Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Eggs’ Category

Pasta alla Carbonara

It’s always interesting to look at a recipe for a very different version of a very familiar dish. Will it be as good as the way I make it? Will it be better? My newest cookbook acquisition, Tasting Rome, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill, offers several opportunities for those comparisons, since I love Roman cuisine. The first recipe I ventured on was pasta alla carbonara, a dish especially dear to Romans and a staple at my house.

Parla 2As the authors – young American food journalists who live in Rome – say, this is a dish whose exact ingredients and technique give rise to passionate argument among Roman cooks (among whom I like to think myself an honorary member). My own recipe, published in Tom’s and my 1988 cookbook La Tavola Italiana, is of course the version I like best, so I looked at theirs with a critical eye. They offer two versions, both with differences from mine, most notably one that makes the sauce in a double boiler. I’d never heard of that, so it’s the one I decided to try.
.

The book’s recipe begins by having you sauté small strips of guanciale in olive oil, drain it and let it cool.

guanciale

.

My recipe starts there too, but it calls for pancetta, because it used to be hard to get guanciale here and pancetta is an accepted alternative in Rome. I dice it smaller and sauté it with onion and a peperoncino, in both olive oil and butter. (Nowadays, I often use bacon, which some say is the original meat ingredient of the dish, created post-WW II, when American GIs brought their bacon and powdered eggs to Rome.)
.

According to Tasting Rome’s recipe, while the pasta is cooking, you beat together eggs, grated pecorino Romano, black pepper, and water in the top of a double boiler over simmering water, whisking continually until the cheese melts and the mixture thickens.

sauce

My recipe calls for simply beating the eggs in a bowl with pecorino and parmigiano, salt, pepper, and parsley.

.

Back to Parla and Gill: Off heat, you stir the guanciale and the cooked pasta into the sauce in the double boiler; transfer it to individual bowls, and sprinkle each portion with more grated pecorino and black pepper.

carbonara

.

That last step was also a very significant difference. In my version, I add slightly underdone pasta to the warm pancetta-onion mixture in its sauté pan, toss over low heat to coat the pasta with butter and oil and finish its cooking; then, off heat, stir in the egg-cheese mixture and serve. That procedure creates a sauce with a very different mouth feel, and one I like a lot better.

For me, the double-boiler sauce was too glutinous, and since I couldn’t coat the pasta first with the mixed fats, it absorbed too much of the sauce and came out tasting flat and floury. And despite how smooth the sauce had seemed in the pan, on the pasta it was somewhat grainy – not pleasant to the tongue. Oh, well – de gustibus.

Read Full Post »

Tom and I are back from the birding trip to Costa Rica that I mentioned in my last post. Our very modest expectations for its gastronomical aspects were right on target: The food was fresh and flavorful, but there was a very narrow range of both ingredients and preparations.

Unexpectedly, breakfast was the meal we most enjoyed. At home, our breakfasts tend to be minimal (except on Sundays), but after arising at 5 am to spend the first hours of daylight out looking at birds, the prospect of coming in to a hearty breakfast is mighty attractive. As I said last week, the rice-and-bean dish called gallo pinto is an inescapable part of a Costa Rican breakfast. Here are a few that we had:

Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, potato cakes, sausages

Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, potato cakes, sausages

.

Fried eggs, gallo pinto, plantains, ham & cheese sandwich, potato cake

Fried eggs, gallo pinto, plantains, ham & cheese sandwich, potato cake

.

Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, bananas, beef with mushrooms

Gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, bananas, beef with mushrooms

.

For lunches on the road in rustic country restaurants, we always received casado, the archetypical Costa Rican mixed plate of rice, beans, plantains, and another vegetable or salad, surrounding a piece of protein – usually a choice of fish or chicken. The fish was often trout, sometimes tilapia, both of which are extensively farmed in the fast-running streams of the rain forests. Chicken seems to be the de facto national bird of Costa Rica (which, officially, is the clay-colored thrush). Though it was always good, I came to believe that most Costa Rican chickens were born legless – a disappointment to this dark-meat fancier. Dinners at the lodges where our birding group stayed were buffet-style, with only minor day-to-day variations on the same or similar food choices. (Tom has made me swear not to serve him chicken for at least the next month.) Some examples:

.

Trout, beans, rice, plantains, cabocha squash, salad

Trout, beans, rice, plantains, cabocha squash, salad

.

Tilapia, rice, beans, plantain, cabocha squash, salad

Tilapia, rice, beans, plantain, cabocha squash, salad

.

