harissa ravioli

I can’t remember the last time I ate broccoli. When I was a teenager, I developed a broccoli allergy and have since stayed far, far away. It actually used to be one of my favorite veggies, but my body says no. I don’t break out in hives or anything, I just feel like I want to die after I eat it, so much so that I avoid anything that resembles broccoli, including broccolini and broccoli rabe.

When I saw Heidi’s recipe for harissa ravioli with brocolli, I began to think twice about my ways. I love harissa. Harissa is a chili paste used commonly in North African cuisine and any excuse to use it is a good one. I wouldn’t dare eat broccoli, but I thought maybe I could handle a little broccolini or broccoli rabe. Why not live a bit dangerously?

I survived the broccolini. As a matter of fact I loved it. I’m not sure what came over me, but I was feeling pretty bold and decided to cook some broccoli rabe. Oh, dear. What a mistake. I was laid up on the couch, dying for almost four hours. After drinking two glasses of 7-up and even resorting to Pepto, I made an executive decision and puked my brains out (sorry, tmi). If you ask me, no vegetable is worth that kind of drama.

But I’m glad I got all of that settled. Broccoli and broccoli rabe remain on the Do Not Eat list. But luckily for me, the broccolini gates have opened and I can throw it in this great pasta dish. The ravioli is really just a blank canvas for all of the layers of flavor here – spicy, lemony harissa oil, salty black olives, crunchy pepitas, tangy feta with really nice texture from toasted pepitas and broccolini. It’s a nice way to incorporate veggies into a meal, and the whole thing comes together in a snap. It’s an ideal weeknight meal.

harissa ravioli

from Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson

serves 4

1 clove garlic, smashed

1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons harissa

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

12 ounces fresh or frozen cheese-stuffed ravioli or tortellini

8 ounces broccoli florets or broccolini, trimmed into bite-size pieces 

1/4 cup pepitas, toasted

scant 1/4 cup crumbled feta

5 or 6 black oil-cured olives, pitted and torn into pieces

Bring a large pot of water to boil. In the meantime, sprinkle the smashed garlic with the sea salt and shop into a paste. Transfer it to a small bowl and stir in the lemon juice, harissa, and olive oil. Taste and add more salt if needed. Set aside.

When the water boils, salt it generously, add the ravioli, and boil until they are cooked through, about 1-2 minutes (they will float to the top). About 30 seconds before the ravioli have finished cooking, add the broccoli to the pot, boil for the remaining time, then drain.

Transfer the ravioli and broccoli to a large mixing bowl. Toss with a couple spoonfuls of harrissa oil and most of the pepitas.  Taste and add salt if needed. Turn out onto a serving platter and top with more harissa oil, the remaining pepitas, the feta, and olives.

bucatini with oven-dried tomatoes and bottarga

The universe has been sort of funny this week. I’m not sure what exactly it’s trying to tell me, but I feel as though it’s saying something, or at least hinting around. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and see what other surprises it has in store.

At the moment there are more important matters at hand. Like tomatoes. It’s finally that time. Hot days in the Bay = tomatoes galore. The tomatoes around here are exploding right now; even my crazy little Sweet 100’s are out of control. I’m ecstatic.

About this time last year, I bought myself a 20 pound flat of Early Girls, which was the best decision ever. I loved being able to crack a jar of the Girls open in the middle of winter. I enjoyed those tomatoes so much that I decided I would buy a flat every year going forward.

This year I decided to go with the San Marzanos since they’re supposed to be the best for sauce making. As it turns out, they’re also very good for drying. If you find yourself with a surplus of tomatoes, I highly recommend oven-drying. Oven-dried tomatoes are the bomb. They’re the easiest thing ever, and if you have a convection oven, it’s a relatively quick process. And the smell of drying tomatoes is pretty amazing – it’s like pure tomato essence locked inside your oven. I couldn’t wait to eat them.

I didn’t wait long. I ate a few on toast, which was pretty spectacular. And then the rest went into a sauce. This recipe originally caught my attention because it was so simple and called for just a handful of ingredients. It also called for bottarga.

