Pasta with Raw Tomatoes

Tagliatelle al Pomodoro Crudo

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Yes, I’m back! I hadn’t intended to be away nearly so long but there you have it. I realize that I posted the Greta introduction recently but this post needed to be published ASAP. In this part of the world, the tomato plants have reached peak production. There’s no better time to prepare  Insalata Caprese,  Panzanella Salad, and Pappa al Pomodoro, as well as today’s pasta, than right now.

Surprisingly, this dish wasn’t served when I was a boy. With Grandpa’s garden easily meeting the tomato needs of both families, it’s a wonder that no one ever used a few of them to make this pasta. I can only say that I’m glad that I came upon the recipe a few years ago and have enjoyed it every August since.

If you google Pasta al Pomodoro Crudo, you’ll find there are many recipes for the dish. In its purest form, all that’s required to prepare the sauce are ripe tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, and salt & pepper, with pasta being the only cooked ingredient. Whether to use grated cheese when served is left up to the cook’s preferences. Some have added capers to the mix, and I myself have added anchovies. There are recipes that include onions that have been rinsed or lightly sautéed before being added to the pasta. Still more will lightly cook the tomatoes before adding the pasta. Of all the versions I’ve tried, the latter using slightly cooked tomatoes is the one I’ve avoided. For me, the taste of fresh tomatoes is what makes this dish so special. Cooking, no matter how slight, would ruin this for me. Nothing compares with the aroma of fresh tomatoes combined with basil and olive oil. When brought to the table, it’s practically intoxicating. Give it a try and I bet you’ll agree. Still not convinced? OK. What do you intend to do with all of those tomatoes you’ve been picking?

This is such a simple recipe. Just be sure to use ripe tomatoes with fresh basil and garlic. This is not the time for canned/jarred/dried ingredients. Once assembled, let the sauce rest for about an hour before cooking the pasta. (See Notes.) Lastly, the ingredient amounts listed below are merely guidelines. you may wish to have more/less tomatoes in your pasta. The same is true for the basil.

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Pasta with Raw Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 3 to 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 to 3 very ripe, medium-size tomatoes, seeded and chopped (see Notes)
  • hand-torn basil leaves, more for garnish.
  • 2 anchovies, minced + more, whole, for garnish (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 lb (150 g) cooked tagliatelle (see Notes)
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. Seed and chop the tomatoes.
  2.  In a large bowl, place the tomatoes, basil, garlic, anchovies (if using), and olive oil. Gently mix to combine. Cover and set aside.
  3. After about an hour, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and, following package directions, cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the pasta water.
  4. Add the hot pasta to the raw tomato sauce and gently stir. If overly dry, add some of the reserved pasta water to moisten. (See Notes)
  5. Move to a serving platter and garnish with more torn basil and, if using, grated cheese and whole anchovies.

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Notes

You can use any tomatoes for this recipe just so long as they are ripe. I seed “regular” tomatoes but only halve cherry tomatoes when using.

Use any type of pasta you prefer. I like tagliatelle but either penne or farfalle, for example, will work just as well.

My use of anchovies started last year when I had some leftover from preparing pizza the night before. I’ve included the little fishies ever since. No need to use them if you don’t like them.

I’ve never let the sauce sit for hours or overnight because I fear the tomatoes would lose too much of their structure. The firmer the tomato the better, in my book.

If the final dish is too dry, you can also add a drizzle of olive oil with(out) the pasta water to moisten  it.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

I’m working on it …

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

We knew summer was in full-swing when platters of Mom’s tomato antipasti appeared on the dinner table. Another easy dish to prepare, these are a wonderful way to serve ripe tomatoes without touching the stove — a blessing on many August days.  You can learn how to prepare Mom’s dish HERE.

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Quick — and Easy — Beef Pho

As you can see, there’s been a change in programing. I had planned to share my cousin’s meatball recipe but the return of winter sent me back to Comfort Food Land. While I was preparing today’s dish for my dinner, I realized that I could just as easily share its recipe. So, I pulled out the camera, snapped a few photos, and wrote the post. (Then I spent the next 4 days editing but never mind that.) Perhaps some of you may find the recipe useful in the weeks ahead, while others in the winter yet to come.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that judging by the photo trail, I’ve grown quite fond of pho, ramen, and hot-pots. Throughout much of fall and all of this past winter, when out-and-about on a chilly/frigid day, I was likely to stop for lunch at any one of a number of nearby restaurants specializing in these delicious bowls of comfort. It wasn’t long before I began to wonder whether I could prepare any of them here at home. Discovering an Asian super-mart only fueled my curiosity. One afternoon, while searching Vietnamese cookbook summaries, I came upon “The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles.” Written by Andrea Nguyen, it has become my go-to reference book whenever I need information about my newfound loves.

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Cooked noodles first

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Ms. Nguyen offers a wealth of information to go along with her great recipes. Believe me. This neophyte Asian cook can use all the help that I can get. Virtually every aspect of the cooking process and ingredient list is explained. Not only will you learn the secrets to pho preparation but she also shares methods for preparing a number of the sauces common to Asian cooking. Not to worry. She also gives suggestions for the commercially produced versions. If you’ve ever stood before an Asian market’s soy or fish sauce-filled shelves, you’ll realize the value of these suggestions.

Aside from the wealth of information presented, Ms. Nguyen offers more than 1 method for preparing some dishes, If you’ve time, follow the standard method. In a rush? Pull out the pressure cooker. Still too long? She offers quick recipes for beef, chicken, and vegetarian pho that you can easily prepare in well under an hour. Today’s recipe is one of these. In future posts, I’ll share her recipes for chicken and beef broths. We’re talking “quick” here, however, and those broths will have to wait their turn.

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Add the beef

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No matter the country of origin, the heart of any bowl of soup is its broth and pho is certainly no exception. In fact, when I first saw that this recipe was labelled “quick”, I was skeptical — and I was proved wrong. This pho is both aromatic and deeply flavored. Easy to prepare, the recipe can be doubled or tripled with little problem. (See Notes)

One other point to make concerns the beef. Ms. Nguyen suggests using cooked roast beef or steak, very thinly sliced. If you like, in this recipe you can substitute thinly sliced roast beef that can be purchased at any deli counter. There’s even a third option. If like me, you live near a Korean market or well-stocked Asian market, you might find thinly sliced cuts of beef and pork. For today’s recipe, I used sliced rib eye steak, although I have used sliced beef brisket, as well.

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Now’s the time for garnishes

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Quick  Beef Pho Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3/4 inch (2cm) ginger, peeled and cut into slices.
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 cups (1/2 liter) low-sodium beef broth (see Notes)
  • 2 cups 1/2 liter)) low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cups (1/2 liter) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 oz ( 150 g) flat rice noodles (see Notes)
  • 4 to 5 oz (115 – to 150 g) cooked roast beef or steak, or, raw beef, all sliced very thin (see Notes)
  • 2 to 3 tsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar – optional (1 tsp maple syrup may be substituted)
  • 2 tsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • for garnish (optional)
    • Hoisin sauce, chili sauce, saté sauce (see Notes)

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Cover with steaming broth and serve

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Directions

  1. Bring the sliced beef to room temperature.
  2. Use the broad side of a knife to pound flat the sliced ginger.
  3. Trim off the green of the spring onions. Roughly chop the white portions and smash using the broadside of a knife. Thinly slice the green part and reserve for use as a garnish.
  4. In a medium-sized sauce pan, toast the star anise, cinnamon, and cloves over medium heat until fragrant — about a minute or so.
  5. Add the ginger and onion to the pot and stir until fragrant — about 30 seconds. Remove pot from heat.
  6. Briefly cool before adding the beef & chicken stocks, the water, and salt, Stir well and bring to a boil over med-high neat.
  7. Lower the heat and softly simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, prepare the noodles. Make sure that they are ready when the broth has finished simmering. (See Notes)
  9. Once finished simmering, pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. For especially clear broth, use a piece of muslin to cover the strainer. You should have about 2 quarts (2 liters) of broth in the bowl. Discard the strained solids.
  10. Add the fish sauce and taste the broth. Add the sugar/maple syrup, to taste.
  11. Season with salt & pepper, to taste.
  12. Reheat the broth, place the noodle-filled strainer (see Notes) into the hot broth, and leave until heated through — no more than 1 minute.
  13. Split the noodles between the 2 bowls.
  14. Add the sliced meat to each bowl in a single layer. To ensure even cooking, avoid “stacking” the pieces. .
  15. Garnish with the reserved sliced onion greens, chopped cilantro, and black pepper.
  16. Ladle the now-steaming broth into each bowl and serve.
 
Recipe may be found in “The Pho Cookbook” by Andrea Nguyen
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Notes

This is not the time to economize when buying the stocks. Be sure to choose your favorite stocks upon which to build the pho.

If doubling or tripling the stock recipe, freeze the excess for later use. Once thawed, you can prepare a bowl of beef pho in about the time it takes to prepare the noodles. This is why I always have a quart of this stock on-hand.

Follow the package directions for preparing the rice noodles but pour them into a strainer just shy of being done. When ready to assemble the dish, place the strainer into the hot broth to briefly re-heat the noodles before adding them to the bowls. (Truth in blogging: the noodles used in the dish pictured were not rice noodles. Due to my oversight — make that “lack of sight” — ramen egg noodles were bought instead of flat rice noodles.)

If you’re using thinly sliced, raw beef and you prefer your meat cooked well-done, you will probably want to pound the slices even thinner. This will ensure that the steaming broth cooks the meat to your liking. No matter whether you choose to pound the slices, trim off the fat and slice them into bite-sized piece before adding to each bowl. Not only will the beef be more appetizing but it will be far easier to use chopsticks when dining.

The garnishes listed are those indicated by Ms. Nguyen, although she encourages one to add whatever one prefers. I’ve grown accustomed to adding cilantro leaves, Thai basil, culantro, sliced jalapeño, bean sprouts, and a squeeze of  fresh lime.

Some chefs are insulted when a patron adds sauce(s) to their pho. Placing the sauces in a small bowl allows one to dip the cooked meat(s) into the sauces, leaving the pho/ramen just as the chef intended, Here I’ve combined Hoisin and Sriracha sauces.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Agnolotti Served

Hard to believe that it was 3 years ago when I shared an agnolotti recipe, the filling for which was prepared following the family recipe of a sous chef at a restaurant in Bologna. There’s a reason why my mind has drifted back to Italy but more about that in a later post. For now, if you want to see how these agnolotti were prepared, just click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Marinella’s Meatballs (You aren’t the only ones kept waiting)

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Slow-Cooker Pork Belly Ramen

Urban Belly would be jealous

OK. By now you may have noticed that this blog has taken a turn into decidedly comfort food territory. I could give a number of reasons for this change of course but one rises above all others. Baby, it’s cold outside!!! Even worse, we’ve just endured a 9 day period where it snowed each and every one of those day! Is there any wonder why there’s Pork Belly Ramen slowly simmering in my slow cooker as this post is being written?

I was first served this wonderful ramen on my way home after a visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory late last winter. I stopped at a restaurant, Urban Belly, and ordered the Pork Belly Ramen based upon recommendations of previous diners. Bless them!

Once home, I immediately googled “pork belly ramen” and started comparing recipes. Off the top, I wanted to use my slow-cooker, rejecting the recipes that didn’t. Hopefully, slow-cooking  would not only result in tender pork but the broth should benefit, as well. With luck, the finished dish would include a soft-boiled egg. No matter. That egg was such a nice addition to the Urban Belly ramen that I was going to add it to whatever recipe I eventually chose.  Within minutes, I found the recipe that’s shared here. Of course, being the conscientious blogger that I am, I would never post a recipe without rigorous testing. So, I prepared the recipe again and again… and again … and again … and, well, you get the idea. Needless to say, the recipe not only passed the tests but has become a regular guest at my winter-time dinner table. I buy the pork belly, divvy it up into 1 pound pieces, use one for that night’s dinner, and freeze the rest. In fact, right now I’ve 2 pieces of pork belly resting comfortably in the freezer. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Aside from adding a couple garnishes, the only change I made to the recipe is in the handling of the pork belly.The recipe indicated that the belly should be cooked with the skin attached, to be removed just prior to slicing. The meat isn’t seared. When I tried it that way, I had a devil of a time removing the skin without (badly) butchering the belly. I even tried slicing the belly first before removing the skin. And the fat? Without any type of sear, it was a bit of a disappointment. For me, one of the most appealing things about well-cooked pork belly is the crispy fat. Believe me, it’s well worth the time (5 minutes) time and effort (minimal) to place that belly into a hot frypan and sear its fat side. Just be sure the pan is hot. You want to sear the fat quickly without further cooking the meat. Once sliced, place the slices on top of the ramen, keeping the seared side above the broth to maintain its crispness.

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Note: Because this recipe endured such thorough testing, the link was never saved (to be later lost) but printed instead to allow easy access. So, unlike recent posts, it gives me great pleasure to give credit where due. This recipe can be found on the Australian Good Food website.

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This just about says it all

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Pork Belly Ramen Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb  (approx 500 g) boneless, skinless pork belly (see Notes)
  • 1 quart (1 liter) chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 2 tbsp sake  (don’t forget to toast the chef)
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 garlic gloves, chopped
  • 3½ oz (100 g) white (Shiro) miso paste
  • 1½ inches (4 cm) grated fresh ginger
  • 1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • i piece kombu (see Notes)
  • 1 lb  (approx 500 g) cooked ramen noodles (see Notes)
  • One 3 to 5 minute egg per serving, peeled & sliced in half
  • for garnish (optional)
    • sliced scallions, nori sheet, cilantro leaves, sesame seeds, a splash of ponzu, a sprinkle of sesame oil (see Notes)

Directions

  1. Add the chicken stock, tamari, sake, mirin, sugar, and miso to the slow-cooler and stir thoroughly.
  2. To the pot, add the leek, ginger, garlic, and carrot. Stir.
  3. Place the kombu into the pot before adding the pork belly.
  4. Cover and set the cooker to “LOW” and the timer to 7 hours.
  5. When finished, remove the pork belly. (If using a belly with skin, remove the skin before proceeding.)  Place fat-side down on to a hot frypan over med-high heat. The object here is to crisp the fat without burning or over-cooking the meat. Reserve, slice, and keep warm. (see Notes)
  6. Cook the noodles per package directions.
  7. Meanwhile, pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer. Return to the slow cooker and keep warm.
  8. To serve:
    • Divide the cooked noodles evenly among the serving bowls.
    • Add equal amounts of the strained broth to each bowl.
    • Slice the egg, if using, and add to each bowl.
    • Place the sliced pork belly into each bowl. To maintain its crispness, try to keep the seared edge above the broth.
    • The remaining garnish may be added now or brought to the table to be added by your dinner mates.
  9. Serve immediately.

