Saturday, November 23, 2013

Otis's cheese

It took a while for me to fall in love with Otis. It was never my intention to include a dog in my life, and so welcoming an 8-week-old that had a long run ahead of him was quite the leap. Having never had a dog before, this particular one, a high-octane, smart as a whip Australian Shepherd, proved challenging. More than a year into our relationship I remained skeptical of its merits, and even its future.

Then we shared a piece of cheese together.

I was alone in the kitchen, working on a spaghetti alla carbonara. When I reached into the fridge to grab the Parmigiano-Reggiano, Otis, who had been wrecking his usual havoc elsewhere about the house, suddenly appeared at my side. He looked exceptionally curious, even for him. Busy with my cooking I patted the dog's head absently and went to his stash of cookies, but when offered one he declined. Clearly the animal's full attention was on the Reggiano and so I broke off a small piece, took a bite of it myself, an offered the rest to my handsome friend.

"You've got good taste, I'll give you that," I told Otis after we'd quietly shared our third of several small hunks of cheese, both of us on the kitchen floor by now. "Maybe there's hope for you, after all."

That was more than a dozen years — and certainly hundreds of pounds of Reggiano — ago. Otis has been at my side for all of them. I can honestly say that I have never loved another creature more.

I also cannot ever think of this cheese without thinking of him. Because no food, not one, ever pleased either of us more. Reggiano is way more than a staple around my house. It's as important as water and air. For me and for Otis both.

And so on the way over to the vet's office yesterday morning my wife and I made sure to bring along a nice big hunk of Otis's cheese. When it's my turn to go out, hopefully with loved ones helping me along, it's what I'm gonna want too.

Addio mio caro amico.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Pasta Recipe Index

Below are all of the pasta, stuffed pasta, pasta sauce, and pasta dough recipes that appear on this blog. Just click on a link and you'll be taken to the recipe you're after. Every time a pasta recipe is added to the blog it will be added to this list, which appears at the right of the homepage under "Search Pasta Recipes."


Spaghetti alla bottarga

Orecchietti with broccoli rabe & sausage

Homemade bread gnocchi

The best potato gnocchi

Pasta & peas

Lobster lasagne

Polenta lasagne

Spaghetti pie

Pasta with garlic & balsamic vinegar

Pasta e fagioli


Pumpkin & ricotta gnocchi

Pasta & chickpeas

Shrimp & sausage scampi

Pasta with sausage, grapes & wine

Pasta with garlic & hazelnuts

Pasta with fresh fig & pistachio

Pasta with pumpkin & pancetta


Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to make biscotti

I've said it before and I'll say it again. A baker I am not. Baking requires exacting procedures and measurements, which I'm way too undisciplined to abide. Patience is another useful virtue — and I never had much of that either.

That's why I like biscotti so much. They're about the only baked good that I have no fear of attempting. No matter how many different things I try, or combination of ingredients I experiment with, my biscotti always come out okay. Better than okay, actually.

I have to figure that it's the biscotto's (yes, there's a singular) twice-baked nature that saves me from making a complete fool of myself. We're talking about a dry, hard biscuit here, people. How difficult can it be? (Sorry, Josephine, I didn't mean your biscotti. Please, please, please bring me some of the Best Biscotti on Earth this Christmas Eve!)


Anyhow, so here's the batch of Almond & Cranberry Biscotti that I made the other day. I can assure you that the basic method is sound, but feel free to mess around and make the recipe your own. I know I would.

In a large mixing bowl place the following: 2 1/2 cups flour (I experimented with 00 here but normally use all-purpose); 1/2 teaspoon baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon baking soda; a pinch of sea salt; the zest of one large lemon; 3/4 cups chopped unsalted almonds; and 1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries. Mix thoroughly by hand. Note: the nuts and fruit, as well as the zest, are the easiest places to experiment. One of my favorite combinations is pine nuts with candied orange peel.

