Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shrimp with sage oil and pistachios

I have a large and fragrantly abundant pot of sage growing right next to my kitchen door. It is sufficiently plush as to attract admirers from even a sidewalk view. And yet ... I never use it.

Until Sunday. One huge stalk, with thick, mature leaves shading an inner rung of tiny ones, yielded about 2 cups of loosely packed greens. I chopped them roughly to expose their suddenly shiny edges and set them in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan with about 1 1/2 cups grapeseed oil. Any neutral oil will do; this just happened to be what I had in abundance.

Warm the oil slowly, then leave the mix at a slow bubble for about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cover with the pan lid. Set the timer for an hour.

After the alarm rouses you from your nap -- or whatever useful thing you were doing -- set a fine strainer over another pot and line it with cheesecloth. Pour out this lovely pale green tincture, squeeezing cloth to get every sagey drop. Pour into sealable bottle (such as a now-empty and de-labeled grapeseed oil container). Take a moment to admire it before tucking into a cool, dark cupboard.

Graham was inspired to assist when I took a photo of the oil and determined that a pop of citrus would be visually appealing. It looked like it needed something else, like maybe a handful of pistachios --which, by the way, would make an excellent crust for the fresh shrimp on ice in the refrigerator. Shrimp with pistachios, pasta with sage oil and lemon; viola!, dinner.

1/2 lb. angel hair pasta
3-4 tbsp. sage oil
1 lb. medium shrimp, preferrably local
1 large lemon, juiced
1/2 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped, divided
1 cup panko crumbs
2 egg whites
1/4-1/2 cup canola oil, divided
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup white dry wine 
2 tbsp. small sage leaves
aged parmesean, finely grated (optional)

Bring large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta to al dente; drain, reserving about a cup of pasta water. Return to pot. Add sage oil, toss to coat, then cover with lid to keep warm.

Meanwhile, lightly toast pistachios until fragrant. When cool enough to handle, chop (by hand or pulse-chop in processor) to fairly small bits but do not pulverize. Reserve about 2 tbsp. nuts; add rest to a medium bowl with panko. Stir to mix. Juice lemon and set aside.

Peel shrimp. Dip lightly in beaten egg white, then press into coating. Cook in batches in non-stick skillet coated with 2-3 tbsp. canola, adding more oil as neeeded. When shrimp is crispy and browned, transfer to small plate and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Repeat until done. (If you run out of crumbs, cook the last few naked.)

There will be a bunch of crispy crumbs left in the pan. Remove any that look burnt but leave the rest. Add butter, lemon juice and wine. Simmer 2-3 minutes until slightly reduced, then add the sage leaves. Give it another minute, then pour over pasta and toss until well distributed. If too dry, add a few tablespoons of reserved pasta water and stir through.

Transfer to pasta to serving bowl, then top with shrimp, reserved chopped pistachios and, if feeling luxe, some finely grated parmesean. Garnish with a drizzle of sage oil. Eat and be happy.

Drink your melon

I asked for Graham help today to cut up some fruit so I wouldn't have to strain my hand. He initially balked but wound up helping me make a batch of really good watermelon agua fresca as well as style a photo for fresh-made sage oil that turned into a promising dinner plan. More about the latter later.

He had a little trouble conceptualizing how half of a seedless "baby" watermelon would fit into the blender, but that worry broke down as quickly as the pink chunks liquified into a fragrant puree. He really got into then, debating the amount of lime and sweetness needed, and brightening as if a light literally switched on at Tim's last-minute suggestion of a generous pinch of salt.

It took just slightly more time to make this than to consume it. Made four fabulous glassfuls.

1/2 seedless watermelon, trimmed and chunked
juice of 1 1/2 large limes
1 tbsp. agave syrup
1 generous pinch salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 glassful of ice

Add about half of the melon to the blender, pulse on high about six seconds to mostly liquify. Add the rest of the melon, lime juice, agave and salt, blend again. Taste and adjust if necessary. Should be refreshingly tangy and not overly sweet. Add glassful of ice and blend until incorporated and frothy. Serve immediately.

Note:  My popsicle molds are currently occupied, but I feel sure this would make excellent pops.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Coconut Peanut Sauce, two ways

I can't begin to count the times I've made peanut sauce. Problem is, I don't think I've ever made it the same way twice. Sometimes it's been lick-the-plate yummy; sometimes, not so much.

This week, I gave in and sought professional help. I checked several of my most reliable sources and settled on the variety favored by BrokeAss Gourmet, which Gabi Moskowitz humbly titles Basic Peanut Sauce. Since it calls for a half-can of coconut milk -- and I (1) hate discovering a forgotten half-can of coconut milk in the back of the refrigerator and (2) felt fairly certain it would be a hit -- I made a double batch.

Glad I did. It was delicious on Sunday drizzled on tender Asian long beans, but even better tonight used as a simmering sauce for chicken and carrots.

This whole search started when Tim brought home two bundles of aptly-named long beans, which in this case were probably at least 18-20 inches. He gets them from a vendor who sells at the Midtown Farmer's Market at North Hills on Saturday mornings. Sometimes she has Gobo, or burdock root, which looks even more strange but is likewise well worth trying.

