Recipes: Italian Favorites from Scott Conant

Chef Scott Conant has spent his career working toward the balance between simplicity and sophistication. His Manhattan restaurant, Scarpetta, is named after the Italian word for bread soaked with whatever's left on the plate after a good meal. Famed for his Italian dishes, Conant shares a few favorites.

Spaghetti With Fresh Tomato Sauce and Basil

Recipe courtesy of Scott Conant's "Bold Italian"

This is a straightforward, traditional, fresh tomato sauce in which ripe tomatoes -- and little else -- get cooked quickly to retain their vibrant flavor. Why, then, is it such a hit? The key is in the finish. Here's how I put the dish together at the restaurant: I take a single portion of pasta cooked just shy of al dente and add it to a sauté pan that holds a single portion of hot, bubbling tomato sauce. To toss the pasta and sauce together, I use that pan-jerking method we chefs are so fond of. I do this to look cool. Just kidding. The real reason is that this technique not only coats the pasta evenly with the sauce, but it also introduces a little air into the proces,s making the dish feel lighter and brighter. To accomplish this aeration with larger portions and without fancy wrist work, cook the sauce in a pan with a lot of surface area. When you add the pasta to the sauce, gently toss the pasta with a couple of wooden spoons (tongs can bruise and break the strands), lifting the pasta high above the bottom of the pot. Finish the dish with some butter, some cheese and some basil.

Serves four

About 20 ripe plum tomatoes
About 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish the dish
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butters
1 ounce freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about ½ cup)
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, well washed and dried, stacked and rolled into a cylinder and cut thinly crosswise into a chiffonade
1 pound spaghetti,either high-quality dry or homemade

Instructions:

To peel the tomatoes: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water nearby. Cut a small "X" on the bottom of each tomato. Ease about five tomatoes in the pot and cook, let boil for about 15 seconds and then promptly move them to the waiting ice water. (Do this with the remaining tomatoes.) Pull off the skin with the tip of a paring knife. If the skin sticks, try a vegetable peeler using a gentle sawing motion. Cut the tomatoes in half and use your finger to flick out the seeds.

To cook the tomatoes: In a wide pan, heat the 1/3 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and season lightly with the salt and pepper. (I always start with a light hand with the salt and pepper because as the tomatoes reduce, the salt will become concentrated.)

Let the tomatoes cook for a few minutes to soften. Then, using a potato masher, chop the tomatoes finely. Cook the tomatoes for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are tender and the sauce has thickened. (You can make the sauce, which yields about 3 cups, ahead of time. Refrigerate it for up to 2 days or freeze it for longer storage.)

To serve: Bring a large pot of amply salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti until just shy of al dente. Reserve a little of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook over medium-high heat, gently tossing the pasta and the sauce together with a couple of wooden spoons and a lot of exaggerated movement (you can even shake the pan) until the pasta is just tender and the sauce, if any oil had separated from it, now looks cohesive. (If the sauce seems too thick, add a little pasta cooking liquid to adjust it.)

Take the pan off of the heat and toss the butter, basil and cheese with the pasta in the same manner (the pasta should take on an orange hue) and serve immediately.

Halibut Filet

Recipe courtesy of Scott Conant

5 ounce halibut filet
2 baby Zucchini sliced thin
1 ounce olive oil
10 mussels, cooked. Reserve liquid and meat. Discard shells. 4 ounces chicken broth to taste
Crushed red pepper
2 Zucchini flowers
1/8 teaspoon chives
1 tablespoon peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes

Instructions:

Heat the half of the mussel liquid and all of the chicken stock. Heat to 180 degrees or until it is just short of a simmer. Add the halibut and cover with a piece of parchment paper.

Cook in 250 degree oven for about 4 to 6 minutes.

In a separate pan while the halibut is cooking, heat some olive oil. Add the baby zucchini and saute for a moment to warm. Add the mussel broth and a touch of the chicken broth and cook. Add the tomatoes and the chives.

Plate the dish and finish with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Moist Roasted Baby Goat (Capretto) with Peas, Fingerling Potatoes and Shallots

Recipe courtesy of Scott Conant's "New Italian Cooking"

Serves four to six

For the goat

1 baby goat (also called kid, capretto and chevron) leg and shoulder, about 5 pounds
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 to 8 whole garlic cloves
Pinch of crushed red peppers
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as canola, corn or grapeseed oil
6 to 8 cups chicken broth

For the vegetables:

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as canola, corn or grapeseed oil
5 medium, fingerling potatoes, boiled until just tender and cut into medium dice
2 small shallots or 1 large, thinly sliced
½ cup fresh or frozen pease
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

To cook the goat:

Trim any fat off the goat and remove any silverskin. Combine the olive oil, rosemary, garlic, crushed red pepper, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper. Marinate the goat meat overnight in this mixture.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large, heavy-based braising pan (a pan with sides about 4 inches high), heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Remove the goat from the marinade but reserve the marinade ingredients. Season the goat lightly all over with kosher salt. Sear the goat on all sides until golden brown; this should take 12 to 15 minutes. Add enough broth to cover the bottom of the pan by 1 inch, and add the reserved marinade ingredients to the pan as well. Roast the goat, basting it every 15 to 20 minutes, adding more broth as needed, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, 2 to 2 ½ hours. Check on the shoulder earlier in the cooking time, as it will take a little less time to cook; take the shoulder out earlier if necessary.

Reserve the goat separately from the sauce. Strain the sauce and let the goat cool. When the goat is cool enough to work with, cut the meat off the bone and slice it into pieces that are a little larger than bite size.

If serving the goat right away, degrease the sauce by repeatedly dipping a large spoon or ladle just beneath its surface until the spoon fills with mostly clear fat; discard the fat. If you are cooking the goat ahead of serving it -- it can be prepared a day or two ahead up to this point -- refrigerate the goat and the strained sauce separately (moisten the meat with a little of the sauce). Before reheating, remove any hardened fat on top of the sauce.

Cook the degreased sauce at a rapid simmer until reduced by a third. (The sauce will be thin but very gelatinous. Too much reduction and the sauce will become sticky and unappealing.)

Reheat the meat in the sauce in a low (225 degree F) oven until heated through.

To cook the vegetables:

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium-heat. Cook the potatoes until crispy and lightly browned. A few minutes into the cooking, add the shallots and peas so that they cook together. Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

To serve:

Heap the potatoes and peas to one side of the plate. Lay the slices of goat near them and top with the sauce.

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