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Not quite crispy enough.

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Notes

Don’t be overly concerned when chopping the vegetables. Once the pork is cooked, the broth will be strained and the vegetables discarded.

I’ve a smaller-sized slow cooker and, therefore, use a small piece of pork belly. This recipe results in 4 bowls of ramen, each with 2 slices of pork belly.

Kombu is dried kelp and can be found in the Japanese section of many Asian markets. It is purchased in sheets and should be lightly wiped with a damp cloth before use. Store in an airtight container.

Similarly, nori — used here as a garnish — is dried seaweed also purchased in sheets. It’s very often used to wrap sushi rolls, maki. You, or your guests, may wish to place a small sheet into each bowl to add some texture and crunch to your ramen.

Although “ramen” noodles can be purchased at many groceries, feel free to use whatever noodle — rice, bean, egg — you prefer. Just keep an eye on the clock to insure that they are ready when you’re filling the bowls. Badly cooked noodles will spoil any dish, no matter the country of origin.

You needn’t sear the pork belly, if that’s your preference. Whether you do, be sure to slice the meat so that it can be evenly divided among the serving bowls. Remember: always slice the meat against the grain.

You may have noticed the small bowl to the right of the ramen in the opening photo. It contains sriracha and hoisin sauces. I got the idea of combining both by observing patrons at a number of pho restaurants. Additionally, one of this area’s food critics — more about him in a future pho post —  mentioned that some chefs are insulted when a patron adds sauce(s) to their pho. Placing the sauces in a small bowl allows one to dip the cooked meat(s) into the sauces, leaving the pho/ramen just as the chef intended, thereby averting an International incident.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stormy Lentils 3

Here we stand, feet firmly planted in comfort food country, and here we shall stay. Today’s look back was — and still is — a great recipe for these wintry days. Easy to prepare and oh, so very hearty, you won’t care what’s happening outside your door with a bowl of this lentil soup before you. The recipe for this lentil dish can be found HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Marinella’s Meatballs

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Eggplant Lasagna

eggplant-lasagna-5

This post was actually written and the lasagna prepared last summer, when I was at the height of the Great Eggplant Glut of 2017. At the time, I promised that I’d post the recipe. Well. my birthday is coming next week and I was in need of something to prepare in celebration. Unfortunately, despite recent attempts to stretch the parameters, I’m still rather restricted to soft foods. Just as I’ve done, i could make a soup, or pasta, or soup with pasta but I wanted something a bit more special. Enter eggplant lasagna. Lucky for me, there’s a tray waiting for me in the freezer. Oh, boy!

Now, to be clear, this dish contains my homemade pasta and, therefore, is not gluten-free (GF). If the noodles are to be omitted, I’d rather make eggplant parmesan, this lasagna’s GF cousin. Well, it is my birthday and sometimes I just want a nice plate of good old-fashioned gluten. Sue me but at least send a birthday card before you do.

The recipe is easy enough. You can use any kind of lasagna noodle that you wish. Follow the directions on the package for store-bought noodles. If using “no-bake” noodles, I give them a quick rinse in hot tap water before placing in the tray. That helps to ensure that each noodle gets enough moisture to cook properly. If at all possible, use freshly made pasta noodles, They only require about a two-minute blanch in boiling water before use but the difference in taste is remarkable. Do it once and you’ll be sold.

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ETA: For a slightly different take, one more true to the dish’s Sicilian roots, take a look at Bea’s recipe on her delicious Viaggiando con Bea, Travels with Bea. One can never have too many lasagna recipes.

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eggplant-lasagna-preview

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Eggplant Lasagna Recipe

Ingredients

  • medium-sized eggplants (see Notes)
  • cooking spray
  • about 1 quart tomato sauce (Vegetarians use meatless)
  • butter to grease the baking dish
  • pasta sheets to create 3 layers
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 4 oz  Asiago cheese, grated
  • 4 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • fresh mozzarella, cut into rounds
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, for serving

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450˚ F (230˚ C). Liberally butter baking dish/pan.
  2. Prepare the eggplant(s):
    • Trim off ends of eggplants and slice into 1/2 inch rounds. (See Notes)
    • Place rounds in a single layer on a rack resting upon a baking sheet.
    • Lightly spray each side and sprinkle with salt.
    • Bake for 15 minutes,
    • Remove from oven and reserve.
  3. Reduce oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  4. Meanwhile, cook lasagna noodles per package instructions,
  5. If using fresh noodles, par-boil for about 2 minutes before rinsing is cold water.
  6. Assemble the lasagna:
    • Lightly coat the bottom of the baking dish/pan with tomato sauce.
    • Place enough pasta sheets to create a single layer.
    • Add a single layer of eggplant rounds.
    • Cover with a layer of sauce.
    • Sprinkle half of the grated cheese mixture.
    • Sprinkle with 1/3 of the grated Pecorino Romano.
    • Add another layer of noodles, eggplant rounds, sauce, and cheeses.
    • Add the final layer of noodles and enough tomato sauce to cover.
    • Evenly distribute the mozzarella rings and sprinkle the rest of the Pecorino Romano cheese on top.
    • Cover with aluminum foil. (See Notes)
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, uncover, raise the oven temperature to 450˚F (230˚ C), and bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes more.
  8. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Be sure to have grated Pecorino Romano available at the table. (See Notes)

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eggplant-lasagna-10*     *     *

Notes

You will need enough eggplant rings to create 2 layers in whatever size baking dish/pan you’re going to use.

When preparing eggplant parmesan, I do not peel the eggplant, the peel adding structure to the dish. In lasagna, the noodles add some structure, so, strips of the eggplant’s peel are removed.

Lightly coating the inside of the aluminum foil with cooking spray will help prevent it sticking to the mozzarella should the 2 come in contact while baking.

Once baking is complete, be sure to give the lasagna ample time to rest and set. It will be easier to serve and will retain its shape far better than if sliced immediately upon removal from the oven.

