30 November 2005

Last night, I semi-replicated the dish Dan S. made for us in Italy. He had the benefit of Italian zucchini and fresh made fusilli. I used the Braun cordless kettle I am currently in love with. The automatic kettle is as good as those instant 190 degree water thingies people put on their sink. Actually, since those dispensers only hold about 3 cups of water at a time, I'd prefer the kettle, which holds 7 cups. It boils very quickly and shuts off automatically. I bought it for tea and manual drip coffee, but use it for cooking nearly every time I turn on the stove. It works especially well for pasta on a weeknight.

I fill up the kettle and set it to boil. Into the large pasta pot, I put about an inch of water and a tablespoon of salt, then set it over high heat. Then I go about making or heating the sauce. When the kettle boils, I open the top flap so it can be dumped out quickly. (Otherwise, I have to hold the upturned kettle over a steaming pot for too long.) Dump the water in the pot and it's usually at a rolling boil immediately. Set the timer (for 1-2 min short of recommended cooking time), throw in the pasta, and bingo bango, al dente perfection. For long noodles which need to be submerged more, or for pasta for more than two people, two batches of boiling water are sometimes necessary, but it's still much faster than boiling it on the stove (and wastes a lot less energy since the water is heated directly).

Orecchiette con zucchini
1/2 lb. orecchiete pasta
2 zucchini, grated on large holes of box grater
1 clove garlic, run through garlic press
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano

1.) Place water on to boil (or use kettle method above).
2.) In a medium saucepan, saute the garlic in oil over medium heat, browning very slightly. Add zucchini, season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. (The salt should help the zuchs release a lot of their moisture.)
3.) Cook pasta according to package directions, reserving a half cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta. Do not rinse or shake. Add pasta to zucchini, add the butter and some of the pasta water according to taste, and stir until well combined. Top with Parm and serve immediately.

Serves 2

Another of my recent favorite tricks is warming up the pasta bowls with the pasta water. If my mom were watching, I'd use a ladle to put some of the boiling water into each bowl to heat it up a little and make sure the ceramic doesn't cool down the pasta too much, but when it's just me or me and my girlfriend, near the end of the pasta cooking time, I'll just dip the bowl into the pasta water and scoop out some water. This is also nice because it sets aside pasta water for combining with the finished product in the saucepan, whatever sauce you're using.

29 November 2005

So I never got around to the meatball soup because there were already meatballs from Ikea in the freezer. Instead, I made my pressure cooker risotto, which is a godsend on weeknights. Since it's basically a porridge, I like to add some protein and maybe a vegetable on the side, just to feel like I'm not eating gruel (albeit tasty gruel). I get the Star porcini mushroom stock cubes from my local Italian grocery, which is easy to do if you live in Brooklyn. If you can't get Italian, you can use any of the cubes found in the soup section, as long as they're the big 1" x 1" ones rather than the tiny little Wylers ones. If you're sensitive to MSG, don't cook this recipe, or use chicken broth in place of water and omit the cubes. I've added all the time-saving tips I usually incorporate for a weeknight. The equipment necessary for this to be really fast is: a pressure cooker, and a Braun electric kettle. If you feel like a pressure cooker might be a boondoggle, that's understandable, but living in New York I don't have much storage space to waste on unnecessary equipment, and I use it all the time (ok, usually for this recipe, but I do still use it). More on the automatic kettle in another post.

The key here is that the pressure cooker doesn't cook the rice all the way through, but just shortens the cooking time. You still need some of the traditional open stirring and reducing that's part of making regular risotto.

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion
1 cup risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)
1 Star stock cube
Fresh ground pepper (white pepper preferred)
Parmigiano Reggiano

Add-ins: usually a protein and a veg. Edamame do well as both!

1.) Heat pressure cooker without lid on medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil. While pot is heating, chop onion.
2.) Fill kettle just short of 3 cup mark with cold water and start.
3.) Add onion to pot and cook over medium heat until translucent, without browning. When halfway thorough, add rice and stock cube.
4.) Stir rice with oil and onion, breaking up stock cube with back of spoon. Cook the rice in oil until fully coated and cube is mostly broken up.
5.) Add boiling water to pot carefully. There will be lots of steam.
6.) Place lid on pressure cooker and lock. It should come up to pressure almost immediately because the water inside is already boiling.
7.) Cook at pressure for 7 minutes. While that's happening, I usually prep my add-ins. This is usually a bit of protein, like some cooked chicken breast, edamame, or frozen meatballs. Sometimes I add some vegetables like shredded zucchini or carrots. I'll use the microwave or a quick saute on the side
8.) Run pressure cooker under cold water until pressure releases, then remove lid and return to stove. Continue to cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes until a little more of the liquid has evaporated, but rice is still toothsome. Season with pepper. Stir in add-ins.
9.) Top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

28 November 2005

I've been given the nickname Richie Meatballs by my New York friends. Guess that was one meatball sub too many. I do like my meat in ball form, I grant, but the sun does not rise and set on the meatball sub, glorious though it may be.

So, accordingly, I'm going to go home tonight and make a sopa de albondigas to the best of my ability. Spheres of succulent ground meat are a cross-cultural phenom: albondigas, polpettine, rissoles, koettbullar, soudzoukakia, frikadeller, bakso, klopse, cutlis, bitochki, ffagodau, chin nua and a bunch of variations on the root word kofta (kefte, kefta, keftede, keftethes) which proliferate across the lands which used to be the Ottoman empire, leading to the assumption that kofta or kefta is Turkish for meatball. The Ottoman Turks were big on ground meat.

Here's a recipe for Chile Rellenos Meatballs which seems like an insane idea.

21 November 2005

Sourdough Stuffing

This is adapted from a recipe that appeared in Saveur November 2000

serves 12

2 sticks butter
3 medium yellow onions, peeled and diced
1 head celery, trimmed and diced
1 bunch chopped flat-leaf parsley (stems reserved for soup or stock)
1 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 fresh 1 lb. loaf sourdough bread, broken into pieces and processed in a Cuisinart to breadcrumbs.
1/2 cup vegetable stock (or chicken if you don't have vegetarians around the table, but keep in mind that they live for stuffing.)

1.) Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter in large, heavy pot or skillet over medium-low heat.
2.) Add onions and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until soft, about 15 minutes.
3.) Add celery, sage, parsley, salt & pepper. Cook 5 minutes longer.
4.) Turn out onion-celery-butter mixture into large mixing bowl. Add bread crumbs and toss until well-coated
5.) Pour stock over stuffing a little at a time, tossing to avoid sogginess.
6.) Use to stuff bird or bake in a hot, buttered baking dish at 350 for 30 minutes or until golden-brown on top.

04 November 2005

List of dishes at lunch at Ostaria del Ponte, Bagnoregio, Italy 10/5

This place is the best.  Editing this post to fix a misspelling, as it's now referenced for pasta shapes on Wikipedia.

Smoked deer carpaccio
Bresaola with parmigiano and arugula
Mixed bruschette

Ravioloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta di bufala, salsa rosa
Casoncelli (half-moons) stuffed with meat, butter-sage sauce
Fagottini (bundles) stuffed with ricotta and pear, radicchio cream sauce
Piciarelli (like fresh linguine) with tomato, sausage, hot pepper
Foglie d'uliva ("olive leaves", spinach pasta, leaf-shaped) with butter sauce, truffles

Duck with thyme
Wild boar stewed with juniper, olives, pearl onions.
Sausage and potatoes
Grilled vegetables