Food Adventures

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

My New Year's resolution

Yes, I did make a New Year's resolution—to make (and eat) more pasta! That said, a word is in order about home-made fresh pasta and its vast superiority over dried pasta (for most recipes) as well as store-bought 'fresh' pasta (How can anything that has an expiration date two months away be called 'fresh'?). Now, this doesn't mean that I do not from time to time resort to dried pasta because I do. In my opinion, there are recipes for which high-quality dry spaghetti works best (e.g. Neapolitan pasta with a simple tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella).

I will also purchase fresh pasta others have made, but only the kind that is really fresh and could not possibly last in the fridge for more than a couple of days. I usually buy fresh pasta either to eat it immediately (because I don't have time to make my own) or to freeze it immediately for those 'emergency' situations when I really want fresh pasta, but have no time/energy/will to make my own. Fresh Pasta on Harlem (just a half a block North of Belmont) has some excellent fresh pasta (as the name of the store implies) and Terragusto's tagliatelle (especially the kind with Swiss chard) is also very good.

But, for me, the best fresh pasta is the one I make at home. There is something about the time and effort that goes into it, the process of taking flour, salt, water (and sometimes eggs) and turning it into sheets of pasta that smell so heavenly fresh that you can barely wait to cut and cook them. The 10 or so minutes of kneading the dough requires provide a nice escape and an occasion to daydream. After a long day at the computer, there is no better way to transition into the evening and the pleasures of dinner and rest. The kneading helps work out all the stress that has accumulated during the day and, even though it's hard work, leaves me invigorated (and hungry!).

So far, I have kneaded and rolled out all my home-made pasta by hand. The giant rolling pin (shown in my blog of December 5) makes things fun and easy, but it does require some practice. My upper body took a little while to recover from wielding such a heavy piece of equipment (taking it out of the cupboard is a feat), but now we're friends.

It's not that I am opposed to pasta machines. I simply haven’t decided what kind I want to get; in the meantime, making and eating fresh pasta has been too important to put on the back burner.

I hope none of the people who will eat pasta at my house are like certain Italian foodies described in Heat (by Bill Buford): they travel out of their way to eat at a restaurant famous for its fresh pasta, take one bite, declare it has been rolled out using a machine, and promptly walk out the door. We might have to do some blind taste tasting to see who can tell the difference.

Well, all this writing about fresh pasta is making me hungry. I better go make some pasta!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Cappuccino is official!

I was very entertained by this article about my favorite drink,,1980914,00.html#article_continue

Kudos to the Italians for liking their cappuccino so much to make it official.

Here is a photo of the only cappuccino I have ever had in Chicago that tasted exactly like cappuccino tastes in Italy. It was made by Gianluca at Café di Maggio on December 24, 2006. I still dream about it and hope to have another one soon.

Cinghiale is here!!!

One of my favorite things to eat when in Tuscany is cinghiale (wild boar). I seek it out and enjoy it both over pasta (usually pappardelle) and as a stew. Last summer, I enjoyed the cinghiale stew at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco in Florence (the pasta with cinghiale was much less impressive). Cinghiale is not very common is Florence (it is more characteristic of other parts of Tuscany), and I suspect that it is considered a touristy thing to order, but that has never stopped me from enjoying this great meat.

Cinghiale has a stronger flavor than pork, somewhat gamey, but not overwhelmingly so. It is darker in color and firmer than pork, so many recipes using cinghiale include extended marinating time (12+ hours) to tenderize the meat. The marinade often contains juniper berries, which help make the meat less gamey. Slow cooking in a liquid (usually wine) over low heat also works very well. The meat becomes tender and falls apart and the flavors concentrate. The wine accentuates adds a new dimension of flavor and makes the meat taste less gamey.

For a while now, I had been trying to locate a website where I could order cinghiale since I could not find it in any meat market in Chicago. I tried Zingermann's and a couple of other websites, with no luck. Finally, a friend of mine recommended the Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas. He had ordered some cinghiale from them and made delicious pasta sauce with it that reminded me of just how much I like cinghiale.

For a while, The Broken Arrow Ranch was out of the cut I wanted (shoulder, of course). When they finally got some, I quickly put in my order. I also ordered some stew meat, chili meat, and sausages. When my order shipped a day later, I was ecstatic! It arrived the next day still frozen and I immediately started collecting recipes and trying to decide which ones to try first. I located recipes for cinghiale in agrodolce (sour and sweet), cinghiale stew and multiple recipes for pasta sauce.

I decided to go with the pasta sauce recipe first. I used the stew meat since the 4 ½ pound shoulder was frozen solid and I didn't think the two of us would be able to eat 4 ½ pounds of cinghiale in a reasonable amount of time. So, the shoulder will have to be enjoyed with friends.

The stew meat, meanwhile, made an excellent pasta sauce. Cooked very slowly with some onions, carrots, and celery in red wine and tomato paste, it turned out to have that richness I remember and the strong flavor that wakes up my taste buds and reminds me how much I appreciate strong and unusual flavors. To make the experience as authentic as possible, I made hand-made pappardelle, the perfect vehicle for the rich sauce.

I used the recipe courtesy of Gioco, where I had eaten cinghiale, but decided that my preparation was better than the one at Gioco. Maybe it was the fact that I thought Gioco's was undersalted or the fact that I like my own hand-made pasta better. Either way, this one dinner made ordering the cinghiale all the way from Texas and paying the shipping charges worth it.
And now some photos: first the pasta dough and the beginnings of the cinghiale sauce and the pasta dough tunred into pappardelle and then the finished product. Yum!!!