Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Pancetta Carbonara with Fresh Baby Spinach

Warm pasta.  Comfort food.  But wait, isn’t it almost June?  Yes, my warm weather friends, it is.  But alas, not so in England.  I’ve mentioned English summers before.  I suppose if there were an upside to a peak temperature of roughly 60 degrees, it would have to be that I can keep hearty dishes like pasta on the menu without feeling entirely like a fatty.  Don’t judge me, you know that you’d look for any excuse to have rich indulgent pasta too. 

So there we have it, I made pasta carbonara and it was good.  Chewy, cheesy, and loaded to the gills with delicious garden peas.  What? I added greens to this one – I’m practically a health nut now.  Next you’ll be asking for “light” dishes, with less meat and more “green veggies”!  I suppose we all have to eat our greens sometimes.  Stay tuned and yes, I will provide some snazzy summer dishes.  
Do note that although this recipe calls for only spinach, I added garden peas as well - don't get confused, it was my little addition.  Also, Tyler calls for fresh pasta in this recipe, but feel free to use the dried stuff here - the sauce will make up for it. 

In fact, I’m on my way back to the States next week!  You can expect local restaurant reviews, coupled with my attempts to recreate their best dishes at home.  This little game is quite fun and the great part is, you might find out that you can actually makes "the chef's specialty" better than him!  Also look for farmers market magic, and recipes bursting with all the things I can’t get in England!  Here I come country music and Kool-Aid!

Pancetta Carbonara with Fresh Baby Spinach 
Recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence

2 recipes of fresh pasta dough, rolled out and cut as spaghetti (from Tyler Florence's website, or your own recipe, or of course, 2 lbs dried spaghetti will work as well)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 lb pancetta, cut into strips 
7 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bag (about 3 cups) baby spinach
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Parmesan Sabayon:
6 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan
plenty of freshly ground black pepper

If you're making the fresh pasta, begin by rolling and cutting the fresh pasta into spaghetti.  Toss in a little flour to stop the noodles from sticking together and spread out on a sheet tray to dry while you prepare the dish. 
Set a large pan over medium heat, add a splash of olive oil and fry the pancetta, stirring occasionally until crispy.  About halfway through, add the thinly sliced garlic and cook until golden.   Drain pancetta and garlic on a paper towel.  Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until tender yet firm (“al dente”, as they say in Italian) 2 to 3 minutes for fresh pasta.  Drain, and put the pasta into a big pasta bowl. 
Make the parmesan sabayon.  In a large mixing bowl, add eggs, milk and cream.  Set over a double boiler and vigorously mix with an immersion blender until it just starts to thicken and suspends a little – about 7-8 minutes. It should be frothy and creamy when done.  Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper and parmesan and mix once more to combine.  Pour the sabayon over the noodles and mix gently with tongs so the pasta is well 
coated.  Portion out amongst bowls, top with a spoonful of crispy pancetta and garlic and a small handful of baby 
spinach.  

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Juicy Roast Chicken


Nothing spells simplicity and satisfaction like roast chicken, some might say it's the easiest thing in world to make. Basically, just throw the chicken in the oven and pull it out when it's done, right? Hmm, sounds like my mom's recipe. Yet, it's one of those dishes that can range from sublime all the way to "not chicken again!"
The first time I made this wonderful roast chicken, GB made me promise to never roast chicken any other way again. And, believe me, coming from a guy who will eat just about anything (he's not that discriminating- he enjoys the English delicacy called Breakfast in a Can) that's quite a testimonial to this method of roasting.

The key to making this chicken super juicy, is brining the chicken first. Sounds complicated, but it's really the easiest thing in the world, and takes about three minutes to do.  Just rub one cup of salt all over the chicken, both inside and out, then pop it in a pot, cover with cold water and stick in the fridge for three hours. This step makes all the difference in the world.

After brining the chicken, rinse it well in cold water and pat dry with paper towels (or kitchen roll to all the Brits out there). Now, stuff it with thyme sprigs, sage leaves, a bay leaf, onion, celery, and one small orange quartered.
Step two in making sure your chicken is both juicy and crispy is basting, basting, basting.  Shirley O. Corriher in CookWise, has an incredible basting solution that calls for 4 Tbs melted butter and 3 Tbs dark corn syrup. Of course, I am in Europe reading American cookbooks, and some ingredients, such as corn syrup,  just can't be found here. So, the next best thing that I have found is Lyle's Golden Syrup.

