Spicy Seafood Risotto
In the spirit of Mardi Gras, I was in the mood to make something spicy with seafood and rice and thought I would do something different than make the typical Jambalaya or Shrimp Etoufee dish. In one of my Italian Cooking classes at The Institute of Culinary Education, we made a Shrimp Risotto which is a typical Italian-style rice dish. Delicious as it is, I wanted to make it with a twist, by adding some Creole seasoning, lemon, red pepper and mussels steamed in white wine to the recipe. It’s super creamy and flavorful, and takes a little bit of time and patience to make. But one taste of the savory shrimp mixed with mussels, lemon and wine with a spicy kick of Creole makes it all worth the effort.
The mussels take about 10-15 minutes to make, so you’ll want to get started on these when you have about 10-15 minutes left to cook the rice in the broth (or you can make them ahead of time and keep them on the burner on low to keep them warm so you can add the mussels to the risotto at the end). If you want to just eat the Shrimp Risotto with the Mussels in wine sauce on the side, you can do that too! Just add some crusty bread, a green salad and a glass of white wine and you’ve got yourself a big, fat, happy meal to celebrate Mardi Gras. Enjoy =)
Spicy Seafood Risotto
1/2 lb medium shrimp
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 parsley stems
2 tbsp parsley leaves, minced fine
6 cups of water
juice of 1/2 of a lemon, plus 1 tsp lemon zest
Pinch of saffron
1 cup canned San Marzano tomatoes, drained and pureed
Red pepper flakes
1 tsp Creole seasoning (Tony Chacere’s Creole Seasoning or Emeril’s Essence is great)
1/2 c onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 c Italian short-grain rice (Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano)
1/2 c white wine
Steamed Mussels (see recipe following)
Shell and devein the shrimp (reserve the shells). Cut each shrimp into thirds. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until pink 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and reserve.
In a medium saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add half of the garlic and the shrimp shells and saute until the garlic is fragrant and the shells turn pink, about 2 minutes. Add the parsley sprigs and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 6 cups of water, lemon juice and zest and the saffron; bring to a boil, reduce to heat and simmer 15 minutes.
Strain the broth and return it to the pan. Add the pureed tomatoes and season with red pepper flakes, Creole seasoning and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 15 minutes. Strain and reserve over low heat.
In a large casserole or skillet, heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion and remaining garlic and cook until it begins to get golden, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook until it’s slightly translucent.
Add the wine and cook until absorbed. Add a 4 ounce ladle of the shrimp stock and cook, stirring until the liquid is almost absorbed.
Continue adding broth and cooking until the rice is on the firm side of al dente, 25 to 30 minutes.
Add the shrimp and cook until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Shell the steamed mussels (see recipe following) and add to the risotto. Sprinkle with minced parsley and serve. Makes 6 servings.
To prepare the mussels for cooking, sort through them and throw out any that are open or don’t close when tapped. Be sure to rinse and swirl mussels in a basin of cold water to rinse out any dirt or debris trapped inside them, but don’t let them soak too long or you’ll lose the natural sea flavor. With a brush, scrub the outsides well under running water, and pry off any barnacles with the back of a knife. Twist or cut off any beards or hair-like tufts and rinse again, keeping the mussels cold until ready to use.
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup dry white wine
1 c chicken stock
lemon juice from 1 lemon
Pinch of saffron threads
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 lbs fresh mussels
In a large saucepan or pasta pot, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for about 2-3 minutes.
Add the wine, chicken stock and lemon juice, and season with saffron, salt and black pepper. Add the red pepper flakes to taste, depending on desired heat (if using). Add the mussels to the pot and cover with a lid; increase the heat to medium-high. Steam the mussels, until they open, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Remove mussels from the shell (or add them whole) to the shrimp risotto. You can also serve them in a big bowl in the wine sauce separately as an accompaniment to the risotto. Serve the with some crusty garlic bread and a green salad, along with a glass of crisp white wine (Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc is great!)
Makes 6 servings.
