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!