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Archive for July, 2009

A Tale of Two Pastas

One of the days that Z was in class I took a 3 train to Penn Station to Salumeria Biellese, an old-school shop/restaurant across the street from Madison Square Garden. I was in search of guanciale to make Bucatini alla Amatriciana for dinner. This is one of my favorite Roman dishes, and while I make it at home with linguine and bacon, it’s just not the same. So a hunt for guancica it was.

Amatriciana sauce is a simple one with very few ingredients: onion slices, guanciale, pepperochini, crushed tomato and a liberal topping of medium-aged pecorino. There are variations, such as the medeval amatriciana (which means “from Amatrice”, indicating it’s origins 100 miles east of Lazio, the Roman province) of shepherds, which has no tomato sauce and is thus “white” with a flurry of pecorino and speckled with a heavy hand of black pepper. I believe this was a peasant dish before tomatoes were commonplace in Italian cookery. You see, tomatoes were considered a poison in Europe for centuries, as they are part of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes potatoes and eggplant. The nightshade plants themselves ARE poisonous- atropa belladonna is a perfect example of this- but the fruits and tubers which are now staples to us are not. It wasn’t until the 16th century that Europeans began to cook with nightshades and tomatoes gained their current foothold in Southern Italian food culture. Interestingly, current medical research claims that the alkaloid enzyme solanine in tomatoes may have an inflammatory property for people suffering from arthritis, so maybe our predecessors were onto something.

The star of the show is the guanciale and the pasta. Guanciale is pig jowl, and it is a cured meat but unsmoked. The jowl, or cheek, is a much used muscle, which makes the flavor more complex. It is also 80-90% fat, and since all this fat is unsmoked it remains sweet and savory, something that American bacon just can’t replicate. Even after rendering quite a bit of fat, guanciale retains an unctuous toothsomeness, it is a chewy little morsel for your teeth and tongue to delight in when you’re wrestling with the long, reluctant buccatini, also called perciatelli (“little worms”). The buccatini struggle to free themselves from the constrains of your plate as you wrangle them onto your fork; this is a dish to eat with a loved one who won’t mind you leaning into your meal and splattering your face, your shirt, and every available surface with sauce.

Getting buccatini was a job unto itself. I asked the congenial men behind the counter at S. Belliese if they sold it, or where I could find one. They didn’t have any and could offer no suggestion. I needed to pick up a few things, so I took the E five stops to Spring St. and ambled around, popping into every little gourmet shop I came across but no dice. I took the E back to WTC and headed over to Whole Foods. While they have an entire aisle of pasta, my little worms weren’t one of them and grabbed some emergency linguini. I shuffled home feeling defeated. I texted Z “I can’t find the buccatini for my BUCCATINI!” I just couldn’t bring myself to serve him buccatini all amatricana made with linguini, so I used my Google-Fu and found that Dean and Deluca on Prince Street- the flagship D&D- claimed to carry it. After playing musical phone chairs for fifteen minutes, I got the sundry stock guy on the phone and he said that he had two packets of buccatini left. “You better hurry, Miss, someone’s going to buy them!” I put my pants back on, took the W up to Prince St. and entered Dean and Deluca.

The place was amazing, as you enter you are dazzled by perfect produce and an aisle of jewel-like flowers. On your left is a counter that lines most of the building offering pastries, antipasti and cured meats. The center of the shop is filled with the most obscure dry foodstuffs, including my beloved buccatini (I actually found three varieties after a little digging, but who am I to say that to the stock guy?). I also spied a dusty cellophane-encased box of strozzapreti, or “priest stranglers.” I’ve never seen these in person, but legend goes that the most delicious strozzapreti are rolled on the thighs of virgins. I snatched up the box, my packets of buccatini (I wasn’t walking out of there with just one packet after all that work!) and a few other items I just couldn’t live without, and returned gloriously (albiet a little sweaty from waiting for the train for twenty minutes) to the apartment to cook.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

2 medium onions, sliced into half moons
1/4 cup water
1/4 lb. guanciale, cut into lardon
1 28 oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
1/2 tsp. pepperochini
1 lb. buccatini
Pecorino
Chiffonade of basil (optional)

Begin by cooking the onions in the water to soften. After the water has evaporated, add the guanciale and saute until some of the fat has rendered and the gunaciale becomes translucent. Add the pepperochini and let it toast in the fat, then add the tomatoes. Rinse the bowl out you crushed the tomatoes in with water and add the water to the pan. Simmer the sauce while the buccatini cooks, about fifteen minutes. Toss together in the saute pan and serve immediately with a generous amount of pecorino (this is obligatory) and basil (this is optional and not traditional).

