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Somewhere Beyond the Sea… (Guest post by Francesca)

Today’s post written by our friend Francesca, host of our most recent Ask Chef Tony episode “Spaghetti alle Vongole” as she vacations in the Dominican Republic, taking some time by the beach to reflect on her childhood in Italy.

 

Spaghetti con le Vongole.

Like many family traditions of Italy, this dish has been a part of our lives since the Roman Empire.
Originating from Naples, there are two basic versions – there is “dirty” (with a touch of tomato) and there is the classic and poorest style, with garlic, olive oil, red pepper and lots of parsley, otherwise known as “white sauce”.
In our homes from north to south, we used to prepare this dish for the Christmas Eve dinner in keeping with the history of the Roman Empire. I myself come from Rome, where, by good fortune, the tradition is doubled up! On Easter Day as well, the entire town goes out to celebrate the holiday with a lunch at a beach town. Whoever you are, you will always look to go to the best place to have fish. It’s like an absolute must – it’s the opening of the summer palate! Where we grow up, we insist the fresh fish has to be eaten right after the fishermen come back, and so we always choose a beach town restaurant. I remember, as if it were yesterday, all the kids laughing, screaming, playing, and running around the family table. And when the food was ready you would find me sitting in front of my Spaghetti Alle Vongole, my spaghetti with clams, which mom used to cut in small pieces and help me to eat. I would turn my meal into a careful artwork by adding with my little fingers exactly one clam on the fork tines for each precious bite.
As I got older many things have changed, but not the tradition. I still do the Easter lunch with friends every year, and now I enjoy my dish with those close to me, just as I did back then, but with a variation – the same menu; Spaghetti with Vongole, Rombo con Patate (a fish with potato dish) but now I can complete the Easter with a nice Falanghina wine!
Thinking and writing about it make me smile – it is something really hard to completely describe. Memories are so unique. Different regions of Italy maybe have different traditional foods for Easter, but for me, as a Roman, I will always have my Vongole. It brings me home and I can smell the beach!
Well, I think it’s time to get up and let you go because I just got hungry. I need some Vongole!😄

Ciao,
Francesca

Sent from my iPad

Ingredients to serve four:

  • About 4oo grams of Spaghetti
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • About 50 to 60 fresh live clams (12 to 15 per person)
  • White wine
  • Peperoncino (chili pepper flakes)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Wash your clams a few hours ahead by submerging them in a large basin or pot of fresh cold water. Add about a tablespoon of salt per quart of water and let it sit for 4 to 6 hours, stirring the clams around a few times. The clams will release whatever sand and grit they contain and you can now remove them from the water.

To start your dish, use a lidded saucepan large enough to contain all your clams. Before steaming your clams, put enough olive oil to generously cover the bottom of your saucepan and over low heat, add two whole garlic cloves, one diced garlic clove, half a bunch of finely chopped parsley, and chili pepper flakes to taste. Be careful not to let anything burn. The goal is to work the flavors into the olive oil and two to three minutes should be enough.

Now add your clams to the saucepan and bring the heat up to medium, and cover. The heat should soon dispatch your clams and they will quickly open up, and release water and juice, creating your sauce. This can take from 5 to 10 minutes, and hopefully not much more. You don’t want to leave the clams in too long or they will overcook and become tough. Stir the clams on occasion to make sure they heat evenly. While your clams are steaming, you can get a pot of water started for your pasta. Once you see all or most of the clams are open, give it another minute and then shut the heat. If there are clams that simply refuse to open, they may have been dead clams to start and you should discard them. An additional step to take to make the dish a bit more practical, is to remove some of the shells ahead of time (about half) so that the diner does not have to spend the evening removing every clam from its shell. You want to leave a few, for some aesthetic and tactile appeal, but go ahead and do some of that labor ahead of time.

Once your pot of water is boiling, add a small handful of salt, and your pasta (about 100 grams per person). Check the package for the timing. You’ll want to take your pasta out just a bit before it’s done. Set your timer. While that’s going, bring your flame back up high on your pot of clams. When that starts to bubble, flash it with a couple dashes of white wine. Give that a minute or two to burn the alcohol off and then shut the flame. When your pasta is nearly done, take it off and drain. Now marry it with your clams (if your saucepan is not large enough, you can use the pasta pot) Put some heat under it, and mix it all together. The clams will have released a lot of liquid, so this extra mixing time will let the pasta absorb some of that liquid and finish cooking itself.

