PEA PANCAKES WITH HERBED YOGURT

This recipe was on a recent issue of Food and Wine magazine, and I could not wait to try it, because at our recent rehearsal dinner in Sedona we ordered a batch of pea pancakes as an appetizer course, and they were a big hit.  René Restaurant’s version was gluten-free, this one takes a small amount of all-purpose flour. A very elegant and tasty way to celebrate spring…

PeaPancakes1

PEA PANCAKES WITH HERBED YOGURT
(slightly adapted from Food and Wine magazine)

3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, plus sprigs for garnish
2 tablespoons of finely chopped tarragon, plus sprigs for garnish
1/4 tsp dried mint
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 + 1/2 cups frozen peas (8 ounces), thawed, plus more for garnish
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of cayenne pepper, or more, to taste
olive oil spray, for coating griddle

In a medium bowl, mix the 3/4 cup of yogurt with the chopped parsley, tarragon and mint and season with salt and black pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the herbed yogurt until chilled, at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan of salted boiling water, blanch the peas until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain well and let cool.

In a food processor, mix cooked peas with egg, egg  yolk, cream and 1/4 cup yogurt, and process until smooth. Add the flour, lemon zest, baking powder, cardamon, and cayenne pepper. Process a minute or so more, stopping to clean the sides of the bowl midway through.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet or griddle. Spray the surface with olive oil, and spoon 1-tablespoon mounds of batter into the skillet and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer, until lightly browned and cooked through. Transfer the pancakes to a platter and keep warm.  Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the warm pancakes topped with the herbed yogurt and garnished with peas and herb sprigs.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Griddle-side
Comments:  This recipe was originally designed to make 18 tiny rounds, but  I made 6 medium-sized pancakes.  They were absolutely delicious, great texture, moist, tender, and with that perfectly bright taste of green peas.  The lemon zest, as usual, adds a lot of spark to the flavor.  I loved the herb yogurt, Phil preferred to enjoy his pancakes without adornment, or with a very light smear of butter.  For my taste, the tarragon in the yogurt made this dressing a perfect match to the peas.  Of course, if you are not too fond of tarragon, use another herb, I think fresh dill could be delicious too. I also enjoyed the contrast of the warm pancake with the cold dressing.

If you have a special dinner party coming up, think about these for your appetizer course. They would be amazing served just like small blinis, with some smoked salmon on top. They are very tasty at room temperature too, so play with different toppings and awe your guests!  Probably other types of flour could be used, like almond or coconut, turning these babies into gluten-free entities.

peas

 ONE YEAR AGO: Mushroom Stroganoff

TWO YEARS AGO: Tomato Sourdough

THREE YEARS AGO: Gamberetti con rucola e pomodori

FOUR YEARS AGO: Flirting with Orzo

ISRAELI COUSCOUS SALAD

For a long time Israeli couscous was hard to find, and I only enjoyed it in restaurants, or by placing special orders online.  Now it’s available almost everywhere!   Even one store in our small town carries it in bulk, so I buy as little or as much as I want.  Heads up: when you  buy Israeli couscous in bulk, make sure to tie the plastic bag very well, and handle it with loving care.  Those cute little balls of semolina flour travel long distances when spilled on the floor. It’s amazing the lessons a cook learns! 😉

Israeli couscous has an interesting history. It indeed originated in Israel,  in the 50’s,  with the name of “ptitim.”  It was conceived in a time of austerity, as an attempt to deal with the scarcity of food, including the almost complete disappearance of rice.  Back in Israel it remains a popular food item for kids, available in all sorts of cute shapes, like stars and hearts, to please the young audience.  Abroad, Israeli couscous became a trendy gourmet ingredient, as we all know well.  It’s versatile and has less tendency to form lumps than regular couscous. It can be dressed up in countless ways and it’s equally tasty warm or cold, as in this delicious salad, adapted from a recent issue of Food and Wine.

ISRAELI COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ARUGULA PESTO
(adapted from Food and Wine magazine)

6 cups packed arugula (6 ounces)
2 cups Israeli couscous (12 ounces)
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup full fat yoghurt  (or low fat if you prefer)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup red cherry tomatoes, halved
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the 6 cups of arugula and blanch for 10 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer the arugula to a colander. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, drain well and reserve.

Add the couscous to the boiling water and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.  Taste to make sure you don’t overcook it.  Drain, and spread on a large baking sheet, drizzling with a very small amount of olive oil (use a spray bottle if you have it) to prevent the little balls from sticking. Let it cool to room temperature.

In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, tossing, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Let cool.

Squeeze the excess water from the arugula, coarsely chop it, and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Transfer the arugula to a food processor. Add the pine nuts, garlic, cheese and the 2 Tbs of olive oil, processing until the arugula and pine nuts are chopped. Immediately add the yogurt, process until smooth, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the couscous to a large serving bowl and stir in some of the pesto, using as much or as little as you like.  Gently fold in the tomatoes and cucumber pieces.  Adjust seasoning, and….

