Alberto’s Pasta Carbonara

22 12 2011

There is nothing better than eating an incredible meal when you have no expectations.  Last year when I lived in Italy for four months I had a ton of over the top food experiences.  Most of them were when my mom or friends came to visit and we went to fancy hot spots in Florence, Chianti and Sienna.  The raw ingredients in Italy were so incredible that it was truly hard to have a bad meal.

However, one of the most memorable dinners in Italy was when my boyfriend at the time, Alberto, offered to make me dinner.  Now I have to be honest, in the four months I lived with this man, I never saw him make a sandwich.  Alberto was a total guy’s guy.  The refrigerator would have been empty if I didn’t live there…completely bachelor style.  He actually went home on his lunch breaks from work to eat with his family because his mom made elaborate three course meals. (could you blame him?)  So the night Alberto said, I’m going to make you my “famous Carbonara”, I didn’t get too excited.

My expectations were in-line with the Americanized Pasta Carbonara which is typically pasta with bacon, cheese, eggs, garlic, green peas and cream.  Nothing about that combination ever seemed too sexy to me, primarily because my tummy doesn’t do well with rich heavy dishes. (lactose intolerance doesn’t help).  I’m an olive oil kinda girl.  That’s why I love Italian food!

Alberto’s Carbonara was full of simple ingredients, bold flavor and was amazingly light for a Carbonara.  He shared his special tricks with me and I’d love to share them with you.  If you notice, there is no cream, butter, or peas in this recipe.  Instead, the whipped raw eggs and Parmesan cheese naturally make a light creamy sauce.

Watch the video and try this recipe for satisfying and delicious winter meal!

 
Alberto’s Pasta Carbonara: (with a Kasey twist)
Ingredients:
12oz. fresh spaghetti or linguine pasta (I recommend Al Dente Pasta)
½ large yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
7 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced in thin lardoons
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
1 handful of fresh arugula
½ lemon, juiced (optional)
Kosher Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper, to taste
 
Put the thin slices of bacon in large sauté pan over medium heat.  Let the bacon render and begin to crisp for 10-15 minutes over low heat. In a separate pan, heat 1-2 Tbs. of olive oil.  Saute the slivered onion and minced garlic and for 4-5 minutes, until the onions start to caramelize. Place the cooked onion, garlic, bacon and bacon fat in a big bowl. (reserve the bacon fat to add later)  In a separate bowl, scramble the eggs with 2 oz. of Parmesan cheese.  Set aside.
 
Boil the pasta in a big pot of salted water.  When the pasta is al dente (just done with a bite), drain it with a slotted spoon and put the hot pasta in the bowl with the bacon, onion and garlic mixture.  Stir in the scrambled egg mixture and the bacon fat.  Mix together while slowly adding in the rest of the Parmesan cheese. Season with lots of fresh black pepper and Kosher salt.
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Pasta Factory Video

25 10 2011

Did any of you know that October is national pasta month?  How amazing is that!  I’ve been on the pasta train all year, but I thought this month I should really celebrate pasta by eating a ton of it and taking a trip to Ann Arbor to visit my new favorite pasta’s factory.  I know that sounds hard-core, but….well it is.  The trip wasn’t totally about pasta… it was a total celebration of good food, gorgeous Fall weather and nostalgia. (I spent four solid years in undergrad studying in Ann Arbor)

After drinking bacon Manhattans and enjoying dinner at new gourmet restaurant, going to the Kerrytown farmers markets, eating from food trucks, going on a private tour of Zingerman’s bread and candy compound, attending an 8 course underground Tuscan dinner and touring an amazing pasta factory is that Ann Arbor is one of the best foodie towns in the country.  As a graduate that studied and drank way too much, I honestly did not appreciate all of the amazing food aspects of Ann Arbor.  If you haven’t been and live in Chicago, it is only a four drive.  It’s the perfect weekend getaway.  When you go, take a trip to the Al Dente pasta factory, about 10 minutes outside the city and meet Monique, the owner.  She is dynamic, warm and one of the most passionate “foodie’s” I have met in a long time.

Check out my video to meet Monique and get a taste of my tour around her factory.

