Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rental house cooking: pasta salad with spinach and feta, and chicken schawarma (not at the same meal)

This is our sunset view for the week, provided that the weather holds out. We rent a house on the Craigville River in Centerville on Cape Cod, about a block from the beach and only a little bit longer from Four Seas Ice Cream. Unlike other New Yorkers, we tend not to rent in Wellfleet, where a walk on the beach is like a ride down Broadway on the #1 train. You can't avoid other Upper West Siders. We usually rent in the Hyannis area, where you rarely run into anyone from NY on the beach, and where you have the joy of hearing the skin of pale Red Socks fans sizzling in the sun.

We have been renting this house for three years, and it has lots going for it, especially view, location, and the people we rent with. (This means lots of surplus labor for kitchen tasks and clean up, amongst other things.) But there are some disadvantages, especially terrible mattresses and a poorly equipped kitchen. I usually bring a skillet or two and some knives, and lots of spices. Still, we manage to put together some good meals. So far I have made the salad nicoise tunisienne, (salad nicoise with preserved lemons and harissa) which I blogged about a few months ago; a pasta salad with spinach and feta; and chicken schawarma style.

I am currently working two part times and I've been working very hard and haven't had time to post yet this month. I swore that I wouldn't bring a computer on vacation, but I had some work I had to to, and will try to retrain myself. However, it is also giving me the chance to blog, so here are are recipes for the pasta salad and the chicken:

Pasta salad with spinach and feta

  • 1 pound farfalle pasta
  • olive oil
  • 8-12 cloves of garlic (sliced very thin: if you have seen the prison scene in Goodfellas you know what I mean -- this is another advantage of the surplus labor in a house share. Carl, our friend's soon to be 23 year old, did this without complaint.)
  • 1 to 1.5 pounds spinach (prewashed is acceptable here)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound feta cheese, cut into 1/2 to 1/4 inch cubes (substitute ricotta salata if you want)
  • 1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • large handful of fresh basil leaves, washed well and cut into shreds
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (I spent a fortune on these and forgot to put them in, but the salad would have been better with them)
  • 1/4 pound parmesan cheese, scraped into curls with a vegetable peeler
  1. Cook pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until very al dente, drain, and toss with some olive oil in a large serving bowl.
  2. Heat 1-3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, on medium heat, and add the garlic.
  3. Cook gently for a few minutes until soft but not brown.
  4. Add the spinach salt lightly, and stir fry until wilted but not overcooked. Add to the pasta in the bowl.
  5. Mix in feta, tomatoes and basil.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste, and move olive oil to lubricate it well. (No vinegar is needed-- the tomatoes and cheese supply enough sharpness here.)
  7. Top with parmesan and pine nuts, and serve at room temperature (though it is fine cold as well).
Chicken Schawarma

This isn't really schawarma, either Israeli or Lebanese style, but it is good. This isn't really a recipe either. Puree an onion, some fresh garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a processor or blender. Add lots of Pereg Spice Mixture for Schawarma (I told you rental houses involve compromise, but this mix is good enough that we use it at home too), and some salt and pepper, and mix well. Marinate chicken thighs 8 hours over night, and remove from the fridge at least one hour before cooking. Grill (or broil if you are home in an apartment) until browned and tender. Depending on the efficiency of your grill, the temperature of your chicken, the outside temperature, the quantity of chicken, your mood, and the alignment of Venus and Mars, this will take between 30 minutes and an hour. Serve with schug (Yemenite hot sauce) or harissa, tahini (see below), hummus, chopped salad, and grilled vegetables (we has squash, onions, eggplant and mushrooms, but the eggplant and onions were most popular). This is especially good in laffa bread, which you can do at home now that PappaLaffa is available in some stores like Fairway.

To make tahini sauce: Smash a clove of garlic on a cutting board with a broad knife or cleaver. Remove peel, salt, and work with the side of the knife until it is pureed. Scrape into a bowl, and add a few tablespoons of tahini. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon. Stir. Dribble in a little water, and stir. You will notice that it will get very stiff and grainy, and then start to relax. Add the water slowly. When it becomes the texture of a yoghurt or sour cream, you can dribble in olive oil instead of water. Otherwise, add more water. Salt to taste.

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