You should be ashamed of yourself. I saw you eyeing the pasta on that Olive Garden commercial with hungry eyes. You know it’s not delicious. You know it wasn’t actually created in a Tuscan cooking school with Michelin star winning chefs. Most importantly, you know you can’t trust any place that thinks variety in ingredients is a simple choice between chicken in cream sauce or sausage in tomato cream sauce. For shame, OG, for shame! Continue reading Pasta with Camembert, Asparagus and Peas
My time spent in Orvieto, Italy, much like the experience of many students studying abroad in college, was all about turning my preconceived notions on their proverbial heads. I never imagined that following up on a random postcard in my mailbox for a summer “arts” program in the heart of Tuscany would lead to a series of revelations in terms of ingredients, cooking and collecting food memories. Up until that point, Pizza Hut wasn’t a four letter word, ice cream and gelato could be considered one in the same, and a bottle of wine per person wasn’t considered a reasonable lunch. But all of that was thrown out the window, and I was utterly spellbound by all of the tastes and sights and experiences surrounding me. I discovered fava beans, pasta cooked in red wine, tomato-less bolognese, fresh porcini mushrooms and young white wines with ne’er an additive or preservative. I ate gelato after every meal, and sometimes as my meal, choosing flavors that tasted riper than fresh fruit. I learned that in Italy, I couldn’t leave the table before finishing the bottle of grappa or limoncello plonked there by the owner, much like a child forced to eat their vegetables before clearing off. I even taught an Italian movie star to do the robot while simultaneously doing an impression of Julia Child. I was officially living the life. Continue reading Pappardelle con Cinghiale
Meatballs have been getting a lot of play lately. From the incessant features on the Meatball Shop in NYC, to the meatball entrepreneur Joey on America’s Next Great Restaurant and his “Saucy Balls,” it’s as if ballmania has struck and there isn’t an end in site. For me, though, meatballs have always played a part in my collective food memory. Although I never got to know my Sicilian side of the family in person, their customs and traditions were passed down to me through my grandmother and mother. Making a sauce, or gravy as it’s truly called, involved frying off scores of homemade meatballs, and I’d stand close by for the chance to snag a taste. Apparently the tradition of searing all of the meatballs but one, and then cooking the last one through to give to someone you love came from my grandmother long before I learned it from my mother. I like to think of my mom as a kid, indulging in the perfectly seasoned and seared meatball as the most loving of gifts in that it was rooted in tradition. No kids of my own, I have been known to carry on the tradition with my husband – he himself grew up in a part-Sicilian household as well, and where my fam was doling out tastes of meatballs, his was doing the same thing with his mother’s expertly cooked chicken cutlets. It’s only fitting that we’re together and I can carry on a legacy of culinary “sharing means caring” traditions.
For those in the know, the secret to a good meatball is a good crust on the outside and a tender, juicy center. Although I’ll still sear off a meatball or two in a pan with olive oil, I’ve since converted to the baked meatball camp. You still get the lovely outer crust and it’s a whole hell of a lot less messy since you don’t have to tend to these over a greasy stove top. Because these babies were a part of my dinner party, the Feast of the Seven Boars, I used a combination of traditional ground beef and the less traditional but gloriously flavorful, wild boar. If you can’t get your hands on any boar, feel free to substitute ground pork or veal. Depending on how much time you have, you can simmer these the normal way on the stove in a lovely bath of San Marzano tomatoes OR you can take your sweet time and allow them to bubble away in a crock pot for a few hours OR you can be impatient and cook them in a pressure cooker for a mere 20 minutes. Any way you cook them, you’ll be treated to a perfectly tender treat meant to be served atop a delicious mess of pasta – maybe some bucatini with a heavy dose of crushed red pepper. Or you could just eat them straight away and skip the pasta. It is tradition, you know.
