Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pasta e Fagioli

This recipe represents a bunch of firsts for me. It was the first one I completely memorized, the first one I made for my friends, and the first one that comes to mind when I think of my childhood. I thought it would be fitting for this recipe for pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) to be the first one I share with you.

Imagine a chilly, rainy, hectic Monday in the middle of November. Just an average day, but really crappy too. The kind of day where you'd rather curl up in a ball than do anything even minimally productive. The day's weather and mood is cold and bitter, and somehow at the end of the day, you seem to embody it.

Then you walk into the house to see your mom cooking and the glorious scent of sautéed garlic inhabits your soul and melts it all away.

Whenever I make pasta e fagioli, memories come rushing back to me of the lovely juxtaposition that can only be described as feeling nourished and sheltered inside when its horrible and ugly outside. It's wonderful.

Even better, this meal is incredibly cheap, simple, and satisfying.

To make one recipe (four servings), you'll need:
  • garlic - 3 medium-sized cloves (I buy the stuff in a plastic container that is already peeled for you)
  • olive oil - 2 T (big T for tablespoons)
  • tomato sauce - 8 oz can
  • water - 1 cup
  • basil - 1 t (little t for teaspoon)
  • cannellini beans - 16 oz can
  • ditalini pasta - 1/2 lb box
  • parmesan cheese - the Kraft stuff in the green container is fine
  • parsley - fresh is preferable, but dried is fine too (and lasts longer)
Process:
  1. Heat water for the pasta over highest heat in a medium saucepan.
  2. In another medium saucepan, pour in olive oil and heat over low/medium heat.
  3. While the pans are heating up, mince (chop very finely) the garlic.
  4. Fry the garlic gently in the oil until lightly golden.
  5. Stir in the water and tomato sauce, and add basil. Let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in the cannellini beans and again simmer for 10 minutes. Stir periodically.
  7. Once you put the beans in, usually the water for the pasta has started to boil. Cook the ditalini al dente.
  8. Strain the pasta; do not rinse.
  9. Add the pasta to the tomato and bean mixture, take off the heat, and serve immediately.
Add parsley and grated parmesan to your liking.

A couple tips:
  • Serving immediately is important because the more you wait, the more the pasta absorbs the delicious thin tomato sauce/broth stuff. This is inevitable and can't really be helped.
  • Pasta that has absorbed the sauce can get unpleasantly (to some people) soft. To compensate for the first bullet, I like to cook the pasta the slightest bit underdone, so that it won't be mushy leftover. It should still be done enough to serve immediately, though.
  • When heating up leftovers in the microwave, adding a splash of water will help to coax that absorbed sauce out of the pasta.
  • Enjoy on a cold rainy day and maybe you'll see what I mean about this whole juxtaposition jazz. :)

Recipe courtesy of Dom DeLuise

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Onion

As promised, I made a how-to video showing how to quickly and neatly dice an onion. Now you can show off to all of your onion-loving friends...and maybe your mother...because she loves you.

There are numerous skills one can master in cooking, but few are as fundamental as knowing how to sauté onions. Before you can do that, you have to know how to cut them down to size. Please keep in mind that I'm aware of the fact that my method is probably not the most preferred by professional chefs. This is simply the way I learned and the way I know best:
"The Onion"
When you have to dice multiple onions, it becomes imperative to implement a quick, neat, and consistent - efficient - method. The appearance of whatever you're cooking will also suffer if you have uneven pieces. Subsequently, uneven pieces will all cook at slightly different rates, some of them becoming soft and pleasant, some of them not, all the while releasing inconsistent amounts of flavor. 
Most importantly though, this method should reduce the amount of time you spend preparing meals. 
To recap:

  1. Peel the onion
  2. Chop off the ugly ends (this is probably where my method differs from others)
  3. Place on board so that a cut end is on the top
  4. Chop in half, straight down
  5. Align it so that the scores you make with the knife run perpendicular to the lines on the bottom of the onion
  6. Score the onion (for a large dice, make them about 1/2 inch apart)
  7. Now make your knife run perpendicular to those scores, and chop (1/2 inch apart again, to make them even)

Sautéing onions comprises the first step of numerous soups, for instance, in addition to most red gravy recipes. Yes - red gravy. Or perhaps just simply, "gravy." For all intents and purposes, what is commonly known as tomato sauce, marinara sauce, pasta sauce or spaghetti sauce (the worst), will be properly referred to as red gravy in this blog. Your opinion does not matter. Sorry. This is coming from a proud Italian.

Now that I'm done being obnoxious and elitist...

Onions are nearly ubiquitous in cooking. Yes, soups and many sauces usually start with sautéing or softening onions, as well as red gravy. To make salsa, you'll need to be able to finely dice onions. To make a pepper and onion omelette, you'll need diced onions. To make chicken curry, you'll need diced onions. The list goes on. Onions provide a solid base of flavor for many dishes, so they are very important.

It may seem simple to be able to dice onions properly, but it's not. It requires some finesse that will only come with practice. Using a chef's knife in general on all different kinds of food is a skill that will come with time, but the lessons learned here on an onion will make that skill easier to master.

Update! 

Apparently I have been doing it slightly wrong this whole time. But, like I said, I'm not a chef. I'm not done learning yet. What better time to share my knowledge and experiences, then? I know exactly what you're going through, because I'm going through it too!

So, when you're tryna dice an onion, don't cut the hairy looking root-y part off yet. Peel it as normal, and split the whole onion in half so that you have two halves with the root-y part on the ends. Then you can make cuts all the way through without worrying about the slices falling apart. The root-y part will hold everything together.




Monday, March 2, 2015

The Chef's Knife

I know, I know. Last time I was rambling a bit about the difference between a chef and a cook. You don't have to be a chef to use a chef's knife. Some call this knife a kitchen knife, which would be a more egalitarian name, but I think it's also kind of ambiguous. Besides, using a chef's knife sounds much cooler than using a kitchen knife. A chef's knife is an invaluable tool in the kitchen. Knowing how to use one properly and when to use it over other knives will allow you to be efficient and safe. Maybe you can even show off to your friends how quickly and neatly you can dice an onion... 

...if you think your friends are the kind of people who will be impressed by a well-prepared onion.

Regardless of what your friends think, as an example, I'll be showing you later how to properly dice one.

The chef's knife is one of the largest knives you will use in the kitchen; it might actually be the largest. Not to worry, though. Its size increases its force and stability. So, for those reasons, it's no wonder its the most versatile player in the kitchen. This knife usually comes included in a set of three knives, with the other two being a paring knife and a serrated knife. I think I got a set for around $30.

The chef's knife

It may seem simple as to how to hold a knife, and yeah, any old way might get you by, but holding a chef's knife like this


Bad

Cro-Magnon baseball bat death grip (also bad)


is not ideal. The grip is uncomfortable and inefficient. Holding it like a club is no good either. 

The proper way to hold a chef's knife is not by implementing a Cro-Magnon baseball bat death grip, but by pinching the hilt of the blade with your thumb and index finger, and wrapping your other fingers around the handle. Holding it this way allows you to move the knife in a smooth cyclical motion when chopping up stuff. It also gets your finger down from the top of the knife, where it would be at risk for slipping.





As I said, the knife should move in a sort of rocking, cyclical motion on the cutting board. You should never have to bring the tip of the knife into the air, but instead continually raise and lower the hilt of the knife as if there were a hinge near its tip. Once you try it and get the motion going, you'll instantly feel like a chef. Sorry - a cook. Well, however it makes you feel!

It's seriously so much easier to use a chef's knife this way. Now, as for what you will be cutting on, try to find a good, sturdy wooden cutting board. Wood treats the blades nicely so they don't dull as fast. It doesn't have to be a huge chef's block, and not a tiny one either, but one of moderate size will do. However, you may want to purchase a smaller one in addition if you will be solely relying on yourself for all your meals and snacks. You don't want to always be washing the big one if all you're cutting up is an apple for yourself. If you're going to be cutting raw meat, buy a plastic one too. Wood is porous and absorbs things like salmonella (aww, man) from raw chicken, and washing the board may not release those ugly salmonella guys. Subsequently, you don't want to make a fruit salad on the same cutting board you just used to cut that salmonella chicken, even after you've washed it. So, buy a plastic one, label it "RAW MEAT ONLY" with your boldest Sharpie, and keep it separate from the wood. And always cook your meat through!

Check out the next entry to see me dice an onion: one of the most fundamental skills used in the kitchen.