Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Simple Suppers: Penne alla Arribiatta

Because of my gluten allergy and lack of interest in finding good g/f pasta, the FvF blog has always been lacking in pasta recipes.  About six weeks into my pregnancy, I started having a serious aversion to most meats and was craving starch like a crazed person recovering from Adkins.  With my allergies, newfound pickiness, and Mr. FvF's selective palate, I had no idea what the hell we were going to eat for the next few months.  
We ate pasta a  few times, but it made me so sick that it was hardly worth it.  I remembered a friend telling me that the Ancient Grains quinoa blend pasta was so awesome that her kids and husband didn't know the difference when she used it.  After scouting all over God's creation for it, we finally ended up going to the Kroger by her house on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road to get a few boxes.  Note to Kroger:  this product would sell like stupid sunglasses at a Kanye West concert at ALL of your stores, so wise up and get your distro on.  I cooked just a smidge of it to check out the texture and loved it.  It's a quinoa-corn blend that cooks to a nice al-dente - but you have to make sure not to overcook it, or it will get pretty mushy.  The taste isn't any different than regular semolina pasta, nor is the texture when cooked right.  Now that I knew I could have pasta back in my life, I was really eager to get back to making my own sauces.  First up - penne a la arribiata! 

This is one of the simplest pasta sauces to make, and it doesn't require hours of stewing, like a bolognese. It has a super fresh taste, and is a perfect summer pasta dish.  Here's what you'll need (serves 2): 

Whole peeled plum tomatoes, San Marzano style*
2 oz pancetta, or 3-4 strips bacon, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
1.5 C (dry) penne pasta
salt, pepper, olive oil to taste
Pecorino or romano cheese for garnish
*These are normally only available in large cans, so if you're cooking for two, you'll only need half. San Marzano style also already has basil leaves in with the tomatoes, but if you're using fresh tomatoes, feel free to ass your own freshly chopped basil.    

The sauce can basically be made in the time it takes to cook the pasta, so chop your bacon and mince your garlic while you're waiting on your pasta water to boil. Over medium heat, cook your bacon pieces until crisp, then remove them from the pan to drain on a paper towel and clean your saute pan (or just use another one). I like bacon fat just as much as the next gal, but we're not making carbonara here, that's another entry coming your way soon.  This dish should have a sassy, fresh flavor and you don't want it weighed down by fat.  

Reduce heat to mid-low, add a little olive to the pan and simmer your garlic (and onion if you prefer - but it's verboten in our house), then crush the tomatoes by hand over the pan, adding them as you do.  Add the red pepper flakes, re-introduce your bacon and salt & pepper to taste.  Sometimes I like to add a little nip of sugar, too, if I'm using canned tomatoes.  Bring it down to a simmer and let it hang out for a few more minutes while your pasta finishes cooking.  I know, I didn't tell you to do that - but come ON, you guys.  I'm not your mammy.  I can't do everything for you. 

Drain and rinse your pasta, then add the pasta to the sauce and toss it around until it's all coated in spicy tomato-y goodness.  Serve with a big heapin' helpin' of shredded romano or pecorino.  Parmesan works, too, but spend the extra few bucks on a brick and shred it yourself - not the stuff in the big green Kraft canister, you hillbilly.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Amici's Place - Kettering, Ohio

So, there's a new deal website akin to Groupon and LivingSocial called Seize the Deal.  The first email offer I got from them after signing up was for a joint called Amici's Place in Kettering on Dorothy Lane, where the old Barbie's Bistro used to be.  I didn't even know there was a new restaurant there, but apparently Seize the Deal made a bold move and offered the $20 for $10 gift certificate just as the place was opening.  Clever, because nothing will hurry me into a new eatery like a nearly-free meal.

It was a bit too hot to dine al fresco, but they do have a nice patio.  I'm actually already looking forward to next summer when I'm not making another human and can enjoy one of their signature Limoncellos on that sunny deck. We sat inside, where the tables are seemingly far fewer than outside.  I think there were maybe three or four tables and bar seating, which would accommodate half a dozen comfortably.  It's small in stature, but big on everything else important, as we soon found out.

I'd already perused the menu online, but once Mr. FvF got to check it out, we decided to get two 8" pizzas - since we never agree about what to get on a pie.  The small pizzas are $9 for a specialty and $7 for a build-your-own with three toppings.  The front house manager came and greeted us first, asking if this was our first time in, explaining their special bevvies and asking if we had any questions - then another nice fella came to take our order as he brought our drinks.  The Mister picked the Buffalo Chicken sans onions, and I opted for the Chicken Pesto, adding bacon (duh).  I also asked for one of their craft root beers, which was almost red in color and super tasty.

The food came out quite a bit faster than expected, considering the craft that goes into making a pizza like this, and looked absolutely amazing - not to mention massive.  When I think 8 inches in my mind - well, I won't tell you what that really brings to mind - but in terms of pizza, I was certainly thinking more along the lines of one of those crappy Pizza Hut personal pans.
If this pizza was only 8", I'll lick my own elbow.  There were eight solid slices, and I could barely finish three.  I seriously considered continuing to eat and just making myself ill with it, and I almost had to stage an intervention with Mr. FvF when he was eyeballing his sixth slice.  All of the ingredients were super fresh - the kind of fresh that you can actually taste.  Crispy bacon, bright tomatoes and long stretches of cheese.  Also, not the kind of fresh that gets skimped on just because they advertise fresh and locally grown ingredients that happen to cost more.  There was no shortage of toppings on these whatsoever.
The Mister's Buffalo Chicken Pizza didn't look like much, but was pretty killer, even to a gal who doesn't like hot sauce.  Heavy on the cheese (including bleu) with a sassy kick and super tender chicken.
The star of the pizzas at Amici's, though, is the crust.  Think along the lines of Dewey's, but then imagine if Dewey's had their asses handed to them by someone else.  Bubbled and raised perfectly, but not too thick or chewy.

As we boxed up our extra slices and paid our bill, the owner came over and asked how we liked everything.  I commended him on the excellent staff and food, and in an uncommon turn of events, actually told him I was a food blogger and would be giving his new venture a rave review. I don't think I've ever done that, but it was very thoughtful for him to come chat with his customers, and I feel that certain compliments deserve better than anonymous internet delivery.

So, stellar service and top-notch food - must be expensive, right?  Couldn't be further from the truth.  The price points are so spot on, that I'm hoping and praying they'll bring the kind of crowd Amici's need to stay put.  I've dined at nearly every eatery that's graced that spot in the last 8 years, and they were all overpriced and unimpressive.  I think the steepest thing on their spanking-new menu is a family spaghetti dinner for around $17.  They deliver, you can get carry-out, they have a great looking sandwich and salad menu, and they even have breakfast!  Still not enough for you?  They also host a farmer's market in the adjacent lot on Saturday mornings.

After several months of duds in the Gem City, I'm super pumped to give Amici's Place
5 out of 5 sporks!!