Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pasta with Tomatoes and Zucchini

When zucchini and tomatoes are in season (summer), this is by far my favorite easy meal to make. It has been adapted from so many different sources, re-jiggered as I read new recipes so many times that I don't even know when I started making it. I do know, however, that it had to be within the last three years - before then, I had not had a tomato worth eating. Moving to Davis and discovering the homegrown tomato, I now know what tomatoes should taste like.

Pasta with Tomatoes and Zucchini
enough for one

1/2 lb linguine, or other straight pasta
2 handfuls cherry/grape/Sun Gold tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/3 inch pieces
Red pepper flake, added to desired spiciness (I like a lot)
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
Tarragon (or whatever herb you prefer)

Put water on to boil. Let it get pretty close to boiling, add some salt, then recover and start the sauce.

Heat a few teaspoons of oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the zucchini. Let it cook until it starts to brown. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, turn down to medium, and stir while cooking for 30-45 seconds. When the garlic just starts to color, add in the tomatoes. Remember- leave a few to snack on while the sauce is cooking! When the water comes to a boil, add in the pasta.

Once the tomatoes have been sizzling for a few minutes and start to slip out of their skins and break down a bit, turn the heat down to just below medium. As the sauce starts to run out of liquid, add about a quarter cup of boiling pasta water to the sauce. There is something that happens when pasta water is added to an oil-based sauce - it is as if it forms an emulsion of sorts and forms a thick-ish sauce - certainly thicker than either oil or water.

Let the sauce continue to simmer. When the pasta is al dente, turn the sauce back up to high, add in the pasta with a touch more water and mix everything together. Once the sauce has adhered to the pasta, it's ready to go. Add pepper and more salt, if necessary, to taste.

There you have my favorite summer meal.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Pear Preserves

Pear Preserves
Originally uploaded by monkeycat!.
One of the great advantages to working in Wickson Hall, an advantage that we will forfeit when we move to the new Robert Mondavi Institute building later this week, is that there are often surplus fruits and nuts available to take home. I don't mean one or two apples here and there. I mean 200 lbs of extra apples. Or a trash can full of walnuts. Or unripe pears.

A similar jettison of excess food led to the Walnut Butter that I made at the beginning of this year.

I took home about 5-6 lbs. of pears, which needed to sit in the refrigerator for a week, presumably to induce ripening. After I took them out and ate a pear or two, I realized that between Antonia and I, there is no way we would be able to eat 6 lbs of pears before the pears spoiled. The only thing that I could think to do was to can the pears.

This is my first foray into the world of canning. It is a tradition that suburban youths like me, who grew up in Irvine, CA, only heard about when hearing stories about the farm. So how was I to learn of canning? I had the greatest canning resource of all at my fingertips: The Internet.

I settled on the official-sounding National Center for Home Food Preservation website. How much more to-the-point could a website name be?

You can click through to see the procedures in full, but the basic outline is:

1) make a syrup.
2) add pears to syrup, boil until they are soft.
3) Add lemons to increase the acid to act as a preservative.
4) Sterilize mason jars.
5) Fill mason jars.
6) Process mason jars.

It was Step 6 for me that was the least obvious. Up until 6, skipping any step would lead to something other than pear preserves. I had the idea that once the food was placed in the mason jar, the process is finished. I was wrong. The jars are boiled after they are sealed, I think to kill any microbes that are present.

The one thing I will do before I can again is to get the correct equipment. The jar tongs are a must - I don't want to get boiling water on my hands and face a second time. In spite of this small setback, I have discovered an activity that has opened up a new world of cooking for me... and as a bonus, I can eat pears, processed at the height of their flavor and maturity, in the middle of winter. If only these last so long...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Pesto Scrambled Eggs

Pesto Scrambled Eggs
Originally uploaded by monkeycat!.
Pesto is a wonderful food. In fact, I am going to make pesto today for the second time in three days. Why am I making pesto again? Well, there are two reasons. 1) The basil at the Davis Farmer's Market looked amazing. I used all of my pesto eating pesto elbows with sausage and and pesto scrambled eggs.

As you can see here, pesto scrambled eggs is a wonderful food. Especially if topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Another wonderful start to a day. If you are looking for something to do with you eggs on a weekend for breakfast, I highly recommend this dish.

The perfect four ingredient food

Originally uploaded by monkeycat!.
What is the perfect four ingredient food? Lets go down the list:

The perfect one ingredient food: The is one is obvious and taken a bit for granted. If you had to choose only one one-ingredient food, what would it be. It would be boring. It would be plain. It would be in most cases flavorless (if you are lucky). The perfect one ingredient food is water.

The perfect two ingredient food: What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Is it brushing your teeth.... no. Is it eating breakfast.... no. Is it checking your email... sadly, for large segment of the population (including myself on many a day)... yes. But, what is the most important first activity one can do in a day? That's right - drink that perfect cup of coffee. Your programmable coffee maker is your most loyal servant. It has waiting, at my case at 7am, the most indispensable nourishment of the day: The perfect two ingredient food is the first cup of coffee.

The perfect three ingredient food: This one is simple yet deceiving, mainly because it is taken for granted. I am in the process of making this perfect food as I write this post. What is it? Here is a clue. Water. Flour. Yeast. That's right: The perfect three ingredient food is bread.

Now, to the purpose of this treatise. What is the perfect four ingredient food? After four ingredients, the outcomes are endless. Five, six, ten, twenty ingredients - there is no end in sight... you can eat curry at this point! So what is the perfect four ingredient food?

The BLT. Bacon. Lettuce. Tomato. (Bread). In this case, homemade baguette, cluster tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and Niman Ranch Bacon. Honestly, this is one of the world's perfect foods. Although it is quite hot in the summer, cooking bacon for a BLT is a pleasure - as it sizzles and hops in the pan, one can only envision the wonderful end to its life. The smell will permeate your house for hours after the consumption of the perfect food.

The BLT. A wonderful food.


Originally uploaded by monkeycat!.