Grilled Corn Carbonara

Following tradition, I made my once yearly trek to Boston and spent a fabulous 4th of July weekend with my sister. At the airport I stocked up on all of my in-flight essentials (mentos, popcorn, sparkling water, food magazines) and during the whole 55 minutes of the flight, I flipped through the most recent issue of Food and Wine Magazine, the America’s Greatest Chefs Issue. The bio and recipes from Tim Maslow caught my eye immediately, not only because his restaurant Ribelle is located in Boston but also because he included a recipe for a corn carbonara pasta dish. “How intriguing!”  I thought as the pilot announced our final descent and I stowed the magazine away in my carryon bag.

Now this is the part of the story where you would expect me to go and dine at Ribelle and try the restaurant’s renowned food for myself, and maybe even meet the chef in person where I would tell him how I just read his bio earlier that day. But that’s not what happened. We instead went to Giulia (again) for one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten (again). But I digress. So, although a trip to Ribelle was pushed to the “next time” agenda, that corn carbonara recipe kept nagging at me somewhere in the back on my mind saying, “make this NOW!”

So I did.

This carbonara goes against all rules that define carbonara. It has no dairy and it has no egg but instead gets an ethereally smooth and creamy texture from a sauce made of straight-up corn puree. I added an extra step as well and grilled the corn first to add a bit of a smoky and caramelized flavor. The combination of the sweet corn sauce with salty bacon, shallot and garlic and a specialty cracked pepper fettuccine that I found at the farmers market made for a flavor that is the essence of summer in one comforting and indulgent bite. Maslow pairs his version with jumbo lump crabmeat, but I left it out. However that or grilled scallops or some roasted shrimp would all be welcome additions. Pair with a simple salad or some steamed asparagus and you’ll be living the good life for sure!

Grilled Corn Carbonara
Serves 4-6
Adapted Tim Maslow via Food and Wine Magazine

8 ears of corn, shucked
1 lb spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine
2 Tbs. olive oil or butter
¼ lb bacon, cut into a small dice
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. lemon juice plus the zest for serving
salt and pepper
olive oil, smoked paprika and parmesan, for serving

Lightly brush the corn with olive oil and grill over medium hear either on an indoor grill pan or an outdoor grill. Rotate frequently until lightly charred on all sides. Remove and set aside to cool slightly.

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corncobs making sure to scrape all of the juice and pulp from the cobs. Transfer the kernels and corn juice to a blender and blend on high speed until you have a smooth puree. Thoroughly strain through a fine mesh sieve and set the puree aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Once ready, reserve 2 cups of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Set this aside as well.

In the same pot used for the pasta, heat the olive oil or butter over medium. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 7 minutes. At this point you can discard a bit of the grease by mopping up with a paper towel, if desired. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until soft, about 3 more minutes.

Add in the pasta, the corn puree, 1¼ cups of the reserved water, and the lemon juice. Cook over a medium heat, while tossing with tongs, until the sauce is thick, 3-5 minutes, adding more of the pasta water if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil, freshly grated parmesan, and a dash of smoked paprika. 

Goat Cheese: A Love Story

 My love affair with goat cheese began at an early age, much earlier than people should really be developing tastes for things that are gamey, funky, and just plain goaty…but it still happened. If it could be considered a condiment, it might be my second favorite, behind maple syrup, and I am partial to eating it on toast with cherry jam for breakfast probably more often than I really ought to.

When I was home for Easter my mom and I took a short drive to Georges Mill Cheese, a start-up goat cheese business in my hometown, that has quickly been making a name for itself. We picked up some bloomy rind goat cheese and some chevre and while we were there were able to see the young goats. They ranged in age from about 2 weeks to 24 hours old. The newborns took a while to get to us because they were too scared to come down the hill to where we were standing and when they finally did I could see just how wobbly they still were on their little legs.

And the cheese was as amazing as the baby goats were adorable. The chevre was really mild and buttery and the aged goat cheese had a good tangy funk to it, in the best way possible. I polished it off in about 2 days and was left craving more and more goat cheese. I went for yet another recipe from River Cottage Veg, this time a Kale Farrotto (risotto made with farro) with soft-rind goat cheese to fulfill that craving. I’ve really come to like these risottos made out of grains instead of rice. The grains give a nuttier flavor and hold their shape much better so it has a little more chew rather than turning into mush. I’ve also tried this grain method before with barley with good results. This risotto, however, gets a lot of richness from leeks sautéed in loads of butter and a good dose of pecorino cheese, which lends a creaminess that grain risottos have and harder time achieving. Rounds of the soft-rind goat cheese sit overtop and turn slightly melty from the heat. All-in-all it’s rich, warming, tangy and creamy, perfect for these rainy, cool spring days.

Kale “Farrotto” with Goat Cheese
Serves 4
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg

If you can’t find pearled farro, pearled spelt or barley would be suitable substitutes. This recipe is great for using up some new spring greens too; Swiss chard would be a great alternative for the kale.

1 quart vegetable stock
3½ Tbs butter
2 Tbs olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
a few sprigs of thyme, leaves chopped
2 medium leeks, trimmed to the bottom lighter parts only
4 oz. kale, torn in to medium-sized pieces
10 oz. pearled farro
½ cup dry white wine
2 oz. pecorino romano, grated, plus more for serving
a soft-rind goat cheese round (I used one with a vegetable ash coating)
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the stock over medium until it comes to a low simmer. Set aside, covered, to keep warm. Cut your leeks in half and cut each half on a diagonal into ½ inch wide strips. Rinse well under cold water and let drain in a colander. Heat half the butter and 1 Tbs of the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and a bit of salt and gently cook, stirring occasionally, until tender with just a bit of bite left, 5-7 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and set aside. In the same pan, add a little bit of water and the kale. Cook over medium, covered, until the kale is wilted, 3 minutes. Drain and also set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the remaining butter and oil over medium. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme, and a good pinch of salt and cook gently for about 10 minutes until soft and very lightly browned. Stir in the farro and cook, stirring for another minute or two. Add the wine and cook until absorbed.

Add the stock, a quarter at a time, and stir often, adding more stock as it gets absorbed completely.  This should take about 25 minutes. Once the stock is used up, taste the farro. If it’s still a bit too chewy for you add about another ½ cup to a cup of water and keep stirring until absorbed. Stir in the leeks and kale and cook for a few more minutes. Add in the grated pecorino and some cracked black pepper and mix throughout. Taste and add more salt if needed.

To serve, dollop the risotto into a bowl. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, more grated cheese, a few rounds of your soft-rind goat cheese, and more salt and pepper, if desired.

Spanish Style Turkey Meatballs with Almond Sauce

I’ve been meaning to write about this one for a really long time. I just never really knew what to say about it exactly.

It’s a wonderful dish, full of savory Spanish style flavors and aromatic with the scent of lemon and fruity wine. It uses ground turkey too so I guess it’s a bit healthier without screaming “diet-food” in the least bit. And of course it’s convenient because the meatballs are baked rather than pan-fried so there is no need to worry about an overcrowded pan of half burnt meatballs falling apart every time you try to flip them over. The meatballs with the almond sauce are perfectly fine on their own but are even better with a nice wedge of crusty bread to mop up the juices and something fresh and green to dip in the remaining sauce.  I ate it for four days straight without getting tired of it and I think it’s a really great way to change up an ordinary weeknight meal.

So why had its image been sitting unused in my iPhoto gallery for the past two months? It just really had no story. It’s not passed down, not traditional to my heritage or upbringing or reminiscent of anything from my childhood. The recipe just sort of came out of nowhere and happened to turn out really quite well. It still has no story and I have yet to recreate it for my family. I’m the only one who has tasted this gem, which is why I’m now suddenly itching to release this dish to the world instead of hoarding it to myself until I think of what to say about it. Enjoy.

Spanish Style Turkey Meatballs with Almond Sauce
serves 4 meatballs are original and sauce is adapted from this

This would be a perfect thing to bring to a potluck/tapas sort of party if you make the meatballs smaller and serve with toothpicks in a pool of the sauce. It would be nice on cooler pre-summer nights accompanied by a glass of the leftover wine used to make the dish. Of course you can certainly try it with other sides like sautéed greens or asparagus rather than the French beans if you’re going for a more seasonal thing too.

2 Tbs. olive oil
½ of an onion, diced
1 cup cremini mushrooms, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped roasted red peppers either jarred or homemade (instructions here)
2 Tbs. minced parsley
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. paprika
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
1¼ cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup plus 2 Tbs. Pinot Grigio or another fruity, dry white wine
1 lb ground turkey
zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp. sugar
¼ cup blanched almonds
salt and pepper to taste
a loaf of crusty white bread and greens to serve (optional)

For the meatballs, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, garlic and salt and pepper to taste and sauté for about 5-7 minutes until tender. Transfer to a large bowl to cool slightly and set aside. Tear up one piece of the bread into a bowl and pour over ¼ cup of the stock and 2 tablespoons of the wine and mash with a fork until the bread is completely saturated. Set aside for 5 minutes.  Add the roasted red pepper, parsley, oregano, paprika, and soaked bread with liquid to the onion and mushroom mixture and stir to combine. Add the turkey to the mixture and mix until just combined evenly. Diving into 16 balls space them evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and cooked through.

While the meatballs bake, make the almond sauce. In a large skillet, bring the remaining stock and remaining wine to a boil. Add the lemon zest and sugar and reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile, in another skillet, heat the other tablespoon of oil over medium high. Tear up the other piece of bread into the skillet along with the almonds and fry until the bread and almonds are golden. Set aside to cool slightly and then whiz them in a food processer until you have a fine powder. Add the almond and bread powder to the simmering stock and stir. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes adding additional liquid as needed.

