Posted in Recipes

Pasta Gricia with Truffle

Pasta Gricia with Truffles 1

A while ago, I did a post featuring the Italian cured hog jowl meat known as Guanciale and I included a picture of a Spaghetti Carbonara I made using it. There are two fairly famous Italian dishes made using Guanciale (or sometimes Pancetta, or else regular bacon) and these are the aforementioned Pasta Carbonara and Pasta Amatriciana. Both of these are descendants of a simpler dish known as Pasta alla Gricia, which is basically pasta tossed in the pan with cooked Guanciale, generous amounts of pepper, grated cheese and sufficient pasta water to make a rich ‘sauce’.

Today, I am using the ‘alla Gricia’ style as my base but I am creating a ‘descendant’ version by adding sliced black truffle along with some brocollini for a little color and texture… Continue reading “Pasta Gricia with Truffle”

Posted in Ingredients

Guanciale

Guanciale 1

Most people have had, or even cooked, some sort of ‘Carbonara’ style pasts dish at one time or another (Spaghetti alla Carbonara, being especially favored), and generally, this will be made with the unsmoked Italian style bacon known as ‘Pancetta’, or, sometimes even, the regular, everyday smoked bacon commonly served with breakfast. The favoured traditional pork product, however… the ne plus ultra one might say, is Guanciale… which are salted and dry-cured hog jowls, or ‘pig-cheeks’ for the more genteel among you.

The preparation of guanciale is a bit more complex than for the belly pork equivalent represented by Pancetta. The fatty jowls are rubbed with salt, sugar and spices (pepper, thyme and fennel are common), and then hung and air-dried for three weeks or so. In the above picture, you can see a 200 gram piece I bought in Ottawa… You should be able to make out the mixed herb and spice mixture that was used, as well as the string that was looped through one corner in order to hang it.

The beauty of Guanciale, in contrast to the belly, is the dense, white, very creamy fat that lends a lovely sweet unctuousness to pasta carbonara, or, indeed, to any other dishes where it is employed.  As the product is cured, it can also be eaten ‘raw’ as is and, before cooking myself a carbonara with some of my current chunk, I tried doing so… I was a little hesitant as the cut has a very high ratio of fat to meat, but it actually proved to be delectable. I cut it a little thicker than paper-thin and it was delightfully chewy and unctuously tender at the same time, with the sweet, slightly apple-like flavor of a good prosciutto.

Mostly, of course, Guanciale is used as the decadent focus in several different pasta dishes… Continue reading “Guanciale”

Posted in General

Beef Carpaccio at Play, Food and Wine

PFW Beef Carpaccio

I have mentioned Ottawa’s Play, Food and Wine many times on this blog. It is a cross between a bistro and a wine bar and I like going there when I visit the city as they change their menu frequently and offer interesting pairing suggestions from their decent selection of wine. On my last visit in March, I enjoyed the Beef Carpaccio dish you see pictured above. I thought it worth featuring here as it was quite innovative in the ingredients used and was an interesting take on the usual presentation.  The dish was described on the menu as ‘Beef Carpaccio with jerk spice, jalapenos, greens and Comte’, which was sort of accurate, but also not quite what I received…

The beef itself appeared to me to be the same thin slices you can buy for Chinese Fondue or Hotpot from your local supermarket. I am not being critical in relaying that fact, indeed, the quality of the beef was excellent and I think I may borrow the idea for myself, sometime. There was a bit of a disappointment in that there was nothing remotely ‘jerk-like’ about the meat, and no hint of seasoning that suggested anything vaguely Jamaican… I think a little regular pepper was used, but there were no other aromatic dried spices that I could detect. Quite honestly, though, I didn’t miss it all that much and I think it is possible that the duty chef that evening may have simply forgotten add it.

There was also no actual Jalapenos on the plate, as such, but the vinaigrette for the mesclun greens did contain Jalapeno oil and the little spark of heat this added proved very nice. There was also some pickled Yuca included (which wasn’t mentioned in the description), and I liked that tart counterpoint to the rest of the dish. The other departure from the traditional that this Carpaccio made was that, instead of the usual shavings of Parmesan, or Romano, the cheese added atop the beef was a variety called ‘Comté’. I had to ask about this and it turns out that it is a French cow’s milk cheese (also known as Gruyère de Comté) produced in eastern France. It was, I though, something like a mild, slightly waxy cross between Swiss and Parmesan, and I like it very much.

As for the wine, the menu suggested a Agricola Tiberio Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2017, which is a rose from Abruzzi in Italy. I tried it and it was quite dry and somewhat acidic, with nice notes of cherry, citrus, orange blossom and melon. I am not sure if I would particularly choose this to pair with the Carpaccio I had, but it went well enough and was a decent sipping wine in its own right. On the whole, I was pleased with the combination of experiences…

Posted in Product Reviews

Aurora Brand Giardiniera

Aurora Giardiniera 1

Giardiniera is an Italian mixed pickle that I have been long been meaning to try making for myself, but which, alas, remains one of the many projects still on my to-do-someday list. The version you see here is a product of the United States made available in Canada by Aurora Importing and Distributing. This company lists quite a wide range of products on their Website, and I have often purchased their Anchovy Paste in a tube.

The basic Giardiniera consists of a melange of cut vegetables that are first brined and then pickled in a seasoned oil and vinegar mix. Sometimes the vegetables are cut quite large and the result is consumed as ‘bite-size’ pickles, and in other cases, as here, the pieces are quite fine and the product is more of a relish used as a condiment on things like sandwiches, or burgers, and so forth.

Olive tends to the olive oil of choice but, here, soybean oil is used. The mix contains sweet peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery and gherkins (which is a pretty common sort of blend), but hot peppers are included in many versions. The ingredients merely list ‘spices’ for the seasoning, but it does add (a bit ominously) ‘MAY CONTAIN: Mustard’.

This particular product is very well brined and the first impression of is a definite, but not unpleasant saltiness. The vinegar is used fairly lightly, and the original taste of the vegetables is still ‘somewhat’ apparent, but what I found curious is that there is actually a rather sharp bite here that suggests hot peppers were used, if only sparingly. Perhaps this is the mustard they warned as about…

Anyway, I quite liked this and, after the initial taste test, I used it as a jazzy condiment on a vegetarian pizza, and also on a series of sandwiches. The one sort of ‘failing’ here is that the colors are a bit muted and not as vibrant as would more likely be the case in a homemade, short pickle version. In less than two weeks from the date of writing this, I shall be in Ottawa and may well try a different brand or two from one of the excellent Italian food shops there…. I will report 😊

Posted in General

Beef Carpaccio at E18teen…

E18teen Beef Carpaccio

Well, I have start out by saying that E18teen is one of my favorite restaurants in Ottawa. The ambience is great, the service always top-notch, and the dishes I have been served have all been pretty much excellent. Occasionally, though, every good restaurant is going to produce a ‘clanger’ or two, and the Beef Carpaccio interpretation I had on my last visit sadly fell into that category …

The menu described the selection as follows:

 

Beef Carpaccio

Smoked oyster emulsion, fried caper, harissa aioli, pickled shallot, garnished with baby shiso leaf

 

Well … to unpack this, I can say that the beef was sliced well and laid out nicely, which makes this pretty good so far a ‘Carpaccio’ dish, but, from there, unfortunately, things started to go downhill.

The pickled shallot was nice, and added a bit of tang to the overall effect and the fried capers had a nice smoky taste. The smoked oyster aioli, however, did not work. The idea of making a mayo type emulsion using the oil from smoked oysters was a truly inspired idea, I thought,  but the pairing here was a bit unfortunate. Somewhere else, perhaps, but not for this dish …

The real mistake was the olive oil. In other carpaccia, there is almost always a drizzle of olive oil over the beef slices but here, the drizzle became a river … everything was basically swimming in the stuff so that all the delicate flavors were overwhelmed and the textures largely lost in an unctuous mess… What a shame.

Sorry E18teen. I will be back, but this one was not a winner …

Posted in General

Octopus on Black Risotto

PFW Grilled Octopus

This little dish I had at Play, Food & Wine in Ottawa a while ago was listed on the men as: Grilled Octopus with Black Rice Risotto, Saffron Mayo and Cipollini. Now, I love octopus and order it often when I see it, but in this case, I probably wouldn’t have bothered writing a post about it except for the interesting accompaniment of black rice.

The octopus itself was, sad to say, not quite up to this establishment’s usual high standard; It was, to be honest, at less than peak freshness and it had been overcooked to the point that the texture had suffered.

The Saffron Mayo, which appears as the yellow blobs in the above picture, tasted quite nice when taken alone but the flavor was so delicate that it got completely lost as an accompaniment to everything else. The Cipollini, which are a bit hard to see in the picture, were very nice, but I am not entirely sure what they were. Cipollini is a generic Italian name for small onions, but it also refers to the bulb of a particular sort of hyacinth that is also eaten in some Mediterranean cuisines. In any event, what I was served in this dish was lightly pickled and it lent a nice tangy counterpoint to the other flavors.

It was the rice, though, that stole the show for me, not the least because it is the first time I have ever tasted this black variety. It was served, ostensibly, as a Risotto, but it was quite dry and much closer to the way I cook Risotto rather than the creamy, nearly soupy, consistency it generally has. The grains were very small and short, being almost spherical, and the flavor was lovely with a rich nuttiness over a faintly earthy backdrop. The texture was also very pleasant and had a chewy quality to it that you don’t commonly get in most rice varieties. The appearance is a bit alarming, perhaps, but I thought it made a very nice bed for the rather disappointing octopus…

Posted in Recipes

Pasta Salsa Cruda

Pasta Salsa Cruda 1

‘Salsa Cruda’, in Italian cookery, is simply a term that means ‘raw sauce’. As such, in can, in theory, be composed of just about anything, but the basic version is usually a blend of chopped tomatoes in olive oil with garlic and basil. You can of course, jazz it up with whatever herbs or raw vegetables you like and, for today’s recipe, I have used several additional ingredients beyond the basic.

Mostly, a salsa cruda is used as a pasta sauce, as I have done here, but it could also be prepared as a topping for Bruschetta, a side for cold cuts or raw vegetables, or even as a ‘relish’ to use in sandwiches… Continue reading “Pasta Salsa Cruda”