Thai Curry Cod and Rice

Rejoice, ye lovers of fresh cod, and be glad, O connoisseurs of Thai curries, for today the two are one!  For behold, the marriage of these two fine foods has come to pass, and there was much feasting.

Okay, that’ll be enough of that nonsense. The point is that this one-skillet dish pulls together one of my favorite varieties of fresh fish with the rich, spicy goodness of a creamy Thai red curry over a hearty bed of rice and vegetables, finished with a note of bright citrus.

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This recipe will feed 4 hearty souls with probably a bit leftover:

  • 2 tbsp. peanut oil
  • 1 ½ cups long-grain rice
  • 8 oz. white button mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • 1 can (8 oz.) sliced bamboo shoots
  • 2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 3-4 green onions
  • 2 ¼ cups water or unsalted chicken stock
  • Fine sea salt and white pepper to taste
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp. red curry paste
  • 1 ½ to 2 lbs. skinless cod loins, cut into 2” chunks
  • Lime wedges for garnish

A quick note about your knife work: separate the whites of the onions from the green tops. Slice the whites into rounds, and then slice the green tops on the bias, as these latter will be part of your decorative garnish.

In a large straight-sided skillet, heat the oil over medium flame, then add the rice, mushrooms, bamboo, ginger and onion whites, and sauté for about 2 minutes until the mushrooms begin to sweat and the ginger becomes aromatic. Add the water or stock, along with a generous pinch of salt, bring it to a boil, then back the heat down to low.

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Cover the skillet and let it simmer for about 10 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Meanwhile, whisk together the coconut milk and curry paste in a bowl. Pat the cod pieces dry with paper towels, and season them with salt and pepper. When the rice mixture has finished its cook time, arrange the cod pieces on top, drizzle with about half the curry sauce, then cover the skillet again.

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Continue to cook on low heat until the cod is tender and flaky, about 10-15 minutes depending on how thick your cuts are. If you’re not sure, temp it with your instant read thermometer to 140°.   When it’s done, sprinkle the onion greens on top, and plate it up.

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The extra sauce is available for drizzling, and a squirt of fresh lime juice creates the perfect acidic finish. We both enjoyed this immensely, doubly so because it falls within my definition of a healthy meal. Rather predictably, we munched it down with a big happy grin on our face. Give it a try and experience the joys of home-made Thai cuisine. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Summer Vegetable and Orzo Casserole

It’s a beautiful, sunny summer day here in Cincinnati, so today we’re cooking to suit the local climate. That means we’re keeping it light, healthy and yea, even vegetarian. Today’s offering is a very simple Italian-themed one-pan pasta and vegetable dish that both vegetarians and carnivores alike will find very satisfying. It gives a bed of richly seasoned orzo pasta topped with broiled squash, tomatoes and parmesan cheese, and the whole thing is accented with fresh herbs.

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Here are your ingredients for 4 servings as a meal, or 6 if you choose to serve this as a side dish:

  • 1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
  • 1 cup orzo pasta
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 tbsp. minced fresh oregano leaves (or 1 tsp. dried oregano)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into ¼” pieces
  • 1 yellow squash, sliced into ¼” pieces
  • 4-5 plum tomatoes, sliced into ¼” pieces
  • 1 ¾ cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves

Preheat your oven to 425. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ½ cup of the cheese, orzo, shallots, garlic, red pepper and ½ tsp. of salt. Spread this mixture into a 13” x 9” baking dish, then layer the tomatoes, squash and zucchini on top in a shingle pattern. Pour the stock over the vegetables, making sure the orzo is evenly saturated, and bake for about 20 minutes until the orzo has absorbed the stock.

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Remove the baking dish from the oven and switch over to the broiler. While that is heating up, drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables, season them to taste with salt and pepper, and then sprinkle the other 1 cup of cheese over the entire dish. Pop this under the broiler for about 5 minutes, until the cheese becomes brown and bubbly.  Pull the dish back out of the oven, let it cool for about 10 minutes, then sprinkle it with the chopped basil leaves, and plate it up.

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We enjoyed this as a light, healthy dinner as we sat on our back porch and soaked up the summer sun – dining al fresco as the Italians like to say. There were big, happy grins all around. I hope you’ll give it a try and enjoy it as much as we did. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Suppli con Prosciutto e Basilico

I recently bought a shiny new deep fryer and couldn’t wait to try it out on this dish. This is my variation on a classic Italian offering called Suppli al Telefono, which are deep-fried croquettes of risotto stuffed with mozzarella, typically served with tomato sauce. The name, I am given to understand, translates as “telephone wires” and derives from the way the melted cheese looks as you pull these beautiful creatures apart. They make amazing appetizers or even the centerpiece of your dinner plate.

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For this version I decided to add some prosciutto and fresh basil (pardon me if I butchered the Italian language as I tried to name the recipe), but you’re free to choose whatever fillings make you happy. Maybe try them with some other kinds of fresh herbs, or some crisp-fried pancetta, or some seasoned chicken, or maybe a different cheese like fontina, or something more robust like gorgonzola. Use your fertile imagination. Just one small caveat – if you put meat in them, you will want to pre-cook it because the deep-frying process may not do that sufficiently from a food safety perspective. Also, whatever you decide to use for your fillings, be sure that the size and amount allows you to enclose them completely when you shape the suppli.

This recipe involves three distinct steps: 1. Making a risotto; 2. Filling and shaping the suppli; and 3. Deep-frying. Here are your ingredients to make an even dozen of these little beauties, which I am going to call 4-6 servings, depending on how hungry your guests are.

  • 2 tbsp. whole butter
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ½ cups Arborio rice (or similar risotto-style rice)
  • 5 cups chicken stock, hot
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • ¾ cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 12 cubes of fresh mozzarella, about ½” each
  • 6 leaves of fresh basil, cut in half
  • 4 oz. small-diced prosciutto
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • Tomato sauce for dipping

Step 1 – Make the Risotto

In a deep skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Sweat the onion until tender, then add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds until aromatic. Next add the rice and mix it thoroughly so that the butter coats it evenly. Using a ½-cup ladle, start adding the hot chicken stock one scoop at a time, stirring thoroughly each time until all of the stock is absorbed into the rice before adding more. After all of the stock has been incorporated, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook another 10 minutes or so, until your risotto has reached a creamy al dente consistency. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the fresh herbs and grated cheese, and season to taste with the salt and pepper.

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Lastly, stir the beaten eggs into the mixture until completely blended. As you can easily imagine, this recipe would be a perfect use for leftover risotto if you happen to have some on hand – just be sure to blend in the eggs as a binder so the rice holds together for you. The next step is to transfer the cooked risotto to a clean flat surface such as a baking sheet or large cutting board, where you will need to spread it out evenly to cool.

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Step 2 – Filling and Shaping

While your risotto is cooling, prepare your fillings. Since I am using prosciutto I decided to pre-cook it – a simple sauté to render some of the fat and add a bit of crispness. Otherwise it was just a matter of cutting up some cheese cubes and plucking a bit of fresh basil from my outdoor planter.

Divide the risotto into 12 equal portions. Using a large flat spatula, lift a portion into one hand, then use the other to add the fillings and shape it into a ball, taking care to enclose all the fillings completely – especially the cheese since that will foul your oil if it leaks out when you deep-fry later.

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Technically true Italian suppli should be egg-shaped croquettes, but I found it easier to just keep them round. As each one is shaped, roll it in the bread crumbs until fully coated, and set it aside. When all 12 are done, you’re ready for the final step.

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Step 3 – Deep Frying

Although there’s no hard rule that says you must use a deep-fryer for this recipe, let me heartily recommend that you do – it’s just easier and will give you better results. If you don’t have one, use a deep straight-sided skillet with enough oil to completely cover the suppli when they are immersed. Either way, you will want your oil preheated to about 350°. Work in batches to avoid overcrowding, and cook the suppli in the hot oil for about 4-5 minutes until they reach the desired level of coloration. Pull them out and let them drain while you finish the others. It’s not a bad idea to keep them warm in a low oven while you continue to work.

When the frying is done you will want to serve these delicious babies up fresh and hot. I used a favorite tomato sauce for this dish, but a nice garlic-butter-herb sauce would also make an amazing accompaniment. Whatever you choose, dive right in and munch them down with a big happy grin on your face. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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Steak Monticello

Very recently a dear friend took a vacation to Virginia. While there she visited the Thomas Jefferson estate at Monticello – which, by the by, is a very cool place to visit if you’ve never had the privilege. Anyway, since she knows I love to cook she brought me back a packet of Monticello Herb Melange, a dried herb mixture from the same plants that have been cultivated at the estate for generations. My cook’s mind immediately set about trying to decide on a fitting use for such a worthy gift, and I believe I found it with today’s offering, Steak Monticello.

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As a preliminary matter I thought it would be good to let you know what is in this particular dried herb blend, at least to the best of my ability to reconstruct it. The proportions may not be exact but this should at least get you into the ballpark. The following should make about one-half cup of the dried mixture:

  • 2 tbsp. parsley
  • 2 tbsp. summer savory
  • 4 tsp. basil
  • 3 tsp. majoram
  • 2 tsp. tarragon
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. mint

For this recipe I chose a pair of New York strip steaks, and used about half of the herb mixture (about ¼ cup or 4 tbsp). I did two different things with it: a wet rub for the steaks to apply before cooking, and an herb-butter sauce to pour on prior to serving.

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To make the wet rub, use 3 tbsp. of the dried herbs. In a bowl, mix with 3 tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 tsp. of kosher salt and a few turns of cracked pepper.

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Preheat your oven to 400.  Dry the steaks thoroughly with paper towels, and preheat a cast iron skillet with just enough oil to coat the bottom, until the oil is nearly at the smoke point.  Rub the oil-herb mixture onto the top and bottom of the steaks, then place them in the hot skillet to sear.

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After 4-5 minutes a nice crust should form on the bottom. Flip the steaks, sear for a couple minutes on the bottom, use tongs as you also sear the edges, then toss the skillet into your hot oven until the steaks reach an internal temperature of about 135 – about 10 minutes depending on how thick your cuts are.

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While the steaks are finishing in the oven, make your butter sauce. For this I used:

  • ¼ cup whole butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. dried Monticello herb mixture
  • 1-2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 small sprig of fresh rosemary
  • Kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste

Just combine all of these ingredients in a small saucepan and melt the butter over low heat until everything is well blended and the flavors are thoroughly infused, and hold it warm.

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When your steaks are finished in the oven, remove them to a plate and tent them loosely with aluminum foil to rest for about 10 minutes.  Then you’re ready to serve with some of the butter sauce on top.  We plated up with a side of pan-fried russet potatoes and some oven-roasted eggplant and zucchini. Let there be no doubt that we munched these beautiful babies right down with a big happy grin on our faces. Many thanks to Brenda for her delicious gift. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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