All That’s Left Over

5 Jan

I thought of doing a New Year’s post.  I really did.  I got this cookbook for Christmas, essentially 932 pages of drool-worthy recipes.  A 4.6 lb tome of culinary inspiration.  I made a cake recipe from it, and it was excellent (Guinness chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, if you’re curious), but lately I have been out of blogging mode, and it’s been weeks since my camera has made it inside the kitchen.

Nonetheless, the blogging bug bit last night, and it bit hard.  The problem was, I had nothing to write about.  Sure, I could have made something for dinner.  But, you see, our refrigerator is currently stuffed to the gills with leftovers.  And while leftovers are delicious, they kind of get in the way of culinary creativity, you know?

For this reason, a New Year’s post seemed hypocritical.   While the world is celebrating a fresh start–if 1/1/11 doesn’t just scream “New Beginnings,” I don’t know what does–I find myself still staring at 2010 every time I open the refrigerator door.  And truth be told, I kind of dig the metaphor it calls to mind.  It’s not like we start from scratch every time January 1st rolls around, you know?  Life is cumulative, and no resolution, no “fresh start” should ever fail to acknowledge that.  Sure, we can hope to make this year better than the last, but we cannot hope to cast aside all that we bring into it, from 2010 and all the years prior, the good and the bad.

So, for the next week or so, I will be happily eating the leftovers of meals past.  Because, while the gnocchi didn’t quite make it through to 2011 (mold), last week’s lamb is something I hope to eat again and again.  Just like dad made it in 2010.  No improvement required.

Lamb with rosemary (a Jamie Oliver recipe)

Sauteed yellow squash and onion

Roasted carrots, parsnips, and garlic

You’re Looking Swell, Dolly

24 Dec

There are cookies, and there are Christmas cookies.  Christmas cookies incorporate things like cinnamon and cherries and ginger and cloves, or take the form of stars or trees or candy canes.  They are decidedly festive, and just looking at a Christmas cookie reminds a person that December 25th is right around the corner.

Cookies, on the other hand, are standard dessert fare, with ingredients ranging from chocolate chips to coconut to rice krispies.  Who says, though, that regular cookies don’t warrant a spot in the holiday spread?  December, for me, has been quite the baking marathon, and I am living proof that sometimes even the most dedicated Kitchen-Aid devotees among us need a little break.  Rolling and pressing and cooling and frosting becomes more a chore than a relaxing afternoon in the kitchen.  So, as my final cookie of the Christmas season, I baked up these Hello Dolly bars, found on the Homesick Texan blog.  Because, Christmas-y or not, no one can argue with big blocks of chocolate, butterscotch, coconut, pecans, and sweetened condensed milk.

“HELLO, DOLLY” BARS (makes 25 squares)
From Homesick Texan

1 1/2 C crushed cinnamon graham crackers (about 8 graham crackers)
1/2 C butter, melted
1 C chocolate chips
1 C butterscotch chips
1 C sweetened shredded coconut
1 C chopped pecans
10 oz. sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and make graham cracker crumbs in the food processor.

Melt butter and pour in graham cracker crumbs until both are evenly combined.  Press mixture into the bottom of a greased 8 x 8 square pan.  Layer on coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and pecans, then pour sweetened condensed milk over the mixture as evenly as possible.  Bake 25-30 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned.  Cool completely, cut into squares, and store in the refrigerator.  Serve at room temperature (they’re also good straight out of the fridge, or frozen, if that’s your thing).

Merry Christmas, folks.  May your day be merry, your heart be light and your sugar coma be so very, very delicious.

And Everything Nice

14 Dec

Here in New York, the weather outside is frightful.  The temperatures are a little too low, and the snow is falling a little too early.  I’m all for walking in a winter wonderland in theory, but when the reality of it actually comes around, it is hard to remember that this is, in fact, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  It has been my experience in recent years, though, that when the weather gets cold, the cold get baking.  And when the entire apartment smells like sugar and spice, I say let it snow.

Christmas parties are, for some, an excuse for unadulterated eggnog consumption and the shameless donning of ugly sweaters and holiday-themed jewelery.  Christmas parties are, for me, an excuse to bake cookies three days in a row.  Day 1 brought what was by far my most ambitious undertaking.  Bon Appetit‘s December issue had a good spread of holiday cookies, but the Coffee-Spice Shortbread with Crystallized Ginger had been calling my name for weeks.

