Dinner & Roses To-Go: Summer-Bries Pasta

brie pasta dinner vegetarian basil recipe

Brie Pasta Plated and Ready

On Monday nights for a series of 16 weeks twice a year, I engage in a very sophisticated evening with a select group of friends in the City. It’s a weekly meeting of the minds and

dinner pasta vegetarian roses brie cheese sauce

So much hope on one tray

exchanging of incredibly insightful and valuable information. An opportunity to explore human behavior on an intimate level. To live – just for a moment – inside the lives (and hot tubs) of beautiful women and six-pack ab-ed men on their journey, their quest for love …..For the purpose of simplifying, let’s call it ‘Book Club’ – but know that it is oh, so much more. I mean, there are roses involved.

The west 86-ers (friends who live there) generally host and always provide an incredible meal to feed our minds and souls as we solve the world’s problems and follow the young hopefuls through the ups and downs of budding romance. Once in a blue moon, I offer to bring dinner, I mean, I’m the food blogger, right, this should be my job. Yet, on these occasions, I often find myself at a loss for what to bring. I don’t want to default to the go-to easily portable casserole family – this is a fancy evening after all – there’s generally evening gowns and a champagne toast. There are always tears. I brought my chicken milanese on one occasion and it was well-received, a good complement to this intellectually stimulating evening. So, when I offered to bring dinner for what was certain to be the most dramatic series finale ever, the pressure was on.

It would have to be a rose-worthy feast. One that could not only comfort us through the disappointment of a potentially heartbreaking end to the journey but could also support an exuberant celebration should the evening end in true love. There were other factors to consider as well – it had to be easily portable, not require too much ‘cooking’ as in tiny NYC apartments any heat thrown from the kitchen is too powerful for even the strongest of A/C units during a heat wave. It couldn’t be too salty (I tried to kill this group once before with an exceedingly salty, like dead sea salty, pulled pork dinner – that was a Des-Aster).

So, I borrowed a page from me mum’s culinary delights and made a Summer-Bries Pasta.

Tiny Kitchen Tips:

  1. basil brie pasta dinner vegetarian recipe

    Basil Bunch

    Fairway NYC has the best deal on Basil in town…but, you have to buy a giant bunch of it – so, plan to use some for a freezable pesto sauce or other basil-easy delights

  2. This recipe is too much…you can easily cut in half if your ‘Book Club’ isn’t that many people

Summer-Bries Pasta (serves like 85 people…or 6)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cloves Garlic  you can go to three cloves, you can do 2 cloves garlic and 1/2 a shallot – it’s your call
  • 1 1/2 Cup Basil Leaves
  • 1 Pound French Brie
  • 1 Cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Container of Compari Tomatoes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 – 1 1/2 lbs of Linguini or Boccacini or any other ‘ini’ pasta

Always Mise En Place – it’s just fun and makes you feel chef-like:

brie pasta dinner recipe

Mise En Place

1.  Cut the tomatoes – the entire box – into bite-sized pieces – like little cube-y-ish – and put into a large mixing bowl

dinner pasta summer brie campari tomatoes

Campari tomatoes – selected bc they are sweet and delicious

2. Mince the cloves of garlic and toss on top of the tomatoes in the bowl

dinner pasta  brie tomatoes garlic summer

No mincer? No worries, just chop super small – I used my microplane, just be careful!

3. Chiffonade the basil leaves and…uh huh…toss on top of the garlic and tomatoes

dinner pasta vegetarian cheese basil

Beautifully Chiffonade-d Basil-y Goodness

4. Remove the rinds from the brie and then tear into smallish pieces – like smaller than an ice cube and bigger than a marble…Throw the pieces of brie into the basil-y, garlic-y, tomato-y mix

brie pasta summer dinner vegetarian

Triple Cream Brie – two is too few, four is too many

5. Pour the Extra-Virgin Olive Oil over the brie, basil, tomato, garlic mix and toss gently to combine

dinner vegetarian pasta summer easy cooking

Mixed….And, now let it just sit

6. Add salt and pepper, cover and let the mixture sit out on your tiny kitchen counter for the day…at least 2 hours, but the flavors meld and intensify the longer it sits…I left it for no fewer than 5 hours…

NOTE: It will look runny and odd…do not fear — I already did that for you – no, there’s not too much olive oil or too many watery tomatoes…relax. It’s all good.

