Showing posts with label Main Dish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Main Dish. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

"All good things come to those who wait." Labor Day may have come and gone, but there are still at least three weeks of summer left! As this season comes to an end, hot, humid days and nights are replaced the much anticipated cooler, crisp ones. The return of perfect running and sleeping weather here in the midwest makes me giddy. Almost as giddy as what the addition of an Argentinian parsley-based sauce did to the marinated, grilled flank steaks I served this past weekend. I was completely taken aback by the deliciousness of the chimichurri sauce. Where had it been all my life? This intensely flavored fresh sauce was definitely a game changer. Seriously. From this point forward, no grilled steak, particularly this marinated flank steak, shall ever be served without it. 

While food historians agree chimichurri sauce was the likely creation of cowboys looking to add flavor to fire-roasted meats, there is only speculation regarding the origin of this sauce's name. Some claim it morphed from name 'Jimmy's curry sauce' with credit being given to Jimmy McCurry, an Irish meat merchant and freedom fighter, alleged to have fought for Argentine Independence in the early 1800s. Others say Basque settlers arriving in Argentina in the 19th century named it 'tximitxurri' which loosely translated means 'a mixture of several things in no particular order'. 

The chimichurri sauce(s) served today more than likely variations of the one(s) served centuries ago due to Spanish, Italian, French and English culinary influences. Almost all chimichurri sauces have (flat leaf) parsley, garlic and olive oil as its' core ingredients. Oregano, either in fresh or dried form, is the most common herb added to the sauce. Red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt, and lime juice are the other ingredients most frequently used to create this tangy, bursting with flavor herb-based condiment. The version I made, coming from the cookbook 'Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook" was made with flat leaf parsley, basil, garlic cloves, capers, kosher salt, and olive oil. The only change I made to the recipe was using a food processor instead of chopping the fresh herbs. 

As enamored as everyone was with surprise addition of the Chimichurri Sauce to the Grilled Flank Steak, the marinated flank steak received more than its' fair share of accolades. Allowing the flank steak to marinate overnight definitely helped to ensure the marinade imparted the most flavor. The recipe for the marinade came from the decades old Bon Appetit recipe I had managed to hang on to over the years. And honestly, it may be the best flank steak marinade recipe ever created. Soy sauce, olive oil, honey, garlic cloves, fresh rosemary, black pepper, and kosher salt work together harmoniously to create one of the most flavorful flank steaks you will ever grill and serve. Scout's honor. Two equally critical factors to this recipe are the grilling time and resting time. Four to five minutes per side on a hot grill is all it takes to achieve medium-rare flank steak perfection. For thicker cuts of flank steak use the five minute guideline. Allow the grilled flank steak to rest at least 5 (but up to 10) minutes before cutting across grain in 1/4 inch slices to ensure optimal juiciness. 

Forget grilling any other kind of steak at your next gathering. I promise if you make and serve this Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce, none of your friends and family will be asking or wondering or asking why you didn't serve your usual 'grilled' meat. Rather they will be asking why you were holding out on them. Just consider telling your newly enlightened and euphoric guests 'Good things come to those who wait.' 

Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce (Slight adaptations to the Flank Steak recipe from Bon Appetit, September 1995 and to the Chimichurri Sauce from Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook by Elizabeth Prueitt)
Serves 4 to 6

Flank Steak*
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
4 1/2 Tablespoons honey
6 large garlic cloves, minced
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 Tablespoon dried rosemary)
1 1/2 Tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 to 2 1/4 pound piece of flank steak

*I doubled all of the ingredients.

Chimichurri Sauce 
1/2 cup (10g) flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 Tablespoons chopped tender fresh herbs (e.g., basil, oregano, chervil, or cilantro)
1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil, plus more if needed
2 garlic cloves
1 Tablespoon salt-packed capers, rinsed
Pinch of sea salt

Flank Steak
1. In a gallon sized zip lock bag, mix together the soy sauce, olive oil, honey, garlic cloves, rosemary, pepper and salt.
2. Add the flank steak. Seal the ziplock bag tightly and allow the mixture to evenly coat both sides of the flank steak.
3. Place in the refrigerator and chill at least 6 hours or overnight, turning occasionally. Highly recommend marinating overnight.
4. Prepare grill bringing the heat to a medium-high temperature. 
5. Remove meat from the marinade. Grill steak 4 to 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the flank steak, for a medium-rare finish or until desired level of doneness.
6. Transfer steak to a cutting board. Allow to rest at least 5 -10 minutes before slicing. Cut flank steak across the grain into 1/4 inch strips. Arrange on platter. Drizzle with the Chimichurri Sauce.

Chimichurri Sauce 
1. Place parsley, fresh herb of choice (I used basil), garlic and capers in a small food processor. Pulse until mixture is finely chopped.
2. Transfer mixture to a small bowl. Pour in olive oil and pinch of sea salt. Stir to combine.
3. Serve immediately or store, tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. If stored in the refrigerator, remove at least 30 minutes before serving.
4. Drizzle Chimichurri Sauce over grilled flank steak. Serve extra sauce on the side.

Rocky Mountain National Park, September 2016

Monday, August 21, 2017

Stovetop Mac and Cheese w/ Caramelized Shallots

Like most everyone else, I too got a little caught up in the whole 'first total solar eclipse in 99 years' frenzy. Considering how much attention THIS eclipse has been getting in the media, it was sort of hard not to want to experience firsthand one of those 'do you remember where you were on the day of' historic moments. Not even the slightly cloudy skies could dampen my eclipse excitement. In a national tallgrass prairie, looking up at the sun wearing my special glasses, I was standing in the path of totality.  Feeling connected to the sun, moon, stars, and the millions of others across the country equally obsessed with the eclipse was magical.

If the recipe for this Stovetop Mac and Cheese w/ Caramelized Shallots got as much attention as the eclipse, everyone would be making it. Yet unlike the total solar eclipse, this version of comfort food would be making regular, repeat appearances on dinner tables across the country.

Admittedly I am always skeptical when I come across a three ingredient recipe. Especially for a dish I happen to love and have labored over making. However, Melissa Clark's version of a stovetop mac and cheese made me believe in three ingredient possibility. I could easily see myself making it at least once weekly using the excuse one should always eat carbohydrates the day before a long run. But you don't need to be a runner to make this mac and cheese with the kind of frequency I anticipate will be happening around here. Loving and craving comfort food is reason enough.

I added caramelized shallots to it, so technically it's five ingredients. Although with or without the shallots, this may be the creamiest, most delicious, most addictive stovetop mac and cheese I have ever tasted. Topping the Mac and Cheese with caramelized shallots or onions adds a depth of flavor not found in the microwave or boxed stovetop versions of this classic comfort food. Thinly sliced shallots, sautéed in butter over low-medium heat until golden and crispy, takes only 15-20 minutes. 

Elbow macaroni may be considered the more traditional 'noodle' choice, but any small tubular or shell shaped pasta will work. One of the keys to this version of Mac and Cheese is cooking the pasta al dente. It will have additional cooking time when it is added to the sauce.

Speaking of sauce, be sure to reserve at least a quarter cup of the pasta water. More on why this is important this later.

Whether you choose a white or yellow cheddar or a mild, sharp or extra-sharp cheddar, choose a really good cheese to use. A good cheese, like a good bottle of wine, will make or break your dinner. 

All you need is five ounces of a coarsely grated cheddar. I could tell you this equates to 1 1/2 cups of grated cheese. However, depending on how you measure it out, you may end up with significantly less or significantly less than five ounces. So I will temporarily jump on the 'everyone should own a kitchen scale' bandwagon for a brief moment. Don't think of a kitchen scale as a luxury, think of it as a necessity. Okay, my time limit on the bandwagon is up.