And that’s it. You’re dish is done. Just plate it, and enjoy it with a nice white wine.

C’mon Baby Light My Fire

We’re going to set things on fire today. Twenty five years ago I met a gorgeous young woman named Nicole. And now she is my wife, and mother to my two beautiful kids. And it all started with Bananas Flambé – the dessert I made for our first date. I can’t be sure that bananas flambé was entirely responsible for everything that followed in my life, but it sure didn’t hurt my chances.

This is Nicole’s account of that date –

It was our first date. I had met Tony several months earlier and he said he wanted to cook for me. I drove to his apartment. He lived in a fancy high-rise on the intracoastal in Miami, 20-something floor. When I got there he had an aromatic tomato sauce cooking on the stove. He served a small first course of penne pomodoro, followed by a delicious chicken dish (I don’t quite remember what it was). We ate on a makeshift table which was a very big box his TV had come in. He covered the box with a crisp, white table cloth. We had plans to go to the movies across the way, but first he had a special dessert planned. He made a big show of melting the sugar, adding orange juice and peel to the pan, and sautéed halved bananas then sprinkled in some grand marnier and lit it on fire. We ate it topped with vanilla ice cream. What a perfect match, for a perfect evening now etched in my memory. 

tony_nicole_flambe

Well… I guess it worked. And now, you can follow the recipe here and find the love of your life too. Let’s light up some bananas now.

Bananas Flambé

To serve 2, we will need:

  • 2 ripe bananas (but not over ripe or soft)
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • slivered almonds for topping
  • 2 tablespoons of Orange Liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of Brandy, Cognac, or Rum (for the pyrotechnics)

To prep, toast your almond slivers, juice enough oranges to have about 3/4 cup of orange juice (or just use juice from a carton), cut some large pieces of rind from your orange and lemon, and cut your bananas lengthwise.

Start by pouring your sugar into a saucepan on low heat. When the sugar starts to melt, add your butter and start mixing it all together. Be careful not to burn it. As it begins to caramelize, you can add your orange juice. The mix may start to clump but be patient, as the juice warms up the sugar will melt again. Add your rinds and use a fork to push them around to help deglaze the pan and make your mixture uniform again. Squeeze your lemon and orange into the pan, through a strainer to catch the seeds. Continue deglazing and mixing until it is uniform.

Now you can add your bananas. Prick the bananas up and down with a fork so that the bananas can soak up some of the mixture. Add your Grand Marnier or orange liqueur, and mix it into the sauce. Use a spoon to baste your bananas with the flavor of the sauce. You want to continue cooking until your bananas are soft and tender but not so soft that it will fall apart when you try to pick it up.

When you have reached that point, it’s time to set things ablaze. Turn up your heat to high, and add your cognac, brandy, or rum. The heat has to be high enough to reach the alcohol’s flash point, or it will not light. Ignite with a stove lighter or long match… and boom. You’ve got a show. The fireworks will die down soon. You can shut down your stove now and get ready to plate.

Arrange each pair of bananas like a close pair of parentheses, and drop a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream between the two. Drizzle your sauce over this, and decorate with your toasted almonds.

Listen to your date sigh with satisfaction, and enjoy.

Also, check out the interesting story behind another time Bananas Flambé played a major role in Tony’s life. In Fateful Moments.

Kitchen Philosophy. To Move Forward, I Look Back.

Scene: Evening of November 5th, 2014 – Transplant House Dormitories at the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio

On the night of November 5th, there was a dinner for the “patient tenants” of the Transplant House where I’ve met many wonderful friends with circumstances similar to mine, all waiting for an organ transplant, and a second shot at life. That evening we further bonded. We ate, chatted, shared stories. And then reluctantly I headed upstairs, to get to bed early. Maybe it was too eventful an evening. I tossed and turned for most of the night, until then at last I finally fell asleep, and waited for dreams.

