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Monday
Aug112008

Pasta Puttanesca

This pasta is a great dish when you don't know what to make for dinner, you don't have anything defrosted and you want something that can be made from ingredients right out of your pantry. Well, I can make it on any given day with what I have in my pantry, which always contains canned tomatoes, capers, anchovies and olives - and your pantry should always have these items, too. They add great flavor to many dishes.  And don't be afraid of the anchovies - remember my post about using anchovies - they just add a depth of flavor to the dish that you will not get without them.

If you're wondering what the name "puttanesca" means, we'll get that right out of the way. It means whore. There. This is "pasta, whore style". How this dish got this name is unknown - there are many stories about that. Mostly having to do with prostitutes in Naples. But no matter. It's quick, easy, salty and spicy and we love it.

The proper pasta to use in this dish is spaghetti, but of course you can use whatever you want. I want to take this opportunity to talk about how to cook pasta properly. Many people do not know what a proper "al dente" texture for pasta is. If you have been to Italy, you know how the Italians cook their pasta. If you have not, I want to show you what that texture is. So the next time you are making spaghetti, I want you to buy Barilla brand thin spaghetti. Bring the water to a boil and add the spaghetti. When the water returns to the boil, time the spaghetti to cook for exactly three and a half minutes. That's it. I don't care what the box says - I think they write those instructions for the American market. Toss the spaghetti thoroughly with your sauce. The spaghetti continues to cook for a little bit after you take it out of the pot - something people do not take into consideration. Now you have perfectly cooked al dente pasta. This will probably be a new taste for you, since even good Italian restaurants in this country can't seem to cook pasta properly.

 

Pasta Puttanesca 

 

for printer friendly recipe, click here

Ingredients:

  •  2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 large pinches of red hot chili pepper (or to your taste)
  • 6-8 anchovies
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • about 3 cups of whole peeled canned tomatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons olives, sliced
  • 3 Tablespoons capers, rinsed (packed in salt, not vinegar!)
  • 1 pound thin spaghetti


Instructions:

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.

In a skillet over medium heat, add garlic, chili pepper and anchovies to the olive oil. Cook, stirring, until the anchovies melt and dissolve. Do not burn garlic. Add the tomatoes with their juices and break up the tomatoes with a spoon (I use my hands and squish them!). Let this cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes at just a simmer. Add the olives and capers. Turn off the heat under the sauce.

If you are using Barilla thin spaghetti, take the spaghetti out with tongs (don't drain) after boiling for exactly three and a half minutes and put the spaghetti right into the skillet. Toss well with the sauce. Add a little pasta water if sauce is too thick. Serve immediately.

 

Saturday
Aug022008

Italian Party Flank Steak


Today I just finished reading Michael Ruhlman's book "The Soul of a Chef" and I had to laugh when I thought about last week's post, which addressed the habit of American restaurants undercooking vegetables. That exact topic popped up a couple of times in the book. Ruhlman was taught at the Culinary Institute of America that undercooking vegetables, especially green vegetables, was a no-no. And Thomas Keller talks about how to perfectly cook vegetables. It's a great read and has a lot of great behind the scenes stuff at The French Laundry, which was just fascinating to read.

This dish I am posting is an outstanding summer recipe because it's absolutely fantastic on the grill. It's a butterflied flank steak that is marinated and then stuffed with prosciutto, basil, peppers and Parmesan cheese. It's a great recipe, too, for a party because you can butterfly the steak and fill it and tie it way ahead of time and just keep it in the fridge until you're ready to throw it on the grill. And it is so delicious!

Italian Party Flank Steak

 

for a printer friendly recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

 for the Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper ( I use Montreal Steak Seasoning)
  • 1 flank steak, butterflied

for the stuffing:

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 6-8 thin slices of prosciutto
  • a couple dozen fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

Instructions:

to butterfly a flank steak:


Run a sharp knife through the middle thickness of the meat, leaving about 1/2 inch at the long end to make a "hinge." Flip meat open to resemble a butterfly. Place plastic wrap over meat. Lightly pound flat.

Combine marinade ingredients in a gallon size ziploc bag and add butterflied steak and let it marinate for 2 hours at room temperature.

Preheat broiler. Halve peppers lengthwise; remove seeds. Place, skin-side up on foil lined sheet. Broil until skins are charred black.

Put peppers in a paper or plastic bag for about 10 minutes to steam. Slip off skins.

After 2 hours, remove steak from marinade . Lay meat opened on a long piece of aluminm foil on a flat surface. Reserve marinade.

Place the 4 pepper halves on top of steak to cover it. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoon of parsley. Cover with prosciutto slices. Arrange basil leaves in a single layer over complete surface of prosciutto. Sprinkle the surface with grated Parmesan, a little salt and black pepper.

With the long side of the layered steak facing you, lift it from the foil and roll it tightly away from you. (I did it without the foil but if you have never done this before, the foil helps you along.) It should look like a jelly roll.

Tie the roll with kitchen string.

Grill the steak for about 15-20 minutes, depending on how you like the steak, turning every few minutes and basting with the reserved marinade.

Let steak sit for a few minutes before cutting off string and slicing.

Friday
Jul252008

Speechless in Seattle


Well, we're back from our Seattle trip and it was a food lover's dream. We had such a great time and of course, I selected several restaurants before we left for us to try. I mainly used the awesome Urban Spoon website to find the restaurants. Check them out, if you don't know about them. More on the restaurant scene later.


Tilth on Urbanspoon

First, I want to show you some pictures from my favorite place in Seattle - the famous Pike Place Market on the waterfront. If only I had a kitchen in Seattle! What a place. You have to see it to believe it. After wandering through the vendors, practically speechless, we went and sat and had a bowl of salmon bisque and an ice cold beer and looked out over the ocean.

And here is one of my favorites, the Papparadelle's Pasta display at the Market, which has every kind of beautiful pasta you can imagine - notice the Dark Chocolate Linguini at the top on the right! I mentioned this pasta resource in my previous post when I made Orzo with Roasted Carrots with their Asian orzo blend. Check out their web page if you are not familiar with their pasta.

We had some excellent meals in Seattle, but the place I wanted to try the most was Tilth, which I posted about before we left. This restaurant was declared by Frank Bruni of the New York Times to be one of the top ten new restaurants in the nation. Well, my expectations were high. And the chef/owner, Maria Hines, was cooking some of her food by the method of sous vide, which is finally coming on the scene here in this country. This method of cooking involves vacuum sealing the food and placing the bag in a special immersion circulator, which cooks the food at a low temperature for a very, very long time. Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter are both using this method and are fans. The thinking behind this is that when you can smell food cooking and the steam is coming out from the food, you are losing flavor. So I was very excited to try food prepared this way. However, I was disappointed in both dishes I had that were cooked this way. First, I had the baby turnips.

Julia Child would not have liked this at all. She was famous for saying that the American way of cooking vegetables just until they are crisp was ridiculous and never brought out the real flavor of the vegetable. She said that the way Americans cooked green beans left a raw, grassy flavor that did nothing for the green bean. She was right. When I tasted the baby turnips, I expected the rich, creamy flavor of a well cooked turnip. These were way underdone and pretty tasteless. I, too, think this is a big mistake. And I'm not talking about cooking your vegetables to deathly mushiness. Just cooking them until any "raw" taste is gone. I guess it's a matter of taste, but the French don't cook vegetables this way and neither do the Italians. In fact, Guilano Bugialli says that the biggest problem in American restaurants is that they undercook the vegetables. Amen.

I know this is viewed as Nouveau American Cooking, but it's just plain wrong. I've been to too many restaurants lately in my travels the past ten days that served oh so trendy undercooked vegetables, the last one being a very moderate place off the highway as we were picking up our sons from camp. The veggies were the same as Tilth's.

Then I had the Sablefish.

This lovely fish was cooked sous vide and although the texture was really nice, it was also really bland. I just wasn't impressed. I also tasted my husband's duck ragu and frankly people - I can cook a tastier, richer ragu than that. But gee, the service and wine list at Tilth were really, really good.