Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “pasta”

31-recipe challenge Day 10: Chicken Rosemary Lasagna

Phew! We’re finally 10 days (and 13 recipes) in. We’re approaching the halfway point! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The current order of business: lasagna. But not just any ol’ lasagna (because traditional lasagna the day after eggplant parm would be a tad redundant.)

No, no, no. This is a whole new kind of lasagna–a white lasagna, if you will (as in, no tomato sauce), and it is the brainchild of Sylvia Fountaine from Feasting At Home.

Lasagna 1

I’ll admit it: I did something a little bad with this lasagna–I used no-boil packaged noodles. No, I didn’t use fresh pasta or even eggroll wrappers like she suggested. I went totally cheat-route and used the no-boil lasagna noodles. It resulted in a few crispy edges, but in the end it worked out.

I actually prepped this lasagna Sunday night and left it wrapped in the fridge, unbaked until Monday evening, when I pulled it out and baked it off. This was a great make-ahead recipe that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the time to pull off on a weeknight.

No news here–I halved this recipe (this is pretty much becoming the norm now.) I also added more chicken in place of the mushrooms, because the thought of handling and eating them still totally grosses me out. (I know I said I’d keep the substitutions to a minimum, but this one’s just too deep-seated.) Because the mushrooms release juice when they cook, which keeps the vegetables moist and helps wilt the spinach, I added a splash of white wine in their place to keep the necessary liquid.

I also used skim milk in place of whole milk in the béchamel sauce because I forgot to buy whole milk. Shhh…if I didn’t tell you, you’d probably never know!

Lasagna 2

At first, I was a little…confounded by this dish. Like I said, there were some crispy noodle edges, which freaked me out at first (I thought it was undercooked), then my initial bites told me it was bland, and I wanted to sprinkle salt over the whole thing, which I never do. But by my second helping, my taste buds changed their mind, and I added no salt. And by the next day, as I was eating leftover lasagna at my desk, I realized between the cheese sauce, the cooked noodles, and the crispy edges, this lasagna was totally reminiscent of a savory noodle kugel. Be still my Jewish heart. That solidified it for me–this was one good lasagna.

(Though, if you ask my mother, it’s not lasagna. “Does it have tomato sauce?” “No.” “Then it’s not lasagna!” I swear, you’d think she’s Italian or something!)

lasagna slice

This was another minor victory by way of Kevin: the actual Italian boy NEVER eats lasagna because he hates ricotta cheese. (Seriously, what kind of Italian is he??) But he ate this! A whole serving, and he even finished it! Granted, he opted to raid my fridge for the rest of his meal rather than have seconds, but I’ll take what I can get.

Learning from our mistakes: 5-Cheese White Bean Macaroni and Cheese

Sometimes I try new things and they don’t always work.  Sometimes that means utter, throw it in the trash failure, and sometimes that means it came out okay, but not great. This is a story of the latter.

I had seen this recipe for white bean mac and cheese a while back and decided to tackle something similar. I was craving the ooey-gooeyness of mac and cheese but didn’t want to go completely off track, health-wise, so this seemed like the perfect compromise.

I didn’t have a whole lot of any one kind of cheese in my fridge, but I had a lot of different kinds of cheese, so I just ran with it. At the time, I though using about a tablespoon of cottage cheese would be a good idea to help get a creamy consistency.  Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that cottage cheese doesn’t really melt.  It stays kind of chunky and clumpy, which is sort of off-putting in a cheese sauce.  So, if I were to attempt this again (and I plan to!), I’d probably go with a tablespoon of cream cheese over the cottage cheese to ensure that creaminess is there.

Another mistake I learned from: garlic burns. Fast. And it makes your house smell. Brown garlic (as in burned) smells even stronger than just the regular cooked stuff. And it doesn’t make the other people in your house happy. Also, the flavor is INTENSE. Like, whoa baby, that’s garlic intense. (I contemplated throwing it out and starting over after burning the garlic, but since it was just brown and not completely charred, I decided to go with it. Next time, lightly cooked garlic or bust.)

So, yes, the final product was a bit too garlicky for my taste, and sort of a strange, overcooked garlic flavor. Also, I was probably a bit overzealous in my use of the white bean puree–I didn’t mind it, but the sauce was a bit grittier than a normal cheese sauce from the beans.  If you want to hide the white beans and get more of a traditionally smooth cheese sauce, go with less puree.  But, still, I could see the real potential in this dish, and so I still want to share it with you, with some adaptations to the recipe based on what I learned.

5-cheese white bean macaroni and cheese

Spiral pasta (or any shape you like)
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/2 can white cannelini beans, rinsed
1 tbs butter
1 tbs all-purpose flour
1/2 cup to 1 cup skim milk (depends how thin/thick you want your sauce)
1 tbs cream cheese
2 deli slices or 1 handful shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 slices American cheese
1 handful shredded provolone cheese
1 handful grated parmesan cheese
Dried mustard seed
Paprika
Fresh ground black pepper

1. Boil the pasta in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent sticking.  When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and set aside. While the pasta boils, puree the white beans with a little bit of water or oil, if necessary, to get a smooth consistency.
2. In the same saucepan, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook through (until still white, not dark brown!)
3. Add the butter, let it melt, and mix in the flour to create a roux.
4. Once incorporated, add the milk and let it simmer and heat through. Add the cream cheese and stir it into the milk sauce until it melts.
5. Add the white bean puree, 1 tablespoon at a time, and stir to incorporate into the sauce.
6. Add each cheese, one at a time, and stir until melted. (Eyeball this–if you need more or less, adjust to that. And taste along the way!)
7. Add a few sprinkles of mustard and paprika, to taste. Grind in the black pepper, to taste.
8. When the sauce is smooth and reaches the desired consistency, add the pasta back to the pot and stir well to coat.  Add more seasonings, if necessary.
9. Turn the oven on to Broil. Pour the macaroni and cheese into a baking dish or into individual ramekins and top with more grated Parmesan and paprika.
10. Broil macaroni and cheese for 3-8 minutes or until the Parmesan topping begins to bubble. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

This recipe is great to just lighten up and healthify regular mac and cheese, but it’s also great for kids! You can sneak this white bean puree into their favorite dish and they won’t even know it’s there! Instant fiber, protein and vitamins–and they’re not the wiser! Ha!

This is also a great no-bake cheat to still create that baked macaroni and cheese flavor.  The Parmesan topping gets nice and crispy while the pasta inside stays super creamy and cheesy. I’ve never made a baked-style mac and cheese before–I’ve always made it with a cheese sauce and let it be, like a homemade version of the boxed stuff. But this time around, I wanted to try that baked casserole-style without actually baking it. Broiling it for a few minutes was a quick way to achieve that without actually sitting around and waiting for it to bake. (Cause I’m hungry!) And you know what? Yes, the burned garlic was a bit overwhelming. But with the crispy cheese topping and the ooey-gooey inside, this was still pretty darn delicious! Nothing beats a good mac and cheese, and the addition of white beans and skim milk instead of whole milk or cream makes this (almost) guilt-free!

WIAW: Memorial Day Picnic!

I’ve neglected What I Ate Wednesdays for the past couple of weeks, but now I’m back–with a recipe! Once again, thanks to Jen from Peas & Crayons for hosting!

So, obviously Monday was Memorial Day. And originally, I was hoping to have a party or a small cookout or something. But my lack of planning coupled with my friends’ work schedules meant that wasn’t going to happen this year. But I still wanted to do something fun and summery to end the long weekend. Kevin got off work at six on Monday night, so I decided to throw together a fun, light, healthy Memorial Day picnic!

