Monday, March 1, 2010

Va Va Voom – Ina Goes Italian

The Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Italian Restaurant Food at Home

Nick And Toni's Penne alla Vecchia Bettola

Rum Raisin Tiramisu

Of course, we all associate the Barefoot Contessa with Paris and her easy renditions of French-inspired classics, so I thought it would be interesting to see how she handled some traditional Italian restaurant dishes. I wondered if she would be as successful as with her French repertoire. I shouldn’t have worried. Any cuisine, in the hands of Ina, can have its deliciousness underscored.

Ina got some help from, Joe Realmuto, the chef of one of the Hampton’s most popular restaurants, Nick and Toni’s. She tells us their Penne alla Vecchia Bettola is one of her favorite dishes. Chef Realmuto is going to teach her how to make it in HER kitchen.

She’s excited and positively glowing as she looks UP (he’s tall!) at the hunky chef. (Homely guy alert – put on a chef’s jacket and see how that improves your love life. Some knife skills wouldn’t hurt either.)

Ina tells us the sauce of the dish has onions and roasted tomatoes. Joe continues (Ina’s calling him Joe, so I will too) that the sauce has some great herbs and spices and is baked in the oven for a long time.

Then Ina reminds him that they’re missing one MAJOR ingredient – vodka, lots of vodka. I won’t be surprised if Ina whips out a few martinis for them to enjoy as they cook.

They add half a chopped Spanish onion (or use 1 medium onion) and 3 chopped cloves of garlic to ¼ cup olive oil in a sauté pan. It cooks until translucent, about 5 minutes, (I’d double that time).

While that’s cooking, we get to watch a behind the scenes video that Joe brought. Oh, it’s a tour of the 22 year old restaurant.

Do they even need this exposure? If you tried now, you probably wouldn’t even be able to get in until August. (Actually, that’s not true, I JUST tried and I could have a table for 2 at 6:45 or 8:45 this Saturday.)

In the video, we see the wood burning pizza oven and some awesome fish and pizzas coming out of it. Joe introduces us to the Chef de Cuisine, John Baron and we see the rest of the kitchen staff. That kitchen looks spotless.

Ina and Joe continue with the sauce. He adds the oregano and red pepper flakes. I love that Joe says the key, when using dried herbs, is to “sweat them out in the olive oil” so they release their flavors. That’s MY rule of thumb for WARM SPICES to get rid of their rawness and deepen their flavor. ALWAYS let them see you sweat (your spices anyway).

As Joe adds the vodka, Ina says, “We’ll make martinis later.” I KNEW IT! He lets the sauce reduce down. He adds San Marzano tomatoes, squeezing them as they go in.

Joe tells us that the genesis of this dish is that the owners (sad) went to Italy, had this dish in a small restaurant in Florence and talked the chef into giving them the recipe. It’s been on Nick and Toni’s menu for 22 years. Ina seasons the sauce with salt and pepper, covers the pan and it goes into a 375° F oven for an hour and a half.

Luckily, Joe happens to have another batch ready so they can proceed with the recipe. Ina adds a boatload of salt to boiling water and adds the pasta.

Joe purées the sauce in a blender until it’s smooth.

(A food processor would never get it as smooth and neither would an immersion blender. There are times when certain machines are best for certain things.)

Joe pours the sauce back into the sauté pan, adds some fresh oregano and a cup of heavy cream, which Ina says improves everything. He seasons it and cooks it for another 10 minutes. He asks Ina to grate the cheese, while he drains the pasta. Ina loves the cheese. Joe says he likes to buy a chunk of Parm for the house, because it longer than grated cheese, which loses its flavor so quickly.

Joe stirs the pasta into the sauce and cooks it just a bit longer, because he cooked his pasta al dente. Okay, this is great but a bit elementary. Joe stirs in some Parm and serves them each a bowl. He finishes the dish with some more Parm on top and some fresh oregano. They eat a bowl each, while she kisses him thank you.

Ina’s making another version of tiramisu - a rum raisin one. She breaks 6 eggs into the bowl of a KitchenAid with ½ cup of sugar. She says to make sure the eggs are at room temperature so “they beat up nice and light”. She beats that for 5 minutes until it falls back on itself in a ribbon. She adds 16-18 oz of mascarpone. (DON’T look at the calorie content of those containers. It’s out in the stratosphere.)

Then Ina adds “a LOT” of “good” dark rum, ½ cup, and ¼ cup fresh orange juice, which she says take the hard edge of the rum. (If the rum is so good in the first place, why does it have a hard edge?) She also adds 1½ teaspoons of vanilla AND the seeds from one vanilla bean. (She really can’t help herself.)

