An Afternoon at Eataly!

I was recently in New York City visiting some family and friends, and eating amazing Italian food.  New York is dirty, gritty, hot and humid in the summer, and full of supposedly “rude” people but I almost cried with happiness when I arrived at LaGuardia and all of its grimey glory.  Although I love the produce and bounty that California has to offer, I am a Long Island girl at heart and I love me my Italian delis, chicken parm, bagels and kaiser rolls.

Even though I am far from Italian, I grew up with Italians and Italian food ranks up there with Japanese food when it comes to my ultimate comfort food.  I actually never liked Italian food when I lived in Japan.  That was until I moved to Long Island at the age of 11 and took one bite of spaghetti with marinara sauce at La Parmigiana in Southampton, New York.  I still remember the amazing revelation I had about how simple and yet incredibly delicious pasta can be.  I’m tearing up just thinking about it.  So when my friend Georgia, with whom I’ve been eating delicious things since we were teenagers, came all the way from Montauk to see me in the city and suggested we go to Eataly, I was game!  Also, she’s part Sicilian.

I had heard of this new venture by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich but I did not expect the scale and size of what I experienced as Eataly.  I was completely overwhelmed!  Eataly is a large marketplace full of everything anyone would need to cook, eat, and experience Italian food.  It has produce, meat, fish, pasta, prepared foods, bread, focaccia, restaurants, desserts, cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, and cookware.  Eataly’s website has a manifesto that declares at the very top “We’re in love with food!”  Me too!

First, we had some delicious, rich espresso at the Caffe Vergnano made for us from a big shiny machine that the barista told us cost more than a new car.  Then we had lunch at La Pasta & Pizza, one of Eataly’s restaurants, where we had some crusty bread dipped in some rich, flavorful olive oil, Bjorn had linguine vongole, Georgia had an amazing eggplant lasagna and I had the pasta special, orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe.  Yum!

After lunch, we wandered around the marketplace in awe – checking out their salumi and cheese counter, fresh mozzarella makers, seafood counter, butcher, bread counter, olive oils, fresh and dried pasta, and beautiful produce including a giant selection of dried and fresh mushrooms.  I thought of how Yuan and Little Miss would be hyperventilating with happiness at the sight of the cheese and salumi counter.

Fresh Pasta counter

Butcher counter that had all sorts of meat, pork, veal, sausages, rabbit, various poultry.
Not your average meat counter.

Refrigerated cheese section

Mushrooms!  There were just as many dried varieties.

mm…Dolci

We spent a whole afternoon there, bought some fresh pasta, olive oil, cheese, fresh mozzarella, and bread for dinner and hit the Gelateria on the way out.  Eataly is located at 23rd Street and 5th Avenue right where Broadway intersects 5th near the famous Flatiron building.  It is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.  If you are ever in New York City and you love Italian food, you must go.

Not Your Mom’s Lasagna

Okay, so my mom actually never made lasagna, I’m guessing Yuan’s mom didn’t either,  and granted, I’ve never had Little Miss Mother’s lasagna, but last week, Little Miss, hubby and I made the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten.  Little Miss spent a weekend with me for some r&r and as we sat around, she suggested that we make lasagna.

Back in April 2006, I found the most delicious looking lasagna on the cover of my Gourmet magazine.  This Italian Regional Cooking issue had an article entitled, “Mario’s Excellent Adventure: Five Days in Bologna, 62 courses” where on Day 4, Mario Batali and his crew ate a lasagna described as “ethereal” and so “dramatically redolent and melting in texture that the dish is just miraculous.”  (Oh, Gourmet, how I miss you for the very reasons you are now defunct.)

Lasagna Bolognese
(adapted from Enoteca LaCapannina and Mario Batali, Gourmet, April 2006)

All three squabbling asians have made this lasagna several times, but with its two hour ragu cooking time, besciamella and handmade spinach pasta making, it is definitely a project.  I also had never motivated to make my own pasta, cheating instead by using no-bake pasta sheets.  But Little Miss and I had a whole afternoon free and I have a Bjorn who is on a pasta-making kick with a great pasta maker from Aunt Betty.  I was curious to see if fresh pasta would make a difference compared to the no-bake sheets and it turns out that it does.  The recipe calls for a spinach pasta dough, but we made a plain pasta dough using 00 flour.

Little Miss and I started the ragu with the base for many delicious things – olive oil, butter, and finely diced carrot, onion and celery.

Ragu

  • 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb sliced pancetta, finely chopped or pulverized in a food processor
  • 1 lb ground veal (I use fatty ground beef)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste (2 1/2 oz)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Heat oil and butter over moderate heat until the butter melts, then cook carrot, onion, celery, and garlic, until tender but not browned, 10 to 15 min.  Increase the heat to high and stir in pancetta, beef, and pork until meat is starting to brown about 15 min.  Stir in tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over low heat stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid has evaporated, but ragu is still moist, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Note, we actually cooked it about 1 1/2 hour then put the lid on the dutch oven and cooked it for another 30 min.  Add salt and pepper and remove from heat.  This ragu generally takes about 3 hours start to finish.  It does give you time to make besciamella, have it cool down to room temperature, and roll out pasta.

Besciamella

  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Melt butter over moderate heat and whisk in flour until smooth, then cook, whisking frequently, until pale golden brown, 4-6 min.  I always wonder, “is it pale golden? is it pale golden?”  You can actually tell when it starts to brown up, I find that it takes closer to 6 min.  Heat milk in a separate saucepan (or microwave) until just about to boil.  Add milk 1 cup at a time to butter mixture, whisking constantly until very smooth.  Bring sauce to a boil, whisking, then cook, whisking, for 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and whisk in salt and nutmeg.  Cover with a butter round of wax or parchment paper (buttered side down) and cool to room temperature.

