Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nan’s 'Pasta Cooking 101'

What is the best way to cook my Pastamoré pasta?

We get this question a lot.  And Nan always is ready with her answer.  Here are her keys to perfect pasta:

Key #1 – use a big pot and lots of water.  Seriously.  Big.  No sauce pans.  Nan recommends you to use a 12 quart stockpot – bigger is even better – to cook a 12 ounce package of our pasta.  The cooking pasta needs lots of room to swim and expand.  Too small of a pot and you will get variations in doneness and sticking.

Key #2 – add salt to the boiling water before you add the pasta.  This will not appreciably increase the sodium level in the finished product, but pasta does need seasoning.  Do NOT add oil at this point, save that for the drizzle of your favorite dipping oil at the end!

Key #3 – The suggested cooking times are on the package as a range – for example 4 to 6 minutes - and they will vary with the type and flavor of the pasta.  Everyone has their own preference for how done they like their pasta, so Nan recommends you stay by your pot and start tasting about a minute before the package indicates.  Once you get the pasta to the texture you are looking for, drain BUT leave a small amount of the boiling water in the pot.

Key #4 – Return the drained pasta to the same pot with the ¼ inch or so of the boiling water.  Now add the butter, blended olive oil or plain olive oil.  A little bit will go a long way, so add a little, taste, then add more if needed.  At this point if you can toss in another ingredient, like chicken, steamed vegetables, etc.  Plate it in pre-heated pasta bowls and you have yourself a fabulous flavorful and nutritious meal!

Note #1 – Cover your pot when heating the water to bring it to a boil faster.

Note #2 – You can find our recommendations on dipping oils and suggestions on ingredients to toss with our pasta here and here.

We would love to hear from you!  Feel free to add your ideas or tips!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Nan’s ‘Tapenade 101’

Tapenades come to us from the Provençal region of France, which stretches along the Mediterranean from Northern Italy and into Spain.  It originally was a simple paste consisting of olives, olive oil and capers (tapenade is the Provençal word for caper!).  It was most commonly served as a spread on crackers, crudités, or crostini, and it was best if you had a glass of Pernod close by.  Over time, tapenades have been enhanced with new flavors - additions of garlic, lemon, anchovies and herbs to name a few.

At Nan’s Gourmet Foods, tapenades are members of our ‘Nan Approved Foods’ family.  We feature five; each with a new take on the classic:

White Wine Artichoke & Roasted Garlic – Pale in color, the star ingredient, artichoke, is married to fabulous savory partners, white wine and roasted garlic.  Making the party even better are water chestnuts, a zip of chili pepper, parsley and a hint of lemon.
Bruschetta – our Bruschetta borrows its flavor from its namesake classic Italian cousin.  Tomatoes are slow roasted and combined with onions, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, capers and our own balsamic vinegar for this timeless country masterpiece.
Lemon Caper Artichoke – smooth silky artichokes are once again celebrated in this tapenade take, but the co-stars are different, making for a new taste sensation.  Lemon and peppery capers bring a new zing along with garlic and a hint of Parmesan cheese.
Green Olive Provençal - The South of France comes to life with our spicy green olive tapenade. Red bell pepper, capers, garlic, Herbes de Provence and a hint of lemon create a smooth satisfying spread.  Of the olive tapenades, this one is chunkier and has a bit of spiciness. 
Mediterranean Black Olive - Inspired by the old world tastes of the Mediterranean, our black olive tapenade is rich and luxurious.  Extra virgin olive oil, garlic and delicate spices are melded with three types of minced black olives.  It tends to be silkier and milder than the Green Olive version.

OK, so you have a new jar of Nan’s tapenade, can you do anything more with it other than just as an appetizer with the obligatory glass of wine?

Well, you can probably guess our answer...  YES!  And here are some ideas.  We would love to hear yours as well, please post away!
  • Pasta Sauce – in a sauce pan combine your favorite tapenade with just enough white or red wine (chicken stock will also do the trick) to thin it out.  Heat and combine with your favorite freshly cooked wide noodle pasta, like a fettuccine, or even a penne or rotini.
  • As a Super Condiment – try using a tapenade on your next burger, or on a sandwich instead of mustard and mayonnaise.
  • Pizza??  - We have had some of our fans tell us to spread a tapenade on a pizza shell, like a Boboli, and then bake in the oven.  We haven’t tried it yet, but it sure sounds good! 
  • Omelet – try some as a filling for your next omelet, along with some goat cheese!
  • Deviled TapanEggs? – replace the mashed egg yolk in deviled eggs with your tapenade of choice.
  • A Slightly Advanced Entree – try using a tapenade in a roulade – for example, spread over a flank steak, roll up, tie with string and bake in the oven.  There are several example roulade recipes online, including one from my personal hero Alton Brown.
Anything you like in the above list?  Anything you would like to add?  Please let us know!!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rosemary with Roasted Garlic Spread on Toasted Pita Crisps

This has always been one of my favorite recipes; I have made these dozens of times since the 1990’s.  Back then, I used to sauté fresh rosemary and garlic in some olive oil as the flavor agent for the goat cheese.  Flipping through my old recipes (an admitted favorite pastime of mine) I found this and noted, much to my pleasure, I had the base for this already made for me with our Rosemary with Roasted Garlic Dipping Oil.  This is a truly wonderful appetizer to serve to guests, extremely easy, and just begging for a glass of cool crisp white wine.

For the spread
5.5 ounce package of plain goat cheese (chèvre)

For the crisps
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves (optional, or use another herb)
3 six inch pita loaves, halved horizontally and each round cut into 4 pie wedges

Preheat oven to 400º

In a small food processor pulse the Rosemary with Roasted Garlic Dipping Oil, goat cheese and salt and pepper to taste until thoroughly mixed, smooth and fluffy.

In a bowl, combine butter, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste.  Brush butter mixture on the rough side of the pitas.  Bake on a baking sheet until light golden and crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Serve spread with pita crisps.  Makes about ¾ cup.