About Beth

Beth
Beth, along with her husband, Mike, is co-owner of two Italian Deli/Markets in St. Louis - Viviano’s Festa Italiano. When not creating yummy new menu items for the deli, she’s the pediatric research lab supervisor at Washington University School of Medicine. Read more out about Viviano’s Festa Italiano.

About Irene

Irene
Irene loves to think, read and dream about food. She enjoys cooking & eating in general. Although she demures about her talents, Irene has a finely-tuned palate that her friends envy. She bakes on occasion. The rest of the time she's creating memories with her family and friends. . . or she's learning a new needlecraft technique.

About Deborah

Deborah
Deborah is a wife, mother, grandmother, traveler, bootlegger, and a very poor speller! As Victor Hazan so eloquently puts it, Deborah has chosen Umbria to be the home of her soul. When she can’t be there in body, she spends her free time cooking & reading about Italy. She blogs mostly about food and about trips – past and future – here: Old Shoes New Trip.

About Doug

Doug
Doug lives in Eastern Ontario in a farmhouse built in 1903. He is a retired teacher with four adult children, a wife, a son-in-law, two Irish step-grandchildren and one grandson who he is lucky to hang with a lot. He has way too many books. Doug also blogs at To Slow Time Down.

About Cindy

Cindy
Cindy lives in Eagle River, Alaska where her freezer is always full of salmon, halibut & shrimp. Cindy participates in several regular cooking challenges. You can read more about her cooking and life in the last frontier on her blog, Baked Alaska.

About Sandi

Sandi
Sandi is a true Southerner, but a traveler & Italian cook at heart. She lives in Alabama and knows more about fried green tomatoes than fricassees. Her family owned the WhistleStop Café for many years. Sandi also blogs at Whistlestop Cafe Cooking.

About Jan

Jan
Jan, a serious home cook, has owned “Essentials” since 1992. She is passionate about all things Italian, especially the cuisine & the language. Jan blogs about her travels (next trip Italy May/June of 2010) at: Keep your Feet in the Street.

About Jerry

Jerry
Jerry is a food obsessed Canadian. He learned to love Italian food as a child while eating the meals prepared by his Napolitano uncle. He learned to cook Italian foods by watching his uncle cook these feasts for the family. This love of Italian food has been honed through serious personal experimentation in eating and cooking. Willing to try most anything once, Jerry isn't so sure about tripe! Jerry also blogs at Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!

About Palma

Palma
Palma is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Palm Desert, CA. She’s an Italian-American with a passion for cooking, entertaining, & travel to Italy. She’s always planning her next culinary adventure to Italia on her blog, Palmabella's Passions

About Kim

Kim
Kim is our permanent sub and the image above gives you a good idea of the look on her face when she realized she was drafted. Kim loves to eat, drink, travel and cook - probably in that order. When she's not here, you can find her organizing and leading food, wine and beer tours in Europe as co-owner and operator of GrapeHops or blogging at What I Really Think.

Main

Pasta Archives

May 19, 2010

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Well that was easy.

Marcella refers to this as the simplest of all sauces to make, with a sweet tomato taste. Agreed. Below are all the ingredients called for, including the rigatoni pasta option. The jar in the background is fleur de sel. I like using it whenever I can. I've even brought back some from our visits to Provence, until I discovered I can buy the exact same salt more economically at my local supermarket than at the Friday market in Lourmarin.

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The recipe was so simple, that I thought it might be a bit bland, but I was wrong. It was very pleasant with a distinctive tomato flavour. I'm glad I used fresh, rather than canned tomatoes. I grow a lot of tomatoes in my large vegetable garden - pretty sure tomatoes straight from the garden would taste even better. Here's the end result:

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There's not much more to comment on about this recipe. The whole dish takes about an hour from start to finish. Of course, I didn't choose this recipe. It was the luck of the draw to get such an easy dish to prepare.

But, would I make it again? .... Maybe (it's dead simple, quick and tasty), but I will try some adjustments to the ingredients. The recipe calls for 5 tablespoons of butter (the stick in front of the onion), which seems like a lot to be putting into any recipe these days. A little less sweetness and a little more tomato flavour would be OK with me.

May 20, 2010

Tomato Sauce with Olive Oil and Chopped Vegetables

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It's Cindy again, and I'm so excited because it's now my turn to move on to the Pasta chapter of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I absolutely love pasta. If you love pasta also, and want a simple but extremely delicous sauce, you have got to try this one. I just loved it! This recipe is unique in that the carrots, celery, and onions are put in with the tomatoes without being sauteed first. Marcella says this is called "a crudo". So here's how easy it is-you open a can of imported plum tomatoes, cut them up and put them in a saucepan. You then cut up celery, carrots, and onion and add that along with salt to the tomatoes. You cook for 30 minutes, then add olive oil, and cook for another 15 minutes. That's it! You have this wonderful sauce. It's very fresh-tasting. The carrot adds a real sweetness to the sauce, and the vegetables remain a little crunchy adding a nice texture. Marcella suggests serving this with a factory-made pasta like spaghettini or penne. I chose penne. This is one pasta sauce that I know I will be making time and again. There's also a couple of variations listed I'll have to try-one with marjoram and two cheeses, and one with rosemary and pancetta.

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May 21, 2010

Tomato Sauce with Vegetables and Olive Oil

This tomato sauce is perfect. Simple, fresh tasting and perfect.
Since we are not yet in local tomato season, I opted for canned San Marzano tomatoes.
The vegetables are onions, celery and carrots--sounds like the beginnings of a French sauce but no--the flavor is clearly Italy.

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I wish I had cut the tomatoes into a little smaller pieces. I only cut them into rough quarters. Other than that, I loved the sauce.
Usually we eat a long noodle at our house, like fettuccine, because it's my husband's preference but for this I cooked (according to Marcella's suggestion) rigatoni which is my favorite.
I had some friends over for dinner and we all loved it!

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May 23, 2010

Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Basil

Heavenly! That is all that I need to say about this sauce. Amazing aroma, and mouth watering flavor. It is such a simple sauce to make and definitely one of my favorites.

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I started out with canned San Marzano tomatoes, because the local tomatoes are not yet at their peak of flavor. I simmered these with some good extra virgin olive oil, five minced cloves of garlic, salt and some freshly ground black pepper for about a half hour. When the oil had started to come to the top, I removed it from the heat and mixed in some basil leaves that I had torn into small pieces. I served this with spaghettini. Since Marcella didn’t specifically mention topping this with parmesan I tried it first without it just to get the authentic flavor and it was great. Of course, I am so used to topping my sauces with cheese, I did add some when I sat down to eat. Michael was oohing and ahhing over this one. This sauce will be a staple in our house from here on out.

May 24, 2010

Amatriciana – Tomato Sauce with Pancetta and Chili Pepper

I have been the repeated victim of many awful Italian-American dishes. With each cook, waiter or “chef” saying, “You are going to love this dish. It’s delicious.” Two forkfuls later I say a prayer that God will have mercy upon them and heal their taste buds. Of all the chapters in the cookbook, this was the one I was most excited about. I’m going to learn how to make pasta and sauces! I was tickled to see that the next nine weeks would not involve Marinara or Alfredo.

Making this recipe has three firsts for me: imported pasta, making homemade pasta sauce, a new pasta shape. For this dish I needed bucatini - thick, hollow spaghetti. I saved myself some anguish and went directly to the closest Italian market, Viviano's Festa Italiano. There was two sizes available, so I went with the bigger must be better approach and purchased the last package of size 14.


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Bucatini No. 14

The ingredient list was not at all intimidating. The title pretty much says it all. My biggest challenge was getting my old electric stove to retain a gentle simmer. The pasta cooked up bigger than I estimated, but I loved the shape and the way it wiggles. I had lots of fun trying to suck up air through a few naked strands. I tossed the pasta with the sauce then tossed in both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Romano cheeses.

Mmmm.


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Amatriciana – Tomato Sauce with Pancetta and Chili Pepper


©2010 Irene D. Ericson

May 25, 2010

Tomato Sauce with Porcini Mushrooms

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By now, you’ve noticed that your Pomodori e Vino cooks don’t provide actual recipes in these blog entries. We have three good reasons.

First, we honor the fact that Marcella owns the copyright to Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking – we don’t. The decision to toss these recipes into the public domain should be hers alone.

Second, we all own and love our copies of this beautiful book, and we think everyone else should have that same pleasure. We don’t want someone to be discouraged from buying the cow because we gave away free milk.

But most importantly, this blog is really about our shared journey; our discovery of new discipline; and our delightful experiences with Marcella’s teaching style. Selfishly, we would rather tell you how we react to, and feel about each dish. It's infinitely more satisfying than just discussing cups, teaspoons, ounces, and minutes.

Although we don't include the recipes themselves, sometimes the evocative elegance of Marcella’s descriptions of ingredients just begs to be quoted. And so is the case with the star ingredient of my dish for today.

On page 27 in the Fundamentals section is this opening paragraph for Dried Porcini Mushrooms.

“Even when fresh porcini - wild boletus edulis mushrooms - are available, the dried version compels consideration on its own terms not as a substitute, but as a separate, valid ingredient. Dehydration concentrates the musky, earthy fragrance of porcini to a degree the fresh mushroom can never equal. In risotto, in lasagna, in sauces for pasta, in stuffings for some vegetables, for birds, or for squid, the intensity of the aroma of dried porcini can be thrilling.”

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And so was the case as I prepared my Tomato Sauce with Porcini Mushrooms.

I'm admitting that I'm from the school of big and bold. Even when it makes total sense, and is for my own good, restraint is difficult for me.

Just a touch of shallot and no garlic? Only two tablespoons of pancetta? Not even fresh chopped parsley?

I wonder to myself, "How many weeks into this project will I be before I no longer have the urge to throw in a kitchen sink or two?"

But for now I again trust Marcella. I let the porcini take their rightful starring role. And I am rewarded with flavor that has been enhanced, not upstaged, by its carefully chosen supporting cast.

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May 27, 2010

Eggplant Sauce with Tomato and Red Chili Pepper

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This week, my recipe was Eggplant Sauce with Tomato and Red Chili Pepper. When I looked through the recipe, the first thing I noticed is that you fry the eggplant. I rarely fry anything, so I can't say I was too excited about this step.

The recipe referred me to another recipe in the book that explains the proper way to prepare and fry eggplant. There are two important steps worth noting: 1.To salt the sliced eggplant and let it drain, taking away any bitterness that the eggplant might have and 2. To have the oil very hot, so that the eggplant doesn't absorb any more of the oil than needed. This method produced a very flavorful eggplant that I'm sure you wouldn't get from sauteing. The flavor could be described as smokey.

There are not a lot of ingredients in the sauce-eggplant, olive oil, garlic, parsley, tomatoes, and chili pepper. But the flavor you get from these few ingredients is really a surprise. My husband thought there had to be anchovies or some other mysterious ingredient that added to the complexity of the sauce. I think it was the fried eggplant that added the special flavor.

Marcella suggested this pasta sauce be served on spahettini pasta, a thin dried pasta. That's what I used, and it was perfect.
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May 28, 2010

Eggplant and Ricotta Sauce ~Sicilian Style

Ricotta and Eggplant Sauce~ Sicilian Style This recipe, like all the others in 'The Essentials of Italian Cooking', takes simple ingredients and layers them into a mouthful of flavors. Marcella says she likes using cartwheel pasta 'route di carro'~ it is the perfect way to carry the flavors. (you know 'carry' as in "I'm going to carry y'all to the store")

She suggests you use the fresh young eggplant. Dice the eggplant. Place the cubes in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. This will draw off the bitter juices. After an hour rinse and squeeze out the excess moisture.

The eggplant is fried until tender and drained. It is then then combined with onion, garlic, and tomatoes that have been sautéd.

Combine all this with the freshly cooked pasta. Ricotta and parmigiano-reggiano are stirred in to add another layer of flavor.
Serve at once~ Mangia tutto!
Simple, with lots of flavor. Another winner!

Ciao y'all,
Sandi


May 29, 2010

Spinach Sauce with Ricotta and Ham

When I was a child, pasta with butter and ricotta was my comfort food of choice, like many "American" children love Mac & Cheese. If my mom was making an "adult meal" or a pasta with "too many vegetables", I would get pasta with ricotta, sometimes with butter and parmigiano, or sometimes with some leftover tomato sauce. I was excited to try this recipe!

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First the fresh spinach is cleaned, quickly cooked, drained and chopped. While the pasta is boiling, butter, ham and the spinach are sauteed, with some salt. Adding a little nutmeg enhances the flavors. This mixture is tossed with the hot pasta, ricotta, more butter, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

If my mom had made this, she could have gotten me to eat all kinds of vegetables! I have made many pastas with the addition of pancetta, sausage, prosciutto, but never ham. We loved this simple dish!

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While you are reading this, I am eating wonderful pasta in Bologna. I am so glad I will have great new pasta recipes to make when I get home.

May 30, 2010

Peas, Bacon, and Ricotta Sauce

When my husband, Michael heard that I would be making a pasta dish with ricotta, peas and bacon he nearly swooned. He is addicted to good ricotta and will eat it in any number of dishes, some of which I haven’t been willing to try. This one sounded great, though, and it turned out to be my new favorite.

This was such a simple recipe, but the flavor was incredible. I cooked bacon in a small skillet until it was brown but not crisp. I then added the peas and cooked them for a couple of minutes. I then set this aside. In a bowl I added the ricotta and crumbled it up with some butter. I then drained the pasta and mixed it directly into the bowl with the ricotta. Then I mixed in the peas and bacon. Finally, I topped this with grated parmigiano-reggiano and enjoyed! Michael practically licked his plate.

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Oh, and as you can tell by the picture the pasta that I used is a campanelle noodle. This is one of my favorite cuts, but that isn’t the reason I ended up using it. There is an old story that the wife of the handy man always has a house in need of repair, the wife of the plumber has faucets that drip incessantly, and in my case the wife of the Italian grocer never has the right cut of pasta at home. This recipe called for conchiglie, fusilli, or rigatoni. You would have thought that I would have one of those here, but no. The good news is that it turned out wonderful and the little curves of the noodle held the pieces of ricotta nicely

May 31, 2010

Peas, Peppers, and Prosciutto Sauce with Cream

The recommended pasta for this sauce is Garganelli which is a handmade, grooved tubular pasta. Not to brag but this dish turned out restaurant quality. I have definitely moved up a notch on the ability scale.


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Flour and Egg Well

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Smooth, Kneaded Pasta Dough


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Pasta Machine


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Sheets of Pasta


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Pasta Shaping Tools


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Garganelli


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Sauce Reducing


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Peas, Peppers, and Prosciutto Sauce with Cream

June 1, 2010

Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce with Garlic and Basil

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Marcella promised me that if I was patient, I would eventually be able to used garlic and basil. This luscious, tomato-less pasta sauce stars bell peppers. Big, gorgeous yummy bell peppers.

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Since the entire success of this dish rests upon the quality of the peppers, be sure to choose the very best raw, firm peppers with lots of meat. This was a challenge for me. Not because I couldn’t find great peppers. It’s just that I am irrational about the price of peppers. My husband will tell you that watching prices and bargain shopping when it comes to food is not my strong point. I tend to go for quality without regard to economy. I’ll willingly pay $6 for a couple of white beautiful fennel bulbs, or new baby artichokes, or a few perfect tomatoes. But for some reason that I probably need a few hours on a psychiatrist’s couch to figure out, paying $6 for three heavenly peppers just drives me crazy.

Prep the washed peppers by cutting them in quarters, cleaning out the core and membrane, and then removing the skins with a sharp swivel vegetable peeler. Take your time peeling so you preserve as much of the meat as possible.

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After cutting the peeled peppers into manageable pieces, they are roasted, not over a fire or in an oven but in garlic infused oil in a sauté pan.

When the peppers are tender but not mushy they are tossed with the cooked drained pasta. Rigatoni was Marcella’s first recommendation, so I decided to go with an extra large size to match the rustic look of the peppers.

Once the sauté is tossed with the pasta, melted butter is added. Finally, at the very last minute before serving, freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and roughly torn basil leaves are folded in.

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When I put this pasta bowl on the table in front of Dan, he looked at it and asked, “No meat? When are we going to have a pasta dish with a little meat in it?”

I sweetly suggested that he stop talking and try tasting, he would have meat later, in a future pasta dish. But, I’m not telling him how much later. Next week he will get some nice anchovy in his pasta. After that some tuna. Then comes sardines. And, finally, on June 29th, he will have fresh pork sausage.

June 3, 2010

Fried Zucchini Sauce with Garlic and Basil

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Today is Fried Zucchini Sauce with Garlic and Basil. I was really looking forward to making this in some ways (the taste and texture) but not in other ways (my weight with butter and fried zucchini). The results of this pasta were very good. When I first saw the recipe, I was expecting to fry zucchini and add it to a tomato sauce. But no, that's not how this was done. You take your zucchini and slice it into pieces about 2 1/2" long and 1/4" in diameter. This chopped zucchini is salted, and sits in a colander to drain for 2 hours. You then dry it, toss it with flour, and fry it in hot oil. Yum, fried zucchini. I wondered if I was going to have enough left for the sauce, as I kept sneaking bites off the plate. The sauce is finished by melting butter, and tossing the butter, basil, zucchini, and grated Parmesan cheese with the hot pasta. I really did love this dish. I did make fresh fettuccine for the pasta. I wouldn't bother to make this dish without fresh pasta. I think that made all of the difference in the world.