To find out more about Al Dente’s product and order some pasta go to: http://www.aldentepasta.com

 





Delicious Fall Pasta Recipe

5 10 2011


A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a “Slow Food” dinner party at my friend’s house.  The objective of the night was to create an amazing meal, using local and seasonal ingredients, for only 5 dollars a person.  The idea was to raise awareness that eating healthy and organic food does not have to be expensive.  That night I enjoyed a wonderful dinner of grilled eggplant and tomato bruschetta, an incredible pasta dish with stewed sausage, braising greens, Parmesan cheese and garlic and Italian vanilla gelato smothered in espresso.  I ate like a queen and felt amazed by how much great food you could eat with such a tight budget.

That night I was exposed to a fantastic brand of local pasta called “Al Dente”.  I’m typically not too excited about dried pasta because I spent too long in Italy getting spoiled with the real deal I love to make my own home-made pasta.  But I have to admit, this brand “Al Dente” is delicious and really accessible (Whole Foods sells it everywhere in Chicago).  It’s delicate like fresh pasta and it only takes 3 minutes to cook.

Last night I had a serious craving to re-create my “Slow Food” dinner experience.  Even though I wasn’t entertaining, I was inspired to cook a huge batch of pasta for myself with Fall/Italian ingredients and obviously some red wine.  I combined the sweet flavors of caramelized onions and roasted squash with the bitter crunch of radicchio and the funky brilliance of Taleggio cheese.  I am not going to lie, the pasta turned out great!  This recipe is easy, economic and super flavorful.  Let me know your thoughts!!!

Recipe:

Spinach Fettuccine with Roasted Squash, Caramelized Onions, Radicchio and Taleggio Cheese

12 oz  Al Dente Spinach Fettucine Noodles
6 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 lb. Delicata Squash (substitute with Butternut Squash if necessary)
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/4 head of Radicchio, thinly sliced
3 oz. Taleggio cheese, cut in small cubes
3 oz. Parmesan cheese, shaved thin
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper, to taste
 
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the squash in half, lengthwise and trim off both ends.  Thinly slice the squash in 1/8 inch slivers.  Toss the squash with 1 Tbs. of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Lay the squash evenly on a sheet tray (without overlapping) and roast for 12-15 minutes. (to get some nice color you can turn the oven on broil for the last 2 minutes)
 
While the squash is roasting, heat a large saute pan with 3 Tbs. of olive oil.  When the oil is hot add the slivered garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Add the slivered onion, season with kosher salt and pepper, and slowly cook for 15-20 minutes, until the onions are caramelized.  Add the radicchio and roasted squash and cook for 1 more minute.  Add the Taleggio cheese and turn off the heat.  
 
Bring a large put of salted water to a boil.  Add the bag of spinach fettuccine and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the noodles are “al dente”.  Immediately drain the noodles,  rinse with cold water for 15 seconds and then pour the noodles in the pan with the onions, garlic, radicchio, squash and Taleggio.  Stir all of the ingredients together, adding 2 Tbs. of olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper and Parmesan cheese.  Serve in a large family style bowl garnished with slivered radicchio and Parmesan cheese.
 

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Spice Video, Ep. 2: Coriander

22 09 2011

Today I am going to take you inside my apartment for a little cooking adventure.  I encourage you all to try this recipe at home.  It’s easy, super healthy and something you’ve most likely never made before.  Let me know your feedback!

Recipe:  Creamy Millet with Coriander and Parmesan Cheese
(Serves 2)
 
Ingredients:
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 shallot, minced
1/2 cup milllet 
3/4-1 Tbs. coriander, freshly ground
1/2-1 Tbs. kosher salt
2 cups water (or stock)
2-3 Tbs. Parmesan Cheese, grated fine
 
Heat 2 Tbs. of olive oil in a small saucepan.  When the oil is hot, add the minced shallot and saute for 20 seconds.  Next, add the millet to the pan and toast the grain, stirring occasionally, for 30 seconds over medium heat. Add the water/broth and bring the liquid up to a simmer.  
 
While the liquid is heating up, place 1 Tbs. of whole coriander in a small saucepan over medium heat (without any oil or butter).  Heat the coriander, stirring the pan, until the seeds are hot to the touch.  Transfer them directly to a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.  When the coriander seeds are cool, grind them to a fine texture.  Add 3/4-1 Tbs. of the freshly ground coriander to the millet and season with kosher salt.  
 
