Rigoni Di Asiago Nocciolata Organic Hazelnut Spread


It has been a really long time since I was compelled/physically able to write about any food products.  Life has taken some interesting twists and turns since my last post.  Things have changed.  I live in Denver now.  I have a toddler and don’t do as much experimenting in the kitchen because with her I need to stick with what works (sweet potato and pears).  I have also done a fair amount of thinking about our food choices as a family and have made some significant changes in how we eat.  And some of those changes include buying less processed food overall, and reading labels closely for GMOs/other toxic ingredients that seem to lurk everywhere.  The hardest part for me is giving up store-bought sweets and chocolate.  But pretty much everything has conventional corn syrup, all the way down to the last M&M.  Nothing is safe, really.

imagesEnter Nocciolata.  It’s an organic hazelnut spread, much like Nutella, but with a richer, nuttier flavor.  Many people reported they had a hard time getting used to the flavor after having Nutella.  I personally prefer Nocciolata’s true hazelnut and smooth milk chocolate flavors, over that of Nutella.  Made in Italy, it features the Organic Farming seal, as well as the USDA Organic stamp.  It is composed of just 8 ingredients (7 out of 8 are organic) and is legitimately dangerous.  My vehicle of choice is usually Whole Foods Organic Honey Graham Crackers.  The spread and the cookies make the perfect combo and you can make little sandwiches.  Absolutely addicting. And absolutely all natural and preservative free.  I finished a jar a week or so ago.  I told myself I am not going to buy another one but who am I kidding?!?!?  I would spread this on paper and eat it and it would be amazing.

I picked this gem up at my local Whole Foods in Cherry Creek, Denver.  It’s also available for purchase on Amazon, and can also be found at Wegman’s and Zabars.  I never want to be without this product in my kitchen cabinet ever again.

Mymoune Jams & Preserves


Both in food and music, two tremendous parts of my life, I am always searching for the epic jam.  During these last 9 months of pregnancy, I have to admit that I have been concentrating more on the former than the later.   And luckily, to go with my insatiable peanut butter and cheese cravings (not together), I have discovered a very high quality jam that goes well with both.

Mymoune jams and preserves are beyond comparison.    With 70%-88% fruit content and  very few other additional ingredients, these taste the way jams should.  Like fresh, bright fruit, full of flavor and not sugar.  Made in the mountains of Lebanon, these jams and preserves  are 100% all natural, and contain no colorings, preservatives, or additives.  The fruit is selected and then slow cooked in small batches to ensure real fruit flavor and taste.  They come in a lovely variety of flavors including strawberry, apricot, fig (fresh and dried), mulberry, rose and cream of dates with almonds.  Some flavors are available in both a jam and a preserve; the preserve retaining large chunks of the fruit, which, in my opinion, add a pleasing element of texture.

These products work great incredibly well on a cheese plate, as a dessert topic or in baked desserts, or on their own with some simple toast.  They come adorably packaged in glass jars with simple paper labels and rustic burlap wrapping over the cover.  They are only available at select locations in the U.S., including Sahadi’s , Kalustyan’s , and a select few Dean & Deluca’s and Whole Foods locations (see http://www.mymoune.com/ for details)

Taste #5 Umami Paste


U/ma/mi.  No, not the lyrics to the latest Rihanna song, but the borrowed Japanese term for the 5th taste.  It means pleasantly savory, meaty,  brothy.  Foods that are rich in umami are, but not limited to, tomatoes (and tomato products like tomato paste, ketchup, etc.), parmesan cheese, bacon (and other cured pork products), anchovies, shiitake mushrooms, oysters, seaweed, beef, bonito, sardines, green tea, and many others.  Umami increases palatability, salivation, and can considerably reduce the use of salt in cooking without compromising taste.  In short, umami rocks, and is a flavor sensation you are probably familiar with but have just been unable to previously define.

I have been using umami flavors to bring depth to my cooking for years.  A little minced anchovy, some truffle oil, or a few gratings of good parmesan cheese can really go a long way in bringing out the flavor to an otherwise flat, simple dish.  Enter Laura Santtini’s new Taste #5 Umami Paste.  Made with umami rich ingredients such as tomato paste, black olives, balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, porcini mushroom paste, and anchovy paste, this concentrated paste will bring richness to your cooking with so many different types of applications.  Mix it with some good olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper for a quick and delicious salad dressing.  Rub on raw meat, veggies, or tofu before cooking for added flavor.  Squeeze some into pasta sauces, soups, stews, and stir-fries in lieu of extra salt for a kick of savory flavor.  You can also eat this raw and serve with crackers or crostini, or spread on a sandwich or panini.

