This is a recipe I’ve been meaning to try for ages. Cacio e Pepe translates to “Cheese and Pepper”, which is prettymuch all this pasta is. It’s a beautifully simple dish that requires very little in the way of ingredients, time, or skill. For me, it’s a great lazy feel-good meal.
Originating in Rome, this pasta has become a staple of Italians everywhere. And like all things Italian, the ingredients are paramount. Cheese, the first part of Cacio e Pepe, is the heart of the dish; without good cheese, you will not have good Cacio e Pepe. So please, for the love of gastronomy, don’t buy the pre-grated stuff. It’s not as good, devoid of complex flavor, and seriously, how hard is it to grate cheese? On a bad day, it takes me two minutes to grate a whole chunk of parmesan. A traditional Cacio e Pepe uses two cheeses, although there is a fair amount of argument about the ratio of the cheeses. Parmigiano Reggiano, a nutty, salty cheese made from cow’s milk, is the first cheese that is always used. The second cheese is usually Pecorino Romano, another hard salty cheese, but this one is lighter, more fruity and herbal, and made from goat’s milk. Sometimes people use other regional variations, or just forgo the Pecorino and do the recipe just with Parmigiano Reggiano. Personally, I really like the contrast between the Pecorino and the Parmigiano, so I use both. As far as ratios go, I have my preferences: namely 1/2 Pecorino and 1/2 Parmigiano. That’s just me though, as I like a robust, salty end product with enough lightness and creaminess to pull it out at the end. If you’re looking for something lighter, add more Pecorino. If you hate lightness and wish to live on the dark side of the Cacio e Pepe, go all out Parmigiano. It’s totally up to you: you’re the bossta of your pasta. See what I did there? Yeah, my jokes are beginning to sound like my mothers’.
The amount of cheese is something to say attention to as well, since the cheese itself is going to be your sauce. You should have equal amounts of pasta and cheese. Too much cheese and you overwhelm the pasta, too much pasta and you don’t get enough sauce. Speaking of sauce, you’re probably wondering how the hell you’re going to make a sauce with just cheese. But don’t fear: I would never be so cruel as to make you try and make a sauce using just cheese. There will be a few ladles of pasta water involved to slowly melt the cheese and thin it out a bit, as well as the butter and oil the pepper was sauteed in to help develop a bit of flavor and give the sauce some nice cohesion. Again, the amount of pasta water is up to you, depending on how tight or thin you like your sauce. A good rule of thumb is to keep a ratio of 4:3. So if I use a cup of cheese, I should use 3/4 cups of water.
Finally, about the pepper. It’s really the same deal as the cheese: don’t use preground pepper unless you want to resign yourself to a fiery pit of woe. People who use preground pepper are like people who use boneless skinless chicken breasts—evil. Besides, it’s just as cheap and easy to buy peppercorns and a decent pepper grinder. The pepper is more fragrant if you grind it just before use, just like nutmeg. Idealy, you would use a mortar and pestle (it releases more of the fragrances and leaves a nice unevenness to the pepper), but grinders are fine. To get even more flavor out of the pepper, you’ll want to sautee it very quickly in a pan with some butter and oil. I can’t really give you a time, because everyone’s pepper and everyone’s stove is different. It shouldn’t take more than a minute though. Your nose will be your best friend at this point, as you want to cook the pepper until its fragrant. Any more and it will burn.
That takes care of the essentials. And of course, like we’ve talked about before, you’re going to salt your pasta water, and you’re going to use a good brand of pasta, and you’re going to cook it not even until it’s aldente because the pasta will finish cooking in the pan with the sauce. But you already knew all that.
This dish is a fantasticly simple and delicious take on mac and cheese. Light, creamy, multi-layered, and a delight to all the senses. It’s amazing how complex such a simple dish can be. I made this a few nights ago for my girlfriend, who was also surprised at how good it was, seeing as it took only 15 minutes and barely any work.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt and add the spaghetti, cooking about 6 minutes, before it’s aldente.
