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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Neon Lights

The color of produce this time of year is mind-boggling.

We were leaving the Farmers Market the other day when a few stalks of Neon Lights Swiss Chard poking out from a basket caught my attention and practically slapped me in the face with thier vivid colors.  I had to have them.  What to do with them?  I didn't know and it didn't matter.  They were so striking and stunning, I had to have them.

We love swiss chard and I usually treat it as any other green.  But, that chard was special. With Chard on my mind, I flipped through Lidia Cooks From The Heart Of Italy by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, a James Beard Award Cookbook nominee, and found her Umbrian  recipe for Strangozzi with Chard and Almond Sauce, or Pasta with Chard and Pesto. I used her recipe as inspiration.

Pasta:  Any long form of pasta can be used for the recipe, although it is typically made with fresh pasta rolled out and cut by hand.  I love making pasta.  I can do it in my sleep.  I like the way it feels in my hands.  Firm, soft, and pliable.  That something so messy can turn into lovely pasta strands pleases me. I made fresh pasta.
I usually use the cutter on my pasta machine to make ribbons. The traditional method for Strangozzi calls for  pressing out long sheets of pasta, flouring them lightly, rolling them into cigars, and slicing ribbons using a serrated knife. I went traditional.  After rolling and cutting, I let them rest in little nests to air dry.

Chard:  After rinsing and drying the chard, I sliced the stalks on the diagonal and cut the leafy tops into bite sized ribbons.  I jullienned fresh local carrots and thinly sliced garlic and onions.

With  Mise en Place, the dish moved pretty quickly.  Because everything needed to saute together for a short time, I  blanched the carrots and chard stalks in well salted boiling water beforehand and set them aside.

I tossed the garlic and onions into a screaming hot oiled cast iron skillet to soften and caramelize. I threw in the chard greens and reserved vegetables to saute in the onion garlic oil.  While they briefly sauteed, I dropped the pasta into the still boiling blanching liquid for 2 minutes.  When the pasta was al dente, I used a spider to scoop it out of the water cauldren and dropped it right into the simmering chard mixture..  After a good stir to incorporate the pasta with the greens, I seasoned with salt, pepper, and parmesan reggiano cheese.A ladle of  pasta water  loosened the sauce.  At this point in her recipe, Lidia Bastianich tosses the mixture with fresh basil almond pesto. Although I love pesto, we had enough garlic and cheese going on, so I went lighter with fresh julienned basil. 

One last quick simmer to blend everything  before plating took about three minutes.  I used that small window to prepare a garnish of pan-seared prime rib.  Yup.  To the side of the beautiful Strangozzi with Neon Lights chard, we had  thinly sliced seared prime rib as a nibble.

A shower of cracked Tellicherry pepper and  reggiano cheese finished it off.

Fresh pasta is very hard to rival.  There are really good quality dried pastas on the market.  I use them and love them, but there is something about scratch-made pasta that simply elevates it to an ambrosia state.

The Strangozzi was perfectly al dente with a butter soft exterior.  Clean and pure.  When tossed with the garlicky onion sauteed chard and sweet carrots, it transformed into a flavor sponge, absorbing  the slight cooked-out  bitterness of the chard which countered the richness of the cheese and olive oil.

And the prime rib?  Well seasoned and well marbled, it provided lip gloss and a smidge of  weight to a somewhat dainty Strangozzi con Salsa di Beitole e Mandorle.  And was heaven.

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