For the clam lovers in your life, this one is easy and anyone who tries it will be happy as a …., well you know. It’s another recipe from Domenica Marchetti’s recently published cookbook “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.” Domenica uses Tuscan kale and savoy cabbage in her recipe, but since I had swiss chard growing in the garden, that’s what I substituted. It’s my favorite of all the greens, and it worked perfectly here.
The recipe says it makes up to 6 servings, but I guess we were gluttons. I’ve made it twice now, and both times as a main course. Two of us finished the whole thing – all four dozen clams. For more moderate eaters, or as a first course, it would stretch further.
8 oz./225 gr. Savoy cabbage (use the dark outer leaves), halved lengthwise and shredded
fine sea salt
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cups/480 gr. chopped canned tomatoes, with their juice
1/4 cup/60 ml. extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. minced garlic
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup/240 ml. dry white wine
4 dozen fresh littleneck or other small clams, scrubbed clean
4 to 6 thick slices bruschetta (toasted or grilled bread slices)
To make the greens: Warm the olive oil and garlic in a large saucepan or deep-sided skillet over medium-low heat. Cook until the garlic is soft and translucent, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the greens by the handful – as much as will fit in the pan. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the greens begin to wilt. Continue to add more greens to the pan and cook until they are all wilted. Season with salt and the red pepper flakes and cover. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover partially, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook at a gentle simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the tomatoes have thickened slightly to a sauce consistency.
To cook the clams: While the greens are cooking, warm the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Add the clams and cover the pan. Cook the clams at a lively simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they just open. Using tongs, remove the clams to a large bowl as they open; discard any that are not open. Once all the clams have been removed, strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve lined with damp cheesecloth into a small bowl. Pour the strained liquid into the saucepan with the greens, and then add the clams. Usinga large serving spoon, gently incorporate the clams into the greens. Heat briefly until the greens and clams are warmed through.
Place a slice of bruschetta in the bottom of four or six shallow rimmed bowls. Spoon the clams and greens, as well as some of the liquid, into each bowl and serve.
Pancetta variation: Put 1 to 2 oz/30 to 55 g. diced pancetta in the large saucepan where you will cook the greens. Do this before you add the sliced garlic. Cook until the pancetta is just crisp and has rendered some fat. Add the garlic, and 1 T. of oil if you like, and proceed with the recipe as directed.
We spoke recently about the new book, our common background as news reporters, and many other things. At the end of the post is a recipe from the book that’s so simple to make yet so satisfying and delicious.
Q. How did you transition from being a reporter to writing cookbooks?
A. I had written about health, fitness and nutrition and occasional pieces for the food section of the Detroit News. I always loved food writing and always coveted the food writer’s job. After moving to D.C. (where her husband is deputy managing editor of the Washington Post) and writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, I decided to work freelance from home when I had kids. I decided to write about food. I used my newspaper contacts to pitch stories and that’s how I got into food writing. I went to the Food Writer’s Symposium at the Greenbrier and that’s where I met the cookbooks editor for my publisher, Chronicle books. I sent in a proposal for my first cookbook, The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy.
Q. What’s your personal connection with Italy, and Abruzzo in particular?
A. Abruzzo is where my mother comes from. She was born and raised in Chieti. Since the time we were little, we
would go back to Italy for the summer. We had a beach house on the Adriatic coast. That’s where my affection for Abruzzo comes from – from spending many years there. I have wonderful memories, and friendships that I still have with people I used to hang out with at
the beach as a teenager.
Q. The book is not only about Abruzzese cooking, or vegetables that can be found only in Italy, is it?
A. No, you can’t assign a nationality to vegetables. I really mean vegetables in Italian
cooking. The book is also not just Abruzzese recipes. My cooking has always been more eclectic Italian,
rather than focused on one region. That’s probably because my mother
didn’t just cook Abruzzese food. I grew up eating a variety of regional Italian cooking and so
that’s what I learned to do. My books are a mishmash of family
recipes, regional recipes. They’re classic, they’re contemporary takes on
classic, they’re stuff I made up in my own kitchen – so they’re “Italianish.” I can’t say they cling to any one part of Italy or
they’re just traditional, or just family recipes. They’re a little
bit of everything.
Q. What made you choose vegetables as the topic for this cookbook?
2008, we took a trip to the Veneto during Easter week, and I just remember the market under the Rialto
bridge. I saw an incredible array of vegetables,
from fat winter squashes from the north of Italy to tomatoes that were already ripe from the South of Italy. There were all kinds of artichokes, and all the
different types of radicchio in the Veneto. It got me thinking.
