The old saying for March, “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” isn’t faring well this year. It’s lion all the way: blustery cold, temperatures skirting the freeze point at night. The threat of snow might only manifest as a swirl of icy flakes, hardly worth mentioning. Except that there are competing signs of spring–pear and plum trees blooming; branches of forsythia fleck sunny yellow, tulips and hyacinths in varying purpled hues; Against the stark grey, they all glow.
So, the recipe that I’m sharing with you today is one of those that straddles the seasons. Like most members in the family of baked pastas, it is substantial, hearty. The kind of dish you’d want on a chilly March night, when that lion wind roars through the cracks of your doors and windows.
At the same time, it is lightened. The sauce combines sweet red bell peppers and tomatoes, roasted together and pureed to a gorgeous vermilion. The ricotta is whipped with baby spoon spinach into a creamy pale green smear. Impossibly thin ripples of speck, that marvelous cured ham from northern Italy, impart smoky woodsy notes. Ash, juniper, pepper, laurel.
And, they are dainty rolls.
While I do like squares and rectangles of beefy lasagna, and lush vegetable towers: layer upon layer spread with bechamel, ricotta, braised artichokes
I found that these small roll-ups had an endearing and easy way about them–
and made a delicious presence on the potluck table.
True to the way of lasagna, the most time is spent working with each component—prior to assembly.
Sauce pureed, filling whipped, pasta cooked al dente: you are ready to spread, cut and roll.
Lay out your lasagna noodles like fat ribbons on the counter;
spoon and slather the spinach ricotta from end to end. A little palette knife, used for icing cakes, is especially handy.
The slices of speck, almost transparent, seem custom made for the pasta roll, and fit neatly over the ricotta.
Make a cut through the center of each layered ribbon, creating two pieces to curl into clever spirals. I think you’ll like this smaller style roll-up, rather than the giant ones made from the entire piece.
For potluck, I also made a vegetarian version with shiitake mushrooms. They have a meaty texture and flavor that works well with the other ingredients. The recipe I’ve given below makes enough sauce and filling to make 2 casseroles: one with speck (or prosciutto, if you can’t find speck at your market) and one with shiitakes.
As I finish writing this post, this early spring snow has picked up: swirls of white past my windows, and a pretty dusting over the yard.
Lion March! It shouldn’t last.
And April, with the promise of balmier days, will be here soon. Memories of winter and cold will fade as we anticipate tilling and planting the garden, and dream of asparagus and sweet peas and strawberries.
LITTLE SPINACH-RICOTTA-SPECK (OR SHIITAKE) LASAGNA ROLLS WITH
SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE
Red Bell Pepper-Tomato Sauce:
4 red bell peppers, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
1 large onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
1-28 oz can plum tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Place red bell pepper halves onto one side of a baking sheet. Tuck onion pieces and garlic cloves underneath. Brush the tops with olive oil.
Pour remaining oil onto the other side of the baking sheet. Spoon the entire contents of the can of plum tomatoes and sauce over the oiled area.
Sprinkle tomatoes and red bell peppers with salt and black pepper.
Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 25 minutes—until the skins of the peppers are blackened and blistered.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the blistered skins and discard.
Place roasted vegetables and juices into a bowl. Using an immersion blender, process the ingredients into a brilliant red-orange sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Spinach-Ricotta-Speck Filling: (for vegetarian version, use shiitake mushrooms instead of speck)
8 oz. fresh baby spoon spinach
2 lb. ricotta
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
1 ½ cups shredded or grated parmesan
4 oz. speck or prosciutto, very thinly sliced
4 oz shiitake mushroom, sliced and sauteed
1 box lasagna: 18 pieces, cooked according to package directions, drained and cooled
½ cup shredded pecorino romano—to sprinkle over the top
Coat 2 9″×13″ (or size thereabouts) casserole dishes with a little olive oil.
In a food processor fitted with the swivel blade, pulse the spinach until it’s chopped. Scrape into a mixing bowl and return the work bowl to the processor. Refit with swivel blade.
Add ricotta, eggs, salt, black pepper, and garlic and processor until well blended.
Stir the ricotta mixture into the spinach. Fold in the parmesan.
Lay out the lasagna in rows on your work counter. Dollop a few tablespoons of the ricotta mixture and spread it along the length, covering the pasta. Place slices of speck (or prosciutto) over the ricotta.
Cut the lasagna ribbons in half. Roll up each piece. You will have 36 nice lasagna roulades.
Cover the bottom of the casserole dishes with a layer of sauce. Arrange lasagna rolls in the dish. Spoon sauce over the tops. Sprinkle with pecorino romano.
Bake uncovered for 35 minutes in a 325 degree preheated oven. Serves 12-15
On fleet and chilly foot, this year is surely making its exit. I trust that your holidays have been full of joy and camaraderie, and good food shared with those you love. Ours have been exceptional, heralded by the birth of my first grandchild, Zachary James. He was due to arrive on the first of December, but he chose—wisely, no doubt– to wait until the 12th to make his wondrous entrance. For parents who married on 10-10-10, his 12-12-12 birthdate is all the more auspicious.
I was privileged to be a part of the birth team, and witness his entry. I was thrilled to be one of the first to caress his pink cheeks and welcome him into this strange new world.
