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Saffron Tagliatelle with Spiced Butter

Hello and happy 2013!  I thought about what would be my first posting for the new year and this dish rallied me back into the swing of things…it will awaken all of your senses!  I kid you not, this is an absolutely scrumptious meal to make.  Saffron comes from the crocus flower where each flower produces three stigmas (crimson in color), are hand-picked, and then dried.  It’s the most expensive spice in the world and has been used for 4,000 years. 

Serves 4
adapted from Plenty

– for the pasta –
2 teaspoon saffron threads
4 tablespoons boiling water
4 eggs
4 tablespoons olive oil
3-1/2 cups “00” pasta flour, plus extra for rolling
1 teaspoon ground turmeric

– spiced butter –
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper

– pasta topping –
2/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
4 tablespoons roughly chopped mint
4 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley

saffron quickly colors the hot water

Place the saffron in a small bowl with the boiling water and leave to infuse for at least 10 minutes. Then add the eggs and oil and beat to mix. Place the flour and turmeric in the bowl of a food processor and add the saffron mix. Blend until a crumbly dough is formed. You may need a little more oil or flour to adjust the dough to the required consistency – neither sticky nor very dry. 

Watch this video taken by my daughter to get a glimpse of how I made the pasta.

Lightly dust work surface with flour, tip out the dough and knead into a ball. Work for a few minutes, adding more flour if you need, until it becomes silky soft. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes, or up to a day. 

Divide the dough into two pieces. Keep one well covered. Using a rolling pin, flatten the other piece into a thin rectangle. Set the pasta machine to its widest setting and pass the dough through. Continue rolling the pasta, narrowing the setting by a notch every time, until you get to the lowest setting.

If you have a noodle attachment for the pasta machine use that to make the tagliatelle otherwise fold up the pasta sheet twice along its length, sprinkling some flour between the layers. Use a large knife to cut long strips that are 3/4 inch wide. Hang them on the back of a chair to dry for 10 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. 

To make the spiced butter: Place the butter and oil in a frying pan and cook the shallots gently for about 10 minutes, or until they soften and the butter turns slightly brown. Now add all the spices, the salt and some pepper. Remove from the heat and keep warm. Cook the tagliatelle for 2 to 3 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and return to the saucepan. Pour the spiced butter over the pasta and stir well, then divide among four plates. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and chopped herbs and serve.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Wow!  The flavors from this dish were amazing!  Even If you’re not a big fan of spice try it by using half the amount indicated and go from there.   This dish is bound to have your taste buds craving a second helping.  Mark from By the Glass suggested serving with a glass of white Rioja.  Cheers!

Mushroom and Herb Polenta

Anthropologie is a favorite shop I like to frequent.  It’s an interesting mix of clothing, accessories, gifts and home décor all which draw me in…it’s eclectic and I love it!  The books they showcase are unique and it was at their Rockefeller Center that I spotted Yotam Ottolenghi’s book,Plenty.  It’s a vegetarian cookbook although the author is not vegetarian.  He contributes a vegetarian column in the Guardian Weekend magazine and the recipes for his book are from there.  I’ve made a ton of polenta recipes over the years but this one has to be the best thus far!

Serves 2
adapted from Plenty

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups (300g) mixed mushrooms, cleaned
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon tarragon, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon truffle oil
Salt and pepper
2 1/14 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup polenta
3 oz. Parmesan, grated
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped 
4 oz. Taleggio, cut into 1cm slices

In a frying pan, heat half the oil over medium-high heat. Add half the mushrooms and fry a few minutes – try not to move them much so you get golden-brown patches on their surface. Remove from the pan, reheat the remaining oil and repeat with the rest of the mushrooms. Off the heat, return all the mushrooms to the pan, add the garlic, tarragon, thyme and truffle oil, season, and keep warm.

