Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How To Be A Food Hero - Rescue Wrinkled Tomatoes

Sautéed tomatoes with onions
For the past few weeks my boyfriend Chris and I have been on a bit of a health kick, updating our regular carb-heavy diet for a lighter, greener, and fresher way of eating. The biggest factor in allowing us to keep up this new healthy lifestyle is making sure that healthy food choices are always convenient, abundant, and at our fingertips.  While it's fantastic to have so much fresh and healthy food within our reach at all times, it's also bound to result in some potential waste.

With boxes of organic granola cluttering up our kitchen countertop (yeah, I guess we're that couple now) it was easy to miss a full container of grape tomatoes hiding way back in the corner, forgotten and wrinkled to all hell. Many people would instinctively toss those shrivelled up, old tomatoes into the compost, figuring they're a lost cause, but not this food hero! I refused to allow an entire container of untouched tomatoes go to waste! 
The circled tomato is a wrinkled one that hasn't yet swelled up
To rescue old, shrivelled, and wrinkly grape and cherry tomatoes all you need is a light drizzle of olive oil, some heat, and some time. Set a skillet on the stove to medium-heat and drizzle in some olive oil. Toss in your wrinkled tomatoes and stir together with the oil. As the tomatoes heat up they will begin to swell and will eventually become juicy and plump as they begin to blister. Once the tomatoes begin to blister and have plumped up you have the choice of taking them off the heat right then and there and using them as you wish, or you can continue to cook until the tomatoes begin to burst on their own, which is fantastic to use for salad dressings and sauces! I like to let about half of the tomatoes burst and leave the rest in tact. My favourite way of using these blistered tomatoes is in a kale salad with sautéed onions and a honey-dijon vinaigrette. 

Tip: As you can see in the images provided, I chose to sauté my tomatoes with some sliced onion, which will not affect your final results at all. I just love sautéing onions with blistered tomatoes because I love tossing them into salads! 

Listening To:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pulse-Packed Chilli

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend Pulse Feast, the Canadian launch party for the International Year of Pulses. Confession: When I received my invitation for the event, I had no clue what the hell pulses were. In all honesty, in my quick scan of the invite, in the midst of the busy holiday season, I somehow got the impression that pulses had something to do with food trends. Though pulses aren't a word to describe food trends as a whole, they are actually a food trend for 2016 in itself. In fact, the United Nations declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses! So what the heck are pulses? 'Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Pulses grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours." Some pulses that you may be familiar with, and may already be apart of your diet are dry beans, dry broad beans,  dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils, as well as six other less popular varieties that I haven't mentioned. 

Though pulses may be considered a major food trend for 2016, the host of Canada's Pulse Feast, Chef Michael Smith, disputes that pulses aren't a trend at all, they're here to stay! Thanks to their versatility, sustainability, affordability, and vast health benefits, Chef Michael Smith believes that pulses will soon become apart of Canadians everyday diet. As a way of inspiring North Americans to eat more pulses the Pulse Pledge campaign was launched in conjunction with the International Year of Pulses kickoff. The Pulse Pledge is a 10-week campaign that encourages North Americans to commit to eating pulses at least once a week, each week for the 10-week period. The goal is  that the healthy habit of eating pulses on a regular basis will continue past the designated 10-weeks.

After taking my own Pulse Pledge at the Pulse Feast, I was inspired to make a hearty pulse-packed chilli that would allow me to get my pulse intake throughout the week as I continued to eat leftovers. I love this chilli recipe because it's super easy, is big on flavour, is incredibly satisfying, and will provide leftovers for the rest of the week. Though I like to simmer my chilli on the stove for at least an hour to let all of the flavours develop, this dish can easily be rushed and be on the table in less than an hour when short on time, sacrificing the flavour only minutely. Though canned pulses aren't the ideal thanks to their added sodium content, I often cook with canned beans and chickpeas because they're so incredibly convenient. Because this recipe is all about ease, I chose to use a canned bean and chickpea medley for my chilli. When purchasing canned pulses I try and look for ones that have reduced sodium or are from a brands healthy line (for instance President's Choice Blue Menu). To ensure that I can control the amount of sodium going into my chilli, I also make sure to rinse my canned beans and chickpeas very well and strain before adding them in. 

Give my Pulse-Packed Chilli a try this week and let me know how you enjoyed it on Twitter: @thisgingerrose. Also, be sure to take the Pulse Pledge yourself and commit yourself to eating pulses every single week for the next 10-weeks! 

Source: Pulses.org

Please adjust the spices based on your own heat tolerance. I can handle a lot of heat and usually use this as my base and add more heat if needed, though this may be quite spicy for some. 
** If you're in a hurry, you can simmer the chilli for as little as 30-minutes, though some flavour may be sacrificed. 

about 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, small dice
4 stalks of celery, peeled, small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 lb. lean ground beef
1 jar (680mL) strained tomatoes (no salt-added)
1 can (540mL) six-bean medley, well rinsed (I like President's Choice Blue Menu)
2 Tbsp. red pepper flakes*
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced + 2 Tbsp. adobo sauce*
1 Tbsp. chilli powder*
cheddar cheese, grated, for garnish (optional)
fresh cilantro, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)
sour cream, for garnish (optional)
salt, to taste

  1. In a a large pot set to medium heat, warm olive oil. Add onion and celery and sweat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30-seconds).
  2. Add ground beef and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. 
  3. Add strained tomatoes, bean medley, red pepper flakes, chipotle, adobo sauce, and chilli powder. and stir to combine. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for at least an hour in order to impart the most flavour**. Taste and season as needed with salt and additional chilli powder. Serve immediately garnished with cheese, cilantro, and sour cream, or continue simmering on stove for up to 3-hours until ready to serve. Chilli may be kept in fridge for 3-4 days or up to 6-months in the freezer. 

Listening To:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Orecchiette Pugliese

Being a quote-unquote "foodie" I like to have a lot of variety in the type of foods that I eat. I get bored quite easily with dishes and have been known to say that I have "overdosed" on a particular dish after having it one too many times within a short period of time. Despite my, let's call it "fickle" palate, when it comes to the food that I consume at work, it's all about routine and repetition. 

Pretty much every single time that I have a shift at the restaurant I will order myself a big ol' bowl of either Funghi Risotto or Orecchiette Pugliese. It may be the fact that there are only so many dishes that I can quickly wolf down at work while standing in a small corner of a hidden server station, without having to use more than one utensil, and that I can easily digest, or it may be because they're just so damn good that I have no problem eating them on a near-daily basis. I'd say it's likely a combination of all of the above, but the fact that our Funghi Risotto and Orecchiette Pugliese are just so knock-your-socks-off delicious certainly makes it easy to consume almost every day.

Although I look forward to going into work just for our risotto and orecchiette, and despite the fact that I already eat it way more times in a week than I care to admit, I still find myself craving both dishes on my days off at home. Being such a simple dish, I have tried to recreate the orecchiette from work several times at home, but each time something was slightly off. I would never follow a recipe, simply winging it with the ingredients that I knew were present in the dish, which always seemed to result in a dry, oily, and quite bland bowl of pasta. With such an incredibly simple dish, it's easy for things to go wrong. You really have to have the highest quality ingredients in order to get the optimal flavour, as well as be spot on in your execution and quantities of ingredients. 

Desperate for my homemade orecchiette to be just as fantastic as the one from work, I finally gave in and started working with the very same recipe we use at the restaurant. Though I was fortunate enough to get an exact copy of the specs that our chefs use in the kitchen, lucky for you our Executive Chef Doug Neigel's recipe for Mercatto's Orecchiette Pugliese was featured in the Toronto Cooks cookbook for you to enjoy! 