Strozzapreti with tomato and ricotta

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3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, diced
Olive oil
1 28 oz. can San Marzano, crushed by hand
Handful basil leaves, chopped and divided
Pepperochini
1 lb. strozza preti
8 oz ricotta, drained
Ground pecorino or parmesan
S&P to taste

Take your garlic, onion, olive oil and tomatoes and make a basic marinara: saute the garlic and onion, add the tomato and pepperochini and rince out the bowl with water and add the water. Add half the basil to cook in the sauce while you boil your pasta. When it is cooked toss with the sauce and add quenelles of ricotta on top, along with ground pecorino or parmesan. Broil until the ricotta is hot and the whole thing is browned and delicious. Top with fresh basil and serve.

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I had the most amazing May, spending nearly three weeks with my sweetie. A couple days after finishing my classes for the semester I flew to New York for twelve days, returning to Indiana for a few days of work and then, finding myself without an agenda and making myself and everyone around me miserable without my man, made my most spur-of-the-moment decision and bought a ticket fourteen hours before it was scheduled for departure. I felt like quite the jet-setter, though my initial departure was out of South Bend, IN. No offense to any Notre Dame fans, but South Bend is quite literally the dullest place in America. There’s not even a Starbucks.

First time ’round found me on my own during the day for five days, and I made the most of it with trips wandering aimlessly through Soho and Chelsea, going into shops like Purl and their haberdashery sister a few doors down. I needed to fix the sleeves of a dress and they had the elasticized thread I needed. After a long day of walking in the beautiful cool sunshine without a plan or a thought in my head (other than, “Hey, is that a gelateria?”), I returned to the apartment with an icy cold Toddy-brewed coffee from KAFFE 1668 and watched cartoons and sewed in my underpants. Because that’s how I roll.

The Wednesday that I was in town I got up early with Z and made him breakfast and then wandered uptown to Union Square Greenmarket, on the hunt for a few Spring specialties: ramps, fiddlehead ferns and asparagus (sadly the asparagus was a little past season- and thusly overpriced- when I arrived). People, Union Square did not disappoint! First of all, the market is wonderfully de-crowded of the mass of sweaty humans that usually inhabit the market on Saturdays. Secondly, the prices were unreal, even cheaper than Fort Wayne. Thirdly, HELLO! this is shit I can’t get in Fort Wayne, in fact, I’ve only seen pictures of fiddlehead ferns in magazines! I was wetting my foodie-knickers.

My haul:

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– a 1.5 lb. rainbow trout ($9)

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– a pint of fiddlehead ferns ($3)

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– a bunch of ramps ($4.50)
– a pound of fingerling potatoes ($2)
– a pint of shallots ($1.50)
– a large basket of cippolini onions ($3)
– a pound of baby spinach ($2)
– some Rick’s Picks spicy pickled green beans ($8)
– and a gigantic head of Red Sails lettuce ($2)

I roasted the cippolini onions and potatoes in the oven with olive oil and S&P until they were nice and crispy. I sauteed some lardon then used the drippings to saute the ramps, ferns and spinach with shallot, finishing them white wine, pepperochini and lemon. The fish I stuffed with lemon and seasoned liberally inside and out then dusted with flour and pan fried it about 4-5 mins per side. The result was a barely cooked filet for both of us that was a beautiful coral pink and fragrant with lemon. I served the fish on a bed of the greens, topped with the reserved lardon, with onions and potatoes on the side. It was a delicious, fresh, understated meal that really embraced local, affordable ingredients.

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