Recipe: Pasta a la Gandolfini

June 21, 2013

James Gandolfini, who passed away at a tender young age of 51 this week, was an actor who played film and TV characters that were bigger than life.

More often than not, they were the “Bad Guys”. But from all accounts I have heard, especially from those who knew him personally, Gandolfini was a kind, gentle and generous man that respected everyone who he worked with. I never met him. I wish I did.

Gandolfini will always be known for his role in playing the modern-day Italian-American New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, a thug with a heart, a family man, and a man with considerable weaknesses and great personal demons.

He was brutal, as a Mafia Don should be, but he commanded respect and he was obviously a guy that appreciated the good things in life. Like Gandolfini.

So for Gandolfini, who like his alter-ego Tony Soprano also grew up in the Garden State, in the exact Bergen County area I lived in for 22 years, I wanted dedicate a dish to him.

This is what I came up with — a  pasta twist on the classic Italian-American sausage and peppers that is seen in summer festivals and pizza restaurants as a sandwich all over the New York and New Jersey metro area.

But like Tony Soprano, this one has a bite.

The recipe is also somewhat heart-healthy as it only uses a small amount of oil. Given the circumstances of Gandolfini’s passing, he’d probably not want you to go the same way.

This dish calls for fresh ripened tomatoes (plum, if you can get them) and fresh basil. Don’t even bother to make it unless you have these.

Pasta a la Gandolfini

Servings, 2

1/2 Box of Dried Pasta (6oz) , Whole Wheat preferred

3/4lb  fresh Italian sausage, hot or sweet. If sweet add chile pepper flakes.

1 Tbps Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 White Onion, sliced

1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced

4 or 5 Cubanelle Peppers, sliced

1 Habanero Chile or other very hot chile pepper, fresh, julienned

4 Garlic Cloves, julienned

1 cup diced ripe tomatoes, preferably a variety from your garden

1 handful of fresh basil leaves (also from your garden)

Grated Parmigiano Cheese to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Cook pasta of your choice in salted boiling water to al dente consistency while you prepare the condimenti.

Remove sausage from casing if using links. Brown in large non-stick pan and drain to remove excess fat. Set aside in large bowl.

Using a silicone basting brush, brush a scant amount of olive oil in the pan, saute the onions and peppers of each type individually, adding to the bowl with the sausage as soon as you get some char marks and is just barely cooked.

Add the rest of the oil to the pan, along with the sliced hot chile pepper and garlic. Stir for 30 seconds then add the tomatoes. Once again, just cook until they barely wilt. Add the reserved ingredients back to the pot.

Reserve about 1/2 cup water when you drain the pasta. Add the pasta and the water to the pan and toss to combine with other ingredients.

Remove from heat, add the basil, black pepper & cheese.  Toss and serve.


NY Bite Club: No Kitchen Required

April 2, 2012

Recently, I was invited to a special event hosted by the folks over at BBC America to promote their new show, “No Kitchen Required” which airs starting Tuesday, April 3rd.

The show is actually the first program that BBC America has developed and funded internally, rather than re-broadcasted from the UK. In a nutshell, I would describe the show as a combination between Iron Chef/Chopped and Survivor.

The three chefs, all who have outdoorsy-type experience, are sent to remote locations in order to forage, hunt, and then cook inspired dishes with native ingredients using only the most primitive of cooking methods and the most basic culinary equipment and spices supplied (basically knives, pans and cooking vessels, salt and pepper only, no electric appliances allowed).

It doesn’t sound like a very easy challenge. But I’m really looking forward to watching the show.

In any case, BBC America invited a group of bloggers to meet some of the stars and the producers of the show, at the ultra-secret headquarters of New York Bite Club. 

To pair with the New Mexico themed opening episode of No Kitchen Required, Bite Club prepared a Mexican degustation menu that would befit a Mayan emperor or a Mexican head of state.

Ready for some seriously legit Mexican food elevated to the standards of New York Bite Club? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Latke-Vision: It Sure Beats The Yule Log

November 30, 2010

Here’s an oldie, but a goodie. Happy Chanukah — Jason and Rachel

This last Sunday, Rachel’s family got together and had a Hanukkah party, a week early. We were given the task of making the latkes, the venerable Ashkenazi-Jewish pan fried potato pancakes.

Although I tend to favor Sephardic-style cuisine, Latkes are among my favorite things from Ashkenazi (European) Jewish culture, and I hold them in extremely high regard. Hanukkah isn’t a particularly important Jewish holiday but I look forward to the annual latke frying ritual with great anticipation.

I didn’t grow up on homemade latkes — my mother wasn’t much of a cook and she wouldn’t use oil of any kind in the house because she hated the smell of grease and fried food. Frankly, I can’t blame her. The act of frying latkes will create odors that will linger in your kitchen for several days, and even with the best ventilation will require that your entire house get aired out in order to completely rid your home of the powerful chickeny/potatoey/oniony odor. Don’t let this deter you, however — the rewards are well worth it.

Want to learn how to make latkes? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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AMC’s Dine-In Theatres: The Movies’ Last Stand at the Box Office?

November 17, 2010

AMC’s Dine-In Theatre seeks to re-invent the movie-going experience with in-theater dinging cocktails and waitress service right from your seat. But in the face of On-Demand streaming content and inexpensive, high-definition home entertainment technology, is the movie theater still viable?

Like many Americans, I love going to the movies. There’s something special about the entire experience, sitting in the dark theater with a huge screen, booming sound system, munching on popcorn, and being in a large venue where you’re sharing the experience with others.

