More often than not, our weekday dinners are determined by an item in the fridge that’s near its “use-by” date. Such was the case on Monday, when my husband announced that we had a pound of Italian sausage that needed to be used or tossed. When I suggested making my go-to sausage and roasted peppers, he said: “Again? Why not try something new and use it for the blog.”
While making something new might not pose a problem for those of you who have a nearby market or a car, for those of us who don’t, it often involves seeing what’s on hand and then searching for a suitable recipe. After discovering a package of green lentils in the pantry, I turned to my cookbook collection, where I found the perfect match, “Lentil and Sausage Casseroles,” in a volume from the Good Cook series by Time-Warner: Dried Beans and Grains.
For years, I’ve been a fan of the British chef Jamie Oliver. His down-to-earth approach to food and emphasis on rich flavor have led me to add several of his cookbooks to my collection. One of my latest additions is Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals, a companion volume to his television series by the same name, which is the source of today’s recipe. Read more
Yes; another shrimp dish. But during these times, they’re the only fresh seafood that’s readily available to us. Moreover, they’re a steal at $5.99/pound; easy to prepare for a weeknight; and utterly delicious.
Some zucchini in the fridge from our local farmers market brought to mind a recipe from Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian that I had come across a few weeks ago. Like many of the recipes in this book, this one yields enough food to serve 6 to 8. Therefore, since I was cooking only for two, I cut down on some, but not all, of the ingredients. For example, rather than cooking two pounds of shrimp, I used one and similarly reduced the number of zucchini from four to two.
With summer almost upon us, zucchini have begun appearing at our local farmers market. Indeed, seeing them there last week brought back memories of two childhood dishes my aunt would always make throughout the summer. One of these was a zucchini salad with fresh mint and garlic dressed simply with vinegar and olive oil, which I wrote about here last year. The other was zucchini a scapece, which uses the same ingredients but a different preparation that gives the dish its name. The Italian “scapece” is a derivative from the Spanish word, “escabeche,” used for a variety of foods marinated in vinegar after cooking.
Despite the noise, crowds, traffic, costs and other negatives of living in New York City, there are plenty of positives and, for me, one of the best is the ready availability of almost any culinary ingredient for most ethnic cuisines.
I was reminded of this yesterday when, paging through an old copy of the now sadly defunct American edition of La Cucina Italiana, I came across a recipe for spaghetti prepared with ‘nduja, a spreadable spicy salume from Calabria. Not at all familiar with this ingredient, a Google search provided me with plenty of background and within minutes I found a source for it a few blocks from home.
This highly spiced, fiery red Calabrian sausage is packed with plenty of flavor and so much red pepper that it’s thought by some to be an aphrodisiac. And given yesterday’s sweltering 90° F temperatures, I thought spicy spaghetti with zucchini and ‘nduja was the perfect dish. The delicately flavored zucchini provide a moderating counterpoint to the raw heat of the sausage.
Spaghetti with Zucchini and ‘Nduja
Fine sea salt (I used Kosher salt.)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, grated using the larger holes of a box grater
3 1/2 ounces ’nduja, removed from casing (scant 1/2 cup packed)
1 pound spaghetti
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add zucchini, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon water. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. (Rather than a non-stick, I used a stainless-steel skillet.)
Add half of the ’nduja; stir with a wooden spoon, breaking up the meat, until it has melted into the sauce. Remove from heat.
Boil pasta until al dente. Reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, drain pasta, and then transfer to a large serving bowl. Add zucchini mixture and pasta cooking liquid; toss to combine. Divide pasta among serving bowls. Serve immediately, topped with the remaining ’nduja. (Add the pasta cooking liquid judiciously; you may not need the full amount.)
Note: An internet search for ’nduja should provide sources for purchasing it. In New York City, it is available at Buon Italia in Chelsea Market and I believe at Murray’s Cheese and possibly at Eataly.
When I was at our greengrocer yesterday, I spotted some beautiful Holland eggplants, deep purple in color, firm to the touch, heavy for their size. And right next to them, were some local zucchini looking equally as good. With these in my basket, I decided it was time for ratatouille. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to find some equally good tomatoes. Nevertheless, I stayed with my original decision and bought the other ingredients onions, bell peppers, fresh thyme.
When I got back home, I searched for some recipes and found one from Martha Stewart that appealed to me because it called for large, chunky pieces of vegetables. However, its directions included some steps, like roasting individual canned tomatoes for 30 minutes and sweating eggplant with salt, that I didn’t feel necessary.
My go-to brand of canned tomatoes always have plenty of flavor and I thought rather than turning on the oven, I could get the roasted flavor from toasting some concentrated tomato paste in my pot along with the vegetables. I also find more and more that today’s eggplants aren’t as bitter as they once were and therefore the typical salting process isn’t as necessary as it once was.
