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.

Ingredients

For the hot chili oil (olio santo):

3 medium-hot fresh red chili peppers, such as Fresno; coarsely chopped

3 or 4 dried red chili peppers, such as chile de árbol; crumbled

1 cup pure olive oil

For pasta:

Salt

½ pound dried spaghetti or other pasta shape

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

¾ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Chopped Italian parsley

Hot chili oil

Dried crushed red pepper (I like Aleppo pepper)

Instructions

  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.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/midnight-pasta-pecorino-and-olio-santo/

red chili rapini aglio e olio

red chili rapini aglio e olio

Green Superfoods – especially kale – have been “trending” for a while. Now, it seems like there’s a kale salad on the menu of every restaurant I’ve visited over the past six months. I couldn’t be happier. I LOVE me a plate of Tuscan kale, raw or cooked.

But I’m thinking that maybe kale is the gateway green to other dark and mysterious vegetables…….like rapini.

I’ve been familiar with rapini (also called broccoli raab or rabe) since I was a kid, when I knew it as “robbie”. My grandmother would occasionally put a bowl of slow-cooked robbie on the Sunday table. I’m pretty sure I was seriously afraid of it back then. After the long braising, the greens would go very limp and turn dusky, blackish-green, the same texture and color of the seaweed that got tangled in my feet at the beach. Not very appealing to a little girl who was just looking forward to a plate of macaroni and a meatball.

red chili rapini brushetta

In parts of New England and especially in Rhode Island where I grew up, broccoli rabe is still very familiar. It’s on the menu of mom-and-pop Italian delis, generously piled in grinder sandwiches with or without grilled sausage and provolone cheese.

Rapini is classified as a brassica, the same family as cabbage and broccoli, but it’s more closely related to turnip greens than it is to broccoli. When I’m shopping, I look for leaves that are uniformly dark green, with lots of tight little flower buds. Sometimes I find a bunch of rapini with its buds about to open to yellow flowers; a sign that it’s over the hill. I pass it by.

The lower stems can be tough and fibrous; I trim off about a third of the bunch, keeping the thin upper leafy stems and buds. Rapini has a slightly bitter bite, tempered by briefly blanching it in boiling salty water, which also preserves its beautiful emerald green color. I say briefly because unlike the way my mama made it, rapini doesn’t take very long to cook at all.

rapini

After blanching, I like to toss the greens with chili, garlic and olive oil (aglio e olio); they are delicious tossed with pasta, over creamy, cheesy polenta or piled on crusty toasted bread as a bruschetta.

red chili rapini agio e olio polenta and bruschetta

I enjoyed reading my friend Susan from Food Blogga’s post about broccoli rabe – we come from the same neck of RI.

Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for pasta with garlickly broccoli rabe makes me hungry, too.

Red chili rapini with olive oil and garlic

Serving Size: serves 4 - 6

Serve the rapini as a side dish, over creamy polenta, or as a bruschetta on toasted, crusty bread.

Ingredients

1 bunch rapini (broccoli rabe)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 fresh red chili pepper, thinly sliced

Pinch dried red chile flakes

Fresh ground black pepper

Grated fresh Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions

  1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil with 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  2. Trim off the lower, thick stems of the rapini; cut the remaining green leafy tops and buds into smaller pieces, drop into the boiling water and blanch 30 seconds. Drain and gently squeeze out any excess water.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, fresh and dried chili and cook for a minute or so, until sizzling and fragrant (but don't brown the garlic).
  4. Add the rapini to the pan and toss to coat with the garlicky oil. Remove from heat and season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle with the pecorino.
  5. Serve as a topping for polenta, pasta, or bruschetta.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/red-chili-rapini-aglio-e-olio/

Toasted Walnut Taralli

Last spring I attended the 32nd annual IACP conference that took place in Portland, Oregon – whew, was it really that long ago already?

I knew that my life has been busy, but it really hits home when I think of these taralli. During the conference, I came across a booth set up by the California Walnut Board, where Portland chef Greg Higgins was generously handing out tastes of these crunchy little snacks. He was also generous about sharing the recipe, but I haven’t gotten around to making them until now.

I saw their appeal right away – they were an updated version of a savory Southern Italian biscuit I grew up eating, only these were made with walnuts and had a definite West coast sophistication.

Greg had them arranged on a tray, adorned with a rosette of roasted garlic chevre and tiny little basil leaves; seeing them made me rethink what I always saw as a humble snack that you took home in an olive-oil stained brown paper bag straight from the corner bakery.

But instead of being piled casually on a plate at my grandma’s house, these taralli looked like they were ready for a cocktail party in San Francisco.

Greg’s original recipe, including the delicious Roasted Garlic Chevre spread is on the California Walnut website, but my tweaked version is below. I substituted some whole wheat flour for half the amount of all-purpose and added fennel seeds, which gives the taralli a flavor that reminds me of home.

Toasted Walnut Taralli

Yield: about 5 dozen

Ingredients

4 teaspoons instant yeast

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups stoneground whole wheat flour

1 cup finely ground toasted walnuts* (grind in food processor)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds

2 cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing on taralli

Instructions

  1. Using the kneading attachment, stir together the yeast, flours, walnuts, salt and fennel seeds.
  2. Add 1 cup of the water and mix at medium-high speed until the dough starts to come together. Slowly add more water as necessary (turning down the mixer speed as you do so) until you have a smooth, moist dough. It shouldn't be too wet or sticky, so keep your eyes peeled. Depending on the humidity and your flour, you might need a bit less water.
  3. Put the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 3 or 4 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Punch the dough to deflate and turn it out onto a sparingly floured surface. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.
  5. Working with one piece at a time, cut each into balls about the size of a walnut. Roll and stretch each ball using your palms into ropes about 6 " long. Bring the ends of the rope together to make a ring, tucking one end inside the other and pinching together.
  6. Arrange the rings on the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between. Brush the rings with oil and bake until golden and firm, about 30 minutes.
  7. Remove to a rack and cool. The taralli will crisp up more as they cool. Store at room temperature in covered container.

Notes

You could mix this up in large bowl and knead by hand, but I used my Kitchen Aid Mixer.

http://familystylefood.com/2011/01/toasted-walnut-taralli/