Bucatini All’Amatriciana

28 11 2008

 

The view from Cortona, Italy

Overlooking the Tuscan countryside from Cortona, Italy

While visiting Cortona, Italy in 2007, I had a memorable lunch on a terrace one day. It was a simple meal of bucatini all’amatriciana, a glass of Chianti and some vanilla gelato for dessert. Simple though it was, it remains one of my favourite dining experiences: stunning views, beautiful weather, good company and food that was simple yet perfect.  When making recipes that rely on few ingredients, it’s important that you use the best quality you can find.  

I was reminded of that lunch recently when I was trying to figure out something to make for dinner that was quick and easy.   Even though this is typically a summer sauce, it works for cooler months when you can use good quality canned tomatoes. It’s the perfect dish when the weather is gloomy and you want to be reminded of warm, lazy summer afternoons.  

Bucatini is a long pasta that looks like thick spaghetti but is hollow in the centre, like a very long piece of macaroni.  I prefer De Cecco brand but any kind will suffice.  If you can’t find bucatini, use penne or spaghetti instead.  Pancetta is made from Italian cured, unsmoked pork belly and is similar to bacon, while guincale is made from the pig’s jowls.  Regular bacon can easily be substituted but it will give the dish a smokier flavour (however, it will still be delicious!).

An interesting note: bucatini all’amatriciana originated in the town of Amatrice in Lazio, about 180 kilometres from Cortona so it is not a traditionally Tuscan dish (Italian cooking is very regional!). However, it is popular throughout Italy and around the world.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Makes 6 to 8 servings

 

  • 8 oz. (230 g) diced pancetta OR guincale OR bacon (about 5 rashers of bacon)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 28 oz. (796 ml) can good quality whole tomatoes
  • 5.5 fl. oz. (156 ml) can tomato paste
  • 1/2 to 1 Tablespoon sugar, to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional: 2 Tablespoon fresh basil
  • Grated pecorino romano OR parmesan cheese to finish
  • 500 g (about 1 lb.) bucatini OR penne

 

  1. Heat an enameled cast iron pot or large skillet on medium-high heat and add pancetta/bacon cubes. Cook until they’re beginning to crisp, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Drain off all but 1 Tablespoon of the rendered fat from the bacon (if there is very little fat left in the pan, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil).  Add onions and sauté until they’re beginning to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes.  Sauté for another minute.
  3. Add tomatoes and break up with a spoon.  Reduce heat to medium low and let sauce simmer for about 20 minutes.  Return pancetta/bacon to sauce, add tomato paste and season with sugar, salt and pepper.  Add basil, if using.  Let sauce simmer for another 10 minutes while the pasta is cooking. (See ‘How to Cook Perfect Pasta‘ for tips).
  4. Drain bucatini and add to sauce.  Toss until pasta is evenly coated with sauce.  Serve with grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese.

 

Bucatini all'Amatriciana with basil leaf garnish

Buono Appetit and Enjoy!

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Thanksgiving

26 11 2008

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving so to get into the spirit, here are a number of side dish and dessert suggestions that you can add to your turkey to create a delicious menu.  All dishes are vegetarian and can be made in advance so you’ll have time to focus on the important aspects of the day!

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Butternut Squash Gratin

Rich and cheesy with a hint of sweetness, this makes a great vegetable dish with fall’s essential flavours.

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Potato-Sage Dressing

One of the most important dishes for Thanksgiving, this vegetarian version is moist and flavourful even though it’s cooked outside of the turkey.

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Corn Scallop

Although I originally made this recipe with roasted fresh corn, you can easily substitute canned or frozen corn.

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Cranberry Sauce

A must-have on many Thanksgiving tables, this version uses fresh cranberries and doesn’t take much more effort than opening a can (really!)

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Apple Caramel Tart

An impressive dessert that’s easier to make than it looks.

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Pumpkin Pie with Maple Walnut Praline

Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving classic.  I’ve dressed it up with maple-walnut praline and pastry leaves so it looks elegant but still tastes delicious.

Bon Appétit and Happy Thanksgiving!





Chicken Noodle Soup

20 11 2008

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Yesterday I was feeling a bit under the weather and it was snowing hard outside.  I felt like having something warm and soothing for dinner but wasn’t excited about the idea of canned soup with too much sodium and soggy noodles.  I searched the pantry and fridge and came up with this easy chicken noodle soup that fit the bill perfectly and is much tastier than canned.  (It’s also delicious if you’re not feeling sick!)

Chicken Noodle Soup

Makes about 8 cups of soup

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large carrots cut into rounds about 1/2″ thick
  • 1 large stalk celery, diced
  • 3 medium leeks, white part only, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2 sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, stripped off their branches
  • 3 chicken breasts (with skin and bones attached)
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1-1/2 cups dry egg noodles
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a large stock pot or cast-iron enameled pot, heat oil on medium-high heat. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and place in pot, skin side down. Brown chicken until breasts begin to turn golden and crisp.  Turn over and brown the other side.  Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. Add carrots, celery, leeks, onions and garlic to pot.  Saute until they are just starting to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add half of the sage, thyme and rosemary and stir into mixture.
  3. Place chicken pieces back in pot and cover with the chicken stock.  Place lid on the pot and let simmer gently for about 40 to 45 minutes (don’t let it come to a hard boil).
  4. After 45 minutes, remove chicken breasts from the soup.  Place on a cutting board and using a fork, pull the meat off the bone.  Cut into chunks and put meat back into the soup.  Discard bones.
  5. Add remaining herbs and the noodles to the soup and cook for another 10 minutes or until noodles are tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
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Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Spiced Ginger Cookies

19 11 2008

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A leafless tree on a grey November afternoon

When I was a kid, I thought November was the worst month of the year.  In Canada, by mid-November it’s starting to get cold and there’s always the possibility of snow. Most of the leaves are off the trees and the skies are often grey and gloomy. Halloween is over but Christmas is still pretty far away (from a child’s perspective, at least).

However, now that I’m older, I have a new outlook on November. It’s a time of quiet – a time to nurture our bodies and souls.  A grey Sunday afternoon now means putting a hearty soup or stew on to simmer, lighting a fire in the fireplace and curling up with a good book.  There’s no pressure to be racing around doing a million things. We can take time to enjoy our friends and family over cozy dinners or an evening of cocktails before the madness of the holiday season is upon us.  Come to think of it, I think I actually like November now!

Here is a recipe for ginger cookies, the perfect comfort treat for a grey day.  They are particularly good fresh from the oven, served warm with pumpkin gelato or ice cream (you could even put some pumpkin ice cream between two cookies for a decadent ice cream sandwich!).  Be sure not to bake the cookies too long – they stay chewy if slightly undercooked.

Spiced Ginger Cookies

Makes approximately 20 cookies

 

  • 3/4 cup shortening OR unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar + an additional 1/2 cup for rolling cookies in
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

 

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a cookie sheet and set aside.
  2. With a hand mixer or stand mixer, cream shortening and 1 cup of the sugar.  Mix until smooth and creamy, about 1 to 2 minutes.  Add molasses and egg and beat for another minute or two until ingredients are thoroughly mixed (tip: spray measuring cup with cooking spray before measuring the molasses so it doesn’t stick to the inside of the cup).
  3. Add flour one cup at a time and mix until fully incorporated.  Add salt, baking soda and spices.  Mix until evenly distributed through the batter.
  4. Pour remaining 1/2 cup of sugar onto a plate.  Scoop out about 1-1/2 Tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball that is slightly smaller than a golf ball.  Roll dough in sugar and place on baking sheet.  Repeat with the remainder of the dough (the cookies will have to be baked in batches of 6 to 8).
  5. Bake for approximately 8 to 9 minutes, or until they begin to puff up and the bottoms are beginning to brown.  Remove from the oven and let them rest for a few minutes before taking off the cookie sheet.  Let cool and serve.

 

Spiced Ginger Cookies with cinnamon stick garnish

Spiced Ginger Cookies with cinnamon stick garnish

 

 

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





Kitchen Tip of the Week – Making Vinaigrette

11 11 2008

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This week I’m going to discuss the basics of making your own salad dressings (or vinaigrettes, as they’re also called).  For years my fridge would be filled with bottles of different dressings, only to go bad before I had finished them.  Not only that, they can be full of additives and are typically expensive for what you get. Plus, as I’ve said before, fresh just tastes better.  Making your own allows you to control what goes in your dressing so you can customize it and have your own unique ‘house dressing’.

Vinaigrette Basics

I used to be intimidated by the idea of making my own dressings but if you remember a few basic proportions (see below), it’s very simple.  A few tips to remember:

  • Mustard helps keep the oil and vinegar from separating.  It also adds a subtle flavour.
  • Balance sweet with a bit of acid.  For example, if you add honey or maple syrup for sweetness, add a little bit more vinegar or lemon to make it less cloying.  Likewise, adding a touch of sweetness (a small amount of sugar, honey or syrup) can take the harsh edge off the vinegar.
  • Use the best quality ingredients you can.  While you don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy oils and vinegars, use ones that taste good to you.  They typically last a very long time so it’s a good investment for your pantry.
  • Dressing your salad: Add dressing a bit at a time and toss well.  You want it to just coat the greens but not weigh them down or make them soggy.  Remember, you can always add a little bit more but you can’t take it away!  If you do overdress the salad, add more greens.
  • Vinaigrettes can also be used to drizzle over cooked meat and vegetables, to marinate meats such as chicken or as a dressing for sandwiches.

Selecting Your Ingredients

Acid: There are many types of acid you can use such as lemon juice, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, white vinegar, white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, raspberry vinegar, red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, fig vinegar, balsamic vinegar…. The list goes on.  Let your imagination run wild!

Oil: Use a neutral tasting oil as your main oil.  Olive oil can work as long as it’s mild – you don’t want the dressing to taste overwhelmingly like olives.  Other neutral oils such as canola, sunflower or safflower work very well and have a lighter taste (but unfortunately they are not lighter in calories).  More ‘exotic’ oils such as avocado, walnut or sesame oil can be added in small quantities for flavouring to make a dressing that is unique and different.

Mustard: Dijon style mustards usually work best.  Avoid using bright yellow ‘hot dog’ mustard – it’s a bit too harsh tasting for a vinaigrette.  I generally prefer a smooth mustard over a grainy style.

Additions: While optional, adding a bit of minced garlic, diced shallot or finely chopped onion can give your dressing depth.  Likewise, herbs and spices can help customize your dressing and make it more interesting. Add fruit juices such as orange or apple for a touch of sweetness.

Basic Vinaigrette – Proportions to Follow to Make a Custom Dressing:

  • 3 to 4 parts OIL
  • 1 part ACID
  • 1/6 part MUSTARD
  • A pinch of SALT, to taste
  • Optional ADDITIONS:  Suggestions include finely minced fresh garlic, finely diced shallots, finely chopped herbs, a splash of fruit juice, 1/3 part honey or maple syrup, etc.

Add ingredients to a small bowl and whisk together until combined.

Basic White Wine Vinaigrette:

  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Can be stored covered in the refrigerator for a few days.  If the ingredients separate, whisk until it emulsifies again.

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Honey-Mustard Dressing

Makes approximately 1/4 cup – can easily be doubled

This makes a great salad dressing, particularly for chicken.  It can also be used as a glaze or dip for chicken, shrimp or pork (it’s really good with chicken fingers!).  The proportions of oil and vinegar are a little different for this recipe.

  • 2 Tablespoons dijon-style mustard
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or safflower.   Tip: Use the same spoon to measure both oil and honey.  If you measure the oil first the honey will not stick to the spoon.
  • 1 Tablespoon liquid honey
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 clove garlic, very finely minced
  • Pinch of salt, to taste

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until combined.  Use as a dip or a dressing for your favourite salads.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!





New Feature – My Reading List

9 11 2008

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As an avid collector of cookbooks, I’m debuting a new feature: a list of my favourite cookbooks and cooking memoirs.  I have given a short summary of each book, provided a photo and marked those which are great basic building blocks for the beginner.  Of course, I’m constantly getting new books so I’ll be adding to the list as my collection grows and evolves.

My Reading List can be found by clicking on the icon at the top of page or at the right-hand side of the screen.

Enjoy!

Trish





Kitchen Tip of the Week – Keeping Clean

5 11 2008

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Keeping Clean

I’m practically obsessed with keeping my hands clean in the kitchen, especially if I’m working with meat.  I also need to clean my favourite knives and other utensils frequently as I’m cooking, using the dishwasher only for a large load at the end of the meal.  

To make things easy, I fill an old hand soap dispenser with dish detergent.  This allows me to pump a small amount without getting my dirty hands all over everything (particularly important when working with raw poultry).  I keep it in a small container along with a fresh sponge or two so I’m not searching all over for a clean sponge when I need one.  The container keeps things neat so there aren’t soapy drips all around the sink.  Fancier hand soap pumps are often sold at kitchen and bath stores but you can easily re-use an old dispenser.  I prefer a clear one so I know when it’s time for a re-fill.  

Sponges should be replaced frequently, as they can harbour a lot of bacteria.  To help keep them clean, you can soak them in bleach that has been diluted with water. Another popular method is to microwave damp, metal-free sponges for one to two minutes at full power.  However, this must be done with caution because sponges can catch fire if heated too long.  Luckily, sponges are very inexpensive so the best way to keep things clean is replace them often.  

 

A soap dispenser filled with dish detergent makes kitchen clean up easy

A soap dispenser filled with dish detergent makes kitchen clean up easy

 

 

Ciao!

Trish