This past summer, I made a couple extra trays of lasagna and froze them. Once fully cooked and cooled, wrap the trays in plastic wrap before wrapping with aluminum foil. The night before you intend to serve the lasagna, place the tray in the fridge for defrosting. The next day, unwrap and remove the plastic wrap, and place the tray, recovered with foil, into a preheated 350˚ F (175˚ C) oven. Serve when heated through.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

cherry-pie

It’s that time of year again. Every January, I go to the freezer in my basement and retrieve a bag of frozen tart cherries. The current January Thaw notwithstanding, a mid-winter cherry pie reminds me of the previous summer when the cherries were bought and put away, out of sight. Now, while I prepare, bake, and enjoy a cherry pie, I cannot help but dream of the summer to come. Old Man Winter may still claim the outdoors but here, in my kitchen, summer rules once again. And if this doesn’t work? No problem. There’s another bag in that freezer, though it’s contents will be used to prepare cherry muffins. One way or another, summer is coming. (Take that, Jon Snow!)  You can see the cherry pie recipe HERE and the cherry muffin recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

meatloaf-preview

Meatloaf

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Trenette with Zucchini Blossoms & Cream

Trenette con Fiori di Zucchini e Panna

zucchini-blossoms-pasta-5

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Ever notice that if someone asks whether you’ve spotted something unusual, something you’ve only seen rarely, if ever, that suddenly it becomes commonplace? Say, for example, you’re asked if you’ve ever seen a pink Cadillac. No matter your answer, over the next few days or weeks, you’ll see enough pink Cadillacs to make you wonder whether there’s a Mary Kay convention in town. (Now there’s an allusion that will send some of you to Mr. Google.)

I mention this because when in Italy in 2014, my friends and I noticed that boar was often on the menu. True enough, once it was mentioned, boar was seemingly served in virtually every restaurant we entered. Was it a question of boar suddenly being readily available, or, was it that we had finally noticed? It mattered little because I must admit that I did take full advantage of the situation, enjoying everything from lunches of boar prosciutto panini to suppers of tagliatelle dressed with a variety of sauces prepared with boar meat.

Oddly enough, I noticed a similar phenomenon during my visit to Italy this past spring. Somewhere along the way, while struggling to meet the rigors of my newly created pasta-a-day diet, I noticed that zucchini blossoms were very often included in my pasta. (There were a lot of sardines, too, but I’ll save them for another post.) Though the sauces were very often “white”, a few did include some halved cherry tomatoes. The protein could be a little pork. like today’s recipe, or seafood, as was served to us in Riccione, where my family gathered for a seafood feast. (In that dish, passatini were served with shrimp and both zucchini and its blossoms.) Needless to say, I took full advantage of the situation ordering my pasta with blossoms as frequently as possible. (It’s the little things — zucchini blossoms, calamari, clams, boar, a glass or three of wine — that made it easier for me to adhere to the strict rules of my new diet.) The question, however, remains. Was there a sudden increase of menu selections that included zucchini blossoms, or, did I just happen to notice them during this visit? I guess I’ll never know … Unless … Maybe I should go back to Italy and conduct more research. You know, for science …

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zucchini-blossom

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Today’s dish was certainly inspired by those that I was served while in Italy. In fact, upon coming home, I immediately planted zucchini while the memories of so many tasty dishes still lingered on my mind’s palate. Well, that was the plan. You see, for some reason, each and every blossom that appeared suddenly vanished. At first, I thought it was a cute little bunny that I saw lingering around my yard. A well-placed fence would keep it at bay, to be sure. Even with the fence installed, however, the blossoms continued to disappear. Unless that once-cute-little-bunny-now-full-grown rabbit knew how to use tools, it could not possibly have been the culprit. (If it does know how to use tools, I’ve got more to fear than a few missing zucchini blossoms.) No matter the cause, I harvested only 1 blossom this season. More to the point, the blossoms used here, as well as those used in future recipes, were all purchased at the farmers market, save that one.

ETA: Kathryn, AnotherFoodieBlogger, mentioned that I need to plant as many as 3 plants to ensure any sort of zucchini crop. I certainly haven’t the space for 3 and do not know whether I’ll try again next year with 2 plants. I really don’t care about the zucchini. All I want is a steady supply of blossoms and I’ve yet to figure out why the blossoms all vanished.

There’s only really one thing worth mentioning before getting to the good stuff. The most difficult part of this recipe is preparing the blossoms. Be sure to open each one and remove its pistil, anthers, and whatever else you may find in there. (That last bit, the part about “whatever else”, is the difficult one. You’ll know what I mean if you find an 8-legged behemoth in there staring back at you.) Once cleaned and debugged, only the flower’s petals will remain. Cut them in half, lengthwise, and you’re set to go. The rest of the recipe is quite straightforward and you shouldn’t have any trouble preparing this tasty dish.

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zucchini-blossoms-1x

Blossoms Before & After Neutering

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Trenette with  Zucchini Blossoms & Cream Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 oz trenette pasta cooked about a minute shy of al dente (see Notes) – linguine, fettuccine, or tagliatelle may be substituted
  • olive oil
  • 2 oz pancetta – guanciale or unsmoked bacon can be substituted (see Notes)
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 6 zucchini blossoms, cleaned and halved lengthwise – more or less to taste and availability (sigh)
  • 3 to 4 ounces of heavy cream, depending upon the amount of pasta being prepared
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese — Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted
  • reserved pasta water
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • torn fresh basil leaves for garnish

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-1

This year’s zucchini harvest. (It was delicious!)

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Directions

  1. In a large frypan, heat a little olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the pancetta and sauté.
  2. Once the fat has rendered and before the pancetta hardens, add the shallots and sauté until soft. If the pan is dry, add a bit more olive oil. (See Notes)
  3. Add the halved zucchini blossoms and continue to sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the heavy cream and allow to reduce just a bit before adding the cooked pasta.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons of grated cheese, stir gently, and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente. If too dry, add a little pasta water to moisten the pan’s contents.
  6. Taste to see if salt or pepper is needed.
  7. Remove to a serving platter, garnished with grated cheese, torn basil leaves, and freshly cracked pepper.
  8. Serve immediately, dreaming of the day when you’ll no longer need to buy zucchini blossoms. (Maybe that’s just me.)

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-4

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Notes

Like most simple pasta dishes, the secret lies in the timing. Try to have the pasta cooked just shy of al dente when the zucchini blossom mixture is just about fully cooked. Remember to check package directions when using store-bought pasta. If using freshly made, allow about 3 minutes for cooking.

In today’s dish, pancetta was used but guanciale, or even bacon, could easily be substituted. Whatever pork product you choose, try to avoid using one that’s smoked. Very often, the smoky flavoring will overpower every other element of the dish. You want to taste pork, not smoke.

The amount of pancetta and blossoms needed will depend upon the number of servings being prepared. For example, here, I prepared 8 oz (225 g) of pasta. You’ll need more if you’re going to prepare a pound (450 g) of pasta.

It is always better to add more oil to the pan once the pork fat has been rendered than to use too much early on and have to pour off any excess. There’s plenty of flavor in that excess that you’re removing from the pan.

Whenever you prepare a pasta dish, ALWAYS reserve a few ounces of the pasta water just before straining the pasta. It can be used to resurrect even the driest of pasta dishes and its starch content will help to thicken the thinnest of sauces. In my kitchen, it’s better than duct tape.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

fried-sage-look-back

 

How could I share a food souvenir of my last trip to Italy without taking a look at my favorite souvenir from my trip to Italy in 2014? That was the trip when we discovered fried sage leaves stuffed with anchovies. This little antipasto is both salty and fried. Simply put, it has everythingI You can learn how to prepare it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Fried Fish Tacos - Preview

Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

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The Incredible Edible Eggplant

Eggplant Blossom

Such Promise

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It all started innocently enough, with a blossom identical to the one pictured above. I had learned my lesson well, or so I thought. See, last year’s 2 eggplants were just about smothered by my tomato plants. The tomatoes quite literally took over my then-new raised garden bed as if the soil had been smuggled out of Chernobyl. I picked only 1 eggplant and it was a Japanese variety, not at all what I had expected. This type of thing has happened enough times to convince me that there are people who delight in swapping name tags between differing varieties of the same vegetable. This spring’s cuckoo was a jalapeño masquerading as a cayenne pepper.

