get smart about your pasta shapes

1 Oct

[Photograph: Craig Cavallo] again another post from serious eats. As you can see i go here to get inspired. Tonnes of information on this site, a lot of it pertain to questions that i have on the daily about italian food and product. I am not a chef by any means, and i haven’t done all the research myself, but i think that it’s great to have a collection of posts that inspire us here at Porzia. AND>>>>>>>> on with it……

Oil shimmers in a pan on one burner. On another, a fat pot of water rolls at a full boil. You’re making pasta for dinner, but which one, and why?

Maybe you’re still at the supermarket, walking the miles of aisles of Italian pastas with names like creste, gramigna, and strozzapretti. And if you’ve never heard of half of them, you’re not alone. Today’s groceries can carry dozens of pasta shapes, each suited for their own sauces and cooking methods. How do you know what to do with them all? Think like a chef and get nerdy about it.

“There’s a reason for all pasta shapes,” says Michael White, chef and co-owner of the Altamarea Group, whose restaurants include Marea, Ai Fiori, Osteria Morini, and others. “Not each and every sauce goes with each pasta shape.”

Think Regional

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Trofie. [Photograph: Rabi Abonour]

The star of White’s roster is at Marea, where he pairs the short, twisted pasta fusili with fatty bone marrow and spindly octopus that mimic’s the pasta’s curls. And at Ai Fiori, one of his signatures is squid ink-blackened Trofie Nero with Shellfish Ragu. “We make the pasta in house, but you can buy the same shape at grocery stores or specialty Italian food marts,” says White.

Trofie Nero from Ai Fiori. [Photograph: Evan Sung]

Trofie, which looks like meat pulled from a crab’s claw, “comes from Liguria and is twisted loosely,” White explains. The Ligurian coast is famed for its seafood, and trofie’s short length and loose curls are natural bedfellows with shellfish like crab and scallops. When it comes to buying pasta, it helps to put yourself in the mindset of those who first made it.

If you have trouble finding trofie, White recommends fusili or penne.

Mind Your Geometry

“Many different pastas go with many different sauces,” says Marc Vetri, the chef and owner of Vetri in Philadelphia. Vetri has spent the past two years writing a book called Mastering Pasta. On the topic of shape and sauce, he says, “I tackle this issue several times throughout the book.” For him, “Putting a certain pasta with a certain sauce is really a matter of tradition and personal preference.”

One of his preferences is to pair Funghi Porcinia proprietary dried pasta sold by Setaro, with Chianti-braised snails. The dried porcini mushrooms that flavor the pasta (and pair well with the wine sauce) grow in the same muddy environs as those snails, and the tight, tangled curls of pasta mimic the snail’s shells. It’s a pasta dish that doesn’t just pair flavors, but also makes a neat biological pun.

Should funghi porcini prove too scarce, Vetri suggests radiatori—little steam-radiator-shaped pasta—instead.

Use New Pasta for Old Tricks

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Bucatini. [Photograph: Rabi Abonour]

Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens are fresh from a ten-year anniversary with their Brooklyn stalwart Franny’s, where an innovative approach turns local, seasonal, farm fresh ingredients into exceptional salads, pizzas, and pastas. “They are inextricably linked,” Feinberg says of the relationship between pasta shape and sauce. “Pasta is shaped specifically to catch sauce and sauces are created for the various pasta shapes.”

One of the latest creations by John Adler, Franny’s Executive Chef, isBucatini with Guanciale, Pea Shoots, and Pine Nuts, a spare pasta dish sauced with rendered guanciale that some home cooks might do with plain spaghetti. But bucatini has a firmer bite. The fat noodle’s hollow center soaks up sauce especially well, and as the noodles twist around your fork the rest of the dish’s ingredients get caught in the tangle.

Bucatini with guanciale, pea shoots, and pine nuts at Franny’s. [Photograph: Craig Cavallo]

“I was standing in the walk in snacking on freshly delivered pea shoots,” Adler began, “when one of my cooks brought me some of the pine nuts they’d just pulled out of the oven.” That’s how the pasta got started; bucatini filled the pasta role and guanciale, cured pork jowl, became a natural addition. “It’s one of my favorite ingredients in pasta, and it is most often found used with Bucatini in classical Roman cuisine.”

Bucatini is easier to find these days, and if you’re looking for a change from your spaghetti routine, it works well with spaghetti-friendly sauces.

Check Your Die

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Spaghettoro with rough, sauce-clinging edges. [Photograph: Rabi Abonour]

Even with simple pastas like spaghetti carbonara, it pays to mind your details. At Chicago’s Spiaggia, the spring menu will include a carbonara “served by the gram (starting at 50 grams), and we’ll be using Verrigni’s spaghettoro pasta, which is cut through a gold die,” says chef Tony Mantuano.

“Soft metal dies like gold or bronze,” Mantuano points out, “create more grooves and grain along the pasta edges that allows for the sauce to grasp onto the pasta and create a wonderful flavor.” Pasta made this way is more expensive, because the tough dough breaks down the pricey extruders over time, but the gain is well worth it—a pasta that clings more tightly to its sauce.

