Saturday, December 3, 2011
The first time I ate carbonara, I was in Rome with my brother and we stopped to have dinner at a sidewalk pasta place with good, cheap food. We sat outside and watched people walk by, and I enjoyed the warm comfort of this delicious pasta with black pepper and pancetta while swimming in the persistent discomfort of being far from home.
Carbonara is, in many ways, a perfect pasta preparation. It is mild but flavorful, comforting but not heavy. This carbonara, with leeks and bacon, is my favorite. As with true Roman carbonara, there is no cream in the sauce. I used pea and onion orecchiette that I made, but regular orecchiette (or spaghetti, which is what was served to me in Rome) would be delicious too.
Orecchiette Carbonara with Leeks
adapted from Bon Appetit
2 slices of nice bacon
1 leek, sliced and rinsed
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 c. freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese (or another freshly grated hard Italian cheese)
chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
5 ounces orecchiette pasta
extra grated cheese for serving
In a large pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning as necessary, until the fat is rendered out and the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside, then pour off all but a tablespoon of the bacon fat. Toss the sliced leeks into the bacon fat and saute for a few minutes until soft, fragrant, and translucent. Turn off the heat and set aside. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook your pasta according to directions until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, beat the egg in a small bowl with the grated cheese. Whisk 2 tablespoons of hot, starchy water from the pasta pot into the egg mixture.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving some of the cooking water, but do not rinse. Toss the hot pasta in with the leeks and return to very low heat. When the mixture is hot throughout, remove from heat and pour in the egg and cheese mixture. Stir gently, thoroughly coating the pasta and leeks. When the sauce thickens to a creamy consistency, it is cooked (return to very low heat if necessary, but be careful not to curdle the eggs.) Add some of the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce as necessary. Crumble the bacon and add it to the pasta, along with the parsley. Toss everything together and serve with lots of ground black pepper and additional cheese to taste.
Notes on this recipe: This makes enough for 2 people - just scale the recipe up to serve more. Don't try to scale it down to serve one person - just enjoy it leftover...if you can keep from eating the entire pan!
Posted by Kate at 9:26 AM
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Pasta e fagioli is one of those quintessential comfort foods in Italian-American cuisine, like spaghetti and meatballs. Rich and hearty without being overpowering, my Dad used to make a big batch of pasta e fagioli for friends and family who were under the weather. Every family has a different way of making this, with opinions sometimes running hot. My Dad likes a more tomato-based broth; I prefer a clear, vegetable-or-meat flavored broth with chunks of tomato in the soup. Sometimes there is meat, other times this is a vegetarian dish. Most people use a small pasta, like elbows, gomiti, or ditalini; I used orecchiette, because I have been making a lot of it for the shop. You can use any kind of bean (cannellini are popular); escarole is my preferred green, but spinach is great and some people just leave it out. This is a wonderfully warming and fortifying dish, perfect with a loaf of bread and some good olive oil and a generous sprinkle of pecorino romano cheese to top it off.
Pasta e Fagioli
1 link of sweet or hot Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
2 big cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 c. white wine
2 c. chicken or vegetable stock
2 fresh tomatoes, diced or 1 can diced tomatoes
small piece of rind from parmigiano cheese (optional)
2 big handfuls of spinach or escarole
2 c. cooked or canned beans (I use half cannellini and half red kidneys)
pinch of salt
4-6 oz. small pasta
grated pecorino romano or parmigiano cheese, to taste
Heat a pot over medium-high heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and add to the dry pan, breaking the meat up into a small mince and rendering out the fat. When it is fully cooked but not yet browning, add the onions and saute them in the fat from the sausage, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add the minced garlic and stir; allow the ingredients to reach a deep golden brown. Splash the wine into the pot and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pot, scraping up any browned, stuck bits. Cook the mixture until the wine evaporates and thickens, then add the tomatoes, stock, cheese rind (if using), and bay leaf. Let this mixture simmer 15-20 minutes, or all day if you'd like (adding more water as necessary.) About 15 minutes before serving, add the beans and greens and gently stir. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. You can add the dry pasta directly to the soup at this point; I prefer to cook the pasta separately and stir it in before serving to prevent it from becoming overcooked. Finish with a generous sprinkling of a hard, strong Italian cheese; serve with crusty bread and a cold night!
Notes on this recipe: Infinitely adaptable. To make it vegetarian, leave out the sausage and start with a splash of olive oil instead. A bit of ground fennel seed will warm up the vegetarian version; a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes is welcome anywhere. Use whatever kind of beans you like, and whatever kind of pasta. Every family has their signature pasta e fagioli, so make it your own! This recipe makes 3 large servings or 4 "appetizer-size" servings.
Posted by Kate at 1:27 PM
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Kate and I spent much of the day yesterday planning an upcoming trip to Nova Scotia. We also spent a much shorter period of time discussing ideal tea-time snacks - shortbreads, traditional English biscuits, etc. (This is pretty much a typical day around here.) It occurred to me that the Cape Breton oatcake would be the perfect thing to go along with a nice cup of Earl Grey or green tea - respectively my and Kate's teas of choice. With that in mind, anticipating both tea time today and our impending travels a few weeks hence, I couldn't resist making a batch.
I first encountered oatcakes on a trip to Cape Breton I took with my mother and sister three summers ago. Like the pasties Kate and I enjoyed in Michigan's Upper Peninsula the next summer, these rank among the more memorable edibles I've encountered while traveling. They are utterly simple, consisting primarily of flour, oats, and sugar (ahem: and shortening). But they are absolutely delicious, with a very satisfying flaky-but-not-brittle consistency. Kate and I also discussed making a few batches to bring along on our trip, as we'll be camping, and they keep well and are just the sort of thing to help get you from a quick breakfast to a hearty supper prepared over an MSR stove.
I have yet to research the historical origins and diasporic development of the oatcake - look for a future post to explore this legacy (perhaps alongside that of the above mentioned Cornish pasty). All I can tell you is that they're fairly unique - something like the improbable but much adored love-child of biscuits, oatmeal cookies, and gingerbread - and quite straightforward to make. Enjoy them with a warm beverage for maximum effect; and when you make them, think of the rolling hills and imposing coastal cliffs of beautiful Cape Breton which, by the way, is well worth the visit.
Cape Breton Oatcakes
2 c. Flour
2 c. Rolled oats
1 c. Brown sugar
2 tsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
Dash of Cinnamon
Pinch of Nutmeg
Pinch of Ginger
1 c. Shortening
1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract
1/2 cup (at most) Water, cold
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Thoroughly combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening till it is evenly distributed but not entirely broken down. Add the vanilla extract, and use a fork to gradually stir in the water until a heavy dough forms. You will probably need most but not all of the water. The dough consistency you're looking for is something a bit dryer than a chocolate chip cookie dough, but something a but wetter than a classic biscuit dough. It will be sticky - but not too sticky - to the touch.
Place half the dough on a well-floured surface. Flour your hands and pat out the dough into a rectangle, about an inch thick - try to keep the edges clean, as these will want to splay out. With a floured rolling pin roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness - again, try to manage the edges as best you can here. Cut off any uneven edges, as these will bake unevenly, and cut into 2-4 inch squares (I use a pizza cutter for this step). Place oatcakes on a lightly prepared baking sheet with 1/4-1/2 inch in between pieces. Repeat this step for the other half of the dough. (A final step for me is collecting the edges I've cut off and doing my best to fashion them into something bake-able - here's your opportunity to get inventive with shapes!)
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the oatcakes are lightly browned, and clearly crispy at the edges. Removed immediately to a cooling rack.
Notes on this recipe: The final product, after cooling, should be crispy but not hard, if they're chewy leave them in a bit longer next time (or perhaps roll them out a bit thinner). The cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla are my addition here - take them out and you're looking at a classic, basic oatcake recipe - I think these additions give them a bit of depth without altering the essence of what the oatcake is all about. As is probably apparent from the directions above, the dough is a little hard to work with; I find that the end product does not suffer from fairly liberal flouring applied throughout the shaping process. As with similar cookie- and cracker-baking procedures, the most important thing here is to try to roll out the dough to a uniform thickness, so everything bakes at the same rate - if the oatcakes in the middle of the baking sheet are noticeably thicker than those at the edges then the former will be under-baked while the latter will burn. However, despite what may seem like serious disclaimers, these are actually quite easy and totally delectable.
Posted by Ryan at 12:23 PM