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Growing Up Eggplant

Growing Up Eggplant

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This year, I planted 3 eggplants with the conviction that I would keep my eye — and pruning shears — on the neighboring tomato plants. I won’t bore you with the details but I was partly successful, with two plants growing nicely. The 3rd, well, is now engulfed. All facts considered, I really cannot complain. The 2 remaining plants have managed to produce more of the bulb-shaped vegetables than I thought botanically possible. (I really must get that soil tested.) As a result, I’ve pulled out every eggplant recipe at my disposal in trying to stay ahead of these 2 overly productive plants.

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The Day's Eggplant Harvest

The 1st Eggplant Harvest 

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Here are the dishes that I’ve prepared thus far. I’ve supplied the recipe for the first dish and links for the rest, the exceptions being the eggplant lasagna and a pickled eggplant. Both of those recipes are in the works.

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Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Pre-heat the barbecue or grill pan. Slice the eggplant into approximately 3/4 inch (2 cm) rings. Cut the plum tomatoes in half, removing the seeds if you like. Use a pastry brush to sparingly coat the eggplant with olive oil. Lightly drizzle the tomato halves with olive oil and then season everything with salt and pepper. Giving the eggplant slices a head start, grill both vegetables until cooked to your satisfaction. Remove to a platter. Garnish the vegetables with a mixture of chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, basil, and parsley. Season with salt & pepper before adding a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or Olio Santo (See Coming soon … ).

This vegetarian dish may be served hot, warm, or at room temperature, and will make a great light lunch or tasty side for any meal.

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Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma

A favorite of Sicily, this eggplant & tomato sauce was created in honor of the Bellini opera of the same name. You needn’t travel to Sicily nor the nearest opera house to enjoy this dish, however. Just take this LINK to see the recipe that I posted.

The recipe calls for a garnish of ricotta salata. If you cannot find this cheese, crumbled feta is a great substitute and more readily available.

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Caponata

Eggplant Caponata

Also originating in Sicily, caponata is another dish that celebrates the eggplant. Today, it is found throughout Italy with ingredients that often vary from region to region. I’ve shared Mom’s recipe, which you can find HERE.

Don’t forget to make more than needed. Add a few beaten eggs to the leftovers to make a tasty frittata the next day.

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Stuffed Eggplant

Stuffed Eggplant

Grandma served this dish to her girls, Mom & Zia, when they were young. You can well-imagine my surprise when my Zia in San Marino also served stuffed eggplant during my recent visit. The recipe for this tasty contorno — and popular in both sides of my family —  can be found HERE.

Any of the stuffed vegetables in the linked recipe can be used to make a great tasting sandwich for your lunch the following day.

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Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant Lasagna

A layered dish, eggplant lasagna features pasta sheets, baked eggplant slices, and a tomato sauce, with or without meat. Oh! I almost forgot the cheeses. Asiago, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano combine to make this one flavorful main course.

True confession time: I had thought that I’d already published this recipe and was surprised to learn that I had yet to share it. Not to worry. That oversight will be corrected in the weeks to come.

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Jamie Oliver’s Pickled & Marinated Eggplant

Marinated Eggplant

Jamie has done it again. In his recipe, eggplant is chopped, bathed in a pickling liquid, and then marinated in herbed olive oil. Best of all, this same technique may be used with mushrooms, onions, small peppers, zucchini, and fennel, with each vegetable having its own suggested herb to include. You can check them all out by taking this LINK.

I did make one substitution to his recipe. In place of oregano, I used marjoram. For those unfamiliar, marjoram is related to oregano but is a bit more mild and is favored in Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini.

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Indian-Style Pickled Eggplant

Indian Pickled Eggplant - Preview

Looking for something with a bit more heat? Well, with my cayenne pepper plants competing with my eggplants for top honors, I went web surfing for recipes. With many to choose from, the final recipe is an amalgam, using ingredients that I had on-hand or that could be easily sourced. The result was a spicy dish that I really enjoy. Best of all, it’s reduced my eggplant AND cayenne pepper inventories. A bit too involved to be shared here — this post is long enough already — I’ll publish the final recipe in the weeks ahead.

This eggplant dish supplies the heat that Jamie’s pickle was missing.

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Baba Ganouj

Baba Ganouj 1

Can you detect which has been garnished with a drizzle of Olio Santo?

Although I’ve enjoyed baba ganouj far too many times to count, I’ve never actually prepared it, relying instead on one that I purchase from my favorite Middle Eastern grocery. Well, with a glut of eggplant filling my vegetable crisper, baba ganouj seemed like yet another great use of the melanzane and I sought help from the blog of our resident Middle Eastern food expert Sawsan, The Chef in Disguise. Her blog is brimming with delicious recipes and you can view her baba ganouj recipe HERE.

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And there you have it. This is my way of handling 2 incredibly productive eggplants. If you think I’ve eaten plenty of eggplant lately, well, you’d be correct — and you haven’t even seen the inside of my freezers. I’ll be enjoying(?) eggplant dishes for months to come.

If I’ve missed an eggplant dish that you’re particularly fond of, or, you prepare a tasty variation of one of the recipes that I’ve just highlighted, don’t be shy. Please share the recipe or link in the Comments section below. These plants just won’t quit!

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You may have noticed …

… My recent absence from the blogging world. This is Honey Time in Michigan’s Thumb and my Cousin and his Wife graciously offered to open Zia’s home so that I could get honey for my friends and neighbors. That’s the official explanation. In reality, my Cousin – aka “The Max Whisperer” – hadn’t seen Max in about a year and missed their “nature hikes”. In the photo above, the 2 BFFs are returning from their last hike of the visit. Also above is a photo of 2 of the 3 cases of the honey that I brought back. All told, our little group of honeycombers purchased about 6 cases of honey that day.

As luck would have it, my Cousin found a baseball-sized puffball growing in the yard. When picked 3 days later, it had grown to the size of a cantaloupe. As of this writing, I’ve yet to prepare it — but I will!

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant parmesan is the one dish in my repertoire that I’ve yet to prepare using the current harvest. Having made 2 trays of eggplant lasagna – one of which is still in my freezer – I took a pass on eggplant parmesan. Who knows? If we don’t have a killing frost soon, I just may turn to eggplant parmesan to help me deal with this surplus. Worse things could happen. You can see the recipe that I’ll be following simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Olio Santo - Preview

Olio Santo

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Bone Marrow Risotto with Morel & Porcini Mushrooms

Bone Marrow Risotto 1

Oh, how I wish I could claim that I came up with the idea of using bone marrow to make risotto! Instead, it was one of my favorite chefs, Lidia Bastianich, who inspired today’s dish.

