All Posts Tagged ‘Pasta

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A look back — 2015 in review.

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A week late because that’s how life works.

2015. What a year. Truth be told, it was a doozy. I got to stroll through Paris on a perfect summer’s night and I got to relish the view from atop Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai. I also experienced the absolute punch in the gut of my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and have spent much of the year coming to terms with what that means for him, for me, and for our family. I left an old job, I got a new job, I left New York! I laughed (a lot), I cried (a lot, mostly behind closed doors but occasionally in the middle of dinner with friends because they are wonderful and they care about me immensely), I cooked and ate a lot a lot (some healthy, some not so healthy, some downright indulgent). The highs were really high and the lows were really low, and I end the year on a different coast than I started. And through it all, this little blog o’ mine was a constant source of comfort and a creative outlet and a way to connect with all of my people (all 35 of you).

So in celebration of all that was, here are a few highlights of the culinary variety that I will cherish from 2015.

Favorite Things I Ate in 2015
Dumplings with Black Vinegar & Chili Sauce in Flushing, NY: Do yourself a favor the next time you find yourself in the New York City metropolitan area: take the 7 train all the way to the Flushing Main Street stop, head across the street to the New World Mall and take the escalator down to the basement food court (just go with me on this one). Look for the two little ladies in the corner making dumplings by hand. Run to them as if they are your long lost surrogate Chinese grandmothers. Order one of each kind of dumpling (the pork and chive are my faves) and dive right in (don’t forget the black vinegar. Never forget the black vinegar). They’re cheap, authentic and crazy delicious. You’ll work up an appetite on the commute out, but your efforts will be handsomely rewarded.

Brillat Savarin Cheese in Paris, France: How can you go wrong with French cheese? The answer is you cannot. But when I laid my hands on this creamy slice of heaven for the first time (shout out to the cheesemonger in Montmartre who steered me in this glorious direction), it was like I had never eaten cheese before. Rich, creamy, perfect for slathering on a freshly baked french baguette. Did my cholesterol suffer as a result? Definitely. Was it worth it? Hoooooo boy was it ever. (P.S. they sell this cheese at Whole Foods so get thee some toute suite).

Kauai Waffle with Mango & Bananas and Coconut Syrup at Hanalei Coffee Roasters on Kauai, HI: Hi, my name is Tina and I don’t like sweet breakfast foods (Hi, Tina). I know, I’m a weirdo but give me bacon and eggs over pancakes any day of the week. Except Saturday, June 20th, 2015, when I first experienced the Kauai waffle. This tiny coffee shop on the North Shore of Kauai churns out these bad boys for locals and tourists alike, and you’d be a fool to pass on them. They’re light and fluffy and I swear the fruit gets picked off of a tree out back, sliced up and placed directly on the waffle because it is the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted. Also, coconut syrup. Who knew? A revelation.

Sushi from Shoga in Sandpoint, ID: Yes, that’s right, the best sushi I had all year was from a sushi bar in Idaho. Deal with it, snobs. The fish was crazy fresh, the sushi rice was on point, and I’ve never had better spicy tuna. Look ‘em up the next time you’re in North Idaho (because I know that’s a regular destination for all of you); their sister restaurant, 41 South, is also a treat.

Pan Roasted Cauliflower at Imperial in Portland, OR: My first truly great meal after my return to Portland! This city knows what it’s doing when it comes to food (see here please), so I wasn’t at all surprised that my meal at Imperial was fantastic. But the star of the show was the pan-roasted cauliflower with hummus and cara cara oranges. You know when cauliflower gets nice and brown and crispy and caramelized and it’s just the best? This was that x 1000. The rich earthiness of the cauliflower was perfectly paired with the brightness of the oranges and the hummus just rounded everything out in the best, creamiest way possible. Had I not been in a public setting, I definitely would have licked the bowl. But maybe I also did lick the bowl anyway? #sogood

Favorite Things I Cooked in 2015
Ricotta Toast w/ Lemon & Honey: Simple, easy, can be done a thousand different ways. Toast had a moment in 2015 and I was right there to try ‘em all. This one, however, came out on top for me (closely followed by OG Avocado Toast), due to its simple, fresh flavors of Spring.

Cacio e Pepe: This was the dish I came back to most in 2015. There really is nothing more satisfying than a simple bowl of pasta and cheese, and it’s so easy to throw together and so easy to jazz up, I will eat cacio e pepe for many years to come.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake: Showstopper! This was a fun one. One of those recipes that you try on a whim and you probably don’t make very often because it’s, shall we say, rather labor intensive. But it was equally as delicious and was a big hit among my rhubarb-loving coworkers. Plus, it’s real pretty.

Chicken Tortilla Stew: My favorite Fall/Winter dish, this one got a lot of people talking. It’s spicy and tangy and it warms your insides, perfect for an afternoon of football or a Saturday night dinner party or reheated on a chilly Tuesday. It’s all things to all people, the everyman’s stew. And it’s just crazy good.

Cinnamon Rolls & Bacon on Christmas Morning: OK, I’ll amend my ‘no sweet breakfast foods’ to include one item — I LOVE cinnamon rolls. So this year I thought I’d make them from scratch for Christmas morning (these ones, if you’re curious). And they were great! They aren’t beginner’s baker territory (any recipe that spans over multiple days is not for a beginner in my book), but they were worth the effort. Fry up a little bacon along side and you’re all set. Heart attack! Come at me.

Favorite Food Memories of 2015
Brunch at Russ & Daughters in New York, NY: Such a quintessential New York day. You get out of bed early, throw on about 16 layers of clothing and head out into the sub zero temperatures. Gotta get those bagels, y’all. I met a few favorite friends and we sat around in our cozy sweaters and gobbled up our perfect bagels with perfect lox and perfect cream cheese and it was heaven. Lots of laughter, lots of coffee, endless potato latkes. A cozy respite of warmth from an otherwise chilled to the bone day. I love New York for days like these, they are what makes the city so goddamn special.

Dinner at Bistroy Les Papilles in Paris, France: Bold statement — this was my favorite restaurant meal of 2015. I mean, they had a bit of an advantage going in, seeing that this is a tiny bistro in Paris run by a Michelin-starred chef that is also a wine shop and you choose your dinner wine by grabbing a bottle off the wall. It feels like you’re being invited into the chef’s home to eat, and eat you do, incredibly well. The entire meal was perfection — from the delicious wine to the falling off the bone lamb shank (oh, the lamb shank), to the gorgeous cheese course to the creme brûlée for dessert. My dinner date and I stumbled out of the restaurant as if in a fever dream, not quite sure what we had just experienced was real (also, we were probably drunk). It was insane, I still dream about it, I won’t ever forget it.

Tart night in New York, NY: Bolder statement — this was my favorite home-cooked meal of 2015 (not really a bold statement). My absolute favorite nights are those that come together spontaneously. You go in with no expectations because you’d had no time to build it up in your head, and you end up having the best of times. A roof deck with a perfect view of Manhattan at dusk doesn’t hurt either. What started as a wild experiment in baking ended in a laughter-filled night with favorite friends, gobbling up summer’s bounty and washing it down with endless rosé. Good food, good friends, good wine — what more could a girl ask for?

Clamming on Long Island, West Islip, NY: One of the saddest things I can think of is the potential of a shellfish allergy. I don’t have one, THANK GOD, but if I did, there would be tears. And because I don’t have a shellfish allergy, I was able to fully embrace digging around in the sand of the Great South Bay lookin’ for clams with my favorite LI residents. Clamming is not a graceful exercise; it mostly involves wading around in hip deep water digging your heels into the sand waiting to feel the bump of a shell. Clamming is not a speedy exercise; it takes a few hours at minimum to produce a take large enough for an actual meal. But. BUT. When you take these puppies home, scrub ‘em up, and steam them juuuuust enough to open with a little white wine and garlic and fresh herbs, it is all WORTH IT. Man, is it. Company wasn’t too shabby either.

Lunch at Machine Shed, Davenport, IA: This was a bittersweet memory. There was the joy of having most of my Radeke family together again at one table, something we haven’t done in many years. There was some really, really good fried chicken and biscuits. Maybe the best I’ve ever had. And there was the ultimate realization, through a few simple interactions, that my father is sick, and things will never be the same. I walked away from that meal with two things: One — the belief that family is everything and moments like that are not endless, so you better cherish them while you can. And Two — a butter dish shaped like a cow.

