Monday, May 31, 2010

Cocktail Hour: Rhubarb-Ginger Infused Vodka

After a particularly overzealous shopping expedition at the farmer's market, I found myself with quite a lot of rhubarb on my hands last week.  Having exhausted many of my best recipe ideas, I decided to try my hand at a rhubarb vodka infusion.   

Though strawberry and orange seem to be the most often-used complementary flavors for rhubarb, ginger is a little more unexpected and will give it a nice bite. This is one infusion I've never tried before, so I'm quite eager to see how it turns out.

Depending how tart the final product is, I think it would work nicely as a summer martini with champagne.

Rhubarb-Ginger Infused Vodka
1 pound rhubarb, cleaned and chopped into 1-inch segments
1 tsp fresh sliced ginger root
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 - .75 liter bottle of vodka

In a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine rhubarb, ginger, and sugars.  Pour vodka over and swirl to combine.  Seal the jar, making sure that the lid is airtight.

Leave jar in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks, swirling every couple of days to help the sugars break down.  When vodka is infused to desired level, strain the solids through a strainer, pressing on rhubarb to extract as much liquid as possible.  After passing through a metal sieve, strain again through coffee filters to catch any remaining solids.

Pour vodka back into the bottle and refrigerate.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Recipe: Rhubarb-Raspberry Bread Pudding

It was only a couple of years ago I realized that I liked bread pudding.  Up until then, something about the name had put me off; perhaps it made me think of that oft-served school lunch staple, rice pudding (shudder). 

The first time I actually tried bread pudding was in New Orleans, at Nola.  The first bite was a revelation - a billowy, soft custard with a syrupy glaze and just a hint of crunch.  It was like nothing I'd had before, and I couldn't believe I'd gone so many years without really knowing what the dish had the potential to be.  I never looked back - I've been baking bread puddings ever since.

In the winter months, my favorite recipe is a pumpkin bread pudding with brown sugar caramel. As pumpkin isn't exactly a summer staple, I decided to give a rhubarb and orange pudding a try.  The following recipe is loosely based on this one from Bon Appetit - I was missing some of the ingredients and wanted to refrigerate overnight, so I adapted as written below.

Starting with good bread is essential.  I made my own brioche for this one, but any stale, rich bread will do.

Rhubarb-Raspberry Bread Pudding
1 cup seedless raspberry preserves
1/2 cup orange juice
2 lbs rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup raspberries
1 tbsp orange zest
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 recipe homemade brioche cut into 1-inch pieces (or substitute a loaf of thick egg bread)

Whisk preserves and orange juice in a saucepan over medium heat.  When dissolved, add rhubarb , raspberries, and orange zest.  Cook until rhubarb is tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Pour mixture through a strainer set over a large bowl. Press on solids then allow to drain, about 15 minutes.  Reserve solids; at this point, sauce can be refrigerated.

Combine sugar, eggs, whipping cream, milk, and vanilla in a mixer.  With a wooden spoon, stir in the bread cubes and rhubarb solids, then pour the enture mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan.  Press down on pudding with a wooden spoon to evenly distribute through the pan. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.

When ready to cook, take the bread pudding out of the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 350 F.  Sprinkle the top of the pudding with a little brown sugar, then bake 30 minutes covered.  Uncover the pudding and bake for 15 more minutes, or until pudding is puffed and golden.

Meanwhile, take syrup out of the refrigerator and check for tartness - depending on your preserves and orange juice, you may need to whisk in up to 1/2 cup of sugar. Bring syrup to a boil and reduce to 1 cup, about 10 minutes.  Keep warm.

Serve puddings topped with warm syrup and whipped cream or (my favorite) ice cream.  Makes 16 servings.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Recipe: Homemade Brioche

Brioche has a dense, slightly sweet taste that makes it a great base for bread pudding, which I tend to make all the time. It seems I can never find brioche when I need it for a recipe, but luckily it's not hard to make from scratch. If brioche isn't readily available in your local grocery store, it's worth the effort to make your own.

I researched a couple of different baking methods and ended up with the recipe below - it makes one loaf plus enough for 12 individual brioches baked in a muffin tin (or two loaves). Of course, you could easily halve the recipe if you don't need this much on your hands!

