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Bucatini all’Amatriciana (Amatriciana Pasta)

16 May

This is a tasty, simple and fast recipe that you can make anytime you crave for a spicy pasta dish.
The amatriciana (ahm-mah-tree-CHA-na) is mouthwatering sauce for pasta, made with bacon, tomato and Pecorino cheese. Everything is seasoned with chili pepper.

The name of this delicious recipe comes from Amatrice, a town at the center of the Apennines ( in the province of Rieti), where on the last weekend of August, a large quantity of this tasty dish is prepared for the local festival. The recipe has a tradition that dates back to when the shepherds were the primary inhabitants and Amatrice was still part of Abruzzo and spaghetti was used instead of bucatini. This recipe was then acquired by the Romans who replaced spaghetti with bucatini, common to their culinary tradition, added onion.

The bucatini is a type of long pasta, very similar to large hollow spaghetti. This delectable dish goes extremely well with a glass of your favorite red wine.

BUCATINI ALL’AMATRICIANA (AMATRICIANA PASTA)
Preparation time: 20 min.                       Servings: 4

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) bucatini
1 tablespoon olive oil (extra-virgin)
100 g (¾ cup) diced bacon or pancetta
1 medium onion, finely chopped
60 ml (¼ cup) dry white wine
340 g (12 oz) San Marzano tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried chilli pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese

DIRECTIONS
1. In a sauce pan heat oil over medium heat, add bacon and fry until fat has melted and bacon is crisp. Stir frequently
2. Add onion and saute for about 7-8 minutes. Add chilli pepper, cook for a minute and then add the wine. Increase heat to evaporate half of the wine. Add tomato and cook for additional 10 min.
3. Meanwhile bring to a boil 3 liters of salted water, add bucatini and cook until al dente for approx. 10 min. (according to the instructions on the pasta package). Drain and pour into a warm serving dish, drizzle with the sauce, season with Pecorino cheese! Paola

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Pasta con i “Broccoli” (Pasta with “Broccoli”) – Vrocculi Arriminata

27 Apr

This tasty primo piatto (first course) is typical of Sicily, but it’s not uncommon to find variations in the ingredients if you eat it in another province. Perhaps it is better known by its name in Sicilian dialect pasta with vrocculi arriminata, which translated into Italian means pasta with broccoli in the pan. I should specify that in Palermo they call broccoli what, in other parts of Italy, we call cauliflower. This appetizing pasta recipe is prepared with cauliflower sweetened with onion, raisins and pine nuts, and colored with the king of spices, saffron (see pasta with saffron ). The type of pasta which I commonly use is bucatini, because it goes well with this type of sauce.Bucatini is a thick, hollow, spaghettilike pasta. Anyway, spaghetti is a good substitute for this recipe, in case you cannot find bucatini. The taste of this dish, savory and sweet, reminds me of the Arabic traditions. In fact, Sicilian cuisine was strongly influenced by the Arab domination and shares close historical, cultural and “flavorful” ties to it.

PASTA CON I “BROCCOLI” (PASTA WITH “BROCCOLI”) – VROCCULI ARRIMINATA

Preparation time: 25 min. Cooking time : 10 min. Servings: 4

Pasta con i "Broccoli"
INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) bucatini
1 medium cauliflower
3 tablespoons olive oil (extra-virgin)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 anchovy fillets in oil, finely chopped
80 g (½ cup) toasted pine nuts
80 g (½ cup) raisins
4-5 saffron threads
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Trim the tops of the cauliflower. Wash under running water and cook for 6-8 minutes until al dente. Drain with a slotted spoon. Set aside and keep the cooking water for the pasta
2 . In a pan heat the oil and fry the onion and garlic at medium-low heat for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Add the anchovies , raisins , toasted pine nuts and the cauliflower. Dissolve the saffron in 50 ml of water in which you cooked the cauliflower and add it to the sauce. Mix (arrimina) with a wooden spoon and cook for 5 minutes. Remove garlic cloves. Season with salt and pepper.
3 . Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the cooking of cauliflower you get salty. Cook the pasta al dente for about 10 minutes (follow the cooking time indicated on the package ). Strain and pour into the pan with the sauce. Stir and serve hot .

Note: To give an extra of sweetness, add the ” muddica atturrata ” prepared as follows: in a nonstick frying pan toast 4 tablespoons of bread crumbs over medium heat. When it is well colored remove from heat and add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. When oil is well absorbed, add a tablespoon of granulated sugar and serve over the pasta. Paola

Crespelle con Zucchine e Crescenza (Crepes with Zucchini and Crescenza Cheese

8 Jan

Crepes with zucchini is a delicious and appetizing dish that you can serve either as a first course for an important dinner or as a main dish for a light lunch. Crescenza is a soft, fresh, creamy cow cheese that has a delicate and mild taste. It gives a delicious flavor to this recipe. If you cannot find crescenza cheese, I would recommend to use either Brie or Camembert cheese without the rind. First crepes are filled with the zucchini stuffing, baked in the oven with some bechamel sauce and then covered with tomato sauce.  Crepes are typical of French cuisine, but not only. In fact, in the province of Teramo (Abruzzo) they are commonly prepared and are called “scripelle”. They are used in various recipes such as pies or stuffed with Pecorino d’Abruzzo cheese, rolled and poured into chicken broth (called “scripelle’ imbusse ). In Salento, however, they are cooked longer. Therefore, they are more crisp and are eaten like a snack. I prepare crepes with a variety of fillings such as spinach and ricotta cheese, mushrooms, asparagus, ham and cheese. My kids love them as a dessert filled with Nutella, a special treat for children (and adults, too!).