Consider How You’re Eating It

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Maltagliati cooks into soft, floppy sheets. [Photograph: Rabi Abonour]

Most of the pastas on the menu at Mario Batali’s ten-year-old Greenwich Village haunt Otto use dried pasta. One of them, Taccozzette con Stracotto, is a classic ragu. Pork shoulder braises in red wine and balsamic vinegar for hours. Taccozzette, a flat pasta with frilled edges, catches the shreds of meat after they’ve been tossed with tomato sauce.

“As for the taccozette,” says Dan Drohan, the restaurant’s executive chef for more than eight years, “I just loved the shape and had not seen it before.” But it has a practical purpose, too. The pasta to ragu ratio in this dish is 50/50. You could use rigatoni or penne, but wide, flat taccozzette has a smart shape to capture all that sauce. You pick it up with spoon or fork and discover, when the pasta’s gone, that little sauce remains.

Taccozzette con stracotto at Otto. [Photograph: Craig Cavallo]

“Normally,” Adler says, “I follow the guidelines of chunky sauce = short noodle, smooth sauce = long noodle.” Drohan takes an intuitive approach. “Choosing the right shape for the right sauce can be very subjective,” he says. “I just try to go with what makes sense.” And so should we all. That is, after all, how this whole pasta pairing business got started.

“There are traditions behind the combinations that people have come to know and love in Italian cuisine,” Vetri says. “That’s where the rules come in. Many of those combinations were born of necessity, created by housewives who struggled to feed their families and came up with interesting ways to turn everyday ingredients into something new to eat.”

So keep practicality in mind. If the sauce is easy to scoop up with a fork, the pasta should be, too. If you’re making pesto, look for long noodles that cling well. Does the asparagus, spring onions, and baby carrots you cut up for primavera look like penne? Use penne then. It’s worth having a few shapes of pasta in your pantry to experiment.

And then if you need some more inspiration, keep Vetri’s words in the back of your mind: “Rules be damned for most combinations.”

manners Matter – Dealing with Dietary Demands

28 Sep

(excerpt/post from  manners matter)
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Dear Molly,

 

How far must one go to accommodate food issues with guests? I now ask people to let me know about preferences, allergies, limitations, etc. when I invite them over for a meal. I’ve chosen to do this after being contacted by a Thanksgiving guest two days before the feast to announce she was now vegan. While I did have a couple vegetable dishes which met her requirements, it was a little unnerving to have to find something suitable to modify or add to the menu at that late date. Not everyone responds so I assume they will eat anything. Do I need to follow up to be sure?

Signed,
Just Trying to Feed My Guests

 

 

Dear Just Trying to Feed My Guests,

Dietary differences can make these trying times for hosts, to be sure. A while ago I found out that when people invited us over and asked if we had any dietary restrictions, my husband was telling them that he was a vegetarian. He was (and is) eating much less meat than he used to, but he does/will eat meat and is most definitely not vegetarian. I was outraged. Outraged, I say! How dare you, I chastised him (not our usual dynamic, I assure you), put people to extra work when the fact is you will eat anything?

The importance of guests not making themselves more of a nuisance than necessary, though, is not your question.

How far must you go? Sounds like you’re doing quite nicely. It is kind and considerate of you to ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions or preferences. Good guests will let you know. Good guests will, in fact, let you know immediately. They may even respond with something along the lines of “How kind of you to ask. I have been trying to eat less meat lately, but honestly, I eat everything. Looking forward to seeing you on the fill-in-the-day-of-the-party.” Such a response allows the host room to cater to the guest’s preferences, without feeling the pressure of actual restriction.

For actual restrictions, thoughtful guests will provide some guidelines. Something like, “How kind of you to ask. As luck would have it, I’m lactose intolerant and can’t eat this specific thing and that specific thing. I’m fine with something-a-host-might-wonder about, though. Thanks so much for for asking, I really appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing you on the fill-in-the-day-of-the-party.” Or “How kind of you to ask. I’m not sure if you already know, but Bill and I don’t meat—beef, pork, or chicken. We do, however, happily eat fish and seafood. I appreciate you asking and hope this isn’t too much trouble. Looking forward to seeing you on the fill-in-the-day-of-the-party.”

While I completely respect someone’s decision to eat vegan, I find the decision to do so two days before Thanksgiving difficult to understand (that’s the nicest way I can think to put it). Sounds like you handled it with grace.

Do you need to follow up? If you’re worried, it sounds like you do. You could send a note along the lines of “Hi Nate, I hadn’t heard back from you and just wanted to check and see if either you or Naomi have any dietary restrictions (or even just preferences!). I’m planning the menu tomorrow, so please let me know a.s.a.p. If I don’t hear anything from you I’ll assume you guys happily eat everything!”

Let it be known, however, that if I invited someone to my house and specifically asked them if they had any dietary preferences and I heard nothing back I would 1) assume they ate everything and 2) think long and hard before inviting them again. We are all busy and we all get lots of email and voicemails, we also all have the 60-some seconds it takes to write one of those emails above (I timed it) to be polite to the people kind enough to invite us to dinner.