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  We loved this recipe!   And I’m especially happy about my modifications of the arugula pesto.  Purists may roll their eyes, but I reduced the fat content of this baby to levels previously unknown to mankind!  Imagine my audacity, going from 1/2 cup of olive oil in the original recipe to 2 Tbs  olive oil  + 1/3 cup of yogurt!  That, my friends, is a drop from 954 calories down to 175.   I am not a fat-o-phobe, but I’ve played with yogurt and buttermilk long enough to learn that they often substitute well for oil, as illustrated in this example: the acidity in the yogurt kept the arugula bright and it added an interesting sharpness to the pesto.   Of course, you may also ignore my adaptation and use the full amount of olive oil. As Emeril Lagasse says, “…you won’t hurt  my feelings.”   😉

Olive oil is one of the healthiest options among fats, but any fat packs a huge load of calories.  If you struggle with weight issues (who doesn’t?), then be attentive to the amount of olive oil in your recipes and restaurant foods.  Salads are deceptively high in calories. Consider asking for dressing on the side, and use it sparingly.  Another dangerous option that seems healthy and light:   buffet platters of grilled veggies, such as eggplant and zucchini. They are  prepared with a substantial amount of olive oil, and eggplant in particular soaks it up like a sponge.  Be aware, make the right choices, and exercise portion control.  When you’re cooking at home try my low-cal pesto and see what you think.  It’s good to splurge with the real thing sometimes, but it’s also wonderful to find an alternative that makes you feel good when you leave the table.  😉

ONE YEAR AGO:  Heavenly Home-made Fromage Blanc

TWO YEARS AGO:  Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

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COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ZUCCHINI AND PINE NUTS

From one of the latest issues of Food and Wine magazine, this recipe was the only bright spot on a day in which everything that could go wrong (in the lab) went wrong.  But, as we were driving through intense Los Angeles traffic that Thursday, I knew that getting home and making dinner would improve my mood.  It always does, actually.  Especially if I already have it all planned and laid out in my mind, which was the case that day.

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH ZUCCHINI AND PINE NUTS
(adapted from Food and Wine, May 2011)

1 cup diced zucchini
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

1 cup couscous
1 cup boiling water

3/4 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup water
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
fresh mint and parsley, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet and sautee the zucchini until golden.  Season lightly with salt and pepper. You can prepare it in advance and keep it in the fridge.

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the couscous in the bowl you intend to serve the salad. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes as you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Boil the peas for 2 minutes, drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the water.  Add the lemon juice and olive oil, a little salt, to the reserved pea water, and whisk well.  Fluff the couscous with a fork, pour this dressing over it, mixing it well.  Gently mix in the cooked peas, reserved zucchini, toasted pine nuts, and fresh herbs.  Taste, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Next time, I will dice the zucchini in slightly larger pieces, because I’d like their presence in the salad to be a little more obvious, not only visually, but also in texture.   I love the popcorn-y taste of pine nuts, but you can use almonds (as in the original Food and Wine version), or walnuts.  Make sure to toast them first.

It is crucial to let the zucchini get some color, so I like to leave it undisturbed in the sautee pan for a couple of minutes, before moving the pieces around.

This could be a nice vegetarian entree, as couscous is very filling, but we enjoyed it next to a juicy, grilled chicken breast.    And that was a perfect antidote for  the “lab-blues.”  😉

ONE YEAR AGO:  A Simple Salad a la Jacques Pepin

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SHOW-STOPPING SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS

If you’re tempted to skip  this post because spaghetti and meatballs are too pedestrian, don’t do it!   This was the best dinner I’ve cooked in weeks!   The first bite took me back to a small Italian trattoria where I had this dish years ago.  These meatballs are tender, moist, flavorful, and the tomato sauce (note: contains neither onion nor garlic) gets a lift from the addition of capers. It’s so simple  that you’ll be shocked at how flavorful it is! The recipe comes from the latest issue of Food and Wine, with small modifications that,  modesty aside,  worked quite well.  It was a perfect dinner-date recipe for Saturday night.  Uncork the chianti and let the music play

SPAGHETTI AND ITALIAN MEATBALLS IN TOMATO CAPER SAUCE
(adapted from Food and Wine, original recipe from Massimiliano Alajmo)

for the sauce:
1 can of whole, peeled tomatoes (28 oz)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs capers, drained and chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper

for the meatballs:
1/2 cup white bread, crust removed, roughly diced
3-5 Tbs milk
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 egg, beaten
8 pitted kalamata olives, diced
1/8 cup freshly grated Parmiggiano cheese
2 Tbs fresh parsley leaves, minced
1 tsp salt

Puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, add the capers and oregano.  Simmer for a couple more minutes, season with salt and pepper and keep warm while you prepare the meatballs.

Cover the bread with milk: soak it well.  Drain any excess and reserve the bread.  In a large bowl, mix both types of meat, add the softened bread, egg, olives, cheese, parsley, and salt.  Wet your hands with cold water and very gently form the mixture into 1.5 inch diameter meatballs.  You can prepare the meatballs  hours in advance.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or aluminum foil) and bake the meatballs in a 400F oven for 20 minutes, turning them once during baking.  Remove them from the oven, and transfer to the skillet with the tomato sauce.  Gently simmer the meatballs and sauce together for 10 to 15 minutes over gentle heat.

Meanwhile, boil some spaghetti, drain, place back in the pan and add some of the tomato sauce. Place back on top of the stove to heat pasta and sauce together for a couple of minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, add the meatballs, and serve with fresh Parmiggiano cheese.

(makes 15 meatballs, 3-4 servings, depending on who is eating…  😉

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: My modifications involved baking, instead of frying the meatballs, and simmering them in tomato sauce afterward.   This is my secret to great meatballs, without the harsh outer surface often associated with the fried version.   I’ve seen (and tried) recipes in which the meatballs are cooked in the sauce from beginning to end, but the   oven-roasting in my version intensifies their flavor and color.

I also increased the amount of black olives in the meatball mixture.  The original recipe called for two olives (!!!!).   Sorry, but two diced olives in a pound of meat doesn’t do it for us, Kalamata-lovers that we are.  Feel free to adapt to your own tastes.

Chef Alajmo has two other recipes that made my mouth water in this issue of Food and Wine: Risotto with Capers and Espresso, and Pappardelle with Smoked Butter and Herbs.  Makes me want to catch a plane to Italy and reserve a table for two at his restaurant, Le Calandre.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Korean-Style Pork with Cabbage Slaw

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