italian Tag

Honeycomb macaroni w/ porky cream

”  Together, each cylindrical chamber separates easily with a brisk crack where the melted cheese are harvested and mingles with the cream sauce laying bare.  “

On October 22nd 2018, in the darkness of the night, I laid on my eyes on Margeaux Brasseries’s “honeycomb macaroni” for the first time, and heard destiny calling.

At first it seemed that our connection was immediate and reciprocal, even through the barrier of the computer screen, that there was an understanding without words, that we instinctively knew each other’s needs and wishes, requirements and rewards, that I knew how to make it happy, and it too, wanted to be mine.  We would hit it off.  We would be an item.  We would hold hands at dinner parties and whisper secret jokes only we could understand.  We would complete each other.

But apparently, it had other ideas.

Six days later after two catastrophic failures at making this dish, it became increasingly clear that the affection was one-directional only.

But could I blame anyone else but myself?  No.  Because I took it for granted.  I made the classic mistake in a relationship when things felt so given, so seemingly straightforward, I forgot that it too, requires attentions to details.  First time around, sounding even stupider now said out loud, I used a type of macaroni that was tree-sizes too small.  If you enjoy weaving beads necklace for dinner, this is another way to pleasure yourself with.  If not, it’s probably a good time to know that when macaroni is big, it’s not called macaroni anymore.  It’s called ziti.  Who knew.

I felt good about this new piece of knowledge.  Perhaps too good.  Emboldened by the sense that I had figured it all out, the second mistake was, if possible, even dumber.  What had I expect from introducing a highly sticky material to another highly attractive surface?  Left them alone for five minutes, I walked in on the inseparability between my old friend copper pot and my new love honey macaroni in the most interlocked position there is.  What a cliche.  Cliches hurt.

Two near-permanent breakups, I learnt my lessons.  I gave it thoughts.  I right all the wrongs.  I paid the attentive devotion it deserves.  Only on our third date, I bent my knees and made it a faithful proposition.  And at the end of the kitchen aisle, shimmering, it stood as beautiful as I had imagined.  It is named honeycomb macaroni for a good reason.  Its tubular bodies, slender and uniform, huddles intimately with only gooey melted cheese as the mortar of its magnificent structure, like a bee hive made of carbs and dairy.  Where in between the gaps, the cheese droops downward like thick syrup to the hot skillet in anticipation where heat, butter and starch await in forming a golden flat cap, a delicate, crispy and delicious linkage.

Such beauty doesn’t need the distraction of a loud sauce.  Something simple, but thoughtful.  Something understated, but not without declaration.  So I “brewed” grounded and browned guanciale, the porkiest substance I know on earth, in a simple cream sauce brightened with nutmeg and cardamon.  It was then strained like a tea, removed of the solid source of its deep aroma, leaving only a silky blanket of cream curiously imbued with the thickness of aged pork.   Together, each cylindrical chamber separates easily with a brisk crack where the insulted cheese are harvested and mingles with the cream sauce laying bare.

It was an affair that ignited passionately, even if one-sided only, and ended in what will certainly be a lifelong companionship.  Learn from my mistakes, and you will find yourself an object of your affection, too.

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The shroomiest mushroom risotto, without breaking bank

when powdered and browned in hot grease, dried shiitake’s exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb

If you have ever found yourself frozen in front of the mushroom isles at your local Whole Foods Market, cold sweats dripping down as you struggle to understand how on earth could a fungi — categorically no different than the molds crawling underneath your drywalls — be charging sometimes more than $50 per pound, while feeling utterly shitty about yourself, well, this recipe is for you:

Poor man’s mushroom risotto.

I’m speaking from a place of deep empathy.  Having been born as a relentlessly cheap human being, I understand the hurt when even a dickhead-shaped vegetation that lives off of decomposed matters could take one look at me, and smirk.  A brainless, judgy brainless sponge that grows next to if not on top of rotten shits, thinks I’m not good enough.  Who do they think they are?  By the way I’m not talking about the cheap mushrooms like White Buttons, pfff... who do you think I am?  I’m talking about the delicious ones, the truly robust, earthy, and nutty-flavored mushrooms with Elvish names, Chanterelle, Lactarius Indigo, Blue Foot, that grows in an enchanted woods with the fairies and talk to birds.  Those fuckers.  I ain’t sayin’ it’s a gold digger; but it ain’t messin’ with no broke n-beeeep.

Can you tell this is personal?

So for years, or more accurately since the 24 heads of dried morel we obtained from our France road trip had run dry, I’ve been secretly doing this.

Dried shiitake mushroom.

Cheap, common, found almost wherever Asian groceries stand and season-neutral.  Why is it generally much more affordable than other varieties of dried mushrooms such as porcini, morels and etc?  No idea (psst, because it’s Asian).  But I can assure you that flavor-wise, it does not dwarf in comparison.  In fact, it has been aiding the flavors and complexities of a huge number of Asian dishes, soups and stews, precisely because of its high natural-occuring MSG and a deep, musky, earthy aroma.  But regrettably, typically cooked whole or in slices, its true potential has yet to be realized by the general public.

It wants to be, no, needs to be, powered.

Think about it.  Remained as a whole, or slices, or even finely diced, the mushrooms are only allowed a limited exposure to direct heat and caramelization.  But when powdered and browned in hot grease, its exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb.  As a supporting role, usually a couple tablespoons will suffice.  But in the case of carrying an entire Italian culinary staple, say risotto, to whole new height, I suggest we go to town.

Almost 1/2 cup of shiitake mushroom powder will fry slowly in chicken fat, as transformative as the making of a dark roux, until its pale brown complexion takes on the color between cinnamon and dark chocolate, until its faintly woody aroma expands into a pungency that is almost spicy and sweet.  All this magic is then extracted by the chicken broth, and delivered into every single grains of arborio rice in a silky, totally un-grainy finish.  Although you may deem the appearance of fish sauce and soy sauce as out of place, but they only amplify and compliments the shroominess without making an entrance.  I urge you not to swap.

So there.  Go buy expensive dickheads if you want to be like that.  But me?  I’m sticking with this.

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Roast pork butt sandwich

A couple weeks ago, I wondered my way into a small break from cooking.  For no particular reason than because, over one morning coffee, I felt it was called for.  People talk about the ferocity of love and passion a lot, in all forms and sizes that drives humanity for what it’s worth, rising in salute for its consuming, inconvenient, majestic torment and glory.  But what fuels it, what fuels love and passion, is often less marketable.

At certain points, what fuels passion is simply absence.

 

THE AU JUS… AND THE THOROUGHNESS OF ITS RAMPAGE DOWN THE RECEPTIVE PORES OF A TOASTED ITALIAN ROLL, DETERMINES WHETHER THIS IS A SANDWICH WITH PORK, OR,

A ROAST PORK SANDWICH

 

So I took a break, cruising.  I didn’t think about cooking other than making basic sustenances.  I rubbed my dogs‘ heads a lot.  I binge-watched two Netflix original series eating junk foods.  I rekindled with the familiar joy of ordering take-outs.  Holding a brown bag of meal No. 2 and a large diet coke, I waited, on the curb, for the lights to turn.

And just like that, I bumped into Fedoroff’s.

To be exact, Philadelphia-style roast pork sandwich shop in Brooklyn.  And by “bumped into”, I really just meant, like everything else nowadays, that I saw it on Instagram.

It spoke to me.  I took one look at this monstrous, ageless battle of meat VS bun, and I felt the jolt of adrenaline seeping back into my veins.  I wanted to cook this sandwich.

For the record, once again, I have not had a Philadelphia roast pork sandwich in my entire life.  Hence, this recipe is not based on any single one of your particularly preferred joint, especially  not Fedoroff’s.  In fact, I’m dead certain that my approach to this beloved classic is as offensive to its disciples as inserting hot dogs onto a margarita pizza.  No one intact trunk of meat to marvel over!?  No searing before roasting!?  Oh sweet mother of Jesus, ginger?  Fish sauce!?

Why?  First of all, it just makes more sense.  To come to this conclusion, you have to be willing to let go of a few fairy tales about roasting.  No 1, there’s no such thing as “locking in the juice”.  Meats don’t get sealed.  They’re not sexual scandals.  Legitimately, they can get seared/caramelized/browned for more complex flavors, but if you think that’s going to stop their juice from leaving the mothership in the oven (the antidote to that would be super low temperature but that’s not the story today), I’m afraid this is the adult’s equivalent of realizing there’s no Santa claus.  Besides, why make the futile effort to “seal”, when au jus, or aka, drippings is exactly what we are gunning for?

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PORK CHOP W/ TUNA-SANDO SAUCE

 

MAKE THIS RECIPE RESPONSIBLY, OR NOT AT ALL


I haven’t eaten tuna for almost 10 years.  Except one time in Hawaii when/where it was responsible.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or conveniently turning a blind eye, you should know exactly what I’m talking about.

It is estimated that by 2050, a large number of species of wild fish, tuna especially, will be gone.  That statement was made more than a decade ago.  It still stands.  Are we better than locusts?  The question is, are we worse?

So why am I, a hypocrite on all accounts, posting a recipe that involves tuna?  Because I see it now no longer as a question.  But instead, an opportunity.

I first came across the inspiration of a “tuna-sando sauce” from an espisode of Mind of A Chef on Gabrielle Hamilton, where she made the Italian dish maiale tonnato, thinly sliced pork served with a mayonnaise-based sauce flavored with canned tuna.  I was instantly intrigued.  It was one of those instances where, without actually tasting something, I felt certain about its sublimity, the velvety texture of a sauce that is the sum of all that is awesome about a tuna sandwich but minus the bread and the gritty mouth-feel, the silky-smooth grown-up twin of a childhood favorite, the 2.0 of that inexplicably enticing flavor that have satisfied all palates across the world.  Plus served with pork?  I knew it’d work.  It’s genius.  Especially, in my imagination, with a thick-cut slab of marbled pork chop that is deeply and glisteningly caramelized in browned butter infused with fresh bay leaves and garlics.  I die.

So I spent two years, diligently, not making it.

After all, I’ve been celebrating my tuna-sobriety for a decade.  Not even a piece of hard-core, fat-laden toro could break me let alone this soft porn.  So I guess, that rounds us back again to why do it now.  The answer is simple.  Because I realized me not eating or writing about tuna is as helpful as a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.  The world simply doesn’t care that I quietly don’t eat tuna.  Over the years, I still see tuna sashimi continuously flying off of the rack from my supermarkets.  I still witnessed the rise of tuna poke-bowls walked through walls of social responsibility without a drop of effort or tear.  I still have friends who, I’m not sure whether intentionally or helplessly, order tuna again and again at gatherings despite my rejection.  I’d be lucky not to get a lecture from them let alone changing their minds.

I realized, thing is, no one can stop the world from eating tuna.  The world does not deal in the absolute, but only in compromise.  If anything, one can only possibly hope that it’s consumed responsibly.

So I’m taking this post as a chance to say this.  If you cannot not eat tuna, at least, make sure that it’s from a sustainable source.  And if you can’t be sure, then seriously, don’t do it.  It’s just fucking tuna, not a limb or dick.  It isn’t all that hard to cut loose.

I dragged for two weeks before posting this recipe, because even with all the precautions taken to  buy the tuna from a sustainable source or to talk to you about it, this could still be considered, on some level, a promotion to eat tuna.  And there’s no way for me to be sure that nobody who loves the idea of a sauce that tastes like tuna sandwich as much as me, wouldn’t just grab a dubiously sourced can from their local grocery stores.  So if that happens, it’s on me.  Yet, so what if I don’t post this?  Just a bleep of silence, one less tuna recipe out of a million and that’s supposed to be heard, let alone make a change?

So I chose to post it.  Not only it’s an opportunity to speak to those who come here to decide what’s for dinner, but also, as a member of the food-blog community which touches this subject all too rarely, it’s an opportunity to remind us all again that, not just our actions but more so, how our inactions matter.  Maybe you’re a food-blogger like me who’s never posted a tuna-recipe before.  Or, maybe you’ve posted recipes of tuna because it’s a popular ingredient, maybe you know about the issue of overfishing and maybe you choose not to mention it, either because it’s off-putting or that you’re scared it will give your readers an incentive not to share it, and maybe, that will hurt your traffic and followers, or maybe, you just don’t give a shit.  We’ve all been there.  We all still do it.

But our maybe’s are deadlier than a nuclear bomb.  Because it will play a part in rendering the ocean fishless.  You think North Korea is scary.  We should see what’s on our plates.

Look, am I a hypocrite?  Sure I am, I’m no vegan.  But not being able to do 100% is no excuse to do zero.  Even a hypocrite can do the right thing.  Starting with, we should at least give a fuck.

This recipe is good.  Really good.  And if you have the faintest hope to enjoy it for years to come, make this recipe responsibly.  Or not at all.

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PAPPA AL KIMCHI POMODORO, KIMCHI TOMATO BREAD SOUP

A HYBRID BETWEEN THE CLASSIC TUSCANY BREAD SOUP AND KIMCHI JJIGAE, SERVED HOT OR COLD

If you follow my Instagram, you’d know that I have a barking barfing fur-child to attend to (yes, still).  So I’m quickly leaving you this recipe, which is a fantastic way to use up any day-old breads, or any over-proofed-thus-deflated breads in my case, which happens a lot these days.  It’s a hybrid between pappa al pomodoro, the classic Tuscany bread soup, and kimchi jjigae, the national anthemic stew from Korea.  You can serve it hot with the AC blasting, or chilled and cold at the next rooftop party ya’ll kids are so good at throwing nowadays.  Relaxed, soothing and comforting, unlike my life as we speak.  So go now.  Have some fun for me.

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CHI SPACCA’S FOCACCIA DI RECCO, OR THE CLOSEST YOU’LL GET TO IT AT HOME

DOLLOPS OF FRESH COW’S MILK CHEESE COCOONING IN BETWEEN TWO PAPER-THIN FILMS OF UNYEASTED DOUGH, AND BAKED INTO A BALLOONED AND BLISTERED PIE WITH CHEESE-FILLED UNDERGROUND CHAMBERS.

What is obsession?  When is it helpful and when does it get silly?

Ever since that episode of Chef’s Table on Nancy Silverton, I’ve been dwelling, not upon, but inside this subject.

The episode, of course, celebrates a chef’s willingness to spend an inexhaustible amount of effort to close that last short climb between what is already a great dish to a conceivably perfect one.  A distance too short and steep no doubt, for most to commit.  But to Silverton, especially when it comes to breads, being obsessed is not a question of should or shouldn’t, but do you have what it takes?  I am, however, at least not today, talking about the theoretical aspect of obsessions.  Instead, I’d like to bring forth the physical one that I was sent into after watching her episode.

During that show, there was about a 30-seconds scene showcasing a flatbread-looking pie, a glowing golden-brown mirage.  Captivated by that glimpse, nothing but a glimpse, without even knowing what “it” actually was, I plunged into a months-long pursuit from grasping what I saw to realizing it in my own kitchen.   First, it took me a considerable amount of Googling to find out what I initially thought was a “thin double-sided pizza stuffed with mozzarella?”, to be something actually called focaccia di recco from her restaurant Chi Spacca, an extremely crispy-edged, flatbread-like creature that has nothing to do with either pizza nor mozzarella, or the typical focaccia for that matter.  The dish is essentially dollops of fresh cow’s milk cheese cocooning in between two stretched, unyeasted, paper-thin films of dough, and baked into a ballooned and blistered pie with cheese-filled underground chambers.  Mostly cracker-like crispy, partially soft and stretchy, all in all and bona fide gastronomic wonder unlike anything I have ever seen.

It, allegedly, took her two whole years to perfect.

Since then, I bled over bringing it into my reality.  I don’t have anything else to elaborate other than the every words already written in the instructions, each summarizing hours and hours of theorizing, testings, failings, staring, and re-testings, presented to you, as shortly and concisely as I think what a normal human being has patience for.  The result rewarded and justified every last drop of sweat and tears spent, and whatever difference there may be from the real deal, I confide in my belief to be a result of hardware issues (commercial oven VS. home electric oven).  Except, maybe, whatever experience I cannot transcribe through words.  And if so, then that my friend, is where only your obsession can take you.  But it’s worth it, let me tell you.  It’s all worth it.

