Jul 142013
 

Alio e olio

Excuse me while I state the obvious: I’m a food snob. Even worse, sometimes I’m that judgy food snob that no one likes to cook with because she can’t shut the hell up about how she would do it. I really, really try to shut that bitch up whenever I can because she is rude and ungrateful.

There is one occasion that stands out in my mind as a time that I’m really happy that I was able to do just that. I had moved to Tucson not that long before and a new friend had invited me over for dinner for the first time. She had spent the summer in Europe and eaten all sorts of fabulous food so she decided to make aglio e olio for me. Having never had this dish before, my sniveling jerk-face inner monologue was just horrified — horrified — that she wasn’t using fresh basil but I didn’t know Kyla very well at the time so I decided to hold off on saying something that could flush this nascent friendship down the toilet.

Prepping for aglio e olio

And it’s a good thing I did too, because the meal she made? Delicious! It needed none of the things that I probably would have added (and actually, anything I would have added would have detracted from the simplicity, which is the key to its deliciousness). Not only was the food good for my taste-buds, it was also good for my too-big ego, which sometimes needs to be brought down a notch with some humble pie. Or, in this case, some aglio e olio.

I’ve happily been eating this dish ever since, but it wasn’t until I started writing up this article and decided to see what the internet had to say about aglio e olio that I made the startling discovery that most people don’t use tomatoes in it! I had always thought it must include it, despite not being named, say, aglio, olio, e pomodori. Well, to all of Itay, I say that Kyla had it figured out. That’s right: Kyla, 1; Italy, 0.

Alio e olio

Click for the recipe →

Jun 302013
 

Spring duck risotto

It was spring, and finally the stars were aligning: asparagus was coming into season, Mrs Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice was coming to visit, and I had a freezer stuffed full of duck and ducky accoutrements.

I was going to make good on my threat to make a duck risotto!

But first, a little back-story: Heather and I both seem to share a certain fascination with risotto. I think it’s a fantastic blank canvas on which you can splash any number of food flavors and in the end get this warm, gooey (in a good way) starchy comfort food that accentuates your favorite flavors. And Heather? She adores the creamy deliciousness with everything in a single bite. And as I’ve said before, whenever she and I get together, ridiculously awesome things tend to happen. And when there’s a kitchen involved, hoo boy, look out.

Heather also shares my obsession with duck, and since she had been awesome enough to be one of the two people who gave me the idea for a duck risotto in the first place (when my clueless self was all like “I have duck stock: now what do I do with it???), I decided that she had to be there when I finally made it.

What actually happened was a little different. More accurately, she made the risotto while I tended to a fussy baby. But what matters is that we got to eat it together (and as you can see below, expose The Babe to the world of duck and risotto in one fell swoop)! And thus our foodie bond was further cemented.

(I did finally get the opportunity to make this myself about a month later when Mr Om-Nom Sauce’s birthday rolled around and he got this risotto foisted upon him. But the photos on this post were food that was totally not cooked by me. Heather makes good eats.)

And speaking of good eats: we’re right on the cusp of seeing her and her husband again, which means OMG DUCK, we are so excited! What ridiculousness will we make this time around? Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it here. We might even have to do a summer version of this risotto, because once you’ve had it, you completely understand the phrase OM NOM DUCK!

Babies love risotto too!

The Babe makes a grab for the risotto. Photo provided by Mrs. Cheesburger in Glacial Ice

Click for the recipe →

Mar 032013
 

Life can be stressful sometimes. Kids need looking after, appliances need fixing, food needs cooking, and the whole damn house needs a thorough vacuuming. We haven’t even mentioned self-maintenance time either, where you relax, immerse yourself in your hobbies, and other things that make you feel like a complete functioning human. Forget all that self-actualization crap: some days it’s hard to just keep your head above water. I like to treat my stress with an intense workout, but when you’re battling all the stuff I just mentioned, sometimes it just isn’t gonna happen. If you find yourself in that dilemma, try this:

Set your food on fire.

Of course, I’m not advocating wasting perfectly good food: you don’t want to reduce it to ashes. Just, y’know, take some fish, pour some booze on it, and flambe it! It’s fun, it’s pyrotechnic, and it’s productive — you are putting dinner on the table, after all. And in the tradition of so much good Italian food, it only gets better the next day. What’s not to love about that? Plus, it comes together pretty quickly, so even a cheerful three-month-old can be content to watch you make this dinner without needing gobs of TLC.

So put the devil in his place: give this a go in your own kitchen and let the pyrotechnics fly!

Monkfish fra diavolo

Click for the recipe →

Feb 032013
 

Eggs are magic.

Many food cultures seem to agree and have come up with their own version of savory eggy dishes. Omelets and quiches as pretty well-known, but have you ever had a frittata?