There are so many amazing applications, I cannot even list them all here.  I only recently picked this up and have had so much fun playing with it already.  It’s a time savor and it really comes through when you need it to.  I am already madly in love with this great product.  Try it for yourself! It can be found at the following locations:  Dean&Deluca, Amazon.com, Union Market, Stinky Bklyn, & Kalustyan’s.  Let me know what you think and if you have found any other awesome uses for it!

Pasta Mancini


Three and a half months ago I had the pleasure of meeting and spending the day with Mr. Massimo Mancini.  It was a rainy day at the end of September and we trekked from restaurant to restaurant  cooking up and tasting his pasta with some of the best chefs in New York.  The joy and satisfaction that Massimo achieved from sharing his artisanal product with others was infectious.  By the end of the day I was recharged and thrilled to be the sole distributor of Mancini pasta in the U.S.

What makes this pasta wonderful and unique is a number of things.  First and foremost, Massimo grows his own wheat for pasta production.  His pastificio (pasta factory) is situated in the middle of his wheat fields.  In this day and age, it is very rare to find pasta makers that grow their own wheat.  Because he so painstakingly does, he can more readily control the flavor profile by custom blending different varieties of wheat (he has chosen San Carlo, Levante and Ariosto durum wheat for their ability to thrive in the sunshine and mild climate of the countryside near Ancona, Italy).  Each year the strains and blends of wheat taste slightly different, making for the vintage of the year.  Similarly to wine, each box of pasta is stamped with the vintage, something I have never seen with any other artisanal pasta line.

Secondly, he adds only spring water and salt to the ground wheat and uses old fashioned bronze dies to extrude the pasta in order to create the most porous, sauce-grabbing surfaces and promote even cooking.  Chef’s prize the pasta for this factor alone.  Try it yourself and you will see how perfectly sauce adheres to it.

Thirdly, he dries his pasta at a very low temperature for up to 60 hours, compared to commercially produced pasta which is dried for 2 to 3 hours at very high temperatures.  The advantage of drying the pasta in the manner that Massimo does is that the pasta actually maintains the integrity of the wheat and this comes through in the flavor, which still tastes like wheat and not dried flour or cardboard.  The pasta also cooks up extremely al dente which is just the way I like it.  The flavor and mouth feel of the pasta is completely unmatched to any other line I have tried.

Pasta Mancini comes in 8 cuts:  spaghetti (my personal favorite), spaghetti alla chitarra, trenette, maccheroni, mezze maniche, penne, tuffoli, and fusilli.  The pasta takes a minute or two longer to cook than other pastas, but the finished product is definitely worth it.  It is best prepared with a simple sauce of pomodorro or cacio e pepe, or any other sauce where the flavor of the pasta can shine through.  It can be found at any of the following locations:  Union Market, Brucie, Foragers Market, Brooklyn Larder, Eli’s Manhattan, and many others.

Cream-Nut Natural Peanut Butter


Peanut butter is one of my all time favorite ingredients.  Straight out of the jar, in cookies, on sesame noodles, with anything chocolate, on bananas…you can’t go wrong with this amazing ingredient any time day or night.

What I have learned though is not all peanut butters are created equal.  Most commercial peanut butters are made with tons of sugar and preservatives.  Even most commercial brand “natural” peanut butters contain partially hydrogenated oils to stabilize and prevent separation.  Not Cream-Nut natural peanut butter.

Cream-Nut is a natural peanut butter made from two ingredients and only two ingredients: Virginia peanuts and a touch sea salt.  For over 80 years the Koeze family has been producing this awesome peanut butter in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Go Blue!) from batches of carefully selected peanuts, slow roasted and  coarsely ground in small batches.   To make a vintage product, they use vintage machinery. Though more costly to run and maintain, the machinery allows them to slow down the process and focus on the craftsmanship of Cream-Nut peanut butter.  You can taste the family love and tradition in every bite.

It’s no surprise that this product was a finalist at the Nation Association of Specialty Food Trade show in 2006.  I love smearing this delicious product on just about anything from toast in the morning, or on apples in the afternoon, or on frozen fudgicles after dinner.  Thankfully Cream-Nut Peanut Butter is now available nationwide!  Do yourself a favor and try some today.  It can be found at the following retail locations and online:  Forager’s Market, Blue Apron Foods, Marlow & Son’s, Bklyn Larder, Stinky Bklyn, Zingerman’s mail order, and more!

Jersey Farms Crushed Tomatoes


First things first.  I am ashamed and disappointed in myself for the lack of blogging in the past few months.  I have gone through the two of the biggest life changes imaginable – changing jobs and moving.  Life has been hectic and free time has been non-existent, but my slacking is still inexcusable, and I apologize.  Thank you to my good friend Adam Raskin for putting me in my place and reminding me that I have a hungry audience counting on me for delicious food suggestions!

Now, for the exciting part.  Jersey Farms Crushed Tomatoes!  This product is so unreal, it will change your life.  It’s so simple, but has endless applications and you will want to use it in everything.  The story goes something like this: a conglomerate of farms in South Jersey created this wonderous product, made simply of crushed plum tomatoes with a little bit of salt added.  And that’s it.  24 hours between harvest and canning, this product is like having the endless bounty of summer tomatoes available all year round.  They are so sweet you will think they snuck some sugar in there, but that is not the case.  No water added either, but depending on your application you might want to add a little to thin it out because they are so thick and hearty.

Melt some garlic and olive oil in a pan and pour some of these tomatoes in for a quick and wonderful marinara sauce.  Use as a flavorful base for soups and stocks.  Cook down to an even thicker consistency and serve on toasts with some fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella.  The possibilities are endless!

The three and four star chefs I work with are going absolutely crazy for this product.  Chef Andrew Carmellini uses it at Locanda Verde.  Chef Jeremy Bearman is using it at his seasonal, local restaurant Rouge Tomate.  Chef Nick Anderer is loving it at his Zagat Rated: Best New Restaurant 2011, Maialino.  Not only is it a fabulous product, but it’s locally made and supports local agriculture (a percentage of the sale of each can goes directly back to the farmers).  And the best part is that is it now readily available to consumers!  Pick of a can of these tomatoes today at one of the following places:  http://www.primiziefinefoods.com, www.freshdirect.com, Forager’s Market in Dumbo, Stinky Brooklyn in Carroll Gardens, Eli’s Market in Manhattan, Greene Grape Provisions in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn Larder, Darien Cheese in Connecticut, Grace’s Marketplace in Manhattan & New Jersey, Union Market in Brooklyn, Blue Apron Foods in Park Slope, The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg, Court Street Grocers in Cobble Hill, & Walter Stewart Market in Westchester.



You may have recently overheard the word “stroopwafel” in conversation at the Brooklyn Flea, or it’s possible you came across it while reading the Serious Eats column, Sugar Rush.  In Dutch, it means “syrup waffle” and refers to a specific type of caramel waffle cookie that originated from the Netherlands in the 18th century.  Legend has it that a poor baker from Gouda set out to making something sweet from the scraps of the bakery, and created a waffle of old crumbs and spices which he sweetened with syrup.

A few years back my friend and coworker Christine gave me a package of De Lekkerste stroopwafels she received compliments of Hotel Pulitzer on a recent trip to Amsterdam.  I tore them open to find two fluffy, soft waffle cookies filled with a layer of sweet buttery caramel.  Each bite was heaven.  I was immediately obsessed with these cookies and I kept the package in my desk drawer so I could follow up on it’s origins and make note to feature them on Rustic Pantry.

Recently they are making headlines and have been seen on the shelves of local stores here in New York.  The Brooklyn Flea now sells them, made by Anna Gordon of The Good Batch baking company in Fort Greene (side note: check out the story in For The Love Of Brooklyn on The Good Batch), as does Radish, a new specialty prepared foods store and market that just recently opened in Williamsburg.  I have also seen a few boxes of Shady Maple Farms organic stroopwafels in local supermarkets and grocery stores.  Not as good as the real Dutch ones, but will still satisfy the craving if in desperate need.

However the situation arose that brought these tasty treats to your attention, one thing is for sure, they are a must try.  A truly unique cookie and an ingenius creation.  I can’t wait to stop by the Brooklyn Flea and taste some from The Good Batch.