Dining In: Pasta with Salmon & Tuscan Veggies

Pasta with Salmon & Tuscan Vegetables — sounds like something I could expect from my favorite Italian chain (no, not the one with the tree). Curly corkscrew pasta, with ridges to catch every bit of a garlicky, herb-rich sauce. Salmon marinated in garlic, parsley and oil. Broccoli, cauliflower and green beans bathed in garlic-butter sauce. With a glass of pinot grigio, this is a wonderful meal to enjoy al fresco with friends. What’s not to love, right?

Well, here’s more. What if all the hard work has been done for you, and this whole meal could come together in 20 minutes, not including pasta cooking time? It did for us with this meal, because the whole thing materialized with just 3 things in my shopping basket at Trader Joe’s: frozen “Bean So Green” seasoned vegetable mix, frozen salmon filets in chimichurri sauce, and pasta. Okay, this particular corkscrew pasta is not from TJ’s but you could substitute any of the bowtie, penne or rotini pastas that TJ’s does have and it will be as fabulous. Just slice the slightly frozen fish (it’s easier to slice that way) into bite-size pieces, and saute in a skillet with a small bit of olive oil. You don’t even need much oil because the marinade has oil too. Once the fish has taken on a little color, increase the heat to high, and add half the bag of frozen veggies and half the quantity of cooked pasta, stir together, cover and allow to steam and cook for about 5 minutes. Pour yourself a glass of that pinot. Stir through again about half way through the cooking time. Voila, dinner!

Normally, you would expect to see the fish and veggies seasoned from scratch on these pages, but these are not normal times. At least not for us. This was made in a hotel room. True, it’s a room with a fridge and kitchen cooktop (no stove, but at least I can boil water for pasta, and saute and fry in a skillet or wok), but it’s in a hotel nonetheless.

If you’ve stopped by here in the last few months, you may know that we have been house-hunting since January. Well, we’re still house-hunting. But the lease on our rental house ended in April and we did not want to be locked into another year lease, so we moved out. Nor did we want to be tied to an apartment lease either, so we opted for long-term hotel lodging. Judging from the quizzical looks we get from friends and colleagues, this option freaks a lot of people out. For us, though, it is usually part of every move we’ve made (5 in the last 14 years), so we know the drill: store your stuff, find a hotel with kitchenette, look for permanent solution — in this case a house to buy.

So with a few kitchen necessities, and in this case lots of fabulous products from a source we like and trust, we can at least keep ourselves fortified and our spirits up while we transition yet again.


Chicken & Pot Pie Noodles

When I hear the term “pot pie” I first think of flaky pastry encasing a creamy filling of savory chicken and vegetables. But around here, so near to the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch country just to the north, if you ask for “chicken pot pie” you are more likely to be served a casserole type dish with large chunks of chicken and large flat toothsome noodles as in the photo above. One of our finds at the Dutch Country Farmer’s Market in Burtonsville last week was dried pot pie noodles, so of course this meal had to follow...

This is my own take on the Dutch country style chicken pot pie — the broth is made with ginger, as well as the more usual onions, black peppercorns, and carrots (which are all removed when the broth is made) then finished simply with chervil and flour to thicken.

For 4 persons

For the Broth:
2 lbs/ 1kg chicken thighs
2 fingers of ginger, wahed well, and cut into thick slices
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and cut in quarters
2-3 medium carrots, washed and cut in half crosswise
1 tsp. black peppercorns
3 qt/L water

Combine all ingredients in large 6qt/L slow cooker set on HIGH. After 3 - 3 1/2 hours, remove chicken to clean bowl and separate meat from skin and bones, reserving meat. Line colander with clean cheesecloth, and strain broth, discarding all solids. Return broth and meat to slow cooker and set again on HIGH.

Finish “Pot Pie”:
2 cups/ 500ml boiling water
1 tsp. dried chervil
sea salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper
dried pot pie noodles
4 TBL. flour dissolved in 1/2 cup water

Add to slow cooker, cover and cook for 40 minutes — noodles should be softened but not falling apart. Add 1/2 cup hot broth to the dissolved flour mixture, and stir well. Make a well in the center of the noodles, and pour flour mixture into well and stir through completely. Cook another 20-30 minutes, or until broth thickens.

This is comfort food at its best. With the whole wheat loaf and fresh churned butter (also from the Market), and an ice cold Yuengling lager (in keeping with the Penn country theme), cool summer al fresco meals don’t get better than this.


Okinawa Yakisoba

Who doesn’t like fried noodles, right?! We love them all: pancit, bami goreng, chow mein — you fry it, we’ll probably eat it. But this is my hands-down favorite — Yakisoba made with Okinawa soba noodles. You’re thinking, “Those don’t look like buckwheat noodles — soba noodles are made of buckwheat.” True, in most cases “soba” refers to noodles made with at least 30% buckwheat, but Okinawan noodle manufacturers received special dispensation from the Japan soba-growers’ association to continue to use the term “Okinawa soba” (although these noodles have 0% buckwheat) because the term was so closely tied to the island group’s history and culture.

Okinawa soba is slightly yellow in color and flattened in the middle, betraying its ancestry from the Chinese egg noodle. It is also thicker and has a chewy bite that distinguishes it from the more common ramen noodles which are used to make yakisoba in other parts of Japan. Until we lived in Hawaii, I used to make yakisoba using Chinese egg noodles, ramen noodles, or even leftover spaghetti noodles. But having had access to locally made Okinawa-style soba for 3 years on Oahu I knew it was going to be painful to be without it and have to make do with other noodles again. Happily, I don’t have to yet.

In our 9 months here, we’ve found 2 Japanese grocers in the area and they both carry the same Okinawan soba made by Sun Noodles in Honolulu that we used to buy on Oahu! *and the crowd shouts with joy!* Of course, here the noodles are in the frozen section of the market instead of the chilled section as they were in Hawaii — but c’mon they got here and that’s the important thing. A slight drop in quality is expected, as the freezing and thawing leave the noodles a bit softer after cooking so they don’t have quite the chewiness of the fresh — but again I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. You can find Sun Noodles brand Okinawa Soba, as well as many other Japanese fresh, frozen and dry goods at: Maruichi, Second Floor, Talbott Center, 1049 Rockville Pike (near the point where Rt. 355 merges with Veirs Mill Road), Rockville, MD; and Daruma, 6931-E Arlington Rd., Bethesda, MD. These are both small retailers specializing in Japanese products that the larger pan-Asian markets in the area don’t usually carry. Now if I can only convince one of them to carry Hawaiian-style Portuguese sausage, too, we’ll be REALLY happy.

Of course, you could also prepare Okinawa soba as a soup, the package includes a dehydrated soup base. In truth, we make the hot noodle soup more often than the yakisoba. But sometimes you just have to get that fried noodle fix, and this is how we do it...

