Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

I’ll be honest – this week’s Feasting Friday was in fact, on Thursday. The meal far surpassed anything I had on Friday though, so it is really the only meal worth sharing with you.

Salumi is an institution in Seattle. Started by a retired Boeing engineer over a decade ago, it has been making divine cured meats and gut-busting sandwiches ever since. Armandino Batali (Mario’s dad), ‘retired’ a few years ago and the operation is now run by his daughter and son-in-law. Their cured meats can be found on menus from coast-to-coast and the line outside their Seattle storefront often winds its way around the block.

You have to plan a trip to Salumi carefully. They are only open from 11-4 Tuesday-Friday. It doesn’t usually work as a lunch spot for me, but since I have been working on lower Queen Anne I sure have been trying. This most recent visit didn’t start off well. I had planned to meet my friend Anbrit there on Wednesday, but realized I had a conflict so moved it to Thursday. I left the office at noon and was weaving my way through downtown before I realized there was a 1:40 pm Mariners game that day. There was loads of traffic and parking was sure to be abysmal. I finally made it to the Pioneer Square though and surprisingly, found a primo parking spot straight away. I sent Anbrit a text and went to join the line.

The line. It was LONG. And packed with tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I like tourists. I actually find it kind of surprising and charming that people spend their vacation in Seattle. It just means that places that are usually crowded are really crowded during the tourist season.

The line ended up being OK. Once Anbrit joined me, we were able to pass the time very easily while catching up. I haven’t seen her for months and she always has fun stories about her family, travels and school.

The menu is – as you can imagine – heavy on meat. There are some pastas, a vegetarian sandwich, Muffaletta, various cold sandwiches and some hot sandwiches. I still order the same thing I have ordered since my first visit a few years ago though – the porchetta sandwich.

Porchetta is a roast pork dish from Tuscany. It is the source of all things delicious. An entire pig (or at least a shoulder) is stuffed with onions, herbs, fennel and loads of salt and pepper, then roasted for hours until it is melt in your mouth tender. In Italy, small mobile food carts set up at markets and town squares and serve sandwiches of the juicy meat piled high on crusty bread and topped with more salt.

At Salumi, they amp up the flavor by spreading some herb/onion/mayonnaise spread on the bread first and then topping the porchetta with roasted onions and peppers. It is well worth the wait.

Salumi on Urbanspoon

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You have to love an email that says, “…We have 1000 pounds of organic, heirloom Berkshire hog bacon for sale.” An email two weeks ago from the good folks at Swinery Meats (AKA Culinary Communion) said just that. Well, I picked up my bacon last week and let me tell you…it’s divine.

I am no stranger to good bacon, but I am pretty content with thick-cut bacon from Hemplers that I usually pick-up. This fancy-pants bacon is great stuff though. The fat is almost buttery. It isn’t smoked as much as typical bacon either, so it has a nice mild sweetness to it.

The next day, I fried up some bacon before work to use for a lunchtime BLT. Yes, some managed to get eaten straight away, before I even left the house for the office. Other than using bacon for weekend breakfasts, we probably use bacon the most in Pasta Carbonara.

Describing this dish doesn’t really do it justice – it’s just pasta tossed with bacon and eggs. The trick is to slowly temper the egg mixture into the hot pasta so that rather than scrambled eggs you get a thick, velvety, custard-like sauce coating the eggs.

We made Pasta Carbonara with our friends Jason & Dana when we visited them in Chicago over Thanksgiving. They loved it and were happy to learn how quick and easy it is to make. I likened it to that old adage, “teach a man to fish, feed him for a day…,” because once you learn this dish you’ll eat well for many years to come.

You start with a few simple, quality ingredients: pasta, parmigiano, eggs, cream and bacon. The better the ingredients the better the end result, so get good bacon, good quality eggs and real parmigiano.

Pasta Carbonara
Serves 2

1/2 pound pasta (we prefer Barilla Linguine)
4 slices bacon (cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
1 clove of garlic, sliced thick
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup dry vermouth
2 eggs
1/4 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmigiano
Salt & fresh ground pepper

Bring 4-5 quarts of salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. Add the bacon and garlic and brown. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Once the garlic is browned, remove it and discard. Allow the bacon to brown until nearly crisp, then add the vermouth. Simmer until the vermouth is reduced by about half. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a small mixing bowl, gently whisk the eggs, cream and about 1/4 cup of the parmigiano until just combined. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper.

Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain and stir the hot pasta into the skillet with the garlicky-bacon mixture. Toss to cool off the pasta just slightly. Add in the egg/cream mixture and toss to coat. Season to taste (go wild with the pepper, it makes the dish). Serve topped with more freshly grated parmigiano.

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Who doesn’t love pizza? So cheesy, so hot, so chewy. We are fed-up with our delivery and frozen pizza options though, so about once a month we have a pizza party. We make the crust, set up a bunch of toppings and everyone can make their own individual pizza – with exactly the toppings they want. This is the thin crust pizza. Authentic pizza. Italian style…

I think we got spoiled on a trip to Naples a few years back. According to legend – or at least our guidebook – Naples is the birthplace of pizza. Wandering the back alleys of the Spanish Quarter, we happened upon a small pizzeria. The menu was simple – pizza with Coke or pizza with beer. For €2.50, we feasted on the best pizza we had ever tasted. It was simplicty itself – thin, salty crust topped with a thin sheen of fresh tomato sauce, a smattering of creamy mozzarella cheese and a single basil leaf. The pizza margherita – as it is known – is now the pizza we try to receate every time we make pizza.

It starts with a good crust:

Pizza Dough
Makes 6 individual pizzas
1 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for greasing the bowl)
500 gr (or 4 cups) all purpose flour (plus extra for kneading)
1/2 cup warm water (about 100-115 degrees)
1 cup cold water

In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir yeast, warm water and sugar together and let sit for 10 minutes, until the yeast has activated and the top is foamy.

In a food processor, place flour & salt. Pulse 2 or 3 times. Turn food processor on and slowly pour in olive oil, then yeast/water/sugar mixture, then cold water. Process for 60-90 seconds. You may need to pulse a few times if the dough gets stuck.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Form into a tight ball.

In a medium bowl, splash in some olive oil and rub the dough all around to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough will nearly double in size.

Once risen, divide the dough into 6 equallly sized pieces and form into tight balls. Place on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 30 minutes – enough time for you to preheat the oven, prep the toppings and make the sauce.

Pizza Sauce
2 cans Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes (not stewed)
1/4 cup minced onion
1 Tablespoon minced basil
salt & pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Drain the tomatoes (discard the juice) Blend the tomatoes, onion, oil, salt & pepper with a stick blender or in a food processor so the sauce is fairly smooth. A few lumps are OK. Stir in the basil. Season to taste.

Forming the Crust
We are by no means experts, but here are some tips. Carefully remove one ball of dough (cover the rest again with plastic wrap, otherwise a crust will form) and take to a lightly floured surface (we like a bakers peel). Gently lift the dough and let the weight of it slowly droop down, while you rotate it to form a flattish disc. Place on the peel and gently stretch it out, while you rotate it to form an even flatter disc. Then, dimple it with your finger tips – stretching more if needed – until it is about 1/4 inch thick. You can make a makeshift peel by using a cookie sheet turned upside down. Make sure you use plenty of flour though, it easily transfers to the oven.

Don’t overload the crust with toppings. The dough is too thin to handle much weight. We generally keep toppings pretty simple – a splash of olive oil, some salt, maybe some red chile flakes. Then, top with some sauce, maybe some thinly sliced onion, torn pieces of the mozzarella, and some minced fresh basil. Add a little freshly grated parmigiano too.

For a crowd – it is fun to set out a little buffet of toppings to choose from: artichoke hearts, chopped olives, ham or pepperoni, baby spinach, sauteed mushrooms or zucchini, roasted garlic, etc. Baking the Pizza
We’ve worked hard to try and create the hottest possible temps in our home oven, in a vain attempt to recreate the wood-fired pizza taste. It is not close by a long shot, but does improve the taste & texture quite a bit.

