Orecchiette with pan-fried pancetta

Lend me your “ears”

Originally appeared in the September 20, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

With fall-like temperatures sneaking in lately, my mind is already gearing up for comfort grub.  Pastas, of course, are ideal ways to accommodate complex and hearty flavors without getting too “heavy.”

Here’s a what I believe is a seldom-used pasta among food enthusiasts:  orrechiette, the indented-disc shape of which resembles a small ear.  In fact, the word has its root in the Italian “orecchio,” meaning ear, and “etto” meaning small.  Pancetta is the Italian, salt-cured version of bacon.  You may not readily notice this savory selection at your local market, but go to the deli counter and ask.  In other words, if it’s not up front under glass, sometimes they have it in the back.

I like adding peas for their sweetness and color, but one of the unique features of orecchiette is its ability to cup or cradle vegetables and sauces.  It would be easy to go overboard under that guidance, but keep things simple—a few meticulously handled ingredients with a user-friendly execution.  This dish makes for a great, midweek snack, or a gray-day comfort food.  So, friends, readers, culinarians, please allow me to lend you these ears.

 

Orecchiette with pan-fried pancetta

Serves 2

  • 1 ½ cup dry orecchiette pasta
  • ½ cup chopped pancetta
  • 1 cup chopped baby bella mushrooms
  • ¾ cup frozen peas
  • ¼ cup sherry wine
  • ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 – 5 grape tomatoes, halved
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • As needed, grated parmesan (for garnishing)

1.  Being a medium stockpot of salted water to a boil; add orecchiette pasta, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

2.  Meanwhile, in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add pancetta and sauté until crispy; add mushrooms and sauté until slightly tender; add peas.  Once peas have warmed, add wine and allow to reduce.

3.  Strain orecchiette and add to sauté pan.  Add in butter and stir to incorporate.  Add tomatoes, adjust seasoning, toss with parmesan and serve.

Advertisements
Published in: on September 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Carne asada tacos

Many thanks, Frankie

Originally appeared in the September 13, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

It was probably during my fifth or sixth month in my first job at a Mexican restaurant that a cook named Frankie beckoned me to the back of the kitchen.  This was near closing time, and I was at the helm of the expeditor’s station.  I didn’t know what Frankie—a big-shouldered guy with haphazard facial hair and a childlike chuckle—had up his sauce-spattered sleeve; but I was suspicious of the mischievous glint in my amigo’s eye.

“Frankie” was certainly not his real name, but it didn’t matter; like most of the cooks at this establishment (and countless others), “Frankie” was more than a fake-named cook, he was a friend.  On a platter rested three steak tacos, topped with a mix of cilantro, onion, and cradled in warm corn tortillas.  “This is what they should be serving,” said Frankie, vaguely gesturing at the belly of the kitchen.  He squeezed a bit of fresh lime on one of the tacos.  “These are real tacos Mexicanos.”

I gained a great respect for Mexican cuisine—and I’m not talking about the ersatz variety suited to the palates of us gringos.  In the months to come, the cooks (as part of their before- and after-hour rituals) shared with me traditional dishes like chilaquiles and menudo.  So don’t thank me for this recipe.  Thank “Frankie.”

 

Carne asada tacos

Yields six tacos

  • 2 pounds flank or skirt steak, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ½ red onion, minced
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Zest from 1 fresh lime
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 6 white or yellow corn tortillas
  • As needed, sliced fresh lime

1.  Dice steak into small, bite-sized cubes and place in non-reactive bowl.  Add in oil and lime juice, coating steak thoroughly; allow meat to marinate in refrigerator for at least four hours.

2.  Meanwhile, in a bowl combine onion, cilantro, and lime zest along with a small pinch of kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Place a wide-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat; season steak with a small amount of salt and pepper before adding to hot pan.  Sear meat thoroughly on all sides before removing from heat and allowing to rest (for about 7-8 minutes).  Place a separate sauté pan over medium heat and lightly toast corn tortillas on both sides.  Fill the tortillas with seared steak, top with cilantro along with a generous amount of fresh lime juice.

Published in: on September 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

A lamburger that’s baaad to the bone

Originally appeared in the September 6, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

You might have to do some investigating at your local market, but ground lamb is indeed available.  And while I didn’t include any cheese with this particular recipe, you could certainly do worse than add a bit of feta to the top of this lamburger.

Now, let’s talk about the “quickles.”  These are quick pickles, meaning that you can have them finished and cooled overnight, but they must remain refrigerated throughout their brined lifetime.  And owing to the subjectivity involved with the size of the cucumbers and desired application, I’ve kept the execution (read size of the pickling jars, the amount of garlic and arbol) rather loose.  And as this is a sort of basic “quick” brine, this is a really fun way to transform existing produce into a salty treat, and a wonderful way to get the kids involved in creating a personalized product.

Serve your lamburgers and quickles and some sort of crunchy side—fries, kettle chips, it’s your call.  And as I’ve indicated in the picture, fresh arugula—because of its peppery profile—is an appropriate accompaniment to your savory sandwich.  And though I invoke one of my former chefs who used to say, “You can never cook lamb too rare,” I encourage my readers to simply be judicious and create something delicious.

Lamburgers with homemade “quickles”

Serves 2

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • A few dashes Worcestershire
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chive
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

For pickles (to be done at least 24 hours ahead of time):

  • As needed, lid-and-band pickling jars (such as Ball brand)
  • 64 fluid ounces purified water
  • 3 ½ ounces seas salt
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 – 3 large cucumbers, cut into spears
  • As needed, fresh dill
  • 1 – 2 heads fresh garlic, cloves removed from skin
  • As needed, dried arbol chiles

1.  In a large stock pot, combine water, sea salt, and cider vinegar; bring to a gentle simmer for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Bring a separate stockpot of water to a gentle boil (this will be for sealing jars, so make sure you account for the height and amount of water that will be displaced).  In prepared pickling jars, arrange cucumber spears with a judicious mixture of fresh dill, garlic, and arbol chiles.  Carefully fill each jar with brine mixture to the rim.  When jars are sealed tightly, place in boiling water and allow tops to pop, this will indicate the lid-and-band seal is tight.  Remove jars from water and allow to cool before placing in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

2.  Preheat sauté pan or grill to medium-high.  Combine ground lamb with garlic, Worcestershire, basil, chive.  Divide in half and form two large patties.  Season exterior with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and place on preheated device.  Allow burgers to cook to desired doneness before removing from heat and allowing to rest for 7 minutes.  Serve burgers with homemade “quickles.”