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February 2010

Amatriciana Sauce Recipe Follow Up

Yesterday, I introduced Pinta to the leftover amatriciana sauce from the evening before. I was getting her dinner together, and she was sitting on a chair in the kitchen. She was clamoring for pasta putanesca, and I wasn't in the mood to make it (I was busy stirring a pot of shrimp-fennel risotto). I told her that I had a sauce with bacon in it. She loves bacon, so she was instantly interested.  Because she doesn't like the look and feel of chopped onions, I pureed the sauce with an immersion blender. It was quite thick, so I added a bit of red wine to thin it out. Pinta loved it, but after she tasted the bit on the end of my finger she had a question for me, "Is that spicy, daddy?" Well, yes it was. I forgot to take out the chili pepper before blending it.

If I were to make this again for myself, I would leave the pepper in. If I were to make it for the kids, I'd take it out. And if I were to make it again for Santa Maria, I would drain the bacon fat before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. How would you make it? I'm curious to hear.

Mad Rush Variation on Amatriciana Sauce Recipe

Things have been very stressful at home lately, with the real-estate search in full swing and a massive work deadline hanging over my head. I've never been busier before in my life. Blogging is one thing that's fallen to the wayside. Another is cooking itself. Earlier this week, we ordered take-out. The other night I had frozen empanadas. Last night though, I was sick of crap food. I was tired. It was late. Santa Maria was exhausted, having driven through the blizzard to return to NYC from a speaking commitment outside Philadelphia. Nonetheless, I had a deep desire for something tasty. My thoughts turned to amatriciana sauce.

Years ago, Santa Maria introduced me to a variation on this savory sauce. She first had the sauce on the very first day of a visit to her delightful friend Carla, in Rome, in 1989. Carla is a Scottish-Roman beauty who is now cooking up a storm in Bruxelles, and sometimes in Tuscany. Santa Maria made it with rosemary and pancetta, and I loved it. Those were more simple times. We didn't have kids, and I didn't know that "for any pasta all’amatriciana to be authentic, it must be made with guanciale — cured, unsmoked pig jowl." Or that "it's impossible to say 'all'amatriciana' without thinking of 'bucatini,' a thick hollow spaghetti."

These days I don't have any @#$!% time for such frivolity. Last night, I was hungry, and when I'm hungry I'm not good company. Things were tense at home, and I wasn't making them any less tense. I couldn't find a recipe for the sauce in the index of any of my cookbooks. Never mind securing guanciale or bucatini, I couldn't spell "Amatriciana." I thought it started with an "M." Finally, I figured it out, and found a recipe for it in Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking."

It called for pancetta, which I didn't have, but I knew there was bacon in the fridge and that that would work just fine. It didn't mention rosemary, but that didn't deter me. The dried herb is a bit tricky to work with. Santa maria doesn't like the way it can feel like pine needles on the tongue, so I tried chopping up the stalks. It helped a bit, though she wasn't really in the mood for the sauce in the end. I liked it, and I was glad I went to the little effort required to make it. It made my night much better.

Blink of an Eye Pasta Alla'Amatricina Sauce

  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 3 slices of bacon, chopped
  • One 28oz can of peeled plum tomatoes, pureed with an immersion blender or chopped by hand.
  • Olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, diced
  • Parmigian0-Reggiano or pecorino cheese, grated

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pot.

Add the chili pepper.

Add the onion and saute until translucent.

Add the bacon and continue to cook for a few minutes longer.

Add the tomatoes and the rosemary and simmer for about twenty-five minutes.

Serve over pasta of your choice with the grated cheese.

Spicy Tomato Sauce with Shrimp and Mint

When Pinta was an infant, I did most of my cooking very early in the day. She used to wake before five, and not go back to sleep. Ever. She's a free-spirited, independent-minded soul and there was no changing her mind. I would put her on the floor beside me in the kitchen and start chopping vegetables in the pre-dawn hours. Standing over the cutting board I finally understood the U.S Army advertising slogan of my youth. Their television ads used to trumpet the fact that "We do more before six a.m. than most people do in a day." That's because they were doing stuff at night. It was dark when I was cooking. And those were dark days for me, too. I walked around in a tunnel-vision state of sleep deprivation. I'm still amazed that I was able to hang onto my job and remain married. It was tough. 

Pinta has since grown up and now, with a random waking every now and again, generally sleeps until about seven. This morning they stayed in bed until seven thirty. The other day, they didn't even get out of bed until eight-thirty. I know that the grown-up thing to do would be to set my alarm clock and get on with my day at a respectable hour, but I can't just yet. I'm enjoying sleeping late too much.

