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Monday, January 25, 2010

Ready. Set. Roast!

As I mentioned in my year end post, I've been roasting.

There really is not much I have not tried to roast...

Artichokes.  Check.  (With Meyer lemons...a tasty addition if I do say so...)

A giant bag full of garlic and four types of shallots, given to us by a college friend, who's become quite the gardener and has the good fortune to live in Oregon.  Check.

(Sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Roast.  Pile the resulting, heavenly 'marmalade' on bread or roast chicken.)

Cauliflower.  Check.  (Thought you didn't like cauliflower?  Have I got news for you!)

Ok, these sound good, but really...not that radical, right?

So try this....
how about Clam Sauce?!


Yes, the past month, I've come across two new roasting recipes that have me I thought I'd share.

First.  Yes, you heard me.  Pasta with Clam Sauce.  ROASTED!
Ridiculously easy and oh so delicious, that it had me asking, where-oh-where has this recipe been all my life?  The magical thing that happens here is with the tomatoes...fresh, cherry tomatoes love being in the oven.  (Live clams?  Hmmm, maybe not so much, but hey.... that's the food chain for you.)  For a Clam Sauce lover like me, this was nothing short of nirvana.

You start an oven-safe pan on the stove with some pancetta and then, while your spaghetti is cooking in another pot, toss the remaining ingredients into your skillet before popping the whole thing into the oven.  Presto!  The result is perfect broth-y goodness.  The clams release their natural juices into the sauce, an intoxicating blend of pancetta balanced with the brightness of tomatoes and white wine.  A shower of torn fresh basil leaves and chopped parsley as garnish at the end.  Lean over, close your eyes and take a are in Italy.   The recipe is from a Tyler Florence book, and I have to say...yes, it is indeed The Ultimate Spaghetti with Clams.

But maybe you're like my brother, and you live in that arctic tundra known as Minneapolis...and you're thinking, "yeah, well, that's all great, but umm, where are we supposed to get fresh clams?!', or maybe you don't even like clams or clam sauce.

Then I say to you, Roast Pears!

And I mean, underripe pears.  (We can ALL find those, right?!)  This roasted pear recipe (from Sally Schneider on The Atlantic's food channel) is so wonderful, I urge you to get pears as soon as is humanly possible--do not pass GO--get your hands on a real vanilla bean (the true hero in Roasted Pears) and pre-'pear' to be amazed.  (sorry, just couldn't help myself there...)

Here, the most humble ingredients (pears, water, sugar, butter, lemon juice and the vanilla bean) are completely transformed in a hot oven.  What you get are meltingly wonderful, carmelized pears...perfect spooned over ice cream, OR, drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with toasted slivered almonds, OR drizzled over oatmeal, or pancakes...there is no stopping these pears and their magical powers to make people swoon.  The vanilla-flecked pear juices which become like a caramel sauce in the oven...they alone are worth the effort.  Trust me on this.

Now go on...get out there and start roasting...and don't look back!

About vanilla beans...skip the shriveled, dried up specimens packaged in expensive little bottles you find at the supermarket.  You want plump, moist vanilla beans so consider either your fancy grocery store where you'll find them sold individually in glass tubes, or I've been using mail order (I used to buy vanilla beans at Trader Joe's, but mine has stopped carrying them -- they were a total steal and pretty good quality, but alas, no more.) and the quality has been impeccable.  It really does make a difference.
My favorite source is Spice House and they have several locations in Illinois and Wisconsin, if you live out that way.

Essential Roasted Pears
adapted from Sally Schneider

Serves 4

    • 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
    • 1 1/2 pounds slightly-under-ripe, fragrant, medium pears, peeled if desired and halved though the stem
    • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.

Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut-side up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar. Nestle the vanilla pod among the fruit. Pour the water into the dish. Dot each pear with some butter.

Roast the pears 30 minutes brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. Turn the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes longer (if the pears are small, test for doneness after 35 or 40 minutes of cooking; a paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance). Serve warm.

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