Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Falling Off of the Wagon

Did you hear the thud?  I think my butt's bruised.

Last night, I was not low-carb.  Sometimes I slip.  So sue me.

Saturday, I watched The Pioneer Woman (which I DVR, because it's on really early).  I like her; the blog, the cookbook(s), and now the show.  Granted I argue with her sometimes but I argue at times with ALL celebrity chefs except maybe Alton Brown and Bobby Flay and Jamie Oliver (them I tend to agree with a lot).  She made a seafood pasta dish and creme brulee and spinachy bacon salad - all things I'm fond of.  I was fine at this point.  Then, on Monday or Tuesday, I stumbled across her recipe for Pasta with Pancetta and Leeks.  Which of course caused me to promptly have cravings for BJ's chardonnay shrimp pasta.  Why wouldn't it?

Every so often, when I least expect it, I start dreaming about the super thin-crust appetizer pizzas (sausage or margherita) or the really tasty pasta that BJ's did, that mean mommy and I would order to split whenever we went.  Of course, I have no idea if BJ's still even offers it, but that doesn't stop the cravings.

The chardonnay shrimp pasta was very simple.  It had sauteed medium-sized shrimp, diced tomatoes (added at the very end so they weren't cooked to death), bits of apple-y bacon, and a lovely white wine butter sauce.   I don't remember if they used farfalle or rotini, but I do know it came with just enough parmesan on top and some really nice garlic toast.   

I just happened to have a bag of shrimp hanging out in my freezer, not to mention plenty of tomatoes and wine (ahem) and parmesan, at least three pounds of bacon in three different flavors, and approximately 456 different types of pasta all available in my kitchen, no grocery store stop necessary.  I could do this.

But then, visions of leeks started dancing in my head.  I had leeks too.  I had four very pretty leeks, already cleaned and begging to be added to something.

Then the lemons starting whining that they felt left out.  

And I stumbled across some basil from last week that was miraculously not grey and moldy.

THEN Red Beard (who knows the way to this girl's heart) was nice enough to run to the store for orange juice because we were out and it was cocktail time.  He also brought home baby scallops.

Hmmmm.  I could work with this.

Sure, I haven't ever made anything before with seafood and leeks and bacon all in one pasta dish.  So what?  In the name of science and research and evolution, I was going to give it a go.  Thankfully, for once the experiment was a smashing success and we ended up with this:

Fork.  Please.  Now.

Not all of my experiments are successful.  Believe me, some of my experiments are such phenomenal failures that I don't even bother trying to figure out what went wrong - it's more about forgetting it ever happened and moving on.  Lemon ricotta fettuccine?  What's that?  Never heard of it!

The ingredient list is ridiculously simple, despite being a combination of three different recipes.  Just one thing to keep in mind - do your prep before you start cooking!!  It's called mise en place, translating to "putting in place".  Yes, I'm using fancy French terms again.  When it's time for the wine to reduce, you'll have some time to chill, but really, just have everything ready.

I didn't.  I'm fast, and even I couldn't quite keep up with this one.  I had to call in Red Beard for assistance.  How thankful was I that he's well-versed in things like zesting and grating?

Have. Everything. Laid. Out.  

You'll thank me later.  This pasta is worth the effort.

  • 1/4 red onion, julienned
  • 2 leeks, cleaned, dark green tops lopped off, thin sliced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, super thinly sliced
  • 2 slices of thick cut bacon, (medium) diced
  • 3 medium sized tomatoes (or 5 roma 'maters), seeded and diced
  • 1 lemon, zested and 1/2 of it juiced 
  • 2 cups of white wine
  • 2 cups of heavy cream (oh come on, just this once... admit it - I don't make you pull out the cream too often)
  • Salt (Kosher or Sea Salt, as always, nothing iodized)
  • Lottsa pepper
  • 1 pound of thin spaghetti (or a pound of whatever pasta or noodles you feel like)
  • Butter (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Olive oil (just enough to keep the butter from burning)
  • 1/2 cup of Italian Parsley, well chopped
  • 1/2 cup of Basil, well chopped
  • About a cup of finely grated parmesan cheese (preferably grated yourself, using a micro-plane, which produces the most fluffy clouds of cheese you've ever seen)

And of course, the pièce(s) de résistance ...

1/2 pound of medium shrimp, peeled & de-veined.

 And the Roomie's contribution ...

1/4 pound of baby wild scallops.  I don't know why this picture turned out way yellow.

Start by cooking your seafood.  Add about 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to your largest skillet.  I was using my not-new-but-hardly-used shiny red Le Creuset cast iron skillet (it was in storage when I was between kitchens; and for awhile I was scared of cast iron).  I am in love with my skillet and it hasn't been put away for a week - it gets cleaned, re-seasoned, and set back on the stove.  

Make sure your pan is nice and hot - the seafood isn't very big and you want to get some color without overcooking them.

First the shrimp.
Then the scallops.

When the shrimp and scallops are done, set them aside.  Add the bacon to your pan.

All those brown bits = massive flavor.

When your bacon is fairly dark and starting to get crispy, start adding your veg.

First your onions.  Let them start to caramelize.

Then your leeks.  Let them get all wilted and soft and happy while they swim in bacon grease.
Then your garlic.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 400ºF and have your pasta water boiling on another burner.  