I know, I’m freaking adorable. This meal was a mix of home-cooked and store-bought, which is my kind of combo. We started with homemade bruschetta and crostinis (check out my recipe for that here). Still on my pesto kick from the day before, I also whipped up a big batch of pesto pasta salad! (Recipe to follow.) It’s a great way to use fresh pesto and it lightens up an otherwise mayo-laden picnic staple. Personally, I prefer the basil-y freshness to gloppy mayonnaise.

I bought some prepared chicken leg quarters from the supermarket for an entrée, though we barely even made a dent in the chicken after all the bruschetta and pasta salad! For dessert, I bought some fresh mangoes, apricots and blueberries–so glad summer fruit is finally in season! I chopped up the mango and apricot and mixed all the fruit together with some sweetened lime juice to make a citrusy-sweet fruit salad. (Oops, was that a recipe?)

I still wanted something really dessert-y, so I baked cookies. But I cheated. I’m not much of a baker, and I don’t have a working mixer, so I was taking the easy route out on this one–I wanted a cookie mix. Well, who knew that it is shockingly hard to find a cookie (or brownie) mix without trans fats? (Be careful–the package can say 0g trans fats as long as it’s less than 1g. Check the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oils, which equal trans fats.)

But lo and behold, in the refrigerated section, was my savior: Nestle Tollhouse Break and Bake cookies. Both the chocolate chip and the chocolate chunk are trans fat-free! Naturally, given those options, I went with the chocolate chunk. And so, we had a semi-homemade, chocolatey end to our meal.

And what’s a good picnic without some wine? So if you’re keeping track, yes, we drank wine out of sippy cups. Yes, I still own sippy cups. Note to self: buy disposable plastic cups.

A nice dry, Spanish rosé seemed like a good picnic wine. It was sufficient.

So, once everything was cooked and ready to go, we packed up our picnic and took it down to a park the next town over, overlooking the lake. Not gonna lie, it was pretty romantic. When I want to bring it, I can bring it.

But really, how can you beat a delicious (mostly) homemade dinner with views like this?

A lovely, relaxing conclusion to a lovely weekend. Then we went home and Kevin, my sister and I proceeded to finish off all two dozen cookies. Yeah, that happened.

Oh, and that recipe I promised:

As often happens with me, I didn’t measure, because I created a huge batch of this. It can obviously be adjusted to make a single portion or enough to serve a whole party. Use as much as you want to create as much as you want. Also, veggie-to-pasta ratios can be purely subjective. Do what you like.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Spiral, shell or other strong, sauce-holding pasta
Chopped red bell pepper
Chopped orange bell pepper
Chopped fresh green beans
Chopped celery
Diced tomato, seeded
1 chopped scallion, white and light green parts only
1 batch of homemade or store-bought pesto (see pesto recipe here)
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Cook pasta according to package directions in lightly salted water.
-While the pasta cooks, chop and prep all veggies and make pesto sauce.
-Once cooked, drain pasta but do not rinse. Let cool in colander or large bowl until room temperature.
-When the pasta is cooled, mix all vegetables, including the scallion, into the pasta
-Dice or tear the mozzarella into the pasta salad.
-Add enough pesto to generously coat all ingredients and give a good basil flavor. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

This healthy alternative to traditional pasta salad may just become my go-to party dish! The chopping takes some time, but the actual assembly takes no time at all–a great, quick crowd-pleaser. Even Kevin, who doesn’t like pasta salad, couldn’t stop eating this!

Well, there you have it. Happy Memorial Day and Happy What I Ate Wednesday!

Presto Pesto!

I hate myself for writing that title. Yet I can’t bring myself to delete it. Such is life…

Anyway…I’ve wanted to make my own homemade pesto for some time now. I’ve been waiting until I had access to a food processor (which I do not own), until I realized that I could probably attempt this in my bullet blender. And while the final product isn’t perfect–there are some chunks and unground nuts here and there–it’s still pretty darn good!

The other key component for homemade pesto was, obviously, basil. It’s hard to get my hands on fresh basil for some reason. They don’t sell it in regular bunches at the grocery store like they do parsley, cilantro and mint. It comes either as a big bunch with roots on the end in a package, which says to me that I’m meant to replant this. And since I have the gardening skills of a doorknob, I’ve always steered clear.

