Less is More

15 02 2012

Sometimes less is more when it comes to food.  The Italians definitely understand this concept.  Italian food is all about using the best ingredients in their truest form.  While I tend to complicate my recipes with a list of 15 ingredients, my new goal is to restrain this impulse and use less to develop big flavors.

What does that mean to me?  It means, sourcing food that is in season.  If food is in season then you don’t have to add all sorts of fats, sugars or spices to make it taste better.  It’s simply delicious and full or flavor to start.  I also try to use one unique speciality ingredient in each recipe for a “wow” factor. Last, I try to focus on delicately balancing flavors in a dish.  When I am using only four ingredients, they are all strategically picked to form a ying and yang balance.

A few weeks ago,  I was in Ann Arbor Michigan again with my close Italian friend, Cristiana visiting Monique, the owner of “Al Dente” pasta.  Monique proposed a challenge to me, “come up with a pasta recipe using only three main ingredients.  I want this pasta to be easy to make, economic, and delicious.”  I am not the most competitive person in the world, but I love challenges when it comes to food.  My mind started wrapping around flavor combinations that would not only showcase the pasta but make a unique statement.

That afternoon while we were walking around a fish market in Kerrytown, I passed by some high-quality Italian tuna in olive oil.  Immediately my mind flashed back to last year in Italy when was I was shopping for one of my first meals in Pisa.   I went into the best specialty shop in town and carefully examined the case of cured meats, cheeses, fish and antipasti.   What stood out to me was this huge chunk of gorgeous tuna sitting in a large bowl of golden olive oil.  Everyone in the store was buying a bit of the tuna, so I knew I had to try it.  I purchased about 1/2 lb. for 15 dollars.  The high cost assured me this tuna was going to taste a hell of a lot better than our fishy canned tuna “Starkist” in the states.  That night I made a meal, flaking the tuna into a pasta dish with some local ingredients.  The flavors of the tuna were savory and delicate (with no fishy taste at all) combined with the bitterness of arugula and creamy Parmesan cheese.  I was thrilled to discover how sexy and seductive tuna could taste with a simple pasta dish.

So my decision was made, right then and there in the Kerrytown fish market.  I was going to create an Italian flaked tuna pasta recipe with seasonal ingredients for Monique’s challenge.  I picked out some gorgeous pink turnips, fresh blossoming spinach, and imported  Tonnino Italian Tuna in oil and set out to re-create that magical dish inspired by the Tuscan market.

Monique, her friends and Cristiana all loved the pasta!  I hope this recipe makes you appreciate good quality canned tuna and inspires you to play around with new combinations of flavors.  Please let me know what you think!

Flakey Tuna and Roasted Turnip Fettucini:

Ingredients:

6 large turnips, cut in small pieces

4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic, minced

6 oz. fresh spinach (or arugula)

6-7 oz. high-quality Italian Tuna in olive oil

1.5 Tbs. capers, minced

1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated

½ lemon, juiced

1 bag (10 oz.) whole wheat “Al Dente” Fettucini

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut each turnip in half horizontally.  Cut each half of turnip in eight pieces and put the small pieces on a sheet tray.  Repeat with the rest of the turnips.  Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until tender and caramelized.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil from the jar of tuna.  When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and sauté for 20 seconds.  Toss in the fresh arugula, seasoning with a pinch of salt and black pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes until the spinach is wilted.  Flake in the tuna over the spinach and add the capers and roasted turnips. Turn off the heat.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 3 minutes.  Before draining, add 1/3 cup of pasta water to the pan with the arugula, tuna and turnips.  Drain the pasta and add it directly into the pan with the other ingredients.  Stir over low heat for 2-3, adding the lemon juice, 2 Tbs. of olive oil, fresh Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!

Advertisements




San Francisco Inspiration

13 01 2012

This week I took a trip down memory lane and had the opportunity visit old friends, incredible restaurants and the fabulous farmers markets in San Francisco and Berkeley.  After living in the Bay Area for almost four years, I knew I was in for a treat, but I was surprised by the overwhelming nostalgia and appreciation I felt almost every moment of my trip.  San Francisco is not only one of the best food cities in the entire world, it is truly the place that transformed me from a passionate foodie to a chef.

While my pace and cooking skills advanced in San Francisco,  the most important skill I learned was how to create menu’s with seasonal ingredients.  Believe it or not, in Chicago I had never worked with kale, Meyer lemons, satsuma tangerines, tarragon, parsnips, turnips, dandelion greens or frisee before stepping foot in Boulettes Larder (my first San Francisco restaurant).  I had no idea that restaurants had menu’s that changed on a daily basis depending on farmers produce.  I couldn’t understand how a chef could see produce at a market and simply be inspired to put unique flavor combinations together and make a new menu.  It’s something that is hard to explain and just happens to those cooks that live and breathe food.

On Saturday night I went to Nopa, one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco.  I choose this restaurant because it embodies the quintessential San Francisco restaurant experience with its consistent use of local ingredients, incredible hand-made cocktails, an exposed kitchen, wood-burning stove and a long community table.  One of my friends ordered their pork chop and I jealously stared as he ate the luscious meat with crispy onions, fingerling potatoes in each bite. The next morning I hit up the Ferry Building Farmers Market to buy produce for a dinner party I was hosting at my friend’s house in Berkeley.  In true San Francisco style, I walked into the market having no idea what I would be cooking that evening.  I knew I would let the ingredients inspire my decisions.

Here’s a little clip of how I choose what to make for dinner:

I got home extremely energized from my wonderful experience at the market and cooked all afternoon.  My friend went to the fish market and picked up a 4 lbs. of fresh cod that I decided to poach with olive oil, Buddha’s hand, orange rind and white wine.

I used my inspiration from the Pork dish at Nopa to roast fresh turnips, spring onions and fingerling potatoes in the oven to give contrast in texture and color to the buttery fish.  I must say, the meal turned out delicious because it was made with the best ingredients around a lot of love!