Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dark side of the ravioli

I'm a big squid guy. If it's on the menu, I'm ordering it, at least once just to see how the place handles it. Sometimes I even score some when it isn't on the menu. Just the other day, whilst lunching at Saigon on Forest Ave., I managed to coax a couple of nicely grilled squid out of the kitchen. It was good. I was happy.

Lately, it also appears that squid ink has come running through my veins (see "The squid and the shrimp" post from 4/11). Possibly I ought be concerned over this. I am not.

As is often the case (sorry if I bore you here), I am forever in pasta-producing mode. Here's what went down.

You got your walnuts, your grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little nutmeg, pinch of salt, like that.

The Cuisinart does its thing.

Add in some fresh ricotta.

And you got your basic mushy mess of a filling.

Bop, bop, beep, boop.

And ravioli!

That is all.

Now go eat something.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The candy man?

It's pasta, not taffy.

This particular shape is known as caramelle precisely because of its resemblance to wrapped candy. Usually I fill caramelle with cheese, which is the traditional way.

But I'd just dug up these parsnips in the garden (they get sweeter if allowed to stay in the ground through winter), and decided to play around.

First step was to roast them. Then, after they cooled, into the Cuisinart.

I'd picked up some baked ricotta at Micucci, for no particular reason, and decided that might work.

Crumbled maybe a quarter pound of the ricotta over the parsnips.

Not much to look at, I know, but molto tasty. All I added was a little nutmeg, so it's just the parsnips (roasted with xv olive oil, salt and pepper), the cheese and the nutmeg, that's it.

The dough gets rolled on the thin side because this is a delicate type of stuffed pasta.

And the filling and forming goes like so. All it takes is a roll and a light wrap on either end.

The pasta landscape.

Since the parsnip was so flavorful I decided to take the ultra simple approach and just cook them in homemade chicken stock. Caramelle en brodo, if you will.

I know this doesn't look at all exciting, but it's a major tasty dish, perfect as a small plate before the entree, or as lunch with a salad. Unless I get a better offer, I'll be having it for lunch today.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Of mice and meatballs

Best you just shoot me now, get it over with.

So, I made the ricotta.

The pesto.

Some silky smooth sheets of pasta.

Added some fresh crabmeat.

And wound up with this tasteless crap.

Not even Red could save it.

I am ashamed.

And must go.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Making book

When you share a house with 600 cookbooks, it is not uncommon to be asked for recommendations. Christmas is the high season, of course, but birthdays and even anniversaries have gained some momentum, which likely says more about the crowd I run with than any book buying trend, regional or otherwise.

You did not ask, I know. But... Well... Hm...

Okay, I got it. Patriots' Day. Coming up Monday. Best get your honey ("homey," you say; that works too, I guess) a good book to curl up with. (AccuWeather puts the low for the day around 37 here in Portland; I'm just sayin'.)

The tome I'm so hot to pimp here is Giorgio Locatelli's "Made in Italy, Food & Stories" (Ecco, $60). It's just a really good book that you gotta check out.

It's a freaking joy is what it is -- and I mean to read.

Fact, if all you're looking for in a Patriots' Day gift (Growing on you yet? No, me neither, give it time, might catch on.) is recipes, then it might be best to move along. Locatelli's recipes are top notch, don't get me wrong; I've prepared many, and with great success (the classic risottto alla lodigiana was perfection). And there are plenty of recipes, from antipasti to dolce, to explore. Here's the man himself, by the way, making tortellini (we are nothing if not a multimedia shill operation here).

But the big reason I so shamelessly promote these 620-plus pages of pulp is what happens in between the recipes. As the title suggests, Locatelli offers colorful stories, of growing up in Italy, becoming a chef, and all that. But his true mission is to explain, to teach. And in fulfilling this calling he is at once thorough, patient, fiercely intelligent, inquisitive and, yes, loving.

Before making the risottto alla lodigiana (basically just rice with butter and cheese; go figure), I spent the better part of an afternoon reading Locatelli's thoughts on the various types of riso I might consider using (superfino carnaroli in this case); stocks (chicken here) and how they help determine a dish's outcome; cooking techniques (there are many steps to making a great risotto, each one important); even a four-page treatise on the parmesan cheese that's stirred into and shaved on top of the dish.

