The Kid Demanded Gnocchi

It’s been a while since I posted here; two kids under the age of four really can suck your free time. (Publishers note, I post just about every day on Instagram).

Anyway, for the past couple of days, the original rugrat has been demanding gnocchi for dinner; we figured tonight was a good time to oblige him.  I spent most of the day trying to figure out just what to do with the (gasp) store-bought gnocchi. On a slightly related front, a butternut squash had been on the counter for most of the week. Eventually, I realized the two could work together.

Here’s what I did.

I diced the squash very fine (so as the 11-month-old could eat it) and then roasted in the oven with a little EVOO, salt, pepper, red pepper flake and balsamic (400 degrees, 30ish minutes).

Then, sautee some pancetta for a minute or three. Add in some minced shallot (again for a few minutes), then toss the squash in for (again a few minutes). Season as you go (salt and pepper)

Next, the secret ingredient: Morels.  The insanely expensive mushrooms (almost always sold dried) add amazing flavor to any dish. (Semi) pro tip though: Don’t let the cost scare you off; buy quality over quantity.  You can fit 10 bucks of morels in the palm of your hand; you can 10 bucks baby bellas in a giant pot. The former is spectacular, the later is tasteless.

Ok, snobbish rant over. Toss in the morels, cook for 5ish minutes.  Add in a couple of cloves of garlic, and then toss in the cooked gnocchi along with a little pasta water and a dash of cream and some parsley for color.

Start to finish in about an hour,

Serve alongside red, and two screaming children for a lovely Saturday evening meal.

Ziti with Winter Squash

Every now and then, I get a culinary idea out of nowhere, that is equal parts “hey, this could be good” and “Well, we got this in the fridge.. so”.  More often than not, it turns out pretty decent.  Once in a great while, it’s spectacular. This one was one of the later instances.

It’s been cold here of late, so I thought of doing a butternut squash pasta (because what says winter like butternut squash?). However, in the wake of Thanksgiving, Teeter was out of them, so I switched to acorn.

OK-  so how to turn two acorn squash into what you see below —  easy.  First,  butcher the squash and roast it (375 for about 50 min) in the oven with some EVOO, balsamic, s&p and as much red pepper flake as you like.  When that’s just about done, render down some pancetta and carmelize some shallots, then toss in the squash to sautee in the bacon goodness for a minute or three.  Add some white wine (we happened to have a bottle of white in the fridge that I’d been cooking with for a month..) and let that fully reduce. Then, right before your pasta is ready (I used ziti, but any cut pasta will do) – add a bit of cream (which I had left over from Thanksgiving) and then toss in the pasta and a little pasta water to make the sauce. (Remember, always take your pasta out of the water 90 seconds before the box tells you to and let it finish in the sauce).

Top it off with mint, chives and parsley (all similarly left over from Thanksgiving) — and of course, some parm.

A quick and easy dinner – that a certain toddler just devoured.

Enjoy!

Welcome to Fall

Supposedly there are four seasons. However, here in DC, both fall and spring seem to last for a matter of hours. Yet, to me, few things say “fall food” like lentils.

So, armed with only that idea, it was off to the grocery store to see what I could come up with. While I know lentils are a staple of most vegetarians’ diets, I wanted to add a meat or protein (usually I do salmon with lentils, but if you follow me on Instagram you’ll remember we just had salmon on Thursday)– Lucky for me, pork tenderloin was on sale.

Here’s the result.

For starters, I rendered some bacon in a saucepan, reserved most of the bacon fat, and then tossed in some lentils and beef stock. While they were cooking, I chopped some red pepper and shallot and cooked them down in the (previously mentioned) bacon fat. Once ready to serve, I tossed in some diced granny smith apple (apple and pork, always a winning combo) and a dash of lime juice. To be completely truthful, I wanted lemon juice, but it was buried in the fridge, and I didn’t feel like making the effort.

For the pork, nothing special- dry rubbed with a combo of cumin, pakrika, garlic, dry mustard, and chipotle powder, then simply grilled.

If your fall lasts more than a few hours — give it a shot.

Quick and Tasty Veal Piccata

Growing up in a very Italian house, we, somewhat shockingly, never had many of the “Red Sauce Italian” dishes that you might find at your neighborhood Luigis.  In fact, when I was booking the restaurant for my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, I had to research (this was before the days of Google kids) just what chicken piccata was. Its become one of my favorites, and it’s really easy to make.  (Side note, I’d kill for a good neighborhood “Red Sauce Italian restaurant around here, but DC has none)

I do the dish pretty much like every recipe you’ll find online, with one seemingly bizarre non-Italian tweak that I think makes all the difference in the world.

So here’s how you do it:

Take your meat, (in this case, I used veal), pound it paper-thin — then bread it by first dipping them dry into Italian bread crumbs, then it to an egg wash. Here’s where things get a little weird. Into the eggs, add some dry basil (normal) and paprika (bizarre). It gives the meat a nice warm flavor and helps with the color. Then dredge the wet meat in panko crumbs. If you don’t own a deep fryer, let the breading dry for at least an hour.

