String Beans and Spaghetti

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String Beans and Spaghetti

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.

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Crushed red pepper to taste
8 ounces French-cut string beans (I used frozen.)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces spaghetti or linguine broken into 1-inch pieces
Grated Pecorino Romano

Preparation

  1. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. When it reaches a boil, add a good amount of salt.
  2. When the water returns to a boil, place the string beans in a sieve and blanch in the water for about two minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. Bring the water used to blanch the beans back to a boil and add the broken pasta. Cook until al dente.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Turn off the heat and add a generous amount of the grated cheese.
  8. Serve on warmed plates along with some grated cheese for sprinkling.

Wine Pairing: Grillo, Greco di Tuffo

 

Penne with Cauliflower Ragu

Penne with Cauliflower Ragu

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

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

Kosher salt

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

Directions
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.

Core, stalks & leaves

3. Chop the core, stalks, and leaves. (I used a food processor for this step.)

Chopped core, stalks & leaves

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.)

After 3 to 5 minutes of cooking.

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.)

After 18 to 25 minutes of cooking

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.)

Cooked florets with red-pepper flakes

7. Add the butter, stirring gently until it melts, then season well with Maldon salt and remove from the heat.

Adding the butter

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.

Ragu awaiting cheese and 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.

Stirring 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.

Bread crumbs and rosemary

As you can see, I opted for big boy breadcrumbs.

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio

Zucchini Salad

Zucchini Salad

One memory I have about my childhood summers was my aunt planting zucchini at our country house and harvesting vast quantities of them through the season. This routine assured her an adequate supply of zucchini flowers, which she would fry or use to make fritters, frittatas, and even pizza. (In the 50s and 60s, zucchini flowers–not then known as “blossoms”–were hard to come by.)

With the zucchini themselves, she would prepare a variety of dishes: among them, ciambotto, an Italian version of ratatouille; cocozelle (zucchini sauteed with onions and then combined with gently scrambled egg); a simple saute with garlic and oil as a side dish; scapece (fried slices of zucchini marinated with vinegar, garlic, and mint) and this simple salad similar to scapece but not fried.

Ingredients

Ingredients

2 small zucchini
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs mint
salt
1/4 cup apple cider or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon oil

Preparation

1- In a 3 quart sauce pan bring water to a boil.

2- Partially peel the zucchini in alternating strips. If the zucchini are very young, you can leave the peel on.

Peeled Zucchini

3- Quarter the zucchini and then slice into 2-inch wedges and thinly slice the garlic.

Prepped Zucchini & Garlic

4- Tear the mint leaves.

Torn Mint Leaves

5- Add salt to the boiling water and slide in the zucchini wedges. Blanch for approximately 3 minutes.

6- When done, place the blanched zucchini in an ice bath.

Zucchini Chillin’

7- Drain the zucchini and transfer to a small serving dish just big enough to hold them in a single layer.

8- Salt the zucchini and then drizzle with the vinegar and oil. Add the garlic and mint leaves.

8- Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours stirring once or twice.

Serve as a side dish or with crusty bread as an appetizer or salad.

Served as a salad

I served this as a salad after Mark Bittman’s Deviled Chicken Thighs.

Deviled Chicken Thighs

Wine Pairing: Southern French Rose

Calabrian Chili Pasta

Calabrian Chili Pasta

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.

Here’s a link to the original recipe and video.

Ingredients

1 pound penne pasta
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup grated pecorino
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 tablespoons Calabrian hot pepper paste
1/3 cup chopped chives
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon juice, from 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a 10-inch high-sided saute pan, bring 1 inch of water (about 4 cups) to a boil over high heat. Add the penne and the salt.

Pasta with about an inch of water

Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, about 9 minutes; there should be a little water left in the pan.

The cooked pasta

Sprinkle the pecorino over the pasta; toss to coat. (Work quickly, making sure that the cheese doesn’t clump together and is evenly distributed.)

Add the tomatoes, chili paste, chives, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil, and toss.

Wine Pairing: Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo or Sauvignon Blanc

Pasta con Ceci

Pasta Con Ceci

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

Ingredients

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.)
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.

Browning the Garlic

Stir in the tomato paste and salt and fry for 30 seconds or so.

Frying the tomato paste

Add the chickpeas, pasta, and boiling water.

Adding chickpeas and pasta
Adding the 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.

