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.

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…

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!

Lolita’s Spaghetti and Meatballs

Why do I associate myself with Lolita, Nabokov’s adolescent femme fatale?  Do I have some affinity with her overt sexuality, her wanton abandon, her inadvertent attractiveness to inappropriate men?  No, in truth, I don’t.  But Nabokov… Nabokov I dig.  I dig him like I dig into a hearty plate of al dente noodles flanked by tender meaty balls.  I know that many people think one should not make meatballs unless one has a secret heirloom recipe, passed down by generations of grandmothers, through multiple rings on the family tree.  But just because I’m Puerto American shouldn’t mean that I shouldn’t get to enjoy a meal my mother, grandmother, or grandmother’s grandmother never made—it just means that I have to start my own taste tradition, and tonight, I started with this…

Ingredients:

½ lb each ground pork, ground lamb, ground veal, and ground beef (85% fat)
1 head garlic
2 eggs
one cup chopped parsley
1 white onion
2 cans San Marzano tomatoes – one crushed, one whole
EVOO
panko bread crumbs
shredded parmesano reggiano cheese
sea salt
cracked black pepper
spaghetti noodles

Red wine (not pictured, sorry!)
fennel seeds (not pictured, also sorry!)

Parsley: herb of the gods.  What does it do?  Nothing short of enhance the flavor of anything else you have on the plate!  Grab a healthy handful and chop it up nice and fine.  You need about 1 cup chopped parsley total…

… but you’ll only use about ½ of it in your meatball mix.  Add it to a large bowl with two eggs, some sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Here’s my miracle garlic mincer; I smash my cloves with the side of the puck (it looks like a hockey puck, doesn’t it?), and then put my peeled cloves in between its teeth.  With some vigorous screwing, I mince my garlic into perfect little bits.

See?

Add your minced garlic to your bowl with your chopped parsley and beaten eggs.  Now, using your fingers very deftly, pull each ½lb of meat into gentle wee pinches.  Be sure not to overhandle it!

Like so.

I’d forgotten about these fennel seeds, but am glad I remembered them now.  They are often my favorite taste in an Italian sausage, and I thought they’d be perfect for this blend.  Crush about a tablespoon into your meat mix.

Oh, and some crushed red pepper.  This ends up being necessary.

Add about 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs and 1 cup of fresh parmesano reggiano cheese, and mix well *but gently* **with your hands**.  You have to love your cooking… you really do.  If you’re afraid to use your hands to mix raw meat and eggs as loosely as only your hands can mix, make someone else do it, but for God’s sake don’t kill the textures of your meat with a wooden spoon.  A former friend once murdered Wagyu beef by squish smoosh mixing it with the flat of a wooden spoon, and I cried myself to sleep that night.

Set your meatball mix aside for a few minutes, and prep the rest of your garlic, parsley, and your white onion for use in your sauce.

Add a few glugs of EVOO to your Ikeawok, and heat to high.  Nice.

Add your garlic, some salt, and some cracked black pepper to your hot wok and stir well.  Breathe deeply… your house should start to smell like culinary heaven.

Add your onions to the pan, and cook until translucent

Add about 1 cup red wine to your pan, and reduce by half.

See?  Smells wonderful!

San Marzano tomatoes – why use anything else?  Most recipes, if made from a can, like I unfortunately must do this time of year, call for a can of tomato paste and a can of crushed tomatoes, but I cannot abide mixing plain old paste with the succulent perfection San Marzano tomatoes provide.  So, I dump a whole can of crushed…

… and the whole tomatoes, but not their juice, from the other can, into my Ikeawok.  With my merciless wooden paddle, I crush these baubles into pulp and mix well.  I se to simmer on low heat and cover with a splatter screen to protect my kitchen.

Did I mention Claytonious’s garden herb blend?  A lovely mixture of several types of basil and oregano, carefully dried and jarred in these airtight containers, make the perfect spice blend for tonight’s sauce.  I empty a handful into my fist and crush it in between my palms.

Your sauce should have begun to thicken.  Stir occasionally, but let simmer to sweetness as undisturbed as you can tolerate.

Ahhhh… balls of meat.  Using a tablespoon and your intrepid fingers, roll your 2 lbs of meat into 24 meatwads.  I have to pick out some of my stems of parsley to make sure they don’t make your balls too, er, loosely packed.

Heat a few tablespoons of EVOO in a heavy bottomed (or your only) large skillet.

Place your meatballs into your hot sizzling oil, searing them over their entire surface as much as you can.  You must let them brown on each edge for a few minutes, and you might need to use a spatula to scrape off the meaty bits from the pan if they stick.  You don’t need to cook them through, though, since you’re going to finish them off in your oven after you’ve browned them.

See?

Set your seared meatballs to the side on a cookie sheet, making way for another batch in your hot sizzling pan.  I have bits sticking to the pan, so a nonstick would have been ideal, but lacking that, I make do with scraping off the unstuck-from-my-meatballs-but-seared-cleanly-to-the-pan-bits and feeding them off an appetizer plate to a hungry Clayton, who has patiently been awaiting this dinner.

He’s ravenous.

You’ve nicely assembled your meatballs on your sheetpan, so for them to stay ball-like, throw them in a 400° oven to roast for about 10 minutes.

During which time, you should cook your pasta in boiling, salted, and EVOO’d oil.   Drop in your pasta, and set to cook for 10 minutes.

Here are your meatballs, and they are lovely.

And here is your sauce, all thick and ready to go.

Add your final teaspoons of chopped parsley to the mix, and break out your parmesan cheese once again for service.

Strain your pasta onto your plate, spoon your hot meatballs into symmetrical formation atop the nest, and slather the whole plate with thick, rich, tomatoey San Marzano tomato sauce, adding a final sprinkling of parmesan cheese and parsley to finish the dish.  Shia desperately attempts to reach across the threshold and transform the HD image of my food on his optical screen to real food in his movie-land world.  If you came to visit, my fine young friend, man oh man would I COOK for YOU, sweetie pie.  But, for now, the Fountainman is the onlyman who gets these goods…