Scottish Salmon anyone?

A package of Scottish Smoked Salmon caught my eye at the grocery store recently. It was a thick slice from a fillet weighing between 5-6 ounces in size, similar in shape to a cut of hot smoked Pacific Northwest salmon. But it was softer when pressed—on the order of a chunk of cold smoked Nova.  I was intrigued…

When I opened it later, I discovered the salmon’s skin was attached and it was wonderfully moist and flaked easily.  It’s richly smoked flavor was more intense than the usual Nova salmon—somewhere between hot smoked and Nova. Oh yum. This delicacy would require a light touch to retain its essence and beauty. 

After considering my options, I decided to feature the salmon in a light, creamy Pasta Carbonara. 

I’d go with a fettucine rounded it out with mild artichoke quarters, a bit of roasted red pepper and peas for color—and fold in the salmon at the last minute. If the lovely Scottish smoked salmon is not available, go with your next best choice, either Nova or hot smoked.  

Since there isn’t much prep for this dish, it’s best to have everything ready as it all happens in the blink of an eye.  Frozen peas are set out on the counter at the onset. Canned quartered artichokes are used rather than fresh or frozen and tossed lightly with mild vinaigrette.  I used a variety of fettucine that only takes 5 minutes and started it cooking before beginning the carbonara. 

First, the vegetables are heated in a sauté pan and the hot drained pasta is added and combined. When well heated, the pan is removed from the heat. The egg mixture is poured over the hot pasta forming its own creamy sauce with more Parmesan added in. Any residual heat should be enough for the eggs to bind and cling to the pasta. If in doubt briefly return to heat. Too much heat can run the risk of a scrambled mess.

 

Top with the glorious smoked salmon and a few chives or green onions, give a light toss and dinner is served! 

Smoked Salmon Carbonara

Ingredients

  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, small slivers
  • ⅓ cup roasted red peppers, strips
  • 1 cup quartered artichokes, rinse, drain, cut if large. If time permits, marinate  briefly in 1-2 Tbsp vinaigrette
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ tsp each salt & red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 12 oz. fettuccine, cooked al dente, 1 cup salted pasta water, reserved
  • 5 oz. Scottish smoked salmon, broken up – or equivalent Nova or hot smoked salmon
  • salt and freshly ground pepper as needed
  • 2 Tbsp chives or green onion slivers

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain and reserve 1 cup pot liquid.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, sauté garlic briefly in olive oil. Add roasted red peppers and drained artichokes, gently toss to incorporate flavors. Add the defrosting peas, cook 1-2 minutes to heat well.  
  3. Beat eggs with red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Slowly whisk ½ cup of the hot pasta liquid into the eggs to temper them and stir in ¼ cup of grated cheese. 
  4. Reduce heat to medium, toss the pasta and vegetables together in the hot skillet. Drizzle with olive oil to avoid sticking to pan and remove from heat.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta/vegetables to evenly coat; sprinkle with more cheese. Add more hot pasta water if needed to form a creamy sauce; adjust seasoning.
  6. Top with the smoked salmon pieces and gently combine; overmixing can reduce freshness and color. Sprinkle with chives or green onion.  Yield:  4 generous servings

No Sweat Dinner = Sheet Pan + Pasta

There are times when we just want a nice hot dinner—but don’t want to be bothered with a lot of hands on busyness. That’s when a sheet pan, pasta, and a little advance planning can make it all happen.

Got a pound or so of boneless-skinless chicken thighs?  Spoil yourself with juicy slices of herb roasted chicken showcased in an enticing spread of roasted aromatic vegetables and penne pasta finished in a light herbal sauce.

Sheet pan magic

A few things to do a day or more ahead:  Mix up a thick herbal marinade, combine it with chicken thighs and chill at least 2 hours. Set aside approximately 3 cups of aromatic vegetables—ones not extremely dense for a faster bake—like fennel, scallions, and red peppers.  Up to 2 days in advance cook up a small batch of a resilient pasta such as penne, which can hold up to advance cooking.  Drain, rinse, and drizzle with olive oil to keep from sticking; cool and store airtight in fridge.

When you’ve got dinner on your  mind—about an hour before eating—bring out the chicken, vegetables, and pasta to approach room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking pan with foil or a bit of olive oil.

Distribute the thighs on the pan, arrange prepped vegetables among them; drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and paprika.

Sheet Pan Roast

Pop the pan into the oven and step away for 35-40 minutes until done.  If you think about it, give the chicken thighs a turn and flip the vegetables to cook evenly. Remove pan and cover to keep warm.

