Saturday, April 16, 2011

Breaking News - Well, Maybe That’s A Bit Of A Stretch – Let’s Try…Interesting News – Ina’s Dislike Of A Certain Fresh Herb

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Now this interesting - Ina is roasting regular-sized round tomatoes. I’ve roasted plum tomatoes and cherry and grape tomatoes, but never regular round ones. She gathers them from her (huge) walled garden with lots of basil. She slices them thickly. I wouldn’t have thought to cut them that way. Then she lays them out on a non-parchmented baking sheet so they get browned. She sprinkles (well, this is the Contessa, more like slathers) them with olive oil and salt.

Here’s the interesting thing that I’m not sure I knew about Ina. She doesn’t like fresh oregano. She finds it too strong, so she adds some DRIED oregano to the tomatoes. She rubs it between her palms to get the oil going. (I NEVER DON’T do that. In other words, I ALWAYS rub dried herbs between my palms when I add them to anything.) Then “lots of salt and pepper” go on. She puts the tomatoes in a 425°F oven for ten minutes, then she tops them with pesto and Parmesan. How easy is that?

For the pesto, Ina puts a ¼ cup of walnuts and a ¼ cup of pine nuts in a food processor with 3 tablespoons garlic (9 cloves). She whirls that around and adds 5 cups of basil leaves.

By the way, to store washed basil, so it doesn’t go brown, Ina says to spin it until it’s really dry in a lettuce spinner. Then place it in a plastic bag with a slightly damp paper towel and it will stay nice and green.

Ina adds a teaspoon each of salt and pepper to the processor and purées it. She adds ONE and A HALF CUPS of olive oil slowly with the machine running. (Isn’t that A LOT of oil?) She adds one cup of Parmesan cheese, which has been ground (not grated) in the processor.

Ina takes out the tomatoes and puts a spoonful of pesto on each tomato with some Parmesan. They go back into the 425°F oven for 7 to 10 minutes.
To store the remainder of the 4 cups of pesto that she’s made, Ina says to put it in smaller container and cover the top with olive oil, so no air gets into the pesto itself and then she freezes it.

If I’m using up basil and making the pesto for the freezer, I will often leave out the cheese and sometimes the garlic.

The tomatoes come out. Yum! Ina salts them some more. (They can’t possibly need that!) She says they make a great side dish. I agree.

During the commercial, Bobby gives us a good grilling tip, which is to leave vegetables in big pieces when you grill them and THEN cut them up. He grills zucchini, cut in half lengthwise. I just saw that somewhere for peppers and it really makes sense. How much easier is it to grill a half a pepper beautifully than all these little mingy pieces? Good tip.

Ina’s back in the kitchen with friend Antonia Bellanca to cook pasta with eggplant. They chop up one big onion and one eggplant and cook that in ½ cup olive oil and a bit of butter. That gets cooked for about 15 minutes.

Antonia blanches 12 plum tomatoes by putting them in boiling water “for a few minutes”.  The recipe says four to five minutes. She removes the tomatoes with a flat skimming strainer, so they can use the same water for the pasta. “Oh, that’s a good idea,” says Ina. Sono d'accordo.

Antonia adds some whole garlic cloves and branches of basil to the eggplant. Then she cores and peels the tomatoes, while Ina cuts up two kinds of mozzarella. The fresh mozzarella is more decorative and is good for laying on top and the packaged brick coats the pasta well.

Ina adds 1½ lbs. of dried fettuccine to the pasta water. Antonia squishes the tomatoes to get smaller pieces. She does that even with canned tomatoes, she says. The liquid from the tomatoes goes into the eggplant as it’s cooking with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Then the tomato pieces, which look like purée, go in. 

Antonia reserves a little of the eggplant sauce for the top, while Ina drains the pasta and tosses it with the eggplant mixture and cubes of packaged mozzarella. Some sauce goes on top and then the other mozzarella. Ina and Antonia taste right from the platter. That’s okay as long as they don’t double dip.

Ina pulls up to Domaine Franey Wines And Liquors and inside she greets John. She picks up Frangelico and tells us how to make an affogato. Ina brews up an espresso (in her fancy new machine, which we can’t see). She adds a scoop of vanilla ice cream to a tall glass and pours over some of the coffee. Affogato means drowned in Italian, Ina tell us. She then pours over Frangelico, adds a shaving of dark chocolate and chopped hazelnuts. I think the hazelnuts might be kind of annoying. She adds a biscotti, which is NEVER annoying.

(This putting together of the recipe is done almost like she’s reminiscing about an old love, while she's still standing in the liquor store. It’s as if she’s in an old Italian movie.)

Ina picks up a bottle of Amaretto next. The next scene within a scene is Ina cutting a thin slice of pound cake, which she says she always has in her freezer, but store-bought is fine. (It is?) She drizzles over the Amaretto and puts a scoop of Swiss almond ice cream on top with some toasted, sliced almonds.

Cue the Italian music. (Not really, but it wouldn’t hurt.) Ina reaches for a bottle of Vin Santo, a dessert wine from Tuscany. It’s what she actually came in for before she got lost in her Amaretto/Frangelico reveries. John says to serve it slightly chilled. She asks if he can charge it to her. Absolutely, he replies. How much do you want to bet that she’ll never see the invoice for that?

Back at the farm, sorry, barn, Ina puts packaged biscotti on a plate and adds some clementines. She’s making a family style dessert, she says. Then Ina puts packaged salted caramels on the platter. Still in their papers??? Fine, if you don’t feel like making dessert, but do you have to shout store-bought?!! I don’t like that. She opens the bottle of Vin Santo and pours it into a glass set in the middle of the platter. Does everyone have to share that one little glass?

Was this entire episode phoning it in? Maybe just a little, but I did like the idea of roasting regular tomatoes and adding the pesto.

Next Ina says it’s like Jeopardy and she going to answer some questions. Andrew says his girlfriend is lactose intolerant and a vegetarian and what Italian recipes could he make her. Ina says, “Dump her!” Well, she doesn’t actually SAY it, but you know she’s thinking that. She suggests an antipasto platter, roasted eggplant tapenade and a tomato marinara sauce. She says he can add some meatballs and leave hers plain.

Tracey has a problem making a meat lasagna. She says it’s watery. Ina says the meat sauce should be really thick and she should use a thick ricotta. But she thinks the real problem is the pasta. Ina says it needs to be drained really well.  OR Tracey can soak them in the hottest tap water for a few minutes and then just layer the pasta sheets in. They won’t give off water that way and they'll absorb the liquid from the lasagna.

H, who NEVER watches the Food Network and who knows NOTHING about cooking, heard this last tip. He said, “That’s a great idea.” I said, “Since when have I ever made a watery lasagna?” He had left the room by then. AND, I added to myself, most people use those no-bake noodles anyway, so this is a moot point.

The next question is from Mark in New Jersey, who loves Italian food. His Italian bread is flat. What should he do? OMG, ADD SALT! Wadya think?

And Ina says the answer is…SALT.  Thank you. She also says not to add your salt at the same time as the yeast. He MUST know that, right? Sugar feeds yeast, salt kills it. If he’s actually making Italian bread, he should know that.

Actually, if you ever forget the salt in your bread dough, you may notice that it rises much faster, because the salt does slow down the rising action.

This is how Ina tells him to proceed. Mix together yeast, water and sugar and get that going (i.e. as in proofing the yeast). Add half the flour and then the salt. THEN add the rest of the flour. Stir in slowly.

Here’s her last question. What is the best way to preserve Italian peppers in olive oil all winter? Ina says to roast them at 500°F for 30 to 40 minutes, turning them occasionally. Remove from the oven when the skins are charred. Cover tightly with foil and cool. Cut in quarters and remove stems and seeds. Place in bowl. Pour over olive oil just to cover and refrigerate. She says they should last for two weeks, which isn’t exactly all winter, but close enough, I guess. 


Emily said...

Hmm what did H mean by that little comment? Perhaps he's had some watery lasagna at friends' houses. I think my mom's is kinda like that.

I can't believe Ina doesn't like fresh oregano! I love it.

SayGrace said...

I'm eager to try her pesto recipe. The consistency of my own is a lot pastier than hers looked. We've got friends in Italy who ship us little jars of Genovese pesto that's made with cashews and pine nuts - no cheese, like yours - and it's off the charts. I've wanted to try to replicate it and I'm wondering if it might be the huge proportion of "good" olive oil that could be the key...

Also, my money's on you on the lasagna execution.

Sue said...

Hi Em,
I decided not to worry about what H meant, but my lasagna is NEVER watery!

I kind of see Ina's point about fresh oregano, but I wouldn't ban it unilaterally. I think it's good for adding when you’re roasting meat.

Hiya Grace,
Yup, I'm sure the more oil the better in pesto. I try to limit it a bit, though, and I have a great recipe that I’ve been using for years that actually has some water in place of the oil. THIS is my favorite pesto recipe.

Thank you for the lasagna shoutout. I have to get my sauce and noodles organized and dig into making one sometime soon.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

That's not the first person to say it's better to use oregano dried than fresh. I stopped growing it because I read somewhere that it's the one herb better dried than fresh.

I should do that to tomatoes. I still have pesto in the freezer.

Sue said...

Hey Rach,
Happy Good Friday tomorrow!

See? You and Ina have something in common. That should make you like her more.

Let me know how the tomatoes come out.

cake said...

i use dried oregano in my recipes too. i agree with ina... the fresh one is just too strong :S

btw, awesome blog!

-abeer @

Sue said...

Thanks Abeer,
I appreciate it!