CRESPELLE CON ZUCCHINE E CRESCENZA (CREPES WITH ZUCCHINI AND CRESCENZA CHEESE)
Preparation time: 1 h   Cooking time: 20 min.  Servings: 4
Crespelle con zucchine e crescenza

INGREDIENTS
120 g  (¾ cup) flour
240 ml (1 cup) milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter
6 medium zucchini, diced
2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
200 g (about 1 cup) crescenza cheese
120 g  (¾ cup) ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
salt and pepper
250 g (about 1 cup) bechamel sauce
6 tablespoons of tomato sauce

DIRECTIONS
Crepes
1. In a bowl combine flour with a pinch of salt. Add milk with a whisk until butter is uniformly smooth. In a small bowl, beat eggs with a pinch of pepper. Combine the milk mixture with eggs. The batter should be runny, if it is thick add a few tablespoons of milk. Add melted butter, whisking vigorously, cover with cling film and leave to rest for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator .
Grease with butter the bottom of a non-stick 18 cm (7 inch) pan over medium heat and pour a ladle of batter in the center, maneuvering the pan to distribute the batter over the entire surface. Cook for about a minute. When the crepe comes off easily from the pan and is golden brown, turn it with a spatula and cook the other side for 30 seconds. Keep the crepes under a damp cloth to prevent them from drying out.

Heat oven to 180 °C (350 °F)

Filling
1. Wash zucchini, remove ends and cut into cubes. In a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat sauté the garlic in olive oil, being careful not to burn it. Remove garlic and add zucchini. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside. In a bowl mix crescenza and ricotta until the mixture is creamy. Add Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Stir and add  zucchini
2. Fill half crepe with stuffing and close like a book. Complete this procedure until you have used all the filling. If you have some crepes left,  wrap with cling film and freeze. Place the crepes on the bottom of a buttered baking pan. Cover with some bechamel sauce and bake for 10 min. Meanwhile heat the tomato sauce with a tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper. Remove the crepes from the oven, add 1 tablespoon of tomato sauce on each one, bake for additional 5 min. Remove from oven, let stand 1-2 minutes and serve with some grated Parmesan cheese on top. – Paola

Fettuccine al Pesto “Ricco”(Fettuccine with “Rich” Pesto)

8 Dec

Fettuccine with “rich” pesto (also called ” avvantaggiato”, or advantaged) is the ancient version of pasta with pesto that is commonly enjoyed in Liguria today. This recipe is made ​​with potatoes, green beans and pesto. The addition of potatoes and green beans makes this dish truly appetizing, a real delight for those who love vegetarian dishes, including myself! The trick lies in the choice of fresh vegetables and homemade pesto (see lasagne al pesto); this naturally enhances the flavor and aroma of this meal. The pasta that I usually use is artisanal pasta, made ​​with organic flour. I bought the one I used for this recipe in Tuscany during my summer vacation. The color and the taste is a little bit different (more rustic) from mass-produced pasta. The preparation of this recipe is simple, but requires some skill to cook the vegetables. The original recipe for rich pesto calls for cooking the vegetables with the pasta, but the cooking times are different, and therefore to facilitate the preparation, I recommend cooking them separately. You can cut the green beans into larger or smaller pieces, depending on your taste. Fettucine can be substituted with linguine, both of which complement the pesto very well. This dish is certainly a delicious primo piatto (first course) for a cozy dinner or piatto unico (main course) for lunch.

FETTUCCINE AL PESTO “RICCO”(FETTUCCINE WITH “RICH” PESTO)
Preparation time: 25 min.     Cooking time: 6 min.          Servings: 4 Fettuccine al Pesto Ricco INGREDIENTS

340 g (12 oz) fettuccine
2 medium potatoes 150 g (5 oz) fresh green beans
2 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
4 tablespoons pesto
Salt pepper
Grated pecorino cheese

DIRECTIONS
1. Clean the beans by breaking off the ends and rinsing under running water. Boil in water or steam (even better). Drain when they are still crunchy. Keep warm
2. Wash the potatoes and cook in salted water or steam until they are tender. Allow to cool, peel, dice into 1.5 cm (1/2 in.) cubes. Keep warm
3. In a saucepan, bring 3 liters of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the package. Strain and pour into a serving dish, season with olive oil, potatoes and green beans. Garnish with pesto and add some freshly-ground pepper to taste. You can also top with parmesan or pecorino cheese! – Paola

Pasta con Zucca e Amaretti (Pasta with Pumpkin and Amaretti)

19 Oct

It is pumpkin season! Pumpkin is an autumn vegetable, very tasty and suitable for the preparation of a variety of recipes This recipe for pasta with pumpkin and amaretti cookies is a perfect, colorful dish on a cold and gray day. Amaretti refer to the almond flavored macaroons, crispy and crunchy, which are traditionally from Saronno, a small city in Lombardy between Como and Milan. The taste of the pasta blends well with the sweetness of pumpkin, the addition of sage gives a fragrant aroma . The flavor is unique and special; it definitely satisfies the taste of those people who love combining sweet and savory foods. I love this recipe because it reminds me so much of my childhood. In fact, this recipe is part of my family’s culinary tradition and goes back to my great-grandmother. Actually, I’ve never eaten it in any restaurant nor have I even seen it on the menu, so this is a true this is an exclusive for my readers. The pumpkin that I use is the “zucca mantovana” (Cucurbita maxima, Kabocha). It takes its name from Mantua (Mantova), a city in Lombardy where it grows in abundance because the soil is particularly suited to this vegetable. Its pulp is tender and very sweet, with its flavor somewhere between sweet potato and chestnut, with an almost nutty taste.

PASTA CON ZUCCA E AMARETTI (PASTA WITH PUMPKIN AND AMARETTI COOKIES)
Preparation time: 30 min.        Cooking time: 20 min.            Servings: 4

Pasta con Zucca e Amaretti

INGREDIENTS
1350 g (3 lbs) fresh pumpkin (about 260 g, or 2 cups, mashed)
340 g (12 0z) penne
18 finely crushed amaretti
100 g (7 tablespoons) butter
4-5 sage leaves
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch of cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS
1. Cut pumpkin into 4 pieces, remove seeds and strings. Wash in water. Bake pumpkin at 200 °C -400 °F (see pumpkin risotto‎‎) or steam. While it is still warm, remove the skin and mash into puree
2. Bring approx. 3 liters of salted water to a boil, cook pasta for about 10-11 minutes until al dente (read the cooking time on the package)
3. While pasta is cooking, melt half the butter in a saucepan, add pumpkin and 16 crushed amaretti, nutmeg and cinnamon. Season with salt. Add a few tablespoons of the cooking water to make the pumpkin puree creamier
4. Melt the remaining butter in a pan with the sage to flavor the butter. If you prefer you can remove the sage, however I leave it because I really like its intense flavor
5. Drain and transfer the pasta to the pan, stir gently and add the sage-flavored butter. Transfer onto a serving plate and garnish with crumbs from 2-3 crushed amaretti, Parmesan cheese and pepper to taste.

Note: You can use any type of short pasta such as macaroni , mezze penne , garganelli, tortiglioni and so on. You can substitute “zucca mantovana” with butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata).  – Paola Lovisetti Scamihorn

Linguine con Zucchine e Pomodorini (Linguine with Zucchine and Cherry Tomatoes)

22 Sep

Pasta with zucchini is a simple dish, quick and tasty that can be prepared in different ways. This recipe is made with linguine topped with zucchini and cherry tomatoes sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Linguine is a type of long pasta similar to spaghetti, but it is wider and flatter. It looks somewhat like fettuccine. In Italian the name linguine means “little tongues”, this might be related to its long shape. This healthy and colorful first course is also perfect for a light meal when you want to avoid weighing yourself down. In my opinion, pasta enhanced with fresh seasonal vegetables is best described as joy for your palate.

LINGUINE CON ZUCCHINE E POMODORINI (LINGUINE WITH ZUCCHINE AND CHERRY TOMATOES)
Preparation time: 20 minutes    Cooking time: 12 minutes      Servings: 4

Linguine con Zucchine e

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) linguine, artisanal pasta
8 medium zucchini
500 g (18 oz) cherry tomatoes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, whole
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Bring to boil 3 liters of salt water.
2. Meanwhile, wash the vegetables under running water. Remove the ends from the zucchini and cut into cubes. Cut cherry tomatoes in half.
3. In a pan heat oil and sauté garlic over medium-low heat, taking care to not letting it burn. Add zucchini and tomatoes. Cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring gently. Remove garlic.
4. Cook linguine for 12 minutes (check the cooking time on the package). Drain pasta, add to the vegetables in the pan and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with grated Parmesan cheese or seasoned ricotta in flakes.

Note: My dear readers you might have noticed that in my recipes the amount of vegetables is always abundant; this is because I love vegetables. I’m not a vegetarian, but fruits and vegetables are mainstays of Italian cuisine and are always present in abundance on my table.  They are the basis of a healthy, Mediterranean diet!  -Paola

 

Pici alle Briciole (Pici with Breadcrumbs)

7 Sep

Pici alle briciole (pici with breadcrumbs) is typical dish from Siena, which I tasted the first time during a folk festival in Montepulciano, one of my favorite places in Tuscany!!! This dish is very simple, fast, and dates back to peasants’ cuisine. If you have never had a chance to taste it, give it a try – it’s really worth it! In a few minutes you can enjoy a delicious first course. The ingredients – pasta, bread , olive oil, garlic and chili pepper – are common in poor and rural cuisine. This is an example how simple ingredients are transformed into a beautiful and flavorful dish. According to the tradition, pici should be handmade, as our grandmothers did, but nowadays there are good dry products available on the market. Handmade pici are still the most delicious ones! Pici is a type of pasta similar to spaghetti, but wider, more than ⅛ inch thick. The dough is made from durum wheat flour and water, then worked on a board with the palms of the your hands to create a long and thick noodle, or is rolled to a sheet -not too thin – and shaped with a special rolling pin with grooves to form the pasta. It takes longer to cook pici ( about 20 minutes ) than it does other types of pasta, while fresh pici usually cook faster ( about 8 minutes ), depending on the thickness of the “noodles.

PICI ALLE BRICIOLE (PICI WITH BREADCRUMBS)
Preparation time : 20 min.          Cooking time : 20 min.                Servings: 4

Pici Piatto

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) dried pici
4 slices of stale bread , about 120 g (4 oz)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon dried chili,
Salt to taste
Tuscan Pecorino cheese

DIRECTIONS
1 Bring about 3 liters of water and salt to boil, and cook pici for about 20 min.
2 Meanwhile, in a blender, blend the bread coarsely. In a non-stick skillet heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and toast the breadcrumbs until golden brown . Set aside
3 In an another non-stick pan sautee in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic and chili pepper, taking care not to burn the ingredients
4 . Drain pici with a fork, add the olive oil mixture, toss with the breadcrumbs mixture. Serve with grated pecorino cheese. – Paola

Linguine con Seppie e Pomodoro (Linguine with Ink Squid and Tomato)

2 Jul

Linguine with ink squid and tomato is a delightful pasta dish with the intense flavor and aroma of the sea, perfect for an elegant summer dinner. This recipe is prepared with ink squid, fresh or canned tomatoes, garlic and a shallot, all flavored with wine and squid ink, which gives just a very particular taste. Needless to say if you want to prepare a good sauce, the trick lies in the freshness of the squid: the fresher it is, the tastier the sauce! The ink contained inside the sack is expelled by the squid when it is threatened. In the past this dark liquid was used as writing ink, but nowadays its use is only culinary.  It is rich in melanin, mucus and amino acids. It is commonly used as a condiment for pasta (very common in Sicilian cuisine) and risotto. The preparation of this recipe is simple and fast but does require some skill to clean the fish. To facilitate this step, you can ask your fishmonger  to clean it, without doubt the most complicated part of the whole recipe.

