Sweet Potatoes au Gratin (GF)

Sweet Potatoes au Gratin 4

When I look at most of my holiday dinners,  many are of the meat and potato variety. (OK, there’s more likely to be pasta or polenta on the table but they do start with a “p” and that should qualify them.)  Up until several years ago, those potatoes were either mashed or baked au gratin. That’s when I decided enough with the plain potatoes. Sorry, Idaho. Bring on the sweet potatoes!

Initially, I made them as I would my potatoes au gratin: with milk, Swiss cheese, and a little butter. Over time, I swapped out some of the ingredients and in the process these potatoes earned a standing invite to my holiday tables.

The recipe below is the latest version. Earlier editions included  pancetta, bacon, garlic, and/or nutmeg. Although I liked each, the individual flavors worked better with normal potatoes, their flavors being a bit too much for the sweet potatoes. You may feel that way about the onions used here. If too much for your tastes, substitute diced shallots in their place.

One more thing to remember. Do not bring these potatoes from the oven directly to the table for serving. They really do need to sit for no fewer than 10 minutes — 15 is better — so that they set. You want to serve creamy potatoes not a runny mess.

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin 3

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Sweet Potatoes au Gratin Recipe

Ingredients

  • butter or cooking spray
  • about 1,5 lbs. (680 g) sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced (See Notes)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 to 6 oz (140 – 170 g) Gruyère cheese, grated  (Swiss, Fontina, or Emmental, among others, may be substituted)
  • 6 oz (118 ml) heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp arrowroot (flour or cornstarch may be substituted)
  • 1 tbsp butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/4 c (25 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano (Pecorino Romano may be substituted)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Use cooking spray or a tab of butter to liberally grease an oven-proof baking dish.
  2. Make a slurry using 1/2 of the heavy cream and the arrowroot. Once thoroughly combined, add the remaining cream, stir, and set aside,
  3. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C).
  4. Use 1/3 of the sliced sweet potatoes to create a layer covering the bottom of the baking dish,
  5. Cover that layer with 1/2 of the sliced onion.
  6. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  7. Use 1/3 of the grated Gruyère to cover the onions and potatoes.
  8. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6. using all the remaining onion in the process.
  9. Use the last of the sweet potatoes to cover the dish’s contents.
  10. Stir the cream slurry before pouring it evenly over the top of the dish.
  11. Cover the dish with the remaining Gruyère.
  12. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  13. Dot the surface with the butter pieces.
  14. Sprinkle the grated Parmigiano Reggiano to evenly cover the entire dish.
  15. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until the potatoes are nicely browned.
  16. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

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sweet-potatoes-au-gratin-1

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Notes

I used a 9 inch (23 cm) square baking dish and the potatoes weren’t sliced too thinly. (.15 inches, 4 mm). More or less of the posted ingredients may be needed if the size of your baking dish differs appreciably from the one used here.

The recipe, as written, is gluten-free. If you haven’t arrowroot but wish to keep it GF, add an equal amount of cornstarch into the cream. Of course, if you and your guests have no issues with gluten, flour can be used as the thickening agent.

WIth its heavy cream, butter, and cheeses, this is not a low-calorie dish. (That’s why I only serve it on special occasions and holidays.) If you’re looking for something a little more waist and heart-friendly, hop on over to Fanny Reggiori’s blog, foodidies, where she recently posted a delicious, lighter sweet potato au gratin recipe. No matter the recipe you choose to prepare, you really cannot go wrong.

Since we’re talking healthy, which do you think is healthier, baking potatoes or sweet? Click HERE to find out. And if that kind of info floats you boat, go HERE to see a list of similar comparisons. Some of the results may surprise you.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

standing-rib-roast-deja-vu

Since we’re talking holidays, here’s a look back at the method I use to prepare standing rib roast every New Year’s Day. You can catch a glimpse of one in the first photo of this post.) It’s easy to prepare but much depends upon aging the roast in your fridge before cooking it. Interested? You can learn all about it HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

hot-pepper-relish-preview

Hot Pepper Relish

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Trenette with Zucchini Blossoms & Cream

Trenette con Fiori di Zucchini e Panna

zucchini-blossoms-pasta-5

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

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

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

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zucchini-blossom

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

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

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

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zucchini-blossoms-1x

Blossoms Before & After Neutering

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Trenette with  Zucchini Blossoms & Cream Recipe

Ingredients

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

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-1

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

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Directions

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

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zucchini-blossoms-pasta-4

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Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

fried-sage-look-back

 

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Fried Fish Tacos - Preview

Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

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The Incredible Edible Eggplant

Eggplant Blossom

Such Promise

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

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Growing Up Eggplant

Growing Up Eggplant

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

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The Day's Eggplant Harvest

The 1st Eggplant Harvest 

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

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Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

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

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

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Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma

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

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

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Caponata

Eggplant Caponata

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

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

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Stuffed Eggplant

Stuffed Eggplant

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

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

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Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant Lasagna

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

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

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Jamie Oliver’s Pickled & Marinated Eggplant

Marinated Eggplant

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

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

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Indian-Style Pickled Eggplant

Indian Pickled Eggplant - Preview

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

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

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Baba Ganouj

Baba Ganouj 1

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

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

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

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

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You may have noticed …

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

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

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Eggplant Parmesan

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

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Olio Santo - Preview

Olio Santo

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The Spiralizer Chronicles, Chapter 2: Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Pancetta, Clams and Shrimp

Squash with Seafood 1

Although I may not be posting many recipes that rely upon my new love, the spiralizer, I continue to us it frequently. In fact — hold on to your hats — I use it more often than I do my pasta machine. I know! I never would have thought such a thing possible. Yet, here I am with about 3/4 lb of homemade pasta in my pasta basket, where’s its been for just about 3 weeks now. 3 weeks!!! This would have been unthinkable just last summer and I have butternut squash to credit — or is it blame?

As much as I enjoy zucchini noodles, “zoodles”, their texture often leaves much to be desired, They can go from al dente to unappealingly soft in the blink of an eye. To avoid this, I often serve them raw, making more of a pasta salad than a dish of freshly cooked pasta. Not so with butternut squash. Roasting doesn’t affect these noodles’ “bite” but it does add flavor to the final dish. Best of all, these noodles can be served hot, making a number of dishes possible. Today’s recipe is one such dish.

As is the case with most seafood pasta dishes, this one is easy to prepare and you’ll find that roasted butternut squash compliments seafood quite well. Truth be told, I’ve a squash just waiting for me to return home from the fishmonger with more seafood. It won’t be long now.

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Squash with Seafood 2

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Butternut Squash Noodles with Seafood Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 oz (56 g) pancetta, chopped
  • about 12 small clams — manila, littleneck, or cockles will do (See Notes)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
  • about 12 shrimp — no smaller than 41 to 50 ct/lb
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs – omit if GF (See Notes)
  • 2 tsp parsley per serving, chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F (195˚ C).
  2. Separate neck of squash from the bulb end that contains the seeds. Reserve the bulb for another use.
  3. Peel the squash before using a spiralizer to create spaghetti-like noodles.
  4. Place noodles on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, and a bit of olive oil. Mix thoroughly. Place mixture in a small fry pan over medium heat. Cook until mixture is golden brown. Set aside.
  6. Begin heating remaining olive oil in a large frypan with a lid. Add the pancetta and begin to render its fat. Do not allow the pancetta to burn. It should be fully rendered about the time that the noodles have 5 minutes to go.
  7. Place the garlic and clams in the pan with the pancetta and cover. Sauté for 5 minutes before adding the shrimp to the pan. Cover the pan.
  8. After a minute or so, stir the frying pan’s contents and cover.
  9. Remove noodles from the oven and dump them into the pan with the seafood and pancetta. Stir to evenly coat everything with the pan juices.
  10. Continue to sauté until the clams and shrimp are fully cooked — no more than 2 minutes more.
  11. DISCARD ANY CLAMS THAT REMAIN UNOPENED.
  12. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the toasted breadcrumbs created in Step 5.
  13. Serve immediately.

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Squash with Seafood 3

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Notes

Use a brush reserved for food-prep to scrub all clams before cooking. Any that remain open after a thorough scrubbing should be discarded. Opinions vary as to whether to soak fresh clams in salt or fresh water to cause the clams to expel grit. Some feel that commercially harvested and shipped clams do not need such purging. If, however, your clams are bought directly from the fishermen or harvested yourself, they must be soaked for at least 30 minutes before scrubbing, changing the water midway through.

In Italian cooking, it is definitely not recommended to use grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese on a dish with most varieties of seafood. Very often, toasted breadcrumbs are substituted, just as I did above. Do you remember the stuffed calamari recipe I shared back in March? At the time, I suggested freezing the extra cooked breading mixture. They would make the perfect garnish for this dish, as well as a number of other pasta with seafood dishes. Being roasted already, all you need do is to warm them in a small frying pan. Use them as you would grated cheese, as a garnish just before serving.

I’ve seen recipes where squash noodles are boiled first, much like pasta, rather than roasted. I’ve yet to prepare them that way. If it ain’t broke …

My spiralizer is an attachment for a stand mixer. As such, it makes quick work of the “neck” of a butternut squash. Some may find this squash is too firm for their hand-cranked spiralizer. I’ve no experience with any of them and look forward to hearing from you in the Comments.

Of course, for a gluten-free version do not include the toasted breadcrumbs unless they’re GF. Garnish with chopped parsley instead.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tart Cherry Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate Sauce

With September almost here, there’s no time like the present for frozen treats. If you’re like me and took advantage of the sour cherry season, stashing some of the red beauties in your freezer, well, now’s the time to set some of them free! Follow this LINK to learn how to use them to prepare frozen yogurt, as well as a tasty chocolate sauce to smother it. All that’s missing is the cherry on top!

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

General Tso's - Preview

General Tso’s Chicken

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If it’s Mid-Summer, it’s Time for Pinzimonio!

Pinzimonio 2

I remember this dish every year — but around Thanksgiving, long after the gardens have withered and the farmers markets have closed for the season. Sure, you can make this dish anytime but it’s best when the vegetables are freshly picked. So, what is pinzimonio?

It’s a variety of fresh vegetables served raw with a side dressing of olive oil and vinegar that’s seasoned simply with salt and pepper. (Yes, that’s crudités but I hesitate to bring a third language into the discussion.)  It’s easy enough to prepare and a great way to take advantage of summer’s bounty.

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Pinzimonio 1

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When I was a boy, Mom would serve pinzimonio just about every Sunday starting in July, when the first of our garden’s crop ripened. As we gathered for dinner, there would be a platter of cut, raw vegetables in the center of the table waiting for us. You might find bell peppers, fennel, celery, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and scallions, along with whatever caught Dad’s eye when he took Sis & I to the grocery that morning. Rounding out the antipasti/insalati, she’d also serve a platter of freshly picked, sliced tomatoes (See Déjà Vu).  But wait! There’s more.

At each of our places at the table, Mom would have a ramekin with our own dipping sauce which she would cater to our age and preference. All contained oil and red wine vinegar but those for Sis and I, being the youngest, contained just a touch of salt & pepper. My brother, being so very much older (this is one way to see if my siblings read the blog), was allowed more salt and pepper in his dipping sauce. Mom, having a life-long aversion to pepper, gave herself barely a few pepper flakes with the salt in her ramekin. Dad had no such issues and you could see a thick layer of salt with another of pepper covering the bottom of his little dish. Each of us helped ourselves to whatever we wanted on the platter and dipped it into our own ramekins. No need to pass this or that and, best of all, we could double, triple, or even quadruple dip without so much as a raised eyebrow from Mom.

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Pinzimonio 3

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Now, as for a recipe, well, I’ve pretty much explained the dish already. Gather together any fresh vegetable that you would serve dressed with an oil and vinegar dressing. Clean and trim each in such a way to accommodate their serving and arrange them on a platter. Next, place oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in ramekins or small dishes, one per place setting. Although Mom always used red wine vinegar, I’ve used balsamic and loved it.

