Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

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Simple Pleasures. (ENDIVE SALAD)

June 12, 2010

‘Simple pleasure’ surely means different things to different people. It’s a sort of Hallmark-y title for a post, which is not my usual style, but there are reasons the phrase stuck. I have reasons. Simple: nothing more than a knife was needed to create this dish. It took about five minutes total. I used only the tiniest of cutting boards, leading to tiny clean-up. Six ingredients, all ready-to-eat, created a perfect flavor balance, but that is getting into pleasure. Pleasure: flawless local strawberries and a craving for slightly bitter endive that looked great at the supermarket. It was a coincidence that the perfect cheese to go with the salad was in my fridge, capra (goat) cheese infused with honey, and coincidences bring me great pleasure. Magical ingredient crema di balsamico* on top of my favorite arbequina Spanish olive oil….and the peppermill was full (refilling that thing can be so annoying), the opportunity to stop for a minute and share a bitter and sweet salad with my dear friend, all added up to aforementioned sappy phrase. Please refer to title.

ENDIVE SALAD, STRAWBERRIES and CREMA DI BALSAMICO

Serves 2.

2 heads Belgian endive

1 large handful of strawberries, hulled and sliced

2 tablespoons good olive oil

6 turns of the peppermill

2 generous drizzles of crema di balsamico*

1/4 cup (approximately) soft goat cheese with or without a drizzle of honey stirred in

  • Peel one layer of outer leaves from endive and discard (they are usually bruised slightly).
  • Chop the endive crosswise into one inch pieces and separate the leaves with your fingers. Divide leaves between two plates.
  • Top salads with strawberries and drizzle with olive oil. Three turns of the peppermill over each plate, or to taste.
  • Decorate with cream di balsamico and drop cheese on top in haphazard chunks.

*Crema di balsamico is a delicious sweet-tart vinegar product which is made by a reduction of balsamic vinegar and Trebbiano grape must. Trebbiano grapes are the variety used in making balsamic vinegar and must refers to the pressed juice of the entire grape; skin, seeds and stems included. The result is a thick smooth liquid that needs no help in enhancing the flavors of cured meats, cheeses, fruit or vegetables. It can be used all alone as a glaze, dressing or garnish…a great secret weapon to have on hand. Available online or, if you’re local where I’m local, at Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market.

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Pizza heaven is near. (ARTICHOKE PIZZA)

March 28, 2010

Artichoke Basille’s Pizza & Brewery 328 East 14th Street , NYC  •  (212) 228-2004.

This is what I have done on various occasions, I have forced friends and loved ones to walk blocks -many blocks- out of their way for a slice of this stuff. In snow or rain, in inebriation or in just plain hunger, bringing someone important in my life to the gates of pizza heaven and then pushing them inside, o the happy joy! The authentic deliciousness of Artichoke is why, at any given moment of the night or day, there are straggles of people on 14th street lapping food off of paper plates or worse yet, massive, squirming lines waiting to eat. There is no inside seating, just a couple of counters, there is no long and useless menu, just four kinds of pizza. Perfect, delicious, unbelievable pizza in varieties like regular, Sicilian, crab and artichoke.

The first one I sampled was the namesake artichoke slice and it was kind of like eating a sofa. Pillowy and the wrong kind of chewy, full of heavy white ingredients like cream and ricotta with this big doughy crust, etc. And, while I was eating (outside the joint) some kids walked by and one of the kids was especially freaking out, yelling at people for eating this ‘burnt-ass’ rip-off pizza. He was really upset. He emphatically taunted pizza eaters his whole way to the corner. I felt  it was his right as a New Yorker to go into a tirade about his pizza opinion, but I can’t help but hope he gives it another chance, as I did.

Next time(s) around I avoided the artichoke and went for any of the other varieties and quickly, deeply have fallen in love. These Staten Island boys have figured out the oven type/temp and the ace recipe to produce the perfect cragged crust, bathed in perfect amounts of oil (which actually render your paper plate transparent) and an amazing, assertive red sauce, so hard to find but so obvious when you do that it’s nostalgic even. Toppings of  good salty cheese and fresh basil leaves make the combination of ingredients and textures attract and repel like two S.I. cousins out on a Saturday night. For reals.

