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Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category


healthy, happy cows

Hi. I’ll have 8 oz of the free-rangeno-antibioticsnaturalno-artificial-growth-hormonehappy-cow steak. No; not that one, the one behind it and to the right, please. Sound familiar?

It’s sad that the barriers between industrialization and gastronomy have been breached, but it’s the truth. After reading Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilema, I’m scared, or rather disgusted, to buy any other meat. I’ll usually pass on the massaged cattle lavished with all-they-can-drink sake, unless the parents are paying, and simply go for the healthy, happy cow instead. Slightly more expensive than the hormone-injected alternative, but I make it stretch to fit the occasion. If it’s dinner for two, I’ll break open a bottle of wine and enjoy a nice steak perhaps alongside some pureed parsnips or celery root. If it’s for a party, I’ll serve it as an appetizer and share it with my guests.

mise en place

Steak crostini with parsley pesto and goat cheese is an appetizer I came up with while in college. I was invited to a dinner party and was expected to bring something grand – usually what happens when friends find out you like to cook. I had to strike a balance though: too fancy and I would’ve been thought of as showing off; too simple and I would’ve risked disappointment.

season like you mean it

A good quality steak can do wonders if executed properly. Once your meat leaves the butcher, it becomes your responsibility. Season it well, let it sit at room temperature before cooking, don’t over cook it, and allow it to rest before slicing. These four points along with some good judgement can go a long way when preparing meat.

pesto oil to good use

I originally made this dish with regular pesto because that was one of the things I had in my fridge before the party. In retrospect it was passable, but a bit too overpowering for the steak. I tried it again by pulsing parsley into my pesto and it was wonderful. You get a slight herbal note from the basil, but at the same time you’re greeted with a clean, crisp flavor from the parsley.

putting everything together

I used a whole wheat baguette when I made the appetizer last night and thought it was fantastic. This was also not part of the original dish, but I felt that it added an appealing nutty component to the crostini. On a side note, we’ve really come a long way in terms of whole wheat products – they don’t taste like cardboard anymore.

Steak Crostini

The reason why I added two thin slices of steak to each appetizer as opposed to one thicker slice is because it makes the crostini easier to eat. If you’re serving this at a party, you definitely don’t want your guests struggling with a big hunk of meat while they’re mingling and sipping on cocktails.

Steak Crostini

yields approx 18 crostini

Components

  • 1 8 oz steak
  • 4 oz goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup parsley pesto*
  • roasted peppers, garnish
  • 1 fresh baguette

Putting them all together

  1. Allow steak to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Season with salt & pepper and sear for 3-4 minutes on each side, until medium rare.
  3. Allow meat to rest before slicing.
  4. Slice the baguette on a (~1/4 in slices), brush with some of the basil oil and broil until golden brown.
  5. Once all the components are ready start by smearing a little more pesto on the toasted baguette slices.
  6. Top with a little goat cheese and two thin slices of the steak.
  7. Garnish with diced roasted peppers.

note: To make your own parsley pesto simply replace some of the basil with parsley in your favorite pesto recipe or pulse some parsley into some high quality store bought pesto and call it a day.

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Witch Hat Pumpkin Ravioli

The past couple of days have been rough. I’ve been in curled up in bed with all the goodie pre-symptoms the common cold has to offer: sinus pressure, sneezing and I’ll spare you the phlegmy details. Today will be a short post since I’ve only got a couple of hours to prepare myself for the army of trick-or-treaters screaming for obscene amounts of sugary sweets. It’s my first Halloween in this neighborhood so we’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I couldn’t pass up celebrating Halloween on my blog either. It seems like everywhere I click there are amazingly ghoulish culinary masterpieces on display. Keeping with the whole Mediterranean theme of my blog, I decided to go with an Italian inspired dish. The pretty pumpkin you see below was one of the many gifts I got while I was at the Beekman and it was perfect for what I had in mind. So without further ado, I present to you my Black Witch Hat Pumpkin Ravioli.

The recipe will come soon (depending on my cold and how many kids come pounding at my door). 

mise en place
a hint of nutmeg
halloween nonna-style
rolling the dough
Italian assembly line
ravioli workflow
Witch Hat Ravioli
Witch Hat Ravioli
Pumpkin Filled Squid Ink Ravioli
Pumpkin Filled Squid Ink Ravioli

UPDATE (11/1/2008)

There weren’t as many trick-or-treaters last night as I had expected, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I tended to my cold by drinking plenty warm chai and cozily reading in bed. Now I’m on my way out the door, but wanted to post the recipe for the ravioli before I left.

I also want to submit this entry to Jeanne from Cook Sister for this round of Waiter, There’s Something In My… Jeanne is calling for all bloggers to show their gourd love this season. I hope you all had a happy and safe Halloween! Ciao!