“Tony! Tony! TONY! Wake UP! WE NEED TO GO!”

“Huh?…What? Go Where?” I said. “…It’s dark outside… why…what’s going on?”

“YOUR NEW LIVER IS HERE!”  replied my assistant. “WE ARE GOING TO NEED PAJAMAS, AND YOUR TOOTHBRUSH, AND…  (etc. etc. etc.)

I was so confused that I understood absolutely nothing from that point on, and still in my sleepwear, I grabbed the car keys and said  “Let’s GO!”

And so that’s how my own second chance at life started.

Life can change just like that. It’s like the ocean – big and wonderful, and sometimes very scary. It’s completely out of your control. But unlike the ocean, you can’t really avoid it. Last year was one of the scariest of my life. The worst is over, but it is still scary. So I cook. When I cook, I am creating. I am in control of something. I cook because it reminds me – reminds me of who I am – reminds me of what I love, who I love, and who loves me. It puts my feet back on the ground.

So here I am, new liver, new chances, new outlook. Back to the basics in so many ways. It’s good to get back to basics. It’s a way to rebuild yourself. So naturally, the food I want to cook these days is also back to basics. I’m dreaming of soups, ossobuco, pasta al forno, pasta e fagioli, and more. And here, for you, is one dish that pulls me back to my childhood. One that grandpa taught me, and that I am craving now. Pasta con Piselli e Patate e Cotto ( Pasta with Peas, Potato, and Ham ) Hope you enjoy this one.

Life after Organ Transplantation, and a Bittersweet Parting with Cleveland

Hi Reader,

Let’s catch up.

This is Jeff here, producer/editor of Ask Chef Tony – and I’m taking Tony’s place at the keyboard today to bring us up to date, and to offer our apologies for letting the blog fall so far behind. If you’ve been following, you know that Tony recently underwent a complete liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Tony had been in Cleveland since late October 2014 awaiting the chance for a matching liver. Fortunately, it came quickly and in late December came my first opportunity to drive out to Cleveland (from Brooklyn) to hang with Tony and see how his recovery was going, and also to help pack him up to go back home to New York, which he was more than ready for.

I had not seen my good friend since he left New York, and I felt in some way that I was now about to meet the “New” Tony, as the transplant operation marks the end of one journey and the start of another. Organ transplant, and what that involves, is something no one strives to be familiar with, unless, by misfortune, you have to (or unless you are a doctor). So, like many others, I tend to misunderstand it more than I understand it. Having accompanied Tony through much of the past year, I was amazed at how much has to be endured physically. Tests, IVs, blood transfusions, needle after needle, meds, antibiotics… the list goes on. But maybe the hardest part, for me, is understanding what the person is going through emotionally. I got to meet another patient at the Transplant House – Ashley Foster. Ashley is waiting for not just one organ but several. By listening to Ashley and Tony, as they spoke to each other, you can tell immediately that there is a closeness there that can only happen through an intense shared experience – like “war buddies” as Ashley put it. I was like someone at the kids table trying to figure out what the grownups are talking about.

I could sense that the trials and tribulations in Cleveland, while extremely difficult, also yielded some wonderful experiences for Tony, and that going home would bring some mixed emotion. I shot a bit of video and I want to thank Ashley and Tony for letting me share some of their thoughts with you.

Please find Ashley’s blog here: http://itsallgoodashley.org You’ll find links to her fundraising efforts if you feel inclined to help her out.

And for those of you able to contribute some financial help for Tony, as he works through his transition, you can donate here. Thank you.

act_donate_button

Recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese (with step by step Video) – Plus, an update on Tony

Jeff here (producer of Ask Chef Tony), taking up the pen (or keyboard) for Tony on the blog. For those of you following Tony’s recent health issues, and the subsequent liver transplant surgery, I’m very happy to report that he is really recovering well for a guy who just had major surgery. I feel safe saying that we have made, it seems, great progress in getting Tony back on the road to where he wants to be. And a big part of where he wants to be is back in the kitchen. And you know what? A lot of people, including myself, can’t wait to see that.

