Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

Pennette alla Vodka

Penne Vodka Cream 2

Note: This post was inadvertently posted earlier than I had planned. The”Crostata” recipe, which was scheduled for Wednesday, will be delayed until next week. Thanks for your understanding.

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I really cannot recall just when I started making this dish. I do know it was around the time I moved here, to my current home, about 13 or 14 years ago. Being that I was tending bar at the time, in retrospect, finding another means of consuming alcohol of any kind doesn’t seem like the best of ideas. Still, regardless of when or why I started making this tomato sauce, it remains a favorite of mine, both for its simplicity and great taste.

Basically, this is nothing more than a tomato sauce laced with cream and vodka. It really is that simple. Over the years, what began as a meatless dish has evolved and I now make it using prosciutto, although I have been known to serve it using ham, pancetta or even shrimp.  You can pretty much use whatever protein you want and about the only thing you cannot skip is the vodka. Do that and all you’ve got is a marinara sauce with some cream added to it — not that there’s anything wrong with that. As for the brand of vodka to use, I opt for a higher quality brand, often “tasting” it first, in my kitchen, just to make sure that I’ve chosen wisely. Higher quality, however, doesn’t mean top shelf and I certainly will not be cooking with the highest quality vodka available. My basic rule of thumb is that if it’s good enough for my martini, it’s good enough for my pasta.

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These are a few of my Favorite Things

These are a few of my Favorite Things

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Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 – 1/3 lb. chopped prosciutto, cooked ham, or pancetta (optional for vegetarians)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup vodka
  • 1 large (28 oz.) can tomatoes, diced or crushed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • reserved pasta water
  • grated pecorino romano cheese

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over med-low heat.
  2. Add pork product and slowly render the fat. Do not cook until crisp.
  3. Increase heat to med-high. Add butter, then onion, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some olive oil.
  4. Season with salt & pepper, add the garlic, and continue sautéing for another minute
  5. Remove pan from heat, add vodka, stir to combine, return to heat. Have a pan lid nearby to smother the flame should the vodka ignite. Allow to reduce for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes, cream, parsley, season with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil, and reduce to a low simmer.
  7. After sauce has simmered for 20 minutes, begin heating a large pot of salted water in which to cook the penne. Cook the pasta per package directions, cooking until about 2 minutes before al dente.
  8. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, strain the penne, and add the pasta to the tomato sauce.
  9. Continue cooking the combined pasta and sauce until the pasta is done to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the pasta becomes dry during this last step of the cooking process.
  10. Just before serving, add the basil, mix well, and garnish the serving platter with grated pecorino romano cheese.
  11. Serve immediately.

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Penne Vodka Cream 1

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Variations

One needn’t use meat to make this dish and a pound of large shrimp, cut in half, is a worthy substitute. If you do use shrimp, however, add them to the sauce just before you add the pasta. The shrimp only need a couple of minutes to cook, during which the pasta should finish cooking. Remember: no cheese!

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Coming soon to a monitor near you … Just not as soon as you thought it would

Crostata Preview

Crostata

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Black Rice Risotto with Roast Duck and Porcini Mushrooms

Risotto Venere con Anatra Arrosto e Funghi Porcini

Roast Duck Risotto 3This is the second and last post using leftovers from the duck that Zia and I roasted and that I blogged about in early September. Last week was the first when I shared our recipe for duck ravioli. Today’s post resulted from a dinner I served Zia during The Visitation and, in doing so, we used the very last of that duck, save for the quack.

To start, make a stock by placing the roasted duck carcass in a large pot of cold water after removing and reserving any pieces of meat that may still cling to the bones. Into the same pot, add a large quartered onion, 2 roughly chopped celery stalks, 2 roughly chopped carrots, a few sprigs of parsley, and a quartered tomato. No need to season the stock for the carcass is already seasoned. Bring the pot to a boil before reducing to a simmer. After 2 hours, strain the stock and use it in today’s risotto.

Now, I’ve already shared 4 risotto recipes (Bartolini, Turkey, Strawberry, and Tricolor risotti) so there’s really no need to go into great detail here. There are, however, a few things to note with this particular recipe.

There are two kinds of Italian black rice, riso venere. Both are a medium grain rice, one of which is made by dyeing Arborio rice with squid ink. The other — the one that was used in today’s recipe — was developed by crossing the storied Asian Forbidden Rice with an Italian variety. This is a whole grain and, much like brown rice, takes a bit longer to cook than, say, Arborio, for example. In fact, it could easily take an hour to prepare today’s risotto. This means that you will need more stock to cook the rice. In the past, I’ve suggested using a 3 to 1 ratio — meaning 3 parts stock to every part rice — plus an additional cup of stock for good measure. Because of the increased cooking time required for this particular rice, you may need a much as double my original suggestion. Though that may seem excessive, remember that you can always use any leftover stock in any number of ways. (See Notes for a way to cut down on the cooking time and, therefore, the amount of stock required.)

In this recipe, I used dried porcini mushrooms. (I’ve yet to find fresh ones here but the search continues.) To hydrate them, place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and add very hot water. I tend to avoid using boiling water, as some might suggest, for fear that it may partially cook the mushrooms. After 20 to 30 minutes, carefully remove the now plump mushrooms and coarsely chop them for use in the recipe. Take the leftover water and add it to the heated duck stock, being careful to leave behind any of the grit that may remain in the bottom of the bowl. The stock will now be both duck and mushroom-flavored.

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Riso Venere*     *     *

To prepare the risotto, in a medium sauce pan, melt a couple tbsp of butter over med-high heat. Add some finely chopped shallots and sauté until soft. Add some minced/grated garlic and continue cooking for about a minute before adding the reserved duck meat and the chopped reconstituted porcini mushrooms. Sauté for a few more minutes and then add the rice. Cook the rice, stirring frequently, until the grains are toasted — about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add about a half-cup of dry white wine, stir, and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Repeat the process with the heated duck stock (See Notes), adding more liquid, stirring, and allowing it to be absorbed before adding another ladle or two more. Once the rice is cooked just about to your preference, add another ladle of stock, cover, turn off the heat, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Next, remove the cover, add 2 tbsp of butter, if desired, and about 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir well and serve immediately, garnished with more grated cheese.

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Duck Risotto 2*     *     *

Notes

Black rice should be rinsed before use to remove any inedible bits — pebbles, sticks, and the like. If you wish to lower the cooking time, the rice may be soaked before cooking. The longer it is soaked, the less time will be needed to cook it. Though I’ve never done this, I did see where some have soaked it as long as overnight.

Always use heated stock when making this or any risotto. Using cool or even warmed stock will greatly increase the cooking time. On the other hand, do not use stock that is boiling. Stock that is too hot will evaporate when it hits the rice-filled pan before it can be absorbed by the grains.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Duck SoupThis isn’t so much a look back as it is a footnote to the 3 duck-related posts. In the past, I’ve suggested that you use leftover scraps of pasta dough to make quadretti. (Remember: waste not.) That’s what I did when I made last week’s duck ravioli and, with a cup of today’s duck stock, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of duck soup for that day’s lunch, all the while contemplating the challenges faced by the country of Fredonia.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Goat PreviewBartolini Roast Goat

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Roast Duck Ravioli

Ravioli dell’Anatra di Arrosto

Duck Ravioli 2She came. She saw. She conquered.

The Visitation ended, far too quickly, and Zia is back in Michigan. While here, we met with family and friends, both near and far, new and old. We toured my favorite Italian and farmers markets and we dined out a couple of times, including our customary Friday night fish fry. This being Chicago, however, this fish fry took place at a sushi restaurant. Of course, I did cook and some of the recipes will make their way to this blog. All the while, incredibly, we were graced with some of the year’s best weather. All in all, it was a wonderful visit and I hope to import her again next year. Fingers crossed.