Recipes adapted from The Institute of Culinary Education, Techniques of Italian Cooking
Other Risotto Recipes you may enjoy:
CD Kitchen’s Cajun Risotto
Smoky Mountain Cafe Cajun Risotto
Jamie Oliver’s Seafood Risotto (Risotto ai Frutti di Mare)
Emeril Lagasse’s Seafood Risotto
Anthony Bourdain – Seafood Risotto in Venice Video
Ricotta Gnocchi and Wild Mushroom Sauce (Gnocchi di Ricotta Con Sugo de Funghi)
As far as I’m concerned, gnocchi are little pillows of love, goodness and deliciousness. Especially when they are homemade..that is a true labor of love. It’s not that they are difficult to make, but definitely time consuming, but with a little patience the end result is worth the wait! Gnocchi (Italian plural for gnoccho) are basically homemade dumplings that can be made from flour and potatoes, or in this recipe made with ricotta, parmesan cheese and flour. These dumplings have a thick and creamy consistency with grooves for holding a rich sauce made with cream and cheese, or a chunky meat sauce such as a bolognese or a luscious wine and wild mushroom sauce made with porcini, cremini and chanterelles in the recipe below. The gnocchi can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer and then boiled just before serving with the sauce of your choice.
To make the Gnocchi:
2 c ricotta cheese
1 c grated parmesan
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
Sugo de Funghi (recipe follows)
4 tsp fresh tarragon leaves
1 c grated parmesan cheese
In a medium bowl combine the ricotta and parmesan.
Gradually stir in the flour, adding more if necessary, until a soft dough results.
Turn the dough out and knead until the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. If the dough becomes sticky while kneading, add more flour.
To form the gnocchi, divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a cylinder about 3/4 inch thick and cut each into 3/4 inch lengths.
Dip a fork in flour, and holding the fork in one hand, roll each piece of dough over the back of the tines to form ridges.
Refrigerate the gnocchi for 30 minutes or freeze.
To cook the gnocchi, bring 4 to 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, stir in 2 tablespoons of salt, and cook until the gnocchi rise to the surface of the water, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain well, toss the gnocchi with the sauce. Garnish with tarragon leaves and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Wild Mushroom Sauce (Sugo de Funghi)
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup dry Marsala wine
6 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lb. chanterelles or other wild mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 tbsp tomato paste
4 c chicken stock
2 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
In a medium bowl, combine the dried porcini and Marsala with enough hot water to cover and allow the mushrooms to soften about 30 minutes.
Strain the porcini through dampened cheesecloth or a coffee filter, reserving the liquid. Rinse the porcini to remove any sand deposits and chop roughly.
Meanwhile, chop the additional wild mushrooms and place in a large mixing bowl.
In a large skillet melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the cremini, chanterelles and porcini, and saute until cooked through about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the tomato paste to the reserved soaking liquid and add this mixture to the mushrooms.
Add the stock and bay leaves, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and simmer gently until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.
Add the heavy cream.
Reduce by half, about 10 minutes
Until sauce is thick and creamy..
and ready to serve over the gnocchi.
Serve the mushroom sauce over the gnocchi. Toss with parmesan cheese and tarragon. Serve with a green salad and a robust red wine. Enjoy!
Makes about 3 cups.
Recipe from the Institute of Culinary Education
Tuscany is probably one of the most beautiful and scenic regions of Italy and the most popular places to visit, known for its rolling hills, mesmerizing sunsets, rustic landscapes, vineyards, farmhouses and olive groves. I have not had the opportunity to visit there yet, but I love the cuisine and it’s first on my list when I plan my next trip to Italy (hopefully sometime this year!)
Tuscan cuisine is a simple and earthy way of cooking, which centers around fresh and local ingredients from the farming region such as olive oil, greens, poultry, beans, beef, pork, rabbit, lamb, and sausages. Crostini is a famous antipasti which are little toasted breads spread with toppings such as olive tapenade or chicken liver pates. Bruschetta is also a popular antipasti made with rustic bread, fresh chopped tomatoes and garlic. Other popular dishes from the area are Panzanella (bread salad), Minestrone soup, Pasta Fagiole (cannelloni bean and pasta soup) and Ribollita.
Because of the ample farm land in Tuscany and areas surrounding Florence, there is a large production of olive oil, grapes and wine, and a variety of fruits and vegetables and herbs such as pears, oranges, thyme, rosemary, tomatoes, wild mushrooms, artichokes, asparagus, spinach and beans – all main ingredients in Tuscan cooking. Risotto is an earthy dish that incorporates many of these vegetables and cheeses from the region. Fennel is another ingredient often used in salad and sautéed with meat dishes. In Florence, Pecorino (a salty sheep’s milk cheese) tends to have herbs, garlic and red pepper added for flavor and is served shaved in salads or as cut in chunks served with grapes, olives and rustic breads like Foccacia bread with rosemary and olive oil.
Almond and Anise Biscotti and Oranges in Marsala Glaze are standard desserts and most of the wine that originates in the area is Chianti, aged in small oak barrels. Another popular white wine is Vernaccia, ranging from light and crisp to full-bodied, made in a small medieval town known as San Gimignano.
The following is a sampling of some of my favorite Tuscan recipes that use rustic and earthy ingredients originating from a Tuscan Cooking class I took at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. If you’re interested in learning more about Tuscan cooking there are a variety of cookbooks sold online, as well as cooking excursions in Tuscany with local chefs and other sites dedicated to Tuscan cooking.
Wild Mushroom Risotto
½ lb. cremini mushrooms
½ lb. white button mushrooms
½ lb. shitake mushrooms
2 quarts chicken stock
½ c. dried porcini mushrooms
4 tbsp butter
3 oz. Madeira wine
3 tbsp butter
2 shallots, finely minced
4 c. Arborio rice
¾ c. white wine
Mushroom stock (reserved)
1 tbsp. minced chives
1 tbsp. Italian parsley
¼ c. grated Pecorino Romano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make the mushroom stock, wash and trim the stems of the fresh mushrooms. Reserve the stems and slice the mushroom caps for use later in the recipe. (Make sure to dust of the dirt first and don’t soak the mushrooms).
Combine the chicken stock, stems, dried porcini mushrooms in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes over low heat. Strain through a cheesecloth and reserve the liquid for the risotto.
Heat a large sauté pan and add 4 tbsp of butter. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until browned. Deglaze the Madeira and reduce until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Reserve the mushrooms. (Try to let the Madeira glaze sit, don’t stir).
For the risotto, heat a wide pot or rondeau (flat bottom pot with tall sides) over medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp butter. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir the mixture together to coat the rice with the shallots and butter.
Add the white wine, lower the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the wine has evaporated. Begin adding the mushroom stock, a large ladleful at a time. Continue to add the mushroom stock (slowly and continuously), stirring constantly until the rice is just cooked through and all the stock has been absorbed, about 20 mins. The rice should be slightly al dente but have a creamy consistency and not dry.
Stir in the reserved mushrooms, the remaining tablespoon of butter, chives, and parsley. Top off the risotto with Pecorino Romano and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pork Chops with Olives and Fennel
¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 pork rib chops, bone in
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tbsp. fennel seeds, crushed
1 c. white wine
2 fennel bulbs, cored and quartered or cut into eighths
6 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped
¼ c. Gaeta olives, pitted
1 spring rosemary
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet with sides over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it turns brown, and remove the garlic. Season the pork chops with salt and add them to the pan. Cook until one side is brown, then turn and brown the other side. Remove and reserve until later. Add the fennel seeds to the pan and cook for 1 minute (toast them lightly to release oils and flavor, watch closely to not burn them).
Remove the pan from the heat and deglaze with wine. Return the pan to the heat and cook until wine nearly evaporates. Add the fennel pieces, tomatoes, olives and rosemary.
Bring the liquid to a simmer and add the pork chops back to the pan. Cover the pan and cook for 15-20 minutes more or until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees F. Remove the chops and if liquid is too runny, reduce until it coats the back of a spoon.
