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.

Spinach Lasagne alla Bolognese

As much as I love it, and as often as I’ve made it, I am inconsistent when I make a traditional lasagna.  It’s either too runny and wet, or the top layer of noodles is too browned, or it’s too slippery and slidey, and it falls apart when pulled out of the pan, and all the insides squish out when touched by a fork.  I was actually kind of surprised to see that I’ve only blogged this dish once before, my Luscious Lobster Lasagna (which I’d forgotten entirely about: hence – why I keep this digital diary of my digestibles), a lovely white lasagna crafted almost exclusively outdoors on Little Red, our faithful electric Meco grill.   But its success is misleading; I’ve made dozens of lasagnas and have more often than not been dissatisfied with the results. So today I determined to try again, using the sublime image of Stefan’s Lasagne alla Bolognese as my inspiration.  Although I altered the recipe somewhat, his basic principles were very practical, and the top picture — the one that caught my attention — gave me some ideas.  I’d always brought all my fillings straight out to the edge of the pan – what if I didn’t?  I’d never used bechamel – why not?  And what if I made my sauce as “dry” as possible?  The result: a rich tomato meat filling studded with both creamy and stretchy cheese, layered with tender spinach pasta, covered with a fluffy baked pillow topping.  Wow.

Spinach Lasagne alla Bolognese

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
2 thick slices of bacon, roughly chopped
1 can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 tbs tomato puree
1/4 cup marsala wine
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
1/2 cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig rosemary
fresh sheets of spinach pasta
10 oz ricotta cheese
6oz fresh mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
2 cups milk
fresh ground nutmeg, sea salt, crushed black pepper, granulated garlic, EVOO

A bolognese sauce is basically a meat sauce, traditionally made with carrot, onion, veal, pancetta, and broth, to which was later added tomato and cream.  Today’s versions are as myriad as pasta shapes, but the ragu’s basic component is still meat.  Starting with chopped bacon, fried to barely crisp on the edges, I add my mirepoix and minced garlic, along with my sprig of rosemary to scent the dish.  I sauté everything over medium-high heat until just sweated but not yet browned.

I’ve seasoned my ground meats with salt and pepper, and have very roughly pulled them apart, handling it as loosely and little as possible.  I want large bites of meat in my sauce – not a grainy, uniform sludge – and little meat-wads are just the trick.  I let the meat sear completely on one side before I turn it over to sear on the other side.  This released the least amount of liquid, allowing the meat to brown and not steam.  Thanks, Stefan – this was a simple but good trick.

I already see far less liquid in this pan than I usually do at this point, which is perfect.  When the meat is nicely browned on both sides, I add my splash of marsala (I had no other red wine in the house — THE HORROR!! — but this substitution prevented me from having to add any sugar to the sauce, so it worked very well), which I let evaporate into the meat before…

… I add my tomato puree, which I blend well with everything and let simmer for a moment.

Finally, I add my crushed tomatoes, removing my stem of rosemary (which has done its job flavoring the sauce already), and I set this over low heat to simmer for the next 30-45 minutes, or until I’m ready to assemble the lasagna.  During this time, the sauce thickens beautifully, so much so that dragging a spoon through parts its seas for several moments before it oozes back together again.  In fact, when the husbandman came by to taste, I had to admonish him to redistribute the sauce to cover the whole base of the pan, so it wouldn’t burn anyway by virtue of too thin a coating.  I’m thinking this “drier” sauce will prevent my lasagna’s innards from leaching out when pressed by a fork.

Living in Boston means shopping in the North End, our Little Italy. I’ve enjoyed DePasquale’s fresh pasta before, as we did again in this dish.  This time I had a little trouble teasing the sheets apart, but that’s because the package defrosted in a plastic bag on my way home on the train, so it got a little – er – sweaty. Still, it was worth the effort.

I line an 8×8″ pan with this special foil-on-one-side/parchment-paper-on-the-other, which I must say worked like a charm.  I assemble my cheeses, and cut my pasta sheets to shape so they’ll fit the pan just so.

To make the lasagna, I start with some sauce, a few dollops of ricotta cheese, a few pieces of fresh mozzarella, and some shredded parmesan.  Note how I’m not bringing the ingredients all the way out to the edge of the pan – which I usually do.  My thought is that the casserole will hold together more effectively if I give the ingredients some room to spread out on their own.  (Spoiler alert: I was right!)  I lay a sheet of pasta on top, then repeat the process 4 times, ending with a top layer of pasta.  This is the point to which this picture of Stefan’s was taken – which is why it looks so clean (and so damn delicious!)

