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Puttanesca sauce

12 May

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First things first.

No, it is not a fact that puttanesca sauce was invented by the puttana who earned their livelihoods in Italy’s brothels around World War II. It’s possible, I suppose. But, then, what isn’t?

Except for its geographic lineage, that being Italy, the southern part most probably, nobody really knows the true origin of the sauce. Believe me, I’ve looked and read and asked around. There are theories, several of them, but that’s all they are.

Titillating as it may be the most widely accepted brothel theory is, at best, weak.

This marks the (merciful) end of our impossible history lesson of the puttanesca.

Besides, do you really care who first threw together the most intensely flavored quick sauce known to humankind?

I’m content being in the dark and just enjoying the sauce. Wherever it came from.

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A puttanesca begins, as so many good things do, with plenty of olive oil, garlic, anchovy and some hot pepper. Saute for a couple minutes until the garlic has softened.

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Add a 28- to 35-oz. can of tomatoes, 3/4 cups of pitted and halved olives (Gaeta olives are traditional but Kalamatas are easier for me to source and so that’s what is used here), two or three tablespoons of rinsed capers, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for as little as 20 minutes, or up to half an hour, and you are pretty much all done.

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Though tossing in a handful of chopped parsley before serving would not be such a terrible idea.

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It took way less time to cook, eat and clean up after this puttanesca than it did trying to figure out whose bright idea the whole thing was in the first place.

Puttanesca Sauce
Recipe

4 tablespoons or so of olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 dried hot pepper, crushed
4 anchovy fillets

2 to 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
3/4 cup pitted Gaeta or Kalamata olives, halved
1 28-oz. to 35-oz. can of good-quality tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan saute the olive oil, garlic, hot pepper and anchovies for around two  minutes.
Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, salt and pepper, stir and allow to simmer at medium heat for 20-30 minutes.

My best manicotti recipe

25 Apr

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This all began, as so many good things do, with a call to Aunt Anna in Queens. It was Easter Sunday morning and she was in her kitchen preparing dinner. I was at home here in Maine.

“What are you cooking anyway?” I asked after we’d been chatting for quite some time. “You never mentioned.”

“Right now, my meatballs,” Anna said a bit distractedly. “The manicotti I made yesterday. I’m just taking them out of the refrigerator now.”

And for days and days these were the only words that I could hear. It had been a while since I’d made manicotti. It was time.

A quick text to my friends Laura and Bob netted a nice tin of fresh ricotta from the excellent Lioni Latticini in New Jersey—and I was off and running. Thanks to my aunt.

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Thin crepes are the key to good manicotti, the thinner the better. That means the crepe mix has to be super light and so mixing it in a blender is best. (I’ve included the full list of ingredients at the end.) A super hot omelette pan doused in butter is the way to cook the crepes. I keep melted butter on the stovetop and apply it with a bristle brush before pouring out the mix for each crepe.

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To make thin crepes you must barely cover the pan’s surface with the mixture. We’re not talking pancakes here, we’re talking just-thicker-than-paper type stuff. After the mix is set and drying flip it over with a spatula. If your pan is properly heated this won’t take long at all. (I pour the mix straight from the blender into the pan, by the way. That way I can add more milk to the mix as things thicken up, which they will.)

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Here’s what the cooked side should look like. After flipping the crepe it only takes maybe 30 seconds to finish the other side.

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This is about how thick you want your crepes to be. That’s a blue spatula I’m holding behind one of the crepes; you can see the color coming through, right? Nice and thin!

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These crepes can be piled on top of each other without sticking. And if you aren’t making the manicotti right away the crepes can be refrigerated for a couple days. I refrigerated these overnight, wrapped in a roll using wax paper.

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This is a pretty traditional filling, made with fresh ricotta, fresh mozzarella and such (again, the full list of ingredients is below).

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A simple fold from one side and then the other does the trick.

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Lay a light dose of tomato sauce in a baking pan, then line the manicotti up, like so.

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Add more sauce on top, cover in aluminum foil and throw into the oven, preheated to 375 degrees F. Remove the foil after 30 minutes and continue baking for another 15 minutes or so.

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These manicotti are super light and very delicate—a real favorite around here, in fact.

The only thing that could have made them better this time would be to share them with the woman who put the idea into my head in the first place. Hopefully it won’t be too very long before we’re able to see each other again.

Manicotti Recipe

Makes at least two dozen manicotti, likely more than that

For the crepe

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

2 1/2 cups milk to start (more as needed)

Pinch of salt

Mix ingredients together in a blender until fully incorporated. It should be the consistency of cream, NOT pancake batter. Add milk and blend more along the way if the mix thickens, which it will.

For the filling

2 lbs ricotta, preferably fresh

1 lb fresh mozzarella

1 egg

1/3 cup grated cheese (I use a blend of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino)

Pinch of nutmeg (though a couple pinches is better)

Salt and pepper to taste

Empty ricotta into a large bowl. Grate the mozzarella into the same bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix thoroughly. If very stiff add a little milk to soften a bit.

It’s the salt, stupid

18 Apr

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I am about to boil some pasta.

Hell no, that is not a lot of salt.

Don’t ask me how much salt I use to boil pasta either, because I couldn’t tell you. If you’re really that curious then swing by the house one of these days and measure the capacity of the palm of my left hand. That’s my left hand right there, see, and some of the pile of salt it is holding has already escaped into the water.

Look, it makes no difference to me how much salt you use in your pasta water. As long as you are not serving the finished product to me. If you are serving it to me and you are not using a big old pile of salt in the water, then I am afraid we are going to have ourselves a problem.

I may eat your ill-prepared pasta, out of friendship, or good-mannered civility. But I am not going to like it.

Chill, all right. I’m only being straight with you.

Some years back I made the mistake of allowing a couple of dinner guests, aquaintances really, to observe while I prepared a simple pasta dish from start to finish. When it came time to getting the water going one of them actually gasped at seeing the amount of salt in my hand.

“Oh my God, you’re not actually going to use all that, are you?” she huffed. “Please, tell me you aren’t.”

I paused, but only for a nanosecond.

“Uh,” I said emptying my usual palm’s worth into the pot. “Of course I am.”

Since then, and to avoid such conflicts from recurring, I have made certain to pre-salt pasta water whenever unfamiliar guests will be arriving for dinner. I know, I know. It’s best to add the salt after the water has boiled, blah blah. But I am not a man who sweats that type of detail.

There are two reasons why pasta water must be well salted. The most obvious one is that this flavors the pasta itself, as it will absorb the salted water during boiling. This is crucially important because otherwise the pasta will be bland bland bland. I don’t care how much flavor your sauce has; it won’t do a thing to make the actual pasta taste good.

The other reason is that pasta water is an ingredient all by itself. More often than not some of it is added to the hot pan where a sauce and a pasta are mixed together in final preparation. If the water doesn’t have any flavor then all you’re doing by adding it is diluting the flavor of the entire dish.

And why would you want to do that?

Hearty lamb ragu

15 Dec

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This dish may look ordinary but it’s actually quite a rarity here in the United States. Of the nearly 220 pounds of meat we consume per capita in a year only about a pound of it is lamb.

Hell, there’s more than that in this one recipe alone. Fifty percent more, in fact.

Lamb is the kind of thing that you actually need to think about when planning a meal for guests. Because many people just don’t eat it.

Ever.

I guarantee you that a good number of readers aren’t even with us anymore, having moved along at the mere mention of lamb in the headline.

Their loss. Because it makes for a pretty swell ragu.

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In a good amount of olive oil brown 1 1/2 pounds of ground lamb in a pot that’s good for making sauce.

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Add in a diced carrot or two, a couple celery stalks, an onion, a couple sliced garlic cloves, and some crushed hot pepper. (There was some fennel in the fridge so I tossed in a little of that too.)

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Add at least a half cup or more of wine (white or red will do, though I used dry vermouth here), turn up the heat to high and allow the wine to evaporate.

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Add one 28-oz. can of tomatoes (I used crushed here but any will do), one cup of chicken stock, 1/2 teaspooon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, some fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir it all up, lower the heat to medium or lower and let things simmer for around an hour and a half. Stir occasionally, of course, and add more stock, or even water, if needed.

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It’ll be enough to feed six lamb eaters.

If you that many.

Pasta with corn & mint

3 Aug

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This was not a planned blog event. I was just throwing something together on the fly last evening, with no intention of sharing a “recipe.”

Thing is, fresh corn and mint from the garden make a really nice combination. I’m wagering that even an ill-planned post such as this might at least provide some inspiration before summer’s end.

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Basically what we have here is an ear’s worth of fresh corn (blanched and then shaved off the cobb), a handful of fresh mint, a couple garlic scapes (a clove or two will do just fine), a chopped hot pepper, and a couple anchovy filets (optional, of course). Saute for a few minutes while your pasta is cooking.

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When the pasta is al dente turn up the heat in the pan to high and add the pasta.

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Then add some of the (well-salted) pasta water, cook it off until almost (but not entirely) evaporated, and you’re all set.

