Fire up the grill for U.S or Mexican Gulf shrimp

The summerlong season for fresh Pacific pink shrimp has become even more precious over the past decade or so.

That’s the approximate time span since I began a rigorous refusal of any and all farm-raised shrimp. Exposés on the conditions in Southeast Asia’s shrimp-shelling sheds only reinforce my resolve that shrimp raised in “freshwater” ponds — essentially filled with effluent and doused with antibiotics — are not a substance I want in my mouth. Even if consumers were still in the dark about seafood-farming practices, the products’ flavor (or lack of it) gives away their unwholesome origins.

Absent pink shrimp, a wild-caught, sustainable seafood, I’ve recently come around to larger species since Medford’s Food 4 Less started stocking Mexican “brown” shrimp in the frozen section. Fished from the Gulf, these ones processed in Mexico (as opposed to those I’ve seen from Gulf states of the U.S.) come peeled and deveined, making them a quick fix on weeknights or feasible for a crowd.

I’ve gotten raves from my family for coconut-breaded shrimp and the classic garlicky, buttery scampi preparation. A new crop of juicy garlic from my garden is the ideal accompaniment, as suggested in this recipe for grilled shrimp marinated in olive oil, an alternative to butter that makes shellfish a low-fat protein option. Try it for the holiday weekend with bread salad, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press, or serve the shrimp over pasta.

Tribune News Service photo

Grilled Shrimp With Vegetable Bread Salad

1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen extra-large shrimp

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus 2 tablespoons snipped, divided

1/3 cup olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons, divided

1/2 whole grain baguette

1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half

1/2 cup halved Kalamata olives

1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Thaw the shrimp, if frozen. Soak 6-inch wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes

Peel and devein shrimp, as needed, leaving tails intact if desired. Rinse shrimp and pat them dry. Thread 3 shrimp on each skewer, leaving ¼ inch between them. Place shrimp skewers on a sided baking sheet or in a pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons parsley and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Brush all over shrimp. Let shrimp sit for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Meanwhile, prepare bread salad. Cut the baguette into 1/2-inch cubes and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Place in oven until lightly browned and toasted, for about 15 minutes.

Place bread cubes in a bowl, add the tomatoes, olives, red onion and 1/3 cup parsley. Drizzle with the vinegar and 1/3 cup olive oil. Toss to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Preheat grill to medium. Grill shrimp for about 5 to 8 minutes or until shrimp are opaque, turning once. Remove from grill.

Serve shrimp on a platter with bread salad on the side. Makes 4 servings.

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Cheesecake bars please this fruit-loving palate

What to make for a child who can’t tell you what he likes? I’ve learned through the past three years of celebrations — sprinkled with some spontaneous bribery, pacification and rewards — that chocolate is a pretty safe bet.

Thus, my older son’s palate determined the cake flavor for his younger brother’s first birthday. Without other children to consider, however, I called the shots two years ago, which is how my first-born ended up with a lemon-flavored birthday cheesecake with raspberry sauce. No wonder he didn’t tear into it with reckless abandon and then turn his attentions to masticating the paper plate.

My younger boy isn’t quite such a discerning eater. But maybe he’ll still surprise me and, like his mom, favor fruit flavors. This recipe for raspberry cheesecake bars, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, may be just the thing. Or I could make a pan all for me.

Tribune News Service photo

Raspberry Cheesecake Bars


6 ounces fresh raspberries

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest


1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted


8 ounces cream cheese, softened

6 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

For swirl, heap the berries, sugar and zest in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook until berries collapse, for about 5 minutes. Press through a medium-mesh sieve; discard seeds. Chill.

For crust, measure the flour, sugar, butter and salt into bowl of a food processor. Pulse to damp clumps. Slide in the toasted almonds and pulse a few times. Dump this crumble into an 8-inch, square baking pan lined with parchment paper (leave some overhang) and pat firmly into bottom. Bake at 350 F until tan and fragrant, for about 18 minutes. Cool.

For filling, measure all the ingredients into bowl of a food processor and swirl smooth. Spread over prebaked crust.