See, ginger and I have an interesting relationship.  As someone whose favorite flavor profiles are spicy and sweet–though not in that order, as the recipe index of this blog indicates–ginger is an obvious favorite.  My mother, however, is allergic to the stuff, and thus my adventures with ginger are a fairly recent development, having never had much access to it as a kid.  Thus, ginger is simultaneously my Holy Grail and my Forbidden Fruit, a double-threat classification that most other 22-year-olds would reserve for things more exciting (and quite possibly more illegal).

The end result was a hard, crunchy, spicy cookie that looked impressively (shockingly) similar to the picture in the magazine.  They were ever so slightly bitter as a result of the ground coffee beans, and all of the flavors were cut nicely by the simple vanilla-powdered-sugar-and-water glaze.  Next time, I would chop the crystallized ginger into smaller pieces and perhaps use twice as much; and, considering how much I’ve already told you I love ginger, perhaps you should consider doing the same.  Otherwise, though, they were pretty fabulous, and (so I’m told) quite the conversation piece at the Christmas party that my parents brought them to.

So, forget the chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  Forget the jack frost nipping at your nose.  Take this as an excuse to spend this evening (or this afternoon, even) baking cookies at home, in pajamas, drinking tea and listening to Christmas music.  Because, baby, it’s cold outside.

COFFEE SPICE SHORTBREAD WITH CRYSTALLIZED GINGER (makes 24 shortbread cookies)
From Bon Appetit, December 2010.  Original recipe here.

For the shortbread:
2 C all purpose flour
3/4 C packed dark brown sugar
2 T plus 2 t ground coffee beans (I used hazelnut flavored coffee beans)
2 t ground ginger
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground cardamom
1/2 t salt
1 C unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

For the glaze and garnish:
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 t water
1 t pure vanilla extract
6 T chopped crystallized ginger (next time, I would only use 3 T)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, with one rack in the bottom third and one rack in the top third of the oven.  Set aside two baking pans with removable bottoms (the original recipe called for two 9-inch-diameter tart pans, and in lieu of these I used one 9-inch-diameter springform pan, and one 8 x 8 square pan with a removable bottom).

In a food processor, mix flour, brown sugar, coffee, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and salt.  Process for a few seconds, just until combined.  Add cubes of butter, one by one, processing for a second or two after each addition.  When dough is still clumpy but moist and uniform throughout, remove from food processor and divide into two equal pieces.  Press each piece into one of your baking pans, making sure dough is tightly packed and spread evenly.

Bake 25 minutes, one pan on each oven rack.  Switch the pans on the racks, and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until shortbread is golden but still soft. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then remove pan sides and, keeping the shortbread on the pan bottoms cut each into 12 triangular pieces (for 24 pieces total).  Cool completely.

For glaze, mix sifted powdered sugar, vanilla, and water in a small bowl, adding more water (a few drops at a time) if necessary.  Pour glaze on shortbread and spread with a spatula or wooden spoon, leaving about a half an inch around the border (shortbread should still be on your pan bottoms).  Sprinkle on chopped, crystallized ginger and allow to sit for at least another hour, until glaze is fully set.  Separate pieces and serve, or store in the freezer or refrigerator.

Comfort

30 Nov

Last night at school, we cooked and ate our way through not one, not two, not three, but four types of shellfish.  Mussels, lobster, escargot, and scallops–all cooked different ways but with similarly absurd quantities of butter and salt (oh, the French)–to be precise, and it felt like Christmas had come early (then again, three more times).  Even in my “vegetarian” days, I couldn’t bring myself to quit seafood; the knowledge that Alaskan King Crab legs are somewhere in my future, no matter how distant, is something that I guess I was never willing to give up.

All of this is to say that last night’s class was pretty much a five hour marathon of all things crazy delicious, sopped up with some bread from one of the classrooms downstairs.  And so, on my way home, I was feeling quite content and pleased with myself and my wonderful fortune, ready to brag about the aforementioned feast to anyone who would listen the next morning.

