How to Make the Cheesiest Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is naturally creamy and cheesy. But, I recently came across a mac and cheese recipe wherein three kinds of cheese are used. As a big cheese-lover, I immediately tried the recipe.

I first saw the recipe in the food blog Cafe Delites. The dish is called Creamy Garlic Parmesan Mac and Cheese. The Parmesan cheese is the star of the show. You will know why later.

The original American recipe of mac and cheese is just cheddar without garlic. It is creamy without any extra texture.

The Cheesiest Cheese Sauce

Each cheese has a purpose to make the basic recipe more memorable. Cheddar maintains the usual taste of mac and cheese. Meanwhile, mozzarella makes it more enjoyable to eat because of the mouthwatering cheesy strings and thicker sauce. Lastly, with the savory taste of Parmesan cheese, mac and cheese becomes more compatible to pair with garlic. Shredded Parmesan cheese also looks beautiful all over the top.

Ingredients

I followed the ingredients as is, which is good for 10 servings (1 cup each). Whenever I cook a dish for the first time, I always share it with my parents even if I already have a family of my own. That’s why 10 servings was perfect for me.

First off, let’s talk about the pasta. For 10 serves, 500 grams or 1 pound of dry pasta is enough. The perfect pasta for mac and cheese is obviously elbow macaroni. Cellentani is also a good choice.

Next, we have to pay attention to the sauce. We need 1/4 cup of butter, four cloves of garlic that are crushed, 1/4 cup of plain or all-purpose flour, 4 1/2 cups of full-fat or skimmed milk, 1 tablespoon of corn flour or cornstarch, salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon of vegetable stock or chicken bouillon powder, 3/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese, 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and 6 ounces of mozzarella cheese.

Another thing that makes this mac and cheese recipe unique is the crispy topping. The topping is made of 2/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. I noticed how mac and cheese can be dull to the taste sometimes, especially if I’m not in the mood for it. Garlic, Parmesan cheese, and the crispy topping can really take things up a notch.

Directions

The instructions are also classified into three in the following order: pasta, topping and sauce. For the pasta, boil it in salted water. Afterwards, drain the water and rinse the pasta with cold water. Set the pasta aside while you preheat the broiler or oven grill to 190 degrees Celsius or 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the topping, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in an oven-proof skillet or pan in medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook them until they achieve the perfect golden brown color. Set them aside in a bowl.

Now, for the most crucial part, the sauce. Melt butter again in the same skillet. Add garlic and cook it for a minute. Stir or whisk as you add and cook flour for 2 minutes. Lower heat and whisk as you slowly add 4 cups of milk. Boil the mixture until thick.

While boiling, mix 1/2 cup of milk and cornstarch in a jug. Whisk the mixture until thick and free from lumps. Add salt, pepper and bouillon powder. Mix it again.

Remove the sauce from heat. Add the three types of cheese and stir them until they all melted. Add pasta into the sauce. Put the toppings and extra Parmesan cheese. Grill or broil in the oven until the whole thing bubbles. Cool it down before serving.

Final Thoughts

Simple mac and cheese is delicious enough. What more if it has a kick of distinct flavors, crunchy texture, and three types of cheese? That’s taking comfort food to the next level.

Cheese is also useful for desserts. Check out this cheesecake recipe that will surely delight you and your family.

The Delicious History of the American Burger

Being born and raised in the United States, I’m guilty as charged when the world says that Americans really love burgers. The standard for burgers in any country is based on how Americans like their burger – big buns, thick juicy steak, creamy cheese and crispy veggies stacked as tall as possible.

Meat sandwiched between two breads seems to be a universal thing when it comes to food, but burger will always be associated with Americans. As always, I get curious regarding the connection of history, culture and food. The past defines how a group of people managed to collectively like a certain food.

It all starts with the meat.

The idea of burger patty already existed back in the 12th century, specifically with the Mongols. Minced horse meat was a daily source of consumption for the Mongols because of availability and convenience. Since Mongols felt no need to stop whenever they travel, they put meat under saddles to crumble and be cooked due to friction and heat.

During the Mongol invasion in Moscow, minced horsemeat was eventually introduced to the locals. It was gradually turned into steak tartare based on the Russian version. Whether directly or indirectly, the Mongols’ beloved minced meat became sausages, meatloaves and other similar dishes throughout Europe.

Thank God for ships!

In the 17th century, steak tartare recipes became a source of income for Russia. The country made their ships bring the recipes to the port of Hamburg in Germany where there a lot of Russian residents.

The New York City port was a popular destination for ships from Hamburg. Restaurants near the port started to offer the Hamburg steak to attract sailors who missed their country’s food. Hamburg steak was created similar to how we make burger patties nowadays: minced beef formed by hand to serve as a fillet, salted, smoked, and served with breadcrumbs and onions.

