Fregola with Peas and Bacon

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My blogger friend Stefan, of the blog Stefan Gourmet, has been help and inspiration to me for years. And I even got the chance to meet him in person, so I feel a special connection with him.

He’s an expert cook, loves to experiment, and he was my original resource for cooking sous vide. His greatest passion is Italian cuisine. He vacations often in Italy, where he gets inspiration from street food to Michelin-starred restaurant meals. His stories of driving back to Holland with carloads of Italian wines are legendary.

When Stefan wrote a post about fregola, also spelled fregula, I had never heard of it, and knew I had to try it.

Fregola is a spherical pasta from Sardinia, that looks like couscous, but what makes it different from both is that it’s toasted. So what you get when it’s cooked is a sturdy, flavorsome pasta. Some say it’s toothsome.

In any case, I ordered a little cookbook a while back, called The Sunday Night Book, by Rosie Sykes, published in 2017.

A quote on Amazon.com: Make Sunday night the best evening of the week, by perfecting the last, lazy meal of the weekend. Most of us want to forget that back-to-school feeling by kicking off our shoes and hunkering down with a soul-soaring supper – one that can be eaten with friends at the table, with book in hand by the fire, or in front of the TV.

It’s an adorable little book, and I love the concept behind it, even though I need no help conjuring up meals any day of the week.

I especially love these words by the author: As the weekend winds down into non-existence, many of us begin to contemplate the impending horrors that Monday morning will bring. But this is a choice, a social construct dictated by empty streets, empty pubs, and closed curtains. You could resign yourself to yet another humdrum Sunday evening supper, but you could just as easily embrace the moment as an opportunity to create something that’s not only comforting, but also uplifting.

In this book I discovered a fregola recipe, and was eager to make it.

Fregola with Bacon and Peas
serves 2

1 cup fregola
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 tablespoons light olive oil
2 ounces smoked streaky bacon
1 banana shallot, finely sliced
100 ml white wine
400 ml chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 sprigs mint leaves, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the fregola for half its cooking time, about 8 minutes, adding the peas for the last 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water, then set aside.


Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. If your bacon has the rind still on, remove and reserve. Using scissors, snip the bacon into 1/2″ pieces directly into the hot oil – adding any reserved rind for extra flavour – then let it sizzle and give off its fat. Once the bacon is cooked and a bit crispy, lift out with a slotted spoon and set aside; discard the rinds or give them to the birds.

Add the shallot to the residual fat in the pan and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until soft, stirring so it doesn’t catch too much colour.

(As you can see, I cooked the bacon gently, then added the sliced shallots to it.)

Stir in the fregola and peas, then pour in the white wine. Once the wine has evaporated, add the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the fregola is just cooked, about another 6 minutes.

(Oops I mixed the wine and broth together.)


Return the bacon to the pan, then add the butter and all but a tablespoon of both the parmesan and the mint.

Stir over a low heat for a couple of minutes, then cover and remove from the heat. Let it sit for another minute before spooning into bowls.

Scatter over the remaining parmesan and mint, then inhale – this is super-delicious!

I think this is my new favorite kind of pasta!

Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes

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Recently I was browsing through a little cookbook I’d been gifted, Risotto, published by Williams-Sonoma.

It’s a sweet, unassuming cookbook, only 119 pages, published in 2002. The first chapter covers classic risottos, and following chapters discuss vegetable, meat, seafood, and even dessert risottos. It’s a great cookbook, especially if you’re a risotto virgin.

For me, risotto has never been a big deal. The main reason is that I’ve never been fearful of cooking. It’s not because I’m fearless, it’s because I was naïve!

When I began cooking regularly 40 years ago, I had no idea that certain recipes might be complicated or challenging. I just dove in head first and started learning and cooking.

Not to say that risotto is hard to make, because it isn’t. But yes, you have to give it some attention. And it involves standing at the stove for about an hour.

I know “quick and easy” meals will always be popular, but anyone can make an outstanding and satisfying dish like this mushroom risotto.

In this W-S cookbook I saw a recipe for baked risotto-stuffed tomatoes, and with my ripe garden tomatoes and herbs, I knew that this would be a really nice side dish for some grilled chicken, white fish, or even steak.

And, you can even use leftover risotto for this dish, instead of making risotto first.

Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes
Slightly Adapted

6 ripe but firm tomatoes, about 8 ounces each
Salt
Risotto, freshly prepared or leftover
1/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
Chopped fresh parsley
Chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8″ baking dish.

