8.26.2013

Summertime

Summer seems to be sailing by, it's already the end of August and most crops are hitting their peak. Pinterest is swarming with tomato and corn recipes and we've been keeping cool with an array of grilled meats, pasta salads and my riff on a Vietnamese cold noodle bowl.

However, I'm already yearning for the cold weather comforts of soups, stews and steaming bowls of pasta so I came up with a cold version (okay, really a room temperature version) of my favorite pasta carbonara, it's fresh tasting and light but still has the comforts of my favorite pasta dish. It's an obsession, really. I also have a carbonara pizza recipe that I'll share soon enough, in the mean time make the most of what's left of summer with this tasty and comforting salad.


Carbonara Pasta Salad
Serves four
Ingredients
8oz (half a box) Gemelli pasta (Barilla)
1 cup frozen peas
8 oz pancetta or bacon
1 clove garlic
zest of one lemon
olive oil
arugula
4 large eggs
black pepper to taste

Method: 
Put on a pot of salted water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile smash the garlic clove with the flat side of a chef's knife and toss in a saute pan with pancetta, cook until lightly crisp and remove from heat. Once cooled drain off fat and remove garlic clove from its skin and mince finely. When Pasta is cooked, drain and toss in a large bowl with frozen peas, pancetta/garlic mixture, and olive oil. 

Bring a shallow pan of water to a boil, meanwhile zest the lemon over the bowl and let cool while poaching the eggs. Poach eggs one at a time and drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Add a few handfuls of arugula to a shallow pasta bowl and scoop up some of the pasta salad over it, top with a poached egg and finish with fresh cracked black pepper. Serve immediately with red pepper flakes and more olive oil for drizzling. 

7.18.2013

Get on the Grain Salad Bandwagon, it's Delicous.

Midsummer is my favorite time for the delicious grain salads that remind me of Italy. My first encounter was a barley, farro, and rice salad mixed with prosciutto cotto, peas and herbs while I sat in the kitchen of an agriturismo in the Bolognese hills. Nothing ever tasted so delicious in my life.  Served at room temperature these are healthy, filling and make a great aperitivo with an aperol spritz or as a side to hearty grilled meats such a lamb or pork. I had almost completely forgotten all about them after I moved back to the states but my inspiration to start making them again was dinner at The Granite Restaurant in Concord. Grilled Moroccan lamb rib chops with a barley salad that was so delicious, I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. 

The combinations are pretty much endless, depending on your tastes, and the grains are easily interchangeable or combined for a delicous mixed grain salad. Most grains such as barely or farro are easy to cook plus just as easily found in supermarkets and specialty gourmet grocers. Below are two of my favorite recipes but they are really just a base for what's in season or in your fridge; use lima beans instead of chickpeas or baby kale instead of arugula. White long grain and wild rice, sweet peas and smoked oysters would be a lovely combination without much fuss. Either way, keep it simply dressed and throw in your favorite fresh herbs or greens and you've got a refreshing, plus satisfying salad on your hands!
 


Summer Barley Salad
Serves four lunch portions or eight side dish portions 
Ingredients
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 can of quartered artichoke hearts, plus two tablespoons of brine
1 can of chickpeas, drain and rinsed
4 tomatoes, cut into eighths 
2 cups pearled barley
arugula
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

Method:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees, arrange tomatoes on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and flaky sea salt such as Maldon, roast until soft and caramelized around the edges, about 45 minutes to one hour. Meanwhile cook barley according to package directions, rinse with cool water and drain. While the barley and tomatoes are cooking mix lemon zest and juice, shallot, artichoke hearts, and chickpeas in a large bowl. Toss with drained barley, roasted tomatoes and good extra virgin olive oil  to taste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on a bed of arugula for a light lunch or on the side of your favorite grilled meat.


