Posts tagged pasta
Monday, August 17, 2009

cacio e pepe

cacio e pepe

Hello, summer! Finally, you’ve made your arrival to New York – and boy oh boy, did you let us have it. I mean, could you be any hotter? Scratch that, I’m not about to challenge you – you’re already making my air conditioning work overtime. But really, let’s talk here. First, you play coy with us and take your sweet time, and then – wham! You are here, in full bloom: heat, humidity and everything in between. May I just say that the ladies with curly hair are just a wee bit cross with you? I’m just being honest.

The other bit is that this sudden and rather intense arrival is sort of creating a rift between me and my kitchen. I want to go in there so badly, I want to chop and dice and saute and broil, but you, you are making it very difficult. Almost impossible I’d say. I’m barely mustering the energy to cook some simple pasta dishes, like this one here and the one I wrote about recently. I’ve also taken to making ice cream to cool myself off, but I’ll save that for another day. As for pasta, as I cannot live on salad alone and peanut butter sandwiches are neither exciting nor inventive, I have to keep it short and sweet.

fresh pasta

And lucky for you, dear summer, that it just so happens that my favorite pasta dish is this one. Yes, this very one. Dear readers, as you look below in search of ingredients, you find only five. I know – just five! And I bet you have most, if not all in your kitchen already. An authentic pasta dish that traces its roots back to Rome that’s as easy as making mac and cheese from a box, if not easier.

Originally labeled as cucina povera (aka humble food for the common folk who might not have the means or the time to fix themselves an elaborate meal) this is anything but a poor man’s dinner. The marriage of its ingredients, while deceptively simple, is anything but humble when it comes to taste. And yet again, it’s a step away from traditional tomato or cream sauces, which, believe me, you will not miss in this sweltering heat. The mere thought of a cream sauce is making me reach for my glass of ice water.

olive oil

I know I keep saying to you fresh pasta, and I’m sure you’re a bit annoyed because it’s not like fresh pasta is sold in every grocery store. But, just trust me when I say fresh pasta is totally worth it. Really. It’s that much better. I think it might be the egg in it, but I’m not certain. If making pasta ain’t your thang, and believe me, I don’t blame you (who has the time and kitchen space?), try finding it in your supermarket. It will make a difference – and you won’t be sorry.

cacio e pepe

When we can be barely brought to approach our stoves, this is a solution that’s a good compromise. While you heat the water, you can grate the cheese and make basil chiffonade (a fancy term for slivers). Your fresh pasta takes mere minutes to cook and after a quick drain, you place it in bowls, add heaps of grated cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with freshly cracker pepper. You mix the ingredients, and garnish with fresh basil slivers. Then you pour yourself a glass of chilled, robust white wine and sit back while eating your dinner. You won’t even break a sweat with this meal which means you win. Score: you – one; summer – zero.

Dear summer, you can bring your worst, I am ready for you.

Continue reading cacio e pepe.

Monday, August 10, 2009

pasta with goat cheese, zucchini and summer squash

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

I’ve been a little zucchini obsessed lately. I can’t stop buying them and they disappear as soon as they make it in the kitchen. I’ve sautéed them, I’ve gone back to my favorite feta and dill stuffed ones, and I’ve come across this recipe which I’ve made at least three times. I know, a recipe repeated? Several times at the expense of others? But there’s something soft and comforting and bright and cheery about this meal. And best of all, it lets the seasonal favorites: summer squash and zucchini shine.

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

I’m also taking a break from the traditional tomato-based pasta sauces – I’ve been craving creamy cheeses like ricotta and goat cheese. And lemon, lots of lemon. I cannot get enough of it. Lemon is my constant water companion; I drizzle it over my salads and fish; and make sorbets out of it. I add it to fruit in pies to make the fruit stand out more. Lucky for me, the local grocer offers lemons in bulk and at the rate I’m buying them, is probably thinking I’m running my own lemonade stand.

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

A few weeks ago, I once again, brought home my current favorite loot. But I didn’t quite have a plan, and after staring at the contents of my fridge for a few minutes my vegetables, I had a brilliant plan. I first sautéed a shallot with a garlic clove and then added sliced zucchini and summer squash. The whole thing came together quickly, beautifully and I have to say that for a week night meal, after you get home from a crazed day at the office, this is perfection at its best. I even served this to the book club ladies two nights later. Never one to hoard food, I was a little wistful that none was left over for the following night.

pasta with zucchini, goat cheese & lemon

Continue reading pasta with goat cheese, zucchini and summer squash.

Friday, June 26, 2009

pasta with stinging nettles and ramps pesto

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

It should by now not strike me as unusual that things we barely paid attention to in Russia are considered a delicacy in America. Sorrel leaves were the cheapest greens at the market. Chanterelles were considered pedestrian, no matter how delicious. Gooseberries were easily the cheapest berries you could find – and in the US they’re quite a treat. And then of course there were stinging nettles. They grew everywhere, much like weeds. Around apartment buildings, in ravines, in nearby fields. In fact, as a child, I was often covered in an itchy rash from stinging nettles. From time to time, my grandmother would go out and with a towel, pick a bunch of nettles and make them into a soup. In fact, stinging nettles was something you ate to pinch pennies, it was one of those things – delicious, yet somehow indicative of poverty. I didn’t really think about it much while I was young, but I remembered stinging nettles after we arrived to the US and couldn’t find any in the store or at farmers’ markets.

stinging nettles ramps

I suppose stinging nettles have become somewhat en vogue recently because I’ve been seeing them on menus and at green markets everywhere. Maybe it’s always been so and I haven’t been noticing, but it seems to me like suddenly, stinging nettles went from being the girl no one wanted to take to the dance to the girl pronounced them homecoming queen. Humble, unapproachable, homely stinging nettles – suddenly glamorous!

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

I would have shared this dish with you sooner, but I thought the stinging nettles season was over and so this dish was going to go into my computer’s oubliette for a few seasons. But I heard through the bloggy-grapevine that stinging nettles were still abundant at least in Union Square market and so wanted to share this recipe with you as soon as possible.

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

I had a version of this dish at one of my favorite restaurants, Hundred Acres, on the first night of Passover of all nights. And guess what – it was in a pasta dish (I can see my parents shuddering as they read this bit) as pasta is probably the most anti-Passover food out there. But I was sad that night, because I couldn’t go home for the holiday, meanwhile my dad was sick, my grandmother – deteriorating. And here I was, feeling mopey on the eve of a family holiday, without family in the city to celebrate. Friends who know me well know that I rarely feel homesick, but on that night, I felt very lonely in a city where I feel very much at home. And to cheer myself up, I decided to take myself out to a nice dinner. I just happened to be walking past Hundred Acres – clearly I was meant to dine there that night.

ramps and stinging nettles pesto

Its simplicity and comfort of this pasta dish struck me as exactly what I needed that night. Even though it was as far away from a Passover-appropriate meal, I didn’t care. Passover is a tale of exodus, and a people’s search for home. And I, quite desperately, needed to feel a sense of home that night, at whatever cost. I wanted simple, hearty, homey – and this pasta offered it all. Not to mention as soon as I saw stinging nettles, my decision was even easier.

pasta with ramps and stinging nettles pesto

The next opportunity I had, I bought stinging nettles at Union Square market and tried to recreate this simple, yet amazing dish at home. And wanted to share it with you. Because to me, this pasta brought a little piece of home, in so many ways: the comfort and weight of fresh semolina pasta, the childhood stinging nettles, fragrant coating of olive oil, a sharp bite of grana padano. What I realized that night is that a delicacy need not be a fancy thing – it is the thing that makes you feel indulgent and wrapped in comfort, be it a common food or a fancy one.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

pasta with chanterelles and fresh ricotta

pasta with chanterelles, cream and ricotta

It is still, after 20 years of living in the United States, utterly shocking to me how much chanterelle mushrooms cost. When I was growing up in Russia, they were the one of the cheapest mushrooms around, though we picked most of our mushrooms ourselves. That’s the kind of thing you do in Russia – pick your own mushroom and berries in the forest. It’s a bit cliché and “Sound of Music” but I assure you we didn’t do this with a song. And as for mushroom-picking, I used to be quite good at it too. You had to have a keen eye, discerning one brown thing from the next, a twig or a leaf sometimes was hiding a beautiful porcini or a cremini mushroom. And as for chanterelles, you could see their bright yellow tops a mile away.

I also had memorized names of all the mushrooms and how they looked and how to tell their poisonous look-alikes from the real thing. I’ve forgotten most of it by now, but with the chanterelles, my favorite childhood mushroom, I still remember. Should you find a chanterelle mushroom that has worms inside, it is a fake. Apparently, real chanterelle mushrooms are repugnant to worms. Now, that may have been an old wives tales, but even so, would you want a wormy mushroom?

pasta with chanterelles, cream and ricotta

Regardless, the chanterelle is a pretty fabulous thing, if you ask me. It smells of earth and moist woods and moss and when cooked, it makes the most humble meals glorious and worthy of a special occasion. And this dish, which I slightly spruced up with some fresh ricotta (I really just couldn’t resist it!) was an absolute favorite thing of mine to eat when chanterelles were in season. And ridiculously simple too!

pasta with chanterelles, cream and ricotta

You simply sauté some onions and shallots, add to them the chanterelles and let that cook until reduced in volume (mushrooms shrink when cooked) at which point you add a dollop of sour cream (what dish in Russia goes without?), mix it all in, and then stir it into freshly boiled pasta. It sounds simple and pedestrian, though it’s anything but – and you just might finish the whole dish by yourself, so for your sake, do invite some guests over. This could be one fancy dinner party!

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

kasha varnishkes

I wish I had a great story to tell you about growing up eating kasha varnishkes, but I don’t. In fact, I had it, for the first time, last year at a Jewish deli and it was love at first bite. And at the time, I didn’t even know it was such a traditional dish. All I was excited about was that there was buckwheat in it and fried onions that, for reasons now known to me (one word, people – schmaltz!) were the best tasting fried onions I could think of. I liked the bowtie pasta, but my fat-loving stomach hinted that egg noodles might have been even better. But there are no bow-tie egg noodles are there?

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

thousand layer lasagna

mille feuille - with pasta

Sometime I lunge head first into a recipe without really considering what the process will entail. I’ll all but skim the ingredients list, look at the picture, consult my flippant cravings and then jump in. Most of the time it’s worked fine for me, but at times, I find myself in the middle of something not quite what I expected. And then the only thing to do is just soldier on.

When I read about this thousand-layer lasagna, I was instantly hooked. Layers and layers of almost translucent pasta, delicate in texture, yet intensely flavored. How could I possibly resist? I saw pictures on Heidi’s site, and then Deb wrote about it, and I knew it was a matter of time before I would succumb to the delicate pasta call.

It helped that our pasta machine wasn’t getting much use lately and we were feeling like we have to justify its purchase somehow. I was going on and on about how I wanted a mandoline and KS gently reminded me that before we buy yet another piece of kitchen equipment, we had to use the ones we had. I couldn’t really argue with him, practical boy that he is.

And so while he and his friend played tennis one afternoon, I got to work. I rolled my dough and let it sit. And that’s when I decided to read the instructions more carefully. Boy, was I in for a challenge. Not so much a process challenge, but a space challenge. You know how New York kitchens are, and if you’re not a New Yorker, I’m sure you’ve heard about it by now. Tiny spaces lacking counterspace, they are not friendly places for laying out layers and layers of pasta, and that’s what you kind of have to do. Heidi’s warning was well-noted – I did need all the counter space I could get my hands on, and then some. I laid out fresh kitchen towels everywhere the eye could see.

perhaps it needed more sauce and cheese

I rolled and rolled until the sheets were so thin, they were almost torn, going to 8, but not quite to 9. And then into the boiling bath they went, and then into the cold bath, and finally to the towels to rest. It. Was. A. Process. While not technically challenging, it took awhile. And it was very step intensive. But I was in the middle of it and when a recipe and I start playing chicken, I always win.

The layering part was the easiest and most fun. I will change things a bit next time though. I will use thin sheets of cheese instead of chunks as they tend to melt better and prettier that way. And secondly, I would love to do this with a nice, thick Bolognese sauce. But in the end, it was incredible. Everything I wanted and imagined this lasagna to be. Each square was like a savory mille-feuille, layer upon layer of pasta with tomato sauce and cheese. Undoubtedly to be made again. And again. And again. A thousand times over.

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