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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Perfect Meal: Salad, Pasta, and a Good Stiff Drink

A friend and I had a tough day and we needed a quiet place to have dinner and recover. We happened across Matteo's, a West LA fixture since the Frank Sinatra Rat Pack days.

The menu is Old School, with sections for Antipasti, Salumi, Insalta, Pasta, Seafood, Chicken, Chef's Specialities, and Weekly Specialties. I'll definitely come back for Tuesday's Roast Pig alla Porchetta Dinner. Tonight I settled on a Caesar salad, Spaghettini alla Vongole, and a Perfect Manhattan with a twist. I have to say, the combination was about as right as it could have been.

The dinner reminded me that a salad, pasta, and a drink was a good way to settle down and switch gears from work-manic to social. Tonight I decided to do my own version of this trifecta and make an Arugula Salad with Feta and Olives, Spaghetti with Parsley and Bacon, and a Perfect Manhattan.

Perfect Manhattan

A Perfect Manhattan mixes up easily and should be the first thing you make, so you can sip while you cook.

Yield: 1 serving

Time: 2 minutes

Ingredients

4 oz. Bourbon or Whiskey
½ oz. Sweet Vermouth
½ oz. Dry Vermouth
1 twist of lemon peel, 1" long, ¼" wide

Method

Keep the Bourbon in the freezer so it will be extra cold. Pour the Bourbon and both vermouths into a martini glass, stir, drop in the twist, and sip contentedly.

Arugula Salad

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch arugula, washed, dried, the leaves pulled off the stems
10 oil cured black olives, pits removed, cut in half
1 scallion, washed, trimmed, sliced, the white and green parts
¼ cup feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons reduced balsamic syrup
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt

Method

Toss the arugula, olives, scallions, and feta in a salad bowl, then drizzle the olive oil and reduced balsamic syrup. Taste and season with pepper and sea salt as desired.

Spaghetti with Parsley and Bacon

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound dried spaghetti
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, the leaves finely chopped, the stems not used
4 strips of bacon, already cooked, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup homemade chicken stock or pasta water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
Freshly ground Parmesan or Romano cheese

Method

Put a large pot of salted water (1 teaspoon of Kosher salt to 1 gallon of water) on a high flame while you sauté the parsley, finely chopped bacon, and garlic in the olive oil until softened, not browned. Add the dried pasta to the boiling water, stir well, and check every 5 minutes, stirring each time, until cooked al dente.

To capture 1 cup of pasta water, put a measuring cup in the sink next to the colander. Empty the pot into the colander, filling the measuring cup with pasta water as you do. To keep the pasta hot while you finish the sauce, put the spaghetti back in the pot, drizzle with olive oil, stir well, and cover.

Use the chicken stock or the pasta water to deglaze the pan, adding the butter and mixing with the parsley-bacon-garlic mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Taste and season with sea salt or black pepper if needed. Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

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