Thursday, July 20, 2017

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner... or Overnight or for the Weekend?
What’s cooking? Roasted Carrot Salad with Carrot-Top Pesto and Burrata

Nothing focuses the mind quite like the prospect of guests. You’re having friends over for cocktails or dinner, or maybe you’re having a party. Those people will be wandering around your living room, your kitchen, your porch. They’ll be using your bathroom, maybe accidentally poking their heads into the laundry room. In winter, they’ll be hanging their coats in your closet, or piling them on your bed. The more you invite, the more likely someone will wander off the reservation and notice your husband’s exercise equipment that he keeps handy in the corner of your bedroom, or that picture you’ve been meaning to hang that’s been stashed behind a chair for... oh, months. (I will not discuss the piles of books and papers in my office – I won’t live long enough to get that room straightened, so anyone who goes there gets the real me with no apologies.)

Then there are the overnight guests. For however much time, they have full rein over the entire casa, and God knows what they’ll find when they open closets, take a wrong turn on their way to the porch, or decide to make themselves a cup of coffee.

At least these are the tortured thoughts that jog around my brain when the prospect of guests arises. Not that I don’t love entertaining – I’ll invite friends for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or dinner at the drop of a toque, and I always want friends and family who don’t live near me to come visit. But as the time for those events or visits draws near, I start looking at my environment with fresh eyes – seeing it the way someone who doesn’t live with me might. And I’m almost always horrified at what I find. That towel bar that’s coming loose, the dripping faucet, the rugs that need cleaning, bags of clothing I’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill, ... the list seems endless.

What am I thinking? They’re not trying to buy the place. And most people don’t actually get out the proverbial fine-toothed comb just because you invited them over. I certainly don’t when/if the roles are reversed. But that’s how my mind works.

Inevitably, a few items on my to-do list just don’t get done. Because at some point, what I really want to do is cook for these folks. So the food distracts me and it turns out the guests don’t notice or maybe they do but aren’t telling me. Ah, well...

Our most recent guests were a darling couple from Austin. And the itinerary I put together was as ridiculously crammed as my to-do list. But we had time for a nice lunch on the day they arrived, and I found this truly wonderful salad, a heavenly marriage of roasted carrots and burrata cheese.

Part of what I like best of this dish – other than the excellent mélange of tastes – is that there’s so little wastage. The carrots are small and tender, so you don’t have to scrape them, and most of the feathery tops get used either in the pesto topping or as a green salad accompanying the roasted carrots. If you want to get really compulsive – and I almost always do – save the fronds you don’t use in this dish in a baggie in your freezer for the next time you make vegetable broth.

The other thing I like about this dish is that it affords me a chance to splurge on burrata cheese, that rich and creamy, lightly salty delicacy that first came to us from the Puglia region of Italy. Burrata looks like a small bag, tied at the top. The bag is made from mozzarella, and inside the bag is a soft filling of cream and stracciatella, the shards of cheese left over from making mozzarella. Buy it as fresh as you can find it – most likely from a grocer or cheese shop that gets daily shipments of mozzarella. Central Market in Austin actually makes burrata on site daily.

The recipe is a creation of the very excellent Manhattan Chef April Bloomfield (Spotted Pig, Breslin Bar & Dining Room, and her newest, White Gold Butchers) with JJ Goode, and appears in the book they co-authored, A Girl and Her Greens. And please do not be put off by the length of this recipe. It takes a bit of time because of the separate steps, but there’s nothing hard or complicated about it. Trust the Kitchen Goddess!

Roasted Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto and Burrata

Adapted from April Bloomfield and JJ Goode.

Yield: Serves 4-6 as an hors d’oeuvre or side dish

For the carrots:
1 bunch (about 20) of small carrots (large-finger size), scrubbed well but not peeled, and all but 1-2 inches of the tops removed and reserved
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Carrot-Top Pesto:
4 cups (lightly packed) of tender carrot tops (thick stems discarded)
15-20 fresh basil leaves
½ cup walnut pieces
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
1 medium garlic clove, halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the presentation:
1 large (about 8 ounces) burrata, drained and brought to room temperature
3-4 tablespoons Carrot Top Pesto
1½ cups (lightly packed) carrot tops (the most delicate, feathery ones you can find)
10-12 medium-sized basil leaves (if what you have are large leaves, tear them in half right before mixing with carrot tops)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Maldon or another flaky sea salt


For the carrots:
Preheat the oven to 500º.

In a heavy, oven-proof skillet large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer (or at least close to a single layer), heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over high heat until it shimmers. Add the carrots, sprinkle on 1 teaspoon of salt, and use tongs to turn the carrots so that they get well coated with the oil.

Sear the carrots for 7-8 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they're browned in spots. The carrots will get softer and more maleable as they cook, so you should be able to reposition them into a single layer.

Move the skillet to the oven and roast the carrots until tender, 10-11 minutes, pausing halfway through the cooking time to turn them.

Let the carrots cool while you make the pesto.( Or you can make the pesto the night before; if so, bring it to room temperature before serving.)

For the Carrot-Top Pesto:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the carrot tops, basil, walnuts, Parmesan, garlic, and salt. Pulse several times – enough for the mixture  to reach a rough, mealy texture. Then with the machine running non-stop, slowly pour in the oil. Continue to process, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides, until the mixture is well combined. You can make the purée smooth or rough – whichever suits your taste.

If you make the pesto the day before serving, be sure to cover it well and refrigerate it overnight.

For the presentation:

Place the buratta in the center of a large serving plate. Arrange the carrots around the cheese in a haphazard pattern.

Spoon dollops of the pesto here and there on top of the carrots. The Kitchen Goddess likes to serve the remaining pesto in a bowl so that guests can serve themselves more on the carrots or on crostini.

In a small bowl, combine the carrot top sprigs with the basil leaves. In a separate small bowl or a jar, whisk together the olive oil and the lemon juice with a pinch of salt until the dressing looks creamy. (The Kitchen Goddess prefers to use a jar, so she can just put the lid on and shake it until it looks creamy.) Toss the carrot top sprigs and basil with a couple of teaspoons of the dressing, and arrange the “salad” on top of the carrots.

Take a sharp knife and gently cut the burrata into quarters. (This will feel a little like cutting open a water balloon, but fear not.) Drizzle the rest of the dressing over all, and serve.

It will make you want to have guests every day!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Clamming It Up
What’s cooking? Linguine with Herb Broth and Clams

The Kitchen Goddess is back in heaven – that is to say, I’m once again hitting my favorite farmers’ market on a regular basis. The fridge is filling up with lettuce – washed and layered with paper towels – and the hubby is filling up with fresh berries on his cereal. I wander the stalls like Goldilocks shopping for chairs, trying to decide which of the vendors has the fattest blueberries or the best looking zucchini, and noting the appearance of new items like the fava beans I’ve never cooked before. [Check back next week for a report on those.]

In the fall and winter, my menus are largely centered on chicken or pork or beef as a protein source. Once spring arrives, and the season for Gulf shrimp shifts into high gear, I start cooking more seafood, but I don’t really focus on it until summer, when I can get such fresh fish and shellfish at the market that I truly feel like binging.

So when one of my sons called to say that he’d be stopping by for dinner, I had a moment of panic until I realized I had a big bag of clams in the fridge. It’s easy to keep clams for several days, as long as they’re really fresh when you buy them. Just put them in a bowl in the fridge and cover it with a damp cloth. The main thing – aside from keeping them cold – is to keep them from drying out. But no plastic bags, please, or they’ll suffocate.

One of the things I love most about this recipe is that the pasta cooks in the broth from the clams. No separate giant pot of salted water – just move the cooked clams to a bowl and cover them with foil to keep the heat in. So that wonderful mix of flavors from the wine and the butter and the tomatoes and the clams and the herbs gets thoroughly cooked right into the noodles.

And while I’m talking about the wine, let me just say this: Do not obsess about which wine to use. Any decent white will do. The KG used the remains of 3 different bottles: a South African Chenin Blanc, a French Sauvignon Blanc, and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This probably means the KG and her hubby are not finishing enough wine, but the mix had no deleterious effect on the dish. What did come through – in spite of the onion, the garlic, the tomato, and the herbs – were the overall nuances of the wines. Lightly grassy and zesty fruit. And while they weren’t a strong factor, the flavors did make their way into the pasta, and the nose knew.

Kitchen Goddess do-ahead note: If you are one of those people who can plan 24 hours ahead of time, you can make the broth the day before serving, and refrigerate it, covered, until time to cook the clams. When you’re ready for the clams, bring the broth back to a boil before adding them. The raw clams should be added to broth that is actually boiling.

Linguine with Herb Broth and Clams

Adapted from Sara Foster in Bon Appétit, June 2008

Serves 4.

5-6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced (about 1½ cups)
2 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped in ½-inch dice, or about 1½ cups canned diced tomatoes
3 cups dry white wine (see note above)
1 cup (or more) water
3 pounds Manila clams or small littleneck clams, scrubbed
⅓ cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano (If you don’t have oregano, add more parsley and basil)
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
8 ounces linguine pasta

Mince the garlic and set aside. Put the clams to soak in a bowl of fresh water to cover, for about 20 minutes.

Kitchen Goddess note: Remember just over a month ago, when I told you about the garlic secret I had learned? Hmmm. Fine. Here it is again: Garlic’s considerable health benefits are only released when it is sliced or mashed, and it takes about 10 minutes for the relevant enzyme to develop. So, keeping that in mind, for at least the time being, and until we get used to chopping the garlic in advance, the KG will be listing garlic at the very beginning of the recipe, even though, logically, it should go farther down. I’ll get back to standard garlic listing soon, I promise. 

In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the onions and stir occasionally for 4-5 minutes, until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and stir constantly for another minute, so as not to burn the garlic. Add the tomatoes and stir often for 2 minutes, or until they begin to get soft.

Stir in the white wine plus a cup of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep the mixture at a simmer, then cover the pot and simmer 20 minutes. [This is where you stop if you’re making the broth ahead. Let it cool, then refrigerate it in a well-sealed container. On the day of the meal, when it’s time to cook the clams, first bring the broth to a boil.]

While the broth simmers, scrub the clams to remove any sand or grit on the shells. Discard any clams with broken shells.

Bring the broth to a boil, and add the clams. Cover the pot, and cook until clams open, 4-5 minutes (discard any clams that do not open). With a slotted spoon, transfer the clams to a large bowl, and cover it with foil to keep the clams warm.

Add the herbs – basil, parsley, oregano (if using), and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper) to the broth  and bring it to a boil. Add 2-3 tablespoons of water if the broth seems thick. Add the linguine and cover again. Boil the pasta until it’s very al dente – i.e., almost tender but still firm to bite – while stirring the mixture often.

Once the pasta is almost ready, add back the cooked clams, along with any broth that has accumulated in the bowl. Cover the pot again, and bring the clams/pasta mixture to a simmer. Continue to cook 3-4 minutes, until the clams are heated through and the pasta is al dente.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the clams and pasta with broth immediately, in large shallow bowls. I like to add garlic bread and a green salad.