My guess is that I’ll be throwing this one together a couple more times before fresh corn season is over.

Pasta with garlic scapes & walnuts

15 Jul

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Growing 200-plus head of garlic every year (232 this season, thank you very much) I go through a lot of garlic scapes. I’m sure you’re seeing them at the farm stands and at your better grocery stores right about now.

It’s the season. And it doesn’t last long.

Most of the scapes that I don’t pass along to friends wind up being roasted as a side dish, but plenty find their way into a simple aglio e olio (literally, garlic and oil) sauce with my pasta. I like swapping the garlic cloves for the scapes because it adds a really nice texture to the aglio e olio. This version we have here also includes walnuts, which adds both texture and flavor.

It’s one of those super simple pasta dishes that you wind up craving over and over, so give it a try while the scapes are still around. Otherwise you’ll have to wait until next year.

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Get your pasta water going because this won’t take more than a few minutes. Then grab a few scapes (I’ve used four here, as I was only feeding myself on this occasion).

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Remove the tips (seen at rear) and chop the scapes and some hot pepper up, like so. You’ll also need a small handful of chopped walnuts.

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Saute in olive oil for a few minutes, or just until the scapes have softened (just don’t let them get crispy). Oh, and I’ve also added a few anchovy filets, even though I know most of you won’t. (C’mon, live a little, anchovies are awesome!)

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When your pasta is just shy of al dente turn up the heat under the scapes and add the pasta to the pan.

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Then add some of the (well-salted) pasta water and incorporate.

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After the water has all but evaporated (a minute or so) you are good to go.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, garlic scapes can last for weeks in the fridge, so don’t be shy about stocking up the next time you run across them.

I mean, can you ever have enough aglio e olio?

The Pasta Recipe Index

17 Nov

Below are all of the pasta, stuffed pasta, pasta sauce, and pasta dough recipes that appear on this blog. Just click on a link and you’ll be taken to the recipe you’re after. Every time a pasta recipe is added to the blog it will be added to this list, which appears at the right of the homepage under “Search Pasta Recipes.”

PASTA RECIPES


Spaghetti alla bottarga

Orecchietti with broccoli rabe & sausage

 
 

Homemade bread gnocchi

The best potato gnocchi

Pasta & peas

Lobster lasagne

Polenta lasagne

Spaghetti pie

Pasta with garlic & balsamic vinegar

Pasta e fagioli

Pastina

Pumpkin & ricotta gnocchi

Pasta & chickpeas

Shrimp & sausage scampi

Pasta with sausage, grapes & wine

Pasta with garlic & hazelnuts

Pasta with fresh fig & pistachio

Pasta with pumpkin & pancetta

STUFFED PASTA RECIPES

 

 
 
 

Polenta lasagne

4 Apr
Polenta? Check.
Meat sauce? Got it.
Oven pan? Right over here.
Talk about your no-brainers.
Make some of this, would you. Thank me later.
It all starts with a good-quality base. I know some people swear by the instant stuff, but I always go with the real deal, a good Italian polenta that takes time (half an hour at least) and patience (constant and uninterrupted stirring) to cook properly. Here you have two cups of the stuff, which is mixed with eight cups of well-salted boiling water.
My ancestors are no doubt rolling over this, and I myself may go to Hell because of it, but I use a whisk for stirring polenta, not the sacred wooden spoon that generations of polenta makers have relied upon. The whisk just works better, okay. Somebody had to say it.
When the polenta is done, pour it onto a flat surface. I used a cutting board, which first got a light coat of olive oil to prevent sticking.
While it’s still hot, spread the polenta so that it’s evenly dispersed, then allow it to cool.
Everybody has their own idea about what makes a good meat sauce. I have several ideas. This one’s got ground beef, shredded pork, pancetta and a little sausage meat. Oh, and tomatoes, garlic and some onion. But you knew that.
All that’s left to do now is start layering, just as you would with any lasagne. Layer of sauce on the bottom, slab of polenta, like that.
In the middle and on top I run a cheese grater (with Romano here) over the meat sauce. (There’s no ricotta or mozzarella in this version, but I would not stop you from adding it to your own.)
After about an hour or so in the oven (at 350 F), the first forty minutes covered in aluminum foil, you have got yourself one extraordinarily satisfying “lasagne.” Even if it’s really polenta.
And don’t forget to wait awhile before cutting into the thing. It doesn’t need to rest as long as a real lasagne, but fifteen or twenty minutes wouldn’t hurt.
What, you’re in a hurry?