Portobello & Red Pepper Goat Cheese Crostini

Sometimes I like to pretend to be fancy. In fact, I do this a lot, often by hosting or attending extremely casual dinner parties. This is my go-to recipe for those times.

ingredients (serves 14 as an appetizer):
6-8 portobello mushrooms
2 red peppers
1 large red onion
1 tsp. dried rosemary (if fresh, add at the end)
2 tbsp. red wine
olive oil
salt & black pepper to taste
12 oz. goat cheese, plain
2 baguettes

Start by heating olive oil in a large pan, and halving the onion. Score it width and lengthwise, then make perpendicular cuts to create small dice, as shown below.
Add the onion to the pan, along with the rosemary and some black pepper, but DO NOT SALT (It is very important when cooking with mushrooms that you do not salt the pan before the mushrooms have been added. If they are salted too early on, they give off all of their moisture and become spongy. It’s best to wait until they have cooked down a bit).
To cut up the pepper, first use your knife to cut a circle around the stem, so that you can easily pluck it out. Then cut the pepper into quarters and remove the white membrane from inside. Think of it as a form of butchering!
Cut the quarters into strips about 1 centimeter thick. Once you have the strips, line them up and slice them, again on the perpendicular and into ~1cm squares. Have a look:
Add the peppers to the pan with the onions and stir well. Let them cook for a few minutes while you chop up the mushrooms.
You want the red pepper and mushroom pieces to be relatively the same size, so cut them using the same method as we used for the peppers: slice into strips, then again, on the perpendicular, into small chunks.
Before you add the mushrooms, check to see that the onions and peppers have broken down enough so that the pan won’t be too crowded. They should look like this:
Now add the mushrooms to the pan along with more oil and black pepper, and stir well. Preheat the oven to 400°, while you’re at it. Let the mushrooms cook down until they become a dark brown, which should take at least 10 minutes, and stir every few minutes so that everything cooks evenly. After 10 minutes, or when your mushrooms have given off most of their liquid, add a good amount of salt and the red wine, stirring well, and letting everything reduce for another 10 minutes or so.

In the meantime, slice your baguette on the diagonal into slices about 1 cm thick and when the oven is hot, stick them in for 6 minutes. When they’re finished, take them out and let them cool, putting a generous hunk of goat cheese on each one so it can soften up a bit. By the time the crostini have cooled, the mushroom-redpepper mixture should be finished cooking, so you can spread the goat cheese onto the crostini and then add your topping. Serve right away, preferrably with some red wine (fancy!).


Badass Vegan Chili

Watching the Superbowl this year, I realized how gosh dang American the whole thing is. Now, I’m no hootin-n-hollerin patriot, but why not embrace some of that enthusiasm this year. That enthusiasm that usually expresses itself through tasty grub, and what is more ‘merican than a damn good bowl of chili? Probably a lot of things, but for the sake of this post: NOTHIN. I’m also going to prove that with 3 beans and a whole lot of spicy kick, a pot of chili don’t need no meat.

1 medium or large onion
6-8 cloves. garlic
2 medium bell peppers
1/2 lb. carrots, cut & peeled
2-3 stalks of celery
1 can (15 oz). pinto beans*
1 can (15 oz). black beans*
1 can (15 oz). kidney beans*
2 cans (56 oz). diced tomatoes*
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. hot paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp. fennel seed (optional)
1/2 tsp. ground coriander (optional)
salt, black pepper (general rule: reseason with salt and black pepper every time you add more to the pot)
olive oil

* as much as possible, I buy canned products with no salt added, that way I can control of the amount of salt in my food, because as we learned this week, 90% of us consume an unhealthy amount of sodium.

Let’s start by getting some olive oil going on medium heat in a large pot, making sure there’s enough oil to coat the bottom. While the oil is heating up, start chopping the onion using our scoring method, and you should end up with chunks of this size:
Throw the onions in the pot and get started on the garlic, scoring the bigger cloves so there aren’t any massive chunks in the mix.
Add the garlic to the pot with the onions, add a little salt and black pepper, and let them break down for a few minutes while you assemble your spices. Cayenne, paprika, cumin, sage, oregano, thyme: these are all necessary, but I would also recommend both fennel and coriander seeds if you’re into that subtle anise flavor.
If you have a mortar and pestle, this would be a great time to bust it out and grind all of the spices and herbs together. If not, no biggie, just mix the seasonings as best you can and add it to the onions and garlic, stirring until the spices are evenly distributed.
Add a little more oil if the pot seems dry, and stir around. As I’ve said before, getting the spices in as early as possible in cooking allows them to permeate whatever oil/fat you are cooking with, and thus become more infused in the dish (props to my pals Natalie & Ehsan for that tip). While the base for your chili is getting acquainted, chop up the carrots, bell peppers, and celery into pieces of relatively the same size.
For some odd reason I found it very satisfying to cut the celery on a diagonal… don’t ask. The carrots I just cut into small rounds.

celery tree!

