Friday, January 9, 2009

"Yellow bag pasta" the best there is... my opinion, and that of many of my friends! When my husband and I first went to Italy to visit his Dad I was introduced to Martelli's heavenly pastas. What is so special about them you may ask...the only thing I can say is that this pasta is "meaty" (although not literally of course!) Maybe a better word would be "hearty"? This pasta really holds any sauce tossed with it. The Martelli family (only the family works in the factory!) sells their pasta out of a town named Lari right near Pisa and they only offer four types; Spaghetti , Spaghettini, Penne and Maccheroni di Toscan. Their intense process for making their pasta allows for it to be very porous and absorbs sauce extremely well.

The only thing is their pasta is very hard to find here in the US! I have yet to find it here in San Diego. The only place I have found it is at an amazing gourmet food and wine store in Great Barrington in MA called Lock-Stock and Barrel. May I only suggest if you ever do come across a yellow bag of this it! For more information on Martelli's pastas check out their website:

I have included the recipe I have come up with that is close to the way I first had the spaghetti in Italy.

1 bag of Martelli spaghetti(or another brand if you can't find Martelli)
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small can/freshly diced tomatoes
1 small diced onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp capers (drained)
3 or 4 leaves fresh basil hand torn
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan over medium (to low) heat add oil and saute diced onion until translucent (about 5 minutes depending on your stove), add garlic and saute for only about 30 seconds to a minute (it can burn quickly!). Now add the diced tomatoes and capers and simmer for about ten minutes. Once the spaghetti is cooked al dente pour it in with the sauce and cook for a minute or two. Toss in the fresh basil,
parmigiano reggiano and salt and pepper to taste. (Remember parmigiano is salty so keep that in mind when adding more seasoning!)

Enjoy this simple and elegant dish with a glass of one of my favorites:
Swanson Sangiovese

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Passionate for Paella!

There is something to be said about the power of suggestion. The force was strong last night indeed! I was watching "Spain...On The Road Again" on PBS, a food and travel show with Claudia Bassols, Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, and Gwyneth Paltrow. In the series the four travel all around Spain sampling the best wines and foods the country has to offer. In last night's episode Mario and Gwyneth traveled to Valencia to experience their infamous paella. They had it cooked for them on an outdoor grill over wood from orange trees. As Mario and Gwyneth articulated on the smoky flavor, texture of the dish and how delicious the crispy bits from the bottom of the pan (the best part!) were my mouth was watering and I knew I had to make it for dinner tonight! Enjoy my version of paella!

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb large shrimp (cleaned and deveined)
2 hot turkey sausages removed from their casings
1 yellow onion finely chopped
4-5 chopped garlic cloves
1 jar of diced or whole pimentos (dice them if they come whole)
1/2 cup chopped fresh grape tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika (add more if you want more smoky flavor)
1 tsp saffron
1 tsp salt
1 cup homemade lobster stock (or store bought fish stock)
1/2-1 cup chicken stock
2 cups rice (white, or I used basmati)

Shrimp marinade:
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Add all the shrimp marinade ingredients together and let shrimp sit in it while you prepare the other ingredients (about ten minutes)
Put 2 tbsp oil in large pan/paella pan over medium high heat. Add marinated shrimp once pan is heated, cook shrimp 2-3 minutes per side, remove from pan and set aside for later. Add diced onion and cook for about 5 minutes, add garlic and turkey sausage and brown sausage. Next add tomatoes and pimentos for about 3 minutes. Add salt, saffron, smoked paprika and cook for another 5 minutes. Next add the lobster/fish stock, bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, add the rice and stir well to distibute it all evenly. Cook without stirring for 10 minutes. Reintroduce shrimp to the paella, stirring in, add more salt if so needed and more smoked paprika if you desire if you so desire (to replicate the outdoor grilled flavor) Add 1/2- 1 cup chicken stock now depending on how dry the paella is. Now cook again without stirring for 10-15 minutes more or until all the liquid is almost completely absorbed and you hear the pan make a crackling noise (it's a good thing!) Remove from heat and let it rest before serving.
Tip: When serving give everyone a few bits of the bottom of the pan goodness!

Wine Pairing Suggestion:
2003 Rincon del Baron Double Blanc
A Mexican wine that my friend Robin Mackenzie gave me, it's crisp with a hint of sweetness that was perfect with the heat from the paella spices

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Pinot Meunier, The Unsung Hero in Champagne

Pinot Meunier, a mutation of Pinot Noir, is to many an unknown grape varietal. However, for Champagne making it is almost essential. I say almost because as a general rule the grapes used in making Champagne are the white Chardonnay grape and the dark red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are known as noble varieties and are often more emphasized than the Pinot Meunier in Champagne making. In Champagne Pinot Meunier contributes a certain body and richness, yet until recently many makers denied any of it in their blends. Some say it is because of it's lack of aging potential and others say it lacks the elegance of the other two grapes. Interestingly enough though it is the most widely planted grape in the esteemed Champagne region at 35-40%. Pinot Meunier grows better in the cold Northern climate of Champagne than Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.

You will rarely see Pinot Meunier as a single varietal still red wine. I was fortunate however to discover Domaine Chandon (known for their sparkling wine) produces one. It has become one of my favorite wines. I like it because of it's smooth sophistication, flavors of cherries and rhubarb. My most recent food pairing with Pinot Meunier was with my Slow Cooker Maple PumpkinTurkey (see last post for recipe). It would also pair well with duck or pork.

I really do believe that this grape is misunderstood and hope it gets the respect it deserves some day.

Slow Cooker Maple Pumpkin Turkey Breast

For Christmas Eve this year I wanted to do something special for dinner, but being that it was only Conrad and I it did not make sense to make an entire turkey. I wanted something fairly simple. I decided to get a turkey breast and try it in our slow cooker (crock pot). This freed up the oven so I could also be working on desserts and food for Christmas Day! Next decision was how would I season it? I decided on using one of my favorite flavors...pumpkin! It came out delicious and so juicy! The flavors were pleasantly complex with the onions, salt and pepper reining in the sweetness of the pumpkin and maple. Another great variation for fall would be to use apple butter instead of pumpkin and throw in some granny smith apples cut up and tossed with the sweet potatoes!

Slow Cooker Maple Pumpkin Turkey Breast:
1.75-2lb boneless turkey breast
1 sweet onion sliced
1/4 cup pure real maple syrup
1/4 cup pumpkin butter
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
2 sweet potatoes peeled and chopped into chunks
4-5 Fresh sage leaves

Take sliced onions and sweet potato chunks and toss them together in the slow cooker. In a bowl mix the maple syrup, pumpkin butter, cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp white pepper. Put the turkey breast on top of the sweet potatoes and onions. Pour the sauce all over the turkey. With your hands take some of the sauce and work it under the skin of your turkey as well as the fresh sage leaves (see sage in the turkey slices in picture!) Cover the slow cooker and set it for 4 hours on high. Over the course of the turkey's cooking time be sure to baste 3 or four times..mostly towards the end, over both the turkey and the sweet potatoes. Your bird will be done when it's internal temperature reads 165. Remove everything from the slow cooker onto a platter and cover to rest for 10-15 minutes, and then enjoy!

For the wine pairing I would suggest
Domaine Chandon's Pinot Menuier
(check my next post for more on this grape varietal, essential for most Champagne making)