Lemon-Basil Ricotta Pasta

I have a ricotta problem. Because I have a molletes problem. So I’m always looking for a way to use up my leftover ricotta.

My only note here: fresh lemon. Fresh lemon!

Ingredients

  • uncooked pasta (around a half a pound feeds 2)
  • about a cup of ricotta
  • the juice and zest of half a fresh lemon
  • a tablespoon or so of olive oil
  • 4 cubes frozen chopped basil (or a good dollop of pesto) – this can be skipped if you have basil to garnish. Or not.
  • 1/4 cup parmesan or decent “Italian” shred

Garnishes (optional)

  • more parmesan or decent “Italian” shred
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonaded into pretty ribbons

Special equipment

  • A metal bowl that’s large enough that it will sit on your cooking pot
  1. In your oddly large metal bowl, mix all the ingredients that aren’t pasta. Salt & pepper to taste.
  2. Cook your pasta in the conventional manner, following the directions on the package.
  3. When the pasta has 2 or three minutes left, put the bowl over the pot and stir contemplatively.
  4. Drain the pasta, add to the sauce, Bob’s your uncle.

 

 

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Molletes (or beans on toast with cheese)

Molletes are a very simple, very delicious, Mexican comfort food. There are really only four ingredients, so starting with good ingredients is a good idea.

Bread: I prefer something rustic. I use Italian or French style breads, as those are the bakeries closest to me, but really any crusty bread or roll will work. I just made molletes with an Italian corn bread – amazing!

Butter: don’t sweat this. Salted, unsalted, high-fat, normal – none of these matter. Just make sure it’s room temperature, or otherwise spreadable. (You can also lightly toast your bread-object/s so the butter meltiness is less of an issue, depending on how much you love toast)

Refried Beans: I’ve never seen these made with anything other than black beans, but really, any mexican style (peruvian, pinto) beans will work. They need to be refried in a decent fat – I use olive oil for my veggie friends, and lard or bacon grease for me. They should be well seasoned – I prefer mine garlicky. They can come straight from a can, but they should be good enough to eat on their own.

Cheese: I love some ricotta or queso requesón along with shredded “mexican style” cheese (monterey jack, pepper jack, cheddar, queso chihuahua or queso menonita, and/or queso oaxaca)  and some queso fresco. Okay, and some queso añejo. Really, any one or two of these is fine.

Ready?

Ingredients

  • thick sliced bread or split roll
  • (spreadable) butter
  • cheese
  • refried beans

Garnishes (all optional)

  • fresh or bottled table salsas
  • meat
  • sliced avocado
  1. Preheat oven-like device to 400 degrees F.
  2. Put your bread-like object on the (parchment-ed) pan
  3. Spread bread with butter
  4. Spread buttered bread with a generous layer of refried beans – I like mine thick, you may prefer moderation. All good.
  5. Top with cheese
  6. Turn off the oven & turn on the broiler to high
  7. Put the pan in and keep an eye on it – this goes from almost there to a fire hazard in a blink of an eye.
  8. Pull it out when cheesy is melty and bread edges are golden brown and delicious looking.
  9. Top with garnishes. Or not.

 

 

 

 

Tomato & Ricotta Noodles

Or, Ricotta & Tomato Noodles, as you choose. Based on Pasta With Fresh Tomato Sauce and Ricotta (by David Tanis from the New York Times).

I was looking to use up some ricotta. I of course forgot about ricotta toast (which, with a little salt & pepper  and some extra virgin olive oil, is seriously easy and yummy). But this is a pretty good way to use up an extra cup or so.

As usual, you should feel free to improvise with this. Got pasta sauce in your fridge or some homemade in the freezer? Perfect. Some skim-milk ricotta? It’ll be okay. Some jarred pesto? Sure, why not?

Serves 2.

  • 12 pound dried noodles (I use large elbow macaroni)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Crushed red pepper (optional)
  • .5 – 1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 – 2 tablespoon(s) of tubed tomato paste (optional)
  • a pinch of sugar (optional)
  • .5 – 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • Grated italian cheese
  • 2 frozen basil cubes and/or tubed pesto and/or basil leaves (optional)

PREPARATION

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-salted water, making sure to keep it quite al dente.
  2. Gently fry the drained noodles in butter  seasoned to taste with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper, if using.
  3. Add tomatoes and tomato paste gradually, letting the tomato juice disappear each time*, and stir to coat noodles**. Add tomatoes to taste (you may not need the entire can).
  4. Turn off the burner. Add basil paste and/or pesto, and stir. Add ricotta to the top, and let it warm up. Put a lid on it.
  5. At the table, add the grated cheese, basil leaves (if using), crushed red pepper & salt & pepper to taste.

NOTES

* as if you were making a bolognese sauce
** It’s worth avoiding the cheapest canned tomatoes – they may look like tomatoes but no amount of doctoring them will make them taste like the mythical tomatoes of childhood. If you’ve got decent canned tomatoes (and I’m not talking about the expensive imported Italian tomatoes, I mean not the cheapest tinned tomatoes at the grocery – I use S&W) you won’t need to season them at all, but with cheap tomatoes, you’ll need to play with salt and sugar, in very small quantities. Just keep tasting until they taste right.

Burrito Bowls – my take

So, everyone and their cousin has a burrito bowl. I figured I should share mine.

What’s a burrito bowl, you say? It’s based on Chipotle’s “bowl”, which is combines one of everything on the menu except a tortilla. So, beans, rice, a protein if you choose, salsa, guac, sour cream, and cheese. That said, I’ve never had a bowl at Chipotle, and I really didn’t get the burrito bowl idea until a friend made it for me.

To sum it up, it’s a great brain-dead way of coming up with tasty food for the next couple of days — food that makes me happy knowing it’s in the fridge waiting for me.

If I have meat around, I add it. If not, then don’t.

Not at all toppings are necessary, but nice if you’re feeding others to just have these things out so they can garnish their own bowls.

About 5 servings.

  • 1-2 15 oz cans black beans*, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • bold taco seasoning (optional)
  • cumin
  • Mexican oregano (optional)
  • epazote (optional)
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (with green chiles)**
  • 1 15 oz can corn, drained
  • 1 cube frozen minced cilantro (optional)
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • chopped fresh jalapenos to taste (optional)
  • cooked meat (optional)
  • salt

For topping (as you wish):

  • limes, quartered***
  • shredded cheddar, pepper jack, or “mexican cheese” (or some real Mexican cheese like Queso Fresco, Queso Anejo, and Queso Oaxaca)
  • crumbled feta cheese
  • sour cream
  • guacamole or chunks of ripe avocado
  • pickled chopped jalapenos****
  • fresh chopped cilantro leaves

PREPARATION

  1. Start with beans, and season them up with garlic and the seasonings until they taste great.
  2. Add the rest: tomatoes, corn, cilantro cube, jalapenos, the rice, and the meat. Once everything is in the pot, give it a final taste for seasoning.
  3. Top it as you like.

NOTES

* I like beans, a lot — filling, cheap, and a good source of protein and fiber, so I make mine with 2 cans. Use homemade or canned, black or pintos or peruanos, whatever you like – but not refrieds.
** It’s worth avoiding the cheapest canned tomatoes – they may look like tomatoes but no amount of doctoring them will make them taste like the mythical tomatoes of childhood. If you’ve got decent canned tomatoes (and I’m not talking about the expensive imported Italian tomatoes, I mean not the cheapest tinned tomatoes at the grocery – I use S&W) you won’t need to season them at all, but with cheap tomatoes, you’ll need to play with salt and sugar, in very small quantities. Just keep tasting until they taste right. And the tomatoes with green chiles is especially nice
*** If you don’t use fresh lime with mexican food, ignore. But if you do, I feel strongly that you have to have limes quarters or slivers to squeeze over the bowl. Fresh limes make a huge difference. Don’t even think about using the plastic lime – how long has that thing been in your fridge, anyways?
**** If you are using fresh jalapeno, taste it. While they tend to be fairly mild, they can be hot, and just because one is pleasantly warm doesn’t mean the next will also be.

Perhaps the Best Black Bean Soup Ever

Okay, I recognize with a title like that, I’m inviting criticism. But so be it. This recipe took 30 minutes and may well be the best thing I’ve ever cooked. And I’ve cooked a lot of good things.

