July 26, 2006

Green Beans a la Fillippelli

This is sort of an amalgamation of 2 or 3 different recipes, but man did it work. It will be especially good with farm-fresh green beans and some really good blue cheese, preferably Maytag Blue.

  • 1 lb green beans, cleaned
  • 2/3 cup good blue cheese, crumbled
  • ½ cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Start some salted water boiling in a large pot.

Heat olive oil over med-high heat and add shallots. Fry shallots in small pan until they are brown and just getting crispy, remove from heat.

Blanch the green beans for 1-2 minutes and immediatley strain.

Combine the green beans with the fried shallot mixture, drizzle with balsamic, bleu cheese, and salt and pepper, and combine well.

The cheese will melt a little from the heat of the beans and ensure you get a little bit o' blue in every bite.

July 20, 2006

My New Favorite Italian Grocery

Since moving to Pittsburgh from Washington, D.C., we had not found a little Italian deli where we could pop in to get some homemade pasta, prosciutto, parmesan, olives, and other goodies.

Sure, there are some great Italian stores in the Strip. Penn Mac and Sunseri Bros. have a good selection of all of the above. But (no offense to anybody with particularly strong allegiances to either place) they are kind of like Wal-Mart, when we wanted a mom-and-pop shop—you know, the small, family-owned joint like our beloved Da Marco in Silver Spring, Md., a place run by a guy and his wife, where after you’ve been in a few times and dropped some dollars on the imported prosciutto and a some homemade tortellini, you get the warm hello and knowing gaze that confirms you’re now a regular, that little secrets about the parmesan can be shared, that pizza-making advice can be offered.

Nothing like this exists anywhere in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. So on a recent Sunday, we hopped in the car for the half-hour jaunt down to the city. We planned on running up our credit card with sizable charges on meat and fish from the Whole Foods in East Liberty. But based on a tip Sarah got from a colleague at work, we added a second stop to our itinerary: Groceria Italiana in Bloomfield.

We pulled onto a raggedy side street off of Liberty Ave. and could see the store’s diminutive sign donning, of course, an Italian flag. With Julia the 23-pound drama queen in my arm, I opened the door to Groceria Italiana. My leg was bouncing. Call me a freak, but I felt like a kid on Christmas morning with a sneaky suspicion I was about to get my first Big Wheel.

I got it alright.

We were greeted by a woman with short black hair, lightly highlighted with some tans and browns, and with wispy snakes of gray poking through here and there. Her skin was tan, a bit too much makeup. In her hands was a large tray of nearly soccer ball-sized rounds of freshly baked bread, a dusting of flour on top. And, she informed us (in response to our Homer Simpson-like moans of hunger), they were still quite warm.

My eyes followed the tray as she set it on the glass counter, but were yanked downward to a small box filled with one of the most wondrous delights of my childhood, little bags of fried bread dough. Holy crap: A Big Wheel and a remote control car!

Shelves were filled with some half-decent olive oils, imported tomatoes (including the San Marzanos that are a must for making pizzas), sardines, anchovies, dried pastas. Deli counter in the back with the usual suspects: olives, cheeses, cured meats. Some freezers with housemade pastas.

We grabbed one of the breads and, somehow, only one bag of fried dough—5 small rounds of desire generously coated with cinnamon or sugar. Some pecorino romano and prosciutto. From a freezer on the far side of the store, two dozen of Groceria Italiana’s calling card: Ravioli, 12 cheese and 12 artichoke and gorgonzola.

While checking out, we chatted with the woman who had initially greeted us with the bread tray in hand. She told us how her mother makes most of the food they sell: all of the pastas, all of the baked fish on Fridays during lent. On one Friday, she told us, when all 60 pounds of fish had been sold and customers kept coming in asking for more, she told them to wait and threw together a gargantuan frittata with “everything and the kitchen sink in it.”

We ate some of the ravioli last week: Big Wheel, remote control car, and the coolest Hot Wheels money can buy. That’s what I call Christmas in July.

July 17, 2006

(Easy) Omelet Extraordinaire

Apple and Goat Cheese omelet (Adapted from Garrett Oliver, head brewer, Brooklyn Brewery)

Makes 2 omelets

  • One apple, peeled, cored, and cut into thin slices
  • 4 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs of brown sugar
  • 4 oz goat cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbs milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat, add apples and cook for a few minutes until they just begin to brown, then add and brown sugar and cook until apples are nicely brown, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs lightly with some milk, add salt and pepper. Put half of eggs in pan over medium heat.

When eggs are close to setting, add half of goat cheese on one side, top with half of apples, turn over other half, and cook until inside of omelette has firmed up. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Serve with some toasted ciabatta with butter (or a little more goat cheese!) and an India Pale Ale.

Soup n' Sandwich

This is a great midweek meal. It's a dressed-up soup and sandwich combo that, with a little preparation the night before, is easy to pull off as a mid-week meal

Carrot and Leek Soup (adapted from Soup, A Way of Life, by Barbara Kafka)

NOTE: To save time, I cut up the veggies the night before

  • 4 tbs butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3 medium leeks, cleaned very well, white and light green parts only, cut into half-inch slices (I think it's easier to clean leeks if you cut them length wise down the middle and then sort of fan out the halfs as you run A LOT of water over them)
  • 5 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • 3 cups chicken stock (if you don’t have any homemade around, a good store-bought brand we like is an actual stock called Kitchen Basics; also like Pacific's Organic chicken broth, but it's a little sweet)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt to taste (I won't comment on the superiority of kosher to iodized salt)
  • Pepper (white if you've got it, which we never do)

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Dump in cardamom and stir frequently for about 2 minutes. Add the leeks, cover with a lid and cook for 5-7 minutes, with a stir here and there. Add carrots and stock, bring up to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 13-15 minutes. [NOTE: This is the toughest part of the recipe: you definitely want to get the carrots tender. The second time we made this, I rushed the carrots and they were not as tender as they should have been. As a result, the end product did not have the creaminess it should have. That said, don’t cook the carrots to a mushy pulp].

Add to a blender or food processor. Might want to do 2 batches if you don’t have a large blender or processor.

Put soup into your serving pot/bowl, stir in the cream and serve. [NOTE: As this soup is a main part of your meal, I might recommend doing just ¼ of cream and ¼ of whatever milk you have. A big bowl of this made with heavy cream can be a bit overwhelming. That said, I’d recommend not having a big bowl of it anyway. It’s a rich soup and a little goes a long way.]

This makes a good bit of soup, so you definitely can freeze the leftover.

Prosciutto sandwich

  • Fresh baguette or ciabatta
  • 2-3 slices of prosciutto
  • Butter

Cut the bread into sandwich-sized lengths and then in half, add some butter to one or both sides, add your prosciutto.

Just the prosciutto and butter is delicious. But if you want to add some other tastes, some thinly sliced fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers – both of which are typically available in most decent grocery stores these days – work very well.