Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Strozzapreti—Priest-Chokers with “Salsify” Sauce

Emilia-Romagna

Ah, caught your eye with that title, didn’t I? Strozzapreti, which literally means “priest-chokers” (strozza=to choke or strangle; preti=priest) is a type of pasta, and it stars in this week’s recipe in my 20 Regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

Here’s the thing: Some pasta names refer to different shapes, depending on what region of Italy you go to, and so it is with strozzapreti. In some regions, strozzapreti look like twisted ropes, whereas in other regions, it refers to various shapes that are large and grow larger as they cook, and can easily be used to choke the local cleric. There are different theories for the origin of the name, from accidental choking to intentional suffocation, but it’s one of the best pasta shape names. (It seems to me that since this name is widespread throughout the country, choking priests must have been a common practice.) In Emilia-Romagna, they resemble what my people from Basilicata referred to as “macaroni.” I looked for something in the supermarket to replicate this and the closest I came was casarecci, or “house-style noodles.” You can also use gemelli, or anything similar. In the case of this specific recipe (i.e., according to the book), this pasta got its name from its white color, due to the lack of eggs, and reminiscent of priests’ collars.

Lischi/agretti

The recipe is from the nineteenth century, but the title of this recipe is misleading. When I first saw it, I assumed I’d be using salsifythat long, black-skinned root vegetable, called scorzanera in Italian (scorza=peel, nera=black). But I was wrong. What this dish actually requires is a marsh grass known in Italian as lischi, agretti or Barba di Frate. The authors of this book (or perhaps the translators) seem to think that lischi are the young leaves of the salsify plant, but I’ve researched it and I’ve come up with no evidence to support this. Maybe somewhere in the translation, they ran across lischi’s latin name, Salsola soda, and confused it with salsify.

Having said all that, lischi is almost impossible to get locally in the U.S., unless you’re lucky enough to encounter

it at a farmers’ market somewhere, grow it yourself, or order it online. The book suggests using Swiss chard leaves as a substitute, but that comes nowhere near replicating lischi. I scoured the many offerings of Asian markets, looking for something similar. Lischi have a grassy, slightly bitter taste, and are long. They look almost like Chinese long beans, only with an oceanic sheen to it, similar to algae, or seaweed. Neither of those things, however, seemed appropriate. In the end, I settled for chives. Not the smallish French, or onion, chives (the kind that you snip on top of your hors d’oeuvres), and not flowering chives, but long, flat-leaf chives, known as garlic chives. The garlicky flavor is very mild when it’s cooked, and it has a similar strand-like appearance to the lischi.

 

The result was pretty good, and definitely a change of pace from the typical pasta dish.

Flat-leaf chives

Strozzapreti

Priest-Chokers with Salsify Sauce

Makes 4 servings.

½ pound strozzapretti (or other short pasta)
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 ounces pancetta, diced
4 ounces lischi (or flat-leaf chives)
1 cup dry red wine, preferably Sangiovese di Romagna)
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, about 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the type you use. Drain well.

Meanwhile, place the lischi (or chives) in another pot and cover with water. Bring it to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until the the vegetables are tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well.Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium pan; add the pancetta and saute over low heat until the pancetta has lightly browned. Add the lischi and wine. Simmer over medium heat. When the wine has evaporated, add the cooked strozzapreti and the rest of the butter. Toss to heat. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

 


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Pasta con le Fave

Abruzzo

The first recipe in my Regions of Italy project is Pasta con le Fave, or Pasta with Fava Beans. This dish is typical of the Vomano valley of Abruzzo. Although the original recipe calls for marjoram, fresh marjoram can be difficult to find. Oregano is related to marjoram and is more readily available. Note that it’s also stronger in flavor, so you may want to cut back a little on it, if strong herb flavor isn’t your thing.

The pasta called for here is maltagliati, which literally means “badly cut.” They are flat, very wide, short noodles that look like someone got drunk, took a pair of scissors, and went crazy on some dough. You may have a difficult time finding this pasta (although it may be available where specialty Italian products are sold), so you can improvise: cook some pappardelle, place them in a bowl, and use kitchen shears to snip them into squares.

The original recipe did not indicate how well the onion should be sautéed, so I decided on soft and translucent. It also said nothing about whether or not to skin the fava beans. Now, here’s the thing about fava beans. When you remove fresh favas from their pods, they have a skin, or jacket. Although this skin is edible, it can sometimes be tough and cause gas. It’s a much more pleasant experience to eat favas without their skin. The creators of this recipe may have assumed that the readers know to remove the skins, but that’s not always the case. So, I’ve included that step in my instructions.

This is very much a peasant dish, but it’s regal in its simplicity and respect of ingredients. Enjoy! Continue reading


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Sweet Potato Noodles with Roasted Broccoli and Tomato

Sweet potato noodles are made from sweet potato flour. When cooked, they have a chewy, firm texture and a vaguely sweet-ish flavor. Paired with broccoli, it makes a savory, fun meal. The tomato gives the dish a fresh dimension, and a splash of soy sauce at the end rounds out the flavors with a burst of salty sweetness.

