The other day I made this kind of mint/basil sauce to go with my rack of lamb dish I was serving for a dinner party. The sauce has garlic and anchovies as well, giving it lots of that umami flavor. I thought it would work really well in a pasta dish. To keep things interesting I add Spanish olives stuffed with anchovies and then finish the dish with lots of Parmigiano Reggiano and aggressive amounts of hot chili flakes.
Ingredients (serves 6-8 as a first course):
-leaves from 1 large bunch of basil
-leaves from 1 large bunch of mint
-1 whole garlic clove, peeled
-10-12 anchovy fillets, chopped (do not rinse or wash)
-Extra virgin olive oil
-Juice of one lemon
-1 can of Spanish olives stuffed with anchovies
-1 pound best quality dry spaghetti
-Parmigiano Reggiano for grating
In a blender or food processor combine the basil, mint, anchovies and garlic. Add about 1 cup of oil and blend, drizzling in more oil until you have an emulsification. Add the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Given that we did not rinse or soak the anchovy fillets it is probably not necessary to add any additional salt. If you are using fresh anchovies or fillets soaked in vinegar then you may need to add a bit of salt to taste. Pour the pesto into a container and chill in refrigerator until ready to use.
To make the dish put a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Drop your pasta and cook according to the package instructions, removing the pasta about 1 minute before it's perfectly al dente. While the pasta is cooking pour the pesto and Spanish olives into a large sauté pan and heat very gently (do not boil). Add a generous amount of chili flakes and stir through.mWhen the pasta is ready use tongs to transfer to the pan and toss for 30 seconds over medium-low heat. If the sauce looks a bit tight or dry add a little pasta cooking water.
Place the pasta onto plates and serve each dish with liberal amounts of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and extra chili flakes as desired.
Risotto is one of those dishes that–-while not hard to make–-requires the full attention of the cook. Almost all risottos begin the same way with a bit of olive oil or butter, shallots and onions. Once the rice is added the cook adds stock--a bit at a time--stirring frequently, until the dish comes together in perfection after approximately 20-25 minutes. This version is made with very fresh gulf shrimp (or whatever you have that is pristine) and saffron.
Ingredients (serves 6-8):
-2 cups best quality Carnaroli or Arborio rice
-Salt & pepper
-Extra virgin olive oil
-1/2 pound of the most fresh shrimp or prawns available, peeled & deveined
-2 shallots, finely chopped
-1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
-1 quart or about 4.4 cups chicken stock
-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, plus more for finishing
-1 cup of dry white wine
-1/2 tablespoon best quality saffron threads
In a large heavy bottomed sauce pan add the butter plus 2 tablespoons olive oil and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and shallots to the pot and sweat for 30 seconds. Salt the onions and shallots and lower the heat and sweat them for 1 minute (add more oil if they start to brown). Add the rice to the pot and stir through for 20-30 seconds. Add the wine and saffron and turn up the heat to medium high.
Stir the risotto occasionally, every 20-30 seconds, never taking your eyes off of it completely. Once the white wine has mostly evaporated begin adding–-one ladle at a time–-the chicken broth. Keep the risotto moist and just covered with liquid. Continue stirring and ladling until the risotto is cooked through and almost al dente, approximately 16-20 minutes. Add the shrimp to the pot along with a generous knob of butter and Parmigiano Reggiano and cook 2-3 minutes until cooked through, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Serve immediately and grate more cheese over each plate.
This vegetarian pasta dish gains it richness from seasonal mushrooms, particularly during the wet, rainy months. I like to use--when available--a combination of morels, criminis and shiktakes. Go light on the latter as they tend to have a lot of flavor!. The chili flakes and touch of heavy cream help bind the dish perfectly, and without the addition of cheese.
Ingredients (serves 6):
-1 pound fresh tagliatelle or dried fettucine
-1 tablespoon chili flakes
-Extra virgin olive oil
-1.5 cups fresh morels, cut in half and cleaned of any grit
-1 cup shitake mushrooms, cut into small pieces
-1.5 cups crimini mushrooms, cut in half or thirds if large
-1 cup heavy cream
-1 cup English peas if in season (these can be omitted)
In a large heavy saute pan heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the shitakes and sauté for 1 minute, stirring often. Add the criminis and morels and toss through. Once the mushrooms begin to caramelize and brown (if the pan becomes too dry add more oil) lower the heat to medium. Add a bit of salt and the chili flakes. Continue to cook until the mushrooms are a nice golden brown color.
Add the cream to the pan and turn up the heat to high. Cook for 1-2 minutes until slightly thickened. Add the peas and stir though. Drop your pasta into a large pot of salted water. If using fresh tagliatelle cook for 1 minute. If using dry pasta cook according to the package instructions and remove 1.5 minutes prior. Using tongs transfer to the pan with the mushrooms and cream and toss over high heat until well dressed and the pasta sauce has reduced to a thick consistency. If ever your sauce becomes too reduced or tight add a little pasta cooking water. Serve immediately.
