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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There’s a storm-a-comin’! Grab the … lentils?

Lenticchie

A couple of weeks ago, those of us living in this area were treated to a number of weather forecasts warning of an impending snowstorm. Depending on the day and the forecaster, the predicted snowfall ranged from as little as an inch or two to as much as ten inches of the white stuff. When the results vary this greatly, I rarely go out and stock up on supplies to carry me through a blizzard. So long as I’ve got eggs, flour, and cheese, I can make enough pasta to last days — and that doesn’t take into account the food in my freezers. To quote a great American philosopher, “What, me worry?”

*     *     *Stormy Lentils 1

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This time around, I found myself in a grocery on Thursday, two days before the first great snow of the year was to hit. I bought my regular items without giving the forecasts a second thought. At one point, I was in the bulk food area looking for seeds for Lucy, my parrot, when I stumbled upon French green lentils. (These aren’t Puy lentils but I’ll take what I can get.) I bought some thinking that one day I’d use them to prepare and blog about my family’s method of cooking lentils. That was the plan.

Come Saturday morning, the storm was hitting the southern part of Illinois and headed for Chicago. Forecasts were now saying we’d get 5 or 6 inches before the storm passed on. This usually means that I would be spending an hour or so clearing snow from my walk, as well as those of my neighbors. (They’re all retirees and I hate to see them out there, shovel in hand, clearing their walks.) I remembered how nice it is to come into my kitchen, having just finished my snow removal duties, and smelling a pot of soup on the stove. That’s it. I’d make a pot of soup.

Well, apparently, I had used the last of the chicken stock the week before when I made risotto. Worse, I’d used the last of the chicken bones, along with my vegetable clippings, to make that stock. I was just about to give up the idea of making soup when I saw the lentils on my countertop. This will work. The ingredients for today’s recipe were all in supply in my kitchen, except for the thyme. I thought of that when I went into the yard to make sure everything was stored before the big storm arrived.

As luck would have it, the vegetable stock was ready and although there was rain, there was no snow. I waited a couple of hours and still no snow. I went ahead and cooked the lentils — still no snow. I ate my dinner and eventually about an inch of snow fell, none of which “stuck” to the walks.

All told, it was a pretty good day: my home carried the aroma of stock simmering on the stove; I enjoyed a comforting lentil dinner; and, I didn’t need to go out and deal with any snow whatsoever. May our weather men’s predictions for snow always fall short, just as they did that Saturday afternoon.

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Stormy Lentils 2

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Stormy Lentils Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (190 g) French green lentils
  • 6 cups (1420 ml) vegetable stock, separated, more or less to taste (see Notes)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil plus more if needed
  • 2 Bartolini sausage patties (about 8 oz; 225 g) — link sausages may be substituted, skin removed
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped small
  • 1 small onion, chopped small
  • 1 carrot, chopped small
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • red pepper flakes, to taste – optional
  • 1 small can (14.5 oz; 411 g) diced tomatoes
  • thyme to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Pick through the lentils removing any small pebbles or grit that you may find. Rinse them under cold running water. Drain.
  2. Place the lentils in a medium sauce pan and cover with 1 quart (950 ml) of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil over med-high heat before lowing to a soft simmer.
  3. Meanwhile, place the sausage meat into a frying pan over med-high heat. As it cooks, use a wooden spoon to break up the meat into small pieces.
  4. After about 5 minutes, add the onion, carrot, and celery. You may need to add a bit more oil to moisten the pan. Continue to sauté until the vegetables are cooked but still al dente – about 7 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add the garlic and optional red pepper flakes. Continue cooking for another minute.
  6. Add the tomatoes, 1 cup of vegetable stock, and the thyme, if using. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  7. As the lentils cook, use a large spoon to remove any foam that may surface in the liquid.
  8. After simmering for 30 minutes, clear the remaining foam from the surface and pour the lentils and liquid into the pot with the tomato sauce. Bring to a boil before covering and reducing to a simmer.
  9. After 15 minutes, check the lentils. If too dry, add more vegetable stock. If too soupy, keep uncovered and allow some of the excess liquid to boil off. The dish is ready when the lentils are cooked and the consistency you prefer.
  10. Serve immediately and if I’m seated at the table, have some grated Pecorino Romano nearby.