Ahh, Lyle's Golden Syrup. As the Brits would say, it is gorgeous! So, for incredibly juicy and crispy roast chicken, brine, stuff, and baste.

Shirley Corriher's Juicy Roast Chicken
1 6-pound roasting chicken                                      1 small orange, quartered
1 cup salt                                                                  1 bay leaf
2 onions                                                                   3 tablespoons dark corn syrup or Lyles Syrup
3 leaf ends of celery stalks                                      4 tablespoons butter, melted
10 sage leaves                                                          3 tablespoons cornstarch (corn flour)
10 sprigs fresh thyme                                               1/4 cold water                              
1 quart and 1/4 cup cold water

1. Coat chicken is salt and brine for 3 hours in refrigerator. Remove chicken and pat dry.

2. While chicken is in fridge, prepare a simple stock from the giblets by adding 1 quart of water along with some onion and garlic and simmering for an hour or so. Or, just make a simple stock with a bouillon cube and water. 

3. Preheat oven to 475 F or 246 C
4. Arrange a V rack for holding the bird over a pan to catch the juices. Pour 1 1/2 cups of stock into the pan and reserve the rest for gravy. Stuff chicken with celery, sage, thyme, bay leaf and orange.

5. Mix the syrup and butter together and brush chicken lightly all over. Place chicken breast side down in pan and roast for 20 minutes, basting with drippings every 7 minutes. Take chicken out of oven and turn it so that one leg and thigh are facing up. Baste with butter mixture and roast for 10 minutes. Remove from oven again and flip bird so that the other leg and thigh are up, and baste well with butter mixture. Return to oven for 10 more minutes.

6. Turn oven temperature down to 325F and remove bird from oven. Keep oven door open for a moment to let the temperature drop quickly. Now turn bird so the breast side is facing up and baste again with the butter mixture. Return to oven, and baste every 5 minutes, checking the temperature of the breast meat with an instant-read thermometer each time you baste. Remove the bird when the breast meat registers between 150F and 154F. Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before you carve.

7. Add the pan drippings to the remaining stock and thicken with cornstarch (whisk cornstarch into 1/4 cup cold water first). Heat over medium heat in a saucepan, stirring constantly until the gravy thickens.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Grape and Blue Cheese Truffles

Like blue cheese? Me too.  But blue cheese is a really strong flavor so if you’re planning on making this one for a dinner party appetizer, remember that not everyone can stomach all that moldy flavor goodness so consider paring this appetizer with something that everyone will like.  

For this recipe, I chose three different blue cheeses and brought them all home to figure out which worked best with the flavors in this dish, namely grape and pistachio.  This turned out to be a good idea as the three cheeses were very different.  Some blue cheeses are subtle and almost sweet, while others are extremely pungent and will easily overpower any dish.  If you’re not sure which blue cheese to go with, it’s probably best to head to your local cheese shop and ask to taste a few.  When in doubt, pick the one you like best, and hey, at least one person at your party will like the flavor!  


A good cheese shop will usually let you sample any cheese you’d like and trust me, they really don’t mind.  They want your business so don’t feel like you’re that guy in the ice cream line who needs to try every flavor before he picks out his cone, you know that guy – I mean, come on, who hasn’t tried plain chocolate ice cream?  Cheese is far more complex than ice cream and can change from one batch to another so it’s always a good idea to ask for a taste before you buy. 
One more tip – fruit is usually better room temperature.  For that matter, cheese should be served at room temperature as well.  When you make these little guys, store them in the fridge until about half an hour before your guests arrive and they should be perfect by the time your peckish guests start looking around for a snack. Bonus – these are really pretty and guests will think you’re quite the gourmand. 
Grape and Blue Cheese Truffles  
Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces blue cheese, softened
3 tablespoons port
1 bunch seedless white grapes, about 2 pounds
1 cup pistachios, ground

Mash the cream cheese and blue cheese together in a bowl until combined. Pour in the port and mix until blended. Grab a bit of the cheese in one hand and a grape in the other. Put the two together and roll the grape around in your hands until it is completely covered by the cheese. Roll the cheese-covered grapes in the ground pistachios. Chill until ready to serve.