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Lobster Spaghetti is Messy Fun

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Lobster Spaghetti

Spicy Lobster Spaghetti is what you might call the American cousin to Lobster Fra Diavolo. That assumes that Lobster Fra Diavolo (devilish brother) is indeed an authentic Italian pasta dish. That seems to be debatable. I will say the idea of Lobster Spaghetti seems more like an East Coast, first-generation Italian-American version of the spicy seafood and tomato sauced pastas that have roots along Italy’s Amalfi coast. But I’m not here to discuss semantics. I’m in the mood for lobster. The idea of a big messy plate of Lobster Spaghetti appeals to me more than the difficult to pronounce Fra Diavolo.

Speaking of messes – at its very best lobster can be messy too. In fact it’s often served with a bib. Still (ironically), lobster is usually reserved for white tablecloth celebrations. We pull out the bone china, the sterling silver lobster forks, and get the butter melting for an impressive, but thoroughly predictable presentation.

Well, I’ve got something messier in mind.

Wine Pairing

La Caudrina “La Selvatica” Asti

La Caudrina "La Selvatica" Asti
Ken Eskenazi

Price $19

Pairs well with shellfish, grilled salmon, soft cheeses, prosciutto & melon, figs, peach shortcake, or on it’s own as an aperitif.

Lobster Spaghetti

My version of Lobster Spaghetti is made spicy with habanero and is garnished with an unexpected fistful of fresh mint. It’s inspired by Dave Pasternack, the chef and owner of Esca in New York City. However mine is messier. Pasternack chops a whole lobster into 8 pieces, but I prefer to keep the lobster tails whole and let the diner break the shells open with their hands before twirling the lobster hunks into forkfuls of spicy noodles.

Which leaves diners with a dilemma. How much mess do they want to endure?

There are two ways to eat messy spaghetti. Both of them make rational adults feel like boisterous children (which is why spaghetti is considered fun food). First there’s the Italian Grandpa method of holding a fork in one hand, a spoon in the other, and twirling the pasta into a little ball that can be slipped into your mouth. I call this the “Sunday Supper” style because it helps control the mess a big a pile of noodles promises. The other way to eat spaghetti is to simply get in there face-first and suck down some sauce and slurp up some noodles. I think this is the preferred method for Lobster Spaghetti. Once you’ve got your face in the plate, it just makes sense to crack open a lobster tail with both hands. Go ahead and use your fingers to coax the sweet meat from the shell. You may as well lick the spicy red sauce from your fingers – because nobody’s watching. They’ve got a big (messy) plate of Lobster Spaghetti in front of them too. GREG

Habanero MintLobster Tails Pasta/AstiLobster Spaghetti

Spicy Lobster Spaghetti

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Inspired by Dave PasternackPublished
Spicy Lobster Spaghetti

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • 4 whole, raw lobster tails
  • 3 tablespoon canola oil (or other high smoke point oil)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4 clove garlic (peeled and thinly sliced)
  • 1 habanero chile (seeded and minced, or to taste)
  • 2 cup tomato sauce
  • ½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
  • freshly cracked black pepper (as needed)

Directions

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add spaghetti, and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain but do not rinse, reserving ½ cup cooking water.

Meanwhile, use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to carefully cut top side of lobster shells lengthwise all the way to, but not through, the tail.

Heat 3 tbsp oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add tails shell side down. Wrap your hand in a towel and use tongs to hold the lobster in contact with the pan and to move the tails around with different areas in contact with the pan until the shells begin to turn red, about 4 minutes.

Add wine to the pan, cover with lid, and lower the heat to medium-low; cook about 2 minutes more, or until the meat begins to look opaque. Remove lid, add garlic and chiles and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add reserved pasta water and tomato sauce. Cook until slightly thickened.

Add pasta to sauce with tails, tossing to coat then transfer to a large serving plate. Garnish with mint, season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.

I used local spiny lobsters for this recipe. Maine lobsters will get more red in cooking.

 

La Caudrina “La Selvatica” Asti

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La Caudrina "La Selvatica" Asti

You blew your wad on a couple of lobster tails, yet you still want to serve an impressive nuanced bubbly alongside the meal. Champagne’s out. A quality Prosecco or Cava could work, but they don’t quite have the je ne sais quoi elegance you’re looking for. I’d like to propose a delicate, lightly sweet Moscato d’Asti. Specifically, the La Caudrina “La Selvatica” Asti from Italy’s famed Piedmont region.

La Caudrina “La Selvatica” Asti

Not to be confused with its more popular (yet somehow both bland and cloying) cousin Asti Spumante, Moscato d’Asti is a sophisticated, low alcohol, frizzante or semi-sparkling wine. Its production is limited to small, artisanal winemakers in the hillsides surrounding the town of Asti. The gently pressed juice of the Moscato Bianco grapes is fermented in closed stainless steel tanks and is generally allowed to reach a mere 5 percent sweetness. DOGC designation indicates the highest level of quality.

A bit more complex than a Spumante, a Moscato d’Asti makes its presence known through its lively acidity– supplying a much-needed citrus spritz for a successful seafood pairing. In this case, the terroir of the La Caudrina “La Selvatica” Asti also supplies a touch of minerality to the citrus notes. Plus, its perfumed aromatics and hint of honey flavor serve to complement the succulent, decadent, chewy-wonderful bite of sea-bed-sweet lobster tail in Greg’s dish.

But it’s not all sweetness and light. Greg has a habit of spicing things up. This time he’s thrown habanero pepper into the mix. Another reason that a slightly sweet, chilled wine makes sense– it cuts through Greg’s “devilishly” spiced interpretation of Lobster Spaghetti.

If money’s no object, and that’s not likely the case unless you’re one of the 85 people who control half the world’s wealth (don’t get me started), you could pop for Champagne instead. But why spend more just to play it safe? This charming sparkler with the whimsical label will make you just as happy and will change the way you think about Asti. KEN

Pairs With Lobster Spaghetti is Messy Fun

La Caudrina "La Selvatica" Asti

Zatta Melons Bowl Me Over!

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Zatta Melons

Walking down the center aisle of a farmers market this time of year is like walking through a candy store. Sure there are berries and stone fruit enticing us at every turn. But peaches, plums and saskatoons alone aren’t responsible for the intoxicatingly sweet fragrance. Summer melons are hitting their peak where I live and the aromas are incomparable – oozing honey – filling my summer mornings with the sweetest whiff of wonderful.

However before you run right out to the Piggly Wiggly and pick up one of those green bowling balls that pass for watermelons or get lured in by the dirt cheap, mealy muskmelons that pretend to be cantaloupes let me tell you something. There are melons out there that taste sweeter than pineapple, mango and saskatoons (combined). They come in odd shapes and can be covered in ugly warts or splashed with funny freckles. These are the heirloom melons and you might even pass them right by (wondering all the while just where the sweet aroma of honeysuckle is coming from).

Zatta Melons

Heirloom melons aren’t as rare as you think. Oftentimes they’ve been lovingly tended by generations of growers whose immigrant ancestors brought the seeds with them when they moved to the New World. One such melon (and its intoxicating fragrance) is called Zatta Melon. It’s a muskmelon that dates from at least the early 1600’s when it was illustrated in still-life paintings. Today it remains a traditional variety of Italy, where it’s called “Brutto ma Buono” (ugly but good).

The flavor of these orange-fleshed Zatta Melons is very sweet and rich and deserves some special attention. I’ve chosen a salad with the peppery bite of watercress – which contrasts nicely with the Zatta Melons that I’ve cleverly used as salad bowls. Grape tomatoes and red onion add complexity and crisp bits of baked prosciutto “chips” add crunch, while celebrating the classic combination of prosciutto and melon. GREG

Prosciutto ChipZatta Melons Bowls with Watercress and ProsciuttoZatta Melons Bowls with Watercress and Prosciutto

Watercress and Prosciutto Salad in Melon Bowls

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Published
Zatta Melon Salad with Watercress and Prosciutto

Ingredients

  • 4 slice very thin prosciutto
  • 2 small, orange fleshed melons (such as Zatta, Charentais, or extra small cantaloupe)
  • 8 ounce fresh watercress leaves (washed and well dried, tough stems removed)
  • ½ red onion (peeled and thinly sliced)
  • ½ cup grape or cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • simple, mild flavored vinaigrette (choose your favorite)
  • salt and pepper (for seasoning)

Directions

Place oven rack in center position then preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Arrange prosciutto slices in a single layer, not touching, on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Bake until crisp, about 20 minutes. Let cool then coarsely chop into bite sized chunks; set aside.

Halve melons and scoop out and discard seeds; set aside to use as salad bowls.

In a medium bowl toss watercress, onion, tomatoes and prosciutto with 3 tablespoon vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper; toss again.