Farro with Sautéed Asparagus and Shrimp
Serves four lunch portions or eight side dish portions
Ingredients
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 bunch of asparagus, washed and trimmed
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 lb of large raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/4 cup of oil cured black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 cups of farro 
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
arugula
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil  

Method:
Cook farro according to package directions, rinse with cool water and drain. In a large bowl combine farro, lemon zest and juice, shallots and olives. On medium heat sauté the asparagus until just tender about 7-10 minutes, depending on thickness, set aside to cool. In the same pan sauté shrimp on medium high heat for five minutes until pink, toss in garlic and cook additional two minutes or so until fragrant and golden. Add hot shrimp and garlic to bowl with other ingredients. Chop asparagus into approximately two inch pieces and toss with olive oil to taste and a healthy amount of parmigiano-reggiano into the salad. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately on a bed of arugula and red pepper flakes. 


Buon appetito!




7.09.2013

Hot Day, Cold Noodles

The New Hampshire heat wave has continued and the extreme humidity makes me want to drink sweet tea on a wrap around porch with a pleasant breeze lightly fanning my hair back off my face. Such a lovely and relaxing thought; instead, my curly hair is bigger and frizzier than ever and I'm schlepping thirty ounce iced sweet teas to the masses.

At least it's warm enough to enjoy one of my favorite summertime meals, a cold rice noodle bowl from the best Vietnamese pho place in NH called Pho Golden Bowl. I've been craving it lately and made a few attempts to make it myself, the first time came out pretty tasty but just wasn't the flavor profile I was going for. Then in the June issue of Bon Appetit there were several recipes for cold noodles dishes one of which I made a variation of to improve my own vermicelli bowl. The original recipe was more of  a tossed salad with roasted chicken and peanuts instead of thick cut pork chops and cashews. I used a couple components of the dressing as a marinade for the pork instead of using it for the salad. I found that I didn't need any extra sauce for the bowl but if you like it dressed you maybe use the leftover marinade, just reduce it down a bit in a small sauce pan and let cool before serving.

With the help of  Bon Appetit, I was able to adjust the ingredients to make this all at once refreshing and satisfying noodle bowl, especially with the genius and ultra tasty addition of the fried shallots. The cold noodles and garnishes are a great contrast with the warm and salty sweet pork, perfect for a hot and humid summer day.

Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with Grilled Pork
 Serves four
Ingredients
4 thick cut, bone in pork chops
1 8oz package of  rice vermicelli noodles
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 carrot, peeled and julienned
1/2 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 limes, quartered
Baby spinach
two sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped
7-8 mint leaves
1/4 cup of whole cashews, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

Marinade for pork chops
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 inch piece ginger, minced
1 clove garlic,minced
Sriracha to taste
4-5 mint leaves

Method:
Whisk all ingredients for marinade in a bowl, in a shallow dish pierce pork chops all over with a fork and add marinade. Marinate for about 30 minutes turning occasionally. While Pork chops are marinating cook rice vermicelli according to package directions and drain. In a warm pan, heat about four tablespoons oil (such as peanut or grape seed) add shallots and cook over medium heat until golden brown, about ten minutes or so. Drain on a paper towel and set aside. 

Pull pork chops out of the marinade and scrape off excess liquid, cook on a preheated grill or cast iron pan over medium high heat, about 5-6 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a platter, loosely cover with aluminum foil and let rest while assembling the bowls.

Divide the drained noodles between four deep bowls, squeeze 1/4 of a lime over noodles and arrange cold garnishes. A small handful of spinach topped with carrots, a few slices of cucumber and jalapeño. Cut the meat away from the bones and slice the pork chops into thin strip going against the grain, and layer over the noodles. Top with mint, cilantro, shallots and cashews. Serve immediately with sriracha and reduced marinade, if desired.

7.01.2013

Hot Day, Cold Soup

With the arrival of summer here in NH, I’ve been enjoying more grilled meals and cold dishes such as my favorite barley salad. However, it doesn't truly feel like summer until I’ve made gazpacho. Pretty traditional and quite simple, my recipe is based off of the flavor profile of a delicious bowl I had in the amazing city of Barcelona, three or so years ago. This cold soup is one of my favorite things to make on an especially hot and humid summer day; plus, the taste memory brings me back to one of my favorite cities in Europe. Roasting the bell peppers adds a little depth and complexity to this version, especially since it is often described as a salad in liquid form. Gazpacho is refreshing and filling enough to make a meal out of when it follows a small starter of Spanish olives, spicy chorizo and a small wedge of Idiazábal.


