Archive for the ‘pasta’Category

Remembering Italy #4 — pasta with prosciutto & tomato

San Daniele pasta with tomato and prosciutto The last time I was in San Daniele del Friuli, I was traveling with the restaurateurs of Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani (GRI) on one of their annual pilgrimages to Italy to research products, find new sources, and generally take inspiration from the regional products. Since we were a fairly large group, we booked a meal at Prosciutterie DOK dall’ Ava (via Gemona 47, tel. 0432-940-280, www.dallava.com, open daily 10-10), one of the town’s full-service restaurants with a prosciutto-oriented menu.

DallavaIt’s a funny place, since it’s outside the main village and near one of the prosciutto factories. It looks like a tourist trap, to be honest, and bus groups stop here. But the service and the food are both terrific and the prices, while not cheap, are pretty reasonable for top-quality prosciutto. We shared lovely plates of sliced prosciutto, prosciutto and melon, and prosciutto and asparagus, and we each ordered a small individual plate. Mine was as simple as it gets – fresh pappardelle tossed with prosciutto and hastily sautéed tomatoes.

Normally I reserve this dish for the summer months when I have a surplus of sweet, fresh tomatoes. I dip them in boiling water and slip off the skins, then chop them coarsely, and sauté in a little olive oil with shredded prosciutto. Tomatoes this time of year are nowhere near as good, so I’ve taken to using the Pomi brand of boxed diced tomatoes instead. A 750 ml box drained and three slices of prosciutto works out just right for two people. (Save the juice for making minestrone.) To make a really easy dish at home, I like to use Colavita brand dried pasta. The rigatoni 31 cooks up nice and plump to support the tomato and flecks of ham.

22

12 2012

Tomato glut #2: Miradoro’s roasted heirloom tomatoes and pasta

One of the most deceptively simple tomato dishes we enjoyed in the Okanagan Valley was served at Miradoro, the glass-walled restaurant hanging off a hillside at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards along the Golden Mile in Oliver, British Columbia. Winemaker Sandra Oldfield makes some terrific wines from the steep vineyards, but the folks at Tinhorn Creek sensibly went into business with restaurateur Manuel Ferreira, who also operates the celebrated Le Gavroche in Vancouver. Executive chef Jeff Van Geest’s menus mate perfectly with Sandra Oldfield’s wines.

Pat was looking for a light dish at lunch and Manuel suggested that she try the garganelli with charred heirloom tomato, basil, lemon, and asiago. It was … a revelation. It’s hard to believe that such simple ingredients could create such a sophisticated dish. As Manuel explained, the tomatoes are quickly roasted in a hot oven, then topped with fresh hot pasta, a few basil leaves, a squeeze of lemon, and some shavings of Asiago cheese. It really doesn’t need a printed recipe.

The diner gets to participate in completing the dish. Pulling the skin off the tomatoes creates a sauce that coats the pasta. We’ve been trying it with various pastas and various tomatoes. A firm-fleshed, dead-ripe tomato works best, and a delicate pasta (no whole wheat!) lets the flavors sing. We enjoyed the dish at Miradoro with Sandra’s Oldfield Series 2Bench Rosé, which she makes from 100 percent Cabernet Franc grapes. It’s a real West Coast rosé, fresh and crisp with striking strawberry notes. At home we opt for a Pinot Grigio delle Venezie that’s harvested a little early to preserve a bracing acidity.

07

09 2012

Bowties with tomato trimmings

We’re in the midst of the tomato and basil harvest–lots of Costoluto Genovese tomatoes and lots of Genovese basil. Most nights that means slicing up some fresh mozzarella cheese and enjoying giant plates of insalata caprese.

But what do you do with the tomato shoulders and irregular bits left over when you make a pretty plate of caprese? We took a little inspiration from Sicily and added lemon and ground pistachio nuts for a solid pasta plate that takes full advantage of the harvest.

FARFALLE WITH TOMATOES, LEMON, AND PISTACHIOS

Serves 2 as main dish, 4 as pasta course

Ingredients

2 cups farfalle (bowties)
1 1/2 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, grated
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup pistachio nutmeats, coarsely ground
1/3 cup chopped basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra Parmigiano Reggiano for the table

Directions

1. Heat 4 quarts salted water to a boil. Add farfalle and cook al dente (about 10 minutes).

2. While pasta is cooking, carry out other steps. Place chopped tomatoes in sieve and toss with salt. Let drain over bowl, reserving liquid.

3. In heavy-duty skillet, heat olive oil until smoking hot. Remove from heat and add grated garlic and grated lemon zest. Stir until lightly browned.

4. Place skillet back on medium heat and add lemon juice. Cook until reduced by half. Add juice that has drained from tomatoes and reduce by half, stirring frequently to emulsify and get creamy texture.

5. When pasta is done, add to juice mixture in skillet. Add ground pistachios and stir well. Add chopped basil and stir well, cooking about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese.

Serve with additional cheese for the table.

18

08 2012

Recapturing a great flavor of New Hampshire


Our latest book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire (Globe Pequot Press), just arrived two days ago and it brought back fond memories of the research. One of our favorite meals was at the Bedford Village Inn, when Benjamin Knack, fresh from a season on Hell’s Kitchen, had just take over the dining program for this romantic destination property.

It so happens that Ben makes a killer gnocchi, which he claimed was so simple that even his then 4-year-old daughter could do it. There are a couple of secrets to getting just the right texture. The potatoes should be cooked so they “squeak like Styrofoam when you squeeze them,” he says. And they should be pushed quickly through the sieve so the potato remains warm while you’re making the gnocchi.

That particular night we ate the gnocchi tossed with duck confit, but they’re equally good dressed in a light sauce made of roasted tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, and nothing more. We managed to get the Bedford Village Inn into Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire, but the gnocchi recipe arrived too late to make the first edition. Next time, maybe. In the meantime, here it is in all its glory (and simplicity).

GNOCCHI WITH ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients

3 russet potatoes
1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch pepper
1 egg
1 cup flour

Directions

1. Bake the potatoes until they are soft (about 45 min) in a 350-degree oven. While still warm, cut in half and, using the skin, push through a sieve or tamis onto a table top.

2. Sprinkle cheese, salt, and pepper over potatoes and cut in with bench scraper. Break egg on top and cut into potato mix until well incorporated.

3. Add flour and cut in until it is fully incorporated. Knead gently until a ball is formed. Flatten dough to about 3/4 inch.

4. Cut dough into 3/4 inch dowels and cut dowels into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss uncooked gnocchi in flour and allow to dry for 15 minutes.

5. Set 6 quarts water, well salted, to boil in large pot.

7. Drop gnocchi into boiling water and cook until they float. Then allow to cook for 2-3 more minutes.

8. Toss with 1/4 cup canola oil and store covered in refrigerator up to 48 hours until ready to serve.

ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients

5 vine-ripened tomatoes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Set oven to 350F.

2. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Toss with 1/4 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in roasting pan and cook 25-30 minutes.

3. Remove tomatoes from oven. Separate skins and discard. Purée tomatoes until smooth. Add 1/4 cup olive oil while blending and add salt and pepper to taste.

from Benjamin Knack, executive chef at the Bedford Village Inn

All menus lead to Rome

Ultimately, we did visit the amazing museums at Vatican City—and here’s our sneaked photo of the Sistine Chapel ceiling to prove it. (Yeah, like we were the only ones….) But we have to admit that we were originally waylaid by Rome’s greatest gourmet food shop. And who could blame us? Gastronomy is Italy’s other art. Or maybe its other religion.

When we’d finished eating lunch at Franchi (see previous post), we decided that it was a good time to stop in at Castroni (Via Cola di Rienzo 196, Tel: 06-68-74-383, www.castronicoladirienzo.it, open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm), reasoning that since we were already stuffed, we would be immune to the lures of the merchandise. It was only next door, and we’d still have plenty of time to get back to the Vatican.


