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pennoni dressed with cold-pressed olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, and traditional gremolata

pennoni dressed with cold-pressed olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, and traditional gremolata

Boiling yourself some pasta on a weeknight is hardly a new idea, and certainly not some gourmet shit. However, its also one of those go-to meal ideas that can easily be brought up from depressing to delicious with a few simple steps. Good pasta, with a few adornments, doesn’t always need sauce (delicious though some tomato sauces may be).
 

WORTH IT:

  • Cold-pressed olive oil, which preserves the fruity and grassy flavors of the olives. Used for dipping, dressings, and finishing, never for frying chicken breasts.
  • Real parmigiano reggiano, not the shit in a green can, and not the cheap store-brand imitation. Look for the dimpled, capitalized lettering on the rind that spells out “parmigiano reggiano.” The flavor is nutty, creamy, salty, and slightly sharp. Eat it on your pasta. Eat it on some bread. Eat it with cured meats. Eat it with a fork.
  • Imported dried pasta or freshly-made noodles may seem unreasonably expensive compared to a box of Barilla, but when your goal is to appreciate the subtle nuances of wholesome, traditional ingredients, the same goes for your pasta as well.

But remember: sometimes there’s just no replacing Annie’s mac and cheese. Or Kraft, I guess, if you’re a total sucker.

~~~~~

Gremolata is designed specifically to be added to a dish right before eating, often times to liven the flavor of long-cooking roasts of meat. However, the bright, pungent, acidic hit is fantastic over pasta. The traditional recipe goes as follows:

  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • Handful of parsley (flat-leaf, if possible), minced
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Squeeze of juice from lemon, just to bring the mixture together

Simply mix and sprinkle over whatever needs a punch of flavor. In addition to pasta, try it over bread with some of that wonderful cheese and cured meat, or on some roasted vegetables after they’ve come out of the oven. The basic formula of aromatic (garlic, or even onion) + herb (parsley) + citrus  (lemon, zest and juice) is incredibly flexible. Here’s my short list (which I’ve tried and love):

  • garlic + thyme + lemon + orange on roasted chicken (especially good with some dark meat and a piece of crispy skin)
  • garlic + red onion + cilantro + lime on avocado slices with toasted bread
  • garlic + onion + parsley + lemon on ripe tomato slices = deconstructed bruschetta (also good on bread)

I’m bound to get all weird with this concept, so I’m sure I’ll have more ideas sometime soon. Something Asian, perhaps? That sounds like it could be promising…

– Max.

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During my formative cooking years, hummus was one of my standbys. It was the sole reason I used my family’s food processor, and boy did I spin up a whole lot of chickpeas. It was, and remains to this day, one of my favorite examples of a dish that is easy to make and superior to any packaged product on sale in the refrigerated section. However, I always found processed chickpeas to smell slightly funky and metallic, not surprising given that they are canned beans, and the texture never quite smooth enough.

One of the few things Jews and Arabs can agree on.

Meatheads, come and get your lean protein.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces dried chickpeas (about 1.5 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup tahini (or same amount of a sesame paste equivalent, explained below)
  • Juice of one large lemon (or two small)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
  • Reserved cooking liquid (explained below)

Procedure

  1. Soak. Put 8 ounces of chickpeas in a large container and cover with 4 – 5 cups of water and allow to soak overnight. (Note: for extra-soft skins, add 1 tsp. of baking soda). In the a.m., kiss the chickpeas good morning and make them some eggs. Also, rinse chickpeas and recover with another 4 – 5 cups of water and allow to soak for another few hours or until you are ready to cook.

    Picture can also be used as an after and before shot of Lindsay Lohan.

    Before and after shot of a sample chickpea. Note the immense and uncontrollable swelling.

  2. Simmer. Pour chickpeas and water into a pot and bring to a boil. Note: DO NOT add salt, as salted water won’t allow the beans to soften. Once rolling, lower heat and keep at an aggressive simmer (or limp boil, whichever you like) for 1 to 1.5 hours or until chickpeas are just soft and mash-able. Skim any foam and/or loose skins from the pot while cooking with a spoon, or if you’re Vin Diesel, your bare hand.

    We should probably recommend that Lohan keep away from this process.

    It's like a spa for beans. You know, a bean spa.

  3. Drain. Before draining chickpeas in a colander, reserve a cup or so of the cooking liquid to thin the hummus later. Do not drink this water, as it will taste like hot tea brewed from dried beans. Allow chickpeas to cool while you gather / prepare the other ingredients.
  4. Process.
    1. Spin garlic into rough mince.

      Note: do not insert face directly into food processor.

      Don't overspin the garlic, lest it not blend properly in the finished product

    2. Add chickpeas, run processor until relatively smooth.

      Given the steamy beans, do insert face into food processor and enjoy skin conditioning.

      They're all screaming, "YAY! Blend us into a smooth purée!" It's because they love the pain.

    3. Scrape down the bowl and process again briefly until smooth.

      When it looks like mashed potatoes, you know they're blended well enough.

      See how happy they are now? I told you they love the pain.

    4. Add tahini (clearly, i went for a substitute) and lemon juice and spin until very smooth.

      Hummus will taste a bit more roasty/nutty, which is okay be me. Also, tahini is like 8 bucks a jar in Manhattan.

      Duane Reade tahini. C'mon, they sell it everywhere! Okay, it's creamy peanut butter.

    5. With machine running, drizzle in olive oil and season hummus. If purée is thick, add some of the reserved liquid while the machine is on. Note: the hummus will thicken as it cools, so it should look a bit thin at first

      Again, not for drinking.

      Add reserved cooking liquid to the tune of at least 1/4 cup, and let the machine spin for a while to ensure an extra-smooth hummus.

  5. Chill.  Allow hummus to cool in the refrigerator (it definitely tastes better after it has a chance to cool down.)

Are dried chickpeas really better than canned? Absolutely. The texture is much finer and the taste is clean. But isn’t the long soak a total bitch, you ask? Not really, as long as you don’t stand and monitor the chickpeas every 10 minutes. Hell, i put them under water after a night of drinking, which attests to the user friendliness. The same goes for the stovetop cook — I essentially ignored the pot for an hour and a half and needed to skim the water only twice.

Stays tuned for a second installment, wherein I grill chicken breast, toast pita chips, and prepare a salad to complete my hummus odyssey. Note: it’s real good.

– Max.

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