Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Benvenuto a Chelan

This is the first Lake Chelan edition of my blog- and it will be followed by many more this summer. Chelan is about three hours east of Seattle and because it is over the mountains, the weather is drastically different from the typical rainy Pacific Northwest climate. This means that while Seattle enjoyed a drizzly fourth of July, we had hot sunshine.

More importantly, Chelan is a place where my main activities include playing scrabble, reading in a lounge chair, and cooking huge meals for all of our guests. Considering my life of leisure, it’s pretty pathetic that it has taken me three weeks to actually post anything….somehow I’ve managed to be really busy.

I usually pick pretty low maintenance meals to cook when we have a houseful so I made my “signature pasta” that I am obsessed with. The original recipe came from Food and Wine and I’ve included the link below. I’ve made many adaptations over the years and this pasta is really just a base for whatever ingredients you want to include (I like to add zucchini and squash to the grape tomatoes). We made grilled zucchini and a green salad to go with the pasta.

Pasta with Tomatoes, Spinach, and Goat Cheese

Makes 10+ servings (but can be easily adapted to make more or less)

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 cloves garlic, sliced paper thin

Crushed red pepper to taste (I usually do about 2 teaspoons)

4 pints grape tomatoes, halved

Pasta (my favorites are linguine and spaghetti but I’ve also used penne)

4 ounces goat cheese

½ cup parmesan or pecorino, grated

8 ounces baby spinach (I’ve also used arugula before)

1 cup basil, cut into chiffonade

Good extra virgin olive oil (for drizzling at the end)**

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and cook the garlic with the red pepper until the garlic softens (about 5-7 minutes). Be careful not to burn the garlic, it is not meant to be fried. Lower the heat if necessary so that the garlic flavor can infuse the oil. Add the tomatoes and cook until they soften and release their juices (about 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water until al dente (the pasta will continue to cook in the sauce and you don’t want it to become mushy.) Reserve a cup of pasta water, then strain the pasta and transfer to the skillet with the tomatoes. Stir in the cheeses until they are evenly distributed. Add the spinach and a half cup of pasta water and toss until it is wilted. If at any time the pasta seems dry, add more pasta water to the pan. Top with basil and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and serve with extra parmesan.

**My dad recently came across an interesting study that UC Davis conducted to evaluate different brands of extra virgin olive oil. They found that in many cases, the oils were not in fact extra virgin. Here is a link to the results. I think it is definitely worth it to have a nice bottle of olive oil on hand for salad dressings and finishing pasta like this- just make sure it’s not a fraud.

I’ve recently started experimenting yeast (after getting over my initial intimidation) so I decided to make ciabatta bread to go along with the pasta. I browsed Tastespotting and randomly selected a recipe that didn’t require a long rising time. The recipe was incredibly easy and I actually ended up making it again the next morning for breakfast (but I will explain that in a subsequent blog).

Simple Ciabatta

4 cups white flour

½ teaspoon sugar

1 ½ teaspoons dry yeast

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 ¾ cups luke warm water

Olive oil

Combine flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Add the water and mix together with your hands. The dough will be very sticky and wet. To make the pockets of air that are so good in ciabatta, pull at different parts of the dough and stretch it up high, then slap it back down. Do this for about five minutes. Pour about 1 tablespoon of oil over the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and allow dough to rise for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. When the dough has risen, pour it onto the baking sheet, taking care to fold the dough over on itself to create a loaf shape. It is not necessary to knead the dough because you want to keep the air pockets in for texture. Bake the dough for 25-30 minutes or until it is golden and sounds hollow when tapped.

Enjoy hot bread with olive oil, salami, cheese, etc. We had it with an antipasti plate and some rosé. I could have just eaten this for dinner and skipped the pasta….very healthy

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