Earlier this week, I went with my friend, Jessie, to see chefs Andrew Carmellini, Michael White, and Mario Batali speak on a panel, “Bringing Italy to New York: The Journeys of Three Top Chefs.” Generally, they were enjoyable and funny (Mario: “The Italians were eating with forks when the French were still eating each other.”), and they all came to one conclusion about Italian cooking: it’s about great ingredients. A great pasta with ricotta and peas is great because the pasta, ricotta, peas, and olive oil are each individually great — and there isn’t a lot of junk in there to distract you from all the good stuff. (Sun dried tomatoes were unfairly singled out, but also remember when sun dried tomatoes were in everything? Yeah, the ’90s were awesome, maybe we should call them?) They also talked about other fun, chef-y thinks like sous vide (Andrew Carmellini seems to think you can get a sous vide machine from Williams Sonoma for $100 which is HA! #outoftouch) and how taxing it is to be a world traveler and not get to plate food every, single day (again, Mario: “I’m here now [8:00 on a weeknight] so I’ll just say: I’m in all of my restaurants, all of the time.”) and whether Tokyo or Hong Kong has a better food scene these days. Let me tell you fellas, you haven’t had good food till you been to Stuckupville, just past Douchetown, also barf on all your faces.
But it isn’t just Italian food that is about great ingredients. It’s good cookin’. Take, for example, taco night. I’m a little hesitant to give up my best secrets so quickly on this blog, but here goes: taco night is my jam. When I first started doing taco night dinner parties, I was just too ambitious. Homemade tortillas, a pot of beans, rice on the stove, a salad, a pot of mussels (as weird as it sounds and it totally didn’t work with taco night, but good mussels steamed with butter and white wine and chorizo? It wasn’t horrible.) Taco night used to be tons of work and we ended up with way too much food, and a taco that was really just a tortilla — homemade or not — and a little scoop of meat and nothing else that really belonged inside a taco. The meat, of course, was super easy and make-ahead (ehrm, lamb birria comes to mind) so I used that as an excuse to work my butt off in the kitchen on everything else while my friends drank beer with little lime wedges and I missed all the fun like Cinderella.
No mas, amigos. Taco night at leightogreato has changed — we are all about the Italian way these days … at least, the Italian way as defined by Mario and Andy and Mike. Taco night these days means a good meat — almost always make-ahead, still pluggin’ the lamb birria — and a few well-curated, high-quality toppings like this dehydrated sriracha with greek yogurt and pickled jalapenos. They sound fancy, but they’re both super simple and easy to make a week or a day in advance, so the work on taco night is just firing up some tortillas directly on the gas stove, warming up meat, and chopping an avocado and some radishes or onion for crunch. And finally breaking out of my Cinderella kitchen and getting to enjoy taco night with my friends. And that’s what good food — Italian or not — is all about.
- 2 T. sriracha
- 2 jalapenos
- 1 T. kosher salt
- 1 T. sugar
- White wine vinegar
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
- Spread sriracha (if you can't find this at your grocery, it's on amazon here) on parchment paper and get it as thin as you possibly can. The first photo that follows this recipe shows the totally flat and skinny sriracha I used.
- Bake for about 2 hours until it looks like the second photo that follows this recipe -- flat and dry.
- Bending the parchment paper, crack up the dried sriracha until it makes small flakes you can sprinkle on anything -- but it's absolutely perfect sprinkled onto or stirred into greek yogurt on a taco bar, but doesn't suck on breakfast tacos, either.
- Store in an airtight container somewhere cool and dark.
- Slice jalapenos as thinly as you can. Toss with salt and sugar and cover with white vinegar. Cover with plastic wrap and let them sit for at least 30 minutes, and as long as overnight. They'll keep in the fridge for a week or so (if they last that long).
- When you're finished with the jalapenos, save the vinegar! It will be spicy and tangy. Basically, exactly how you would expect the combination of jalapenos and vinegar to taste. But also fantastic on salads and mexican food in place of lime juice or vinegar, when you're looking for an extra kick.