Most days, my television or radio is left on, the noise keeps my parrot company while I’m in another room or running errands. (The jury is still out as to whether it helps Max, although as a puppy I literally caught him in mid-air as he lunged at a screen full of unsuspecting meerkats.) On most Saturdays, my TV is tuned to PBS where a number of cooking shows are featured. Early last Spring, while I was working out some of the details for our then-upcoming trip to San Marino, I heard Lidia describe a recipe that used marrow as the fat to start her risotto. I didn’t need to hear anything else. I knew that I’d be preparing that dish.

In what can only be considered as a happy coincidence, the week I was going to prepare the risotto, porcini and morel mushrooms were available at the Fish Guy market. Well, if you’re going to make a special risotto, why not go all the way? I bought some of each mushroom and bought some beef soup bones on my way home. I had several chicken backs in my freezer and my crisper had plenty of veggies to add to the stockpot. Soon there was a large pot of stock simmering on the stove top.

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Morels - Bone Marrow Risotto

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Before starting the risotto, the mushrooms need to be cleaned. The porcini can be cleaned by a quick rinse and thorough drying. Given their pock-marked surface, morels are a little more complicated to clean. I’ve never been satisfied just brushing them for I fear I cannot get into the holes deeply enough, while their surface makes it nearly impossible to completely dry them after even a light rinse. So, I place several into a colander and toss them again and again, (hopefully) catching them with the colander each time. The result is that the debris is knocked out of the crevices. After several tosses, each morel is inspected and, if need be, tossed again. I get out the brush as a last resort only.

So, with the stock made and defatted, and the mushrooms cleaned, it’s time to start preparing the risotto …

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Beef Marrow Bones

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Bone Marrow Risotto Recipe

Ingredients

  • 7.5 oz (410 g) beef marrow bones yielding 2 oz (58 g) marrow
  • butter or olive oil, as needed (see Notes)
  • 2 shallots, chopped – 1 small onion may be substituted
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 4 oz fresh morel mushrooms
  • 4 oz fresh porcini mushrooms (See Notes)
  • 1.5 cups (340 g) Arborio rice
  • 1 cup (237 ml) dry white wine
  • 4 cups (948 ml) stock (see Notes)
  • 2 tbsp (28 g) butter
  • 1/3 cup (70 g) grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • salt & pepper
  • additional grated cheese for garnish and serving

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Bone Marrow Risotto 3

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Directions

  1. In a large sauce pan or deep frying pan, melt the marrow over med-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.
  3. Add the mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes.
  4. Add the rice and sauté for another 5 minutes or so to toast it. The grains should be partially opaque.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium and add the wine. Stir frequently.
  6. Once the wine has just about been absorbed, add a ladle or 2 of hot stock, and stir. Though you needn’t stir it constantly, you shouldn’t leave it for more than a couple of minutes.
  7. When the stock is all but gone, add another ladle of stock and stir. Repeat this process again and again until the rice is just about cooked. This should take about 20 minutes and the risotto should not be gummy but very moist, though not so much as to be a soup.
  8. Taste and add salt & pepper, as needed.
  9. Turn off the heat, add a final ladle or 2 of stock, cover the pan, and let the risotto rest for 5 minutes.
  10. Add the butter and grated Pecorino Romano cheese, stir to combine, and place on the serving platter.
  11. Garnish with more grated cheese and serve.

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Bone Marrow Risotto 4

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Notes …

If you find that you haven’t enough marrow for the amount of rice you’re going to cook, just add a bit of butter or olive oil to the pan. I won’t tell anyone.

I’ve made this dish 3 times since first hearing Lidia. The first 2 times, I was lucky enough to get fresh mushrooms, both morels and porcini. For the last time, with fresh porcini no longer available, I used a package (1 oz, 26 g) of dried porcini that I hydrated in hot —  not boiling — water before using. The liquid was saved for some future use. By the way, I’ve no idea where my photos of the fresh mushrooms went. I used a photo from another post for the morels pictured but I’m pretty sure I’ll find them all now that this post has been published.

To make the stock, about 5 lbs (2.25 kg) of beef bones, along with the backs of 3 chickens, were roasted in a 400˚ F (200˚ C) for about an hour. All were then placed in a large stockpot and Mom’s broth recipe was followed to create a rich, flavorful stock. Strained before being refrigerated overnight, the stock gelled as the fat rose to the top. Once the fat was removed, the stock was ready to be used in today’s recipe.

When making this or any risotto, use only stock that has been heated just to the point of a soft simmer and no more. Too cool and the stock will slow the cooking of the rice.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Fried Sage Deja Vu

 

I first “met” fried sage a little over 2 years ago when friends and I were in Florence. It was our first night together and we took a chance on an appetizer called “Salvia Friiti”. It was incredible and we still talk about that dish to this day. Did I mention that an anchovy is placed between the sage leaves before frying? Oh, yeah! Well, once I got home, I set about attempting to replicate that delicious appetizer. I think I did a pretty good job of it but you can see for yourself by taking this link HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pinzimonio Preview

Pinzimonio

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Break Out the Pasta Machine! Today We’re Making Corzetti.

Corzetti Fatte in Casa

Yes, the Kitchens are open once again! I’ve decided to go ahead and publish a recipe that I had planned to post upon my return from San Marino in May. It involves a gift I brought to my “Zia P” in San Marino — but I’m getting ahead of myself …

Corzetti pasta has a long lineage. According to one legend, the pasta disks originated in 13th century Liguria and were intended to mimic gold coins of the Crusades era. The word corzetti, in fact, is said to be derived from the image of the Cross that some coins bore. Over the years, the disks had less to do with coins as they became symbols for wealthy Genovese families who often stamped them with their family crests and served them to their dinner guests. Today, the stamps are made with a variety of designs. If you’re lucky enough to find a craftsman, you can have them made to order with the stamp of your choosing.  This is where I come in.

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Corzetti Pasta 7

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Several months ago, once my trip to Italy was assured, I began to look for a gift to bring my Zia P in San Marino. You don’t arrive at your host’s door empty-handed. Mom said so. I was browsing Etsy when I stumbled upon a woodworking site,TheWoodGrainGallery, owned and operated by Johanna and Brian Haack. Here you can find wood carvings and engravings of all kinds. Have something particular in mind? They’ll do their best to accommodate you.

Not only do the make corzetti but they’ll custom make a stamp for you. Wishing to bring something unique to my Zia, I contacted the wood shop with my design. Within hours I received a mock-up to approve. Once they received my approval, the custom stamps — I ordered 2 — were in my hands within days and I couldn’t be more pleased.

S. Marino Coat of Arms

Source: Wikipedia

So what design did I choose? Well, I did some checking and my family crest changed with each website I queried, leaving me doubt the veracity of each.  Besides, isn’t the fact that our ancestors survived far more important than whether they brought a coat of arms with them?  So, after that reality check, I looked to San Marino for inspiration. At the very center of the tiny republic, atop Monte Titano, is a fortress which contains 3 main towers. These towers are represented in the Republic’s coat of arms. I could think of no better design for our corzetti stamps than this coat of arms.

