Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera

It is funny how one little pasta dinner is the cause of serious debate and unfavorable opinions. After all, pasta primavera simply is pasta prepared with delicately cooked vegetables. What is so serious about that? Well, Pasta Primavera’s origin for one, and its popularity for another.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera reicpe
A Brief History of Pasta Primavera

This pasta specialty is not of Italian origin, but is a 1975 American creation either at Le Cirque in NY City, or in Nova Scotia with a Le Cirque chef/owner connection, (Wikipedia). The recipe’s fame started at Le Cirque where customers could special order the meal because it was not on the menu. Amanda Hesser’s 2009 article in the NY Times, states Jean Vergens, then chef at Le Cirque, hated the dish so much he refused to allow Pasta Primavera cooked in Le Cirque’s kitchen. In order to satisfy their costumers, the staff had to cook the dish in the hallway.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

What is not of debate is, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey’s article about Le Cirque’s recipe in the New York Times, made Pasta Primavera famous. Unfortunately, the fame of pasta primavera help create its’ loss of appeal. Across America, Italian American restaurants served Pasta Primavera. This crossover from a secret meal specially prepared, to mainstream America changed its identity. How can pasta with vegetables taste bad? It can when mediocre restaurants take over the pasta primavera market, (Hesser, A. New York Times 2009). Unfortunately, a meal created using French and Italian cooking techniques, became ordinary in the mass production.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

Pasta Primavera Done Right

I like my pasta dishes with an abundance of extra ingredients mixed with some pasta, not the other way around. Depending on the recipe, pasta is a foundation for vegetables and sauces to stand out. Preparing pasta with good technique and consideration for the ingredients, creates food that is fresh tasting and has good structure and texture. A pasta dinner becomes a light and comforting meal. Pasta primavera is no exception. Primavera means spring and the vegetables and sauce should reflect a meal with fresh green vegetables with a light sauce. A rich and heavy sauce will overwhelm the vegetables and drain one’s energy.

More pasta recipes: Pasta with Ham and Spring Vegetables, Spicy Brussels Sprouts with Sausage and Pasta

This recipe is from Cooks Illustrated and, like a lot of their recipes, has a lot of steps. However, these steps help build flavor and develop a creamy sauce without a trace of cream. Even still, this recipe has 6 steps and the original Le Cirque recipe has 10, so fortunately, it is not as involved as the original.

What makes Cook’s Illustrated recipe so different? The pasta is prepared like risotto. This technique develops lightly toasted pasta with a nutty flavor. Additionally, this technique produces a silky and creamy texture and a double layer of flavor from the vegetables.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

I slightly adapted the recipe by adding mushrooms and lightly toasting the pasta. It is my experience the pasta does not toast evenly in a Dutch oven. It is too deep and therefore, you get an uneven toasting. However, it is convenient to cook this recipe in a Dutch oven, otherwise I need an extra-large sauté pan or more pans. My focus is on the flavors of the vegetables and creating a silky-smooth textured sauce. Because I like the flavor of this recipe so much, I decided not to eliminate the step altogether and just pared it down. I was concerned the luscious texture would not be the same without this step.

As the name suggests, Pasta Primavera is a spring meal overflowing with vegetables. Also contributing to the lively spring flavor are wine, lemon juice, and fresh herbs. This is one of the freshest tasting pasta primavera recipes I’ve had. It is a lovely spring melody of asparagus, peas, mushrooms, leeks, and fresh herbs. It is clear the vegetables are the star of the show.

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera reicpe

Taste of Spring: Pasta Primavera recipe

Gluten-Free Pasta Primavera

A note for a gluten-free version of this recipe. It is my experience that gluten-free pasta breaks down when prepared following the risotto style directions. The result is an unappealing pile of mushy pasta with your delicious vegetables. I recommend substituting the recipe’s method of cooking pasta, and follow the directions given with your favorite gluten-free pasta. I am not certain why my quinoa pasta turned to mush, but it seems a gluten protein structure keeps the pasta shape intact.

You will need less stock and only add it to braise the vegetables. Lightly, cook the vegetables for less time, in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan. Then, add some vegetable stock and wine and gently braise the vegetables until they are crisp tender. If you wish, just before serving, swirl in a couple of tablespoons of butter to the vegetables for a silkier sauce.

I would love to hear from you. Please tag me @lemonthymeandginger on Instagram or visit my Facebook page if you make this recipe or any recipe from Lemon Thyme and Ginger.  Also, leave me a comment or question in the comment section below the recipe. I love to see and hear about your creations.

Spring Pasta Primavera

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Category: Entree

Cuisine: Italian American

Serving Size: 4-6 servings

Spring Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera is a bright spring vegetable pasta dinner garnished with lemon zest, chives and mint. The texture is creamy, yet there is no cream added. This is because the pasta is cooked like risotto and absorbs all the vegetable stock in the pot. I love the melody of the fresh spring vegetables.

Gluten free note: If you prefer using gluten free pasta, cook the pasta according to the directions on the back of the pasta box. I made this recipe with quinoa pasta and the risotto style cooking method turned the pasta into mush. Briefly cook the vegetables in a separate skillet then add some vegetable stock and braise them until they are crisp tender. You are not going to have as creamy a texture, but the flavors will still be fresh, bright and delicious.