Gazpacho 
Four hearty servings
Ingredients
5 medium sized tomatoes
2 red or yellow bell peppers
1 cucumber
2 cloves garlic
½ sweet onion
¼ baguette, day old
2 cups water
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ C good olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish
hard boiled eggs, quartered or chopped
¼ cucumber, small dice
olive oil
kosher salt

Method:
Roast the peppers whole over an open flame or in oven under broiler turned on to low, turning as outside of the pepper chars. When peppers are completely charred, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool. Once the peppers are cool, peel off charred skin, pull off stem and seeds and set aside.

Soak the old bread in the 2 cups of water to soften. Wash and quarter the tomatoes, peel and rough chop the cucumber, smash the garlic clove with the flat side of a knife and remove skin, and rough chop the onion.

Pulse half of the tomatoes in the blender with the cucumber, bell peppers, garlic, and onion, drizzling in olive oil until well pureed, pour into a large bowl. Blend the remaining tomatoes with the softened bread and water, red wine vinegar and cumin, salt and pepper. Add the second batch to the bowl and adjust seasonings as necessary. Let soup chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, longer if you have the have the time. Ladle soup into a bowl and garnish with hardboiled egg, cucumber, olive oil, and salt. Buen Provecho! 

 Iberian deliciousness in Barcelona, May 2010

6.10.2013

News and Tequila

I've yet again become a bit overwhelmed with a few of life's little complications, which successfully took me from the joys of my blog. I thought of it often as I was squaring away some unfinished business and working full time. I longed for a free afternoon (or just an afternoon in which I had the mental energy) to share something I cooked up or a photo of a delicious meal cooked just for me. Things are starting to fall back into place and while the hiatus was anything but stress free, I was able to also think about where I was going with à la crème. 

When I started this blog, it was my first (and scary) small step towards creating something bigger for myself, something that would connect me to an audience with whom I could share my love of cooking, eating and learning. I'm still learning how to maintain my blog and still searching for the quality that sets me apart from all the other culinary bloggers out there but I'm enjoying writing so far. I'm finding it to be quite cathartic, actually, and sharing my knowledge and ideas with the readers of à la crème is a satisfying venture; but I'm ready for more. 

I'm happy (and again, terrified) to share with those who have come across this blog that I'm in the works of expanding à la crème. I'm working on adding new pages to the website that will now include private chef services, as well as private cooking lessons available to those in New Hampshire and parts of New England. It's still going to take some time before I'm fully functional as a private chef and teacher but it's something I've wanted to do for quite a while. So, now, in the midst of new beginnings and transitions, it feels like the perfect time to start the next step in my life. With that said here is a new drink recipe to kick off à la crème's new beginning, slow and steady though it may be. 


The past few weeks I've become slightly obsessed with the perfect warm weather cocktail that has quickly become my favorite to enjoy after work or on a lazy Sunday when I'm craving something refreshing. Sort of a riff on a margarita but easier to make, and slightly addictive, I think the Mexican mule will become my summer drink of 2013. I prefer the taste of silver tequila but you may use any type you like, really. I also use extra dry ginger beer for a less sugary drink but regular ginger beer and ginger ale both make for a delicious and refreshing drink. Cheers!  

Mexican Mule 
Serves one  
Ingredients
½ of one lime, juiced
Two ounces silver tequila 
One bottle of ginger beer or ginger ale

Method:
In a cocktail shaker, add ice, lime juice, and tequila. Shake well, until the outside of the shaker is frosty and pour into a tall glass. Add more ice if desired (I love extra ice) and top off with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge and enjoy!

5.10.2013

Mambo Italiano

I made one of my favorite meals this week, pasta carbonara! It's been ages since I've had it and cooking it brought me back to my tiny blue kitchen in Bologna. I love when that happens. Italy holds such a range of emotions for me and revisiting them from time to time reminds me that even the hardest times in your life can still turn out to be the greatest.