Regarding the person who thought of making a sandwich out of a Hamburg steak, it is not clear in history who exactly did it. One reason is the growing popularity of sandwich, which occurred in the same timeline as the Hamburg steak phenomenon.

Hamburg steak became hamburger steak. In the 1930s, it was finally called hamburger. In the modern years, hamburger is not a common term anymore because most people think that it is a burger made of ham. As always, burgers can be made with any meat – even fish patties.

Why America?

Now, why did the U.S. become the hub for burgers? History and numbers dictate that the U.S. massively produced beef and bread more than most countries caused by the growing economy, vast farmlands, and industrialization. Minced beef became even more popular when meat grinding machines from Europe reached the U.S.

Final Thoughts

I felt silly when I realized that hamburger does not mean that it was originally a burger made of ham. I hope I’m not the only one! Lastly, it is amazing how a country can accept a foreign food with open arms and make it their own for the whole world to see. Food can really transcend boundaries.

If you’re planning right now to make your own burger at home (I’m also craving for burgers while writing this), I have tips on how to broil meat patties for that soft texture. A burger with crunchy vegetables and soft meat topped with lots of cheese? Heaven!

5 Recipes Dads Will Surely Love

My father and I have always been close. Aside from us being bound by blood, we love the same things: sports, beer, John Grisham novels, Michael Bay films, and of course – food! I can make everyday a Father’s Day or my dad’s birthday with these five recipes:

Beerbecue Beef Flank Steak

Through the years, I obviously noticed Dad’s likes and dislikes. I make sure to incorporate those with everything I do because, let’s face it, I’m a loving son. Kidding aside, since two of Dad’s favorites are beer and steak, I introduced to him this recipe from Allrecipe’s Chef John. The beer is mixed into the barbecue sauce. The meat tastes smoky and juicy at the same time.

I have some tips on how to broil steaks, as well as hamburgers and country-style ribs. These might help you in case you have other preferences when it comes to the steak’s texture.

Sloppy Cheesesteak Sliders

Dad is not a cheese fan (he really loathes parmesan and mozzarella), but he sure does love hearty food. Cheese is a good way to increase the volume of food to ensure a full tummy afterwards. Thankfully, Dad likes cheddar so I made him this recipe from Delish’s Judy Kim for the previous Super Bowl. It’s a little messy to eat this grub, but it’s really satisfying. This is the perfect food while watching a good game on TV.

Crispy Grilled Chicken Thighs

It may look like fried chicken, but this Food Network Kitchen recipe made a twist. The chicken is coated with breadcrumbs and grilled until crispy. With that process, smokiness is added to the usual taste of breaded chicken. Matched with grilled tomatoes and a fantastic sauce, this crispy grilled chicken is an absolute delight.

Sweet and Sour Chicken Wings

Mom is a Martha Stewart fan, so she asked for my help to complete this recipe for Dad’s 58th birthday. It’s catchy whenever “sweet and sour” is added before the name of a recipe. It sounds mouthwatering. Well, it tastes even more delicious than it sounds because of the tangy yet savory flavor.

Sweetness and sourness, when combined, enhances appetite. No wonder this dish is originally made as an appetizer. The chicken wings are baked while the sauce is made of honey, vinegar and soy sauce. Soy sauce is salty, which is good in balancing the two conflicting flavors. For a little bit of spice, ginger and garlic is added to the mix.

Barbecue Ribs

There are a lot of recipes for barbecue ribs, but Jamie Oliver’s take on this dish is a favorite of my family – especially Dad which only proves the stereotype that rednecks love ribs and barbecue. These ribs are everything because of the marinade. The mixture has chilli, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce, mustard, tomato ketchup, white wine vinegar and apple juice. The whole thing sounds so complicated but I assure you, the taste is simply delicious.

Final Thoughts

Saying “thank you” and “I love you” can be too awkward between father and child, especially if both are grown men. If words are too difficult, write a letter, give a card, or just cook a delicious dinner for your dad. If you don’t know how to cook, just follow the recipes carefully.

Passover and Easter Recipes – Arthur Schwartz

I may think I have an easy web-site to navigate. But, a couple of weeks ago, I realized how hard it is for some people to find what they are looking for when I was making a personal appearance at Bloomingdale’s in Short Hills, New Jersey. A listener came by to scold me that I had not, as I said I would, put Suzanne Hamlin’s macaroni and cheese recipe in The Maven’s Diary. I knew I had. I knew it was there. Yet he insisted that I had not, and he walked off in a huff.

I hope the new recipe indexes I am working on now will help those of you who can’t find recipes I say are here. Unfortunately, the search engine software I use comes through only once a week (on Fridays I believe) so that the search box on the upper left side of any page with the red border will work only for recipes on the site for more than a week.