The final “ingredient” is a bechamel sauce, which is essentially milk, flour and butter.  Stefan’s recipe did not call for ricotta or mozzarella, but instead for bechamel on each layer; I had the cheeses, and very little milk in the house, so I split the difference by cheesing up the inner layers and making just enough bechamel to cover the top of my dish.

Start by melting the butter, then adding the flour and whisking/cooking until it thickens and turns a golden tan color — about 3 minutes.

Finish by whisking in the milk gradually, allowing it to thicken with the roux.  I also add some salt, pepper,  garlic powder, and some of my parmesan cheese (which, technically, transforms this bechamel into a mornay sauce, just FYI).  When the sauce is uniformly thick and fluffy…

… I pour it over the top layer of pasta on my lasagna, covering it completely.  The final joy is adding the last of my grated parm over the top, before throwing the dish into a 350 degree oven for 35-45 minutes, or until bubbling at the edges and nicely browned on top…

Like so.  As hard as it is to do, I wait 15 minutes before cutting into this beauty, which allows everything to coalesce.  I kill the time by whipping up a quick garlic bread.

Sheer perfection! My lasagna cuts easily, holding its shape, showing off its perfect, tender layers of pasta sandwiching a hearty, rich meat sauce and gooey, creamy cheese.

I don’t usually take pictures with my mouth full, but I had to show off how the structure of this deliciousness held together.  Leaving a wee margin of unadorned pasta along each side of the dish,  using a very thick, non-runny sauce, and adding the adhesive properties of the bechamel were the right tricks to make this lasagna a true delight!  Each bite was meaty and cheese in equal measure; the pasta was perfectly al dente and redolent of spinach, and the snappiness of a few sprigs of green onion for garnish added just the right brightness to the meal.  Lolita has finally conquered lasanga!  Yay for me!

Ravioli and Lobster with Garlic Roe Cream

Lobster roe is under-appreciated in our philistine American culture.  Along with the greenish black tomalley, it’s what’s found inside the lobster meat – either under the carapace (tomalley) or running down the seam of the tail (roe).  It is not lobster shit, as many people erroneously think – instead, it is the liver and eggs of the seabug, and it’s all edible – and in some cases quite delicious.  For tonight’s simple pasta dinner, I decided to use the roe in the sauce to amp up the lobster flavor, and to add to the beauty of the dish, since I think all those little orange dots are super pretty.  And since lobster season is almost over, I need to get me as much of it as I can…

Star Market, of all places, had a good sale on lobsters the other day ($5.99/lb with free steaming), so I picked up a couple bugs and…

… harvested all the meat out of them using my kitchen shears.  Only one was female, so I only pulled out about a tablespoon of roe – which was just enough.

Ravioli and Lobster with Garlic Roe Cream

10-12 oz fresh steamed lobster meat (harvested from 2 lobsters)
1 package fresh cheese ravioli
1 tsp tomato paste
4 tbs butter
3 cloves garlic
1 cup half & half
1 tbs lobster roe
parmigiano reggiano cheese (as needed, but about 1/2 cup will do)
chopped scallions for garnish

I’ve made several recipes quite similar to this one – which illustrates quite clearly how I like to eat my lobster: in cream sauce.  (You can check those out here, and here, and here for starters.)  To make this garlic cream, I start by melting my butter.  (Meanwhile, I bring a pot of water to a boil so that it will be ready for my pasta.)

I’ve minced my garlic…

… which I add to my melted butter to gently saute for a few moments…

…. before straining out the solids (both garlic and butterfats), to make a garlic scented clarified butter.

To this I add my broken up roe…

… and my cream, which I whisk together over medium heat.

I add my tomato paste to give it a little acidic balance…

… and my cheese (about 1/2 cup), since – well, it’s cheese, and I never need an excuse to add cheese to anything!  I add my lobster meat to the sauce for a few moments to heat it back through.

And that’s it!  After whipping up a quick salad and cooking off my pasta for a few minutes (until they just float), I plate up this simple, elegant meal and dive into it face first.  The pink sauce is studded with flavor-intensifying roe, and is gently scented by garlic and cheese.  The raviolis soak up the cream, and the tender lobster meat is buttery and rich and sweet.  My salad compliments all this richness with tangy feta and briny olives, making a perfectly light seafood supper.

Rainy Day Macaroni and Cheese

Oh my, but today was a wet, cold, gloomy, and miserable day.  It wasn’t stormy or anything – no driving rain – no whipping winds — but those things at least make a rainy day exciting.  Instead, it was just miserable.  Not my mood, mind you, which was fine – but the grey chilly day didn’t make walking around in it enjoyable at all.  What better on a crappy cold day than a steaming hot bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese?  Why, nothing.  Nothing at all…

Rainy Day Macaroni & Cheese

2/3 cup elbow noodles (cooked in boiling, salted water for 2 minutes less than the package directions suggest)
3 oz sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk, plus more as needed
1 tsp flour
2 tbs butter
garlic powder, paprika, sea salt, black pepper
1 slice white bread

This is the most basic homemade mac & cheese I make.  OK – scratch that: it’s more basic when I just use pre-made breadcrumbs, like the Panko I found right after I finished making my own.  No matter — making these breadcrumbs was essentially like making the same piece of toast twice.  I chuck a dry piece of bread right on the rack in my oven set on 400°.  I flip it a couple times until it’s nice and toasted – like 4 minutes total.

Like so.

Using my box grater, I pulverize my toast into rough crumbs.

Then I toss them with 1 tablespoon melted butter, and a dash each of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.

Then I spread them out on a lined cookie sheet, and put them back in the oven for another 4 minutes.  I give them a good stir before setting them aside while I finish the macaroni (the noodles for which I’ve already cooked…).

After I drain the pasta from the pot, I return it to the heat (set on medium), melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in it until frothy, and add my flour.

I whisk this together until well incorporated, and bring it to a golden foam – thereby making a roux.

I transform my roux into the bechamel, a mother sauce, by adding my milk, which I whisk in nicely and bring to a gentle thickening simmer.  Finally, I transform the bechamel into mornay sauce by adding most of my cheddar cheese (reserving a tiny bit for garnish) and blending well until melted.

I add my noodles back to the pan, and stir everything well, setting it on low and cooking it through for a few minutes until steaming warm.

With a crunchy breadcrumb topping, a sharp cheddar cheese sauce, and tender toothsome pasta, this is the perfect quick and simple macaroni and cheese after a long day trudging through cold damp fog banks and spitting rain.  I dig into my bowl with gusto, and finally feel the chill in my bones being chased away…

Pollo alla Parmigiana

When I get sick, I get sick with a vengeance.  I mean, *everything* goes wrong at the same time.  I catch the flu, develop an infection, do something to my back, can’t shake a cough, and suffer from everything short of a flesh-eating disease over the span of 2 or 3 successive weeks – and my doctors just shrug and intimate hypochondria.  Whatevs.  My molting period seems to be over finally, and I walked back into Whole Foods this morning with a feeling of purpose.  I asked the husbandman what he wanted, and – true to self – he said “pasta”. I stewed that idea in the brain for a few minutes, until I remembered something friend Steph L said she’d be enjoying for her dinner last night: chicken parm.  There is nothing like a good chicken parmesan, and nothing harder to find IMHO.  So, Lolita that I be, I decided to reinvent it my way.  Witness: a semi-deconstructed chicken parmesan — pounded thin pan-crunchy cutlets, layered with prosciutto and provolone and homemade chunky pasta sauce, served with aglio alio al dente angel hair pasta.  Unctuous, cheesy, vegetal, tender, and rich – just what I needed to re-enrich my healing self.

Pollo alla Parmigiana

1 large can crushed tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste
1 carrot
1 small onion
2 stalks celery
1 carrot
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 lb chicken breast
6 slices prosciutto americano
8 slices provolone cheese
parmigianno reggiano
angel hair pasta
6 cloves garlic
butter
flour, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried parsley, sea salt, black pepper, EVOO

Start by making a nice mirepoix: diced carrot, celery, onion…

… and chopped garlic.

Saute the veg in EVOO in a large pan until translucent, then add your crushed tomatoes and tomato puree.  Stir well, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer , cover, and cook for at least 45 minutes — but longer is good, too.  I think mine went for almost 90 minutes; I was cooking casually.

I was a little disappointed by Whole Foods’s so-called chicken cutlets.  I paid at least $.50 more a pound based on the sign, assuming I’d get properly thinly sliced chicken breast.  Instead, I received a few sloppily butterflied chicken breasts, which I could have done myself.  Next time, I’ll go to Reliable Market, where they thin slice their poultry and meats partially frozen, into true super-thin cutlets, which require no pounding.  These I had to pound.

And here’s how I do it: after cutting the butterflied portion off the main breast, I tenderized and flattened each piece of chicken  by laying three at a time into a large gallon zipper back, which I then set inside a folded dishcloth.  Using my sharpening steel, and turning the bag 90° every few whacks, I smack the crap out of my protein until it’s as flat as I can get it.  The next three pictures illustrate the trifecta of pan-searing.

Egg, beaten with milk.

Pulverized panko  breadcrumbs.

Panko cut with flour dressed with black pepper, garlic powder, and dried oregano.   Dip each cutlet into eggmilk, and dredge thoroughly until dry with pankoflour.

In a large non-stick skillet, melt 2 tbs  butter and a glug of EVOO over high heat until foaming.

Without crowding the pan, saute all the dredged cutlets in shifts ( I was able to do 2 at a time) for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until a perfect golden brown.  Set aside on some foil in a single layer and keep warm.

Layer each cutlet with a slice of prosciutto.

Then layer each slice of prosciutto with a slice of provolone cheese.

Then, in an ovenproof casserole dish,  top each chickenporkcheese stack with a spoonful of sauce, and top that with another chickenporkcheese stack and another spoonful of sauce.

Finally, top each stack with a few slices of provolone cheese, then throw under the oven’s broiler for 8 minutes until the chicken is hot and the cheese is brown and bubbling.

Meanwhile, my angel hair pasta has been roiling in salted water and 4 tablespoons of butter has been heated to foaming with a tablespoon of minced garlic.

I strain the pasta of water, strain the butter of toasted garlic solids, and toss the two together in a warm bowl with shaved parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper.

Layers of tender chicken, unctuous prosciutto, thick rich tomato sauce, and stretchy provolone cheese, served alongside a nest of garlicky buttered pasta: perfection on a plate.  The dull edge of my fork effortlessly glides through my tower of poultry parmesan, and I deftly spin a shroud of spaghetti and chunky saucy on its tine before I lift it, licking lips, to my anticipating mouth.  The meal is both filling and light, and in both ways absolutely satisfying.  This may be the best chicken parm I’ve ever made – or ever ate.  And now that I’ve codified the recipe, I can look forward to enjoying — and maybe improving upon it – in the future…

Hand-cut Pappardelle with Garlic Cream and Lobster

This marks my second lobster recipe in a row, although I was surprised it wasn’t more, considering that it’s lobster-season and I’ve been practically swallowing them whole for a few weeks now.  I could Benjamin Buford Blue you (lobster salad, lobster tacos, lobster lasagna, lobster risotto, lobster fritters, lobster cerviche, etc….), but suffice to say I’ve been experimenting with these sea-bugs and have loved every bite.  Today’s offering is a delicious pasta dish, made with hand-crafted and cut spinach noodles, a garlic and parmigiano infused cream, and succulent, tender, juicy, sweet lobster meat.

Hand-cut Pappardelle with Garlic Cream and Lobster

2 1lb fresh, live lobsters
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cloves crushed garlic
4 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese
3 sheets hand-rolled, fresh spinach pasta
sea salt, cracked black pepper, snipped chives for garnish

Tough lobster is shameful, and adding lobster meat to a pasta can over-cook it lickety split, so one must par-cook fresh lobsters to get properly prepared meat for any dish that requires further cooking it in a sauce or something.  I’ve par-cooked lobsters a few times before, but here’s the skinny: throw your alive and kicking lobsters in a large, empty pot, and bring a gallon or so of water with some vinegar to a heady boil.  Pour the boiled water over the lobsters, comfort them with words of sympathy until they stop moving (read: die), and let them soak for about 5 minutes. (For another, more detailed description, check out one of my past postings.) Remove the lobsters from the water, then cut the meat out of the tail, claws, and knuckles while they’re still hot.

Viola!  Perfectly par-boiled lobster meat.  I leave the knuckle meat and claws whole, and I split the tail right up the middle (removing the vein). I put this in the fridge to chill down and stop cooking.

Living in Boston means shopping for fine groceries in the North End, and I ain’t one to fly in the face of that sort of foodie imperative.  The sheer multitude of fine Italian restaurants and shops is dizzying, although until relatively recently there were no real fresh pasta makers selling to the retail market.  Enter DePasquale’s Handmade Pasta, a perfect little shop right on Congress Street – facing the Haymarket through the Rose Kennedy Parkway – that sells fine cheeses, charcuterie, some imported grocery items and, of course, their own pasta.  I was in the mood for a lasagna the other day, and although the pictures didn’t turn out as good as the meal did (which is why I didn’t post it), I had several sheets of their absolutely delicious spinach pasta left, which I decided to cut into thick strips, called pappardelle – AKA wide fettucini noodles.

This is a pretty simple recipe: what keeps it from being a Weeknight Wondermeal is that most people can’t get their hands on lobster and fresh pasta as easily as we city-dwellers can.  But, as you can see from the list of ingredients, it’s not too complicated.  The sauce starts easily: 2 or 3 tablespoons of freshly minced garlic (do *not* use that crap suspended in oil purchased at the grocery store – it’s horrible!) and lotsa butter.

I melt the butter and, when it’s frothy, I add the minced garlic and simmer gently on low heat until fragrant but NOT browned.

I strain the garlic and butter solids from the pan, leaving only lovely clarified garlic-infused deliciousness.

Into this I whisk my heavy cream, which I bring to a roiling boil over medium heat.

Finally, I add my lobster meat and most of my fresh grated cheese (which I forgot to take a picture of), stirring everything together well until the sauce thickens and the lobster is fully cooked and heated through.

Earlier, I brought my pasta to a boil for 3 minutes in a large pot of salted water.  After the lobster is heated through, I pick it out of the sauce and set it aside, keeping it warm, so I can toss my cooked and drained pappardelle in the cream sauce.  (If I leave the lobster in, it will all sink to the bottom when I try to plate my dish…)

Succulent, buttery, delicate and sweet lobster meat atop a steaming platter of perfectly al dente spinach pasta doused in a rich, flavorful, creamy cheese sauce.  A sprinkle of parmigiano, chives, salt and pepper round out the dish, and a glass of crisp white wine completes the meal.  O, if only lobster season was year ’round!  Thank God it’s not, or else my perpetually-6-months-pregnant profile would probably make it to full term.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Chicken Piccata, Simple Pasta, and EVOO Roasted Asparagus

Lolita has to admit to recent failures in the kitchen. A tough turkey breast; a failed carbonara (including a re-cook!); and although I can’t remember the specifics, I recall 3 temper tantrums in the kitchen since I last blogged, which means I screwed the pooch on something else, too.  So tonight I decided to go super basic, and I whipped together this here chicken piccata, comingled with buttered pasta tubes and crisp-headed, silken bodied roasted asparagus spears.  Quick, heartwarming, and delicious.  Looks like maybe Lolita’s got her mojo back.

Chicken Piccata, Simple Pasta, and EVOO Roasted Asparagus

3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 stick butter, divided
4 tbs flour
1/2 package pasta (these are super-long tubes of macaroni)
1 lemon
2 tbs salted capers, rinsed
1/4 cup white wine
parmigiano reggiano cheese
EVOO
1 lb fresh asparagus stalks
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup minced scallions
sea salt, cracked black pepper

I love asparagus.  I don’t love it’s resultant smell – but when I see perfectly erect, richly green, thin and supple stalks of fresh spears, I can’t help myself.

I snap off their woody ends, then flay the tough flesh from their roots.

I toss these very simply in EVOO, spread them out over a baking sheet, and sprinkle them with sea salt and cracked black pepper.  Into a 350°F oven they go, for about 20 minutes.

I spent 49¢ more per pound at Whole Foods to get “chicken cutlets”, when I should have just purchased the breasts themselves – considering how poorly butterflied these babies were.  No matter, I carved them into 4 roughly equal tenderloins…

… spread them flat on the counter within a large plastic bag…

… then pounded them all flat, in a cross-hatch pattern, with my sharpening steel.  I have a wooden mallet, but I always reach for my steel for some reason.  And it always tenderizes the hell out of my meat.

I get my largest, non-stick pan all nice and hot on the stovetop, where I melt a pat of butter and swirl of EVOO together until they foam.

I quickly, but thoroughly, dredge my chicken pieces in flour…

... then lay them gently in the pan, making sure not to crowd them together.

They’re like little pink and tan islands in the middle of a golden bubbling sea.

After about 5 minutes, or until there is a nice tan sear, I flip ‘em, cook ‘em for another 5 minutes, then move them to a plate tented with foil to keep warm.  Time to make the pan sauce.

A half cup of dry white wine, the juice of one lemon, 1/2 cup water, and high heat.

I bought this cute little jar of salted capers at the Salumeria in the North End, like, forever ago.  Two perfect tablespoons, which I rinse free of salt…

… before adding them — and a handful of chopped parsley, which I forgot to photograph (whoops!) — to the pan to simmer, flavor, and reduce with the sauce.

When the sauce has reduced, I swirl in a few tablespoons of butter before returning the chicken to the pan.  I let this simmer, flipping the chicken from time to time to coat with the sauce, for a couple minutes.

My asparagus spears have crispy little roasted heads and silky tender meaty stalks.  The chicken falls to pieces at the suggestion of my fork’s edge; its white juiciness is enrobed with satin lemon sauce, and offset by the salty buds of caper berries.  And served with some noodles tossed in butter, grated parmigiano reggiano, and chopped scallions for sopping.  After chucking several bad meals down the garbage chute, it was nice to whip this sweet supper together without even having to think about it, and in less than 30 minutes.  Lolita’s coming back… stay tuned!