Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Make-a-Meal-Out-of-It Spaghetti

I don't know about you, but I really like spaghetti. For instance, I used to ask for it on my birthday. And when we did "spotlight books" in Primary, they glued dried strands of spaghetti in mine on the "favorite foods" page. In fact, I like spaghetti so much that I secretly ate all the dried pieces of spaghetti after carefully peeling them off the glue.

Now, you don't have to be a spaghetti fiend like I am to like this recipe, but my gripe with spaghetti is that it seems to be a last-minute "I'm really tired and it's late...let's just have spaghetti" kind of dish. So you get out your canned sauce (which if you're cheap like I am probably isn't anything too special, and it's full of preservatives, which I personally have no problem with but I'll complain about to strengthen my case, even though I like my food to last until I want to eat it) and you dump some spaghetti in some water and in ten minutes you have dinner. It sort of fills you up, but hey, at least you ate something.

Those noodles deserve something more. They deserve a real sauce that requires a bit of chewing. And they also deserve a bit more healthiness themselves, so give whole wheat spaghetti a try. I think you'll be surprised at how yummy it is.
This isn't a dish that I typically buy special ingredients for--I just use what I have on hand. Of course, it also depends what you typically have kicking around. I'm fortunate enough to have most of what I need growing in my garden, so you may need to add a few items to your shopping list.
Here's the lineup:

Whole wheat spaghetti noodles, mushrooms, green pepper, carrots, celery, onions, garlic (I buy the pre-minced kind), fresh roma tomatoes (you could probably use canned diced tomatoes without losing much flavor), sun-dried tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce or tomato paste (depending on how thick you like your sauce) extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper, red pepper flakes, parsley, oregano, and rosemary. I'm not giving measurements because this is really a to-taste thing and also depends on ingredient quantities and the number of people you're cooking for. Sorry, you'll just have to eyeball it!
Start off with everything chopped--it'll take a bit, but this cooks pretty quickly once you get going.
Before you begin chopping, you'll need to reconstitute your sun-dried tomatoes if they're fully dried (if they're oil-packed, you can just go ahead and chop them up).
Put your tomatoes in a small bowl, just barely cover them with very hot water, put a lid on the bowl, and let them sit for about twenty minutes. Save the water afterwards to add to your sauce later.

When you're about five minutes from the end of your chopping, start a pot of salted water boiling (the salt will help it to boil faster). As soon as it reaches its boiling pot, drop in your spaghetti (make sure you stir it so the noodles don't stick together. Adding a few drops of olive oil will also prevent sticking). Set a timer on your pasta.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat and add some olive oil. As soon as the skillet's hot enough that the olive oil glides easily over the pan when you pick it up and turn it, throw in your garlic and a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes. Neil likes lots of garlic, so I put in four or five teaspoons.
Let that cook for about thirty seconds, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, then add about a teaspoon each of rosemary and oregano (and parsley if you want it). Give it another fifteen seconds, then throw in your salt and pepper.

After another fifteen seconds, add your onions. Cook them for about three minutes until they're starting to turn a bit translucent, then add the mushrooms and cook for two minutes, then add the peppers and cook those for a couple of minutes. Typically you'd cook all of these for much longer to reach a fullness of flavor, but I'm kind of still in the spaghetti-hurry mode, so it's your call.

Add the carrots and celery and let the whole pile cook for another minute or two, then add in your sun-dried tomato soaking liquid. If you didn't do sun-dried tomatoes, just move ahead. In any case, let everything boil for a bit to get some of the water out with the flavor left behind, then add in the chopped tomatoes and chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Give it a minute or two, then add in your tomato sauce or paste, plus water to get it to your desired sauce consistency.

And voila! You have a nice hearty sauce. Now drain your pasta and mix the two up together and eat your dinner, feeling virtuous about your whole-wheat pasta and all those yummy veggies you're consuming.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pesto-mozzarella-tomato grilled deliciousness

There's this really cool little restaurant a couple of miles from our house called Baja Peninsula. It's sort of a California cuisine-type place (at least, that's what they say. I didn't know California had its own cuisine, but whatever it is, it's good).

