MoM Aug. ‘08 Tastes of Italia: Bowtie Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Gorgonzola…and the devil was dill

Since Miss Macchiato already stole all the good recipes from this issue I settled on this one, which I was pretty excited about.  Smoked salmon, gorgonzola, capers and dill, what’s not to love?  Here is the recipe all typed out in long-hand because they aren’t on their website meh!

Bowtie Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Gorgonzola
1/2 lb bowtie pasta
3 T oilve oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
12 oz diced smoked salmon
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup capers
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup gorgonzola
2 T chopped walnuts
1 t lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh dill

Drain the pasta, then add it back to the cooking pot, combining with the sauce and reserved 1/2 cup water.   Cook gently on medium 3 to 4 minutes or until water is absorbed and sauce is creamy.  Remove, add lemon zest, dill and salt and pepper to taste.

To make sauce, heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high.  Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.   Add salmon, brandy, capers and tomato sauce and cook for 3 minutes.  Stir in cheese and walnuts and cook for 1 minute.   Remove from heat.

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.  Remove 1/2 cup water from pasta when done and set aside.

So here is the money shot of the ingredients:

You’ll notice those are real smoked salmon pieces there, not that lousy pink stuff!  You’ll also notice there is a bottle of port there and no brandy.  I personally hate buying booze for recipes, and since I rarely drink I decided to use port instead.  Which I think was a fine substitution since port is a fortified wine and has brandy in it.  Or maybe I’m making that part up.  I just like port.

Could have stopped right there and just sat down with a fork, but that is probably because the salmon at this point looks like ham.  Which would have probably made it turn out better, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Next I put in the walnuts and the lovely lovely cheese.

The sauce at this point was getting nice and creamy, and I was excited to see that the pasta cooks with the sauce for a bit to bind it up.  And the final product:

Got to be a winner, right?  I mean just look at that!  Well no.  There was something wrong in this dish, something horribly wrong.  Well ok maybe not horribly  wrong because we ate all of it.  But there was something in this dish that really clashed with the rich earthiness of the gorgonzola sauce.  That’s right, it was the dill.  Maybe it would have worked better if I had used a “lesser” smoked salmon (perish the thought!) but as it was the dill just smashed it’s way all over everything WHICH IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS DILL!!

“I think pickles are cucumbers that sold out. They sold their soul to the devil, and the devil was dill.”
-Mitch Hedberg

~Citizen Chef

Weeknight Cooking: Orecchiette with Salsa Cruda and Ricotta

I’m not opposed to a last-minute change of dinner plans, due to being swept up and away by an exciting new recipe. What can I say, I like the adventure. That’s why I put the “Recipe of the Day” in my reader. Every day, a new contender for my kitchen appears. While some of them can seem a little too outlandish for a weeknight dinner, once in a while, a gem arises.

Yesterday’s recipe did that to me, and I rushed out to the store to pick up the ingredients.

Oreccchiette with Salsa Cruda and Ricotta – photo courtesy of Epicurious

We’re nearing the end of the summer – it’s far too warm and I’m feeling far too lazy to cook up an elaborate meal that sticks to your ribs. If you have tomato plants and you’re looking for something to do with them, this is it.

Orecchiette with Salsa Cruda and Ricotta
1 medium shallot, minced
2 small garlic cloves, forced through a garlic press
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
1/3 cup coarsely chopped basil
1 pound dried orecchiette
3/4 cup ricotta (preferably fresh)

The term “salsa cruda” is claimed by both Mexican and Italian cooking and means, to both cuisines, “uncooked sauce.” Beyond that, they couldn’t be more different. For Mexican cuisine, it is pico de gallo. In Italian cuisine, it is uncooked sauce that is served over pasta. The only part of the dish that is actually cooked is the pasta itself.

Stir together all ingredients except pasta and ricotta in a large bowl with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Let stand, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.

Couldn’t be simpler. Or maybe it could if you threw some tomatoes at the wall with a handful of salt and went at it a la Willy Wonka’s lickable wallpaper. If you’re looking for something cleaner that requires a fork to eat, try the salsa cruda instead. Here’s a shot of the loveliness:

Back in the spring, Citizen Chef and I were both debating whether or not to buy some tomato plants. I didn’t, but the whole time I was making the salsa cruda, I wish I had. You’re looking at Tomatoes on the Vine in the bowl, and they were delicious, don’t get me wrong – but fresh tomatoes would have made this out of sight. If you’re growing tomatoes, pick a few and get chopping.

Now, you may think that this sounds like a boring topping, but let me assure you while the flavors of the garlic, basil, shallots, etc. are mingling together for 20-some minutes, something very special is happening. Even after 10 minutes you can stick your fork in there and get a taste of what’s going on – the flavors are melding together in a fresh array. It’s divine.

Meanwhile, cook orecchiette in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 qt water) until al dente.

Alton Brown sometimes refers to the little pastas that are shaped like an ear – the orecchiette is it. “Orecchio” literally means “ear” in Italian. They do look a little like ears, don’t they?

I had a hard time finding orecchiette. I guess I thought it odd because I hear it mentioned so much on food shows, so I assumed it was a little more common. If you needed, you could use pasta shells, but they are hardly the same consistency as the orecchiette. The orecchiette are thicker, and don’t have that ultra sleek and smooth processed consistency that a pasta shell has. Still, if you can find it, great, if not, use whatever you can get.

Drain pasta and toss with tomato salsa. Season with salt and pepper and dollop with ricotta.

Serve with a small loaf of bread and a side of garlic butter. Bon Appetito!

Pseudo News: Iron Chef Japan Sea Monster Week

Orli Ninjamaster is still trying to butter us up so that we’ll post all news of Iron Chef Japan. And I hate to say it, but it’s working.

If you recall from our first contact with Orli, we first suspected that he was a lowly paid intern, forced to surf the vast tubes of the internet in order to market Iron Chef Japan episodes. Later, he assured me this isn’t the case at all. He’s emailed a couple of times since then (as well as one of his coworkers – look out, he’s sending a vast marketing ninja army!), but I wasn’t able to post their stuff in time (sorry, guys). There’s something about the 360i Ninjamaster that I just like, so as long as he’s continuing to butter me up, I’m going to continue to post his pseudo-news alerts.

This coming week on the Fine Living Network, it’s Sea Monster Week on Iron Chef Japan!

Here’s why you should be excited about this: Aside from the Japanese Iron Chefs being certified culinary badasses, what makes the show even more interesting to the western world is their use of ingredients we would find tremendously bizarre. Forget yogurt, chocolate, and rabbit. Let’s hear it for OCTOPUS!

Orli gives us the lowdown:

Sea Monster Week starts off with Battle Octopus on Monday 8/18, then brings you Battle King Crab, Battle Giant Eel, and Battle Squid, before the formidable Battle Ashura Oyster on Friday 8/22 — every night on Fine Living at 8pm.

Now that I’ve been watching Iron Chef America for so long, going back and watching Iron Chef Japan is so bizarre. I had forgotten how different ICA is from the predecessor. First of all, I had forgotten that the commentator sits up with the judges, who talk all during the battle. That never bothered me until ICA tailored the commenting down to just Alton Brown and Kevin Brauch. ICA judges are known chefs, restaurateurs and foodies, with the occasional pseudo-celebrity thrown in for fun. What I had forgotten is that Iron Chef Japan had this panel of people who didn’t seem to have anything to do with food – they were all models, actors, palm readers, etc. There’s one particular actress on Iron Chef Japan that they keep inviting back, and I don’t know why they let her open her mouth. Some of the tasty tidbits she will say during a battle will be along the lines of, “Oh, what are they doing… I think they’re going to cook it!” Also, she pretty much repeats whatever the previous person said. Verbatim.

What I do love about the original show is that the battles were so intense, the ingredients were so off the wall, and it was just so very Japanese. I mean, check out that photo above. They could be a cabaret… or possibly the Village People. Also, it’s Masaharu Morimoto as a budding chef.

Oh and, speaking of Morimoto, he appeared recently on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” trip to Japan. I’d recommend that one for your DVR as well. So there you go, the latest on Iron Chef Japan.

Thanks for the news, Orli. If you really want to keep buttering us up, send some readers our way who will see your shameless plugs.

Allez! Cuisine!

MoM Aug. ’08 Tastes of Italia: Pizza with Gorgonzola, Sundried Tomatoes and Walnuts

Recently I had a shindig to attend, and I wanted to bring a little something to share. I opted for something out of this month’s magazine selection, Tastes of Italia. It was met with overall acceptance: Those who love the pungent flavor of Gorgonzola loved it, while those who weren’t sure what they were getting into were a bit conflicted.

I was surprised at how many people had never eaten Gorgonzola cheese before. In case you happen to be one of them, let’s get nerdy with some Gorgonzola cheese facts from Wikipedia.

Gorgonzola is a veined Italian blue cheese, made from unskimmed cow’s milk. It can be buttery or firm, crumbly and quite salty, with a ‘bite’ from its blue veining. It has been made since the early Middle Ages, but only became marbled with greenish-blue mold in the eleventh century. It is frequently used in Italian cooking. The name comes from Gorgonzola, a small town near Milan, Italy, where the cheese was reportedly first made in 879; however, this claim of geographical origin is disputed by other towns.

If you live in a town that avidly disputes the origin of a cheese, you’re hard up for a good time. Anyway, it’s like a creamy blue cheese except a bit more pungent in your mouth. If you enjoy that sort of a tart flavor, you’re in for a treat with Gorgonzola. If you aren’t a big fan, then this probably isn’t for you – grab another cheese that is good with walnuts and sundried tomatoes and use that instead.

First, we have to start out with the dough.

You didn’t think we were going to buy that in a grocery store did you?

That’s good. This is one of the easier pizza doughs I’ve ever had to make, not to mention it’s also the quickest and most forgiving dough I’ve made.

Basic Pizza Dough
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups lukewarm water, divided
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for handling
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a large bowl, combine yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Stir with a fork until mixed. Cover with a dry towel and let sit for 30 minutes. If the yeast is foamy (like the picture above) continue; if not, throw out the mixture and start over.

Add the salt, olive oil and remaining water. Stir in flour 1/2 cup at a time. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough 5 – 7 minutes or until dough is no longer sticky.

This is where I started to have problems. Earlier I said this is the most “forgiving” dough I’ve made – let me explain. While I was putting this together, I was doing other stuff at the same time. So I thought I had counted my 1/2 cups, but even though I swear I put 3 cups in, the dough was still extremely sticky – so much that kneading it wasn’t going to help. I don’t know how much more flour I added, but it had to be like another cup or cup and a half. When it was somewhat less tacky, I then stuck even more flour on the board, floured up my hands and started to knead. It never became non-sticky as the instructions say, so when I could at least handle it without half of it being stuck to my hands in a goopy mess, I called it good and moved on to the next step. Regardless of this, the dough still came out amazing, so I’m not really sure what happened there.

Form the dough into a ball and coat it with olive oil. Place the dough in a bowl, cover with a towel and set it in a warm place. Let the dough rise for 1 hour or longer.

After the dough rises, dust your hands with flour and re-knead the dough for about 2 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and, using your hands, shape each into a flat disk. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Using flour-covered hands, flatten disk further by pressing outward until you reach your desired thickness and circumference.

At this point, the dough will be really pliable and somewhat delicate. When you start to roll it out, it will firm up and become more difficult to shape. I had a hard time getting this to go into the shape I wanted. After my first attempt it was too hard to reshape, so I stuck it back into the bowl and let it rise again. After it had another 30 minutes to rise, it was back to the delicateness it was when I took it out of the bowl the first time.

Unfortunately, even after my second attempt, I was unable to shape it into a circle, so I made it oblong… sort of.

So with my awesome oblong-inspired pizza crust completed, I moved on to the actual pizza.

Pizza with Gorgonzola, Sundried Tomatoes, and Walnuts
Cornmeal or parchment paper
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of Kosher Salt
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts
1/3 cup sliced sundried tomatoes
Black Pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced

Preheat oven to 500-degrees F. Place pizza crust on baking sheet lightly covered in cornmeal or covered in parchment paper. Brush olive oil over pizza crust. Add salt, then cheese, walnuts and tomatoes. Add pepper and parsley and bake for 7 – 8 minutes. Remove and serve.

Because my pizza was an odd shape, I disguised it by cutting it into rectangles. The weird corners were eaten by me. I liked this a lot, as did other Gorgonzola lovers. It was gone by the end of the night.

Scroll back to the top if you wanted to see the finished product on the cover of the Tastes of Italia magazine.

MoM August ’08 Taste of Italia: Chocolate Almond Gelato

As promised, we are going to kick off this month’s Magazine of the Month, the August ’08 edition of Tastes of Italia, with Chocolate Almond Gelato.

“Gelato?” You say. “That’s just ice cream, right?”

Oh, no. And I wouldn’t say that out loud either because among certain circles you’re bound to stir up trouble. Gelato connoisseurs feel just as strongly about the dessert as New Yorkers feel about the Yankees: It’s a religion unto itself.

Gelato, the Italian version of ice cream, is different. Made with the basics of milk and sugar, just like our beloved ice cream, gelato typically calls for more egg yolks and is lower in fat. It also has a lot less air, making it much more dense than ice cream. Gelato needs to be served at a warmer temperature, so it can soften for scooping. Here’s a blurb from the World of Ice Cream comparing gelato and ice cream (their misspellings are fixed for your reading satisfaction):

GELATO: less fat + no air added = richer, creamier taste

Premium ice creams are made with fresh cream (not condensed or powdered milk), real eggs, and natural flavorings. Quality ingredients aside, lesser ice creams also have more air whipped in. As much as half the carton may be air, in fact. More air–or “overrun”–means softer ice cream that scoops more easily and melts more quickly. Premium ice creams have very little air added; gelato has no air added at all. (There’s a minimal amount of air that’s incorporated naturally because of the churning process.)

Gelato and some premium ice creams are so dense that they require a slightly higher serving temperature, a perfect point where your scoop is firm but not hard and not so soft that it melts immediately. Gelato recipes usually include more egg yolks, more milk and less cream. It actually has less fat than regular ice cream, but gelato’s low overrun makes for an extremely dense, rich and creamy treat.

Anyway, so there you have it. Gelato, the lesser fat, creamier and tastier version of ice cream. You know, for a website that’s all about ice cream, they sound pretty sold on gelato being superior. Maybe they should change their name to World of Gelato.

But I digress.

Chocolate Almond Gelato
3 cups milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup ultrafine sugar
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds (reserved for topping)

Overall I was really shocked at how fast this dessert came together. First that quick and snazzy Granita, now this! The Italians are on to something here…

I started off toasting the almonds. Years ago I would have been way too lazy to do this, and then in the end I would have been terribly disappointed: Toasted almonds change in texture to a version that is softer in nature, even after they are refrozen in the final product. When you bite down on the toasted version, I don’t get a sense of “crunch” so much as I do a “pop” and then a spongy feel that goes really well with the gelato. An untoasted crunch would be way too distracting and unsettling – as if there was something in your gelato that should not be.

So toast them.

Place milk, eggs, chocolate, sugar and 1/4 cup of toasted almonds in a saucepan and whisk until the sugar and chocolate dissolves. Simmer until mixture thickens and begins to boil.

You will note in the picture below we aren’t getting a full boil as you would with water. It’s more like the molten effect of a chocolaty hot tub.

Once it boils, remove from the burner and add vanilla. Place in refrigerator for 2 hours or until completely cold. If the mixture thickens too much in the refrigerator, thin with a little milk to get a looser consistency before pouring this into the ice cream machine.

Place in a frozen dessert machine and make according to instructions. Top with remaining almonds.

Unfortunately I don’t have any personal finished product pictures, as I couldn’t stop eating it while it was churning around in the ice cream maker.

My bad.

Indian Burgers with Grilled Banana Raita

To wrap up AwK’s BBQ month, I was going to share another submission from the Build A Better Burger Book. The final was a winner of a creative award and looked really interesting. So, the burger was made. I had photos. I had materials. I was ready.

Photo courtesy of Build a Better Burger

Then I got busy and forgot from fighting terrorism, blowing up small villages and getting to da choppa with Arnold Swartzenegger. The AwK BBQ month has officially ended, but I’m still going to share this quirky little burger.

As I already said, this burger is the winner of the creativity award in 1996. Most of the creativity award burgers are just that – very creative. When you take your first bite, it’s hard to know what to expect, so keep an open mind. I was looking for something very different when I made it, so I was prepared.

1 1/3 pounds ground lamb
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt

I want to give you a glowing review, but because it’s the creativity award burger, you know it was a little weird. If you walked into an authentic Indian restaurant and asked them to make you a hamburger, this is exactly what it would taste like. Since I enjoy Indian food, I did like the taste – it was just odd having it as a hamburger.

To make the burgers, just take the ingredients and mix them together. Handle the meat as little as possible to avoid compacting it. Grill, turning once until done to preference – 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare.

The burger is to be accompanied by a banana-yogurt sauce called “raita.” Before you get weirded out, just keep in mind that Indian food usually contains a lot of sweet flavors and is usually yogurt or tomato sauce based. The raita, while sounding odd on top of a hamburger, makes sense from an Indian cuisine standpoint.

Grilled Banana Raita
Vegetable oil for brushing on the grill rack
2 very firm bananas, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

After reading through the ingredient list, you see right away this is going to be very sweet. Most people associate Indian food with 5-alarm spicy, but that isn’t always the case. A lot of their food has a lot of sweet, fresh flavors to balance that out, similarly to what you’re seeing with the raita.

To make the raita, brush the grill rack with vegetable oil. Place the bananas on the grill and cook, turning carefully, until lightly browned all over. The book says it should take 1 – 2 minutes, but on a skillet, it took a little longer. At first I was worried the banana would turn to mush over the fire, but the inside stayed firm. As soon as it turned a little brown, I flipped it over. Any longer than that and it would have been destroyed – so keep watching it while you’re cooking it.

While the bananas are cooking, place 1 teaspoon garam masala and the cumin in a fireproof container and toast on the grill for about 1 minute. Since I was using the Foreman, I didn’t do this part.

Dice up the banana into small cubes and mix with the rest of the raita ingredients. Stir well and set aside until the burgers are finished cooking.

To assemble: On each bun bottom, place 4 cucumber slices, a tomato slice, a patty and an equal portion of the raita. Add the bun tops and serve.

Here’s a shot of my finished burger as I was serving.

This concludes the Build A Better Burger series. If you liked what you saw, go pick up a copy!

MoM August 2008: Tastes of Italia

August is here and we’re kicking off another Magazine of the Month adventure with Tastes of Italia!

And yes, that thing of beauty on the cover is Pizza with Gorzonzola, Sundried Tomatoes and Walnuts and we will be making it!

Our previous magazines all had websites where their recipes were published, however ToI does not, so be sure to run out to your local grocery store or bookstore and pick up a copy. The reason we went for this magazine is because there are a ton of amazing and diverse Italian recipes in here, and because Citizen Chef is a slacker and didn’t propose any magazines to review. So this month it’s my choice!

If you need more motivation, here’s a teaser of what we’ll be working on next week:

Photo courtesy of Tastes of Italia Magazine

We’ll be reviewing a variety of recipes including this Chocolate Almond Gelato you see above, and we’ll also be exploring risotto! For you vegetarians out there, you’re in luck as this mag usually has a lot of delicious and fun dishes that will suit you. Run out and pick up a copy this weekend!