Tag Archives: pasta

A friend in deed

3 Mar


For purposes of this discussion the man above, known to many of you as “my friend Joe,” shall heretofore be referred to as San Giuseppe.


That’s right, the man’s a freaking saint. And I can prove it.


He just traveled all the way from Cold Spring, New York, to Bologna, Italy, just to do me a favor. If you’re counting that’s roughly 4,100 miles—each way.


Why would a man do such a thing?


Simple. So that I could shut up already and start producing a pasta shape that I have been yelling about—very often in his earshot—for nearly two years now.

You see, the last time I was in Bologna I came into possession of this totally awesome solid brass pasta extruder known as a torchietto.



Here is the torchietto right here, equipped with the spaghetti die that it came with.

Nice, huh? And the spaghetti that it makes ain’t too shabby either.

What I neglected to put hands on when picking up the torchietto in Bologna was an accompanying die for making passatelli. Passatelli is a simple pasta, in the shape of spaghetti only thicker in width and much shorter in length. It’s not made with flour but with breadcrumbs, egg and cheese. Traditionally it’s served very simply in a clear broth, or brodo


Like so. 

This, in fact, is a truly authentic passatelli en brodo, the one that I very much enjoyed at Ristorante Cesarina on Via Santo Stefano in Bologna the last time I was there. 

I love passatelli en brodo. And really want to make the stuff right here in my kitchen. 


But I couldn’t. Not without the solid brass die that I had so knuckeheadedly left behind at the ancient shop where the torchietto was discovered and purchased.


When he heard about this my friend Joe—at this point he had not yet achieved sainthood—was as ticked off about my oversight as I was. Not so much because he craved a taste of homemade passatelli but because, well, Joe is even more obsessive about getting things right the first time than I am.

“How could you even think of leaving that place without the passatelli die in hand?” he squawked. “You make me crazy sometimes, you know that.”

It is sometimes said that having friends who speak their mind freely is a blessing.

I suppose.


Only moments ago I received this photograph via email. It’s the passatelli die that San Giuseppe just picked up for me in Bologna. 
“I’m overnighting it as soon as I get home next week,” he wrote. “If I had any trust in the Italian postal system, believe me, I’d have overnighted it from here already.”
I informed my recently beatified friend that overnighting the die would not be necessary, that I had waited this long for the die and surely could wait a bit longer. 
“You’re already eating passatelli in your head,” he shot back, knowing how closely I had been following his movements around Italy these past weeks, anticipating the exact date and time that the die and he would come together. “No reason to torture you by making you wait any longer.” 
And so there you have it. Soon a package will arrive and in probably no time at all I’ll be at work preparing what will hopefully be a successful passatelli en brodo—in my own kitchen.


Thanks to my very dear friend Saint Joe.


Stay tuned.

Pasta with kale & beans

31 Jan

If not for the anchovy this could have made it to the Vegetarian Recipe Index.

Oh well, at least it’s reasonably healthy. My doctor would approve, I think. He’s the one who keeps yammering on about how awesome swell his “plant-based diet” has been treating him.

Yeah, whatever.

Beans and pasta is good winter dish. It won’t kill me to toss something green in every once in a while, right? And this kale stuff’s got a ton of Vitamin K, or at least that’s what the doc tells me. What Vitamin K’s good for I couldn’t tell you, but the leafy green makes for a nice addition to this pasta and that’s good enough for me.

Did I mention how easy-peasy this dish is? No? Well, it is.

In a large pot of well-salted water blanch the kale for several minutes, until tender. Remove the kale from the water with tongs or a slotted spoon. Don’t throw away the water because we’ll use it to cook the pasta. After the kale is cool enough to work with chop it into pieces around an inch wide.

In a large pan saute four or so garlic cloves, some hot pepper to taste and a few anchovy filets.

After two or three minutes stir in the kale.

Then add a can of cannellini beans (drained of the liquid) and saute at medium heat.

Cook whatever pasta shape you like in the salted water that you cooked the kale in. I went with strozzapreti (“priest-strangler” in Italian), and this is around a half pound.

When your pasta is al dente add it to the pan with the kale and beans and incorporate, using some of the pasta water to moisten.

Plate and top with some grated cheese.

Oh, and if you run into my doctor give him an earful about how good I’ve been eating lately, okay.

Just don’t mention the porterhouse that I scored for tonight.