Turns out, the aforementioned feast had other ideas.  Within an hour of climbing into bed, the shellfish that I had so innocently (okay, rather gluttonously) consumed earlier in the night teamed up against me and turned from a dream into my worst nightmare.  A painful cocktail of fishy protein and melted butter.  Suffice to say, I didn’t sleep a wink, nor did I make it out of bed for work today.  Not the best start to my Tuesday.

Luckily, I walked into the kitchen around one in the afternoon (stomach finally feeling settled enough to venture away from the fetal position) and spotted  something that I had baked yesterday and all but forgotten about.  A towering loaf of pecan banana bread, right there on my counter.  I would be lying if I said that I dug right in–a plain, unbuttered bagel was all the doctor ordered–but just looking at it sit there, oh so prettily, was enough to cheer me up.  So of course I had to slice it and take pictures.  And somehow, somehow, Santa Claus may have found his way into the picture, as well.  Because it is after Thanksgiving, after all, and for the next month I can be completely open about my love of all things Christmas (instead of stashing my iPod in my bag while listening to “The Christmas Song” in the middle of March so that no one can see the song title on the screen).  Really, though, is there anything more likely to cheer you up when you’re feeling under the weather than banana bread and Santa?  I thought not.

The recipe is from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, which you should go out and buy immediately, for both the stellar recipes and the dreamy narrative.  At the very least, peruse through Orangette, her blog, which I’m sure most of you have already done at some time or another.  Anyway, the banana bread is without a doubt the best I’ve ever had.  It almost doubles in size, which to me is so much more appetizing than the dense, syrupy banana breads that seem to be everywhere (this is what happens when you take out the eggs and the fat, see).  It’s plenty sweet and buttery, though, and I would almost call it cake-like, but then I would probably feel a little bit guiltier about eating it at mealtime.

I did change the recipe some. I used canned pumpkin in lieu of the Greek yogurt, just because we have two open cans leftover from Thanksgiving.  My family, for whatever reason, never eats chocolate in the morning, and my mother never eats ginger, EVER.  So, the chocolate chips and candied ginger pieces were replaced in my version with pecans (a few in the batter, a whole bunch on top).  I used brown sugar instead of white, and whole wheat flour instead of all purpose.  Despite all the changes (I didn’t realize I had made so many until I typed them out), this feels to me like an undoubtedly Orangette-y recipe, and really there’s nothing sweeter than that.

BANANA BREAD WITH PECANS (serves 8-12)
Adapted from “Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger,” in Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life

2 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C brown sugar, packed
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t kosher salt
1 t cinnamon
6 T unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 C mashed banana (about 3 large, very ripe bananas)
1/2 C canned pumpkin
1 t pure vanilla extract
3/4 C pecans, separated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with butter, all the way up the sides.

In the large bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer, or just a large bowl with a whisk and, later, a wooden spoon and lots of elbow grease), mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon on a very low speed, just until combined.

In another bowl, mix together beaten eggs, melted butter (20 seconds in the microwave will melt room temperature butter), mashed bananas, and canned pumpkin.  Pour the wet ingredients into the mixer bowl with the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed until fully combined.

Finally, crush 1/4 C of the pecans and add them to the batter, beating on low for 10 seconds or so, just until the pecans are incorporated and spread evenly throughout.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and arrange the remaining 1/2 C (or however many you’d like) over the unbaked batter in rows.  Note: as previously mentioned, this bread rises a LOT so four rows may look like a lot before baking, but will be fairly spread out over the finished loaf.

Bake for 50-60 minutes.  If the top of the loaf starts to brown near the end of the cook time, tent it with aluminum foil.  After taking the loaf out of the oven, let it sit in the loaf pan for 5-10 minutes before removing it and letting it cool on a wire rack.

Bread is at peak deliciousness when consumed 30-60 minutes after being removed from the oven, but will keep in the refrigerator (in an airtight container) for at least a week.

The All-Day Affair

28 Nov

(Red curry lamb shanks served with sesame green beans and cinnamon raisin rice)

When one spends a few formative years cooking and eating only vegetarian food, the idea of cooking meat at first seems daunting.  I don’t mean stir-frying chicken thights or grilling steak; that I can handle with relative ease, as it’s not that different from, say, stir-frying broccoli or grilling thick strips of eggplant.

What I tend to shy away from are those kinds of meat preparations that span long, (sometimes really long) periods of time–in part because I am intimidated but also, admittedly, because I am antsy and impatient and have a hard time wrapping my head around waiting until dinnertime to eat something that started cooking before lunch.  Roasting, braising, stewing… They’ve never been my cup of tea.

Thing is, most of the time, these “all-day affair” kind of dishes just taste better.  Much, much better, I think.  Unlike me, my parents never shied away from long cooking times or Le Creuset.  Thus, all my life (excluding those three vegetarian years), dinners of osso bucco, coq au vin, cassoulet, and beef brisket were commonplace.

My favorite of these dishes has always been braised lamb shank.  Meat, to me, is rarely worth eating unless it’s falling off the bone, and letting a lamb shank braise for hours in tomato and wine and stock is just about the most surefire way of making this happen.  It crossed my mind this summer, though, that maybe a lamb shank could taste even better braised in something else.

Now would be a good time to tell you that Thai curry is one of the few foods that both my parents and I unanimously agree is near perfection (my mom prefers green and my dad  red, but that’s as far as the dissent goes).  Another one of those foods is, you guessed it, lamb shanks.  And so, the idea for red curry (sorry, Mom) lamb shanks was born.

Per my diminishing-but-ever-present fear of the braising process, it took months for the idea to come to fruition.  But, last week, lamb shanks were spotted at Fairway just days before a few of our all-time favorite dinner guests were set to arrive in New York.  The now or never mindset kicked in, and Project Red Curry Lamb Shanks was set into motion.

The morning of the dinner party, I made the red curry paste, browned the lamb shanks, made the sauce, and combined everything but the sweet potatoes and carrots in the Le Creuset, which I then left in the fridge for my mom to put in the 300 degree oven at 3 in the afternoon, while I was at work.  At 5:30, she turned the oven down to 250 and threw in the vegetables.  I got home at 6:45, skimmed at least 2 inches of fat (no exaggeration; lamb and coconut milk together is an awful lot of fat) off the top of the pot, and let the whole thing hang out in the oven some more, at 200 degrees, until we sat down to eat at 8.

Served with cinnamony rice and sesame green beans, the lamb shanks were good but not as red-curryish as we had hoped.  Next time, I would consider using twice as much red curry paste, more stalks of lemon grass, and maybe I would even make an additional red curry sauce, separately, to ladle atop each lamb shank on the plate.

RED CURRY LAMB SHANKS WITH CARROTS AND SWEET POTATOES (serves 6)

For the red curry paste:
1 large shallot, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and finely sliced
2 t cayenne pepper
3 t Sriracha chili sauce
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T tomato paste
1 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
2 T soy sauce
1 T cinnamon
water, to cover blades of food processor

For the lamb shanks:
6 medium lamb shanks
Salt and pepper, to season
Canola oil, to sear
2 medium yellow onions, sliced
1 15 oz can coconut milk
2 15 oz cans light coconut milk
1 L beef stock
2 stalks lemongrass
3 medium sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 lb baby carrots
1 large red pepper, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

To make the red curry paste, combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until the mixture forms a fairly smooth paste.  Add water gradually, and only enough to wet the blades and bring ingredients together.

To sear lamb shanks, tie two pieces of string around each shank (one at the top, one at the bottom), and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Fill a large French oven (mine was a 7.5 liter Le Creuset) with canola oil, roughly a 1/2 inch deep, and sear lamb shanks for about 4 minutes on each side (do all 3 sides).

Remove lamb shanks from the French oven and set them aside in a metal bowl.  Using the oil leftover from searing, sweat the onions and all of the red curry paste on medium heat for about 8 minutes over low heat.  Transfer the lamb shanks back into the French oven, and pour in the coconut milk, light coconut milk, and beef stock, along with the two whole peeled stalks of lemongrass.

With the lid of the French oven on, braise the lamb shanks in the 300 degree oven for two hours.  Then, remove the French oven, add in the carrots and sweet potatoes, and braise for another hour at 250 degrees.

Remove the lid from the French oven and skim the fat from the top of the curry (there will be a LOT; I took almost two inches off of the top).  Serve immediately, being sure to cut the strings off of the shanks.  Optional: garnish with minced red pepper.

Lessons in Kale

16 Nov

I may have mentioned it before, but when I’m not waitressing, or blogging (which I really should get back to doing more regularly), or wandering the streets of New York, or cooking dinner for my parents (who so generously foot the grocery bill), I actually go to culinary school.  So really, my life boils down to serving food, writing about food, cooking food, learning about food, and wandering the streets of New York.  La dolce vita, really.

Anyway, a few days ago in class, the conversation turned towards seasonality and creativity in the kitchen, and how the two things have become not only necessary in restaurants, but also very prominent in home kitchens as well.  Three decades ago, the only greens Mom served were iceberg and romaine, and root vegetables didn’t go further than carrots and potatoes (and potatoes, and potatoes, and potatoes).  These days, Mom serves arugula salads and roasted kabocha squash.  And there’s a decent chance she pulled that arugula right out of her garden in the backyard.

Long story short, vegetables are in.  Good if they’re fresh, better if they’re fresh and in season, and best if they are local as well.  It’s not the porterhouse that impresses the dinner guest, it’s the quinoa and Honeycrisp apple stuffed butternut squash.  Drizzled, for good measure, in a pomegranate reduction.

Sam Sifton knows this, and in last week’s NYTimes Magazine, he wrote this article, about a restaurant owner in British Columbia who insisted that a certain group of patrons order a vegetable dish to go along with all of their lamb.  If they didn’t like it, she said, she would comp their meal.  Turns out, the men thought that the vegetable was delicious.

The vegetable was kale.  To be completely honest, I was a little bit surprised when I read it.  Kale is trendy, and kale is almost impossibly healthy.  But kale is also difficult to cook and difficult to like.  It’s a little too bitter and a little too sturdy, and a cook needs to solve both of these problems if he or she has a prayer of getting any  meat-and-potatoes type to even try it.

So, when I read that this table of steak-eating men actually complimented their host on the kale dish, I figured it was worth trying.  Also, the grilled coconut kale was paired in the article with a chickpeas in star anise and date masala that sounded fantastic.  Indian-themed vegetarian entrees are often, I find, the most satisfying for meat eaters.  When legumes are covered in thick sauce and spice, people forget that the meat is MIA.  (When I say “vegetarian entree” here, I am excluding all things pasta-and-cheese based, because that’s gotten so easy it’s practically cheating).

Truthfully, the verdict on the meal was mixed.  The chickpeas passed with flying colors, but the kale… Well, even beneath the coconut milk and the grilled flavor, it still tasted like kale.  I loved it, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart.

CHICKPEAS IN STAR ANISE AND DATE MASALA (serves 4-6)
Adapted (slightly) The New York Times Magazine, Nov 7th, 2010.  Original recipe here.

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 15oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup canola oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 T tomato paste
1/2 C coconut milk
6 dried, pitted dates, chopped
1 T ground cumin
1 t ground cardamom
2 t kosher salt
2 t ground cayenne pepper
2 whole star anise

In a large saucepan, heat canola oil.  Cook onion over medium low heat until tender, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute.  Add tomato paste and cook another minute or so, stirring constantly so that tomato paste does not stick to pan.  Add the coconut milk along with all remaining ingredients except the chickpeas, and saute for another two minutes or so.

Finally, add the chickpeas along with about a half a cup of water.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce to low and let the mixture cook until the liquid is gone.  Serve warm.


GRILLED COCONUT KALE (serves 4-6)
From The New York Times Magazine, Nov 7th, 2010.  Original recipe here.

3 bunches kale
1 15oz can coconut milk
2 15oz cans light coconut milk
1 T ground cayenne pepper
1 T ground smoked paprika
1 T kosher salt
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Remove kale from stems and cut into strips about two inches thick and the width of the leaf.  In a large plastic bowl, mix all remaining ingredients.  Toss kale in the liquid, and refrigerate, covered, for at least four hours.

Heat grill (I used a cast iron grill pan and it worked perfectly).  Grill each strip of kale 1-2 minutes on each side, so that kale is tender but not browned.  Also, make sure that each piece is covered with the coconut milk mixture before grilling.  Keep finished strips in a 250 degree oven while cooking the remainder of the kale (note: this also helped to soften them more, and make them a bit drier).  Serve immediately.

Circa 1994

8 Nov

I am my mother’s daughter.  We look alike, sound alike, and act alike.  And, a recent rummage through our cookbook shelves served as yet another reminder that we think alike, as well.  Beneath the colorful Jaime Oliver hardcovers and the tattered copies of various Frugal Gourmet tomes, I found a copy of BBC’s Vegetarian magazine, dated May 1994.

Now, when I began dabbling in the world of vegetarianism four years ago, I thought I was being original.  I went three years without meat and then decided that being an omnivore was just more interesting.  That said, though, I can go days without eating meat, and I seriously appreciate a good vegetarian entree.  I still have tempeh and tofu in the fridge and beans in the pantry, and I eat more produce in a day than some people probably eat in a week.  I still love falafel and hummus and veggie burgers.  I still drag people to vegan restaurants, sometimes against their will.  I still think that roasted root vegetables are pretty much the most delicious things in the world.  The only real difference is that now I can have my roasted root vegetables with side of braised lamb shank.

What I am getting at, in an admittedly roundabout way, is that in the last four years I have learned some very important things about myself and food and how the two work best together.  1)  Plants are delicious.  2)  Meat is good, too, but is definitely not my be all and end all.  3)  Roasted butternut squash tastes like dessert and should be eaten in abundance.  It sounds simple, but it took me a surprisingly long time to figure it out, and I was pretty damn proud of myself once I did. Then Michael Pollan came out with the “eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly Plants” mantra that pretty much summed it all up.  Suddenly, my experience seemed far less original.  Heck, even Molly Katzen, famed vegetarian, is eating grass fed beef these days.

The punch line of this whole thing, though, is that my mother is one smart cookie.  She, apparently, had this revelation sixteen years ago, when she bought Vegetarian magazine from a newsagent in Richmond, England and started cooking vegetarian entrees for her meat-eating family.  The woman has been making her own hummus for as long as I can remember, she can grill vegetables like no one else I know–the key is a low flame and a lot of patience; the former I can handle, the latter not so much–and I have her to thank for my introduction into the magical world of natural peanut butter (gateway drug to almond butter, sunflower seed butter, cashew nut butter, macadamia nut butter, and all things ground and nutty and incredible that Skippy doesn’t want you to know about).

My mother eats food, not too much, mostly plants, and she has been doing so since long before it was trendy.  We really cannot escape the influences that our parents have on us.  But then again, why would I want to?

Grate your cheese:

Heat your vegetable stock, cream and tabasco:

Add the grated cheese to make a smooth sauce:

Remove from heat and add herbs and spices:

Defrost spinach in a pan over heat:

Drain:

Layer:

And layer: And layer:

And layer:

Bake, remove, layer again with tomatoes and Parmesan, bake, remove, and garnish:

SPINACH FUSILLI BAKE (serves 4-6)
Adapted (barely) from Vegetarian, May 2004

450g fusilli
300mL vegetable stock
3 T heavy cream
Tabasco sauce, to taste
150g mature cheddar
2 t dried thyme (mine was fresh thyme that had spent too much time in the fridge)
1 t smoked paprika
1 t chili powder
450g frozen leaf spinach
150g frozen peas
6 plum tomatoes
3 T parmesan
2 T fresh parsely

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta.  Drain.

In a small saucepan, combine vegetable stock, cream, and Tabasco, and heat gently.  Add about two thirds of the cheddar and stir about 4 minutes over low heat, until melted and smooth.  Remove pan from heat and add thyme, paprika, and chili powder.

Place the spinach in a saucepan and heat gently until thawed and wilted.  Drain.  Squeeze out excess liquid. In the same saucepan, heat peas until thawed (peas will be very quick).

Place half of the pasta in the bottom of a deep 8 x 12 inch casserole dish.  Pour half of the cheese sauce over, then sprinkle with half of the remaining cheddar.  Spread the spinach over the pasta mixture, then sprinkle the peas on top.  Top with the remaining pasta, sauce, and cheddar.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

Slice the tomatoes.  Remove casserole dish from oven, discard foil, and layer tomato slices over the top.  Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan and bake for another 15-20 minutes uncovered.  Serve hot, sprinkled with fresh parsley.

 

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