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Recipe Mon Nov 30 2015

The Proper Way to Make Bruschetta and Cacio e Pepe Pasta

Bruschetta_02_schinken.jpgThe Proper Way to Make a Bruschetta
Before my romp through Italy last week, I hated bruschetta. It was always an overpriced side dish, a limp piece of toast piled high with a miserable concoction of bland tomatoes and balsamic vinegar.

The word bruschetta comes from the verb bruscare, meaning "to roast over coals" or "burn". The bread is literally supposed to be burnt--in other words, if it ain't charred like a cleverly-disposed body, you're doing it wrong. Because making bruschetta is an exercise in simplicity, don't skimp on high-quality (and if possible, in-season) ingredients.

1. Cut a thick piece of bread with good surface area. You want at least an inch thickness because the outside should be crispy and crunchy, but the very inside of the toast should actually be slightly chewy.
2. Rub a small piece of garlic over your toast, just one or two swipes to get the aroma in there. You can skip this step if you don't like garlic, but it does add a flavorful nuance.
2. Toast the bread on both sides over an open-flame (not an oven or hot pan) to get a black char all over your toast. You want to caramelize the toast so it has that beautiful carb smell.
3. Drench charred toast with the finest extra virgin olive oil you can afford. No, resist the use of plain olive oil or butter or 70% sunflower-oil olive oil.
4. Top toast with a simple salad of farmer-market tomatoes or fresh cherry tomatoes. I like a slice or two of pungent prosciutto over mine, or even marinated anchovies. If you want, top toast with Grana Padano, or some other hard cheese. You can also add fresh mozzarella (the liquidy, ball-shaped kind, not the rectangular Kraft kind), balsamic vinegar, or parsley. However, I find that a bruschetta with one or two ingredients is typically the gold standard. I would not recommend an avocado smear with crispy kale and bonito flakes.

13941439709_94b21d8fa7_o.jpgThe Proper Way to Make Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e Pepe (translated as "Cheese and Pepper") is another shining example of Italian simplicity. Cacio e pepe requires long-shaped pasta, typically spaghetti or tonnarelli (a thick egg pasta). Traditional cacio e pepe should not contain any butter, a fact which may initially confuse (and alarm) Midwesterners.

1. Use fresh tonnarelli or make your own egg pasta. Although this may be time-consuming, the elastic softness of egg pasta is far superior to boxed spaghetti and is a better vehicle for cheese.
2. Boil salted water and cook your pasta until it is al dente. Al dente means that when you crack a pasta strand in half, there's still a tiny bit of white in the middle. To the American palate, Italian "al dente" tastes almost undercooked.
3. Drain water from pasta and save some of that starchy pasta water in a different bowl.
4. In your heated pot, slowly add fresh-grated Pecorino Romano cheese and pasta water. Toss your pasta. Continue until you've reached that luscious creamy appearance. (If you use boxed spaghetti, I would add a little bit of butter at this point because I find that it helps the cheese stick to the pasta.)
5. If the sauce looks too watery, add more cheese (and vice versa).
6. Season with freshly-ground black pepper.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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