Tag Archives: pasta sauce

Almond & tomato pesto

16 Feb

Not all pesto is green, you know.

This Pesto Trapanese, from the town of Trapani in Sicily, is adapted from the recipe in Giorgio Locatelli’s “Made in Sicily.” I was tasked with doing the pasta course for a dinner a few evenings ago, and this wound up being a pretty big hit.

It doesn’t get much easier than this, either. All we’re talking about is almonds, fresh tomatoes, garlic and mint (yes, mint, not basil). The only thing that’s cooked is the pasta.

Lightly toast around 1/2 cup of almonds in a 350 degree F oven for several minutes, then chop.

Mix the chopped almonds with four garlic cloves and either pound together using a mortar and pestle or run through a food processor. I did a little of both here, and made sure not to make the mixture too fine. If you prefer things smoother, even completely smooth, that’s okay too; just run it through the food processor longer.

In a mixing bowl place the almond/garlic mix, 1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh mint (Locatelli’s recipe calls for three times that amount of mint), around 1 pound of skinned and diced fresh tomatoes, and a good hit of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Incorporate all the ingredients and then stir in around 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Be sure to use a good quality oil. Since the pesto isn’t cooked the flavor of the oil is important.

Mix the pesto with your pasta of choice (this is homemade fettuccine). And don’t discard all of your (well-salted) pasta water, because you may need to add some of it to the pasta if it’s a little too dry. After plating top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano and serve.

FOR MORE RECIPES: Click here for my Pasta Recipe Index; click here for the Vegetarian Recipe Index.

Lamb & chickpea ragu

1 Feb

When a person works very hard, and for many hours, solely to produce a product that will make me happy, well, the least that I can do is cook the poor woman some dinner.

Shyster Jersey Lawyer Friend went above and beyond this past Christmas. Way, way, way above and beyond. She showed up at the house one day with a box big enough to accommodate a goose down parka. Except that it was packed with Sicilian fig cookies!

If you know these cookies (cucidati as they are known in Italy) then you appreciate how much work goes into making them. Most people make sure to have plenty of helping hands around on “cucidati day,” but Shy went it alone. Which explains the note that accompanied her extraordinary gift: “I love you Meatball,” it said. “But never again!!!”

And so when my friend came over for dinner the other evening I made certain to prepare a meal that incorporated some of her very favorites: lamb, chickpeas, and homemade pasta.

This is around 1.5 pounds of well-trimmed lamb shoulder, which I’ve cut into cubes and liberally seasoned with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Lightly dredge the seasoned lamb in all-purpose flour.

In a medium size dutch oven sear the lamb in a good amount of olive oil, then remove to a plate and set aside.

Add 1.5 cups of a good quality red wine (I used an inexpensive Nero d’Avola). Turn the heat up to high and reduce until much of the wine has evaporated and what’s left of the liquid is somewhat thickened.

Add 3 tablespoons of butter.

Add 2 chopped celery stalks, 4 chopped carrots, 1 chopped large onion, 6 chopped garlic cloves, and a healthy dose of fresh rosemary and thyme.

After the vegetables have softened stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons of tomato paste.

Then add 4 cups of chicken stock.

Return the lamb to the pot, stir it into the liquid, and simmer slowly, not at a rapid boil.

Around 30 minutes after adding the lamb toss in a (drained) 15-ounce can of chickpeas, and continue to simmer slowly for another hour (making the total simmering time around 90 minutes). Season to taste.

Some people may choose to skip the addition of chickpeas. If you are among those, rest assured that the ragu is just fine without them, and with no furher changes to the recipe.

Personally, I really like having the chickpeas in there. Shy seemed to enjoy them as well. Which, on this particular evening, was all that really mattered to me.

Wonder if it’ll help score me some more fig cookies next Christmas.

Mister Batali’s oxtail ragú

24 Nov

Show of hands. How many of you have ever awoken on a brilliant Sunday morning in the deep of Autumn, obsessed not with love or leisure but with oxtails?


