21 October 2014

Cold paaaste

"How bout some veal and cold paast?" A line I remember sexy Sylvia, Don Draper's (20th?) mistress yelling out to her actual husband in the last season of Mad Men, while standing in front of the refrigerator, presumably tortured over her Doctor husband-Ad Man affair-love triangle. Her husband had been away, and she was trying to get a meal in him upon his return.  "Paast" is an Italian shorthand for pasta and as Sylvia was Italian, and a good cook, I took it as a nod that lots of Italians are fine eating their pasta cold or cold-ish. A similar moment on The Sopranos comes to mind, too, when Tony takes out a plate of pasta from the fridge, Carmela offers to warm it up, and he says, already diggin in, "Nah, it's good like dis!"

Pasta room temperature is actualy my preference. I'm not sure where the propensity to rush piping hot pasta out of the kitchen and onto the plate to inhale, came from, (restaurants?) but, I never do it that way home. I've discovered this accidentally when I make pasta and intend to serve it hot but don't seem to have the other things in order yet to eat the meal, like bowls, silverware, an accompanied salad made or dressing for said salad. So the pasta sits for a bit and the flavors meld and that is just fine by me. Note: this is not true for red-sauced pasta where you want it to be a on the hot side of warm.

Another myth, that leftover pasta is a culinary no-no, also never makes sense to me. I  find it can come in handy for a quick lunch. If you make a bit more pasta than you serve at a dinner, keep a little pasta water with it the plain pasta, and the next day, give it a quick rejuvenation, and you have lunch for one or two. You just have to do the rejuvenation part right. 

For the revival, I tend to resort to the same tricks: a skillet, low heat, some liquid (I often throw in a dash vegetable or chicken broth if I have it frozen as ice cubes, and if not, just the pasta water or regular water + lemon juice), some kicks ( I like a dab of mustard and creme fraiche) and some very quick melding vegetables like baby spinach or something that's already cooked like roasted cherry tomatoes. You can only use one pan to do this, and you cannot forget the basil or parsley and strong cheese. A few chopped olives don't hurt either. For cheese, I really like feta.

I spent the weekend attending a few events representing the ShopRite Potluck Blog at the Food Network New York Food and Wine Festival. It was my first time at such an event and a lot of fun. We gave out recipe cards from the blog and I met some of the other girls on the team. The Festival was a whirlwind of food samples, wine samples, brands, celeb chefs, demos, panels. I had to remind myself to breathe a lot, and take it in one morsel at a time. It was exciting to see so many people passionate about what they do. I tasted some delicious brands of grilled sausage, cheese, handmade caramel sauce, and a few samples of small plates prepared by restaurants. The Red Lion Inn chef (from MA) had a vegan sample of smoked roasted tomatoes topped with ratatouille and micro greens that I could have made a meal of, and the Tessa chef a refreshing razor clam gazpacho that was also delicious. I also discovered a wine brand that has the packaging I always wished for. It exists! 

When we got home for the festival, despite being around food all afternoon, save a luscious walk in Central Park, we were, of course, hungry, so I riffed on a trendy dish making rounds on the web for a simple rustic dinner; pasta tossed with deeply roasted cauliflower florets, a heap of grated hard cheese and a hefty handful herbs, and toasted sliced crushed almonds served, as always, warm-ish, and the next day, I revived the leftover pasta tubes I'd saved as described above and below. The simple vegetarian flavors were all I could have wanted as a return to my own kitchen and a welcome to the cooling temperatures outside. Enjoy!

Revived Leftover Pasta

Olive oil
Generous handful leftover pasta in a little of its water
Generous handful baby spinach
Sea or Kosher salt + pepper to taste
Pinch red pepper flakes
Scoop roasted cherry tomatoes (optional)
A few torn olives (optional)
Approx 1/2 tsp good mustard
Approx 1 tsp creme fraiche 
1 small garlic clove, grated fine, minced or pressed
4-5 basil leaves, torn or chiffonade 
Fresh lemon juice and/or vegetable broth 
Topping: chunk of salty cheese like feta, crumbled

Heat a wide skillet over medium high heat, then add the oil. When it shimmers add the spinach; it should cook down within seconds. Season with a pinch salt and pepper and pepper flakes, and toss. Turn the heat to the lowest setting and add the pasta and a little of its water. If you have broth, add a Tbsp of that instead or in addition to the water, it will all be absorbed. Toss. If using, add the roasted tomatoes and olives, toss. Add the mustard and creme fraiche and stir, letting it coat the pasta and meld into the liquid. Add half the feta and a little lemon juice, stir so the feta warms. Add the grated garlic, stir, letting off the fragrance, then remove from the heat. Add half a tsp or so olive oil and half the basil and remaining feta. Transfer to plate. Top with remaining basil, another half tsp olive oil and a sprinkle coarse sea salt like Maldon. Enjoy immediately or let rest at room temperature for a bit.

13 October 2014

Baked Cider Donut Holes

Here's something: if you ever get the opportunity to sous chef at a vendor product demo at Whole Foods, you will learn almost everything you need to know about humanity. Ok, that's a grand statement. But you will learn a lot. A few snippets: people come in, walk around just to eat the samples a few times a day. Some stand at the table and eat sample after sample as you hurry to cut more with your sharp knife while asking nothing about the product. Some ask pointed questions about the product, and then just walk away. There was the woman who wanted not the sample I was making, but just a "swipe of the almond butter" I was using to make the samples (!!) and the one who threw a sample right into the trash beside the table after grabbing it off the table. Most commonly, people mistake you for an employee and ask where the quinoa is located. But some say thank you. I had no idea how much of a difference it makes to vendors emotionally when customers say, "may I try?" rather than just take one. I have nothing on full-time food-workers and chefs, and as astonishing as the behavior may be, demos work. Product was practically swiped from the shelves the two days we were there.