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Busiati With Pesto Trapanese

Busiati with Pesto Trapanese

  The tomato love continues — Here’s yet another way to use up some of those tomatoes ripening by the bushel in your garden. For those of you without your own vegetable gardens, get yourself to a farmer’s market or roadside stand to buy some, because this recipe is not only delicious, but fast and easy to prepare. A food processor is all you need – no cooking required, except for dropping the pasta into boiling water (and when Italians are ready to boil the pasta, they say “butta la pasta” which literally means “throw the pasta”).

In this case, I used busiati, a long, twisty, corkscrew-like pasta, but if you can’t find it, use fusilli.

Busiati is the traditional pasta shape that’s used with pesto Trapanese, a sauce that hails from Trapani, a city on the western coast of Sicily. The origins of the dish are unclear. Some say it was inspired by pesto Genovese, from Ligurian sailors who were stopping off at Trapani’s port. Others claim it’s derived from Liguria’s agliata, a pasta dish using only olive oil, garlic, walnuts and tomatoes.

Whatever its origin, it’s now become part of my summertime repertoire when tomatoes are plentiful and at their peak.
Here are the cast of characters for this dish: cherry tomatoes (you can use plum or heirloom or any type, really), extra virgin olive oil, whole almonds, garlic, salt, basil, and red hot pepper flakes. I used parmesan cheese but you could also use pecorino cheese.
Keep some of that hot pasta water handy in case you want to thin out the sauce.
My favorite way to eat this dish is hot, although it tastes good lukewarm or cold too.
Everything gets thrown into a blender and whirred until it’s creamy. It may not be the most attractive looking pesto, but it sure tastes great.

 

The sauce is also delicious on broiled or baked chicken or fish, or vegetables, or even as a spread on sandwiches.

But first try it on pasta. I’ll bet it becomes one of your favorite summer meals.



Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.
And if you live in the Central N.J. area, join me this Saturday, August 29 at 11 a.m. at the West Windsor Farmer’s Market, when I’ll be on a panel discussion with other food writers and photographers, including Rome-based Katie Parla and NJ Monthly columnist Pat Tanner.



Pesto Trapanese
From Lidia’s Italy
printable recipe here
¾ pound cherry tomatoes, very ripe and sweet
12 leaves fresh basil
⅓ cup whole almonds, lightly toasted
1 garlic clove, crushed and peeled
¼ teaspoon peperoncino
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for cooking the pasta
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound pasta
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

Rinse the cherry tomatoes and pat them dry. Rinse the basil leaves and pat dry.

Drop the tomatoes into the blender jar or food processor bowl followed by the garlic clove, the almonds, basil leaves, peperoncino and 1/2 tsp salt. Blend for a minute or more to a fine purée; scrape down the bowl and blend again if any large bits or pieces have survived.

With the machine still running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, emulsifying the purée into a thick pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If you’re going to dress the pasta within a couple of hours, leave the pesto at room temperature. Refrigerate for longer storage, up to 2 days, but let it return to room temperature before cooking the pasta.)

To cook the spaghetti, heat 6 quarts of water, with 1 tablespoon salt to the boil in the large pot. Scrape all the pesto into a big warm bowl.

Cook the pasta al dente, lift it from the cooking pot, drain briefly, and drop onto the pesto. Toss quickly to coat the spaghetti, sprinkle the cheese all over, and toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls.

My Big Fat Raviolo

My Big Fat Raviolo

When San Domenico restaurant was still on New York City’s Central Park South, I ordered its signature dish – a plate-sized, single raviolo filled with ricotta cheese and a egg yolk that oozed decadently onto your plate when you broke through the pasta. Combine that with a parmesan cheese and sage sauce and you’ve got a celestial forkful of goodness. The only thing that could elevate it to truly divine status would be a shaving of truffles on top. I’ve been thinking about that dish ever since I first ate it years ago and wanting to recreate it at home. This was the year I finally did, for our Thanksgiving first course. It was just as special as I remembered it. Although my pocketbook didn’t allow for the truffle indulgence, this dish still has such a wonderful taste and mouth feel, that you won’t miss it.  I urge you to try it for your next special event. It’s a bit tricky to make in large quantities, only because of the size of the pots needed, so I caution you to make this only when your group is eight or less.

I started out by making some fresh pasta, but if you want to take the easy route, buy some fresh pasta sheets. A few pasta makers, like Rana, for instance, sell fresh pasta sheets for lasagna, and they’d work just fine. If they’re a little on the thick side, just roll them thinner with a rolling pin.
After rolling out the dough, I cut out disks using a plastic container from the deli as a guide. It was about four inches in diameter. This pasta recipe makes enough for about sixteen of these disks, which is what you’ll need for eight servings.

Just work with a third of the dough at a time, leaving the rest covered under a bowl or in plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out.

Top it with a mixture of ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese and spinach (or in my case, wild broccoli rape I foraged and froze.) I forgot to add an egg to the ricotta mixture itself and it was fine, but I might try adding it the next time I make this. Create a little “nest” with the ricotta mixture and drop in a medium size egg yolk.
Wet the outside edge with some water and place another disk of pasta on top, securing all around the edge with the tines of a fork.
Drop the disks in a pot of boiling water only long enough to cook to the “al dente” stage. This could take as little as two to three minutes.You don’t want to cook it so much that the egg yolk hardens. Then, remove the disks from the water, and in another large, shallow pan, add butter, some of the pasta water and sage. Sprinkle heavily with freshly ground black pepper.

Place each raviolo in individual pasta bowls and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese and some of the sauce from the pan.

A lovely and delicious surprise is waiting for you when you cut into it.

Here comes the sun! This might seem like a difficult dish to make, but it’s not. The important thing is to use quality fresh ingredients and not to prepare too far ahead of time. I assembled these about one hour before cooking them. I wouldn’t do it more than two or three hours ahead of time, because I’d be afraid that the dough would absorb too much of the liquid from the ricotta mixture, even though I’d drained it overnight.

Here’s a little video of me assembling the ravioli. I hope it inspires you to try it at home.

Big Fat Raviolo

printable recipe here

dough (enough to make eight large ravioli or sixteen disks)

3/4  cup semolina flour (I used a mixture of semolina flour and Italian “double zero” flour, which makes for a more “toothy” dough, but next time I might use all “double zero” flour, or unbleached white flour for a “softer bite,” since I was concerned that the egg yolk would harden in the time it took to cook the pasta through. It didn’t, but using a softer flour would insure a quicker cooking time for the pasta.)
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
2 large eggs

 

 

Place most of the semolina and regular flour into a food processor bowl. Keep about 1/4 cup of the flour or semolina aside. Add the eggs, then pulse the ingredients until a ball starts to form. Add more flour or semolina if it seems too sticky. Put on a board and knead, adding more flour as needed. Let it rest under a bowl, or covered with plastic wrap, for at least a half hour. Work the dough through a pasta machine per instructions with the machine. Make sure to flour the dough as you make each pass through the rollers, so it won’t stick.
Cut out the disks using a small plate, or a plastic deli container as a pattern.
Filling
 
2 cups ricotta cheese, drained overnight
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 large egg
a grating of fresh nutmeg
1 cup of chopped spinach, squeezed really dry  (I used foraged broccoli rape but not everyone has that option)
8 medium size eggs
Mix the ingredients together with a spoon. Place some of the filling on each of the disks, and create a little “nest” by indenting the center of the ricotta filling. With the medium eggs, separate the yolks from the whites and save the whites for another recipe. Drop a yolk into the center of each ricotta “nest” then wet the rim of the pasta disk with water. Place another pasta disk on top and pressing gently from the center, seal the edges with your fingers. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges of the disk a little more securely.
Sauce
8 T. butter
pasta water
fresh sage leaves (at least eight to 12, depending on size)
freshly cracked black pepper
parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top
Boil the ravioli in a pot of water for about two to four minutes. A lot will depend on the type of flour you used and the thickness of your raviolo. In a separate large pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sage, then remove each cooked raviolo from the pasta pot and add to the butter sauce. Add water from the pasta pot to keep the ravioli from sticking and to create a slight “sauce.” Serve each raviolo in a single bowl, topped with parmesan cheese and a sage leaf that’s been cooking in the sauce.
Lemon Spaghetti With Swiss Chard

Lemon Spaghetti with Swiss Chard

  I don’t live in a warm place like California or Florida or Arizona (or the Amalfi coast-sigh), where people are lucky enough to pluck fresh lemons from backyard trees. I have to rely on the supermarket variety. But with a box of pasta and organic lemons from a high quality grocery store, you can still serve a flavorful and easy-to-make pasta dish that will earn you raves. Add some Swiss chard to the mix and you’ll also garner a few kudos for the extra nutrition factor.

In support of the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative (PSGC), a wonderful group that fosters garden and food-based education in our local schools and community, I’m posting this recipe with chard for their “Garden State on Your Plate” program. Chard will debut in chef-led tastings at the Princeton elementary schools this fall, with more farm products to follow. PSGC has its own website (http://www.psgcoop.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/psgcoop.org), Twitter (https://twitter.com/psgcooporg) and Instagram account (psgcoop), so hop on over and cheer them on.
But don’t forget to give this recipe a try. It comes together in practically the time it takes to boil pasta, and the fresh flavors will have you and your family asking for seconds. Maybe even planning a trip to Sorrento!

Lemon Spaghetti with Swiss Chard
printable recipe here

1/4 cup minced sweet onion (like Vidalia)
6 – 10 large Swiss chard leaves, roughly chopped
2 T. olive oil
salt, pepper

grated zest and juice of 3 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 pound spaghetti or linguini
1 1/2 cups – 2 cups of pasta water
more parmesan cheese for serving
fresh basil, optional

Sauté the onion in the olive oil until limp, then add the Swiss chard and sauté for a few minutes until wilted. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Grate the zest of three lemons and squeeze the juice from them, discarding the seeds.
Bring the water to boil in a large pot and add a generous amount of salt. Cook the pasta al dente, especially since you’ll add it back into the pot for a few minutes with the sauce. Drain the pasta, but reserve about 2 cups of the pasta water.
Set aside the pasta while you make the sauce.
It takes only a few minutes so don’t worry about the pasta getting cold.
Use the same pot in which you boiled the pasta and put in the lemon zest, olive oil, heavy cream and about 1 cup of the pasta water. Bring to a boil over high heat, add the pasta to the pot and lower the heat to medium, all the while stirring everything together. Add the lemon juice, the parmesan cheese, and the cooked Swiss chard and stir vigorously. Keep adding more pasta water until there is enough sauce. Some people like the sauce to be very loose, so if you’re one of them, add more of the pasta water and keep stirring. Taste and season with more salt and pepper to your liking. Serve with additional parmesan cheese. If you have fresh basil, add a generous sprinkling of that at the end too.

Mezzi Rigatoni With Sausage And Butternut Squash Sauce

Mezzi Rigatoni With Sausage and Butternut Squash Sauce

 When I was designated a “blogger ambassador” for  La Cucina Italiana magazine a few months ago, I wasn’t sure what that entailed, but I soon found out when I received a package of goodies with several boxes of Del Verde pasta and a bottle of Lucini olive oil too.  Along with these products came an invitation to participate in a promotion called “Dish Your Blog with Delverde Pasta.” I was already familiar with Delverde’s pasta, which to me is one of the best commercial brands on the market.

A couple of years ago, I traveled to Fara San Martino, in Abruzzo, where DelVerde is located, although I never got to see the inside of DelVerde’s manufacturing plant. The Maiella mountains dominate the landscape at this spot in the Appenines and the Verde river, whose waters are used to make this world-famous pasta, runs through here.
 Del Verde’s pasta has long been a favorite with me, so it was a pleasure to concoct a recipe for the contest.
I used the mezzi rigatoni variety, which to me cries out for a lusty sauce and hearty accompaniments. Sausage just seemed to fit the bill here, and butternut squash too, one of my favorite fall vegetables. The dish needed something to counter the sweetness of the squash, so I added some wild greens I had picked earlier this spring and tucked away in the freezer. Broccoli rape or Tuscan kale would work well here too.
Roast the squash in the oven for about an hour until it’s soft enough to scoop out with a spoon. Depending on the size of the squash, you may need to use only half of it – or more, or less.
Sauté shallots and garlic, plus some sage leaves in a bit of olive oil. You’ll later purée this in a blender or food processor with the squash and some chicken broth.
The greens were cooked in water, then drained and sautéed with garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. The sausage was cut into small pieces, then browned and drained of grease.
Then comes the fun part – mixing it all together (well, actually eating it is more fun). Sprinkle it with grated parmesan cheese and dig in.



Disclosure: “This recipe is posted as an entry in the Delverde DISH YOUR BLOG recipe contest. The winner receives a trip to NYC and the opportunity to prepare the dish at a GE Showroom in midtown, Manhattan. I received free sample products in addition to the opportunity to compete for the prize.”