Pour raspberry puree into stripes over cheesecake batter. Use a fork to swirl pink into white.

Bake at 350 F until wiggly in center, for about 25 minutes. Cool. Chill. Grasp parchment and pull cheesecake out of pan. Cut into 12 bars.

Makes 12 bars.

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Better tacos just a tortilla press and practice away

There’s no shame in purchasing good-quality tortillas for most of one’s taco needs, according to a primer in the current A la Carte.

Happily, there are several sources of fresh tortillas in the Rogue Valley. But even local supermarkets sell masa harina and inexpensive tortilla presses.

Although masa harina, as opposed to freshly prepared masa, is basically the Bisquick of tortilla-making, it brings just-cooked, still-warm tortillas within more cooks’ reach. In his cookbook “Tacos: Recipes and Provocations,” New York chef Alex Stupak calls tortillas prepared with masa harina an “absolute revelation if all you’ve ever tasted is reheated, store-bought tortillas.”

Such enthusiasm is bringing me closer to trying tortilla-making again, an effort I chronicled in a 2007 post. Admittedly, I needed more practice. And this recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, may be just the motivator I need to dust off my tortilla press. More ideas for filling tortillas follow.

Tribune News Service photo


In a large bowl, pour 1 1/8 cups warm water over 1 cup masa harina; stir with a wooden spoon until masa is moistened, then knead it together until it holds in a ball. It should be moist but not sticky; it shouldn’t stick to your hands. If it’s not moist enough, add a little more water and knead again; if it’s too moist, add a little more harina and knead. Cover with a damp towel.

Place a two-burner griddle over both burners, or use two cast-iron pans. Heat one over medium-high heat and the other over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cut a large piece of plastic: I find very thin crinkly grocery bags from supermarkets work best. Fold it in half, open your tortilla press. You want it to line the bottom, with the fold lying against the press’s hinge, with the other half covering the top.

Roll a ball of masa about the size of a golf ball (maybe a wee bit smaller) and put it in the center of the bottom of the press. Making sure the plastic will sandwich the ball, close the press and pull the lever down gently. Open the press, lift the plastic with the tortilla, open your palm, lay the tortilla flat in your palm, peel off the plastic and place the tortilla on the less-hot part of the griddle or less-hot pan. Cook it for 15 seconds.

Use a metal spatula to flip it over onto the hotter side of the griddle or hotter pan and cook it for 30 seconds. Flip it again, still on the hot side, and cook for another 10 seconds, then flip a final time and cook 10 seconds more, at which point it may puff a bit. Place it in your tortilla basket if it’s to be eaten immediately or very soon, or better yet, in an insulated fabric tortilla warmer, which can keep it warm for more than an hour.

Makes 12 tortillas.

Recipe from Cooks Without Borders


So, what to fold into warm, handmade tortillas?

Have a couple of good salsas on hand, like an easy-to-make roasted salsa verde, a store-bought salsa roja or homemade pico de gallo (diced onion and tomato, chopped cilantro, minced serrano or jalapeño chili, a little salt, a big squeeze or three of lime).

Set out bowls of any or all of the following: lime wedges, guacamole, crumbled queso fresco, sliced avocado, cilantro leaves, sliced radishes, chopped olives, chopped white onion, sliced scallions, sliced or diced cucumber.

For the fillings, let your imagination go:

Pick up a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket.

Stop by your favorite barbecue joint and buy some sliced brisket or pulled pork.

Use leftover steak. Toss it in a hot skillet or grill pan, then slice it in medium-rare strips for bifstek tacos. They’re great dressed with chopped onion, cilantro and any kind of salsa.

Boil some pinto beans for vegetarian tacos. Just soak beans overnight, drain, cover with water, toss in half a peeled onion (or a whole one), a couple cloves of unpeeled garlic, fresh thyme or oregano (optional), dried or fresh bay leaves (optional). Bring to a boil, lower heat, then simmer till they’re tender. Add salt to taste when they’re done.

Pick up some shelled and deveined shrimp from the supermarket and toss them on the grill or grill-pan. Or grill fish fillets.

