30 April 2007

Maltagliati al Forno ai Funghi Porcini Secchi

Not only have the Italians given us pasta fresca, they've also given us a way to maintain our dignity (or at least some authenticity) when we screw it up. I made fresh pappardelle for M and her friend the other night. Since I was making fresh pasta, I went ahead and made extra to freeze against some late and hungry arrival home. Saturday evening was that late and hungry arrival, when we came home from a night in the Berkshires scoping out wedding venues.

I remembered the pappardelle in the freezer, and as is usual, started constructing a dinner menu in my head based on what I suspected was in the fridge and pantry. What I hadn't counted on, though was my idiocy in storing the pasta. I knew that it was the usual thing, after cutting up the pasta, to flour it before freezing, but I was eager to sit down with our guest on the night that I made it, so I just tossed it in a bag and the bag in the freezer. It was a big lump of wide noodles. I tried to peel them off one by one, but they just came apart. So I changed my approach. I had already been soaking some dried porcini mushrooms for the sauce, so I just took that broth, strained it through two layers of cheesecloth, threw in a porcini-flavored stock cube, and some cream and boiled it up, then thickened with Wondra flour, readding the rinsed chopped porcinis at the end with a generous grinding of black pepper.

In the meantime, I broke and picked apart the frozen fresh noodles into whatever shapes I could. As long as they were a single layer, they were fine. I boiled them up in salted water, then put them into a Pyrex baking dish that, in retrospect, I should've greased. I threw in the porcini bechamel I'd made and stirred it up, topping with a generous amount of finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Baked at 400 for 15 minutes or so and we were done.

Maltagliati al Forno ai Funghi Porcini Secchi. It made for awesome leftovers. M called it "noodle kugel but with mushrooms and not sweet"... Hmph.

Anyway, maltagliati means, basically "badly cut" in Italian. The term should usually be reserved for remnants, say from making panzerotti or some other round stuffed pasta, that are cut into soups, but repurposing the term for badly frozen pappardelle sits well with me.

In other news, tapioca pudding has proven to be beyond my culinary capabilities. I tried two recipes with Brazilian pearl tapioca from Kalyustan, the spice shop in Manhattan, and just can't get it to thicken right. Forget it. I'm going back to rice pudding.

27 April 2007

Nothing in the house

M and I have been running pretty close to empty as far as pantry and fridge goes. We're overdue for a big shop, but I've been putting it off. Still, if there's good chicken broth in the house (frozen, from that chicken a couple weeks ago), it's easy to make something good. M picked up a rotisserie chicken night before last, which fed us fine, and I made baby pea soup. That's just the Bird's Eye frozen baby peas boiled for 5 minutes in chicken broth, with salt, pepper and butter, pureed.

For cold chicken, though, my favorite thing recently is just dipping it in Halen Mon Smoked Sea Salt. (Image at left borrowed from bearcreekfinefoods.com.) It adds a little crunch, a little smoke, a spike of salt. Poached chicken is pretty much the simplest way to cook meat. This is the simplest way to season it (outside regular salt). Yet it makes for a very satisfying meal. Last night, when M came home late, I made her some chicken breast, sauteed in schmaltz to alleviate the dryness, with this on the side, plus some griddle-toasted leftover biscuits and leftover pea soup. Pretty good for coming home at 10pm myself.

17 April 2007


Man, chicken livers. Who knew? Last night, both M and I got home late after our respective workouts (racquetball for me, swimming for her... at different branches of the Y, no less). I swung by the awful grocery store as the butcher had long since closed. Overpriced and overprocessed meats were the order, of course. Then I spied them: Chicken livers! About half a pound for about a buck. Delicious, nutritious.

I took some of the schmaltz I'd rendered from the chicken we poached last Monday (waste not, want not) and fried up some onions in the melted fat. I trimmed the chicken livers, cut them into about thirds, just following the lines of the lobes, and fried them until the outsides were brown, but the insides were still pink and soft. Really delicious. M remarked that she'd never even consider cooking chicken livers for dinner. I'm sure I'll consider it more frequently now.

As a side: Brussels sprouts, steamed. I cut them in half and toasted some almonds in a little brown butter (in the unrinsed chicken liver pan... why not) then tossed the sprouts with that.

For a starch: a preview of our upcoming South Africa trip. Samp and beans, otherwise known as umngqusho. This dish is impressive for the string of consonants in its name, but it's really just white hominy and white beans boiled with chicken stock.

Umngqusho (Xhosa-style)

1 15oz can white navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 15oz can white or yellow hominy, drained and rinsed
1 cup reduced chicken stock,
OR half packet onion soup mix and 1 cup water,
OR half a large-size Knorr/Star stock cube (any flavor except fish) and 1 cup water.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and boil 20 minutes or until thickened. Season and serve.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish. May be doubled. Keeps well.

It couldn't get any easier than this. Some people in South Africa stir some animal or vegetable fat into this dish to give it a little more richness and to make it satisfying when it's a main course. This didn't need any fat really, as the flavors of the hominy and the beans just fit together. It's quickly become one of M's most favorite side dishes.

16 April 2007

Potato from another planet

The unearthly purple color here is really the kicker. I think it comes through in the photo. This was from a Prince Edward Island tater that fell out of the bag and rolled behind the shelving. It really wants to live!... and develop intelligence... and eventually spawn a race of intelligent, human-eating potatoes.

I put a stop to that.

Finally, a name I can live with

So I've relocated and renamed my blog, hopefully for the last time (for a while). It's now richcooks.blogspot.com as you know since you're here. I've also created a Google Groups mailing list if you want to sign up to get new post notifications delivered directly to your inbox. Not that I think it's sooooo important that my little musings get to you immediately, lest they lose their inherent rich-ness, but because I know it's a hassle to keep checking someone's site if they post irregularly, and some people don't use feed readers, despite the awesomeness of Google Reader.

Eating over the weekend: Japanese curry; spicy chorizo and butter bean soup; ate at Jublilee, a French place around the corner (literally) and it was good, not awesome, but cassoulet and a cold Brouilly hit the spot, plus there was awesome lobster for M.

OH, and some spring cleaning unearthed a mutant potato that had dropped behind the Metro shelves we use as a prep area. Posting pics in the next post (hopefully using another Google product, Picasa).