Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Mid-Winter's Pasta

OK...maybe I haven't been as attentive as I'd hoped, blog-wise...but I have a note from my teacher! I'm involved with another show; directing Reefer Madness: The Musical at Suffolk University. ( didn't know there was a musical based on Reefer Madness? I didn't either 'til a few months ago. didn't know I directed musicals?? Um...I didn't either until a few months ago.)

So we'll break momentarily from our recent aim to cover some culinary basics with a recipe for you to try.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Right? A lot of times (particularly, you know, when you get home from a rehearsal around 10:30 at night and haven't eaten) one needs to throw together a dish with whatever you have on hand. We touched on this with the idea of Midnight Pasta. Invention and creativity in the kitchen, I'll confess, have not always been a strong suit of mine. There is...some risk involved. (The less said about the great Kraut Dog Burrito experiment of 1989, the better. However, I maintain: it was ALL WE HAD IN THE REFRIGERATOR.)

One night a few weeks ago, I found myself with several things on hand I thought could work together: Italian sausage, potatoes, and blue cheese and an apple. Feeling kinda New England-y, I decided to throw maple syrup into the equation. Here was the rationale: sausage and potatoes pair up naturally, as do apples and cheese, as do maple and pork. And pork with apples? Say it with me now, Peter Brady fans: "pawk shops...n'apple shaushe..." I have also really grown to like the presence of potato in pasta dishes, which may sound odd, but has - I believe - some traditional roots in Italian cuisine, just good so you should try it. (Plus, necessity again, I only had one potato.)

Anyway, with other pantry staples on hand, I came up with this pasta dish - which I've tried a few times now, so as not to toss your way the latenight one-off of a starving man. I think it's nice and hearty. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

B's Mid-Winter Pasta

6 sundried tomato halves (if in oil, drained and chopped; dried - soak 6 minutes i
n boiling water, drain and chop)
1/2 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage, casings removed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 t. crushed red peppers
1 (generous) C. diced peeled Yukon Gold potato
1/2 lb. orrechiette pasta or shells
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
3/4 C. frozen peas (thawed or frozen is fine, just adjust when you add them)
6 T. dry white wine
1 1/4 C. chicken or vegetable stock

2 T. maple syrup (with all due respect to Mrs. Butterworth - REAL please!)
3/4 - 1 C. crumbled blue cheese

1. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add uncased sausage and begin breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Continue to break it up and cook the sausage until browned (about 5-6 minutes). Remove the sausage to a plate.

3. If there's not enough fat left in the saute pan - or you want to drain it all - add a tablespoon of olive oil to the saute pan, return to the heat, add the garlic, and saute until it just starts to color. Add crushed red peppers and potatoes and saute one more minute.

4. Add wine to pan and scrape up any brown bits on bottom (deglaze). Reduce wine for 1 minute, then add chicken stock, sundried tomatoes, and 1.5 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 12 minutes (until potatoes are just starting to soften). Add maple syrup, apples, and cooked sausage. Cook until apples are just tender (about another 10 minutes). Add in peas and cook 1 minute more. (Check for seasoning and remember the pasta cooked in salted water and blue cheese will add a bit more saltiness to the final dish.)

5. Meanwhile, cook orrechiette in salted water according to package instructions. Before draining the pasta , reserve about 1 cup of cooking water. Add drained pasta to saute pan, along with crumbled blue cheese, and toss over heat for a minute or two. If too dry add a little reserved pasta water.

Try it and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

De Glaze! De Glaaaze!

Smiles, everyone, smiles!

OK. Enough with my seventies flashback.

Today I want to talk about deglazing.

Deglazing is one of my all-time favorite things to do in the kitchen. Why? Well, probably because it generally involves wine and...well...B loves his wine. But wait - that's not really it BECAUSE deglazing doesn't necessarily have to be done with wine. (Can you feel me frowning?)

OK. When you're cooking something in a pan - be it vegetables or some sort of protein (meat, seafood...) - bits of what you're cooking stick to the bottom of the pan and become this highly flavorful brown stuff referred to as 'fond.'

Fond is good. (So is fondue, but FOCUS, Sven.)

It means foundation. (Stocks are referred to as 'fond de cuisine,' as in the base of cooking.) And that fond in your pan can be the foundation of a quick pan sauce for whatever was cooking in said pan. And you get that sauce, or incorporate all the flavor of that fond into your sauce, by deglazing.

To deglaze a pan, you add liquid to the hot pan and stir, scraping up the fond from the bottom of the pan. That flavor incorporates into the liquid and the liquid also reduces over the heat, so you are left with a lovely, flavorful sauce.

et voila!

If you cook for any length of time, you're going to deglaze a pan at some point - if you, in fact, already haven't. It was one of the first cooking techniques I learned that actually made me feel like I was COOKING something. (It's true, mom, opening the jar of Ragu did not count! Sticklers...) The liquid makes this great noise when it hits the pan. The entire room fills with a fabulous aroma. I still can't resist bending over the pan and inhaling every time I add some wine to a pan of sauteing tomatoes and garlic. Mm-mm! your fond. (And, yeah, you can't really get good fond with your non-stick pans, so...) Grab the wine (or stock or water or what have you) and create yourself some pan sauces, amigos.

Sauteing the shrimp leads to...


And so we add some wine. (Say it with me, now: yay, wine!)

Look, ma, no fond!!