Parmigiano e Pepe with Sausage and Broccolini

I’ve mentioned before that the world of food really opened up to me in Italy.  It’s where I realized that enjoying an entire pizza to oneself is fine if it follows a few rules: It’s acceptable to eat an entire pizza if it’s made with fresh eggplant sliced long and paper-thin, so that the sauce peaks through from underneath, and if it’s dotted with the saltiest, creamiest clumps of gorgonzola cheese and not much else. It’s fine to eat this pizza because it’s served with a dish of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a spoon.  It’s ok to eat an entire pizza if one has wandered aimlessly through the streets of a city so old your heart breaks, for hours and hours.  And yes, so you also ate a lunch that was mostly bread, but in the meantime you walked a lot, and thought a lot, and dreamed a lot, and smiled and laughed a lot, too.  That counts as exercise in Italy.
I learned that drinks of the coffee variety should be enjoyed stationary, probably standing, and that if you absolutely insist on taking it with you, you will get a plastic cup with no lid filled as high as possible with the scalding, delicious liquid.  Try walking now.

In Italy, I learned that Italian food is not smothered in sauce.  It is not meat on pasta on butter on salad with garlicky breadsticks.  Like all time honored food traditions, it’s simple.  Italian food is the best ingredients coaxed together in a way that bring out both individual flavors and an overall sensation.  It’s best savored either with table wine served out of a carafe at a restaurant with no name, or gathered in a hot, un-airconditioned kitchen that is centered around a simmering pot.  Most of it can be done in twenty minutes or less.  The rest must be simmered all day, if possible.  All of it is elevated with Parmigiano Reggiano.

Food was my sight-seeing and my cultural immersion.  Days were counted by the plates of pasta, pizza,  panini, and, of course, cheese.  When it was finally time to leave Italy, I left inspired and hungry.  I also left reluctantly.

When I got home I started cooking and I haven’t stopped.

This dish is inspired by a simple dish I discovered in Italy called cacio e pepe, which translates very simply to cheese and pepper.  It’s made with a light sauce that is absolutely remarkable; each of its 3 ingredients work overtime, proving that simplicity is not the same as boring.  Inspired by this dish, but wanting to celebrate the Italian’s almost religious respect for the king of all cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano, I created a pasta dish that my Italian self would be proud of.  Parmesan is the star, getting help from spicy sausage and bitter broccolini.  Simple ingredients, prepared simply.

Begin by browning some hot Italian sausage that has had its casings removed.  Also, bring a pot of well salted water to a boil and cook some rigatoni according to package directions, save 2 minutes.
Break the sausage up into bits and cook until completely brown.  Drain off the fat and transfer to a separate dish.  I did this all at once, by placing a colander over a plate that had been lined with a couple of layers of paper towel.  Wipe the skillet of any additional fat.
Meanwhile, take a bunch of broccolini and trim off the ends.
Cut them into bite size pieces, about an inch long.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the clean skillet and add the broccolini.  Sauté until bright green and crisp tender, about 5 minutes.
When the broccolini is done, transfer to a separate plate.  Add two tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil.
When that has melted, add some coarsely cracked black pepper and stir.  Then add about half a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
Add in a splash of the pasta cooking water to the sauce and stir to combine.

When the pasta has cooked, reserve about 1/4 cup of cooking water then drain.  Return to the pot and add sauce.  Add pasta cooking water a tablespoon at a time and toss the pasta constantly, until a light sauce has formed and is completely coating the pasta.  Add sausage and broccolini and toss again.
Finally, add more grated Parmigiano Reggiano and toss to coat.  Add more pasta water if the sauce seems to thick or sticky.
Serve immediately, in warmed bowls, with Parmigiano shards on top and more freshly cracked black pepper.
The Parmigiano e Pepe sauce clings to the ridges of the rigatoni, and the sausage snuggles up inside the tubes of pasta.  It’s a little spicy, a little bitter, and the cheese is the only salt the dish needs.  It shines throughout the dish and is what makes these seemingly simple, individual ingredients meld into a cohesive dish.
This pasta is comforting in a way that only Italians can do.  It can be made quickly, is incredibly flavorful, and is meant to be enjoyed slowly, with friends.
Salty, nutty, earthy Parmigiano Reggiano has truly earned it’s status in the food world; it’s a flavor elevator.  If I learned nothing else from my months abroad, it’s that there is no substitute for real Parmigiano.
And the lessons about pizza.  That’s important too.

