Tag Archives: Quick and Easy

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

I have a really terrible memory. When I’m introduced to new people, their names fly in one ear and straight out the other. I can’t remember what classes I took in college. And I often find myself wandering the aisles of Rite Aid wondering what I needed that brought me there in the first place.

Yet, I can recall almost every single restaurant I’ve ever been to. And I eat out a lot. I couldn’t tell you where the restaurant was located or when it was that I ate there, but I could recount exactly what I had and why I liked it (or didn’t.)

So when the conversation at a recent cocktail party turned to a meal that included pasta mixed in a giant wheel of cheese, a lightbulb went off. My friends Jon and Julie and I dined at an Italian restaurant that had a dish like that … maybe four, or was it five years ago?

Of course I couldn’t remember the name. Luckily for me, Jon isn’t nearly as memory-challenged. He provided the address and Dave and I were off to Cacio e Pepe for dinner.

The restaurant’s signature offering — Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe — was even better than I remembered. It’s a typical Roman dish using tonnarelli pasta, like a square spaghetti, tossed in pecorino with black peppercorns.

What’s fun is that the waiter does the tossing table-side:

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe Being Tossed

Then scoops it all right onto your plate:

A little bit of drama, a lot of cheese, and I’m one happy girl.

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

The pasta was perfectly al dente, with the rich and salty cheese offset by the spiciness of a generous amount of black pepper.

It was gone in mere minutes.

You don’t have to have a giant wheel of pecorino to recreate this dish at home (though it would certainly be handy.) Click here for a really simple 15-minute recipe from Food & Wine.

Cacio e Pepe, 182 Second Avenue, 212-505-5931

Ina Garten Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta

Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta

I typically avoid recipes that call for what I consider to be luxury machinery — mainly a food processor or stand mixer. After all, I live in New York City. I barely have room for a stove. Take up precious counter space with a rarely used stand mixer? No, thanks.

So when my sister showed me Ina Garten’s recipe for tomato crostini with whipped feta (which you can find here), I was immediately skeptical. While I adore the Barefoot Contessa, the first step calls for mixing together feta and cream cheese in a food processor. I advised skipping the recipe and subbing in something simpler for the party Alex was throwing. But my little sister did what she often does — she ignored me.

Alex was undeterred by her lack of what seemed to me like critical machinery. Instead, she mixed together the cheeses and whipped in a healthy dose of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper all by hand, actually achieving a fairly creamy consistency. While she does have a surprising amount of upper arm strength for being such a slim thing, I think she proved that this recipe is easily manageable even if you lack the convenience of a food processor.

The cheese mixture was then spread onto crostini, forming a base for garlicky marinated tomatoes. Alex chose an heirloom cherry variety, which I think actually made her version look more colorful and appetizing than Ina’s. (I’m waiting for lightning to strike me for saying that…)

Here’s the Food Network photo:

Ina Garten Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta

And here’s Alex’s:

Ina Garten Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta

She eliminated the pine nuts simply because she didn’t want to buy a whole bag and only use a handful. But if you have some lying around at home, I would include them to give the appetizer another layer of texture.

Ina Garten Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta


These crostini were a big hit at my sister’s party and are definitely going into my recipe box.

Tomme de Savoie

Tomme de Savoie Fondue

I only managed to make it over to Artisanal one time during its February fondue month event, but I sure picked a good night. The bistro’s fondue du jour was Tomme de Savoie, a cheese of which I’ve always been a big fan but had never tried in alcohol-spiked, melted, near-liquid form. It was just as mouth-watering as I had hoped.

There are dozens of French cheeses which have “tomme” in their names — it basically means small and round cheese. Tomme de Savoie is a semi-soft, raw cow’s milk cheese made in the mountainous Savoie region of France. It has a thick, gray natural rind with an earthy aroma and a milky, nutty flavor.

This is what the cheese looks like in its natural state:

Tomme de Savoie

And here it is in a fondue form, with wild mushrooms mixed in, that left Dave and I scraping the bottom of an empty pot searching for the last droplets. (I just wish that I could figure out how to get a brighter flash without seriously disturbing other diners. It’s so frustrating to not be able to get a picture that is as beautiful as the dish is delicious. But here’s what I have. You get the idea.)

Artisanal's Tomme de Savoie Fondue

As soon as I got home I started searching for a recipe to recreate this delectable dish in my own kitchen. Unfortunately, my admittedly unscientific Googling — and lack of ability to read/understand recipes written in French despite two years of college classes in the language — came up short on a pure Tomme de Savoie recipe.

However, I did find simple instructions here for a quick and easy fondue that combines the cheese with three other French varieties. Toss together a green salad, and this would be a perfect casual dinner to share with friends on a cold and snowy night.

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini

The Easiest Appetizer Ever

Let me set a scene for you: I’ve invited friends over for dinner at 7 pm. I inevitably end up being stuck late at work, the subway is delayed and there’s a long line at the bakery, where it seems the entire neighborhood is suddenly clamoring for baguettes. I get home at 6:45, finding myself with zero food ready and a mere 15 minutes before my guests arrive.

Cue the pesto mozzarella crostini.

This is the quickest appetizer in my arsenal (other than throwing out a hunk of cheese and a knife, which I usually do in tandem with this app.) Plus, these little crostini are both elegant and seriously foolproof, a rare combination in the culinary arts.

All it takes are four simple ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • One baguette
  • Pesto
  • Plain or marinated baby mozzarella balls (also known as bocconcini)

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini Ingredients

Here’s how to do it:

  • Preheat the broiler
  • Slice the bread and lightly spritz it with cooking spray
  • Broil the bread till golden

(Note: Watch the crostini like a hawk. They can go from perfectly toasted to blackened hockey pucks in a matter of seconds.)


  • Cut the mozzarella balls in half
  • Spread pesto on each crostini

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini

  •  Top with two mozzarella halves

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini

  • Sprinkle with pepper, if so desired

(Note: I only add pepper if I’m using plain mozzarella balls because they just look too naked. If I have marinated mozzarella, the herbs and red pepper provide a little extra flavor and give the balls a shot of pretty.)

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini

The whole shebang takes under ten minutes, dirtying only a baking sheet and cutting board, which I can quickly clean and stash away before anyone arrives. Plus, gobbling up these little guys typically distracts my guests from the fact that I haven’t yet started dinner. Wine also helps with that.

Parmesan Crisp

Parmesan Crisps

When I was in Chicago with my mother last week, my friend Megan was kind enough to have us over for dinner. Between raising two young children, getting her home ready for a sale and freelance writing, I have no idea how she found time to not only whip up a gourmet meal but even serve it with cloth napkins (something that happens in my home only on Christmas.)

I was especially impressed by the elegant salad she made, sporting homemade dressing and a crispy parmesan topper. It was restaurant-quality presentation in what she swears was under 10 minutes.

Parmesan Crisp

The recipe, which is from Martha Stewart and which you can find here, involves simply baking a thin layer of parmesan cheese and letting it cool before topping the salad.

Parmesan Crisp Cooling

Megan’s tip: the parmesan should stay in the oven until it’s crispy enough to break with the tap of a fork.

Il Gabbiano Parmesan

Parm: A Pre-App Warm Up

Dining at Il Gabbiano in Miami last week felt like eating in a bygone era. Waiters were clad in white jackets and the appetizer special (a giant langoustine stuffed into a massive crab claw) was advertised tableside.

While it’s becoming more and more rare to receive a basket of complimentary bread (or even a single roll) in New York these days, Il Gabbiano doesn’t skimp on the pre-dinner warm-up.

Not only was a bountiful basket of assorted warm carbs delivered the second that we sat down, but two pieces of garlicky tomato bruschetta also arrived. Even better, the waiter chiseled out hunks of parmesan (shown above) and presented them to us alongside a pool of aged balsamic vinegar the consistency of syrup.

The parmesan was a perfect way to kick off a wonderful Italian meal. Although the cheese is usually relegated to a garnish in my household, I’m definitely going to serve it as a pre-appetizer the next time I’m trying to class up a homemade Italian dinner.

Il Gabbiano, 335 S Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-373-0063

Blue Cheese Buffalo Chicken Dip

Blue Cheese Buffalo Chicken Dip

In honor of the Super Bowl being played in my hometown, I thought I would feature a cheesy dip perfect for a football-watching party. It’s like eating a buffalo chicken wing, but without the mess of a bone. The best part is that this dip requires almost no effort. All you have to do is toss a few basic ingredients together in a slow-cooker.

(As an aside: I love my slow cooker. There is nothing I like better than cooking something that doesn’t require me to, well, actually cook something.)

Here’s what you’ll need:

Blue Cheese Buffalo Wing Dip Ingredients

  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (about 1/2 of a chicken)
  • 8 oz. bar cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup ranch dressing
  • 1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
  • 1/2 cup Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wing Sauce

The first thing you need to do is shred the chicken.

Shredded rotisserie chicken

I like the pieces pretty small, so I also chop it.

Chopped Rotisserie Chicken

(Note: If you’re really short on time and not completely skeeved out by chicken in a can, like I am, you can sub that in for the rotisserie chicken.)

Next, combine the chicken and the remaining four ingredients in a slow cooker. Heat on high for about 1 1/2 hours or until the dip is bubbly.

Blue Cheese Buffalo Chicken Dip

Then watch your guests devour it straight out of the cooker.

This should make enough to feed about 8 hungry football fans and can easily be doubled or tripled if you’re expecting a crowd. It can be served with tortilla chips, corn chips or cut veggies.

I got this recipe years ago from Frank’s RedHot and have tweaked it several times. I’ve tried multiple combinations of dressings and cheeses, finally settling on the ranch dressing/blue cheese combo. However, you can definitely substitute blue cheese dressing for the ranch and pretty much any shredded cheese you have on hand for the blue cheese crumbles.

The dip could also be made a bit lighter by using low-fat dressing and cheeses. But I would suggest leaving that for another time. It’s the Super Bowl, for gosh sake. Make the full-fat, fully-delicious version and enjoy the game. Go Broncos!