You can and should use the same pot for the entire dish (excluding the caramelized shallots of course). After draining the macaroni (remember to remove at least a 1/4 cup of the water first), the heavy whipping cream is poured into the already hot pan. In less than two minutes, the cream will come to a boil, thicken and slightly reduce. Add the grated cheese and continue stirring until all of the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Return the drained al dente macaroni to the pan, seaons with some salt, and continue cooking for a minute or two. Long enough for the macaroni become coated in the deliciously rich cheese sauce. If by chance your sauce doesn't have the creamy texture you had hoped for, add in some of the reserved pasta water. One tablespoon at a time until it reaches the consistency you desire. Note: I added about two tablespoons of the reserved pasta water.

Transfer the mixture to a serving dish and top with the caramelized shallots and some freshly cracked pepper. 

Honestly, this Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Caramelized Shallots is a bazillion times better than the boxed versions we may have all grown up with. Seriously, it's really, really, really delicious. Real cheese and real whipping cream create a cheese sauce for the mac and cheese to rival anything found in instant or frozen versions of mac and cheese. And it's definitely easier than the roux based, baked versions many of us have made. 

At the moment, I wonder if I will ever go back to making a baked version of mac and cheese. Okay, I probably will, but for the moment I am deeply, madly over the moon in love with this incredibly flavorful, satisfying stovetop version. It is everything and more comfort food should be. For those of you with a secret affinity or strong allegiance to the boxed or frozen versions of mac and cheese, make this Stovetop Mac and Cheese with (or without) Caramelized Shallots. I am willing to bet after one bite you will be converted to this real, homemade version of comfort food. And who knows, you might have everyone in your family asking if macaroni, cheddar cheese and whipping cream is on your grocery list every time you go shopping.

Stovetop Mac and Cheese w/ Caramelized Shallots (inspired by Melissa Clark's Stovetop Mac and Cheese recipe as shared in her cookbook 'Dinner: Changing the Game')
Serves 2-3 as a main course, 4-5 as a side

2-3 large shallots, thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces elbow macaroni or tubular pasta
5 ounces cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (I love the flavor of Cabot's Extra Sharp Cheddar)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt/Pepper to taste

1. In small saucepan, melt butter. Add sliced shallots and cook over low low/medium heat until caramelized (approximately 15-20 minutes). Note: Stir frequently to prevent sticking or burning.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the macaroni/pasta and cook until al dente (about 1 minute less than package directions. Before draining, reserve about 1/4 cup of the the pasta water. Set drained macaroni/pasta aside.
3. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add cream and cook until thick, bubbling and reduced by half (approximately 2 minutes). 
4. Stir in grated cheese, whisking until completely melted.
5. Add pasta and cook until well combined. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water to enhance the creaminess. Season with salt.
6. Transfer to a serving dish. Top with caramelized shallots. Finish with some freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately

Notes: (1) If using cheddar cheese, consider using a good quality sharp or extra-sharp cheddar. (2) Instead of caramelized shallots, could top the Stovetop Mac and Cheese with caramelized onions. (3) If there are any leftovers, this reheats well in the microwave.

Prairie flowers in bloom on the day of the historic solar eclipse (August 21, 2017)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Peach, Tomato and Burrata Caprese Salad with Basil Drizzle

One of my friends recently asked if I thought burrata was the new kale as it seems to be showing up everywhere these days. Being one who has yet to jump on the kale bandwagon (am very late to this party), I said maybe it's the new goat cheese as burrata also changes the deliciousness factor of just about everything it's paired with. And in a salad composed of sweet, ripe tomatoes and peaches, toasted pine nuts, a basil drizzle and a light sprinkling of sea salt, the burrata takes center stage. Becoming one of the game changers in this salad. If there was ever a salad to make you wish summer could go on endlessly, this Peach, Tomato and Burrata Caprese Salad with Basil Drizzle might be the one.

Unlike the classic caprese salad, this one uses peaches in addition to the tomatoes; a basil drizzle instead of balsamic vinegar; and, burrata instead of mozzarella. The combination of these ingredients takes the caprese salad to a completely new level.

