By Nancy Caivano
Hello, and a hearty Happy New Year to you! Hopefully, you have experienced little or none Y2K problems (or you probably wouldn't be reading this at all) and had a joyous time with family or friends—or both.
What will this new millennium bring us? It is amazing to me that some people view it as the end of the world, some people view it as a brand new beginning, while some just flip over the page of their calendar to start yet another year. Whichever view you happen to take, the beginning of any new year usually gets those creative juices flowing, the desire to either start something new, change an old habit, or do something to shake up our lives, just a little.
Food-wise, it can be a simple thing. You could try a new cuisine like Thai. You can make that resolution to finally go on a diet and stick to it. Maybe you could just decide to cook at home more often instead of reaching for the phone to order in. Sometimes something as simple as that can add a nice touch of newness to our normal routine.
In this vein, I decided to focus this column on Pastas and Risotti that feature more "exotic" components, less widely used ingredients. I don't want you to read them and say "ewww"! Rather look at them as a culinary challenge—maybe the ingredient is one you have never had before, or one that you are not quite sure you would enjoy. This would be the perfect way to test it. Better yet, invite someone who you know is an "adventurous" eater over to share the meal. That way, if you don't like it, he or she can eat yours, and you can have that extra slice of pizza that is hidden in the refrigerator!
For the Pastas, I have 3 terrific choices for you—and not too far out of the ordinary. The first is Crab, Lobster and Lentil Ravioli with Tomato Cream Sauce. Shellfish and Lentils might sound a little weird for ravioli filling, but it really works well. The lobster and crab are sweet and delicious, combined with tender lentils and a bit of cream for wonderful flavor—then tossed with a luscious creamy tomato sauce that highlights the flavors of the crab and lobster.
Next up, I have Baked Pasta with Pumpkin, Mushrooms and Mascarpone. Not many of us think of pumpkin as a vegetable—just something to make pie from or carve on Halloween. It roasts to a mellow, nutty flavor, similar to butternut squash. In this pasta dish, it is combined with sautéed mushrooms, and a dash of cinnamon. Then to tweak up the flavor of the pumpkin and creamy mascarpone, I added Romano and Provolone cheeses, plus sage and parsley. This combination of flavors is really fabulous.
Lastly, I have Pasta with Scallops, Pears and Spicy Lemon Cream. This is another strange sounding combination that really works. The scallops are seared, then combined with sautéed pears and pasta. The sauce has a double dose of lemon and the fire of hot red pepper flakes that really wakes up the dish.
For this month's Risotti, I continue down the road less taken with the ingredient combinations. Our first dish, Risotto with Duck Ragu, is one of two Risotti that feature a slow-cooked meat ragu in the finished dish. This is a rich combination of duck meat that is cooked slowly with the bones, dried porcini mushrooms, pancetta and wine. It is terrific all by itself, but when combined into this luxurious risotto, it is simply outstanding.
The next risotto, Risotto with Chicken, Roasted Fennel and Boursin, combines a familiar ingredient, chicken, with a lesser-used vegetable like fennel and a terrific French herbed cream cheese. Roasting really mellows the flavor of the fennel, giving it a smoky note and filling your house with the lovely aroma of anise. When combined with the sautéed chicken and herbed cheese, it creates an unforgettable risotto.
The other risotto that contains a ragu is Risotto with Lamb Ragu and Pine Nuts. Lamb is not one of our most popular meats, and this is a great way to incorporate it into your meal planning. Ground lamb is not very popular in the supermarkets, so I usually purchase a lamb rack or lamb loin and ask the market butcher to grind it for me—and they usually do it for free. The lamb ragu is terrific on its own, and would be great with pasta or polenta also. It is combined into this dish with crunchy toasted walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese and freshly chopped mint. Again, the combination might sound a little strange, but the flavors really work well together.
After having the courage to try one of these new dishes, I think you deserve a reward. Treat yourself to this unbelievable Triple Chocolate Layer Cake, and indulge. You have survived the millennium after all!
Have a wonderful January and I will see you again in February, when we get ready for Valentine's Day.
This page created January 2000
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