Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Presto Pasta Night

It's been awhile since I've taken part in Presto Pasta Night over at Once Upon a Feast.
Last Saturday was my Birthday and as a special treat we made homemade pappardelle with duck sugo adapted from Lidia's Italy, by Lidia Bastianich. I thought this would be a great submission for this week's pasta round-up over at Chew on That.
Pappardelle with Long Cooked Duck Sugo
1 lb fresh pappardelle
4 lbs of duck legs
6 cups poultry stock
1/2 cup dried porcini
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, cut in 1 inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, peeled
6 fresh sage leaves
1 cup parsley, loosely packed
2 Tbs fresh rosemary
6 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup Parmigiano
Trim excess skin and fat from duck legs. Heat 2 cups of stock and pour over dried porcini. Let soak for 1/2 hour or longer. When the mushrooms have softened, drain and squeeze them, reserving all the soaking liquid. Chop porcini into 1/2 inch pieces.
Using a food processor, mince the onion, celery, garlic and all the fresh herbs for 20-30 seconds, to a moist paste.
Set a big pan over medium high heat and film the bottom with 2 Tbs of olive oil. Lay all the duck legs in the pan, skin side down. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of salt and sizzle for a couple of minutes until skin side is brown. Flip and continue cooking, adjusting the heat and moving the meat as needed, until nicely browned all over. Remove meat to a bowl.
Return saucepan to the heat and scrape in all of the paste from the food processor bowl. Stir it all over the hot pan, scraping up the browned bits, for 2 minutes or so, until it is nearly dry and toasting. Return duck legs to the pan and tumble in the paste. Scatter in the chopped porcini, stir and toss with the legs, and cook several minutes until everything is sizzling.
Pour in the wine, raise the heat and turn the duck until the wine has cooked away. Pour in the porcini liquid and sprinkle another 1/2 tsp of salt. Heat to a boil, turning duck legs.
Set the cover ajar and cook at an actively bubbling simmer, turning ducks frequently. Add stock every 20 minutes so the liquid level is about 2/3 of the way up the meat. After 1 1/2 hours or so, when the duck is tender, turn off the heat and let the duck cool completely in the covered pan.
Remove duck from the pan and pull all the meat off the bones. Tear the meat into bite size pieces. Put the meat back in the sauce and heat for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile cook pasta. Lift pasta from pot and lower into the sauce. Toss over and over to dress thoroughly. If the sauce is too thick add some pasta water.
Turn off the heat and toss pasta with the grated cheese; drizzle some olive oil over the top and serve.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cafe Martorano...Food with Attitude

I think Italian food can be characterized into three distinct groups:

1. Authentic Italian food (this is food found in Italy)
2. Italian American food (commonly referred to as red sauce)
3. South Philly Italian food (food with attitude)
Steve Martorano, of Cafe Martorano, in Las Vegas has no problem getting people to appreciate his South Philly style food. Whether or not they understand his "Don't break my balls" (actually written on the menu) attitude is another thing.

I have to admit, even though I'm from South Philly I was a little reluctant to try Cafe Martorano. I had read some pretty negative reviews online and wasn't sure I was ready to deal with that kind of attitude at a restaurant. Especially one that was going to cost me a pretty penny. So when we decided to go to Vegas for a long weekend; and my mother suggested checking it out I reluctantly made the reservations.

Now I can honestly say I'm glad we went. The staff was nothing but nice. Maybe even over the top nice. Once the hostess found out we were from South Philly she made a point of hugging us as we left (a South Philly thing for sure). Portions were huge; the food was delicious; and the whole experience was all very traditional South Philly style Italian.

We ate salad served in the same plate with our meatballs. The gravy (known to most as tomato sauce) mixing with the oil and of course red wine vinegar (something my family does all the time).

The penne in gravy, cooked just to al dente, included chunks of pork. Just like we ate every Sunday at my mom's.

We had chicken cutlet with fresh tomato slices and melted mozzarella; with a side of cavatelli. Another family favorite.

And fried calamari in a light tomato sauce and a balsamic glaze. (ok, maybe not traditional but still good)

So if you're looking for a true South Philly style Italian experience and can't make it to Philly head on over to Cafe Martorano's in Vegas for authentic food with attitude.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ears, Tails, Cheeks...Oh My!

My husband says I do it for the shock factor; but I swear I do it because I enjoy it. Who's he was totally his idea to order the ear and tail salad this past weekend at B&B. I can't help it if I happened to enjoy it more than he did.

We spent last weekend in Las Vegas, with my mom and uncle, to celebrate our birthdays. Like every other city we travel to; food was the focus of our trip. B&B is one of Mario Batali's restaurants; located in the Venetian Hotel. We had eaten there once before and loved it. My goal this trip was to try another one of Mario's restaurants but I just couldn't resist going back to B&B.

Since we weren't that hungry my husband and I both agreed to do appetizers and pasta; forgoing the meat course. The ear and tail salad was a special that night and came highly recommended by our waiter, Patrick. So we decided to give that and the asparagus appetizer (new to the menu) a try.

The mixed green salad was surrounded by flattened discs of pig's tail; which were very creamy in texture. On top were crunchy pieces of pig's ear; similar in taste and feel to bacon. The contrast in both flavor and texture between the two was awesome. Not having eaten either tail or ear before I wasn't really sure what to expect. I have to say I would definitely eat both again.

The asparagus, in our second appetizer, was sitting in a pool of egg puree topped with a dollop of smoked ricotta cheese and sprinkled with caviar. The combination of flavors was delicious. I only wish there was more.