Judging this strikingly beautiful salad on looks alone, it would score a 10. If competing in a taste test, it would be deemed blue ribbon worthy.  In both taste and presentation, this salad is a hands down win-win. Served as either a stand alone entrée or as an accompaniment to some grilled chicken, it is an incredibly sumptuous, satisfying dish.

With both tomatoes and peaches in season, now is the perfect time to make the Peach, Tomato and Burrata Caprese Salad with Basil Drizzle. 

I used yellow peaches, but you could also use white peaches for this salad. Because you are cutting the peaches in wedges, choose semi-firm ripe, still juicy ones. Peaches on the too ripe side will not work in this salad.

To cut the peaches, begin by making a cut along the seam all the way around and through the fruit to the stone. Twist each half of the peach in the opposite direction. Pull the halves apart and remove the peach. If using medium sized peaches, cut each half into 3 or 4 wedges.

The original recipe called for the use of cherry tomatoes. In this version, I used a combination of both cherry tomatoes and tiger tomatoes. I chose ones slightly larger than a cherry tomato, but smaller than the normal garden variety tomatoes. The cherry tomatoes were cut in half, while the tiger tomatoes were cut into either halves or quarters. For added color to this salad, choose a combination of yellow and red tomatoes.

Just as the flavor of most nuts is enhanced when roasted, the flavor of pine nuts undergoes a similar transformation when toasted over medium heat on the stove top. If the heat is too high, or pan to thin, or they are left unattended, you will risk burning them. It takes only 3 to 5 minutes for the pine nuts to become lightly golden. Not only did the toasted pine nuts add another layer of flavor to this salad, they brought some crunch. Pine nuts are a little on the pricey side, however, I urge you not to consider omitting them.

Most balls of burrata come in either a 6 ounce or 8 ounce size. I used the BelGiosioso's 8 ounce burrata. If there was such a thing as a 10 ounce size ball of burrata, I would have bought one. Because one can never have enough burrata.

The basil drizzle is more like a dressing, less like a pesto. If there was one thing I would do differently the next time I make this salad, it would be to double the amount of basil drizzle. Still dressing the salad with half of it, but serving the other half on the side for those who want more.

This is one of those salad best enjoyed as soon as it is assembled.  Because it's such an easy and relatively quick salad to assemble, you won't mind at all it isn't one of those make ahead salads.

After assembling the salad on a platter, finish it with a very light drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of salt. Definitely serve it with some bread as it would be a terrible waste to let the juices of the salad remain on the platter. 

On your next trip to the Farmer's Market or if lucky enough to pass by a farm stand, buy some ripe tomatoes and peaches. But don't wait to long to make this Peach, Tomato and Burrata Caprese Salad with Basil Drizzle as there may only be a month left of the tomato and peach season. Seriously, don't wait. Because I promise you will want to make this salad more than once. 

Peach, Tomato and Burrata Caprese Salad with Basil Drizzle (inspired by the recipe for Burrata Cheese with Peaches, Tomato and Basil recipe in Melissa Clark's cookbook 'Dinner: Changing the Game')
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side or first course.

8 ounce ball of Burrata cheese
1 pound ripe tomatoes (e.g., cherry tomatoes, baby heirloom tomatoes, Tiger tomatoes), cut in half or quartered depending on size
3-4 medium sized yellow or white peaches, cut into wedges
3 Tablespoons pine nuts
1/3 cup tightly packed basil leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Sea salt, plus additional for finishing
Optional: Basil leaves for garnish

1. In small pan, toast the pine nuts, stirring frequently, over medium heat until they are golden (approximately 3-5 minutes). Immediately pour toasted pine nuts in a small bowl and set aside.
2. In a small food processor or blender, combine the basil, lemon juice, sea salt and olive oil. Puree until it reaches a semi-chunky consistency. Note: Be careful to not over process as you want pieces of the basil to remain.
3. On a large platter, place the whole burrata in the center. Arrange the peaches and tomatoes around it. 
4. Spoon the dressing over the cheese and fruit. Lightly drizzle with additional olive oil. Top with the toasted pine nuts and a very light sprinkling of sea salt.