A week after his arrival, I returned to my own home after a month-long absence to put Christmas together. A hectic pace, but the tree got trimmed, presents got wrapped, the beef got roasted, and the chocolate mousse trifle got mounded high in the bowl.
But what I’d like to share with you today veers away from the indulgences of the season.
It is a healthy, hearty dish using Escarole.
This great green bouquet resembles lettuce in appearance, but belongs to the Endive family. (The sprawling head made me think of the old wives tale imparted to children about where babies come from…) Also known as broadleaf endive, Bavarian endive, or scarola, it is one of its less bitter members. Escarole can be eaten raw in salads, but it is really luscious when braised into soups or stews.
I’ve never prepared these greens in any form before now. But the forces aligned. Friend and farmer Tally May of Fresh Harvest Coop had grown splendid rows of escarole, market ready on my return. A vivid description of this recipe from my cousin Cathy and her husband John (given as they drove me to the airport!) left no doubt that a pot of escarole with fusilli and cannellinis would be simmering on my stovetop soon.
It is a traditional Italian dish, which, depending on the amount of liquid that you choose to add, becomes either a stewy pasta or a robust soup. Either way, you’ll want to serve it in a bowl, with a spoon and hunk of bread to sop up all the sumptuous broth.
It’s a garlic-friendly dish, too. Don’t be timid with those cloves!
Highly seasoned cannellini beans are also key. I used Rancho Gordos mega-meaty, super creamy beans, which I prepared the day before. If you use canned beans, be sure to drain and rinse them before simmering them in good olive oil, garlic, and bay leaf.
Cathy also insists–and rightfully so–on using DeCecco brand fusilli. It’s an excellent pasta: full-flavored, with terrific texture. Those tight curls capture the broth while remaining resilient in the sauce.
Here’s a trick I used to add more body to the broth. I reserved a cup of cooked beans and pureed them before stirring them into the pot. The sauce becomes almost silken. And the greens themselves maintain integrity in the braise–toothsome, juicy, with a pleasant hint of bitterness.
In the waning days of 2012, we’ve been enjoying our bowls of beans, pasta, and escarole. Bill calls this peasant food, and he means it in the best possible way. Simple. Soothing. Nutritious. Satisfying. You really couldn’t want for anything more.
Wishing you all the benefits of peasant food in the coming year–
Many thanks for your continued visits to Good Food Matters.
ESCAROLE WITH FUSILLI AND CANNELLINI BEANS
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 head escarole, cored, washed, and chopped into ribbons
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups vegetable broth (you may use chicken broth if you prefer)
3 cups cooked cannellini beans (recipe below)
1/2 lb. dried fusilli (De Cecco is a preferred brand)
1/2 cup fresh grated pecorino-romano
In a large stockpot set on medium heat, warm olive oil and saute garlic and onions until translucent.
Add chopped escarole and stir well to coat the leaves.
Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Stir, allowing the heat to collapse the leaves.
Pour vegetable broth over the escarole. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Boil fusilli in lightly salted water until al dente–about 9 minutes. Drain.
Puree one cup of cannellinis, and return to bean pot. (discard bay leaves)
Combine pasta and beans (whole, pureed, and liquid) with the braised escarole. Toss well.
Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
Serve with hunks of crusty bread.
Makes 6 generous bowls.
1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked for 3 hours (or overnight) and rinsed (Rancho Gordo’s cannellinis are big and meaty!)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup diced onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
Heat olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan set on medium. Stir in garlic and onions. Add salt and black pepper, and saute until translucent.
Add cannellinis, stirring well so that the beans are coated with oil.
Pour water over the beans–enough to cover them by two inches.
Stir in bay leaves and red pepper flakes.
Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Skim off any scum that may accumulate as the beans cook.
Cook, partially covered for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if needed.
Cannellinis will retain their structure, but will creamy to the bite. Discard bay leaves.
Five days old, Zachary in my arms
Sleepy Dreamy Babe
I wish that I had a clever name for this dish.
Pasta with Zucchini Sauce seems rather lackluster, a ho-hum title that belies its subtle garden-green flavors, its whipped up creamy texture–with nary a trace of cream!–and its overall brilliant use of the soon-to-be ubiquitous squash, which are already starting to show up at our farmers’ markets.
It is tribute to the Roman zukes, zucchine romanesche, whose appearance she likens to little zeppelins, or twee fluted Corinthian columns. Prepared in umpteen delectable ways–sauteed with tomatoes, stuffed with orzo, grilled and folded into a frittata, cut into batons and fried like pomme frites–the zucchini is prized in Roman cuisine for its versatility and taste.
While I am familiar with many of these preparations, I had never tasted, seen, even imagined zucchini braised in olive oil with garlic, and pureed into a lush green sauce for pasta.
With our community potluck looming, it seemed to be the perfect time to make it.
I followed Rachel’s lead–assembling the first of the summer green squashes. In place of garlic cloves, I substituted a bundle of spring garlic scapes, those delicious curly-ques clipped from forming bulbs. Beyond that, the list of ingredients is short–olive oil, a bit of butter, salt, pepper, water and white wine.
Plus, the pasta. Really, any shape you’d like will work.
Gigi had been praising Cipriani’s Tagliardi–imported, small, super-thin egg pasta rectangles that come boxed like some fabulous gift—so that’s what we chose as a base for the sauce. If you can find–try it. It is very very good.