The legend over the door reads Castroni Droghe Coloniali, but like some pop stars, the place is famous enough to go by a single moniker. And Castroni is indeed a name to conjure with. Since 1932 the flagship store in the Prati district east of the Vatican has proved that all gastronomic roads lead to Rome. On seeing the walls lined 15 feet high with gourmet goodies, David pleaded, “Do we have to go to the Sistine Chapel today?” Pat gave in, and we postponed the museum trip by a day.

Many ex-pats swear by Castroni for the tastes of home—the full line of Twinings teas, for example, or a broad range of Fauchon products from Paris, or good smoked Spanish paprika. But all the flavors of Italy also find their way to this wonderful shop. This year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, and while north and south, right and left seem no closer to real unity than they have been since the days of Vittorio Emanuele II himself, Castroni brings all the regions together for a gastronomic love fest.

There’s a modest bar with some casual food, so it’s possible to pop in for lunch and then to spend an afternoon just shopping. (Or drooling.) Bins hold virtually every variety of dried bean or chickpea grown anywhere on the peninsula. The store’s own brand of dry pastas include bags with mixed Roman monuments (maybe the ultimate gastronomic souvenir), and Castroni’s own coffee (whole bean or ground) makes an authentic-tasting Roman espresso—dark and syrupy with some high, almost lemony notes that suggest a lot of East African coffees in the blend. If you find the flavor addictive, the shop also sells a coffee concentrate passed off as an energy drink.

Had we demonstrated the foresight to bring an empty suitcase from home, we would have stocked up on all kinds of goodies that U.S. Customs would let us bring in, including the dazzling array of pestos from Abruzzo made of ripe Leccino olives, of asparagus, or of radicchio. Just add hot pasta and you have a stupendous meal. We also would have loaded up on duck liver and orange pâtés and the jars of small green peppers stuffed with duck liver mousse, not to mention hot-pepper-inspired salsas from Sicily and white truffle and porcini salsas from Umbria.

But since we were traveling light, we limited ourselves to squeeze tubes of tomato paste, mushroom cream, black olive puree, and mixed vegetables. (A squirt of the mixed vegetables paste into chicken broth makes it taste like minestrone.) We find them amazingly versatile in the kitchen, allowing us to add a dollop to eggs, salad dressing, soup, or a sauce to shade the flavor one way or another. (They also make great gifts for friends who cook.) In fact, the only thing we expected to find at Castroni but didn’t were the truffle products of Acqualagna in Le Marche, where the local motto is ”truffles all year long.” More on that next time….

24

06 2011

Bites worth standing for

It’s easy to get a good, quick lunch in Rome. Usually we opt for a couple of slices of pizza in whatever pizzeria is closest when we’re hungry. But for even more variety, we sometimes head to a tavola calda—an amazing array of hot and cold dishes ordered at a counter, served up quickly and almost always eaten standing up. One of the best in Rome is found at Franchi (Via Cola di Rienzo 200, tel. 06-68-74-651, www.franchi.it.), which is also one of the city’s most extravagant alimentari (local food stores).

Outside of meal time, this is the spot in the Prati neighborhood to buy sliced cold cuts, cheese, and cooked dishes to take home for dinner. But at lunchtime, the shop is swarmed with office workers (including those from the nearby Prati courthouse) who order from the daily selection of dishes on the tavola calda. The chefs are known for their arancini: breaded and fried balls of risotto drooling with mozzarella inside. But they also make other good things, such as a cold rice salad studded with shrimp and layered with slices of cured salmon, deep-fried cod fillets, oven-roasted vegetables drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, creamy pools of polenta and melted cheese, manicotti….

The scene is a bit chaotic. You place your order, return to the cashier to pay, grab a tray and wait for your food, then hope you can score a tall table or bit of counter space to balance your food while you eat standing up. (Be careful who you elbow aside—the courthouse guards are packing.) Our last visit was a reward for shuffling in the long and pointless lines to visit St. Peter’s. We needed the break before plunging into the crowds at the Vatican museums. The rice balls did not disappoint, the slice of lasagna was as good as any we’ve eaten in a white linen dining room, and the slab of polenta was rich and cheesy.

