Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cute cukes, checca, and chocolate

Dan and I had the privilege of having a dear friend over for dinner the other night, so I decided to mix the experimental with a family favorite. Our appetizer was inspired by Cherrapeno's Boursin, Tomato, and Cucumber Nibbles. I absolutely love seedless cucumbers, and I fell in love with this idea as soon as I saw it. Instead of Boursin, I mixed a bit of garlic hummus, feta, and fresh cracked pepper (of course) with some reduced fat cream cheese, and topped it off with a fresh slice of tomato and a drizzle of balsamic vinegarette. They were scrumptious.

The main course was Giada's Spaghettini with Checca Sauce -barely modified. This is a dish that my Mom makes all the time, usually a triple to quadruple batch when the whole family is around. We just can't get enough of it, which is saying something considering that we can all be pretty picky. I have made checca with my Mom many times, but the was the first time on my own. For some reason, Mom's tastes better. Maybe it's the homegrown basil she uses or the extra pinch of love she adds when my back is turned. Either way, our's was still quite satisfying, and there is nothing better than openning up the food processor and taking a great big whiff of the fresh tomato sauce. Mmmmmm...

                                      ...I wish I could make this scratch-and-sniff

Spaghettini with Checca Sauce

8 ounces thin spaghetti
4 scallions (white and pale green parts only), coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (12-ounce container) cherry tomatoes, halved 
1 ounce grated Parmesan
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until tender. Stir often to keep it from sticking together.
Meanwhile, combine the next 7 ingredients in a food processor. Pulse just until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped (do not puree). Drain the pasta and do not rinse. Toss the pasta with the tomato mixture and fresh mozzarella in a large bowl. Serve immediately.

I did not reserve any pasta water as Giada recommends. I used a container of grape tomatos this time, and they were very juicy. I actually removed a bit of the liquid that came out of the sauce. I have read reviews of this recipe stating that the fresh garlic flavor is too stong or intense. Never! I will warn you, however, that you should not plan on meeting anyone new within 2 days of eating it. : ) The smell and taste do not go away, but it's well worth it as far as I'm concerned. OK, if you are not into the strong garlic flavor, either use only one clove, or try roasted garlic. 

Finally, dessert! of consciousness. I have been thinking about the cooler weather and hot chocolate, Abuelita hot chocolate to be exact, with it's cinnamon-y goodness, which makes me think of other spiced chocolate like the chili chocolate bar that Dan and I found at a museum in New York several years ago and the way it tickles my taste buds. So...I decided to make a chili, cinnamon pudding.

Spiced Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream, adapted from Cooking Light

1/2 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. skim milk
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
generous pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan; stir with a whisk. Gradually add milk and evaporated milk, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring contantly with a whisk. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat; add chocolate, stirring until melted and mixtre is smooth. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon, and cayenne and mix well. Pour into a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and refridgerate overnight.

Just before serving prepare Whipped Cream. Pour a half pint of heavy cream and 1 tsp. vanilla extract into a chilled mixing bowl. Slowly add 1/2 c. powdered sugar while beating on medium speed with a whisk attachment. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

The flavor turned out awesome! Rave reviews, especially fom my parents who were lucky enough to sample the left-overs. But, I have to confess. My futile attempt to save calories and fat cost me a bit with this one. The pudding did not thicken up a much as I would have liked. Next time I will use the 1% milk that the recipe calls for...or maybe just 1/2%, we'll see.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I saw this the other day after thinking even more about's a great place to start.


Meghan Marie said...

Mom adds the pasta water...and she always changes the amounts of the various ingredients. What about it did you think was different? I've made it with her the last 4 time. I bet I might know...

Amy said...

I was mostly being funny b/c she's a Mom, but I actually think that it was the tomatoes I used. A bit sweeter and less depth.