The Bistro Salad : Eggs, Frisee and Lardons……with a touch of wild Asparagus!

 

As I mentioned in Facebook yesterday, I had a friend coming over for lunch.  And he is a foodie like me.  So, I was in a state, what do I make for lunch???  I always make something I am comfortable at doing, like pasta, but yesterday, I didn’t have the time to make a sauce that he hadn’t tried before.  So, what do I do?  Well……my go to ingredient is eggs.

Funny thing about eggs.  I HATED them as a kid.  I am ashamed to say that when my mother made them, every morning for breakfast, fried, I would eat the WHITE, and leave out the YOLK.  Yes, I can see you all clucking you tongues and waving your heads in utter disappointment.  And, I do the same to the little me.  Shame on little me.  Eggs are DIVINE.  They are rustic, yet supremely sophisticated.  They are for breakfast, they are for dinner.  Heck, they are almost in every dish we eat, sides, mains, desserts.  Eggs are the benchmark of french trained culinary chefs.  They measure your worth in how perfectly you prepare an omelette.

Now, I have to say, I love love love love my eggs now.  Every which way (except for raw, that is one frontier I have not crossed yet, but who knows).  And now I have to say, I SUCK ROYALLY at poaching them.  So, I have a nifty trick, which I am sure most of you do too, and that is to wrap them in plastic and then place them in the water.

I usually poach them this way for about 6 minutes in simmering water.  But a good simmer, not a wimpy one.  But my trick also is to take them out and give them a good jiggle.  If you don’t see any snotty white parts, then you’re good to go.  Unless you like those parts.  And I don’t.

So, yesterday I made that tried and true Bistro Salad, Oeufs avec Lardons et Frisee.  Frisee salad with lardons and poached eggs, but I found these wonderful wild asparagus, here they call them “triguero”, they are really thin, almost reed-like.  They taste like fresh forest, grassy almost.  Delicious.  Oh, and I added some fresh tarragon to my egg bundle, because I love tarragon.  You can add any herb you like, it’s so amazing because when you cook it this way, it becomes part of the egg, and infuses it with the herbs’ flavor.

So, this is a really simple, but filling meal for lunch or dinner.

You’re going to need:

Frisee Escarole Lettuce

Lardons (Bacon, Pork Jowls, Pancetta etc.)

Asparagus (white, wild, green)

Eggs

Tarragon (or any other herb that you prefer)

Salt, Pepper and some really good vinegar (like sherry, red wine, champagne)

And some crusty bread.  You’re gonna want to sop up the yolk.  I do now.  (Thanks for the round of applause folks!)

Wash and rinse your Frisee Escarole, and then hand “chop” into bite size pieces and place on your serving plate.

Cook up some lardons, a.k.a, bacon, pork jowl, pancetta, anything you have on hand, and reserve the fat.  That is the oil we are going to use.  Just cause it’s a salad, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  But it’s tasty!

In the same pan that you fried your “lardons” quickly saute your asparagus.

In a small stock pot, bring some water to a simmer.  Get some plastic wrap, and place it into a small bowl, making sure that it is big enough to hold your egg and for you to be able to tie a knot.  The plastic wrap should hang over the sides of the bowl.  Place a teeny bit of olive oil in the wrap, some of your herbs, some salt and pepper, and then crack your egg into it.  Bring up all the corners and tie it into a knot, without any air bubbles.  The air bubbles will make your egg float and it won’t cook properly.  Put it into the simmering water for about 6 minutes, and then unwrap it.

So, now you can drizzle your lardons and it’s oil over your frisee, add a little salt and pepper and mix it up.  Place your egg on top, and then top that with the asparagus.  Drizzle a little vinegar on top of everything, crack your egg and whoop for joy.

You have an amazing lunch/dinner/snack/appetizer in front of you!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

I miss chinese take out.  I know, I know, it really isn’t authentic, and it has been americanized.  But boy, you should try the “spanish” version of chinese food.  Blech.  Yuck.  Naaaasty.  So, I have to make it at home.  And it is so easy, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I love it when you can get it prepared for you.  As a single mom and chef, I usually do the cooking.  So it’s nice to get some good take out.  Anyhow, back to the food.

Oddly enough, my daughter has always LOVED broccoli.  So, I try to incorporate it into most of her meals.  Last night, I had a hankering for Chinese food, so I looked in my pantry, and yes, I had all the condiments I needed.  You can use other sauces, but I love the combination of japanese and chinese spices and sauces.  The key to the beef is marinating, at least 30 minutes, but if you can for longer, go ahead!  I was happy to also be able to use these gorgeous japanese ceramic bowls that my friend Miki gave me a couple of years ago for my birthday.  I hardly ever use them because they are so beautiful, and I don’t think I will be traveling to Japan anytime soon.  But last night, I felt like treating myself!

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

Serves 4

3 thin steaks, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup sesame oil

1/4 cup mirin

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp chinese 5 spice powder

1/8 cup corn starch

1 tsp crushed red pepper

1 cup broccoli florets

1/2 cup bean sprouts

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (straw mushrooms are the best in this case, but I used regular since they are hard to find)

Black sesame seeds, for garnish and a yummy, healthy crunch!

Marinate your steaks with the garlic, sesame oil, mirin, soy, fish sauce, and 5 spice.  Let it rest at least 30 minutes.

In a wok, or a large frying pan over high heat, add a little bit more sesame oil and the red pepper flakes.  When the oil is hot, add your broccoli and stir fry for about 7 minutes, or until bright green.

In the mean time, place the steak, without the sauce (but reserve it) in the cornstarch and mix well.  Add the steak and mushrooms to the wok with the broccoli and brown, about 4 minutes.  When it is browned, add the reserved sauce and about a cup of water.  Let boil over medium heat for 7-8 minutes, and then add the bean sprouts and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  The sauce should have reduced and thickened slightly.

Serve over noodles or steamed jasmine rice.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Maccheroni Gambrinus

Ristorante Gambrinus.  The name invokes memories of my early “tween” years when I first started TASIS, in Lugano, Switzerland.  I went to school there from 1986-1992, and frequently we used to go to this restaurant in the main square.  I remember when I first tried this dish.  It was made table side, the server expertly flambeeing the vodka over the penne pasta, then adding the fresh cream and parsley.  And then the first bite.  Heaven.  Nirvana.  Valhalla.  Whatever you want to call it, it was delicious.  With a capital D.  For many years I have recreated this dish, from the stained, crumpled hand-written recipe my mother wrote out as per the restaurant owner’s directions, or from sheer memory.  And of course, it will never, in my mind, be as good as the original.  There is always something about someone else making you food, that makes it taste better.  Or maybe it’s a little eleven year old girls’ memory of that perfect moment, when things were a lot easier, when your parents paid the bill, and when all I had to do was dress up for dinner and then fall asleep in the car ride home, with my belly full of that scrumptuous pasta, knowing that the next morning the world would be all right.

Here, I give you my version of this dish, and I hope you will recreate it at home.

Maccheroni Gambrinus

Serves 4

1 lb of penne pasta

2 tbsp of olive oil

4 strips of bacon or pancetta (pancetta is obviously the choice, but I only had bacon on hand), chopped

1 tsp of crushed red pepper

1/2 onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, finely diced

1/8 tsp of dried oregano

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 small can of tomato puree

1/2 cup vodka

1/4 cup cream

Fresh parsley, chopped for garnish

Parmesan cheese, grated

Put 8 cups of salted water to boil.  Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium heat, add your bacon, red pepper flakes, and oregano.  Saute until the bacon is not yet crispy, but starting to cook.  About 5 minutes.  Add your onion, and cook until soft and translucent, about another 7 minutes.  Then add your garlic and let it cook another 2 minutes until fragrant.

Add the tomato paste, and mix well until combined.  Then add your tomato puree, and fill the can/bottle with water and add to the sauce, and let it come to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 15 minutes.

Now here is the tricky part.  Once you have let the sauce simmer so the water has evaporated and you get a wonderful smooth sauce, raise the heat to high, and let it come to a boil.  Get your matches or lighter ready, close at hand, and add your vodka and flambee.  It only takes a second for it to flambee, so there was no way I could get a picture of the flames.  But trust me, it lit up!

Don’t do it like I did.  You could light the vodka bottle on fire.  I was just being greedy and pouring some more in.  I like vodka.  And I am not ashamed to say it.

Once the vodka has been evaporated, take it off the heat, and add your cream and parsley.

Boil the pasta according to package directions, and then toss with the warm sauce.  Serve with a large mountain of freshly grated parmesan cheese….or a small one.  But I love cheese.

Enjoy!!!!  Have seconds.  You only live once.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

 

 

Xemei – Venetian cuisine in the hills of Barcelona

There is this little gem of a restaurant here in Barcelona called Xemei.  I was turned on to it by a fellow school mate and chef who works here in Barcelona.  I am so happy that she did.

Xemei means twins in Venetian dialect, because of the owners, who are……(drum roll please) TWINS!  I go there as much as I can, because the food is just amazing.  My boyfriend actually goes there almost once a week…..and he doesn’t get tired of it.  The menu is quite short, but it changes often, always making it seasonal and fresh.  The last time I went there, I had these amazing bay scallops, just sautéed with a bit of garlic, butter and parsley.

