Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cooking with Nicole

Me and Jessica getting silly in the kitchen...

For the past two weeks, my friend and fellow CSA member Nicole and I have been going back to her apartment after veggie pickups to make dinner. It's fantastic - all of the benefits of going out to dinner with your friends without the massive bill coming to the table at the end of the evening.

Last week, Jessica joined us for arugula and tomato salad and a pesto dish that I recreated from the memory of the trofie with pesto that Jason and I had first encountered on a long-ago trip through Cinque Terre, Italy. We ate our feast on Nicole's couch, paired with a bottle of cold pinot grigio, and chatted for hours.

This week, Matt came over and we made a corn and heirloom tomato salad and a terrific roasted eggplant and carmelized onion pizza, served with a sparkling shiraz. (On a side note, can I just say how much I love sparkling red wines? Nothing says summer like a chilled Lambrusco or its equivalent.)

No pictures were taken, save for one iPhone snapshot of me giving the thumbs up and wielding a pizza cutter next to our eggplant creation, but trust me when I say that everything looked as lovely as it tasted. The recipes follow, but since we mostly cook with our senses, the amounts are not precise. Experiment!

Pasta Cinque Terre

(This is traditionally made with trofie, a Ligurian pasta made with flour and water and shaped into little, tapered squiggles. Since we didn't have any on hand, and didn't feel like searching them out, we substituted tricolored rotini. You can use any short, thick-ish pasta - penne would probably be good, too.)

  • medium sized box of pasta
  • leaves from one or two bunches of basil
  • small handful of arugula (parsley works well, too)
  • olive oil
  • pine nuts
  • Parmesan cheese
  • two cloves of garlic
  • about a cup of potatoes, cut into one inch chunks - we used fingerlings, since that's what the CSA provided, but you could use whatever's around.
  • a big handful of green beans, ends snapped off
In a blender or food processor, combine the basil, arugula, about 1/4 cup of pine nuts, two cloves of garlic and a generous splash of olive oil and combine. You might have to add more olive oil, but it's cool - just remind yourself how great it is for your heart and your skin and hair and keep drizzling it in. When it's all combined into a slightly thin paste, add a quarter cup or so of grated Parmesan and stir it around. Set aside. Boil the pasta according to directions. In a separate pot, boil the potato chunks until tender. Remove the chunks, set aside, and blanch the green beans for two or three minutes. In a big bowl, combine the pasta and the pesto, stir together and season with salt and pepper, then add in the green beans and potatoes. Garnish with a sprinkle of pine nuts and/or extra Parmesan cheese, and serve.

Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad

(This is one of those dishes that's only as good as its ingredients. If you don't have an awesome, perfectly ripe, in-season tomato, then don't bother. But if you do... definitely make this.)

  • one gigantic tomato
  • three ears of corn
  • olive oil
  • vinegar (we used red wine vinegar, since that's what we had, but you could totally use balsamic. I'd avoid white vinegar, though.)
  • parsley
  • whatever other herbs you've got lying around, especially basil

Boil the corn until tender. Slice the kernels off into a large bowl. Dice the tomato and mix it into the corn. Add a bit of olive oil, a splash of vinegar, some finely chopped herbs, salt and pepper and stir. Done!

Roasted Eggplant and Carmelized Onion Pizza

We were far too hungry to make our own dough for this recipe, so we went to the pizza place down the block from Nicole's apartment and bought a ball of dough off of them for three bucks. You could make your own dough if that's how you roll, but I think it's much easier - not to mention more fool-proof - to just buy it from the professionals.)

  • a ball of dough
  • half of a standard sized block of mozzarella
  • half an eggplant, thinly sliced into circles
  • three onions, thinly sliced
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • banana peppers, if you're feeling frisky... or if you just got a bunch in your CSA box and you don't really know what else to do with them

Pick a baking surface for your pizza. We used two smallish cookie pans, but if you have a pizza rock, I'd totally go with that. Grease it up with some oil and sprinkle with cornmeal to avoid sticking. Stretch out the dough, making sure to patch any rips or tears, until it's fairly thin. Set all of that aside and start cooking the veggies. You want to cook the onions over medium-low heat with a pat of butter and a splash of olive oil, stirring every once in a while, until they get soft and caramelized and they smell so good that everyone will be hovering behind you, forks poised, eyes glazed with a manic hunger. This is probably a good time to serve your salad course.

After the onions are done, set them aside and start frying up the eggplant. Add a small pat of butter and small splash of olive oil to the pan and lay the eggplant down so that it forms a single layer. It's usually easier to cut the rounds in half... you can fit more in the pan that way. Cook over the same medium-high heat until each side is lightly browned, then set aside while you cook the next batch. While you're doing this, you can shred the mozzarella and sprinkle it across the resting pizza dough.

When all the veggies are done, distribute them evenly across the pizza. If you're using the banana peppers - and we hope you do - now is the time to slice them and add them to the pizza. Then stick the whole mess into the oven at 400 degrees and cook until you can't stand waiting any longer... or about twenty minutes, to be a little bit more precise. Cut it into slices and serve to your hungry friends, then pour another glass of wine and wait for the compliments to roll in.

(Trust me. They will.)

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