Cabbage and Noodles (Halushki)

November 27, 2017

One of the interesting consequences of working on this blog is that it is getting me to cook more Slovak food.

We ate way more Italian food than Slovak food when I was growing up but, nonetheless, Slovak food was a significant presence on our table.

Things that only lived in my memory, like the Chicken Paprikash that I posted a few weeks ago, and my Grandma Mihalik’s Butter Cookies that are coming up in a week or two, are now real. And it’s not only the Slovak food. The Chinese Five-Spice Roast Pork from last week hasn’t been on my table in more than 40 years!


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Part of the reason is that, as much as I enjoy cooking, I hadn’t devoted as much time to planning what I was going to cook as I did when I was younger.  That is, until I got deep into this blog (and the restaurant cookbook I’ve been asked to write).

In Junior and Senior years of college there was a plan for dinner for every day of every week. Sometimes there was a plan for lunch, too!

Good provisions weren’t conveniently located to the University of Pennsylvania campus except for some specialty items from the ethnic markets near campus or the occasional very basic item from one of two nearby (in-super) supermarkets. Grocery shopping was done weekly and involved a trip to Ninth Street (sometimes called the Italian Market), and to the Pathmark supermarket in Broomall, PA.

Every meal got planned and a shopping list was created.

The planning was usually done in the evenings when I needed a break from studying (which I know some of you think I never did!). I would sit down with a cookbook or two, or my box of recipes handwritten on 3” x 5” index cards, or the typewritten recipes from Mrs. Hugh, my roommate’s mother and, over the course of the week, generate a list of what my roommate and I were going to have for dinner each night. Some were favorites but many were new, like the whole poached fish I made from Marcella Hazan’s first cookbook or Mrs. Hugh’s Crispy Duck (see the photo embedded in this blog post).

One of my favorite books was a slim volume by Charmaine Solomon. Charmaine was from Sri Lanka and two of the resident advisors in my college house, Reggie and Nanacy Rajapakse, were also from Sri Lanka and knew Charmaine. Charmaine’s Far Eastern Cookbook was copyrighted in 1972 (the year I started college). The edition I have was printed in 1973 so it was quite new when I bought it in 1974 shortly after entering the International Residence Project. I read that book cover to cover, like a novel, many times. I could sit for hours and pore over Charmaine’s recipes.

My dog-eared and much beloved copy of Charmaine Solomon’s Far Eastern Cookbook

In 1976, when I graduated college, Reggie and Nanacy bought me another of Charmaine’s cookbooks as a present, The Complete Asian Cookbook.

Another favorite cookbook was the [Ceylon] Daily News Cookery Book which was in the collection of the Van Pelt library at the University of Pennsylvania. I would check it out, keep it as long as I could, return it, and then check it out again. It was a hardcover book with a red cloth cover. It was simply titled the Daily News Cookery Book.  Reference to Ceylon was nowhere to be found in the title.  Many years later, on a trip to Sri Lanka, I was able to get a reprint of the book (with the word Ceylon added to the title).

My point, though, is that my cooking repertoire expanded because I worked at it. Ray and I planned every meal, we went grocery shopping, we cooked, and we most certainly ate. I was still able to keep up a good cooking pace through medical school but after that, as I got busier and busier, it became harder and harder.

While I can put food on the table any given night without much thought, recreating past favorites or trying out new recipes requires more planning. I now have a calendar specifically devoted to cooking. Dishes get planned out weeks, if not months, in advance. It’s a lot of work, yes, but it’s tremendously rewarding to prepare my favorite foods, many of which I haven’t had in many years, and introduce them to others.

Cabbage and Noodles, sometimes called Halushki, was frequently on our table. I remember it particularly being served with Salmon Patties, one of my favorite Friday meals when we didn’t eat meat. We had it other times, too, but the association of Cabbage and Noodles with Salmon Patties is very strong.


