Tuesday, 17 May 2011

How to find (and adapt) a great recipe: Fettucini with chard and sausage

I still love cookbooks. I have a bunch. Most of them I found through good reviews, through friends who suggested them, or just through browsing at bookstores. When you find a good cookbook, you can usually rely on most of the recipes in there.

But this is the information age, and I like to find information quickly. I do a lot of Googling, and I find a lot of recipes online. But how to know what's good? I'll tell you.

Google recently changed the way it searches for recipes, and they now give preference to things from bigger sites and neglect blogs. Which, you know, the foodies are up in arms about. But I don't care that much, because frankly, I like the bigger sites. Most of them have ratings and reviews, and that's how I find a good recipe.

First, when I search, if I really want something simple and I don't find it right away, I throw in another term -- instead of "homemade pasta," I'll search for "basic homemade pasta" or "easy homemade pasta" or "simple," or whatever. Then I start looking for stars. Yes, really.

If a recipe has four or five stars out of five, I click it and look. Now, I don't mind making things with a bajillion ingredients or that take two days, but it's not my favorite thing to do. I'm lazy, so I want something that seems do-able. I scan the ingredients and instructions, then decide whether it's worth looking at.

If it is, pretty much the first thing I do is read the comments. Sometimes, they'll be all over the place, but most of the time, they're all in agreement. They will look like this:

Good recipe! I used my own crust though and substituted shortening for butter, plus I cooked it for ten extra minutes.

My family loved this! I took it out of the oven ten minutes early because it was already brown. Also, I left out the onions and kale and replaced them with sweet potatoes and bacon. Oh, and I brushed the crust with egg.

This was so easy, except that I don't really like white flour, so I made the crust with garbanzo beans.

Guess what? I'm not going to make that recipe. No one else seems to have done so.

On the other hand, sometimes you'll find one where all the commenters agree that it was very good, but next time they'll cut the salt, or that they cut the salt and it was fine, or that it was a tad salty. That, I will make. And I'll cut the salt. From what I can tell, the people who write reviews of recipes genuinely want to share information with you.

Here's an example. I wanted to try making my own pasta, and I did.

I searched for "basic pasta recipe" and this was the first one to come up. Have a look at it. It has 4 1/2 stars, and the reviewers are in agreement: add some olive oil and let it rest.

I used semolina flour, and I needed to add a little extra water, too. It should be a very thick dough, but not crumbly.

You can totally roll it out with a rolling pin and cut it with a knife, but I got a pasta machine for cheap a few months ago. It was a bit of a learning curve, because the first time, I thought you could just shove a lump of dough at it (What? Not like I've ever seen anyone use a pasta machine before!), but then I figured out you have to roll it out a bit first. To get it to feed through the machine evenly, you should try to roll it into a sort of oblong, which you can do by only rolling back and forth rather than turning the dough as you would with a pie crust.

You have to roll it through the fattest size roller once, then fold it over and roll it again. Then you can roll it through successively smaller rollers until it's however thin you want. I went to "7" on my machine, which felt pretty thin. Then I put it through the cutter.

My helper beats the egg.

Shh... it's resting.

Rolling it with plenty of flour.

My machine... shiny!

It's good to have help.

Rolled out.



Mixing with the greens.

About ready to serve.

While it was resting, I made the chard stuff. My family actually loves tomato-based sauces, but we had a big bunch of chard from the neighbors' garden.

2 Tbs olive oil
6 cloves garlic
1 bunch chard
2 Italian-style sausages (mine were SmartLife veggie ones, but you use whatever works for you)
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives
zest of 1 lemon
red pepper flakes
fresh grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large pan over medium heat, then add olive oil. Add the garlic and saute until it's golden brown. Add all the chard and cook slowly for about ten minutes. If you're using meat sausage, you may want to add it before the greens so that it gets a chance to cook thoroughly, but with veggie sausage, it just has to get warm, so I put it in after.
Add the olives as well.

Season with the zest and red pepper flakes and turn heat to low. When the pasta is cooked, add it (and a bit of the cooking water) to the big pan and let it all mix up for a few minutes. I grate the parmesan on it at the table. I actually didn't add salt, but you might want to.

Note: I cut the chard by cutting out the stem, then stacking 5 or 6 leaves on top of one another. Then I roll them up like a cigar and slice the cigar. Once you fluff the resulting spirals up, you have very thinly sliced greens. Works with anything flat and leafy.





This would have been super-duper awesome with onion, and I normally would add it, but I just forgot. Chop it, add it at the same time as the garlic, and go to town.


No comments:

Post a Comment