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Stormy Lentils 3

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Notes

No need to run to a store to buy vegetable stock. Into a medium size sauce pan, place one quartered onion, 2 roughly chopped celery stalks, 2 roughly chopped carrots, a few parsley stems, 2 smashed garlic cloves, and a quartered tomato or 1 – 2 tbsp tomato paste. Fill with water, bring to a boil, and then lower to a soft simmer. Continue to cook for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Season lightly with salt and pepper before straining the vegetables. You will easily have enough stock for this recipe. Refrigerate whatever stock is left over.

Before bringing to the table, add as much stock as you prefer. This can be served relatively dry or with enough stock to resemble a soup.

You may notice that leftover lentils will absorb whatever stock is left in the bowl. Use the refrigerated stock to moisten the lentils when you reheat them.

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What’s this? More bad weather on the way?

While this recipe sat innocently in the queue waiting to be posted, an arctic blast Ham Hocks 1descended upon sweet home Chicago. As luck would have it, I had just bought ham hocks at the grocery the day before. So, as the temperatures dropped, there was a pot of vegetable stock simmering on the stove, to be replaced by a pot of lentils later in the day. This time, however, with its use of ham hocks, the recipe is the same as the one prepared by my family years ago. Comfort and nostalgia served in one bowl.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Brodo flashback

As was implied above, our current weather means it’s time for soup. With that in mind, I’m sending you back to Mom’s broth recipe, her brodo. That one pot of stock would be used to make noodle soup, risotto, gravies, and, of course, to soothe our upset tummies. You can learn all about this wonder broth by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Smothered Pork Chops

Smothered Pork Chops

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Two Dishes Cooked alla Gricia

I first enjoyed Spaghetti alla Gricia 2 years ago. It was my last night and supper in Rome after what had been, by any measurement, a very filling vacation. I wanted some lighter fare and the simplicity and flavors of this dish appealed to me. I’m currently in the planning stages of another trip to San Marino and Rome and that dinner and pasta came to mind.

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Spaghetti alla Gricia 1

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Spaghetti alla Gricia is an old recipe that originated in Lazio, the district in which Rome is located. It is from the time before tomatoes were brought to Europe in the sixteenth century. There are 2 legends surrounding tomatoes’ arrival in Europe and Italy. The first, and most probable, is that they crossed the Atlantic when one of the conquistadors (Pizarro?) returned to Spain. The other says that 2 Italian priests brought tomatoes with them when they returned from Mexico. Regardless of how they got to the continent, the first mention of tomatoes in Italy appeared in a Tuscan document in 1548. Pre-dating that document means that Spaghetti alla Gricia is one, old dish!

You can trace 2 delicious pasta dishes to Spaghetti alla Gricia, Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. Much like the alla Gricia pasta, a carbonara is tomato-free, though it does include eggs, something its predecessor lacks. Amatriciana dishes don’t include eggs but they do include tomatoes. Frankly, you cannot go wrong if you decide to make any one of the three dishes.

I had originally intended to share a recipe for butternut squash noodles cooked alla Gricia. While writing that post, I searched this blog for my Spaghetti alla Gricia recipe and was surprised that it was never shared. So, I’ll share the spaghetti version now and the butternut squash version in a few minutes.

With only 4 ingredients, this is about as simple a pasta dish as you can prepare. The longest part of the process is the time it takes to boil the water. As is the case with all easy pasta dishes, timing is critical. The spaghetti should be cooked just shy of al dente so that it finishes cooking in the pan with the pork. The only other issue that may arise is the type of pork product to use. The dish is normally made with guanciale, a non-smoked bacon made from the jowls of a hog. Here I substituted pancetta. You could also use ham or bacon, although I would caution against using a smoked product. WIth so few ingredients, the smoke would become the predominant flavor and this dish is all about balance. You’ll want to taste the pork and cheese equally and not smoke.

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Spaghetti alla Gricia 2

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Spaghetti alla Gricia Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 to 6 oz (112 to 168 g) guanciale cut into strips (lardons) or ⅓ inch dice – pancetta, ham, or non-smoked bacon may be substituted
  • ¼ cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • reserved pasta water
  • additional grated Pecorino Romano for serving

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil. Add the spaghetti and cook following package directions until about 2 minutes short of al dente. Reserve some of the pasta water for possible use later. (Step 5)
  2. Meanwhile, place olive oil in a hot frying pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and sauté to render the fat.
  3. Once the fat has been rendered and the pancetta browned, not burnt, add the cooked spaghetti and toss to evenly coat the pasta.
  4. Sauté until the pasta is cooked to your preference.
  5. Remove from heat, add the Pecorino Romano cheese, and toss to combine. If too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
  6. Serve immediately, garnished with additional Pecorino Romano.

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Spaghetti alla Gricia 3

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What did I tell you? This really is an easy recipe to prepare and a very flavorful one, at that. I think you’ll find butternut squash alla Gricia to be no more complicated.

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The Spiralizer Chronicles, Chapter 2: Butternut Squash alla Gricia

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Butternut alla Gricia 3

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Although quite simple to prepare, working with spiralized vegetables does create a few issues. Some spiralized vegetables, like zucchini, will sweat water over time. If boiled, you may need to drain and, unlike pasta, pat them dry before proceeding with the recipe. Roasting may help to lessen the problem but, whether boiled or roasted, these “noodles” will not absorb sauce like pasta does. Remember that when dressing these dishes. If there’s a pool of sauce/dressing at the bottom of the serving bowl, you’ve likely used too much.

With those issues in mind, and knowing that butternut squash doesn’t sweat nearly as much as other vegetables, choosing to prepare it alla Gricia was a no-brainer, especially for an inexperienced spiralizer user like myself. I mean, there are only 4 ingredients and one of those are the noodles! You don’t need much experience to get this recipe right.

As simple as this dish is to prepare, if you choose to cook the noodles as I have, there are 2 ways to go about it. I chose to roast the butternut noodles prior dressing them with the sauce. If you prefer, you can cook the noodles in the same pan as was used to prepare the sauce (see Notes). There is, in fact, a third option. Depending upon the vegetable you use to make your noodles, you may choose not to cook them at all. Once spiralized, place the noodles in a serving bowl, dress them with the browned guanciale and rendered fat. Add the cheese, toss to combine, and serve.

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Butternut alla Gricia 2

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Butternut Squash “Noodles” alla Gricia Recipe

Ingredients

  • the neck of ! small butternut squash (9 oz; 270 g – trimmed) (See Notes)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz guanciale cut into 1 inch strips or ⅓ inch dice – pancetta, ham, or non-smoked bacon may be substituted
  • ¼ cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • hot water or chicken stock
  • additional Pecorino Romano for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F (205˚ C)
  2. Use a spiralizer to create the thinnest possible noodles
  3. Place noodles evenly on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle LIGHTLY with olive oil. Mix to evenly coat the squash.
  4. Place the squash into the preheated oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked to your preference.
  5. While the squash roasts, Place the oil in a large hot frying pan. Once heated, add the guanciale and cook over a medium heat. This will render the fat without burning the guanciale,
  6. Cook until the guanciale is browned, not burnt, and the fat has rendered.
  7. Add the now-cooked noodles to the pan and toss to coat.
  8. Remove from the heat, add the cheese, and toss until the noodles are well-coated.
  9. If too dry, add a little hot water or chicken stock. Mix well.
  10. Serve immediately garnished with additional grated Pecorino Romano.

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Butternut alla Gricia 1

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Notes

As is the case with all vegetables to be spiralized, choose butternut squash that are as straight as possible. Spiralizers do not work as well with curved vegetables.

Butternut squash have a long neck connected to a bulb-like section which contains the seeds. This bulb cannot be spiralized. Cut the squash where the 2 sections meet and reserve the bulb for another use.

Unlike many other vegetables, butternut squash must be peeled before being spiralized.

If you choose not to bake your noodles beforehand, spiralize the squash and set the noodles aside. Heat the oil and guanciale in a large frying pan. Once the guanciale has browned — not burned! — and the fat rendered, remove the guanciale to a paper towel. You may need to drain some of the fat in the pan depending upon the amount of noodles you’ll be using. Add the noodles to the pan and toss until evenly coated with the fat. Cook the noodles until they reach the right amount of doneness to suit your taste. Once cooked to your liking, add the guanciale back into the pan, toss. When heated through, take off the heat, add the cheese, and toss to combine. If too dry, add some hot water or chicken stock, toss, and serve garnished with grated cheese.

No matter how you cook the noodles, the longer you cook them, the softer they will become. The noodles should retain a bit of crispness straight from the oven. Taste the noodles as they sauté until they reach your desired doneness. Once there, immediately take them off the heat before continuing with the recipe.

