As inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts I’m following along with Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, in my tiny New York kitchen. Let’s see if I can keep up with the Contessa!
Episode: “Buon Appetito”
The Set-up: Ina is making Italian dishes that take almost no time or effort.
1:22 – In a turn of events that surprises no one this recipe calls for garlic, oregano, and San Marzano tomatoes.
3:03 – Ina is also adding a few tablespoons of tomato paste and I have to give a shout out to one of my favorite ingredients – such an awesome way to add more flavor without adding more liquid.
4:35 – Now that Ina has finished hating on “boring” spaghetti and has started boiling the more interesting orecchiette it’s time to wrap up the Bolognese sauce.
5:41 – Parmesan has been ground, pasta is cooked, sauce is sauced and now I’m hungry.
6:50 – I have to give Ina credit, that looks really good and didn’t take all that long either. Buon appetito indeed.
11:23 – First step, par-boil the hot and sweet Italian sausages to remove some of the fat.
12:36 – Interesting, Joanne recommends using both red and green grapes because “We start beautiful,” even though the final result will be that both look kinda brown.
13:18 – According to Joanne this is a peasant dish from Tuscany that would have been made around harvest time. File that one away for the next trivia night!
14:09 – Ina is in charge of finishing the sauce, which seems to consist of de-glazing the pan with balsamic vinegar while Joanne does the heavy lifting by slicing focaccia.
15:54 – Serving suggestion is mashed potatoes, but I think a creamy polenta might be better or potatoes roasted with herbs… yum.
16:26 – I love dishes that combine savory or spicy with something sweet – this looks like a great fall dinner.
19:35 – We’re back and taking a field trip to Cavaniola’s to learn about parmesan cheese. Ina is showing us whole wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano and what shavings look like.
20:11 – FYI, for cheese lovers on a budget (aren’t we all?) Grana Padano is a good, less expensive option.
21:20 – I feel like this a lesson for 12-year old me who tried to make fettuccine alfredo with the pre-ground kind in the canister, aka “shaker cheese.” Spoiler alert: it did not turn out well.
22:03 – We’re learning a little about Ina’s cheese handling preferences – mainly that she buys the world’s largest wedges of Parmigiano Reggiano and two that she wouldn’t touch the pre-shredded kind with a 39.5 foot pole (who knows where it’s been?!)
23:45 – Ina offers us two parmesan-related appetizers Parmesan Shards and Parmesan Crisps. The snarky side of me has thoughts that I’m trying to restrain…
26:17 – Time for Ask Ina! Question 1: How to fix meatballs that are too squishy. (Eww.) Ina recommends a combination of fresh and dry seasoned breadcrumbs.
27:32 – Question 2: How long should it take to cook risotto? Ina says risotto should cook at a gentle simmer and take 30 – 35 minutes to reach an al dente texture.
28:12 – Question 3: How do I pick the right balsamic vinegar? Ina says that like parmesan the more aged the balsamic is, the more expensive it is. She suggests selecting a few in your budget range, tasting them all and then choosing the one you like best.
29:28 – Question 4: Why is my pasta all clumped together in a solid mass? Ina explains that the starch released from the pasta as it cooks will make it stick unless you add a little oil to the water or put the pasta directly into the sauce after it drains.
All of the recipes Ina made were really fast – perfect for weeknight cooking!
I learned my lesson about parmesan at a young age. The raw ingredients make such a difference in the outcome.
I dare some one to serve pieces of parmesan with toothpicks in them at their next party.
I love recipes that balance savory with sweet, so the Roasted Sausages and Grapes was really intriguing to me. It also looked fairly uncomplicated to make so I decided to give it a shot. The steps are very simple and requires minimal prep, so this is a great recipe if energy and/or time are short.
Remember with roasting that allowing space between the grapes and sausages will allow them to caramelize – too little space results in steam and not much texture will develop.
One Important Note: I think the sausage I bought must have been fairly lean because after par-boiling and roasting they turned out almost dry – something that has probably never been said about a sausage before.
Unless you’re sure the sausages your using are high in fat content I’d err on the side of skipping the par-boiling step since any excess fat that renders out of the sausages during the roasting process can be skimmed off or left in the pan to help flavor the grapes and create the sauce.
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, surprisingly. I used metal roasting pan, a medium pot, tongs, a wooden spatula, and measuring cups/spoons. That’s it!
I had high hopes for Roasted Sausages and Grapes after all it’s been on Al Forno’s menu for 30 years(!), but I’m sorry to say that both Mike and I were a little underwhelmed. The flavors melded well together and delivered on the salty/sweet/vinegar combination, but the dryness of the sausage was a disappointment. I think with a few adjustments - mainly skipping the par-boiling step - this could be a great dish. I could even see making it for brunch alongside grits or herbed potatoes. A lukewarm endorsement, I know but I think there’s potential!