Classic Boiardi

Sometimes, I just need a good classic.  It's rainy here and I'm feeling like a little girl whilst wrapping Christmas gifts.  Wrapping gifts used to be my favourite part of the Christmas frenzy.  A gaggle of girls and I would sit around Mrs. Holt's dining room table, flanked by every kind of wrapping paper, ribbon, and tissue you can imagine.  We'd try to outdo each other... to see who could create the most outrageously wrapped present.  Since I'm already feeling like a little one, it's a perfect day for a childhood classic. 

Spaghetti and Meatballs.  I haven't had the two paired in years.  It's always pappardelle with truffled mushrooms, or cavatelli with duck ragu.  No.  Today, it's just plain old spaghetti and meatballs, not spaghettini and meatballs, not capellini and meatballs, but straight up spaghetti and meatballs.  

I'll make it easy on you and give you Clemenza's tomato sauce recipe.  I made the meatballs from ground grass fed beef (thanks, George), caramelized onions and leftover dressing from Thanksgiving.  I broiled them in the oven, then covered with tomato sauce and let that bubble up for a minute so all that grizzle from the meatballs would swirl around in all that yummy tomato creaminess. 

Then topped it on spaghetti.  No velvety marriage of pasta and sauce before plating here. Just pure honest American ignorance.  Sauce right on top.  

Sprinkle with parmesan.



Tarasca... Kinda...

So, a while back, one of my favourite chef's 86'd one of my favourite soups from one of my favourite spots.

Yes, Jose, I'm looking at you.

When I was biding my time at the Smithsonian, I would make it a weekly occurance to visit those kids at Oyamel on 7th in Penn Quarter.  Four dollar tacos and I only need three.  Jay-Z, use that and rap something fierce.

Well, when I was feeling extra decadent, I'd pre-empt with the black bean soup.  It's fucking amazing.  They serve it with some rich cream drizzled atop with accoutrement. Charred peppers, avocado and tortilla strips.  It was the single dish that convinced me that I really might like avocado.  Aside from guacamole.  

It got to the point where I would actually crave the soup.  On this particular day, it was all I could think about.  I'd psyched myself up, thinking about all the good fat I was going to get from the avocado, crunching up more chips to add when the strips ran out, and the sheer fun of scraping the charred pepper into the bowl.

You can imagine my sincere disappointment when I was told it was no longer on the menu.  I think I may have gone into shock.  I sat, dumbfounded, for more than a few seconds.  That childhood disappointment when no alternative will do.  No matter what it is.  I can't remember, but I'm pretty sure I had a taco for show and wiped away a tear as I finished my glass of wine too quickly and slinked out of the restaurant. Favourite dish deprivation is serious, y'all.  It's SERIOUS. 

So I tried to recreate it on my own.  Spontaneously. Due to the sale Giant was having on Haas avocados.  Just like that, BAM!  I had a hankering.  I wanted black bean soup and I wanted it NOW! I would usually soak my black beans, but hell to the no, that would take far too long, so Goya stepped in. Once the shortcuts* started, they just kept coming.  Jose might give me the stink eye, but Sandra Lee would clap gleefully and ask me about cocktail time.  

1 large can Goya black beans
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 medium onion, chopped
taco seasoning* 
leftover ham hock
bacon fat (sorry... use olive oil if you don't want to go here)


Add bacon fat to dutch oven to melt then add chopped onions.  Sweat until translucent then add ham hock (mine was leftover from collards I made earlier that day.... yeah it was a party up in hurrrr).  Add black beans (sauce in can and all), chicken stock and seasoning and simmer for about an hour.  Remove ham hock and roughly blend.  Add back to dutch oven and taste to make sure seasoning is just right.

Serve with sliced avocado, tortilla strips and a bit of plain greek yogurt.


p.s. I heard the soup is back on the menu.  Thanks, Jose!


Les Halles

So. I have this test. A very simple and easy way of weeding out a mediocre French brasserie.  

 It's pretty straightforward and pretty much tells me all I need to know in about 5 minutes and honestly determines whether or not I'll return. 

I order the French Onion Soup.  

You can pretty much tell the authenticity of the establishment with one bowl.  About a year ago, I was all jazzed about a new spot opening up on what is now called "Restaurant Row" here in D.C. Funny, because when I was growing up, it was more like "Hooker Highway" or "Prostitute Promenade".  But, you know how it goes.  The G word.  Anyway, this big deal from Philly was coming down, importing his staff and opening a significantly large brasserie on 14th Street.  I was so excited, I had such high hopes of having my Les Halles back. 

Les Halles.  The teeny tiny restaurant on Park Avenue South in New York City that served as my home away from alcove studio home when I lived on 29th and 3rd. I was desperate for a substitute and just couldn't find one that was just right.  It was like Cinderella's sisters and that damn shoe.  Either it was too far away (too big) or simply not up to snuff (too small). No perfect fit.

Let me give you some background... Back when Les Halles on Park Avenue South was small and hadn't yet expanded into the bodega next door, I was a regular 3 times a week.  My psuedo-boyfriend Nate and I had a routine.  We'd go spontaneously, never making a reservation.  He'd usually arrive a bit before me, so would put his name down with the hostess (she never seemed to remember us or at least never let on) and then head to the bar.  He'd have a beer from the tap and order a Cote du Rhone for me where we'd wait on our table over our chosen aperitif, usually no more than 20 minutes.  We systematically made our way around the menu until it had been sampled several times over.  There was never a bad meal.  We'd managed to win over Tim, the waiter who likes no one and I'm still friends with Carlos, the executive chef who took over after Anthony Bourdain threw open the doors of culinary fame.  This went on for years until my pseudo moved to Los Angeles. On his last night in NYC, we decided to head to Les Halles.  The bodega next door was boarded up and contractor work licenses decorated the door.  I scanned the packed restaurant for Nate, didn't see him so went to put our name down with the hostess.  "Oh, hello!  He's already at the bar".  

Look at that, she remembered us.   

Well, after he left, I kept up my visits, though mainly for brunch.  I'd have a full out breakfast or simply the onion soup.  Carlos offered to teach me how to make it one afternoon after a particularly long Sunday afternoon at the bar. "Come in tomorrow morning, we'll make it together".  It was one of the best days of my life culminating in a random run-in with Anthony Bourdain, but that's another blog post.  That story deserves it's own.  But one extremely important detail I took away from that magical day in the Les Halles kitchen with Carlos was the simple knowledge that the soup I'd prepared that day would not be served that night.  It had to wait.  About 2 days.  You know, for all the flavours to get to know each other.  To fall in love. 

So when I strolled into this new super trendy, super hyped, spot across from Pearl Dive, I gave them the test. 

I ordered a simple bowl of onion soup.  One bite in..... *side eye*

"Was this made today?" 

"Hold on, let me check...." *2 minutes pass* "OF COURSE!!  Of course, I was assured by the chef that it was made today"


Let's go back to the original.