A couple months back, my parents took us to lunch there and my dad ordered a sandwich that was the genesis of this one.

A disclaimer before I begin: I'm no Pioneer Woman, who has the most mouth-wateringly delectable food blog ever, but there are some pretty good eats 'round here, and I really love cooking, so the idea of a food blog is fun. Maybe I'll even graduate to step by step pictures, but for now, since this is a posting-after-making-due-to-requests, I have only a picture of the end product.

So here's what you need:

  • Homemade pesto (scroll down for the recipe)
  • Hearty bread that will stand up to being grilled--I like to use sourdough or rye. Panera makes a fabulous sourdough, Wal-mart's California Sourdough isn't too bad, or I've listed a downright tasty rye recipe...keep scrolling.
  • Mozzarella cheese (fresh is best, but the other stuff is still delicious. I've even used string cheese in a pinch)
  • Fresh tomatoes, preferably beefsteak, and preferably straight from the garden
  • Butter, or your hydrogenated oil spread of choice
  • Skillet or griddle

Step 1:

Turn your cooking implement of choice to whatever temperature your stove does best for grilled cheese. We have a countertop electric griddle that is just lovely for this; it's an excellent purchase if you've got some money to throw around in the kitchen.

Step 2:

While that's heating up, butter one side of each piece of bread, slice a nice little pile of cheese, and slice up your tomato. Shoot for slices that are about a quarter-inch thick, and don't skimp on the butter. You don't want anything to burn.

Step 3:

Turn each pair of slices butter-side-in, so they're oozing butter on each other rather than on your clean counter or plate or whatever. Spread pesto on the top non-buttered side of each pair of slices.

Step 4:

When your surface is nicely heated, place one of the slides on it buttered-side-down and quickly assemble the rest of the sandwich. Neil prefers to have the pesto next to the tomatoes, I don't really care one way or the other. In any case, you should have one layer of cheese and a layer of tomato.

Step 5:

Grill to whatever doneness you prefer (just please let the cheese melt!), slice in half for easy consumption, and let this baby slide down your throat (which it will, due to your refusal to skimp on butter, right?). Sooo good.

Rye bread

4 to 4 1/2 c. flour
1 pkg active dry yeast
2 c. warm water (120 to 130 F)
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
2 T cooking oil
1 1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. rye flour
1 T. caraway seeds

Mix 3 c. flour and the yeast; add warm water, brown sugar, oil, and salt. Beat with an electric mixer on a low speed for about 30 seconds until roughly blended, then beat on high for 3 min. Stir in caraway, rye, and as much flour as the dough will take.

Sprinkle flour on a flat surface, then turn out the dough and knead for 6-8 minutes. This is where you'll want to smoosh in the rest of your flour that you didn't use previously. When you've finished, leave the floury mess out on your surface; you'll use it again later.

Plop your dough into a lightly greased bowl (I use shortening on a paper towel) and then flip it over so the greased side is up. Cover and let it rise until it's doubled (about an hour).

Punch the dough down, divide it in half, and turn it out onto aforesaid floury mess surface. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes. While it's "resting," lightly grease a baking sheet and sprinkle it liberally with cornmeal.

Shape each half of dough into a ball and place on the cookie sheet. Cover again and let rise AGAIN until doubled (30-45 min).

Brush the top of each loaf with milk. Bake at 375 for about 30-35 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.

Homemade Pesto

1/4 c. olive oil (or cooking oil)
1/2 c. chopped nuts (walnut, almonds, or pine nuts)
2 c. firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 c. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
1/4 t. salt
black pepper

If using a food processor, combine oil, nuts, basil, cheese, garlic, pepper and salt, processing until nearly smooth. If you're using a blender, it will be easiest to first chop the basil and nuts before adding them to the mixture.

See? It's that easy.

I like to make a huge batch and freeze individual portions. Pesto's optimal life in the freezer is 3 months.