To bring it all together, begin with a simple garlic-herb oil in a wide pan or skillet.  To that, heat a handful of cherry tomatoes and the roasted vegetables. Fold in the pre-cooked pasta, and for additional moisture include any sheet pan liquid or a bit of hot water plus a generous drizzle of olive oil.  Toss lightly until pasta is coated, shiny, and hot. Dust with Parmesan.

Rather than lose the chicken in an indistinguishable mass of pasta and vegetables, retain their identity and flavor.  Slice the warm chicken and feature pieces tucked into the pasta mélange. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.  Pass more cheese if desired.

Roast Chicken Thighs with Vegetables & Penne

Ingredients
1½ lb chicken thighs, boneless, skinless (about 6), wash, pat dry
Herb Marinade
2 tsp mixed dried herbs such as thyme, oregano, marjoram
½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
⅓ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp parsley, chop
2 Tbsp fresh fennel fronds, chop

1 small bulb fennel, trim, slice into ½ inch thick wedges
1 red pepper, seed, cut in ½ inch thick wedges
6-8 green onions, trim, cut in 3” lengths
salt, pepper, 1 tsp paprika
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided

8 oz penne, cooked al dente
3 cloves garlic, smash and cut into slivers
½ tsp each dried rosemary and sage
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half if large
¼ cup Parmesan or Asiago, grated
2 Tbsp fresh herbs: thyme, marjoram, parsley, etc.

Directions

  1. Combine the marinade. Place thighs in zip lock bag, pour the marinade over, massage into the thighs and let marinade at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°, place room temp thighs on lined baking pan. Distribute the vegetables among them and drizzle lightly with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and dust all with paprika.
  3. Roast for 35-40 minutes turning once or twice, until thighs and vegetables evenly color, and meat is firm when pressed, @ 165°F. Cover lightly with foil.
  4. If not prepped ahead, cook the penne in salted water until al dente @ 10 minutes. Drain, save 1 cup water.
  5. In skillet or wide pot over medium low, heat 1 Tbsp oil, add the garlic cook 1-2 minute until aromatic, add the dried herbs and continue to cook 2 minutes longer to richly season the oil, but not brown the garlic.
  6. Increase heat to medium, add tomatoes and the roasted vegetables, cook to incorporate and heat all, 1-2 minutes. Add the penne plus a bit of the pasta water to moisten pasta and keep it from sticking to pot; cook 1-2 minutes.
  7. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil, adjust seasoning, and sprinkle with cheese. Serve with slices of warm thighs tucked into the pasta. Sprinkle with fresh herbs. Serves 4. Pass more cheese if desired.

To Your Health

Delicious delicata squash is available in markets right now, and if you haven’t given it a try, you are in for a delightful discovery.

Delicatas are one of Squash World’s most misunderstood varieties. Their unique shoulder season adds to the confusion, since they grow during the summer and are harvested in the fall. Thus, they are actually more related to zucchini and other summer squash.

You’ve probably seen these elongated, pale-yellow, green-ridged beauties mixed in with the winter squash.  Just eying them in a display next to thick-shelled squash, it’s easy to assume that they, too, have a hard exterior. Not so, their skin cuts easily and is quite edible.

Delicata specimen

Although the squash is a bit smaller than many of its shelf mates, when sliced open you’ll find a firm golden interior with a string of large seeds (also edible). One look inside tells you this variety is richly loaded with minerals and fiber.

This makes the delicata an ideal candidate for a fast oven roast.  In about 30 minutes the half-moons soften and caramelize beautifully, and the tender ribbons of skin help retain their charming shape.  While at it, you could include other mildly dense vegetables such as onions or sliced peppers.

Delicata roasted half-moons

For a seasonal pasta combination, I went with ruffled farfalle and lightly coated everything with a full flavored near-raw Kale Pesto, a hearty fall pesto variation loaded with nutrients and possibilities.

Delicata, kale pesto, pasta

If you are up for other pasta options, try an interesting substitute such as kelp or soba noodles.

