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Lana And Tagliatelle With Truffles

Lana and tagliatelle with truffles

This is a lagotto puppy. For those of you wondering why this dog belongs on a blog about food, trust me, there is a culinary connection. The lagotto is a breed that hails from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, and was originally used as a hunter for water fowl. Today it is more commonly associated with truffle hunting.

I can’t say my brother and sister-in-law had truffle hunting in mind when they got their very own lagotto yesterday. They just fell in love with the gentle temperament, curly hair and hypo-allergenic tendencies of the breed. The fact that lagotti (plural of lagotto) also originated in Italy, in the same region where my mother was born, made them even more appealing.

After months of waiting, Lana (Italian for wool) was ready for pickup in Connecticut yesterday. Fortunately, my house in New Jersey made a nice way station for them en route home to Pennsylvania, so I got to have a sneak peak at Lana before anybody else. And now you’ve seen her too. Isn’t she adorable?

OK, Lana may never be a truffle-hunter here in the states. So I’m glad I’ve already tasted truffles, both in restaurants and in the home of people we know. That includes our friends Tony and Vanda, who own a beautiful second home in a small village in the region of Molise, where we were lucky enough to enjoy this wonderful pasta of tagliatelle and a generous helping of shaved truffles. Don’t even think of topping with parmesan cheese or you’ll blunt the fragrant aroma of the truffles.

The recipe is simple. Start with some fresh homemade pasta. Melt some butter or olive oil in a saucepan while the pasta is cooking. Drain the pasta, toss it in the butter or olive oil, and top with shaved truffles. That’s it.
Yes, truffles are expensive and yes, they’re hard to find in the states. But think of all the enjoyment you’d have received if you had invested in truffles instead of the stock market.

Fusilli With Portobello Mushrooms And Ham

Fusilli with portobello mushrooms and ham

This dish was quickly thrown together with our first portobello mushroom harvest. I sliced the mushrooms, sauteed them in some olive oil and butter with a shallot and minced garlic, added a little white wine and some pasta water, salt and pepper and that was it. But it still needed some umph, which is why I thought to add the ham. If I were making this vegetarian, I’d kick up the heat with more cracked black pepper.

I had only a couple of slices of prosciutto cotto in the fridge, which was plenty for just two people. Prosciutto cotto is a very delicate cooked ham and could be kind of hard to find depending on where you live. But you could substitute regular baked ham, or even prosciutto crudo if you like. Another option that would be delicious is to fry up a slice of pancetta or bacon and add that. There are lots of variations, but to me, turning out a tasty dish with what you’ve got on hand is important – not only because you don’t want to always be running to the store, but so that you learn to become resourceful and not waste anything either. It can lead to interesting combinations that you’d never have thought of otherwise.

I finished the dish off with a scattering of parsley and a dusting of freshly grated parmigiano cheese. Not bad for a quick meal, as my mother-in-law used to say.

For two people:

1/3 pound fusilli, or other pasta (or however much you eat)
about 3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T. oil
2 T. butter
1/4 cup white wine
salt, pepper
2 slices prosciutto cotto, cut into bits
freshly grated parmesan cheese, to sprinkle on top
minced parsley

Get the water boiling and throw in the pasta.
Saute the shallot and garlic for a couple of minutes in the olive oil and butter, then add the mushrooms and saute until cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and cook for a few minutes on high heat to reduce a bit. Add a little pasta water too at this time, but only a few tablespoons or so. As you can see from the picture, this is not a dish that is swimming in sauce, but you should have enough for a light coating of liquid. Lower the heat to a slight simmer until the pasta is finished cooking.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the mushrooms, stirring around in the sauce to coat the pasta. Remove from the heat and put into a serving dish. Add the ham, top with parsley and parmesan cheese and serve.

Trofie Pasta With Swordfish

Trofie pasta with swordfish

I just love this twisted, squiggly pasta shape called trofie. They’re fairly easy to find in the U.S. now, but years ago that wasn’t the case. They are commonly served with pesto in the region of Liguria, which is practically synonymous with the basil-based sauce. But trofie are used with many other types of sauces too.

I first encountered them years ago on the isle of Elba at a little trattoria called “Osteria del Noce” where a cat named Osvaldo had taken up residence and was seated upright on a chair at one of the large dining tables, waiting for his meal. I noticed everyone else at the nearby table had ordered the trofie dish. I figured it must be good, even though I didn’t know what it was. So I ordered it and it was exquisite — laden with teensy weensy clams and local shellfish that are impossible to get here in the states. So I’m offering up a different version that still tastes great and is economical too. For two people, I used only six ounces of swordfish and 1/2 pound of trofie – and there was still enough leftover for a cat too – not Osvaldo, but my resident feline Rocky.