When the peppers, carrots, and celery are ready, toss them into the pot and stir everything well. Add salt and black pepper.
Then, open up your cans of diced tomato and add those as well, holding back depending on how thick you like your chili. Add more salt and black pepper.
Finally, it’s time to add the beans. You can use whatever combination of beans that you like, but I’d always include black beans, because their fat content adds a nice richness. Be sure to drain and rinse the beans before adding. And as usual, add more salt and black pepper.

Now, turn down the heat, cover the pot, and let that chili work! I left mine on the stove for a good 5-6 hours, stirring periodically. I served it with lime, avocado, and cilantro (the first two helping to temper the heat for those of your guests who prefer a milder chili). Chow down.

Warm Winter Salad with Sesamiso-Citrus Vinaigrette

Hi y’all. It’s been a few weeks, once again, and I apologize, but I have an awesome winter salad for you that is sure to win your forgiveness. And tomorrow, I’m making a three-bean chili that can satisfy everyone on the spectrum from carnivore to vegan. For now, let’s get down to business.

For the dressing:
1/3 cup. sesame oil
1 tbsp. miso paste
1 tbsp. tahini
1 tsp. honey or agave nectar
1/2 lime, juiced and zested
1/4-1/2 lemon, juiced and zested

To start, you can make the dressing and let all the ingredients get familiar with each other while you work on the body of the salad. Measure out the sesame oil, miso, tahini, and honey, then zest the lime and lemon (I imagine orange would be delicious with this, as well) and add to the mix. When you’re done zesting, cut the lime/lemon into halves or quarters and juice them. Beat the dressing with a wisk or a fork until everything is combined, then set aside.

For the salad:
1 1/2-2 lbs. brussel sprouts
2 cups. butternut squash, peeled and shaved
1/2 cup. shallot (1 medium) or red onion (1/4 medium), thinly sliced
sesame oil
2 oz. goat cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Cut off the remaining stalk of each sprout, then peel off the outermost leaves (they are generally a little beat up and dirty) and either discard or wash thoroughly and use in a soup. For this recipe, we’re concerned about presentation and we want as many of the leaves as possible to be intact and blemish-free. Once you have removed the outer leaves, cut another chunk off of each stalk and begin to peel off whatever leaves can be easily removed, and throw them into a strainer. Eventually you will work your way into the center, or bulbs of the sprouts, where the leaves are too tightly packed to be removed without tearing — save these bulbs for another recipe, all we want are the bigger leaves. When all of the leaves are in the strainer, rinse thoroughly with cold water and shake dry.

what we want

what we save

Put a large sautee pan or wok on medium-low heat and add sesame oil. Cut the shallot or red onion into thin slices and see that you have at most 1/2 cup. Now we turn our attention to the squash: cut off the top and bottom, then peel off the skin, and perhaps go a little deeper until you get to the bright orange flesh.
Peel the squash into thin strips. Ideally, we want each strip to be approximately 2 in. long, so just cut the longer strips as you see fit. If we peel in a quick motion, and we have a little luck, a lot of the strips will form these beautiful little curls.
Let’s check if the oil has heated, and that the brussel sprout leaves are mostly dry. If so, add the onion, squash, brussel sprout leaves, and a little salt and pepper. Toss the mixture continuously to make sure that everything gets evenly heated. We are not looking to cook the squash, necessarily, neither the brussel sprouts nor onions, we really just want to wilt everything enough that most of that raw, bitter flavor is tamed.
For my taste, I would say this took 5-7 minutes of cooking, and I tossed the mixture every 30 seconds or so. When everything has broken down enough, turn off the heat and add the dressing, tossing thoroughly. Serve warm with little hunks of goat cheese, and perhaps one last sprinkle of salt.

