HELPING FAMILY FARMS FLOURISH. HELPING FEED THE HUNGRY.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Baked Rigatoni with Eggplant and Sausage, Parmigiano Cheese Bread and a Honey and Pignoli Tart that’s to die for.


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 Last weekend we had a post Thanksgiving dinner party.  Since everyone was pretty well stuffed with Turkey, we wanted something completely different -- a crowd-pleaser on a cold night.  So we went for a dinner that's 'tutto italiano' from main course to desert.  Now baked pasta dishes are a risky business.  Those giant pans of baked ziti come to mind. I remember going to a long ago dinner party when one wag, seeing that very dish on the sideboard, described it as being “like having dinner at Riker’s” (New York City’s jail).  But the recipe for Baked Rigatoni was intriguing because its author, Tyler Florence, not only has a last name in common with Italy but a very deft hand at making wonderful Italian Food.  What’s nice about this dish, from Tyler’s Ultimate series, is the way the top gets completely crusty while what lies beneath is layers of pure flavor—of mozzarella, sausage and eggplant and the pasta itself moist and delicious.  Served with a really beautiful green salad, this dish was a big hit.
Keith's Green Salad was a big hit
Accompanying our Baked Rigatoni, I made Parmigiano Cheese Bread.  Now my version is not specifically an Italian creation.  Bruschetta may be its cousin but most people consider this wonderful garlic-y, buttery invention as strictly American.  It’s relatively easy to make and it is wildly popular—we literally had a guest microwave a piece on his way out the door. 
Finally, Andrew topped off the meal with a truly wonderful and very Italian dessert.  It’s a “Crostata di Miele e Pignoli”, a honey and pignoli nut tart that combines a sweet and slightly salty filling with honey and pine nuts. Now this recipe has a great pedigree.  It is from Gina di Palma, whose “Dolce Italiano” is a treasure trove.  Ms. di Palma is the pastry chef at “Babbo”, Chef Mario Batali’s first big hit restaurant in New York.  Her cookbook is described as being ‘for those home cooks who, like Gina, lie awake at night in bed dreaming of the perfect dessert’.   I haven’t noticed Andrew losing sleep over his desserts and this one is so good, you wouldn’t.   Andrew described it as a kind Italian pecan pie.   I adore pecan pie but I’d have to say, I actually liked this better.  And we got to use our fabulous “Bee’s Needs” honey that’s made in the Hamptons by my friend, Mary Woltz. This pie, topped with a tiny scoop of Vanilla Gelato, was completely devoured by our guests.  Not one slice was left. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

A long ago visit to Shun Lee, and my take on their recipe for Sichuan Shrimp



        Ten years ago, I got a call from a friend named Ethel, who, at the last minute, couldn’t use her tickets to a big bash given by The Film Society of Lincoln Center.  My work partner, Cathy, and I promptly called our respective spouses to ask them to join us at Shun Lee West (43 West 65th St., Tel: 212-595-8895), then and now one of the city’s top Chinese restaurants.  “What’s the deal?” Andrew wanted to know.  “Well they’re going to show a martial arts film after the dinner” I answered.  I could have gone on to tell him we were going to see “Wo Hu Cang Long” but I am sure I would have gotten the same answer; “Are you kidding? A martial arts movie?” (Our interest in sports of any kind is next to nothing and our interest in martial arts is even lower than that.)  So in answer to Andrew I said  “No and yes...but let’s go to the dinner, get seats right on the aisle at Lincoln Center so we can leave whenever we want.”  Dinner at Shun Lee was worth a few minutes of Kung Foo fighting.  So we went.
        Shun Lee’s interior design is completely over the top.  With its black lacquer and gold dragon décor, it looks like it was flown in from Las Vegas for the night.  It’s quite possibly the darkest restaurant I’ve ever eaten in. One visit I remember literally bumping into Woody Allen in the dark. Stumbling back to the table, I had to be told by my dinner companions who he was.  But the food at Shun Lee is simply excellent.  Along with Mr. Chow in Los Angeles and in New York, it elevates Chinese cuisine and pretty well ruins Chinese food forever from anywhere else outside of Hong Kong.  Since we lived in the delivery area, it became our take-out place despite prices that made it quite an extravagance.