Mastering Pasta

9781607746072

Mastering Pasta-The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto, by Marc Vetri

People have debated and argued about the origins of pasta for years. It may have been invented in China (as some claim), but very few would argue that the Italians aren’t the ones who really own it. In his book “Mastering Pasta”, Marc Vetri has written a definitive reference to the art and science of pasta. Classically trained in Bergamo, Italy and founder of Philadelphia’s Vetri Family of Restaurants, Marc Vetri is clearly suited for the job.

If you are looking for a sauce to put on some pasta you picked up at the store this is not the book for you. If you want to know why tipo 00 flour from Italy is going to give you different results than all-purpose flour, then you’re in luck. The second chapter of the book is all about flour. I was a bit concerned that this was more information than I needed to know, and I was beginning to feel a bit intimidated (despite how interesting it was to read). Fortunately, like everyone else, I thumbed through the entire book first. After browsing through the recipes, I was willing to take all the time I needed to create the beautiful dishes that seemed to jump out of the book as I turned each page. As I read along I realized that making pasta is much easier than you might expect and very approachable for any level of cook. The recipes in the book are perfect examples of what a dish of pasta should be. It should be flavorful on its own with a texture that is a delight to bite into and seasoned to accentuate the pasta, not overpower it. All too often in America the pasta is reduced to a flavorless vehicle for a cacophony of flavors. Often heavy and over sauced, American pasta may be familiar and satisfying but can fail to live up to its potential.

I love a cookbook that is more than a collection of recipes, and that is where “Mastering Pasta” excels. It also serves as a reference book. As such, you can explore the topic as in depth or as lightly as you desire. All types of various pastas are explored here: baked sheet pastas, stuffed, extruded, formed pasta, and flavored pasta. The recipes are well written and easy to understand, and there is plenty of information on technique. There is also a welcome chapter on risotto. I was also excited to see a chapter dedicated to gnocchi, one of my all time favorites. I had made pasta before but never tried to make gnocchi. A quote from the book summed up my trepidation attempting to make gnocchi:

“No matter what type of gnocchi you make, texture and flavor are still the two most important things to consider when making them. Not enough flour and you’ll create soup when the dumplings go into the water. Too much flour or too much kneading and you’ll make the ever popular “asshole stoppers,” as they were lovingly called years ago in South Philly. But with the right amount of flour, maybe a little egg, and a gentle touch, gnocchi can taste like tender puffs of flavor that seem to float from the fork to your mouth.”

The reason I have avoided making them is that I was afraid they would not be the light tender pillows that seemingly float up from the plate, but the other kind that you can imagine haunting you later (the latter kind described above). However, after reading the chapter on gnocchi, I am now ready and eager to give it a try. That is the kind of inspiration I love and appreciate in a cookbook the most!

Nothing gets me more excited about a new cookbook than discovering something new (to me anyhow) and in this case it was ‘testarolo’. The picture alone stopped me in my tracks for a recipe for ‘Testarolo with Pistachio Pesto’. Testarolo is a form of pasta that starts out as a batter that is then cooked on a hot skillet like a crepe. Like a pancake, it is cooked crisp and browned, and is then cut into diamond shapes and put briefly into the water before being tossed with a sauce (the sauce here was a pistachio pesto). It is served with a garnish of goat cheese and orange zest. The dish is as spectacularly visual as it is delicious.

Mastering pasta is full of classic pasta dishes anyone should be familiar with like ‘Tagliatelle with Traditional Bolognese’, ‘Risotto all Milanese’, and ‘Ricotta Ravioli’ as well on many other fresh takes on traditional dishes: dishes like ‘Fig and Onion Caramelle with Gorgonzola Dolce Fonduta’ and ‘Linguine with Peekytoe Crab and Horseradish’ to name a few. A chapter on stocks, sauces, and the basics rounds this ‘must have’ cookbook for any pasta devotee. I highly recommend this book. I can’t wait to get started.

 

“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”

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Pintxos

pintxo pintxos

Pintxos

What’s better than a drink and a nibble especially when the nibble is a plate full of pintxos! I have been aware of pintxos (pronounced peen-chos) for some time, but I have only begun to obsess over them since I began going to one of my favorite restaurants, ‘Coqueta’. Servers waft by you with the most beautiful boards of pintxos making it nearly impossible to resist indulging in some. Pintxos, which means “thorn” or “spike” in Spanish, comes from the Basque region of northern Spain. When I finally got around to making some, I found that the best part of the process was coming up with the nearly endless number of delicious combinations.

gilda pintxo pintxos

Pintxos Gilda- Olives, Anchovy and Guindilla Peppers

 

For my first board, there was only one place to start, and that was with the classic ‘Pintxo Gilda’. The ‘Gilda’ is named for the character Rita Hayworth played in the film of the same name. Like the reigning sex symbol of the day this pintxo is a little bit salty, a little bit spicy and, if I dare say, a little bit sexy. I went on from there to create some more using classic Mediterranean flavors with an emphasis on Spain: garlic shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo), Chorizo, Serrano ham, manchego cheese, piquillo peppers, and artichokes. Not being satisfied to stay in Spain for too long, I found myself heading east and making a sharp right turn at the Alps where I struck Italy. Here I created a Caprese pintxo using tomato, marinated bocconcini, and basil on a crostini. After that, no flavor profile was safe. I made a ‘Roasted Baby Beets, Point Reyes Blue Cheese and Blood Orange Pintxo’ to round out my first ever pintxos board.

Pintxos naturally go hand in hand with tapas. As such they are often found on top of a toasted piece of bread. A piece of bread serves a dual purpose. Not only does it help sop up the delicious flavors running amok on the pintxo, but also helps prop it up in an attractive upright position. This architectural feel is what I love about these appealing appetizers. To advance this interest in epicurean engineering, I have borrowed a page from Michael Chiarello’s ‘Coqueta’. I have seen these ‘skewer holders’ or boards around, but never saw one that I liked. The ones I found were not very pretty, and they were a little overpriced (in my humble opinion). All that I needed was a board with holes in it to keep the pintxos in place. Easy enough? So I picked up a nice looking cutting board at a local import store for a song and proceeded to make my own. It was easy. I simply drew a grid on a piece of paper cut to the size of the board, taped it to the board, and drilled holes using a 1/16 inch bit. I used a piece of blue tape on the bit to keep the drill from going all the way through, and ‘voila’ I had a pintxos board!

I am not afraid to say that there are no recipes in this post. You don’t need any. All you need to do is look at the pictures and begin assembling. With a little imagination, I am sure you can create some fabulous pintxos of your own. Since I started working on this post, my mind has taken me all over the globe for ideas. My desk quickly became littered with ideas jotted down on little bits of paper from late night brainstorming sessions with my editor. I also setup a Pinterest board and started pinning ideas I had come across online. Some of the inspiration and recipes for the pintxos I made for this post you can find here. The most time-consuming part of this is gathering all the ingredients and preparing them. Fortunately, all this can be done ahead of time. The actual skewering is relatively quick especially if you are a fan of ‘mise en place’. In addition to getting all your peas and carrots in a row ahead of time, the only other advice I have is the same I always give: seek out the highest quality ingredients for the highest quality results. I made a list of resources that came in handy for this project below. Gozayu! (Enjoy)

Links

Food

La Tienda https://www.tienda.com
Monterey Farms http://montereyfarmsartichokes.com
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese https://www.pointreyescheese.com
The Bacon Jams http://thebaconjams.com

Boards, Skewers

Amazon http://www.amazon.com
PacknWood http://www.packnwood.com
Restaurantware http://www.restaurantware.com
Cost Plus World Market www.worldmarket.com

San Francisco Craft Beer Festival

San Francisco craft beer festival

San Francisco craft beer festival

San Francisco Craft Beer Festival

Writing a food blog is hard work. There is all that cooking once you get done with all that shopping. Then there is the food styling and photography. When that is finished there is the writing and posting. So it is nice when a perk comes your way to reward you for all the hard work. That was the case last week when my editor (thank you, Paul) and I were invited to attend the San Francisco Craft Beer Festival at Fort Mason last Sunday. We enjoyed four hours of tasting over 150 craft beers, meads and ciders from over 75 breweries. It was a pleasure to taste the diverse brews from both local and national breweries as well as indulging in food from some of ‘Off The Grid’s’ local food vendors. Good beer is big in the Bay Area and judging by the enthusiastic and substantial crowd that showed up on Sunday it is getting even bigger!

San Francisco craft beer festival

Here are some pictures from the festival along with some practical tips.

Dress appropriately…casual is the order of the day. Try not to feel guilty that March in San Francisco can look like this:

Plan your order of attack. It is possible that you will get around to trying 150 different brews, but if you can’t, try to seek out the ones that you never tried before or are not as readily available.

On the other hand, sometimes there is nothing like indulging in your old favorite standby.

Observe the cards that describe what you are tasting. Take notes so you can remember what you liked (or didn’t like). You are on your way to becoming a Cicerone!

Stop and have a bite to eat then push on!

San Francisco craft beer festival

Take a break for a little music and games.

Ask questions, mingle, make a new friend and have a good time.

 

We attended the San Francisco Beer Festival as guests of Mad Dog Presents but the views and opinions we shared are as always, our own. You can visit www.handcraftedtasting.com for more information on other festivals.

Baby Spinach Date and Almond Salad

baby spinach date almond salad ottolenghi

Is it just me, or is the dinner party on its way to becoming extinct? Since we do so much entertaining at our house, it was a pleasure to be invited over to some friend’s house recently for a meal. Frank and John treated us to prime rib, a cauliflower gratin, and (the star of the show for me) a spinach salad with dates and almonds. I was most delighted that our hosts were all too happy to supply us with this marvelous salad recipe (and the leftovers). I was not surprised that the recipe came from Yotam Ottolenghi’s recent cookbook, “Jerusalem”. I should have known: his name was practically written all over it. I love his style of cooking and I love this salad. It was too good not to share.

I am a bit ashamed to say that this cookbook has been out for a few years, but has been sitting on my shelf for some time (I’ve been known to binge on buying cookbooks, and they sometimes end up on the shelf for a while before I can dive into them). I discovered Ottolenghi a few years ago. His restaurants and shops are extremely popular across the pond, but he is not as familiar on the west coast of America as he should be. His food is fresh and modern with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and grains. His food is healthy as well as tasty. Yotam Ottolenghi and his business partner Sami Tamimi were both born in Jerusalem. Yotam is from the Jewish west side and Sami is from the Arab east side. Jerusalem is a melting pot, and the diversity of this fascinating city is evident in its cuisine. At the risk of this post sounding like a book review (which it isn’t) if you haven’t picked up any of Ottolenghi’s books you need to have a look. With all that said let’s get back to the salad.

One of the things I like about this salad is that it is very light and refreshing. There isn’t any dressing on it except for a little olive oil and lemon, and that is all it needs! I have made it a couple time using dates, but I have also substituted golden raisins (I love dates, but raisins work well if you can’t find any fresh firm dates). This salad is easy to make, and you can do most of the work ahead of time. Since there is not much dressing to speak of, the spinach doesn’t wilt, and the salad is almost as good the next day (if you don’t mind chewy replacing crunchy in the fried pita chips). In making this salad, I discovered two new tastes: Aleppo chile and sumac. Although the book did not specify what kind of chile to use, I know that Aleppo chilies are Sami Tamimi’s favorite and I can see why. They are not as hot as red chili flakes and contain no seeds. The color and flavor are striking. Since you will probably need to go to the Middle Eastern store for some sumac, you might as well pick up some Aleppo chili while you are there. I also fell in love with sumac. Sumac has a delightful tart lemony flavor. It is good on anything that you would use lemon on which, in my book, is almost anything. You can find sumac in some high-end grocery stores, but it will cost you more than it should. I got a one-pound bag at the Middle Eastern grocery store for $3.99. One other tip/variation I have tried is substituting sliced almonds (that I almost always have on hand) for the chopped whole unsalted almonds that are in the original recipe. If you do substitute make sure to cut out some salt somewhere else to make up for the added salt from the sliced almonds.

baby spinach date almond salad ottolenghi

 Baby Spinach Date and Almond Salad

(Adapted from the book Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)

Baby Spinach Date and Almond Salad

Baby Spinach Date and Almond Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 1/2 oz. pitted dates, quartered lengthwise (or substitute golden raisins)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pitas roughly torn into bite size pieces
  • 1/2 cup whole unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • 1/2-teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes
  • 5 ounces Baby spinach leaves
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon
  • Salt

Instructions

Put the onions and dates (or raisins) in a bowl with the wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and set aside. Heat the butter and one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and begin browning the pita pieces. Stir constantly so they do not burn. After about a minute, add the almonds to the pitas to toast for about 5 minutes. Once the pitas and almonds are browned and crisp, remove from the heat and add the sumac and the Aleppo chili. Toss well and place the pita mixture in a bowl to cool. When you are ready to serve, place the spinach, pita chips, and onion and dates together in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with the other tablespoon of olive oil and the lemon juice and toss. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately.

I know I said I wasn’t going to be reviewing the book, but I went on a roll last week and made 3 other dishes from the cookbook. All of them were great! Here are a few pictures from our Jerusalem dinner.

If you like this salad (and I think you will) look for “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi or pick up one of their other books, “Ottolenghi”, “Plenty”, and “Plenty More”.

ottolenghi

The Pizza Bible

pizzabibble (1 of 1)

Respect the Craft

“Craft is the difference between good and great. It takes a few extra steps, the right equipment, a little more time, and a fair amount of practice. But if you’re up for it, the payoff is golden.”

Tony Gemignani

If anyone ever wanted to master the art or ‘craft’ of making a quality pizza pie at home, “The Pizza Bible” by Tony Gemignani is the book for you. If you have ever been to ‘Tony’s Pizza Napoletana’ or ‘Capo’s’ in San Francisco, then you have sampled his credentials. In The Pizza Bible, Tony shows us how to make the same outstanding pizza he is famous for at home. The aptly named ‘Pizza Bible’ is the ultimate guide to the craft of making pizza.

Tony Gemignani is a San Francisco Bay area native who started out making pizza in his brother’s restaurant in Castro Valley, California. It wasn’t long before he was wowing the patrons with his amazing ‘throwing’ skills. Tony’s talent for throwing pizza lead him to the Las Vegas pizza throwing championships where he became the top pizza thrower in the world. He went on from there to win numerous other accolades such as the Triple Crown for baking at the International Pizza Championships in Lecce, Italy. Perhaps his greatest honor is winning the 2007 World Champion Pizza Maker at the World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy, the first American and non-Neapolitan to win this honor. His master credentials from the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli more than qualify him to run The International School of Pizza where he certifies chefs from all over the world. Who better to write the holy grail of pizza cookbooks than Tony?

Tony’s motto is “respect the craft” but it might have been “go big or go home”. In that spirit, this book is for the serious pizza devotee. It may be named the Pizza Bible, but it is more like a textbook. The book begins with a section called The Master Class. Readers are urged to read all the way through these 19 pages before even attempting any recipes. In this section, the reader will learn about many topics such as theory, baking percentages and equipment as well as a primer on ingredients. After that section there is a three-day practice course in making pizza and mastering two kinds of dough. You might want to think of this section as ‘homework’, but in the end (as Tony points out in the book) “you get to eat the final exam.” The Master Class section is crammed with information and tips and ends with “The Theory of Pizza Relativity”. Here the reader is encouraged go with the visual cues instead of relying on recipes alone. As with any baking, there are so many factors from the weather to the age of the flour that affect the end product. If making great pizza were easy, everyone would be making it. There is a reason people are lined up to get a table a Tony’s ‘Napoletana’!

After you have completed The Master Class, you are ready to move on to the mouthwatering recipes. The chapters that follow are broken down into regional styles. Regional American pizza is well represented from California to New York, with stops in between in Detroit and Chicago. From there he has an entire chapter devoted to Napoletana and another on other regions of Italy. In a chapter on globally themed pizzas such as the ‘Barcelona’ and ‘München’, Tony treats us to some recipes inspired from his travels across Europe. One of my personal favorites, Calzone, is included in a chapter entitled ’Wrapped and Rolled’. A chapter on Focaccia and bread (in this case, Ciabatta) rounds things out. The pictures look so great you will want to get started right away…just don’t forget to do your homework first.

This book is the most definitive resource on pizza I have ever seen and a must-have for anyone aspiring to make world-class pizza at home. The information, pictures, and tips are precise, to the point and easy to follow. As long as you are not expecting instant results I think you will love this book. After having completed the Master Class myself I am ready to get started. The first effort for me will be “a cross between Chicago deep-dish and a Sicilian with a touch of Detroit”. It sounds like an old flame of mine, but in reality it is a deep-dish style pizza cooked in a cast iron skillet with a crispy white cheddar crust. It features provolone, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses in addition to ‘Sweet Fennel Sausage’ and roasted red peppers. If you think that sounds good just have a look at page 95. School is out; I’m going in!

9781607746058

“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”