Homemade Brioche
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp active dry yeast, or 2 packets
5 oz (10 tbsp) butter at room temperature
2/3 cup warm milk
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg yolk and a dash sugar for glaze

In a mixer with a dough hook, combine flour with yeast, then add warm milk in a slow stream.  Mix in sugar and salt, then add the softened butter one tablespoon at a time.  Add the eggs one by one, making sure that each egg is completely mixed in before adding the next. Work the dough just until it starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Transfer to a greased bowl, then cover dough and leave it in a warm place until it doubles in size, about two hours (or, as I did, hold it on your lap during the car ride to Okoboji.  I do not particularly recommend this method).  Punch down dough and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, remove the dough and let rest, covered, for 15 minutes on a floured countertop.  Divide dough in half.

Divide the first half into four balls and arrange in a greased loaf pan.  Divide the second half into twelve balls placed into a greased muffin tin. Cover both pans and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Use a kitchen scissors to make small cuts in the top of each ball, then brush the brioches with beaten egg yolk mixed with a little sugar. 

Bake smaller brioches for 15-20 minutes and loaf for 30-35 minutes.

Remove all from baking pans and allow to cool on a rack.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Recipe: Chilled Asparagus and Leek Soup

During the winter months, I like nothing better than a warm, nourishing bowl of soup. Especially on a busy weeknight, a pureed soup is the easiest kind of one-pot meal to throw together - all you have to do is combine, simmer, blend, and serve. Though soup is normally associated with colder months, the onset of summer is no reason to abandon my favorite weeknight dinner.  Made with fresh, seasonal produce, a chilled soup can achieve the same weather-counteracting magic as the hot variety, and it's just as easy to make. 

An added bonus to making soup: it's the perfect medium for throwing in any random items which you haven't gotten around to using but are taking up valuable refrigerator space.  Case in point - I used up these three items in my soup:

Asparagus: One pound still sitting in my fridge from last weekend's farmer's market.  
Buttermilk: 1 cup left over from last week's soft shell crabs - but I'm actually glad I had it on hand, as it adds a tangy creaminess that complements the asparagus nicely.
Lemon juice - I have a ton left from the lemons I peeled to make limoncello (I juiced all 10 lemons and saved the juice in a squeeze bottle).  Of course, it does give the soup necessary acidity and brightens all the flavors!

I wanted to buy as few ingredients for this soup as possible - all I picked up were leeks for flavor and texture, and potatoes to thicken the soup.  You really don't even need chicken stock because you can make your own asparagus stock with the woody ends which would normally be discarded.  With some fresh herbs to complete the dish (I used a little tarragon from our "garden") you'll have a lovely chilled soup that is perfect for summer and won't cost more than a few dollars.

By the way, if you're making a puree like this one, get your hands on an immersion blender. Especially if you hate washing appliances like I do, the whole pureeing process is infinitely less daunting when you don't have to worry about pouring soup from the pot into the blender and back again.

Chilled Asparagus and Leek Soup

2-3 large leeks (white and tender green parts only), washed and chopped
1 large bunch asparagus, sliced into 2-inch segments (don't discard woody ends)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into one-inch cubes
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup fresh tarragon

Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil, then add asparagus segments (including woody ends) and cook until just barely tender, 3-4 minutes.  Immediately transfer asparagus into an ice bath, but reserve cooking liquid and continue to boil over medium-high heat.  Swirl ice bath to allow asparagus to cool, then separate out asparagus tips and reserve in a second bowl.  Return woody ends to the asparagus cooking liquid and continue to boil in order to create asparagus stock. 

Heat 3 tbsp butter in a large, heavy pot over medium heat.  Saute leeks until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add asparagus and potatoes and stir until well combined. 

Discard woody ends from asparagus stock, then pour stock in with the vegetables. Add paprika, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and tarragon. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the asparagus soup mixture. 

Taste and correct seasoning if necessary. Allow soup to cool for 20-30 minutes off heat, then whisk in buttermilk.  Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Top with reserved asparagus tips and a little fresh parsley before serving.  Makes 4 servings as a main dish, though this soup would also make a wonderful appetizer course.

In case you're wondering what else is on the plate, I served my soup alongside toasted bread and a simple salad (arugula, French breakfast radishes, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper). 

Very refreshing on this hot summer night!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Recipe: Poached Eggs over Spinach and Prosciutto

Fact #1:  I love poached eggs. The delicate and barely-set whites, the runny yolk - it all works so well when you can manage to get that perfect spherical shape by dropping an egg into simmering water. 

Fact #2:  I am woefully unable to poach eggs.  I've tried every which way: gently dropping an egg into the center of a pan while swirling the water, adding vinegar, constant stirring, experimenting with water temperatures and pan sizes - you name it, I've tried it.  Inevitably, half the white flakes off into the water and I end up with a nice runny yolk which is surrounded by a scant millimeter of egg white.  After several years of struggling, I've finally accepted that I may never be able to poach an egg - at least, not well enough to measure up to my own standards. After all, I am no chef.

And that's why I don't mind cheating a little bit.  This past weekend, I was at Kitchen Collage when I suddenly spotted a gadget I didn't even know I'd been missing all my life: poaching pods.  Shaped like little conical baskets, these pods are made of flexible silicone and are designed to float in simmering water, thus protecting your cooked egg whites from flaking away.  While you do lose some of the wonderful shirred texture that I love in a properly executed poached egg, just managing to get an entire poached egg onto a plate at all is an accomplishment for me regardless of texture. 

Naturally, I bought two. 

Though I love poached eggs on toast, this past Sunday I found myself with two new poaching pods burning a hole in my kitchen drawer and no bread to be found.  Not to be deterred from the prospect of finally preparing a suitable poached egg, I decided spinach and prosciutto would be a reasonable accompaniment.

If you are poaching-challenged like me and decide to give the pods a whirl, feel free to follow this recipe.

Poached Eggs over Spinach and Prosciutto
2 large farm-fresh eggs
1 clove garlic, minced
Large handful spinach, washed and roughly chopped
3-5 slices prosciutto, torn into bite-sized pieces

Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a saucepan, then reduce to a simmer.  Coat the inside of two poaching pods with nonstick spray or butter, then crack an egg into each.  Float pods in simmering water.  Cover and cook, undisturbed, until whites are just set - about 4-6 minutes.

In a large skillet, saute prosciutto over medium heat until crispy, about 5 minutes.  Drain on paper towels. 

Heat 1 tsp butter over medium heat and saute garlic for a couple of minutes until it starts to soften.  Add spinach and saute for another few minutes, until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper, then remove from heat.

Arrange spinach and prosciutto on plates for serving.

Carefully remove pods from the simmering water with a slotted spoon (silicone will be hot). 

Gently loosen egg whites from the edges of pods using a spoon, then invert onto paper towels to drain any excess water from the eggs.  

Arrange eggs over spinach and prosciutto. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

Serves 2.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Recipe: Roasted Poussins with Rhubarb-Apple Stuffing

Last Saturday, Charlie was in charge of choosing our protein purchases at the farmer's market. Along with an elk sirloin (watch for an upcoming post in which I try to figure out exactly how one cooks an elk sirloin!), he picked up two poussins from the Cleverly Farms stand. 

Poussins are baby chickens the size of Cornish Hens; they're very tender and much faster to roast than a whole chicken.  Cleverly Farms sells them deboned, so they're perfect for stuffing, and immensely enjoyable to cook - though Charlie repeatedly asks me to stop, I can't manage to prepare them without waltzing about the kitchen singing "Le Poissons" complete with ze terrible French accent. (OK, Little Mermaid fans, I'm aware that "poissons" are fish while "poussins" are baby chickens... I'm just saying, you try to roast one without bursting into song.)

I'd planned to make the poussins for dinner; looking for an accompaniment, I opened the refrigerator door to find three pounds of rhubarb and half a bag of spinach staring back at me. That means it's time to get creative. My solution to the overstuffed fridge conundrum is this thrown-together recipe.

Roasted Poussins with Rhubarb-Apple Stuffing

Two deboned poissins (you could substitute Cornish Hens, but then you don't get to sing the song)
A large handful spinach, washed and roughly chopped
1 red onion, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 chopped toasted walnuts
1 lb rhubarb, washed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced (use a sweeter variety to counteract the sour rhubarb)
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger root
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 orange, juiced
1/4 c honey
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 400.  Melt 2 tbsp butter to a skillet over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the walnuts and saute another 2 minutes.  Add 1/3 of the the rhubarb to the skillet along with apple, ginger, garlic, raisins, salt, pepper, and spices.

Cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add spinach and stir until just combined, then remove from heat and season again to taste. 

Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the cavity of each bird then spoon one cup of stuffing into poussins, closing up the cavities as you finish (the birds are small, so toothpicks will do the trick if you don't have a turkey lacer). 

Meanwhile, heat brown sugar, orange juice, a pinch of salt, and remaining 2/3 of rhubarb in a 2-quart skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb breaks down, about 10 minutes. Strain out the solids, then return to mixture to pan and stir in honey and vinegar to make glaze.

Melt 1/4 tbsp butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat.  One at a time, sear both sides of the poissins, about 10 minutes total, until golden brown. 

Transfer both poussins to a baking dish and baste all over with rhubarb glaze, then place in the oven. Cook for 45 minutes, basting with glaze and pan drippings 2-3 times during cooking. 

Serves 2.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cocktail Hour: Honey-Oat Vodka

For Charlie's birthday party last December, I made four different kinds of infused vodka.  One of the most interesting was Honey-Oat.  It was thick and sweet, but a little grainy - almost like the milk that's left over after you finish a bowl of cereal.  I tried a few different mixers and spirits with it, but couldn't quite find the right complement - and the infusion tasted like it wasn't quite finished. Long story short, the bottle was gone by the end of the party, and I didn't ever really find the right way to serve it. 

I started another batch for a party in April, but again, it didn't taste ready. This time, I kept it in the fridge to let it mature a little longer. This particular infusion seems to do best when it's had a few weeks to sit. I started it around a month ago, so it's finally time to take it out and see how it's tasting.

At four weeks in, the vodka has a strong oat flavor that almost completely overwhelms the honey. Clearly, my oat-to-honey proportion must have been a little heavy on the oats.  To fix it, I decided to strain out the oats and add a little more honey in the hopes that the taste would mellow further with additional time.

I poured the entire contents of the jar into a fine strainer set over a deep bowl.  The oats soaked up a lot of liquid during the infusion process, so after most of the vodka had passed through the strainer, I pressed the remaining solids against the sides of the strainer with a spatula.  Once I was sure the oats had given up all the liquid I could possibly extract, I poured the vodka back into the original bottle.  To the vodka, I added an additional 1/4 cup of honey.  It settled immediately to the bottom of the bottle, so I'll take it out of the fridge several times over the next week to swirl the contents. 

In the meantime, here's the recipe for those of you who might like to try your own infusion.

Honey-Oat Vodka

One .75 liter bottle of vodka (Smirnoff, Absolut, and Svedka all work particularly well for infusions; I prefer Absolut)
1 cup rolled oats - not instant
1/2 cup honey

Pour honey over oats in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, then add vodka.  Shake well to combine.  Refrigerate; swirl contents several times per week.  Infuse for 3-4 weeks.

When vodka is ready, pour through a strainer, pressing all remaining liquid out of the oats.  Return to bottle and store in the refrigerator.

Once the Honey-Oat vodka is finished, I think I'll try it as a martini: 2 parts vodka with 1 part butterscotch schnapps, a splash of half and half, and a little cinnamon.

Do you have other ideas for me? Leave them in the comments, and I'll report back on their relative success!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Recipe: Pan-Fried Soft Shell Crabs

Once a year, Gateway Market gets a shipment of live soft shell crabs.  These delicious crabs have a short season, usually just a few months toward the start of summer.  Naturally, they're even more rare here in Iowa - I can only find them once a year, for one short week. 

That week, my friends, is now.

Soft shell crabs are actually Maryland blue crabs who have molted and shed their hard outer shells.  Once the shells are gone, you can eat them whole - no peeling, no fuss. (The crabs stop eating during the molting process, so you don't need to worry about eating digestive tracts and such.)  There's a very short window for packing and shipping them to far-flung places like Iowa because their hard shells start to grow back within a matter of days. Gateway was selling the crabs live on Wednesday; on Thursday, they were cleaned and ready to cook.  So despite being in landlocked Iowa, I was working with some pretty fresh specimens. We'll call them Pepe, Pierre, and Jacques.  Here is their story.

Pan-Fried Soft Shell Crabs, or: Pepe, Pierre, and Jacques take a hot bath
3 soft shell crabs
3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp cup Old Bay seasoning (I didn't have Old Bay, so I made a substitute based loosely on this recipe)

For breading:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 cup Old Bay seasoning (or substitute, as noted above)

For frying:
6 tbsp clarified butter
6 tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic

Spread out crabs in a dish where they can all lay flat, then pour just enough buttermilk into dish to fully cover them. 

