The warm seasons of Southern California brings with it such a bounty of beautiful produce. We are so lucky to be spoiled with this climate. When I start seeing fava beans at the farmers markets I always get a little jolt of happiness knowing that spring has finally arrived. Not much need to be done to a beautiful fresh ingredient. Ricotta gnocchi, pancetta and mint joined the bright green blanched favas for a delightful spring combination.
Bacon makes the world a better place. The smokey, cured pork goodness even makes long-time vegetarian mouths water. Over the years it’s been paired with even sweet ingredients such a chocolate and caramel, to delightful results and pleased palates.
However, I think one of my favorite partnering is a conventional one. Bacon and corn. Delicate, fresh pasta combined with smokey bacon and sweet corn juice, lightened by floral basil. Hello summer.
I came across lima beans at the farmer’s market and knew I just had to make succotash. Succotash is Narragansett for “boiled corn kernals”. Succotash differs regionally though but the common link is the combination of corn and beans, which together are supposed to create a complete protein. I was excited to cook with lima beans as I’ve never had them before.
Succotash is a delicious side dish on its own but I wanted to do my own twist on it as a whole meal. I thought ricotta gnocchi would go great with the vegetables. I was so nervous to make this since my first and only time was such a disaster. Flour and I don’t mix very well. But they turned out great! I already got another tub on ricotta for my second batch. Yay.
I also wanted to add tomatoes to the mix but not actually cooked with the other vegetables. I made an heirloom tomato confit following the Lucques recipe for its yellow tomato confit. The tomatoes are cored and cooked in a 400 degree oven with red onion, chile de arbol, garlic, water and olive oil. This produced a pan of cooked tomatoes that smelled more fragrantly delicious than I had ever imagined. I pureed this in the blender and sieved it.
Once the ricotta gnocchi was boiled I sauteed them in butter until slightly browned and then combined it with the succotash. The final plate featured the flavorful tomato confit topped with the gnocchi and succotash and minced chives. I garnished the plate with a ricotta stuffed and roasted cherry pepper. I’m going to give dish another go this week with a minor changes so expect a sequel!
At the end of May I figured I still had a small window to sneak in a hearty braise before the warmth of summer took over. I got a whole lamb shoulder from the butcher and had him cut it up into six chunks with the bones in. The meat was browned in olive oil and then chopped onion, garlic and vadouvan in the meat drippings. After the pot was deglazed with red wine and chicken stock the lamb chunks were added back in the pot and the whole lot simmered for about two hours. When the braise had cooled down a lil bit I separated the meat from the bones in large chunks and added a healthy squeeze of lemon juice.
I was luckily chosen to take part in this month’s Foodbuzz 24 event. A beer pairing meal was on my agenda. It’s been a few years since I did my first one so I researched around a bit to gather ideas. I kept things simple and rounded up a few of my beer loving friends and presented a six-course beer pairing menu.
St. Bernardus Wit
So after the gougeres I still had some pork belly left. Looked like just enough to make two servings of ragu. Hot meat sauce over pasta on a cold day? Ragu seemed like a great idea. It’s not a traditional ragu though, not unintentionally. I wanted to make the og style one from Marcella’s book but since I would have to get more meats and such I thought I would freehand this one with stuffs in the fridge. So if we want to be picky, let’s just call it romesco pork belly pasta.
The Girls and I got together for a midweek holiday dinner and I offered to bring dinner. I wanted to stick to something comforting and simple so decided on meatloaf, one of my favorite comfort dishes. I went with my favorite turkey meatloaf recipe adding a twist with a version of ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend (or as Wiki more accurately states “a popular blend of herbs and spices is used across the Middle East and North Africa”). I added chopped red bell pepper, parsley and cilantro to the meat mixture while leaving out the tomato paste, Worcestershire, and thyme. I kept the old-fashioned ketchup glaze on top of the meatloaf for tradition’s sake.
Japchae is a sweet potato starch noodle dish with a variety of vegetables, mostly commonly with onion, spinach, carrots, and mushrooms. It is a special occasion dish made for parties, family gatherings, and holiday celebrations. This time it was one of my coworker’s birthday. (Happy Birthday Johnson!)
There is usually a little bit of marinated beef in japchae but I made mine with the vegetables only with the addition of red peppers. The onion, carrots, red peppers, and shiitake mushrooms were sliced thinly and sauteed separately in a combination of canola and sesame oil. The spinach was blanched and squeezed well to rid it of its excess water then marinated with a touch of sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds. When the noodles were done cooking (seven minutes in boiling water), I rinsed it in cold water and drained it.
Then it was time to bring everything together. I sauteed the drained noodle in sesame oil for few minutes then added all the vegetables and soy sauce and sesame seeds to taste. It’s quite festive, colorful and delicious.
