Giacomo’s Ristorante – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures

With so many Italian restaurants serving pasta on the North End, it was difficult to know where to begin searching for the best. After looking up several local favorites, we came upon Giacomo’s Ristorante and felt reassured when we saw the line going out-the-door. We were well-trained in the art of waiting after the many visits to Daikokuya back home. Giacomo’s seemed to be one of those restaurants that, regardless of the time of day, there was most assuredly going to be a wait. After only a few short minutes in line, it became evident that we weren’t the only newbies to Giacomo’s; many people stopped and peered at the line and menu, often asking “Is this place really that good?” I’ll answer that question later.

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Giacomo’s Ristorante, located right on Hanover

An hour later, we were seated at a cozy two-top next to the “Specials” wall, making it impossible to view it but amazingly close to the open kitchen with its wall of copper cookware. Each one of the 20 or so seats had only inches separating it from the next. Despite being purely the luck-of-the-draw, the tables next to the window were definitely the worst spots simply because all the hungry, slightly irritated (I would know) patrons would be staring you down, Jedi mind-tricking you to eat faster and leave.

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The open kitchen with its copper back-splash and hanging copper pots

At Giacomo’s, the pace is fast and it may even be considered rude to nurse that second glass of wine. It’s reminiscent of the lack of pleasantries and hand-holding at some Vietnamese restaurants. Our waitress basically threw the menus at us, quickly explained how the combinations of pasta and sauces worked, and hurried off to another table. We weren’t offended at all and openly embraced this high-speed dining experience.

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Large order of fried calamari to start…with deep fried pickled peppers to my dismay.

Definitely one of the best calamari I’ve ever tasted. The batter was perfectly seasoned with a slight kick of the pickled peppers sprinkled throughout. They look SO much like a calamari ring the way they were sliced and totally blew my taste buds before Alice pointed out their true identity. She happily ate the rest of them. The marinara was so flavorful we had to ask for a second helping to accompany the calamari. I honestly could have gone with three large orders of the calamari and be content…sans pickled peppers.

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Garlic Bread – charred and packed with flavor

We also picked up an order of the garlic bread, which used olive oil instead of butter. The strong garlic flavor might have turned off other diners but we enjoy bold flavors like this. The drawback was that the edges of the bread were burnt, causing every other bite to be bitter even though we had removed most of the burnt edges. I was disappointed because although Alice had plenty of garlic bread middles (her favorite part), I was missing out on the garlic bread crusts (my favorite part).

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Special: homemade fusilli with lobster and shrimp in fra diavolo

Alice decided to branch out from the main menu and select a dish off the day’s list of specials – the homemade fusilli with lobster and shrimp in a fra diavolo sauce. With the allure of homemade pasta coupled with a sauce so spicy it bears the name of the devil himself, she just could not resist and was very happy with her choice. The pasta was al dente, the sauce was piping hot in temperature and spice, and the chunks of lobster and shrimp were fresh and plentiful. For those who can’t quite take the heat, Giacomo’s also offered this dish with the house Giacomo sauce (red, non-spicy marinara) or half-and-half with the fra diavolo to lessen the blow.

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Lobster ravioli in garlic cream sauce

I went with one of my favorites, lobster ravioli with diced tomatoes in a garlic cream sauce. The lobster meat was generous and ravioli thin enough to let the flavors of the lobster shine through. The cream sauce wasn’t heavy and along with the tomatoes, made the dish very enjoyable.

The check came as quickly as our menus. In the end, we gave up on the garlic bread due to its bitter, burnt crust. The rest of the meal gave us a better appreciation for authentic Italian flavors. Los Angeles does have some great Italian restaurants but the sheer density of delicious Italian eateries in Boston is truly impressive. Giacomo’s is one of those places we were glad to have saved our valuable, limited stomach real estate for.

In and out in under 45 minutes… less time than we had waited for our seats. And yes, it is THAT good.

So when in the North End with time to kill, drop by Giacomo’s. No time? Call ahead and pick up!

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Check out Giacomo’s Ristorante online at: www.giacomosblog-boston.blogspot.com

355 Hanover St
(between Tileston St & Clark St)
Boston, MA 02113

Check them out on Yelp! here!

Chicken Noodle Soup (Adorable Shapes Welcomed)

Main Dishes, Recipes

April Showers make me want to curl up in our cozy house with a hot bowl of comforting chicken noodle soup, especially since the aroma of chicken will likely lure at least one of our cats over to beg for a morsel. I’ll be honest, I used to be content to opening up a can of Campbell’s (the one with the star shapes was my favorite), but after making your own chicken soup, you can never really go back. This is the perfect recipe to use up random chicken parts – wings are great for both rendering the stock and shredding up to eat since they have a good bone-to-meat ratio, but you can also use a chicken carcass (perhaps after butchering your own chicken – my latest “thing”) paired with more meaty parts. I’ve even been known to muster up the effort to prepare this soup for myself while out sick, it’s that easy. Leftovers freeze well for a rainy day, but this small-batch recipe will serve about 4.

Chicken Noodle Soup (made even more fun with Hello Kitty Macaroni)

Chicken Noodle Soup (made even more fun with Hello Kitty shaped macaroni!)

Ingredients:

1 lb bone-in chicken (I used 10 wings)

1 tablespoon oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium onion, diced

3-4 carrots, diced or sliced

3-4 stalks of celery, sliced

5-6 cups of water

Dried bay leaves

Dried thyme

Salt & pepper

1 1-lb box of pasta, any shape

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and set aside. Start prepping your vegetables.

Sizzle sizzle!

Sizzle sizzle!

In a large pot, heat the oil and saute the garlic until just barely browned. Add the chicken and sear on all sides.

Veg-tastic!

Veg-tastic!

Toss in the onions and let them sweat a bit, just a few minutes. Add in the rest of the vegetables and pour in the water. Bring to a boil.

Mmm soup..

Mmm soup..

Add in the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam that may form.

Cook according to package instructions, and what a cute package it is!

Cook according to package instructions, and what a cute package it is!

As the broth is simmering, cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse and set aside.

Ta-da! Soup is ready.

Ta-da! Soup is ready.

When ready to serve, spoon some pasta into a bowl and ladle the soup over it. If you’re packing up leftovers, it is best to store the noodles separately from the broth, otherwise the pasta will absorb extra liquid and turn to mush.

For the days when you feel under the weather, we hope this chicken noodle soup brings some comfort and smiles :]

Caprese-Inspired Pasta

Main Dishes, Recipes

I was pretty proud of this dish. I’ll be honest, I gave myself a little pat on the back for coming up with this super duper simple-but-creative recipe to utilize some fresh cherry tomatoes gifted to us by one of the guys at work. But shortly after I started writing this entry I googled “caprese pasta,” and as it turns out, I was not the first to think of this wonderful creation. Darn. That burst my bubble a little but no matter – I still hope you will enjoy our take on caprese pasta!

The finished product – buon appetito!

Caprese, in case you haven’t ordered it at a ristorante recently, is typically a cold appetizer of tomato slices, mozzarella, and basil arranged in colorful layers and drizzled with a good olive oil (and sometimes balsamic vinegar as well). After seeing the beautiful bright red ripeness of the homegrown tomatoes, I knew we wanted to cook them minimally if at all.

Aren’t they beautiful?

At the farmer’s market, we found an artisanal cheese maker who sold a stunning fresh burrata and we had to get some to pair with the tomatoes. We are also excited to use the meyer lemon oil we recently purchased from Global Gardens in Los Olivos to replenish our pantry. Finally, I snipped a few leaves off our little basil plant, the first of our hopeful herb garden. What follows is a surprisingly easy recipe for a refreshing entree that tastes like summer. (I know it’s fall, but summer doesn’t have to be over yet!)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb dried pasta (we used Barilla spaghetti but feel free to use shapes or whole wheat or gluten-alternatives)

10 cherry tomatoes or a couple of larger tomatoes, diced

1-2 tablespoons olive oil (highly recommend meyer lemon infused olive oil if you have it!)

A handful of fresh basil leaves

2 oz burrata or fresh mozzarella

Salt and pepper to taste

First cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, prep your tomatoes.

Prepped tomatoes

When the pasta is done, drain the water but do not rinse.

In a skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil and add the diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Saute the tomatoes for about 3 minutes, or just until the juices are released and the pan starts to look “saucy”.

Tomatoes workin’ up a sweat!

Add the pasta and toss to coat. Taste and season again if needed.

Toss, toss!

Take the pan off the heat and divide into dishes. Finish with a drizzle of meyer lemon infused olive oil, dots of burrata, and a chiffonade of basil. Serves two hungry carb-lovers. Buon appetito!

Day 2b: Sonoma Farmer’s Market & Mamma Tanino’s

Food Adventures, Napa & Sonoma

After visiting Lancaster Estate and Medlock Ames we were just about dead tired, quickly hopping back into the security of the car and its air conditioned heaven. Healdsburg was a good hour away from the city of Sonoma and we were expecting to arrive in time for the Sonoma Tuesday Night Farmer’s Market. After checking into the nearby hotel, we took a brief stroll to the park in front of city hall where the farmer’s market was located.

The entire block and surrounding neighborhood were bustling with people enjoying the sun and mingling around the tented shops. Stalls of produce from nearby farms lined the walkway around the city hall building carrying a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The colors were spectacular and we were enjoying the beautiful day so much that we had forgotten to take photos of the area.

Having drank most of the day and filling up on wine, we had forgotten to eat very much for lunch and were famished. At 6:30pm and without a reservation at any restaurant, we should’ve known better than to try walking into the restaurants that enclosed Sonoma Square. We decided to try Mamma Tanino’s – a place a little out of the way that we found on Yelp, a homely-looking, literal hole-in-the-wall in the corner of a strip mall. The patrons seemed to be an older, more local crowd. The interior was a warm, cozy space with an obnoxious yellow glow that enveloped every nook and cranny. This glow, while warm, took a terrible toll on the quality of our photos, but please bear with us.

Alice found out an interesting piece of information about Chef Gaetano that we didn’t want to speculate about its accuracy: he was accepted into culinary school at the age of 13 and graduated at 15. We managed to verify this information with his wife Kimberly who runs the front of the house.

Without further adieu…the noms:

Housemade Focaccia

The table bread was a simple fresh-baked focaccia that was extra toasted and a little burnt on its extremities. We didn’t mind too much, and I myself am a fan of slightly charred bread. Alice found a piece that tasted like pizza crust, in a good way.

Appetizer: Calamaretti Fritti

Fried calamari was very crispy but the batter was unevenly coated and didn’t adhere well to the calamari. The homemade pomodoro sauce had a little kick that kicked me in the…taste bud. The creamy tartar sauce with capers wasn’t all that special but I’m glad we were given the choice of two different dipping sauces.

Pappardelle Bolognese

Alice had the homemade, hand-cut pappardelle accompanied by a ragu-style sauce with beef, beef stock, carrots, and mushrooms. Just a little al dente to give it a more firm texture, making it a hearty and winning combination.

Gnocchetti Piemontese

I ordered another one of their homemade dishes – hand-cut mini gnocchi with a creamy tomato sauce. Texture was more like a cloud than a pillow, extra light and fluffy. I was able to polish off the entire dish and was left wanting more but that’s not to say that the portion was too small – it was just that good.

Tiramisu

I have to admit that this was definitely not that great of a tiramisu. There was a little too much marscapone and it was made using both rum and kahlua. When it came down to it, the tiramisu had a strange sour taste to it, perhaps from the kahlua or perhaps from the marscapone, but we couldn’t tell. Either way, the tartness tasted a bit awkward.

All in all, Mamma Tanino’s was a great find. It’s unfortunate that their location in the forlorn strip mall seems to have a negative impact on their business. People of Sonoma, swing by and give them a try! The pasta dishes are awesome and the service, courtesy of Kimberly, is very friendly.

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Check out Mamma Tanino’s Ristorante: www.mammataninos.com

500 W. Napa St. Suite 512
Sonoma CA, 95476

See their Yelp reviews here!

Fresh Pasta: A Real Eye-talian Treat

Food Life, Main Dishes, Recipes

When it comes to pasta, a lot of people, myself included, would rather go for the quick and easy 5-minute Barilla capellini from the supermarket. On the off-chance you have an hour or two to make dinner, you should really consider making fresh pasta. It takes a little bit of time and effort but isn’t very difficult at all and tastes so much better than store-bought pasta. Once you get the basics of making fresh pasta, you can start experimenting like herb pasta, pumpkin pasta, spinach pasta, squid ink pasta, you name it! Let’s take a step back and start with the basics first.

Ingredients:

5 oz. All-purpose flour (approx. 1.13 dry cups) *
5 oz Semolina flour (approx. 0.85 dry cups) *
2 Extra Large Eggs
Pinch of salt
Dry herbs (optional)
Drizzle of olive oil

* the conversion comes out a bit funny, so for simplicity you could also use 1-1/4 cup AP flour and 3/4 cup of semolina. Rule of thumb is one egg per one cup of dry flour, so we’re looking for 2 cups total between the AP flour and semolina.

** UPDATE: if you do have a food scale, you may need a third egg to have enough moisture to turn the 10 ounces of dry ingredients into a silky dough

There’s a few ways you could do this but we’ll explain the “well” method here. If you have a stand mixer you could throw all the ingredients in and voila! Using a food processor would require some more attention to make sure the dough doesn’t get too dry and cause it to smoke up like ours did. We learned the well method from a cooking demo with the New School of Cooking at Eat Real Fest, and it works best for us.

First mix the semolina and all-purpose flour together in a large bowl. For this next step you could choose to use a cutting board but we like using the bowl because we tend to make a mess of things. Form a well with the flour mixture using the bottom of the dry measuring cup you used for the flour.

The Well

Crack both eggs and put them into the well along with a pinch of salt, drizzle of olive oil, and, if you’d like, some basil or other dry herbs. We used extra large eggs but if you use smaller eggs or larger eggs remember to adjust accordingly because 2 extra large eggs was just the right amount of moisture for the amount of dough we wanted to make.

Add Eggs

With a fork, break the yolks and begin mixing the ingredients in the well while slowly incorporating the flour mixture in a circular motion. Try to maintain the integrity and shape of the well to avoid mixing in too much flour all at once. It’s easier to use mix in less flour and add more if it turns out sticky than to need to add water or olive oil later if it became too dry. Continue mixing the ingredients together until you get a nice lump of dough.

Whisk together in a circular motion

When the dough is no longer sticky, jump in with both hands and begin kneading the dough with your palms on a cutting board sprinkled with flour. Knead the dough out, rotate it a quarter-turn, fold it over, and knead again, adding flour as needed if still sticky. Knead for about 5-10 minutes to get the gluten proteins working.

Put the lump of dough into an unsealed Ziplock bag and let sit on the counter for 40 minutes. If you’re in a rush, you can go as short as 20 minutes, but ideally you want to let it rest for 40 minutes to an hour.

After 40 minutes have passed, take the lump of dough, roll it out with a rolling pin, and cut it into 4 equal pieces. (Tip: you’ll want the pieces to be more narrow than wide so that it doesn’t stick to the edges of the pasta maker.) You’re all set! You could choose to make cut pasta, shaped pasta, filled pasta.. even leave the strips whole and make lasagna. We haven’t quite tried shaped pastas yet so read on for instructions on “string” or cut pastas.

To roll the pasta, we use a Marcato pasta maker, see link here for info about it. Set your pasta maker to the 0 setting and run the dough through it. Fold the dough over on itself in thirds (like you’re folding a brochure) and run it through the machine again. Repeat this 2-3 times until it has produced a consistent thickness. Change the dial to 1 and run the dough through once. Continue changing the dial to higher numbers and run the dough through once each time until it reaches the desired thickness. For spaghetti on the Marcato machine, we roll up to the thickness setting 6 and angel hair about 7 or 8. The higher you go on the setting, the thinner the pasta, and higher chance of it falling apart during cutting.

Beautiful rolled pasta dough

After rolling each piece of dough, cut the lengthy piece in half and place on top of a baking pan lined with saran wrap and let sit.  You can stack layers of saran wrap on top and repeat this step until all the dough has been rolled. The saran wrap keeps the rolled pasta from drying out while you finish up the rest of the dough. Be sure to keep the baking pan in a cool place! We once left it our stove (which is constantly warm because of the pilot light) and the bottom layer turned out to be unusable mush.

Let sit between layers of saran wrap to prevent drying out

The cutting of the pasta really just depends on your preference. The Marcato pasta maker comes with default cutting heads for fettucine and tagliolini. Additional heads could be bought separately for about $30-$40. For all intents and purposes, these two attachments with varying thicknesses should suffice. Peel off one of the rolled pieces of dough from the saran wrap. If it is too sticky, liberally sprinkle with all purpose flour. Excess flour will just flake off into the water later, but the cutting heads will not make clean cuts if the dough is too sticky. Roll the pasta through and make sure to catch the strands as they come out from the opposite side.

Hold the strands as they are cut

Lay the pasta on a drying rack to dry before cooking or storage. Space out the strands, dusting on extra flour if you have to, to ensure that the pasta does not end up in one big mass.

Finished product!

The pasta is best if consumed in the same day, so if you are using the pasta right away, you’ll want to let it sit on the drying rack for at least 10 minutes or so before dropping them in salted (or oiled) boiling water. Fresh pasta takes considerably less time to cook than the dried stuff in the box, so taste taste taste! When it is al dente (approx 2-3 minutes for capellini, 5-6 minutes or so for fettuccine), drain the pasta, toss in sauce, and serve immediately. You definitely need to dress the pasta shortly after draining in order to avoid clumping.

If you have leftovers or would like to keep the pasta for later, it keeps for about 3 days in the refrigerator in an airtight ziploc bag. Let the pasta dry on the racks for an hour or so and gently pack them in the bag so that the strands do not break. Freezing is not recommended, and drying on the rack will not dry the pasta sufficiently for long-term storage like the grocery store brands.

We hope this little guide will help you get started in your pasta making adventures. It may take some time and a few attempts to get the right texture and consistency in fresh pasta but it will definitely be worth the hassle. If you have time during the week, definitely consider making fresh pasta. We, however, still often make Barilla during the week for convenience’s sake (for shame, yes). Now that the basics is covered, it’s time to experiment with different sauces but will post them here as we do!