Pour over lemon juice, salt and pepper, and Old Bay seasoning. Mix to combine, making sure to get liquid under all the shell pieces and under each crab.  Place the dish in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or until ready to cook.

Above: Pepe, Pierre, and Jacques take a buttermilk bath.

In a plastic bag, combine dry ingredients for breading.  Remove the crabs from the buttermilk and dredge on both sides with the flour mixture.

Heat clarified butter and oil in a deep, wide skillet. Throw in a couple of whole cloves of garlic, then saute crabs one at a time, for 3-4 minutes on each side or until crabs are a golden brown color. (Adding more than one crab at a time will cause the oil temperature to drop, so it's best to cook them individually.)   

This is Pierre.  He was delicious.

Be careful; crabs will not splatter, but they will occasionally pop in the hot oil.

Working one at a time, transfer cooked crabs to a baking dish and keep in a warm oven until all the crabs are finished.  Because the breading is so flavorful, you won't need dipping sauce; just dress crabs simply with fresh lemon juice and a little sea salt.

Serves 2.

Footnote: This is the first time I've ever made soft shell crabs, and not only were they easy to cook; the seasoning mixture in the flour made them absolutely addictive. Charlie and I were planning to split the three crabs between us, but I ended up eating both Pepe and Pierre while he was left with only Jacques.  

Further note: Why do the crabs have French names when they are in fact from Maryland?  I don't know, perhaps so I could address them with ze French accent while I cooked zem.  Sometimes it gets silly in my kitchen.

Cocktail Hour: Limoncello

It was only about a year ago that I discovered it was possible to make homemade limoncello. I'd been playing with vodka infusions for years, but asoundingly enough, had no idea that limoncello was essentially the same thing - grain alcohol infused with lemon peel, albeit over a much longer time span. 

Immediately, I started researching recipes. I soon learned that there are many conflicting opinions on the proper infusion time - I found recipes that advised anywhere from one week to 90 days. I even read one that recommended leaving the peels in alcohol for A YEAR.  I do not have that kind of patience, people.

The only way to figure out it? Try it for myself, of course! I decided to work with a very basic recipe using high-quality ingredients, and let the lemon peels steep as long as possible.  Given my aforementioned lack of patience, I'm going to try very hard to leave the limoncello alone until July, but don't judge me if I end up breaking it out a little sooner.

Here's the basic recipe:

 1.5 liters 190-proof grain alcohol
10 lemons, washed (I grabbed organic lemons since this recipe uses the outer peel)

(Really. That's all you need.)

The first step to a limoncello is to infuse the lemon peel.  To do this, peel just the zest from each lemon  into wide strips with a sharp vegetable peeler, being careful not to include any of the white pith. 

If you do get any of white pith with your lemon peel, just use a sharp paring knife to trim it away. 

Any pith that makes its way into the jar will impart a bitter taste to your infusion - though it's tedious, trimming it away will ensure you have a tasty, smooth end result.

In a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine lemon peel with grain alcohol. Swirl to mix well. Set jar in a cool, dark place and give it a swirl every couple of days to help the peels break down.  The clear alcohol will start to turn yellow and cloudy after a few days.

After I've left the limoncello alone for a few weeks, I'll add some simple syrup (2 cups sugar to 2 cups water) and let it infuse a little longer. I'll post updates on its progress - and eventually, on its taste!

What to do with your ten naked lemons? Juice them, of course, then refrigerate your fresh-squeezed lemon juice for another use.

Homemade lemonade, anyone?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Recipe: Asparagus Pesto with Pasta

Asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable.

Right around this time of year, grocery stores start to replace the thin, reedy asparagus flown in from parts unknown with big, healthy stalks of locally grown goodness. Last week, I snagged some amazing asparagus at the farmer's market - so tender it barely needed any time at all before it was cooked to perfection. It was the essence of spring distilled into a single bite.

Though I love asparagus dearly, my go-to cooking method (a few minutes on the grill with olive oil, salt, and pepper) can get a little repetitive. Looking for inspiration, I came across an article by Mark Bittman on asparagus pesto.

