Freako for Frico

Mini-Caesar salad in a frico cone

It’s one of life’s best things. That little bit of melted cheese that escapes from the edge of the grilled cheese sandwich or quesadilla, and sizzles into the pan, becoming crisp and lacy. More

In Praise of Arugula

The Italians know something we Americans often don’t. That is, that sometimes the most wonderful dishes are the most basic. If you’ve got fresh, great quality produce and make the right flavor combinations, the simplest things will be the most delicious. And here I share with you one of my favorites.

Arugula may be the best of all herbs. It grows wild in places like Greece and Italy, where old toothless guys with walking sticks and baskets and faithful hound dogs named Pirot forage for it on barren hillsides. It’s easy to grow, at least in California. Let it go to seed, and you’ll have little wild arugulas popping up all over your yard. And you and your kids can get a basket and pretend you’re foraging, too.

Peppery, floral and complex, its flavors become even more sublime when it is combined with five additional ingredients — fresh lemon juice, best-quality extra virgin olive oil, shaved aged parmesan, freshly cracked pepper and flaky sea salt such as Maldon. As beautiful and sophisticated as it is simple.

My 7-year-old son who is suspect of anything green will devour as much of this salad as I will serve him, he loves it so. You will too:

Italian Arugula Salad
serves 4

1  cup arugula per person
fresh lemon
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup thinly shaved aged parmesan reggiano
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Choose nice looking plates. Spread a cup of arugula artfully around each plate. Squeeze lemon juice over the top, one or two good squeezes per plate should do it. (You should be able to drizzle all four salads with a single lemon.) Then drizzle each salad with your best olive oil. Sprinkle some salt over the top, and a twist or two of freshly ground pepper. Top each with some shaved parmesan. Serve immediately, perhaps as the first course in an Italian dinner.

Wine suggestion: A nice, light pinot grigio or floral sauvignon blanc.

Coolest pepper mills on earth:

Rome’s Best Soup

I was about 11 when it happened.

Spending the summer in Europe with my family, I was gazing out the window of a restaurant high above Florence in the Etruscan town of Fiesole (where Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas used to spend their summers entertaining Picasso and other friends, of which Stein wrote, “The days were long and the nights were long and the life was good.”). The waiter brought a soup that was one of many illuminating moments on that trip which would change my life. It was called stracciatella, “little rags” in Italian. It was a specialty of Roma, we were told. I’d never tasted soup like it.

Keep in mind this was the late 1970s, a time when “Italian” in the U.S. — even in sophisticated Southern California — meant Papa Tony’s, greasy meatballs in tomato sauce, pizza and overblown Jersey-style minestrone. Here was a soup that was the antithesis of everything I’d known to be Italian.

It was also miraculously simple. A clear, resonant golden broth in which floated those little rags — shreds of egg and spinach flavored with parmesan, nutmeg and pepper. A soup that would come to illustrate perfectly my core cooking belief in highlighting simple, fresh flavors that sing like a symphony together. Beautiful to see, and memorable to taste. Make this soup — I can make no promises but it may change your life too. Especially if done properly.

As I often say on this blog in regard to the simplest recipes, success depends entirely on the quality of your ingredients. This is a soup, for example, that benefits highly from a good homemade stock. Fresh farmer’s market spinach, the best parmesan reggiano you can find, and really good eggs don’t hurt either. And there may be no experience in the kitchen as immediately gratifying as grating a pod of nutmeg directly into your food.


1 quart homemade chicken stock
3 eggs
1 cup finely chopped spinach
1 tbsp semolina flour (optional)
1/4 cup parmesan reggiano
a few grates fresh nutmeg

If you don’t have chicken stock, get yourself a whole chicken. Throw it in a pot with an onion, a bay leaf, a carrot and about a gallon of water. Bring to a boil, skim off froth, turn down to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Add salt to taste (you’ll need a good bit of salt here). Remove the chicken (use the meat for sandwiches or tacos). You can continue reducing the broth over medium heat for another hour if you want a stronger broth. (I would recommend doing this.) Strain through a fine sieve into another pot. Let cool. At this point, take out your quart for your soup and freeze any remaining stock in freezer back for future use. (I always keep three or four bags of chicken stock in the freezer.)

Heat your stock over medium to a simmer. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, add the spinach and the semolina and stir together. Add the parmesan, grate a little nutmeg over the top (or throw in a pinch of pre-grated nutmeg), combine thoroughly. Turn off the stock, slowly pour in the egg/spinach mixture, and cover. Let sit for five minutes. Then, gently break up to “rags” in your soup with the back side of a ladle. Serve.

Spaghetti, 101 (My Fave Five)


Has there ever been a more perfect, versatile food than spaghetti? Layer-upon-layer of flavors emerging from within coiled strands of toothsome semolina goodness… In Italy, spaghetti is ubiquitous, dressed in myriad creative ways far beyond that ol’ American standard of greasy meatballs and heavy tomato sauce obscuring overcooked noodles. In Italy, it’s the noodle they celebrate more than the sauce. As Mario Batali says, the sauce is the “condiment.” Scroll down a bit and you’ll find recipes for five of my favorite “condiments” — easy, wonderful dishes you can make in as little as 10 minutes!