7. Boil the pasta about 1-2 minutes shy of the recommended cooking time, drain and immediately toss with the tomato-y, basil-y, garlic-y, brie-y mix

The brie will melt into an incredible cream sauce……yum.

8. Garnish with a few more basil leaves/pieces and serve warm

Book Club is more about getting together with friends than it is about watching the Des-bacle. Next time you want to bring dinner to a crew, just remember –  The journey to find love isn’t always easy, but this portable pasta dish truly is a bries.

I’m Keeping the Table: Two Meat Lasagna

dinner party table setting lasagna 365 brand

Dinner Table Set and Ready. And yes, that’s my recycling in the background.

When I first moved to NYC, people had dinner parties. Sure, we were young and couldn’t really cook so the food fare was far from fabulous. Sometimes it was even sorta gross. But, we had dinner parties anyway. It was a big deal…acting all grown up and stuff.

I love a good dinner party…but, no one seems to have them any more. Much more a rarity than the norm. Maybe it’s because our apartments are small and a lot of us just don’t have the space for a sit down dinner.

It’s true…space is at a premium in NYC and sometimes difficult decisions must be made when choosing how best to maximize the limited space. I mean, when I moved from my house to this apartment…I gave away, yes gave away, about 2/3 of my kitchen stuff…When confronted with the choice between giving up some of my shoes or storing a second Le Creuset 6 qt pot…You know what won out.

Everyone told me my dining room table would be too big for this apartment. It’s true. The table is enormous. Even without the extensions that live in a lovely climate controlled storage space in CT, I can easily seat 8.

blizzard 2013 on tv

Nemo!

So, because I cook AND I have a proper dining table in the ‘dining area’ of my apartment, I host dinner parties. And, there’s no better excuse for a dinner party than a good old fashioned snowstorm.

Last night the posse rallied chez moi to ride out Nemo – the Blizzard of 2013. For storms, I tend to make comfort food. Good, crowd pleasing, stick to your ribs, comfort food. And, last night was no exception.

Lasagna (Serves 8)

Small apartment tip: If at all possible, have a dining area in your tiny space.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box Barilla brand no-cook lasagna sheets – you only need 1 box, but get two as you’re bound to break at least one of the sheets. Trust me.
  • 1 – 1.25lbs of ground beef – I used 93/7 because it was on sale at Whole Foods
  • 2 sweet Italian pork sausages…OK, they didn’t have any yesterday, so I bought some awesome Pork Broccoli Rabe sausages
  • Whole Foods 365 brand ricotta cheese

    365 Brand

    1 1/2 Cups of whole milk ricotta cheese…normally I am a Poly-O loyalist…but, WF has its own brand and I was trying to avoid a 2 grocery store day.

  • 1/2 Cup of grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 3 24oz jars of Sauce…I use a combination of 2 parts marinara sauce + 1 part vodka sauce. Note the 365 Organic Marinara sauce is a 25oz jar…that was AOK. And, you don’t really need all three jars…but you need more than 1 jar of the marinara. And extra sauce for leftovers is good.
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded or grated good mozzarella cheese
  • McCormick’s or similar Italian Seasoning
  • Olive Oil

Preheat Oven to 375 degrees

1. In a large saute pan (mine is a 3 qt non-stick All-Clad one) heat about 2 TBSP of olive oil over medium heat

2. Remove the sausage from casing and break into pieces and drop into the heated olive oil

browning sausage lasagna recipe dinner

Brown don’t burn the sausage

3. Cook the sausage completely….Then remove from the saute pan and set aside

4. Add the ground beef to the pan and brown

browning beef for lasagna 365 brand

Use a wooden spoon to break up the beef

5. Drain the excess oil from the pan and then re-add the browned sausage to the browned beef

beef and sausage lasagna recipe

Because 2 meats are better than 1

6. Sprinkle about 1 TBSP of Italian Seasoning over the meat/sausage. If you don’t have Italian spice (horrors!) just use a combination of dried oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, basil. Whatever feels Italian-y.

7. Pour in 1 complete jar of marinara sauce and about 1/2 C of the vodka sauce over the meat

365 sauce lasagna beef pork recipe

Dump in and Stir to Combine

8. Stir to combine and then simmer on low for 5 minutes

9. In a small sauce pan, heat 2 cups of marinara sauce over low heat

10. In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with the parmesan

2 meat lasagna recipe 365 brand

365 brand ricotta and freshly grated parm

11. Layer up the Lasagna:

  • Coat the bottom of the lasagna pan with a layer of the marinara sauce heating in the small sauce pan 
  • barilla no cook lasagna sheets

    No Fuss

    Using a small spatula, spread the ricotta cheese-parm mixture on one side of 4 Barilla no cook lasagna sheets…Some cooks will tell you to soak the no cook sheets in warm water before using them, but you really don’t need to. So, don’t.

  • Place the cheesed lasagna sheets cheese side up onto the sauce layer
  • 365 brand ricotta lasagna beef

    365 Ricotta Schmear on Lasagna Sheets

  • Sprinkle about 1/4 Cup of mozzarella over the ricotta/parm lasagna sheets
  • Cover the cheese with 1/3 of the meaty sausage-y sauce
  • beef and sausage lasagna laying

    Cover with 1/3 of the Meaty Goodness

  • Repeat 2 more times
  • Cover the final meat layer with a layer of the no cook lasagna sheets
  • Using the remaining non-meat sauce, cover the entire lasagna – be generous. It’s the sauce that will heat and steam to cook the no-cook lasagna sheets.
  • Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese and about 2 TBSP of grated parm over the  lasagna

11. Cover the lasagna with tin foil and put into the oven for :45mins

12. Remove the tin foil and bake an additional :05 – :10 mins

13. Remove from the oven and let stand for :15mins. This is important….It will make the lasagna easier to cut into free standing servings

beef and pork sausage lasagna recipe

Let stand for :15mins before serving

Eat.

My table is too big for the apartment. I know that, I do. But, as long as people will still come to dinner, I’m keeping it. I might even go out and get two more chairs.

The Sandy 15: Part 2 ‘During’

This is part two of how one can gain 15lbs during a weather disaster. [click here for Part 1]

Part 2

Monday, October 29, continued

Sandy15 hurricane NYC Trader Joe's

These are great…btw

The lights had flickered and though I do have a gas stove top, I thought it best to make a quick dinner before I ended up in the dark. As previously noted, I have a deep seeded fear of starving to death – though have never been out of food – or even in any remote danger of starvation. I decided on a Trader Joe’s frozen turkey burger – quick and easy and would, hopefully, be done before the lights went out.

power outages nyc sandy hurricane

The beginning.

Right around 8:30pm I had heard from my downtown friends that the power was out. Half of Manhattan was in the dark and though the wind was whipping up here, I realized for the first time how lucky I was.

Friends who live outside but near the evacuation zone (Zone A) were now living in the dark as their streets flooded with rushing water.

NYC hurricane Sandy

Washington at 12th St – photo by T Schultz

I clutched a flashlight in one hand and as my windows continued to bow with the pressure, I prayed the winds to stop. And thanked goodness for every watt of electricity that powered my apartment.

By about 12:40am on Tuesday morning the winds had died down a bit and I felt OK about going to bed.

Tuesday, October 30

In the morning, I ventured out for a quick walk. There were passing showers and some wind – but nothing like the day before. Save a few downed trees and some debris in the streets, the upper west side was in really good shape. We were so very lucky.

Downtowners are brave. As noted in several blogs over the past week, they seem cooler, they are more fierce and younger than the typical upper west sider. That said, it was cold and dark downtown. There were no stores open. No traffic lights. No heat. And, we had everything they needed just a walk away.

The migration north was on.

While waiting for our friends to make it uptwown…at about 11:30am something happened. Something good. For just a brief moment, a small hole in the sky cleared and the light bounced off of the clouds that still loomed overhead. And, there was a rainbow – a beacon calling the power-free to the well electrified upper west side.

hurricane sandy rainbow uws

A beacon of hope – the view from my 14th floor apt

As uptowners, we prepared for our guests. I cleaned and made sure I had sheets, towels, water and, of course, wine. [I had gone to 67 St Wines the afternoon before. The line was long, but people were patient.]

Still, I don’t think anyone in the neighborhood was prepared for the influx of people coming to the lucky land of electricity.

Crowded Streets nyc uws abc7

The migration

Once they arrived, the eating frenzy went on…The downtowners were here in full force. We tried to go to Cafe Lux – they had tables available, but not enough staff to serve. We gave PJ Clarke’s a try – but it too was jam packed with people and they told us it could be up to an hour wait for our party of five. Ultimately, we ended up at Shun Lee West and were fortunate to arrive just as they opened the doors at 1:30pm.

Inside, the iconic NYC Chinese restaurant looked like it did on a Lincoln Center Saturday night. Packed with people, waiters bustling to get everyone what they needed.

Shun Lee West nyc

A nighttime crowd at 1:30 on Tuesday

After a lunch of tres fattening grand marnier prawns, crispy beef, some veggies and …wine, we took our guests home and let them settle in.

We passed the afternoon watching the reports. It was so bad and we hadn’t even heard the worst of it yet. The mayor, all three governors (NY, NJ and CT) were holding constant press conferences updating the media on deaths, power outages, floods, rescues etc.

Sandy coverage dominated the airwaves and…we watched. And watched. And watched. All afternoon.

With not much to do, we started strategizing our dinner plans. A lot of the neighborhood restaurants were closed – because although we had electricity, there was still no public transportation and the staff couldn’t get to work. The tunnels and bridges were closed with few exceptions…it was a mess.

Most of the crew of six decided to stay in. We were an equal mix of the UWS residents and the displaced. Two of us though went to my fave Italian spot, Bello Giardino on West 71st. Nick, the owner, had personally driven to pick up each member of his staff and was going to drive them home after the dinner rush.

I love Bello Giardino – it’s a longtime neighborhood spot with a very personal feel. I think Nick knew how important being open would be to his regulars.

Bello Giardino uws

Nicky’s Famous Meatballs

bello giardino uws

Della Nonna Della-Licious

And, we ate. More fat food…I had spaghetti and ‘Nicky’s famous meatballs’ and my downtown guest enjoyed the ravioli della nonna.

No dieting going on. At. All.

We had survived Day 2. The Manhattan displaced were happily entrenched in the warm, electrified safety of uptown.

The downtowners were settling in. There was no news as to when power might be back on.

We watched more coverage…until we just couldn’t watch any more. And, went to bed.

Hurricane Sandy dangling crane

After

By the way, that crane collapsed in the winds early on in the storm…

……………………………………………….More tomorrow

I-Talian? I’ve had Gnocchi!

Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi with Pesto – pic from La Scala in Boston. it was prettier than mine….

I have a long Italian last name. The kind that doesn’t always fit in the number of spaces provided. The kind that people constantly butcher when trying to pronounce. This means I have to spell it. A lot. Like all the time. I spell it in a sing-song manner with ‘as in’s for the tricky letters. (‘D’ as in ‘David’, ‘G’ as in ‘George’, ‘V’ like ‘Victor’ you get the point).

It also means everyone assumes I’m Italian. Right – not a big leap. And I am…But I’m also half Irish. Typical catholic combo.

Growing up I didn’t know that there were people who had never met Italians. I couldn’t fathom that since there were a lot of Italians in the town where I grew up.

In the 1990s I was dating someone from the South. This guy, let’s call him ‘Bill’ because that is his name, was well educated, read and traveled. He was from an academic family and, while he was raised in Baton Rouge and joined a southern fraternity in college, he had lived north of the Mason-Dixon for a long time.

That said, his mother’s family was from Kingstree, South Carolina – which when she was growing up was a “town of 6,500 people, 95% black” I was told.

Dr Moonlight Graham

Bill’s grandfather was the town ophthalmologist, and at the time we met, 83-years old. Wearing a black suit and somewhat wrinkled white shirt, Dr. Holmes stood about 5’4″ and spoke with a thick southern accent. He sort of looked like a miniature Burt Lancaster as Dr. Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams.

Very sweet man….but, didn’t know much about Italians.

So, when he looked up at me and with a quivering lip and a southern drawl stammered: ‘Now…Now…Now, Annie…Annie…Wh…Wh…What’s your l-ah-st name?’

Uh oh…I wanted to make a good impression. And I sensed that this might be tough once I revealed my half-Italian heritage. There aren’t a lot of us down south and even fewer I assumed in Kingstree.

‘It’s DiGiovanna’ I said apprehensively.

‘Hmm.’ He said…..and then…’Excuse me. Wh…Wh…What is it?’

‘DiGiovanna’ I repeated kindly and a little louder this time. Maybe he just hadn’t heard me.

‘Hmmm.’ He answered. And, we all went on with our meals.

Dr. Holmes looked up and around for a minute or so and then focused on his grandson and said: ‘William, Wh…What’s her l-ah-st name?’

The meal stopped and Bill looked at the Dr. and told him my name again.

At this point, I thought that we might be able to move on without further incident.

But, ah, no.

‘How do you spe-ell that?’ Dr.  Holmes drawled.

Poor thing. He was trying so hard to figure out what was going on – the southern way…He just needed to know where I was from and who my people were.

Bill spelled it for him – annunciated every letter and used my ‘as ins’ brilliantly. Dr. Holmes soaked in every letter. And I thought it might be over…

And then, the clincher. My never-to-be Grandfather-in-law quivered….’Now Now Now…Wh..Wh…What kind of name IS that?’.

He was trying so hard. And was really sweet. But I knew this was all throwing him a bit. I looked around for help, but then just proudly answered: ‘It’s Italian’.

Silence as Dr. Holmes thought about that for a few minutes. I could see the mental filofax in his head searching his 83 years for a point of reference.

Finally, a deep sigh. Relief appeared on his face as he exclaimed:

‘I-Talian!…. I’ve had pizza!’

And that was it.

So, in honor of my I-Talian heritage, for the first time I made Giada De Laurentis’ Marscapone and Lemon Gnocchi with Pesto Sauce.

Mascarpone and Lemon Gnocchi (Serves 4)

1. In a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine:

Mise en Place for the Gnocchi

Mise en Place for the Gnocchi

  • 1 Cup of Mascarpone Cheese
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • the zest of 2 large lemons
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp of kosher salt

2. Once combined and creamy, Slowly mix in 3/4 cup of All-Purpose Flour until it forms a dough.

Gnocchi Dough

3. Form small gnocchis and put them on a floured rimmed baking sheet. I used two spoons and traded bits of the dough between them until they were sort of quenelle shaped. Next time, I’d make them smaller…

Formed Lemon Mascarpone Gnocchi

4. Shake the pan gently to cover the Gnocchis-to-be with flour.

5. Transfer to a floured plate, cover with plastic and put in the fridge for up to 2-3 hours. They can be frozen at this point as well and boiled off at a later date.

Floured Gnocchi going to rest in the fridge

6. Remove from the fridge and gently place into simmering water. The gnocchi will sink to the bottom and then float to the top. Once they are floating, continue to cook for 5-6 minutes then remove and place in a serving bowl.

