Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Chunky Tomato. Mozzarella and Basil Pasta

My dogs and I have a lot in common. They say that one begins to resemble his or her dog. Well, I think that they begin to resemble us. For example, I have found that my sister's dogs like the things she does, and my dogs like the things I do. And that is when all the trouble starts... Take pasta for example. I love pasta. I adore it. I could eat pasta every day and be a happy woman... and my dogs could eat pasta every day and be happy dogs... So when I make pasta, there never seems to be enough. It's not just the pasta that the pooches seem to relish, but all the various sauces and cheese that go on top of it. You'd think that they would not be into tomato sauce, right? Well you'd be wrong. They adore it, especially when a little mozzarella is mixed in. So when I made this dish recently, there was quite a small commotion in the kitchen.

This wonderful plate of tomato, olive oil, truffle oil, tomato paste, wine, garlic, and basil, combined with fresh mozzarella is one of my favorites and my pooches too.

I love garlic, and I like my sauces garlicky. I have friends and family who do not feel this way, however. So when you are preparing this dish, adjust the use of garlic according to the palettes present!

Chunky Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Pasta

1 pound fresh ripe tomatoes or 1 can of plum tomatoes or a pint and a half of cherry tomatoes.

3 cloves of garlic minced.

4 tablespoons of olive oil.

1 cup of fresh basil leaves, cleaned and chopped

1 cup cubed fresh mozzarella

2 tablespoons organic tomato paste

1 tablespoon truffle oil

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shredded - or if you're like me more because you like it.

Salt and Pepper to taste

In a pasta pot, add water and salt and bring the water to boil. I don't always blanche my tomatoes, but if you prefer the skin off, you can do so quickly by adding to the boiling water the tomatoes for not more than thirty seconds. Remove from the boiling water with the pasta basket or a slotted spoon. Rinse the tomatoes with cold water immediately and set down. Peel the skins off of the tomatoes. If you're a masochist you can do this with cherry tomatoes, but larger tomatoes might help preserver your sanity. I also just use cherry tomatoes and skip this blanching step. It's worked fine for me. 

 Add your pasta to the boiling water and cook until it is al dente.  Reserve a cup of water.

Take your garlic clove and with the side of a knife crush the garlic clove. Remove the papery cover and mince it if you love garlic.  If you like just a hint of garlic, then crush it and drop it into the sauce. You will remove it before serving and it won't be overpoweringly garlicky. 

Chop your tomatoes, chop or tear your basil. If you're using cherry tomatoes, then you can just slice them in half.  

Take your fresh mozzarella and cut it up into cubes. Once of the biggest problems in making this dish is that the mozzarella cheese often melts into the sauce, especially if you add it to a hot pan. Then you get these big clumps of cheese that are reminiscent of The Blob.  There is one way to reduce this risk: firm up the cheese. And no, it doesn't have to go the gym. To do this, cube the cheese, spread the pieces on a dish, careful that they are not on top of each other. Place the dish in the freezer so the cheese pieces firm up in the cold. You don't want them rock hard. Just firm enough that they will not immediately melt into the hot sauce when added a little later. About five minutes or so in the freezer should do, but keep an eye on them so they come out firm and don't turn into rock blocks.

The next part is fast because you don't want your garlic to burn or your basil to wilt. Add your olive oil to a large sautéing pan and let it warm up on medium heat. Once it is warm, cook the garlic for about thirty seconds. If you find it's cooking too fast, move it off the burner and keep cooking. Add your tomatoes, tomato paste and basil. Stir to coat the tomatoes and basil. Add the truffle oil, wine and mozzarella cheese and stir. Add in your pasta and mix the ingredients together. If necessary, add a little of the reserved pasta water if the sauce is too thick.

Even though this plate has mozzarella cheese, I always like to add a little grated parmesan reggiano to my pastas. The bite that this cheese gives to the plate is unsurpassed. Grate some parmesan reggiano and set it aside to top off the pasta at the table. 

 Serve up the pasta and sprinkle parmesan reggiano and enjoy... But try to hide it from the dogs. 

In my next post, I will show you how a pasta hound like me has turned to spaghetti squash as the "go to" pasta substitute. Just delicious and you won't miss the real thing. Plus you'll get lots of good nutrition and no carbs! And the dogs also love it! Stay tuned. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lighter Pumpkin Pie and Crustless Pumpkin Pie

The Last of the Season's Wildflowers
It's autumn. Time for the last of the wildflowers, changing leaves, cooling temperatures... and pumpkins. Pumpkins are popping up all around Boulder. Out of the ground, in the supermarkets, in the farmer's markets and on doorsteps. Along with the squirrel in the backyard- or Squirrel as we not so affectionately know her. She makes it a point to eat every squash in sight and everything else for that matter. Nasty beast. But pumpkin is her favorite, just like me.  Winslow and Squirrel have been at it all year. So I know that I can count on him to keep Squirrel at bay for awhile, but eventually, she will have her way and eat my pumpkins.

