Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Starter - The Ultimate Cheese Plate

Thanksgiving 2016 is in the books, and it was a great one. We have much to be thankful for, especially in a world where far too many aren't as lucky as we. So for food on the table, a roof over our heads, a warm bed each night, and each other, I give thanks.  

Our Thanksgiving feast was fantastic (thanks to my mom-in-law for hosting), and as usual, my husband and I contributed starters. He made a really delicious Blue Cheese & Walnut Waldorf Dip, and I went with my personal favorite, a cheese plate. But not just any cheese plate, a cheese plate to end all cheese plates. One that would top all my others in variety and abundance. A mega plate, if you will. 

Thanksgiving 2016, Photo: NK

Below I'll share the how-to for today's show-stopping platter, but if you're looking for more ideas, be sure to check out our other themed efforts over the years. 

Spanish Cheese and Meat Plate How To
Spanish Cheese Plate II - Anatomy of a Spanish Cheese Plate 
French Cheese and Charcuterie Plate 
Sunny Italy Cheese Plate How To
Southern Cheese Plate with the works!
Ricotta Crostini Platter

Ultimate Cheese & Salumi Plate
Serves 7-8


Aged imported Prosciutto, thinly sliced (about 1/2 Lb)
1 Small Dried Salami, we chose Spicy Calabrese Style

Cypress Grove Creamline Midnight Moon 
La Casearia Carpenedo Vento D'Estate

Castelvetrano Olives

Marcona Almonds

Starfruit (Carambola)

Red Grapes
Granny Smith Apples
Red Anjou Pears

Fig Preserves

Treviso Leaves (a type of Radicchio)
Italian Parsley 



Friday, November 4, 2016

Restaurant Inspired - Scarpetta's Tomato Basil Sauce

So many of my family's favorite at-home meals are inspired by incredible restaurant experiences. In the years where we were footloose and fancy free, we did a really good job of getting out for great meals around town, several that were really special and memorable with amazing dishes like:
Chili Lobster With Texas Toast, Brussels Sprouts With Figs and Mint Yogurt, and this unbelievable Mac & Cheese.   

Scarpetta's Famous Spaghetti with Tomato Basil Sauce at home! Photo: NK

Nowadays, as parents, life may be a bit slower and budgets may be tighter, but the few times we do make it out, we really go and do it up. When date nights are scarce, it's a great excuse to make them count!

The latest wow dish came to us courtesy of NYC's impeccable Scarpetta, an elegant yet bustling high-end Italian joint that is not to be missed. Though everything we ate was excellent, their most famous dish, a humble bowl of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce, was the stand out. Part of me didn't want to order it because I typically like my out-on-the-town dinners to be a bit more exotic, but I'd read so much hype, I just had to taste for myself. The secret to Scott Conant's brilliant sauce is two-fold as far as I can tell: lots of extra fat (oil, butter, etc. what could go wrong?) but also, Conant infuses Olive Oil with the fresh flavors of Classic Marinara, so that you get all the essence and freshness in an unmuddled, more forward way. The flavored Oil is applied at the end, and the various essences come through to your palate magnified and bright. It's pure genius.

Our interpretation of Scarpetta's famous Spaghetti Tomato Basil Sauce is based heavily off the Serious Eats piece and because we use high quality canned Tomatoes, it's done the fastest possible way possible. Obviously fresh Tomatoes are best, but I would only use themwhen they are at their best and perfectly in season. Though there are multiple steps to Conant's recipe, I've tried to write it up for you in a way that maximizes ease and cuts down prep time. 

I threw this together on a weekday and I was done in just under 40 minutes. SO worth it. While I could tell you my results were as good as the real deal, I'd be lying. Still, I must say, it came pretty darn close to the original and really blew our socks.

Scarpetta's Famous Spaghetti Tomato Basil Sauce (the fastest way)
By Scott Conant

28 Ounce Can Whole Peeled (or diced) San Marzano Tomatoes
1 Pound Good Quality dry or fresh Spaghetti (Garofalo, De Cecco are good choices)
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Coarse Sea Salt
1 Tablespoon
Bunch of Basil, 2 large sprigs set aside, 6 large leaves cut into thin ribbons
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes + extra for infusing the Oil
6 Cloves of Garlic, whole  
1 Tablespoon Salted Butter
2-3 Tablespoons Fresh Grated Parmigiana Reggiano


Set a large Pasta Pot of well salted water to boil.

In another large, high sided pan, warm the 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the can of Tomatoes and a big pinch of Salt and 1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper. Allow to cook for about 3 minutes then mush them well with a potato masher. (Start prepping your Oil infusion below). Allow to cook about 20 minutes or more (if you need to buy time) over medium heat, mashing and stirring from time to time. If the sauce gets too thick, add a Tablespoon or two of water to loosen.

While the Tomato Sauce cooks, infuse your remaining Olive Oil in another small pot. Add 1/4 Cup Oil, 2 large sprigs of Basil, a good pinch of Crushed Red Pepper Flake and 6 Large Garlic Cloves. Turn the flame very low and allow flavors to slowly infuse, ideally for about 20 minutes.

Pasta Water should be boiling now so add your Spaghetti and cook until just under al dente according to package instructions. When Pasta is done, scoop out about a cup of pasta water and reserve. Drain the rest of the Pasta and add it to the pan with the Tomato Sauce. Toss. Add Pasta Water, Tablespoon by Tablespoon and turn up the flame to medium. Continue to toss until Sauce and Pasta moves together in the pan. The Pasta Water will help it to bind thanks to the starch in it. Turn off the flame.

Throw a pat of Butter on top of the Pasta and Sauce and toss. Then stream in the Infused Oil, using a spoon to block the solids as you pour. Discard all but the oil. Toss. Now the add the Parmigiana Reggiano and remaining Basil Ribbons. Toss again. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of Salt if needed.

Serve and ENJOY!!!!!!