When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, we really didn’t dine out that much. My family enjoyed such good food at home that the only reason for going to a restaurant was to give my mother and aunt a break from cooking. More often than not, the restaurants we chose were Italian. In fact, two of our favorites are still going strong in Brooklyn: Michael’s on Avenue R and Gargiulo’s in Coney Island. A third favorite, Patsy’s, continues to be popular in Manhattan. All three served then, as they still do, typical Neapolitan dishes that were similar to those we enjoyed at home but, at least in my aunt’s opinion, never quite as good.
In the early 50s, however, southern-Italian restaurants were being challenged by northern-Italian competitors. These new style establishments strove to distinguish themselves and, with some condescension, frowned on the heavy use of garlic, olive oil, peperoncino, and even dried pasta like spaghetti. Butter took the place of olive oil; cream sauces replaced tomato based ones; herbs like rosemary and thyme and spices like saffron and nutmeg lent more nuance than did basil or oregano. Southern dried pasta was replaced either by the fresh egg variety or by risottos, often finished with flair at tableside.
During the hectic holiday season, I sometimes find myself way behind schedule and therefore need to rush to get dinner on the table. It’s at times like these that I’m grateful to have recipes like the one I found on Italian wine maven John Fodera’s impressive website, Tuscan Vines, for Gnocchi San Marzano.
One of my all time favorite restaurants in Rome is La Matricianella, and one of my favorite Roman pastas is one of its specialties, bucatini all’Amatriciana, a dish that hails from a mountain town southeast of Rome, Amatrice. You may have read about this town a few years ago, when it was devastated by an earthquake in August of 2016.
Among Roman chefs, however, there is some controversy over this dish related primarily to the use of onion and garlic. In fact, the city of Amatrice eventually issued guidelines for the dish that list the “official” ingredients: spaghetti, guanciale, extra-virgin olive oil, white wine, either fresh or canned tomatoes, hot chili pepper, freshly grated Pecorino Romano, and salt.
The last time I wrote about this pasta here, I used a Marcella Hazan recipe, which I’m sure would rile many a purist by its use of onion, pancetta as opposed to guanciale, butter and vegetable oil, Parmesan, and bucatini. Yet despite the substitutions, perhaps even because of then, Hazan’s recipe yields a delicious dish.
But last night I wanted to replicate, as closely as possible, the version I enjoy in Rome. La Matricianella does use bucatini; therefore, so did I. My only other variation from the official recipe as well as from Downie’s, was substituting pancetta for the guancialeI was unable to find a good piece of it here in San Diego.
I also prefer having the pork for this dish in larger chunks than Downie’s “roughly-chopped” style, approximately 1/4” thick, 1/2” wide, and 1” long.
Bucatini all’ Amatriciana (adapted from Cooking the Roman Way: Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome, by David Downie Serves 4
4 ounces pancetta (If you can find guanciale, use that.)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (If available, use 1 Italian peperoncino)
1/2 cup Italian dry white wine (Roman Frascati would be ideal.)
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1 pound bucatini
About 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1. Cut the pancetta into chunks approximately 1/4” thick, 1/2” wide, and 1” long.
2. Scatter the pancetta around a thick bottomed, high-sided sauté pan/ Add the oil and the red pepper flakes. Sauté over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the pork fat, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
3. Once the pancetta colors, but before it begins to crisp, pour in the wine and boil to evaporate it, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes and their juice to the pan, crushing them in your hands. Lower the heat and simmer until the tomatoes are reduced almost by half, stirring often, for 30 to 40 minutes. Taste for salt. (If using pancetta, add some freshly ground black pepper.)
5. Bring at least 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add a generous amount of salt Cook until the pasta is barely al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes less than the package’s suggested cooking time.
6. Using tongs or a pasta grabber, transfer the pasta directly from the pot to the sauté pan. Stir and toss it vigorously to finish cooking it, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat, stir in 4 heaping tablespoons of the Pecorino Romano and toss to coat the pasta. (Note: Do not drain the pasta for this dish in a colander; transferring the pasta directly from the pot to the sauce, adds just the right of pasta water to loosen the sauce. This is not a sauce you want to thin out with reserved pasta water; it should be thick.)
7. Serve immediately in heated pasta bowls, with the remaining Pecorino Romano on the side.
This recipe serves at least four and when I’m cooking for two I’ll often make the full recipe to have enough sauce for another night. In fact, I may use the remaining sauce for an Amatriciana frittata as suggested by Downie.