Notes: (1) If using a round platter, one 12"-14" works perfectly. (2) Consider doubling the amount of the basil drizzle, spooning half over the cheese, tomatoes and fruit and serving the remaining half on the side. (3) If using cherry tomatoes, choose red and orange ones to add even more color to the salad. (4) If not using cherry tomatoes, choose smaller sized tomatoes. (5) This is best served immediately after assembled. In the event you refrigerate any leftovers, allow the tomatoes and peaches to come to room temperature.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dutch Baby with Creme Fraiche and Mixed Berries

When I started this blog almost five years ago I was using my camera phone to take photos. At the time I thought their quality and composition were good. Not great, but good. Over time I came to realize good wasn't really 'good enough', for the blog or me. At some point I began using my Canon, a camera I had used primarily to capture vacation landscapes. In the spirit of full disclosure I had been shooting photos only Full Auto mode (aka the little green box icon). Sometimes these photos were great, sometimes good, but never all good or all great. As I began using my Canon, my food photos were definitely better than some of those early phone ones. Sometimes I got lucky and my photos captured exactly what my eye saw. But experiencing exhilaration due in large part to getting lucky wasn't good enough. At least not for me. What prompted yet another change, was the eight week photography class I enrolled in almost eighteen months ago. A class three steps more advanced than both my camera knowledge and photography experience. However, as a result of that class I learned how to take photos in the AV mode (aperture priority) and added some new words to my vocabulary. Aperture, ISO and shutter speed were words I could pronounce and spell, but didn't really get a really good grasp on. Like the old adage 'a little bit of knowledge is dangerous', I started shooting blog photos in the AV mode, manipulating the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed for the first time. While there was a discernible shift in the quality of my photos, there was still an over reliance on photography luck. Yes, I have a stack of photography books and have watched some online videos. However, for me to truly grasp new or seemingly complex concepts, hands-on learning works best. At least for me. Books and videos are great, but they can't answer my questions or tell my why my choice of exposure settings were or weren't working.

After the random meeting of a photographer over the weekend, I decided I would try to shoot photos in the Manual mode. The mode used by most professional photographers (and many food bloggers). Not only does shooting in the Manual Mode truly optimize the DSLR camera, it gives the photographer complete control over aperture, ISO and shutter speed in order to get the 'best' picture possible. And who would not get a little pleasure out of 'complete control'? Shooting in the Manual Mode with my level of knowledge was like diving into the deep end of a pool after taking only a couple of swimming lessons. Putting common sense aside, I decided to jump in anyway. What's the worst thing that could happen? My photos wouldn't have turned out; a day of taking photos for the food blog would have been wasted; they might not even be as good as those early phone photos; or my fragile ego would have taken a nose dive. Still, I decided if I didn't take this risk, my photos might always just be 'good enough'. That's not such a bad thing. Except I wanted more for the blog and for myself. 

The photos for this Dutch Baby with Creme Fraiche and Mixed Berries are my first attempt at shooting in the Manuel Mode and playing around with aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. I don't yet have the kind of grasp on photography I envision I will some day, but I realize there won't be any (personal or professional) rewards if I don't take this risk. For those of you who follow this blog regularly or are here for the first time, thanks for joining me on my new journey. And, if I can convince (or bribe with food) the photographer I serendipitously met to give me a few photography lessons in the weeks or months ahead, I am certain than none of my photos in the future will be anything I consider to be 'just good enough'.

Four years ago I posted a recipe for a 'Dutch Baby, At Last' (and wait to you take a look at those early photos!). I recently came across a slight variation on this Dutch Baby. Almost instantly I knew I had to make it. The ingredient amounts for the eggs, milk, flour, sugar, and vanilla did not change between the earlier and this new recipe. However, in this Dutch Baby with Creme Fraiche and Mixed Berries, a half-teaspoon of salt has been added; the amount of butter used increased from 4 to 5 Tablespoons; and, the oven temperature reduced from 475 degrees (F) to 450 degrees (F). More important than these subtle changes was how the Dutch Baby was finished. The addition of lightly sweetened creme fraiche, mixed berries, and dusting of confectionary sugar were finishing touch game changers. 