LINGUINE ALLE SEPPIE E POMODORO (LINGUINE WITH INK SQUID AND TOMATO)
Preparation time: 40 minutes    Cooking time: 20 minutes    Servings: 4

Linguine con seppie e pomodoro

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 0z) linguine, artisanal pasta (Faella, Martelli)
400 g (15 oz) small ink squids (each about 4-5 in. long)
450 g (1 pound) tomatoes, San Marzano or Roma (peeled and diced) or 300 g (10 oz) canned San Marzano tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2  garlic gloves
1 shallot, finely sliced
120 ml (½ cup) dry white wine
3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Clean the squid as follows: pull out the bone, cut off the head from the rest of the body and remove the skin. Remove the interior organs and the tooth. Set aside the ink sack (be careful not to break it) . Cut away the eyes with scissors. Wash well under running cold water. Dice the body into strips or squares
2. In a saucepan, bring 3 liters of salt water to a boil
3. In a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat sauté the garlic and shallot in the olive oil. Add the squid and cook for 5 minutes stirring frequently, add the white wine and continue cooking until it evaporates. Add the tomatoes and squid ink from one or two sacks. Cook over medium heat for about 10-15 min. The meat should be tender and soft. Season with salt and pepper, and add the parsley
6. In the meantime, while the sauce is cooking, toss the pasta and cook for approx. 10 min. (according to the instructions on the package). Drain the linguine and pour into the pan with the sauce, mix well and sauté for a few seconds, then serve.

Note: You can replace the plain olive oil with chili pepper-flavored oil, which makes this dish – very elegant and impressive in any case – a touch spicier … and aphrodisiac ;-)! Paola

 

Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino (Spaghetti with Garlic, Oil and Hot Chili Pepper)

7 Jun

This is one of the simplest and quickest Italian recipes, traditionally from the south but now popular all over the country and, it seems, all over the world too.  This dish, a firework-like explosion of flavors in your mouth, is one that you will not easily forget. This recipe is as easy as throwing together some simple ingredients that are always on hand in a typical Italian kitchen such as spaghetti, garlic, hot chili pepper and olive oil, and the result is delightful. The dominant flavor of peperoncino (hot chili pepper and not pepperoni! – for more information of this spice click on http://passionandcooking.com/2013/02/26/spaghetti-alla-puttanesca-spaghetti-puttanesca/) blends well with the garlic and olive oil. You can enjoy it either as a first course in an informal Italian meal or as a main course accompanied by a salad, if you prefer. There is also the classic spaghettata di mezzanotte (midnight spaghetti) or better known as a “midnight snack”!

SPAGHETTI AGLIO, OLIO E PEPERONCINO (SPAGHETTI WITH GARLIC, OIL AND HOT CHILI PEPPER)
Preparation time: 15 min.                  Servings: 4

Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) spaghetti, artisanal pasta is preferred
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
80 ml (⅓ cup) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 fresh or dried hot chili peppers, seeded and shredded
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. In a large pot of salted water, cook the spaghetti al dente according to the cooking time indicated on the package (usually 10-12 min.) 
2. In the meantime sauté the garlic and chili pepper for 1-2 min. in a skillet over medium heat, taking care not to burn the ingredients
3. Drain the pasta and transfer to the skillet.  Add some parsley, mix well and serve.  If you like you can add some grated parmesan cheese  or grated pecorino cheese on top, although according to some traditional recipes, cheese should not be added.  –Paola

 

 

 

Risotto ai Fiori di Zucca (Zucchini Flower Risotto)

17 May

Whenever I think of spring, I think of flowers.  In spring Italian markets are filled with bright yellow-almost orange edible zucchini flowers. There are two types of zucchini flowers: female and male flowers.  The female flower is a golden blossom on the end of each new zucchini, while the male one grows directly on the plant stem. Like zucchini, zucchini flowers are good source of vitamin C, potassium and folate.  Zucchini flowers can be sautéed, stuffed with cheese, battered and fried, or added to pasta and risotto. Risotto is one of my favorite ways of eating zucchini flowers. This is a healthy, delicate, colorful and elegant dish. The flowers add a sweet taste to the risotto.  This is a perfect vegetarian and gluten-free dish.

RISOTTO AI FIORI DI ZUCCA (ZUCCHINI FLOWER RISOTTO)
Preparation time: 25 minutes    Cooking time 16-18 minutes     Servings: 4

Risotto fiori di zucca

INGREDIENTS
500 ml (approx. 2 cups) vegetable stock
450 g (1 pound) new zucchini with flowers
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
120 ml (½ cup) dry white wine
50 g ( ½  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. In a saucepan over medium low heat, warm up the stock2. Cut off the flowers from the zucchini and remove the pistil. Wash the zucchini and the flowers. Dice the zucchini and slice the flowers into thin strips
2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) of butter. Add the chopped shallot, and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and shallot. (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.).  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed
3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 9 minutes. Add the diced zucchini and the flowers and one more ladle of stock.  Cook for another 6-7 minutes until the stock is nearly absorbed. If you prefer softer zucchini, add the diced zucchini at the beginning with the shallot. It depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package.
The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 30 g (2 T).
4. Remove your risotto from the heat. At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter. You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes. Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: When you buy the zucchini flowers, choose firm flowers that are mostly closed. They keep a few days in the refrigerator in tightly sealed containers.  – Paola


Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa (Orecchiette Pasta with Broccoli Rabe)

10 Apr

Orecchiette with broccoli rabe or rapini is one of the most representative dishes of Apulia (especially of the Bari area), and symbolizes the region’s so called “cucina povera” (peasant cooking).  It is a tasty and healthy dish made with orecchiette pasta and broccoli rabe.  The slightly bitter flavor of this leafy dark green vegetable blends well with the starchy taste of pasta and the hot bite of fresh chili pepper.  Orecchiette means “little ears” because of their shape; they are little concave disks.  Orecchiette are made with semolina, flour and water.  They are prepared by pressing a small amount of dough with one’s thumb pressure to create the characteristic depression. According to some legends, their shape also recalls the roof of the trulli constructions, the typical Apulian houses. The best orecchiette are, of course, homemade, but good ones also produced by some Italian pasta makers. The broccoli rabe, a leafy green vegetable and typical of Southern Italy, is very tasty and suitable for several pasta recipes.  There are mainly two types, one from Bari with a tough stalk and a lot of leaves and another one from Naples  (also known as friarielli) with a more tender stalk. If you prefer a milder taste you might use broccolini or regular broccoli. I personally love the bitter taste of broccoli rabe.  Apulia is not only known for its delicious food, but also for its traditional ceramics. You can admire the artistic decoration of the ancient plate (more than 100 years old) shown in the picture below.

