A Pasta Invention

Those keeping track of my career as a creator of recipes will remember my apple butter buttermilk ice cream which I created last week. This week I present a somewhat loopy, somewhat inspired pasta dish based on a dish Lauren had when we went to Craftbar. That dish was pecorino fondue with honey and hazelnuts. Since I had pecorino in my fridge, honey and hazelnuts on hand I decided to morph that fondue into a pasta dish. And thusly I present to you my Penne with Pecorino, Honey and Hazelnuts.


The process by which I made this was quite simple. I boiled pasta. I grated a cup of pecorino into a bowl. In a saute pan I melted approximately 3 Tbs of butter and a tiny drop (a few tsps) of honey. To this I added about half a cup of pasta water–it sizzles, beware!–and to that I added the pasta. Tossed it all around and added the cup of pecorino. Tossed it all around, added more pecorino to make it cheesier. And then, once poured into a bowl, I added some chopped toasted hazelnuts. Is it respectable to add chopped toasted nuts to a pasta? I’m not sure. But I liked it. This whole dish was a nice twist on my standard pasta with butter, nutmeg and Parmesan. Give it a chance and credit me with the recipe. Well me and Craftbar. But mostly me.

Sopranos Saucery: Rigatoni with Sausage & Tomato Sauce

I don’t work for HBO but I wish I did. They produce some of the best television out there–better, in fact, than most of the movies that get released these days. I think “The Sopranos” is the best show in the history of television, and I’ve been watching TV a long time. Not only is it a terrific show, it has its own cookbook. Kirk bought it for me for my birthday (and I, actually, bought one for my brother–a big Sopranos fan–a few years ago when it came out. Does he cook from it? Fuhgetaboutit.) I was wary of whether the recipes would come out but now I feel like a jamook: look how well this rigatoni with sausage and tomato sauce came out.


[If you want to know what a “jamook” is, check out The Sopranos mobspeak dictionary.]

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Penne Carbonara & My Last Will and Testament

Lauren can have my cat because Lauren’s a dog person and Lolita (who she lived with for two years) will remind her that cats are people too. Lisa can have my “Freaks & Geeks” DVD set because she hasn’t seen the end yet; Alex can have my VHS tape of the Martin Short special that aired on NBC in the 90s with Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks which I think is the funniest thing I own because she thinks it’s as funny as I do; Ricky can hang on to my “Pippin” DVD because he has it anyway and everyone else can divide up my remaining book, cookbook, DVD and CD collections.

I am writing my last will and testament because I had this for dinner last night:


After hamburgers the night before and pizza the night before that, this was the dish that pushed me over the edge to become a true glutton. John Wayne had “True Grit,” but I’m a “True Glutton.” So if heart failure keeps me from waking up tomorrow, we now know how to divide up my possessions. If I live, it’ll be a while before I make this again–not because it wasn’t outrageously delicious, but because it made me feel guiltier than a man who kills nuns with tweezers.

Do you want to feel that guilty? Does that picture above have you salivating? Do you have a death-wish too?

It’s REALLY easy to make. You probably have all the ingredients already, with the exception of slab bacon which I had left over from the Birmingham Beet salad from the other night. I loosely interpreted a recipe for “Spaghetti Carbonara” from Marcella Hazan which I will loosely reinterpret for you in the next paragraph. This dish comes together best when you do it all in a huge rush: the high octane charges the dish with dramatic flair.

You will need: pasta (spaghetti’s the most preferable, but as you can see I used penne) (this recipe is good for half a box); 1 strip of slab bacon (or pancetta or even regular bacon); some wine (I used old old old white wine that’s been in my fridge for months. I know it’s horrible to use wine you wouldn’t actually drink but since I was only using 1/4 a cup, I didn’t care. And it tasted fine.) FRESH Parmesan cheese. 1 garlic clove.

