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Mixing it up with Barbara Lynch

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Written by foodie pam   
Tuesday, 12 January 2010

ImageIf you're from Boston you've surely heard of Barbara Lynch, who has assembled a mini-empire of wonderful restaurants. She also has a cooking school, Stir, which serves as the name of her long-awaited cookbook.

As I worked my way through Stir I felt as if I was working directly with Barbara at her cooking school.  Her voice is strong in the book and her instructions are clear. It's as though she's speaking to you. 

She's also perfected the balancing of time-consuming preparations that require a kitchen staff with the simplicity that's needed for cooking at home; which means she's (thankfully) made the recipes approachable for me, the home cook.  The result is I've selected many of the recipes to make and have already made a good dent on those selections.

My favorite recipe so far is Torn Pasta Fagioli with Shrimp Polpettini which combines amazing bite-sized shrimp balls with pasta and beans to make a dish I guarantee you'll be craving.  The shrimp balls are easy, although time-consuming, to make and the rest of the dish is pretty quick.  Barbara Lynch is known for her pasta creations and in this recipe she uses torn pieces of fresh pasta.  I also made my own pasta, but you don't have to.  If you have access to some high quality dried wide pasta such as pappardelle you'll still have an amazing dish, although you may find that Barbara will convince you to make your own pasta once you've read her pasta recipe.  She convinced me and I fully admit that after reading her pasta chapter I simply had to have a home-made pasta roller.

ImageStir offers much more than pasta. As an Italian focused cookbook you'll find some wonderful meat and many fish dishes as well (see below for a wonderful scallop dish). For me, the pasta is the tantalizing bait but I'm equally thrilled with her non-pasta dishes.

I have an inherent bias against chef cookbooks, for fear of them presenting food too difficult for the home cook.  Happily, Stir exceeded my expectations and is one of the select set of wonderful chef cookbooks that I proudly display on my kitchen counter and use to create great meals.

Torn Pasta Fagioli with Shrimp Polpettini


From Stir: Mixing it up in the Italian Tradition by Barbara Lynch, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

SERVES 6

Pasta and beans is one of the most comforting dishes around, and I am always playing with the notion of it. In this pasta, I add tiny shrimp polpettini, or "meatballs" (easily made in a food processor) and loads of fresh sage and rosemary. I like to use fresh pasta cut into squares, rectangles, or irregular shapes of about 2 inches (triangles, trapezoids). In Italy they call these shapes maltagliati, which translates as "badly cut," because they are generally what is left over after the pasta has been cut into other shapes. Or you can use dried pasta, breaking up wide flat noodles and cooking them a little longer.

FOR THE POLPETTINI

  • 3/4 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined, and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE SAUCE AND PASTA

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 medium white onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 batch Fresh Pasta Dough, rolled as directed and cut with a knife into irregular shapes of about 2 inches, or 1/2 pound dried wide flat noodles, such as pappardelle, broken into 2-inch lengths
  • Fleur de sel
  • Thinly sliced fresh sage leaves for garnish (optional)

TO MAKE THE POLPETTINI: Combine the shrimp, panko, egg, cream, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a food processor and puree until smooth. (To test for seasoning, roll a small amount into a ball and poach in barely simmering water. Let cool, taste, and add more salt and pepper if necessary.)

To roll the meatballs, wet your hands slightly and roll the mixture into balls about the size of a large marble. Set the meatballs down on a baking sheet (you will have 30 to 40), cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use.

TO MAKE THE SAUCE: Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, sage, and rosemary and cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, 2 cups water, and a little salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cook for about 5 minutes and then transfer about half the beans to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth, adding a little bit of water if very thick. Return the pureed beans to the pot with the whole beans.

TO ASSEMBLE THE DISH: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the shrimp polpettini to the pot of beans and simmer gently over medium heat until the meatballs are cooked through, about 4 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the beans, along with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, and toss gently. If the sauce looks dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water to it. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide among six bowls. Top with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of fleur de sel, and a sprinkling of sage for color, if you like.

MAKE AHEAD: The meatballs can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, covered in plastic wrap. You can also freeze them in an airtight container for up to a month. The beans can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated, covered; reheat them gently, and add water to them if they look very dry.

Scallop and Pureed Celery Root Gratinée

From Stir: Mixing it up in the Italian Tradition by Barbara Lynch, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

SERVES 4

This dish is super-simple yet tastes luxurious. Sweet, rich scallops are nestled in an earthy, creamy celery root puree
and topped with crisp bread crumbs, diced Granny Smith apple, and fresh chives.

  • 1 celery root (about 1/2 pound), peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs, preferably panko
  • 1 1/2-2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably grapeseed oil, plus more if needed
  • 1 pound sea or bay scallops, side muscle removed, patted dry
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
  • Celery Emulsion (optional)

For the celery root puree, combine the celery root and milk in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover, and cook until the celery root is tender when pierced with a metal skewer or toothpick, about 20 minutes. Transfer the celery root and the liquid to a blender and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few good grinds of white pepper. Puree and pass through a fine-mesh strainer into a saucepan. Keep the puree warm on the stove.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan, add the bread crumbs, and toss. Keep the bread crumbs warm on the stove.

To sear the scallops, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is good and hot, add the scallops in batches, leaving plenty of space between them so they sear rather than steam. Let them cook, undisturbed, until very well browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Use a couple of spoons to turn each one over gently and cook, adding more oil, if needed, until barely cooked through, another 1 to 3 minutes, depending on thickness. Divide the celery root puree among four plates. Season the scallops with salt and white pepper and divide them among the dishes, putting the scallops on top of the puree.

Divide the buttery bread crumbs among the plates, sprinkling them over the scallops. Garnish with the diced apple, the chopped chives, and a spoonful of celery emulsion, if you like.

MAKE AHEAD: You can make the celery root puree and the celery emulsion a day or two ahead of assembling the dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Buzz the emulsion with a hand blender just before serving.

NOTE: To serve this as a traditional baked gratin, don't sear the scallops. Leave bay scallops whole;
quarter the sea scallops. Divide the celery root puree among four individual gratin dishes. Season
the scallops with salt and pepper and place them on top of the puree, dividing them among the
dishes. Sprinkle them with the buttery bread crumbs, dividing the crumbs evenly. Broil the gratins
briefly to brown the crumbs lightly, then finish cooking in a 350°F oven until the puree is hot and
the scallops are cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the gratins from the oven and garnish
with the diced apple, chopped chives, and a spoonful of celery emulsion, if you like.

About Stir: Mixing it up in the Italian Tradition

ImageStir combines sophistication with practicality. Appetizers like baked tomatoes and cheese and crisp, buttery brioche pizzas. Dozens of the artful pastas Lynch is famous for, such as little lasagnas with chicken meatballs, and potato gnocchi with peas and mushrooms. Lobster rolls with aoli. Chicken wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with melting Italian cheese. Creamy vanilla bread pudding with caramel sauce. Accompanied by Lynch's forthright opinions and stunning four-color photographs, these dishes will create a stir on home tables.

Available at Amazon.com

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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