May 25 – May 31, 2020
Monday: Stewed Cannellini Beans with Chiles and Rosemary
Tuesday: Chicken Chemuin with Grilled Tomatoes and Potatoes
Wednesday: Dinner with Tim and Hilda and Ambrose, and Beez and Me
Apps: Herbed Ricotta Bruschetta / Cheese, Olives, Peppers
Grilled New York Strip Steaks with Anchovy Butter
Charleston Red Rice, Beez’s Corn Salad
Hilda’s cookies and Klondikes for dessert
Thursday: Tex-Mex Turkey Burgers with Chipotle Salsa and Herbed Ricotta, DressedArugula
Friday: Pasta with Sautéed Shrimp and Calabrian Chile Oil (Pasta a la Papa)
Flowers and Hosta with
Saturday: Lamb Burger and Chicken Tacos from Cornerstone
Sunday: Herbed Ricotta Toasts / Olives, Cheese and Peppers /Mess of Grilled Steaks from Freezer, Grilled with Anchovy Butter / Charleston Red Rice / Chopped Salad
It was a week of solid dining at Casa Stuarti. On Monday, weary of our typical Monday visit to the market, we used what we had in the pantry and in the refrigerator to create a simple and savory bean stew.
Wednesday was a glorious dinner with wonderful steaks, hand-cut by the butcher at Wagner’s Market, and good friends over for the first time since the pandemic forced us to retreat indoors.
Thursday with Beez and Andrew was a nice surprise – we finally concocted a turkey burger that Andrew and I could enjoy.
Saturday, we took a break, and ate the always reliable Lamb Burgers from The Cornerstone restaurant. And Sunday we grilled every last steak in the freezer, cooked up a batch of spicy red rice and had Billy and Emily out for dinner – the ice of the pandemic is beginning to melt.
So what about Tuesday and Friday?
First, the bad news: Tuesday was a loss – not because of the cooking but because of Giant Eagle mislabeling a chicken as a “fryer” when it was clearly a “stewing chicken,” with stringy and tough meat. If I were litigious, Giant Eagle would be bankrupt by now and I would be a wealthy man.
And now the good, actually great news. On Friday we followed up a suggestion by a friend of mine and had one the great meals of the month.
Jan Papa Slo’ is a college friend with whom I’ve become reconnected in the last few years. A superb musician (former Concert Master of the Dallas Symphony) and a great violin teacher, Papa is, like me,* a gourmand and we have exchanged tips about food and drink over the years. Recently, he told me that his pre-dinner ritual was to have a Calabrian chili or two with his martini. Further, he was purchasing these chilis from a store in Pittsburgh called, he thought, the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. This, of course, was heart-warming, as well as interesting.
*If the objective, rather than the subjective in this construction is something up with which you cannot put, I can only suggest that you get started on happy hour a bit early.
While I’ve not gotten to PennMac to purchase Jan’s favorite brand, I do have a fine jar of Calabrian Chiles from DeLallo’s in Greensburg. And now Andrew and I crave a few of these chilis before dinner. But something else Jan said intrigued me. Describing Facino pepperoncini piccante Calabrese, he wrote – “They are hot and spicy . . . the oil is good on pasta.” If you say the word ‘pasta,’ you’ve got my attention. “Hot and spicy” doesn’t hurt.
So, on Friday, we took a look through the pantry and the freezer and saw that we had some dried pasta (orecchietti), some frozen shrimp and, of course, Calabrian peppers in oil. Winging it, we thawed the shrimp and sautéed it with a little butter and the pepper oil. Meanwhile we cooked the pasta, drained it and added it to the shrimp to finish cooking. We also added more of the pepper oil, a couple tablespoons of tomato juice, some oregano and parmesan and a little of the pasta water and cooked until a nice sauce began to coat the pasta. The result, “Papa’s Pasta,” was spectacular. By adding 3 or 4 whole peppers to Andrew’s plate and mine, we both had enough spice, and by not adding whole peppers to Beez’ plate, she had just the right amount. We were afraid to introduce Rusty to the pepperoncini di Calabria – he has a notoriously weak stomach.
Listen to me – You need these peppers. They also come in the form of paste which would probably be great in a pasta sauce. But for the simplest and most powerful hors d’oeuvres, put a few of these babies on a plate and pour yourself some sparkling water or something more potent, sit down and enjoy a pre-prandial conversation or a good argument with friends and family.
Pasta a la Papa
(adapted from a brilliant suggestion of Papa Slo’s)
Timing: 15 minutes, if you have thawed shrimp, 45, if you have not.
1 lb. of pasta (spaghetti, penne)
1/3 – ½ lb. of shrimp
2 – 3 tablespoons of oil from a jar of Calabrian Chilis
2 tablespoons of butter
Some whole chilis
1/3 – ½ cup of parmesan
Optional: Garlic and Oregano
Fill a large pot with enough water to boil the pasta and bring it to a boil
Extract 2 tablespoons of oil from a jar of Calabrian Chilis
Chop some oregano, if using (substitute parsley, if you like)
Mince or grate some garlic
Once the water is boiling, salt it generously and then put in the pasta. Stir a bit to make sure the pasta does not stick to the bottom of the pot. When the water comes back to a boil cook the pasta for one or two minutes less than the directions on the package suggest (this will probably be 9 or 10 minutes). Note: if you are lucky enough to have fresh pasta or industrious enough to make your own, you’ll need just a few minutes to cook it to al dente.
Meanwhile,* in a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the butter and 1 – 2 tablespoons of the oil and after the bubbling subsides, add the shrimp and cook for about 1 ½ minutes on each side (2 if you have very large shrimp) or until they just turn opaque (you’ll finish cooking them with the pasta). Add the oregano or parsley, if using, reserving a handful for garnishing.
*I say “meanwhile,” but often I’ll cook the sauce first – in this case the shrimp – and then the pasta. When the pasta is nearly done, you can heat up the sauce and finish the pasta in the sauce.
When the pasta is cooked, reserve a ladleful or two of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and add to the pot or skillet with the shrimp and, over medium-high, toss gently, then add another tablespoon of chili oil, the parmesan (and some of the pasta water if you need to thin the sauce) and toss gently until the pasta is coated and finishes cooking. (Taste a piece).
Garnish with more of the oregano or parsley and serve with more parmesan and Calabrian chiles on the side.
Note: What’s with the 2-3 tablespoons and the 1-2? How much heat or spice do you like in a dish? If you don’t know, you’ll have to experiment. Start with less pepper oil – you can always add more – and taste as you go along. You will need fire-proof fingers to taste the pasta and, I would suggest, a bib.