Food Hunter's Guide to Cuisine: April 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010

The “King & Queen of Italian Cuisine” relocate to Scottsdale.

Chef Marcellino & his beautiful wife Sima Verzino are taking their long standing Central Phoenix restaurant to Old Town Scottsdale and they’re doing it with style. I have to admit, because of logistics, I was initially disappointed to hear they were moving. But my feelings have since changed.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a pre-grand opening event and I can tell you that it was nothing short of amazing. A red carpet lined the corridor from the parking garage to the entrance. Photographers were on site taking photos of the guests, and tenors from the Phoenix Opera Company performed periodically throughout the evening.

The building, which was the former home of Digestif restaurant, has been completely remodeled; and I’m told all the work was done by Marcellino himself. The walls of the main dining room are exposed brick and the ceiling is lined with swags very reminiscent of the ceiling in their former location. There’s a nice sized bar and a private dining area but the main attraction is the “Chef’s Island” where diners will be able to book seats and observe Marcellino as he creates a personal meal for them.

Marcellino plans to keep the menu pretty much the same with a few added touches that will be coming out of his new wood-fired oven. We sampled the thin crust margherita pizza last night. Hot from the oven it was perfectly sauced and lightly topped with mozzarella and basil. One of my favorites of the evening.

The food and drink flowed freely all night as Marcellino showered us with some of his specialties. Plates of homemade, silver dollar sized gnocchi dressed in a light gorgonzola sauce were passed. There were also scallops sautéed in truffle oil and the most delicious porcini risotto. The eggplant caponata transferred me back to my summer on the Amalfi Coast and the pimento peppers drizzled with olive oil were mouth watering. There was asparagus baked with parmesan cheese and bruschetta with melted fontina and shitake mushrooms...the list goes on and on.

As I mentioned above throughout the evening we were serenaded by 3 very talented opera singers…who will be performing every Friday and Saturday night going forward. What a treat to enjoy such good food and talent all in one evening.

Everything else aside the highlight of the night was watching Marcellino and Sima dance the tarantella in the middle of the dining room with friends, family and staff cheering them on.

The "King and Queen of Italian Cuisine" have found a new home which now holds a special place in my heart.

Marcellino Ristorante

7114 E. Stetson Dr. Old Town Scottsdale

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pasta Carbonara...AKA Bacon & Eggs with a Side of Pasta

I had the best pasta carbonara in Italy and the 2nd best last night. Following Mario Batali’s recipe, and using the freshest ingredients he could find; including homemade pasta my husband whipped up an amazing pasta carbonara for dinner.

If you’ve never had carbonara I would highly recommend trying it someday. I know the thought of the egg yolk just sitting there in your bowl of pasta may seem strange but it’s actually pretty incredible. To me nothing compares to the silky smoothness of the cracked yolk when it blends with the grated parmesan. And don't forget about the pancetta. 

What could possibly be better than bacon and eggs with a side of pasta?

I'm submitting this to Presto Pasta Night being hosted by Cynthia, The Kitchen Slave

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(adapted from Mario Batali)

Makes 4 Servings
• 3 tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
• 8 ounces Guanciale, Pancetta, or good Bacon (we used guanciale)
• 1 pound Spaghetti (we used fresh)
• 1 ¼ cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• 4 large Eggs, separated
• Freshly ground Black Pepper

Bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salts.

Meanwhile, combine the olive oil and guanciale in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan set over medium heat, and cook unti the guanciale has rendered its fat and is crispy and golden. Remove from the heat and set aside (do not drain the fat).

Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until just al dente. Scoop out ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

Add the reserved pasta water to the pan with the guanciale, then toss in the pasta and heat, shaking the pan, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add 1 cup of the Parmigiano, the egg whites, and pepper to taste, and toss until thoroughly mixed.

Divide the pasta among four warmed serving bowls. Make a nest in the center of each one, and gently drop an egg yolk into each nest. Season the egg yolks with more pepper and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup Parmigiano over the top. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fun, Healthy & Delicious Cereal...Me & Goji

I’ve never been a huge fan of breakfast cereal. What I’ve found is that if it’s something I like it’s probably not good for me and if it’s good for me I probably won’t like it.  This all changed when I was asked to sample some products over at Me & Goji; a website that allows you to create your own organic artisanal cereal. 

You start with one of several bases such as flakes or muesli and then you choose from over 30 add ins. Things such as nuts, fruit, seeds and spices can be added to fully customize your cereal blend. Adding/removing ingredients is easy..just a click of a button. With each addition you get nutritional information allowing you to keep calories and other important factors in check at all times. You also get detailed descriptions of how each product will work for your body This was very helpful when I was trying to create a mix that would fill me up and provide enough energy to take me through my 5:30am boot camp class.

The bases start at around $4.90 and each add in is an additional charge so this can turn into quite an expense if you’re not careful. But everything is clearly priced so there really aren’t any surprises. The cool canister the cereal is packaged in holds about 15 servings which is quite a bit compared to a regular box of store bought cereal. So, although it may seem expensive I think it is well worth the indulgence.

Me & Goji also offers several premixed blends if you don’t want to take the time to mix your own. These are named according to their benefits…for example the one I tried is called Fiber; because it provides over 7 grams of fiber per serving. The unique blend of coconut, chia and raspberry make this not only nutritional but also delicious.