Trofie Pasta with swordfish:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 green pepper, minced, optional
1/4 carrot, grated
1 28 ounce can tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 T. tomato paste
2 T. capers
1/4 cup green olives, pitted and smashed (I forgot to add them this time, but it was still good)
1/4 tsp. dried basil flakes
salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
6 ounces swordfish, cut into chunks or small pieces

Saute onion, garlic, pepper, and carrot until softened. Add tomatoes, crushing with fingers. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 1/2 hour. This will make more than enough sauce for two servings. You may not want to use it all, but take some out to store or use
later. Add the swordfish and simmer for five minutes more before serving.

Pumpkin Ravioli With Walnut Cream Sauce

Pumpkin ravioli with walnut cream sauce

Before I begin, let me say this is a project for the patient and the committed. There’s no squirming out midway because you’re tired or your pilates class is starting and you have to run to the gym.
But be not afraid for you shall be rewarded.
After traveling to Bologna together (the pasta heartland where pasta filled with squash is on every menu) my friend Ellen wanted to learn how to make these. So I invited her over to spend time in the kitchen rolling out pasta. It’s a lot more fun and takes a lot less time with someone else helping. We didn’t cook the pasta while she was at my house, since I wanted to freeze mine for later. She was planning to cook hers at home with a simple butter, sage and parmesan cheese sauce. Wonderful.
But sinfully sublime is what I would call the walnut cream sauce. The photo of the finished pasta in sauce is from a pasta party we had at our home a couple of years ago, when we gathered some relatives and friends for an evening of pasta-making and eating. The kitchen was a mess when we were finished, but we had a lot of fun and our tummies were grateful.

To make the pasta you need a pasta machine or you’ll need very strong arms to roll out all the dough. This recipe for pasta and for the filling makes enough for about 110 ravioli.
Pasta dough:
3 cups flour
4 jumbo eggs

If you want to be authentic, you can make a “volcano” of the flour on a wooden board, then crack the eggs into the center and start to incorporate them into the flour until the liquid is all absorbed. Otherwise, put everything into a food processor and blend until it starts to hold together. Pull it out of the food processor and knead it on a floured board until it becomes smooth.
Let it rest under a covered bowl for at least a half hour, which will help the dough to become even more smooth and elastic and easy to work.
Flour your board or counter and cut off a quarter of the pasta. Keep the rest under the bowl. Flatten the piece with your hands, flour it a little then pass it through the thickest setting on your pasta machine. Keep changing the setting until you get to the penultimate one — not the thinnest one. Now you should have a long strip about three to four inches wide. If it’s too long and cumbersome to work with, cut it in half. Lay it on your board and place little spoonfuls of filling all across the strip, leaving a small space in between each spoonful.
Dab a little bit of water between the filling and across the top and bottom of the filling. Take one edge of the long strip of dough and carefully fold it over the filling, pressing down in between each one to take out any air bubbles. Run a decorative crimper along the edges to separate the ravioli. If you don’t have a crimper, a knife will do.

Lay the ravioli on cookie sheets that have been covered with floured, linen dishtowels. Refrigerate if serving that day, or place in the freezer. After a few hours, remove from the cookie sheets and store the ravioli in plastic freezer bags.

For the filling (adapted from “The Splendid Table” by Lynne Rossetto Kasper):

I don’t use the typical Halloween-style pumpkin, since it doesn’t have as much flavor as squash. This recipe gives you the closest approximation to what you’ll find in Italy. Some recipes call for the addition of crushed amaretti cookies, but I find that a little too sweet. The squash itself provides adequate sweetness. I also do this ahead of time and drain the cooked squash in a cheesecloth-lined sieve overnight. Otherwise, you risk having a filling that is too watery.

1 large butternut squash
1 1/2 large sweet potatoes, or two small ones
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
nutmeg, black pepper

Roast the potatoes in a 375 degree oven. Roast the squash at the same time. Cut the squash, remove seeds and place on an oil baking sheet. Roast for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until it is easily pierced with a fork. Remove the flesh from the squash and puree it in a food processor, then place in a sieve that is lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. Place a bowl under it to catch the water that is released and put the bowl in the refrigerator overnight, along with the potatoes.
The next day, remove the skin from the potatoes, puree them in a food processor, and put in a bowl. Add the pureed squash, the cheese and a grating of nutmeg and black pepper.

Make and fill the ravioli.

When you are ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the ravioli but do not let the pot to continue at a rolling boil or you may burst the ravioli. Boil for four or five minutes until cooked.

Cover with sauce and parmesan cheese.

Walnut cream sauce
(This is enough sauce for about four dozen ravioli.)

1 1/2 cup walnuts, roasted in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a few grindings of nutmeg
dash salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sweet wine such as vin santo or moscato
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Roast the walnuts in the oven. If you have the patience, remove some of the outer skins of the walnuts. This is easier to do if you put them in a linen dishcloth, fold in half and rub back and forth. Grind the walnuts in a food processor until they are coarse – not fine. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the heavy cream and wine. Cook for a few minutes on high heat until the
sauce reduces and emulsifies. Add the nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg salt, and pepper. Take off the heat and add a generous amount of parmesan – at least 1/2 cup or more. Pour over the ravioli and serve with additional parmesan.

