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

  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)

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/

roasted vegetables and spelt spaghetti

roasted vegetables, spelt spaghetti, ricotta salada

I was inspired to make myself a bowl of pasta after I had lunch at a local restaurant and it left me feeling — disappointed.

The menu at this charming place offered the sort of casual, Italian-style fare everyone seems to like – wood-fired pizzas, homemade pasta, and salads made with locally grown produce.

I ordered the pasta special of the day, described as handmade whole wheat fettuccine with wood oven-roasted vegetables. Great!

I was hungry, and happily anticipated my lunch, thinking about homemade noodles with the rustic bite of whole grain and especially, the promise of a colorful assortment of vegetables kissed with some smoky char from the oven.

What arrived at my table was not at all like the picture I’d formed in my head. Turns out there was definitely a disconnect between what had been described and what was right there on the plate in front of me.

The “oven-roasted” vegetables were a small distribution of diced carrots that were a little on the crunchy side, and zucchini that was cooked to the point of army-green softness. They were embedded in a thick tomato sauce that covered the pasta so completely that I couldn’t tell if it was fresh whole wheat fettuccine or not. It tasted pretty good; homey and satisfying, Just not what I thought it would be.

I’m not in the business of reviewing restaurants, nor do I ever want to be – it makes me uncomfortable to be critical of another cook’s food. Cooking is all about feeding people, but it’s also a personal expression. One girl’s vegetable is another boy’s garnish.

For me, vegetables are the focal point of whatever I set out to eat or cook; the elements of the plate that give a cook the chance to use a beautiful variety of colors and textures; like an edible palette.

When I decided to recreate my version of that lunch, I set out for the produce section of my grocery store – there’s no farmer’s market at this point in a Midwestern winter.

spelt spaghetti with roasted vegetables

But I found a rainbow of vegetables there; sweet bell peppers in three different colors, red grape tomatoes and bright green zucchini.

I roasted the vegetables to pair with spelt spaghetti, a whole grain pasta that has a more delicate, nutty taste than some of the other whole grain kinds I’ve tried. Ricotta Salata cheese adds a creamy, slightly salty hit to the top of this spaghetti. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

roasted vegetables with spelt spaghetti and ricotta salata

Yield: 2 - 4 servings

Ingredients

  1. 1 each – red, yellow and orange bell pepper
  2. 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  3. 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  4. Kosher salt
  5. 2 small zucchini, diced
  6. 1/2 cup Peppadew peppers, sliced in half
  7. ¼ cup Peppadew liquid
  8. Freshly ground black pepper
  9. 10 ounces spelt spaghetti
  10. ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
  11. 1/3 cup crumbled Ricotta Salata cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut the peppers into roughly 1 ½ - inch pieces. Toss the peppers on a large rimmed baking sheet along with the tomatoes, olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt.
  3. Roast until the edges of the peppers are deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir them around, then add the zucchini to the peppers and roast 5 more minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking water.
  5. When the vegetables are done, add the Peppadews, liquid and reserved pasta water and scrape everything around in the pan; season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Transfer the spaghetti to a serving bowl and top with the vegetables, parsley and cheese.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/roasted-vegetables-and-spelt-spaghetti/

eggplant parm mac and cheese

eggplant-parm-mac-and-cheese-recipe

Eggplants are to Sicilians what potatoes are to the Irish. – Fabrizia Lanza

However you personally define comfort food, somewhere down the line it all comes down to memories of being cooked for and fed before you were able to do so on your own. I can’t help guessing what would trigger my food cravings if I hadn’t grown up in the United States during the sixties and seventies, but rather in a completely different culture; like Japan or India.

Or, a hundred years ago in the areas of Italy where my ancestors lived.

Instead of the sweet, white and starchy things that my generation learned to want as kids (and probably what lots of 21st century ones do, too) my taste buds might have been formed by a another set of flavors and textures. And if I had been a child during my Italian ancestors’ time, those things would have been the stuff of peasant cooking; la cucina povera.

baked-eggplant-parmesan-recipe

I’m drawn to those humble, earthy foods so completely that I wonder if it’s somehow coded in DNA. How else do I have a taste – and even a sense of nostalgia for – a way of eating and living I never experienced? A plain explanation must be just that it TASTES GOOD.  No matter the origins of any person’s family tree, we can all relate to satisfying our hungers with recipes that are grounded in peasant cooking.

I can’t know for sure that my great, great, great grandmothers prepared something similar to what Americans know as Eggplant Parmesan, but it’s safe to say that Neapolitans and Sicilians have definitely been eating eggplant, tomatoes and fresh cheeses like mozzarella for thousands of years.

I was thinking about my take on comfort food when the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board asked me to contribute a macaroni and cheese recipe to the blog 30 Days, 30 Ways with Macaroni and Cheese. Eggplant Parm plus any kind of pasta with cheese are right at the top of my list of favorites.

My everyday style of cooking doesn’t usually mean deep-frying, which is often a step in classic recipes. So I’ve come up with an oven-roasted method for crusty eggplant  – not exactly old school, but somehow it brings the old world and 21st century comfortably together.

eggplant-parm-mac-and-cheese-recipe

eggplant parm mac and cheese

Serving Size: Serves a table of 6

I make my own marinara sauce, but feel free to use your favorite.

Ingredients

  1. 1 medium eggplant, ends trimmed; peeled
  2. 1 egg
  3. 1 teaspoon salt; plus more to taste
  4. ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  5. 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  6. 3 cups Italian-seasoned panko crumbs or bread crumbs
  7. Olive oil
  8. 2 tablespoons butter
  9. 2 tablespoons flour
  10. 2 cups whole milk
  11. ½ cup grated Asiago cheese
  12. 1 pound cooked pasta shells or spirals
  13. 1 cup marinara sauce
  14. 3/4 cup grated Fontina cheese

Instructions

  1. Place a large rimmed baking sheet on an oven rack and turn oven to 450 degrees to preheat.
  2. Slice eggplant in half lengthwise and then into ½-inch wide half-moons.
  3. Whisk together egg, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and garlic in a large bowl; add eggplant and toss to coat. Dredge eggplant in crumbs on a cookie sheet.
  4. Pour enough olive oil over the bottom of the preheated baking sheet to cover to a depth of 1/8-inch. Lay eggplant on pan and roast 10 minutes; flip eggplant slices over and roast an additional 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender and crust is golden. Lower oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  5. Meanwhile, heat a medium saucepan over moderate heat; add butter and heat until foaming subsides and butter is melted. Whisk in flour; cook 1 minute. Slowly pour in milk while whisking. Bring to a simmer; lower heat and cook 5 – 10 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in Asiago cheese; season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Combine the pasta with the milk mixture and transfer to a large casserole or baking dish. Top with the eggplant, marinara and Fontina cheese. Bake 15 minutes, until hot and cheese is melted.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/eggplant-parm-mac-and-cheese/