I'd never heard of asparagus pesto before, but it's essentially made just like a standard basil pesto: after lightly cooking the asparagus, just puree in a food processor with garlic, olive oil, Parmesan, and nuts. Initially I made the pesto as an accompaniment for lamb so I added mint, but almost any fresh herbs would work - the puree has a much milder asparagus flavor than you might expect, so you don't need to worry about clashing flavors.

One pound of asparagus makes quite a bit of pesto, so I had plenty of opportunities to experiment with creative ways to use it. Just like its basil-based counterpart, the asparagus pesto was delicious by itself on toasted bread. Surprisingly enough, it was very good with sauteed spinach - the resulting dish was strikingly similar to my beloved creamed spinach, but without any butter or cream. I folded some of the pesto into mashed potatoes, which imparted a nice amount of moisture without adding a strong asparagus flavor, and I eventually used the last of it in a frittata.

Naturally, it also makes a lovely and simple spring dish tossed with pasta.

Asparagus pesto with pasta

1 lb asparagus, washed and trimmed
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
Small handful of basil, tarragon, parsley, or any fresh herbs, roughly chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted (you can also use pine nuts or pistachios)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Juice from 1/2 lemon, or to taste
1/2 lb. pasta (linguine would work well)

Chop asparagus into 2-inch segments and add to a pot of salted boiling water. Cook just until asparagus is tender, about 5-10 minutes (check by piercing a stalk with a knife). Drain and allow asparagus to cool slightly; set aside the asparagus tips.

In a food processor, pulse the asparagus segments, garlic, herbs, nuts, and Parmesan. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream until pesto is the desired consistency - you may not need the entire 1/4 cup.

Add salt and pepper, and squeeze in lemon juice to taste. Mix asparagus tips back into pesto and refrigerate until ready to use (unused pesto will keep in the fridge for a day or two).

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Just before draining pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of cooking liquid.

Drain pasta, then return it to the pot over low heat. Pour in cooking liquid, then stir in 2 cups of asparagus pesto until pasta is coated and sauce reaches desired consistency.

Serve immediately.
Makes two servings.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cookbooks: Recipes from an Italian Summer

I've been following ReadyMadeTweets on Twitter for awhile now. ReadyMade has the most useful posts - great recipes, crafty ideas, design news - and the articles always strike a creative nerve with me. I'll read some article about making furniture out of packing materials, and inevitably I'll get really inspired by it and end up resolving to quit my day job and make shipping crate furniture to sell on Etsy. (Clearly, these are very productive ideas.)

Yesterday, however, I read an extremely useful post; even more so than a how-to on making flower vases out of paintbrushes (yes, that was a real article, and yes, I could totally make a living selling paintbrush vases on Etsy)... they had a contest to win a cookbook. And guess who won? I'm now eagerly awaiting my copy of Recipes from an Italian Summer!
While I'm waiting for my book to arrive, I thought I'd take a peek at what I can expect from this new trove of recipes. The publisher's blurb says it's "perfect for getting the best out of summer produce such as tomatoes, fresh herbs, peas and beans, fresh fruit and berries." With summer at its start and the excellent Des Moines farmer's market up and running, it sounds like exactly the right time for this book.
(By the way, I learned in my online research that Anthropologie carries this book. As I am addicted to all things Anthropologie, it only seems logical - of course I would win this book.)

From what I've seen online, the recipes all look like things I'd love to try, and it seems like the book is all about using seasonal, high-quality ingredients. I'm very excited to see that these aren't dishes I'm going to find in any of my other umpteen cookbooks (no offense, Mark Bittman, but How to Cook Everything - in most other respects, my food "bible" - doesn't have anything remotely close to the beautiful strawberry risotto from this book).

Check out some of the gorgeous food photography:

Wow. Here's a closer look at the Fisherman's Pizza recipe pictured above:

Now, I doubt I will find 11 ounces of baby octopuses the next time I'm at the farmer's market, but all the same, this recipe looks incredible.

Why yes, that is a recipe for swordfish carpaccio. I seriously doubt I already have a recipe for swordfish carpaccio. Take that, Mark Bittman.

Now it's decision time... what am I going to make first? Milanese Minestrone, Strawberry Risotto, Stuffed Zucchini Flowers? Potato Pizza? Blueberry rice pudding? With 400 recipes to choose from, this could be a difficult choice.
I can't wait to get the book and start cooking!