Egg Pappardelle with Arugula, Leeks and Prosciutto

 This time of year, we are always on the lookout for new spring-y pasta recipes. Some of our past favorites have included Food and Wine's Spring Vegetable Farfalle, our own Scarborough Fair Pasta made with fresh herbs, our own Ginger Garlic Bok Choy Pasta, and a fabulous one from Epicurious called Spring Pasta with Prosciutto, Lettuce and Peas.

This week's is very similar to that last one in that it is also a spring pasta from Epicurious and it also includes prosciutto as an ingredient. Not to mention that it has become one of our favorites for this time of year. Frankly, it was delicious!

We followed the Epicurious recipe almost to the letter, using Trader Joe's Egg Pappardelle, which made the dish even lighter and thus, more perfect for the season. With no lemon in the fruit crisper, we substituted 1/4 teaspoon of Boyajian's Lemon Oil - a practical and valuable product to have in the pantry for exactly these situations.

Looking for something for Meatless Monday? This would be just as delish sans prosciutto, we're sure.

Egg Pappardelle with Baby Arugula, Leeks and Prosciutto
barely adapted from this recipe at Epicurious.com


1/2 pound egg pappardelle
kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon pure lemon oil
4 cups baby arugula
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces prosciutto, torn into 1" pieces

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 2 cups pasta cooking liquid. Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned, 5-8 minutes. Add pasta, chives, lemon oil, and 3/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing and adding more cooking liquid by 1/4-cupfuls as needed, until a glossy sauce forms that coats pasta, about 4 minutes. Add arugula and 1/3 cup Parmesan, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Add prosciutto and toss again. Top pasta with more lemon zest and Parmesan.


Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake (Secret Recipe Club)

It's May's Reveal Day for Secret Recipe Club and we've once again attempted to stray out of our comfort zone and bake something. A cake, no less. Neither of us can remember ever baking a cake together, and most of our combined experiences with making cakes have involved Betty Crocker. That said, now that things are starting to grow in the garden again, we've also been wanting to cook with something homegrown. Unfortunately, since it's still early in the growing season here, the only thing we currently have growing is rhubarb. And what are the odds that our assigned blog would have a recipe with rhubarb as the ingredient?

Not too bad, as it turns out. In fact, Taryn, the author of Sweetly Serendipity had not one, not two, but three recipes with rhubarb in them. The dilemma was which one to choose. Rhubarb Buttermilk Muffins sounded pretty good, but Taryn herself admitted that "they weren't the best." Been there! So it was between Lemon Rhubarb Buttermilk Cake and Upside-Down "Strawbarb" Cake. For some reason, the strawberries sounded more appealing so that's what we made. 

It was definitely the right choice, for we are mad for this cake! Not too sweet, with a moist, silky texture and crunchy sweet "crust", this is one of the finest cakes we've ever had, nevermind that it's the only one we've ever made from scratch! We had to bring some to the neighbors for fear we'd eat the whole thing in one night. We attempted to create a basil-oil-infused cream to go with it, but it flopped. No worries, for while it may have been an interesting addition, it was completely unnecessary. This cake possesses all the characteristics we think a dessert should have, including how yummy the house smelled while it was baking. 

We highly recommend this cake, which Taryn adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart. However, we did take advantage of Taryn's excellent suggestions, and so here is the recipe we made, as per Sweetly Serendipity.

Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

For The Topping
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch Kosher salt

For The Cake
  • 1 1/2 sticks salted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut on a diagonal
  • 1/2 pound strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the topping by stirring together the butter, flour, sugar, and salt until moist and crumbly; set aside. Butter a 9-inch pie dish, then dot it with 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of butter cut into pieces. Toss rhubarb and strawberries with 3/4 cup sugar; let stand for 2 minutes. Toss again, and spread in the pie dish. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat remaining stick of butter and cup of sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in Grand Marnier, then beat in eggs, one at a time until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl. Stir the sour cream and buttermilk together in a separate small bowl. Beat in flour mixture in three additions, alternating with sour cream/buttermilk mixture, until smooth. Spread evenly over the rhubarb and strawberries. Crumble the topping evenly over batter. Bake for 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake, and invert onto a serving plate. Let cool completely.


