DITALINI PASTA SALAD

I am not at all fond of pasta salads that are loaded with oily dressing, or the dreadful mayo to weigh things down even further. I like a salad that leaves me feeling refreshed and light. Ditalini is a shape normally used in soups, but I thought it would work well in this type of recipe. It has slightly more body than orzo, and is not as “slippery” . Rather than a strict recipe, this is all about flexible amounts, so play with it, and make it shine!

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DITALINI PASTA SALAD
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

Ditalini pasta, cooked all dente and rinsed in cold water
1/4 cup grape seed oil
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbs lemon juice
Dried oregano to taste
Dried mint to taste
Red pepper flakes, a pinch or two
Cherry tomatoes, red and yellow
Green onions, sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the cooked and cooled ditalini pasta on a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette by mixing and whisking well the grape seed oil, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, mint, and red pepper flakes.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Add the vinaigrette to the pasta and mix well.  Incorporate the cherry tomatoes, add the green onions, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Keep cold…  and….

ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here

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Comments:  Feel free to use fresh mint instead of dried, as well as fresh oregano, although I find fresh oregano too overpowering and always use dried instead.  I kicked myself for not thinking about adding capers, so keep that in mind, this salad begs for a handful of those.   We like our vinaigrette to be more about the vinegar than the oil. We also prefer the milder taste of grape seed compared to olive oil, so grape seed was my choice.  You should make it the way you prefer, more oil, olive oil, a little mustard, maybe some garlic.  As you may have noticed, we are not garlic people.  It is quite possible that if they sequence our genome, a few vampire genes might be found here and there.  But, nothing to worry about, we are usually very well-behaved, your neck is safe with us.   😉

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Are you familiar with Vincent Price’s cookbook?  A classic, a real classic….

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JERUSALEM: PASTA WITH YOGURT, PEAS & CHILE

If you are a cookbook lover, chances are you have at least one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books on your shelf. His book “Plenty” (released in 2011) was a huge success, but “Jerusalem“, which he wrote together with Sami Tamimi is probably the hottest cookbook published  last year.  Countless bloggers have been raving about  the recipes in Jerusalem, and even the Diner’s Journal of The New York Times devoted a special article to the cookbook.  As usual, I bookmarked way too many tempting concoctions to try, but when I read this review from Orangette, I knew this pasta would hit the spot with us.  Several things I like about it: the sauce is made with yogurt instead of cream or a bechamel; peas are incorporated in two ways; feta cheese gives it a sharp bite, and fresh basil does the magic that fresh basil always does.

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But, as if that symphony of flavors and textures was not enough, each serving is crowned with a spicy and nutty flavored oil, made by sauteing pine nuts and Aleppo pepper.  Oh, my!   Can you spell perfection?

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The two main components of the dish come together quite quickly. First, the yogurt-pea sauce, simply whirled in a food processor.  Beautiful light green color!

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Then, the finishing touch, a flavored oil with pine nuts and Aleppo pepper. Red pepper flakes can be substituted, but I say go for a Turkish pepper if you can find it.

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The yogurt sauce is never heated, instead the hot pasta is added to it in small batches to prevent the sauce from separating.  Reminds me of pasta in fresh tomato sauce, a regular appearance at our table these days.

I must say this recipe was the best thing I cooked in a few months! I loved everything about it…  The original recipe used small shell-shaped pasta which might be even better to catch those cute little peas,  but any pasta will work.  If you have a dinner party coming up and would like to offer a vegetarian option, I say it will be hard to top this one…   😉

If you want the full recipe, you can buy the book (click here), or you can use the version published at Orangette

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GRATED TOMATO SAUCE, REVISITED

Almost three years ago I blogged on a fresh tomato sauce in which the tomatoes are grated instead of diced or processed. It is such a nice method that I feel it’s worth mentioning again for those who might be new to my site.  Something about its texture makes this sauce absolutely unique and very delicious…

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WHOLE-WHEAT SPAGHETTI WITH GRATED TOMATO SAUCE
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

Whole-wheat spaghetti
4 large, ripe tomatoes or 6 medium, halved crosswise
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried mint leaves
2 tablespoons capers (or to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
fresh basil leaves, cut in chiffonade
Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, grate the tomatoes using a box grater with medium-large holes.  The skin of the tomato will protect your hand as it gets close to the grater.

To the grated tomatoes, add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mint, capers, salt and pepper.  Mix well.  Add the cooked pasta on top of the cold tomato mixture, and immediately add the basil.   Toss everything together gently, and serve right away with Parmigiano cheese.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

IMG_2292IT”S ALL ABOUT THE TEXTURE…

I make this type of pasta several times each summer, never get tired of it!  Since I learned from Louisa Shafia that dried mint should not be frowned upon, I’ve been using it a lot. In this pasta, it worked wonders together with the capers and the basil…   You can adapt this recipe in countless ways, just make sure to grate the tomatoes, it is amazing how a little change can bring so much to a simple recipe.

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The refreshing pasta next to a simple roasted chicken, adapted from an old favorite.