For either alla Gricia recipes, be careful not to add so much olive oil when rendering the pork fat that you will need to pour some of it off before adding the spaghetti or squash noodles. That fat is loaded with flavor. Better that you add just a little olive oil in the beginning and more, as needed, later on.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Pasta alla Chitarra 1

Since it was mentioned earlier as a “descendent” of today’s recipe, I though I’d send you back to take a look at the Spaghetti all’Amatriciana recipe. Not only will you see the dish prepared but you’ll learn how to use a chitarra to make the pasta. Interested? Just click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Stormy Lentils Preview

Stormy Lentils

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Agnolotti Redux

I would like to thank you all for the warm welcoming you gave me last week. It was very much appreciated and I’m sorry if I’ve worried you. My WordPress family is the best! And now that I have your attention, I’ll take the opportunity to tell you that I’ll be leaving again but this time for far different reasons. I’ve got a couple of things I had planned on doing as the New Year began but that flu bug caused a major change of plans. As a result, I had thought that I’d start a hiatus in a couple of weeks from now but then I received an email. My Zia and cousin from San Marino are coming to the States for a visit! I don’t know much more than that they will be arriving in Michigan sometime Friday. Whether I go to visit them, or, they come to Chicago to visit me has yet to be determined. Either way, though, I cannot wait to see them. So, rather than take time off for their visit, post a recipe or two, and then leave again, I think it best to just start my break a little earlier than planned. As always, thank you for your understanding and, again, for your thoughtfulness last week. I look forward to seeing you again very soon, and, with a little luck, bearing new family recipes.

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Agnolotti Served

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Ah! Finally, the long-awaited agnolotti recipe featuring the filling that was first described to me by a sous chef in Bologna. You may recall that I experimented with another filling when I made Agnolotti del Plin last December. That filling was much softer and, consequently, I used a pastry bag in the process. That wasn’t possible with this filling.

From what I learned from that generous sous chef — I really wish I could remember her name — agnolotti, unlike stuffed pastas from other regions of Italy, are primarily meat filled. That’s definitely the case when you compare this 4-meat recipe to my family’s traditional ravioli filling. As I mentioned in the December post, fillings like this one were considered so rich that in Piemonte, where agnolotti originated, they were once served in a pile atop clean table linens, with no sauce or condiment at all. Now this is my kind of finger food!

Once you’ve determined a worthy filling — or located a hard-working sous chef willing to divulge family recipes — all that’s left to do is to make the pasta pillows. This is not as simple as one might think. When talking about the various stuffed pastas, aside from the fillings, very often the only other differences are in the shape of the pasta. Tortellini and ravioli, for example, are easy to differentiate. The first looks like a Bishop’s mitre and the second a square pillow, typically cut on all 4 sides. Agnolotti are almost exclusively hand-made and, as you’ll soon see, each is typically cut on 3 sides, the fourth being a fold. What’s this? You’ve seen ravioli made this way? Me, too. Some say all agnolotti are rectangular shaped. There are those that feel square-shaped is preferable. While still others claim that all agnolotti must be half-moon shaped. What? You’ve also seen ravioli made similar to each of these? Same here and that’s perfectly fine in my book. If you place a dish of home-made stuffed pasta before me, you can call them ravioli, tortellini, agnolotti, cappelletti, or pansôtti and you’ll have no argument with me. Deny me a second helping, however, and we’re sure to have a problem.

As I’ve mentioned, the filling for agnolotti is traditionally made using roasted meats. Traditionally, yes, but I cheated. I thought it wasteful to roast both beef and veal just to make agnolotti, particularly since I live alone. So, I bought some beef and veal, cut them into medium-sized cubes, and sautéed them in a little butter rather than roast them. This is the same method that we Bartolini use when preparing meats for our ravioli and cappelletti. The rest of the agnolotti recipe that I’ve shared is just as I was told by my Bologna sous chef. Gotta love that woman!

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Caveat Canis

Caveat Canis

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Agnolotti Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (228 g) mortadella (see Notes)
  • 8 oz (228 g) veal (See Notes)
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 8 oz (228 g) prosciutto crudo (See Notes)
  • 8 oz (228 g) prosciutto cotto
  • 4 oz (110 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Pecorino Romano may be substituted)
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Make the Filling

  1. In a frypan over med-high heat, melt the butter before adding the beef chunks. Season lightly with salt and pepper and sauté until browned on all sides. Set aside.
  2. Repeat Step 1 using the veal chunks in place of the beef.
  3. Cut both types of prosciutto into cubes.
  4. Grind/mince the 4 meats using the meat grinder plate with the smallest holes. (See Notes)
  5. Once all have been ground, add the grated cheese and nutmeg, mix well, and taste to check seasoning. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper, if needed.
  6. Add the egg and mix until combined.
  7. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to allow the flavors to meld.

Make the Agnolotti

  1. At all times, beware of the dog.
  2. Make the pasta dough and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
  3. Roll a portion of the dough — using a machine or by hand — until quite thin. (See Notes)
  4. Place the dough strip on a lightly floured work surface, Use a pastry cutter to “square off” both ends.
  5. Evenly space balls of filling along one side of the dough strip about a half-inch away from the strip’s edge. I used a small ice cream scoop. (See Notes)
  6. Use a pastry brush or your finger tip to lightly moisten the dough on the inner side of the filling,
  7. Carefully fold the dough flap over the filling balls. Make sure the flap touches the filling balls. This will help in the next step.
  8. Use your finger to press the dough between each filling ball before sealing the edge. Try to remove as much of the air as possible.
  9. Use a pastry cutter to cut between each agnolotto and to trim away any excess dough. Place on lightly floured linens or wax paper and use immediately or cover and refrigerate if to be used later that day. I’d recommend freezing them if cooking is to be be delayed much longer.
  10. To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the agnolotti, lower the heat to a medium simmer, and cook for a few minutes. They will float when cooked but, if in doubt, taste one. It will take a few minutes longer to cook frozen agnolotti.
  11. Gently strain the agnolotti and dress with butter, olive oil, or any number of sauces. (See Serving Suggestion)

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Serving Suggestion

I served these agnolotti just as the restaurant had dressed their tortellini, with a basic cream sauce. Take some heavy cream and, over medium heat in a small sauce pan, reduce until half its original volume. Add a bit of grated cheese — whichever cheese you used to make the agnolotti filling — and stir till combined. Dress the agnolotti with the cream sauce and serve garnished with more grated cheese and freshly ground pepper.

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Notes

eta: When this was originally published, our friend and honorary Bartolini, Stefan of Stefan’s Gourmet Blog mentioned that he was aware of mortadella being used in the filling. I thought nothing more of it until I was adding this recipe to my upcoming cookbook and checked my original notes. He was, in fact, correct. I had misread my scrawl from that evening, interpreting “meat” to mean beef when, in reality, I had written “mort” for mortadella. I’ve changed the recipe here to reflect the correction. Thanks, Stefan. You’re the best! 

If you do not wish to use veal or cannot find some that is relatively humanely raised, feel free to use only beef. Cubed chuck works fine.

When buying the prosciutto, have them cut you a slice that is about 1/4 to 1/3 inches (.6 to .8 cm) thick. That should give you an amount that will work fine with this recipe.

You’ll find that you meat grinder works better if the meat is placed in the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes before use.

If you haven’t a meat grinder, you can use your food processor instead. Place the meat into the bowl and pulse-process until ground to your satisfaction, A little texture is a good thing, so, don’t process until the meat is completely smooth.

There are 2 types of Italian prosciutto, crudo and cotto. Prosciutto crudo – raw – is the kind that most of us know and that can be found at just about any deli counter. Prosciutto cotto – cooked – is the Italian version of baked ham and is a bit harder to find. If you cannot find prosciutto cotto in your area, feel free to substitute baked ham, low-sodium is preferred.

Be careful when adding nutmeg to the filling. A little goes a long way. It’s best to add it in small increments, tasting as you go.

Unless you use pasteurized eggs, all tasting of the raw filling should be done before the raw egg is added, to eliminate the risk of salmonella poisoning.

The settings for my pasta roller attachment start at 1, the thickest setting, and run to 9, its thinnest. When making agnolotti, I roll the dough up to and including the 7th setting.

The amount of filling used will eventually determine the size of the agnolotti. Using a small ice scream scoop, I can maintain about a teaspoon-sized filling ball for all the agnolotti.

When cooking any freshly made stuffed pasta, once the pasta has been added and the water has returned to the boil, lower the heat lest the pasta becomes damaged during the remainder of the cooking process.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stracciatella-DJV

It’s still soup season in these parts and today’s look back focuses on a good one. Stracciatella soup got its name because it looks like torn rags but I guarantee there’s nothing shabby about it. Easy to make and oh, so very satisfying, you can find the recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

NYC Cheesecake Preview

  New York Style Cheesecake

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Squid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga

Linguine al Nero di Calamari con Vongole e Bottarga

Santa School - Korea

(With thanks to the folks at Colored Mondays)

We Bartolini are an ecumenical lot. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or even Festivus, we hope your holidays are of the most memorable kind.

