Spring Vegetable Pasta

Wow, what a busy summer this has been so far. I barely eked out two posts in June, and July isn’t off to a much better start. Blogging from the beach isn’t as easy as I thought it would be! So, I recently declared that a pasta night was in order. This is technically a “spring” vegetable pasta, but the ingredients are fresh all throughout the summer as well. The cooking style is unique (the pasta is cooked in a risotto style), but it results in an extra creamy (sans cream) pasta. The resulting dish is exactly what I’ve come to expect from America’s Test Kitchen…delicious!

Spring Vegetable Pasta – from America’s Test Kitchen
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and cut into 1/2 inch-thick slices (about 5 cups); 3 cups roughly chopped dark green parts reserved
1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off, chopped coarsely, and reserved; spears cut on a bias into 1/2 inch-thick pieces
2 cups frozen baby peas, thawed
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon finely grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound dried farfalle pasta
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Ground black pepper

Place dark green leek trimmings, asparagus trimmings, 1 cups peas, minced garlic, vegetable broth, and water in large saucepan. Bring to simmer over high heat, then lower heat to medium-low and gently simmer 10 minutes. While broth simmers, combine mint, chives, and lemon zest in small bowl; set aside.

Strain broth through fine-mesh strainer into 8-cup measuring cup, pressing solids to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have 5 cups liquid; add water as needed to measure 5 cups). Discard solids and return broth to saucepan. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add sliced leeks and pinch salt; cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until leeks begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus pieces and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Add remaining 2 teaspoons garlic and pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining cup peas and continue to cook 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to plate and set aside. Wipe out pot.

Heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes.

When wine is fully absorbed, add hot broth, Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove pot from heat, stir in lemon juice, Parmesan, half of herb mixture, and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, passing Parmesan cheese and remaining herb mixture separately.

Fresh Herb and Lemon Marinated Grilled Chicken

A thing I loved about the food when visiting Piedmont was the abundance of fresh herbs. They showed up everywhere. You found them in pastas, pies, salads, sauces, and risottos. It was then that I vowed to use less of the dried stuff, and now I feel so much more accomplished when using fresh herbs at home.

Fresh herbs play a central role in this recipe. Not only are herbs in season, it is a great time of year to invite over friends and throw some chicken on the grill. This recipe comes together quickly and is pretty hands off. Perfect for a summertime backyard (or rooftop) barbecue. The marinade below is enough for one chicken, but is easily adjusted up or down. Feel free to add or subtract herbs to your liking.

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon (approximately 1 tablespoon)
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
2 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 lemon, sliced
Large pinch of salt and pepper

Combine all of the ingredients, except for the chicken, in a large bowl. Whisk quickly to combine and pour into a large resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken. Seal the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken. Place the bag in a bowl and refrigerate for 4 hours, turning the bag at least twice.

Fire up your grill. Remove the chicken from the bag and shake off any excess marinade. Reserve the lemon slices for grilling as a garnish. Grill the chicken, being careful not to blacken it. Serve on a platter garnished with freshly torn parsley and grilled lemon slices.

Pass Me a Birra!

Piedmont is well-known for its wines. In fact, the best wines of the region are legendary. But what about beer? Yes, Europe is known for its great beer. Think Ireland, England, Germany, and the Czech Republic. But, how many European countries are known for both great wine and beer? Ok, Germany could be an exception. I love a good Riesling. But, when have you had a nice glass of red from Ireland?  Is it possible for Italy to become a world-renowned producer of both wine and beer? After a few recent tastings, I think the answer is yes, and Piedmont is leading the way.

In the line-up were three beers for three different breweries. First was a lager from Menabrea, a brewery in the town of Biella in northern Piedmont. This pilsner style lager was the most similar to the American lagers that I prefer. Lighter in color and milder in taste. I could get used to drinking this beer. Perfect for a hot summer afternoon.

A bottle of Nora from Birrificio Le Baladin was next. Baladin, located in Piozzo in southwest  Piedmont, is probably the most well-known brewery in Italy, at least to beer snobs. I was excited to open up the unique looking bottle. At $7.80 for a 8.45 oz. bottle, I was hoping it was good. It was. As an ale, it was much darker in color than the Menabrea, and much, much more complex. A lot of flavors going on here (citrus, spicy and woodsy). Though I could enjoy a bottle of this ale here and there, I won’t be picking up a six-pack anytime soon. I’d rather spend that kind of money on a good bottle of wine! I’m a wine snob, not a beer snob.

Baladin

Finally came the Pausa P.I.L.S. from Birrificio Pausa Cafe in Saluzzo. Also brewed in southwest Piedmont, this pilsner style lager suited my tastes. I don’t know enough about beer to understand why I prefer a lager to an ale. I just know that I do. Like the Baladin, this little bottle was pricey, but worth the splurge.  Pausa Cafe not only makes beer, but sells fair trade coffee and cocoa. It sounds like the kind of company that you’d find in Brooklyn. Very hipster-ish. I want to try more of their beer.

Pausa Cafe

Though I have yet to try any of their beer, Birrificio CitaBunda is on my short list of stops for our next trip to Piedmont. Not only is this brewery, bar and restaurant located in Bricco di Neive (my favorite Barbarescos come from Neive), but it is also in an old elementary school. When is the last time you drank beer in an elementary school? How about drinking artisanal Italian beer in an elementary school on a hill overlooking some of the best vineyards in Barbaresco? I’m assuming never. This place is a must do.