As a consequence, I've had to find a new time to do my cooking. I switched to cooking the day before, whipping up soups and stews and sauces after doing the evening dishes. I'm always thinking a meal or two ahead, so it seemed perfectly natural for me to finish one meal and then start cooking the next one. This worked well until our recent real-estate travails. Nothing like a "Notice of Termination" to change one's schedule a bit. Now, at night I spend the hours before bedtime scouring the internet looking for a new place to live.

Not all of my time searching for a new place is spent at a computer keyboard. Some of it is spent trekking around the city looking at places. Last weekend we were in Hudson Heights. This past Wednesday, in the midst of a blizzard, we were dragging the kids behind us on sleds to look at a floor-through in the neighborhood. It was in a perfect location, and it was close to a perfect apartment. The only thing missing was about six-hundred square feet. If we were completely different people with about a third as many possessions, we'd be perfectly comfortable there. Alas, the search goes on.

Ever since I first moved to Park Slope, I've loved the neighborhood. I'm not the only one, though, and a lot of other people have come to know its charms. They've moved here in droves, and the price of an apartment has shot through the roof. Prices have come down a bit over the last year, but they're still stratospheric. It's unlikely that we'll be able to find a space with enough room for what we have to spend. So, we're looking all over the city. And every time I consider moving away, I think first of what I'll lose--easy access to high-quality organic food.

The day before the snowstorm, I came home from work intent on making a shrimp, garlic, and mint pasta sauce that has long been a favorite of ours. The recipe comes from Mark Bittman, and he calls it Roman Shrimp. It requires fresh mint, which I happened to have in the house. I didn't want the mint to go bad, so I decided to make the sauce. For some reason, I didn't have any frozen shrimp in the freezer, and I had to buy some. It was very easy for me to do so because we live almost right across the street from the Park Slope Food Coop. As it happened, the coop was jam packed with panicked pre-storm shoppers and there had been a run on the frozen shrimp. There was none for sale. Just down the block, though, there's a fancy store called Union Market, and I knew I could get shrimp there. I popped in for a pound and was home before seven.

The convenient location is the best thing going for my present apartment, and the most attractive thing about finding another place in the neighborhood. I was talking about this to my therapist, and he thought I was crazy. At that moment, I was still seriously considering the shoe-box floor through. He didn't think it would be wise to squeeze my children into a room that's five by seven (no joke) just because it would be easy to buy shrimp. What does he know?

Spicy Tomato Sauce with Shrimp with Garlic and Fresh Mint a.k.a. Roman Shrimp
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half and then sliced
  • 1 28-oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 to 1 lb. peeled medium shrimp, sliced lengthwise into two pieces
  • 1/2 cup or more of fresh mint, chopped
  • Spaghetti or other pasta of choice.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

In a large sauce pot, heat olive oil and then add the garlic and the chili pepper. Cook the garlic until it is brown. This gives the sauce an intense, dark note. 

Add the tomatoes and reduce.

Start to cook the pasta.

When the pasta is cooked, stir the shrimp into the tomato sauce.

Cook the sauce until the shrimp curl into spirals and are cooked through.

Add the mint to the sauce and serve.



Super Bowl Sunday Pork Shoulder Recipe

We've now gone from simply obsessing over our impending move to doing something about it. We spent the morning and the afternoon driving all over Manhattan and Brooklyn and making the acquaintance of a number of real estate brokers. I spent a lot of time in various kitchens, but I didn't do any cooking. The move is becoming all consuming. While watching the Super Bowl at my brother's place, a nice 1,000 square foot, pre-war Elevator 2 BR, 1 Bath apartment (it's hard now not to think entirely in real-estate terms), I enjoyed a delicious pork roast that he cooked up. I think this is the recipe he used. I've used it many times before and can vouch for it. It works just as well in an oven. I don't have time to write it out, but the recipe can be found here.

Super Simple Tomato Sauce Recipe for Fresh Pasta

Cooking for a family often feels like running on a treadmill--keep moving, or fall off. I would like nothing more than to get out of the kitchen and spend all my energy solving our housing crisis (we're facing eviction), but I can't. We still have to eat.

The truth is, we are in a crazy limbo right now. Even though we will be moving out of the apartment in the near future, at the moment there's a great peace. It is relaxing to know one's fate, and to enjoy the absence of insane neighbors down below, screaming every time our kids run down the hallway. It's okay now, go ahead jump and thump to your heart's content.

