Tidewater Kitchen - February 2007

Quick and Easy Winter Recipes

by

Pamela Meredith-Doyle

   Just when I think I’ve discovered the pasta recipe, another one comes along and makes me look forward to getting into the kitchen again. Pasta dishes come together so nicely they are perfect for that day when I want to put something on the table fast, yet still not sacrifice flavor. I find the best thing for me to do when I step in the door after a busy day is to go directly to the stove and start boiling a pot of salted water. This sets my gears in motion, lets me begin to disconnect from the day’s business, and gets me into the rhythm of my kitchen.
    When making pasta, I start with a large pot and plenty of salted boiling water. I use five quarts of water for every pound of pasta. This ratio has worked best for me to prevent the past from sticking together.
    Salting the water first, before bringing it to a boil, protects the pot from pitting, which can happen when salt is added to boiling water in the pan. I like the water to taste salty like the sea, so I use a good Italian sea salt.
    The sauce begins like a classic French beurre blanc. Reduce the wine, vinegar and shallots by half and then whisk in the softened goat cheese. I find this sauce goes well when combined with a variety of seasonal vegetables and served over pasta.
    I look for pasta that is made from 100% semolina flour. The hard wheat of the semolina allows the pasta to cook to a tender firmness without becoming mushy or falling apart. When the water is boiling vigorously I add the pasta, cover the pot and bring the water back to a boil. Lift the lid and stir the pasta occasionally while it cooks.
    After about 6 minutes, begin testing the pasta for doneness. It should be tender but still firm–al dente. Also, keep in mind that pasta continues to cook even after it is drained.
    To cut down on prep time, I sometimes use a good quality smoked chicken from the market. Just make sure that you taste it to see if its seasonings may affect the flavor of the finished dish. I like to serve this on a bed of mixed greens that have been seasoned only with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. That, along with a rustic loaf of bread and a bottle of Chardonnay, and I’m in heaven.

Smoked Chicken Pasta with Goat Cheese and Vegetables
1 pound fresh fettuccini, cooked until al dente
1 cup dry white wine, such as a California Chardonnay
1 t. white wine vinegar
2 T. shallots, minced
5 oz. goat cheese, such as Montrachet, room temperature
1 t. fine sea salt
½ t. freshly ground pepper
2 T. olive oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 cup red bell pepper, seeded, deveined and finely diced
1 cup yellow bell pepper, seeded, deveined and finely diced
2 cups vine-ripened tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 t. crushed red peppers
8 oz. pre-cooked smoked chicken, cut into strips
Fresh basil, chiffonade for garnish

   In a medium saucepan, combine the white wine, vinegar and shallots. Over high heat, reduce the liquid by half. Whisk in the goat cheese, season with the salt and pepper and set aside.
    Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and the onions. Sauté until soft and stir in the peppers. Cover and steam until tender, about five minutes. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and chicken. Cook for two more minutes, or until heated through.
    To serve: combine the pasta with the goat cheese sauce and add the chicken and vegetable mixture. Garnish with basil and serve in warm bowls.

   I think that the marinades for modern times are the dry marinades - also known as rubs. We typically associate them with summertime foods that are going on the grill, but they can be used all year long.
    One of the best things about making your own rubs is that you can avoid the heavy salt and sugar that are often hidden in a commercial preparation. The salt in commercial rubs draws the liquid out of the food, while the sugar makes the outside blacken too fast, causing the food to burn at lower heats. Mix small airtight containers of the dry rub ingredients and keep them on hand. Add the fresh onion to the mixture just before you are ready to use.
    This black pepper rub is versatile enough to use on chicken, pork, lamb or fish on the grill or in a grill pan. I particularly like it with sea bass, which is a meatier fish that lends itself to the bold and spicy flavor of the rub.
    The key to crusting sea bass, or any other fish, is hot, dry heat. This type of crusting will occur best between 400° and 500° F. If you are using a grill pan, allow it to preheat for a few minutes to reach this temperature.
    The recipe also calls for clarified butter. You can make your own by simply heating unsalted butter over medium heat until it melts and the foam rises to the top. Take the pan off of the heat, skim the foam and pour off the clear yellow liquid. Stop pouring before the white milk solids at the bottom of the pan run into the butter.
    Clarified butter has a higher burning point, making it ideal for cooking at high heats. If you don’t want to make it yourself, clarified butter is available in most markets. I like the Odell’s brand, as it has an 18-month shelf life and is a nice pantry addition.
    Serve this beautiful crusted sea bass on a bed of arugula that has been tossed in olive oil, along with seasoned couscous to finish the plate.