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Cabbage and Noodles (Halushki)
Although three pounds of cabbage sounds like a lot, it cooks down a tremendous amount. If you wish, you can add a teaspoon or two of caraway seed to the cabbage during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Though my family did not do that, it is not unusual to do so.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
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Instructions
  1. Quarter and core the cabbage.
  2. Slice each quarter crosswise into ½ inch wide ribbons.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold the cabbage comfortably melt four tablespoons of the butter.
  4. Sauté the onion in the butter until golden.
  5. Add the cabbage. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  6. Sauté on medium heat, stirring often, until the cabbage wilts.
  7. Reduce the heat if the cabbage starts to stick to the pot.
  8. Continue to cook on medium low, partially covered and stirring often, until the cabbage is silky, golden, and sweet. This will take 1 ½ to 2 hours total from start to finish.
  9. The cabbage can be cooked several hours in advance to this point. Warm the cabbage before proceeding.
  10. Bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 1/3 cup of salt.
  11. Cook the egg noodles in the salted water until just done. They should be slightly toothy and definitely not mushy.
  12. Drain the noodles.
  13. Add the noodles to the cooked cabbage along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Toss well.
  14. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
Recipe Notes

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Salsa Friulana d’Ivana (Ivana’s Friulan Tomato Sauce)

November 17, 2017

My mother-in-law grew up in the town of Treppo Grande in the Italian province of Friuli. Friuli is in northeastern Italy. It is the major portion of the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Her father and two uncles lived with their families in three houses that wrapped around a courtyard. Her grandmother lived in the same complex. The extended family included numerous cousins.

Another uncle moved to the United States with his wife and their son early on.  Two more children were born to them in the US.


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At the age of 12, shortly after the end of World War II my mother-in-law, her brother (our Uncle Ray), and mother came to the States. Her father had been in the US working with the intention of bringing over the family but then the war broke out and the family could not be reunited until it ended.

One set of cousins stayed in Treppo Grande.  Another set of cousins moved to France.

In 1990 the “cousins,” as the US contingent called themselves, hatched a plan to organize a group trip to their hometown of Treppo Grande and to Digoin, France where the other set of “courtyard cousins” lived.

Naturally, planning for the trip required many “meetings” among the cousins; meetings that were fueled with copious amounts of food and alcohol interspersed with a little “business!”

The trip happened in August 1991. My husband and I went along with the “cousins” and their spouses.

The “United States” cousins and three of four spouses in Treppo Grande along with Carolina Fabbro, a friend of my mother-in-law’s mother.  She died a few years ago at more than 100 years of age.

We first met up in Paris for a day or two and did some sightseeing.

Afterwards, we were picked up in a small bus that had been arranged by Olvino, one of the original “courtyard cousins” who lived in Digoin. As I recall, the driver only spoke French. Among us we spoke English, Italian, Friulan (the language of Friuli), and a smattering of Spanish and German, but no French. Thankfully the driver knew where he was going and, for all other needs, we managed to communicate in some rudimentary, but effective, manner.

Interesting to me was that the vehicle had graph paper that kept a running record of the bus’s speed. Apparently the driver could be asked to produce the graph paper by the police and could be fined if it showed that he had exceeded the speed limit. Can you imagine that happening in the United States???

I was also fascinated when we stopped for lunch. The driver had a glass of wine. I will repeat that.  This professional bus driver had a glass of wine with lunch then got behind the wheel. Apparently, he was legally permitted to have one, just one, glass of wine and still drive.

Admittedly, one glass of wine is not going to get anyone’s blood alcohol level close to a level that produces intoxication but it pointed out that 1) the French are highly (overly?) regulated and 2) Europeans have a more relaxed approach to alcohol (probably to life in general, actually!).

I had a similar experience in 1994 when I did several consulting gigs in Europe. I frequently had lunch with physicians from the hospitals where I was consulting. Everyone (yes, everyone) had a glass of wine or beer with lunch and then went back to the hospital to work.

But I digress.

We spent several fun days in Digoin, where the local cousins had rented out a small hall, with a kitchen, because none of them had a house big enough to host all of us, and all of them, for meals.

There must have been six banquet tables shaped into a “U” around which we all sat. The crowd included not only those of us from the States, but the cousins who lived in Digoin along with their significant others, their children, and their children’s significant others.

Conversations frequently included four languages. The “cousins” typically spoke Friulan with each other. From there, the conversation would get translated into Italian, English, and French so that everyone could understand anything of interest to the group.

I don’t remember what we ate for dinner the first night except for the pasta which was sauced with a red sauce made by Ivana, Olvino’s wife.

I was transported by that sauce.

Tomato sauces in Friuli are different from the rest of Italy in that they have noticeable amounts of “warm” spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.  My mother-in-law makes a sauce similar to the one that Ivana makes but there are differences. For example, hers includes only beef. Today’s recipe, however, is a tribute to Ivana.

This is my interpretation of Ivana’s recipe. Since the original recipe contained a list of ingredients but no quantities, I had to figure out what worked.


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Salsa Friulana d'Ivana (Ivana's Friulan Tomato Sauce)
There should be a little bit of red-tinged oil floating on top of the sauce to improve the mouthfeel of the pasta—just a little. If you cannot find lean ground pork, you may want to grind your own. An actual meat grinder will work better than a food processor but if you’re using a food processor be careful not to grind the meat too finely. For the beef, I suggest using 93% lean. This recipe makes enough sauce for approximately 4 pounds of pasta. Extra sauce freezes well.
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Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
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Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Servings
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Instructions
  1. If using canned tomatoes rather than crushed tomatoes or tomato puree, pass the tomatoes through a food mill and reserve.
  2. Grind the pork if you cannot get ground pork in your market.
  3. Grind the garlic, onion, and parsley in a food processor. If you used a food processor for the pork, there is no need to clean it. Alternatively, chop them very, very finely by hand.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven.
  5. Add the garlic-onion-parsley mixture. Sauté until the raw smell is gone.
  6. Add the ground beef and pork and sauté on high heat until the meat is browned.
  7. Add the tomato puree or crushed tomatoes.
  8. Add all remaining ingredients.
  9. Sage
  10. Rosemary
  11. Basil
  12. Bay leaves
  13. Cinnamon
  14. Cloves
  15. Nutmeg
  16. Simmer gently, partially covered, stirring frequently for approximately 2 ½ hours.
  17. Adjust salt and pepper during cooking.
  18. Toss approximately 1/4 of the sauce with one pound of cooked pasta.
Recipe Notes

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Spaghetti Aglio, Olio, e Pepperoncino (Spaghetti with Garlic, Oil and Red Pepper)

November 8, 2017

How many Italian pasta sauces can you think of that do not include olive oil and garlic?

Precious few, I would guess!

This dish, classically Roman, elevates those two ingredients to center stage. You cannot hide bad olive oil or poorly cooked garlic in this dish. There are very few other flavors.

But simplicity has its virtues. It’s really hard to go wrong with this dish unless you use bad olive oil or not-so-stellar cheese or you burn the garlic.


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You can make a case for cooking the garlic for a whole range of times, from mere seconds up until it is dark brown. For many years I even cooked three different batches of garlic, one until brown, one until golden, and one until just fragrant. There is an interesting depth of flavor from doing so but it’s not the classic technique.

My point is, unless you burn the garlic and make it bitter, you won’t ruin the dish. You may prefer the flavor of the garlic when it is more or less brown but that’s just a preference not an absolute.

These little Italian peppers (“pepperoncino”) pack a nice flavor, not just heat

My recipe diverges from the classic Roman recipe in two places.

While making dinner, I’m usually chatting…with my in-laws (on most nights), with my husband (when he’s not away on business), or with guests. While I know I can time everything to be ready at exactly the right moment, I ask, why stress about it? So, yes, I can time the sautéing of the garlic to be just right when the pasta is ready but there’s an easier way.

I get the garlic to exactly the spot I want and then stop the cooking by taking the pan off the heat and adding a splash of wine (or water, if you must). That’s not classically Roman but it sure makes it much easier to have a conversation and a cocktail or three while making dinner. As soon as I plan on draining the pasta, I turn the heat on under the garlic oil and boil away the liquid I’ve added. Let’s face it, how often do we get to stop time with no consequences?

The second divergence from classic technique is that I add cheese to the pasta while mixing it with the garlic oil rather than just adding it at the table. In my mind there is no doubt that this pasta needs cheese. Adding it at the final stage of preparation allows me to create a glossy sauce where there would otherwise only be garlic oil. Not that that is bad, but I’ve made a bit of a reputation for myself by turning out glossy sauces where there would often only be oil.

It’s not hard. It just takes a bit of practice and some understanding (minimal) of the chemistry involved. And let’s face it, if the sauce isn’t glossy, you’re the only one who’s going to know. Again, there’s no penalty involved!

A brand of pasta that I really like

In Italy this pasta is often prepared and eaten after a night of over-indulging in alcohol. At least that’s the reputation it has. However, this was a common dish put on the dinner table when I was growing up. It’s easy, quick, filling, and darn good. Oh, and for an entirely different flavor, try butter in place of the olive oil!


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Spaghetti Aglio, Olio, e Pepperoncino (Spaghetti with Garlic, Oil and Red Pepper)
I like to reduce last minute work, so I prep the garlic oil in advance and stop the cooking with a splash of wine. You can use water, if you wish, or, if you are sautéing the garlic as the pasta is cooking, some of the pasta-cooking liquid. As the pasta is nearing completion, I reheat the garlic oil, quickly boiling off the wine, and proceed. Use more or less garlic, to your taste. The same is true with the red pepper. For myself, I would use at least double this amount but that would be way too much for other folks.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
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Instructions
  1. Slice off the hard base of each garlic clove.
  2. Cut the cloves in half top to bottom.
  3. Cut each half-clove of garlic crosswise into very thin slivers.
  4. In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the cooked spaghetti comfortably heat 1/3 cup of olive oil over gentle heat.
  5. Add the slivered garlic and sauté slowly and gently until golden brown. This should take 10-15 minutes if the heat is low enough.
  6. Add the red pepper and black pepper and sauté for another minute.
  7. Add the wine to stop cooking and remove the pan from the heat.
  8. Bring 2 ½ quarts of water to a boil. Season with ¼ cup of salt.
  9. Boil the spaghetti about two minutes less than the package indicates is needed for al dente.
  10. As the pasta is nearing completion, reheat the garlic oil.
  11. Just before removing the pasta from the boiling water, add 1 cup of pasta-cooking liquid to the garlic oil and turn the heat to medium high.
  12. Reserve another cup of pasta-cooking liquid then drain the pasta.
  13. Add the drained pasta to the pan with the garlic oil.
  14. Cook over medium to medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente. Add some of the reserved pasta-cooking liquid from time to time as needed.
  15. When the pasta is al dente, remove the pan from the heat. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese and parsley on top.
  16. Mix well to create a sauce by melting the cheese and emulsifying the oil and water. Add more of the pasta-cooking water, if needed, to coat the pasta.
  17. Stir in the 3 tablespoons of fruity or peppery extra-virgin olive oil for finishing.
  18. Serve immediately with extra Parmesan cheese.
Recipe Notes

Since olive oil loses much of its distinctive flavor from heating, adding some at the end, when the dish is off the heat, improves the flavor. Usually I keep several types of olive oil that I just use for finishing in this way. They tend to have different flavor profiles. Usually I have a peppery one and a buttery one on hand. These oils are used in small quantities so their higher price tag is worth the flavor they add.

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Mom’s Ravioli

September 27, 2017

My strongest olfactory memory of childhood is gradually waking up on Sunday morning to the smell (perfume is a better characterization as far as I’m concerned) of garlic being sautéed in olive oil.

That was how most Sundays started.

My mother would get up early and start making her long-simmered Southern Italian Tomato Sauce (referred to as Ragu or Sugo if one’s Italian roots were close, “Gravy” if one grew up in New York or nearby, and often just “Sauce”). We unceremoniously called it “Spaghetti Sauce” though it was used on much more than spaghetti!

I think the better part of my culinary-cultural history is represented by that sauce. Every Italian family’s sauce is different, even if stylistic similarities can be identified. The sauces made by my mother and her two sisters that I knew, Aunt Margie and Aunt Mamie, were clearly related but also different. Each was good but it’s not as if they didn’t deviate from my Grandmother’s recipe. They were similar in that garlic and meat were browned in oil; tomato products, water, and seasonings were added; and the whole thing simmered for hours. The meats varied, the tomato products (tomato paste, tomato puree, whole canned tomatoes, etc.) and the proportions of them definitely varied as did the seasonings and other aromatics.

My mother’s “Spaghetti Sauce” to call it by its “historic” name, a name that I no longer use, is, without doubt, my most precious culinary treasure. I have only ever given the recipe out twice. In the 1970’s I gave it to John Bowker and his wife Margaret Roper Bowker. John was the dean of Trinity College in Cambridge, England. Recently I gave it to Robert Reddington and John O’Malley in Palm Springs after Bob lamented the loss of the recipe for the long-simmered tomato sauce he learned to make while living in Chicago.

With my mother’s sauce as the near-constant backdrop to our Sunday dinners, the rest of the meal varied. The sauce could be served with spaghetti or some other cut of dry pasta, or with my mother’s home-made fettuccine, or with ravioli. Although my favorite pasta is gnocchi, we never had those on Sundays as my father didn’t like them. Gnocchi (always home-made) were reserved for a weeknight meal during the times that my father worked out of town.

The sauce has an abundant amount of meat in it, pork, always cut in big pieces, never ground or chopped. Nonetheless, the pasta was often accompanied by my mother’s slow-cooked roast pork or maybe a roast chicken.

