Pasta Favorites, New and Old

31 01 2010

It seems like a good time to get back to basics.  I’m talking about simple, quick, easy weeknight meals.  Nick’s been requesting pasta lately, and I am more than happy to oblige.  People have been telling me to make pasta alla’amatriciana forever, but I have only just now gotten around to it, thanks in part to a reminder from The Hungry Dog.  I mean, bacon in spicy tomato sauce?  Sign me up!  I only wonder why it’s taken me so long to get around to making this, because if there’s a fantastic meal to come out of the pantry, it’s this one.

Pasta alla'amatriciana

So that’s the new favorite.  Here’s what you do:  cook some diced bacon, not to the point of crispness, but until most of the fat has rendered out.  Add some chopped onions, soften, add garlic and red pepper flakes, then a can of tomatoes in tomato purée.  Simmer, salt (but not too much – bacon can be salty) and pepper, toss with pasta (in this case, whole wheat penne) and freshly grated cheese (Here I used Grana Padano, but would normally have Parmigiano-Reggiano).  Done.

As for the old favorite, this is something I used to whip up almost every other Friday night, especially when our Italian market in Dallas burned down and set up temporary shop in the liquor store across from one of our favorite bars.  It was super convenient to have a couple of happy hour beers, then go pick up some fresh raviolis (porcini being the favorite) and whatever tomato products our pantry was lacking before inviting a handful of friends back to the house and cooking up a big pot of tomato cream sauce for those scrumptious raviolis.

Tomato sauce, in process.

The trick is this: after softening/slightly caramelizing some diced onion in olive oil with salt, red pepper flakes, and fresh thyme or dried oregano, throw in a couple spoonsful (spoonfuls?) of tomato paste, and let it cook, stirring frequently, until it gets browned and roasty smelling.  That’s when you deglaze with red wine, balsamic vinegar, chicken stock, or even water.  Scrape up the delicious fond from the bottom of the pot and add a can or two (depending on how many people you’re feeding) of tomatoes, pre-diced or whole, diced by hand.  Simmer while the raviolis cook, and just before serving, stir in an ounce or two of cream.

Porcini raviolis and quick tomato cream sauce

It turns out that even slight changes like switching dried pasta for filled, fresh pasta, or switching out bacon for cream in the tomato sauce, make having pasta for dinner two nights in a row not only viable, but desirable.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Around Paris: 1st: Mora and La Bovida

28 01 2010

The more famous Dehillerin (best known, to Americans at least, as Julia Child’s favorite cookware store in Paris) may be just around the corner, but the tourists can keep the dark, cramped aisles and mysterious pricing system for themselves.  I’ll be where the professionals shop.

La Bovida

On the corner of rue Etienne Marcel and rue Montmartre stands La Bovida.  Its three floors (ok, two and a half) house all kinds of kitchenware, mainly aimed at commercial kitchens, although the shop is open to the public.  Right inside the door a large selection of heavy-duty pots and pans hang overhead and the shelves are filled with professional-grade appliances and bulk containers of spices.  Further back you will find more small appliances as well as a wall stocked with a multitude of knives and kitchen gadgets.  Upstairs on the landing resides the selection of barware and glasses.  This is one of the few places in Paris I’ve seen big wine glasses – you know the ones.  Personally, I prefer drinking wine, especially nice wine, out of a big glass.  (And no, I don’t necessarily mean drink more of it, I just like having that extra swirling and sniffing room.)  On the top floor is everything else: dishes, silverware, Le Creuset, to-go packaging, cook’s uniforms, cookbooks, pastry gear, and those 7-layer copper Mauviel sauté pans that I pine after.

Mora

Across the rue Montmartre lies the smaller, but no less exciting, Mora.  Mora is also geared toward culinary professionals, but certainly caters more to the pâtissiers and chocolatiers.  The front of the shop displays Staub cookware, silicone molds, glassware, knives, and a selection of serious cookbooks (when I say serious, I mean big and expensive, and textbooks).  Further back is more of that gorgeous Mauviel, as well as a wall lined with frying pans and crèpe pans of all sizes.  I couldn’t resist picking up an 8 euro crèpe pan, seeing as La Chandeleur is almost upon us – La Chandeleur being the crèpe making and eating holiday which technically is on February 2nd, but really starts up as soon as the galette-mania dies down and goes for a couple of weeks.  Back at Mora, in the furthest room of the shop, is a treasure trove of pastry and chocolate molds.  Ring molds and tart pans in all shapes and sizes, an array of pastry tips, and chocolate molds galore.  This room makes me want to open up my own chocolaterie.

So which do I prefer?  Bovida is great for the basic stuff, and for things like single-use balsawood loaf pans, aluminum pudding cups, and muffin tin liners (!), but their prices on higher-end items and specialty equipment tend to be higher than those at Mora, sometimes significantly – I saw the same set of Matfer biscuit cutters at both stores, 100 euros at Bovida, 70 at Mora!  My boss prefers the value items at Bovida, and when I said I liked Mora better, he said “c’est parce que c’est pour les intellectuels de la pâtisserie,” which I think he meant as a gentle insult, but which I totally took as a compliment.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





On Service in Paris

25 01 2010

Warning: this might get a little rant-y.

A lot of people, particularly Americans, like to complain about the service in restaurants in France.  The servers ignore them, requests for substitutions are met with visible irritation, it takes forever to get the bill, etc.  While it’s true that getting a waiter’s attention can feel like it needs to devolve into a contact sport, generally these complaints come down to cultural differences.  Just because the waitress doesn’t flirt with you or try to be your best friend or sign the check with a smiley face doesn’t mean she doesn’t care.  Ditto for the infinite refills on water – do you really need a top-up every time you take a sip?  No.  I think in France they’d rather let you enjoy your meal in peace than subject you to constant interruption under the guise of friendliness and service.

It’s actually very simple to get what you need in a Parisian restaurant.  All you have to do is ask.  Need a menu item explained?  Ask.  Want more water?  Ask.  Ready for the bill?  Ask.  Just do it politely, and they will be happy to help.  (The trick with the bill is to ask for it when they clear your plates and offer coffee.  If you don’t, you will be sitting there for 45 minutes with empty coffee service and water glasses in front of you.)

All this is not to say that bad service doesn’t exist in France.  I’ve had plenty of experiences where the service was, at some point, off-putting enough that I seriously consider not returning, despite having eaten well.  Want some examples?  I know you do.  Here goes.

Last winter I arranged a dinner for six at Auberge Pyrénées-Cevennes.  Known for its hearty fare and warm bistro welcome, I thought it would be a great place to take a couple of visiting friends and a local friend who was leaving soon.  On this particular visit, that “warm” verged more on the side of pushy when the waitress refused to accept that I didn’t want to order a starter (no, not even the 8 euro salad of green beans).  And the much-lauded cassoulet was disappointingly oversalted (that’s really more of a kitchen problem, but seems to be in keeping with the assertive attitude). 

More recently, I ate at Liza, a trendy modern Lebanese restaurant in the 2nd.  We arrived at 8pm, the time of our reservation, and found the place completely empty.  When somebody finally came out to greet us, he claimed that he had cancelled our reservation because of a misunderstanding on the phone.  There was obviously plenty of room for us, so he sat us near the bar and offered apéritifs.  We made our selections (all of this is happening in French), and then he proceeds to tell us that he doesn’t speak English, but he can bring us English menus.  We say we don’t need them, French is fine, and he brings us menus.  In English.  It went on like this, the waiter treating us with more and more condescension as the evening wore on.  There were a couple of very good dishes, but nothing that left me with an urge to return.

Oh, I’ve got more… you with me?

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Kiwi-Jasmine Granita

21 01 2010

Back in culinary school, in the lecture about puréed fresh fruit sauces, they told us never to make one out of kiwi.  They said the seeds would give the sauce a peppery flavor, and that would be bad.  I guess I didn’t feel passionately enough about kiwi to question, let alone defy the rule.  Had it been something I’m crazy about, like blueberries or nectarines, you know I would have gone right out and done it anyway.  But now that I’m getting tasty organic kiwis on a fairly regular basis from my CSA share, I want to do something more with them than simply slicing and eating.

Forbidden purée

Enter David Lebovitz‘ delectable book, The Perfect Scoop.  (I’ve been priding myself on not buying any small electrical kitchen appliances while here in France – except for the immersion blender which takes up so little space and does so much – but since acquiring this book, I am now in desperate need of an ice cream maker.  Don’t know where I’m going to put it, but I’ll find the space somewhere.)  Anyway, in his book, Lebovitz includes recipes for both a kiwi sorbet and a kiwi granita, both of which require puréeing the forbidden fruit.

Scraping the granita

Seeing as I don’t have that sorbetière just yet, granita was the way to go.  And it seemed like a great way to use up lots of kiwis quickly, which is imperative when they’re as ripe as the ones I’ve been getting lately.  Plus, the idea was just so deliciously rebellious.  So I defiantly busted out the immersion blender and puréed a bunch of kiwis.  I was delighted to see that the seeds – the potentially overly peppery (and is that necessarily a bad thing?) dessert-ruiners – stayed whole, leaving no doubt as to what kind of fruit had just been puréed.  I also owe a tip of the toque to Martha Stewart and her team, for giving me the idea of pairing kiwis with jasmine tea.  Thanks to her,  a jasmine green tea syrup sweetened the kiwi purée and gave the finished granita a touch of the exotic.

But what gave it more than a touch of scrumptiousness was the whipped cream on top, lightly sweetened with Tasmanian leatherwood honey.  If you are unfamiliar with Tasmanian honey, it is a delightfully floral and unique tasting honey.  You could substitute another interesting honey, or just use sugar in your whipped cream.  In general, when I think of granita, I think “palate cleanser.”  But a billow of whipped cream on top definitely (or defiantly) turns it into dessert.

Kiwi-jasmine granita with Tasmanian honey whipped cream, kiwi, and ginger

Kiwi-Jasmine Granita

This recipe makes a granita with a mysterious hint of jasmine.  If you want the floral notes to be more pronounced, feel free to double the amount of loose tea in the syrup.  The purée can be prepared in a food processor, blender, or (my favorite) directly in the container you plan on freezing it in, with an immersion blender.

1 lb./500 g fresh kiwifruits
8 oz./240 g jasmine tea syrup (recipe below)

  1. Peel the kiwis and cut them into small pieces.  Be sure to remove any tough bits near the stem ends.  Add half the syrup and purée in a few short pulses.  Pour in the rest of the syrup (you don’t have to use all of it, especially if your kiwis are very sweet) and purée until smooth with the seeds evenly distributed.  It should look like a burst kiwifruit.
  2. Pour into a shallow plastic container (if it isn’t there already) and place in the freezer.  Wait an hour, then stir gently with a fork, breaking up any ice crystals that are beginning to form.  Repeat every 30-45 minutes until the granita is completely frozen and snowy in texture.
  3. Serve in chilled vessels with lightly sweetened whipped cream.  Garnish with slices of kiwi and slivers of crystallized ginger, if you wish.

Makes 4-6 restrained servings.

* * *

Jasmine Tea Syrup

If you have any of this syrup left over, try using it to sweeten fresh lemonade.  Maybe you’d better make some extra.

6 oz./175 ml water
½ in./1 cm piece of ginger, peeled
1 Tbsp. loose jasmine green tea
½ cup/100 g granulated sugar

  1. Bring the water to a boil with the ginger.  Put the tea in a heatproof measuring jug.  When the water boils, pour it over the tea up to the ½ cup/120 ml mark.  Let steep for 3-5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in the remaining water.  (Return the pan to the heat if necessary.)  Pour the tea back into the sugar water, straining out the tea leaves.  Cool, and remove the ginger before using.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Helping the Hungry in Haiti

18 01 2010

As the stories from Haiti continue to roll in (I saw one this afternoon about some people who had been rescued from a collapsed supermarket – one guy survived five days on peanut butter and jelly), it is dawning on me how enormously devastated the country has been by this earthquake.  I just read a post on Pastry Methods and Techniques where Jenni has pledged to donate her ad revenues for the month of January to the relief effort in Haiti.  She joins Marc from [No Recipes], whose Blog Away Hunger page now has a Help Haiti section which explains how to help the participating bloggers (which now include myself) maximize their donations.

So for the month of January, all my ad revenue (it’s not much, but every little bit helps) will be going to the World Food Programme.  Said money won’t come in for a couple months, but I’m sure the people of Haiti will still be in need of aid then – especially after the media coverage slows down.  If you want to help, too, click on any of the above links for more information and ways to help.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Around Paris: 15th: L’Arbre de Sel

15 01 2010

One of my favorite Christmas surprises this year was a restaurant guide to Paris and France published by Le Fooding.  Not only does it have irreverent writing and good tips on some lesser-known, not-necessarily-starred restaurants, but the artwork is incredibly cool, too!  Following the ultra French Christmas celebrations, Nick and I have been on a bit of an Asian food kick.  So when I was flipping through my new guide and I happened upon the phrase “probably the best Korean cuisine in Paris,” we had to try it.  Now I’m no expert on Korean food, but I’ve been reading more and more about it lately (I sense the dawn of a new fad), and I thought it was high time I get stuck in.

L'Arbre de Sel - exterior

We got our chance last Friday, a frigid, icy day in Paris (see the snow on top of the cars?).  Along with our friend Joe Dragavon (an eager participant in the venture who wanted a shout-out), we lucked out getting a table for three without a reservation.  Inside, L’Arbre de Sel is warm and intimate.  Sleek modern art graces the walls, and appears to be for sale as well.

There was no question as to what I would be ordering – I saw the bibimbap served in a sizzling hot bowl and knew it would be just the thing to shake off the chill.  My compatriots were equally decisive, despite the generously sized menu.  Nick chose a kimchee soup, and Joe went with the chicken bulgogi.  Each of our dishes was served with an assortment of sides, including bowls of broth, rice, pickled vegetables, and small pieces of savory omelette.

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Couronne Lochoise

12 01 2010

Like a doughnut, but cheese!

It’s time once again for the monthly International Fête du Fromage hosted by Chez Loulou.  Now that I am no longer limited to specific French regions, I don’t even know where this one comes from!  But that doesn’t make for a very interesting post.  Hang on…

(20 minutes later, you know how Wikipedia is)  Couronne Lochoise is from Loches, a small commune in the Loire valley.  It is a raw-milk goat’s cheese in the shape of a doughnut.  I mean crown.  The name means “Crown of Loches,” but I’m having a hard time finding out much more about this cheese.  I chose it because I liked the shape, and I was certain that I’d never had it before.  The rind is thin and a little bit moldy, which gives it a sharp, zippy flavor.  The firm white cheese inside is smooth and buttery, really good, although it might be a bit nondescript without the rind.  And the shape, which is not only fun, but one of the most intuitive-to-cut cheeses I’ve found.  (Really, I find cheese cutting etiquette baffling at times.  Cue flatulence jokes.)

Inside the crown

Before I embarrass myself any further, I’m just going to tell you to head over to Loulou’s on the 15th for the roundup, which will hopefully feature some more informative posts than this one.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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