Monday, April 27, 2015

Spelt Orecchiette with Spring Peas

Feels like spring has FINALLY arrived (maybe?).  I see small glimpses. A few flowering trees dotted around Brooklyn. The arrival of ramps. Even some Jersey asparagus at the farmers' market this past weekend. Spring greens, it's what I've been waiting for/craving all winter long. Can't wait to get my hands on these guys. Oh yes, I have plans.

This is a pea galore pasta dish that celebrates spring.  The base is a simple pea puree (either from fresh or frozen), mixed with a pea stock made from the discarded pea pods (alternatively, substitute vegetable stock, chicken stock, or even a little pasta cooking water); just thought, why waste the pea pod shells when they make a wonderful stock with whatever other vegetable scraps you might have on hand.  To round things out, some crispy speck (pancetta or smoked bacon would also work nicely), green garlic, and some spicy arugula went into the pasta.

Pea puree = frozen or fresh peas (blanched) + pea shoots/tendrils (blanched) + water + salt + blended to a smooth, deliciously springy puree.

Fresh spring garlic, so mild and it.

Of course, you can use store bought pasta for this dish.  I just happen to have a 'thing', a 'fixation' let us say, for homemade pasta.  Orecchiette is one of my favorite pasta shapes to make.  It does't require any special equipment.  Neither a KitchenAid mixer nor a pasta machine/roller was used in making this pasta.  Just flour(s) and water (and a pinch of salt).  All done by hand, the old-fashioned way.

Making the orecchiette takes a little bit of time, but once you find your rhythm the process goes pretty fast. The orecchiette freeze well.  Just let them air dry (in a single layer) and then you can package in ziplock bags and store in the freezer.

I decided to experiment today and substituted spelt flour in place of half of the 00 flour; semolina comprised the remainder.  

Making orecchiette the old-fashioned way...

Orecchio (ear) + etto (small) = small or little ears...

The orecchiette are thick and slightly chewy, and the 'ears' act as little cups to trap the sauce.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ramp Pesto Pizza with Razor Clams

In my humble opinion, the calendar does not announce the official start of spring (for 2015, spring commences on March 20).  Rather, the arrival of the first ramps (aka wild leeks) is the telltale sign that spring is upon us.  Ramps are the quintessential sign of spring; the sign that spring has officially sprung.

Ramp leaves are very tender.  They taste like a cross between an onion and garlic.  The whole plant is edible, from the leaves to the bulb.  Ramps pair perfectly with eggs (frittata, omelette, etc.); make a mean compound butter; are great in stir-fries, pasta, risotto, sauces, soups, dressings, pesto; or simply sauteed in a little butter or olive oil.

The ramp season is relatively short, just a few weeks from April 'til early-June.  Maybe this brief window has something to do with their mass appeal.  With industrial farming and modern agricultural techniques, we can have just about anything we want, when we want it.  But sometimes, it's best to appreciate something in the moment; to savor it at its peak, commit that taste to memory, and cherish that memory until the next point in time when it can be appreciated again.  And for this, I believe ramps are worth celebrating.

Speaking of celebrating, will be heading to Hudson, NY, in a few weeks for the 5th annual Hudson Ramp Festival (can't wait!).  Here are a few photos from the Hudson Ramp Fest of 2013.

While ramps are a bit of a regional delicacy, I think you could easily adapt this recipe using young green garlic or garlic scapes in the pesto.  While not the same, tender spring garlic is also something to get excited about.  But if you do happen to find ramps, they're too good to pass up. Be sure to use them fast, as they wilt in no time.  Store ramps in the refrigerator (uncleaned), ideally for no more than a day.

These are razor clams from the waters of Long Island (Suffolk County), NY, via the friendly folks at Seatuck Fish at the Union Square Farmers' Market, NYC.

Was initially going to go with steamers or cherry stone clams, but then I spotted the razor clams and the rest was history.  It's hard to pass up fresh razor clams.  They're tender and sweet, and deliciously good.  But you could easily substitute your favorite variety of clam.

Steamed and then chopped the razor clams. and added them to the pizza in the last 30 seconds or so of cooking.  The garlicky, onion-y ramp pesto pairs exceedingly well with the clams.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pasteli: Greek Honey Sesame Bar

Was doing a bit of spring cleaning.  Going through the cabinets and came across a small collection of half-filled jars of honey.  Not a bad thing, though said jars were monopolizing prime real estate in my limited cabinet space.  Or maybe it was a longing to return to Greece (I ♥ Greece from 2010 -- it's been too long) that steered me in this direction today.  

Pasteli is a really simple Greek treat made with honey and sesame seeds.  It's an all natural energy bar, the original energy bar.  You can add other nuts and/or seeds to suit your taste. 

Many recipes for pasteli call for sugar (in addition to the honey), which makes the bars a bit crunchier.  My pasteli are made solely with honey.  They're pleasantly chewy.

A bit of orange zest is a nice addition.  I've seen versions that incorporate orange blossom water which sounds really interesting.

After chilling in the refrigerator, they're much easier to cut...