So much good in 2015, and so much good to look forward to in 2016. I hope all of you had memories to cherish from the last year, thank you for sticking with this crazy ride of mine along the way!

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sunday dinner: gnocchi pomodoro with fresh mozzarella.

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Guys. Hi! Guess what? I moved to Portland, Oregon. Say whaaaaat?! Yes, Plumber’s Daughter has gone West. Well, returned to the West is more accurate. My roots are here, my family is here, and now, after a nine year stint away, I’m here.

This was a big move, and one that came about rather quickly. To be honest, I wasn’t ready. New York and I were in a committed, long term relationship. He was about to put a ring on it. But, as Hugh Laurie so astutely observes, ‘It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready,’ so here I am, in a new/old city, writing a new chapter. And you know what? So far so good.

Here are the things that have happened since I moved to Portland:

  1. It’s been raining like a motherfucker. Harsh words, yes, but when Oregon is breaking rain records, you know it’s serious. Where oh where have you gone, my beloved sunshine? Can we please do lunch soon? Call me.
  2. I’ve taken up loom weaving. Hey, if you’re going to move to the hipster capital of America, you should probably take up a super obscure craft. Here’s to many a sexy afternoon spent in a yarn store.
  3. So much has changed, and yet, so little has changed. I drove (drove!) past the Thai restaurant I basically lived in in college and it’s still freaking there. Fried bananas and thai iced tea for life, y’all. At the same time, entire new neighborhoods have sprung up that didn’t exist when I lived here before (did you know that Portland also has a neighborhood named Brooklyn? I sure didn’t).
  4. New city, new chapter, new JOB. Three weeks in and I’ve figured out where my office is and where the cafeteria is. That’s success in my book. #onboarding

I’m on the right track here in the PNW, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss New York. The city will forever live in my heart, and will always be a major player in my kitchen. One of the last dinners I had in NYC was at one of my faves, Frank, a tiny hole in the wall East Village red sauce joint. It’s classic New York. Classic Italian. And you don’t go to Frank without ordering the gnocchi. A straight forward dish, Frank’s gnocchi is simply red sauce and pasta with a little basil. And yet, it’s the most comforting thing you’ll ever eat, and it’s one of the things I miss most about the city that never sleeps.

My version of gnocchi and red sauce has a few ingredients not seen in Frank’s version, namely the welcome addition of fresh mozzarella. It captures the spirit of Frank, and the spirit of New York City, and it will be my go to when I miss the city the most.

This dish is a breeze to bring together — if you can boil water and operate an oven, you can master this business. Enjoy it with some good crusty bread to soak up the extra sauce, a big ol’ glass of red wine, and friends/loved ones who won’t judge you for making weird guttural noises at the table and licking the bowl because it’s just that good.

If I can’t be in NYC, this is certainly the second best option.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Gnocchi Pomodoro with Fresh Mozzarella
Serves: 4 appetizer portions or 2 entree portions

You will need:

¼ cup plus one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh basil plus more for garnish
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ yellow onion, diced
1 28-oz can tomatoes, diced or crushed
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup half and half
1 package fresh gnocchi pasta
10 small cherry-sized fresh mozzarella balls, halved
½ cup parmesan cheese, finely grated

Kitchen equipment: large oven safe sauté pan, large pot

Ahhhh, just looking at the ingredients of this dish gets me all kinds of excited. So much YUM up in here.

Start the pomodoro sauce. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add all of the fresh herbs (with the exception of the basil to be used for garnish) and toss quickly to coat the herbs in the oil. Cook for approximately 5 minutes until the herbs are crisp. The goal here is to infuse the herb flavor into the oil which will bring a brightness to the pomodoro sauce. Once the herbs are crisp, remove them from the oil and discard. Add the garlic and onions to the oil and cook until fragrant and translucent, about 5-7 minutes, turning the heat down slightly if necessary so you don’t burn the garlic (burnt garlic = bitter = bad).

Add the tomatoes to the garlic/onion mixture, making sure to include all the juices from the can. Stir to incorporate and season with salt, pepper and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes until the sauce reduces and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in half and half.

Cook the pasta. Heat some generously salted water to boiling in a large pot. Add the gnocchi and cook for approximately 3 minutes, until pasta floats to the top of the water. Remove the cooked gnocchi from the water and immediately transfer to the pan with the pomodoro sauce, spreading evenly.

Bring it all together. Set your oven to broil, ensuring you have an oven rack in the top position. Add the halved mozzarella balls to the pasta and sauce, distributing evenly among the gnocchi. Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the top of the pasta and mozzarella and drizzle with the extra tablespoon of olive oil. Season with a bit more pepper and red pepper flakes if you like. Place the pan in the oven on the top rack and broil for 5-7 minutes, watching closely, until the cheese is melted and the gnocchi are crisp and golden brown. Remove from oven, top with basil garnish and serve immediately.

Warm and rich and cozy and bright, all with a little kick. New York City in a bowl. The perfect reminder of my favorite city, and something to cherish in the new place I call home.

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sunday dinner: pork ragu with parmesan semolina gnocchi.

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Oooooooh boy. Guys, I am tired. A full day (and I mean FULL) in the kitchen will do that to you, but I am hear to say that the effort was totally worth it. Any day that starts with purchasing a bone-in pork shoulder from my friendly neighborhood butcher and ends with a flavor-packed bowl of pork ragu topped with pillowy light gnocchi laced with parmesan is a good one. HOO-RAH. Two times.

You too can have this kind of fun if you’re willing to dedicate a full day (or two) to this laborious process. Truth be told I’ve been wanting to try a Sunday sauce for a long time now, but I never had the time or the willpower to take on the task. Enter a rainy Sunday morning when I happened to be awake on the north side of 9am (I like to sleep, no judgement). And I was just inspired. Pair that with finding the perfect recipe to try and I was off to the market, canvas totes in tow.

The quality of ingredients is key here — splurge a bit for some really great quality pork and DO NOT go for boneless pork shoulder because ‘it’s easier’ or ‘bones, ewww, gross’. You’ll lose out on major flavor and that is a no no where ragu is concerned. Grab the veggies (local, organic pretty please) and a good bottle of dry red (I used Cab) and get to cookin’.

I can guarantee you’ll feel mighty accomplished when you sit down to enjoy your labor of love in 8-ish (OK, maybe 10-ish) hours time.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pork Ragu with Parmesan Semolina Gnocchi
Serves: 6
(inspired by this recipe from The Kitchn)

For the pork ragu:
canola oil
4 lb. bone-in pork shoulder, trimmed of fat
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finally chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice (I like San Marzano)
1 cup chicken stock
pinch of red pepper flakes
pinch of sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced

For the gnocchi:
4 cups whole milk
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup grated parmesan, divided
3 eggs yolks, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon sea salt

Kitchen equipment: large oven-safe pot or dutch oven, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, baking sheet, wooden spoon or spatula, cutting board, large kitchen knife

OK, I was not lying/exaggerating, this recipe really does take ALL DAY. Like so much of your day that it’s actually better to do this over two days. However you choose to get it done, just know that you will be spending some major time in the kitchen, so cancel the rest of your weekend plans. Okie dokie, we’re good to go now, yes?

Make the gnocchi dough. Were you looking for a little arm workout for your Sunday? Well, you’ve got one. Making this gnocchi dough requires constant stirring for what feels like 4 lifetimes, so you’ll come away with a gorgeous dish and some sweet guns. Bonus points all around.

Grab your sauce pan and heat the milk over medium heat until a ring of bubbles forms around the edges. Using your wooden spoon, gradually stir the semolina flour into the milk and set a timer for 15 minutes. Now, stir. And stir and stir and stir and stir. The mixture will thicken quickly and you will keep stirring. Don’t forget to clear the corners and the sides of the pan every once in awhile to prevent the semolina from burning. Keep stirring constantly until your alarm goes off, then stir for 2-3 minutes longer. The dough should be dense and very thick. Remove from the heat and pour the dough into a large bowl. Mix in 2/3 cup of the parmesan and stir to incorporate. Add the eggs and the salt and stir vigorously to incorporate (and to prevent the eggs from scrambling). Let cool slightly, then place some plastic wrap directly on the surface of the dough. Stick the dough in the refrigerator and cool completely. Alternatively, you can make this the night before and refrigerate overnight to save time on sauce day.