Grilled Vegetables with Salsa Rossa Estiva

When I first saw the recipe for Salsa Rossa Estiva (Summer Red Sauce) in Cucina Piemontese: Cooking from Italy’s Piedmont, I told myself that I would resist making this sauce until it was summer. With Memorial Day as the official start of summer and grilling season, it was the perfect time to try out this recipe. I paired it with some grilled vegetables and it turned a sometimes bland summer BBQ side dish into something flavorful and uniquely Piemontese.

Salsa Rossa Estiva (Summer Red Sauce)
From Cucina Piemontese: Cooking from Italy’s Piedmont
Makes 2 Cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh sage
6 leaves fresh basil
1 cup canned peeled, crushed tomatoes
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the onion and garlic until tender. Tie the rosemary, bay leaf, sage and basil together with string and add the bundle to the pan; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes more. Add the tomato and peppers, and cook for 20 minutes more.

Pass the mixture through a food mill or puree briefly in a food processor. Return the sauce to the pan, and cook over low heat for 10 minutes more.

Serve warm.

I paired this sauce with grilled eggplant, zucchini, and green and yellow peppers. This sauce also goes well with sformato, anchovies, or grilled meats.

Springtime Risotto

It was a warm and sunny weekend in New York and summer was in the air. Why does spring come and go so quickly? I was determined to cook a spring themed meal even though my grill was calling my name from our terrace. The asparagus was fresh at our local produce store, so I decided a springtime risotto was in order.

Risotto seems like a cold weather dish, perfect for fall and winter, but I enjoy it year round. It is hands down my favorite thing to make. A good risotto is not as difficult to make as most people think. No constant stirring required. Just don’t ignore the pot for too long.

Springtime Risotto – serves 4
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cups vegetable broth or chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup asparagus, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring the broth or stock to a boil over medium high heat. Add the asparagus, and let boil for 1 minute. You don’t want it to over cook. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat this process with the peas. Reduce heat, cover and keep the liquid warm.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large metal pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, but not browned. Add the rice and stir until the grains gain a shiny complexion, much like a pearl. Do not brown the rice. Pour in the wine and stir until all of the liquid is absorbed.

Now you’re ready to add the broth. Ladle in enough broth to just cover the rice, approximately 3 ladlefuls. Season with some salt and stir. Let the rice rest until the liquid is mostly absorbed and small pockets appear on the top. Add some more broth, season, and stir. Repeat this process until your risotto has reached the desired consistency, checking for seasoning along the way.

Once the risotto is nice and creamy, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter, the grated parmesan cheese, and the asparagus and peas. Season with salt and pepper if needed, and serve immediately.

An Eating Tour of Paris

The final stop on our trip was Paris. Again, the weather was dreary, but I think Paris is more romantic in the rain. There is nothing like walking down an old cobblestone street damp with rain, and ducking into a bistro for an espresso or glass of wine. Oh, and of course having something to eat. You can easily eat your way through Paris. Paris is a food lover’s city.

I’m so happy we decided to do Paris by Mouth’s Best of Montmarte food tour. It was an ideal way to see one of Paris’ most unique and tasty neighborhoods. From learning how to choose the perfect baguette to eating pate and cheese on the street, this tour taught us how to shop and eat like a Parisian. Paris by Mouth is the go to website for people interested in discovering the best eats and drinks in Paris. Our tour definitely was the highlight of our trip. Here are some photos of our favorite stops and eats.

A lesson on a quality baguette

Street eating

Chocolates at A l’Etoile d’Or

Denise Acabo of A l’Etoile d’Or

After a busy couple of weeks (visiting parents followed by a week-long work trip to L.A.), I will be refocusing my posts on Piedmont. Stay tuned!

Falling in Love with Loire

After an incredible weekend in London, we arrived in Tours on a dreary and rainy afternoon. Even though the sun was not shining, we immediately fell in love with the landscape of the Loire Valley. Although much flatter than the hills of the Piemontese wine country, the Loire Valley was just as green and lush. Who needs sun when you’re surrounded by nature and wine?

I think we may have found the best bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley. We desperately needed a spot to decompress for a few days. When you live in New York City, “vacationing” in London isn’t exactly relaxing. La Grande Maison, located on a 17th century wine estate near Saumur, was the perfect spot to reboot.

La Grande Maison

The main room of La Grande Maison

La Grande Maison’s pigeonnier at night

La Grande Maison is run by Micaela and Sue, two warm and charming Brits with a passion for wine. We knew immediately that we would get along just fine. We took advantage of their wine tour services, and that decision was a smart one. They have extensive knowledge of wine, the growing process, and the local appellations. More importantly, as non-French speaking tourists, we would have been lost without their guidance.

Exploring the caves of Domaine de la Paleine

Yes, we tried them all!

Wine dinner at La Grande Maison

Wine pairings

We left the Loire Valley with memories that will last for a lifetime. We explored many caves, drank loads of Cabernet Franc, enjoyed delicious meals, and had wonderful conversations with our hosts. Thank you Micaela and Sue. I hope that our paths cross again someday!

New friends