Kohlrabi Soup

Thus far I’ve been catering to those of us who maybe don’t have the snazziest of kitchen tools at our disposal, and I promise to continue doing so, but I have a confession… This Christmas I got a wonderful, wonderful gift from someone (you know who you are–THANK YOU): an immersion hand blender with a bajillion accessories. This thing is part blender, part food processor, and part hand mixer. It’s pretty badass. It’s opened up my world to an endless array of recipes that I’ve been wanting to try, but was reluctant to because the sad little blender my roommate and I had was broken.

It came at the perfect time, too. While home for the holidays in Chicago, I had dinner at Girl and the Goat. Let me just say this was one of the best meals I’ve had in my life. I could go on and on, but you should actually just go there. The real point of this story is to tell you about kohlrabi, a turnip-like vegetable that’s a distant relative of the cabbage family. I’ve seen these bulbs at the market for a while, but could never think of what to put them in or how to cook them. At Girl and the Goat, they have a lovely kohlrabi salad, in which it is served raw, sliced very thin with a creamy pear-ginger dressing (DROOL). It was great, obviously, so I decided when I got home to New York I needed to do a blog post about them. Wanting to inaugurate my flashy new hand-blender, I thought kohlrabi soup, a Hungarian staple, would be the ideal vehicle for my first experiment. Here it is:
1 lb. kolhrabi, peeled and chopped into 1/4 in. cubes
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cups. vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups. whole milk
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. flour
a pinch of paprika

Put the butter in a large pot on low-medium heat, and chop the onion while it’s melting. Don’t worry too much about the size of the chop on the onions, the hand blender (!) and sieve will take care of that later.
When the butter has melted, add the onions and cook until they are translucent and soft, about 7-10 minutes on low heat. Add the bay leaf, a tiny pinch of salt, and the flour, too.
While the onions are cooking, peel and chop the kohlrabi into 1/4 in cubes. I like to use my knife to take off the outer layer of skin, because it’s a bit tough for a peeler.
Be sure to cut out any tough or discolored bits, then slice the kohlrabi into 1/4 in thick discs, then into sticks 1/4 in wide, and then into the cubes. All three steps are shown from left to right below:
Add the paprika and kohlrabi to the pot with the onions, and cook 5-7 minutes, or until tender.
Now measure out your veggie or chicken stock, along with the milk, and add both to the pot. Cover and let simmer on low heat for about 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, check to see that the kohlrabi pieces are tender, and if they are, remove the bay leaf and pour the soup into a blender or container for hand-blending. Use a high speed so that you can blend most of the onion and kohlrabi pieces out, though there will still be some noticeable bits before you strain the soup.
1-2 minutes of blending should be enough to get out most of the lumps out, but pass it through a sieve to ensure that you remove any leftover bits of onion and kohlrabi. You can use the back of a spoon to work the soup through the sieve. Once it has been strained, and has a smooth, creamy texture, serve it with a pinch of paprika and chive on top for garnish. This would be a great starter for any meal.

Homemade Hummus and Avocado-Bean Dip

Playoffs are here and it’s almost time for the superbowl, and for casual fans like me, that only means one thing: SNACKS. Unfortunately, at many gatherings these are store-bought, and that usually guarantees that you have no idea what some of the 20+ ingredients are, and whether or not these mystery concoctions are good for you. Knowledge is power, and the only way to ensure you know what’s in that dip is to make the dang thing yourself. Since I know a good number of people are trying their best to stick to diet-related New Years resolutions, I figured I’d steer toward the healthy end of our options. Here’s to staying on the wagon!

1 1/2 cups. garbanzo beans (one 15 oz. can)
1/2 cup. tahini
3 cloves. garlic, minced
juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp. plain Greek yogurt (unnecessary if you have a food processor)
1/4 cup. olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. hot paprika
salt & black pepper to taste

Begin by draining and rinsing the garbanzo beans in cold water, and leave them to finish drying off in the strainer. Peel the garlic cloves and score them lengthwise, then chop them widthwise as finely as possible. Once the garlic is in fairly small bits, add a touch of salt and mix it in (do a little more chopping), then make a little pile of the garlic and begin mincing by pressing down into the pile with the back of your knife, and dragging the knife outward. Have a look-see:
Do so until it reaches this consistency, where the tiny pieces tend to clump together like a paste:Once the garlic is set aside in a large bowl, measure out the olive oil and pour it into a warm pan on low heat. When the oil is heated, add the garbanzos and paprika, and stir it around. This step is not altogether necessary, but I find the garbanzos are easier to smash by hand when they’ve warmed up for a few minutes, and they help the other ingredients break down, as well. If you have a food processor–lucky you–you can skip this part.