No matter the vinegar used, you’ll find that pinzimonio is a great way to take advantage of the bounty of summer, while adding more vegetables to your diet. Not only that but if, like me, you have meatless days, pinzimonio makes a great lunch or dinner, especially when summer’s heat renders the stove off-limits.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tomato Antipasti - Deja Vu

I could hardly write about pinzimonio without offering you the link to Mom’s Tomato Antipasti. This time of year, both dishes were usually served side-by-side, much to the delight of all seated at that table. Best of all, it’s an easy dish to prepare and, like pinzimonio, no stove is required. Here’s the LINK to one of my family’s favorite summertime antipasti.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squash with Seafood Preview

Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Seafood

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Our Italian Holiday

This being such a short post, I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity and share a bit of our holiday last spring.

Bologna

My trip began in Bologna, a wonderful town with an incredible history. It is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating university and the center of what many believe to be the heart of Italian cuisine. With my nephew arriving the next day, I had barely enough time to check into my room, take a walk, break my camera, have a great dinner, and get lost on my way back to the hotel. Yes, you read that correctly. My camera was out of commission for the entire trip. Let me apologize now for the quality of the pics to follow. Truth be told, I hadn’t planned on posting many because most would be very similar to those posted 2 years ago. Even so, it would have been nice to have had a good camera with me.

Many of Bologna’s walks are covered and the “pavement” is marble. The city is meant for the casual promenade. Besides several churches and the university, there are a number of sites to see: the Two Towers, the Piazza Maggiore (site of my camera’s untimely demise), the statue of Neptune, and of course, my prosciutto store, La Prosciutteria. How I love that place!!!  Here are a few photos. Click on any one to see a full description.

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That day ended with one of the best restaurant meals that I was served.

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The Republic of San Marino

My nephew’s plane arrived on time and soon we were on our way to San Marino, where Zia Pina greeted us with open arms, Waiting with her was her grand-daughter & husband, and the newest member of our the family, the soon to be one-year-old Viola. Zia is a wonderful cook and the highlight was when she served cappelletti for the entire family. This just so happens to by my nephew’s favorite dish and one he hasn’t enjoyed since his Grandma, my Mom, passed away 14 years ago. The following day, she took us both for a tour of the city of San Marino, and the seat of the republic’s government atop Mt. Titano. The next day, Sunday, we attended a mass that Zia had arranged to honor our family’s departed. Afterward, we re-assembled at a restaurant In Riccione, on the Adriatic shore, for a fantastic seafood feast. I would go back there in a heartbeat! Here are just a few of those photos.

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Venice

Before leaving San Marino, my nephew and I “kidnapped” a young cousin for a day trip to Venice and Murano Island. It was a chilly day with showers, so, we timed our lunch and a caffè for the worst spells — or so we tried. Although we knew it was the Italian Liberation Day holiday, we didn’t know that it was also St. Mark’s feast day, he being the Patron Saint of Venice. We learned of our oversight upon setting foot upon St. Mark’s Square. Even so, we had to keep moving and, after a water taxi ride to Murano Island for a bit of souvenir shopping, we ended our day with a fine supper. Then it was a dash across Venice for a train ride back to Rimini where a cousin would take us to Zia’s. (I won’t mention that our arrival was delayed because we missed our train and, consequently, were stowaways on the next.) Thankfully, our “chauffeur” was very kind and waited patiently for our eventual arrival. These next photos are by committee. Oddly enough, each of our phones, ran out of power as we traversed Venice. Mine was the first to go, only to miraculously revive — its vibrating giving me quite a start — on the train as we approached the station in Rimini.

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Don’t let the blue skies fool you. We were drenched by the time we reached the piazza and there wasn’t a soul seated in any of the cafés that encircle it.

