Monday, August 31, 2009
What are the best tomatoes to buy? The ones at your local farmer's market! Tomatoes are in full season right now on the East Coast, and it's the perfect time to buy them and make pasta sauces from scratch, or perhaps an insalata caprese.
I like to buy cherry or grape tomatoes and quickly cook them in a skillet with olive oil and just a touch of garlic. Throw in some fresh basil at the end and enjoy. These particular tomatoes are called black cherry tomatoes. They are not only dark in color, but they actually have a hint of black cherry flavor.
I like the concentrated sweet flavor of these smaller tomatoes for sauces. Another benefit is that the skin on these is basically negligible in the sauce. Big tomatoes have tougher skin that ends up getting in the way in a sauce, so you have to peel them first with a vegetable peeler or blanch them for 30 seconds in boiling water and the skins will fall right off.
Next time, I'll talk about canned tomatoes, since tomato season will soon be over, sadly.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Use basil that has just been picked. You can get that by growing your own, buying it at a local farmer's market or some grocery stores sell small basil plants that are still alive with the root in water in a plastic bag.
Place in a food processor:
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped first
2 cups of basil leaves, tightly packed
3 tablespoons of pinenuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Process these together into a paste. Boil the water, add a lot of salt, and cook the spaghetti until al dente. Grate 1/2 cup of parmiggiano reggiano and 2 tablespoons of pecorino romano. Mix the two cheeses into the paste.
Before dumping the cooking water, scoop 1/4 cup of the water to use in the pesto. Now drain the spaghetti and put back into the pot to toss with the pesto. Add a little at a time until you right amount. You don't want too much green in there. You can add a little of the salty cooking water to help distribute the pesto. Now taste that. It should be delicious. You can add some butter for more deliciousness, but it's not necessary.
If you're not going to use all the pesto, don't add the cheese to the pesto you plan to save. You should add the freshly grated cheese only when you are ready to eat it. This recipe will make enough for 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of pasta, so you will have leftover if you're cooking for one or two people (1/4 to 1/2 lb).
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
I'm going to Italy for two weeks, and it's going to be interesting to have a reminder of how things in Italy taste. When you don't go for a while, you can forget. Sometimes I wonder if my impression that some domestic products are as good is wishful thinking, aided by faded memories of what the real thing tastes like.
I'll be sure to have a cappuccino (or cappuccio) for breakfast every morning as well as an espresso (or cafe) here and there throughout the day. Plenty of cured meats will be enjoyed, particularly prosciutto. Gelato as often as possible. Fresh mozzarella from my dad's hometown is going to put my favorite local mozzarella producer to the test.
I will try to do some posts from the road, otherwise I will do them all when I get back.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I just got in a kilo of some really good sh*t.
Gianmarco recommends Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso
Black Cat is the best American roasted coffee for espresso that I have tasted. I love that it's not super dark like most roasters do it. It is medium roasted, has a perfect balanced flavor, and produces a beautiful crema. Not to mention that this coffee is procured by Direct Trade, meaning Intelligentsia buys the coffee direct from the plantations. This cuts out the large coffee distributors and allows the grower to earn more money, and Intelligentsia to have the best pick and even some creative input.
I always swore by Illy Cafe, but I think Black Cat makes an equally excellent coffee. I actually prefer BC because it is way, way fresher. My kilogram of Black Cat was roasted on 5/11 and today is 5/13. That's pretty impressive. I find Illy's beans to be pretty stale, even when I first open the can, and the only date on the can is a sell-by date which is I've seen as far as 9 months in the future. No doubt that Illy is much fresher in Italy, which leads to an important point. When choosing what to buy it is important to remember that some of the best products in Italy don't taste as good here, and you will be better off with a faithfully made domestic product.
I'll post some pics of my coffee creations soon. My latest obsession is perfecting my espresso and cappuccino making with my new machine.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
We visited the Monterey Aquarium and had a surprisingly excellent lunch at the aquarium restaurant. I was psyched to see a grass-fed burger on the menu, so I ordered that. It was delicious. That's bacon sticking out the sides, as you might have guessed.
My wife ordered a "Sustainable Seafood Salad", which was also excellent.