Serves 2 as an entree, more if part of a multi-course meal
(If you can’t find Okinawa soba, the best substitute are Chinese egg noodles which are much easier to find fresh or chilled around the country)

1 TBL oil
4 oz/ 113g pork shoulder or thinly sliced pork belly (latter available at Korean grocers)
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 medium cabbage, cut into 2” square pieces
1 small carrot, peeled and thinly sliced or julienned
* (optional) 1 piece of flat kamaboko, thinly sliced into strips
1/2 tsp sea salt
3-4 TBL yakisoba sauce or tonkatsu sauce (or in a pinch, Worcestershire sauce)
* (optional) 3 dried shiitake mushrooms, re-hydrated and sliced thinly
(or Braised Shiitake Mushrooms)
1 TBL oil
14-16oz/ 400-450g Okinawa soba noodles (the Sun Noodles package is 14.7oz.), thawed if frozen
1/4 cup/ 60ml water
beni-shoga (red pickled ginger), for garnish
ao nori (powdered seaweed) or fumi furikake (combination of ao nori and sesame seeds), for garnish

Slice pork shoulder or belly into small strips.

Heat wok over high heat and add oil, onions and pork. Stir fry together until onions just start to become translucent, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage, carrots and salt (and kamaboko, if using). Stir to combine and drizzle with 1 TBL. yakisoba or tonkatsu sauce, and mix well. Add mushrooms, if using, and fry together for 3 minutes.

Move all contents of wok up the sides of the wok, leaving a large space in the center. Add oil and soba noodles directly to center of wok, and stir to coat noodles with oil. Push vegetables and meats over the top of noodles, pour water over all, and cover wok for 2-3 minutes or until it stops steaming.

Add 2 TBL yakisoba or tonkatsu sauce, and using 2 wooden spoons or large chopsticks, combine noodles and vegetable mixture so that everything is evenly distributed and sauce has a chance to cook through. Taste and add salt or last TBL. of sauce as needed.

Garnish with pickled ginger and nori, as desired.

Pomai at Tasty Island has a completely different way to make Yakisoba with these same noodles — he uses the soup base that come in the package to season the fried noodles, check out his step by step pictorial on his site.

Want more tastes from Okinawa? Try
Rafute (Long-cooked Seasoned Pork Belly)
Abura Miso (Sake-Seasoned Miso Paste with Rafute)
Kombu (Kelp & Pork Soup/Stew)


Korean-style Fried Sweet Potato Noodles

This unique noodle dish is usually an instant favorite with anyone who tries it for the first time. The slightly sweet sesame flavor is familiar enough to encourage new tasters to keep eating, despite the unusual texture of the sweet potato noodles. The noodles, called Harusame in Japanese, look like the more ubiquitous bean thread noodles, but are much thicker and retain a chewy mouthfeel even when fully cooked. When combined with slivers of tender beef, shiitake and cloud ear mushrooms, spinach or other greens (we’ve used watercress and bok choy as well), carrots, and garlic, and fried in dark toasted sesame oil, chap chae makes a wonderful and absolutely luscious dish that is equally good at room temperature as it is warm. It is perfect picnic food (maybe for next year’s Hanami?) and a welcome and “exotic” addition to any buffet.

I don’t claim this is an authentic Korean recipe. It is adapted from a recipe by Chef Ken Hom which we originally tried 11 years ago.

One caveat: If harusame noodles are refrigerated after cooking, the noodles harden and become unpalatable — but they are easily restored if you sprinkle them with water and re-heat thoroughly in microwave, preferably on 75% power for about 1 minute. You may want to stir the noodles halfway through the re-heating time and return to microwave. You can also re-fry or steam the chap chae to return the noodles to their soft and chewy goodness.

Evolved from a recipe by Ken Hom
Serves 4-6 persons when served alone.

Beef Marinade:
2 TBL. sesame oil
pinch of sea salt
½ tsp. raw sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. soy sauce
4-6 oz. beef sirloin, thinly sliced into thin strips
(Look in Japanese, Korean or other Asian markets for meats already sliced for sukiyaki or shabu shabu)

Combine beef, with marinade ingredients. Allow to marinate at least 45 minutes, and up to 2 hours.

Cooking Sauce:
3 TBL. soy sauce
½ cup toasted sesame oil
3 tsp. raw sugar
sea salt

Combine all ingredients for Cooking Sauce, stirring to dissolve most of the sugar. Set aside.

2 TBL. oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch long julienne
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water for 40 minutes
2 whole pieces black fungus (aka wood ear or mok yee), soaked in water 1 hour
1 pound baby spinach, watercress, or trimmed baby bok choy (photos show bok choy)
3 TBL. sesame oil
1 tsp. raw sugar
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted sesame seeds

1 lb. dried sweet potato starch noodles, harusame

Place the dried noodles in a large bowl or non-aluminum pot with water to cover. Allow them to rehydrate for about 1 hour. Do not drain until just before cooking.

Remove shiitake from soaking water, squeeze dry and remove stem. Cut caps into thin strips — you may want to cut individual slices in half lengthwise, depending on how thick the caps are and your personal preference. (Note: If you already have Seasoned Braised Shiitake Caps, you can use them here for an especially flavorful addition to this entree)

Remove black fungus from its soaking liquid (It will have quadrupled in size!). Cut out hard center point. Julienne.

Over medium high heat, heat 2 TBL. oil in a wok or large skillet. Add garlic, sea salt to taste, and marinated beef, and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add carrots and two fungi along with Cooking Sauce, increase heat to high and stir together for another 2 minutes. Add spinach or other greens and continue stir-frying until greens just wilt, about 1 minute more. Transfer to serving plate, keeping any juices or liquid that may be in skillet.

In the same wok or skillet, without cleaning, add last 3 TBL sesame oil and 1 tsp raw sugar, and turn heat down to medium high. Add soaked and drained harusame (some water clinging to the noodles is okay, it will help the noodles cook), and stir well to coat with oil. Continue stirring and frying until the noodles start to become translucent and to soften, about 3-5 minutes.

Return stir-fried vegetables and meat to the skillet, along with all accumulated liquid in plate. Stir all ingredients through, and cook until noodles soften completely, about 4-5 minutes more. If noodles look dry, drizzle sesame oil around edges of wok and stir through. Continue stir-frying until noodles are cooked evenly through. Test for noodle doneness: texture becomes chewy and color changes from opaque to slightly transparent.

Add half the scallions and stir through. Remove from heat, sprinkle with 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds and mix through. Return to serving plate, garnish with more sesame seeds and remaining scallions.

You can enjoy these noodles on their own or make it part of a multi-course meal. When we have this for dinner, I like to have a bowl of plain white rice and a side of kimchi, while T skips the rice completely (but never the kimchi).


New in the Pantry: Pumpkin Noodles

When I have time, I really enjoy combing the aisles of grocery marts for new ingredients, and there has been quite a treasure trove of things to discover around our new home. Case in point, these dumpling-type noodles made with pumpkin that we found in a freezer at the Korean Korner in Wheaton, MD. The package pictured here comes complete with noodles, powdered soup base, dehydrated vegetables, and pepper garnish, and the soup will serve 2 people if supplemented with additional veggies in the soup, or as pictured below, with a small side dish like gyoza.

