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“dressy” pasta risotto {ffwd}

Cheesy Noodles

Happy New Year! The years seem to run into each other, and the 2013 to 2014 transition is no exception. As we get started in the new year, I hope it is a happy and healthy one for you and your family.

The first French Fridays with Dorie recipe is for a lovely side dish called “dressy” pasta risotto. I love pasta and risotto, so have wanted to try this recipe for a while, to see what it’s all about.

I’m not sure what it is about the French and pasta. I think their relationship is a bit odd. Here we have pasta cooked like risotto, with just enough liquid for the pasta to absorb to be done: a little unusual. Years ago, when I first visited France, I had another odd “French pasta experience”. It’s one worth sharing as it has a prominent place in Howard and my family lore. Bear with me, because it takes a little time to tell.

The summer I was around 12, a French girl, Marie-Pasçale, spent the summer with my family as our au pair. My mother kept in touch with her intermittently over the years. On our first trip to France, Howard and I visited the grown-up Marie-Pasçale, now married and living in Brittany, with her husband and 6 children. We had a wonderful visit. Our dinner that night is one that Howard and I still dream about. We enjoyed fresh sardines grilled over a wood fire, and it was amazing!

To keep their lawn cropped, they kept a small herd of sheep. The next day was its own hilarious adventure when we helped corral the sheep into a VW bus to take to a neighbor’s house to be shorn. Apparently, sheep are not the smartest or bravest animals but will follow the leader wherever she goes. The game plan was for everyone to form a large human arc around the sheep and gradually step towards the center. The idea was to get the sheep to huddle close together and move towards the one opening in the circle, which led them directly into the open door of the bus. We were told: just don’t let a sheep past you because if you do, they will all follow her lead and run.

At this point in my life, I had no experience with farm animals. As we stepped closer to the sheep, I realized that an unshorn sheep is a smelly and dirty creature. When it’s time for shearing, the sheep’s coat is heavily greased with lanolin and adorned with bits of straw and not a small amount of poop. As we got even closer, I could tell that the sheep closest to me was thinking about charging me and breaking out of the circle. I was trying to be brave and stand my ground, but I really didn’t want the sheep to touch me. I was wearing my only pair of clean jeans and had to board an airplane the next day. Plus, the sheep was really dirty. I’ll admit, I was the weak link in the chain, I lost my limited bravado, the sheep broke through, and chaos ensued.

Eventually, the sheep were rounded up, transported, shorn, and brought back home, and Marie-Pasçale’s husband Christophe made us lunch. He put a big pot of spaghetti on to boil. I should mention that one of Howard’s favorite quick lunches is a bowl of elbow macaroni with ketchup. To him, it’s comfort food. I don’t like ketchup to begin with. I’m also part Italian, so I think this combo is kind of gross. Well, when the spaghetti was cooked, Christophe put the colander of spaghetti on the table with an assortment of toppings so everyone could serve themselves. One of those toppings was a bottle of Heinz ketchup. And, it was the most popular choice amongst the French people at the table. I just rolled my eyes, but Howard was so proud to learn that his favorite lunch was also considered to be French home cooking.

Back to the pasta risotto… First, you sauté an onion, then add chicken broth and little pasta shapes. I used tubetti , but Dorie says elbow macaroni is more traditional. This would also be nice with the tiny shell pasta. Like risotto, you use just enough liquid for the pasta to absorb, rather than the usual way of boiling pasta and draining off the excess water. The pasta cooks at an active simmer. Unlike risotto, you only have to give the pot an occasional stir.

Pasta cooked as risotto

After the liquid is absorbed, the pasta will be al dente. Now it’s time to dress it up and add some decadence. You stir in some heavy cream, a bit of mascarpone, and a generous amount of Parmesan cheese. In the end, you get a pot of delicious “cheesy noodles”

The cheesy pasta went well with chicken as well as steak dinners. Now that I think about it, this might be equally delicious without the cream and cheese. (I’ll have to try that another time.)

If you want to try this yourself, you can find the recipe here. You can also find it in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table. To read about others’ pasta risotto, follow their links here.

For those of you who don’t get much snow, here’s the view from my back porch this morning. We got about 8 inches of the white stuff last night. The sun is out now, but the temperatures are in the Arctic range.

Jan 3 snowstorm

French Fridays with Dorie: Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

This week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie has the most benign name: Slow-Roasted Tomatoes. Sounds innocuous, right? It’s peak tomato season, so it sounds like an excellent choice to try this week. The name, though, slow-roasted tomatoes, makes it sound like nothing special. So misleading…

Before

This recipe is dead simple to make. The only “difficulty” is planning ahead for the three hours they spend slow roasting. You start with a pint of cherry tomatoes. Because it’s early August, I picked up a pint of freshly picked cherry tomatoes at the farmers market. You cut them in half, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and daub them each with some extra virgin olive oil. Sprigs of fresh herbs and some smashed garlic cloves join the tomatoes on the pan and in the oven it goes – for three hours.

After

Within the first half hour, whiffs of herby goodness started to escape from the oven. It only got better after that. At the end of three hours, the plump tomato halves had shriveled into moist unassuming dollops. I tasted one right out of the oven. The sweet concentrated tomato flavor was amazing. I think it can be described best as Tomato Candy!

Dorie suggests these can be served as a condiment. I used mine in an orzo salad where I usually use sun-dried tomatoes. The slow-roasted tomato morsels give it a different twist – a much brighter summery flavor.

Needless to say, I loved this recipe. It’s a winner in every way. Though cherry tomato season is fleeting, I can imagine that the ever-present grape tomatoes, available year-round, will be transformed by this treatment. That means, I can slow roast tomatoes all year long!

You can find recipe for this and other delicious dishes in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. I make a new recipe from the book each week along with a wonderful group of intrepid bloggers from French Fridays with Dorie. You can check the LYL (Leave Your Link) post for Slow-Roasted Tomatoes on the FFwD site to see what they thought about this week’s recipe.

Here’s my recipe for orzo salad. I recommend chopping the red onion first and soaking it in cold water in the fridge while you prepare everything else. Drain right before adding to the bowl. It cuts the sharpness of the raw onion. (A little tip I learned from Dorie!)

Orzo Salad

½ lb orzo
½ cup finely chopped red onion
½ cup olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (I used Picholine, use whatever you like. I’ve also made this with Nicoise and Kalamata)
½ cup slow-roasted tomatoes
1½ Tbsp drained capers
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

Cook the orzo according the package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Combine orzo, onion, olives, tomatoes, and capers in a large bowl. Whisk together oil and vinegar. Stir dressing into pasta salad and season with salt and pepper to taste. It might not need any salt because of the olives and capers.