Q. Do people have a misconception of Italian cooking?
A. I think we’ve come a long way in our
perception and understanding of Italian cooking, but I do feel that
people still have this “Olive Garden” view of Italian cooking – that it’s spaghetti and meatballs, it’s pasta, it’s pizza, it’s roasts,
breads, starchy, and heavy. I honestly think that nothing could be
further from the truth. When we were in Abruzzo in July, we stayed at
an agriturismo. We got there right after lunch, and the owner put out a snack
for us – cheese and charcuterie. Then she brought out a plate of
tender green beans that had been boiled, past al dente. They were
actually tender – because Italians aren’t afraid to overcook their
vegetables. That’s one of the things I love about Italian vegetables
is that they’re not all crunchy. They were tossed with olive oil and the tiniest hint of vinegar and they were so good. I’ll remember that
plate of beans forever. I think Italian diets are much more vegetable-centric than people perceive in this country.
Q. What vegetables did you exclude from the book that
you wished you could have included?
A. Cucumbers. The reason is I really
never associated them much with Italian cooking and Italian food. I
didn’t eat them growing up. My dad had a slight allergy to them. They
were never on our table. I don’t ever remember having them in Italy.
I do know a lot of Italian Americans grow them in their gardens.
After being in Puglia last summer, I realized this might be a
regional thing. Because in Puglia, they were everywhere. They had
these amazing cucumbers that looked like very small personal melons -pale, pale green, and you cut them open and they were the same color
as a honeydew melon. But they were cucumbers. They were slightly sweet but definitely in the cucumber
family. At that point, I was in the final stages of the manuscript
and I thought about trying to add cucumbers, just so I could talk
about this Pugliese cucumber, but then I thought that would have
unnecessarily complicated things. I have enough recipes to write
another vegetable book, because there are an infinite number of ways that
Italians use them – so many variations and riffs. I love just tossing
pasta with fresh vegetables. People always think that pasta has to be
sauced. The sauce is a condiment. There’s nothing better than tossing
fresh pasta with seasonal vegetables, a little olive oil and cheese.
Q. What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?
A. One of my favorite recipes – and it’s
so easy – is the baked delicata squash with cream and
parmigiano. This is one of the “Italianish” recipes. Delicata squash has a lovely golden flesh and it’s sweet, with a dense
texture. it’s just brushed with cream and parmigiano and baked in the oven. It’s so
simple and easy but makes a great side dish for any roast. I really love the vegetable lasagna and the eggplant meatballs. You just can’t imagine that they would be as good as real meatballs, but they are and a lot of people have been writing about them.
Q. I made your smashed potatoes and green beans with pancetta for dinner the other night. Tell me a little about your inspiration for the dish.
A. I ate it at La Loggia Antica – a little restaurant in Bisenti in the Teramo province. All of these little vegetable dishes were coming out of the kitchen. One of them was these green beans and potatoes. I never had it before. It’s very simple – you boil green beans and potatoes together, smash them and add some pancetta, olive oil and seasonings. I would never have thought to do that. That’s one of my favorite recipes in the book.
Q. Do you have a book tour set up?
A. I’ve sort of cobbled together a little
tour, mostly in September. They’re usually piecemeal because I still have kids in the house
and I can’t go away for long periods. I don’t like to anyway. I’m really a homebody. But I’m going to the West Coast – Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. I have a couple of cooking demos and classes and talks. I’ll
be going to St. Paul, Minnesota to do a cooking class and then some local
events in the D.C. area, near where I live. I’m also hitting Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There’s a wonderful huge kitchenware store with a wonderful cooking
school, called “A Southern Season.” I love teaching there. I’m coming up to Dorothea’s House in Princeton in November, but I would love to do more Northeast stuff, so I’m working on that leg of it.
Q. What’s on the agenda for your next cookbook?
A. A book on biscotti, scheduled to be published in 2015.You can also follow Domenica on her blog, Domenica Cooks.
Smashed Green Beans and Potatoes With Pancetta
From “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy” by Domenica Marchetti
1 lb./455 g. medium size yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut in half crosswise
1 lb./455 g. fresh young green beans, ends trimmed
4 oz./115 g. pancetta, diced
1/3 cup/75 ml. good quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Put the potatoes and green beans in a large pot and fill with cold water to cover. Set the pot over high heat and salt generously. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to medium high to maintain a lively (but not violent) simmer. Boil the vegetables until they are very tender, about 25 minutes.