In a separate bowl add 1/2 cup of sugar, 3 extra large eggs, and a teaspoon of whiskey (I used Maker's Mark here, but an Amaretto liqueur would work well, as it's almond flavored and sweet). Using an electric mixer, mix at high speed for around 5 minutes, until thick. Note: I like very subtle-tasting biscotti; a lot of people would add more sugar to this recipe, so please do if you like.

Fold the egg mixture into the flour mix by hand. When they are thoroughly incorporated add in one stick (8 tablespoons) of melted unsalted butter (shown) and mix by hand.

Roll the mixture out onto a work surface and knead for a minute or two, then form a single ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour. During this time preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces, then form logs that are around 2 inches high by maybe 10 inches long. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, brush on a light layer of egg white, and bake for around 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during that time.

When the logs are golden remove and allow to cool for around 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Here's where the twice-baked idea comes in. Cut the logs into slices that are around an inch thick, line them on a baking sheet, and return to the oven for around 20 minutes, or until crisp. Remove from the oven, allow the biscotti to thoroughly cool, then place them in an airtight container and — this is very important — make believe that you never even made the things! I mean it. Biscotti never taste as good as they're going to taste if you eat them right away. Trust me. It's just one of those things.

Two or three days later go ahead and crack into your stash. You'll be very happy that you exercised that portion of your brain that controls patience.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Pumpkin & pancetta pasta

And you thought I paid scant attention to the changing of the seasons.


I know a good-looking cucurbita when I see one, you know. And when I saw this American Tondo pumpkin there wasn't a lot of hand-wringing over what to do with it: I'd make some pasta. Imagine that.

Dice up the pumpkin flesh and put it in a baking dish with olive oil, rosemary, nutmeg, a good dose of kosher salt and some ground black pepper. Place in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F.

Around 30 to 40 minutes later the pumpkin should be plenty done and so remove the pan from the oven and set aside.

Dice around a half pound of pancetta (or bacon if you prefer) into cubes and saute slowly in olive oil until crisp but not burned. Set aside and drain all but a little bit of the pork fat from the pan. The pan should be big enough to accommodate the pasta later on.

Add some olive oil to the fat and saute a few garlic cloves and a little hot pepper until softened.

Then add the pancetta.

Next add your cooked pasta (a half pound here), a good dose of the well-salted pasta water, and some grated cheese (I used caciocavallo).

Add the roasted pumpkin and gently stir together. (I did not use the entire pumpkin here, only around two cups' worth after roasting.)

And you have got yourself a pretty nice Autumn meal.

I know I did.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Chickpea & cabbage soup

I'll say this about vegetarians: Their soups are a snap. I began prepping this chickpea and cabbage deal at around 6:15 pm the other evening. By 7:15, I was on the sofa catching up on my "Boardwalk Empire" (poor Eddie), a warm soup bowl in one hand and a chilled glass of Roero Arneis in the other.

This soup is so easy to make that even my veg-only left coast pal Ricklie could probably pull it off. If only she had a stove. Which she doesn't. (I know. How does a human live without one! No, really, how?)

Just saute a large onion, five garlic cloves and however much hot pepper you can stand. I think a good kick of heat really enhances this particular soup, and so I used a good-sized fresh chili. It would not have been ruined by the addition of another.

Okay, I also threw in a few anchovy fillets, but most of you would rather be boiled in hot oil than eat an anchovy and so, well, don't. (The little fishes do not square with vegetarians either, and so please feel free to leave them out.)

After the onions are softened, add a chopped up medium-size head of cabbage, along with a good dose of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover the pot so that the cabbage can soften a bit before moving ahead.

After about 10 minutes uncover and add a half cup of white wine or dry vermouth, then turn up the heat so that the wine can burn off.

Add one quart of stock. I used chicken (uh-oh!), but vegetable stock would be fine. Also add a 19-oz. can of chickpeas (drained but not rinsed), then set the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

After about 30 minutes you should be all set to go.

Except for one VERY important final step: You have just got to grate some Pecorino-Romano cheese onto this soup. Believe me, the sharpness of the cheese really pulls it all together.

A little crusty bread to sop things up isn't such a terrible thing either. But you knew that.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Italian pot roast

I'm turning off my phone today. Not gonna check email either. My friend Joe would give me nothing but grief over the title of this post. I can hear him already.

