Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Roasted beet and goat cheese salad with orange vinaigrette

I roasted beets for the first time last summer and the results were a revelation. Sweet, tender, and nothing like the over-vinegared jarred ones I remember from childhood. They pair incredibly well with tangy goat cheese, so tonight I made a salad with those two ingredients as the base.

I added some spring greens, chopped walnuts for crunch, and a homemade orange vinaigrette (homemade salad dressings are so much better than bottled and they're a snap to whip up). I'm not one for making a meal of a salad, but if the ingredients are interesting enough, and filling enough, it can be pretty satisfying. This one filled me up nicely.

Roasted beet and goat cheese salad with orange vinaigrette

4 medium sized beets, roasted*, peeled and chopped
1 navel orange
bagged spring greens (or buy in bulk, enough for about 2 cups worth per serving)
1 small log of goat cheese
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

*Roasting beets: wrap cleaned beets in foil, then place on a baking sheet. Roast in 375F oven for about an hour. Beets are done when you can easily pierce them with a knife. Wearing rubber gloves, peel skins off beets and slice.

Make vinaigrette by first zesting the orange and putting zest in a Mason jar. Then halve the orange and using a citrus reamer, squeeze the juice into the jar. Then spoon in the mustard, followed by the olive oil. Add some salt and ground black pepper. Pop the lid on the jar and shake until emulsified. Add more salt and/or pepper if needed.

Clean the salad greens and place in a big bowl for mixing. Add the sliced beets and walnuts to the greens, and mix in the vinaigrette. Use tongs to ensure the dressing is uniformly distributed. You may not need all of the dressing, you don't want the ingredients to be dripping with it. Place in serving bowls and top with chunks of goat cheese.

Serves 4.



Monday, August 17, 2009

Capellini cacio e pepe

As far as easy dinners go, it doesn't get much simpler than capellini cacio e pepe. The classic pasta dish has Roman roots, and it's essentially comprised of three ingredients: the cooked pasta, Pecorino romano cheese, and black pepper. Cacio translates into cheese; pepe into pepper. It develops a creaminess from mixing the hot pasta with the cheese and some of the pasta cooking water.

I made it for dinner tonight out of sheer laziness, but I have to say the results were delicious. The cracked black pepper provided a nice bite, and I used Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rather than Pecorino and it worked well. I've seen recipes that suggested mixing a few tablespoons worth of pasta cooking water with the cheese so that it forms a paste, which is then combined with the pasta. Instead I combined the pasta. grated cheese and water quickly in the still-warm pot after draining the noodles, and that helped melt the cheese into a sauce. Use as much pasta water as needed to achieve a creamy consistency. Also, don't be skimpy with the pepper!

You can use any kind of pasta, short or long, for this dish. I used capellini, but you can easily use spaghetti, penne, whatever your favourite.

Capellini cacio e pepe

1 lb capellini (or other pasta)
1 cup grated Pecorino romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for garnish
1 cup pasta cooking water
Ground black pepper

Cook pasta according to directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid before draining.

Mix pasta, grated cheese and about 1/2 cup cooking water in pot that pasta has cooked in.

If pasta is still dry, add more cooking liquid. Grind black pepper over top and mix in.

Serve in big bowls, with extra grated cheese sprinkled over top and another grinding of black pepper.

Serves 3-4



Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bulgur salad with grilled chicken and parsley pesto

Preserves have been my obsession this summer and I have to admit I love having a fridge full of Mason jars filled with all sorts of things: basil pesto, parsley pesto, strawberry jam, strawberry-balsamic vinegar-black pepper sauce, etc. My mom's been preserving up a storm as well, and I can't wait to try the pickles she jarred a few weeks back.

One of the best surprises has to be the aforementioned parsley pesto, which I made specifically for a recipe from the June 2009 issue of Bon Appetit. I had quite a bit left over, and I've since used it as a sandwich spread and all-around garnish. Try it -- I found it a fresh, summery alternative to the ubiquitous basil pesto.

Bulgur salad with grilled chicken and parsley pesto

Prep: 30 min Total: 45 min
Serves 4

3 cups water
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking bulgur
1 1/2 cups (packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves with tender stems
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted, cooled
1/3 cup (generous) coarsely chopped shallots
2 1/2 tbsp (or more) fresh lemon juice, divided
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing
4 large chicken breast halves with skin (about 1 1/2 pounds)
8 fresh apricots, halved, pitted, or 16 drained canned apricot halves
Butter lettuce leaves (optional)

Place 3 cups water and bulgur in medium saucepan; sprinkle with salt. Bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until bulgur is tender but still slightly chewy, stirring occasionally, 11 to 12 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water until cool. Drain well. Transfer to large bowl.

Meanwhile, place parsley, almonds, shallots, and 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice in processer. Using on/off turns, process until parsley is coarsely chopped. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup oil and process to coarse puree. Season pesto to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir 3/4 cup pesto and remaining 1 tbsp lemon juice into drained bulgur. Season to taste with salt and pepper and additional lemon juice, if desired.

Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Brush chicken and apricot halves with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill chicken and apricot halves until chicken is cooked through and apricots are slightly charred, 7 to 8 minutes per side for chicken and 2 minutes per side for apricots.

Line 4 plates with lettuce leaves. Divide bulgur salad among plates. Place 1 grilled chicken breast on each plate, Spoon dollop of pesto atop chicken. Divide apricot halves among plates and serve.

Courtesy Bon Appetit, June 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Basil risotto with roasted tomatoes

I have to admit I've gotten into this season of Hell's Kitchen, even though it borders on the ridiculous at times. Like most, I watch purely to see Gordon Ramsay give the contestants hell for burning scallops and under-cooking chicken. In the first episode of each HK season, Chef Ramsay asks the contenders to present their signature dish. It got me thinking about what my signature dish is -- do I even have one? I love to cook, and I cook frequently, but is there one particular dish that I'd call my own (even if the recipe isn't mine)?

There's definitely one that stands out from when I first started to enjoy cooking, and I remember making it for company on more than one occasion: Basil Risotto with Roast Tomatoes from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 1. It was the first risotto I ever made, and though I tried others, I kept coming back to this one. For starters, it just looks so pretty. A row of beautifully roasted cherry tomatoes still clinging to the vine, vibrant green basil pesto, chopped roughly so you can still make out bits of basil and chunks of pine nut, all sitting atop a mound of creamy risotto. The white, green, and red brings to mind other classic Italian dishes such as the Margherita pizza or the Caprese salad (also favourites of mine).

I hadn't made the dish in a while, and on a recent night when I didn't know what to do for supper I realized I had everything I needed in the pantry for it, with a few modifications. Though I didn't have cherry tomatoes on the vine, I had a pint of grape tomatoes. And with three jars of homemade basil pesto in the fridge I wasn't about to make more, even though I do like the texture of the rough chopped version. And I have to say the finished product was just as tasty and satisfying as I remember -- one bonus being the homemade chicken stock that added a wonderful richness to the risotto. Of course the key to a creamy, not gluey, risotto is taking the care to add the chicken stock to the rice slowly while stirring constantly. It's not a dish you can pop on the stove and leave, you're actively involved the whole time. But I personally don't mind that. With a glass of wine by my side, and some music on in the background, I find risotto-making therapeutic.

So while I'm still pondering what my current signature dish might be -- maybe I just haven't found it yet! -- here's one I know I'll keep in my repertoire for years to come. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Basil risotto with roasted tomatoes

4 vines or 24 individual cherry tomatoes
olive oil for drizzling
cracked black pepper
sea salt


20g (1/2 oz) butter
1 tbsp olive oil, extra
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 1/2 cups (2 1/4 pints) chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups arborio rice
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

rough pesto*
1 cup basil leaves
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup toasted and roughly chopped pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Place the tomatoes in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 1 hour or until soft.

Make rough pesto by roughly chopping the basil leaves and mixing with the chopped garlic, grated cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil. Set aside until risotto is done.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the butter, extra olive oil, onion and garlic for 6-8 minutes.

Place the stock in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a slow simmer. Add the rice to the onion, stirring for 2 minutes or until translucent. Add the hot stock, a bit at a time, stirring continuously until the stock is absorbed and the rice is al dente (about 25-30 minutes). Keep checking the rice as you may not need all of the stock (nothing worse than a soupy risotto). The rice should be soft but still have a bit of a bite to it.

When the risotto is done, stir through the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve in bowls topped with the rough pesto and the tomatoes. Drizzle some olive oil over top and serve.

Serves 4.

*If you don't want to make the rough pesto, a dollop of a good-quality store-bought pesto will work. But the rough pesto adds a nice texture to the dish and I recommend taking the time to make it.

Courtesy Modern Classics 1, Donna Hay, HarperCollins, 2002.



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