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  • spotted pig homemade gnudi 1

    I'm pretty sure the word "gnudi" wasn't on anyone's radar until they were served at The Spotted Pig in New York, which was when they became a food dork household name. In Italian, "gnudi" means what it sounds like in English: naked. It refers to little pasta-like dumplings that are "naked" of their pasta wrapper, raviolis without anything to enclose them. Gnudi are a bit like gnocchi, but they have far less flour and so are pillowy in the way that gnocchi never are.

    The Spotted Pig has gotten more press than it will ever need, and I don't feel the need to sing its praises too lengthily here. It's an outstanding New York restaurant serving food that has drawn crowds and accolades consistenty since it opened six years ago. I had more than a couple outstanding meals there when I lived in New York, the highlight of which was a night when Fergus Henderson had commandeered the kitchen, and I first tried his classic dishes like roasted bone marrow on toast. But as for the restaurant on a regular day, there are two dishes that it is especially famous for. A bloody burger topped with Roquefort cheese and the dish at hand.

    The way the Spotted Pig serves them is typical of its cooking style: absurdly rich, in a bath of brown butter, with little regard for balance. As if molten balls of ricotta cheese weren't rich enough, they top it with brown butter and a grating of Parmesan.

    Over on Serious Eats' Burger Lab column, Kenji recently reverse-engineered a Spotted Pig burger that looks pretty darn good. The gnudi is a bit more of a mystery. Though public versions of the recipe have surfaced, most have agreed that they aren't the "real" recipe. The process they use in the restaurant is hidden not only from the public, but from most of the kitchen staff, according to an intern who worked there.

    So it was a little surprising to be flipping through Earth to Table, a beautiful cookbook of essays and recipes about slow food and seasonal cooking, and came across a recipe for gnudi. And not just any recipe. "We were able to take some of our staff [to The Spotted Pig] and discovered the secret to their 'naked pasta,'" they note casually in the recipe's headnote. Then they proceed to demonstrate how they're made.

  • By Nick Kindelsperger I realize now things have gotten out...
  • By Nick Kindelsperger My first attempt at giardiniera was so...


    My first attempt at giardiniera was so bad I couldn't even talk about it, let alone write about it.  It was oily, bland, and just plain unappetizing.  It was supposed to go with my Italian beef post, but I just dumped the containers in the trash and bought a jar from the store.  To my surprise I kind of fell in love with the jar.  It started appearing on all kinds of dishes, whether they were necessarily Italian-American or not.  Its pickled punch accentuated other foods, instead of covering them all up. 

    When that jar quickly ran out, I decided to give this very Chicagoan condiment a second chance.  Perhaps there were was a recipe out there that could actually work.  Part of the problem is that giardiniera is kind of a generic Italian term for "woman gardener" and in its home country you can find any kind of vegetable in it.  It's fine stuff, but it's not Chicago giardiniera, which is a little more fiery and a little less wholesome.  The latter is what I wanted.  I didn't want a nice antipasto, I wanted something crass for dressing an Italian beef.

  • hummus 15

    If you don’t want to go to all the bother of soaking and cooking them, canned chickpeas work extraordinarily well
    - James Beard, Beard on Food

    I wanted to go to all the bother of cooking dried chickpeas from scratch. Why? Well, because I never had cooked dried chickpeas before, and I really wanted to see whether taking the time to cook them from scratch would make for a more delicious and cheaper hummus. I had already toyed with the idea of making my own tahini; I figured I should see whether this was worth it.

    hummus 11
    Are you okay?

    So why does nearly every source declare that canned chickpeas are not just permissible, but actually okay? I’ve come to the point where canned black beans just can’t compare to the long simmered batch spiked with epazote, but for some reason I’ve trained myself into believing that chickpeas aren’t worth the effort. That’s mainly because so many sources advocate for just taking the easy route and going for that can.

    This was all tinged by the very real knowledge that I’ve failed before. Considering chickpeas are dried legumes but not actually beans, it should come as no surprise that they don’t work with the 90-minute no soak bean method, but I was still bummed. My one attempt came out dry and tough. No good.

    hummus 4
    Soaked chickpeas puff up considerably.

    But I wondered what a nice, long soak would do for them. Every single source I checked claimed that it had to be done this way. A few sources also called for using a pinch of baking soda. The thought was that it would both help the beans cook faster, and also help soften the chickpea’s tough skins. I decided to try both, and compare them to the canned variety, by doing a hummus taste test.

  • CSA haul 1

    Even though it's been around for a few years now, I am still incredibly excited to have joined a CSA this year.  A few years ago, "CSA" was the big new food acronym, standing for Community Supported Agriculture, the rather wonderful setup where cooks and eaters pay in advance for the season and in return get a box  delivered to their neighborhood every week or two, effectiv

  • By Nick Kindelsperger Well, just look at that! After all...
  • italian subs 1

    We assembled at 11 a.m., seven hungry men, at J. P. Graziano's. This unadorned storefront in the restaurant supply district of Chicago's West Loop seemed like an odd place to begin a journey to find the best Italian sub in Chicago. The shop's exterior had no tell-tale signals that it made sandwiches--just a sign stating their business as wholesale importers. The interior contained no vine covered trellises or nostalgic pictures of the Tuscan country side. All we saw were barren wooden floors and enormous barrels of spices. But we had reason to believe that they served one delicious sub.

    Indeed, the Grazianos' sub was a wonder. A slightly crackly exterior to the bread gave way to a pillowy, tender interior. The meats were the highest quality--Hot Capicola, Volpi Salame, Genoa salame, and mortadella--an intense, salty punch of porky goodness. The lettuce was tossed with the dressing in a bowl, and then added to the sandwich so each bite was flavorful with its sweet-tart crunch. And a final flourish of tangy, gently spicy giardiniera gave it a pickled punch that elevated it to greatness.

    It was a triumphant beginning to our day, the first stop on a mad tour of the Chicago's Italian delis, 6 in all, to find who was still keeping the Italian sub alive in the city.

    italian subs 2

    Why Italian subs? Variations of the "Submarine Sandwich" can be found in nearly every large city in the country, known variously as a hero, hoagie, grinder, blimpie, or torpedo (it has unwittingly spawned some sinister imitations from chains like Jimmy Johns and Subway). But they all owe their provenance to the Italian sub, a simple oblong sandwich that inspired them all.

    In its authentic Chicago rendition, the Italian sub is about 9 inches long and filled with dry-cured Italian meats like salami, capicola, soppresetta, or proscuitto; mortadella is often added to contribute a bologna-like creaminess. It's topped with provolone to help give it some salty bite; a little oil and vinegar for some tang; and giardiniera, that Italian pickled vegetable concoction that's found it's true home here, for a nice kick. It's blessedly simple and straightforward, a shockingly cheap workman's lunch wrapped in paper and slid across the counter to take on the road. And yet it is a culinary achievement, a mouthful of contrasting flavors and textures. When done right, it's about as close to sandwich perfection as one can get.

    Our ringleader for this event was fellow Serious Eats writer Daniel Zemans, who drafted the list of the six Italian delis we'd visit, from famous locations in the West Loop to a simple sandwich shops in the western suburb of Melrose Park. Over the course of five hours we consumed breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the form of Italian Submarine Sandwiches (plus an Italian beef for good measure, two cups of gelato, pepperoni bread, fried rice balls known as arancini, and a few slices of superb Neopolitan pizza) and arrived at some conclusions. It's not so easy to make a good Italian sub well. Certain things must be present, and certain other things should never be. Despite, and perhaps because of its simplicity, the Italian Sub is difficult to master.

    Our results shed some light on where Chicago's greatest renditions of the sandwich are served today. Here is our guide to the best.

  • cider tasting 1

    There is no feeling in the world like popping open a batch of cider and realizing what you have created alcohol. It's really hard to describe. We've made all kinds of recipes before, including some meals that have taken days to prepare. But alcohol always seemed a little unreal, and dangerous. Making alcohol always felt too technical and lab-like. And if you're brewing beer, that's sort of true: you'll need a lot of ingredients, and don't you need hi-tech equipment and precision tools? The fact that we could make hard apple cider simply and humbly was inspiring.

    We have have been attempting to make our own cider using a what amounts to a jug of $7 organic juice from Whole Foods, a packet of yeast, and equipment we bought from the brewery store for a grand total of about $2. Not sure what recipe to use, we decided to make four different batches, which we detailed on our last post. We plugged those guys up with airlocks and felt rather proud of ourselves. But when would they be done? Were they supposed to ferment for two days or two weeks? And of course, what would they taste like?

    Yes, it got a bit serious when we realized that we actually had to drink the experiment. We went from hopeful of a heavenly brew to apprehension that the cider would simply be underwhelming, and then to a vague worry that this homemade cider might try to poison us.

    Brian from Daily Ikuru, a brew guru, gave me this bit of frank advice: "Drinking it today, a week from now, or even two weeks from now isn't going to kill you, you know."

    Yes, that was probably true.  And so we got our turkey baster out early this year, and plunged it in to have a taste.

  • By Nick Kindelsperger Sometimes I can’t even follow my own...
  • By Nick Kindelsperer After my excursion to Al's #1 Beef,...


    After my excursion to Al's #1 Beef, I knew I had to make an Italian beef at home.  But it was more of a challenge than a necessity.  I could easily buy another sandwich for cheap.  I just become obsessed with the idea of turning a lowly and lean cut into something so delicious.  I thought I had most the particulars of this soggy sandwich down: lean beef, giardiniera, and an Italian roll.  But I was real worried about the "dip" or the juice that the beef hung out in and what the whole sandwich was eventually dunked into.  It's a very important component. 

    The recipes I found only worried me more.  If there wasn't beef stock, there was a beef bouillon cube.  It felt like cheating.  I wanted my humble cut of beef to provide all the flavor, but I didn't want to sacrifice the beef for the juice.  Many recipes advocated crock pots and long simmers that would have made a nice liquid but would have definitely cooked the beef way past medium-rare.  The texture would have been more like pulled beef than a rare roast like I wanted.   I found a very helpful site that started the roast at a high temperature and then reduced the heat dramatically.  But they also cooked the meat on a wire rack above the water.  I worried about all that steam.


    I wanted as much juice to remain in the beef as possible to keep it tender.  But it had at least come in contact with water at some point.  Eventually I found this recipe in Saveur, which looked like a great compromise between the two methods.  Like the other site, the key was to roast the beef at a high temperature at first, then reduce it dramatically.  But for this recipe the water was added only after the heat was turned down.  So I'd get some nice caramelization, but still be able to control the temperature of the meat.  I was shooting for 130 degrees.  Though I worried the juice might taste too watery and not beefy enough, I eventually settled on this recipe, figuring I could mess with the juice after the meat was done.