Young zucchinis cut into rounds are piled into a heavy duty pot with the scapes; all are tossed well in olive oil, salt, and a dash of pepper. A small amount of butter—a knob, as Rachel likes to say—along with a slow braise, helps to coax out the zucchinis’ savory-sweetness.
It doesn’t take long for the squashes to release their inherent water. White wine simmered into the “soup” (indeed, this would be a terrific soup) adds depth, and a tinge of acidic bite. It’s important to check for salt—it is key in balancing the delicate taste.
An immersion blender handily whips this into a supple, somewhat airy sauce that still retains integrity. There are lively bits of squash flecked throughout. The color—ah. Beautiful, don’t you think? And the taste–surprisingly wondrous.
I hasten to add: In lieu of passing a few grindings of cracked black pepper over the pasta, I dotted the dish with Watercress Pesto. It is simply watercress, good olive oil, and salt. Another vibrant green, it adds a fresh peppery finish to the dish.
SURPRISINGLY WONDROUS ZUCCHINI SAUCE
½ c. Olive Oil
4 T. Butter
10 c. sliced Zucchini (5 lbs.)
1 c. chopped Garlic Scapes (1 bundle)
1 T. Sea Salt
1 c. White Wine
1 c. Water
1 lb. Tagliardi Pasta (or pasta of choice)
In a large (5-6qt. size) stock pot, heat olive oil and butter on medium. Add zucchini and garlic. Season with salt. Stir, coating the vegetables well. Saute for 5-7 minutes, as vegetables begin to soften.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Zucchini will collapse and release its liquid—becoming “soupy.” Add water and wine, and continue cooking uncovered for another 7 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Taste for salt.
In a separate large pot, cook pasta of choice according to package directions. (Tagliardi, thin egg pasta squares, require 4 minutes cooking time.)
Drain and return to pot. Spoon warm sauce over pasta, and fold throughout—gently coating the squares. Dot with peppery watercress pesto oil. Dust with cheese: parmesan or pecorino.
Serves a crowd at potluck!–or makes 8-10 generous servings
Not always easy to find at the grocer (but easily foraged in some creeks and riverbeds) watercress is crisp and peppery.
You could make an arugula pesto instead, if you are unable to locate the cress.
1 bundle fresh Watercress
1 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
pinch Sea Salt
Place all ingredients into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until watercress is ground fine. The infused olive oil will be bright green. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
My friend Allison confessed that she was becoming a hoarder. Not in the Crazy Reality TV way–thank goodness. More like in the Fill the Pantry with Good Food way. She had been buying big crates of citrus–Cara Cara oranges, and organic lemons—and making batches of marmalades, limoncello, lemon curd, preserved lemons, and the like. And, she still hadn’t made much of a dent in her purchase. So I was very happy to be the recipient of a bag of these luscious fruits, along with a pretty jar of her Cara Cara marmalade.
There’s nothing to match the power and versatility of the mighty lemon, whose juice and fragrant zest elevate all manner of sweet and savory things. And, as my initial foray into 2012 has been marked with a little slump in the kitchen, a gaze at the cooktop and cutting board with a world-weary eye, I recognized Allison’s kind gift as more than a bag of excess citrus trying find a home. No.
It was lemons to the rescue.
Just seeing them in the welcome sunlight this afternoon was a lift alone.
Lemons for Dinner? You bet.
My cousin Cathy and her husband John are both avid cooks. Whenever we get together, we love to share recipes and cook. Last visit, Cathy brought a lemon-based pasta recipe from her collection to prepare. “Capelli d’Angelo Olio e Limone” or Olive Oil and Lemon Angel Hair, from the 1997 cookbook Pastissima! Pasta the Italian Way was simple–deceptively so. There were few ingredients—a sauce comprised of onion cooked in a fair amount of olive oil, mixed with a lot of lemon juice, tossed throughout pasta, and dusted with parmesan.
It took mere minutes to make—and was truly delicious.
The lemons today inspired my to recreate the dish—with a few modifications. Rather than using onion, I substituted a leek. Lemon and leek are terrific together, and the strips of light green tangled throughout the pasta bring welcome color.
Other change-ups include red pepper flakes for bite, over black pepper, and pecorino-romano for pungency, over parmesan.
Without question, this pasta would be a fine foundation for a plank of grilled fish, a tender fillet of trout, even a scatter of lump crabmeat. But solo, it is exceptional, light yet rich, with a pleasant tang. It’s the kind of toss that accentuates the angel hair, rather than masking it with a complex sauce. So use your best here–DeCecco’s Capellini No.9 has been a constant favorite.
This romaine salad is one that I refer to as a “Mock Caesar”—it lacks the depth that anchovies bring to the traditional version, but is just right for the Vegetarian in my household.
Here lemon juice, roasted garlic cloves, and extra virgin olive oil cream up together into a vibrant dressing, generously tossed on chopped romaine leaves mixed with some finely sliced red cabbage.
Again, simple ingredients—simply assembled. It’s more a matter of using your best. Roasting the garlic brings out an inherent sweetness, and the softened cloves act as an emulsifier in the lemon-forward dressing. A crusty piece of ciabatta transforms readily into croutons. Sprinkle some fresh thyme over the cubed bread before toasting for an welcome herbal note.
With this salad and pasta, you can let the lemony sunshine in.
CAPELLINI WITH LEMON, LEEKS, AND OLIVE OIL (adapted from Pastissima! Pasta the Italian Way by Leonardo Castellucci
1 Leek, finely sliced
1/3 cup Olive Oil
Juice of 1 1/2 large Lemons
Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 cup shedded Pecorino-Romano
6 ounces Capellini (DeCecco is excellent)
Heat olive oil on medium in a skillet or cast-iron pot. Add the leeks, and cook for about 5 minutes, until they become soft. Cook the capellini according to package directions–about 2 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain well.
Place pasta in the pot with the leeks and olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, red pepper flakes (a couple of pinches) and pour lemon juice over all. Add most of the shredded cheese, reserving some to garnish the top of the pasta after it is served. Toss well, so that the lemon, olive oil, and leeks coat all the strands of pasta.
Serve in warm bowls. Dust with more pecorino. Enjoy!
Makes 2 generous servings.
ROMAINE SALAD WITH ROASTED GARLIC-LEMON DRESSING
1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and chopped
1 cup Red Cabbage, very finely sliced
2 cups homemade Croutons (cubed from a good crusty loaf, tossed in olive oil, seasoned with salt, black pepper, fresh thyme–toasted in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned)
1 cup shredded Pecorino-Romano
Juice from 1/2 large Lemon
3 Garlic Cloves, oven-roasted
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cracked Black Pepper
In a salad bowl, assemble romaine, red cabbage, croutons and shredded pecorino.
In a measuring cup or small mixing bowl, place lemon juice, roasted garlic cloves, salt and pepper. Using the immersion blender, begin mixing. The garlic will cream into the lemon juice. Add the olive oil slowly, and continue blending. Taste for seasoning.
Pour over salad greens and toss well. Serves 4
Post-holiday drab winter funk settled in my kitchen…with an unsettling inertia. I’ve had as much resistance to picking up a knife and a whisk, as my market shopping bags. It’s been an odd feeling, uncharacteristic of my general passionate-about-food ways, but December left me shopped and cooked out. I’ve tried ignoring it, hoping that the malaise would lift. Now I’ve decided just to chop through it, and play my “use what you’ve got” game.
In my refrigerator, I found a container of ricotta, still in date. Part of a can of whole plum tomatoes in juice. Eggs. A stray scallion. A small wedge of parmegiano-reggiano.
A sealed bag of all purpose flour.
Could dinner lurk in some combination of these?
Indeed it could. Ricotta Gnocchi.
And, those creamy pillow-like dumplings couldn’t be easier to make.
Unlike other versions that use potatoes (also delicious, but have an extra step–cooking the spuds) the dough can be whipped up in a manner of minutes. In their purest form, ricotta gnocchi are simply ricotta-egg-flour. That’s a plain canvas, rife with possibilities. How you want to season them–herbs, bitter greens, nutmeg, other pungent cheese—
or sauce them—smoky beurre blanc with bits of pancetta, chunky pesto, rosy red pepper puree–is up to you.
Or what you’ve got on hand.
You’ve got plenty of time to make that decision! Mixing the soft dough takes moments. Then, you hand-roll pieces of the dough into long logs, dusting with more flour, and cutting into 1/2″ lengths. Or smaller, if you like.
The shapes are imprecise, rustic; the rolling and handling of them feels like child’s play, a delightful aspect to combat any kitchen inertia.
Line them up on a pan lined with parchment and place the pillows into the freezer to get firm. (If you double this recipe, you can keep the unused gnocchi sealed and frozen for up to 6 weeks—ready to use at a given moment.)
While the gnocchi are tucked into the freezer (or fridge) you can turn your attention to the sauce.
Based on my modest assembly of on-hand ingredients, I chose to cloak mine in a brilliant winter red sauce–little more than plum tomatoes cooked with onion and garlic in olive oil, and pureed. I do like to plunge in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary and thyme, snipped from yard, where they vigorously hang on through the cold weather months. They impart just enough piney aromatics to give the sauce a little herbaceous lift, plucked out before the immersion blender descends into the pot.
While the sauce simmers, bring a big pot of salted water to boil. Drop the gnocchi in. Very quickly, they’ll rise to the surface–indicating that they are almost done. Let them cook another minute. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and place the tender bites into a pool of red.
The color–a knockout that reminds you of summer—is vibrant and full-flavored dress for the gnocchi, enough to jar the drab winter funk out the door.
1 cup whole milk Ricotta
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour (divided)
1/2 c. grated Parmegiano-Reggiano (Pecorino Romano would be terrific, too)
1 Green Onion, sliced thin (optional)
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
fresh ground Black Pepper
Place ricotta, egg, cheese, scallion, and Half of the flour into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix until a soft dough forms. Dust remaining flour on your work counter, and divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into 1/2″ thick log. Cut into pillow shaped pieces, placing each gnocchi on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the gnocchi in the freezer for about 15 minutes–long enough to set up and be firm.
Bring a pasta pot full of water to a boil. Season with salt. Drop in gnocchi. Cook over medium heat until they float to the surface. Cook for a about one minute more. Remove with a slotted spoon. Gently coat with sauce.
Serves 2 generous, or 4 first course plates
I stopped eating Fettuccine Alfredo years ago. The once-beloved dish had become, to my tastes, a cream-laden tangle of starch, flat in flavor and leaden in the belly.