My friend E bakes and I cook, so we are trying to get on the ball about catering together. We haven’t worked on any events together yet but a referral later we were sending off our proposal for a casual wedding reception party. According to E the couple already had another proposal from their local Italian restaurant but were looking into other possibilities. Here is the info I received: it was a casual wedding reception in an art gallery for 80 people, the couple was open to any kind of food, maybe looking for something different than the restaurant’s brie with dried fruit marsala reduction, grilled eggplant-ricotta rolls, meatballs in marinara, stuffed mushroom, cheese pesto sun-dried tomato torta, bruschetta.
So I made an hor d’oeuvres menu taking those things into consideration and sent it over to the couple. I didn’t get any questions or requests to add/remove any dishes so seemed like we were set. We held a tasting featuring the dishes and then waited for the answer.
A few days later E got a call saying they weren’t going to have us cater their reception, but instead were going with the other company. Arse… First, they told us they were open to anything. Second, they didn’t read the menu before they came up for the tasting. Third, doing the tasting was a waste of time and completely pointless since the couple didn’t even read the menu. I assumed that they were pleased with it which was why we were even doing the tasting in the first place.
It just came down to the fact that they didn’t like my food. I kind of got that feeling when they were eating it. But I guess it’s just a matter of preference. I like serrano ham, cabrales cheese, homemade rosemary-poppyseed shortbread, and goat cheese mousse for my cocktail parties. I don’t expect other people to like what I like but I also don’t like wasting my time making food that someone is predisposed to dislike or prefer less.
But… the Italian restaurant also proposed “Lavash rolls filled with turkey and cranberry!” Um, first off that’s not Italian and you can pick that up at Costco. Shit, I got rejected over Costco-esque roll-ups!
And you know I adore Italian food. I love poring over Marcella’s Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It’s just that I wouldn’t serve meatballs in marinara sauce at a wedding reception (unless it was served like open mini sliders on top of buttered and toasted brioche rounds, with buffalo mozzarella melted over it, garnished with a fried basil leaf and a grating of parmigiano reggiano). And I will never like getting rejected over lavash turkey roll-ups. What the hell. I feel sorry for my tastebuds and tummy everytime my work gets that for some lunch event. And my work only gets em because they have a budget of like $2/pp. I felt kind of bad over the whole thing but whatevers. Not to be so cliche, but you win some, lose some.
So I decided this would be a good time to say screw that and cook myself something delicious. Definitely something warm, comforting, and satisfying – Meatballs & Pasta. Hey, I told you I love Italian food! And I definitely love meatballs. The quiet kitchen, the repetitive peaceful movements of my knife against the cutting board, the utterly intoxicating aroma of Italian food wafting through my kitchen can make any day better.
Tomato Sauce with Olive Oil & Chopped Vegetables and Meatballs and Tomatoes
The carrot and celery in this sauce are put in a crudo, which means without the usual separate and preliminary sauteeing procedure, along with the tomatoes. The sweetness of carrot and the fragrance of celery contribute depth to the fresh tomato flavor of the sauce.
Recommended pasta – This is an all-purpose sauce for most cuts of factory-made pasta, particularly spaghettini and penne.
2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, or 2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
2/3 cup chopped carrots
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta
A slice of good-quality white bread
1/3 cup milk
1 pound ground beef, preferably chuck
1 tbsp onion chopped very fine
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp freshly grated parmigianno-reggiano cheese
Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
Here is my quick and dirty mash-up adapted version of Marcella’s instructions for the two recipes above:
Process the canned roma tomatoes in the food mill or food processor if you don’t have a mill. [Thanks Hannah for the food mill!] Simmer the tomato puree and vegetables on low 30 minutes without the lid according to Marcella’s instructions.
Meanwhile, make the meatballs. Pour the milk over the crustless bread in a bowl and microwave it for a minutes or so. Then put all the ingredients in a bowl and mush it up. But don’t mush it up too much or the meatballs will be tough. I used pecorino romano instead of parmigianno reggiano because that’s what I had at home. Marcella says “Gently knead the mixture with your hands without squeezing it”. Roll them into about 1 in balls.
Marcella rolls her meatballs in dry breadcrumb and fries in in olive oil. Me: Drizzle or brush a little bit of oil on the meatballs then broil the little suckers for until they were browned all over. (Check yours every few minutes bc your broiler could be hotter/cooler than mine). Now add all of them into the simmering tomato sauce and continue to simmer them together lid on for about 10 more minutes.
Boil a large pot of water; when boiling salt generouly with kosher salt and place pasta in. When the pasta is almost done, fish out the meatballs from the tomato. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce and toss gently as to not make a total mess of the kitchen in the color tomato. Plate the pasta with a few meatballs. A grate of pecorino romano and sprinkle of parsley and dinner is ready.