“Gray skies are gonna clear up,
put on a happy face;
Tough kale is gonna clear out,
put on a happy face;
Spread arugula all over the place;
and put on a happy face.”
I have never hopped on the kale bandwagon. I hate the stuff – hate being one of the milder words I can apply to it. Well, kale’s been here. And now it’s going away, nearly gone for good I hope. That has me I’m cheering, singing and rewriting song lyrics from “Bye Bye Birdie.” I tried to rap it, too.
“The stuff is ugly. Gritty and stringy. And tough. Cult food. Not going away. But it did. It’s gone, baby, gone.” Best I can do. Drop microphone.
Everyone predicted that arugula, on the other hand, would disappear quickly. But its spritely bitterness has sprung up every spring - in backyards, flower pots and farms, for at least three generations. Arugula, now appearing on practical formica home plates and white tablecloth fine china. Farm to table. Fresh, green and tender. Local is best, when the farm is within an hour of the plate. But there’s never enough. Use it in salads, sandwiches, soups. Toss with pasta. Top pizza. Whirl into pesto and slather onto bruschetta.
Like greens, pasta shapes run trendy. Once, every recipe called for fettuccine. Then angel hair, followed by pappardelle. Penne is the one that stubbornly stays on menus. For a while, chefs and trendy eaters would only accept freshly made pasta. Today we like dried as well as fresh. In many cases, it’s better than fresh. One of the neatest dried pasta shapes supermarket shelves is mezze rigatoni, literally, half rigatoni. The fat tubular past with lines has been cut in half lengthwise, yielding short tubes that hold any sauce nicely. And it’s basically undiscovered.
Pasta cooking methods have been through so many changes. Mostly because no one ever closely observed an Italian grandma in her native habitat. Today’s chefs know better. They head for the kitchens of the Abruzzo and Apulia countryside, skipping the hotels and ristorante of Milan and Rome, to learn about pasta. And they’ve brought back their secrets. First that the pasta itself, unsauced, does have a sweet, nutty flavor. Secondly, when cooking, it should swim in deep, salty water. And thirdly, it should not drown in sauce leaving a puddle at the bottom of the serving bowl.
For years nutritionists have cautioned that eggs are killers, raising cholesterol to ridiculous levels. A few years ago, chefs started to push back. Maybe as a response to the recent recession – eggs are cheap – or maybe an act of defiance against so many nutritional authorities’ guidelines. Suddenly every restaurant was topping something on the menu with a poached or fried egg. Pasta. Waffles. Open-face burgers, the double cholesterol dare. Just about everything but breakfast cereal had an egg plopped on top. Some of the high-end pros are moving on now, leaving the eggs to the chain restaurants, but they still taste good, and it will be a while before this fad fades. And now the big news! Nutritionists have done a complete about face, saying that eggs are great source of protein, so eat up.
MEZZE RIGATONI WITH ARUGULA AND TOMATO CREAM
Makes 6 servings
The arugula here is a great counterpoint to the creamy tomato sauce, adding a little bite to an otherwise bland, predictable main course.
3 ounces prosciutto, chopped
1-1/2 cups favorite marinara sauce, homemade or purchased
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 ounces arugula, stemmed and chopped
salt, fresh ground black pepper
1 pound dried mezze rigatoni pasta
Fresh grated parmigiana cheese, to taste
In a large skillet over medium heat, combine the prosciutto and tomato sauce. Bring barely to a simmer and cook gently for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the cream until blended, and continue simmering 1 minute longer. Add the arugula and cook just until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, fill a deep pot three quarters of the way up with water; bring to a mad, rolling boil. Add a handful of salt. It will boil more furiously. Add pasta; cover the pot. When it returns to a boil, stir gently once, and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and bite into one piece to test texture. Remove and save a cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta; immediately add it to the skillet. Stir to mix well, coating the pasta with the sauce. If the sauce seems too thick, add pasta water, by the tablespoon until it seems right.
Transfer to a warmed serving platter or individual bowls; serve right away while still hot with parmigiano cheese.
PIMIENTO CHEESE DEVILED EGGS
Makes 12 servings
Pimiento cheese is a Southern delight. The mixture here of cheddar, chopped pimientos, mayo, mustard, grated onion, and hot sauce, is used as a snack, to stuff celery, a spread for crackers, a filling in a grilled cheese sandwich. It is as popular at a picnic as potato salad. I cannot resist trying every Southern cook’s version.
6 hard cooked eggs, peeled
1/4 cup shredded cheddar
1 tablespoons chopped pimientos, drained, dried on paper towels
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons mustard
2 teaspoon grated onion
Hot sauce, to taste
Salt, pepper, to taste
Cut the cooked eggs in half lengthwise. Cut a thin sliver from the bottom of each half so that it stands flat without rolling. Carefully remove yolks so that the whites do not break. Set aside the whites on a plate.
Place the yolks in bowl with cheddar cheese, pimientos, mayonnaise, mustard, and the grated onion. Blend together well. Season with hot sauce, salt, pepper.
Fill egg whites with yolk mixture; garnish the tops with a sprinkling of paprika. Chill, lightly covered with plastic wrap, until serving time.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, read her blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @Kitchencall.
Kitchen Call: Food fads and phases of the moon
“Gray skies are gonna clear up,