I used Marcellla's recipe for the fresh pasta. 1 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour to 2 eggs. The pasta turned out beautifully. You do need to make sure you knead it the full 8 minutes though, or it just won't have the texture you want. Here's a photo of the pasta drying for a few minutes on the counter before being cut into strips.

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June 4, 2010

Smothered Onions Sauce

Pasta with caramelized onions. A fantastic idea! Totally rich, sensual in the mouth and delicious.
Because I am in Venice, I bought some beautiful flat white onions—cipolle.
I used butter to slowly stew a whole bunch of onions (about 6 cups sliced) for about and hour.

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After that I raised the heat the temperature to get them a perfect golden brown, added some wine, black pepper chopped parsley and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and there it is. A fantastic dish!

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I just have to add a personal note. It is really a thrill to feel the connection to Marcella, here in this beautiful city. I can so easily imagine her walking these streets and shopping in the stalls. Thank you again, Marcella, for enriching an already wonderful experience.

June 5, 2010

Butter and Rosemary Sauce

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You can't get much easier than butter, fresh garlic and rosemary, right? I read this recipe, and thought, hmm, it sounds like a brown butter and sage sauce (one of my favorites). So simple, yet SOOOOOOO good. This will be a snap. Then I continued reading about the recommended pasta. Why not try to make some tonnarelli too?

Marcella explains that in Italy, this kind of pasta is made with OO flour, but we can substitute regular, all-purpose flour. No problem! I have two more BAGS of OO flour, and will be bringing more home from Italy in June. (Doesn't everyone bring an extra piece of luggage for this reason?)

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Tonnarelli are fresh, square noodles (like square-sided spaghetti). It is als called "maccheroni alla chitarra", because the Italian tool for cutting it looks like guitar strings. I quickly made my dough by hand with a little flour and 2 eggs.

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My pasta cutters are attachments to my Kitchen Aid mixer, and I have two choices: spaghetti or fettucini. I used the spaghetti tool, but left the rolled dough a little thicker than I would for spaghetti, so the noodles would be as thick as they are wide. They didn't exactly look as squared as tonnarelli should, but they were still fabulous!

Now, back to the sauce! This sauce is a shortcut to using the leftovers of a roast, and those yummy brown bits of meat and garlicy juices with rosemary flavor. In Italy, Marcella explains this is called "la pasta col tocco d'arrosto", (with a touch of the roast). And that is EXACTLY what this version tastes like!

You get to smash the garlic cloves with the knife enough to loosen the peel (why do I always feel like a REAL chef when I do that?). The garlic, butter and rosemary is cooked for a few minutes. Then you add a crushed beef bouillon cube (the SECRET ingredient), and strain this before tossing it with the pasta and some parmesan.

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You will jump up and down. You will make happy grunting noises. Your taste buds will sing an aria! This is SO GOOD!

THIS is what I will make my first week home from my Italy trip to help me with post-Italy re-entry depression!

June 6, 2010

“Aio e Oio”-Roman Garlic and Oil Sauce

Oh, it feels good to finally have drawn a recipe that has been a staple in our family for years and years. This is a simple recipe with tons of flavor. Just garlic and red pepper sautéed in a good extra virgin olive oil and then mixed with some spaghetti and fresh parsley. Nothing fancy, but nothing better. I do usually add some anchovy, but it is not necessary.

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When I first tried this recipe, Michael’s cousin made it for me. I was helping her in the kitchen that day and I kept questioning her about what other ingredients that we needed for the dish. I couldn’t believe that this could work. Well, it blew me away then and still does today. Comfort food at its finest!


June 7, 2010

Cauliflower Sauce with Garlic, Oil and Chili Pepper

Today’s pasta sauce was made with an ingredient you might not ordinarily think of as sauce material, Cauliflower. I was a little surprised when I read it. I enjoy the vegetable so I was ready to see what this sauce had to offer.

The cauliflower is boiled until tender and drained. Olive oil and garlic are cooked until golden brown. Next, chopped anchovy fillets are stirred into the oil and mashed to make a paste. This step took a little bit of work. Not a complaint but worth noting. The cauliflower was added coating and breaking up the pieces as you stir. Penne pasta is tossed with the sauce and chopped parsley.

This pasta dish has a very subtle flavor. The pasta is the first taste. Then the tastes of garlic, cauliflower, and parsley unfold. I was a little to conservative with the chili pepper. I know this is an Italian dish, but the undertones taste more Asian to me.

While not a favorite for me at this time, I would consider making it again. After turning up the heat a bit I could see it served with a white fleshed fish or grilled shrimp.


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©2010 Irene D. Ericson

June 8, 2010

Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce

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In previous posts I’ve sung their praises, so you already know how I feel about anchovies. Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables. Put those two ingredients together with chili pepper for heat and the richness of the cheeses and you have a sauce that becomes a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

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I didn’t over cook my pasta, but it behaved as if I had. Although it was still al dente, the orecchiette fell apart. I’m wondering if it may be the brand I bought. Fortunately the taste didn’t suffer, just the appearance.

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The slightly fizzy Vinho Verde from Portugual is the “soda pop” of white wines. Light and inexpensive (actually cheap), it’s not a wine for serious drinking. It’s a wine for a warm summer night and a pasta dish like Broccoli and Anchovy.

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June 11, 2010

Pesto~ by the motar method

Don't y'all just love it when timing is just perfect? It doesn't happen often in life.

This week's recipe from 'Essentials of Italian Cooking' came at the perfect time. I was in Montisi with a garden FULL of fresh Italian basil, cooking in a Tuscan kitchen and my 'chore' was to make Pesto, by the Motar Method.
Perfetto!

Marcella has a beautiful page in her cookbook on the true origins of pesto, and the art of creating pesto by using a mortar with a pestle. If you have ever had truly fresh, perfectly prepared pesto on fresh pasta... It will make your heart sing. This is not the pesto-boyRdee, or even what they make in the authentic Olive Gardens across the country. We are talking honest-to-goodness-hallelujah-chorus flavors.

Start with 2 generous cups of fresh basil, that have been rinsed in cold water and dried. Combine in a mortar with sea salt, pine nuts, and mashed garlic. Using the pestle, mash against the sides until a thick paste if formed. (stop here and just take a deep breath~ y'all will be transported to my Tuscan kitchen for a moment) Add grated cheese and continue until it is a smooth paste. Add olive oil in a very thin stream, beating with a wooden spoon. Finally, add a few tablespoons of softened butter. This pesto can be used so many ways. We enjoyed ours on thin slices of bread drizzled with olive oil. We were lucky enough to be a few short miles from Pienza~ known for its pecorino cheese, and I was able to find some 'fiore sardo'.

Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!
Ciao y'all~
Sandi


June 12, 2010

Pasta and Pesto with Potatoes and Green Beans

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I'm cooking ahead here - because I am in Rome baby! Forgive me while I get a tad excited . . .

Anyway. Back on track (for now).

A few weeks ago Paul made a recipe by Jamie Oliver that combined pesto, broccoli, and potatoes. in the introduction he wrote 'before you decide that I'm barmy for putting potato shavings into a pasta dish, I should explain that it's actually very authentic'. I am afraid I owe poor Jamie an apology for I was convinced he was telling a lie! What would a guy from England know about the way real Italians cook pasta?

Along comes Marcella.

In the introduction to her recipe she writes:

When serving pesto on spaghetti or noodles, the full Genoese treatment calls for the addition of boiled potatoes and green beans. When all of its components are right, there is no single dish more delicious in the entire Italian pasta repertory!

So yes, Jamie was right. Having said that, Marcella gets full points for the lovely poetic way she describes the dish.

Her pasta was a whole lot better as well.

shhhh. Don't tell Jamie, he is so overwrought at trying to change the way American's eat that he may spring a leak.

This was easy to prepare - I had pesto left over in the fridge from when I made the lasagne with ricotta pesto, all I needed to do was boil some potatoes, slice them, cook the beans, cook the fresh spaghetti and mix it all together. I had dinner ont he table in less than 30 minutes.

WOW - this was amazingly fresh tasting . . . yet another example of how simply ingredients, when used properly, result in a dish that is beguiling. You'd think that you had slaved in the kitchen for hours. Take my advice - don't tell anyone that you didn't - just be sure to quietly thank Marcella as you accept all of the compliments.

June 13, 2010

Pesto with Ricotta

I was so glad that the timing of this recipe worked out to correspond with my first basil harvest of the year. Over the years I have given up growing anything except some herbs. Now, I have basil, rosemary, thyme, Italian parsley, and marjoram. Oh, and I guess you can include nasturtiums. I love to include the blooms in a salad. The last time I grew tomatoes, I had a squirrel pick one and run up to the ledge across from my back door. He then proceeded to look me in the eye while he took the first bite. I couldn’t believe it. If you are going to steal my produce at least have the decency to take it and run. Anyway, I digress.

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This is a new take on my normal pesto recipe. I usually use just romano cheese and certainly not any butter. Over the years I have tried just about every permutation that you can imagine. I have tried toasted pine nuts, walnuts, parsley, sundried tomatoes, and arugula. All of these had strong points, but I have to say the mixture of the butter and the ricotta seemed to bring out the flavors of the pesto better than anything else that I have tried. I don’t know if it just coated the pasta strands better or if it just deepened the overall flavor, but I was really impressed with the result. Another winner! I can’t wait to have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

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Now, I just have to figure out where to find 2 pounds of fish heads here in the city for my next recipe!!

June 14, 2010

Black Truffle Sauce

Truffles are highly prized fungi that grow underground near the roots of trees (usually oak but also hazel, beech and a few others). Harvested in Italy and France with the help of trained dogs, they are one of the most expensive foods in the world. Fresh black truffles can cost $600 or more per pound.


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Black Truffles


Since fresh truffles are so expensive and hard to come by in the Midwest, I settled for canned truffles. To my surprise finding them in a can was a challenge in itself. Not even the upscale specialty markets in St. Louis had them. All of the online sites I visited were sold out. In my pursuit, I had many conversations with grocery managers and foodies about their expense and unique aroma. Truffle oil I found everywhere. I even came across one can of truffle juice. It was 12 ounces and looked like it had been on the shelf a very long time. It was $99 but they were willing to mark it down to $59 just to get rid of it. I passed and pushed forward. I lucked out while sampling a decadently creamy imported cheese at one market. As I rolled my eyes in delight, I caught a glimpse of the label in my peripheral. It was a jar of black truffles hidden in a dinky corner near the cheeses. I was so happy to find them I didn’t care about the $25 per ounce price tag.

Many advised me to skip the dish since nothing compares to having truffles fresh. I’ll admit trying truffles was an experience I was saving for when I visited Europe. But today’s culinary adventure will be its own unique event. Tasting them fresh in Italy, France or New York sometime in the future will still be very exciting and special.

Spaghettini, thin spaghetti, is tossed in the sauce made of olive oil, garlic, anchovy, and black truffles. Marcella mentions this dish is best savored a due, in the company of just one other. As food is one of my true loves and my husband does not eat mushrooms or anything that reminds him of mushrooms, that’s kind of what I did. It was just me and the truffle sauce. I lit a candle, poured a glass of white wine and listened to Puccini as I savored this sexy pasta.


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Spaghettini with Black Truffle Sauce


This dish is full of flirtation. Each forkful like a wink, kiss or gentle brush of the hand. The flavor of the sauce is well balanced. Not too garlicky nor too rich or earthy. All the ingredients work in harmony for a great overall sensation. It’s as if each taste bud is whispering for you to fall in love.


©2010 Irene D. Ericson

June 15, 2010

Tuna Sauce with Tomatoes and Garlic

I’ve never prepared a pasta sauce with tuna. Not because it doesn’t sound good. Rather, because it just never occurred to me that you should. Considering the amount of tuna noodle casserole I served my husband during our poor college days, you’d think I’d have thought to give it a fresh Italian twist, wouldn’t you?

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Like, Marcella, I have no use for all-white meat water packed tuna. It might as well be cardboard. The glory of tuna is that it tastes like tuna – not dry chicken. So, if it’s named after chicken…well, think about it. Someday I’m going to order cans of Flott in quantity just to have it in my pantry. But for now an acceptable brand I can easily find is Cento.

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A little olive oil, a little garlic, slowly simmered tomatoes. Add a little salt, a little pepper, and that rich flavorful tuna. Finish it with butter and toss it all together with cooked drained pasta and chopped fresh parsley.

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In her comment to my post for last week’s recipe, Marcella gently suggested that Victor felt I should consider a better quality of white wine. He was obviously unimpressed with my $3.99 bottle of Vinho Verde. His suggestion – a gewürztraminer from Alsace. I’m smart enough to know when to take free expert advice…

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June 17, 2010

White Clam Sauce

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I'm so happy cooking my way through Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. And I'm also happy that I'm still cooking pastas-my favorite. I was very happy to see that one of the recipes I get to cook is White Clam Sauce. I've eaten it several times, and made it a couple, but this recipe was different. The method comes from Venice, from Cesae Benelli's Al Covo. What makes his version different is that you only partially cook the pasta, then when it's still underdone, you finish it in a pan along with the clam juice that was reserved from cooking the clams earlier. Marcella says that by the time the pasta is cooked, it has absorbed all of the fresh clam juices which make it much richer than most versions of this pasta. I totally agree. It felt as if I was eating the essence of the sea. And I have to admit, it was sure a lot easier to eat when the clams had already been removed from their shell. Another one to add to the list to make again and again (Wait, haven't I said that about most of the pastas I've made so far?).

Okay, how to make it. First, go out and buy Essentials of Italian Cooking so you will have the exact directions. I'm only promoting her book for one reason-I love it! She says that you can use homemade fettuccine, but I decided to use her other alternative-boxed spaghettini. You wash the clams, and heat them up to open them. You then remove them from the shells, reserving the juice. Then you cook sliced garlic in a skillet in olive oil, and add some diced tomato. The you add dry white wine. After simmering briefly, you set it aside while you cook the pasta just short of being al dente. You then drain the pasta, and add it to the skillet in which contains the garlic, olive oil, white wine, and tomato. You then add the clam juice, and cook until the juice has evaporated and the been absorbed into the pasta. When the pasta is properly cooked, you add the cut-up clams and freshly torn basil leaves and serve immediately.

Here's a close-up photo. Can't you just imagine that you're in Venice, sitting out by a canal, sipping a nice glass of white wine and enjoying the tastes of the sea? We can always dream...
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June 18, 2010

Sardinian Botarga Sauce

This recipe had a really special aspect to it. Early on, I realized that, not only would I be in Venice to make it(I would never have been able to find Botarga in Tallahassee) but that Sandi would be there, too. It was travel magic meets Marcella magic!
We went to the Rialto market to buy the special dried fish roe, Botarga. The first place only had tuna and I knew that was wrong but the woman in there told me to go to the store around the block. It seemed like she may have meant the Casa del Parmigiano, so we went in and they did have it there. Botarga purchased, Sandi and I got the other ingredients for the simple sauce, at the market and headed home.
Onions, butter. lemon zest and parsley join the botarga to make a lovely compliment for the pasta.
Here is the botarga in the package:

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And here it is, looking very much like caviar, on the plate:

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We were both skeptical about the outcome of this dish—too fishy, maybe but, the finished dish was lovely—a perfect lunch with a green salad and a glass of crisp, chilled Soave.
An amazing, charmed, culinary moment for Sandi and me.

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June 19, 2010

Scallop Sauce with Olive Oil, Garlic and Hot Pepper

I have been home from Italy for four days, and am still in a food coma from my three weeks in Bologna. I have been cooking amazing pasta dishes from Emilia-Romagna to give my husband a taste of what he missed this trip, and what he has to look forward to when we return next year.

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I made this dish a couple of days before I left for Italy, and we both enjoyed it very much. We love scallops, but I have never thought to have them with pasta! The scallops are cut into small pieces, and sauteed with simply garlic, hot red chili pepper, fresh parsley and olive oil, then tossed with the hot spaghetti and bread crumbs. The hot pepper gives the dish a nice kick, and the scallops were tender and delicious!

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June 20, 2010

Fish Sauce

Well, we all have a recipe on our list that we are not looking forward to making. This week was mine. It is fish sauce made from whole fish heads. I had a bad experience in college when I was taking a class in fish biology. Suffice it to say that the idea of dealing with a whole fish was not something that I wanted to tackle again, but for this challenge I put aside my reservations and went for it.

The first problem that I had to overcome, was actually finding the fish heads. In some areas of the country this may be easy to accomplish, but not so much here in St. Louis. After much discussion with my friends, I decided to try a store that I hadn’t shopped at before. It is called Olive Farmers Market. My friends had said that it was one of the best places to get whole fish.

This was a very unique shopping experience. The outside of the store advertised it to be a Chinese/Mexican store. When I walked in the front door, the store looked pretty typical, cash registers to my right and lots of items on the shelves to my left. That is when the smell hit me. I had to stop for a minute and wait to see if my stomach was going to let me continue. As I made my way through the store the fish smell kept getting stronger and stronger. When I finally got to the seafood section of the store, the reason for the smell became apparent. They had large tanks containing live catfish, bass, turtles, frogs, lobsters, and crayfish. They also had a long tray stacked with all kinds of iced fish from red snapper to octopus. Some of the selections look pretty questionable, but the red snapper looked good. Since that was one of the selections that Marcella had recommended that is what I choose. I ended up having to purchase the whole fish and then I froze the rest of the fish to use later.

