Meaty and Mighty

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 9.08.11 AMEggplant is often called “meaty,” by which we mean what, exactly? Substantial? Versatile? Flavorful?

All of the above, for sure (as well as tough and chewy on occasion; not necessarily a bad thing). But the comparison is no more fair to the aubergine than it would be to call a piece of beef “eggplanty.”

Eggplant stands alone, a vegetable like no other. Actually, because eggplant is a fruit, like the tomato, to which it’s closely related, it’s safer to label it a food like no other, beloved and appreciated worldwide and deserving of respect, not as a meat substitute but as a treasure in itself.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Indian, Italian, Japanese

Exclusive Sneak Peek! Healthy One-Pot Meals from VB6 on iVillage

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Photo Credit: Daniel Meyer

The beauty of a one-pot meal is that you can get all your food groups in an easy to make, easy to clean up dish. It doesn’t matter if it’s vegetarian or laced with meat, a one-pot meal allows you to build textures and develop flavors in a simple manner. Pasta, tagine, stews… your options are limitless.

Read the rest of the article and check out the recipes, here.

Posted in Italian

Gnocchi: 4 Flavors, 4 Sauces

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A phrase often used (overused, really) to describe well-made gnocchi is “light as a cloud.” It’s not an especially instructive description for a piece of real food, and for cooks hoping to try their hands at gnocchi for the first time, it can be downright daunting.

It’s true that gnocchi requires a bit of technique, but achieving that cloudlike texture — “light” is perhaps a simpler, less intimidating word — isn’t actually that difficult.

Read the rest of this article, get the recipes, and watch the video with Mario Batali here.

Posted in Italian, Recipes

A Different Shade of Risotto

As more varieties and better qualities of brown rice become increasingly common, it’s growing clear that you can do pretty much anything you want with this less processed version of the world’s second-most-popular grain. (You guessed it: corn is numero uno.)

This includes making risotto. Real, creamy, tender risotto. There is really only one adjustment to make, and that is to parboil the rice so that the risotto-making process takes about the same amount of time — 20 minutes or so — that it does with white rice.

As you normally would, choose short- or medium-grain brown rice, which is crucially important because these are the varieties that emit enough starch to make the final product creamy. One could argue, and some will, that you should begin with Italian varieties like Arborio. But good Spanish, Japanese and, yes, American short- and medium-grain rices give equally good results.

Read the rest of this article here, and get the recipe here.

Posted in Italian, Recipes

How to Cook Pizza Better Than a Restaurant

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I’M here — back in the Dining section with a new column — to insist once again that not only can you cook it at home, but you can likely cook it better.

“It,” in this case, is pizza, and the impetus for today’s installment was a visit to a highly acclaimed pizza joint in Manhattan, where I was served (for $15, or about four times the cost of the ingredients in a supermarket) a perfectly ordinary, overly poofy, drearily sauced pizza. Granted, the mozzarella was first rate. Big deal.

Read the rest of this column, watch the video, and get the recipes here.

Posted in Italian, Recipes

Mini Cannelloni

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By Alaina Sullivan

Asian and Italian cuisines aren’t often combined, but here’s a recipe that brings them together. Take the concept of Italian cannelloni – large, round tubes or squares of noodle, stuffed and baked (typically with cheese and a sauce). Instead of using fresh pasta (which most of us don’t usually have the time to make), swap in an Asian equivalent: the wonton wrapper. Commonly associated with the crispy exterior of dumplings or egg rolls (which are made from a larger version), the paper-thin noodle can just as easily be repurposed for stuffed pasta (think: ravioli, tortellini, cannelloni, etc.) Boiled or baked, wonton wrappers function much the same way as their Italian counterpart.

In this recipe, ricotta – a classic pasta filling – is mixed with fresh sage, Parmesan, salt and pepper. You can easily swap in any herb you like, but sage is particularly nice. Tomato sauce makes a classic accompaniment, but you can also enjoy it as I did – drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a generous amount of fresh black pepper (plus more grated Parm). Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

Mini Cannelloni

Heat the oven to 400 F. In a bowl, mix together a cup of ricotta cheese, a tablespoon of chopped sage, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. Put about a teaspoonful of this mixture in a wonton wrapper; roll into a tube, and put on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush or spray with olive oil. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the wontons are crisp. If you don’t have tomato sauce to warm up, serve drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with lots of black pepper.

Posted in Chinese, Italian

Barley Risotto

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By Alaina Sullivan

Traditional risotto calls for Arborio rice or one of its short-grained cousins; I decided to try it with barley. Risotto-style barley has a more toothsome bite than the rice-based versions, but the process is the same—a ritual of stirring, adding liquid, more stirring, adding more liquid until the consistency turns rich and creamy. The cooking process requires a bit of a watchful eye – a few too many minutes on the stovetop and the grain might get overcooked (you want it to retain a slight crunch). I prepared the barley according to the directions for “Simple Risotto” How to Cook Everything. I folded in a trio of cooked mushrooms (cremini, shitake and portabella), added fresh thyme to complement their earthiness, and finished off the dish with grated manchego to give it that classic creaminess.

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Posted in Italian

Baked Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Figs, and Blue Cheese

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By Freya Bellin

As the weather becomes chillier, I love a good casserole. This pasta dish, though maybe not a traditional casserole, evokes the same warm, melty, heartiness.  And while the list of ingredients may raise eyebrows, they all come together harmoniously: the bite of the cheese, the juicy sweetness of fresh figs, and the crunch of Brussels sprouts. I don’t always love blue cheese, but it served its purpose well here. 4 ounces of cheese, especially a pungent one like gorgonzola, is just the right amount to add flavor throughout, without overwhelming the dish. It seeps into the tubes of rigatoni, and coats everything in a light, cheesy sauce. The almonds add some crunch, but flavor-wise don’t interfere with the rest of the dish. This pasta is well balanced, unique, and makes excellent leftovers. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Italian, Recipes

Flatbread Pizza with Figs, Goat Cheese, and Balsamic

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By Alaina Sullivan

There is nothing quite like a fresh fig. It’s delicate and sweet, with dark, chewy skin encasing a pulpy flesh that swims with tiny seeds. Fresh figs are best with simple, bold flavor pairings, and using them as a pizza topping is a genius way to savor the last of the season’s crop. Here, fig crescents are spread across a flatbread crust and baked at high heat until their flesh oozes out, warm and sweet. Dabs of creamy goat cheese melt alongside, the tang a pretty perfect complement to the figs. A splash of balsamic is the final touch. Sometimes only something this simple can be so insanely delicious. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

Flatbread Pizza with Figs, Goat Cheese, and Balsamic

Slice a couple of handfuls of figs into quarters. Brush olive oil on lavash or other flatbread and dot generously with goat cheese; spread the figs evenly on top of the cheese. Bake in a 450 degree oven until the cheese melts and the figs soften. Drizzle with a tiny bit of balsamic and serve.  

 

Posted in Italian, Recipes

The Minimalist: Pasta with Cauliflower

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(Watch the video here.)

I’ve been making this pasta for a very long time, probably since the 1980s, since it’s derived from a Marcella Hazan recipe. It’s dead simple — one of the things that I love about it — and you can pre-cook the cauliflower a day ahead or so if you’d like. I usually do the whole thing at once: cook the cauliflower in water, scoop it out and then, later, cook the pasta in the same water. It’s already boiling, and you want the taste of the cauliflower anyway, so why not?

The cauliflower gets cooked more, in a skillet with toasted garlic, so don’t boil it to death; you do want it to be tender, though. And in the original Minimalist recipe, from 2000, I added the bread crumbs to the skillet along with the cauliflower, but since I usually add some pasta water to the skillet to keep the mixture saucy, the bread crumbs become soggy. Better, then, to stir the bread crumbs in at the very end. They should be very coarse, ideally homemade, and if they’re toasted in olive oil in a separate skillet before you toss them in, so much the better.

For a while now I’ve been cooking pasta recipes with less pasta and more sauce. That’s a very personal decision, I know, but you could easily make this dish with half a pound of pasta and two pounds of cauliflower, and it would be excellent.

(Read the recipe here.)

Posted in Italian, Recipes