I moved to Italy in July and was fortunate enough to be invited to a friend's family beach house on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast in Tuscany some weeks later. The friend, Fillo, is the son of a chef and quite a talented cook himself. His culinary talent, which I got to experience first-hand over the course of the weekend, was born by pride in his country’s cuisine and an authentic love of good food. A quality I can admire in anyone. I hardly left his side any time he was in the kitchen cooking a meal for the house and asked lots of questions. I went home a few days later to recreate several of his dishes until I had them mastered.

I don’t make carbonara often, partly because it’s addicting and partly because it’s not the healthiest choice to make on a regular basis. I use American style bacon instead of pancetta because when I lived in Italy I preferred to use pancetta affumicata in my carbonara, which, is just Italian style smoked bacon. I haven’t found pancetta affumicata or even slab bacon in my local grocery stores but I love to use the North Country Smokehouse brand of bacon because it’s thick cut and adds a really lovely smokiness to the pasta. Plus it’s from New Hampshire. You may use any type of pancetta or bacon you prefer, smoked or unsmoked, it’s up to you.

I paired the pasta with Bogle Vineyard's Petit Sirah a lovely balanced fruit forward wine at a great value. If you've got a little extra cash to spend I would suggest it paired with Michael and David Winery's Petit Petit, a bold wine that will cut through the richness but balanced and with enough fruit to enjoy a glass while preparing dinner.

Pasta Carbonara 
Serves four
Ingredients
1 box of thick spaghetti
2 whole eggs plus one egg yolk
6 slices of thick cut bacon, cut into ½ inch slices
2 cloves garlic
4-5 springs of fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
Handful of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Method:
Put a large pot of water on to boil. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and scramble, add parmigiano, parsley and mix together. Set aside.

Smash the garlic in its skin with the blunt side of a chefs knife and add it and the bacon to a cold pan. Cook over medium heat until the bacon has rendered most of its fat, take off heat and let cool. Discard the garlic and drain all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, salt it and cook pasta according to package directions. When it is ready save about ½ C of the pasta water (you won't use all of it) and drain the rest into a colander.

Here is where it can get a bit tricky, so following the instructions is very important if you don't want to end up with scrambled egg pasta! Place pasta pot back onto stove with the flame OFF, when the pasta has drained, and cooled a bit, add it back into its pot. Add reserved bacon and fat to the pasta then pour the egg mixture slowly over the pasta and mix together with long kitchen tongs. Add about ½ C of the pasta water and toss the pasta until the sauce comes together, adding more if the sauce is too thick.

The starch in the pasta water and the residual heat from both pasta and water will gently cook and thicken the egg (without making scrambled eggs) and turn it into a delectable sauce. Garnish with parsley, serve immediately and with a crusty loaf of bread.




*Tips and suggestions

Cracking and setting the eggs up first allows them to come up to temperature and will prevent the hot pasta from turning cold eggs into scrambled carbonara.

If you’re cooking on an electric stove, like most of New Hampshire does, I suggest using a large glass or stainless steel bowl to toss the pasta and the sauce together. Residual heat from your electric burner will make scrambled carbonara quicker than you can say bacon.

I occasionally add a handful of fresh or frozen (NEVER canned!) peas for a little more brightness and to make myself feel a little bit healthier. Plus it’s delicious with peas.

Enjoy!


4.29.2013

I Love L.A.

I’ve been back from California for two weeks now, and am only just getting back into my usual routine. It felt like such a short trip, I wasn’t ready to go back to real life. Or work. And with such a sad welcoming home, the Boston marathon bombing happened as I was getting picked up from Logan airport in Boston. New Englanders in general are a hearty bunch but Boston is their city and to see everyone around me so shaken was a little unnerving but it was also amazing to experience “Boston strong” and see the out pour of love and support from other cities. 

I did receive an enthusiastic welcome home from my cat, Ernie, which was nice. Although she has practically been glued to my side since, and has received extra treats regularly to soothe my guilty conscience. And I've finally gotten used to the idea of going back to work, that was an unusually hard one to accept this time around. 
  