Divide salad between melon bowls. Serve immediately

Zatta Melons

 

 

Fennel-Edamame Chicken Salad Sandwich: Sqirl Food

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Fennel-Edamame Chicken Salad Sandwich

Los Angeles has all kinds of restaurants. Exotic ethnicities and regional American specialties. Meat. Seafood. Vegetarian. Vegan. Old-School. New-School. Fast Food. Slow Food. But have you ever been to a really great toast restaurant? This Fennel-Edamame Chicken Salad Sandwich is inspired by toast (and the stuff you put on toast) as imagined by Jessica Koslow of Sqirl, a restaurant in Los Angeles. If you’re not sufficiently impressed by the idea of a toast restaurant, then let me ask you this: Have you ever been to a really great burnt toast restaurant? Burnt brioche topped with homemade ricotta is how I came to love the place so much.

One more thing before I get to the Fennel-Edamame Chicken Salad Sandwich (on Toast) recipe. I want you to fully appreciate how unlikely the success of this restaurant is. This is Los Angeles. People are lining up on the sidewalk to eat toast.

Toast is carbs! See what I mean?

All joking aside, Sqirl may have landed on the LA scene by feeding us toast and jam, but the menu has broadened to include all kinds of seasonal breakfast, brunch and almost-lunch specialties.

This Fennel-Edamame Chicken Salad Sandwich counts as an almost-lunch specialty.

Fennel-Edamame Chicken Salad Sandwich

Last year Bon Apetit featured a similar Sqirl sandwich featuring springtime flavors like fava and tarragon. They didn’t call their version a sandwich, but come on – Sqirl is a toast restaurant – this is definitely a sandwich. An open-faced sandwich. The very best kind.

My summertime version is sprinkled with fresh mint and lemon verbena from my garden. It’s also laced with edamame beans because the only time I ever find fresh edamame is in the summertime. Come autumn I’ll be making this open-faced sandwich with turkey, sage and maybe a few of those little red cranberry beans – on toast naturally. GREG

Fennel-Edamame Chicken Salad Sandwich

Fennel-Edamame Chicken Salad Sandwich

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from Sqril, Los AngelesPublished

Chicken can be cooked 2 days ahead; cover and chill. Shred just before using. Edamame can be cooked 2 days ahead; cover and chill.

Fennel-Edamame Chicken Salad Sandwich

Ingredients

  • 1 skin-on, bone-in chicken breast
  • 4 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
  • kosher salt (as needed for seasoning)
  • freshly cracked black pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 2 ½ cup edamame in pods (either fresh and raw or blanched and frozen)
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • ½ fennel bulb (cored and thinly sliced lengthwise)
  • 1 scallion (thinly sliced, white and some of the greens)
  • 2 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon very thinly sliced fresh lemon verbena leaves (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds
  • 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar (or other mild, white vinegar)
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • ½ English cucumber very thinly sliced lengthwise on a mandoline
  • ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 8 slice whole grain bread (lightly toasted)

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°. Place chicken on a small rimmed baking sheet and rub with 1 tablespoon olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown and cooked through, 25–30 minutes. Let cool, then shred into bite-size pieces.

If using fresh and raw edamame cook in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water. If using blanched and frozen edamame beans, cook 2 minutes; transfer to a bowl of ice water, then drain. Once drained remove edamame from pods, you should have about 1-cup unshelled beans; discard pods.

Meanwhile, whisk crème fraîche in a medium bowl to soft peaks (it will look fluffy); season with kosher salt and set aside.

Toss edamame in a large bowl with fennel, scallion, mint, lemon verbena (if using), fennel fronds, vinegar, shredded chicken, and remaining 3 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper.

Toss cucumber with parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Just before serving add the cucumber mixture to the chicken mixture and gently toss to combine. Spread some of the crème fraîche onto the toasts or alternatively place a dollop right on the plate. Then top toasts with chicken salad mixture; season with salt and pepper.

Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies: Fussy but Fearless

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Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies

I’ve got good news! My one and only food allergy seems to have been chucked into the gutter like an empty purse. I’ve been allergic to fussy cookies for as long as I’ve been baking. Cookies with frosting give me hives. Sprinkles or lacy details make my throat constrict tighter than a skeeter’s ass in a nose dive. Food dyes make me nauseous (and worried about stains to my tea towels). Please don’t get me started on cookies with flowers or any kind of lettering. My doctor says I could go into anaphylactic shock if I even come in contact with such a cookie. Naturally all types of animal-shaped cookie cutters are banned from my house. I’d hate to know what a pink and white shortbread penguin with Red Hots for eyeballs might do to my ability to have children.

While other cooks merrily roll, sprinkle and frost (while making cute cooing sounds) I find myself cowering in the corner suffering through horrifying hallucinations of sticky counters lined in neat piles of cookies tied up in pretty bows.