Cut the top off each tomato. With a small spoon, carefully scoop out the insides, leaving walls thick enough for the tomato to hold its shape.

Reserve the pulp.

Salt the inside of each tomato and turn them upside down on paper towels to drain for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, purée the tomato pulp until smooth. I used the processed pulp as part of my risotto liquid, and seasoned the risotto with dried sweet basil, salt, and white pepper.

The tomato purée added a lovely peachy hue to the risotto.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and garlic; set aside.

Put the tomatoes in the prepared dish and fill the tomatoes with the risotto, patting it down.

Cover the dish with foil and bake until the tomatoes are softened, about 25-30 minutes.

Remove the foil, and top the tomatoes with the bread crumb mixture.

Turn on the broiler and place the tomatoes 4″ from the heat source. Broil until the tops are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

Serve at once.

I sprinkled chopped parsley and a chiffonade of basil over the top of these stuffed tomatoes.

Cutting open a tomato was a delight, with the risotto’s fragrance emanating from inside.

Just a little salt and some cayenne pepper… or not.

This was perfection. And just to make sure the risotto-stuffed tomato was really good, I had a second one. But they would make a lovely side dish!

Risotto with Bacon and Peas

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When I prepare meat, it’s usually for my husband.  I don’t dislike meat, I just prefer avocados, and fish.  I even eat tofu.  On a special occasion I will certainly enjoy a good filet with my guy, but it’s just too heavy for me.

So this lovely spring risotto with peas and a little bacon is a perfect meal for me.  For my husband it’s a side dish!

But however you eat it, it’s  a great risotto.  Make sure you use a really good bacon.
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Risotto with Bacon and Peas

8 ounces bacon, diced
3 shallots, diced
1 1/2 cups risotto rice, like arborio or carnaroli
White wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Heavy cream
8 ounces frozen petite peas, thawed
5-6 ounces grated Parmesan

Cook the bacon over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet.

When it’s cooked, spoon it out of the bacon grease using a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.

Pour about 2 tablespoons of the hot grease into a pot to make the risotto. Add the shallots and sauté them in the bacon grease until soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice until every grain is coated with the grease. Stir for about a minute.

Then add a big splash of wine and stir the rice until the wine is absorbed. Then proceed with adding a little of the broth at a time, always stirring until it gets absorbed by the rice.

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After adding all of the stock, add a little cream a few times and stir well.

After about 30 minutes, the risotto should be cooked and stop absorbing liquid. At this point stir in the peas, bacon and Parmesan. Stir gently to combine and let heat through.

 

Serve immediately. You can always serve extra Parmesan as well.

I used no seasoning in this risotto to let the flavors shine. But you should taste it for salt and pepper definitely.

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I added a tarragon sprig from my plant that has fortunately returned to my garden this spring.

If you want seasoning, I would recommend nutmeg or white pepper. Or both!
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Now doesn’t this look like a perfect spring meal?! With a little white wine of course!

Dried Mushroom Risotto

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I think my husband could live on risotto alone. Well, steak and risotto. So I make risotto often, creating different varieties to keep life interesting. It’s the kind of cooking I like to do, in any case, like when I made a Thai-inspired risotto a while back. My Italian ancestors are probably rolling in their graves, but one doesn’t always have to make only “authentic” dishes authentically!

Most people have sautéed mushrooms for pasta, or to top steaks. But have you ever used dried mushrooms? They used to be harder to find, but nowadays you can get just about any variety of mushroom in a dried form at most grocery stores. Italian, French, and so forth.

If you haven’t used them, I urge you strongly to try them once. It’s simply a matter of soaking them in hot water to hydrate them, then toss them into soups, pastas, gratins, you name it. They have a unique flavor, one that’s much different from the fresh counterpart.

Quite often I mix Italian and Chinese mushrooms together; the provenance of the mushroom doesn’t matter. Chinese mushrooms aren’t just for Chinese food, unless you get into the fungus, like cloud ears. Those would be more specific to Chinese dishes. My opinion.

Sometimes I mix different mushrooms together in a dish and have no idea what kind they are, because I was too dumb to save the packaging, like these. Chanterelles, maybe?
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Other times, with Chinese packaging, there’s no English translation. But in this case, I know these are Shitakes.
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So today I’m making a risotto with a mixture of the two above dried mushrooms. It’s still cold outside where I live, so I was inspired to make this risotto. It’s not something I would make during the spring and summer months. I’m seasonally responsible when I cook!

To prepare the dried mushrooms, place them in a larger bowl and add hot water to cover. To keep the mushrooms submerged, I place a smaller bowl on top and weigh it down with a can or an apple. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes; they can’t overhydrate.

Here’s the risotto I made today with the dried mushrooms. It’s just a general recipe. If you want more of a tutorial, check out some of my other risottos, like zucchini risotto.
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Dried Mushroom Risotto

1 ounce of your choice of dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil if you prefer)
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio or other risotto rice
1/4 cup white wine
Juice from mushrooms (see below)
Broth
3 ounces Parmesan, optional
Salt
Black or white pepper, to taste

To begin, heat the butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté them for a few minutes. Then stir in the rice. Stir it for about a minute, so that all of the rice grains are coated with the butter.

Begin adding liquid to the rice, about 1/4 – 1/3 cup at a time, and stir until it disappears. I like to start with the wine for some reason.

Meanwhile, remove the mushrooms from the liquid and place them on a cutting board. Chop the mushrooms, feeling for any hard pieces and discarding them.

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Using a fine sieve, strain the mushroom “liquor” to remove any grit. You will be using this liquid in the risotto.

Continue adding liquid to the risotto, using the mushroom liquor, followed by broth.
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Keep stirring, and you will see the rice continue to absorb liquid. When you can tell that you’re close to the end of cooking time, add the chopped mushrooms and grated Parmesan, if you’re using it. Stir gently to combine. Taste and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.

Some people like to add more butter and sometimes heavy cream to risotto, but the rice itself gets so creamy that to me it’s not necessary.
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As far as toppings, you can use fresh parsley or chives. I chose a bit of fresh thyme.

This risotto is fabulous as is, but would also be lovely with poultry or beef.
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Cranberry Braised Cabbage

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A while back when I made cabbage bundles, I only used 12 of the larger, outside leaves of the one green cabbage I purchased. And there was no way I was going to throw away the rest of the par-boiled cabbage. So what to do?

my par-boiled cabbage, sliced

my par-boiled cabbage, sliced

Even though it’s January, I’m still in a festive mood. And, I happen to love braised cabbage, especially because you never have to make it the same way twice. I especially love the look of purple cabbage. Last year I braised cabbage with chestnuts.

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When I make braised cabbage, I typically start with butter and onions. But the fun part is choosing the braising liquids! There’s broth, wine, apple cider, and so forth. In fact, you can add sliced apples or pears along with the onions if you want that flavor as well. Jelly is traditionally added for a little sweetness, but I decided to use my cranberry-cherry chutsauce that I had left over. That made it a way more festive dish, and was a nice compliment to the green cabbage.
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So here’s what I did.

Braised Cabbage with Cranberry-Cherry Chutsauce

2 ounces butter
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 small cabbage, thinly sliced
White wine, I used a Riesling
Pinch of salt
Cranberry-cherry chutsauce*

Begin by melting the butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them for about 5 minutes.
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Add the sliced cabbage and sauté it for another 5 minutes, being careful that nothing gets close to burning.
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Add about 1/4 of Riesling and the salt. If you’re using raw cabbage, use maybe 1/2 cup of wine; you can always reduce it later.


Bring to a light boil, then cover the pot and cook the cabbage for about 10-15 minutes, or until completely tender. It should be very wilted.

Remove the lid and reduce any remaining liquid in the bottom of the pot.

Add about 2 tablespoons of your choice of cranberry sauce or chutney and stir gently. Taste for sweetness and adjust accordingly.


Once heated through, serve alongside pork, ham, duck, or roasted chicken.

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* My chutsauce recipe is not required for this braised cabbage, and I’m not trying to make anybody use my recipe in order to follow this braised cabbage recipe. Any kind of chunky cranberry sauce, preferably, or chutney with cranberries would be fabulous to sweeten the cabbage and spice things up a little. Especially with the individual berries still intact, as you can see in the photos. That’s what I was after. Just know the sweetness of what you’re adding so you can adjust the taste. I personally enjoy a little sweetness, but I don’t want my braised cabbage to taste like dessert!

Beet Vinaigrette

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You all know by now that I love vinaigrettes, and I always make them with different ingredients. To me, it’s really fun to mix and match seasonal ingredients and flavors in pairing a salad with a vinaigrette.

Whenever I purchase canned beets, which happens when I run out of my own pickled beets, I always save the beet juice. That’s just a rule. I typically pour it, strained if necessary, into a little pot and reduce it to a syrup-like consistency. Then, it can be added to any basic vinaigrette for that beautiful beet color and earthy flavor.

But today I simply added an equal amount of white wine (red or champagne would have worked as well) to the beet juice and reduced the liquid to a syrup.

Then I poured it into a jar.

I added about 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/3 cup vinegar, in this case red wine vinegar, plus a little salt, and shook the jar. I prefer a more emulsified look of the vinaigrette because of the resulting red color.

Of course, you can get more involved with the vinaigrette and add garlic, cloves, mustard, and so forth, but I like the simplicity of the reduced beet juice in a simple vinaigrette such as this.

My salad was one of those use-what-you have salads which, besides lettuce, included sliced beets, mushrooms, carrots, sprouts, and toasted pumpkin seeds. I used a little bacon and some soft-boiled eggs for protein, as my avocados weren’t behaving properly. And I’d recently picked up a pomegranate, so I decided that the pomegranate seeds would be wonderful with the beet-based vinaigrette.


And it was delicious. I encourage you to save every little bit of everything and use it in a vinaigrette! It always works!

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I’ve posted before on a beet and cider vinaigette, based on a beet juice and apple cider mixture. And I’ve also posted on a pear vinaigrette I made with a fresh pear. Think how creative you can get with different fruits and juices!

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This beet vinaigrette would be fabulous with all types of protein, including salmon, avocados, beef, duck and chicken. It pairs beautifully with walnuts, pecans, pine nuts and sunflower seeds. And of course, ingredients like tomatoes and red bell peppers would be good additions to your salad as well, I just didn’t want them in this particular salad because I feel they would clash with the pomegranate seeds.

Dried Fruit Sauce

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In yesterday’s post on fruited duck breasts, I mentioned that I served them with a “fruited” sauce. After completing the duck breasts and the sauce, there was just too much information and too many photos for a single post. So here is the sauce I made for the duck breasts, using dried fruit.

This sauce would be just as good with poultry, pork, or lamb. Plus, you can really mix and match the ingredients to suit your tastes. This is your sauce, make it yours!

Fruit Sauce

1/4 cup dried pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup golden raisins
Chambord
1 cup chicken broth or other
1 tablespoon veal or chicken demi-glace
Oil left in a skillet after searing meat
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon ancho chile paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sherry vinegar

First, place the pomegranate and raisins in a small bowl. Cover them with the chambord and set aside.
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Pour the stock into a measuring cup and add the tablespoon of demi-glace. Heat the stock in the microwave until you can dissolve the demi-glace in it.
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If there’s a lot of oil in the skillet you’re going to use, pour some off. You will have quite a bit if you’ve just cooked duck breasts with the skin. Keep about one tablespoon in the skillet.

Heat the fat over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them for about 4-5 minutes, then stir in the garlic.
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As soon as you can smell the garlic, add the stock with the demi-glace, plus the wine.
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Then add all of the juices that have run off from the duck or whatever meat you seared and cooked.
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Heat the liquid gently and let it reduce. If you’re unsure about reducing liquid, read my post on it here.

Meanwhile, strain the raisins and pomegranates over a bowl. Keep the Chambord, but not for this recipe. I didn’t want the sauce too sweet. You can always use it in another reduction or marinade.

When the liquid has reduced by at least half, add the ancho chile paste and salt. Stir well.
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Then stir in the fruits and keep cooking over low heat.
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When there’s barely any liquid in the skillet, pour in the vinegar. This will brighten the sauce a bit, and offset the sweetness from the fruit. Continue to cook until there’s barely any liquid in the skillet again. Then it’s ready to serve.

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Pour the sauce into a serving bowl and pass around with the duck breasts or lamb chops.
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note: If you’re limited on time, reduce all of the liquids except the vinegar first, until just 1/4 or so remains in the saucepan. Then the sauce-making time will be cut back significantly.

another note: The ingredients that you can make your own include:
1. your choice of dried fruits (try apples and apricots instead of pomegranates and raisins)
2. your choice of liqueur (try port instead of Chambord)
3. your choice of liquids (try home-made stock, red wine, port, vermouth, madera, marsala, whatever you like and have on hand)
4. your choice of seasoning (try a little thyme or even a little curry powder instead of the ancho chile paste)

Peas à la Française

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The French really know how to do vegetables. So do the Chinese, for that matter, but today I’m making peas inspired by a French recipe I’ve made over the years.