Meanwhile, let me point out that there are several recipes archived in The Maven’s Diary that are appropriate to Passover and Easter. With spring coming tomorrow, I know those holidays are beginning to be on your mind. You can find all the following recipes by going to The Maven’s Diary and clicking on Archive 2000. Once there, you will see the year divided into months. Click on the entry you want. (Sorry, but there are year 2001 entries mixed in with the March 2000 entries. My webmaster is working on that to correct it.)

Abe Lebewohl’s Matzoh Balls, from the famous and dear late owner of the Second Avenue Deli, appeared in the Maven’s Diary on April 16, 2000.

Matzoh Buttercrunch, the delicious candy from Montreal-based maven Marcy Goldman (www.betterbaking.com) that caused a sensation among my Jewish listeners last year, appeared on April 5, 2000.

My Family’s Passover Walnut Cake, which I intend to try with hazelnuts this year, appeared on March 15, 2000. Please read the whole entry, not just the recipe, before baking the cake. You’ll see what I mean when you do.

Ann Nurse’s Famous Easter Ham, which she is making again this year for her perpetually sold-out James Beard Foundation Easter Brunch, was in the diary item dated April 27, 2000.

Pastiera Rustica di Tagliolini, a recipe from my book Naples At Table, is one of my favorite dishes to make for a buffet (as in Easter brunch buffet) and it ran in the Diary on April 10, 2000.

Original Cobb Salad – Arthur Schwartz

Serves 4 to 6

I know this from my own cooking, and all
good cooks will identify: It is most often the dish you slap-dash
together out of desperate necessity (and usually leftovers) that
is the biggest triumph. How many times have I berated myself for
not writing down exactly what I did when throwing dinner together
from what’s lurking in the back of the refrigerator and cupboard?
(On the other hand, I have, indeed, written many down and they are
collected in “What To Cook When
You Think There’s Nothing in the House To Eat
,” to be re-published
by HarperPerennial in February.)

Which brings me to Cobb Salad: One of the
most famous dishes in American culinary history was created on the
spur of the moment.

Cobb salad was created at the Brown Derby
in Hollywood. Here’s the official story … or legend, if you will
… as recorded by the Brown Derby itself:

    “One night in 1937, Bob Cobb, then owner
of The Brown Derby, prowled hungrily in his restaurant’s kitchen
for a snack. Opening the huge refrigerator, he pulled out this
and that: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress,
tomatoes, some cold breast of chicken, a hard-boiled egg, chives,
cheese and some old-fashioned French dressing. He started chopping.
Added some crisp bacon — swiped from a busy chef.

“The Cobb salad was born. It was so good,
Sid Grauman (Grauman’s Chinese Theatre), who was with Cobb that
midnight, asked the next day for a ‘Cobb Salad.’ It was so good
that it was put on the menu.

“Cobb’s midnight invention became an
overnight sensation with Derby customers, people like movie mogul
Jack Warner, who regularly dispatched his chauffeur to pick up
a carton of the mouth-watering salad.”

Since 1937, more than 4 million Cobb salads
have been sold at Brown Derby restaurants, according to the Brown
Derby Restaurant Group, which, now that the two original Hollywood
restaurants have closed, is what the company calls itself. It licenses
the restaurant name for merchandise (including bottled Cobb salad
dressing), as well as to Disney, which opened a reproduction of
the original Brown Derby in Orlando, Florida, in 1989 and, in 1990.
signed a 20-year agreement for Brown Derby restaurants in Tokyo,
Paris and Anaheim, California. You can read all about The Brown
Derby and its glamorous customers in The
Brown Derby Restaurant: A Hollywood Legend
, which includes many
of the Derby’s recipes.

Footnote: There’s also a legend
about how the Brown Derby got its name: One night, Herbert Somborn,
an ex-husband of Gloria Swanson, remarked — speaking of the mood
of Hollywood in the roaring 20s — that “You could open a restaurant
in an alley and call it anything. If the food and service were good,
the patrons would just come flocking. It could be called something
as ridiculous as the Brown Derby.” Hence, a restaurant shaped like
a hat opened near Hollywood and Vine in 1926.

1/2 head lettuce,
about 4 cups
1 bunch watercress
1 small bunch chicory,
about 2 1/2 cups
1/2 head romaine,
about 2 1/2 cups
2 medium peeled
tomatoes
6 strips of crisp
bacon
2 breasts of boiled
chicken
3 hard cooked eggs
1 avocado
1/2 cup crumbled Roquefort
cheese
2 tablespoons chopped
chives
1 cup (approximately)
Original Cobb Salad Dressing

Cut lettuce, half the watercress, chicory
and romaine

Favorite Brooklyn Restaurants, Part I – Arthur Schwartz

I have been doing some spring cleaning, clearing my desk, making room for more clutter. What I have here, among chits of paper to remind me of something, email printouts, business cards, and whatever, are a number of menus from restaurants I keep meaning to tell you about. So here it is.