Prep the pork. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place your pork shoulder on a large cutting board and trim off the excess skin and fat. Pat the pork dry and season liberally on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat your large pot over high heat and add a few tablespoons of canola oil. When the oil is hot, add the pork shoulder to the pot and sear on all sides until golden brown. Remove the pork from the pot and set aside.

Build the sauce. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the chopped bacon to the pot you used to cook the pork. Render the bacon for about five minutes, then add the onions, carrots and celery. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and cook another minute or so.

Toss in the tablespoon of tomato paste and stir the mixture constantly to incorporate, about two minutes. Pour in the wine and cider vinegar and turn the heat up a bit. The goal is to reduce the sauce slightly and pick up all those gorgeous brown bits on the bottom. Add the tomatoes and all of their juice and season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Cook the pork. Add the pork shoulder back to the pot, and using your tongs, situate the pork so it’s nearly submerged in the sauce. Add a liberal pinch of red pepper flakes and a big ol’ pinch of sugar plus a bit more salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate.

Bring the pork and sauce to a boil, then cover and transfer to the oven. Cook about three hours, turning the pork once, until the meat is falling off the bone and easily shreddable.

Finish the sauce. Remove the pot from the oven and transfer the pork shoulder from the pot to your cutting board. Shred the pork while still hot using two forks. Add the shredded pork back to the sauce and stir to incorporate. Cover and place in the refrigerator to cool. You don’t want to skip this step, as this allows the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken.

Cook the gnocchi. When the sauce is completely cooled and you’re ready to eat, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Take the gnocchi dough from the refrigerator and grab your baking sheet. Grease the sheet with a little canola oil and a paper towel, then using a spoon, form tablespoon-sized dumplings and place them on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart.

Sprinkle a little parmesan on each dumpling, then place in the oven on the top rack and cook for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is nicely browned.

Bring it all together. Take the cooled pork ragu out of the refrigerator and reheat over medium-low heat until warm. Ladle the sauce into bowls and top with the gnocchi, a little sprinkle of parmesan and some freshly chopped basil.

Enjoy your work with a nice glass of bold red and a group of loved ones. Or with a bold red and your couch and some trashy reality TV. Also for lunch tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. You get the idea.

This is blow-your-mind good food and well worth the effort. Hearty and rich and filling and everything a good Sunday sauce should be.

Enjoy! xx

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sunday dinner: fall vegetable noodle casserole.

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Let me talk to you about how dinner used to come together in the Radeke household when I was a child. It was always quite the production, an all hands on deck situation. There were no fewer than three different cookbooks strewn about, and my dad would bounce back and forth between them excitedly, finding inspiration from every page. We were never a ‘follow the recipe to a tee’ kind of family, and often times what ended up on the table started as three (or four…or five…) different recipes. I mean, where’s the fun in playing by the rules, am I right?

Now that I’m all grown up and cooking for myself these days, I still find that I resort to my father’s technique of cobbling together different recipes to create one super recipe, and I’m usually the better for it (listen, I’m not batting 1000 here, there are definitely times this has not worked in my favor, but for the most part it ends well).

Take this fall vegetable noodle casserole for instance. This started as three recipes — one for broccoli noodle casserole, one for butternut squash mac and cheese, and one for a fall vegetable torte. I took bits and pieces from each one and smooshed ‘em together (technical term) to create the recipe below. This does take a little more than basic kitchen knowledge to pull off since you need to know what does and doesn’t go with what, and be able to adjust cooking times to ensure everything fits together nicely, but if you practice a few times, it’s not difficult to master.

It makes for a little fun, creative time in the kitchen and you’re left with a delicious, homey result that perfectly captures the flavors of Fall.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Fall Vegetable Noodle Casserole
Serves: 6

For the vegetables and pasta:
8 ounces curly pasta (fusilli, gemelli or rotini are all great options)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 small head broccoli, chopped into small florets
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small bunch lacinato kale, de-stemmed and chopped

For the béchamel:
¾ cup milk
1 ½ cups reserved pasta cooking water
1 tablespoon flour
¼ teaspoon dried mustard
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest from 1 lemon
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the breadcrumb topping:
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup pecorino, shredded
juice from 1 lemon
drizzle of olive oil

Kitchen equipment: medium pot, baking or pie dish

First things first, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Cook the butternut squash and the pasta. Heat a medium pot of salted water on high until boiling. Add the butternut squash and cook for 7-9 minutes, until squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, but do not toss the water. Let the water come to a boil again and then add the pasta and cook for approximately 10-12 minutes, until pasta is al dente (you want it a little underdone since it will finish cooking in the oven). Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water.

