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Tag Archives: pasta

Chickpeas and Pasta

19 Oct

Chickpeas and Pasta

“Just go away.”  I have uttered this often to my teenage students, in a variety of contexts, over the last twelve years since I started teaching high school English. I’ll say it as I attempt to take roll and a student asks me for the fortieth time if they need to skip lines when writing an essay, even though I have a large poster at the front of the room that clearly asserts, “Yes! Skip lines!” I’ll say it as I am but three words away from totally explaining the most impassioned and profound concept, which will alter their lives invariably thereafter, when one kiddo raises his hand and asks if he can go to the bathroom. I’ll say it when everyone is taking a final exam and the antsy, gregarious, loquacious student who finishes first asks me what I’m cooking for dinner that night. Loudly.

But truly, the context in which I most often say “just go away” relates to what they do after high school. I tell them to travel, to get away from their familiar environs, and just go away. You want to see South America? Good! Just go. Castles where knights rose and fell? Go. You want ninjas? Go. Where Napoleon died? Why? Never been to San Francisco? Go. You want to see hot Spanish chicks and dudes? Go. Make it happen and don’t wait.

Usually this is precipitated by me sharing about my backpacking trip around Europe when I was 23, fresh out of college. For two months, my best friend Pat and I went from Ireland, to Spain, to Germany, to Austria, to Czech Republic, to Netherlands, back to Spain, to France, and then home. We partied every night, slept on the floors of trains, saw Europe before it was the EU and before the internet localized the world, partied more, ate stuff that I still can’t identify, and basically changed our lives for good.

Physically, mentally, economically, or realistically, I cannot and will not ever be able to do this type of trip again. It was once in a lifetime, and I try to instill this in my students. “Do it now, kids, because you won’t be able to later. Trust me.” No money? I didn’t have much either. It took me until I was thirty to pay it off, but it was interest well bought. Just get out of town. Just go away.

As usual, I tangentially bring this up because, until that trip to Europe, chickpeas were something I refilled in the salad bar at Straw Hat pizza in my teens, not something I ate knowingly. Amsterdam changed that. Without going into details, I will posit that Amsterdam’s “coffee” shops are intentionally and strategically located next to shwarma and falafel stands (and KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, for that matter), so patrons succumbing to the munchies have no choice but to belly up to some serious grub on every side of them. They’ve got you by the balls convincingly. Before this time, I had never even heard of falafel, which is ground chickpeas and spices rolled into balls, deep fried, and then served in a pita with veggies and sauces. But after leaving a coffee shop and letting the holy grail of street food create new universes in my expanded mind, I ate them every day for a week. Sublime.

As the Food Network Empire and Darth Rachel came to power, chickpeas (garbanzos, or if you’re a pretentious prick, ceci, pronounced che’-chee) started getting some coverage in a variety of contexts. Unbeknownst to me, “chickpeas and pasta” are an Italian staple all over the boot. Although I personally had never had the dish, Darth Rachel’s scratchy voice assured me that it is “yum-o,” which of course comforts me in the recesses of my mind, Sand People pursuing or not.

In any case, this is a Weight Watcher’s recipe and I took only a few liberties with it. A good-size portion is a mere 7 on the old system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off frenetically). It’s vegetarian, filling, and good for you. It’s easy as hell to make, too, so it’s a perfect weekday dinner. And you will see that, as you eat this, you will tell people to just go away.

Chickpeas and Pasta

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups serving is an old Weight Watchers 7

Ingredients:

4 tsp. olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly

1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or a teaspoon dried, I’m guessing)

2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, divided

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 14 1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 16-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed well

1/4 tsp. each of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 zucchini or yellow squash, peeled and made into ribbons (I used the peeler to make thick ribbons, but only shave the meaty parts rather than the seedy parts)

2 cups cooked pasta, like rotini, penne, or ditalini

1/4 cup parmesan

Makin’ It:

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Saute the garlic for a minute and then add the carrots, rosemary, red pepper, and 1 tablespoon o’ the parsley. Saute this for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the tomatoes and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Start cooking the pasta about halfway through this.

Then, add the chickpeas, salt, pepper, and squash.  Simmer this for another 5 minutes, stirring here and there. Add in the pasta, parmesan, and the other tablespoon of parsley. Divide into four bowls and serve. Bob’s your uncle.

Chickpeas and Pasta 7

Now just go away.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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T.J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

15 Sep

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 10

In his book Heat, Bill Buford chronicles his adventures as an amateur slave cook for Mario Batali, and his immersion into the professional cooking world. Amongst the people he mentions in the novel is Lidia Bastianich. If you’ve never seen her show, try to find it. She is about as close to one of my Italian aunts in the kitchen as one could get. Her recipes will make your legs shake and you’ll get that squishy feeling like you did when your crush passed you in 2nd grade or when you straddled a swing too long.

I mention Lidia because one of my favorite pieces of wisdom comes from her in Buford’s book. He talks about the link between food and sex, and he refers to a conversation he had with Lidia on this very subject. When pressed to explain further, Lidia states that, of course food is like sex, and then throws him a rhetorical question, “‘What else do you put in someone’s body?'” I never thought of it that way, but it’s dead on when you think about it, and it’s why good food and wine can lead to a euphoric, erotic level of being.

And the connections can be drawn from there. Perhaps the encounter is a fifteen-minute exercise in lust on the kitchen counter, or a quickie in the front seat of your car as you take a break from a long road trip, or the clumsy first time when all the ingredients are there, but you’re unfamiliar with timing and how everything works together. Or maybe it’s a languid evening that requires four hours of musical ambiance, punctuated by the brief recognitions of humanity’s inherent beauty and the privilege you feel in recognizing it, or maybe you’re just starving and you tear open everything and scarf it all down while closing the front door with your back left heel. This could be food. This could be sex.

This recipe effuses sexuality in that it’s indulgent, but also smooth and simple. Most importantly, it’s easy. When I first read it over, I was uneasy about using a whole stick o’ butter, but it was the perfect complement to these ravioli. Serve this with some greens in a light vinaigrette, and you’re getting lucky on two levels.

I mentioned Lidia because it so happens that this sauce is from her book, Lidia’s Family Table. Also, I use Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli for this, but I think any good filled pasta would work famously with it. The recipe below serves 4, but I usually halve it since there are only two of us.

T. J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

Serves 4 or so

Ingredients:

2 packages Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli, or a filled pasta of your liking

2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs

8 tbsp. butter (1 stick)

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup of the pasta-cooking water

2 tbsp. chopped parsley, Italian would be optimal

1 cup Parmesan or Grana Padano

Makin’ It:

Get a big ol’ pot of salted water boiling for the pasta.

In a small skillet, toast the bread crumbs over medium to medium-high heat, tossing them often so that they get browned evenly. When they are almost all brown, drop in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl the pan around to melt the butter and stop the crumbs from getting too brown. Set this aside.

In a big skillet, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. Grind in the black pepper generously. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot pasta water and get it simmering. Keep stirring and simmering it as it reduces a bit while you wait for the pasta to finish.

Remove the cooked pasta from the big pot o’ water and add it to the skillet. Toss it with the sauce. Off the heat, toss in the Parmesan and parsley. Plate your pasta portions (dividing the sauce among the four plates, obviously) and sprinkle the toasted bread crumbs on top of each right before serving, like this:

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 2

Make and serve this, and it will be one of those encounters you remember in the wee hours of an insomniac night.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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

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

T.J.’s Butternut Squash and Ravioli with Béchamel Sauce

21 May

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Bechamel 3

This seemingly over-indulgent and altogether gorgeous dish will beguile you. You might think that you can’t possibly eat this without guilt. Believe it or not, this dish, with shaved cinnamon-crusted Toscano cheese, béchamel sauce (pronounced bay’-sha-mel), butternut squash ravioli, and passion, is but 10 points on the old Weight Watchers Points system (Points Plus and 360° can genuinely fuck off).  When I tabulated the points, I was blown away myself.