After an hour, heat up a pan with a few tablespoons of butter, then brown/cook the meat about 2 min a side.  If you’ve pounded everything thin enough, this should be all the cooking you need. Take them out, and top them with some lemon zest.  Then, in the same pan, add a few more tablespoons of butter, a half cup of chicken stock, the juice of 1-2 lemons, and a couple of teaspoons of capers. Let everything come together for a minute or two, then bring the scallopini back to the pan, just for a few seconds a side, long enough for the sauce to touch the breading, but not long enough to make it soggy.

Serve alongside a lighter wine — Pinot Noir, Sav Blanc, or maybe split the difference and go with a rose

Not counting the breading time, start to finish in 30 min or less.

Enjoy!

Wild Mushroom and Kale Fettuccine

It’s amazing how bringing home a new kid can really cut into one’s blogging time. I finally got back into the kitchen earlier this week, with a couple of quick and easy, dishes that I can make with my eyes closed, but Saturday I made my return to creative cooking with this wild mushroom and kale fettuccine.

I started by rendering some pancetta with shallots for about 5 min, then tossed in an assortment of mushrooms (porcini, baby bellas, & maitake) with some butter, thyme, red pepper and let that cook down for about 10 min. Threw in some garlic for a minute. After that, I tossed in about a shot of white wine (because for some reason, I kept a bottle of white wine in the fridge with only a shot glass full of liquid) — then finally tossed in some chopped up kale and let that cook down for about 5 minutes. Served over fettuccine with a splash of lemon juice and of course, some parm and this was pretty damn tasty.

The little guy agreed too. There were no leftovers.

Orichette with Sausage and Fennel

With only a few days (hours?!) until the newest kid arrives, I’ve spent the past week or two checking off the family favorites. This one might be Ben’s. I first saw it mindless watching the Food Network one afternoon as Giada made this recipie for a picnic. She served it cold. I mostly follow it to the letter, although i add far more wine, and usually some red pepper flake, because everyone in the family likes a little kick and serve it hot

There are a few more favorties to check off, pizza for one. Will we get to make them before the kid shows up…. we’ll see.

When Two Become One

When cooking for company, or doing overly elaborate things, I’ll usually keep a recipe close and follow 75% of it or so.  It’s fun to see dishes turn out the way they’re supposed to, especially if they’re really difficult techniques or presentations.

However, to me, its a heck of a lot more fun to take a concept, and turn it into something of your own.  One of our family’s favorite dishes is penne with sausage and saffron and we make it quite frequently. However, one random day I was watching Ina Garten cook up a storm on the Barefoot Contessa, and saw her create this sausage and fennel pasta, which seemed similar enough, yet different from our family staple.  I made it once on its own by the recipe but quickly realized the dish would be better if I essentially combined the two ideas into one original.

I basically follow Ina’s recipe, but use hot sausage instead of sweet (gives it more of the red color that I was looking for) — and add a heavy pinch of saffron and a fair amount of thyme (from the sausage and saffron recipe), Here’s the result below, which has become one of my favorite personal creations.

Enjoy!

Louisiana Fast

I’ve been fortunate that my career (or various careers) have taken me all over the world.  I’m a pretty adventurous eater and try to bring a lot of those flavors home to my (equally well-traveled) wife, and the kid. All that being said, the various cuisines of the United States don’t appear too often on our table.  I tend not to deep fry things, hotdish is disgusting, and I haven’t found a lot of variety in Creole cooking, where I often find the dominant flavor to be Tabasco (not that there’s anything wrong with Tabasco).

The one exception to the above: Jambalaya.  I love the stuff. Its a great meal on a hot muggy day, and in the grand scheme of things, pretty quick and easy to make.  I’m Italian though, so I can’t just wake up one morning and decide to decide to make Jambalaya — I needed a starting point; enter Emeril Lagasse,  This recipe marks a good starting point, although I change it up quite a bit.

  1. I brown the Andouille sausage. It gives the meat a nice caramelization and gives the veggies something tastier to sautee in rather than just plain oil
  2.  I way up the peppers in this recipe to add both color and flavor, so I add any color variety of bell pepper I can find, as well as poblano, jalapeno
  3. I drop the chicken. I know this is sacrilege to some, but honestly, its too easy to dry out in this dish
  4. Instead of chicken stock, I’ll make a shrimp stock from the shells and a few other veggies which really brings out the flavor of the shrimp in the dish.

Christmas Eve – Main

Traditionally, the main course for the feast would be a whole fish, but as yet, that’s been a little too ambitious for me. So, this year, I went with some swordfish, served Calabrian style (basically, think of it as swordfish piccata).

This is also a good opportunity to dispel a wine myth. Not all seafood pairings have to be white. Meatier fishes do great with reds. This was great with a fabulous pinot noir from Tudal, a small vineyard in Napa that we’re members of.

 

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#7 Calabrian Swordfish