meet_us_in_the_kitchenThe Dodgers pulled off a sweep of the Cardinals yesterday, making them the first team to advance to the next round of postseason play, and making this week’s meal from the Junior League of St. Louis a victory meal.  As my father put it, “You’re eating their food, and they’re eating crow.”  Or as Brady put it, “The Dodgers ate the Cardinals’s lunch, so we’re eating St. Louis’s dinner.”

But enough with the gloating.  Not only do I like and respect the Cardinals as a team, but I’m quite the fan of their city.  Almost exactly halfway between Madison, Wisconsin and Memphis, two cities that we once spent a lot of time travelling between, St. Louis made a good stopping place.  Better yet, it was the home of one of our favorite people from college, a scholar and a gentleman who was always incredibly generous with his couch and his bourbon, and also knew all the best neighborhood cafes.

St. Louis is an interesting place.  Southerners think it’s a northern city.  Northerners think it’s part of the South.  The city’s culinary traditions are a product of its diverse population, which includes African Americans and the descendants of Irish, Italian, and German immigrants who came to the city in large numbers during the 19th century.  But the thing that strikes me most about St. Louis is that it’s one of the biggest cities in the country, but feels more like a loosely knit collection of small neighborhoods rather than an urban center.

And it was that last aspect of St. Louis that helped to decide my menu this week, a big city meal with a small town feel.  The kind of meal you’d make for company, if your company was more like family, something homey and comforting, but just a little bit elegant.

There were a couple of intriguing possibilities for entrees this week.  I was running them by Brady, and when I read off the name of this dish, he said, “Ooo!  That one!”

Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto

A delicious make-ahead pasta dish suitable for company.

Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto

1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 medium white onion, cut into long thin strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8-ounce) package frozen green peas
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound ziti, cooked and drained
4 ounces prosciutto, minced
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
Bread crumbs

Saute the asparagus, onion, garlic, and green peas in the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until tender. Add the red pepper flakes. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine. Saute for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and cream. Cook until liquid is reduced by one third. Season with salt and pepper. Add the pasta and mix well.

Layer the pasta mixture, prosciutto, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese 1/2 at a time in a baking pan greased with olive oil. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. May prepare ahead and chill, covered, until serving time. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is brown and the cheeses are melted.

Serves 4

While I had mixed feelings about the peas, the ziti was otherwise delicious, with a crisp, cheesy crust and layers of vegetables, delicate sauce, and pasta beneath.  Nothing was too soggy or overcooked, and the prosciutto tastes absolutely heavenly with the mozzarella and asparagus.  I did deviate a tad from the recipe by lightly sauteeing the prosciutto in a skillet to crisp it up before layering it into the ziti.

Ever since my little sister shamed me about the lack of vegetables and greens in our meals, I’ve tried to do better.  However, this tasty side dish could almost pass for dessert.

Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante

Serve this very festive-looking dish at Thanksgiving or any other holiday.

Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante

Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante

1 pound carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) margarine
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Cook the carrots in 1/2 inch of boiling water in a large saucepan for 8 minutes; drain.

Combine the raisins, margarine, honey, lemon juice and ginger in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium for 1 minute or until the margarine is melted; mix well. Add to the carrots and toss to coat. Add the almonds and toss to mix well. Spoon into a 1-quart baking dish.

I don't have a microwave, so I made the sauce stovetop.  And I loathe margarine, so I used butter.

If I wrote the SATs: microwave is to stovetop as margarine is to butter.

Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serves 4 to 6

Besides being very very pretty, these carrots are quite tasty.  The flavor of the raisins, ginger, and honey reminded me a little bit of Moroccan food, and it occurred to me that vegetarians might throw in a couple more types of vegetables and serve this over couscous as a main course.  The carrots were tender, yet firm, and despite the sweetness, the whole thing tasted very wholesome.

Instead of a dessert, I decided to make bread to go along with our meal.  It wasn’t that I was skeptical of this recipe, I just had absolutely no idea how it was supposed to work without yeast.  Would it taste like a biscuit?  A quick bread?  Would the texture be too heavy?  The result was a pleasant surprise.

Parmesan Herb Bread

This moist bread is a wonderful accompaniment to Tortellini Soup and a fresh green salad.

Parmesan Herb Bread

Parmesan Herb Bread

1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
Italian seasoning to taste

Combine the sour cream, milk and butter in a small bowl and mix well. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese, onion, and 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning in a large bowl and mix well. Add the sour cream mixture and stir until moistened. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 1 minute or until smooth. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Shape each portion into a round loaf. Place the loaves on a greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg white. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning to taste. Cut an “X” 1/2 inch through the top of each loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.

parmesan herb bread1

Makes 2 loaves

The egg wash and cheese gives each loaf a crispy crust, and the inside, is dense and chewy, but not heavy.  It’s something like a cross between a biscuit and a cornbread, and the combination of herbs in the Italian seasoning (marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil) is quite nice.  While we enjoyed it with our meal, I can imagine it would be very, very good indeed with some kind of vegetable soup.

The whole time I’ve been cooking, eating, and writing about this meal, I’ve had the radio on in the background, and have been treated to an Angels sweep of the Red Sox, a Yankees sweep of the Twins (which is too bad because a) the Yankees are a force for evil, and b) I’ve really been eager to try out the cookbook from the Junior League of Minneapolis-St. Paul), and now, a fierce arctic battle between the Rockies and Phillies.  Seeing as I’ve already done Denver, next week, it’s looking like a meal from New York City, Orange County, or Philadelphia, if they play their cards right.