Monday, December 22, 2008

BASIC training

any tri-state greaseball worth their salt prides themselves on being able to cook a great red sauce.

- "just like my grandmother's", they say.

i've sampled enough over the years to know that for the most part, they're right. an authentic red sauce is more than just the sum of its parts; you can taste beyond the garlic, onions, tomatoes and meats - you can taste the generations that have stood behind the recipe.

each individual has a unique red sauce that is the result of years of tradition and culinary superstition; it is the modern day family crest. many family recipes involve slow cooking various cuts of meat in a vat of well-seasoned tomato sauce until fork tender. a robust red sauced cooked in such a manner is referred to as a ragu, which in italian means "sauce." when you are eating sunday diner at 2pm with all of your zip relatives, odds are this is what you are having.

but what if you don't have 5 hours to kill making a "sunday sauce"? what if you only have 30 minutes? you need a sauce that comes together quick, tastes great and freezes well.

my friends, you need: BASIC.

Basic Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, minced
1 medium carrot, grated (optional)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup red or marsala wine (optional)
2 (28oz can) whole peeled tomatoes and their juices

salt and pepper, to taste

1. empty the canned tomatoes into the work bowl of a food processor or blender. PULSE until well incorporated; about 5-6 one-second pulses should do the trick. if you just turn the processor up to full speed the tomatoes will aerate and become pink; we want deep red tomato sauce - use the pulses!

2. saute onions and grated carrot over medium high heat until well caramelized; about 10-12 minutes.

3. add the garlic, sriracha hot sauce, or crushed red pepper flakes. cook until fragrant; 1-2 minutes.

4. add the wine. cook over high heat until almost dry.

5. add tomato puree, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. add sugar, season and simmer, uncovered, for 23-35 minutes. DONE. either use it right away or cool it in an ice bath and keep refrigerated for up to one week, FREEZE indefinitely.

- versatile and delicious, this is a great workhorse sauce; use it whenever a basic tomato sauce is needed:

add some tomato paste and toss with pasta
add some stew meat and work on that signature ragu of yours
add some chicken breasts and fresh mozzarella, bake up some CHICKEN PARMIGIANA.

i picked up on this recipe while working at Lupa Osteria Romana. we would make a large batch 2-3x/week and use it for everything. red onions and marsala wine add a nice tang to it.

© 2008 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Sunday, December 14, 2008

serendipity 3 - where diets go to die

my mother took me to serendipity once when i was a child. it was summertime, probably a weekend. we had just seen pauly shore's smash hit, "The Son-in-Law"; a movie so bad the only way to salvage the night was to overindulge at an ice cream shop of wonka-esqe proportions.

i can't remember what i had that night, and for the longest time i couldn't remember serendipity's exact name or location either. 15 years later, i'm zipping across 60th street on my bike, when i spy a rather thick crowd of out-of-towners and yuppies.

"go fuck yourselves!", i growl from my bike.

i always like to let tourists and the upwardly mobile know exactly where i stand. then i noticed the awning:

serendipity 3
225 East 60th Street
between 2nd and 3rd Avenues
New York, NY 1002

-serendipity! so, we meet again...

a few weeks later i came back to join the throngs of yuppies and tourists with some out-of-towners of my own, sandy's mother and sister. it was a rainy sunday in late november and we still had to wait 30 minutes for a table. apparently, only one person per party is allowed to wait indoors during peak hours - just thought i'd mention it...

the inside is just as i had remembered it; wall-to-wall schmaltz with enough tinsel to choke a reindeer. the foyer is an impulse buy extravaganza; mini jesus statues, hand bags, rubber stamps, and many more spencer's gifts type items. the bi-level dining room is chock full of tacky christmas lights and gaudy chandeliers - incredibly cozy or ostentatious, depending on your mood.

the menu is vast:

buffalo wings, soups, burgers, salads, seafood, pastas and dim sum, all grace the bill, however, most people come for the desserts. a $1,000 ice cream sundae?!? pretty tempting, but i rather be able to pay my rent. sandy and i decide to split an "outrageous banana split" instead.

5 scoops of ice cream:

peanut butter

3 types of syrup:


2 frozen bananas, wet nuts, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles and a cherry on top!

it was as good as it looks. the flavors were well balanced and the harmony between hot, cold, gooey and creamy was heavenly. a deluge of goodness overflowed beyond the confines of the goblet and pooled in the plate below - my favorite part.

all done!

© 2008 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

an eclectic thanksgiving

this was my first year taking on thanksgiving; the bird, the sides the whole shebang. needless to say, my mind was a bit scattered and i wasn't able to photo-document the event as attentively as i would have liked to. in fact, aside from the turkey salad i made from the leftovers, i failed to capture any evidence of the incredibly moist, perfectly roasted 12 pound turkey that graced our table – you’ll just have to take my word for it.

it was dinner for 6 but there was enough food for 12. italian antipasto and pastry desserts, the bird, all the conventional trimmings and various pies – yes, it certainly was an eclectic thanksgiving.

some shots of the eats i was able to capture:

prosciutto wrapped honeydew wedges

fresh mozzarella, beefsteak tomatoes, basil olive oil

robiola cheese, sharp provolone; orange blossom honey dip

tangled roasted red peppers, breadcrumbs, parsley, olive oil and fresh lemon

corn pudding: creamed corn, serrano peppers, onion and chipotle powder

roasted autumn vegetables: carrots, apples, brussel’s sprouts, sunchokes and rutabaga; cracked almonds, baby frissee and truffle oil

sweet potato casserole, decadent pecan crust

creamed spinach gratin: dijon mustard, parmesan and gruyere cheeses, bread crumbs and a dash of curry powder

classic stuffing; turkey bacon, apples, and chestnuts; maple syrup glaze

curried turkey salad; cashews, apple, red onion and shaved carrot

© 2008 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

roz-a-roni, the middle eastern treat?

the good people of lebanon have been enjoying "rice-a-roni" long before it was the san fransisco treat. lebanese rice pilaf is an incredibly versatile dish that lends itself to many different interpretations. the recipe that follows will get you familiar with the basics. -master that then try using different seasonings, cooking liquids, and rice/pasta combinations.

Lebanese Rice Pilaf (Rice-a-Roni)
yield 2.5 qts

35 ounces chicken stock
1 TBS goya adobo seasoning
1 tsp old bay seasoning
1 TBS canola oil
1 bay leaf

2 TBS butter (or vegetable oil)
2 cups long grain rice
1 cup uncooked vermicelli, broken into 1/2 inch pieces *
2 cloves garlic, minced

1. combine chicken stock, adobo, old bay, canola oil, and the bay leaf in a sauce pot and bring to a boil. reduce to a simmer and keep screaming HOT but do not cook it down!!!

2. melt butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. add dry rice and pasta, saute until lightly toasted; about 3-5 minutes. DO NOT BURN. add garlic and saute until fragrant; about 1 minute.

3. bring the stock back up to a boil and immediately add it to the rice/pasta. stir once, cover, and reduce to a bare simmer. cook UNDISTERBED for 20 minutes, kill the heat and let rest for 10 more minutes -- UNDISTURBED !!! **

4. uncover and fluff with a fork and serve with lamb, chicken, stews or veggies.

* orzo is a great substitution for the vermicelli; it's already bite-sized and everything. most types of long, thin pasta can be used successfully, i've had good results with both linguine and spaghetti.

** add 1 cup of thawed veggies to the pilaf as it rests; the residual steam will heat them through. peas and carrots are a good start.

© 2008 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -