Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pasta with Tuna and White Beans

It has come to my attention that it has been a few posts since I offered an original recipe, so I’m thinking that it’s about time that I do so. The timing is perfect, because I recently made a pasta dish with tune and white beans that I was quite pleased with. It started as one of those I-have-nothing-planned-for-dinner-let’s-see-what-I-have-in-the-kitchen nights. What I found was some multi-coloured rotini, canned tuna, canned cannellini beans, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast is kind of an oddball health food product, a crunchy powder made from brewer’s yeast. It’s nutty and a little salty and is delicious sprinkled on top of a lot of dishes, so I thought I’d finish off my pasta dish with it. I wound up not using it, but it’s still a viable candidate to complete this recipe with. Instead of the nutritional yeast, I sprinkled breadcrumbs I had left over from the garnish for the Chilled Avocado Soup on top of the pasta. I loved the breadcrumbs in this: they added flavour, colour and, texture.
I also added sliced onions, broccoli florets, and garlic to the dish. This recipe makes for a healthy meal, considering the tuna, the beans, and all the vegetables. I used tri-colour rotini for pasta here, but I’m sure whole-wheat pasta would be good here as well.
In terms of technique, I basically combined everything but the pasta together in a large skillet while the pasta was cooking. Some of the pasta water served to add some moisture and flavour, as well as to help bind everything together. As I have started doing every time I cook pasta, I did not drain the pot when the noodles were ready. Instead, I used a pasta lifter to pull the rotini right out of the pot, and into the skillet. This way, starch remains on the pasta and it binds better with the sauce or other ingredients.
I served this in shallow bowls, and finished it with a little salt, a light drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. The results were tasty and satisfying, a diverse meal in one bowl. The recipe is versatile as well: you could play with different types of pastas, different vegetables, and different beans. And perhaps you’ll agree with me when I say that it’s hard to beat a delicious meal that comes together in under half an hour!

Pasta with Tuna and White Beans
Serves 2

½ lb. tri-coloured rotini
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for finishing
½ medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup broccoli florets, blanched and shocked
½ pint cherry tomatoes
1 5 oz. can tuna, drained
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Spicy Paprika Breadcrumbs (recipe below)

Heat a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta in it until al dente, about eight or nine minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened and translucent, about six minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about one minute. Add the broccoli cook until it begins to turn bright green, three or four minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes, and cook until skins begin to crack, and then stir in the tuna and beans, and allow them to heat through, another two minutes or so.

When the pasta is cooked, add a ladle or two of the starchy pasta water to the skillet. Use a pasta lifter to take the pasta out of the water, and add it to the skillet. When all the pasta has been added, leave the skillet on the heat for a minute or so to allow everything to cook together.

Serve the pasta in shallow bowls and finish with a light drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs.

Spicy Paprika Breadcrumbs

1 4x4x1/2-inch slice soft white sandwich bread with crust
1 tbsp. butter
¾ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. coarse kosher salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Finely grind bread in food processor. Melt butter in medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs to skillet; stir until golden, about 1 minute. Add paprika, coarse salt, and cayenne; stir until breadcrumbs are crisp, about a minute longer. Transfer to a small bowl and cool.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Two Chilled Avocado Soups

If I haven’t already made it clear, allow me to do so now: I am a soup fanatic. I love to eat it, I love to make it, and I love that there are many different styles of soup, each with its own process and technique, and each wide open to numerous possibilities. There is rarely a time when I would say no to a hot, steaming bowl of delicious soup.
Except, that is, for in the middle of summer, when the weather itself is far too warm for me to want to consume anything hot and steaming. The simple solution? Cold soup! There are the classics, like vichyssoise, gazpacho, and borscht, but just like hot soups, there are many, many different variations of chilled soups. And what better candidate could there be as the main component of a cold soup than the rich and creamy avocado?
I recently tried out two different chilled avocado soups with completely different flavour profiles. The Chilled Avocado Soup Shots with Spicy Breadcrumbs from the June 2010 Bon Appétit was simpler from an ingredients standpoint, and focused more on the avocado itself. The Spicy Avocado-Cucumber Soup in the 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook, on the other hand, had more ingredients, and had more flavour complexity.

Soup number one—BA’s soup—was a simple matter of pureeing four ingredients (avocado, broth, heavy cream, and lime juice) together in a blender, seasoning it, and putting it in the fridge to chill. I also made the breadcrumbs, which were toasted on the stovetop with melted butter, paprika, cayenne, and salt.
I appreciate the simplicity of this recipe. If you want a soup that showcases avocado, this is the one. I even went so far as to tweak this one to use a little more avocado, and a little less cream. I mean, the avocado is creamy enough on its own, isn’t it? Another note about this recipe: be sure to use a very mild-tasting broth. Anything with too strong of a flavour will easily overpower the avocado. You may even want to use half broth and half water.

Soup number two—F&W’s soup—was also simple to put together, though it involved more ingredients. As per the recipe’s instructions, I made this one in the food processor.
 This soup includes cucumber, avocado, Thai green curry paste, sugar, lime zest and juice, Serrano chile, water, and coconut milk. Let me tell you: I loved this recipe. I loved the coolness that the cucumber added, and the sugar, while working to balance out the spiciness, seemed to make the cucumber’s delicate flavour pop. I liked the hint of spiciness from the curry paste and the chile. The heat is definitely not overpowering, just a subtle tingling that comes with the aftertaste. I loved the sweetness and the richness that the coconut milk added as well. This recipe seemed very Thai to me, especially with the balance between the hot (curry and chile), sour (lime), sweet (sugar, coconut milk), salty (salt), and plain (cucumber, water). I’ll bet that some chopped and salted peanuts would make a great garnish to this soup.

A quick note on making this recipe: I halved the recipe, and it barely fit into my 11-cup food processor. The original doesn’t say anything about this, but I’ve added a note in the recipe below that if you are making the full amount, you will need to purée it in batches. Another note about this recipe: it is raw, vegan, and gluten-free, for anyone who is keeping track!
So which recipe is better? Well, I’d say that’s all a matter of opinion, and depends on what you’re looking for. I have my favourite, but both of these soups have their merits. There’s a lot more summer left, and plenty of time to try both these recipes, as well as many, many other variations on the cold soup.

Chilled Avocado Soup Shots with Spicy Breadcrumbs
Adapted from Bon Appétit magazine, June 2010, p. 75
Makes 8 small glasses.

1 large ripe avocado (or two, if using less cream), halved, pitted, peeled, diced
1 ½ cups (or more) MILD vegetable broth or low-salt chicken broth (or, ¾ cup broth and ¾ cup water, depending on how strong your broth is)
¼ cup heavy whipping cream (or 1/8 cup if using two avocados)
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
Kosher salt
1 4x4x1/2-inch slice soft white sandwich bread with crust
1 tbsp. butter
¾ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. coarse kosher salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Place diced avocado in blender. Add 1 ½ cups broth, whipping cream, lime juice, and a big pinch of salt. Puree until smooth. As necessary, add broth by ¼ cupfuls to thin soup to desired consistency. Taste and add salt to season, if necessary. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. (Soup can be made up to 24 hours in advance.)

Finely grind bread in food processor. Melt butter in medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs to skillet; stir until golden, about 1 minute. Add paprika, coarse salt, and cayenne; stir until breadcrumbs are crisp, about a minute longer. Transfer to a small bowl and cool.

Pour about 1/3 cup of soup into eight small glasses. Sprinkle each serving lightly with breadcrumbs.

Spicy Avocado-Cucumber Soup
Adapted from 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook, p. 62
Serves 10

*NOTE: In most processors, the ingredients will not all fit in one batch. Half works in an 11-cup processor, so I’d suggest doing the recipe in two batches for this size of processor, and in more batches for anything smaller. If you have a larger processor, keep in mind, you’ll need space for approximately 18 cups of liquid in your processor to do this entire recipe in one batch!

Two 12-ounce cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 Hass avocados, coarsely chopped
2 tsp. Thai green curry paste
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. finely grated lime zest
1 Serrano chile, seeded and chopped
3 ½ cups water
One 13-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
10 cilantro sprigs

In a food processor, puree the cucumbers until smooth. Add the avocados, curry paste, sugar, lime zest, and chile. Process until blended. Add the water, coconut milk, and lime juice and process until smooth. Transfer the soup to a large bowl and season with salt. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour.

Ladle the soup into small bowls or cups. Garnish with the toasted coconut flakes, the cilantro sprigs, and serve.

One final note: A really nice touch to any chilled soup is to place the dishes you will be serving it in into the fridge fifteen minutes before you’re ready to plate. This will make the dishes as icy cold as the soup, and the soup will seem even more refreshing!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Not Your Grandmother's Dinner Roll: Cilantro-Scallion Bread

One of the many reasons why I love cooking from food magazines: when I am using a recipe from one and see another recipe right next to it that I absolutely must make at that moment. This is what happened last weekend as I was working on the marinade for the delicious Green Shawarma Salmon in this July’s Bon Appétit. Two pages later, there is a recipe for Cilantro-Scallion Bread that immediately tempted me. The picture was enticing as well: swirls of golden bread, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and filled with something green. I had extra cilantro left from the salmon recipe, I had scallions in the fridge that I needed to use up, and I always keep ingredients to make bread on hand, so how could I not try this recipe out?
If you’ve ever made cinnamon rolls before, you’ll find the process of making this bread familiar. If you’ve never made cinnamon rolls before, don’t worry, because it’s a pretty simple procedure. Start with making your dough, and proofing for about an hour and a half, until it doubles in size.
My dough proofed a little more slowly than the recipe said it would, but I think that’s because my yeast is getting old. So, if you’re using older yeast, expect the proofing to take longer. Another note: I halved the recipe, which is always a little bit risky when it comes to bread because the chemistry is so delicate. In baking, when scaling recipes up or down in size, one is supposed to use a system using percentages so that proportions stay as precise as possible. I was lazy about it this time, and simply halved everything, and it worked out fine, so if you want to make six rolls instead of twelve, go ahead and do the same.
Meanwhile, you can make the filling, a combination of scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and olive oil. The recipe calls for both black and white seeds, I only had white, and yet, the sky did not fall, so use what you’ve got. Once your dough has proofed, roll it out into a rectangle, and then spread the filling over it to cover it.
Here is where your memories of cinnamon roll making will come rushing back to you, if you’ve got them. Roll the dough up tightly. Next, slice the roll into ¾” slices. Use a very sharp knife, or use a good serrated knife, one that won’t tear the dough to shreds. A dull knife will squish your roll down, tear the dough, and leave you with some very unhappy looking swirls. Your hopefully-happy swirls can then be transferred onto a baking sheet, get brushed with olive oil, and then into the oven they go.
In half an hour, they should come out golden brown and ready for dinner. The addition of eggs, sugar, and butter make this a rich bread, but I didn’t find it to be overly sweet or fatty. It had just the right amount of richness to compliment the flavourful filling and the nutty sesame seeds. I don’t normally serve bread with fish, but like I said, this recipe called to me while I was making salmon, and so I made an exception. The two recipes complimented each other well, and the meal was excellent. But how could any meal involving freshly baked bread not be excellent?