The risotto, with veal breast.

The pasta section is similarly exhaustive. Before getting to the first recipe, spaghetti al crudo, there are more than twenty pages of damned good reading on such topics as how milling flour impacts pasta quality to when to add salt to your pasta water and why. And that's not including the ten or so pages of smart instruction in making fresh egg pasta.

Locatelli is based in London, where he owns the restaurant Locanda Locatelli I've never been, and a trip to London anytime soon isn't likely. Too bad. He's one of the chefs I'd really like to chow down with.

The book will just have to do.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Queen of the Sausages

No, it's not a type of baloney.
Yes, the white stuff is fat.
No, it doesn't make me wanna gag.
And yes, I'd take it over a butter-soaked lobster or a blue rare Peter Luger porterhouse any day -- and I really likey the lobster and the porterhouse a whole lot.
Behold... La mortadella.
Queen (note the feminine) of the Sausages.
Yes, it's a sausage. The world's biggest, even when not produced in the style of shock, awe and comic overabundance (see monstrosity below).
Una mortadella gigante!
No, it is not some mass-produced tube of lunch meat with nary a hint of real food or artistry inside the casing. Mortadella's heritage is steeped in perhaps the world's finest culinary center, Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, which is home to the likes of Parma (Proscuitto di Parma) and Reggio Emilia (Parmigiano-Reggiano) to name but, well, two.
Mortadella di Bologna has PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status under European law: It must be made within a small geographic area and by using traditional methods And here's what's inside, basically: finely ground pork, seasonings like peppercorns and anise, wine, oftentimes pistachio nuts, and of course those tasty chunks of pure, luscious fat.
This ain't no Oscar Mayer tubesteak, friend.
Italy's former prime minister Romano Prodi was known as la mortadella because he was from Bologna, Emilia-Romagna's capital and ground zero for mortadella making, and because he had a physique some said resembled a thick sausage. Prodi was also saddled with the name because his demeanor was somewhat bland -- a characteristic also attributed to the famous salume. On this point I will have to disagree strenuously.
Mortadella is many things; bland it is not.
And no, we will not argue this point. We will move on. Except to note that paper-thin slices have for decades now been my personal preference, not the thick chunks enjoyed by many. (I would also challenge anybody to name a more satisfying sandwich than mortadella and fresh mozzarella on a baguette; save your energy, it's not gonna happen.)
I can't possibly be alone in this crazy cooked up sausage love affair of mine. Mortadella lovers, reveal yourselves! That's why God (and Blogger) gave us the "Comments" link, you know.
Back in 1971, the Italian moviemaker Carlo Ponti -- husband to one major bella donna, Sophia Loren -- released the swell-sounding film, "La Mortadella." Ring Lardner, Jr. wrote the screenplay; William Devane, Danny DeVito and Susan Sarandon co-starred. The movie's star was Ponti's moglie (that's his wife, Sophia).
Loren plays an Italian girl who travels to New York in order to visit her fiance. Her gift to the lucky Michele? One huge, honkin' mortadella, of course; for she is, alas, herself a Neopolitan sausage maker. Thing is, the U.S. Customs agents will have none of it. They detain poor Maddalena (and the well-travelled mortadella) and inform her that such foodstuffs, possible carriers of swine flu, are maiale non grata in America and must therefore be confiscated immediatamente.
Farce and general mayhem ensue, of course. And a year later the movie is released in the U.S. under another title, "Lady Liberty." The tagline: "Can a girl from a little sausage factory in Italy find romance and happiness in a pizzeria in New York?"
That's what I call making sausage.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The squid and the shrimp

Stuck in the house with a major flu, so what in the world to do?

Make the pasta.

With the squid ink.

Ink, eggs, olive oil and salt in the flour.

The dough.

The sheets.

And the noodles.

An angel delivered some nice Maine shrimp.

Put 'em together.

And it's done in a flash.

Sorry, gotta go.

Buon appetito!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ghosts in my kitchen

The man in the leather picture frame that's perched on my kitchen countertop is one Joseph Patrick Giamundo (1913-1978).

Uncle Joe.

I shot the picture myself more than thirty years ago. It was taken on the roof of our old apartment house in East New York, when he and my cousin John were fixing the handrail that went around an air shaft. John had found himself temporarily out of work, so Uncle Joe took him on until he could land another gig.