How (not) to make agnolotti

5 Nov

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. — Mark Twain

I’ll be straight with you, okay. If I called this stuff agnolotti in the Piedmont, the region in Italy where the pasta shape is most common, I’d be sent packing like the Brutto Americano that I am. Strictly speaking, agnolotti are filled with roasted meats or vegetables. Add cheese to the mix and, well, you’ve got yourself some ravioli is what you’ve got.

I knew this going in. A perfectly acceptable agnolotti filling (three parts roasted parsnips to one part leeks, all nicely caramelized) was resting in the food processor, waiting for me to crack open yet another bottle of vino rosso when…

I just had to notice the one-pound tub of ricotta in the fridge, thereby reaching both for it and a little lemon zest.

Just, y’know, to screw things up.

Why anybody playing with a full deck would further listen to a knucklehead who would act in such a way is a mystery.

And yet here we are.

Might as well have a go at creating the shape of agnolotti.

Take about 3 cups of flour (I use double zero) and create a well in the middle. Mix together three large eggs, three or four egg yolks, one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and a half teaspoon salt.

Using a fork, slowly incorporate the flour into the egg mix. Don’t rush it; just gradually, and in a circular motion, bring the flour into the egg a little at a time until a dough starts to form.

At this stage you’re ready to work the dough with your hands.

Pasta dough isn’t like pastry dough and so you don’t need to worry about being delicate with it. Just keep working it until the egg and flour are fully incorporated.

Whe a nice dough ball forms scrape away any remaining flour from your work surface. On the clean surface keep working the dough until it’s nice and smooth. If the dough feels too wet dust the surface with a little flour and incorporate it into the dough ball. The dough shouldn’t feel sticky when you touch it, but it shouldn’t be dry either. Again, don’t worry about being delicate. You could work pasta dough all night long and not mess it up.

When you’re through working the dough wrap it in plastic and let it rest. Most people allow the dough to sit at room temperature for a few hours before making their pasta, which is fine. However, I prefer to make my dough a day in advance and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Make sure to allow the dough to come up to room temperature before rolling out sheets of pasta for the agnolotti.

Roll a thin sheet of pasta dough around 4 inches wide and lay down a line of filling along one edge. A pastry bag is ideal but I just put the filling in a plastic bag and cut a small hole in one corner.

Fold the dough over the filling from the edge.

And fold again into a small tube.

Using your fingers press down along the tube in increments of around 1 1/2 inches.

Then use your cutting tool in the indentations you made with your fingers.

And there you have it: Agnolotti.

Or not.

Garlic scape aglio e olio

6 Jul

When you have more than 200 head of garlic growing in the garden this is the time of year people start showing up.

“What you doing there?” asked a neighbor I had not seen since early winter. “Those garlic scapes you’re cutting?”

The woman left with a bag filled with 20 or so of my scapes. She said that she would make a pesto, which is what many people will do. I said that she ought to try this aglio e olio with a few of the scapes, but I’m pretty certain that she wasn’t paying any attention.

Her loss.

A simple aglio e olio using garlic scapes instead of cloves is a great change of pace. And this is the only time of year that we get to do it.

Get yourself around four or five scapes.

Chop them up like so. (Get your pasta going, by the way, because this won’t take very long at all.)

Saute at medium heat in plenty of olive oil with three or four anchovy filets and a little chopped hot pepper.

When your pasta is al dente add it to the pan, along with some of the well-salted pasta water, then turn up the heat to high and incorporate.

If only my neighbor had been listening.

Just don’t call it Bolognese

25 Apr

There isn’t a tomato in sight here. Those reddish/orangeish spots you see? Carrots. Not tomatoes. Like I said.

Aside from that single omission, what we have here is your basic (and very tasty) Bolognese sauce, or, more properly, ragu.

Except that this isn’t a Bolognese ragu at all. Because a Bolognese must include at least a little bit of tomato. You can call it a Bolognese if it doesn’t have tomato, as many people do. But you—and they—would be wrong to do so.

You want a true Bolognese? Then click right here and I’ll show you one. Otherwise bear with me while we prepare what most people call a “White Bolognese.” Most people, that is, except for the ones in Bologna, Italy, home to the classic ragu. And me, of course.

This is pretty simple stuff. Two large carrots, three celery stalks, a medium-size onion and around 1/4 pound of pancetta, all diced pretty fine.

In a dutch oven slowly brown the pancetta in olive oil at a low heat.

When the pancetta has lightly browned (not too crispy) add the vegetables and 1/2 cup of dry white wine or vermouth and cook at medium to high heat until the wine has evaporated.

Here I’ve finely diced 1 pound of beef (boneless short rib here) and around 1/4 pound of pork (boneless rib). Feel free to use just a pound of beef (even ground), as I was just playing around by adding a little pork. Hell, I’d planned on throwing in a couple chicken livers but forgot that I’d bought them and so they stayed in the fridge. Dammit!

Once the wine evaporates add the meat and allow it to brown lightly.

The add around two cups of homemade stock (I used chicken stock, but only because I didn’t have any beef stock left in the freezer).

As the sauce is simmering (at medium-low heat) keep a small pot filled with a quart of whole milk on extremely low heat. Every 15 minutes or so stir in a little milk until it’s used up. In around two hours the sauce will be done.

Even though I wasn’t making a Bolognese I thought it’d be nice to use one of the brass pasta cutters we picked up in Bologna last year. But you go ahead and use any pasta you like.

This is a shot of the unadulterated end result, but I highly recommend topping the pasta with some Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Oh, and if you’re not in a hurry, prepare the sauce a day in advance, not the day you want to eat it. This is definitely the kind of thing that improves overnight.

No matter what you call it.

Chestnut Carbonara

3 Apr

I’m the last guy to mess with tradition. Ask anybody who has eaten in my home when I am working the line and all will tell you the same thing: The guy leans heavily towards perfecting the classics, not merely approximating or (gasp!) reinventing them.

Take Spaghetti alla Carbonara. It took me years to get this seemingly simple Roman classic right—a lot of them. When I did finally manage it (“The Best Spaghetti Carbonara“) I never looked back.

Until last night, that is. For reasons that cannot be explained I spent the entire day pondering how the addition of chestnuts—yes, chestnuts—might impact a classic carbonara.

Scratch that, actually. I spent the entire day convinced that the addition of chestnuts would make an absolutely terrific addition to this classic. So what if a Web search around midday discovered virtually no evidence that anybody else in the culinary universe had come to the same conclusion.

Whaddyagonnado?

So, this is around one-third pound of my homemade pancetta. It’s what I begin every carbonara with. You can use pancetta, or guanciale, or even thick-cut bacon.

Chop the meat into small, thick chunks, like so. (Of course, this is also a good time to get your pasta water going, as this won’t take very much time at all.)

This is around a quarter pound of cooked-and-peeled chestnuts, which should also be chopped, like so.

This is three large eggs, one egg yolk, and 1/2 cup of grated and mixed Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses.

Mix the egg and cheese together and then add a good dose of freshly grated black pepper.

In a large skillet cook the pancetta in olive oil, slowly and at a low flame, until lightly browned. Stir in the chestnuts and saute for another minute, then turn off the heat and wait for three minutes before proceeding further.

After the pan with the pancetta and chestnuts has cooled for three minutes add the egg and cheese mixture and let it stand until your pasta is cooked.

When your pasta is al dente add it to the pan and quickly incorporate. The hot pasta and slightly warmed egg and cheese mixure should provide ample heat to cook the egg to proper carbonara consistency. If not, and the egg remains very wet, carefully apply just a little flame to finish things off—but be very careful, as too much heat will scramble the eggs.

All that’s left to do now is plate the pasta (I used bucatini here, which works well with carbonara), grate some cheese over it, and serve.

I was right about this being a swell idea, by the way. But take the recipe out for a spin and let me know what you think.

Chestnut Carbonara
Recipe

1/3 pound pancetta, diced into cubes
1/4 pound cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 large eggs, plus one egg yolk
1/2 cup freshly grated mix of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. pasta (spaghetti is traditional but here I used bucatini)


Heat the oil in a large pan over low heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until lightly browned, then stir in the chestnuts and sauté another minute. Turn off the heat and let cool for 3 minutes.
Mix 3 large eggs and one egg yolk in a bowl with the grated cheese and a generous dose of black pepper. Pour the mixture into the warm pan and stir.
When the pasta is al dente add it to the pan and stir vigorously until thoroughly coated. Plate, top with grated cheese and serve.

Ragu alla Bolognese

14 Dec


Pay attention because this is important: It only looks like a pasta course you have seen me prepare here a couple hundred times before.

But it isn’t. Until a few weeks ago I didn’t even know such a thing as this existed. I swear.

What you have here is the official, government-sanctioned recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese, commonly referred to as Bolognese Sauce. The recipe was “notarized and deposited” in the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Bologna on October 17th, 1982, by “solemn decree” of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (the Italian Academy of Cuisine).  

Who knew?

