Mortadella de Tartuffo Carbonara

2014-02-02 19.18.41Those of us who live in Boston know (or, rather, should know) the gastronomic mecca that is our North End.  And not just for eating — no, the SHOPPING there is epic.  My favorite store, which my dear loyal readers know, is the Salumeria Italiana.  NYC has Eataly, a massive shopping extravaganza where you can select from hundreds of varieties of olive oils and pastas and other delectables, all at varying price points.  But I don’t have that kind of time or money, which is where the Salumeria steps in; their wizened old owner, a clever fella often found wearing his three-piece suit and fedora, wandering his small shop kissing pretty ladies on the cheek, hand-picks only the best products for the shelves on his tiny store, and his handsome chefs will woo you with samples and information enough to know what to buy and how to make it.  They have never steered me wrong.  This past weekend, I sidled up to a group of people all tasting bits of something meaty offered to them from a piece of butcher paper in the hands of one of their incredible staffers, but was leered at by them when I reached for a piece for myself; apparently, they were on a paid tour, and I wasn’t one of them.  (The chef felt bad, and he slipped me a piece when they weren’t looking.  It’s good to be a regular.)  The speckled black slice of pink thin meat I placed on my tongue burst into my consciousness with earthy unctuousness; it was an unusual mortadella: porky, mildly spicy, and — this is the best part — laden with BLACK TRUFFLE.  I immediately ordered half a pound, purchased some pasta, and ran home to figure out how to best to showcase the umame meat-loaf waiting to be eaten in my bag.  I believe simple is best, and this bastard carbonara proved my point.  It was creamy, rich, fragrant, filling, and delicious.  And super easy – which made it all that much better.

Mortadella de Tartuffo Carbonara

1/2lb of Mortadella with black truffle
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 tbsp butter
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
2 egg yolks
crushed black pepper
1/2lb of egg pasta

2014-02-02 18.02.38These two ingredients made the meal.  First: the mortadella…

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Mortadella is a type of bologna, but this ain’t your mamma’s Oscar Meyer.  It has the same soft texture, but instead of the traditional pistachios, this lovely cured meat is studded with ample black truffle.  AMPLE.  After 15 minutes in my refrigerator, *everything* smelled like truffle.  There are worse things in this world…

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I rolled it up into a cigar and sliced it thinly – aka: chiffonade.  Then I diced my onion very finely.

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In many ways, it was this brand of pasta that really elevated this meal experience to something truly special.  I was at first daunted by the price – I mean, $9 is a lot to pay for a box of pasta – but after making it, I was converted.  I may never make spaghetti with any other brand again.  It comes in halves, each one nestled in its own paper folder.  Charming.  These noodles only needed 1 1/2 minutes to reach the perfect al dente texture, so I get some salted water boiling on a back burner and wait until the sauce is almost finished before cooking off the pasta.

2014-02-02 18.59.34I first saute the onions in my butter with a healthy dash of black pepper.

2014-02-02 19.00.20Once the onions are just translucent, I add the mortadella ribbons.  I cook this very well, stirring constantly; I don’t want to onions to brown, but I do want the mortadella to leech off all its fats, which will enrich the sauce.

2014-02-02 18.46.03I freshly grate my cheese…

2014-02-02 19.10.06… then add it, and my cream, to the pan, stirring well over medium heat, until the sauce thickens and the cheese is melted.  At this point, I add my drained pasta, and stir well so it can absorb some of the sauce — which this tagliolini does like a champ.

2014-02-02 18.58.11This isn’t a true carbonara, but the egg yolks in the sauce do make it something of a relative.  But it’s easy to screw up an egg sauce by adding the yolks to a too hot pan — they’ll scramble before they can be incorporated into the dish.  So, I remove my pan – with the sauce and the pasta – from the heat, and make a little well in the middle of the noodles.  I wait a few moments for the heat to dissipate ever so slightly before adding my whisked yolks to the pasta with a splash of cold cream (this is called “tempering” the egg, more or less).  I stir this very well, making sure the golden goodness of the yolks blend with the creamy sauce – then I put the pan back on the burner for a few moments (stirring constantly) to reheat through.

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Toothsome, perfectly individualized flat spaghetti noodles drip with thick, aromatic, earthy cream sauce and are entangled with tender morsels of sweet pork perfection.  The onions add texture to the sauce, a dash of black pepper adds a mild heat, and a final sprinkling of cheese takes the place of salt.  This isn’t for dieters or the lactose intolerant, but luckily I am neither of those things – so I dug into my plate with abandon, twirling pasta on my fork before shoving mouthfuls into my gullet.  This can be made with regular mortadella, or even a good quality bologna if that’s all you have, but believe me when I say that with truffle, everything is better.

Truffled Lobster Macaroni and Cheese with Panko, Pancetta, and Chive Crust

DSCN5234 When it comes to cooking, I’m a creature of whim.  I often ask Clayton what he wants for dinner, but unless he says something that *I* actually want, too, I rather flippantly dismiss it.  Considering the quality of the items I generally produce, however, he has little room to complain.  But today’s suggestion –  in his simple terms, “a mac n’ cheese; you know, something warm” – actually did resonate with me, and my mind clicked into gear and rattled quickly through its catalog of flavors until settling quite quickly on a combination of lobster, and unctuousness, and crunch, and cream, and a dash of green.  Hence: tonight’s silky sweet truffled macaroni and cheese, studded with tender poached lobster meat, and crispy on top with crumbled pancetta and bread crumbs and chives.  And, since I could, I served it up in two searing hot iron skillets, which kept the sauce bubbling hot from bite one to bite last.  As the days grow shorter and the air cooler outside here in New England, so does the appetite reach for comfort food that warms from within.  This fit the bill just right.

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Truffled Lobster Macaroni and Cheese with Panko, Pancetta, and Chive Crust

meat from 1 1/4lb lobster, just barely poached (about 1 cup)
6-8 slices thinly sliced pancetta
2 cups (uncooked) elbow macaroni
1 tbs butter
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 cups cream
1/2 lb white American cheese
1 tbs white truffle pate
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup snipped chives

DSCN5223Poaching a lobster is easy: just chuck your bug in a large enough bowl or pan, then pour boiling water over it.  Let it sit for a few minutes, then remove from the bath.  Twist off the arms and claws, and chuck them back into the water while you remove the tail and leg meat with shears.  Then cut the claws and arm meat out, setting all the sweet quivering pinkness into a bowl before throwing into the fridge until you’re ready for it.

DSCN5226In a large skillet, pan-fry the pancetta until it is brown and crispy, removing the slices to a paper plate when they’re done to drain.

DSCN5227Wipe the pan pit with a paper towel, and set it back over medium-high heat.  Chuck your breadcrumbs in, and toss them over the heat until they’ve turned golden brown.  Set aside, off the heat.

DSCN5228After cooking the elbow noodles in a deep saucepan according to the package directions, return the drained pan to the heat, melt the butter, then add the cream and cheese – which can be cubed or shredded.  A big fat helping of crushed black pepper is a good idea too.  Whisk constantly, until the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy.

DSCN5229I was given this little pot ‘o gold by a good friend for my birthday back in August, and I’ve had the pleasure of using it a few times.  All one needs is a tablespoon of this super concentrated umame bliss to infuse any dish with the essence of truffle.

DSCN5230Add the drained, cooked noodles to the sauce, stir well. and then heap a  spoonful of mushroom caviar into the mix and stir well some more.  Fold in the the lobster meat, which should be cut into small bites, and split the pasta into two cast iron skillets.  Crumble the pancetta over the top, the sprinkle the breadcrumbs over that, before smattering the dish with snipped chives and throwing in a 350° oven for 10 minutes.

DSCN5231When the edges are bubbling, it’s ready.

DSCN5233Succulent, buttery lobster… rich, hearty truffle… creamy white percolating cheese sauce, and tender al dente noodles, encrusted with crisp unctuous Italian bacon, toasted crunchy breadcrumbs, and the sweet snap of snipped chives.  Clayton didn’t expect anything this good when he thought about mac & cheese this morning, but he’s damn happy this is what he ended up tucking into tonight.  He’s smiling sweetly right now, washing the dishes while I type, already nostalgic for the deliciousness that just filled his being with pasta and cheese.  I’ve made lobster mac before, but this one, so far, has been my best.

Valentine’s Veal T-Bone with Herbed Velouté, Truffled Fontina Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Cherry’d Foie Gras

This Valentine’s day, my one true love bought me two dozen perfect roses and two bottles of lovely champagne.  I may be a harpy to him from time to time, but my needs on silly days like this are simple – and he met them with just want I wanted: beauty and booze.  Considering that he is still healing from knee surgery and had to hobble on his crutches to and from Whole Foods in freezing weather to do this, it was actually super-nice.  So I had to make him a super-nice dinner to show him my love for him.  Thanks to Savenor’s on Kirkland, I decided to do so with veal steaks, risotto, and foie gras — I mean, what says love better than that?  Topped with a little tart cherry, an herbalicious veloute, and some oyster mushrooms, and this didn’t just say love, it said SEX, baby.  (And I leave it to you to take from that what you will…)

Valentine’s Veal T-Bone with Herbed Velouté, Truffled Fontina Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Cherry’d Foie Gras

2 veal t-bones, about 12 ounces each
1/4 lb fresh foie gras
1/2 wild mushrooms (these are oyster)
2 shallots
1 cup arborio (short grain) rice
1/4 lb fontina cheese
1 bunch rosemary
1 bunch thyme
1 cup cream
2 tbs butter (not pictured)
1 tsp truffle oil (not pictured)
1 qt chicken broth (not pictured)
1/2 cup white wine (not pictured)
1/4 cup dried bing cherries (not pictured)
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper

Despite the highbrow nature of this meal, it doesn’t really take too long.  The most time is spent on the risotto, which takes about 30 minutes to get just perfect, so I start there.

Half my minced shallots get sweated in a couple glugs of EVOO in my small saucepan before I dump my rice on top and stir well.  You have to sort of toast the grains before adding any liquid; this coaxes them into absorbing the wine and stock more effectively.  All this is done on medium heat, by the way.

On my other back burner, I set the chicken broth to a medium simmer; I want to add it warm to my risotto as I go, which will also help the liquid absorb.  But first, I add my wine, then stir well until all the liquid has disappeared.

I then drop the heat to its lowest setting, and add 4 oz of broth.  I stir well consistently, and add more broth each time the last batch disappears.  I revel in the plumpifying of my wee rice grains, and bask in the sauce that forms and thickens with every stir.  It takes 30 minutes to do this, requiring regular – but not constant – attention.  Stir and add, stir and add, until the rice is tender but still toothsome and bound together by its thick, fragrant, flavorful rice gravy.

As my risotto works, I get started on my velouté.  This is a mother sauce, traditionally made with white stock and roux, to which I’ve added some cream, herbs, and aromatics.  Ideally, it should be made in advance, cooled, and then reheated before service in order to really concentrate its delicate flavor.  1/2 of my remaining shallots get sweated in two tablespoons of simmering butter along with a tablespoon each of thyme and rosemary leaves.

Once the shallots transluce, I sprinkle two tablespoons of flour over the butter and whisk well to incorporate all the ingredients and simmer on medium low until the roux begins to turn beige.

Like so!

Finally, I add about 1 cup of my warm broth, and my cup of half and half (which is not traditional, but yummy nonetheless), and bring this to a simmer to thicken for about 8 minutes.

After seasoning with salt to taste, I removed my sauce from the heat, strain all the solids, then chill it in the fridge until I’m ready to plate – when I will gently heat it back up before service.

My steaks will take about 15 minutes to make total, so I get a pan all hot and ready before greasing it up with a glug or two of EVOO.

I salt and pepper my steaks, and smack them down on said smoking hot pan to sizzle and sear.

I sear not just their backs and fronts…

… but also the ribeye edges…

…and the tenderloin edges.  Then I stick the whole pan into a 425° oven for 8 minutes, until they are a perfect medium rare.

After I remove my steak pan from the oven, I move my steaks to a warmed platter to settle, and I through the rest of my shallots, another teaspoon each of thyme and rosemary, and another glug of EVOO into the pan along with my chopped fungus of the day.  2 minutes of tossing to melt these babies into umame joy is all it needs.

The piece of resistance (BTW – I totally do that on purpose; I know the phrase is pièce de résistance, but I like it may way bettah) is this delightful hunk of foie gras, which I didn’t notice was heart-shaped until I got home and took it out of the bag.  How apropos! I split it in half thickness-wise, so that I can maintain the shape for each of us. (After all, neither of us wants to eat a broken heart (shape) on Valentine’s Day!)

Foie only take a moment to sear, but it needs a superhot non-stick pan, and it not only releases a lot of delicious fat, but it smokes like hell.  I made the mistake of inhaling open-mouthed some of that smoke, and it sort of choked me up for a while.  But the foie needs nothing but a sear on each side to transform it into the quivering, sexy, hunk of haute cuisine junk it is.

Foie gras benefits from something sweet/tart to compliment it, so I grabbed a handful of dried red cherries and chopped them into a sticky, simply compote sort of thing.

As I plate my steaks and mushrooms, I throw my fontina cheese and a teaspoon of black truffle oil into my perfectly tender risotto and stir will to melt.

Tender, delicious veal steaks, topped with the sumptuous unctuousness of seared foie gras, tempered with the tangy sweet bite of scarlet cherry.  Served with a delicate herbed cream sauce, silky, nutty, and fulfilling risotto, and the woody chew of buttery mushrooms – this plate of passion really got our motors running.  Take about a bodacious plate.  Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!