It seems incongruous now, but in the 1960s, before the widespread use of antibiotics, chickens were expensive! (I’m not in favor of the prophylactic use of antibiotics but I’m just saying that’s why chickens are relatively inexpensive now.) I still have a handful of my mother’s “City Chicken” sticks from the 1960s. They are round, pointed sticks slimmer than a pencil but thicker than bamboo skewers. Pieces of pork and veal would be skewered in alternating fashion on the sticks, breaded, and fried like chicken drumsticks. This was less expensive than chicken!!

City Chicken sticks

But back to Sundays…

Sometimes, after the sauce was bubbling away, my mother would make ravioli. Next to gnocchi, they are my favorite pasta, but manicotti and lasagna aren’t far behind.

We would eat our big meal around 1 PM on Sunday and my mother would get all of this done in time for that meal, including taking time to go to church, during which my Aunt Mamie, who lived upstairs, would be tasked with stirring the “Spaghetti Sauce.”

My mother’s (now my) ravioli mold.

Making ravioli in a group is a lot more fun. I also find that making the ravioli on a different day from the day they are cooked and eaten means that I am not as tired and I enjoy them more. The pictures in this post are from a Sunday when I got together with Rich DePippo, Susan Vinci-Lucero, and my in-laws, Marisa and Frank Pieri, to make ravioli. I think we made about 30 dozen ravioli!


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Mom's Ravioli
The filling can be made a day in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered. Ravioli freeze well. To do so, lightly flour a sheet pan that will fit in your freezer and put the ravioli in a single layer. Freeze about 30-45 minutes, until firm. Quickly put the ravioli in a zipper-lock bag and return to the freezer. Repeat with the remaining ravioli. My mother always made her dough by hand but I use a kitchen mixer and the beater, not the dough hook. Years ago, ground meat was not labeled with the percent fat. My mother would select a cut of sirloin, have the butcher trim off all visible fat and then grind it. I find that 93% lean ground beef replicates the experience.
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Prep Time 2 hours
Passive Time 30 minutes
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Prep Time 2 hours
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
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Ingredients
Filling
Dough
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Instructions
Filling
  1. Put the frozen spinach in a small saucepan. Add a few tablespoons of water. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is completely thawed.
  2. Pour the spinach into a large sieve.
  3. After the spinach has cooled enough to handle, squeeze handfuls of the spinach to remove as much liquid as possible.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan until shimmering. Add the beef.
  5. Cook over high heat until the liquid has evaporated, breaking up the meat while cooking.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, and black pepper to taste. Continue to sauté for 2-3 minutes more.
  7. Add the spinach to the beef.
  8. Continue to cook over medium to medium-low heat while breaking up the spinach and completely combining it with the beef.
  9. When the beef and spinach are well combined and no obvious liquid remains in the pan, add the beaten egg. Stir well and cook two minutes more. The egg should completely incorporate into the filling and no longer be visible.
  10. Adjust salt and pepper.
  11. On low heat, add 1/4-1/3 cup of breadcrumbs and combine well to absorb any remaining liquid or oil. If necessary to absorb any remaining liquid, add another tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs. If you cooked off all the liquid when browning the beef, and used lean beef, 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs should be enough.
  12. Cool the filling to room temperature before filling the ravioli.
Dough
  1. Put the flour, egg, and egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with a paddle.
  2. Mix on low until combined.
  3. Add the water, a little at a time, until the dough just comes together. The dough should not be the slightest bit tacky. You may not need all the water.
  4. Remove the dough from the mixer and roll into a log. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rest for 15 to 30 minutes before rolling out.
Assembly
  1. Set up your pasta machine, either a hand crank version or an attachment for your mixer.
  2. Cut off a small handful of dough.
  3. Flatten the dough, dust with flour, and run it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting.
  4. If the dough is catching on the rollers it may be too wet. Sprinkle liberally with flour.
  5. Run the dough through the same setting one more time.
  6. Run the dough through the pasta machine narrowing the setting by one notch each time. If the dough is getting too long to cover much more than two lengths of the ravioli mold, cut off the excess and continue.
  7. When rolling out the dough, use slow, even motion. If the dough is not rolling out to the full width of the machine, or at least wide enough to cover the width of the ravioli mold, fold it in half crosswise and run it through the machine again on whatever the last setting was.
  8. If the dough is not rolling out smoothly, and the issue is not that it is too damp, run the dough through the machine again on the same setting.
  9. On most pasta machines with five settings for thickness, you will want to stop rolling out the dough on the next-to-thinnest setting.
  10. Put the rolled out dough on a lightly floured surface and cover with a kitchen towel. Repeat with 2 or 3 more portions of dough.
  11. Allow the remaining dough to rest, covered, while filling and cutting the first batch of ravioli.
  12. To fill the ravioli, take the rolled out dough and lay it across the ravioli mold.
  13. Add a slightly rounded teaspoonful of filling to each ravioli. Do not overfill or the ravioli may break when being cooked.
  14. Fold the dough over the top.
  15. Lightly pat the top sheet of dough.
  16. Using a rolling pin, cut the dough along the zig-zag edges. Be careful to fully cut through the dough around the edges as well as between each raviolo.
  17. Remove the ravioli and place on a lightly floured surface. Cover lightly with a kitchen towel.
  18. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
  19. Cook, refrigerate, or freeze the ravioli.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Pasta con Salsa Cruda (Pasta with Uncooked Tomato Sauce)

