Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunday Sauce - Ragu Antica

Growing up, Sunday night in our household was not only family dinner night, but pasta night. And until my sister and I got older and busier with high school sports schedules and other activities, we usually made homemade pasta with my dad. I don't usually make pasta on Sunday nights now, but for some reason it just sounded perfect last night.

I found this recipe in the New York Times, adapted from Osteria Morini in New York which is set to open next month on Lafayette Street in Soho. So here's my adaptation on their adaptation. You can find the NYT's original recipe here.

Time: 2 to 2 1/2 hours
Serves 4

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced celery
2 tablespoons tomato paste
One 28-ounce cans Italian diced or chopped tomatoes, with their juice
Sea salt and black pepper
1/3 lb. ground beef
1/3 lb. ground pork
1/3 lb. ground veal
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig sage
1 bay leaf
Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, about 2 by 2 inches, optional
1/2 pound garganelli or other tube-shaped pasta.

1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes and any juice from the can. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and reduce heat to low.

2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, pork, and veal, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, breaking the pieces with a wooden spoon, until the meat is no longer pink, about 7 minutes.

3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to the sauce. Add rosemary, sage, bay leaf and Parmigiano rind, if using. Cover, and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Discard rosemary, sage, bay leaf and cheese rind. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

4. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, lightly salted water until al dente (about 2 minutes for fresh pasta, or follow manufacturer’s directions for dried), then drain well. Divide the pasta among four plates or bowls, and top with rag├╣.

I've never added Parmigiano-Reggiano rind to a sauce before, and I have to say it made a pretty big difference. By letting the rind cook in the sauce for about an hour and a half it got a bit melty, and released a great salty flavor into the sauce. But it wasn't just a salty flavor, it was more complex...and then I didn't have to add as much salt. This dish was very easy to make, it does say you need 2 1/2 hours but a majority of that is just letting the sauce cook. I used tagliatelle because I had it on hand, but next time I'll use a tube-shaped pasta because ragu sauces are easier to eat with rigatoni, penne, or something similar. Yum!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Happy Birthday... me! Yesterday was my birthday, so that's why there was no post. I was too busy having fun! But it wouldn't be right if I didn't share some of my birthday treats.

One of my coworkers bough me a carrot cupcake from Sprinkles (actually two cupcakes, but we ate one at work), and my sister sent me pistachio macaroons from Mike's Pastry.

Peter took me to Piccolo Sogno, which I was really excited about because we haven't been in so long - it's been impossible to get a reservation there. We hadn't been since it was cold out, so I hadn't yet seen the back patio. It was so beautiful, all the trees were lit up. Sorry the picture is a bit blurry.

I only took a couple pictures. This one because it was something new I hadn't ordered there - chick pea flour fries with parmesan and rosemary.

We didn't order dessert because I had something waiting at home for me, but they always bring a dish of mini biscotti...and they added a little something special to this one.

And my last birthday treat - Peter got me a baby carrot cake. What a great birthday!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lemon and Herb Crusted Swordfish

When I want to make something new but am short on time to both research recipes and cook, seafood is usually what I gravitate towards. It's pretty easy to find a new spin on some type of fish I make often, and fish always cooks quickly so I don't have to worry about it being labor or time-intensive. Last night I found this Emeril recipe right before I went to the store, and it was exactly what I was looking for - easy, clean flavors, minimal cooking time, fresh ingredients. And for once the recipe was for just two servings, I didn't have to cut it down!

2 teaspoons chopped lemon zest
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chervil
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
2 (6-ounce) swordfish steaks
1 tablespoon canola oil

In a bowl combine the lemon zest, dill, parsley, chervil, and black pepper.

Season the fish with salt and pepper, then lightly brush with Dijon mustard on one side.

Firmly press the mustard coated side of the swordfish into the lemon-herb mixture.

In a skillet (preferably non-stick) heat canola oil. Place fish, coated side down into the hot oil. Cook for 4 minutes, until the crust turns golden. Flip and continue to cook for 3 more minutes.

