Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Penne Au Gratin

Let's talk summer food. There's certainly something to be said for eating light when it's hot outside. You don't wanna eat macaroni and cheese and then throw on a bathing suit, nor do you wanna eat a roast and go weed your garden when it's about 100F.  On the other hand, summer is also a great time to be very active outside. With that said, if you've just come in from swimming all day, or doing hours of hard work in the sun, you will likely be famished.

Such is the case for my 14 year old daughter who is going to band camp from 7am until 7pm every day this week. On the blacktop, in direct sun, with her trumpet, being active all day long.  Not looking at her phone.  For those of you who are fluent in the dramatics of teenage girls you know this means one thing. Tears. Lots of them.

A wise man (sometimes I give my husband credit) said, "Just have the macaroni ready and waiting and then send her straight to her room."

Macaroni and cheese, otherwise known as penne au gratin, has the ability to heal the inconsolable teenage girl. It's pretty much magic. Easy to eat penne noodles, a smooth cheesy sauce, pretty chunks of fresh ripe summer tomatoes, and a crunchy Parmesan and paprika topping.  Comfort food for anytime of year.
Penne Au Gratin
Recipe adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pépin
Serves 4

6 ounces (2-1/4 cup) penne
1-1/2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2-1/2 cups milk
4-1/2 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2" dice (1 cup)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large tomato, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1-1/4 cups)
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 400F.  Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the penne, stir well, and cook for about 8 minutes, until tender but still slightly al dente. Drain the penne in a colander.  Set aside.

Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan until hot. Add the flour and cook, stirring, over medium heat for about 10 seconds, then add the milk, stirring it in quickly with a whisk so the mixture doesn't scorch. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 seconds. Add the cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper, mix well, and cook over low heat, stirring for 3 to 4 minutes or until smooth.

Mix the pasta with the cheese sauce and transfer the mixture to a 6-cup gratin dish (I like to use my cast iron skillet).  Scatter the tomato on top of the pasta. Combine the Parmesan and paprika in a small bowl and sprinkle the mixture on the pasta. Bake for 30 minutes at 400F.  Serve immediately.
Theme: The Mother Of All Sauces!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Yellow Pepper, Gruyère, and Pine Nut Pizza

So there I am sitting on the couch looking for something new to make. Something really different. Something light and easy.  Something fun.  Except there's a problem. I have a rather obnoxious craving for Gruyère cheese. the index for Gruyère cheese and voila I discovered this fun, unique, and easy recipe for Yellow Pepper, Gruyère, and Pine Nut Pizza.

I'm so glad I discovered this recipe because I love the combination of ingredients. The pine nuts compliment the Gruyère's nutty flavor and provide a wonderful texture to the pizza. The olives are a gorgeous pop of color and add a lovely briney flavor that really makes the whole pizza pop. However, I think the best part is the overall ease of this recipe because it uses pita bread for the pizza crust. All you have to do is slice one pita bread in half lengthwise, brush it with a little olive oil, top, and bake. The pita bread half is so thin it becomes crispy and crunchy, which I absolutely love. It's also the perfect size for an individual portion. I can definitely see myself making this version again and also borrowing the pita bread technique for other variations. An easy and satisfying summer lunch or dinner. You could even set up a station and let everyone create their own!
 Yellow Pepper, Gruyère, and Pine Nut Pizza
Recipe Adapted by Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 1

3 tablespoons diced yellow bell pepper
1 pita bread half (7-8 inches in diameter)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
10 oil-cured black olives, pitted and sliced
2 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the pita bread in half lengthwise to create a two very thin crusts. Place pita bread onto a cookie sheet. Brush pita crust with a light amount of olive oil.  

Begin topping the crust with the Gruyère, then the yellow pepper, olives, pine nuts and finish with the chopped scallions and a sprinkle of black pepper.  Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes. Cut and serve.
Theme: Fast Food Jacques Way!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wonton Cannelloni In Tomato Sauce

This is my idea of a beautiful fusion dish. Here, Chinese wonton wrappers are used in place of Italian pasta to reduce the prep time of an otherwise time-consuming dish. Skip the step of boiling the pasta and simply assemble your ricotta filling directly into the soft and pliable wonton wrappers. have a quick family-pleasing meal that looks as if it took hours to make but was really put together in about 30 minutes.

It's as simple as making a quick tomato sauce in a blender; whipping some ricotta with eggs and chives; grating a little cheese; and filling the wonton wrappers. A quick 20 minutes in the oven and you're ready to go. A little salad or green veg on the side and everyone will think you're a genius for making a delicious dinner in no time at all! This one is going in the files for those busy weeknights.
Wonton Cannelloni in Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Fast Food My Way
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 4-6

1 (28-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1pound ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 package of wonton skins
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Note: The size of your wontons will dictate how many wonton skins you'll need in order to use all the ricotta filling. Pepin's recipe calls for 6, but his must have been very large.  I 
had to use about 20 smaller wonton skins to use all my filling.

Heat the oven to 375F. Put the tomatoes with their liquid, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, half of the pepper, the olive oil, and the Italian seasoning in a food processor and process until smooth.

Mix the ricotta, eggs, remaining salt and pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the chives in a bowl.

Pour 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce into a rectangular baking dish (about 11x9). Place a few spoonfuls (depending on the size of your wonton) of the ricotta mixture into the middle of each wonton.  Bring the two opposite sides of the wonton skin over the cheese filling to enclose it, creating a roll. Repeat with the remaining wonton skins until you've used all the filling. Arrange the wontons seam side down, lined up in a row next to one another in the dish.

Pour the remaining sauce over the cannelloni (it will fill the spaces between the cannelloni and even out the surface).  Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet, sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses on top, and bake for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle the cannelloni with the remaining 2 tablespoons chives and serve immediately.