My cousin would tell you himself that our uncle, a small-shop contractor who didn't make a ton of dough, might have gotten by just fine without his help. But John and his wife Susie had a young daughter to take care of, and so that was the end of that; there was no way Uncle Joe wasn't going to lend a hand. Just no possible way.

There are dozens of people in our family, and every one of us was on the receiving end of Uncle Joe's enormous generosity and love. My own mother, an early widow with three young boys to raise, might have been forced onto the welfare rolls ("relief," the old-timers called it) if not for her brother's devotion and care. Not a single one of us doesn't still worship the man, or long to see him at the barbecue pit cooking sausages and chicken, one or more of his nieces and nephews hanging off his pant legs demanding his attention. Eyes well up when his name is spoken.
You don't become family patriarch for nothing. It's a hard-earned position.

Anyway, Uncle Joe's pic doesn't usually hang out in the kitchen; it stays in the living room, next to the chair I always sit in when I'm in there.

I like having him close by. Which is how he wound up next to the butter dish and the Pellegrino and the bowl of Medjool dates one night this past winter.

If you're reading (or, as many of you, writing) blogs like this one, I don't need to explain the whole food-is-love thing. So I won't.

All I'll say is that, with only a couple of exceptions, every person I really love in this life has logged at least a bit of time in the kitchen with me, some of them a lot of time. Hours, sometimes days can pass where it's the only room in the house that gets any action at all.
Seriously. Days. I mean it. Every August the house fills up with about a dozen different clan members, and for five days straight all we do is cook and eat. I love it.

This particular winter's night, a couple of exceptionally close friends about, Trippa alla Romana (Roman-style tripe in tomato sauce) was on the menu. Lots of wine, plenty of laughter (of course the occasional yucky tripe joke), everybody having a good time. When out of nowhere, and without even a hint of thought or planning -- I'm swearing to this -- I disappeared into the living room, mid-sentence, as if by unstoppable force, I was later told. When I got back to the kitchen minutes later, Uncle Joe was with me, all decked out in the fancy brown leather frame I'd gotten for him some years back.

I'd never done anything like this before, nor since, and didn't know why I did it then. And yet, astonishingly, everybody in the kitchen had clearly been moved; I know these people, I know their faces. They were moved.

Except that not a one of them had ever laid eyes on my long-ago-taken-from-us uncle.
I'll leave the spooky weird interpretations to others, that's not my thing. I just know that we were all having a good time before Uncle Joe showed up, but that the rest of the evening was better still. I was whole. The others were (mysteriously) uplifted.

It was way, way cool. And, like so many of my warmest memories, it happened in my kitchen.

Oh, and the trippa? Weeks later I learned from his sister Anna that it was Uncle Joe's absolute favorite meal (cue the spooky pipe organ). Pretty tasty too.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Time to grind the pasta

My friend Tom wonders if I've gone mad. He won't say this, of course, but I know what he's thinking:

You used a meat grinder?

To make pasta!

Thing is, I'm a reasonable man, and so if anybody has a brighter idea, let's have it.

See, the pasta in question isn't one of your popular varieties. It's called bigoli, an extruded pasta that is long like spaghetti but very, very thick. None of the dies I own will make bigoli. In fact, there is a special extruding device made just for the job. It's called a bigolaro, costs more coin than I'm apt to spend at the moment, and if you're interested in seeing one in action, well, say no more:

Tom: KitchenAid makes a pasta extruder. You know that, right?

I (reaching for a box next to one of my many pasta-making contraptions): You mean this one?

Tom (polishing off the last bottle of that terrific vermouth I picked up in Brooklyn at Christmas): That's the one.

I: No can do, Tomasso. Not thick enough.

Tom (curmudgeon-like behavior now appearing): How about that yellow box with all the Italian writing on it?

I (turning downright churlish, possibly because I know I won't be back to Brooklyn, or Long's, for awhile): What part of, "This meat grinder attachment is the only thing in the house with the remotest possible chance in hell of doing this job" did you not understand, Tommy?

I've gone to the meat grinder attachment (KitchenAid; and I use the smaller of the two dies that come with it) a couple times now. The noodle thickness seems about right, possibly a bit thicker than called for. It's just that the die doesn't produce even a remotely smooth outside, and so the pasta can be a little strange looking. (Yeah, I know, worm-like; good thing I didn't make the squid ink pasta dough.)

But I'm a big fan. Not only is the noodle thick and chewy, which means it'll hold up well in a whole bunch of hearty recipes, but the rough exterior is just perfect for clinging to sauce. The noodle is great in soups too, because it doesn't get mushy. (The dough should be on the stiff side for this noodle; If you don't already, I'd recommend adding a good bit of coarse semolina to whatever flour mix you use for pasta. I'm happy to answer questions, too. And future posts will address flours and pasta making.)

Of course, the dark truth is that a real bigolarist (that's a bigoli maker, or so I'm told) might not even recognize my version of the product, or worse, could tell me that it isn't bigoli at all that I've been slaving over. For shame!

Other hand, when am I apt to run into a bigolarist?

In Maine, no less.

Con le sarde

Thursday, April 1, 2010


It isn't every day that a man jumps out of bed and decides that today is the day he finally cooks himself an octopus.

Recently I had such a day.

On the night table: "A16 Food + Wine" by Nate Appelman and Shelley Lindgren, open to page 135, "Octopus and ceci bean zuppa with escarole, garlic, and chiles."

Nuff said.

Everything needed was in house (our cupboard is nothing if not exceedingly well stocked; there were three, count 'em, three types of chickpeas from which to choose) except for the escarole and of course the polpo. Hannaford and Harbor Fish, here I come.

A quick stop for a bagel at 158 (poppy, extra butter; no, not toasted, Josh gets the crust right most times, so why mess with it?) and I'm in and out of the produce aisle in a flash. Over the bridge and onto Harbor, where it is as expected: no fresh pulpo, just frozen. But they're whole and so I grab one and make for the exit.

It's already midday and so I decide to let the octopus thaw slowly, which means overnight, thereby pushing things back a day. (With age, apparently, comes patience. Sucks.)

Anyways, if you like octopus (and ain't too skeeved out by handling the suckers), Epicurious actually has the recipe on its website, and so I'll just show a few pics along the way:

Definitely a tasty dish. And not difficult to make. I would up the garlic, though. But that's just me.

The lemon rind's a nice touch


Serious shrinkage

And there you go.

I'd suggest some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. And, of course, a crusty bread (from Scratch, or the oddly still not fully appreciated, methinks, Black Crow), a bottle of Nero d'Avola, and call me in the morning (but not before 7).

Luigi's polenta

First, a thousand thank yous to dear Aunt Laura. That's about how many times I've called her over the years, asking if she can please please please repeat to me the recipe that I love so much. Not once have I been scolded for failing to write it down the time before. My aunt surely knows that I have dozens of scraps of paper, basically filled with the same scribbles, some stained with red sauce, others pristine as the day I last called her.

But rituals are important. And so I call.

Luigi is long gone. He was Laura's stepfather and, like my own family, he'd emigrated from Italy in the early 1900s. What distinguished him from the others in our corner of Brooklyn is that he was from "the north," from Trieste, in fact, while everybody else had come from around Naples.

If not for Luigi's growing up as a Triestin, on the border of Slovenia, I would definitely not have imagined -- no way, no how -- dropping a bag of sauerkraut into a pot of red sauce.

To wit, Luigi's extraordinarily tasty and ridiculously simple recipe for pork and sauerkraut red gravy over polenta:

1. Saute olive oil and garlic in your favorite pot for making sauce. (After making this once, go ahead and play. You could add some hot pepper or pancetta, or whatever you want. I've certainly fooled around with the recipe enough myself.)

2. Get some pork butt (maybe a pound or so) and cut it into one-inch cubes. Then add them to the oil and garlic to brown.

3. Once the pork is lightly browned add a couple 28-oz. cans of tomatoes (your choice if they're whole or crushed, whatever you have around).

4. Turn up the heat and cook for about 10 minutes.

5. Drain the juice off of 2 lbs. of sauerkraut (we use the bags you get at the supermarket in refrigerated section) and add the kraut to the sauce.

6. Lower the heat to low to medium and let simmer for 45 minutes (longer if you want; again, up to you).

7. Serve over polenta.

Grazie, Luigi.

Grazie, Laura.