Saturday, January 24, 2009

It sure doesn't feel like spring...

Despite the fact that the wicked cold rages on (currently ten below, will "feel like" 20 below over night as the wind picks up), "spring" semester has officially begun. And even though we started with a short week (Wed-Thurs-Fri), after a month of being off, those three days like to wore me out, as my southern relatives might say. So it's back to long days and only having time for proper cooking and baking (and blogging) on the weekends. What is required here, and for the next four-month flurry of academic activity, is some good "quick cook" recipes--real food that doesn't take real long to make. And I've got an excellent one with which to kick off the semester.

As I often do, I was trolling the Cooks' Illustrated message boards recently, and there is a discussion category called "Tuesday Night Dinners." In the sub-section, "Quick and Tasty," a nice person named Winnie describe her general method for making something she calls Pasta Nicoise. I think it might be more like the tuna-based tonnato sauces of Northern Italy. But whether it's French or it's Italian (perhaps Fre-talian!), this stuff is YUMMY! And it makes a ton--enough for two people to have a hearty dinner, plus a couple/few lunches after that. I think it even tastes better the second day. In fact, that might be the best thing about this recipe--having leftovers to eat at your desk at lunch as you torment your co-workers with their sad little sandwiches and frozen Lean Cuisines. (I know this for a fact, as the nice IT guy who came to fix my computer at noon Friday and my across-the-hall neighbor both commented on the wonderful aroma emanating from my Gladware. They were smiling as they said it, but I suspect that they were bitter.) The other great thing about this recipe is that it in infinitely malleable; feel free to add and subtract ingredients as you see fit--it'll still taste great and be ready to serve by the time the pasta has cooked.

Pasta Tonnato
(Source: adapted from an idea by Winnie as posted on the
Cooks' Illustrated bulletin boards)

1 pound linguine
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small onion (or half an onion plus a few shallots), small dice
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cans tuna, drained (the imported Italian stuff in oil would be best, but I used Bumblebee in water--if using tuna in oil, don't drain)
1/3 cup prepared olive tapenade (I used a jarred muffaletta spread)
pinch of red pepper flakes (to taste)
juice of 1 large or 2 small lemons
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 bunch fresh parsley chopped (or 1-2 tablespoons dried)
salt and pepper, to taste

While linguine is cooking, add the olive oil to a saute pan. Cook the onions until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the tuna, tapenade, pepper flakes, and lemon juice.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and return to the pot. Toss the pasta with the tuna sauce. Mix in the parmesan, parsley, and salt and pepper as needed.

Note: I didn't think of it at the time, but a tablespoon or two of capers would have been perfect tossed into the tuna sauce. I will do that next time for sure. Another excellent addition would be some chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Note to self...and to you, dear readers!

Going back to work often means a return to a grind of a different kind. But if these hard economic times are making it tough to throw that fin at Starbucks every morning, I have found a pretty close copycat recipe on Recipezaar for my favorite of their beverages, the peppermint mocha. It's a delicious jump-start to your day, and more appetizing to your wallet as well.

Peppermint Mocha

3 tablespoons cocoa powder (I prefer Ghiradelli sweet ground chocolate and cocoa)
3 tablespoons warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons peppermint syrup (do not use extract--you can buy a very large bottle of the syrup at Starbucks for $7)
4 ounces brewed espresso or 2 cups double-strength coffee (I like Starbucks' Gold Coast brewed at 1 1/2 strength)
12 ounces steamed milk or half-and-half

whipped cream to garnish
red sugar crystals, optional

Combine cocoa with warm water to make a rich syrup. Pour into a 16-ounce mug. Add espresso or coffee, then the peppermint syrup. Steam milk (I nuke mine just until it comes to a boil) and add to the cup. Garnish with whipped cream and sugar crystals (I prefer a dusting of cocoa as I don't like crunchy coffee!).

If you prefer a cold or frozen coffee beverage as I do (even in the dead of winter), I have devised a frappucino-like version of the peppermint mocha that I think you'll love. This makes one super-venti treat or two talls to share with a friend.

Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino
Makes 2

2 cups (cold) brewed double-strength coffee
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tablespoons peppermint syrup
1 pint vanilla ice cream
4 ice cubes

whipped cream to garnish

Add everything except the whipped cream to the jar of a blender and blend on high until ice cubes are completely pulverized. Pour into glasses, top with whipped cream, and serve with straws.


Aerogarden Update:
Here is this week's photo (week three) of my little Aerogarden. As you can see, salad is imminent! :-)


Anonymous said...

I am going to have to try that pasta dish as well as pass it along to my friend Renee. She lived in Italy for 4 years and she makes the most wonderful tuna & onion pizza - sounds odd but it was common there. It has quickly become a favorite of mine. And yes, the tuna packed in olive oil is the best!

Just the Right Size said...

That pasta dish sounds divine, but if I heated that up at work, my coworkers would kill me! No tuna reheat....wahhhhh. :-(

I wonder if it's good cold?