Spicy Bucatini with Wild Boar Meatballs
3 lbs. of ground wild boar (or pork or veal)
1 lb. of ground beef
1/2 an onion, finely minced
6 cl. of garlic, finely chopped
1 c. of grated locatelli
1/2 c. of chopped parsley
1 c. of bread crumbs
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
1 tbs. of crushed oregano
1/2 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
3 large cans of whole san marzano tomatoes
1/2 c. of chicken stock
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
salt to taste
handful of torn basil leaves
1 tbs. of olive oil
1 tbs. of butter
1 lb. of bucatini, perciatelli or similar long pasta
Preheat oven to 450°. In a large bowl or a standing mixer, blend the meat, onion, garlic, parsley, eggs, crumbs, salt, pepper and oregano until thoroughly mixed. Wet hands and form 1/4 c. of the meat mixture into round balls. Place on a foil lined cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
In a large pot, add the tomatoes and crush gently with a spoon. Add the garlic, chicken stock and salt and stir. Add the meatballs and allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes – longer if you can stand it. When the meatballs are just about finished, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Toss with a cup or two of the meatball sauce, olive oil and butter. Toss the basil leaves in the hot pasta to wilt and top with some of the meatballs. Serve with grated cheese and extra crushed red pepper.
A little danger in the kitchen can pay off royally – high flames, sharp knives and occasionally some tricky ingredients serve as the makings for many a glorious supper. Stinging nettles are not nearly as dangerous as they sound assuming that you can play by the rules. Handled raw, they will mess you up with vicious barbs in your skin. But once you give them a luxurious bath in some boiling hot water, they lose all their bite. Why mess with them at all? Because these lovely greens have an earthy, nuttiness that kicks the ass of spinach any day.
The nettles take a lovely home as the filling for meat tortelli – wild boar is simmered until perfectly tender and blended with mortadella, pancetta and cheese. Wrapped in homemade pasta and dressed with a light sauce of cream and peas, underneath the delicate flavors lies an air of mystery and danger. As your guests tuck into these toothsome parcels, feel free to keep the secret of your forays into adventure with the exotic ingredients contained in this recipe. I mean, you are pretty much the next 007 of the kitchen. Or at least that’s what I hear.
This recipe makes a large amount of pasta, so feel free to freeze any leftovers for later. Spread the tortelli on a cookie sheet dusted with semolina and pop into the freezer, making sure that none of the pasta is touching. If you’re sick of cream sauce for your second go round with these guys, you can use a marinara or vodka sauce to mix things up. Or, even better, cook in a pot of chicken stock for an exemplary tortellini en brodo (tortellini soup). For leftover filling, make crepes or buy egg roll wrappers and make canneloni. Roll a few tablespoons of filling into the wrappers, top with bechamel or marinara and bake in the oven until bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Tortelli with Wild Boar and Stinging Nettles
1 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. butter
1 lb. ground wild boar
2 c. of chicken stock
3 oz. of pancetta
6 oz. of mortadella
2 c. of grated locatelli
1/4 tsp. of nutmeg
1 tsp. of ground sage
1/8 tsp. of ground rosemary
1 shallot, finely diced
8 oz. of stinging nettles, blanched and chopped
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
salt to taste
1 c. of cake flour
2 c. of all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp. of olive oil
2 tbs. of butter
2 tbs. of flour
2 c. of heavy cream
1 c. of milk
1 c. of locatelli, grated
1/8 tsp. white pepper
salt to taste
1 c. of green peas
stand mixer with dough blade
pasta attachment for stand mixer
3 in. ring mold
Begin by making the meat filling. Melt the butter and olive oil in a dutch oven. Add the ground boar and onions and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Add the chicken stock and simmer on medium-low until all liquid has evaporated, about an hour. Alternatively, you can cook this mixture in the pressure cooker for 15 minutes to save time. Allow to cool a bit and set aside.
In a food processor, add the mortadella, pancetta, nettles, rosemary and shallots and chop finely. Add the wild boar and blitz until a smooth puree. Remove mixture to a large bowl and add the eggs, cheese, nutmeg, sage and white pepper. Taste for salt (should be on the saltier side) and reseason. Set aside.
Now to make the dough – and feel free to use your favorite pasta recipe (or pre-made pasta sheets to save time). In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour and the salt. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs and olive oil. Fit the mixer with the dough blade and allow to mix until a slightly sticky but well-mixed dough forms. Dust the countertop with flour and knead until smooth. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour.