Adding the rosemary
The finished dish

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.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Asparagus Frittata

Asparagus Frittata

I’ve always like omelets. Growing up in an Italian household, my introduction to them was through frittatas. Large and made with plenty of eggs and grated Romano, they typically featured fried peppers or potatoes and sometimes even left over spaghetti, which was sautéed until a light crust formed on the pasta.

I remember how my aunt stood over the frying pan, wooden spoon in hand, pushing the eggs towards the center allowing the more liquid portion to fall to the sides. “You can’t rush these,” she’d say. Then came the moment of the flip, where she placed a large plate over the pan and, in a flash, inverted the frittata and then slid it from the plate into the pan to finish cooking. Another few minutes of slow cooking followed during which she’d gently shake the pan. When I asked, how did she know it was done, she replied “il naso,” the nose. “You can smell when it’s done.”

The finished frittata was puffy and light, never dry, and the eggs seemed like pillows to whatever the filling.

Eventually, I discovered the French omelet; totally different from the Italian, but that’s a story for another post.

One morning, not too long ago, over breakfast I saw Lidia Bastianich prepare an asparagus frittata on television. The 10 minute spot evoked memories of my aunt and so I decided to make one for dinner that evening. Below is her recipe along with a link to the video i saw that morning.

I modified the recipe by adding a generous handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the eggs before beating. I also flipped the frittata as my aunt did to finish cooking the other side.

Wine Pairing: Falanghina

Lidia Bastianich’s Asparagus Frittata

Ingredients

1 pound pencil-thin asparagus
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 large eggs

Preparation

1. Remove and discard the tough lower ends of the asparagus. Cut the spears into 2-inch lengths.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, sauté the asparagus spears in olive oil, sprinkling them lightly with salt. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until asparagus is tender but still firm, about 5 minutes.

3. Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl with salt and pepper. Add the eggs to the asparagus, scrambling the mixture lightly with a fork. Cook 2 minutes, or less depending on the texture desired, until eggs are set, and serve immediately.

Video Link

Pasta with Cauliflower

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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

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Ingredients
1 small onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
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

Prepped cauliflower and onions
Prepped cauliflower and onions

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.

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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.

Simmered tomatoes
Simmered tomatoes

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.

After adding cauliflower to the sauce
After adding cauliflower to the sauce

Reduce the flame to low, cover the pot, and continue to cook , stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.

Cooked Cauliflower
Cooked Cauliflower

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.

Cauliflower with Pasta
Cauliflower with Pasta

Wine Pairing: Nero d’Avola

Oven-Baked Ratatouille

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Perhaps owing to the bounty of summer produce at the market at this time of year, I inevitably wind up making ratatouille. Usually, I prepare it on top of the stove, cooking most of the vegetables individually. This year, however, I was lazy. (I’ll blame the excessive heat.) For this reason, I chose to make Mark Bittman’s oven-baked version from his book How to Cook Everything. What I especially liked about his recipe was that it called for cooking all the vegetables at the same time in the oven.

I admit that I was not totally faithful to Bittman’s recipe when it came to the amount of vegetables, the sizes in which they were cut, and the amount of olive oil. I also erroneously covered my casserole, which may have produced a more watery, though no less delicious result. The next time, I’ll choose the uncovered route. It will probably give the dish a more roasted flavor. I will also not make the mistake of scattering the fresh-herb sprigs over the vegetables, as removing them at the end of cooking was a chore.

Oven Baked Ratatouille (Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

Ingredients
Ingredients

1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 onions, chopped
2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
2 round tomatoes, cored cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup grape tomatoes
10 cloves of garlic, halved
Several sprigs fresh thyme and rosemary tied with a string for easy removal
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to tasteThe prepped vegetables

The prepped vegetables

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Film a casserole or heavy oven proof skillet dish with a couple tablespoons of the olive oil, then make a layer onion, followed by one of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and half the the garlic (the order doesn’t matter at all). Repeat and make a second layer. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil.

The layered vegetables
The layered vegetables

Bake for about 1 to 1.5 hours, pressing down on the vegetables occasionally with a spatula, until they are all completely tender. When they are tender remove.

About mid-way through
About mid-way through

Garnish with more herbs and drizzle with a little more olive oil, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

I chose to serve the ratatouille as a side dish with a roasted chicken.

Wine Pairing: Dry Rose

Meatless Pecorino Meatballs

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Sometimes a recipe is enough to make me purchase a cookbook. So when I saw a recipe for polpettine di pecorino, pecorino meatballs, in Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, I had to have this book.

I’m not sure why I was so intrigued by this dish. On one hand, I was skeptical that cheese, bread crumbs, eggs, garlic, and basil would come together and then be fried to make a satisfying alternative to the classic meatball. But on the other hand, I have a weakness for pecorino; having a Neapolitan heritage, I was brought up on it. It was the cheese of choice for sprinkling on pasta, flavoring stuffings, adding to a frittata, or topping carne pizzaiola.

A few nights ago, I tried the recipe for the first time and we thoroughly enjoyed a most satisfying meatless dish. Richly flavored, they had a pleasant saltiness and meaty texture. A simple marinara provided the perfect complement to their savoriness.

My aforementioned skepticism is to blame for not having photos of preparing this dish. But I think the two I’ve provided of the finished meatballs should entice you to make them. I’ll try to add more photos the next time I make these.

As we were only two at the table, I halved the original recipe, which makes 60 small meatballs.

Meatless Pecorino Meatballs Adapted from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy
8 large eggs
3 cups fine dry bread crumbs
3 cups freshly grated pecorino
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup vegetable oil, or more as needed (I used extra virgin olive oil.)
6 to 7 cups tomato sauce (I used Marcella Hazan’s classic tomato, onion, and butter sauce.)

Beat the eggs well in a large mixing bowl. Heap the bread crumbs, cheese, salt, basil, and garlic on top of the eggs and mix everything together well, first with a big spoon or spatula and then with your hands. (Be careful not to overwork the mixture.) The “dough” should come together in a soft mass, leaving the sides of bowl. If it is very sticky, work in more bread crumbs a bit at a time.

Break off tablespoonful pieces of dough, and one by one roll them in your palms into smooth balls. Place them on a board or tray covered with wax paper or parchment–you should get about 60 balls total.

Pour 1/8 inch oil into the skillet, and set over medium flame. When the oil is hot enough that a test ball starts sizzling on contact, lay in as many balls as will fit into the pan without crowding–about 20 or 30. Adjust the heat as you fry so the heat stays hot and the balls are sizzling and browning nicely, but not burning. Turn them frequently, so they fry on all sides.

When the balls are evenly browned and crispy, lift them from the pan with a slotted spoon or spider, letting excess oil drip back into the pan for a moment, and then lay them on paper towels to drain

Fry the balls in batches this way, adding more oil if needed. You can serve these as is as an hors d’oeuvre while hot and crispy.

To serve with sauce, heat the sauce to a simmer in a large saucepan. Drop in all the balls and return the sauce to a simmer, gently turning the balls so all are submerged and coated. Cook for about 5 minutes, or just until the balls are heated all the way through.

Finished meatballs in the sauce
Finished meatballs in the sauce

Serve with sauce on the top, sprinkled with grated cheese, and garnished with basil.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

 

 

Pasta Stuffed Peppers

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When it comes to cooking, I react to the word “vegetarian” as a vampire would to “garlic.” Fortunately, I just purchased Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Vegetable Cookbook

This richly illustrated volume has 200 recipes for a wide variety of dishes including antipasti, soups, pasta, main dishes, and even desserts. My only regret is that I didn’t have it for the summer months, when so many vegetables are widely available and at their best.

Scicolone is a prolific writer who has produced at least a dozen books on Italian cooking and has earned a well deserved reputation for recipes that work. This weekend I decided to make one of her main course dishes for some friends: Pasta-Stuffed Peppers.

Red and yellow bell peppers are hollowed out and filled with small pasta like ditalaini that is mixed in a savory sauce of tomatoes, garlic, capers, anchovies, and olives. The peppers are then covered with their tops and baked in a moderate oven until the peppers are tender, about 45 minutes.

Here is a link to her recipe online on Food Republic. Although the recipe claims to serve 6, your guests, as did mine, may find that just one of these delicious peppers is not enough. Below is my illustrated version of the recipe.

1. Prepare and assemble the ingredients: peppers, tomatoes, garlic, black olives, anchovies, capers, and dried oregano

The prepped ingredients
The prepped ingredients

2. Heat the oil and garlic and cooke the tomatoes seasoned with oregano:

Cook the tomatoes
Cook the tomatoes

3. Add the savory components: olives, capers, anchovies and season with salt and pepper.

The savory components
The savory components

4. Add the cooked small pasta to the sauce before filling and baking the peppers.

Sauce the cooked pasta before filling the peppers
Sauce the cooked pasta before filling the peppers

5. Bake in a 375ºF oven. Be sure that your peppers are tender; it may take a tad more than the suggested 45 minutes.

Wine Pairing: Chianti Montalbano, Falanghina