Thursday, January 19, 2012

revisiting italy: pasta al crudaiola

I don't know why grape tomatoes seem to be in good shape at any time of year that I look for them, but in the dead of winter when any typical tomato is sad and lackluster, you can usually find a little box of nice grape tomatoes.

For my second attempt at recapturing our Italian honeymoon - this Pasta Al Crudaiola is inspired by a lunch we had at Trattoria Trebbi in Bologna. This is actually a Pugliese dish, from Southern Italy, which makes sense because it is so light and summery. Incredibly simple, incredibly fresh, dishes like this are why I love Italian food so much. You can taste every element, nothing overwhelms, and the flavors complement each other so nicely. It is also a super quick meal being as how the word "crudaiola" means raw - nothing is really cooked except the pasta. For my taste, I throw the tomatoes into a saute pan for just a minute before adding the cooked pasta and tossing, just to take the edge off of the rawness, but you could certainly skip that step and just toss the pasta with all raw ingredients.

What made me especially happy about this dish was that it essentially provides a canvas for you to grate excessive amounts of ricotta salata over. I'm rather obsessed with ricotta salata, a pressed and salted dry ricotta. It is softer than most grating cheeses, and the briney flavor more subtle. It goes especially well with vegetables, like one of my favorite pastas with cauliflower and walnuts. Recipe after the jump:


1 lb pasta of your choice (I used fresh linguine, but traditionally this is made with short pasta like penne)
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup black olives, sliced
6-7 leaves fresh basil, chiffonaded
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup grated ricotta salata, to taste

Prepare the pasta according to package directions and drain. Combine the tomatoes, garlic, and olives in a large saute pan with a teaspoon of the olive oil and saute for no more than a minute. Add the drained pasta, fresh basil, pine nuts, and additional olive oil to coat and toss well to combine. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve in warm pasta bowls and grate the ricotta salata over individual bowls.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

revisiting italy: bollito sandwich

Three months and a crazy trip to China later, and what is still on my mind? Italy. On the coldest days in northern China, with too many hours between meals and seriously low on sleep, I dreamed of Spaghetti Carbonara in Rome and Tortelloni in Bologna. And perhaps most of all, those unbelievable bollito sandwiches at Nerbone in Florence. Our cheapest, quickest meal - and the one we talked about the most - it was the first dish we tried to replicate for ourselves when we got home. While NYC is an excellent source of great pasta, this sandwich doesn't seem to have broken through here, and I don't know of anywhere to get it.

Luckily, there's nothing complicated about it, and we were able to devise a fairly faithful rendition without too much fuss. We tried it with brisket, which is the classic cut for bollito misto. I think the key here is to find a brisket with a really thick fat cap. No one is trying to be healthy when eating a beef sandwich, and all the real flavor and moisture will depend on that fat. Think Texas barbecue brisket fat.

Beyond that, boiling the beef is as straightforward as it gets, so the remainder of the focus needs to be on the sauces. Two sauces were served on the sandwich at Nerbone; a green, parsley-based sauce with a nice garlic kick, and a spicy red sauce. The green sauce was easy to figure out, it's essentially a chimichurri. The red sauce a little more complicated, but safe to assume it's mostly chilis and oil. For my taste, I like a lot of green sauce and just a touch of spicy, so I went light on the red sauce but amped up the garlic on the green sauce. We're also lucky to live right around the corner from an excellent Italian bread bakery, Napoli Bakery, which sells rosette rolls that are very similar to the ones that Nerbone uses. Big plus, buy rolls at Napoli on Friday or Saturday morning and get a loaf of their lard bread. Best kept secret in the neighborhood.

Recipe after the jump:


1 flat-cut brisket, untrimmed (approx. 3 pounds)
2 carrots, halved
2 celery stalks, halved
1 onion, quartered
1 garlic clove, crushed
salsa verde (recipe follows)
salsa rosso (recipe follows)

Bring 2 liters of water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the brisket. Add brisket, carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook for 3 hours or until meat becomes very tender. Remove meat from the pot and let rest. Reserve the cooking liquid for the sandwich. Slice across the grain into thin slices. Pile meat onto a soft rosette roll which has been dipped in the brisket's cooking liquid, and top with the salsas.


1 large bunch flat leaf parsley
3 oz capers
5 fillets anchovies
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop parsley, capers, garlic and anchovies. Place in a large jar and add lemon juice and oil. Mix well, taste and season with salt and pepper.


1 cup fresh hot Italian peppers (Peperoncino, Anaheim, or Cubanelle will work)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
a bunch fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop the peppers (keep seeds if you want it spicy), garlic, tomatoes, and basil. Place in a large jar and add olive oil to cover.

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