Quinoa Pasta with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Truffle Oil

14 03 2012

For those of you that know me, you know that I am obsessed with pasta.  I make pasta by hand on a weekly basis.  I use only the best dried pasta from Italy or fantastic domestic sources.  If someone called me a pasta snob, I would have to agree.  The idea of pasta made without wheat has never sounded good to me.  Obviously, there are many people who are gluten-intolerant and I think rice pasta is a great option for them.  But since I have the choice, I would always pick the real deal.  Until now….

Monday night I was over at my chef-friend Erica’s house to watch The Bachelorette finale.  Yes, it was tremendously girlie, but a fun night nonetheless.  I expected the highlight of my night to be the tragic proposal Ben made to Courtney, the queen bitch/villain on the show.   But it was not.  Erica whipped up a simple pasta dish with shaved brussel sprouts, brown butter, lemon and Parmesan cheese.  With my eyes glued to the juicy reality tv show, I took a huge bite of pasta and was shocked. I urgently asked Erica, “why does this pasta taste so good?  What brand is it?”  She answered ,”it’s quinoa pasta.  My favorite?”

The pasta was absolutely delicious and tasted so far from a replacement healthy pasta choice.  Quinoa is not only high in protein and essential amino acids, it is one of the most healthy grains you can eat in the world. (it’s health benefits are similar to spinach and beets)  How could something so damn healthy taste so good?  My favorite part of the pasta was the texture.  It was perfectly al dente (with a little bite) and held onto the succulent flavors of garlic, lemon, and brown butter in the dish like true Italian pasta.  Three portions later, I was hooked!

Yesterday morning I woke up inspired to try my own version of this incredible pasta.  I already had a bunch of asparagus (which is finally in season and tastes great), dried mushrooms, truffle oil, Parmesan cheese and lemon in my refrigerator.  All I needed was the quinoa pasta, which I found easily at Whole Foods.

I invited my good friend over for dinner, opened up a bottle of Italian Proscecco and made up a new pasta dish.  I learned a few things in the process:

1.  Quinoa pasta takes a shorter amount of time to cook than regular wheat pasta (approximately 7-9 minutes)

2. When you put it in boiling water it clumps together, so make sure you stir it as it boils.

3. Dried mushrooms can add fantastic flavor to a pasta dish.  When you use dried mushrooms you reconstitute them by soaking them in boiling.  After 15-20 minutes ,  the mushrooms come to life are ready to be cooked.  The benefit of this technique is that the boiling water used to soak the mushrooms becomes a rich mushroom broth.  This broth can be added to the pasta as part of the sauce for more savory flavor.

Here’s the recipe I created for dinner.  I hope you enjoy all of the flavors.  Most important, I would love to know what you think of quinoa pasta!

Quinoa Pasta with Shitake Mushrooms, Roasted Asparagus and Truffle Oil:

Ingredients:

3.5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 bunch asparagus, stems trimmed off

1.75 oz. dried shitake mushrooms (or any other exotic dried mushroom)

3/4 cup mushroom water (from the rehydrating of the dried mushrooms)

8 oz. quinoa spaghetti or linguine

1/2 lemon, juiced

1.5 Tbs. truffle oil

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.   Toss the asparagus in 1 Tbs. of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 8 minutes, or until tender.  Let the asparagus cool down and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Set aside.

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl.  Cover with boiling water and soak for 15-20 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms from the water (reserving the mushroom water) and place them on a cloth.  Squeeze the mushrooms in the cloth together like a sponge to get rid of all of the liquid.  Pat dry and slice them thin.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the quinoa pasta and let it cook for 7-9 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up  clumps.  Drain under cold water, toss with a little olive oil and set aside.

Heat a large saute pan.  Add the remaining olive oil and let it get hot for 30 seconds.  Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Add the sliced mushrooms and 1/2 cup of mushroom water, season with a pinch of salt, and saute for 4-5 minutes.  Add the asparagus, quinoa pasta, lemon juice, truffle oil and 1/4 cup of mushroom water.  Season with Kosher salt and lots of black pepper.  Cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes, stirring with tongs to let all of the flavors come together.  Garnish with fresh Parmesan cheese and serve hot.