Movie-going has been practically a cornerstone of American society — more marriages and long-term relationships have probably started from “dinner and a movie” than any other. I myself can attribute the first date with my wife to going to a movie some 16 years ago. I even remember what film we saw — Star Trek: Generations. The movie was so awful, I’m surprised I even got a second date.

Click here to read the rest of this article at ZDNet Tech Broiler.


NJ Dining: Mo’ Pho’ (UPDATED)

September 19, 2010

MoPho
212 Main St, Fort Lee, NJ
(201) 363-8886

Note: While Mo’ Pho’ in Fort Lee remains open, it’s Englewood sister restaurant, Saigon R. closed on August 30, 2010 and re-opened as Simply Vietnamese in nearby Tenafly. For more information on Simply Vietnamese, click here.

As summer comes to an end and the weather starts getting rainy and a bit chilly, I start getting that craving for Asian noodle soups again. There’s no question in my mind that my all time favorite type of noodle soup has to be Pho, the anise-flavored beef bone broth and the national dish of Vietnam.

Northern New Jersey has a couple of notable Vietnamese restaurants, but there is a special place in my heart for Mo Pho, the flagship restaurant owned and managed by Khan “K.T.” Tran, a talented female chef who is carrying out the culinary traditions of her mother, who once catered embassy functions for Southeast Asian dignitaries and heads of state for the Republic of Vietnam.

I’ve been to Mo Pho (and it’s sister restaurant that recently closed, Saigon R.) so many times and K.T. has become such a close friend that I have to admit I am probably unfairly biased towards her food. Overall, her cuisine is not the kind of hardcore (and less expensive) offal-centric, employing weird cuts of meat, Vietnamese street stall food or authentic in exacting detail like Nha Trang in Jersey City,  Huong Viet in Nutley or even Bloomfield’s Binh Duong — this is a more refined interpretation of Vietnamese food more suited to American customers.

Still, when I have a Pho craving, its K.T.’s that really does the trick for me. Her broth is simmered for an entire day and is far more intensely flavored with beef bones than any other I’ve had in the area, including Pho stalls I’ve visited in NYC. It’s not the super clear Pho broth you see at most places; its got a much darker color and is somewhat cloudier due to the residual gelatin, giving the soup a much more satisfying and comforting mouthfeel.

Mo’ Pho’ storefront on Main Street in Fort Lee. Mo Pho now has a new sister restaurant in Tenafly, Simply Vietnamese.

Mo’ Pho’s dining room.

Click the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to see all the food photos in this post.

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The Last Supper with David

May 8, 2010

New York Times’ David Corcoran, who’s wonderful restaurant reviews have graced the “Old Gray Lady’s” NJ Metro/Dining section for 10 years.

My foray into food blogging has almost certainly had much to do with my respect and admiration for the newspaper writers, who’s level of reviewing standards I could never even try to emulate with any degree of success.

The print newspaper and magazine staff restaurant writer is a dying breed, one who’s role has had to change with the times, if not for the challenges that newspapers and  other periodicals must now face in competition with the food blogs and other new media outlets.

That being said, I am sad to see this occur, even if I am a willing participant and advocate in this change of focus towards the Web.

Perhaps one of my saddest moments in this realization was a happy occasion — having a wonderful Chinese dinner with a newspaper restaurant reviewer that I call a friend and mentor, who had told me that this meal would be his final review.

Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Ariane Daguin’s Volcanic Adventure

April 20, 2010

OTB friend Ariane Daguin, proprietor of D’Artagnan, best known as the premium duck,  foie gras and high-end luxury produce supplier to the top restaurants in New York City and all over the country, recently experienced an adventure as a result of the Icelandic volcano eruption, being stranded in France and having to go through a 27-hour ordeal to get home. Here is her story.


27 Hours Later: My Trip from Paris to New York

Having just spent two weeks in France on publicity tour to support my new book “D’Artagnan à New York”, I was anxious to get home and back to business. But the volcano in Iceland had other plans for me. My Sunday afternoon flight from Paris to Newark was not to be.

Outside my hotel in Paris I saw a familiar figure looking up at the hotel. Maybe Frederic Fekkai was thinking that he would have to check in and wait for days until the next flight home. We laughed about running into each other under these odd circumstances and then we joined forces. Sharing a large taxi to hold our huge amount of luggage, we headed hopefully to Orly airport. We were greeted by an eerily empty terminal and screens filled with the word “canceled.” No flights to the United States.

Tugging all our luggage, we were happy to find that Open Skies (the airline I was flying with) had chartered three buses to ferry about 150 of us stranded travelers to Toulouse Airport! We were caught up in the spirit of adventure, and helped ourselves to the rudimentary sandwiches that Open Skies was kind enough to provide.

The overnight seven hour drive from Paris to Toulouse had the air of a refugee boat, and we were not certain that we would even get flights out of Toulouse. But it was worth the chance. So there I am with Frederic, and look up to see Yannick Noah, a famous pop star and ex tennis world champion, on the other side of me! To say I was in good company would be an understatement.

As our bus pulled into Toulouse airport at 7:00 a.m. we saw TV crews all over the place, waiting to film the only people flying out of France that day. We were making the news!

The Toulouse airport had just opened a new international terminal, and I think we were the first to use it. After waiting six anxious hours in the terminal, wondering if we would be cleared for takeoff, we finally boarded a plane. Then we waited another hour on the plane while the aviation authorities signed off on the flight.

When our plane finally departed, we flew far south to avoid any chance of volcanic ash choking our engines. So I did not see the plume of smoke that is causing all the trouble. I bet that would have been a magnificent sight.

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