Before I start making tortelli, I like to set up a couple of elements to make the job easier:
- a small bowl of water for sealing the edges of the pasta
- a few cookie sheets lined with wax paper and dusted with flour (semolina works well)
- a little mound of flour to dip the bottoms of each tortelli in after they are rolled (which prevents them from sticking to the wax paper)
Once your prep space is set up, start with the pasta dough. Take out the dough and cut into four segments. Grab a hunk of dough and dust with flour, leaving the other three segments wrapped in plastic so as not to allow them to get hard. Run the dough through a pasta maker, starting with the widest setting and working your way down to the second to thinnest setting (on my pasta machine, that’s #7). Flour the counter and lay out the sheet of dough. Cut out circles using a ring mold.
To make the tortelli, take a pasta round and fill with a few teaspoons of the filling. Brush the edge with a little bit of water and fold into a half moon, pushing out any excess air as you seal the edges. Take the two points of the half moon and fold them in on each other, squeezing them together to seal. Dip the bottom of the tortelli in the flour and then place on the cookie sheet. Repeat until you run out of dough.
Put a large pot of water on to boil. While it’s warming up, make your sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Mix in the flour and stir to form a paste. Slowly stir in the milk and cream in dribs and drabs, constantly whisking to form a smooth sauce. Crank the heat up and keep on whisking until the sauce thickens. Stir in the locatelli, white pepper and salt and turn heat down to low to keep warm while the pasta cooks.
Once the water comes to a boil, drop in the tortelli. Once they’ve cooked for 3 minutes, toss the peas into the water. Allow to cook for a mere 30 seconds, and then drain. Toss the pasta with the sauce, making sure to be careful not to break any of the tortelli, and serve immediately.
Say what you will about Texas, but they get things absolutely right when it comes to fast food – chiefly, above all else, the glory of Taco Cabana. The name is so misleading in its plebian nature, while the franchise dishes out tasty fillings in tender, pliant tortillas. May all the Taco Bells be stricken from the earth in place of this bastion of tex mex wonders.
I first had Taco Cabana on a trip to Austin City Limits – the hubby and I woke up early at the hotel and decided to forage for breakfast. We wandered out of the hotel and found a shopping center with a closed Whole Foods and a very open Taco Cabana. With the best of intentions, we ordered a dozen mixed breakfast tacos in the hopes of bringing back the bounty to our friends back at the hotel. But no – we lapsed into total food amensia and ate every single taco without even realizing what we were doing. Dennis and I stared at each other in wonderment after attacking the mass of eggs, beans, potatoes, chorizo and cheese. It was just so good, we devoured the goodness with no hesitation.
In that I don’t find myself in Texas too often (read: ever), I had to find a way to get my breakfast taco fix at home. I’d be lying if I told you that I actually eat this for breakfast though. This is the kind of home cooking that is thrown together at midnight and eaten directly from the kitchen island standing up. Utensils be damned, eating this dish transports us back to that day where we found some serious goodness in a Texas parking lot in a moment of unexpected perfection.
Breakfast Tacos with Potatoes, Chorizo and Egg
2 medium potatoes, cubed
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tsp. of salt
1 lb. of fresh chorizo (pork or beef)
flour or corn tortillas
Add potatoes, garlic and salt to a small saucepan and cover with water. Heat on high and boil until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside.
In a large skillet, cook the chorizo, breaking up the large pieces with a spatula. When the meat is just about cooked through, add the potatoes and allow them to crisp up with the chorizo. Set aside.
In another skillet, heat 1 tbs. of olive oil on medium. Scramble your eggs in small bowl and slip into the pan with the oil. Turn the heat to medium low and gently push the eggs around the pan, allowing curds to slowly form.
Assemble your taco by scooping some of the chorizo and potatoes onto a warmed tortilla. Top with eggs and a bit of the condiments of your choosing – Dennis likes shredded cheddar, but I love a bit of cilantro, tomato and onion. Dab with a bit of salsa and eat with reckless abandon.
Enchiladas Suizas is one of Dennis’ all time favorites – combining tender, white meat chicken with a green chile sauce cooled by cream cheese and sour cream, these babies rarely stay on the plate for too long when Dennis is around. His favorite version were from Cafe Frida in New York City and it was ne’er a visit that he didn’t order both the Enchiladas Suizas and the Tres Leches. Incredibly, the dish originates from Swiss settlers in Mexico contributing swiss cheese to the traditional enchiladas verdes, or corn tortillas rolled and sauced with tomatillos. The dish now refers less to the use of swiss as the inclusion of a creamy sauce with white cheese.
This version, which is loosely based on Dennis’ favorites, is incredibly versatile for all palettes and spice levels. Make the version below for a relatively mild experience or kick it up with a chopped jalapeno in the chicken mixture and a hotter green chile sauce (which are available at the market in both mild and spicy varieties). Poaching the chicken before mixing with the cream cheese helps to keep it super tender and moist, and the scallions add flavor. It’s a nice diversion from straight up red sauced enchiladas, but if you feel like a fiesta, make these along with the red variety and call it a party. I don’t know about you, but I loooooove an impromptu party. Continue reading Enchiladas Suizas (Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas)
Like Italian Wedding Soup, Caldo Verde is a celebration of meat, greens and broth, with the star carb as tender, simmered potatoes. This soup is as hearty as it is easy to make, and a great use of winter kale when in season, cheap and plentiful. The soup, Portuguese in origin, traditionally uses linguica for the sausage, but I’ve made this in a pinch with kielbasa, andouille, chorizo and even Bruce Aidell’s chicken sausage. Regardless of what ingredients you employ, you can expect a warm, nourishing bowl of comfort that is both simple to prepare and good for you.
Quick Caldo Verde
3 qts. of chicken stock
6 small potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 lb. of mild sausage, removed from casings
1 bunch of fresh kale, ribs removed and chopped
1 tsp. of black pepper
Bring quarts of chicken stock to a boil. Toss the potatoes, garlic and kale into the pot. In a sauté pan, brown the sausage until crumbly and no longer pink. Drain the grease from the sausage and add the meat to the soup. Simmer until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes right in the stock pot until the potatoes are loosely mashed. Serve.
From empanadas to pasties to pastel, the world loves a good meat pie. This version, though similar in construction to the French Canadian tourtiere, is all its own – a hearty blend of meat, vegetables and spices that produce a pie that looks gourmet. And yet, it only takes a few minutes of actual work – the meat becomes meltingly tender from simmering in milk and wine for a little under an hour, which you can leave bubbling away while you take care of other things. Not a bad deal at all.
I use all beef in this version, but the pie holds up to absolutely any type of protein or game. Pork works exceedingly well, as does bison or buffalo. Venison, too. You can even make a blend of what you’ve got on hand – ground turkey would be exceedingly happy in this pie when combined with beef or pork. When you seal up the pie, you brush it with a simple egg wash to elevate store-bought pie crust to photo-worthy culinary majesty. Truly, it’s a couple of little tricks that make this pie something worth keeping on hand for a rainy day. Comfort food at its best 🙂
Savory Meat Pie
2 lbs. of ground beef
1 stalk of celery
1 clove of garlic
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tbs. of worcestershire sauce
2 tbs. of ketchup
1/4 tsp. of allspice
1/8 tsp. of cloves
1 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of white pepper
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
1/2 tsp. of dried sage
2 c. of milk
1/2 c. of dry white wine
1 c. of bread crumbs
1 tbs. of milk or cream
2 pie crusts (can be store bought)
In a dutch oven, brown the beef (or ground meat of your choosing). When it’s no longer pink, add the onion, celery and garlic and stir. Add the bay leaf and thyme and let cook until the vegetables start to release liquid, which should take about a minute. Add the worcestershire sauce, ketchup, allspice, cloves, salt, white pepper, black pepper and sage and stir. Pour in the milk and white wine and let simmer away on medium heat until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 45-60 minutes.
Take the meat off the heat and let cool slightly. Stir in the cup of breadcrumbs and let sit while you prepare the pie crust.
In a 9 inch round cake pan that’s at least 3 inches high (this is a deep crust pie) and grease with cooking spray. Press one of the crusts on the bottom and sides of the pan. Tear a slight bit of crust off the second pie crust and press into the pan so that there is more dough to cover the entire pie pan. If you have slight tears, mend them by easing the dough together to repair. Take your meat mixture and stir in two of the eggs. Pour the meat into the pie crust. Top with the second pie crust and crimp the edges. In a small bowl, beat together the remaining egg with the milk or cream. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie with the egg wash.
