Sunday, March 28, 2021

ChezCindy: Seasonal Ramp Butter

In just a few weeks, it will be ramp season.  Only a few weeks each year, in mid-to-late April, will reap lucky foragers, or those who forage at the farmers market, a bunch or two of ramps.  The flavor of ramps is a cross between spring onions, garlic and leeks.  Not really like any one of these, but a blend of all three, sweet and mild. 

The entire plant is edible from the small white bulb, the colorful pink stems and the soft green leaves.  I usually make ramp butter and freeze the butter for use throughout the year.  I don't really have a recipe, but more of a process.  Simply chop the full plant into small bits, about 5-6 stalks.  Add a tablespoon of butter to a skillet.  Add the chopped ramps, stirring to combine and cook until the ramps have softened, 2-3 minutes.  Add the cooked ramps to a stick of softened butter, stirring until well combined.  Transfer to a container.  Store in the refrigerator for 7-10 days or in the freezer for several months.  

Use the ramp butter to top cooked steaks or fish, melting to form a sauce.  Or stir into cooked pasta.  Spread onto thick slices of bread, toasting under the broiler or on a hot grill pan. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

ChezCindy: Gemelli Pasta with Sausage and Mushrooms


The world of pasta shapes is vast with so many shapes and sizes, each with their own purpose and intended use.  Thin strands go best with lighter sauces, while long flat strands go well with a more robust sauce.  Shapes with ridges will help the sauce cling to the pasta, while shells will cup the sauce.  And somehow, they each taste a bit different because of the shape, and the sauce each are paired with.  I happen to adore gemelli pasta.  The double strand coiled together holds the sauce well, with a toothsome texture.  

This recipe come together quickly and is enjoyed by all ages.  If you like your foods a bit more spicy, increase the pinch of red pepper flakes to the amount that will make you happy.  This is not a saucy red sauce.  The pasta carries just a blush of color from the tomato pasta.  Much of the flavor comes from the sausage so buy one that you particularly enjoy.  

Gemelli Pasta with Sausage & Mushrooms
8 ounces gemelli pasta or similar shape
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces mild Italian sausage, casing removed
6 ounces cremini or white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
chopped fresh basil or parsley for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add in the pasta, seasoning the pasta water with salt.  Cook the pasta for the time specified on the package.  Before draining the pasta once it is cooked, save 1 cup of the salted pasta water.  Drain the pasta.  Set aside the cup of pasta water and the cooked pasta.  

Meanwhile, set a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Remove the casing from the Italian sausage.  Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the hot pan.  Break up the sausage into small pieces, adding them to the hot pan.  Cook the sausage pieces without stirring them for about 4 minutes.  This will create good browning on this first side of cooking.  Once the first side is nicely browned, now stir the sausage pieces to continue cooking for another 1-2 minutes.  Add in the sliced mushrooms, stirring and tossing with the sausage to continue browning each, about 3-4 minutes.  Add in the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, stirring it among the sausage and mushrooms, cooking for 1 minute.  Add in the minced garlic and the pinch of red pepper flakes, cooking for only 30 seconds.  Carefully pour in the white wine or chicken broth into the hot pan.  This will splatter a bit.  Stir the pan to bring up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Working quickly, add in the drained pasta to the sausage mushroom mixture.  Evenly sprinkle the teaspoon of kosher salt over the pasta.  Stir to combine.  Pour in 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and the tablespoon of butter.  Stir to combine and coat the sausage and mushrooms.  Cook together for 1-2 minutes to allow the sauce to slightly thicken.  Turn off the heat.  Add in the 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan.  Stir to combine.  If the sauce is too thick, add in a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.  Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the pasta.  Garnish with additional grated cheese and chopped fresh herbs.  Serve hot.  

Thursday, March 11, 2021

ChezCindy: Irish Soda Bread


This inviting bread is made in about an hour.  There is no yeast and no required time to proof as needed for yeast breads.  Soda bread uses baking soda as the leavening agent, much like any other quick bread.  The end result looks and tastes similar to a yeast bread, but more sturdy.  Soda breads have a golden brown exterior and are more similar to a biscuit or scone.  

Traditionally, Irish soda bread is served as a savory along side a hardy stew or a heaping plate of breakfast foods.  I like to eat it as a snack with either plenty of salted butter or cheddar cheese.  

Irish Soda Bread
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Prepare a sheet tray by lining it with parchment paper.  Set aside.  

Combine the flours, salt and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.  Add in the 1/2-inch pieces of butter, using your fingertips to rub into the flour until it is evenly distributed with the flour mixture.  

In a separate smaller bowl, combine the egg and the buttermilk, whisking it together to combine.  Pour most of this into the flour mixture, leaving about 2-3 tablespoons behind.  Using a wooden spoon or your hands, combine the liquid with the flour to make a dough.  If the dough seems a bit too dry, add in 1 or 2 additional tablespoons of the buttermilk/egg mix, leaving 1 tablespoon to glaze the formed loaf of bread.  Transfer the dough onto a floured work surface.  Using your hands, form the dough into an 8-inch round disk, about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Using a large knife, score the bread with a deep cross, as if you were cutting it into 4 quarters.  You will cut almost through the bread when cutting the deep cross.  Using the last tablespoon of the buttermilk/egg mixture, brush this over the entire surface of the bread.  This will create the golden brown crust during baking.  Sprinkle the rolled oats over the top of the bread.  

Transfer the formed loaf of bread to the sheet tray lined with parchment paper.  Bake the bread in the hot oven at 425 for 15 minutes.  Then turn the oven temperature down to 400 degrees to finish the baking time, about 25 minutes more.  The bread should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.  Remove the sheet tray from the oven.  Place the bread onto a wire rack to cool.  

Serve warm with plenty of salted butter.