Monday, August 24, 2015

Italian cuisine in the raw

OK - so this recipe is NOT comprised of leftovers per se, but for some folks - especially if you live in non-bourg suburbs or rural areas and do a little vegetable gardening, or have friends that do - you're likely to find yourself inundated with the late Summer tomato crop. And there's tons of obvious things you can do with fresh tomoatoes, but one that I'd not considered before is making fresh spaghetti sauce with it.

We were out for drinks and small plates with some friends over the weekend, and our friend Joan berated me for chimping with another friend, Jim Testa, about hot spaghetti sauce option. She was advocating basically a raw sauce. I replied that what she was describing was like a cold putanesca, or putting salsa on spaghetti. Either way, an interesting idea.

So here's a simple way of putting this together on the fly, and assuming that you're doing one serving at a time. And if you wanna serve more -- just multiply!

Louis Prima Capitol Collector Series - a nicely perverse mix of New Orleans jazzamatazz and ethnic Italian bonhomie.

1 ripe tomato, coarse chopped (and I'd leave the skin on, or you can peel 'em if you'd like)
1 TBSP onion, FINELY chopped (and you can use regular yellow onion if that's what you have around or you could get something fancier like sweet Vidalia if you'd like)
2 cloves garlic - peeled and put in microwave for 30 seconds - to soften and sweeten
2 leaves of basil, coarsely chopped
1 TBSP grated Romano cheese (you could use Parmesan least around here, that always turns out to be incredibly bland)
one serving of freshly cooked pasta (whatever that means for you)

Mix the first 5 ingredients together
toss with hot pasta
top with a shake of red pepper flakes or a couple grindings of black pepper

then go pour yourself a glass of wine, set the table - let it sit for a minute so the hot pasta cooks the other ingredients a little bit, and they get a chance to flavor the pasta. Bon appetito!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tomayto Tomahto (Du Plenti!)

Jim Testa of just sent me the following query:

"Do you ever make tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes? I got a bushel for $3 of bruised tomatoes from a farmers market.
It's simmering now but I'm not sure if I should leave it chunky and rustic or give it a whir with the immersion blender and smooth it out."

Lotsa interesting questions in this.
Folks would recommend that you peel and seed tomatoes before making them into sauce. And while that's valid
1) seeds have important nutrients
2) usually I do this with cherry tomatoes and peeling is impractical - so I don't and I've never had bad results.

As per smoothing out or leaving chunky - literally tomayto, tomahto. Why not split the load between two pots and smooth out one. Or just wait till your done - scoop half into one container and smooth out what's left.

If you've got tomatoes left you can always make a putaneso which is, um like hot salsa. You just chop up the ingredients, throw 'em into a hot pan with a little olive oil and cook a couple minutes and voila! reputedly prostitutes would greet a customer, set a pan cooking and when "business" was done, so was the sauce!

here's an article on the possible health benefits of eating tomoatoes -- tho no mention of which part of tomato provides which benefit:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Guest Recipe from Jim Testa - slow cooked, expired, blade steaks

Jim Testa - longtime (35 years and counting!) editor of the NJ/NY undie music bible is my oldest living friend. We went to Rutgers College together when Springsteen was playing the Commuter Student Center for 50 cents. He's my son's godfather, has been to all my weddings (was best man at the first!) etc. He's been a supporter of this blog all along, has hit me with various challenges I've posted and now here's a recipe of his:

"I went to the supermarket and they had packages of blade steak on sale, plus a few were about to expire so they were an additional $2 off. So I got a couple pounds of steak (not really a staple on my current budget) for about two bucks.

I go home and google it, and read that blade steak is super tough and really only good if slow braised. But I didn't want to go back to the store, and I was out of celery and carrots.
I had a half bulb of fennel, an onion that was about to go south, and some leftover sundried tomatoes.
So I whizzed that into a paste in the food processor.
Browned the meat well with Salt & Pepper, then took the meat out and browned the paste. Added a little tomato paste
put the meat back in, added a couple of bay leaves, and let the thing cook low and slow for 3 hours.

The result was a delicious pot roast that was soft as butter. The sun drieds added a piquant umami flavor to the sauce. Not bad! And great served with horseradish mashed potatoes.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Devolving A Classy Roman Pasta Concept

Sorry for the absence. Life's been happening. Also, just haven't been hit with the inspiration for anything especially useful, tasty or novel...until now.

I was reading the New York Times Magazine (3/22/15 issue) and came across an intriguing piece on Roman pasta + sauce preparation. The basic premise was that the author assumed that the indigenous paste/sauce custom was for quickly made, very thin sauces. But he got schooled by a local chef.

It turns out that while he got the ingredients right, he got their USE wrong.

The actual tech in question called for taking VERY al dente paste, mixing it with a slightly watery sauce, or taking solid ingredients (grated cheese, pepperocini, proscuitto, etc) and actually adding water and then stirring them vigorously over medium heat for several minutes. What happens is that the pasta cooks further, absorbing water out of the sauce while dissolving a bit and emulsifying the sauce. So you wind up with nicely cooked pasta, dressed in a thick and silky sauce that adheres to and coats the pasta thoroughly.

All this is cool enough and I recommend that you look up the full recipes at the NY Times. BUT what struck me is how easily this adapted to the use of leftover pasta and either leftover sauce or thus ennobled store bought sauce.

THE MUSIC - I'd go with "Louis Prima: Collectors Series" coz - it's kinda wierd how he can pull off doing "Buena Sera" as unctuously as Dean Martin and "Basin Street Blues" with the same gruff charm as Louis Armstrong. While you're at it, you might wanna check out Gary Krist's book "Empire Of Sin" which studies the history of the vice business in New Orleans (Prima's hometown) but also homes in how the lives of Italian immigrants and their descendants and African Americans intertwined during the period that gave rise to Jazz (which is why you find musicians of both ethnic groups laying claim to its "invention") So here's a couple strategies:
* say you have restaurant leftovers including pasta already in sauce; and let's say for argument's sake that it comes with meat balls.
you separate the meat from the pasta, putting the former aside - perhaps throwing it right into a toaster oven to heat, or to wait for nuking
heat up either a non-stick pan or a heavy iron pan coated with a hint of olive oil, then throw in the pasta with a quarter cup of water
stir vigorously with a big wooden or metal spoon for about 5 minutes
dump on plate, and add warmed up meat, or nuke meat for two minutes and add.
In this case while you're just reheating this dish, you're also adding depth to the dish, taking it up a notch quality wise

* or you might have some plain pasta without sauce you're looking to use
IF you have no red sauce, you could buy a jar of the most economical sort (they're all kinda sweet and vile anyway); finely chop one onion - saute till carmelized and add to sauce along with a table spoon each of dried oregano and basil; mix well and let that sit over night - or at least for a couple hours to infuse that store bought muck with some more pronounced, non-sugary notes; I'd tend to add some hot pepper flakes as well to give it some zing
again, you heat up an appropriate pot or pan, add the sauce, then pasta and stir vigorously for 5 minutes or so
I'd add two ladles of sauce for every adult helping of pasta
Here you're taking a very pedestrian dish and making it something kinda special with this simple bit of tech in the process of heating it up

* finally - if you're working with leftover pasta, and nothing but kitchen staples
I'd heat up your pot or pan, add a hint of olive oil, then dump in your pasta
for each adult helping of pasta add
2 TBS of grated cheese (Italian preferred, but honestly you could shred up ANYTHING you have in the fridge)
2 TBS of carmelized onions
1 TBS of crumbled basil OR 1 tps of red pepper flakes (I wouldn't mix these coz in this dish you want one or the other taste to pop)
1/4 cup of pitted olive (chopped or whole as you prefer) OR de-stemmed pepperocini (chopped or whole - tho I think you'd want 'em chopped so they can get distributed nicely through the dish) or finely chopped tomoatoes (these can be fresh or canned
1/4 cup water
stir vigorously for 5 minutes or more