May 25th, 2012 § § permalink
On this weekend of cookouts, parades, memorial services and unseasonably sultry weather I’ve been thinking about fried squid rings. I know—90 degree temperatures do not pair well with deep-fried foods. Yet, although this dish won’t offer cool cooking for the person in the kitchen, it will make for quick, light and satisfying dining for family and friends.
For many the first, and possibly only taste, of squid comes in the form of fried squid or calamari. In fact, in some circles the Italian name for squid, calamari, has become synonymous with oily, batter-coated cephalopods. Overloaded with gloppy batter and then overcooked, it gets written off as being greasy and tough, which it often is. Hence, why fried calamari may be someone’s first and last taste of squid.
This is truly a shame. When dusted with flour and cooked quickly in hot oil, fried squid can be ethereal eating. Plus, crisp and airy calamari doesn’t take long to prepare. If you’ve got 5 minutes, you can make a heaping plate of tasty fried squid.
For my calamari I use U.S-sourced, longfin squid tubes. Low in contaminants and with a healthy, quickly reproducing population, U.S. longfin is the eco-friendliest squid around.
To begin, I slice the squid bodies into 1/4-inch rings. Smaller rings mean quicker cooking. The less time the squid lingers in the bubbling oil, the less greasy and chewy my resulting dish will be.
Rather than dip my squid into a thick batter, I toss the rings in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper. I then quickly fry the squid in batches in very hot oil. In two to three minutes I’ve got a heaping plate of steaming calamari, all ready to consume.
1 pound squid rings
3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper.
Grapeseed oil, enough to fill a stockpot or deep fryer with 4 inches of oil.
Heat the oil on medium-high. When the temperature reaches 350˚F, you’re ready to start cooking.
Pat dry the squid rings so that they don’t splatter when they hit the hot oil.
Place the flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add the squid rings and toss to coat.
If you own a fryer basket, put the coated squid in it. Otherwise, gently lower the squid in the hot oil. Allow
the squid to fry until golden, 2 to 3 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon or strainer, remove the fried calamari and place on paper towels to dry. Serve hot with tomato sauce or aioli for dipping.
May 18th, 2012 § § permalink
Right now I’m on a quinoa kick. For those unfamiliar with my new love, this small, hearty grain hails from the Andean region of South America. Cultivated there for at least 3,000 years, quinoa was a favorite of the Incas, who considered it a sacred food and referred to it as “the mother grain.”
Nurturing it is. Packed with essential amino acids, its protein quality and amount rival that of milk. It’s also high in calcium and fiber and lower in carbohydrates than other grains. Eat a serving of quinoa and you won’t feel the pang of hunger for hours. No doubt that’s why many call it “the super grain of the future.”
Nutrition aside, I’m smitten with quinoa’s mildly nutty, herbal flavors. These pair well with both sweet and savory ingredients. Depending upon my mood and what I have on hand, I can just as easily add dried cranberries, apricots or dates, fresh apples and candied nuts as garlic or onions, peppers, and cheese to it.
Although I serve quinoa as a salad or a substitute for rice and couscous, it does have a host of other uses. In Peru and Bolivia, where the bulk of quinoa is grown and consumed, cooks may boil it as I do or add it to soups or stews. They grind it into flour for breads, tortillas, cookies and other baked goods. They also eat it as a cereal and turn it into pudding. Quinoa greens are cooked as vegetables while its stalks are burned as fuel. Seemingly no part of the plant isn’t used.
Before being processed, quinoa, which is actually a seed from the flowering quinoa plant, varies in color from black to yellow or white. Once processed, it becomes a lovely shade of ivory; the exception to this is red quinoa, which, as the name suggests, remains red.
Each tiny seed possesses a slender, white band that unravels during cooking. This band gives quinoa its unique texture and appearance.
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup frozen or fresh corn
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
Rinse and drain the quinoa. Place it and the water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and toss the quinoa to separate the grains. Allow the quinoa to cool to room temperature.
In a small bowl whisk together the salt, parsley, vinegar and olive oil. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a small frying pan on medium heat. Add the garlic and corn and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until hot and just cooked through.
Place the corn, quinoa, tomatoes and pecans in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss again to coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until ready to serve.
May 10th, 2012 § § permalink
A month ago if you had asked how my hometown sets itself apart from other regions and their cuisines, I would have struggled to come up with an answer. To me, the Pittsburgh area has long been a melting pot of ethnic specialties. Pizza, pierogies, pita and souvlaki all played a part in shaping my palate.
Then I took a trip back home and was reminded how much Pittsburghers like their fries. I admit, most people like a good, crisp, golden french fry. How many, though, slip them inside breakfast, lunch and dinner entrees? Where I grew up, a lot do.
As my college roommate reminded me over a shrimp salad served atop fries, we were raised on salads with deep-fried potatoes tucked in between the lettuce leaves. Then there were the odd omelets filled with cheese, meat and french fries. And how could I forget Primanti Bros.’s fry- and coleslaw-stuffed sandwiches, which I still insist on having any time that I’m in Pittsburgh.
Why fries on the inside? Well, there are fewer plates to wash if you don’t serve them as a side. Pick them up between two slices of bread and you forgo the greasy fingers. Yet, I doubt that these are the reasons why. I’ll chalk it up to a happy accident—someone tried it, liked it, served it to someone else and the rest is history.
In my health-conscious family we didn’t eat fries, in or alongside entrees, very often. Delightfully salty and oily, they were a rare treat, one that my mother left to those possessing fryolators and serious grease burns.
Unfortunately, I haven’t strayed far from her stance. Want savory, fried potatoes at my house? Unless you bring your own french fries, you’ll probably eat the following side dish. Slipping them into your salad, sandwich or omelet is optional.
CRISPY ROSEMARY POTATOES
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place the potatoes in medium-sized stockpot filled with boiling salted water. Boil until the potatoes are slightly tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain the potatoes and set aside.
In a large frying or sauté pan heat the olive oil on medium-high.
Add the potatoes and cook, tossing periodically, until browned, 15 minutes.
Add the garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper, stir to combine, and cook for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Serve immediately.