First, I must confess that I have very little interest in new restaurants in Manhattan. My friends tell me about them. I read about them in the New York Times, in New York magazine, and in Time Out, and whenever I am hearing about them or reading about them I am thankful that I no longer have to eat in them. I mean, not being on the radio or in daily newspaper print — and for the first year in 36 years — I am very, very thankful that I don’t have to be a restaurant know-it-all anymore. I get to eat at home, which is where I mainly like to eat. Incidentally, too, although I am eating very well at home, I have been dropping weight almost painlessly because I am not sitting in a restaurant for 2½ hours every night. Well, it helps that I am exercising more regularly, too.

However, I have been eating in Brooklyn restaurants because I am still reviewing for BKLYN magazine, and I live here. It’s convenient. And it’s significantly less expensive than eating in Manhattan. I can afford it.

Here in Park Slope (I am answering what I know is your next question), I have many favorites.

I am partial to Tempo for special occasions, or when I want to show off how sophisticated Brooklyn can be. The menu is eclectic with Italian and other Mediterranean leanings. The service is absolutely professional, but friendly. The room is stylishly spare and contemporary. The sound level and comfort level are perfect.

I love Bonnie’s Grill for hamburgers and the best, the best, the best buffalo chicken wings, not that I eat chicken wings that often. I usually sit at the counter of Bonnie’s, and watch the ballet of the short order cook. I have always enjoyed doing that. And the beer. Whatever’s on tap, which is always something different and interesting.

I love Al Di La, but the whole city seems to love Al Di La’s mostly Venetian style food. You hardly need me to tell you about it.

I love Osteria Convivium, where they have a great steak (for two), great salt cod dishes many delicious Italian, Spanish and Portuguese things to eat in a country house atmosphere. Interesting Iberian wine list, including sherrys and ports. And Convivium’s romantic garden must be open already.

I love the Red Café, a tiny place where the owner is the chef and he just cooks simple food that suits his fancy, and many others, including mine. The room is sophisticated: on the red walls are hung black and white photos of famous reds – both of hair (Lucille Ball) and political persuasion (Karl Marx). The cooking is more or less homey, sometimes even a little trendy.

I love Brooklyn Fish Camp, an outpost of Mary’s Fish Camp in Greenwich Village. It is a nearly perfect restaurant, and I only use the word “nearly” to hedge my bets because something always has to go wrong – everywhere, anytime – and I don’t want you saying “Schwartz said it is perfect, so what’s up?” I always try to order the salt shrimp for the table, but be prepared to crunch through the shells, too. Don’t peel them. It’s the only way to go. The shellfish bouillabaisse is great if you like spicy, which I do. The classic New England lobster roll is famous, and it comes with a mountain of great shoestring fries. The lobster pot pie is pretty wonderful, too, and there is always a list of the fresh catch prepared in various ways, even just plain as plain. A lot of great food here in a simple room with an open kitchen and professional friendly service. There’s a big garden here, too.

Those are just my favorites at the north end of Fifth Avenue, and the list doesn’t include some of the terrific places further south on Fifth – like the acclaimed Stone Park Café (stars from the Times, reviewed in the Michelin Guide); Belleville, a good French bistro with very popular outdoor seating; the Mexican Sandwich Shop, where everything is a quesadilla (I like the shredded duck); the Chip Shop, a fish and chips joint where my friend the shepherd’s pie aficionado actually enjoys the shepherd’s pie more than the fried fish. But, if you ask, he’ll tell you the best sheepherd’s pie is at the Park Slope Ale House on Sixth Ave., where we both adore the manager, Kristyn, and go for her as much as for the food.

My other favorites in what we now seem to call “brownstone Brooklyn” are Downtown Atlantic on Atlantic Ave. near Hoyt St., where you can get everything from a wonderful hamburger to a trendy plate (and great jazz on Sundays). Downtown also has a retail bakery that carries some of the best baked goods in the entire city, including the only cupcakes that the New York Times testers really liked. I go for the chocolate banana cream tarts myself.

Down at Fulton Landing, where the amazing, glamorous and elegant River Café is still going strong at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, is a more modest restaurant I love – 25 Front Street, its address. It also has a garden, and it is also the sister restaurant to 12th Street Bar & Grill, on 12th St. and Sixth Ave. in Park Slope, which is another Park Slope favorite. It has a particularly good three-course dinner special – I think about $22 these days.

There’s also Ici on Dekalb Ave. in Fort Greene, where the eclectic menu is hard to characterize, but suffice to say it is being cooked by a young Mexican-American chef from Austin, Texas, who has French culinary training and Italophile tendencies. I like everything, including the spare dining room (and another garden).

Frankies Spuntino 457 on Court St. in CarrollGardens, may attract the trendiest crowd in Brownstone Brooklyn. I hear that there have been Heath Ledger-Michele Williams sightings there. The couple lives nearby. I go for the food, which is essentially southern Italian and conducive to sharing and grazing – spuntino is a word for snack in Italian — although I can’t say it also isn’t fun to pretend I belong in this room full of attractive under 40s. Yet another wonderful Brooklyn garden.

I have to say that Sette on Seventh Ave. and Third St. in Park Slope also attracts a very attractive, vivacious young crowd. I hear they have improved the noise problem they had when they opened, so now I am eager to get back and enjoy the food, which I’d have to call creative Italian-American. And terrific.

Enough for now. If I continue with my adventures to restaurants outside the brownstone zone this will become entirely too long and tedious to read. I promise to continue soon.

Meanwhile, Mother’s Day is coming up and it is the second biggest cookbook-buying holiday of the year, closely following Christmas. Permit me to remind you that a cookbook written by me, especially if inscribed by me to the recipient, makes a very nice Mother’s Day gift. My cookbooks still in print are Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food: An opinionated history with legendary recipes, Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania, and Soup Suppers. Clicking on any of the preceding titles will take you to Amazon, where you can purchase the book, then forward the receipt to me at mavensmail@aol.com. I will send you (or the recipient – you tell me where to send it) a book plate made of handmade Amalfi paper and sporting my personal stamp, as well as personalized greeting. I am leaving for Italy on May 6, so I will have to receive the receipts very soon in order to get them out.

Migliaccio: Aunt Loretta’s Cheesecake – Arthur Schwartz

I suppose the subject of migliaccio has come up several times lately because in some Italian-American families it is traditional for Easter.

The word migliaccio means pudding, derived from the Latin word for millet, the grain. In antique times, migliaccio was porridge or gruel made from millet. Today, it is different things in different parts of Italy, although I believe it is a word used mainly in the south of Italy. It can be a savory or sweet pudding, and it can be made with semolina (the flour of hard wheat) or cornmeal, or, in one case I know, from pasta. That case, the migliaccio di Ischia, which is capellini (angel hair) baked with eggs, milk, sugar and candied orange peel, is in my book Naples At Table. It’s a recipe from the Calise family, who own the largest and best pastry shop and cafe on the island of Ischia, although it is a homey dessert, not something the Calise make or sell in their elegant shops. (An interesting side note: There is a very good Italian restaurant on Henry St. in Brooklyn Heights called Noodle Pudding, which is called that because the owner is from Ischia and his last name is Migliaccio. Not knowing that the connotation of Noodle Pudding in New York would be Jewish kugel, he translated his name to what he knew Migliaccio to be back in Ischia.)

The savory migliaccio I know is essentially polenta (corn meal mush) baked with eggs, pork crackling or bits of ham, dried sausage, pancetta (Italian bacon), like that. It can be very heavy and it is not made much these days in Naples and surrounding area, the place from where it hails.

When I was asked about a sweet mulyach by my friend Marie Bianco, one of Newsday’s food columnists, who used the dialect pronunciation of one of her readers, I was at something of a loss. I didn’t have a recipe, although I knew it existed. I decided to put the question out to my radio listeners, but first I did a little book research and found the following recipe in my friend Michele Scicolone’s La Dolce Vita, her book on Italian desserts. When I recited it on the radio, a number of people called to say that it was essentially the same as their family’s recipe. It is from Michele’s aunt Loretta, who I happened to meet last year – a charming, pretty woman. It is made with farina (cream of wheat breakfast cereal), not semolina or cornmeal. I think this is so because when Loretta’s family came to the U.S., semolina, which is the grain they probably used in the old country, was not available. They substituted farina, just as, to offer just one other example, many Italian-Americans make their Easter grain pie, called pastiera with barley or rice instead of whole wheat berries – because the whole wheat used to be difficult or impossible to get.

Interestingly, while on the radio talking about migliaccio, my friend Maurizio De Rosa, who grew up in the Vomero section of Naples, right in the city, called to say he had never heard of the sweet version of migliaccio, only the savory. I have two possible explanations for this: 1) The sweet pudding was not made in the city of Naples itself, only in the nearby hinterlands (Italy is that regional, yes), and/or 2) migliaccio is such an old-fashioned dessert that it was no longer being made by the time Maurizio was born in the mid 1960s. There are many dishes that Italian-Americans perpetuate that are no longer made in Italy.

P.S.– It is now May 1, and yestereday I learned from my house guest, Giuliana Di Lucia, who lives in Salerno, that pastiera has long-been made with rice in the southern section of Salerno province called Cilento. This is just to set the record straight: Rice was apparently not merely a substitute for whole wheat beries that was made by Italian Americans who couldn’t get the grain.

Migliaccio
Aunt Loretta’s Cheesecake

Makes a 9-inch round, serving about 12

6 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) whole-milk ricotta
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
2 cups milk
1 cup water
3/4 cup uncooked farina
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely chopped candied citron

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9- by 3-inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Beat in the ricotta, sugar, orange and lemon zests, and the liqueur.

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and water, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the farina in a fine stream, stirring constantly. Stir in the salt and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, or until thick and creamy.

Stir the cooked farina into the ricotta mixture, then stir in the citron. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

To serve, run a thin-bladed knife around the outside edge of the cake. Remove the springform sides, and serve the pudding/cake off the base. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Store in the refrigerator.

How To Broil Steaks and Hamburgers, Country-Style Ribs Arriganata – Arthur Schwartz

Over the three-day President’s day weekend I tried to deflate my body somewhat. I am not yet at my highest weight ever, but getting dangerously close. I thought it was time to make my clothes fit a little looser – at least. Three days at my Connecticut place, away from restaurants, and even the temptations of the big, food-filled city (I mean, we don’t even have a grocery store in my town) seemed, as it has before, a good opportunity to diet. My friend Bob Harned was feeling the same and so, instead of doing something sensible, I did what he likes to do when he feels bloated: Eat only protein.

Like any red-blooded American male, I saw this as an opportunity to eat mainly red-blooded food. We pigged-out on meat, with bacon and eggs for breakfast and Swiss cheese as a snack. On the way up, I stopped at the Grand Union on Route 22 in Pawling, where they sell prime meat, and bought two thick rib steaks, two well-marbled sirloin strip steaks, some hamburger meat, and rib-end slabs of pork, which are often called “country-style” spare ribs, though they are so meaty you would hardly consider them “spare.”

I got through the weekend fine enough. According to my unreliable bathroom scale, it seems I even lost three pounds. Once again, however, I decided I cannot tolerate this diet. Besides that it shall I say disrupts my regularity in a most uncomfortable way, it is a very unhealthy way to eat, it makes me feel like a caveman, and it leaves a terrible taste in my mouth. I know, I know, I could do a drastic diet like this eating fish, which would be far healthier, but 1) I have to go way out of my way to buy fresh fish where I live in Connecticut, and 2) I love steak. After three days of this, I crave beyond reason some salad and fruit and vegetables.

All this confession stuff is to lead up to some instruction on how to broil a steak at home. It is really easy if you have a decent broiler. Even with an indecent broiler — the old, cheapo stove I had in my Brooklyn apartment, where I had to practically get on the floor to use the broiler — I was able to produce a well-browned, medium-rare-on-the-rare-side steak. If you like your steak medium, the same instructions apply. (I won’t address those of you who eat steak well done because your steaks are always well-browned).

How To Broil A Steak

Make sure your steak is at between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 inches thick. For my timing to work, the steak should be cold, right out of the refrigerator. I actually find that a cold steak helps insure a rare center, while giving the exterior enough time to develop a crust.

Sprinkle the steak well with salt. I use sea salt with about the same granulation as kosher salt. Kosher salt is perfect. Fine table salt (sea salt or commercially processed salt) doesn’t help a crust form as well as coarser salt. I put freshly ground pepper on at the table. As my Neapolitan friends always say, one of the beauties of black pepper is its fragrance and you can only get the full impact of that if you grind the pepper under your nose.

Adjust the rack under your broiler so it is as close as possible, but of course leaving enough room for the broiler pan and the steak. Put the broiler pan on the rack under the broiler and preheat the broiler pan for a few minutes. It should be very hot so the underside of the steak starts cooking immediately.

When the broiler pan is very hot, pull out the rack holding it and put the steaks on the pan. Broil for 5 minutes. Open the oven, being aware that the oven is now full of smoke. Avert your eyes. Turn the steak and broil for 4 minutes longer.

If you find this timing has produced a steak that is too rare, you can put it back under the broiler for another 30 seconds to a minute, but remember to increase the time on the second side next time you broil a steak. You may need a small adjustment on this timing (I’m talking seconds), depending on your broiler and your steak, but this has worked for me consistently for a long time, through several different broilers.

I use the same technique for thick hamburgers – a double-fisted amount of meat (about a third of a pound, up to a half pound of meat), just pushed into a three to four-inch diameter patty, seasoned only on the outside with salt — except that the first side needs only 4 minutes.

As for the “country-style” pork ribs, I cooked them Neapolitan style, more or less as I describe in my recipe for lamb arriganata, or baked lamb, in Naples At Table, where I mention in the head note that it is a good method for cooking meats other than lamb and goat.

