Friday, May 23, 2014

Bella Cucina

This week’s box features fresh, local kale.  Wandering around the store today, I noticed that there were lots of Vidalia onions as well as beautiful white mushrooms.  Vidalia onions have a mild, sweet flavor that just screams, “Caramelize me!”  While you can use these in any recipe that calls for onions, you might want to save these for something where you can cook them loooooow and sloooooow.  A little butter, a small pinch of salt, and a good bit of time over a medium-low flame turns them into magic.

Don’t crinkle your nose over plain ol’ white mushrooms, either.  Chefs around the world prize these mushrooms, due to their versatility and flavor.  Remember to never wash mushrooms.  All they need is a soft brush to remove any debris on them (a clean paper towel works well too), and they’re ready to go.  Quarter the big ones and halve the small ones, toss them in with your caramelizing onions, and you’ll have a great side for steaks or topping for brats.

Kale has become quite the nutritional star lately.  It’s a great source of fiber and vitamins.  If you’d like to show off your skills in the kitchen a bit more, make a frittata.  Sounds impressive, right? 

Just between you and me, that translates to, “Fancy Italian omelet.”  It sure sounds more impressive to say frittata, though.  Making them is about as simple as an omelet, too.  So, your mushrooms and onions are done caramelizing, right?  The kale goes quicker.  First, tear off the leafy part from the firm stems.  You can save the stems for stock, or even prepare them like a root vegetable.  In a hot skillet, add a little olive oil and put in the leaves.  Toss them with tongs, and in a minute or two they’ll wilt.  You still want them to be bright green, so take them out as soon as they do wilt, and mix with your mushrooms and onions.  Now, the omelet part.  It’s meant to be shared, so figure 2 eggs per person and beat them all together.  A splash of milk in the eggs makes it fluffy.  With a frittata, you beat the eggs until they’re a little foamy so that it’s lighter.  The “fixins,” meaning your kale, mushrooms and onions, are mixed in with the eggs, too.  Don’t forget salt and pepper.  Pour into an oven safe skillet (a cast iron pan is even better) over medium to medium-high heat and just let it sit.  Yes, the bottom and sides will set up before the top does.  When all but the top has set, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and place under a low broiler until the top sets.  See, now you’re impressing everyone!

When I told one of my foodie friends what would be in the box this week, she said, “Oooh, you have to tell them to make Sexy-Time Pasta!”  Pardon me…?  Well, here’s the details: 
Sexy-Time Pasta
1-2 tbsp olive oil 
3-6 slices of thick cut bacon, cut into bite size pieces
(the more bacon you use, the less olive oil you'll need)
10 oz sliced mushrooms
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 med onion, diced small
1 bunch of kale or baby spinach
1 lb short pasta (e.g., rotini)
3/4 c. grated Parmesan (Or more. I love cheese.)
Salt & pepper to taste


1) Heat olive oil and bacon in skillet over medium heat until bacon is golden. 

2) Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and spinach, cook about 3 min until spinach is vibrant green. Scoop out spinach and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well and set aside. Continue cooking pasta for another 7 min until almost al dente. When draining, reserve 1 cup of pasta water.

3) Move bacon to edges of pan and add mushrooms, onions and a pinch of salt to middle of pan, in as close to a single layer as possible. Turn heat up to medium-high and cook until mushrooms and onions start sizzling and turning brown (about 5 min). Reduce heat to medium, add cherry tomatoes and stir bacon and mushrooms together, cooking until mushrooms are tender. (5-7 min)

4) Reduce heat to low. Add drained pasta to skillet. Gradually stir in 1 cup of pasta water. Toss over low heat until sauce is silky and pasta is well coated.

5) Turn off heat. Add spinach and cheese and season with pepper. Toss well. When serving, sprinkle more cheese on top. (And then maybe some more. Because really, I love cheese.) Serve immediately for best results, but can also be served cool as pasta salad.
(Adapted from this recipe.)

It’s a variation on pasta carbonara, with tomatoes instead of the rich egg, and you could easily merge the two recipes.  Yes, I asked her why it’s called “Sexy-Time” pasta.  And no, she wouldn’t tell me.

Oh, did you see the cool trick for slicing cherry tomatoes?  What a time saver!

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