Bring the stock to a boil, slowly stir in the polenta, reduce the heat to minimum and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The polenta is ready when it leaves the sides of the pan but is still runny (instant polenta won’t take more than five minutes; the real stuff will take up to 50). When the polenta is ready, stir in the Parmesan, butter, rosemary, and season.

polenta spread, ready for cheese & mushroom toppings
(let polenta cool a bit before placing under broiler)

soft Taleggio

Spread polenta over a heatproof serving dish and top with taleggio. Place under the broiler until the cheese bubbles. Remove from heat and top with the mushrooms and their juices and return to the broiler for a minute to warm up the mushrooms.  Serve hot and garnish with fresh thyme.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  My goodness, I could eat this every day!  Delicious earthy flavors from the mushrooms and herbs…what a treat!  Enjoy this with a glass of red.  Cheers!

Lamb Chops Calabria Style with Tomatoes, Peppers, and Olives

The cuisine of Calabria is typical southern Italian Mediterranean – meat based dishes, vegetables, pasta, and fish.  Because their climate is humid (high risk of mold and spoilage), Calabrians preserve their food by packing veggies and meat in olive oil, making sausage and curing fish (swordfish, sardines, and cod).   The food is simple and delicious.   This dish is easy to prepare and dinner is on the table in less than 30 minutes!

Serves 4
adapted from Saveur

1 large red bell pepper, cut into bite-size chunks
8 lamb chops, each about 1″ thick
sea salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
28 oz. can Italian san marzano tomatoes
3 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup green olives in brine, pitted and coarsely cut up
freshly ground black pepper 

Salt chops on both sides.  Pour olive oil into a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add lamb chops. Brown thoroughly on one side, turn, and brown thoroughly on other side (cook to your liking). Remove from the pan to a plate (cover with foil).  Add chopped onion to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it becomes soft and golden. Add the tomatoes with their juice, stirring occasionally and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, parsley, olives, salt, and black pepper.

Turn the heat down to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the peppers are tender but firm.  Add black pepper to the chops and place in the pan with the sauce. Turn the chops over several times to coat them well.  Remove skillet from heat and place contents onto a warm serving platter and bring to the table.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Gorgeous, fresh flavors packed full of nutrients!  Serve this with a side of rice or pasta.  Yum!

The Best Macaroni and Cheese!

This is my kind of old fashioned comfort food!  My mom made this for us when we were young and my family enjoys this dish although my daughter does tend to like the Kraft dinner version! A recipe for a casserole of macaroni, white sauce, and grated yellow cheese was first recorded in the “Boston Cooking School Cookbook” in 1896. Macaroni and cheese was made even more popular when Kraft Foods introduced the Kraft Dinner in 1937.

Serves 6

1 pound elbow pasta (or favorite pasta – I used strozzapreti)
4 slices Applegate bacon, cooked and chopped
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup butter
½ cup flour
4 cups whole milk
1 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
1 cup extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
sea salt and pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375°f.  Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile melt butter in a large saucepan.  Then add flour and stir. Increase heat to medium and add milk – stir constantly with a whisk. Cook until sauce is thickened (coats the back of a spoon).  Remove sauce from heat and add nutmeg, bacon, Gruyère and cheddar cheeses. Stir until cheese has melted. Taste and adjust salt and pepper accordingly.

Add cooked pasta and stir to combine.  Pour into a baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 15 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until sauce is bubbly and topping is golden brown.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  The sauce doesn’t have to be thick when you mix it in with the pasta.  The baking time will allow it to absorb into the pasta leaving you with a creamy texture that is not too wet.  Enjoy!

Baked Pumpkin Stuffed with Gruyère, Bacon and Thyme

The temperature in the past few days has dropped and this is the time of year I start using the oven more.  I was debating whether or not to make macaroni with blue cheese or to make this dish.  I hadn’t been to Liebs Nursery in a few weeks and wanted to drop by to say hello and to see if they had pumpkins.  As I drove to the nursery I thought of course they would have pumpkins especially with Halloween just around the corner!  It’s always a pleasure going there.  Michael, who has a background in botanical science (degree in plant conservation biology), is always friendly and shares his knowledge eagerly with me.  I’m like a sponge soaking up everything he says but I usually have to write it down – that’s when my brain becomes a sieve!  He handed me 2 baby Pam pumpkins which were perfect for this recipe.

Serves 4
adapted from Around My French Table

1 2-1/2- to 3-lb. pumpkin
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 lb. stale bread, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 lb. cheese (Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination), grated
2-4 garlic cloves (to taste) coarsely chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked, drained, and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1/3 cup heavy cream
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 180c (350f).  Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.  Cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin – cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin.  Remove seeds and stringy bits from the pumpkin.  Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and place on the baking sheet.

For the stuffing, toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and thyme in a bowl.  Season with pepper.  Place the stuffing into the cavity of the pumpkin and don’t be afraid to pack it in.  Add the nutmeg to the cream and pour onto the top of the bread mixture.  Place the cap back on the top of the pumpkin and bake for at least an hour (up to 90 minutes depending on how thick the skin is).  Remove top and bake a further 20 minutes to allow the liquid to bake away and the top becomes golden brown.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  The pumpkin is ready when the skin is pierced easily with the tip of a knife.  Removing the top and baking an additional 20 minutes allows the liquid to bake away leaving the stuffing moist and cheesy! The flavors from this dish were so good!  Serve with a simply dressed salad.  Enjoy!

Soy and Ginger Shrimp Packets

This type of cooking is one of my favorites as the food cooks in its own juices.  Cooking in packets (en papillote) basically means steaming small portions of food in a wrapper in a hot oven.  You can use parchment paper or tin foil – I’ve used both.  Click here to see how to make a heart-shaped packet out of parchment paper.   This presentation method is guaranteed to have your friends or family wonder what’s in the packet and when they cut into it, aromatic steam fills the air.  It’s a healthy way to eat as the method requires little or no additional fat.   If you like this then you may also want to try: Sea Bass en Papillote with Tangerine and Grapefruit or Grouper en Papillote or Baked Salmon Parcels.

Serves 4
adapted from Fine Cooking

1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon hot chili sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
1-1/2 lb. jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 small cloves garlic, minced
baby bok choy, washed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (about 3 cups)
Peanut or vegetable oil for brushing the packets
2 scallions (white and light-green parts only), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro/coriander

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat to 190c ( 375f).

To prepare the packets, tear off four sheets of tin foil (about 20-inches long). Fold each sheet in half and fold up the sides to make a pouch – leave the top open.  In a small bowl, stir the soy sauce, vinegar, hoisin sauce, lime juice, hot chili oil, and honey. In another bowl, combine the shrimp, ginger, and garlic. Pour about half of the soy mixture over the shrimp and toss to coat. In another bowl, combine the bok choy, scallions, and cilantro. Add the remaining soy mixture to the bowl and toss to coat. Distribute the bok choy among the packets and pour over any liquid remaining in the bowl.  Arrange the shrimp on top of the bok choy.  Fold the top of the packet over a couple of times to seal it.

Transfer the packets to two baking sheets and bake for 8 minutes. Rotate and swap the baking sheets’ positions and continue to bake until the packets are puffed and fragrant, about 7 minutes more. Serve immediately.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:   So easy to prepare and fun to open.  Serve this with rice or noodles.  Enjoy!

