Friday, October 14, 2011

Recipe: Clam Linguine with Crushed Red Pepper and Oregano

Clam linguine garnished with a sprig of fresh oregano

This is a surprisingly easy recipe to make. Surprising because it is really tasty. What's more, it is classy enough to impress any guest (those with shellfish allergies excepted, of course).

In the summer and fall, we have fresh oregano and thyme in the garden. Either herb works really well in this recipe, but I prefer to use one or the other for simplicity. If you're using dried oregano or thyme, only add about a third as much—since dried herbs tend to be much more concentrated.

This recipe serves 2, but can easily be doubled, tripled, or more. The recipe takes about 20 minutes to make.

Ingredients

Fresh oregano adds a brightness to the flavor

  • 14 ounces of linguine
  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves pressed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3 - 6 1/2 ounce cans of chopped clams with juice
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano or thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon of dried)
  • grated parmesan cheese

Procedure
Start by boiling water for your pasta. I use Tinkyada brand gluten free pasta (it being the only gluten free brand that doesn't taste like wet cardboard). You can, of course, use whatever linguine suits you.

Your pasta water should be well salted. It should taste more salty than soup. Remember, most of this salt will stay in the water, but a small amount of it will infuse the pasta with more flavor.

Undercook your pasta slightly, because you'll cook it for a few minutes with the sauce to meld the flavors.

Your pasta should be cooked and drained by the time you start sauteing the garlic for your clam sauce—since things move pretty quickly after that point. Immediately after draining the pasta, stir in some olive oil to prevent sticking.

To make the clam sauce, heat a medium stainless steel saute pan on medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil.

While the pan heats up, open the cans of clams so you're ready. The clams (with their juice) are essential to prevent the garlic from burning... since they immediately cool the pan down and lift the garlic from the heated surface.

Sauteing the garlic will take less than a minute. To do it, heat the oil up enough to shimmer (it should not be hot enough to smoke), and then add the pressed fresh garlic.


NOTE: If the garlic burns or gets dark brown, you're better off starting over. Browned garlic imparts a strong bitter flavor to the whole dish. Toss out the oil, cool the pan and give it a quick scrub, and re-heat a new batch of oil. 


Clam sauce ready for linguine
Stir the garlic around with a wooden spoon, being sure to scrape any stuck bits off the pan surface to prevent them from burning.

After the garlic is golden, but before it gets anything close to brown, toss in a pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes, and immediately add the white wine and all of the chopped clams with their juice.

Add the pasta to the saute pan, and stir things around a bit to mix the sauce in with the pasta. Gently simmer for 2-3 minutes, and season with fresh chopped oregano or thyme to taste.

Serve immediately with a topping of grated parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recipe: Outstanding Caesar Salad

Caesar salad with cast iron croutons and home-made dressing
This recipe takes about 2 minutes, and beats the pants off bottled caesar salad dressing. I highly recommend pairing this with my cast iron croutons (the croutons add about 15 minutes of prep time).

I use red wine vinegar, but white wine, apple cider, and a host of other vinegars would be just fine. The only vinegar to avoid in caesar dressing is balsamic vinegar... which is to boldly flavored.

This recipe serves 4.

You can also make a larger batch of this dressing and save it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce (or two romaine "heart" heads)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg (optional)


Procedure
Smashing garlic and salt in a wooden bowl
Place your pressed garlic in the bottom of a wooden salad bowl. If you don't own a garlic press, just mince the garlic finely, and then smash it with the blade of a knife.

Add the kosher salt, and use a spoon to further smash the pressed garlic and salt together. The salt acts as an abrasive to help break down and smash up the garlic.

Once the garlic is nicely smashed (after 30 seconds perhaps?), add the olive oil. Use the spoon to scrape the garlic off the sides of the bowl where you did your smashing. Add the dijon. Dijon mustard is an important ingredient because it causes the oil and vinegar (once added) to form an emulsion instead of staying separated. The emulsion makes for a salad dressing that coats the lettuce leaves instead of running off them to the bottom of the bowl.

With your dijon, oil, and garlic mixed together, add the worcestershire sauce and red wine vinegar. Mix things around again, and taste your dressing. It should taste strong, but balanced. It should have a nice punch of salt, garlic, acid, and savory flavors. If any of these flavors is too strong, consider adding some olive oil and a slight bit of the not-so-strong ingredients. If you adjust to the point where you've got too much dressing for the salad, save a little off and use it later.

It's a good idea in any case to save off about half your dressing before adding the lettuce. You will very likely add all that dressing back, but it's much easier to add salad dressing than it is to remove it!

Home-made caesar salad dressing
So, with half the dressing saved on the side, add your washed and chopped (not ripped) romaine to the bowl. Toss the romaine with the dressing, and then taste a piece.

You'll likely add all that dressing back, but be sure to add a little and re-mix and re-taste to make sure the dressing doesn't become too thick or overpowering.

With your salad and dressing in balance, it's time to add your egg (optional). To do so, break a raw egg into your salad, and toss things around until the egg evenly coats the lettuce (with yolk broken, of course).

Add your grated parmesan and re-toss.

Toss your cooled croutons on top, and crack some black pepper for garnish. Serve immediately, or at least within 10 minutes.