Mushroom & Truffled Ricotta Pasta Salad

It’s been unseasonably warm here in Vancouver these past few weeks. I like it, but I have some concerns about what this weather means for us down the road. Anyways, a rant about global warming isn’t appropriate here, but what I thought would be good to share is a little pasta salad I threw together the other night when it was too hot to cook. Usually this happens in July so I was totally throw off my game in terms of ingredients for a no cook meal.

I’ve seen this mushroom pasta salad on the menu at Tractor, but haven’t ever gotten around to trying it, so I figured I’d just make my own version. My IGA is pretty limited in terms of fun pasta shapes so I settled on the most exotic thing I could find which turned out to be  orecchiette, you know the ones that look like little hats?  But penne rigate or any small tubular pasta would work well with this.  Cause let’s face it, it kinda all tastes the same (I know, I just made a thousand Italian Nonnas cry).

I went for a mix of shiitake and cremini mushrooms, but if you can get your hands on chanterelles or something more exotic go for it!  Saute the mushrooms in some butter and olive oil (I like to mix the two for flavour), and then after they release their liquid and start to brown I added a splash of white wine and seasoned with salt and pepper. Set the shrooms aside.

Use the best quality, full fat ricotta you can get for this. Add a couple tbsp of chopped herbs, whatever is in season is fine. I used mint, rosemary, oregano and basil (all from my new container garden thank you very much!) and to that I added some lemon zest.

Cook the pasta according to the directions and rinse it under cold water when it’s done to stop the cooking and cool it right down. Add the mushrooms, ricotta and a splash of good quality olive oil and then drizzle as much, or as little truffle oil over the top as you like.  Toss and serve at room temperature.

Although delicious the next day, this pasta salad looks its best when it’s fresh. The mushrooms tend to make the ricotta turn a brownish colour that isn’t super pleasing to the eyes after a night in the fridge.

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I served this up with a kale caesar to make it a meal and was pleased with the result. I’m sure you will be too!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. cooked pasta (small shapes or tubes)
  • 4 cups diced mushrooms, sauteed
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tsp lemon juice + zest
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp white truffle oil

If you want a bit of a kick I feel like you could get away with adding some chili flakes to this, but if it’s terrible I take no responsibility.

Bon appetit!

 

Italian Tomatoes (and why they are the best)

When I was a kid we had a garden and grew fresh tomatoes.  We would pick them and eat them without even thinking of washing them.  And they tasted amazing.  My dad, a former science teacher, had some seeds that apparently had been on some sort of NASA mission to outer space and so we grew those for a couple summers and enjoyed ‘space tomatoes’. Then I moved out on my own.

Once I got to University I couldn’t afford tomatoes, and then I began my condo life and was stuck with the un-ripe flavourless tomatoes that city folk get.  I got to thinking that hothouse tomatoes that looked all pretty and perfect were the norm and for the past 10 years have been thinking that’s what tomatoes taste like.

And then I went to Italy…and it all came back to me.  While in Florence I decided to pick up stuff to make a caprese salad for an afternoon snack.  We found a little market across from our apartment that looked basic, with just the essentials.  They had a 6 pack of decent looking tomatoes for 2 euros and I thought what the heck, let’s try these.  Honestly I wasn’t expecting much.  They looked different than my hothouse tomatoes, a bit spotty on the top and a lighter red colour than I’m used to.  The flesh inside was also different, darker red than the outside and less seeds.  It was love at first bite.  I turned to my husband with my eyes as wide as saucers and said “oh my gosh, I forgot how good tomatoes are”!  We had the same experience with bruschetta in the Cinque Terre.

Most of the food we ate in Italy was tomato based. In Lombardy and Tuscany where we spent most of our time red sauces, pizzas and bruschetta are a staple.  I was in heaven and of the many things I was sad to leave behind tomatoes were at the top of the list.  I do a lot of tomato based cooking, and because in Vancouver getting fresh tomatoes is either expensive or impossible most of the year, I buy canned tomatoes in bulk at Costco.  Aylmer is the brand, and they’re ok, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to them now.

Tonight I decided to splurge on a can of Zia Rosa San Marzano DOP tomatoes direct from the sun soaked hills of Tuscany and am attempting to re-create one of the best pastas we had on our trip; a very simple rigatoni from Trattoria 13 Gobbi in Florence.  I have no idea how they make theirs, but here’s my recipe that tastes quite similar.

Sauce:

  • 1 can San Marzano DOP tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 3/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic in 1 TBSP olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 7 min. Add tomatoes, wine, herbs and bring to a simmer. Add cheese gradually until melted and incorporated.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and let simmer for 30-45 min.

Add rigatoni cooked al dente to sauce over med-low heat for 1-2 minutes until sauce is fully incorporated.  Top with some additional cheese and serve pipping hot.

Next time you’re making a red sauce try a can of San Marzano tomatoes and see if you can tell the difference, I’m pretty sure you won’t regret your choice!

Crabby Crab Cakes

It’s that time of year, when it starts to get dark all of a sudden, it’s a wee bit chilly in the mornings, and you debate wearing tights to work.  For me the start of fall not only represents a change in seasons, but a complete shift in what I want to eat and drink.  Long gone are the days of salads and Pimm’s on the patio.  Now it’s time for soups and stews…and bring on the cab sav!

But tonight, it was quite warm when I got home, and the sun was still shinning so I decided to make one last summer meal.  Crab cakes are always a favourite, but for some reason I haven’t made them in ages.  I used to do them with canned crab, but it just wasn’t doing it for me, so I picked up some lump crab meat at Costco that was sort of vacuum packed. The quality was surprisingly good and for the price I got a lot of mileage out of it.  Obviously if you can get fresh crab that’s the way to go, but for most of us that’s hard to come by.

I’ve experimented with all sorts of recipes for crab cakes over the years and I never seem to be 100% happy with them.  So now I just make them, with whatever I have, that sounds good, just the way I like.  And they always turn out great!  So try your own, or use my guidelines. Note that measurements are by no means precise.  In my opinion the key to great crab cakes is fresh herbs, lemon, and when you make your cakes, you have to first form them almost like a meatball, and then flatten them out so they stay together once you fry them. Oh, and instead of breadcrumbs which get soggy and tend to taste like cardboard, use panko, a Japanese breadcrumb product you can get almost anywhere nowadays.

Crab Cakes My Way:

  • 1/2 lb. lump crab meat
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 C mayonaise
  • 2 T dijon mustard
  • 1-1/2 C panko
  • Fresh herbs (I like dill or for some Asian flavour try green onions), as much as you like, roughly chopped
  • Seasoning salt (I use a spice blend from friends that unfortunately isn’t sold in stores, but Old Bay works just fine) and pepper to taste

Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  Then once you’re happy with the consistency (more panko may be required), decide what size cake you want.  I usually opt for a small to medium sized cake that’s nice and thin.  I find they cook better without burning.  But if you’re feeling ballsy, go for one of those big thick restaurant style cakes and see how you fare.  You can also do mini’s that are fun for parties!

I pan fry my crab cakes with a little grape seed oil because it has a higher smoking point and is less likely to burn.  Cook them until they’re nicely browned on both sides, then pop them in a 350 degree oven to keep them warm while the others cook up.  When you’re all done, serve them with some lemon, caper, basil mayo, or if you want something with a bit of kick try a Thai red curry mayo.  Making fancy mayo isn’t hard, you basically just add the ingredients I’ve listed above to Hellmann’s!  People are always so impressed when I pull out fancy mayo dips and sauces, but they are so easy!

So enjoy the last of the summer sun; here in the northwest we’ve got a long winter ahead.