Tag Archives: quick

Cacio e Pepe: Simple, Quick and Delicious

26 Oct

cacio e pepe pepper cheese spaghetti

It’s a strange thing, this food blogging life. If you’re like us, you start out wanting to create some recipes and share food adventures through your blog. Eventually, you start to gain a bit of a following, and those followers start commenting about how they like your recipes, and enjoy reading your blog. And that excites you and pushes you to create even better recipes, and share more food adventures. But then, life happens—work, family, social commitments and, yes, laziness—and you can’t find the time to dream up great recipes to share with readers, and those readers start to move along (though a lot of you have stuck with us through the silence, and we really appreciate it).

Of course, a blog post doesn’t have to be long to be interesting, and a recipe doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious. So with that in mind, here’s a quick look at a pasta dish that I’ve enjoyed for years, but for some reason had never made myself until recently: cacio e pepe.

This dish is incredibly simple, and almost insultingly so when you’re paying $12 for it in a restaurant (and yet I’m often guilty of doing just that when I see it on a menu). It’s pasta, pepper, pecorino cheese, and nothing else. Think of it as Italian KD—the nutritional value is minimal, but the flavours are comforting. There are really only two rules here—you must start with whole peppercorns, and you must use freshly grated cheese.

Here’s how you do it:

Boil a pot of water for the pasta. When the water is boiling, add a whole bunch of salt. You always want to add a good amount of salt to pasta water, but that’s especially true for cacio e pepe, since salty noodles add to the flavour of the finished dish. Throw in a package of spaghetti and let it cook to al dente. When the pasta is finished cooking, reserve about a half cup of pasta water and drain the noodles.

While the noodles are boiling, grind a tablespoon of peppercorns (or more if you like heat!). Even better, break them up with a mortar and pestle, which will crack the peppercorns into irregular sizes.

Next, grate a cup of pecorino romano cheese. (You want to finely grate the cheese for this, since a coarser grate can clump when you put together the final dish). You could use parmesan in a pinch, but the salty, earthy bite from the sheep’s milk-based pecorino really makes cacio e pepe what it is. Mix the pepper and cheese together in the same bowl.

Put the drained noodles back into the pasta pot, and toss with a handful of the pepper-cheese mixture. Add in a couple tablespoons of the pasta water (which will help the pepper and cheese stick, and the starch it retains from boiling the noodles will add creaminess to the sauce), and toss pasta with the rest of the pepper and cheese.

Serve as a side dish with meat, as a main with a salad… or on its own, nutritional value be damned.

cacio e pepe pasta pepper cheese spaghetti

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Memorable Quickies

15 May

Life has conspired yet again over the past couple of weeks to keep us busy on things unrelated to food and blogging, which is turning Communal Table into a sad little corner of neglect in the awesomeness of the World Wide Web. When Jenny and I get sidetracked with work and other duties of life, we don’t spend nearly as much time as we’d like experimenting in the kitchen. Instead, we resort to eating out a bit too often, or cooking the quick, simple standby meals that we’ve already blogged about.

In an effort to give the blog a little love even as our kitchen gets ignored, I thought I’d put up a quick post looking back at some of those easy meals we’ve previously written about here, and which we make often when we’re pressed for time. The idea for this post came from a conversation I had recently with my friend Sofi, who writes the great Sexy Typewriter blog. Sofi and I were commiserating about our lack of time for cooking, and she mentioned that she’d love to read a post where we highlight a few quick recipes she can try out.

The three picks here are my top choices from our recipe repertoire for meals I like to make when I only have a small amount of time and energy available for cooking. While I’m not going to claim that these recipes can be prepared in 20 or 30 minutes, it’s a pretty safe bet they can be completed in under an hour.

Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce

As Jenny mentioned when she wrote this post, this is a quick, comforting meal I’ve been eating for years, and it’s one we turn to often when we just want to put something on the stove to cook that we don’t necessarily need to devote all our attention to. The ingredients are simple, and so are the flavours. But it’s delicious, healthy and suitable for even the busiest weeknights. It’s also a great choice for those evenings when you don’t want to eat meat.

Smoked Salmon on Dilled Potatoes

This one is basically a take on a Jamie Oliver recipe, who usually finds ways to take a few ingredients and quickly whip up something great with them. It’s definitely a lazy-day meal, but the flavours go so well together and the smoked salmon and herbs really stand out against the potatoes. There’s something very summer about this meal, and it’s one I’m sure we’ll turn to often over the next couple of months.

Seared Sirloin with Grapes and Port

This one just sort of came to me one day a couple years ago in a moment of creativity and inspiration. It’s delicious and perfect for our occasional red meat cravings. But the best part is how easy this dish comes together. Sear the meat. Saute shallots and grapes for a few minutes. Add port to pan and reduce to make a sauce. Serve over meat. That’s it.

Simply Assembled: Dilled Potatoes with Smoked Salmon

18 Feb

Recently a friend asked me “Do you guys ever make anything bad? Do you ever screw up?” Though I would like to have answered “No. Never. We’re perfect. In every way,” that is far from the truth. Neil and I love to cook but we have a ton to learn and we do, of course, sometimes screw up. A Parmesan ice cream incident and a tofu cupcake mishap are among two of the worst. We just don’t post about the screw-ups!

I know it may also appear that we’re constantly busy cooking up delicious things, but just like most other regular day-job-holding home cooks we have our moments of  “Let’s just order a pizza” or frequent nights when we’ll get home from work, look at each other and say “What should we do for dinner? I don’t feel like cooking.” That’s usually followed by blank stares and silence, followed by whining (mostly be me), and usually ending with Neil suggesting take out sushi from our favorite place or burgers from one of the many burger joints in the east end and me vying for vegetarian or Moroccan food from around our hood.

Sometimes we’re in the mood to eat at home, but are more interested in easily assembling something instead of actually cooking. We have a few go-to meals for such occasions, and one of those is dilled potatoes with smoked salmon and a very leafy green side salad.

I once saw my celeb crush Jamie Oliver make this easy meal on his beautiful show Jamie at Home. I didn’t write down the recipe (because there really isn’t one) but the idea stuck with me and we’ve been making it ever since. Jamie is known for using really fresh, simple ingredients and producing dishes that are bursting with flavor. I love how he just adores every ingredient he throws into a dish and speaks of each one like they’re all his little muses.

This meal is not fancy or fussy but it tastes amazing and is really quick to throw together if you have all the ingredients in your fridge. It took us 20 minutes from starting to sitting down at the table.

If you’re wondering what’s up with the rainbow smoked salmon in the photos, we decided to try President’s Choice Vodka Beet Smoked Atlantic Salmon, mostly because it was on sale, but also because we were curious. It’s really beautiful and would go over well for a nice brunch or dinner party, but we didn’t really think it added much to our dinner, aside from some nice color on the plate. The taste is really no different from their regular smoked salmon, though it may have been a bit less smoky-flavored. I actually like to use gravlax for this meal because it’s thinner and more delicate and kind of melts in your mouth, but any smoked salmon will do.

Don’t skimp on the herbs for the potatoes though – they really make the dish. And I find that the horseradish sauce just brings it all together nicely. We’re big fans of horseradish sauces for lots of different dishes, as evidenced here and here.

The other night when we made this, we served it with a simple raw kale salad dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and a touch of maple syrup. And I have to say, this dinner pairs well with a really good cold beer on the side. We had Beau’s All Natural Lug Tread Lagered Ale (we’re really loving their beer as well as their cool packaging) and it was the perfect complement to our simple but fulfilling Jamie O-inspired meal.

Smoked Salmon with Dilled Potatoes

Sauce:

Plain yogurt or sour cream

Lemon juice

Lemon zest

Prepared white horseradish

Potatoes:

A bunch of red or white mini potatoes

Dill, chopped

Chives, chopped

Good quality extra virgin olive oil

White balsamic or apple cider vinegar

Lemon juice

Sea salt

If you’re using frozen smoked salmon, take it out of the freezer a few hours before eating and let it thaw in the fridge.

We like to cut the potatoes into halves or quarters, depending on their size. Place potatoes in a steamer and steam until soft. We actually steam ours in the microwave for approximately 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix all sauce ingredients in a small bowl. I never measure; just use your judgment and adjust to your taste.

Get your herbs and oil and vinegar ready so you can quickly work with the potatoes while they’re steaming hot. Prepare your salad.

Once the potatoes are done, transfer them to a big bowl, add in the herbs, drizzle in olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and a good amount of sea salt.

Bring everything to the table and let everyone serve themselves. The best way to eat this meal is to take a heaping spoonful of potatoes and then top them with pieces of smoked salmon and a little bit of sauce. Try to get a little bit of everything in each bite.

Pasta Pinwheels: Dinner Made Easy AND Pretty

17 Feb

A few weeks ago I found myself in the organic section of the grocery store picking up a box of kamut lasagna noodles. This was a strange occurrence for me, not because of the kamut but because I have never purchased a box of lasagna noodles. Ever.

I have never made a lasagna from scratch myself. There, I’ve admitted it.

And here are some reasons why:

–       I will never be able to make a lasagna that even attempts to rival Neil’s aunts (all of his aunts!) and his mother’s, for that matter. (aunts make the classic Italian meat version, mom makes a creamy béchamel version. Neil daydreams often about both)

–       I pretty much know for sure that any homemade version I attempt has no chance standing up against the one from 7 Numbers in Toronto either.

–       Making a whole lasagna for just two people seems silly somehow, and I never think of making it for guests.

–       Lasagna just always seems like a major pain in the butt to make. When I think of the steps involved compared to the simplicity of the final product, my brain shuts down.

So there I was staring at the kamut lasagna noodles thinking “but they’re so pretty!” I realize this might make me a little crazy, but there it is. I’m big on the aesthetics of my food. I’ve always thought that lasagna noodles, with their curly edges, are quite an attractive noodle and they’re usually hidden among the layers of sauce, cheese and other typical lasagna accoutrements.

I bought the box and figured I’d either research some cool way to use them, or surprise Neil sometime by trying to finally make my own lasagna. The first option came to fruition after a little scan on FoodGawker. As soon as I spotted some photos of what some people call “lasagna rollups”, I knew what to do.

I wasn’t in the mood for the classic flavors of lasagna and didn’t want to make a tomato-based sauce. I also didn’t have a lot of time.

What followed was one of the easiest and quickest dinners I’ve ever made. I’m not joking. This recipe both showcases the ‘prettiness’ of the lasagna noodles and comes together faster than anyone would believe once they see and taste the final result.

You can obviously use this same idea with any kind of filling and/or sauce and you can make as many or as little as you want at a time.

I think I’ve found a new go-to weeknight dinner, and a reason to finally stock my cupboard with some of the most attractive noodles around.

Pasta Pinwheels

Lasagna Noodles – I used Kamut noodles, 10 of them (you can make as much or as little as you want, just adjust the filling accordingly)

Filling:

1 475g tub ricotta (I used light ricotta)

Zest of 1 lemon

Handful of basil, chopped

Handful of Italian parsley, chopped

Pepper

Sauce:

1 large shallot, chopped

Handful of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in 1 ½ cups of hot water

3 Tbsp butter

1 cup white wine

Half a lemon

Boil the lasagna noodles according to the package, but make sure you leave them al dente. If they’re too soft, they’ll fall apart and will be hard to work with.

Preheat the oven the 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix all five ingredients for the filling.

Chop the soft porcini mushrooms but reserve all of the liquid they were sitting in.

In a sauté pan, cook the shallot in a little bit of olive oil on medium heat until translucent. Add in the butter and sauté a few minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Add in the white wine and slowly raise the heat to medium high as you mix, to cook off the alcohol. Add in the chopped porcinis and 1 cup of the mushroom liquid. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, mix and take off heat.

When the lasagna noodles are done, drain them and run cold water over them to cool them off.

Place noodles on a cutting board or clean, dry surface. Spoon the filling mixture onto each lasagna noodle. Roll each noodle slowly, using both hands.

Place all the pinwheels into a glass baking dish and pour the mushroom sauce overtop.

Place in the oven for about 15 minutes to heat everything through.

To serve, sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese and a little bit of chopped parsley.


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