September 8, 2017

Pasta with a sauce of uncooked tomatoes, herbs and aromatics is one of the delights of late summer. While this is very easy to make, and only a few tomatoes are needed, the tomatoes must be vine-ripened.

If you have just one tomato plant you’ll probably have enough tomatoes to make a batch of Salsa Cruda. Farmers Market tomatoes are a good option this time of year, too.

Some of our tomato plants in front of the greenhouse and behind mesh to protect them from deer

I make this with our home-grown tomatoes which are always red but using some of the amazing heirloom tomatoes in colors of yellow, green, or purple available in farmers markets would make a dramatic sauce.

Colorful heirloom tomatoes on the bar at The Kirby Hotel in Douglas, Michigan: @thekirbyhotel

If you can’t get vine-ripe tomatoes, or you want to make a similar sauce at a time other than late summer, you can use two or three roasted red peppers in place of the tomatoes. I’ll be posting a recipe for roasted peppers next month, after tomato season is over. In a pinch, you can buy a jar of good-quality roasted peppers.

Although this recipe is not a traditional “family of origin” recipe it is one that I have been making for almost 30 years. I consider it to be one of my traditions.

While you can still get vine-ripened tomatoes, give this easy and delicious recipe a try.


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Pasta con Salsa Cruda (Pasta with Uncooked Tomato Sauce)
This makes enough sauce for one pound of pasta. Use pasta with a shape that will hold the sauce, such a small shells or fusilli. Although you can make the sauce in the time it takes the pasta water to come to a boil, it is better if the sauce is allowed to sit at room temperature for about an hour to allow the flavors to meld. Since the sauce is not hot, it is important to warm the serving bowl with boiling water just before using. I usually put some of the pasta-cooking water to warm the bowl. The optional aromatics (hot peppers, kalamata olives, and blue cheese) are really optional but definitely help to round out the flavor.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
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Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
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Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Coarsely chop the hot pepper.
  2. Coarsely chop the garlic.
  3. Combine olive oil, garlic, and hot peppers, if using, in the food processor.
  4. Process until finely chopped.
  5. Add basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese and Kalamata olives, if using.
  6. Pulse a few times to chop.
  7. Add tomatoes, blue cheese, if using, salt, and black pepper and pulse until finely chopped, but not pureed.
  8. There should definitely be some texture to the sauce.
  9. Bring three quarts of water to a rolling boil.
  10. Season the water with 1/3 cup of salt.
  11. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
  12. When the pasta is done, reserve about ½ cup of the pasta-cooking liquid to thin the sauce if needed.
  13. Drain the pasta.
  14. Drain the hot water from the serving bowl. Add the pasta and sauce to the warmed bowl. Toss well.
  15. If needed, thin the sauce with some of the reserved pasta water. This will likely not be the case but it is always a good idea to have some pasta-cooking water available just in case.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Pasta with Silky Zucchini Sauce

July 5, 2017

Pasta tossed with a sauce of some sort of vegetable cooked in olive oil is an Italian classic.  My mother frequently used either eggplant or zucchini, cooked them until they became very soft, and then tossed them with pasta.

I have one very vivid memory of this dish and it goes back to the summer of 1992.

After my mother was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer in early summer 1992, she came to live with us.  Until the last few days of her life in early January 1993, she took over our kitchen, a very comfortable role for her.