I also digressed from Martha’s recipe in the timing. I thought her suggested times for cooking the vegetables were too short. I’m old school Italian and like my vegetables a little more cooked than more trendy recipes suggest. I remember how, when nouvelle cuisine was in vogue, I once served string beans to my aunt and she took them back to the kitchen and sautéed them in olive oil and garlic. She returned them to the table and announced, “Now these are beans cooked for people not for rabbits.”
Ratatouille Adapted from Martha Stewart
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, (about 1 pound total) diced large
6 large cloves of garlic smashed and peeled
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced large
1 tablespoon concentrated Italian tomato paste (the one in a tube)
1 can (28 ounces) crushed Italian tomatoes
2 medium sized eggplants, (about 1 pound total) cut into 1 to 1.5 inch pieces
2 large zucchini (about 1 pound total) peeled with alternating strips of peeled and unpeeled skin.
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (Martha called for 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram or oregano)
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
In a large non-reactive Dutch oven, preferably enameled cast iron, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, occasionally, until translucent. (Martha suggested 5 minutes; because of the size of the onions, I cooked mine for closer to 10 minutes.)
Add garlic cloves and cook until onions and garlic are soft. (Again, I cooked mine for about 10 minutes as opposed to Martha’s 5.)
Add peppers stirring and cook until tender. (Martha called for crisp-tender and 4 minutes; I went closer to 10.)
Add 1 tablespoon concentrated Italian tomato paste and toast briefly for about 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bay leaf, fresh thyme to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture come to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low, partially cover, and cook at a gentle simmer until vegetables are cooked through, around 30 minutes. If sauce becomes too thick or starts to stick while cooking add a couple of tablespoons of water from time to time.
(Martha says to cook the vegetables are “tender but mushy, 15 minutes.” I almost doubled this time and my vegetables, perhaps because of their heft did not become mushy.)
Season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Remove bay leaf. (The vinegar is an essential part of the seasoning, adding a lot of brightness to this dish.)
I served the ratatouille accompanied by some crusty cheese focaccia.
Yesterday, I was challenged to to prepare the following recipe from Weight Watchers. At first glance, it looked fine.
Shrimp with Zucchini and Tomatoes
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup of grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup water
Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add zucchini in a single layer; increase heat to high and cook until bottoms are golden, about 2 minutes. Flip zucchini and cook until golden on the other side, about 2 minutes or more. Remove zucchini to plate with a slotted spoon. Heat remaining oil in the same skillet. Add shrimp; sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper; sauté until shrimp are almost cooked through, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic and water; sauté, stirring to loosen bits from the bottom of the land, until shrimp are cooked through and tomatoes are softened, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Return zucchini to skillet; toss and serve.
However, when I brought the ingredients home and re-read the recipe I couldn’t resist making some changes for the following reasons., which would unfortunately slightly increase the number of Weight Watcher points.
First off, I don’t like to sauté in nonstick pans. I have two, but use them exclusively for eggs and omelets. I opted to use stainless steel, which necessitated using an extra tablespoon of olive oil.
Second, I thought that sautéing the tomatoes for 1 minute really wouldn’t extract their flavor or change their texture.
Finally, I thought combining water and raw garlic to “deglaze” the pan wasn’t going to add much flavor.
So, keeping most of the ingredients except for substituting wine for the water as well as adding an additional tablespoon of olive oil for sautéing and a quarter cup of chopped parsley for garnishing, I prepared the recipe with a few changes to the instructions.
I added all the olive oil (2 Tablespoons) up front and sautéed the zucchini along with the garlic for about 3 minutes; I kept my eye on the garlic making sure it remained light gold and not brown. As a a result, the zucchini were only lightly colored but nonetheless perfectly cooked.
I transferred the zucchini, garlic, and oil to a bowl, making sure there was no garlic left in the pan. I then carefully poured off most of the oil from the bowl, without any of the garlic, back into the sauté pan. I then seasoned the grape tomatoes with the salt and oregano and sautéed them until they started to break down and create a sauce.
At this point, I added the shrimp and cooked on one side until they turned pink, about 2 minutes. I then turned the shrimp and cooked for about 1 more minute. Then I added the wine and returned the zucchini, garlic, and any remaining oil in the bowl to the pan. I cooked everything for about about 2 more minutes. I then plated onto heated plates, sprinkling the shrimp with some chopped parsley and served with couscous.
I know the final dish had a few more Weight Watcher points than the original, but I think the extra flavor and texture of my version may have been worth them. However, if you are following their program religiously, I think you’ll be more than happy with the original recipe at the beginning of this post.