Curious Appetite

Seasonal

Piadina- the Italian flatbread

Piadina Tartufato- by yours truly

La Piadina is a wonderful thing. What it is IS an Italian flatbread made of flour, lard (or olive oil), salt and water and stuffed with 2-3 ingredients- usually a meat, cheese and a veg. In Emilia Romagna, where la piadina romagnola originates, you will find piadinerie that make the flatbread fresh (even with little charred blots on) and stuff it with local cheeses, prosciutto and fancy sauces (truffle cream upon request!!!).

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Homemade fresh pasta and wild boar ragù

A lot of people I know who like Italian food love pasta. It is the cornerstone of Italian cuisine, it is what makes Italian cuisine, at least modern-day Italian. I go through phases of shunning carbs and gluten but during the winter months like January and February- I can’t seem to help myself.

Recently I have had to attend some culinary dinner events which included pasta making top chef-like challenges. So after one weekend of an event I borrow a pasta maker because I’m really curious if I can do it on my own after observing it at these events. All I gotta do is look up a recipe, give me a machine and I’ll figure it out, right?

So I call a pal to see if she is game for an afternoon of pasta making. She trumps my request by adding that we make our fresh pasta with a ragù of cinghiale (aka wild boar ragù). The game is on.

The night before I was excited. I told some Italian friends about my plans for the next day, they seemed impressed and respond by saying basically how weird is it that a couple of Americans are making something that Italians themselves are forgetting about.  Italy is being colonized by the Big Mac meanwhile American foodies teach themselves how to make the traditional dishes their grandparents used to make. Incredible.

After some trials and tribulations of finding wild boar meat in the city of Florence, my trusty sidekick succeeds in finding some from a local butcher and marinates it overnight with garlic, rosemary and wine.

We spend about 3 hours simmering a wild boar ragù– which is basically a red meat sauce starting with a battuto of carrot, celery, onion, peeled tomatoes, red wine and ground marinated cinghiale.

While the sauce is simmering we mak’ala pasta!


Start with 1 cup of all purpose flour and a cup of whole grain flour (believe me the consistency and texture is real nice- plus the fiber will make you feel less guilty for eating pasta! score!) mix it in a bowl with a pinch of sea salt. Pour it on a dry surface and stick your fingers in the middle to form a volcano


Then when you get a deep valley in your lump of flour, crack 4 eggs into it, careful to not let the lava spill quite yet.


Then you put a few drops of olive oil in your egg lava nest and try to whisk the mix without letting it spill of the sides. But if it does, don’t worry. I did and the pasta came out just fine. Once the lava is all mixed, start incorporating flour in little by little with a fork.


Then just say screw it with the dainty fork and just get your hands all up in it and capture all your flour and knead like crazy- pasta dough is very kneady process and needs a lot of kneading care. get it…get it??!!! It’s a PUN!!!! No? Just me? Okay moving on….


Once your dough has got all it has kneaded..(okay, I promise to stop…) Tada! Let it rest, it’s taken quite the beating. For about a half an hour. In the meantime, feel free to eat chocolate, drink coffee and sip on wine. Yep, that’s Italy!


After the rest and by now I hope you’re buzzing and cracked out on caffeine…it’s the perfect time to do something time consuming and somewhat tedious- and that’s rolling out the pasta dough and cutting it! Good thing we were making a slow cooked ragù…maybe that’s why it was discovered! Maybe someone left some meat sauce on the stove while making fresh pasta and it turned into a delicious melt-in-your mouth wonder!

Be sure to keep your surface nice and floured as you are slicing your dough and flattening it out a bit.

When using a pasta machine and making sheets of pasta from the dough, start with the lowest setting and work your way up to your desired thickness/thinness. Once you make flat sheets of pasta, you put it through the cutting attachment as seen here in exhibit: z.

After you cut your pasta, you lay them on a flat plate-object like a plastic sheet or cutting board make sure they don’t stick together by adding a bit of flour, untangling the strands like hair.

And you must have a fun face on while you are doing it. Otherwise, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, in life you must always have a fun face on.

Your slow cooked ragù is almost ready. So boil up a large pot of water, add all your hard earned pasta in and cook for no more than 3 minutes. A spectator in the peanut gallery of this adventure said “how funny that something that takes so long to prepare takes so little to cook.” Deep thoughts about pasta, yes this is Italy.

When your pasta is cooked and drained, pile some on a few plates and dollop a nice ladle of your slow simmered wild boar cinghiale ragù on top. Grate some aged pecorino on top and you got yourself a plate of pasta that will knock Dante Alighieri’s socks off.

Don’t forget to stop and smell. Watch. Drool. Devour.

Don’t forget to pair with some red wine. Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino…heck just make sure you have some goddamn red wine, preferably from Tuscany. Oh and make sure it’s daytime. Drinking during the day is totally okay. Only in Italy can you drink all day and be called a wine expert. Back home we call that a lush or an alcoholic! What a relief to live with real culture!

I think I will use this post as blackmail to get my friends and family back home to come visit. You want this? Then come visit me. Mwahahahaha! I mean, hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket is sooooo worth a lunch like this…and with me- hello! Sheesh. NO BRAINER! See you soon! 😛

BUON APPETITO!

Thanks to Sarah, my partner is cinghiale crime, for the lovely photos. You can follow her blog on her adventures as a movement theater teacher at Helikos in Florence here: http://slianef.wordpress.com/

Dine Around Seattle: Ray’s Boathouse

March is an annoying month in Seattle. You think you’ve braved the bulk of winter but really it’s only just begun. February teases you with May weather, then March slaps you around with icy winds and grey. Coincidentally March is Washington Wine Month AND Dine Around Seattle Month. So I guess I will pass the time with wine (for March’s sake) and fancy 3 course meals for $30 at shmancy restaurants, like Ray’s Boathouse.

This massive hunk of love was a Tiramisu’ cheesecake. And it was one of the generous desserts apart of the 3 course $30 dine around deal.

I have heard lovely things about Ray’s Boathouse and have been trying to get in there for sometime. They are best known for, you guessed it, Pacific Northwest Inspired Seafood-centric cuisine. But if you look at the menu’ for Dine Around, it was strangely meat heavy. There was a seared tuna starter, which was delicately seared and extremely fresh and carefully paired with flavors of coconut, cilantro and ginger. There was also the saffron mussel bisque w/ pork belly but the pork was definitely the centerpiece to the cream saffron broth. On the mains list there was a Seafood Risotto but I couldn’t bring myself to trust a risotto in most restaurants, especially one that doesn’t even have a claim to Italian fame. Risotto tends to dry out almost immediately and its one of those dishes that takes a lot of attention and needs to be demolished immediately once ready. It can get gummy or mushy if it isn’t served within 15 minutes. So the one seafood main was the one I refused to try. So instead the Muscovy Duck Leg Confit and the Braised Lamb shank was on the to do list. Along with a bottle of a Salice Salentino Negroamaro (black bitter) which is a bold deep red from the Puglia region of Italy. Not too bold in tannin but structured enough to buddy up with duck and lamb.

And my my, these were not sad portions. I wish my camera hadn’t been misbehaving so I could show you their glory. These meats were cooked to perfection, layered a top vegetables like seasonal beets, arugula and swiss chard with grace. Brushed with thoughtful notes like honey lavender demi-glace (for the lamb) and roasted chanterelle jus (for the duck confit) that invoked a sense of true craftmanship.

However, there is usually a however with me, there was no soul. The ambiance seemed a little stiff and I felt as if I was sitting in a Denny’s booth albeit with a cute view of the bay. The chef’s at Ray’s have technique down pat. But there is too much a corporate feel and a lack of character to this restaurant that I feel less inclined to return. The decor was kind of like the kind I’d find at a rental cabin owned by a retired couple in Michigan. But perhaps this is the establishment that it would like to be. The kind that people in preppy suits come to dine and woo their in-town guests or for upscale family reunions. I’ve also heard the cafe’ area is a lot more relaxed and cozy. And for the summertime, which lasts about 6 weeks for us Seattlelittes, it would be a stellar place to enjoy some fresh salmon, a strawberry shortcake and a mint mojito.

If you are looking for true technique, proper portions and a place to bring someone on a suit and tie kind of occasion, Ray’s Boathouse is a win. Also a choice place for Dine Around Seattle Month, for sure.

MarxFood Random Recipe Challenge: Wildly Stuffed Squash!

I rarely blog about making food, but rather critique others who make it. Nevertheless, thanks to being a food blogger, MarxFood.com sent me some random samples as apart of a recipe contest! The much anticipated box had come with an assortment of dried gourmet goodies: black trumpet mushrooms, Japones Chilies, Habanero Chilies, Wild Rice and Coconut Sap Sugar. Hmmmmm, I thought, what to do with such differing powers of flavor! I stewed long and hard going through explosive japones chili thai soupy thoughts to Mexican habanero rasberry coconut sap jam dreams. Part of the challenge is that I would need to use at least 2 of the 5 ingredients in order to come up with some random dish. Finally after days of tossing the ingredients back and forth in my head, I realized the conception:

Wild and Foraged Stuffed Winter Squash. Baked with coconut sap and finished with black truffle oil. For this recipe, I utilized 3 of the 5 ingredients sent! What makes it wild is the wild rice, foraged dried black trumpet mushrooms and fresh chantrelles. And of course, truffle oil is pretty wild itself!