After 5 minutes on low heat, the beans should be just warm enough and the oil should have absorbed all that paprika-goodness. Turn off the pan and pour the beans and any excess oil into to the bowl with the garlic. Then add the tahini, lemon juice, salt and black pepper.
Get to mashing! Because this poor, unfortunate soul doesn’t have a food processor, I like to mix everything together with a large spoon, then alternate mashing with a large spoon and a fork until I get the consistency that I want.
Now add the yogurt (it helps to more closely achieve that smooth consistency that (unless you are willing to break your arm) only a food processor can create. Mix it in and move on to the spoon!
Keep mixing and mashing until you’ve almost given up, then give it a taste and a dip test to see that the hummus can hold together enough to stay perched on a carrot or chip. Mash some more and/or add seasoning depending on your results.

Rest that arm for a minute, because it’s time for round 2:

Avocado-Bean dip:
1 1/2 cups. black or pinto beans (shown are pinto beans, but I tried it with black beans, which I much preferred. They have a slightly higher fat content and thus add a nice richness to the dip.)
2 ripe avocados
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)
salt & black pepper to taste

Again, the first thing you should do is drain and rinse the black beans. While they’re drying off, chop the garlic in the same manner as you did for the hummus, but skip the final step of mincing with salt. Put the garlic in a large bowl and get cracking on your avocados. I like to do this in 4 steps.
Step 1: Stick the wide part of the blade through the skin of the avocado, until you reach the pit.
Step 2: Swing the blade around the avocado pit, always staying in contact with it.
Step 3: Once you’ve made your way all the way around the avocado, simply twist it open like an oreo.
And voila! A (not actually that) ripe avocado!
Step 4: Place a thick towel over your hand and put the pit-half inside. Holding your blade sturdily (higher up the handle helps) and from a short distance, strike the avocado pit firmly with the middle of the blade. No kamikaze swings, PLEASE.
Twist your knife and the pit should come right out! Use your toweled hand to remove the pit from the knife blade.
Score the avocados from the inside, using a duller knife so that you don’t break the skin (of the avocado, and of your hand… totally not speaking from experience…). Score perpendicularly to get the chunks as small as possible.
Now all you have to do is scoop the avocado out with a spoon, and you won’t be wasting all the avocado you would if it was sliding around on the cutting board. Put the avo-meat in the bowl with the garlic, and add the black beans, lime juice, cumin, cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt. Start your mashing-muscles and work on the mixture with the fork/spook alternation until you reach the desired consistency.
Once it looks right, give it a taste test and adjust the seasoning accordingly.
Serve with veggies or chips, and get ready to do a touchdown dance when your guests swoon. I spin the ball on one of its tips, then dance around, shooting it with my hand pistols. It’s probably the coolest touchdown dance ever.

Braised Mustard Greens & Mutzu Apples

Sorry for the tardiness! It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Sometimes even those of us who love to cook can’t be bothered to make something–that’s how I’ve felt these past two weeks, and that’s how I feel about cooking a Christmas Eve dinner when my flight lands at 4PM the day of: ain’t havin’ it. If you’re reluctantly cooking for the holidays, too, this recipe goes out to you. It’s fast, easy, and will probably be the healthiest thing on the table… unless, of course, there’s a pitcher of water. It might not be healthier than a pitcher of water.

1 bunch. mustard greens
2-4 shallots (depending on size)
1/2 large. mutzu apple (or any slightly tart variety)
1 tbsp. whole grain dijon mustard
1 tsp. dried dill (1 tbsp. fresh)
1 splash. red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Begin by washing the greens thoroughly, and when I say thoroughly, I mean thoroughly, especially if you’re buying from the farmer’s market. I often find a little critter in my greens, and although he might be cute, I do not want to eat a baby caterpillar, because a) he’s just too cute, and b) I don’t know how one cooks a caterpillar in the first place. On top of that, leafy greens can carry bacteria that are not so fun for your stomach, regardless of whether you buy them at the grocery store or the farmer’s market. In sum: if this paragraph was hit country song, it would be titled ‘Save a Caterpillar, Wash Your Greens.’ And it wouldn’t be a hit.

Now that your greens are washed, let them dry on a towel or give them a good shake in the strainer. It’s important that they be as dry as possible before they go into the pan. But don’t worry, there’s time for that to happen while you prepare the other ingredients. Get a large pan going on medium-low heat with some olive oil. While the pan is heating up, get to slicing on the shallots, nothing too thin.
Put the shallots in the pan and let them start to break down. Grab the apple: cut it in half, eat one half (optional), then cut the remaining half into quarters. Remove the core that’s left on each piece and slice thinly.

Put the apple slices in with the shallots, and let them hangout. Throw in the dill (if fresh, throw it on at the end), a few grinds of black pepper, and after a couple of minutes, add the dijon mustard and stir it in as best as possible, trying to coat the apple slices evenly.
Once the apples have surrendered a bit, lower the heat just a tad. You don’t want the apples to become too soft before you add the greens in, otherwise they’ll be mush by the time the greens are finished cooking. Chop the mustard greens into big pieces, then pile them over the top of the apples.
Add the splash of vinegar and gently fold the mustard greens into the apples and shallots. Once the bottom of the pile begins to wilt (after 1-2 minutes), fold the greens in once again, so that the leaves on the top of the pile get a turn closer to the heat, and thus will cook evenly (you will need to do this in a couple of batches). Add salt. The greens really do not need much time to cook, as they are pretty sensitive to the heat. Look for when they have wilted down, but, colorwise, are still holding on to their brightness–then they’re ready to serve!

Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Curried Squash & Cauliflower Roast

Serve this as a side dish over the holidays, because I bet nobody else will have brought it. Oh, and it tastes real good.

1 small head. cauliflower
1 medium. sweet dumpling squash
3 cloves. garlic
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/4 cup. olive oil
1/2 cup. raisins
salt & black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°. Start by washing the skin of the squash and breaking off the stem. Cut the squash in half, then lengthwise into slices that are 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut the slices into cubes of the same size (3/4″), like so:
Set the squash aside in a large bowl. Cut the cauliflower into pieces where the florets are about 3/4″ wide, or roughly the same size as the pieces of squash.
Throw the cauliflower into the large bowl with the squash, then chop the garlic cloves into somewhat thin slivers, and throw them in the bowl as well.
Now, in a measuring cup or separate bowl, stir the olive oil, curry powder, and dried sage, then pour over the squash and cauliflower. Sprinkle on salt and a few grinds of black pepper and toss it all together.
Once everything is evenly coated, spread it out on a large baking sheet, making sure that each piece is touching the sheet on one side. Roast for 35 minutes, rotating the pieces once at the halfway point.
When they’re done, let them cool for 2-3 minutes, then put them in a bowl and add the raisins. Serve warm.

Post-Thanksgiving Detox Slaw

Thanksgiving might just be my favorite holiday. Whether you spend it with your family, someone else’s, your friends, or any combination of the three, you’re guaranteed two things: hilarity and great food. What’s not to like?

Unfortunately or not, with Thanksgiving comes one more guarantee: stuffing–and I don’t mean the edible variety. We will literally stuff ourselves to the brim, because when will the next time be when we’re surrounded by such a bounty of delicious food? Turkey, stuffing, yams, pies on top of pies on top of more pies! It’s endless, and inevitably we’ll feel the post-Thanksgiving bloat.

In my opinion, there should be no regret involved. Thanksgiving comes once a year, so I say enjoy all the wonderful food you can handle, and don’t feel guilty about it the next day, just get back on track. The best way to do that is with a good old fashioned detox, and thankfully, that doesn’t have to mean you’re drinking juice all day–not if I have anything to say about it.

Yummy Asian Crack Dressing

We’ve made this before, people. Tripe or quadruple the ingredients to make a big batch that will last you all week, and you can cleanse your digestive system a little each day.

As for the slaw, I’ve chosen mostly ingredients that are great for clearing toxins from your body. Cabbage, red grapes, and garlic (in the dressing) all promote healthy liver function. So do nuts, which I didn’t include this time, but would be a great addition to the slaw.

For 1 serving:
1/4 head. cabbage
1 cup. carrots, shredded
1 cup. red grapes, halved
optional: nuts (chopped pistachios or slivered almonds would work well)

This recipe is easy as (you guessed it) pie. There is literally no cooking involved… it’s really just a matter of assembly.
To begin, cut a head of cabbage in half, then cut one of the halves again into a fourth. Cut shreds of cabbage, as thin as you can get them, until you reach the thick white stalk in the middle. The thinner the shreds, the more the acidity of the dressing will be able to wilt the leaves. Do this on all sides and discard the leftover stalk, or save it to make stock, but either way it is too tough for us to use here.

Next, take the carrot and peel off the outside skin with a vegetable peeler. Then, use the peeler to peel thin strips of the carrot, as seen below, and cut the longer strips in half with a knife.
Then, wash off the grapes and cut them into halves. Easy peezy.
Now, put the cabbage, carrots and grapes in a large bowl and add 1/2 to 1 serving of the dressing, depending on how wilted you want the cabbage to get. Toss everything and let the salad sit for at least 5 minutes, then toss again to redistribute the dressing, and  it’s ready to go.

Restaurant Review: I Sodi

My friends and family would call me a picky eater, and they’re probably right, but I’d add that my fickleness is not relating to the category of food I’m eating, but rather the quality, and what’s wrong with that? I expect a lot where my money is involved, and I think that any restaurant worth its salt should be able to do better in the kitchen than I ever could. No where is this more important to me than when I’m dining out for Italian food: I can do a fine job at home, so when I go out, it’d better be spectacular.
Just to prove that I can be pleased, I wanted my first review to be of an Italian restaurant that I’m pretty fond of. I Sodi, located in the West Village on Christopher Street, has everything I want in a dining establishment: understated decor, informed waiters, great wine, and grub that justifies the price tag.
I’ve been to I Sodi twice, both times in the early evening, because later reservations are hard to come by unless you plan ahead by a week. On both occasions, as you can see from the photo, the place was pretty quiet around 5:30pm, but by 7:30pm it was packed. I get the sense that many of the parties included regulars, people who can afford to make this a weekly event (lucky them).
I went with a close friend, and we began with a Chianti classico ($12/glass), a crowd-pleasing red: easy on the palate, it starts off fruity and sweet, but has a clean, dry finish. For the appetizer, we decided to split the antipasto toscano for two, which I loved the first time I was here.
Once again, it was delicious, and might be my favorite thing on the menu. In the center is miele di castagno, a chestnut honey, and in my opinion, the star of the show. If you’ve never paired honey with a meat and cheese plate, buy a good honey at the market and assemble your own plate at home for a party–it will both surprise and impress your guests. The three cheeses were piave, pecorino sardo, and a parmigiano. All were wonderful, but I preferred the pecorino to pair with the cured meats, which were finocchiona (cured with fennel seed), salame toscano, cacciatorini and prosciutto.
A leaner salame, cacciatorini (on the right) seemed to be the favorite of my friend and I, but I honestly could not reserve myself with any of the options above. At $25 for two, you’re served a more than generous amount, so if you’d like to save $8 and save room in your belly, I’d split the antipasto for one at $17.

At Italian restaurants, there is the primi piatti, meaning “first plate,” which is a pasta, and the secondi piatti, “second plate,” which is a meat dish. My friend and I are both recently out of college, so culturally (but mostly financially), this was very foreign to us, and considering the amount of meat we consumed from the antipasto plate, we decided a secondi piatti was completely gratuitous.
My friend had the rigatoni bolognese (meat sauce, pictured top), and I had the spinach and ricotta ravioli in a sage butter sauce (bottom). In both cases, I thought whoever was responsible for the cheese-grating got a little over zealous, as I’d prefer to have that done at the table so I can say “when.” I wasn’t blown away by the bolognese, though it was good. It didn’t have that special quality, that one texture, taste, or smell that makes your mouth dance. The ravioli, I found, did have that quality, perhaps more so in their pillow-like, heavenly softness, rather than in taste alone. They were very good, but I was glad to have ordered the half portion, so as to steer away from the buttery coma that I barely avoided. I have also had the artichoke lasagna on my first visit, which was absolutely amazing. There were at least 10 layers of pasta,  separated by wonderfully rich artichoke leaves, cooked to silky perfection. Not available in the half portion, the lasagna could easily make for two meals, and I thoroughly enjoyed my leftovers for lunch the next day.
For dessert, we split the semifreddo alla nocciola (frozen hazelnut mousse) with fior di latte (cow’s milk ice cream). Our waiter served it to us with a glass of amaretto (almond liqueur), which was a nice compliment to the hazelnut mousse. Everything worked together very well, but the fior di latte was particularly impressive, as it was the first time either of us had it. I guess I would compare it to a whipped cream, but it had a beautiful texture and subtle vanilla flavor that would easily kick any whipped cream’s ass.

Youngins, these meal was by no means inexpensive, but if you’re like me and once in a while you spoil yourself by dropping some cash on a great meal, go for it, otherwise… wait for the relatives to come to town. Grown-ups, I Sodi is well worth it.

Overall rating (5 being best, 1 being worst):
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Noise: moderate

Other Italian recommendations in NYC: Basta Pasta, Peasant

Grandma’s Gravy & Meatballs

It’s only fitting that the original Sicilian witch (R.I.P. grandma) made just about the meanest red sauce an Italian American could hope to make. I never thought I would give this recipe away, but sharing is caring, right? I’ve tweaked her recipe a bit, because I like to steer more toward fresh ingredients–only grandma could conjure up magic using “onion flakes” (what, exactly, is an onion flake?)–and I think I’ve come in at a close second.

Meatballs (5 servings at 2 meatballs/person):
1 lb. ground beef
2 eggs
1/2 cup. romano or parmesan cheese, grated (by you)
3/4 cup. bread crumbs, unseasoned
1 tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup. onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley

I like to start off by combining all of the dry (or somewhat dry) ingredients. Put the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, pepper, salt and herbs into a large bowl and mix until everything is combined.
Then, get chopping on the onion and garlic. A good way to speed up the process is by scoring the onion into thin slices, leaving the end intact for stability, then slicing at a perpendicular angle, like so (you can do the same with the garlic cloves):

It only takes a little more chopping, at your discretion, after this first step, but smaller pieces will help the meatballs hold together better. Put the chopped onions and garlic into the bowl and mix with the dry ingredients, then crack two eggs into the bowl and add the ground beef. Now, roll up your sleeves and get in there–the only way to mix all of the inregidents properly is with your hands. Mix and mash until all of the ingriedients seem evenly distributed in the meat, and don’t do this for too long or the meatballs tend to get tough. It should only take a couple of minutes. When you feel you’re finished, shape the mixture into a blob, then score it into quarters.

You should be able to shape 2 or 3 meatballs from each quarter, and if they end up uneven, just take from the bigger ones and add to the smaller guys, then reshape.
Next, get a large pan on medium heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs, and be sure not to overcrowd the pan–you can cook them in a couple of rounds, just add more oil after the first batch is done.
Ideally, your kitchen isn’t on the horrible slant that mine is on, and the oil is spread out a bit more evenly in the pan…
But anyway, let the meatballs cook for 3-4 minutes on this first side to get nicely browned, then flip them over to the opposite side and cook for 2 minutes.
Keep rotating the meatballs, cooking for 2 minutes at each new position. Rotating 4-5 times should suffice, and you don’t want to overcook them now, because they will continue cooking later when they are added to the sauce. When they are done, they should look somewhat like this:
DO. NOT. discard the oil in the pan once the meatballs are finished cooking — all that good meatball flavor is ABSOLUTELY necessary in order to make the gravy so dang good. I repeat: DO NOT DISCARD THE LEFTOVER OIL.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, it’s sauce time:
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves. garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp. carrots, finely chopped
6 oz. tomato paste
1 can crushed or stewed tomatoes
1 large can tomato puree
olive oil
1 tsp. parsley
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Once you’ve removed the meatballs from the pan, lower the heat just a touch (from medium to medium low) and add more olive oil. Chop the half onion and garlic cloves using the same method as you did for the meatballs. Grab a carrot and, using a peeler, remove the skin, and peel 20-30 strips. Gather up the strips, and chop them as small as you can get them. Add the onion, garlic and carrot to the pan along with the dried herbs, salt, and pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent, 5-7 minutes, then add the tomato paste and stir well.
Let the mixture cook for another 5 minutes, then add the tomato puree and the crushed/stewed tomatoes. Stir well, then add more salt and pepper to reseason, as well as the sugar, which does a lot to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, making the sauce less tangy. Now, nestle the meatballs back into the sauce, turn the heat down to a low flame and cover.
 The longer you leave the gravy and meatballs in the pot, the better the sauce will be. I like to get everything finished in the early afternoon, then leave the pot on the stove and let it simmer until dinner time, stirring every once in a while. Serve with spaghetti and red wine, always. Mangia.