My husband ordered the pici with lamb ragu next. Pici is a hand rolled pasta, similar to a thick spaghetti in shape. We've made our own lamb ragu before; but this one was brought to a new level with the addition of fresh mint to the sauce.

After much thought (I admit I was a little nervous) I ordered the beef cheek ravioli. The half moon pasta were stuffed to the gills with ground beef cheek meat covered with a sauce of crushed duck liver and black truffles. It was one of the best dishes I've ever eaten.

We decided to finish off our meal with one of our favorite desserts; Italian fried doughnuts dipped in chocolate. A perfect ending to a perfect meal.

I know that B&B gets a lot of negative press but I really think the food is delicious. Where else can you eat ears, tail and cheeks in the same meal?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hot Phoenix Wine Bar

Bomberos, which is Spanish for fireman, is the perfect name for the relatively new N. Central Phoenix wine bar/cafe housed in an old Sunnyslope firehouse. The cafe has a Latin theme featuring a selection of South American wines and Latin American beers. The menu is small; with just a few panini, bruschetta, meat and cheese to choose from.

I met a friend, after work, at Bomberos and we shared a cheese plate and a bruschetta plate. The cheese plate included a choice of three cheeses from a selection of 5. We decided on the Brie, Manchego and Iberico. I was pleasantly surprised at how large the plate was when it arrived. We were given 4 chunks (yes, some are missing from the photo below) of each variety to share along with some nuts and dried fruit. Accompanied by a basket of crackers this could easily be a small meal for someone.

The bruschetta is also a choice of 3 from a list of 5. We picked the salami and Manchego with pesto, the Brie, prosciutto and dried figs and the flaked tuna. Each was split into two nice sized portions which made it very easy to share. Out of the 3 I think the flaked tuna was my favorite: although the combination of flavors in the salami and Manchego was amazing.

Bomberos is a cool, or should I say hot, new place to meet for a drink or a small bite to eat. I would definitely recommend it.

Bomberos Cafe & Wine Bar
8801 N Central Ave Phoenix Arizona 85020

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Italian Rum Cake...Take Two

We celebrated my husband's birthday this past Sunday with a small dinner for our immediate family. I'd like to brag that I was the one who made the dinner; but I was so busy stressing over the cake that my husband ended up making his own birthday meal. (sorry honey) That's ok, he's a much better chef than me anyway.

He made a delicious Tuscan Meat and Tomato Ragu served over cavatelli. Cavatelli are a type of pasta, typically about 1¼ inch long, with a rolled edge. They are very similar to gnocchi. The main difference is that traditionally gnocchi are made with potato and cavatelli with ricotta cheese.

This sauce is one of our favorites from Lidia's Italy by Lidia Bastianich. It's not hard to make but, like all good sauces, it needs to cook for about 2 hours in order for the flavors to mesh.

When I told my husband I would make him any kind of cake he wanted for his birthday; he told me he wanted an Italian Rum Cream cake. I nearly died. My last attempt at making this was such a catastrophe I swore I'd never make it again.

It was 1992 and I decided I was going to try and make an Italian Rum Cake. I got the recipe from a co-worker; who I found out after the fact had never even had rum cake let alone made the recipe she gave me. It was horrible. Not only did it taste bad but it looked a mess. My grandmother was so embarrassed that she went and purchased a cake before anyone had a chance to witness my poor attempt at baking.

Fast forward 16 years and I find myself preparing to make this cake again. Can you understand why I was stressing? This time I did a lot of research and pieced together the best recipes I could find for each component of the cake. Although not totally perfect it was much better than my first attempt.

Basic Genoise Cake (The Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sifted cake flour
Adjust the rack to the lower third of the oven; preheat the oven to 350.
Grease and flour a 9″ round cake pan; set aside.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour into a small bowl; set nearby.
Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt in a large bowl until tripled in volume, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Fold flour into the mixture, one-third at a time, just until incorporated.
Pour about 1 cup of the batter into the melted butter, and fold just until combined.
Return the butter mixture into the reserved batter, and again fold to combine.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the top springs back slightly when lightly touched. Cool for 10 minutes.
Run a knife around the edge of the cake, freeing the sides and allowing air to get under the layer Invert the cake onto a rack and cool completely. Makes one 9″ round cake.

Buttercream Icing (Wilton Recipes)

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approx. 1 lb.)
2 tablespoons milk
In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use.
Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.
YIELD: Makes about 3 cups.

Soaking Syrup (adapted from The Art of Perfect Baking, by Flo Braker)

10 ounces water
1 lb sugar
Dark rum to taste
Pour the water into a sauce pan. Add the sugar; stir to blend; then bring to a boil over medium heat.
Remove from heat and cool. Can be stored for up to 6 months.
Makes 2 ½ cups

Vanilla and Chocolate Pastry Cream

Recipe from Joy of Baking.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Who's Your Pizza Maker!

My husband is the pizza maker in our family. He's been making his own pizza for the past 6 years. He uses the same dough (from Niccoli's), the same amount of cheese (1 1/2 fresh mozzarella balls) and the same canned tomato (La Valle) and we get a delicious pizza every time. So when he was out of town last month I decided to try my hand at pizza making. There was some extra dough (enough for a personal pizza) leftover from the last pie my husband made and a small amount of mozzarella cheese from a caprese I had made early that week. Since there wasn't enough mozzarella to cover the whole pie I decided to use feta cheese on the other half. I topped the cheese with thinly sliced tomato from our garden and sprinkled it all with fresh basil and dried oregano. (for some reason dried oregano is much better than fresh) I popped the pie into the oven for about 12 minutes at 450 degrees and viola!... Not the traditional pizza my husband makes but it was still delicious in it's own way.