Beefy Tomato Pasta

Beefy Tomato Pasta (VirgoBlue)

Two things:

1) Fall’s here and I like making comfy one-pot meals that are hearty.

2) I love Hamburger (and Tuna) Helper.

I admit it, I love that boxed stuff and can easily sit by the television with a big bowl of it. That and Velveeta and Shells. I know there’s nothing “real” or good for you about Velveeta, but sometimes, you just don’t care.

Anyways, if I can make a version of Beefy Tomato Macaroni from scratch so the guilt of making a boxed meal doesn’t have to enter my head, and the recipe is simple enough, I’ll do it.

Enter this recipe.

It’s not hard to make at all and if you use the right ingredients, it’s wonderful. I pulled the original recipe off the back of a can of diced tomatoes (which you’ll need for this) and then decided to tinker with the flavors.

It’s so yummy, your kids will ask for seconds. My husband asked for thirds.

Enjoy.

BEEFY TOMATO PASTA (MAC)
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (I use Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes w/Green Chilies for a little mild spicy kick)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz. can corn
1 lb. ground beef, defrosted thoroughly (I like to use organic)
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. celery salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. salt
2 cups of of low-sodium chicken broth or water
1 12 oz. package of macaroni or spiral pasta (I used brown rice pasta since my husband is gluten-free)
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Heat the oil in a saute pan or dutch oven over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add in the onions, garlic and 1/2 tsp. of the salt. Saute until onions are translucent (about 4 min).

Add in your ground beef and make sure to break it up well. Saute until browned, about 5 min.

Add in all the other ingredients. Let it come to a boil, cover, then simmer for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Test the pasta for doneness after the 10 minutes and add on additional cooking time if necessary. Stir, turn off the heat and let sit for about 5 minutes, uncovered, so the liquid will further absorb and the mixture will thicken.

Serves 6.

Pizza and Pasta Rule at Osteria Coppa

Perfectly acceptable pasta and mediocre slices of pizza are easy to find.  If you haven’t had a decent interpretation of either in a while, you can easily forget what a great version tastes like.

Let’s just say I’ve now been reminded.

Osteria Coppa in San Mateo is owned by the folks who run Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay; a Peninsula institution.  Executive Chef Chanan Kamen takes pride in his handmade pastas and hand-stretched pizzas, and it shows.  His resume includes Michelin-starred Quince and Jardinere in San Francisco, and Picholine and Tabla in New York City.

Osteria Coppa is a farm-to-table restaurant, meaning they use organic, locally sourced, artisanal ingredients.  They cure their salumi in-house, fire up hand-made pizzas in their stone ovens, and artfully make their own pastas.

I paid two visits to the restaurant and each time focused solely on the pizzas and pastas, the latter of which has been getting some positive mentions in both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News and The San Francisco Examiner, lately.

Braised Radicchio, Panchetta and Aged Balsamico Pizza

I tried both the house-made sausage, speck and crimini mushroom pizza, as well as the pancetta, braised radicchio and aged balsamico.  Both thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pies were fantastic for this simple reason: the fresh, creative topping combinations worked perfectly on an exceptional crust.

The flavors on both pizzas were well conceived, but I was particularly impressed with the pancetta, braised radicchio and aged balsamico pie.  It was one of the best pizzas I have had in a while.  I fell in love with the wonderfully tangy sweetness of the balsamico.  It made me wonder why I hadn’t tasted balsamic vinegar on a pizza before!  It was the perfect match for the meaty, fatty goodness of the of pancetta bits.  And the radicchio was an edgier stand-in for the typical red onions.

My dining companion at one point declared, “Even the crust is great on this pizza!”  The crust was perfectly crisp and charred on the bottom, pillowy soft and sweet on the inside.  If you order just one pie while you’re there, this is the one.

As far as Osteria Coppa’s pastas go, the San Jose Mercury News has called them “exquisite”, and even named the Tagliatelle Bolognese one of the Top Ten Dishes of 2010.

Tagliatelle Bolognese

There are plenty of places that make their own pastas, but they either make the mistake of overcooking it so that it becomes mushy (fresh pasta should take no longer than a few minutes to cook), or the flavor is way too doughy and floury, without enough focus on fresh, quality ingredients.

There’s no risk of either here.  Preparation, ingredients and technique all have equal importance.  The Fettuccine Marinara with cauliflower and broccoli rabe was perfectly al dente, and the noodles were delicious with a wonderful eggy, almost buttery flavor.  The freshness of the vegetables was obvious and actually made the dish seem light.

But I can confirm that the recent attention on the Tagliatelle Bolognese is well warranted.  The dish was nothing short of fabulous with its smooth, rich pork and deliciously creamy sauce.  And once again, the noodles themselves were the star in both texture and taste.  But for all the richness of this dish, it never seemed overly heavy.

Blood Orange Lemonade

Aside from the pizzas and pastas, the house-made blood orange lemonade is more proof of the inventive items on the menu.  It’s a fun twist on the typical lemonade and it shows how the restaurant takes full advantage of their access to great fruits and vegetables.  They use unconventional ingredients and combine them in a way that makes you feel like every item is fully realized.

Service is casual but expert.  There’s no pretentiousness from the staff, and families are welcome.  In the Bay Area, that’s a welcome change for a restaurant of this caliber.  They’ve done a successful job of creating a warm, sophisticated yet easy vibe here.  Chef Kaman was an expert pasta maker while at Quince, and the peninsula is lucky he’s decided to bring his four-star talents to suburbia.

Sociale Redo

A repeat visit to Sociale is always a welcome opportunity. Getting there is easy, parking is a breeze, and walking down that hidden cobblestone corridor to find this gem of a restaurant at the end of it is nothing short of a pleasure. I sometimes feel sorry for the people who are dining across the street at the well-known Spruce Restaurant because they have no idea what they’re missing!

Their menus change with the seasons and they represent the essence of that time of year so well. The Foodinistas and I (@joanneisafoodie, @lickmyspoon, @istelleinad) shared a variety of appetizers, including their famous Fried Olives stuffed with fontina cheese, Seared Scallops with mango, hearts of palm, and a citrus reduction, and the Watermelon and Burrata Salad. They were all wildly different, wildly fresh, and wonderfully delicious.

I am a huge sucker for burrata, now. It’s like a creamier version of fresh mozzerella, liquid and all. So creamy soft that it’s perfect on a small slice of bread. Just heavenly. And the red and yellow watermelon slices with a touch of chili flakes were such a simple yet ingenious combo.

And the scallops were definitely worth mentioning since they were perfectly cooked, sweet, and tender. Hearts of palm usually reminds me of a cross between fennel and bamboo shoots, and here, they were the perfect textural contrast to the sweet mango slices. This dish was perfectly executed and beautiful as well.

For our entrees we ordered the Pici with Venison Bolognaise, Spinach Tagliatelle with corn and tomatoes, and the Duck Breast with a cherry sauce and potato torte. All of these dishes had wonderful character and flavor combinations.

I LOVED the tagliatelle and have always wanted to order this dish simply because the colors are beautiful! And I’m happy to say the dish itself is just as delightful to eat. I love how fresh the sweet corn and tomatoes were, and the housemade pasta was chewy and delicious. A generous shaving of cheese on top and I was loving every bite.

But it was the duck breast that really surprised me. The accompanying cherry sauce fortunately didn’t overpower the meat, like it can sometimes. It was merely an accent to the perfectly medium rare duck, which was perfectly prepared and seasoned. I would definitely order it on my next visit.

As always, sitting outside at this restaurant is the only way to go, which means you must request a table here beforehand. It’s so charming and adds to the whole experience of eating there. It’s at once romantic, intimate, special, and makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a quaint little elegant European restaurant. Yet the service is exceptionally friendly and comfortable. Eating here is always an experience I relish.

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Italian in Mountain View

rist.jpg Courtesy of www.dongiovannis.com

If you’re ever in downtown Mountain View, specifically Castro St., you’ll never have any trouble finding a good Asian restaurant. There’s a wide selection of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese joints all up and down the street.

Unfortunately, my friend and I weren’t in the mood for Asian food. And our options didn’t look good, until we saw Ristorante Don Giovanni.

I was a little afraid upon entering the place because of it’s stereotypical Italian bistro decor of peach colored walls, dime a dozen Italian posters and the pungent smell of garlic. The place needs a facelift to make it more modern and give it some distinction.

Upon opening the menu, I noticed an abundance of typical Italian favorites you’d expect to see like pastas and scallopinis. Nothing terribly innovative or exciting, but there were a lot of choices.

If you love veal, you’ll love this place. There is a ton of veal on this menu and not as much in the way of chicken or beef. I decided on the Veal Scallopini with Marsala and Mushrooms. I LOVE marsala dishes, so I was hoping for the best.

But first, my friend and I shared the crab cake appetizer. There are so many ways to screw this dish up, but fortunately, it exceeded my expectations. The crab meat was flavorful, fresh tasting, moist, and the breading was light and crispy. A solid dish.

My friend ordered the ravioli stuffed with ricotta in meat sauce. She loved it and practically licked the place clean. And my veal marsala was surprisingly good. The veal was pounded thin and was moist and tender. The mushrooms and marsala sauce were sweet and tangy, just like it should be. It was simple, but delicious.

At one point we both stopped ourselves in mid meal realizing how fast we were eating! We enjoyed the food thoroughly, and the service was friendly and attentive. The menu and decor could stand a little more imagination, but the simple food was hearty, yet not heavy, and solidly good.

If none of the Asian restaurants on Castro are calling your name, you could do a lot worse than this place.

Ristorante Don Giovanni – 235 Castro St., Mountain View – 650.961.9749

SPECIAL OFFER: On Thanksgiving, November 22nd, 2007, Ristorante Don Giovanni will be serving their annual FREE Thanksgiving meal, as a thank you to all their loyal customers! Just show up between 11am-4pm to get a free turkey meal! Not valid on takeout orders, while supplies last. Please call the restaurant for more details.

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