Tag Archives: pasta

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 best potato gnocchi recipe

29 Oct

I’m not the artist here, just the technician.

The man responsible for these truly awesome gnocchi is the New York chef and restaurateur Andrew Carmellini. It’s his recipe that I used, and I have used it ever since first coming across it several years ago. (Here is the link to the original and complete recipe.)

There’s a good reason Carmellini titled this recipe “The Best Gnocchi.”

When it comes to potato gnocchi that is exactly what they are.

I have never made a lighter, more luxurious potato gnocchi than I have when using this recipe. And so if I am not making my own cheese gnocchi recipe then I am using Carmellini’s potato version.

If you enjoy a fine potato gnocchi then I strongly suggest you do the same.

Start with around two pounds of Idaho potatoes. Clean them, put them on a baking sheet, and into the oven they go (425 degrees F should do it), until the flesh is nice and soft. These took a little over an hour.

While the potatoes are baking it’s best to get all of your other ingredients together and ready to go. The reason is that you’ll want to mix them into the potatoes while they’re still warm out of the oven. This is very important. You do NOT want the potatoes to cool down before mixing the gnocchi dough.

What you’ll need is 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon course ground black pepper. In addition you’ll need around 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour on hand.

When the potatoes are cooked slice them open and scoop out all the flesh while it’s still warm.

Run the potato through a ricer (use the smallest die) and into a mixing bowl.

Immediately add all the other ingredients, except for the flour.

And gently incorporate, using your fingers.

Then add 1 cup of the flour and very gently mix all of the ingredients together until a dough forms. The dough should hold together but not be sticky; if it does feel sticky work in a little bit more flour. Note: Do not take the term “gently” lightly. A successful gnocchi dough requires a very light touch. Anything more forceful will make for a heavy, tough gnocchi.

Please. Trust me on this.

Form the dough into a ball and turn it onto a well-floured work surface.

With a pastry cutter (or just a knife) cut an inch-or-so-wide piece of dough from the ball.

And lightly roll it out using your fingers. (You see that I said “lightly,” right?)

This is about what you’ll wind up with after rolling.

Each strand you roll out then gets cut into inch-wide gnocchi, like so.

Just a note: This recipe will easily feed four people. If you don’t want to cook all the gnocchi at once then lay some out on a well-floured baking sheet and put them in the freezer. Once the gnocchi are fully frozen tranfer them to a freezer bag and store.

Here, of course, we have opted for cooking the gnocchi. (In well-salted water, but you knew that.)

It will only take a couple minutes for the gnocchi to cook; as a rule of thumb figure that when they are all floating atop a rolling boil of water the gnocchi are done. Do NOT empty the gnocchi into a colander, as you might with some other pastas. Take them out of the water using a slotted spoon and transfer into a pan with whatever sauce you plan on using. Then gently stir and transfer the gnocchi to individual plates for serving.

Like so.

I promise that if you take your time and use a gentile hand you will thank me for this recipe.

Just as I thanked Chef Carmellini years ago.

How to make Genovese sauce

25 Sep

The origin of this sauce is unclear.

Though its name implies a specialty of the port town Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region, good luck finding it anywhere near the place. Rather, the onion-based ragu can be gotten in the Campania region of Italy, specifically around the province of Naples.

Don’t ask me why.

Anyhow, my family’s roots just happen to be planted around Naples. And so when the time came to use my newly harvested garden onions to try making this Genovese sauce, I did the sensible thing to seek guidance: I dialed up my Aunt Anna.

“Didn’t I just talk to you a day or two ago?” she asked.

Anna and I speak regularly but not this regularly.

“Yeah, but I forgot to ask you about this sauce I’m in the middle of making.”

“A what?”

“A sauce. I think you used to make it when we were kids.”

After repeating the word sauce four times and spelling it twice, it was clear that my dear aunt and I were getting nowhere together very fast.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying. Here, tell Frank.”

