January 28, 2016

Dear friends,

I felt kind of silly toting home my Spiraletti. It reminded me of the time Tony bought me a Forever Lazy – a furry pink onesie – from an ad on late-night TV. The onesie was about five sizes too big and it hurt our eyes to look at (www.foreverlazy.com). We called it “the pink nightmare.”

The Spiraletti looks and sounds like a wacky TV product, too, but I actually tracked it down at Target and fought for one of the last two on the shelf. I had to have it. The Spiraletti produces low-carb, low-cal pasta.

The plastic Farberware gizmo has a hand crank and three cutting disks that turn zucchini and other fruits and vegetables into thin ribbons and strands that look like fettuccini and spaghetti. Two of my friends have them. The gadget is a low-carb wonder.

OK, so zucchini strands don’t taste like pasta. Also, they give off tons of moisture during cooking, which can water down a sauce. But they have a better texture and taste than spaghetti squash, and a big pile of the guilt-free noodles can fill you up.

One friend tosses the zucchini spaghetti with butter and Parmesan cheese, which I think defeats the purpose. Another friend brought her machine to my house one night and we stir fried the zucchini strands with a Szechuan sauce — pretty good but still not the ideal use of the “noodles.”

Then I bought my own Spiraletti and on Sunday turned a big batch of zucchini noodles into pad Thai. Whoa. Now we’re talking. The zucchini noodles stood in for rice noodles admirably. I ate the leftovers for breakfast and was sad that Tony and I had laid waste to just four zucchinis. I consider the pad Thai, though, a mere appetite teaser for glorious noodle dishes to come – cold peanut noodles, “pasta” with broccoli rabe and pine nuts, lemon “fettuccine” with fresh herbs and a touch of goat cheese…. The low-cal options are limitless.

I recommend you par-boil the noodles for one to two minutes and drain very well to eliminate some of the moisture content before starting my pad Thai recipe. If you don’t have a Spiraletti, julienne the zucchinis by hand. Or you could thinly slice the zucchinis with a mandolin, stack the slices and cut into thin julienne sticks. Of course, if you’re congenitally thin or just don’t give a damn, you could make the dish with 8 ounces of rice noodles.

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SKINNY PAD THAI
•    4 zucchinis, 7 to 8 inches long, about 2 lbs.
•    1/2 lb. large shrimp
•    1 tbsp. nam pla (fish sauce)
•    1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar (or a scant 1/4 cup Splenda)
•    1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
•    1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
•    1 tbsp. ketchup
•    1 tbsp. peanut butter
•    2 tbsp. vegetable oil
•    2 cloves garlic, minced
•    4 green onions, sliced
•    2 eggs beaten
•    1/3 cup crushed peanuts, raw or roasted
•    Red pepper flakes to taste

Trim the ends of the zucchini and wash well. Cut into long, spaghetti-like strands with a Spiraletti or julienne by hand. Drop into rapidly boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain well, then wrap in a towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Set aside. Peel the shrimp and blot dry with paper towels.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the nam pla, sugar, vinegar, hoisin sauce, ketchup and peanut butter. Line up the shrimp, sauce, zucchini and remaining ingredients near the stove.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat. When hot, add oil and swirl to coat the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the garlic and onions and stir fry for 15 seconds. Add the drained zucchini and cook for 2 minutes, lifting and turning the vegetables with a pair on tongs to wilt the zucchini evenly.

Pour the sauce over the zucchini and continue to lift and turn until the zucchini is al dente and the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. Stir in the crushed peanuts. Push the mixture to one side of the pan and add the eggs. Cover with the zucchini. Do the same on the other side with the remaining eggs.

After about 15 seconds, lift and turn to distribute the eggs throughout. Remove from heat and transfer to four shallow bowls or plates. Sprinkle each with one-fourth teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: if the zucchini still gives off too much water while cooking in the sauce, push it to one side of the pan and boil the sauce over high heat to reduce.
HELP U COOK
If you’re worried about lead leaching from old water pipes in your house, get them checked out. Meanwhile, start with cold water when boiling pasta, rice, eggs and other foods. Cold water is less likely than hot water to dissolve any metals that pipes may contain.

THE MAILBAG
From Jan S.:
Hi Jane. Happy New Year! This has been bothering me for a while and just remembered to ask you: If baking powder comes in a can with a plastic lid, why doesn’t baking soda come the same way? Wouldn’t it keep the baking soda fresher longer?  If you wanted to put it in the fridge to absorb smells you could just leave the lid off the container right?

I really have a pet peeve with the box of soda. The box opening never stays closed and when it is in the cupboard it probably absorbs all kinds of odors from the spices and other things in the cabinet, not to mention the moisture in the summer. Would it be helpful for me to transfer the soda to a plastic or glass container?  Or is that a no-no?

Dear Jan: Your observations make so much sense that now I’m worried about it, too. Thanks a lot.
I emailed the baking soda folks but didn’t get an answer so here’s what I think: Yes, you could transfer the baking soda to another container. Or just put the entire box in a quart zipper-lock plastic bag and seal it between uses. This is what I do with my 5-pound bags of flour (using a 1-gallon plastic bag) to cut down on the mess. I’ll be doing that with baking soda from now on, too.

From Linda Tustin: Have you ever made bone broth with a pressure cooker? I use my Instant Pot and cook it for about 3 1/2 hours total. Works great!

Dear Linda: I don’t have a pressure cooker, I’m embarrassed to say. I have an unreasonable fear of them. My mother always made my brother and me stand far away, and warned us the lid could blow off at any time and plow through the ceiling.

From Michele Smith, Elkton, Md.:
Thanks for your tips on making the brown stock or bone broth. If you add just a tablespoon of white vinegar to the mixture, it helps pull more of the nutrients from the bones and does not affect the flavor at all.  Additionally, you can make it in a slow cooker. I have left bones to simmer overnight — up to 24 hours and then put the mixture in recipe quantities in zip close bags. Lay them flat on a cookie sheet and they can be frozen.  Then when it’s time to use, just run under a little warm water, snip the sides with scissors and you have stock for your recipes.  It melts rather quickly, too.

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