Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vodka Sawce

Yo. The fact that I have not commented on Season 4 of Jersey Shore is ca-razy. First of all: Jersey Shore as a show at all is ridic. Second of all: This group of Eye-talians being filmed in Italy, having never been there before (or any other country for that matter) is ridic. I mean, how many times have they referred to the Duomo as the Vatican or some other prominent Roman architectural location? They don't even know where they are. But who cares? Wherever they are, they manage to find gyms, spray tans, laundromats, and clubs that play house music. And I watch.

I think it is only appropriate to make an Italian-American meal to enjoy while watching the Jersey Shore, even though they are in Italy. Somehow I don't think that the kids are ready for crostini di fegato or pappardelle sulla lepre, so they're probably searching high and low for some chicken parm and sausage and peppas. I figured that penne alla vodka would be perf because they would actually be able to find canned tomatoes in the market (even without being able to speak the language) and you know that the first stop upon arriving in Florence was to the liquor store to stock up on vodka for Ron-Ron Juice. (Nevermind that J-Woww doesn't eat anymore and Snooks will probably have to run up and down the stairs about 50 times to work it all off. Check them out pretending to eat in the photo above!) But hey, I'm not on TV, so I'm going to make a plate and enjoy!

Penne Alla Vodka

One (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes with their liquid
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Crushed hot red pepper
1/3 cup vodka
1 pound penne
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Pour the tomatoes and their liquid into the work bowl of a food processor. Briefly process the tomatoes with a series of quick pulses just until they are finely chopped.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Lower the work bowl with the tomatoes close to the skillet and carefully (they will splatter) slide the tomatoes into the pan. Bring to a boil, season lightly with salt and crushed red pepper, and boil 2 minutes. Pour in the vodka, lower the heat so the sauce is at a lively simmer, and simmer about 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, stir the penne into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, until done, 8 to 10 minutes.

5. Just before the pasta is done, pour the cream into the tomato sauce. If the skillet is large enough to accommodate the sauce and pasta, drain the pasta from the boiling water and add it directly to the sauce in the skillet. Bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring to coat the pasta with sauce. Check the seasoning, adding salt and red pepper if necessary.

6. Remove the pot from the heat, sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese over the pasta, and toss to mix. Serve immediately, passing additional cheese if you like.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Oh, Gratin

I remember going to a restaurant called Bill Knapp's when I was growing up. We would only go after church on Sunday and I would only order the au gratin potatoes. I liked to call them "oh rotten potatoes" because I thought I was funny. Now that I think about it, they weren't all that gratinéed, but I do remember that they were one million degrees, (probably from being put under the salamander right before being served) and they were definitely bubbling, cheesy potatoes with a bruléed top.

That was the start of all things au gratin for me. I remember making an awesome leek gratin for Thanksgiving one year and now there's this tomato gratin that I made at the beach this past weekend. I actually had it for the first time a few weeks ago when I made these Cowboy Cookies, and my friend had made the recipe for the first time. It was super delish and looked EXACTLY like the photo in her cookbook. Three of us devoured the entire dish in a matter of minutes, so we decided to make it again to go with our freshly caught Montauk sea bass. My friend mentioned that it had taken a while to prep everything so I offered to help, and then ended up making the whole thing.

Grilled Montauk Striped Bass

The first go around my friend seeded all of the tomatoes. This time we decided to seed only half of them, figuring that the juices would be soaked up by the bread cubes. And they were. The recipe doesn't call for seeding the tomatoes, and it doesn't really matter if you do, but if you are using extra-ripe, end of summer tomatoes, you might want to seed at least half. After you've finished your prep work and thrown the tomatoes in the oven, pour yourself a glass of rosé and get ready for the cheesy goodness.

Tomato Gratin
(Adapted from Ina Garten)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups (1/2-inch diced) bread from a French boule, crusts removed
16 plum tomatoes (or heirloom tomatoes), cut 1/2-inch dice (about 2 1/2 pounds)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup julienned fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and stir to coat with the oil. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the cubes are evenly browned.

2. Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are done, add the tomato mixture and continue to cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil.

3. Pour the tomato mixture into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan cheese and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly. Serve hot or warm.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Feeling Blue

The end of summer can never come soon enough as far as I'm concerned. Hot, steamy subway platforms and the odiferous people that you encounter there will never convince me of the supposed pleasures of summer. I guess it's fine if you have a pool or a shore house near Karma, but otherwise it sucks. Although tasty summer treats like fresh corn, ice cream, and fruit pies sort-of, kind-of remind me of why it could be nice, it's usually September before I realize that I haven't had a single ear of corn or slice of peach pie. But hey, it's only August and I've made a pie!!

How good does that look? Making a crumble topping saves you from rolling out a second disk of pie dough's crumble topping! Hello! If you're afraid of rolling out even one disk of dough, just buy it premade. Your pie will still taste better than if you bought it. Trust. (Make sure to taste the blueberries first and adjust the sugar that you add to the filling according to their ripeness. If they are a little tart, add 1/2 cup sugar. If they're really ripe, add only a 1/4 cup.) Serve it while it is still warm from the oven with a side of vanilla ice cream and even if you're in your crappy walk-up apartment on a 90+ degree day, you can pretend that you're...not.

Blueberry Crumb Pie

All-purpose flour, for dusting
Basic Pie Dough, store bought or homemade
Crumble Topping:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
2 pints (about 6 cups) blueberries, picked over
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a disk of dough to a 12-inch round. With a dry pastry brush, dust off any excess flour. Fit the dough into a 9-inch glass pie plate, pressing it lightly into the edges. Trim the dough to a 1/2-inch overhang all around. Fold the edge of dough over or under, and crimp as desired. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

2. Make the crumble topping: In a medium bowl, mix the flour, light-brown sugar, granulated sugar, and salt. With a pastry cutter, fork, or your hands, work in the butter until large, moist clumps form. Chill, covered, until ready to use.

3. Make the filling: Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Place the blueberries in a large bowl. Add the sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Spoon the mixture into the chilled pie shell, mounding the berries slightly in the center. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the blueberry mixture.

4. Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until the crust edges begin to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350˚F. Continue baking, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the juices are bubbling and have thickened, 40 to 50 minutes more. Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Steak House

In case you were wondering what to do with the leftovers from your latest grill & chill (aside from eating the leftovers standing in the dull glow of your fridge - just me? figures!), make a big salad! Make a STEAK HOUSE salad! Puh-leeze. With a combo of grilled rib eye (or strip or flank, whatevs) and The Wedge, how can you go wrong? You can't! Except for not having bacon...that was totally my bad. How totes obvs for this salad to necessitate bacon. Doh!

The Ultimate Steakhouse Salad

Leftover grilled steak, sliced thinly against the grain
Fresh lettuce, such as romaine or butter lettuce, torn
Heirloom tomatoes, sliced or halved if miniature
Leftover roasted mushrooms, (or grilled) as desired
Several slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
Blue Cheese Dressing
Freshly ground black pepper

Assemble ingredients as desired. Serve.