Since I made a big batch of Basic Peanut Sauce figured I may as well make a double batch of rice, too. Graham could live on rice, so leftovers never go to waste in my house. I didn't think of it in time, but both of these dishes would be nice garnished with a crunchy handful of chopped dry-roasted peanuts.

Asian Long Beans with Sauce

2 bunches Asian long beans (or 1 1/2-2 lbs. fresh green beans)
4 cups vegetable stock (or water)
2 cups brown basmati rice
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 small bunch cilantro, minced
Basic Peanut Sauce

Bring stock or water to a boil with garlic. Add well-rinsed rice, cover and reduce heat. If the lid does not make a tight seal, crumble a piece of parchment paper larger than the pot, then smooth out and tuck under lid. Cook about 45 minutes or until tender and liquid is absorbed.

(My preferred method is to make the rice early, even several hours ahead. Turn the heat off after 45 minutes regardless of absorption and keep covered. Warm gently on stove or zap just until hot right before serving.)

When rice is nearly ready -- or ready to finish -- fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil, as if to cook pasta. Wash and pat dry long beans. Trim ends and cut to desired length. I usually just cut them in half.  They are long beans, after all.

Cook about 5 minutes or tender crisp. Drain well and transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle generously with Basic Peanut Sauce and minced cilantro. Serve over rice, with extra sauce on the side.

(Next day, even if all those lovely beans are gone -- trust me, they will be -- warm leftover rice with a few spoonfuls of sauce.)

Tonight's dinner started with a quick stop at Petra Grill and Mediterrean Market, which features a Halal butcher (and really terrific fresh-made falafel). I asked for 1 1/2 lbs. of boneless chicken thighs, which the butcher promptly asked if I wanted cut up and trimmed of fat. I assumed it was a kindness offered because I have a huge splint on one hand, but this is a standard and free service. Just like once upon a time. Yup, I'll be back.

Chicken and Carrots with Coconut Peanut Sauce

1 1/2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into small bites
2 tbsp. canola oil
salt, pepper
1-2 tsp. Rogan Josh (or curry powder)
1 bunch fresh baby carrots, scrubbed and sliced into thick coins
1 cup cherry tomatoes, preferrably Sungolds
2 tbsp. butter
1 small bunch cilantro, minced
Basic Peanut Sauce

1 cup vermicelli
2 tsp. canola oil
2 cups chicken stock

Add vermicilli to pan with oil and cook over medium heat until lightly but mostly browned. Add stock, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and pasta is creamy.

If you're not lucky enough to have a butcher to do it for you, prep your chicken. Season liberally with salt and pepper and lightly with Rogan Josh (or curry powder). Pour oil into large nonstick skillet over medium-high flame. When oil shimmers, add chicken, turning occasionally, and cook until well seared but not done. Remove to bowl.

Add butter and carrots to same skillet over medium-low heat. Add about 2 tbsp. water (or a splash of beer or wine, if consuming while cooking), scrape up any browned bits, and cover. Try not to peek but jiggle pan now and then to make sure they're not sticking.

Check after 4 minutes. When the tip of a knife will just poke through carrots, add chicken and any accumulated juices and about 2 cups Basic Peanut Sauce; stir well and cover. (Don't worry if the sauce thickened in the refrigerator. It will loosen up as soon as it hits the pan.)

Simmer about 10 minutes, then add Sungolds, stir through and cover pan. Cook about 5 minutes more then transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve with vermicelli.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Gazpacho, a bowl of summer

I haven't been writing or cooking much lately, but the abundance of heirloom tomatoes has proved an irresistible source of inspiration. I'm sure this adventure breaches the strict parameters of post-op hand surgery, but the result was totally worth it.

There is a staggering variety of gazpacho recipes online, but the one constant is the reliance on the freshest and prettiest vegetables available. I started with an especially colorful collection of tomatoes Tim gathered from local farm stands.

I did not bother peeling tomatoes and suggest that you don't, either. All you need to do is squeeze or scoop out seeds, then chunk or dice, depending on which step of the recipe. Save the most colorful tomatoes for the second step.

In a blender, add the following:

5 cups mixed heirloom tomatoes, chunked
2 gloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 japaleno, seeded and diced
1 large lime - zested and juiced (about 2 tbsp.)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. kosher salt

Blend on high about 10 seconds or until mostly liquified. Add 1 cup loosely packed mixed fresh herbs, such as parsely and basil. Pulse a few times until incorporated. Pour into large sealable bowl.

Cut the following into a small dice:

1 cup mixed heirloom tomatoes
3/4 cup red bell pepper
3/4 cup cucumber, peeled and seeded
1/4 cup sweet onion

Add to tomato mix and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate about two hours.

Before serving, scoop about 3 cups of the mixture into blender -- or, if you have an immersion blender, into a tall container. Puree, then pour back into bowl and stir through. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and sherry vinegar.

Optional: If the vinegary brightness is too bracing for you, do as Tim did and stir in a small dollop of sour cream.