Archive for April, 2010

Kitchen Staples: Pasta and Eggs, and notes on what makes a good egg.

If you’re a lover of pasta carbonara, you know the rich and lovely taste of egg yolks on pasta. This time of year, if you don’t have chickens yourself (I don’t yet), the farmers markets are full of beautiful eggs with deep orange yolks, and wonderful impromptu meals can be made from them. This one is warm and comforting, but has a little zing to it. You can have it on the table in 30 minutes or less. If you always have pasta, high-quality olive oil, good Parmesan, and anchovies around, you’re never more than 30 minutes (tops) from a good meal. Good eggs in season send the combination over the top.

You will need a small, heavy skillet or clay dish (my preference) with a cover. Clay needs to be heated slowly, so if you’re using it, start heating it over low heat about 15 minutes before you want to start cooking the eggs.

Ingredients: for 2 very generous servings, start with 4 very good eggs, about 6 oz. of spaghetti or linguini, 2 small anchovy fillets (very necessary for the bold flavor of the dish), 3 tablespoons of good olive , 2 cloves of garlic chopped, a few tablespoons of chopped parsley (plus more for garnish if you like,) an ounce or two of the best Parmesan you can find, and half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes (more if they’re mild.)

Start cooking the garlic slowly in the olive oil, over medium heat, while the salted water for the pasta is coming to a boil. Meanwhile, chop the anchovy fillets very finely or pound them in a mortar until they’re paste-like. Stir them into the saute’ing garlic and cook the mixture until the garlic is soft through but not browned. Lower the heat under the skillet and stir in the red pepper. Break the eggs into the skillet a few minutes after you add the pasta to the boiling salted water. Splash a couple of teaspoons of water into the skillet (this makes a little steam to lightly cook the top of the eggs,) cover the skillet tightly, and let it sit over low heat until the eggs are done to your liking. Make sure the yolks stay soft. When done to taste, take the skillet off the heat. Heavy iron or clay will keep them hot. Open the cover so that they don’t overcook.
When the pasta is ready, drain it, toss it very quickly with the cheese, another tablespoon or so of olive oil, and the chopped parsley. Put in warmed bowls and top each with two of the eggs. Pour the garlic/anchovy/red pepper mixture left in the skillet over the top.
At the table, break the yolks, stir them into the pasta a little, and revel in simplicity and ease.
This dish accomodates whole wheat spaghetti if you like it.

Regarding those eggs, I advise buying at the farmers market whenever possible. To have a good life and make good eggs, chickens should run around outside and have access to plants and bugs, not run around a giant stinking building with a tiny outdoor yard, mostly unused by the chickens, that allows the manufacturer (and I use that term advisedly) to call its product “free range.” Don’t support a CAFO with the misimpression that you are getting truly good eggs. Really good eggs come from small producers and backyard growers and are not found at the grocery store. Be sure to bring the cartons back when you empty them, because the small growers pay too much for them and are usually eager to reuse them.

Passing Pleasures: Blood Orange Marmalade, and notes on sharp knives

In my last post I discussed the virtues of freshly squeezed blood orange juice, and encouraged you to eat them up during the few short weeks that we can get them. In this post I’ll talk about how to preserve them so that you can spread your morning whole wheat toast with exquisite marmalade long after the season is over.
First, the disclaimer: nearly all my ideas about marmalade came from John Thorne, a remarkably quirky, idiosyncratic, and interesting food writer. I strongly advise getting his book Mouth Wide Open and reading the chapter “Maximum Marmalade,” because you’ll learn good marmalade-making technique, get all the comments and asides of a working cook in his element, and have a great time. I happened to reread his book at a time when I was thinking about the concentration of beneficial flavanoids such as naringenin, hesperidin, and rutin in citrus peel, and wondering how to make them taste good. Naturally, a chunky and delicious marmalade was the way to go.
First, catch your blood oranges. There are two basic types on the market right now, one the size of a lemon or a little bigger, deep red inside, and filled with tart juice with a definite note of raspberry. The other is the size of a navel orange and only lightly blushed inside, and the juice is sweet. The former type is best for marmalade. I have only found it at the Nob Hill branch of La Montanita Co-op this week, so act fast if you want to get some. If all you can find is the other kind, you can still make a great marmalade, but it won’t be quite the same. Buy about 15 of the small ones or 7-8 of the big ones. The two types are shown below:

Next, get a really sharp knife. For my local readers I advise a trip to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market with all your knives in hand. Look for Pat Romero’s sharpening booth, and he will sharpen them to lethality while you shop. Please let him know that Local Food Albuquerque sent you, and be damn careful when you unwrap them at home, because a knife sharpened by Pat has no margin for error.
Now wash the 4 prettiest small oranges, or the one best if using the larger sort. Cut off the two ends enough to reveal the flesh, cut in half lengthwise, and slice each half crosswise into the finest slices that you can manage. Remove any seeds, but keep everything else. Put your slices in a bowl, and juice the remaining oranges until you have enough juice to cover the slices. Cover the bowl tightly and let the slices macerate in juice overnight at room temperature.
The next day, put the entire contents of the bowl in a saucepan of at least twice the volume of the mixture, bring to a boil briefly, and simmer gently until the peel is as tender as you like, remembering that it will firm up some when cooked with sugar. When the peel is softened to your preference, measure how much orange goop you have and add 3/4 that much sugar. I recommend white sugar only, to avoid distorting the wonderful orange taste. Now bring to a boil briefly again, and cook at a fast simmer until it’s ready to gel. John’s test, which is the best one I’ve come across, is to put a heavy plate in the freezer before you start cooking. After cooking the orange-sugar mixture for 15 minutes, start putting a half teaspoon or so on the cold rim of the plate. Return to the freezer for a minute and then prod the dribble with your finger. When it softly holds its new prodded shape, it’s done. Pour it into clean jars, let cool, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator, or see the Ball Blue Book for directions on how to heat-process so that it can be stored in the pantry until opened. In the morning, toast and butter a piece of very good bread, spread it with butter and marmalade, and eat. Oh my.
Incidentally, cooking any sugar syrup requires a watchful cook hovering over the stove to stir and prevent boil-overs. This is not a forget-it-until-it’s-done recipe. The result is worth it.