While the potatoes and green beans are cooking, place the pancetta in a medium skillet (I use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet) and set over medium heat. Sauté the pancetta, turning it frequently, for about 10 minutes, until it has rendered some of its fat and has just begun to crisp and turn brown. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
When the vegetables are tender, drain them in a colander. Return them to the pot and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes and green beans together as you drizzle. What you’re aiming for is a somewhat lumpy, textured mash — not need to purée completely.
With a spatula or wooden spoon, scrape the pancetta and drippings into the pot and stir to combine with the potato-bean mash. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl and drizzle with a little more olive oil if you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Wake me if you must, but it’s been nearly three days and I’m still dreaming about Saturday night’s dinner with “The Glorious Friends of Abruzzo,” prepared in my kitchen by Joe Cicala, chef at Philadelphia’s Le Virtù restaurant — the same restaurant named yesterday by Zagat one of the “hottest Italian restaurants in the U.S.”
“How did this happen?” people have been asking. “Can I be one of the “Glorious Friends?”
Well, it all started when Francis Cratil Cretarola and Catherine Lee, owers of Le Virtù, and ardent promoters and supporters of this too-little known, mountainous region of Italy, held a fund-raiser for a project there — maintenance of the tratturi, the centuries-old trails used by shepherds to transport herds during the seasonal migration.
My friend Helen Free, co-founder of “Italy, In Other Words,” the workshop in Abruzzo that I now co-teach with Kathryn Abajian, suggested we get a group of friends together and place a bid. So we did. And we won!
l. to r. Chef Joe Cicala, Ciao Chow Linda, Francis Cratil, Cathy Lee, Doug and Helen Free
Fifteen of us were seated around my dining room table, including our special guest — Domenica Marchetti, author of many cookbooks, including “The Glorious Pasta of Italy.” Domenica’s mother hails from Abruzzo and travels there frequently for research and to visit family and friends.
The meal exceeded our expectations, beginning with the stuzzichini, or appetizers that were served before we were seated. Stay with me because this was a meal with many courses, and there’s a recipe at the end for you too. Let’s start with crostini topped with sheep’s milk ricotta that was blended with saffron (Navelli is the town in Abruzzo noted for its production of the much prized pungent spice). Sprinkle with toasted almonds, drizzle with honey and you’ve got something you can’t stop eating.
Have some potato croquettes too, oozing with cheese and tantalizingly hot.
What about arancini, crackly and crispy on the outside, giving way to soft and luscious nuggets of rice, small peas and cheese on the inside? I got carried away with munching and forgot to take a photo, so the one below is courtesy of Stacey Snacks, a fellow blogger, friend and guest at Saturday’s dinner.
Do you know about arrosticcini, one of Abruzzo’s iconic dishes? They’re kebobs of uniformly cubed lamb grilled over an open fire. Traditionally, the meat is not marinated in Abruzzo, where the quality of the lamb is far different from what’s available here. To compensate, chef Joe marinates his arrosticcini in olive oil, minced rosemary, peperoncino, garlic and lemon zest.
I could have eaten a dozen, but I knew these were just the opening act so I restrained myself – barely.
We took our seats at the table, as Joe brought forth wooden boards laden with affettati, house-cured salumi made at Le Virtù – pancetta, guanciale, salame nostrano (a simple pork salame), capocollo,
cacciatorini (small pork salame), lamb salame, sweet and sour carrots
and onions and roasted peppers. I felt like I had been transported back to Italy, where many meals start with plates of similar cured meats.
Next came a soup so delicious it could warm the body and soul of any shepherd tending his flock in mid-winter. I’m not the only one at the table who was wishing for the recipe, and Joe graciously gave it to me. Its monochromatic color may not win any beauty contests, but let me assure you it could take first prize for flavor with its arresting combination of chickpeas, chestnuts and farro.
Before I go any further, let me mention that Joe stepped aside from the stove long enough to describe each course as it was served. Meanwhile Francis, seen in the photo below toasting Domenica (seated next to him), talked about the different wines — all from Abruzzo — as they were being poured.
Are you ready for the primi piatti? That’s primi not primo, and piatti not piatto, because there were two of them. The first was a dish of gnocchi made not with the predictable potato, but with flour and water only, dressed in a creamy sauce of sheep’s milk ricotta from Abruzzo and sautéed bits of lamb sausage. A dusting of pecorino topped the dish.
Nothing says Abruzzo like maccheroni alla chitarra, a pasta made with a wooden, multi-stringed traditional implement called a chitarra. The pasta was tossed with a lamb ragù. If you weren’t an aficionado of lamb, an animal that’s been crucial to Abruzzo’s economy since the Middle Ages, you might have struggled with Saturday night’s lamb-centric menu. But as each plate was cleared from the table, I detected no lingering bits of food from unhappy diners. Had I been eating in private, I would have licked the plate clean — or at least sopped up any remaining sauce with bread, “scarpetta” style.
How could you not when the food was so delicious? The main course followed the night’s theme — juniper smoked lamb loin, served with roasted potatoes and broccoli rape. It was succulent and tender enough to cut with a butter knife or even a sturdy fork — and cooked to the perfect temperature.
Like any respectable Italian meal, there has to be a cheese course, and this was no exception. This was, in fact, a tour de force with cheeses imported from Abruzzo by Bob Marcelli, who was also a dinner guest and who explained each cheese and its characteristics. He should know what he’s talking about since he owns Marcelli Formaggi, importers of products from Abruzzo including cheeses made on his family’s farm. They were served with a selection of artisanal honeys from the region.
At this point you might be wondering if dessert was served and whether any one had room for it. The answer is yes, and yes. As with many special occasion meals in Italy, there is no rush to the process and the portions are not super sized as they are in the U.S. We started the evening around 7:30 and were still seated at close to midnight. So there was no need to move my belt by even one notch when dessert was served — a creamy semifreddo made with fragrant star anise and pine nuts, served with pears poached in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine and drizzled with mosto cotto.
But wait, there was still more to come — a platter filled with Italian cookies – biscotti, ferratelle (Abruzzo’s version of pizzelle), jam-filled cookies and struffoli — all made in-house at Le Virtù. P.S. Joe’s wife Angela is the pastry chef there.
As much as I didn’t want the night to end, all good things, as they say must …… what? they must? No they mustn’t, dang it. Not if you live anywhere near Philadelphia they don’t. You can get yourself to Le Virtù and experience these delights for yourself at the restaurant at 1927 E. Passyunk Ave. Want an even more authentic experience? Francis and Cathy are taking a small group to Abruzzo in April on a culinary tour. I can’t imagine a better way to visit the region, unless you have relatives there. And if you’ve been thinking about writing a personal memoir, a food or travel memoir, join me and Kathryn in June for a week in the magical Abruzzo village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio for the Italy In Other Words workshop.
OK, I hear you. You don’t live near Philly and you can’t get to Italy this year. So here’s something for you too — Joe’s recipe for that unforgettable soup is below so you can cook up a bit of Abruzzo right in your own kitchen.
It may not be as complete as Saturday’s dinner with “The Glorious Friends of Abruzzo” but it sure beats frozen pizza or Chef Boyardee.
Thank you Joe, Francis and Cathy for a night I’ll be remembering for years to come and thank you “Amici Gloriosi d’Abruzzo” for your participation.
La zuppa di farro, ceci e castagne Farro, chickpea and chestnut soup
From Chef Joe Cicala of Le Virtù printable recipe here
1/2 cup mirepoix (minced celery, carrots and onions)
1 tablespoon diced pancetta (or any other salame scrap)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz peeled chestnuts
6 oz chickpeas (that have been soaked over night)
4 oz farro
1 gallon chicken stock (we also use rabbit stock)(I used about 6 cups when I made this – one gallon seemed like too much).
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
Sweat the mirepoix, pancetta, olive oil and chestnuts until the nuts are soft/tender, add chickpeas and chicken stock.
cook until the chickpeas are almost tender.
add farro and rosemary
cook until tender.
serve with pecorino cheese and drizzled olive oil
I love pesto as much as the next guy, but what about using basil in some non-traditional way? When I saw anise basil growing in the fabulous schoolyard garden started by my friend Dorothy (along with about 40 other basil varieties), I knew I had to try making something sweet with it. So why not biscotti, since anise is a flavoring frequently used for cookies? I also added a little of the lemon and lime basil growing in the garden too, just because it seemed like a good combination. And it was. I used a good cup of the basil and the anise taste was subtle in the finished cookie. Next time I’d add even more to make the flavor more pronounced. The green color of the chopped basil held, even through the baking.
