It's summer.  It's the time when farm markets are full to bursting and everyone is eating healthfully, partaking of this enormous bounty of produce.

Unless you're on vacation of course.  Leave the house for the week and all bets are off.

I returned from my annual pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island and the annual Pony Swim and my body is in serious need of real nutrients.  If you follow my Instagram account, you will see my week was filled with doughnuts, burgers, tacos, ice cream, and barbecue (and possibly a salad here and there).

When you consider I'm desperately trying to get back into shape after having so many physical setbacks, I need to recover.

I worked on the perfect menu plan filled with farm market produce and local meats.  I thought I would share some of the recipes and inspiration.

My first dinner after my return was a corn and fennel salad topped with a bit of steak and dressed with a lemon-herb dressing.

Corn and Fennel Salad with Balsamic Grilled Steak

  • 1 skirt steak
  • 2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbl honey
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbl olive oil, divided
  • 2 generous pinches of sea salt
  • 1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin (a mandoline works well for this)
  • Kernels cut off the cob of 4 ears of cooked corn
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1/2 head radicchio, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh basil
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh mint

Mix together the balsamic vinegar, 2 Tbl olive oil, honey, and 1 pinch of salt in a bowl.  Coat the steak with this mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for several hours.

Mix the lemon juice and zest, oregano, basil, lemon, and the other pinch of salt.  Whisk in the remaining olive oil.

Grill or pan fry the steak (I use an electric grill) until cooked to your liking.  Allow to rest for a few minutes and cut into strips.

Toss the lettuce, fennel, and corn together and then add the lemon dressing.  Add additional salt if necessary.

Serve topped with strips of steak.

***And now for something completely different***

I lied.  It's not completely different.  It is another dinner though.

For this one I marinated pork tenderloin using the same mojito marinade I made for my Loco Tacos:  Rum, mint, orange juice, onion, and lime juice.  I let the meat sit in that all day.  Then I browned it on the outside and finished in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

On the side was "salsa rice".  I cooked onion, jalapeno, and chopped fresh tomato together.  I cooked up a whole grain rice blend and then mixed it into the tomato mixture with cilantro and more lime juice.

Quite tasty.  This is a perfect marinade for pork.  

***A real recipe is coming***

While planning my meals for this week I thought a tasty option would be a quick and light chicken cacciatore.  I would use the traditional vegetables of onion, pepper, mushrooms, and tomatoes and quickly cook them with chicken breasts chunks.  I would serve the whole thing over zoodles to keep it extra light.

Then I was at the farmers' market this weekend and I had a new inspiration.  I can't get mushrooms at my local markets.  I can get eggplant.  If you're a regular reader, you know I have a strange relationship with cooking and eating eggplant, but I'm starting to find ways to make the smaller, creamy-textured, Italian or Japanese eggplants palatable (the big dark ones I have given up on).  When I saw the pile of multi-colored eggplants at one stall, I decided to reconsider the mushrooms and save myself a trip to the supermarket.

Chicken cacciatore is whole chicken pieces, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers and wine.  Chicken Sorrentino is chicken paillards, tomato, eggplant, prosciutto, and cheese.  How about I do a little combination?

As an aside, do they really eat Chicken Sorrentino in Sorrento?   We seem to associate eggplant with Sorrento the same way we associate spinach with Florence (rightly or wrongly).  I was in Sorrento last summer and ate a pizza that happened to have sausage and eggplant on it.  I guess that's close enough.

Another aside:  I hate making zoodles.  My food processor needs some replacement parts and they are all backordered.  I have no easy way to shred zucchini into pasta-like shapes.  I had to make noodles shapes with a vegetable peeler (my mandoline slices too thick and the julienne blade is awkward with long vegetables).  That was rather tedious.  Once they were sliced, I sauteed them in olive oil and called it a night.

I'm calling this recipe...

Chicken Cacciatorentino

  • 4 small Italian eggplants, cut into large dice
  • Salt
  • 2  Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 6 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh oregano

Toss eggplant chunks with salt and place in a colander.

Heat olive oil in a large pan and brown the chicken chunks on all sides.  Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add onion to the pan and cook until soft. Add the pepper and cook until it begins to soften.  Add the garlic and cook another minute.  Pat the eggplant chunks dry with a paper towel and add it to the pan as well.

Once all vegetables are soft, add the tomatoes, wine, oregano and basil.  Return the chicken to the pan.  Season with additional salt to taste.  Simmer 20 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and chicken is cooked through.

Serve over pasta or your favorite pasta substitute.