This is an ancient Neopolitan recipe I learned about from Chef Mario Batali. It is incredibly easy to make, can be prepared in advance, and absolutely satisfies all lovers of the cocoa bean, particularly those that have a propensity for intense, bitter chocolate. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream and toasted pine nuts.
Ingredients (serves 10-12):
-1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
-2 cups sugar
-12 ounces semisweet chocolate, grated (or buy already in small pieces)
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-5 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted for 30-45 seconds in a hot pan without any oil
In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, flour and sugar. Whisk in a bit of milk slowly to form a paste, then slowly whisk in the remaining milk. Transfer to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.
Remove from the heat, add the chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon and stir to blend and to melt the chocolate. Use a ladle to pour the chocolate into 6-ounce ramekins. Allow to cool, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold and ready to serve.
Serve the pudding with unsweetened whipped cream and garnish with a few toasted pine nuts.
Making pizza at home can be a challenge. Many home ovens do not achieve a temperature greater than 450 degrees which means the pizza takes longer to cook and can dry out. Also, to make a good pizza one needs to plan ahead and make the dough 2 days prior to cooking. It might sound like a lot of work but a 48 hour fermentation time makes for the most elastic and easily stretched dough. One can also experiment with special pizza ovens such as the one from Breville. It's electric and can heat its pizza stone to a surface temperature of about 600 degrees.
My recipe below comes from a lot of experimentation and it's based closely on the recipe for dough from Roberta's Pizzeria in Brooklyn, NYC. Watch the video here. The only difference is I use 100% double-zero flour and Roberta's uses a 50/50 combo of double-zero and all purpose. I find that using double-zero makes for more easily stretched dough and better flavor overall.
Ingredients (makes two 10”-12” pies):
•3 cups 00 flour (I like the Antimo Caputo brand, available at many stores)
•8 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
•2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
•1 cup warm water
Pre-heat your oven with a pizza stone inserted to the highest temperature possible. Most home ovens do not get hot enough so it is highly recommended you consider a specialty appliance like the Breville Pizza Maker. It is available at Williams-Sonoma and achieves a surface temperature of 660 degrees, cooking perfect pizza within approximately 6-8 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the warm tap water and the yeast. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the flour. Mix with your hands by moving the dough around the perimeter of the bowl until all the flour is well combined, about 1 minute. If the dough is too wet add more flour and continue mixing. Cover the bowl with a towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Knead rested dough for 1-2 minutes on a floured surface. Cut dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-48 hours. Remove the dough 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.
Alternatively you can cover the dough balls with a dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature. However, if you can leave the dough for up to 1-2 days it will be far easier to stretch.
To make pizza, place each dough ball onto a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds. Place onto a sheet of lightly floured parchment paper. Top and bake. If using the Breville oven carefully remove the parchment paper 2 minutes into the cooking process. This will ensure the paper doesn’t burn and will develop a better crust! If using a conventional oven you can do the same or leave the parchment in the whole time. It will brown but will never burn or catch on fire.
A roast chicken is a dish everyone should know how to prepare well and have in their repertoire. It is often a true test of a restaurant's chops. There are so many different ways to successfully roast a bird. This is the method that has worked consistently for me over the years and never disappoints.
Ingredients (serves 4):
-1 whole, 3-4 pound, free-range chicken
-1 lemon, cut in half
-8 sage leaves
-4 sprigs of thyme
-salt & pepper
-unsalted butter, room temperature
If possible buy the chicken 1-2 days prior to roasting. Pat the bird dry with paper towels if it is a bit wet. Season aggressively on all sides and inside the cavity with salt and pepper. Carefully--with a knife or with your fingers--pull open the breast skin. Stuff the sage leaves and thyme under the skin. Use a butter knife to carefully push the herbs farther up into and under the breast and evenly distribute. Place on a platter, uncovered, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days. The time spent in the refrigerator will help dry-cure the bird and will make for the most crispy of skin.
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Take the bird out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (1-2 hours). Rub the room temperature butter all over the bird in generous quantities. Insert the lemon into the cavity and tie the legs together with butcher twine.
Place the bird, breast-side up, into a cast iron pan or similar roasting pan and roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Take the pan out and flip the bird over. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Roast for an additional 30-35 minutes. Flip the bird once more and roast another 10-20 minutes or until the bird is nicely browned and has an internal temperature of approximately 150 degrees.
Remove the bird to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.
I like serving roasted carrots and potatoes to go with the chicken. Peel the carrots and cut up the potatoes and blanch them in salted, boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and place into the roasting dish under the chicken with a drizzle of olive oil. Each time you flip the bird toss the vegetables to ensure even browning. I some times add raw mushrooms during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
I love serving my bird with bread croutons soaked in all the chicken fat. Buy a good quality Italian batard or ciabatta and cut up into 2 inch pieces. Heat some olive oil in a saute pan over high heat and add the bread. Drizzle with more olive oil. Season the croutons with a bit of coarse salt and sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top. Brown the bread on both sides and set aside.
