Category Archives: Wintertime Cooking

A Closer Look: Cured Foie Gras Appetizer

The weekend is nearly here, and if you’ve got plans to dine at Nightwood, keep an eye out for our new foie gras appetizer.

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We start out by curing the foie gras and then pass it through a tamis (fine-meshed sieve):

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The foie is then whipped, rolled tightly in cheese cloth and hung for a week. When it comes time to plate, the roll is sliced into smaller pieces and our housemade fish sauce caramel is melted over the top of each piece. The dish is completed with several components, including almonds, baguette crisps, an apple puree and freshly cut pea tendrils.

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Almost looks too good to eat …

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If foie gras isn’t exactly your cup of tea, don’t fret — the menu is full of new, mouth-watering dishes that are sure to please any palette. Think fresh prawns, chicken-fried sweetbreads, hand-rolled fregola sarda and more. So if you don’t have dinner plans yet, we suggest coming in and checking out the menu for yourself … there’s a lot of delicious food waiting for you!

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Spaghetti alla Chitarra

For those who have been to Nightwood, you know that handmade pasta is an important part of our menu. While the shapes and styles change every week or two, our spaghetti alla chitarra remains pretty constant. I asked JV how this particular type of pasta came to be at the restaurant, and he explained that when his parents moved to Italy for a brief period of time, he asked them to send him some authentic pasta equipment … instead, they went online and found a Chitarra from a company in Pennsylvania and sent it to the restaurant. Authentic? Yes. Directly from Italy? Not quite.

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Regardless of how it got here, we’re thankful for it: this type of pasta has been a steady customer favorite over the years and lends itself well to an array of ingredients and flavor combinations. The rich, all-purpose egg yolk dough is perfect when it comes to crafting hand-cut shapes like ravioli, pappardelle — and of course the spaghetti alla chitarra.

In Italian, “chitarra” (KEY-tarra) translates to guitar, and you can see from the photo above how this piece equipment resembles a small guitar — strings and all. The origins of the spaghetti alla chitarra appear to come from the center and southern regions of Italy, particularly the region of Abruzzo. There, they like to serve the spaghetti with a simple meat ragu. Though the chitarra may look slightly intimidating at first glance, it’s actually quite simple to use: sheets of handmade pasta are placed directly on top of the strings and pushed through with a rolling pin. Easy, right? Be sure to check out the video below, as JV makes the pasta and shows how to use the Chitarra.

:: INGREDIENTS ::

(yields approx. 4 servings)

  • 1/2 lb. all-purpose flour (~2 cups)
  • 7 egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt
  • Warm water (~1/3 cup, give or take)

:: METHOD ::

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt and create a well in the center. Add the egg yolks and some of the warm water to the well. Begin to mix with fingers, slowly pulling the flour into the center of the well. Add more water as needed until dough begins to come together. Start to knead the dough in the bowl (it’s okay if there’s extra flour left in the bottom of the bowl). Once you get a good chunk of dough, remove it from the bowl and knead it by hand for about 30 minutes to develop the gluten. Now that your arm feels like it’s ready to fall off, tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes so the gluten can relax.

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When the dough is done resting, take a rolling pin and begin to roll the dough out on a floured surface until you’ve achieved a smooth, almost leathery consistency without any cracks or crumbles. Finally, cut the pasta into desired shapes and briefly cook in salted boiling water (time depends on thickness/shape) — the spaghetti alla chitarra should take less than 1 minute to cook.

Watch the video to see JV make the dough from start to finish, plus how to use the chitarra:

A few final thoughts … this pasta dough also freezes great, so you can easily double or triple the recipe and keep it frozen until ready for use. Kitchen Tip: we suggest freezing the dough in thin discs rather than large chunks — it’ll thaw much faster when you’re ready to use it. Also consider using good quality eggs when making this dough; fresh, deep orange yolks will result in a beautiful looking pasta. If you’re interested in purchasing your own Chitarra, check out the Fante’s Kitchen Shop here.


Chai Bitters

A few weeks ago, two of our front-of-the-house staff members — Georgina and Eric — were busy at the bar making house-made chai bitters. I was intrigued by what I imagined would be a heavenly smelling concoction, so I decided to stick around and snap a few shots to document the process … just in case I ever wanted to try this at home.

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While bitters used to be marketed as medicines, today they’re used as flavorings in cocktails, as well as aperitifs and digestifs. The bitters are prepared through infusion or distillation, using aromatic herbs, barks, roots and/or fruits, which are not only used to provide that bitter/bittersweet flavor but also for their natural stomach-soothing qualities. So even though we’ve come a long way from this … its general medicinal qualities have remained constant.

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Though there are numerous types of bitters, it seems nothing could be more comforting and warming during these cold winter months than chai bitters. To start, Eric and Georgina used a mortar and pestle to grind several different types of spices, including: grains of paradise, Jamaican allspice and cardamom pods.

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Here’s Georgina grinding the spices and then adding them to a jar already filled with some star anise, cloves, a few cinnamon sticks cracked in half and wormwood herb.

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After that, Eric added a sliced vanilla bean, fresh orange peel and candied ginger. The vanilla provides a hint of sweetness while the orange peel gives it that natural bitterness.

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While the candied ginger also adds a certain level of sweetness (primarily because it’s candied!), it has always been known for its soothing properties — particularly calming an upset stomach.

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Eric finished it off by adding a high strength rum; he said it would sit and infuse for a few weeks … and well … it’s definitely been a few weeks.

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So whether or not you need a “cure” for jaundice, a loss of appetite, sour stomach, body aches, fever, sores, liver trouble or just general debility — bitters might just be your new best friend. Who knew drinking could be so good for you …

Now, who’s thirsty?


Is It Spring Yet?

Whether or not you believe in the old folklore of Groundhog Day, as a farm-to-table restaurant, we’ll take any sign of an early spring. Lucky for us, Mr. groundhog a.k.a. “Punxsutawney Phil” did not see his shadow this year, which is hopefully an indication that asparagus, snap peas, baby carrots, and morel mushrooms are just around the corner.

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In the meantime — while we’re chomping at the bit for those warm rainy days and farm deliveries bursting with colorful produce — JV has already started to look ahead and plan spring dishes, one of which will highlight cured pigs feet.

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The pigs feet were braised for about 12 hours, picked completely clean, and then the shredded meat was combined with cooked mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) and packed in cheese cloth. The rolls hung in the cooler for about two weeks before JV transferred them to a plastic container to be salted.

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While JV said this is somewhat of an experiment, he’s hoping that the salt will essentially dry the meat out enough to be shaved on top of a dish. He’s picturing it served with some fresh spring asparagus and perhaps a warm butter sauce.

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For the next month or two (or three?) these guys will be hanging out in the walk-in cooler, curing away in a bed of salt, preparing to make their debut come springtime … and we can’t wait.

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Wintertime Cooking

I was hanging around the restaurant last week and decided to take a walk downstairs to peek inside the walk-in cooler. Unlike the spring and summer months — when every nook and cranny is packed full with fresh produce — I came across lots of potatoes, salted meats, pickled vegetables, compound butters, Brussels sprouts, radishes and cabbage (just to name a few). Translation: it’s wintertime in the Midwest.

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Though our inaccessibility to certain types of produce year-round can make cooking for a genuine farm-to-table restaurant challenging at times, we accept it with open arms. Because we don’t have the luxury of living in an area where the climate is more temperate, it forces us to be creative, think outside the box and use the ingredients we do have in ways we haven’t before. Every day, the kitchen staff meets up to go over the menu, as it not only changes seasonally, but also daily. That’s what makes dining at Nightwood so unique.

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This time of year, we’re featuring heartier breads and biscuits, potato-based dishes, lots delicious fat (are you ordering the beef fat tacos for brunch today?), and comforting pastas, like our “one long noodle” that’s filled with carbonara and served with mussels, lemon and cured egg yolk. Here’s J.D., our pasta maker extraordinaire, rolling out the noodle:

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So while some might think wintertime cooking isn’t exciting, we beg to differ … just be sure to come on an empty stomach.

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