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Reader request: Spaghetti with anchovy sauce February 25, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish, Wolfe recipe.
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A recent email has reminded me to let everyone know: I am more than happy taking requests for specific Wolfe dishes, so if there is something in particular you want to see, please let me know!

This recipe, while appearing in a Nero Wolfe story (Poison a la Carte, part of the Three at Wolfe’s Door trilogy), does not appear in the Nero Wolfe Cookbook. My thought is that this is because the dish was not cooked in Wolfe’s house, and perhaps was not fine enough to be included in the areas on the dishes that others prepare – which lean towards feasts and luxurious dishes, not day to day fare.

In the book, this dish is used in a setup to identify a murderer; the location is a neighbourhood Italian restaurant. In the A&E series, the location is moved to Rusterman’s Restaurant, and the spaghetti is even more important to the plot.

This is a simple recipe, which can literally be pulled together in minutes – but it is very tasty and will be on high rotation in this household. I can definitely see this being a popular dish with Archie if he’s not able to eat at the Brownstone. Since the recipe is not in the Nero Wolfe Cookbook, I offer up my own humble recipe at the end of the post – but this is a very flexible dish and worthy of a Wolfe-like experimentation session.

These are the basic sauce ingredients: diced garlic, chilis and anchovies. I used about 12 anchovies – they melt away in the sauce and give a great flavour, but don’t taste fishy.

I cooked the garlic and chili in a generous amount of olive oil, until they were softened but not browned.

I then added the anchovies, and stirred them in until they started to melt in the sauce. then added some breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs absorbed the oil and started to go crispy. The sauce was pretty much done.

I’d been boiling the spaghetti while the sauce was cooking, and now I drained it and reserved a bit of the cooking water. I added the pasta to the sauce, and added a few spoonfuls of the cooking water to loosen up the pasta.

To finish the spaghetti, I sprinkled it with chopped parsley and a few drops of lemon juice. I also added freshly grated parmesan cheese (can’t serve this spaghetti without parmesan!) and it was ready to serve.

This pasta is not going to give you lots of sloppy sauce but this does not mean it is short on flavour. The garlic and anchovy flavour came through well, with the breadcrumbs adding some crunch where they’d gone crispy. The pasta and lemon helped to give a freshness to the dish. I just hope that someone (even a police officer) managed to get a few bites of this spaghetti during Wolfe’s murder investigation as it would be a shame to waste this!

Spaghetti with anchovy sauce (good for catching murderers)
(Serves 2)

3-4 cloves garlic, diced
3 chilis, diced
10-15 anchovies, chopped fine
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
5 tablespoons olive oil
Chopped parsley for garnish
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Juice of 1/4-1/2 lemon
200g dried spaghetti or other pasta

Start by boiling your pasta in lightly salted water. Leave it to cook while you prepare the sauce.

Chop the garlic, chilis and anchovies. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic and chilis and cook until they soften, about 4 minutes.

Add the anchovies and stir, so they break down and mix into the sauce, where they will practically disappear.

Add the breadcrumbs and stir; some of them will start to fry and crisp up. Remove pan from the heat.

By now your pasta should be cooked. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain the rest.

Add the pasta to the sauce. Turn to coat the pasta in the sauce. If needed, add a few spoonfuls of the cooking water to loosen the pasta as needed.

To serve, sprinkle on the chopped parsley, a few drops of the lemon juice, and then the parmesan. Serve immediately and hope that there are no murderers around to spoil your dinner.

Notes:

  • Quantities of garlic, chilis and anchovies are up to you – add more if you like the flavour, less if you don’t. You could also add an onion along with the garlic.
  • You could also sprinkle more of the breadcrumbs on as a garnish if wished.
  • I’m convinced the sauce would make a fabulous addition to salads if you let the breadcrumbs fully absorb all the oil and cook them a bit longer so they all go quite crispy.
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Kangaroo pie February 17, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Game.
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Apparently Australians are one of the few nations to eat the animals on their coat of arms. I admit I haven’t done any investigation to find out if this is true or not, but it certainly provides a colourful story. The animal in question is of course the kangaroo (although the emu – the other animal on the coat of arms – is also edible and served at some restaurants, although I have not personally seen it for sale) which is a great meat. It’s lean, nutritious and very tasty.

Normally when I cook kangaroo, I sear it on a high heat for a few minutes, so that it gets a nice crust on the surface and is still almost raw inside. Kangaroo has very little fat, so benefits from either very fast or very long cooking. Since I was used to cooking it very quickly, I decided a slow, long cook was in order – and just for fun, I decided to turn it into a pie.

I started by browning the kangaroo in the pressure cooker – I know I have mentioned many times how useful the pressure cooker is, and this time I used the sautee option to brown the meat, and then the onions.

I then added a mixture of spices – cumin, salt, pepper, mustard seeds – and when they were nicely toasted, added carrots and potatoes. Once they had softened slightly, I added the meat and onions back in, then added some tomato paste.

Next I added some previously made beef stock, a very healthy glug of red wine, sage and lots and lots of rosemary. Then it was just a matter of putting the lid on the pressure cooker and letting the machine do its work. In the meantime, I made some pastry and let it chill in the fridge while the kangaroo cooked.

After about 30 minutes, the kangaroo mixture was cooked and the meat was falling apart. I shaped the pie base pastry and blind-baked it for about 15 minutes until it was firm. Then I filled the pastry shell with the kangaroo filling and put the remaining pastry on top. I’ll admit: it wasn’t the prettiest pie ever. There wasn’t quite enough pastry for the top of the pie, so it was slightly misshapen. Nevertheless, I persisted and baked the pie for a further 15 minutes, until the top was starting to brown.