This recipe can also be made with veal chops, and for extra flavor and to ensure juicy chops that won’t dry out, soak them in a brine overnight made out of 2 quarts of water, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of salt and throw in some chopped up herbs such as rosemary or thyme.
Makes 4 servings.
Pollo alla Toscana (Tuscan Chicken)
2 c. dried navy beans, soaked overnight (or canned beans drained and rinsed)
1/3 c. diced slab bacon or pancetta
2 (4 lb.) chickens, cut up into 8 pieces each
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Flour for dredging
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
2 celery ribs, diced small
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup white wine (dry and crisp, such as Chablis)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp. freshly minced rosemary
3 canned plum tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp freshly minced parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Drain and rinse the soaked beans. Discard the liquid.
In a medium saucepan, over high heat, bring 5 cups of water to a boil and add the rinsed and soaked beans. Cook them until they are soft, but not mushy. Drain the beans, but reserve the cooking liquid.
Cook the bacon in a large rondeau or Dutch oven until just browned. Using a slotted spoon put the bacon on paper towels to drain, reserving the fat in the pan.
Pat the chicken pieces dry, season with salt and papper and dredge in flour, shaking off any excess. Heat the bacon fat over high heat and when it is hot, add the chicken and cook, in batches, turning the pieces once, until the skin becomes golden brown and crisp. Remove the chicken and set aside.
Add the onions, celery and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and deglaze with the wine. Return the pan to the heat and bring it to a boil, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and reduce by 1/3. Return the chicken and bacon to the pan, add the beans, thyme, rosemary, tomatoes, and 2 cups of the reserved beans cooking liquid (liquid should come half way up the pan, use more or less accordingly). Cover, place in the oven and cook for about 40 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink and most of the liquid has absorbed. You may have to add more liquid if it looks dry.
Season with salt and papper to taste and garnish with parsley.
Makes 8 servings.
Cipolline Agro Dolce (Caramelized Cipolline Onions)
2 lbs. Cippoline onions
6 tbsp sugar
½ c. red wine vinegar
8 sage leaves
¾ c. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside.
Blanch the onions for 2 minutes in boiling water. With a slotted spoon, immediately remove the onions and place them in ice water. Remove when cool and peel removing the stem and first layer of skin.
In a large baking dish, mix the onions, sugar, vinegar, sage, olive oil, and salt making sure that onions are coated evenly (this makes a lot of liquid so you don’t need to use it all).
Bake in the oven for approx. 60 mins, or until the onions are well caramelized. Make sure to turn the onions and watch them while in the oven, taking care to not let them burn.
Makes 6 servings.
Pear and Fennel Salad
2 fennel bulbs, cored and cut into thin slices
8 cups mixed salad greens (red leaf, Bibb, Boston and Radiccio), washed and dried
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
3 red Bartlett or Bosc pears, cut in half, cored and thinly sliced
Combine the fennel with the salad greens. Refrigerate until ready to toss.
When ready to toss, add the salt and pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. Toss gently and arrange on individual plates or a platter. Top with the pear slices and serve.
Makes 6 servings.
Oranges in Marsala Glaze
6 large navel oranges, peeled and pith removed (save one peel with pith removed)
¼ c. sugar
¾ c. sweet Marsala wine
½ c. Cointreau (orange liqueur)
12 mint leaves
In a small saucepan with boiling water, simmer the orange peel over high heat for 5 mins; drain and set aside. When cool, slice into julienne strips.
Separate each orange into sections, removing all membrane between sections. Place sectioned oranges in a large bowl, cover and chill.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, Marsala, and Cointreau. Bring to a boil over medium heat until the mixture has reduced by half or until it becomes syrupy. Add orange peel strips to the syrup and chill. To serve, spoon orange sections into individual dessert dishes. Top with Marsala glaze. Garnish with mint leaves.
Tip: this dessert is delicious topped over Vanilla ice cream and served with Almond and Anise biscotti on the side.
Makes 6 servings.
