Il Cortile Ristorante – Paso Robles

Central Coast, Food Adventures

2014-06-22 19.11.22

On our recent trip to Central Coast Wine Country, we were overwhelmed by our dining options in downtown Paso Robles. After all, where there’s good wine, there’s good food, right? But in our search for dinner plans, Il Cortile stood out with its homemade pastas, stunning dishes, and (because first impressions matter) clean and modern website.

Upon our arrival, we were pleased to find that our first impressions were just the beginning of a wonderful experience. It was a warm summer evening so we elected to dine al fresco on the inviting semi-enclosed patio. Our server Andrew was friendly, and somewhere along the way, we learned that a surprising number of Paso residents (including himself and the Chef Santos MacDonal) are LA transplants!

2014-06-22 19.25.47

Even after having partaken in an entire afternoon of wine tasting, we could not resist yet another opportunity to sample the Central Coast, so I had the Rose flight while Martin chose the Italian flight to start our meal.

2014-06-22 19.30.12

We love grilled octopus so despite other tempting offerings such as mozzarella di bufalo, coppa con burrata, and carpaccio di anatra (duck), we went with our first instinct: grilled octopus with fresh vegetables marinati in a spicy vinaigrette. The octopus was charred to perfection and oh so tender. It was served over a hearty bed of cannelini beans and tomato, reminding us that we are indeed in an Italian ristorante.

We mentioned wanting to try two different entrees and sharing so that we could sample two of their famed dishes. But without any indication or request, our server went ahead and asked the kitchen to split the plates so that we could each have our own portions, beautifully plated. So thoughtful!

2014-06-22 19.52.38

Following our antipasti was our primi of pappardelle al aragosta – squid ink pasta with a lobster ragu finished with salmon roe. Remember when we said we love grilled octopus? Well we LOVE squid ink pasta. Guaranteed, at least one of us will order it given the option. The lobster ragu was rich and packed with generous bits of lobster meat, while the roe (which I believe was actually tobiko, or flying fish roe, as it was much smaller than the distinct size of ikura) added a welcomed touch of saltiness. The pasta itself, made in-house, had the distinct texture that only fresh pasta has, and it was cooked just until al dente. Absolute perfection, we enjoyed every bite of this. (Editor’s Note: I noticed this dish is no longer listed on the current menu on the website and has been replaced with a lobster ravioli dish instead.)

2014-06-22 20.17.05

Our secondi was a very special dish, one that everyone will tell you to order if you come here but never seems to make a permanent appearance on the menu: osso buco – overnight-braised pork shank with parmesan risotto. It was customary to serve me easier-to-daintily-eat slices and chunks of braised meat while the gentleman got the rest of the bone-in shank in all its glory. What they didn’t know was that this lady has a strong stomach and ended up devouring some of her date’s portion as well, it was just so good! Quick research on the history of osso buco tells me that this was a more “modern” preparation with its tomatoes and mirepoix, but modern or traditional, it was an impressive dish that felt decadent and yet comforting at the same time. Don’t miss it!

2014-06-22 20.52.31

For dessert, Martin was in the mood for something less sweet and made a special request for an affogato – hot espresso poured table-side over vanilla ice cream. I opted for the vanilla panna cotta which was garnished with fresh strawberries and a berry coulis. I loved being able to actually see the flecks of vanilla bean, and the flavor was delicate. Delicious!

From beginning to end, we had an amazing experience. Be sure to include Il Cortile in your next Central Coast adventure!

———————

Check out Il Cortile – ilcortileristorante.com

608 12th St
Paso Robles, CA 93446

See their Yelp reviews here!

Advertisements

Risotto with Italian Chicken Sausage and English Peas

Main Dishes, Recipes, Side Dishes

Last week I posted a picture of our dinner after having made what I thought was just a simple but tasty way to use up some storebought Italian sausages I had hanging out in the fridge. But the photo garnered many “likes” on both Facebook and Instagram (follow me: keepcalmbakesouffles) so by popular demand, here is the recipe. I had a package of Open Nature brand Italian chicken sausages, but your favorite sausage of just about any brand and flavor will do. (Although if you have some bratwurst to deal with, might I suggest our beer braise with caramelized onions instead?)

Risotto with Italian chicken sausage and English peas

Risotto with Italian chicken sausage and English peas

Also, I chose to toss in English peas as they looked especially fresh and colorful on the shelf of my local Trader Joes (which, apparently, now stocks microgreens as well in case you wanted to bring restaurant plating techniques to your home kitchen). You could substitute (or add) fava beans, chopped asparagus, artichoke hearts, shaved fennel… if you dream it, you can achieve it. Longtime readers may recognize that the instructions are very similar to the risotto al funghi that we posted last summer!

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 white or sweet onion, diced

1 package Italian chicken sausage, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces

1 1/4 cup arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine (2 buck chuck Chardonnay will do fine)

3 cups chicken broth (approximately)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or a few sprigs fresh thyme

1 cup English peas (or frozen petite sweet peas)

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup parmesan, grated

Salt & pepper

Prep

Prep

First things first, set up your mise en place: minced garlic, diced onion, sliced sausages, bottle of wine opened and ready to go. (And peas picked out of their pods if yours are THAT fresh.)

Sweating the Onions

Sweating the Onions

Sweat the onions and garlic in oil over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the Sausage

Add the Sausage

Add the sausage and saute for a few minutes. I tried to get a bit of color on some of the slices.

Add Rice and Wine

Add Rice and Wine

Add the rice and pour in the wine to deglaze the pan. Stir until the wine has been absorbed.

Simmer Simmer

Simmer Simmer

Toss in the thyme and pour in the chicken broth, about 1 cup at a time. Let the liquid come to a simmer. When the rice has absorbed most of it, add more chicken broth, reserving about 1 cup (less is OK) for the next step.

Add the Peas

Add the Peas

After about 20 minutes or when the rice has just gotten to the al dente stage, add the peas and pour in the reserved broth.

Finishing the Risotto

Finishing the Risotto

When most of the liquid has been absorbed and the peas are cooked through but not mushy, finish with the butter and parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

White wine may be a more traditional pairing for risotto, but I enjoyed my portion with a tall glass of the Sam Adams Seasonal brew Cold Snap, an unfiltered white ale with the smooth brightness of the summer ale but a hint of spice to remind you of the best parts about this time of year. (Yes, I loved it so much at Dave & Buster’s that I bought a few bottles to enjoy at home!)

Risotto ai Funghi (Mushroom Risotto)

Appetizers and Starters, Recipes, Side Dishes

Risotto ai Funghi, Italian for mushroom risotto, is traditionally made with porcini mushrooms. However, with porcini mushrooms hard to come by aside from the foragers at local farmer’s markets, I whipped up this risotto with good ol’ cremini (baby portabello) mushrooms and it’s still a comforting, hearty meal for a cold night. You really could use any mushrooms or blend of mushrooms of your choosing, although I would not recommend using only white button mushrooms – those little guys are a bit plain in flavor.

Risotto ai Funghi

Risotto ai Funghi

Ingredients:

(adapted from this AllRecipes.com recipe)

3 cups chicken broth (low sodium or homemade would be good so you can control the seasoning)

2 tablespoons olive oil

10-12 ounces mushrooms, sliced (I used 8 oz of cremini and 3 oz of fresh shiitake)

1 shallot, finely diced

1 clove of garlic, finely minced

3/4 cup Arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine (Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc are good choices)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

In a small pot, bring the chicken broth to a simmer and lower the heat.

Mushrooms, ready to go into the skillet!

Mushrooms, almost ready to go into the skillet!

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss in the mushrooms, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and saute until they are softened and browned, about three to five minutes. Transfer the mushrooms and their liquid to a bowl and set aside.

Sauteing mushrooms

Sauteing mushrooms

Now in the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute the shallot and garlic until the shallot becomes translucent, about one to two minutes.

Sauteing the shallot and garlic

Sauteing the shallot and garlic

Add the rice. Let the grains toast a bit, stirring frequently so nothing burns. I learned this trick from the instructions on the back of our favorite Rice-A-Roni box. Personally, I like the toasted flavor the step imparts on the final product. After a few moments, pour in the wine and continue to stir until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Toasting the rice

Toasting the rice

Now for the oh so fun (not) maintenance of the risotto. Working on medium to medium-high heat, start ladling in about 1/2 cup of broth. Stir gently to keep the risotto from sticking. It will take about two minutes before the liquid is absorbed. Continue slowly, adding about 1/2 cup of broth at a time, to build the starch levels, the primary contributor to the risotto’s creaminess.

Slowly but surely

Slowly but surely

You may not need all three cups of broth. Or you may find yourself needing a bit more (in which case you could also substitute wine or water, if needed). Risotto making is not a perfect science. But once the rice is al dente, add in the reserved mushrooms and their liquid. Mix to combine.

The step that makes a mushroom risotto a mushroom risotto!

The step that makes a mushroom risotto a mushroom risotto!

Plop the pat of butter and stir in, allowing it to slowly melt and blend with the risotto. Hey, I never said this dish was particularly healthy…

Mmm butter...

Mmm butter…

Sprinkle with the grated parmesan. You’ll want to know how the salty cheese impacts the overall flavor before moving on to the final step – seasoning. I like to use pink Himalayan salt as a finishing salt, along with some fresh cracked black pepper.

Parm time!

Parm time!

I particularly enjoyed this recipe since its difficulty seemed to be just right. Some recipes claim to yield a finished dish in 15 minutes and some call for a full hour or longer, but for me, the rice had absorbed all of the added liquid after about 30 minutes. Also, I found this slow, stirring method to be well worth the extra effort and attention.

Not sure how my humble risotto would fare in Hell's Kitchen!

Not sure how my humble risotto would fare in Hell’s Kitchen!

Don’t let Gordon Ramsay’s relentless yelling on Hell’s Kitchen instill a fear of risotto in you like the show did in me. I believe in you! If you do give this hearty, mushroom-y recipe a try, please holla back and let us know how it turned out.