Archive | August, 2013

Italian Green Beans

28 Aug

 

Italian Green Beans 2

I often find myself paging through my memory for a “good” side dish to whatever I’m making that evening. As Ina Garten has said many times in effect, you have to figure out what the “star” of any given meal is. Is it the main course? Is it that odd potato recipe you had at Chez Sexy that you tried to replicate and for which you want your family to salivate? Is it simply a kick-ass veggie dish that’s good for you AND complements the main dish? What’s the new trick you have up your sleeve?

Most of us aren’t entertaining every night, so it follows that mealtime can be repetitive. I admit, I get bored easily with repetition. It’s a drummer thing, I think, so I’m always looking for variation on least one part of the meal. I could be making a solid main course, one I make every week, in fact. But my curiosity makes me wonder how I can add some oomph to whatever I’m cooking. Does my day revolve around it? No. But, it spices dinnertime up for me. It’s part of being creative. It’s part of living.

I’ve had these green beans regularly since I was a lad, and every member of my family knows how to make them. If I’m making a heavy main dish, often I will forgo the veggie or salad just because I know I’ll be full and, truth be told, I want to scarf more pasta or steak or whatever instead of obligatory greens. These green beans fix that problem. I want to eat these as much as the main course.  They can serve as the “star” of what would have been an ordinary meal. Moreover, they’re good for you. A lot of veggie recipes get their flavor from adding tons o’ fat in the form of cheese or butter, but not so with these guys. A little olive oil is the only indulgence.

Italian Green Beans

Serves 6, I would think

Ingredients:

1 pound green beans, regular or French, trimmed

3 tbsp. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes, or use diced tomatoes, undrained, and crush them by hand

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 cup water

salt and pepper to taste

Makin’ It:

First you need to parboil the green beans, which means you have to cook them partially before you finish them in the tomato sauce. How long you parboil them depends on how big the green beans are; for example, thin French green beans will be quick to parboil. So, get a pot of salted water boiling, add the green beans, and cook them until they’re fork tender but still retain a crispness to them. Drain them and set them aside.

In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic slices. Saute them until they’re golden. Then add the tomatoes, oregano, water, and the drained green beans. Get this to a simmer and cook them for about 10 minutes, until the sauce reduces a bit. Season with salt and pepper and you’re in business.

Italian Green Beans 1

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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T.J.’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli with Easy Homemade Pesto

23 Aug

Arugula and Parm Ravioli with Pesto (10)

As the years progress, I keep adding to my list of items that I will no longer buy in a grocery store: croutons, pot pies, Brut Aftershave, certain salad dressings, frozen cream pies, pizza rolls, Texas toast, last minute gifts for family members, anything from Little Debbie, lingerie, et al. Amongst these items is pesto sauce.

I admit, I used to think pesto was pretty highfalutin when I first started cooking. It’s probably because of how it was first marketed. I remember around the time that I actually read Under the Tuscan Sun (in the ’90’s at some point), the whole summer-in-Tuscany-while-dining-al-fresco-with-really,-really-sexy-people became ubiquitous in t.v. commercials, cooking shows, and advertisements in general. To indulge in pesto, I believed, meant that I had to be not just a “foodie,” but I had to be a foodie cool enough and affluent enough to buy most of my home furnishings from yuppie catalogs and then practice recreating the pictures in those catalogs with any skinny, sexy white friends that I might have had (I had maybe 2, total, at the time. Now, none.). I imagined I’d have to be fluent in Chardonnay, sweaters, nanny-comparison-talk, South Orange County faux-Mediterranean architecture, and the brief history of Irvine north of the 5 freeway. Alas, I was, and still am, horribly deficient in these categories, so I felt that pesto was beyond my reach socially, intellectually, and sexually.

But as I learned my ways around the kitchen, the mystique around pesto started to dissipate for me, probably in part due to the Great Recession sending the once al-fresco-dining-really,-really-sexy-people to shop at WalMart instead of Eddie Bauer. Furthermore, my wife lived in Florence, Italy, to study abroad in her early twenties, and she has had a love affair with pesto ever since, so I had to get it on the menu somehow. I started cautiously with the store bought stuff and it pleasantly surprised me. “I’m loving this and I’m not nearly that sexy,” thought I at the time.

After a few more years in the kitchen, I finally decided to tackle homemade pesto. Searching for recipes assuaged my fears; pesto is probably the easiest, quickest pasta sauce to make if you have the ingredients, which can be found at any grocery store nowadays. I nailed it the first time I made it and I had an epiphany about something I already knew: Italian food is generally simple to make. Advertisers and marketers would have you think differently, though, so fuck them. Thus, pesto is now on my list of items never to buy at a store.

On another note, I have a deep love for Trader Joe’s, and generally every pre-made item I get there tastes fantastic. The Trader Giotto’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli are marvelous and this homemade pesto sauce perfects them. Top it with a few shaves of Parmesan or Grana Padano, and you’re gettin’ laid.

Easy Homemade Pesto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 cups packed, fresh basil leaves

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup raw pine nuts

2/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Makin’ It:

Put the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor (or blender, if you’re ghetto like that) and pulse it until it’s chopped. Add in the olive oil and process this until it’s smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Add in the salt and pepper and pulse a few times more. Transfer this to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Easy as a divorcee with oats to sow.

Assemblage:

You’ll need:

1 package of Trader Giotto’s Arugula and Parmesan Ravioli (or any ravioli or pasta that tickles your taint at the time)

1/2 recipe or more of the above pesto recipe

Shaved, shredded, or grated Parmesan, Romano, or Grana Padano

Assemblin’ It:

Cook the ravioli according to the package instructions. Drain and toss the ravioli with about 1/2 of the pesto recipe until each ravioli is well coated. Use more pesto if it blows your hair back. Top with the cheese and you get this:

Arugula and Parm Ravioli with Pesto (1)

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Carol’s Beans and Chips

15 Aug

Beans and Chips 002

As we grew up, my house became a magnet for my brothers’ and my friends in large part because of my mom’s cooking. While I am sure that our gregariousness has attracted multitudes over time, my bros and I know that behind it all lurked the desire for my mom’s lasagna, burritos, pizza, and these here beans and chips. She always made enough and it was always that goddamn good.

For the past few years on Facebook, I’ve posted a picture of a little tradition we have at my house. On my mom’s birthday in March, we set up a mini “Carol feast” with her picture as an effigy, complete with Lipton’s Instant Iced Tea and a pack of Parliament Light cigarettes from the last carton she owned before she passed away (her actual last half-smoked pack of grits is in her coffin alongside a jar of Lipton’s, fyi). This little celebration always features potato chips and onion dip, brie with almonds and honey, and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne to round it all out. She served this to guests 90% of the time she entertained after we all had grown up. Rather than cry, we toast a great woman and try to imitate her cackling laugh as closely as we can.

Inevitably when I post a picture of this, a few of my friends will comment on the post with “dude, Carol’s beans and chips. Best thing ever,” or similar sentiments. The beans and chips, so simple to make, were a staple for me and my friends at least twice a week during my teenage years. The key to their beauty is in the homemade chips; it can neither be fathomed nor appreciated using a suitcase o’ Mission tortilla strips or rounds. You have to fry corn tortilla triangles in oil, salt ’em hot, and dip ’em into seasoned refried beans while warm. Nothing like it.

Another component of this dish involves a Southern California institution: Del Taco. We call it either “Del” or “the Del,” and the chain evolved from another beautiful SoCal institution, Naugles (one can still be found in Fullerton, I believe). I am pretty sure that most truly old-school OC natives will tell Taco Bell to take a flying fuck over the Del, to be honest. We all have our routines when we eat there, too, and can readily identify our friends’ Del routines without batting an eye. For example, Jimmy and Griz always put fries in their burritos. My brother Chris’s go-to is a large red burrito with sour cream. Here’s Griz representing:

Griz

One of the most crucial parts of experiencing Del is the Mild Sauce they serve in packets. I am convinced that they have never bottled it so people will still indulge in their Del addictions. People might kill for this sauce. For example, one of my best friends got a box o’ Del Mild Sauce packets, a whole box, for his birthday and he’d be hard pressed to tell you of a better present. One of my most egregious fouls had to be when I stopped a friend from filling a large bag of Mild Sauce to take back east to college because I thought we’d get in trouble. I now realize that I was being a large pussy, but I have since apologized to him profusely.

Why do I bring this up? Well, that Mild Sauce is the perfect seasoning for the canned refried beans needed for this recipe. And yes, you have to rip open and squirt all 15 or more packets into the beans: it connects you to them. It reminds you of Del’s beauty and singularity. It’s both euphoric and sublime. Still you can use any hot sauce you like and it’ll work; I just wanted to pontificate about the Del for awhile and make this post longer because the recipe itself is short and basic.

Carol’s Bean and Chips

Serves 4 normal people or 2 teenagers.

