Buttery Orecchiette with Mushrooms and Peas

I think I’d love orecchiette even if the name didn’t translate from Italian as “little ears.” This pasta shape has a wonderful texture and, because it’s slightly concave, it serves as a vessel for the accompanying sauce. If you can’t find orecchiette, you can use any bite-sized pasta shape.

Makes 4 servings

1/2 lb (about 250g) orecchiette pasta

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 lb cremini (brown) mushrooms, sliced

2 shallots, minced

1 tsp kosher salt, plus more if needed

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed

1/3 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

1 cup frozen green peas, thawed

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)

In a large pot, boil the pasta in salted water until almost al dente, about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat, add the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter until the butter is melted. Add the mushrooms, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms have released and reabsorbed their liquid, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shallots, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Stir in the wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the peas.

Before draining the pasta into a colander, reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the drained pasta, along with 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, to the pan, stirring continuously until the ingredients are well incorporated and the pasta is at the al dente stage, adding more cooking water if needed to keep the mixture moist but not watery. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the cheese, if using. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed.


Double Chocolate Brownies

When you’re in need of a chocolate fix, this recipe sure fits the bill. Baked as directed, the brownies are slightly gooey and very rich. If you prefer a more cakelike brownie, just bake them a little longer. Adding coffee to chocolate desserts creates wonderful depth in both flavour and colour and, somehow, more chocolatey flavour with no evidence of the coffee. If you can’t get hold of the espresso called for, no worries; just leave it out.

Makes 16 squares

4 ounces (about 115g) unsweetened (or 100% cacao) chocolate, cut into small pieces

1 1/4 cups (about 220g) semi-sweet chocolate chips (or 60% to 70% cacao chocolate, cut into small chunks)

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

2 tsp instant espresso powder or finely ground espresso beans or other dark-roast coffee

3/4 cup  coconut sugar or granulated cane sugar

3 large eggs

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1 1/4 cups  coarsely chopped toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)

Lightly grease an 8- by 8-inch or 9- by 9-inch baking pan. Fill a large saucepan with about one inch of water. Bring the water to a simmer. In a medium heatproof glass or stainless steel bowl, add the chocolate, chocolate chips and butter. Place the bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the simmering water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are melted, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Stir in the espresso.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla. Slowly whisk the chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir until blended well. Stir in the nuts, if using.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake in a 350º F oven until a toothpick inserted within one inch of the edge of the pan comes out dry (a toothpick inserted into the centre should have traces of melted chocolate and some moist crumbs), 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack before cutting into squares.

Braised Garlic-Tarragon Chicken

GarlicTarragonChicken Orecchiette

Poulet à l'estragon is a classic French dish. My version is elegant enough for a dinner party and simple enough to make for a weeknight family dinner. The preparation results in a mildly flavoured, softened garlic- and tarragon-infused sauce. For a bit more punch, stir 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard into the sauce before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tbsp              all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp             kosher salt, plus more if needed

1/4 tsp             freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed

3 to 4 lbs         bone-in chicken parts

3 tbsp              extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil

6                      cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half

3                      shallots, minced

3/4 cup                        dry white wine

2 ½ cups          chicken broth

1/4 cup                        chopped fresh tarragon

1/4 cup            whipping (35%) cream (optional)

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper. Coat the chicken parts all over with the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the oil. Add one-half of the chicken pieces, browning them well on both sides; transfer to a platter. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic and shallots to the pan. Cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and reduce by about half, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the broth and 2 tablespoons of the tarragon. Return the chicken to the pan, in a single layer if possible. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a clean platter and cover loosely with foil.

Increase the heat to high. Stir in the cream (if using). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to the desired sauce consistency, about 8 minutes. Stir in one tablespoon of the remaining tarragon. Briefly return the chicken to the pan to heat through. Garnish the chicken with the remaining tablespoon of tarragon and serve with the sauce, accompanied by Buttery Orecchiette with Mushrooms and Peas (recipe follows), if desired.

Smoked Fish Spread

ET36 Gails SmokedFishSpread 2

This spread is an easy-to-make appetizer that’s full of great umami (referred to as the “fifth taste”) flavour. Serve it with multigrain crackers or miniature pitas.

Makes about 2 cups

6 oz/170g (approx.) smoked mackerel or trout, skin removed

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup plain yogurt

2 tbsp chopped fresh dill

1 ½ tbsp chopped green onions

1 tbsp chopped drained capers

2 tsp  prepared horseradish, plus more if needed

1 tbsp  freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more if needed

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more if needed

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed

Using your fingers, flake the fish into small pieces into a bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta, yogurt, dill, green onions, capers, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Gently stir in the fish. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed. For best results, refrigerate the spread at least two hours prior to serving to allow the flavours to meld.