Yesterday, Sunday, we took our kid to his first big league ball game at the Big A and watched the Angels actually beat the White Sox under the Southern California sun. Since it’s a 3 1/2 hour drive for us each way, we decided to take the next day off, drop the kiddo off at daycare, and ponder the niceties of life.  Like date nights, these simple days off once in a while are important for families and general sanity, I’m realizing.

For example, non-holiday Monday morning shopping at Trader Joe’s cannot be more peaceful. It’s insightful, really, to realize that just the space of no kid or regular public around can truly make you see another angle in this life-journey that we travel. The rigmarole of wrangling with a kid who doesn’t want to get dressed, putting the kid in the car as they remark on the cracks in the sidewalk and that there are wipies on the floor of the car, having inane conversations about the construction equipment lining the streets, acknowledging that, yes, the back seat window is completely covered with melted stickers, dealing with glutted small town traffic replete with old people braking when they see leaves on the street, getting the kid out of the car without s/he running rampant through the parking lot, and finally chasing the kid around Trader Joe’s as he aims for every Achilles tendon to maim with his kid-cart…these activities make us forget that there was once a time when shopping always seemed to be accompanied by the old Price is Right music when Johnny was explaining each item upon which to be bid. It’s still there. I promise. I heard it today.

And with it, I found this:

Trader Joes Butternut Squash Triangoli

Of course, homemade ravioli are always superior, but they’re a pain in the ass to make. Alternatively, these are pretty awesome in my opinion, and I think you’ll agree.

When I calculated the WW points, each portion is a 4.  I knew that I had a WW béchamel sauce recipe that turned out to be a 3 for 1/2 cup o’ sauce, which is a good amount of sauce, I might add. We also topped it with a T.J.’s cinnamon-coated Toscano cheese, of which we only took a few shavings for each portion. A 10? Could it be true? ‘Tis.

And then it all struck me in an epiphany. The butternut squash ravioli with a nutmeg-flavored béchamel sauce, topped with shaved cinnamon Italian cheese, there is no need to say more; it’s a nut-buster on every level. Moreover, it’s light. Lastly, to make it, it’s as easy as a cougar in a fit of whimsy with a new dress from Nordstrom Rack.

T.J.’s Butternut Squash and Ravioli with Béchamel Sauce

Serves 3

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup flour

3 cups 1% milk

1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 white pepper

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 package Trader Joe’s Butternut Squash Triangoli

shavings of Toscano, grana, or parmesan cheese (again, the cinnamon coated Toscano cheese totally works with the squash and the nutmeg; it’s a match made in the heavens)

Makin’ It:

Note: You need to constantly whisk the sauce, kiddo, no joke. So give yourself 20 minutes or so to do it. If you don’t whisk it constantly, you will have a burnt milk mess on your hands. I’m just sayin’.

Get a big pot o’ water boiling for the pasta. When it’s boiling, add a few tablespoons of salt right before you put in the pasta. Get the sauce almost done before you start cooking the ravioli; timing is kind of key in all of this.

For the sauce, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat Whisk in the flour and it will get cake-y and crumbly. No worries. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly, until it’s totally smooth and those lumps are gone.  Add in the salt, white pepper, thyme, and nutmeg. Get this to a simmer to thicken it, which will take about 10 to 12 minutes (or more), as you whisk. When it’s a creamy consistency and it’s boiling a bit, you’ve nailed it.

Drain the cooked ravioli and toss it with some of the sauce. Divide the ravioli between three plates and top each with 1/2 cup of the béchamel sauce. Top this with some shaved cheese, and then sprinkle a bit of dried thyme on there to keep it real. You’ll get this:

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Bechamel 1

Butternut Squash Ravioli and Bechamel 4

Say it loud alone, but obnoxiously in mixed company:

Acqua fresca, vino puro,

Fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Until later, eat drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Chicken Marsala

11 May

Chicken Marsala 2

One of the best family stories I have (and it will somehow segue into a Chicken Marsala recipe) involves my dad emigrating to the U.S. from Naples, Italy. I called him to verify this, but he told me it was too far back to remember.  Still, whether it’s true or not, it’s a classic story.

Rumor has it that before my pop came here on the boat, he was told how to order apple pie and coffee in English.  It was pretty much all he knew how to say in English when he took the train to Gardena, California, where the family was waiting for him. Now this was in the 1950’s, so we’re talking about a long train ride from New York to LA.

Every time he ordered, it’d be, “Whaddaya want, Mack?”

“Apple-a pie-a and-a coffee.”

“Again? Jeez.”

After a week of apple pie for every meal, he never wanted to see or eat it again. It’s like a story in the “Welcome to America” mythology:  “As a new American, you should know that nothing’s as American as apple pie. So welcome to America, and here’s as much fucking apple pie as you can handle, rookie.” Whether it was my pop or a relative, it still must have happened to someone.

As I have written numerous times, I am lucky to be first generation when it comes to Italian food. I embrace it now, but I don’t think I understood it’s depth until I got into my twenties.  We never went to Italian restaurants when I was growing up.  Why would we?  Even now, if I find a good one, I will go there only to order something that I simply would never make at home because it’s a pain in the ass. Moreover, no Italian restaurant can hold a candle to what anyone in my family makes. So, the first few times I went to an Italian restaurant, I vaguely remember looking at some of the dishes (i.e. Chicken Marsala) and wondering what the hell they were.

I have found Chicken Marsala on almost every Italian restaurant’s menu, yet I never had it growing up. And in my experience, chicks dig this recipe. Before I had ever tried it, it would come up in casual conversation, usually on a first or second date, as we chatted about the Italian food with which I grew up.

“So your dad’s, like, from Italy? Like, from there? I love Italian food. You should, like, make me some one night.”

“I know.  It’s a trip that my dad’s from there. He’s got an accent and everything.”

Really? Oh my god, I love Chicken Marsala. I bet your family, like, makes the most rad Chicken Marsala, right? Oh my god, I’m, like, making myself soooo hungry.”

“Right on. What are you going to order?”

“Like, a California roll. And those edie-mommy beans. They’re, like, totally good for you.” I dated a lot of girls who spoke in italics when talking to an Italian, obviously.

In any case, the first time I tried it, I loved it. It’s relatively easy to make and, truth be told, it’s not that fattening, either. On the old Weight Watchers, half a chicken breast is a 7 (Points Plus and 360° can both fuck off wantonly). You could probably save a few points by subbing non-fat cooking spray for the butter, but you would sacrifice flavor, I’m afraid.

This recipe is straight from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook with few modifications.

One note: use Marsala wine.  It’s cheap, and substituting a dry sherry or Madeira just doesn’t work out as well. I’ve tried. I know.

Chicken Marsala

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp. dried marjoram

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cups sliced mushrooms

4 green onions, sliced into 1/4″ pieces

3 tbsp. butter or margarine

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup Marsala wine

Sliced green onions for garnish

Hot cooked pasta, like angel hair or linguine

Makin’ It:

Place each chicken breast between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a mallet or a small skillet, pound them into 1/4″  thickness and discard the plastic. On a flat plate or in a wide shallow bowl, combine the flour, marjoram, salt, and pepper. Coat each breast on both sides and shake off the excess. Set it aside for a bit.

In a large skillet, melt ONE tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add in the mushrooms and green onions and cook them until they’re tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove them from the skillet and set them aside for a bit.

In the same skillet, melt the two remaining tablespoons o’ butter. Add in the chicken breasts and brown them evenly, turning once, about 6 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat and put the mushrooms and green onions back in it. Add the broth and Marsala to the skillet, return it to the heat, and get it boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer it, uncovered, for about 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt and pepper.

Place a 1/2 cup hot pasta on a plate and place a chicken breast on it. Spoon the mushroom sauce over it all and serve. If you’re sexy, you’ll garnish it with a few more sliced green onions. Bob’s your uncle, and my uncle, come to think of it.

Chicken Marsala 5

You’ll agree that it’s, like, totally bitchin’.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

The Sauce

30 Mar

The Sauce

I can think of no better picture to accompany this blog post than the one above.  It truly says volumes about my heritage, my blood line, my handsomeness, and the true essence of Italian food.  I believe this was the first or second time Tony had eaten my sauce, and he has always done so with gusto, as should everyone.  Funnily enough, this scungillio is a picky eater (unlike his uncles and his pop), but when it comes to my sauce on pasta, he’s at the table waiting with fork in hand as we put the plates together.

I have posted two tomato-based pasta sauce recipes on here before, and in both posts I made sure to note that they aren’t MY sauce.  I have also said that most Italians have their own version of sauce (again, I never heard the term “Sunday gravy” until I saw The Sopranos), which is most likely derived from their mom’s or nonna’s recipe. I am no different in this regard.  My mom taught me how to make sauce eons ago, and after screwing with and tweaking the recipe for years, I finally got to my version which tastes like no other I’ve had anywhere.  I didn’t even write it down until about 5 years ago; a student wanted to make her boyfriend dinner and asked if I knew how to make spaghetti and meatballs.  Writing it down was the tough part because I always had just made it, kind of like singing a tune you’ve known for years under your breath as you work away.

In any case, I truly think that an Italian’s sauce mirrors their soul to a degree, and ’tis true concerning this one.  Me?  I’m sanguine, sweet, complex, thick, and intense.  And so is my sauce.

Another essential element of a good sauce is this:

The Pasta Pot

The pot (and the readiness) is all.  Notice how it’s not perfect like a Martha Stewart ad: it has chips in it, it’s discolored, the lid handle’s a bit loose.  Yet I swear by this cast-iron beast and it’s importance in making a good sauce.  My mom swore by hers, too, which was an ugly olive green monster of a pot that weighed 15 pounds at least.  A good pot cooks everything evenly, so go to T.J. Maxx, drop $20, and you’ll have this buried with you when the time comes. It’s a must.

Half of the time, I make a Bolognese-style sauce, which is with browned ground meat in it; the other half of the time I make a marinara, which is sans meat.  With either one, you can make some meatballs or sausages, of course, which will add to the overall flavor of the sauce.  Personally, I rarely eat pasta because I prefer to make a meatball or Italian sausage sandwich on some good bread.  Make a salad to round it all out and everyone’s happy.

The Sauce

One batch will serve 4 to 6 people, usually

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 lb. ground beef, pork, or veal (turkey would work too, although ‘twould be sacrilege), browned and drained (optional)

5 cloves garlic, peeled

2- 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes (or whole peeled tomatoes crushed with your hands)

1 1/2 cups red wine

1 1/2 cups water

(*or enough red wine and water to fill one of the big cans, which is what I do)

2- 6 oz. cans tomato paste

1 tbsp. salt

3 tbsp. sugar

1 heaping tbsp. dried basil

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, depending on your spice-whimsy

and about 3 hours of time

Makin’ It:

In a large pot (like the one mentioned in my preamble), heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the onions. You need to get them brown, and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to do it.  This is the most important part, really. It’s where the flavor of the sauce comes from.  When they’re brown, throw in the garlic cloves and, if you’re using it, the browned meat.

Carefully pour in the tomatoes.  Pour the wine and water into the cans and swish it around to get as much tomato as possible from the cans.  (Note:  I wrote 1 1/2 cups of each liquid above, but I guesstimated because I usually use the equivalent of one large tomato can o’ wine and water, as noted above.) Stir.

Stir in the tomato paste, salt, sugar, basil, and red pepper flakes well.  Raise the heat to high and get it boiling.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 or 3 hours until it’s thick and happy.  Scrape the sides of the pot every 15 minutes (or so) so the sauce doesn’t stick to the sides.  Taste for salt, dip some bread in there and mangia while you cook-a.

If you’re making meatballs or sausages, put them in during the last hour of cooking and serve them on the side.  Pour the sauce over your favorite pasta and pass the parmigiano.  Pour some vino, raise the glasses, say it loud, and say it proud:

Acqua fresca, vino puro,

Fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013