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.

Jack Grits with Grilled Shrimp, Zucchini, Shiitake Mushrooms and Bacon Poblano Pepper Cream

DSCN5057I’ve been having one helluva summer, folks!  I am simply dripping with friends this year, and I’m loving every minute of it!  That also means I’ve been out of the house, and away from the kitchen, for some time – hence my AWOL status of the last few weeks.  But last night we enjoyed a breezy summer’s evening on ye ol’ roof deck, firing up Little Red – our trusty, 10yr old Meco electric grill – to do all the heavy lifting.  The nice cool wind allowed us the soul-warming pleasure of some stick-to-the-ribs home cooking: a bowlful of  steaming, creamy Monterey Jack cheese grits bathed in a spicy roasted poblano pepper cream studded with bacon, zucchini, shiitake mushrooms and tender shrimp all grilled to juicy meaty tender deliciousness.  Shrimp and grits – taken up a notch.

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Jack Grits with Grilled Shrimp, Zucchini, Shiitake Mushrooms and Bacon Poblano Pepper Cream

10-12 large tiger shrimp
4 slices bacon
2 poblano peppers
1/2# shiitake mushrooms
1 small zucchini
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grits
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, sea salt, cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper
snipped chives for garnish

DSCN5039This dinner relied on quart sized zipper bags as much as it did Little Red, since I wanted to do some quick prep indoors before moving completely outside to finish the food on the grill.  I started with my poblano pepper by trimming it into 8ths and removing all the seeds.  Do yourself a favor, dear reader: handle hot peppers with gloves.  Their heat is communicable and tactile – believe me when I say you touch your eyes and other orifices with fingertips more often than you realize, and pepperfingers BURN.

DSCN5041I placed each veg in a quart sized zipper bag of its own, and doused them with EVOO (about 1/4 cup), sea salt and cracked black pepper.  For the zucchini, I added a glug (2 tbs) of white balsamic vinegar and a shake-a shake-a of crushed red pepper flakes.

DSCN5042I de-stemmed my mushrooms, washed them thoroughly, and then stuck them in a bag as well with their own EVOO, salt, and pepper marinade.

DSCN5043After I peeled them, my shrimp were plump, quivering, pink sweet little morsels  of temptation just shy of perfection.  But I wanted a *perfect* presentation for this meal, so I sliced them shallowly up the length of their crest to devein them, then trimmed with my paring knife those little edges which the incision created.  It’s not necessary to devein shrimp – I usually don’t – but it does look nicer.

DSCN5044I chopped up a few cloves of garlic, which I chucked into another zipper bag with the shrimp and about 5 tablespoons of EVOO, some more sea salt, and a ton of black pepper.

DSCN5045All my little fun-bags – ready to go.  (Yes, I intended that double-entendre…)  I headed outside and fired up the grill.

DSCN5047Once the grill was nice and hot, I put my bacon directly on the rack on one side, and my sliced peppers – skin side down – on the other.  I closed the lid, and let it go for about 10 minutes.  I’d never actually made bacon on the grill before, but Little Red has always surprised me with its versatility. so I thought “What the hell?”

DSCN5048And Little Red didn’t disappoint!  After 10 minutes, my bacon was already almost fully cooked and perfectly crispy.  I flipped them for good measure and cooked for another 5 minutes…

DSCN5049Meanwhile, the skin of my peppers has already begun to blister, so I flipped them to soften the insides as well.

DSCN5050When both the bacon and peppers were finished, I removed them from the grill.  The bacon I set aside, but the peppers I put into a paper bag so the skin could steam off them somewhat, making it easier for me to remove later.

DSCN5051I next filled the grill with the remaining ingredients.  I had 3 cups of water in my small saucepan, which I sat directly on the rack, and then I laid out my zucchini sticks and mushrooms over the rest of the surface.   These sizzled for about 15 minutes (I flipped the veggies about halfway through) while the water in my pot heated up.

DSCN5052In went the grits.  These were quick cooking — 5 minutes – but since the heat on my grill isn’t too too hot, I just kept checking back to see when the grits were thickening – stirring every once in a while, and flipping my veggies so they’d get nice grill marks on each edge.

DSCN5053I assembled the rest of the stuff I’d need: the shrimp, which had been chilling in the fridge; some snipped chives; some black pepper; another small pan for the sauce; and cubed Monterey jack cheese.  I chucked this all onto a cutting board and walked it to the deck.

DSCN5054After about 15 minutes, the grits were nice and thick, so I dumped the cheese into them and gave it a stir.  In the other saucepan, I added my cream and my skinned and chopped poblano peppers, which I sort of macerated with my wooden spoon.  I piled all my zucchini and mushrooms on the coldest part of the grill surface to make room for the shrimp.

DSCN5055But before I got the shrimp going, I chopped the bacon and added it to the already thickening peppercream.  Bacon and hot peppers: love.

DSCN5056Then, there was shrimp.  Using tongs, I carefully placed them as close to the heating coils as possible, then I closed the lid for 5 minutes before turning them once, and cooking an additional 5 minutes.

DSCN5059As the sun set on the horizon, the flavors in this bowl burst onto my palette with each complex and wholesome bite.  The velvet cheesy grits were a warm corn cushion upon which a luxurious bath of spicy unctuous porky cream undulated, while tidbits of hotwetcrunchy zucchini, chewy crispy-edged mushrooms, toothsome garlicky shrimp and bites of braised grilled salty bacon danced deliciously on my tongue.  Everything I loved seemed to live on each forkful I brought to my lips, and I devoured each sensuous bite like it was my last.  If not cooking for a while makes me feel the sweet sweet pleasure of accomplishing dinner so much more acutely, perhaps I should take breaks more often?  For now, I leave you with this relatively simple but super-scrumptious recipe for your next dinner on the deck.  Let me know how it turns out!

 

Roasted Chicken Breasts, Shiitake, Garnet Yams, Spinach, Truffle Cream

DSCN4481I have found myself in the uncanny position of having several blog postings in my queue, waiting to be written up to share with ya’ll.  It’s testament to me being on a major roll lately. I’ve been cooking up some awesome dinners for me and the husbandman these days, each one better — one way or another — than the last.  It’s not that I’ve been engaging in crazy techniques, or unusual ingredients, or delving into haute cuisine – it’s more about how elegantly and easily my meals have been coming out, and how delicious everything has been.  I humbly remind Clayton how lucky he is to have a permanent seat at my table, which he dutifully acknowledges with rote platitudes of praise.  What can I say?  He’s used to it.

Tonight’s dinner had to be posted before the others waiting in the wings for one main reason: it was inspired by a gift.  Thanks to my friend and colleague, T. T. (for his privacy’s sake, I’ll refer to him using the Victorian convention of initials only), who brought me a little something something from NYC’s Eataly after his sojourn there last weekend.  I had eyed this product on my last visit to Mario Batali/Lydia & Joe Bastinach’s haven for all things Italian and edible, but my natural parsimoniousness prevented me from plunking down the cash.  I regretted my miserly ways as soon as we were on the bus back home, so I’m glad T. gave me another chance to work with this stuff.  The rich truffle cream blanketed a juicy roasted chicken breast, served atop some mashed garnet yams, sauteed spinach, along with some nutty shiitake mushrooms.  A very easy meal to prepare, but with sublime impact!

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Roasted Chicken Breasts, Shiitake, Garnet Yams, Spinach, Truffle Cream

2 boneless, skin-on chicken breasts
1.5lb garnet yams
6-8 large shiitake mushrooms
6oz baby spinach
2-3 tbs sliced scallions
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 3.5oz can of Urbani Cream and Truffles Sauce

DSCN4473Roasting the sweet potatoes is what took the longest amount of time for this meal, so I get them started about an hour before service to make sure they get nice and soft.  I don’t do anything to them but place them on a lined baking sheet before setting them in a 400° oven.  But before I did that, I channeled me some MacGyver by figuring out how to roast my shiitake mushrooms (and later my chicken breasts) on the same pan at the same time.  Y’see, the mushrooms needed to be doused in EVOO – but the potatoes didn’t.  Still, the spuds only took up 1/2 the pan, and loath as I am to dirty another dish, I decided to create a dam by folding a seam in the foil paper at the halfway mark.  Then I tossed the mushrooms in the oil before spilling everything into the damn pan (I know, it’s “dammed”, but I couldn’t resist). A little salt and pepper, and into the oven everything went.

DSCN4474After about 20 minutes, I flip the mushrooms, which I let roast for another 20 minutes.

DSCN4476In nice weather, when I ride my bike back and forth to work, I get to stop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for my groceries because they’re on my way.  But in the cold, icy, windy winter, I take the T home, and the only grocery store on my path is a local co-op which has slim pickin’s in their meat and poultry section.  I generally don’t freeze anything, so I’m bummed by the fact that they only sell boneless chicken breasts in packs of 5 or more; I never need more than two at a time.  In this case, though, I wanted chicken that still had the skin on, so buying a pair of split breasts was actually a good thing.  I removed the bones myself, but left the skin in place.  After dredging the boners in flour, I put them skin-side down into some hot oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.

DSCN4477After they’ve browned, I flip them to brown their undersides.  After about 3-4 minutes on this side…

DSCN4478… I remove my mushrooms from my jerry-rigged baking pan, and replace them with the chicken breasts.  These roast for about 20 more minutes (which, when done, will mean my potatoes will be perfectly roasted, having sweated it out in the oven for an hour.)

DSCN4480See?  I peel off their skins, chuck ‘em in a bowl, and mash ‘em up with a fork.  That’s it.

DSCN4479Two things hit me the moment I popped the top off the Urbani Cream and Truffles: 1) it looked just like cream of mushroom soup but 2) it’s aroma was an overpowering smack in the face of rich, deep, pungent umame.  So, in the looks department, it left much to be desired, but in the mushroom department?  Hot damn!  The instructions were simple: dump the contents in a saucepan and heat it up — no additions needed.  So dump I did – heat I did – and then…

DSCN4482A steaming truffle snuggie of cream and deliciousness envelops my crispy-outside-tender-inside chicken breast, which rests on a nest of simple sauteed spinach (which I forgot to take pictures of) and a mound of mashed golden yams.  The roasted shiitake mushrooms are firm and packed with earthy woodsiness, resonating with the truffle in the cream sauce, off-setting the rich sweet complexity of the mashed potatoes.  This is comfort food at it’s best.