But recently I discovered a much more user-friendly version: already potted basil! Yup, I just have to take it out of the package, plop it in a larger pot or on a dish (something to catch the dirt and water) and water it from time to time. And then tada! A never-ending supply of homegrown basil.

I bought this wonderful creation yesterday, though it’s still sitting on my kitchen table because I’ve yet to transfer it to the big pot in my front yard.

Well, now that my major two pieces of this puzzle came together, it seemed like there was nothing left to do but make pesto!

This is a pretty traditional pesto, but not completely authentic. For one thing: I added parsley in with the basil to add a fresh, crisp brightness. There are also no pine nuts. (SAY WHAT?) Really. Pine nuts are expensive, and I’ve never exactly sat down with a bowl of pine nuts for a snack, so they’d really become quite a one-trick pony. So I substituted nuts I had sitting in my pantry: almonds. That’s the great thing about a sauce like pesto–you can tweak and customize to your tastes, dietary needs or pantry supplies!

Also, like this is a surprise, I didn’t measure. I grabbed things and tossed them into the blender cup. And it was tasty. It was different each time too, but that’s the beauty of experimenting. Make this to your tastes.

Basil-parsley pesto

Several large handfuls of whole, fresh basil leaves
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Large handful of grated Parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled but whole
Handful of slivered or whole almonds (I had slivered on hand so I used them to cut down on the chopping once in the blender)
Generous pour of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Add everything to the cup of a bullet blender or jar of a regular blender. If using a food processor, add everything but the oil. Blend well, shaking and scraping down the sides as needed, until well incorporated and evenly chopped or puree to smooth, depending on personal preference.
-Add more oil as needed, or, if using a food processor, drizzle in oil and the dry ingredients mix. Continue to blend to desired consistency. Finish with salt and pepper.

*(Just a note if you’re using a bullet blender like I did–I used the flat chopping blade, not the regular blade that sticks up. I use that one to puree and make smoothies.)

I made my pesto pretty thick, almost paste-like, to be more versatile. I can add olive oil to it to thin it out for use as a sauce or keep it thick to use as a sandwich spread.

So what did I make first with my homemade pesto? Pasta pesto, of course!

Cook pasta (I had elbow macaroni on hand), mix with olive oil and pesto, top with more grated Parmesan and enjoy!

And for lunch the next day, I mixed a tablespoon or so of pesto into plain hummus to make pesto hummus! I used store-bought Sabra hummus, but this would be even better with homemade!

Yesterday, I made a bigger batch of pesto and used it to make a pesto pasta salad for my Memorial Day picnic! But more on that tomorrow…

Has anyone made their own pesto before? Do you go for the traditional recipe, or do you add your own tricks and tweaks? I’m seriously contemplating a cilantro pesto, since I have a cilantro obsession. What’s your favorite spin on pesto?

Restaurant Week Chronicles: (the very belated) Part 2

I realize it’s been more than a week since my first Restaurant Week post. And, no, it is no longer Jersey Shore Restaurant Week–I’m belated. But, I capped off my week by going off-the-menu for Restaurant Week at Monticello’s in Red Bank.

Technically, Monticello’s did not participate in Restaurant Week.  However, it was a new restaurant during the course of that week, so I’m going to count it. Also, I needed something to make Part 1 feel complete. (This was supposed to be a three-party series, but we really wanted to go to Tre Amici in Long Branch, but it never worked out–problem after problem! Someone really didn’t want us to go there! Alas, there will be no “Mockingjay” to my “Hunger Games,” and you will have to settle for a duology.)

Anyway, I apologize now because there are no pictures from Monticello’s. Kevin and I went with a big group of friends we did theater with, so between all the catching up there was no time to stop and take photos (well, not of the food anyway.)