Cousin Frank is Anna’s son in-law, what with him being married to her daughter Josephine. The two of them just happened to be having lunch with both Anna and Aunt Rita when I called.

“Your aunt isn’t wearing her hearing aid,” Frank said by way of introduction. “I honestly don’t know how you two manage to talk on the phone at all.”

It occurred to me to say that the 300 miles separating my aunt and me doesn’t leave us a lot of options, but I was literally in the middle of getting the ragu started for a dinner party later that same day.

Time was of the essence, as this is the kind of ragu that must be cooked for hours or not at all.

“Just ask her if she used to make a pasta sauce that uses a huge amount of onions, and no tomatoes whatsoever,” I told my cousin. “It’s also got meat in it but the onions are the big thing.”

Dutifully Frank relayed my query, though he too had to repeat himself to be understood.

“She’s shaking her head ‘no’,” Frank told me. “And she’s about the grab the phone from my hand, so goodbye, say hi to ….”

“You’re making a tomato sauce without tomatoes?” Anna cried. “What are you, crazy? Why would you do that?”

“Not tomato sauce, Anna. It’s made with onions and meat and it’s Napoletana so I figured you might know it. I’m making it right now, in fact.”

“You have a recipe?” she asked.

“No, that’s why I called you, to see how you might have made it. I’m just kinda winging it here.”

“You’re singing? I thought you were cooking.”

This is about the time I told Anna that I had to go.

“If it turns out good I’ll give you the recipe. Give my love to Rita. And put in your freaking hearing aid, would you.”

“I love you too” is all I heard before my aunt hung up and was gone.

One day, hopefully many many years from now, I am going to miss these conversations.

Whether they make any sense or not.

Anyhow, these are some of the onions from my garden. I wanted to cook something where they would be a central ingredient, which is how the Genovese ragu came to mind.

Start with a good bit of olive oil and around half a stick of butter.

Once the butter has melted add 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of veal stew meat and brown. Then remove the meat and set aside. (Beef or pork would work fine as well.)

After removing the veal add three finely diced carrots, four diced celery stalks and maybe five chopped garlic cloves (I actually used seven). Sauce until softened.

Then add in the veal.

And then add three pounds of sliced onions.

At this point you’ve got a choice of adding some kind of stock or white wine. I went with around a quart of freshly made chicken stock.

Now add some salt and pepper to taste, incorporate, and cover the pot. Turn the heat to around medium and simmer for a few hours, checking and stirring periodically. The onions will release a lot of moisture, and over time they will completely break down. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to add any other liquid at all, but do so if necessary.

This ragu cooked for around four hours. It’s on the thick side, as I believe it should be, but decide for yourself how moist you’d like it. As you can see, the long cooking time didn’t just break down the onion but the veal, too.

As for which pasta to use, aim towards the hearty, not the delicate. I made these mafalde nice and thick and they worked out fine, but something like a rigatoni or paccheri, or even ziti would be perfect.

It turned out pretty well and so I’m going share the recipe with my aunt.

Hopefully she’ll be able to hear me this time.

Pasta with corn, tomato & cheese

17 Sep

My friend Peter is what you might call “an acquired taste.”

He is brash, opinionated, often insulting to those who cross his path. I have never met a person with less skill in editing their own words. Which is saying something considering the place I am from.

This is one of the reasons the man is my friend. I never have to wonder where Peter stands on any issue. He is, without apology, who he is. I admire and respect that.

It also doesn’t hurt that he can grow vegetables better than anybody that I know. With few exceptions, virtually every seedling that I plant in the spring has its beginning in Peter’s greenhouses in the dead of winter. On the property around these greenhouses you’ll find fruit trees of all types, as well as a large field where Peter and his wife Claudia grow potatoes, tomatoes and, of particular interest to us here, sweet corn.

A couple weeks back Peter texted saying that the corn in his field was ready to be picked.

“Come over today or tomorrow and take as much as you want,” he wrote.

Before I could answer Peter was back with the kind of snarky blather that is more his custom.

“Oh, and grab a few ears for your girlfriend Marc while you’re at it.”

See what I mean.

Now, Marc is a regular companion of mine, I’ll admit, but he certainly is not my girlfriend.

He isn’t even a girl. I checked with his wife Beth just yesterday to be sure.

Nonetheless, my mission was to score a couple dozen ears of corn and so the next day my girlfriend and I were trudging through Peter’s corn field stocking up.

Which is how this pretty swell concoction of pasta, tomato, corn and ricotta salata came to be.

We start out, as we do with so many good things, sauteeing some garlic (three or four cloves) and a little hot pepper in a good bit of olive oil.

Once the garlic has softened (but not browned) toss in your tomatoes. We’ve got around three cups’ worth of fresh garden tomatoes here.

The basil plants have been growing wild this year. I figured a handful of them wouldn’t hurt.

You can skip this step if you like. For some reason, probably because I am incapable of thinking about corn without thinking about butter, I found myself adding half a stick just for the hell of it.

You’ll need to give it a taste, of course, but after around 15 or 20 minutes of medium-to-high heat the tomatoes are likely to have turned into a respectable sauce. At which point you can add the corn (around two cups here, blanched and cut from the cob) and lower the heat to a slow simmer.

After the corn has warmed a bit (maybe a minute or two) add a half pound of ricotta salata, cut into small pieces.

Then immediately add your pasta and incorporate.

I blanched and froze a bunch of corn and will try this with canned tomatoes in the dead of winter, when Peter is in his greenhouses getting a jump on spring.

Pasta with fava beans & mint

26 Jun

I can’t look at a fresh fava bean without thinking of an old Japanese man, a round piece of cheese, and a long ago flight from JFK to O’Hare.

Stick with me here. It’ll all make sense in a minute.

See, I was sitting in my usual aisle seat in a three-across setup. The center seat was unoccupied and at the window was the elderly man that I just mentioned. One of the items on the meal tray (remember those?) was a little round cheese snack wrapped in red wax. You know the type, I’m sure.

Evidently, my traveling companion did not. Through the corner of my eye I watched as the man picked up the cheese. He ran his fingers over the shiny red wax, tapped at it a couple of times and then quickly popped the whole thing into his mouth and began to chew.

And chew.

And chew.

I didn’t have the heart to risk having the old man see me unwrap the cheese and eat it the proper way. Why embarrass the guy? And so when the flight attendant came to collect our emptied trays my wax-encased cheese snack was still on it, untouched.

Which is to say that fresh fava beans must first be unwrapped before you make this pretty swell pasta dish with them.

Hey, I’m just trying to help.

This is around two pounds of fresh favas.

When you open the pod this is what you’ll find. Just pop all the beans out and toss the pods.

Rinse the beans in cold water.

Blanch them in well-salted water for a minute. Make sure not to toss the water because you are planning to cook the pasta in it. You are planning on doing that, right?

Using a slotted spoon remove the beans from the boiling water and toss them into an ice bath. This will prevent the favas from becoming overcooked and mushy, which can happen pretty quickly.

What you need to do now is pop the edible bean out from inside the shell, like so.

Just in case you haven’t seen it before, this is what we’re dealing with. The bright green bean on the left is the edible fava; on the right is a bean that’s still in its outer shell.

What I wound up with is around a cup’s worth of cooked favas.

In a large pan saute one large shallot, four or five garlic cloves and some hot pepper in olive oil until softened but not browned.

Add the beans, a dozen or so chopped mint leaves and the zest of one small lemon. Stir and saute for a minute.

Then just stir in your pasta (a half pound here), some pasta water to moisten things (a half cup or so), and maybe 3/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

And that is that.

Ready to serve. And no unnecessary chewing.