Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pesto a Presto

I love leftovers.  Really, I do.  While many meals are at their best the moment they leave the saute, some dishes are just better the second day.  Flavors have had a chance to settle in and get to know each other... the overnight marinade in the fridge can do wonders for depth.

Last week, Mia Bambina and I made some pesto.  It is summer after all, and if you have read my previous 'summer related' post, you know nothing spells summer to me like the smell of fresh basil.  So last Tuesday, we made a double batch of pesto- just basic stuff, the way I like it: garlic, oil, basil, cheese, garlic, and cheese.  I used some of it to dress a pound and a half of spaghetti (al dente... niiiice... ) and made a dish with a nice salad.  I almost always make a double batch... pesto is so versatile, I use it in alot of things.  This particular batch was to be part of some pizza I planned to make on Friday night.  However, due to some longer than expected working hours and the excessively high local temperature, I decided not to heat up the oven (and house) to 450deg.  I ate some cold beet salad (see my previous post), had a cocktail, and watched some Olympic updates.

Fast forward to Sunday morning... home from Mass and hungry... coffee to start (American variety... over ice) and then a few minutes looking at the fridge.  What to do... what to do.  Then... inspiration hit.  I had some spaghetti al pesto left over from a few nights back.  Now, I know what you're thinking... 5 days... but A)I hate throwing food out- Gramma Connie always said it is a sin to waste food and B) the macaroni was already coated and preserved by the oil in the pesto, so it was probably going to be fine... probably.  So I took out the spaghetti, the bowl of pesto, and the container of eggs.  A little history: ever since I was a little Guinea, small enough to duck under the turnstiles on the 5 train at 161st St (Yankee Stadium of course), my Gramps has been making frittata with leftover spaghetti.  I do too, actually.  Aglio olio leftovers with some scrambled eggs is one of my favorites- all that flavor and such a great texture.

I started out thinking I was going to go that route again.  And then I thought about turning the oven on again, waiting for it to heat up, waiting for it to cook... no... non mi piace questa idea.  It was already warming up outside and, besides, with what was left in the bowl, I would need at least six eggs to make it work.  This is where the inspiration came in... adapt to your environment and change things up a little...  Big smile on my face as I started formulating the plan in my capatosta... a little water in the pan and over the big burner to boil it fast.  Boiling? Ok- macaroni in, a big spoon of pesto on top and, as the macaroni starts to heat up, I began tossing to mix it in.  Now... here comes the Johnny Tomatoes adaptation: I cracked an egg and carefully laid it on top of the spaghetti.  I dropped the heat down a little lower and covered it.  Then I walked away for a few minutes...

I pulled the cover and looked... it seemed like what I had in mind... I was just hoping I hadn't cooked the egg too long.  Only one way to find out I guess.  I gave the pan a shake and slid the nest of spaghetti out onto a plate, the poached egg sitting gently on the top of the pile.  I hit the whole thing with a snowstorm of Pecorino Romano and contemplated what was in front of me.  I was really hoping the yolk was still soft... not that it would be ruined, I mean a good dish of macaroni is what it is...

I cut into the egg and was rewarded with a golden yolk flowing into the macaroni.  It looked great... I had a tough time wiping the smile from my face.  I didn't make it over to sit down... I leaned back against the counter and started eating.  I really started to feel giddy... almost giggling as I ate.  It was that good.  As I picked up forkfuls of pasta, the white was breaking up of its own accord.  The yolk, already broken, had run down into the macaroni.  When I had a taste of the yolk coating the spaghetti, the mellow flavor worked so well with the basil and garlic and cheese that was already there... the texture was great too, a rich and creamy facet to an already great dish.  I have been looking for an opportunity to recreate... looks like pesto will be on the menu next week too!

I have actually been turning this over in my head, trying to figure out what gave me the idea.  I think it may have been Uove in Pergatorio... I will have to cook that up again and tell you all about it.  This was a great one though.  Can't wait till I get some more leftovers to have it again.  The flavors, the texture... you should definitely try this one.  'Cause Johnny Tomatoes says so!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rising Like a Phoenix from the Flames

Pardon me... is this blog taken? Hello my friends; sorry to have been away for so long... I suppose that sometimes things just are what they are... Hope you have all been well.

Now, let's get down to business.