Sautéed Endive and Apple with Warm Goat Cheese

I’ve been eyeing this recipe a few weeks but every time I ‘thought’ I was going to make it, my dinner menu would change so yesterday I was bound and determined to finally make this.  Belgian endive (pronounced on-deev) is part of the chicory family which includes radicchio, escarole and curly endive (pronounced en-dive).  Endive is a difficult vegetable to grow as it has a two-step process. 
First it grows in the field – about 150 days.  The tops of the leafy plant are then cut off, roots dug up, and placed in cold storage, where they enter a dormancy period.  Roots are removed from cold storage for their second growth, which takes 20 to 28 days in dark, cool, and humid forcing rooms, similar to mushroom growing which makes them available all year long.  Endive can be braised, baked, sautéed, or sauced.  Health-wise, endive is an excellent source of vitamin A (good for eye health), a good source of folate, vitamin C (boosts the immune system) and calcium (build strong teeth and bones).  For more health benefits, click here.

serves 4
adapted from Fine Cooking

1 cup pomegranate juice

6 oz. goat cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large Belgian endives, halved lengthwise with core left intact, each half cut lengthwise into 4 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 firm, medium-sweet apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 cups)
3 tablespoons of finely diced shallot
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
baby spinach (4 lightly packed cups) – can also use rocket/arugula
1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)

Position a rack in the center of an oven and heat the oven to 220c (425°f).  In a small saucepan over high heat, reduce the pomegranate juice to about 1/4 cup (it should be syrupy), about 15 minutes.

If you buy the goat cheese as a log, cut into half-inch (or one-inch) slices otherwise shape into rounds with your hands. Press the goat cheese rounds into the hazelnuts on all sides to coat. Transfer the cheese to a small baking sheet and bake until the nuts brown and the cheese softens, 8 to 10 minutes.

While the goat cheese bakes, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 12-inch heavy-duty skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the endives flat in the pan, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, undisturbed, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until the other side starts to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a large plate.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the skillet, add the apples and shallot, sprinkle with salt and cook, shaking the pan often, until the apples start to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.

For the dressing – transfer the pomegranate juice to a medium bowl. Add the vinegar, mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper; whisk until combined. Gradually whisk in the oil and season with more salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, toss the spinach and apples with half of the vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange the endives on 4 large serving plates, top  with a mound of the spinach mixture, and then the goat cheese.  Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.

The Culinary Chase’s Cote:   I love pan fried endive…a nutty flavor shines through and calms the somewhat bitter taste.   Keep an eye on your oven when baking the cheese as the hazelnuts browned within 7 minutes. Warmed goat cheese atop this salad really helped to bring out all of the flavors.  I will definitely make this one again.  Enjoy!

roasted tomato & mozzarella salad

This recipe knows no time.  It’s just as perfect for brunch, lunch or dinner. 

With an introduction like that, it’s a winner to serve any time of the day!  This dish is from her latest cookbook Fast, Fresh, Simple.  I became an instant fan of Donna Hay with her book, The New Cook back in 2000.  Even then Donna’s style was clean, simple and uncomplicated.  I have my good Aussie friend Rebecca to thank for introducing me to this down-under chef!  The first recipe I made from The New Cook was baby spinach and prosciutto salad…still a crowd pleaser to this day!

serves 2
adapted from Donna Hay

2 plum tomatoes, halved
basil leaves
buffalo mozzarella, torn
4 slices char-grilled sourdough bread
olive tapenade
4 slices prosciutto
arugula (rocket) leaves
olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat grill on high heat.  Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.  Scoop out the seeds and some of the soft flesh from the tomatoes and discard.  Place tomatoes on baking tray cut-side up.  Line the tomatoes with basil leaves and top with mozzarella.  Grill 3 to 4 minutes or until mozzarella is golden.

To serve, spread tapenade on char-grilled bread and top with prosciutto and arugula.  Place the tomato on the plates and drizzle with olive oil.

the culinary chase’s note:  This was so delicious and a breeze to prepare.  Enjoy!

Potato Skins Stuffed with Egg, Bacon and Cheese

As a youngster growing up, baked potatoes were a staple and my siblings would carefully remove the flesh of the potato, lather it with butter and then place the potato flesh back in with salt and pepper.  I don’t think as kids we really knew about the variations potato skins came in.  We were just happy to be able to muck around with our food. This is an easy meal to prepare and a bit of a twist on the usual potato skin you might find in a restaurant.  Play around with the ingredients to suit your own palate.

