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.

*     *     *

Corzetti Pasta 7

*     *     *

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!

*     *     *

Corzetti Stamp 1

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Corzetti with Pesto

*     *     *

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!

*     *     *

Corzetti Pasta 6

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy Preview

Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boys

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Linguine with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 1

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 4

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Linguine with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 2

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Corzetti Pasta Preview

A Surprise!

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Trenette with Clams and Mussels 1

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

Trenette with Clams and Mussels 4

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Empty Molluscs

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels Preview

Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Spaghetti alla Gricia 1

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Spaghetti alla Gricia 2

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Spaghetti alla Gricia 3

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

The Spiralizer Chronicles, Chapter 2: Butternut Squash alla Gricia

*     *     *

Butternut alla Gricia 3

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Butternut alla Gricia 2

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Butternut alla Gricia 1

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Stormy Lentils Preview

Stormy Lentils

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Agnolotti Served

*     *     *

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!

*     *     *

Caveat Canis

Caveat Canis

*     *     *

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)

 *     *     *

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

 *     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

NYC Cheesecake Preview

  New York Style Cheesecake

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.”

 *     *     *

Squid Ink Pasta 3

 *     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Squid Ink Pasta

*     *     *

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.

 *     *     * 

 *     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Squid Ink Pasta 2

*     *     *

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?

*     *     *

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.

 *     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Eggs in Purgatory Preview

Eggs in Purgatory

*     *     *

Buon Natale a Tutti!

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Garbanzo Bean SoupMy Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

These are a few of my Favorite Things

These are a few of my Favorite Things

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Penne Vodka Cream 1

*     *     *

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!

*     *     *

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

Crostata Preview

Crostata

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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.)

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

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

*     *     *

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

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

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

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

*     *     *

4 Coins for the Fountain

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

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

Click to enlarge

*     *     *

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

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

*     *     *

Pasta alla Chitarra 1

This is what I served

*     *     *

Spaghetti alla Chitarra all’Amatriciana Recipe

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

*     *     *

Spaghetti alla Chitarra all'Amatriciana

This is what I was served

*     *     *

Notes

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

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

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

*     *     *

Bella Firenze

(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

Florence view

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

*     *     *

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

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

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

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

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

*     *     *

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

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

*     *     *

*     *     *

 In and around Florence

*     *     *

*     *     *

Florence, East of the Arno River

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

*     *     *

There’s more Florence yet to come.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

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

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pistachio Gelato Pistachio Gelato

*     *     *