Side Note on Pasta:
When it comes to cooking pasta, I DO salt my water but I DO NOT add any oil.  You want your sauce to coat the pasta, and adhere to all the starch (you know, the stuff that makes pasta sticky).  Oil will form a barrier.  Why would you want a barrier between your noodle and your yummy sauce? 

Now at times you'll see recipes where olive oil is used after the noodles are drained - that's different; that's when the oil IS the sauce.  

Cook to al dente.  It won't get more than a re-heat in the pasta sauce.

I was taught that the water for boiling any type of pasta should be as salty as sea water, so chuck in a lot.  I usually just pour it in straight from the box.  In the event your noodles get done before your sauce is ready, just drain them and set aside.  They can take it.

Season your oniony bacon and leeks with a whole lotta pepper, and not too much salt.  Bacon is salty, and we'll be adding parmesan later (also salty).  PLUS you salted your pasta water.  So for now, salt sparingly. 

Now add the wine (no picture, sorry, I was too busy inhaling deeply and wishing I had a magic wand to speed things along).  Stir and scrape to get the brown bits up.  Then, be patient.  Let it reduce by about half.  It'll get dark and speckled and look funny.  That's okay, it'll taste (and smell) really really good.

Now add about 1.5 cups of your cream.  Stir.  Breathe.  Sigh in delight.

Let the cream reduce a little - just a few minutes at a simmer.  Just until it starts to thicken up a little.  Now add that last tablespoon of butter.  Stir, let the butter melt, and turn off the heat.    Now we're going to start chucking in everything that's left.  If your skillet isn't big enough OR if your skillet isn't oven-proof, now is the time to transfer everything to an oven-proof dish big enough to handle it.  Just use a little pan spray please.

The pasta noodles. 

The tomatoes. 

About 2/3 of the parmesan cheese.  It's so fluffy!!

The herbs, the seafood, the lemon zest.  I need to find the macro setting on my camera.

Mix everything really well.  Taste to adjust your seasonings.  Avoid eating many many bites.  If it "feels" too dry, add that last 1/2 cup of cream.  As the cheese melts, the pasta could get a little dry and sticky.  Drizzle the lemon juice over the top of the entire thing. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top.  Now pop the entire skillet, uncovered, into your nice hot oven.  It doesn't need to stay in very long if you're using the skillet, because it really hasn't had a chance to cool down much.  Really, this is just to make sure that everything is piping hot and the cheese is gooey. I think I left it in about 10 minutes. 

Oooooh melty.  Seafoody.  Lemony.  Basily.  Leeky.  Alllll goooood.

Yes, it's got a few more calories than any of us should eat on a regular basis.  But as a kick-off to the beginning of spring, and a once-in-awhile treat, it's okay.  Really, I'm giving you permission.  Enjoy it, savor it, love every bite; tomorrow, you can have a salad and move on.  No guilt please!  This pasta deserves to be enjoyed with no guilt.

Seriously.  FORK.

This should have fed four people.  Especially with a nice fresh salad and maybe a little garlic bread (because if you're going to fall off of the wagon, you may as well be trampled by the horses as well).  And a grilled vegetable or two (asparagus and mushies perhaps?).  

It didn't feed four.

Red Beard and I killed 90% of it.  Just the two of us.  In one sitting.  Granted, he eats about 4 times as much as I do, so it wasn't like I horked down almost half the pan all by myself.  But let's face it, there was definitely some over-eating taking place by both of us.   And it smelled so good that we didn't take the time to make any side dishes.  We just sort of dove in.  It was amazing we managed to get it on plates.    The difference is, his metabolism runs at warp speed all the time and he can handle it.  Men and women are so not equal.

Admitting I was a piglet is painful and no fun.  

But you know what? It was completely and utterly and wonderfully worth it.  Yup, it was THAT GOOD.

Recipe now available @ Tasty Kitchen, yay!  {click here and fire up your skillets!)


  1. It is so amazing how much alike the two of us cook. I have done this (except for the scallops - yuck). Love the pictures

    1. There's supposed to be a place on the pull-down menu where, if you're logged in to your google account, you can comment as you if you want to. But whatever. I'll take comments however I can get them, LOL. I love scallops! But weirdly, I tend to forget about them until we go to a restaurant (then, they're all I order). Now that it's sunk in that my "roomie" likes them too, they may show up more often. Can you get fun fish up there?

  2. BTW - This is Lonna. I don't know how to post except as anonymous

  3. Found this thru Tasty Kitchen. Bookmarking your site--I definitely need to spend more time here! ~ Kay Carrasco

    Wheeee! I think this is going to be my “throw-down recipe” when I go to visit my daughter next month. My son-in-law is a wonderful cook and we have such fun with cooking “competitions” (entirely friendly, of course) when I’m there. I need something really special to have a chance of keeping up with Tim–and in Charlotte, we can get the kind of fresh seafood that I can never find this far inland. Wow, can hardly wait!

    1. Yes, please, bookmark away! I'm excited to think that you feel this recipe is throw-down-worthy - thank you! You'll have to let me know how it turns out! The only thing I really (reallyreally) missed was asparagus, grilled, on the side. But I have a little bit of an asparagus problem. Have a safe trip!!