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.
My go-to recipe for a simple tomato sauce is Marcella Hazan’s. With only 3 ingredients (plus some salt) and 3 steps, it’s the easiest sauce I know:
One 28-ounce can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, crushed, along with their juices
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half length-wise, so the root end keeps the layers together
1. In a heavy bottomed, non-reactive sauce pan, combine the tomatoes and their juices, the butter, and the onion. Add salt too taste.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and mashing any large pieces of tomatoes with your spoon.
3. Discard the onion; adjust for salt.
You can search the internet for more versions of this recipe, like this one from the New York Times Cooking site.
Hazan’s recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta. Given that I’m usually cooking for two, I often have a half portion of it on hand. Such was the case last night, when after a weekend of red-meat indulgence, I decided to make one of my favorite meatless dishes: penne with tomato and goat-cheese sauce.
Penne with Tomato and Goat-Cheese Sauce
1/2 portion of Marcella Hazan’s tomato onion sauce
2.5 ounces goat cheese or chèvre
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
8 ounces penne rigate, or any short cut pasta
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
1. In a large skillet slowly bring the tomato sauce to a simmer. When the sauce is warmed through, crumble the cheese into the sauce and still until well blended. Add the crushed red pepper. Be careful not to overdo the pepper flakes, which can overwhelm the flavor of the cheese.
2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until one minute before al dente (about 9 minutes). When the pasta is done, drain well and add it to the skillet with the sauce. Toss with sauce over low heat and allow the pasta to finish cooking, about 1 minute.
Before serving, sprinkle with some ground black pepper and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Recently, my brother called me to ask for my mother’s recipe for cauliflower in tomato sauce. It’s one of the dishes we had as kids that came from the Sicilian side of our family. More often than not it was served on its own, without pasta, as a primo, or first course. However, once I a while my mother would mix it with pasta most likely to satisfy my father who wanted pasta almost on a daily basis.
The dish calls for just a few ingredients and requires minimal preparation, which makes it perfect for a weeknight meal.
Pasta with Cauliflower
1 small onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
1 small head of cauliflower, rinsed and cut into small florets
1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound pasta like farfalle, shells, orecchiette
½ cup grated Romano or Parmigiano
6 leaves basil, torn
In a heavy-bottomed 3 to 4 quart (preferably enameled cast-iron) casserole, over medium heat sauté the onion with a pinch of salt in the oil until translucent and just lightly colored. As the onions are sautéing you may add the optional ground cloves.
When the onions are done, add the tomatoes and their juices and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat until the tomatoes come to a simmer.
At this point, add the cauliflower, gently pushing down on them so that they are lightly covered with the tomatoes. If there is not enough sauce to cover the cauliflower add a little water.
Reduce the flame to low, cover the pot, and continue to cook , stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.
Meanwhile,cook the pasta until al dente. Then drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Add the cooked cauliflower, grated cheese, torn basil, and toss.
It’s always a pleasure to find serious, well-researched, and eloquently written cookbooks that, like those of Elizabeth David and Alice Waters, promote and celebrate seasonal cooking. Recently, I came upon such a cookbook: The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen, authored by Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca.
Looking through the book’s summer section, I found a recipe for one of my favorite pastas: spaghetti alla puttanesca (spaghetti in the style of the prostitute). Although I’ve made this dish many times before, I was intrigued by the recipe’s instruction to make a fine mince of two of its main ingredients: the capers and half of the olives. I discovered that this simple step shifted the focus of the dish from the tomatoes and emphasized its olive and caper flavors, which was in line with the authors’ belief that true puttanesca is “not so much a tomato sauce with olives as an olive sauce with tomatoes.”
I adapted the book’s recipe to our tastes and used considerably more anchovies and capers than called for and opted for the stronger flavor of oil-cured black olives. Unable to find good tomatoes, I also substituted the canned San Marzano variety.
I must admit that this version of puttanesca was the best I’ve had and it made the perfect dish for a hot summer night’s dinner on the terrace.
Spaghetti Puttanesca (Adapted from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen by Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca)
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
½ cup oil-cured Moroccan-style black olives
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
2 small dried diavolino pepperoncini
8 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 28-ounce can of imported San Marzano tomatoes, drained and crushed
1 pound spaghetti
Directions Mince the capers together with half of the olives.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic, and peperoncino and sauté until the garlic just begins to turn a light gold. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Remove the garlic and the peperoncino.
Add the anchovies and sauté, stirring until they dissolve.
Add the minced capers and olives, followed by the tomatoes and whole olives.
Reduce the heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in well-salted boiling water following package directions for al dente.
About a minute before the pasta is finished cooking, using tongs transfer the pasta to the skillet and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce.
My brother recently sent me a link to a Mark Bittman recipe for pasta alla gricia on The New York Times website. In his email, he wrote that he had some success with it, but wasn’t sure he had executed the recipe 100%.