I did have a few things go wrong here. I wanted to cook the fish on the grill instead of in a pan, but as soon as I put it on the propane ran out.

I had to cook it on the stove instead but some of the herbs had already fallen off, so I tried to preserve as much as I could. Then the fresh mozzarella I was planning on using for a caprese salad was bad. Ugh. Despite all that, it was a great meal and now I have a new way to make swordfish to add to my repertoire!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Red Lentil Soup

Well, the beans/nuts/grains section at Whole Foods got me again. This time, red lentils.

I wasn't sure what I was going to make with them, but I knew I had to have them. I was thinking I would probably use them as some sort of side dish, but I walked by a Middle Eastern restaurant on my way home and started thinking about lentil soup. Here's my adaptation of a recipe I found on

Serves 2-3
2 2/3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup pound red lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 small/medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
chopped cilantro, for garnish
fresh lemon juice, for garnish

Bring chicken stock and lentils to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in garlic and onion, and cook until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 3 minutes.

Stir onions into the lentils and season with cumin, salt and pepper. Continue simmering until the lentils are tender, about 10 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro and a bit of fresh lemon juice.

So quick and easy! You can puree the soup using an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender, but I like the texture of the onions. Since I came up with the idea for soup on my way home, I hadn't thought ahead to buy some pita bread for dipping. Next time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What's In Your Fridge?

I'm back! You probably didn't even miss me, did you. I was pretty busy last weekend so I took a brief hiatus (see also: computer, near death experience). Sadly I haven't cooked anything fun for the last couple days, and I did try a new restaurant but forgot my camera! Ugh! We went to the Purple Pig and it was excellent. Our server informed us that Bon Appetit just wrote about them, putting them on their 10 best new restaurant list, so we felt lucky to beat the rush that will surely come over the next few weeks. I guess I'll just have to go back so I can take some pictures!

The idea for today's post comes from my sister, who sent me a Daily Candy Facebook album of what editors that work there have in their refrigerators. So fun! Here's how my fridge is looking at the moment:

Pretty standard, I guess. Although I did count 11 - yes, 11 - kinds of cheese in there. And Peter just made a trip to Binny's which explains the abundance of weird, hoppy beers I don't like. Other than that...two Britta pitchers (don't ask), some leftovers, lots of mustards and jams on the top, and some eggs and leafy greens on the bottom. And my beloved milk is on the door so it didn't make it into the picture.

Anyone have anything amazing, disgusting, or just plain old funny in their fridge at the moment?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cacio e Pepe

My inspiration for this one comes from this week's episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. He went to Rome for the first time (?!#$&*#%&) and made a beeline for one of the most classic Italian dishes - cacio e pepe (spaghetti with cheese and pepper). Do yourself a favor and DVR this episode if you didn't see it - it's on again Monday at 7/6 central on the Travel Channel. You'll find yourself looking up how many frequent flyer miles you need to fly to Rome before the episode is even over.

This dish is as basic as you can get. However, never having made it, I did need a little guidance. I looked up several recipes and they all called for olive oil, butter, cheese, salt, and pepper. Hmm...isn't it called "cacio e pepe"? Not "cacio, pepe, olio, burro, sale". Just sayin'. One even said to add arugula. Arugula?! I looked up recipes in Italian, and through the very little bit of the Italian language I know I gathered that the recipes were all calling for cheese, pepper, and bit of pasta water. That sounds more like the real deal.

Cacio e pepe is traditionally made with tagliolini, spaghetti or bucatini. I couldn't find fresh versions of any of those (and didn't have it in me to make homemade pasta that night) so I went with this imported tagliatelle because it was a very thin egg pasta which would be soft, and perfect for absorbing the cheese sauce.

Here's all you need:

about 9 oz. of pasta (I used half of that package which was 500 grams total)
1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
1 teaspoon pepper

Boil a pot of well-salted water. For the pepper - I did 1/2 tsp. ground, and the other 1/2 tsp. I put whole peppercorns into a ziploc bag and crushed them so I had some bigger pieces.

Cook the pasta, drain (but save about 1 cup of the water!!), and add the pasta back to the pot with just a touch of olive oil to keep it from sticking together or the pan. Add the cheese, pepper, and roughly 1/4 cup of the water. Mix to combine.

The cheese and water should meld to form a nice, cheesy sauce. If it's too pasty add a bit more water - I think I ended up using 1/3 cup.

Ahh, just like Roma! Ok, let's not get carried away here. Just like...Little Italy. One point made in the show was about how incredibly important fresh, seasonal, high-quality ingredients are to Italian cooking. If something's not in season, it's simply not used. Pasta and cheese don't go out of season, obviously...but I think the reason many of the American recipes for this dish called for oil, butter, and salt is to make up for the possibility of lower quality ingredients being used. As long as you use good quality pasta (fresh if possible), and freshly grated cheese and cracked pepper you can't go wrong.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mussels in White Wine

PEI (Prince Edward Island) mussels seem to be a bit harder to find in Chicago, so when I saw them at Isaacson & Stein I didn't think twice and bought a pound and a half. Mussels are so quick and easy to make, and I knew I wanted to do a basic white wine recipe so I consulted my good friend Ina when I got home. I found this great, basic recipe for white wine broth and I cut it in half (and changed just a couple things) since I had 1 1/2 pounds of mussels.

3 pounds cultivated mussels
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup chopped shallots (5 to 7 shallots)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
1/2 cup chopped canned plum tomatoes, drained (4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon good saffron threads
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup good white wine
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

If they're dirty, scrub the mussels with a brush under running water. Remove the "beard" from each with your fingers. Discard any mussels whose shells aren't tightly shut. (If any of the mussels are a tiny bit open, give them a good tap against the countertop and if they're still alive they will close. If they don't close they're dead, so toss them.)

In a large non-aluminum stockpot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent.

Add the tomatoes, saffron, parsley, thyme, wine, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot, and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until all the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open). With the lid on, shake the pot once or twice to be sure the mussels don't burn on the bottom.

Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large bowl and serve hot.

How easy is that? All the work is in the prep for the broth, the actual cooking of the mussels couldn't be easier. You can change up the broth however you like - onions instead of shallots, no saffron if you don't like it, add chorizo slices or a little cream to the broth to really give it a different flavor, and you can change up the fresh herbs too - tarragon is a good addition. Serve with crusty bread for dipping. Fries wouldn't hurt, either.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Isaacson & Stein Fish Co.

I'm sorry Rubino's, but I'm in love with a new fish market...and its name is Isaacson & Stein. Isaacson isn't new, just new to me. It's in the West Loop, where I don't venture during the day all that often.

It still has a wholesaler feel to it, as does Rubino's, but it's not so much of a warehouse. They sell to both restaurants and the public. Their fish is really excellent quality, a lot of sushi-grade fish, and fantastic prices. They have a lot of whole fish, which they will filet for you if you ask.

They had so many types of fish I had never even heard of, one that's sticking out in my mind was a Pompano fish. I hope that's what it was called, I can't remember. I'm sorry, I'm not being very eloquent here. They sell fish. I like fish. Fish yummy.

They also had a whole row of filets and a great assortment of shellfish, plus lots of frozen things like lobster tails, crab meat, and frog legs.

That thing was big enough to be Ursula the Sea Witch. They also sell fish bones to make stock.

I ended up buying a pound of beautiful, deep red sushi-grade tuna, and a pound and a half of PEI mussels. For $20. Whaaaat? Yes,$20 for everything. Isaacson & Stein is my new favorite spot, next time I'm in the West Loop I'm definitely going back.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Boston Trip - Oro

So, I've saved the best for last. Or...I've procrastinated and put off the post requiring the most work until now. But really, this is the piece de resistance of all my Boston Trip posts. My cousin Evan has been working for a few months now as the sous-chef at Oro, a new restaurant in Scituate. My family usually doesn't venture out of the house for dinner on our annual Massachusetts vacation, because we're an unwieldy group of about 18 or so. We spent many years doing our week-long vacation on Chappaquiddick, and when people ask me what some of my favorite places to go on Martha's Vineyard are...uhhh...the back deck of our rental house? But we had to make an exception this year and try out Evan's new place of employment.