Over the years prior to her diagnosis, she had become friendly with our next door neighbor, Carla.  During the last six months of her life she and Carla spent hours every day visiting and chatting.  This was a wonderful arrangement as my husband, Frank, and I were working long hours.  (It also led, through a number of interesting steps, to Frank and I becoming the god-parents for one of Carla and Billy’s children a few years later.  But that’s a story for a different day.)

Frank had very long work hours a couple days per week.  He rarely got home before 10 PM on those days.  My mother and I would eat dinner earlier and then she would set aside his food.

But she did more than that.

When he got home, she always warmed up his dinner and then sat with him at the table while he ate.  She never let him eat alone.  Most likely, I was upstairs in bed.  Since I got up earlier than Frank, I tried to be in bed by 10 PM to watch the news and go to sleep.

For some reason, the plate of pasta with zucchini sitting on the counter one evening to be warmed up for Frank’s dinner, knowing my mother would sit with him as he ate, is the mental image I have of this dish.  I can’t make this without that image appearing in my mind.  I think somehow that dish, made of very humble ingredients, came to represent the best of my mother’s nurturing characteristics.

She was a fierce advocate for her children.  My sister and I both started school a year early because my mother thought we were intellectually ready (she was right) and she wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer from the school authorities.

Once, in second grade, my sister arrived home with the hem of her school uniform let down because one of the nuns thought it was too short.  My mother promptly hemmed it, even shorter, and sent my sister to school the next day without ever saying a word.  The hemline stayed put.

You didn’t mess with my mother where her children were concerned.

She continued cooking for us until less than a week before she died.

In those years we always gave a New Year’s Day party, a casual affair where people could come and relax and chat and eat.  The Soviet Union was officially dissolved December 25, 1991.  Most of 1992 saw the effects of the dissolution so the theme of our January 1, 1993 party was the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

For the party, my mother made 14 dozen stuffed cabbage rolls and 17 dozen potato pancakes!

She sat on the sofa throughout the entire party, chatting with everyone and being the life of the party.  The next day she took a turn for the worse and on the morning of January 6th she died.

Some of my best memories involve food, most of which was cooked by family and friends who are no longer with us.  Capturing and preserving those recipes is the way that I pay homage to them and to the culture and values they passed on to me.


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Pasta with Silky Zucchini Sauce
Zucchini are cooked to a silky softness to make a luscious sauce for pasta. Finishing the pasta in the pan with the zucchini and adding some pasta-cooking liquid, Parmesan cheese, and a couple of glugs of olive oil creates glossy sauce with a wonderful mouthfeel. When choosing zucchini, pick small ones, preferably not more than about six inches long. They should be firm and have glossy skin. It will take about 4 or 5 to yield four cups of sliced zucchini. Crushed red pepper is completely optional. If you have fresh basil you can omit the dry basil and toss in a tablespoon or so of basil chiffonade when you combine the pasta with the zucchini.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
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Instructions
  1. Dice the onion.
  2. Peel the zucchini and slice approximately ¼ inch thick.
  3. Mince the garlic.
  4. In a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan large enough to hold the pasta and sauce, sauté the onion and crushed red pepper, if using, over medium heat until the onion is golden and soft. Do not brown the onion.
  5. Add the zucchini. Toss to coat with oil. Season liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  6. Sauté on medium to medium high heat, adjusting from time to time to avoid browning the zucchini.
  7. Add the dry oregano and dry basil, if using, after about 20 minutes.
  8. Continue to sauté, stirring often, until the zucchini is quite soft, but still intact. It can turn golden but should not brown. Taste and adjust salt and pepper while the zucchini is cooking.
  9. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes longer.
  10. The dish can be prepared several hours in advance to this point. Simply take the sauté pan off the heat and cover it.
  11. Bring three quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 1/3 cup salt. Add the pasta and cook at a full boil until the pasta is almost al dente. It should still be just the tiniest bit hard in the center.
  12. Reserve at least one cup of pasta-cooking liquid.
  13. Drain the pasta and add it to the zucchini in the sauté pan. Add about ½ cup of reserved pasta-cooking liquid and fresh basil, if using, and cook over medium heat at a light boil until the pasta is al dente. Add more pasta-cooking water as needed. There should be some liquid in the pan when the pasta is finished.
  14. Off the heat, stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add a bit more pasta-cooking liquid if needed to emulsify the cheese and olive oil to create a glossy sauce that just clings to the pasta.
  15. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Pasta al Pesto

May 15, 2017

Gardening at 8000 feet is challenging.  Even more so when you consider that we are sitting on almost solid rock.