Serve the meatballs with the sauce with a wedge of a rustic country loaf and greens of your choice.

The Orange Season

Today was the first day of this year where I woke up and I could finally sense fall. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the weather went from being 85 degrees on Tuesday, to rainy and 70 degrees on Thursday, to dry, crisp, and 55 degrees today. I honestly had a little extra spring in my step. I had a fleeting urge to listen to Christmas music (it went away fast though) and while standing outside, I closed my eyes and felt like I was back in London.

While I was there last fall, I was disappointed that I would miss out on the entire fall season here in Virginia. No pumpkin patches, Halloween, scarecrows, and harvest festivals. No drives through the mountains for the sake of looking at leaves. But as it turned out, fall in England was quite wonderful. Fresh apples were still everywhere as well as a gorgeous fall fashions that only a true Londoner can pull off. By lucky chance, our tour of a traditional English village in the countryside fell on an absolutely quintessential fall day and it was honestly the one of the most perfect days I think I will ever have. Coloring leaves, Sunday church bells, thatch-roofed cottages, and a big bowl of hot, pumpkin soup. Which brings me back to my main point. England’s fall season still provided a plentiful bounty of orange root and squash vegetables. And if there is one thing you should know about me and my food obsessions, orange root vegetables and squashes are my ultimate weakness. I crave them incessantly during all seasons and all weathers. Carrots, pumpkins, butternut squashes, golden beets, sweet potatoes. England was all about them…and that made me happy.

Though, on second thought, this does not explain why UK Starbucks neglected to offer the Pumpkin Spice Latte. But that’s okay; I actually had my first one of the season today and it was most definitely worth the wait. But regardless of that, I was lucky to not have to give up my favorite food for a year for the sake of a study abroad trip. Because I don’t think I could have waited.

I also noticed that with the strong influence of Indian cuisine in London, many orange vegetables were prepared with a Middle Eastern style. Butternut squashes popped up in many vegetarian curries and carrot salads spiced with raisins and coriander were ever popular. But my favorite was the sweet potato falafel. I would get this amazing sweet potato falafel sandwich from Pret with spinach, yogurt dressing, red onion, parsley, and hummus on whole wheat bread.. And though I regretfully didn’t try it there, the food chain Leon also offered a sweet potato falafel wrap. Luckily, however, they have a cookbook with the recipe and with the help of a blog post from Heidi Swanson, I retrieved the recipe and tried it out on my own.

They were delicious too and I love that they are baked rather than fried so that the sweet potato flavor shines through rather than being clogged by oil. The sesame seeds add a nutty crunch that gives way to a warm and creamy interior. The spices give an aromatic warmth but I dipped the falafel in some plain greek yogurt which provided a cooling contrast. These little morsels were really easy to make too, which makes London and fall memories a quick meal away.

Sweet Potato Falafel
Adapted from Leon and 101 Cookbooks
Makes 18 falafel

Note: When I say easy I don’t necessarily mean quick. Though they dirty hardly any dishes and require little labor-intensive work, they do take some time. My suggestion is to bake and mash the sweet potatoes the night before and refrigerate them overnight. Then, the next morning, mix with the rest of the ingredients and let it hang out in the refrigerator all day. That way, when it’s time to make dinner, all you have to do is shape and bake the falafel. You’ll notice that they are actually vegan and gluten-free too so it’s a great way to treat people with any dietary restrictions.

2 medium sweet potatoes
2 cloves minced garlic
1½ tsp. ground cumin
1½ tsp. ground coriander
handful of chopped parsley
1 cup garbanzo bean flour
½ lemon
salt and pepper
sesame seeds (about 1-2 Tbs)

In a 425-degree oven place the whole sweet potatoes directly on the rack for 45 minutes to 1 hour until they are tender in the center. Remove from the oven and let them cool. Once cool, remove the flesh from the skins and either refrigerate until ready to use or move to the next step.

Mix the cooled sweet potato flesh with the garlic, cumin, coriander, parsley, garbanzo bean flour, and lemon juice in a bowl. Mash with the back of a fork until quite creamy and smooth. Season with the salt and pepper. Place the mixture in the refrigerator for at least an hour to firm up.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and oil a baking sheet. Using two large spoons, scoop up a mound of the mixture and pass it back and forth between the concave sides of the spoons to form a football-like shape, but with three curved sides. Sprinkle the outside with the sesame seeds and place on the tray. Bake for about 15-17 minutes until the sides are golden and slightly crispy. Serve immediately while warm with toasted pita and a good dipping sauce like tsatziki or, if you want to keep it vegan, and lemon tahini sauce.