Comfortable Kitchen interview with Basilio Pesce

26 Sep

Basilio_Pesce

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Basilio (Bas) Pesce, owner and Chef of Porzia located in Parkdale, Toronto. Bas brings to Porzia his rich Italian heritage, culinary school, both as a student and a teacher, and experience in some of the finest restaurants in Toronto. Enjoy reading about Bas’s passion for amazing food, freshness of ingredients, work and home balance, Toronto’s food scene, culinary school, social media and much more.

How do you source and utilize local fresh ingredients?

In the summer our supplier list grows exponentially. Every Tuesday, which is our day off, I go up to Top Tomato Farm, to the retail division at 19th Street Farmers Market, and load the car with whatever is fresh. Everything is grown on the farm – it’s what you wish your produce section at Loblaws would look like. We deal with a lot of small producers; you won’t see a Sysco truck parked out front.

What is your first memory of food?

I always associate food with family and a big get together. There was always way too much food. Both grandmothers (from the same small town in southern Italy) would just be just cranking out the food every Sunday. I come from a very food rich family, which I didn’t realize when I was young, then I became older and started to understand the North American diet. I never went to McDonalds, never ate macaroni and cheese, I never ate that growing up. My mother just didn’t buy it. It wasn’t until I got older that I started to explore food on my own. Wow this shitty McDonalds is really shit and good at the same time.

Basilio_Pesce_Comfortable_KI’ve read that being a Chef was not your first career path?

No, not at all. When I was kid I wanted to be Winnie the Pooh for the longest time, no pants, sit around in a shirt and eat honey all day, LOL. I went to Humber to become a paramedic, which didn’t work out. I worked in nightclubs as a promoter for years. I didn’t really have a lasting hobby or an interest strong enough as a kid. Like I mentioned, food was always there – I always cooked at home. If I wasn’t fighting with my sisters I would end up in the kitchen while the guys would watch soccer and fall asleep.
Comfortable Kitchen (CK) – Cooking also meant you didn’t have to clean.
BP – Boys in an Italian house never clean, LOL.

Growing up what would a typical meal be?

The classic three courses. During the week it would always be pasta, salad and various meat, chicken, fish or steak. I ate pasta every day. If we weren’t having pasta it meant we were eating somewhere else. On Sundays it was usually minestrone, a meat (veal, lamb or meatballs) cooked in tomato sauce, pasta with sauce and salad. My grandparents had a pretty good garden in their backyard. We ate a lot of zucchini flowers. I remember they wouldn’t even let the zucchini grow, it was all about the blossoms. During the large meals they would make a bread or pizza. What I knew of Pizza was foccacia; I didn’t know pizza as you know it.
CK – Was it still topped?
BP – Yeah, but it was topped with three little pieces of tomato, drowned in olive oil and salt, so incredibly good!

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Working with Mark McEwan was without a doubt a great start to your professional culinary career. While working for him what did you learn that you would consider invaluable as you stand here today in your own restaurant?

He taught me how to work! Work ethic, organizing yourself, how to be a strong individual, and learn from your mistakes which are the basic elements of any job. Coming out of culinary school and working for Mark at North 44 during it’s heyday meant serving 400 people on a Saturday. You had to work, you had to be stronger than the guy beside you. Mark taught me how to think of yourself as a machine, you had to be quicker, stronger and faster than the day before. The menu was big, everything had to be precise, I look back now and think about the menu which was 4 pages long and 40 items on the menu, just crazy, not sure how I did it. It was also the first time I experienced products that were the best of the best. The quality of the food, items or ingredients were phenomenal. The steak was USDA prime, you couldn’t buy better meat.

When you decided that being a Chef was your lot in life, was opening your own restaurant an immediate goal or did it happen over time?

It was immediate, I knew once I went to culinary school I wanted to open my own restaurant. It wasn’t an epiphany or anything, it was just something I knew. I wasn’t young when I went to cooking school, I was 26. I’ve always been very independent so going to culinary school was part of the steps needed to have my own restaurant. I was very calculated with the steps needed to get here. I’ve only worked for two people in the city, Mark McEwan and Oliver & Bonacini

Although resumes often require the formality of going to culinary school, I’ve had a few chefs tell me that culinary school is useless and the cooking they did at home and the experience in a restaurant was invaluable to their careers. What’s your take?

Yes and no. 99 percent of what you learn is going to be hands on in the job anyway. Culinary school is good for a few things. I would say a lot of it is not the end all and be all. If I’m hiring someone I’m not going to choose someone over the next because they went to George Brown or Humber. I hire on attitude. If you’re a great cook that went to school but have a shitty attitude, you’re not getting hired, I don’t care. If you don’t have as strong a skill set, didn’t go to school, but have a great attitude, I’ll probably take you on. I taught at George Brown for 2 semesters. Not to throw stones at the establishments because there are a lot of great people that have come out of culinary school. I don’t feel it’s important. It comes down to your attitude, who you work with and how you learn. When I did my co-op for culinary school at North 44, I was required to do 20 hours in a week, I did 60. I put my head down, did what I was told. School gives people a very false impression what the industry is like. The industry now is so broad and general, you have to be specific to what you want to do. I want to be a chef, work in catering, product development, a food stylist or a nutritionist. The umbrella is enormous. There are 3 different types of students, kids out of high school, people that graduated university with a degree and my BA is only going to get me a job at the Gap and I need to learn or a trade or spend another 4 years and $40k at school. Or you get the 40 year old Bay Street broker that loves cooking and wants to make a career out of it. At George Brown I had 24 students in my first class of year one culinary students. 2 out of those 24 students will probably be in the industry after 2 years and 1 after 5 years, it’s just how it is.