I arranged the ribs in a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. I had just enough to fill the pan rather snugly. I seasoned them with salt and freshly ground black pepper, about a teaspoon of dried oregano, which I crushed with my fingertips as I sprinkled it on, 4 large cloves of garlic that I was too lazy to do anything but slice thickly (in the Naples At Table recipe I use onion), and a 14-ounce can of San Marzano cherry tomatoes in tomato juice, a product that is imported by and sold at D. Coluccio on 12th Ave. in Brooklyn. I understand that it is most unlikely you would have such a can of tomatoes in your pantry. Let me assure you that a similarly sized can of regular plum tomatoes would do the job very well, too.

I truly did nothing but dump all this on the pork ribs in the pan, except that I did squish up the tomatoes somewhat.

I put this in a preheated 350-degree oven for an hour, but when I went to turn the ribs after an hour, I realized the oven wasn’t hot enough. After turning the ribs and spooning the tomato stuff back on top of the ribs, I turned the oven up to 375 degrees. This made the juice in the pan simmer more briskly and begin reduce – my goal. After another 45 minutes, I turned the ribs one more time, checked my seasoning and added some more salt and pepper, and kept them in the oven until they were very, very tender – about 2 hours and 15 minutes all told.

Yes, there was a tremendous amount of fat in the pan. Don’t serve it. Remove the chops to a platter and spoon up the tomato sauce – now very thick – allowing the fat from each spoonful to drain back into the pan. Or, tip the pan and spoon off as much fat as you can before serving the sauce.

Now, if only I had been eating pasta or bread or potatoes, had a pile of vegetables on the side, and drinking wine, I would have been in heaven.

Neapolitan Noodle Kugel — for Easter Brunch – Arthur Schwartz

I often refer to this recipe as Neapolitan noodle kugel, so I wasn’t surprised when some of my friends called it just that when I served it at a party last week.

It is the perfect buffet dish: It can be prepped and assembled ahead of time. It is easy to eat with only a fork. It is delicious hot from the oven, but also as it cools, and even at room temperature. Besides, it is always a huge hit. I was really happy I had prepared two of them, because everyone wanted seconds, if not thirds. And it is very rich, too.

It is ideal for an Easter brunch even if you are not having a buffet and even if you are having a small number of people. Although the recipe serves at least eight, it is excellent reheated. I bake mine in a large, round Spanish clay dish I bought years ago from Williams Sonoma, but a conventional rectangular lasagne pan is perfect, or any shape, shallow casserole.

The word “pastiera” usually refers to the Neapolitan ricotta pie made for Easter, the one that contains whole grains of wheat, which symbolize re-birth, the theme of the holy day. The pie is also called pizza piena, meaning stuffed pie, or pizza “gain” in Italian-American dialect, the word “gain” coming from “piena.” Rustica means savory, as in the opposite of sweet, but further usually refers to a food containing a mixture of chopped or diced preserved pork products and cheese. Obviously, it also refers to the rusticity of these dishes. No one I know in the city of Naples proper knows of a baked pasta liked this called “pastiera,” but I do know people from surrounding areas, even from what we would these days consider Naples suburbs, who do. It shows how regional food still is in Italy.

For more on this recipe, and several other baked pasta recipes and egg recipes appropriate for Easter buffets and brunches, check out Naples At Table.

Pastiera Rustica di Tagliolini

Serves 8 to 10

1 pound (or 1/2 kilo: 2 8.8-ounce packages) dried narrow egg pasta (the narrower the better): tagliolini, tagliarini, tagliatelle or, only if those are not available, fettuccine
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), cut into 6 to 8 pieces
2 cups cold milk
4 large eggs, beaten to mix well
2/3 cup loosely packed, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 2 ounces)
2/3 cup loosely packed, freshly grated pecorino (about 2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or slightly more to taste
2 tablespoons butter or lard (for greasing pan)
4 ounces sharp provolone, cut in 1/4-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
4 ounces pancetta, cut in 1/8-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
4 ounces soppressata or dried sausage, cut in 1/4-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water, until slightly underdone, usually about 3 minutes.

3. Drain the pasta well and place it in a large bowl. Toss with the butter. Pour in the milk. Toss and stir well; let stand, tossing every 5 to 10 minutes, until the pasta absorbs all except perhaps a tablespoon or so of the milk. This can happen almost immediately or take as long as 30 minutes.

4. While the pasta is standing, in another bowl, beat the eggs with the grated cheeses and pepper. With 2 tablespoons of butter or lard, grease a baking pan or a shallow casserole of at least 4-quart capacity.

5. When the pasta has absorbed the milk, add the egg mixture, then the provolone, pancetta, and soppressata. Mix well. Pour into the greased baking pan. (May be made ahead to this point. If refrigerating, bring back to near room temperature before baking.)

6. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the top and edges have browned lightly.

7. Let rest 10 to 20 minutes before serving, or serve warm instead of hot, or at room temperature.

Note: Cut into individual portions, the pastiera reheats very well, uncovered, in a microwave. Or, don’t cut into portions, cover with foil, and reheat at 300 degrees, in a conventional oven.

Semifreddo di Amaretti – Arthur Schwartz

I suppose the word “semifreddo,” which means “half cold” in Italian, and refers to a category of frozen desserts that aren’t truly gelato or sorbetto — ice cream or sorbet — comes from the fact that semifreddi (the plural) are usually eaten softer than true ice cream.

My HarperCollins Italian-English dictionary defines the word as “Chilled dessert made with ice cream,” which is not entirely accurate. Semifreddi are a type of ice cream you might say, but not dessert made with ice cream, although one might refer to a Neapolitan spumone, a molded frozen dessert composed of layers of several types of frozen dessert — what we and the French would call a “bomb” – a semifreddo.
John Mariani’s definition in The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink is more like it but not the entire story: “a custard or a mousse with a slightly softened texture that is eaten with a spoon.” He doesn’t mention that semifreddi are always frozen, and I disagree that crema caramela, tiramisu, and “desserts containing ricotta” are considered semifreddi. At least I have never seen the word applied to them, unless, of course, they were frozen.

There are several ways to make semifreddi. The dessert can be based on a classic custard, which is to say milk or cream and eggs cooked together until the eggs thicken the liquid, then lightened with beaten egg whites and/or whipped cream and frozen. Or it can be based on a cooked zabaione (also spelled zabaglione), which is technically a type of custard, except that the liquid is wine or a liqueur instead of milk or cream. A zabaione can be made with either whole eggs or egg yolks alone. In either case, it needs to be lightened with beaten egg whites and/or whipped cream. Or semifreddo can be based on a raw egg yolk and sugar base, as in the following recipe. There are also semifreddi based on what is called Italian meringue, which is egg whites beaten with hot sugar syrup. That, too, would be enriched with whipped cream or a cooked custard and whipped cream. The one thing that is not done in any semifreddo recipe I have ever read or made is churning the custard base and cream together as in true gelato or American ice cream.

I got the following recipe from Stefano Baldantoni, the chef at Acquario, a small, stylishly scruffy (and on the weekends regrettably noisy) restaurant at 5 Bleecker St., between Bowery & Elizabeth Sts. ( 212-260-4666). The Sicilian owners of Acquario are importers of fish and other ingredients from the Mediterranean and the menu is not entirely Italian because they like to feature their full line of products, which includes Spanish, Portuguese and North African goods. Stefano handles them all as if he was a native of all those places, but he is Italian, from Le Marche. If you go, order mainly fish dishes, including his spaghetti with tuna bottarga, which is salted and pressed roe. All he does is whip the bottarga in the blender with some great olive oil, parsley and hot pasta cooking water, then toss it with the spaghetti. Simple and fabulous! So is this semifreddo flavored with Amaretti di Saronno cookies, which he molds in a loaf, then serves in slices drizzled with both chocolate sauce and caramel sauce, garnished with an amaretto. When I made it I just scooped it into goblets and garnished it with a few of the miniature Amaretti di Saronno I happened to have on hand. You might also freeze it in individual ramekins or directly in stemmed glasses.

PS: There are several semifreddo recipes in my book, Naples At Table, including one flavored with Strega, and one made with coffee that, because it is served in small cups, is called a coviglia, which means “cup” in local dialect.

Semifreddo di Amaretti

Makes about 3 quarts

12 large eggs
1 3/4 cups superfine sugar (or process granulated sugar in the food processor until fine)
3 1/2 ounces Amaretti di Saronno (20 full-sized Amaretti cookies, which are packaged 2 to a twisted, colored paper)
1 quart heavy cream

Separate the eggs. Put all the yolks into a large bowl. Reserve 7 of the whites in another bowl, making sure the bowl is spotless and dry. Use the remaining 5 whites for something else, or discard.

Using the metal blade of a food processor (or a blender), grind the amaretti to a fine powder. If there are coarser bits among the fine, leave them. They add a little crunchy texture to the finished frozen dessert.

Add the sugar to the yolks and, with a wire whisk or hand-held electric mixer, beat until thick and light. Add the ground Amaretti and beat until well blended.

In a clean bowl, beat the cream into soft peaks and fold into the egg yolk mixture.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold them into the mixture.

Pour into a large plastic container or bowl and freeze, covered, until well set, at least several hours.

Serve scooped into individual dishes.