Monday, February 18, 2008

Chicken Sausage and Penne

This recipe first came into being when I went up to Boston in January to visit a friend. He had made something similar prior (without the pasta), and then when we cooked together, it was a sausage, bell pepper, and onion concoction (no pasta either) that became absolutely amazing after I deglazed the pan afterwards. Deglazing the "brown bits" from the bottom is what gives the sauce the flavor that makes you wet your pants. I modified this basically by adding penne to it and then by adding more liquid to the sauce so it would coat the penne. Mmmm, delicious....

1 package of chicken sausages (aprox. 5 sausages, any style - I had used Andouille)
1 medium onion
1 red bell pepper
2 small to medium sized zucchini
3-4 cloves garlic
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups penne pasta, or any short cut pasta
1 ladle pasta water
Sea Salt
Freshly ground pepper
Chile flakes (optional)

2 wooden spoons; 1 large and 1 medium sized saucepan/pot; cutting boards; chef's knife or any sharp, heavy knife; 1 plate

Prep work:
1) Slice the onion into thin strips. 2) Mince the garlic. 3) Core the bell pepper and slice into thin strips. 4) Slice the sausage at an angle, cutting them into 1/2 inch slices. 5) Do the same with the zucchini as the sausage. 6) Pour the wine into a measuring cup or just leave the bottle next to the stove. 7) Set aside the pasta in a bowl or other container.

Cooking instructions:
Heat the large saucepan on the stove with a medium flame, and fill the medium pot with water and set it on the stove to boil. Add the olive oil to the large saucepan after it has heated up, about 3-5 minutes. Allow the oil to heat up for a few seconds, then add the chicken sausage, but do not crowd the bottom - do this step in two rounds if necessary. Brown the sausage for about 2 minutes on each side, and once done, move it to the plate. After all the sausage has been browned, add the onions to the oil with a pinch of salt. After sauteeing for a few minutes, add the garlic, black pepper, peppers and zucchini (optional chile flakes here too). Saute for 5-7 minutes - there may be plenty of brown bits at the bottom, which is a good thing.

* If it starts to burn, the heat is on too high - reduce the heat and take the pot off for a couple of minutes if that happens *

During this time, when the pasta water comes to a boil, add plenty of salt to the water - this is your only chance to flavor the actual pasta itself.

Back to the sausage: add your white wine and scrape the bottom of the pan with the wooden spoon - after a minute, the sauce should be a brownish color and the alcohol evaporating. Add the sausage back in, stir, and reduce the heat to a simmer (low). Make sure you have added your penne to the pasta water - it should take about 9 minutes. You want to cook it just shy of al dente, because you will be adding the pasta to the sausage concoction to let it soak up some of the the sauce. Add the penne (drained) to the sausage mix, along with one ladle of the pasta water that you saved before draining the pasta - using the pasta water instead of regular water gives the sauce some starchiness, which thickens the sauce and also keeps the salt level balanced. Turn the heat back up to medium and allow the mixture to cook without a cover for a few minutes, until the penne is just al dente and the sauce has reduced and thickened. Now, eat it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tantalizing Tapenade

I discovered making this tapenade almost by accident. I was initially making a pesto out of sun-dried tomatoes (that recipe will follow later) when I realized some of the ingredients were missing. So, being the innovative college student that I was, I just decided to throw in some black olives instead and turn it from a pesto to a tapenade. Voila!

*The difference between the two is as follows: a pesto primarily coats pasta, gnocchi, etc. A tapenade is usually spread on toasted bread, crackers, etc and eaten that way.

1/2 lb (or about 8-10 oz) sun dried tomatoes packed in oil*
8-12 oz jar of black Moroccan olives (not packed in water or oil, and pitted)
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Freshly cracked black pepper

*I make this myself by buying dried tomatoes and packing them in olive oil myself. Much cheaper than buying them already packed in oil in jars.

Food processor or blender; rubber or silicone spatula

Prep work:
1) Open jar(s) of sun-dried tomatoes and olives
2) Wash and dry the basil leaves

Cooking Instructions:
Place your sun-dried tomatoes (with the oil), olives (no oil or water), and basil in the food processor. Add your black pepper, grinding it directly into the mixture. Pulse the mixture until it is coarsely blended; open and stir, to ensure an even chop. Pulse again until the mixture is finely blended. Taste and season - if you prefer more basil or if the mixture is too dry and needs more oil. You should not need to add any salt, as the olives pack enough of a punch. If you add more salt, you will end up mummifying yourself, so lay off.

Pack it into a large jar, drizzle some olive oil on top, and store in fridge. It'll stay for about 1-2 months.

Note: Feel free to add or substitute different ingredients. Add more tomatoes or olives to your liking; perhaps some freshly grated Parmesan cheese (go easy, as it will add plenty of saltiness to the party) or, if you do not like olives, throw in some pine nuts or walnuts to the food processor instead. You can serve this with toasted baguette slices with fresh mozzarella or goat cheese, on a pizza, or as a pesto for pasta. Your choice.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Simply Amazing Tomato Sauce

Ever since I have had a functional memory, I remember my father always making tomato sauce: every other Thursday, he would mince carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and add approximately 17 gallons of crushed tomatoes to the pot, letting it simmer all day until we could eat it for dinner the next night and then freeze it for some later time. However, as delicious as it is, sometimes we don’t have 24 hours to make sauce – usually it’s more like 1 hour at most. An Italian boyfriend I had made sauce the following way when friends would randomly show up and he needed to feed them, and, well…he’s Italian - he knew what he was doing.

1 large can (28 ounces) plain crushed tomatoes
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tbs dried basil or 3 tbs fresh basil
1 tbs dried oregano or 3 tbs fresh oregano
2 tbs Olive oil
Sea/Kosher Salt and Freshly ground pepper
Hot red pepper (chili) flakes (optional)
1 package button or cremini mushrooms (optional)
1 red or green bell pepper (optional)

Medium-sized pot; chef's (large, heavy, sharp) knife; cutting board; several small bowls for chopped items; can opener; long wooden spoon to stir sauce; regular spoon to taste

Prep work:
1) Open the can of crushed tomatoes; set aside. 2) Chop your onion and your garlic; set them aside separately. 3) Gather your herbs: if they are fresh, roll them together like a cigar, and cut them into strips(this is called a chiffonade). If they are dry, set them aside in a small bowl. 4) If you choose to add mushrooms, bell peppers, or any other vegetable, slice or chop them to your size preference, and set aside.

Cooking Instructions:
Heat the pot on medium heat for a few minutes before adding the olive oil. Add the olive oil, then add the onions when the oil starts to smoke, or when it shimmers. Season with a dash of salt, stir, cover, and reduce heat to low Рyou want the onions to sweat, not saut̩ (a sweat is basically cooking the onions on a low temperature until transparent, which makes them sweeter Рa saut̩ would brown them instead)

* The sweetness from this sweat will counter the acidity of the tomatoes, which many people often counteract instead by adding sugar. If you add sugar, this is blasphemy, and I will personally come after you and skin you alive *

Add the garlic to the onions, as well as adding your dried herbs and ground pepper (if you are using fresh herbs, do not add them now). Throw in the optional vegetables – cook for about 3 minutes. Dump your can of crushed tomatoes in the pot and stir – allow bubbles to break the surface of the tomato mixture, then cover and cook until thick, about 15-20 minutes; by all means, taste your sauce: it may be slightly acidic from the tomatoes but it should not be overwhelming – it should just taste damn good. If adding fresh herbs, add them now; stir, and take the pot off the heat after 3-5 minutes.

Serve over your favorite pasta, or if you are a really poor college student and have none, then add some hot water and eat it as tomato soup.

Note: This is a good chance to freeze your sauce - grab a couple of plastic containers or glass jars, and spoon sauce in after it has cooled. Take it out of the freezer in the morning for defrosted sauce for the evening

Sunday, February 3, 2008

It's all about the recipes...

No extraneous text - just orgasmic food.

Coming soon.