Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cooking Challenge - Week Three

We have now made it through Week Three of my Cooking Challenge.

Last night, I cooked from page 67 of Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver.

The recipe was Minestrone D’inizio Autunno (Early Autumn Minestrone). Click the link to see the recipe.

I think I am getting better at this cooking thing: The recipe was a bit complicated – and took almost three hours to accomplish – but for once, my finished product looked like the picture in the book.

Here is the picture from the book.

We had seven for dinner – Carlos, Christine, Karlie, Pam, Curt, little Karley, and me – so I decided to make an additional dish from that same cook book. Our main dish was Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola (Spaghetti with Shrimp and Arugula).

I ended up cooking the Minestrone on Tuesday night and the main dish Wednesday night. Then slowly warming up the Minestrone on Wednesday evening. I followed the main dish recipe very closely, only substituting fettuccini for the spaghetti.

I didn’t find the recipe online so I have retyped it below, with the small changes I made.

Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola (Spaghetti with Shrimp and Arugula)

This dish was on the menu in a little restaurant called La Gondola in one of the roughest parts of Palermo. I thought the combination of flavors was great, and very accessible to us back home in Britain. You can buy very high-quality frozen shrimp in supermarkets these days, so it’s a win-win situation, but if you can get hold of some super-fresh ones and peel them yourself, this can all of a sudden become very luxurious in flavor. A real crowd-pleaser. Finish off with good-quality olive oil and wild Arugula full of flavor and you’ll be laughing. PS, if using frozen shrimp, make sure they’re thawed out.

1 lb. dried fettuccini
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 dried red chilies, crumbled
1 lb. peeled raw large shrimp
1 small wineglass of white wine
2 heaping tablespoons sun-dried tomato purée, or 6 sun-dried tomatoes blitzed in a blender
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 handfuls of Arugula, roughly chopped

Cook your fettuccini in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, heat 3 good gulgs of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and toss in the garlic and chili. As the garlic begins to color, add the shrimp and sauté them for a minute. Add the white wine and the tomato purée and simmer for a couple of minutes. When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water. Toss the fettuccini with the sauce, squeeze in the lemon juice, and add half the chopped Arugula, using a little of the reserved cooking water if you want to loosen the sauce a bit, and correct the seasoning. Divide between four plates and sprinkle with the grated lemon zest and the rest of the Arugula leaves.

The pasta dish was really good, but the minestrone was definitely better – and a huge hit. Carlos said I should have led with the pasta dish and finished with the minestrone, but I went the traditional soup, then main course way.

I also set up a Parmesan cheese taste test station. Without marking any of the selections, I put out small bowls of:
1) Kraft 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese (from the familiar green/clear cylindrical bottle) - $.69/ounce,
2) pre-shredded Boar’s Head Parmesan Cheese - $1.16 per ounce, and
3) a block of top quality Parmesan Cheese ($1.96 per ounce) that I shredded directly before the taste test.

Predictably, the top quality Parmesan Cheese was the clear favorite. The #1 and #2 choices, however, were virtually indistinguishable. Our Top Panel of Taste Testers determined that the Kraft was fine for blending with dishes and with most other applications, and to use the block for special occasions. There was no need to spend the extra money for the Boar’s Head.

In keeping with our Italian theme, Karlie brought a beautiful and tasty appetizer: a small green item (olives), white item (I don’t remember), and red item (small tomatoes) – skewered on a toothpick. This was placed around a bowl of (I think) melted chocolate. I was rushing around cooking and really should have paid more attention to the details of her dish. It was delicious!

Pam came through this week with the dessert, bringing Italian gelato, sherbet and two kinds of ice cream. Yum!

We also drank at least three bottles of wine, but we may have had four. Everything was a bit hazy by the end of the night.

We discussed “rotating out” this crowd next week and expanding the Challenge to include first my parents and then my friends in the coming weeks, but decided that, since we had such fun last night, we should burn it out and keep the same crowd one more week.

Week Four of Cooking Challenge will be the most challenging yet: I am going to attempt a Tapas menu – 5 or 6 appetizer-sized Spanish dishes, both hot and cold, served in succession.

After next week, I may take a break. We’ll see.

Until then, Bon Appétit!


jason said...

wow! I admire your ambition!
That pasta sounds great by the way! I'm going to have to try it. I've never even heard of sundried tomato paste before. I like the idea.

Breezy said...

I was allowed an early preview of the minestrone the previous day, and all I could think about the following day was that darn minestrone. Seriously! I think the fennel was a key ingredient in the overall taste. Yummy!

jason said...

Hmmm...I'm even more intrigued now!