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?”

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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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Today We’re Making Agnolotti del Plin

I’ve been fortunate to visit Italy several times and, in the past, my goal was to eat my way up, down, and across the peninsula, Sicily included. Safe to say: “Mission accomplished.” This last visit was different, though, and probably due to my joining WordPress. I wasn’t satisfied to just enjoy my meal, I wanted to know its ingredients and, if lucky enough to have an English-speaking wait person, its preparation. If you saw the FaceBook entries I published during that trip, most were photos of the meals we enjoyed. With a notoriously bad memory, this was the easiest way to record those dishes and, hopefully, jog my memory months, even years, later. Such is the case with today’s agnolotti … kinda.

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Agnolotti served*     *     *

While in Bologna, one night I ate at a small restaurant that I chose because it was crowded with locals and had a nice outdoor seating area. Coming from Chicago, eating supper outdoors in mid-May is something you don’t pass up if the opportunity presents itself. I ordered the tortellini and asked my waiter how they were prepared. Looking puzzled, he disappeared and returned with a woman I was to learn was a sous chef. In broken English — that was still far better than my Italian —  she answered my questions and before leaving, mentioned that she was from Piedmont, Piemonte, coincidentally the region of Italy that is home to agnolotti. I asked how she made her agnolotti, she smiled and said that the filling for the tortellini I had ordered was very similar to her own agnolotti filling recipe. Our entire conversation didn’t last 5 minutes — it was a busy night — but she did give me its list of ingredients before returning to the kitchen. When my dinner arrived, I took a photo and made a note of her ingredient list.

Jump ahead now to last month, November. Traditionally, it’s the time for my last visit to Michigan before Winter sets in. While there, I like to fix Zia a birthday dinner and maybe even a Christmas dinner, since I won’t be with her for either events. This year, I wanted to serve her agnolotti for her birthday dinner. The only problem with that plan was that I had never made agnolotti before.

The Saturday before I left for Michigan was the last day the Chicago area’s farmers markets were open. When I returned home, I realized that there wasn’t much time for me to make a test batch of agnolotti. I was to leave in a few days and had much to do beforehand. Not wishing to use premium ingredients for something that would be little more than a kitchen experiment, I dug around my fridge and freezers for ingredients and that’s how today’s filling came about. Well, having bought a bunch of lacinato kale, cavolo nero, at the market that morning certainly didn’t hurt matters any. Let’s be clear. I seriously doubt this is in any way a traditional Piemontese recipe. I will say, though, that it was surprisingly good, good enough to convince me to share the recipe along with this instructional post for making Agnolotti del Plin. When I make the filling again — and I will make it again — I won’t grind it so thoroughly and will use it to make ravioli.

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As you know, stuffed pastas are popular in Italy, with ravioli, tortellini and cappelletti being the most common. Agnolotti are a stuffed pasta that, as I mentioned, originated in Piedmont and are almost always handmade. Their filling consists primarily of roasted meat, though exceptions abound. (This is consistent with the filling recipe that I was given at the restaurant.) I was surprised to learn that traditionally, freshly cooked agnolotti were eaten as-is, without any form of dressing/sauce at all. The family ate them, one at a time, from a large serving at the table’s center.

Agnolotti del Plin are formed by pinching the dough in-between the individual agnolotto, “plin” being the Piemontese word for “pinch”. As you’ll soon see, once pinched, the agnolotti are cut and ready to be cooked. There is another way to make agnolotti and you’ll see how that’s done in a future post. This one is already getting too long.

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Pinching Agnolotti*     *     *

How to make Agnolotti del Plin

with a Chicken Gizzard Filling

Agnolotti con i Ventrigli del Pollo

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) chicken gizzards, trimmed and chopped
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), trimmed of thick ribs — any kale may be substituted
  • 1 large (1.5 oz, 35 g) shallot, diced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • nutmeg
  • 1 large egg
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Mom’s Pasta Dough — recipe HERE — rested 30 minutes before use

Directions

for the filling

  1. Heat equal parts butter and olive oil (no more than 3 tbsp total) in a deep frying pan over med-high heat. Once hot, add the shallot and sauté until translucent – about 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, roughly chop the cleaned & trimmed kale leaves before placing them in the pan with the shallots. Season lightly with salt & pepper and sauté until wilted.
  3. Allow to cool and drain as much liquid as possible from the cooked kale before placing it in a clean kitchen towel. Wring out as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
  4. In the same frying pan, melt another 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the chicken gizzards, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until fully cooked – about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Once cooled, place the cooked gizzards into a food processor and process until well ground.
  6. To the chopped gizzards in the food processor, add the cooked kale, ricotta cheese, Pecorino Romano cheese, egg, nutmeg to taste, and season lightly with salt & pepper. Process until smooth. This is critical.
  7. Remove and refrigerate several hours or overnight so that the flavors will blend.