Delicata Squash, Kale Pesto & Pasta

Ingredients
1 small Delicata squash, wash, halve lengthwise and seed; cut into ¼” – ½” slices
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 sliced onion and/or 1 cup sliced multicolored peppers (optional)
Kale Pesto
1 small bunch cleaned & stemmed lacinato kale leaves, 3 cups packed pieces
3 cloves garlic
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp salt
¼ cup pine nuts, toast
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (more for topping)
1 Tbsp lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, approx..
12 oz. pasta
Finish: grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. To roast the delicata squash, on a baking sheet drizzle the squash and any additional vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast @ 425°F for 20-30 minutes, until squash softens and begins to caramelize and brown. Remove and cool. Can be done ahead.
  2. For pesto, to blanch kale in microwave place 3 cups rinsed, chopped kale in microwaveable container. Cover and cook 1-2 minutes until wilted, still dark green, and reduced to 1 cup or less.
    Place the cooled leaves and cooking liquid in a blender with garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and lemon juice. Whirl briefly. Add pine nuts, grated cheese; slowly drizzle in olive oil pulsing to form a thick, textured paste; adjust seasoning. Can be made ahead. This will likely make more than needed.
  3. To assemble, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente and drain; save 1 cup of water.
    Place pasta In large bowl, toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons of pesto,  a little pasta water, if dry. Add the vegetables to the pasta and toss with more pesto to lightly coat. Serve with grated cheese. Serves 3-4

sauce & cheese with your bow ties

I was in the mood for a quick pasta dinner and all I had in my pantry was a package of bow ties, likely an impulse buy. For pasta staples I tend to stick with the basics, a linguine or similar strand, a tube such as rigatoni, a lasagna type, and a smaller shape such as acini.

I started the whole project late; it was closing in on dinnertime, so it needed to be straight forward.  I envisioned a fast tomato sauce, the pasta, a little kale for roughage, and fill in with mozzarella and Parmesan.

Actually, this evolved into a one-pot meal in a hurry and turned out to be an incredibly nice surprise.

I started by making a marinara sauce of sorts. Once it was underway, I added chopped kale.  Then, I decided to throw in the dried bow ties plus a little extra water to extend the sauce. Why not cook it all together? I ventured.

one-pot bow ties

In the time it took to simmer the sauce a few minutes the pasta was al dente and had absorbed much of the excess liquid. I poured it all into a quiche dish, tucked mozzarella pieces into the crevices of the bowties, sprinkled on a little Parmesan, and baked it long enough to melt the cheese, make a salad, and clean up.

The surprise was that the bow ties expanded but retained their mouth-sized shape and held together. Their curly edges and flat surfaces were ooooozing with sauce and cheese.  Oh, my.  If you are a sauce (and cheese) lover, this is the way get it!

One-Pot Bow Ties & Kale in Marinara Sauce

Ingredients
2-3 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, cut into strips
1 cubanelle or other mild-medium hot pepper, seed and cut into strips
1 clove garlic, mash & mince
½ tsp dried oregano or basil
1 tsp fresh rosemary
16 oz can crushed tomatoes
8 oz can tomato sauce
½ tsp salt, pinch crushed red pepper
3-4 leaves kale, cut away center rib, chop  bite-sized
1 cup water, approx.
8 oz pasta bow ties
4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 1”x ¾”x ½” thick strips
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Directions

  1. In a sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium heat; add onion to soften. Stir in the green pepper, cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the garlic. Add herbs, cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in the tomato products, salt and pepper, and simmer 5 minutes.
  2.  Stir in the cut up kale, 1 cup water, and cook to wilt, about 3 minutes.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Pour the pasta into an oiled wide quiche dish.To finish, tuck mozzarella into the pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  3. Cover with foil and bake at 350-375°F for 20 minutes, remove foil for the last 10 minutes, until bubbly and cheese is melted.
    Serves 3 or more

       Note To add ½ lb ground sausage or beef, brown it first; drain and proceed.

Soup Time

The past couple of weeks have been cool and rainy in the Pacific Northwest—not sure I’m ready for fall quite yet, but I’ve sure enjoyed making soup again.

Here’s a more substantial soup to meet the changing seasons. It is inspired by a small amount of roast chicken left in the fridge, just enough for an easy soup.

Earlier, I whipped up a tasty stock with reserved carcass bones left from the roast chicken. Click on this link if you are interested in making your own stock.  As a heads up, this older post needs an update to include a pressure cooker version. The chief difference is in the time factor, which drops to 30 minutes under pressure rather than an hour or longer on the stove.

Armed with a delicious stock, this soup also includes a few basic vegetables and thyme. It’s thickened slightly and rounded out with a handful of orzo for added interest. I’m not a big fan of cream-based soups, but its addition transforms this simple soup into a nourishing entrée when balanced with a hearty salad.

