100 Ways to Use Beer in Food and Drinks #6: Chicken Carbonara

Another one down. I’ve faced the challenge yet again and for number 6 on my list of 100 ways to use beer in food and drinks, I declare victory on successfully using beer in chicken carbonara. Be impressed.

This weekend, we embraced craft brewing by using a bottle of Flying Fish Extra Pale Ale in a chicken carbonara recipe. I’ve already heard some Italians claim that beer just doesn’t work with Italian food. As I said earlier, I declare victory. Onward.

Beer and Chicken Carbonara

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Killer Crowd-Pleaser Pasta

Lots of wine, lots of friends, lots of food… what can be better than a big dinner party? Being the convivial hostess that I am, I’m constantly gathering friends together for festive meals. I love experimenting with new dishes and ingredients, but sometimes I’m looking for a reliable go-to recipe — especially when I’ve gotten a bit ambitious with my guest count. In scenarios like this, I have an easy pasta recipe I’ve perfected over the years that guarantees dinner party success. Every time I make this I receive nothing but rave reviews. Not trying to brag, y’all, I’m just being honest.

If you’re having a load of guests over for the holiday season, give yourself a break and make a gigantic pot of this rigatoni with gorgonzola and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s simple and quick to put together, but the flavor is richly layered, and the vibrant colors of the tomatoes and basil lend a lively aesthetic to the dish.

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Getting Salty with Anchovies

I get excited by shiny new toys in the kitchen.  Not so much when it comes to gadgets, though I do love an ergonomic vegetable peeler as much as the next guy. For me, it’s all about the premium ingredient.

And so, it was with very little apprehension that I handed over a not insignificant sum of money for a tin of what I have long been told is the crown prince of Italian umami.  Yep, you’re talking to the proud owner of more than a pound of salted anchovies.

It is a given in every Italian cookbook that you’ll encounter a section on ingredients that urges you to skip the small tins of oil-packed anchovies for their superior salt-cured cousins.  Now that I have caved and made the investment, I have to admit…it is a better product.

Yes, they’re a bit more work, as you have to clean and fillet them off the tiny bones, but we’re talking a minute’s worth of effort using your paring knife, followed by a quick rinse to remove the excess salt.  The result is a good-sized and fresher looking anchovy.  The flavor…well, I would compare it to the taste of iodized table salt versus sea or kosher salt.  The inferior option includes the main taste of the ingredient, but it also brings along a number of off-putting notes.

Interestingly, in the case of both table salt and oil-packed anchovies, it’s a tinny, metallic flavor, and I have a strong feeling that it’s what people who “don’t like anchovies” are really reacting to.  Salt-packed are subtler and have a truer, more pleasing “ocean” flavor.”

What’s the best way to showcase these beauties?  How about…

Farfalle and Broccoli in an Anchovy Garlic Sauce

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Italian BLT: Pancetta e Lattuga e Pomodoro

Question:  What is the best meal for parents of a six-month-old?  Answer:  Anything fast and easy.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, complicated weeknight dinners are out the window for me lately, as a full day’s work and the brief window of time I get to spend with the baby now eat up a large portion of my time.  That means dinner is often not even started until around 7:30 p.m. and we’re usually making meal decisions based on ease of preparation.

And yet, when the rather pedestrian idea of making a BLT came up, I decided that the least I could do was spiff it up a bit with some Italian flair.  The result was a tasty meal that wasn’t much more difficult than your run of the mill cold cut sandwich.

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An Italian Chef Walks Into a Nacho Bar…

Chef Richard Hodge really loves nachos. Unfortunately, he works at an Italian restaurant, which makes putting them on his menu impossible. Or does it?

Hodge recently invented a way out of this horrific dilemma: pasta nachos, a new addition to his menu at Puccini & Pinetti in San Francisco.

Instead of nacho chips, Hodge takes wonton wrappers, cuts them into triangles, and fries until crispy. Then he tops them with housemade fennel sausage, a little salsa marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese and bakes until the cheese melts. Once cooked, it’s topped with diced Serrano chilies, tomatoes, shredded basil and red onion. Italian nachos — they really do exist! Hodge was kind enough to share his recipe.

Pasta Nachos

Makes 4 servings

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Shooting for the Sun

Back in the early days of ES, I once ranted about the trend of making every thing on earth into a pesto, thinking that the old-fashioned basil kind could not be beat. However, one of our first ever commenters, John James Anderson, set me right:

After living in Italy for over a year there are about half a dozen pestos out there for sale on the shelves of Roman grocers; all are defined by region. Pesto basically means something that is ground. So, anything can be made into a pesto. The walnut variety of which you wrote typically should be mixed with sun dried tomatoes, garlic and Parmesan cheese (piu olio, sale e nero, claro!). Others are made with olives, onions, spinach and ricotta. But, Pesto Genovese (above) will always be king.

OK, fine. I don’t really know anything. I just pretend to be a food snob. And now that we’ve had everything from arugula pesto to nettle pesto on the blog, I’m officially a convert — anything green is better ground up and mixed with cheese, nuts and extra virgin. So when I saw sunflower shoots at the far mar this weekend and bought them on impulse, I knew immediately what I was going to do.


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5-Hour Energy Lasagna

On my first day off from cooking in about six days, I was wondering what to do with a free day. Those taxes still needed to be done, but that didn’t sound stimulating. I finally settled on doing some cooking and eating of my own after finding the sharpest, most bad ass knife at the Asian Market for $4.99 (seriously!!). It will be a strong competitor to my $135 Shun. Taxes can wait. And after all, a killer knife is somewhat like a new outfit: it’s impossible not to use immediately.

Since cooking rustic Italian food at my new job for the last month or so, lasagna sounded pretty divine. I have no doubt that you ES-ers love some good lasagna. But if you have your own secret lasagna recipe, I would like you to add one thing to the ingredients: one 5-Hour Energy shot. No, not to put into the lasagna…to drink before commencing said lasagna making. I’m a Red Bull girl, but this 5-Hour Energy is pretty stellar. You can do jumping jacks or wrestle on the couch when it is in the oven to burn off some calories, if you’re planning on eating half of the lasagna like a champion (which I would never do).

You should also add the following to your secret family recipe for lasagna: home made pasta (I challenge you to think outside the box of lasagna noodles), good tunes (forget Sinatra, My Morning Jacket is great lasagna making music), fun stories about Friday Fuck Ups, and some box wine (Bota Box Old Vine Zin perhaps) so you can’t tell how much you’re actually drinking. Please take note that you should not cook lasagna on an empty stomach (or without an energy drink). I always like to eat an opposite-type cuisine for lunch when I’m going to cook dinner. That way your palate has been awakened and will not be dulled with the same flavors. Thai food would go nicely in this instance.

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