The first time we tried this, I made the soup as directed on the package. The soup broth was not so memorable, but we loved the noodles — chewy, dense and very satisfying like the dumplings in a “Chicken and Dumplings” dish we tried while on the road in Pennsylvania last November.

The noodles don’t actually taste like pumpkin or kabocha. But even without the promised flavor, the texture won us over and we now use it in place of dumpling type noodles for gravy-laden dishes. For less than $2 a package, it’s a great short-cut to toothsome dumplings, pictured here with pounded chicken breasts in a Pennsylvania Red Wine and Port Sauce.


Corkscrews with Extra Sharp Vermont Cheddar

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there!


I know this might seem a little heavy for a spring meal, but we’ve had over a week of cloudy damp weather and somehow a homemade Mac n’ Cheese just hit the spot last week. With colorful corkscrew pasta we found at our local co-op and a good hunk of extra sharp Vermont cheddar, the humble nursery dish takes an elegant turn (pun intended).

Although this recipe includes Tabasco, it isn’t spicy at all so don’t let the hot sauce scare you away if you’re not a fan of spicy foods. The Tabasco just balances the heavy creaminess of all the dairy — you don’t actually taste it in the finished dish. Without it, you’ll think to yourself, “this is kinda flat,” and you’ll want something to round out the flavor.

The slight bitterness and acidity of flash-cooked rapini with garlic was a perfect counterpoint to the rich cheesiness of this entree.

Serves 4-5 persons

6 TBL butter
6 TBL flour
3 1/2 cups low-fat milk
3/4 cup half-n-half
* 2 TBL heavy cream
(optional: If you’re using whole milk, you don’t need the extra cream — I added it to keep my sauce from splitting since we use low-fat milk at home)
1 lb. extra sharp Vermont cheddar, grated
2 tsp. Tabasco, or your favorite hot sauce
sea salt and finely ground white pepper
1 lb. corkscrew pasta, cooked just past al dente (softer than normal) and drained well

Preheat oven (we used our over-size toaster oven) to 350F.

Butter generously a 3 qt/L casserole (Auflauform).

Make a roux: Melt butter over medium low heat in a stainless steel pan that is large enough to hold all the pasta too. Add flour and stir to incorporate flour. When mixture starts to foam, add 1/2 cup milk and stir well until flour mixture absorbs liquid.

Increase heat to medium, and add another 1/2 cup milk, and stir until combined again. Continue adding milk in 1/2 cups, stirring well after each addition — don’t be tempted to add the milk all at once or you will be chasing after lumps!

When all milk has been added, add half-n-half and heavy cream (if using). Allow to cook until sauce begins to thicken, about 5-8 minutes depending on your stove and saucepan. Keep aside 1 cup of grated cheese, and add the rest to the sauce by handfuls, stirring well to melt cheese between each addition. Add Tabasco and sea salt and ground white pepper. Taste, and correct seasoning.

When all cheese has melted, add cooked corkscrews, and stir to coat pasta. Immediately tip half into prepared baking dish, scatter 1/2 cup reserved grated cheddar over, and fill with remaining pasta. Gently push pasta so most are below the sauce. Scatter last 1/2 cup of cheese over top, and put in pre-heated oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until top is just browned (our smaller oven got to the topping before I could cover it with foil and it is a little too brown).

Serve with your favorite salad with a nice acidic dressing — or as shown here with a vegetable with a bitter edge such as rapini, arugula, escarole or watercress.
Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck, now Three-Plus Chuck) compliments this well — and your heart will thank you, too.


Fun with Game: Venison Bolognese (with a Punch)

Venison? I know what you’re thinking: “But game is something you eat in Autumn, during hunting season!” Yes, this is true, if you’re a hunter. I am not. Neither is T. Lucky for us, both T’s parents hunt during all the different seasons in their area, and we count ourselves darn lucky they wanted to share some of their bounty with us!

In March, we had a very short visit from T’s parents, aka The Snowbirds, who were on their way down from Maine to Florida for boating, seashell collecting and other sun-filled activities that did not involve SNOW. They gifted us with venison tenderloin, roast, ground meat, and seasoned ground sausage. Mom Snowbird suggested we try the sausage meat in a spaghetti sauce, which we did. The first time I simply browned the sausage and added a commercial bottled sauce, but the seasonings in the sausage were still too mild for my taste — and the game flavor really dominated the sauce. It was good, but I wanted the game to blend in with the sauce, not sit on top of it. So the second time, I monkeyed around with the sausage and sauce — as I am wont to do — adding fresh garlic, red wine, and some decidedly non-traditional ingredients. Then it simmered for at least an hour. The deep rich flavors of the game paired perfectly with the earthy flavors of whole wheat pasta — this a combination that we will use again.

When they’re not sun-seeking in Florida or hunting in the Fall, the Snowbirds really enjoy the “Good Life in Maine”: boating, swimming, fishing, riding his and hers ATV’s (All-Terrain Vehicles), and generally just hanging out around gorgeous Lake Nicatous where they have a summer cabin. For a peek at what the “Good Life” really is, visit Mom’s website at Maine Musings.

Thanks, Mom & Dad, for choosing to stay with us despite the sparse accommodations. And thanks for bringing me such fun “toys” to play with, too! Next year, we hope you come when it’s warmer here — maybe for the Cherry Blossom Festival!

Serves 4 persons

2TBL + 3TBL olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb/ 455g fresh cremini mushrooms, aka baby bellas, sliced
1 lb/ 1/2kg ground venison
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
sea salt to taste
1 tsp. raw sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano (or 1 TBL minced fresh)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or 1 sprig fresh)
1 TBL soy sauce
(*optional: The Punch) 1 TBL kochu jang (Korean red pepper paste)
(in truth, the only reason I put this in was because I was taking a photo of it for Kochujang Chicken post and didn’t want to look for a container to put it away!! If you’d like to add some Punch or Pfiff to your sauce without kochu jang, substitute a scant TBL of crushed red pepper, or a dose of your favorite hot sauce)
1 bottle of your favorite commercial bottled sauce ( about 24-26 oz/ 680-730 ml)
1/2 - 1 cup dry red wine (used Barefoot Zinfandel)
1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente
Parmesan cheese, fresh grated for serving

Heat 2 TBL olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add sliced mushrooms and gently press mushrooms against pan to sear them, then stir-fry mushrooms over high heat until browned and dry. (Note: If heat in pan is not high enough, mushrooms will start to lose water and become mushy — they will not brown.) Remove mushrooms to clean bowl and season with sea salt.

Return pan to medium high heat and add remaining 3 TBL olive oil, and garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. (I found the extra oil was necessary because venison is naturally very lean and tends to stick to the pan.) Add ground venison, and brown well, seasoning generously with sea salt and ground black pepper.

Once meat is thoroughly browned, sprinkle with sugar, oregano, thyme, and soy sauce. Cook together about 3-4 minutes, until the aroma of the herbs and spices fill the kitchen. Add kochu jang, if using, and bottled or homemade sauce, and stir well to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add red wine, stir well, and reduce heat to medium low or low (just simmering) and cover again. Allow to simmer for 40 minutes.

Serve over whole wheat pasta, and grate fresh parmesan generously over the top. Finish off the Zinfandel.
Suggested vegetable pairing: JD’s Zucchini Saute (next recipe), mirrors some of the herb notes in this sauce, but adds a buttery counterpoint.


Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables in Egg “Custard” Sauce

Once farmers’ markets re-open and spring vegetables appear, they seem such a luxury after months of root vegetables, squashes and winter greens! This is a simple and unusual preparation that seems more decadent and rich than it really is. I learned the method from a housemate in London who was also a student at Leith’s and hailed from Bari, Italy (near the “heel” of the Italian peninsula). It is a sensuous decadent pasta coated with melting slices of zucchini dressed in a "custard" of barely cooked eggs. Prepared correctly, this sauce will remind you of the best carbonara — a flavor-packed, unctous sauce clinging to every strand of pasta. And like carbonara, the ingredients are few, so quality is important.

Costi prepared his mother's recipe for this sauce with only 5 ingredients: zucchini, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and fresh eggs. I’ve made this dish regularly since I learned it from him, but I also include a touch of garlic as a personal preference (but Costi would not approve). In this instance, I’ve also added asparagus because it was also seasonal and its flavors would marry well with the other ingredients.

The method is simple: thinly sliced zucchini are gently sauteed in copious amounts of olive oil until translucent, then the hot cooked pasta is heated through with the vegetable. Off the flame, beaten eggs are added and gently stirred through to combine. And when I say "copious amounts of olive oil," I mean enough to make most people faint at the thought of it — when I helped Costi make this dish for a dinner party thrown by our host family in London, he used almost a liter of oil for an 8-person serving! The hostess almost had a heart attack watching him devastate a prized bottle of olive oil she had brought back with her from their family’s last trip to Italy.

I cut back a bit on the amount of olive oil here, but this is about as far down as you can take it and still retain the creaminess of the original. I rationalize the amount of oil in this dish by thinking that 1) olive oil is at least a monounsaturated oil, approved by the American Heart Association for reducing bad cholesterol, and 2) we have this only once a year.

The freshness of the eggs is especially important in this dish, because the eggs are just barely cooked so they retain their creamy texture and do not “set” or scramble. I actually prepared this last spring when we were still on Oahu and zucchini, asparagus, and eggs were all local and fresh. When buying “farm fresh” eggs at the farm or market, let the proprietor know that you plan to use the eggs in a semi-cooked state and ask for the freshest they have on hand. Until I can find all these again in our new local area, I’ll wait and continue to dream of our next taste…

Serves 4 persons
This dish contains semi-cooked eggs and, even when using the freshest eggs possible, should not be consumed by pregnant women, young children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised or weakened immune system (including those who are taking or have recently taken a course of antibiotics) without first consulting your physician.

1 lb. fresh or dried fettuccine, or other flat pasta

½ lb. zucchini
1 lb. asparagus spears
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cup olive oil (not a typo)
sea salt to taste
fresh grated Parmesan, about ½ cup, plus extra for the table
4 large very fresh eggs, preferably organic and without antibiotics

Bring water to boil for pasta. Warm pasta bowls/plates. (See hints for warming plates below.)

Wash and dry the zucchini and asparagus well, preferably in a vinegar wash. (See original Gai Choy post about cleaning vegetables to remove pesticides, wax and dirt and a link to an NPR story about cleaning vegetables.)

Slice the zucchini cross-wise on the diagonal. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the asparagus lengthwise into thin strips or ribbons.

Wash eggs well, and dry. Beat eggs together with ¼ cup oil. Set aside.

In a skillet or wok large enough to hold both the sauce and pasta, heat ½ cup olive oil and garlic over medium heat until garlic becomes fragrant. Add another ½ cup oil and zucchini, and stir gently to coat vegetable with oil. As zucchini absorbs oil, add another ¼ cup and allow vegetable to absorb new amount. Continue cooking until zucchini just starts to become translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta (remember to salt the water just before adding your pasta).

Add asparagus ribbons, salt to taste (but remember that the Parmesan will add saltiness too), and combine to coat asparagus with oil. Continue to cook until asparagus just becomes bright green, about 4-5 minutes. Add Parmesan and stir.

Drain pasta, but do not rinse, and add hot pasta directly to skillet with the vegetables, and stir through to combine. Immediately pour beaten eggs over everything, and stir well but gently. Cover for 5 minutes.

Serve in warmed pasta bowls, garnished with extra Parmesan if desired. (If you don’t always warm your pasta bowl or plate — *guilty!* — this is one dish where you really want to take that extra step.)

With a garlicky bruschetta and glasses of Pinot Grigio or Soave, you’re set for a spring fling al fresco! Happy Spring!

Hints for Warming Bowls/Plates:
* If you’re making garlic bread, put your plates in the oven as it’s pre-heating. Remove them from the oven to put in the garlic bread, and keep covered with a clean towel. Or if you’re like us and use a toaster oven for this task, put the stacked plates on top of the toaster oven while making your garlic bread — if you have 4 or more plates, you may have to rotate the plates around to get them all warm.
* Bring a kettle of water to a boil, and pour ½ cup into each bowl just before serving. Set aside for 1 minute, pour off water and dry.
* Find your warming tray and put it to use! We have one that uses 2 votive candles to keep serving dishes warm at the table, but it can pull double duty here by warming your pasta bowls while you are preparing the meal.
* In the microwave, place a 1/4 cup or so of water in each bowl, stack them and place in microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on your oven. Remove water and dry.


Sweet & Tangy Beetgreens Sauce for Pasta

Whole fresh bunches of beets are a fleeting treat, so when we saw them recently, they were immediately snapped up. As much as we love beetroot, the greens and stalk stems are wonderful vegetables on their own. Granted, the stems lend more color and crunch than flavor to a meal, but they do readily take on strong flavors and hold them deeply. Usually I simply slice the stems on the diagonal and throw them in the wok, but this summer I’ve been inspired by the ingenious and creative ways that Helen, at Food Storeies, has with vegetables! The woman handles a vegetable peeler with the skilled finesse of a sushi chef. Anyway, I opted to attempt to julienne the stalks, but found them very stringy and fibrous — this is why they are usually cut along the width, to cut the fibers down to edible size. But undaunted, and 45 long minutes later, the stalks were finally “de-veined” and julienned — they made quite a pretty picture with their deep burgundy color. But you can definitely skip this step and do the diagonal slices instead!

Beet greens are a mild, quick-cooking green that is suitable for stir-frying or simple flash-cooking, similar to spinach. They do have a slight musky quality that allows them to stand up to strong flavors, such as the vinegar and garlic in this pasta — which is actually derived from a southern Italian style pasta that features cauliflower. The combination of currants, garlic, and red wine vinegar with the vegetables will give you a sweet and tangy (sour) sauce. The addition of pork is my own twist, but certainly leave it out and you will have a fresh and colorful vegetarian pasta.

