Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “Italian”

Ingredients game: Guess that recipe

OK, let’s play a game. Based on the photo below, can you guess what I’m making?

Red onion, tomato, minced garlic, basil

*****************************************************************************************************ANSWER BELOW*****************************************************************************

If you guessed bruschetta, good work!  You win…the knowledge and satisfaction that you know what those four simple ingredients can make!  Sunday night was bruschetta night in my house, since it was simple, quick, tasty and nutritious.  The longest part of this recipe is all the prep–chopping onion, garlic, basil and tomatoes. (Hint: a garlic press really helps cut down on time. Seriously, I’ll never stop espousing the virtues of the garlic press.)  Anyway, once all the prep work’s done, it really takes only a minute or two to put everything together.

Bruschetta

2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded
1 ring chopped red onion (this is a very strong flavor, so feel free to use less–honestly, if it was up to me I would’ve used very little, but Kevin had some say in this too, and he loves red onion)
1-2 teaspoons minced garlic (again, a personal palate thing–I used closer to 2 teaspoons but regretted it later; it ended up being a very strong garlic flavor and overwhelming aftertaste)
Handful chopped fresh basil
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Chop tomatoes, onions and basil and transfer into a medium mixing bowl. Mince or press garlic and add to the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and add a generous drizzle of olive oil. Mix to incorporate all the ingredients well. Serve with crostinis. (See below)

If you choose to serve the bruschetta as a traditional appetizer with crostinis, then you need some nice toasty bread.  We bought some pre-sliced saloio bread from the supermarket (this was about speed and convenience–and of course, flavor), which has a nice crusty, Italian bread flavor mixed with a sourdough. Any crusty white bread, thinly sliced, will do. To make the crostinis, arrange a single layer of bread slices on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil. Place under the broiler for one to two minutes on each side or just until golden brown and crispy.

Before broiling: arrange on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil

After broiling, golden brown. Make sure you flip and broil both sides

Pile the bruschetta on the hot, crispy crostini and enjoy! Drizzle with a little more olive oil, if desired.

The finished product--yum! But a bit spicy. (Go easy on the garlic and onion if you're spice-sensitive like me)

UPDATE:  We had leftover bruschetta after dinner, so I mixed it into some brown rice and quinoa and added some chopped rotisserie chicken–instant delicious, healthy lunch for work! (Sometimes I wish I could do a whole post on leftovers!)

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Porta Patens Esto. Nulli Claudatur Honesto. “Be the door always open. Be it not closed to any honest person.”

First off, I’d like to apologize for the lag in posting. The last couple of weeks have been utterly crazy for me; I started up working full-time again, but didn’t quit my old job, plus I’m in the rehearsal process for a show that opens in three weeks. So I’m working 6-7 days a week and going to rehearsal, which unfortunately leaves little time to cook or enjoy a nice meal out.

But Monday I had a half day at work, so Kevin and I took the opportunity–and free time–to go out for a nice, sit-down meal. He and I have this little thing we do where we try to go to a new restaurant every month. Monday was our February opportunity though, admittedly, we cheated on this one a bit. We chose to go to Porta in Asbury Park, N.J. It was brand new to him, but I had been there. Just once. And not for dinner. I just went there after work late one night with a friend and we split a pizza and a carafe of their house red wine (more on that later.) So really, I hadn’t experienced Porta to its fullest, so it was still fair.


Porta is a pizzeria by name, but it is so much more than that once you step inside its wide white doors. The building looks like a converted garage, complete with three large bay doors on one end that open up to their patio and outdoor bar (dubbed “Porta National Park”) in the warmer seasons. Inside, Porta is arranged family-style, with large picnic-style tables rather than traditional individual seats. The back wall is lined with antiqued wooden doors, and in clear view sit their wood-fired pizza ovens, imported from Italy, with the open prep and cooking space. Porta also has a large bar, complete with a great wine list and varied beer options. (“Porta” is Italian for “door,” hence the door theme.)

By night, Porta becomes a bar and nightclub complete with a DJ, live music and dancing. But by day (well, Monday evening), it had a unique, modern-classic feel, pumping standards through the sound system rather than Top 40 dance beats. It mixed sophistication with a backyard feel.

