Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"(Ted Allen) The Food You Want to Eat" - Ziti with sausage, tomato, mushrooms, and spinach

Date I made this recipe:  June 24, 2012

The Food You Want To Eat – 100 Smart, Simple Recipes by Ted Allen
Published by:  Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN:  1-4000-8090-8
Recipe:  Ziti with sausage, tomato, mushrooms, and spinach – p. 68-69

So, we’ve all had this same experience, right:  you’re out someplace like a grocery store or a mall and you see someone you’re pretty sure you know but you can’t figure out where you know them from?  It drives you nuts.  Days later, let’s say you are out for your daily walk around a park and this person runs by you and of course, you have the BIG DUH moment.  “That’s where I know them from!!” 

I had the same experience with today’s cookbook author, Ted Allen.  Ted is the host of the Food Network’s hit show, Chopped, a show I watch with religious fervor.  If you asked me, and you didn’t, the producers are beyond cruel, making four chefs make an edible meal out of food in a mystery basket, of which three items makes sense and one item, oh, say, marshmallow fluff, does not.

At any rate, one day, a couple of weeks ago, Ted appeared as a guest on another food-related TV show, The Chew (ABC), and a good couple of minutes passed before it dawned on me where I’d seen him before. See what I mean?  I was so used to seeing him on Chopped that when he was on another show, I didn’t even know who he was.  Talk about embarrassing!

To make matters worse, I had completely forgotten that Ted was one of the five guys hosting TV’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.  The premise of that show was that five gay guys (Ted was the “food guy”) worked with a straight man who usually looked like TV character Grizzly Adams, to get him all foofed and poofed so as to impress the ladies. They cleaned him up, they redid his apartment, his wardrobe and kitchen and then dealt with what one might call deportment – how to carry oneself in public (“pinkies up!”) I thought the show was an absolute hoot and yet I had completely forgotten all about it.  So sorry, Ted.

Seeing Ted outside his normal element of Chopped threw me for a (brief) loop but not so much that I couldn’t remember that I had his cookbook in my collection – The Food You Want to Eat, and so out it came and so “away we go!”

Ted’s recipes are pretty simple (as stated on the cover…and being truthful is always a good thing) and the one that caught my eye was the pasta recipe. Okay, truth be told, several recipes caught my eye but the one I settled on was the pasta. Although I initially intended to make this around Father’s Day, we got busy and so here we are, almost at the end of June already.  Time does fly when you are having fun.

Speaking of time flying, yesterday afternoon, Andy and I attended a high school graduation party for a friends’ son.  These friends got married the year after we did (our wedding inspired theirs) and it is hard to believe that their first-born is now college-bound. We left the party later than intended and that meant we got to the grocery store later than intended and so on and so forth and before we knew it, it was 8:30 and we were just sitting down to dinner.  Oh well…these things cannot be helped.

Seeing as how I was hot to get this dinner on the table, my only tiny complaint about the recipe is that while it was easy once the prep was done, the prep itself took a bit of time.  I had to chop the tomatoes, slice the mushrooms, chop the spinach (and my word, 10 ounces of spinach does not seem like much until you have to de-stem and chop it) and so on.  I also had to remove the casing from the sausage and then break it up as I was browning it.  So be warned that just a bit of sweat equity goes into this dish – not literally though, as that would be gross.

In his write-up about the recipe, Ted said “If you’re on a health kick, (ha, ha), use chicken stock instead of cream, and omit the pasta cooking liquid.  Or see the chapter on salads.”

Funny, Ted.  I was not necessarily on a health kick but I was on a money kick and nothing irritates me more than the way milk or cream is bottled and sold.  How many of us have purchased the smallest buttermilk container we could find only to need a mere teaspoon or so?  Same thing with cream:  I did not buy a container because I only needed ½ cup and just did not want to deal with the other half.  You’ve got clout, Ted, so see if you can do something about that! 

That said, I used the chicken broth and can’t say it totally floated my boat but it didn’t displease, either.  And the tomatoes I got were not up to par and were pretty grainy and I was not happy about that, but this is not Ted’s fault.  Like many pastas, I think the flavors might need overnight to truly make an impact but this was good and we ate it and so there it is.

Tomorrow night is when the next episode of Chopped is on and as always, I will nod in agreement as ingredients one, two and three are brought out (“Oh, I can so do something with that”) and will likely yelp when the last one is introduced.  All I can say is that I am grateful that Ted wrote this cookbook before hosting this show or lord knows what he would add to this ingredient list!

Ziti with sausage, tomato, mushrooms, and spinach – Serves 4 (Wine pairing:  Italian Cabernet Franc or Aglianico)
Kosher salt for boiling pasta, plus ½ teaspoon for seasoning
1 ½ pounds ripe plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ pound sweet Italian pork sausage, removed from the casing, or other high-quality fresh sausage
1 large onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
½ pound Portobello mushrooms, stemmed, caps halved and sliced crosswise ¼ inch thick
1 pound dried ziti
½ cup whipping cream (or ½ cup chicken broth)
10 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed and drained, thick stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup finely grated aged Gouda cheese, or Parmigiano-Reggiano

Note:  Ted and I differ on when to start the pasta.  He wants you to bring the water to a boil and then start the sauce.  I knew that it would take me far longer than he anticipated in order to make the sauce so I started to boil my water during the last couple of minutes of making the sauce.)

Bring a large, covered pot of salted water (about 4 teaspoons salt and 4 quarts water) to a boil over high heat.

Cut the tomatoes in half through the equator and squeeze each half over the sink to release the seeds.  Cut off the stem ends.  Coarsely chop the tomatoes and set them aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium flame.  Add the sausage, onion, bay leaf, and a ¼ teaspoon of the salt and cook, breaking up the sausage with the side of a spoon, until the onion is wilted and the sausage is browned, about 8 minutes.  Stir several times during the cooking.  Add the mushrooms and stir well to combine with the other ingredients.  Cook, stirring every now and then, until the mushrooms are wilted, about 3 more minutes.

The pasta water should have reached a boil by now.  Add the ziti and stir to keep it from sticking together.  Boil until tender but firm, 8 to 9 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, add the cream, chopped tomatoes, and ¼ teaspoon salt to the pan with the sausage mixture.  Turn the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes to soften the tomatoes.  Add the spinach and ¼ cup of pasta cooking water.  Cover and cook for 3 more minutes to wilt the spinach; stir once during the cooking.  Remove the bay leaf.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it in the colander, reserving about ¼ cup of the cooking liquid.  Add the pasta to the frying pan and stir to coat with the sauce.  The sauce should be just thick enough to coat the pasta with a little remaining at the bottom of the pan.  If the sauce is very watery, stir the pasta for a few minutes over medium-high heat to thicken the sauce.  If the sauce is very thick and gloppy, add the reserved ¼ cup cooking liquid and cook until the sauce is the right consistency.  (The spinach and tomato should have added enough liquid to give you a nice thickness, but depending on your heat and pan, you may need to adjust.)

Dump the whole mess into a large pasta bowl.  Sprinkle with the pepper and the cheese, and toss.  Serve immediately.  (What is not to love about an instruction that says “dump” and “mess” all in the same sentence?)

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