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A little bit of this and a little bit of that

 

Last updated 2/19/2009 at Noon



Don’t you just wonder when people do something all the time…such as working with a computer, and then say, “Oh, it’s easy!”

Of course, “it’s easy” when you know how. Anything is easy when you know what you are doing and have done it for years…sometimes even without thinking of what you are doing.

Cooks, I believe, can fall into that same mindset.

Thus, I am very careful when I label a recipe “easy.” That said, all of today’s recipes are on the easy vs. the difficult side of the culinary world. And they are all satisfying, interesting, and two quite different from the classics they inspired.

First the pasta today is colorful, flavorful, relatively high in fiber and good veggies. Plus, it goes together in about 30 minutes, more or less. The more or less depends on your personal knife skills for the slicing or chopping.

The banana upside-down cake was inspired by the classical pineapple upside-down cake and retains that vision yet is ever so much more subtle and just surprisingly different…just as you might expect from the NYC pastry chef.

So from my kitchen to yours…enjoy these lovely, easy recipes now in the season between the seasons.

Happy cooking. –J.B.

Whole wheat pasta teams with freshly cooked spinach in a skillet dish that is quick, healthy and adroitly seasoned.

Pasta Pesto Skillet Dish

½ box (6.62 oz) whole grain penne pasta, cooked

Salt

1 lb. fresh baby spinach, cooked and drained, or 2 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen leaf spinach, cooked and drained

Fresh grated nutmeg

2 tbsp. canola oil

3 tbsp. prepared pesto (Classico is a good choice)

Few drops chili oil

1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds, optional

1 tbsp. pine nuts, optional

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain well. Turn into cold water to cool immediately. Drain.

Cook spinach and drain well. Gather spinach onto cutting board. Season lightly with freshly grated nutmeg. Chop roughly.

Heat oil with one piece of pasta until pasta is sizzling. Add remaining pasta and heat while stirring for 2 minutes. Add spinach and continue to heat, stirring, until heated through. Stir in pesto sauce and heat just to serving temperature. Sprinkle with a few drops of chili oil. Turn into serving dish. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and pine nuts. 4-6 servings.

Pasta Primavera inspired this skillet pasta laden with colorful vegetables and bound together with a bit of pesto. Add a slice of broiled salmon or grilled chicken for a complete family meal. Feel welcome to add or substitute vegetables as you like, just remembering not to overcook them.

Sauteed Veggies and Penne Pasta

1 box (13.25 oz.) whole grain penne pasta

2 tbsp. olive or canola oil

½ onion, chopped

1 red and 1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

8 oz. sliced mushrooms

8 spears asparagus, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 pt. grape tomatoes

Fresh ground pepper

2 tbsp. prepared Classico pesto

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet. Saute onion and peppers just until beginning to soften. Add sliced mushrooms and asparagus and continue to cook, stirring just until asparagus is crunchy yet almost tender. Stir in tomatoes. Season with pepper and stir in pesto sauce. Toss with hot cooked pasta and serve. Serves 8.

Banana

Upside-down Cake

3 small to medium-size ripe bananas

2 cups sugar

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. coarse (kosher) salt

½ cup clarified butter*

2 large eggs at room temperature

½ cup buttermilk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Cut the bananas in half lengthwise, then cut each piece in half crosswise. Set them aside.

3. Combine l cup sugar with about 2 tbsp. water (enough so the mixture looks like damp sand) in a saucepan. Melt the sugar over high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until it turns a dark amber, about 6 minutes. (Watch closely; once it gets going, it goes fast.) Add the butter and stir to combine. Then immediately pour the mixture into an 8-inch cake pan and set aside for 3 to 5 minutes to allow the caramel to set.

4. Arrange the bananas, cut side down, in a single layer on top of the caramel.

5. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl and set aside.

6. Using the whisk attachment in an electric mixer, combine the remaining l cup sugar with the clarified butter. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three batches, beating well after each addition. Pour the batter over the bananas.

7. Bake until the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan and springs back when touched with a finger, about 50 minutes.

8. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Then invert it onto a platter and serve warm or at room temperature.

*To clarify butter: Melt the butter in a saucepan and let it rest off the heat for a few minutes. When the solids have settled to the bottom of the pan, carefully pour off the clarified butter, leaving the solids behind.

 

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