Crisp Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts & Brown Butter

Crisp Gnocchi & Brussels Sprouts

When the publication of an intriguing New York Times Cooking recipe for crisp gnocchi coincided serendipitously with my finding a forgotten shelf-stable package of those dumplings in the back of my cupboard, I had to make the dish.

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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

Italian Spare Ribs

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Because of Labor Day, racks of pork ribs were plentiful in the supermarket this weekend and thus found their way into our kitchen. Of course, bottles of BBQ sauce were also on display, which I guess suggested the way most of these ribs would be cooked.

Now, I’ve been lucky enough to travel throughout the United States and to have had the chance to sample some of the best BBQ ribs. And during these travels, I have heard the merits of dry vs. wet, sweet vs. hot, oak vs. cherry, and so on debated by my hosts and their friends in the south and midwest.

With one or two exceptions, all the ribs I tasted were extraordinarily good, with those in Greenville, South Carolina taking the prize. None of them, however, came close to the ribs I had growing up, which my aunt would occasionally make for Sunday dinner. Coming from Italy, she knew nothing about BBQ, but her ribs were without a doubt the most succulent I’ve ever had. Simmered slowly for hours in a simple tomato sauce, they were almost always served with a large cut of dry pasta, tubular in shape, known as occhio di lupo, wolf’s eye.

So last night, I decided to recreate this dish, but not being able to find occhio di lupo, I substituted the more widely available rigatoni. I also opted to serve the pasta with the same cheeses my aunt would use, namely, pecorino Romano and ricotta salata.

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The Ingredients

Ingredients
3 pounds pork spare ribs cut into 2-inch pieces. (I had the butcher saw the ribs lengthwise through the racks and then I cut them into double-rib pieces. See the picture above.)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
2 28-ounce cans Italian crushed tomatoes
1 large clump of basil (about 6 leaves)
2 to 3 cups hot water
1 pound rigatoni
1/2 cup pecorino Romano
1/4 cup ricotta salata

Directions
Season the ribs with salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the ribs well on both sides, not over-crowding the pot. Work in batches if necessary. This will take about 10 minutes per batch.

Well browned ribs
Well browned ribs

After they are browned, transfer the ribs to a platter lined with paper towels.

Drain the fat from the pot, reserving 4 to 5 tablespoons. Add the onions to the reserved fat, sprinkle with a little salt, and brown them until they are soft and nicely browned. About 10 minutes. As the onions are browning, scrape up most of the brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pot.

The browned onions and garlic
The browned onions and garlic

A minute or two before the onions are done, add the garlic. Cook for about a minute, watchong the pot closely to ensure that the garlic does not burn.

Add the crushed tomatoes and basil, again scraping any remaining brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Adjust for seasoning.

With the tomatoes amd basil
With the tomatoes and basil

When the tomatoes start to boil, add the ribs. Press the ribs down so they are covered with the sauce.

When the sauce returns to a boil, reduce the flame to low and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the ribs are tender, stirring occasionally. If the sauce reduces too much, add some of the hot water so that the ribs remain covered.

The cooked ribs
The cooked ribs

When the ribs are done, cook the pasta in abundant, well salted water. Cook the pasta until a minute before the al dente stage.

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Separating the sauce and the ribs

Meanwhile, remove the basil from the sauce and transfer about 2 to 3 cups of the sauce to a large skillet. When the pasta is done, using a spider, transfer the pasta to the skillet and toss with the sauce over a low flame. Sprinkle with some of the two cheeses and cook for about a minute or until the pasta is done.

Tossing the pasta with the sauce
Tossing the pasta with the sauce

Serve the pasta along with ribs accompanied by the two cheeses for individual sprinkling.

Serves 6.

Wine Pairing: Sangiovese

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