Rose’s Manicotti

Rose’s Manicotti

This is another one of those comfort food recipes that you’re likely to make again and again, not just because it tastes great, but also because you can make it ahead of time and freeze it for later.
I can’t take credit for it — It’s brought to you via my Dad and his wife Rose, who have frequently served it at their table, and have introduced it at mine as well.
It’s unlike the traditional manicotti that you might know, since the filling is contained in a crepe, not in pasta. It’s a recipe handed down from Rose’s mother and maybe it will become part of your tradition too. It makes a wonderful first course, but with the addition of a salad can also serve as the main course. Since there’s no meat in the recipe, vegetarians will be happy too.

Rose’s Manicotti

Makes about 20

For the crepes:

4 eggs
1 cup water
1 cup milk
2 tblspns. melted butter
2 cups flour

Beat the eggs slightly. Place the flour in a bowl, and add the eggs, water, milk and melted butter. Beat everything together.
Using a paper towel, smear the bottom of a 7 inch nonstick skillet with olive oil. Over medium heat, pour some of the batter into the pan, swirl around and watch carefully until the batter seems to solidify. Do not let the crepe brown. The color should be similar to the pale color of pasta dough. Flip it over and cook for only a couple of seconds on the other side.

Filling:

2 pounds ricotta cheese
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix all the filling ingredients together and place some of filling along a straight line down the middle of a crepe. Roll up the crepe and place seam-side down in a baking pan that has been first layered with tomato sauce. Proceed until the pan is filled, then cover with another layer of tomato sauce. Do not put a second layer of crepes over the first.

Tomato Sauce:

Use your favorite tomato sauce – with or without meat. In my family, to use anything but homemade tomato sauce would be blasphemy, but if you resort to a commercial brand, I won’t tell. For this recipe, my father and Rose make a meatless sauce that is very smooth, since it enhances the delicate texture and flavor of the crepes.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 325 degrees about 1/2 hour.
If frozen, place the pan in the refrigerator the night before serving. Bake at 325 degrees, but you may need slightly more than 1/2 hour until the crepes are heated through and the sauce is bubbly hot.

Pasta With Porcini Mushroom Sauce

Pasta with Porcini Mushroom Sauce

For all you meat lovers out there (and I’m one of them), this is a recipe that will have you forget that you ever made friends with a T-bone steak. For those of you who have ever eaten freshly harvested porcini mushrooms, grilled and dressed simply with olive oil and garlic, you know what I mean. The ones in the first photo were gathered by a local resident in Cassimoreno, a small hamlet in Emilia Romagna where my cousins Maria Luisa and Angelo have a country home and where nearly everyone hunts for mushrooms in the fall. But alas, we’re not as fortunate here in the northeast U.S. to have a mycologist as a next door neighbor — or a forest nearby with porcini nestling beneath the leaves waiting to be plucked. Fresh ones in the markets where I live are hard to come by, and when you can find them, they’re practically as expensive as a flight to Italy.
Fortunately, you can find dried porcini mushrooms in many specialty shops and even supermarkets nowadays. You might pay $6 or $7 for a one-ounce package wrapped in cellophane, and that’s enough for this recipe that will serve four people.
These meaty fungi, which you see rehydrated in the middle photo, have an intense smell that will fill your kitchen with an earthy aroma as soon as you open the package. You might be tempted to soak them in hot water, rather than at room temperature, to speed up the process, but that would be a mistake. Too much of the intensity of the mushroom flavor would be released into the water. Speaking of the water, there are two schools of thought on what to do with that water, after you’ve finished soaking the mushrooms. One Italian chef I listened to regularly in Italy claims you should throw away the soaking liquid because it’s full of impurities. I always respected his opinions on food, but this was one place where we parted ways. To me, it would be criminal not to add that aromatic liquid to this recipe. Just make sure you strain it first. I also use canned San Marzano tomatoes in this dish, and they really do make a difference. They are easily available in supermarkets. Grown in an area near Naples, where the volcanic soil influences the outcome of the product, they are much sweeter, much stronger, and less acidic than the typical Roma plum tomatoes that are used by many canners. You can use other types of canned tomatoes, of course, but this dish just wouldn’t be the same.

Porcini Mushroom Sauce

(Makes enough for about 1 pound of pasta. Don’t use a thin spaghetti here like angel hair pasta. This sauce requires a more robust type, like rigatoni or pappardelle.)

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups room temperature water

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced carrot
1/4 cup minced celery
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
red pepper flakes, to taste

Soak the porcini in the water for an hour or until mushrooms are soft.
Pour the olive oil into a saucepan, then add the minced onion, carrot, celery, garlic and saute until translucent.
Drain the porcini mushrooms, but reserve the liquid. Roughly chop the mushrooms and add to the pan, along with the tomatoes, breaking them through your fingers.
Add 1/2 cup of the strained soaking liquid, wine, and remaining ingredients.
Simmer for about 3/4 hour and serve over pasta.