Leftovers. It’s a word that really doesn’t sound too appealing. All too often, it conjures up images of dry, dull tasting food, whose sole reason for being on the table is to avoid wasting it. I believe the reason for their bad rap can be attributed to the way leftovers are all too often re-heated in modern kitchens: the microwave. Another explanation might be a rushed home cook using too high a flame or temperature.
As a food blogger in a family of two, I often have a lot of food left over, especially after having prepared a stew or braised dish for a post. And having been brought up by family who lived through the Great Depression, it was imbued in me that wasting food is a sin. As a result, I’ve come to take pride in what I do with leftovers, or what my Neapolitan aunt called “i resti,” which, by the way, sounds far better than the English equivalent.
A case in point is last night’s supper, mezzirigatoni sauced with the abundant remains of Sunday’s braised oxtails. There wasn’t much meat left in the tomato-based sauce, but there was plenty of minced onion and carrot as well as tender pieces of celery.
I took half of the remaining sauce (the other half is in the freezer) from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. I then placed it in a heavy bottomed casserole and reheated it covered on a low simmer for at least 30 minutes, adding a spoonful of water when it became too thick.
Meanwhile, I put up the pasta to cook and later transferred the sauce from the casserole to a large skillet over a low flame. To thin out the sauce, I added about a ladleful of the pasta water. When the pasta was just shy of al dente, I drained it, transferred it to the skillet, sprinkled it with a handful of cheese and tossed it until the pasta was well coated in the sauce.
The result was delicious and had it been served to guests at a dinner as a primo, or first course, none would have guessed it was a leftover but rather thought it to be a rich ragu.
Perhaps my favorite season in New York City was fall. It always seemed that the city somehow sprung back to life from a lazy hot and humid summer slumber. The atmosphere grew more vibrant as leaves changed color and cooler temps set in. The fall harvest seemed to energize the Union Square Farmers Market.
Alas, we don’t have as dramatic a seasonal change here in San Diego, “where the climate must be perfect all the year.” So to compensate for this, I cook the fall dishes I used to make back in the city.
One of these is Mario Batali’s “Mezzi Rigatoni with Sausage and Radicchio.” Made with sausage, radicchio, fennel, red onion, red wine and tomato sauce, its colors intimate fall foliage. On the palate, it delivers a kaleidoscope of flavors: sweet from the fennel, bitter from the radicchio, savory from the sausage, all balanced with a simple tomato sauce. (I use Marcella Hazan’s sauce made with five tablespoons of butter, an onion split in half, and Italian plum tomatoes with their juices.)
Batali’s recipe calls for mezzi rigatoni, and should you choose to make this dish, I strongly suggest using this pasta shape; it has the perfect size and weight for this rich sauce. Unfortunately, I had run out of them and substituted penne rigate, which were OK, but definitely not as good as the recommended rigatoni. Lack of availability also forced me to substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano for the recipe’s Asiago.
Batali’s recipe comes from his 2011 Simple Family Meals. Since I was cooking only for two, I pretty much halved the recipe’s amounts. However, you can find the original recipe, which serves 6 as a main course, here.
One final note: take your time with Step 10 of the recipe and so that the pasta is well coated with the sauce.
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled
½ tablespoon fennel seeds
½ tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
½ red onion, chopping into ¼-inch dice
½ fennel bulb, ribs and fronds discarded, bulb finely chopping
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 head radicchio, cored and finely chopped
½ cup dry red wine, such as Morellino di Scansano
1 cups basic tomato sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ pound mezzi rigatoni pasta
Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, for serving
1. In a heavy-bottomed 12-inch sauté pan, cook the sausage over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes.
2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate.
3. Add the fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, onions, fennel, garlic, and radicchio to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are well browned, about 10 minutes.
4. Return the sausage to the pan, add the wine and the tomato sauce, and bring to a boil.
5. Lower the heat and simmer until the radicchio is very tender and the sauce as thickened, about 10 minutes.
6. Season well with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.
7. Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
8. Drop the mezzi rigatoni into the water and cook for 1 minute less than the package instructions indicate. Just before the pasta is done, carefully ladle ½ of the cooking water into the sausage mixture.
9. Drain the pasta in a colander and add it to the sausage mixture.
10. Toss over medium heat for about 30 seconds, until the pasta is nicely coated.
11. Pour into a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately, with a bowl of grated Asiago on the side.
Here’s a simple dish based on memories of my Sicilian mother in the kitchen. I hadn’t planned on posting this recipe, so the only photo I have is of the plated pasta. However, the preparation is so straightforward that illustration might appear excessive.