While I’m glad to be back home in NH and (finally) settling back into my life, I feel like I reconnected with my city in a way that I haven’t had a chance to in the past. When I visit Los Angeles I typically have a few places that are a must for me to go eat at so I can get my fill of the things I'm missing in NH, surprisingly I didn't go to any but one. I wanted to, but my schedule didn't really allow for it and in the end I got to see a whole new side to my city. Every place I dined was a new and fresh experience for me, which made me fall in love with the diversity that I’ve always known L.A. to have but sort of limited myself off to the places I was determined to be loyal to, this is a little taste of what I experienced. 



I had my first burger from the restaurant inside the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood called 25 Degress at midnight the night I arrived, I didn't want to miss an opportunity!









The next day my friend Dione treated me to a roasted carrot salad from the cafe where she works called The Sycamore Kitchen on La Brea. A nice little cafe with a full bakery, espresso bar, seasonal breakfast and lunch specials and a lovely outdoor patio.


 




I got to spend a full day with my friend Andrew, my most trusted food and restaurant adviser, catching up and fooding around L.A., mostly Korea Town. Our usual goal is to pack in as much food and as many new places in as possible when I'm in town so I had my first experience with Korean dumplings which were amazing and then headed over to Kyochon chicken, a Korean fried chicken chain that will make you want to eat their garlic soy friend chicken for days. 



After our Korean feast we headed over the La Mill Coffee boutique in Silver Lake for some dessert and coffee. My inner barista geeked out on a new coffee and I got to try a brewing method called Eva Solo which is actually very similar to brewing loose leaf tea. Andrew knows the way into my foodie heart.







More of the food experiences that I failed to photograph included several bags of Flamin' Hot Cheeto Puffs my favorite processed food, and the discovery of Tapatio lays which were almost as tough to stop eating. A trip to Lemongrass in Eagle Rock with my lifelong friend Sara for a long chat over a delicious bowl of pho and crispy spring rolls. Happy hour at Kabuki for the spicy tuna salad with my favorite girls. My first taste of Bulgarini Gelato, scoops of both goat's milk with cocoa nibs (sort of a cool riff on chocolate chip) and macadamia nut, totally killer. A lovely meal from Taix at my dear friend's wedding, where I also indulged in a couple delicious, and strong negronis. Although the nicest food experience while I was home was getting an excellent home cooked Egyptian meal by my new friend, Warda, on my last night in Los Angeles.

While I'm sad I missed out on some of my go-to favorites like Pho Super Bowl in Alhambra and of course my favorite west coast burger chain In-N-Out, it was so nice to break out of my shell a little bit and see the food in L.A. from the point of view of my friends in 2013.

I love L.A.

4.07.2013

Catching Up

Hello Friends! I’ve been a little absent lately with some life changes and planning a quick trip home to Los Angeles for a dear friend’s wedding. I’ve still been cooking, but mostly just trying to run down all the perishables in my fridge. What I’ve made include my favorite clam chowder and super simple seared tofu (recipes to come!) but a few weeks ago I made delicious fish tacos and never got around to posting the recipe.

Fish tacos are one of my favorite warm weather treats. Grilled fish, spicy salsa, rice and beans, and margaritas! The fresh ingredients like limes, cilantro and my dad’s simple guacamole remind me of my childhood, but the grilled fish and rice and beans are my riff on the fish tacos I used to eat at Wahoo's in Pasadena. My “secret” seasoning for the fish is Old Bay. I love it. I also use it as my base for blackened fish and even sprinkle some into clam chowder, too. I usually love to grill the fish on a charcoal grill but I haven’t got it out yet, so I did it in my cast iron grill pan instead.

It does take some time to prep all the necessary components but the tacos themselves are simple enough and a nice way to spend a warm and sunny Sunday. And if you have friends over to help, it makes it worth the while.
  

Grilled Fish Tacos
Four servings, about two tacos each
Ingredients
1 lb flakey white fish such as haddock
Old bay seasoning
¼ of a small cabbage shredded
8 small corn tortillas
Grilled red salsa, see recipe
Daddy's guacamole, see recipe
Fresh Mexican style cheese such as cotija or queso fresco*
Cilantro and sliced scallions for garnish

Method:
Over high heat warm a cast iron grill pan or outdoor grill, season both sides of fish with Old Bay. Oil the pan or grates on the grill and add fish cooking 2-3 minutes per side depending on the thickness of the fish. Place cooked fish on a platter and cover with foil, turn heat down and warm tortillas on the grill. To assemble the tacos place tortillas on a serving plate, add large pieces of fish on top of tortillas and garnish with cabbage, cilantro and scallions. Serve with white rice and beans, and fresh radishes. Set out salsa, guacamole, extra limes and cheese on the side. Enjoy with a margarita or Mexican beer.


Grilled Red Salsa 
This is my basic red salsa recipe that I always use. At the peak of tomato season, I'll blend all of the ingredients together without broiling them for a fresh salsa that is refreshing, quick and just as delicious. 
Ingredients
Five medium sized fresh tomatoes
1 yellow onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 jalapeños (remove seeds for less heat)
Small handful of cilantro
Salt to taste

Method:
Remove skins from garlic and onions then halve the tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños. Place the vegetables on a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil and place under the broiler on low until lightly blistered and charred about 10-15 minutes depending on your oven. Let vegetables cool. Blend vegetables with cilantro to taste in a food processor or immersion blender until mostly smooth. Blend in batches if your processor is small and mix in a bowl to finish. Salt to taste and chill.


Daddy's Guacamole
This is really just a riff on my dad's guacamole but his is just as simple, and this is how I prefer it. You are welcome to add in tomatoes, onions, etc for a chunkier and heartier guacamole, if that's what you prefer. 
Ingredients
2 ripe avocados
½ lime
1 clove of fresh garlic, minced
Ground cumin to taste, about two teaspoons
Salt to taste

Method:
Halve and pit avocados, scoop out flesh into a bowl, add minced garlic clove, squeeze lime, cumin and salt to taste. Mash with a fork until well mixed, leaving some pieces of avocado for texture.





*Fresh Mexican cheeses can still be hard to find in some areas outside of a large city. So if you can’t find them, a common replacement in Hispanic households is the green can of Kraft parm. It sounds strange, I know. But it’s similar in taste and texture to crumbled cotija and something that I use myself mostly because it’s what my dad always used while I was growing up. I often sprinkle it on top of a tostada spread with guacamole or red salsa, it’s delicious. I promise!

3.25.2013

Prosciutto e Melone

I was going through some old photos today and came across this delightful looking one that I took of my lunch last summer. Prosciutto and melon is a pretty classic pairing even stateside these days, it was a part of the curriculum in my International class in culinary school and I'm fairly certain I even remember eating it at a wedding in the late nineties. It is one of my favorite summertime treats, the sweet juicy cantaloupe and the dry salty prosciutto make for a delicious and light pairing. 

It also reminds me a lot of my first summer in Bologna; making more new memories quicker than I would ever be able to remember, meeting new friends, and of all things, gelato. Some things you just never forget. I'll never forget sitting in wonderment at a table full of Italian musicians laughing and teasing each other, while I ate prosciutto e melone.  

Today, I'm dreaming of summer in Italy. And gelato.


As long as you're buying the good stuff, that being Prosciutto di Parma, a little prosciutto goes a long way. A quarter pound usually ends up somewhere between six and eight slices depending how thinly sliced it is, and where it's being sliced from on the leg. That's plenty for three people as a light lunch with two generous slices each of ripe cantaloupe. Buon appetito! 

