pasta 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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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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THE EGG YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEED – PART I, CARBONARA 2.0

I understand what it’s like.  It’s totally okay.  Happens to everyone.

We venture into unfamiliar, “exotic” markets coming from strange corners of the world, seeing bewildering ingredients for the very first time of our small existence, feeling intrigued, curious, excited even, and then at the end of a good thorough lap we walk out of the markets with our sparkly eyes wide open and our shopping bags, utterly empty.  Hey, I do it all the time, like last week in an Indonesian grocery store, and then again yesterday in this “sports goods” shop?  It’s no fault of our own, actually if anything, only human nature, to take caution with unfamiliarities.  It’s survival instinct 101.  As far as I know, no one has ever died from tomato sauce in a jar or freezer-section pizzas, right?  I guess I’m just trying to say, I can relate.

NESTED WITHIN, IS A JEWEL, DENSE AND COMPRESSED WITH THE ESSENCE OF ITSELF, HIDDEN TO BE EXCAVATED FROM THE BLACK SALTED EARTH

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But growing up from two distinctively different backgrounds and cultures also means that, I too, relate to the other side, perhaps from your perspective, the scary side, the side that is teeming with strange and unfamiliar ingredients, flying pig-parts and deeply rouge sauces that hurt.  Being a Taiwan-born, Canada-fed then New York-aged piece of mind, one foot half-in half-out on all sides for as long as 25 years, naturally, you know for my thighs’ sake, I want to find ways to close the distance between each, a distance that is all but illusions and narrower than anyone thinks.  Because I’m also from the other side that knows stuff that you don’t.  The other side that tries to shout “Hey there’s good stuffs here, really good stuffs, and you should try it!”, but often times in inaudible volume with a world that is too busy to investigate.

It’s not anyone’s fault.  We didn’t shout loud enough.

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UNI CARBONARA WITH PORK SALT

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IF I RANTED, I HOPE IT ISN’T THOUGHTLESS…

The brass dinner fork and spoon is made by the amazing Ann Ladson.

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If I ranted, I hope it isn’t thoughtless.

If I wrote songs, I hope it isn’t comfortable.

If I were a wood-worker, I’ll have a summer cabin.

If I made things with metals, I hope I had made these.

If I were sociable, I hope I am also sincere.

If I were a friend, I hope I don’t mistake loyalty with bias.

If I envied, I hope I could say it out loud.

If I had experienced joy, I hope it is without victims.

If I had a garden, I hope it grows shades for stray dogs.

If I were young, I would change nothing.

If I were a parent, I hope I don’t always think like one.

If I were a believer, I hope I have strength for reasons.

If I were a lion, I hope I respect the lambs.

If I were a vegetarian, I am going to have a pet pig.

If I were smart, I hope it comes with wisdom.

If I were a follower, I hope I wasn’t blind.

If I asked myself questions, I hope it isn’t answered by someone else.

If I were a particle physicist, I hope I can overlook human pettiness.

If I had compassion, it shall be selective.

If I were powerful, I hope I have the capacity to let go.

If I were in the same position, I hope I could resist the mistakes.

If I could live anywhere, I want to live in New York.

But if I lived by the sea, I hope it is home for sea urchins, too.

And if I lived by sea urchins, I hope you would visit me in the summer.

If you visited me in the summer, I hope I make this for you.


  
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PEPPERONI MEATBALLS SPAGHETTI

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EACH MEATBALLS CONTAIN… A TON OF AGE-FORTIFIED FAT-BITS AND TIME-CONSUMING FLAVOURS

Last night, as I unleashed the freezer-section dumplings onto my most festive-looking plate, as part of our mostly-take-out Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner that didn’t even get bothered to be removed from its cleanup-friendly plastic-wares, and watched the annual city-wide shelling of fireworks carried out by every other citizens across the Beijing sky… I realized something.

I am a lousy… lousy… content curator.

There’s… something wrong with this picture.  Now is supposed to be the high-season for binge eating for most Asians, rivalling Thanksgiving in its contribution to glorified gluttony, a perfect cue for an Asian food-blogger such as myself, to abuse recipes like… banquet-style fried whole fish drenched in thickened sauce, or glistening red-braised pork ham-shank the size of my own thighs, or… or, at the very least, too much batter-fried sticky rice cake to regret over in the very next morning.  But instead, I’m here talking to you about something as generic as… meatball spaghetti.

Well, I blame it on this.  A 2 feet long monstrosity which I believe they call, who-the-hell-buys-a-whole-freaking-stick-of pepperoni, stretching its long leg into every last inch of leg-room inside my economy-class refrigerator for the past 2 weeks.   It was a generous remnant from a lunch gathering and ever since, I’ve been struggling to put it to a just rest.  On pizzas… in between sandwiches… blended into my Olay’s night cream.  Then just when I was about one-lost-chapstick-away from rubbing it on my lips for good use, I was reminded of an old trick.

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It was a never-failing method, inspired by an epic dinner spent in Lupa in the West Village of New York many years ago, a genius method to inject the kind of flavours only old age can produce, by blending dry-cured meat products into fresh food preparation.  The very same method, using trimmed prosciutto fats, landed me on the most insanely flavourful meatballs braised in white wine that I’ve ever tasted.  And I thought if it already looked hot in white, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t look even sexier in red, right?

So here, amidst the Chinese festivity of lunar New Year, comes the Italian pepperoni meatball spaghetti braised in a red wine tomato sauce.  May not be the most promptly cued entrance, but each meatballs contain not only the usual suspects of mixed ground meats, breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano cheese, herbs and whatnots, but also a ton of minced pepperoni sausage with all its age-glorified fat-bits and time-consuming flavours.

There’s a complexity that only exists inside the cultivated molecules being farted out by a workforce of happy bacterias over a long period of occupancy, which is completely welded into the meatballs just after a relatively short period of braising.  The fats get partially absorbed by the breadcrumbs within the meatballs as well as partially rendered into the sauce, deepened by just the right amount of red wine then heightened with a good dab of Dijon mustard at the end.  It’s just not your regular, daddy’s Prego meatball spaghetti.  It’s a time-fortified, age-defined, pepped-up meatball spaghetti that, consider yourself warned,  might just be mean enough to hurt your grandmother’s ego.

So excuse me if I didn’t mention rice cake.  Pardon my neglect for a CNY feast.  Today, I’m afraid is just gonna be meatball spaghetti…

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PEPERONI MEATBALLS SPAGHETTI

Serving Size: 4~6 ppl

Ingredients

    THE MEATBALLS:
  • 1 cup diced (150 grams) pepperoni sausage
  • 1/4 cup (1 small handful) parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 medium-size onion, cut into chunks
  • 400 grams ground beef
  • 280 grams ground pork
  • 3/4 cup (50 grams) Japanese panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) grated parmigiano cheese
  • 1 tsp ground cayenne
  • 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp ground paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • THE SAUCE:
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small celery stalk, finely diced
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1200 grams (three 400 grams cans) peeled Italian tomatoes, pureed in a blender
  • 3" parmigiano cheese rind
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp chili flakes
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Chopped parsley leaves

Instructions

  1. TO MAKE THE MEATBALLS: Preheat the oven top-broiler on high. Run diced pepperoni, parsley leaves, garlics and onion in a food-processor until they resemble chunky, coarse meals. Transfer to a bowl along with ground beef, ground pork, panko breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano cheese, ground cayenne, crushed fennel seeds, ground paprika, salt and black pepper. Gently mix just until even, then shape the mixture into 8 tightly packed meatballs and place on a parchment-lined baking-sheet. Place in the middle-rack in the oven and toast until golden browned on all sides (flipping once). Set aside.
  2. TO MAKE SAUCE: In a large pot, cook extra virgin olive oil, chopped onion, garlic, celery stalk, fresh thyme and tomato paste with a generous pinch of salt over medium-high heat, until the onion is soft and the tomato paste starts to brown on the sides of the pot. Add dry red wine and cook for 5~6 min until almost completely evaporated. Then add the purreed tomatoes, parmigiano cheese rind, bay leaves, chili flakes, honey, ground black pepper, and all the browned meatballs with all the juice and dripping.
  3. Bring to a simmer then turn the heat to low, cover the pot with just a small slit for steam to escape, and let simmer for 2 hours until the liquid has reduced by 1/3. You should give it a gentle stir once every 20~30 min to prevent burning on the bottom. Re-season it along the way with salt if needed. The stew can be made days ahead. Before serving, gently mix the Dijon mustard into the sauce.
  4. TO SERVE: Cook 500 grams of dried spaghetti a couple min BEFORE al dente. Drain and transfer to a large pot, then add enough sauce to generously cover the spaghetti. Cook for another 2 min until the sauce is slightly reduced and coating every pasta, then transfer to a serving plate with the meatballs on top. Scatter more chopped parsley and a generous amount of grated parmigiano cheese. Serve immediately.
http://ladyandpups.com/2015/02/19/peperoni-meatballs-spaghetti/
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THE INCONVENIENT RAGU-TH

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I almost couldn’t wait to tell you all about this hysterically inconvenient ragu.  I started curating its debut so many weeks ago, impatiently waited for the temperature to drop and the first damn leaf to fall, until everything… every single elements in the atmosphere ready your hearts for the most glorious, madly delicious ragu you have yet to try.  I even prepared a number of high-impact vocabularies to describe its entire four hours of making, two of which involves you standing by the stove remorselessly scraping the bottom of the pot in the name of culinary commitment, because I was gonna tell you that there’s no compromise when it comes to what I call the art of harvesting caramel, and you’re going to eat it all up.

The recipe has been sitting in my cue for a week now and I haven’t been able to lift a finger.  Well… you know what happened.

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PRE-DEPARTURE MICROWAVE MADNESS

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Despite the level of embarrassment that I’m sure will hit me the moment I get back from Paradise (Tuesday!), I still decided to send this truth out there.  The truth that once in a while, on some particular full-moons and/or… the night before a long trip away from home, there’s absolutely no excuse for my primitive behavior.  And if that’s the kind of entertainment that delights you, here it goes.

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spicy cheesy. gochujang spaghetti

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The wee-light of early morning started seeping in through the curtain, adding to my sense of unease particular to someone who knew she had done wrong and was most certainly about to get caught.  Jason’s morning-siren promptly started barking at 6:30 (no, really, the alarm is a dog barking…) and was ignored for 5 minutes as usual until eventually, he turned over and witnessed my crime scene.  Like the most gasping moment in a horror movie, an unsightly picture of an irresponsible grown-up, holding her i-pad with an earphone giggling like an idiot, secretly pulling a marathon on… a new-found television series.  ALL NIGHT and 18 episodes in, not even of something socially excusable like Game of Thrones, or House of Cards to demonstrate depth, but a retarded high-school version of True Blood with a name too embarrassing to even pronounce… VaVampire Diaries!  God!  Just hang me by the neck!

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