I was texting with Andrew during intermission of his show Friday night, obsessing over the fact that I had made a quart-and-a-half of spinach pesto and still had a bunch of spinach left over. I sent him a link to a recipe on serious eats for vegan saag paneer that substituted tofu for the paneer. Our conversation went something along these lines:
Andrew: “Is the tofu still good?”
Me: “No, I threw it out yesterday.”
Andrew: “Paneer is fun to make!”
Me: “Great, let’s do it!”
Andrew: “Though I’ve had some bad experiences with saag paneer.”
Me: “What kind of bad experiences?”
Andrew: “It made me sick. But you should make it for yourself!”
It’s taken a few years for me to accept an important hack of CSA-owning couple-hood, which is that we don’t necessarily need to eat the same thing, even if we’re cooking together. But with Andrew playing a show, the weekend is a perfect time for parallel recipe testing. He needed something to eat between shows on Saturday and Sunday, preferably a meal that didn’t make him nauseous. I needed to use up the spinach. So we went with a recipe for sausage and pasta that would use the CSA rapini for him. And I searched for a non-vegan saag paneer recipe.
Orecchiette with Sausage and Rapini
The recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated.
I made the anchovy paste while Andrew cooked the sausage and the pasta. I smooshed two anchovies, a tsp of garlic, a TB of lemon juice, and a TB olive oil all together.
You bring pasta water to a boil and put in a pound of orecchiette. While that’s doing it’s thing, you put oil in a skillet and heat it up, then throw in 8 ounces of mild Italian sausage, with the casings removed and broken into little chunks. Once it’s browned, you remove it from the skillet and put in a few more teaspoons of garlic and some red pepper flakes, and cook that in the sausage fat for a minute or so. Then you add the broccoli rabe, which has been chopped into 1/4 inch pieces. The rapini cooks for a few minutes and then you set it aside.
In the now empty skillet, you add a cup of chicken broth and 3/4 cup of pasta water. This comes up to a boil, and then you simmer it until it’s reduced a bit, 4-6 minutes. Then the anchovy oil goes in, along with 1 1/2 TB butter, the sausage, the broccoli rabe, and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese (we probably put in like 2 cups, not really sure why Cooks Illustrated is sometimes stingy with the delicious parts).
CSA ingredients used: Rapini
Other ingredients used: mild Italian sausage, parmesan cheese, anchovies, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice
The only thing I really knew about saag paneer before making this recipe was that it used spinach and that it made Andrew nauseous. He later clarified that the last time he had saag paneer was quite a few years ago and he was on a bad date and he didn’t know if the nausea was related to the richness of the dish or the personality of his dining companion. The recipe I picked was from Saveur.
Reading over the recipe, I was overcome by a deep sense of sadness. Making ricotta cheese is one of my favorite things. How is that I had gotten this far in life without knowing that there’s a dish you can make that is basically the same thing as making ricotta, except that then you fry it in oil? And people are allowed to eat this?
As soon as the door closed behind my last student Saturday afternoon, I got to work.
First, take 8 cups of whole milk and put it in a large pot. Bring the milk up to around 200 degrees, right before it’s about to boil. Then add 1/4 cup of lemon juice. When you’re making ricotta, you usually add salt at this point too, but as previously mentioned you are about to fry this in oil so it’s not really necessary.
Let the cheese drain. (This is what cheesecloth is for, but I usually use paper towel and it’s fine.) After it drains for a while, you want to spread it out a bit, put another piece of paper towel on it, and then put a heavy pot over that to press it. Once it’s been pressed for about 30 minutes, you can cut it into chunks.
After that, you heat 6 TB of canola oil in a frying pan and fry the cheese for about 5 minutes. The cheese goes off to cool somewhere and the skillet gets saved for later.
Next, you put 4 TB of chopped garlic, a piece of chopped ginger, 1/4 cup of water, and a serrano chile (I didn’t have one, so I used a frozen thai green chile. It was fine.) in a blender. You blend it until it’s a paste, and then heat up the remaining oil in the skillet and fry the paste a bit. Mine was more of a liquid than a paste, but it didn’t seem to make a huge difference. After that, 6 cups of chopped spinach goes into the pan and cooks until it’s wilted, about a minute. Then you turn the heat way down and cook it until it’s very soft, about 15 minutes.
After that, you add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala, and 6 TB of heavy cream (in case you thought the fried cheese wasn’t enough). The cheese goes back into the skillet, and everything cooks together for another 15 minutes. I had mine over brown rice, but I bet it would be even more amazing with naan.
CSA ingredients used: spinach
Other ingredients used: milk, lemon juice, heavy cream, garlic, ginger, a chile, cayenne, garam masala, rice.
This was exceedingly good, and exceedingly filling, and so far there hasn’t been any ill effects. Just in case, I decided to wash it down with a tamarind pisco sour (2 oz pisco, 1 1/2 oz tamarind concentrate, 1/2 oz simple syrup).
Next: Week 1 Field Report