So what if there’s a huge line, that’s what makes it extra-special when it’s all yours. So what if is three bucks fifty, slices are huge and I have had $4 slices in much worse places (sorry that NYC thinks it’s so special these days). Artichoke is open late and it produces righteous pizza. Makes me realize it’s high time I started to make up for all the mediocre stuff I’ve eaten over the years.  The shop is conveniently located on 14th Street just east of 1st Ave, I dare myself to avoid it when I am within a 10 block radius and I can’t (unless there is above-illustrated line). It really comes down to the fact that I love pizza because pizza, like few other things, even when it’s bad…it’s still kinda good. And when it’s great, it’s mind-blowing.

Sicilian.

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Baking, mad to glad. (PIGNOLI COOKIES)

May 20, 2009

pinoli_baked

Baking has always been frustrating to me. It seems especially annoying if there is any sort of time constraint on the project, and in this town there is always some sort of time constraint… even on days filed as ‘leisure’. Take for example the single day I interned in a pastry kitchen, I botched not just a small batch of custard, but in haste wasted a week’s worth of the stuff by accidentally adding dozens and dozens of eggs at the wrong time. I felt horrid! I don’t take kindly to botching up in the kitchen and I really really really abhor wasting ingredients. This is why baking and I don’t get along, there are just too many places for irreparable error and that ain’t cool.

For the most part I leave pastry to the patient ones and once in a while, just to get my hands dirty, I make something sweet…but not without much cursing and drama. I have a small collection of great dessert recipe that I can actually handle. I stick to those and people don’t realize that I am a fumbling intern when it comes to your birthday cake, some holiday cookies or the finishing touch on a five-course meal. The criterion of these recipes is: delicious, easy and foolproof little numbers that don’t make me bang my head against the wall. Simple. In a recent mission to complete one of these desserts I, of course, got to the part where you stick the blobs of dough on the sheet pan and realized that I should have halved the recipe (but didn’t) because I only started with a half quantity of the main ingredient. Classic!

The cookies were a traditional Italian bakery almond paste and pine nut confection often called pignoli cookies, pignoli being the Italian word for pine nut. They have very few ingredients, most of which are costly, and the resulting cookie is a soft, sweet fragnipane filling encased in toasty, crisped pine nuts that just pop pop pop when you eat these addictive things. The main ingredient is canned almond paste/filling, not to be confused with the kind in a tube which will not work for this recipe. The price of an 8-10 ounce can of almond paste is usually $7 or higher, not to mention pricey pine nuts. The recipe called for two (8 oz.) cans. I had one 10 oz. can, I figured by reducing the other ingredients by half everything would work out.

For a minute it seemed like baking and I were making nice as I dropped the ingredients into the food processor and buzzed my way to a nice, thick dough. But somewhere in there I forgot that I was using less almond paste and proceeded to use the full amount of everything else. Bad, bad. Bad Ori! The terror set in when I was scooping out the dough and realized it was a little stickier than I remembered from pignoli cookies past. I buried my frustration in a couple of deep breaths and instead of flinging the sheet pan across the kitchen, I crossed my fingers and continued to conscientiously pat pine nuts onto each little mound.

The result was the best batch of pignoli cookies I have made so far. By reducing the almond paste, they were a little less cloying and slightly firmer than before, yet perfectly pillowy. I was able to save a little money by using only one can of almond paste and still get a higher yield of cookies because of the ingredient stretch. It’s a double-acting baking miracle that a mistake turns into a new recipe, and I despise baking a little less too.

PIGNOLI COOKIES
(adapted from Epicurious.com)
1 (10-oz) can almond paste
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons mild honey
1 cup pine nuts (5 oz.)

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  • Pulse the almond paste in a food processor until broken up into small bits, then add confectioners sugar and salt. Continue to pulse until finely ground, about 1 minute.
  • Add in egg whites and honey, process until smooth.
  • Alternatively, use a hand beater or just a wooden spoon and some muscle to incorporate all of the ingredients into a smooth batter.
  • Using two spoons, place 1 1/2-inch rounds (about 1 inch apart) onto parchment-covered baking sheets. They can look sloppy (see below), you will have a chance to shape them better when topping with nuts.
  • Sprinkle each cookie with pine nuts and gently press them into the dough to form a nut-covered dome (see photo above).
  • Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 15 minutes.
  • Slide parchment with cookies on it onto racks to cool completely, then peel cookies from parchment. Once cooled, store airtight in between fresh pieces of parchment.
  • Makes about 3 dozen.

pignoli_cookies2

These cookies are awesome.