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From the Food File

n'awlins

Last week ended up being a big food week, owing to the usual convergence of events — Father’s Day, our anniversary, Joel’s birthday — along with the arrival for two days of my cousin John and his wife Joan and the fact that Joel was in fact home for the week. I already wrote about our anniversary dinner at the Georgian Room last Tuesday. I’ll mention some other meals here.

John and Joan arrived on Thursday afternoon, staying with us for two nights before moving on to attend a wedding. No one loves food more than John does, so if you want to stay on a diet, he may not be the ideal house guest. But if you want to eat and talk food, be sure to invite him over. He’s just serious enough about food to give up his law practice in New York a few years ago and move to Phoenix to open a new restaurant. I don’t know enough about Phoenix to suggest that it’s a restaurant vacuum, but it’s not New York, and until John and Joan came to town, you probably wouldn’t go there to get New Orleans food. They changed that, albeit briefly, with A Taste of N’awlins. We had the good fortune to pass through the Phoenix area in March 2006, during its brief life. I had a deans meeting in Tempe at Arizona State University, and we arrived two days early so we could see the Mariners play at their spring training home in Peoria and the Angels play in Tempe. We had dinner with John and Joan our first night in town, they joined us for the Angels game, and the next day, when I was on campus at the meeting, Gail went into downtown Phoenix to put in a day of work at the restaurant. A day later, with the meeting ending at lunchtime, we headed back downtown to have lunch there and stick around to help with the cleanup before going to the airport for the flight home. We tasted a little bit of everything. It sure was good.

But back to last week, here in Seattle. Thursday Gail cooked dinner for us all. Salmon on the grill, tagliatelle in a cream sauce, salad with lettuce from our garden, and for dessert, trifle. Friday morning I had to go to a meeting, returning as everyone finished a breakfast of bagels and smoked salmon. Soon we were off to Pike Place Market, the one thing John wanted to see in Seattle. There’s much to enjoy there, but I did wonder if there was much point in showing off our locally-famous Italian food store, DeLaurenti, when there’s no shortage of such places in New York. Or Italy.

We had been talking the night before about bucatini amatriciana, which I wrote about two months ago after ordering it at the nearby restaurant Piatti. At the time, I quoted from the website of Babbo Ristorante that this “dish is one of the most celebrated in Italian cuisine and a favorite here at Babbo. Named for the tiny town of Amatrice, located 100 miles east of Lazio from Abruzzo this dish can be made both with or without tomatoes. Ever since Abbruzzese shepherds begin the tradition of eating this spicy pasta after a day in the chilly mountain air, the cooking process has always begun with the rich smell of a fatty piece of pork bubbling in the pan. At Babbo, we use our homemade guanciale, or cured pig jowls, with its distinct pork flavor, to achieve the same rich taste that comforted the shepherds of old.”

I noted that recipes call for either guanciale or pancetta, and that guanciale appeared to be the authentic ingredient. I also noted that we were fortunate to have access to guanciale. “After all, Babbo was started by Mario Batali, and Mario’s father, Armandino, started Salumi, Seattle’s own purveyor of cured meats. Sure enough, they purvey guanciale.” Well, the point of all this is, when we were in DeLaurenti, looking at the case of meats, John pointed out that they had guanciale. He insisted on buying some for us, and we saw that it was none other than Salumi’s guanciale. We then went over to the pasta section to look for bucatini — a hollow tube spaghetti. We didn’t find it, but found instead a fatter spaghetti in long tubes that was called rigatini. We were set for Joel’s birthday dinner that night, provided he approved.

After an hour and a half in the market, we walked uphill to Serious Pie, Tom Douglas’s pizza restaurant on Virginia between 3rd and 4th. It’s part of his complex of restaurants surrounding the intersection of 4th and Virginia: Dahlia Lounge, Lola, Serious Pie, and the Dahlia Bakery. There was a wait to get a table at Serious Pie, so while we waited, we headed around the corner to the bakery to get a birthday cake for Joel, a chocolate cake with apricots and cointreau. The timing worked out well, with Joel arriving from home to join us for lunch just as we were ready to order.

We got three pizzas: the buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomato; the yukon gold potato, rosemary, olive oil with walla walla onions added; and the buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomato with house salumi and sweet fennel sausage added. Everyone liked the third one best, but I seemed to love them all. The potato one wasn’t as successful with some of the others. I would happily eat all three again soon.

Joel approved the dinner plan of rigatini amatriciana, and when we got home, Gail set to work. John and Joan had other plans, so it was just the three of us and Jessica. Joel had other plans too for that matter, centering on playing golf with two of his friends, so he didn’t get home until around 7:15, late for the ceremonial birthday photos we always take at the moment of his birth, 6:00 PM. I think he’s happy to let that tradition go, so happy that last year he stayed in Boston on his birthday. I bet he’ll be happy to have Gail’s rigatini amatriciana again though. Was it ever good!

Gail followed the Babbo recipe, which includes the following instructions for preparing the guanciale:

Place the guanciale slices in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan in a single layer and cook over medium-low heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat, turning occasionally. Remove the meat to a plate lined with paper towels and discard half the fat, leaving enough to coat the garlic, onion and red pepper flakes. Return the guanciale to the pan with the vegetables, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until the onions, garlic and guanciale are light golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, add the tomato sauce, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

The guanciale made all the difference. It was so tasty. Go get some, get whatever pasta you like, and make this dish. It’s great.

Our food week wasn’t quite over. The next morning, we had a late breakfast in the backyard with John and Joan, featuring Chef Gail’s cheese-onion-pepper-bacon omelets and local cherries that we bought at the market the day before. And for Saturday dinner, it being Joel’s last meal, he had his choice of restaurants. He chose Northlake Tavern, one of our standard pizza places. So ended a great week of eating.

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Categories: Family, Food, Restaurants
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