Sitting on the cusp of summer, the flame reference seemed only too appropriate (the Phoenix has another more poignant meaning; I may get into that one day). So... the heat... Last night was no exception. A little more than warm and a little less than hot last night when I finally got home. Didn't seem like a great day for heating the oven up if it could be avoided. The grill was a nice option to have and it took care of part of the dinner (I ran a few zucchini through the mandolin and then grilled with some olive oil... perfetto!)
But I had been thinking about the beets that came from the local farmers earlier this week. I really wanted to try them and I had a fair idea of how I wanted to prep them. So, after Mia Bambina was kind enough to roast them (and peel, cube, and refrigerate them) I went about finishing the beets for the table. I toasted a handful of walnut halves in a pan on the stove. I added these and a handful of feta to a bowl with the beets and let them rest a little. The nuts were still warm and helped to soften the cheese. I was thinking about what to dress them with... I wanted something to foil the sweetness of the beets, but not quite as sharp as the feta. I settled on a little bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar... simple, easy. I added just a couple of tablespoons over the top and tossed it a bit. The result was just about exactly what I was hoping for. The beets were tender and sweet, still had a little chill on them too. The walnuts, still a little warm, had nearly blended themselves with the feta and made great little clumps of flavor and texture. The cross over of the warm with the cold was as important as the sweet and sharp foiling each other. The balsamic vinegar added just the right amount of flavor: complementing but not overpowering. All in all, I was very happy with the dish for a first attempt. I think next time I may fill it out a little more. More beets for sure and I think it would go well with a nice bunch of arugula... Can't help quoting one of my favorites here, from "My Blue Heaven":  

     Vincent 'Vinnie' Antonelli: Arugula. I haven't had arugula in six weeks.  
     Supermarket Manager: What's that?  
     Vincent 'Vinnie' Antonelli: It's a vegetable.

So.. there you go... easing back into things with a nice cold side of vegetables, light enough to accompany almost anything you may be putting on the table.  I promise to come back with it again after I try it with the arugula.  In the meantime, give it a try. I am sure you'll love it.
'Cause Johnny Tomatoes says so!!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Coulda knocked me over with a feather...

I am constantly amazed by the widely varied areas that are home to visitors of my blog (though so few of you say hi... )

I often get a smile out of the different Google searches that lead here too.

Tune in soon paisans and paisanas... I have a couple in the basket almost ready for you.

Johnny T

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Capisce Caprese??

I love the heat I have been taking out here... sun has been beating down on my San Marzanos getting them good and sweet. While I am a carnivore by nature, one of my all time favorite dishes for a hot summer night is a little fresh mozz and tomatoes. I usually leave the mozz in the freezer for about a half hour before I cut it- slicing is a lot easier and cleaner. Then I go to work on some big juicy tomatoes. Even if I'm making them for nobody but myself, I can't help but alternate the red and white in a line around the edge of the plate... to me, it is just the way it has to be... I like to get the whole plate covered and then I slice up some basil and scatter it across the top- one of the chefs I used to work for always yelled at me about that-"You're gonna brooze dem leaves up kid!!"- but I like a little basil in every bite and this is the best way I know how. Then, a little salt and fresh black pepper, a turn of the Fillipo Berio bottle around the plate and a splash of good balsamic vinegar.

This is one of the best summer dishes... satisfies the salt and sweet cravings and is nice and light for the hot weather. Plus, good for a Friday night when you're taking the non- carnivore route. The smell and taste of this always puts me in mind of summer... I know what it is too- its the basil, that sweet,smooth smell of basil always screams 'SUMMER!!!"

The smell of basil always does it for me... some people like fresh cut grass, others figure its the first crack of the bat in the Bronx... but for me, it will always be the basil. I used to walk home down 79th Street from Utrecht after I got off the M train. There was a guy who lived about half way down... he didn't have much of a yard, it was maybe five feet square. But it was just enough room for Our Lady on the halfshell and a forest of basil... I used to breathe extra deep as I walked down that block and always on his side of the street. One day I struck gold... on the way home one hot afternoon, I passed during the middle of a harvest... I expressed my appreciation for what he had done and I was duly rewarded for my honesty and developed sense of "The Good Stuff". My new friend was not pleased until I was walking down the street with my over-sized mitts each grasping as much basil as I could carry.

That night, many pignole nuts gave their lives so I could make the best batch of pesto ever... enough for two nights of dinner and still a generous amount to put in the freezer, to be used a spoonful at a time in soup, on pizza, and even striped across the top of a fritata.

Fresh cut grass is good if you're in the country and the Yanks will always be aces in my book, but if you want something you can only get in the summer, it has to be the basil... each and every time. 'Cause Johnny Tomatoes says so!!