When I posted on Facebook that I was making basil biscotti, Marie of Proud Italian Cook, asked me if they were savory. “Hmmm,” I thought, “Why not try some of those too?” So I used the small-leafed basil growing in the garden (the kind Ligurians swear is the most pungent and best for pesto) and a recipe on Marie’s website that was originally in the Washington Post, created by Domenica Marchetti. Domenica has written several wonderful Italian cookbooks, including one on pasta that I’ve written about. I changed the recipe a bit to use parmesan cheese rather than asiago and pecorino, (since that’s all I had on hand) some chopped walnuts — and the basil of course. The results were fantastic – and addictive. I could eat dozens of these, with a glass of wine or a cocktail in hand. Try it for yourself. Even if all you don’t have anise basil, or the small leafed kind. Regular basil would be great too, especially in the savory biscotti.
This is my friend Lilli’s biscotti recipe that I’ve posted before. They’re the gold standard for biscotti.
The only difference this time is the addition of basil.
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 cup whole almonds, toasted ahead of time in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes
1 cup chopped basil (I used anise, plus a little lemon and lime basil)
Mix sugar and butter together until blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until all is blended. Scrape from the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in. The batter will be very stiff. Add the almonds (and dried cranberries if using) either with a durable wooden spoon, or with your mixer. Don’t mix for long if using a mixer since you don’t want to break up the almonds.
Mix sugar and butter together until blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until all is blended. Add the basil. Scrape from the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in. The batter will be very stiff. Add the almonds (and dried cranberries if using) either with a durable wooden spoon, or with your mixer. Don’t mix for long if using a mixer since you don’t want to break up the almonds.
Take about 1/3 of the mixture and plop it onto a well-floured counter or board. Shape into a “log” that resembles a small, flat loaf of bread, tapering the two ends at an angle. It’s a sticky dough, so you’ll need to keep your hands and board floured. Repeat two more times with the remainder of the dough. Butter a cookie sheet and place the “logs” on the cookie sheet, leaving ample room between them. Coat with a thin layer of milk or beaten egg. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until golden – about 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and turn the heat up to 450 degrees. Carefully place one of the “logs” on a cutting board, using two spatulas if necessary to keep it from splitting. With a sharp knife (I use a serrated knife) slice the cookies at a diagonal. Hold one hand firmly on the log while you cut with the knife in the other hand, so you don’t break the dough and crumble the cookies. A few are bound to break. Place the cookies back on a cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for about five minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. Flip the cookies over and bake another five minutes on the other side. Makes about four dozen biscotti.
Savory Basil Biscotti – adapted from Domenica Marchetti
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt(Domenica calls for 1 cup of grated aged Asiago cheese and 1 cup of grated pecorino Romano, but I used 2 cups parmesan cheese)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup thinly sliced skin-on almonds (I used finely chopped walnuts)
3 large eggs lightly beaten, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten, for brushing the dough (4th egg is optional)
1 cup whole or 2 percent milk (I used skim milk)
1 cup basil, chopped finely
Combine the flour, pepper, baking powder, salt and cheeses in the bowl of a food processor; pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse briefly. Add the nuts and basil but do not process.
Combine the 3 beaten eggs and the milk in a measuring cup, then add to the food processor bowl, pulsing as you pour. Process just until the egg mixture and nuts are incorporated and the dough begins to form a ball. (This proved to be too much volume for my food processor. I had to switch to the mixer.)
Turn out the dough onto a large piece of wax paper, patting it into a disk. Wrap the disk in the paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. (I baked it without refrigerating it first and it worked just fine.)
Position oven racks in the middle and lower third of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator; if it is very firm let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log about 11 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick. Place 2 logs on each baking sheet, spaced at least 1 inch apart. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the tops of the logs with the remaining beaten egg, if using. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom; then bake for 15 minutes so the logs are golden on top and springy to the touch. Use a wide spatula to transfer the logs to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes; keep the baking sheets at hand because they will be used to bake the sliced biscotti.(Wipe the paper or liners clean as needed.)