Next, Ina gets ready “a dip” for the lady fingers. She mixes together ½ cup rum and ½ cup of freshly squeezed OJ. She dips them quickly so they don’t become soggy and places them into a rectangular baking dish.

Oh! Barefoot Contessa New Book Alert! Ina says she’s working on a book of “easy” recipes and she’s including this one. I don’t care that that could be ALL of her cookbooks; I just want her to keep on, keeping on.

For her rum raisins, Ina mixes 2 tablespoons dark rum with ¾ cup raisins. She covers the bowl with plastic wrap and microwaves it on high for one minute.

I NEVER use plastic wrap in the microwave, EXCEPT in one case. When I melt gelatin, I cover the soaked gelatin tightly with plastic wrap and zap it on high for 30 seconds. (Although that was my OLD microwave, I might halve the time now.) I don’t mind the plastic in Ina’s recipe, because it’s not touching the food and leeching out onto it.

The raisins plump up and absorb the rum. Ina cools them. She adds half the raisins over the lady fingers and pours over half the mascarpone egg mixture. She does that all again “once more with feeling”. She’s so cute. She smooths the top, covers it with plastic and refrigerates it for at least 6 hours or preferably over night.

It’s now out on the counter next to a block of chocolate the size of a gold bullion bar. I’m not kidding. Ina warmed the huge bar for 30 seconds in a microwave, so it curls easier.

Is Ina mentioning a microwave more than usual? I have no problem with that. I use mine many times a day in little cooking tasks.

Ina adds lots of the curls to the top and says it looks good enough to eat. Then she sinks her spoon in and has a nice (rather huge) taste. She says, “Why would you go to a restaurant, if you can make this at home?” Joe better not hear her talk that way.

The next thing Ina prepares is an antipasti platter. All her food looks good, of course, but prosciutto wrapped around melon? Is this something we really need to see? How about a little bit of sumptin’ sumptin’? Maybe a smear of harissa on the prosciutto before it goes around the melon?

I like what Ina says about Julia. She quotes Julia as having said she likes French food better, because she doesn’t consider making Italian food COOKING. Ina says, but that’s also the GOOD NEWS!

Ina does slices of tomatoes and fresh buffalo mozzarella. (Make them the same size). I’m not saying this isn’t good, but…oh good, she’s adding pesto over the top instead of fresh basil.

Next is bread sticks wrapped in salami. I have no problem with simple or easy, I just think something that’s been made 400 gazillion times could be given a little twist. A bit of fig spread on the salami before it gets wrapped around the bread stick, perhaps? THIS recipe looks more exciting or THIS one looks pretty awesome too, but I would use plain chili powder, not a “seasoning mix”, whatever that is.

Ina pulls together the platter “visually” by adding a bunch of basil to the middle. She salts and peppers the whole thing.

Next Ina answers questions from Ask Ina.

Carol wants to know if she should rinse the cooked pasta under cold water to get rid of some of the starch.

Carol!!! What exactly do you THINK the Barefoot Contessa is going to say?!! She would probably find a way of adding MORE STARCH into the pasta. Really!

Naturally, Ina says that’s what you DON’T want to do. She’s very calm as she explains that it would bring down the temperature and it’s the starch in the pasta that brings the dish together when added to the sauce. She tells Carol that she even reserves some of the pasta water to add later, if she needs more liquid. (I will NOT be eating pasta, or probably anything else, at Carol’s house.)

Oh gosh, listen to the next question. Is there a difference in salting the pasta water before you cook the pasta or can you just salt the pasta after cooking?

Yes, MARY, you can salt just the pasta…if you want your dish to suck! Okay, that‘s not exactly how Ina put it. She says salting the water allows the salt to get INTO the pasta and flavors it better than any salting afterwards can.

Who are these ninnies?

Patty’s question is okay, though. She just wants a recipe for garlic bread. Ina uses ciabatta and tells us her recipe. She slices the bread in half through the middle. She processes 6 cloves of peeled garlic with ¼ cup parsley, 1/8 cup oregano, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. She adds that to hot oil and cooks it for 30 second and spoons the mixture over half the bread. She spreads softened butter over the other half and then wraps it in foil and bakes it at 350°F for 5 minutes. She opens the foil and puts it back in the oven until crisp.