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Although this is my 4th Christmas Eve on WordPress (I know! FOURTH!?!?!), this is the 3rd time I’ve used the occasion to highlight seafood. In the past, I shared a tongue-in-cheek tale of how Italian Catholics prepared a Feast of the Seven Fishes to get around the Church’s rule of not eating meat on Christmas Eve. To be sure, the Church’s original intent was to keep that day, the last of Advent, a day of refection and sacrifice in preparation for the Christ Child’s imminent arrival. Some of the faithful, however, couldn’t wait to get the party started, so, instead they prepared a seafood feast. To avoid the Church’s wrath, they prepared 7 different dishes, 1 fish for each of the Seven Holy Sacraments. With their Church leaders appeased — many of whom were enjoying their own, even more lavish, seafood feasts — a tradition was born. Today, feasts of 10, 11, and even 12 seafood dishes may be prepared and served.

Last week I shared my family’s recipe for garbanzo soup, the type of simple dish that I’m sure the Church had originally intended Catholics prepare on the last day of Advent. Today I’ll share a recipe that is far removed from last week’s simple, unadorned minestra, Squid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga. I’ll get to the recipe soon enough but 1st, I’ve “got some ‘splaining to do.”

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Squid Ink Pasta 3

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I think it was Mom who told me about Nonna (Zia’s Mother-in-law) cleaning cuttlefish, sepia. A cousin of squid, sepia are often prepared in very much the same ways. (Those who have owned parakeets, “budgies”, often hang cuttle bones in their cages to be used by the birds for beak maintenance. These “bones’ are removed from large cuttlefish during cleaning.) Nonna’s sepia were quite fresh and had to be gutted and cleaned. As I recall, if she was lucky enough to come upon a sepia’s ink sack, Nonna reserved it and used it to make black pasta noodles.

The story stuck with me and, over the years, I’ve searched high and low for the illusive ink. I wasn’t picky. It didn’t matter whether I found squid or sepia ink. As my search criss-crossed Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods, I cannot tell you how many dead ends I reached, having followed the advice of some well-meaning people who were sure that it could be found at this place or that. Dejected, I’d give up the search, only to begin it anew when some TV chef used squid ink to make pasta. Once, last year, I even purchased ready-made black pasta noodles. What a disappointment!

This all changed about 3 months ago. Armed with a gift card given to me by Cynthia and Nigel for my last birthday, I went shopping at Chicago’s newest Italian market. (Cynthia Squid Inkand Nigel are the friends with whom I shared the flats in Florence and Rome.) As I passed the fresh pasta counter, I noticed they were selling black pasta. Upon asking, the clerk directed me to the fishmongers and, lo and behold, they had squid ink! Not only that but they had 2 kinds: 1, a large jar of thick paste, and, the other, a much thinner liquid, in packaging that would remind you of those ubiquitous soy sauce packets found at the bottom of every bag of Chinese take-away. After the fishmonger assured me that it would “last forever”, I bought the paste, thinking I could better control the amount used. On the way home, I decided that this would be the dish I would serve Zia for our Christmas dinner.

What I haven’t mentioned is that, months before, I had ordered some bottarga online, intending to serve it to Zia some day. Bottarga is the dried and cured eggs of mullet fish. Thought to have Greek or Arabic origins, bottarga is a Mediterranean product and can be found from Portugal and Spain to North Africa. In Italy, it is most closely identified with Sardinia and Sicily, while here in the States, bottarga is now produced in Florida. (If Bottarga 1interested, “locally” produced Bottarga is usually available this time of year.) Bottarga can be bought dried in the original egg sacks, or sealed in wax, or both. Once purchased, if kept dry, it will last quite some time in the fridge. While its scent has been described as the “breath of the sea”, bottarga is bursting with umami, lending both salty and fishy flavors to your dish. To serve, some may shave thin slices which are then used to top off bruschetta or salads. Using a microplane or similar utensil, others will grate bottarga over pasta, risotto, grilled vegetables, broiled/baked/grilled fish, and even eggs. There is one thing about bottarga, though, that you should consider before rushing off to purchase some. Not everyone likes the stuff. Very much like anchovies, you either love it or hate it. Lucky for us, we all love it.

It took no time to decide what would be the 3rd and final ingredient for our Christmas Eve pasta. Both Zia and I love pasta with clams, vongole. Now, I always go to the Italian markets the day before I depart for Zia’s, buying her a few Italian staples that just aren’t available in her area. In the past, if the fishmonger has fresh clams — especially vongole from Italy — I’ll buy some, pack them in ice, and warn Zia that clams will be on the menu. That’s what I did just prior to my last visit, though the clams were the manila variety. I left the next day knowing that there was a great dinner in our immediate future.