19

06 2011

And then there was amatriciana

While Tsatsu Nicholas Awuku was teaching us to make bucatini cacio e pepe (see below), Alessandro Sillani, the chef of Ristorante-Caffe di Rienzo (Piazza del Pantheon 8/9, 06-686-9097, www.ristorantedirienzo.it), demonstrated the equally popular and almost as simple sauce for bucatini all’amatriciana. Tradition holds that this sugo (sauce) originated in Amatrice, a town in the mountains of Lazio on the border with Abruzzo. Many families from the region settled in Rome, adding this dish to the capital’s own cuisine.

Sillani heated olive oil in a large frying pan, sautéed sliced onion until it was soft, and then added a thick pinch of hot pepper flakes and a handful of diced guanciale — cured pork cheek that is similar to pancetta but typically leaner. He kept cooking until the onion was golden and the guanciale well cooked. At this stage, Sillani tossed a serving of bucatini into the fryer converted to pressure cooker, then returned to making the sauce.

The rest of the sauce went swiftly: He ladled in pureed tomatoes and kept stirring the sauce over high heat until the bucatini was cooked (about 9 minutes), then added the drained pasta to the sauce.

It could not have been simpler or more delicious — and it’s just as easy to make at home.

BUCATINI ALL’AMATRICIANA


We have adjusted this recipe to serve four as a pasta course or two as a main course.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
3 oz. guanciale (or pancetta), cut in 1/4” dice
1 lb. bucatini
3 cups pureed (”ground”) tomatoes
freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

Saute onion in olive oil in large frying pan. When onion is soft, add pepper flakes and guanciale and saute over high heat until onions are golden and guanciale begins to brown.

Add pasta to boiling water.

Add tomatoes to frying pan and continue heating over high flame.

When pasta is cooked firm (about 9 minutes), drain and add to sauce in frying pan. Toss to coat.

Twist mixture tightly with a large fork and transfer to serving plates. Serve with Pecorino Romano cheese.

11

05 2011

Learning Roman pastas (#1)

Much as we love Trastevere and its restaurants, one of our other favorite eating establishments is right on one of Rome’s most tourist-thronged plazas—just the type of location that we usually avoid at meal time. But when we stopped for coffee one morning at Ristorante-Caffè di Rienzo (Piazza del Pantheon 8/9, 06-686-9097, www.ristorantedirienzo.it), we struck up a conversation with Marianna Di Rienzo, whose father opened the restaurant in 1952. She even invited us to come back at dinner time so that the chef could show us how to prepare some classic Roman pasta dishes.

Chef Alessandro Sillani has been with Di Rienzo for 15 years. When we returned around 6 p.m., he and his assistant Tsatsu Nicholas Awuku were not even breaking a sweat sending out dishes to early diners. They decided to demonstrate two of the simplest, but to our minds, most delicious of Roman preparations, cacio e pepe (or cheese and pepper), and amatriciana (tomato and lardons of cured pork cheek). They made both with the thick tubular pasta with a tiny hole in the middle called bucatini. In fact, the restaurant uses Barilla dried pasta, widely available in the U.S. The specific size that seems to be used all over Rome is Bucatini No. 9. Like many restaurants that serve a lot of pasta, Di Rienzo had converted deep-fry vats to boil salted water. The chefs could simply toss the portions of dried pasta into the fryer baskets, lifting and draining in a single motion when the pasta was al dente.

Awuku handled the cacio e pepe. He melted a gob of butter in a skillet, then mixed grated Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper together in a stainless steel bowl. He poured in the melted butter, mixed well and checked the consistency. When it seemed a little dry, he added a drizzle of olive oil. Once the pasta was al dente (Romans prefer their pasta very firm), he added the hot pasta to the cheese mixture and tossed to coat. He twisted the unruly and springy pasta very tightly to form a nest, transferred it to a plate and then sprinkled on more cheese.

