Spontaneous Stuffed Peppers

OK, this dish wasn’t that spontaneous as it was on this week’s menu – but it was spontaneous in the sense that I made it up as I went along. And oh my god, was it fantastic.  So fantastic, in fact, that I only have photos of the leftovers because the actual meal was devoured almost as quickly as it came out of the oven.

Spontaneous Stuffed Peppers

Yeah, yeah, stuffed peppers – total 50s housewife stuff, right? What elevates these to the sublime – or as sublime as stuffed peppers can be – is a tin of really good tuna, crumbled Pan Gallego, and a generous dollop of mascarpone left over from some pasta thing we made last week. The following recipe made enough for two good-sized dinner portions and two smaller lunch portions, but that was entirely dependent on the size of the pepper and your determination in stuffing. We’ll be making these again soon.

Stuffed Peppers E Style

4 medium-sized bell peppers
1 medium onion, finely diced
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3.5 oz can good tuna in oil – do not drain
2 slices of hearty bread, shredded, or 1 cup bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 oz cheese of your choice

Preheat your oven to 450. Remove the tops and seeds of the peppers and place them open-side up in a pan that is big enough to hold them, but small enough to keep them tightly nestled together. Stick the pan in the oven while you prep the stuffing – so around 15 minutes.

In a medium skillet, saute the onions and garlic in a bit of butter until soft and golden. Add other finely chopped veggies if you’d like – we used half a green pepper and one large mushroom, as we had both to use up. In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, tuna and oil, and a generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove the veggies from the heat, and toss with the bread and tuna mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the peppers, packing it in if necessary, and top each with a generous tablespoon of cheese – we used mascarpone, but cheddar, feta, chevre, or probably just about any kind of cheese would be delicious. Bake for 20 minutes, then serve with a salad and crusty bread.

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Mitigated Spanish Success

I knocked out two more recipes from my Spanish cookbook last week, both of which were mitigated successes. I say ‘mitigated’ because while we enjoyed both dishes, both had significant problems.

First, Lentils and Mushrooms.

Lentejas con champiñones/ Lentils with button mushrooms
Photo by Javier García

There are few things more hunger-inducing than the smell of sauteeing onions, garlic, and mushrooms – which is exactly how this recipe starts. Add in the lentils and a few other things, then cover and simmer until the lentils are soft and the liquid is almost gone – EXCEPT that that never happened. Instead of stirring Pernod and a handful of fresh parsley into the pot, we added a small amount of each to bowls of slightly drained stew, the remainder of which was left on the stove in hopes that it would reduce. It didn’t. We enjoyed the dish, but I question the necessity of covering the pot, especially since the lentils were pre-soaked and well on their way to being soft.

Second, Marmitako, a Basque stew that features tuna, tomatoes, and potatoes. I love these process photos, all shared by Flickr user BocaDorada and licensed under Creative Commons1:

Así se empieza con el marmitako

Los ingredientes del marmitako

Parte del proceso de la preparación del marmitako

Cena

We’ve been getting the occasional tuna steak from Trader Joe’s – they come frozen in packages of two, which is just the right amount for a hearty dinner. While the tuna is typically cooked in the stew, the recipe I used recommended searing it in a separate pan, then adding it to the pot, where it is then topped with potatoes and simmered for half an hour or so. In theory, this means that everything is nicely reduced and the tuna is moist and tender. However, as with the previous recipe, there was just too much damned liquid, even with the lid removed for the last ten minutes. I did scale the recipe back and used fewer potatoes than required, but I doubt that the small amount of omitted potatoes would have soaked up the extra two cups of liquid that I spooned out before serving. A fine dinner, and good leftovers, but not something we’ll make again.

Alternative Recipes:
This take on Spanish Mushrooms and Lentils from Herbivoracious looks excellent, though it lacks the anise that was so appealing for me in the recipe we tried. This version of Marmitako from Global Gourmet appears to avoid the too much liquid problem by not covering the pot and also baking it in the oven, rather than simmering on the stovetop.

1 It is worth noting that any photos shared on this site that are not ours were either shared with the explicit permission of the photographer or are licensed under Creative Commons.

