Riso Cacio e Pepe – Inspired by Massimo Bottura

A simple risotto spiked with handfuls of Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper would have been the safe route to take when putting together a dish inspired by Chef Massimo Bottura, the featured chef from the first episode of Chef’s Table.

I tried to stay away from that, to riff on the theme of risotto, but create something new, something that nods to the classic dish.

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Naturally, the solution was to watch what Mr. Bottura did when he sought to create a dish to showcase the best of Emilia-Romagna. I quickly realized that one item had to retain its star status, the cheese. As I said, this won’t be like making traditional risotto, but it graciously shows its respect. Everything is done separately and brought together at the end. At home, our rice making process is basic. High quality rice, butter and water go into a covered pot on medium-high heat for about 15-20 minutes. For the science of cooking rice, search elsewhere, this isn’t “How to Boil Water.”

Riso Cacio e Pepe

2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 lb chunk of Parmigianino Reggiano  (½  finely grated, ½  finely shredded with rinds set aside)
1 cup milk
4 Tbsp. butter
4 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

While the rice cooks, in a separate saucepan on medium-low heat, pour in the milk (organic grass-fed or raw if you can find it) and add the rinds from the Parmigiano-Reggiano so they can steep for about 20 minutes. You can steep the cheese on a lower heat and longer to achieve an even deeper flavor.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350°.

On a nonstick or silicone cookie sheet, make four small piles with the shredded cheese, and flatten them out so they are circular and level.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cooled, they will be crispy discs of cheese, cracker-like in texture.

Once the rice is done, discard the rinds, and pour the milk into the pot along with the grated cheese and half of the butter. Turn the heat to low and whip the rice vigorously with a spoon or spatula until the cheese and butter are completely incorporated. You’ll end up with a viscous, rice pudding-like product.

Then, fry the eggs with the rest of the butter until they’re over easy, the yolks are going to be very runny.

To serve, divvy up the rice into four deep bowls, making a crater in the middle. Place your egg in the crater and break the yolk. Season with salt & pepper, emphasis on the pepper.

Place a Parmesan disc on top to cover each bowl to make a crispy, cheesy lid

Resist the temptation to stir it all together. I chip away at the Parmesan disk as if it were the top layer of crème brûlée, scooping up a little yolk, a little crispy egg, and a lot of the creamy, Parmesan tinged rice.

Elements of risotto, pasta, with Parmigiano as the star, all combine into one decadent bowl. I sincerely think this dish pays a great deal of respect to episode 1, and its focus on the magic of the Mr. Bottura’s home region. Enjoy!

Spaghetti and Meatball…Balls

Leftovers are the worst. There’s nothing more upsetting to me than the thought of having to eat the same meal for two consecutive days. With the exceptions of cassoulet, veal rib chops and cold Chinese food. I’ve found myself at times with my back against the wall and nowhere to run. Staring down what seemed to be a never-ending pot of chili. No matter how many spoonfuls you choke down on day two, three and four, it never lives up to the luster of that first bowl. That half eaten carcass of whole roasted lemon chicken and potatoes never looked more appalling than 24 hours after its first performance on the dinner table. Act 2 is always lacking panache and flair. A bit like seeing the touring version of Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express. There’s nothing like seeing a roller skating rock opera on or in the vicinity of Broadway. Anything else is a deflated Yorkshire pudding.

This scenario played out for me not too long ago. I found myself without transportation as my wife had driven away for a day of shopping and such. I had no clue that she left me in near dungeon-like conditions. My stomach was clueless as well, since it had enjoyed a heaping pile of ricotta pancakes earlier in the day and was quite full. Fast forward 5 hours and I was still abandoned.

When I opened the fridge that afternoon it was like the scene in Pulp Fiction where that guy opens the briefcase and an ultra bright glowing light shines back at him. Like that but not in a good way. T’was none other than a frustratingly enormous, and quite frankly revolting pot of spaghetti and meatballs (duh, see title).

I pulled out the pot of pasta and just kind of stood there for a minute staring at it with my hands on my hips. Having to deal with such a vulgar subject takes a lot of meditation. What to do?

Spaghetti and Meatball…BALLS!