I’ve been neglecting Dad’s Gout Diet Challenge lately, but the vegetarian version of this recipe (no pork) with its healthy doses of greens, vinegar and garlic would be a nice change of addition to Dad’s repetoire of gout-friendly recipes. So this will be included in the

For 2 persons

Stalks and greens from 6 beets

Wash and rinse stalks and greens. Cut along both sides of each stalk to separate the greens. Roll the greens lengthwise and cut along the width into 1-inch pieces. Either slice the stalks in thin slices on the diagonal, or cut into 4-inch lengths, then de-vein each length (similar to cleaning celery fibers). Slice each length into 5-6 long pieces.

3-4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 TBL. + 1 TBL. olive oil
3 oz. (85g) lean pork, cut into slivers 1-inch long (optional)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup (40g) currants
1 tsp. raw sugar
1/3 cup (80ml) red wine vinegar
12 oz. dried pasta

Start water for pasta.

Heat first 2 TBL. oil in large skillet (large enough to hold pasta too) over medium heat. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant and lightly browned. Add pork, if using, and cook until browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add beet stalks and salt, and stir well to coat with oil. Cover pan and allow to cook until stalks begin to wilt, about 3 minutes. Increase hat to medium-high, and add beet greens and 1 TBL oil, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove cover and sprinkle sugar and currants over greens, stir through. Make a hole in the center of the greens, and pour vinegar in hole. Stir everything through, and allow to cook for another 8-10 minutes or until greens are bright green and softened. Taste and correct seasoning, and keep sauce warm until pasta is cooked.

Salt water and add pasta — cook to al dente. Drain well but do not rinse. Add pasta to sauce. Increase heat under skillet to medium-high, and stir through to combine pasta and sauce ingredients. Serve in warmed bowls/plates, garnish with squeeze of lemon, if desired.


Al Fresco: Linguine with Clams

Fresh ingredients, lightly cooked, eaten ooutdoors. Pour the Soave, let’s eat.

(Adapted from
Marcella’s Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan)
for 2 people

Warm 2 plates in the toaster oven set to 200F/95C.

12 live Manila clams
Scrub clam shells with brush. Discard any clams that do not close during cleaning.

9 oz. (255g) dried linguine (12 oz./340g, fresh)
Bring water for pasta to boil, while you start the sauce.

3 TBL. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz (100g) sugar snap peas
sea salt
ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
few sprigs flat-leaf parsley, minced

Put garlic and oil in large skillet or wok — something that will be large enough to hold both the sauce and pasta. Heat pan over medium flame, and saute garlic until it softens and becomes aromatic. Add peas, salt and pepper, stir to coat with oil, and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until peas become bright green. Increase heat to high, and quickly add cleaned clams and wine, and immediately cover the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes with cover closed, shaking pan occasionally.

Add a good handful of coarse salt to boiling water for pasta, and add linguine. Return to boil and cook until barely firm to the bite, maybe 5 minutes for dried, and 2 for fresh. I try to slightly undercook it at this stage, because the pasta will still cook with the sauce.

Check sauce. Turn heat down to medium, and remove peas and any clams that are opened to a warmed plate, and keep covered (this will keep them from over-cooking). Continue to remove clams as they open. When all clams are opened (or after another 4-5 minutes, discard any clams that don’t open), add parsley to sauce. Drain pasta but do not rinse. Add pasta to pan, and stir well to combine with sauce. Return peas and clams to pan, cover, turn off heat and let pan sit for 3-4 minutes while wine is poured and outside table is set.

Divide pasta and clams between two warmed bowls, garnish with more parsley, a grind of pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Carry bowls outside. Mangia!

We actually had this meal 2 weekends ago, and afterwards I was craving a cake, which I rarely do. In fact, the cake I was craving was a polenta torta so the next day I made the version with preserved lemon and almond here. Unlike many lemon desserts, the preserved lemon cake is well-suited to a rich cup of coffee!

(Read more about
choosing safe fish and shellfish for Hawaii, the US, and around the world.)


5-A-Day: Flash-Cooked Watercress

Still starved for fresh greens, I bought 3 large bunches of watercress in Chinatown. The photo here shows 1 bunch of cleaned, trimmed cress. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that before coming to Hawaii I only considered cress for 2 things: tea sandwiches and a plate garnish. Pretty sad, no? Both these ideas came from my training in London, but I'm glad I've overcome these limitations in my thinking and have embraced watercress for the versatile, nutritious vegetable it truly is.

Watercress, like mustard greens (see
earlier post), is a cruciferous vegetable and like its cousins broccoli and cabbage, has long been recognized as an important source of calcium, iron and folic acid. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the oldest known leaf greens eaten by humans (read more). Eaten raw, watercress is prized for its peppery flavor; but when cooked, it takes on a more savory, almost tangy character, that stands up well like to strong flavors such as garlic or fermented black bean sauce, both popular preparations in restaurants serving knowledgeable Chinese clientele. Again, if you like strong flavored greens such as endive, chicory or broccoli rabe, there's a good chance you will enjoy watercress both raw and cooked.

Perhaps the best incentive to add this delicious green to your culinary repetoire is the exciting research coming out of the University of Ulster (UK) in the last year about the anti-cancer properties of watercress. That study found that daily intake of a modest amount of watercress (about 85g) can significantly reduce an important cancer trigger, namely DNA damage to white blood cells; as well as lowering cholesterol and improving absorption of lutein and beta-carotene, key minerals for eye health and the prevention of age-related conditions such as cataracts. Read more about this on the
Medical News Today site.

If you're lucky enough to live near Alresford, Hampshire, UK, you can attend the Watercress Festival on Sunday, May 11, 2008. There is also a newer festival in the US that celebrates watercress in Osceola, Wisconsin the third annual fest should be in late spring (no details available yet).

Here on Oahu, watercress grows in a most amazing locale. This close view of the Sumida Farms in Aiea (at right) shows us the lush vegetation amid irrigation culverts one would expect in a watercress farm.

But the larger view reveals that this beautifully cultivated and landscaped oasis of edible green fronts one of the major east-west thoroughfares on Oahu, Farrington Highway, and is bounded on its other three side by a large shopping mall, Pearlridge Center! The first photo is taken from the highway, which sits right beside the northernmost end of Pearl Harbor, and looks to the northeast corner of the farm. The second photo is taken from the northern (mauka) side of the shopping center, looking back towards Pearl Harbor (makai) and the highway side of the farm. Cultivation and harvest is year-round, as evidenced by the taller dark green patches adjacent to apparently harvested lighter colored patches. What a poetic resource!
View of Sumida Farms from highwayView of Sumida Farms watercress

So how to incorporate watercress into your diet? Well, instead of looking for specific recipes for watercress, again I would recommend using it in your own favorite preparations for fresh spinach or braised greens. Of the 3 bunches we bought, one was braised with garlic using the same method as for the Mustard Greens (
see post), one was used along with spinach in Sukiyaki (coming soon), and one was flash-cooked for later use as a topping for Okinawan soba or ramen. When we buy very perishable greens such as watercress or mustard greens, I will usually either garlic-braise or flash-cook them within a day of purchase. Cooked, the greens take up less precious fridge space and are no longer susceptible to wilting. I've also provided myself with some handy timesavers for mid-week meals: with cold potatoes and eggs, we can have a frittata in 20 minutes, or an omelet in 10; with a few additional spices and perhaps a sauce, we will have a great pasta; with a sesame dressing, we have a cooked salad to accompany any meal; after a 10 second buzz in a microwave, we have a great topping for ramen; or it can provide a healthy boost to your favorite soup recipe a couple of nights ago we added some flash-cooked watercress in the last 10 minutes of cooking a homemade chicken vegetable soup. One recipe still on the back burner in my mind is to substitute all of the spinach in a spinach dip with watercress I'll get back to you on that one, but if someone out there does it sooner, I'd love to hear how that worked for you!

