Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What I'm Cooking Today

I was on a business trip all last week, and caught the crud that was going around my host site. Whenever I'm sick, my thoughts turn towards comforting foods like tea and toast, soup and bread. For the first time since Friday, I have the stamina to cook. I'm going to make an old standby, 30-Minute Beef Minestrone, and some garlic knots. That shouldn't be too taxing. The minestrone is quick (even if a bit longer than 30 minutes) and delicious, and is served topped with some gremosalata, that fabulous Italian mix of lemon, garlic, and parsley. The garlic knots are my slight variation on Emeril's recipe.

30 Minute Beef Minestrone (makes 6-8 servings)
1 lg. onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t. crumbled dried rosemary
2 oz. prosciutto, chopped
1 lb. ground sirloin
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes (Hunts)
1 c. dry red wine
4 c. beef broth
1 20 0z. can kidney or pinto beans (or the closest you can come to 20 oz.), rinsed and drained
1/3 c. orzo or other small pasta
1/3 c. freshly grated Romano cheese
1/2 c. minced fresh parsley
1 clove garlic minced
1 T grated lemon zest

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot. Cook until the mixture begins to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the rosemary and cook for 30 more seconds. Add the prosciutto and beef and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Add the tomatoes and wine, and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer 10 minutes. Add the beans and broth, and bring the soup to a rolling boil. Add the pasta, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the pasta is just done. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix the topping ingredients together, and sprinkle topping over each serving of soup.

NOTE: if not in a hurry, I prefer to brown the beef and prosciutto well in the olive oil first, as they never get brown if you put them in with the vegetables. When it's nice and brown, I remove it to a plate. The ground sirloin does not produce too much grease, so I find I don't need to drain the pan. I also prefer to saute the onion first, then add the celery and carrot, and the garlic last, so it does not burn. Then I add the browned meat and proceed with the recipe. It takes a little longer this way, but tastes a little better. If you are in a hurry, it's also delicious as written.

Presto Garlic Knots (makes about 1 dozen knots)

I take a basic pizza dough recipe and use a rapid-rise technique to make these in half the time it normally takes.

1/2 c. very warm water (120 degrees or so) 1 envelope active dry yeast 1 T honey

Mix these together with a fork in the bowl of a stand mixer, and let stand until the mixture is foamy, about 5 min. (If it doesn't get foamy, your yeast is bad, and you'll need to start over with fresh yeast.) Add:

1T extra-virgin olive oil 1/2 t. salt

Mix until blended.

Using the dough hook attachment, add 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, and mix on low speed until ingredients are incorporated. The dough will be very wet and sticky. Gradually add an additional 3/4 c. flour to the mixture, a bit at a time. You may not need the entire 3/4 c. You want to end up with a dough that is elastic and moist but not sticky.

Add 1 T extra-virgin olive oil to a clean bowl and coat the inside of the bowl with the oil. Add the dough, and turn to coat with olive oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place in a nice warm place to rise for about 35 min. I often set the oven to "warm" for a few minutes and then turn it off. I place the dough in the warm oven (turned off) to rise.

After about 35 min., the dough should be risen and ready to shape.

Punch down the dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, into a rectangle about 8 x 6 inches. Brush the dough lightly with more olive oil.

Cut the dough cross-wise into strips about 1" wide.

Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick spray. Tie the dough strips loosely into knots and place on the baking sheet, leaving space between them. (Emeril says 2", but I don't usually spread them out so much.) Sprinkle the tops of the knots with coarse salt. Cover the baking sheet with a kitchen towel and place in a warm place to rise for about 20 minutes, or until puffy.
IMPORTANT: If you put them in the oven to rise, take them out after 15 minutes so you can preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 375. Bake the rolls until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

While the rolls are baking, melt 1/4 c. unsalted butter over low heat in a small skillet. Add 1-2 T minced garlic, and cook until fragrant but not browned, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and keep warm.

In a large bowl, grate 2 T of Peccorini Romano cheese. Add 1 T chopped Italian parsley to the bowl.

When you remove the knots from the oven, add the warm butter and garlic mixture to the bowl with the cheese and parsley. Mix to combine. Add the warm knots and toss gently to coat with the garlic-cheese topping. Add salt to taste, and serve immediately.

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