Black Pepper Crusted Sea Bass
2 t. cayenne pepper
1 T. freshly ground black pepper
1 t. ground white pepper
½ t. garlic powder
1 t. dry mustard
1 T. paprika
¼ cup white onion, finely chopped
1 t. fine sea salt
2 t. dried thyme
¼ cup unsalted butter, clarified
8 six-oz. sea bass filets, each about 1 inch thick
3 T. unsalted butter

   In a bowl, stir together the cayenne pepper, black pepper, white pepper, garlic powder, dry mustard, paprika, onion, salt and dried thyme. Mix in the clarified butter until the mixture forms a stiff paste.
    Pat the paste onto both sides of each piece of sea bass, pressing a little so the rub adheres to the fish.
    Heat an oiled ridged grill pan over moderately high heat until it is smoking and sear the fish for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until it is cooked through.
    While the sea bass is cooking, in a small skillet, cook the 3 tablespoons of butter over moderate heat, swirling the skillet, until it is dark brown, watching carefully so it does not burn.
    To serve, transfer the sea bass to heated plates and pour the butter over it.
   

When I was a child, I always liked it when my mom made pancakes for dinner. My sister and I thought of it as a special treat, and I’m sure the simplicity of pancakes for dinner was a treat for my mom as well. I started making these savory pancakes from the tradition she started all those years ago. They go well as a stand-alone meal with a salad, or as a creative side dish with roasted or grilled meat.
    These pancakes can be made with any number of vegetable combinations. This one uses onion, bell pepper, carrots and celery. Imagine them, though, with such creative combinations as grated potato, yam, and sweet potato for a more traditional starch dish. Be sure to rinse and dry the vegetables well to remove any excess moisture and starch. The mixture needs to be wet enough to give some texture to the cake outside of the vegetables. If the mixture seems too dry, add another egg.
    I love using Panko bread crumbs whenever I get the chance. They are coarser than regular bread crumbs and produce a nice crust. If you can’t find them in your local market, try an Asian market.

Savory Vegetable Pancakes
    Serve these with grated smoked Gouda cheese, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, and a dollop of sour cream. They freeze well, so you can make them ahead and reheat them in a 350° F oven.

1 cup finely chopped white onion
¼ cup seeded, deveined, finely chopped green bell pepper
1½ cups grated carrots
½ cup finely chopped celery
2 cups fresh baby spinach
3 T. unsalted butter
3 large eggs, room temperature, beaten
¾ cup Panko bread crumbs
1 t. fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for sautéing
Sour cream, chopped tomato, and fresh cilantro for garnish

   Melt the butter in a medium sauté pan, and sauté the onion, green pepper, celery, and carrots until crisply tender, about 4 minutes. Add the spinach. Sauté for two minutes. Set aside to cool.
    Combine the eggs with the bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Add this to the spinach mixture, mixing well. Place the batter in a medium bowl and refrigerate for ten minutes.
    Preheat ¼ cup oil in a sauté pan. With a ¼ cup measuring cup, form the cakes in the sauté pan, pressing down on the mixture if necessary to form a cake ¼ inch thick. Sauté until golden on one side, turn and sauté the other side. Drain on paper towels, and serve with sour cream, chopped tomato, and cilantro.

