Monday, November 25, 2013

Penne with Zucca, Onions, Anchovies, and Bread Crumbs


It's time for another installment of 12 Weeks of Winter Squash! This will be my last post until after Thanksgiving. Last week, I shared a recipe for Butternut Squash Tart with Fried Sage utilizing the neck of a butternut squash, and this week I'm sharing what I did with the remainder of that squash, a simple yet tasty pasta dish sweetened with squash and onions, with a little edge from some anchovies and crunch from bread crumbs.

It paled in comparison to the tart (I made both dishes the same day), but I honestly enjoyed it and was even quite happy with the leftovers. The anchovy flavor is mild, but if you have a serious aversion then this is not the dish for you. This also yields a serious amount of pasta between the pound of penne and the pound of squash! The original recipe claims to serve 4, but at the very least you can get 6 good portions out of it.

I hope all of you have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving! It's really the ultimate foodie holiday, but it's also such a nice time to gather with those you love and really appreciate that time together. I'm very thankful not only for my family and friends, but also for YOU, my lovely readers. I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for you all, so THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart! See you in December ;-)

Penne with Zucca, Onions, Anchovies, and Bread Crumbs
Serves 6
(Adapted from The Babbo Cookbook)

Kosher salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 anchovy fillets, well-drained
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne rigate
1/4 cup toasted fresh bread crumbs

Bring 6 quarts water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.

In a 12-to-14-inch saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and anchovies and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion and garlic are softened and the anchovies have begun to break up.

Turn the heat up to high and add the squash cubes. Toss over high heat for 5 minutes or longer, or until the cubes are tender and the browned at the edges. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Cook the penne in the boiling water until al dente. Return the squash mixture to the heat, drain the pasta, and add it to the pan. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss over high heat for 1 minutes. Divide the pasta and squash evenly among individual pasta bowls, top with bread crumbs, and serve immediately.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Spain: Braised Veal with Dried Mushrooms


I love discovering cuisines from far off lands, both ones I've visited and ones I've longed to explore. I've never been to Spain, but it has always intrigued me. The language, the culture, and of course the food!

I recently received a copy of Spain by Jeff Koehler. It's a gorgeous book, full of wisdom about the experiences of living and dining in Spain. It takes readers on a culinary tour of the entire country, focusing on the real food that is at the heart of this nation.

There are lovely features within the book discussing all sorts of Spanish ingredients and traditions, from a look at cured pork products to saffron, olives, and more. It's a really comprehensive look at the Spanish diet, and it really makes the book so informative for curious foodies.

There are lots of fantastic recipes in the book, with mouth-watering photos to boot. Although the book is filled to the brim with bright and colorful photos of food and more, this is the kind of book I really wish featured photos for all the recipes, because so many of these dishes are truly foreign to me. There was some that sounded particularly appealing and so I found myself Googling the Spanish names to see photos online. Regardless, there are still plenty of great pictures to keep me satisfied.

It was nearly impossible to decide where to begin when I got cooking in my kitchen. Many of the tapas sound appealing, and I absolutely intend to make the Soupy Rice with Lobster, which is reminiscent of my meal at Mi Casa by Jose Andres in Puerto Rico last February.

I'm also dead set on trying the Chicken Braised in Saffron, Almond, and Egg Yolk Sauce. It's sounds so unusual, yet delicious. In the end, I simply opened up the book to a page bearing a photo of Braised Veal with Dried Mushrooms, and I knew this was the one.

My sofrito

Although the recipe is clearly influenced by neighboring France, it's is decidedly Spanish in flavor with the typical use of sofrito. I actually used stewing veal that was already cut up (it was on sale), and I gently butterflied and/or pounded the pieces to make them flatter like the recipe states. The result is a mouthwatering, tender concoction of delicate veal, umami mushrooms, and simply the most fabulous sauce. I served this with some noodles, but mashed potatoes, rice, or bread would be excellent starches to help sop up some of the juices.

The seared veal tossed with the sofrito before adding the liquids

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone wishing to learn more about Spanish cuisine. The book is substantial and definitely worth the price. I am anxiously awaiting my next kitchen tryst with my new Spanish love.

Braised Veal with Dried Mushrooms (Fricando amb Moixernons)
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted from Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalucia)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling pan
2 pounds boneless veal, thinly sliced about 1/4-inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour for dredging
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 ripe medium tomatoes, halved crosswise, seeded and grated, discarding the skins but reserving the juices
Scant 1 cup (15 g) dried mushrooms, preferably moixernons (St. George's or fairy ring mushrooms) (I used a mixture of dried porcini and dried black trumpet mushrooms)
3/4 cup muscatel (moscato), vino rancio, sweet sherry, or another sweet wine
1 1/2 cups light beef stock or water

In a cazuela, heavy casserole, large saute pan, or deep skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the veal with salt and pepper, lightly dredge in flour, and pat to shake off the excess. Quickly brown in single-layer batches that don't crowd the pan, about 30 seconds on each side. Transfer to a large platter. Add a bit more oil to the pan if needed between batches.

To make the sofrito, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the cazuela, reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, as the onion turns translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring almost continuously, until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices and stir well. Cook uncovered over low heat, stirring often and tapping down on the ingredients with a wooden spoon to help break them down, until the tomato is dark, pulpy, and has lost its acidity, 10 to 20 minutes. Dribble in 2 or 3 tablespoons of water two or three times during cooking, if needed, to keep the sofrito from drying out. It can be made ahead and refrigerated a day or two.

Meanwhile, place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, cover with warm water, swish them around, and immediately pour off the water. Cover the damp mushrooms with 2 cups warm water and let soak for 1 hour.

Return the veal to the pan of sofrito and turn to coat. Pour in the muscatel, turn over the pieces of veal, and let the alcohol burn off for 2 minutes before pouring in the stock. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and partly cover the pan. Cook, just letting bubbles slowly break the surface for 45 minutes, turning over the meat from time to time to keep it from sticking.

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid to the pan and cook uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the veal is very tender. Add more reserved liquid if needed. The sauce should be like gravy. Serve from the cazuela.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Honey-Glazed Beer Bread


A little while back I discussed my love for a fantastic restaurant in the heart of Providence called Gracie's. The entire meal was outstanding, but one of my favorite treats from that meal and the ones that followed at Gracie's was found in the delicious bread basket, filled with goods from sister bakery Ellie's. The honey-glazed beer bread is the one I always reach for, and I find it nearly impossible to select any other variety.

There's nothing quite like that delicious, nutty, malty, aromatic bread with its sticky-sweet crust, slathered in soft butter to make my carb-loving heart melt. It's only delicately sweet (mostly from the glaze) with a hearty wheat base. I was thrilled to find the recipe available online and couldn't wait to try it myself.

I actually used the same exact beer that they use at the bakery, but I couldn't find malt powder at any of the stores I checked. The recipe doesn't specify if it should be diastatic or non-diastatic malt powder either, and considering the trouble I faced finding it all together, I decided to just substitute barley malt syrup instead. It's certainly not the same thing, but I hoped it would impart some of the flavor and color the malt powder would provide.

The aroma of this bread, even before it's baked it phenomenal. Imagine the comforting smell of yeast dough proofing in your kitchen, and then add the sweet, malty characteristic of beer to the mix. It's fantastic.

This bread is truly best the day it's baked. Not only does it have the moistest crumb when fresh, but the longer it sits, the honey-glaze soaks into the crust and loses its shine and flavor. I had some trouble getting good photos of this bread because with the loss of natural light after daylight savings, I had to really push my limits to take some photos nearly in the dark, and then freshen up the bread with more honey the next morning to try taking more with better natural lighting! You can't say I didn't try!

Regardless of how it photographs, trust me, this bread will not only fill your kitchen with the best aroma, but it will fill your belly with some of my favorite bread I've ever enjoyed at a restaurant (so much that I had to recreate it myself). Its fantastic on its own, but a touch of butter spread across a slice is the perfect way to enjoy. It's pretty great toasted too once it loses its initial freshness.

Honey-Glazed Beer Bread
(Adapted from Ellie's Bakery/Gracie's, Providence, RI)

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon malt powder (I used barley malt syrup)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon dry active yeast
1/4 cup honey, plus more for glazing
3 cups beer at room temperature (see note)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature

Combine flours, malt powder, salt, and yeast in a mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook attachment (if using barley malt syrup as I did, add it during the next step with the honey and beer).

Add the honey and most of the beer. Begin mixing on first speed, adding more beer slowly until the flour is fully hydrated (You may not need all of the beer--I only used about 2 cups).

Switch to second speed and add the butter. Mix until it is fully combined.

Continue mixing until an elastic dough forms. You are looking for the dough to spring back a little when you pull on it and it does not break.

When the dough is finished mixing, cover the bowl tightly. Allow to proof for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled.

When the dough has doubled in size and springs back upon contact, divide into two, one-pound loaves, or smaller rolls.

Shape into tight balls and place on a greased sheet pan (I placed them on pieces of parchment paper I would later transfer to my preheated baking stone). Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap. Allow to proof for about 2 hours.

Score the bread before baking at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Take the bread out and glaze with honey using a pastry brush.

Bake for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. Cool completely before slicing.

Note: Ellie's Bakery uses "Shabadoo" Black & Tan Ale from Berkshire Brewing Co.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Butternut Squash Tart with Fried Sage


It's most definitely winter squash season. I'm happy to share yet another recipe highlighting winter squash in celebration of 12 Weeks of Winter Squash! Coincidentally, this month's challenge from the Creative Cooking Crew is to share a Thanksgiving appetizer. This was the perfect opportunity to create a dish featuring winter squash that is perfect for starting a Thanksgiving feast.

I had eyed this recipe for Butternut Squash Tart with Fried Sage from Bon Appetit magazine for quite some time. It starts quite simply with frozen puff pastry and thinly sliced butternut squash. What results is a shattering of crisp layers and sweet squash, finished with shaved Parmesan cheese, chile-infused honey syrup, and fried sage leaves.

This rustic tart sways from savory to sweet, spicy to salty; it's a really beautiful presentation of flavors that sets your taste buds dancing. The complexity in taste matches the myriad of textures as well--crispy, soft, sticky. All wrapped in one.

This tart was immensely popular among my family! It was truly so easy to make, and only uses part of a butternut squash, so the remainder can easily be used for another dish! I'll be sharing that creation next week ;-) It can easily be doubled using a whole package of puff pastry if you're planning on serving a crowd!

Butternut Squash Tart with Fried Sage
Serves 8
(from Bon Appetit Magazine October 2012)

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed (from a 17.3-ounce package) (I used a sheet from a 1 pound package from Trader Joe's and it worked great)
1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
12 (1/8-inch-thick) slices peeled butternut squash (from the neck)
Kosher salt
1/4 cup honey
1 thinly sliced Fresno, jalapeño, or red Thai chile
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently roll out 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed (from a 17.3-ounce package) on a lightly floured surface to a 10" square (just enough to even out). Transfer to prepared sheet.

Brush pastry with 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water. Arrange twelve 1/8"-thick rounds peeled butternut squash (cut from squash's neck) over pastry, overlapping as needed and leaving a 1/2" border. Place another sheet of parchment paper over squash. Set another large rimmed baking sheet over the tart. (This will weigh down the pastry dough and steam the squash slices.)

Bake until bottom of pastry begins to brown and top begins to puff, about 10 minutes.
Remove top baking sheet and discard top sheet of parchment paper. Brush squash slices with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with kosher salt. Return tart, uncovered, to oven and bake until pastry is deep golden brown and cooked through, 25–30 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, combine 1/4 cup honey, 1 thinly sliced Fresno, jalapeño, or red Thai chile, and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat (add another thinly sliced chile if more heat is desired). Boil until thickened slightly and syrupy, about 6 minutes.

Line a plate with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet until just beginning to smoke. Add 12 fresh sage leaves; fry until crisp, about 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Slice tart. Arrange 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan on top; drizzle with chile-infused honey. Garnish with fried sage leaves and a few grinds of black pepper.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Taco Night


Dear, Tacos. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love you made with homemade corn tortillas, topped with shrimp and avocado crema, or melt-in-your-mouth braised beef short ribs. I love you filled with homemade fresh chorizo, and even strips of panko-crusted fish. You are fantastic always, but even sometimes when I have more gourmet options, I love you the most simplest way of all: served in crispy corn shells with a Tex-Mex-inspired filling of ground beef (or turkey).

I'm talking about the most popular type of taco in America, and the one most often prepared for "Taco Night." Hard (or soft, depending on your preference) tacos filled with a well-seasoned, quickly sauteed mixture of ground beef is a standby favorite of mine and so many others. I sometimes make it with ground turkey to lighten it up, but it can easily be made with lean ground beef as well, and it tastes just as good!