Make the béchamel. In the same pot you used to cook the squash and pasta, heat two teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-4 minutes until the fennel is soft and fragrant. Next, add the flour, spices (mustard, smoked paprika and red pepper flakes) and olive oil. Stirring often, cooking for another 2-4 minutes until the flour is golden brown and the spices are toasted. Add the milk and the reserved pasta cooking water and let the sauce thicken, stirring occasionally another 2-4 minutes. Add the lemon zest and fontina, stirring until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is nice and thick, then season with salt and pepper. Finally, add the broccoli, butternut squash and kale and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta.

Prep the breadcrumb topping. In a small bowl, combine the panko and the pecorino, tossing to incorporate. Add in the lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil and stir to evenly moisten.

Put it all together. Grab your baking dish and pour the pasta mixture into the dish, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and cook for approximately 12 minutes on the center rack of your oven. When the breadcrumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling, remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Serve warm with a nice crisp glass of sauvignon blanc (or whatever wine suits your fancy) and relish in the cozy, warm flavors. It may have started as three different recipes, but it comes together as one perfect meal.

Enjoy! xx

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sunday dinner: cacio e pepe (with a summer flair).

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The Romans, man. They are a good people. They know how to live. And eat. And drink. They’ve brought us game changing inventions like aqueducts, concrete and newspapers. And, you know, numerals.

But my favorite Roman invention? Cacio e Pepe. Say it with me, CA-CHEE-O EH PEH-PEH. Hands up emoji. The simplest of the simple, ‘cacio e pepe’ literally translates to ‘cheese and pepper’. And that’s really all it is. Pasta blended with butter and cheese and pepper that results in a rich, flavorful, incredibly simple dish that I dare you not to love instantly.

Add a little summertime flair (it’s TOMATO SEASON, y’all) and you’ve got yourself a game changer of a meal. Thanks, Romans. Grazie mille.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Summertime Cacio e Pepe
Serves: 2

6 ounces pasta (I used bucatini, but you could use spaghetti or linguini and achieve the same result)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan Reggiano
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
1 small container cherry tomatoes
3-4 leaves basil, chopped in a chiffonade

Kitchen Equipment: large heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, large pot, microplane or zester (for grating cheese), TONGS (I heart tongs)

I love this recipe. It’s so goddamn simple and the end product will just blow you away with incredible flavor. Like, how did so few ingredients pack such a wallop of awesome? Who knows? The Romans know, that’s who.

First things first, get your kitchen prepped so you have everything at your disposal when timing matters later. Using your microplane or zester, grate your cheese and set aside. By using this tool instead of a standard cheese grater, you are making it much easier for your cheese to become melty and saucy later, rather than the undesirable clumpy and oily, because you’re basically grating it in the smallest possible way. You’re making whispy cheese fluff, if you will. And I will. You can use a standard cheese grater if you don’t have a microplane (though I highly suggest you pick one up, it’s one of my favorite and most used kitchen tools), but make sure you use the smallest holes possible.

Wash and chop your tomatoes (if they’re small enough you can just cut them in half) and chiffonade the basil.

Next, take your big pot and fill it with about 3 quarts water and a good few shakes of sea salt (the best chefs will always tell you that pasta should be cooked in water that ‘tastes of the sea’…so salt it up, don’t be shy!). Heat on high until you achieve a rolling boil.

Add the pasta and cook about two minutes shy of the suggested cooking time (I would say about two to three minutes total cooking time for fresh pasta, about six minutes for dried). Don’t you fret, the pasta will finish cooking when we add it to the pan sauce later. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside.

Meanwhile, in your large skillet or sauté pan, melt two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the pepper and swirl the pan around for about a minute to toast the pepper. Your butter should brown slightly but not burn.

Next, add the reserved pasta water and swirl the pan again to pick up all the nicely toasted pepper particles. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is bubbling nicely. Add the pasta and the rest of the butter.

Now. Here’s where the magic happens. Turn the heat down to low and using your tongs, toss your pasta in the pan sauce until evenly coated. Add the grated Grana Padano and toss quickly with the pasta using your tongs until the cheese melts into the pan sauce and starts to coat the pasta. This should take no more than 10-15 seconds.

Remove the pan from heat and add the grated Pecorino, tossing in a similar fashion as the Grana Padano. Really swirl the pasta around the pan to pick up all of the pepper and cheese sauce. If you’ve done it right, you should be left with a gorgeous, shiny cheese sauce that smoothly coats the pasta and is punctuated by lovely bits of toasted pepper.

Serve immediately in large bowls and top with the chopped tomatoes and basil.

The only accompaniment you need to this is a good glass of wine and a friend or loved one. And maybe a nice view and a summer breeze. But shouldn’t those accompany all of your summertime meals?

I think so. And the Romans do too.

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sunday dinner: bucatini with butter-roasted tomato sauce.

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We are a Bon Appétit family. Some people are Food & Wine families, some people are Cook’s Illustrated or Saveur families, some people are like what are you talking about we don’t categorize ourselves by what cooking magazine we subscribe to, you crazy person. And that’s all fine.

But since I was a little kid, we’ve always been a Bon Appétit family. We’d sit around our kitchen island as a family and pour over the issue when it arrived each month, trying different recipes, the best of which were torn from the magazine and saved in my mother’s bubble gum pink recipe binder. We still have every November Thanksgiving issue, displayed proudly on a special shelf in my parents’ pantry. They are our culinary bibles. There are recipes from those issues that I know by heart, that I cherish on the same level as family mementos. They are my family mementos. When I went off to college, it wasn’t with a subscription to Cosmo or Seventeen or Us Weekly, it was with a subscription to Bon Appétit. The one that I still have today, 16 years later.

Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce is one of my favorite BA recipes from recent years, one that I make on Sundays when I want something simple and satisfying, and when I want my apartment to smell like my non-existent Italian grandmother has been cooking all day. Except she hasn’t because this baby is ready and on the table in under an hour.

Is there a better culinary phrase than ‘butter-roasted’? I think not. It implies homey, rich, comforting. And when you combine it with the sweetness of roasted tomatoes, the umami of garlic and anchovies (it’s not fishy, I promise), and the toothsome quality of bucatini (spaghetti’s portlier cousin), it makes for a hearty, warm dish with just a hint of spice.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce

You will need:

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
6 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
2 anchovy fillets packed in oil
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of balsamic vinegar
12 oz. box of bucatini (spaghetti also works)
Grated parmesan reggiano

Kitchen equipment: 13×9 inch baking dish, large pot for cooking pasta

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is warming, open your can of tomatoes and using your hands, crush the tomatoes and place them in the baking dish. Be careful as you do this; the tomatoes are likely to squirt juice all over the place as you crush them, potentially ruining your kitchen counter and/or your favorite Sunday sweater. Aprons all around, mmm’k?

Once all the tomatoes are properly crushed, discard the tomato liquid and the can. Next, peel and trim your garlic cloves and give them a good whack with the back of your chef’s knife to crush them. The original recipe that was my inspiration for this called for eight cloves — that’s a little too aggressive for me, so I ended up using six. If you love garlic, go for the full eight; if you want a milder garlic flavor, maybe only use four. You do you.

Add the crushed garlic cloves to the tomatoes, spreading evenly in a single layer across the dish. Next, toss in two anchovy fillets, then add the butter cubes, nestling them into the tomatoes in an even layer. Finally, top with the red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper.

When the oven is ready, place your baking dish on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 40-45 minutes, stirring once about half way through the cooking time.

While the sauce is cooking, heat a large pot of salted water on high until boiling, then add your pasta and cook per package instructions. When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

When the sauce is done, the garlic should be very soft and the tomatoes should look a bit like jam. Remove from the oven, and using a fork or a potato masher, blend the sauce to mash the garlic and the tomatoes. Add a few dashes of balsamic vinegar and stir to incorporate. This adds a bit of sweetness to balance the salty/buttery flavor of the anchovies and the, well, butter.