Mezzi Rigatoni with Sausage and Butternut Squash Sauce
Printable Recipe Here

2 shallots or 1 medium onion, minced
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 sage leaves

1 butternut squash
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
1 lb. sausage, cut into small pieces
1 cup greens (wild greens, broccoli rape, swiss chard or kale)
a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for sautéeing the greens
1 clove garlic
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

1 lb. mezzi rigatoni or other sturdy-shaped pasta

grated parmesan cheese.

Cut the butternut squash in half and smear the cut ends with olive oil. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until the flesh is soft enough to scoop. You will need about 2 cups of the butternut squash. Depending on the size of the squash, it may be half of the squash, or more, or less.

Sauté the shallots and garlic in the olive oil until limp. Add the sage leaves and cook for another minute or two. Remove three of the sage leaves, but leave one of them with the shallots.

Place the shallots mixture (and one of the sage leaves) and the 2 cups squash to a blender or food processor. Pour in the chicken broth and blend everything until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sauté the sausage pieces until browned, then drain any grease.

Cook the greens in water until wilted. Drain, then sauté the garlic in the olive oil until softened, add the greens and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta until al dente, then mix with the sausage, the greens and the butternut squash sauce. (If the butternut squash sauce has thickened too much, add some hot water or chicken broth to thin it a bit. If it has cooled while you’ve been preparing the other ingredients, then place it in the microwave to reheat before mixing it with the pasta.)

Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Grilled Shrimp With Pesto Pasta

Grilled Shrimp with Pesto Pasta

 My last post was long. Very long. But there was a lot to tell — sorry if you tuned out.  If I l lost some of you on that you, you’ll be glad to see this one is blessedly short. And it’s about basil, everyone’s favorite summer herb, and shrimp too.

 If you’re growing basil, you’ve probably already had to cut it back at least once or twice and have made pesto a few times too. Here’s another way to enjoy that pesto. It’s not rocket science, but maybe you’ve never thought of putting the combo together. Just grill a few shrimp and you’ve transformed that ubiquitous pasta sauce into something a little special.
Don’t forget to put some of that pesto away in the freezer for the cold winter months ahead. You don’t have to use it only as a sauce for pasta (although that will be a nice reminder of summer when the January snows fall.) A tablespoon or two makes a wonderful addition to soups and stews too.
Grilled Shrimp with Pesto Pasta.
For two servings:
10 large shrimp (or however many you like)
4 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
springs of fresh thyme
salt, pepper
1 large plum tomato, peeled and deseeded and cut into strips (optional)
1/2 pound pasta (I used trofie, a classic shape for pesto)
about 1/2 cup of freshly made pesto alla genovese – directions below.
Grilled Shrimp
Buy large uncooked shrimp. Peel off the shells and devein the shrimp. Put the shrimp in a bowl with the olive oil, garlic, some salt, pepper and fresh herbs. I used thyme, but oregano would work too. If you want the shrimp to have a little kick, add some dried red pepper flakes. Let it sit for at least 1/2 hour to marinate.
Get the grill good and hot and rub the grates with a paper towel that’s been coated with vegetable oil. This will help the shrimp not to stick to the grates.
Grill the shrimp for a couple of minutes on each side and add to the pasta that’s been already mixed with the pesto.
For each portion, I also added strips of one large plum tomato that I had peeled and deseeded. (To peel easily, drop the tomato into a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes.)
 
Pesto Recipe – Get the full instructions with photos here
Pesto Alla Genovese
The amounts aren’t exact. A lot depends on how firmly you pack the basil into the measuring cup, how large the garlic cloves are, and of course, your taste buds.

4 cups basil, loosely packed
2 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup Italian pine nuts, toasted, or pistachios (salted or unsalted), or toasted almonds or walnuts
extra virgin olive oil – as much as two cups, as needed to obtain a loose pesto.
1/4 cup – 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (or pecorino if desired)

If using a food processor: Tear leaves from stem, wash, dry and place in a food processor, along with the garlic, nuts and a small amount of the olive oil. Start with 1/2 cup and keep adding more until it flows smoothly when you dip a spoon into it, but not so thin that it falls off in a stream. Use your judgment.
Add parmesan cheese if serving immediately. If you’re planning to freeze it, don’t add the parmesan cheese until after you defrost it and are ready to serve.