Once the millet has come to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 18-22 minutes.  Stir in the shaved Parmesan cheese and season to taste with kosher salt.  Serve immediately.
 
* For breakfast, creamy millet goes wonderfully with poached eggs, soft scrambled eggs, bacon or some seasonal vegetables
 
*For dinner, creamy millet is a wonderful accompaniment to seared fish, meat or roasted vegetables.  
 
 
 
 
 




Spice Video, Ep. #1

6 09 2011

Over the next month, I have decided to take a culinary adventure with you.  The topic: Spices.  Why? Because spices are underrated and they add incredible flavor, color and nutrients to food.  I think more people need to feel comfortable using spices when they cook. It’s important for people to know you don’t need to add butter or oil to make their food taste better.  Spices, in their freshest form, can transform any normal dish to an exotic delicious creation.

I have to be honest, I don’t remember everything I learned in culinary school.  But I will NEVER forget learning about spices from Tom, the owner of “The Spice House” in Chicago.  Tom’s lecture literally rocked my world….teaching me so many facts that I had never considered about spices.

Key Points that I remember:

1. Grocery store spices are not dated.  They can be packaged and sit in a warehouse for years before they make it to shelf of a supermarket.  At the supermarket they are usually never rotated so a “new spice” you buy is most likely expired by the time you use it.

2.  It matters where your spices come from.  If you go to a store that specializes in spices, they come directly from the source (Africa, South East Asia, Spain) and the flavors taste 100 times stronger and have a higher nutrient value.

3.  It’s always best to buy spices in their whole form. (whole seeds vs. ground)  They don’t go bad this way.  When you are ready to use them, you toast and grind them yourself to get the freshest taste and quality.

4.  Spice grinders are cheap and super easy to use.  They are basically the same thing as an expresso grinder and cost 20 bucks at Bed Bath and Beyond or Target.

5.  There are hundreds or different types of salts that you can use for different reasons.  Salt not only adds flavor to our food, it preserves, tenderizes and gives our body essential nutrients.

If you’ve never been to the Spice House in Chicago or Evanston, YOU NEED TO GO!  Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know what to buy at first.  Start with a spice blend or some finishing salt and take baby steps to the exotic stuff.  I’d love to share a video of my experience at the Spice House in Chicago this week:

This month I am going to continue to do video’s featuring some of my favorite spices and share the recipes with you. If you have any questions or want to chat about spices, respond to the blog or visit one of the two Spice House locations.

Locations:

Spice House Chicago, 1512 N. Wells St, Chicago Il. 60610  (in Old Town)

Spice House Evanston, 1941 Central St., Evanston Il. 60201





The Goat Whisperer

31 10 2010

One of my favorite parts of traveling is incredible people you meet.  Italy is obviously an amazing place to be, but the people here have made this place more memorable than anything.  Over a month ago, I got the opportunity to visit a goat cheese farm in the mountains near a small town called Anghiari.  My friend Tierney, a Chicagoan who built a second home in Italy 8 years ago, showed me the highlights of all things food and wine around her local towns.  She could not stop raving about her friend Brent, a local goat cheesemaker from the States, producing some of the best products in all of Italy.  Tierny is passionately obsessed with food.  I had no doubt that the cheese was going to be good, but I assumed that she must be exaggerating when she said, “Kasey, you have no idea.  You have never tasted a goat cheese this good in your life.”

Let’s just say that I was overly impressed by my first experience at the farm.  Brent Zimmerman, the cheesemaker-god, was one of the most humble, down-to-earth, talented artisans that I have ever met.  He is the kind of guy you just want to be around. Originally from Michigan, Brent grew up on a farm with a bunch of animals.  When all of his friends were playing with toy cars and video games, Brent was on his farm bonding with the animals.  Somehow he felt like he could relate to animals more than people.  About 20 years ago, Brent moved to Italy, after falling  in love with an Italian stallion in New York City.  The only way he could get a Visa to live in Italy was to start a business. Brent decided to do what he knew best…buy a bunch of land and animals and become a farmer. He had no idea that this move would lead him into cheese-making.  That is what I love most about his story.  The fact that Brent just followed the current of life, love and opportunity to find his purpose in life. I guess I hope the same thing will happen to me.

The first time I met Brent, I toured around his farm, bought some incredible cheese and actually got the chance to cook a typical Tuscan meal at Tierney’s house the following night.  The dinner was special because I got to see a different side in Brent.  The side that is absolutely hilarious, the worker that is tired from 12 hours of daily manual labor, and the person with a dark past that has fought to change his future.  That dinner made me want more time with Brent.  I was attracted to his energy, work ethic and approach to life.  After dinner, I asked Brent if I could visit the farm again and work with him for a few days.  He answered without hesitation, “whenever…call me.  As long as I am cheesing and the girls (his goats) are giving me milk, you can come whenever.”  I was pumped for the next visit.

Two weeks ago, I got the chance to return to Valle di Mezzo farm and spend a long weekend with Brent, his goats and my friend Kelly (who was visiting from the states).  This time, we were able to get our hands dirty in the cheese room.  The best part was not making cheese, it was actually listening to the stories Brent shared about his life, passion, and love for animals.  Within hours of our arrival, Kelly and I met Brent in his cheese-room dressed in white rain boots to our knees (to keep the room clean), surrounded by the distinct smell of fresh cheese. We talked with Brent as he made fresh ricotta. He was standing over a huge stainless steel vat of liquid. Brent used a slotted spoon to delicately skim fresh ricotta curds floating on of the liquid from the whey on the bottom of the tank. He layered the ricotta curds into waiting plastic forms, as he told us about the delicate process of cheese-making and how he fell into cheesemaking:

The rest of weekend was full of unforgettable memories and lots of cheese.  It felt like we were there for weeks….Working in a local farmers market, learning about the goats and cheese making, going to local chestnut festivals, drinking too much wine, eating delicious food surrounded by endless laughter.  There’s too much to tell.  I will have to write it in the next blog.  For now, I hope you understand how amazing it can be to discover a wonderful person that can make you see life differently and produce amazing food!

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Charcuterie at its Finest

10 10 2010

In the three and half years I lived in San Francisco I was exposed to a new food group…..some call it charcuterie, others say salumi, most Midwesterners would call this cured goodness salami.  All I know is that I love and appreciate the flavors, imagination and craftsmanship that goes into charcuterie like non-other.  As a Midwesterner and a frequent Colorado visiter, I always ate different forms of cured meat as a child.  Salami or chorizo were staples on our family camping trips.  I paid no attention to the quality or complexity of flavor in the salami on these trips, I always viewed this cured deliciousness as source of fat and protein on our long hikes.

When I moved to San Francisco I was finally exposed to the real deal food and wine scene.  The word charcuterie meant something important and gourmet in this scene.  It took me a few years to really discover all of the delicious products that defined this word.  As a food and wine pairing specialist at Cellar360, it was my job to discover unique cured meats, patés and confits to pair with wines.  In search for the best products in the Bay Area, I started to learn about the process of making salumi and all of its variations.  Charcuterie is part of a specific culinary repertoire originally intended on preserving meats.  Cured meats are commonly made of pork meat combined with a specific percentage of pork fat, salt, pepper and other seasonings.  Nowadays, it has become fashionable to play around with curing beef, duck, wild boar, fish and other exotic meats.  Nothing seems to be off-limits.

Many sources say that charcuterie is one of the top 10 food trends in 2010.  It seems crazy to think that preserving meat, such a mid-evil act of necessity, has come back in fashion.  The truth is, charcuterie tastes so freaking good, it has a terrific shelf life and an incredible amount of applications. It makes complete sense why it has come back in fashion.  Plus, chefs are discovering new and exciting ways to make cured meats more current like adding fresh truffles or local fruits and herbs.

Last week when I was in Florence with my mom, I came across the most interesting charcuterie shop I have ever seen in my life.  Not only was it aesthetically pleasing, it had the most bountiful display of high quality cured meats I have ever come across.  I literally wanted to stay in this shop for hours and taste every type of meat available. Instead, I took a good look around and decided to film my excitement.  I hope you can imagine how amazing this place was in real life.  For god sakes….when you walked in there was a wild boar on the wall!