Towards the end of December, I had my last last verbal interactions with the now ex-neighbors. It was a weeknight, about 7:45 when they called on the phone. The man was upset, for the umteenth-time, about the noise the kids were making. He accused me of being disrespectful because he said that we knew that he was moving out. That was a shocker. Did he have any idea how much time I spent chasing after the kids and telling them to quiet down? Did he have any idea about the anxiety their every footfall created? The man became more and more accusatory on the phone. "You won," he said. "We're moving out and you get to stay."  After he got of the phone, I sat down and thought about his call. I suddenly realized what day it was. It was the final day of December. He was calling to complain about the noise of two little kids playing at 8 pm on New Year's Eve!

They are gone, now, so there are no more phone calls. And while we plot our next move, I have time to spare in the kitchen. They say that behind every great man, there's a woman. I don't know about that, but, in my case, behind every great dinner, there's a woman (and two girls). Yesterday, Santa Maria proposed that we make fresh ravioli with pork, porcini, and parmesan stuffing. I was game. It is one of my old favorite dishes.

We've made fresh pasta three or four times before. The first time was years ago, before we had kids. It was one of the most revelatory cooking experiences I've ever had. Nothing I'd ever made tasted as wildly different than what I expected and as uniquely delicious as fresh pasta. That first time was remarkable. 

We still haven't quite mastered the technique of rolling out the dough and cutting the pasta, though Santa Maria might have a different opinion. She's the one who, with her baking experience, tends to take care of this task. Our guidebook in to the country of fresh pasta is Mark Bittman's ever-useful "How to Cook Everything." He gives tips and techniques about making the dough (it's easy, but not as easy as he makes it out to be), and basically it comes down to mixing flour, eggs, salt, and a bit of water into an easy to work dough. 

Santa Maria makes the ravioli after I take care of the stuffing. It is a mix of ground pork, garlic, red wine, and chopped porcini. I'm not completely content with the way the ravioli turned out. They were mighty delicious, but I want to refine the recipe and method a bit more before share how to cook them.

Before cooking last night, I took a look through Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking." She goes into a bit more detail than Bittman, and soon, perhaps as soon as we find that future apartment with an open kitchen and acres of counter space, I'll try some of the things she recommends. First order of business: finding "a good lumber-supply house" to cut a pasta rolling pin from a hardwood dowel. Make that the second order of business. The first one will be getting a pasta rolling machine. That will simplify my life.

I did learn something exceedingly useful from reading Hazan, and that is how to make a simple and delicious marinara sauce for the ravioli. I used to make a sauce with butter, canned tomatoes, and a diced onion. My kids have that typical fear of onions, though: they don't like to see them in their food. They don't dislike the taste. I know, because I watched Nina recently devour a hot, buttered bialy (just picture the confused look on her face when I told her it was full of onions.)

I was contemplating a way to make the sauce so they would eat it (i.e. with no onions visible), when I came across Hazan's recipe. It is genius. She calls for the same ingredients--tomatoes, onions, and butter--but she simply says to cut the onion in half and let it simmer in the sauce for forty-five minutes. Amazing. It has much the same flavor as the one I'd made previously, and, miraculously, no onions were visible. I adjusted the ratio of butter to tomato a bit, and I increased the size of the recipe. She calls for five tablespoons of butter to one can of tomatoes. You can make it that way if you prefer. My recipe is a bit lower in fat, but still mouthwatering. She says of hers, "This is the simplest of all sauces to make, and none has a purer, more irresistibly sweet tomato taste. I have known people to skip the pasta and eat the sauce directly out of the pot with a spoon."

We enjoyed making the meal so much that, in spite of the stressful times, we spent a deliriously happy evening in our tiny kitchen. We were so enthralled in the mixing, kneading, and simmering that we couldn't make it the ten feet to our dining room. Santa Maria was rolling out the ravioli. I was dipping them in the boiling water and fishing them out moments later. All four of us were elbow to elbow, scarfing down fresh pasta and that wonderful sauce. I didn't have a place to sit. I kept saying that it felt like we were eating on a train, at rush hour. It was a real joy.

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
  • Two 28 ounce cans of peeled tomatoes, diced (I use an immersion blender)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, peeled and cut in half

Place the onion in a large sauce pot with the tomatoes and the butter. Simmer for forty-five minutes. Salt to taste.

Note: I added fresh basil at the end. It's a nice touch, if that's what you're looking for. Also, this recipe is for a large serving for four or more hungry eaters. I had a pint left over and I froze it.