With a medical history like mine its no wonder I’ve avoided thumbprint cookies. Thumbprint cookies require the baker to roll tiny little balls of cookie dough, then delicately press identical little indentations into each one of them. My thumbs shake just thinking about it.

Which isn’t to say I don’t admire the handiwork that goes into fussy little cookies. I’m always impressed by cooks who can find the inner peace that routine repetition requires. In fact I’ve been yearning to try Martha Stewart’s Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies since I first saw them in her magazine way back in 2006. Despite my admiration for these little cookies, I knew my particular malady meant Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies could never find their way into my oven.

Still I continued to pray for a miracle. I even began to present more and more desserts here on this blog. In fact it was this blog that first gave me the hope that my allergy had begun to abate. Not so long ago I made a very fussy White Chocolate Cake with White Chocolate Curls. In the past I’ve had the same reaction to fussy cakes as I do to fussy cookies – yet somehow I managed to pull this cake off without breaking into a rash. That got me thinking about Martha’s fussy little Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies. Could I? Should I? Dare I?

Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies

Well there was only one way to find out. So I did it! I stuck my thumb into some tiny little cookies recently. I even filled that thumbprint with sweetened cream cheese and the cutest little cubes of meticulously diced strawberries – and look, I suffered no ill effects.

I know it’s not the same as frosted cookies, but I’m still proud of myself. It makes me wonder what might be next. Would gingerbread hoot owls with candy corn beaks be hoping for too large a miracle? GREG

making cookiesChocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint CookiesChocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies

Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 36Source Martha Stewart LivingPublished

I found 3/4-inch balls to be too tedious to make. I rolled the dough into1-inch balls that weighed about 10 grams each. I got 24 cookies. There was no need to adjust the cooking time, 15 minutes in a convection oven was perfect.

Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (at room temperature )
  • ¼ cup plus 6 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar (divided)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 ounce cream cheese (at room temperature )
  • 2 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
  • 5-6 fresh strawberries (washed, stemmed and finely diced)

Directions

Sift flour, cocoa, and salt into a bowl; set aside. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth; set aside to cool.

Put butter and ¼ cup granulated sugar into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in yolk, vanilla, and chocolate. Reduce speed to low. Mix in flour mixture until just combined. Refrigerate, covered, 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put 6 teaspoons granulated sugar into a small bowl. Form dough into 3/4-inch balls; roll in sugar to coat. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment. Press center of each ball with your thumb. Bake 10 minutes. Press centers again with end of a wooden spoon, making 3/4-inch indentations. Bake until slightly cracked and set, about 5 minutes more. Cool completely on racks. Unfilled cookies can be stored in airtight containers up to 3 days.

Stir cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl. Toss berries with remaining ½ teaspoon granulated sugar in another bowl. Spoon cream cheese mixture into center of cookies; top with sugared berries, dividing evenly.

Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies

 

Figs and Feta are Simply Perfect

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Figs and Feta are Simply Perfect

Figs and Feta served together on a plate with fresh mint is the perfect summer appetizer. Open a bottle of wine and very good conversation will soon follow. If I’m invited to the party I admit that conversation might revolve around figs. Because I love figs. I have been known to go to great lengths to acquire excellent figs. I’ve even been known to steal them from the neighbors. Though I prefer the term urban foraging.

Very good figs are difficult to buy at the grocery store. They don’t pack and ship all that well. That’s because the very best figs should be allowed to completely ripen on the tree. Once ripe they last but a few brief days.

These facts might make figs seem too troublesome for a casual summer dinner party. However their finicky nature makes me love figs all the more. Anything so truly special, so utterly delicious, and so mind blowingly perfect deserves to be a wee bit demanding in my opinion.

Which is why I’m always so surprised when otherwise perfectly sane people say to me: “I don’t really like figs.”

What? To me figs define what’s truly glorious about food. To put it simply, like many of the best food experiences, figs are enjoyed with all five senses.

First, figs are visually very sensual. There’s no denying that fact. Secondly, their aroma is sweet, but there’s something dusky behind that sweet floral fragrance that adds to their primitive appeal.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of picking your own figs you know what a silky, smooth skin they have. Ripe figs also have a satisfying heft that just feels right in the palm of your hand.

Some say figs taste like strawberries. I say that’s an over-simplification. It’s true that figs are sweet like strawberries – but they’re oh so earthy too.

And though figs don’t make a lot of sound all on their own, the very mention of the word is likely to cause the other four senses to make quite a racket!

Which is why I’ve decided that disappointing figs are very likely the culprit behind that incomprehensible phrase: “I don’t really like figs”.