You Will Need:
large russet baking potatoes, scrubbed and pat dry with kitchen paper
cheese slices (my husband’s favorite is Sargento extra sharp cheddar)
grated Parmesan cheese
fresh dill
cooked bacon, chopped
Greek yogurt
olive oil

Preheat oven to 200c (400f).  Rub potatoes with a bit of olive oil and place in the oven and bake for about an hour. They are cooked when they give a little when pressed.

Remove from oven and when cool enough to handle cut each potato in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh – save the potato for another dish.  Place a slice of cheese on the bottom of the hollowed out potato skins.    

Add bacon and crack open an egg in each potato skin. Top with dill and grated Parmesan.  Place on a baking sheet and bake 180c (350f) 20 minutes or until egg is cooked.  Top potato skins with a dollop of Greek yogurt and serve with a side salad.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  Make sure the potato skins are deep enough to hold the egg otherwise the white of the egg will leak out.  Enjoy!

Handmade Ricotta Cavatelli Pasta

Last month we were cruising the Adriatic and one of the ports of call was Bari, Italy.  I had done my obligatory research on ‘top things to do’ list for each port and Bari was no exception.  There is, however, something to be said when you communicate with the locals – no matter how limited your language skills are.  I had an overview of two pages as to what to look out for.  I wanted to see the old town food market but we couldn’t find it.  John spotted a local tour guide and asked her.  She told us it’s not very big or interesting but if we were interested in pasta to check the ladies on Strada Arco Alto.  Our curiosity was peaked and asked where this was and she told us across from the old fort you will pass through a stone archway to the street.  What a treat!  The ladies were out rolling, folding, shaping and drying their pasta.

Yesterday I had a craving for handmade pasta and decided to check out the new cookbook I just received – The Frankies Spuntino.  I have quite a collection of cookbooks but none look as good this one!  With the gold gilt edges and a faux leather cover, this book looks as though it should be in a special library!

Making your own pasta is easy and ready to use within 30 minutes. A few ingredients and you’re off! My pasta dough recipe usually consists of flour and eggs so I was intrigued when I saw this recipe had ricotta added to it. 
Makes enough for 6 servings

adapted from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the pasta
1 pound (about 1 pint) ricotta
1 large egg
Pinch of fine sea salt
Up to ¼ cup milk or water if necessary to adjust the dough

Combine the flour, cheese, egg, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough comes together in a shaggy, integrated mass that clings to the hook. If the dough looks dry and refuses to coalesce into a ball, add milk by the tablespoon to encourage it. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead it by hand for a couple of minutes to smooth it out. Or, if you don’t have a mixer use the well method by mixing together the egg and ricotta (instead of egg and water) and plopping that down in the center of the well. Otherwise, it works the same way.

Clamp the cavatelli maker onto the edge of the counter or work surface. Cut the ball of dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each ball into a rope just less than 1″ thick. Crank the ropes through the cavatelli machine, lightly dust the cavatelli with flour, and arrange on a baking sheet. Use at once or hold for up to 1 day in the fridge.

If you don’t have a cavatelli maker, prepare the dough as indicated above.  After cutting into 1-inch pieces, roll out these pieces (using your fingers) to about 2-inches in length.  Place a knife on the edge of the pasta and with a quick movement, roll the pasta.  If not sure, view this video on how to. To cook, drop the cavatelli into a large pot of well-salted boiling water and cook for 4 minutes after the first few begin to float on top of the water.  Drain and serve with your favorite sauce.

The Culinary Chase’s Note:  I don’t have a cavatelli maker although I am tempted to get one (about $40 to $50 from Amazon), however, I was thinking about the pasta ladies on the street in Bari and they were only using a butter knife.  Sure, the maker would make the pasta more pleasing to the eye, but there’s something more believable and rustic about hand made pasta without the intervention of machines.  I just realized the photo of the older lady sitting at the end of her pasta trays is the same one in Jamie’s Italy cookbook!