When the pasta is 1 minute from being done, add the butter and olive oil into a skillet over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the pepper and saute until fragrant. Add 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water and the drained pasta. Slowly incorporate the cheese, stirring and tossing constantly. Once half the cheese is incorporated, add another 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pasta water and continue incorporating the cheese. If the sauce is too thin, add more cheese, if the sauce is too thick, add more water.
Serve immediately on hot plates. Garnish with some extra black pepper and Pecorino Romano.
There’s a lot of pretension surrounding a dish of risotto. Most people are afraid to make it because they see it at fancy restaurants, or because they’ve never tried making it, or even because they don’t know what it is. There tend to be hushed whispers of “oh, that place does a very good risotto”, or “this risotto is divine”. Risotto has become a landmark of culinary achievement for many, and most restaurants will happily charge you $50 for a very nice bowl of truffle risotto. Since its only ever experienced in fancy restaurants at high prices, its hard to imagine making it at home for very cheap. But in fact, the tradition of risotto is a very humble one. Like most starch based dishes, it began its life as a peasant dish, made by people who only had a little vegetation and meat, so they had to use a starchy filler to supplement their vegetables and meat. This starch, for northern Italians, is typically rice. Rice has always been, and still is, one of the ultimate fillers, and it is used the world over to supplement an otherwise meager meal. Risotto is simply the working class Italian version of a hearty, cheap meal. And that’s the sad part: it’s very cheap to make, yet most people see it as an expensive dish. It’s an Italian soul food, yet most urban diners today see it as an Italian luxury.
Of course, rice is not a typically European crop. So where did those crazy Italians get a hold of it and decide to make risotto? Well, rice originated in somewhere in East Asia, around modern day China, Korea, and Japan. It slowly made its way south and west until it reached India, where Persians carried it to the Middle East, and Arabs took it from there to the Nile Delta. In the 8th century, the Islamic Caliphates expanded and eventually reached Spain, where rice was introduced by the invading muslims. Through more Islamic conquests, the introduction of rice became fairly standard for any country on the Mediterranean coast. Ibrahim al-Awwam’s Kitab al-Filaha (Book of Agriculture) mentions rice production in great detail, as well as the author’s suggestion for preparing rice in a mixture of butter, oil, fat, and milk, a combination strikingly similar to what later became risotto. Written in the 12th century, this is one of the earliest traceable recipes for risotto we have today. Although this recipe may bear resemblance to Arabic pilav, Risotto is quite different, being much creamier and more pasta like than a pilav; regardless, this may give us some insight as to risotto’s origin. Rice was introduced into Sicily by Arab invaders, where rice then migrated north through Italy to the Po river valley, which now claims the majority of European rice production. The Po river valley is a perfect environment for growing rice, and it caught on quickly there with many farmers, as rice has a higher nutritional value than most other European starches like barley and wheat. It turned out that it was beneficial for the poorer farmers to be involved in rice production for a number of reasons, nutritional value being a big one.
Almost all rice grown in the Po river valley is short grain. Short grain rice is particularly good for risotto, in the same way that it is good for sushi. Short grain rice has a higher amount of amylopectin than medium and long grain rice, which essentially means that it extrudes starch into its cooking liquid, making it very creamy (or sticky, depending on how it is cooked). This is exactly what we need for risotto, as the starch extruded from the rice is the base of the sauce its cooked in. There are lots of types of short grain rice that are all good for risotto. The most well known is Arborio, which was the first short grain rice to be exported to the United States from Italy. Other types include Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, and Vialone Nano, to name a few. As long as the rice can extrude starch into the surrounding sauce, cook to aldente (like pasta), and not fall apart, you can use it to make risotto. Arborio is probably the easiest to find at your grocery store, but if you see other Italian short grain rices, it’s certainly worth trying them as well.
Now we come to the fun part: making the risotto. It’s actually a lot easier than people think it is. The first step in the process is heating the stock to just below a simmer. This can be any stock, vegetable, chicken, veal, seafood. Try to use the best quality stock you can find, homemade if possible. Over the course of the process, the stock will gradually be ladled into the cooking risotto. Why keep it hot? It makes the pan do less work to maintain the same level of heat on the risotto as its cooking. Unlike other rice dishes, this is a rice dish in which you should not wash, rinse, or otherwise manhandle the rice beforehand; the whole point is to get as much starch out of the rice as its cooking, not to take off the surface starch before it cooks. Washing would completely defeat the process of making a risotto. Do not wash your rice. Ever. Seriously, don’t do it. You’ll end up with a sad risotto, and nobody likes sad risotto. Finely dice an onion or shallot and sweat in some butter over medium heat, with a bit of salt added. There should be no color on the onion/shallot, the sweating is just to get the raw flavor and water out of the onion/shallot and to develop flavor. After the onion/shallot has sweated for a few minutes, the rice is added and cooked lightly for another few minutes, just until the outside edges of the grains are translucent. Deglazing is done with a dry white wine, or some stock if you don’t have wine. Once you deglaze, turn the heat to low, so the risotto is just below a simmer. For the next 20 minutes, you will add stock one ladle at a time, stirring to incorporate. Do not believe the stigma that you have to constantly stir; this is false. Stir once every minute or two, just so the rice all cooks evenly, and to give the abrasive power so the starch can come out into the sauce. But constant stirring is totally unnecessary. When you can sweep your spoon across the bottom of the pot and can actually see the bottom of the pot, its time to add more stock. Continue feeding the risotto with stock until it is a texture you like. Make sure to taste for salt as it gets close to being done. Risotto is much like pasta in terms of when its done. I like mine aldente, so there’s a bit of a bite in the middle and mine is done earlier. If you like your pasta soft, your risotto will take a few more minutes. It will generally take about 20 minutes from start to finish on the stove. Once your risotto is done, add a little parmesan and dot the top with butter. Stir to incorporate and serve immediately. If risotto sits around for too long, it gums together.
But Kevin, you will inevitably ask, what about adding some vegetables or other flavorings to my risotto? You can certainly do that, in whatever combination you like. Wild mushrooms that have been sauteed with a bit of butter and thyme do nicely, or just some blanched spring vegetables thrown in a few minutes before the risotto is done cooking. You could even add some cooked prawns and a bit of basil. The choice is yours for flavoring. There are generally two ways flavoring agents are added. If they need a long time to cook, they are cooked separately and added to the risotto when its done. Some things, like asparagus, don’t take very long to cook and can be added to the risotto a few minutes before its done so that it can cook with the risotto. As long as you’re not relying too much on the risotto to cook something big, you’ll be fine.
So there you have it: a comprehensive guide to risotto. But of course, I can’t just turn you loose, I have to give you a jumping off point. What do I like to do with my risotto? I treat it simply, like I would with a pasta. I don’t have a recipe in mind when I go to the store, I just see what looks good and formulate a recipe while I’m there. Like just yesterday, I went to the store and saw some gorgeous oyster mushrooms and creminis, so I decided I would make a mushroom risotto. Here’s how I did it.
-1 cup short grain Italian rice -2 1/2 cups chicken stock -6 tablespoons butter -1 shallot, finely diced -2 ounces parmagiano reggiano -1/4 cup dry white wine -2 cloves garlic, minced -2 teaspoons thyme -1 lb mushrooms, roughly chopped -kosher salt
Heat the stock in a small pot. When the stock is hot, put a large, heavy pot on medium heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme, along with a generous amount of salt to draw the water out of the mushrooms. Once the water has evaporated, cook the mushrooms until they become brown, about 5 more minutes. Set aside and reserve. Wipe out the pot.
With the pot back on medium heat, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. When the butter is melted, add the shallots and sweat with no color for about 3 minutes using a wooden spoon. After the shallots are done, add the rice and toast just until they become translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add the wine and stir to incorporate. Once the wine has reduced by half, add in enough stock just to cover the rice. Stir the rice for a minute or so, just so the liquid is incorporated. After a few minutes, once the liquid has been absorbed to the point where you can scrape your spoon through the risotto and see very clearly the bottom of the pot, add another ladle of stock and stir. Repeat until almost all of the stock has been incorporated and the rice is aldente.
