Make me a sandwich!...Cooking with Beer
Everyone is familiar with cooking with wine. A nice white wine sauce can go well over a lightly sautéed chicken and some al dente pasta. Most people know that cooking with liquor, especially in desserts, can make a tasty treat. Much lesser known is cooking with beer. Sure, you've had some beer cheese from the local bar or beer battered fish. These are great but beer can also be used to make some sophisticated dishes and not just "pub" food.
With that in mind, I went out in search of a fairly simple recipe but something that would still bring some style and sophistication to beer. It wasn't difficult thanks to the beauty of technology in the 21st century. I simply utilized a commonly used search engine that rhymes with schmoogle and typed in cooking with beer. Of course, thousands of websites appeared but the one I found the most helpful was craftbeer.com.
The siteprovides a wealth of resources including descriptions of various beer types, breweries, and recipes. Knowing I wanted to make something slightly fancy I immediately went in search of a meal that was Italian or French. I can't tell you why but when I think classy meals I think either a French or Italian restaurant. I was lucky to find a recipe right on the front page for a dish called Cacio e Pepe with Saison.
I assumed that I had no idea how to say the first three words of the dish it had to be classy so I followed the link to learn that it would be easy to make. Rizzo and Cece were out of town so I had all the time in the world to gather my ingredients and get to work (don't think me heartless, I was making this so there would be food waiting for them when they got home).
As I have said before, the key to cooking some tasty food is to get the best ingredients you have available. You don't need tons of ingredients; you just need high quality and fresh ingredients. This is absolutely the case with this pasta dish. Here is what you need to have on hand:
- 12 oz. of pasta
- 6 Tbsp of unsalted butter. Cut them up into 6 - 1 tbsp cubes
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked pepper
- 1 1/2 cups of grated parmesan cheese
- 2/3 cup (ish) of whatever other cheese you may like
First things first, get your pasta cooking (toss the salt listed above into the water for some extra goodness). As you can see from the picture I used some spinach fettuccine. I like the think noodles and I went with the spinach to keep it a bit healthier. You can use whatever pasta is your favorite. If I was to make this again (which I'm sure I will because it is simple and tasty) I would pick up some handmade pasta from the farmer's market. However, since the market is not yet open I had to go with the high end stuff from the Harris Teeter. My pasta only took about three minutes in boiling water. Your pasta may take longer. Try to time it so the sauce we are about to make is done about the same time as the pasta. Oh, and when you are done cooking the pasta keep a cup of that pasta water on hand. You're going to need that later.
While the pasta is cooking move over and make some sauce. In a large pot (you'll see why a pot instead of a pan soon) toss in 4 tbsp of the unsalted butter and melt it down over medium heat. Once the butter is melted toss in the pepper just long enough for the pepper to get a bit toasted, maybe a minute. With the pepper all toasted up it is time to add the beer.
Let the beer heat up and start to simmer. You'll smell some delicious scents from the beer at this point. Once the beer is simmering toss in the pasta (which is why we are doing this in a pot instead of a pan) and add the remaining butter. Reduce the heat down to low and add the parmesan cheese.
Rizzo keeps a block of parmesan cheese on hand for our evening popcorn snack. Feel free to use the pre-grated stuff but I read an article recently that indicates that pre-grated cheese also is filled with wood pulp so we have started grating all our cheese. Grating a cup and a half of parmesan isn't the worst thing in the world so take the time and do it yourself.
Once the parmesan is all melted and mixed remove the pasta from the heat and add your second cheese. I used about 1/2 pound of grand reserve manchego. The recipe calls for 2/3 cup of pecorino but I couldn't even find that in the Harris Teeter so I went with the manchego. I think this may have been the first time I used manchego and it was very tasty and added an interesting flavor to the pasta.
Keep tossing the pasta until your second cheese is mixed well and entirely melted in the pasta. Now you're all done! Unless...
You want to kick it up a notch like Emeril and do what I did, which is adding some Italian sausage. I chose a mild Italian sausage so Rizzo and Cece could try it (they don't like things too spicy) but this would go well with a spicy Italian sausage. I suggest cutting your sausage up into bite size pieces, throwing it in a pay with some olive oil for 8 minutes or so (until there is no more pink to cook) and then adding it to the pasta.
If you are looking for something easy to impress that special man or woman in your life I suggest you give this one a go. Not only that, serve it with a tasty farmhouse ale and some crusty bread. You'll look like you know what you are doing when really you just tossed six ingredients in a pot and mixed it up. I'm going to keep this one in the rotation and try various cheeses to see how it tastes but let's be honest; it is cheese and pasta so it will always be pretty doggone good.
Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer! - Martin Luther
P.S. I know that a restaurant doesn't have to serve Italian or French cuisine. I've had some great meals at American steak houses and Asian-Fusion restaurants. However, somewhere in my subconscious whenever I picture a couple dressing up, drinking wine, listening to classical music, and sitting at a table with white table cloths and fine china, I think French or Italian. It doesn't mean those are the best meals. I still think the greatest meal I ever had was at a small micro-brewery, Anacapa Brewing Company in Venice, CA. Read all about it at Beer Snob: The Ocean is on the Wrong Side Edition - Part 1.