To finish the dish, add the cooked sauce and the reserved pasta water to the pasta in the pot and heat on medium-high for 2-3 minutes, stirring and tossing regularly. When the sauce clings to the pasta and the pasta water is cooked down, you’re good to go.

Plate the pasta and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a full-bodied red wine and a crusty baguette…and perhaps the new issue of Bon Appétit. You know that’s what I’ll be doing.

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sunday dinner: baked mac & cheese with brussels sprouts and bacon.

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Let’s talk about the word ‘umami’. It’s a good word. Rolls off the tongue with ease, sounds vaguely foreign (it is, it’s Japanese) and you’ve likely heard it before but aren’t sure what it actually means.

Umami can be roughly translated as ‘pleasant savory taste’ and since 1985, it has been classified as the fifth of five basic tastes (along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty — thanks Wikipedia). It’s that salty, earthy, meaty taste that doesn’t quite fit into any of the other categories.

It’s also the BEST. I heart umami hard.

Why? Because it’s just so gosh darn satisfying. It lights up your taste buds like a Christmas tree and makes you audibly ‘YUM’. It also makes you naturally salivate more, which is a signal to your brain that you find what you’re eating quite delicious (if we’re getting really technical). Basically, five stars for umami all around.

And the best way to capture that umami-ness? Mac & Cheese. Even better? Add bacon and brussels sprouts (say whaaat?!). This rich, cozy casserole is packed with flavor of the umami variety and it’s sure to satisfy, especially on cold nights like the ones we’ve been having here in NYC (winter is coming, ho hum).

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You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Baked Mac & Cheese with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

1 pound of cooked pasta (macaroni or fusilli work nicely)
5-6 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 shallot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ pound brussels sprouts, stems removed and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
¾ cup half & half
6 ounces gruyere cheese, freshly grated
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
2 ounces parmesan cheese, freshly grated
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons regular fine breadcrumbs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen equipment: large pot, cast iron skillet, heavy-bottomed saucepan, cheese grater

First things first, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a large pot of salted water on the stove until boiling, then cook the pasta per the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Next, heat a large, oven-safe skillet (cast iron is best) over medium-low heat and add the bacon and cook until the fat is just rendered. Rendered, you say? What, pray tell, is that? It is a fancy way of saying cook the bacon until the fatty part starts to melt and you’re left with mostly just the meaty part. Should only take a few minutes. Once properly rendered, remove ¼ of the bacon and set aside on a paper towel lined plate. Cook the remaining bacon to your preferred stage of doneness (anywhere between chewy and aggressively crispy). Add the shallot and garlic to the bacon and cook 1-2 minutes until translucent and fragrant. Add the brussels sprouts, stirring well to coat. Cook them until soft, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

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Side note: you can totally abandon the bacon and make this dish veg — it’s just as good meat free. Instead of using the bacon fat to cook the shallots/garlic/brussels, sub in a few tablespoons of olive oil and you’re all set.

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And now we make the cheese sauce. CHEESE SAUCE. Best phrase ever, no?

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To start, heat your heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until hot, then add the butter. Melt until sizzling and frothy, then add the flour and whisk constantly until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. This creates the roux (so many fancy words!) that is the foundation of any good creamy sauce — it will thicken the sauce and add a lovely nutty flavor. Once the roux is ready to go, take your pan off the stove and pour in the milk and the half & half. Place your pan back on the stove and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Add in all but one ounce of the gruyere, cheddar and parmesan, stirring until the cheese is melted. Add the nutmeg and cayenne and season with salt and pepper. Once the cheese is melted, add the cooked pasta and stir to incorporate. Pour the pasta and sauce over the brussels sprouts in the skillet and toss well to combine. Sprinkle the leftover cheese on top, then add the panko and breadcrumbs. Finally, add the reserved bacon you set aside earlier on top of the breadcrumbs.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly.

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This is fantastic straight from the oven or at room temperature or warmed up later the same night or warmed up the next day or eaten with your hands cold over the sink for breakfast (too far?). Fine. Let’s just say it’s good all the time.

Get down with your cheesy, brussel-y, bacon-y self and you’ll see. Umami forever. Enjoy!