This is one of my all-time favourite pasta dishes thanks to its simplicity and perfect balance of flavours and textures. I love the way the rich and salty fennel sausage plays off of the bitter and crunchy rapini, and that bit of heat that lingers on the tongue from the razer-thin slices of fresh hot peppers. In my opinion its the Padano cheese that ties the whole dish together, which I both toss in and grate on top with reckless abandon (the chefs all know I always order my orecchiette with a request for "CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE" typed into the chit). 

Undercook Your Pasta - In order to achieve the best results with this dish I recommend undercooking your pasta, taking it out even before it reaches al dente. Remember that your pasta will continue to cook when you toss it together with the other ingredients, so ensuring that it's still fairly tough when taken out of the boiling water will save you in the end. 

Keep Your Rapini Crisp - Just like you don't want mushy noodles you also don't want mushy rapini. When boiling your rapini, you are literally dropping it into the heavily salted water, and then taking it straight out. Fifteen seconds in the boiling water and straight into an ice bath is all you need to get tender, yet still crunchy rapini. To reduce any chewiness in the rapini, I like to peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler to remove any of fibrous strands. 

Use The Best Sausage - I also recommend finding the absolute best fennel sausage you can get your hands on! It's the flavour of the sausage that will really permeate into the whole dish, giving it it's addictive flavour. Though the fennel sausage I buy at my local market isn't quite as good as  the one used in Mercatto's kitchen, I add in some extra fennel seed and dried chilli flakes to amp up the flavour. 

Season Every Step - Lastly, it's super important to season every step of the way in order to get that great hit of flavour when ready to serve. Season your pasta water well as well as the water to boil the rapini. Also, be sure to season your rapini and when you sauté it in the pan and, if needed, add additional seasoning to your sausage. This will all help to build the flavour naturally. 

Listening To:

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Food Court Presents Cooking By Hand

2015, the year I fell in love with food photography! Getting to work as a brand ambassador for Kraft Canada last year was an extraordinary experience for me in so many ways, though, more than anything the most important thing that it did for me was spark my interest in food photography. Having the responsibility of putting out fresh content and alluring photos each week for a year motivated me to learn more about the craft that I have always been so fascinated in, and continue practicing on a near-daily basis. 
Since my year-long stint with Kraft ended in September, I've had to find clever new ways of inspiring unique content and different foodie subjects for me to photograph. In the midst of the service industry holiday madness, with barely a moment to catch my breath, I was given the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes as the exclusive photographer for Food Court's latest pop-up event Cooking By Hand. Despite my extreme need to Netfix-and-chill at the time, I happily sacrificed my one night off to get the chance to take my still-foreign-in-my-hand camera out for a spin to capture someone else's foodie creations for a change. 
I had previously heard about Food Court through social media, as their striking progress and recipe development photos would pop up on my feed. I was completely taken by the attention to detail and care that was so obviously taken in creating these beautiful, handmade Italian classics-with-a-twist. It was truly a treat to get to literally go behind-the-scenes in the kitchen and capture all of the exciting action as each dish was thoughtfully executed and plated by Chef Jeffrey Bovis. Here's a little taste of my experience at Food Court Presents Cooking By Hand
Stay up-to-date with all of Food Court's upcoming events by following them on Instagram and Facebook

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ricardo's Chicken Curry with Red Peppers and Coconut Milk

With thousands upon thousands of recipes from all different cultures from all over the world right at our fingertips at all times, it's become pretty easy these days to find a great recipe. We all have our favourite sources that we feel confident we can turn to when looking for a knock-your-socks-off recipe, but whether that recipe will be easy, time efficient, and will be something that I feel motivated to cook up on a busy weeknight, well, that's another story. 

I can tell you first hand that it can often be a chore in itself just finding a trustworthy recipe that you can whip up in the midst of all of your responsibilities, commitments, and stresses that wull have your tastebuds dancing, and leave you feeling satisfied. I have a few recipes in my weeknight rotation that I can turn to in a hurry, but I'm always looking for new ones to add to my repertoire to keep things interesting and different. 

Recently I was approached by Ricardo Cuisine asking if I would be interested in partnering with them on a blog post to test out and review one of Ricardo's most popular recipes. Being someone who is always on the lookout for new and delicious weeknight meal ideas, I jumped at the opportunity to be apart of the campaign. I was provided with a list of Ricardo's most popular recipes and could choose whichever one I wanted to recreate. With Asian flavours grabbing my attention as of late, Ricardo's recipe for Chicken Curry with Red Peppers and Coconut Milk was the first one to grab my attention. 

Asian cooking is still very much unfamiliar territory for me, as I continue to learn the vast array of spices, herbs, vegetables, and techniques that go into the flavourful cuisine. In the past I've stayed away from a lot of Asian recipes, intimidated by them and the amount of exotic ingredients that are often required. What I loved about Ricardo's Chicken Curry was that I already had almost every ingredient on the list in my kitchen! The only ingredients that I had to go out and buy were fresh chicken breasts and turmeric (a spice that I had previously never cooked with). 

You know me, I always give you my honest opinion, so I have to be straight with you once again and say that when I first started cooking up this recipe I was a little skeptical that I would like the final results. It all seemed too easy! I didn't believe that a curry recipe so simple and with so few ingredients could actually have that hit of flavour that I yearn for when diving into a dish of curry. I was completely shocked to find that after I allowed the coconut milk to simmer and blend with the spices, chicken, and vegetables I was left with the type of wonderfully flavourful curry that I had hoped for! Though the curry was already delicious on its own, especially when topping fluffy basmati rice, I wanted to round out the flavours just a touch. In order to do so, I added a few drops of fish sauce and about 1 tsp of tomato paste, which I happened to have on hand in my fridge. That little bit of umami and acidity took the dish up a level, helping to balance out the flavours and contribute to the overall mouth-feel of the dish. 

Though I may have been skeptical at first based on how easy the recipe was, I was so pleasantly surprised at how successful this dish turned out! I was able to get everything prepped, cooked, and on the table in just over a half hour and still had leftovers for lunch the next day! I would highly recommend this recipe to any curry lover looking for a quick and simple weeknight dinner idea! Thanks to the big flavours in this dish and the ease of preparation, this is a fantastic option for serving to guests to both wow them and allow you time to enjoy yourself as well!

Find the recipe here!

This post is sponsored by Ricardo Cuisine. Opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Egg Nog Punch for Fredi Magazine

How is Christmas already next week?!?!?! Insanity! Get yourself into the Christmas spirit quickly and easily by making this fantastic egg nog alternative! Though this was one of the craziest recipes I have ever heard of, the results were delicious and perfect for your next holiday party! I love the wild mix of ingredients that go into this festive cocktail, which somehow end up tasting like an expertly made egg nog, minus all of those raw egg yolks! Check out the recipe in the latest issue of Fredi magazine and on their website
Pro Tip:
Make a festive cocktail stirrer by stringing fresh cranberries through rosemary sprigs! The rosemary looks just like Christmas tree trimmings and will add an aromatic note to your bevvie. The stunning contrast of colour between the vibrant green from the rosemary and the deep ruby red from the cranberries add a striking detail set against the off-white drink.  

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lemon Cranberry Crumb Cake

There are two types of people in this world, sweet and salty. Me, I've always been more of a salty kinda gal, choosing eggs and bacon over french toast and pancakes and french fries over...well, let's be honest french fries trump everything! My attraction towards all things salty runs strong from Spring through to Fall, but as soon as that first evening of frost sets in at the end of Fall or the beginning of Winter, my sweet tooth starts to emerge! 

As I find myself pulling out my wool and cashmere sweaters and scarves, a hankering for all things sweet has begun to follow me around all day long! From the moment I wake up and choose a bowl of brown sugar and maple oatmeal over my usual scrambled eggs and toast, to just before I go to sleep as I eat a handful of Cap'n Crunch in bed, it's clear my sweet tooth has officially bubbled to the surface for the season. 
With sweets on the brain 24/7, I wanted to make a simple and not-too-sweet cake to have around my home that could satisfy my cravings whenever they should strike. With a fridge drawer full of fresh cranberries and lemons, my brain went straight to recreating my favourite crumb cake recipe with a lemon cranberry twist. This crumb cake recipe has been a family favourite for years thanks to its ease of preparation and moist and delicious results! I love that I can throw this cake together in next to no time and sub in whatever fruit I happen to have available. This recipe is so forgiving that in the past I've even subbed in non-fat yogurt for the suggested sour cream when the latter was unavailable. 

With the holiday season in full swing, this is a fantastic recipe for serving to guests or bringing to a party! It holds up well for a few days and travels very easily, making it the perfect addition to your holiday table! Give it a try and let me know how it went on Twitter: @thisgingerrose.

  • This is one of those recipes where fresh lemon juice is essential! None of that bottled business!
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream (you may use full or reduced fat)
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
zest of 2 lemons
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 - 2 cups fresh cranberries

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor add flour, sugar, and butter and pulse until crumbs form. Remove 1-cup of the mixture and set aside.
  3. Place sour cream in a small bowl and stir in baking soda until dissolved.
  4. Add sour cream mixture to the processor bowl. Add baking powder, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice and process until just combined. Do not over-mix!
  5. Gently stir in cranberries by hand.
  6. Pour batter into a lightly greased and floured 9x9-inch square baking pan. Top evenly with the reserved crumb mixture.
  7. Bake for 40-45-minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. (I start to check the cake around the 36/37-minute mark, and allow the toothpick to have just a little batter on it to ensure the moistest cake).
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Monday, November 16, 2015

Sugar & Spice Pumpkin Seeds

Holiday traditions have always been a big deal in my family. Every year during Christmastime we always spend a day making Christmas cookies with my Oma, we always open presents from "Santa" on Christmas morning, we still do a gift hunt each Easter, and ever since I was old enough to hold an exacto knife in my hand my family has always taken the time to carve intricate pumpkins each Halloween. 
My 2015 Halloween Pumpkin Carving
Though busy schedules and different living arrangements has meant that we don't get to carve pumpkins all together as a family anymore, my sister and I have still carried on the tradition on our own, taking great care to carve our own pumpkins inspired by the ones our dad taught us to make growing up. Though the greatest delight for my sister and I was getting to spend hours dedicated to focusing on a craft (yes, carving pumpkins is the ultimate craft!), we also found joy in utilizing the slimy pumpkin seeds scraped out of the innards of the pumpkin by making Sugar & Spice Pumpkin Seeds. 
I can't even remember when I first came across Martha Stewart's recipe for Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds, but that too has now become an annual Halloween tradition thanks to its wonderful contrast of flavours and addictive appeal. I make these every single year a few days before Halloween, and even though I use sesame oil all year round, that smell of the sesame oil hitting the pan will always remind me of Halloween thanks to these delicious seeds. While Halloween brings out the worst sweet tooth in me as I find myself craving all of my favourite Halloween chocolates and candy, my Sugar & Spice Pumpkin Seeds are, dare I say, my favourite of all the Halloween treats! 

Recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart
1 cup pumpkin seeds, rinsed and dried
4 Tbsp. white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp. sesame oil

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. On a rimmed baking sheet, evenly spread pumpkin seeds. Bake for 1-hour or until seeds are golden-brown and crisp. Stir several times during baking.
  2. In a medium bowl combine 2 Tbsp sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne pepper.
  3. In a medium non-stick skillet heat sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin seeds and remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar. Cook while stirring until all seeds are coated in caramelized sugar. 
  4. Immediately transfer seeds into bowl of spices and toss to coat. Let cool. Store in an airtight container for about 1-week.
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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Bowl

Without a doubt in my mind I can say that noodles are the royalty of all comfort food. Oh so you think chili's and stews are the royalty of all comfort food? Well get the heck out because you're wrong! haha I kid...kind of. What makes noodles the top of the crop in terms of comfort food for myself at least is the fact that noodles can be served in so many different ways, all of which are guaranteed to be delicious and satisfying! Whether it's spaghetti and fresh from-the-garden tomato sauce or a big ol' bowl of piping hot ramen, noodles are are like that hug from your mom at the end of a really bad day...except hugs from mom don't exactly fill a hungry belly. 

When I'm in the midst of a rough week all I seem to crave are noodles, which means either whipping up a big pot of homemade pasta, or ordering Asian takeout. More often than not I find myself making pasta over ordering in as an attempt at saving money and perhaps eating ever so slightly healthier, being able to control exactly what's going into my food. Making my own Asian noodles had never been an option for me, as I was intimidated by both the ingredients and techniques from a cuisine that I had not grown up making. It's felt easy picking up recipes from cultures such as Greece, Italy, Poland, etc. having grown up around the same types of flavours and cooking techniques, but with so many unique ingredients, cooking tools, and methods in Asian cuisine I have always chosen to leave the cooking to the pros. 

With such a love for Asian cuisine, I was itching to find a great noodle dish that I could rely on to become a mid-week staple for my boyfriend and I to nip that comfort food noodle craving right in the bud! After scouring Pinterest for more than I care to admit to even myself, I found two delicious-sounding Thai noodle recipes that seemed simple to execute and featured flavours that I was familiar with, many of which I already had on hand. With a lot of skepticism, I combined the two recipes to create something that I thought may be a good start for my intro to Asian cuisine. Though I was so sure that my first attempt at Asian noodles would end up tasting very "white" and like it missing something, I was so pleasantly surprised at how my Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Bowls turned out! Featuring that same punch of flavour found at my favourite Thai restaurants, these noodles were incredibly addictive and satisfied my craving for comforting Asian noodles. The rich coconut-infused sauce hugged every noodle and kept its intensity even upon reheating the following day! Despite my previous apprehensions over making Asian noodles, I have a newfound confidence thanks to such a successful first attempt! I am really proud of how this dish turned out and am so excited to hear what you think of it! Give it a try in your own kitchen and let me know how it went on Twitter: @thisgingerrose

  • To speed up the softening of the noodles, soak them in boiling water until softened.
Recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum and Bon Appetit
4 ounces rice noodles
1 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
2 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. ginger, minced
1 Tbsp cilantro stems, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. red curry paste
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground turmeric 
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. hot chili paste (Sambal Oelek)
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs, halved lengthwise
1 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup broccoli florets
1 large carrot, long slices peeled with a vegetable peeler
1 cup snow peas, trimmed
2 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. lightly toasted peanuts, chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges (for serving)

  1. Soak noodles in very hot water until softened. Rinse and drain. Begin this right at the start of cooking as noodles will take some time to soften. See above note for more info. 
  2. In a large saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp. oil. Add shallots, garlic, ginger, and cilantro stems and stir fry for about 3-4 minutes, or until shallot has softened and is translucent. 
  3. Add curry paste, coriander, and turmeric and stir-fry for 1-minute.
  4. Add coconut milk, sugar, chili paste, fish sauce, and soy sauce and stir. Add broth and chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25-minutes, until chicken is fork tender.
  5. Transfer chicken to a plate and shred with 2 forks. Add back to sauce.
  6. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbso oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, broccoli, carrot, and snow peas and stir fry for 5-minutes. Add sauce, noodles, and 2 Tbso. cilantro and toss to combine. Serve in bowls topped with additional cilantro, peanuts, and a lime wedge. 
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Friday, November 6, 2015

Cacio e Pepe

It's 6:30 pm on a Wednesday, you just got home, the fridge is empty and you're hungry. What do you do? Prior to my trip to Italy this summer I would have always answered that question by quickly replying "make Ina Garten's Agio e Olio!" but since getting to experience the epitome of simple Italian classic dishes, Cacio e Pepe, in Rome I've added a new quick and easy weeknight pasta to my repertoire! Even when it may appear that the fridge is empty and there's nothing to make, I always make sure that my cupboards and fridge are stocked just enough to be able to throw together a tasty pasta on the fly. In order to keep myself prepared come the mid-week hunger freakout I always make sure to have good quality pasta, peppercorns, olive oil, garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino cheese on hand. Truly, that is all you need to whip together a fantastic pasta dinner! 

Though in theory cacio e pepe is simpler than aglio e olio (there are less steps and less ingredients), it is the simplicity of ingredients and preparation that actually makes cacio e pepe trickier to master than it's olive oil sister. With only pasta water, fresh cracked pepper, butter, and cheese, the trick to mastering cacio e pepe is all about finesse in preparation and quality of ingredients. I know, quality ingredients means pricey ingredients, but it is in instances like this where the quality of your ingredients truly makes all the difference. With so few ingredients, you really have to use the best in order to get the most flavour, so make friends with your local cheesemonger (get out of the grocery store and visit a gourmet cheese shop or a farmers market for your cheese!) and get yourself a big ol' hunk of parm. In terms of finesse, the way to achieve great results with this pasta is making sure everything is prepped ahead of time, ensuring your pasta is nice and al dente (you want it to have a nice bite), and serving it all up at the exact right moment. The exact right moment is when you have just enough sauce to coat your pasta with a little bit left in the bowl. Don't second guess yourself. If you think it's done, take it off the heat right away! If you take an extra 30-seconds to consider whether your pasta is done, your sauce may have dissipated and your noodles may have over-cooked. Trust your gut! 

With such a simple recipe and such high standards after having an insanely good take on cacio e pepe at Flavio Al Velavevodetto in Rome, I still feel as though I have not perfected my cacio e pepe quite yet. Though it's always delicious and leaves me feeling satiated and comforted, my cacio e pepe is not quite as creamy as the perfect one that I had the pleasure of devouring in Rome. What is my cacio e pepe missing? I still don't have a clue, but I welcome any advice or tricks that you may have to achieving that wonderfully creamy result that I'm dreaming of. Give the dish a try and let me know how it went on Twitter: @thisgingerrose. What did you like about the recipe? Where did you struggle? I want to know! Let's chat! 

  • I like to freshly crack my peppercorns for this dish right before I make it in a mortar and pestle. I highly recommend you do the same for the best flavour!
  • Have everything prepped and in its place before you get anything going on the stove. Crack your pepper, grate your cheeses, set the table, etc. It all goes very quickly as soon as your pasta comes out of the water. 
  • I like to use Molisana dry pasta as a good-quality, yet reasonably priced pasta that I can get at the grocery store. 
Recipe slightly adapted from Bon Appetit
kosher salt
1 lb dry pasta (such as spaghetti, tonnarelli, chittara)
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and divided
2 tsp black peppercorns, freshly cracked
1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
2/3 cup Pecorino, finely grated

  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until very al dente (the pasta will continue to cook in the sauce). Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta water. 
  2. Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet set to medium heat, toast the pepper for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add 4 Tbsp butter and melt while whisking. Whisk together in pan for 1-minute. 
  3. Add 1-cup reserved pasta water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5-minutes. 
  4. Add pasta and remaining butter and mix together with tongs. Reduce heat to low and add Parmigiano-Reggiano, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. 
  5. Remove pan from heat and add pecorino. Stir and toss until cheese has melted, and the sauce has coated the pasta. Add more pasta water if the pasta seems dry. 
  6. Serve immediately in warmed pasta bowls topped with additional grated Parmigano and a drizzle of good-quality olive oil (optional).
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