If using a mortar and pestle, start with the washed and dried basil leaves, garlic and nuts and add a small amount of coarse salt to help break down the leaves. Pound with the pestle and slowly add a little bit of olive oil. Keep working the mixture with the pestle and add the rest of the oil as needed. The process takes a lot of patience and time.
Eggplant And Pasta Timballo

Eggplant and Pasta Timballo

  Looking for a way to use up some of that late summer eggplant in a show-stopping presentation? This eggplant timballo fits the bill, and it’s much easier to make that you’d think. Imagine the surprise on your guests’ faces when you slice into this, unveiling the pasta interior. Some of my blogger friends – Rowena and Marie – have also posted similar recipes and I always find inspiration from them.


 

For this timballo, I used a one-quart souffle dish that was lightly oiled. I grilled just one large eggplant, spreading a little olive oil on each slice before placing on the grill. Place the pieces with the prettiest grill marks facing the dish, not on the inside since it will be filled with pasta.

 

 

I cooked the pasta – anelli (little rings) in this case – then added some cooked sausage, peas and tomato sauce.

 

 

Throw in some parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese. I had only about 2 ounces of mozzarella in the fridge, but I recommend using more. It helps to “glue” everything together.

 

 Blend it all together.
And stuff the dish to the brim.
Fold the eggplant slices over the pasta and bake.
Let it rest at least 15 minutes before flipping and serving – with extra sauce on the side.
Here’s a timballo I made last year using a much larger pot. You can see I ran out of eggplants, even though I used three. I baked it this way anyway.


 

It held together well enough and everyone loved it just the same.

 

Even though it uses only one pound of pasta, it served a lot of people. That’s why I went with the smaller one-quart container you see in the first photo this time, that used only 1/2 pound of pasta. But if you’ve got a crowd of a dozen people coming, the larger timballo will serve that many people comfortably.

Eggplant Timballo
(for a one-quart souffle dish or similar vessel)
This will serve at least six people easily.
printable recipe here

1 large eggplant, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 pound anelli pasta, or other pasta to your taste
1 pound sausage
1/2 cup peas, cooked
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, cubed
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups to 2 cups tomato sauce

Smear the eggplant slices with oil and grill until cooked through. Oil a one-quart souffle dish or similar vessel and arrange the cooked eggplant slices inside, leaving enough hanging over the side to fold over the pasta when the dish is full.

Remove the casing from the sausage, break into bits and cook in a pan. Boil water and cook the pasta until it’s al dente. Drain the pasta and place into a bowl with the cooked sausage, and the rest of the ingredients, using as much tomato sauce as necessary to coat well. Reserve some of the sauce for later. Fill the dish with the pasta, then fold the eggplant slices over, covering the top of the pasta completely. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. Invert onto a serving platter, sprinkle with some parmesan cheese, and serve with the extra sauce.

Tortelli Piacentini

Tortelli Piacentini

This pasta shape has always intrigued me from the first time I ate this dish in Italy. They’re called tortelli Piacentini and are found only in the area around Piacenza, where my relatives live. They’re made in two versions, but it’s this pinched and pleated version that I wanted to tackle on my most recent trip, and my cousins Lucia and Luisa were more than willing to help me in my quest.
We started with all the ingredients necessary for making the pasta and the filling – flour, eggs, ricotta, spinach, nutmeg, and parmesan cheese. Italians use a flour labeled “00” for making pasta. It’s ground much finer, and makes a much more supple dough. There’s even a “00” flour that is superfine – practically like baby powder. Apparently, there is a mistaken belief that “00” flour contains less gluten, but according to Jeffrey Steingarten, author of the book “It Must’ve Been Something I Ate,” flours of various protein levels can be milled to the “00” category. Steingarten had different samples of flour analyzed by a lab and found that the “00” flours were higher in protein than many of the less refined flours. Flours labeled “panifiable” in Italy mean they’re good for bread.
You could substitute regular all-purpose flour, but the texture is different. Italian “00” flour produces a more tender pasta but with a nice bite. Here in the U.S., it may be hard to track down in stores, but you can order it online in several places. King Arthur sells it (here) or  you could order the Caputo brand (here) that comes even in the superfine version.
My cousins started out rolling the dough by hand, rather than through a pasta machine. Since Lucia (on the right in the photo below) won the “Miss Tagliatella” competition in the region a few years ago, she had a reputation to maintain, so the machine stayed on the shelf while the rolling pins came out.
Here’s a video on how they made the pasta dough and the filling. There’s a little sisterly ribbing going on (in Italian of course) about whether it’s better to use parmigiano reggiano or grana padano in the filling and whether it’s better to roll out the dough by hand or use a food processor. In the video, Luisa mentions she uses 3 etti of flour. In the metric system, one kilo is 2.2 pounds (35.2 ounces) and there are 10 etti in a kilo, hence one etto is 3.5 ounces or about 1/4 pound.
After the dough was rolled so thinly you could almost read through it, they cut small circles using an old implement that’s been in the family for decades. Of course you could use a cookie cutter or any other implement that makes circles.
A teensy bit of filling was added to each circle.
And then the pinching and pleating began.
Here’s a video on how to shape the pasta.
At a certain point, they switched to making a kind of ravioli that sits at attention like a little package. This went a whole lot faster than the tortelli, as you can imagine.
 We also made some tortellini and farfalle — but just for fun — not enough to make a meal. In all, it took us only an hour and a half to make this amount of tortelli Piacentini plus a bunch of the ravioli. There was leftover filling, but Lucia used it the next day to make crepes filled with the ricotta and spinach.
Here’s how they look close-up. These are called tortelli “con la coda” … or “with a tail” to distinguish from the other kind of tortelli from the region. That one looks more like a candy caramel with both ends twisted to keep the cellophane shut.