The sauce itself wasn’t hard to make. The fish heads are cooked with olive oil, onions, and garlic until cooked through. Then the meat is taken off of the bones and the soft pieces forced through a food mill. The rest of the sauce consists of San Marzano tomatoes and some dry white wine.

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I was really impressed with the final product. The pasta that I chose for this sauce was a new cut that we have just added at the store. It is called Garganelli Emiliani. It is similar to Penne Rigate which is one of the choices that Marcella gave in the recipe, but different. I really liked it. It held the sauce nicely and had a good flavor just by itself. The sauce itself was very rich. Michael loved it. He thought it tasted almost like crabmeat. To my surprise I really liked it. I just tried not to think about the fish eyes looking at me as they cooked!! Now that I have overcome my fear of cooking with whole fish, who knows what I will be brave enough to tackle next. I looked through the recipes and the only other one that I have trepidation about is lamb’s kidneys. I wonder what type of adventure I will have to take to find those?

June 21, 2010

Sicilian Sardine Sauce

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This week’s ingredient list is eclectic. The star ingredient is sardines which I will admit I was less than enthusiastic about. Fennel tops, raisins, onion, anchovy fillets, pine nuts, saffron, tomato paste, and bread crumbs round out the supporting ingredients. This is going to be something. I reminded myself about the pledge I took and started cooking.

After a series of food preparation steps and cooking techniques the sauce was ready. With all of the independently flavorful foods present only the raisins and sardines seemed to shine through. The small amount of raisins didn’t taste like raisins at all but gave all their sweetness to the sauce. Beyond that it just tasted fishy to me. Yes, I know it was made with fresh sardines and anchovies but the result was more powerful than I expected. The fennel used was extremely fragrant but you would never guess it was in there. I tasted it repeatedly to look for more distinction but found none. I had hoped to eat a whole serving since it was tossed with my beloved bucatini. I tried to like it…I could not. This is a recipe I will not make again. However, I would taste it once more if prepared by someone that is good at preparing Sicilian cuisine so I can compare the two experiences.


©2010 Irene D. Ericson

June 22, 2010

Baked Pasta con le Sarde with Toasted Almonds

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There is a lot going on with this recipe. It has more ingredients than my previous sauces. I got to use fennel from my own garden, which was fun. The layers of flavor are intriguing - anchovies, raisins, pine nuts, onion, saffron, & sardines joined the fennel.

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This is a repeat of the sauce recipe Irene reported on yesterday. Instead of tossing the sauce in cooked pasta, my assignment was to layer it with pasta as a baked dish, adding toasted almonds and whole browned sardine filets.

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It was a pretty dish -- with a fatal flaw.

The pasta I chose points out that pasta selection isn't just about appearance. It's critical to the success of the dish. Since Marcella didn't suggest a specific pasta, and I though that the bucatini in Irene's version would be difficult to serve in a baked dish, I relied on my own faulty judgement and selected a beautiful large cavatappi. Mistake.

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The sauce settled to the bottom of the baking dish because the pasta was too big and bulky. This made the dish appear very dry. I should have used a much smaller pasta. Next time I will.

Instead of serving a nice pretty, filet topped portion from the dish, I ended up dumping it into a bowl and mixing it to redistribute the sauce. Ah, well. What really counts is the flavor. And there was a lot of that.

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June 24, 2010

Butter and Parmesan Cheese Sauce

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Today's pasta is a very simple, but delicious one. I know that many of us have been calling some of the pasta sauces comfort food, and that's what this one was to me.

Marcella says that this sauce has been a favorite way for the Northern Italians to flavor their pasta for generations. She also says that this pasta tests your pasta tossing skills.

I found it very easy to make. Boil pasta. She suggested dried spaghetti, but I had a nice Pici on hand. Cast in bronze dyes so the texture is rougher, meaning the sauce would stick better. While the pasta is cooking, dice up a good quality butter and grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. When the pasta is done, place it in a heated serving dish. Add some of the cheese, and toss until melted and the pasta is coated. Add some of the butter and more cheese, and toss again. Add the remaining cheese, and toss again. And lastly, add the remaining butter and toss until all of the butter has melted.

Serve with additional grated parmesan. I don't know if it's authentic, but I also add freshly ground black pepper to mine and it was just perfect! And a glass of white wine, a sunny deck, and my husband as company, and it couldn't have been any better.

June 25, 2010

Borro Oro e Salvia

This week's challenge for Pomodori e Vino is 'Borro Oro e Salvia' ~Golden Butter and Sage~ Doesn't that just sound like a pinch of heaven?


I have some lovely sage in the garden. This recipe couldn't be simpler. First you brown the butter until golden and add the fresh sage leaves, turning after a few minutes to get them crispy.

Marcella says that this is best eaten with fresh pasta... so here we go! I put on my pasta apron and made some fresh tortolloni. (thanks to my Bluone cooking classes)

The pasta was light and fresh. The browned butter and sage sauce fabulous. Topped with a touch of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Perfetto!
Ciao y'all~
Sandi

June 26, 2010

Cream and Butter Sauce

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Oh my people - do your hear your arteries clenching? Cream, butter, cheese? Oh my!

This is Marcella's version of the classic 'Roman' sauce: Alfredo. We've all had Alfredo sauce. We've all seen it in small plastic containers in the supermarket. We've all seen ads for that horrible 'Italian' restaurant chain with so-called Alfredo sauce scooped out all over any assortment of pasta, meat, or fish.

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You may think that you have tried Alfredo sauce but trust me when I say you won't know what hit you when you try the real deal baby!

This sauce is simple - whipping cream, butter, cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Use the best ingredients you have. Whip it together and I guarantee that you will NEVER look at those wee plastic containers of store bought Alfredo sauce again.

Marcella writes 'if a fat, fresh white truffle should happen to come your way, one of the best uses for it is to shave it over pasta tossed with Alfredo sauce'. Sadly I had no such treat but I can only imagine how wonderful that would be. SIGH

I first made this for our anniversary dinner back in May but have since brought it to the table 4 more times - yes, it is that simple AND good!

You won't go wrong with this one. . . . and who really cares if the bathing suit fits THIS year anyway?

June 27, 2010

Gorgonzola Sauce

This sauce was great. It was very easy to put together and it had a wonderful flavor. I started with a creamy gorgonzola that we sell at our store. Marcella is very clear that the quality of the cheese is the most important thing. I have to agree. The cheese I chose has a mild and mellow richness. This is melted into some butter and milk over a low heat and then some whipping cream added and slightly reduced. The cooked pasta is then tossed with the sauce and then some grated parmesan cheese is tossed in to melt with the pasta. Wonderful.

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The only caveat this week is that I should have made fresh fettuccine to have with this sauce, but Marcella said that the penne that I chose was a good substitute. I was planning to make it this week, but I had to take my son to his summer welcome at college. I spent two days out in the hot sun (108 heat index) walking back and forth and trying to learn everything that I am expected to do for the next four years. Yikes, I thought I was either going to melt or have my brain explode from too much information. Anyway, this delayed the pasta project and by the time I got home I was much to exhausted to begin. I promise though that fresh pasta is in my future.

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June 28, 2010

Mushroom, Ham, and Cream Sauce

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This pasta dish was a big hit for dinner tonight. My husband even had a big bowl and repeatedly commenting on how good it was. In between his grunts and lip smacks, I was tempted to remind him he did not like mushrooms. I kept quite. I’m glad delicious food is forcing him out of his box.

This is easy to make. I loved it. What’s not to love with sautéed cremini mushrooms, ham, cream, and parmigiano-reggiano cheese? Homemade fettuccine was the suggested pasta. So I made a batch of each “straw and hay”, yellow and green fettuccine. I made my fresh pasta right before I cooked the sauce. If you make it ahead and dry your fresh pasta you could save even more time. Prep to plate in 15 minutes.


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Yellow and Green Fettuccine


The sauce is very flavorful. It’s rich and creamy but not heavy. The ham adds nice texture. The two colors of pasta are a feast for the eyes. This is a great dish to make when you have company over. You’ll get rave reviews with little effort.


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©2010 Irene D. Ericson

June 29, 2010

Red and Yellow Bell Pepper Sauce with Sausages

I've been anticipating this day from the beginning of our challenge.


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It started with my observation that every time pork sausage is listed as an ingredient, Marcella goes out of her way to dictate that it contain no herbs or spices beyond a judicious amount of salt and pepper. Every recipe. Then in his book "Ratio" Michael Ruhlman quotes Marcella's recipe for pork sausage - minus the spices.

I began paying attention to the sweet Italian pork sausages available at all my usual sources. Not one of them was made her way. Not one was free of fennel, oregano, garlic or some other assertive ingredient. This touched off a hunt of epic proportions. Even Marcella suggested that I might be getting a little carried away. But, I was determined to find them.

Eventually an angel by the name of Diane Urzi, the owner of Urzi's Italian Market agreed that if I would order at least 25 pounds, she would follow Marcella's recipe exactly. She even agreed to make it her first batch of the day to ensure that no residual spices were still in the equipment.

And now, I finally get to report on a dish using these wonderful sausages. The sauce had only two main ingredients - sweet red and yellow bell peppers and sweet pork sausage. The onion, tomato, salt, pepper, butter and cheese were there to add depth.

The onions are softened in olive oil. The sausages are cut into 1/2 pieces and browned very briefly in the oil. Then the peeled and cut peppers are added, hanging out in the pan for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the tomatoes. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

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Marcella's pasta of choice is fresh homemade pappardella of both egg and spinach variety. The drained pasta is dumped into your serving bowl. Then the sauce is dumped over it. Toss lightly, add butter, toss again. Add parmigiano-reggiano, toss again. Serve immediately.

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The sausage was sweet and rich. And without the heavy spices, it didn't overshadow the flavor of the glorious peppers.We enjoyed it with a bold bottle of 2006 Zinfusion from Castoro, one of our favorite wineries in Paso Robles.

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July 1, 2010

Asparagus Sauce with Ham and Cream

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Once again, you get to hear me say that this is a fantastic recipe and you should give it a try. Today's recipe is Asparagus Sauce wtih Ham and Cream, which Marcella suggests is best served over penne pasta.

I fixed another pasta dish 2 days ago that was rich and full of cream. I wasn't looking forward to this dish tonight, as I really wasn't in the mood for something heavy. Was it heavy? Not really. Was it heavenly? Absolutely!

This dish was so quick and easy to make. I had it on the plate in under 30 minutes, probably more like 20 minutes. What other dish that tastes heavenly, a combination of sweet butter, creamy whipping cream, salty ham and parmesan, and that more astrigent taste of asparagus, can you prepare in such a short time period?

The process here is cook asparagus in boiling water until tender. Remove from pan, cool, and slice into small pieces. Drain water from pan, dry, and then in the same pan add butter and sliced ham. Cook a couple of minutes, and add the chopped asparagus. After a minute or so, add heavy cream and cook a minute or two until reduced. Add this along with grated parmesan cheese to the cooked pasta and toss until thoroughly combined. YUM!!! I enjoyed my plate with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Another one to add to the recipe file of definately make again.

July 2, 2010

Sausage and Cream Sauce

To taste Bologna in a bowl, make this simple recipe.
Marcella calls for sausage out of the casings without any fennel or strong spices. If you’ve been following the blog, you know that it’s not that easy to find. Instead of buying sausage, I just bought a half pound of pork shoulder, had it ground and added about a half teaspoon of kosher salt.
The interesting thing to me was using the small sauce pan instead of a skillet. Of course, it worked perfectly.

Here’s the pork cooking, after the onions:

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And the sauce, after adding the cream:

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And the finished dish:

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We took this dish to share with our neighbors, who had also been to Bologna recently and they agreed. It’s totally authentic and delicious with the perfect balance of flavors.
Thanks again, Marcella!

July 3, 2010

Prosciutto and Cream Sauce

I am LOVING this chapter! I have enjoyed every pasta sauce so far! This is another easy one with simple ingredients. Prosciutto, butter, cream, pasta and parmigiano...what's not to love? I made a salad and served this with penne pasta for a 15 minute meal on an evening that was truly "too hot to cook"! I will definitely try it again with home meade green tortellini, as it was one of my favorite pasta dishes in Bologna!

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July 4, 2010

Carbonara Sauce

One of the things that I most enjoy about Marcella’s cookbook is the time that she has taken to include interesting historical references along with the recipes. With this one she mentions that Carbonara sauce may have been invented right after WWII, when the American soldiers that were stationed there wanted a sauce made with bacon and eggs. Interesting idea, but whichever way it came to be invented it is a great sauce.

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I made mine today with spaghetti noodles. Marcella says that you can make this with either bacon or pancetta, so for this first time I thought I would use pancetta. It is a simple sauce with whole cloves of garlic sautéed in olive oil and then removed after they became brown. I made the mistake of throwing them away and Michael about had an apoplectic fit. I won’t be doing that in the future! Apparently garlic is his new favorite snack! Next you brown the pancetta and add some wine to cook for a short time. In the bowl for the finished product mix eggs, grated Romano cheese, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and fresh parsley. I used pasteurized eggs again because I am a wimp. I know that the pasta is hot enough to cook the eggs when it is mixed together, but I always prefer to be safe where salmonella is concerned. The next step is to add the pancetta mixture into the pasta and mix well.

This was another of our late night dinners. Michael had just come home from a long day at the store, and I had been cooking all day for our 4th of July dinner. This sauce went together quickly and we managed to sit down and have a nice dinner before he collapsed for the night and I went back to clean the kitchen!


July 5, 2010

Bolognese Meat Sauce

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This is a meat sauce unlike any other that I’ve made. It has ground beef chuck, tomatoes, milk and white wine to name a few of the ingredients. As with previous recipes, Marcella has given detailed instructions to guide you along the way. Please buy the cookbook if you have not already. It is worth every penny for this pasta section alone but the real value lies with Marcella's explanations for the cooking techniques and historical tidbits.

The sauce does require a watchful eye in the beginning of the cooking process. Then it basically takes care of itself as it simmers gently for at least 3 hours. My sauce was ready at 4 hours. Tagliatelle, a homemade pasta similar too but slightly wider than fettuccini, was recommended for this sauce. I was not in a pasta making mood so I decided to use one of the suggested dried box pasta shapes. I picked rigatoni because of my new found obsession with cylinders. The sauce is slightly sweet with a soft texture that does a good job coating the pasta.

July 6, 2010

Chicken Liver Sauce

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My mother was visiting last week on her way back from vacation where she bagged the last three states on her bucket list. Her goal has been to visit all 50 US states before her 90th birthday, which is coming up in November. Add in the five continents she’s also visited, and it becomes pretty clear how I come by my wanderlust.

What’s this got to do with Chicken Liver Sauce, you ask? After her visit, I drove Mom home to the tiny rural town of Marble Hill, in southeast Missouri. Of course, I was delighted to make this 180 mile round trip for Mom’s sake alone. But it didn’t hurt that I could also count on lunch at Shorty’s Chuck Wagon. Except for a mediocre bar-b-que joint called Jay's, and the ubiquitous MacDonald's, Shorty's is all there is for dining out in Marble Hill. It's also all there needs to be. Lunch for me at Shorty’s is always the same -- fried chicken livers, mashed potatoes with milk gravy, homemade buttermilk biscuits, black-eyed peas, and collard greens with fatback. Can everyone say “Amen”?!

I was happy to draw Chicken Liver Sauce in the rotation of pasta sauces. I do love fresh liver. When we get to the Variety Meats chapter, I get it again in the form of Breaded Calf’s Liver.

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The recipe calls for vegetable oil instead of olive oil. Out of curiosity I flipped back to the calf’s liver recipe and see vegetable oil again. Being an untrained cook, I never took a class that told me what fats to use in what recipes and why. So, Marcella, I’m hoping you or some trained chef reading this can clue me in. Another question I have is about the teeny-tiny amount of tomato paste dissolved in the vermouth. I have no doubt it's important to the final dish, because nothing could have tasted more perfect to me. I’m just curious about the cooking science.

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After cooking the shallot in the oil and butter, I added the diced pancetta and sage. In another minute or two, the ground beef, salt and pepper were stirred in for just long enough to lose the raw red color of the beef. Then comes the chicken livers, also only until the raw color is gone. Finally, the vermouth mixture was added and the whole thing cooked for another 5-8 minutes before a final taste for seasoning.

Marcella says it is magnificent with homemade pappardelle. I made a double batch last week in anticipation of this sauce.

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After a dusting of fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano we enjoyed our decadently rich pasta and chicken livers with one of our favorite everyday table wines – A MANO Primitivo from Puglia.

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July 8, 2010

Green Tortellini with Meat and Ricotta Stuffing

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I've come to one of my most challenging dishes so far. Today it was my turn to make tortellini - Green Tortellini with Meat and Ricotta Stuffing. I will start by saying I have never made tortellini before, and have never watched it being made. I thought about going to youtube and watching a video of someone making it, but I decided instead to follow Marcella's instructions and see how it turned out.

This tortellini has a meat and ricotta stuffing. You cook pork butt and veal shoulder (that was a challenge to find!) in butter. Chop it into very fine pieces, then mix it with chopped mortadella, ricotta, parmagiano-reggiano, an egg yolk, and a small grating of nutmeg.

The pasta is green, which is made by adding finely chopped cooked spinach to the flour and egg mixture as you're mixing your pasta. The pasta was much easier than I thought it would be. The pasta also has a little milk added to it to make it a little sticky, which is what you want for a filled pasta. You also work with a small amount of dough at a time, keeping the rest covered with plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out.

So, how do you make tortellini? You roll the pasta dough out into sheets, and cut it into 1 1/2" squares. You then put a small amount of the filling in the center of each square. You then fold according to Marcella's instructions. I'm not going to go into detail here, because the instructions are a little complicated. One thing she did suggest doing before you make them for the first time is to cut tissues into the correct size and try to fold them the correct way.

The folding of the tortellini got easier as I went along. I never did get fast with the process though. I will also admit that I began making them a little larger also (2" square instead of the 1 1/2") and that also made it a lot easier for me.

The flavor of these tortellini was excellent. Mild veal and pork, stronger mortadella, and that hint of nutmeg. I served mine with the Proscuitto and Cream Sauce that Palma posted about earlier, which was just perfect with these totellini.

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Would I make these again? Absolutely. And I hope I will get faster each time I make them.

July 9, 2010

Tortellini with Fish Stuffing

Making fresh pasta was not daunting to me (I've done it many times) but the prospect of forming about 144 tortellini was. I solved the problem by inviting my friend, Cecelia and my daughter, Kathryn to play, too. The recipe was very straight forward. Make the filling from a piece of poached fish (I used halibut), a little parmigiano cheese, egg yolks and a few seasonings. Then make the pasta, in sheets, cut into squares and stuff and shape into tortellini. It was surprising how quickly we felt competent making them. We were very proud of the beautiful results:

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We ate them with the tomato sauce with cream it was delicious!
I can't say this is my favorite kind of tortellini but it was great fun.

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July 10, 2010

Tortelli Stuffed with Ricotta and Parsley

I have been looking forward to this one. It is one thing to make tortelloni in a cooking class in Bologna, with expert supervision, help with kneading and rolling with a mattarello, and someone showing you how to fold and shape. It is another to do it all yourself for the first time at home, and then cook them and make a sauce.

First I made the ricotta-parsley filling with one of my new big hunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano from Reggio-Emiglia.

The pasta dough seemed stickier than I am used to. I was surprised by the addition of a little milk. My first problem was trying to put too much stuffing in the center!

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After a 5 or 6, I had my old "finger routine" down, and I was able to crank them out pretty quickly.

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The butter and cream sauce was delicious, as Marcella said it would be with them. I think they would be wonderful with browned butter ad sage. Not bad at all for a first attempt!

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I definitely want to make GREEN tortelli, and try some with a meat filling. I also am determined to buy a mattarello and get it home on my next visit to Italy in September!

Thank you, Marcella for a fabulous pasta chapter! For me, it is on to Risotto and Polenta!

July 11, 2010

Tortelloni with Swiss Chard, Proscuitto, and Ricotta

It seems that this has been an interesting week for all of us on this project. I have really been intrigued with all of the postings. It made me feel like I was in good company today as I took on the challenge of the tortelloni.

I just purchased the pasta roller attachment for my Kitchenaid Mixer. The instructions seemed straightforward, so I was ready to begin. I made the pasta dough as laid out in the recipe and kneaded it appropriately. While I rested the dough, I started the swiss chard cooking. Marcella has given complete directions on this process. I then squeezed out all of the liquid and chopped the chard fine. I cooked the proscuitto with some onion and butter and then added the Swiss Chard. I then mixed this with ricotta, egg, and parmigiano-reggiano. The stuffing tasted incredible. I could have sat down with a spoon and made that lunch! Luckily, I remembered that I had to finish the job, so I restrained myself.

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The actual rolling out of the pasta and forming the tortellini went well. It was just time consuming. It would have been better if I had a pasta cutter, but I didn’t think about that until too late. Next time I will have all of my ducks in a row!

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I served the tortelloni with the Butter and Sage sauce. It was wonderful. This was definitely the best recipe of the book for us. Michael was so impressed. The flavors melded together, turning this into a plate full of heaven.

July 12, 2010

Cappellacci – Ravioli Filled with Sweet Potatoes

I love sweet potatoes! I’ve been eating them for as long as I can remember. I enjoy them in a variety of sweet or savory dishes. No matter how they are prepared they always taste yummy. So I was delighted to see my recipe for this week.

The sweet potatoes are baked and then the flesh removed and combined with crushed amaretti cookies, prosciutto, grated parmigiano-reggiano, parsley, egg and a pinch of nutmeg. Next, homemade yellow pasta is stuffed and cut into two inch square ravioli shapes. The pasta is boiled and tossed with sauce.

Two pasta sauces were suggested. I chose Butter and Parmesan Cheese Sauce. I wanted to make sure I could taste the ravioli filling. The sauce is very simple as the title would suggest. The raviolis are tossed repeatedly alternating parmigiano-reggiano and butter. The pasta has a nice chew while on the inside smooth, light sweet potato with a surprising layer of depth from the nutmeg and prosciutto. I’m sure the other sauce, Cream and Butter, which you may know as Alfredo would take this to another level.

This pasta reminds me of a dish my mother has been making since I was a very little. We call it Macaroni and Cheese and Sweet Potato. She makes it for Christmas and by special request for me or my cousins when we are in town for a visit. It is a totally different recipe but the combination of flavors is similar. The taste of sweet potatoes, cheese and pasta together is always very comforting to me.


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Ravioli Filled with Sweet Potatoes

July 13, 2010

Baked Rigatoni With Bolognese Meat Sauce

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Although not complicated, making good Bolognese is time comsuming. Pour your morning cup of coffee and start prepping your ingredients. That way you will have a wonderful sauce in time for the evening meal. Bolognese freezes well, so on "ragù day" I always make enough for at least three or four meals.

Every time I make a new batch, I experience a deep feeling of contentment and wellbeing. It's a sense of accomplishment that I imagine our foremothers felt at the end of summer as they finished successfully "putting-by" a bumper crop against the harsh winter ahead.

I never take my sauce from frozen to hot by microwaving it. I always thaw it completely, either on the counter or in the refrigerator, before simmering in a saucepan for use. To me it seems a sacrilege to take a ragù you've so lovingly created and then subject it to the profanity of a microwave.

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Since Irene reported on the sauce itself last week, I'll move on to my use of the sauce in Marcella's recipe for Baked Rigatoni. I pre-heated the oven to 400º and buttered an oven-to-table casserole dish.

While the oven was heating, and the water was coming to a boil for the noodles, I reheated the Bolognese and made a medium--thick béchamel. The noodles were cooked until they were not quite al dente to accomodate the additional softening they would experience in the oven.

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Drained noodles were immediately tossed with the two sauces and a heaping palmful of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano. It was all dumped into the buttered baking dish; smoothed out a bit and baked until a little bit of crust formed on the top and the edges of some of the exposed noodles browned a bit.

Last week, I had a meeting with the Bryan Siddle, Director of Operations for Crown Valley Winery. We were discussing the Aug. 21st appearance at Crown Valley by Todd Kliman, the author of The Wild Vine, a book about the Norton grape. At the end of our meeting, Bryan generously gifted me with two bottles of Crown Valley's 2004 Museum Collection Norton. It was a fitting compliment to Marcella's ragù. You will notice that I'm using stems instead of my usual country Italian everyday tumblers. That's because Bryan also presented me with two of the brand new Reidel Norton Wine Glass, and of course we had to try them out!

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July 15, 2010

Lasagna with Mushrooms and Ham

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Lasagna with Mushrooms and Ham. Sounds like a simply flavored dish, doesn't it? Well, it's not. It is a wonderfully flavorful dish that I want to thank Marcella for placing in her cookbook. Layers of thin homemade pasta sheets, in between layers of a mushroom, ham, and bechamel sauce filling, and all layered with Parmesan cheese.

What a great intense mushroom flavor this had. The recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds of button mushrooms and 2 ounces of dried porcini mushrooms. I had a lot of porcini mushrooms that I had bought in bulk last year. These mushrooms seem to have a very intense strong flavor, stronger than most dried porcini. The complex flavor they added to this lasagna is indescribable.

I served this to some girl friends who came over for a "Girls Night Out". One of the girls doesn't eat ham and so I made part of the dish with mushrooms only and without the ham. Although I preferred it with the ham, it is still excellent if you're looking for a meatless lasagna.

Making the lasagna noodles seemed a little labor intensive, but was actually pretty quick. You roll out the pasta, then par-boil it for just a few seconds. Marcella explains the process of quickly cooking the pasta, then transferring it to a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process. You then take your fingers and rub the pasta to remove excess starch, then place on kitchen towels and dry slightly. By doing this, the pasta was nicely firm and not sticky at all when cooked.

It's nice the lasagna can be made up to 2 days in advance. I made mine about 2 hours in advance and was very happy to find I only had to place it in the oven for 15-30 minutes to heat through and lightly finish cooking the pasta.

Again, another recipe that I'll be making again in the future. Marcella, thank you again.

July 16, 2010

Lasagne with Artichokes

This is most certainly NOT a Rachel Ray recipe but it is as rich and wonderful as it is time consuming. Luckily for me I had my trusty, well-trained assistant, Kathryn, to help me out.
I trimmed and cooked the artichokes; Kathryn made the béchamel. We made the pasta and did the assembly together. I loved pulling the cold lasagne out of the water to wash them gently “like lingerie” as Marcella directs.

We did all of this on Wednesday morning because I had a busy day planned on Thursday and one of Kathryn’s good friends from college was coming to visit. I preheated the oven and put in the pan, after leaving it out of the refrigerator for about an hour. That’s when disaster struck. We had a big thunderstorm and lost power. “Disastro!!!” The oven stayed hot enough to heat the lasange through but I wasn’t able to get a nice crust on the top. We ate it with a salad and candlelight. It was hot but I am not sure it was really fully cooked. Still, it was silky smooth and delicious.

I took a photo before I put it into the oven but didn’t try later, since the light was literally non existent

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A few little notes--we got seven layers out of the recipe but we didn't really need the two inch high sides on the pan. It would have worked fine in a regular,
Pyrex 9X13 inch dish.

July 18, 2010

Cannelloni with Meat Stuffing

When I first sat down to look over this recipe, I thought I should be able to get it made in about an hour and a half. Wow, that was not even close. This ended up taking me almost 3 hours to finish. The final product was outstanding, but I am really glad that I didn’t try to make this on a weeknight for dinner. The good news is that Marcella states that this whole recipe can be made ahead and then baked off up to two days later. That would make this a great recipe for a big family dinner.

This recipe has 4 major components, the Béchamel sauce, the filling, the pasta, and the meat sauce. Ground chuck is used in the filling and the sauce. The filling also contains chopped boiled ham, onions, egg yolks, ricotta, parmigiano cheese and a little nutmeg. The sauce is mainly the ground chuck, onion and canned tomatoes. The sauce is supposed to cook down for 45 minutes, but mine went much longer than that. I think that was why it was a wee bit dry by the time that I put everything together.

Canneloni with Meat Stuffing

The pasta was made just like the last few postings, where the pasta is parboiled and then rinsed and then dried off before it is used for the dish. The recipe calls for the pasta to be rolled out to the thinnest possible layer and I did that, but I think next time I will make it a little bit thicker, because I had a hard time rolling the cannelloni without tearing them. This recipe calls for the pasta sheet to be placed on a plate containing some of the béchamel sauce, then the filling added and spread to almost cover the sheet, then the pasta is rolled up jellyroll style and placed in the pan. The béchamel on the outside of the rolls help to keep everything moist. Once all of the rolls are made then they are covered with the meat sauce and then the rest of the béchamel. This is baked for 15 minutes.

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I really enjoyed the flavors of the final product. All of the layers complimented each other nicely. I liked using the fresh pasta in this dish. It made it more time consuming to make, but the pasta was so delicate that it made the rolls melt in your mouth. Definitely a special occasion pasta!


July 19, 2010

Sliced Pasta Roll with Spinach and Ham Filling

SAUCE, FILLING, PASTA, ROLL, SAUCE, LAYER, BAKE
That’s what I kept repeating to myself has I gathered all the ingredients to make this pasta dish.

• make Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
• make spinach and ham filling (spinach, prosciutto, ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg, onion, egg)
• make yellow pasta sheets
• spread filling over pasta, roll up and cut into 3/4” slices
• make Béchamel Sauce
• layer pasta slices in dish, cover with combined sauces
• bake

There are a few steps to make this but none of them are difficult. It is well worth the work for the yummy outcome. It tastes similar to vegetable lasagna but more sophisticated. This dish would be great for a potluck.


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Layered pasta before being topped with sauce and cheese


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Hot out of the oven


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Sliced Pasta Roll with Spinach and Ham Filling


July 20, 2010

Scrigno di Venere - Venus' Jewel Case

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Also known as Pasta Wrappers Filled with Spinache Fettuccine, Porcini Mushrooms, and Ham. I prefer the more romantic name.

Marcella tells us that these were the most sublime of the 30-40 pastas served at Bologna's famous Al Cantunzein restaurant in the late 1960s. I was taken with her description of the restaurant, so I did an internet search and found this vintage newspaper photo from 1968. As it happens, the dish on the serving tray is Scrigno di Venere!

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I anticipated this day, and at the same time dreaded it. It wasn't the multiple pages this single recipe fills in the book. It wasn't the fact that you must make two different fresh pastas and two different sauces before you even begin to assemble the Scrigno di Venere. I quite enjoy and look forward to that kind of challenge.

My dread was knowing that when they came out of the oven, I was going to have to photograph my less than perfectly formed pasta packages. And then, I was going to post that photograph here for all to critique. Pressure.

The exterior of the jewel case is made of a single thin sheet of yellow pasta. Marcella instructed that it must be rolled paper thin - you could easily see through to the stripes of my towel.

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Inside the scrigno is fresh spinach fettuccine tossed with the ham and porcini sauce and then drizzled with bechamel. The purses are folded up; secured with toothpicks; and wrapped with a single strand of fettuccine before being baked in a hot oven for a few minutes to brown the edges of the wrapper.

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It was tramatic to make that first cut into my Venus' Jewel Case.

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But the reward was delicious. We didn't have a wine from Emilia-Romagna on hand to enjoy with this dish, but Verona is only one province away, so we opened a 2002 Masi Campofiorin Ripasso. It pairs exceptionally well with mushrooms and had been hanging around long enough.

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July 22, 2010

Orecchiette

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Today, I write my blog entry with very mixed feelings. My recipe, Orecchiette, which I'll talk about in a minute, was delicious. The sad part is this is the last pasta in the chapter. We will tomorrow be moving on to Risotto.

I have loved this pasta chapter. Every recipe I have made I have really enjoyed. Some of the dishes really suprised me, and others turned out exactly as I imagined them tasting. There have been very simple and quick pastas, and others that have been quite time consuming. But whether quick or not, I have enjoyed every single one.

Today's pasta is Orecchiette. Marcella explains that this recipe comes from the Apulia region, which is the region that extends over the heel and half of the instep of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. This region has a tradition of making home-made pasta. But the pasta they make is different than that you find in the Emilia-Romagna region. Here, the pasta is made with water instead of eggs, and the flour is mostly of a hard-wheat variety. This means the dough will be chewier and firmer. To match well with this more rustic pasta, they use stong-flavored sauces.

Orecchiette is the most well-known pasta from this region, and it means "little ears". This is a hand-shaped dough.

The dough is made of a combination of semolina and all-purpose flour. Add salt and warm water, and that's it. The dough is mixed, then kneaded for a full 8 minutes. I found it extremely important to be sure and knead for the full time. I even kneaded for a little longer. It took that much time for the dough to obtain the correct texture. The dough then rests a short while. When you're ready to form your shapes, you pull off a piece of dough about the size of a lemon. You then roll that into a sausage-shaped roll, about 1/2" thick. You slice off very thin pieces, place the piece in the cupped palm of one hand, and with the other hand you press and twist your thumb, making a shape that resembles a little ear, or more descriptive, a small mushroom cap. The edges are thicker than the middle. You continue to form these little ears, and here's where it gets time-consuming. The recipe made about 330 little ears. That took some time to make them all, and I was quite unhappy that my back was giving me problems that day.

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Marcella says the best sauce for this pasta is the Brocolli and Anchovy Sauce. That's what I made. I loved the sauce-very interesting, complex flavor with the anchovy. But what I really loved was the pasta. Chewy, firm, wonderful texture. I will most definately be making this dough again. I will be asking Marcella for her input. When I don't have time to form all of those ears, I would like to put this dough through my pasta machine. Would this be an appropriate dough for a thick-cut noodle like tagliatelle?

If you're at all interested in learning more about the art of making pasta, buy this book. Marcella does a wonderful job of explaining all aspects-the doughs, the shapes, what sauce to pair with what pasta, etc.

It's now time to move on to the next chaper-Risotto!

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Pomodori e Vino in the Pasta category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Lamb is the previous category.

Polenta is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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