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The making of ravioli has roots that go as far back as the 14th century in the North of the Italian peninsula and perhaps even earlier in Sicily. (Source: Wikipedia). Their creation involves a couple of axioms I’ve said many times before: nothing is wasted in a traditional Italian kitchen, and, meat was a dish reserved for holidays and special occasions. Well, when meat was served — and with no means of refrigeration — leftovers were a problem. Let’s face it: re-heating a piece of roast over a hearth isn’t necessarily the most appetizing means of dealing with leftovers. On the other hand, finely chopping the meat before adding it to, perhaps, a little cheese and some greens, and using the mixture to fill pasta “pockets” would make quite a tasty alternative. Not only that but a little bit of leftover meat would go a long way, far enough to feed the entire family.

This was certainly the case when Zia and I were left with some roasted duck after our meal. We discussed how to use the leftovers and decided that making ravioli was the best way to go. I think we were pretty successful, as does my Zia. In fact, when we roasted a goat shoulder during my next visit, Zia set about making ravioli filling with the leftovers, as well. Frozen, it awaits my return so that we can make “goat” ravioli. The recipes for both the roast goat and the subsequent ravioli filling will be published soon.

There is nothing complicated about our duck ravioli recipe, though the use of broccoli raab, rapini, requires a bit of blanching. How long depends upon your taste and whether you are fond of bitter greens. Blanching will remove some of the bitterness, as well as soften the vegetable’s “woody” stalks. Since we both do not mind rapini’s bitterness, we kept the blanching to a minimum. You, on the other hand, may wish to blanch the vegetable for a few minutes more and, therefore, boil away more of its bitter flavor.

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Duck Ravioli Filling*     *     *

Roast Duck Ravioli Filling Recipe

Ingredients

  • 9 oz (250 g) skinless roast duck, shredded (See Notes)
  • 10 oz (280 g) rapini (broccoli raab)
  • 2 large red onions, sliced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Marsala wine
  • 1 cup ricotta, drained
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 1 large egg
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Melt butter in a large fry pan over medium heat. Add onions and stir to coat with the butter.
  2. Sauté for about 10 minutes, season lightly with salt and pepper, lower to med-low heat, and continue to cook, stirring frequently.  You want the onions to brown but not burn. It may take from 30 minutes to an hour to be fully caramelized. Add a little bit of olive oil if the onions are too dry.
  3. Just before the onions are ready, deglaze the pan with a couple ounces of Marsala wine. The onions will be ready when the wine has evaporated.
  4. Once the onions have cooled, drain any excess liquids before placing them in a clean kitchen towel, wringing out as much moisture as possible.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil.
  6. Add the rapini and, once the boil returns, blanch the rapini for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove the rapini from the boiling water and immediately place the vegetable into an ice water bath.
  8. Once fully cooled, drain the rapini of as much liquid as possible before wringing in a clean kitchen towel.
  9. Use a meat grinder — or food processor — to grind the duck, caramelized onions, and blanched rapini.
  10. Add the Pecorino Romano and ricotta cheeses to the mince and stir well.
  11. Taste to check for seasoning before adding the egg. Stir till well-combined, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
  12. The filing is now ready to be used to make ravioli.

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Duck Ravioli 1*     *     *

Notes

For step-by-step instructions for making ravioli using dies/molds, please check out my previous post for Ravioli dei Bartolini.

Here’s Mom’s Pasta Dough recipe, for those who need one. In this case, I substituted 3 duck eggs for the 4 large chicken eggs.

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Serving suggestion

Dress ravioli with brown butter-sage sauce to which grated Pecorino Romano cheese has been added. Garnish with sage leaves that have been shallow-fried until crisp in olive oil. (See opening photo.)

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Ravioli Day

With today’s post dealing with a new edition to the Bartolini ravioli recipe collection, I thought a look back to the granddaddy of them all, the original Bartolini ravioli filling recipe, was in order. It’s still our favorite and the mere mention of it will cause any Bartolini clan member’s mouth to water, as his/her mind fills with memories of holidays past. You can learn all about it simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Duck Risotto PreviewBlack Rice Risotto with Roast Duck and Porcini Mushrooms

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Spaghetti alla Chitarra all’Amatriciana and My (Not So) Authentic Souvenir from Rome

Pasta alla Chitarra 1Now that’s a mouthful, isn’t it? I was talking about the title but the same applies to the dish. It’s one that I was served in Rome and I couldn’t wait to make it at home — but there was a problem. Although I’ve dressed pasta in this way, I didn’t own a chitarra, (guitar). No, I’ve not taken up an instrument during my time off.

A chitarra is a piece of pasta making equipment that pre-dates the pasta machines common today. Abruzzo claims to be the instrument’s point of origin, believing it was developed there in the early 1800′s. A little larger than a shoe box, this chitarra has a number of strings evenly spaced on either side of a (removable) board. Each of the two sides creates a different pasta. Mine, for example, produces spaghetti and linguine. You place a dough strip on top of the strings and use a rolling-pin to score and form the pasta noodles. If they remain attached, a strum or two on the strings will cause them to fall to the board. Neat, huh? Unless, like me, you don’t own one.

When I went to Italy, I had a couple of things in mind to bring back home, one of which was a chitarra. Although I did see a couple in the first days of my trip, they didn’t make the type of pasta I wanted nor did they seem very durable, particularly considering that my “souvenir” would be stuffed into a suitcase. Remember the American Tourister adverts? These chitarre would never have survived the trip home, even though my bag was, coincidentally, an American Tourister. Unfortunately, I never saw a chitarra again — and it’s not for lack of looking. In fact, my last morning in Rome was spent going to housewares shops looking for the pasta maker. I finally gave up and, being near the Trevi Fountain, tossed in a few coins before treating myself to a peach gelato. Shopping is hard work, no matter the locale.

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4 Coins for the Fountain

Didn’t find a chitarra but the morning wasn’t a complete loss. The Trevi Fountain was fed.

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I probably would have let things end there but, as luck would have it, I was served today’s dish in Rome the night before and couldn’t get it out of my mind. The pasta was fantastic and I wanted a chitarra even more. So, when I returned home from Michigan, I went to my favorite online site for pasta equipment and bought myself a chitarra. Made on this side of the Atlantic, it’s a sturdy piece of equipment and, unlike those abroad, it can be sent back to be restrung when needed — for a price, of course. The chitarra was delivered within days and today’s dish is the result of our first duet. (By the way, if anyone asks, I bought my chitarra at a quaint little shop not far from our flat in Rome. Mum’s the word.)

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Click to enlarge

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Though originating in Amatrice in the 18th century, this sugo is based upon one that pre-dates the arrival of tomatoes from America to the Italian peninsula. (That dish, Spaghetti alla Gricia, is another I enjoyed while in Rome and will be sharing the recipe in the weeks to come.) It wasn’t long before the dish traveled to Rome, where it was quickly adopted and has become one of the Eternal City’s “classic” dishes. Today, Amatriciana is often used to dress bucatini, though not exclusively, as proven by my dinner that night. As you’ll soon see, it is one of the easiest tomato-based pasta sauces to prepare.

Sugo all’Amatriciana, in its purest form, consists of 3 ingredients: guanciale, tomatoes, and Pecorino Romano cheese. Depending upon the amount of fat rendered from the guanciale, a little extra virgin olive oil may be required. Add a little salt and pepper and your sugo is ready to go. As you might imagine, there are variations. The pasta I was served contained a hint of garlic and a little heat from red pepper flakes. Onions were not used and, according to my waiter, they rarely, if ever, are. So there you have it. If you’re using homemade pasta, this dinner can be on the table in well under 30 minutes. In fact, it will take longer for the pasta water to boil than for any other part of the dish to be prepared.