 

We ate them that night as a primo (first course) simply dressed with butter, sage and parmesan cheese.

Here is the recipe with ingredients listed in both in Italian and in English.

Tortelli Piacentini
(my cousins also add a tiny bit of oil to the dough, something neither my aunt nor my mom used to use. It’s your call).
printable recipe here
in Italian:

2 etti farina 00 per sfoglia
1 etto farina 00 (normale)
3 uova
4 tuorli

in English:

about 12 ounces all-purpose flour
or if you can get it:
8 ounces superfine 00 flour
4 ounces 00 flour
3 eggs
4 egg yolks

Mix the flour and eggs together. Knead until soft and supple. Let it rest at least 1/2 hour before rolling it out. Roll out thinly and cut into circles.

Filling:

una manciata di spinaci, cotti e frullati
3 etti di ricotta
parmigiana reggiano o grana padano, grattugiato

a handful of spinach, cooked and chopped fine
12 ounces ricotta cheese
parmesan or grana padano cheese, grated

Mix the filling ingredients, then place a small spoonful near one edge of the circle. Start pinching the circle closed by bringing one side toward the middle. Then overlap with the other side and squeeze the two pieces of dough together. Continue squeezing and pinching the dough in the center, alternating to form a braided look.

Cook in boiling water, drain and serve with melted butter, sage and parmesan cheese.

 

Foraging For Wild Greens

Foraging For Wild Greens

This is my 100th post, and while I had planned to write a long, personal story and recipe to note the event, I’ll keep it for later because I want you to go out into the fields this week and look for these greens — if you’re lucky enough to live where they grow. In the Northeast U.S., they are perfect for picking for only a few more days. Right now they’re so tender, you could eat them raw.

This lovely bouquet of wild greens belongs to a member of the cruciferae, or mustard family, the same family as broccoli rape and arugula and many other vegetables. In fact they taste a lot like broccoli rape. They’re also known as winter cress, but the botanic name is barbarea vulgaris or barbarea verna. If you wait much longer, they’ll be in flower and too bitter to eat.

 

Here’s a photo I took in Italy last June of a field of wild mustard greens in full bloom.

In his book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” Euell Gibbons noted how the first sign of spring would be not the robins on the lawn, but the Italians who would swarm out from town to gather winter cress from fields and ditches. Here are a few lines from the book, originally published in 1962:

“The suburban dweller seldom bothers to identify the plant which the immigrants are so eagerly collecting. Such knowledge is strictly for squares. He is satisfied to refer to it merely as “some weed the Italians eat.” We have come to a poor pass when we think that allowing ourselves to be bilked because of our own ignorance contributes to our status. And still we think we have a mission to teach the rest of the world “the American way.” Heaven forbid this kind of thinking. We do have some things to teach, but we also have many things to learn from other cultures. Unless we realize that cultural exchange is a two-way street, we shall fail, and much of the ancient and precious wisdom now residing in the simple peoples of the world will be lost.”

Ponder that thought for a while.