Other Tuscan recipes you might enjoy:
Panzanella (Bread Salad)
Crostini with Roasted Eggplant
Chicken Liver Pate
Pasta e Fagioli
Ribollita (Bread Soup)
Bistecca alla Florentine (Tuscan Steak)
Almond and Anise Biscotti
Spaghetti and Meatballs. Such an unassuming yet classic Italian dish. And who doesn’t love it? Everyone seems to have their own recipe – not only for the sauce, but for the type of pasta they prefer and of course the meatball is the key ingredient that makes or breaks the dish – at least in my opinion. I was never too fussy about sauce in the past, but as I’ve grown in my culinary tastes and techniques (and the influence of my Italian boyfriend), I’ve come to like a simple tomato sauce made with nothing but tomato and basil and garlic and a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper. As far as pasta goes, I’m pretty open minded, but when it comes to meatballs – it either needs to be classic spaghetti or a rotini pasta, something with an edge or ridges that hold the sauce.
Now here comes the tricky part: the perfect meatball. I have had some of the most delicious meatballs in my life and some that more resembled old sponges than the delightfully bouncy and rich texture I think a humble meatball deserves. Not to mention the flavor – a bland meatball is about as pleasing as a piece of cardboard. It’s all about the ingredients that go inside that make it or break it.
So the other night I decided to go on a quest for the perfect Spaghetti and Meatballs recipe and after carefully researching my options, dug up a recipe by Bobby Flay, another by Molly Wizenberg, and another from my Williams and Sonoma cookbook “Comfort Food” (which I am cooking my way through this Winter so expect quite a few comforting recipes on my blog in the next few months!)
I analyzed each recipe with a fine tooth comb; and they were all similar but different enough to be unique and have a flavor of their own. Two used pork and veal and beef for the meatballs, one used just ground beef and pork. One called for a cup of finely ground Parmesan cheese, two fresh grated cheese. Molly cooked her meatballs in the sauce, Bobby fried his in a pan and then finished cooking them in the sauce, and Williams-Sonoma baked their meatballs in the oven first and finished them in the sauce. The sauces were varyingly different versions of a Marinara, one used red wine and a bay leaf, one used only tomatoes, butter, onions and salt and the other used a small cubano chile for some extra kick.
After comparing all my options, I created my own version (based on what I thought would work for me in terms of flavor and what I had on hand!) I have posted links to the original recipes at the end of my post if you’d like to check them out for yourself, but mine takes the ingredients from three brilliant chefs/authors/culinary legends and makes the perfect Spaghetti and Meatballs recipe. Mission complete!
San Marzano Tomato and Basil Marinara Sauce
1 large can Tuttorosso Crushed Tomatoes with Basil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp crushed garlic (or 2 cloves, minced)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp. Kosher or Sea salt
¼ tsp. Fresh ground pepper
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
½ c. panko breadcrumbs
¼ c. milk
½ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tbsp)
¼ c. finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ tsp. garlic and parsley salt
½ tsp. Kosher or sea salt
¼ tsp. fresh ground pepper
16 oz. San Marzano Tomato and Basil Marinara Sauce
1 lb. pasta (of your choice)
Measure 2 tbsp of olive oil and sauté minced garlic in a pan for about 1 minute until soft and lightly golden (not to high of a heat or the garlic will burn). Remove from the heat and let the garlic cool.
In the meantime, mix the breadcrumbs with the milk and let stand 10 minutes until moistened.
Chop fresh parsley, measure garlic and parmesan cheese.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, garlic and parsley, cheese, salt and pepper until combined.
Add the beef and pork to the egg mixture and gently mix until ingredients are combined, slowly mix in the breadcrumbs to the meat mixture using a claw-like gesture with your hands. Do not overmix. Chill in the refrigerator for up to an hour (at least 15-20 minutes).
After the meat mixture has chilled, roll the meatballs into golfball size balls (should make about 20 meatballs) and arrange on a pan.
Heat ½ c. olive oil in a large metal pan over high heat and add the meatballs, frying until golden brown, turning to cook all sides evenly. Drain on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
Add the meatballs (and any scraped up browned bits from the meatball pan) to the Dutch oven into the tomato sauce (recipe follows) and cover. Simmer on low heat for about 20-30 minutes until meatballs are cooked through.