Each stamp has 2 parts that perform the 3 functions needed to create the pasta disks. The base is two-sided. One is used to create the round pasta disks and the other creates the design on their backside. The remaining part is the actual stamp. These 2 pieces will ensure that every pasta disk is identical and imprinted on both sides. This is important because the raised patterns will help your sauce cling to each pasta disk. When it comes to pasta, the Italians have thought of everything!

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Corzetti Stamp 1

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Today’s post is more tutorial than recipe. So, let’s get started. To begin, as I’ve done with almost all homemade pasta posts, make a batch of Mom’s Pasta Dough. Her recipe will produce about 1.5 pounds of dough but can easily be halved should you find that to be too much dough. By whatever means you prefer, roll the dough but not quite as thin as you would for, say, linguine. You want the sheets to be thick enough to see the imprint but not so thick that you’re eating pasta pancakes. (See Notes)

Spread the dough sheet across your work surface and, using the bottom of the stamp set, cut circles in the sheet. Pull away the excess and reserve. It can be combined with the remaining dough and re-rolled.

One at a time, place a dough circle on the other side of the stamp base and, using the stamp, press the dough circle. A pasta disk with both sides imprinted will result. Place on a lightly floured surface. Work quickly. The more the dough sheet dries, the harder it will be to imprint the design.

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(Click on any image to see the photos enlarged.)

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If you’re not going to cook them immediately, there are a few ways to store them. If you’re going to use them within an hour or two, cover them with a clean kitchen towel until needed. Cover and refrigerate them if you intend to cook them that evening. Longer than that, place them in a single layer of baking sheets and either freeze them or allow them to dry. Once frozen or completely dry, store in airtight containers. Return the frozen corzetti to the freezer.

Once made, the only question that remains is how to dress them. Well, I chose to dress my corzetti with Pesto Genovese. (When in Genoa …) You can just as easily dress your pasta with a meat sauce, brown butter sauce, or the traditional walnut sauce. I wouldn’t suggest a cream sauce, however, because that is better used to dress the ribbon pastas — i.e., fettuccine, and the like. Not so fast, however, if there are photos to be taken.

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Corzetti with Pesto

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Attempting to photograph the finished dish proved to be the hardest part of this post. Directly above, are photos of corzetti dressed with Pesto Genovese (l) and Pesto Trapanese (r). What little of the stamped imprint shown through the pesto was completely obliterated by the obligatory “sprinkling” of cheese. My third attempt, and the dish that was featured, is corzetti dressed with a sauce of cherry tomatoes quickly sautéed with garlic and anchovies in butter and olive oil, and seasoned with red pepper flakes. Best of all, the anchovies meant that I received a cheese dispensation and so none was used. Not only did the finished dish prove to be photogenic, it was damn tasty, too!

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Corzetti Pasta 6

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Notes

My pasta rollers are at their widest when set to 1. I’ve found that the best corzetti are made when the dough is rolled to no more than the 5 setting. More than that and the dough is too thin to create a good image from the stamp. Worse yet, in my experiments, disks cut too thin cracked and broke into pieces as they dried. Although you will get a better image with a setting of 4 or less, the pasta disks will be too thick, at least for my tastes. I’ve found a setting of 5 makes dough that is corzetti perfect.

There is no Bartolini walnut sauce recipe to draw upon for this recipe, so, I chose to use another. If you’re interested, there are many walnut sauce recipes on the web.

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Please note that I received no compensation of any form from TheWoodGrainGallery. I paid for the corzetti stamps before requesting permission to use their business’s name in this post.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Agnolotti Served X

It’s already been a year since I last shared directions for making a pasta. That post detailed how to make agnolotti using a filling that a very generous Sous Chef in Bologna shared with me. Since I’ve just returned from my trip to Italy, I thought now would be a good time to revisit that post.  You can read it just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy Preview

Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boys

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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms

Present conditions notwithstanding, spring’s arrival is certainly welcomed in these parts, for it means the return of flowers and green to our drab landscape. It also means that fresh produce and vegetables begin to make their return to our markets, starting with asparagus and a variety of mushrooms. One yearly event that may escape your notice is the arrival of soft shell crabs. A crab’s shell does not grow, so, every year the crabs shed their old shells in favor of this year’s newer, more spacious models. The new shell is relatively soft for a few weeks, setting off a rush to harvest as many crabs as possible before they toughen up for another 11 months.

Lucky for me, I’ve a great fishmonger that provides many of the fruits of spring. Located not far from my home in Chicago, The Fishguy Market & Wellfleet is my go-to place for seafood and, in the spring, for items like morel mushrooms, asparagus, and ramps. Today’s post may have been written last spring and held until now but its morels and soft shell crabs, as well as the duck eggs used to make the trenette pasta, all came from the Fishguy. They offer much more than I could possibly mention here and my advice for those living in Chicagoland would be to join the mailing list. You may find it worth your while to stop there some day but be forewarned. If you’re going for a sale on clams or soft shell crabs, get there early. They are the favorites of some selfish blogger who, by his own admission, cannot resist buying them.

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Linguine with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 1

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I first enjoyed soft shell crabs some 20+ years ago while working in The Loop. A few of us went to lunch at a nearby hotel and soft shell crabs were on the menu. I decided to give them a try and it was love at first bite. Lightly floured and deep-fried, the crabs were served open-face on a long roll reminiscent of New Orleans’ oyster poor boy sandwiches.  Since that fateful day, I order or prepare them whenever I see them. (By the way, a recipe for soft shell crab po’ boys is in the works, as well as a yellow curry.)

It is best to purchase the crabs at their peak of freshness, meaning they should be alive if possible. It also means that you’ll have to kill and clean them before using them in your dish. Well, I love the crabs but let my fishmonger handle the dirty work. As for the morels, a simple brushing should remove any dirt. If need be, you can give them a quick rinse — do not soak — but be sure to pat them dry before using. (See Notes.)

Last week, a number of you inquired about the trenette used in these recipes. Cut a little thinner than linguine, trenette most closely resembles that which Mom cut by hand when I was a boy. Luckily, I found an attachment for my pasta machine that recreates this nostalgia-packed pasta. If you go looking for the pasta, be sure to buy “TRENETTE” and not “TRENNETTE“.  The first is Mom’s pasta. The latter is another pasta that is much like penne, though a little more narrow.  Regardless, don’t be alarmed if you cannot find trenette. Look for a dried pasta called linguine fini. It will make a fine substitute.

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Scheduling Note 

This is it, my last post for the next few weeks. My nephew and I will be traveling to Italy to visit Dad’s family in The Republic of San Marino and then it’s off to see Rome. Later, while he boards a plane to return home, I’ll board a train to Corinaldo, the wellspring of the Bartolini Clan. See you on the other side.