Figs and FetaFigs and Feta

So let’s talk about selecting fresh figs. It’s not too difficult. But there are a few tricks.

The best figs come from hot climates. The hotter the better. The figs I remember from Southern Italy are far superior to some of the figs I’ve tasted from Northern California.

You should also know that figs range from pale green though deep black or burgundy red. Many people believe that color is an indicator for flavor. I have heard that the deep dark Black Mission figs are the sweetest. To my palate this is not true. I’ve eaten pale green figs as sweet as jam; much sweeter than the commercially grown Black Mission variety.

Whichever the color, a fig should look firm and well-shaped. If there’s white sap weeping from the stem end then it was picked too early.

Check the other end too. A drop or two of nectar slipping out of the just beginning to crack open depression at the base of the fig is ideal. Slight splits in the skin elsewhere are also acceptable.

A very ripe fig can be very, very sweet. You recognize that sweetness when the interior flesh becomes deeply colored and the seeds are very well defined. However, once a fig is to this stage it won’t last more than a day or two before it’s gone too ripe.

The main reason figs send food loving folks over the moon is because they’re one of those unique foods that changes when paired with other foods. Sweet, salty, sour or spicy. Figs accentuate, compliment and are defined by all these flavors. A fig is like wine in this way. It can be transformed by the flavors it’s paired with.

To illustrate this fact, I’ve developed a simple and elegant appetizer of Fresh Figs with Feta Cheese, Balsamic Vinegar and Mint. Put these flavors together on your plate as you like. Take a nibble here. Add a bite there. Let the combinations work their way around your taste buds and I think you’ll see what I mean. GREG

Figs and Feta

Fig, Feta, Balsamic and Mint Appetizer

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Published

I like Bulgarian sheep’s milk feta for this recipe. Though any feta is delicious with figs.

Fig, Feta, Balsamic and Mint

Ingredients

  • 1 (8 oz) block feta cheese
  • 8 ounce fresh figs (halved lengthwise if desired)
  • 2-3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • freshly cracked black pepper (as needed)
  • ½ cup fresh mint leaves
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar (optional, for drizzling)

Directions

Put block of feta on a serving platter. Arrange figs over and around the cheese. Drizzle the figs with oil, season with pepper and garnish with mint. Serve the balsamic on the side as an optional drizzle.

How to Make Nectarine-Blueberry Fruit Pie

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Nectarine-Blueberry Pie

Pie. Fresh fruit pie. We all aspire to that perfect triangle of sweet summer perfection. But sometimes we fall flat in our goals. Sure part of the equation is crust. Lard? Shortening? Butter? How cold? How crumbly? How to properly roll it out? There is room for endless debate. But the pastry is a debate I leave for another day. Because today I want to talk filling – specifically fruit filling for a perfect summer fruit pie.

First let me set the stage. Perfect fruit pie is like porn; you know when you see it. You often sense it before you see it too. That’s because perfect fruit pie starts with a fresh-baked aroma. The next hint is a sugar-bejeweled crust, sparkling in the sunlight. Underneath that crust oozes a luscious filling – still tart enough to remind you of the fresh fruit that went into the crust in the first place.

Hit those few marks and there is a good shot that you are in the presence of a great piece of pie. It’s the simple beauty that gives great pie away. But it’s the complexity of taste and texture that makes it sublime.

I wish I could say there was a secret to perfect fruit pie. But in truth there are just a few simple rules that even non-bakers like me can master. And it all starts with the fruit. Almost any summer fruit can attain perfection in a fruit pie. Just make sure that fruit is perfectly ripe because no cook in the world can reproduce that splendid ratio of perky sweetness and subtle tartness that the warm summer sunshine imparts into really good fruit.

Nectarine HalfHow to Make Fruit Pie Filling

So today I want to talk about the fruit filling, because even the best crust can’t hide inferior fruit. Many recipes call for “ripe, but firm fruit”, which leads many of us to choose under-ripe fruit. Unripened fruit is the main nemesis in poor fruit pie. Undeveloped fruit can be tough, it can also lack the necessary pectin. On top of that, the sugars may not have developed properly. Many cooks panic and add more sugar. By then the game is lost. Complex balance will be replaced by cloying sweetness.

Once you’ve chosen properly ripened fruit, it’s time to turn your attention to the consistency of the filling. As the fruit cooks it releases moisture. If the moisture is not handled properly you can get a watery pie that will surely disappoint. A small amount of thickener is the answer to this problem. The three most common are flour, tapioca and cornstarch.

