Archive for August, 2009

Pasta alla Norma (review)

A little ways east of town, there’s a “dented can” grocery called Central Discount. It’s always an adventure going there because it involves getting up really early to fight the crowds, and because you never know what sorts of things you’ll find. Last time I was there, I bought a can of anchovies packed in olive oil for 25 cents. At that price, I told myself I could work up the courage to use them in something. And then I got my summer issue of Cooks Illustrated.

I should pause here to say that while I grew up by the gulf coast, I’m not much of a fish fan. I had an allergic reaction to some sort of large fish, probably shark or swordfish, when I was a little girl, and had a great excuse not to eat it thereafter. There were some kinds of fish I’d eat. Tuna (mostly in salad form), salmon (mostly in croquette form), and fish sticks (with mac and cheese on the side). It really wasn’t until I got into college around the time the sushi craze was sweeping the country that I decided I’d try tasting a little more fish. I’m still not a huge fan, but there are some types I’ll eat (and watch out if there’s unagi around–I know, it’s not a fish, but still, it’s adventurous). but anchovies. Those have a certain reputation in the general public which makes them sound repulsive, but a general cache amongst foodies as a worthwhile canned food.

One of the recipes in my CI was for an eggplant and tomato pasta sauce known as Pasta alla Norma, a traditional Sicilian dish. I love eggplant and I enjoy looking for new ways to eat it. But as I read the recipe’s creation and looked over the ingredients, there it was. Anchovies. I decided to go for it–and I was rewarded.

The recipe only calls for a tablespoon worth, finely minced, which when cooked into a sauce of at least five servings is barely noticable amongst the other rich flavors. In fact, even upon opening the can, the anchovies has very little fishy smell. The recipe creation says they were added to give the recipe some “backbone.” Well it worked. This dish was amazing and I’m really looking forward to eating the leftovers.

One of the great things about this dish was how easily it went together. The only prep I had to do before I started cooking was to chop the eggplant. I was able to mince and measure everything else while the eggplant was in various stages of cooking. I even had time to go out to my porch to pick herbs without a delay in the cooking process.

A couple other notes: I didn’t have 6 tablespoons worth of basil on my plant, so I substituted with some fresh oregano and a little dried basil. I thought it was great. The only thing I didn’t really like about this dish was the kind of cheese it called for, ricotta salata. Unlike ricotta, ricotta salata holds it shape so that it can be grated on top. I splurged an bought a small chunk at my local co-op. The cheese has a slightly ammonia undertone that I don’t care for, especially with this dish. There are already so many other flavors, it doesn’t really fit in. This is coming from a person who loves brie, so it’s not that ammonia note itself that I dislike. In the future, I think I’ll try one of CI’s other recommendations for this recipe, pecorino romano or cotija, both cheeses I already know I like.

Overall, I think this recipe is definitely worth picking up a copy of the July/August CI on your local newstand. I still haven’t figured out if it’s a copyright infringement to post the recipe up here.

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Super Veggie Hummus Wrap

One of the coffeeshops I really like here has a great wrap on their menu called a super veggie hummus wrap. I love this sandwich, despite its odd ingredients. The only problem? It costs $9 and doesn’t even come with chips! I decided to take matters into my own hands and figure out how to make this delicious lunch at home–and for much less money.

Now because of the broad range of ingredients in this sandwich, it will only be a reasonable price if you plan to use these items in other dishes. For example, you could use some grilled veggies for this wrap, and some on top of pasta, and some in a burrito. But as long as you use all the parts without letting them go to waste, it adds up to a pretty reasonable dish. I would estimate about $3/wrap.

Feel free to adjust the insides based on what you like/have in the house, but be sure to keep the hummus, apple and salsa. I know the three sound a little odd together, but I promise, it’s awesome.

Super Veggie Hummus Wrap

Super Veggie Hummus Wrap

Prep time: 15 minutes

Servings: 1 (easy to turn into more)

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole wheat tortilla, approx 10″ diameter
  • 3 tbsp hummus
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh spinach
  • 3 kalamata olives (optional)
  • 1/3 cup sauteed (or grilled) veggies–summer squash, zucchini, bell peppers and carrots are all wonderful
  • 1 thin slice red onion (several rings)–approx 2 tbsp when chopped
  • several thin apple (red or green) slices–approx 1/4 apple
  • 2 tbsp salsa
  • non-stick spray
  1. If you don’t have any sauteed veggies, chop up what you have around, spray a small skillet with non-stick spray and throw the veggies in the pan on medium heat, stirring occasionally. They’ll be cooked enough by the time you’re ready to add them into the wrap. Quarter the red onion rings and the olives (if using), and chop the apple pieces into pieces about an inch square.
  2. Spread the hummus in a 2-3 inch wide strip down the middle of the tortilla, leaving an inch-wide space from the edge of the tortilla. Press the spinach into the hummus, tearing any large leaves. Add the veggies, olives, onion and apple slices on top of the spinach. Top with the salsa.
  3. Heat a skillet to medium-low heat and spray with non-stick spray. Fold up the wrap: first fold in the 1-inch spaces you left on the edge of the hummus strip. While holding those edges folded in, fold over one side and then the other. Place the wrap seam-side down into the skillet. Heat about 4 minutes, or until light brown. Then flip over and heat the other side for about the same length of time. Enjoy!

Note: Packing a lunch to eat later? This will work! Make it ahead of time at home, leaving out the salsa and bringing it with you in a small container. Add it to the wrap when you’re ready to eat. If you have access to a microwave, heat the wrap for 1 minute on 70% power.

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Eating well on a Budget

A few of my friends and I were recently discussing our need to keep our food budgets down in the coming months. We all share the two problems: we’re usually cooking just for ourselves, maybe one other person, and we don’t like to eat the same things over and over. We have a few ideas in mind, key among them is planning meals for a week (or two) so that one makes fewer trips to the grocery store with only a list of ingredients for those meals in hand (thereby making fewer impulse purchases). The other good thing about planning ahead is you can plan leftovers to be turned into other meals.

We’re also going to share a few recipes with each other that are cheap to make, but are good for a few meals. With that in mind, I’m going to start a new category: Budget-friendly. I’ll go through and mark those recipes already on the site today, and I have a couple posts ready to put up in the next few days.

What’s your favorite dish to make on a budget?

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