March 7th already?
I have been traveling a bit lately and haven’t been home much, so March has sort of snuck up on me. But that’s OK. One step closer to spring and that is a very good thing.
This weekend, Hadley and I took a road trip to Milwaukee for a soccer tournament which was really fun! We sang songs as we drove for 2 hours through a torrential downpour, hugged the shoulder and winced our way past semis. Slightly nerve-wracking, but Had was oblivious to the storm as she simultaneously sang “Grenade” at the top of her lungs, watched “Mean Girls 2”, ate sour patch kids and played Plants vs. Zombies on her itouch. Ah, to be 10 again.
When we arrived at the hotel, I was more than ready for a glass of wine and a meal after that nail-biting drive. Hotel-restaurant crab cakes and pinot noir were just what the Dr. ordered. Hadley decided to go with the extra large plate of cheese-y nachos, and we were both happy. There is just something about packing an overnight bag with magazines, movies and snacks and staying in a hotel with your kid that is just fun. Not to mention the added bonus of an indoor pool with attached hot tub.
Last week I was in LA for a few days on business. It was nice to escape our lovely Chicago weather for a few days, and I managed to squeeze in some fun, too. OK, so hotels can also be fun without your child, in a long-hot-shower-quiet-time-room-service kind of way.
Also, I was happy to have had the chance to meet my friend Eda for the first time (in person). She invited me over to her house (this gorgeous hilly and beautiful part of LA) for a fun dinner with friends. She made these delicious asparagus filo fingers to start, and then braised chicken in a tomato-y onion sauce over creamy polenta. It had some Indian flavors going-on too, which made it exotic, comforting and yummy. She is a serious cook. I mean, the kind of cook that makes her own prosciutto! Can you imagine? Yes, I really did see cured meat hanging in her pantry. Thanks again, Eda. You rock!
Speaking of amazing food this week……
I had a fabulous meal at The Purple Pig in Chicago, which was voted one of the top 10 best new restaurants in the U.S. by Bon Appétit magazine. WOW OH WOW! You have to try this place. I met my cousin Marianne (otherwise knows as,“Fotch”) there for lunch the other day and we stayed for 3 hours. She introduced me to Jimmy Bannos Sr. and his son Jimmy Jr., chefs and owners. What great guys!
This is the perfect place for us because there are communal tables (we like to gab) and small plates (because we are WOOLY-OHZ). I don’t know what the actual Italian word for WOOLY-OHZ is (if you do, please let me know), but I’m sure I’m speaking some sort of broken English. I know that it means you’re a person who has to taste everything and that would be us.
First we tried the pork neck bone gravy with ricotta. Oh, my God. You already know how much I love neck bones, remember this? The gravy is like a delicious meat sauce spread, loaded with pork from the neck bones, and creamy ricotta. It’s served with thick oven toasted bread, perfect for scooping up the delicious spread. Heavenly.
Next there was Jimmy’s house made Greek sausage (did you catch that, house made and delicious), grilled octopus with green beans & fingerling potatoes, beets with goat cheese, shaved brussel sprouts with Pecorino cheese (my Pecorino!), cauliflower that was sautéed so you get all those crispy browned-yummy bits and sepia (cuttle fish, as I was told) with almonds & fried rosemary. Everything was amazing.
As stuffed as we were at this point, we had to try their giant turkey leg which is cooked in pork fat. Seriously, pork fat. I have never had turkey this deliciously tender and mouth-watering, honestly. I almost picked up the entire leg Fred Flintstone-style to gnaw the bone clean, but for God’s sake we were in a restaurant, so I waited until I got back to my car before I ripped into that doggy bag and did that.
For dessert we had this ricotta & chocolate chip filled fried brioche. It’s like a giant fried doughnut, stuffed with warm, melted creamy ricotta and chocolate. Unbelievable.
After all of this, 2 glasses of really good wine, and good company, I was a happy girl. Can’t wait to go back.
Thanks again, Jimmy and Jimmy!
