Penne all’Arrabbiata


At least once a week, especially on those nights that time is limited, we enjoy pasta as a main course. Of course, we have our favorites, but once in a while, I like to try something new. Recently, I’ve started getting the Cooking Newsletter from New York Times and this is where I came across Mario Batali’s recipe for a Roman classic: Penne all’Arrabbiata, or “furious penne.” As its name might lead you to believe, this is a spicy dish and the spice, or “fury” comes from one source: dried red pepper flakes, or peperoncini.

Batali’s recipe calls for a tablespoon of hot-red pepper flakes, but as I use the Calabrian variety, which I believe are considerably hotter than most, I reduce this amount considerably. But let your own palate be the judge. It also calls for 1/2 cup of tomato paste, which is toasted briefly with the peperoncini in olive oil. This makes for an intense tomato flavor, especially if you use the concentrated Italian variety that comes in a tube.

Like many of Batali’s dishes, this pasta is finished with an additional 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil that contributes a silky texture to the sauce.

I urge you to make this recipe; it’s simple, quick, and well, just delicious.

1. Toast the tomato paste and peperoncini:


2. Add the chopped tomatoes and remove from heat:

With the chopped tomatoes
With the chopped tomatoes

3: Add the cooked pasta, some reserved pasta water, and toss over medium heat. Finish with olive oil.

The finished pasta
The finished pasta

Wine Pairing: Frascati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Italian Roast Chicken with Peppers and Olives


There’s something about Nigella Lawson. I can’t put my finger on it, but I can watch her cook for hours, even replaying her shows, and never get bored. Yes, she’s probably the most attractive TV chef around, but she brings more than good looks to the table. As she sashays through her kitchen with a just a hint of insouciance, she describes her dishes so sensuously that your mouth waters. And when she cooks, Italian, well…be still my palate.

Most recently, I watched her making an Italian roast chicken with peppers and olives accompanied by a saffron orzotto. The chicken is cooked untrussed in a roasting pan, stuffed with a half of lemon and rosemary, atop sliced red, yellow, and orange peppers, leeks, and pitted black olives. Everything is drizzled with olive oil and seasoned simply with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. A few more sprigs of rosemary are tossed in with the sliced vegetables.

Oven-ready chicken and vegetables
Oven-ready chicken and vegetables

Because the chicken is untrussed, it cooks rather quickly in a 400°F oven for about an hour or an hour and a quarter. As the chicken, or as Lawson calls it “my burnished bird,” rests, the vegetables continue to roast for another 10 minutes.

The "burnished bird"
The “burnished bird”

Lawson accompanies this succulent chicken with a saffron orzotto, an easy alternative to a risotto Milanese. I prepared it for two and used a half cup of pearled barley (orzo in Italian).
Heat 1 cup of chicken stock and add about a 1/4 teaspoon of saffron threads. Keep it warm.

Finely chop a banana shallot and cook it over medium heat in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. When the shallot has softened, in about 5 minutes, add the barley, stirring to thoroughly coat the grains with the oil for about 1 minute.

Add the stock, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the barley is cooked. At the end, stir in some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

The finished vegetables
The finished vegetables

There is nothing difficult about this menu. The multicolored vegetables and the golden orzotto alongside the burnished chicken make for a colorful presentation.

Here’s a link to the original recipe on Lawson’s Website.

Pasta Stuffed Peppers


When it comes to cooking, I react to the word “vegetarian” as a vampire would to “garlic.” Fortunately, I just purchased Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Vegetable Cookbook

This richly illustrated volume has 200 recipes for a wide variety of dishes including antipasti, soups, pasta, main dishes, and even desserts. My only regret is that I didn’t have it for the summer months, when so many vegetables are widely available and at their best.

Scicolone is a prolific writer who has produced at least a dozen books on Italian cooking and has earned a well deserved reputation for recipes that work. This weekend I decided to make one of her main course dishes for some friends: Pasta-Stuffed Peppers.

Red and yellow bell peppers are hollowed out and filled with small pasta like ditalaini that is mixed in a savory sauce of tomatoes, garlic, capers, anchovies, and olives. The peppers are then covered with their tops and baked in a moderate oven until the peppers are tender, about 45 minutes.

Here is a link to her recipe online on Food Republic. Although the recipe claims to serve 6, your guests, as did mine, may find that just one of these delicious peppers is not enough. Below is my illustrated version of the recipe.

