Thursday, February 26, 2015

The 90-second pasta

If you measure your life not in hours or days or years but in mere moments, well, have I got a pasta for you!

Just last year the Italian pasta maker Rustichella d’Abruzzo came out with a spaghetti that actually cooks in just 90 seconds. The pasta is aptly named “Rapida” and, as you might expect, there was just no way that I could not take it for a test boil.

The spaghetti is made in Italy using a special bronze plate that creates a grooved and hollowed-out shape. The thinking here is that the boiling water can penetrate this pasta’s gluten and starch much faster than with other spaghetti. And there’s nothing unusual about the pasta’s makeup; all it’s made from is semolina and water.

Rustichella is a very fine Italian pasta maker, but I was not expecting very much to come of its new and, in my mind, unnecessarily speedy approach to cooking.

But they surprised me. Not only did the Rapida cook in under two minutes but it tasted the way a good pasta is supposed to taste. I tried it plain and with tomato sauce, and enjoyed the flavor both ways.

The only thing I’d caution about is using the Rapida in dishes where pasta water is an ingredient, or where finishing off in a hot pan is crucial. The pasta isn’t in the water long enough to infuse it with any flavor, and additional heat from cooking in the pan is apt to quickly overcook the spaghetti.

If minutes are that important to you, I'd say give the stuff a try.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Beet ravioli with poppy seeds

Don’t let the crappy picture fool you. These were some of the best ravioli I’ve had in a while. The reason the picture sucks is, well, I made the things on Valentine’s Day, see. Lots of great wines were sampled prior to eating time and so I was not, shall we say, in a mood to responsibly handle a camera. I managed to freeze a few ravioli and shoot the following day, but during boiling they did not hold up so well.

What are you gonna do!

Casunziei, as these ravioli are known, are normally made in a half-moon shape, but as you can see I went in another direction. The beet and ricotta filling is a nice combo, but it’s really the butter sauce and poppy seeds that make this dish really special. The first time I had casunziei was many years ago, at Al Di La in Brooklyn. It’s their signature dish. If you’re ever around you must give it a try (their Trippa alla Toscana too, but that’s another story entirely).

Anyhow, other than the part about making your own pasta dough, and of course being comfortable filling and shaping ravioli, these casunziei are super easy.

It all starts with the beets, and I scored one large enough to handle the whole pasta course. Roast it in aluminum foil until done; when cooled peel off the skin.

There's a lot of moisture inside a beet, and it's best to get rid of it. Most recipes call for running the beets lightly through a food processor but I just used my hands over a colander.

I even used a paper towel to make sure the beets wouldn't be wet.

This turned out to be around a cup's worth of beets. In a bowl I added the beets, 1/2 pound of ricotta, a scant 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and salt and pepper to taste. Most recipes call for the addition of eggs here, but I went without.

Then just mix it up, like so.

If you're a pasta maker then you know the drill. If you aren't, just do it. It's not as difficult as it looks.

What's the worst that could happen?

They could wind up looking like this, or maybe they won't. You'll never know unless you try.

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid. — Goethe

Saucing these things could not be simpler. Just melt a lot of butter in a large pan that can accommodate the ravioli you're making. When the ravioli are done boiling scoop them out of the water and add them to the pan, along with enough (well-salted) pasta water to keep things moist. Grate some more Reggiano over the ravioli and sprinkle a good amount of poppy seeds over them too. You can add a little more cheese and poppy seeds once you've plated.

And that is that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Toni's baccala

I’m in love with a woman who is not my wife. We met at a friend’s beach house in Rhode Island last summer, and within minutes I knew that I was hooked. We cooked and ate good food together, sat by the sea and watched fishing boats go by, sipped wine outside in the evening near the roaring fire pit and talked easily and without pretense.

My wife knows about all of this. Says she can understand how a man like me could fall so hard and so deeply for a woman like Toni. I married well. If the tables were turned I’m not so certain I could be so understanding.

I received a letter from Toni recently. She told me that she missed seeing me on my last trip down to New Bedford and that she looked forward to the next time we might meet again, perhaps this summer at the shore. In the letter was a recipe that she thought I might like to try preparing, a Portuguese baccala (salt cod) dish that Toni said was among her favorites. It’s made with cauliflower and potatoes and onions, not a way that I have ever had salt cod before. “Let me know if you like it,” she wrote.

I didn’t like it Toni, I loved it.

You too.

See you when the snow melts. I hope.

Toni’s Baccala
Salt Cod with Cauliflower & Potatoes

1 head cauliflower
1 1/2 pounds salt cod (soaked and ready to cook)
1 large onion
2 large potatoes
1-2 quarts chicken stock, as needed

Cut the potatoes into large cubes, partly boil then set aside.
Cut the codfish into cubes around an inch thick.
Break apart the cauliflower head and slice the onion, then saute in olive oil in a large pot for around 10 minutes.
Add 1 quart of stock, the potatoes and the cod. Add more stock as needed.
Simmer for around 30 minutes and serve.