Witch Hat Pumpkin Ravioli

 makes approx 50 ravioli

Components

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 small pumpkin
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of cloves
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 oz goat cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • squid ink (or black food coloring)
  • 1 stick of butter
  • egg wash, 1 egg and a little milk

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut the pumpkin in half and clean out the cavity of the pumpkin. Cut side down, bake both pumpkin halves until they are tender and you can poke your knife with very little resistance (approx. 45 minutes).
  3. Make the pasta dough by creating a well with the flour and slowly incorporating the eggs and squid ink to form a dough.
  4. Knead the dough for 5-7 minutes, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to use.
  5. Once the pumpkin has finished cooking, scoop out the flesh and process in the food processor along with the goat cheese and spices. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
  6. In the same sheet tray, spread pumpkin mixture and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes so that the excess liquid in the pumpkin puree is allowed to evaporate. 
  7. Refrigerate the mixture until cooled and ready to use.
  8. Using a pasta machine, roll out your dough into long sheets and scoop 1/2 tsp of the chilled filling in 1 inch intervals, giving you room to seal the edges. (see photo)
  9. Brush a little egg wash around the edges of the filling and cover with another sheet of pasta. Seal the ravioli sheets carefully, making sure no air bubbles get trapped inside.
  10. Boil the ravioli for 5-6 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.
  11. For the sauce, melt the butter and sage in a small saute pan. Brown the butter carefully, making sure it does not burn.
  12. Toss the ravioli in the sauce and enjoy!

note: If you can’t find squid ink or don’t particularly care for it, you can substitute it for black food coloring. If you don’t want or don’t have time to make your own ravioli, store bough butternut squash ravioli work great with this sauce and are perfect for any autumn dinner. 

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Divine Culinary Intervention

"Tony, you just ate 1200 calories worth of bread." 
-Jess Park

I rediscovered Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe a couple weeks ago. It was Wednesday evening and there it was, idly sitting in my RSS feed, waiting to be double-clicked: Faster No-Knead Bread. Mark Bittman had just blogged about a quicker variation of the original recipe he featured in the NYT in 2006. I never got around to making this bread when it first came out. Originally, I sided with the skeptical foodies who wanted no part in this trendy no-knead fad. For me, the foundation of bread was all in the traditional kneading techniques and no post in the NYT was going to change that. But, many successful minimalist recipes later, Mark had made a believer out of me. I took Mark’s recent post as a sign of divine culinary intervention and decided to give this no-knead method a try. 

Before I could experiment with any quicker variations though, I thought it would only be right to try Jim’s original 24-hour, no-knead recipe, first. There was no mise en place, or anything of that nature. Like I said, it was a Wednesday evening, after work, and I was only surfing the web to procrastinate my inevitable visit to the gym (nothing unusual). I went down to the kitchen, mixed the flour, water, yeast and salt, covered it and went about my workout. 

foodie magnifying lens
air pockets

I couldn’t concentrate at work the following day. I was eager to see if time had done its job in creating the much desired gluten proteins that usually require 15+ minutes of intense kneading to develop. As soon as I got home and stepped foot in my kitchen I was greeted by the intoxicating aroma of yeast belch – it was glorious. After 18 hours I uncovered the well-rested dough and took a deep breath of the bakery scent that was being propagated from within.

The next step in the recipe was to invert the dough onto a floured surface and fold it onto itself. Then I placed it seam side down onto a cornmeal dusted cotton towel and allowed it to enter its final rising stage, just like in the video. This time, I was able to make it to the gym without any resistance – I knew that as soon as I got home, I would be less than an hour away from carbohydrate heaven!

very sticky dough
sticky dough
homemade artisan bread
artisan bread

I pre-heated the oven as soon as I got home from the gym and immediately hopped into the shower so as to not disrupt the final rising stage. After 45 minutes of baking in a 550 degree oven, I was rewarded with my most successful loaf of homemade bread.

great crumb structure
crumb structure

I was like a proud father. I embraced my inner bread geek and admired the crispy crust and delicate crumb structure of the bread. Apparently none of my friends know what I am talking about (ahem, ahem, Mike), but crumb structure refers to the different size pockets of air inside the bread; the more of those there are, the better.

mise en place
mise en place

I couldn’t leave you guys without a mise en place photo though. In celebration of all things minimalist, I decided to enjoy the bread with some high quality extra virgin olive oil and traditional balsamic vinegar that I brought with me from Modena.