My mother would often serve this dish during Lent, but also during the summer when she preferred the patio to the kitchen. Although she would French her string beans by hand, I use good-quality frozen ones.
Sometimes if they’re on hand, I’ll saute some thinly sliced scallions along with the garlic or add some toasted pine nuts to the sauteed beans.
2 cloves garlic minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Crushed red pepper to taste
8 ounces French-cut string beans (I used frozen.)
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces spaghetti or linguine broken into 1-inch pieces
Grated Pecorino Romano
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. When it reaches a boil, add a good amount of salt.
When the water returns to a boil, place the string beans in a sieve and blanch in the water for about two minutes.
When the beans are tender but still crisp, remove them in the sieve and shock in a bowl of iced water. Lift the beans from the water and set aside.
Bring the water used to blanch the beans back to a boil and add the broken pasta. Cook until al dente.
Meanwhile, in a wide skillet, over medium-low heat saute the garlic and crushed pepper until the garlic softens but does not get brown. Then add the drained beans to the pan and saute for two to three minutes.
When the pasta is done, transfer to the skillet and toss with the beans over low heat for about a minute. Season with salt and pepper.
Turn off the heat and add a generous amount of the grated cheese.
Serve on warmed plates along with some grated cheese for sprinkling.
Sometimes I find that it’s the end of the week, and I’ve served nothing but meatcentric meals. More often than not this is due to buying what’s on sale at the market, re-purposing leftovers, or just my hankering for a steak.
It’s at times like these that I start to look for a non-meat dish, which usually winds up being pasta or, as my better half bemoans, “all too seldom,” fish. In my search, I came across this recipe from Mario Batali’s cookbook Molto Gusto. Just the word “ragu” made my mouth water.
Except for the frequent stirring of the cauliflower, it’s a relatively simple dish to prepare and, as the recipe points out, it can be made days in advance. I did find, however, that I needed to extend the three cooking times for the cauliflower, especially at the third stage. I’ve given the recipe’s original times, but strongly suggest that you taste the cauliflower for tenderness at each stage.
Ingredients Serves 6 people
1 medium cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Maldon or other flaky sea salt
1 ½ to 2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 pound pennette
¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
½ cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs fried in olive oil until golden brown
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1. Halve the cauliflower. Cut off the leaves and reserve them. Cut out the core and reserve it. 2. Cut the cauliflower into small bite-sized florets, reserving the stalks.
3. Chop the core, stalks, and leaves. (I used a food processor for this step.)
4. Combine the oil, onion, garlic, and cauliflower leaves, stalks, and core in a large pot, season with Maldon salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the leaves are just beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. (This step took me at least six minutes.)
5. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower leaves are just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. (This step took me at least 26 minutes.)
6. Add the cauliflower florets, red pepper flakes, and 1 cup water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is very soft and almost falling apart, 22 to 25 minutes. (I added about 10 minutes to this step.)
7. Add the butter, stirring gently until it melts, then season well with Maldon salt and remove from the heat.
The cauliflower ragú can be prepared up to 3 days ahead. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate; reheat in a large pot over medium-low heat before adding the pasta.
8. Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large pot and add 3 tablespoons Kosher salt. Drop in the pasta and cook until just al dente.
9. Drain the pasta, reserving about 2/3 cup of the pasta water.
10. Add the pasta and 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water to the cauliflower ragú and stir and toss over medium heat until the pasta is well coated (add a splash or two more of the reserved pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce). Stir in the cheese.
11. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and rosemary, and serve, with additional grated cheese on the side.
While today’s recipe may not readily be associated with late spring, it turned out to be the perfect dish for a mildly chilly San Diego evening. The real impetus behind it though was an incredible sale on lamb shanks at the supermarket that I couldn’t pass up.
When I started to look for recipes I immediately turned to books for slow cookers, but then I came across one for a slow oven braise by Ina Garten that adds orzo to the dish in the final step. As with the aforementioned sale, I couldn’t pass it up.
One thing I realized after making this dish is just how different lamb tastes when braised in the oven for two and a half hours as opposed to being cooked in a slow cooker for eight. Although I can’t deny the convenience of the latter method, the former yields in my opinion a better textured lamb with deeper flavor.