When you opened Porzia and told your mother the name what was her response?

I think she cried for 2 days, then she bragged about it for a week and then came in expecting to get free meals. LOL

Does owning a restaurant and being a chef ever become stressful with the expectation, to evolve, create new flavor profiles, new dishes and be cutting edge?

Yes, you’re always gathering information from what you see, what you eat what you read. It’s a fulltime thing you never turn off.
CK- How to do you create?
BP – I don’t think I’m creative at all.
CK – But you are.
BP – Take our carpaccio for example, we use horse instead of beef, traditionally it’s parm, lemon and arugula. That’s not really exciting, thinking how can we make this a little nicer. We do a set egg yolk on top, fried capers and take the idea of Vitello Tonnado. It’s really the amalgamation of three dishes.
CK - I would say that’s creative.
BP – I don’t think thats creative at all, I think you’re combining three dishes.
CK – Life is gonna be a remix.
BP – Life is a big remix. There aren’t really new ideas in food, people get inspirations from everywhere and it’s those inspirations that develop new dishes or recipes. We have a Bolognese. How do you take something that’s super traditional and make it great. We don’t try to reinvent it, we make it great and get really good a reception from it.

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When opening a restaurant location is paramount, I’m sure the process can cause some sleepless nights. Was Parkdale the obvious choice or did you look at other locations?

There were other areas, this was the 4th location we looked at. There were other areas that were way too expensive and a little out of my league. We actively pursued 2 other locations before we signed the lease here. Parkdale is great and was always an area we hung out in. Friends of ours did a night at the Parkdale Drink so we’d come down every Friday night, my tattoo artist is across the street, I used to hang out at the Mascott a lot. The neighborhood is established although there’s been a shift in the type of establishments that have opened over the last 4 years. Local Kitchen, P&L, Chantecler, the Geraldine, Food and Liquor, Grand Electric, Electric Mud, Small Town Food Co, Glory Hole Doughnuts, and Bertrand Alépée is opening at the old Brown Sugar place. It’s a great area, worth the treck and worth exploring if you haven’t already.

Have you ever wanted to put a dish on the menu or is there a dish currently that doesn’t make sense from a food cost or labor perspective but you’re so passionate about it that needs to be there?

All of them..LOL We do a truffle dish in December which we charge for but the amount of truffles we give is astronomical. This is a McEwanism, when people come into your restaurant to order truffles, caviar, lobster or foie gras you better not cover it with shit. If you’re ordering an item like that it better be prominent. I’ve been to restaurants, you order a lobster risotto with mascarpone and there’s half a claw in it. You have the balls to charge $38 for this. We do a tagliatelle dish with either white or black truffles, it’s pasta, truffles and butter, we charge $29 for the black and $39 for the white. With the amount of grams we give, we probably broke even but it’s such a nice dish. It’s truffles..LOL

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One comment when you opened was you were 2 years late to rustic Italian. How would you respond to this?

This city goes through waves, we went through the taco wave and even restaurants that weren’t Mexican had a taco on their menu. We went through the noodle wave, now it’s Spanish. I know exactly what you’re referring to and who made it. You can’t pay attention it, they’re entitled to their opinion. Like anything in life the cream always rises to the top, look at how many taco places have closed. The ones that are good at being restaurants like Grand Electric and La Carnita are the guys that will be around. I left here at 1am on Wednesday and Grand Electric’s dining room was still half full with people eating, in Parkdale at 1am, crazy. Fads are fads and you can’t pay attention to it.

Social media is here to stay, there are a lot of benefits from being able to market yourself, create and exhibit a personality, advertise and get instant feedback. Owning a business you pour your heart into, how do you deal with the public voice being heard loud and clear, positive or negative?

I don’t mind negative feedback, it’s a great way to learn. You have to understand you will never please everyone. Social media is enormous and is a huge platform for people’s voices. I wouldn’t say a problem but the negative drawback is people use the platform but don’t know how to complain anymore. There was a time when if you didn’t have a good experience you told the restaurant and they would make up for it. If you’re a good restaurant you make sure that customer doesn’t leave sour and you turn it around. Now with Social Media people don’t give you that opportunity. They’ll post the next day that the pasta was too salty. , Why didn’t they say the pasta was to salty and we would make them a new one. It’s okay to post it on the internet but it’s not okay to say something? People are losing that face to face contact where you don’t know how to complain and you don’t allow people to recover. With social media everyone is a critic and the one qualm I have is not allowing people to make up for their mistakes.

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Being a chef, (any demanding career) in a relationship, business owner and father – how do you balance it all.