One more question for Ina. Michele (with a cute baby) needs a quick marinara. Oh, thank goodness! Ina can help. She sautés a chopped yellow onion in olive oil for ten minutes until it’s lightly browned. Then she adds garlic and cooks it for a minute and adds 1 teaspoon of dried oregano. She adds a jar of really ”good” marinara sauce. She says the house will smell like garlic and herbs and no one will know you didn’t make the sauce yourself.

She’s wily, this Contessa. And if things were a bit too easy this week, I can’t deny that they were delicious.


Anonymous said...

Hey Sue, you're right, it's hard not to love Ina. I especially appreciate that she's trying to take the show into a new cuisine and keep it interesting after so many years on the air. But the infomercial for the restaurant and the fact that (in spite of her advice) I've seen her add oil to the water when she's cooking pasta and that kind of lame antipasto (I'm sure we'd all like to live in a place where we can get beautiful ingredients like that and afford them with no effort) make me hope that it settles down into something better. It's as if she's trying to be all things to all people -- maybe she should stick to what she does best.

The Julia Child quote about Italian food is a classic, but I read an interview in America West's inflight magazine right before she died where she singled out Lidia Bastianich's cooking show as one of the best on television. So maybe she came around in the end!


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I thought it was funny when I clicked on the recipe to find out exactly what was in it, I had no problems connecting to the FN website for once. I did, however, have a hard time closing out of it. ;-) Can't win with that site!

I hope Tom is right because otherwise I think Julia's comment is a bit out of line. I'd love to know what someone like Mario Batali would think of Italian food not being actual cooking. How does Julia define cooking????

Did Ina just put raw eggs into her tiramisu???? Whoa!

Tell me that she DID NOT just put a JAR of sauce into a pot and call it marinara? What? She can't open a couple of cans of crushed tomatoes and season sauce hereself without all of the salt and sugar that JARS contain? Ina, I'm shocked! Even Rachael Ray makes her own marinara for Pete's sake!

DebCarol said...

Didn't see this but as always felt like I was right there in the kitchen with your review. If Ina wants to branch out into Italian that is fine with me . . . and since her Jeffrey "loves everything!!" that she makes, I'm sure it is fine with him too. But did someone REALLY ask if they should rinse the cooked pasta under cold water??? yikes

Sue said...

Hi Tom,
Yup, you're right. I would have much preferred if Ina has answered more of those ridiculous questions than shown us that antipasti.

I'm glad Julia approved of Lidia. Really, how could you not? Lidia is fairly flawless.

I can't believe I didn't talk about the raw eggs and thanks for making me go and check about 200 tiramisu recipes to see what the deal is!!! I would say, in about half of those I looked at, the eggs were raw; in the other half, they're cooked in a custard. It's still shocking that I neglected to mention it.

Funnily enough, in another Ina Tiramisu Recipe on the Food Network website, there's a big warning in the last paragraph about raw eggs, but not in this one.

Now, simma down about the marinara sauce. ;-) You're right, she shouldn't have called it that, but I have a few jars of bottled sauce (gasp!) in my pantry. The only difference is that when I'm "forced" to use it, I usually don't go to the trouble of schuzzing it up.

But, of course, that isn’t real marinara sauce that Ina made and it’s quite horrifying that she called it that.

Love you, DC!
I agree. I’m sure Jeffrey eats everything put in front of him, including stuff with an Italian slant.

The questions were almost as much a waste of time as the salami-wrapped breadsticks. But I do adore Ina and maybe I just couldn’t see the higher purpose she had in mind for this episode. They DO say there are no dumb questions…although I think we may have found the exception to that rule.

Sheila said...

Loved the review Sue. I broke down and bought a container of marinara sauce from the whole foods pizza department the other day. :-(

Otherwise I really like Giada's quick marinara sauce.

My mom always rinses pasta! It drives me nuts. When we cook together I have to guard the pasta pan. I think this is the reason I hated spaghetti growing up. :-)

Sue said...

That's funny - guarding the pasta pot. So maybe it wasn't such a crazy question, after all.

Emily said...

I loved the review, too! :) You are so funny.

I don't really have a problem with jarred pasta sauce, but if I were Ina Garten and a viewer wrote to me and wanted a quick marinara sauce recipe, I would make up a recipe. Adding a little garlic and oregano doesn't make it homemade. That's something Aunt Sandy would do.

Sue said...

So you think I gave Ina a bit of a pass for that mockinara sauce? Yeah, maybe I did, but since I've been known (occasionally) to use jarred sauce for a lasagna, I just couldn't give her too hard a time for that.