This recipe is slightly adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Spring Vegetable Pasta.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium leeks, halved lengthwise, washed then sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 lb asparagus (453 g)
  • 2 cups (330 g) frozen peas, defrosted
  • 8 (about 100 g) white mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 medium garlic cloves
  • 4 cups (1 liter) vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water (250 ml)
  • 2 TB fresh mint, minced
  • 2 TB fresh chives, minced
  • 1/2 tsp fine lemon zest, plus 2 TB lemon juice
  • 5 TB Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound (453 g) pasta, like farfalle, penne, campanelle
  • 1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
  • 1 oz (31 g) grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

    Prep the vegetables:
  1. Trim off the tough ends from the asparagus. Rough chop the tough fibrous ends and put into a large sauce pan. Cut the spears on the bias into one inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Set the trimmed spears aside.
  2. Wash and trim off the dark green parts of the leeks and add to the pot with the tough asparagus ends. Slice lengthwise down the middle of each leek. Wash each half making sure all the dirt is washed off between the layers of the leeks. Dry them with a clean cloth and slice each half into thin half-moons. Set aside.
  3. Defrost the peas and divide into 2-one cup (250 ml) portions.
    Enhance the broth
  1. Add the dark green leek trimmings and 1 cup of the peas to the pot with the asparagus trimmings. Add the vegetable broth and one cup of the water. Turn the heat to medium-high heat and bring the stock to a simmer. Turn down the heat and simmer the vegetables in the broth for about 10 minutes. Drain the vegetables from the stock through a fine mesh strainer over an 8-cup measuring cup or large bowl. Press down on the vegetables to extract as much of the juices as possible. Discard the vegetables and add more water to make 5 cups of stock. Return the stock to the sauce pan and keep warm on low heat.
    Herb mixture:
  1. While you are waiting for the stock to finish, mix the lemon zest, minced mint and chives into a small bowl. Set aside.
    Cook the Vegetable Medley
  1. Add 2 TB extra virgin olive oil to a Dutch oven and set the stove to medium high. When the oil shimmers, add the leeks and a pinch of Kosher salt. Stir to evenly coat the vegetables in olive oil. Cook the leeks until soft and just starting to brown about 4-5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the trimmed asparagus and cook for 4-5 minutes until just tender, but still has a crispy bite. Add the red pepper flakes and minced garlic, stir and cook for around 30 seconds. Add the peas, stir and cook for about 1 minute. Taste the vegetables and add more salt if needed. Turn off the heat and spoon the cooked vegetable medley onto a plate. Reverse.
    Cook the Pasta
  1. Wipe out the Dutch oven and add 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pasta, stir and cook for about 2 minutes stirring constantly.
  2. Add the wine and cook until the wine has dissolved. Stir frequently while the wine is reducing.
  3. Add the vegetable stock. Turn the heat up to bring the stock to a light boil, then turn the heat down to medium. Frequently stir the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente and has absorbed most of the stock. 10-12 minutes.
    Putting it all together
  1. Once the pasta is cooked al dente, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, 1 oz (31 g) grated Romano cheese, and half the reserved minced herbs. Stir the pasta until the cheese is evenly combined. Add the vegetables and stir. Season with Kosher salt, ground pepper.
  2. Serve immediately and garnish with remaining herbs and Romano cheese.

Notes

If you use store-bought vegetable stock, use one that is not predominately made with carrots or winter squash. The stock will look orange and so will everything you cook it with. There are many vegetable stocks on the market and all taste different depending on the vegetables used to make it. (This is one reason why I make vegetable stock). I cannot deny the convenience of store-bought stock, but I encourage you to read the ingredients so you know what you are getting.

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Dinner Salad of Sea Scallops and Greens

As the days get warmer and the garden blooms more steadily, my attention wanders outside. I so want to play hooky. Work and chores be damned, the sunshine is calling and I want to answer. My food and meal focus shifts to a less is more attitude, and prefer meals that are easy to prepare. One perfect dinner solution to help my wandering attention span is a dinner salad. And, it is even better when someone makes it for you.

Dinner Salad with Seared Sea Scallops and Greens Recipe

Dinner Salad with Seared Sea Scallops and Greens recipe

My husband gets the credit for creating this dinner salad. Several years ago, Joe announced he is making dinner then left for the grocery store. Upon his return, he presented a bag full of vegetables and sea scallops. Joe informed me he was making a dinner salad with seared scallops and asked me to make the dressing. I am always a willing helper for any task.  Since that time, Joe often makes this dinner salad of seared sea scallops and salad greens. It is one of the dishes he really likes to cook. Seared scallops with leafy greens is also a perfect meal for two.

Dinner Salad with Seared Sea Scallops and greens recipe

Dinner Salad with Seared Sea Scallops and Greens

A leafy green foundation is the canvas for seared sea scallops, boiled potatoes, asparagus, goat cheese and fruit. Along with the finishing touches of a simple vinaigrette and fresh herbs, this dinner salad comes together like a work of art. It is a polite salad, as no ingredient demands attention, but each one plays an important role presenting a delicious gift of prized sea scallops.

Here is another dinner salad recipe: Grilled Chicken and Cucumber Salad with Avocado Yogurt Dressing

We use delicate greens like Boston Bibb lettuce, arugula or young greens as the salad base. They are not the typical composed salad greens, like romaine. Yet, these lighter lettuces work because each serving is plated, not tossed together in a bowl. This way the greens don’t get crushed under the weight of the ingredients. Also, included in the leafy foundation is another green vegetable, like blanched asparagus or green beans. They add crunch and structure to the delicate green lettuces.

Dinner Salad with Seared Sea Scallops and Greens reicpe

There are so many elements in this salad, I am not sure which ones I like best. First, the sea scallops are lightly seasoned then seared for a crispy contrast to the rich briny center. Then there are the potatoes. They absorb a lot of flavor from the salad, especially the vinaigrette. I like to have a piece of goat cheese with each bite of potato. The blend of potato, creamy goat cheese and vinaigrette is one of my favorite flavor combinations. It is like having two salads in one, tangy and creamy potato salad and a green salad.

The fruit is the biggest surprise. There is nothing like a bit of sweetness and acid to cut any rich and fatty foods like the goat cheese and salad dressing. You only need a few scattered pieces, but it makes a big difference. Add in some fresh herbs and salad becomes exceptional and comforting, like the warmth of sunshine on your back.

Learn how to clean and prepare sea scallops here.

Dinner Salad with Seared Sea Scallops and Greens recipe

There is one downside, putting the whole thing together takes some planning. The vinaigrette needs to sit for 30 minutes so all the flavors can blend and infuse. Fortunately, the vinaigrette rests while the potatoes and other ingredients cook. Like a lot of vegetable meals, each ingredient is prepared or cooked separately. The potatoes and salad dressing will take the longest, everything else is just a matter of a few minutes. The good news is, nothing needs to be served hot off the skillet. Although, time the scallops to finish cooking just before you are ready to plate the salad.

Enjoy this composed dinner salad on the days when the sunshine is calling you outside. It is a great dinner for your next date night in.

Dinner Salad with Seared Sea Scallops and Greens

Dinner Salad is easily adaptable any season

Use the greens available in each season, like Boston Bib, arugula, baby greens, and leafy red and green lettuces.

Add fresh herbs like tarragon, basil, chervil, dill, chives, or fennel.

Strawberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines are great fruit during spring and summer. Pears, grapes, or oranges are perfect in the fall and winter months.

Additional vegetables like fennel, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, or spicy radishes are great in this salad.

Use a delicately smoked fish or tuna instead of the sea scallops. You may want to eliminate the goat cheese depending on the fish you use. Or add grilled steak or chicken.

Make with a light vinaigrette, not a heavy or creamy salad dressing

Dinner Salad of Sea Scallops and Greens

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Category: Dinner salad

Cuisine: American

2 servings

Dinner Salad of Sea Scallops and Greens

This is a delicious dinner salad with seared sea scallops, summer lettuce, potatoes, goat cheese and fruit. There is just enough of salt, acid, fat, and sweet for a truly composed and healthy meal. A perfect dinner for date night in.

Ingredients

    Vinaigrette - Makes about 1 cup
  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml good quality white wine vinegar*, champagne vinegar, or sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp minced shallot
  • 1 tsp minced fresh herb like tarragon, lemon thyme, or basil
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 3/4 cup / 185 ml olive oil
    Salad
  • 1 head Boston bib lettuce, cleaned and dried
  • 4-6 baby new potatoes or fingerings
  • 8 spears asparagus, or small handful of green beans cleaned and trimmed
  • 1/2 apricot or peach*, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 oz / 46 g soft goat cheese like Montrachet
  • 1 TB fresh herb, the same one you used in the vinaigrette
  • 8-10 large sea scallops
  • Kosher Salt for seasoning
  • 1 TB Olive Oil

Instructions

    Cook the potatoes
  1. Fill a medium sauce pan with salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the washed, whole potatoes to the boiling water and cook until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes. Start checking at 10 minutes and every 5 minutes or so thereafter. When the potatoes are done, remove them from the water and let cool. Once they are cool, cut into wedges and lightly drizzle, about a teaspoon or so, the potatoes with the vinaigrette.
  2. While you are waiting for the water to boil start the vinaigrette.
    Make the vinaigrette
  1. Peel the garlic clove and slice in half lengthwise. Remove the green germ, then smash the clove with the side of your knife. Add the vinegar, minced shallots, smashed garlic, mustard, salt, and minced herbs to a small bowl and whisk together until the salt is dissolved. Continue to whisk the dressing and slowly pour the olive oil in a steady stream. Whisk the vinaigrette until it is well combined. Let rest on the counter for 30 minutes.
  2. You will have more vinaigrette then you need. See notes on how to store the vinaigrette for later use.
    Make the Salad
  1. Blanch the prepared asparagus or green beans in salted boiling water. Boil the asparagus for 2 minutes, or if using the green beans for one minute. Drain the water from the vegetable and rinse with cold water. Set on a clean kitchen towel or back in the sauce pan, (off heat) to dry.
  2. Just before the potatoes are finished cooking tear the lettuce into large bite size pieces and add to a bowl. Toss the lettuce with one tablespoon of the vinaigrette until evenly coated. This is just a light coating to season the lettuce. Set aside.
  3. Place the sea scallops on a plate and carefully remove the muscle from its side. This is very tough when cooked. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel on both sides. Season the scallops with a pinch of Kosher salt on both sides.
  4. Heat a heavy duty 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil and swirl it to evenly coat the pan. When the pan is hot, but not smoking, add the sea scallops to the pan flat side down. Sear the scallops for 2-3 minutes without touching or moving them. Adjust the heat if the pan is getting too hot. Turn the scallops over and sear for 1-2 minutes until the scallops are done. Scallops about an inch in size will be done very quickly about 3 to 4 minutes. They are done when the center is opaque in the middle, and feel firm when pressed with your finger. When in doubt, cut a scallop down the center and check. The scallop won't go to waste, just add it to the salad. The scallops will continue to cook from the residual heat, but you want to remove them when they are just done.
    Plate the salad
  1. On each plate, place half of the seasoned lettuce. Arrange the seasoned potatoes, asparagus, scallops, and fruit on top of the lettuce. Sprinkle small clumps of goat cheese over the salad and fresh herbs.
  2. Remove the garlic from the vinaigrette and give it a good whisk. Pour into a spouted serving dish. Add additional dressing as needed to each salad. You will have plenty of salad dressing leftover to use for another salad.

Notes

* This is a light vinaigrette and not one to use balsamic vinegar. If you have a good quality red wine vinegar it is OK to use. I just have not found one I like, so I usually don't cook with red wine vinegar.

The vinaigrette makes about 1 cup / 250 ml so you will have plenty leftover. Store the vinaigrette in an air tight container in the refrigerator. The vinaigrette will taste better, and last longer, if you remove the shallots from the vinaigrette. Pour the vinaigrette over a fine mesh strainer into a container to catch all the shallots. Discard the shallots and refrigerate the vinaigrette.

If you want to thoroughly emulsify the vinaigrette, it is easy to do with an immersion blender. The vinaigrette made with a blender will be thicker and heavier. I like this salad with a lighter dressing so I mix it by hand and not worry about the dressing being emulsified. It is your choice. Make the salad dressing as you prefer.

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Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill

Scattered across my wooded hillside, a native wildflower called Trout Lily is now in bloom. Their yellow bell shape flowers gaze down upon their mottled green leaves, like a swan gazing at its reflection upon the water’s surface. Trout Lilies are the best alarm clock around. A silent wake-up call with a blooming declaration, “No more hibernating. Spring is continuing as planned.” As soon as the trout lilies are up, even sudden changes in temperature or snowfall, won’t deter the season’s purpose.

Every year, larger patches of trout lilies emerge, scattered about my yard like a ragged crazy quilt disguising the dried leaves, fallen sticks and emerging grasses. My wildflowers did not choose a hospitable home, and it’s a wonder to me that they return and mature every year.  The hillside is steep and the colossal deciduous trees suck away any nutrients the soil provides. Yet, these trout lilies like it here and that makes me happy. They give me my own little piece of wilderness, camouflaged in Suburbia.

Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill reicpe
Erythronium americanum, Trout Lily

Rumor has it, Trout Lily, got its name because the mottled leaves resemble the speckled coloring of Brook Trout. Another theory is, they bloom at the beginning of trout fishing season. Regardless of the origin of its name, I wanted to honor “my” trout lilies and this blossoming season. Featured today is a recipe for a Spring dinner with Rainbow trout as the main attraction.  Unfortunately, where I live in the Northeast I cannot get Brook trout because they are diminishing in population. Fortunately, farm raised Rainbow trout is easily available and a best choice selection according to Seafood Watch. 

Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill Recipe

A Spring dinner of Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill, served with herbed couscous and asparagus, is one of those dinners you don’t have to fuss over or plan for. Just assemble, and put in the oven. There is very little chopping and you don’t have to worry about being precise, (except for the couscous). As always, be careful not to add too much salt, and this dinner will turn out perfect every time you make it.

Substitutions are hassle free as well. If you prefer, change the dill with tarragon, fennel fronds, parsley, or add all the above. Additionally, you can replace dry vermouth with dry white wine or lemon juice. Though, I hope you try vermouth in this recipe. It nicely rounds out the flavors and tones down the acid from the lemon. Most importantly, make sure you use dry Vermouth.

Rainbow trout with lemon and dill reicpe

Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill Recipe

My favorite way to prepare trout is to enclose each fish, or filet, in foil packets and bake in the oven. The fish steams in the packets and produces delicate flaky meat with herb infused juices. I stuff each trout cavity with lemon and dill, then add vermouth for some moisture. This is the same method I used for Salmon with Spinach Butter Sauce. Also, you can make Arctic Char with Basil Sauce  using this same technique. Trout, salmon and char belong to the same family and most of the recipes for them are interchangeable with minor adjustments.

Farm-raised rainbow trout is usually sold whole, cleaned, butterflied, and each weighing near one pound (453 g). Depending on the size, one whole fish equals one portion. To me, that seems like a lot of fish. Therefore, I select rainbow trout about one pound in size and consider it enough for two portions. Honestly, they are not large portions, but served with fulfilling side dishes, like couscous and asparagus, a light, healthy and satisfying dinner is at hand.

Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill Recipe

For a light starch side dish, Couscous is perfect with rainbow trout. It has a slightly nutty taste with a light and fluffy texture. Fortunately, couscous falls in the top 10 list of easiest foods to make. Simply add boiling water to dried couscous, cover and let it steam for 5 minutes. Luckily, I just discovered a simple technique that makes fluffy couscous from Herbivoracious.com. It works better than the directions on the back of the box of couscous. Instead of steaming the couscous in a sauce pan on the stove, it uses a shallow baking dish, large enough for the couscous to cover it in a thin layer. This brilliant idea gives the couscous more surface area and prevents the miniature pasta from getting sticky. It is my experience cooking couscous in sauce pans, that it gets very gummy towards the bottom of the pot.

Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill recipe

Another perfect side dish with rainbow trout is, my recipe for asparagus with orange mayonnaise. It has delicate citrus flavor and easy to prepare. For an extra bonus, make the mayonnaise ahead of time for you to enjoy throughout the week. If you wish, you can keep the asparagus hot, and not add it to the ice bath, as directed in my recipe. Additionally, add a little more lemon zest or juice with the orange mayonnaise for more citrus flavor. I also love saffron aioli with asparagus, and it pairs well with the rainbow trout as well.

Recipe for Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise

Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise recipe with Rainbow trout
Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise

Rainbow trout with lemon and dill recipe

Fortunately, it does not take a lot of effort to create an elegant and healthy Spring dinner. With little effort, all portions of the meal can be prepared at the same time. For its ease of preparation and flexibility, rainbow trout with lemon and dill, couscous, and asparagus with orange mayonnaise is an excellent choice for the days when you want to spend your time outside. You can get your day in the sun and later enjoy a meal reminiscent of your playtime. The air is so refreshing now, and lots of earthy wonders to discover. I hope you have a chance and enjoy the blooming Spring days ahead.

Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill and Herb Couscous

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Category: Dinner

Cuisine: American

4 small servings

Serving Size: About 4 oz / 125 g for each serving

Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill and Herb Couscous

Celebrate the Spring with an easy dinner of Rainbow Trout with Lemon and Dill. Steaming the trout in foil packets is a very healthy and effortless way to prepare light and flaky fish.

Serve the trout with Couscous and Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise . It is an easy meal to prepare and leaves you lots of free time to enjoy your day.

Ingredients

    Rainbow Trout
  • 2- Shy one pound / 453 g Rainbow Trout, cleaned and butterflied*
  • 1-2 lemons, sliced thin across the width
  • 6-8 springs of fresh dill
  • 2 Tbs dry vermouth
  • Kosher Salt
  • 2 tsp butter
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Heavy duty aluminum foil for making the packets
    Couscous with Herbs and Lemon
  • 1 cup / 190 g dried couscous
  • 1 cup/ 250 ml boiling water
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp butter (optional)
  • Lemon zest from half a lemon
  • 1-2 tsp of minced fresh dill or another herb

Instructions

    Rainbow trout
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400˚F / 200˚C / Gas Mark 6 and place the oven rack in the center.
  2. If you wish you can cut the heads and tails off the rainbow trout, (or have your fish monger do it).
  3. Cut 4 pieces of foil, at least 6 inches / 16 cm larger than each fish. Set aside.
  4. Open the trout so both sides are lying flat with flesh side up, then lightly sprinkle the fish with Kosher salt. Scatter small pieces of butter across the flesh, about 1 teaspoon per fish. Lay two or three slices of lemon on one side of the trout. Scatter a few sprigs of fresh dill and top off with another lemon slice. Enclose the lemon and dill filling by moving the unadorned filet over the herbs, like closing a book. Repeat with the other trout.
  5. Take two pieces of foil and place one on top of the other with the dull side up. Drizzle about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil across the center of the foil and smear with your hand to create a nice even coating of olive oil. Place two lemon slices in the center on the foil, then place the seasoned trout on top of the lemon slices. The trout should be centered on the foil. Add a sprig of dill to the fish and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of vermouth. Sprinkle the trout with a pinch of kosher salt and a drizzle of olive oil, about 2 teaspoons.
  6. Bring the long sides of the foil together and fold over into itself, to create a sealed seam. Twist each end tightly to seal the pockets. Set on a rimmed baking sheet.
  7. Repeat with the other rainbow trout.
  8. Place the baking sheet with the trout in the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The timing will depend on how big the trout is and how much stuffing there is. I start checking at the 15-minute mark and check every 5 minutes thereafter. To check, carefully unfold one of the foil packets, being careful to keep your face away from the escaping steam. Lift the top filet of trout with a fork or fish spatula and peer inside. Look near the spine and where the flesh is the thickest to see if the flesh is cooked through. The fish is done when the flesh looks whiter than it is pink, and is flaky. The meat springs back when you touch it, and no longer looks translucent.
  9. To serve, carefully open the foil packets and gently lift the fish onto a plate. Open the trout up and cut down along the spine with a sharp knife. Place one filet on a plate and drizzle the rainbow trout with some of the accumulated juices. Serve with couscous and Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise.
    Couscous with Herbs and Lemon
  1. Pour the dry couscous in a baking dish large enough for the couscous to cover in one layer less than ½ inch / 1.5 cm. (My dish was oval shape 7" x 10", 18 cm x 25 cm. Any dish will work just be careful it is neither too big or too small).
  2. Sprinkle the couscous with Kosher salt, butter, minced dill and lemon zest. Gently mix together with a spoon or your clean hands.
  3. Boil the water and pour it over the couscous. Stir with a spoon, then tightly cover the dish with plastic wrap. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Once the time is up, unwrap the dish and fluff the couscous with a fork, scrapping the couscous across the dish until it is evenly loosened and fluffy. Keep covered until ready to serve.