3.21.2013

Egg-cellence

I sort of have an obsession with eggs. And it’s sort of gotten worse over the last year or so, but there’s a qualifier involved, I can’t stand an over cooked egg. Things such as frittatas, quiches, scrambled eggs, all are questionable unless made by myself or a deeply trusted cook. It’s a texture thing. When it comes to whole eggs (boiled, poached, fried) it must be a medium yolk, which surprisingly, takes love and attention to one's egg. Whites set but not browned or rubbery, yolk still a deep orangey color and thickened like a sauce but not too runny and certainly not pale and chalky. I’ve come to truly love eating eggs for breakfast as well as for lunch or dinner, something I never really thought about doing until an Italian friend served us sautéed onions and potatoes that he had cracked eggs over and cooked until the yolks were barely set, and just like that called it dinner! I loved it and made it often with fresh herbs, and sometimes tomatoes while we lived in Italy. Then two autumns ago, while I was out visiting in California, my friend Andrew took me to an amazing Israeli restaurant for shashuka (eggs poached in a spicy Mediterranean tomato sauce) and my egg obsession really started to grow. I make a riff on the tomatoes with bacon, parmigiano-reggiano and good olive oil almost weekly. I’m known, famous even, for adding a poached egg to pretty much anything and calling it good; salad, soba and other Asian inspired noodles, pasta. You name it, and I’ve probably got an instagrammed photo of it.

This afternoon, I made a late lunch out of garlic, sausage, potatoes, and a can of tomatoes. Then cracked a few eggs into them and delighted in the outcome. I used breakfast sausage because most of the premade sausages don’t appeal to me. Sweet Italian sausage links aren’t at all similar to what we ate in Bologna, and I don’t particularly care for the abundance of fennel seed. If they or any other type of sausages appeal to you, please, use them to your taste. I also normally use red potatoes but had a lot of leftover brown russet potatoes left over from St. Patrick’s day, so threw those in instead. Versatility is the heart of this recipe, and that means it will always be delicious. Accompany this one dish delight with sliced baguette and lots of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

    
 Rustic Sausage and Tomato Stew
Serves three hungry people

Ingredients
3 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
2 medium sized red or brown russet potatoes, medium dice
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
16 oz Breakfast style pork sausage
6 large eggs
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
about 4 handfuls of fresh arugula

Method:
Warm about two tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep sauté pan over medium high heat, add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add sausage and brown about five minutes stirring occasionally. In the meantime dice potatoes and add to the pan along with the can of tomatoes plus one canful of water and fresh thyme. Cook until potatoes are tender 15-20 minutes on medium low heat. Reduce heat to low. 

One at a time crack each egg into a small bowl and arrange over the tomato mixture. Cover and cook until eggs are just set about 8 minutes or so, whites will be completely set and yolks will be slightly firm to touch.

Serve in shallow pasta dishes and garnish with a few handfuls of torn arugula and sea salt. 

Buon appetito!

3.13.2013

Unexpected Nostalgia

This morning I was online perusing The New York Times Dining & Wine section, it’s my weekly hump day highlight, and an article called Treasures of the Alps caught my eye. I clicked on it and it turned out to be about featured wines from one of my favorite regions in Italy; Valle D’Aosta. I didn’t even finish reading it because I started to reminisce about the last time I was there. In June 2009, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a week long road trip to Switzerland. From Bologna we drove through Valle D’Aosta, where we spent the night in Aosta before moving on, and had a lovely experience in this little known region of Italy. 


Valle D’Aosta is Italy’s smallest region tucked right under the alpine borders of France and Switzerland. Being in the Italian Alps it’s attractive for the many ski resorts and even has a national park. Other than that it’s almost all sparsely populated rural towns and villages with the capital city being Aosta. It’s a small city with a clear Roman heritage and culturally a sweet mix of French and Italian, from the street names to the cuisine. We experienced a delicious Valdostana meal of roasted rabbit, local cheeses and a baked dish of crespelle (Italian crepes) and fontina paired with a local Gewurztraminer. We walked the cobblestone streets admiring the small specialty shops and enjoyed drinks in Piazza Chanoux. I adored Aosta for its culture and history, and like most Italian cities, a major perk was how easy the city center was to navigate by foot. What made me fall in love with it, however, was its pure untouched and lush beauty. How it was nestled in the Italian Alps, hidden from the rest of Italy and the surrounding borders. It’s a place I consistently dream about returning to and one of the first places I recommend going to when people ask about Europe.