I had pretty much dismissed it as something of-a-time, when, perhaps, my palate was less sophisticated.
But what I didn’t know–and only recently learned–is that the original Alfredo, created in Rome by Chef Alfredo di Lelio almost a hundred years ago, possesses No Cream.
Ribbons of fresh pasta are coated in a silken sauce made from softened butter, grated parmegiano, and pasta water, artfully tossed on a warm platter.
And served immediately.
And, it’s that sheer simplicity that makes the Alfredo so seductive and lush–yet light. The real Alfredo is a Revelation to eat.
At our last Third-Thursday Community Pot Luck, Gigi and I asked our good friend and potlucker, Paulette Licitra, to make a fresh pasta dish. Paulette chose to introduce us to the “Vere” Alfredo–the Real Roman Way that will forever change your perception of the dish.
Italian-American by birth, Paulette has been immersed in the culture of Italian food. She grew up in Brooklyn, her parents first generation immigrants from Sicily. She lived and studied throughout Italy, making Rome, for a time, her home. She got her degree in Culinary Studies at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education in NYC) and interned for Mario Batali at Lupa.
Today, she is the Maestra of Cucina Paradiso–a cooking school she holds twice weekly in her home. Her students learn, hands-on, how to make marvelous and varied authentic dishes that she’s gleaned from her journeys all over The Boot.
She is also the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Alimentum, The Literature of Food.
Whether it’s in a saucepan or a poem, food is her passion.
She shared some simple tricks to the dish. With only three ingredients involved, the quality of those is key to success. Start with Butter. Paulette favors KerryGold Pure Irish Butter, the unsalted variety. It is, indeed, the Lamborgini of Butters. If you can’t locate KerryGold, use an unsalted butter that you know and like.
It must be softened, so that you can spread it with the back of a wooden spoon across the base of the bowl or platter from which you will toss and serve. That base will serve you well in the toss!
Use your favorite sea salt, and fresh grated Parmegiano-Regianno. Reserved starchy water from cooking the pasta helps bring the butter and cheese into a sumptuous, cream-like sauce.
When it comes to making the fettuccine, again, it’s a terse list of ingredients. Get large, farm-fresh eggs if you can. For flour, Paulette prefers the King Arthur brand of Unbleached All Purpose.
Paulette maintains that making your own pasta is not difficult at all. Following her recipe and procedure really demystifies the process. Patience, a little elbow grease, and a hand-cranked pasta machine (we love low-tech!) will take you far!
For the final step, it’s all about art in motion: Toss and twirl, spoon and swirl—-you want all those delicate strands to be coated with the sauce you are creating.
Place into warm bowls and Mangia! Mangia!
TRUE FETTUCCINI ALFREDO
2 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (King Arthur Brand)
3 large farm Eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
Hand-cranked Pasta Machine
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a “well” in the mound and add the eggs. Using a fork, mix the flour into the eggs, until all the flour is mixed in and the dough comes together. Gather and knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes. It will become smooth and a little shiny. If it’s too sticky, add a little flour—if it’s too dry, add a little water. Wrap the dough tightly and let it set for 30 minutes.
Cut the dough into 4 pieces, and re-wrap the remaining pieces until it’s their time. Take the first piece, slightly flatten it, and run it through the pasta machine roller on the first setting. Fold the piece thrice and run it through the machine on the same setting. Repeat.
Then, move the setting to 2 and run it through. Continue this process until you reach the next to the last setting (mine was #7) If the dough gets sticky while you are working with it, dust it in flour. You don’t want a sticky mess!
Cut the long strip in half and run it through the fettuccine cutter.
Separate and drop the cut noodles onto a floured baking sheet. Toss in flour so they won’t stick.
Repeat with your other pieces of dough until you have stretched, rolled and cut into lovely fettuccine.
Paulette mixes and kneads the pasta dough. Ten minutes of kneading is necessary to achieve a smooth, elastic, and shiny ball of dough.
Don’t be afraid to use extra flour when working with the dough. You want to keep the beautiful strands separate.
12 Tablespoons softened Unsalted Butter (KerryGold Irish Cream Butter)
1 1/2-2 cups grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, solo, or in combination with Pecorino Romano
1 cup Reserved Pasta Water
a few grindings of Black Pepper
Spread softened butter on the bottom of a large platter or mixing bowl.
Bring a 6 qt. stockpot of lightly salted water to a rolling bowl. Add fettuccini, and cook for 3 minutes. (If you are using dried pasta, cook according to package directions–perhaps 8 minutes.)
Drain noodles, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Lay fettuccini on top of butter. Sprinkle with grated cheese–start with half of the amount—and vigorously, but gently toss, coating the noodles. Add a little of the pasta water as you toss. You won’t need the whole cup–perhaps half.
The noodles will glisten with the simple emulsion of butter, cheese, pasta water. Taste for salt, and season accordingly. Add more cheese as needed. Toss well and serve immediately. Garnish with a little chopped flat leaf parsley, if you like.
Pass the pepper grinder and bowl of grated cheese!
Paulette works with pasta water and grated cheese, quickly but thoroughly tossing the pasta until all those ribbons have become satin with the simple but delectable emulsion of soft butter, cheese, and starchy water. A revelation!