Chicken berast, plantains, rice, beans, tomatoes, vegetable frittata, tortilla

Chicken breast, plantains, rice, beans, tomato salad, vegetable frittata, arepa

.

So, all in all, the food on our trip was sustaining rather than exciting. But exciting the birding definitely was. In one week we saw nearly 200 species, including quetzals, trogons, motmots, toucans, parrots, aracaris, oropendolas, cotingas, manakins, honeycreepers, flower-piercers, and 23 different kinds of hummingbirds. Here we are at the end of an aerial tram ride through the rain forest. Quite a change from our usual urban life!

Aerial tram 1

Read Full Post »

Eggplants are everywhere in my Greenmarket now. Not just every where, but every size, every shape, and every shade in the white, green, and purple ranges.

Greenmarket eggplants 2

They’re among my favorite summer vegetables, and I make them most often in composed Mediterranean-style dishes – ratatouille, caponata, ciambotta, parmigiana – sometimes stuffed, and occasionally just simply baked or fried. Most recently I wanted to try a different kind of preparation, so off to the cookbooks I went on a search.

T-L MideastIn the Middle Eastern Cooking volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, I was intrigued by several Iranian recipes for coucou, explained as a thick vegetable pancake. One, Coucou Bademjan, was for eggplant. That would do! I initially thought the dish would be like a frittata.

You start by frying thinly sliced onions in olive oil until dark brown. (This is a common way of treating onions from the Middle East through India, and the effect is quite different from less-cooked western ways with onions.) Take the onions out of the pan, put in half a pound of eggplant cubes, and stir to coat them with the oil. Add turmeric (whose color you’ll spend the next three days trying to remove from pans and implements), salt, pepper, and water; bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the eggplant is tender. Return the onions and cook briskly, stirring, until the liquid is almost all evaporated.

coucou 1

.

Then you transfer everything to a large bowl and let it cool. Finally, eggs are beaten in: four of them. They made a very soft batter, unlike any frittata mixture. The cooking technique is different too. It’s done in that same pan, with more olive oil, of course – eggplant is a sponge for oil! – but covered. Mine cooked quickly around the edges, while the center stayed very wet. The eggplant itself seemed to be liquefying rather than firming as the batter cooked.

The recipe’s next instruction was strange. You’re to cut the cake into four wedges right there in the pan, keep on cooking for a minute or two “until the center is firm,” invert a plate over the pan, flip everything over, and slide the coucou back into the pan to cook the other side.

At that point Beloved Spouse, who is the frittata cooker in our household, intervened. Ridiculous to cut wedges and then try to turn them over as a single cake! Also, when the uncooked side touches the plate, it’s likely to cling, making it hard to get the item to slide cleanly back into the pan. He finished the cooking according to his own technique. When he judged the coucou to be ready to turn, after quite a bit more cooking time than indicated, he slid it out (uncut) onto a large, upside-down pan lid, which he held from below by the knob; inverted the pan over it, and then quickly flipped the whole thing; cooking the second side again longer than the recipe said. It came out an attractive golden brown, but still much softer than a frittata ever is.

coucou 2

.

When the coucou was on its serving plate, I finally cut it into quarters and served them, as the recipe suggested, with a few slices of ripe tomato. As you’ll see, it does look a bit like a frittata, but it was nothing like one in texture. Didn’t look much like a pancake either, for that matter: It was still soft and very moist. Quite tasty, though, and pleasantly eggplanty.

coucou 3

.

We ate the first two quarters at a lunch – it’s pretty rich and filling – and I put the rest in the refrigerator for another meal. Two days later, for a dinner, I warmed the leftover two quarters in the toaster oven and served them as a first course with a simple (also leftover) tomato sauce on the side. They’d dried and firmed up a bit, and tasted even better than previously.

coucou 4

.

This was a very different way of treating eggplant than any I’m familiar with, and I’m not entirely sure the dish turned out the way it should have. But it was interesting to try, enjoyable to taste, and a learning experience that has me considering other uses for the coucou approach.

Read Full Post »

My recent post on the food in my trip to Spain mentioned four items that I wanted to make at home. It didn’t take me long to get to one: the revolcona potato dish I had as a dinner first course at the Hospedería Parque de Monfraguë in Extremadura. It was extraordinarily good, and my captive tasting panel of husband and house guest were standing by to test my version.

This is the dish I had in Spain: revolcona .

You can’t see too much of the potatoes under the “poché egg” – as the English-language menu called it – but they were definitely the star of the combination. I could tell there was smoked paprika in the flavor, which confirmed my resolution to bring some of that Extremenian specialty home with me. I bought modest-sized tins of all three types of Pimentón de la Vera (at a fraction of the cost I’ve ever seen them at in the US). Pimentons .

None of my Spanish cookbooks offered a recipe for revolcona potatoes, but the Internet provided many. I chose this one, which looked as if it would be closest to the version I’d had in Spain. And I decided to make it for a lunch, since the dish my palate remembered so vividly was really too rich and filling for a first course.

.

I boiled my potatoes with a bay leaf in the water, then mashed them only roughly, with a little of their cooking water. The next step was to prepare the seasoning mix. I lightly browned some cloves of garlic in olive oil, transferred them to the mini food processor, added a hefty dose of the sweet paprika, a small dose of the hot, salt, and more of the potato cooking water. (The recipe called for cumin also, but I omitted it.) When that was all pureed, I stirred it into the potatoes, which I’d transferred to the garlic-browning skillet. potatoes twice .

While the potatoes were reheating I poached eggs and sizzled some pieces of bacon and prosciutto in another pan. The meat should have been Ibérico ham, but good slab bacon and Parma prosciutto were what I had, and I wanted to see which would make the better combination. Once the meats were ready, the final assembly was easy. Revolcona at home .

My tasting panel declared the dish a success. The potatoes were excellent, but we all agreed they wouldn’t be hurt by a little more zing, so I’ll try going heavier on the hot paprika next time; or maybe replacing the sweet paprika with the bittersweet variety. Both my “inauthentic” pork products were just fine, slightly salty and crisp, in excellent contrast to the almost melting texture of the potatoes and eggs. One other variation I might try is to replace the poached eggs with the wonderful Spanish-style fried eggs that I wrote about here last year. If that’s gilding the lily, I’ll be happy to go for the gold.

Read Full Post »

My birding trip in Spain was definitely not focused on gastronomy. All dinners were taken at the simple rural hotels where our group was staying, and lunches were at cafes and other modest eateries in villages along the birding routes. Menus were sometimes limited, with dishes selected in advance for the group by the local leader (and described for us in English, so I never got some of the Spanish names). Nevertheless, we encountered very good food in some of those places, including a few dishes that I hope to be able to recreate at home.

.

Lunches were usually a large assortment of tapas for the whole table, ranging from salads to the ubiquitous fried squid. Here are a few of the interesting items. (Click to enlarge the images.)

tapas

Jamón Ibérico, the air-cured Iberian ham at left, is always a treat. The fried cuttlefish were even tastier than their close relatives, squid. Next, potato croquettes – a frequent tapa offering. The medium-sized garden snails, a delicious short-season specialty, appeared to have been cooked with oil, garlic, and smoked paprika. And the last dish on the right is grilled chipirones: very small squid.

.

Frequent main courses at dinner included beautifully cooked fresh seafood:

seafood dishes

The tiny fried fish are fresh anchovies. Next, braised octopus. In the middle, a roasted whole choco, or large cuttlefish. More small fried fish, including tiny soles. Last, two tentacles of yet another octopus.

.

There were also good, hearty meat and poultry dishes.

3 meat dishes

Left to right, a simple lamb stew with the Basque name Corderico al Txilindron; duck leg confit; and Codillo de cerdo. This last was mystifyingly translated for me as “elbow of pork”; close examination showed it to be a pork shank that had been halved lengthwise through the bone.

.

We even came upon some surprisingly elegant and sophisticated preparations. At lunch one day, everyone in our group was served a large, richly eggy crepe filled with wild mushrooms and topped with something like a light Mornay sauce. It was marvelous.

crepe

.

Another day, as a dinner appetizer Tom had “ravioli” made with rice papers instead of pasta, filled with a creamy mixture of pears and oveja cheese, topped with pesto, and served on a bed of ratatouille. An improbable combination, it seemed to me, but intriguing and very flavorful.

ravioli

.

That same evening, my appetizer was a cake of spicy revolcona potatoes topped with a perfectly poached egg and surrounded by quickly sauteed Ibérico ham. That in itself was almost enough for a dinner!

revolcona

.

Finally, the most noteworthy dessert I had in Spain was Torrija. This traditional sweet is a sort of hybrid of French toast and bread pudding, and this version came with a crunchy crème brûlée topping. Quite luscious.

torrija

.

These last four dishes are the ones I’m determined to try making at home. If I succeed, you may be meeting them again in future posts.

P.S. Tom’s blog has a post on some of the wines we drank in Spain.

 

Read Full Post »

A Foretaste of Spain

Tom and I are away for three weeks on a birding trip around Spain with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.

spain trip map

.

While officially it’s purely a birding trip, for us it’s just as much a food and wine trip. The VENT leaders are usually as good at choosing restaurants as they are at 61jYp3TZ27L__AA160_finding birds, so we look forward to some interesting meals.

Anticipating the adventure a bit, and also to get us into the proper mood for Iberian-style eating, I made a modest tapas dinner the other day, using three recipes from Penelope Casas’ book Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain.

.

The main item was Fried Squid, Spanish-Style. Casas calls this “a classic on the tapas circuit,” a dish likely to be available almost anywhere in Spain. If so, hooray! – because these were excellent. The squid had to be cut in rings, dried thoroughly, dusted with flour, dipped in egg, deep-fried for less than three minutes, and dressed with sea salt and lemon juice. They were beautifully tender and fresh-tasting.

???????????????????????????????

.

Alongside, I’d made an Onion Tortilla. Normally, I make tortilla española, that luscious, thick, soft, eggy cake of fried potatoes and onions. This one had no potato but lots of minced sweet Spanish onions, which made it lighter but also delicious. Even easier to make: Soften onions in olive oil; cool them; mix them into beaten eggs, milk, salt, and pepper; then cook the whole mixture very slowly in a pan until it just sets. It’s good hot, warm, or cool.

???????????????????????????????

.

For a bright contrast with those two dishes, I made a little Cumin-flavored Carrot Salad – which Casas says is a specialty of a well-known bar in Cadiz. I simmered whole carrots in chicken broth and water until almost done; let them cool and sliced them; dressed them in wine vinegar, oregano, cumin, paprika, and salt, and left them to marinate all afternoon. Bracing!

???????????????????????????????

.

The three together made a very pleasant week-night supper. I have great hopes for our eating in Spain. I won’t be posting here again until well into May, but then I hope I’ll have some good dishes to write about from the trip. ¡Hasta la vista!

Read Full Post »

Spanish-style Fried Eggs

Have you ever fried an egg? I mean, really fried – not just cooked in a skillet filmed with butter or bacon fat. Fried meaning bathed in a pool of very hot olive oil until the white is opaque, its edges are crisp, brown and lacy, and the yolk is still runny.

???????????????????????????????I just learned this Spanish way of frying eggs from La Cocina de Mamá: The Great Home Cooking of Spain. Author Penelope Casas says she has asked everyone she knows in Spain – friends, family, restaurant chefs: “When you were a kid and very hungry, what did you ask your mother or grandmother to prepare?” And the answer was always “Fried eggs.”

Now that I’ve discovered them, I can well see why. The dish is truly something special – much tastier than eggs “fried” in the standard American way. But the process requires a bit of practice. It took me three tries on separate days this past week to get it right.

The first day, I let the oil get too hot. Casas says to heat it “to the smoking point” and I’m sure mine didn’t get that far. She also says not to crack the egg directly into the pan (makes sense!) but transfer it to a cup first, which I did. But when I gingerly slid in the egg, both it and the oil violently bubbled and splashed and spat like a firecracker.

???????????????????????????????

.

The egg spread out very far in the pan, and though I tried to fold the white back over the yolk, as directed, that didn’t work too well: The exposed yolk solidified before the edges of the white had crisped very much. Tom gallantly ate the experimental egg anyway, on a piece of toast. It had developed excellent flavor from the olive oil, he said, and the crisp part of the white was really pleasing, though the absence of a runny yolk was disappointing.

???????????????????????????????

.

The second day, in an excess of caution, I didn’t get the oil hot enough. It worked better in part: The egg bubbled and splashed only a little when it went into the pan, and the white stayed in place, cushioning the yolk to keep it from hardening.

???????????????????????????????

.

But the egg was done before it developed any brown, lacy, crisp edges. It came out looking mostly like a poached egg. This time Tom ate it on a bed of hash brown potatoes that he’d made for himself. It had good basic flavor and a good runny yolk, anyway.

???????????????????????????????

.

Drat it, I was determined to get this right! So on the third day I fried one more egg. (BTW, all these experiments were done in the same ¼” of oil, deliberately left in the pan. The eggs didn’t seem to absorb any of it.) This time it worked. The oil and the egg both behaved well in the pan, the edges of the whites crisped and browned, the yolk stayed liquid.

???????????????????????????????

.

I confess, I ate this one myself.

???????????????????????????????

.

I’m very pleased to have discovered this technique. Eggs are a great thing in general, and I can see that frying them this way makes them versatile adornments for many different kinds of foods and occasions, from breakfast right through to a midnight snack.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »