Monday, October 31, 2011

Recipe: Italian Sausage Bolognese - Deep, Delicious, Substantial

A tavola non si invecchia. – Italian proverb
This is the translation for the above: At the table with good friends and family you do not become old. Nice, eh?

A market in Bologna. 
I have to apologize. This is my first post since Thursday. It just seemed life conspired against me having the time to post anything since then. Hopefully this one will put me back in good stead.

It's a recipe for Bolognese Sauce, a delicious slow cooked meat sauce for wider types of pasta noodles, or even for lasagna. Thick and rich this sauce makes a substantial meal.

Because it was cold and dreary, I wanted something a little substantial for dinner recently. The recipe is definitely a weekend recipe, although I would imagine it could be accomplished quite well in a slow cooker.

This is the sauce just ready for the slow, long cooking.
This recipe is the type you probably don’t have to outlay a lot of money to make. Onion, carrot, garlic, celery…they're all usually in the kitchen. I lucked out and had a nearly full opened jar of tomato sauce as well. And of course there’s always a bottle of red wine for cooking in the kitchen. If there isn't there should be...

So pretty much all was already present except for the sausage meat. I know that’s not strictly traditional, but it does add a little more complexity of flavour.

I’m not saying traditional bolognese sauce isn’t fantastic. This is more of a case of what I had on hand meeting what I wanted to make. I'm not the only one using what's on hand either. There are many different kinds of meat that find their way into Italian Bolognese.

Two bits of advice. First, take care in choosing your sausage. You don't want your Bolognese too spicy/hot or it overpowers the nutmeg which should be the main spice. The second is don’t skip the milk. It’s an important important step in tenderizing the meat. Even though this is cooked for a very long time it does make a difference.

It's also a bit of a messy job since it simmers uncovered. I thought  had a spatter screen but I couldn't locate it. Next time I'll make sure I have one in hand.

If you aren’t familiar with bolognese sauce, here’s some enlightenment:

From Wikipedia
Tradition and origins
The sauce dates back at least to the 5th century. The little tomato paste present in the traditional recipes was added after the discovery of the New World.

This is the sauce after 2-1/2 hours. It is so thick
that the bottom of the pot can be seen when you
push the sauce around with the spatula.
The traditional recipe, registered in 1982 by the Bolognese delegation of Accademia Italiana della Cucina, confines the ingredients to beef (skirt steak), pancetta, onions, carrot, celery (stalk), tomato paste, meat broth, red dry wine (not bubbling), milk, salt and pepper to taste. However, many variations using other regional products do exist even in the Bolognese tradition. Some make use of chopped pork or pork sausage; chicken liver may be added along with the beef or veal for special occasions, and today many use both butter and olive oil for cooking the soffritto.* Prosciutto, mortadella, or porcini mushrooms may be added to the ragù to further enrich the sauce. According to Marcella Hazan in "The Classic Italian Cookbook", the longer Ragù alla Bolognese cooks the better; a 5- or 6-hour simmer is not unusual.

The people of Bologna traditionally serve their famous ragù with freshly made egg-pasta tagliatelle (tagliatelle alla bolognese) and their traditionally green lasagne. It should be noted that the Italians do not pair Ragù alla Bolognese with spaghetti. Wider shaped pasta are thought to hold up to the heavy sauce better. In Italy, the pasta is stirred into the sauce to gather flavour rather than served with the ragù on top, as is common elsewhere.

It's not that difficult to make pasta if you want to go the extra mile. You certainly have time while the sauce is simmering. There's a tenderness in homemade pasta that you just don't find in dried, and often not in store purchased fresh (which no hands have ever touched).

I hope you enjoy this sauce. It's definitely a keeper.

* Soffritto is the sautéed vegetable base in ragù and other Italian dishes.

Italian Sausage Bolognese
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook: 2 to 2-1/2 hours  |  Serves 4 with ease
Crusty bread, parmesan cheese, some red wine... absolutely
enough to keep the Autumn chill at bay.
1 lb (450 g) sausage meat (not too hot)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
100g bacon, finely chopped
1 cup milk
3/4 cup finely chopped carrot
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
1 cup red wine
400g tomato sauce (plain or garlic)
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 tsp dried basil
1-1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
1/2 tsp salt 
1 tsp cracked black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add in the onions and garlic. Cook until they begin to soften. After the onions look like they’re beginning to soften add the carrot and celery and stir to combine.

Then add in the chopped bacon and cook for about 5 minutes more. After 5 minutes add the sausage meat and break it up as it cooks.

Once the sausage is no longer pink, add the milk and allow it to cook until almost completely evaporated.

Then stir in the red wine, tomato sauce, paste and spices. The recipe only calls for a little salt. Don’t worry. You will be checking for salt at the end of the cooking time.

Reduce heat to simmer and let the mixture cook for about 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Stir it periodically to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. At the end of the cooking time the sauce will be fairly dry. If necessary add some water (or a little more red wine!).

Taste the sauce for salt and adjust if desired.

Serve on top of linguine or tagliatelle with grated parmesan.


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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recipe: Louisiana Shrimp Gumbo, good and spicy!

Creole is New Orleans city food. Communities were created by the people who wanted to stay and not go back to Spain or France. – Paul Prudhomme 

I would LOVE to live close to a Gumbo Shop... Photo: abakedcreation, Flickr ccl
I heard the stupidest thing on TV this last weekend. A chef was telling the world to rinse the  mucilage (goo/ropiness) from their thawed frozen okra before frying it.

It’s things like the above that make one doubt a lot of what these chefs tell us.

This is the size to cut your okra. Photo: snickclunk, Flickr ccl
Why is that stupid you may ask? Well, it’s because that (don’t EVER rinse it off) ropiness is the thickening agent in making gumbo. It is one of three potential thickeners, the other two being roux and filé powder. 

But the primary reason for using okra in the first place is to thicken. It’s good, but not particularly delicious. I wouldn't seek it out on its own, shall we say...

Gumbo is a pretty easy thing to throw together. Sometimes the rice is cooked in the broth and sometimes not. If not, the gumbo is served over it in bowls.

It’s an interesting meal as well as it combines flavours from very diverse cultures including French, Spanish, natives, African slaves and others. If there ever was a “melting pot” dish in an actual pot this is it. Okra is a very traditional African ingredient to cite the origin of just one gumbo component.

When the weather turns cold it’s good to have something a little spicy to eat. It helps the warmth get into your bones.

I hope you like this recipe. Gumbo always "hits the spot."

Louisiana Shrimp Gumbo
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 20 min  |  Serves 4
Photo: simplerich, Flickr ccl
1 lb shrimp
3/4 lb sausage (dried andouille or another fresh spicy sausage)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, diced
4 cloves garlic
1/2 lb okra, sliced
1 green pepper
1 large can whole tomatoes, and their liquid
spice mix below (use some or all of it)
cooked long grain rice for 4

Spice mix:
3 tsp paprika (smoked if you have it)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried rosemary
3/4 tsp dried thyme

Not everyone has access to Andouille sausage. If you don't you can
substitute a spicy sausage in its place. Andouille is usually cured, but Pete's
Frootique in Halifax serves store-made fresh. Photo: Shawnzrossi, Flickr ccl
Heat the oil and butter in a large sauté pan or soup pot. 

Begin cooking the rice in a separate pot. It usually takes about 25 minutes. (5 to bring water to a boil, 15 to simmer and 5 to sit.)

Fry the sausage in the oil until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove, let cool and slice into bite-sized pieces.

Clean the shrimp while you’re doing the next step and set aside in a different bowl than the sausage. They get added at different times.

Add the onion, garlic, celery and okra. Fry until the onion has softened and the okra is “ropey.” The ropiness is what thickens your gumbo liquid. Do not rinse or otherwise try to get rid of it. 

If you’re using frozen okra it will probably be ropey before frying. That’s OK, and perfectly normal. See my rant above…

Add the green pepper and continue to cook for about 2 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and break them up with a spatula. Stir in the spice mixture.