Several years ago, Bill and I spent a week in Menton, France, a small town on the French Riviera. Like many places dotting the Cote d’Azur, it is both port, and tourist destination. Part of the Alpes-Maritime department, Menton is at the sheltered base of the Alps, with a unique micro-climate favorable to citrus. Lemons abound! There are beautiful homes and lush gardens built into mountainside.This community has a charming pedestrian-only town center, pretty beaches, and mosaic-like promenades along the waters edge.
And while it does have an Old World aristocratic beauty, it doesn’t possess the same haute nature as its neighbor, the chi-chi Monte Carlo. We found it be more family-oriented, and mainly French and Italian families at that.
It was a lovely place to be. We were lucky to find a room in a modest but pleasant hotel across from one of the smooth-stoned beaches. Mornings began under the canopied patio with a carafe of coffee, baskets of croissants, butter, and Bonne Maman preserves. Days were spent floating in the buoyant Mediterranean, or exploring the Old City, or hiking up the lavender-laced hillsides. What a view! Sometimes you couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began.
Menton is only a couple of kilometers from the Italian border. One evening, after dinner, I said, “Let’s walk to Italy.”
In no time our stroll took us to the douane, the abandoned checkpoint separating the countries in the pre-EU era. The toll-gate style structure looked like it had built in the early Sixties, and you could imagine the lines of cars, people with passports in hand, getting their stamp of approval to enter.
We walked a little further towards the Ligurian town, Ventimiglia. Sometimes, crossing borders, you sense an immediate difference between one country and the next. But not so here. There was a melding of French and Italian sensibilities.
I was reminded of our French walk to Italy when I made this tasty dish. It, too, blurs the Franco-Italian borders.
Have you cooked with Flageolets? These delicate beans are French, cultivated immature kidney beans that are white and pale green in color. They have a firm yet creamy texture, and are the bean of choice for cassoulet. What I’ve created is a sort of Provencal version of Pasta e Fagioli, flavored with spring green vegetables from the garden, seasoned with fresh thyme, and flecked with savory bits of crisp pancetta. It’s simply delicious-delicieux-delizioso!
PROVENCAL SPRING PASTA AND FLAGEOLETS
1 cup dried Flageolets, rinsed and soaked for an hour
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 small white Onion, chopped
2 T. Olive Oil
a few sprigs of Fresh Thyme
Heat the olive oil in a 3 qt. saucepan and saute the garlic and onions for a couple of minutes. Season with sea salt. Stir in the flageolets, and let them get coated with sauteed mixture. Add water, covering the beans by 2-3 inches. Stir in a few sprigs of fresh thyme, cleaned tops of the leeks (see below), cover, and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours, checking periodically on water level. The beans will become cooked throughout, and will be soft, but intact.
SPRING VEGETABLE-DITALINI PASTA
1/2 bundle of Swiss Chard, cleaned and sliced thin, into ribbons
1 Leek, cleaned and chopped (reserve cleaned tops to season bean broth)
1/2 lb. Sugar Snaps, chopped on the bias
Red Pepper Flakes
1 cup Ditalini (or another small pasta shape) “small thimbles”
A good Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, for finishing
Fresh Thyme for garnish
A few pieces of crispened Pancetta
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet and saute leeks, chard, and sugar snaps. Season with salt and red pepper flakes. Saute until chard is collapsed and tender, about 5 minutes.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and combine with sauteed vegetables.
When Flageolets are tender, remove from heat. There should be a little cooking liquid in the pot.
Combine beans and pasta in large bowl. Stir in bits of pancetta. If you are vegan, omit this step!
Drizzle with a good finishing olive oil, garnish with fresh thyme and serve.
COOK’S NOTES: You can find Flageolets under the Roland label, (at Whole Foods) or order them, along with other fabulous heirloom beans, from Ranch Gordo. You can substitute cannellini or navy beans if you like.
Think that thick lush-looking white sauce cascading over the lasagna stack is a heavy cream-based bechamel—rich beyond words?
The sauce here doesn’t have a speck of dairy, let alone the high butterfat favorite. Nor does it use any soy or tofu based products to mimic cream or cheese.
It’s cannellini beans!
And, not just any cannellinis. These are Rancho Gordo’s pride–great, fat white runner beans, that swell up to mammoth proportions when soaked, with meaty interiors that become creamy-dreamy when pureed.
This recipe experiment was prompted by Bill’s simultaneous love and intolerance of All Things Dairy. It might be better to say that, while this vegetarian loves it, it doesn’t always love him in return.
And, while I have no interest in omitting cheeses and milk from our diet, I have been considering different ways to achieve that creamy satisfaction in cooking—without him resorting to a carton of Lactaid.
Doubtless you have made Tuscan White Bean Dip—that garlicky puree we like to serve alongside a bowl of pita chips, or spread across crisp crostinis. Our White Bean Sauce is made in similar fashion—just thinner.
It’s like you’re making a vegetarian White Bean Soup, vigorously seasoned with garlic, onion, bay leaf, thyme, that you puree, beans and broth, until the melange becomes velvet—a smooth and pourable sauce.
Like all lasagnas, it’s really more a matter of creating all your layers that takes the time. Assembling them goes quickly.
I decided that sauteed Swiss Chard would make a terrific lasagna layer–seasonal, and compatible with the sauce. Other winter greens would be good too. I recommend Lacinato, or Black Kale.