a few drops of good quality balsamic
balsamic vinegar

This is not the usual balsamic that you’ll find on the shelf of your local grocery store. At about 80 euros a pop, this stuff is as close as you can get to liquid gold. Traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena is only produced by a select number of families that have passed on the tradition from generation to generation. I got my bottle from L’Acetaia di Giorgio, where they invited me for an afternoon and showed me the entire process for making their vinegar. While I was there Giorgio showed me a batch that he started 22 years ago that he named Carlotta, after his daughter, which he will later use as her dowry – a tradition amongst most balsamic vinegar producing families. If you’re planing to go to Italy in the near future, I definitely recommend contacting Consorzio di Aceto Balsamico di Modena (CABM – the association for balsamic vinegar producing families) who can then put you in touch with one of their members for a private tour.

life’s simple pleasures
homemade bread

This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy bread right out of the oven. Hence the quote from my friend Jess who, “for fun”, calculated how many calories of bread I had eaten in a two-day window. I figure it’s all good because I work it all off at the gym… right? Have you guys tried any of the no-knead recipes? What have your experiences been with the bread? Send me links to your post if you’ve blogged about it, I’d love to read some of the variations!

No-Knead Bread

Jim Lahey’s Recipe

Components

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 5/8 cups water 
  • 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

Putting them all together

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. Cover the dough and let rest from 12-18 hours at room temperature.
  2. You’ll know the dough is ready because the surface will be dotted with bubbles. On a lightly floured surface, invert the dough and fold it over itself once or twice. Make sure your hands are also coated with flour because the dough will be very sticky at this point. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.
  3. Gently and quickly form the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel, sprinkle with more flour, wheat bran or cornmeal and cover loosely with another cotton towel.  
  4. Preheat your oven and cooking vessel (cast-iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) to 550 degrees. 
  5. After the dough has risen for 2 more hours and has doubled in size, invert the dough into the preheated cooking vessel so that it bakes seam side up.
  6. Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-30 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown.
  7. Cool on a rack.

note: The dipping oil is simply extra virgin olive oil, high quality balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

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The Cookies the Doctor Prescribed

When I was a kid I was baffled by the cruel idea that anything full of flavor was supposed to be unhealthy. Never mind where babies came from, I was more concerned with philosophical questions like, why ice cream tastes better than my steamed broccoli? And until I developed an appreciation for veggies and the usual suspects, my nutrition primarily came in the form of Flintstones chewable multivitamins and vegetables strategically hidden in my food, something my mom was an expert at.

While I was in Italy this past winter I came across these curiously ugly cookies that stood out among the gorgeous layered cakes and tempting pastries. Not only were these cookies pretty ugly, but they weren’t cheap either; and had it not been for the three consecutive customers that ordered them in front of me, I would have probably never discovered the wonders of brutti ma buoni, which literally translated means, ugly but good.

mise en place

Imagine a decadent cookie that is crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and has no added fat or flour! It sounds unnatural, almost sacrilege, but these traditional Tuscan cookies are pure genius. All their fat comes from the natural oils in the nuts and are they’re cleverly held together by nothing more than beaten egg whites.

it’s like magic

Traditionally, these cookies only had hazelnuts and maybe a few almonds, but I like the combination of the different nuts. You can use any combination you prefer as long as hazelnuts remain in the picture. The neat trick that I tried* to demonstrate via my 3-step diagram is to roast the hazel nuts in a 350 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes; then spread them over a clean kitchen towel, cover them, and rub them against each other. You’ll notice some of the nuts are stubborn and hold on to their skins for their dear lives. The best (and most enjoyable) solution to this is to bake more than you need and eat the ones that don’t cooperate.

crushed, but slightly coarse

Before the days of shiny and pretty kitchen appliances, Italians would crush the nuts using a mortar and pestle and whisk their egg whites by hand. Sounds outrageous, right? But back then when you said you were cooking, you were really cooking. Today you can use what you want to get that same semi-fine texture on the nuts and stiff peaks on the egg whites.

mounds of nutty-chocolate goodness

In order for the mainly egg white batter to come together, you have to cook it over medium low heat before baking it. Once the batter thickens you can scoop it onto a sheet pan and bake the cookies in the oven until they’re crispy on the outside and crunchy and chewy on the inside.

a look inside

I don’t think it’s humanly possible to resist a freshly baked batch of cookies cooling on a rack. They’re so soft and delicate at this point that eating them becomes effortless, which could be dangerous.

brutti ma buoni

I wasn’t joking around when I said these cookies were ugly! You can imagine how these stood out against their dainty neighbors on display at the patisserie. The traditional recipe doesn’t even call for cocoa powder, but I feel like the chocolate/hazelnut combo is one that can’t be passed up.

Although these cookies are probably healthier than your average butter/flour-saturated cookies, they’re not an invitation for gluttony. These cookies still have plenty of sugar and should be eaten in moderation, like all foods. And that’s precisely what I’ve come to realize since my veggie-avoiding years as a child. Flavor along with all its associated “unhealthiness” should not be avoided, but rather enjoyed in moderate amounts.