On Judging the New England Regional Chili Cook Off

Last weekend, A Couple in the Kitchen got a first-hand glimpse into the culinary underbelly of the competitive chili world when we were offered the opportunity to be judges at the New England Regional Chili Cook Off.

The setting was a field in Somers, Connecticut, and it was the perfect 70-degree sunny spring day. The NERCC is a fund-raiser for the Somers fire department as well as a day to honor our nation's vets, and the organizers and sponsors were given awards for their efforts. Numerous tents and booths were set up, offering tastings of chili and other foodstuffs with a few craft booths selling their wares (jewelry, purses, and the like) in between. The scent of chili peppered the air and our stomachs grumbled in anticipation.

After a brief but informative orientation, we were told what time to return for the salsa judging (11:00 a.m.) at which point each judge was randomly handed a folder. Inside the folder was a judge's score sheet that indicated whether s/he was to judge Table A or Table B (the semi-finals) or Table F (the finals). Amy pulled a B, while Chris got the much-more-desired F, lucky guy!

With about a dozen judges per table, and more than a dozen offerings, it took Amy about 40 minutes to taste all the entries. Most of the salsas were fresca-style - made of chopped tomatoes and peppers with cilantro and other seasonings - although one stand-out was a pineapple-and-red-onion salsa. We were instructed to taste each one the exact same way: cleanse the palate, smell, taste, report, then repeat with the next batch. If you cleansed your palate with a sip of water or beer or a chip for one, you had to do the same with all of them, and you were allowed to go back and re-try any of them once you completed the table. The judge's report form had room for comments and a place to mark your  favorites - 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. When Amy was done, she headed back into the light, mouth on fire and in need of a beverage, while Chris headed in shortly thereafter to judge the salsa finals.

When the salsa-judging was complete, we had a few hours of leisure time before it was time for our next task, judging the most-important-of-all red chilis (we skipped the green chilis for fear of filling up). Red chili is what the New England Regional Chili Cook Off, officially sanctioned by the International Chili Society, is all about! We were forewarned not to try any of the chilis at the festival beforehand in order to keep our palates clear for the judging. So while judging all of those salsas had whet our appetites, it wasn't easy to find non-chili foods at the chili cook off. Still we managed it, enjoying a delicacy called "Pig Candy" (candied bacon on a stick made by Bristol's "Pumpkin Roll Lady"), and another called, "Cheesy Balls" (pulled pork rolled in dirty rice, deep-fried and topped with cheese sauce, one of many offerings from B.T.'s Smokehouse of Sturbridge, MA). Both were what festival food is made of - gloriously and deliciously decadent in every way.

We spent some time with old friends at the Onyx Moonshine booth and enjoyed the company of new friend and fellow judge "George" while we waited for the red chili judging to commence. Finally it was time, and suddenly, there was an air of severity to the festivities. We met several World Chili Champions, including the current one Bob Plager, who were on site to judge the cook off. They all seemed happy to share some secrets - the inside scoop on the politics of the chili circuit (who knew?), differences in regional tastes, and tips on better judging, as well as their own champion recipes. Bob's secret ingredient? Two prunes!

This round, Chris pulled the semi-final folder, while Amy got the most envied spot of the day - judging the final table for red chili. So what were we looking for in a winning red chili, exactly? It's no secret, as the ICS makes it all quite clear on their website. First - what is considered a red chili? Traditional Red Chili is defined by the International Chili Society as any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of beans and pasta which are strictly forbidden. Again, who knew? After that are the five judging criteria: First and foremost, of course, is the taste, or blend of flavors. Next is consistency, followed by aroma, color, and finally, bite (i.e. the spicy heat).  

Tasting the wide variances in each cup of both salsa and red chili was a truly eye-opening experience and we had such a fun time doing it. It was a fantastic day outside, we were surrounded by good food and foodies, and we loved every minute! Thanks to "Mad Mike," the organizer of the NERCC, for inviting us and we sure hope we get to do it again!

To find out more about the New England Regional Chili Cook Off (including a list of this year's winners), go here: http://www.chilict.com/

For more information about the International Chili Society, including cook off information, current and past World Champions, and award-winning recipes, go here: http://www.chilicookoff.com/