Monday, March 14, 2011

snow ice cream

Random fun thing that I "cooked" this winter that I should tell you about while there is still a chance of further winter weather this year: snow ice cream! Freshly fallen snow + maple syrup = natural winter deliciousness.

snow and syrup, premixing

Mix it up and scoop it into a bowl for a fun wintertime treat! Of course, here's hoping to no more winter. I say, bring on the sunshine and spring leaves!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

kabocha squash with ricotta cheese/maple lemon brussels sprouts with bacon

Today I have some delicious kabocha squash and ricotta cheese toasts and brussels sprouts with bacon, lemon, maple syrup. These two dishes have "famous chef" pedigrees, and they do not disappoint. I highly recommend both of them.

First is Jean-Georges Vongerichten's kabocha squash and ricotta cheese toasts. New York Magazine will use any excuse to include this little number in a list of must eat restaurant menu items. Seriously, they've probably mentioned this dish like three or four times in recent months. (OK, maybe just twice...) They have never given the actual recipe, but I had a big old kabocha squash that only made so much bread pudding, so I decided to try my hand at recreating the described dish.

Simply put, I roasted the kabocha squash until it was nice and soft. Then I pureed the squash flesh, poured in a little apple cider vinegar, a healthy grind of pepper and sprinkling of salt, and mixed it all around. To put it together, I toasted some bread and then topped it with a layer of ricotta cheese and my vinegared squash.

It was a very nice combination, which I will definitely try to make again. You could tell that the squash and ricotta really complemented one another, and the apple cider vinegar added an unusual depth of flavor. Next time I'll spring for some better ricotta, (I got some cheap off brand that was on sale– probably since it was not very good!), and use some nice thin slices of Italian bread. The basil garnish would also probably be great, but I didn't have any of that at the time.

The other dish pictured is this amazing recipe for maple syrup lemon brussels sprouts with bacon. Also featured in New York magazine, this recipe comes from chef Zak Pelaccio. I don't actually know who that is, but since the recipe was included in feature on famous chef's holiday meals, I think he must be a fairly big deal. Also, if this dish is any indication, he's a culinary genius. I never would have thought that bacon, brussels sprouts, lemon, cream and maple syrup would be a good combination, but somehow they come together beautifully. If I had had chestnuts, I'm sure they would have fit in perfectly, but this dish is so orgasmically good even without them, that I feel that they are unnecessary.

In addition to being super awesomely yummy, these sprout are also really easy. Basically, you fry up bacon, and then you cook the brussels sprouts in the bacon grease with garlic for like five minutes. The recipe also called for fresh thyme, but it was plenty flavorful without it. Then you pour in the cream, and after that's reduced by half, you mix the bacon back in, and add the maple syrup and lemon, letting it cook a little bit longer to let it all meld together. The cream cooks off more than you would expect, and the dish is remarkably light tasting considering the rich and hearty ingredients. The maple syrup is muted by the sprouts themselves, and the lemon gives it a nice brightness and acidity. Quite a remarkable and unexpectedly successful combination of ingredients. It is, in a word, amazing. Seriously. If you don't like brussels sprouts, this is the dish to convert you.

If that wasn't enough to convince you, I'll leave with another shot of this delicious meal:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

ricotta cheese pasta sauce/butter baked salmon

Hi boys and girls. I know it's been awhile, but I'm hoping that with the start of a new month, I can get back to posting regularly. I've got lots of interesting dishes to cover, so hopefully you all haven't forgotten about little old garlicus maximus.

creamy ricotta cheese pasta

Today I'd like to talk about two dishes that are classic Cascone family recipes. First is my Nona's pasta in creamy ricotta cheese sauce, and the second is my parents' easy baked salmon.

butter baked salmon

When I first started cooking for myself, I usually had to call up my family members and make them walk me through my favorite recipes. These two dishes were among the first I ever tried to make for myself. I remember calling my Nona from Florence in the summer of 2007 so that I could get the proper ratio of ricotta to pasta water. A few months later, in the kitchen of my last Fordham dorm room, it was my mother who got the call when I needed to know exactly what she put on her salmon. In both cases, the answers were simpler than expected. Either one of these dishes would be quite at home in a Minimalist column, or a segment on 30 minute meals. Both feature just a few ingredients and taste amazing; it's no wonder my family keeps them in regular rotation for a fast and satisfying weeknight dinner.

The pasta dish is something my dad's mom used to make for us on the fly when we arrived in San Diego jetlagged and starving. It is so good and cheesy and creamy and yummy, and it also happens to be incredibly easy. Totally craveable. The salmon is something that my parents have been making for years and years and it is probably the reason that salmon is my favorite fish. I like it because it keeps the fish nice and moist, and doesn't mask the delicious taste of fresh salmon.

Nona's pasta with ricotta sauce

To be honest, these two dishes were not actually part of the same meal. However, I did serve one of them with each of the cauliflower dishes I covered in my last entry, and both are tested family recipes that never fail to satisfy and would certainly complement one another should you decide to eat them together.

Neither recipe is something that I have down to exact science. For instance, salmon fillets vary widely in thickness, so cooking time is dependent on the size of the fillet in question, so I don't really have real specific guidelines for you. Hopefully some basic guidelines will suffice instead.

Pasta in Creamy Ricotta Sauce
Cook your pasta as you would normally, perhaps with slightly less salt than you might otherwise use. Before you drain the pasta, reserve a couple of cups of the pasta water and set aside.

To make the ricotta sauce, mix equal parts pasta water and ricotta cheese and stir in the pasta. (I used awesome tennis racket shaped noodles, as you may have noticed.) The amount of water and cheese that you use is going to vary based on how much pasta you've made obviously, but I generally just stir it all together and add more as it is needed. Then I like to add a couple of tablespoons of romano cheese and a healthy grind of black pepper. If you're my dad, then you can also add some chopped parsley for color. (I may have done that myself in the hopes of creating a better photo.) Mix it all up and serve right away.

Butter Baked Salmon
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Season your fillet lightly with salt and pepper, and dot it with a couple of slices of butter. Bake until just cooked through, which will take longer or shorter based on the thickness of the piece of fish. I prefer thinner pieces myself, which cook up in a flash, but a real thick slab can take over 20 minutes. If the fish starts out really thick and then tapers down, then sometimes you need to cut it in half and bake the thick part longer. Otherwise, this is a really simple and delicious way to really enjoy the flavor of salmon. Despite its apparent lack of pizazz, this is really one of my favorite things to eat.