Taste for salt a few minutes before the risotto is done, and add the mushrooms to heat them through. Once the risotto is done, add the parmigiano reggiano and dot the top with the remaining butter. Stir to incorporate and serve immediately.
Fresh pasta has always been high on my list of things to make. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of hype surrounding it, making it a very intimidating process. I tried to put off learning how to make pasta for as long as I could. But I knew that some day, I would inevitably need to know how to make fresh pasta myself.
That day came in the form of two days this past week. My employer has decided to cut my hours back to less than 30 hours per week, so I have considerably more time to play around in the kitchen. I thought my three days off would be the perfect time to play with some fresh pasta. Armed with bags of flour, clean counter tops, and a cup of tea, I set to work making my pasta.
Now there are a few things to consider when making fresh pasta: flour type, drying, and cooking. I will go over these three essentials briefly.
On flours, I’ve always been told that you should use semolina flour when making pasta dough because of the higher protein content. This develops the gluten in the pasta better and allows for easier rolling. Most of the time, the ratio is about half semolina flour and half all purpose flour. The idea is that semolina provides the texture whilst the all purpose provides the flavor. This worked fairly well for me. Be aware though, fresh pasta is an entirely different animal from the dried pasta you always buy in boxes at the store. It has more flavor of it’s own, and with semolina flour, it tastes mildly of corn. The flavor is definitely more robust and earthy, which I think is great for certain purposes. As you can see by the picture above, I paired my pasta with bacon, red onion, and mint. The flavors stood up well to this robust pasta. However, if you prefer the taste of boxed pasta, a taste that is more mellow and unobtrusive, using all purpose flour only will give you the desired effect. Just keep in mind that using only all purpose can lead to uneven rolling and will be a bit harder to work with. Of course, not having a pasta roller, my rolling was done by hand and was shoddy at best. I tried to roll the dough thin enough for ravioli, which ended horridly with undercooked ravioli and an overcooked filling. I used the rest of the all purpose dough for a simple tomato basil sauce, which worked brilliantly. I did find my semolina dough was easier to work with in general, but this may have been because I was more tentative when rolling it out. With the all purpose I used a lot of force (because I had to in order to actually roll out the dough).
Once my pasta was cut, I came to a pasta dilemma: to dry or not to dry, that was the question. So I did what an Italian told me, because I generally figure Italians know what they’re talking about with pasta: let it dry. Apparently it loses all semblance of texture if you cook it immediately, no matter how short of a time you cook it. Personally, I like to have a bit of bite to my pasta, so I did the Italian thing and let it dry, spread out on a cooling rack and a cookie sheet lined with parchment. The pasta certainly wasn’t as brittle as boxed, but it didn’t flop all over the place like a limp sausage either. You know the ones I’m talking about; the little sausages on which the casing is too big, and they can never firm up even when coated with hot oil. Okay maybe this is going a bit too far. Either way, dry pasta is good pasta. It doesn’t have to be a fancy pasta drying contraption like plenty of places will want to market to you. You can just do what I did and use a baking sheet, making sure to give the maximal amount of air coverage possible to each piece of pasta.
Finally, we come to cooking. This is another place where a lot of people get pasta wrong. Many people are used to overcooked, flavorless pasta. This can be avoided by using a few very simple techniques. I’m really not even sure they should be called techniques, more like tips. Make sure the water is at a rolling boil before adding the pasta, and add a good amount of salt before adding the pasta. By a good amount, I don’t mean a teaspoon. The water should be cloudy with salt and should even taste salty. The idea is to get the water salty like seawater. Let the pasta cook and keep testing every minute. Take it out about a minute before you think it will be done, because it will continue to cook a little out of the water. The middle of the pasta should be firm and white. Aldente, which means “to the tooth” in Italian, is this state of slightly undercooked pasta that is in fact perfectly cooked. This goes for all pasta, not just fresh pasta.
With all this in mind, anyone can make a perfect fresh pasta. I can’t really take credit for a recipe for fresh pasta because, once again, I used Chef John’s recipe from FoodWishes. I did, however, substitute one cup of semolina to make the ratio of semolina to all purpose about even. Here’s his recipe:
-2 1/4 cups all purpose flour -1 teaspoon Kosher salt -1 tablespoon olive oil -2 large eggs -1/3 cup water
Make a mountain out of your flour. Dig a deep hole into the middle. Crack the eggs and put them in the hole, along with the salt and olive oil. Use a fork to beat the mixture until thoroughly combined. Start adding flour in from the pile, little by little. This will take a while, so be patient and gentle. At the point where your egg mixture looks like cake batter, stop using the fork and incorporate the rest with your hands, drizzling the water over while you mix. Knead for about 8 minutes (this is a dough in which we really want to develop the gluten). It should be smooth like a baby’s bottom, and should bounce back slightly if you poke at it. Cover and let sit for about an hour.
Roll the dough out using a pasta roller or a rolling pin, then cut it to desired shape. Dry using a dowel rod, or on a baking sheet, for at least two hours.
Cook in boiling salted water for 3 to 5 minutes. Strain and serve.
So many Chicken Cacciatore recipes are dry and blan. This one is amazing, I made it a while ago for my whole family (who are very picky and health conscious) and they were very impressed.
6 chicken breasts
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour, for dredging
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 ( 28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons drained capers
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
Sprinkle the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly.
In a large heavy saute pan, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and saute just until brown, about 5 minutes per side. If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, saute it in 2 batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Add the bell pepper, onion and garlic to the same pan and saute over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, broth, capers and oregano. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and turn them to coat in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue simmering over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 30 minutes.
Using tongs, transfer the chicken to an over safe casserole dish. Broil for about 5 minutes. If necessary, boil the sauce until it thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Spoon off any excess fat from atop the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with the basil and serve.
I was in Portland recently, and on a whim, I decided to try out an Italian restaurant a friend had suggested to me called Basta’s Trattoria.It’s a tiny little place in downtown Portland that serves classic Italian food.
The restaurant itself is quite small, and is divided between the bar section and the dining room section.I have a suspicion that it wasn’t always a restaurant, as the layout is peculiar.The decor doesn’t quite seem to meld either.For the most part, the decor is modern and hip, but the carpet on the dining room looks like a bank from the 80’s, and the furniture is a bit tacky.Honestly, it felt like I was sitting in conference room as I was eating, which was quite distracting.They masked it well with tasteful art and candles, but just looking down at the floor made me cringe a little.Then came the menu, or should I say, menus.It was daunting: they gave me three menus: one very expansive drink menu, one dinner menu, and one specials menu.Usually, you would get one menu with the drink section in the back and possibly an insert for the specials.Juggling three menus was not the most pleasant thing.
The servers were very nice, and were happy to take care of your every need.I was surprised to find that they had about a dozen types of beer all on tap, and asked what the amber ale was like.In reply, the server said, “I’ll bring you a taste if you want,” to which I immediately replied “Yes.”Of course, it took her about five minutes to get around to giving me the sample and then taking my drink order.The servers were also a bit clumsy: I can recall three times over the course of my meal that something was dropped close to my table.I will say, they were friendly and knowledgeable, but they weren’t completely professional, being rather slow and a bit awkward.A word of fair warning though: if you are going to go there, be early, because parking is a nightmare.