Gnocchi Risen to the Top of Simmering Water

Pesto Sauce

1. In the bowl of a Cuisinart or blender, combine:

  • 2 Cups of Fresh Basil
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1/4 Cup of Pine Nuts
  • The zest of 1/2 lemon – most recipes don’t add the zest, but I wanted to layer in a little lemon to pair well with the lemon marscapone gnocchi.
Pesto Sauce

Pesto Ingredients in the Cuisinart

2. Once combined, slowly drizzle in 2/3 cup of Olive Oil, salt, pepper to taste. We’re adding a salty cheese next, so be careful not to over salt.

Pesto in Cuisinart

Pesto Sauce Blended in Cuisinart

3. Remove from the blender/food processor and stir in 1/2 cup of peccorino cheese

Stir in the Pecorino Cheese

Stirring in the Cheese

4. Gently fold about 1/2 of the pesto into the gnocchi and serve immediately.

I lost track of 1990s Bill and his sweet grandfather, Dr. Holmes. I doubt the good doctor came into contact with many more I-Talians after that night. But he reminded me of the values of a long Italian last name: Even though it often exceeds the spaces provided and in spite of the constant spelling and mispronunciation, it’s my name. It’s I-Talian and I made Gnocchi.

Fresh Shrimp

I spent a spring break in Mexico about 100 years ago. My friends and I had rented a small apartment on the beach. Nestled between two big high rise hotels in Mazatlan, our condo faced the ocean and provided us with incredible sunsets daily. The other perk to our beachfront location, was the proximity to the locals selling their wares on the beach each morning. Every day at 6:30am we would wake to a shrimper screaming up to us: ‘Fre-esh Shri-imp! Fre-esh Shri-imp!’.

I’ve never really liked cooking shrimp dishes as main courses. My rule of thumb was never serve food you can count. I’m not sure why, but I think I have a subconscious fear of starvation – I mean, there was always more than enough food in my life…but, food I can count makes me nervous.

That said, I’ve recently been playing around with lemon shrimp and pasta dishes. Here’s the latest recipe that I’ve liked….With only one pot and one pan being used, it’s also tiny kitchen friendly….

Summer Shrimp & Pasta

Put a large pot of water on high and toss in a palmful of salt. This will be for the pasta. I like to use angel hair…but any  pasta will work. That’s tri-color rigatoni in the photo – it was delicious and also really pretty.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil and 2 tbsp of butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 diced shallot and 2 cloves of garlic minced. Saute, stirring occasionally until fragrant (about 3-4 mins). Add 1lb cleaned, completely peeled shrimp. (Some people like to leave the tails on…not me).

Fresh shrimp can be pretty expensive, but I’ve found that frozen shrimp is just as yummy. Lately I’ve been buying my frozen shrimp at Gourmet Garage on West 66th St.

Add the zest of one lemon and the juice of 2 lemons. Saute until the shrimp is completely cooked – about 6 minutes stirring occasionally.

Remove the shrimp from the saute pan and place aside

Drop 1lb of pasta into the boiling water and cook just shy of the time on the box directions.

Add 1/2 cup of white wine – any dry white wine will do – to the saute pan. Stir with a wooden spoon –  the wine will help to lift all of flavor off of the bottom of the pan.

Add 1 package of frozen peas to the saute pan. Add salt and some pepper – to taste.

The peas will steam quickly in the lemon juice and white wine – about 2 minutes

Stir in 1/4 cup of cream and 4 pats of butter. This will help to thicken the sauce. You may want to add 1/4 cup or less of the pasta water to the sauce at this point if you think you may not have enough or just to thin out the sauce.

Remove the saute pan from the heat and re-add the cooked shrimp. Drain the pasta and add to the saute pan. Pull the pasta through to distribute the shrimps and sauce.

Transfer to a serving bowl. At this point add some halved cherry tomatoes – it’s prettier with the red of the tomatoes. Garnish with parsley and serve.

It’s a quick and easy pasta dish perfect for a lovely ladies dinner. Perhaps I’ll invite my friends from the Mazatlan trip….just don’t tell them it’s not fresh shrimp!