Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Not Cucina Povera

Pasta with artichokes, garlic and celery    

Cucina Povera in its literal translation means "kitchen of the poor" or "simple kitchen".  For me, this means when I have not been to the market, have very few ingredients on hand, but I am hungry and would rather cook than order take out.  These dishes are simple but please don't mistake simple for lacking in flavor.  Upon return from a trip yesterday, I was very hungry and needed to prepare something for my daughter and myself.  In my refrigerator, I had a few stalks of celery which still had some crunch left (barely) and grated Romano cheese.  In the cabinet, I had a can (don't gasp) of quartered artichoke hearts which I find to be a lovely ingredient when time is an issue.  Do I prefer freshly cooked artichokes?  Yes!  But sometimes I am tired and/or lazy and that tin can provides me with my artichoke fix for a Bruschetta or pasta or Frittata.  I also had plenty of fresh garlic and two packages of small amounts of pasta, one Linguini and one Spaghetti.  Often, I only use a half of a box of pasta, and the other half languishes, lonely in the dark for sometimes months.  Somehow, the next time I prepare pasta,  I want another shape or I need the entire box, so I am always giddy when I finally get to use the remaining contents of those boxes.  Normally, I would never mix pasta shapes, but since this was only the two of us, no one was reporting to the Pasta Polizia,  and I was really feeling the "Cucina Povera" vibe,  I threw caution to the wind and combined the two pastas.  The key to a simple dish like this is to pay attention to every step of the cooking process, since there are so few ingredients and make sure your pasta is cooked in abundantly salted water.  An elderly Tuscan woman who first taught me to cook pasta years ago said "the water for the pasta should taste like the sea".  I always hear her voice echoing in my head while preparing pasta!  It makes sense, since salt brings out the flavor in food and the dried pasta soaks up the cooking water.... 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Gratin Goodness

Classic Potato Gratin

I love the potato.  The French get so many food things right, but especially when they named the potato “pomme de terre” meaning “apple of the earth”. Baked, roasted, sautéed, boiled, fried, mashed, stuffed, or any way you can imagine, they are, on their own, delicious.  As a vehicle for other flavors, they can soar.  Probably very near the top of my list of potato favorites, if not directly on top, is The Gratin.  Literally, the word gratin comes from the French word meaning to scrape.  If you’ve ever been the lucky person serving a gratin, you will know that this means the act of scraping all of the baked on Gruyere cheese goodness from the (traditionally) earthenware dish manufactured for this purpose.  A humble yet luxurious dish, the gratin has only 7 ingredients (not including salt & pepper, which are key).  Each ingredient relies completely on the others, so it is important to use the best quality ingredients available.  I like to use Idaho Potatoes, as they are starchy and turn into the most silky texture when baked with freshly smashed garlic, unsalted European butter, aged Gruyere cheese, fresh heavy cream, whole fresh nutmeg (grated a la minute), sea salt & freshly cracked, fragrant, Tellicherry (from the Telicherry region of Southern India) black pepper.  I have seen many recipes which call for pre cooking the potatoes in milk and other variations, but my desire for ease of preparation, coupled together with conversations I’ve had with chefs in the French countryside, led me to my favorite simplistic version.
As an added incentive, (as if one were needed) your home will smell absolutely heavenly while baking this dish of deliciousness.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A New Leaf

Grilled Romaine with lemon and Parmigiano

Sometimes the most simple preparations slay me. I happen to love, love, love, Romaine lettuce with olive oil cooked outside on the grill.  Lettuce isn't typically a vegetable that one would associate with grilling, but something magic happens to the greens when they cook and become charred by flame and fire.
Additionally, contrary to popular beliefs, Romaine lettuce does have nutritional value!  Wow... a tasty, readily available ingredient that most people would not consider cooking that will fuel my body and soul?  My recipe repertoire has just acquired an addition!
Because it was the dead of winter and my grill and terrace were covered in deep snow and because I was craving (for some odd reason) grilled romaine, I decided to cook it in a pan on the stove.  Success.....it could not be easier and this dish is just as great steaming hot as it is hours later, at room temperature.Think of it as a sort of deconstructed Caesar-ish salad minus the garlic, anchovy and egg.  On second thought, don't try to label it, just enjoy it!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Play Ball

Meatball pure and simple
Italian food, South Philadelphia style is my kind of soul food, as I grew up in and around Philly and its Western suburbs.  When I was a kid, dinners in a "down town" Italian restaurant meant only one thing and everyone knew it;  South Philadelphia.  Waitresses with big hair who called you "hon",  who had very little patience but a big sense of humor were the norm and you could always count on the bread and the meatballs.  The bread was always impeccably fresh, crusty, studded with sesame seeds and most likely from the bakery next door. The meatballs were over sized, tender, garlicky, and swimming in gravy (the South Philly term for red sauce).
Sundays in our house usually involved a huge pot of sauce with my mom's amazing South Philly style meatballs, sausage, and often falling off the bone pork which had been simmered for hours in the pot.  Part of what makes this pot of meat and sauce so delicious is that the meatballs are cooked entirely in the sauce which allows all of the flavors to blend together and become one.  None of the the meat jus is lost by pre browning the balls.
I managed to inherit my mother's technique for making these meatballs (thanks for the meatball nirvana, mom).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Free Form Fabulous (tart)

Swiss Chard, Shitake, Parmesan Galette

News flash:  I've never been one to follow the rules.  This does not mean that I can't, it simply means that I don't like to...so imagine my delight in creating the Galette!  A free form tart is perfect for those who don't especially like to color within the lines.  There are no rules, yay! Round, square, oblong rectangular, you name it, now you're speaking my language.  The topping varieties are only limited by your imagination and desire (double happiness) and they are relatively quick to make, the pastry requires 1 hour of resting time in the fridge which can be done while you make the topping and allowing it to cool (or make your pastry earlier in the day or even have it at the ready in your freezer).  On this day, I found beautiful  Swiss Chard and Shitake mushrooms at the market.  Swiss Chard is a seriously underrated green, in my opinion (and I know Greens).  It is very mildly flavored which allows it to marry freely to whatever it is paired with.  I like the earthy flavors of the greens and mushrooms and they are the perfect vehicle for garlic and cheese.  Those of you who know me, will not be surprised that I also relied on the very classic Italian pairing of raisins and  pine nuts in a savory preparation.  So, Swiss Chard, garlic, Shitake, Parmesan Cheese (use the best quality Reggiano as it makes the difference and grate it by hand), raisins and pine nuts are all featured on a bed of farmers cheese.   I discovered farmers cheese recently at my market and I am loving the tangy, tart dryer texture of this Ricotta/cottage sort of cheese.  Wow, what a wonderful combination on my tart du jour.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm On A Roll

Rolled Stuffed Breast of Turkey

I have a secret.  I don't really like turkey.  I know, it's seriously unpatriotic and I apologize, but I can not tell a lie.  Give me stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, vegetables, Parker house rolls, but hold the turkey.  That was my old tune, but...
Thanksgiving this year would be different, I was determined.  I wanted to be super organized (truly different), and prepared (not so different).  I wanted to do as much as possible ahead of time, so that I could really enjoy the experience with 18 of my closest family members + friends (different).  The thought of roasting a huge bird for the entire day, only to end up with the same old, same old, seemed, well, old.
In with the new!  I think I may be a convert.  Moist, tender, juicy and delicious turkey IS possible and guess what? I liked it! I liked it that night, the next morning and several days later.  I'm certain that you will too.  Here's the deal:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cranberry Blahhhg

Cranberry Raspberry Conserves

I've never been the type of person to suffer from any holiday blues but this does not mean that I don't appreciate that others do.  So of course, my answer to holiday depression is....(wait for it) food!
Cranberries, ruby red on the plate with their combination of sweet, tart, bitter flavors combined with the various consistencies ranging from gelatinous (hello, my daughter's favorite canned variety which keeps it's shape for life, with the ridges still visible even after removed from the can and refrigerated for days!) to the smooth, silky conserve version (my fave)
I've been making this raspberry version of cranberry sauce for years, because I love raspberries.  I'd be telling a lie if I did not say that I am hesitant to even share how simple this recipe is, because I'm pretty sure people think it's a big deal to make. (Shhh)Get over your holiday blues with my Cranberry Blogg and recipe for bright and delicious conserves.