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CELEBRATE WEDNESDAY WITH HOISIN-GRILLED CHICKEN & SOBA NOODLES

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I adore soba noodles. Whenever I serve them, the meal feels special to me.  For this dinner, I used green tea soba noodles, immediately kicking things up a notch (remember Emeril from the old days of FoodTV?).  Green tea soba has a nice color that fades just a little during cooking. Of course, you can use any type of noodles, including whole-wheat, if soba is not available where you live.  The whole menu came from the latest Cooking Light issue, which is full of great recipes, by the way.  The hardest part of the preparation was cutting the sugar snap peas, but other than that, very fast from beginning to end, making it ideal to celebrate that evening still a bit far from the joys of the weekend…  😉

HOISIN-GRILLED CHICKEN WITH SOBA NOODLES
(adapted from Cooking Light June 2013)

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 + 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
3  skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
salt
green tea soba noodles (or regular soba)
1 + 1/2 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved diagonally
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
toasted sesame seeds to taste
sliced green onions, to taste

Combine hoisin, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and five-spice powder in a large bowl.  Add chicken; toss to coat.  Grill for 10 minutes or until done, flipping the pieces half-way through cooking time.  Remove from the grill, let it stand for 5 minutes tented with aluminum foil.  Thinly slice across the grain.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Prepare the dressing for the noodles by mixing rice vinegar, sesame oil,  soy sauce, and Sriracha in a small bowl. Reserve.

Add noodles to the boiling water; cook for about 4 minutes.  Add peas; cook 1 minute or until noodles are tender. Drain. Add reserved dressing to the noodles & peas mixture.  Toss to coat. Arrange noodles on a serving plate,  top with chicken slices.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions right before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

ingredients
Comments:  The recipe calls for cooking the sugar snap peas in the same pot with the noodles.  It is a nice thought to simplify things and avoid having two pots of water boiling, but next time I will cook them separately. It will be easier to assemble the dish, tossing noodles with dressing, then adding the snap peas and mixing them gently.   I like sugar snap peas barely cooked, almost blanched, to retain their bright color and bite.   Leftovers next day  were still very tasty, but just a minute in the microwave turned the peas into a sad dark green, dangerously pointing towards the gray.  Delicate creatures they are!

I served cucumber salad as a side dish, as suggested in Cooking Light. The recipe is on the link I provided.  You may notice I omitted the peanuts.  Cucumbers have been a constant side dish these days. They are simply perfect for this weather.  😉

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SECRET RECIPE CLUB: PENNE WITH TRAPANESE PESTO

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Not sure how we made it so fast to the end of May, but here we are!  And the last Monday of the month brings with it the Reveal Day for The Secret Recipe Club.  Bloggers are paired in secret, stalk each other’s site for a nice recipe, and blog about it on the same day.  This month I was paired with Erin, from The Spiffy Cookie.  She is a graduate student working on her PhD in Microbiology and that immediately puts us both in a similar page.  Granted, I probably had my PhD before she was born, but still… I know what it takes and how frustrating it can be to get there.   As I always say to the students in the lab, “science is not for sissies“.  But, I digress.   I spent quite a bit of time on her site, tempted by many of her recipes. A few examples for you:  Chicken Burgers with Garlic & Rosemary Yogurt, Apple Oatmeal Breakfast MuffinsNutella Mousse (that almost made my final cut), and Nutella-Swirled Banana Bread Snack Cake (do I need to say anything more?).  But, in the end, my heart was set on Penne with Trapanese Pesto, because it seemed like the type of recipe Phil and I would love.  Plus, the almonds in the sauce take me to a Persian aura that is quite welcome in our kitchen these days. So, without further ado, my contribution to the SRC this month…

Sally(photo kindly optimized by an angel called Sawsan…)

PENNE WITH TRAPANESE PESTO
(slightly adapted from The Spiffy Cookie)

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
1/3 cup almonds, lightly toasted
1 clove garlic
12 basil leaves
1-2 anchovies filets (or to taste)
2 tsp capers
1 pinch crushed red pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound whole wheat penne pasta
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, almonds, garlic, basil, anchovies, capers, crushed red pepper, cheese, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to get it going. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream. Taste it. Add a little more salt if needed.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain and return to pot.  Pour the pesto over the pasta and toss to combine.  Store whatever is left in a sealed container in the fridge for a week. Serve  with more cheese and basil.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

ingredients
Comments: I made two small modifications in the recipe, adding capers and anchovies to the pesto. Now, for those who personally know me, it will be shocking to learn I added anchovies were anchovies were not called for.  Yes, indeed, I don’t like anchovies, but have been working on improving our relationship.  For one of those virtual coincidences, a food blog I recently fell in love with (Chef Mimi Blog) had a post on Trapanese Pesto, and she added anchovies.  Being a certified anchovy-wimp, I added only 1 small filet, carrying it with the tip of the fork, arm extended as far as I could to avoid its pungent aroma…   🙂  Capers seemed like a natural partner for all other ingredients,  so into the pesto they went.

This was a delicious meal! For my taste, Trapanese pesto beats the Genovese by a long shot.  Less oily, less pungent.  The recipe made more sauce than needed for our pasta dinner, leftovers will keep in the fridge for a few days.

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Erin, it was great to stalk your blog for recipes and get to know your site better (although I’ve visited your blog many times before) through this month’s adventure with SRC.  For those who want to see the full collection of recipes posted by members of our group, click on the funky frog and have fun!

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BEST THING I EVER MADE SERIES: MUSHROOM STROGANOFF

As I mentioned before, one of the few shows I still enjoy in the FoodTV Network is the series “Best Thing I Ever Made“.  The list of dishes I’d like to make from that show is shamelessly long,  but I keep tuning in and making the list longer.  This meatless take on stroganoff is another great recipe by Alton Brown, featured in the episode “Updated Classics“.   Heads up: the fact that it is meatless does not make it a light meal!  The sauce is very rich with cream and goat cheese, the Portobello mushrooms play the meat part better than I expected.

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MUSHROOM STROGANOFF WITH GOAT CHEESE
(from Alton Brown, Best Thing I Ever Made)

12 ounces extra-wide egg noodles
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 Portobello mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 bunch green onions, sliced and white bottoms and green tops separated
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
14 ounces beef broth
8 ounces sour cream
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
fresh parsley leaves, minced, to taste
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Cook the noodles al dente, according to package instructions. Melt the butter in a 12-inch straight-sided saute pan set over medium-high heat. Increase the heat to high, add the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Saute until they darken in color, soften and give off their liquid, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the white parts of the green onions and saute 2 to 3 minutes.Sprinkle in the flour and stir to combine. Cook until the flour disappears and the fond on the bottom of the pan turns dark brown, about 1 minute.
Deglaze with the beef broth. Bring to a simmer and decrease the heat to medium-low. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, and then add the sour cream, goat cheese and black pepper. Stir to combine, and then partially cover and bring to a simmer to warm through, 2 to 4 minutes.Drain the noodles, add to the pan and stir to combine. Garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately.
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ENJOY!
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to print the recipe, click here
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Comments:  I had no idea that one could find some episodes of FoodTV on the net, without interruption for commercials. If you want to see Alton in action, click here.   He used an interesting method to cook the pasta, starting it in COLD water. I wanted to try it, but completely forgot about it and cooked my noodles the normal way.   Check the link for the recipe in the FoodTV site for his version, or watch the episode in which he explains the rationale for doing it this way.

This was a very substantial and filling pasta. It could be a vegetarian-friendly entrée if you skipped the beef broth and used a veggie broth instead, but I don’t think it would be nearly as good.  I used home-made beef broth from our freezer. I actually like to call it “liquid gold”.  It’s labor-intensive to prepare, but it does shine in a recipe like this one.   It gave amazing depth of flavor to the Portobello mushrooms.   This would be a wonderful dish for a dinner party, by the way.  The sauce can be made in advance, all you have to do is cook the noodles and awe your guests…   😉

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CELEBRATE WEDNESDAY WITH PASTA AND MUSSELS IN SAFFRON BROTH

For some reason I had “issues” about cooking mussels at home. Maybe that whole de-bearding thing sounded too wild for my delicate self.  😉  But we love mussels and it’s  sad to only have them in restaurants, or even worse, only when we go to Paris and visit one of those widespread “Leon de Bruxelles” places.  Anyway, our grocery store in the Little Apple carries farmed mussels. They have no beard to worry about. Therefore, most of the cleaning process is done. They cook quickly, and certainly make a humble plate of pasta (and a rainy Wednesday evening) shine…

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PASTA WITH MUSSELS IN SAFFRON SAUCE
(adapted from Food and Wine magazine)

2 cups dry white wine
4 bay leaves
4 pounds small mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
Pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
linguine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
minced parsley, to taste

In a large pot, combine the wine with the bay leaves and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover and cook over high heat, shaking the pan a few times, until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. Drain the mussels in a colander set over a medium bowl. Pour the mussel broth into a glass measure. Crumble the saffron into the hot mussel broth. Reserve.

Discard any unopened mussels. Remove the mussels from their shells and place in a separate bowl. Pour the melted butter over the mussels and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the thinly sliced garlic and cook over low heat just it gets some color. If you prefer, remove the garlic, if not, leave it in, and add the crushed red pepper, cooking together for one minute.   Slowly pour in the reserved mussel broth, stopping when you reach the grit at the bottom of the glass measure. Add the lemon juice and simmer over moderately high heat until the sauce is reduced to about 1 cup, about 8 minutes.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta just until al dente. Drain the pasta well. Add the buttered mussels and the hot spaghetti to the mussel sauce and toss over low heat until the pasta is uniformly coated. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments:  Glad to inform my fear of mussels is a thing of the past.  I probably discarded more mussels than needed,  as I rather be safe than sorry, and was a bit insecure preparing them for the first time.  This is a delicious pasta! Of course, having great quality saffron adds a lot to it…  😉   Now that I am not afraid of cooking mussels, we will have them at our dinner table on a regular basis,  brightening up our Wednesdays, as we slowly move towards the weekend.

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