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Archive for November, 2007


Food Research – YUM!

For the past few months I’ve been coordinating a research project through Cornell University to study food and culture in the Middle East and Italy. Luckily my proposal went through and I will be traveling around Syria and Italy this winter to conduct my gourmet research!

My flight leaves in a couple of weeks and I will try to post as often as possible! Stay tuned and Happy Holidays!!

Pasta alla Zarina

Festive green, nutty and full of fragrance; Pasta alla Zarina is my spin on the classic pesto Genovese. This dish is fresh, modern and was inspired by my fashionista friend, Zarina (and her love of spinach).

Zarina and I met at an internship one summer and were practically joined at the hip. Between our Shakira-tuned car rides to work and our late-night mint chocolate chip sessions, there wasn’t much we didn’t do together. This pasta dish is her absolute favorite (or so she tells me) and the least I could do was name it after her… and blog about it.

The tiny pearls of slightly melted mozzarella cheese cling to the penne and envelop your taste buds with creamy goodness. There is a science to the mozzarella, though: if you add it too soon, you risk the mozzarella melting completely into the sauce (no good). And, if you add the mozzarella straight from the fridge, you’ll just have hard cubes of cheese in your pasta (also, no good). The trick is to cut up the mozzarella first and add it last, after it’s reached room temperature. The rest is up to you!

Pasta alla Zarina

Pasta alla Zarina

Components

  • 1 lb. penne rigate pasta
  • 10 oz. baby spinach
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup + 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz. Pecorino Romano
  • 1 tbsp. basil paste*
  • ¼ cup + ¼ cup walnuts, toasted
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ½ lb. crimini mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 5 oz. low fat mozzarella cheese

* Basil paste is my new secret weapon in the kitchen since I don’t always have fresh basil laying around. If you have fresh basil, a few leaves should do the trick.

Putting them all together

  1. Dice the mozzarella into ¼ in. cubes and set aside.
  2. In a large sautee pan, toast the walnuts over medium heat and set aside (approx. 5-7 minutes).
  3. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and quarter them into roughly equal sizes. Coat the same sautee pan with 3 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil and sauté mushrooms over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar and set the mushrooms aside.
  4. In a blender, blend baby spinach, milk, the rest of the olive oil, Pecorino Romano, basil paste, red pepper flakes and ¼ cup walnuts until smooth. (You might have to stop the blender and help it along a few times with a spoon)
  5. Prepare your favorite pasta (I use penne rigate) and toss with the spinach pesto, mozzarella cheese and the remaining ¼ cup of the toasted walnuts.
  6. Plate alongside some grilled chicken and enjoy!

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Delicious, Any Way You Roast It

Middle Eastern spreads are plentiful, but very few have been able to jump the cultural divide into restaurants and homes in the States. In the Middle East, families, neighbors and even strangers gather around these homemade delicacies to talk for hours about absolutely anything.

Hummus is by far the most recognized Middle Eastern spread, but you don’t need to look far to find plenty of others that are just as tasty (or tastier!). Baba Ganoush is a traditional spread that uses charred eggplants to create a rich smoky pulp that is out-of-this-world delicious. For maximal fire-roasted goodness, roast the eggplants over an open flame. For those of us, however, who are only granted this luxury 2 weeks out of the year (if we’re lucky), we must turn to other alternatives. When it’s subzero outside I use my broiler or grill pan and find that both deliver a comprable fire-roasted flavor.

Baba ganoush literally translates into father who spoils (with an over-caring and positive connotation) in case you were wondering. This is a family recipe that was given to me by my grandmother who grew up in Aleppo, Syria (one of the greatest culinary centers of the Middle East). In this region of Syria pomegranates are abundant and bursting with flavor, so it isn’t surprising that a pomegranate version of this tasty spread evolved. Not only does the pomegranate add a more subtle citrus bite, but it also balances the bitterness of the seeds in the eggplant with its natural sweetness.

Baba Ganoush (بابا غنوج)

Baba Ganoush

Components

  • 2 medium sized eggplants
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. tahini
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. pomegranate juice
  • 1 tsp. pomegranate molasses
  • 1 garlic clove
  • fresh pomegranate, for garnish
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. With the tip of a paring knife, poke the eggplant all around.
  2. Cook the eggplants over an open fire (preferably), under the broiler or on a grill pan for 5-7 minutes on each side or until completely charred and soft on the inside.
  3. Place eggplants in a bowl and cover in plastic wrap for about 5 minutes (or until they cool down enough to work with).
  4. Peel the skin off eggplant and place back in the bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice, pomegranate juice and molasses and mash with a fork.
  5. On a cutting board, mince the garlic clove with the salt in order to create a garlic paste. Then, mix into the eggplant puree.
  6. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with fresh pomegranate and extra virgin olive oil and serve alongside pita bread.

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