Monticello’s is BYOB, which is great and easy on the wallet, considering the menu’s a bit on the pricey side. The best part, though, is that if you bring in a bottle Cabernet, Rioja, Merlot, Zinfandel or Shiraz, they will make it into sangria using their special house recipe. And it is YUMMY! (We brought Shiraz for ours.)

Unfortunately, from a culinary perspective, that was the best part of the meal (aside from the bread, maybe–piping hot and soft!) Otherwise, I’d say the food was okay at best. I’ll be honest, though, I was quite jealous, because while I didn’t enjoy my food much, everyone around me seemed to love theirs. I even sampled a bit of Kevin’s Duck Breast over Papardelle with a rosemary Merlot sauce, and it was superior to mine.

To start, my friend and I split fried calamari. Now, I will preface this with the fact that I am very, very picky about fried calamari. I only recently even started eating it, and I only like it when it is cooked perfectly. Any rubberiness and I’m out. That being said, I found Monticello’s calamari to be tough to chew and a bit rubbery, though the breading and sauce were tasty. (I finished chewing off the breading before I finished the calamari itself though, which was sort of a weird sensation.) My friend, on the other hand, loved it. So, maybe I’m just picky. (Not maybe, I am picky.)

I still had faith in my entrée, though. I was in a simple mood and went for a very basic dish: gnocchi with pesto. I love both of these things, especially a good, bright, herbal pesto.  This pesto wasn’t that. It was creamy (what?) and very garlicky, but had almost none of the fresh bright crispness that I love from pesto. It felt heavy and hot, not cool and light like a pesto should, especially over something as dense as gnocchi. The gnocchi themselves weren’t great, either, and started to feel to mushy as I ate. I couldn’t finish the dish despite the fact that I was still hungry. Not at all what I was expecting.

However, the evening for me (thankfully) was not about the food, but the company. Good friends, good wine and good conversation can make up for even the worst of meals. (Still, a good meal certainly ups the ante!)

I would give Monticello’s another chance, as long as I stay far away from their pesto sauce and fried calamari. Everyone around me raved about their dishes, and they all had larger, heartier entrées. Maybe that’s the secret to Monticello’s–the Chicken Saltimboca over the pasta with sauce. I’d give it another shot, but I’d go in skeptical.

No time for pictures of food, but always time for pictures of friends--our group at Monticello's

 

Making something out of nothing

I mentioned last week that I’ve been sustaining myself on frozen food and Kind bars because I was too busy to cook, let alone go grocery shopping. Well, the other night I still had not gone grocery shopping, but I was hungry and I wanted to cook something resembling real food. So I raided my freezer and my pantry to pull together whatever I could find, and the results were not half bad. (Pretty tasty, actually!)

What I found:

A box of elbow macaroni
A bag of frozen spinach
Frozen green beans
Frozen ham steaks
Italian cheese/pizza cheese blend
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh garlic
Fresh ground pepper
Red pepper flakes

My mom ended up coming home early, so in addition to my regular pasta, I boiled up some brown rice pasta for her (she has Celiac disease, so she has a gluten intolerance.)

First, get some water boiling with a bit of olive oil in it. While the water boiled, I thawed out the ham. It’s even better if you have non-frozen ham.
Cube the ham (I used one large ham steak) and sautee in a pan. Add frozen green beans to the pan and let it all cook together.
Once the water boils, toss in as much pasta as you’d like, let cook to a nice al dente and drain.
Thaw or steam the spinach and drain to get rid of the excess water (there will be a lot.) Add to the pan with the ham and green beans.
Mince one small clove of garlic and add to the pan. Add plenty of fresh ground pepper and a small palmful of crushed red pepper flakes to add just a bit of heat.
Once the spinach cooks down, add some olive oil to the pan–just a drizzle.
Put pasta into bowls, followed by the ham and spinach mixture. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil (mine’s closer to a pour than a drizzle) and top with the cheese. Heat in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the cheese, if necessary.

Finished product

Finished prodcut 3

Finished product 2

And the best part--leftovers! Made a great lunch at work the next day.

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.

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