1. Prepare and assemble the ingredients: peppers, tomatoes, garlic, black olives, anchovies, capers, and dried oregano

The prepped ingredients
The prepped ingredients

2. Heat the oil and garlic and cooke the tomatoes seasoned with oregano:

Cook the tomatoes
Cook the tomatoes

3. Add the savory components: olives, capers, anchovies and season with salt and pepper.

The savory components
The savory components

4. Add the cooked small pasta to the sauce before filling and baking the peppers.

Sauce the cooked pasta before filling the peppers
Sauce the cooked pasta before filling the peppers

5. Bake in a 375ºF oven. Be sure that your peppers are tender; it may take a tad more than the suggested 45 minutes.

Wine Pairing: Chianti Montalbano, Falanghina

Grilled Tuna. . .Again?


I know that this is my second posting on grilled tuna in one month’s time. However, the other night I decided to abandon the soy-based marinade from Mark Bittman, which I’ve used for years, for one made with Marsala. While the former marinade yields a meaty-tasting tuna steak, the latter wine-based one is happy to play a supporting role and allow the lush flavor of the tuna to take precedence.

I used equal amounts of extra-virgin olive oil and dry Marsala to make the marinade and allowed the fish to marinate for about 30 minutes before putting it on a hot grill pan. I cooked the 3/4-pound yellowfin-tuna steaks, a little more than an inch thick, grill on the first side for 5 minutes seasoning them lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. I then turned them and allowed them to cook for about another two minutes, leaving a pink, almost sushi-style middle. While cooking, I basted the steaks with the marinade.

A pink, almost sushi-style center
A pink, almost sushi-style center

I enjoying experimenting with my favorite recipes; sometimes, I fail and other times, I succeed. This time, I undoubtedly succeeded.

I served the fish with fresh spinach sautéed in olive oil and garlic and accompanied by a spectacular 2013 Domaine de Robert Morgon. This young fruit-forward cru Beaujolais was the perfect pairing for the rich tuna.

Wine Pairing: Morgon, Pinot Noir, Cotes du Rhone

Duck Breast with Sauternes and Golden Raisins


I’ve always enjoyed duck, but for some odd reason I rarely prepare it at home. I’ll keep saying we’ll have it for dinner sometime soon, but that sometime never seems to come. But yesterday afternoon, I saw fresh duck breasts at a nearby market and grabbed them. The die was cast: we were having duck for dinner.

Duck breast, sometimes referred to as magret, is relatively easy and quick to prepare. They can be prepped and cooked in about 30 minutes. What’s more, the fat that’s rendered while browning the skin can be used for a side of thinly sliced potatoes. And the pan sauces that can be prepared from the fond at the bottom of the pan are countless.

My source for this recipe is from two Wine Spectator videos that are available online.The original recipe uses a blueberry and red-wine sauce, but not having any blueberries on hand and perhaps being a little lazy, I chose to make a simple pan sauce with some French Sauternes and golden raisins.

Duck Breasts with Sauternes and Golden Raisins Adapted from The Wine Spectator

2 fresh duck breasts, each about 3/4 pound
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup, approximately, Sauternes
1/2 cup, approximately, golden raisins

For the potatoes:
2 baking potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
Italian parsley 1/2 cup chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
Duck fat from cooking breasts

1.    With a sharp knife, score the skin of the duck breasts making the squares as small as possible without cutting into the meat.

Scored duck breasts
Scored duck breasts

2.  Season the breasts on both sides with salt and pepper.

3.  Place scored breasts in a cold skillet with the skin side down. Turn heat on to medium- or medium-low heat. Cook gently for 8 minutes, rendering the fat. Drain off most of the fat before it browns, reserving fat in the frying pan that you’ll use for the potatoes.

4. Cook the breasts on medium-high for 4 minutes or until the skin side is well browned and crispy. Then flip the breasts over and cook skin side up on medium heat for 8 minutes.

The breasts browned
The breasts browned

5. Remove the breasts from the pan and cover loosely with foil to keep warm and set aside.

6. As the breasts are cooking, turn up the heat on the pan with the duck fat and, when it is hot, add the potato slices. Make sure the pan is not overloaded; the slices should fit loosely. About 30 seconds before the potatoes are finished, add the parsley and the garlic. The potatoes are best served as soon as they are done.

The potatoes cooked in duck fat
The potatoes cooked in duck fat

7. While the potatoes are cooking, make the pan sauce. Drain all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pan in which you cooked the breasts.

8. Turn the heat to medium and deglaze the pan with about a cup of the Sauternes, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Toss in about a cup of the golden raisins, raise the heat to medium high, and reduce the sauce, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes.

The Sauternes and golden raisin sauce
The Sauternes and golden raisin sauce

9. Slice breasts in 1/4″ slices. Lay slices on warm plates in a fan. Place the potatoes on the side.

10. Spoon the pan sauce over the meat and serve.

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Chinon