To each his herb

Last week I talked about spices, and warm flavors.This week it’s herbs, and cooler flavors.

Fresh herbs are always best, but sometimes you don’t have the luxury.  There’s some dried thyme, as well as oregano and dill in my spice cabinet in case of emergencies.   But because those dried herbs can quickly lose their mojo, keep dried herbs no more than six months (label the bottle with date you brought it home).  rolled-herbs

To keep the fresh herbs longer, you’ve got two choices.  Either lay out about 6 pieces of paper towel on the counter.  Spritz the paper with cold water.  Then set a bunch down, and roll.  After that bunch is covered, lay down another bunch.  Roll, then lay another bunch, and so on.  When all the herbs are wrapped up, spritz the paper bundle, and place in a large zip top bag.  Refrigerate.

You second choice is easier but you don’t get quite as long a shelf life.  Trim the ends off the herbs.  Fill a tall glass with water, and place in the trimmed herbs like flowers in a vase.  Change water daily.

“Rosemary for remembrance”.  I’ve grown rosemary since Uncle Will, my honorary grandfather, died when The Kid was two.  I bought one very hardy, low maintenance Mediterranean variety which is now a large shrub outside my front doors.  It’s both fragrant and ornamental—many places use it for landscaping. rosemary-basilBasil is a soft leafy herb with that distinctive, fennel/licorice flavor.  It’s a staple in Italian foods.

I like to heat two cups of extra virgin olive oil and add a big handful of each herb.  Before adding the herbs I roll them between my hands to bring out the oils.  I then let the herbs steep until it cools.  I strain it and store it, covered, in the fridge.  This oil is great for dipping bread into.  It’s also good brushed on meat before grilling.  And if you’re not big on red sauce on pizza, brush a little of this aromatic oil on it, then arrange your toppings.

I make a paste of fresh thyme, lemon zest, Parmesano Reggiano, smashed fresh garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  I either crust a pork tenderloin with it or smear some under chicken or turkey skin. lemon-thyme-pasteQuite a few years ago my mom developed an allergy to eggs, and from then on, left them out of the potato salad.

I discovered I liked it better without eggs, so I made it that way, as well.  Only I added fresh dill and flat-leaf parsley.

I made it one night when we were visiting family friend Chef Chrissy.  When I served it, Chrissy mentioned that it was a little ‘passive’.  I think that was a nice way of saying boring.  Then Chrissy’s dad, Bear tried it.  He informed me that it was the best tater salad he’d ever eaten.  So from then on it was called…

Passive-aggressive potato saladpassive-potato-salad

8 medium-size red or Yukon gold potatoes, boiled to fork tender, cooled, peeled and cubed

½ yellow onion, diced

3 tablespoons each parsley and dill, chopped finely

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1-1½ cups Hellmann’s mayo

Salt and pepper to taste

Place cooked, cubed potatoes in large bowl.  Add onions and herbs, drizzle in 2 tablespoons oil and toss.

Starting with 1 cup, stir in mayo.  If you need more, add more.  Season, taste, and re-season if necessary. Cover and let sit at room temp for 1 hour.

Right before service, stir in last 2 tablespoons oil.Serves 4-6.

When using fresh herbs in cooking, the later you add them, the fresher the flavor will be.  And always hold a little back, to sprinkle on the finished dish.  If only you could perk up your own life the same way…Thanks for your time.

A Kernel of Truth

Originally published in the Herald-Sun 12/19/2012.

At our house, we are huge fans of carby comfort food.

We have a repertoire of dishes, everything from blue box mac, to an invented dish we call a ‘pasta toss’ (pasta, usually with sautéed veg and lots of lemon and garlic).

When Petey is saving lives at Duke, my baby and I dine alone.  On those nights we love nothing better than to get into our jimmies, and hop onto the couch with a couple of plates of steamy noodle goodness.  Then we dine, while watching a cinematic classic like, “Super Lobster Versus Mega Kitten”.

One night, prowling the Food Network website, I came upon a picture of a pasta dish with corn and green onions.

It looked fresh and light, yet luxurious.  Crazy gorgeous.  It made my stomach rumble.

