Primavera Pasta Salad

While combing through my thick binder of favorite saved recipes this morning, I came across the menu and guest list for my son’s first birthday party in 1985.  The menu was an ambitious buffet entirely from the original Silver Palate Cookbook, except for the clown birthday cake from Montilio’s Bakery.

Following the pre-luncheon nibbles, there was Chicken Marbella, Glazed Corned Beef,  New Potato Salad, Tossed Green Salad, and Pasta Primavera Gregory – a pasta dish originally wrtitten for fettuccine, but which I had undoubtedly adapted into a more fork-friendly pasta salad.

Thirty-three years later, the taste memory was sufficient to reimagine what I had done to put together this pasta salad bursting with color, flavor, and texture:

PRIMAVERA PASTA SALAD

inspired by The Silver Palate

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INGREDIENTS:

8 ounces good Italian rotini, cooked al dente

1/4  cup finely chopped red onion

2 Tbsp EVOO

6 ounces snap peas or snow peas, blanched, shocked, and sliced thinly on the diagonal

4 scallions sliced thinly on the diagonal (about 1/3 cup)

1/3 cup diced roasted red peppers or same amount fresh red bell pepper

1/2 cup seeded & chopped ripe tomato

6 ounces thinly sliced Boar’s Head Rosemary Ham, broken by hand into small pieces

1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives

2 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano

2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

1/2 tbsp dried oregano

Grated zest of one lemon

S&P to taste

PREPARATION:

Drain the pasta and toss it with the olive oil and chopped onion in a very large bowl.  Add the next six ingredients, toss again.  Add the cheese, vinegar, oregano and lemon zest, toss again.  Season to taste with S&P and serve immediately or chill.

This makes enough for 3-4 servings for a light lunch, or 6-8 as a side dish with dinner.  If chilled, take it out of the fridge about a half hour before serving to allow all the flavors to come through.

 

 

 

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Scampi Over Linguini, My Way

Whenever our local Stop & Shop has frozen easy-peel jumbo shrimp on sale, I snag a 2-lb bag for quick weeknight meals to be served either as an Asian stir-fry or an Italian scampi.  Tonight it’s scampi my way, with the addition of chopped grape tomatoes and shallots to the classic dish, and lobster broth in lieu of white wine.

In both cases, both Asian and Italian, the dishes come together quickly, so it’s a good idea to set up your mise en place instead of grabbing and measuring ingredients while cooking.  This will avoid the pitfall of overcooking your shrimp, and ensuring that it all comes out with taste and texture that are restaurant quality.

Peeling and refrigerating the shrimp early in the day is a time-saver as well, and I like to brine them for just 3-5 minutes in a solution of 2 cups water/1 tbsp salt, then rinse and pat dry before refrigerating.  I find this helps improve the texture, and does not impart any additional saltiness.

All that’s needed to round out this meal is a salad of mixed greens and olives and some crusty bread…or that focaccia I made two days ago.

SCAMPI OVER LINGUINI MY WAY

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Mise en place set to go, including my vintage Perrier Jouet bottle which I’ve used for EVOO since 1984

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb jumbo shrimp (16-20 per pound), peeled and prepped as described above

2 tbsp each EVOO and unsalted butter

4 medium cloves garlic & 1 medium shallot minced

1 cup quartered grape tomatoes, gently squeezed to remove excess liquid and seeds

1/2 cup lobster broth (1/2 tsp Better Than Bouillon brand dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water)

3/4 tsp kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

pinch of red pepper flakes

1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon, about 1-1/2 tbsp

8 ounces good linguini, such as Dececco brand, cooked al dente

PREPARATION:

In a 12″ cast iron skillet, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and shallots and sauté about 1 minute.  Add broth, salt, red pepper flakes generous grinding of black pepper, and tomatoes and simmer until broth is reduced by half.  Add shrimp and sauté until they just turn pink, about 2 minutes per side.  Stir in parsley and lemon juice and serve immediately over linguini.

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Foolproof Sausage & Cheese-Stuffed Canneloni

Several years ago an episode of America’s Test Kitchen gave me another of their superb cooking hacks – a way to make manicotti or canneloni without struggling to fill pasta shells that often cracked, sometimes just in the box from shipping, but more often from the pressure exerted in stuffing them.  The trick is to use no-cook lasagna noodles in lieu of manicotti shells, softening them in very hot water until pliable, and then doing rolls-ups with your stuffing of choice – in this case, a combination of fully-cooked Italian chicken sausages, a mix of shredded Italian cheeses, and ricotta.