ORECCHIETTE CON CIME DI RAPA (ORECCHIETTE PASTA WITH BROCCOLI RABE)
Preparation time: 25 minutes    Cooking time: 20 minutes         Servings: 4

Orecchiette Piatto_small

INGREDIENTS

600 g (21 oz ) broccoli rabe
450 g (16 oz) fresh orecchiette pasta
6 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 garlic gloves, coarsely chopped
2 fresh hot chili peppers, seeded and finely sliced
4 salted anchovies, rinsed and coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino
Salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Wash the broccoli rabe, trim away the stalk, conserving the blossoms and leaves.  Cut the leaves into 5 cm (2 ½ inches) pieces
2. Bring about 3 l of water to boil.  Add 1 ½ tablespoons cooking salt, add the broccoli rabe.  Stir well and cook for about 10 minutes.  Remove the broccoli rabe with a fine mesh strainer.  Set aside
3. Bring the broccoli water back to boil and add the pasta.  Cook for about 5-6 minutes (until “al dente”)
4. While pasta is cooking , in a large frying pan over medium-low heat, sauté garlic, chili peppers and chopped anchovies in olive oil for 1 minutes. Mix in broccoli rabe and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to mix all the ingredients well
5. When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the vegetable mix.  Toss it for 1 minute
6. Place the pasta on a serving plate and serve with freshly grated pecorino cheese.

 Note: When you buy broccoli rabe make sure that the bottoms of the stems are relatively firm and green.  If you prefer using dry pasta instead of fresh, you should reduce the amount to 350 g (12.5 oz).  -Paola

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Spaghetti Puttanesca)

26 Feb

Spaghetti puttanesca is a tasty and piquant dish. It is one of the more popular recipes of Italian cuisine, originally from Lazio and Campania but now spread all over the world. This recipe, fast and simple, is prepared with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olives, anchovies, capers and red chili pepper. The moderate amount of anchovies gives a slight fishy taste to this recipe without overpowering the distinct flavor of the other ingredients. The term puttanesca comes from a legend in which the “brothels” served this appetizing and aphrodisiac dish to attract customers. In fact, you may already know of the stimulating, vasodilator and aphrodisiac properties of red chili pepper (Capsicum annum). In addition to these effects, this spice has other healthy benefits: it is an antibacterial and antifungal agent, it is rich in vitamins C and E, it helps digestion, and it is a strong antioxidant. This plant is indigenous to America and was used by the natives there in ancient times (5500 BC) in several dishes. In Europe, the red chili was brought back by Christopher Columbus and it is now one of the main spices of the Mediterranean cuisine. It is used especially in Italy’s southern regions to prepare various recipes, adding flavor and spiciness to many dishes. In fact, the name Capsicum, seems to come from the Greek word “kapto“, to bite, referring to one biting his tongue because the strong taste.

SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA (SPAGHETTI PUTTANESCA)
Preparation time: 20 minutes           Cooking time: 10 minutes            Servings: 4

Spaghetti Puttanesca

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) spaghetti (artisanal pasta)
600 g (21 oz) ripe tomatoes, S. Marzano or Roma (peeled and diced)
75 ml (5 tbsp) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
110 g (¾ cup) black olives or green olives (pitted and sliced)
3 tablespoons Taggiasche olives
3 tablespoons capers (preserved in salt)
8 anchovy fillets (preserved in salt, coarsely chopped)
1-2 dried red chili pepper (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon parsley (finely chopped)

DIRECTIONS
1. Blanche the tomatoes in boiling water, peel and cut into cubes
2. Rinse capers and anchovies under running water. Pat dry with paper. Cut anchovies coarsely
3. Cut black olives into slices
4. In a saucepan, bring 3 liters of salt water to boil
5. In a non-stick skillet on medium-low heat sautè with olive oil garlic, olives, capers and anchovies. Add the tomatoes and red chili pepper, and cook over medium heat for approx. 15 minutes. Add the parsley
6. In the meantime, while the sauce is cooking, boil the spaghetti for approx. 10 minutes (according to the instructions on the package). Drain the spaghetti and pour into the pan with the sauce, heating all together for a few seconds, then serve. If you prefer you can also add the sauce separately to individual plates of spaghetti.

Note: The traditional recipe calls for black olives from Gaeta but I prefer to replace them with green olives and Ligurian Taggiasche olives that have a sweet and delicate flavor. You can choose the type of olives that better suites your taste. The Neapolitan recipe omits anchovies. In addition you can substitute to regular olive oil with olive oil infused with hot chili pepper. This makes your dish even hotter!!! -Paola

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

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta with Beans)

21 Jan

Pasta e fagioli, comfort food during cold winter days, is one of the most traditional, widespread and appreciated Italian recipes.  In fact in the Mediterranean diet, beans are commonly used to prepare nutritious and healthy dishes, and for this reason they are known as “the meat of the poor people”, rich in carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, soluble fibers, as well as being low in fat.  Like many other Italian recipes, this one started out as a peasant meal made of easily available and inexpensive ingredients such as beans , garlic, onion, carrots, celery, potatoes and tomatoes.  Further, it was common to use spicy cured lard, prepared seasonally each autumn during pig-slaughtering season, to add some extra flavor.  Because of its popularity, there are many variations all over the country: for example some do not include tomatoes at all; some use vegetable stock and avoid lard (making this particular version a suitable dish for vegetarians); some recipes are more soupy while others are thicker.  The type of beans may vary as well, usually either borlotti beans or cannellini beans, fresh or dried.  I prefer borlotti beans because of their nutty sweet flavor and creamy texture.  These light brown beans with red marks are a variety of kidney beans commonly cultivated in Italy but originally from America.  Italians enjoy these types of beans in summer as well, preparing an excellent cold bean salad flavored with fresh sliced onions, ground pepper and tossed with olive oil.

