midnight pasta, pecorino and olio santo

midnight pasta, hot chili oil and pecorino

Hunger cravings seem to strike at times other than midnight. Especially for me. In my current rock-and-roll lifestyle, I tend to be ready-for-bed by 10 o’clock, fast asleep by the time the clock strikes twelve.

With the exception of those nights I’m out on the town listening to ear-pounding live music and drinking cheap cava until the wee hours, my need for quick hunger fixes will haunt me most often after a day of cooking for a client; a long day spent cooking; tasting and smelling everything but never stopping for a break to nourish myself.

We all have some kind of personal go-to meal that feeds an empty stomach and brings body and soul back together. And whether after a day of debauchery, hard work or world travel, I’m willing to bet that those foods contain lots of carbs, salt and spice.

olio santo - hot chili oil dried chili peppers
midnight spaghetti with pecorino and hot chile pil

An Italian-style midnight snack – la spaghettata di mezzanotte – completes my appetite for all of the above. I’ve enjoyed versions with anchovies, bread crumbs and chopped up fresh tomatoes, but the core of the plate has to be pasta – preferably spaghetti for the satisfying slurp factor; and lots of garlic, olive oil and chili.

Olio santo is hot chili oil from Calabria. There are worse things to be addicted to, which I guess is a good thing because this stuff has found its way into my everyday life and I l-o-v-e  it. A little drizzle on homemade popcorn, a garnish on toasted bread strewn with arugula..it works.

spaghetti a mezzanotte with pecorino and hot chili oil

I recommend making your chili oil in advance so that you might experience this holy trinity of delicousness; chili, pecorino and pasta.

My recipe is inspired by both Lynn Rosseto Kasper and a recipe from Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking.

midnight pasta with pecorino and olio santo

Serving Size: 1 or 2

It's worth making the olio santo separately ahead of time, just to have on hand for that spontaneous midnight craving. Of course, you can make this pasta without it; just add a bigger pinch of crushed red pepper.


  1. For the hot chili oil (olio santo):
  2. 3 medium-hot fresh red chili peppers, such as Fresno; coarsely chopped
  3. 3 or 4 dried red chili peppers, such as chile de árbol; crumbled
  4. 1 cup pure olive oil
  5. For pasta:
  6. Salt
  7. ½ pound dried spaghetti or other pasta shape
  8. 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  9. 1 small onion, finely chopped
  10. 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  11. Freshly ground black pepper
  12. ¾ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  13. Chopped Italian parsley
  14. Hot chili oil
  15. Dried crushed red pepper (I like Aleppo pepper)


  1. To make the chili oil, puree all the chilies and oil in a blender until smooth. Pour into a small saucepan and bring to a low boil; simmer 1 minute. Remove pan from the heat to cool and infuse the oil.
  2. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into a measuring cup. For clearer oil, avoid pressing down on the solids; if the mix starts to move slowly through the strainer, stir gently with a spoon and/or lift out some of the solids. Line the strainer with a piece of cheesecloth and pour the oil through one more time.
  3. Transfer the oil to an airtight jar or bottle; store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
  4. To make the pasta, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a small handful of salt. Add the spaghetti or pasta of your choice.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the onion, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat until it starts to sizzle; scoop out ½ cup of the boiling pasta water and add to the pan. Cover, lower heat and cook 5 minutes or until the onion and garlic are very tender.
  6. If there’s any water left in the pan, let it bubble away in the uncovered pan until reduced to a tablespoon or so.
  7. Once the pasta is just about done, drain and reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water in a small bowl.
  8. Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan over low heat, along with ½ cup of the cheese; stir enough water to blend with the cheese to coat the pasta.
  9. Serve in bowls drizzled with some parsley, hot chili oil, crushed red pepper and additional cheese to taste.

wheat berries, tomato, arugula & ricotta


Farro is a whole grain that’s become a usual suspect in my every day cooking. I really like its creamy, barley-like texture and that it cooks in about 20 minutes. I make a risotto with farro along with cannellini beans. My kids usually clean their plates when I make it, so I’m guessing they like it a little.

But the other day I couldn’t find any farro in my kitchen and pulled out a bag of grains that my sister-in-law Liza brought me from a Portland farmer’s market. They came from Ayer’s Creek Farm , a small family farm in Oregon.

The bag was labeled “Frumento – Soft Red Wheat”. I couldn’t find much info after I Googled “frumento” other than it’s Italian for wheat or grain. I decided to treat the grains like wheat berries instead of the imported Italian semi-pearled (semi-pearled makes for quicker cooking) farro that I usually have, which meant I soaked them in a bowl on the counter for a few hours.

frumento-italian-wheat-berries ricotta-charred-tomatoes-recipe

I’d planned to roast a few supermarket vine-ripened tomatoes I had on the counter, my go-to method for tuning up their somewhat bland, out-of-season taste, but I forgot to turn on the oven. So I put the whole tomatoes over the gas flame for a few minutes until their skins were black and blistered.

I liked the combo of smoky tomatoes and the full flavor of the cooked frumento; definitely springier to the teeth than farro, but in a good way.


I’m glad I had  Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck on hand while researching and cooking this post. Maria is an expert on whole grains and I love her Mediterranean-influenced palate.

Lia at Nourish Network also has great info and a recipe for wheat berries – and lots of other healthy foods – on her site.

wheat berries with charred tomato, arugula & ricotta

Add some cooked beans like cannellini or chickpeas to the wheat berries for extra protein and nutrition.


  1. 1 ½ cups soft wheat berries
  2. Salt
  3. 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  4. 1 teaspoon prepared harissa or red chili flakes
  5. ½ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
  6. Extra-virgin olive oil
  7. 2 or 3 small vine-ripened tomatoes or ¾ cup canned fire-roasted tomatoes
  8. 2 big handfuls baby arugula
  9. ½ cup fresh whole milk ricotta


  1. Soak the wheat berries in enough water to cover, either overnight or before you go out for the day.
  2. Bring 3 quarts water and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a saucepan; add the drained wheat berries. Simmer for about an hour, or until the wheat berries are plump and al dente when you test one. If they seem too hard, cook up to an additional 15-30 minutes, keeping in mind that when fully cooked they will retain a small bit of “chew”.
  3. Drain all but a small amount of water (1 or 2 tablespoons) from the wheat berries; put them back in the pan and stir in the garlic, smoked paprika if using, harissa or chili and 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
  4. If using fresh tomatoes, char them directly over a gas flame on your stovetop or under a hot broiler, turning them until their skins are blackened and blistered. Chop into rough pieces and add them (or the canned tomatoes) to the wheat berries.
  5. Transfer the wheat berries to a serving bowl and toss with the arugula; taste and season with salt if needed. Dollop with spoonfuls of ricotta and drizzle with a little olive oil before serving.

Cool Spicy Cucumbers with Peanuts & Lime

Cucumber and lime. Just the thought of those two ingredients refreshes me. Plus they go together like …. bread and butter, gin and tonic, sugar and spice.

It’s hotter than an Inferno where I live, which is typical. We went straight from our schizophrenic spring weather to a sweltering heatwave within a week’s time. Ready or not, it’s time to let the season guide my menu cravings.

I turned to one of my favorite hot-weather flavor profiles – tart citrus; fresh, spicy chiles and cool-crunchy cucumbers. To me, that combination points in the direction of Asia and India.

I found the perfect recipe for what I had in mind with this Indian cucumber salad, Khamang Kakdi, in How to Cook Indian, one of my newest cookbooks. I think this book will become a definite favorite of mine. It’s huge, with a broad collection of easy and delicious-sounding recipes. There are no photos at all, but somehow that isn’t a problem since the information is so thorough and the design so appealing.

I love the utter simplicity of this salad. With just a few spices, a hit of citrus, toasty peanuts and a sweet exotic touch of coconut, cucumbers are transformed into something complex and unordinary.

Be warned, it’s a slightly addictive little salad.

Cool Spicy Cucumbers with Peanuts & Lime

Serving Size: serves 4


  1. 1 English cucumber, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
  2. 1 Serrano pepper or 2 jalapenos, finely chopped
  3. 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped or pulsed in a food processor
  4. 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  5. 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  6. 1 teaspoon sugar
  7. 2 tablespoons roasted peanut oil (or olive oil)
  8. 1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  9. 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  10. 1 teaspoon salt
  11. 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste


  1. Put the cucumber, chile pepper, peanuts, 2 tablespoons of the coconut, lime juice and sugar in a large bowl.
  2. Heat the oil in a small saute pan. Add the mustard seeds. When they start to sizzle and pop, stir in the cumin, salt and remaining 2 tablespoons coconut. Turn off the heat.
  3. Pour the mustard seed mixture over the cucumbers and toss everything together. Taste to make sure it's salty-sweet enough for your taste.


Adapted from a recipe in How to Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor