Friday, May 13, 2011

Melissa Clark’s Mother’s recipe for Thyme-Roasted Chicken with Mustard Croutons and Melissa’s recipe for Brussels Sprouts Salad

Melissa Clark, Author of 29 Cookbooks

Who, you may ask, is Melissa Clark?  And for that matter, who is her mother?  I can almost guarantee that once you have tasted this wonderfully aromatic baked chicken dish and its accompanying Brussels Sprouts Salad, you will be dying to know Melissa--and her mother-- better.  All that will require is a once a week visit to Melissa’s “A Good Appetite” column in Wednesday’s New York Times.  Or better yet, you can revel in Melissa’s recipe craft in her great cookbook " In the Kitchen with  a Good Appetite” (Hyperion 2010).  There you’ll find 150 reasons to love Melissa along with a collection of wonderfully written food-related stories.  
 The story surrounding this easy and delicious chicken recipe is this: Melissa’s Mother is forever reading her recipes in the Times just like the rest of us.  One day she called her daughter to say that she’d made her chicken recipe in the Times and reported that “it was terrific”.  Melissa immediately became suspicious because the elder Mrs. Clark, a psychiatrist, never follows recipes.  This seems to be a family trait.  The reason we love Melissa so much is that she takes home cooking to a new level. That’s not to say she complicates anything.  Her food isn’t fussy at all.  What she does is to let us in on new flavor combinations, new ingredients she’s discovered and new ways to serve up tried and true favorites we’ve used for years.  She tells us how she creates meals, whatever her inspiration.  She makes much of the fact that she works out of a standard New York kitchen which is generally only slightly bigger than a bread box.  But out of her kitchen come robust flavors that encourage us all to get into in the kitchen. She proves that home cooking is fun, nurturing and not at all difficult. Which is precisely why these recipes are so worth making.
Originally, Melissa’s recipe called for a whole chicken.  What Mrs. Clark did was to substitute that for cut-up chicken parts.  And then, adding another dimension entirely, she slathered the “croutons” with good mustard.  The tangy taste of the mustard not only combined deliciously with the drippings from the chicken but it also added fabulous flavor to the bread underneath which crisps while roasting.
I cannot claim to be nearly as talented as either Melissa or her mother but I too substituted chicken parts for chicken thighs, which I would choose hands down over any part of the bird.  The thrifty side of me reveled in using some days-old ciabatta bread which was superb.  Lacking a small roasting pan, I opted for Pyrex baking dish and placed it on a metal sheet pan to distribute the heat evenly.  Do make this dish.  It takes just over an hour to cook but all of about 15 minutes to prepare.  The Brussels Sprouts salad comes after.  Here are the recipes with thanks to both Ms. Clarks.

Recipe for Melissa Clark’s Mother’s Thyme Roasted Chicken with Mustard Croutons
Country bread, ciabatta or other sturdy bread, preferably stale and     sliced 1/2 inch thick
Dijon mustard, as needed
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1 (4 -5 lb) chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces, rinsed and patted dry
Or two skin-on chicken thighs per person
1 head garlic, separated into cloves (but not peeled)
1 bay leaf, torn into pieces
1/2 bunch thyme, sprigs
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F Lay the bread slices in the bottom of a heavy-duty roasting pan in one layer. Brush with mustard, drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

  1. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper and place the pieces on the bread, arranging the white meat in the center and the dark meat and wings around the sides. Scatter the garlic cloves, bay leaf, and thyme over the chicken and drizzle everything with more oil (take care to drizzle the garlic cloves).
  1. Roast the chicken until it's lightly browned and the thigh juices run clear when pricked with a knife, about 50 minutes. If you like, you can crisp the skin by running the pan under the broiler for a minute, though you might want to rescue the garlic cloves before you do so they don't burn (if you don't plan to eat them, it doesn't matter so much). Serve the chicken with pieces of bread from the pan.

Recipe for Brussels Sprouts Salad
I can’t say that Andrew and I are huge fans of Brussels Sprouts.  As a child, they were often pushed around my plate and left uneaten.  Since then, we’ve enjoyed some really nice recipes using them.  So when I saw this take on them, I wanted to try it.  I enjoyed the crunch of the sprouts and the toasted walnuts, the tang of the cheese and the lemon juice.  Andrew, however, did not.  This recipe makes a lot of Salad so I had plenty left over.  Remembering a Thanksgiving recipe of Brussels Sprouts and bacon,  I revisited the salad, folding in some crispy bacon and then putting the whole thing on the stove and stir-frying the sprouts.  The results were much more appealing to Andrew.  And it sounded like something Melissa wouldn’t mind.  After all, her mother changes Melissa’s recipes all the time.

10 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed
Juice of 1/2 lemon Coarse salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1 c toasted walnuts, chopped 3/4 c Manchego cheese, grated

6 slices of Smoked Bacon, cooked and chopped (optional)

Put the Brussels sprouts into a food processor fitted with the slicing disc.  Put the sprouts in a bowl and toss with lemon juice and a little salt and pepper. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add the olive oil and toss well. Gently stir in the walnuts and cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately or let stand for one hour before serving. Alternatively, add the cooked bacon, put the ‘salad’ in a large skillet and cook for 5 minutes over medium high heat. Serve. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Linguine with Lemon-Garlic Shrimp

        I’ve yet to find a recipe that comes close to the Shrimp Scampi that I grew up with. It was a dish that was so resolutely garlic-y, you could smell it coming up the driveway.  Later, when I lived in Italy, I found out how off that name is.  Scampi is a shellfish, a langoustine more formally known as Nephrops Norvegicus, or Norway Lobster found in the North Atlantic and parts of the Mediterranean.  In both taste and texture it has more in common with lobster and crayfish than shrimp or prawns. And the pasta dish we loved at home didn’t contain any Nephrops Norvegicus.  It was made with jumbo shrimp, wine, and the aforementioned tons of garlic.  So what’s with the Shrimp Scampi?  It’s almost like calling a dish “Chicken Poulet.”
Nephrops Norvegicus
“Scampi" is often the menu name for shrimp in Italian-American cuisine.  The actual word for "shrimp" in Italian is gambero or gamberetto. The term “Scampi” is used as the name of a dish of shrimp served in garlic butter and dry white wine, served either with bread, or over pasta or rice. The word "scampi" is often construed as that style of preparation rather than an ingredient, with that preparation being called "shrimp scampi", and with variants such as "chicken scampi". 
Now this recipe for Linguine with Lemon-Garlic Shrimp comes from Fine Cooking.  It's one of their series of really simple and fast dinner recipes.  Its name wisely eliminates the redundancy of “Shrimp Scampi”.  However it gets very close to what I loved as a child.   It’s deeply perfumed with garlic and lemon.  Then there’s an addition that flies in the face of the Italian edict: Never add cheese to seafood of any kind. In this case, Marscapone, that luxurious Italian cream cheese is added at the end to give the sauce a creamy richness.  Somewhat bizarrely the original recipe is for three people.  I made it for two by cutting down on the number of shrimp.   I would however caution against cutting the amount of sauce down.  And this is one time when you really do need to add a little of the paste water to get your sauce to the perfect consistency.   Here is the recipe:

Recipe for Linguine with Lemon-Garlic Shrimp
Kosher salt
1/2 lb. dried thin linguine
1 lemon
1 lb. extra-large (26 to 30 per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
3 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced (1 Tbs.)
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
2 Tbs. thinly sliced chives 

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the linguine in the boiling water according to package directions until al dente. Reserve about 3/4 cup of the cooking water and then drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, finely grate 1-1/4 tsp. of zest from the lemon and squeeze 2 Tbs. of juice. Toss the shrimp with 1/2 tsp. of the zest and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper.

In a 12-inch skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat until the foam subsides. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic just begins to brown, about 1 minute. Add the shrimp and cook until just opaque, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and lemon juice, bring to a boil, and cook until slightly reduced, 1 minute.

Add the drained pasta, mascarpone, and 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss well, adding more cooking water as needed, until the pasta and shrimp are coated and the sauce looks creamy. Remove from the heat. Toss in the remaining 3/4 tsp. lemon zest and the chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.