Sunday, August 25, 2013

Instead of Kraft, Get Crafty: Skillet Baked Mac with Spinach and Turkey Bacon

You know, I stepped into my kitchen last night just intending to make a sandwich. We indulged in gourmet hot dogs for lunch (duck sausage, yessir) and I wasn't exactly starving.

But a craving that had been bubbling in the back of my head for quite a while now finally boiled over. I needed macaroni and cheese.

I'm fairly proud of the fact that I composed this solely of items I already had on hand. We were running low on milk and I didn't want to complete deplete the supply before morning, so I supplemented the meager milk dose with a 1/4 cup of Greek yogurt, which gave the bechamel sauce a thick, creamy texture.

Once I had my mise en place, the cooking process extended at a lovely, leisurely place. The light over my stove. My cast-iron ably sizzling. Bam, turkey bacon! Bam, onions! Whisky-whisky, lil' bechamel sauce. I love this way too much.

Enough chatter. Here lie pictures.


Skillet Baked Mac with Spinach and Turkey Bacon
Serves 4.

8 oz. hollow pasta
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, roughly chopped or torn
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 slices turkey bacon, sliced thinly crosswise
1/4 cup of thinly sliced red onion
2 green onions, thinly sliced (reserve some for garnish)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 oz. spinach
1 tablespoon dried dillweed
Smoked paprika

1. Cook pasta, taking a minute or two off of package directions. Drain and run under cold water. Set aside.
2. Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add flour, whisking till smooth. Slowly drizzle in milk, still whisking constantly. Add Greek yogurt and continue to whisk. Once roux is smooth--with milk and yogurt fully incorporated--whisk in Parmesan and 3 oz. mozzarella. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Take off heat and set aside.
3. Place your trusty cast-iron (if you do not have a cast-iron skillet, you can substitute with...oh come on! you need cast-iron! But I guess a normal skillet will do for now...for now) over medium-high heat. Add bacon slices, pressing down as they cook to render fat. Once bacon is crisped (and smelling heavenly), remove from skillet and set aside.
4. Preheat oven to 350. Add red and green onions and garlic to skillet, shaking the pan as they cook so they don't stick. Drizzle in a little olive oil, then add spinach and dill. Cook until spinach is wilted down, adding more as you go.
5. Once all spinach is wilted, stir in sauce and cooked pasta. Top with remaining 1 oz. of mozzarella, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake in oven for 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Let cool for ten minutes, then sprinkle with smoked paprika and green onions and serve.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Polenta Torta with Grilled Zucchini and Corn

I've been reading Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, and I'm just enamored of her take on cooking. The use of fresh, quality ingredients. The careful handling and technique. The love of aromas, flavors, and even aesthetics. It's joyful and I love it.

I took Waters' recipe for the polenta torta, a layered dish of polenta, tomato sauce, and cheese, and added grilled summer vegetables and a salsa verde.

Salsa verde is so simple: chopped parsley, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper--allowed to sit and meld for a few hours to really strengthen the overall flavor. You can also add capers, anchovies, vinegar, etc., but I kept it simple (with the lemon zest providing the acidity that the vinegar would have.)

Then I made a flash-sauteed fresh cherry tomato sauce with basil and a kick of jalapeno.

The tart, garlicky taste of the salsa verde balanced well with the mellow basil and low heat of the cherry tomato sauce.

Then I just had to make the polenta and grill the vegetables.

Then I shucked the corn and stirred the vegetables into the polenta. After that, it was a simple matter of layering the polenta, sauces, and cheeses. I let the polenta set for at least thirty minutes (preferably longer, as mine wasn't quite as firm as I wanted when removed from the oven), then baked it for 30 minutes at 350, until it was hot and bubbling.

So there you have a summer dish packed with flavors and fresh vegetables! I served it alongside snapper en papillote and a salad of fresh red and green leaf lettuce with a red wine vinaigrette.

Polenta Torta with Grilled Zucchini and Corn
Serves 4 - 6.

Salsa Verde
Flash-Sauteed Fresh Cherry Tomato Sauce
4 cups water
1 cup yellow corn meal
2 ears corn
1 large zucchini, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup grated parmesan (or parmigiano-reggiano)
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced

Salsa Verde
1/3 cup parsley, coarsely chopped
Zest from one lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Flash-Sauteed Fresh Cherry Tomato Sauce
2 1/2 cups cherry tomatos, halved
2 tablespoons jalapenos, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz. basil chiffonade
1 tablespoons garlic powder

1. Combine salsa verde ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.
2. For tomato sauce, heat up 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Add jalapeno and sautee, shaking the pan so the jalapeno doesn't stick, for 2 - 3 minutes, until tender and fragrant. Add tomatoes and garlic powder and continue to cook for 5 - 6 minutes until tomatoes burst and release juices. Take off heat and stir in basil chiffonade.
3. In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to boil. Stir in 1 cup yellow cornmeal and lower to a simmer. Continue to stir for 2 - 3 minutes until cornmeal remains suspended. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately one hour. Polenta will be done after 20 - 30 minutes, but the additional time allows the flavor to strengthen.
4. In a grill pan, cook corn and zucchini slices until browned and tender. Stir grilled vegetables into polenta.
5. Grease a large earthenware baking dish. First add a third of the polenta and vegetable mixture.
6. Combine salsa verde and cherry tomato sauce and spread half over the polenta. Top with half the cheese. Add another third of the polenta mixture. Repeat layers of sauce and cheese. Finish off with the last of the polenta.
7. Let the polenta set for another 30 minutes--preferably in the fridge. Preheat oven to 350.
8. Cook polenta for 30 - 40 minutes, until hot and bubbling.