for the agnolotti del plin – also detailed in the slideshow that follows

  • Using a jumbo egg-sized piece of dough, pass it through pasta rollers until thin. My rollers are at the widest setting at “0” and I roll the dough up to and including the no. “7” setting.
  1. Place the dough strip on a lightly floured work service, trimming both ends to make an elongated rectangle.
  2. Fill a pastry bag with the filling and pipe a line of filling about an inch from the dough strip’s edge.
  3. Use a water bottle to mist — or a pastry brush to lightly moisten — the dough on the side of the filling farthest from you. Do not get it too wet or it may split during subsequent steps.
  4. Carefully take hold of the dough’s edge and pull it over the piped filling.
  5. Use your fingers to press/seal the flap to the moistened dough, eliminating as much air as possible as you work you way down the strip.
  6. Use a pastry brush to moisten the top of the seal. – optional (sea Notes)
  7. Gently fold the filling roll over the moistened flap – optional
  8. Use your index fingers and thumbs to pinch the filling roll at inch intervals.
  9. Use a pastry wheel or very sharp knife to first trim away the excess dough
  10. Use the same tool to cut the agnolotti at the center of each pinch.
  11. Place the agnolotti in a single layer on a baking sheet that has been dusted with corn meal. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. If they are to be cooked relatively quickly, nothing further needs to be done. If they are to be cooked in a couple of hours, they should be placed in the fridge until dinner time. If the are to be cooked later than that evening, place  the baking sheet in the freezer and,once frozen, place the agnolotti in bags or some other container suitable for freezing.

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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Serving Suggestion

I really hadn’t thought this all the way through and was caught scrambling for a sauce once the agnolotti were made. I turned to an old favorite that, as luck would have it, helped me to continue to clean out my fridge before leaving for Michigan.

  1. Bring to a boil a large pot of salted water over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, in a deep fry pan, melt a few tbsp of butter over medium heat. Add about twice as much heavy cream and heat until the butter is melted. Add enough Pecorino Romano cheese to thicken the cream mixture. Add an amount of plain, meatless tomato sauce equal to the amount of cream added earlier. Stir and keep hot until the agnolotti are cooked. If the sauce thickens too much, add a bit of the  pasta water to thin it. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.
  3. Once the water is boiling rapidly, add the agnolotti and stir. When the water returns to the boil, lower the heat and gently cook the agnolotti.
    • If the agnolotti are fresh or refrigerated, they are fully cooked when all of them float to the surface of the pot of water — just a few minutes.
    • If the agnolotti are frozen, they will take a few minutes longer.
  4. If in doubt whether your pasta is fully cooked, sample one.
  5. Once cooked to your satisfaction, use a spider strainer to remove the agnolotti from the boiling water and add them to the simmering sauce.
  6.  Gently stir to coat the pasta with the sauce and serve immediately, garnished with more grated Pecorino Romano cheese and, fresh parsley and/or basil, if desired.

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Agnolotti Served 2*     *     *

Notes

YouTube contains quite a few videos showing agnolotti del plin being made. Some folded the filling roll over a moistened flap, as I did in steps 6 and 7 above. I thought that would ensure the pasta was fully sealed. I also skipped those 2 steps with a subsequent dough strip. Later, I cooked them both, fresh and frozen, and neither opened up while being boiled. In short, it made no difference whether you folded the filling roll over the sealed flap. You can follow the method you feel most comfortable doing.

Make sure the gizzards are fully cooked. “Rare” gizzards are not a good thing.

Because the filling is to be piped, it must be ground in a food processor, or similar device, until very smooth. The filling may block the piping bag’s tip if not ground fully.

When making the tomato-cream sauce, if you haven’t any tomato sauce on hand, a couple tbsp of tomato paste may be substituted.

The tomato-cream sauce used to dress these agnolotti is simple to make and can be used for a number of stuffed pastas. I often season it with a bit of nutmeg but, this time, the agnolotti filling already was seasoned with the spice and I didn’t want to over do it. A little nutmeg goes a very long way.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

calamari-salad3Continuing with a review of seafood dishes suitable for A Christmas Eve feast, today’s I’m highlighting Mom’s Calamari Salad. It’s a snap to make and is a welcome addition to any celebratory meal, Christmas or otherwise. Another reason for selecting this dish is that its post contains links to a number of seafood dishes and recipes, in case your Feast of the Seven Fishes is minus a few fins. All of this may be yours simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Garbanzo Bean SoupMy Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

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Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

Pennette alla Vodka

Penne Vodka Cream 2

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

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

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

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These are a few of my Favorite Things

These are a few of my Favorite Things

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Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Penne Vodka Cream 1

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Variations

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

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

Crostata Preview

Crostata

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Black Rice Risotto with Roast Duck and Porcini Mushrooms

Risotto Venere con Anatra Arrosto e Funghi Porcini

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

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

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

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

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

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Riso Venere*     *     *

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

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Duck Risotto 2*     *     *

Notes

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

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Goat PreviewBartolini Roast Goat

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Roast Duck Ravioli

Ravioli dell’Anatra di Arrosto

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

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

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

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

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

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Duck Ravioli Filling*     *     *

Roast Duck Ravioli Filling Recipe

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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Duck Ravioli 1*     *     *

Notes

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

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

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Serving suggestion

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Ravioli Day

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

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

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