My husband discovered a field not far from our home where these greens are as prolific as weeds. We set out on Saturday for our foraging expedition and came home loaded with bags and bags of them. There’s nothing like getting something for free. Especially when it’s nutritious, healthy and abundantly growing in fallow fields.

A pretty ladybug found its way into this bag along with the mustard greens.

We were overflowing with mustard greens. We gave some to friends, others I blanched and put in the freezer. Some we ate very simply by boiling, then draining and tossing them in some olive oil, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. On Sunday I went a little fancier, adapting a recipe that Mark Bittman posted in the New York Times last week. The recipe uses broccoli rape (sometimes spelled broccoli rabe) instead of the wild greens and it could be adapted for many different vegetables. But the wild mustard greens really made it special. We were licking the bowl to extract every ounce of goodness.

Spaghetti with Mustard Greens, Garlic and Bread Crumbs

For two people:

1/3 pound spaghetti

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably homemade
a couple of shakes of red pepper flakes, or to taste
wild mustard greens, a couple of large handfuls, or about 1/2 pound
salt, freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Put 1/8 cup of olive oil into a large skillet over medium-low heat. When oil is warm, cook garlic just until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add bread crumbs and red pepper flakes and cook until bread crumbs are golden. This will take about five minutes or so. Remove and set aside.
2. Cook mustard greens in boiling water until soft, about five minutes. Drain well.
Bittman tells you to cook the pasta in the same water, but I would not recommend doing this with the wild greens, since the bitterness remains in the water.
3. Boil the pasta in salted water in another pot.
4. Meanwhile, add the remaining 1/8 cup of olive oil to a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the mustard greens and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and bread crumb mixture and mix well.
5. When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving a little of the water. Toss pasta in the skillet with the mustard greens. If necessary, add a little of the pasta water. Adjust seasonings and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Stuffed Shells And A Prayer

Stuffed shells and a prayer

I sent this post earlier this morning, but I’m resending it now to ask for prayers and help for the people in Abruzzo affected by the terrible earthquake which has already killed about 100 people and left thousands more homeless.

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You know how some recipes stir memories of an event or a person? This one reminds me of my mom, who frequently cooked up large casseroles of these for an impromptu family dinner. She added ground meat to the ricotta stuffing, but I’ve added spinach instead. If you choose to make the sauce meatless, you’ve got a great vegetarian meal.

I hadn’t made these in years, but since I had some leftover ricotta in the fridge and some jars of tomato sauce with ground beef that my brother Frank had made, I thought, why not make up a batch of stuffed shells and have an impromptu dinner with friends?

We frequently spend holidays with our friends Jan and Dave but this Easter we each have different plans. So who better to invite for a casual meal than friends we’ve known for more than three decades and haven’t seen in a while? Fortunately, they were available on a last minute whim and came over Saturday night for an informal dinner. No fussing involved – no appetizers, no good china, no fancy silver. Just a simple meal of stuffed shells and salad and a bottle of good wine to share with friends who are like family. Oh, we also ate a deeeelicious apple and pear galette that Jan brought over. I’ll be posting the recipe for that as soon as she gets it to me.

The food was great, but more important was the chance to be with long-time friends and our kids too, who were home for the weekend. Why not give it a try? Call some friends you haven’t seen in a long time and invite them to come share a meal with you – maybe even these stuffed shells. If you’ve got some tomato sauce stored in the freezer, so much the better. The recipe goes together pretty quickly in that case.

Here’s what it looks like before it goes in the oven. This recipe makes even more than is shown in the photo, but I kept about a dozen or so and froze them for another meal.
Here’s what it looks like when it comes out of the oven:Stuffed Shells

17.6 ounce package shells (There were 53 shells in the package, but a few of them broke while cooking)

2 eggs
2 lbs. ricotta
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1 box chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained well
2 T. minced parsley
salt, pepper
a grating of fresh nutmeg

tomato sauce to cover
(here’s my recipe.)

I used a cellophane package of shells I bought at the supermarket weighing 17.6 ounces and this amount of filling was perfect for that size package. Most packaged shells come in a cardboard box and weigh less than this, so if you can’t find the larger size cellophane package, make less of the filling and use one of the cardboard boxes, or use 1 1/2 boxes of the shells and the full amount of the filling.

Cook the shells in boiling water, but under cook them slightly, since they’ll also bake in the oven. Drain the shells after boiling. Put them into a pot of cool water, since the ones you’re not working on are likely to stick together if they’re sitting in a colander.
Drain about a dozen at time in a colander and stuff, then repeat with the remaining shells.

