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TIP OF THE DAY: How To Sauce Pasta

Mound Of Sauce On Pasta

How To Sauce Pasta

Angel Hair Pasta

[1] Don’t sauce pasta like this. It may look neat, but it doesn’t cover all the pasta, and eating it can be a mess (photo courtesy International Pasta Association). [2] The correct way: Toss the pasta and sauce in a pot or bowl to fully cover each strand (photo courtesy All-Clad). [3] Authentic saucing (photo courtesy Davio’s Boston.

 

Every great pasta experience requires a great sauce. It’s not just the flavor of the sauce that matters, but when and how the sauce and pasta get come together.

Correctly saucing your pasta is the difference between cooking authentic Italian and following an incorrect culinary path.

Americans have been trained to place a pool of sauce in the middle of a plate of pasta.

No! No! Do not pour sauce on top of un-sauced pasta, as in the top photo. According to DeLallo, an importer of Italian foods, a dish of pasta served in this manner in Italy would be a disaster.

Americans have been accustomed to serving pasta as a mound of undressed spaghetti or other noodles in a bowl or on a dish, topped with a ladleful sauce.

We couldn’t track down how this practice originated, although it is definitely an American practice. It likely began in Italian-American restaurants, and our guess is that the first cook who topped pasta with sauce this way did it for aesthetic reasons. It does look prettier.

But it isn’t as functional.

In authentic Italian cuisine, the sauce is always incorporated into the pasta before serving. Every strand of pasta is thus coated with sauce, and the eater doesn’t have to work to coat his/her own—many of us creating drips and spatters in the process.

Plus, the amount of sauce used is just enough to coat the pasta—not to create a sea of sauce. Authentic Italian pasta dishes do not swim in sauce.

SAUCE YOUR PASTA THE CORRECT WAY

1. Heat the sauce by the time you add the pasta to the boiling salted water. Keep the sauce on a low simmer until the pasta is ready. Your pasta shouldn’t wait for your sauce to cook; the sauce should be awaiting the pasta.

2: Moderation is everything. Use at most a quarter cup of thick sauce per person (such a tomato- or cream- based sauce), or two to three tablespoons of an oil-based sauce. The ratio is 1.5 cups sauce to 1 pound of cooked pasta, or 1 cup of oil-based sauce to 1 pound of cooked pasta.

3: Reserve some of the pasta water in another container when you drain the pasta (we use a cup). Never rinse the pasta: That will eliminate important starches that help the sauce stick.

4. Return the empty saucepan to the stove, over high heat. Add the drained hot pasta and the heated sauce, and toss to coat evenly (hot pasta will absorb more sauce and flavor). This quick toss in a hot pan allows the two components to meld and and create a beautiful flavor and texture. The starches from the pasta will slightly thicken the sauce.

Tip: We’re a bit messy, so rather than clean sauce spatter from the stove, we first toss the pasta and sauce in a large bowl; then add it to the pan.

5: Add a couple tablespoons of the reserved hot pasta water to the pan, to smooth out the sauce. Reserved pasta water contains starch that can be used to thicken the consistency of the sauce, so add another couple of spoons if you like. Total time of the pasta and sauce together on the stove is about 2 minutes.

6: Transfer the pasta to a warm serving bowl or individual plates.

 
10+ MORE WAYS TO LOVE YOUR PASTA

Pasta terms and shapes: a glossary of explanations with photos.

Ingredient substitutes: What to do when you don’t have sauce or parmesan.

Leftover pasta for breakfast: You’ll love it!

Make stir-fried pasta with leftover pasta.

Turn leftover pasta into an antipasto.

More recipes for leftover pasta, from green salad to cole slaw.

How to sneak veggies into pasta: Your family won’t complain!

Breadcrumbs on pasta: a Southern Italian tradition.

Dessert pasta: from berry lasagna to chocolate pasta.

Toast uncooked pasta for a toasty, nutty flavor.

The history of pasta: It began in China.
 
  

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TIP OF THE DAY: Brighten Up Winter Meals

Grape Salsa Bruschetta

Goat Cheese Cheesecake

Salmon With Grape Salsa

Cod With Grape Salsa

[1] Start with grape salsa and bruschetta, with wine and beer, as a snack or a first course (photos #1 and #3 courtesy California Table Grape Commission). [2] Another savory appetizer/first course: goat cheese cheesecake. What’s missing? The grape salsa! Here’s the recipe from Love And Olive Oil. [3] Move on to the mains; here, grilled salmon with grape salsa. [4] White cod with grape salsa. Here’s the recipe from Food And Wine.

 

To add color to a plate of white, beige or brown food with an easy sauce or colorful garnish.

But if it’s a simply grilled chicken breast or fish fillet, look to salsa.

Even in the winter months, with no good tomatoes, stone fruits, etc., a colorful, delicious and nutritious sauce can be made from…grapes.

Salsa is not just for taco chips. The original translation is the generic “sauce”; it was used for millennia before tortilla chips were invented (in the late 1940s, in L.A.).

RECIPE: GRAPE SALSA

We adapted this recipe from a suggestion by the California Table Grape Commission.

  • 2 cups seedless grapes, assorted colors
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions (scallions) or red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice or vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Sriracha, jalapeño or other heat to taste
  •  
    Variations

  • Black olives
  • Chopped basil or mint
  • Lemon or orange zest
  • Substitute orange and red peppadews for the grapes
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SLICE or chop the grapes. For a sauce with protein, slice the grapes in half. For salsa with chips or crostini, chop coarsely.

    2. COMBINE all ingredients in medium bowl; mix well.

    3. LET stand at least 1 hour before serving for flavors to meld. Drain excess liquid before serving.

     
    WAYS TO USE GRAPE SALSA

  • Baked Brie
  • Cheese plate condiment
  • Chips
  • Cottage cheese
  • Crostini/bruschetta
  • Greek yogurt
  • Grilled cheese, ham, turkey and other sandwiches
  • Main course sauce (roasted/grilled chicken, fish, pork)
  • Omelet or scrambled eggs
  • Salad: spoon over greens with optional blue/goat cheese crumble
  • Savory cheesecake topping
  • Taco topping
  • Turkey or veggie burger
  •  
    GRAPE NUTRITION

    Grapes are good for you. For those avoiding fruit because of the sugar, grapes have a relatively low glycemic index, with GI values ranging between 43 and 53.

  • 1.5 cups have just 90 calories, no fat, and virtually no sodium.
  • No cholesterol.
  • Lots of antioxidants.
  • An excellent source of vitamins C & K, wit a good supply of other minerals and nutrients.
  • Healthy carbs: A serving contains 24 grams of good carbs and 1 gram of fiber.
  •  
    THE HISTORY OF GRAPES

    Different wild grape varieties were first cultivated around 6000 B.C.E. near northern Iran, between the Black and Caspian seas.

    By 3000 B.C.E. grapes were being cultivated in Egypt and Phoenicia, and by 2000 B.C.E. in Greece.

     
    Viticulture reached Italy, Sicily and North Africa by 1000 B.C.E., and by 500 B.C.E. had spread with the Roman legions to Spain, Portugal and France, and finally across Europe to the British Isles.

    America also had wild grape varieties, which were cultivated in of themselves, and joined by cultivars brought from Europe. In the mid-1800s, a Hungarian emigré, Colonel Agoston Haraszthy, brought 100,000 cuttings of Vitis vinifera varieties from Europe to California.

    In 1860, English settler William Thompson planted a Mediterranean grape called the Oval Kishmish near Yuba City, north of Sacramento. This popular green grape variety became known as the Thompson Seedless.