   My favorite meals are made with simple, fresh ingredients. When the ingredients are the stars of the recipe, you don’t have to do a lot to make it good, saving prep time and getting an interesting meal on the table quickly. If tomatoes don’t look that great during the winter months, buy your favorite salsa and add some citrus zest to it. When you make these spicy tacos, the commitment you make is to finding good ingredients. I buy fresh citrus fruits, remove the zest for the salsa and squeeze the juice for the cucumber mixture. The cucumber, onion, tomato and citrus fruits should all be room temperature. Therefore, as soon as you walk in the door, before your coat comes off, take all of the ingredients, except for the crab, out of the refrigerator.
    It is essential that the salsa ingredients are all chopped evenly and relatively fine. The best taco gives me a taste of every ingredient in each bite. It is the combination of all of these distinct flavors that really makes this work. There are other ingredients to look for in this recipe. The lump crabmeat, fresh if you can find it, and the fresh tortillas. The crabmeat should be mild and sweet, with no fishy odor. If it is previously frozen, it may have surplus water. Drain off the water, blotting the crabmeat with a paper towel to remove the excess moisture.
    Finally, seek out the best corn tortillas that you can find. Fresh tortillas that are a day old or less have a sweet corn flavor that is a huge compliment to the crab.

Southwestern Crab Tacos
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
2 vine-ripened tomato, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 T. lemon juice
One dozen fresh corn tortillas
One head butter leaf lettuce, separated into leaves, washed and dried
3 cups fresh lump crabmeat
2 avocados, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. fresh lime juice
2 T. extra virgin olive oil

   In a large bowl, mix the cucumber, onion, tomato, cilantro, cumin and citrus juices (except the lime juice) together. Season with salt and pepper. Let this stand at room temperature while you prepare the tacos.
    Place the corn tortillas in a buttered pie plate and cover it with plastic wrap. Steam the corn tortillas in the microwave, set at high power for 2 minutes.
    Working with several tortillas at a time, place a lettuce leaf on each tortilla, add some crabmeat and two tablespoons of the cucumber salsa. Top each with an avocado slice. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with a little lime juice and olive oil. Fold each taco in half and serve.

   For years, I have been searching for perfect light dessert. But it seems that whenever we talk about light desserts everyone has the image in their minds of a fat-free uninteresting dish in their minds. I like to think of sorbets and fruits as the perfect end to a meal, but some don’t see it as satisfying as the classic chocolate finish to a meal.
    I fondly refer to this dessert as “enlightened.” It leaves you feeling like you have had all of the sensory pleasures of a great dessert, without the heavy regretful feeling afterward. Making an Italian meringue is the star of this recipe. Be sure that your ingredients are room temperature when you start to make the meringue. Don’t allow the egg whites to get overbeaten or the mixture will have a chunky texture instead of a creamy one. You can make this dessert in less than twenty minutes but it is so fun you will most likely want to take your time to savor the experience.
    There are great sorbets available to serve with this, but I prefer a rich-tasting chocolate sorbet. I put the sorbet in a tall wine or martini glass and then cascade the meringue out of the glass. Toasted with a small kitchen torch, the meringue takes on a wonderful flavor and a golden color like a toasted marshmallow. Finished with some sliced, toasted almonds, it becomes an elegant and “enlightened” end to the perfect meal.

Toasted Italian Meringue with Chocolate Sorbet
    Serve this by first dipping a glass in some melted chocolate. Place a scoop of chocolate sorbet in the bottom of the glass and then top it with the meringue. Using a blowtorch, brown the meringue. Top with some toasted almonds, and serve.

1/3 cup water
¾ cup sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 t. cream of tartar
1/8 t. sea salt
¼ t. vanilla
2 pints chocolate sorbet
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted

   In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Swirl the saucepan slowly over medium high heat, until the mixture begins to boil. Do not stir the mixture. Continue to swirl the pan until the sugar is completely melted and the syrup is clear. Cover the pan and reduce to low heat.
    Add the egg whites to an electric mixer bowl. Beat at a low speed until foamy, then increase the speed to medium. Add the cream of tartar and the salt. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until soft peaks form.
    Remove the cover from the saucepan and bring the sugar to a boil. The mixture needs to register 280° F on a candy thermometer. When it reaches that temperature, immediately remove it from the heat.
    Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the sugar syrup quickly, pouring it directly into the center of the egg white mixture. Whisk vigorously with the beater in your hand, and then put it back on the mixer. Add the vanilla, and increase the mixer speed to high. Beat the mixture until it is completely cooled, and stiff peaks form, up to 10 minutes. This mixture should be very glossy, and the texture should resemble marshmallow cream.
    Place the sorbet in wine or martini glasses. Spoon some of the meringue over it and toast it with a small blowtorch. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and serve immediately.