Notes

You can have the fish monger cut of the heads and tails if you prefer. Or you can leave the fish whole. You can also prepare trout filet with this technique as well. The cooking time will be less, so start checking them around 10 minutes.

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Not My Mother’s Swedish Meatballs

Not My Mother's Swedish Meatball Recipe

I have a distinct food memory for Swedish Meatballs. Not the ones Mom made when I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s. Her meatballs were made using the 1960’s secret ingredient in everything, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Now I enjoyed Mom’s Swedish meatballs, enough to order them in a restaurant as an adult, but hers had a familiar taste. They always reminded me of something we ate before, like the chicken enchilada casserole or baked chicken and mushroom dinner. Individual flavors did not stand out. Everything tasted “good” but that was it. No wow factor. My Swedish meatball memory is significantly different.

Not My Mother's Swedish Meatball Recipe

Not My Mother's Swedish Meatball Recipe

Joe and I were eating at a restaurant one night after a long work day. This was in the time before we became parents and could eat out during the week. I do not remember the name of the restaurant, but it was a wine tasting bar and very different from all the restaurants in the Mt Kisco, NY vicinity. It was a great place to go. I loved their idea creating a bar focused on wine and served small plates. This restaurant was open before tapas and small plate establishments were popular. Sadly, the bar did not last very long. Maybe it was a restaurant before its time.

Not My Mother's Swedish Meatball Recipe

I ordered a Cabernet Sauvignon and a small plate of Swedish meatballs. They were a revelation. I have no idea if they were authentic or not, but the meatballs were bathed in a light cream and fresh dill sauce. The fresh dill in the Swedish meatballs changed everything for me.  It transformed a rich and traditional meal, to a fresh and light dinner that was truly unexpected. Not a can of Campbell’s soup in sight.

Fresh dill and I have an on again off again relationship. When I was in my early 20’s I cooked with dill all the time. It got to be too much, so I stopped eating dill. Fortunately, I adapted and appreciate fresh dill not only with fish, but in stews and chicken. Every time I eat dill it surprises me, as if I had forgotten what it tastes like. The flavor of dried dill must still be seared in my brain. Thankfully, now when I eat fresh dill, it is always a welcome surprise and not a recurring nightmare.

Not My Mother's Swedish Meatball Recipe

Honestly, what excites me about cooking is using fresh herbs.  Adding, fresh herbs differentiate food from the walking the same routine to dancing with happy feet. The fresh herb flavor elevates the meal to new levels and defines the foundation, like hearing Mavis Staples singing, “I’ll Take You There”. Food, like music, ground you and lift you up at the same time, and there is always a welcome invitation.

Not My Mother's Swedish Meatball Recipe

Not My Mother's Swedish Meatball Recipe

Recipe Development for Swedish Meatballs

Is my recipe for Swedish meatballs authentic? Maybe, I am not positive. Based on my research, traditional Swedish Meatballs are spiced with allspice or nutmeg, a blend of different ground meats, cooked in a gravy with or without cream, and served with Lingonberry Jam. I researched many recipes and used the similarities for my base recipe. My sauce is a total improvisation, but I believe it works. The sour cream in the sauce has such a wonderful and welcome tang. I would miss it if I made this recipe using heavy cream. Adding fresh dill to any meat dishes always adds dimension and pairs well with the lightly blended meat and sour cream.

Based on my experience making meatballs, I decided to try a different technique recommended by Daniel Gritzer from Serious Eats. Instead of baking the meatballs in the oven, or frying them in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of butter, I deep-fried them. Well, if you can call ½ inch of oil deep-fry, but this recommendation worked perfectly. The meatballs were evenly browned with a smooth round shape. The thin crispy exterior was the perfect thickness protecting the tender meat inside. Also, frying the meatballs got rid of my typical problem of having too much flour coating the meatballs. Joe is our in-house meatball expert and loved them a lot. He especially liked the contrast of the crispy exterior and the tender and juicy interior.

Not My Mother's Swedish Meatball Recipe

Whether or not my version can authentically be labeled Swedish Meatballs, I believe they are respectful to its history. What matters to me, is they are a welcome change and fun challenge for me to make. It is not a fancy dinner, but a pleasing one with enough distinct and delightful flavors to have its own identity. Careful, they are quite addictive. It was hard for me to stop nibbling them while I was photographing the Swedish meatballs.  If Mom were here enjoying a dinner of Swedish meatballs with us, I am certain she would like them so much she would lick her plate clean.