But enough of that. Really, this is about the food. And the food is no less unique than the space itself. While the menu is small by normal standards, its anything but boring. Mostly appetizers and pizza with a few pasta options, Porta keeps it simple while keeping it special.

For appetizers, we ordered two salads to share: The Winter Caprazy and the Cavolo Nero. The Winter Caprazy is exactly what it sounds like: a seasonal take on the classic Caprese salad. This one included slow roasted tomatoes, black garlic and fresh oregano.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had black garlic or fresh oregano (only dried.) I’ve been missing out. Black garlic, while it looks a bit scary, is a sweeter, richer cousin to what we know. And fresh oregano blows the dried stuff out of the water. Upon eating it, I got that distinctive bite and slight hit to the sinuses that confirmed I was indeed eating oregano, but the flavor was so much milder and fresher than its spice rack counterpart. Where has this been all my life? Needless to say, everything worked together pretty well, with the roasted tomatoes imparting a sweeter, heartier flavor than the raw version. I don’t love roasted tomatoes, but this definitely made a pretty good winter version of one of my favorite classic Italian salads.

However, I don’t think the Winter Caprazy can hold a candle in creativity next to the Cavolo Nero. Tuscan kale, shaved sunchoke and watermelon radish with garlic crostini and parmigiano reggiano in a lemon-garlic dressing. This was my first introduction to kale, and what a way to start! This definitely makes me want to eat kale more often. My only complaint about this salad would be that the toppings (sunchoke, watermelon radish, garlic croutons) were a bit too scarce. As good as the kale was, it was a bit boring without the accouterments and we left some on the plate once we finished everything else. But it was delicious. I love radishes, so this was a treat to me, especially with how beautiful shaved watermelon radishes are.

Sliced watermelon radish. Photo via SmartSeeds

I need to find some watermelon radishes and use them in everything I make. Everything. They taste great, and they’re gorgeous! (New goal.)

Moving on…

Kevin, being the pizza-lover that he is, obviously could not resist the major part of Porta’s menu: the pizza. He ordered an Italian Stallion with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Gorgonzola, sweet Italian sausage and long hots. (I could insert a joke here about him being an Italian stallion, but I’ll pass for his sake.)

As much as he loves pizza, Kevin hates blue cheese, but he bit the bullet and tried it on this pizza. And he didn’t hate it. Overall, he thought the pizza tasted great, but the generous drizzle of olive oil (and probably the grease from the sausage) made it a little soggy for his liking. He boxed half up to take home and said he’ll try to crisp it up in the oven before eating the leftovers.

I was in a pasta kind of mood that night, so I went ahead and ordered off their small, but not limited pasta menu. I went a little off the beaten path with a wild boar ragu with rosemary papardelle, rosemary, sage, red wine and parmigiano reggiano. If you hadn’t told me this was wild boar, I wouldn’t have known. But I’m so glad I tried it. It’s, unsurprisingly, very similar to pork, but a bit heartier and beefier. Sort of like a delicious pork-beef hybrid all stewed up and served over pasta.

Oh right, the pasta. Between the rosemary papardelle and the rosemary in the sauce, I expected a double whammy of in-your-face rosemary. But instead, it was subtle and underlying and I had to really look for it at times. Still, I ate almost the whole thing. Hearty, warm and inviting. It almost made me forget it was nearly 60 degrees that afternoon.

Pizza; Photo via http://www.pizzaporta.com/

Not the Italian Stallion, but another one of Porta'a pizzas. Photo courtesy of Porta Pizza.

And of course, what better to complement a great meal than some house red wine? Porta has a nice Italian wine list, but the standout is their house-made red and white wines, which can be ordered by the glass or the carafe. I’ve been here twice and only ever had one wine–the house red, a Cabernet. I thought about switching it up at dinner, but I figured, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Next time I’ll have to try their house white and eventually branch out to their other wine selections.

Kevin went a more traditionally American route–pizza and beer. Porta seems like the kind of place that would have tons of local and craft beers on hand, but most of their beer list is surprisingly generic. They have a few crafts, including three varieties of Six Point. Kevin had the “Bengali Tiger,” which he said was very pine-y with a citrus finish. He equated it to Pine Sol at one point, which I assumed was a bad thing, but he seemed to enjoy it. I picked up on the pineyness but not as much on the citrus. However, the back of the can did quote William Blake’s “The Tyger.” (Plus one for Six Point.)