You don’t…LOL You make it work, you have to and you don’t have a choice. If you don’t something will crap out on you. My first priority is my son. I still work everyday and prepare all the pasta. The weeks I don’t have my son I work 14 hour days and the weeks I do I pick him up at 5. It’s accepting that most nights you get 3 hours of sleep. It’s accepting the imbalance and being ok with it.

Whenever an article is written about Toronto food, it’s always followed by – when will Toronto get there on a world stage, what more could you ask from a food scene?

The food here is amazing but for some reason the recognition isn’t. In Toronto you can get a great $6 meal and you can get a great $300 meal. Our level of food is comparable to any city out there that I’ve experienced but I feel that the recognition hasn’t gone mainstream yet. There are a lot of great restaurants in this city that are horribly underrated but are easily comparable to all the other popular restaurants that people make a big deal out of.

Are there plans to open Porzia 2?

Number 2 for sure although it will be very different.
CK – How would it be different?
BP – It’s too hard to replicate or cookie cutter what we’re doing here. How it will be different? I’m not sure at this time.

Do you ever feel the need to escape your Italian roots from a cooking perspective and tackle a new cuisine?

All the time. I would love to open a Thai restaurant. I spent a lot of time in Thailand and it’s the perfect balance of spice, sour, salty, sweet – everything makes sense.
CK- Would you consider that a difficult cuisine to nail?
BP – Definitely. There’s not a lot of people from Thailand in Toronto so it’s difficult to find here.

I live in Mississauga, even with 700K people the food scene is non-existent. We finally have Burgers Priest. Can I twist your arm to make the move?

LOL..I’ve had this conversation with a lot people. If we were to take this restaurant brick for brick and put it at the corner of Hurontario and Burnhamthorpe, that’s the only intersection I know of in Mississauga..LOL Would we be successful? You can’t think yeah I know how to cook and run a restaurant. Does the Toronto formula work in Mississauga? If you were to take Buca, Bar Isabel or The Black Hoof to Mississauga would it work? I wouldn’t be opposed to opening in Mississauga but not with this formula.

Favorite Restaurants in Toronto?

I can tell you where I go, Pho Phoenix, Bar Buca, Buca is one of my favorites. Unfortunately I don’t get time to go there often. P&L is my Sunday escape. Pai which I would say is the best Thai food in the city.

One Italian dish you couldn’t live without.

Pasta, spaghetti with bolognese or aglio e olio and enough chilis to fuckin make you cry.

Porzia_Toronto_Building

What’s more important in cooking, technique or ingredients?

If you have a great ingredient you better have the technique to back it up. With a shitty ingredient you’ll try to mask it with good technique and with great ingredients you need technique to get the most out of it. It can’t be one or the other.

Favorite Food outside of Italian?

Hummus. It’s alarming how much I go through. It’s easy, good for you. Vietnamese cold rolls, I’ll crush like 6 of them. I really enjoy simple food as well like almost burnt bread with tomatoes and olive oil. I always need a vegetable when I eat to manage that protein overload.

Porzia_Toronto

How do you unwind and relax?

When I get home I’ll lay on my floor and watch a show, sometimes have a drink, sometimes it’s four drinks poured into 1…LOL Being a restaurant owner and chef you never really turn it off. I find when I relax the most is when I’m with my son watching his soccer game or just spending time with him.

Favorite Drink?

White Wine, not a big red fan but I do appreciate them. Bourbon or whiskey on the rocks. I can’t fake my way through the day being hung-over anymore, there are just too many things that suffer because of it.

Favorite Cheese?

Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, and blue cheeses.

Best meal you’ve ever had?

A best meal is generally based on an experience. I had a meal in Sardinia, Italy. It was all fish, no menu and was referred to us by the bed and breakfast owner where we were staying at. When we got there it was ridiculously busy and was the epitome of communal dining. You sit down and they just start bringing out food, there were 6 cold and 6 hot appetizers. Then you get a bowl of fennel with vinegar on it. This fish was swimming an hour ago, it was incredible. Once you’re done they ask you what you’d like to eat? Who needs more food, are you fuckin kidding me. You then choose steamed, grilled or fried fish. We tried a little bit of everything which is literally three of everything. That experience was about the place, meeting everyone, the energy, it was like being at a family party and it carried on 5-6 hours. It was just that meal where everything after this is gonna suck.

Without a doubt the next time your in Parkdale stop by Porzia and experience a fantastic meal!

Social Media Links
Instagram and Twitter basiliopesce and porziaparkdale
Website http://www.porzia.ca

A big thanks to Nelson Campana for the photography. You can reach him through nelcam@live.com or instagram @nelcam

Ice Cream vs. Gelato

25 Sep

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Here’a a post written by Max Falkowitz via Serious Eats about Ice Cream vs. Gelato. Funny that this is a question that always pops up in the restaurant largely because we only serve gelato and are also sandwiched between two gelato places. (go figure) 

Check out their article Ice Cream vs. Gelato. Also a great site to go back to for your random foodie and instructional questions. (TO BE CLEAR – THIS IS NOT MY ARTICLE – THIS IS A #REPOST)

 

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee, unless otherwise noted]

After “what’s your favorite ice cream?”, the question I get asked the most as an ice cream maker is “what makes gelato different from ice cream?” How does gelato get that soft, elastic texture and slow-to-melt milkiness compared to ice cream’s richer, creamier body?

It comes down to three factors: fat, air, and serving temperature. The more complicated answer? Things aren’t always clear cut: this is food, not phylogeny, so individual recipes can blur the lines between the two. But there are some basic differences to keep in mind.

How Ice Cream Works

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Gelato fresh from the churn at Il Laboratorio del Gelato, NYC. [Photograph: Laura Togut]

All ice cream is mostly water, and as water freezes, it forms hard, crunchy ice crystals. Besides great flavor, the ultimate goal of ice cream making is to keep those crystals as small as possible through added ingredients and technique. Here’s how ice cream makers fight crystallization:

  • Emulsifying fat into a base (or using already emulsified ingredients, like cream and milk) sticks fat molecules in between water molecules, literally getting in the way of ice as it freezes.
  • Sugar also forms a physical barrier to crystallization, just like fat. When dissolved in water, it forms a syrup with a lower freezing point than plain water, and the sweeter a syrup is (i.e. the higher the concentration of sugar), the lower the freezing point becomes. As water starts to freeze in a syrup, the unfrozen water becomes, in effect, a more concentrated syrup. This process continues until you have a bunch of small ice crystals in a sea of syrup so concentrated that it’ll never really freeze.
  • Air is incorporated into ice cream during the churning process. Just like a light, fluffy angel food cake is easier to cut into than a dense fruit cake, a more aerated ice cream is easier to scoop, and has a fluffier, less dense texture.
  • The temperature ice cream is stored at also has an obvious effect: colder ice creams are harder and more solid, while warmer ones are softer, with a looser texture.

There are some other tricks to keep ice cream soft, such as alcohol, starch, protein (in egg and milk), and natural stabilizers like guar gum and carageenan, but the top four above are the big factors at play.

Ice Cream vs. Gelato

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Coffee ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery, NYC. Rich and creamy, but with noticeable fluff and body compared to gelato.

Compared to today’s American-style ice cream (that’s one made with egg yolks, as is basically the new standard in home recipes and commercial products), gelato has less fat in the base and less air churned into it during the freezing process. American ice creams are heavy on the cream, and have a fat content, by American labeling law, of at least 10% (considerably higher in most homemade and many premium versions). Gelato, by comparison, uses more milk than cream, so it doesn’t have nearly as much fat. Additionally, it usually—but not always—uses fewer (to the point of none) egg yolks, another source of fat in custard-based ice creams.

American-style ice creams are churned fast and hard to whip in plenty of air (called overrun), which is aided by the high proportion of cream in the base. The most high-end ice creams have an overrun of 25% or so, which means they’ve increased in volume by 25%; cheaper commercial versions can run from 50% to over 90%, which gives them a light, thin, fast-melting texture that isn’t very flavorful (those bites are a quarter to a half air!). Gelato is churned at a much slower speed, which introduces less air into the base—think whipping cream by hand instead of with a stand mixer. That’s why it tastes more dense than ice cream—it is.

And what about sugar? Well, sugar levels vary wildly in ice cream andgelato recipes, so there’s less of a hard difference there.

If you make ice cream at home, you may be wondering about your ice cream machine: does it churn at ice cream speed or gelato speed? The truth is, most of the consumer models on the market churn at about the same speed, none of which are as fast as the commercial machines used to make American-style ice cream. But you can make both ice cream and gelato in your machine—remember, air is only one of the differences between them.

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Soft, dense gelato at L’arte del Gelato, NYC.

All these differences give gelato a more dense and milky texture that’s less creamy than ice cream. It’s not thin, but it lacks the plush, buttery fullness of its American cousin. Some say that gelato has a more intense flavor than ice cream, since it has less of the tongue-coating cold fat that gets in the way of tasting things. But I think it’s more accurate to say that gelato’s flavors come through direct, hard, and fast, then melt away clean. A good, flavorful ice cream can have just as intense a flavor, but you’ll taste it differently. One isn’t necessarily more flavorful than the other.

Temperature’s the Key

So if gelato has less fat than ice cream, and less air pumped into it, why is it not as hard as a brick? How does it get that super-soft, almost elastic texture that looks like a swirl of frosting more than a scoop of ice cream? It’s the last big factor: temperature. Ice cream is best served at around 10°F; gelato cases are set to a warmer temperature. If you freeze gelato really cold, it’ll turn right into the dense, relatively-low-fat brick it has the potential to be. But when warm, it’s that perfect soft-but-not-soupy consistency. If you stored ice cream at a much warmer temperature, it’d get too soupy: the high fat in water emulsion would melt too fast.

A Scoop by Any Other Name

The real ice cream question: 1 scoop, 2, or 20?

I’ve been following the common naming convention in this post, calling American-style ice cream “ice cream” and Italian-style “gelato.” But here’s the thing: gelato’s just the Italian word for ice cream. Though it does stick to the tendencies I’ve pointed out above, individual recipes do vary. Some call for cornstarch, others for egg yolks; some use higher amounts of sugar and others use less.

But it’s all ice cream, just how soft serve is just warmer, freshly churned ice cream, and frozen yogurt is just soft serve made with yogurt as the dairy base. Sure, we can quibble over names and definitions, but at the end of the day, it’s all one happy frozen, creamy family. We can argue about differences, or we can sit down and dig in to a pint together? I know which I’d rather do.

an Italian menu

19 Sep
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Italian food is known and loved all around the globe and there is hardly a city in the world that does not have an Italian restaurant or two. Supermarkets are full of italian ingredients from fresh cheeses and meats to pasta, tomato sauces, passata and pizza. Endless cookery books in many different languages are devoted solely to Italian cooking.

True Italian food is actually very simple and made only from fresh ingredients that are in season. Rarely do meals have heavy sauces or spices to mask the taste of the fresh produce. A typical Italian meal is fairly rigid in construction and the four courses are what you would expect to get in any local restaurant.
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(coppa with house pickles)

Antipasto:
The meal starts with ‘antipasto’ which usually consists of local meats and cheeses but on special occasions will be an endless stream of tasty little dishes made mainly from vegetables and sometimes fish. In addition to sun dried tomatoes, olives and grilled aubergines vegetables are stuffed and baked, courgette flowers are stuffed and fried and frittata, bruschetta, and small tarts come in varying sizes and combinations. This is all eaten with freshly baked, crusty homemade bread.

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(smoked makeral ravioli in putanesca sauce with pine nuts)

Primo:
Then comes the ‘primo’ or pasta course which is also eaten with bread. All the carbohydrates are consumed first leaving the protein to be eaten on its own in the next course.

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(chicken with hazlenut romesco and purple kale)

Secondo:
The ‘secondo’ is a piece of fresh meat or fish which will have been simply grilled and is served with lemon. This will be accompanied with either cold, grilled vegetables dribbled with olive oil or a simple salad with olive oil and salt. In some parts of Italy there may also be fried potatoes.

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(caffe e zeppole with eggplant mousse and espresso budino)

Dolce:

The fourth course is ‘dolce’ which means sweet. Alternatively, there’s a selection of fresh fruits in season but for special events or large gatherings plates of little cakes from the local bakers will be eaten too.

All of this is washed down with jugs of local wine and plenty of water.

The meal finishes with a cup of good, strong, Italian coffee followed by a glass of grappa (usually only the men) or another digestivo such as limoncello, ameretto, mirto or a liquer which is a speciality of the region.

This may all seem like rather a lot of food but you need to remember that meals of this type last for around four hours. There are long gaps inbetween the courses with lots of chatting, playing with children and generally just enjoying the event. No one is in a hurry and the food is simple to prepare leaving everyone free to join in.

In Italy, things are changing, particularly in the north, but traditionally, food and the eating of it is a family affair. Entertaining friends at home is not the normal way of life and daily meals are for the immediate family with Sunday being reserved for larger family gatherings. In the south, little has changed and the meal structure and the food itself remain untouched. The long lunch hour, often up to four hours, still exists and the main meal of the day is eaten at this time. During the week it is usual to only have two courses but on Sunday or other special occasions the full four courses will be enjoyed by an extended family.

Due to the fact that Italy is a relatively new country and the individual regions had little contact with each other before this the food is very different from one region to the next. Added to this there is the geography, Italy is a long, narrow country with vast areas being very mountainous. The northern regions share a border with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia, all of which greatly affect the cuisine. In the south, particularly in Sicily, the proximity of Africa and the warmer climate means that more exotic products can be grown and the local foods are spicier than elsewhere in Italy.

All along the coast fish is the main diet, but inland, particularly in the mountains, meat is the staple diet, particularly pork, lamb and goat. It is also very general for Italians to only eat and cook with what can be grown locally which also adds to the diversity of the recipes. In each region there is a local pride in their own products, mixed with quite a lot of reluctance to try food from any of the other regions, even if it is only a few kilometres across the border. Italians like to eat what they are used to and that is that, nothing will make them try anything different. Anyone who watched the excellent Jamie Oliver series ‘Jamie’s Great Italian Escape’ will be very aware of this.

Bartender Bas this coming Monday

19 Sep

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Don’t know what you’re up to this coming monday during happy hour. Come check out Bas as he slings cocktails at the DRAKE 150 during MAGIC HOUR 5pm – 7pm. We don’t normally get to the city core very often, but this should be a nice change of pace and it gets daddy out of the restaurant for a few hours.

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DrakeOneFifty-Bar

If anything, make a night of it…. cocktail there and come back west for our monday night fixe 3 for $30 and finish off with a 1/2 priced bottle of wine. #keepitparkdale #oursideofthebridge Hope to see your face soon!!

Best Open Kitchens in Toronto – View the Vibe

17 Sep

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Thank you Yvonne for the shout out!!!!!!!

