Spaghetti with Tuna Sauce

January 17, 2018

Tomatoes…and tuna…not clams or squid…as a sauce for pasta…quite a challenge for me as a young adult!

Although pasta (spaghetti, really) with red sauce and clams or squid was in my wheelhouse as an adolescent, the idea of a red sauce with tuna was, most definitely, not!

My undergraduate advisor, and later my business partner when I set up my psychiatric practice in Philadelphia, Gene d’Aquili, was a first-generation American of Italian and French descent.  I frequently cooked at his home in Berwyn on Philadelphia’s Main Line.  (If you read the obituary link above, you will notice a comment about a sign that read “Fantasyland.”  I was the person who had that sign painted after years of Gene referring to his estate by that name.  I had the sign painted in Guyana on a trip when I was doing research for my doctoral dissertation and ended up on the Guyana Airways float for the Mashramani parade but that’s a whole other story!)

The 1981 Guyana Airways Mashramani float. I was supposed to represent one of the Canadian pilots.

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Gene’s father’s family was from Rome.  Gene’s grandparents emigrated to the United States with their four children, Gene’s father Guido, and Guido’s three sisters, very early in the 20th century.  One of the sisters died not long after coming to the United States.  The other two, Auntie Helen and Auntie Louise, are the reasons I now drink bourbon (Auntie Louise) and know a lot about traditional Roman cuisine (Auntie Helen).

The family home is now part of the American Embassy in Rome.  There are several buildings that are part of the American Embassy but I believe the palazzo pictured below was the one the d’Aquili family owned before coming to the United States.

One of the American Embassy buildings in Rome that I believe was the d’Aquili palazzo.

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Gene’s father, Guido, was a fine artist of the New Hope School.  In a previous post, I included some pictures of some of the Old King Cole murals that he painted for a private club in Trenton, NJ.  Those murals ended up in the dining room of the carriage house I rented on the d’Aquili estate in Berwyn, PA when I was in medical school.

One of Gene’s ancestors was Antoniazzo Romano, a famous artist of the 15th century.  His father’s artistic bent is part of a long family tradition.

The Annunciation by Antoniazzo Romano

For one dinner at “Fantasyland,” really known as “Salus House,” Gene and his wife, Mary Lou, wanted to serve spaghetti with tuna sauce; a classically Italian dish but completely unknown to me at the time.

I winged it based on his description.  It was basically a simple tomato sauce (what we as Americans might call Marinara but what Italians would call Pomodoro) with tuna simmered into it.

It was good, and although many years went by before I made it again, it stuck in my memory.

I’ve tweaked the recipe over the years but it really hasn’t varied much from my initial foray into making spaghetti with tuna sauce based on Gene’s description.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Spaghetti with Tuna Sauce
Although mushrooms are not strictly traditional, their presence is not really noticeable and I think they add a bit of savoriness to the sauce. You can omit them if you wish. It is important to use good quality tuna to avoid any “tinny” taste. Italian Tonno is ideal but a good American brand will work fine. The small amount of sugar is intended to counteract the sourness that some canned tomatoes can have. Adjust up or down to your taste. The presence of the sugar should not be detectable, however.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
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Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Coarsely chop the carrot, celery, onion, mushrooms, garlic, and parsley.
  2. In a food processor finely mince the chopped vegetables.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
  4. Add the minced vegetables and sauté on medium high heat, stirring often, until golden.
  5. Add the red pepper and sauté a minute or two more.
  6. Add the wine and quickly evaporate, stirring often.
  7. Add the basil and oregano. Stir well.
  8. Add the tomato puree, water, sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and black pepper to taste.
  9. Simmer uncovered approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  10. Add the tuna and simmer 10 minutes more.
  11. Adjust seasoning.
  12. This makes enough to generously sauce one pound of spaghetti.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Roman Beans and Kale

January 12, 2018

I don’t remember my mother making Roman Beans and Kale till I was in my late teens.

The first time she made it, I remember her talking about her mother making it.  For something she really liked, she waited an awfully long time to make it.  But then, again, I did the same thing with her pasta è fagioli.

There were some dishes from her childhood that she talked about but never made.  Tiella is the one that I remember most.  It took me multiple tries over many years to recreate it from her description.