Porta’s minimalistic atmosphere and inspired take on locally-sourced ingredients may be far too hip and trendy for some, but I actually found it a relaxing and enjoyable Monday evening. Is Porta a bit hipster? Yes. Are the food, drinks and service worth it despite that? Absolutely. It’s nestled on an obscure little corner of Asbury Park, right between the bustling downtown and the boardwalk and offers a casual retreat that’s still leaps beyond traditional pizzeria fare. So, if you’re looking for an original, quality meal in a quaint, casual environment, head for Porta.

Porta also runs several specials throughout the week, like gluten-free pizza every Tuesday and a 4-course family dinner every Sunday night. They weekend brunch every Saturday and Sunday and, of course, the club/bar scene at night.

I’ll have to check out the nightlife sometime and see if it lives up to the weekday fare. Come summertime I’ll have to give this another go too, of course.

Eataly: An Italian Food Mecca

Eataly NYC inside banner sign

First off, I want to apologize for the long wait between posts. I wrote this whole post, and then WordPress lost it, and it took a few days to get it all back together. Moving on…

Earlier this week, my boyfriend Kevin and I went to New York City and to the most glorious home of Italian food: Eataly NY. Eataly is not just a market and not just a restaurant; it is a combination of market, cooking school and 12 different eateries. The collaborative project of Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich, Eataly NY at 200 Fifth Ave. at 23rd St.  is the only U.S. location of the culinary collective. Before New York City, Eataly opened seven locations in Italy and six in Japan.

Now, Eataly is not for the light of heart. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill market. It’s massive, and encompasses everything from fresh exotic produces and full butcher counters to beer, wine and caviar. It has aisles upon aisles devoted to olive oils and pestos and balsamic vinegars behind lock and key. Shelves of spices from all over the world line the walls, surrounding bakery counters, fresh and dried pastas, and, of course, all those restaurants.

Shelves of spices from all over the world lined the aisles

Red, pink and black salts. Yes, a shelf just for salts, and there wasn't just one.

Our dinner: Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto san Danielle, Mortadella, Prosciutto Cotto, Speck and Salami with Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Cacio Marzolino, Taleggic and Gorgonzola. Condiment plate of honey, figs and candied citrus peel.

Yes, those restaurants. The various small eateries are interspersed throughout the space, each with its own niche of Italian cuisine. We stopped at La Piazza, a stand-up eatery right in the middle of the action. Literally, you stand at small, counter-like tables. The menu at La Piazza is antipasto-style, with mostly Italian meats and cheeses as well as selections of Italian wine and beer. As first-timers, we jumped right in with a meat and cheese sampler plate and a mozzarella classico with fresh basil.To complement, I had a lovely, medium-bodied glass Barbera d’ Albi and Kevin had an Italian golden ale.

While we were both familiar with the traditional cured prosciuttos, the prosciutto cotto, or uncured prosciutto, was new to us. While it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t necessarily something I’d return for. It seemed a bit reminiscent of deli ham, nothing special. I think I’ll keep taking my prosciutto cured.

The speck was the pleasant surprise of the night, though. Prosciutto is often compared to Spanish Serrano ham, though I think the speck is even more similar in flavor to the Serrano, but with a buttery, soft, melt-in-your mouth texture. It was like an elevated prosciutto.

For the most part, we both loved everything on the meat plate, except the mortadella. (I’ve never been a fan of mortadella–it reminds me of boiled ham.) Otherwise, an exciting culinary journey.

The cheeses were just as exciting. Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta and Gorgonzola were familiar, but I was new to the Cacio and Taleggic. I’m a big fan of the first three, particularly Gorgonzola, which paired deliciously with the figs and candied citrus peels from the condiment plate. The Taleggic, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, reminded me of a milder Brie. I enjoy Brie, but I generally find the rind too bitter and pungent, and too much can be overpowering. With the Taleggic, I ate it rind and all, and found the milder flavor welcoming. This too, like Brie, paired quite well with the sweet accoutrements. The Cacio Marzolino, a sheep’s milk cheese, had a nutty flavor, slightly reminiscent of a softer Parmesan. However, it was my least favorite of the cheeses and the only one we left unfinished.

The other part of dinner: Mozzarella Classico with basil

We are both longtime fans of mozzarella, so naturally, we enjoyed the classico thoroughly. Sometimes, I’m very easy to please: the freshest, most delicious mozzarella and fresh, snappy basil make me a very happy person. Add a glass of red wine (check) and I’m perfect.

My initial hope was that we would hop around from eatery to eatery, sampling some of the best Italy has to offer, but we filled up too much on meat, cheese, wine and beer. But, of course, we did leave room for dessert. Eataly houses all of its sweets, espressos and cheeses together, and we wasted no time exploring what may have been my favorite part of the store. In addition to freshly ground espresso, marscapone cheese and fruit preserves were several counters of delectable pastries, colorful chocolates and creamy gelato.

Kevin's dessert: Italian hot chocolate and tiramisu

Kevin got his favorite–tiramisu–and a rich Italian hot chocolate. But, this is no Swiss Miss. It is thick, rich and velvety, more like melted chocolate with a touch of milk than chocolate-flavored milk. The ever-so-slight bitterness of the dark chocolate prevented the hot chocolate from becoming overwhelmingly sweet.

My Lemon Baba (Limoncello-soaked cake filled with pastry cream, topped with a candied orange peel and raspberry)

As much of a chocolate-lover as I am, I was seeking something sweet and fruity to complement the meat and cheese I ate. I had a Lemon Baba, an Italian cake soaked in Limoncello, filled with pastry cream and topped off with a candied citrus peel and raspberry. (More of that citrus peel! I really did love them.) It was sweet and tangy, light and fruity, and the perfect way to finish off the meal. The tangy acidity cut through the richness of the meat and cheese. And of course, what better way to finish off the day then with a perfect, authentic Italian cappuccino? It brought me back to my days in Spain sipping cafe con leches on my way to class. (For those that don’t know, I studied in Valencia, Spain for six months. And, boy, did they know how to make a good cafe con leche. Even McDonald’s there had good coffee. But I digress.) Fewer things in the world make me happier than a great cup of coffee (even fresh mozzarella and good red wine.)

With our stomachs filled and our taste buds satisfied, we returned to our browsing. It’s pretty much impossible to walk out of a place like this empty-handed, but since we did have a whole train ride back to New Jersey to deal with, we limited ourselves to one loaf of bread each. We each went for a soft and crusty rustic bread, Kevin an Italian rye and me a raisin. I still have about half the loaf left. The tangy sourdough flavor and the sweet raisins have made for some delicious breakfasts.

One of the walls of the wine shop

In addition to the main space, there is also an entire separate wine shop next door. I went to seek out a bottle of the Barbera d’Albi I drank with dinner, but sadly, they were out. Otherwise I would have had one more purchase to add to my list.

All in all, Eataly was a fantastic experience. But, I barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, so I’ll just have to return. It’s produce-driven eatery, Le Verdure, tops my list of must-trys, as does its aplty-named La Pasta and La Pizza. Perhaps one of the most intriguing draws of Eataly is its rooftop restaurant, Birreria.

But one of the best things about Eataly is probably its mission: Eat Better, Cook Simpler. They work on the practice of cooking what they sell and selling what they cook, with a real focus in high-quality, natural ingredients. However, they don’t do it without a bit of cheekiness. Their “policy” states that 1. The customer is not always right. 2. Eataly is not always right. 3. Through our differences, we create harmony.Eat Better Cook Simpler banner

If you’re ever in New York City (or not, but want to–and should–be) and love all things Italian, head over to Fifth Ave. and immerse yourself in the culinary haven that is Eataly. I promise, you won’t be disappointed as it quite literally has something for everyone.

Oh, and if you do find yourself there, please, let me know what you thought of it, what you did, what you ate, etc.! I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences there.

A few more shots from the Eataly market:

Fresh octopus

Some of the priciest selections, champagne and caviar, behind a locked display case

A selection of focaccias at the bread counter

Butcher counter

Colorful chocolates in the dessert section

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