Not My Mother’s Swedish Meatballs

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

52 small meatballs

Serving Size: 3 meatballs for an appetizer, 6-8 for dinner

Not My Mother’s Swedish Meatballs

Delicately flavored Swedish meatballs with a welcome tang from sour cream combined with a bright taste of fresh dill. Deep frying the meatballs creates a light and crispy exterior that protects the tender and juicy meat inside.

Serve Swedish meatballs with buttered egg noodles and a dark green vegetable.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 4 Tbs butter, divided
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • Handful of chopped parsley
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 2-3 Tbs flour
  • 1 Tbs oil used for frying
  • 2 cups beef broth plus extra
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Kosher or Flakey Sea Salt to taste
  • Fresh Ground pepper to taste
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 5 sprigs of fresh dill, minced

Instructions

  1. Put the milk and the bread crumbs in a small bowl and let them soak for a few minutes.
  2. Add 2 Tbs butter to a small skillet and add the minced onions. Cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent and softened. Turn off heat and slightly cool the onions.
  3. Add the ground beef, ground pork, milk soaked bread crumbs including the milk, the egg, nutmeg, minced parsley, Kosher salt, and ground pepper to the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor.
  4. Mix on low speed until all the ingredients are just combined. Turn the speed to medium high and mix for about one minute.
  5. Roll the ground meat mixture into small meatballs the size of a walnut, about 1 inch in diameter. Place the rolled meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper. Wet your hands with water to keep the ground meat from sticking to your hands while you are working.
  6. Turn the oven on to 200˚F and place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven on the middle rack.
  7. Use a 12-inch skillet and pour in vegetable oil until the oil reaches a depth of ½ inch. Heat the oil to 350˚F.
  8. Fry the meatballs until they are evenly golden brown and have the internal temperature of 160˚F. This will take about 3-4 minutes depending on the size of your meatballs. While frying the meatballs, turn the meatballs over so they get evenly browned. A fish spatula is perfect tool to guide the meatballs over. You will need to fry the meatballs in batches, and being careful not to crowd the pan. I cooked 9-10 meatballs at a time in my 12-inch skillet.
  9. When done, remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon, or spider, and place on the baking sheet in the pre-heated oven. I found it easier to transfer the meatballs to the oven in two steps. First, I removed the meatballs from the skillet and placed onto a dinner plate. Then I used the plate to transfer the meatballs into the oven and roll them off the plate and onto the rimmed baking sheet. (The plate was also useful as a staging area to check the internal temperature of the meatballs. Additionally, if red juices dripped out of the meatballs I knew more cooking time was needed.)
  10. Repeat frying the meatballs in batches until all the meatballs are cooked. Make sure the oil in the skillet reaches close to 350˚F each time you start a new batch.
  11. Keep the meatballs warm in the oven while you are making the sauce.
  12. In another skillet or Dutch oven, add 1 -2 Tbs of the oil used to fry the meatballs with. Add 2 Tbs of butter and turn the heat up to medium. When the butter is melted add 3 Tbs flour and stir into the butter with a wire whisk. Cook the flour and butter until the mixture is a nice light brown color and you do not smell the flour, about 2-3 minutes. Pour 2 cups of the beef broth into the butter and flour and whisk the ingredients until it is smooth and incorporated, do not let it boil.
  13. Add the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and mix together. Taste for salt and add Kosher salt, a small pinch at a time, to correct the seasoning.
  14. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the sour cream. Taste and correct the seasoning if needed. Add more beef broth if it is too thick for your taste. Place the pan back on the burner and turn the heat on low. Add the minced dill and stir.
  15. Add the meatballs and mix together with the sauce. Correct your seasoning to taste and serve.

Notes

The meatballs can be made a head in two ways. 1- Cook the meatballs and refrigerate them until you are ready to serve them. When ready, make the sauce 30 minutes before you want to serve them, and heat up the meatballs in the sauce. 2: Prepare the meatballs and the sauce in a Dutch oven. Cool the Swedish meatballs, cover with the lid, then refrigerate until needed. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Put the covered meatballs in the oven and warm up. About 30 minutes. Check the warming meatballs to make sure they are not drying up. Add more beef stock if needed.

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© 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Cod Braised in Tomato Saffron Broth

My family loves cod because they like the delicate taste of white fish with large flakes and sturdy body. Unfortunately for us in the Northeast US, Atlantic Cod is on Seafood Watch list of fish to avoid. I don’t usually buy frozen fish, but I came across frozen Pacific Alaskan Cod at Trader Joe’s and wanted to try it. As I mentioned in my post  Arctic Char with Basil Sauce, I try my best to buy sustainable fish when I can.  Since cod is an affordable fish and works in so many different types of recipes, I was happy to consider frozen Pacific Cod as a viable option.

Cod braised in tomato saffron broth

I also treated myself to a small tin of Spanish saffron and everyday I have dreamed about how to use it.  Remembering a Spanish seafood stew, I decided to prepare the cod with  Mediterranean flavors and style. Additionally, I wanted the saffron to be the primary seasoning, creating a recipe elegant enough to be served on Christmas Eve.

Cod Braised in Tomato Saffron Broth

Tomato and saffron are a classic Mediterranean pair. Both ingredients balance each other because of the saffron’s warmth and distinct flavor cuts the acid in the tomatoes. To be honest, I love anything made with saffron but particularly enjoy tomato saffron broth with fish. The floral scent of crocus drifts up while I am cooking with saffron, and I feel like I am walking through a field of crocuses. Put these two family favorites together, and we have a special family dinner of cod braised in tomato saffron broth.

I am a big fan of using the simple technique of braising fish of which cod is very suited for. The fish is gently cooked in a broth that is also an integral part of the meal. The chunky tomatoes make the broth more substantive, while still keeping the broth bread dunking worthy. The final result is a fish dinner that is moist, delicate and multidimensional in flavor.

Cod braised in tomato saffron broth

Cod braised in tomato saffron broth

The total cooking time will vary depending of the thickness of the fish. Figure on  the total cooking time to be anywhere from 7 to 15 minutes until done. My Pacific Cod fillets ranged in size from 5 oz to 6 oz, and was at most an inch thick. They took about 8 minutes to cook. Atlantic Cod tends to be thicker at the head end and should take longer to finish cooking.  The fish is done when the meat sections gives way to the gentle pressure of your finger, and the sections begin to separate. The color of the fish will be a translucent white.

Do Ahead Tips for Cod Braised in Tomato Saffron Broth

To make life easier you can prepare the braising liquid ahead of time. About fifteen minutes before you want to eat, heat up the broth, then braise the cod.  This recipe is very easy to make and flexible in design to fit into any schedule and a great meal to make for entertaining.

For those of you who like to serve fish for Christmas Eve dinner, or any special occasion, cod braised in tomato saffron broth would be a delicious treat. To send this recipe over the top, serve with saffron aioli smeared over toasted bread. Dunk the aioli smeared baguette into the broth and delight in a double saffron indulgence. Saffron aioli with cod in tomato saffron broth is out of this world delicious. Jamie Oliver has a short cut saffron aioli recipe with his Fabulous Fish Stew. It is really easy to make using store-bought mayonnaise. The instructions for the aioli saffron begin at step 2 in his recipe.

Cod braised in tomato saffron broth

cod-braised-in-tomato-saffron-broth-9

Hope everyone has a wonderful Hanukkah and a Merry Christmas.  Enjoy!

Cod Braised in Tomato Saffron Broth

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

4 4-6oz servings of cod fillet

Cod Braised in Tomato Saffron Broth

Cod with tomato saffron broth is a moist and delicious fish dinner. It is elegant to serve at a dinner party, or for a casual family meal. The broth can be made ahead of time then reheated to cook the fish just before you want to serve it.

Serve with thick crusted bread like at baguette and green salad. For a double saffron treat spread your baguette slices with saffron aioli. Link to saffron aioli recipe in blog.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1 leek, cleaned, cut in half lengthwise, then thinly sliced across the width (can substitute with 1 shallot, minced)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 28 oz / 794 g can whole tomatoes
  • 1 cup / 250 ml dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup / 125 ml fish stock or clam juice
  • 1/2 cup/ 125 ml juice from the can of tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs of thyme tied together
  • 1/2 tea saffron thread
  • 1/2 tea Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tea granulated sugar (optional)
  • 4 4-6oz / 113 - 180 g cod fillets or other white fish fillets, black sea bass or halibut

Instructions

  1. Peel the garlic then slice each clove in half lengthwise. If there is a green grem remove it. Thinly slice each half across the width. Set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large 12" saute pan, (see note.) Add the sliced leeks or minced shallots and saute until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add the the sliced garlic to the leeks and cook until it becomes fragrant, 1 minute. Do not let the garlic brown. Turn up the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes, breaking up each tomato with your fingers or a knife while you add them to the pan. Add the wine, fish stock, canned tomato liquid, bay leaf, bundled thyme sprigs, saffron and Kosher salt. Stir to mix and bring the sauce to a gentle boil.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the sauce for about 15 minutes at a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally. Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning. If it is too acidic add the sugar and add more Kosher salt if needed.
  4. Place the fish fillets evenly spaced in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer and cover the pan with a lid. Cook the fish fillets until just done. The amount of cooking time will depend on the how thick the cod fillets are. I cooked using Pacific cod and they were thinner than Atlantic cod. The cod was just cooked at around 7 minutes. The cod is cooked through when you pres down on the thickest part of the fillet with your finger and the flakes give into the pressure and start to break apart. The flesh will have a translucent white color.
  5. Spoon some broth in 4 large wide-mouth soup or pasta bowls. Place a fillet in each bowl with the broth. Garnish with minced fresh parsley. Serve with crusty french bread to help soak up the broth.

Notes

A sautee pan with its high sides is a perfect pan for braising fish. If you only have a skillet by all means give it a try, as long as you have a matching lid. Another option is to make the tomato saffron broth in whatever pan you have, then pour the broth into a large baking dish. Add the fish fillets and cover the fish with a sheet of parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F / 175 degrees C / Gas Mark 4, oven for 10 minutes. Check for doneness, and, if necessary, continue cooking checking every couple of minutes until done.

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