Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For Your Consideration

As we are all quite aware, now is the time to get your hands on some delicious spring asparagus. The farmers markets are overflowing with them - literally - and the freshly picked local stuff is so much better than the supermarket version trucked in from who knows where that you'd swear you're eating a totally different vegetable. Steam it, nuke it, roast it - you can't go wrong. I particularly love mine folded into fresh pasta. And while you certainly don't need to go to the trouble of making your own pasta from scratch, it is totally worth it in the taste department - and the pat-yourself-on-the-back department, once you see that your golden strands can hold their own against most of the area restaurants' "house-made" versions.

While this pasta/asparagus combo would be equally good dressed simply with melted butter and a dusting of parmesan, I decided to go the robust route. Gremolata sounds awfully fancy, but it's really just a pretty word for a chopped herb condiment, usually made from parsley, garlic and lemon zest - all things that I happen to find delicious in my pasta bowl. Gremolata is super versatile, too. While its traditional purpose is to accompany a big plate of osso buco, it's also great with fish and seafood, and even sprinkled over crisp french fries, a la Cork's version. While the raw flavors of gremolate can be a bit assertive, I find that the smooth creaminess of the ricotta balances them out nicely.
So here's a slew of ideas for you, all in one little post. Put them together, try each out on its own - just get that asparagus!

Fresh Pasta with Asparagus, Ricotta, and Hazelnut Gremolata
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
Hazelnut gremolata (see recipe below)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb of fresh fettuccine noodles (see recipe below)
1 lb. fresh asparagus, washed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, gremolata and olive oil. Set aside.

Drop pasta into rapidly boiling water. Stir to loosen strands. After 2 minutes, add the chopped asparagus to the water. Cook for 2 more minutes, or until the pasta is done to your liking. Remove the pasta and asparagus and transfer to the bowl with the ricotta mixture; add 1/4 cup of the cooking water to the bowl. Toss the noodles to coat in the cheese sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

Fresh Semolina Pasta
2 1/2 cups semolina flour
4 eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, pour the flour into a mound, making a well in the center with your fingers. Add the remaining ingredients to the well. Using a fork, slowly begin incorporating the flour into the eggs, until a rough dough forms. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 4-5 minutes (you can also let the dough hook of your stand mixer do this for you). When the dough is smooth and elastic, cover with a damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into four pieces. Pass each piece through the widest setting on a pasta maker, or the pasta sheet attachment of your stand mixer. I do about 10 passes, folding the dough a few times at the beginning to get it uniformly smooth. Switch to the next smallest sheet setting and pass the pasta through another 10 times. Repeat on the next setting. The dough should be about 1/16th-inch thick. Dust the sheets with plenty of semolina flour to prevent sticking, then fold them over themselves and place on parchment paper while your finish the rest.
Switch to a fettucine attachment to cut the sheets into strands. Place serving size mounds of pasta on parchment. You can either cook the pasta right away, or chill it overnight. (I place the extra in plastic baggies and store in the fridge to use later in the week)

Hazelnut Gremolata
2 tbsp crushed toasted hazelnuts
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl mix gremolata ingredients and season with salt and pepper.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Welcome Back

Gah! Where have I been? A looong vacation + no internet access sure makes for a dull blog. Sorry about that.

I hope with this tasty posting you'll welcome me back with open arms. This is the perfect dish for a lazy day - the kind that requires minimal prep time, few ingredients, and a long, lazy soak in the oven, during which you can lie on the couch and catch up on missed American Idol episodes. Oh, and did I mention beer is involved? Pair it with something creamy and something green (I went with polenta and swiss chard), and you've got one of the best - and easiest - comfort dishes around.

Beer Braised Beef Short Ribs
2 pounds beef short ribs
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 11 oz. bottle of your favorite beer (mine is Hoegaarden)
2 cups of beef/veal stock
1 large onion, chopped
1 sprig of rosemary
4 large garlic cloves, crushed

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat. Sprinkle the ribs on all sides with salt and pepper. When the oil shimmers, place the ribs into the pan. Sear on all sides until deep brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Pour the beer into the pot and stir to loosen up any browned bits. Let the alcohol cook off for about 1-2 minutes, then add the stock. Stir to combine, add the rosemary and garlic, then place in the oven, uncovered. Braise for about 3 hours - covering halfway through - until the meat falls off the bone.
Remove the meat; set aside. Discard the rosemary sprig and puree the sauce, if desired. Serve short ribs over polenta or mashed potatoes and drizzle with sauce.