I’ll be honest with you — a good tex-mex black bean soup is one of the best things in the world. I love the earthy taste of the beans, and then the way that the various toppings — basically just about anything — melt into it. And I finally had my canned black beans replenished in my pantry. I thought I would use my old favorite Serious Eats recipe, and then I found that they had more than one black bean soup recipe. Oh dear. That’s how I found Rick Bayless’s Black Bean Soup, really a Mexican take, published in Clifford A. Wright’s The Best Soups in the World.

Rick Bayless's Black Bean Soup, from Mexican/MediterraneanI had never made a Bayless recipe before, but I think I will be making up for lost time…

Like most black bean soups, this is even better the next day, so it’s worth making a little extra.

Here is my version, made with what I had on hand. It should make 4 bowls.

INGREDIENTS

  • .5 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 oz Mexican-style pork chorizo, casing removed and crumbled
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15 oz can black beans
  • 1 26 oz can black beans
  • 1 cup chicken or veggie broth, or water (optional)
  • 6-7 Tablespoons Bufalo Chipotle Mexican Hot Sauce, or, 3 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

GARNISHES

  • broken tostadas or tortilla chips
  • queso fresco, feta, or cheddar cheese, crumbled

PREPARATION

  1. Warm the vegetable oil in your saucepan and add your crumbled chorizo. It will need to cook about 10 minutes over low heat, so keep an eye on it and keep stirring.
  2. Add the garlic into the chorizo
  3. Add your beans with their liquor or liquid, and stir. Blend part of the beans et al with an immersion blender or normal blender.
  4. Does it look sufficiently soupy? If not, add broth or water until it’s at the consistency you’d like.
  5. Salt and pepper (and Bufalo Chipotle/chipotles) to taste.
  6. When the soup is ready, prepare bowls with tortilla chips or tostadas and crumbled queso fresco. Ladle the soup over, and enjoy.

As much as you might want to over garnish, don’t — just try it with the simplicity of the cheese and the tortilla crumbs. I bet you’ll be crazy about it.

Tourist Guacamole

Tourists Guacamole

pre guac by timlewisnm

Have you ever stayed in a furnished apartment in Mexico? In a lot of ways, it’s the way to go. You’ll have your colossal water bottle with gallons of purified water at your disposal, and at least some kitchen utensils in your kitchenette.

But you won’t have any seasonings. Your knives will be dull. There will be no garlic press.

I was staying with a friend in such an apartment the last time I was in Mexico. Neither of us had 100 pesos to rub together, and so even going to the street stall with the great tacos al carbon was a special occasion. But with a package of tostadas, a bag of Hass Avocados, some limes and some Tajin, we had a great source of lunch. Not balanced nutrition, mind you, but a collection of memorable lunches.

In Mexico, we had tostadas, because you can get good storebought tostadas. Unless you have a source for good tostadas, just use tortilla chips.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Hass avocado (or whatever type of avocado is available)
  • .5 lime
  • a pinch of queso fresco (optional)
  • a pinch of Tajin Clásico Seasoning*
  • 4-6 tostadas or part of a bag of tortilla chips

PREPARATION

  1. Cut the avocado in half. Remove the pit (a dull knife is perfect for this), and scoop the flesh out into a shallow bowl
  2. Mash the flesh with a fork. It’s kinda nice if it’s lumpy.
  3. Add a squeeze of lime juice to taste
  4. Crumble some queso fresco if you have it.
  5. Garnish with a little tajin to taste, and spread onto a tostada. Eat it somewhere sunny and enjoy.

NOTES

* Tajin Clásico Seasoning is a Mexican seasoning salt (or as they call it, a powdered hot sauce) made of ground chili peppers, sea salt, and lime flavoring. It’s used on and in just about everything — especially fruits and vegetables. It’s essential on elote, and on fresh cut fruit, lovely on ceviche, and works great as a rim for a tropical cocktail. You can buy it at just about any market in Mexico, or in any market that caters to Mexicans and Latin Americans in the U.S. — or, online at tajin.com.  I’ve seen it in US big box groceries before.

Image by Timlewisnm. Thanks,  Tim!