The restaurant is gorgeous, it has a very clean, simple look and has a lot of natural light. I sound like I'm trying to sell an apartment. That picture above is what you see when you walk in the front door, and this is the main dining room which we had all to ourselves.

Because we had the whole dining room, the restaurant did some special hors d'oeuvres for us. We walked in to find this beautiful cheese plate of parmesan (which I think I ate about half a pound of, it was addictive), goat cheese coated with herbs, some sort of blue, and salami which I overheard came from Paris. And as you can see, two dishes of olives.

The next addition to the table - grilled asparagus with truffle oil and more of that amazing parmesan. Later they brought out some marinated peppers, and bread slices. There was so much food I just couldn't get pictures of all of it!

There were also passed hors d'oeuvres. I only got a photo of the fried artichokes, but there were also chicken skewers with a dipping sauce, thinly-sliced beef tenderloin on little toasts, and some sort of amazing contraption of salty baked potato stuffed with salmon. I hope I'm not leaving any out.

We had a menu set up for us with three choices for the appetizer course, and four for the main course. Ahem, VIPs.

I had the corn chowder, as did everyone I was sitting near, so that's the only appetizer I got a photo of. This was not, as my sister says, "small food stacked high". The bowl of chowder was the size of my head. I so badly wanted to finish it but I knew I would immediately go into a food coma, need to be horizontal, and not be able to eat my main course.

Oh, hello there delicious clam. The soup was amazing. Very creamy, and lots of corn kernels, bacon, and clams. What more could you ask for?

For the main course I had the orechiette. If you know me, you know if orechiette is on the menu that's what I'll always order. Orechiette is my favorite pasta shape, and it's usually served with some kind of sausage or ragu which is perfect because it sticks inside the little "ears".

To my right, my dad had the striped bass:

And to my left, Peter had the steak:

Those fries were so good. Everything was so good. Just when I thought I couldn't possibly take another bite of anything, these guys showed up:

The first one is a goat cheese cheesecake with raspberry sorbet and a strawberry rhubarb compote, and the second is lemon thyme creme brulee with a shortbread cookie. I hope I got all that right. They were both fantastic, nice and light summer desserts.

That's Evan with Robin King, the owner and head chef. Robin and his wife Jill opened Oro together. They made the whole night for my family incredible. The food, the service...everything was perfect. And with that,this is now my longest and best post to date. Whew, I need another vacation!

162 Front St., Scituate MA 02066

Monday, August 16, 2010

Boston Trip - Smorgasbord

I still have a ridiculous amount of pictures from vacation, I just can't post them all because I would still be writing about my trip for another 2 weeks. And it would get a little boring. So today I give you an assortment of the best ones, and tomorrow I will give you the grand finale. I've been saving the best post for last.

First night of the trip: pizza at Joe V's. Here's the "yoga pizza" which has prosciutto, arugula, parmesan, mushrooms, and truffle oil.

Did you know it's been scientifically proven that sandwiches taste better at the beach? It's true. This is a roast beef sammy with tomatoes, onions, and pickles from Maria's. And of course Cape Cod chips and a Whale's Tale.

Some beautiful fresh berries...

Which my aunt Linda turned into strawberry shortcake with sweetened sour cream.

Ahh, a thing of beauty. A grill full of chourico, and chourico meat.

I actually don't think I had ever had the meat, they're just little pork cutlets with the same spices as chourico. Cut up and dipped in some Dijon didn't last long.

At Julie and Lou's wedding, they had a groom's cake at the rehearsal dinner. This one was done by Delicious Desserts in Falmouth, MA.

Back in Boston...more pizza. Shocking, I know. We picked up a few pizzas from Fig's on Charles Street in Beacon Hill. This one has prosciutto and fig balsamic.

And the last meal of the trip - Union, in the South End. Here's the gnocchi, which was a special that night.

And bucatini carbonara. You can never go wrong with carbonara.

So long, Boston. Until next time...