I copy/pasted the illustration, and emailed it to The Kid, who was ensconced upstairs in the fortress of solitude, with various beeping and blinking devices.

It was given a thumb’s up.  We decided to create our own corn and pasta dish.

We immediately started making plans.

For pasta, we decided on parpadelle.  It’s as long as spaghetti, but as wide as an egg noodle.  The good stuff is as silky as a French nightgown.  It’s eggy and yummy.

For flavoring and fat in which to saute, we decided to go with pancetta.  It’s Italian.  They make it with pork belly, which also makes our American bacon.  It’s cured and rolled. But unlike bacon, which is smoked, pancetta is never smoked, but flavored with peppercorns and other herbs and spices, like rosemary and juniper berries.

Although I am an onion lover, my child is not, so instead of green onions for our dish, we would stir in a handful of fresh chopped parsley.  This would give us both color and fresh bright flavor.

As for our star of the show, corn, a trip to the farmers’ market presented us with a myriad of choices.  We settled on some beautiful sweet juicy ears still in their pale green silky robes.

Some stuff about fresh corn:

As soon as the ear leaves the stalk, the sugars in those sweet kernels start converting to starch.  In two days, about 80% of the sugar has mutated.  So, only buy fresh corn on the day you will use it.  And don’t buy it if it’s been languishing at the grocery store for days. The way to get the tastiest corn is to get freshly picked.

Otherwise, buy frozen.

Don’t be ashamed to be seen in the freezer aisle.  IQF, or individually quick frozen vegetables is the way most veg are prepared these days.  They’re cleaned and frozen as quickly as possible, sometimes within minutes, in buildings just feet from the fields in which they grew.  I promise they will be fresher than the sad, middle-aged specimens declining in your supermarket veggy department.

To shuck corn, quicker and cleaner; drop each ear into boiling water for a count of fifteen.  This will make the silk practically jump off the corn.  To completely eliminate the mess and bother, make the kids do it–outside.

To get the kernels off the cob, just hold the cob upright on a cutting board, and cut down with a sharp knife, turn it, and repeat.  After kernels are removed, scrape down the cob with the back of your knife, to get the juice.

Some folks swear by resting the cob on the opening of an upright bundt pan.  The theory is all the stuff goes only into the pan.  It never works for me.  It is a messy job, no getting around it.  I suggest a drop cloth, and a shower after.

Once we had our components, we set about making our newest pasta toss.  It was a blast conspiring together to create this new recipe.

Happily, all the fevered intrigue paid off.  It’s the perfect, yummy plate to devour while watching “Grizzlygator versus Colossal Hedgehog 2”.  This time I hear it’s personal.

Summer Corn & Parpadelle

Serves four as a side dish, or two as a main.

1 lb parpadelle

¼ lb thick sliced pancetta, cut into cubes

2 cloves garlic, peeled, and smashed, or thickly sliced

6 ears fresh corn, cut from cob (or 12-16 ounces frozen shoe peg, if fresh is not available)

1 shallot, diced

1/3 cup white wine

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 T butter

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper

Set a very large pot with heavily salted water on to boil.  When it boils, add pasta and cook ‘til al dente. 

In a large heavy skillet, cook pancetta until completely browned on medium-low, and remove from pan. Turn up to medium, and put garlic in.  Cook until lightly golden and fragrant.  Remove and discard. 

Put shallots into skillet, and cook until softened and lightly translucent.  Add corn with juice.  Cook until the liquid is almost gone, and add wine, and stir to coat everything.  When wine has evaporated, add chicken stock, and turn up to medium-high. 

Let it bubble away to thicken, while paprpadelle is cooking.  When the consistency is right, turn off heat, and stir in cheese and butter (called mounting).

When the noodles are done, don’t strain them, remove from water with tongs or a large slotted spoon, and add directly to sauce.  Add parsley, and toss everything together.  If the sauce is too stiff, add a little pasta water to thin it.

Check for seasoning, plate, scatter top with pancetta bits, and serve. 

The Kid called this past weekend, and told me next week’ll be finals for food and wine compatibility class.  The directive is a dish that pairs well with a chardonnay.

Guess what recipe my child is choosing to make for the exam?

Thanks for your time.