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Working with one log at a time, place it on a cutting board and use a serrated knife to cut crosswise on the diagonal with a slow, sawing motion into 1/3-inch-thick slices, arranging them closely together on the baking sheet as you go. Bake both sheets for 15 minutes (on the middle and lower racks), then rotate them from top to bottom and front to back; bake for 15 minutes, until the biscotti are golden and crisp. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Who could resist a dish like the one on the cover ofDomenica Marchetti’s latest cookbook, The Glorious Pasta of Italy? It’s been out for about a year, but I am finally getting around to perusing it and making some of the recipes, including the two I chose for this blog post.
It’s not easy to decide what to make from this book, since there are so many tempting choices. I’m just going to have to work my way through the entire book, from the chapter “Pasta in Soups” to “Pasta on the Run” to “Showstoppers.” There’s something in here for busy families looking for a quick dinner, to fancy dishes you’d serve to the boss. Domenica has included traditional pasta dishes, along with some contemporary dishes of her own invention.
One of the dishes that caught my eye was whole wheat orecchiette with a sauce made using broccoli rape (rapini) and regular broccoli. Instead of using regular broccoli, I made the dish using broccoli rape and some cauliflower, since that’s what I had on hand.
Normally, I shy away from whole-wheat pasta. Anytime I’ve eaten it, cardboard comes to mind. But then again, I’d never eaten home-made whole wheat pasta. That is, until Domenica’s dish gave me the impetus. Besides, my dad –who’s 90 years old and loves to cook — was visiting for the afternoon and I thought it would be fun to make pasta together.
After preparing the dough and kneading it, you roll it out into long “rope” like shapes, then cut off little pieces from the rope and press down, while pushing away from the center.
It’s easy to do, but it takes a little practice and your technique will improve as you work your way through the batch of dough. Make sure your dough isn’t too dry though, or will crumble apart when you try to shape the little ears. If you’re working as a team, you’ll have enough for a meal in no time.
Of course, there’s no law that says you can’t serve this sauce with dried, store-bought pasta. In the photo below, I served it with store-bought creste de gallo (rooster’s crest). You may notice that the sauce here is also much less homogenized (and sparser) than in the other pasta dish (less time in the food processor). It’s just as good either way.
Another recipe from the book I tried were these fluffy dumplings that reminded me a lot of the canederli I eat when I’m in the Trentino-Alto Adige region. But instead of being made with bread as canederli are, these dumplings are made with semolina. It’s nearly the same recipe you’d use for gnocchi alla romana. The difference is these are shaped into ovals or quenelles, unlike round canederli. And rather than bake in the oven, you drop these little quenelles into hot broth.
After making the soup, I reserved some of the “dough,” spread it in a small casserole and refrigerated it. The next day, I arranged it in a buttered casserole with a little grated parmesan on the top and baked it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes and had my gnocchi alla romana. That’s what I call versatility.
Start by cooking semolina flour with milk, eggs and butter. I used semolina from Italy that was sent to me by Olio 2Go. It was perfect for this recipe and I’m looking forward to trying it in other things.
After mixing everything together, use two spoons to push the dough back and forth and make a compact “football” shape.
Then just drop the quenelles into the broth and simmer over the stove for about five to ten minutes.
One last thing – Take a minute to drop by my friend Christo’s blog – Chez What?for a guest post by yours truly on halibut with cannellini beans.
1 batch Whole Wheat Pasta Dough or White Whole Wheat Pasta Dough (please see separate recipe), or 1 lb dried orecchiette
Semolina flour for dusting, if making orecchiette (optional)
Unbleached all-purpose/plain flour for dusting and for shaping the dough, if making the orecchiette (optional)
Whole Wheat Pasta Dough
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup 00 or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t. fine sea salt
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
2/3 cup tepid water
Put the two flours and the salt in a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine. Drizzle in the 1 T. olive oil and turn on the machine. Begin slowly pouring the water through the feed tube, adding only as much as you need for the dough to form crumbs that look like small curds. Pinch together a bit of the mixture and roll it around. It should form a soft ball. If the mixture seems dry, add a few more drops of oil and pulse briefly. If it seems too wet and sticky, add additional “00” flour, 1 T. at a time, and pulse briefly.
(note, mine was too dry and I needed to add more water.)
Turn the mixture out onto a clean work surface sprinkled lightly with flour and press it together with your hands to form a rough ball. Knead the dough: Using the palm of your hand, push the dough gently but firmly away from you, and then fold it over toward you. Rotate the dough a quarter turn, and repeat the pushing and folding motion. Continue kneading for several minutes until the dough is smooth. Form it into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap/cling film. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.