You can find sweet potato noodles in Asian markets. They look similar to rice noodles with their lovely translucency. If the brand you choose has the noodles in coils or long ropes rather than sticks (like spaghetti), I suggest breaking them up because they can be really long and difficult to eat, and because they tend to cling to each other for dear life, you might end up with huge mouthfuls of noodles.

These noodles are, of course, gluten free, and vegan, so they’re perfect for anyone on a gluten-free diet, Paleo, Keto (a little, according to their site), etc. The whole family is covered here. They’re inexpensive as well. Give them a try sometime.

Sweet Potato Noodles with Roasted Broccoli and Tomato

Makes 4 servings.

1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons kosher salt
6 ounces sweet potato noodles
½ cup chopped tomato
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Toss the broccoli with 1 tablespoon of the oil and 2 teaspoons of the salt. Spread the florets out on a baking sheet and roast 10 minutes. Stir and roast another 10 minutes, or until the florets are tender and browned.Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they’re tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain.In a medium bowl, combine the noodles with the broccoli, tomato, soy sauce, remaining oil, remaining salt, and black pepper. Mix well. Add more oil, if necessary (the noodles will want to clump together).Serve hot. Heat leftovers in a wok or pan with a little water in the bottom, covered. Enjoy!


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Farro Linguine with Asparagus and Lemon-Pepper Sauce

This recipe is a combination of two classic Italian pasta dishes: aglio e olio (garlic and oil) and asparagus with lemon-pepper sauce. (Both individual recipes, by the way, can be found in my pasta edition of the Vegetarian Italian: Traditions ebook series.)

One night after work, I was contemplating dinner. I wanted to do something a little different, but I wanted to keep it easy, and not stray too far from familiarity (I was tired and irritated from work, so simplicity and comforting were my top criteria).

Pasta is always easy, always comforting, and I had just happened to buy a bunch of pencil-thin asparagus. I also had lemons…and so I came up with this. Two savory Italian classics in one delicious dish, and the combo is not any more work than just one recipe alone.

Farro is an ancient Italian grain that is related to spelt and emmer, but is not actually spelt, as some believe. It’s commonly used in Italy, but is becoming more available in the U.S. Farro pasta is nutty, nutritious, low in calories, and is often well tolerated by people with gluten sensitivity (although those with Celiac disease should avoid it). Farro pasta can be found in Italian groceries, as well as gourmet shops. And, of course, online. Try it—I think you’ll find it an addicting alternative to whole wheat pasta.

Enjoy.

Farro Linguine with Asparagus and Lemon-Pepper Sauce

1 pound asparagus
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ lb. farro linguine (or other long pasta)
2 large garlic cloves, sliced

½ teaspoon paprika
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Zest from 1 small lemon

Grated parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Snap or cut off the woody bottom stems of the asparagus and discard. Place the asparagus on a platter, drizzle with half the oil, sprinkle with half the salt, and gently toss. Try to keep the asparagus all facing the same direction (this will make it easier to handle).Place the asparagus on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast until tender and lightly browned (the time will vary depending on the thickness of the asparagus, but anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes). Remove them from oven and chop them into bite-size pieces.Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and remaining salt and bring it to a boil, stirring often, until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain. Transfer the pasta to a serving platter. Add the chopped asparagus.Pour the remaining olive oil in a small pan with the garlic. Heat until the garlic is fragrant and just starts to color, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the paprika, swirl it, then immediately pour it over the pasta. Season with more salt and grind on as much black pepper as you like.Sprinkle the lemon zest over it. Top with the grated parmesan and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve.


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Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Kale & Creamy Avocado Dressing

Summer is finally here, and with the coming of sunshine and warm breezes comes the need for pasta salad. After all, you need something easy to bring to all those picnics, barbecues, and beach parties, right?

Pasta salad, however, need not be fattening or unhealthy. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. This pasta salad calls for whole wheat pasta, which already is healthier than regular pasta salad, but you can use gluten-free pasta as well. Rather than mayo or other fat-laden dressing, this one uses avocado. It makes the pasta creamy, rich, and loaded with nutrients (plus some good fat). Add raw kale to the mix and you’ve got a healthy, but delicious, alternative.

Kale can be tough, but squeezing kale with avocado softens the leaves. The salt in the dressing further breaks down the cell walls of the kale, helping it along its journey to tenderness.

This is an excellent start to the summer. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Kale & Creamy Avocado Dressing

Makes 4 servings.

8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups whole wheat pasta
2 teaspoons table salt
2 Haas avocados
2 tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 packed kale leaves, shredded*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ cup grated parmesan

Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil in a small bowl. Spread the tomatoes out on a small baking sheet lined with foil and roast until soft and charred, about 20 minutes.Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and table salt and bring to a boil. Boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente, about 8 to 12 minutes (depending on what pasta you choose). Drain and set it aside while you prepare the sauce.

In a food processor, combine the meat from the avocados, lime juice, 1 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Process until smooth.Place the kale in a medium bowl. Pour the avocado sauce over it and squeeze the kale with your hand until everything is well blended. Mix in the balsamic and red pepper flakes, if you’re using it.Add the cooked pasta and parmesan and mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust it to your liking.Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

*To shred kale, first strip the leaves off the stems by lightly pinching the stem and running your fingers down the stem to the tip, pulling the leaves off along the way. Stack a few leaves and roll them up into a tight log. With a sharp knife, slice the kale thinly.


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Green Tea Noodle Soup

I found green tea noodles the other day and wanted to immediately try them. Green and slender, they not only looked pretty in the package, but I imagined that they would look very appetizing cooked. And I was right. The pale green of the cooked noodles makes for a striking and unique-looking dish. Unlike many noodles made with products other than flour, you can actually taste the green tea in these. It’s sutble, but eaten without other ingredients to mask it, it’s definitely there. While it’s not the best way to cosume green tea, it is another way to benefit, even if just a little, from green tea’s antitoxin properties.Another ingredient in this dish is ume vinegar is a Japanese vinegar made from umeboshi plums. Umeboshi are pickled and are considered an amazing preventative and curative for various ailments, including fatigue and digestive issues, and eliminates toxins from the body. Ume vinegar gives the soup a sweet-sour fruity note. If you can’t find ume vinegar, simply omit it—you don’t have to substitute anything.

Enjoy!

Green Tea Noodle Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 bunches scallions, sliced (white and light green; dark set aside)
2 teaspoons oil
1 cup finely diced carrot 10 oz. green tea noodles
2 cups shredded cabbage
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 cups vegetable broth
8 oz. green beans, chopped
1 ½ cups shelled edamame
10 oz. green tea noodles
1 teaspoon ume vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari, shoyu, or soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Slice the white and light green parts of the scallions and set aside in a small bowl. Slice the dark part of the scallions and set aside in another small bowl.

In a medium-large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the white/light green scallions and sauté until softened, 1 to 2 minutes.Add the carrot, cabbage, and salt, and sauté until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Add the string beans and edamame. Cook until tender, about 8 minutes.Add the noodles and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the shoyu and sesame oil.Divide the soup among serving bowls and sprinkle green scallion over the top. Serve hot. If you like your soup with more liquid, add more broth or less noodles.


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Roasted Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese

There’s something about mac ‘n’ cheese that makes people crave it, and it’s become American comfort food. It’s a humble, simplistic dish, but it’s such a part of our culinary landscape that everyone from famous chefs to food bloggers have “elevated” it to something grand. But whether you shave truffles in it, top it with a sunny-side egg, mix in cheese that was made by celibate monks in a cloistered hut in the Himalayas, or garnish it with gold dust, it’s still mac ‘n’ cheese.

But you can definitely make it your own. Use different cheeses and vegetables. If you’re a meat eater, you can add meat as well. Change up the pasta—you can go with the traditional elbows, or choose something more fanciful like gemelli, pipette, or campanelli. The only rule here is that you don’t cook it past al dente (tender but still firm), because it will cook a little more in the oven, and nothing ruins a mac ‘n’ cheese more than wimpy, mushy pasta.

You can use any kind of orange winter squash you like. I happened to have a piece of a round, squat variety that came out of my mother’s garden.

Some days are harder than others, and it’s those days when you need mac ‘n’ cheese. Enjoy!

Roasted Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Makes 4 to 6 servings

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
½ medium squash (butternut, kabocha, or similar)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. short pasta (elbows, gemelli, shells, campanelli, pipette, etc.)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups whole milk
2 teaspoons dry mustard
Pinch of nutmeg
3 cups shredded cheddar
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs (regular or whole wheat)

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a 1½-quart baking dish. Set it aside. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.Peel the squash and cut it into small pieces. Place the squash in a bowl; add the oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Mix well. Spread the squash out on the baking sheet. Bake until it’s tender and starting to brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer the squash to the baking dish. Lower the heat to 350 ˚F.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and table salt; cook until the pasta it’s al dente (varies depending on what pasta you use, but generally 8 to 10 minutes).  Drain thoroughly and add it to the squash.Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium pan. Stir in the flour and whisk for about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking often, until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the mustard, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper to taste.Stir in the cheddar and let it melt in. Pour into the baking dish with the squash and pasta. Mix well.Melt the remaining butter in a small pan. Add the parmesan and bread crumbs and stir to coat. Spread this over the mac ‘n’ cheese. Bake until it’s bubbly and a bit browned on top, about 30 to 35 minutes. Enjoy!