are to write, test, and create an original recipe featuring Parmigiano Reggiano.  It is in conjunction with their attempt to reclaim the Guinness World Record by “cracking” 500 wheels of Parmigiano on March 9.  Winners will be chosen by a panel of Whole Foods team members, and will receive a trip for two to New York City.  Wish me luck!**

Here’s the recipe!

Parmigiano e Pepe with Sausage and Broccolini
Serves 6 (or 4, if you eat pasta like I do, oops)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound rigatoni (I used Rigatoni Mezzi, which were these cute little half-rigatoni)
  • 1 pound hot italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 bunch broccolini, chopped into inch-size pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided, plus even more for serving

Method

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Season generously with salt and add pasta.  Cook according to package directions, minus 2 minutes.  Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water then drain.  Return to the pot.
  2. Meanwhile, add sausage to a large skillet set over medium heat and brown, breaking up into bite size pieces.  When sausage is completely cooked, drain the fat (as much as you can get off!) and transfer to another dish.  (I save myself a step and place a colander over a large plate that has been lined with several layers of paper towel.  I add the sausage to the colander and let it drain, that way the grease will drain to the paper towel and I can just throw it away.)  Wipe the skillet clean.
  3. Heat skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then add broccolini.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt (don’t over do it!  That cheese is salty!)  Sauté until bright green and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.  When finished, transfer to another dish.
  4. For the sauce, melt together the remaining olive oil and the butter.  Add the black pepper and stir.   Cook for 1 minute, then add 1/2 cup of the cheese and 2 tablespoons of the pasta water.  Stir to combine until the cheese is melted and the sauce starts to come together.  It won’t be completely smooth, but it will smooth out once it’s added to the pasta.
  5. Add the sauce to the pasta, along with a tablespoon of reserved pasta water, and toss to combine. Keep adding pasta water by the tablespoon until the sauce is lightly coating all of the pasta.  Add the sausage and broccolini and toss to combine.  Finally, add the rest of the grated cheese and gently toss so that it melts and coats the ingredients.
  6. Serve in warmed bowls with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano on top and some more cracked black pepper.

Enjoy!

 

ice-and-Bake Rosemary Butter Cookies

It’s cookie season!  With December comes stacks on stacks of buttery, sugary cookies and the sweet friends who give and receive them.  I’m a big cookie fan, which I think is the same as saying I’m a big oxygen fan, because who doesn’t like a cookie?  Most of the time I’m a purist–plain chocolate chip never disappoints.  I always prefer chewy over crispy.  The bigger the better.  These are my cookie rules and they’re finite.
That said, I was so surprised to like these little darlings as much as I did.  They’re small, they don’t have chocolate, they’re crispy by design, and have a teensy bit of savoriness.  They break my cookie rules and I’m absolutely fine with it.

These cookies are a break from the frosted sweetness of most holiday cookies.  They’re slightly savory and herbaceous which comes from the rosemary, and feel almost like you’re enjoying a cracker, which makes it much easier to eat, you know, ten of them.

Let’s bake.

Assemble your ingredients: butter, flour, sugar, rosemary, vanilla, eggs, salt, and cornmeal for later.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together softened butter and sugar.  Let it get light and fluffy–over mixing at this point is better than under mixing.