I'm never a fan of using store-bought mixes for anything. I found a great recipe to make your own seasoning for taco filling and I'm sticking to it. It's a cinch to make!

You can easily multiply this recipe,and use the extra meat for other purposes like filling burritos, but it would also be great on nachos and in taco salad.

The shells I used here are from Trader Joe's. What they lack in preservatives and unnecessary additives they make up for in delicious crispiness. And they only cost $1.99 for a pack of 12! After warming them up for just a few minutes in the oven, they are perfect for a night of guilt-free tacos! I'm much happier serving my family tacos made with better quality taco shells and completely homemade meat filling! It makes all the difference.

Ground Beef (or Turkey) Tacos
Makes 12
(Adapted from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice)

Seasoning Mix:
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1/2 cup water
12 taco shells, crisped up in the oven according to package directions, or 12 taco-sized flour tortillas for soft tacos*
Toppings, such as sour cream, salsa, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, pickled jalapenos, and grated cheddar cheese

Combine all the ingredients for the seasoning mix in a bowl. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the ground beef or turkey and break it up with a wooden spoon. Stir the meat continuously, breaking it up into small pieces, until it is cooked through, a few minutes. Drain off any extra liquid that accumulates.

Add the seasoning mix and water, starting with about 1/2 cup and then adding more as needed until it creates a thick sauce that just coats the meat, cooking it another minute or two. Remove from the heat and serve with the taco shells and your choice of toppings.

Monday, November 11, 2013

King's Garden: Great Dim Sum Closer to Home


I have a long, lingering obsession with dim sum. I remember my very first dim sum experience at Golden Unicorn in New York City. It was life-changing. I knew it was the beginning of a deep and profound love. In the years since, I have developed a particular affection for Jade Asian Restaurant in Flushing, Queens and enjoy dim sum there every single time I'm in the city (that's several times a year). It's the best I've had so far, and I'm sticking to it! I've been there on several visits since my initial review, and have enjoyed it just as much as the first time.

I don't live in New York City anymore, and although a handful of dim sum meals a year is fantastic, I really wanted to find something closer to home. I actually love making dumplings myself, and have made quite a variety in my kitchen over the years, from pan-fried vegetable dumplings and har gow (shrimp dumplings) to less traditional pan-fried sweet potato and pork dumplings, and beyond. I have an obsession with making my own dumplings (completely from scratch), but there's still a part of me that craves the variety of a dim sum experience that is far too time-consuming for me to replicate.

Steamed Stuffed Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaves

From my research, there's really only a few Chinese restaurants in Rhode Island that offer dim sum menus. These are different from the Chinatown experience of selecting dishes off carts as they roll through the aisles of large expansive dining rooms with communal tables. With a smaller market for dim sum, it makes sense to offer paper menus and make the items to order. That's what you'll find in Rhode Island.

Steamed Char Siu Bao (Roast Pork Buns)

After reading some great reviews, I headed to King's Garden in Cranston, RI with my cousin for his first dim sum adventure (I love introducing people to dim sum!). They offer a typical Chinese-American menu, in addition to a dim sum menu and an authentic Chinese menu. We were here specifically for dim sum, so we asked for that menu and ignored the others.

Chao Chow Dumplings

Free tea is a tick in the plus column for King's Garden. There's usually a charge for tea and water (an albeit small one) at typical dim sum restaurants in Chinatown. We checked off our choices on the paper dim sum menu, and shortly thereafter we were scarfing down a variety of dumplings and such.

Fried Mashed Taro Dumplings

We tried seven different dishes. My all-time favorite dim sum staple is steamed char siu bao, or roast pork buns. I order this at every single dim sum meal. The version at King's Garden is great, although it has a bit less filling than my preferred dumplings at Jade Asian. Otherwise, the texture and flavor is spot on. It was a relief to discover these live up to my expectations.

Inside Steamed Char Siu Bao

Another standard at dim sum is har gow, or steamed shrimp dumplings. The ones here are full of plump shrimp, and once again do not disappoint compared to the ones I've grown accustomed to.

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow)

The third "usual" order during this visit was steamed stuffed sticky rice in lotus leaves. The steamed packets usually contain a combination of sticky rice, pork, chicken, Chinese sausage, and mushrooms. I was very happy with what was presented at King's Garden. The flavor of the rice and all of its "fillings" was spot on, and it had a great texture.

