March 22, 2012

Wine and Dine

Things to eat when it's blustery and rainy out:  this red wine spaghetti. 

Isn't it pretty?  That tangle of deep mauve noodles on the plate, punctuated with bright flecks of parsley?  Nestled in that mess are crunchy pieces of toasted walnuts, red pepper flakes and just softened bits of fresh garlic too.  But that spaghetti, actually cooked in red wine - total revelation.  It picks up a lot of earthiness and a little fruitiness and all of that brings out all the natural nuttiness of the pasta.

This is the kind of pasta you would serve friends that looks and sounds way fancier than it actually is.  Throw a little roasted broccolini, or my new favorite broccoli di cicco, on that plate and you've got quite the elegant meal.  Not that elegance is exclusively for sharing with friends or that this dinner isn't perfectly appropriate for say, a Wednesday night dinner either.  Because that's just how this plate went down.  On  a weeknight.  Just D and I.  Paired up with what remained of the bottle of red wine.

But let me not throw you out into the world of cooking pasta in red wine without a few ground rules.  You must, I mean must, use a wine that you would totally drink.  Think about it.  The pasta will be soaking up this liquid so whatever flavor the wine has, it's sure to impart some of that to the finished dish. Something in the $10 range.  Something like Zinfandel or Merlot - think less dry, more jammy.  Bonus if you only make a half recipe like I did, because then you have the other half of the bottle to enjoy with dinner.  Also, don't try to fancy this up and use fresh pasta.  It's cooking time is too brief for the red wine to do it's magic.  Just buy a good quality brand of dry pasta.  Lastly, this is a really simple recipe where each ingredient shares in the spotlight, so you know, use the good quality stuff.

Red Wine Spaghetti with Walnuts
Adapted from Food and Wine

A few key things with this recipe. As with most sauceless pastas, this was best when eaten immediately after making, the leftovers just didn't pop. Also, use a wine you would drink. It dosen't have to be fancy, something in the $10 range maybe. Since the pasta soaks up a considerable amount of the wine, it's flavor profile will obviously be contributing to the final dish. I used a Zinfandel, but I think a Merlot could work here too. And if you like whole wheat pastas, a good quality brand could translate well here adding something a little more nutty and toothsome.

4-6 servings

5 cups water
3 1/4 cups dry red wine
3/4 pound dry spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
a big handful of walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper

In a saucepan, combine the water with 3 cups of the wine and a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and red pepper and season with salt.Cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of wine and the reserved cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Stir in the pasta and cook until the liquid is nearly absorbed, 2 minutes. Add the parsley, nuts, the 1/2 cup of cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and serve, passing grated cheese at the table.

March 12, 2012

Transforming Colors

My mind must be somewhere else.  Dreaming up vacations, buried in books, bogged down in studying for midterms.  It's certainly nowhere near the kitchen.

Ridiculous things have transpired there, things that I know better than to do.  Like cooking red cabbage in a cast iron skillet.  I've been so into using mine for everything lately; for perfectly crusty grilled cheese, for big puffy german pancakes or a good deeply golden sauté of veggies, that I absentmindedly tossed some red cabbage in there without thinking.  Until about 30 seconds later when bits of blue started popping up. Fun if you're doing a science experiment, or fancy yourself a Dr. Seuss inspired meal, but I'm not too into eating unnaturally blue foods so I quickly grabbed the hot skillet and transfered it all over to a non-reactive cooking vessel.  Doh!

Then the other day I made some turnip and potato pancakes.  Just grated up the white starchy roots, mixed it with an egg, some flour and chopped green onions and got to frying (in my cast iron skillet, naturally).  But the batch was bigger than I anticipated and I just wanted to eat dinner so I only fried up about half and told myself to cook the rest up later.  Except, do you know what happens to raw grated potatoes when you just let them sit out?  They oxidize.  They turn black.  People, I know this.  I've fished out bits of oxidized grated potatoes from my drain before that look more like a hairball or something dead.  It's gross.  But set them aside I did, only to find an unappealing grey mixture left in the bowl.  These have not been my finest hours.

All things considered, a green smoothie doesn't seem so out of place then.  Except this was no accident.  And green smoothies/juices are everywhere these days.  This one is a particularly fine example with the addition of an orange and a frozen banana, and coconut water if you're into that sort of thing.  I packed in a bunch of spinach and a squeeze of lemon juice and let my (crappy) blender do the work.  It's bright and tasty and we pretty much drank it every day for a week until the giant bag of spinach I got from Mariquita Farms ran out.

Black potatoes?  Blue cabbage?  Whatever, I have my green smoothie to comfort me.

Greensicle Smoothie
Adapted from Puree Juice Bar via Tasting Table

I've given you the recipe using spinach, but kale (as it was originally written) and baby chard work just as well. I increased the amount of green from 1/2 cup to 3 - 4 cups because it seemed like so little, and putting more in hardly changes the flavor. If you use all spinach the banana and sweetness of the orange really come through. In the batch that I made with half spinach and half baby chard, I started to get hints of vegetable. Adjust according to taste.

2 (16oz) drinks
3 - 4 cups chopped spinach
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 oranges, segmented and chopped
1 frozen banana, cut into chunks
1 cup coconut water

Put all ingredients into blender and blend until smooth.