The Italians dreamed this one up. Envision a crust-less quiche without the usual addition of cream to the filling and you’ve got the measure of this bit of deliciousness. These things, like omelets, can be as simple or as fancy-pants as you’d care to make them, which makes them ideal for situations when you’re short on time but don’t want to sacrifice the yum-factor — no matter what time-of-day you’re cooking for. They go as effortlessly from the dinner table to delicious left-overs warmed-up for breakfast.

I’ve been making this version of frittata for years. I like it because I nearly always have the ingredients on hand, prep is done in five minutes, and about twenty minutes after that, I’m pulling dinner (or breakfast/brunch/lunch) out of the oven. Feel free to add and subtract ingredients to suit your whims. Nearly anything goes, so next time that carton of eggs in your fridge challenges you to a staring contest, show it who’s boss and whip up a frittata!.

Spinach and feta frittata

Click for the recipe →

Sep 142012
 

Pasta Fazool

I am such a huge sucker for hearty bean stews. The moment that the summer heat shows that it might be wavering in its resolve, I’m pulling out all my cookbooks and playing match-maker with my stash of beans. Borlotti beans often find a starring role in my kitchen in every imaginable application, and this soup is no exception.

Pasta e fagioli (aka pasta fazool) is a dish born of frugality, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be boring. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to find bland versions of this soup, with boring beans, mushy pasta, and a lack-luster broth. This soup rectifies all those wrongs and then some, all without requiring you to slave over a stove for hours or leave a pot simmering all day. Served in small portions, it makes an excellent appetizer (or primi if you’re going authentic-Italian-style), or scooped up into bigger bowls, it’s hearty enough to be a meal in itself. Either way, it’s a delicious and welcome addition to any table — whatever the weather!

Pasta Fazool!

Continue reading »

Sep 012012
 

Tomato medley | Savory Summer Caponata

Summer is probably my favorite season for fresh produce — but really, if you ask me in the fall or the spring what my favorite seasons are, you’ll probably get a different answer. Despite that, there’s one jewel of summer that makes me especially prize its produce, and it’s a gem that eclipses and asparaguses and strawberries of spring and the delightful hard squashes and greens of fall. If you know me at all you know that I am absolutely bananas about summer tomatoes. I wait all year for them and when they show up at the farmers’ market I go absolutely crazy buying them (alas, I haven’t mastered tomato-growing yet, and we moved across the country this summer, so I didn’t even get to try this year). This year has been trying for my tomato mania, as the pregnancy has caused incredibly awful heartburn since the beginning of the second trimester, and tomatoes are a major trigger for me. I’m stubborn though, and as my tomato lust has continued unabated, I haven’t tried to hold back from slaking it.

Diced jewels | Savory Summer Caponata

One of the things about Ohio that’s made me really happy is that heirloom tomatoes do really well here, unlike Arizona, where it’s just too damn hot and the pollen literally burns up in the flowers. I wasted no time finding an amazing farm that’s less than six miles from my house that produces all of my summer favorites, including a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes! Every week I go and stock up, buying several different varieties, for the week’s cooking and noshing.

Eggplant disks | Savory Summer Caponata

It turns out that the farmer also grows everything else that I could possibly want for another favorite dish of mine: caponata. This is a dish that I liked pretty well the first time I had it, even though I was cooking it in the winter and the ingredients were so far from peak-of-flavor that it wasn’t even funny. Since I started making it in the proper season, I’ve completely jettisoned the original recipe I was using and re-worked it to play better with in-season ingredients. Of particular importance is getting the tomatoes to fully complement the eggplant: eggplant readily absorbs flavors, so if you salt the diced tomatoes and let them sit for a while, lots of juice will be drawn out of them and they’ll lend lots of tasty flavor to the eggplant. Who knew these two relatives could play so well together? So go, hurry: summer is waning, so grab the last of the summer produce and whip this dish up!

It's caponata time! | Savory Summer Caponata

Continue reading »

Aug 292012
 

A whole, plated savory bruschetta tart

When it comes to cooking, sticking within limits can be so boring. If you’re ever in the mood to pull out a stop or two and make something the likes of which you’ve never had before, this savory tart is an excellent choice.

I first came across this recipe in a book that we received as a wedding gift. I can’t recall what first possessed me to try it; perhaps it was the description (it used to be served at the author’s Napa Valley restaurant) or the ease with which this could be fit into a dinner-party menu. Either way, I’m extraordinarily glad that I tried it: while I don’t make it terribly often, it’s been firmly set in my repertoire ever since. So much so that for my last birthday (my 30th), I decided not to go to a restaurant and to make this for dinner instead.

Savory bruschetta tart

So don’t be intimidated by the eggplant (this recipe introduced me to the veg), the method (my first-ever dip into deep-frying), or the unusual presentation: this is a dish whose bright, fresh flavors are welcome at any occasion!

Savory bruschetta tart

Continue reading »

Dec 042009
 

Flour. Water. Yeast. Salt. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? In fact, when you’re talking bread, it doesn’t get any simpler (unless you’re in Tuscany, of course).

A couple of slices from the second homey loaf with great shiny holes, drizzled with a bit of olive oil!
Nikon D50

But ingredient lists can be deceiving.
So it was with not fear, but a healthy dose of respect that I approached my seventh Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge bread: ciabatta. This is one of the wettest doughs out there – it has to be because that’s where the beautiful, big shiny holes come from. I know from experience that working with a rustic dough like this is a challenge. I’m not saying it isn’t fun – sticky, wet, messy fun – but it takes a certain amount of patience and an understanding of what you’re getting yourself into. Even then, I’d never worked with a dough quite this wet. I came in with high hopes yet a full understanding that I probably wouldn’t end up with cookbook-worthy holes the first time I tangoed with ciabatta.

Continue reading »

Oct 042009
 

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been cooking. It doesn’t matter what your favorite cuisine is or whether or not you actually know that you’re looking for something: there is a recipe out there for each of us that we have been yearning to make.

In this dish, I found mine: whether I knew it or not, zuppa di farro is the type of Italian food I’ve been trying to make since I learned how to cook.

No, it’s not smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It isn’t pasta and there is neither a meatball nor a wine-soaked pan-fried chicken cutlet to be found. But this, folks, is the real deal – it’s not Italian-American, it’s apologetically Tuscan.

Not that the Tuscans have a single thing to apologize for in their cuisine. The days I spent in Florence and Siena were non-stop food bliss. And though I never tried this soup while I was over there, as soon as I tasted it I knew that zuppa di farro was unmistakably at home there.

Cesare Casella, the author of this recipe’s cookbook, said that this soup is like the Italian equivalent of chicken soup – it cures all ills. It screams comfort food, and the moment it hit my lips I wished that the temperature would drop a good forty degrees and that the rain would start falling in sheets from the sky. So the next time a day like that rolls around, take my advice: put on a cozy chunky sweater and lounge around the house with a good book in your hand and a somnolent hound at your feet while a pot of this simmers away on the stove.

Zuppa di farro

Click for the recipe →

Sep 272009
 

I have been meaning to post this for a loooooonnnggg time. In fact, if the word “long” was as long as the length of time I’ve waited to post this recipe, it would be approximately sixty-three syllables long. But I digress.

Rancho Gordo borlotti beans

I’ve long had a soft spot for minestrone. It’s such great comfort food, and super-healthy to boot. I suppose that soup is normally a fall or winter endeavor, but here I’m going to give a Tucson summer (the fact that it’s late September is irrelevant – it’s in the upper nineties today) the finger and make this soup anyway. That’ll show the bloody weather!

There I go with my digressions again.

I’ve been through a lot of phases with this soup. I first got hooked on it at an Italian restaurant when I was a teenager, so when I started cooking a lot of vegetable soups after I moved to Alaska I decided to try this one out. To be honest, I hated my first attempt. I hadn’t yet started making my own chicken stock, and this was when I learned the hard way that using commercial chicken broth as the base for a soup is Officially a Bad Idea because it is Utterly Repugnant. However, at the time, I didn’t know that was the cause, so I just thought the recipe was a dud.

Many months later, something strange came over me and I decided to try it again – on unsuspecting dinner guests, no less. This time I was using homemade stock, and when I put the stuff in my mouth I had a foodgasm. It was that good. But because I am crazy, I am hardly ever 100 percent satisfied with a recipe, no matter how good it is. I decided that what this soup needed was an improvement in the bean department. Since then, I’ve tried all manner of beans: pinto, cannellini, kidney, great Northern whites, and heavenly borlottis. But all of these were canned and none of them were quite right.

Enter Rancho Gordo beans! These heavenly heirloom beans are as fresh as dried beans can get, especially when compared with lowly supermarket beans that are more than likely about five years old, which explains why those inferior beans cook slowly, unevenly, and blandly. This company carries many little-known and rare varieties of beans, including – look out for the squeeing – borlottis! I tried them for the first time when I was throwing together this soup, and finally, I have found my 100 percent satisfaction. These creamy, velvety, supremely flavorful beans add an entirely new level of flavor that ties minestrone together perfectly. It is definitely worth the time to find and cook the beans. And considering that I only just discovered the key to bean bliss, it was also worth the wait in posting this recipe!

Minestrone soup

Click for the recipe →

%d bloggers like this: