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I love Food. Cooking it. Eating it. Experiencing it. As a result, that's what this blog has evolved into: A journal of my gastronomical journeys abroad, as well as my culinary creativity at home. I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and I'd love to hear your comments... Cheers!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Best of the Best (of the Best) has begun...

In a recent post on this blog, I committed myself to preparing the dozen or so recipes I earmarked in a new cook book I received, the "Best of the Best Cook Book Recipes" from Food & Wine. Not exactly the Herculean -- or should I say, Julie Powell-ian task -- of working my way through Julia Child's seminal recipe tome (as depicted in "Juile & Julia"), but an undertaking nonetheless.
My first step in this abridged adventure was courtesy of Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman's "Urban Italian." I picked a pasta dish thinking it would be a somewhat simple place to start. Rigatoni Pugliese. And while I was not entirely incorrect (the rigatoni part was a breeze!), the sauce was going to be maiden voyage for me into uncharted culinary waters: making a sauce from scratch.
This one turns out to be a sauce-within-a-sauce, because the it features Carmellini's Basic Tomato Sauce, which is the base for so many of his dishes, as it's main component.
So really, there are two recipes to share here. Let's start with the Basic Tomato Sauce:
  1. 2 1/2 (I used 3) 35 oz. cans of good quality Italian canned tomatoes (Andrew recommends San Marazano; I used Cento). Squeeze out the seeds and juice and discard. (* NOTE: this was tricky for me: I didn't know if I was losing too much of the good stuff inside, but Carmellini explains that it's crucial to get the sauce to the right consistency)
  2. Top tomatoes chunks with a generous amount of kosher or sea salt (about a heaping tsp) to draw out any excess moisture.
  3. Cook down the tomatoes over medium heat in a pan or pot with a wide surface area for about 30 minutes. Ladle out any excess water. Smash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon during cooking to smooth out.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat 1 1/4 c EVOO with a head of garlic (top cut off to expose the cloves), 1 tsp crushed red pepper, and 1 c washed basil leaves (stems on) over medium heat to a simmer. Remove and reserve as soon as you hear the basil start to "crackle."
  5. After the tomatoes have reduced by about 1/2, strain the flavored oil in and stir to combine. Cook for about another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and mix it up a bit at the end to help emulsify. (* NOTE: I never got mine to completely emulsify. It looked very oily to me, but don't worry: it still comes together in the end)

I prepped this in advance of the rest of the dish, because the rest is fairly quick and simple:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Blanch 1 bunch of broccoli rabe (cleaned of outer leaves; stems trimmed) for about 90 seconds. Transfer to ice water bath.
  3. Bring water back to a boil. Cook 1 lb. Rigatoni until al dente.
  4. In a sautee pan, heat EVOO, broccoli rabe, 1/2 can of chick peas (save the liquid and other half!!), 1 clove of thin sliced garlic, and 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Sautee until all ingredients are well coated.
  5. Meanwhile, blend the liquid of the 15 oz. can of chick peas with remaining 1/2 can of chick peas, for about a minute, until it forms a smooth paste. Add to Basic Tomato Sauce and cook for about 15 minutes.
  6. Add sauce to drained rigatoni back in pasta pot and cook for about a minute.
  7. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tbsp butter, 2 tsp EVOO (* NOTE: I skipped this because the sauce had enough oil already), and 1/2 c grated pecorino cheese (*NOTE: I used parmigiana reggiano).
  8. Transfer to a large serving dish or plate. Top with another 1/2 c grated cheese and the broccoli rabe mixture. Serve immediately.

The reviews were spectacular. There really is no substitue for homemade sauce. This recipe allows for extra sauce, so you can either add it to the dish, or save it for another recipe. Well worth the effort and time.

Our only critique was the bitterness of the broccoli rabe. Not sure if it was operator error, but it just seemed to work against the rest of the flavors in the dish. I also skipped a main ingredient in the sauce: spicy Italian sausage. If you choose to use it, all you have to do is brown 1 lb. of sausage (out of its casing) in a pan, breaking it up into small pieces, and adding it to the sauce before combining with the pasta. I'm sure it will only enhance the intensity of the flavors, and give it even more of authentic Italian taste, but I had to cater to the crowd, so to speak!

One recipe down...how many more to go??... to be continued...

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