"Italian pot roast? Really?" he would say (or type). If I let him, that is.

"If you're going to keep insisting that everything you put on Mister Meatball is Italian, a concept you know full well I do not agree with, then you can at least refer to the foods with their proper names, rather than trying to Americanize them so as to, what, be more reader-friendly?"

There is no telling how long my friend would go on like this, possibly the better part of the afternoon, but in the end he would undoubtedly complete his rant with the following:

"But, hey, it's your blog, do what you want."

Okay, Joe, here goes: I made some Stracotto di manzo (overcooked beef) this past week. But you may know it as Brasato di manzo (braised beef). Here in the States most recipes that you see for this just call it "Italian pot roast" because, well, that's what it is. So get off my back, would you. And give my love to Joel.

Okay, where was I? So, this is a 4.5-pound boneless chuck roast, which I've seasonsed very liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a dutch oven sear the roast on all sides in olive oil, then remove and set aside.

Add two chopped carrots, two celery stalks, one leek, an onion, 5 garlic cloves, 4 anchovy fillets (optional), and some herbs (rosemary, marjoram and oregano here, but knock yourself out with whatever you like). Saute until softened.

Add about a cup of red wine (I used a Nero d'Avola, and you'll need an entire 750 ml bottle) and turn up the heat.

Cook off the wine so that it begins to thicken, then scrape the pot all around with a wooden spoon to loosen any vegetables that may have stuck to the pan's surface.

Add the rest of the bottle of wine, a 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes, a bay leaf, and some salt and pepper. Cover the pot and turn the heat to a very slow simmer, not a boil. Every 20 minutes or so turn the meat over, or at the very least baste it frequently.

This roast simmered for nearly five hours, but I'd suggest that you start checking the meat for tenderness at the 3.5-hour mark. Just poke at it with a fork; when the meat feels tender you should be all set. After this roast was done cooking I allowed it to cool in the pot, then put the whole thing in the fridge overnight and served it for dinner the next evening. I strongly urge that you do this, as the flavor improves enough, I think, to make a difference.

After you reheat simply take the meat out and carve it.

I served this with a creamy polenta. Which, as my friend Joe will tell you, is a dish that is strongly associated with Italian cuisine.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Onions and eggs

When the garden gives you nice onions (or even if the good people at the supermarket sell them to you) ...

... you saute them in olive oil real slow, until they're nice and soft and caramelized, season with salt and pepper, toss in a couple eggs and scramble them up real nice.

A favorite comfort food around here — for breakfast, lunch or even dinner.

Not much of a story here, I know.

Damn fine thing to eat, though. So get on it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Whole braised veal shanks

I had the great pleasure of acting as witness to the nuptials of some very dear friends yesterday afternoon, an intimate affair at their home overlooking Casco Bay.

Somebody (I won't say who) decided that it might be swell if I prepared two of the five courses served. One was a pasta (of course), the other these veal shanks.

It's a really simple dish to prepare.

Salt the shanks well on all sides — and I do mean well. This is no time to be shy. Under-salting at this stage will substantially diminish the flavor of the meat.

In a Dutch oven brown the shanks in hot olive oil, then remove and set aside.

Add lots of leeks and plenty of garlic to the oil, lightly brown, and add some white wine. I also used several anchovy fillets, but you don't have to if you don't want to. You can also add carrots and celery if you like.

Place the shanks back into the pot and add enough chicken stock to nearly cover them. Also add plenty of herbs (there's rosemary, thyme, and marjoram here, and I tied them together with string so that they could be removed later on). Cover and place into a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 325-350 for another 2 hours.

With a fork check to see that the meat is super tender. Dishes like this are always better the next day and so I'd suggest allowing the whole thing to cool and putting the pot in the fridge overnight.

The next day simply reheat, carve up the shanks, and serve them like so. This was the last course of the afternoon, and it seemed to go over pretty well.

Scott Tyree & Giovani Twigge, 10-5-13

Except how do you compete with one of these jobs, am I right?

Nice job, gents!