Leftover braised short ribs make great tacos, too. So do leftover stews (beef, pork, lamb, veal, chicken), pot roast, chops, leg of lamb.

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For ‘real’ meatballs, fry in a skillet, then add sauce

Meatballs can be many things: large, small, sweet, savory, spiced or sauced. But they should always be succulent and satisfying.

Making meatballs for an ACCESS cooking class in Rogue River was an enjoyable exercise, which I mentioned in this blog’s previous post. But concessions to ingredients more wholesome than run-of-the-mill ground beef and white breadcrumbs left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.

I will concede that meatballs can be healthful and still satisfying, but we would have needed to finesse our recipe a bit more. The other measure we took, both for ease of cooking, and health was baking the meatballs in the oven, which drains off much of the fat, but also eliminates the base for a richly flavored sauce.

As directed in this recipe for “real” meatballs, I prefer to fry mine in a skillet, deglaze the browned bits and stir them into my sauce. And a day later, that’s exactly what I did, craving my signature Sicilian meatball recipe, the subject of a 2007 post. Admittedly, they’re a bit unconventional, but pine nuts and golden raisins make them a real crowd-pleaser.

More mainstream are meatballs like these that combine ground beef and pork or sausage. And if you want to get really serious, you add veal, which I never use, but my grandmother swore made up the meat trifecta of “real” meatballs.

Tribune News Service photo

Real Meatballs and Spaghetti


4 slices white bread, crust removed

1/2 cup milk

1/2 pound ground veal

1/2 pound ground pork

1 pound ground beef sirloin

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 extra-large egg, beaten

Vegetable oil, for frying

Olive oil, for frying


1 tablespoon good olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving:

1 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

Freshly grated Parmesan

Place the bread slices in a bowl and pour the milk over, submerging bread in milk. Set aside for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, place the ground meats, fresh breadcrumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg and egg. Squeeze bread slices, getting as much milk out as possible. Add bread to meat mixture. Combine all very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form mixture into about 2-inch meatballs. You will have about 24 meatballs. Chill in refrigerator or freezer for 30 minutes before cooking.

Pour equal amounts of the vegetable oil and olive oil into a large, shallow sided skillet to a depth of ¼ inch. Working in batches, add meatballs to skillet and brown them well on all sides over medium heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. Don’t crowd meatballs. Remove meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard oil but don’t clean pan.

For sauce, heat the olive oil in same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all brown bits in pan, until almost all liquid evaporates, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return meatballs to sauce, cover and simmer on lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot on the cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.

Makes about 24.

Adapted by the Detroit Free Press from

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Use ‘claw’ for mixing up these and other meatballs

It’s been quite a week for meatballs.

The commencement was an ACCESS cooking class I taught at the Rogue River community center. Detailed in an April post, the class ran for six weeks and culminated with a celebratory meal of spaghetti and meatballs, albeit a more healthful version to accommodate the MyPlate dietary guidelines.

The recipe reinforced some important concepts in the kitchen. No, you can’t just add an entire package of meat, disregarding its actual weight, without increasing the quantities of other ingredients to maintain flavor and consistency. When incorporating firm-textured ingredients, such as onions, garlic and other vegetables, it’s best to mince them as finely as possible to achieve a meatball that both holds together well and offers a pleasing texture.

And finally, when assembling a mixture of meat for meatballs, meatloaf, burgers or any other purpose, use the “claw” technique to avoid compacting the meat, making the end product tough and dense. My group of participants hadn’t quite reached the point of kneading the meat like bread dough, which drives me INSANE. But they were manhandling it plenty by the time I stepped in.

It’s easier to demonstrate than to explain the claw. Very simply, however, hold an imaginary apple or orange in your hand, and then keeping your fingers curved, just run them through, under and around the meat, gently distributing all the ingredients but keeping the mixture loose. No need to slam the meat against the side of the bowl or strangle it in your fists. This animal’s already dead, folks.

The class recipe called for using ground turkey, along with whole-wheat noodles. But as most of us know, grass-fed beef can be very lean, as can grass-fed lamb. I keep the latter in my freezer and often incorporate it with turkey or pork sausage into my signature meatball recipe.

This one, served with a yogurt sauce, provides much of the flavor of lamb wrapped in phyllo, but it comes together much, much quicker and doesn’t require fussing with pastry or deep-frying. It’s courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Lamb Meatballs in Yogurt Sauce

In a bowl, stir together 1 small onion, minced; 1/2 cup minced parsley; 2 eggs, beaten; 1 teaspoon salt; and 1/2 teaspoon each pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Mix in 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb until blended.

Form mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Fry meatballs in batches until golden-brown and cooked through, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Pour out all but 1 tablespoon fat from pan. Add 1 cup chicken broth. Heat to boiling; cook to reduce slightly, for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup sour cream. Simmer for 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup yogurt. Season with salt and pepper.

Return meatballs to pan; simmer until hot, for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with warm pita and garnished with almonds and paprika. Makes: 6 servings.

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Lamb-phyllo cigars are the Middle East’s taquito

Judging from some responses on social media, this blog’s previous post found favor with fans of phyllo pastry.

But as convenient as phyllo can be as a crust for quiche, the box in my freezer has been earmarked for a recipe that I hit the food wire a few months ago. The background story for this dish, an example of the addictive qualities of crunchy food, ran in A la Carte, but not this recipe as near as I can tell.

So here it is, basically a Middle Eastern take on the taquito, just much crispier. Phyllo pastry encases spiced, savory lamb, and the whole thing is deep-fried for dipping in a mint-yogurt sauce.

It’s an involved process, but I’m counting on the results being so worth it. An instant-read thermometer is needed for monitoring the oil.

Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

Lamb and Phyllo Cigars

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 pound ground lamb

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, plus more for drizzling

3 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

Peanut or canola oil, for frying

7 sheets phyllo dough (14 by 18 inches), defrosted

1 large egg, beaten

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Once oil shimmers, add the onion and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring several times, until it’s lightly golden.

Add the garlic to skillet, then the salt, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg and cayenne pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the lamb, breaking it up with your fingers as you go. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until lamb loses its raw look and spices are evenly distributed.

Clear a spot at center of pan; add the tomato paste and spread it a bit; cook for 2 minutes, then remove pan from heat. Add the pomegranate molasses, pine nuts and the parsley or cilantro, and stir to combine.

Pour about 3 inches of peanut or canola oil into a deep saute pan; heat over medium-high heat to 350 F. Seat a wire cooling rack inside a rimmed baking sheet.

Meanwhile, unroll the phyllo sheets and stack them; cover with damp paper towels. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on a clean work surface and coat it with a light application of olive oil cooking spray (or brush lightly with olive oil). Repeat this step to build and coat a second layer.

Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut sheets in half lengthwise, then cut each of those halves horizontally into 3 rectangles of equal size, so you have 6 rectangles total.

Use the beaten egg to brush 3 edges of each phyllo rectangle, leaving 1 long side plain. Spoon a tablespoon of lamb mixture an inch inside unbrushed edge, in a line parallel to edge, leaving a 1/2-inch margin at either end. Roll dough over filling, tightly. Once it’s rolled, use your fingers to gently push and fold in sides of roll. Keep cigars covered with a damp paper towel. Repeat to use all but 3 tablespoons of filling, forming 18 cigars.

Spray/brush last phyllo sheets with oil, then fold it in half lengthwise; cut fold, then cut folded phyllo into 3 equal rectangles. Repeat the egg-wash, filling, rolling, sealing, spraying and covering steps, so you have a total of 21 cigars. Check to make sure seams of phyllo are tightly sealed; if not, brush with more egg. (Discard any leftover egg after you’re finished frying.)

Working in batches, gently drop cigars into the hot oil; fry cigars for about 3 minutes, turning so they’re evenly and lightly browned. Use tongs to transfer them to wire rack to cool. (If cigars open a bit along seam, you can cut or pinch off that bit.)

Just before serving, drizzle some pomegranate molasses over the dipping sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature, with sauce.

Makes 7 servings (makes 21 cigars).

DIPPING SAUCE: In a medium bowl, whisk 1 cup plain, low-fat, Greek-style yogurt with 2 tablespoons low-fat milk, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 6 fresh mint leaves (stacked, rolled and cut into thin ribbons), 1 tablespoon ground sumac and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt until well-blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (and up to 1 day).

Adapted by the Washington Post from a recipe by Adeena Sussman on

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Phyllo crust puts crunch in quintessential quiche

Pasta carbonara, the topic of this blog’s previous post, soon will be a welcome way of using more eggs.

That’s my expectation since some long-awaited chickens arrived on our property last week. They’re still too young to lay but in short order should produce more than enough eggs for our typical needs.

Quiche is another dish likely to crop up more often. It’s always been one of my preferred ways to use up a half-dozen or so eggs, along with just about any assortment of veggies and bits of meat and cheese.

Over the years, I’ve transitioned from using a standard pie crust in a pie plate to a puff-pastry crust in a tart pan, which cooks much more quickly. I’ve only made my own dough a handful of times, preferring to prepare quiche on the fly with pantry staples, like refrigerated puff pastry. But if I wanted to lavish some extra effort on quiche, I’d consult Julia Child’s classic recipe for Quiche Lorraine.

More recently, I’ve experimented with packaged phyllo dough for quiche, much like the method for this recipe from the Detroit Free Press. Flaky phyllo brings a crunchy contrast to quiche’s soft, rich custard.

This is a lovely treatment for peak-season asparagus but can transition with the seasons. One of my favorite formulas for phyllo quiche combines grated zucchini, lemon zest, fresh mint and feta to play up phyllo’s Greek origins.

The tissue-thin sheets can be a little tricky to handle. It’s key to keep it covered with a damp tea towel or paper towel. Once air hits phyllo, it will dry out.

But if you make a little tear, it’s OK because most recipes involve lots of phyllo layers, typically brushed with melted butter (sometimes clarified) to impart crispiness. Take care that the layers aren’t too butter-soaked, however, or they will tear more easily. You can rewrap and freeze the unused phyllo dough.

Tribune News Service photo

Asparagus Quiche With Phyllo Crust

4 large eggs

1 cup low-fat milk

1/2 cup fat-free or low-fat half-and-half

1 1/4 cups Italian-blend cheese

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper, to taste

8 (9-by-14-inch) sheets phyllo dough, thawed

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces (plus 8 spears, about 3 inches long, with tips)

1 1/2 cups frozen leaf spinach or fresh spinach

4 thin tomato slices

Preheat oven to 350 F. Have ready a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, half-and-half, cheese, Italian seasoning, flour, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Set the phyllo on a clean work surface and cover with a damp paper towel. Working with 1 sheet at a time, brush it lightly in streaks with the melted butter. Place 1 sheet in pie plate’s center allowing at least 1 inch to hang over edge. Brush another sheet and place it, crosswise, on top of the first. Continue brushing sheets with butter and layering them in this fashion, making sure you have an overhang around entire edge. Fold overhang over to form an edge and brush with butter.

Bake in preheated oven for 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the asparagus pieces and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the spinach and sauté for 2 minutes or until almost dry. Season with the salt and pepper to taste.

Remove partially baked phyllo crust from oven. Place asparagus-spinach mixture over bottom of crust. Pour egg mixture over asparagus. Arrange the tomato slices in center and then arrange the 8 asparagus spears in a circular pattern out from tomato slices.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until filling is set and slightly puffy. If edges begin to brown too quickly, cover them loosely with foil.

When filling is set, remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Makes 1 (9-inch) quiche (8 slices).

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It’s a make-or-break sauce for spaghetti carbonara

It’s been a week of rare meals from my kitchen, meals that materialized on the plate just as I saw them in my mind’s eye and tasted them on my mental palate.

I can credit an extra measure of focus, a precise hand with seasoning, uncanny timing and a bit of luck. Because for all the fresh ingredients in the hands of an experienced cook, it’s those tiny details that make or break a meal.

