Thursday, April 10, 2014

Happy Anniversary and memories of a European childhood

Probably the biggest benefit of being a well-traveled child has been acquiring an international palate at a very young age. My mother was born and raised in Germany and spending a lot of time in Europe exposed me to foods that your average American mac and cheese kid probably never tasted. Twelve different countries and several years spent overseas exposed me to so many incredible cuisines. The other kids in my neighborhood likely never heard of steak tartare or duck confit. Schnitzel Holstein with spaetzle would be another language altogether. Rouladen? Is that a video game? What in the world is lefse and lutefisk? What do you mean Italians don't eat Spaghettios?

It was especially fun as a child to order these dishes and watch the server squirm and try to direct me to a more appropriate selection, a burger maybe? Or spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese? They just couldn't grasp the idea that a kid knew exactly what Spaghetti Caruso is, and actually wanted it. Kids aren't supposed to like those kinds of things, right? I'm pretty sure more than a handful of servers were disgusted beyond belief watching my sister and I mix together raw ground steak, raw egg yolk, chopped onion, capers, pile it on crusty bread and munch it down. Think about it- do YOU know any 8 or 9 year olds who order and actually EAT steak tartare or tried carpaccio? 

Ready to mix and spread on crusty bread. Mmmmmmmm
As my Chef and I celebrated our 4th anniversary of coupledom we visited our favorite Italian restaurant, Riccelli's, for some old world, traditional family recipe Italian, and you will never guess what they have on the menu!! You got it- Spaghetti Caruso. So while I dig into my plate of deliciousness, I'll share the recipe I use when making this at home, a loose adaptation of my mother's version. She always made red sauce that cooked for hours, with dried herbs, and while that's perfectly fine, I like the freshness of herbs just picked from the garden. I'm not even going to ask for Riccelli's sauce recipe. I know how valued those secrets are. One thing you don't want is an angry Italian nonna chasing after you!

Sadly, in today's world the likelihood of finding these fantastic "raw" options such as steak tartare is very rare, and unless it's sushi, you're going to have a hard time finding raw anything. Improper food handling and fear of food poisoning makes it a risk most restaurants don't want to take. Even with sushi, so many people are concerned about "what's in the fish" and so many false stories make their way around the internet...... 

Finding some of these old-time foods can be a bit of a challenge, but if you find a non-chain, family-owned old Italian joint, you just might find.....

Spaghetti Caruso

3-4 cups tomato sauce
approx 1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup finely minced onion
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tb fresh oregano, chopped
2 tb fresh marjoram, chopped
2-3 tb fresh basil, chopped
1 lb chicken livers, cleaned
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup butter
1 lb spaghetti (I prefer THIN spaghetti or angel hair)
Parmesan cheese to taste

Combine tomato sauce with oregano and marjoram. Set aside. In large skillet heat the olive oil. Add mushrooms and onions and saute for several minutes until onions are soft and translucent and mushrooms are tender. Add garlic, cook and stir for a couple more minutes. Add tomato sauce mixture, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make sure livers are free from fibers and dark spots. Cut each liver in half. Season flour with salt and pepper, dredge livers in flour. Heat vegetable oil, fry livers, half at a time, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove to paper towel-lined plate.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in plenty of boiling salted water. Drain and set aside.

Remove oil from skillet, wipe clean. Add butter, heat until foamy. Add livers, and stir.

Place pasta in large bowl. Add chopped basil to sauce, pour over pasta and toss. Top with livers, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Now I know a lot of people get squeamish at the thought of anything liver, but I hope you will give this recipe a try- with an open mind and an open palate. It really is delicious. Chicken livers are small enough- you can suck it up and try it! Crusty bread and butter or hot, crunchy garlic bread go amazingly well to sop up the delicious sauce too. 

I didn't really spell out the recipe for steak tartare, although I did snap a pic of the ingredients before I indulged in my tv snack. Very simply, you need HIGH QUALITY, very lean ground beef, about a pound- grind your own if you can. One raw egg yolk, some chopped onion, some capers, salt and pepper, mix it all up and spread it on crusty bread for an amazing taste experience. It is not "bloody" or gross or slimy. It's fresh and delicious and tastes amazingly light. The teeniest drizzle of extra virgin olive oil transforms it into something you might enjoy with a wonderful chianti at a sidewalk cafe in Italy, much like it's cousin, carpaccio. 

Be brave! Go forth and try new things!

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