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Pasta alla Chitarra 1

This is what I served

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Spaghetti alla Chitarra all’Amatriciana Recipe

Ingredients

  • spaghetti alla chitarra, not quite fully cooked — bucatini may be substituted
  • 1 to 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 4 oz (28 to 112 g) guanciale, cut in lardons — pancetta may be substituted (See Notes)
  • crushed red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
  • cherry tomatoes, halved – quantity depends upon preference and servings prepared (See Notes)
  • Pecorino Romano cheese
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water. (See Notes)
  2. Meanwhile, heat guanciale in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  3. When all the guanciale’s fat is just about rendered, add red pepper flakes and a crushed clove of garlic, if using. Add a little olive oil if the pan is too dry.
  4. When the garlic is golden brown, remove and discard it. By this point, the guanciale should be cooked but not “to a crisp”.
  5. The pasta should be nearing completion. Add the tomatoes to the frying pan. Raise the heat to med-high.
  6. Reserve a cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.
  7. Add the pasta to the frying pan, stir and cook all the ingredients together until the pasta is cooked al dente. If too dry, add some of the pasta water to compensate.
  8. Turn off the heat, add a handful of grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and mix to combine. Add more pasta water if too dry.
  9. Serve immediately, garnished with more Pecorino Romano cheese and freshly cracked pepper.

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Spaghetti alla Chitarra all'Amatriciana

This is what I was served

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Notes

The most important issue when preparing pasta alla Amatriciana has to do with timing. If using freshly made pasta, as I did, the sugo will need to be almost fully cooked when the pasta is added to the water since the pasta will be ready in 2 to 3 minutes. If using store-bought or dried pasta, follow the package directions and drain the pasta when it is about 2 minutes shy of al dente.

Although guanciale is preferred, not everyone can find this Italian pork product. Pancetta may be substituted, as can non-smoked bacon. As much as I love smoked bacon, its smoky flavor would overpower the rest of this simple dish.

The dish I was served used halved cherry tomatoes. You could easily substitute one or two chopped fresh tomatoes, depending on the portions to be served.

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Bella Firenze

(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

Florence view

The City of Florence, West of the Arno River, as seen from the Piazzale di Michelangelo. On the left is the covered bridge, the Ponte Vecchio; in the center is the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio; further right are 2 domes, the smaller of which is the Basilica di San Lorenzo; and the remaining tower and dome belong to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, though known the World-over as Il Duomo.

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My favorite city in the World, Florence was the birthplace and heart of the Italian Renaissance, while the city itself is a masterpiece. The basilicas that dot the landscape were each designed by the finest architects of the time. The art collections of the Uffizi Gallery — once the offices of the Medici family — are among the World’s finest, while the Piazza della Signoria is like no other. Walking its streets, you can feel the history and easily imagine you’re in the 15th century, hurrying to meet friends in front of the Baptistery of St. John. You don’t see Florence, you experience it.

I was the first to arrive at our flat, my friends were in transit from Sicily. This flat, too, had a terrace. To the South, we saw Il Duomo; to the North, San Lorenzo. Our days began and ended on that terrace.

Florence Terrace ViewsThat there are so many large cathedrals in the Florence speaks volumes of its stature in Italy and all of Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Each, a thing of beauty in its own right, contains priceless works of art, not to mention the tombs of some very famous people. Above them all sits the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Il Duomo. Its external walls are made of 3 kinds of marble, each a different color — red, green, and white — and positioned in patterns composed of vertical and horizontal lines The cathedral’s magnificent dome was designed by famed architect, Brunelleschi. Just beyond its main entrance lies the Baptistery of St. John, the bronze doors of which, “The Gates of Paradise“, were designed by Ghiberti, The Basilica di San Lorenzo, also, features a dome designedPeek-a-Boo Duomo, at night by Brunelleschi though he died before its completion. This cathedral contains the tombs of members of the powerful Medici family. If it’s tombs you like, then you must visit the Basilica di Santa Croce. Within this beautiful cathedral’s walls you’ll find the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli, to name a few. There are, also, funerary monuments for other famous Florentines, like Fermi and Dante.

Too dark for you? Is “high art” more your style? Then head to the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. Located atop one of the highest points in Florence, it is perhaps the best example of Romanesque architecture in all of Tuscany. While you’re there, be sure to visit the Piazzale di Michelangelo which offers one of the most beautiful views of the city of Florence. (See photos above and below.)

Don’t feel much like climbing a hill? Then stroll over to the Church of San Marco where you’ll find frescoes by the Renaissance artist, Fra Angelico. The Church, though, is only the starter. For the main course, head next door to the monastery, where Fra Angelico, himself a monk, and his students decorated each monk’s cell with a beautiful fresco upon which he could reflect and meditate. It is an incredible collection of early Renaissance works by a true Master. All that’s left, then, is the dessert. For that, head down the street to the Galerie de l’Académie, where you’ll find Michelangelo’s massive statue, “David”. A more satisfying meal cannot be served and there is still so much more of Florence to savor. Get ready for your first taste.

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Since I’ve spent so much time writing about cathedrals, I thought I’d share some photos of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, named “Novella”, New, because it was built upon the site of an earlier Church, Santa Maria delle Vigne. Completed in 1470, it is the first of the city’s great cathedrals to be built. In the center of the Cathedral hangs Giotto’s “Crucifix”, while its walls and side chapels, capelle, are decorated with frescoes created by some of the Renaissance’s most gifted artists. The sanctuary behind the awe-inspiring altar is called the Cappella Tornabuoni. The remarkably well-preserved frescoes decorating its walls were created by Ghirlandaio and his assistants, the most famous of which was a young Michelangelo.

(Though all photos are mine — like you couldn’t tell? –Wikipedia supplied some details and historical data.)

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 In and around Florence

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Florence, East of the Arno River

The City of Florence, East of the Arno River, as seen from the Piazzale di Michelangelo. To the left are remnants of the City’s walls with Galileo’s home just beyond the crest. If you look closely, you can see the dome of the Basilica of Santo Spirito, in the distance just to the left of the Arno River, beyond the Ponte Vecchio.

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There’s more Florence yet to come.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Salmon with Dill en PapilloteNever mind our cool weather. It’s grilling season and here’s a way to cook fish on your barbecue without fear of the fillets sticking to the grates. Seasoned and enclosed in aluminum foil, you’d be hard-pressed to find an easier way to prepare fish.  Oh! Did I mention how flavorful it is? Well, you can see three recipes for preparing fish in this way just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pistachio Gelato Pistachio Gelato

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Homemade Garganelli Pasta

Garganelli Fatti in Casa

The draft of today’s post has been waiting a couple of years to be posted. This is, in fact, the 4th intro that I’ve written for it. Something has come up to prevent its publication every time I’ve penciled it into my schedule. This, though, is definitely its time. You see, I was “introduced” to garganelli while in Rome — twelve years ago with Zia.

Rome was the last stop of our vacanza and I found a restaurant with the same name as that of my family’s surname. Mind you, it’s not like we have the Italian version of “Smith” or “Chang” as a surname —  quite the contrary. Yet, there is a restaurant or trattoria with our name above the door in just about every city in Italy and in many major cities here, across The Pond, as well. Be that as it may, I noticed a dish of penne being delivered to a nearby table and, when the time came, mentioned to our waiter that I would like the same as my primo piatto. He politely pointed out that it was garganelli and not penne. I decided right then and there to learn how to make garganelli once I got home — and get my eyes checked. Not long after, I was back home making garganelli — but the story doesn’t end here.

Last May, upon arrival to our flat in Rome, the owner went out of her way to make us feel at home, describing in detail each of the flat’s amenities. She was especially anxious to show us the terrace. With a view of the Colosseum, the dome of St. Peter’s, and the Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument, it was easy to see why she couldn’t wait to show it to us.

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A Flat with a VIew*     *     *

When we returned from the terrace, she presented us with her own guide-book to Rome, paying particular attention to the flat’s locale. When we got to the page with her restaurant recommendations, the first on the list was a restaurant bearing my family’s surname. I thought it a coincidence — until we arrived there later that evening. The route looked so familiar, especially a long flight of stairs along the was very much like the one that had troubled Zia a dozen years before. Any lingering doubts I may have had vanished upon entering the establishment. This was, indeed, the same restaurant in which Zia and I dined and where I “discovered” garganelli. Surely, this was a sign that I should finally publish my garganelli post as soon as I returned to WordPress.

