Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ravioli at Il Fornaio

Far be it from me to turn up my nose at a free meal. But the more I think about this one, the more my nose goes up.

I dined at Il Fornaio in Sacramento recently, a business dinner. There were 10 of us there and we were offered a fixed price dinner menu. I don't like mushrooms, so I didn't pick the lasagna. And in the past I've been known for my pasta/chicken/sun-dried tomato dishes, so I wasn't picking that. I really wanted fresh pasta with a flavorful ragu, or something with wonderful fat prawns. But there was none of that, so I went with Ravioli alla Lucana

Housemade ravioli filled with Italian sausage, ricotta, parmesan and fennel;
fresh tomato sauce with imported peperoncino pecorino pepato cheese and fresh basil.

When it arrived it looked good. I was the only one to order it, and there were some long looks in my direction. The raviolis were big and the sauce was bright. But the rave reviews ended there.

The pasta itself was hard, as though it had been left on the counter for a number of hours. The parts that were buried in sauce were soft enough, but a diner shouldn't have to be pushing sauce around to avoid mouthfuls of cardboard pasta.

The filling was incrediably strange. The sausage was hard and crumbly, and the taste was akin to bad college food. It seemed to have been put through a fine food mill, dried out, and not reconstituted. There was no sign of a soft ricotta or fennel--dried or fresh.

The tomato sauce was good. But it's a good thing this pregnant girl has been craving spicy. With my first I couldn't have anything with *any* heat, whatsoever. This sauce was SPICY. I sniffled and snuffled my way through the dinner. Luckily my companions had all found their dishes extremely salty and they were downing the wine so fast no one noticed my runny nose.

But I wonder, if someone who didn't like spicy food had ordered that, what would they have said? Certainly there's nothing in the description that says dried red pepper.

I'd try Il Fornaio again just for the bread (but skip the bread STICKS). And I wouldn't mind moving off the catering menus. I guess that's what you get when you go to a chain...?

Pasta Primavera Salad

Juiceboy got all his favorite veggies this week...and forgot all about them. Last night I made a big pasta salad in celebration of spring. Cheese and salami can be omitted, but it's really tasty with them in!

Pasta Primavera Salad

One package penne or rotelli pasta, cooked, drained and cooled
3 ribs celery, diced
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 large English or regular cucumber, seeded and diced
1/2 to 1 cup shredded or julliened carrots
Asparagus, blanched and sliced to size of pasta
1/2 cup frozen petite peas, cooked and cooled
1 cup brocolli florets, cut into little pieces
(any other favorite veggies work here too, like red or green pepper)
1/2 cup shredded romano/parmesan cheese
Genoa salami, sliced (amount to your preference, but I used about 1/8 pound)

1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar to taste (I add it in little bits until it's at the tartness I like)
Fresh or dried basil
salt and pepper

Mix the dressing in a small jar or liquid measure, testing for flavor. I like mine garlicky and pretty strong on the vinegar. Put pasta in a large bowl and toss with dressing. When fully coated, add all other ingrediants, and toss. Let flavors mingle for about 30 minutes. Can be made ahead of time and refridgerated, but note that the vinegar will make pasta brownish and peas and asparagus will lose their lovely bright green hue.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fiasco #87: Quiche

Who in the world can mess up quiche when you use a ready-made crust? Oh look, there's Fleagirl, jumping up and down with her hand raised, shouting "Me! Me!"

Yes, another pregnancy-related kitchen fiasco. I decided to use up two slices of bacon and half an onion that was getting a little old. I had a Pillsbury crust and a couple of eggs. Very nice Sunday brunch. Until I decided I wanted to pre-bake that crust.

I made pre-baking mistakes in my past, with homemade crust, by not weighing it down. I don't have pie weights, so I decided to use rice. Simple enough.

Except I couldn't get the rice out of the baked crust when it was done. Yes folks, I was a dodo head and didn't line the crust with foil first. Just poured that rice in and it baked nicely into the bottom. And the corners. And the folded parts where the crust slid down the STRAIGHT-SIDED pan I decided to use.

At this point I was having crust in my quiche one way or another. So I broke it all apart, dug out the rice, and reformed a rough approximation of a crust. Of course, as soon as I poured the egg into the crust it flowed around, behind and under all that lovely riced crust.

In the end, it looked AWFUL. But it tasted no worse than a lot of quiches I've had in cafes and salad shops.

Lesson learned: Line the stupid crusts with foil before pouring rice into them.