Sunday, March 20, 2011

You Say It's Your Birthday

So...yesterday was Significant Eater's birthday, and I went all out. Well, not really all out; more like almost all out. Okay, okay, a little bit out...for instance, I made her a birthday card rather than buying one. We kinda started a new practice of no cards for the past couple of Hallmark days, but I got up early, used some web site and was able to make and print out a nice, corny card. Talented, huh? My 7th grade art teacher would be so proud.

Actually, the weekend started off on Friday night with a wonderful dinner at a friend's apartment. Jeff and Judith, of Aroma Cucina, invited us over, along with a cousin of their's who is a big wine collector; needless to say, we ate and drank very well - although I aim to convince Jeff that a Manhattan should be 2 parts (not 3!) rye to 1 part sweet vermouth, but that's another story...after all, it still gets you where you're going.

Earlier Friday, Sig Eater and I took a long walk downtown to City Hall Park, and then headed to one of our faves, Great NY Noodletown. Friday was one of those beautiful NYC pre-spring days, when the temp climbs outside but inside the heat is still on, and along with the bubbling cauldrons of soup and roasting ovens, it was, ummm, not comfortable, so we decided to move on. My 2nd choice was Oriental Garden on Elizabeth Street, a place where we've had some seriously good food in the past. Well, let's just say we won't be going back and it's on a serious downhill alert. No, let's just say it sucked, with gummy dim sum, tasteless roast duck and even tasteless-er choy sum. Okay, it sucked. Moving on...

Saturday (Sig Eater's b'day) was pajama day; i.e. we didn't get out of them all day (it was a rough Friday night, after all) - at least not until we left the apartment for dinner. And I made lunch - to order. SE asked for cacio e pepe - one of the great Roman pasta dishes of all time. Basically, a dish of 3 ingredients - pasta, Pecorino Romano and black pepper, and yet so freakin' hard to make. Tomes have been written about cacio e pepe, and everyone has their opinion. I have 2 Roman cookbooks, and the recipes are totally different. Cook's Illustrated likes to add cream. Saveur's recent issue about Rome has an intriguingly interesting take on the recipe where the black pepper is cooked in some olive oil before the pasta is added to the pan (I actually toast the peppercorns before crushing in a mortar), followed by some cooking water and then the cheese; well, two kinds of cheese, because that's what their recipe calls for.

I think the best version of this dish we've ever eaten was at a little restaurant in the Ghetto di Roma, Rome's Jewish ghetto, called Sora Margherita. There it was perfect, the cheese melted into a delicious sauce buoyed by a big hit of freshly ground black pepper. And it was in Rome, possibly clouding our judgement.

But what makes the dish perfect? Well, in my opinion it's getting that cheese to melt and cling perfectly to the pasta; no clumps or lumps at the bottom of the bowl - it's hard to do and if you don't think so, try it some time - there are recipes all over the webs, but don't say I didn't warn you.

So, how'd I do yesterday? Well, maybe the fact that it was Sig Eater's birthday or that giant full moon? Maybe I've finally figured out the mystery of cacio e pepe? Or maybe it was just luck? In any case, the dish came out really well, and made my favorite person very happy on her birthday. Next time, I'm trying the Saveur recipe - it looks like a can't miss. Here's the spaghetti cacio e pepe...

And since it was a Roman lunch, some simply sautéed broccoli rabe, served like the do in Rome, at room temperature...

And on our walk home from dinner, there was that full moon everyone was talking about, just hanging low over the Bowery...


  1. There was a great recipe for cacio in FT where the spaghetti is finished like a risotto-I'll let you know. And HB SE :)

  2. Sorry about the rough Saturday morning. :-)
    Cacio & pepe: NEVER EVER add cream. Mamma freakin' mia, where do you read these things??
    Make a carbonara... raw egg at the end & a boatload of pepper.
    Happy b'day kisses to SE!!

  3. @Jude - The book "In A Roman Kitchen" - that recipe calls for milk. And Cook's Illustrated, after testing 137 different methods of making this dish has a final recipe that calls for 2T heavy cream.

    Anyway, aren't you the ragazzi from Umbria?