Trust me, you will forever have the chance to make this. There’s no such thing as a single serving of homemade spaghetti and meatballs (unless you live in Jimmy’s house, in which case no pasta survives to see another day).

Begin by taking 3 minutes to reflect on the amazing things you’re about to do with leftovers.

Spaghetti & Meatball Balls

• Heat your oven to 375°
• Throw the pasta on a cutting board and finely mince it. I made a batch of 3 balls, which requires about a cup and a half of chopped pasta (if your pasta was already sauced, then spread it out on the board. If not, then add about a 1/2 cup of sauce and mix it around)

Multiply if you want to make more than 3 balls. Place a meatball on the board and form a layer of chopped pasta around it until it’s completely surrounded. Now that you have the base formed, it’s time for some breading.

I used sea salt rice chips and grated Parm for mine but you can used anything really. Just regular bread crumbs or panko and the cheese would work, because honestly I didn’t really get much from the breading except a nice textural coating. Roll the spheres in the crumbs and place in the oven for about 30 minutes or until they start getting some color and have set up a crust.

In the meantime you really should make this thin aioli I thought up as an accompaniment.

Logan’s Thinkin’ Time Pink Aioli

• 1/4 cup olive oil
• The juice from a lemon
• 3 cloves of garlic
• 6 grape tomatoes
• A few shakes of smoked Paprika
• Sea salt to taste

Dump everything in a processor and pulverize for a few minutes. You will end up with a thin pinkish sauce for your lovely golden globes of goodness. I used the excess rice crumbs as a bed for my playful take on Arancini.

 

If you use breadcrumbs, I wouldn’t bother. Have you ever had success taking unappealing leftovers and ending up with a masterpiece? We’d love to hear about it!

Perla – New York City, NY

When I come to the city for pleasure, which isn’t often, I make the most of it. This means following Eat a Duck’s patented mantra, do your homework! My mother would be proud. Now I keep an ever-growing list of restaurants with me that I feel call for a visit. On this particular day, I chose the wonderful SoHo tapas bar, Boqueria, and a slick Italian joint hidden away on the diminutive Minetta Lane, called Perla.

If you’re looking for an alternative to the über high-end A Voce’s and Marea’s of the city, but don’t want to sacrifice in quality and taste, Perla is the answer. Located just off 6th on a quiet street, this little gem has all the qualities you’d look for to have a romantic, relaxed and truly memorable Italian meal.

As with most restaurants I visit, I was drawn to Perla by rumors of a dish that had my name written all over it. Cavatelli with duck ragu and grated frozen foie gras. Are you kidding me Perla? Anyway, we hadn’t made reservations but we’re flexible young people, so after a short wait, we were seated at the bar with a fantastic view of the restaurant. One of the most refreshing aspects of Perla is its laid back environment. Make no mistake, the staff are the epitome of professionalism when it comes to knowledge of the menu and dealing with diners, but they keep things fun and comfortable. It didn’t hurt that everyone was in jeans and madras shirts, with a soundtrack of Hendrix, Steppenwolf and Zeppelin setting the mood. I have to say it was a departure from most restaurants serving this caliber of food.

Our bartender was friendly and warm and made us feel right at home, setting us up with a couple of glasses of hearty Montepulciano. After a quick look over the menu, we chose a couple more dishes to go with the aforementioned Cavatelli. A Razza Piedmontese beef tartare with Parmigiano Reggiano and black truffles, which, as the name suggests, uses the fantastic meat of the Piedmontese cattle. Due to a unique genetic trait, it produces meat with less marbling and less connective tissue, leaving you with smooth and tender meat which is especially conducive to a great steak tartare. The truffles managed to stay in the background and served as a great compliment to the sweet meat. Of the many steak tartares I’ve sampled, this was one of the finest as far as quality of ingredients.

The second dish was the orecchiette with sweet Italian sausage and ramp pesto. First of all ramps, I love these things, they’re a cousin of onions and garlic that gives you the addictive aroma we all crave without the eye-watering spiciness that comes from raw garlic. Let me say, Italian sausage was a brilliant addition to the pesto. I’m slightly embarrassed that I haven’t thought of doing it myself, especially since pesto is almost a weekly dish at our house. The key here is the fat of the sausage and how that mingles with the flavors of the basil and ramps. This resulted in a creamy, unctuous texture that coated the tongue and definitely gave the pesto a more luxurious personality.

