Friday, December 31, 2010

Orecchiette with Sausage, Broccoli Rabe & Tomato

In the States, we tend to think of broccoli rabe and sausage with orecchiette as a dry or “unsauced” dish, but this version binds the ingredients together in a hearty tomato sauce, and I much prefer it this way. There’s something about the combination of sausage meat and broccoli rabe thrown against pasta that often falls flat for me. Here though, there is a deep savor and twang that I absolutely crave.

The beauty of this recipe is that if you buy good sausages, most of the flavor base is already built for you, and that means no chopping. I actually like to go one step further and use the sublime fennel sausages from Faicco’s Pork Store down in the West Village — one of the best deals in New York, if you ask my humble opinion — and then I don’t even have to include the fennel seeds.

This is what I make when I’m chilled to the bone and need something that will stick to my ribs and generally restore my faith in the world. The prep work is almost non-existent, which means that you can theoretically sit down and have a sip of something reviving while the sauce bubbles away on the stove.

If you ever make the sauce ahead of time (something I rarely have the foresight to do, but these sorts of ragus really do improve in the fridge over a couple of days and freeze well for a month) do yourself a favor and don’t add the broccoli rabe until just before serving. You want it bright green and fresh against the rich red of the sauce, and as soon as green vegetables come into contact with the acid in the tomatoes and wine, not to mention the prolonged exposure to the heat of the sauce, they start to brown. Another tip my friend Dana swears by comes from her Italian mother-in-law: cooking the broccoli rabe in chicken stock tempers the vegetable’s bitterness if it’s not something you care for.

Serves 4 - 6

* Extra virgin olive oil
* 4 fresh Italian sausages, skins removed
* 2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
* 1 tsp fennel seeds
* crushed red pepper flakes to taste (they vary so much in heat – I’d start at 2 small pinches)
* 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
* 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
* ¼ tsp granulated sugar
* 1 glass red wine
* kosher salt
* freshly ground black pepper
* freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
* chicken stock for cooking the broccoli rabe (optional)
* 1 lb dry orecchiette
* 1 lb bunch broccoli rabe, bottom stalks trimmed and discarded, outer leaves removed, and remaining rabe cut into 3 inch lengths
* 2 handfuls freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese plus more for serving

Heat a large pan over high heat. Add a glug of extra virgin olive oil to coat and then crumble in the sausage meat. Reduce the heat to medium and use a spatula or wooden spoon to break up the meat as it browns, turning once or twice. Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula and pour off the excess grease. Add a little more olive oil and then the crushed garlic cloves, fennel seed, and crushed red pepper flakes and cook a minute or two until the garlic has softened. Add back the sausage and stir in the tomatoes, bay leaves, sugar, and wine and return to the heat. Season with a little kosher salt (bear in mind that the parmigiano reggiano cheese you’ll add at the end is very salty), and some black pepper, bring to a gentle simmer, reduce the heat to low and allow to bubble away uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce gets too dry, add more wine or a little stock or water.

After 30 minutes, taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, a little more sugar if the acid is too high, or even a spritz of lemon juice if you feel the flavor needs brightening. Continue to simmer uncovered over low heat partially covered.

Meanwhile boil some well-salted water for the pasta in a large pot and some more (or well-seasoned chicken stock) for the broccoli rabe in a medium pot. Toss in the orecchiette and boil, stirring occasionally, until par-cooked (about half-done). Drain and reserve. (Note: My orecchiette took about 4 minutes, but cooking time always varies according to brand). At the same time toss in the broccoli rabe and boil for 8 minutes or until just tender. Drain and immediately rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process and preserve the beautiful green color. Remove the bay leaves and garlic cloves from the sausage ragu.

Heat the large pasta pot over medium heat. Add a generous glug of olive oil to coat the bottom and then the pasta. Add the sausage ragu and stir. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often until the pasta is al dente and has absorbed some of the sauce. Press the cooked broccoli rabe against the side of a colander or sieve with the back of a cooking spoon to remove excess water. Stir into the pasta. Remove from the heat and stir in a couple of handfuls of grated parmigiano reggiano. Check the seasoning one last time with salt and pepper and maybe more lemon juice, and serve right away sprinkled with a little more cheese.

See the original post on Pixies Did It!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Poached Eggs with Winter Greens & Pancetta

My brilliant friends, sisters Kelly & Katie McMenamin, run a home organization company based on personality type. You'd be amazed how well it works. I mean these girls get you, no matter who you are and how weird you think your foibles might be.

This year they launched a website, PixiesDidIt!, offering personalized home and life advice. You can sign up for daily or weekly PixieTips - ideas for how to make your life easier here.

For some time now they've been giving me a much needed prod to start back to work post-baby (well really post-toddler at this point), and it finally worked. This week they're featuring my ideas for fast, easy dinners, the first of which is my Poached Eggs with Winter Greens & Pancetta, posted below. I hope you enjoy - it's nice to be back.

I think eggs are the most underused ingredients of the weeknight dinner menu. They’re quick, affordable, delicious, and offer near limitless possibilities. In fact I could honestly fill this entire week with eggs-for-dinner recipes. But what I might love most about eggs is how easy it is to make them feel elegant, chic, and (I’ll admit it) just that little bit French. One of my favorite food writers of all time Elizabeth David actually named one of her books An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. That is exactly where I’m coming from here: simple flavors, simple preparation, and yet you still can so easily create an almost escapist experience. Eating this dish is a comfort not least because it makes you feel you’re living well.

Picture a little green salad, or in the winter, some lightly wilted, peppery greens, fragrant with good olive oil and touched with the merest hint of mustard or garlic. Add a glass of something crisp and light or red and robust, depending on your mood, plus maybe some crusty baguette for mopping up the juices. And then the eggs – in this case poached so that the yolks can meld with the simple vinaigrette and crisp pancetta or bacon to create an unctuous, soul-reviving sauce. It’s the work of 20 minutes, tops, but truly one of my favorite dinners. The meal is quiet, minimalist, and makes it awfully easy to pretend you’re sitting at some rustic wooden table in a little bistro somewhere, watching the windows fog up and plotting out how many vineyards you might be able to get to the next day before lunch.

And remember, practice is what makes any recipe familiar and approachable. Cook this a couple of times, and you’ll have the shopping, the timing, and the serving down pat. Read through the instructions before starting and finish the (very light) prep work before you begin. It’ll soon be second nature and a wonderful fall-back to add to your arsenal.

Serves 3 - 4

Extra virgin olive oil
½ lb thick-cut pancetta or bacon, cubed to medium size
3 tbsp vinegar (any kind)
8 good quality eggs, the fresher, the better
2 tbsp white balsamic or sherry vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, crushed, paper removed
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh lemon juice to taste
large bunch of young mustard greens, kale, escarole, or other winter greens that appeal, (spinach and swiss chard won’t offer the same texture but will taste just as delicious), large ribs and stems removed and leaves rinsed, dried, and torn into pieces.

French baguette, sliced thickly to serve

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add a small drizzle of olive oil and then the pancetta cubes. Stir occasionally until brown and crisp.

As the pancetta cooks, put the white balsamic or sherry vinegar, mustard, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Whisk in 6 tbsp of the olive oil. Check the seasoning with the lemon juice and more salt and pepper as desired. Set aside.

Meanwhile fill a large saucepan with 3 inches of hot tap water. Add the 3 tbsp of vinegar (this helps the egg whites to stay together), and bring up to a simmer over high heat.

Once the pancetta is browned, remove to a paper towel to drain and pour off the fat from the sauté pan. Add a healthy glug of olive oil to the same pan and then the winter greens you’ve chosen. Season with a little kosher salt and then cook over medium heat, adding more oil if the pan becomes dry, until the greens have wilted and softened. Obviously the tougher your leaves, the longer it takes. Spinach will cook the most quickly. Something like kale needs more time. Once the greens are done, divide and arrange them in the center of each plate. Pour over a little of the vinaigrette. You may have left over, and it keeps very well covered in the fridge.

By now the water and vinegar should have reached a simmer. Gently tip each of the eggs into the mixture. If they stick to the bottom of the pan, wait until they are set to free them. Simmer over low heat very gently for 2 – 3 minutes until the whites are just set but the yolks are still runny.

When the eggs are done, gently remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and pat off extra moisture with a paper towel. Arrange the eggs on top of the greens and sprinkle over the pancetta cubes. Season with a little more kosher salt and black pepper, and serve immediately with a glass of wine and plenty of crusty baguette.
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