Pumpkin Patch at Growing Gardens
No. we didn't raid it 

I love pumpkin. Pumpkin anything. This year, however, I swore to make my pumpkin treats healthier. Reduce my sugar and sweets intake. No easy feat for a sugarholic. But I am not a radical quitter of the sweet stuff. Moderation is key. Otherwise, what fun is it? And Winslow, who also likes a sweet treat every once in a while would be devastated if pumpkin pie were made verboten. Yes. He may be a pooch, but he celebrates the harvest with the best of them... like Squirrel.

So early in the morning, Winslow and I went to look for pumpkins.

Winslow looking for pumpkins... Or his doggie pals or Squirrel

Pumpkin Waiting to Be Cooked
A few were growing nearby at Growing Gardens. Gorgeous patch. But we could only longingly look at them. We purchased ours at a local farmer's stand just outside of town and brought it home.

In reading about rare tidbits about pumpkins in the Farmers' Almanac Facebook stream, I learned that the pilgrims used to make pumpkin pie by hollowing out a pumpkin, filling the shell with milk, honey and spices and baking it. That sounded perfect. No crust! No pastry shell. Definitely a healthier solution.  A novel new way to reclaim the old tradition. I would bake the sweetness into the pumpkin as I did with other squashes. Now, my only question was: How were the walls of the pumpkin to hold up? I decided to cross that bridge later. What resulted from using part of this technique and some experimentation turned into a tasty, not overwhelmingly sweet treat. But there was trouble along the way... as I fell off the bridge when I came to it. No matter.

Winslow's Lighter Pumpkin Pie

1 sugar pumpkin

6 - 8 tablespoons of brown sugar. (This depends on how sweet you like it. I used approximately six tablespoons, which is less than a half cup of sugar.)

1/2 tsp pumpkin spice

Pinch of ginger

1/4 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of cloves

Pinch of nutmeg

1 cup of organic evaporated milk

1 large egg (I use local duck eggs which are huge. If your eggs are small, you can use two small chicken eggs.)

1 unbaked pie shell. (That's because of the trouble that I mentioned earlier.... Best unbaked pie shell I have found is a purely organic product sold at Whole Foods.) Follow the directions on the package of your pie shell to prepare for baking. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut Open the Top of the Pumpkin and
Scoop Out The Seeds

Begin by cutting open a sugar pumpkin at the top, just as if you were going to carve a Jack O'Lantern. Scoop out all of the seeds and save them. I have a great recipe for roasted seeds you'll want to try!

Mix the Spices and Sugar

Combine 1 tablespoon of brown sugar with ingredients 3 - 7 and drop into the pumpkin.

Coat the Inside of the Pumpkin with the Spices and Sugar

Roll the pumpkin so as to coat the insides well with the spices and sugar.

Wrap in Parchment Paper

Put the top back on the pumpkin and wrap in parchment paper. I prefer not to cook with aluminum foil so I use parchment paper to wrap all of my squashes and potatoes. Place the pumpkin in the oven on the rack and let it cook for 50 to 60 minutes.

A Little Crooner Music

Turn on classic Tony Bennett. Get yourself some wine and relax. A perfect soundtrack for this time of year is a golden oldie I discovered on youtube.com. If anyone would have told me back in the day that I would be listening to crooners! Well, Tony is my favorite crooner and I was raised in Florida, which makes it perfectly fine as far as I can tell.

Waiting for Pie

And of course Winslow's reaction to the crooner music. Or is he just waiting for pie?

Put Pumpkin Flesh in Food Processor 
After about 50 to 60 minutes - some of this will depend on the size of your sugar pumpkin - take it out of the oven, remove the parchment paper and take off the top.  Begin scooping out the flesh... This is when the trouble began for me. My original plan was to mix that flesh inside the pumpkin with the remaining ingredients and bake it until done. Well, as I feared, the pumpkin walls collapsed as I began to scoop out the flesh. And there was no way that all the good stuff would have fit in there anyway. So DISASTER! But oh well... I scooped out the entire flesh and threw it into the food processor.

If the same thing happens to you, just remove all of the flesh from the pumpkin as I did and throw it into a blender or food processor. Add the remaining sugar and the evaporated milk. Pour the mixture into a pie shell and, if you want to make the crustless pumpkin pie, pour some of the mixture into a ramekin.

Bake Pies

Bake for 30 minutes or until done.

Ready to Eat

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

Take the pies out of the oven, let cool for a few minutes if you like them warm, and serve with whip cream or vanilla frozen yogurt. For a tasty combination for the crustless pie open up the center by breaking it up with a spoon up and pour a little evaporated milk.

Waiting for Squirrel

Delicious! In baking the pumpkin with all of the spices and sugar inside for an hour, some of the flesh had an opportunity to cook, so baking time on the pie was cut down. Also, the spices and sugar had a chance to bake into the flesh of the pumpkin longer, giving the pumpkin flesh a great flavor. This recipe is less sweet than the traditional pumpkin pie, but the taste of the pumpkin and spices comes through as does the feeling of autumn.  And it seems to have been a hit with Winslow. Now, I just have to keep the windows closed in case Squirrel gets any ideas.