So with all of this traveling and eating out, I really haven’t done much cooking lately, and my fridge has been pretty bare. But, I usually have broccoli in there, because I buy at least 2 bunches of it every week. Its the one green vegetable that I can get Hadley to eat, so I make it a lot. Of course I always have garlic, pasta, olive oil and Pecorino Romano cheese at any given moment, and I can usually dig out a frozen baguette from my freezer for garlic bread. So, this is my go-to, need-to-hit-the-grocery store soon, last minute meal. That being said, please don’t think of this meal as boring. This dish is center-stage, Saturday night dinner party fare, to be sure. It just happens to be extremely easy to make as well. We have been making, and loving this since I can remember, one of our favorites.
It’s basically aglio e olio (AH-LEE-OLE), or spaghetti with garlic and oil, which I told you all about here. We just happen to add broccoli to this one. Frank always called this broccoli and PAHST. I don’t know why he dropped the “a”. Pasta was always PAHST. Sometimes we make this with cauliflower (cauliflower and PAHST) or even shrimp and PAHST. You can add anything to it, really, but whatever you choose to add to it, please call it PAHST. For me.
The best part is that Hadley L O V E S this dish. ASKS ME TO MAKE IT. She gobbles that garlic-y cheese-y broccoli right up, sucks the spaghetti strands so fast they are whipping at her cheeks, while olive oil drips down her chin. Then she takes a big piece of garlic bread and scrapes the bottom of her bowl, getting every last garlic-y broccoli bit.
I am pretty sure I have seen bowl-licking. Watching your child devour broccoli like there is no tomorrow is just a little slice of heaven.
The other day my friend Holly called me on “the littleclove hotline” as she likes to call it (my cellphone). I was at work and she called as she was making dinner to ask exactly how I make my broccoli and pasta. First of all, I will have you know that Holly’s brother Roger is a fab chef at the fab Chicago restaurant Socca, and the new fab Claredon Hills restaurant Redd Herring, and yet she calls me for those Caruso family recipes that she grew up eating and still loves.
And I am amused to say that Holly is not the only one calling the littleclove hotline of late.
Recently, my brother called me to ask how to tell whether you’re buying escarole or romaine, because they look so similar.
“Ask someone!”, was my big sister-littleclove answer.
And just last week my mom called the hotline to find out how much Romano cheese to put into stuffed shells. This, mind you, is a recipe I learned from her. About 1 cup, if you’re curious. THANK YOU FAMILY!
1-pound of spaghetti, linguini or angel hair
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff), plus 2 tbsp
4 or 5 garlic cloves, minced
1 big bunch of broccoli, trimmed, and each piece cut in 1/2
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, more for serving
salt and fresh ground black pepper
a pinch of crushed red pepper
Put a big pot of water on high heat on your stove with a lid on it. I always salt the water a little and douse it with some olive oil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, in another medium-sized pot, add about 5 cups of water, put a lid on it and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli and blanch while stirring until it turns a bright green color and you can cut through it with a knife. Just a few minutes. You want it firm, but edible. Don’t let it get mushy! It will also turn a strange grey-brown color if it’s over-cooked. Drain and put immediately into an ice bath (a bowl of ice water ) to stop it from cooking any further.
Next, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil in a sauté pan on med heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until the garlic softens and becomes translucent. Do not let it brown, just a couple of minutes. Drain the broccoli and carefully pat it dry a bit. Add the broccoli to the oil and garlic, along with the rest of the olive oil (1 cup). Set aside and turn off heat.
When the pasta is ready, drain and reserve about 2 cups of the pasta water. Throw the pasta back into the same large pot it was cooked in, add the broccoli/oil mixture to the pasta and the cheese. Add a splash or two of the cooking water, more if it needs it. Maybe add a splash of olive oil right from the bottle. Add the salt and pepper and taste. Grate a little bit more cheese over the whole thing. Remember, TASTE and adjust. You’ll know what it needs.
Serve with crusty garlic bread, extra cheese, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper on the table.