Add an egg and some vanilla to the butter and sugar and mix until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides as needed.
Next, add some finely chopped fresh rosemary and the flour and salt and mix until just combined.
Divide the dough in half and place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Using the wrap and your hands, form the dough into a log by gently rolling and reshaping.  Wrap each log tightly at the ends.
Place the logs into the freezer for at least an hour to firm them up.  This is what makes them easy to slice-and-bake!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  When you’re ready to bake, unwrap the dough dust it with cornmeal all around the sides.  This step is optional, but gives the cookies a nice crunch.  Then slice it into 1/4 inch slices.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place cookie slices about an inch apart.  They won’t spread at all so you don’t have to worry about that.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning your pan halfway through.  In reality I didn’t bake mine near that long because my oven runs hot.  Watch these carefully, or they’ll burn, which I learned the hard way on batch #1.
When they’re golden brown on the edges, they’re done.  Transfer them immediately to a wire rack to cool.
These cookies are incredible.  They’re crispy and buttery and the herby notes from the rosemary put them over the top.  They’re addictive, too, so you’ll want to give them away quickly.
I made these as part of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013, which is coordinated and run in part by the Lindsay at Love and Olive Oil and Julie at The Little Kitchen.  This is the 3rd Cookie Swap that they’ve done with food bloggers internationally, and I was thrilled to participate.  I received three different batches of cookies from three bloggers and these babies, along with some chocolate vegan cookies I’ll be sharing with you soon, went out to three other bloggers.  It’s a great way to spread Holiday cheer and a little bit of sweetness far and wide.  Bonus–the entry fee went entirely to Cookies for Kids Cancer.  We cookie-swapping food bloggers raised over $10,000 for pediatric cancer research!  Cookies for good!

Make these and share with friends.  Spread the cheer!

Here’s the recipe.


Slice-and-Bake Rosemary Butter Cookies 
Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (thyme or sage would be great here too!)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cornmeal (optional)

Method

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar using the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Mix in egg and and vanilla until combined.
  2. Add flour, rosemary, and salt and mix on low until just combined.  Scrape down the sides as needed.
  3. Divide the dough in half and using plastic wrap, shape and roll each half into a log.  Wrap the logs tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for at least an hour.  Once chilled, preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Unwrap the dough and dust all sides with cornmeal.  Sflice into 1/4 inch slices.  Place on baking sheet 1 inch a part.
  4. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.  Watch them carefully, they’ll burn!  Once finished, remove and let cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

 

Quick Beans and Rice

Quick Beans and Rice

I went grocery shopping today, as I do most Sundays, and left the grocery store famished.  I needed something quick and easy so I went to my go-to quick fix, Rice and Beans.  It’s so easy I debated whether or not to even

mention it on here, but then again, it’s so delicious I had to.  Three ingredients, two of which come from a can, some salt, some pepper, and some kick.  That’s it!

Rice and Beans

1 can black beans
1 can Rotel stewed tomatoes with green chiles
1 cup of cooked rice
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste

Drain and rinse beans and drain tomatoes.  Add both to a sauce pan and heat through.  When these are heated through, add cooked rice and stir to combine.  Add salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.  Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy!

A great article You may be interested in: Best Stainless Steel Cookware

 

Slow Cooker Balsamic Barbecue Pulled Chicken

 

I’m silly excited about this recipe.  It’s the type of recipe that made me want to drop everything and tell you about it, unedited pictures and all (I didn’t.  I edited.  For you).  It’s the type of recipe that is so simple yet so eye-opening it makes me look at my slow cooker in a whole new light.
That may sound hyperbolic, but this chicken will do that to you.

You all know about my love affair with my family’s pulled pork recipe.  If I were on Next Food Network Star, pulled pork would be my signature dish.  This would be assuming that for the first time ever a food show decided to hold a competition without a time limit.  Ah well, one can dream.  With pulled pork in mind, as it almost always is, I decided to stitch together a recipe that draws the very best from pulled pork and a few other interesting recipes found here and there.  The result is a lighter, more weeknight friendly, totally mind blowing


This recipe gets most of its flavor from a surprising source.  Balsamic vinegar makes up the bulk of the sauce, with other more traditional barbecue ingredients help it along.  The amount of vinegar scared me a little, but the result was a balanced sauce that ended with a little vinegar kick.  It makes you go back for more, just to figure out what it is you’re tasting.  It’s vinegar, and it shouldn’t be limited to your salad.

Enough talk, let’s barbecue.

It starts with chopped onion and minced garlic.

Distribute the onions and garlic in an even layer at the bottom of your slow cooker, then place 3 large chicken breasts on top, trying to give them as much room as you can.
Season with salt and pepper.  Then, drawing from our pulled pork, press on some brown sugar.
Next, mix together the sauce.  I tried to take pictures of this, but when you add a cup of almost black balsamic vinegar, all the other ingredients get lost.  You’ll have to trust me here.  Whisk together balsamic vinegar, ketchup, honey, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.
Mix the sauce very, very well then pour it over the chicken breasts, making sure it covers them evenly.
Next, add about 1/2 cup of chicken stock just to make sure the chicken is completely covered in liquid.
Secure the lid of your slow cooker then set it to cook on high for 4 hours.
Walk away!  After about an hour and a half, turn the chicken.  Then, after 3-3 1/2 hours have passed, remove the chicken from the slow cooker and shred with two forks.  It should be fall-apart tender.
Return the shredded chicken to the sauce and mix it around.  Let it finish cooking with the lid off so the sauce thickens slightly, at least 30 minutes.
While that’s finishing, whip up some corn bread.  Like ranch dressing, I trust the professionals and use Jiffy corn muffin mix because it’s easy and delicious.  If you have a favorite corn bread method, by all means, do it.

When the cornbread is finished and the sauce has thickened slightly, it’s time to eat.  Split open some corn muffins, or squares of corn bread if you’re me and you hate cleaning muffin tins (seriously, I get why muffin liners were invented, not that I own any.  That thing is torture and I hate it).  Top the corn bread with the barbecue chicken, some chopped cilantro and a few slices of pickled jalapeños.  Spoon a  little sauce over the top for good measure.
Let’s start with the actual chicken.  It’s so tender and not at all dry, all credit going to the slow cooker. It literally pulls apart with a fork, which you know because I shredded it with two of them.
The sauce, though.  The sauce is a revelation.  It has a cup of balsamic vinegar, which I was certain meant that it would be bracingly acidic and taste more like a salad dressing than barbecue sauce.  But I was wrong.  Mind you, there’s also a lot of sweetness balancing the vinegar, but you can definitely taste it and it’s not offensive at all.
The brown sugar, honey and ketchup bring the sweetness that we’ve all come to know and love about barbecue sauce, and the Worcestershire sauce is a nod to the beginning of it all, pulled pork.
With the added spice of the pickled jalapeños and a bit of freshness from the chopped cilantro (from my garden!) this dish is balanced.  The buttery cornbread doesn’t hurt either, but you already knew that.
Promise me you’ll try this.  I feel like it’s a good book in that I can’t really enjoy it until I talk it out with someone.  Be that someone?  Please?

Here’s the recipe!

Slow Cooker Balsamic Barbecue Pulled Chicken 
Ingredients 

  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Pickled jalapeños and chopped cilantro for serving
  • Corn bread

Method

  1. Layer the onions and garlic evenly in the bottom of a slow cooker.  Add chicken on top.  Season with salt and pepper then evenly pack brown sugar on top.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, ketchup, honey, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.  Pour evenly over chicken, then top with chicken stock just to make sure everything is covered.
  3. Set slow cooker to cook on high for 4 hours, turning chicken once.
  4. At 3 hours, remove chicken from slow cooker and shred with two forks.  Return it to slow cooker and let it finish cooking with the lid of to slightly thicken the sauce, at least 30 minutes.
  5. Arrange corn bread on a plate and top with pulled chicken.  Spoon a little extra sauce over then top with pickled jalapeños and chopped cilantro.  (That’s optional, of course.  K didn’t use jalapeños or cilantro and liked his just fine.)

Enjoy!

A great article You may be interested in the power pressure cooker reviews 2017