Pasta alla Norma, The Wrong Way

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The other day at work one of the cooks (Yo Josh!) made a delicious side dish for our staff meal. It was Kale dressed with puree of roasted eggplant and curry flavors.

When I saw Bittman’s boring revisit of Pasta alla Norma in the NY Times (A Recipe for Pasta Alla Norma, Mark Bittman’s Way), Josh’s eggplant puree came immediately to mind. I like the components of Pasta alla Norma, but why not dress the pasta with a sort of Eggplant Pesto?

Our late season dry farmed cherry tomatoes are plenty sweet without roasting, feta is more interesting than ricotta salata, and everything is better with a little bacon.


Pasta alla Norma, The Wrong Way

1 Eggplant, roasted and somewhat cooled

2 Cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh Oregano Leaves
1/4 cup Toasted Pine Nuts (reserve a few for garnish)
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
2 Tablespoon fresh Mint Leaves, thinly sliced
Salt & Red Pepper Flakes
Splash Olive Oil
Splash Balsamic Vinegar

Feta Cheese, crumbled
Bacon, Cooked and crumbled

1/2 Pound pasta

METHOD:
Heat a pot with enough salted water to cook a half pound of pasta. When it comes to a boil, cook your pasta.
Roast Eggplant in a hot oven (or on a grill) until tender. Peel Eggplant and add to a blender (or food processor) with garlic, oregano, pine nuts. Start pureeing, and add olive oil as you go. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Combine Cherry Tomatoes, Mint Leaves, Salt, Pepper Flakes, Olive Oil, and Balsamic Vinegar. Toss to combine.
Dress pasta with some of the Eggplant puree, loosening with salted pasta water as necessary. (You will probably have too much eggplant puree, but hey, stir in some tahini and you’ve got baba ghanoush!) Plate and make an indentation in center of pasta. Add Tomato ‘salsa’ and sprinkle on Feta, Bacon, and reserved pine nuts.
Serves 2 as a main dish.

Fava Beans…

To be honest, late Winter and early Spring are about my favorite time to live here in San Francisco. The rains are over, the hills are green, and there’s tons of delicious produce. It is just hard to hold too many grudges against the universe this time of year.

One of my favorite late winter treats is fresh fava beans. Though whomever discovered the best way to prepare them was ambitious. Maybe not quite as ambitious as the first person who ate an Oyster or an Artichoke, but still, they’re kind of a lot of work. Not hard work, but slightly tedious work. First you have to get the beans out of their out of their fuzzy shells.

Then you have to blanch and peel the individual beans. Put the water on for your pasta and start shelling. By the time you finish getting the beans out of their shells, the water should be boiling. Drop the shelled beans into the pasta water for a minute or two. Prepare an ice bath. Pull the beans out of the water and drop into ice bath. Now for the fun part. Using a paring knife, slit the skin of the bean opposite the stem. Squeeze the stem end of the bean and pop the meat out of the bean. It may take some practice so the bean meat does not fly across the room. Repeat until all beans are peeled. Some beer and music will be necessary.

One of my favorite fava bean dishes is pretty simple: Fava Bean Pasta with Pancetta. Put on some water for pasta. Clean the beans (see above). Chop some onion, garlic, and fresh herbs (Marjoram or Mint are nice complements to the flavor of fava beans.) Chop some fairly thickly sliced Pancetta. Sweat the pancetta until it releases its tasty fat. Remove the pancetta from the pan and raise the heat. Add the garlic and cook briefly until fragrant. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add fava beans and return the pancetta to the pan, (a little crushed red chile if you like it spicy.) Add a splash of chicken stock (if you are being strictly Italian, Water). Cover and cook until the fava beans are tender. In the meantime, cook your pasta (Note: for some reason, after blanching fava beans, your water will turn an ugly green brown. As far as I know, this is harmless.) Pull the pasta from the water and add it to fava bean mixture. Add minced herbs and toss, loosening with pasta water if necessary. Top with freshly grated parmesan. Serve with crusty bread and, of course, a nice Chianti.

Pasta Wednesday, Feb 23, 2011

Wednesday is traditionally pasta and a bottle of wine night at the Flannestad Household, aka “Spaghetti Night”.

One of the dishes a coworker of mine made at Botticelli’s in Madison, Wisconsin was a pasta dish with Chicken Pieces, Chicken Stock and herbs. Ostensibly, a way to use up the chicken tenders leftover from butchering chicken breasts, I found it to be quite tasty and have been making variations on it for nigh on 20 years.

A few years ago I set about making a “green” version for St. Patrick’s day with a pureed sauce made from Dino Kale.

Tonight, I’m trying to use up some leftover grilled chicken thighs and legs from a grilling exercise a couple Saturdays ago.

Dino Kale (aka Tuscan Kale, Blue Kale, lacinato kale, and many other names) is one of my favorite greens. Actually, it’s about the only Kale I like, with great flavor and a not too long cooking time.

Stem, wash and chop the kale. Chop some mushrooms. Dice a Mirepoix and mince some fresh herbs. Saute mushrooms until tender, add mirepoix and saute until the onions are clear.

Deglaze the pan with Dry White Wine or White Vermouth. I like to use vermouth for deglazing pans, as it helps to go through bottles of White Vermouth faster. Happened to have Dolin Dry in the house at the time, which is a bit pricy for deglazing. Eric Seed likes to point out, Noilly Prat is actually preferred by the French for cooking. I have found Dolin Dry works equally well for cooking, it is just a lot more expensive. And, as Julia Child used to say, one for the pan, one for the cook. Or was that Graham Kerr?

After the wine has cooked down to a syrupy consistency, stir in a tablespoon or so of flour, cooking briefly over low heat. Stir in a cup of Chicken Stock, add the Chopped Kale, cover and cook until tender.

Enjoy a refreshing beverage and an appetizer while the Kale cooks. In this case a delightful, and quite pungent, washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Ireland. Purchased at Canyon Market it is called Ardrahan and comes to the US via Neal’s Yard.

Monty would also like some cheese, please! The stinkier the better!

Drop the pasta in boiling salted water, heat up some crusty bread, and stir some chopped chicken pieces and fresh herbs in to the dish. Open a bottle of wine and pour a glass for your sweetie and yourself. Check the salt level of the dish. Once the pasta cooked, remove it from the boiling water and stir it into the sauce. If the sauce is a little over reduced, include some of the pasta water.

If your lucky, you’ll hear the garage door open just as your plating this up, and your significant other will be greeted with a glass of wine and a delicious plate of Pasta with Kale and grilled chicken.

Pasta With Chard and Sausage

Pasta with Chard and Hot Italian Sausage

1 Hot Italian Sausage, par boiled, skinned and chopped
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 White Onion, Chopped
1/2 bunch Rainbow Chard, washed and Chiffonaded
Stems from one bunch Rainbow Chard, Washed and Chopped
Crushed Red Chili Flakes
Dry Marjoram
Dry Thyme
1/2 Bay Leaf
1 Cup Pomi Strained Tomatoes
Fresh Marjoram
Olive Oil
Salt
Grated Parmesan
Pasta

Method: Heat water for pasta. Heat a large saute pan. Add Olive Oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When it is hot, add garlic and briefly toss until fragrant. Add Chard Stems, Onions, Red Chile Flakes, Dry Marjoram, Dry Thyme, and Bay Leaf. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until onions are clear. Add wine, reduce until syrupy. Add tomato, sausage, fresh Marjoram, and chard leaves. Adjust salt to taste. Drop Pasta and cook until al dente. Drain pasta and add to sauce, with some pasta water if the sauce is too reduced. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.

This is actually one of my favorite winter pasta dishes.