Since this classic Roman pasta is one of my go-to dishes when I’m in Rome, I thought I’d try it out. But as I read through the recipe, I was surprised not to find two ingredients, which, although used sparingly, are essential to the dish: olive oil and peperoncino (Italian hot chili pepper). Their absence led me to consult David Downie’s Cooking the Roman Way, which 14 years ago provided me with my first recipe for this dish. The olive oil adds an additional layer of unctuousness to the sauce and the peperoncino, that playful heat so typical of many Roman dishes.
Ultimately, I decided to use Downie’s recipe. Bittman’s recipe, however, contained a link to a story he had written for The Times last year on Roman pasta: “For Perfect Pasta Add Water and a Vigorous Stir.” In it, he describes how a renowned Roman chef, Flavio de Maio, demonstrated for him the “magic of water,”which creates a cremina, or a sauce, which Bittman describes as “thick and round and rich” for dishes like pasta alla gricia or carbonara. Intrigued, I applied this “magical” technique of adding some pasta water to the sauce and vigorously whisking it with a fork into the cooked pasta.
This relatively simple step yielded the best version of this dish I have ever prepared, and I believe it could stand up to many that I have enjoyed abroad. One word of caution. Should you choose to follow my version, which combines Downie’s and Bittman’s, or the original Bittman recipe on the Times website, please be sure to read the above mentioned Times story, which clearly explains how to use the pasta water. Bittman rightly warns that it can be tricky and, if not done correctly, can result in a “pile of pasta with a watery sauce on top.”
Pasta Alla Gricia (Adapted from David Downie’s Cooking the Roman Way and Mark Bittman’s NY Times recipe.)
Ingredients 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 pepperoncino (hot chile pepper), shredded or -1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 8 ounces (about 8 1/4-inch-thick slices) guanciale, pancetta or bacon, roughly chopped 1 pound bucatini, rigatoni, or spaghetti About 1-1/2 cups freshly grated imported Pecorino Romano
Bring at least 5 quarts of salted water to boil in a large pot.
2. Heat the oil in a very large, high-sided frying pan over medium heat. Add the peperoncino and the guanciale and sauté, stirring until the guanciale is deeply golden, about 5 minutes.
3. Adjust the heat as necessary to render the fat without burning the meat. The meaty parts should be browned and the fatty parts should be cooked but still slightly transparent. Remove the frying pan from the heat. (For this step, I’ve included elements from both recipes. Downie says to crisp the guanciale and calls for 1 minute of cooking; but I did not find this to be enough time to render the fat from the guanciale. I also did not want the meat too crisp. Bittman calls for 15 to 20 minutes to bring the meat to a deep golden color; but this seemed a bit too much time. Finally, if your meat is very fatty, you may want to remove some of the rendered fat from the pan.)
4. Drop the pasta into boiling water and stir. Cover the pot. When the water returns to boil, cook uncovered until the pasta is barely al dente, about 1 minute less than the suggested cooking time on the package.
5. About 5 minutes before the pasta is cooked, return the frying pan to medium heat and add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water to the pan, turn the heat to high, and reduce by about half. (This and the following step are adapted from the Bittman recipe.)
6. When the pasta is ready, use tongs to transfer it to the pan with the sauce. Stir the pasta in the sauce to let it finish cooking, adding more pasta cooking water if necessary until the pasta is done and the sauce thick and creamy. Add half the cheese and a pinch of black pepper, and stir vigorously to incorporate.
7. Serve the pasta on heated plates or in bowls, passing the remaining Pecorino Romano. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Whenever I get to Rome, one of my first stops is at a small trattoria, Orso 80, steps away from the Piazza Navona, where I always order the same dish: cacio pepe, spaghetti with pecorino cheese and black pepper. One of the city’s classic pastas, it perfectly reflects the essence of Roman cooking: a few ingredients, carefully prepared, and served unadorned.
I’ve often prepared this dish at home with a modicum of success, but I’ve never really been able to achieve the texture of the sauce that I’ve enjoyed while abroad, where the cheese smoothly melts as it’s tossed with the pasta and forms something like a creamy emulsion with the pasta water and the pepper that seems to coat the spaghetti. Recently, however, I saw a New York City chef prepare his version of the dish on morning television and was amazed to see how closely he came to achieving this texture.
Later that day, I went to the show’s website, which had a video of the chef as well as his recipe. Interestingly, the recipe was for one serving. So, when I prepared it for two, I simply doubled the ingredients. As the pasta came together with the cheese, I was ecstatic; there it was: the cheese and pepper smoothly clinging to the spaghetti. But when we sat down and tasted it, the pepper was so strong and pungent that the dish was more like caciOWWWWWW! pepe.
I’m providing a link here to the recipe and video online, but should you decide to follow it, I advise using your own taste to determine the amount of pepper of you use.
Ingredients 10 quarts water Salt 3 ounces linguine pasta, dried (85g) 2 teaspoons freshly ground coarse black pepper (10g or 30 turns from a pepper mill) Olive oil 4 tablespoons Pecorino cheese, finely grated (60g)
1. Bring 10 quarts of water to a boil and season liberally with salt. Cook the pasta for 7 minutes.
2. While the pasta is cooking, toast the black pepper in oil in a large sauté pan until fragrant.
3. Ladle 4 ounces (two small ladles full) of pasta water to stop the cooking.
4. Keep the heat off until the pasta is done.
5. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the sauté pan.
6. Turn the heat on medium high and slowly sprinkle in the Pecorino.
7. Toss the pasta while you add the cheese to emulsify. Once all the cheese is added, adjust your sauce with some more pasta water so it’s not too thick. Serve immediately, top with some freshly grated cheese and a few cracks of pepper.
My aunt, being Neapolitan, always made a southern-Italian style lasagna. Her’s was more restrained, with fewer fillings, than others I’ve had or read about, but it followed the classic formula of a long-simmered meat sauce, mozzarella, ricotta beaten with egg, parsley, and pecorino, and dried pasta noodles. In a 9” x 13” baking pan, she’d spread a thin layer of sauce, then laid down a layer of boiled noodles, coated that with a layer of ricotta and a few slices of mozzarella, followed by a coating of sauce, a sprinkling of cheese, and then on to the next layer, until she reached a total of four or five layers. The hardest part was waiting the 20 minutes after it was baked so that the lasagna could be cut more easily and served in slices. Just the thought of it is making my mouth water. Never served on a weekday, my aunt’s lasagna was reserved for holidays (even Thanksgiving), some birthdays, and once in a while for a Sunday dinner.
It wasn’t until the 70s, when northern Italian cooking swept the US, supplanting familiar Italian-American dishes with their northern counterparts, that I encountered Marcella Hazan’s classic Bolognese version of lasagna. It replaced the tomato dominated sauce with a more complex, meat-centric one and the beaten ricotta with a creamy béchamel sauce. Gone too were the pasta noodles superseded by thin sheets of fresh pasta; nutty Parmigiano-Reggiano took the place of the saltier pecorino; and mozzarella didn’t even make its way into the mix. Given the time it took to make this version, however, I found myself preparing lasagna far less often than my aunt had.
But recently, I came across a recipe for a weeknight lasagna by television’s Rachael Ray. Her version uses a 30-minute meat ragu, a classic béchamel, and no-boil pasta sheets as an alternative to home-made egg pasta. So on a Wednesday night, I though why not give it a try.
To give her relatively quick-cooked ragu more intense flavor, she uses tomato paste and chicken stock as the base of her sauce, which begins with the traditional soffritto (sautéed onion, celery, and carrot). Veal and beef, mixed with rosemary, sage, and bay leaf, are then lightly browned in the same pot, followed by a splash of dry white wine. A good amount of tomato paste is then incorporated into the meat, followed by three cups of chicken stock. The sauce is then simmered for about 30 minutes, or until thick.
While the sauce is cooking, you can prepare the béchamel, which starts with a light roux and ends with the addition of warm milk, whisked and cooked gently until it thickens.
The baking pan gets a thin coating the cream sauce, which is then topped with the no-boil pasta sheets. These get thin coatings of béchamel and ragu and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. These steps are repeated until you have four layers.
The lasagna is baked in a 375°F oven for an hour, or until browned and bubbling. (If using fresh pasta, the cooking time is 30-35 minutes.)
Although I was skeptical at first, (the reason for so few photos) I was more than pleased with the results. Nevertheless, I did make some changes. I added some canned San Marzano tomatoes, about a cup, to the sauce to give it a slightly brighter tomato flavor. To achieve what I thought was the appropriate thickness for a ragu, I cooked my sauce for almost an hour. In place of some ground cloves to be added with the herbs to the meat, I substituted the more traditional freshly ground nutmeg.
Purists among my readers may cringe, as did I, at some of the elements of this recipe. And while it may be a far cry from my aunt’s as well as from Hazan’s classic Bolognese version, it makes a wonderful baked-pasta dish for a weeknight supper.
For some reason, I really don’t know why, I’ve always been afraid to cook calamari. As I was growing up, it was always one of my favorite meals on a Friday, when meatless meals were still mandatory for Catholics. More often than not, my aunt would prepare them stewed in a simple marinara sauce. They were either whole, stuffed with softened white bread that she combined with the chopped tentacles, eggs, and parsley, or cut up into rings. The stuffed version were usually served with pasta; the rings, with friselle, which might best be described as thick, rectangular, twice-baked bread biscuits, which were used to sop up the sauce. Once in a while, my aunt would also serve them cut into rings, lightly battered, and deep-fried, accompanied only by lemon wedges—but never with tomato sauce.