Put oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.  Boil water for pasta and have ready an ice bath with 2 tbsp of olive oil in it.  Cook pasta sheets in boiling water until just tender, about 1 min, and transfer to ice bath to chill.  Transfer pasta onto clean kitchen towels laying flat and pat dry.  (Yes, this is why I had never made the pasta before…)

With all the components finally ready, I layered 1 cup of ragu, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to lightly cover the ragu (about 1-2 tbsp), cooked pasta (can overlap slightly), and 1/2 cup besciamella evenly over pasta (layer will be thin) to assemble my lasagna.  Repeat 4 more times with the final layer of besciamella being 1 cup.

Sprinkle the top with grated cheese and bake uncovered until top is pale golden in spots and sauces are bubbling, about 45 min.  Let stand 10 min before serving.  The recipe says that ragu and besciamella can be made two days ahead, cooled completely, chilled and covered.  Warm ragu over low heat until just stirrable before using.  Lasagna can also be assembled 4 hours ahead and kept chilled, covered.

Literally, 4 hours later, we were ready to eat.  It is probably a good thing you need an entire afternoon to make because I could not stop eating and this is not a low-calorie lasagna.  It is SOOO worth it though!!  Everything just complements each other so well and the homemade pasta really gives it a texture that cannot be achieved with those ready-made pasta sheets.

And yes, I did take a glamor shot of my leftover the next day (above).

Duck Mac N’ Cheese

Today, Yuan smoked a duck and I made bacon macaroni and cheese.  Then, Yuan had the genius idea to put them together.  The result was a 900+ calorie, 70+ grams of fat, artery clogging bowl of awesomeness.

Yuan brushed Mr. Duck with a glaze concocted with salt, pepper, honey, lemon juice, chili powder and a bit of Chinese five spice powder and used a fork to poke some holes in the skin.  He built a medium fire of coals and applewood chips on one side of the weber grill, then placed Mr. Duck on the opposite side.  Then he put the lid on, with the open vent over the duck, and smoke Mr. Duck for about 3 hours.  We added more coal and chips once during the process and Yuan periodically basted the duck with juices collecting in his “cavity.”  The entire block and both of us smelled like ducky bacon and Mr. Duck turned out tender and amazingly delicious.

After a recommendation that the Tipsy Pig had the best mac ‘n’ cheese in San Francisco, I decided to try out this recipe.  I soon realized why this particular take on the beloved classic was so tasty – namely, four different kinds of cheese, bacon fat, butter, and a quart of heavy whipping cream.  I halved the sauce recipe and used slightly less pasta.  The recipe pushed for ditalini pasta, but it was the only kind at the store that was NOT on sale.  So we opted for the classic elbow macaroni instead.  This mac ‘n’ cheese was very addictive.  I had two bowls…then I put duck on top of it and ate some more.

Weekday Dinner

Squid Ink Pasta with Shrimp in Saffron Cream Sauce

Microwave 1/2 cup of dry white wine until hot to touch, add saffron threads and let it sit.

Saute 2 cloves of crushed garlic in 2 turns of olive oil on low heat. Once garlic is soft, turn heat to medium high and cook 1/2 lb shrimp, salt & pepper. Take shrimp out and keep covered.

Add 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes to pan and saute for 30 sec. Add wine saffron mixture and 2 tbls of heavy cream. Bring to simmer, lower heat and simmer for 5 min. Season to taste and return shrimp to pan.

Boil 1/2 lb of pasta and reserve some pasta water. Drain pasta and add sauce with chopped parsley, and pat of butter. Add pasta water if needed to coat pasta.

Preparation time: 30 min.

a weekend in davis

So there I was, going 11 mph on the 80 through the East Bay (aaand then again into Fairfield) thinking “Oh lord, I’ve been so good, please let there be dumplings…”

More than I ever hoped for… Then Saturday, a warm, sunny trip to the Farmer’s Market. It’s first spring here in the Bay (and surrounding territory), the cherry trees are blooming and everything smells fresh. Except that at this particular moment it’s rainy and cold in SF, and Davis rarely smells truly fresh.

These guys will keep handing you delicious samples of different Afghani flatbreads and spreads until one of your shopping companions pulls you away from the stand.

Thoroughly addictive kettle corn. Its sweet salty scent beckons from down the block. What’s that, kettle corn? I hear you! Mama’s comin’!

Puppies (and former puppies) for adoption. So hard to resist…

At home, 8 lbs of baby back ribs from Bledsoe Pork were liberally salted and peppered, and given a generous garlic rubdown.

4 hours in the oven and a bath in an orange-cabernet vinegar glaze. Glorious.

Some very sassy arugula, tossed with gorgonzola and maple-chili glazed walnuts.

Oddly, and a little disturbingly, we happened upon some pretty decent tomatoes. I think they were from San Diego?

Penne with broccoli rabe, oyster and trumpet mushrooms.

Sunday morning, french toast.

Regrettably not pictured, because I forgot to take any pics: Sunday night, back home, pillowy soft Mi Abuelita Bonita green chili tortillas were wrapped around scrumptious black mole chicken, avocado, and crumbled queso fresco. Those tortillas appear to only be available in the Sacramento area and are the stuff of which dreams are made. Its only been a week and already I’m jonesing for my next fix…