Friday, July 27, 2012

Dabbling with Italian

I've started to dabble a bit in Italian recently, thanks to the produce I get from my CSA. Yeah-no, the mussels didn't come from the CSA. It was sort of a gradual chain of dishes that brought me to this Italian pasta with mussels dish. There's a great variety of produce that we get each week as CSA members, but squash is a big player in the box. A couple of the squash recipes that I tried were Italian influenced and I thought were great. Particularly motivating to me was the revelation of how much better balsamic vinegar was with basil than without; I started to get a sense of Italian ingredients and flavors.

On a whim at the grocery store, I picked up some mussels to make a pasta dish with since I'd never worked with them before. I referenced these two recipes in making my own (the Interwebs are so great). I was missing the anchovies and capers that Mario Batali's recipe calls for though, and wanted to try working with those to see how they changed things.

So of course I went and picked some up. This time for use in a puttanesca recipe found in The New Best Recipe. Olives were another new ingredient to work with.

Mashed the anchovies with a fork so they'd break down into a paste for the sauce. Although America's Test Kitchen tells you to do this, I think it's not really necessary; you can just mash the filets in the frying pan with a wooden spoon--it's faster with the heat and oil.

Well, now that I've tried cooking with anchovies (I also sautéed some squash with garlic and anchovies so that I could taste the fish more directly, and just nibbled on them straight, too), I can say I don't understand why some people are so averse to them. I can sort of see with fish more broadly that there can be a fishy flavor, but oil packed anchovies are really just salty and impart a bit of fatty, meatiness to a dish. But I enjoy my seafood, so maybe I just can't taste what they're tasting. Yeah, actually, the fishiness I can only smell when they're uncooked and losing freshness, too--not when cooked. *shrug*

The anchovies and capers (and olives) make a sauce punchier. Still, I found my puttanesca to be a little unbalanced. Maybe it was the canned tomato juices; there was a bit of a twang to these ones. I should have sliced the olives thinner, too. I'll try black ones next time, the way the recipe wanted. But when I added in some chicken to the leftover sauce for the next dinner, it was perfect.

Woops, I always forget to garnish before shooting. There should be parsley on that. And yep, more brown rice spaghetti. For the second go round, I used brown rice penn pasta, which was much better than the spaghetti: less mealy and less sticking. Still, it doesn't really seem possible to get a proper al dente with brown rice pasta so far. By the time the inside's done the outside's already getting soft.


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