Bring to a simmer and let cook for 5 minutes. Then add in the sausage. Let cook for 5 more and then add the shrimp. Only cook the shrimp until they become opaque – about 3-5 minutes.

Taste for salt. You can adjust any of the seasonings you wish at this point as well.

Serve immediately on top of hot cooked rice.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Recipe: Spicy Chicken Oregano Pizza

Oregano is the spice of life. – Henry J. Tillman

Up close and personal with oregano. Photo: cdtwigg, Flickr ccl
I grew herbs in the back yard this past year. Some thrived and some didn’t. For city growing the conditions weren’t the greatest. We seemed to have more rain than sun. Not ideal conditions.

The basil and tarragon were cranky, to say the least. Since both prefer the sunny climes of the Mediterranean I can see why. It certainly wasn’t the south of France in Halifax this summer.

Greek oregano (there are other kinds...). Photo: AreAllen, Fickr ccl
At the start of the Fall it appeared the weather had turned around somewhat. One of the herbs seems to just love the conditions – the oregano. So now I’m “blessed” with a ton of oregano that needs using. Some will be dried, but herbs are always best when used fresh. Hence this recipe.

Oregano is actually a member of the mint family although the taste is not at all similar. Sometimes oregano is called “wild mint.” Another herb in the mint family is marjoram. Oregano is a perennial in its native range of south west Eurasia and the Mediterranean. In colder areas it is treated as an annual.

For any excess, drying oregano is easy. Just snip, bundle and hang in a well ventilated spot. Within a few days your oregano will be dry enough to store in jars. Ensure that any herb you dry is “completely” dry before storing. Any moisture will encourage the growth of mould. Not only will it destroy your hard work, but it isn’t healthy either.

This recipe has quite a bit of fresh oregano. That is not a bad thing. Coupled with the other ingredients everything balances out in a tasty way. The wide range of ingredients also makes this pizza nutritionally balanced as well.

Spicy Chicken Oregano Pizza
Prep: depends on crust  |  Bake: 20 min  |  Serves 4-6
1 lb precooked chicken, sliced and cubed 
1 tbsp olive oil
225 g (1/2 lb) mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced 
1 cup corn kernels
3/4 cup roasted red pepper, chopped
1 tsp salt
1-2 to 1 cup plain pizza sauce, depending on pizza size and preference
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes* 
1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped or more if you’re daring
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper 
1 cup mozzarella cheese, cubed (not grated) to 1/4 to 1/2 inch
1 pizza crust for a large pizza

An interesting combination of corn, peppers mushrooms, chicken...
Photo: avlxyz, Flickr ccl
A quick pizza crust recipe (ready to use in 45 min) can be found here. You can also purchase partially raised refrigerated crusts in Italian groceries. That would speed dinner up even more.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cube the chicken, slice the mushrooms, chop the onion and mince the garlic.

Add the olive oil to a sauté pan. Sauté the mushrooms, onions and garlic until the onions and garlic are partially cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chicken, corn, red pepper and salt. Set aside.

Press the crust into a pizza pan. Distribute the tomato sauce evenly over the crust. Sprinkle the sauce with the chilli flakes.

Arrange the chicken mixture over the sauce. Sprinkle it with the oregano and cracked black pepper.

Place the cubes in around the chicken filling. Cubed mozzarella allows the toppings to cook as opposed to being under a smothering coating which only steams as opposed to browning.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the bottom is nicely browned.

* If you're afraid of the chilli you could substitute plain sauce for Arrabiatta (a garlic-chilli-tomato-basil sauce from Rome).


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Recipe: Halva, Pistachio Middle Eastern Confection

I feel like a human pinata. The disappointing thing is, no candy is going to spill out. – Katie Couric 

This is what halva should look like. Mine...does not. Photo: Sandy Austin, Flickr ccl
This one is for all my friends who think I pull stuff off perfectly all the time. Today I’m going to share with you a bit of a disaster. A sweet, sweet disaster, but a flop none the less.

I was looking at halva (it has many other spellings as well – helva, halava, halawa, halawi, halwa) at the grocery the other day and upon looking at the price decided it might be worth my while to try making it.

More correct halva. Photo: moomoobloo, Flickr ccl
There are two main types of halva. One is made with flour, the other with nut-butter (usually tahini). I chose the tahini method. It’s what I was used to buying.

Purchased halva (and I can only assume mine as well ) is a crumbly, fluffy sweet that is studded with (in my case) pistachios. The recipe tastes great. It’s just I didn’t pull it off. Rather than fluffy, it’s “creamy.” Not that it's bad, just..unexpected. Sort of like a very soft nougat.

My halva tastes exactly as it should. It just doesn’t LOOK like it should.

This recipe sounds like it should work. If anyone makes their own halva and can see where I messed up I would certainly appreciate a comment. The stuff tastes great. It’s just I know no amount of setting up in the refrigerator is going to render it the way it should be.

I think the directions I followed were perhaps a bit sketchy. I believe I should have done the entire operation in the food processor rather than trying to “mix” with a spatula – maybe. It didn’t say specifically.

The recipe came from a page that was associated with a dead link so I have no idea who to thank/blame…except me. Next time I’m going to cook the sugar longer to give it a harder structure. 

The stated temperature says hard ball stage, but 235°F is soft ball stage. That may be where I fell down.

Here it is. If you do try it, the recipe makes a loaf pan nearly full, and it really does taste very authentic. I think with only two adjustments this recipe would have it down pat.

Homemade Pistachio Halva*
2 c sugar
1 c water
454 g sesame paste (tahini)
3 tsp pure vanilla
2 egg whites
1 c shelled pistachios (unsalted) 

Combine sugar and water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook to the hard-ball stage (a few drops of syrup, when dropped into small basin of cold water, will form a firm ball that will not flatten on removal) or a temperature of 234 degrees. Set aside. 

(Note: hard ball is between 250°F and 265°F.)

Put sesame paste with its oil in container of electric mixer or food processor. Add vanilla, blending thoroughly. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into sesame paste. When thoroughly blended, gradually add 3/4 c of the syrup, stirring. When completely blended fold in nuts and remaining syrup. 

(Note: I don’t think folding outside the food processor is correct. Next time I’ll do it all in the processor.)

Pour and scrape mixture into loaf pan. Smooth over top. Cover tightly and refrigerate 3 days before unmolding. This halvah will keep for 6 months in refrigerator.

Mine. Not fluffy in the least. But tasty... which is slight comfort.
* I think I'll try 4 egg whites (as opposed to the inadequate 2) and change up the method. I'm going to whip the whites and then slowly incorporate the hot syrup directly into them like an Italian meringue, Then I'll add in the tahini/vanilla/nuts into that in the mixer. At the least it will be a different result.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Recipe: Garlic Scented Chicken

What garlic is to food, insanity is to art. – Augustus Saint-Gaudens

The scent of the garlic permeates the meat. Photo: jamesdkirk, Flickr ccl
Many people feel that just a little garlic in a dish is the best way to use this wonderful bulb. I tend to think otherwise. This recipe is a prime example.

In actuality, too much garlic should be viewed the same was as too much basil, as in pesto – if you get my drift. Pesto is essentially way too much basil whirred up into a paste. The sheer amount of basil transforms it into something altogether different than how one leaf tastes.

Roasting garlic mellows and softens the flavour.
Photo:, Flickr ccl
This is exactly the same as garlic, and is doubly true when you roast with garlic. The longer you cook the garlic, the less it will taste and smell “garlicky” and the more creamy and subtle the flavor becomes.

The health benefits of garlic have been known for a long time. It was one of the first foods to be recognized for potential medical properties besides nutrition. 

One proven benefit is garlic’s natural antibiotic capabilities (hence the folklore reason for warding off colds and the flu). Another is its powerful antioxidant effects. Antioxidants help battle damaging free radicals. Aged garlic cloves are even better in this regard than normal cloves.

This recipe is simplicity itself and uses a heck of a lot of garlic. The end result is a golden brown chicken steamed through with the most wonderful gentle garlicky taste you can imagine. 

Save yourself some work. Double duty the oven by roasting side dish vegetables at the same time and you have a meal that you can just put in the oven, set the timer and forget.

At 375°F most vegetables (potatoes, carrots, turnip, squash, etc) will cook in about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. A small chicken roasts in the same timeframe. Just toss the vegetables with some olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a pan. Sprinkle with herbs if desired.

Throw in some additional garlic bulbs to roast exterior to the chicken. Roasted garlic cloves are amazing mashed with roasted potatoes and a little butter. Actually they’re amazing in so many places… on pizza, in bread, soup… anywhere a sweet intensity is needed.

Garlic Scented Chicken
Prep: 10 min  |  Roast: 1h to 1h 30min (depending on chicken size)
Roasted potatoes are a perfect side dish when roasting a chicken.
Photo: FotoosVanRobin, Flickr ccl
1 small chicken
Whole garlic heads (as many as you can shove into you chicken, plus...)
Herbs: rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon or a combination
2 tbsp butter
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Trim the tops from the garlic heads with a sharp knife, but keep the bulbs whole. Stuff them into the cavity of the chicken.

Mix the herbs with the butter. Loosen the chicken skin over the breast and legs. Try your best not to rip it. Rub the butter between the skin and the meat.

Rub the outside of the skin with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle the exterior with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken in an ovenproof pan and position it on the centre rack of the preheated oven.

Roast the chicken until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the meat (breast or leg) registers 180°F. Use a thermometer. There’s no sense taking chances with undercooked chicken.

Serve with the roasted vegetables for a hearty Fall dinner.


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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gardening: Purple (or Copper) Beeches

God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars. – Martin Luther

Dew kissed purple beech in early Fall.
If you want impact in your landscape not much can beat a purple beech tree. Fagus sylvatica purpurea is a member of the beech tree that bears beautiful dark purple (sometimes approaching midnight colour) leaves on what can become a very large tree.

The triangular nuts are encased in a fuzzy husk. Note how
the leaves have turned from purple to green in Au
Purple beech, given ideal conditions, can reach a height of up to 150+ feet tall. More usually though it tops out at about 100 feet. As with most trees, the first decade shows quite rapid growth and then it slows as it reaches a height where it can force its way into the sunshine. A typical tree can live from 150 to 200 years, so choose where you put it carefully…

The leaves are simple with a slightly wavy margin. In the Spring the leaves start out an interesting shade of coppery colour. As they unfurl they darken to their full deep purple. In full sun the colour is more pronounced. 

Under shade they can retain a significant green cast. That information is from my own personal observation. We have two saplings growing in different locations and this has held true for every year until the second broke through higher into the sun. Then the colour changed.

Like all beech trees, they fruit with a nut that caries two seeds. Each seed is triangular shaped. I collected some of these in September and planted them. Already I have three strong little plans (very green) biding their time until next Spring to begin to spurt up further.

I collected the seeds from Point Pleasant Park. The park has many specimens of this tree, and since they don’t produce seed until they are between 60-80 years old you can tell they’ve been there a while. During Hurricane Juan in 2003 dozens of these stately beauties were lost.

It appears mother nature has been redoubling her efforts since because many saplings, now between 6-8 years old and about 10 feet high, are making appearance in places where the trees never were before. Some purple beeches have been purchased and re-planted, but you can find new saplings growing along the small paths that wind their way through the park.

I would imagine that many of these new trees were partly as a result of Juan scattering seed far and wide throughout the park. This year, where I gathered my few seeds, the ground was literally covered with the nuts. There is little in the way of maintenance to clean the roads, so they would have been trampled underfoot and taken back into the ground to decompose.

So I rescued three. I have high hope for them. Of course I will not live to see them tower overhead, but that isn’t the reason a person plants a tree. The planting of a seed is a sign of hope for the future, for life and for good times yet to be enjoyed.