Ingredients:

2 or 3 cans of refried beans, any type you like

15 packets (or more) of Del Taco Mild Sauce or 1/3 cup of hot sauce of your liking

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup or more vegetable oil for frying

1 package of corn tortillas, cut into triangles

salt to taste

love

Makin’ ‘Em:

In a medium sauce pan, add the refried beans, Del or hot sauce, sour cream, and 1/4 cup of the cheddar cheese. Heat this over low to medium low heat, stirring fairly often to mix it all up and to keep it from burning on the bottom and sides. Keep this going as you fry the chips.

In a large skillet, add the oil and heat it over medium-high heat. When a drop of water cracks in the oil, it’s ready. Working in batches, fry about 6 to 9 chips at a time, turning them as needed to get a golden brown. Be careful doing this as the oil is muy dangerous. I use a fork and tongs for the flipping and removing. When they’re golden, remove them from the oil and drain them on paper towels. Salt them while they’re hot (it melts onto them) and then add another layer of triangles to the oil. Do this until you’ve fried them all. I usually remove the done chips to a serving basket to keep them warm.

Add the warm beans to a serving dish and sprinkle it with the rest of the cheddar cheese. Serve it warm with the chips and thank me (and Carol) later. You’ll get this:

Beans and Chips 006

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Walnut Gorgonzola Fettuccine

8 Aug

Walnut  Gorgonzola  Fettucine 007

Things I’ve learned upon turning into a 40 year-old man

1.  If you have children, everything you did as a child comes back to haunt you amplified times 7.

2.  There is no shame in spending a good amount of time in Bath and Body Works searching for a pleasant smelling hand cream. No need to be nonchalant about it; it will make your day better.

3.  The grass isn’t greener. It’s a mirage brought on by your terrible thirst.

4.  The 1940’s and 1950’s never go out of style. Ever.

5.  Many of the “good” people who married young didn’t sow their oats enough when they were young, so they succumbed to #3 and are now either miserable or divorced.

6.  Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” sucks in every way and no one should play it ever again.

7.  Human nature’s predictable repetition is a beautiful thing. I made it through 1980’s style, so its resurgence is a bottomless source of amusement and laughter for me.

8.  Man-scaping is not necessary; it depends on what your partner wants.

9.  On the whole, most people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, especially the overly-zealous religious ones.

10.  “Violent antipathies are always suspect and betray a secret affinity.” -William Hazlitt

11.  The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Rush are that good. So is Neil Diamond.

12.  Don’t trust farts.

13.  Technology is my friend, but I’ve earned that friendship through the years: no garage door opener, no remote, Pong, Atari, cable switch box, 8 track cassettes, cassettes, vinyl, typewriters. I could go on for quite some time here, but if you lived through it, you get it.

14.  Making a tape or even a CD for someone was a labor of love and an art form that cannot be replicated now.

15.  Punch a bully in the nose once and they’ll usually leave you alone.

16.  Check your pockets before throwing them in the washing machine.

17.  The difference between pink and purple is your grip.

18.  Buy American. They get everything from China.

19.  There was only one Johnny Carson. Alas.

20. Making a light meatless pasta doesn’t emasculate me; it makes me even sexier and more worldly.

#20 leads into the recipe. And without further ado, here’s a pasta that’s meatless, sexy, worldly, and a 6 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off wontonly).  I admit, I double it and suffer a 12 because it’s so good, but that’s me.  It’s one of their recipes that’s actually excellent and made by someone who knows how to cook, an often rare concept in the WW world.  While this has a light taste, it’s filling and wonderful, and it’s beyond easy to make.  Try it and you’ll see. You’ll also see that it’s a perfect get-laid-dish for a male (40 year-old or not) with few cooking skills.

Walnut Gorgonzola Fettuccine

Serves 4, 1 cup each

Ingredients:

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese.

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 tsp. lemon zest

6 oz. fettuccine

1/4 cup walnuts, toasted lightly

1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

2 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

Makin’ It:

1.  In a bowl, whisk together the ricotta, chicken broth, and lemon zest until ’tis smooth.

2.  Cook the fettuccine according to the package or to your liking. Drain it and return it to the pot. (Note: don’t totally drain and dry the pasta. A little of the pasta water is good to keep it all moist. Just don’t overdo it.)

3. Add in the ricotta mixture and toss it well. Add in the walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, and parsley. Toss it all again. Using tongs, grab a portion (1/4 if serving four smaller portions, 1/2 if serving two bigger portions) and twirl it into a bowl or onto a plate. Make sure you evenly distribute the walnuts and cheese as they have a tendency to settle at the bottom of the toss pot (British folks may laugh at this point). I usually will top each portion with the extra nuts and cheese.

Walnut Gorgonzola Fettucine 001

Easy as turning 40.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013