Pasta with tuna & roasted tomatoes, onions & garlic

It may seem foolish to turn on the oven in the middle of summer. Okay, actually, yes, it was foolish. But when you spend the day watching the Cooking Channel, and you come across this recipe which just happens to involve many things you already have in your pantry, and you get inspired... you can imagine where this goes.

This version is decidedly different, primarily because part of my all-day food-porn-fest involved watching Jamie Oliver do a fantastic episode of Jamie at Home that was all about onions, and we happened to get a big bunch of smallish red spring onions from our farm share. This, combined with about a pound of grape tomatoes that looked like they would go bad immediately if I didn't use them soon, led to the following adaptation.

The important things to note about this recipe are the following:

  • When I talk about "spring onions," I don't mean scallions, which are often referred to as spring onions. What I mean is the small, fresh onions that have long, scallion-like tops on them. You can find them at most farmer's markets, and they're DELICIOUS. They should have a small to medium sized bulb that gets bigger as the season moves forward.
  • Oil-packed tuna is very important in this recipe, as it has significantly more flavor than the water-packed variety. There's an Italian brand that I like, but the Trader Joe's oil-packed Yellowfin is what I used for this, and it was great.
To make it: 

Preheat the oven to about 350°F. In an oven proof skillet, combine:

  • 1 lb grape tomatoes, whole, or 1 lb halved cherry tomatoes
  • 3-4 smallish spring onions, cut in quarters or halves (depending on size - you want them about the size of a largish orange segment)
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, whole (cut them in half if they're particularly large)

Dress with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and shake in the skillet to coat everything evenly. Put in the oven for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, shell and prep

  • about a pound of fava beans

To do this, you first want to snap off the top of the bean and drag the top down. There should be a string that goes along with the top of the strip, like a zipper. Pop the shell open and pop the beans out of the shell. Then you'll want to blanch the beans quickly (in the pasta water is fine) for about 30 seconds to a minute depending on the size of the beans. When they're done, immediately put them under cold water and pinch off the white skins of the beans, revealing the green loveliness underneath. Hold these aside, and put

  • about half a pound of pasta

into the boiling water. When the veggies have been roasting for about 30 minutes, check them; they should be a bit caramelized. If not, put them in for another ten minutes or so, but first add

  • a handful of oil-cured black olives (optional)
  • the fava beans (only if they aren't cooked - they should be soft, but not mushy)

When the pasta is done and the veggies are ready, drain the pasta and toss it into a bowl with the vegetables, the fava beans, and

  • a can of olive oil-packed tuna, drained
  • a handful of julienned basil
  • a healthy drizzle of balsamic vinegar

mix it all together and serve with a bit of feta cheese.

Borek with Chicken, Fennel and Leeks

Recently I was treated to a cooking class at Sofra in Watertown, where we learned a variey of savory pies from various Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. The first one I tried when I got home was Borek - it's made with layers of Yuftka pastry (a very thin crepe, available at many of the Armenian groceries in Watertown). While the basic recipe is much more simple than this, this version that I made last night was delightful, and the braising liquid makes a great soup. You do want to braise the chicken legs beforehand, and it's very worth the effort; however, if you're really short on time, you could also do this with a supermarket rotisserie chicken.

Note: this recipe is not for those watching their weight. It's a lot of eggs and butter, but oh so very good.

To make it: 

Ingredients:

1 package yuftka pastry

1 stick butter, melted

3 cups milk (1% is fine)

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup flour

1/2 pound domestic feta cheese

1/4 cup shredded haloumi cheese (you can also use romano; just cut the salt)

4 braised chicken legs (see below), shredded

2 heads fennel, sliced thin

1 leek, sliced thin

a pinch each oregano, mint, cinnamon, and Aleppo chile

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a large sauté pan, combine fennel, olive oil, leeks and herbs and sauté for about 10-15 minutes until soft. Add shredded chicken and set aside.

Meanwhile, brush the bottom of a 13 by 9 Pyrex baking sheet with some of the melted butter. Whisk milk and eggs into the melted butter with a bit of salt and pepper.

Unwrap the Yuftka and start ripping it into sheets to make a layer at the bottom of the dish. Start with four layers of the pastry, brushing each layer generously with the milk and egg mixture. Spread chicken mixture in an even layer over the dish, and add crumbled feta and haloumi in an even layer. Create four more layers (should be the rest of the package), brushing each layer generously with the milk/egg mixture. When last layer is finished, score the whole dish vigorously with a knife, whisk egg yolks and flour into the remaining milk/egg mixture and pour it over the dish, pressing the casserole down so the custard completely covers the layers of pastry.

Place in the oven at 425°F, then turn heat down to 350° and bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown. Check it after about half an hour to see how it's going, and bring it back up to 425°F for a few minutes towards the end of cooking time to give it a bit of extra color.

Serve with simple dressed greens and a dollop of Greek Yogurt. Best enjoyed with friends.

Braised Chicken Legs

4 chicken legs, salted and peppered

6 cups of filtered water

2 carrots, washed and cut into big chunks

2 heads of fennel (tops only), cut into big chunks - reserve the bulb for later

1 leek, cut into big chunks

pinch each dried mint, oregano, grains of paradise, Aleppo chile

salt and pepper to taste

1tbsp olive oil

1/2-1 cup dry white wine

1/2 lemon

 

Heat olive oil over a high heat in a medium stockpot. Place chicken legs, skin side down, on the hot oil and sear until the skin is a golden brown color; you may have to do this in two batches. Remove once the tops have been seared and drain excess fat into a Ball jar with a couple of paper towels stuffed in it (it helps you catch the oil so you can throw it away more easily). Add wine and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, getting the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add vegetables and turn heat to medium; give them a stir just to moisten, then layer chicken legs on top. Throw in herbs, the juice and the rind of the 1/2 lemon, and cover with water. Reduce heat to the lowest possible setting, cover, and let simmer for 1-1/2 hours or so, taking care not to let the pot rise above a simmer.

Once the hour and a half is up, remove the chicken into a bowl with tongs and line a sieve over a large bowl with paper towels (I use two layers). Drain the braising liquid into the bowl and reserve for another use. The veggies can go into the compost. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the legs and shred chicken off the bone into the bowl. Skin and bones can be thrown away.

Relatively Guiltless Eggplant Parm

I came up with this recipe as a way to combat the greasy nature of traditional eggplant parm - baking the eggplant gives you the same texture with much less fat, while ricotta, crushed tomatoes with basil and reduced-fat mozzarella give the overall dish a nice cheesy flavor without being too heavy.

To make it: 

Serves about 4, if not more.

  • 2 large eggplants, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • 1 package Italian Style Seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs, beaten with a few tablespoons water (you want it about the consistency of whole milk)
  • extra-virgin olive oil (see notes in prep instructions)
  • 1 lb part-skim ricotta
  • 1 package reduced fat mozzarella (about 12 oz.)
  • 1 large can (about 32 oz.) crushed tomatoes with basil (or regular crushed tomatoes and 1 bunch of fresh basil, sliced thin)
  • salt, pepper and minced garlic to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a couple of cookie sheets with EVOO. You want even coverage, with a fair amount left for each side to get a bit of oil on it; otherwise, the eggplant gets dry and doesn’t take on the nice melty texture that I like in my eggplant. Dip eggplant slices in egg wash, then bread crumbs, and arrange on cookie sheet. Bake for about 20-30 minutes until brown on both sides and very soft, flipping halfway through.

Once eggplant is cooked, make a layer of crushed tomatoes at the bottom of a deep baking dish. Add a layer of eggplant, then a few dollops of ricotta, then a handful of mozzarella and some more tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic and start a new layer. Continue until all ingredients have been layered in the dish, and bake for about 10-20 minutes until cheese is melty and browned on top. Serve with pasta.

Penne Portabello with Balsamic-Gorgonzola Sauce

This is a very heavy dish, but the balsamic gives it a lighter flavor. It’s one of my favorite dishes, especially in winter. This will serve four people, but I don’t recommend leftovers. In my experience, it doesn’t reheat well (but I’ve also only had leftovers of this dish once).

To make it: 
  • 1 pound penne pasta (preferably whole-wheat)
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 4 portabella mushrooms, sliced, marinated in 1/4 cup Newman’s own Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette for 1/2 hour
  • 1/2 package Neufchatel cheese (aka reduced-fat cream cheese)
  • 1 pint half and half (you can also use 1% milk, but add a bit more Neufchatel to the mixture)

Put 1 gallon of water on to boil. When the water boils, add pasta. Cook pasta for 10-12 minutes until al dente. Drain pasta and set aside.

Saute portabella mushrooms in vinaigrette for about five minutes until they start getting tender. Add half and half or milk and heat through. Add Neufchatel and gorgonzola and continue cooking over medium heat until cheese is well incorporated and sauce is thick. Toss over pasta and serve hot.

Summer squash Parmesan

This is one of my favorite summer dishes. Some of my friends actually wait for me to make this dish the minute summer squash is in season. The key to this dish is its lightness - by using fresh tomato, garlic and basil instead of sauce and not overloading it with cheese, normally-heavy parmesan becomes a light summer dish. Serve with penne that has just a little butter, garlic, fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6.

To make it: 
  • 4 large summer squash, sliced in 1/8″ slices lengthwise
  • 1-2 eggs, beaten with a bit of water
  • 1-2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4-5 plum tomatoes
  • 1 smallish package fresh basil, leaves removed and julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 1 cup (seriously, just 1 cup) shredded mozzarella
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle 2 cookie sheets with 2 tbsp olive oil each (double check when you slice the squash; you might be able to get away with one sheet) Coat the slices of summer squash, first with egg wash and then with bread crumbs, and lay the breaded slices side to side on the oiled cookie sheets. Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes, until tender. Remove from oven, and raise heat to 425 degrees.

Put a layer of squash at the bottom of an 8″ square glass pan. Slice enough tomato to cover the layer evenly; make sure to sprinkle the juice and seeds of the tomato (they’ll spill out) over the layer of squash. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/3 of the basil. Continue the layering process until all the squash is used up (you should have about three layers - try eating any leftovers as-is. They’re terrific). Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, until cheese is browned.