Daily Archives: June 27, 2014

SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA, A GIFT FROM NAPLES, ITALY…BELLA NAPOLI!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Ever not know what to cook?  It happens all the time and so often a meal starts  by opening the refrigerator then taking a peak as to what’s available.  It’s such a popular way to decide what you are going to cook that the Food Network’s hit CHOPPED is loosely based on that premise.  You are presented with a random group of ingredients and that will spark an idea.  This was what I found one evening after work in the fridge:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Gaeta Olives (an Oil Cured Black Italian Olive), flat leaf Italian Parsley, Sicilian Anchovies, Salt Cured Capers…to that I added some standard pantry items like Dried Sicilian Oregano, Peperoncino, Garlic, San Marzano Tomaotes.  PUTTANESCA went off in my brain.  I had no plan of making that but it was right there in front of me..CHE FORTUNATO!!! What’s a puttanesca?  It’s a dish with legendary and questionable origins with many stories swirling around as to why, who, and what caused this dish to be created.  The ingredients are basic to the cuisine of the area in and around the city of Naples,  BELLA NAPOLI!  My own heritage is based in Naples as that’s the city my maternal grandmother lived in from the time she was 10 until she immigrated to Staten Island, NYC at the age of 20.   These ingredients along with dried pasta are always in my fridge and pantry.  So, this so called “Whore’s Pasta”, (Puttanesca translates to made by Prostitutes) was most likely born of the same circumstances as my dinner was, using the ingredients on hand to create something delicious.  Not so sure that the local street walkers concocted it to feed themselves and their Pimps inbetween “jobs”…ok..we can say that’s what happened because stories are always better when they are scandalous. Naples is a  crowded ancient city which spawned most of what America considers is the food of Italy.  It sits the shadow of Mt.VesuviusOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand has given my kitchen table so much inspiration.  Puttanesca Sauce is one of those favorites I love to cook.  As with most Italian Sauces and pasta preparations it’s relatively quick.  Yes, Yes, I know, your Nonna cooked her sauce for 100 hours on a Sunday so don’t even start with me..that’s only one type of Italian sauce.  There aren’t enough days in the year to discuss each region’s pasta dishes.  Have no fear of the time factor!  A pasta dish during the week is not a long and laborious process!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Let’s pass through the gates of the Port of Naples now and enter the #AFOKitchen, my #AFoodObsession playground, ie: my  home’s kitchen and start to cook SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA.

This recipe will feed 4 people and will take approximately 30 minutes or so.  (by the way don’t panic if you are falling behind on the time..that is just a guide..if you are still cooking it after an hour i suggest you order out…lol)

1 lb. good Italian Imported Spaghetti (cheap pasta is just that, it’s cheap, filling, but lacks the toothsome qualities the better pasta gives you.  DeCecco, Barilla, Delverde, a few of the good choices, although Barilla is now made in the U.S.)

2 tbs. salt cured capers, ran under water and drained

1 cup pitted and coarsely chopped CURED Italian Olives, such as the Gaeta variety  (canned black olives lose any flavor when cooked, the oil cured are amazing and stay flavorful throughout the cooking process.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 large cloves of garlic, sliced

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 can crushed San Marzano Tomatoes

Anchovies..here’s where I am going to veer away from possibly what many prefer, i used about 4 filets in this dish, others prefer up to 12…you be the judge.  Anchovies are a concentrated powerhouse of salt and Mediterranean fish love.  chop them.

1 tsp. peperoncino (red pepper flakes)

Salt to taste (sea salt best for this)

1/8 cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley

In a wide pan heat 2 tbs of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil..add the olives,  the oregano that you rub between your hands first then let it fall into the pan, add 1/2 the peperoncino, then the garlic and anchovies. Add 1/2 the parsley.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Your nose is your best cooking tool, after your hands and once you can smell that garlic you are now ready to add the tomatoes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and the capers. Bring this to a boil THEN down to a simmer and let this cook for 15-20 minutes.  Stir frequently, and why? Tomatoes are loaded with natural sugar (they are a fruit!!)and they will burn and scorch.  Number one pet peeve with having tomato sauced foods out…scorched sauce. You don’t need to cook it that long!!!  Sorry, I digress, back to the pan of sauce before I burn it!!  While this is happening in your pan cook the spaghetti just until AL DENTE according to the package directions.  Drain and then add directly into the pan and toss well for no more than 3-4 minutes. Then serve.  Simple.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Here’s an important note…add salt to taste only if you need it..the capers and anchovies and the cured olives have plenty of salt in them.  However some like more punch than others so don’t add it until everything has been added and cooked down.  You can always ADD salt, you can never TAKE IT OUT.

See that…that dish you thought would take so long to make?  It’s not that hard and here’s why, Italian Plums, especially San Marzanos cook down rather quickly, the ingredients are packed with flavor which gives up some of that to the sauce.  Garnish with the remaining parsley and peperoncino.

And in your mind, let this be the view you have in your mind while enjoying the meal.  Sunset over the Bay of Naples and Monte Vesuvio  (pic taken by me in June of 2008).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

La Bella Napoli!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARYLAND STYLE CRAB CAKES

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Don’t you love crabcakes?  There are many variations of crab cakes and please, always be creative.  However like all dishes some follow a pattern and method that pays homage to the place of origin.  Take the Maryland Crab Cake for example which combines the local Blue Claw Crab with a few ingredients including Baltimore’s own Old Bay Seasoning, created in the Charm City.  This Crab Cake has become the template for all other American crab cakes.  Basically it’s a mix of ground breadcrumbs or Saltine cracker crumbs into a mix of egg, Mayonnaise, a bit of hot sauce or cayenne, Dash of Worchestershire Sauce(I use the Lee & Perrin’s brand), a bit of prepared mustard (no, not Dijon, although that works, it was originally the humble generic French’s yellow type), squeeze of lemon , Old Bay ,and that’s it.  Additions of red and green diced bell peppers, celery, onion, shallots, garlic, parsley, other green herbs, can all be added for sure, BUT, if you are going to call it a Maryland Style crab cake, don’t add those.  Save that for what you’ll call your Signature crab cakes, but  not Maryland style.  Caution, Old Bay Seasoning is VERY strong flavored, a little goes a very long way.  Too much of this delicious blend and you’ve over seasoned and will only taste the strongest flavors in that blend.  Less is more. My personal favorite Maryland Crab Cake of all time are the ones served in the ancient Lexington Market in Baltimore at FAIDLEY’S…http://www.faidleyscrabcakes.com/   Definitely worth a trip to Baltimore for they are just that good.  I’m sure everyone who’s been in and out of Baltimore has their own favorite, Faidley’s is mine.  Us “bloggers”, cooks, amateurs and Professional chefs and cooks all feel differently about an item, that’s ok.  This blog is meant to give you my perspective on foods I’ve cooked or have tasted in my travels.

Here’s a sticking point with me and crab cakes, I am calling them Maryland “Style”..that word allows me to be a little less constricted or heretical in giving this dish the title of Maryland CrabC ake  (a little much perhaps, but it’s why i named myself  A Food Obsession).  The crab meat you or I will be using will most likely not be from the Chesapeake Bay which Baltimore sits right on top of.  Years of cooking and talking about food have me very cautious to not “say” the wrong thing and have to backtrack.  I’m not in Maryland or am using Maryland Crab for this so..i’m following the “style” that they use in Maryland.. lecture over.  The other important piece of info here is that you use LUMP crabmeat, the meat from where the body of the crab (Blue Claw Crab) is attached to the back swimming legs.  It comes in Colossal, Jumbo Lump, Lump or Back Fin.  The tastiest crab cakes are made from one of the grades of “Lump”…Back Fin is the next choice which is a mix of flaked body meat and some form of Lump. Back Fin is probably the most widely used because it’s a bit less expensive than all lump.  I like all lump.  More “crab” taste for me.  Unless you are buying or catching your own bushels of crab you will be purchasing crab meat in a container or can and will be quite confused.  Not all cans of crab are the same crab and they will be labeled according to type of crab, grade, and country of origin.  Look for wild caught and Blue, either Blue Claw U.S., or Blue Swimming crab.  I find other crab meats to be of lesser quality, different texture and having an almost tinny cat food taste when cooked, especially sauteed or fried.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA that’s the crab you want, in a perfect world. That’s what makes a Maryland Style Crab Cake so good but you can achieve great crab cakes following my above suggestions.  I promise.  Let’s make crab cakes now!

You will need:

1 lb. Lump Crab Meat or backfin (if using backfin it’s a good idea to pick the meat over for shells, lump crab generally doesn’t have as many shells and you don’t want to break up those lumps.

1/8 cup finely crushed Saltine Crackers or plain breadcrumbs

1 beaten egg

2 1/2 tbs. of Hellmann’s or Duke’s Mayo (shameless plugs for what I think are good mayos, Best Mayo west of the Rockies)

1 tsp. mustard

dash of Tabasco or your favorite Hot Sauce (please, not the kick-ass searing your internal organ types)

1/2 tsp of Old Bay Seasoning

2 tbs. unsalted butter, 2 tsp. cooking oil

juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

Mix everything together except the crab.  Let it stand for 10 minutes, Then Fold in the crab just gently enough to mix it without breaking up all the lump or meat.   Shape into 6 even sized/shaped crab cakes.  Set on waxed or parchment paper on a platter and chill in the fridge loosely covered for no less than one hour.

Heat the oil then add the butter in a non-stick frying pan till a drop of water sizzles in it. Remove the cakes from the fridge and gently saute’ them for 4-5 minutes (until golden) per side.  If your pan is too high, you will burn the outsides and have cold interiors.  Not good.  Take you time.  Remove to a platter with a bed of greens and squeeze some lemon over the top..Tartar Sauce is my preference here, but many like Remoulade or Cocktail Sauce.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

A perfect dinner plate..some garlic croutons, and a Greek Salad which goes wonderful with the crab cakes.  Takes about 1/2 hour start to finish and feeds 3.