Until then, here is my method for flash-cooking watercress, or any easy-to-cook green.


1 large bunch watercress, about 1lb (450g)
TBL. olive oil
2-5 cloves garlic, diced (optional)
sea salt (optional)

Trim hollow stems of watercress to about 1-inch (5cm) of the leafy parts. Wash thoroughly in clean water, and vinegar-water solution (see
Mustard Greens post for detailed directions on washing leafy greens). Cut into 2-inch (10cm) lengths.

Heat wok or other large pot just to smoking point. Add enough olive oil to coat wok/pot, then add garlic, if using, and let gently brown (about 10-15 seconds), then remove from pan.

Add watercress, and using 2 wooden spoons or spatulas, turn to coat with oil. Add more oil to the sides of the wok, if necessary, but not directly on the greens. Continue cooking on medium-high to high heat until the cress wilts and becomes bright green. Remove from heat and add salt to taste, if using (I don't use salt if I'm not using the greens right away). Cover and leave in pan another 5 minutes.

Gently squeeze greens to remove excess moisture, and either dress and use right away, or store in fridge for up to 3 days. If storing, be certain the greens will be cooked again (as in soup,
Plasto, tortilla, etc.). If using as a ramen topping or side dish, microwave briefly to heat through before serving.
Sesame Watercress

2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
TBL. toasted (aka "dark) sesame oil
1 TBL. raw sugar
tsp. sea salt
2 TBL. mirin, sake, or sherry
tsp. soy sauce

Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Mix together sugar, salt, mirin and soy sauce. Stir to dissolve sugar. Pour over cooked cress and garnish with sesame seeds.

Watercress and vegetable tempura kamaboko top this ramen for an easy, nutritious one-bowl meal.
Okinawan Soba with cress and kamaboko

More Recipes with Watercress:
Watercress Dumplings
Portuguese Bean Soup
Green Papaya Soup (Tinola)


Here's Lookin' at You: Garlicky Shrimp in Butter Sauce

Taking advantage of the abundant fresh fish and shellfish available here, we often turn first to the classics. When it comes to fresh shrimp, few things can top this simple preparation often called "scampi" in seafood and Italian restaurants: whole shrimp sauteed in garlic oil and spices, and finished in a light buttery cream sauce. And when it comes to garlic, the highest authority on my shelves is the The Garlic Lovers' Cookbook (see book review) by the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association. Gilroy, California proudly claims itself the "Garlic Capital of the World" and during the last weekend in July for the last 30 years, over one hundred thousand visitors to its 3-day festival make it so. The Gilroy Garlic Festival serves up everything from its Gourmet Alley classics like calamari salad, garlic bread and this scampi, to the more unusual garlic wine, ice cream, chocolates, and "mountain oysters." All profits from the festival go to local charities. It's a delicious win-win for everyone. This year the Festival will take place July 25-27th at Christopher Ranch in Gilroy. If you're planning your first trip there, a word to the wise: go early, and don't let the garlic ice cream be the first thing you try that day! Until you can stroll Gourmet Alley for yourself, these finger-lickin' ono shrimp will tide you over.

(adapted from
The Garlic Lovers' Cookbook)

Butter Sauce
1/2 cup
unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, finely mince
4 oz. clam juice or fish stock
TBL. flour
tsp. minced parsley
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. dry basil
Dash of nutmeg
1/4 cup (60 ml) half-and-half, or light cream
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Over very gentle heat, saute garlic in butter (don't let butter brown). Combine clam juice, flour, and parsley, and stir until smooth. Add to pan and blend well. Add wine, lemon juice, basil and nutmeg, blend well. Slowly add dairy, and stir until thickened. Simmer gently 30 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.

TBL. butter
2 TBL. olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
Juice and zest from 1/2 lemon
1 TBL. parsley, minced
tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. minced fresh basil
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
Dash of sherry
1 lb. shrimp
sea salt and ground black pepper

Heat butter and oil over medium heat, add garlic and cook to soften. Add lemon juice, parsley, pepper, basil, wine, sherry, and salt and pepper, and cook for about 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add shrimp, and lemon zest, and toss to combine. Cook until shrimp are just firm, and turning pink. Pour Butter Sauce over and heat through. Immediately remove from heat and serve with
Bruschetta or over long pasta (linguine, spaghetti, etc.) to soak up the delicious sauce.


What's in the Pantry: Penne with Tuna

It's still pretty damp and dark, but the worst of the weather seems to be behind us (knock on wood!). Unfortunately, many folks on the Leeward (west) Coast and the North Shore are still without power because the electrical company still has to string up new lines to the 30 resurrected utility poles that were downed by yesterday's gusty winds. As the veteran of many many Super-typhoons (maximum sustained winds over 150mph) growing up and living on Guam, I feel their pain. It's usually at least a few weeks following any super typhoon before our village (Dededo, in the north of the island) would get power back. But in 1976, we had no power for 4 months after Supertyphoon Pamela came directly over Guam, THEN reversed direction and came back directly over the island again! Her 200mph winds in the eye wall hit the island in 2 directions so devastation was pretty widespread. So to make a short story long, this legacy has left it's mark on me in terms of disaster coping.

One mark has been to get creative with the canned goods we usually stock. Depending on how exotic your pantry stock is, you can make some really wonderful hot meals to get you through a power shortage. (Suggestions for how to stock a Basic, Expanded, or Exotic Pantry are offered in the "
In the Pantry" section.) So starting with a Basic Pantry, if you've got canned tuna, canned tomatoes, some capers and/or olives (and maybe some anchovies) you can make this Penne con Tonno (penne with tuna). Of course, you don't have to wait for a power outage to try this — we made it with the fresh tuna our neighbors gave us in last month's post, and it's an easy meal-saver when you only have 30 minutes to put dinner together on a weeknight.

So light the candles, open a nice bottle of wine and you'll almost be sorry when the power does come back on!

(for 2 persons, but easily doubles and triples)

1 clove of garlic, minced
TBL. olive oil (don't skimp on the oil, it will coat and flavor the pasta)
1/2 cup (or more, to your taste) olives (green, black, mixed), chopped or left whole
2-3 TBL. capers (I don't rinse for this recipe, but you can)
1/2 can (8oz/225g) diced tomatoes (pictures show roasted cherry tomatoes because that's what we had on hand that day)
2 anchovy fillets (you won't taste them in the final dish, I promise)

1 can (6oz/170g) tuna in olive oil, or water

1/2 box (230g) farfalle (bowtie), penne, or other pasta shape
sea salt
flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

Put water on to boil for pasta.