Wanting to recreate these dishes at home, I eventually confronted my fear of cooking these delectable creatures and started to deep fry calamari with, I might add, considerable success. Cooking them in sauce, however, continued to remain a challenge—until last Friday. That morning, I had intended to buy some Manila clams, which I intended to cook with Sardinian fregola. But when I got to the fish market, I spotted some beautiful calamari, glistening a lustrous white interlaced with light purple from the tentacles. I decided that it was time to take the plunge and stew them in tomato sauce.
Although I was confident about the sauce, I wasn’t quite sure how long I needed to cook the calamari. Almost every source I consulted warned against overcooking them, which would make them rubbery. Indeed, I knew this from my experience with frying. In fact, the majority of recipes I read suggested preparing the sauce separately and then adding the squid and cooking them for two minutes. Somehow, I wasn’t comfortable with this method, as I really wanted my sauce to be deeply flavored with the calamari and vice versa. I was certain that my aunt simmered her calamari slowly, but I wasn’t sure for how long.
Finally, I turned to one of my go-to books on Neapolitan cooking, Naples at Tableby Arthur Schwartz. It was here that I found a recipe that resembled closely my aunt’s preparation. It called for preparing a classic marinara and adding the calamari to the sauce after the first five minutes of cooking. The fish and the sauce are then gently simmered uncovered for about 30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and the calamari are tender.
This was the recipe I used, and with some only minor variations (adding some salt and increasing the amount of tomatoes), I came very close to replicating my aunt’s stewed calamari. I served them over pasta. Next time, however, I’ll stuff them.
Calamari In Cassuola (Squid Stewed with Tomatoes) adapted from Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed
¼ teaspoon or more hot red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can imported whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with their juices
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt to taste
1½ fresh, cleaned calamari cut into ¼-inch rings, tentacles cut in half
¼ cup finely cut flat-leaf parsley
1. In a 2½ – to 3-quart saucepan or stovetop casserole, over low heat, combine the olive oil, the garlic, and the hot pepper. Cook until the garlic is soft and beginning to color on all sides, pressing the garlic into the oil a few times to release its flavor. Remove the garlic.
2. Add the tomatoes, the oregano, and the salt to taste and, with a wooden spoon, break up and coarsely crush the tomatoes. Increase the heat to medium high and simmer briskly, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
3. Reduce the heat to low, stir the calamari into the sauce and continue to simmer steadily, uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the calamari are tender. Some calamari may take longer to cook, in which case you may need to add a tablespoon or as many as a few tablespoons of water so the sauce doesn’t become too reduced.
4. Add the parsley and cook for another 15 seconds.
Note: I added the parsley after transferring the calamari to a skillet for tossing with the pasta.
5. Serve very hot, as is, with bread, or over freselle, or, as I did, tossed with pasta.
When I saw this recipe in last month’s Bon Appetit magazine, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I’d make it. What most attracted me to it were the golden raisins and pine nuts, ingredients that, when paired with swordfish, whispered my mother’s native Sicily.
Finding a great piece of swordfish and some beautiful hot-house cherry tomatoes at the market yesterday reminded me of the recipe and so here it is. I followed all of the instructions but toasted the pine nuts ahead of time. I also decided to add some of the raisins and pine nuts to the sauce rather than sprinkling all of them on at the end. My only cautionary note would be to hold off on adding the 1/2 cup of pasta water at the end. Wait until you’ve almost finished tossing the pasta with the sauce. A tablespoon or two might be enough.
Pasta with Swordfish and Cherry Tomato Sauce from Bon Appetit August 2015
Ingredients (Serves 4)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided (2 for the sauce; 1 for the swordfish)
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets
4 garlic cloves, sliced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound 1-inch-thick swordfish steaks
2 tablespoons pine nuts
12 ounces casarecce or other short pasta (I used strozzapreti)
½ cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
2 tablespoons golden raisins
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook anchovies, garlic, and red
pepper flakes, stirring occasionally, until anchovies disintegrate, about 3 minutes.
Add half of tomatoes; season with salt and pepper.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 12–15 minutes. Add remaining tomatoes; remove from heat.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Season fish
with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown and just cooked through, about 4
minutes per side. Let cool slightly. Coarsely flake flesh; discard skin. (You may also want to remove the dark blood lines.)
Toast nuts in a dry small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing often, until golden
brown, about 4 minutes. Let cool.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Add pasta and ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to tomato sauce and cook over low heat,
tossing often and adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce is thickened
and coats pasta. Add fish to pasta along with half of parsley and toss once to
Serve pasta topped with raisins, pine nuts, and remaining parsley.