Place a baking stone on a rack in the center of the oven. Heat to 550 degrees for at least 30 minutes. While you are assembling your pizza, set the broiler to medium high (for about 5 minutes). Once your pizza is ready, turn the oven back to 550. [Gavin likes to keep the broiler on for the entire cooking time, but I think it overcooks the top]. Bake for 7-10 minutes until crispy on the botttom and bubbling on the top.

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This season – Soupnight has followed an international theme. Each month, we’ve picked a different country (or region) and planned the menu around that theme. November was Mexican, December was French, January was Scandinavia and February was Italian.

Italian food is probably the one we are most experienced and comfortable with. We did a mostly Italian theme for one soupnight last year and it was quite a success.

Cooking for a crowd though, has some drawbacks. Particularly if you don’t want to be in the kitchen the entire evening. My first instinct was to make lasagna. Gavin took some convincing, but once he realized he’d be able to harness is inner saucier and whip up some bechamel and ragù, he was on board.

The best lasagna we’ve ever made was made with homemade noodles. Yes, they are a bit more involved, but they are definitely worth it. There are loads of recipes out there. The best tips we’ve learned over time though are a) rest your dough, b) heavily flour your pasta maker and c) use flour sack towels for storing the rolled and/or cooked dough.

Gavin started the ragù on Friday night. We decided to make a double batch, since we were expecting quite a crowd. It included 12 oz of pancetta, 1 pound of chuck roast, 1 pound of pork shoulder, lots of carrots, celery and onion, some garlic, tomato and spices and plenty of patience and time.

When all was said and done – and assembled – we had ourselves quite a hefty lasagna on our hands. This beauty weighed in at 17 pounds!

We made a Vegetarian Lasagna as well (minus the 2+ lbs of flesh) that included a nice tomato sauce and the same bechamel as the Lasagna al ragù, but substituted a nice ricotta/egg/spinach mixture for the meat.

To this menu, we wanted to add a light, fresh and crunchy salad. We had enough cheese, cream and flavor already involved in the lasagna and dessert. At a New Year’s Eve party this year, I spotted this “deconstructed” Caesar salad that someone had brought:

I loved this idea of little Caesar “tacos.” They turned out great – all I did was wash some hearts of romaine and separated out the leaves. Then, I squirted a little dressing on the leaves and topped with a crostini that had been toasted with some parmigiano on top.

And finally, dessert. I have never been particularly enamored with Italian desserts. Other than gelato and tiramisù, there isn’t much in the dolce department that has ever truly excited me. Unless, it is Panna Cotta. This was a pretty straight forward dessert to make: warm some milk, sugar & gelatin, add to a big bowl of cold cream and vanilla bean, pour into ramekins and chill for 4+ hours. It is basically cream Jello. The flecks of vanilla bean are a nice touch, as is a little decorative application of berry coulis.

Buon Appetito!

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Simple Tomato Sauce

Marcella Hazan’a Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is a “must have” for anyone who loves eating and cooking Italian food. It is full or opinions (regarding olive oil, “cook with the best you can afford”) and somewhat unreal expectations (if you have a good, conscientious cheese dealer, ask to be notified when a fresh wheel of gorgonzola arrives from Italy), yet has loads of great recipes.

One of my go-to recipes is simply called “Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion.” It is simple, quick and great on any shape or size of pasta you have on hand. It is a bit high in fat (given the stick of butter!), but since it is meat-free, who cares? The sauce starts off kind of weird, since you don’t dice the onion – just cut it in half and put it in the pot. It cooks down though and adds a great, oniony sweetness to the sauce.

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion
2-15 oz cans diced tomatoes (I prefer Muir Glen). Avoid “stewed” tomatoes
1 stick of butter, but into cubes
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
1 lb of pasta
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Don’t fuck around with the imitation or pre-grated crap.
Salt & pepper to taste

Place canned tomatoes in a saucepan with onion and butter. Simmer for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally and mashing the tomato chunks with the back of a wooden spoon. Discard onion and salt & pepper to taste. Serve over pasta with grated parm.

Full Disclosure
My friend Debi read this post and reminded me that, ahem, I didn’t believe a sauce this simple could taste this good. She first told me about this recipe 6 or 7 years ago and I guffawed, “what, no garlic? no herbs? impossible.” I stand corrected.

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