Before I talk about the Dutch Baby, I want to spend some time on the lightly sweetened creme fraiche. To be perfectly honest, I had thought about swapping it out for some lightly sweetened whipped cream. But after tasting the creme fraiche lightly beaten with some freshly squeezed lemon juice and confectionary sugar, I was really glad I didn't. Not that freshly whipped cream wouldn't be good on this Dutch Baby. It would. But why have good when you can have great. And this creme fraiche topping makes for an absolutely great Dutch Baby. Like really, really great.

To give the creme fraiche a whipped cream like look, I used my hand mixer to beat everything together until semi-firm peaks formed. A large dollop of creme fraiche melted into the Dutch Baby created a pool of decadent deliciousness underneath the fresh berries. If there was such a thing as Dutch Baby bliss, this would be it.

For any Dutch Babies you need a pan able to withstand a rather high oven temperature. Non-stick pans are not Dutch Baby friendly, but cast iron pans are. 

Using a blender to mix the flour, eggs, milk, salt, vanilla, and sugar together helps to create the perfect Dutch Baby batter frothiness. Poured into the hot, sizzling pan of melted butter, a deeply golden, puffed Dutch Baby is ready in approximately 15-20 minutes. With no additional leavening ingredients used, it will begin to collapse if not served almost immediately.

You can either bring the Dutch Baby directly from the oven to the table before adding the sweetened creme fraiche, topping with fresh berries, and sprinkling with confectionary sugar. Or you can work quickly to finish it before bringing it to the table.  Either way you serve it, there will be oohs and ahhs.

Described as a cross between a crepe, pancake, and popover, Dutch Babies will definitely take your breakfast game from good to great.

The dramatic presentation doesn't last very long (but long enough). And neither will this Dutch Baby with Creme Fraiche and Mixed Berries. 

Make sure to bring some of the lightly sweetened creme fraiche to the table. I am almost tempted to tell you to increase the recipe by half or double it, but will let you decide how much to make after you serve it the first time. This will definitely not be a one-time wonder breakfast item at your table.

If you have never made a Dutch Baby before, I hope these 'shot for the first time in the Manual mode' photos make you hungry enough to want to make one. And in the weeks and months ahead, I hope my blog posts make you feel even hungrier.

Dutch Baby with Creme Fraiche and Mixed Berries (a slight adaptation to Williams-Sonoma's Dutch Baby with Fresh Berries Recipe)
Serves 2 staring people, 4 hungry people, or 6 able to show restraint people

3/4 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
3 large eggs 
3/4 cup (6 ounces) whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 Tablespoons (75 g) unsalted butter, cut into five pieces

1 cup (8 ounces) creme fraiche 
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 Tablespoons confectionary sugar (Note: I used 3 Tablespoons.)

2 cup assorted berries (e.g., blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, pitted cherries)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees (F).
2. Using a hand held mixer, lightly beat the creme fraiche, lemon juice, and confectionary sugar in a small bowl until semi-firm peaks form. Keep chilled in the refrigerator.
3. In a blender, whip the milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar, salt, and flour for approximately 30-45 seconds. Note: If not using immediately, cover and store in the refrigerator.
4. Place butter in a 10-11 inch cast iron pan. Place pan in oven for 4-5 minutes or until butter is completely melted.
5. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately pour the batter into the hot pan. Quickly return the pan to the oven and bake until the sides are puffed up and golden brown (approximately 15-20 minutes). Note: My baking time was closer to the 20 minute mark.
6. Remove the Dutch Baby from the oven. 
7. Sprinkle about a cup of the berries over the Dutch Baby. Put a large dollop of the creme fraiche mixture in the center of the Dutch Baby. Lightly dust with confectionary sugar. Add remaining berries. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. Note: Bring the remaining creme fraiche mixture to the table.
8. Get ready to swoon.