To make the tomato and basil marinara sauce, heat 2 tbsp olive oil and sauté garlic over very low heat in a medium sauce pan until slightly golden.
Pour the Tuttorosso Tomato and Basil Crushed tomatoes into the sauce pan, adding tomato paste and dry ingredients (garlic, salt and pepper, oregano, basil) and top off sauce with another tablespoon of olive oil. Simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes (don’t overstir).
When the sauce is done simmering, add to the Dutch oven, mixing with the additional sauce and meatballs and let simmer on low for another 5-10 minutes. While the sauce and meatballs are simmering, cook your pasta in salted boiling water (and a dash of olive oil) until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
Drain pasta and serve in serving bowls, topped with the meatballs and sauce. Garnish with additional grated parmesan cheese and minced parsley if desired and serve with a bold red wine and some crusty garlic bread (recipe below).
Now THIS, indeed, is the most perfect Spaghetti and Meatballs I’ve ever had – Mangia!
Cut up some Italian bread and add butter and a sprinkle of some garlic and parsley salt. Bake in the oven on 350-400 until toasty and golden brown. Crunchy, garlicky – so good!
Bobby Flay’s Spaghetti and Meatballs (source: Bobby Flay’s Throwdown cookbook)
Molly Wizenberg’s Spaghetti and Meatballs (source: Bon Appetit Magazine, October 2010)
Williams-Sonoma Spaghetti and Meatballs (source: Comfort Food: Warm and Homey, Rich and Hearty cookbook)
Welcome to Eataly – a journey through Mario Batali’s
Ah, Eataly. The hottest buzzword in the New York food scene over the past few months. Grand Opening: August 31st, 2010. Mario Batali and Lidia Bastanich’s dream child venue – I needed to get there. Fast.
After hearing all the buzz about this grand Italian Wonderland, I decided to make several attempts to get a quick glance at this gem, but after two attempts of around-the-block lines of people, I started getting discouraged, as my anticipation grew to get a peek at this amazing palace, just taunting me with the sight of it. I could only peek through the windows with my jaws open, chomping at the bit to get in there. As if I were peering through the looking glass, into another land, surreal and far away from mine.
After waiting over a month to get in this place, I was determined to make my way in and begin my foodie excursion. One Sunday afternoon, my boyfriend and I went on a stroll to Madison Square Park, and on the way encountered a pop-up mini food festival and market. There we bought a variety of fresh herbs and spices and French salt concoctions, and then bought some artisan cannolis (Almond Joy coconut and chocolate, Pistachio Cream, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup – um, heaven!) while taking in all the other food stand delights, all the while holding ourselves back to pigging out on fresh Bavarian pretzels, gourmet burritos and Fatty Cue BBQ, knowing our Eataly destination was next.
When we arrived at Eataly, the line was surprisingly non-existent and we bolted through the front door like a couple of kids in a candy shop. We walked in the Coffee Bar entrance, and immediately my eyes grew large and my blood started pumping, taking in the crowds and grandeur of this palatial food hall. First stop: the Cappuccino/Espresso Bar with its enormous, shiny espresso machine and customers milling around it as if they were sitting in a café on the sidewalks of Italy, crowding around the bar, sipping their strong shots of Italian roast, with not a care in the world but to laugh and tell stories with their friends for hours on end. A few counters down and across were imported chocolates and homemade fine desserts such as pastry tarts and mousses, tiramisu and the like. My heart was really pumping now.
As we passed down the hallway, the floor to ceiling shelves seemed to swallow us in with rows of Lavender Honey, Italian teas, nuts and other bite-sized delights that flickered before our eyes at every angle. I felt like I was Alice in Wonderland, who fell down the rabbit hole and woke up in a strange, new land – intriguing and familiar, enticing and strange. I wanted to explore more and this was just the beginning.
We made our way down to the Salumi area and picked up some Italian Proscuitto, spicy Sopressata and a big block of Parmigiana Reggiano – hmmm, appetizers for our Italian feast I have already started creating in my mind. Fontina, Romano, sheeps milk cheese, the selection was endless and daunting. The seafood counter was next, with shiny silver, pink and red whole fish, smoked salmon, baby octopus, clams, mussels, shark and swordfish. Some of the creatures were a bit eerie and scary, but fresh and beautifully displayed on ice with handwritten signs describing the fare.
Next we entered The Piazza – the grand food hall in the center of Eataly with grand arches and domed ceilings carved in fine architectural detail. You could feel a buzz in the air and the energy of a European outdoor marketplace where the Italians gather with family and friends for an all day feast. It emanated a sense of awe and drama, with its tall ceilings, food and wine stations in every corner, a bar and tall tables with stools in the center, as the waiters flew by with massive platters of gourmet cheese, fresh sliced meats, crusty bread and tall flowing glasses wine. I felt a bit claustrophobic as people were fighting their way through the crowds to get a seat in this hectic maze of food heaven. I was excited. Amazed. I felt as if we had arrived at the Queen’s palace in all its glory and I wanted in.
We sat at the bar and ordered an Italian dry red, as we sampled some bread and cheese on a cutting board, watching the other patrons eat and drink with a zest for life. In one corner there was a fresh Mozzarella bar, around the corner “Il Pesce”, the seated counter raw bar and antipasto area. We took our wine glasses with us and made our way to the book store near the beer and wine area, and down to La Pizza & La Pasta, a seated counter and table area that serves artisanal dried and fresh pastas and Napoleon 10” pizzas. The smell of baked bread and garlic overwhelmed us as my hunger grew to find my own tasty morsels to whip up an Italian feast at home.
We made our way to the shelved dry goods, an array of pastas, olive oils, imported cans of tomatoes, capers, artichokes and balsamic vinegars and my hunt became full on for the perfect ingredients for our feast. We bought some whole Cherry tomatoes, Extra Virgin olive oil and garlic, fresh Italian bread, artichokes and jarred basil pesto. I felt dizzy by the overwhelming selection of imported goods, and eventually our shopping cart was so heavy, we needed to take a quick rest from all the madness. We found a hidden kitchen in the back corner of the venue, where Lidia Bastanich holds cooking demos and classes and wine tastings, known as “La Scuola”. This kitchen was stocked and fit for a King as we sat in awe, sipping our wine.
Our journey was slowly coming to an end, 2 hours later, and we passed through Manzo, the formal dining, and meat-centric restaurant, headed up by chef Mike Toscano. It was dark and moody, with a quiet elegant atmosphere. We felt a bit out of place as we snuck through to get back to the main hall to find our way out. We passed the Rotisserie meats bar, eyeing the roasted chickens and meats, and stood at the crossroads signage trying to figure out where to check out. With a slight head buzz from our wine, we passed through the gourmet hall once again, eyeing the chocolates and coffees and desserts. I resisted as the tiramisu and layered cakes and tarts taunted me from the countertops, as my taste buds said yes, and my wallet said no. Pure Torture.
We finally made our way out and headed home, anxious to savor our Italian goodies and prepare our feast. Cracking open a bottle of red, we crushed the cherry tomatoes and garlic, sautéed the zucchini in olive oil, and threw in the parsley and garlic salt we bought from the Spice vendor in the park and our sauce was underway. Sipping our wine and waiting for the Spinach penne and Garlic bread to cook, we nibbled on breadsticks and basil pesto and smiled at each other as I grated the fresh Parmigania Reggiano for our pasta dish.
I felt proud and accomplished, as if I had gone to a strange land on an adventure and learned something new. Bettered myself in some way. A fantastical getaway, if only for a moment…I was happy and complete. It felt good to be in the comfort of my own home, enjoying a homemade Italian meal with my man on a Sunday evening. Check. Mission Complete.
Check out all the pictures from my foodie excursion here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=314572&id=775480967 or in my Flickr Photo album here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/artfulgourmet/sets/72157625504117944/