Lacking cream, I finished my soup with a can of evaporated milk, my old standby. I learned to appreciate it while spending time in the Bahamas where it is frequently served with coffee instead of milk or cream. Unlike yogurt or milk, when heated it does not break or curdle.

It’s time for a bowl of creamy steamy chicken soup—while the weather is still cool…

Creamy Chicken Orzo Soup

Ingredients
3 Tbsp butter, or part olive oil
½ small onion, chop
1 medium carrot, chop
1 stalk celery with leaves, chop
½ cup orzo
2 Tbsp flour
½ tsp dried thyme
4 cups chicken stock, good quality
1 heaping cup cooked chicken or turkey, shred or cut into bites
½ tsp salt or to taste, and ¼ tsp white pepper
½ cup hot cream or evaporated milk
fresh thyme leaves

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the vegetables, cooking until soft. Add the toss and toss well.
  2. Stir in the flour, cook 2-3 minutes.
  3. Slowly stir in stock and bring to a boil. Simmer 10 minutes.  Add the chicken and simmer 5 minutes, or until orzo is tender.
  4. Add the cream and cook 3-5 minutes longer to heat and combine flavors.  Adjust seasoning.  Serve with fresh thyme. Serves 4.

Raging Ragu

Porketta roasts occasionally come up on promotion at my local market and I’ve deliberated, but have always passed.  Recently, I spotted a good looking pork butt in the meat case and decided to give the porketta concept a try with my own seasoning blend.

You guessed it.  I made easy work of it in the multi-cooker, finished it under pressure, and was done in less than an hour.  The results were great.  Even better, there was enough left for another meal—and the main purpose of this post.

The porketta creates an absolute stellar Ragu, and arguably the easiest and best meat sauce imaginable.

Ragu and Pappardelle

Just to recap the porketta process, a 3-pound seasoned roast was sliced in half.  Both pieces were seared in the multi-cooker. 1-1/2 cups of water were added to the pot to further deglaze and build pressure. A rack was inserted and the meat was placed on it.  The pot was set to HI Pressure for 30 minutes with a 10 minute natural release.  The roast was then ready to go.

I chose a simple marinara sauce as the basis of the Ragu and cut well over a pound of roasted porketta into 1” chunks.  The meat was so tender, it nearly fell apart in the process.  All the better.  Into the sauce it went, along with some of the residual pan drippings.  The Ragu burbled and mingled for 20 to 30 minutes.

Ragu and Spinach Pasta

If you can bear to wait, the Ragu is even better the next day.  Serve this delight over pasta or as an astounding pizza topping.

Porketta Ragu

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1-1/2 lbs roasted porketta, cut into chunks
  • 4 to 6 cups marinara sauce

Instructions

In a large pot, heat the marinara sauce.  Meanwhile, cut the left over porketta roast into 1″ chunks, break it up a bit with a fork and add to the sauce.  Heat until meat is moist and begins to fall apart but still chunky, about 20 minutes.  Serve over linguine, rigatoni, or pappardelle and top with fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese. Serves 2 to 4

Porketta Seasoning:  1 Tbsp fennel seeds, 2 tsp oregano, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 5 crushed garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp olive oil.

Crush the fennel thru pepper flakes in a spice mill or mortar and pestle.  Add the crushed garlic and the olive and combine well.

 

Birds of a Feather

Dear readers: please be advised that some may find this post objectionable as it skirts the very edgy topic of guns. No, I’m not writing about the latest gun-related tragedy nor is it a rant on gun control. I’m just waxing nostalgic, because guns have not always been defined by mayhem and murder.

I grew up in the mid-part of the 20th century when guns were a big part of our existence. My dad was a marksman, an avid hunter, and was very proud of his gun collection and the many trophies that surrounded us. We belonged to a gun club where we regularly took turns at target practice and skeet shooting. He saw to it that I had my own .22 rifle and later a .410 shotgun; I learned how to care for them, to use them responsibly, and I became a pretty good shot. It never occurred to me that they could be used for violence against another person. At our house, guns were a form of recreation and largely related to delicious food—our freezer was well stocked with bear, deer, quail, pheasant and whatever else was fair game that year.

My mother was an excellent cook and prided herself in knowing how to best prepare whatever game came through the door. Those meals were highly anticipated events and deeply appreciated by everyone. As I think about it now, one of my particular favorites was her Pheasant Cacciatore.

Since pheasant can be quite lean, she would soak the pheasant ahead in an herb and red wine marinade to moisten, tenderize, and remove any potential gaminess. Sometimes she would start with a bit of bacon and then brown off the pheasant. She’d proceed to develop a hearty sauce with plenty of mushrooms, onions, carrot, tomatoes and capers—perhaps she’d throw in a little green pepper, celery, or olives. I suspect she’d combine the pheasant and all the trimmings in a heavy covered pot and gently braise it in a moderately slow oven.

The recipe has long since been lost, but that’s my best recollection. I recently reflected on those fabulous meals while preparing my easy mid-week Chicken Cacciatore.

It is made effortlessly with this Instant Pot treatment, yet it is a distant second to my mom’s ‘classic’ version. When nearly done, mine became a one-pot meal with the addition of a few handfuls of penne pasta! Still, with those flavors and few favorite pieces of plumb chicken, you really can’t go wrong.

Chicken Cacciatore, PC

Although this is presented in Instant Pot format, directions are included for standard stove top preparation, too. If using dry penne pasta on final, more liquid maybe required.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 to 6 chicken thighs (bone-in)
1 onion, slice
1 carrot, chop
2 ribs celery, chop
1 pasilla pepper, seed and chop
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, mince
½ teaspoon thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ pound mushrooms, trim and slice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken stock, water or other liquid
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons capers
2 cups approximate, dry penne pasta
Garnish: ½ cup parsley and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. If using an Instant Pot, set it medium Sauté, and heat 2 tbsp. oil. Pat the chicken dry, season with salt and pepper, and place in the hot pot. Brown 4-5 minutes per side and remove to a holding plate. Pour off excess fat.
  2. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the carrot, celery, pepper, the fennel, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes, and cook 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pot. Stir to loosen the fond in bottom of pan with the liquid released from the mushrooms. Increase to medium if necessary, cook 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Stir in 1 cup chicken stock or water, the tomatoes and the capers.
  5. Return the chicken to the pot, nestle the pieces into the tomato mixture to barely cover them and bring to a simmer.
  6. Lock the lid, set pot to high Pressure for 12 minutes. (If using standard stovetop preparation, cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender.) When time is up, turn off the pot, disconnect, and let rest 10 minutes. Carefully release any remaining pressure and open.
  7. There should be enough liquid in the pot to also cook the penne pasta. Set the pot to medium Sauté and bring back to a simmer. Add 1 handful of pasta per serving (about 2 cups) and simmer for 10 minutes, until al dente. Adjust seasoning and dust with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese. Serves 4

Pasta Fazool: the ultimate vegetable soup

Several years ago I traveled with an Italian family, and this was one of their most requested soups.  They referred to it as Pasta Fazool, but it is also known by its traditional name, Pasta e Fagioli.

This easy, hearty dish is built on a zesty tomato based white bean soup, with plenty of fresh vegetables thrown in. Then, the ever-present pasta is added for the crowning touch.  What’s not to like?Fazool

Pasta Fazool is quite affordable to make, and great for a group. The more the merrier—just add water!  It’s perfectly delicious for vegetarians, too.  Of course, when I made it last, I went the other way. I pulled out a thick slab of ham tucked in the freezer from the holidays—a terrific addition, but not essential for this special soup.  A day ahead I tossed the ham cubes in an oil rub laced with garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, and rosemary and set it all aside.

To get things started, beans are first simmered until near tender with crushed tomatoes flavored with onion, garlic and sage.  Either dried or canned cannellini or mayocoba beans work nicely.

To pull it all together, I briefly sautéed the seasoned ham (optional) in olive oil, and stirred in a few fresh vegetables. Next, the cooked beans are added and it’s briefly simmered to incorporate the flavors.

Lastly, escarole, kale or other hearty green is added to the pot, followed by a small pasta, such as ditalini.  It’s simmered for another 10 minutes or so, until al dente.Pasta Fazool

Top with a grating of Parmesan Reggiano and pass plenty of warm crusty bread.

 Pasta Fazool

Aka, Pasta e Fagioli

 Ingredients
2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 onion, chop
2 cloves garlic, mince
1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried and soaked cannellini or mayocoba beans
2 cups water or stock (approximate), divided and used as needed
1-1/2 cups ham cut into ½” chunks (optional), in herbal rub (see below)
1 carrot, diced
1 poblano chile, seed chop
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1”x2” chunk Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon each sea salt and ground pepper
1 small bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves torn into 2” pieces
1-1/2 cups ditalini pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion until soft, then add the garlic and sage, stirring briefly. Add the crushed tomatoes, the beans, and 1 cup water.  Simmer about 1-1/2 hours. Or, using pressure cooker, set on High Pressure for 18 minutes with pressure valve set to Sealing and use Quick Release.
  2. In a fresh pot over medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the seasoned ham for 2- 3 minutes (optional). Add the carrot, green pepper, and ½ teaspoon oregano, cook 4-5 minutes. Stir in the beans, Parmesan chunk, salt and pepper, 1 cup water, and simmer covered for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the kale to the pot and simmer for 3-4 minutes, stir occasionally, until it begins to soften. Stir in the dry pasta and simmer an additional 10 minutes until pasta is al dente. Add more water as necessary, it should be thick yet soupy.  Adjust seasoning.
  4. Serve with Parmesan cheese and plenty of crusty bread.  Serves 4-6.

For the ham rub:  marinade cubed ham 1 day ahead in: 2 cloves garlic crushed, ½ tsp fennel, ½ tsp red pepper flakes, ½ tsp rosemary, 2 tbsp olive oil, pinch sea salt.

Couscous: Good to Go

If you haven’t tried couscous lately, you might want to give it another thought.  When it comes to whole grains and such, couscous could well be regarded as a cook’s best friend.  Although, it’s actually closer to a pasta, since it is made from semolina, the ground hard high protein portion of the durum wheat grain.

Couscous
Couscous

Once combined with boiling water the tiny shape expands voluminously and is ready to eat in 10 minutes—without touching the stove. In North Africa multi-level couscousières are a kitchen staple. These clever, efficient pots simmer flavorful stews in the bottom portion while their beloved couscous is positioned above in a separate steamer compartment absorbing all the flavorful moisture from below.

Over the centuries couscous’ popularity has spread along the Mediterranean with regional dishes found in France, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. There are different sizes, too, with Israeli, or pearl couscous, being larger and chewier when prepared.

Unlike finicky pasta that requires last minute cooking, tiny couscous is very forgiving. It will wait for you. If you would rather focus your attention and energy on grilling, roasting, or sautéing your entrée grab some mild and easy couscous. Slip in a few vegetables, flavor with complementary herbs or spices, and you are good to go without missing a beat.

Couscous with Zucchini and Red Pepper

Ingredients
2/3 cup couscous
1 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium zucchini, trim cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, flatten with a knife
1 small red pepper, seed and cut into strips
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons green onion, chop

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl combine couscous, 1 cup boiling water, salt and stir with a fork.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile heat olive oil in medium sauté pan over medium high heat. Add zucchini, 1 clove garlic, red pepper and thyme and sauté for about 5 minutes to brown and soften slightly. Remove garlic.
  3. Fluff couscous with a fork and gently combine in pan with vegetables. Heat briefly, add green onion and serve.  Serves 4.

Cheaters Risotto

There’s nothing like authentic risotto for sheer artistry. But at home I don’t seem to have the patience or inclination to constantly stir assorted liquids with rice in order to achieve the layers of flavor and creaminess it requires. Here’s an easy solution using orzo instead that takes all the work out of the process.zuke orzo one pot (480x640)

While the orzo and other goodies simmer away, diced zucchini can be stirred into the pot and cooked along with it.  I discovered it was the ideal opportunity to whip out my new inexpensive spiralizer, which cranks out perfect spaghetti-like strands in the flick of a wrist. The zucchini sits atop the simmering orzo, and steams to an al dente state in no time at all.zuke orzo (480x640)

To finish:  spoon into bowls and add a dollop of ricotta-basil cheese for extra creaminess.  

Orzo and Zucchini Risotto-style

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chop
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1-1/2 cups orzo
14 ounces chicken stock
2-1/2 cups water
2 medium tomatoes, seed and dice
1 medium zucchini, diced or cut into 6” julienne strips or spirals
¾ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
½ cup Parmesan cheese grated
Optional ricotta topping
½ cup ricotta
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese grated
1 tablespoon fresh basil, julienne

Directions

  1. In 2-quart pot with lid, sauté the onion in olive oil to soften, adding the saffron in the process.
  2. Stir in the orzo and sauté for 1 minute.
  3. Stir in the broth, water, tomatoes, and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and cook for 8 minutes.
  4. To finish with zucchini, scatter the strands on top of the orzo, sprinkle with salt and pepper and parmesan cheese, cover and cook about 3 minutes longer, until the orzo is just tender and zucchini is al dente.  If liquid remains, increase heat, stirring until liquid evaporates and it is creamy.
  5. Spoon into bowls, top with a spoonful of ricotta cheese topping and serve.  Serves 3-4