Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Zucchini ribbon pasta

You know what one of my favorite tools is in the kitchen?  A julienne peeler.  OMG, I love this thing.  I use it for salads, carrot cake, zucchini bread, pastas, omelets....  damn near everything.  It's way better than a large grater.  WAY better.

This is actually the one I own.  I love it.  Since it is super sharp, it has a safety cover that flips one way to cover the blades and the other way to use it.  You'll never lose it b/c it's part of the design.  Nice, huh?

I remember seeing pasta like this once, but didn't see a recipe for it or anything, so I wasn't sure how it would work.  How would you get the zucchini ribbons to be soft enough for it to curl with the pasta?  Well, I tried something out, and yum.  Perfect.  I love this stuff.  The best part is the crunch from the zucchini adding a different texture to a boring pasta. 


1lb of whole wheat linguine
2 medium sized or 1 large zucchini
Whole head of garlic (or half, if you don't like lots of garlic)
2 small shallots
Olive oil
Sea Salt, to taste
Fresh cracked pepper
Crush red pepper flakes (about 1-2 tsp, depending on your taste)
Grated Parmesan cheese

Boil a pot of water with table salt to flavor the water.  Cook pasta to al dente, as directed on the package. 

Heat olive oil in a large pan.  Use enough to coat the bottom of the whole pan. 
Chop the garlic into nice sized chunks, thinly slice the shallot.  Saute the garlic, shallot and red pepper in the pan, but don't burn the garlic!  Take off the heat if it is done before the pasta is.
Julienne the zucchini into long strips to match the pasta.  When the pasta is done cooking, drain.  Let the pasta sit in the colander (toss with cold water to prevent sticking).  Coat the pot with a layer of olive oil and heat.  Once it is well heated, toss the pasta and julienned zucchini together with the heated oil.  This will cook the zucchini just enough. 
Toss the garlic, shallot and red pepper oil mix into the pasta and toss again. 
Add as much or as little grated cheese as you'd like.  Sprinkle some sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste. 

This is such an easy and quick dinner.  You'll really enjoy the added crunch and flavor of the zucchini ribbons in the pasta.  Something different than the normal boring chunks of veggies  :)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Greek pasta salad

Okay, so this is another old recipe that has been sitting around waiting to be posted.  Summer is pretty much over, and I'm just getting around to posting it.  I took these pictures in May, btw...  Oops. 

Anyways, this is a simple pasta salad that is soooo good.  It's Greek, of course and in all honesty, the only pasta salad in the world I like.  I know, I'm a nut.

And it was a hit at my friend's birthday party!  I don't use vinegar in this pasta salad, I use lemon juice as my acid.  It's adds a brighter flavor to the pasta salad, but it's mellowed out by the olive oil, so it's not really tart. 

Anyways here ya go!

Greek pasta salad
1 lb orzo pasta, fully cooked, rinsed with cold water and tossed with a splash of olive oil before it is cold
1/2 lb of cherry tomatoes, halved
4 oz container of crumbled plain Athenos feta cheese
Handful of chives, chopped
2 seedless cucumbers, skin off and cut into 1/2 thick triangles
1 tsp Garlic Garlic (from Tastefully Simple)
Fresh squeezed lemon juice, about 2-3 lemons
Olive oil
Dried oregano, basil and parsley. Use your own judgment on these.  I only used about a quarter sized amount of each poured into my palm.
Lots of fresh crack pepper
Dash of sea Salt
Sprinkling of crushed red pepper, optional

After you cook the orzo, rinse briefly with cold water to keep from sticking and to cool off.  Before the pasta is completely cooled, toss in a splash of olive oil to flavor the pasta. 
I will also toss in the dried herbs, fresh pepper, crushed red pepper (if using) salt and Garlic Garlic, so they can stick to the pasta better and flavor it up too.  You may need to drizzle more olive oil if it looks dry. 
Toss all of the veggies and chives together, letting the juices of each blend together.  Toss in the lemon juice.
Let each bowl sit out, covered with some plastic wrap.  Let it sit for an hour or so.  Once they've both had a chance to sit, get a bigger bowl and toss it all together.     
My suggestion to you is to make this the night before and let it sit in the fridge, covered, overnight.  
Take it out a couple hours before use.  Taste it.  Is it too dry?  Toss in a bit more olive oil.  Does it need salt, more pepper?  A bit more lemon, perhaps?  Do all of this now, so that way it has a couple of hours to sit.  Remember, the flavors are more prominent after it has been sitting a couple of hours.  I do not add the feta until right before serving.  This helps keep the acid from breaking down the cheese.  And the feta is certainly more potent and flavorful if added just before serving. 


