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Pasta allo Zafferano (Pasta with Saffron)

17 Jan

We probably all recognize that pasta is a highly versatile ingredient for preparing quick and delicious meals and can be served at both simple and elegant dinners.  The addition of saffron, the king of spices (the most expensive spice in the world by weight!!!), makes your pasta dish something you will remember and want to make again and again.  It is an easy and fast first course that brings a smile to my children’s faces.  Saffron adds an inviting intense golden-yellow color (don’t forget that we first eat with our eyes!!!) and a special honey-like taste to your recipe.  In fact, the word saffron originates from the Latin safranum, which in Arabic signifies yellow.  Saffron comes from the stigmas of the flower Crocus sativus (commonly known as Saffron Crocus), cultivated in Asia Minor even before the birth of Christ, then later brought into many Mediterranean countries.  Egyptian physicians already cultivated this plant as early as 1600 BC.  Today the largest crops in Italy are located in Abruzzo, Sardinia, Tuscany and Umbria.  The Aquila saffron or zafferano d’Aquila (Abruzzo), cultivated exclusively in the Navelli Valley, is one of the best saffron in the world for its distinctive thread shape, unusual pungent aroma and intense color.  Saffron can be used in many recipes such as rice, pasta, meat, soups and sweets as well.  Last, but not least, it is a MUST for a superb Risotto alla Milanese!!!! In addition to its culinary uses, saffron has also many therapeutic properties such as anti aging, anti depressant, anti cancer and cardiovascular effects (contributing, of course, to an increase of sexual vitality).  Add saffron to your recipe and put some extra sunshine on your table and into your life!

PASTA ALLO ZAFFERANO (PASTA WITH SAFFRON)
Preparation Time: 20 min.                           Servings: 4

Pasta con zafferano small

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) penne or bow-tie pasta (artisanal pasta)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
200 ml (¾ cup)  heavy cream
¼ teaspoon saffron threads or 1 package of saffron powder
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1.In a non-stick skillet melt the butter on low heat and then add the cream.  Mix well and add the saffron powder or threads (see note for preparation)
2.Bring to boil a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta for about 10-11 minutes al dente (read the cooking time on the package).  Drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet, toss gently.  Before serving sprinkle with ground pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Note: The quality of ingredients used is very important for the outcome of any recipe.  With regards to pasta in particular, I would suggest artisanal pasta such as Faella or Martelli versus a more industrial brand.  In fact, artisanal pasta has rough and porous texture which sauces can cling to better, and it usually “mantiene bene la cottura” (keeps its “al dente” texture longer).  If you can’t find artisanal pasta, then I would recommend buying commercially available durum wheat semolina pasta – rigorously made in Italy, though!  Saffron threads versus saffron powder:  Saffron exists in two forms: threads and powder. The threads are the whole stigma while the powder consists of ground stigma.  The threads are tastier and more genuine while the saffron powder loses its flavor rapidly and is very easy to contaminate with other, less-expensive powders of similar color such as turmeric.  If you prefer to use the powder, you have to trust the brand you are buying.  In case you are using threads, soak the saffron threads for 15 minutes in 5 teaspoons of liquid (hot –not boiling–  water, broth or your cooking liquid) for every teaspoon of saffron.  Then add the solution to the your dish.  Generally speaking ½ teaspoon of saffron threads = ¼ teaspoon of saffron powder, so as a rule use one half the amount of powder as you would threads…-Paola

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Pasta

23 Feb

Pasta, the queen ingredient of the Italian cuisine, appreciated all over the world, is a mixture of durum wheat flour and water, which is dried and cut into various shapes. It can also be produced with other grains or cereals, and eggs may be used instead of water. Therefore, pasta should be divided in two major categories: dried pasta (pasta secca) and fresh pasta (pasta fresca) prepared with type-00 flour and eggs. The eggs enhance the yellow color and improve the elasticity (especially necessary for long pasta shapes such as tagliatelle), and they reduce the stickiness, too (for my fresh homemade pasta recipe click on https://passionandcooking.wordpress.com/?s=lasagne+alla+bolognese&submit=Search). Most dried pasta is made industrially in large quantities, but a few artisanal producers still make it the way it was produced in the past. This method uses the bronze extrusion dies (perforated plates for shaping), and the pasta is dried slowly at low temperatures. Consequently, artisanal pasta has a rough and porous texture which sauces can cling to better, and it usually “mantiene bene la cottura” (keeps its “al dente” texture longer). This method makes the Italian pasta something unique, differing in quality and taste from pasta produced in other ways and in other countries. The quality of the ingredients, the methods of production, the variety of formats and the countless tasty sauces available make our pasta something that we Italians are very proud of. It is important to pair the ‘right’ pasta shape with the ‘right’ sauce. For this purpose, I would suggest grouping pasta shapes into five categories:

1. short pasta (penne, farfalle, fusilli, maccheroni, orecchiette, etc …)
2. long pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, linguine, noodles, angel hair, tagliatelle etc …)
3. filled pasta (tortellini, ravioli, cannelloni etc. ..)
4. lasagna
5. pasta for soups (thimbles, bells, rings, etc …).

The main purpose of different pasta shapes is just to hold the sauce better, which also depends on the roughness of the dough. The pasta shapes differ greatly from north to south, and this is due to the different sauces prepared with the ingredients available in different climates. In the south, where the climate is warmer, olive oil and tomatoes, fresh vegetables, olives, capers and seafood are staples. The classic recipes are, for example, spaghetti con aglio, olio e peperoncino, spaghetti puttanesca, spaghetti carbonara. In the north, however, where the climate is colder and more humid, cheese, butter and cream are frequently used to prepare the sauces (for example maccheroni with gorgonzola sauce, penne allo zafferano (for my saffron recipe, click on https://passionandcooking.wordpress.com/?s=pasta+allo+zafferano&submit=Search). Smooth sauces are fine for long pasta (like spaghetti) where the sauce flows around the noodles, while chunky sauces call for concave shaped pasta or one with holes (like penne, maccheroni). Certain short pasta (farfalle and fusilli) are also good to be served cold (like in pasta salad); it keeps its texture for a long time. Pasta dishes are served as a first course (primo), and the portions are small because the servings are often followed by a second course (secondo, which by itself might often be considered a full meal in other countries). Sauce should be served in equal amounts of pasta and should not smother the pasta.

Pasta

HOW TO COOK PASTA
The cooking time depends both on the format and the type of pasta. It is usually 11-12 minutes for pasta secca, because the pasta needs to rehydrate, while the time is shorter for fresh pasta (for example, tagliatelle will take about 2 minutes, ravioli 3-4 minutes). For every 100 g of pasta (3.5 oz), you need 1 liter of water, and pasta should be cooked in a large pan, since the dough tends to stick during cooking in small pots. The normal portion per person is about 80-100 g (3 – 3.5 0z). The ratio of salt to water is very important. In general, you need 10 g (2 teaspoons) of salt for every liter of water. If the pasta sauce has a strong seasoning, the amount of salt should be reduced proportionately. It might be that no salt is necessary, for example, if the pasta is served with pesto, which can be quite salty by itself. The ideal time to add salt to water is after it starts boiling; if you add salt to the cold water, the time to boil will be longer. To prevent pasta from sticking add one or two tablespoons of oil to the water during cooking. Pasta should not be soft or mushy when it is served. Cooking should be “al dente” (literally translated as “to the tooth”), which means that the cooked dough should be firm and have a bit of resistance when you bite into it. Just halve your macaroni and view the inside: when the color is homogeneous your pasta is right al dente, instead when the inside is still white the pasta is not cooked enough. You should take into account that pasta will continue to cook for a while after it is drained. I would recommend to drain your pasta while it is still just slightly ‘underdone’ for your taste, making it perfectly al dente when you eat it. -Paola


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