Sunday, November 28, 2010

PASTA PUTTANESCA


I made pasta puttanesca today, a winter's day when there were lots of things to do, and no time for leisurely cooking. The word puttanesca in Italian means "something that pertains to whores," therefore pasta puttanesca is "the pasta preferred by ladies of the evening." These hardworking women, members of the oldest profession in the world, have had the honor to have this delightful dish named after them. Why it is named after them I do not know. There are many versions which tell why, and as far as I am concerned one version is as convincing as the next.  One version says that the recipe was used to lure customers with its aroma. Another says that it was a dish that could be thrown together in a moment's notice, with items found in any "busy lady's" pantry. There is a version which says that it was a go to recipe for housewives who wanted to serve a quick meal in order to move on to other things. Well, all those explanations will do for me. Pasta puttanesca is an aromatic dish, easy and quick to prepare, full of the flavors of the Mediterranean. It contains an excellent sauce to mix up with pasta.  This sauce can be prepared in the time it takes to cook the pasta. No need to use any salt whatsoever. The saltiness of this dish will come from the olives, the capers and the anchovies.




Ingredients:

  • 1 onion chopped
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • a few green olives, pitted
  • about a tablespoon capers
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound linguine pasta
  • some basil, oregano, and hot pepper flakes (optional)

  • Directions:

    • Cook the pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce.
    • Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions to the pan and cook until they are soft, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, the pepper flakes and half of the parsley, and cook for another minute. Add the anchovies and stir, pressing them with a cooking spoon to break them up. Add the olives and tomatoes and bring to a boil.
    • Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, then stir in the capers.
    • The sauce can also be flavored with some basil and a bit of oregano, but that's optional. Most versions of pasta puttanesca include hot pepper flakes, but I usually omit or limit the amount I use, as most of us at home are not partial to spicy foods.

    • Add the cooked pasta to the pan and mix with the sauce. Add the rest of the parsley, olive oil and basil if using. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese.

    • Serve right away, and enjoy it. It's soo good.

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    ROASTED CORNISH GAME HENS WITH ROSEMARY AND GARLIC


    For dinner today I roasted Cornish game hens. They went into the oven surrounded with garlic cloves and rosemary and lemons, and they came out fragrant, with a lovely crispy skin. The pan juices were turned into a sauce that was poured over the birds and was moped up with slices of French bread. As an accompaniment we had salad made with lettuce, cucumbers and dill, dressed with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. A delicious meal, easy to make and hard to forget.


    Ingredients:
    2 Cornish game hens

    1 lemon, cut in half
    4 fresh rosemary sprigs
    5 tablespoons olive oil
    10 garlic cloves, peeled
    salt and pepper to taste
    1/4 cup white wine
    1/2 cup canned chicken broth
    rosemary sprigs for garnish
    4 medium sized red potatoes, cut in half, skins scrubbed and left on


    Directions:
    • Preheat oven to 450°F. Wash and dry the hens, cut them in half, and season them with salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lemon. Rub them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and arrange them in a large roasting pan. Cut the other lemon half in four wedges and place one wedge and 1 rosemary sprig underneath each half of the hens. Scatter the garlic around the hens. Season the potatoes with salt pepper and one tablespoon olive oil. Arrange them around the hens.
    • Roast the hens for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F. Pour wine, broth and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the hens. Continue roasting about another half hour until the hens are golden brown. Baste them every 10 minutes with the pan juices.



    • Transfer the hens and the potatoes to a platter and cover them with foil to keep them warm. Transfer the pan juices and the garlic to a medium saucepan. Boil until the juices are reduced to sauce consistency, about five to seven minutes. Spoon the sauce and the garlic on top and around the hens, garnish with some rosemary sprigs and serve.

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    GREEK GREEN BEANS BRAISED IN TOMATO SAUCE (FASOLAKIA YIAHNI)


    It's around 11:30, Thanksgiving eve, and I am taking some time off from cooking. Just enough time to write down the recipe for fasolakia. You see, I decided that there should be very little cooking left to do tomorrow, Thanksgiving day. This way I can mingle with family, and as most of the cooking will have all ready been done, Thanksgiving day will unfold smoother and less hurried for us all. I'm going for simple and delicious this year. Uncomplicated recipes, easy to make, tasty to eat. OK, now I have to trot into the kitchen, do one final thing (finish cooking the fasolakia), and then I'll be ready for tomorrow. Be right back.

    This is a popular Greek recipe, most often enjoyed in the summer, when green beans come fresh from the farm. Our Thanksgiving dinner is comprised of all the traditional fare, but it also contains this recipe, to remind us of our roots! I make it with flat Italian green beans, which taste great and are similar to the varieties found in Greece. This time of year I buy the frozen kind, because these green beans are not found fresh in November.

    Ingredients:

    5 tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup chopped onions
    3 cloves of garlic, chopped
    2 pounds Italian green beans, frozen
    1  large can San Marzano whole tomatoes
    2 tablespoons tomato paste
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon pepper
    1 teaspoon oregano
    1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    1 cup chicken broth or water


    Directions:

    Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and saute until soft, but not burned. Half way through cooking the onions add the garlic. Add all of the other ingredients and mix well.



    The liquid should almost cover the green beans. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to low, cover and cook for about one hour, until the green beans are soft and fork - tender.



    If the liquid evaporates before cooking is finished, you will need to add just a little bit more to the pan. You can use broth or water. The end result should be to have the green beans look juicy but not floating in liquid. Serve them with the pan juices, and enjoy them. I'll be using this recipe as a side dish to feed a crowd, but you can cut it in half, which, minus the chicken broth will make enough to feed about four people as a vegetarian/vegan main meal.


    I didn't make it back to my computer Thanksgiving eve, so this entry was left to be posted today, late at night, long after Thanksgiving was over. What can I say? The green beans came out really tasty. However, I can't write that all went well Thanksgiving day. My father, 86 years old and suffering from dementia, became suddenly ill (he is now better), and that sent the whole house into an uproar. So much for a smooth and unhurried Thanksgiving. It turned out to be stressful and sad. Over and over in my mind I think of the famous words the poet Robert Burns set down in 1785. How true they still ring today, in 2010:

    "The best laid schemes of mice and men
    Go often askew,
    And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
    For promised joy!
    Still you are blest, compared with me!

    The present only touches you:
    But oh! I backward cast my eye,
    On prospects dreary!
    And forward, though I cannot see,
    I guess and fear!"
    (from "To a Mouse," by Robert Burns, Standard English Translation).

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    TUNA SALAD SANDWICH

    The very first time I had a tuna sandwich I was hooked. It became my favorite lunch, favorite sandwich, favorite snack, favorite thing to order at a luncheonette... I loved it! I was in my teens, and I quickly learned how to make it: Mix canned tuna fish with mayonnaise, chopped celery, chopped onions, throw it between two slices of white bread and you're in business. Being Greek, I soon started adding lemon juice, an ingredient Greeks try their best to use in every recipe, even if it's a dessert. I experimented with different breads, sometimes I added garlic powder (don't try it), sometimes I added herbs, but I never strayed too far from the original. Until I ran into a version of this recipe on the Simply Recipes web site. It's a little different from your basic tuna salad recipe, but it's full of good tasting ingredients. I still eat the original, especially when my mother makes it, but this version of tuna salad has won me over as well. To make it, I always buy Bumble Bee tuna packed in water. Then, I add a bit of good olive oil which helps all the ingredients fuse together better. If you make it, have it on a sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes, or eat it plain with out the bread. However, if you do choose to turn it into a sandwich, use a hearty, solid kind of bread. And please, enjoy it. It is really good!  I made this for dinner today, Wednesday, November 3, 2010. It's the day after Election Day. The candidate I supported, Joe Sestak for US Senate, who was the best man for the job, lost in a close race. I was very disappointed, especially since the winner, a man known as Darth Vadar Toomey, is more right wing than Metternich ever was. So I needed the comfort of a tuna salad sandwich for dinner. This nation that I love needs some comfort too. May we somehow come out of this mess, winners all.


    Ingredients:

    2 cans (7 ounce), of tuna fish, packed in water
    1 teaspoon olive oil
    1/2 cup ricotta cheese
    3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
    1/4 or maybe even half of a purple onion, chopped finely
    3 celery stalks, chopped finely
    2 tablespoons of capers
    Juice of one lemon
    1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
    1 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
    1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
    lettuce and sliced tomatoes, optional
    sliced bread, your favorite, lightly toasted



    Directions:




    Drain the tuna fish and mix all of the ingredients. Serve on toast, with lettuce or tomatoes. You can also have it plain, open faced, or in lettuce cups if you would rather forgo the bread.