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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 4

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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) trenette – linguine may be substituted
  • 3 or 4 soft shell crabs, cleaned
  • 2 tbsp buter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 2 to 4 oz (56 to 112 g) morel mushrooms (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • reserved pasta water
  • fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat oil and butter in a large frypan with a lid over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until browned but not burnt. Remove and discard the garlic, leaving the now-flavored oil in the pan.
  2. Add the red pepper flakes and crabs to the pan, lower the heat to med-low, and cover the pan.
  3. Continue to gently sauté the crabs for about 15 minutes, turning them over mid-way through. The crabs will turn crimson when cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, bring to the boil a large pot of salted water. Add the trenette and cook until it is about 2 minutes shy of being al dente. (If using packaged pasta, refer to the package instructions.) Time the components so that the crabs and pasta are ready at the same time. Now is the time to reserve a cup of the pasta water.
  5. Turn the heat to med-high before placing the morels into the pan with the crabs.
  6. Drain the trenette and dump the pasta into the pan. Stir/toss to combine. If too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
  7. Continue to sauté until the pasta is cooked to your satisfaction.
  8. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with freshly chopped parsley before bringing to the table.

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Linguine with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 2

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Notes

As this blog’s good friend (and honorary Bartolini) Stefan proved, mushrooms do not absorb enough water to affect taste when cleaned by rinsing with water. Morels have a pitted surface to which water may cling. If you do rinse them, take extra time to dry them as much as possible. Failure to do so may result in the morels being steamed in the frypan instead of being sautéed.

Timing is important with this dish but not as critical as it was in last week’s mollusks dish. Still, you don’t want the pasta or crabs to sit waiting for the other component to complete. Fresh pasta will cook in about 3 minutes, so, drain and add it to the pan after it has cooked for about 2 minutes. Follow the package instructions for dried pasta, draining it about 2 minutes before the stated time for al dente.

Whenever you’re cooking pasta, always reserve some of the pasta water, removing it just before you drain the pasta. Should the finished dish be too dry, a little of this water will work wonders. Not only will it moisten the dish but its starch content will help to thicken whatever sauce is being used to dress the pasta.

If you cannot source fresh morels, dried may be substituted. Soak them in hot, NOT boiling, water for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Once hydrated, strain the mushrooms and use in today’s recipe but reserve the soaking liquid. Filter the liquid to remove any grit and freeze, to be used to flavor your next mushroom risotto.

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My comments regarding the Fishguy Market were my own. I requested and was granted permission to mention the market with no compensation trading hands for my doing so.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Ramps Ravioli with Morel Mushrooms

Since we’re talking about utilizing spring’s harvest, why not continue the theme with today’s look back? Hard to believe it was 3 years ago that I posted a recipe for ramps ravioli dressed with a morel mushroom sauce. WIth its ingredients soon coming into season, now’s the time to consider preparing the recipe. You can see how it’s prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Corzetti Pasta Preview

A Surprise!

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Trenette with Mussels and Clams

Trenette con Cozze e Vongole

Trenette with Clams and Mussels 3

Just when you think you’ve got all bases covered, The Fates take note and decide to have a little fun. I have been busily at work getting recipes and posts together for the next several weeks. With my trip fast approaching, I don’t want any loose ends to complicate matters. Having posts written and scheduled means that my attention, such as it is,  can be diverted elsewhere with minimal affect to the blog. That was the plan and, with everything in place, I went to the fishmonger.

How was I to know that there would be a sale on clams and mussels? More to the point, how was I supposed to ignore the sale on clams and mussels? The truth is, I couldn’t. I left the shop with a bag full of mollusks and a head full of pasta ideas. On the way home, I stopped at a grocery and bought everything I needed to make today’s dish. Afterwards, I wrote this post and inserted it here, shifting the other posts to accommodate it.

So why the schedule change? Asparagus. It’s coming into season and the green stalks are every bit the star of today’s dish as are its shelled companions. You may not find clams or mussels on sale but you’re sure to see plenty of asparagus. It makes a wonderful addition to just about any pasta that you might prepare in the weeks ahead.

At this point, you would think that all’s well with my schedule and I can rest easy. Oh, how little you know of The Fates. Having finished adjusting the posts to accommodate the new entry, I searched for my soft shell crab pasta recipe to use as the déjà vu photo for today’s post. It was nowhere to be found. I soon discovered that although it had been included in the cookbook, the recipe never made it to the blog. Curses! With soft shell crabs currently in season, that recipe needs to be posted and the recipe has been inserted into the schedule for next time. Once again, all subsequent posts have been shifted to make room for the new guy. One step forward, two steps back.

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Trenette with Clams and Mussels 1

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Trenette with Mussels and Clams Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) trenette pasta – spaghetti or linguine may be substituted
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or diced
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 3 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • about 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 lb littleneck clams, soaked to remove grit and scrubbed (See Notes)
  • 1 lb mussels, scrubbed with beards removed
  • 1/2 lb of fresh asparagus, chopped into 2 inch (5 cm) pieces
  • 2 tbs fresh basil chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • roasted bread crumbs for garnish – optional  (See Notes)
  • fresh parsley for garnish

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Trenette with Clams and Mussels 4

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Directions

  1. Begin heating a large pot of salted water to be used to cook the pasta.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan with a lid over medium heat.
  3. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes and wine. Stir well to combine.
  5. Continue cooking until most of the wine has reduced and the tomatoes have broken down — about 20 to 25 minutes.
  6. Add the asparagus and basil, stir, and then add the clams. Cover the frying pan.
  7. Add the pasta to the boiling water. (See Notes).
  8. About 2 minutes later, add the mussels to the frying pan and cover again.
  9. The mussels and clams should be opening at just about the time the pasta is nearing al dente – about 4 to 5 minutes.
  10. Drain the pasta and add it to the frying pan. Toss to combine. Continue cooking until the pasta is cooked to your satisfaction.
  11. Place the frying pan’s contents into the serving bowl. Be sure to remove and discard any unopened clams and mussels. When in doubt, toss it out!
  12. Garnish the dish with toasted bread crumbs and parsley before serving. Please, no cheese for this seafood dish.

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Empty Molluscs

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Notes

Unlike years ago, most clams bought today from retail outlets have already been purged of sand, or so I’ve heard. That’s not the case, however, if you harvest your own or buy them along the shore. Even so, I still soak my clams to give them a chance to eliminate any sand. To do this, place the clams in a bowl of cold, fresh water and allow them to soak for a half hour or more, changing the water mid-way through. This is not the only way, however, and some advise that salt water is better at getting clams to discharge their sand. In both camps, there are some who believe that a bit of cornmeal will speed the process.

Do you remember last week’s baked calamari post? At the time, I advised making extra breading and reserving all of it left in the roasting pan once the calamari were removed and served. Well, this is one of the reasons why I suggested saving it. Rather than toast some breadcrumbs to garnish your pasta, grab some of these reserved breadcrumbs instead. They’re already cooked so either let them come to room temperature or nuke ’em for about 30 seconds before using. They are a great source of seafood flavor for your pasta.

This recipe is based on cooking dried pasta with an al dente cooking time of about 6 minutes. When I made the dish pictured, I used fresh trenette pasta that I had made just about an hour before cooking. Freshly made pasta cooks in 2 to 3 minutes. As a result, I waited an additional 2 minutes before adding it to the boiling water.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Asparagus Ravioli Deja vu

WIth this post’s mention of asparagus, it would be a missed opportunity should I not point you to another asparagus-related post. Made with asparagus, crimini mushrooms, and freshly made ricotta, these ravioli are a great springtime dish, whether served as a starter or main course. You can learn how to make the ravioli HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels Preview

Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms

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