I had an opened jar of sundried tomatoes packed in oil, shoved into the back of my fridge. In keeping with my intent to use good things before they go bad, I sprinkled these over the chard in my layering process. They added a sweet, sunny note to the dish.
I admit, this is not the most eye-appealing lasagna. When it bakes, there’s a slight crustiness to the top layer of white bean sauce. Not pretty–but savory.
I had some extra sauce left after the layering. You can warm it, and pour a little over your servings. It softened the look, and added more of the cannellini goodness.
I served this at our potluck—an icy night where 17 potluckers braved the slickened streets for good food. We were surprised that anyone came! But those who did loved the no-cheese lasagna. It had rich creamy mouthfeel, robust greens, a hint of heat and sweet.
Bill did not miss the cream, not one bit.
WHITE BEAN LASAGNA
White Bean Sauce
2 cups Cannellini Beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
6 cloves of Garlic, chopped
1 large Onion, sliced
Red Pepper Flakes
In a deep saucepan on medium heat, warm the olive oil. Saute garlic and onions for five minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Add soaked and rinsed cannellinis. Stir until the beans are coated with the olive oil.
Cover beans with water. Add a couple of bay leaves, a few pinches of thyme, and a shake of red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil.
Simmer, covered, for two hours. Check periodically and give the beans a stir.
Test for bean doneness-the exterior will remain intact, but will give way to a creamy interior.
When beans are tender, remove from heat. Discard bay leaves.
Puree beans and broths, a few cups at a time, in the food processor. (Or,use a portable immersion blender if you like) Taste for seasoning and adjust.
Sauce should be smooth and pourable—ready to go! But, this can be made in advance, and refrigerated until you are assembling the lasagna.
Swiss Chard Layer
2-3 T. Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1 bundle Swiss Chard, cleaned, stems removed and diced, leaves coarsely chopped
Heat olive oil in a skillet and saute onions, garlic, and chard stems. Season with salt and a dash of red pepper flakes, and cook for about 9 minutes. Stir in leaves, and cook until they are collapsed. Add 1/2 cup water to facilitate the “collapsing” process–and allow the water to cook away. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.
1 Box dried Lasagna, cooked al dente, drained, cooled and oiled
1 cup Sundried Tomatoes packed in oil, drained
1 9″x13″ casserole/lasagna baking pan, coated with olive oil
Preheat oven to 350º
Spoon a layer of the white bean sauce on the bottom of the pan. Top with lasagna noodles. Spread sauteed chard over the pasta, dot with sundried tomatoes, and place pasta layer over that. Repeat the layering, until the pan is filled.
Be sure that you finish with the white bean sauce, dotted with sundried tomatoes.
Also, reserve about a cup of the white bean sauce to spoon over the cooked lasagna squares when you serve them. Garnish, too, if you like, with additional sundried tomato pieces.
Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and finish baking for another 10 minutes. You want the casserole to be heated thoroughly. Since all the elements are already cooked, now you are cooking them all together.
One of the most charming gifts I received this holiday was a package of Leftovers. Yes! In Italy, they are known as “Monnezzaglia.” Pastas in all manner of shape and flavor, odds and end bits, are gathered from different runs and packaged together. My Leftovers came from a pasta factory in Puglia.
These delicate cast-offs, tomato-orange butterflies, pinstriped bonnets, tight-petaled flowers, nautilus twists, made me think of the little treasures you collect, while strolling the beach after high tide.
In the package were spinach rigatoni, beet-based radiatori, multi-colored bow ties, wheels, flowers, tubes, striped ribbons—-so pretty and festive. I wanted to cook them immediately, and had to consider what I had in the kitchen to complement them. With all the colors and textures at hand, it needed to be something with a light touch. I didn’t want a thick sauce to mask their vibrancy.
Without question, I could simply boil them, toss them with some good olive oil and dust with a little sharp cheese, done! Simplicity is my preference—but these Monnezzaglia deserved a tetch more attention, and we deserved a more rounded meal.
Had there been seafood of some kind in the house, say, shrimp or crabmeat, I would have made a thin shellfish-based velouté to coat the pasta and incorporated the sweet fruits of the sea into the toss. As it was, I had a large head of cauliflower and a bundle of fat green onions from our Fresh Harvest Co-op.
Have you ever sliced cauliflower into slabs and roasted it? It’s quite tasty—the florets sweeten and mellow, and get caramel-brown, crispy edges. They make rather meaty, substantial fare, too. Roasting a few handfuls of chopped green onion along with them adds another welcome savory-sweet element.
I could imagine these vegetables, seasoned with just salt, red pepper flakes and a drizzle of green olive oil, as fine partners to the Monnezzaglia. Once, I had prepared them in similar fashion with some orzo–a different textural experience, but the visual white-on-white worked, and all the flavors were in easy harmony. The point being, if you don’t have the odd package of Leftovers, then pick out another fun shaped pasta in place.
The Monnezzaglia package directions say that all the varieties miraculously cook in the same time–about 12 minutes. I cooked them slightly less, maybe 10 minutes, and reserved a little salted pasta water, in case I needed more liquid when I added my roasted cauliflower.
But, it didn’t need it. The oil and “sweat” from the roasted vegetables were just right for coating the quirky and elegant shapes. A simple garnish of finely sliced green onion adds brightness and a few strands of shredded gruyere a little creamy gilding.