Bottarga is the dried, cured roe of the grey mullet or tuna. It is found on several restaurant menus in these parts, but it’s only available in certain specialty stores and it can get a little pricey. I was on a mission, so I searched the net, made a few calls, did some comparative pricing. And then I headed to the Ferry Building to seal the deal. Thank you, Boulettes Larder, for opening your already closed doors and breaking me off a piece of this gold from the ocean.

Freshly grated bottarga transforms a simple pasta dish into something special. It lends a saltiness and complexity that can’t be achieved with salt. It offsets the sweetness of the sundried tomato sauce really nicely. If you can find bottarga and are not deterred by the cost, it’s a great treat for yourself and those you are sharing with.

bucatini with oven-dried tomatoes and bottarga

adapted from A-16 by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren

serves 4- 6

kosher salt

extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife

1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes

2 cups oven-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped (see recipe below)

12 ounces bucatini

1-ounce piece bottarga for grating (or substitute fresh parmigiano reggiano)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and chile flakes and sweat, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until the garlic has softened. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes have plumped up. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed, keeping in mind that the tomatoes are seasoned and the bottarga is salty.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 1 minute less than specified on the package. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water, and return the pasta to the large pot over medium heat. Add the sauce to the pasta along with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and toss well, adding some of the reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce. If the sauce is too loose, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook down the sauce with the pasta. It should be loose enough to barely pool at the bottom of the pot, but not too watery. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.

Serve the pasta in a warmed large bowl, family style. Grate the bottarga over the top to finish and serve immediately.

oven-dried tomatoes

1-1/2 pounds kosher salt

15 san marzano tomatoes

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

Preheat oven to 200°F.

Spread the salt on a 13×18-inch rimmed baking sheet, creating a 1/2-inch thick bed of salt. Core the tomatoes and halve them lengthwise. Arrange the halves, skin side down, in rows on the bed of salt. Bake for 6 hours, or until the tomatoes are dried and look like sun-dried tomatoes. (if you have a convection oven, turn the fan on; the tomatoes should be dry in about 3 hours.)

Remove the tomatoes from the salt (the salt can be reused for another batch), and pack them into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour in olive oil, cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

israeli couscous with grilled summer squash

There has been a bit of a quiet countdown happening over here. On an almost daily basis, I’ve been reminding myself to make the most of these days, the end of summer, the end of my twenties. Stop. Take a few deep breaths. Be grateful. They’re going fast, these days.

Maybe you and I are alike in our efforts to savor these last weeks of summer. If so, I have something for you.

First, get yourself some summer squash, pick a few lemons from the neighbors tree (or the market), start up the grill and pour yourself a glass of wine, grab a beer, make your favorite cocktail – you get the picture. After a quick marinate in lemon, olive oil and minced garlic, grill up that gorgeous summer bounty and then throw it into a salad of Israeli couscous (not to be confused with traditional small grain couscous), feta and dill. Season with more lemon juice and zest, flaky salt and ground black pepper.

This little salad was born on a hot August evening in the mountains. I liked it so much that I had to make it again just a few weeks later. It’s bright. It’s savory. It’s summery. It’s one of my new favorites. It will be the perfect side dish for the end of summer shindig you’ll be attending this Labor Day weekend. It also makes a great mid-afternoon snack. Hold on to summer, grill everything in sight, dine outdoors, leave the windows open, pretend like it’s just beginning.

israeli couscous with grilled summer squash

serves 6-8

2 cups dry Israeli couscous

8-10 small zucchini

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided 

2 lemons, zest and juice 

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup dill, roughly chopped

4 ounces feta, crumbled 

flaky salt

fresh ground pepper

Prepare your grill outdoors. Alternately, you can use a stove-top grill pan or roast zucchini in the oven for about 8 minutes at 425F.

Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise from stem to base. Place in a shallow casserole dish or baking pan.  Sprinkle the zest of one lemon and minced garlic over the zucchini. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the juice of one lemon over the sliced zucchini. Season with salt and pepper. Toss until all zucchini is well coated. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season generously with salt. Add the Israeli couscous and cook for 8 minutes, or until al dente. Drain the couscous and then spread on a baking sheet in a even layer to cool.

After the zucchini have been marinating for 15-20 minutes, place them on the grill cut-side down. Leave them on the grill until they have nice charred markings and are tender but not limp, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from grill and set aside to cool. When the zucchini is cool enough to handle, slice into 1-inch pieces.

Transfer the cooled couscous to a large mixing bowl. Toss with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, juice of half a lemon, remaining zest, salt and pepper. Add the feta, dill and sliced zucchini. Toss until all ingredients are well incorporated. Add more lemon juice or salt to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and dungeness crab

At about this time last year, one of my favorite restaurants was serving a pasta dish with Dungeness crab and sea urchin. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to having dinner there, it was no longer on the menu. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

For starters, I pretty much love anything that comes from the sea. But Dungeness crab and sea urchin, otherwise known as uni, are at the top of my list. So when I imagined the two together, it just blew my mind a little bit.

If you have never tasted uni, I must say it is definitely not for everyone. It has a custard-like texture and a sort of buttery, salty flavor. It is commonly served in Japanese restaurants, sashimi style, the only way I had ever had it. Which made the idea of a warm uni dish that much more enticing to me.

I waited an entire year with the hope that this dish would reappear on the menu. But I either missed it again or it just never happened. So I decided that I would have to make it myself. When I spotted a recipe for spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab while flipping through the pages of The Young Man and the Sea, I knew the stars were aligning. In the end I used a different recipe, but it was a good place to start. And then I planned a field trip to Tokyo Fish Market, my new favorite store.

This pasta is nothing shy of perfection. The sauce is silky and rich without being overwhelming. And the sweetness of the crab is the perfect compliment to the brininess of the uni, which is fantastic warm. The combination was even more incredible than I had imagined; all of the flavors and textures work beautifully together. I feel like I need to toot my horn a little bit because even my toughest critic fell in love with this dish (it really is that good!). I might be somewhat biased since I love me my seafood, but… toot-toot!

spaghetti alla chitarra with sea urchin and crab

adapted from Wine Enthusiast Magazine

serves 4

1 pound dried chitarra or spaghetti

2 ounces extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, sliced thin

4 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into small dice

2 ounces dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken stock

8 ounces sea urchin (2 trays of cleaned sea urchins)

8 ounces Dungeness crab meat, about 1 whole crab*, or jumbo lump crabmeat

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 lemon, zested and reserved for juice

1 pinch crushed chili flakes

sea salt

chives (for garnish)

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender but still slightly firm to the bite,  7-9 minutes.

Reserve 4-5 pieces of sea urchin for garnish and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil followed by the garlic. Sweat garlic lightly, then add leeks. Cook on low to medium heat until tender, then add wine.

Add chicken stock immediately after the wine and reduce slightly. Add sea urchin and break it up slightly. Add crab at the very end when sauce is off the heat.

Add cooked pasta to sauce with a touch of the pasta cooking water. Add butter and emulsify slowly into the sauce.

Finish with lemon juice, lemon zest, chili flakes and sea salt.

Divide pasta amongst the bowls. Top each bowl with a piece of sea urchin and sprinkle with chives.

*You can usually buy a whole cooked crab at the market, but it’s less expensive (and often more tasty) to buy a live crab and steam it yourself at home.

To steam your crab:

Fill a large stock pot with 2-3 inches of water, just below where the rack will sit (if you don’t have a steaming rack, you can use a bowl placed upside down at the bottom of the pot). Add 6 ounces of beer to the water (optional) and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, place the crab inside the pot and cover with a lid. Steam for 15 minutes. Remove the crab and let cool until cool enough to handle.

Click here for tips on cracking and cleaning your crab.