Thursday, April 22, 2010

Citrus manicotti

This is somehow so much more than the sum of its parts--a light citrusy ricotta filling wrapped in fresh pasta then baked for just a hot second under an incredibly simple sauce. I need to do a little self-congratulation here, because this is one of my favorite things I have ever made. This weekend we made crepes and I had a stack leftover so my friend Jamie suggested I use them as shells for manicotti. It's basically just fresh pasta after all--eggs, flour, salt and milk or water. But we'll get to that in a second, first we need to talk about this yummy light tomato sauce. I am used to sautéing onions in olive oil, then adding garlic and tomatoes and whatever else to create my basic red sauce. But something about that just sounded too hefty and pungent for the delicate citrus filling I had in mind. So I looked around for a light sauce and found many references to a sauce where you basically just simmer tomatoes with onion or other aromatics then swirl in some butter at the end. That's it! Here's the version I came up with, somewhat based on James Beard's.Roughly chop up one big onion and add it to a 28-ounce can of tomatoes along with 2 leaves of basil and salt and pepper.I let it simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables were soft.Add in 4 tablespoons butter and let them melt into the goodness.I wanted a smooth sauce, but if you like chunks you can leave it as it is. Otherwise, get your immersion blender out! I love power tools in the kitchen...Puree as smoothly as you want. Now thinking about it, I should have waited until after I pureed to add the butter--I think it over-emulsified when I blended the sauce. But so good. This is my new favorite red sauce, people. While the sauce is simmering, you can put together the filling. Hey, check out my basil! Looking good already.I used about 7 big leaves, which seemed about correct proportion to 1 small container of ricotta and zest off one lemon.Chiffonade the basil and mix together with the lemon zest, ricotta, salt, pepper, one egg and 2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan.Now about that pasta! If you have manicotti shells from the store, those will work fine too. Otherwise you can use your own favorite pasta recipe...or just make a batch of crepes, like I did. As long as you don't add sugar to your crepe batter, they are perfect to use for baked pasta.I cut off the sides from my raggedy circles in order to make them roll up neatly.Now Phil will demonstrate his manicotti rolling technique for you. First, a scoop of filling...Then roll up gently, under the watchful eyes of a hungry little dog.And place gently, seam side down, in a baking dish. Ours split a little bit because the crepes were from the weekend and had dried out a little bit. That's OK though, the sauce will cover all...Cover them with sauce and let bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. They don't need a lot of time--just enough for everything to heat up and for flavors to meld.Then scoop them out and enjoy a beautiful evening with your new best friend, citrus manicotti.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bacon scallops with artichokes

I love scallops, I love bacon and I love artichokes maybe most of all. They are like the lobsters of the vegetable world--they look inedible in their natural state but there's nothing more delicious than picking them apart and dipping what you find in butter. You prepare them by slicing off the top inch or so and trimming up the stems until they can stand more or less evenly. I started by simmering a sprig of fresh thyme with a bay leaf and one garlic clove in about 2 inches of water. Pop in 2 big, trimmed artichokes with a slice of lemon on top. Cover them up and let steam for about 25 minutes, then try tugging one of the leaves out. If it doesn't pop off easily, it needs more time so check back in 10 minutes or so. Meanwhile, you can make bacon scallops! Chop half a package of bacon into 1 inch pieces and fry until crispy.Drain them well and set aside while you finish up the scallops.Drain off most of the fat but don't clean out your delicious, bacony pan--you can add a little butter if the pan seems too dry. Get it quite hot over medium-high heat and add in as many large scallops as you need. This was just for two people so I didn't have all that many. It's all about the artichokes for me anyway.Give them a nice coating of fresh ground black pepper and a little pinch of salt. Flip them over after just a scant 2 minutes, once they've developed a nice sear, and add pepper to that side as well. Then pour in a splash of white wine from the glass you're drinking out of, let them cook for 1 more minute and remove from heat. That's it! You don't want to overcook scallops.Quickly turn up the heat in the pan to reduce the delicious bacony-wine liquid, while whisking in a pinch of fresh minced parsley and a teaspoon of dijon mustard. Pour this over each serving of scallops and top with the crispy bacon pieces.By now your artichokes are all steamed--cut each one in half and serve alongside your scallops. For dipping the leaves and the heart, I usually just melt some butter and mix in the juice from 1 lemon along with a few capers. But I know some people like a simple balsamic vinaigrette with their artichokes or a hollandaise-type sauce instead, so I'll just leave that part to your discretion.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Lemon thyme pound cake

Just in time for Easter, here's a completely springtime-inspired poundcake. It's classic proportions of sugar-eggs-butter, plus a sweet herbal note with aromatic thyme and lemon. Absolutely perfect for celebratory brunch. Preheat your oven to 350 and set out 2 sticks of butter to soften (two sticks of butter! two sticks of butter!). Get two cups of flour (use cake flour if you have it, but I didn't and it worked fine) and mix with a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon baking powder (here's a bonus household tip! Last time I ran out of baking powder, I filled up the empty canister with dried beans and now use it as a rattle to ward off the cat when she is trying to stick her paw in my water or step Phil's face while he's sleeping. I call it the "can of shakes" and it strikes terror into her heart. Very useful!). In another big bowl, blend your two sticks of butter until fluffy.Get 1 cup of sugar and mix it into the fluffy butter, incorporating just 1/2 cup at a time. Beautiful.Get four gorgeous, local, farm-fresh eggs.Separate the eggs--adding the yolks one at a time to the butter-sugar mixture. Set the whites aside in a bowl because we'll be beating them and adding them in as well in a minute. Like I said, one yolk at a time, totally incorporate it, then the next yolk.It turns a really pretty bright yellow as you go along.Once all your eggs are added in, zest in the peel from 1 lemon, then squeeze in the juice. Now add your flour mixture in 3 stages, being sure to incorporate all in before adding more. Are you sensing a theme here, with the sloww addition of ingredients? Pound cake is really easy to make, but it's taking the time on these steps that really makes the end product good.Now, where's your thyme? Mince up about 1 tablespoon fresh thyme and add it to the mixture.Back to those egg whites--beat them until they get fluffy and incorporate them into your mixture.Pour the whole mixture into a really well buttered loaf pan and pop it in the oven.Mine took about 1 hour and 20 minutes to bake up, but I think my oven is on the cooler side. Test it with a wooden stick to be sure.With ice cream? Divine.