We ate our pastas at an outdoor table, looking at the classic facade of the Pantheon and listening to jazz being played by street musicians. It could not have been more charming, or, for that matter, romantic. And the pasta was delicious. We supplemented our meal with white wine and the superb breads and gelati that Di Rienzo makes in-house. It was humbling lesson that sometimes you can even get a terrific meal on the square with a tourist attraction.

BUCATINI CACIO E PEPE
We have adjusted this recipe to serve four as a pasta course or two as a main course.

Ingredients

1 lb. bucatini
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
olive oil as needed
extra Pecorino Romano to taste

Directions

1. Cook pasta about 10 minutes in salted water.

2. While pasta is cooking, combine black pepper and grated cheese. Melt butter and add to cheese mixture, stirring well to combine. Add olive oil as needed to create a thick cheese sauce.

3. When pasta is cooked firm, drain and add to bowl of cheese sauce. Toss to coat.

4. Place on plate with large fork, twisting mixture tightly. Add extra cheese to taste.

30

04 2011

We love Roma in the springtime…

The point of this blog is to discover food that we enjoy when we are traveling and to learn enough about it that we can recreate the flavors at home. But we have learned that some dishes are so special at a particular time and a particular place that we have to enjoy them on the spot and not worry about bringing them home. The best place to spot these seasonal specialties is often the fresh food market. Since we were in Rome in early April, all the vegetable stalls at Trastevere’s daily morning market in Piazza San Cosimato were overflowing with beautiful globe artichokes. It meant that the season was perfect to try carciofi alla giudia, the traditional fried whole artichokes made famous in Rome’s Jewish ghetto.

There are a lot of terrific eateries in the Trastevere neighborhood, and, as it turned out, artists recommended the two that we liked best. The glass artists at Studio Forme (via di Santa Cecilia 30B, www.vetriforme.com) told us that we could get a ”real Roman meal” at Trattoria da Teo (Piazza Ponziani 7A, 06-581-8355). We stopped by late one morning to investigate. The staff was busily prepping dishes for both lunch and dinner but happily invited us into the kitchen to see. Not only did they have nothing to hide, they were proud of the quality of their ingredients. One young man out front was patiently stuffing zucchini flowers (fiori di zucca) with cheese and anchovies. Later they would be dipped in batter and deep-fried. Others in the back were cutting tuna steaks and trimming beautiful artichokes.

We were skeptical that we would need a reservation at this out-of-the-way trattoria, but we went ahead and made one. When we returned at our appointed hour, the street was filled with eager would-be diners. Anyone who lacked a reservation was turned away as every table in the small dining room and smaller patio filled immediately. Once we were seated a few waiters hastily took everyone’s orders – the menus were superfluous. Everyone largely ordered whatever was special that night. Antipasti began flowing out of the kitchen, soon followed by pasta plates, with our white-shirted waiter holding them over his head as he wiggled his hips through the crowds. The wine list, by the way, was studded with little gems. We stuck with a superb, well-rounded verdicchio from Le Marche. And we could resist neither the stuffed zucchini flowers nor carciofi alla giuda.

The other excellent recommendation came from Sara Fradiani (www.filogiro.com), a jewelry artist we met at a pop-up store. She excitedly claimed that the best spaghetti carbonara in Rome is served at Antica Osteria Ponte Sisto (Via di Ponte Sisto 8, 06-588-3411), just at the end of the Sisto bridge over the Tiber. Utterly charming and old-fashioned, Ponte Sisto proved as good as she had suggested, with classically robust Roman pastas and a good wine list of reasonably priced bottles. Because it has outdoor seating just steps from the river, it attracts as many tourists as locals, but neither the menu nor the prices seem slated to capitalize on that.

And about those artichokes: Carciofi alla giudia include a large portion of the artichoke stem, which has an especially earthy flavor that is a nice contrast to the sweetness of the choke itself and the crispy potato-chip-like crunch of the fried leaves. They are a tasty treat, but the flavors would go murky if the artichokes were not perfectly fresh and deep-fried at a high temperature. So we will leave the preparation to the trattorie and osterie of Roma in the springtime.

24

04 2011