The recipe is essentially braised peas, but lettuce is included. I wish I knew the origin of using lettuce because it does seem a little odd, when lettuce is so ubiquitously used for fresh green salads. But in a braise? It works well too! I also used pearl onions for a prettier presentation. It takes a lot for me to use pearl onions, because I despise peeling them. But this pea dish was for a special occasion.

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Peas à la Française
This recipe serves 4

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
About 10-12 pearl onions, peeled
1 head of butter lettuce, leaves cleaned and separated
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1 – ounce package of frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup chicken broth or some white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chopped fresh parsley
Diced Prosciutto (optional)

Begin by sautéing the pear onions in the butter over medium heat. I let the butter brown first, then turned down the heat slightly. They went from looking like this:
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To looking like this in about 5 minutes times.
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Meanwhile, layer the lettuce leaves on top of each other, then roll them up like a cigar. Then using a knife cut cross-wise to make a chiffonade of the lettuce.

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When the onions are browned like in the photo, add the lettuce and sauté it for just a minute, along with the onions.
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Then add the peas and give everything a good stir. Pour in the chicken broth or whatever liquid you choose to use, add the salt, bring the liquid to a light boil, then cover the pan with a lid.
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Let the peas cook for about 5-6 minutes, then remove the lid and cook off any excess liquid. Add the parsley and stir in.
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If you want the peas more seasoned, a 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme would go lovely, as well as tarragon, if you’re a fan. But I left them alone. Except when I served the hot pea and lettuce braise, I sprinkled the vegetables with some diced Prosciutto. It was a perfect combination!
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As you can see, I made these peas to serve alongside my beef Wellington for a special occasion dinner for two. It was perfect, if I may say so myself!

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Braised Cabbage with Chestnuts

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Most people who know me would be surprised to know that I have never cooked with chestnuts, or even had roasted chestnuts sold to me by a street vendor during the holidays. You know, like the song.

Chestnuts have always seemed a little strange to me, even though they grow on trees just like the more familiar nuts. Maybe because I grew up hearing horror stories about my French grandmother practically blowing up her house when she roasted chestnuts in her old-fashioned oven. But then, my grandmother was always a bit funny in a way, and probably shouldn’t have been allowed into the kitchen. She was missing parts of a few fingers, in fact, because of kitchen accidents.

Now I have used chestnut cream, thanks to discovering it in Nigella Lawson recipes. And it is fabulous. In fact, if you have never tried it, run to the store right now and get it. But that is for desserts…

Back to chestnuts – I was at a Williams-Sonoma store last week, and decided to buy a jar and play around with them. I might throw some into the Thanksgiving stuffing I make this year, but for now, I thought I’d add them to a simple braised cabbage, just to spiff up the dish.

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The recipes I’ve always come across for braised cabbage are always too sweet, thanks to additions of sugar and sometimes jelly as well. I’ve toned the sweetness down significantly, because I find cabbage inherently sweet as it is. It’s sort like me refusing to put marshmallows on sweet potatoes.
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So here’s what I did.

Braised Purple Cabbage with Chestnuts

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-sized purple cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 large purple onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons jelly, I used plum
10 or so whole, peeled, and steamed chestnuts, sliced
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Heat the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it browns.
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Add the cabbage and onion and sauté it for about 5 minutes in the butter, stirring it around occasionally.
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Then add the salt and wine. Give the mixture a stir, then put on the lid and braise the cabbage for about 15 minutes. I stirred everything once again about halfway through the braising process.
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Add your choice of jelly, return the lid to the pot, and let the jelly melt into the cabbage. The jelly adds some sweetness but also flavor. This should just take a minute.
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Then give everything a good stir. If there’s some liquid at the bottom of the pot you could always raise the heat a little and reduce it, or just make sure to use a slotted spoon to serve the cabbage.

To serve, sprinkle the cabbage with the sliced chestnuts. I served the cabbage with baked chicken, and some truffle oil-roasted carrots. Divine.
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Braised cabbage is also lovely with turkey, steaks and pork chops. This really is a pretty versatile side dish.
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note: If you don’t cook with wine, a little chicken broth would also do the trick.