I served this pasta to Zia as our early Christmas Dinner. It was a complete surprise to her and to her son, my cousin the Max Whisperer, who was also seated at the table. Both thoroughly enjoyed the dish, as will you and your guests when you serve it.

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Squid Ink Pasta

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To make squid ink pasta 

It is far easier to make black pasta than you might assume. Gather the ingredients required to make a batch of Mom’s Pasta Dough. Once you’ve placed 4 whole eggs + enough water to equal 1 cup of liquid in a measuring cup, add 1½ tbsp of squid ink. Lightly beat the mixture to fully incorporate the ink. (See Notes) Proceed as your would when making normal pasta dough, cutting it, once dry, to make whichever sized noodles you prefer. (I made trenette because it most closely resembles the pasta that Mom would cut by hand.) Cook as you would normal pasta, removing it from the water just before reaching al dente. Reserve a cup of pasta water.

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To prepare the clams

(See Notes for help with cleaning clams)

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat in a large fry pan with cover. Once hot, add 2 cloves minced garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup white wine, and about 3 dozen vongole. (Cockles, little neck, or manilla clams may be substituted.) Cover the pan and allow the clams to open, about 5 to 8 minutes. Do not overcook and discard any clams that have not opened by the end of the cooking time. Add about 3 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley.

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To assemble the dish and serve

Once the unopened clams have been removed, place the newly drained pasta into the fry pan and toss to coat with the clams and pan juices. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if needed. Pour the pan’s contents on to a serving platter. Drizzle a little of your best extra virgin olive oil on top of the pasta, followed by some chopped parsley. Grate, as you would a garnish, a bit of bottarga on top of the pasta and serve. Once your guests have received their serving, be sure that each receives another sprinkling of bottarga, whether you do the grating or they handle it themselves.

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Squid Ink Pasta 2

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Notes

Blending the squid ink with the eggs ensures that it will be evenly dispersed throughout the pasta dough much more quickly than if added directly to the flour.

If, when handling the dough, your notice your fingers or work surface blackening, it’s a sign that your dough needs a bit more flour. Perfectly mixed flour will not “bleed” black.

Clams must be inspected and cleaned before use.

  1. Examine your clams, discarding any with cracked or broken shells. Also, discard any that are open, even slightly, and that will not close when tapped on a counter top.
  2. Clams bought at most markets today usually have been purged of sand prior to purchase. You must purge the clams if you harvest them yourself or buy them directly from the fishermen. To purge the clams of sand, place them in a deep bowl and cover with room temperature water. Soak for 30 minutes, empty the water and, repeat the process at least another time.
  3. Once purged, use a small brush to scrub the shells. Again, discard any that remain open — even a wee bit — during the scrubbing process.
  4. Clams are now ready for cooking.

The Italian custom of avoiding cheese with most seafood pastas is not some “silly” or “ridiculous” decree. The suggestion is based on the fact that many forms of seafood are quite mildly flavored. Use of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano would easily overpower the seafood, rendering it almost “invisible” to the palate. In today’s recipe, cheese would most certainly mask the delicate flavors of the squid ink pasta and clams, as well as obliterate all of the bottarga’s scent and much of its flavor. Of course, you can eat whatever you like but if you take the time to seek out and purchase fresh seafood, often at premium prices, why hide it under a blanket of cheese?

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

linquine ai frutti-di mare al cartocci

It was but a year ago when I shared another seafood dish worthy of any Christmas Eve celebration. In that dish, clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, and scallops were combined with linguine in a mildly spiced tomato sauce and sealed in parchment before being baked. It is a very special dish for a very special night. You can learn how to prepare it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Eggs in Purgatory Preview

Eggs in Purgatory

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Buon Natale a Tutti!

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My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

Minestra del Ceci delle Mie Due Nonne

Minestra del Cece 2*     *     *

Every year, just before Christmas Eve, I’ve shared a recipe for seafood, often mentioning the Feast of the Seven Fishes when doing so. To that end, next week’s post will feature another such dish. (See Coming soon to a monitor near you.) Not all Italian families, however, prepare a feast on Christmas Eve. We certainly didn’t when I was very young. My family’s tradition of enjoying a seafood feast didn’t start until a few years later, when Dad would leave the restaurant early, bringing the seafood with him. Prior to that time, our Christmas Eve dinner was nothing special, although always meatless because, being Catholic, meat was not allowed. “Upstairs”, in Zia’s home, baccalà was the main course, with “Nonna”, also, serving today’s soup, garbanzo bean.