It is said that if someone calls to make a dinner reservation and asks to sit in open view of the kitchen that said person is most likely a food critic, or at least that’s what I’ve read. No surprise there as why wouldn’t you want to be in the thick of the spectacle that is where all the magic happens in a restaurant? It’s like having front row seats to Jay-Z and Beyoncé, right?! So here are my picks for the best open kitchens in Toronto…

Monk Kitchen
A chef friend told me about this place, otherwise I would’ve never known about it. It’s inside the Templar Hotel on Adelaide Street West, and is a sort of space that’s kept hidden for a reason. It’s a place where you might find an ambassador or the likes of James Franco, Channing Tatum, or Al Pacino. But if you are one of the lucky ones to be able to dine in chef Roberto Fracchioni’s kitchen, you’re in for a treat. Enter through the hotel’s elevators to the basement and you may think that you’ve hit the wrong floor and ended up in someone’s apartment. That’s just how open and casual the place is. We should also mention that there is no menu… Fracchioni casually saunters over to your table while bopping to whatever hit list he has playing (from the 70s to the 90s), asks if you have any food allergies, and starts cooking. While most chefs protect their temple (a.k.a. the kitchen), Fracchioni would much prefer if you hung out with him near the kitchen, glass in hand. He may even teach you how to plate one of your own courses, though regrettably ours never looks as nice!

Monk Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Templar Hotel’s Facebook Page

Canoe
Situated on the 54th floor of the TD Tower, there really isn’t a “bad seat” in the house at Canoe. But if you are a true appreciator of food, there’s an even better view to be found than the restaurant’s sprawling windows. When you call, request a seat at the “Chef’s Rail” – if for no other reason than to aid in your decision-making as you see dishes being whisked off by servers. Who says you can’t eat with your eyes first? The various themed tasting menus are also noteworthy and usually run for a month before they change. For $100 a head or $150 with pairings, how could you not indulge?

Porzia
Porzia is located in Parkdale, where Basilio Pesce (affectionately known as Bas) churns out exceptional Italian dishes, and not the kind that your nonna made, either. The housemade pastas are definitely a must-try (I personally love the chicken liver agnolotti). For the adventurous, the carpaccio à la horse won’t disappoint, either. It’s hard to spot the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant, that is, if you don’t smell the wonderful aromas first. Your best bets are Mondays, where they offer 3 courses for $33 and half-priced bottles of wine, or make Wednesday your #cheapdatewednesday at Porzia with $10 plates until 10pm.

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Photo courtesy of Food Junkie Chronicles

Chantecler
A friend of mine always said, “There’s no such thing as fine dining,” when it comes to Chinese cuisine, unless you just wanted the same kind of take-out-style food served up on nicer dinnerware and the occasional plate swap between courses. Chantecler is clear proof that his theory is so very wrong. Sit at the bar, which is just next to the kitchen, and you can catch double the action as you watch Jonathan Poon whip up his delicious fare such as his torched scallop with ginger, scallion, sweet soy and kumquat, and you need only tilt your head to see Jacob Wharton-Shukster fixing you a night cap at the bar. We love the back-splash at the cooktop – kitchen tiles that have the restaurant’s name splashed across.

Magic Noodle
Legend has it that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy following his adventures in the Far East in the late 13th century. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the chef at Magic Noodle could have me easily convinced. Located in a plaza at Midland and McNicoll in Scarborough, you can catch the master hand-stretching noodles (known as shoulamian) or you can try the other variety, the knife-cut noodles, or sliced noodle. If you love fresh pasta and are tired of the ramen trend, the noodles here won’t disappoint. I highly recommend the sliced noodle with traditional braised pork. And if you’re still feeling hungry, you’ll have plenty of moola left to order other offerings such as their steamed buns or pancake rolls seeing as a small bowl rings in at only $6.99. If you’re feeling real generous, drop your change at the noodle station’s tip jar for the master – he really works up a sweat!

Bar Buca
Bar Buca has easily become my favourite spot on King West to get quality food without getting ripped off. It’s got the quality of Buca sans breaking the piggy bank. I love that it’s casual and approachable all the while being delicious. From the signature nodini (garlic bread knots) to the little neck clams alla carbonara, every tiny bite is like one out of heaven. Definitely come with a group, and order the entire menu. But make sure you leave some room for dessert because how could you say no to a cannoli or zeppole? Pro tip: Splurge and go for the goat’s milk substitute for your latté or cappuccino – so much more flavour!

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Photo courtesy of Renee Suen

Hiro
The Japanese are not known to be the most “social” bunch, or at least that’s what my International Relations 101 class taught me in business school. But that’s probably because my professor never had an omakase experience in his life. The word omakase means “I’ll leave it to you” – it’s where the dish selection is left to the chef. It’s hard to say just how many courses will appear before you, but the natural progression will begin with the lightest fare and end on a heavier note. And if I haven’t convinced you just how “social” an experience the omakase at Hiro is, I once witnessed the chef himself knocking on the sushi bar to grab a solo diner’s attention after she was no doubt posting a photo of her yummy experience on Instagram. Yeah, the chef demands your attention – all 100 percent of it! Reservations are naturally required.

What are some of your favourite open kitchens in the city? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.

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