But looking past that, the food was simply excellent.Of course, the bread came first: it was a thick, soft bread that had subtle hints of rosemary and garlic and was dusted with sea salt.Served alongside it was a plate with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.A pedestrian enough dipping sauce, but a good compliment, although I opted to just enjoy the blissful bread on its own.Their appetizer menu was actually the most interesting of their choices, so I loaded up and got two appetizers: baby octopus and quail.I have never eaten baby octopus before, and I’m happy to report that I love it, at least the way they prepared it.The octopus was more salty than sweet, and it was surrounded by a savory tomato sauce and perched on top of pieces of toast.The melding of all the components was wonderfully savory, and the octopus’ tenderness was texturally complimented by the crisp toast.It was a divine dish, and I was very impressed.And the quail was perfectly juicy and tender, and had a distinct wood smoke flavor to it.Now that is a rarity: when most restaurants say “grilled” they mean that they’ll put grill marks on it, but they actually meant “grilled” at Basta’s.It was served with a sweet polenta underneath, but the polenta was a bit cold when it came out.I was able to get in one bite of polenta and quail together, and the combination was, again, wonderful.Unfortunately, the polenta coagulated very quickly, so I could only enjoy the quail (A tragedy, but I boldly endured).After that came the two main courses I ordered.Yes, two main courses on top of two appetizers, but I had been driving for six hours and was hungry.There was a steelhead (which is a salmon-like fish) in a aromatic tomato and shallot sauce served with potatoes and collard greens, as well as a serving of the house specialty rigatoni ragu with braised baby back rib meat in it.First, the steelhead was perfectly cooked (still juicy and firm) and married well with the sauce.The aromatic taste was carried over to the collard greens, which were marvelous when paired with the steelhead.It was really the taste of garlic that brought the whole dish together.Then, the ragu: oh, where to begin?The pasta was done perfectly for sopping up the excess sauce, and I put that feature to use, as the sauce was just like a perfect comfort-food, home-made tomato sauce with basil.The real star though was the rib meat.It was very tender, and was marbled so that you would always get a bite of meat and a little fat.When it was all combined, it made a combination that tasted like the best home-cooked meal ever.It transported me to an evening in Tuscany, with Mama Roberta bringing me a bowl full of this ragu and a glass of red wine to enjoy in simple comfort.It is quite possibly the best pasta I’ve ever had.And for all that, the bill was only $50.That’s two beers and four dishes for $50!The bill was honestly better than dessert.
If you can get past the bad parking, questionable atmosphere, and well-meaning but slow and awkward service, Basta’s Trattoria will reward you with a wonderful meal for a decent price, done as a tribute to true Italian cooking: by using simple ingredients prepared well in interesting combinations.I am going back next time I go to Portland.
My birthday was only a few days ago, and for my birthday dinner, I went out to a little Italian place in eastlake called Serafina. It’s a cozy little restaurant, and it doesn’t seem like it was particularly well-laid out, but the ambiance is very hip, classy, and even sexy. It’s a bit like Tango in that respect, and I think the concept really works. There’s a small stage that usually has a piano player tapping out some older jazz standards. In terms of wait staff, they’re quite friendly and seem to have all the personality that is usually lacking in other waiters. I had a delightful conversation with the busser about the ginger beer I was drinking. They may be a bit slow coming to the table, but that’s because they are very tactful, knowing exactly when to come around and ask about the food or refill the water so as not to interrupt conversation or catch you mid-bite. One waitress refilled my water without me even noticing, and that’s not easy. They certainly don’t employ just anyone, and it shows.
But enough of that fluff, I want to write about the food! I believe that bread is the best way to judge a restaurant, and Serafina delivered with an almost melt in your mouth bread with a hearty crust. And the dipping sauce they give you is very simple (just olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and parsley) and just brings the bread to a whole new level. As happy as I would’ve been to gorge myself on bread, there was actually a menu to order from. The appetizer: crustini with salsa verde, fresh mozzarella, and arugula. It was divine and was a perfect starter, as it stimulated my taste buds and got me ready for the culinary heaven ahead. Then came the pasta: pappardelle with rabbit. I’ve never had rabbit before, and this was a wonderful introduction to it. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and it was in a parmesan sauce that was well balanced and fresh. Rabbit rested on top of the pasta, and it tasted like a cross between duck and venison. I also sampled some of my mom’s butternut squash ravioli in a sage butter sauce, which was excellently balanced. But the main course was the best. I rarely stare at dishes as they come towards the table, but this was a rare exception. I pretended to still be listening to the conversation, but in fact I was really concentrating on the beautiful dish of duck confit coming from the kitchen. It was set down in front of me, and immediately I began eating. The duck was perfectly tender and juicy, and quite possibly the best I’ve ever had. Under the duck was a generous helping of potato gnocchi and a citrus marmelatta. The marmelatta hit on both the sour, acidic notes of the orange peel, and it even incorporated almost jellied strips of peel, but it also hit on the sweet, perfumy note of the orange meat. It was a wonderful combination with the gnocchi and the duck. It was heavenly. Dessert consisted of crab apples in a tamarind sauce and a selection of three cheeses. I’m a cheese fiend, and this was a wonderful selection. La tur was my favorite: a combination of cow, goat, and sheep cheese that was quite runny. It was very light and fragrant, and had a very creamy undertone.