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Rome

The next morning, my nephew and I boarded a train bound for Rome, with Zia and 2 cousins accompanying us. What fun! Our flat was about 100 yards from the Pantheon and once we settled in, we were off for a little sightseeing around the Piazza Navona. That night, we enjoyed a fine dinner in celebration of my nephew’s graduation and, as we soon learned, my cousin’s wedding anniversary. The next morning, we walked to the Vatican to meet another cousin and her husband. Unable to get into the Vatican because the Pope was awaiting a diplomat, we took taxis to the Colosseum, stopping along the way for lunch. Well, by the time we made it to the Colosseum, it was far too crowded with tourists to enter. We headed back to the flat, said our goodbyes, and our cousins headed to the train station for their ride back to San Marino. Alone now, with only 2 days left, we planned the rest of our stay. We would spend one morning revisiting the Colosseum, with the Vatican occupying the second. The afternoons would be spent seeing everything on his “must see” list, as well as a couple of sites that I tossed into the mix. Of course, a fantastic meal would end each day.

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Corinaldo

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time for us to part company. My nephew returned home but a few weeks earlier I had decided to extend my holiday. I wanted to take a few days to visit Corinaldo, the Bartolini ancestral home. So, as my nephew boarded a plane, I caught a train to Ancona, where I rented a car for the drive to Corinaldo. It’s a quaint little village nestled in rolling hills. The very center of the town is totally encircled by walls that were built during the 1300s. Unlike similar towns in Italy, these walls have been maintained and are in excellent condition. There is but one entrance and one exit, the knowledge of which might have saved me the hour I spent circling the area, not to mention one ill-fated attempt of entering through the exit. (Ah! The joys of travel.) Once situated, my flat was quite nice with a terrace facing west and I was anxious to watch the sun set over the Italian countryside. Well, that was the plan but the clouds had made previous reservations, apparently, and I never did see a sunset. No worries. I still enjoyed my time there, walking from one end of the village to the other — make that “carefully walking”. It rained intermittently and the cobblestone streets are quite narrow. I rushed for a doorway or hugged a wall whenever I heard a car approach. Luckily, that didn’t happen very often. There is no rush hour in downtown Corinaldo. There is, however, a great little restaurant on The Stairs and they served me my final meal in my Grandparents’ hometown.

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Terrace view

The terrace view

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Fiumicino

I left the next morning taking a route to Ancona that would allow me to travel along the Adriatic coast for a spell. To get to the coast, I travelled along narrow roads that carried me over the hills, through the beautiful Marche countryside. I dropped off the car and made my way to the train station. With an early morning flight, my destination would be Fiumicino, a small town about 30 km outside of Rome and home to the city’s international airport. Lucky for me, there was a wonderful restaurant just down the street from my hotel. My holiday ended with one last fantastic meal, albeit a filling one.

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Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

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One thing more

Unbeknownst to me, I spent my holiday walking with a stress fracture of my left ankle. It had bothered me before I left but I made a variety of excuses about it. In fact, even upon coming home, the excuses continued. Finally, about a week later, I decided to have it checked and I was given this fancy boot to wear for the next 4 weeks. WIth the boot now gone, I am happy to say that things are back to normal, whatever that means.

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Stress Fracture

You won’t find this at Ferragamo’s.

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Our holiday was memorable in so many ways, and during the course of which, my now-adult nephew and I became re-acquainted. We were treated royally, with our family members freeing up their schedules so that they could spend as much time with us as possible. I’ve read that when we put to paper an objective, the odds of accomplishing it increase by 40%. With that in mind, I do not know how or when but I will be returning to San Marino. I must. I’ve promised to kidnap another cousin for a day trip somewhere.

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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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Zia’s Baked Calamari

Calamari Cotti della Zia

St. Joseph’s Feast Day is just around the corner (March 19th) and what better way to celebrate than to share one of the few remaining Bartolini recipes, Zia’s Baked Calamari.

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Baked Calamari 6

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The 12 of us living together in the two-flat were treated to some exceptional cooking, courtesy of Mom, Zia, and Nonna. We all had our favorites, to be sure, and I’ve made no attempt to hide my never-ending love of Bartolini ravioli. Even so, Zia’s baked calamari is the one dish that reigns supreme in several of our hearts,. You can be sure that when that platter is set on the table, photos will be snapped and dispatched to those not present. The caption is guaranteed to read something like, “Look what we had for dinner.” When not included, the “Nyeah, nyeah!” is implied.

Now that I know how they’re prepared, it all seems so easy. Getting here, though, was tortuous, leaving a trail of barely edible cephalopods in my wake. From over-stuffing the tubes with breading that was far too oily to roasting them at too high a temperature and for too long, if there was a mistake to be made, I found and made it — sometimes more than once. Finally I made it a point to stay in her kitchen and watch Zia perform every step of the process, even grabbing a bit of breading to get a feel for the amount of oil needed. And then it happened. I got it right. I’ve not been so happy with a dish since I made my first batch of our family ravioli. I am very happy to say that calamari is now a frequent guest of honor at my dinner table.

Since that momentous dinner, I have made a couple modest changes to the original recipe, adding a garlic clove to the stuffing and some lemon juice to the baking dish just before placing it in the oven. You can easily skip both if you like. Otherwise, you’ll find that the stuffing is very similar to the breading used in several of my family’s recipes. Zia adds a bit of lemon juice and the chopped tentacles to the mixture. No need to include the latter if you don’t want them.

Now, as I so painfully learned, here are the problems to avoid. Do not over saturate the filling with olive oil. It should be moist to the touch, not sopping wet. Fill, do not stuff, the tubes. Calamari shrink while being baked and, If too heavily stuffed, much of the excess will spill out. When properly filled, the tubes will shrink around the filling without any being lost. Lastly, raising the oven temperature will result in over-cooked calamari with under-cooked filling. (Been there, there, and, yes, even there.)

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Happy St. Joseph’s Feast Day, everyone!

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Baked Calamari Filling

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Baked Calamari Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs calamari, fresh or frozen, cleaned (tentacles optional)
  • 2 cups plain bread crumbs – Panko may be substituted
  • half cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated (optional)
  • enough olive oil to moisten the bread crumbs – should not be sopping wet
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh lemon juice (optional)

Directions

  1. Clean the calamari, if necessary. Make sure to remove the beak located in the center of the tentacles. (See Notes)
  2. Chop the tentacles, if using.
  3. Combine all the ingredients, except for the calamari tubes, and mix well.
  4. Use the breading mixture to fill the calamari tubes. Do not overfill. The tubes will shrink while cooking.
  5. Place filled calamari in a baking dish that has been lightly oiled or sprayed with cooking spray.
  6. Sprinkle excess breading mixture on top of the calamari. (See Notes)
  7. Sprinkle lightly with olive oil and, if you like, a little lemon juice.
  8. Place in a pre-heated 350˚ F (175˚C) for 35 to 40 minutes. (See Notes)
  9. Serve immediately.

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Baked Calamari 5

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Notes

I was unable to capture the process but you can watch a chef clean whole squid right HERE.

In the past, I’ve mentioned that rubbery calamari will result when not cooked quickly or for at least 45 minutes. Here, because they’re baked, a few minutes have been shaved off the cooking time. The calamari will be slightly crisp instead of being chewy.

In the highly unlikely event that there are leftovers, I like to slice them into rings and use them when I prepare pasta aglio e olio. Just follow the pasta recipe and add the calamari to the pan of seasoned oil when you add the pasta. When the pasta is ready, the calamari will be heated through.

The breading remnants in the baking dish are worth their weight in gold. Gather and place them in a sealable plastic bag to be stored in the freezer. Use them to garnish a future seafood pasta dish in place of cheese. They will add plenty of flavor to your pasta and all you need do is reach into the freezer to retrieve a bag.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Easter Bread Deja Vu

WIth Easter fast approaching, why not take a look at a bread that’s traditionally prepared in Marchigiani homes for the holy day? The recipe comes from King Arthur Flour’s website but it is very reminiscent of a loaf that my Nonna made for her two young daughters, Mom and my Zia. You can learn all about it just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Trenette with Clams and Mussels Preview

Trenette with Mussels and Clams

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