Of the three, I generally prefer cornstarch. It sets up quickly and easily. You don’t need much to do the job and it results in a cleaner, clearer looking filling. Flour tends to make the filling murky and I don’t like the coarse texture of tapioca.

The final bit of advice I can offer in your quest towards a perfect slice-o-pie is simply this: please make sure you cook the pie long enough. The crust should be brown, really brown. The filling should be noticeably (even audibly) bubbling. It should be oozing out of the vents. It takes at least an hour to properly activate the thickening agent. If the edge of the crust starts to get too brown tent it with foil. Do not be tempted to take the pie out of the oven just because it looks pretty and smells good after 45 minutes.

Once you do take it out of the oven – stop and wait! Don’t get coaxed by the aroma to shave off a slice for the cook. That pie is not done. There’s a reason your Gramma cooled her pies on the window ledge. Cooling is a vital step, and the final key to perfect texture – both in the crust and in the filling. It’s okay to enjoy that pie while still a little warm, but please let it cool two or three hours before slicing. You can always, always reheat, if a la mode is your goal.

Lastly, eat that pie within 24 hours, and don’t store it in the refrigerator even for one minute. Promise me that much. GREG

Nectarine-Blueberry PieNectarine-Blueberry PieHow to Make Nectarine-Blueberry Fruit Pie

Nectarine-Blueberry Pie

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8Source Adapted from Rose Levy BeranbaumPublished
Nectarine-Blueberry Pie

Ingredients

  • pie pastry (enough for a top and bottom crust of a 9-inch pie)
  • 8 cup sliced necatarines (unpeeled)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries (rinsed and dried)
  • 1 unknown egg yolk, mixed with 1 teaspoon water (as egg wash)
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Directions

Prepare the bottom crust: On a floured pastry cloth or between two sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap, roll the bottom crust 1/8 inch thick or less and large enough to cut a 12-inch circle. Transfer it to the pie pan. Trim the edge s to about ½-inch overhang. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 3 hours.

Make the filling: Place the sliced nectarines in a large bowl and sprinkle them with the lemon juice. Sprinkle on the sugar and salt and toss them gently to mix evenly. Allow to macerate for a minimum of 30 minutes and maximum of 1 hour.

Transfer the nectarines and their juices to a colander suspended over a bowl to capture the liquid. The mixture should exude between 3/4 and 1 cup of juice.

In a small saucepan (preferably lined with a nonstick surface), over medium-high heat, boil down this liquid to about ½ cup. Swirl the liquid but do not stir it. Allow it to cool.

Meanwhile, transfer the drained nectarines to a bowl and toss them with the lemon zest and cornstarch until all traces of the cornstarch have disappeared. Stir the vanilla into the cooled syrup and pour it over the nectarines, tossing gently. Transfer the nectarine mixture to the prepared bottom crust and top with blueberries.

Roll out the top crust large enough to cut a 12-inch circle.

Moisten the edges of the bottom crust with water and place the top crust over the fruit. Tuck the overhang under the bottom crust border and press down all around the top to seal it. Crimp the border using a fork or your fingers and make about 5 evenly spaced 2-inch slashes starting about 1 inch from the center and radiating toward the edge. Cover the pie loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour before baking to chill and relax the pastry. This will maintain flakiness and help to prevent distortion.

You may alternatively cut the top crust into 1 to 1 ½-inch thick strips and make a lattice top, as I did in this example.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Set an oven rack at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. Place a large piece of greased foil on top to catch bubbling juices.

Just before you put the pie in the oven brush the exposed pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Set the pie directly on the foil-topped baking stone and bake at least 50 minutes or until the juices bubble thickly through the slashes and the nectarines feel tender but not mushy when a cake tester or small knife is inserted through a slash. After 30 minutes, protect the edges from over-browning with a foil ring. Cool the pie on a rack for at least 3 hours before cutting.

Nectarine half appears courtesy of my partnership with ShutterStock.

Bumper Crop: Marinated Tomatoes

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Pasta with Marinated Tomatoes and Fried Garlic

Tomatoes. Zucchini. Pole Beans. Corn. You’ve bought too much or you grew too much. It’s summer and sometimes we cooks are stumped by the bounty of the season. I’ve got some ideas for the best of our summer produce which includes a simple recipe for Pasta with Marinated Tomatoes and Fried Garlic. After all, when it comes to summer’s bounty – resistance is futile. Whether you plant it yourself or depend on a CSA box, the grocery store, or a stroll through your local farmer’s markers – you always end up with more fresh produce than you intended. That’s the first rule of summer.

From now through the end of the season our challenge isn’t so much as finding great produce as it is finding what to do with all that great produce. Fortunately I’m in the same position (year after year) and I’ve got a few ideas for all the summer swag that has your re-usable grocery bags bursting at the seams. Starting with marinated tomatoes.

The best summer produce warrants a light touch, and bumper crops give you permission to improvise. This is especially true of tomatoes. Granted, very good tomatoes are wildly delicious all on their own and I certainly encourage you to enjoy lots of tomatoes simply sliced and served. However if you’re anything like me, that approach leaves you with a nearly pornographic pile of heirloom tomatoes lining all the windows of the house. These tomatoes will get a big boost of flavor when marinated in garlic-infused olive oil. But then what?

Well, when I hear the phrases “bumper crop” and “improvise” I think pasta. I suggest we take advantage of this fleeting abundance of summertime tomatoes and capture the just-picked flavors of the summer sunshine with something as simple as Pasta with Marinated Tomatoes and Fried Garlic. GREG

Stack of Heirloom TomatoesPasta with Marinated Tomatoes and Fried GarlicPasta with Marinated Tomatoes and Fried Garlic

Marinated Tomato Pasta with Fried Garlic

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Adapted from Martha Stewart LivingPublished
Marinated Tomato Pasta with Fried Garlic

Ingredients

  • 1 clove garlic (peeld and thinly sliced)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 pound heirloom tomatoes (sliced into ½-inch thick wedges)
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced basil
  • 3 tablespoon capers (rinsed)
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • ½ pound cooked and drained warm pasta (choose a nice chunky shape)
  • whole basil leaves (as garnish)

Directions

Place garlic slices and oil in a small saucepan set over medium-low heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until lightly golden, about 6 minutes. Strain; reserve oil and garlic separately. Let cool.

Combine tomatoes, sliced basil, capers, red-pepper flakes, and salt in a large bowl. Pour cooled garlic oil over tomato mixture. Marinate, covered, tossing occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Add warm pasta to bowl, and toss gently. Garnish the pasta with garlic chips and additional whole basil leaves. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

 

 

How to Cook Calamari (Amalfi Style)

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How to Cook Calamari (Amalfi Style)

I like calamari a lot and as long as we don’t call it squid I bet you do too. However, if you’re anything like me then you don’t make calamari at home as much as you’d like to. That may be because the question of how to cook calamari can be intimidating. I’m hoping to change all that with a few calamari basics and a simple recipe for Slow-Cooked Calamari with Tomatoes and Basil.

In its most familiar forms Calamari makes regular appearances on red-checkered tablecloths at candle-in-the-Chianti-bottle restaurants where it’s usually offered two ways: deep-fried with red sauce for dipping or tangled between strings of linguine on a Big Night style pasta plate.

How to Cook Calamari at Home

It’s easy to see why home cooks avoid calamari. First, cleaning a whole, fresh calamari is a tedious task that may require a biology major to complete correctly. Even when it’s pre-cleaned by the fish monger it often comes in a gangly mass that seems too hard to handle without operating instructions. However, look beyond your apprehension and you’ll see an incredibly mild-flavored ingredient that’s as versatile and easy to prepare as chicken. Best of all calamari is inexpensive and sustainable. Now all you need to know is how to cook calamari properly.

I’ll admit calamari does have a rubbery rap that’s not completely undeserved. It can get tough when overcooked. The trick is to either cook it hot and fast or low and slow. If you’re too tentative with the fast method or too impatient with the slow you’ll end up with a plate of warm ABC gum. With choices as plain and simple as these, how can you resist learning how to cook calamari at home? GREG

Wine Pairing

Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino

Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino
Grant Henry

Price $25

Pairs well with buffalo mozzarella, shrimp scampi, cioppino, fish, spicy dishes, herbs, salads and vegetables.

Calamari Basics

Shopping: Choose calamari that have firm, shiny white bodies and smell pleasantly of the sea. Smaller squid tend to be more tender. If your recipe calls for squid ink, it’s sold separately.

Storing: Keep fresh calamari sealed in a plastic bag and submerged in a bowl of ice water that is kept in the refrigerator. It also freezes well.

Prep: Most calamari is sold pre-cleaned. All you need to do is rinse it in cool water and dry well before cooking. If it’s not pre-cleaned, here’s a great calamari tutorial from Williams-Sonoma.

Tenderizing: It’s always best to do a little light pounding of calamari bodies even if the recipe fails to mention this. Some recipes also call for soaking them in lemon juice or scoring them lightly on one side to prevent curling. But I find 6 or 7 light taps with a wooden mallet sufficient for most preparations.

Cooking: In general it’s easiest to cook calamari quickly over medium-high heat – no more than 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on size. However, very low heat also produces exceptionally tender results after about 30 to 40 minutes of cooking (typically in liquid).

Colli di Lapio Fiano di AvellinoRaw CalamariHow to Cook Calamari (Amalfi Style)

Slow-Cooked Calamari with Tomatoes and Basil (All’acqua Pazza)

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Published

The slow-cooked calamari portion can be made ahead of time and gently reheated before serving.

Slow-Cooked Calamari with Tomatoes and Basil (All'acqua Pazza)

Ingredients

  • 2 pound calamari (cleaned)
  • 6 tablespoon olive oil (divided, plus more as needed and for drizzling)
  • ½ cup minced shallots
  • 4 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt (plus more for seasoning)
  • 1 small dried red chile (such as chile de árbol crumbled) or a generous pinch of crushed red chile pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup clam juice
  • 2 (15 oz) cans diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil (plus more for garnish )
  • 2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 2 clove garlic (peeled and halved lengthwise)
  • 4-6 slice rustic bread
  • black pepper (to taste)

Directions

Using a kitchen mallet, lightly pound both sides of calamari bodies 6 or 7 times to tenderize, then cut crosswise into 3/4-inch rings. (Leave tentacles whole, or halve if quite large.)

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot with a lid set over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just beginning to color, about 5 minutes.

Stir in minced garlic, salt, and crumbled dried chile. Add calamari pieces and cook until nearly opaque, about 1 minute.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add wine and clam juice. Once the mixture begins to boil pour in tomatoes with their juices. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot with a lid and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Uncover the pot and add chopped basil and orange zest. Continue to cook until the calamari is very tender and the sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Keep the sauce warm while you prepare the bread slices.

Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in heavy bottomed or cast iron skillet. Rub both sides of bread with halved garlic cloves. Add clove halves to oil, and cook 2 minutes. Fry the bread slices, flipping once, until golden and crisp, about 1 ½ minutes total. Do not crowd the pan, work in batches if necessary, adding more oil as needed.

Put 1 slice of bread into each serving bowl, and top with calamari and sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with additional basil and a drizzle of olive oil.

How to Cook Calamari

 

 

Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino

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Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino

Name for me something that is under-appreciated, relatively unknown, offers amazing quality . . . and comes in a bottle. You were going to say something about your singing when you’re belting out show tunes in the car, until you read that last bit, right? But I said “bottle,” so clearly I’m talking about the wines of Campania, Italy. Particularly its white wines. The principle varieties include Falanghina, Greco, and Fiano, yeilding wines that are typically fairly low in alcohol, with ample acidity and minerality, thanks, in part to the region’s volcanic soils (think Mt. Vesuvius). These are ancient grapes, probably brought to Campania by the Greeks, and have been cultivated in this area for at least 2500 years. Just within the last generation, however, many new wineries have opened, headed by youthful and energetic owners and wine-makers. This new guard is breathing life into Campania’s wine industry by making wines that reflect the true nature of the region’s indigenous grape varieties.

Falanghina is a fun, yet simple wine that has seems to be getting some attention from the cork dorks, lately. Greco is a nutty, mineral-driven wine with a lot of natural acidity, but not much “frutiness”. The best example of wine made from Greco is Greco di Tufo, one of only two white DOCGs in Campania. Fiano, however, is the most interesting to me, especially Fiano di Avellino, Campania’s other white DOCG. Most are fairly complex, with nutty, floral, and smokey characteristics, and very food-friendly. Speaking of food, I’ve selected Colli Di Lapio’s Clelia Romano Fiano di Avellino 2013 to serve with Greg’s Slow-Cooked Calamari. Colli di Lapio is one of those forward-looking producers I mentioned earlier. According to the International Wine Cellar, “this young estate, founded in 1994, is the source of one of the finest Fianos made today.”

Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino

Made not far from Italy’s famed Amalfi Coast, Fiano di Avellino is a natural partner for many seafood dishes. In particular, Colli di Lapio’s wine, with its bright acidity, mineral core, and a slight note of “sea spray” complements Greg’s briny calamari nicely. Also, this wine has an herbal quality to it, which ties into the basil flavors, as well as a long, tangy, citrus-like finish, which mimics the dish’s flavor of orange zest. Straw yellow in color, with aromas of wildflowers, stone fruits and hazelnuts, this is a small-production wine, but worth the effort to find. This is also my go-to wine for pairing with pesto . . . and possibly show tunes. GRANT

Pairs With How to Cook Calamari (Amalfi Style)

Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino