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.