We spent Saturday in Big Sur and had one of the best days ever. We kicked it off with an amazing breakfast at Deetjen Big Sur Inn.
This is Egg's Benedict with local cured salmon, avocado, and tomato with home fries.
After relaxing on a state park beach, we headed to Big Sur Bakery.
You can tell from the sign that this place is awesome. We had a nice wood-fired pizza and a salad. The pizza was not made like an Italian pizza, but it was still very good.
We were 3 for 3 on restaurants so far, and I was starting to think that California was a magical place where every restaurant is amazing and completely in tune with my philosophies on food. But then the streak came to an end at dinner Saturday night at Nepenthe. I was hoping to top off the perfect day with a great dinner but we were robbed of that. And robbed of our actual money because the place was overpriced. It had the vibe of a place that used to be good or at least considered good, but has gotten lazy with success and stopped trying. The menu was boring. I couldn't think of anything on it that I wanted to order and I lobbied that we leave. But my wife made me stay. We ordered. We got our salads, and they were proof that the chef didn't care. Several handfuls of not-so-fresh romaine lettuce stuffed, and I mean packed pretty tightly, into cereal bowls. Other than that, there was one grape tomato cut in half. It tasted rotten.
The entrees were not good either. I had duck with Asian BBQ glaze. It was too salty and sour. It was served on a mountain of plain white rice and garnished with a bunch of cilantro thrown all over the top of the duck. I ate most of it, out of respect for the duck. My wife had salmon. Now here's the thing that drove me nuts about this place. Here we are sitting with a magnificent view of the Pacific ocean and the menu has two seafood items: 1) Farm raised salmon from Nova Scotia, which is almost 4,000 miles away on the east coast of Canada and 2) Shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. BOOOO!
Nepenthe is good for a cocktail with a view, but don't eat there.
Disappointing dinner aside, Big Sur is a magical place and the food is mostly local, fresh and organic. I can't wait to go back.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
I made a simple delicious risotto for lunch today. Just olive oil to cook the onions, then the arborio rice and homemade chicken stock. Good stock is key.
I have always used imported Italian Arborio or Carnaroli rice, but an American grown Arborio rice caught my eye on my last trip to the market. I was skeptical about this rice, but here's the surprising verdict: it is as good as Italian rice. This rice makes a creamy risotto that tastes as if I had put half a stick of butter in it even though I didn't use any at all and is excellent al dente. And so...
Gianmarco recommends Lundberg Eco-Farmed White Arborio rice. According to Lundberg, this is the first Arborio rice grown in the USA and it originates from authentic superfine Italian seeds. I bought it at Whole Foods Market, but hopefully it's more widely available. Go buy it and enjoy.
Welcome! Here I will discuss what is almost always on my mind and near to my heart: food. Though I love many different cuisines, as an Italian, the food and cooking of Italy is my favorite. Just in my lifetime I have seen a huge improvement in the quality of Italian food in America.
1) Increase in imports: there is a much greater variety of Italian products imported here now than there were 20 years ago, including smaller and superior brands, not just the mass production giants.
2) Restaurants have really upped their game. For a long time, no one in my family would set foot in an Italian restaurant. I think it happened exactly three times in the first 20 years of my life, and I remember each experience distinctly. Two of them were horrible, and the other was excellent. My parents told me there was difference between Italian food and Italian-American food and these three experiences showed me very clearly what those differences were. Now there are many excellent Italian restaurants that make real Italian food, and I enjoy visiting them very much.
3) Perhaps the most exciting change is the new trend of domestic producers and businesses who are producing excellent traditional Italian products in the U.S. In many cases they have spent time in Italy learning the craft firsthand.
It is one of the great pleasures in life for me to discover faithfully-made Italian products produced in the U.S. I love the story of Americans or Italian-Americans going to Italy to study the craft of making gelato or prosciutto, for example, so they can open a business in the U.S. that really does it right. And though I love to support the products of Italy, it's better to buy things domestically if the product is as good. Importing goods across the ocean is the cause of a lot of pollution.
And so it is on this blog that I will write about the discoveries that I make (I call them discoveries even though I will not be the first person to be reviewing or trying these products) and give my recommendations. I hope it will be as fun to read as it will be for me to write.