1216 Tuna Noodle Casserole Attempt #1

I’ll be honest: I’m looking forward to the end of the Kitchen Diaries project.  It’s not that I don’t like posting about our food – I’m just looking forward to telling you about just the good stuff, the recipes and meals I recommend, the things I’m definitely interested in eating again.  Tonight’s dinner is a good example of this – it was a fine recipe, probably better than the original, but still needs some refinement before I feel comfortable recommending it.  Instead I give you what I made, amended with notes at the bottom, and will look forward to giving you a real knock out version of this sometime in the future.

Tonight was my first stab at the 25 Recipes challenge – specifically at fancying up tuna noodle casserole. I started from this Martha Stewart recipe, as it didn’t call for canned soup and added in a couple of vegetables – a step in the right direction. Shane doesn’t like artichokes, so I left them out, instead adding in a handful of slow-roasted cherry tomatoes from the freezer. I subbed 2% milk for whole, and two big shallots for the scallions.

Tuna Noodle ingredients

Ingredients:
Olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 oz wide egg noodles
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 large shallots
1/4 cup slow-roasted (or sun dried) tomatoes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 5 oz cans tuna packed in oil, drained
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Making the sauce

Preheat your oven to 400. Lightly oil or spray a baking tray. Saute your veg – in this case, shallots and peppers – in a tablespoon or two of oil, and season liberally with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Add 1/4 cup flour to thicken, then gradually add 2 1/2 cups milk and stir til combined. Bring to a simmer.

Noodles and tuna

In a separate pan, cook your noodles until just before al dente – or about two minutes short of the recommended cook time. Drain, then return to the pan. I tossed the noodles with the drained tuna in hopes of preventing giant noodle knots, which didn’t really work.

Ready to bake

Add the sauce to the tuna and noodles and stir to combine. Pour everything into your prepared tray, then top with the shredded Parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until everything is golden and bubbly and the noodles on top have crisped up a bit.

Ready to eat?

Should yield 4 large servings – dinner-sized portions if you’re not eating anything else – or 6 smallish servings, which would be good with a salad or another small side dish.

IMG_5770

Notes:

  1. I seasoned the heck out of the veg, but the resulting casserole was surprisingly bland. More seasoning next time, please!
  2. More vegetables next time – perhaps peas and mushrooms instead?  The orange pepper added very little flavor or texture to the dish.  The tomatoes were good, and if I were making this just for me, I’d probably add some olives, both of which would make it more “Mediterranean” than the Martha Stewart original
  3. While I’m sure it would’ve been richer with whole milk, I’m fine with the 2% substitution.
  4. The crispy noodles on top were the best parts.  Maybe add some caramelized onions or – in keeping with the spirit of the processed-foods original – French fried onions?

1111 Snack dinner with seasonal veg

I’m starting to think that snack dinner is our equivalent of leftover casserole – you know, a bit of this, a bit of that, finishing off a few things that are in the fridge or that looked appealing during the last minute run to the store. (I’d link you to the episode of Malcolm in the Middle that talks about leftover casserole, but in my memory, it’s a just a throwaway laugh, not worth any further mention. We’ll see if I’m wrong.)

I wasn’t feeling up to making, much less eating, the risotto we’d planned on having for dinner tonight, so Shane ran up to Plum to get a baguette and a few other things to have with a tin of tuna and whatever veg side I could throw together during his shopping trip.  I came up with two: spinach sauteed with butter and garlic (and a bit too much salt, which is something you’ll almost never hear me say) and a wee butternut squash, cubed and roasted with ras el hanout.  And I’m not ashamed to say that we finished all of it – baguette, tuna, veg, and a bottle of wine – over the course of the evening.

1025 Braised Beans on Toast

I have a weakness for interesting vegetables at the market.  Sometimes it works out marvelously – like with fava beans this summer, or Brussels sprouts last winter.  Sometimes it’s just unfortunate, and then we end up eating something weird because I feel guilty about wasting food, especially food that looked so interesting! I’m going to call tonight’s dinner a draw.

Tongue of Fire Beans

Tantré had these guys listed as Tongue of Fire beans – closely related to Cranberry beans or Borlotti beans, all of which are cultivars of the Cargamanto bean from South America.  I just knew they were very pretty, and that fresh beans didn’t require quite as much work as their dried counterparts, though perhaps more work than their canned friends.

After scouring the net for a simple preparation, I hit on braising them, then serving over toast.  One recipe called for up to 90 minutes and a quarter cup of olive oil.  Another used canned beans and needed 10 minutes plus much less oil.  Rancho Gordo was for once no help.  I aimed for something in between.

I drizzled about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in our 3 quart enameled pot, then added a couple of cloves of minced garlic and the beans, shelled, rinsed, and cleared of debris.  I tossed them around a bit, then added a couple of diced tomatoes and a cup or so of water, a bay leaf, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.  On went the lid, and the pot simmered away for the better part of an hour.  I stirred occasionally and added half a cup of white wine about halfway through.  When the beans were soft and cooked through and the liquid almost gone, I killed the heat, warmed up some Italian bread, and served the lot as somewhat fancied up beans on toast with a bit of Ortiz tuna on the side.

A fine dinner – filling and with lots of protein – but not necessarily worth repeating.  We ate it right up and had some bacon chocolate later.

Recipes:
Braised Cranberry Beans
Polenta with Tomato-Braised Beans from Cooking Light

0815 Pisto Manchego

pisto manchego.JPG
Photo by zordor

Without actually realizing it, I think I’ve been making pisto manchego all summer. A Spanish take on ratatouille, it is peasant food at its finest – putting together a bit of whatever’s available to make a filling and nutritious meal.  This recipe did an effective job of clearing out the crisper, using up the a handful of tomatoes, two peppers, and yellow summer squash all from our garden.

What the recipe lacks, however, is much spice.  As I was sauteing the vegetables, I was concerned that the dish was going to be boring, that I’d just wasted the last squash from our garden – curse you, cucumber beetles!  The recipe recommended serving the dish with tinned tuna or hard boiled eggs – we went with the former, and it made all the difference.  We were both quite pleasantly surprised by the complexity of flavors, especially the sweetness of the pepper in contrast with the savory fish.  I’d like to try this again with fried eggs – perhaps a Spanish improvement on the shakshuka from earlier in the year.

Pisto Manchego
Adapted from Spanish

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium green peppers, seeded and chopped
2 medium zucchinis, thinly sliced
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
hard boiled eggs (optional)
tuna in olive oil (optional)

Heat the oil in a large heavy pan – larger than you think you’ll need, trust me – and cook the garlic and onion until soft.  Add the peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes.  Season well and cook gently for about 20 minutes.  If you’ve used a pan that’s too small to allow everything to make contact with the cooking surface, it may help to cover your pan with a lid for part of the cooking time.  Stir in parsley just before serving.  Can be served hot, topped with chopped egg or tuna, or cold with a drizzle of olive oil.

0629 Platter Salad

So I’ve had Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors cookbook for about two years – around the time that we got really invested in buying and eating local – but in that time have only made ONE recipe from it.  I’ve been trying to be better about buying cookbooks, but this seemed like one I’d really use, you know?  Unlike Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes and The Farm to Table Cookbook, both of which were lovely but didn’t reflect our eating habits or the foods actually available to us locally in Virginia.

I suppose I can only spuriously say that I used the Local Flavors recipe for tonight’s dinner – a platter salad – for a variety of reasons.  First, I only followed about half of the instructions.  I didn’t boil or blanch in the right order, and owing to a moped emergency in the middle of prep, I also didn’t make Madison’s dressing.  Also a recipe? For a very deconstructed salad? Helpful, but kind of overkill.  In fact, the recipe was primarily useful for the gorgeous photo that I used to convince Shane that this was enough for dinner.  Our own salad didn’t look much like Madison’s, but it was pretty spectacular if I do say so myself.

Platter Salad

Moving clockwise, we have brand new red potatoes from the market, boiled in salted water for about 20 minutes or until soft.  Green beans from the market, safely kept away from Head Bean Eater Mina and blanched for about 7 minutes.  Carrots, long lingering in our crisper, peeled and boiled for about 10 minutes.  A sweet market onion, sliced into rounds and lightly pickled in red wine vinegar.  Line-caught Bonito tuna, tossed with a bit of the red wine vinegar.   And French breakfast radishes from our garden, all atop romaine lettuce from the market.

And we ate all of it, well, except some of the lettuce.

Recipe:
June Platter Salad of Green Beans, Potatoes, and Tuna from Local Flavors

NB: Zingerman’s is having a crazy summer sale on a handful of excellent items.  We’re REALLY irritated that we missed out on discounted fancy tuna, as we’ve just exhausted our stash.  If you’re local, you can save yourself some extra dough by ordering over the phone and picking up your goodies in person at the warehouse south of town.

Also hat tip to Sarah, who also cooked from Local Flavors tonight!