During the last 15 minutes of roasting your bird add the croutons to the roasting pan and mix well with the juices and vegetables. Make a lot of croutons as your guests will not be able to stop eating them. Trust me.
Like many Italian dishes linguine con le vongole (linguini with clams) is all about a few simple—and pristine—ingredients brought together with the proper technique for what has to be one of the world’s most satisfying meals.
Ingredients (serves 6):
-1 pound best quality dried linguine
-1 pound small clams, rinsed and scrubbed
-4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
-1 cup dry white wine
-2 tablespoons red chili flakes (I love the heat, use more if you like)
-1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
-Parmigiano Reggiano (optional, for grating)
In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the garlic cloves and sauté until translucent (do not brown). Add the clams, chili flakes, white wine and cover. Cook (1-2 minutes) until the clams have opened. Turn off the heat and keep warm until your pasta is ready.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and drop your linguine. Cook at least 1-2 minutes short of the package instructions (we want this to be al dente and the pasta will continue cooking when added to the clams). Add the linguine to the pot with the clams and toss with the parsley over high heat for 30 seconds. Plate and serve immediately. Be sure everyone gets some of the rich broth. Finish with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Many would consider the addition of cheese to be sacrilegious (the Italians typically never add cheese to seafood) but in my mind this can be an exception. The addition of the cheese does not interfere with the clams and in fact adds richness to the broth and completes the dish.
This caldo hails from Galicia in the northwest of Spain is both very hearty--particularly during the winter months--and yet incredibly clean and healthy. It is made entirely with water...no chicken stock or broth necessary. The potatoes and turnips contribute to thicken the caldo and the pancetta (get the best quality possible) and chorizo add just the right amount of umami.
Ingredients (serves 4-6):
-1/2 pound of best quality pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
-1 cup of dried gigante or cannelini beans, soaked overnight in cold water to cover
-2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
-1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped (use Spring onion when in season)
-2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
-1/2 pound Spanish chorizo, removed from the casing and cut into 1/4-inch thick pieces
-1 pound turnip or similar greens (kale, Swiss chard) stemmed and chopped coarsely
-Salt and pepper to taste
-Extra virgin olive oil
In a large heavy pot of Dutch oven sautee the pancetta with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until most of fat is rendered and the pieces are starting to barely brown, 6-8 minutes. Half way through add the chopped onions and stir through.
Add the drained beans and chorizo to the pot and stir through. Add enough water to cover and turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook gently for 45 minutes to 1 hour--add more water if necessary--until the beans are beginning to soften and cook through.
Add the turnips and potatoes and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add the greens and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
It's not Spanish to do this but I like to grate Parmigiano Reggiano over the top of each bowl and serve!
Chopped, raw meat--when combined with the right elements--is a beautiful and primal--yet also elegant--dish, suitable for all occasions. I like to use a coulotte--also referred to as top sirloin--a petite cut that comes from the sirloin cap. It is commonly thought that using tenderloin is best for this dish but the filet or loin doesn't typically have that much flavor and it's also the most expensive of cuts.
Ingredients (serves 6 as a first course):
-1.5 pounds of top sirloin/coulotte, cut into cubes (it's best to slice when the meat is very cold)
-1 cup of gherkins, chopped
-1/4 cup of salt-packed capers, drained and rinsed
-1 quail egg per person
-2 tablespoons chopped chives
-2 tablespoons chopped chervil
-2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
-2 medium shallots, finely diced
-1 tablespoon mayonnaise
-1 teaspoon of freshly grated horseradish
-2 tablespoons of dijon mustard
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
Combine everything but the eggs and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Plate and crack a quail egg on each mound of tartare and serve with toast points.
This salad could not be simpler and goes with almost all greens. I like the bitterness of the radicchio paired with either little gem or other baby red lettuces. The cara cara oranges--in season during the winter months--are just fantastic but you could substitute regular oranges or in the summer stone fruit such as peaches or nectarines.
Ingredients (serves 4-6):
-4 cups radicchio, chopped, washed and spun dry
-3 cups little gems or baby red lettuces, chopped, washed and spun dry
-2 large cara cara oranges, cut into slices, skin and pith removed
-Extra virgin olive oil
-Sherry or similar vinegar
-Coarse sea salt
Place the lettuces into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle a tablespoon of coarse salt over the lettuces. Douse them with the Sherry vinegar, approximately 4-5 tablespoons. Dress liberally with olive oil, about 3-4 tablespoons. Mix well by hand. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Place cara cara oranges slices on each plate and place lettuces on top. If you wanted to gussy up this salad more you could grate shreds of ricotta salata over the top.
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com