The recipe is from Garten’s cookbook Barefoot Contessa Foolproof but can also be found on the Food Network’s website. My only variations were substituting olive oil for the recipe’s grapeseed oil and, as I was cooking for two, halving the number of lamb shanks. Note that I did not reduce any of the other ingredients as I figured any left-over orzo would make a good weeknight supper.
1 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 lamb shanks (1 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
3 or more tablespoons grapeseed oil (I substituted olive oil.)
2 tablespoons good olive oil
3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 to 3 onions)
2 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 5 carrots)
2 cups medium-diced celery (3 stalks)
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, including the liquid
2 cups canned beef broth
1 1/2 cups dry white wine, plus extra for serving
2 bay leaves
2 cups orzo (Use a good quality orzo that will stand up to long cooking.)
1-Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2-Combine the flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and dredge the lamb shanks in the mixture, shaking off the excess.
3-In a large (13-inch) Dutch oven such as Le Creuset, heat 3 tablespoons of the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add 2 lamb shanks and cook for 10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until browned on all sides. Transfer the shanks to a plate, add more grapeseed oil, and brown the remaining 2 shanks. (Don’t rush this step; make sure to get a good brown on the lamb.)
4-Wipe out the Dutch oven with a paper towel, add the olive oil, and heat over medium to medium-high heat. (Do not be tempted to skip this step as it really does reduce the amount of fat in the final dish.)
5-Add the onions, carrots, celery, and rosemary and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute.
6-Add the tomatoes, beef broth, wine, 4 teaspoons salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper. Add the lamb shanks, arranging them so they’re almost completely submerged in the liquid. Tuck in the bay leaves and bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
7-Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 2 hours, turning the shanks once while they cook.
8-Stir in the orzo and return the lamb shanks to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the orzo is cooked and the lamb shanks are very tender. Discard the bay leaves, stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons of white wine, and taste the orzo for seasonings. Serve hot.
I know this recipe may offend some traditionalists; nevertheless, I’m posting it for two reasons. First of all, it’s my first encounter with Calabrian chili paste, an unctuous spicy condiment that I see becoming a staple in my pantry. Secondly, the recipe takes an innovative approach to cooking pasta that eliminates using a dedicated pot for its boiling. I admit that I was skeptical about this method, but for someone who cooks at home almost every night, having one less pot to clean seemed most appealing.
This relatively quick and easy recipe is from an episode of Giada DeLaurentiis’s “Giada at Home” that I saw while having breakfast early on a Sunday morning. The finished dish looked so good that immediately after church I made a trip to my local Italian specialty store to look for the chili paste. I was surprised to find there a couple of varieties, both imported and domestic, but chose the imported one from Tutto Calabria.
My only variation on the recipe was using heaping tablespoons of the chili paste, which although quite spicy, is not very hot.
Rather than pairing this dish with a southern Italian red, I opted for a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo–perfect for a warm spring evening.
A few years ago, I posted my family’s recipe for pasta with chickpeas, Pasta Ceci. It’s always been one of my favorite dishes passed down to me during my grad-school days from my Sicilian mother.
Recently, however, I came across another version of this dish on the Food52 website, adapted from Victoria Granof’s cookbook, Chickpeas. This recipe seems to have Neapolitan roots, with much of its flavor derived from frying tomato paste in garlic infused olive oil.
What made this dish immediately appealing for a weeknight meal is that it requires only one pot, as the pasta is cooked along with the chickpeas with a minimal amount of water. My only variations on the recipe were sautéing some crushed red pepper flakes along with the olive oil and garlic, adding some chopped rosemary during the last five minutes of cooking, and doubling the amount of pasta.
I also recommend using the imported double-concentrate Italian tomato paste in a tube. I find it has deeper flavor than most canned varieties.
While this may not be the most authentic version of this dish, it is nonetheless most delicious and quite satisfying.
VICTORIA GRANOF’S PASTA CON CECI Adapted from FOOD52
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons good tomato paste (I used heaping tablespoons.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup uncooked ditalini pasta (or another small shape, like macaroni) (I used a full cup)
2 cups boiling water (You may need to adjust the amount of water if you add more pasta.)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (I added the crushed pepper to the pasta during the last 5 minutes of cooking.)
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until it becomes lightly browned and fragrant.
Stir in the tomato paste and salt and fry for 30 seconds or so.
Add the chickpeas, pasta, and boiling water.
Stir to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, lower the heat, and simmer until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasoning. To serve, ladle the pasta into shallow bowls, sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes, and drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil on top.