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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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This post will be a short one. My go-to pasta salad is, admittedly, not an original production. I was compelled to back-engineer it after having a similar dish during a catered lunch in 2009 that was held in honor of someone who I didn’t know who was retiring from a position at an organization that gave me an internship that I had just started. Run-on sentence? Maybe. However, the original salad was so incredibly delicious that after eating two servings, I found myself hoarding an entire plate of it in my cubicle after the party, feverishly dissecting and analyzing the ingredient list so that I could somehow possess its power.

However, after only three variations, I managed to essentially piece the original dish together. The ingredient list is deceptively small, the actual preparation is very easy, and this salad is honestly the easiest go-to recipe I have. So easy, I didn’t even take any pictures. It doesn’t really need any pictures, outside of the finished product. Just follow the directions. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of orzo
  • 2 – 3 carrots, peeled
  • 1 large apple (firm and tart, granny smith never goes wrong)
  • Handful of curly parsley (DO NOT substitute with flat-leaf parsley in this case)
  • 2/3 cup (approx.) of cashews, either whole or pieces
  • 1/2 cup (approx.) of dried cranberries
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Boil orzo in a large pot of salted water. Because the pasta is so small, it should only take about 5 minutes or so.
  2. Mix the butter and olive oil with the cooked orzo well. Allow the pasta to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
  3. Grate the peeled carrots with a medium-sized grater (larger than what you would use for your parmesan, but the actual size isn’t terribly important).
  4. Dice the apple into relatively small pieces, but like the carrots, size is approximate.
  5. Finely mince the parsley, small as you can make it. Curly parsley will essentially fall apart after you mince it enough, which is important, because you want small pieces! Flat-leaf parsley just gets all sticky and gross.
  6. Toss the parsley, carrot, apple, cashews, and cranberries with the cooled orzo.

 

Interracial love begets the best offspring.

Daddy was pasta and mommy was rice. Or the other way around. Either way, orzo is so fucking multicultural.

This in, in my humble opinion, a great example of a perfect salad. Simple ingredients come together and make something so much more than the sum of themselves.

– Max.

Delicious as a roasted sauce is, sometimes it’s just not feasible to spend 3 to 4 hours preparing and cooking a gang of tomatoes. I’ll just have to wait to be somebody’s grandfather to spend all day in the kitchen / on the couch napping. However, pulling together a quick and flavorful sauce is easy and, let’s be honest, sometimes quick and easy is all we really want.  The following is my standard procedure and parts lists for when I use crushed or diced canned tomatoes, but this still being the season for fresh, I substituted the standard 28-ounce can of the red stuff for roughly a pound and a half of fat, ripe orange tomatoes.

The only slightly technical part of making this sauce involved blanching. This process is used to remove the skin from any soft-fleshed fruit or vegetable (tomatoes, peaches, etc.) and is much less daunting to execute than it seems. For ease of use, I’ll explain everything simply and also use pictures to demonstrate. I know you really just want to look at the pictures anyway.

Blanching Your Tomatoes

  1. Put a pot of water on to boil. There must be enough water to submerge the tomatoes, but since we’ll be boiling pasta later (using the same water), use whatever pot you would use for boiling pasta.
  2. Fill a large bowl with cold water and a few cups of ice (also called an “ice bath”).
  3. Cut a shallow “X” in the bottom of each tomato. This will allow the water get underneath the tomato skins.

    Don't cut deep. Be all gentle-like.

    Tomatoes before blanching. Yellow = mo betta.

  4. Place tomatoes in boiling water (this is the actual blanch) and allow to cook for no more than 90 seconds (we’re not cooking the tomatoes yet!). Remove the tomatoes when you see the skin splitting from the “X” up the sides.
  5. Place tomatoes in ice bath for about a minute. Notice how the skins will shrivel and shrink around the meat of the tomatoes.

    Wrinkled like your grandfather's...face.

    The shrinking is kind of like Botox. Except in reverse. Or something.

  6. Remove peel with you hands, being careful not to smush the softer inner meat of the tomatoes.  

    STOP STARING. THEY'RE NAKED.

    Post-blanch, revealing the soft inner flesh.

That’s honestly the hardest part of the whole process. Blanching, as mentioned before, is also good for things like peaches, various nuts with skins like peanuts, almonds, and pistachios, and also small onions. It’s one of those small steps that is worth the little amount of effort required, as it makes a big difference in a finished dish. To finish, carefully slice and dice the newly-naked tomatoes and set aside.

The red Ikea cutting board makes the color even more INTENSE.

Blanched, sliced, and diced.

Now on to the sauce! In a wide pot or sauté pan (flat bottom, straight sides), add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some sliced, not minced, garlic. The larger pieces will have less bite and fire than minced garlic, and will get sweeter as a sauce cooks. Set the pot / pan over medium low heat and allow the garlic to take on just a bit of color over the next 5-7 minutes.

Olive oil and garic = Everything important in life.

Toasted, golden, and just barely brown around the edges.

After the garlic is golden (but not dark!), add onion and pepper. I happened to have what is called a “long hot,” or essentially the red version of the green poblano pepper, which gave the sauce a gentle heat and removed my usual addition of crushed red pepper flakes. Allow this to cook for at least 5 minutes as well, and enjoy as your kitchen is perfumed with the wonderful aromatics.

Aromatics getting sexy.

Breathe deep, and smell the old country.

Once the aromatics are soft and fragrant, you can go ahead and add the tomato (fresh or, if not summer, canned). However, if you have another 10 minutes to spare, you can allow the aromatics to keep cooking, developing deeper flavors and bringing out their natural sugars. Either way, once the tomatoes go in, allow everything to cook for about 10 minutes, during which time the tomatoes will break down, some of the water will cook out, and the flavors will get to know each other a little bit.

Yeah, definitely would be red.

Note: canned tomatoes will probably be red.

To finish, give the sauce a taste. Add some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and some crushed red pepper flakes if you want some heat.  If you’re using canned tomatoes, I recommend at least a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acidity. For herbs, I just tore some fresh leaves of basil and stirred them in after I turned the heat off of the sauce, but oregano and parsley would be great too.

Shakespeare was a big fan of tomatoes. I think.

5 minutes later, and thou havest sauce.

Ingredients 

  • One standard 28-ounce can of diced (or crushed) low-sodium tomatoes OR about 1.5 pounds of fresh tomatoes, blanched and diced (see directions above)
  • 4 – 6 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • Fresh basil, parsley, and/or oregano (but definitely fresh basil. dried oregano is okay, too.)
  • Crushed red pepper flake (optional)
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil

Procedure

  1. Slice the garlic into thin rounds and add to a cold pan with 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Gently cook the garlic over medium-low heat until just barely toasted / golden, about 4 – 5 minutes.
  2. Add the onion and pepper, boost the heat to medium, and season with a big pinch of kosher salt. Cook for at least 5 minutes stirring often. If a sweeter and deeper flavor is desired, continue cooking for up to 12 – 15 minutes. JUST DON’T BURN YOUR SHIT.
  3.  Stir in the tomatoes and allow to cook, still over medium heat, for another 5 minutes, or until tomatoes soften and a sauce begins to form.
  4. Finish sauce with fresh herbs and . Add seasoning to taste. Add sugar, in small increments, to cut the acidity. Add crushed red pepper flake if desired.

    That Ikea table is getting a lot of camera time.

    Paired with tortellini LIKE A BOSS.

– Max.

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