Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Chicken with Feta, Olives, and Orzo

Scenes from my restaurant life: A mother and her young daughter were finishing their lunch. The mother asked, “Can I get a Bloody Mary to go? Do you do that around here?”

This is my version of a dish at our favorite Greek restaurant. Easy, simple, and full of flavor.  There are just a few ingredients and it comes together quickly. Make the sauce, simmer the chicken in the sauce, cook the orzo, combine the orzo with the sauce.
You can use either chicken breast or boneless thigh meat.

Chicken with Feta, Olives, and Orzo
for two servings
One 9 to 10 ounce boneless chicken breast 
1/2 cup chopped onion 
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup (dry) red wine
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon dried oregano
10 to 12 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
3 to 4 Tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
olive oil, for cooking
salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup orzo

1. Cut the chicken into 1” pieces; set aside. Place a large sauté pan onto the stove over medium heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to soften the onion. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
2. Add the tomatoes to the pan; Add the wine and cook for about a minute and then add the water. Season lightly with salt and ground black pepper; stir in the oregano.
3. Stir the olives to the sauce. Add the chicken, nestling it into the sauce. Reduce heat, cover the pan and simmer the chicken for 8 to 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the pieces), until cooked.
4. Cook the orzo according to the directions on the box. When the pasta is done, drain the orzo into a strainer, shake off  excess water, and add the orzo to the pan.
5. Stir the feta into the pan. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Remove pan from heat.
6. Divide the chicken and orzo between two bowls and serve. There may be a little extra left but you’ll probably come back and finish it.

Mushroom Soup-Oooooh, mommy!
This mushroom soup uses a restaurant “trick” of adding dried porcini mushrooms to enrich the flavor. Often a restaurant may use porcini powder that is rehydrated  with some brandy and added to the soup. Porcini mushroom powder might be a hard ingredient to find but I have substituted dried porcini mushrooms. Most grocery stores now have dried mushrooms, often more than one variety. if you don’t see them ask. This soup is a lesson in umami, the “sixth” savory taste derived from glutamates. Mushrooms are rich in umami. I also use a little soy sauce which is also rich in umami. Our response to umami runs deep. We first encounter it in breast milk.
An initial roasting of the mushrooms will bring out a deeper flavor. This soup can be made without the dried mushrooms. There is also an option to enrich the soup with a little light cream or milk. Your decision. If you have it, a little drizzle of truffle oil over each portion of the finished soup would be encouraged.

Mushroom Soup
makes about 2 quarts
1 pound mushrooms, white button or crimini
1 cup diced onion or 1 leek, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
One 1/4 ounce package dried porcini mushrooms 
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with a piece of string
1/3 cup (dry) white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock/broth or water
1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
1/2 cup milk or light cream

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice or chop the mushrooms and rinse them under cold water; shake off excess water. Place the mushrooms into a bowl. Drizzle the mushrooms with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil and season them with1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix to distribute the oil and seasonings. Spread the mushrooms in an even layer onto a baking tray. Roast the mushrooms for 12 minutes; remove the mushrooms from the oven and turn them. Return the mushrooms to the oven and roast the mushrooms for an additional 6 minutes or until browned. Remove the pan from oven and set aside.
2. Place a large sauce pot onto the stove over medium heat. When hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions (or leeks) to the pot. Cook to soften the onions for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Spoon the roasted mushrooms (and their juices) into the pan along with the dried mushrooms, and the thyme. Add the white wine and cook for a minute. Add the stock/broth/water and the soy sauce to the pot. Cover the pot and simmer the soup for 20 minutes or until the dried mushrooms are soft. Remove the soup from the heat and cool.
4. After the soup has cooled for about 10 minutes, puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the cream (if using) and taste for seasoning, adjusting if needed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Whole Wheat Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower........Cauliflower Soup

I have written about cauliflower before (see the archives 3/20/2013). 
I (dimly) remember a cauliflower salad from a Marcella Hazan cookbook that had (as I recall it from years ago) black olives, capers, and roasted red peppers—a good combination of sweet, salty and tangy notes for the plain flavor of the cauliflower. I am bringing those flavors to this pasta dish.
Since, it’s 2016, I roasted the cauliflower. (Aren’t we roasting everything now?) The remaining cauliflower was turned into soup (see below). Instead of roasted peppers, I used sun dried tomatoes. They used to be a staple, go-to ingredient in my pantry but I haven’t used them in a long time. They lend sweetness. You could use roasted red peppers, but please, roast them yourself. Roasted peppers in a can or jar never taste like the ones you make at home. Chiles, either fresh or dried, bring their subtle heat. Black olives are dense, deep, and salty. Capers and their brine lend a splash of bright acidity. These are the classic ingredients in a tapenade. Sweet, salty, tangy, spicy, it’s all here. 
I used whole wheat pasta, but you don’t have to. Whole wheat pasta works with some ingredients, roasted cauliflower being one. A pasta like orecchiette would work here too, the “little ears” of pasta would hold the bits and pieces quite well. 
All in all, a good tangle of tastes and textures in a pasta dish for late winter, as we look forward to the renewal of spring.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower
for two servings
3 ounces whole wheat penne
2 cups cauliflower florets
1or 2 cloves garlic, minced
diced fresh chiles or dried red pepper flakes, to taste
6 to 8 pitted black olives, chopped  (either Kalamata or oil cured)
2 Tablespoons capers
2 Tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, chopped
the juice from a half of a lemon
olive oil
salt and ground black pepper
2 to 4 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cauliflower with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and black pepper. Spread the cauliflower evenly on a baking tray. Place the tray into the oven and roast the cauliflower for 12 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven, turn the cauliflower, and return the tray to the oven and roast the cauliflower for an additional 6 minutes or so. Remove from oven and set aside until needed. (This can be done in advance and held aside until you are ready to cook).
2. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water according to the package directions. While the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan onto the stove over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chiles and stir together. Add the roasted cauliflower, black olives, capers, and sun dried tomatoes. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the pasta water into the pan. Let it simmer until the water is reduced by half. Remove the pan from the heat and wait for the pasta to finish cooking.
3. When the pasta is done, drain it into a colander. Place the pan with the cauliflower back onto the stove and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and mix together. Add the lemon juice and additional olive oil if the pasta seems dry. Taste and season with salt, if needed, and ground black pepper. Scatter the grated cheese over the pasta and mix together. Divide the pasta between two bowls and serve.  This will make you feel that spring is just around the corner.

If you have a lot of leftover cauliflower, turn it into soup. You could add an extra potato if you like your soup thicker. If you don’t have 4 cups of cauliflower for the recipe, scale back the recipe (use less water/stock, for example) but don’t change the amount of potato. It will add thickness and creaminess to the soup.
Purists might want to use white pepper, but I side with Jacques Pepin and use black. A few black specks don’t hurt although Escoffier might be offended.

Cauliflower, Potato, and Leek Soup

4 cups chopped cauliflower (florets and peeled stem)
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced (about 2 cups)
1 potato, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
6 cups water or stock
salt and ground black pepper
olive oil, for cooking
1/2 cup light or heavy cream (optional)

1. To clean the leeks, slice the leeks in half, lengthwise. Thinly slice the leeks crosswise; use about 3/4’s of the leek (the white and the palest green parts of the leek).  Place the leek slices into a colander and rinse with cold water to remove any sand. Shake off excess water.
2. Place a large sauce pot onto the stove over medium heat. When the pot is hot, swirl in about 2 tablespoons oil. Add the leeks and cook the leeks until they begin to soften, about 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust heat if necessary.
3. After the leeks have softened, add the cauliflower, potatoes, and water or stock. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper. Bring the soup up to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 12 to 15 minutes until all of the vegetables are soft.
4. When the vegetables are tender, remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly before pureeing the soup. Using either a blender or and immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.
Add the cream, if using. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Reheat and serve. Store any leftover soup in containers and freeze until needed.