Bake in a 375° for 25 minutes or until the top is gloriously golden. Let sit for 5 minutes before cutting.
My alma mater was pretty awesome all around, but the cafeteria was a different story. Not exactly the paramount of culinary majesty, let’s just say that I was uber-happy to have a kitchen in my dorm room for my junior and senior year. The cafeteria was certainly manageable if you knew exactly what you liked that was safe to eat – limited salad bar, yes but grilled cheese and cheese fries, no. On my safe list was a broccoli frittata made on weekends for breakfast – they doled out huge spoonfuls of fluffy eggs, broccoli, shredded carrot and cheddar cheese. For a cafeteria where cheerios and milk could prove dangerous, I adored the broccoli frittata.
Years later, jonesing for that good ol’ recipe, I came across a similar version on the Whole Foods website. Who knew? Maybe my school wasn’t so bad after all! Or at least whomever was making the broccoli frittata back there in the kitchen was holding it down. This recipe is uber-simple and works well hot or warm, so break it out for a breakfast, lunch or brunch option. It also holds up with other varieties of veggies, so feel free to raid your produce bin for other stars of the frittata.
2 crowns of broccoli
1/4 c. of chopped onion or shallots
2 tbs of butter
1 c. of milk
1 c. of cheddar
1/2 c. of swiss
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. of white pepper
1/4 c. of flour
Chop up the broccoli and shallots (or onions) finely – I do mine in the food processor. Sauté the veggies in butter in a frying pan until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, milk, salt, black pepper, white pepper, flour and nutmeg until smooth. Stir in the broccoli mixture, cheddar cheese and swiss cheese. Turn out into a greased baking pan, 13x9x2 for a thin frittata or a 9×3 inch round pan for a thicker frittata, on 350° for 25-30 minutes, or until set in the middle. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting.
I know what you’re thinking, folks, “Really, Angela? Vegetarian chili?” But you must, must, must try this, die hard meat eater or no. My father, who I am sure is 99% dinosaur (and I’m talking the T-Rex variety) loves this chili like no other, and he doesn’t give out the compliments for non-meat dishes lightly. He’ll even eat this straight up as a main course with not a bit of meat on the side. If that ain’t a testament to quality, then I don’t know what is.
My dad scored this recipe for my sister, Lexi, who then passed it to me. It utilizes veggie crumbles, found in the frozen food section with the meatless entrees and veggie burgers. A solid number of veggies and beer help round out the flavor for a chili that won’t for one second make you miss beef. Dress it up with some shredded cheddar or sour cream and you are in business. It true slacker mode, I have eaten this cold with Fritos scoops and guess what? Still delicious.
PS. This was the first time that my sister had ever been in the kitchen with me for a photo shoot for the blog. She laughed at how small the plate was that I took the macro photo from. Even though I have a bigger kitchen now and more natural light, I still shoot small like I did in NYC in the itty, bitty kitchen with not a bit of sunshine to illuminate my food. This photo above is her demo of the scale of the photo shoot, and not the amount of chili that I gave her as her ration. She ate two full bowls, thank you very much.
Lexi’s Favorite Vegetarian Chili
4 tbs. of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 stalks of celery, finely choped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bottle of beer
1 can of vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 can of black beans, drained
1 can of pinto beans, drained
1 can of light kidney beans or pink beans, drained
2 large cans of diced tomatoes (can use 3 cans of Ro-Tel for extra kick)
1 c. of spicy salsa
1 handful of tortilla chips, crushed
1/4 c. of chili powder
1 tsp. of garlic powder
1 tsp. of oregano
salt and pepper
In a large pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil. Add the vegetables and sauté until translucent. Pour in the beer, the stock and the bay leaves and let simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the veggie crumbles and let warm while you start opening cans.
Add the beans, tomatoes and salsa and stir. Mix in the crushed tortilla chips, chili powder, garlic powder and oregano. Let simmer for about 10 minutes and then taste for salt and pepper. You can amp up the heat with hot sauce or cayenne pepper if things are too tame.
Serve chili with shredded cheese, chopped onion and diced jalapeno.