December 2010

“Kings of Pastry”

I was alerted to this documentary via Facebook and I just can’t resist posting the trailer. “Kings of Pastry,” a film by Chris Hegedus and D A Pennebaker. Who knew a movie about pastries could be “gripping?”

Use What You Have: Spaghetti with kale

A great ingredient-user-upper is pasta. Just because you don’t have a sauce doesn’t mean you can’t make fantastic pasta. In this case I used cheese, olive oil, and a bit of pasta water to bind it all together.

What I had:
Spaghetti, kale, bacon, white cheddar, olive oil, butter, garlic, pepper.

What I bought:
Nothing.

It’s vastly satisfying to use everything to the last drop, the last crumb, the last slice. Nothing goes to waste. And if you haven’t noticed already, groceries are expensive. You could easily drop fifty bucks on a single grocery outing for quality ingredients like organic produce…meat…spices…parm reggiano. But it’s all about value. What you buy can go a long way. In this economy (and my budget), every cent counts. So here we go. Spaghetti with kale!

Assemble your mise.

A note about mise en place:
In French, it means to put everything in place. This is another good practice to follow. Setting up all your ingredients before you begin cooking will make everything so much easier, I promise you that. If you don’t set things up beforehand, there’s a greater chance for mess-ups. Things will burn. Water will boil over. Anxiety will mount. All because you’re in a mad dash to grab things in the process of cooking, so you spend less time paying attention to the food at hand.

Drop pasta in boiling salted water. Meanwhile, saute the bacon in olive oil until crisp. Add chopped garlic and pepper and a little bit of salt. Be careful not to burn the garlic — it cooks very quickly in hot oil. Add your chopped kale and fry for about two minutes or until it becomes tender.

Add the cooked pasta to the greens and toss around. At this point add about a tablespoon of butter. Then add small amounts of the pasta water — the starch from the water will thicken the pasta. At the very end, add the grated cheese. Toss quickly and serve right away. Bon appetit!

Use What You Have: Cauliflower gratin

Dreamy. That is the word to describe what I have just made. Utterly dreamy.

Gratin is commonly made with potatoes but I was inspired to use cauliflower, per Ina Garten’s recipe here. It just so happens this dish is a good example of a new topic I’d like to explore in my blog. It’s what I’ll call the “use what you have” series.

Sometimes, successful cooking moments happen by chance. The star align, and you suddenly have all the right ingredients to make the perfect dish. I keep a fairly minimal refrigerator yet I am amazed by the sort of dishes I’m able to conjure out of what seems to be well, nothing. That is one of the finest experiences in cooking — making something out of what is seemingly not very much (wow…that’s deep huh?).

Some of the best dishes I’ve made are from leftover ingredients. All you need is a little imagination but even more so…you gotta ditch that lazy attitude. Cooking is 50 percent skill/experience — the other half is pure motivation and a desire to eat well.

So back to the cauliflower gratin. In this case, I had leftover béchamel sauce that I used for a lasagna, which by the way, I devoured in two days. I also had a quarter of an onion, a stack of crisp bacon, and a nice, mild white cheddar. To summarize:

What I had:
Béchamel, butter, white cheddar, onion, cooked bacon, pepper, salt.

What I bought:
One head of cauliflower

Now of course, this doesn’t mean you also have the ingredients I happened to have, but it is to demonstrate how you could easily whip something up. Ina Garten’s recipe is linked above. Here is my modified version:

Ingredients:
Cauliflower
Béchamel sauce
1 pat of butter, melted
Onion, chopped
Grated white cheddar (or your favorite white cheese)
Bacon, chopped

Chop the cauliflower in small pieces and blanch in boiling hot, slightly salted water. Cook until it first becomes tender; do not overcook. Drain and set aside. Pour melted butter on a baking dish. Add the cauliflower on top. Spread béchamel on top. Sprinkle bacon on top. Add grated cheese over it all. Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, OR until a nice brown crust forms on top.

A note about béchamel:
Béchamel is a white sauce thickened with a roux. Recipes vary but in general, you cook a roux (2 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons flour) until it browns slightly. Once this happens, slowly pour 2 cups hot milk in increments as you whisk away. Within seconds you have a beautiful, smooth sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. A dash of ground nutmeg is optional.

Comfort food could very well be anything that is browned and crisp on the outside, soft and mellow in the inside. MMmmM! This will make the perfect side dish to your steak, or with your breakfast eggs, or simply eaten STRAIGHT UP, as I did. I hope you enjoy it. Stay tuned for my next post on using what you have.