For the sauce
1 head broccoli, about 1 lb, stalks trimmed and reserved for another use or discarded and head separated into florets (I used cauliflower here)
1 bunch rapini, about 1 lb, tough stalks discarded
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp kosher or fine sea salt, or to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup homemade vegetable broth, homemade chicken broth, or best-quality low-sodium, fat-free commercial vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy/double cream
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino romano cheese for serving
Mix the pasta dough as directed and let it rest. Lightly dust a work surface with semolina. Place a small bowl of all-purpose/plain flour nearby. Dust a rimmed baking sheet/tray or clean tablecloth with semolina or all-purpose flour. Pinch off a golf ball–sized piece of dough and rerwrap the rest so it does not dry out. Using your palms, roll the piece of dough on the dusted surface into a rope the thickness of a pinkie finger. Cut the rope crosswise into small pieces, each about the size of a hazelnut (1/4 to 1/2 in thick). Working with 1 piece at a time, roll it between your palms to form a ball. With the thumb of one hand, press the ball into the middle of the palm of your other hand to form a deep depression in the dough. Rotate the dough and repeat the pressing once or twice, rotating the dough after each impression. You want to create a small, deep saucer. If the dough sticks, dip your thumb into the bowl of flour. Place the finished shape on the flour-dusted baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough until you have shaped it all.
(If you plan to cook the orecchiette within a day of shaping, you can leave them out until it is time to cook them.)
To make the sauce: Bring water to a depth of about 1/2 in to a boil in a steamer pan placed over medium-high heat. Arrange the broccoli florets on the steamer rack, place the rack in the pan, cover, and steam the broccoli for 4 to 5 minutes, or until bright green. Transfer the florets to a bowl and set aside.
Check the water in the steamer pan, and add more as needed until it is 1/2 in deep. Bring to a boil, put the rapini on the steamer rack, cover, and steam for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the leaves and florets are wilted. Transfer to the bowl holding the broccoli.
Warm 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the garlic in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Add the broccoli and rapini and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the vegetables and garlic are very tender. Stir in the salt and cayenne pepper and raise the heat to medium-high. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, or until some of the wine has evaporated. Remove from the heat and let the vegetables cool for about 10 minutes.
Transfer the vegetables and their cooking liquid to a blender or food processor, add the remaining 1/4 cup oil, and puree until smooth. Gradually add the broth, about 1/4 cup at a time, and process until the puree is the consistency of a thick sauce. You should have about 3 cups sauce.
Return the sauce to the sauté pan and place over low heat. Stir in the cream and heat until warmed through.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the orecchiette and stir to separate. If using fresh pasta, cover the pot until the water comes back to a boil, then uncover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until al dente. If using dried pasta, cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.
Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl and spoon about two-thrids of the sauce over it. Toss gently to combine the pasta and sauce thoroughly, adding a splash or two of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Spoon the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with the cheese. Serve immediately.
Simplify: The orecchiette may be made in advance and frozen (uncooked). Arrange them in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets/trays dusted with semolina and freeze for 1 hour, or until firm. Transfer them to a zipper-lock freezer bag or a tightly lidded container and freeze for up to 1 month, then cook directly from the freezer.
2 cups whole milk or half-and-half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (didn’t use it due to allergies)
2/3 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 cups homemade chicken broth (I used homemade vegetable broth)
Combine the milk, butter, salt, and nutmeg in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then very slowly add the semolina in a constant stream, whisking all the while as you pour. Cook, stirring constantly, until the semolina is thickened and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. This should take about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a bowl, using a spatula to scrape the sides of the pan. Stir in the 1/2 cup of Parmigiano and parsley. Working slowly and stirring as you go, carefully pour in the eggs, taking care to incorporate them immediately so they don’t begin to “cook” and curdle. Set aside while you prepare the broth.
Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Using two standard-size coffee spoons or dessert spoons, scoop up about 1 tablespoon of the semolina mixture and form it into an oval. This is easier than it sounds: you will see the oval naturally take shape as you transfer the mixture from one spoon to the other a few times. As you shape each dumpling, gently drop it into the boiling broth. You should have 20 to 24 dumplings in all. Reduce the heat to medium to allow the dumplings to simmer without the broth boiling over. Simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the dumplings have floated to the surface and puffed up considerably.
Spoon the dumplings into warmed shallow, rimmed bowls, dividing them evenly, and ladle some broth over them. Sprinkle with additional Parmigiano and serve immediately.