The entire experience left me feeling like a King, and it was all for the price of minor nobility. Good place, great service, and exceptional food!
I love pasta, especially with pesto. This recipe is so simple and wonderfully delicious. You’ll love it. By the way, I don’t know why Bree hasn’t posted in a while (probably just busy), but I’ll keep the posts coming until she starts posting again.
1 pound penne pasta 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced 4 cloves of garlic 8 oz mozzarella, cubed 1 cup pesto (store bought, or recipe below) Parmesan cheese Kosher salt Red pepper flakes (optional) Olive oil
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt and pour in the pasta, then reduce heat. In a medium skillet, add a tablespoon of olive oil, then saute the garlic for about a minute, or until it is fragrant, then add the sliced tomatoes and saute until soft. Once the pasta is barely aldente, strain it and put it back in the pot. Add the garlic and tomato mixture, pesto, mozzarella, and a handful of Parmesan. Stir over low heat until the mozzarella cubes have melted. At this point I add some crushed red pepper flakes, but you don’t have to. Serves 4 to 6. I’ve also added roasted chicken, about a half pound.
2 cups fresh basil leaves 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts 2 garlic cloves 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning 1/2 to 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Method:
In a blender or food processor, pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper until finely chopped. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil until the mixture forms a smooth and thick consistency. Add the Parmesan and pulse until combined. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Makes about 1 to 1 1/2 cups. I will sometimes make large batches at a time and put the excess in bags to go in the freezer.
Since I’ve been writing more, I have been experimenting with a lot of different healthy snack foods.It always breaks my concentration to get up and make something complex and then come back to my writing, or to eat something that isn’t very satisfying as a snack, like Chex Mix.Don’t get me wrong, I love Chex Mix, but I just feel this horrible weight in the pit of my stomach when I eat any sort of junk/convenience snack food.
So I thought, “What is healthy, easy, and delicious?” My mind immediately jumped to the ultimate combination of Italian cuisine: caprese.For those of you who don’t know what caprese is, allow me to explain.Caprese is an Italian invention, comprising of tomato, mozzarella, and basil.It’s a wonderfully healthy snack, as the ingredients are all fresh and simple.The tomatoes should be fresh and ripe.To test ripeness, don’t pay attention to color.There are many times when food producers genetically engineer a tomato to appear red and juicy before it is ripe.It should be firm, but the flesh should have a little give to it.Basil should also be fresh: I keep a basil plant in a box with other herbs outside, but during the winter I just buy it from the store.It should be fragrant and never look bruised.And of course, the mozzarella should be fresh mozzarella: that’s imperative.Usually you can pat it down with a paper towel to dry it out a bit before you cut it. People like to prepare caprese a variety of different ways.I’ve put my caprese on pieces of baguette and toast them in the oven.It’s also nice to use grape tomatoes and just put the ingredients on a bamboo skewer.Some people like to drizzle balsamic vinegar over the top of it too.But I prefer the classic way: tomato, basil, mozzarella, with some salt, pepper, and olive oil.You can make a huge batch and then just store it in the fridge for later snacking.I could eat caprese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and I’m fairly sure there have been some days when I actually have).It’s a wonderful snack that is easy to make and won’t weigh you down.