30 January 2011

Spaghetti with artichoke sauce and scampi

Trattoria Grappolo is, without a doubt, one of my favorite restaurants around here.  Located in the Santa Ynez Valley just a short drive from Santa Barbara, this Italian restaurant never fails to delight me--from the relaxed dining ambiance to the personal service to the absolutely delicious food.  Everyone I know enjoys their meals there, and my family is no exception.


So when I came across the restaurant's cookbook last December, I thought it would make a great Christmas present for the family.  I presented it to my mom, who since has enthusiastically pored over the gorgeous photos and inspiring recipes.  However, that pretty much sums up the extent of her use of this book.  So, I've decided to take things into my own hands and have some fun working through the recipes myself!  And in the process, I guess my parents are getting their Christmas Present: Part 2!


One of the first dishes that captured my eye was the spaghetti con carciofi and scampi (spaghetti with artichokes and shrimp, currently available on their lunch menu).  The picture of thick strands of spaghetti coated in a creamy artichoke sauce got me drooling, and my mind instantly conjured up some sort of artichoke-carbonara fusion dish.

So here is my personal take on the recipe.  I take help from canned artichoke hearts, but thawed frozen artichoke hearts would be another great alternative.  Of course, if you'd like to put in a little more work, fresh, steamed artichoke hearts (which I had as an appetizer) are absolutely lovely as well.  If you're looking for a richer sauce, add the egg--the hot pasta will cook the egg without scrambling it.  If you prefer a fresher, lighter taste, just skip the egg.  Either way, it is delicious!  Buon appetito tutti!

Spaghetti ai Carciofi con Scampi
Adapted from Trattoria Grappolo: Simple Recipes for Traditional Italian Cuisine
Makes 4 servings

1 (14 oz.) can artichoke hearts in water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs. fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, plus more for garnish
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese
1 egg (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb. thick spaghetti
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup dry white wine
Shavings of Parmigiano cheese, for garnish

Drain artichokes and reserve the liquid.  Add artichokes, garlic, parsley, grated Parmigiano, and egg (if using) to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth, adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the reserved artichoke water to create a smooth sauce.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to package directions until al dente.

While spaghetti is cooking, heat up a large skillet over medium heat.  When pan is hot, coat with olive oil and add the shrimp.  Let shrimp cook until pink on both sides, turning once during cooking.  Deglaze pan with wine and let wine reduce by half.  Remove pan from heat (important step, if you're using egg in the sauce--you don't want to end up with scrambled egg!), then add the cooked spaghetti and pour artichoke sauce over.  Stir to coat each strand.  If sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water to loosen.

Mound spaghetti and scampi into bowls and sprinkle each serving with chopped fresh parsley and curls of shaved Parmigiano cheese.

23 January 2011

Pear and Almond Frangipane Tartelettes

I just love this combination of almond paste and pear.  Rivaling the quintessential bite of dark chocolate, this combination is hands-down a classic way to end a good meal.  So for a recent dinner, I decided to go with the inspiration of of Helen Dujardin, blogger at Tartelette, and make her pear and almond frangipane desserts.  After a test-run of the recipe, I had to make a few changes to tailor it to my tastes, and the result is a luscious tart that I will definitely be making again and again.
A thin and crunchy, buttery crust is filled with a lightly-sweet soft almond paste filling, then topped by thin slices of pear and finished with apricot glaze.  And I have to say, the flavors and textures harmonizing in these elegant tartelettes and are further totally enhanced by a dollop of tangy, brown sugar whipped cream.  (Folding in some light sour cream does the trick!)


What's great about these tartelettes is that they're not overly sweet nor heavily-laden with butter.  They are a delicate finishing complement to almost any meal and make a welcome snack for afternoon tea (or can we also say for an indulgent breakfast too?).  And the whole process can be broken down into easily-managed steps over the preceding week, making this a wonderful recipe for make-ahead entertaining.

Enjoy these lovely tartelettes, my friends!

Pear and Almond Frangipane Tartelettes
Makes about 12 – 4.5-inch tartelettes
Adapted from Helene Dujardin

10 Tbs. (140g) salted butter, at room temperature
5 egg yolks
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
4 Tbs. ice water

½ cup (1 stick, or 115g) salted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
2 cups (200 gr) almonds, blanched and ground
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

3-4 large ripe pears, peeled, halved, cored, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons apricot jam

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tbs. brown sugar
½-1 cup light sour cream

For the crust:
In a food processor, whip the butter together with the egg yolks until light and airy.  Add the flour, sprinkle the salt over, and pulse just until incorporated. With the food processor running, add ice water one tablespoon at a time, continuing to run the processor until dough clumps together.  Divide the dough into two portions and dump each portion onto a large piece of plastic wrap.  Form each portion into a thick disc, then wrap with plastic wrap and flatten into a thinner (1/3-inch) disc.  Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 5 days.  The crust will weigh about 660g in total.