I loved the simplicity of this dish, because it really let the scallops shine…..as they should.  The time before, when I was starving, I had their starter Tomino cheese and rosti potatoes,  topped with a poached egg and crispy leeks.  It. Was. Divine.  I wish I could explain with words how good this was, but there aren’t any to be able to describe it as well as mine and my friends orgasmic moans.  I mean….seriously.

Tomino is a small, brie-like cheese from northern Italy.  It begs to be wrapped in bacon and cooked, like how my friend Miki’s boyfriend did when I first tried it.  This version was incredible.  Lightly pan-fried, to get the inside to melt……well…you can see from the picture….I bet you’re salivating now!

For seconds we shared the pasta, which was with mussels and clams in a spicy tomato sauce.  That is one of their specialties, that is always on the menu.

Again, how I love to cook and eat, very few ingredients to let the stars shine….which in this case were the freshest mussels and clams.

And for dessert we had Apple Strudel.  Since the Veneto region has been influenced by Austria…..well, Alto Adige (northeast region of Italy) formed part of Austria until the beginning of the last century….so you will find Apple Strudel in a lot of menus there.

It was the perfect end to a perfect meal.  With just a tiny dollop of custard on the side…..yuuuuuummmmmmy.

So, if you are ever in Barcelona, or you live here, and are hankering for some excellent venetian cuisine, I recommend Xemei.

Restaurante Xemei

Passeig de l’ Exposicio, 85

+34 93 553 5140

Leek and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

This recipe I am posting for my friend Miki, who doesn’t like Mac ‘n Cheese.  But she seems to be convinced she would like this one, and I am sure, no, TRIPLE sure that she would.  If she would just make it.  She says that she rather me come over and make it for her, and I would, except she lives in Italy… and I alas, am in Spain.

I love macaroni and cheese.  My love affair began as a wee tot, when my parents prohibited everything that was processed, in a box, not home-made, yada yada yada……. Then when we moved to the Bahamas, I tried my first box of Thrifty Made Macaroni and Cheese, courtesy of Lisa Donaldson, after a loooong night out at Waterloo, the local, em….watering hole.  We had a disgusting habit of polishing off a box after our nights out “dancing” with a can of Blue Bird Pineapple Juice.

Now cut to years later.  Centuries later, it seems.  I make the homemade versions now, since I am a much more sophisticated person.  (Yes you can laugh, and yes I still do enjoy a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  Some habits are hard to break.)  The first homemade version I made was from Martha Stewart’s “Comfort Food” cook book, which called for a bechamel sauce, 3 different cheeses and a buttered, crustless white bread topping.  Since then, I have been experimenting, a la my American chefs have, with all sorts of added ingredients to make it even more delicious!  So, two more things I can’t live without…..

1) Bacon.  I could eat bacon everyday.

2) Leeks.  I have recently become obsessed by that indecent large variant of the onion.

So, here I give you my Leek and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese recipe:  Simply irresistable. Yes, I am reminiscing about the 80′s.  Ha ha…and now you’ve got that song in your head too.

Leek and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb pasta, rigatoni, penne, shells, fusilli…..anything that catches the cheese in its lovely curves.

3 tbsp olive oil

1 leek, thinly sliced, white and light green parts only, with a handful reserved for topping

4-5 slices of bacon, chopped

1/8 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

1 cup cream

2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

4 tbsp butter

8 – 10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).  In a large stockpot, bring water with a tbsp of salt to a boil.  When boiling, add the pasta and cook 2 minutes less than package instructions.  Drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over med heat, add the olive oil and bacon.  When the bacon starts to cook, add the leeks and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the flour, and mix well, and cook it for about 2 – 3 minutes.  Do not let it brown.  Add the milk and cream, and stir until thickened.

When it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove from heat and add the cheeses.

Mix well, until all the cheese has melted and you have a smooth, unctuous sauce…..and yes, you may dip your finger in it and sample a bite.  Or two.

Now, add your drained pasta, and mix well, until all those wonderful pasta curves are filled with cheese. Place in a baking dish, set aside. Try not to eat it now, it’s not ready yet!

You still have to make the topping.  The topping makes the dish.

In a small frying pan, over medium heat, add the butter.  When it is melted, add the reserved leeks, and turn the heat up to high.  When the leeks are getting nice and golden, add your bread crumbs and thoroughly mix, until they are all coated with the butter.

Now scatter the bread crumbs and leeks over the pasta, and top with the halved cherry tomatoes.  Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until bubbling.  Wait 15 minutes before serving.  Yes, I know it’s torture….but if you don’t it will be even more torture when you’ve burnt your tongue and can’t fully taste it…..it’s mouth watering!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla