Monday: Shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano*, Pasta Putanesca, Green Salad (Alex Guarnaschelli)
Tuesday: Larry Forgione’s Cobb Salad
Wednesday: Hungarian Goulash
* If you have some good parmigiano-reggiano, break it into bite-size pieces and put them on a dish for an easy, delicious appetizer. Use the tip of a paring knife to pry shards from the cheese
Friday: Dr. George Magovern Wing-Ding
Saturday: Antipasto – Parmigiano Shards, Gouda with Pepper Jelly, Salumi, Olives, Warm Bar Nuts Tuscan Roasted Sausages and Grapes with Focaccia / Guarnaschellii’s Herb Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette– Pear Crostata with Ice Cream
Sunday: Cheese Plate with olives and Jalapeño Relish with Crostini, Guarneschelli Pere’s Lemon Chicken
“I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas Edison on why he persisted in developing the light bulb after so much failure.
“You were married once, Zorba? I had no idea.” – Basil (Alan Bates)
“Oh yeah, boss, a wife, a kid, a house, the whole catastrophe.” – Zorba the Greek
It occurs to us that we may have given the impression that it is all Sole Meuniere, home-made pasta, and designer cocktails at Casa Stuarti. In fact, of course, learning to cook even decently involves many failures and the occasional catastrophe. In the last week alone, along with some spectacular food we had some that, while edible, was nothing to write home about or cook again.
The Roasted Tuscan Sausages with Grapes sounded great. We saw ourselves being transported back to Napa and Sonoma. Alas, we were transported back to college grills and Joe’s eats – not bad, you understand, just not what the recipe had promised. The other miss of the week was Alex Guarneschelli’s Father’s Lemon Chicken. The problem was not simply with the name of the dish, which takes nearly as long to pronounce as to cook, but with my following the directions for it. I used double the amount of corn starch called for and ended up with a far-less crispy than planned chicken. If we do cook this again, I’m going to ask Beez to keep an eye on me – I dare not follow the directions of SWMBO. And about those omelets (in the title) – they took a year to master, though at least the failures were edible, which our early and rather strange experiments in pizza dough were not.
All of this is by way of remembering that we have had some monumental kitchen disasters on the road to becoming competent home cooks. My guess is that we have a few more coming.
But forget about all that and let us tell you about the week’s highlights: the jalapeño relish inspired by Cindy and John Welsh, Alex Guarnaschelli’s version of Pasta Putanesca – as wonderful (and quick) a plate of pasta as you will have this side of Rome – and Mario Battali’s Cheesy Focaccia. I’ve never been a fan of focaccia – too doughy for me – but this version, with a slight twist of my own, is more like a dry pizza and delicious with pasta or a salad or even those grapes and sausages that were so disappointing by themselves.
The relish was made from part of a huge package of peppers which John and Cindy sent from the garden of their country place in Uniontown, Maryland. We froze a good number of the peppers but used about ½ lb. to create a jalapeño relish that is perfect with cheese and on sandwiches and, indeed, on a spoon (which I have tried and will try again). It takes a little work to correctly jar the concoction – ‘Welsh’s Pepper Relish’ – but we now have gifts to take to friends and a pantry full of pepper relish for whatever suggests itself. If you’d like the recipe, call me. I’m a little shaky on the jarring technique, which you can learn elsewhere, but I can help with making the relish.
(adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli’s The Home Cook)
You really ought to consider buying Guarnaschelli’s book. The story of how she devised this pasta is one of the reasons why, but more generally, she has only put recipes in this book which she considers worth memorizing. In other words, these are her “Keepers,” and while she’s heavier on dessert than I would be, everything we’ve tried so far has been dynamite.
Timing: 25 minutes
Ingredients: Serves 6
½ cup of olive oil (e.v.o.o., of course)
2 ½ teaspoons of drained capers (we used about 4 – we like capers and they work to balance the richness of the sauce)
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
8 medium garlic cloves (we used two cloves)
6 small canned anchovy fillets, finely chopped (just drain one of those small tins with the metal pull-tab top and chop them fine – i.e., keep chopping and bringing them back together and chopping for a while)
1 cup black olives, pitted and roughly chopped (we used maybe 1 ½ cups
1 28-ounce can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (we usually substitute chopped or diced for whole canned tomatoes which are a pain to break down – and we certainly would for this recipe which is a fairly quick cook)
1 lb. linguine (we used De Cecco, which Alex recommends)
Extra – we tossed in maybe a tablespoon of tomato paste to deepen the flavor
Prepare capers, anchovies and black olives and get a large pot (6 quarts) of heavily salted (1/2 cup of salt) water pretty warm so that it won’t take long to bring it to a boil.
Prepare a serving bowl to present the dish – warm it up so that it doesn’t cool the pasta and sauce.
Make the Sauce
Heat the olive oil over medium in a large skillet and when it begins to get hot (the oil will begin to ripple), add the capers and let them fry for 2-3 minutes – they’ll get a bit crispy.
When the capers begin to float, or after 3 minutes, add the red pepper flakes and the garlic and cook until the garlic is translucent – 2-3 minutes
Stir in the anchovies and olives and then pour in the tomatoes with their juices and, if crush some of the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. (Do this whether you are using whole or diced).
Let the sauce simmer over medium for 10 – 15 minutes, until the flavors come together.
Cook the Pasta:
In the meantime, once you’ve got the water boiling, add the pasta and stir so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Cook until al dente, 8 or 10 minutes.
Reserve a ladle or two of the pasta water and drain the pasta.
Finish and Serve:
Transfer the sauce to the warmed serving bowl and add the pasta and toss to blend. Add some pasta water if you need to in order to create a sauce that lightly coats the pasta. Taste for seasoning and serve.
EXTRA: Focaccia al Formaggio (Cheese Bread from Genoa)
(adapted from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano)
Timing: 3 hours and 10 minutes, if you remember to heat the oven – most of this time is non-active
This makes enough for two sizeable loaves of focaccia. We refrigerated half of the dough and make a second loaf the next day.
For the dough:
½ cup warm water (you will need a good amount more if your house has dry heat)
1 tablespoon active dry yeats
1 teaaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups high-gluten pizza or bread flour (we used bread flour)
¼ cup olive oil (extra virgin, of course)
For the topping: Remember, this is for two loaves, halve the quantities for one
1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiaono
NOTE: I confess to using cheese grated at the store – just buy it one day before or the same day you’re going to use it. You’ll save yourself some time.
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil (don’t skimp on this)
2 bunches scallions, cut into 1/8 inch slices
2 tablespoons rosemary chopped
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
NOTE: Here is where I twisted the recipe the second time we made it – I used extra cheese and extra scallions and rosemary
Make the dough:
Put the warm water into a large warmed bowl (you’ll be mixing the dough in this bowl and it needs to be large) and add the yeast. Stir to dissolve, then let stand until foamy – about 3 minutes.
Add the salt and sugar to the bowl and stir to combine.
Add the flour and the olive oil and mix, starting with a spoon and then using your hands until the dough comes together into a ball that no longer sticks to your fingers.
Wash and dry your hands, then transfer the dough to a work surface and knead, dusting occasionally with a little flour, until you have a smooth, firm ball. This takes 15 minutes and I would suggest putting on some music you enjoy before you start. Kneading is good for you, but it’s absolutely necessary for the bread.
Place the dough into a lightly oiled large bowl, cover with a clean kitchn towel and put the bowl in a war area without drafts (in cold weather I turn up the heat, put the bowl in the powder room which has a heating vent, close the door and let the heat run for 3 minutes). Let the dough rise until it doubles – about 2 hours.
After the first rise, punch the dough down and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape each one into a ball and return to the bowl, cover and let rise for 30 more minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 F and lightly oil two (or one, if you’re just cooking one loaf) 11 x 17 baking sheets.
Place each piece of dough on a baking sheet and, after flattening it with your hands, use a rolling pin or your hands to flatten it to fit the sheet. (I find it easier to roll out into a rough rectangle on a cutting board and then to stretch and flatten further on the baking sheet.)
Now use your fingertips to poke indentations all across the surface of the dough. You may find you need to go over the loaf a couple of times to get it well dimpled.
Sprinkle the dough with both cheeses, then drizzle with the olive oil (about 6 tablespoons – really, don’t skimp – for each loaf. Now sprinkle the loaves with the rosemary, the scallions and the coarse sea salt.
Bake for 14-15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm.
The glory of late afternoon light in autumn in our neighborhood