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bella Sera-something totally unexpected!

First off, I have to say, I am SOOOO behind.  Like stuff from May behind.  Ouch.  But I have been crazy busy, working out, working on the house and just plain working. 

But when I get the rare chance like today to post, I'm going to!!!  I certainly have more than enough to post about!

This post will be relatively brief compared to some of my past reviews, but that's ok.  For our one year anniversary, I bought my bf tickets to go see Ron White.  I am personally not a fan, but I know he loves him, so I knew he'd love to go.  He grew up in Schiller Park, close to the Rosemont Theater where he was performing.  Bella Sera is actually a restaurant inside a hotel, near O'Hare airport.  BF passed it everyday on his way to and from work for years.  He's always wanted to try it, so since we were heading out there, we went. 

I wasn't all that impressed walking in.  It's in a Quality Inn, not a Hilton or Marriot, so you kinda wonder... hmm...  is this gonna be a dump?
Well, no one was sitting in the restaurant, but being it was still early on a Friday night, that wasn't so off for us.  There were a handful of people at the bar.  We got seated and our server was very enthusiastic about the menu.  Sweet girl, we really kinda thought that she was being so enthusiastic b/c she saw the unsure looks on our faces and didn't want us to run.  :)

So I ordered roasted chicken and grilled veggies drizzled with a balsamic reduction.  BF ordered linguine pasta with broccoli and green peppers (weird right? It was a create your own pasta... he picked it!) and a garlic oil sauce.  I'll be honest with you, I seriously thought this was going to come out w/ some boring old veggies that were way over cooked, next to dry chicken.  Wow, I have to say I was sooo wrong! 

Look at that!  Now when our server was adamant this was the best chicken and veggies in the world, I was like, yeah ok.  But OMG.  I saw it and knew that whoever made this took care in what they were preparing.  I was hooked before I even took a bite. 

Take a closer look---

Everything was perfectly cooked.  The bottom layer is a whole potato, cut into four thick slices.  They were not mushy, but by no means were they hard.  They were perfect to hold up the rest of the dish and tasted amazing, especially with the juices from the chicken on top of it soaking into it. 
The chicken is the next layer.  My only complaint was that the half chicken was skin-on, bone-in, but honestly, it was not a big deal.  I think it kept it juicer. 
The tomatoes were so plump and juicy.  I LOVE grilled tomatoes.  LOVE LOVE LOVE them.  They were piping hot when I bit into them and they were flavorful and bright tasting and JUICY...  like dripping down my chin juicy.  Yum. 
The zucchini and yellow squash were also perfect.  The red onions were a nice touch, draped throughout, adding another of my favorite flavors. 
The balsamic reduction was delicious.  Sometimes, I find they can be too sweet or too tart.  This one had the perfect balance b/w the two.  It was thick enough to keep the flavor on the food, but not to thick that you felt it like gel.  I've had a balsamic reduction that was for thick; it's gross. 

BF's dish was good too, although, you could tell he was majorly jealous of mine.  When when he tried it, you could see the hesitation in his eyes before he said no to a second bite...
His pasta was full of garlicky flavor, something we both love.  There is not enough garlic on dishes sometimes, I feel.  But this one wasn't overloaded to the point of that garlic kick that you can get with not full cooked garlic.  It was that buttery garlic flavor that you get from roasting or sauteing it. 
He inhaled the pasta.  The broccoli was perfectly cooked, no hard crunchy pieces, but not so soft it was breaking when you picked it up with your fork.  I could have done w/out the green peppers, but I wasn't eating it...  It was not so thickly covered in oil that it dripped from the pasta when you put it in your mouth, but it was enough so that it was not dry.  And of course he added fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  The man can't have anything Italian with out fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

All in all, we loved this place.  I was full when it was done, but still wanted more.  I felt like I didn't want the eating to stop, it was that good.  Whether you live in Chicago, or are here on vacation, it's definitely a place to try!