Tuesday, June 29, 2010

At Last

In the life of a teacher, the first day of summer is as glorious as it gets.  The yammering students, sniping administrators, the months and months cooped up in airless, windowless rooms still hover around the consciousness like a persistent bad dream.  But the days ahead, days and days and days (71 to be exact), are filled with promise.  Whole books will be read, projects completed, day trips taken, meals planned and made.  Anything is possible, especially after a couple of these watermelon margaritas! 

This recipe makes two drinks, but can easily be doubled or tripled.  Heck, quadruple it.  It's summer at last!

Watermelon Margaritas

2 oz. top shelf tequila
2 oz. triple sec, Cointreau or Gran Marnier
Juice of one lime
1 cup of ice cold watermelon chunks, no seeds
A hanful of ice cubes

Put everything in the blender and blend until smooth.  Strain into chilled martini glasses.  Garnish with watermelon slices.  Add a squeeze of lime juice to taste. 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A New Green

I finally made it to my farmer's market this morning, with summer just two days away.  I had in mind a recipe by Mark Bittman from the June 16 edition of the Times for Pasta with Peas, Proscuitto and Lettuce.  Bittman's emphasis was on using small quantities of meat--in this case, crisped prociutto--as a garnish, as opposed to it being the star player in a dish.  Great idea, but what really struck me was the use of lettuce in a hot preparation.  Sure, I've wilted my share of spinach and arugula, even watercress, but lettuce?!  I grabbed a bowling ball sized head of Boston lettuce and some handfuls of fresh peas, determined to try it out. 

I took some liberties with the recipe.  Crisping prociutto is blasphemous in my book, as its soft, satiny texture is what makes it so darn good in the first place.  But crispy bacon--who could quibble with that?  I also added some shrimp, tasty, wild caught, but sort of superfluous, as the lettuce stole the show.  Were you worried it would turn out limp and watery?  I'll admit, I was.  Instead, it was sweet and fresh tasting, and even retained a bit of its crunch at the ribs.  The splash of citrusy sauvignon blanc I used to green the vegetables woke up all the flavors, and tasted good in the glass alongside, as well.  It was the pefect way to welcome summer.

Pasta with Lettuce, Bacon and Shrimp

6 slices of smoky bacon, cut into batons
1 pound pasta (the gemelli I used were perfect)
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
2 cups of peas, preferably fresh
1 head of Boston lettuce, cored, leaves cut into ribbons
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Meanwhile, cook the bacon batons until crisp.  Drain on paper towels and reserve.  Spill out most of the bacon fat.  Season shrimp with salt and pepper and saute in the fat until just cooked through.  Remove and reserve.  Melt butter in the same skillet and saute the shallot until softened, about 4 minutes.  Turn off the flame while you wait for the pasta to catch up.

When water boils, add pasta and cook until just tender. Drain pasta.  Turn the flame back on under the shallots, and add peas, lettuce and wine.  Cook until lettuce is wilted but still bright green, maybe 5 minutes.  Don't overcook!  Add pasta and shrimp back to pan and cook until just heated through.  Off the heat, toss with parmesan.  Taste for salt and pepper, garnish with bacon, and serve.

Serves 4

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pesto's Cousin

As an apartment dweller, I am limited to growing things in containers--and not even very large containers either.  But that doesn't stop me from dreaming big dreams of pesto, like this one, which I clipped from the back page of Gourmet in August of last year, and just finally got around to making.  So what if I had to pit stop at North Shore Farms for a bunch of the not-so-homegrown stuff to supplement my meager supply?

With roasted almonds standing in for the pine nuts, a cloud of fresh ricotta cheese in place of most of the traditional parmesan, and a garnish of briny kalamata olives, I had a suspicion this would be great. 

I was right.  This was ordinary pesto's suave and sophisticated cousin.  The ricotta lent a velvety texture, and was a wonderful carrier for the basil and garlic flavors, mellowing and smoothing them out.  The olives provided a welcome salty sharpness with each bite.  It was a big bowl of comfort, summer weather style, perfect with a chilled glass of Savignon Blanc.  And the garnish is just-picked from my garden, thank you very much.