Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gordon Ramsay's Sicilian Caponata

I will preface this post by saying: "Gordon Ramsay is full of crap."

That said ... Today's entry. A pretty little appetizer said to feed four. Well, maybe four armies.

Tomatoes, celery, eggplant, garlic, onion, green olives, bell pepper, capers, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, fresh basil, superfine sugar (or if you live in Cleveland and can't find any, regular sugar), and a big loaf of crusty bread.

By the by, this is a great "clean out your fridge" recipe.

Coarsely chop the onion. Wipe the tears from your eyes.

Chop the celery.

Chop the bell pepper (the recipe did call for red bell pepper, but I can't really tell the difference, can you?)

Finely chop the garlic.

Chop the green olives. Slap you husband's hand as he tries to help himself to a snack from your chopping board.

Toast the pine nuts.

Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for about 1 minute. I put a small "X" on the bottom to help the peels come off.

Rinse the tomatoes in ice cold water and watch the peels just start to fall off. Slice and remove the seeds.

Coarsely chop the tomato flesh.

And finally, chop the eggplant last. Do it quickly -- it changes color fast.

Heat the olive oil and drop in the eggplant, pepper, celery, onion and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Saute for a few minutes.
Meanwhile slice the bread thickly and toast in the broiler.

Add the capers, tomatoes, garlic, olives, sugar, and balsamic vinegar to the pan. Saute until bubbley and the vegetables are soft.

Set aside and let cool.
Meanwhile ... I skillet cooked some spencer steaks in the same pan (without wiping it out).

The steaks carmelized nicely in the little bit of balsamic glaze left behind from the caponata.

Serve the caponato over the warm toasted bread. Sprinkle with chopped basil and the toasted pine nuts.

Very nice.

So, for my opening statement about the dear chef being full of crap?

How long did it take to make this dish? AN HOUR. Seriously. That does not include the cooking time for the steaks. So much for Ramsay's book jacket quote: "Many of the dishes can be prepared and cooked in 15 minutes (none take longer than half an hour)." Bull poop. Cooked in 15 minutes, sure. But not prepped within that time. It took me 30 minutes alone to chop everything. For the tomatoes, I had to bring the water to a boil, cook the tomatoes for a minute or two (which I did while chopping the other veggies), rinse under cool water, get them cool enough to handle and then try to peel off the skins without destroying the tomato flesh, then get all the seeds out, then chop.

Come on, Ramsay. Get real. I know you never have to prep anything yourself, you have all of your sous chefs doing it for you, but real people with real lives don't have sous chefs on call.
The dish itself? Not bad. I won't make it again, though. There was too much eggplant. Not enough olives. Not enough tomato. Not enough garlic. The dish was too wet.
I guess I prefer a nice olive tapenade instead. Something thick and rich. Besides, this recipe really made too much. I have a whole bowl of it left over in the fridge. We'll be eating it for a week.

"Sicilian Caponata ... Done."

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Bon Appetit's Fettuccine with Peas, Asparagus, and Pancetta

In the current issue (May 2010) of Bon Appetit the picture on the cover really captured my fancy. I couldn't wait to make it. It looked creamy, rich, and simply yummy.

So, last night I did.

Now ... a opening word. When you ask your spouse to shop for you, make sure you are specific. I said, "Please buy what we need for the recipe." Well, he didn't buy the fettuccini, because we already had pasta at home. Not fettuccini, but penne. Not a problem, even the recipe says "fettuccini or penne." But all we had was rice penne, which if you haven't tried it, isn't quite like regular pasta. It's texture is unique. The taste isn't too bad, though. The recipe also called for 12 oz. of pasta. Our box of pasta was only 8 oz., so I ended up tossing in a handful of whole grain rotini, just to finish the box and to make sure I had enough pasta for the dish. Next, the recipe called for fresh lemon juice and the zest of a lemon. Well, hubby figured my bottle of lemon juice would be good enough. I know - can you believe I actually have a bottle of that stuff? Actually I only use it to add a squirt to my ice water. NEVER FOR COOKING. So, I had to forgo the zest. For the freshly grated Parmesan, hubby figured that Kraft Romano in a canister would be just fine. It's fine on top of jarred spaghetti sauce, but, eh, for real cooking? He managed to get the fresh basil, but decided to skip the fresh parsley entirely. So I ended up with dried parsley from the spice rack. The rest of the ingredients he managed without incident.

So, pasta, frozen peas, asparagus, green onions, basil, garlic, pancetta, heavy cream, parmesan (or romano), lemon juice, olive oil and parsley.

Cook your pasta. (I didn't take a picture of this.) Drain and reserve about 1/2 cup of the hot water.

Slice the asparagus on a diagonal in 1 inch pieces.

Thinly slice the scallions. (Separate light green and white parts from the dark parts.)

Press two cloves of garlic.

Chop the pancetta.

Coursely chop the basil.

Cook the pancetta until crisp, then drain on paper towels.

In the same pan in the pancetta drippings, cook the asparagus for about 3 minutes.

Then add the frozen peas (or if the peas are fresh, blanche them first), the chopped onions and the garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the vegetables to your cooked pasta, along with the dark parts of the scallions and half of your basil.

Add the cream, parmesan, about 1/4 cup of the pasta water, the parsley, lemon juice (and zest if you have it), and olive oil.

Mix until you have a wonderfully creamy conconction.

Plate it up. Sprinkle the remaining chopped basil over the top with the crispy pancetta. Sprinkle additional parmesan over the top.

It plates beautifully. It's so colorful.

This picture courtesy of my four year old Alex. He loves to cook as much as I do. His twin brother does too, but Alex's photo turned about a bit better.

Now as for the dish itself. The last picture above, was taken at the end of the meal. The boys wouldn't eat it. They picked a couple pieces of the pancetta off the top, ate one or two peas and two pieces of asparagus. They did not like it one bit. Of course, they're four.

My husband ate his. I ate mine. It wasn't anything special. In fact, it was very plain and sorely lacking ... something. Nothing in the dish sang out. The peas and the asparagus tasted the same. The creamy sauce was bland.

It's a gorgeous dish - no doubt about it - that's why it made the cover of Bon Appetit. But I couldn't taste the garlic, so I would have doubled it to about 4 cloves of garlic. The pancetta did add a nice salty note, but the dish needed some depth. Maybe some coursely chopped sun-dried tomatoes would have done it. It was so full of wonderul spring time vegetables, but there was nothing to remind you of the good earth that grew them. Maybe some wild mushrooms thrown in would have given the dish some earthiness.

Unfortunately, this was a beautifully presented dish that forgot to bring its taste to the table.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Seriously ?

"Whole Grain Popcorn?" When was popcorn not "Whole Grain?"

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