After we devoured the first two courses, I made eye contact with the bartender, I had a concern. When I ordered the cavatelli, I didn’t see anything about grated frozen foie gras on the menu. When I mentioned that I had chosen this restaurant upon hearing about a pasta covered in foie, his response. “don’t worry, you ordered it dude!”. I let out a sigh of relief, that was a close one. Shortly after this exchange, my cavatelli arrived. Despite its inviting appearance, I held my fork until I spied a girl approaching with what looked like a medium-sized salami and a cheese grater, my frozen foie was here no doubt. She began grating…and grating…and grating. She went on grating longer than most restaurants grate your cheese, I wanted to hug her. It was like a dream, it was snowing foie gras on my plate, which instantly melted when it hit the piping hot pasta, mixing with the sauce to create a duck foie-gu. Sadly, despite the length of grating, the foie flavor was a bit lost in the ragu. Of course I could taste it, but I’m greedy, and probably a bit ridiculous wanting pasta with a foie gras sauce. I’ll have to save that for my death-bed.

I knew I ordered the right stuff when I noticed the couple sitting next to us at the bar practically drooling over our food. They asked what I ordered and promptly followed suit. I had done my good deed of the day. It was the perfect finish to a perfect day with my wife, everything cooked to perfection, delicious wine, great atmosphere and friendly staff. I’ll definitely be heading to Perla again at my earliest convenience. Maybe next time I’ll sneak in my own torchon to satisfy my foie fever!

Perla on Urbanspoon

The Rise of Risotto

A very wise and handsome man once said, “The only thing you need to become a success is to show up and pay attention. Nothing magnifies that FACT better than a perfect risotto.”

For years I’ve held on to a precious risotto recipe, keeping it mentally locked away, never ever sharing it with anyone. When asked for the recipe, instead of writing it out or sending it through a simple email, my answer was always, “Just let me come over and make it for you myself”. On occasion, believe it or not, the offer was accepted by a close friend or two.

I may be wrong, but I get the feeling that people are intimidated to make risotto at home. Possible reasons being volatility and consumption of time as well as the needed attention of literally slaving over the stove for a minimum of 30 minutes. Perhaps that’s why I’ve shied away from offering it up. For fear of others failure? That’s it.

However, the latest request was different. There was no possible way I could have found the time to do what was needed to make it for her. So I caved and gave her what could be considered the starter recipe. The simplest risotto. You know what? It’s time I start having more faith in my friends. Because she nailed it.

This recipe was derived from a mixture of a few different ones I’ve found while searching out a simple yet luscious marriage of rice and broth. The main idea came from chef Jamie Oliver with a few tweaks from other contributors. I feel that I’ve figured out the perfect risotto for home cooks, with a base ingredient list anyone can collect from any grocery store.

I’ve taken the liberty of converting crazy British words into easy to understand “American”. Unless you fancy a nub of butter? Here is the gorgeous risotto recipe I use.

Ingredients

  • 32 Oz Beef or Veal Stock (Use chicken if you think beef or veal stock is too rich. Little baby.)
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Stick Butter (Room temp)
  • 3 Small Shallots (Finely diced)
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic (Smashed and minced)
  • 2 stalks of Celery, with leaves (Finely diced)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Arborio rice
  • 1 glass (4 Oz) Dry Vermouth
  • 6 Oz Freshly grated Parmesan

Heat the stock in a saucepan that can hold at least 4 cups

In a separate pan, at a low temp, heat the olive oil and 2 Tbsp butter, add the shallot, garlic and celery, and fry very slowly for about 15 minutes without coloring. When the vegetables have become soft and translucent, add the rice and turn the heat to medium.

The rice will now lightly fry. You will see slight pops and cracks from the grains. After a minute it will become translucent as well. Add the vermouth and keep stirring.

Once the vermouth is cooked, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat as low as your stove will go. Keep adding a ladle of stock at a time, whilst allowing each ladle to be absorbed before adding the next. Keep moving the rice around. Stirring and folding so you can see the liquid evaporate before adding more ladles. This will take around 15 minutes if your lucky. More like 30 minutes. Taste the rice every time you put another ladle of stock in the pan. You will notice a gradual softening occurring in the rice. You don’t want al dente. You want it to become soft to the tooth, but not mush. Don’t forget to season as you go. I say this because unless you are a pro and use the same stock or make your stock and already know how salty or peppery it will become when reduced, you’ll probably need to add salt as you go. Once you feel that you’re ready, take a breath, and maybe stretch your back a bit. It’s been a long journey, but you’re not done yet.

Remove from the heat and add 6 Tbsp of the remaining butter and all the Parmesan. Stir well. (If you decide that you want to add a little flair to this basic recipe, this is the time to let your freak flag fly as Luke Wilson would say. Add Lobster, or roasted mushrooms or whatever strikes your fancy. You can even throw in some extra creamy Tallegio to increase the goo factor. Or do nothing at all…whatever).

Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes. If you think that putting a lid on it isn’t important, Congrats! You’ve ruined everything and dinner is cancelled. Everybody hates you now. I hope you’re happy. Seriously though, every thing is mostly not too technical and can be tweaked except this step. If you fail and don’t cover the Risotto for the last 2 minutes, you will not meet the Oozy gooeyness you were searching for. I don’t know why this is the way it is. I just know that you don’t mess with science.

Eat it as soon as possible.

Lobster & mushroom risotto

Listen, I don’t remember saying anything about this being healthy, so I don’t want to hear your belly aching about it having too much richness for your “lifestyle.” Eat it. It will make people who hate you like you again. That’s my personal guarantee.

Mushroom Pasta

Alright everyone, I’ve got another quick, easy, cheap and most importantly, delicious pasta recipe on deck. This time the star is one of my all-time favorite ingredients, mushrooms. The great thing about this pasta, is that the level of luxury scales with your budget without sacrificing flavor. So whether you find yourself with $10.00 to your name or you own a tower of cash that you can dive into like a swimming pool, you’ll still end up with a comforting and tasty dish. Here’s what you’ll need (for the mushrooms it’s your choice based on budget and taste, anywhere from the lowly button to morel. Some work better than others, you want a mushroom that will give you a nice creamy texture when you sautée them, I usually go with crimini or shitake, although a few morels have snuck in there once or twice):

• 1 lb pasta – long noodles work best here (i.e. linguine, bucatini, spaghetti)

• 1 1/2 lbs mushrooms – roughly chopped

• 1 1/2 large onions – minced

• 5-6 cloves of garlic – minced

• EVOO

• Red Chili Flakes – optional

• Salt & Pepper to taste

Get yourself a large high-sided sauté pan and coat it with a healthy splash of olive oil. On medium-high heat toss your onions in. Cook for a couple of minutes and then set the heat to a low sauté to let them sweat while you chop the mushrooms, this will give them enough time to really let their sweetness out. Fill a large pot with water and set it on high heat, remember to salt the water generously, you want it to be cloudy so the noodles soak up some flavor. Salt the onions and then throw the mushrooms in the pan, it’s going to be really full at first, but don’t worry, when they start to release their moisture, the pile will reduce to a more manageable size. I like to drizzle a little olive oil over the mushrooms to help incorporate them with the onions. Once the mushrooms have cooked down, season the mixture liberally, those mushrooms will soak up a lot of flavor. Now you can add a dash or two of red chili flake to give it a little heat, this works great with the savory mushrooms and the sweetness from the onion. When the water is at a rolling boil, toss in your pasta, make sure to stir for a little while until the noodles loosen up to prevent clumping. A few minutes before the noodles are done, make a space in the middle of the mushroom-onion mixture, add the garlic and cover it over with the mushrooms. This will let them cook down a bit while still retaining some of its raw kick. Season one last time, drain the noodles and combine in the large pot. Let it cool a bit to let the sauce infuse the noodles with flavor and serve generously with Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese, a little parsley is a nice touch as well. 

Yields 4 servings