Stuffing: Beat the eggs lightly. Add the cheeses and the remaining ingredients, except the tomato sauce. Stuff the shells gently with the mixture. Place some tomato sauce in a heat-proof casserole and lay stuffed shells into it. Pour more sauce on and around the shells. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.

Spaghetti And Meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Forget truffles. Forget fois gras. Forget filet mignon.
This is my husband’s favorite dish hands-down.
When we were first married (back in the mesozoic era) I could never get it right.
Keep in mind I had a mother-in-law from Central Italy and a mother from Northern Italy. The standards were high.
Both of them made spaghetti and meatballs regularly, and both versions were delicious, and very different from each other. Of course they didn’t use recipes. So I kept trying year after year to duplicate either sauce but it always lacked that little something that they couldn’t quite explain.

“It lacks ‘character,’ ” my husband would tell me time after time.

It took me years to develop that character, but there have been no complaints for a couple of decades now.

My sauce is neither like my mother’s (who used sausage and meatballs) nor my mother-in-law’s (who used braciole and meatballs) but a hybrid that has a “character” of its own.
I always use sausage and meatballs, and add some spareribs too if I’m going to serve it over polenta.
Once in a blue moon I make braciole. I always add hot pepper flakes as my mother-in-law did, but my husband always adds more directly over the pasta. His tolerance for heat is greater than mine.

Oh, and we never called it sauce when we were growing up. It was always “gravy” to us — or the Italian word, “ragu”.

There are plenty of times when I make a light, quick-cooking spaghetti sauce. This is not one of those recipes. This is a rich sauce that needs several hours of slow cooking to develop its flavors. I make it in a huge batch as you’ll see from the list of ingredients and freeze it for later meals. When friends or relatives come by for visits, there’s almost always some I can easily defrost for what has now become my fallback meal. You can adapt it for smaller portions, but be careful not to cut the seasonings too much or your sauce might not have “character” either.

Spaghetti Sauce

2 1/2 – 3 pounds Italian sausage (hot or sweet)
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion
8 – 10 cloves of garlic
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
1 large can of tomato sauce (6 pounds, 9 oz.)
1 large can of San Marzano tomatoes (6 pounds, 10 oz.)
(I like a chunkier sauce, so I break up the tomatoes only slightly either by hand or using a food processor)
1 cup dry red wine
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 T. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper
1 1/2 cups red wine

about 3 dozen meatballs
about 3 pounds pork spare ribs (or beef)

Place the sausage in a pot and cook over medium flame until nearly entirely cooked, and most of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausages from the pot and set aside.
Drain all the fat from the pot and discard. Add the olive oil to the pot. Finely mince the onion and garlic in a food processor and saute in the olive oil. Do the same with the carrot and celery. Cook the vegetables until softened.
Add the remaining ingredients and put the sausage back into the pot with the sauce. Add the meatballs and spare ribs, if desired.

If using spareribs, cook them before adding to the sauce. If they are long, chop them in half with a cleaver. Place them in a covered saucepan over low to medium heat. You don’t need to add any oil to the pot. Let them cook for an hour and much of the fat will be released. Drain the fat and discard. Add the cooked ribs to the tomato sauce. Cook everything together for at least three to four hours on a low flame, stirring periodically.

Meatballs

I used to deep-fry these until several years ago, when I started broiling them to eliminate a lot of the fat. Nobody ever notices any difference and it’s a lot healthier.

2 1-2 – 3 pounds of ground meat (I use a mixture of pork, veal and beef)
about 1/3 of a large loaf of sturdy white Italian bread, preferably a day old
about 1 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper

Trim the crusts off the bread. Dry the bread in the oven and use to make bread crumbs for another recipe.
Tear the bread into chunks and place into a bowl with the milk. Let the bread soak for at least 15 minutes or until it has absorbed the milk and softened. Squeeze as much milk as possible from the bread and discard the milk (or give to the cat). Squish the bread pieces with your fingers into a bowl with the ground meats until there are no big lumps. Add the remaining ingredients and blend well with your hands. Shape into round balls. Place on a baking sheet or broiling pan and broil or bake at high heat (450 – 500), watching carefully so they don’t burn. When they have a nice brown crust, turn them over and brown on the other side. Drain off the grease and add the meatballs to the sauce.