If you decide to travel to Valle D’Aosta, I highly recommend staying at a small agriturismo called La Reina outside the center of Aosta. We stayed in the green room twice, and absolutely loved it for the quality, good food and fantastic people. It’s a family run operation on a small plot of land with a small garden and livestock. For breakfast they set out an assortment of fruit preserves and bread for us, as well as some amazing charcuterie, everything made in house. The concept of an agriturismo is similar to that of a bed and breakfast, usually a family run farmhouse inn with breakfast included but made with ingredients produced or grown on the farm or from other local farms. Sometimes agriturismi also feature live music on the weekends and a farm to table dinner menu. It’s meant to be a way to combine agriculture and tourism, hence the name agriturismo. These days we are learning how important it is to support small businesses and local economies, so it is a great way to help a community that you’re visiting while abroad. It is also an excellent opportunity to experience the locals. It’s one of my many culinary dreams to have a similar concept here in the U.S. some day.

Sometimes I forget how fortunate I am to have experienced living and traveling in Europe. I take it for granted but then am somehow reminded of the places I’ve seen and I can’t believe that I’ve seen them. Photos of places I had never heard of until a few years ago are sitting in folders on my computer, and I’m amazed all over again when I look at them. It reignites my passion for travel, for culture, and for learning. While I miss Bologna and Europe, I look forward to my future traveling and eating endeavors across other continents and can’t wait to share them with you. 


3.11.2013

Springing Forward

With March upon us, spring is starting to approach ever so slightly. The temperature is already noticeably warmer and the air is even starting to smell spring like; I’m thriving! The lovely warm and clear weather from the past few days put me in a mood for something light, something fresh and palate cleansing. Initially, I thought about making a meal out of bread and cheese but I was craving something green, too. I looked around the cheese shop, searching for inspiration as I closed for the evening. My eye caught a bottle of Monmarte, a French sparkling white wine, and my mind started to think Parisian. I remembered a delicious starter salad with fried goat cheese that I tasted while in Paris a few years ago. The two seemed like a logical pairing and so I decided on dinner.


I have a deep affinity for sparkling white wines, Prosecco being my favorite for its crisp clean taste and small bubbles. This Monmarte is quite comparable; clean with small bubbles but with distinctive fruit and a lovely dry finish. As you might already know from my post on Midnight Moon, I also have a deep affection for goat cheese. It’s most often my preferred choice so when I remembered that delicious goat cheese salad, I figured it would make for the quick and light dinner I coveted. When I got home I raided my pantry and fridge and pulled out any enticing ingredients as I went along. From the fridge I pulled out a cucumber, an egg, mixed greens, some leftover cooked bacon, roasted walnut oil and some garlic stuffed green olives. The pantry selection included a can of artichoke hearts, a shallot, and bread crumbs. I snacked on the garlic stuffed olives while I prepare dinner and in less than twenty minutes I sat down to a delightful salad with a refreshing glass of wine.


Parisian Inspired Green Salad with Fried Chèvre
Two light servings

 Ingredients
4 large handfuls of mixed greens, torn
½ cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
½ shallot, thinly sliced
5 canned artichoke hearts, quartered
4 slices of bacon, chopped
Roasted walnut oil
1 small log of Vermont Creamery fresh chèvre
1 large egg, beaten
About 4 TBSP of bread crumbs
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Method:
In a large bowl combine mixed greens, cucumber, shallot, artichoke hearts, and bacon. Set aside.

In a cast iron or nonstick pan heat about four tablespoons pure olive oil. To maintain a clean cut use a thread or unwaxed dental floss cut chèvre log into quarters. Dip the chèvre quarters into the beaten egg and then into the salted and peppered breadcrumbs until fully coated. Add breaded chèvre to hot pan and cook until golden brown, two to three minutes per side. Set on a paper towl.

Drizzle salad with roasted walnut oil and toss until fully coated, split between two pasta bowls and top with with warm fried chèvre and sea salt. Garnish with two garlic stuffed olives if desired. 


I typically only dress my salads with a good extra virigin olive oil and some sea salt or crushed red pepper so I found the roasted walnut oil to be a delicious and light dressing for this salad. If you prefer a heavier dressed salad feel free to make a vinaigrette of your choice instead. I recommend staying away from dairy based dressings and keeping with a classic French vinaigrette or a lemon citronette.