Whether you call them garbanzos, chickpeas, or ceci, this bean is a good one to have in your pantry. Very low in fat and high in protein, garbanzos are becoming more popular as gluten-free and vegetarian diets become more common. Most readily available dried or in cans, garbanzos can be used in any number of ways and, when ground, the resulting flour is a viable substitute for gluten flours. In a country where meat was reserved for special occasions, garbanzos were one of several beans Italians used to supply protein to their diets.

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Today’s soup was 1 of the 4 dishes that I prepared for Zia during my last visit. To be honest, she was the dish’s mastermind and I her dutiful sous chef. As you’ll soon see, mine was an easy job. At some point she mentioned that “Grandma”, Mom and Zia’s Mother, also cooked garbanzo bean soup and in the same way as did her Mother-in-Law, “Nonna”. This recipe is a gift from both women, “due nonne“. I’m not certain, however, if this soup is a traditional Marchigiani dish. Yes, both women were from Marche but this soup is quite basic and could very well have originated anywhere in Italy — if not somewhere else. (Perhaps our friend and expert of all things Marchigiani, Mariano Pallottini, will be able to shed some light on this for us.)

As is the case with most of the Bartolini recipes from back in the day, this soup is simple to prepare and relies on a few, commonplace ingredients. As you can imagine, the most important thing you’ll put in your stockpot, therefore, is the stock itself. Here, because the soup was served on Christmas Eve, a day when Catholics were forbidden to eat meat, a vegetable stock is used. Feel free to use whatever type of stock you prefer, though you’ll want to use a rich, full-flavored stock for a soup you’ll be serving on so special a night.

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Minestra di Ceci*     *     *

My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried garbanzo beans/chickpeas, inspected to remove stones and the like (see Notes)
  • 2 quarts vegetable stock (see Notes)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese for serving – omit if vegan

Directions

  1. At least 8 hours or the night before, place the beans in a large bowl and cover with water that is at least 2 inches above the beans. Before use, pour off the water, rinse, and set aside to drain. Do not allow to dry out.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over med-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent — about 5 minutes. Do not allow it to brown. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the stock and chickpeas to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil before reducing to a simmer.
  4. Continue to simmer until the beans are as tender as you like. (See Notes)
  5. Check for seasoning before serving with plenty of grated cheese at the table. (Omit or use soy cheese if vegan.)

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Garbanzo Bean Soup*     *     *

Notes

The homemade stock used here was prepared using vegetable odds & ends that I’d been keeping in my freezer. The ingredient list will vary each time the stock is made.

  1. In a large stockpot over med-high heat, add 2 tbsp each of butter and olive oil.
  2. When hot, add broccoli stems, cauliflower cores, carrot peelings, and asparagus stalk trimmings, as well as a quartered large onion, 3 roughly chopped carrots, 3 roughly chopped celery stalks (leaves included), and a few cloves of smashed garlic. Sauté until the vegetables begin to color.
  3. Add a handful of parsley, a quartered tomato (“for color”), and 1 bay leaf before adding enough water to fill the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  4. Continue to cook for at 2 hours, allowing the stock to reduce and the flavors to intensify. Occasionally skim the stock of the film that may coat the its surface. If the stock reduces too much, add water to compensate.
  5. Season with salt and pepper if you intend to use the stock to make vegetable soup. If the stock is to be used in other recipes, best to leave it salt-free and season it when used.
  6. Once cooled, refrigerate for no more than a few days or store, frozen, for up to 1 month.

When using dry beans, you must take a few minutes to inspect them, looking for small stones and/or beans that are discolored or otherwise spoilt. Discard them.

We’ve found that 1 cup (200 g) of dried beans per quart (950 ml) of stock will yield a soup with just the right “beans to stock ratio” in every bowl. You may wish to add more or less stock to suit your own tastes.

Cooking times will depend upon the type of bean — canned or dried — that you use.

  • If dried, the longer they are allowed to soak, the less time needed to cook. Even so, they will take at least 60 minutes — more like 90 — to cook fully.
  • If canned, rinse before using and they should be ready to eat once they are heated through. Taste before serving to ensure that they meet your preferences.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

 Eel in the Style of Le MarcheNo listing of traditional Italian dishes served on Christmas Eve would be complete without mentioning eel. Yes, eel. Served on Christmas Eve almost exclusively, live anguille, eels, can be found in tanks at the largest and best-equipped Italian markets beginning around December 15th.  You can learn how my family prepared the slippery devils by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squid Ink Pasta PreviewSquid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga

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