Turns out, not many. My friend Biancamaria is from Bologna and she never heard of any “official” Ragu alla Bolognese recipe. Which is saying something because, as she tells me, “when I was a child every Sunday we had ragu.” 

I didn’t catch up with Bianca on a recent visit to Bologna (she’s living in the English countryside now with Massimo and their daughter Delfina) but on at least four occasions I got to sample authentic Ragu alla Bolognese. And it’s nothing like many of the so-called Bolognese sauces you’ll come across elsewhere. 

For starters, a lot of “Bolognese” sauces are basically tomato sauces that have meat in them. A real Bolognese is a meat sauce that has only a touch of tomato. The earliest examples of Ragu alla Bolognese didn’t include any tomato at all. And forget about using pasta shapes like spaghetti; nobody in Bologna would even think of pairing their ancient ragu with anything but a flat, fresh pasta such as tagliatelle. Just ask for tagliatelle at a restaurant in Bologna and watch what you get. Same thing if you ask only for ragu.

Anyway, and as you no doubt have surmised, I just had to give the “notorized” recipe a shot. I’ve reprinted it in its entirety below, but here is the link as well. Just a note about the ingredients: My quantities are not exactly those shown in the recipe. I have, however, made the necessary adjustments to follow the recipe as closely as possible.



Start out by finely chopping equal amounts of onion, carrot and celery. Here we’ve got just under 3 ounces of each.



Finely dice around 1/2 lb. of pancetta and then brown in a Dutch oven that’s large enough to accommodate all the recipe’s ingredients.



Add the onion, carrot and celery to the browned pancetta and saute until the vegetables are nicely softened.



Okay, about the meat. The recipe calls for ground skirt steak, but skirt wasn’t available and so I went with tender hanger steak instead. Rather than grind the meat I decided to very finely dice it, as I have seen both approaches taken. This is one pound of beef.



Once the vegetables have softened add the beef and allow it to brown.



Then add 1/2 cup of wine (I went with white but red is also approved) and, here’s the tricky part, a small amount of tomato. The recipe calls for either tomato sauce or highly concentrated tomato paste. I made a small quantity of very simple tomato sauce and added around a cup here. I also added a little homemade beef stock, as this is also mentioned in the recipe.



At this point things are supposed to simmer for two hours, at a low flame. But don’t expect to make yourself scarce for these couple hours. Because little by little you’ll need to stir in very small amounts of whole milk, at fairly regular intervals, until you’ve gone through one full cup.



Speaking of milk, an “optional but advisable” addition to the sanctioned recipe is panna di cottura. Basically that means whole milk that has been slowly simmered to half its original volume. That’s around 1 1/3 quarts of milk you see in the pot there. While the sauce was slowly simmering so was the milk, until it was halved. 

After two hours of simmering (and only a slight addition of salt and pepper to taste) this is what the ragu looked like. But we aren’t finished yet.



The next step is to slowly stir in the panna di cottura (the reduced whole milk). Since this step was “advisable” I decided to throw caution to the wind and use up all the milk.

I know, this looks awfully cream sauce-like, doesn’t it. I was nervous too.



But it turns out I didn’t need to be. This was a damned fine ragu that I’ll be working on until it tastes like I’m back in Bologna. 

If that doesn’t work, there’s always Alitalia.

The Official Ragu alla Bolognese
Reprinted from Accademia Italiana della Cucina. 

Ingredients

300 gr. beef cartella (thin skirt)
150 gr. pancetta, dried
50 gr. carrot
50 gr. celery stalk
50 gr. onion
5 spoons tomato sauce or 20 gr. triple tomato extract
1 cup whole milk
Half cup white or red wine, dry and not frizzante
Salt and pepper, to taste.


Procedure

The pancetta, cut into little cubes and chopped with a mezzaluna chopping knife, is melted in a saucepan; the vegetables, once again well chopped with the mezzaluna, are then added and everything is left to stew softly. Next the ground beef is added and is left on the stovetop, while being stirred constantly, until it sputters. The wine and the tomato cut with a little broth are added and everything left to simmer for around two hours, adding little by little the milk and adjusting the salt and black pepper. Optional but advisable is the addition of the panna di cottura of a litre of whole milk at the end of the cooking.

The gift of love (and pasta)

29 Oct

I can be pretty obsessive about fine hand tools. Once, when thumbing through Andrew Carmellini’s book Urban Italian, I noticed the most beautiful pasta-cutting tools I’d ever seen. They were made of solid brass and hardwood and I knew right away that I had to own them. But the tools were nowhere to be found at the time. Believe me, I looked. Everywhere.

And so I did the only thing left that I could think of.

“Are those pasta-cutters in the book yours?” I asked Carmellini after tracking him down in New York. “And if they are, where did you get them?”

For a hotshot big city chef the man was kind and more than accommodating. Unfortunately, he couldn’t say where he had purchased the tools.

“I was in Italy, traveling around the Emilia-Romagna,” Carmellini explained. “That’s when I picked up the cutters. I just don’t remember where. Sorry.”

That was eight years ago. Earlier this month I found the tools in Bologna, the capital of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, at a 233-year-old shop called Antica Aguzzeria Del Cavallo. The pasta cutters you see above are mine now, not Carmellini’s. They were a gift from My Associate and traveling companion, a woman whose generosity humbles me like nothing else I can conjure.

And she didn’t stop there. Resting on the same shelf as the pasta cutters was this solid brass torchietto, a press (or extruder) for making things like spaghetti, passatelli, bucatini and other shapes that require extrusion. (In the U.S. you can find this at Fante’s Kitchen Shop.)

And there’s more. Leaving the store we spotted this in the display window outside. It’s a solid brass cutter for making medium-size noodles like fettuccine and, in all honesty, its beauty stopped both of us in our tracks.

“We’re not leaving here without that,” said the woman, removing her arm from mine and turning back into the ancient shop for another round of gift giving. “And don’t you dare try and convince me that you don’t want it.”

I’m lucky that way. In the next few weeks I’ll try and live up to this extraordinary generosity by putting these fine gifts to good use.

Stand by.

Pasta with corn & gorgonzola

8 Sep

Sometimes it really is ALL about the ingredients.

I was in New York visiting the family and naturally made a stop at my favorite Italian food store on the planet, D. Coluccio & Sons in Brooklyn. If you’ve never been then do yourself a big favor and get a move on. Now!

Anyhow, they had this beautiful hunk of cheese that I’d never tasted before: a Gorgonzola-Mascarpone blend. One of the cheesemongers, a new guy that I didn’t know, offered me a try and I liked it so much that I bought the entire two-pound piece.

Nothing succeeds like excess.

By the time I got home to Maine, the best thing waiting for me (besides about 10 more pounds of ripe tomatoes in the garden and, okay, the woman) was corn season. After plowing through an unknown quantity of fresh-from-the-farm corn and a not insignificant amount of the cheese, the idea of putting the two together came to me.

Normally I steam corn but in this case I filled a big pot with water, tossed in a handful of salt, and blanched two ears for three minutes. Do not throw away the water. It’s what you’ll cook the pasta in. Get it?

After the corn has cooled a bit carve off the kernels and set aside.

In a large pan saute three or four garlic cloves in olive oil until tender, then add one medium-size chopped fresh tomato. Cook for two or three minutes. This is also a good time to get your pasta started in the pot that you cooked the corn in.

Add the corn and several basil leaves.

Then add about 1/4 pound of the cheese. If you can’t find the Gorgonzola-Mascarpone then maybe use a mild gorgonzola instead.

Stir it all up, add some freshly ground black pepper, then cook at medium heat for around five minutes.

When the pasta is ready add it to the pan and incorporate. Make sure to save some of the pasta water and add as needed to keep things moist.

My guess is that corn season will be around a little while longer. As for the Gorgonzola-Mascarpone, well, I’m always looking for a reason to drive down and visit la famiglia!

Orecchiette with broccoli & pancetta

15 Jun

I was on my own last night, and had planned on heading out for a burger. But then I got to searching the travel websites for a very-much-hoped-for European trip this fall. Naturally the search brought me to Italy and, well, there went the beef-and-beer plans.

This whole thing took around half an hour. And everything I needed was already in the house. So was plenty of wine, of course, and so I cracked open a bottle and got to work.

In enough well-salted water to cook a pound of pasta, blanch a large head of broccoli, or a couple medium-size heads, then set aside. Do not throw away the water; you’ll be using it to cook the pasta.

At medium heat slowly saute around 1/3-pound of cubed pancetta (or bacon if you prefer) in olive oil until lightly crisp, then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon.

Saute 4 or 5 sliced garlic cloves in the same pan, along with some hot pepper if you like.

Once the garlic has softened add the pancetta and the broccoli to the pan and incorporate.

After the orecchiette is cooked add it to the pan using a large slotted spoon. Again, do not throw away the pasta water just yet.

All that’s left to do now is add around three ladles full of the pasta water and incorporate.

Oh, and top with some grated cheese.

But you knew that.