Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

No Fear!!! Plantains

Plantains are an ingredient I've never worked with and not because I didn't want to. I'll admit to some slight intimidation by the unknown, but I think I'm pretty adventurous so when I saw them at BJ's Wholesale Club for 39¢ apiece, I just had to give them a try.

I know a little bit about them from watching Food Network. For instance, I knew that you need a more unripened plantain for frying (tostones). At this time, I'm not really about frying. So, even though tostones look really really good, I had to come up with something else. And in fact, the plantains I bought were probably already too ripe for that anyway.

So I peeled them. Make no mistake, plantains are NOT bananas. The skin is much tougher and more difficult to remove. It's not that big a deal but it was a little bit of a surprise. Your eye sees a banana and expects something. If that makes any sense. Then I sliced them slightly on a bias.

I decided I would do a quick saute in some vegetable oil. I thought olive oil would be too strong a flavor and I think I made the right move. And since plantains are tropical, I tried to keep with that theme and dressed them only with some salt, pepper and lime zest.

They caramelize and change color very quickly. So that is really nice if you are in a hurry for a side dish. They literally took less than 10 minutes from pan to plate. And when they were done, I squeezed the lime juice over the top. It's a very nice acid punch and the flavors married perfectly. I used them in place of potatoes one night and Nick and I both found them really enjoyable and a really nice change of pace. So give it a shot. And don't fear the unknown!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Drying Tomatoes

These are called dried tomatoes, and not sun dried tomatoes because they aren't dried in the sun, they are dried in the oven. But for some reason oven dried tomatoes sounds decidedly less exotic. It's a very simple process but be sure you have plenty of time. Simple does not mean quick in this case.

You start with 12-15 Roma tomatoes. Washed the tomato and remove any blemishes and the core.

Then cut in half lengthwise and place face down on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet.

Place in a very low oven, about 225 degrees. There they will remain for between 7-10 hours. I said it wasn't quick. But think of it this way, if you have nothing else going on that day and you won't need the oven for anything else, you can be making your own delicious dried tomatoes the day you clean house or catch up on your soaps, or whatever else you may need to do around the house and the added bonus is the aroma. I cannot express to you in words adequate enough how amazing the smell of roasting tomatoes is. I thought having a pot of sauce on the stove all day was intoxicating, but this is even better.

Here's what they look like after two hours:

And after six hours they are almost done:

I took them out after about seven and half hours, almost eight.

They should be pliable and not brittle. They will have the texture of a piece of dried fruit. This was 12 tomatoes and they shrink considerably so don't be surprised if you don't end up with much yield. This turned out to be enough for one jar.

Speaking of jars, you will need a good old fashioned jar with a lead that seals. I have plenty of these lying around from the various jams, jellies, salsas, stewed tomatoes and whatever else my Grandma decided to make and give. These jars never go out of style so I just always kept them if she didn't want them back. I just needed to buy new lids. So sterilize your jar and your lids. They have to be completely clean and sterilized. You can do this in a dishwasher but since the only dishwasher I have is named Nick, I put my jar and lids in a pot of boiling water and let it rip for about 5-10 minutes. Take them out very carefully, not touching the lip of either lid or jar and let cool/dry on a clean dish towel.

While you're boiling your jar in one pan, in another pan put about two cups of red wine vinegar in the pot to boil. Make sure it's a stainless pot, not aluminum. Vinegar reacts funny to aluminum.

Once the vinegar is boiling, drop your dried tomatoes in and stir them around. Let boil for about 30-60 seconds. That's SECONDS, not minutes. You just want to blanch them quickly then remove with a slotted spoon to some paper towels to dry. The vinegar helps preserve the tomatoes in addition to adding another level of flavor.

Once your jar is ready and your tomatoes are cooled, it's time to start putting it all together. You can put whatever seasonings in the jar with the tomatoes you like but I stuck to very simple tried and true flavors, tomato and basil. So into the jar I put a couple basil leaves.

Then started to add my tomatoes.

You can layer tomatoes then basil, salt and peppercorns or you can just put in the tomatoes. Whatever you like. When I reached the top of the jar but wasn't cramming the tomatoes in, just a nice layering of tomatoes and basil, I added some course sea salt.

Now for the olive oil. Take your Extra Virgin Olive Oil and slowly being to pour it into the jar. This is going to take a lot of oil because you want it to come all the way to the top of the jar and have the tomatoes completely submerged. Press down lightly with the handle of a wooden spoon. You'll see that the spoon is helping to release pockets of air that have to be removed from the jar or you're just asking for mold. It will take some patience and some jiggling to get all the air bubbles out. But make sure you do!

Put on your lid and set in a cool place (do not refrigerate). The next day, open the jar to make sure that the tomatoes didn't soak up too much oil and that they are still completely submerged. If there is any tomatoes out of oil, top the jar off with more. You may want to check this periodically to make sure the tomatoes stay under the oil.

Now, here's the sad part. Set them in a cool place (again, not the refrigerator!) for six weeks! Yes, six weeks until you can bask in the joy of your own dried tomatoes. But think of it this way, in six weeks you not only have these glorious tomatoes to do with whatever you want, but you'll also have a delicious jar of dried tomato flavored olive oil! Yum.

Mine will be ready for eating on March 2. I can hardly wait!!! After you start using them, they should then be refrigerated then brought to room temperature before using.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Spanakopita Pasta

I have been thinking about this for a little while now. Combining all the flavors of Spanaopita, a delicious Mediterranean starter of spinach and feta wrapped in phyllo dough, into a pasta. Seems like a no brainer to me. So here's what I did.

I started out with shallots because I'm on a big time shallot kick. I love them. I used about three medium sized shallots for this. You can use more, less, or something else completely. An onion, leeks, garlic, in my opinion, you can't go wrong with whatever you chose.

Saute them in a Tablespoon or so of olive oil, on a low heat. You don't want them to get any color, just mellow out and become softer. They impart a very nice sweetness and mild onion flavor.

Now because it's a new year and I'm trying to be smarter about what I eat, I chose a multi-grain pasta, low fat feta and raw spinach. I did not want to use frozen in this, but if you want to, have at it. I don't love cooked spinach and if using frozen, it's more cooked than not.

So, while your shallots are sweating get that big pot of water on to boil for your pound of pasta. Once the pasta is done, this comes together really fast. Drain cooked pasta into a large boil and take the whole 9 oz. bag of spinach and toss them together (I used a little less than the whole bag, but using the whole bag would be fine). The heat from the cooked pasta will wilt down the spinach perfectly. It's not quite raw but it's not cooked either.

Add the shallots and, because I can't afford pine nuts (which is usually in Spanakopita), I tossed in about 1/3 cup of toasted slivered almonds. Add 2 Tablespoons of crumbled Feta cheese when serving. I do it individually when serving because if you have leftovers (which we always do), and you go to reheat something with Feta in it, the Feta disappears.

If the pasta is too dry when everything is mixed together you can add a little water that the pasta was cooked in, or you could drizzle the top with Extra Virgin Olive Oil when you serve.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Just What is Hash Anyway?

I think hash is just about anything mixed with potatoes. Maybe that's wrong and if someone has a better definition, by all means, enlighten me. But that's what I'm going with.

On New Year's Day, Nick and I went to my parents house for the obligatory pork dinner. It was just the four of us but because mom has a lot of Grandma in her, and because Nick and I like, OK love, garlic and she can't stand it, she decided to make two whole roasts. Needless to say, there were a lot of leftovers. So in order to use it up, I decided to make a hash. I started out with a nice big frying pan with about three Tablespoons of veg oil. To that I added four decent sized Yukon Gold potatoes cut up in about 1/4 inch slices. I think I would have preferred sweet potatoes for this dish, but I didn't have any on hand, unfortunately.

After those have a few minutes to start cooking, I added half a large sweet onion, chopped.

Add a little salt and pepper to taste as you go. Once the potatoes and onions are about half cooked or a little longer, I added about three cups of cubed cooked pork roast.

The pork was already seasoned quite beautifully and had little pockets of garlic in it so I didn't add any more salt or pepper at this point. But I did had a little chicken broth to the pan that was starting to dry out a bit. I didn't want more oil or to put any butter in the dish. So as the pan dried I put a little more broth in it.

And to get that sweetness that I was craving from the sweet potatoes I didn't have, I added one chopped Golden Delicious apple to the pan.

At this point, once the apple is cooked to how you want it, the dish is done. I wanted my apple to be a little caramelized. I served it with some corn on the side and a slice of Ciabatta bread. And yes, it was quite yummy and a very good use of leftovers!