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TUSCANY’S PORK FAT BITS COUNTRY BREAD

WHILE MY BRAIN WAS ANTICIPATING TYPICAL BREAD, CAME THESE POPS OF DEEPLY SAVORY AND UNMISTAKABLY CARNIVOROUS STIMULANTS.

Working mothers, I don’t know how you do it.

Those of you who follow our Instagram will know that recently, two toddlers have joined this family.  Not just some harmlessly drooling, homo sapien nuggets that crawl inside your neatly confined perimeters sucking on a bottle.  But two wall-eating… wood-shredding, (stuffed) animal-hunting, flying and flipping and cirque du soleil-style acrobats that, quite literally, ate and pooped the entire past week away, and then some.  Hi Internet, please meet 芝麻 (Sesame), and 湯圓 (Sticky Rice Ball.  SRB for short), the two Rottie-mix that we newly adopted over the past weekend.

So long, sleep.  Hello, stress.

I have so much to say about them, how we met, how we overcame fear, how we took an oath.  But this type of story deserves clarity and mindfulness, both not what my sleep-deprived head of glue can provide as we speak.  So I’m just going to leave you today with a Tuscany-inspired country bread, speckled with salty bits of porky fatness.  You heard right, a delightful discovery made in a motherly restaurant named Trattoria Dardano, nestled inside a tiny yet historical town named Cortona where we stayed.  The conversation we were having without suspicion was upended by my first bite of the unexpected burst of flavors.  While my brain was anticipating typical bread, came these pops of deeply savory and unmistakably carnivorous stimulants.  WHAT was that!?  I investigated immediately, to realized that this seemingly unremarkable bread was relentlessly laced with specks of salty fatty cured pork-bits which, I assumed, not only created these sparks of salivating porkiness, but also spread their gospel aromas into the neighboring bread-tissues when their fat was rendered during baking.

Geniale!  I shouted, but in English.

I think you’ll agree, too.

Gotta go.  Somebody’s eating my feet.

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SWEET POTATO TAPIOCA GNOCCHI, GLUTEN-FREE

SOFT BUT PLEASANTLY CHEWY, THAT IT FROLICS IN BETWEEN EVERY BITE WITH THE UPMOST PLAYFUL RESISTANCE


Light.  Airy.  Delicate.  Cloud-like.

See, surely these are rules best to dictate cotton candies and runway models.

But, in my opinion, not for gnocchi.

I know, I know.  Who am I – an Asian who grew up in North America – to judge gnocchi, an inarguably Italian prerogative guarded by some very defensive if not hostile Italian grandmothers.  To some, if I am ever entitled to an opinion then it should only be on chop suey or somethin’, certainly not this heritage pasta sacredly given by the ancient Roman Gods.  Hey, I know!  I agree!, or at least I used to, which was why I never complained every time I was served with a plate of texture-less and borderline-mushy “clouds”, in Rome or Nice and etcetera might I add, and nodded in compliance like a team-player.  “Yes, Mandy.  These mashy semisolids are intentional and authentic.  Now shut up and eat them.  Gollum Gollum”.  I truly tried.

You see, close-minded it may seem, but I come from a place where any flour-involved, savory carbohydrates have to have, a chew.

Whether it’s hand-pulled xi’an noodles, the delicate wrappers of dim sum dumplings, or hand-shaped fresh pastas and whatnots, no matter.  No chew, shameful personal failure of the cook.  Doesn’t matter if it was the long-term habit that shaped my preference, or the other way around, it’s the same thing.  I just like’em chewy.

So as time went on, a quiet rebellion came when I first found out about this French” gnocchi business.  It’s a pâte à choux type of dough that yields a firmer, chewier and springy form of gnocchi, which were much more relatable and appreciated by my (ok angry nonna, I’ll say it myself) narrow-minded Asian taste-buds.  It was a vote of endorsement that said, hey there is actually a market out there for a texturally different type of gnocchi and it isn’t going to get me burnt alive on a stick in the middle of a piazza.  It was encouraging, although, not enough to push me to commit recipe-social-suicide, to turn the idea of gnocchi upside down.  Until, unfortunately, the real affirmation came a few weeks ago during one innocent gathering with friends, when one of them ever-so-harmlessly mentioned…

“I’ve never like the soft, fluffy gnocchi.  I prefer the chewier type”, he said.

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