I love fall cooking, the possibilities are endless! I love the rib sticking goodness of bright carby squashes. I realized that we are also totally in mushroom season so I wanted to capitalize on the earthy pattern of the wild rice and black trumpets by incorporating further mushroom compliments: chantrelles and black truffle oil. Not to mention,  the milky salty touch of ricotta salata that imparts the creamy texture of its fresh grassy ricotta sister while insinuating the briney similarities of a feta.

I took a trip down to the weekend farmer’s market to obtain the bulk of the seasonal foods at hand:

(the following images may be of extreme graphic nature and I totally blame Monica Barrett for being the official food pornagrapher and gastrocohort)

Serves 4, easily:

1 each of Carnival, delicata and acorn squash

2 cups of fresh spinach

1/2 lb of Fresh chantrelles

8 ounces of ricotta salata (cheese)

1 lb smoked keta salmon fillet

2 small leeks or 1 large

1 dry cup of wild rice

4 oz Black Trumpet Mushrooms (dried)

clove of garlic, crushed and chopped

olive oil for saute’

coconut sap sugar, for exposed squash edges in final baking phase

black truffle oil to finish

(salt and pepper to taste)

…all bought fresh, local and organic at the Farmer’s Market!

The bags you see are the little samples MarxFood sent that tied it all together! I also PAIRED the whole dinner with an unoaked WA state Ryan Patrick Chardonnay from Piccola Wine.

Now that you have the grocery list, here goes the process:

Overview: The idea is to stuff the squash with a lightly sauteed melange of foraged wild mushrooms (such as the black trumpet and fresh chantrelles), leeks and spinach with garlic and olive oil. Then mix this “melange” with perfectly tender and chewy wild rice. Crumble in ricotta salata then fill in the various squashes after they have been prebaked at 350 faced down in olive oil), sprinkle with coconut sap at the edges to brown, caramelize and bake to perfection.

1st step,  reconstitute the dried mushooms in hot water for about 30 minutes. Be glad the black trumpets are dried because that means you can use the earthy umami broth to cook the wild rice in. Sit down and relax for 30 minutes. Have a glass of Zin and snack on pumpkin bread while they become “constituted.”

30 minutes later: now we drain the hydrated trumpets, ahhhh. Now you’re left with mushroom broth. And you’re going to cook the wild rice in it, trust me. I was happy to be “green” and recycle this precious water. Once the black trumpets were reconstituted, the stuffing game was on.

It’s all a time juggle. Wild rice on the back burner, squashes pre-bake in the oven just waiting to be stuffed, saute’ pan is simmering with leeks, garlic, foraged mushrooms and finished with wilted spinach.35 minutes or so later, your whole puzzle is ready to be put together. Fold in the mushroom-leek saute with the earthy aromatic Wild Rice, and then hand crumble ricotta salata over the stuffing like snow.

Use a deep spoon to scoop to stuff and mold. After stuffing, the edges of the squash were carefully sprinkled and hand pressed with coconut sap so that they could sort of be caramelized at the edges. Bake uncovered at 350 for an additional 20 minutes.

A good tip that I failed to mention before is that you need to slice the squash lengthwise, and kinda gut the squash. As pointed out to me by my faithful gastrocohort, aka the fabulous food pornagrapher of this endeavor, the seeds are totally salvagable and should be toasted with salt while the squash prebake, that way you have an interim nibble while they bake during the 20 minute finale.

Careful, don’t fall into the temptation to gobble all these up. Save some, because they make a nice presentation for the final product. My cohort had to slap my hand a couple times. This is probably the real reason I enlisted the culinary support of food pornagrapher Monica…to make sure that I didn’t drink all the wine and eat all the fixins!

Once they have cooled down, line the middle of your plate with the toasted seeds. Portion off a slab of smoked salmon, maybe lay a couple thin slices of ricotta salata atop smokey slab. Then drizzle your much aromatic black truffle oil in zig zaggy layers. It should look a lil’ something like this:

Tasting notes: Pairing the unoaked Chardonnay was a brilliant idea. It complimented the sweet onset of the squash and supported the lingering earthy umami finish brought to you by the mushrooms and spots of truffle. The mushrooms served as a true bridge to bring you a silky full mouth-feel explosion of sweet, savory and umami.

Pairing with the smoked salmon was almost too good to be true, it imparted a sweet salmon candy pop and accented lemony notes from the Chardonnay and an unassuming fruit “punch” with the ricotta salata.

Conclusion: This was quite the treat. Its worth every minute of prep and attention to detail. Be warned: you may fall into a food coma and not wanna get up.

Hope you try this at home!

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