Friday, September 11, 2009

Italian peasant pantry pasta

In my opinion, being able to cook out of the pantry is an important skill, and one that I think is a tell-tale mark of a good home cook-- one must first know what to stock a pantry with, then, have the dedication to maintain it and the ingrained knowledge of flavors to use it successfully. To be absolutely clear, up there where I say "good," I do not mean adequate. I mean good in the thick sense, like the curves of a beanpot coddling a ham hock and cannellinis, or mothers' hips shaping out a skirt. Solid. Reliable. And good.
This post was supposed to be about wine. In fact, I have told at least three different people that my next post would be about three specific wines. I even dug the empty wine bottles out of the recycling and took pictures of them.
Indstead, I'm going to make a liar out of myself and tell you about the unexpected pantry pasta I made last night, entirely out of pantry items.

Despite my best efforts, summer is escaping.
This dish seems sort of timely, then, on-the-brink Italian peasant sort of food. I prepared this as four distinct elements that I then piled on a plate: pasta, eggplant, tomato-bean sauce and tuna. It was a nice presentation and I think cooking each bit separately, while a little time consuming, ultimately added to the complexity of the dish.

Peasant pasta with tuna
1 can yellow fin tuna
cooked pasta of your choosing-- I used TJ's basil garlic linguine
bread crumbs

For sauce:
olive oil
3 large cloves garlic pressed
5 ripe tomatoes,or about a can and a half canned in a large dice (drain canned ones; leave the seeds in fresh ones)
1 can drained and rinsed cannellini beans
~1/4 balsamic vinegar
~1/4 red wine
salt and pepper
a few good shakes of Aleppo

For eggplant:
one large eggplant, cut in to rounds
olive oil
salt, pepper, Aleppo


In your favorite saucing pot, cook garlic in a couple table spoons of oil, careful not to let it burn. Add tomatoes and simmer. Add beans and vinegar. Let it cook down a bit and add wine. Season with salt, pepper and allepo. keep over low- medium heat, replenishing liquids with additional splashes of wine and balsamic if it starts to cook off to much. The finished product should be thick like a stew and a deep red.

At the same-ish time, slice the eggplant thinly (1/4" ish). Lay flat on a baking sheet and drizzle with a slightly excessive amount of oil on both sides, then salt, pepper and Aleppo generously. Bake at 300-400 degrees, depending on how much time you have/how hungry you are.
Flip eggplant slices half way though. I left them for about 25 minutes at about 400.

When everything's about ready, drain and press as much water as possible out of the tuna, then sautee it in a small pan with a little olive oil until its starting to look a little crispy.

Serve in an artfully arranged pile in this order:

pasta---a few eggplant slices--bean sauce--tuna flakes--sprinkling of breadcrumbs---sprinkling of cheese.

I recommend smashing it all together a bit before eating, to get the full effect of texture and flavor.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

farmshare: Notes for the Curious

Yes, yes, I'm one of them; I have a farm share. It's terribly hip of me, I know, but I don't really feel bad about it: Its a pretty awesome concept-- who could say no?

For those unfamiliar, a CSA farmshare is basically like investing in a farmer. You give them money at the beginning of the year to fund the farm, they give you produce as it is harvested. Essentially, I paid $300 in May for a half bushel of produce every week.
This is not a new concept, but it is the first time I've done it. Now that we're over half way through the growing season, the share and I have gotten in to a rhythm, I think, and I've been compiling some notes on the topic.

1. Regardless of the cool-ness of the concept, this is not "special" food. Eat it. Now.
The first couple of weeks, I suffered from special/cool/new disorder-- you're familiar with it, I'm sure-- where I was hesitant to use my share except in the *perfect* recipe--suateeing just wasn't good or clever enough. It turns out though, that unlike your favorite party dress when you were eight, produce does not like to wait around on the shelf for adequately fancy occasions. In fact, very unlike your special-occasions outfit, it will wilt and rot in record time, fast than you really realized was possible, until you've made a hobby and/or drinking game out of swatting fruit flies. Produce is not something to get sentimental about.

2. Creativity takes on new meaning when you get 6 ears of corn a week for a month.
The biggest downside of the farmshare concept is that you don't get to choose what produce goes in your half bushel-- your limited to what your CSA grows, has in season and wants to allot you.
Such as 6 ears of corn a week for a month. To be clear, this is not at all the worst thing that's ever happened to me, just one that required a little creativity. Similarly, I haven't a clue what to do with celery herb (tastes like celery, looks like parsley-- I guess soup?) For as much fun as being presented with a box of fresh food is, it can take considerable efforts in the arenas of creativity and time. I know I'm not the fist person to say this; I had read all about the farmshare-oh-shit-phenomenon before I bought one. Its just one of those things that's hard to fully grasp without having experienced, like hair bands or roller coasters, I think.

3. Your pick-up day matters.
Overall, I do think it's a good investment, but next year I may look in to another farm that offers a more consistent variety of produce and will choose my pick-up day less arbitrarily-- right now it's on Tuesdays, which is problematic since I tend to work ten hour shifts on Tuesday and Wednesday, meaning I can't even think about starting to cook until Thursday, and by that point, things are starting to wilt.