Quick to prepare, delightful to behold, and delicious to eat:
I’d love your suggestions on how to use my remaining Monnezzaglia….
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER-ONION PASTA
1 head Cauliflower, washed and sliced into 1/2″ slabs
1 medium Onion, sliced
2-4 Scallions, rough chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 lb. “Leftovers” or other Pasta
Shredded Gruyere (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lay out slices of cauliflower on a baking sheet pan. Place sliced onion and scallions around the cauliflower. Drizzle with good olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, and dust with red pepper flakes. Place in hot oven and allow to cook to a toasty-brown, about 15 minutes. Flip the cauliflower pieces over and allow to roast on the other side.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the pasta and cook according to package directions—in our case, about 11 minutes.
Drain and toss pasta well with roasted cauliflower, onions, and the oil in which they cooked. Garnish with finely sliced scallion and shredded gruyere. Serves 4.
In December, life moves at a crazy pace; it’s a giant snowball, hill-tumbling, avalanching to year-end. With all the demands of the season, it feels like I’m in a race to outrun it. This puzzles me, as my life is scads simpler than it used to be.
When I was full time-full blown catering, outrunning that avalanche was de rigueur for December. Any given day would be crammed with making countless appetizer platters, holiday luncheon spreads, and fruit, cheese, and petite sweet trays while orchestrating concurrent cocktail soirees, dinner parties, and dessert fetes…only to be repeated the next. Days were bleary, and days were Long.
At some point, in the course of this catering mania (We called it The Season We Love to Hate) I’d experience a meltdown. You know, one of those collapses into a tunnel of blind psychotic frenzy that would end with a bout of uncontrolled sobbing. You never knew when it would occur, or what might trigger it.
One morning, in predawn darkness, I spent forty-five minutes ransacking my home, front yard and driveway looking for my car keys—I had to get to the shop to scramble 200 eggs for a company breakfast and I was running horribly late—-only to find them lying on my dresser, under a scarf. Another time, I was talking to a client for the fifth time that day, as she revised her party’s headcount upwards (these late rsvps! we must have enough food!) and dozens of beautifully crafted yeast rolls burnt to a ghastly char in our oven.
Once the meltdown happened, everything would return to normalcy—relatively speaking. Bill always hoped that “the episode” would occur early in the season. “Get it over with and move on.” I always hoped that it wouldn’t occur at all—wishful thinking. In fairness, we had a share of comedic moments to balance out the drama (like the time I ran over the baked glazed ham !) but I am grateful that those days are behind me.
Nonetheless, I have fallen behind this season–cooking, shopping, reviewing, blogging. I have been meaning to share this recipe with you that Maggie and I cooked up a couple of weeks ago! Maggie had much success growing sweet potatoes this year, and we wanted to try some different recipes. And because sweet potatoes are so versatile—you can pretty much interchange them with winter squashes or regular potatoes in many recipes—this gives you a wide range of possibilities. We chose gnocchi. These pretty little knobs are easy-peasy to make, and make an artful accompaniment to the holiday table.
There’s not a terrible lot of ingredients. I put a little minced rosemary to the dough, along with cinnamon, salt, and pepper. I like the additional herbal note that it brings. It complements the maple’s sweetness and is a natural partner with sage. Bake your sweet potatoes ahead of time, and have them scooped out, ready to go.
Working with this dough reminded me of making biscuits—-it takes a similar light (and messy!) hand as you quickly work the potato, egg, and all throughout the flour, massing it into a pliable ball.
Divide the ball into 4, and roll each into long logs. There is a rustic, non-uniform look to gnocchi that appeals to me. It’s also child’s play! Cut them into bite-size pieces–they are ready to cook.
These are quite tasty, especially after being napped in the savory-sweet brown butter. They are rich, too. I think that you’ll enjoy them alongside smoked turkey, or roast pork, even a baked glazed ham, tenderized under the wheel of a whacked-out caterer’s truck.
SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI
2 Sweet Potatoes, baked, insides scooped out
2 cups All Purpose Flour
4 T. Unsalted Butter, softened
1 t. minced Rosemary leaves
2 t. Cinnamon
Salt and Black Pepper
1 large pot for boiling the gnocchi
In a large bowl, place cooked and cooled sweet potato “meat” along with all the other ingredients and begin mixing them together by hand. It will be a little sticky at first, but continue working the dough, kneading, until it becomes a manageable ball. Beware not to overknead–keep a light hand! Cut the doughball into 4 pieces, and roll them into long log shapes. Cut into pieces.
If you are making these in advance, refrigerate until you are ready to boil them.
Drop the gnocchi into a large pot of lightly salted, boiling water. When the gnocchi float to the surface, (about 5 minutes( they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon or strainer to drain.
Dress with brown butter sauce and serve.
MAPLE SAGE BROWN BUTTER SAUCE
6 T. Unsalted Butter
1/2 c. fresh Sage Leaves
2 T. Maple Syrup
Salt and Black Pepper
In a small skillet on medium beat, melt the butter. Shake and stir it around the skillet as it foams; you’ll notice the milky solids begin to get a toasty brown color. Add the sage leaves and continue stirring. When the butter gets bronzy, remove from heat and stir in the ample syrup.
Toss over gnocchi and garnish with additional sage.