Burning my pine nuts really makes me angry!
And this time, I didn’t just burn them once, I did it twice. I really have to take a deep breath and slow down. I am always doing 52 things once, and this time as I was toasting my pine nuts, I was also: writing up a grocery list, talking on the phone to Comcast and picking up smelly soccer cleats, water bottles & Cheez-Its ground into the rug. As I whizzed by the toaster oven, I spotted them; black.
“SH@#!!!!!!!”, I yelled at my Comcast representative. She didn’t appreciate that, but did go on to lower my monthly payment, keeping me on the same plan.
On my second attempt, I decided to set the microwave timer for 15 minutes. This worked brilliantly, until I felt that they needed just a few more minutes (you know where this is going). I ran outside to quickly grab the mail (bad idea) and that’s when I got side-tracked with the shocking news that Justin & Ashley are now a couple, Courtney and Jen aren’t speaking, and Leo has finally won Blake’s heart. I’m just going to go ahead and admit the fact that US Weekly magazine is one of my guilty pleasures. There, I said it. Anyway, when I remembered the pine nuts, I ran back inside and my heart sank. Black, again.
I almost cried.
And why this made me want to cry is because they are so dang expensive!
Apparently, shelling the nuts from the pine cone is very labor intensive which makes for a low supply. And then thanks to the Food Network with their fancy pesto dishes (and blogs like littleclove) the demand for pine nuts has grown, causing the high prices.
So, keep in mind that those expensive little guys go from golden brown to burned in literally seconds. And if you toast yours in a toaster oven like I do (on broil) trust me, don’t take your eyes off that oven door for a second. When toasted just right, they are SO SO SO good. One of my very favorite things on the planet. Salty, nutty, & toasty goodness. Next time I might try toasting them in a frying pan over a slow-toasting flame. I think I did that once and it worked just fine.
I am so off on a tangent today because I am still not over those pine nuts. Deep breath, let it go.
This post isn’t even about the salad that I threw those pine nuts into. But, that salad was delicious and I want tell you about it a bit later. This post is about a beautiful pasta dish called Cacio e Pepe, literally “cheese and pepper”.
I wanted to make a 2nd pasta dish using the pasta-making techniques I told you about here.
I had invited my very good friend Georgia over for dinner on Memorial Day (no bbq-ing at my house, since I haven’t purchased my new gas grill yet) and she loves pasta so I thought it would be a good time to try it.
In all the excitement over planning our dinner, I bought those pretty white pasta bowls from Crate and Barrel that I told you about and they really do make a pasta dish look fantastic. See above.
Actually, the photo does not serve the dish justice. I should have ground some extra black pepper on top of this dish and that would have really made it look special, but when you have a whole dinner in the works and you try to squeeze in photos for your blog, you tend to forget the details.
This recipe is from Bon Appétit, the May pasta issue, and they actually call it, “The sauce of the moment.”
I had been wanting to make Cacio e Pepe for a while now, and there it was.
If you like black pepper, you’ve gotta try this one. And if you’re going to try it, please go back and read this post for all of those great pasta making techniques. I don’t want you to miss anything.
We all know by now now how much I love my beloved Pecorino Romano, which is part of this recipe. Yay!
This recipe also calls for Grana Padano cheese or Parmesan, so I assumed that they were cousins. I’m not really a Parmesan person, but I do like it sometimes, like sliced right off the hunk with a cracker or piece of bread. I had never had Grana Padano before, but I had noticed fresh hunks of it at The Fresh Market where I usually shop.
I bought some, tasted it and it tastes a lot like Parmesan, but milder without the bite. Also, not as salty as Pecorino Romano. I liked it. And then I learned this from my trusty friends at Wikipedia:
“Though similar to Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese, the younger Grana Padano cheeses are less crumbly, milder and less complex in flavor than their more famous longer-aged relative. Grana Padano is widely considered inferior in quality than Parmigiano-Reggiano. Nevertheless many Italians prefer Grana Padano over Parmigiano-Reggiano mainly for the lower price.”
Yep. I’m stickin’ with the Italians.
I’m all about saving money right now. It’s summer, I’m off work for a few months….and (ahem)…I’m not sure if I have a job to go back to in the fall, but that’s another story. Truthfully, that is probably the very reason that I seem to have been emotionally consuming
all weekend a bit lately. (Dan, if you’re reading, thanks for letting me know that I am not alone in this). Too much wine, lots of rich foods, and er……..um……..snacking.
I’m generally not much of a snacker, but last Sunday night when I finally sat down to read my US weekly, I discovered the beauty of BBQ corn nuts. Have you had these things? I ate an entire bag before I even got to “Feud Of the Week!”, and washed them down with
½ a bottle a glass of chilled pinot grigio and decided to call it dinner.
Oh c’mon, you know you’ve done that.
Also, Hadley was with her Dad all weekend for Memorial day, quite possibly another reason I needed to feel the wine & corn nut-love.
So for our Memorial day dinner, to go with our pasta I decided to make pan-seared chicken thighs, roasted peppers and a salad. I have to tell you about all of it, because the combination was really good.
The chicken was easy and delicious. Pan seared in some vegetable oil until golden brown, about 12 minutes, and then finished in a 475º oven. Crispy on the outside, juicy in the middle.
The peppers were also from the May issue of Bon Appétit and were perfect with the pasta and the chicken.
You stem, core and ¼ four bell peppers (yellow, red and orange). Toss them with 1 clove of thinly sliced garlic, 8 thyme sprigs, and 1 tblsp of extra virgin olive oil. Season them with kosher salt and black pepper. Throw them on a baking sheet, skin side down, and roast at 425° until softened (about 30 mins). Then, top them with ¼ cup of Parmesan and broil until the cheese is melted and the peppers are slightly charred. Squeeze the juice of ½ a lemon over them and serve.
Still, SO YUMMY.
And because this little beauty:
(the hunk of Grana Padano), cost me this:
I used it for the peppers instead of buying another expensive hunk of Paremesan. It was great (being a cousin and all).
Before I get to the pasta, I also want to tell you about our salad, because this one I came up with myself and I really loved it.
I have some issues with my homemade dressing coming out well. My Mom can whip up the best salad dressing every single time. I do it maybe 1 in 10. It’s just so hard for me to get the balance right when I wing it. What I’m learning is that simple is best when it comes to seasoning. I bought some baby bib lettuce and some arugula (I love that stuff). I assembled a plate of mostly baby bib with a handful or two or arugula thrown in. I added sliced cherry tomatoes, those salty cured & wrinkly black olives with pits, some sliced cucumber, the toasty and tasty expensive little devils known as pine nuts. I added a few grates of kosher salt and black pepper and a pinch of sugar. Then I drizzed my really good extra virgin olive oil over this and tossed it with my hands until it looked glossy. Then I added a splash of white balsamic and tossed again.
I got out my potato peeler and peeled some long slices of Grana Padano (gotta do something with it!) over the top……and, WOW. This flavor combination was really delicious. I surprised myself! Sometimes it just works. Please try it!
Back to the pasta.
I used Perciatelli pasta, because it worked so well in my last pasta recipe, but I think this would work better with spaghetti, or any thinner noodle. It was still really good, but it felt to me like it should be a bit lighter, so next time I will use a thinner noodle.
The recipe called for Grana Padano cheese that I told you about, Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly cracked black pepper and butter.
Creamy, cheesy, buttery & spicy…..sort of like an adult mac ‘n cheese.
The juicy chicken, the roasted peppers, the salad with the peppery arugula and olive oil and the cheesy peppery pasta. So delicious together.
I hope this inspires you.
Georgia loved it! She actually said that it was really nice to have someone cook a dinner like this for her, which made me feel really good.
I was feelin’ the love, all the way around.
Cacio e Pepe
Inspired by Bon Appétit
6 oz. pasta (spaghetti or another thinner noodle)
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed, divided
1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
¾ cup finely grated Grana Padano
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with a palm-full of salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tbsp. butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook, swirling pan, until toasted, about 1 minute.
Add ½ cup reserved pasta water to skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter. Reduce heat to low and add Grana Padano, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat; add Pecorino, stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is al dente. Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry. (I needed to do this!). Taste and add more cheese if you think it needs it. Maybe some more water. I would even throw a splash of olive oil in if you think it needs it. Just a thought.
Transfer pasta to bowls. Make a birdsnest using tongs. Add a few extra grates of black pepper.
Serve with extra grated Pecorino, a good wine and love.
*NOTE* added 6/7/11 -Tonight I talked to my friend Jimmy Bannos Jr., chef/partner of The Purple Pig, Chicago, about how he makes his Cacio e Pepe. He told me that he uses Parmesan, not Grana Padano. He said to use that instead. His other advice for this dish was to taste as you go. Add a little bit more cheese, a little more pasta water, some more pepper, until it’s just right. Lots of black pepper, he says. I’m going to take his advice and try that next time! :-) Thanks, Jimmy.