Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Does Inspiration Equal Perspiration?

It's hard to admit in this time of vegetal abundance that I'm seriously lacking in culinary inspiration. The farmers markets are brimming with a Skittles variety of tomatoes, from nascent, unripe green ones to sweet ruby reds and all of the lovely yellow, orange and burgundy hues in between. Peppers are just as bright these days and available in varying degrees of size and heat. There's a fresh summer chili for every hothead out there, not to mention a sweet bell pepper in everything from green to red to purple. Eggplants are available in their well known deep purple color or with a winter white skin that renders them almost unrecognizable. Sweet summer corn is so plentiful it's nearly impossible to make it out of the market without feeling the crunch of discarded husks underfoot.

And yet as I meander from stall to stall, taking in the colors and smells of summer's bounty I find myself strangely without ideas. Perhaps I work best under pressure, when I'm forced to take winter's gnarly bits and turn them into something delicious. Maybe it's hard for me to see such wonderful produce and imagine doing anything but slicing it up as is and enjoying its natural flavor and texture. Whatever the reason, I've been suffering a crisis of conscience lately about my lack of passion for creative cooking. So after a nice walk through the market I decided to shop at random, picking up ingredients that are around in the summer, but that I often ignore. 

A lovely small head of cauliflower jumped out at me, as did some zucchini and green beans. After a little recipe researching for ideas I decided to take two of my ingredients, along with some summer squash from my Urban Organic delivery, and try out a nice, light Bon Appétit pasta dish. It married a combination of vegetables that would most likely not have come to mind (cauliflower, zucchini and summer squash) and threw in a little orecchiette along with great homemade croutons for extra crunch, and some anchovies for salty punch. I ended up deviating from the recipe (as usual) because it was coming off a tad bland, but all in all it was really tasty and even made a decent pasta salad the next day. It's definitely worth trying, especially if you want to sneak a ton of vegetables into your dinner, or you're just looking for a light summer dish. I almost doubled some of the ingredients to punch up the flavor in the sauce (more anchovies, more cheese, more olive oil) and added some herbs and spices to the croutons for the same reason. Check out my adapted recipe below and never fear: it doesn't taste like anchovies, just salty, cheesy goodness.

Orecchiette With Cauliflower, Anchovies And Fried Croutons
adapted from Bon Appétit

1 large head of cauliflower (28 to 30 ounces), trimmed, cut into 1-inch florets
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound orecchiette or medium-size shell pasta
1 1/2 cups cubed crusty country-style bread
3 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut into 1/3-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
10 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided, plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup (packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss cauliflower florets with 1 tablespoon olive oil in large bowl to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spread in single layer on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until cauliflower florets are tender and beginning to brown in spots, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of boiling, generously salted water to a boil. While you wait for the water to boil, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large deep nonstick skillet or large pot over medium-high heat. Add bread cubes and sauté until golden brown and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and toss with parsley, salt and pepper and cool. Reserve skillet or pot. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking water before draining pasta.

3. While pasta cooks, add 2 tablespoons olive oil to same skillet or pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add zucchini and garlic and sauté until zucchini is golden brown and crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add cauliflower and anchovies and sauté until heated through, 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add drained pasta, reserved 1 1/3 cups pasta cooking liquid, remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/3 cup parsley, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and Pecorino Romano cheese and toss to coat. Season pasta to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve topped with fried croutons, remaining parsley, and additional Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!



The Food Hunter said...

Mmm..salty cheesy goodness sounds yummy!

KEN said...

These look so elegant and sound fabulous.Yum!