Meanwhile, here’s three of the best tips you’ll ever get about cooking spaghetti (or any pasta, for that matter):  1.) Salt your water generously before you start cooking the pasta. I typically throw in a heaping tablespoon. 2.) ALWAYS save the pasta water you have cooked the spaghetti in. Very rarely should you actually drain the spaghetti — lift it out instead with tongs and drop it in the sauce. You’ll use the water to moderate the sauciness of your pasta. 3.) DO NOT add olive oil to your pasta water. This is a waste of oil and money. The way to keep your pasta from sticking together is to stir it the first couple minutes it’s in the water, and then once or twice while it’s cooking.

I like to cook a half pound of spaghetti — you can feed 2-4 people (or 10-12 yoga students), depending on how hungry they are. So all of the following recipes are based on cooking a half pound. You could double it to serve more, or to have tasty leftovers in the fridge. (I’m a big tasty leftover guy, myself…) Don’t forget, you’ll want to save the pasta water for several of these recipes.

(Note: Because of ingredients such as butter and pork, several of these recipes will NOT be starlet- or skinny-yoga-student friendly. If you are serving a starlet or skinny yoga student, substitute quinoa for the spaghetti, expeller-pressed sunflower oil for the butter and tempeh for the pork.)

Spaghetti with Butter, Pepper and Parmesan

This is the simplest and perhaps most wonderful of all. You can also substitute 1/4 cup good fruity extra virgin olive oil for the butter if you’d like a lighter, more healthy pasta. But remember, don’t be afraid of butter. And the better quality the butter, salt and cheese, the better the final results. I use Italian butter from the same Parma cows that make Parmesan, Maldon salt and aged Parmesan Reggiano.

1/2 lb spaghetti
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
flaky sea salt and pepper
freshly grated good Parmesan Reggiano cheese

Cook pasta to al dente. Drain briefly in a collander (do not rinse!) Return pasta to cooking pot, toss with butter until all butter is melted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss again, and plate. Top with generous amount of grated Parmesan Reggiano and serve. (You could also sprinkle some chopped Italian parsley over the top for a hint of freshness.)

Spaghetti Carbonara

This is the traditional preparation, which is a whole different animal than the gummy cream-based version you’ve come to know at Olive Garden’s all-you-can-eat pasta bar.

1/2 lb spaghetti
3 oz pancetta (or bacon)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano, plus extra for grating
1 whole egg and one egg yolk
flaky sea salt and pepper

While pasta water is heating, cook pancetta or bacon to crisp in a pan with olive oil, remove to drain on paper towels and reserve fat in the pan. Cook spaghetti to al dente. Remove with tongs to the pan with the pancetta or bacon fat, bringing a couple tablespoons of pasta water with you. Add pancetta or bacon, broken up into pieces, and heat briefly over high heat, stirring. Remove from heat. Add egg and extra egg yolk and 1/2 cup of Parmesan, and toss to mix. Divide among plates and top with more grated Parmesan, salt and freshly ground pepper.

Spaghetti with Sauteed Greens

This starlet-approved crowd pleaser is perfect for those spontaneous after-yoga-class dinner parties.

1/2 lb spaghetti
1 bunch swiss chard, tuscan black kale or beet greens
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil plus extra for drizzling
1 tsp crushed red pepper
flaky sea salt and pepper
Parmesan Reggiano

Cook spaghetti to al dente. While spaghetti is cooking, chop your greens roughly into large pieces. Smash garlic cloves with back of a knife, break up and cook over medium heat in olive oil. As garlic begins to turn golden, add crushed red pepper and toss. Add greens and sauté for five minutes, with a dash of salt, until greens are cooked. Drain pasta, adding 1/4 cup of the pasta water to your greens. Add pasta and cook over high heat for about a minute, or until sauce thickens and binds to pasta. Remove from heat and divide among plates.

Spaghetti with Fresh Clams

You could also use the more familiar linguini in this preparation, which will NOT remind you of the version your grandma in Jersey used to make when you were a kid.

1/2 lb spaghetti
1 lb fresh clams in their shell, scrubbed
3 cloves garlic, crushed with the back of a knife
1 small Spanish chorizo (see La Española Meats under “Links” to order)
1/2 cup wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
flaky sea salt and pepper
Parmesan Reggiano

Cook the spaghetti to al dente. While it’s cooking, slice up the chorizo and cook slices in olive oil over medium heat. Break up crushed garlic and add to pan. Add clams and wine, turn heat to medium high and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until all the clams have opened. (Discard any that do not open.) Remove cover and simmer over low heat. When spaghetti is done, transfer from pot to the pan with tongs. Add a little pasta water if needed. Turn heat to high and cook, tossing, for one minute. Remove from heat. Toss in parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate the pasta, dividing the clams evenly, and top with some freshly grated Parmesan.

Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Sausage

The simplicity of tomato and pork. You could use turkey or chicken Italian sausage for this if you wanted to. Use colored heirloom tomatoes — green zebra, for example, or golden pineapple — for a vibrant, alternate colored sauce.

1/2 lb spaghetti
1 sweet Italian sausage (or hot if you prefer)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed with the back of a knife
2 very ripe large tomatoes
flaky sea salt
crushed red pepper
Pecorino Romano

Cook spaghetti to al dente. While pasta is cooking, puree tomatoes in a blender. Remove sausage from casing. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and cook garlic for 1 minute. Add sausage, breaking up with the back of a wooden spoon as it cooks. Once sausage and garlic have begun to turn golden, add tomato puree and season with salt. Cook over medium heat until sauce thickens. When spaghetti is done, transfer from water to sauce pan, and turn heat to high. Cook for a minute or two, tossing, until the pasta is coated. Dish onto plates, sprinkle with a bit of crushed red pepper and salt to taste, and top with grated Pecorino Romano.