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Similar in shape to penne, garganelli are a tubular pasta that come from the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy. With Bologna as its capital, Emilia-Romagna is known for its hearty meat sauces. (Pasta Bolognese, anyone?) Garganelli, like penne, is particularly well-suited for such sauces and its use has spread to other areas of Italy because of that. In fact, Abruzzo, a mountainous province just south of Marche, is known for its lamb ragu and very often garganelli is the pasta of choice. Lamb not your thing? Well, go north a bit and into Tuscany. There you’ll find they make a rich veal ragu and it, too, is used to dress garganelli. Before you start googling, I can save you the keystrokes and send you to  Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide, for a veal ragu recipe that’s about as authentic as you’ll find anywhere on the web. (Greg, by the way, introduced me the movie, “Big Night“, in which garganelli is handmade in preparation for the film’s climactic feast.)

Whereas it’s quite difficult to create perfect penne by hand, garganelli is very often handmade and has a “flap” where the pasta is joined to create the tube. Just like penne rigate, garganelli traditionally have ridges on each tube’s outer surface; the better to hold on to that rich tomato sauce. Now, you can search the web and you’ll find gadgets made just for putting ridges on your garganelli, but not me. Years ago, much to the amusement of Mom & Zia, I bought a gnocchi board that is used to put ridges on gnocchi. (In my defense, I needed a few more dollars in my order to qualify for free shipping and a gnocchi board was just the ticket.) As you’ll soon see below, and I was quick to point out to Zia, putting ridges on garganelli is yet another (of two) uses for this wonderful kitchen gadget. Now, don’t fret if you haven’t this nifty little gadget taking up space in a junk drawer. You can just as easily use the back of a fork, like you would when making gnocchi, or leave them smooth, like normal penne. No matter. Don’t let the absence of a few ridges cause you to miss out on this great tasting pasta!

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How To Make Garganelli

Begin by making a batch of Mom’s Pasta dough. That will give you 1.5 pounds (680 g) of dough. Roll the dough to a thickness of 6 or 7 on a pasta machine, where 1 is the widest setting. Pictures will tell the rest of the tale.

Note: I use a straight edge here because I could neither cut nor draw a straight line if my life depended upon doing so.

Use a straight edge to divide a dough sheet into 2 strips about 2 inches wide

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Use the straight edge to cut the strips into 2 inch squares

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Place a square on the gnocchi board and moisten the lower corner

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Use the dowel, begin with top corner, and roll the square to form a tube

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Create ridges by applying pressure while square is rolled to bottom of board

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My garganelli have ridges, thanks to my gnocchi board!

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A Gaggle of Garganelli

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Just One Thing More

Some of you have requested that I post photos from my trip and I’m in the process of getting them all identified and organized. As you may well imagine, I’ve literally dozens of photos shot during my recent holiday and I intend to share some of the more memorable ones. Unfortunately, several dozen were “lost” when I tried to upload them to my iPad and the Cloud. (Ironically, I was uploading the photos to insure I wouldn’t lose them should I encounter a problem with one of my flash memory cards.) As a result, I have only a few pictures of Bologna and San Marino. Luckily, the photos of my family were spared, as they were on another flash card and I discovered the problem before I attempted to “save” them. I guess I’ll just have to go back to Italy so that I can re-shoot those pics.

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Bologna proved to be a wonderful start for my holiday. It’s an old city and there are plenty of medieval structures still remaining. At one time, some 180 towers reached for the skies, though only about 20 remain today. Of those, the Two Towers, Due Torri, are the most famous and dominate the city’s skyline. Walking about the city, you can’t help but notice that many of its walkways are covered, with columns forming the street-side “wall”. They’re a photographer’s dream, so long as you don’t botch the memory card upload. (Sigh.)  As capital of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna offers the best foods of the district and, some would say, all of Italy. I certainly found no evidence to the contrary. I really enjoyed my time there and hope to return one day. I’ll be sure to stay longer, though, so that I can more fully explore the city.

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(Click to enlarge)

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

michigans bountyIt’s tart cherry season once again in my former home state of Michigan. Having a season of barely 3 weeks, now’s the time to head to the orchards and get your share. If you miss out, the best you’ll probably be able to do is to buy them canned or in jars. In the past, I’ve used them to bake pies and muffins, as well as to make jam. Click on each item to see its recipe.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Fried Sage PreviewFried Sage

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Maltagliati Pasta with Pistachio Pesto

Maltagliati con Pesto al Pistacchio

Maltagliati

Today’s post is one of odds and ends, literally. Sure, there are two “recipes” to be shared but neither is deserving of its own post, both being incredibly easy to prepare. One, in fact, is traditionally nothing more than scraps, giving more proof to the adage that nothing is wasted in an Italian kitchen.

Maltagliati is a pasta of irregular shapes, the name of which is derived from the Italian words for badly cut, male taglio. (Thanks, Francesca, of Almost Italian). It is the end pieces and leftover bits of pasta that result from a day of pasta making. Like snowflakes, no two pieces are alike, each being randomly cut. The fact that there would be enough scraps to prepare a dinner is an indication of the difference between our two countries’ eating habits.

By one estimate, the average per capita consumption of pasta in Italy is 59 pounds per year, while in the US it’s only 19 pounds apiece annually. Yet we have an obesity epidemic. The reality is that a one pound package of pasta will yield 8 servings in most Italian kitchens. They will serve one such serving with most evening meals, the primo piatto. Here, we’ll get 5, 4, or even 3 mega-servings from a single pound. That serving is often the main course, with the addition of a salad, bread, and possibly a dessert.

Most of our pasta is manufactured and store-bought. Up until recent times, the vast majority of pasta served in Italian homes was made by hand. If you make enough pasta so that everyone in your household is going to eat 59 pounds of pasta per year, you are bound to have a lot of scraps to deal with. Those scraps can become maltagliati and will be served in any number of ways, usually determined by the amount at hand.

Very often, they’re served with beans, taking the place of the ditalini used in last week’s Pasta e Fagioli recipe. If you’ve plenty, they can be served with a hearty meat sauce, as was served to Zia and me one evening in Rome, where I first heard of this pasta. Here, I’ve chosen to serve them with a new version of pesto, simply because I needed a pasta narrative to accompany the recipe for today’s pesto. It would have been an incredibly short post, otherwise.

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Yes, that’s the first, lonely crocus to bloom in my front garden. Spring is finally taking hold and 1st Bloomwith the new season comes an offer from my blogging friend, Mary, of Love – The Secret Ingredient. She is creating surprise boxes that will contain various gourmet items, small kitchen products, and recipes which will use the enclosed items. A box will be delivered every season and you can purchase them separately or all four at once. The part that caught my attention is that Mary will donate 10% of the annual profits to Feed The Children, an organization dedicated to providing hope and eliminating hunger. You can learn all about Mary’s Secret Ingredients by clicking HERE.

Note: Although I’ve ordered and paid for a surprise box, I have not received any form of compensation for mentioning Mary’s offer. I saw this as an opportunity to help a fellow blogger and worthwhile charity at the same time.

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Freshly Made Maltagliati*     *     *

How to Make Maltagliati Pasta

  • If you make a full recipe of Mom’s Pasta Dough, you will have about 1.5 pound (680 g) of pasta dough. That will make quite a bit of pasta, so, you may wish to halve the recipe or cut it into 3rds or 4ths. For this post, I cut the pasta recipe in half.
  • Take a portion of the dough and run it through the pasta machine rollers until it is as thin as you like. My rollers start at 1, the thickest setting, and I continue to roll the dough, up to and including the 6 setting. You may like your pasta thinner. If so, continue to advance the setting as you roll the dough.
  • Lay the dough strip out flat on your work surface, dust lightly with flour, and allow to rest for a few minutes.
  • Pastry WheelsUse a straight-edged pastry cutter to divide the strip into 3 equal strips. No need to worry about it being a perfect straight line. Just do the best you can. Do not separate them but leave them as-is.
  • Now, take your pastry cutter and beginning in the upper left corner, make a series of diagonal cuts, approximately parallel to each other. Once done, starting in the upper right corner, make diagonal cuts going the other way, repeatedly,  You will end up with a collection of triangles and trapezoids, no two exactly alike — not to mention a better appreciation of your Geometry teacher who predicted that “one day this ‘stuff’ will be useful.”
  • Place them in a single layer on a wax paper covered baking sheet that’s been lightly dusted with flour or corn meal.
  • Repeat until all the dough strips have been cut. If you like, use a fluted-edged pastry wheel to cut the pasta, as well as the straight-edged. This will further the illusion of this being a pasta dinner made from scraps. (see Notes)
  • To cook, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil, add the maltagliati, stir, and allow to cook for a few minutes. Being freshly made, they should be fully cooked within minutes. Taste one when all have risen to the top of the pot of boiling water.
  • Drain and dress with pesto, recipe to follow. (See Notes)

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Maltagliati 2*     *     *

Notes

Not everyone has time to make pasta, even when the process is as easy as this. Should that be the case, take some store-bought lasagna noodles and snap them. Just don’t get carried away, for it is easier to dine on larger pieces than tiny ones.

Being flat, maltagliati have a tendency to stick together once drained, so, you must work fast. Once the pasta has been drained, quickly give it a light coating of olive oil before dressing it with the pesto. If using a red sauce, there’s no need for the olive oil but you still must quickly add it to the drained noodles.

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So, now that you’ve got a scrappy little pasta at your disposal, it’s time to dress it.

I certainly won’t pretend to speak for everyone but I will say that by this time of year, I’m desperate for any kind of Summer dish. Pesto for me is one such dish. In Summer, I can get a wedding-sized bouquet of basil for a couple of dollars at the farmers market. This time of year, I’m lucky to get a few stems for the same price. Today’s pesto recipe gives me my Summer fix without breaking the bank, for not only does it use half the basil, it substitutes pistachio nuts for the über expensive pine nuts, pignoli. (Just last month, I saw a 4 oz package (113 g) of imported organic Italian pine nuts with a price of $12.99. That’s $52.00 a pound!!!)

Whether you’ve made pesto before, you shouldn’t have any problems preparing this recipe.

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Pistachio Pesto*     *     *

Pistachio Pesto Recipe

Ingredients

yield: 1 cup pesto

  • 1.4 oz (40 g) fresh basil leaves (See Notes)
  • 1.1 oz (30 g) fresh, flat leaf parsley leaves
  • .5 oz (15 g) roasted, unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese – Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted
  • 3 oz (79 ml) extra virgin olive oil – more or less to taste
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place everything but the olive oil, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Let it process until a thick paste is formed.
  3. While the processor is still running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until the pesto reaches the consistency you prefer.
  4. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as required. Pulse the processor to blend the seasonings with the pesto.
  5. Your pesto is ready for use.

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Notes

The reason for the odd amounts of basil and parsley is because of how both were purchased. I bought a 2 oz package of basil that, once the stems were removed, actually weighed 1.4 oz. Similarly, I bought a bunch of parsley that, once cleaned, weighed 1.1 oz.

Traditionally, pesto is made using a mortar and pestle rather than a food processor. I do not own a mortar large enough to do this, so, I use a food processor. The fact that it is so much easier this way has nothing to do with it.

I used my pesto recipe as the basis for today’s version. You can use your own pesto recipe, just be sure to replace 25 to 50% of the basil with parsley and, of course, use pistachio nuts instead of pine nuts.

Refrigerate unused pesto in an airtight container, after topping with a thin coat of olive oil. Use it or freeze it within a few days.

If I’m going to freeze this or any pesto, I do not add cheese to it while it’s being made. I’ve found that the cheese doesn’t thaw well and the pesto’s consistency suffers. Instead, I’ll add the cheese to the pasta when the pesto is added.

If you have frozen pesto containing cheese, mix it with a bit of hot pasta water before using it to dress the pasta. The hot water will help make the pesto more smooth and easier to evenly coat the pasta.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Insalata With lawns going green and last Fall’s bulbs breaking the ground’s surface, it can only mean one thing. It’s dandelion picking season! What you may consider a blight on your lawn, a Bartolini sees as a crisp salad. Click HERE to see the lengths traveled by my Dad to enlist our help picking the greens for our Sunday night dinner.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Lamb Shank PreviewLamb Shanks

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Pasta and Beans

Pasta e Fagioli 

Pasta e Fagioli 3Beans, fagioli, are grown throughout the Italian peninsula and Sicily, with most regions having their favorites. With such a good source of protein so readily available, beans form a substantial part of the traditional Italian diet and you’ll find them served in every way imaginable — raw, stewed, baked, steamed, you name it. As one might expect, each of Italy’s regions adds its own distinctive flair to the many basic recipes and that’s certainly true of today’s recipe.

Now, having said that, I must confess that this dish, Pasta e Fagioli, was never served back in the old two-flat. I’ve no idea why but it just wasn’t part of the Bartolini playbook. So, how did I come to prepare it?

The first Christmas after I moved out of my parent’s home, Zia and Uncle gave me a cookbook, “The Romagnoli’s Table”. It was the first cookbook I owned and it remains a cherished possession. What sets this book apart, aside from how it came to be mine, is that it’s the only one that I’ve found that contains recipes that begin with a battuto, just like so many of the Bartolini recipes from back in the day. (You may recall that battuto is a type of Italian soffritto consisting of onion, parsley, garlic, and salt pork.) Well over a dozen years ago, I followed their recipe to make Pasta e Fagioli for the first time and, though I’ve made a few minor changes along the way, I still follow it today.

Like so many wonderful Italian recipes, this is not a complicated dish to prepare nor are the ingredients hard to find, save one. I’ve mentioned before that “good” salt pork is very hard to find. In fact, I’ve given up the search. Here, I’ve chosen to use guanciale. If you cannot find it, you can substitute pancetta or bacon, just so long as it isn’t smoked. A smoked pork product could very well overpower the dish.

Lastly, you may be wondering why I’ve chosen to share this recipe now, at the beginning of Spring, and not during the dead of Winter. There are two reasons for that. In the first place, it’s the beans. While we can get dried beans year-round, fresh beans are only available in the Summer months. Using them to make Pasta e Fagioli adds a wonderful flavor to the dish and should definitely be tried. Secondly, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are heading into their cooler months and this dish will be welcomed. For them, I’m right on time.

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Pasta e Fagioli 5*     *     *

Pasta and Beans Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves
  • about 1/4 c fresh parsley
  • 2 oz (57 g) guanciale (salt pork, pancetta, or non-smoked bacon may be substituted)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 8 oz (230 g) dried Borlotti beans (See Notes)
  • rind from a chunk of Pecorino Romano cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano rind may be substituted)
  • 2 cups pasta (see Notes)
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted)

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Directions

  1. The night before, place the beans in a container and add enough water to cover them by 3 inches. The next morning, pour off the liquid and rinse. The beans will be ready for use.
  2. Make the battuto:
    • Coarsely chop the onion, celery, garlic, and parsley. Add to the guanciale.
    • Heat the blade of a very sharp knife using the burner of your stove.
    • Once hot, begin chopping the mixture of meat and vegetables. Keep chopping/dicing/mincing until a relatively smooth paste results.
  3. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot.
  4. Add battuto and sauté until very lightly browned and fragrant.
  5. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften.
  6. Add the water, beans, and cheese rind, raise the heat to med-high, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and cook until beans are softened and thoroughly heated. (See Beans)
  7. Add the raw pasta and continue to cook until done. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
  8. Add hot water if too thick.
  9. Taste and season with salt & pepper, as needed.
  10. Remove the cheese rind and discard.
  11. Serve immediately, garnished with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

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Pasta e Fagioli 1*     *     *

Beans

Beans can be purchased 3 ways.

  1. Canned, which only require rinsing before use. In this recipe, they will only need to be thoroughly heated as they are already soft.
  2. Dried beans can be prepared in two ways. No matter which method you choose, they will take about 90 minutes to cook.
    1. Place the beans in a large bowl and add enough water to cover by about 3 inches. Leave overnight, When ready, rinse before using in the recipe. Alternately,
    2. Place dried beans in a pot with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, simmer for 2 minutes, and then turn off the heat. Beans will be ready in one hour. Drain before use.
  3. Fresh, which can be added to the pot as you would pre-soaked beans. They should be cooked within 20 to 30 minutes.

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Notes

Pssst. Don’t tell Zia that I used a mini-chopper to prepare the battuto.

Because this battuto uses celery, it is a far lighter shade than normal.

I used Borlotti beans in this recipe. You may know them as Roman or cranberry beans. You could, also, use red, kidney, or even cannellini beans, if you like. In short, use whichever beans are available. No Nonna is going to run to the store for Borlotti beans when she has cannellini beans in the pantry.

This recipe used 2 cups dried Borlotti beans. 1 can of beans may be substituted or, if you’re lucky enough to find fresh beans, use about 1.5 pounds (680 g).

Water, not stock, is used here because the battuto will add a great deal to the dish, whereas stock may muddle the flavors.

No need to treat the beans gingerly. Those damaged during the cooking process will only serve to thicken the final dish.

Any small pasta will work here. I used ditalini.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Sack o' Little NecksOne of my all-time favorite ways to serve pasta is to prepare it with clams. It is a tasty dish, one that I cannot resist when I see fresh clams at the fishmonger’s. I’ve shared 2 recipes for pasta with clams, one with a “white” sauce and the other “red”. Today I’ll send you back to the white sauce recipe post, which you can see just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Maltagliati PreviewMaltagliati Pasta with Pistachio Pesto

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Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole

As most of you well know, we North Americans are facing a Winter unlike any seen in decades. With severe drought in the West and Arctic cold, record snows, and ice storms to the East, you’re either praying for rain or cursing the cold. Whether this Winter is truly one for the record books remains to be seen but it sure is a great excuse for making comfort food.

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Tuna Casserole 2*     *     *

These past few weeks, I’ve said good-bye to any thoughts of post-holiday dieting and broke out the Dutch oven and stock pot. I’ve made soups, tomato sauce, chili, stew, braised short ribs, baked pastas, and pulled pork. Not only that, I’ve baked more bread these past few weeks than I have in ages. In short, I’ve done all that I can to warm both me and my kitchen which, for reasons known only to my home’s previous owner, has no heating element other than the oven. Heaven bless that oven.

Since you really cannot make beef stew for one, soup by the bowl, or pulled pork for a single sandwich, you can well imagine that my fridge and freezer have been well-stocked with leftovers, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Even so, after my third dinner of beef stew or fourth lunch of a bowl of chili, and with temps still in negative territory, I began to crave something different and searched for some long-forgotten comfort food recipes. Enter tuna noodle casserole.

Before going any further, I need to mention this recipe’s origins. After all, I did call today’s post “Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole”. Although there is no direct link to Mom, I think there’s plenty of evidence to support my claim.

First off, I found it in the oldest recipe file that I own, one that I created on my first PC back in the 90′s. That file has survived a short-circuited motherboard, head crash, my conversion to Apple, and a transfer to my second iMac. Though forgotten until now, it contains a few gems from Mom but, I admit, this bit of evidence is highly circumstantial.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence can be found within the recipe itself. Although all the ingredients are listed, the amounts required for some of them are missing. This is a hallmark of the Bartolini family recipes and a major reason for this blog being created. I could only be more certain of this recipe’s provenance if an amount or two was listed as “a handful of” this or “a good pinch of” that. Members of the jury, there is no doubt in my mind that this is Mom’s recipe. I rest my case.

Now, a word of warning. This is an old recipe and some may not appreciate it. First of all, it contains mayonnaise and there are those who cannot abide the stuff. I don’t like cilantro, so, I’d say we’re even. It, also, contains a can of condensed soup, the bane of many a modern-day foodie. Well, I’m guessing this recipe comes from the 60′s and we didn’t have foodies back then. We had gourmands — and the Galloping Gourmet but never mind him. Lastly, the final two ingredients, though optional, are listed as frozen. In this part of the continent, when it’s casserole season, there are few, if any, fresh peas to be found, and, for those of us living in the Corn Belt, buying what passes for corn in the off-season is sacrilege. If, however, you’ve access to tasty, fresh peas and sweet corn in Winter, by all means use them instead of frozen.

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Tuna Casserole 1*     *     *

Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe

Ingredients

  • cooked noodles, buttered
  • olive oil
  • 1 large can ( 12 oz, 340 g) water-packed tuna fish, drained & flaked
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 can (10¾ oz, 305 g) cream of mushroom soup (I use cream of celery)
  • 1 package ( 8 oz, 226 g) cream cheese
  • 1/3 c mayonnaise
  • 1/3 c milk
  • cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 c bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • frozen corn (optional)
  • frozen peas (optional)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked noodles, tuna, cheddar cheese, corn, and peas.
  3. Sauté onions and mushrooms in a little olive oil until onions are translucent. Add to the mixing bowl and stir to combine.
  4. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, soup, and cream cheese, stirring until hot and well-mixed. Add to the mixing bowl and stir to combine again.
  5. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and toast until golden brown. Immediately remove from heat.
  6. Pour the tuna mixture into the baking dish, top with the toasted bread crumbs, and cover with aluminum foil.
  7. Bake, covered, for 45 minutes before removing the foil. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes to further crisp the topping.
  8. Allow to sit at least 5 minutes before serving.

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Tuna Casserole*     *     *

Notes

The amounts for some of the ingredients will depend upon the volume of noodles you’ve prepared. I’ve found that if I use a full pound (450 g) of noodles, for example, a single large can of tuna fish may not be enough. You’ll find that the “cream sauce” is rather thick and can overpower the rest of the ingredients. More tuna is needed to compensate.

Be sure to brown the bread crumbs before sprinkling them atop the casserole. If you rely on the oven to fully brown them, you’ll run the risk of drying out the casserole.

Any broad noodle may be used here, though shorter ones work best. I happened to have a bag of farfalle, butterflies, and used it.

I think you could easily substitute chopped, roasted chicken in place of the tuna.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Steak PizzaiolaOne common theme running throughout this blog is my love of pasta. I’ve certainly made no effort to hide it. With temperatures so terribly frigid, today’s Blast from the Past is particularly welcome in my kitchen, for it involves both a lengthy braise in the oven and a large pot of boiling pasta water on the stove top. Combined, they are just what’s needed to warm my kitchen and keep it that way well into the evening. Best of all, I end up with a great pasta for dinner. You can learn how to prepare Steak Pizzaiola by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Beef Cheeks Preview Beef Cheeks

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Linguine with Seafood in Parchment

Linguine ai Frutti di Mare al Cartoccio

Linquine ai Frutti di Mare al Cartocci - 1

Yes, everyone, it’s Christmas Eve and, as many of you who’ve been with me for at least one Christmas already know, it’s a night of great anticipation and luscious seafood for many of us Italians. In fact, more than a few households will celebrate tonight with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. In the past, I shared a rather tongue-in-cheek story of the origins of this Feast but, instead of sending you there, I thought I’d reprint it for you here. What’s this? You already know the tale? Well, just skip the paragraph that follows and head straight to the video. That should keep you occupied until the others catch up. So, here is one version of how the Feast of the Seven Fishes came about …

Prior to the changes brought by Vatican Council II in the 1960′s, Christmas Eve was a “fast & abstain” day, meaning only 1 main meal could be consumed and no meat was to be eaten all day. For most Catholics around the World, it was a day of contemplation and that one meal was nothing special. With Christmas coming within hours, all eyes — and appetites — were focused on the big day — and dinner — soon to come. Not so the Italians.  If tomorrow’s a big holiday and today you can only have one meal, why not make that meal special? And so they did. Can’t have any meat? No problem. With Italy being both peninsula and island, fish was very often more readily available than many meat products. And so it became a seafood banquet. Wait a minute! The Church may frown upon so grand a celebration on the eve of the birth of the Christ Child. Again, no problem. They made a point of serving seven fish, each one representing one of the Seven Sacraments of the Christian Faith. In one masterstroke, their seafood feast became an Act of Faith. What priest, bishop, or even Pope would dare interfere with these devout Catholics as they used the day’s only meal to commemorate the Seven Sacraments? (The fact that the clergy themselves were probably dining on an even more spectacular seafood supper didn’t hurt “the cause” either.) And so the Feast of the Seven Fishes was born and survives to this day wherever Italians call home.

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OK then. Is everybody here? Let’s continue …

I first saw this dish prepared almost 20 years ago. An Italian chef, Nick Stellino, hosted a cooking show on PBS. That one episode not only showed me how to cook seafood pasta, Pasta dei Frutti di Mare, but it introduced me to the wonders of using parchment paper to envelope a dish. Since then, although I’ve made this dish a few times, I’ve made seafood pasta often and baked fish and/or vegetables in parchment or foil even more frequently.

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Now, this one dish will give you 5 of the 7 fish needed for your feast. Please resist the urge to go for broke and add 2 more fish to the pot. All that will do is muddle the flavors or, worse yet depending on the seafood chosen, completely overpower the others. If you’re looking for suggestions, how about oysters on a half-shell, a nice octopus salad, a small salad with seared tuna, or a bit of baccalà salad. (A serving of baccalà in some fashion being the overwhelming choice of many Italian families.) Still not happy? Then do what I once did. Late one Christmas Eve afternoon, I was among the horde in a grocery store when I realized I was 2 fish shy of the required 7 for my own little feast. Not willing to spend any more time in the store while I weighed options, I went to the sushi counter and picked up a spicy tuna roll, before heading to the deli section to get a jar of pickled herring.  Fish are fish, after all.

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Speaking for my Zia and the rest of the Bartolini Clan,

We wish you a very Merry Christmas!

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Frutti di Mare - Crudo

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Linguine with Seafood in Parchment Recipe

yield: 3 servings (See Notes)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb (225 g) fresh linguine, spaghetti, or tagliatelle — dried pasta may be substituted
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or grated, divided
  • 4 tbsp chopped parsley, divided
  • 2 tbsp basil, chopped
  • 1 small can (14.5 oz; 400 g) diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 c white wine, divided
  • 1/2 cup clam juice or shrimp stock (see Notes)
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram (2 tsp if fresh)
  • 6 mussels, (see Notes)
  • 6 cherry-stone or manila clams, (see Notes)
  • 6 scallops, cut in half (see Notes)
  • 9 shrimp (see Notes)
  • 3 calamari (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chopped parsley and basil for garnish

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(Click any photo to enlarge)

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Directions

  1. At least 30 minutes before you are to begin preparing the sauce, place the clams in a bowl filled with cold water. Change the water at least once and be sure to brush the clam shells before cooking them.
  2. Prepare a simple tomato sauce:
    1. Place 2 tbsp olive oil in a small sauce pan over med-heat. Once hot, add the onion, season with salt & pepper, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
    2. Add 2 cloves of garlic and 2 tbsp of parsley, stir, and continue to sauté for another minute or so.
    3. Add 1/4 c wine, the tomatoes, 1 tbsp basil, season with marjoram, salt & pepper, and bring to a boil before lowering heat to a simmer.
    4. Allow to simmer until sauce has deepened in color and thickened, about 30 to 40 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.
    5. Put aside 1/2 cup for the recipe and reserve the rest for another day.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C).
  4. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until 2 minutes before the package indicates it will be al dente. (See Notes)
  5. In a large, deep fry pan with a lid, add remaining olive oil over med-high heat. Add remaining oil, garlic, and parsley to the pan and sauté until fragrant, about a minute or so. Add the clams and mussels, cover the pan, and sauté for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the squid, shrimp, scallops, clam juice, tomato sauce, and the remaining basil and wine to the pan. Cover, increase the heat to high, and boil the ingredients for about 2 more minutes.
  7. Using a slotted spoon, remove the seafood from the pan, and place in a covered bowl. Reduce the sauce by half,
  8. By now, the pasta should be drained. Add it to the boiling sauce, stir to evenly coat, and sauté for a minute.
  9. Add the reserved seafood to the pan, mix, and heat till warmed throughout. At this point, discard any shellfish that have yet to open.
  10. Meanwhile, take a large piece of parchment paper — or aluminum foil — fold in half and place on a large serving platter.
  11. When the seafood and pasta are ready, place them along the fold of the parchment paper. Garnish with parsley and basil. Working quickly, use interlocking folds to join the top and bottom halves of the parchment paper. (See Notes)
  12. Alternately:
    1. Use separate sheets of folded parchment paper, one per serving.
    2. Split the pasta and seafood evenly among the sheets. Garnish with parsley and basil. Fold each, as indicated in Step 11 above.
  13. Place the parchment packet(s) on a baking sheet and place in the middle of a pre-heated oven.
  14. Bake for 5 minutes and remove to a large serving platter or individual plates. Do not pierce the parchment until at the table.
  15. Serve immediately and watch as your dinner guests open their parchment presents and get a whiff of that steam. This is why you go through the trouble of putting seafood pasta in parchment.
  16. Do not serve with grated cheese for it will overpower rather than enhance most of the dish’s seafood components.

Inspired by Nick Stellino, “Cucina Amore”, Pasta al Cartoccio di Mare

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Linquine ai Frutti di Mare al Cartocci - 2

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Notes

To store the fresh seafood

If you are to prepare this on Christmas Eve, the last place you want to be that afternoon is standing in line at the fishmonger. Fresh seafood will easily keep in your fridge for 24 hours if treated properly. I would not recommend storing beyond 24 hours.

  • Remove the clams and mussels from their packaging and place in a colander. Cover with damp — not sopping wet — paper towels. Place the colander in a bowl in which some ice as been set. Do not use so much ice that it will immerse any of the colander’s contents when it melts or the mollusks may drown. Place the bowl with colander into your refrigerator until needed.
  • Leave the shrimp, squid, and mussels in their packaging and store in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Do not freeze.

To prepare the seafood:

  • The Clams: At least 30 minutes before they are to be used in the recipe, place in a bowl of cold water and soak. (Some believe adding a couple tbsp of corn meal to the water will cause the clams to eliminate any sediment.) Change the water at least once before the clams are needed. Just before use, scrub clean the shells with a small brush. Discard any that are open and that won’t close on their own power.
  • The Mussels: Before use, remove the beard (a thread mass on one side) and use a brush to clean the shells. Discard any that are open and that won’t close on their own power.
  • The Shrimp: remove the shell including the tail section, if desired. Save the shells to be used to make shrimp stock. Use a sharp paring knife to slit the top of each shrimp. This will reveal a dark-colored vein that should be removed.
  • The Scallops: these may be sold with a muscle attached to one side. It is about an inch long and /14 inch wide. This should be removed as it is tough and unpalatable.
  • The Squid: Use a sharp knife to cut each tube, creating rings that are a half-inch wide. If using the tentacles, cut them in half or quarters.

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Homemade Linguine Cut Two Ways

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You may find it easier to enclose your seafood in aluminum foil rather than parchment paper. The choice is yours to make.

Do not forget — as I did — to add a garnish of parsley and basil to each packet just before you seal them. Their presence adds to the aroma upon tearing the parchment.

Timing is everything with this dish. The seafood cannot be kept waiting for the pasta to be cooked lest it become tough and rubbery. If you feel that you cannot properly time the dishes together, go ahead and cook the pasta so that it finishes within a few minutes of starting the sauce. Pasta should be cooked about 2 minutes shy of al dente, as indicated on the package’s instructions. Drain the pasta, return it to the now-empty pot, coat very lightly with olive oil, and cover until needed.

You needn’t be an origami expert to fold and seal the parchment packets. That’s why the gods gave us staplers and don’t be afraid to use one.

As written, this recipe will give you 3 nice servings. If you wish, it will yield 4 primo piatto-sized servings, though you may want to adjust the amounts of seafood used.

The keen-eyed among you may have noticed that there seemed to be more seafood in the photos than was required by the recipe. You’d be correct. I usually buy a couple extra clams and mussels to account for any that may be spoiled and must be discarded. Not knowing that I had already done so, the fishmonger added a couple more, for the same reason. When I joked that the scallops looked “bad”, he agreed and added another 2 scallops to their previously weighed container. He then added 2 shrimp and another squid to their respective containers. This is how you earn life-long customers.

If you like, you can skip the parchment packets altogether and use this recipe to prepare a very good frutti di mare pasta. To do so, follow the recipe but cook the pasta for another minute before draining. Place the drained pasta into the sauce, as before, but cook it for only a minute before adding the seafood. Stir to combine, heat everything through, and serve immediately. Garnish with chopped parsley and basil.

This dish does not make good leftovers. None of the seafood will re-heat well at all. Try to prepare just enough to ensure your dinner guests are satisfied without having anything left on the serving platter.

As you may have noticed, I used a pastry brush to lightly coat the sealed parchment before placing it in the oven. There was no discernible effect to the parchment paper by doing this. Perhaps it’s because the oven temp was relatively low and the packet was in the oven so briefly. Whatever the reason, I won’t do it again for this recipe and excluded it from the recipe’s directions.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Zuppa Inglese - 1No series looking back at my family’s traditional Christmas dishes would be complete without including our recipe for Zuppa Inglesi. This highly anticipated dessert consisted of lady fingers that were “lightly flavored” with alcohol before being covered in lemon-flavored custard. There’s even an alcohol-free version so that no one seated at the table need go without. You can take a look at the recipe for this family favorite just by clicking HERE.

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Coming New Year’s Eve to a monitor near you …

Two Cellos and a Cherry

Booze

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Turkey Risotto

Risotto con Tacchino

This is not a true holiday dish but it does grace my dinner table at least once over the holidays. Guaranteed. You see, I have a “thing” for turkey sandwiches and you might be surprised at the lengths I’ll go to make sure that I have turkey sandwiches every Thanksgiving.

*     *     *Turkey Risotto

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As an adult, the highlight of my Thanksgiving Day Feast has always been the midnight turkey sandwich. Built with slices of turkey (white & dark meat, of course), a healthy portion of stuffing, and cemented together with cranberry sauce, this is the “sammich” of which my dreams are made. No matter what I’m eating throughout that day, I never lose sight of that night’s prize.

Now, when I host the dinner, having enough turkey to make a sammich is no problem. In fact, I buy a bird twice as large as needed so that every guest goes home with a platter of leftovers. Each then can either relive the dinner — sans my buoyant personality, of course — or make at least 2 healthy sammiches. And I will have at least enough turkey for a few sammiches, as well as a good-sized portion destined for the freezer for sammiches to be built at a later date. That’s if I host the dinner. Things can go quite differently, however, if I’m enjoying Thanksgiving dinner away from home.

Over the years, I’ve been invited to some lovely Thanksgiving feasts where the company was warm, the dinner fantastic, and the wine flowed freely.  I could say the very same thing about those occasions where friends and I gathered at a restaurant for dinner. Both situations allow me to relax and enjoy my friends and the meal without the stress of having to juggle 6 side dishes on a 5 burner stove top; remember that there are bruschette under the broiler; and keep an eye on Max who’s been keeping his eyes on the tented bird on the counter. Both options  sound wonderful except for one little detail. There are no leftovers and without them there can be no sammich. Oh, the pain!

After going sammich-less for a couple of years, I’d had enough. (Well, actually, I’d had nothing.) I decided to roast my own turkey, no matter what, sometime during Thanksgiving week. Granted, when the bird is meant for me alone, I look for the smallest, fresh turkey available, usually 9 to 10 lbs. That’s less than half the size of the behemoth that I prepare when I’m hosting. Even so, I get all the sammiches I want, half of the bird gets wrapped and frozen for another time, and I still have the carcass to play with.

Ah, the carcass! When I remove the meat from its bones, I make sure to leave some behind. Then, when it’s time to prepare the stock, I find and retrieve those bits. As you’ll soon see, they, along with the stock, will be used in my risotto. It really is a nice arrangement. I have a turkey dinner — maybe two! — I enjoy plenty of sammiches, and I have turkey stock to make my “holiday” risotto.

When you read today’s recipe, it may be that I prepare risotto differently than you do — and that’s ok. If you’ve a proven method for making risotto, don’t change for this recipe. The important thing about this risotto is not how it’s made but what is used to make it. In this recipe, turkey stock is used in place of chicken, and, chopped turkey is used instead of any other type of protein or even mushrooms. I don’t want anything to mask the flavors of roast turkey and, if the bird was stuffed, the hint of stuffing.

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Risotto Cooking

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Turkey Risotto Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 cups turkey stock, recipe to follow
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 7 oz (200 g) roast turkey, chopped
  • 1 3/4 c Arborio rice
  • 4 oz (60 ml) dry white wine
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Keep the turkey stock hot, though not boiling. (See Notes)
  2. Add butter to a large pan over med-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent.
  3. Add turkey to the pan and continue to sauté until heated through.
  4. Lower the heat to medium, add the rice to the pan, and toast the grains, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the wine and stir. Continue to cook until the wine is all but evaporated.
  6. Ladle by ladle, add the turkey stock, stirring with each addition and allowing the stock to be fully absorbed before adding another ladle of stock.
  7. Taste the rice for doneness after about 20 minutes. It should be nearing completion.
  8. When the rice is al dente and just shy of being done, add another ladle of stock, cover, and turn off the heat.
  9. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before adding 2 handfuls of Pecorino Romano cheese.
  10. If rice is too dry, add a bit more stock before serving. (See Notes)
  11. Garnish with more Pecorino Romano cheese and serve.

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To make the turkey stock

In a large stock pot over med-high heat, add the roast turkey carcass, a large onion (quartered), 2 celery stalks with leaves (roughly chopped), 2 carrots (roughly chopped), a few parsley sprigs, and enough water to cover – about 5 or 6 quarts. Bring to a boil before reducing the heat to maintain a soft simmer. I let the stock simmer for at least 3 hours, adding water if too much evaporates. The object is to have at least 2 quarts (2 L) of stock when all is said and done. When finished, strain stock through a fine strainer. Refrigerate stock overnight and then remove any fat that may have risen to the surface. Stock is now ready to use in your favorite recipe or to drink, warm, by the cupful.

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Turkey Risotto 2

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Notes

When making risotto, I use a ratio of 3:1. That’s 3 parts stock to every 1 part of rice. I usually have an extra cup of stock ready but, if I run out, I’ll add some hot water. Bear in mind, that I’m only using a little water, certainly not even a cupful.

You may think it odd that I used 1 3/4 cups of rice but that’s because it was the end of the package’s contents. I didn’t see the point of reserving a quarter cup of rice. So, use as much rice as you like but keep the above ratio in mind.

Do keep the stock hot, but not boiling, when adding it to the pan of cooking rice. Boiling stock will hit the hot pan and evaporate before it can be absorbed by the rice. On the other hand, if it is too cool, it will delay the cooking process.

We prefer our risotto to be on the moist side. You’ll find that the rice will continue to absorb the stock even as it sits in the serving platter.

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Just as surely as you’d find a platter of ravioli on our Christmas dinner table, you could count on there being a platter of biscotti on that very same table, served after dessert while Biscotti with Pecansthe castagne, chestnuts, were being roasted. Both recipes that I shared came to my family about 50 years ago. Mom’s Biscotti with Pecans, was a family recipe of a friend who was 90 years young at the time. We know that recipe is at least 100 years old. Zia found her recipe for Anisette Biscotti in a local newspaper. Both are simple recipes and are as traditional to our holidays as is that Christmas tree in the corner waiting for the Feast of the Epiphany (Little Christmas). You can find both recipes by clicking HERE.

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Coming Christmas Eve to a monitor near you …

Linquine ai Frutti di Mare al Cartocci - Preview

Linguine with Seafood in Parchment

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