This urge of mine arose completely out of the blue, mind you. I had gone to bed harboring no plans whatever of cooking oxtails the next day. The subject had not come up in conversation, and there wasn’t a single oxtail in the freezer crying out to be had at.

Thing is, I listen to the voices inside my head. Always. By 9 a.m. I had spoken to every butcher within 30 miles who was at work on Sunday and well before noontime the oxtails and I were back at the house, safe and sound.

I know. I worry about me too sometimes.

An oxtail ragú recipe in Mario Batali’s “The Babbo Cookbook” is pretty simple and so I went with that. This is about 5 pounds of oxtails, liberally seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Dredge the oxtails in all-purpose flour.

In a Dutch oven sear the meat on both sides in very hot olive oil until golden brown. This will need to be done in a couple of batches, as five pounds won’t fit all at once, not even in my most gigantic (13-quart) Le Creuset.

Remove the meat and set aside. Add two sliced onions and saute until softened but not browned.

Add 4 cups of red wine (I used an inexpensive aglianico), one cup of a simple tomato sauce, 2 cups chicken stock, and fresh thyme. Let this come to a boil, then add the meat, cover and place in an oven preheated to 375 F.  (Note on the tomato sauce: I always have some around. If you don’t, and aren’t in the mood to make some, I’d suggest adding a couple garlic cloves, some herbs and one or two diced carrots when sauteing the onions and then adding canned crushed tomatoes at this stage. I’m sure that’ll work out just fine.)

In about 90 minutes check and see if the meat is nicely softened. If it isn’t just let it cook a little longer. This batch was done in 2 hours, at which point I removed the oxtails from the sauce, allowed them to cool, then picked the meat off the bones.

All that’s left to do now is add the meat back to the sauce and reheat.

That first night I served the ragú over potato gnocchi, which you already saw above. But a couple days later I went with a fresh cavatelli.

The ragú was even better after a couple days. But these things usually are, which is why I’ll normally cook something like this at least a day in advance.

Unless, of course, the voices inside my head command otherwise.

Oxtail Ragú
From Mario Batali’s “The Babbo Cookbook

5 lbs oxtail, cut into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
Flour, for dredging
2 medium onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 cups red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups basic tomato sauce
2 tbs. fresh thyme leaves
Pecorino romano, for grating

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Trim the excess fat from the oxtails and season liberally with salt and pepper.
In a 6- to 8-quart, heavy bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until it is just smoking. Quickly dredge the oxtails in flour and sear them on all sides until browned, turning with long-handled tongs. Remove the browned oxtail to a plate and set aside.
Add the onions to the same pan and cook them until slightly browned. Add the wine, stock, tomato sauce and thyme, and bring the mixture to a boil. Return the oxtails to the pot, submerging them in the liquid, and return the pot to a boil. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone.
Remove the pan from the oven and carefully remove the oxtails with long-handled tongs. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred into small pieces with a fork.  Discard the bones.
With a small ladle, skim the fat from the surface of the sauce. Return the shredded meat to the pot.  Place over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and allow the sauce to reduce to a very thick ragú. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve over the pasta of your choice, topped with grated Pecorino.

The red jars

10 May

I’m not an expert in store-bought pasta sauce; fact, I rarely eat it.
My first experience with the stuff didn’t go so well. I was but an adolescent meatball, and my mother (sometimes referred to as “my sainted mother” but not always) tried to pawn off a jar on my two brothers and me.
I was on to her in a flash.
“What kinda gravy’s this Ma?” (To my people it is gravy, not sauce.)
Nothing. Perhaps she no hear.
“Ma. The gravy. I said…”
“The gravy. It’s different. It ain’t…”
Oh, no. The second taste nailed it. For sure.
It ain’t yours!
She was three feet away, and yet my mother could not look at her dearest son. (Not this dearest son anyway; the other two dearest sons she seemed fine with.)
“Oofah! Eat your pizza, would you? It’ll get cold.”
We were in fact eating my mother’s homemade pie, usually so delicious, a real treat. Joseph and Michael were plowing through the blackened round pans, as if nothing were horribly amiss (Joe could be forgiven this, as he was maybe ten; Mike, the eldest, cannot be). My brothers wouldn’t look at me either; they were too busy scarfing up slices while I was occupied.
“Why won’t you look at me, Ma?”
This time I laughed, and after a moment so did she.
Madonna mia! You’re such a pain in the ass, you know that. I should make you go hungry.”
Which is when I got up from the table, went to the trash and did a terrible thing: I embarrassed my poor sainted (the designation is warranted here) mother. A woman who cooked fabulously flavorful meals — always from scratch and in abundance — practically every day of her life, and not only for her own family but for others as well. A woman who decided, for some reason this day, to cheat a little — just this once — and let somebody else help out for a change.
I can only imagine how hard it must have been, picking a jar off the grocery store shelf. It was a tortuous choice for an Old World woman like Ma. I’m sure of it.
And yet there I was. Calling her out. Picking from the trash her dark red secret, an empty glass jar of (ugh!) Ragu. (Recycling wasn’t around back then, so don’t have a heart attack, okay.)
To this day I am haunted by my dreadful treatment of that wonderful woman.
Which brings me to the point of why we are (marginally) here. (We are still here, yes?)
See, I was at Micucci grabbing a slice the other day and as usual started poking around the store. There’s no good reason for me to do this, of course; I know every inch of the place, likely as well as anybody whose name is Micucci, and so discovering a new item is unlikely. (Note to those who do not live here in Portland: Micucci is a Maine version of an Italian salumeria. It is a well-meaning family-operated establishment; I shall leave it at that.) Anyway, not long ago they introduced their own line of pasta sauces, concocted by “our own celebrity chef and baker, Stephen Lanzalotta.” Said chef is one fine baker of breads and pastries, and his pizza is a beacon is our small town. (Were he a pizzaiolo in Brooklyn, land of my people, he would surely be a star; I am sure of this.)
The sauces were merely a curiousity to me, but on this day, ever in search of blog-worthy topics, I picked up a jar of the puttanesca. Oddly making certain that no witnesses were about to see me — perhaps as Ma did that fateful day so long ago.
There are, it appears, many ways to connect with those we have lost.
Anyways, no sooner was the jar in hand than the notion of a competition rose up (a shameless attempt to boost local readership, no doubt). And so here’s what I did: I picked three other sauces, all puttanesca. Since Micucci is local, I chose one other local shop, Pemberton’s, out of Gorham. Then I threw in a Massachusetts outfit, the oft-seen Scarpetta. And then, to make things interesting, I added my brother Joe’s favorite store-bought sauce, Rao’s, of New York.
And this is how it went down.
4th Place. The Pemberton’s label states that they “have created a new twist” to puttanesca by using flavorful Calamata olives rather than black olives. The twist is not so new; three of the four sauces did same. The taste seemed kind of murky, but the sauce is loaded with salient ingredients. And the Gorham folks gets extra points for using chick peas in the recipe.
3rd Place. My plastic container of Scarpetta’s “fresh pasta sauce” had a freshness date of January 30, 2011, so food manufacturers’ interpretation of “fresh” may be different from yours and mine. In any event, you best LOVE capers; otherwise, don’t go near this stuff. It’s got a bright tomato flavor and lots of chunks of goodness inside; it’s just not for me.

2nd Place. I can’t look at the Rao’s label without getting grumpy over the fact that I will likely never have a meal at the oh-so-exclusive, no-outsiders-allowed original restaurant in New York. Nevertheless, the Rao’s sauce was the freshest tasting of the lot, by far, but was a bit lacking in complexity. (Did I just say “lacking in complexity”? What is happening to me?) This one’s the best of the bunch if used as a cooking sauce, like over chicken or other meats.

1st Place. Micucci is lucky indeed to have hooked up with Lanzalotta (I know, I sound like I’m in the tank for this guy, but the truth is that I’ve never actually met the man). This is one very concentrated, complex flavor profile you got here, folks, loaded with good stuff, and plenty of tasty olives. If you’re looking for a jar of sauce to pour over pasta that needs no doctoring whatsoever, this is it.

I think Ma might have liked it too.