Monday, February 13, 2012

La cucina piccola fal la casa grande -Italian Proverb

Thank God for TiVo.

Got invited to a work function on a Thursday night and were too embarrassed to tell your boss you really can't miss this week's episode of Jersey Shore? No problem. Spoiler Alert: This week, Snookie gets drunk, Ronnie and Sam break up get back together break up, Mike and Pauly try to smash with girls at the club, and everyone gets melanoma.

Not that I have much room to record much of anything, what with every single episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations saved by Aaron. He likes to keep them, watch them over and over again, and you know...get inspired. Last month, it took everything I could do to convince him that buying a white linen suit and fedora and booking a puddle-jumper from Miami just to get an authentic Cuban sandwich might not be the most thought-out plan ever. "But Tony did it...."

Well, fortunately for me, last night he watched an episode where Tony goes to Naples, and it inspired the shit out of him. Now our whole house smells like garlic and tomatoes, a delicious scent which, by the way Febreze should really consider adopting for their next line of air fresheners. I'd rather smell pots of house-made marinara and sweet garlic and basil than Yumberry Sangria or Glistening Alpine any day.

So Tony visited someone's Italian mother in Naples who stood over a pot that had been simmering since like, ten in the morning, chain smoking a cigarette and speaking rapid fire Italian as she chopped onions and as the beautiful, rich red TV-screen sauce bubbled, spattering itself all over the stove and the sink (which, if you look closely, is on top of the washing machine) we knew that we had to have Italian tonight.

Forgive the redundancy because I know that I just posted about Italian food, but after seeing this woman move so deftly and with such incredible purpose and intent in her natural element, Aaron was inspired enough that I came home and had a weird de-ja-vous moment of seeing an identical pot blub-blub-blubbing on my own stove and I immediately knew two things: First: I was going to have to get up early tomorrow and go to the gym because second: it was going to be a very very very good night. It didn't hurt that I also saw this...

...which is pretty much the carnivorous equivalent of a Jenna Jameson movie. So I had the feeling that it wasn't going to suck.

But, to appease the middle part of the food pyramid that mentions something about vegetables and leafy greens, we started with a salad. Annie's sells an amazing Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (available at Whole Foods) which not only puts all other Ranch Dressings to shame, but locks them in the bathroom and steals their clothing just to make a point. Toss some lettuce, cucumbers, feta cheese, hard-boiled eggs, oh...and that crispy pancetta in the picture that your cursor keeps accidentally grazing, and the end result is a salad that is not so much a healthy prelude to a meal but a salty, creamy homage to green stuff drizzled in delicious stuff that hits every note of perfection and sticks it's tongue out at those commercials where stick-thin models spray their salads with what appears to be zero calorie sunscreen.

This dinner was partially about the fact that Aaron is a freaking amazing cook, and partially about the fact that the availability of really great gluten free products has hit a level of epic proportion. Whole Foods now carries RP's, a brand of fresh-made gluten free pasta made with brown rice flour, potato starch and egg. It can be served al dente, and instead of that mushy texture that a lot of packaged gf pasta has, it has a toothy, chewy mouth feel that is reminiscent of semolina or durham flour. Aaron browned some beef and stewed it in his big pot of red sauce concoction, and the result was a gluten free pasta that I would swear tasted like it stepped off the boat, registered at Ellis Island, and set up shop in the Italian Market. I was actually surprised that it didn't smack my hand with a wooden spoon and yell at me in a foreign language.

The fine people at Grandma's Grotto (see posting below) sent me home with a goodie bag of frozen foods, which included a loaf of garlic bread which we took great pleasure in heating up and sopping up tasty morsels of ground beef popping with acidic, tangy, tomato sauce in a crispy blanket of melted butter and garlic.

And then Aaron, in his infinite wisdom and knowledge of all things glorious, pounded out two top round steaks until they were thin and layered ricotta cheese, gf bread crumbs, shallots, basil and Parmesan cheese on top, and rolled it up like a cannoli, tying it with butcher twine (see photo above). He seared the outside of the meat and then placed it in a small oval pan and covered it with red sauce and let the inside of the meat cook through. The braciole came out of the oven, ricotta cheese bubbling and browning like a little ode to lasagna, topped with fresh picked basil leaves and cracked crystals of sea salt. He sliced the meat down, and it perched on my plate, amid melty gooey ricotta cheese, next to the pasta, a silent watchdog keeping guard over pasta and delicately crafted sauce.

All in all, it was a wildly successful dinner. I'm going to need a little more "G" (as in GTL) in my life after eating two plates of pasta and almost an entire loaf of bread. But most importantly, Aaron brought a little taste of Naples, sans the heaping piles of glutenous pastas and breads to our kitchen. Which does not include a washing machine.

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