Saute garlic in oil over medium heat. Once garlic is fragrant, add olives, capers, tomatoes, and anchovies, and stir until the anchovies dissolve. Add tuna (including oil if using tuna in olive oil), and cook over low heat at least 10 minutes, with pan covered. (The last picture shows this same sauce made with fresh tuna.)

Cook pasta until barely al dente (cooking time will vary depending on pasta shape). Drain well, but don't rinse.

Turn heat to medium high for the sauce, move the sauce ingredients to the edges creating a hole in the center, and add hot pasta to the center. Fold sauce ingredients over pasta and coat well. Turn heat off, cover and let rest for 5 minutes while you open a bottle and set the table. Garnish with parsley, if using.

Table-top Cooking: BBQ pork with rice noodles

Tabletop cooking need no longer be relegated to special nights out at fancy teppanyaki restaurants, where smiling chefs send shrimp and vegetables flying through the air. If you can live without the theatrics, you can grill or have sukiyaki or shabu-shabu at home anytime. It's a great family experience, and a wonderful way to entertain at home, allowing each family member or guest to add the meats or vegetables they desire to the pot or grill. We've done everything from fajitas, pancakes, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, Korean bulgogi and fish juhn, Japanese nabes and okonomiyaki, and this grilled Vietnamese style pork with rice vermicelli noodles.

Rather than buying an electric appliance that leaves you with a trailing electrical cord and extension to deal with, we recommend this simple butane stove that sits compactly on the table and has an easy-to-control flame. This model comes in a plastic case for carrying and storage, and retails here in Hawaii for less than $20. I have also seen sleek stainless steel models selling for closer to $70. The non-refillable butane cartridges are less than $2 a piece. If you're having a hard time finding a butane stove, try a Korean or Japanese grocery. The added bonus, especially for we who live in hurricane-earthquake-tsunami prone areas, this doubles as a handy emergency stove. In fact, we bought this for that latter purpose and had it in the house for almost a year before the little light bulb went on over my head, and I remembered a dinner with friends who used a butane stove to grill bulgogi at the table. That was such a fun meal! Why not make everyday meals more fun, too?

The cookware you use for tabletop cooking should be pans that do NOT have a long handle. With one or more persons reaching toward the hot pans, a long handle is easy to tip over, catch in a sleeve, or bump. With hot liquids and oils, and an open flame, it is an invitation to disaster to use any pot, pan or wok with a long handle. Here are some safer options.

For grilling, this yakiniku grill is ideal. This model is non-stick and includes a drain hole for the excess grease (you need to put a small bowl at the drain point to catch the hot oil). We use this for fajitas, pancakes, yakiniku (literallly, "grilled meat" in Japanese), and okonomiyaki. It retails between $20-25 (in Hawaii, sometimes Long's has it on sale too — same with the stove and butane cartridges). In a pinch, you could also use a shallow pan like the paella-style one we use for sukiyaki, below.

For soups and nabes, we used to use this 3 quart pot from All-Clad just because it was already in the kitchen, any similar pot will work. Recently we've acquired this beautiful stoneware nabe pot too. We make kimchee soup, nabes, and other quick soupy stew-like meals in these.

For sukiyaki and other braised dishes, this shallower paella-style pan from Calphalon works well.
Photos of traditional cast-iron nabe and sukiyaki pans can be seen on this commercial site.

Here is a simple and tasty dish that's perfect for entertaining or to liven up a weekend meal at home. Thin slices of pork (you can certainly use beef or chicken, as well) are marinated in a sweet lemongrass marinade, grilled and served atop a bed of rice vermicelli noodles (called bun, "buhn") and fresh salad and herb base. Of course, you don't have to grill the meat at the table prepare it all in the kitchen and simply serve this delicious "Vietnamese noodle salad"!

Recipe for 4 persons

Marinade for 1 lb. (450g) pork, beef, or chicken
TBL. brown sugar
tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. cornstarch
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots or 1/2 small onion, minced (about 3 TBL.)

stalk lemongrass, peeled and tender parts minced
2 TBL. fish sauce
1 TBL. oil

Thinly slice (as for sukiyaki) pork or beef. (In these photos I used pork sliced for tonkatsu, but that's too thick. Next time I'll get a thinner slice, or pound this cut thinner.) Or slice and pound thin chicken breasts or thighs. Combine marinade ingredients and add meat. Let marinate at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours.

To assemble:
10 oz. (280g) bean sprouts (moyashi)
1 large bunch Thai basil
1 large bunch mint
1 large bunch cilantro
4 stalks scallions, roots trimmed
1 Japanese cucumber
1 head Romaine or leaf lettuce
1 package of rice vermicelli, soaked in warm water 30 minutes or until pliable
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped (optional)
Carrot Pickle (recipe below)

Wash and pick leaves off basil, mint and cilantro. Rough chop herbs and scallions and set aside.

Peel cucumber. Cut off ends, then cut into quarters lengthwise. Cut off seeds, then julienne. Cut lengths into 2" (5 cm) pieces. Set aside.

Wash and remove thick ends, if necessary. Julienne.

Blanch the soaked rice noodles in boiling water until they turn bright white, about 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.

Combine 3/4 of the herbs, cucumber and lettuce together. Place 1/4 of the salad in the bottom of a deep bowl (like a saimin or ramen bowl).

Coil 1/4 of the rice noodles over the salad in a mound.

Garnish noodles with remaining herbs, cucumber and Carrot Pickle (and peanuts, if using). Place garnished bowl, chopsticks and a small bowl with dipping sauce (Nuoc Nam, recipe below) in front of each diner.

Remove meat from marinade and arrange on serving platter. Lightly dab with paper towel to make sure it is not too wet (it will splatter in the hot oil).

Assemble the grill and place it where the cook can reach it safely (this meal is best prepared where one cook handles the raw meat, placing it on the grill while other diners remove pieces to their bowls as the meat cooks). Set the grill pan securely on the stove notches to make certain it doesn't move around or slip. Put a catch bowl at the oil drip spout, if necessary. Turn on grill and allow pan to heat to cooking temperature. Lightly oil grill and carefully place slices on the pan (do not drop pieces onto oil, which will splatter). Have a clean plate on hand to remove meat as it cooks, if the diners don't keep pace with the cooking. Let folks remove cooked meat to their bowls and begin eating.

A final caveat: you have an open flame and hot liquids or oil on the table, so you do keep a close eye on the stove; and never allow young children to reach near the open flame. Also, since you're cooking meats with some fat on them, there will still be some splattering from the grill, so all diners should be warned of the possibility of splatters, no mater how careful you are. It should go without saying, too, that you probably want to try this out before inviting friends to participate so you have a better idea of how far the splattering oil can reach.

This photo is BBQ pork bun from our favorite restaurant. (See how thin the meat is?)

More tabletop cooking to come . . .

Combine together:
2 cloves garlic, minced
TBL. sugar (I still use brown sugar)
6 TBL. fish sauce
2 TBL. lime juice
1/2 cup water
1 sliced serrano or bird's eye chile (optional)

Stir well until sugar dissolves. Divide into 4 dipping bowls.

2 medium carrots, shredded or julienned
1 TBL. sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBL. rice wine vinegar
tsp. sea salt

Sprinkle carrots with sugar. Leave for 15 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over carrots. Set aside until needed.

Table-top Cooking, Part 2: Sukiyaki


World Pasta Day: Homemade Pasta

** This a "talk story" post. In Hawaii, to "talk story" is to share memories and tell stories. **

When I received
Verena's invitation (from "Mangia che te fa bene") yesterday to participate in World Pasta Day, which is Thursday, October 25th, the first thing that came rushing back was our last trip to Italy in 2003. We had such fun exploring the Cinque Terra, the 5 sparkling sea cliff villages on the Italian riviera that have been designated a World Heritage site. More on that in a bit, but first the pasta.

Immediately after returning from that trip, I felt compelled to make pasta at home to take advantage of this beautiful wondrous mushroom called Ovoli we found in the markets at
Chiavari (the town we stayed in). I'm sorry this picture doesn't do it justice because it was taken 4 days after we bought it, and after a train ride, overnight in Bologna (sigh . . . Bologna), plane trip to Germany, 2-hour car ride home, etc. You can see it retained it's lovely orange color, despite our abuse.
Prized ovoli mushroom

We were there around this time of year (October) and it was mushroom season and the markets were full of all kinds of incredible mushrooms. I don't speak Italian besides being able to order coffee, and inquire about a price (but not understand the answer). That's what happened with these mushrooms. I was so taken with them that I just selected 2 and handed them to the proprietor. And she handed me a receipt for . . . (gasp) 20+ Euros. The Euro-USD exchange rate was better then that it is now, but that was still about $19. This was for 260g of mushrooms -- yes, that works out to about $40/lb!! I looked at her sign for the first time (I was too enthralled with the mushrooms to see it earlier) and yes, it said 80 Euros per kilo. A sane person might have said, oh, sorry, my mistake, I won't be taking these. Instead I thought, wow, these must be good, I have to try them! I asked the proprietor (in German, it was our only semi-common language) to write down the name of the mushroom in Italian, which she was kind enough to do.

So, no dried pasta for these babies, it had to be from scratch. I also did a mad search on the web for any information on the Ovoli and recipe ideas on how to take most advantage of it's unique flavors. I wanted a recipe as simple as possible, so the Ovoli would not be overshadowed by any other ingredient.

Egg Pasta
500g/ 4 cups durum flour (Type 00), aka "pasta flour" in the US
6 large egg yolks
1 tsp salt

Mix flour and salt. Make a mound of the flour and a well in the center. Add the egg yolks and starting from the middle, incorporate the yolks into the flour (this is messy but fun!). Gradually add flour from the sides until all flour is incorporated. Flour your hands, start kneading until the dough comes together and does not stick so much. Cover with damp towel and let rest while assembling pasta maker. We will finish the kneading with the pasta maker/roller.
Flour, egg yolks, salt

Set your pasta maker on the largest setting. Sprinkle flour very generously over the pasta roller. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Take the first piece and flatten it with your hands so it will fit through the rollers. (Keep the other pieces under a damp towel.) Crank it all the way through. It will look something like this.
First pass through the roolers
Not very appetizing yet. Fold the dough and pass it through the rollers again. This action is actually doing the kneading for you.

After 2-3 times at the largest setting, go to the next smaller setting on your roller, and pass it through 2 times. Remember to fold the dough after it comes out of the rollers!
Dough after 6 passes

Set the rollers down at the third setting and roll through again. Now it's starting to resemble pasta . . .

Roll through the third setting one more time (don't forget to fold). This is a before and after view of the dough.
Pasta dough before and after kneading
After the last roll, cut your kneaded dough again into 3 pieces. Bring your roller setting down to the last setting, and put the short end of the dough through for the final roll. This is for the thinness of the dough. (Sorry, no picture of that)

Now go to the cutting side of your roller and put the paper-thin pieces of dough through to be cut. Sprinkle with more flour, gather lightly and leave to air dry. Isn't that beautiful? Fresh fettucine.
Pasta is cut into its final shapeFresh fettucine drying
But wait, we've only made one of those bundles so far. You have to go back and finish cutting the 2 other pieces of kneaded dough. Then there are still 3 pieces of unkneaded dough that have to go through the whole process. Hard work? A bit, but it's the kind of repetitious work, like making bread, that is meditative as well. If you're not in the mood to be meditative, put on your favorite music, open a nice Montepulciano and have fun with your work!

Ovoli saffron Sauce (made this up after a web search)
2 Ovoli, about 250g, cleaned gently with a towel and lovingly sliced
1-2 TBL olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 TBL unsalted butter
4-5 TBL creme fraiche
pinch of Saffron
sea salt to taste

Warm creme fraiche gently and add saffron to infuse.

Sear mushroom pieces in hot pan with minimal (no more than 2 tsp) oil. You want them to brown, not lose their juices. Remove them from pan. In same pan, add rest of olive oil and lower heat. Add garlic and saute until soft. Add butter and saffron-creme fraiche, and let them warm through. Turn heat to medium high and return mushrooms to pan. Heat through. Remove from heat and season as needed with salt. Mangia!
Fettucine in Saffron Ovoli Sauce
Fettucine with Ovoli Saffron Sauce

I hope now you will indulge me the nostalgia for the lovely places that inspired this cooking. The
Cinque Terre are the five villages (from south to north) of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. There is a cliff-side trail that connects the villages. We started first from the south, in Riomaggiore, and took our time to visit in each village. We stopped for a late lunch in Corniglia, the middle village, and took the train back to Chiavari for the night. Now a word to the wise, the trail that starts in the south, at Riomaggiore is a wide boulevard, paved and often with guard rails. We thought the whole trail was like that. But we were wrong.

View of Riomaggiore from the start of the trail
From the trail

Entering Manarola from the trail, and down its main street
Entering Manarola fr the south Manarola's main street

The only way to reach the town of Corniglia from the train station is up this switchback staircase! That'll work up your appetite.
Switchback staircase to Corniglia Fresh and fried, that's how we like it!

We started the next day at the northernmost village, Monterosso, and headed on the trail south to the village of Vernazza. The trail starts off as it did in Riomaggiore, paved and with rails, as you can see in this picture looking back at Riomaggiore from the beginning of the trail.
Northernmost village of Monterosso Trail leaving Monterosso

But it becomes this, and this. At one point, there is a narrow foot path (so narrow that my size 6 1/2, Euro 37, feet could not stand together on the trail) hugging the cliff-line for about 200 feet. We have no pictures of that because our fingers were dug into the cliff as we shuffled, crab-like, through that part!
The pavement and railing is gone after the first half-hour on the trail More on the trail

But after 2 1/2 hours hiking you see the light at the end of this dusty tunnel. The jewel of a village that is Vernazza.

Heading south on the cliff-side trail to Vernazza The gleaming jewel that is Vernazza

Thanks for taking that journey back with me. It's back to Hawaii and the present day in the next post, promise.

Happy World Pasta Day!