Advertisements




The Sexiest Cheese on the Planet

7 12 2011

Last winter I was strolling the isles of Whole Foods and I stopped at the cheese section to take a look.  I casually took a piece of bread and smeared the gooey wash rind cheese sample all over my bread and kept walking with my shopping cart.  By the time I reached the bread section I put the cheese in my mouth and literally was hit with an explosion of flavor: salty, funky, creamy, tangy, freaking DELICIOUS!  I closed my eyes and literally felt like I was dancing in a dark room with my future husband. (I am single, by the way)  I decided right then and there Epoisse de Bourgogne was the sexiest and most exotic cheese I have ever tasted in my life. My new favorite!  I hurried back to the cheese counter and without hesitation I picked up my first round of Epoisse for 20 bucks.  I couldn’t picture a better way to spend my money.

Let me break it down for you.  If you don’t like a cheese with funk and character, you probably won’t fall in love with Epoisse like I have.  But if you’re a fan of Italian Taleggio or “stinky” cheese, Epoisse is the French equivalent of heaven.  Epoisse is made in small town in France in the Burgundy region.  It’s an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese that is “smear-ripeded” (brushed in Burgundy wine, giving it that amazing orange-red color), which produces a firm flavorful rind around the cheese that intensifies as the cheese matures.  As the cheese sits out in room temperature the rind stays firm while the center melts into a pudding-like texture.

So what do you drink with a cheese so complex?  The perfect pairing is a Burgundy wine from the exact region the cheese is made.  Usually food and wine that are made in the same place taste great together.  (funny how that works) The cheese tastes fantastic with French baguette or toasted crostini.  I prefer thin slices of Artisanal raisin-nut bread with Epoisse to blend the funk and salt with a little sweet and savory. A year later I still feel giddy when I buy a round of Epoisse at the store.  I hope that you give it a try and hopefully you fall in love like I did.





Cedar Paper Grilled Salmon

5 12 2011

What I love about cooking is finding ways to make a single ingredient shine.  I’ve never been big on smothering a dish with butter or cream, like many restaurants do, in order for it to taste good.  If you start with fantastic product you should be able to end with fantastic results, using good cooking techniques of course.

Last weekend one of my clients asked me to make grilled salmon for a very high-end dinner.  At first I was a bit stumped thinking, “how can I seriously impress these people with a simple piece of grilled salmon?”  I went to Whole Foods to find the most pristine salmon I could get my hands on.  When chatting away with the fish specialist I asked him if he had any cedar wood planks for grilling fish. Grilling on cedar wood planks infuses fish (of whatever you are grilling) with a subtle hint of smokiness while retaining its natural moisture.  It is a fabulous way to showcase a great ingredient without completely overpowering its natural. (and that is what I am ALWAYS looking for!)

The fish specialist looked around for planks, said he was sold out, but showed me a new product that just came in: Cedar Wood Paper!  I immediately got psyched!    What a genius invention!  Pliable cedar wood that can be wrapped around fish. This would give the fish more moisture and flavor and it would look gorgeous for presentation.  I bought a bunch of scallions, some honey and whole grain mustard and left the grocery store ready to fire up the grill.

So how did I prepare the salmon and cedar paper?

1. Soak the cedar paper under water for at least one hour (this will prevent instant burning on the grill)
2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Trim the white ends of the scallions and blanch the scallions in the water for 1 minute.  (they should be wilted but not super soft)
3. Sprinkle the salmon generously with Kosher salt and a pinch of freshly cracked pepper on both sides
4. Place individual pieces of salmon in the center of the cedar wood paper, skin side down. (i recommend having the skin taken off for you when you are purchasing it)
5. Combine equal parts of honey and whole grain mustard in a bowl and mix.  Brush this “glaze” on the top of the fish.
6.  Fold both sides of the cedar paper over each individual fish. Tie the paper together with a scallion.
7. Place a piece of foil over the grates of a hot grill. (this is super important because the cedar paper and fish will burn if you do not put the foil down)  Place the individual pieces of wrapped salmon on the grill and cook for 10-12 minutes, depending on how you prefer your salmon and how thick it is.  Serve immediately!

Why am I so obsessed with Cedar Paper?  Because it add’s a “wow” factor to such a simple preparation of fish.  Also, it is so incredibly versatile!  You could use the same technique listed above with meat, tofu or vegetables.  You can add any spice blend or aromatics to this dish and make it your own.  Go to your local Whole Foods or World Market and buy this fabulous cedar paper and let me know what you decide to make!