Every cook has a no-fail meal: comfort food we're really confident cooking anytime. I first started cooking at age 7, while living in Rome. Hence, pasta will always be my comfort zone. My menu is a green leaf and garlic salad with homemade pasta pomodoro. Buon Appettito!
ULTIMATE GREEN SALAD
- 1 head of romaine or red leaf lettuce (washed, dried, torn into bite-size pieces)
- 1 garlic clove
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 Tb EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
- 1/2 C. balsamic vinegar
My mom taught me how to make the ultimate salad, and its greatness rests on the specific way you dress it. She claims to have been instructed by an Italian housewife, who set down in no uncertain terms these mandatory steps:
1. Use a wooden bowl. It is unrivaled for capturing and transferring flavors, particularly garlic. Take a large clove of garlic, and crush it under the handle of your knife. This makes the skin very easy to pull off, and eliminates the need to mince the garlic. Mash the garlic into the bottom of the bowl, swirling its guts all across the wood to allow the bowl to soak up its flavor.
2. Put all your lettuce into the bowl. The two varieties I specified are my favorite, although you can certainly use arugula, baby greens, or any mixture of your favorites.
3. Drizzle the great-quality EVOO over the top, and toss the salad so that every leaf is coated. You may need to add more, based on the size of your salad. Just keep in mind you want it very lightly coated, not drenched.
4. Next add a good few pinches of sea salt, and toss the salad again.
5. Now you drench the salad in balsamic vinegar, and once again toss the entire salad, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate the pieces of garlic. Finish with some freshly ground black pepper.
I guarantee this is the biggest punch of flavor you will ever taste, especially from a salad! When I have a stuffy nose, I like to add a teaspoon or two of dijon mustard at the end. It clears the sinuses like nothing else.
NO-FAIL PASTA POMODORO
- 1 lb. spaghetti (Barilla's great)
- 42 oz. whole peeled plum tomatoes in a can (look for the Italian "San Marzano" variety)
- 1 small yellow onion, diced very finely
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 4 tiny dried pepperroncino, crushed (or a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes)
- 2 Tb EVOO
- salt & pepper to taste
- a large handful of fresh basil, chopped coarsely
- parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated on top of pasta just before eating.
Put on a very big pot of water to boil. In the meantime, in a 14-inch frying pan, make your soffritto by heating the EVOO and sautéing the onion, garlic, and pepperoncino, seasoned with salt & pepper, over medium-low heat until onion is translucent, and the entire mixture starts to gain a golden color. Only after this point do you add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium, and crush the tomatoes with a potato masher in the pan.
At this point, taste the tomato sauce for seasoning. It usually needs another teaspoon or two of salt and some more pepper. Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Only stir periodically.
By this time, the pasta water should be boiling. Salt liberally - it should taste like sea water! Add the spaghetti and boil for 3-4 minutes. Why so little? Because the trick is to finish off the pasta in the sauce! After 4 minutes MAXIMUM, use tongs to transfer the still-very hard pasta to the bubbling tomato sauce. Ladle out about 1/2 c. of the pasta water and add it to the tomato sauce. Keep stirring the pasta around the sauce, letting it finish cooking. As soon as the pasta is al dente (meaning it has a good bite in the texture - not mushy at all), turn off the heat and stir in the basil. When you transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes, you will be amazed how the quite liquid sauce congeals into the perfect consistency.
Top each bowl with a bit of basil, parmesan, and black pepper