In my repertoire, there’s one dish that’s a make-or-break endeavor — literally. Depending on the forces in my favor (or arrayed against me), the result is either the most soul-satisfying mouthful or the most disappointing plate of food that I’m compelled to eat.

It’s pasta carbonara. I say “pasta” rather than spaghetti because a straight noodle of any width really suffices, although spaghetti probably is as thin as I would attempt.

And attempt it I have, for years. Usually at least once every month, this supremely savory dish beckons.

I’ve adapted carbonara with all manner of ingredients, the common element being the egg-enriched sauce. Prosciutto and American bacon can double for Italian pancetta. I’ve supplemented the noodles with winter greens, asparagus, leeks, zucchini, wild mushrooms and even spaghetti squash. Parmesan and pecorino cheeses can be complemented with smoked mozzarella, Gouda and even Brie.

But for all my fondness of this dish (“carbonara” crops up 10 times in this blog), I’ve never posted an actual recipe. Sure, I explained the technique back in a 2009 post, but my own technique has evolved considerably in the past seven years, coming closest to this recipe from San Francisco’s Boccalone.

One change I made early on is omitting cream. A true carbonara, according to Mario Batali, has no cream. And even he concedes in “Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home” that the dish is “slightly tricky in its execution.”

Anyone who’s ever tasted a top-notch carbonara knows the sauce should be silky, almost custard-like, the eggs cooked just enough by the hot pasta to thicken, lose a bit of their sheen and adhere to the noodles. A ruined carbonara is quite simply pasta surrounded by scrambled eggs.

The key, according to all the experts, is adding the eggs off the heat. Then continuously toss the pasta until it’s coated in the eggs. “Tossing” seems to be the preferred maneuver, but I would describe the technique I’ve perfected for my cast-iron skillet more as continuously stirring and scraping the eggs, using a wooden spoon, so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan while simultaneously folding the pasta into them.

And while saving some pasta water is critical to loosening the sauce, I deviate from many of the recipes, including this one, by transferring the pasta directly from its cooking water to the pan, using tongs, rather than draining it. That extra bit of water clinging to the pasta also keeps the eggs from setting up on initial contact.

I find the sauce also comes together more easily if the eggs are beaten and combined with the grated cheese before adding to the pan. Simply top the dish with more grated cheese.

Although recipe testers for the Detroit Free Press attest that cooking the sauce should take just a minute or two, mine often takes as long as five minutes of continuous stirring and gradually increasing the heat, until just the right consistency is achieved.

Tribune News Service photo

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

1 heaping tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 ounces pancetta or guanciale, sliced ¼ inch thick and cut into large dice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound good-quality dried spaghetti

4 large eggs

1/2 cup lightly packed, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 cup grated Pecorino (or more Parmigiano-Reggiano)

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt.

Meanwhile, in a 10-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta or guanciale, season with the pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions but just barely al dente, for about 8 minutes. Dip a glass measure or coffee cup into pasta water, scooping out a good cup of it; reserve. Drain pasta.

Remove skillet from heat and spoon off all but about 2 tablespoons fat. Add a few tablespoons pasta water to pan and scrape any brown bits from bottom.

Add pasta to skillet, set it over medium heat and toss spaghetti with tongs to coat it with fat and finish cooking to al dente, for about 1 minute. If pasta is too dry or starts to stick to bottom of pan, add a little more pasta water. Bottom of pan should be a little wet so eggs won’t scramble when added.

Remove skillet from heat and pour eggs over pasta, tossing quickly and continuously until eggs thicken and coat pasta, for about 1 minute.

Sauce should be creamy, coating pasta. If needed, add more pasta water a few tablespoons at a time to loosen sauce. Stir in the Parmigiano and Pecorino. Garnish with the chopped fresh parsley.

Makes 4 generous servings.

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Seared Belgian endive updates grilled Caesar

Greens of all varieties have benefitted from the caprices of recent weather. The plants in my garden grew lush during unseasonably warm temperature, then cooled their heels in a cold snap that kept them from bolting.

So the past week’s meals have incorporated plenty of greens: chard, spinach, lettuce, even the ruffle-edged tops from beets. Cooked or raw, on their own or paired with other ingredients, greens can wear many faces.

But when I want a singular sort of green, I reach for Belgian endive. Actually a member of the chicory family, this pale but sturdy vegetable makes a chopped salad of incomparable crunch, particularly when combined with crisp chunks of apple and toasted nuts.

That was my preferred preparation before discovering a technique that revealed another side of endive. Searing it in a pan tempers some of endive’s crunch but brings out so much more flavor. It’s like the grilled Caesar salad concept only so much better.

The following recipe from Tribune News Service doesn’t list quantities, making for a loose interpretation. Writer Leah Eskin notes that one endive head per person constitutes a side dish. Two is a meal unto itself

I adapted the recipe further by toasting some panko breadcrumbs in the residual oil and butter from searing the endive, adding a little anchovy paste and Aleppo pepper and deglazing with some sherry for a warm dressing. Given those flavors, I stuck with a mild cheese, fromage blanc, for topping.

Tribune News Service photo

Crisp Endive

Belgian endive

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil



Feta, goat or mild blue cheese

Slice each of the endive in half from root to tip. Trim away root end. If outermost leaves look sad, peel them away. Rub endive all over with the salt and pepper.

Set a medium nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Drop in 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. When butter has melted, halve 1 clove garlic and slide it in, cut-side down. Settle in endive in a single layer, cut-side down.

Cover pan. Let cook over medium-low (no stirring, prodding or fussing) until flat sides crisp to a deep brown and curved sides steam tender, for about 20 minutes. (Times vary depending on size of endive from as little as 15 to as much as 25 minutes. But err on the long side; you want a deep-brown flat surface.)

Set endive, crisp side up on a platter. Crumble on a little cheese. Enjoy warm.

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Spuds satisfy morning or night in Spanish tortilla

Ideas for morning meals, most recently with quinoa, have proliferated in A la Carte and this blog.

Absent, perhaps conspicuously, have been potatoes. They’re another source of satisfying starch for anyone who’s gluten-free, a dietary concern noted in this week’s story.

But that doesn’t mean hash browns and home fries are the only ways to go. One of my favorite preparations of breakfast potatoes, particularly from leftovers, is frittata. A slightly more involved method starts with raw spuds that are fried for the classic Spanish dish tortilla.

Make this for a simple dinner, then grab a slice for the next morning’s breakfast. It’s just as good cold. Aioli is bonus recipe from La Dulce in Royal Oak, Mich., courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Tortilla de Patata

Oil, for frying

4 Idaho potatoes, peeled

1 1/2 pounds Spanish onions, peeled and diced

10 eggs

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

Aioli (recipe follows)

You will need two (10-inch) nonstick skillets for this recipe. In a pot, heat about 3 inches of the oil.

Slice the potatoes thin on a mandolin; pat dry. Working in batches, deep-fry potato slices until slightly crispy. Set aside.

In a separate large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of oil. Add the onions and cook until caramelized, for about 15 minutes. Remove from skillet and cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with onions, season well with the salt and pepper. Fold in crispy potatoes.

Coat 1 nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Pour in egg mixture. Keep pushing down sides with a spatula, and cook until bottom is starting to brown. Start a second skillet set over medium-high heat and coat it with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Then in one quick motion flip tortilla to second pan. (If you do this over a plate, anything you lose can be added back to pan).

Cook until bottom is just browned, still pushing down sides with a spatula if need be. Wipe out first pan, and get it oiled and warmed up again. Flip tortilla once more and let cook until not quite set in middle. Remove from heat and let cool to room temp. Tortilla should still ooze a bit in the middle when sliced. Serve with toast and the aioli.

Makes 8 servings.

AIOLI: Place 1 large egg yolk in a bowl set over simmering water. Whisk in 1 small peeled and minced garlic clove and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Continue simmering until mixture begins to thicken. Drizzle in a neutral oil a teaspoon at a time until mixture emulsifies and thickens without scrambling egg.

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  • Blog Author

    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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