This dish has much of the character of lasagna, but is far easier to serve in specific portions.   I have an obvious preference for ingredients from Trader Joe’s for this, but wherever I specifiy that, feel free to substitute your favorite brand.  But I do believe the TJ’s products used in this are superior in flavor and value to other supermarket brands.  The no-bake noodles from Italy develop a tender texture as they bake in the sauce.  the sauce is the best store-bought marinara I’ve ever cooked with, and the Quattro Formaggio obsoletes the task of purchasing and shredding multiple Italian cheeses.

 

Sausage & Cheese-Stuffed Canneloni

(serves 6-8)

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INGREDIENTS:

16 sheets of Trader Joe’s No-Cook Lasagna noodles

2 28-ounce cans Trader Joe’s Low-Fat Tuscano Marinara

12-ounce package Trader Joe’s fully cooked Italian Chicken Sausages (either mild or spicy, as you prefer)

1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion

1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth

2 tsp EVOO

15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta

1 cup Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio shredded cheese blend

2 tbsp + 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp chopped Italian parsley

PREPARATION:

Sauté the whole sausages and chopped onion in the olive oil over medium heat until onions begin to turn color. Turn sausages over, continue to cook another 3 minutes. Add the wine or vermouth and turn up the heat, stirring often until all the wine is absorbed and onions are golden. Remove to a plate to cool.

Combine the ricotta, shredded cheese mix, 2 tbsp romano, parsley and pepper in a medium bowl. Cut the cooled cooked sausages into 1/4″ dice and add, with the onions, to cheese mixture. Filling should weigh about 2 lbs. on a kitchen scale.

Fill a 13 x 9 x 2″ baking dish with 1″ very hot water, and immerse the uncooked noodles in the water, making sure to keep them separate. Allow to soak at least 10 minutes, until pliable enough to be rolled. Lay them out flat on a tea towel.

Lightly brush bottom of that baking dish with olive oil and spread about 1 cup of the sauce in it. Spread about 2 ounces (scant 1/3 cup) of the filling on lower two-thirds of each noodle, and roll up from the short side. Lay them in the baking dish seam side down. All 16 should fit perfectly in 2 rows of 8. Cover completely with most or all of the remaining sauce and sprinkle top with remaining 3/4 cup grated cheese. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Uncover, raise oven temperature to 425, and bake just a few minutes longer until cheese on top is just golden. Let rest about 5 minutes and serve.

Note: The filling can be made a day ahead and kept refrigerated.

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Served with lightly dressed green salad and Dutch-oven-baked Artisan rosemary bread.

 

 

 

Not My Mother’s Noodle Kugel

My mother was famous for her noodle kugels, a dish requested for every family gathering to either break the Yom Kippur fast, gather for a birthday brunch, or, heaven forbid, contribute to the buffet table after a funeral.  Her kugels were exceptionally light and fluffy, owing to her use of little o-shaped egg noodles about the circumference of a dime, instead of the more traditional wide egg noodles.  Her description of their fluffiness was a Yiddish word I’ll try to transliterate – “poochkie” – with the “oo” pronounced like the “oo” in “look”, and the  “ch” pronounced like the “ch” in “l’chaim”.  Try saying that a few times and you’ll make it your own, or at least clear your throat.

The noodle kugel I’ve been making since the original recipe first appeared in Gourmet in 1994 is also poochkie, as a good kugel should be.  It should never be weighed down by the filling holding the egg noodles together.  Like a great lasagna or mac & cheese, it should be soft in the mouth and bursting with flavor.

The original recipe was called “Orange Current Noodle Kugel” and was described as a traditional part of Jewish sabbath and holiday meals.  Sabbath I would question, since a traditional meal would be meat or chicken, not be be served with a dairy side dish.  Gourmet also suggested this would “work well as a dessert.”  No way!  This is a combination of sweet and savory elements – a side dish I love to serve with the salmon croquettes we’re having tonight.

ORANGE-SCENTED NOODLE KUGEL

(adapted from Gourmet, February 1994)

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ready for the oven

INGREDIENTS:

8 ounces wide egg noodles cooked al dente and drained

1-1/3 cups light sour cream

1-1/3 cups Breakstone 2% fat cottage cheese

3 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar divided

5 Tbsp unsalted butter melted and divided

1 T grated orange zest (or 1-1/2 t dried orange zest, which I like to keep on hand)

1 t vanilla extract

3/4 t cinnamon divided

1/4 t kosher salt

1 large crisp apple such as Gala, Granny Smith, or Macoun, peeled and coarsley grated

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional for those who dislike raisins)

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 350 and butter a 2-quart square baking dish.

Put drained noodles in a large bowl.  Add the grated apple and raisins, if using. Combine sour cream, cottage cheese, eggs, 6 T of the sugar, 4 T of the butter, orange zest, vanilla, 1/2 t of cinnamon, and the salt in a blender and blend until smooth.  Pour over the noodles and combine well.  Pour into your prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts.  Combine remaining 2 T sugar and 1/4 t cinnamon and sprinkle over the top.  Drizzle with reamining 2 T butter.  Bake in center of oven 40-45 minutes until cooked through and golden.

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Allow to cool slightly before cutting into squares for serving.  Can be made in advance, chilled overnight, and reheated.  Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

 

 

 

Simple Supper of Linguini with Mushrooms

Pasta – it’s become the centerpiece of so many meals here at Chez Jordan since we stopped frequenting our former favorite trattoria a couple of years ago.  We almost always ordered the same dishes there – fettuccine bolognese for me, and veal Milanese for my husband.  We stopped when I decided to master my own bolognese (see blog post from 3/4/15), and also discovered that a home-cooked dinner of pork chops milanese (also posted on 3/4/15) were even better than the veal.

Since then, we’ll have a pasta dish at least weekly – pasta carbonara, scampi over linguini, orrechiette with rappi, and so many more.  If it tastes good by itself, it should taste great over pasta, right?

Last night’s inspiration came from an 8-ounce box of Trader Joe’s crimini mushrooms that were just on the verge, and I couldn’t let them spoil before making the beef stew on my menu for this weekend.  Turning to my new favorite food site – Cooking with the NY Times – I found Florence Fabricant’s simple recipe for Linguine with Mushrooms.

A good start, but I can never resist tinkering. That often involves adding shallots, which can elevate the flavor profile of just about anything other than ice cream.  She also makes hers with olive oil, but I’ve been saving our bacon fat and using it the way my forebears used schmaltz.  They lived long, mostly healthy lives, so I’ve learned not to fear my food.  Also, borrowing from the bacon component of carbonara, this just seemed logical.

A confession about this photo.  It’s a stock photo that looks exactly like what I served; my iPhone was charging and I didn’t want our dinners to lose any heat before jumping into this:

LINGUINI WITH MUSHROOMS

(adapted from Florence Fabricant’s recipe – 2 hearty dinner servings)

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INGREDIENTS:

8 ounces good Italian linguini (such as DeCecco), cooked al dente and drained

4-5 Tbsp reserved bacon fat (or olive oil, if you prefer, but bacon fat makes it richer)

8 ounces crimini mushrooms sliced thinly

1 very plump glove garlic and 1 small shallot minced together

1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano

S&P to taste

PREPARATION:

While your pasta is cooking, heat the bacon fat in a 12″ cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.      Sauté the mushrooms, stirring frequently until they’re nicely browned, about 6 minutes.  Season with S&P, add the garlic, shallot and parsley, and remove from heat.  Add the drained linguini to the skillet, tossing to combine everything, then toss again with the grated cheese.  Plate and top with another sprinkle of cheese.

 

 

 

Ultimate Macaroni & Cheese

Once realizing I’d never posted this recipe, I truly could not wait for this to be baked and photographed before sharing it.  So please imagine that buttery panko topping browned and crispy, and the cheeses just oozing a bit from beneath that crunchy blanket.

Yes, I do unabashedly declare this to be the ULTIMATE mac and cheese recipe, adapted from what I enjoyed years ago at Stephanie’s on Newbury in Boston’s Back Bay.  The restaurant is still there, having grown up into much more than the bistro it was in the ’90s, but still featuring this signature dish on their extensive menu.  You can make a reservation and pay $19 for a lunch portion of this dish, or you can make a batch serving  6  for about $9 in ingredients.  Easy, and yet truly sophisticated.  Never go back to elbows and orange cheddar again.

ULTIMATE MACARONI & CHEESE

(adapted from Stephanie’s on Newbury Street, Boston)

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(oven-ready, not yet baked – imagine crispy browned topping!)

8 ounces penne, rotelli,  cavatappi, or similar pasta shape, cooked al dente and drained

For sauce:

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp flour

2 cups  half & half  or light cream

1-1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

8 ounces shredded Vermont sharp cheddar

4 ounces Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio blend , or 2 ounces shredded romano & 2 ounces shredded asiago

For topping:

1 cup panko (do not substitute – this is essential for crisp topping)

4 tbsp melted butter

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

Melt butter in large saucepan, add flour and simmer 2-3 minutes on medium heat.  Add cream and whisk until dissolved.  Continue cooking on low-medium until thick & bubbly.  Add all the cheeses, and S&P – cook until cheese is melted.  Add to the pasta and place in buttered 2-quart baking dish.

Mix together the panko & melted butter, sprinkle evenly on top, and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Top with parsley.(optional)

For added depth of flavor, add 1/2 tsp truffle oil, or embellish with chopped broccoli, lobster meat, or prosciutto.

Wonderful winter comfort food, and a real crowd-pleasure on Superbowl Sunday.  This is a half-recipe, enough for 6 hearty portions.  Double it for a crowd and – of course – use a larger baked pan, but no need to increase the baking time.