Notes: (1) I use Vermont Creamery's Creme Fraiche. (2) Batter can be made the night before. Briefly pulse in the blender before pouring into the hot pan. (3) The original recipe called for a 12" pan, however, I used a 10.5" pan with great results. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata

Making decisions on what to eat or not to eat on the mornings as well as the night before a long run or race has been a bit of an ongoing challenge for me. There are no shortage of recommendations or schools of thought about what one's body needs or what the protein to carbohydrate ratio should be in order to sustain intense and/or extended periods of exercise. I have read about and tinkered with most of them. Learning all too well that what works for some doesn't always work for others. Especially for those like me with overly sensitive stomachs. No matter what the most accomplished athletes or coaches prescribe as 'optimal performance foods', it turns out following the most prevailing wisdom, aka 'listen to your body,' may be the best pre- and post-run/workout advice out there. My food choices go through phases depending on a number of variables. Eating pasta the night before a long run seems to be working best at the moment. I couldn't be happier. 

For the past ten weeks I have been just one of cadre of committed runners helping to support a group of amazing women training for either a 5k or 10k race. Everyone who joined this running group came with at least one personal goal. They ranged from improving their running performance and/or endurance; to supporting their return to running after an extended period of absence; to getting physically and mentally ready to run a race. The newest members to the group learned more than good running form; the importance of speed/hill work and cross training; and/or why nutrition matters. They discovered the running group was more than a venue to become a better runner or to experience the benefits of being supported during a run. It was a place where great friendships are formed and where both small and big successes are celebrated. The intangible outcomes of being part of this running group almost outweigh its' tangible benefits. 

This past weekend we all ran either the 5k or 10k culminating race. It just happened the race was on one of the hottest, most humid days of the summer thus far. And while there had been some hot/humid training days, nothing came close to this runner's worst race days fears. Full sun, little to no wind, and temperatures/humidity soaring to incredibly high, warning levels. In spite of the running conditions and a series of unexpected hills on the course, everyone successfully finished their race. The best part of the day for me was being with the women I had been running with for the past ten weeks. Unbeknownst to them, they made me, the hot weather wimptress, want to keep my 'running head' in the game. For my part, I made certain I ate what I thought my body needed the night before the race. The Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata may have been the best pre-race meal I have ever eaten. But I won't even tell you what my post-race food and beverage intake was as it violated almost all of the post-race food advice out there or how much fun sitting in a kiddie pool filled with ice cold water with four of my running friends was. But I couldn't have been happier.

There are so many rave worthy things about this pasta dish. One of them had to do with the choice of pasta. I absolutely love long, on the wider side pasta noodles. Tagliatelle, a long, flat pasta ribbon, was the perfect choice. They are slightly wider than fettuccine and much thinner than pappardelle. Instead of water, tagliatelle noodles are made with eggs. As a result they have a slightly higher absorbency quality, making them one that stands well to a variety of sauces (e.g., bolognese, carbonara). And they were the perfect choice for this pasta dish. 

Adding roasted cherry tomatoes to this pasta dish not only adds an amazing flavor and texture dimension, they make for even more visually appealing one as well. Drizzled with some olive oil and seasoned with kosher salt and pepper, the tomatoes are roasted in a 400 degrees (F) for approximately 20 minutes (or until they begin to blister). Roasting the tomatoes at a high temperature for a relatively short amount of time turns them into incredible bursts of flavor.

The recipe for this slightly chunky, deeply flavored marinara sauce was inspired by one of Lidia Bastianich's recipes. Unlike a more complex tomato sauce, a marinara comes together relatively quickly relying on very few ingredients to give it a deep, rich flavor.  Instead of using cans of plum tomatoes and crushing them by hand, this marinara uses cans of crushed tomatoes.You might think the use of 16-18 cloves of garlic would overpower this marinara sauce. But it doesn't. Sautéing the chopped garlic in extra-virgin olive oil until they are pale golden in color tames their bitterness and transforms them into sweet bites of goodness. After the sauce simmers for 20-30 minutes, remove a generous cup from the pan as this recipe yields more sauce than you need to coat the tagliatelle. The extra sauce can be heated and served on the side for those who love a heavily dressed plate of pasta, used to lightly coat meatballs (if you are also making them) or reserved for another use. 

When the tagliatelle reaches al dente, it's drained and added to the simmering marinara sauce. Remember to reserve at least a cup of the pasta water. It will ever so slightly smooth the sauce as well as help to continue to cook the pasta after it's mixed into the sauce. Be sparring with the use of the pasta water as you still want this marinara to retain its' slightly chunky texture. Note: I added less than 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the sauce.

After the tagliatelle is completely coated with the marinara sauce, add half of the roasted tomatoes and all of the roasting juices from the pan. Gently stir and then pour the pasta into your serving dish. Top with chards of the burrata cheese and some additional chopped basil. To finish, drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil over the top. This Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata is now ready to wow your family and friends. 

The addition of the roasted cherry tomatoes and burrata along with use of the tagliatelle pasta creates a most beautiful, most flavorful bowl of pasta. One certain to make a lasting impression on everyone's eyes and palates. Paired with a salad and some great bread, the Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata is hearty enough to be an incredibly satisfying meal. Bring a great bottle of wine (or two, depending on your friends) to the table and it's possible no one will leave your dinner table until every last morsel of the pasta has been devoured. No one will be happier.

Pasta with Marinara, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata (marinara recipe influenced by Lidia Bastianich)
Serves: 6 hungry or 8 not so hungry people

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus additional for finishing)
14-16 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
2 cans of San Marzano crushed tomatoes (28 ounce size)
2 to 3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or more to your liking)
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo red pepper
12-16 fresh basil leaves, sliced into slivers (plus additional leaves for garnishing)

16-18 ounces cherry tomatoes
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper

1 pound tagliatelle pasta 
12 ounces burrata 

Marinara Sauce
1. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a heavy deep saucepan.  Add garlic and cook until lightly browned.
2. Add crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat, add salt, Aleppo pepper flakes and sugar. Simmer until slightly thickened. Approximately 20-30 minutes.
4. Add slivered basil to sauce about 5 minutes before the sauce is finished.
5. Remove a generous cup of the marinara sauce and set aside.

Roasted Tomatoes
1. While marinara sauce is simmering, heat oven to 400 degrees (F). 
2. Place tomatoes in a roasting dish or pan. Drizzle with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
3. Roast tomatoes for approximately 20 minutes or until tomatoes begin to blister. Reserve drippings.

Pasta and Assembly.
1. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente (the cooking time for the tagliatelle was approximately 5-6 minutes). Reserve at least one cup of the pasta water after draining. 
2. Add drained pasta to the marinara sauce, add a ladle of the reserved pasta water (or enough until it reaches a desired consistency), toss until the pasta is coated and simmer for additional 1-2 minutes. This additional cooking time will bring the pasta to the perfect consistency.
3. Transfer pasta to serving bowl. Toss in half of the roasted tomatoes and all of the tomato juice drippings from the roasting pan. 
4. Arrange remaining half of the roasted tomatoes over the pasta.
5. Cut burrata into pieces and place on top of pasta.
6. Lightly drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Garnish with additional chopped basil. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) Marinara sauce can be made a day ahead. Reheat before adding the cooked, drained pasta. Can use some of the pasta water to thin the sauce. (2) Can serve the generous reserved cup of marinara sauce on the side, use to coat meatballs if making, or save for another use. (3) If you can't find tagliatelle pasta, consider using linguine, fettuccine or pappardelle pasta for this dish.

One view of Chicago's skyline, an iconic building, the L-train, and the Buckingham Fountain, taken while an architectural boat tour (June, 2017)