Saturday, April 28, 2007

Weeknights...And The Eating Is Easy

Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis
Weeknight Wonders

Roasted Cod with Lima Beans
Wilted Greens with Ricotta Salata
Artichoke Gratinata
Fusilli with Spinach and Asiago Cheese

To get the recipes:
Click here

Giada has a busy week. The show starts with her picking up her cleaning. (Who here believes that Giada actually picks her own cleaning?) Anyway, she doesn't want to, or want us, to get take-out for dinner. She wants to show us how a quick meal can be made, even on a busy night. Thank goodness, she didn't use the word "strategy", which never portends a good meal, OR the expression "30 Minute", which I guess would be stepping on a certain someone's toes.

Pasta with a few other ingredients can become a full dinner. Show us Giada, please. She starts by very well salting the pasta water. (If you are in a hurry, the second you walk into the house, you should put that water on the stove and get it boiling. You want the water to wait for you, not the other way around.) She adds the fusilli to the pot. Giada likes the shape, because "the sauce gets stuck in the little spirals. Every single time you take a bite of the pasta, you get all the of the flavors" in that one bite. Right you are, good choice of pasta.

1/4 cup of olive oil goes in the pan. It sounds like a lot, but that, along with the well-flavored pasta water, will be the basis of the sauce. She adds finely minced garlic. If she doesn't stir that quickly, it's going to burn...She gets the spinach and starts talking about how you need a lot, because it cooks down. Don't forget about the garlic! She rough chops the spinach. How about a rough stir of the garlic? Blah blah blah about the spinach. Move it, honey, if you don't get it in there, it'll be curtains. FINALLY, she adds the spinach and gives it a good stir. The spinach brings down the temperature of the pan quickly, but between you and me, the garlic looks a bit too brown...

She halves cherry tomatoes and stirs them into to the pan. (What do you think about her pale pink nail polish? I like it.) She tastes the pasta for doneness straight out of the pot. I refuse to do that anymore. Very quickly, I take one piece out with a slotted spoon and run cool water over it and then taste it. I just got sick of burning my mouth. (When my kids were young, after I drained the spaghetti, I would let them throw a strand or two against the wall. They really loved that. The trick was to not let them eat the ones that had fallen on the floor, after it hit the wall.)

The pasta gets tossed into the pan with the spinach and tomatoes. She's grating Asiago and Parmesan. She likes Asiago here, because it's stronger. I have to admit that everytime I buy Asiago, I regret it. I just don't like it. I would mix Parm and Pec - pecorino. So Giada adds the cheeses and seasoning. The recipe says to add pasta cooking water. I guess I looked away when she did that, but add a bit just to loosen the ingredients and make it a bit saucy (just like her).

We move on to a vegetable dish, using Giada's favorite secret weapon to a great weeknight meal - frozen artichoke hearts. Again, she infuses oil with garlic. (I personally NEVER chop garlic on wood.) She says to thaw them slightly (the recipe says THAWED, not slightly, just thawed). I think we BETTER thaw them, otherwise, they'll take forever to heat up in the oven. She adds the artichoke hearts to the garlic, that again looked like it had browned too much.

Ok, let's settle something here and now. I can't remember who first spelled this out to me. I actually think it was Nigella. Don't add chopped garlic to hot oil. Pure and simple, it'll burn. Start the garlic in cold oil and watch carefully. You'll also get a better flavor, because the oil will have had longer to be indoctrinated with all of the garlic's wiles and charms.

Ok, so we've heated up the oil and garlic together and THEN added the artichoke hearts with parsley, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Cook until the artichokes are a little brown around the edges. Mmmmm, yummy caramelization.

In a separate pan, Giada gets some butter melting. She adds it to storebought unflavored bread crumbs with Parmesan. (If all you have is flavored breadcrumbs, don't worry about it, just use those.) She adds 1/2 cup of chicken stock to the artichokes to keep them moist and some Marsala, which adds a light but rich (huh?) flavor. She tells us to cook it down a bit to evaporate the liquid. Puts artichokes and liquid into a baking dish and covers with crumb mixture. This gets baked for 10 minutes at 450 deg f. Frankly, I loved the way the artichokes looked at the caramelization stage. I'm not so sure I would bother with the stock and Marsala and crumb-stuff. I think they would be great in just the garlic scented oil. But I guess this is a bit heartier.