Roman beans and kale might seem a little unusual to many American palates due to the length of time the kale is cooked.  There is a point where it becomes silky but most definitely not mushy.  Southerners, though, would find the kale in this recipe cooked in a familiar way.  It is much like the Southern low-and-slow style of cooking greens of various types, such as collards or mustard greens, until they achieve the requisite tenderness.

A bunch of kale

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Texture is an important part of this dish. The beans should yield but not be falling apart.  The kale should not provide any resistance the way it would if it were just quickly sautéed.  The pasta, however, should be al dente.

Roman beans

Beans, kale and pasta are all pretty mellow-tasting in my estimation.  The garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese are what give this dish its flavor oomph!  At the table, I add crushed red pepper but it shouldn’t be cooked into the dish.

Roman beans are also called Borlotti or Cranberry beans.  Depending on where you live you might have to order them.  In a pinch, though, you could use pinto beans or Anasazi beans.  (If you’re a bean savant, you’ll notice that I used Anasazi beans as I was unable to find Roman beans after searching market shelves in two different cities for a couple of months.  Though I could have gotten them online, I didn’t think the huge price premium was worth it.)

Anasazi beans

My mother’s approach to cooking most foods was definitely low and slow.  It’s classically Italian and so NOT French, which often aims for “high and fast!”  Though culinary education is now more inclusive and not so heavily French, we have a strong cultural bias away from slow, leisurely cooking due to the strong French influence of the past decades.  There are exceptions however, largely based on strong regional traditions, barbecue, for example.  But for the most part, mainstream America, and certainly mainstream American food and cooking publications, just don’t “get” low and slow.


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There are some foods that don’t benefit from low and slow, at least when cooked traditionally; steaks for instance.  My mother’s approach to these was that they should be well done, even though that state was achieved quickly.  In our house steaks were most often seasoned with olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and broiled.  I think it’s a wonderful flavor combination.  But it wasn’t until my late teens that I developed an appreciation for rare beef.

I remember one meal where my sister and I cooked the steaks for ourselves and our dad.  They were medium rare, as I recall.  Even though our mom didn’t have a hand in cooking them (and cooked her own steak well done) she spent the entire meal feeling like she had served us bad food.  The fact that we liked it didn’t seem to matter.  She had very definite opinions about what constituted good food, and something that was bleeding onto the plate didn’t fit!


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


Recently I bought sous vide equipment.  I haven’t tried it yet but I’m itching to do so.  Steaks will be first.  The food gets vacuum sealed and then cooked slowly…for hours…in a hot water bath that is maintained at the temperature one wants the food to achieve.  The meat is cooked uniformly throughout…low and slow!  For steaks, one would want to quickly sear the outside before serving but many foods, like fish, poached eggs, and even hollandaise sauce can be used right out of the water bath.

For now, though, let’s try a slow-cooked pot of beans and greens…Italian style!!

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Roman Beans and Kale
The beans should be cooked through but not falling apart. The kale should take on a silky texture but not be mushy. The pasta should still be a bit “toothy." This is even better if made a day or two in advance and refrigerated. If you are doing this, you will want to undercook the pasta so that it is not too soft after the dish is reheated for serving. Alternately, you can omit the pasta when mixing the beans and kale, then add it when reheating. Depending on where you live, you might not be able to find Roman beans. Roman beans are also called Cranberry or Borlotti beans. If you can’t find Roman beans, you can substitute Pinto or Anasazi beans.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
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Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Rinse and pick over the beans.
  2. Cover the beans with six cups of water.
  3. Simmer the beans until almost fully cooked, adding 2 teaspoons of salt and black pepper to taste after the beans have cooked for an hour. If necessary, add a bit of boiling water from time to time to keep the beans just submerged. The beans will cook for about 10-15 minutes more after the kale is added so don't overcook them.
  4. Meanwhile, cut out the center ribs of the kale.
  5. Kale ribs about to be discarded.
  6. Cut the leaves crosswise into large pieces.
  7. Rinse and drain the kale.
  8. Bring a quart of salted water to a boil.
  9. Add the kale. The kale should quickly wilt enough to be covered by water. If not add a bit more water to just cover the kale.
  10. Simmer the kale, covered, stirring occasionally, until cooked to a silky texture, approximately 1 hour.
  11. While the kale is cooking, crush the garlic with the side of a chef's knife.
  12. Slowly brown the garlic in the olive oil.
  13. Once the garlic has browned, remove the oil from the heat. Discard the garlic. Reserve the garlic-infused oil.
  14. If using pasta, bring two quarts of water seasoned with 1/4 cup of salt to a rolling boil.
  15. When the pasta-cooking water comes to a boil, add the pasta. At the same time, add the kale and its cooking water to the beans. Keep the beans and kale at a simmer.
  16. Cook the pasta in boiling water until it is still a little crunchy on the inside.
  17. Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the beans and kale.
  18. Add the garlic-infused oil.
  19. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  20. Cook everything, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente, just a few minutes longer.
  21. Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Spaghettini con Acciughe (Spaghettini with Anchovies)

January 1, 2018

In our house pasta mostly was dressed with a red sauce, specifically my mother’s long-simmered Southern Italian-style sauce.  In Western Pennsylvania, we called it “sauce” or sometimes “spaghetti sauce” though it was used on much more than spaghetti.  Further east, in Philadelphia, New York, and New Jersey the term “gravy” was common, but not where I lived.

Now I mostly use the Italian word “sugo” which is a general term for sauce, though commonly used for a tomato-based sauce.  The word ragù definitely connotes a tomato-based sauce, specifically with meat.  It also happens to be a trademarked name, though with a different accent mark on the last letter:  Ragú.

I found it interesting that Ragú was started in 1937 in Rochester, New York by Assunta and Giovanni Cantisano, Italian immigrants who sold the sauce from their front porch.  In 1969, the company was sold to Chesebrough-Pond’s.  The brand became the best-selling pasta sauce in the country and ultimately achieved a reported 60% share of the pasta sauce market in the United States.


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Purchased pasta sauce was something that NEVER entered our house!

When pasta wasn’t served with a red sauce, it was typically served as Pasta è Fagioli (Pasta and Beans) and, once a year, on Christmas Eve, with crispy breadcrumbs and anchovies.  You can find my mother’s recipe for Pasta è Fagioli here and mine here.  In the coming months you’ll get my Aunt Margie’s recipe and Louis Evangelista’s recipe for Pasta è Fagioli.

Although not something I grew up with, a simple sauce of anchovies, garlic and olive oil is now a favorite in my household.

My recipe is adapted from one by G. J. Gillotti (whose family also hails from Calabria) in Our Most Treasured Recipes, published in 1993 by the Morning Star Lodge of the Order of Italian Sons and Daughters of America.  The sauce comes together from pantry staples in the time it takes to bring the pasta water to a boil.


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Morning Star Lodge is in Pittsburgh, about 70 miles from my hometown of Johnstown, PA.  If you’ve been following my blog, you know I have both Italian and Slovak roots.  There are lots of people of Italian and Eastern European extraction in Western Pennsylvania.  I found it interesting to peruse the pages of this ostensibly Italian cookbook.  Among many Italian and Italian-American favorites are Eastern European dishes like holubki (stuffed cabbage), sweet sour kielbasa, and pierogi casserole.  This speaks to the melting pot that is Western Pennsylvania!

 

If you’ve gotten this far, I hope you’re interested in trying this recipe but I fear there are many of you who hear the word anchovy and stop cold in your tracks.  If any of you are still reading, however, I would encourage you to try this recipe.  The anchovies provide a background savory note but really are not front and center!


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Spaghettini con Acciughe (Spaghettini with Anchovies)
Buy good quality anchovies packed in olive oil. The difference in price between low-end and high-end anchovies is not that much but the difference in taste is astounding. Good anchovies will have only the slightest smell “of the sea” when you open the can. After cooking, they will fade into the background leaving a savory (umami) note without any fishiness. Italians rarely use cheese in dishes that contain fish. I prefer spaghettini in this dish. Spaghettini is thinner than spaghetti but thicker than angel hair (vermicelli).
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
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Instructions
  1. In a small frying pan gently sauté garlic in olive oil until golden brown.
  2. Add the fennel seed, red pepper, oregano, and basil and cook for approximately 30 seconds.
  3. Add the anchovies and their oil.
  4. Cook gently, stirring frequently, until anchovies disintegrate. This will only take a few minutes.
  5. Add white wine and simmer gently till most of the wine has evaporated and the anchovies have thoroughly disintegrated. Remove the pan from the heat.
  6. Meanwhile cook pasta in 3 quarts of boiling water seasoned with 1/3 cup of salt until just al dente.
  7. As the pasta nears completion, use some of the pasta water to warm the serving bowl. This is important as the egg will cook in the hot pasta and if the bowl is cold, the pasta will lose too much heat to do this effectively.
  8. Just before draining the pasta, reheat the olive oil-anchovy mixture on medium-low.
  9. Drain pasta, reserving at least one cup of the pasta-cooking water.
  10. Drain and quickly dry the warmed serving bowl.
  11. Put half of the olive oil-anchovy mixture in the warmed serving bowl.
  12. Add the drained pasta.
  13. Top with the remaining olive-oil anchovy mixture.
  14. Toss pasta.
  15. Add black pepper and beaten egg. Toss until well mixed.
  16. In a leap of faith, add about ½ cup of the reserved (still hot) pasta-cooking water. Toss well.
  17. Drizzle in approximately ¼ cup of finishing olive oil. Toss well.
  18. Add more pasta-cooking water, if needed, to make a glossy sauce. You probably can’t go wrong with adding at least another ¼ cup of pasta-cooking water.
Recipe Notes

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Cannellini and Fennel Soup

January 3, 2018

A few years ago I was at a party and struck up an interesting conversation with a couple of guys originally from the East Coast.  One of the guys was of Italian heritage and the conversation turned to food, naturally!

He described a soup he grew up eating that included fennel stalks as well as the bulb.

It caught my interest because I’d not encountered a recipe that used the stalks before; some of the fronds, yes, but not the stalks.  It always seems like such a waste to me to throw them out as they contain so much flavor.

But they’re tough!


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In this soup, the stalks are pureed in a food processor and added to the diced bulb and some cannellini beans.

Fennel bulb and stalks. For most preparations only the white bulb is used. This soup uses the stalks, too.

It is wonderfully flavorful, completely vegetarian, and comes together in a snap.

If you have some of my Cannellini alla Toscana lurking in your freezer, by all means use them in the soup.  If not, canned cannellini will work just fine.

As for the guys who gave me the recipe, I can’t find anyone who knows who they might be.  I’ve talked to the hosts of the party and they’re stumped.  I always like to include a personal interest story along with each recipe and I’ve truly exhausted what I know about this particular version of this soup.


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From my research, however, I can tell you that this appears to be a popular soup in Italy given the number of recipe variations I was able to turn up written in Italian.  Most contain meat, such as speck, and other vegetables, such as carrots and celery.  One even contains seaweed!  None of the recipes is quite as simple as this one…and I love the simplicity.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Cannellini and Fennel Soup
This is one of the very few recipes I have seen that uses the stalks of the fennel plant, not just the bulb. Adding the stalks and fronds really intensifies the fennel flavor. You can substitute 4 cans (approximately 15 ounces each) of cannellini beans in place of the home-cooked beans. See the notes section, below, for a link to the Cannellini alla Toscana recipe. You can easily cut this recipe in half.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
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Ingredients
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Cut the stalks and fronds off the fennel.
  2. Coarsely chop the stalks.
  3. Grind the chopped stalks and fronds in a food processor. Reserve.
  4. Dice the fennel bulbs.
  5. Mince the garlic.
  6. Sauté the garlic in the olive oil until fragrant.
  7. Add the diced fennel. Season with salt. Sauté approximately 5 minutes.
  8. Add the wine. Cover the pot and cook until the fennel begins to soften.
  9. Add the cooking liquid from the cannellini (but not the beans) adding water if necessary to cover the fennel. Simmer until the fennel is almost completely cooked.
  10. Add the cannellini. Simmer 10 minutes.
  11. Add the ground fennel stalks and fronds and salt and pepper to taste.
  12. Season with salt and pepper.
  13. Simmer for 15 minutes, until fennel is tender but not mushy.
  14. Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Recipe Notes

Here’s where you can find the recipe for Cannellini alla Toscana.

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