1. Boil your pasta til it’s al dente; [you want the pasta to finish cooking just as everything else is finishing, so the heat from the pasta will cook the egg]

2. In a large bowl, crack an egg and break it up a bit with a fork. Grate about a cup of parmesan in it and then grind some pepper in there too;

3. Cut up the slab bacon into 1/4-inch strips. Take a Tbs or 2 of olive oil and pour into a skillet; heat on medium heat and add the garlic clove. Let it flavor the oil til it’s golden then remove. Add the bacon and cook for a few minutes until crisp on the outside. Move off the heat and add 1/4 cup of wine. It will sizzle.

4. Then it’s pure assembly. Add the drained pasta to the egg in the bowl; stir around and coat. Then add the bacon and the bacon fat (all the liquid from the skillet) and toss around. Taste. It is delicious. Write your last will and testament and bon apetit!

A Eureka Pasta Moment with Butter, Parmesan and Nutmeg

In the course of working on my book proposal, I had the privilege of interviewing a food celebrity who told me to stock my pantry with Parmesan and nutmeg (among other things). Around this time I began cooking a pantry staple: pasta with butter, parmesan and nutmeg. The thing that makes this dish wonderful is that once you buy the basic ingredients—dried pasta, butter, a big block of Parmesan (my favorite comes from Citarella) and whole nutmeg—you can make it over and over again, any night of the week. And this I have done since I spoke to the food celebrity. In fact, I’d say I’ve made this at least once a week every week since October. It’s like a mature version of macaroni and cheese and it’s really comforting as the months get colder and colder.

My process has always been very basic. I bring a large pot of water to boil and then add a bunch of kosher salt. I put in half a box of pasta and let it cook for the appropriate time, making sure the pasta’s just cooked through so it’s still al dente. I drain it in the sink and then melt 3 or 4 Tbs of unsalted butter in the pot. Here’s where things get interesting…

Up until this point, I’ve always done it the same way. I add the pasta back to the butter, grate nutmeg on top and grate Parmesan on top and then stir it all through. All this happens over heat and when it comes off it’s a buttery, gloppy, flavorful sinful mess.

Then Lidia Bastianich entered the picture. Watching her show, I noticed that she uses pasta water to make sauces stick. Then I read her book and she has a recipe for pasta with parmesan and butter where after you melt the butter you add pasta water and let it reduce. Which leads directly to our eureka moment.

Last night, upon my return from Florida, I made the best bowl of pasta with butter, parmesan and nutmeg I’ve ever had. Keep in mind I’ve probably made 50 bowls of this. But this was the best. Here’s what you do:

– You’ve boiled your pasta as suggested above.

– While the pasta’s cooking, grate 1 cup of parmesan into a bowl. The reason you do this is because if you do it right over the pasta like I’d been doing, you’ll never add enough Parmesan. Because the energy it takes to grate 1 cup on a microplane grater is more than you’re willing to do when you’re eyeballing it, it’s worth to do in a separate process.

– Now this is key. Take out a mug or a small glass. When draining the pasta, fill the mug or small glass with some of the pasta water and then drain the rest.

– Melt 3 Tbs of butter in the pasta pot. (This works with half a box of pasta.) Once melted, add about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup (depending on how you feel) of the pasta water. It will sizzle. Let reduce for a few seconds and grate fresh nutmeg over it. Now add the pasta, toss around, and add the cup of Parmesan. Stir and serve.

This will yield the happiest bowl of pasta you’ve had in a long while. It’s the perfect thing to make for yourself on a cold winter’s night. And as you continue to make it, you’ll adjust it to your preferences. I like a lot of nutmeg, maybe you won’t. But one thing’s for sure. If we keep eating this at least once a week, we’ll all be dead by the time we’re 60. See you in the after world!

Do Not Try This Orzo At Home

If today’s posts have a theme, the theme is “disappointment.” This was (mostly) a weekend of bad eating. It culminated tonight when I attempted an Orzo recipe from last month’s Bon Apetit. I’m sure, if you wanted, you could find that recipe on Epicurious. But why would you want to? Because it looks pretty?


Well you remember the pretty girl from high school? The one without a soul? That’s this orzo. It’s soulless and empty and I hate that I spent hours making it.

Ok, there were lots of steps but it wasn’t as bad as I’m making it sound. Sure, I had to peel and slice up ginger:


I had to bring it to a boil in oil:


I let it fall to room temperature and then poured it into a jar:


The jar went into the refrigerator for one hour.

Meanwhile, I chopped up some dried apricots, green onions, and cilantro:


I cooked the Orzo: (actually, this was Riso pasta–an acceptable alternative, according to the recipe):


Toasted my pistachios:


Strained the ginger oil:


And then assembled the Orzo salad you see at the top of this post. You mix the pasta with the onions, cilantro, apricots and pistachios. You pour some ginger oil into a bowl with lemon juice and dried Coriander and whisk that together. You pour it on the Orzo. You season to taste…

And when you taste you hit yourself on the head and you say, “I spent two hours waiting for this?” Then, after eating a bowl, you have the joyous task of cleaning it up.

Forgive my lack of pep when I say: sometimes cooking isn’t fun!

Pasta Is A Dish Best Served Cold. And with Sun-Dried Tomatoes.

Food pictures can be erotic, can’t they? See if this picture makes your mouth horny:


Is that the first time I used the word “horny” in a post? I apologize. Did you know my 5th Grade teacher Mrs. White was fired mid-year because she let one of my classmates play that rap song that goes “Me So Horny” during an after class party and one of the mothers was offended. The Monday after that party we came to class and instead of Mrs. White, there was our principal sitting there telling us we’d have a new teacher. We were heartbroken. Ok, not really. We liked our new teacher better. But I wonder where Mrs. White is today. Is she dead? Does her tombstone say: “Me So Horny.” Ok, that was horrible. But maybe a teensy bit funny?

Let’s talk about pasta salad. Pasta salad is incredibly easy to make and incredibly rewarding. All you need is pasta, stuff for dressing, and other stuff to throw in. It’s all very casual. Very cazh. Wear your sandals.

We get this recipe from—come on now, say it collectively: THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA! But it’s from a book one of my readers’ bought me: Barefoot Contessa Family Style which completes my collection. All I need now is Ina’s BMW and her Hamptons home and I’m set.

Here’s what you need:

1/2 pound fusilli (spirals) pasta

OH NO! I thought it said a pound and I used the whole box! That’s why my pasta’s not terribly coated with dressing. But ya know what? It still tasted great. How come it’s not until I type out these recipes that I realize I made mistakes? That tells you something about recipes. Or maybe it tells you something about me.


Kosher salt

Olive oil

1 pound ripe tomatoes, medium diced

1/4 cup good black olives, such as kalamata, pitted and diced

1 pound fresh mozzarella, medium diced

6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

For the dressing:

5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

6 Tbs good olive oil

1 garlic clove, diced

1 tsp capers, drained

2 tsps kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup packed basil leaves, julienned (Or Julianned, if Julianne Moore is present)

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water with a splash of oil to keep it from sticking. Boil 12 minutes or according to directions on package. Drain well and allow to cool. Place the pasta in a bowl and add the tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

For the dressing, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, salt, and pepper in a food processor until almost smooth.


Pour the dressing over the pasta, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and basil and toss well.


So just imagine: I made this wrong and I loved it, how great will this taste when you make it right? And then you can take dirty pictures of it like I did and put it in your wallet. Just don’t let it get you fired like Mrs. White got fired. You need your job to pay for the olives. Unless you don’t like olives. In which case, take all the pictures you like.

Cooking, Art and Magic: Summer Squash and Corn Pasta

There is a link, methinks, between cooking, art and magic. The best evidence I can give to support this theory is from Act 4.1 of Macbeth. Enter the witches.

First Witch: Round about the cauldron go,

In the poisoned entrails throw

Toad that under cold stone

Days and nights has thirty-one

sweltered venom sleeping got

boil thou first i’th’ charmed pot.

A “charmed pot.” That’s what cooking’s all about, is it not? Transformation. A mish-mosh of random ingredients and bang wham pow something new. Which is what I experienced tonight with Alice Waters. I did her recipe for “Summer Squash and Corn Pasta” from her Vegetables book, which a reader so kindly bought me. You need summer squash and corn, to start:


You cut the squash into tiny pieces (“small dice,” says Alice) and you saute it in 1.5 Tbs of olive oil until tender and a bit brown.


Season with salt and pepper. Then you add corn from 3 ears (I halved the recipe, by the way), 2 cloves of garlic cut up and 1/2 a jalapeno cut up too.


You cook that for a bit. It’s all very casual here in Alice-land.

Then add 2 Tbs of butter, a handful of chopped cilantro and 3 or 4 Tbs of water. That’s it! Your sauce! Taste and season accordingly. (Alice says to add lemon juice if the corn is too sweet. I wonder if lime would be good too?)

In the meantime, you’ve prepared some fettucine. Half a pound. Add to the corn and squash mixture, toss about with tongs, and there’s your dinner: [add more cilantro to garnish]


Those noodles all get coated with the browned, sweetened squash; the corn adds texture and more sweetness and then there’s the heat of the jalapeno, the old Jewish grandma-ness of the garlic, and the brightness of the cilantro. It’s the sort of thing that you read and say: “Hmm, but I really wonder what that tastes like?”

Exactly! Back to the beginning: cooking, art and magic. The cooking is the manual labor; the art is what gets added (the recipe) and the magic is what it becomes. Transformation: a charmed pot. And I think the child in me who watched witches on TV throw random things into large cauldrons only to have doves or children or Oprah emerge finds himself in love with cooking most when the resulting product is something that could never have existed but for the enchanted spell (ie: the recipe). Try this recipe and experience some late summer magic before it’s too late! Corn and summer squash don’t last forever.

When life throws you risotto, make Arancini!

There’s nothing I like less than day-old risotto. When it’s hot off the stove, all the textures and flavors meld together to create a soothing, heavenly mixture. But after a day in the fridge, it turns a bit gummy and then heating it up inevitably makes it gummier. What to do with day old risotto?!

Thank the Lord for this website. Because a while back, when I last made risotto, I said I threw out the leftovers because they were kind of nasty. A commenter wrote: “Don’t do that next time! Make Arancini!” Which is exactly what I did last night.

Arancini is a fried risotto ball. Putting it together is a cinch. The only thing I had to go out and buy was breadcrumbs (and salad ingredients to serve with it) but that’s it. That and cheese—but I had goat cheese on hand. So set up three bowls: (1) 1/2 cup of flour; (2) 2 eggs beaten; (3) 1/2 cup of bread crumbs.


I seasoned the flour a bit but that’s your choice. Some of the recipes I read didn’t have you do that, but I’m a rebel. I opened a package of Coach Farm goat cheese that I bought at the farmer’s market, and unlike the last one this one was creamy and tangy just the way I like it:


So the next part’s kind of gross, but just work fast. You open up your day-old refrigerated risotto, and stick your hand in and make a 1 to 2 inch ball. Flatten it and break off a piece of goat cheese, insert it in the middle, and reform the ball. (My risotto was really wet and it made all this really difficult, but I still managed.) Then dip that ball into the flour, coat, shake off; then into the egg; and finally the breadcrumbs. Here’s what you’ll end up with:


I rested them on wax paper as I heated up the oil. It took an entire bottle of Canola oil to fill 2-inches of my heavy pot, but that happens when you fry. You heat up the oil to 360 (make sure you have a thermometer) and once there, drop your balls in. (I wanna dip my balls in it!) (<--anyone remember that?) IMG_4.JPG

They only took a little more than 2 minutes before they were golden brown. I took them out with a slotted spoon and drained them on paper towels:


Don’t they look great? Just so I didn’t feel too unhealthy, I served them with a salad (basically a bag of exotic lettuce with grape tomatoes in a homemade vinaigrette—I’m a pro!):


Biting into the Arancini was awesome: crunchy on the outside, and creamy/risotto-ey on the inside. Plus that goat cheese is a nice surprise:


It’s almost worth making risotto so you can make this the next day. Two meals out of one dish: that’s my kind of food.