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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Grill, Baby, Grill: An Easy Summer Pasta with Grilled Corn and Black Kale

Now that corn has reappeared in the farmers' markets, it's time to grill, baby, grill.

Boiled corn slathered with sweet butter and seasoned with sea salt and pepper is delicious.  So too is grilled corn where olive oil replaces butter.  Lightly browned, the kernels caramelize, adding sweetness and the hint of smoke.

Make extra, so the kernels can be removed and used in green salads, salsas, and--my favorite--pastas.

Tuscan or black kale is widely available in the farmers' markets in large, inexpensive bunches.

Adding in mushrooms, onions, garlic, a pat of butter and you're ready to enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner that needs little more than a simple romaine or arugula salad, a glass of wine or an ice cold beer, and you'll have a memorable meal with no more effort and time than it would take to order take out.

Pasta with Grilled Corn and Black Kale

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 ears of corn, husk and silks removed, washed
2 links, Italian sausage, washed (optional)
1 medium yellow onion, washed, skin removed, root end and top cut off and discarded, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, skins removed, finely chopped
1/2 pound shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, dried, sliced
1 bunch Tuscan or black kale, washed, center stem removed, leaves roughly chopped1/2 box DeCecco pasta, gnocchi, penne, spaghetti, or bowties
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 cup pasta water
1/4 cup olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Method

If a grill is not available, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Pour the olive oil on a flat plate. Season with sea salt and pepper.  Roll the corn through the seasoned oil to coat.  Put on the grill or into the oven, turning every 5 minutes to prevent burning.

Do the same with the Italian sausage.  Roll in the seasoned olive oil and grill or roast.  For vegetarians, don't bother with the sausage.

While the corn and sausage are cooking, put a large pot of water on a high flame, seasoned with 2 tablespoons of kosher or sea salt.  Don't use ordinary table salt which has a metallic flavor.

While the pasta water is heating, saute the onions, garlic, mushrooms, and kale until softened.  If you want the kale more pliable, add 1/4 cup of water and braise for 5 minutes on a medium-high flame.

Put the pasta into the boiling water and stir every couple of minutes to prevent sticking.  Use the whole box if you want more pasta.

Cut the kernels off the corn and discard the cobs.  Finely chop or cut into rounds the Italian sausage. Add to the kale, together with the sweet butter.  Toss well.

Taste the pasta.  Drain and reserve 1 cup of pasta water.  Put the pasta back in the still warm pot, drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.  Toss well.  Set aside.

Add 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the vegetables and sausage.  Stir well and taste.  Adjust seasoning as desired.  If more sauce is desired, add a little more of the pasta water.

Pour the cooked pasta into the saute, toss well, adding another 1/4 cup of pasta water.  Serve in a large bowl, accompanied with freshly grated cheese.

Variations

Grill or roast a red pepper, discard the seeds and skin, finely chop, add 1/4 cup to the saute.

Add 2 tablespoons chopped, pitted green olives to the saute.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

In Holland There are Long Lines at the Herring Shacks

Pickled herring with sour cream and onions was a staple in my house when I was growing up.  Every night my dad had several fat pieces on buttered pumpernickel bread.  Wanting to connect with him, I would join in.  The firm fleshed pieces slathered with sour cream, topped with thin strands of pickled onions took some getting used to, but eating herring wasn't so much a culinary preference as an attempt at father-son bonding.
My dad passed away many years ago and I haven't eaten herring since.

While I was in Amsterdam, I wanted to try the local favorites.  The Dutch love Gouda, beer, bitterballen--a crispy fried ball of meat and dough--and, of course, herring.  I wanted to try them all.

For Zesterdaily, I wrote about my experience eating herring in Amsterdam. It wasn't what I expected!

There are herring stands in the squares and on the busier canal bridges. Pretty much where ever people congregate you'll find a herring stand.  The Dutch way to enjoy them is to eat the herring whole. Pick it up by the tail, tilt back your head, and let the fish descend into your mouth as you greedily ingest it.

Alternately, the fillet is sliced into fat pieces and served either on a plate or a roll with onions and pickles.  I had read that a purist prefers the fish without condiments, not wanting anything to get in the way of the simple, clean flavor of the fish.

As people stand in line to buy herring, they crane their heads the better to watch the chef as he prepares the herring. When the fish is taken out of the brining pan, it has already been gutted and deboned.  As the last act before serving, the skin and tail are efficiently removed in one quick stroke.

I wanted an authentic Dutch experience, but I wasn't sure I was ready for raw herring.

On a trip to the Friday morning cheese auction at Alkmaar, 30 minutes by train north from Amsterdam, there was a crowded area where vendors sold souvenirs, wax wrapped balls of cheese, pastries, and, of course, herring.

I watched as people pushed past me to grab paper plates of herring.  As they ate, they smiled.  I took that as a good sign, but even so, it took me a bit of time to work up the nerve to place my order.

I was definitely not going the authentic route of grabbing the herring by the tail and eating it whole.  And I opted not to have the roll.  Reconnecting with my dad, I chose to eat my herring with onions.

I paid my 1.80 Euros ($2.35 U.S.) and picked up a plate of herring, raw onions, and a pickle.  Using the toothpick-flag as a utensil, I tried a fat piece.

Like the best sashimi, the herring melted in my mouth.  The fresh tasting fish had a pleasant sweetness, the onions added a crunch, the pickle tartness.  All in all, a very good combination.  The second bite was as good, but by the third I had started to have second thoughts.  I didn't want to waste the fish, so I had a fourth piece, but that was the last.

Ultimately, the fish was just too rich for me.


I needed something else to eat, something that would change the taste in my mouth.  I considered some fries (in Holland, call them frites, not "French" fries) but to eat them the Dutch way meant using mayonnaise instead of catsup.  That didn't sound any better to me than it did to John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.


On the walk back to the train station, I saw a gelato shop, A.C. de Boer (12 Scharlo), and hoped that cold and sweet might trump the herring taste in my mouth.

There were a dozen flavors to choose from.  They all looked good.  Ultimately I settled on a scoop of vanilla and one of pistachio.  I went outside in the sun and savored the creamy, cold sweetness.  The vanilla might have been the best I'd ever eaten. Now I felt better.

Sorry, dad.