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!

Duck: Not Just for Holidays

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of turkey, which means come holiday time while everyone else is overcooking their Butterballs, I’m finding other ways to put a meat on the table. Usually, that involves one of my favorite meats: duck.  Over the years, we’ve made some pretty tasty holiday dinners, and always say we should cook it more often throughout the year, and almost never do. I’m not sure why; a duck breast costs just about as much as a decent steak, which we usually have once a week.

With the weekend here, I was looking to do something a little different, so I went over to our local butcher looking for some inspiration. While I bypassed the alligator steaks and ground camel they had for sale (someday!) — the duck looked great and affordable. So I grabbed some — and found this tasty recipe from Epicurious, most of which I already had in the house. I mean, duck, bacon, dates —  how can you go wrong?

Don’t let the picture fool you, it’s actually a pretty easy dish.  I took my time and did things separately, but you could easily get this on the table in an hour.

One tip for the duck breast, start them skin side down in a stone cold pan. The slow heating makes it less likely that you’ll burn the skin.

Enjoy!

The Best Potato Salad

There’s something quintessentially American about the summer holiday BBQ, and nothing goes as well with the grilled meats and the outdoor heat as some cool potato salad.  Unfortunately, most of the stuff you can buy premade in the grocery store has the taste and consistency of wallpaper paste.

This blog is still in its nascent days, and I know I might lose most if not all of my followers by stating that the best potato salad you’ll ever have, has its roots in a Guy Fieri recipe. But stick with me here.  Truth be told, if you get passed the annoying persona, and don’t try to eat anything he might try to sell you at a restaurant with his name on it, that he’s almost certainly never seen, most of his recipes offer a good starting point for “American” food.

Keywords: starting point

So, you start here but it’s not where you finish

  1. I mix up the potatoes, using red and Yukon Gold
  2. Instead of grilling the potatoes — I roast them in the over (400 degrees for 70 min) with some butter, paprika, chipotle powder, as well as S&P
  3. In addition to the onion, I add in some finely diced jalapenos and poblanos (use whatever peppers you want though)
  4. In the sauce mixture, I’ll drop a chipotle pepper in there and blend it up.

And there you have it — Possibly the best potato salad you’ll ever have –and no donkey sauce anywhere in sight.

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.

 

 

Christmas Eve – Dessert

The feast is not complete without dessert.  Since I was a kid, I’ve always been a sucker for tiramisu. Since I’ve been an adult (ok, a teenager) I’ve been a sucker for limoncello.  This dessert makes a perfect marriage of both — although of note, you can cut WAY down on the amount of limoncello you use — I ended up having limoncello syrup for months (not necessarily a bad thing to pour over gelato mind you, but at 30 bucks a bottle– things add up!)

Despite the booze on the inside, a Vin Santo cuts the sweetness nicely.

 

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Dessert: Limoncello Tiramisu

 

 

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 

 

Christmas Eve – First Course

I love scallops. My wife loves scallops. My two-year-old son devours them. It’s an expensive habit to have.

When I first took over the feast, I knew I wanted to have the first course be a single scallop over something. I scoured the internet looking for an idea on how to serve them, and pretty much came up empty, until I found this recipe.  As far as writing and details go, its not the greatest piece of writing in the world (like, for example, there’s no reference in the writing to whatever that puree is under the scallop) but the ingredients are all there and over the past few years, I’ve made this one my own.  It pairs with a chardonnay quite nicely

 

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#5 Scallops with Butternut Squash Caponata

 

 

Christmas Eve Appitizers

We started these and paired the course with some prosecco.

Oven Fried Shrimp

One of my oldest memories from Christmas Eve at my Aunt’s– was the fried shrimp.  She would buy enormous piles of frozen, pre-breaded shrimp, and then place them out for all of us to gorge on.  I’d have dozens.

However, frozen seafood is a mortal sin, so I’ve found this recipe from Williams and Sonoma that packs a ton of flavor, and cuts down on the oil. Some of the courses for the feast change each year, this one is a staple

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#1 Oven-Fried Shrimp

Lobster Arancini

A new addition to the feast for 2017 from Homemade Italian Cooking, and one that has the potential to have some staying power. I made the risotto the night before, and then rolled and fried the arancini in the early afternoon (my first attempt at ever deep frying something). They turned out great, with the added bonus of being pretty affordable. The cost of buying fresh seafood can add up pretty quickly, but relatively speaking, lobster is pretty damn affordable these days. I was able to make them all for about 20 dollars.

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#2 Lobster Arancini

Calamari Soup 

Here’s another recipe steeped in family tradition, that’s been a staple of our Christmas Eve for generations. I found a riff on my Aunt Jean’s recipe. Although it should be noted I have no biological relationship to Jean (remember, Italians can pick their family). This one happens to be one of my dad’s favorites.

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#3 Calamari Soup

 

Smoked Salmon Crostini  

This one’s quick and easy — and one of those things that can stay around all night as people come and go. Thanks to Tori Avey for the recipe 

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#4 Smoked Salmon Crostini  

 

Christmas Eve 2017

The-Feast-of-the-Seven-Fishes

 

If you’ve never experienced an Italian Christmas Eve, you really need to make an Italian friend, particularly one with roots in Southern Italy (my family is from Calabria) to experience La Vigilia, or its Americanized version — the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Steeped in Catholic tradition, the entirely seafood meal marks the vigil before the Christmas Day feast.  Growing up in the 80s, my Aunt would host the feast in her small house in Southern California, putting out enormous plates of food late in the afternoon, with hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people parading in and out of the house over the course of the night. As the night got longer, people got drunker, the games of morra got louder, and the food got colder.  I always remember never getting to taste much of the food, and certainly not tasting it as it was intended.

As my aunt got older, and eventually passed on, my parents took over the tradition and changed it up a bit. The close family would gather in the mid-afternoon for a sit-down meal; it was too much food to eat in one sitting.  After we ate, closer friends would parade through the house throughout the evening, essentially eating our leftovers.

I took over the feast a few years ago and changed it up again. I wanted to make sure everyone, could taste everything as it was intended. So, i turned it into an all day-affair – almost like a tasting menu.  We do appetizers at 3, the first course at 5, a pasta at 7, main course at 9, and then the dessert to ring in Christmas around midnight (our church does an 11pm service on Christmas Eve).  Some people stay for the whole feast, but the intent is for everyone to come and go as they please, so some people come for certain sections, but they all get to enjoy the dish as its intended.  While this does keep me in the kitchen for most of the night, (we have an open kitchen) — I actually find it more relaxing than cooking everything at once.  Instead of cooking for hours on end, and then watching everything get cold — I cook for 30-45 min, then get an hour or so off to enjoy some wine, talk with friends (and watch others do the dishes).

Soon we’ll bring the morra games back…

I’ll break it all down by courses below-