Thursday, March 25, 2010

Broccoli and Asparagus Pasta Salad

After finding a box of whole-wheat penne that had been living in the depths of my pantry for over a year, I thought that it was about time to make a fine pasta salad. It is a shame that I don't make pasta salads more often because they are literally the perfect dish. Anything can be thrown in, and it takes almost no effort or technique. I had just returned from my local Co-Op the day before with a bunch of spring asparagus and a large of head of broccoli, so I knew that they were going in. I had also bought a small chunk of spicy, deep Argentine Parmesan, which added a nutty smokiness when grated over the top of the salad. Finely chopped olives mixed with dried herbs and olive oil made a salty sort of dressing that made the entire dish wonderfully satiating for lunch. I bet this would be even more fantastic with toasted pine nuts or chopped walnuts.

But while this recipe is a good starting place, I advise to make up your own recipe, dictated by the ingredients you already have on hand.

Broccoli and Asparagus Pasta Salad

1 box whole wheat penne pasta

1 head broccoli

10 asparagus spears, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 handful spinach

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon each of dried basil, oregano and thyme

1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

1/2 can pitted black olives, chopped finely

3 splashes of balsamic vinegar

grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Salt liberally. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally for 12 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add broccoli florets and cook on medium until they are browned but not burnt. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Set aside in a separate bowl.
In the same pan, heat a tablespoon of oil on medium. Add onions and cook until transparent. Add asparagus and herbs. Add splashes of balsamic vinegar and cook until tender. If the vegetables seem like they are sticking add a little water to the pan.
Finally, combine the pasta and cooked vegetables in a large bowl. Stir in chopped olives and the handful of spinach.
Grate cheese over the top. Either serve hot immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bread: Finally Achieved!

Ahh bread. The oldest, most basic form of human nourishment. I have always wondered how so few ingredients: flour, salt, yeast and water, can be so delicious and addicting.

After attempting to bake bread twice before, (and extremely disappointed with the results), I am happy to present the ideal bread recipe. No-knead technique, thick crust, soft insides and a large crumb contribute to a delicious, hardy bread. The recipe below is from Jim Lahey's My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method. The fermenting period of the dough takes around 12-18 hours, so make sure to plan ahead! I assure you, the results will be worth it.

Basic No-Knead Bread Recipe

3 cups bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon instant dry yeast

1 1/3 cups cool water

Cornmeal for dusting

Combine flour, salt and yeast in a medium sized bowl. Slowly pour in the water, mixing until the dough is wet and sticky. Cover with a plate or cloth. Place the bowl out of direct sunlight, at room temperature for 12-18 hours.
When the dough has bubbles on it's surface, peel the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface. Form the dough into a ball and cover with a clean dish cloth. Let set for 1-2 hours, until the dough has risen.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Place an oven-safe pot into the center of a rack to heat.* (check note)
Use pot holders to remove the pot from the oven. Slip the dough into the pot, dust with cornmeal, and cover.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove cover, and continue baking until the bread is a deep brown color, but not burnt, around 15-30 minutes more.
Use a spatula to lift the bread out of the pot, and let cool for at least an hour until slicing.

*Due to lack of an oven-safe pot, I used a pizza stone sitting on top of a metal dish of water.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thin Crust Pizza

There is an endless war raging. Not between two countries but between two cities. New York and Chicago. Thick pizza crusts or thin. Now deep-dish pizzas are wonderful. The chewiness of the crust works when the toppings are piled high, and given the high walls of the crust; there is no worry that the cheesy toppings will slip off onto your unsuspecting pants.

That said, there simply is no comparison to a crispy, crunchy, almost burnt pizza crust that barely supports the light-handed amount of toppings. Indeed, crust is what makes the pizza. And with pizza dough so easy to make, there is no excuse for buying pre-made, chemical-laden dough, or worse, (cover your eyes!), a frozen pizza.

When you labor over your own pizza- observing the dough rise, stretching it onto a pan, shredding your own cheese, chopping your own vegetables- it is miraculously better than any pizza ever made in the history of pizzas. The labor of love is real, and you can sense it in your taste buds.

Pizza Dough (makes two crusts)
From Jim Lahey's My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

3 ¾ cups bread flour, (all-purpose works too)

2 ½ teaspoon yeast

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ + a pinch teaspoon sugar

1 1/3 cups room temperature water

Extra virgin olive oil for the pan

Sift the flour, yeast, salt and sugar together. Add the water and mix with hands or a spatula, until combined. The dough will be slightly stiff. Place in a bowl and cover with a cloth for 2 hours.

After it has risen, gently pull the dough onto a floured surface and divide into two balls. Cover one of the dough balls with a damp cloth for 30 minutes, and put the other ball into an oiled freezer bag to use another time.

After 30 minutes, oil a baking sheet with olive oil very well. Stretch dough onto the sheet to the edges.

Pizza Sauce (for 1 dough)

1 can no-salt added diced tomatoes

2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon thyme

few dashes of red pepper flakes

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor or a blender. Smear all over the dough with a spatula.

Suggested Toppings
The sky is really the limit when making your own pizza, but here are some interesting ideas to get you started:

-For the pizza in the photograph, I shaved a good Swiss cheese, sliced half a yellow onion, and sprinkled chopped zucchini.

-Margarita Pizza: Buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, sliced tomatoes.

-Green Pizza: Pesto sauce, artichoke hearts, Parmesan shavings.

To Bake:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, and slide the baking sheet with the dough and toppings in. Check after 15 minutes. It is ready when the edges begin to darken, and the center has cooked through.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Homemade Kombucha= Fail

I mentioned several weeks ago that I was attempting to brew my own kombucha. But after viewing the unsightly SKOBY forming on the top of the tea, I realize that something has gone quite wrong. A healthy SKOBY has a smooth rubbery finish, and an even tan coloring. But the monster growing in my room has obviously been contaminated.

So this time my kombucha failed, but I will undoubtedly try again in the future. If anyone has any tips as to why my attempt went wrong please let me know!