From Lunigiana, a Pasta That Cooks Like a Crepe

images/pestoTestaroli are an unusual type of fresh pasta made from an eggless dough that is first fried like a crepe and then briefly plunged into boiling water before serving.

The name is derived from the testo, a special pan made of terra-cotta or cast iron. Testaroli are a specialty of Lunigiana, an isolated valley area along the border of Liguria and Tuscany.

My wife and I had the pasta for the first time last summer in Milan, where we spent the first two nights of our honeymoon. We were supposed to fly into Nice after stopping over in Vienna, but a strike in France derailed our original plan, so we hastily made plans to go to Milan. We stayed in the Brera district, and on our second night we found a great little restaurant, La Latteria di Via San Marco, just a few blocks away. Danielle ordered the testaroli, which were cut into wide ribbons and served simply with a slab of butter on top.

Micol Negrin has a recipe for Testaroli al Pesto in her cookbook, Rustico: Regional Italian Country Cooking.

The recipe calls for using whole wheat flour, but we didn’t have any, so I substituted all-purpose unbleached flour. Combine equal parts of flour and water in a large mixing bowl. The recipe calls for 4.5 cups of flour to serve six people. For two people, I reduced the amount to two cups, which allowed for enough of the mixture to allow for some trial-and-error during the cooking process. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream.

Stab one half of an onion with a fork, dip the cut side in olive oil, and swirl it around in a heated non-stick pan to coat with olive oil (I actually skipped using onion and just used oil because we did not have any onions on hand). Pour approximately half of a cup of the dough/batter into the pan, spread it thinly across, and cook, covered, for four minutes; flip and continue cooking, covered, for three more minutes. Continue the process until the testaroli are all cooked and slice. The recipe calls for cutting them into small diamonds, but since I seem to remember the pasta being served as wide strips the one and only time I had ever had it, I sliced the testaroli into wide ribbons.

In addition to basil, garlic, and parmigiano-reggiano, the pesto recipe called for toasted pine nuts, which I lightly browned in a pan over the stove. Using a tip from Michael Chiarello, I also added a pinch of vitamin c powder (ascorbic acid) to keep the pesto from discoloring. It seemed to work and help the pesto retain the basil’s bright green color, but the pesto only sat around for a half hour or so before being eaten.

Cook the testaroli briefly in a large pot of salted boiling water for no longer than a minute. Drain the testaroli and combine with the pesto, tossing the pasta carefully so as to avoid tearing the strips.


Agenda: 8/27 to 9/2

1. Thai Day, a celebration of Thai arts, culture, and cuisine at Battery Park, Wednesday, August 27, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., free.
2. $8.28 entrées at Lower East Side restaurants, through Wednesday, August 27. [via Gothamist]
3. Six & Six: The Surprising Dessert Wines of Spain, at at the Artisanal Cheese Center (500 West 37th Street, entrance on 10th Avenue, 2nd Floor), Thursday, August 28, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
4. Sample the takeout beef short ribs, chicken, Kansas City-style ribs, and pulled pork from Daisy May's BBQ USA at 623 11th Avenue (at 46th Street).


Making the Mojito


The mojito is my favorite cocktail. Rum, mint, lime, and sugar combine to make an incredibly delicious and thirst-quenching drink.

According to the legend told by the late Angel Martinez, the origins of the mojito derive from a drink made of sugar cane-sweetened water spiked with unrefined rum that was consumed by slaves in Cuba in the late 19th century.

By the early 20th century, the story goes, the mojito came into its own in Cuba as a popular drink at the Playa de Marianao, a working-class beach in a borough of Havana. International acclaim for the cocktail emerged after 1946, the year that Mr. Martinez opened La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana and started to serve mojitos endorsed by Ernest Hemingway, attracting the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Pablo Neruda, Nat King Cole, and Errol Flynn, among others. Today, La Bodeguita is a major tourist destination (tourist trap, according to this article), that has even spawned a copycat in Palo Alto, California.

I like to make a mojito by muddling a substantial amount of mint leaves (5 to 10, depending on their size, though I don't think I've ever used too much mint) with two teaspoons of sugar (a mortar and pestle will also work for this step). The important thing is to grind the sugar into leaves so that the granules are completely incorporated and dissolved within the mint and its juice. This will form a sort of paste of mint and sugar. Combine with the juice of one lime and the leftover lime, cut into quarters. Add two ounces of white rum. I like to use Marti Autentico Licor de Ron, a Cuban-style white rum that is flavored with lime and mint. Add club soda, crushed ice, and shake in a cocktail shaker. Garnish with a sprig of lime.

The “faux-jito”: When my wife wants to skip the alcohol, I combine all of the above ingredients except for the rum to make this mock version of the original drink.


Shopping List: 2002 Cortijo III Rioja

illuswine.jpgHoward Goldberg, writing in the New York Times, offers this winning recommendation for the 2002 Cortijo III Rioja ($7): "This exuberant, addictive dark wine from Iberia's signature tempranillo grape is plump and juicy. It's like a blend of cherries and unidentifiable berries, with hints of herbs and tobacco."

The Spanish red wine is available at Martin Brothers, 2781 Broadway, at 107th Street (212.222.8218).


Street Fare: Zeppole on Arthur Avenue, Bronx, New York



Report: A Celebration of Heritage Meats

pigs.bmp“I didn’t know that you needed to saw down the teeth of the males so they didn’t tear into the sows when they 'want it',” admitted Matt Rubiner, Leader of Slow Food Berkshires, as he introduced a panel discussion and tasting of heritage meats held on August 20th at the French Culinary Institute. The gruesome anecdote opened a wide-ranging discussion that ran the gamut from organic farming to the social and gastronomical benefits of raising and eating heritage meats to menu-writing.

The event was put on by Slow Food USA, the American extension of the international movement to preserve and promote regional cuisine and local food products.

Heritage meats are like four-legged versions of the heirloom tomato—old strains of rare breeds that are being cultivated anew by independent farmers using traditional methods, free of hormones and chemical pesticides.

Featured speakers also included Tom Gardner, Director of the New England Heritage Breeds Conservancy, and Garret Oliver, Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, which provided bottles of its Octoberfest during the tasting. Mr. Oliver waxed, "I'm old enough to remember when pork gravy was like crack!"

The star of the show was farmer Dominic Palumbo, who raises Large Black pigs at the Moon in the Pond Farm in the Berkshires, Massachusetts. Mr. Palumbo first started working to save the “Large Blacks” (as he called them) seven years ago.

The Large Black breed is over 100 years old, developed in England from a combination of regional pigs with French and Chinese derivation. The pigs are omnivorous, eating roots, vegetation, bugs, grubs, and the “occasional chipmunk,” said Mr. Palumbo. On his farm, they also are fed grain, milk, and “garden slop.” The diet includes a heavy dose of minerals from the dirt which the pigs habitually dig through to find food. At six months, they grow to 200 to 250 pounds and can reach a full weight of near 1,000 pounds. They range free, foraging for food. “They need to root, dig, and wallow,” Mr. Palumbo explained. The result of all this, Mr. Palumbo pledged, was great tasting meat that is nothing like the commercially raised pork produced on industrial farms. [for an excellent discussion of the health and environmental issues involved in commercially-raised beef, see Michael Pollan's 2002 article from the New York Times Magazine]

The discussion lasted for about an hour before the tasting began. It was eight o’clock by this time, and although my stomach was starting to rumble, all of the talk about live animals, pictures of cute pigs, as well as the speakers' frequent semantic slips between using preferred words like “harvesting” into un-pc ones like “slaughtering” started to dampen my appetite. Luckily, an excellent Baltus beer from New Jersey, offered up before the speeches started, relaxed my mood, and any latent vegetarian tendencies (I have been a meat-eater all my life) were quickly beaten back with the arrival of food.

Dan Barber, Chef and Co-owner of Blue Hill, presided over the tasting menu of a Large Black, which included sausage, braised belly, and roasted shoulder.

The sausage was made completely from meat from the head of the pig, simmered in a spiced stock. “We don’t use the eyes,” Mr. Barber noted, which was comforting. We were each given a small slice on a toast round. The flavor was very mild, but what was unusual was how incredibly tender the meat was.

The shoulder was excellent—rich and extremely moist, but the surprise was the belly, almost entirely composed of fat. Both were dry cured with spices for one to two days. Mr. Barber apologized for the fact that some of the pieces of belly coming out of the kitchen were just fat and that others had a more marbled composition of meat and fat. "That’s the nature of heritage meats," he declared. "You’re not going to have a uniform product."

I took a bite of the opaque hunk of glistening belly, which did not look particularly appetizing. But the taste and texture were like nothing I had ever had. The cut was incredibly creamy, with a distinctly nutty flavor. There was no greasy sensation whatsoever, and one of the panelists even claimed that the belly was a “healthful fat” because it included many free radicals and nutrients. The sensation of eating the belly was in such a contrast to its unpalatable physical appearance that I can only compare it to the experience of eating an oyster for the first time.

From Politics to Purchasing
As the evening winded down, a brief debate focused on what some in the audience called the federal government’s “co-opting” of the organic movement. Many farmers who pioneered the organic movement before Washington began to regulate organic farming are now feeling left out and even reject the official organic label. “What we need is a nomenclature,” opined one audience member, to identify those farmers like Mr. Palumbo.

From the political to the mundane, the event concluded with a basic, but confounding, question: Where can you get this stuff? The consensus on the panel was that the only place to find heritage pork was at the Greenmarket at Union Square (most likely frozen before shipping). "But what if I want a pork chop on Thursday" (when the Greenmarket is closed), one man objected.

"Well, you might need to just adjust your schedule and wait until Friday when it's open," offered Chef Barber. "That's why they call it 'slow food'," Mr. Rubiner chimed in, to laughs.

- - -

In addition to Large Black pigs, Mr. Palumbo also raises Jersey Dairy cows, Scottish Highland beef cattle, Dorset sheep, Lineback oxen, Pilgrim geese, Narragansett turkeys, King pigeons, and chickens. Personal tours of the Moon in the Pond Farm can be arranged by appointment. For a reservation, call 413-229-3092. Meats are available on a seasonable basis. Bring a picnic cooler to take them home.

[For more reading about pork and pig farming, see the 8/12 post at Saute Wednesday].



Agenda: 8/20 to 8/26

1. Cheese and Spanish wine tasting at the Artisanal Cheese Center (500 West 37th Street, entrance on 10th Avenue, 2nd Floor), Thursday, August 21, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
2. Barefoot Grape Stomping Party, Friday, August 22, at the Four Sisters Winery, located on County Route 519, 3 miles North of Route 46 and 6 miles South of Interstate 80, Exit 12, in Belvidere, New Jersey. $30 per person, including buffet meal. For reservations call (908) 475-3671. [via Trenton Times]
3. Heaven Hill Farm's annual Sweet Corn Festival on Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m, 451 Route 94, Vernon, New Jersey (973-764-5144). [via Daily News]
4. Taste sweet corn and pancetta risotto at Craft, 43 East 19th Street. [via New York Times]
5. Visit the new Cafe Botanica at the Chinese Scholar's Garden at the Staten Island Botanical Garden at Snug Harbor. [via New York Times]


White Bean and Shrimp Salad


This quick, simple-to-make, and filling salad of white beans and shrimp is based on a recipe in Joyce Goldstein's Enoteca. Although the traditional bean to use for this kind of Tuscan bean salad are cannellini, the cannellini packed in cans are usually extremely soft and gummy. Small white beans, on the other hand, seem to keep their shape and remain separate, despite the canning process. The beans must be rinsed under the tap to remove all of the syrupy liquid in the can. (The best option would be to start from scratch with dry beans, but using canned beans requires no preparation).

Combine the beans with chopped tomato, finely chopped red onion, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper, and chopped basil, mint or parsley. The recipe calls for sauteeing the shrimp, but I prefer to boil them (this is the way a similar salad was served in Milan). Peel, devein, and slice shrimp into pieces comparable in size to the beans. Boil the shrimp in salted water, drain, and toss with some olive oil and let cool slightly. While the shrimp are still warm, combine with the bean mixture and a handful of julienned basil. The salad should be served at room temperature.

An even easier variation on the salad, which also works well, is to substitute oil-packed tuna for the shrimp. To make: Combine the beans and vegetables as above and top with chunks of canned tuna instead of shrimp.


Street Fare: Farmers Market, Los Angeles



Shopping List: Peeler Perfection


In a June 4 New York Times article identifying the three most innovative kitchen tools introduced in the 1990s, (“The 3 That Make a Kitchen Complete”), Amanda Hesser heralded the OXO vegetable peeler (above, left) as essential not only for all-purpose peeling, but also for finely shaving hard vegetables, fruits, chocolate, and cheeses.

What makes the peeler stand apart, notes Ms. Hesser, is its thick plastic and rubber handle (a thermoplastic elastomer called Santoprene), a design solution developed for people with arthritis in the hands:

The resulting peeler is dopey-looking: it has a thick black handle and an arched black plastic head, which holds a swiveling blade. But it works splendidly, making it as easy to peel potatoes as to slice butter.
The reason it works so well is counterintuitive. Its hidden asset is not so much the blade, which is very sharp, but the soft handle. The user is able to apply great pressure to the handle without causing discomfort to the hand.

In just a few short months since Ms. Hesser's article extolling the OXO peeler, it may already be upstaged by a new peeler on the market from Messermeister. According to Leslie Brenner, writing in an August 6 article in the Los Angeles Times, the fit and finish of the new Messermeister 800-59 peeler (above, right) bears a strong resemblance to the OXO peeler: “The swivel peeler, with a cushy black rubber grip and the swivel blade held in place by a sickle-shaped housing, looks much like one made by Oxo.”

However, this peeler houses a very sharp, serrated blade, rather than a regular blade. Ms. Brenner finds the blade to be particularly effective at catching the slippery skins of tomatoes:

The best thing about using the tool on tomatoes is that it eliminates the necessity of boiling water, submerging tomatoes in it, fishing them out and plunging them in cold water to remove the peel. . . . With a normal swivel peeler you use an away-from-the-body flicking motion. But with the Messermeister version you place the swivel blade on the tomato or peach and pull the peeler toward you, letting the peel fall away in a long strip. . . The strips of peel come off so nicely you might be moved to twirl them into rose shapes for a garnish.

Both peelers retail for $5.95 and can be purchased online. The Messermeister peeler is available at The OXO peeler can be found at Photos: OXO, Messermeister.