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!

Chili on a Cold Day

Chili is just about the last thing you’d expect to see on a blog that largely focuses on Italian food. Yet, for whatever reason, I’ve always had a weakness for it, although generally speaking, not for particularly good chili (closet confession, canned chili is often a go-to quick lunch for me).

This, however, is good chili, like really good chili.

I start with this Bobby Flay recipe but make a few changes.

  1.  I sub out have the meat for Italian sausage (this is an Italian food blog after all). I figure it gives the chili that little oomph that a chorizo might.
  2. No home cook has anywhere near the various chilis and chili powders that Bobby calls for here.  Get a variety of as many fresh peppers as you can and depending on your heat preferences, up the quantity of the mild or hot chilis. (i.e use more habaneros if you want it spicy, use more poblanos if you want a milder flavor.
  3. Use the powders you have on hand and don’t worry about it (every kitchen should keep chili powder, chipotle powder and cayenne though)

For a side, why get a boring load of bread when you can make a quick cornbread with cheddar and jalapenos (again, up the jalapenos if you want it spicier). And since it’s a Barefoot Contessa recipe, there’s very little reason to change a thing, because as we all know, Ina is awesome.

And of course, no chili dinner would be complete without beer, and lots of it. In this case a Sierra Nevada.

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.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

99.9% of Americans will tell you this is the most Italian dish in the world; in reality, no actual Italian would eat pasta with their meatballs. No matter to us, this is the ultimate family dish. I have fond memories of gathering every Sunday at my grandmothers for Sunday supper, yet, oddly, my sauce is nothing like hers.   She made hers rather thin, mine is quite thick, almost like a bolognese.

There’s really no recipe here, I’ve made it so many times I can do it in my sleep, but here’s a rough guide so you can do it yourself.

Sauce:

  1. Roast some garlic in the oven (275 degrees for about an hour and a half)
  2. In a dutch oven, heat some olive oil and sautee some onions for about 5 min. throw in some hot Italian sausage, and let that caramelize for about 8 minutes.  Now toss in the roasted garlic and red pepper flake
  3. Optional, if you have some open red wine, throw it in here maybe a half a cup or so, and let that cook down
  4. Put in one can of diced tomatoes, one can of tomato sauce, one can of tomato paste, and then add two cans of water (from the diced tomato can)
  5. Add a heavy amount of basil, parsley and oregano.  Lower the heat to simmer, and let it cook for several hours
  6. After a few hours, blend the sauce with an emersion blender, add in the meatballs (below) let it cook for a few hours more, fresh parm and copious amounts of wine.

Meatballs:

Pretty easy recipe –Make sure everything is room temp

  1. 2/3 ground beef, 1/3 ground pork. (if you’re feeling really fancy, you can substitute 1/3 of the ground beef for veal).
  2. Add in a little salt, fistfulls of dried basil, parsley and oregano and some dried italian breadcrumbs
  3. Add in an egg or 2, then mix it all together with your hands
  4. Quickly sear/fry the meatballs in olive oil (60 seconds a side) — then place them into the sauce after step 6 above to let them fully cook

 

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.

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!

Milan meets the Ocean

Years ago, the wife and I honeymooned in Italy. To this day, there’s a small part of me that’s surprised we ever left (jobs and having a source of income are funny like that) – but about two years ago, we went back, and took the then 11-month-old munchkin to Lake Como and Milan. Milanese cuisine is often hit or miss  The farther north you go in Italy, the more the cuisine starts to resemble French and German, neither of which are bad, just neither of which are the Italian that I love.

However, the one thing the Milanese do better than just about anyone is risotto.  As i’ve mentioned before, risotto itself is generally quite easy to make, as you can count the ingredients you need on one hand.  This NYTimes recipe is a good place to start, although as I almost always pair risotto with scallops, I tend to use seafood stock for the broth rather than other options (in this case I used some leftover shrimp stock I had in the fridge.

The little guy ended up eating his weight in risotto. Damn if saffron doesn’t cost several hundred dollars a pound….

Mother’s Day Creative Pasta

I’m fortunate enough to have a better half, although to be honest, most days it feels more like she’s the better three quarters.  She’s brilliant– I, um, try hard. She’s successful, I often hack my way through.  She’s gorgeous, I’m, well, me. But at least I can cook, and I try to put a smile on her face come dinner time every night, and make an extra effort to go that extra mile on holidays.

Unfortunately, many of her favorite meals in my lexicon aren’t exactly pregnancy-friendly (my seared tuna with mango avocado salsa, for example)– So this Mother’s Day, I went with a little creativity and hoped for the best.

The weather was lousy here today, grey and wet. So I wanted to do something a little more hearty for dinner tonight, which led me to mushrooms, and being Italian pasta on a Sunday seemed to make the most sense.  The result — this.  A wild mushroom spaghetti

I took a variety of mushrooms (porcini, hen of the woods, baby bellas) – and sauteed them in garlic, olive oil, and shallots, threw in some white wine and some herbs grown in the garden (sage and basil) then pureed most of it with a little cream and goat cheese. I added a little pasta water to loosen it up and bind it to the pasta and then topped it off with a few of the mushrooms that were pulverized and of course, a little parm.

Served alongside some simply roasted broccoli, and a glass of red (for me) — and all and all, not too bad.

Although, probably a safe bet that next Mother’s Day will involve seared tuna.