And the end result: not the prettiest but certainly delicious. I did enjoy the combination of the kangaroo and rosemary, and it was nice to have the kangaroo cooked this way for a change. The bonus for me was that there was some filling left over, so I had this the next day for lunch.

Although I can find no evidence of Nero Wolfe ever eating kangaroo, I do think he’d approve. He certainly delighted in eating dishes native to his adopted United States, and I hope he would be equally delighted with the culinary possibilities of kangaroo.

Coconut Daiquiri cupcakes February 3, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Drinks, Sweet things.
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We’ve been on a shredded coconut kick in our household recently. Macaroons (not macarons) are a definite favourite, as are various coconut-based cocktails. So it will come as no surprise that the combination of coconut and alcohol came up in the discussion of desserts. Of course I am not the first to consider the combining of alcohol and cupcakes and there are many recipes for cocktails-turned-cupcake.

I used the basic framework of a daiquiri for my cupcakes – rum, lime, sugar – and coconut of course. I found a similar recipe on the fabulously-named Bake It With Booze blog, and made a half-recipe to end up with about 15 cupcakes. I appreciated that this recipe had rum in the batter as well as in the icing – and a good slug of it to boot.

Once they were cooled, I made up what can only be described as rum buttercream – icing sugar, butter, and rum in the place of the usual water I use when making buttercream. It was quite boozy! I smoothed some icing onto the cupcakes and then decided that this already indulgent cupcake needed more.

I worked in batches of three or four, icing them and then dunking them into a bowl I’d filled with more shredded coconut. The end result was a tray full of snowballs in garish wrappers.

Then it was merely a matter of decorating the cupcakes appropriately before serving.

Yes, we are the type of household to have little paper umbrellas to hand. No, I did not realise the colours of the umbrellas were so closely matched to the colours of the cupcake wrappers until I went to put them in – but I was pleasantly suprised by this!

As for the cupcakes themselves, they were definitely boozy – primarily from the rum in the icing. The flavour of the icing was great, and definitely something I intend to repeat. It wasn’t to sweet, and the rum contributed some great vanilla notes as well. I also really liked the cupcakes’ texture – fluffy and light, but with a definite chewy texture thanks to the shredded coconut in the batter. The lime came through nicely too.

While it wasn’t quite like being transported to some tropical island, eating these cupcakes was almost like drinking a coconut daiquiri. I think that more cocktail-based desserts will definitely be part of my future.

 

Fritz’s Watercress salad January 28, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Vegetables, Wolfe recipe.
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A confession: the watercress used in this salad would have probably been considered below par by Fritz and Nero Wolfe (“Poison a la Carte, part of the Three at Wolfe’s Door trilogy). It was generally fine, but had parts which were starting to turn yellow, a clear sign that it had been picked a few days before I used it. I know that Fritz would have been aghast at the quality (it must be perfect for Wolfe, of course), and Wolfe would have been appalled.

Nevertheless I decided that I’d continue making an imperfect watercress salad, with the thought that I’d at least get the general sense of the salad. This was actually a very easy salad to put together, with only a handful of ingredients. I started by chopping up avocados and walnuts, and mixing them together in a bowl with some salt and lemon juice.

Then it was simply a matter of arranging the watercress and adding the walnut and avocado mixture. I also added a tomato, to add some more colour.

While it was very simple, it was a very nice salad. The watercress was slightly spicy, and the avocado / walnut mix was very tasty and a great combination. We had this as a side salad with some pumpkin and cauliflower soup, and it was a very nice accompaniment.

Perhaps I missed out on the subtle nuances of perfect (as defined by Nero Wolfe) watercress, but I think I still managed to get along quite nicely.

Vinegar date (and apricot) cake January 13, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fruit, Sweet things.
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I’m a big fan of vinegar and certainly use a lot of it, in brines, salads and of course, shrubs. But I don’t normally put vinegar in my cakes. Until I found these recipes, that is. I was really intrigued by the notion of adding vinegar to cakes and wondered if it would operate in a similar way to a shrub, adding brightness and tartness without actually tasting of vinegar.

Naturally I wanted to try making a vinegar cake as soon as I could. I used the second recipe on the page – but then adapted it slightly. I didn’t have enough dates so I decided to use some dried apricots too. Then I didn’t have enough of those either, so made up the difference with some dried cranberries. After I’d chopped the dates and apricots, I added them and the cranberries to a saucepan and simmered them in red wine for a few minutes.

Once that had cooled slightly, I added butter and stirred it in until it melted. Next I added olive oil, the vinegar, and then more normal cake things – sugar, eggs, flour. It was great being able to mix everything in the saucepan, and I was rewarded with a nice looking batter.

I poured the batter into a springform tin, and topped it with some slivered almonds (yes, yet another deviation from the recipe…). I baked it for about 45 minutes and left it to cool in its tin.

When it was cool, I carefully removed the sides of the tin and cut a slice. It was much fluffier and moister than I’d been expecting – I was expecting more of a fruit cake-type consistency. But I was definitely pleasantly surprised by the texture.

Having no cream or icecream in the house, I made do serving this with some fresh fruit. The cake itself was great and I was very happy with the combination of the fruit. As expected, I couldn’t taste the vinegar specifically but there was a general tartness which definitely brightened up the cake. As I am not a huge fan of traditional fruit cakes, I am very pleased to have found a substitute – and it has the added bonus of continuing my use of vinegar.