Preheat oven to 350F and position a rack in the center.

Remove dough from refrigerator and divide into 12 portions (about 55g per tartelette).  Roll out each portion between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to fit your tart pans.  (I used 4.5-inch tart rings with removable bottoms, but ramekins, tart rings set on a baking sheet, or even large muffin tins could work.  Baking times may vary, however.)  Fold overhanging dough edges over and press against the sides of the pan to create an even edge.

Line the dough with a piece of aluminum foil, fill with pie weights or dry beans and par bake for 10 minutes at 350 F.  Remove the weights and aluminum foil and let cool completely before adding the frangipane filling.  (Can be made a few days ahead; just be sure to store in an odor-locking container in the refrigerator.)

For the frangipane:
You may use pre-ground almond flour or pure almond paste, but if you’re starting with whole almonds, blanch almonds for 30 seconds in a pot of boiling water until skins loosen, then peel almonds by popping them out of their loosened skins.  Pat almonds dry with towels, then place in a food processor and grind.

Add the sugar, salt, and cardamom and pulse to mix, then add the softened butter, eggs, and vanilla extract and blend until smooth.

Assemble and bake:
Spread ¼ cup frangipane into each tart crust, then fan out a few slices of pears on top.  Bake at 350 F for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown.  Microwave apricot jam with 2 teaspoons water and stir to dissolve.  Brush each warm tartelette with apricot gloss.  Let sit 5 minutes on counter or cooling rack, then remove tartelettes from the pans.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with the lightly tangy whipped sour cream.

For the whipped cream:
Whip 1 cup heavy whipping cream until fluffy, then whip in 2 tablespoons brown sugar.  Depending on how “sour” you like your cream, fold in ½ to 1 cup light sour cream until smooth.  I like to serve these tartelettes unadorned so that the pretty pear fan can be admired, passing the whipped cream alongside at the table.

16 January 2011

A silver secret

This morning as I pulled out some of the family silver in preparation for a little dinner I'm planning, I was greeted by the sight of black-tipped fork tines.

Then I got to the spoons.  Ugh!

Now, tarnished silver can be a major headache to clean, but for me, thanks to my grandmother in Germany, I know that this is really quite an effortless process.

When my Oma showed me how this worked, my world totally changed!  I am so glad I got in on the secret.  Well...a quick internet search showed me that this method isn't so "secret" anymore, but I am surprised by how few people still seem to know about this trick!  And, I figured now would be a good time to share it.

It's pure chemistry, really, in which the tarnished silver, the water, and the aluminum exchange atoms.  (For the science nerds, the reaction is silver sulfide + aluminum + water --> silver + aluminum oxide + hydrogen sulfide.)  When you're watching the reaction (which is aided by the presence of salt), it looks like the silver tarnish gets "transferred" to aluminum foil, and you end up with clean pieces of silver, a tarnished piece of aluminum foil, and the release of some smelly hydrogen sulfide.  Sorry, it will smell a little like rotten eggs, but the sparkling silver is so worth it!

Oma's Silver Cleaner

6 cups water (I use water filtered by reverse-osmosis)
1-2 Tbs. salt
Aluminum foil

Bring water to a boil in a large (non-reactive) saute pan.  Dissolve salt in the water, and line the pan with a piece of aluminum foil.

Using tongs (rubber-tipped to protect your silver from scratches), transfer tarnished silver pieces into the boiling water.  As soon as the tarnish dissolves, transfer silver to a soft cloth to cool, then wash and rinse silver to remove salt residues.  Dry silver with a soft cloth to avoid water spots.

As you work through your silver, be sure to change out the aluminum foil whenever it gets black, so that the chemical reaction can continue efficiently.

Disclaimer: While this has always been a reliable way for me to clean my silver (and yes, what you see here are real before-and-after pictures), I hereby state that I take no responsibility for any damage that might be incurred to your special silver pieces through this process.  Just sayin'!

09 January 2011

A peaceful soup

Warm and gently flavored, savory but simple, this soup says "peace."  Soup of fowl always speaks to me of rest for some reason, and so on this cold winter Sunday after an extremely busy week, I found this soup to be the perfect thing.

I'd been eyeing this Korean soup recipe for a while, since it features the amazing chewy rice cakes (think along the lines of super thick mochi-like noodles) that I love so much.  These rice cakes, known as ddeok (떡), come in many different shapes and can be used in sweet as well as savory dishes.  Here, they are the centerpiece for this soup (guk, or 국), but in any form, they are so fun to chew on!

It's such a simple recipe, especially if you have a leftover bird roast (a recently roasted turkey provided a great stock and the leftover meat bits that I used here).  It's pretty easy without a leftover roast as well: just substitute water for the stock and boil some chopped raw beef brisket (which is traditional) or chicken in it to simultaneously create both your broth and cooked meat.  Even though this was my first time making ddeokguk, I think it took me less than 30 minutes, so be encouraged about giving this a try!  And plus, since ddeokguk is traditionally served to celebrate the New Year (albeit the Korean calendar is lunar-based), this is a great season to make it!

For garnish, top each bowl with some yellow strips of cooked egg yolk and crumbled flakes of kim (sheets of seaweed similar to Japanese nori, but seasoned with sesame oil and deliciously salty!).  If you want to keep it simple, like I did on this restful Sunday, don't worry about side dishes.  But since this soup is so subtly flavored, I do think some spicy, stuffed cucumber kimchi (oisobagi) would be a perfect complement.

Ddeokguk (떡국) Korean Rice Cake Soup
Adapted from Maangchi
Serves 4

6 cups turkey stock
4 cups (~20 oz) sliced Korean rice cake for soup (ddeok, , sliced in oval shape)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. fish sauce (aekjeot, 액젓)
2 cups shredded turkey meat
2 large green onions, sliced thinly on the bias
3 eggs, divided (see below)
2 tsp. roasted sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 sheets crispy-toasted seasoned laver (kim, ), crumbled to small flakes

Soak 4 cups sliced Korean rice cake (ddeokguk ddeok, 떡국떡) in cold water for about 10 minutes.

Place 6 cups of turkey stock in a large pot and add the minced garlic and fish sauce.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil.

While stock comes to boil, prepare the egg yolk garnish and the egg white mixture.  For the egg yolk garnish (gyeran noreunja jidan, 게란 노른자 지단), whisk two egg yolks together.  Heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat, then lightly oil the pan with vegetable oil (wipe excess off with a paper towel).  Pour the whisked egg yolks onto the hot pan, tilting pan to spread the yolk and form a thin pancake.  Turn off heat.  When yolk has nearly set, flip over and finish cooking the other side.  Remove from pan and slice into matchstick-size strips.

Whisk the two leftover egg whites together with the remaining whole egg and set aside.

Drain the ddeok and add to the boiling stock.  Cover and return to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent ddeok from sticking to the bottom, then remove lid (to prevent soup from boiling over) and continue to cook several minutes at a full boil, until ddeok rise to the top and are soft but still chewy.

Stir in the cooked turkey meat and sliced green onions and bring soup back to a boil.  Slowly pour the egg white mixture over the bubbling soup.  Drizzle roasted sesame oil in and taste the broth, adjusting the seasoning with salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

Ladle portions into bowls and garnish each bowl with strips of egg yolk and crumbled kim.

05 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Ah, this year the holidays were a real treat for me--totally low-key and relaxing!  Now, as 2011 starts up, I feel refreshed and energized, and boy is that a good thing, given all the things that I'll have going on.  Good things, mind you, but all adding up to make life very full.

Anyway, I'm thrilled you guys are starting the year off with me!  It's always so much fun getting to share with you what's going on in my kitchen, and I love getting thoughts and ideas from many of you as well.  I'm really looking forward to more of this great exchange and to all the culinary adventures ahead.  Come and visit Apricosa frequently, say hi, leave a comment or a question--I love hearing from you!

To get things started on a fresh note for the new year, how about this salad: a fun medley of flavors and textures, featuring artichoke hearts tossed with lettuce greens, crunchy cabbage, peas, and celery, and it all gets topped off with a sprinkling of savory bacon and chives.  A delightful accompaniment to brunch or alongside dinner, it's just the thing to lighten up after all the holiday feasting!

Green Salad with Artichoke Hearts, Peas, and Bacon
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups chopped green cabbage
1/2 cup finely sliced celery
3/4 cups green peas
12 oz. quartered artichoke hearts
Favorite salad dressing (I use Bernstein's Restaurant Italian)
Salt and pepper to taste
6 large leaves of red and green-leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup chopped chives
2-4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled

Mix together cabbage, celery, peas, and artichoke hearts in a large bowl.  Toss with salad dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add torn lettuce to bowl.  (Do ahead: At this point, the salad can sit up to two hours, covered and refrigerated.)

Toss salad and transfer to serving bowl or platter.  Sprinkle with chopped chives and crumbled bacon, and serve.