Usually I don't mention the commercials, but this one got my attention. "Wanna cook like Rachael Ray?" NO, I REALLY DON'T! "Get these knives and you can." Remind me to put that on my list of things NOT to get.

Giada goes on to a quick vegetable dish that you can serve instead of a salad, which involves wilted greens. Don't turn up your noses. All these industrial type of greens really pack a powerful nutritional punch.

She starts by softening onions in olive oil. Adding lots of flavor with garlic and onion is what makes the Swiss Chard so yummy, she tells us. "Yummy" isn't the world I would use to describe Swiss Chard, but ok. She adds 4 garlic cloves to oil. That's not too much, because the Swiss Chard can really stand up to it. Is that code for it being so strong that you need to overpower it with other flavors like garlic?

She rinses the bright green huge leafy chard in water. (Food porn alert.) Don't dry it off. She cuts off the stems and roughly chops the leaves. She reminds us that she's using 2 bunches, because it cooks down so much. Adds the Swiss chard to the onion and stirs it around. She adds chicken stock and 2 tbls. soy sauce, instead of salt. "Stir often so you rotate all the greens and they cook evenly."

Ok, this is fine, but if you're new to greens and maybe even if you're not, you may want to blanch them before sautéing. Blanch Swiss chard for a minute or 2 in a large pot of boiling salted water, kale a bit longer, maybe 3 minutes. Some recipes even say up to 10 minutes, before sauteing. If it's your first time cooking heavy duty greens (Swiss chard is a bit more tender and less bitter than others), definitely blanch them first. You can also use different ones together. Just put the kale in first to blanch, wait a minute or so and add the chard.

Her sautéed chard looks really good - all wilty and garlicky. She crumbles Ricotta Salata right on top and she's done. I would add a bit more stock to give you more juices and then serve it over brown (Basmati, remember?) rice.

You can get chard in a wonderful variety of colors. Rainbow is gorgeous. Red is pretty too. Mix and match them.

Now Giada is telling us about a quick and easy main dish with no pots or pans: Fish gets cooked in foil packets. She starts with lima beans. That can NEVER be a good thing. (Actually, I don't mind them with lots of other beans in a really zesty vinaigrette.) She adds chopped parsley to the frozen lima beans with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. She readies a piece of foil. She puts some of the lima beans in the center of the foil as a bed for the fish. Places 6 oz piece of cod on top. I suppose she mentioned the weight of the fish, so you know how long to cook it. Salt and pepper the fish and pour over a few tablespoons of white wine. Fold over top and side and fold up the edges so nothing leaks out. Cook at 375 deg F for 20 minute.

It looks ok, but would you EVER make this? I didn't think so...Try this Penelope Casas recipe, which I think would be an improvement. Just substitute the cod and lima beans and obviously, the lima beans don't need to be cooked so long.

There are a few Spanish recipes that sound really weird, but are really good. There's one for fish with green sauce, which is made with lots of parsley, peas and clams. It's amazingly flavorful. I wish I could give you Penelope Casas' recipe, but it not mine to give (The one above is on her website and fair game). It's in her The Food And Wines Of Spain, which I've mentioned before is a fabulous book. If you only make the tortilla and gazpacho, it's worth it. But now here's another recipe - Merluza a la Vasca, Fish Steak in Green Sauce.

Good show, but are you getting the feeling that sometimes Giada is running out ideas, especially for themes? She's made that pasta many times before in different guises. And for a show which is about weeknight dinners, I don't think she included enough main course type dishes.


anna said...

I never post to blogs but couldn't resist because I found this blog by googling Penelope Casas. I am writing a review of her updated edition of Tapas. I loved the first edition and love the new one as well. I was also going to review Giada's book (can't remember which one) but after my husband and I looked at it we realized there wasn't any recipe we were interested in making. I am of like mind on your comments about Giada's tv persona and RR's adverts.
Thanks for the good read and the amazing coincidence of someone else having Giada and Penelope in the same zone.

Sue said...

Hi Anna,
Welcome. Thanks so much for the kind words. I'd love to see your reviews...

Penelope Casas is wonderful. We lived in Spain for 3 years and when we came back, I wanted an authentic book (The Foods and Wines of Spain) that would give me recipes of many of the dishes that I loved. I've NEVER had a better gazpacho. Her rice dishes are flawless and I love that she learned a lot from her very Spanish mother-in-law and yet could write the recipes for an American kitchen.

I do use quite a few of Giada's recipes. I love her much of the time, except when she reverts to mixes and boxes, which I really think is beneath her.