Talking Turkey

Photos by Pam Hoenig

I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey. I like it well enough to eat at Thanksgiving and again for leftovers the next day in gumbo. And as long as it’s the dark meat, most definitely not turkey breast.

But I am here to testify that I have most emphatically changed my mind. The reason? Porchetta-style turkey breast roast. Porchetta originated in Ariccia, a small town just outside of Rome. Prepared traditionally, an entire pig is deboned, the meat seasoned with herbs, then rolled up in its skin, and roasted in a pit to insane tenderness, with a crisp exterior.

Last week I was shopping the meat counter and saw what was being sold as “turkey breast roast.” There were three of them, all in those tight little net bags that keep everything even and together, and one of them was half covered with its skin. I didn’t buy one then but it got me thinking, what if I tried to do turkey porchetta style, working the flavor paste under the skin?

I went back the next day and just one roast was left, just shy of four pounds. It wasn’t the one with the skin, but I bought it anyway, along with half a pound of thinly sliced pancetta. Home I went.

In my little food chopper I combined 1/2 cup fennel fronds (picked from the stand of ornamental bronze fennel in my flower garden), 1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves, a handful of fresh sage leaves, salt, red and black peppers, and the zest of a large lemon and reduced it all to a puree. I pried the roast out of its netting and worked the paste all over and between the pieces of turkey breast that had been jammed together to comprise this “roast.” I reassembled them, then very unartfully wrapped the whole affair in pancetta and tied it together with kitchen twine.

Onto the grill: indirect, with a medium fire for 2 1/2 hours, until the center hit 155°F. I let it rest till it reached 160°F, then cut away the string. The pancetta had turned hickory brown. I cut the roast into thick slices; you could see the flavor paste lacing through the juicy breast. The taste was incredible—complex and aromatic. And it held up the next day when I enjoyed some in a sandwich, topped with a handful of arugula.

– Pam Hoenig

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Italian

HTCE Fast: Broiled Ziti

All the flavors of a classic baked ziti, but more bubbly crust and way less time. Crowd-pleasers don’t come much easier than this.

Salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking sheet
1 medium onion
2 garlic cloves
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
Pepper
1 pound ziti
1 pound mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh
4 ounces Parmesan cheese (1 cup grated)

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Posted in American, Italian, Mark Bittman Books, Recipes

For Perfect Pasta, Add Water and a Vigorous Stir

Flavio Pasta

On a clear fall day in Rome, I was sitting outside at Flavio al Velavevodetto, a restaurant in Testaccio, in a neighborhood that was once the city’s slaughterhouse district and is now inhabited by both older working-class people and gentrifying youngsters. Flavio de Maio, an elegant, middle-aged businessman turned chef, sat across the table from me; a translator sat between us. I had come at the recommendation of a friend, the Rome-based journalist and historian Katie Parla, who told me that if I was looking for the epitome of Roman pasta, this was the place.

I had a question for Flavio: Why did he think that the simplest pastas of all — pasta alla Gricia, pasta cacio e pepe and pasta aglio, olio e peperoncino — were the darlings of Rome, appearing on nearly every menu?

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here. Photo by Grant Cornett.

Posted in Italian, Recipes

A Family Affair

A Family Affair

Gianni Piscitelli, a home cook I met on a recent trip to Naples, grew up cooking with his grandmother, Maria d’Orsi, and later with his father, Attilio, in Montesanto, a residential neighborhood of the city. His grandparents were smart: They bought a sprawling place high on a hill with a view of the sea in 1933, when the area was still countryside — a home where the extended family could all live and cook together. What this family has always cooked is the food of Naples. Which is not what I thought it was.

If you grew up in Lower Manhattan when I did, 50 years ago, you might have thought you knew the food of southern Italy: Pizza, meat ragu, lasagna, stuffed shells and seafood “fra diavolo.”

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here. Photo by Grant Cornett.

Posted in Italian, Recipes

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

One-Pot-Pasta-and-Vegetable

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