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Sunday, June 19, 2011

baked manicotti--for my dad, on father's day

remember when you were a kid and a special occasion would roll around for which you'd get to choose what you had for dinner? those were exceptionally special days--no asking "what's for dinner?" and dropping your head in disappointment after hearing "goulash" or, even worse, something involving large slices of stewed onion. no, this was your birthday, and you were in complete control over what would be on your dinner plate. for my brother and me, the answer was always the same--"MANICOTTI! manicottimanicottimanicotti MAAANICOTTIII!" we were absolute fools for the stuff, and our father would dutifully indulge us, every time.

my dad's manicotti wasn't only for for the immediate family. my cousins remember dinners at their aunt noopy and uncle micky's house before my brother and i were born where they would be served a pan of the cheese-filled pasta and a salad presented by lazy susan. there were baby shrimp for the salad. they tell me it was a real treat.

it's always a treat when someone cooks something special for you. there are tons of ways to say "i love you," but a meal prepared with love feeds body, mind and spirit. i know i always feel closer to people i've cooked for, as we sit down to eat. it feels like, "hey, i made this for you. it's food, it'll help you stay alive a little while longer. and it's important to me that you do just that!" 

rob and i made a manicotti together last week. it was good. definitely good. but not as good as my dad's! we went by the recipe for baked manicotti from saveur and made a couple of changes, including adding toasted pine nuts to the cheese filling--rob's inspired idea. 

but, the point here is not so much the dish as it is the association. ever since the recipe landed in my inbox from saveur, i looked forward to trying it, all the while thinking about my father. "daddy used to cook this for us, yay!" and as we stuffed the noodles with cheese, i noted what a pain in the ass it is, and appreciated even more what he was signing up for every time my brother and i got to name our special occasion dinner. 

so, this one is for you, pop/daddy/uncle robert*! thank you for cooking for us, we love you!

my father, master griller and hole-in-one'r extraordinaire, and my mother, accomplished hostess who can set a table that would make martha weep with envy, living it up on a mcminnville, oregon, rooftop 

*"uncle robert" requires some explanation--when i was 4, my parents took me to the beach. playing in the hotel pool i made a friend with some kid about my age, and when his parents said to me, "your dad is calling you," i soberly replied, "oh that's not my father. that's uncle robert." my mother was understandably mortified that her daughter had basically announced to the poolside gathering, "i'm on vacation with my mommy and her boyfriend." to this day we call him "uncle robert," and still have no idea where my little proclamation came from. kids.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

deviled eggs with sorrel-pistachio pesto

i was never much of a deviled egg person. i realize that either my southern roots or the 37 summers i've spent on planet earth should have changed my distaste for them, but neither has. a few weeks ago, something shifted. i was reading through the recipe list on edible seattle's website and found a recipe for deviled eggs with sorrel-pistachio pesto. i was definitely intrigued by the idea of the pesto, not to mention finding out what "sorrel" was, but it wasn't just that. somehow, the idea of a boiled egg with the chalky yolk scooped out and mixed with creamy fat and then mounded back in the gelatinous, hard-cooked white actually sounded good to me. it sounded like a couple of bites of creamy, savory protein, and i suddenly wanted it. 

these are wonderfully delicious, and just writing this post makes me wish i had more in front of me right now. they are indeed savory, not like the traditional sweet pickle treatment, and the pesto is super bright and tangy. sorrel is a very lemony herb, and the pesto of roasted pistachios, sorrel, lemon juice, garlic, parmesan, and olive oil is pretty rich. i tend to love rich, creamy, tangy flavors, so this recipe is great for me. however, if you would miss the sweetness of the relish in some traditional deviled eggs, this recipe may not be the best one for you. either way, using 1 part mayo and 2 parts low-fat yogurt in the yolk mixture is brilliant for lowering the fat and calorie levels!

from edible seattle spring 2008

1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup toasted pistachios
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 ounces fresh sorrel leaves (about 2 packed cups)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (lightly packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 eggs
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

for hard-cooked eggs:
(my facebook friends recommended this method, and it worked like a dream.) put the eggs in the pot and cover with cold water. bring to a boil. cover pot, turn the burner off and let it sit on the burner for 11 minutes. remove eggs from pot and drop them into an ice water bath for a few minutes to stop the cooking. (remember that greyish-green color you've seen around some hard-cooked yolks? this method avoids that.)

for pesto:
process the garlic, pistachios, and 1/4 tsp salt in small food processor until chopped. add the sorrel and a bit of fresh cracked pepper and process until a green paste. add the olive oil and process again until blended. remove pesto mixture to a bowl and stir in the parmesan cheese. season to taste with salt and pepper.

for assembly:
when eggs are cooled, peel, half, and scoop out yolks into a bowl. add the mustard, yogurt and mayo and stir to blend. season with salt and pepper. mound the yolk mixture into the egg white halves and top with some of the pesto. 

you'll likely have some pesto leftover which the original recipe says is great spread on sandwiches or grilled fish.

eggs from stokesberry farms

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

spaghetti alla puttanesca

like this time last year, i have a glut of fruits and veggies in the freezer from last summer's preservation. i counted many, many containers of tomatoes in there recently, and figured since i have 10 tomato plants outgrowing their half-gallon pots and waiting impatiently for me to put them in the ground, it won't be that long before handfuls of cherry and salad tomatoes are coming in from the garden. time to rev up the pace on using the frozen ones!

i found this recipe for spaghetti alla puttanesca and figured it would be a great light pasta dish. it was thoroughly delicious, only i committed a common culinary sin, one that i thought i'd outgrown a long time ago--i seasoned before i'd added all of the ingredients. since i was using my frozen, plain diced tomatoes rather than canned as the recipe called for, i thought i had some salty room to spare. however, capers, olives and anchovies added quite a good bit of salt, and the result was the kind of great that would have been excellent if i'd been a little bit more patient with the seasoning. as rob diplomatically put it, "it's great! i mean, it did get a little salty towards the end..."

so, the lesson is learned one more time--taste and add salt at the end of cooking, especially when ingredients that are nearly pure salt are involved, like anchovies and olives.

speaking of anchovies, leave them out for a vegetarian version of this dish.

spaghetti alla puttanesca
adapted from bon appetit, january 2008

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
30 ounces diced tomatoes (frozen, canned or fresh)
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp drained capers
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
whole wheat pasta
chopped parsley
grated fresh parmesan

heat oil over medium heat in heavy saute pan and cook garlic, stirring, until fragrant, about a minute. add tomatoes, kalamata olives, chopped anchovies, capers, oregano, and red papper flakes. simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes (depending on how juicy your tomatoes are). taste, then season with salt and pepper.

while sauce cooks, cook pasta to al dente.

serve immediately over cooked spaghetti with parsley and parmesan cheese.