Archive for May, 2010

Greens and pasta

Pasta with Bacon and ChardWhen I was growing up, greens came to our table in one of two forms:  lettuce (generally iceberg), raw in salads, and – on rare occasions,  what my Southern-bred mother called “a mess o’ greens,” boiled to within an inch of their lives with a chunk of ham hock. The result was salty, greasy and kind of slimy, to my child’s palate.

It may not surprise you to learn that I was not a big fan of greens.

Times change. And to be fair to my mother, who was a terrific cook, her options were often limited to what was available in a military base commisary, which in the late 1950s and early ’60s (yes, I’m that old) did not offer much by way of fresh produce.

Each spring I am reminded how lucky I am to live in a rich agricultural valley at a time when small-scale farming-for-the-market is exploding, and with it the seasonal availability of all kinds of produce, including the leafy greens.

Right now it’s chard, with its vivid, extravegant, crumpled leaves and crunchy rainbow-hued stems. When I encounter the first chard of the season, I have to restrain myself from buying armfuls of the stuff – I’m generally cooking for one, after all, and while chard has enough substance, properly prepared, to make for very good leftovers, there’s no sense wasting it.

Still, while it’s here, I favor chard as a main dish, not a side. And I love this preparation, which I was first served in a Midwestern restaurant, because it’s like a really *good* version of mom’s mess o’ greens, with the salty tang of good pork but crunchy and chewy and just tasty as heck.

I’ve reconstructed the recipe from memory, and these amounts make two hearty main-dish servings or four as a side dish, perhaps with some nice broiled fish or chicken.

Pasta with Chard and Bacon

Ingredients

  • Pasta of your choice (I remember having this with linguine; I made it tonight with rotini. Use whatever substantial pasta you like)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4-6 slides of thick-cut bacon, cut in half-inch pieces*
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots, onions or leeks, as you prefer*
  • 1 large bunch chard, rinsed, dried and chopped. If it’s young chard, go ahead and chop up the stems, too; for older chard, save the tough stems for making soup.*
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Shaved Parmesan
  • Salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste

* Locally sourced ingredients.

Method:

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup or so of the cooking water. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil to keep it from sticking together and cover to keep warm.

While the pasta cooks, place the bacon pieces in a large , thick-bottomed skillet or pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until just crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels or a brown paper bag.

Drain off all but a tablespoon of the bacon fat and return the pan to the stove; increase heat to medium-high and stir in the shallots, cooking until softened. Add the chard, and pour the pasta liquid over it. Stir and toss until the chard begins to wilt, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the pasta to the cooked chard and toss well; transfer to plates, add salt and pepper and sprinkle with bacon. Finish with a little shaved parmesan. Serve hot.  Enjoy.

Feel free to experiment with proportions; you might like more vinegar, and if the bacon’s salty, you can probably skip salting the dish.

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May 25, 2010 at 8:32 pm Leave a comment

It’s been far too long

Crab cakes!… since I posted anything here. But the season of local food is ramping up, and this was so very, very good that I need to share.

Scott Penter was back at the Albany Farmers’ Market yesterday with his traveling chiller and a load of fresh-caught Dungeness crab. After getting his feet wet, so to speak, at last summer’s market, he opened a small business called – aptly enough – Seafood Outlet, off Highway 34 east of Corvallis. It’s evidently been successful enough to make this young fisherman-entrepreneur commit to continuing to try to sell his products inland, because he’s branched out to the Corvallis Farmers’ Market this season, too.

After stopping by to chat with him, I couldn’t leave without buying a crab; he fished me out a nice, vigorous 3-pounder, to the slightly squeamish delight oif a couple of kids who were watching (they were fascinated by the crab once it was bagged up, but ran squealing when Scott tried to show them another up close).

The first best thing to do with Dungeness crab, in my opinion, is just kill it, cook it and eat it, with a little lemon butter for dipping, some good bread to mop up the buttery juices and maybe a nice crisp white wine. That’s just what I did last night, but I could only manage half the crab.

The rest went in the fridge, and tonight I pulled it out, picked all the meat from the shell, and made a batch of tender, crispy  cakes, using a recipe that guarantees you’ll taste more crab than “cake.”

Crispy crab cakes

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • a handful of fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp finely minced lemon zest
  • 1 pound cooked Dungeness crab meat, carefully picked from the shell to avoid fragments
  • 1 cup Panko crumbs, divided in half
  • Neutral-flavored  oil and butter for frying
  • Wasabi mayonnaise (optional: Just stir a teaspoon or so of prepared wasabi into a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise) or aioli.
  • Method:

    In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Blend in the parsley, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, lemon juice and lemon zest until well combined. Gently fold in the crabmeat and mix well, then add 1/2 cup of Panko crumbs and fold just until mixed. The mixture will be pretty wet.

    Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

    Dump the rest of the Panko into a shallow bowl. Using a couple of large spoons, scoop up the crab mixture and form it into patties; dredge in the Panko. If it falls apart, just press it back together. Slide into the hot oil with a slotted spoon, pressing down to flatten the cakes slightly. You’ll wind up with 6-8 cakes, depending on how large you make them.

    Cook until crisp and brown, turn, repeat to cook the tops.

    Drain on paper towels, and serve with a dollop of wasabi mayo, aioli or just a squeeze of lemon.

    Makes two servings. If, like me, you’re eating alone, save the rest for tomorrow’s lunch!

    I had to have a salad with my crab cakes, because my garden is suddenly producing so much leaf lettuce that I must eat salad daily (poor me!). Since I knew I’d be taking pictures, I framed the crab cakes with the salad, which is so tender and fresh it doesn’t need a dressing at all. Pretty, and delicious.

    Except for the grape tomatoes, the Panko crumbs, the oil and the condiments, everything on my table tonight came from within about 60 miles of home. I like that.

    May 9, 2010 at 8:09 pm Leave a comment


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