I'm into pure, hard-hitting tastes. Ingredients that smack you in the taste buds: basil, chili peppers, ginger, lime, lemon grass, green extra-virgin olive oil, caramelized garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano. Fresh herbs, if you leave out sage and thyme (and cilantro sometimes "skives me out" if it's really pungent). Chocolate is my weakness — I'm addicted.
So if I combine these favorite ingredients, I have the basis of Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, which explains my fondness for these ethnic foods. However, I have one more love: pasta. I crave semolina, rice and whole-wheat pastas. I dream of tortellini. I picture huge platters of orrechiete with steaming broccoli rabe and lick my chops thinking about the Vietnamese noodle soup pho I had recdently laden with hot chilies, lime and impeccably fresh bean sprouts piled in the center. I marvel at manicotti, lay awake thinking about what I can layer into lasagna. I'm happy with al dente angel hair and fresh-grated parmesan with green olive oil drizzled over the top before adding just a squeeze of fresh lemon and a grind of cracked pepper. Here are some of my favorite dishes using my favorite ingredients. I'm treating myself. After all, it's my birthday.
—By Chef Steve Petusevsky