Monday, September 15, 2008

Cooking with Jojo

The Food Network chef Mario Batali is famous for his authentic Italian food - he is the chef who inspired my favorite writer, Bill Buford, to take a few years off to become Batali's kitchen slave (as documented in the book, Heat). Despite his un-Italian appearance (red hair in a pony tail, always ruddy cheeks, unfashionable shorts no matter the weather), a lot of food writers have good things to say about him.

To test out one of his recipes, I invite our very own Joey - officially Joey "Jojo" Francesca Lorenzo Favaloro - to be my taste tester. You might know that her family is Sicilian from Palermo and of course most of you remember Joey's dad's fantastic white clam sauce.

The recipe I chose to make was Batali's Penne with Calamari and Malvasia (a red wine made from grapes grown in Italy). True to San Francisco's multicultured vibe, Joey's dad had suggested that we get the calamari at a Chinese seadfood market in the Richmond (where I used to live). With the calamari safely procured and chilling in the fridge, we set off to the rest of our morning.

We started off in sunny and warm North Beach, San Francisco's Italian district, to try to buy some focaccia bread but by the time we got there, they were out because of "the opening day of football." Ugh. Sports.

Undeterred, we went on to gather the rest of our ingredients: , we picked up fresh breadcrumbs from the French Italian Baking Company in North Beach where her father had been a baker for many years. The backroom of the bakery was really spacious with an oven the size of my kitchen at home, according to Joey. She said she and Mandy used to run around in the back all the time, picking up some dough from the machine to play. For dessert, we chose a semi-frozen rum cake from Victoria Pastry Company, who made the wedding cake for Joey’s parents more than two decades ago.

Once we were home, we enlisted Chris to help us open and drink the bottles of wine that we had gotten in North Beach before we started prepping our ingredients. There wasn’t much to it – slice the calamari and red onions thinly, chop up the Italian flat leave parsley, and we were ready to go.

The recipe instructs us to make the sauce first – what seemed like too much parsley was actually just right. The calamari cooks lightly in the simple tomato sauce spiked with red pepper flakes, wine, parsley and onions. Don’t skimp on the toppings of toasted breadcrumbs (I toasted them on the stove over low heat until light brown), plenty of pecorino cheese (we used parmesan but it was just as good), olive oil, and more parsley.

I asked Joey what her dad would say about this dish. “He would love it just as it is,” she said. It was a little spicy for all of us so I would probably reduce the amount of red pepper flakes and onions or increase the amount of tomato. I think this dish would be terrific with even more variety of seafood but that is totally up to you - maybe some shrimp, clams, and white fish?

Here is the recipe with our modifications:

Penne with Calamari and Malvasia


4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch fresh finely chopped Italian parsley, plus more for garnish

1/2 cup malvasia wine (or any full body red wine)

1 can peeled whole plum tomatoes, about 2 cups

1 pound clean calamari, tentacles chopped fine, sliced into large pieces

1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1 pound dried penne pasta

1/2 cup toasted fresh breadcrumbs

Grated pecorino, for garnish

Place 6 quarts water to boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. In a 12 to 14-inch saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat until smoking. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the parsley, 1/2 cup wine, tomatoes and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the calamari and the pepper flakes and season, to taste. Stir through to mix the ingredients and remove from heat and let cool.

toast the breadcrumbs in a small pan over low heat until lightly brown. Be sure to stir so it doesn't burn.

When the pot of water reaches a rolling bowl, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions until just al dente. Drain well and pour the hot, cooked pasta into the saucepan with the calamari. Return the pan to the heat and toss until well coated and the calamari is completely opaque. Pour into a heated serving dish and sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and garnish with parsley and grated pecorino cheese. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chinese-Style Fried Chicken

I treated myself to some Chinese-style fried chicken yesterday and the day before - it was totally delightful and not very hard to make. I do a shallow pan fry so it's not a huge mess in the kitchen (ugh hate deep fat frying!). I made a batch the day before yesterday, and brought the leftovers with me to eat at a park while tanning. I highly recommend it!

Chinese Fried Chicken

4 pieces of chicken thighs or whole drumsticks, deboned
1 egg yolk
1/2 to 2/3 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper

5 tablespoons corn starch

vegetable oil for frying

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Marinate the chicken in egg yolk, salt, and pepper for about half an hour.

Dredge the chicken in corn starch, shake off the excess and set aside.

Heat enough oil to cover a flat frying pan (about .5 cm depth) over medium heat. Slide in the chicken pieces without over crowding the pan. I put a mesh splatter screen over the pan to prevent...splattering.

Fry about 8 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the chicken. They should be cooked through in about 15 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, prepare the dipping sauce of your choice. I like to drizzle a mixture of soy sauce, chopped ginger, chopped scallion, thinly sliced jalapeno peppers, with a dash of sugar and lemon juice.

When the chicken is done, set it on paper towels or a cooling rack for a few minutes.

Note: some recipes recommend a second frying to make it really crispy. Well, when I'm making it just for myself, I really can't be bothered. But you should try it and let me know how it goes!