Inside Steamed Stuffed Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaves

We also ordered some Shanghai dumplings, aka soup dumplings. They were smaller and less soupy than some I've had in the past (namely at Joe's Shanghai in NYC). They still had an excellent "juiciness" to them and great flavor. I was very happy with these even though they are atypically small compared to what I am more familiar with.

Shanghai Dumplings

Chao Chow dumlings were also on the menu. I have actually made a version of these in my kitchen (although I haven't yet shared the recipe), and I was curious to see how the restaurant version compared to what I made. Filled with a combination of pork, jicama, and peanuts, these super-chewy translucent dumplings were very similar to the dumplings I had made, and yet the filling was chunkier and the skins were thicker and somewhat gummier. They are a bit off the radar compared to more traditional dumplings, but I was really pleased to see these on the menu and would happily enjoy them again in the future.

Inside Chao Chow Dumplings

Fried mashed taro dumplings are another fun expedition. I had enjoyed these once in the past at Jade Asian, and ordered them again here at King's Garden. A very thick, almost gravy like mixture with ground pork makes up the filling for these gossamer yet fluffy taro dumplings. Although the mashed taro is not really seasoned, and the crisp crust is fairly greasy, the filling is very flavorful and balances out this dumpling really well.

Inside Fried Mashed Taro Dumplings

The last dish we tried was new for both of us. We finished up with the pan-fried turnip cake, which isn't really made with turnips. It features a combination of grated daikon radish, rice flour, and Chinese sausage. The texture almost flaked like fish, and the flavor was somewhat sweet with a bit of sharpness from the cooked radish. Although we were both intrigued by this dish, it wasn't quite as exciting as some of the others at the meal. I'm glad I tried it, but it wouldn't top my list of favorites by any means.

Pan-Fried Turnip Cake

I'm really glad I've found a stand-in for my dim sum desires in between trips to New York City. I was very pleased with the quality of the dishes as well as the prices (all in the $3-range). It's minutes from my home, and I can assure you I will be returning for more.

More of the yummy filling inside the lotus leaves.

King's Garden
90 Rolfe Square
Cranston, RI 02910
(401) 467-8916

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mini Buffalo Chicken Meatballs


Because anything can be made Buffalo chicken... I've made it my unofficial mission in life to create as many variations of Buffalo chicken as I possibly can. From nachos to macaroni and cheese, quiche to enchiladas, it's been a really fun mission! These meatballs aren't quite as spicy as some of their counterparts, but they are moist and delicious. Along with some really simple and tangy blue cheese dressing, they are the perfect addition to game day (or really any day). Feel free to drizzle them with additional Buffalo sauce if you'd like to make them extra hot!

Mini Buffalo Chicken Meatballs
Makes about 40 (3/4-inch) meatballs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup Frank's Red Hot hot sauce, or any other favorite hot sauce
1 pound ground chicken, preferably thigh meat
1 large egg
1/2 celery stalk, minced
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
Blue Cheese Dressing (recipe follows)
Celery sticks, for serving, if desired

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle the vegetable oil into a 9x13-inch baking dish and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside.

Combine the butter and hot sauce in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat, whisking until the butter is melted and fully incorporated. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes. 

Combine the hot sauce mixture, ground chicken, egg, celery, bread crumbs, and salt in a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated.

Roll the mixture into round, 3/4-inch balls, making sure to pack the meat firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, being careful to line them up snugly and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid. The meatballs should be touching one another.

Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. A meat thermometer inserted into the center of a meatball should read 165 degrees F.

Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving. Serve with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks, if desired.

Blue Cheese Dressing
Makes 2 cups

3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup whole milk (I used buttermilk instead)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk thoroughly until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning, if desired.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Revisiting Scarpetta


Ever since my first visit to New York City's Scarpetta I have been recommending it left and right to friends of mine visiting the city. Any of them who have taken me up on my suggestion have been impressed by the food and service. Although I'm not the biggest fan of Scott Conant's TV personality, he certainly has skills in the kitchen, as is evident in his restaurants and recently released cookbook (which I love by the way, and will perhaps discuss in the future).

On a recent trip to the Big Apple, I figured it was about time for me to return to this fine Italian eatery in the Meatpacking District, tucked away on 14th Street.  Nick, one of my New Yorker foodie friends was meeting me here for dinner to catch up since my last visit. He's Italian and had been wanting to try Scarpetta for a while. This was the perfect chance!

First thing's first: cocktails. I don't always order booze when I go out to eat. Mainly because I find that in a fine dining establishment if I start to get a little tipsy, I can't enjoy my food as much because my senses are dulled. When I go out to eat with Nick, however, all bets are off. We drink. Not necessarily a lot, but it happens.

Inside Short Rib and Bone Marrow Agnolotti

During this meal we each enjoyed a couple drinks a piece. We both fell in love with one of the specialty cocktails called San Remo. It features Campano Antica (sweet vermouth), Campari (bitter orange liqueur), St. Germain (elderflower liqueur), Michter's bourbon (or Maker's Mark as the cookbook suggests), and orange, lemon, and lime juice. The result is a slightly bitter citrusy drink that tastes almost exactly like an alcoholic grapefruit, from the bitter pith to the tart juice. It's kind of spectacular. Fortunately the recipe is available in The Scarpetta Cookbook and as soon as I build up my home bar with some more of these spirits I plan on making this myself!

San Remo $16

Onto the bread basket, which is another one of my favorite things about Scarpetta. It is a truly stellar bread basket which contains a variety of breads, from focaccia to stromboli (with all recipes available in the cookbook... score!). On top of that, sides of mascarpone butter, eggplant caponata, and citrus-herb olive oil elevates this bread offering even further. As much as one tries not to fill up on bread, it's so hard to stop when the bread and spreads are as good as these!

Nick and I split a couple starters. The Creamy Polenta with Fricasee of Truffled Mushrooms was a repeat from my last visit, but it will make it onto the table time and time again because it's so ridiculously good! Hot, decadently creamy polenta is served table-side with a topping of the stewed mushrooms. Whether you try the polenta and mushrooms on their own or as a combination, this dish is one of my all-time favorites anywhere. The recipe is in the book too and answers a lot of questions about why it's so good: Conant uses a combination of heavy cream, whole milk, butter, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to make the polenta. Heaven!

Creamy Polenta with Fricassee of Truffled Mushrooms $19

We also decided to try the Arctic Char Tartare, served with marinated cucumber, creme fraiche, trout roe, and fried capers. It has a beautiful texture and a lovely, complex flavor. It's freshness is a perfect foil to the richness of the polenta we were having. It has the right amount of acid and salt and isn't heavy at all, even with the creme fraiche. This is a great variation of a fish tartare.

Arctic Char Tartare $19

For entrees we went halfsies on a couple homemade pasta dishes. The first is the Cavatelli with Rabbit, Porcini, and Arugula. The pasta itself is apparently made with ricotta cheese (once again, I learned this from the book!). The rabbit ragu is a fabulous addition to the tender pasta and mushrooms. They use fresh porcinis, which is pretty awesome because most cooks don't have access to the fresh stuff, only the dried versions. Just as I fell in love with the Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil on my previous visit, this Cavatelli is picture perfect.

Cavatelli with Rabbit, Porcini, and Arugula $26

Our second pasta dish is Short Rib and Bone Marrow Agnolotti with Garlic Chips and Horseradish. These adorable little pasta pockets are filled with the most decadent and succulent meat around. A combination of both juicy short rib and unctuous bone marrow makes these agnolotti really shine. A horseradish brown butter sauce finishes the dish along with crunchy bread crumbs. I can't select a favorite between these two pastas (or even three if you count the spaghetti from last time). All I can say is, you won't be disappointed with whatever you pick.

Short Rib and Bone Marrow Agnolotti $25

For a sweet finish we tried the Raspberry Torte, which features key lime curd and white chocolate-raspberry gelato. It's a light cake with great citrus flavor along with the raspberries. This dessert is simple and somewhat rustic, but served in an elegant enough way that is fitting of a restaurant like Scarpetta.

Raspberry Torte $12

After our incredibly satisfying meal we still managed to get a bit of sticker shock when the final bill arrived! I guess that's what happens when you have multiple cocktails each, multiple appetizers, entrees, and dessert without doing any math along the way. Oops! We still have no regrets. The meal was fantastic and despite what turned out to be a stiffer price tag than originally anticipated, I would return and will continue to recommend this spot to friends and readers.

88 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
(212) 691-0555


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