Friday, March 30, 2012

Greek Style Lamb Sliders with Drippings-Finished Oven Fries

In part, this entry is to make amends for all the time I've spent away from this blog lately, training for my new job; but I mostly wrote this because spring is on its way, and as the weather starts to warm up, I dream of the grill, which makes me think of burgers. Since spring is still in its early phase I wanted to incorporate that symbol of early spring, lamb, but do it in a playful way. I remembered a long ago menu for a bbq I had thrown for my friends to celebrate early spring in New York City--in particular the greek style lamb sliders with yogurt herb dressing that everyone gobbled as fast as I could grill them up. In my effort to make amends I'm also including a recipe for oven fries with thyme, which not only pair well with the sliders, but are also incredibly easy to make. I used roasted garlic in the lamb burgers, to add moisture and sweetness, and it was really worth the extra effort to make it. I just preheated the oven to 400, peeled away the papery outer layers of skin around a small head of garlic and cut the tips off of the cloves, exposing the garlic, brushed it with olive oil and put it in a muffin tin, covering the top with tin foil in the oven for about 35 minutes.

We've been having a spate of unusually cold weather for the season, so I had to forgo grilling and pan fry these instead. If you also have to pan fry, the upside of it is that the drippings, when poured over the fries, make for an absolutely delectable treat.

Thyme Oven Fries

2 lbs. medium yukon gold potatoes, cut into wedges
3 sprigs of thyme
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (this stuff is really spicy!)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Parboil potatoes for 3 to 5 minutes, until they are just starting to be tender.

3. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of your roasting pan and put in potatoes; toss to coat. Strip the thyme leaves off of the woody stems into the pan. Add cayenne, salt and pepper and toss to coat.

4. Roast in oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until they can easily be pierced with a fork.

Optional: Add drippings from the lamb burgers after they've all been cooked up and toss to coat.

5. Serve with greek style lamb burgers.

Greek Style Lamb Burgers with Yogurt Herb Dressing

For the Dressing:
8 ounces plain greek yogurt
1/2 bunch oregano
4 sprigs thyme
zest of 1/4 lemon
(optional) 1 teaspoon honey - only use if the dressing is distractingly bitter when you taste it

For the sliders:

2 lbs ground lamb
1 cup steamed petite green peas
6 cloves roasted garlic, smashed into a paste with 1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinamon
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Juice of 1 whole lemon

1. Make the dressing: put oregano and thyme leaves (strip them off of the woody stems) into the food processor on low for a few seconds. Mix herbs into yogurt, along with lemon zest. Mix well and taste. Add honey, if needed. Remember, the burgers will be a bit on the sweet side, so you may want the yogurt to provide contrast to that.

2. Mix all slider ingredients together well, then form ten small patties, about 3 ounces each. Add olive oil to hot skillet and place as many sliders into the pan as possible. Cook the sliders on medium heat without flipping them for 4 minutes, covered with tinfoil. Flip and cook covered for another 3 minutes, or until they're no longer pink in the center. Repeat until you have cooked all the patties.

3. Serve patties on a toasted mini bun or dinner roll with a dollop of yogurt dressing and a big, crunchy slice of cucumber. Fries on the side.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Penne with Broccoli Rabe and Spicy Italian Sausage

Hello again faithful readers! I realize it's been awhile since I've written a new entry, and that's because I've been busy training for a new job: docent at the Intel Museum, which is a great fit, since (I'm sure you can tell) I'm a bit of a know-it-all. As promised, here is one of my favorite pasta dishes of all time!

If there is a theme emerging from my latest foray into blogging, it is this: good, clean, simple flavors, in concert with a few key complementary flavors, make for the best dishes. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I find complex dishes, such as bolognese sauce, with its minimum of three hours of cook time, to also be largely worth their effort; however, when I think of basic staple recipes, dishes I love to cook and consume and consider comfort food, those recipes are often simple. A great example is the lovely marriage of flavors between the spice and vague liquorish-y flavor of Italian pork sausage and the also (very) vague liquorish flavor of broccoli rabe or broccolini--they serve as an excellent counterpoint to the earthy richness of garlic infused olive oil.  If I'm so moved (and they're in season), I'll throw in a chopped roma tomato or three.  It changes the subtle sauce, but can really be a wonderful in season addition. The key to making simple dishes taste phenomenal is to source their few ingredients carefully. I always purchase my Italian sausage from a retailer that promises responsible farming and food handling practices if I'm not lucky enough at a given time to live near a good butcher who makes spicy Italian sausages. I also prefer to purchase my broccoli rabe (or broccolini) from a farmer's market, and barring that I always buy organic. My garlic is organic (when available), as well. My olive is extra virgin organic olive oil made by Spectrum (available online, in health food stores, and also in Whole Foods). I also like to try to select a pasta from a company I have had good experiences with in the past, in terms of taste and construction. The recipe which follows is beautiful in its simplicity and an absolutely lovely offering in a pinch. It's also one of Josh's favorite dishes.

Fusilli with Broccoli Rabe and Spicy Italian Sausage

1 lb. fusilli pasta
1 lb. or 1 bunch broccoli rabe (also called broccolini), chopped into 1.5" pieces.
3 large Italian sausages (roughly 2/3 to 3/4 lb.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves of garlic minced or put through a press
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1. In a large saucepan over low heat, combine garlic and olive oil and a dash of salt. Cook for ten minutes to infuse the olive oil with garlic. If you notice the garlic turning at all darker, you have the heat too high.
2. Remove sausage casings and crumble meat inside; add to pan and increase the heat to medium. Cook until sausages are browned and starting to ooze fat.
3. Put up salted water to cook pasta and add pasta when it is boiling.
4. Add broccoli rabe, more salt and pepper to taste to saucepan with sausage and garlic. At this point I like to cover the saucepan to allow the broccoli rabe to steam in its own moisture, but feel free to leave it uncovered and sautee the broccoli rabe; in any case, your broccoli should take about as much time to cook as the fusilli does to boil.
5. Before draining pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
6. Drain pasta and toss with ingredients in pan and reserved pasta water.
7. Serve topped with freshly grated parmesan and minced fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley, if you have it on hand.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!