Make pasta egg-stra good

This post launches a new, semi-regular feature called “Taste the Place,” which will focus on cuisine to enjoy on the road. The inspiration of new flavors are among the longest-lasting souvenirs you bring home from your travels. This feature may inspire you to take a trip. Or, if your budget doesn’t allow for much travel these days, it’s a way to bring far-flung flavors home.

Park Hyatt Mendoza

Park Hyatt Mendoza

Argentina’s cuisine has been greatly influenced by the Italian immigrants who settled in the country. Boris Davila, chef de cuisine at Grill Q at   the Park Hyatt Mendoza, likes to break an egg over very hot pasta and stir it with a fork for at least five seconds before serving. “The heat will cook the egg, and also add great texture and flavor,” he explains. Think of it as a quick take on traditional pasta carbonara.

Inspired by Davila, I made this pasta last night, using ingredients we had on hand. It’s easy, and the results are luscious.

Argentine-Style Pasta for 2

pastaStirring egg yolks into the hot pasta yields a silky, unctuous dish that makes a nice light dinner with a green salad. Adding a little of the hot cooking water to the yolks prevents them from curdling when added to the pasta. If you want to keep this dish really Argentine, use Reggianito Argentina cheese, the affordable Argentine version of Parmigiano-Reggiano, instead of pecorino Romano.

2 large eggs

6 ounces dry pasta (use any shape you have on hand)

1 ounce pancetta, diced

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) grated pecorino Romano cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Crack eggs and separate yolks from whites; reserve whites for another use. Place yolks in a small bowl; set aside.

2. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. 

3. While pasta cooks, heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add pancetta, and cook 5 minutes or until crisp. Add peas; cook 3 minutes or until peas are hot; keep warm.

4. When pasta is done, drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Return pasta to pan. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons hot cooking water to egg yolks, stirring with a whisk. Add yolk mixture to pasta, stirring to coat pasta. Gradually add cheese, a small handful at time, stirring until cheese melts. Stir in remaining cooking water as needed to achieve a silky texture (pasta should not be watery). Add a generous grinding of pepper. Serve immediately. Yield: 2 servings.

The beef with meat

 

A new study that links red meat consumption with higher mortality rates could be good news for cows. (Photo by Dreamstime.)

A new study that links red meat consumption with higher mortality rates could be good news for cows. (Photo by Dreamstime.)

Red meat can be a killer, according to new, large-scale study by the National Cancer Institute just published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study, which followed a half-million people for 10 years linked red meat and processed meat consumption (and that includes pork, even though it’s marketed as “the other white meat”) with higher overall death rates, including deaths from heart disease and cancer.

When I saw this, I thought, wow those people must have been eating a lot of steaks.

Uh, not really.

Turns out, people with the highest intakes were eating just over 2 ounces of red meat per day, per 1,000 calories (or about 4 1/2 ounces for an average 2,000-calorie diet). They had an 11% (for men) and 16% (for women) higher death rate than those who averaged just 1/3 ounce of red meat per day per 1,000 calories. The findings were similar with processed meat.

Researchers are still parsing why red meat is linked with more deaths. It might be due to the saturated fat content or carcinogens that form when meat is cooked at high heat.

On the flip side, eating more white meat, like chicken, was associated with lower death rates.

So does this mean you give up burgers and steaks in favor of grilled skinless chicken breast? No, but I do think this study points to importance of variety and smart portions. Don’t eat red meat or pork every day but as part of a rotation with other lean sources of protein, including chicken, fish, and beans and legumes. Keep portion sizes small (4 ounces, raw, or less), and choose lean cuts. That’s how you can have your steak, and enjoy it, too.

Lean cuts

Beef: flank, round, tenderloin, top sirloin, chuck shoulder, 95% lean ground

Pork: tenderloin, boneless loin roast, boneless loin chops

In other words, “loin” in the name=lean.

Chocolate love

 

The Chocolate Salon in San Francisco attracted candy lovers of all ages.

The Chocolate Salon in San Francisco attracted candy lovers of all ages.

 As it turns out, I’m a lightweight. I’d always considered myself a hardcore chocolate lover, but I met my match at the third annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon last weekend. Herbst Pavilion quickly filled with hundreds of eager chocoholics, including my sister-in-law, niece, and me. We started hitting the tables, gobbling samples, and it didn’t take long to reach a conclusion:

A gimmick does not make for good chocolate.

"Sacred Steve"

"Sacred Steve"

Take, for example, Sacred Chocolate, which produces a vegan/organic/kosher/halal product being hawked by “Sacred Steve,” wearing butterflies in his hair and a lavish velveteen duster worthy of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Of course, we had to sample the chocolate on offer, and it was…OK. Just OK.

We pushed on, tasting creations combining chocolate with everything from Guinness stout, guava, goat cheese, fleur de sel, durian, and even Pop Rocks candy. The artisanal chocolate arena is crowded these days, so you have to do something to stand out. Problem is, when you venture into creative flavor combinations, it’s all too easy to overwhelm the flavor of the chocolate. As I’ve mentioned before, I think the folks at Chicago-based  Vosges, who were not at the salon, do the best job of achieving a the delicate balance of combining offbeat flavors with chocolate in a way that enhances the chocolate. That’s no small feat.

Sexy chocolate: Xocotal's Kama Sutra chocolate, one of their artistic creations that tastes good, too.

Sexy chocolate: Xocolate's Kama Sutra creation, which tastes good, too.

As it turned out, our favorite finds were those that kept it simple and focused on chocolate. We loved the wonderful nuggets of dark chocolate fudge produced by Jeanne’s Fudge of San Mateo, CA. Schoggi’s imported Swiss chocolates (especially their hot chocolate) were another favorite. Berekeley-based Xocolate’s were works of art in terms of design and taste. We also fancied the Vermeer Dutch Chocolate Cream Liqueur.

I did my bit, trolling the tables until I staggered away in a shaky, giggly chocolate high. But I couldn’t help thinking these are tough times for fancy chocolate. Hershey’s, which bought the upscale Joseph Schmidt Confections in 2005, announced it will shut the operation down as of June 30. Schmidt has been a Bay Area institution in 1983 and was a forerunner of the current wave of artisan chocolate. Of course, one might think that the marriage of mass-market Hershey’s and speciality Schmidt was doomed from the beginning. Or it might hint at an overcrowded market, now that every city seems to boast a raft of chocolatiers.

Master chocolatier Joseph Schmidt, right, samples the wares at the Chocolate Salon.

Master chocolatier Joseph Schmidt, right, samples the wares at the Chocolate Salon.

But those who really love chocolate–and that includes everyone at the salon on Saturday–don’t really care about all that. They just love chocolate, recession or no recession, and they’re happy to sample such lovingly crafted wares. In fact, we spied Joseph Schmidt–the real, live chocolatier, not the company–wading through the crowds, going from table to table, and tasting a bit of this and a bit of that. 

Now, that’s love.

Fresh chickpeas

 

Fresh chickpeas are a pretty harbinger of spring.

Fresh chickpeas are a pretty harbinger of spring.

Isn’t it nice when you discover an unexpected treat in the middle of an otherwise mundane day? That’s what happened when I swung by Marina Farms market to pick up a few items. Now, Marina Farms is a gem of a local corner market, tucked away in a bland corner of Del Rey, an LA neighborhood that’s not Playa del Rey, not Marina del Rey, ’cause it’s a bit inland. So it’s just plain old Del Rey. The market is chock-full of an eclectic assortment of fresh, regional produce, bulk nonperishables, and speciality items. In one trip, you can pick up a bag of farro, guacamole-flavored Mexican tortilla snacks, fresh fava beans, sherry vinegar, and a freshly made chicken empanada as a snack. And the prices are terrific.

I was trolling past the bins of fresh mushrooms when my eyes fell on fresh chickpeas. This struck me as a rare and wonderful find. Well, rare to me, since I think fresh chickpeas are become more widely available, much the way fava beans have in recent years. Still, it was a treat to me, so I filled a bag with a couple of handfuls of the fuzzy green pods.

But what to do with them? The fresh chickpeas were familiar, yet…not. Their inch-long pods are peach-fuzzy and papery. Each houses one pea. Occasionally you’ll find two in a pod, but for the most part chickpeas cop an exclusive attitude. Unlike English peas or fava beans, chickpeas are reluctant to share their digs. The pods are delicate and airy–they sometimes make a satisfying pop when you open them.

This pod is mine!

This pod is mine!

Inside, the peas are a lovely, pale green. On her blog 101Cookbooks.com, Heidi Swanson accurate describes them as looking like little brains. Yes, like little green Martian brains.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Since they’re fresh, they don’t need soaking or the long-ass cooking time of their dried cousins. After doing some research, I decided that steaming was the way to go. Indeed, it works beautifully. The chickpeas retain their shape, and cooking enhances their emerald hue. They have a lovely, delicate, nutty, vegetal, and slightly sweet quality that begs for simple treatment, like this easy spread.

Sign of spring: Chickpea Spread

Sign of spring: Chickpea Spread

Chickpea Spread

OK, since I only picked up a couple of handfuls of fresh chickpeas, this has a small yield, but you can double the recipe. I used a pressure cooker to steam the chickpeas, since I appear to obsessed with my pressure cooker of late. You can steam them in a regular saucepan in about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve this spread with crackers or crusty bread.

3/4 cup shelled fresh chickpeas (about 6 ounces unshelled)

1 garlic clove

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano cheese

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1. Fill the pan of a pressure cooker with water to a depth of 1 inch. Bring to a boil. Place chickpeas in a steamer basket; add steamer basket to cooker. Lock on lid, and bring to high pressure over high heat. Reduce heat, and cook 5 minutes. Release pressure using automatic pressure release OR transfer cooker to sink and run cool water over the rim. Carefully open the cooker, pointing the lid away from you. Drain chickpeas. Rinse with cool water; drain thoroughly.

2. Add garlic clove to work bowl of a mini food processor; process until minced. Add chickpeas, process until chopped. Add olive oil, cheese, and lemon juice; process until fairly smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Yield: about 3/4 cup.

Wednesday goodies

Field trips

picture-2Jim Denevan, of Outstanding in the Field, has made a name for himself staging top-drawer farm dinners at locales across the country. He’s just released the 2009 schedule of more than 50 destinations, stretching from Santa Cruz, CA, to Asheville, NC. I was especially excited to see that Jim and his crew will be at Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, AL, on Sept. 23, where Chef Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar & Grill will do the cooking. Dinners are $200 per person, and tickets go on sale at 9 AM PT (noon ET) on Friday, March 20. Events sell out quickly, so log on to check out the locations and make your reservation on Friday.

Nourish yourself

picture-1Wine Country-based food writer Lia Huber is launching the Nourish Network Web site this spring. But you can sign up for her weekly “Nibble to Noodle” e-letter now. It’s a newsletter I enjoy finding in my inbox, since Lia offers thoughts on healthy eating as a daily celebration, along with some tasty recipes. This week’s dish was wonderful Greek-inspired lamb chops:

Lemon-Herb Lamb Chops

Recipe by Lia Huber/Nourish Network

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon zest

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs (like thyme, marjoram, and fresh oregano), minced

2 pounds lamb chops

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, and herbs, and marinate lamb chops for at least an hour and up to a day.

Heat a grill to medium-high. Remove chops from marinade; sprinkle with salt and pepper; and grill for 3-5 minutes per side or until medium-rare. Arrange on a plate and serve hot or room temperature crusty bread, beet salad, and the garlicky yogurt dip called tzatziki.

Serves 6

Plan ahead

picture-4Today Jennifer Maiser starts blogging about her efforts to cook week’s worth of suppers with a neighbor so they can both enjoy more variety for less effort while saving money.–Serious Eats

 

Numbers runner

picture-5So are people really eating in more and dining out less? Michael Y. Park runs the numbers on two consumer surveys and finds they don’t quite add up.–Epicurious

 

 

Tomato farming and the recession

picture-6Patrick Horan, who cultivates organic tomatoes in Connecticut, explains how the recession may be a boon for organic farming.–RecessionWire

 

 

Get more D

dreamstimefree_1162831Vitamin D has emerged as a supervitamin in recent years–it’s been linked with lower rates of some cancers and type 1 diabetes; it’s also a key player in bone and heart health. Chances are, you’re not getting enough. A new study finds the current recommendation of 5 microcgrams (200 International Units) is far short of what most people need for maximum benefit, especially in winter. Researchers recommend 20 micrograms. Your best bet for getting adequate vitamin D is fortified foods, like milk, and dietary supplements.–Nutraingredients-USA.com

 

Dirty dozen update

 

Make mine organic: Kale is number 8 on the Environmental Working Group's updated list of produce items most likely to contain pesticides.

Make mine organic: Kale is number 8 on the Environmental Working Group's updated list of produce items most likely to contain pesticides.

The Environmental Working Group has released the latest version of their “dirty dozen” produce items most likely to be contaminated with pesticides:

 

  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Bell peppers
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarines
  6. Strawberries
  7. Cherries
  8. Kale 
  9. Lettuce
  10. Imported grapes
  11. Carrots
  12. Pears

According to the EWG, if you eat from this dirty dozen list, you consume an average of 10 pesticides daily. That’s reason enough to pay a little extra for organic versions of these foods.

Saturday starters

dreamstimefree_1149421It’s all about calories

Physicians and nutritionists have been saying this for years: To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you expend. That’s a simple equation, but many of us still seek a magic weight-loss bullet. You know, the special diet that finally unlocks the key to shedding all those excess pounds. So what works best? High fat/low carb/high protein? High protein/low fat/low carb? High carb/low fat/some protein? A new study published in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine compared four different weight-loss diets over a two-year period and found that what really matters is: consuming fewer calories, regardless of diet. So if you want to drop a few pounds, just eat less and move more.

Grow your own

lettucecloseupAs the terrific blog RecessionWire notes, when times get tough, people start planting. During the Great Depression, anyone with some spare dirt grew something; that was followed by the victory gardens of World War II. These lean days are no different, and the National Gardening Association predicts the number of households growing vegetables will sprout 40% this year. This can range from a few containers of herbs to full vegetable gardens. To help you get started, the editors at FineGardening.com have just launched Vegetable Gardener, a cool site devoted to growing and cooking with fruits and vegetables. Sunset.com is another good source of info. Finally, for glorious inspiration, check out Jeanne Kelley’s book Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden, in which she shares delicious recipes inspired by her own home garden. Think of it as uber-local food.

duo10qt_large_horizontal_productTried it, loved it

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with pressure cookers, which cook food in less than half the time of conventional methods. You may remember those retro gadgets from your grandma’s kitchen–they rattled menacingly on the stovetop while pressure built up in the pot. They even exploded on occasion. Hmmm, why bother with them now? Today’s models are safe, sturdy, and easy to use. I recently picked up a 6-quart, stainless-steel Fagor Duo pressure cooker on Amazon for $80 (it typically retails for $120). It’s a solid piece of cookware–you can saute and sear in it before adding other ingredients and starting the pressure. It’s also simple to handle, quiet, and speedy. We enjoyed homemade split pea soup in about 20 minutes, start to finish. I also like to cook dried beans, but hate the long soaking and simmering time. The pressure cooker will speed that process up, too, enabling me to use cheap dried beans instead of pricier, sodium-packed canned legumes.