Brutti Ma Buoni

approx 18 cookies

Components

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, peeled
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup almonds, peeled
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • zest of an orange
  • zest of a lemon
  • 2 tsp frangelico (or any nut liqueur/extract)
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder, dutch process
  • 1 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt

Putting them all together

  1. Toast the nuts until golden brown and allow to cool.
  2. Whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak.
  3. Mix the nuts with the sugar and pulse in a food processor until you reach a semi-fine consistency.
  4. Fold in all the ingredients into the whisked egg whites (carefully so as to not lose too much volume).
  5. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  6. In a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, cook the mixture until slightly thick 20-25 minutes. This will yield a thicker batter that won’t flatten out in the oven.
  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake the cookies at 300 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until dry on the outside and still slightly moist and chewy on the inside.

note: These cookies are perfect gifts for the upcoming holiday season. Pretty packaging for these cookies is a must, though.

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a working blogger’s meal

Post-graduation life is just not the same. No more midday naps nor staying up all night with friends. These days I’m glad if I make it to happy hour and back in time for a good night’s sleep. I used to make fun of a recently-graduated friend of mine by calling him abuelito (grandpa in Spanish) because he would go to bed at a reasonable hour. I’m sure this is karma’s way of poking fun at me.

One thing I don’t skimp on though, despite my lack of time, is the food I eat during the week. Instead of procrastinating on the blog some more, I thought I would write about a typical workweek meal and throw in some of my cooking mantras, too.

mise en place
mise en place

First of all, I really do mise en place for every meal. Even if I prep all my ingredients on the same cutting board to avoid a sink full of dirty dishes, I do mise en place. Why? Mostly out of habit, but also because it makes the actual cooking process more enjoyable and less stressful. Trust me, nothing is worse than being in the middle of cooking a wonderful meal and realizing you added salt to bananas foster instead of sugar. It’s even worse to try to fix the horrible mistake by adding tons of sugar to an already ruined bananas foster. It’s happened to me. So, yes, prep all your ingredients beforehand.

Last week I discovered a bunch of overly ripe figs in my fridge that I had purchased at the farmer’s market a couple weeks prior. As you can tell by their wrinkly appearance, they were beyond sweet and perfect to contrast against something salty, say, like blue cheese. I don’t believe food needs to be complicated in order to taste great. Food needs to be balanced and well seasoned. The flavors need to strike that perfect note in your mouth. Figs, rosemary, and blue cheese are three ingredients that form one of the classic culinary chords. I paired these ingredients into a homemade fig jam and used it as a stuffing for a delicious butterflied pork loin.

a perfect pairing: pork, figs, rosemary and blue cheese
pork filling

For this dish, I threw some figs, rosemary and red wine in a small sauce pan and let it cook down for almost an hour. You don’t have to stand over your pot while the sauce reduces for an hour. I let the sauce do its thing and in the mean time I do other things: snack in the kitchen, pour a glass of wine, and unwind.

grill marks = flavor
sear the tenderloin

Never skip a good sear. Not only will it give the meat a head start before going into the oven, but it forms a nice crust that protects the meat from drying out on you. Sear the meat on all sides over the highest heat possible. Then it goes into a 400 degree oven until the meat reaches 160-170 degrees F or is opaque throughout and juices have a faint blush. 

rosemary, fig & blue cheese pork tenderloin
rosemary, fig & blue cheese pork tenderloin

This meal lasted me for a few lunches at work. I alternated it with sides of wild rice, garlic roasted potatoes, and mashed potatoes to keep my lunches interesting.

Fig & Blue Cheese Pork Tenderloin

approx. 6 servings

Components

  • 1 pork loin, butterflied
  • 1/2 glass of wine
  • 10-12 figs, quartered
  • 1/2 lb blue cheese, crumbled 
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • olive oil, extra virgin
  • salt & pepper

Putting them all together

  1. In a small saucepan coated with olive oil, sweat the shallot and the garlic until translucent.
  2. Add the figs, wine, chopped rosemary and seasoning and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until it has reached a thick paste consistency and allow the paste to cool.*
  3. Season the butterflied pork loin and line with fig paste and crumbled blue cheese. Tie the loin around the filling and sear on all sides.
  4. Finish cooking the loin in a 400 degree oven until it has reached 160-170 degrees F or the meat is opaque throughout and the juices are have a slight blush. 
  5. Allow the meat to rest for 7-10 minutes covered by a sheet of aluminum foil before slicing.  

notes: You can use dried figs and cook the fig paste for less time (this is what I most often do, in fact). Depending on the thickness of your meat, the cooking time will vary. Mine finished in the oven after 15 minutes, but a thermometer or the color of the meat is the best way to gauge proper doneness. 

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