    In 1970, per capita consumption of grapes in the U.S. was 2.5 pounds. Today, it’s around 8 pounds.
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Decorate With A Squeeze Bottle

    Salad With Flavored Oils

    Fancy Vegetable Plate

    Gravy Polka Dots

    Fancy Sorbet

    Chocolate Martini

    [1] Salad with three different flavored oil droplets (photos #1 and #4 courtesy Matthew Kenney Cuisine). [2] Vegetables with a mushroom sauce swirl (photo courtesy Wassail | NYC). [3] The most elegant way to serve gravy (photo courtesy Strip House | Las Vegas). [4] A fancy way to serve ice cream or sorbet, with a chopped pistachio nuts. [5] Garnish your drinks, too (Chocolate Martini photo courtesy Scrumpdillyicious).

     

    The same plastic squeeze bottles used to serve ketchup at some casual spots can also be used to create glamorous accents—dots, swirls, zigzags—on your everyday foods as well as special occasion fare.

    All you need are inexpensive squeeze bottles.

    You can keep them in the fridge, ready to do a maple syrup zigzag over French toast, flavored olive oil droplets in soups or on plates, raspberry purée for desserts, or anything else you want to dot, squiggle, swirl or zigzag .

    There’s no limit: sweet or savory, foods or beverages.

  • Beverages, including cocktails, can get the special lift. Just use a thicker sauce (e.g. chocolate syrup) on the inside of the glass and let it set a bit before adding the liquid.
  • Dessert sauces and honey
  • Gravy and jus
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Olive oil
  • Other oils: basil, chili, mustard, etc.
  • Other sauces
  • Purées and coulis
  • Salad dressing
  • Sriracha
  • Etc., etc., etc.
  •  
    SQUEEZE BOTTLE DO’S & DONT’S

    DO:

  • BUY smaller (6-8 ounces), thinner squeeze bottles. While bigger may seem better, you need to control the flow with a bottle what best fits in your grip.
  • PLAN not just the flavors, but the colors. The garnish needs to pop against both the food and the plate. For example, you won’t see a balsamic garnish on a red plate; and it won’t look too great next to brown meats.
  • USE additional garnishes as you like, such as fresh herbs, spices or berries (see our article on Garnish Glamour). Just don’t turn the plate into an overdone art project.
  • Check out the many videos on YouTube for inspiration and more complex techniques.
     
    DON’T:
  • USE this as an opportunity to create new flavor combinations. Test them first in the normal way, before you add blue cheese dressing swirls to a sausage plate.
  • OVER-DO it. Start with smaller amounts first, before you decide to cover an entire plate with polka dots.
  •  
    NEXT STEPS

    1. What are you cooking next? Pick your garnish and make a different design for everyone. Even a ham sandwich can be served with mustard and mayonnaise polka dots or swirls.

    2. Try different flavors with different foods. Maybe that ham sandwich would like a zigzag of sriracha mayo and a drizzle of honey mustard.

    3. Don’t forget the soup. We love it with a few droplets of flavored olive oil, or a swirl of Greek yogurt or sour cream.

    4. Plan your matches. If this is new for you, it will take you longer to decide on the sauce than create the designs. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for spontaneity. Just grab that bottle of ranch dressing, pour it into the squeeze bottle and garnish away!
     
    FINAL NOTES

    A squeeze bottle makes all of this easy.

    Designs don’t have to be perfect swirls or zigs.

    Whatever you start with will be just fine.

    You’re going to have a lot of fun with this!

     

     
      

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    FOOD FUN: Beyond The Twist, Lemon & Lime Flowers & Art

    No doubt you’ve cut lemon and lime circles and twists for garnish, and wedges to squeeze over beverages, salads, seafoods, and so on.

    We have long used a channel zester to carve vertical lines in fruits and vegetables, creating a design in the fruit and strips of peel for garnish.
     
    THE GROOVY JOYS OF CHANNEL ZESTING

    James Beard said: “Two of of my best friends are a stripper and a zester.”

    When you use it to cut channels (grooves) into, you can create edible art—not to mention ingredients for recipes and garnishing.

  • If you want very fine pieces for garnish or grated peel for a recipe, run the row of sharp holes over the item.
  • The channel knife (the little blade in the larger opening) lets you create peel garnishes with little effort.
  • Someone with dexterity can carve the entire peel in one continuous strip, to decorate a punch bowl or a platter.
  • If you’re serving a grapefruit half and enjoy carving (we find it very therapeutic), carve horizontal grooves. You can do this the day before, and halve the grapefruit before serving.
  • Whatever you carve, save any leftover peel for garnish, salads, tea, etc.
  • When zesting citrus, avoid the bitter white pith under the peel.
  •  
    CITRUS TRIVIA

    Zest is the colored, outermost skin layer of citrus fruits; its volatile (essential) oils make it highly perfumed.

    Zest is rich in antioxidants: flavonoids, bioflavonoids and limonoids. It is used to flavor sweet and savory dishes; it can be candied for pastry use or as a sweetmeat (e.g., candied grapefruit peel—scroll down) for the recipe.

  • Citrus fruits are native to Southeast Asia where they have been cultivated for over 4,000 years.
  • In the U.S., Florida has the most acres of citrus trees (654,747). California is second with 303,101 acres.
  • Per capita consumption of citrus fruits in the U.S. was 21.7 pounds in 2005, down from 23.5 pounds in 2000.
  • Oranges and grapefruits do not ripen after they are picked, but lemons and limes do.
  • Citrus pith is the major source for commercial pectin manufacture, used to thicken jelly and other foods.
  •  

    Chanel Zester

    Carved Lemon Flower Slices

    Carved Lime

    [1] Grooves cut with a channel zester. [2] When sliced, the groves create flower-like slices (photos #1 and #2 courtesy IdTryThat | WordPress. [3] Elaborate channeling creates beautiful food art (photo courtesy The Eddy | NYC).

     
    STOCKING STUFFER IDEA: Give a channel groover to an arty cook. You can get it in any kitchen gadget department or online.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Cook Octopus

    Raw Octopus

    Ceviche With Octopus

    Grilled Octopus

    Octopus Salad With Beans

    Fancy Grilled Octopus

    Octopus Tostadas

    [1] Cleaned, frozen, thawed and ready to cook (photo courtesy EuroUSA). [2] Ceviche with marinated (not grilled) octopus (photo courtesy Lola | Denver). [3] Seared and ready to plate (photo courtesy Scarpetta | NYC). [4] A classic first course or luncheon salad: grilled octopus and fancy greens atop a bean salad vinaigrette (photo courtesy l’Amico | NYC). [5] An easy yet fancy main (photo courtesy Gardenia | NYC). [6] Octopus tostadas (photo courtesy MexicanFoodMemories.co.uk).

     

    Over the past 10 years, charred/seared or grilled octopus has become de rigueur at just about every restaurant we patronize.

    That’s great news, because we love grilled octopus with a drizzle of olive oil. It doesn’t get more delicious than that.

    Yet, simple as it is to grill seafood, we never tried it at home. One reason: We typically don’t see mature octopus at fish markets (in mainstream markets, it’s often a special order); and we personally don’t like the miniature size (not as meaty, not as tender, etc.).

    So this past weekend, we happened upon frozen octopus at a Latin American grocer. It was tentacles only, which means we didn’t have to remove the head and beak. What could we do but buy it and give it a shot?

    It turns out that frozen octopus is actually more tender than fresh. Freezing and then thawing the tentacles helps to tenderize the meat. White wine, often used as a braising liquid to slow-cook the tentacles, is a second tenderizer.

    Octopus, first braised/poached and then charred/seared or grilled, is incredibly versatile and can take on any aromatics. The classic Mediterranean preparation is poached in white wine with garlic and oregano, served with gigante beans and/or some combination of capers, lemon, olives and tomatoes.

    But you can make anything from octopus tostadas to tandoori octopus; or go beyond the popular octopus and bean salad with a salad of fennel, mint, orange slices and red onion in a sherry vinaigrette.

    You can cut the cooked octopus into kabob chunks, serve it thinly sliced on a flatbread pizza. We made a hero sandwich with sliced octopus, roasted red peppers and giardiniera.

    Perhaps the most difficult step with octopus is he first step: deciding how you want to serve it, with so many delectable options. Some of our favorites are shown in the photos—at least, the ones we’re capable of making. Also take a look at pulpo a la gallega, an octopus and potato torta from Spain; and octopus terrine, which can be turned into octopus pastrami.

     
    RECIPE: SEARED OR GRILLED OCTOPUS

    Here’s an important note before you start: As with bacon, onions and other foods, what looks like a lot of cooks down to far less. Estimate 3/4 to 1 pound per person as a first course.

    Ingredients For 6 First Courses

  • 1/4 cup plus extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 pounds octopus, thawed overnight in the fridge
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, oregano, or both
  • 1 bottle dry white wine (e.g. Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. REMOVE the beak from the octopus. Place a plastic cutting board in the sink, slice off the head, and flip the octopus to remove the beak, which is in the middle of the tentacles. With a paring knife, slice around the beak and pushing it through, as if coring a pear or tomato. It will to pop out the other side.

    2. HEAT 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole or dutch oven. Add the octopus and cook over moderately high heat, turning until lightly browned (2 to 3 minutes). Transfer the octopus to a plate or bowl. Add the garlic cloves to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, stirring until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 20 seconds.

    3. ADD the white wine gently, and bring the braising liquid to a boil. Here’s a tip from every Italian nonna: When slow-cooking in wine, put the actual wine cork in the braising liquid to cook along with the octopus. It’s one of those tricks that no one can explain. But simple slow cooking (braising) also creates tender tentacles, so don’t go crazy looking for “the secret.” There is one tip we’ll pass along from Bon Appetit: If you want the tentacles to curl, dip them in the hot poaching broth three times before submerging.

    4. RETURN the octopus to the casserole, add up to 1 cup of water or broth if necessary, to cover the octopus. Cover the casserole and braise over moderately low heat until very tender, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the octopus completely in the braising liquid, another technique that keeps the flesh tender.”

    5. REMOVE the red skin by rubbing it with a paper towel, taking care to leave the on suckers, which are the parts that get crispy when grilled. Plus, removing them will dry out the cooked octopus. If the suckers start to come off when rubbing, it means the octopus has been cooked it too long. It isn’t ruined, but do your best to keep the remainder intact for the aforementioned reasons.

     
    6. FINISH the octopus by searing in a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, creating a deep char on the outside. We prefer to sear the tentacles whole, about 8 minutes per side (we like ours very crispy). The flesh and suckers will caramelize nicely; (you can also thinly slice the tentacles and grill cut side down over moderately high heat, for about 1 minute; then and cook for 20 seconds. We cook the octopus in long lengths, and prefer to serve it two meaty 6-inch or four 3-inch pieces. Cut the head into 1-1/2-inch pieces. We use them in green salads or as a garnish for fish.

    7. PLACE on a platter lined with paper towels to absorb any excess olive oil. Season lightly with salt. Transfer the octopus to plates. Fill the radicchio leaves with the Italian salad and set beside the octopus. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve.
     
    Variation: You can also roast the octopus, but we haven’t tried it.
     
    WHAT IS AN OCTOPUS (SCIENTIFICALLY SPEAKING)?

    The octopus (plural octopuses, octopodes or octopi) is a cephalopod mollusc in the phylum Mollusca (class Cephalopoda, order Octopoda, family Octopodidae, genus Octopus, species vulgarism, plus more than 100 total species, representing one-third of all cephalopods.

    The octopus has two eyes and four pairs of arms (tentacles) and a beak mouth at the center underside of its tentacles. An invertebrate, it has no vertebral column [backbone or spine) and no other skeleton. It most intelligent of the invertebrates.

      

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