Friday, September 25, 2015

Homemade Pici Pasta

Without a doubt (at least for me), the best holiday David and I have taken was when we went to Florence, Italy. I spent most of the time walking around with my mouth hanging open being awed by the architecture, art, sculptures, and yes, the food. Dear readers, please believe me that I did manage to not chew my food with my mouth open.

Whenever I'm feeling nostalgic about that particular trip or Italy in general, I reach for the books written by Frances Mayes. You may be familiar with her for writing Under the Tuscon Sun. One of her novels that I recently read is Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life. In one chapter, she relates a dinner that was made that included pici pasta. Now I've read this book before, but this particular passage never jumped out at me. Maybe that I've been making my own pasta, it now caught my eye. Whatever the reason, I did some research and found this recipe (courtesy of Italian Food Forever).

I went ahead and made the dough and let it rest for almost two hours. It's interesting that this is the first pasta dough recipe I've run across that doesn't include eggs. 

I divided the dough in half, covering the portion I wasn't using back in the plastic wrap.

The dough got rolled out to about a 1/4 inch thickness.

Using a pizza cutter, the dough was cut into strips.

Then, using my fingertips, each strip was rolled out to form a tube. The technique is similar to making bread sticks.

I let the pici dry for about 25 - 30 minutes, then cooked them in a pot of boiling, salted water. During the time the pici were drying, I heated up some home made pasta sauce.

The end result:

The pici were tender, not at all mushy. The sauce was great. But...I can't say I love this pasta. It just seems somewhat overwhelming with its thickness. Maybe pairing it with a Bolognese sauce would help? I'm willing to play around with it again and maybe try to make the pici a bit thinner. But make no mistake, pici or no pici, this girl is always happy to make a culinary trip to Italy.

Ricotta Stuffed Pork Chops

During a recent reorganization of our freezer, I came across a container of ricotta that really needed to be used sooner, rather than later. Casting about for what to do with it, I remembered this pork chop recipe (courtesy of Fine Cooking).

First step: Saute some red onions, garlic, roasted pepper, rosemary, red pepper flakes. When done, the mixture was transferred to a bowl.

Second step: when cooled the onion mixture was stirred into the ricotta cheese.

Third step: I made a slit in the pork chops and spooned in some of the ricotta mixture.

Fourth step: The chops were then seasoned with salt and pepper and given a quick sear on each side/

Aren't these just gorgeous?

Fifth step: The chops were transferred to a pre-heated 325 degree oven and left to roast for about 10 - 12 minutes.

Sixth step: Plate it up!

Okay so on the high side, the ricotta filling was very tasty and would definitely like to use it again in other applications (maybe a ravioli filling?). On down side, I screwed up the cook time for the chops, so they weren't as tender and juicy as I would have liked. Man you take your eye off the prize for one second and BAM! your chops are toast. Well they weren't that bad, but you know what I mean. Sigh.

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

Last week, David had a yen for some oatmeal cookies. In rummaging through my online files, I found this recipe (courtesy of tucked away in my bookmarks. While I didn't have any raisins, I did have a bag of dried cranberries hanging out in the fridge.

Having worked with various cookie recipes in the past calling for raisins or other type of dried fruit, I learned the best way to bring out their flavor and texture is to rehydrate them. I popped the cranberries into a pot of simmering water and let them plump up. They got drained and set aside to cool.

Typical of most cookie recipes, I creamed together the softened butter with brown and white sugar. Because of the sweetness of the cranberries and the fact that honey would be added later, I only used 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar.

Next eggs were added, along with the honey and vanilla. Once everything was incorporated, the dry ingredients were added in two batches.

At this point, the cranberries were cooled off and stirred into the batter. After spooning the batter onto prepared cookie sheets, they were put into a pre-heated 350 degree oven. The recipe suggests a 9 - 11 minute bake time, but I found my cookies were done closer to 8 minutes.

The end result? Oatmeal cranberry cookie bliss. I was impressed that the cookies retained their chewiness, not only for that day, but in the days that followed. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Pasta with Shrimp and Chorizo

On a recent trip to Frank's Meats, David spied a package of chorizo. As it's not a sausage we frequently have access to, we decided to buy it and stick in the freezer.

As luck would have it, a few days later this shrimp and chorizo recipe (courtesy of Fine Cooking), popped up on my Facebook feed. I immediately tagged it for a meal the following week.

The first step was to brown the chorizo. A couple of things to note about this particular product. First, the casing is plastic, which clearly isn't going to enhance a dish if placed in a hot pan. The second thing is the texture of the chorizo was on the dry side and rather crumbly. Not that it's a bad thing, just different from some other chorizo I've cooked with.

After the chorizo browned, the peeled/deveined shrimp went into the pan. They were left to cook only until they turned pink and just started to curl. 

It's really important not to let the shrimp cook all the way through. The recipe suggests about a two minute cook for the shrimp, but depending on your stove top, it could be less.

When the shrimp were ready, they and the chorizo were transferred to a bowl.

Some diced onion was put in the pan...

...then some garlic, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes.

While that mixture cooked away, I made the pasta. The recipe calls for linguine, which I could have made, but was feeling a bit lazy. Instead, I used packaged rotini. 

After the pasta was cooked and drained, the shrimp/chorizo were added to the pan with tomatoes, onion, and garlic. 

The shrimp only needed about a minute to finish cooking through, then the pasta was added.

Overall, we liked the dish but wished the chorizo had a bit more heat to it. That being said, I would definitely make this again and probably add a bit more red pepper flakes if using the same chorizo. 

Vinegar Braised Chicken

Back in the day when David and I were both working and he was doing all of the cooking, one of his go-to dishes was balsamic chicken and onions. The dish comes together quickly, tastes delicious, and is the perfect comfort food after a long day at the office.

So when I saw this recipe (courtesy of Epicurious), I realized with a few adjustments to the ingredients, this could take our chicken and onion dish to a whole new level. Yes, it does take a bit of time, but you won't regret one single second. 

I got the ball rolling by browning up some diced bacon. 

The recipe calls for pancetta, but that isn't something I've been able to find in Corozal.

After the bacon was browned, I used a slotted spoon and transferred it to a bowl.

Next, I tossed a bunch of chopped onions into the pan that the bacon browned in.

I used regular yellow onions, instead of cipolline or pearl variety. Again, not ingredients you find in these parts.

When the onions started to brown a bit, garlic cloves were added and left to cook for a few minutes. The onion/garlic combo was then spooned into the same bowl containing the bacon.

It was time for the chicken!

Working in batches, I seasoned the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and browned them on both sides. When each batch was done, it was added to the bowl containing the bacon, onions, and garlic.

The excess fat was removed from the pan and balsamic and red wine vinegar were added. WARNING: At this stage do not attempt to take a sniff of the steam emanating from the pan, unless your sinuses are completely clogged. Not that I would pull such a bonehead move, but...

Chicken stock, the pancetta, onions, garlic, and chicken thighs were then put in the pan. After letting everything come up to a boil, I reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 40 minutes.

While the chicken was simmering away, I made a batch of smashed potatoes and got ready to plate.

The chicken was moist and juicy and the sauce? Oh my gosh, it was magnificent. The combination of balsamic and red wine vinegars brought just the right level of punch, without in any way being overpowering. The sweetness of the onions came shining through, and, of course the richness of the bacon. A truly delightful and amazingly delicious dish!