So, in honor of that day, I went back into some older footage that we shot over the past year to see what I might be able to edit together while Tony is on the DL. I think I have rediscovered some gems. There are some that I shelved because of technical issues and some have gaps in explanation that need to be filled, but I’ve become a better video editor and over my many hours of constructing episodes and shorts I’ve figured out ways to convey more with less, so now was about the right time for me to tackle of few of these “lost” episodes. The one I decided to start with is the one I present to you today… “Salsa alla Bolognese”. After putting this one together, I was quite proud of it and quite frankly I’m wondering why I didn’t just go ahead and cut this one together right after we shot it. Well… irrelevant now. Ladies and Germs, I present to you… Ragu alla Bolognese. Enjoy.

Bolognese Sauce, Ingredients:

Amount: enough to feed small army

  • 2 lbs. Ground Beef
  • 1 lb. Ground Veal
  • 1 lb Ground Pork
  • 2 Celery Ribs
  • 2 medium Carrots
  • 1 medium sized Onion
  • 3 whole spice cloves
  • 1 or 2 Bay Leaves
  • some Rosemary
  • 3 Garlic cloves
  • Olive Oil (of course)
  • 2 cups Red Wine
  • Crushed or Pureed Tomatoes (we used a big 6lb. 6 oz. can)
  • Salt and Pepper

Let us know in your comments what you think, either here, or on our YouTube channel “Ask Chef Tony”. Watch Tony on the channel, and we’ll see you around. Ciao!

 

Surgery Update: With Bases Loaded and Full Count, Chef Tony Knocks Liver Surgery Out of the Park!

Hearts are considerably lighter now. I spoke to Tony over the last couple of days and he is doing really well. Even over the phone I could hear the difference. And this is just a day after a major surgery. The doctors have said he “has beaten all odds.”

So this about the best post I could have hoped to put up today. It’s been edge-of-the-chair tension over the last couple of days since word got to me that a matching liver had come in and that Tony was on his way into surgery. Just a couple days ago, the post I had intended to write was in draft form and I had been speaking to Tony and trying to shape into words the feelings and experience of being in such a waiting game and situation, as he was. I had also been collecting various forms of well wishing from fans and collaborators of our YouTube show. One idea I had was based on a video that our friend and collaborator Francesca sent to me to help Tony along. When she heard about Tony’s situation, she made a Minestrone con le Cotiche. It was a great gesture as I know Tony gets excited to see people making and keeping Italian cuisine alive. I was going to title the post “Let’s make Minestrone for Tony”. Realistically though, it is still a long long road back for Tony, and I’m sure he’d still appreciate some home cooking, so I’m going to post her video here.

You can find Francesca guest hosting our channel in our Mushy Tomatoes Episode or in another episode about exploring Italian Cuisine in NYC

If there are any fans out there who would love to perk up Tony’s spirits by showing what you can cook up on the stove, please send it in to me ( jeffrey@askcheftony.com ) and I will happily post it up here or on our channel. Keep sending the love and the hugs.

Best,

Jeffrey Chuang (Producer – Ask Chef Tony)

UPDATE…A Match was Found and Chef Tony’s Liver Transplant is Happening NOW!

Hi Fans of Chef Tony,

This is Ask Chef Tony channel producer Jeffrey jumping in once again to write for Tony. Here’s the BIG NEWS. I was just about to try to jump on the keyboard to finish up a half written post here about how the wait list process was going and about how Tony was meeting new people there in Cleveland and etc etc etc, when suddenly, bling, new text message from his wife Nicole. Reads – “Quick update: new liver arrived today. Tony in surgery at Cleveland Clinic. I’m flying to see him.”

His new friend in Cleveland, nurse Michele Anthony wrote on her Facebook today – “Tony is in the OR… God bless the hands that care for him today and always… When I kissed him good luck, he said ‘I’ll get the liver, you get the onions.’”

That’s all I can tell you for now. I will post again as soon as I hear more.

Yours Truly,

Jeffrey Chuang (producer of Ask Chef Tony)

This is a little gold elephant that has become my good luck charm. I'm posting it here today to cash in the remainder of its good luck for Tony's operation.

This is a little gold elephant keychain that has become my good luck charm. I’m posting it here today to cash in the remainder of its good luck for Tony’s operation.

 

 

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