If you want a tree with spectacular colour, try purple beech. I can’t think of any better.

This avenue had mature purple beeches on both sides before the hurricane of 2003.
The mature trees still standing have only about half of the branches they once did.
These trees have been replanted to hurry the restoration along.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Recipe: Greek Fish with Olives and Capers

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. – Nikos Kazantzakis

They say you can tell a well balanced meal by the colours on your plate...
This recipe falls into the category of “fast on the table.” At only 30 minutes you have time to cook a couple side dishes with ease and have everything ready to eat in no time flat.

The sauce has a very interesting flavour with the capers and lemon. The oregano anchors it firmly in the Mediterranean region. It’s a nice dish when you don’t have much time, for instance any week night or before you want to go to a movie or shopping.

Nestle the fish into the sauce and pop it into the oven.
One word though – don’t cheap out on the tomatoes. They’re the real star of this dish, besides having good quality fresh fish. Inexpensive tomatoes taste like it. They’re a poorer grade than the better brands. 

If you can’t find diced tomatoes buy whole and crush them with your hands. That will add another layer of texture to the presentation. Just make sure you don’t have too much tomato liquid in the pot or your sauce will be watery. You could counter that by adding a little tomato paste. It's up to you to judge.

This recipe serves four but can easily be reduced for an intimate dinner for two, if you’re lucky enough to have someone to be romantic with. It's simple, rustic and delicious. That kind of recipe always puts you in a good mood.

Try this one. It won’t disappoint.

Greek Fish with Olives and Capers
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 25 min  |  Serves 4

2 lb white fish (haddock, cod, halibut)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp red wine (optional)
1 lg can diced tomatoes (about 800 ml / 28 fl oz), drained
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp lemon rind
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup Kalamata olives
2 tsp capers
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat oil in a Dutch oven. Add onions and garlic and sauté until softened. 

Add in the wine if using to deglaze the pan. Cook until it evaporates nearly completely. Add in the tomatoes, oregano, lemon juice and rind. Break up the tomatoes with a spatula.

Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add a little water if necessary. Then add the olives and capers. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the fish into 4 or 8 equal portions. Nestle them into the tomato liquid and place the pot in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the fish is done through. Serve with the sauce on top.


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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Recipe: Scallop (or Shellfish) Mascarpone on Linguine

Most seafoods should be simply threatened with heat and then celebrated with joy. – Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet)

The distinctive scallop shell. Photo: bulletproofsoul, Flickr ccl
Homemade mascarpone.
Words for the wise, that quote is. Sometimes you just need something rich and fatty for dinner. I know tonight is that night for me.

This recipe breaks THE big no-no in most people’s diet books but the result is worth it. Luscious sauce with piquant pieces of pancetta, capers and sun dried tomatoes complement the shellfish perfectly. 

I chose to use scallops only but you can use a blend or another type altogether if you wish. There’s three options in the recipe below.

This is one of my ways to use some of the mascarpone I made a few days ago. I still have a lot to deal with…

Always choose the freshest shellfish possible.
Photo: Pixel_monkie, Flickr ccl
Always purchase the freshest shellfish possible. At certain points in the year you can only get (affordable) frozen of some kinds of shellfish. You can tell the difference, but frozen can be used, of course. The worst one frozen is lobster. The texture is different – almost rubbery.

This recipe is a little open ended in that you can use a medley of seafood or restrict yourself to just one. I would suggest that clams and mussels be off the list all together for this. The richness of the mascarpone would overwhelm them.

I’m not really going to wax eloquently any more about this. It’s time to cook. And eat…

One last point, if you’ve never eaten a raw scallop – and your scallops are very fresh – pop a piece into your mouth. You’ll be very surprised. Those of us who eat sushi know of what I speak.

(Sorry – no photo. My shots didn't turn out as I hoped/ Will post a photo next time I make this...)

Shellfish Mascarpone on Linguine
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 12 min (includes frying shellfish)  |  Serves 4
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb shellfish (can be all scallops, all shrimp, all lobster or a mixture)
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup pancetta, chopped
2-3 tbsp capers
2-3 tbsp sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions while you make the sauce.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet.

If at this point you are using shrimp and/or scallops, fry quickly on each side until nearly done. Do not crowd the shellfish in the pan. Do in batches. If using all scallops, sear a brown crust on both the bottom and top of each piece. Scallops fry in about 2-3 minutes per side. Shrimp are faster.

Do not dip scallops in flour. Just sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper. All that does is make a lumpy mess and steams the seafood as opposed to searing. Just let each cook on one side until it naturally releases, then turn and do the other side. Perfection every time.

How to cook scallops, the right way
Butter or olive oil. Salt and pepper only. Sear on each side. Easy.
They need to be cooked a bit more than in the picture for this recipe.
They're still quite raw. Photo: Sifu Renka, Flickr ccl

If using only precooked lobster this step can be skipped.

Remove the seafood to a plate.

Add the shallot, garlic and pancetta. Fry until slightly crisp, about 3 minutes. If necessary add a little more olive oil.

Add the capers and sun dried tomatoes. Fry for a further minute.

Stir in the mascarpone, milk, oregano, salt and pepper. Heat until just simmering and then add the seafood and heat through.

Serve over the pasta with parmesan grated on top.


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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ingredient of the Day & A Recipe: Kalamata Olives

If it wasn't for the olives in his martinis, he'd starve to death! – Milton Berle

Pitted Kalamatas. Photo: phonakins, Flickr ccl
You can’t make a Greek salad, or many other “Greek” inspired dishes without Kalamata olives. They are very unlike almost any other olive available. They have a meaty saltiness that, in my opinion, puts them head and shoulders above other olives.

An unripe olive. Photo: caso.catena, Flickr ccl
Olives have been grown and harvested in the Mediterranean region since time immemorial. Kalamata olives are named after the city of Kalamata in Messenia, southern Greece. 

This particular olive is large with a smooth, meaty texture. They are usually preserved in wine vinegar or olive oil or both. They have an unmistakable aubergine coloured exterior when ripe.

These are not the common green olive (Olea europaea). The Kalamata tree is distinguished from the common olive by the size of its leaves, which grow to twice the size of normal varieties. The trees are intolerant of cold but are resistant to olive knot and the olive fruit fly.

This tree is over 2000 years
old. Photo: Wiki CC.
Kalamata olives cannot be harvested green, and must be hand-picked in order to avoid bruising. Kalamata olives are protected under the European Protected Geographical Status scheme.

Most Kalamata olives are partially split prior to being brined or pickled, which allows the flavour to soak into the fruit. They are most commonly sold with the pits still inside – so be careful. More than one tooth has been chipped in enjoying these amazing delicacies.

Kalamatas can be used an unbelievable array of recipes. They can be included in baked fish with tomatoes, or kneaded into olive bread. They are superior on pizzas or tossed with pasta and are a great taste combination with orange segments in a salad. To say the least, the uses are diverse.

A "Dirty" Martini. Photo:
zappowbang, Flickr ccl
They are even substituted in a martini on occasion. One particular recipe uses some of the olive brine for a “dirty martini” and the olive itself as garnish. 

Of couse, one of the most common uses is in tapenade, the classic olive spread.

Here’s an easy recipe to make Kalamata Tapenade. The recipe is from, posted on February 21, 2006 by “What’s Cooking.” To see the original recipe click here

Kalamata Olive Tapenade
Serves 8-12
1 cup pitted kalamata olive
1 cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves
1 -2 cups fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/4 cup olive oil
fresh ground black pepper

Photo:, Flickr ccl
Add garlic to food processor, blend until minced. Add remaining ingredients except olive oil. Blend until smooth, adding olive oil slowly while the blade is running.

Adjust ingredients to your liking - Additional pine nuts, parsley or pitted canned black olives will make it less salty and intense in flavor, while additional oil will increase the creaminess. You can also use other fresh herbs such as sage or basil.

Serve at room temperature.


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