Finally, we hit the mac-and-cheese truck

I’ve been following CapMacDC on Twitter for months. Even before the truck started rolling, I was following. When the owners asked for ideas on food containers, I suggested they pour the pasta right in my hands.

When CapMac did hit the D.C. streets, I waited for it to come by. The truck went to McPherson Square, Dupont, Farragut, even as close as Metro Center, but the truck never made it to Chinatown or Mt. Vernon Square. And my NPR coworkers were waiting too. When the Captain announced a Chinatown run yesterday, we were ready. As I told desk-neighbor Sondra about the truck’s glories, as she’d made a great mac-and-cheese recently for our cube fam, colleague Aly was planning with her desk-neighbor Nelson and shooting me an e-mail. Noon? Yeah.

Fellow neighbors Stephanie, Demian and Max joined us. We braved the brutal cold on 7th Street, found the line short but steady, took photos, hid in the warm Portrait Gallery atrium, and inhaled our food.

How was it? Completely lived up to high expectations. The mac was a familiar friend. The crumbled Cheez-Its on top put your friend in a top hat. While working the mac, I may have eaten my fork. We also tried the truck’s new soup: butternut squash with “brown butter croutons and whipped goatcheese.” On a frigid day, the soup tasted genius.

Nelson captures us at the truck:

Aly, along with documenting the mac, got us saluting the Captain:

(Should saluting the Captain become a thing for the truck’s followers? Yes. You think I’m kidding? Find the truck and get the mac and soup.)


The final meal at the beach is a good one

I’m not thrilled with the way this picture turned out, but I could not be happier with the way the dish and the rest of our meal went tonight at Blue Moon Beach Grille. We typically eat out the night before we leave the beach, and neither of our two favorite places from past years were available. One was hosting a wedding reception, and another location had changed hands. So, I was putting in charge of finding a new spot.

At the top of TripAdvisor’s Outer Banks rankings was Blue Moon. The reviews were numerous, recent and claimed it was the beach’s new best restaurant. High praise! And you can now us among the faithful.

All the reviews said the people there couldn’t have been nicer, and I’m now thinking science would agree. With rain closing the outside tables, the hostess took our number — first time we’ve ever seen that on the Outer Banks — and we killed time nearby at Kitty Hawk Kites, where my family has had fun killing time for about two-plus decades now. Not bad. After the call came and returned, the waiter was welcoming, hit every mark, was inquisitive about the dishes, and had me thinking about key lime pie all the drive home even though I had less than zero room for it. A Cooper man and his desserts… My dad guessed it was a family-run place, with the staff seemingly pros instead of summer help. He was right. Scott and Melissa Shields, so well done. And the food–

What you see here is Angel’s Delight. “Shrimp and blue crab, sautéed in a light white wine sauce, with vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh green onion, roasted red peppers, garlic, and basil. Finished with whole butter and served over angel hair pasta and topped with parmesan cheese.” Are there more ways to make me happy? (Only if I can fit in dessert…) Flavors bounced all the smart ways, and though I filled up, never felt heavy. The rest of the family said the same about theirs. A long way from the beach’s usual sea platters. Lead-ins had the same precision. The calamari was in a white wine, cherry pepper and lemon butter sauce. I’m not sure I’ve had better. Even the Caesar brought bacon and onion to the tastes. Among the dishes, not a wrong move.

I know the post sounds overly effusive. But when you’ve been going somewhere on vacation for two-plus decades and seen the island’s evolution, it’s thoroughly exciting to find the new best restaurant in a hidden strip mall facing neither the old main road nor the new one.

Glad to see business was bustling tonight. We’ll be back next year.

I want to eat the entire bulleted list

Pecorino cheese rivals the parm in my heart, and now Serious Eats writes about it. The only thing that could make the cheese better would be Giada misprouncing it adoringly. Thanks to Jess for the link.

–Try a fresh, young or medium-aged pecorino with fresh pears and a drizzle of Italian chestnut or acacia honey, a classic combination that is enjoyed throughout Tuscany and beyond.

–Pair an aged Pecorino stagionato with a bowl of toasted walnuts, or a rustic loaf of walnut bread, toasted and warm–the bitter edge of the walnuts compliments the rich, nutty flavor of the cheese perfectly.

–Grate lots of Pecorino (young, old, or both) into ravioli filling for fresh pasta. Try fresh ricotta, sheep’s milk if you can find it, with chopped, sautéed swiss chard a bit of grated nutmeg.

Would the risk of shocking myself be worth it?

Yesterday’s talk of pasta and a box of spaghetti sitting on a countertop made me realize I knew next to nothing about my all-time favorite brand of pasta. Where did San Giorgio come from? Where did it come from originally, and where did it come from now?

The San Giorgio site brought me a brand history.

Born in Reggio Calabria, Italy, in 1890, Guerrisi came to America at the age of 12 and soon became a water boy at a stone quarry in New York. Then he took a job in a Bronx foundry. A few years later he moved to Harrisburg and earned some money as a dish washer.

One Sunday he visited a friend in nearby Lebanon and decided to stay over until Monday to find a job. Though he had little command of English, he was hired by the Keystone Fruit Company to deliver fruit with a horse drawn cart, because, he was told, the horse knew where to make the stops. Some six years later, in 1910, Guerrisi bought the fruit company and soon had 11 salesmen and six delivery trucks.

The tiny pasta business he bought in 1914 and named the Keystone Macaroni Manufacturing Company was located on Sixth Street. It was turning out about 100 pounds, or ten boxes, of macaroni per day….

Then a company history summarized the name. “In 1914, he took over the Keystone Macaroni Company in Lebanon, Pennsylvania from an elderly Italian macaroni maker and renamed it San Giorgio Macaroni.”

From there, I turned to the International Directory of Company Histories, courtesy San Giorgio went into Hershey hands in the ’60s, where it thrived as those hands stayed somewhat hands-off. The group chief told Milking and Baking News, which must be one of the world’s more delicious periodicals, “pasta products purchased today are the same that a mother or grandmother purchased.” (Having grown up in a San Giorgio house, I couldn’t agree more.)

Around the turn of the century, Hershey spun off the group as New World Pasta. It subsequently went into bankruptcy, thanks in part of faulty computer software, Baseline reported. According to The Manufacturer, the company emerged a year later and soon became part of another multinational corporation. This corp reportedly had its heart closer to pasta than chocolate.

Boring Hoovers manuevers, you say? I thought so too — until I found the world’s most advanced pasta factory may exist here in Northern Virginia. Soon after opening, Prepared Foods named the factory its 1993 “Processor the Year” and wrote a massive cover story on it.

The story told of pasta birthing, milling, flying through space, the product of machines yet machines that cared enough to create quality, box after box after box in a system temptingly flexible to demand. I couldn’t find any information on whether time had since passed this factory by. But I did find it hiring electricians.

Pasta dishes? Patsa dishes

I’ve never seen Italy in person. I hope it really does look like this recent New Yorker cartoon. Because this looks like the insides of my kitchen cabinets, only bigger. Like, if I were friends with the Indian in the Cupboard, and our lives revolved around pasta and tourism instead of life lessons and independence. Searching the Cartoon Bank site for “pasta” brings more fun.

Speaking of pasta, two thumbs up for Famoso in Friendship Heights. Only open since late September, the decor isn’t perfect yet –too unpurposefully distracting — but the food and service are well on the mark. If you enjoy huge wheels of parmasan cheese set on fire for your pleasure, consider the risotto.

Oh, Giada

She brings me Everyday Italian, and I enjoy it because that’s exactly what I have in kitchen cupboards. Pastas, sauces, cheese, and wine glasses. There are other things, but they’re a minority. My fridge is just as boring. Or tasty.

So Giada and I get along.

I’ve been reclaiming my e-mail the last few days, both the inbox and the spam filter. They both turned up finds. One was an e-mail I’d sent myself from work — subject line “giada” with a work link inside.

I thought the link was a story the paper had written about her, slipping in and out of dresses ahead of some event, seemingly always verging on the accented ingredient name-dropping she does to great effect. I remembered in the story that even in real life Giada couldn’t help her constant overexplaining. Like her overly rich and European-seeming friends she feeds at the end of each episode, despite their clearly expensive pants having no business mixing tomato sauces and the outdoors, the explanation effect is offputting if you want to like her. You worry that if she were in your kitchen, you’d offer her wine and she’d start on a story about wine and her grandmother. In this story, her grandmother would not have a beloved drinking problem, drop anything, steal anything, or be immediately to Lucy’s left when you watch the grape-stomping scene — the only valid reasons to postpone accepting a glass of wine.

But I was wrong about the link. It wasn’t the story but an excerpt from her new book. The receipt was “Spaghetti with Pinot Grigio and Seafood.” It contained zero superfluous explanation, not a word more than necessary to complete the instructions.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 3 minutes, until tender but not brown. Add the sun–dried tomatoes and cook for another minute. Add the wine, shrimp, and clams and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until the shrimp are pink and the clams have opened, about 7 minutes. Discard any clams that have not opened.

Add the spaghetti to the skillet with the seafood mixture. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine, then gently fold in the arugula. Mound the pasta on a serving platter and serve immediately.

Finishing my own plate of pasta, I went looking for the story. Quickly found it. She was in a dress shop.

“I’m petite, but most petite women don’t have breasts and curves. I have a hard time getting clothes that fit right, and for some reason the pieces I have from him, it’s as if he sculpted them for me,” Giada said. A grandmother story followed.

Oh, waiter

Fetch me yesterday’s New York Times.

THE tagliatelle with black truffles and butter was a stumper.

At the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., the perfect beverage matters as much as the food. Thomas Keller, the chef, insists on it. Paul Roberts, his wine and beverage director, makes it happen.

For the pasta, Mr. Roberts’s usual arsenal of aged white Burgundy or pinot noir wouldn’t do. The diner didn’t drink. Instead Mr. Roberts measured out a small, perfect glass of Clover Stornetta whole milk, shaken until it was good and frothy.

That’s right. Milk.

Keep reading. Expensive but interesting.