PASTA E FAGIOLI (PASTA WITH BEANS)
Preparation time: 12 hrs.               Cooking time: 1 hr                 Servings:4

pasta e fagioli 2 small

INGREDIENTS
300 g (1 ½ cups) dried borlotti beans
1 whole garlic clove + 1 sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 bay leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
40 g (¼ cup) spicy cured lard or bacon, diced
1 medium size onion, finely sliced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1 ½ l (about 5 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
280 g (10 ounces) ditaloni or small pasta (artisanal pasta)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Day 1
You should start the day before you plan to serve the pasta e fagioli.
1.Rinse the beans under running water, then place in a large glass bowl with 1 garlic clove, 1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves.  Fill bowl with plenty of water to cover generously (about 5 cm, 2 inches above the level of the beans).  Cover with a lid and soak overnight.
Day 2
1.In a large heavy pot with lid, sauté the lard (or bacon) on medium heat with the sliced garlic, onion, carrots, celery and potatoes in olive oil for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently
2.Remove the excess water (if there is any), discarding the garlic, rosemary and bay leaves as well, then add the beans, the fresh herbs (1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves) and tomato sauce to the pot.  Cover with stock, bring to gentle simmer.  Cover pot and cook for about 35-40 minutes, until beans are tender
3.Add the pasta, stir and cook for 10 minutes until pasta is just al dente (follow the package cooking direction).  Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle soup in the serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil.

Note: Dried beans versus canned beans.  You can reduce preparation time by using canned beans  (one pound of dried beans = about 6 cups of cooked beans).  I personally prefer dried beans, although it is more time consuming, the results are worth the effort!!!  Dried beans come out being tender and flavorful, not at all mushy and dull as can be the case with canned ones.  Important tip:  Add salt only at the end when the beans are tender, because salt will prevent them from absorbing water, which will, of course, then slow down the cooking process.  -Paola

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

Risotto allo Champagne (Champagne Risotto)

29 Dec

Are you ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve with an exceptional recipe?  Risotto allo champagne is a classic first course, easy and quick to prepare, very elegant and tasty, perfect for an important occasion such as New Year’s Eve or a special romantic encounter.  The simplicity of the ingredients is enhanced by the champagne aromas that give a touch of romanticism and an aphrodiasiac effect to this dish.  Champagne sparkling wine can only be called so if produced in the region of France bearing the same name.  In Italy however, we also produce excellent sparkling wines such as those from Franciacorta, Trento, Oltrepo’ Pavese and Asti. In an interesting study researchers pointed out that the effect of the scents present in certain dry champagnes, particulary blanc de blancs, replicate the female pherormones! Intriguing! Champagne’s delicate bubbles allow the alcohol to reach the blood stream more rapidly than still wine, contributing to quickly reducing one’s inhibition, so it’s no wonder that it is considered the ultimate symbol of celebration (no champagne, no party!!!).  Further, in small quantities, alcohol produces a stimulating effect, which is due to the high content of minerals such as potassium, zinc and magnesium, essential for both male and female sex hormone production.  Regardless of its aphrodisiac properties, champagne risotto is a exceptional dish to enjoy in the company of a special person or on a special occasion.  I suggest complementing this risotto recipe at the table with a nice flute of champagne.  I hope this coming year you will find happiness while cooking delicious meals and hosting joyful gatherings.  Cheers and Happy New Year!  Buon Anno!

RISOTTO ALLO CHAMPAGNE (CHAMPAGNE RISOTTO)
Preparation time: 15 minutes   Servings: 4

Risotto champagne small

INGREDIENTS
500 ml (approx. 2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
500 ml (2 cups) champagne, at room temperature
25 g (¼ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) of butter. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions. (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.).   Add 250 ml (1 cup) champagne and stir until completely absorbed
3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 9 minutes. Add the rest of champagne about 250 ml (1 cup). Cook for 5-6 minutes until the champagne is completely absorbed. It depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 30 g (2 T).

Remove your risotto from the heat. At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter. You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes. Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: My favorite champagne is Cristal, but I prefer to drink it rather than put it in my rice!  Actually for this recipe, you can also use any good Dry Sparkling wine, Italian, French or otherwise.  For more tips on cooking risotto and selecting the right rice, please also see the Pumpkin Risotto recipe.  -Paola

Lasagne alla Bolognese (Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce)

17 Dec

Lasagna has a long history (see the Lasagne al pesto post) but the Lasagne alla Bolognese recipe, typical from Emilia Romagna, traces its origins no further than the start 19th century when some restaurants in Bologna (Emilia Romagna) began serving this dish to their clients. It was an instant hit! Since then this recipe has been one of the symbols of Italian cuisine and is very popular all over the world, and in my family it is always on the table at Christmas. To prepare good lasagna alla Bolognese the most important thing is the choice of the ingredients: first of all the Bolognese sauce (ragù) should be made using half beef and half pork meat, the tomatoes should be very juicy and tasty, and homemade pasta certainly gives this dish a special flavor and texture that you will not experience using pre-packed pasta. Making fresh, homemade pasta is not too difficult; it’s fast and lots of fun!!! I remember that I loved to make fresh pasta as a kid with my mom, my aunts and my grandmother. It was so much fun kneading the dough; it’s something creative, productive and educational to do with your kids on rainy days and to keep them away from video games and tv reruns. You can enjoy this recipe either as a first course or a main course, and it is also a perfect party dish to serve at family gatherings.

LASAGNE ALLA BOLOGNESE (LASAGNE WITH BOLOGNESE SAUCE)
Preparation time: 1 hr+30 min. baking time                          Servings: 4

Lasagne ragù 1 small

INGREDIENTS
Bolognese Sauce (“Ragù“)
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
80 g (½ cup) cured pancetta bacon (not smoked)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped or diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
225 g (½ pound) ground beef chuck
225 g (½ pound) ground pork
120 ml (½ cup) red wine
240 ml (1 cup) beef stock
1 can (about 250 ml) peeled whole tomatoes
5 tablespoons cream
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Homemade Pasta
330 g (2 cups) Italian Grade 00 flour
3 large eggs

Besciamella Sauce
1 l milk (approx. 4 cups)
100 g (⅔ cup
) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

DIRECTIONS
Bolognese Sauce
1. In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the butter and the pancetta for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion, and when it begins to soften add the other vegetables. Sauté over low heat for 8 minutes until golden, stirring constantly
2. Add the ground meat and continue cooking for about 10 minutes
3. Add the wine and increase the heat to high to evaporate the alcohol
4. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 1 hour stirring occasionally until thick
5. Remove from heat and add the cream
6. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

Homemade Pasta
Place the flour in a volcano-shaped pile on a work surface (wood is the traditional material) making sure that the “crater” provides a large enough well in the center to receive the eggs. Wash the eggs under running water and crack them into the well. Beat the eggs with a fork for 1-2 minutes, then gradually blend the flour into the eggs, starting from the inner wall of the well and continuing until all the flour and the eggs are completely combined. You have to add flour until the dough is no longer sticky (you may have to use extra flour depending on the absorption characteristics of the flour and on the temperature of the room). Knead the dough for about 15 minutes to form a smooth and elastic ball. This procedure helps develop the gluten in the flour, so your pasta will be springy and al dente when it is cooked. Place the dough in a clean cotton dish towel to rest for about 20 minutes at room temperature. Divide your pasta in 4 equal parts and roll out one part at a time (keeping the rest in the dish towel until ready to work).

ROLLING OUT BY HAND. To roll out your pasta you need a wooden pin – mattarello – (about 80 cm long and 4 cm diameter, 37 x 2 in). Dust each piece lightly with flour and roll out to the desired thickness; you should be able to see your hand through it. Work fast because the pasta dries much quicker than you might think. Cut the pasta into rectangular sheets (20 x 10 cm; 8 x 4 in) and let them rest for about 10 minutes on a cotton dish towel.

ROLLING OUT BY MACHINE. A hand-cranked pasta machine is the best to use. Kids especially love this part. Start out using the widest setting. Run the pasta through for about 6-7 times until the dough is smooth. If the sheet tears dust it with flour. Continue to run each sheet through the machine, reducing the thickness a notch at a time, until you reach the desired thickness and you can see your hand through it. At this point follow the same procedure as for rolling out by hand.

Besciamella Sauce
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth. This will prevent any lumps from forming. Add the salt
2. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
3. Lower the heat as soon as the mixture reaches a slow boil and then continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly to the right thickness (smooth and creamy). Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn.
4. Add butter and stir until melted

In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of besciamella. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the besciamella in the bottom of the baking pan (about 2 lasagna sheets). Cut the pasta, if necessary, to make a complete layer from side to side. Spread some of the ragù (about ⅓) evenly on top of the pasta, followed by a layer of besciamella (about ⅓), some parmesan and another layer of pasta. Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of pasta and finish with the remaining ragù and besciamella. Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is brown and bubbly. Let it rest at room temperature for about 8-10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle some freshly-grated parmesan on top and serve warm.

Note: I recommend starting this whole process by preparing the ragù first. While it is cooking you can make the pasta and then the besciamella sauce. If, instead, you use dry pre-packed lasagna, just refer to the baking time suggested on the package.

Pizzoccheri

3 Dec

Pizzoccheri is a homey dish for the cold months, linked to the traditions of the Alpine farmers.  The original recipe comes from a small village named Teglio in Valtellina (Lombardy), a well known ski area in the heart of the Alps.  The name pizzoccheri seems to derive either from the root of the word, piz (pezzetto, piece of pasta) or from the word pinzare (to staple – to press) referring to the shape of the pasta (short and thin strips).  In fact, pizzocheri are a type of short tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta made of 80% buckwheat flour, a brownish-gray flour with a nutty flavor, and 20% wheat flour.  The rustic flavor of the pasta pairs well with the smooth taste of vegetables such as Savoy cabbage, potatoes and the intense flavor of the Valtellina’s cheeses, such as bitto and casera DOP (Protected Geographical Status).  Casera cheese is made from partially-skimmed cow milk, and its origins date back the sixteenth century.  It has a nutty and sweet taste; instead bitto cheese has a stronger and more intense taste due to the presence of goat milk (about 20%).  Pizzoccheri is by no means a light dish, but at the same it is a hearty and tasty treat, especially after a strenuous day on the ski slopes.  It is an excellent vegetarian dish (it does contain dairy products, though).  You can enjoy it as first course or as a main dish.

PIZZOCCHERI

Preparation time: 30 minutes                     Servings: 4

Pizzoccheri 3 piccola

INGREDIENTS
225 g(½ pound) Savoy cabbage, finely chopped
225 g (½pound) potatoes, peeled and chopped in small cubes
100 g (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 whole garlic cloves
5 fresh sage leaves
340 g (12 oz) pizzoccheri pasta
70 g (2.5 oz) bitto cheese, thin slices
130 g (4.5 oz) Valtellina casera cheese, thin slices
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large pan the boil 3 l salted water, add the cabbage and boil for 5 minutes.  Drain well and set aside.  Add the potatoes to the same pan of boiling water, cook for 5 minutes or until tender.  Drain well and set aside, reserving the water to cook the pasta
  2. Sauté one garlic clove in half the butter in a large skillet over a medium-low heat.  Add the cabbage, potatoes and sauté gently.  Cover to keep warm and moist
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the vegetable water, according to package cooking instructions (12-15 min.).  Drain well and add to the warm vegetable mix in the skillet.  Cook for less than 1 minute, stirring very gently
  4. Heat the remaining butter with the sage and the other garlic clove in a small pan over a medium flame.  Remove the garlic clove.  Put half the pasta and vegetable mix in a heat resistant serving dish.  Cover with half of the bitto and half of the casera cheese.  Pour half the butter and sage on top, then sprinkle with half of the parmesan cheese.  Season to taste with freshly ground pepper.  Repeat this step with the remaining products.  Serve hot!  It is important that the pasta and the vegetables are hot to melt the cheese.  To melt the cheese thoroughly you can also put the pizzocheri in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) for 4-5 minutes.

Note: You can substitute the cabbage with either Swiss chard or spinach.  If you cannot find either casera or bitto cheese , I recommend  to use fontina cheese, another mountain cheese from Valle d’Aoasta.  You can buy either dry pizzoccheri, but fresh pasta might be available in specialty stores, too. The cooking time is slightly different, check the directions on the packaging.  -Paola

 

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini (Cep Mushroom Risotto)

7 Nov

The term rice refers to the seed of the Oryza sativa plant.  The Chinese were already cultivating this plant 12,000 years ago!  It spread slowly to North Africa and Europe.  This cereal arrived in the North America, first in South Carolina around 1700, probably from Madagascar.  In Italy the first rice farmers were monks in the Piedmont region, and this grain was initially used as a medicine for to maintain the normal digestive functions.  Rice is an excellent source of fuel for our body.  It is easily digested and so the energy it supplies quickly becomes available to our working muscles, brain and body organs, like the heart and liver.  In fact, rice is rich in starch (more than 75%), in vitamins (mainly B group) and some minerals (calcium and iron); instead, it contains few proteins (only 6-7%).  Much of the Italian harvest is used for making risotto, a starchy rice, in the northern regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto.  Risotto is a versatile dish, and its character changes depending on what you add to it.  For example, zucchini flowers make a wonderful spring-time risotto.  Cook a champagne risotto, with passion!, for a special romantic encounter.  This recipe, with porcini mushrooms, is a classic Autumn dish, and it has a rich, aromatic and delicious flavor.  You prepare the mushrooms the same way for both this risotto and the roast filet.

RISOTTO AI FUNGHI PORCINI (CEP MUSHROOM RISOTTO)

Preparation Time: about 40 min
Cooking time:            10 min + 15-20 min.                         Servings: 4

INGREDIENTS
Porcini
450 g (approx. 1 pound) Porcini mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)

Risotto
1 liter (approx. 4 cups) chicken stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Clean the porcini (see Tips, below), and slice the mushrooms vertically into 2 mm (⅛ in) strips.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat sauté the olive oil and the garlic.  Stir in the mushrooms, salt to taste, cook approx. 7 minutes over medium heat.  Continue to cook for 1-2 min. over a high flame.  Add the parsley and set aside.

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
  2. In a large saucepan heat 4 T of butter.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions.  (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.)  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed
  3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 12 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
  4. Set aside a few spoonfuls of mushrooms and add the rest.Cook for about 2 more minutes.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 2 T.

Remove your risotto and mushrooms from the heat.  At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter.  You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes.  Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, place the remaining mushrooms on top and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: To clean the mushrooms, I suggest to wipe them off with a moist cloth and to use a knife, if necessary, to remove any remaining soil.  Many say not to wash them with water, but I prefer this. If you do so, do it immediately before slicing and cooking.  It is important to use either a non-stick or steel pan, because other metals in contact with the porcini can release toxic compounds.  Porcini are well suited to drying, and actually the flavor of dried mushrooms is more intense.  Before using, soak them in hot, but not boiling, water for about twenty minutes; the filtered water can also be used for cooking, enhancing the flavors of other recipes.  For more tips on cooking risotto and selecting the right rice, please also see the Pumpkin Risotto recipe  -Paola

Spaghetti al Pesce Spada e Capperi (Spaghetti with Swordfish and Capers)

1 Nov

Pasta is a great ingredient for preparing quick and delicious meals and is a real treat to make for someone special.  Spaghetti with sword fish, capers and cherry tomatoes is a tasty first course to enjoy before your non-pasta secondo (like we Italians eat it), or as a solitary main dish, fast and easy to prepare.  It is made of fresh and flavorful ingredients from Sicily, land of sea, sun and an extraordinary food tradition.  Since Italy is a country with thousands of miles of coast, it is understandable that fish is a big part of our diet.  This particular pasta sauce blends the delicate taste of sword fish with the intense flavor of the capers, either the edible flower buds or the fruit (cucunci in Italian, pronounced cu-CUN-chi) of a Mediterranean plant found in rocky terrain.  The best capers, the ones I love with my Martini (!) and like to use in my recipes, are the cucunci from the Pantelleria and Salina islands, which are preserved either in salt or vinegar.  They are used to season or garnish salads, pizza, pasta sauces, meat dishes and fish dishes. 

SPAGHETTI AL PESCE SPADA E CAPPERI (SPAGHETTI WITH SWORDFISH AND CAPERS)

Preparation Time: about 20 min.        Cooking time: 7-8 min.           Servings: 4

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) spaghetti (Faella Pasta)
450 g (1 pound) swordfish filet
450 g (1 pound) cherry tomatoes
90 g (½ cup) capers (sotto sale, preserved in salt)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
80 ml (⅓ cup) dry white wine
2 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and set aside
  2. Remove the stem from the cucunci capers (the flower bud capers are stem free)
  3. Wash the capers under running water to remove the salt and set aside
  4. Wash and dry the filet with paper towel.  Remove skin and dice
  5. Drop the pasta in boiling water at this time (see below)
  6. In non-stick skillet on high heat sautè the garlic with olive oil.  Add the fish filet and cook for 3 min on high heat, add the wine
  7. Add the tomatoes and cook on medium heat for 5 min
  8. Add the capers, some salt and  fresh ground pepper to taste.

In a large pot of salted water, at the same time you are cooking the sauce, cook the spaghetti al dente (for about 7-8 min, read the cooking time on the package).  Drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet, mix gently.  Before serving garnish with the parsley.

Note: If you cannot find capers from Pantelleria, make sure to choose the biggest ones you can find, as they taste better and make a better visual impact in the sauce.  You can also substitute the spaghetti with linguine, a flat, spaghetti-like pasta from Liguria, which is often served with pesto or with seafood. -Paola

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