Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu and Ricotta


Ahh, Pisticci. Or in my cool person lingo, "Pisteech." 

I have memories of apartment hunting a few years ago, making my way uptown on the 1 train with an arrogant real estate broker who kept talking about his place on Central Park West. I get it, sir. You are wealthy. As the train moved above ground at 125th Street, he pointed out the window and said, "See that little street? Best Italian place is right up there, and you'd never expect it in this neighborhood." While I did not get my next apartment from him (10% broker's fee? No thanks!), I did get a new spot on my list of must-try restaurants. Fortunately I had the luxury of being walking distance from it for about a year, and I was thisclose to being a regular.

Although it is no longer in my neighborhood, Pisticci is a destination worth traveling to. Oh, and did I mention it is NYC's first carbon neutral restaurant? When I started eating meat again and learned that I knew nothing about lamb, the Maltagliati with Ricotta, Spinach, and Lamb was something I decided to try. Could you resist with a description like this?

It was fabulous! So with nothing but the menu description and my one experience eating it at the restaurant, I decided to give it a go at home. I made my own pappardelle (can't really have maltagliati without pasta scraps), but most gourmet grocery stores have fresh pasta you can buy.

Try it on your own, send your thoughts, and when you are in New York come try it in person!




Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu and Ricotta
A Walking Cookbook original recipe inspired by Pisticci
Recipe assistance from Bon Appetit and Wikipedia
Prep Time: 20 min.
Cook Time: 60 min.
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2/3 cup carrot, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 lb lamb shoulder, cut into cubes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 lb wide, flat pasta (fresh tagliatelle or pappardelle preferable-- here's how)

Mise en Place (prework for those of us who can't multitask):
1. Chop carrots, celery, and onion finely
2. Mince or grate garlic
3. Measure the dried herbs into the same container.
4. Measure wine and chicken broth in separate containers.
5. Cut the lamb shoulder into cubes. I have no tips for doing this... my process wasn't pretty.
6. Fill a pot with salted water so it is ready to boil when you want to cook the pasta.

Preparation:
1. Heat a sautee pan to medium and add the butter and oil.
2. Once the butter is melted, add the garlic, carrot, celery, and onion. Cook on low for 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until slightly softened but not browned. Onions should be translucent.
3. Push the veggies to the side of the pan and increase the heat to medium. Add the lamb cubes and the bone piece if it still has meat on it. Cook for 1 minute on each side to brown the meat. Add the herbs and some salt and pepper.
4. Once the lamb is browned, scoop in the tomato paste and give it a quick stir. Then add the wine and broth, and stir well.
5. Bring the sauce to a low boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 40-50 minutes, turning any pieces of lamb that are not covered by liquid every 10 minutes or so).
6. Once the sauce has been simmering for 35 minutes or so, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 3-4 minutes for fresh pasta (dried pasta can cook according to the package).
7. Turn off the heat on the pasta and the sauce. With tongs or a pasta serving spoon, transfer the cooked pasta directly into the pan of sauce. Stir well.
8. Serve with a large dollop of ricotta cheese.


All veggies came from my CSA
Mise en place... everything in its place, ready to cook

 Love the pizza cutter for making the pappardelle.
Hearty, warm, and winey... so delicious on a fall evening!
By putting the pasta directly from water to sauce, you get
a little of the starchy cooking water in the sauce... always good!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Out of Hibernation? Renaissance? Resurrection? I'm back!

Hi friends!

So here's the deal... I have not written since February. I hate quitting. It is the sort of thing that makes me go "mrrhhmmggghhhh." 

With this being my only attempt at blogdom that has come even close to being successful (thank you, friends, family, and readers in other countries that leave nice messages!), I feel a little sad that my poor little site has sat idle for months.

In said months, many wonderful things have happened in my life. Moving to Inwood, a neighborhood in NYC that I adore; a summer job that took most of my free time but helped me extend my skills to a new setting; a trip to Panama; and most excitingly, getting engaged! My cup runneth over, and I could not be happier! It feels only natural to return to blogging, yet another part of life that makes me happy!

I have thought about it and developed a plan… my new take on becoming a Walking Cookbook.

I have never been a creative visionary when it comes to… well, anything! But taking someone else’s idea and making it happen? Now THAT I can handle! Drawing inspiration from the brilliant minds of the restaurant world, I will be turning menu items from interesting restaurants into recipes for anyone to make at home.

A quick disclaimer: these are not copycat recipes… absolutely not. In fact, many of these dishes will not be from restaurants I have ever tried (just dreamt about while buying lottery tickets). However, if you want to elevate your cooking to a new and interesting level, follow my lead! I will only know the basic ingredients, do some research to help with core techniques (reducing sauces, making a coulis), and figure out the rest on my own to share with you!


I hope that you join me in my new cooking adventures… this week's inspiration will be coming from Pisticci, a lovely Italian restaurant off the beaten path in Morningside Heights, NYC. Check you inboxes or click on "Subscribe" (to the right) to receive alerts for all new posts!

I am taking comments on menu items that look tempting, intimidating, mouth-watering, or intriguing to try at home, so please fire away!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Imprecise Perfection: Roast Chicken Basics

New to the world of eating meat, I am not very good at eating meat off the bone. But the real question is: can I cook something on the bone and carve it so it does not look like a National Geographic cover story on lions' feeding habits? That was what I set out to answer this week with a roast chicken.

Now, after extensive research on a topic that involves more new vocabulary for me than a physiology course (trussing and innards, anyone?),  I realized that I could save that lesson for another day. I found a number of far more important similarities between a variety of trusted roast chicken recipes. The "recipe" I used drew inspiration from Alton Brown, Jamie Oliver, the Pioneer Woman, and the Kitchn. I found the imprecision to be refreshing, and the results to be mouth watering.

Here are your basic steps:

1. Clean it (aka: take out the bag of giblets from the cavity)
2. Dry it.
3. Rub it down with yummy stuff: herbs, citrus, salt/pepper, and fat (above and below the skin).



          Make a slit in the skin to get underneath as well.
4. Stuff it with yummy stuff (see #3, plus alliums).
5. Put it on top of hunks of root veggies.



         The goal is to have the chicken sit an inch or so 
      above the pan so it doesn't drown in its own juices.
6. Put in the oven at 400° for a little over an hour (for 4 lbs), until the skin is crispy and the inside is 165° (safe chicken temp).
7. Let rest, covered, for 15 minutes.
8. Serve or save roasted veggies.

             Let some of the fat drain on a paper towel 
                so the veggies still count as veggies.
9. Mix pan drippings with wine and stock to make a sauce. Cook in a pan until reduced to the thickness you like. Whisk in flour to make it gravy.

                          Looks like modern art.
10. Figure out how to carve it and serve!

            Nobody needs to know the struggle 
                       that went into this.

There it is-- imprecise, messy (you are literally massaging a raw bird with butter), and versatile.

Below I will share the ingredients I used for each step, but feel free to play around with different flavor combinations to make your roast chicken your own.

Step #3: Yummy stuff rub-down
  • 1 stick butter, softened with the following mixed in (this is called a compound butter and makes life better in all ways)
  • lemon zest
  • lemon juice (1/2 lemon worth)
  • rosemary, savory (the store was out of thyme), and sage (finely chopped)
  • salt & pepper
(Other nice pairings: orange with cinnamon and cloves, lime with coriander and cayenne)

Step #4: Yummy stuff stuffing
  • 2-3 lemons, quartered and peels scored for extra flavor emission
  • rosemary, thyme, and sage (still in their sprig/leaf form)
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
Step #5: Hunks of root veggies (to raise the chicken an inch above the pan)
  • onions/shallots (peeled)
  • carrots
  • celery
  • potatoes
Step #10: Carving Inspiration

For the dramatic version, watch this:

For a much more peaceful version, watch this:

As a disclaimer, both of these make the process look much easier than it is. Don't worry-- it still tastes amazing.

That's all, folks. Serve with salad to make it lighter or biscuits to go crazy. Or both to feel a yin and yang balance. Now that's a new spin on a balanced meal.


Monday, January 20, 2014

2014: Year of the Horse... and pig, and cow, and chicken, and lamb

Happy 2014! Following an inexcusable hibernation, I am back with a special announcement to make: After 5 years as a pescatarian, 2 years as a vegan, and an additional 7 or 8 years without red meat, I have decided to go whole hog back into the omnivorous world.

That's right-- I am now eating and cooking meat. Don't get me wrong... I have never been and will probably never be a meat-and-potatoes kind of girl. I adore my veggies, crave fish, and don't see that changing any time soon. However, I was beginning to realize that my love for all things food and cooking related was being stifled by my non-meat diet. If my goal is to become a truly proficient cook, I need to know how to cook meat. And if I am going to cook meat, I need to taste it and check the quality. So there we have it. Being my prudent self, I began with a couple bites of chicken breast. I ordered a seafood chowder at DBGB this weekend with little bits of bacon in it. I have not had an entire serving of meat yet, which is probably good. After all, I have my whole life ahead of me!

It has been pretty cold in New York, and it's the post-Christmas winter that gets to me the most. However, I have been thrilled with my winter farm share through the Corbin Hill Food Project and have actually been enjoying winter through its produce. I wanted to kick off the new year (and new dietary horizons) with a lean but quintessential cold-weather dish: Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin. It just oozes wintery sentiments, doesn't it?

America's Test Kitchen is always a fantastic bet for recipes that thrive on precision and science, and I felt that as a first time pork cooker, I could use that security. So this week I made their version of a Maple Roasted Pork Tenderloin.



About Pork Tenderloin
I used to hear Tenderloin and think of the San Francisco neighborhood. It has a bad reputation, which I always tend to confront with cynicism (just because it is a low-income area doesn't mean it is a dangerous one). But I remember taking a bus through there on a recent visit, having to transfer, and the second I stood up to walk off the bus I heard a gun shot. Needless to say, I did not transfer! So THIS is what used to come to mind when I heard "tenderloin." Time for some re-imaging.

In the meat world, pork tenderloin is considered the most tender of the cuts of pork because it is a lower side/back muscle that is used for posture, not motion. Fascinating! You can see its long, narrow shape in this handy diagram:
Not only can you see the cuts of meat, but you can learn the terms in Swedish too... va ballt! 

Since the tenderloin is so... tender, it can easily cook through and dry up on the stovetop, so most recipes recommend searing the edges and finishing it in the oven.

Alton Brown ran an episode of Good Eats dedicated to pork tenderloin: "Tender is the Pork." It's available on Amazon (for free if you have Prime!) and definitely worth a watch. My key takeaway from the video: Remove the "silverskin," which is the tough, thin, almost iridescent little skin that covers part of the tenderloin. Once you do that, it is ready to go!

Nutrition-wise, pork tenderloin and boneless, skinless chicken breast find themselves the subjects of many comparisons. With a difference of only 20 calories for a 3 ounce portion, pork tenderloin is a little bit leaner. Men's Health (a weird source for me to consult, but men's websites are what come up when searching for meat comparisons) identifies chicken as an excellent source of niacin, leucine, and omega-3s, while pork takes the cake on zinc, B vitamins, and selenium

In sum, these are both lean and healthy cuts of meat. Next time you are walking down the vitamin aisle at Whole Foods, take a stroll over to the butcher and see if you can get your nutrients there!

The Recipe:
You all know that I am an America's Test Kitchen devotee. I love their recipes, watch their shows, listen to their podcast, and can't seem to go shopping for a kitchen device without looking up their product reviews first.

What I liked about ATK's pork tenderloin recipe is that it recognized the issues that arise when trying to glaze a piece of meat-- namely, that the glaze does not stick. They solved that in three ways, which I feel can be applied to any glazed item:

  1. Coat in a corn starch, sugar, and salt mixture that will dry out and caramelize into a nook-filled surface before the glaze is applied (a drier surface keeps the glaze on, while nooks and crannies keep the glaze trapped inside)
  2. Reduce the glaze. Thicker is better, and it can always be softened up in the microwave. In this recipe, 2 cups was reduced to about 1/2 cup.
  3. Layer after layer. First glaze before putting the meat in the oven, second glaze when the meat is almost done, third glaze just before the resting period, and final glaze/sauce right before serving.


Once I felt confident that the glaze would actually stick, I proceeded...

Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin
Memorized from America's Test Kitchen
Yield: 6 servings (4 if you are really hungry)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pork tenderloins (1.25 lbs each), trimmed and silver skin removed
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • a few cracks of black pepper
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup (not the fake stuff)
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp bourbon
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp grainy mustard


Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Mix the cornstarch, salt, sugar, and pepper in a bowl, then spread out on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Blot excess moisture from the tenderloins and roll in the cornstarch mixture. Bang against a hard surface so any extra cornstarch falls off (I placed a cutting board vertically in the sink) and discard extra cornstarch.
  • Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and place the tenderloins in the oil, side by side. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side on medium-high, until all sides are nice and browned.
  • Meanwhile, you can quickly assemble the glaze by pouring the maple syrup, molasses, cinnamon, cayenne, and bourbon into a measuring cup.
  • When the tenderloins are browned on all sides (about 8 minutes), transfer them to a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. 
  • Lower the heat under the pan, and pour the maple mixture (all but 1/4 cup) into the pan. Stir frequently as it bubbles and boils, eventually reducing to 1/2 cup. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Brush a healthy dose of the reduced maple glaze on top of each piece of the pork tenderloin. You will be doing this three times, so ration accordingly.
  • After the first glaze, place the tenderloins into the oven (middle rack). Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 130°F.
  • Add another layer of glaze and return to the oven until the internal temperature of the pork hovers around 140°F (2-4 minutes)
  • Remove and glaze one more time (you may need to microwave the glaze for 20 seconds if it is too sticky). Let sit, uncovered, to rest.
  • Add mustard to the 1/4 cup of reserved glaze and mix well.
  • Cut into 1/4 inch pieces with a serrated knife. Drizzle with the mustardy glaze and serve with the sides of your choice.



The Results:
This was a huge success! Glazing is obviously more work-intensive than just marinading and baking, but it was well worth the effort. The glaze stuck to the meat, clinging on in luscious layers of sweet maple flavor. It was just a little bit pink inside, keeping it tender (I only used my knife a couple of times) and juicy (not bloody, which has always been and will always be gross in my book).

My roommate and I have a winter farm share, and the pork tenderloin was the perfect protein to accompany our curried parsnip and carrot puree. The dish exuded wintery comfort, and it opened my eyes to the healthy meat possibilities out there. 

Here's to more delicious recipes in 2014. Send me a comment with recommendations for my now omnivorous walking cookbook repertoire! 

The beauty of glaze: 1st layer vs 3rd layer makes a huge difference!