I am so glad I found Me & Goji and I think you will be too…so give it a try and let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wild Mushroom Ravioli

A few weeks ago graciously sent me a variety pack of dried wild mushrooms.  In return they asked me to come up with a recipe for using them.  I have to admit that at first glance I was a bit intimidated by all of the various kinds of mushrooms. There were quite a few I had never even heard of and didn't really know anything about.   I quickly got over this fear by trying each variety to get a feel for the uniqueness in both taste and texture.  

The package included the following mushrooms: 

Lobster  One of the firmest mushrooms, they are sweet, delicate, and delicious. 

Porcini  Earthy and somewhat nutty flavor lends itself to countless dishes. 

Chantrelle  Often described as apricot-like, and they have an earthy flavor.

Black Trumpet  Fagile and trumpet-shaped with a waxy grey surface. They are very rich and buttery. 

Matsutake  Smell of pine in the springtime and have a savory and pungent flavor.

Morel  Belong to the same species as the truffle. They are incredibly flavorful and need little embellishment.

After testing each of the mushrooms I decided that together they would make a wonderful filling for ravioli.  My initial idea was to pair them with some mascarpone cheese but instead I decided to go with the classic ricotta.

To the ricotta I added some fresh chopped parsley, ground nutmeg and grated Parmesan.  In order to create a bit more substance I also incorporated some sautéed Italian sausage and some chopped fresh mushrooms.   The ravioli were perfectly dressed in a classic butter sage sauce.  The flavors combined extremely well making for a delicious pasta dish. 

I admit I am still not a wild mushroom connoisseur but I have more confidence now incorporating dried mushrooms into various recipes. Thanks Marxfoods for giving me this opportunity.  If you're looking for the perfect ravioli filling; I think this might just be it. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Two Really Different...Yet Really Delicious Biscotti

Last weekend, in preparation for the arrival of my aunt and uncle who were visiting from New Jersey, I decided to bake some cookies. 

I'm a huge fan of Gina DePalma, the pastry chef at Babbo, and an even bigger fan of biscotti. So I decided to try Gina's recipe for Mosaic Biscotti.  And since I never do anything on a small scale I also made her Almond Anise & Orange Biscotti.  Of course I added a few minor personal touches. You'll see them in the recipes below.

The Mosaic were a huge hit. Everyone seemed to love the chocolate cherry combination.  My favorite of the two though were the Almond; I really enjoyed the way the anise and orange blended.

I'll be making both of these for the National Food Bloggers Bake Sale on April 17th.   Here in Arizona the sale is being held at 5th and Wine in Scottsdale. Hope to see all my local readers there.

Mosaic Biscotti

adapted from Gina DePalma
3 1/2c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1t. baking powder
1t. kosher salt
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks, plus 1 egg white for the glaze
2c. granulated sugar, plus 1 1/2T. for the glaze
2 t. pure vanilla extract
12oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used semisweet chips)
2c. skinned or unskinned hazelnuts, coarsely chopped (I substituted 1 cup dried tart cherries)
2c. whole, unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 325F (160C) and grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside. In another bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together for about 2 minutes with an electric mixer.

2. Add the vanilla extract, continue beating and add in the dry ingredients and then the chocolate and nuts.

3. Form 5 logs of dough and place on prepared baking sheet. Beat the remaining egg white(s) and brush on logs.

4. Bake until lightly golden brown and firm to the touch, about 20-25 minutes. Cool the logs on the baking sheets for about 40 minutes.

5. Turn oven back to 200F (90C). With a very sharp knife (or serrated) slice the logs on a slight diagonal into 1/4″ wide slices. Lay on the baking sheet in a single layer and cook for 20 minutes or more, until toasted and crisp. Cool completely before storing in airtight containers

Almond Anise & Orange Biscotti
adapted from Gina DePalma
 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
 1 teaspoon baking powder
 1 teaspoon kosher salt
 4 cups whole blanched almonds
 4 large eggs
 2 large egg yolks, plus 1 egg white for glaze
 2 cups granulated sugar, plus 1 1/2 tablespoons for glaze
 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
 1 tablespoon whole anise seeds
 Freshly grated zest of 1 large orange


1. Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly. Using a sharp knife, coarsely chop the almonds and set them aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs, the egg yolks, and the 2 cups sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. The mixture will look somewhat curdled. Beat in the vanilla extract, anise seeds, and orange zest. Beat in the dry ingredients, then the chopped nuts, to make a soft dough. Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap it in plastic, and chill for 2 hours, or until it is firm enough to handle.

3. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray or butter or line them with parchment paper.

4. Divide the dough into 5 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, shape each portion of the dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 10 inches long. Place 2 of the logs on one of the baking sheets, 3 inches apart, and 3 of the logs on the second baking sheet, also 3 inches apart. In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze each log with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar.

5. Bake the logs until they are lightly golden brown, firm to the touch, and just beginning to crack slightly, 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180 degrees halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning. Allow the logs to cool on the baking sheets on a wire rack until they are cool to the touch, about 40 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F.

6. With a sharp, serrated knife, slice the cooled biscotti slightly on the bias into 1/4-inch-wide slices. Lay the slices on the baking sheets in a single layer. Return them to the oven and cook for 20 minutes more, or until they are toasted, dry, and crisp. Cool the biscotti completely on the baking sheets, then store them in an airtight container kept in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.