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Posts Tagged ‘spicy’

chipotle penne all’arrabbiata

In pasta, year-round on 8 September, 2011 at 8:30 am

Here’s a quick post for a quick dinner: for when you’re too tired and hungry to do anything other than throw some pasta in some boiling salted water, open up a can or two, grate a bit of cheese and sink into the couch with a bowl full of noodles and a sigh.

It’s how I’ve been feeling lately, which I suppose is better than being bored, but it’s also not conducive to cooking elaborate meals or doing imaginative baking. Luckily I have some handy resources around like Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food, and while this recipe isn’t from that book, reading it has definitely reinforced the idea that whipping something up quickly from storecupboard ingredients doesn’t mean you have to have the same old boring thing or resort to prepackaged meals.

So, this pasta: it’s easy, you probably have most of the ingredients at hand (well, maybe not the chipotle peppers but they’re worth picking up), the sauce cooks in practically the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. Normal arrabbiata sauce is good enough – simple but fiery from the addition of chillies – but one day I tried adding chipotle peppers instead of regular chilli, and I’ve been hooked on this Mexican-Italian (Mexi-talian?) twist ever since.

I’m sure someone else has invented this dish before, but for me it was born on the Fourth of July this year, which happened to fall on a Monday and a particularly busy work day at that. But I had promised an American friend I’d meet her for a beer after work, and by the time I got home it was 9 pm, I was exhausted and all I’d ingested since lunchtime was a couple of American craft beers and a handful of edamame (at the wonderful Hashigo Zake).

Now I’m definitely not advocating drinking and frying but some of my best kitchen breakthroughs (like mastering the art of the perfectly-poached egg) have come in that too-sober-for-takeaways, tipsy-enough-to-be-ravenous state we get into at one stage or other. This was no exception: I needed something substantial and satisfying – and fast. So I turned to pasta, looked in the cupboards with a stumped look on my face, spotted a can of tomatoes. My mind turned to arrabbiata.

I started chopping and frying the onions and garlic and then remembered the can of chipotle peppers I had emptied into a jar in the fridge. So instead of the traditional fiery hot arrabbiata sauce, I ended up making something smoky-spicy and utterly delicious.

Since then this has been my go-to recipe for a pasta dish that takes little to no effort but tastes like something special. It’s really not too far a stretch from the traditional arrabbiata sauce but the addition of chipotle adds an extra bit of dimension, a welcome surprise.

CHIPOTLE PENNE ALL’ARRABBIATA
(serves 2 or 3)

Heat a decent glug (a couple tablespoons at least) of olive oil in a skillet. Add 1/2 chopped onion and start to fry over medium heat. Mince 1 clove garlic and add to the onion along with 1-2 chopped canned chipotle peppers* and fry gently for a few minutes until the onion softens and starts to turn brown. Pour a bit of red wine into the pan and deglaze. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer until it reduces – 15 or 20 minutes is ideal, but if you’re in a hurry, until the pasta’s ready is fine.

Bring a pot of well-salted water to the boil and add about 200-250g penne. Cook until al dente, reserve a bit of the pasta water, drain.

Add the pasta to the sauce and give it a good stir so that everything’s nicely coated. Add some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce if needed. Serve topped with a bit of chopped parsley** and grated parmesan or pecorino.

*In Wellington, I get chipotle peppers from Moore Wilson’s – they come in those La Morena cans with the sultry lady on the front. A well-stocked supermarket is also likely to have them, or you could order online.

**Now that I think of it, this could be good with chopped coriander substituted for the parsley… hmm!

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chilaquiles, and the best salsa verde

In autumn, Mexican, snacks on 30 April, 2011 at 8:38 pm

It started with these tomatillos. Well actually, it started before the tomatillos: it started with this blog post. Or you could say it started even before that; all summer I’ve been keeping an eye out for tomatillos, with no luck whatsoever. I’m sure once, years ago, I saw them at Moore Wilson’s, but whether I missed them this year or they weren’t there I’ll never know.  Anyway, I’ve been hanging out for a good salsa verde, the Mexican kind, with tomatillos and jalapeños and coriander. The kind that came standard with a bowl of complimentary, freshly fried tortilla chips at the late-night taco shops I used to frequent as a teenager in suburban Chicago (which were way better than I just made them sound, by the way).

So when Sue blogged about her tomatillos over at Five Course Garden, one thing led to another and I ended up having a cup of tea and a chat in her hot-cross-bun-scented kitchen last Saturday afternoon, and left with a bag full of tomatillos (as well as parsley and sorrel that went into another kind of salsa verde altogether, and a wee passionfruit) she kindly donated to my tomatillo-deprived kitchen.


They sat in a bowl in my kitchen till Monday (poor Easter planning on my part meant I  had no corn tortillas at home) but then I did what I had to do: cut up some tortillas, fried into chips, sprinkled with a bit of salt, drained on paper towels. Tomatillos, jalapeños, roasted till juicy and blistery, dumped in a blender with coriander, garlic, onion, salt, a bit of water; blended till smooth and the sharp, familiar scent of tomatillos filled the air. Thinned out with a bit more water, just enough so that it was reminiscent of the salsa verde at my favourite Chicago taqueria, snuck a taste, let sit for a bit to let the flavours meld. Got way too excited and started eating all the chips dipped in the almost-too-hot salsa: bliss. I only stopped myself because I remembered the whole reason why I made chips in the first place was to try this recipe for chilaquiles verdes.*

Rather than baking them in the oven I ended up using the technique from this recipe (for chilaquiles rojos), where the chips are tossed in a pan of bubbling sauce and cooked till just soft. Once I had all the components ready it only took a few minutes to put together, simmering the fresh chips (there aren’t many snack foods better than freshly made tortilla chips) into the bubbling green sauce rounded out with sour cream and chicken stock, slopping the whole thing on a plate, topping with chicken and cheese and sour cream and more salsa. It took even less time to devour.

I wasn’t sad then, because I still had plenty of salsa left. But by the following night it was all gone – used up for the best enchiladas verdes I’ve ever made – and I had that twinge of guilty longing you get when you’re enjoying something with no guarantee you’ll have it again, at least for a long time. Bittersweet, like the last meal on an overseas holiday. I wanted every bite to last forever. I also wanted more salsa to magically appear so I could make more chilaquiles. Oh well. Maybe next year.


So. If you’re lucky enough to have a good source of tomatillos**, make this before the season’s over for the year. Otherwise I’d suggest planting some next spring (it’s what I’ll be doing, and they seem to grow well here), and then making this salsa. And then: these chilaquiles.

I couldn’t say this enough, but many, many, many thanks to Sue at Five Course Garden for giving me these tomatillos. I was the happiest person in the world eating this.

*Looking through internet recipes, it seems there are as many variations on chilaquiles as there are breeds of dog. Er, that makes it sound like this recipe somehow involves dogs, which I can assure you it does not, but you know. Lots. And I haven’t been to Mexico (though I did grow up in a city with a big Mexican population) so I can’t vouch for authenticity at all. But whatever. These are damn good.

**I’ve seen cans of them in Moore Wilson’s but at $9 a pop they’re not cheap. If you are reading this from a more tomatillo-acquainted area, I am so jealous of  you.

ROASTED TOMATILLO SALSA VERDE:
(adapted from this recipe

Preheat the grill/broiler setting on your oven. Take roughly 500g tomatillos – remove the papery outer husks and rinse (they’re sticky) – and slice in half.* Place on a tinfoil-lined baking tray, cut side up, along with 2-4 jalapeño peppers (depending on how spicy you want the end product).** Pop this in the oven right on the top rack; cook for a few minutes until the tomatillos are soft and almost-burnt and the jalapeños are charred (don’t worry, you’ll be peeling off the charred skin). Peel the jalapeños and remove the seeds if you prefer a milder salsa. Put the tomatillos, jalapeños, a big handful of coriander, 1/2 a chopped onion, and 2 cloves garlic into a blender. Add about 1/4 cup water and a bit of salt in there as well, and purée until it reaches a sauce-like texture.*** Add more water if you want a thinner salsa; season with salt, let chill for at least 30 minutes so the flavours have a chance to mingle a bit.

This recipe makes quite a bit – it says 2 cups but I swear I got at least 2 1/2, maybe closer to 3.

*I don’t know why I did this instead of leaving the tomatillos whole. Maybe so they’d cook faster. Anyway, you can skip this if you want, but you may need to leave them in the oven a bit longer.

**I used 4, and left the seeds in; the salsa had a big roundhouse-kick heat to it but wasn’t too bad for my tastes. I like spicy food, though, so if you’re not big on chillies you may want to use less, or add them to the blender one at a time.

***you can make this smoother or chunkier depending on your preference.

HOMEMADE TORTILLA CHIPS:

This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a method: cut corn tortillas into triangles, fry in a bit of hot oil till golden, drain on paper towels. Sprinkle some salt on them while they’re still hot. Eat as soon as they’re cool enough to handle. Save some for the chilaquiles.

CHILAQUILES VERDES (serves 2):
(adapted from here and here

Heat a bit of oil in a skillet; when hot, add roughly 1  to 1 1/2 cups salsa verde. Give it a good stir while you let it heat up so that it’s nice and bubbly, then stir in 1 cup chicken stock and 1/4 cup sour cream. Taste and adjust seasoning as you see fit, then bring back to the boil. Add roughly 120g tortilla chips (I didn’t weigh mine. You could easily just eyeball it depending on how much you think you’ll eat) and simmer for about 5 minutes until just soft. To serve, top with warmed shredded chicken (leftover roast chicken would do perfectly)*, cheese (I used a bit of crumbled feta and goat’s cheese), sour cream and a bit more salsa. Eat with a fork – these are messy in the best possible way.

*I didn’t have any leftover roast chicken. Unless you’ve had a roast the night before you may not either. So what I did was poach a chicken leg in a little pot of water along with bay leaves, a cinnamon stick, a spoonful of cumin and a couple sprigs of oregano. Once the chicken was cooked, I pulled the meat off the bones with a couple of forks and kept the poaching liquid to use for the stock called for in the recipe. Also, you could just as easily make these vegetarian by omitting the chicken and using vegetable stock, if you’re so inclined. 

Red bell pepper bisque

In autumn, late summer, soup on 20 March, 2011 at 11:55 pm

I’m conscious that I’ve been eating a lot of sugar lately (just look at the last few blog posts for proof). Call it disaster-triggered comfort eating or whatever, but over recent weeks I’ve been victim to one too many cake-batter-induced tummyaches and sugar-overload sore throats. Dessert for dinner just doesn’t have the same appeal when you do it several nights in a row.*

Things came to a head last week when I made this amazing semolina-cashew slice and Could Not Stop Eating it. I swore I’d lay off the sugar the next day and was doing so well at work, passing up cookies at morning tea, having a salad for lunch, not reaching for that bar of emergency chocolate hanging out in my desk drawer. I was full of this triumphant sense of accomplishment until I got home and… oh hello leftover semolina slice!**

So I’ve been trying to balance out the sugar with reasonably healthy things. Like soup. I know I’ve been whining about the end of summer for the last few blog posts*** but I’m actually harbouring this secret excitement for cooler weather and autumn (I won’t dare say I’m excited for winter, but close enough) and SOUP.

If there’s ever a soup that can be both spicy and soothing at the same time, it’s this one. It adeptly bridges the gap between summer and cooler weather: the flavours are bright and bursting with height-of-summer-ripeness, but at the same time it’s earthy and robust and the cayenne pepper adds enough heat to warm you from the inside on a cold rainy day. (This soup is also really good served cold at lunchtime, ideally on a sunny deck or balcony, maybe garnished with some chopped parsley.)

The recipe is from this book my mum got me called Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. It’s full of consistently accessible (and good!) recipes and informative sidebars full of tips and tricks but no photos, which is somewhat unusual for cookbooks these days but, you know, all good. It’s been one of my favourite cookbooks over the years and this is one of the first recipes I ever made from it.

Though the page is dotted with bright orange splatter-marks I hardly need to look at the recipe anymore, it’s so simple: red capsicums cooked with the holy trinity of carrot, onion, celery, plus a bit of cayenne pepper for heat and a bit of cream for… creaminess. You don’t really need to think much while making this, which makes it the perfect recipe for getting back into the soup groove.

*Dessert for dinner is still awesome though.

**I am going to start over this week, er, well, after the waffle breakfast we’re having at work tomorrow!

***although summer is clearly still not over, seeing as I’m typing this sitting on my balcony, no sleeves, bare feet.

RED BELL PEPPER BISQUE (serves 3-4):
recipe from Linda Carucci’s Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks

You will need:
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
cayenne pepper
4 red capsicums, seeded, deribbed & roughly chopped
1 litre chicken stock (ideally homemade, but anything goes)
1/4 cup cream
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
crème fraîche

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a decent-sized pot over medium-high heat, add the onion, carrot and celery and saute for several minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Add 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper and the capsicum, give it a good couple of stirs and let the capsicum cook for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock (you may not use the whole litre, the idea is you want enough stock to cover all the vegetables in the pot). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer about 30 minutes.

At this stage the capsicum and carrots should be nice and soft and cooked. Take the pan off the heat and blend until smooth (a stick blender works perfectly here but do as you please), then strain through a medium-mesh sieve.* Smush the pulpy bits with a spatula or ladle to squeeze the last bits of liquid out.**

Add 1/4 cup cream and salt and pepper to taste. If you want it spicier go ahead and add a little bit more cayenne pepper but beware that this stuff increases exponentially in heat (this book is full of these fun facts!). Garnish with a big spoonful of crème fraîche***, drizzle with olive oil, crack some black pepper over the top, eat!

If you have any left over the next day, it is just as good (if not better, depending on the weather) straight out of the fridge.

 

*If you’re feeling lazy you can skip this step but the silky-smooth texture of the strained soup is totally worth it.

**For what it’s worth, I found this step oddly reminiscent of making pâté…

***OK, so it’s just a garnish, but the crème fraîche definitely takes this to another level. Especially if you strained the soup. The combination of the silky-spiciness and the silky-cool-creaminess is so ridiculously dreamy.