There’s not much soil to begin with, just the barest of covering on a rocky foundation.  The piñon and juniper that surround us work their roots through little crevices in the rock that sits just inches below the surface.

What little soil there was in the area immediately surrounding our house was removed to level the building site.  The excavation was almost exclusively rock, one hundred truck loads were taken away.  Some rock was kept on site to create retaining walls around the property.

 

 

The corollary, however, is that there’s no dirt around the house to dig into to plant much of anything.  The landscaping that was done was exclusively within rock retaining walls or our front enclosed courtyard, where topsoil was brought in.  The first load of topsoil for the courtyard arrived April 2007, before we were ready to plant anything.  April is a windy month in New Mexico.  The winds started up one day and before evening every last speck of topsoil was blown to West Texas!

We could consider raised bed gardening but that would just invite the rabbits and deer to munch their way through our garden.  As it is, we’ve offered up several stands of ornamental grasses on the periphery of our landscaped area to the critters.  We seem to have reached a truce of some sort.  We let them eat the ones around the edges and, for the most part, they let the others alone.

We installed a greenhouse that allows us to extend the growing season by many months.  It also allows us to winter over a number of plants that would not survive in this climate.  The greenhouse also allows us to grow fig trees in large pots.  The first year we grew figs, they didn’t ripen.  It turns out that even though summer days are warm, the nights are cool enough that the fruit doesn’t ripen.  The following year we left the fig trees in the greenhouse throughout the summer, convinced that it would be too warm for them to thrive even with the automatic ventilation system.

Luckily, we were wrong.  The fig trees loved the heat.  Picking a ripe fig off of the tree and eating it immediately is amazing.  The only fresh fruit experience that would be superior, in my estimation, is a fresh-picked mango…and those trees won’t fit in our greenhouse!

We have one row of planter boxes outside the greenhouse.  We use these for plants, like tomatoes, that are not very attractive to deer and rabbits.  Salad greens, such as arugula, radicchio, and leaf lettuce grows in shallow trays on a raised shelf in the greenhouse.  Many pots of herbs also remain in the greenhouse year-round.  Everything else is planted in our interior courtyard, either in pots or in another row of planter boxes.

Depending on the type of plants, we start planting seeds in February.  Seedlings are transplanted once the risk of frost is minimal.

This year, we started too much basil from seed.  It needed to be thinned.  This created the opportunity for us to have pesto much earlier than would otherwise have been the case.  Usually it’s June before the basil plants have grown large enough that we can harvest leaves for pesto.

We had this pesto on April 30th, a day that measured more than 8 inches of snow at Villa Sentieri.  It was winter’s last hurrah and fresh pesto was a perfect way to welcome spring and say good-bye to winter.

 

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Pasta al Pesto
The classic basil-based pesto is Pesto alla Genovese. However, because the recipe and ingredients for Pesto alla Genovese are tightly regulated (for example, the basil must be grown in Genoa, Italy), I’ll refrain from calling this Pesto alla Genovese since it can’t meet those strict regulations. Try to use young, small basil leaves. If you must use larger ones, tear them into smaller pieces so they measure approximately the same way. Using olive oil from Liguria, where Pesto alla Genovese originated, is another of those difficult-to-meet requirements. Nonetheless, try to use a sweet, fruity olive oil rather than one that is spicy and pungent. Make the pesto as close to serving time as possible. I like to have all the ingredients measured, making the pesto after the pasta starts to a boil. If you’re wondering about the use of a food processor, that would not be permitted either but I doubt there are many of us that would make pesto if we had to use the traditional marble mortar and wooden pestle!
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Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
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For the pesto
For the pasta
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
For the pesto
For the pasta
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Instructions
  1. Pluck the basil leaves from the stems and measure 2 cups, lightly packed.
  2. Measure all the other ingredients. Pine nuts.
  3. Garlic.
  4. Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses.
  5. Don't forget the extra-virgin olive oil and salt.
  6. Bring three quarts of water and 1/3 cup of salt to a rolling boil.
  7. While water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, heat the serving bowl by placing it in a 150°F oven or partially filling it with boiling water.
  8. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta. Return to a boil, stirring frequently.
  9. As the pasta boils, put the basil leaves, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and salt in a food processor. Puree the basil mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
  10. When the pasta is almost al dente, pour the basil puree into the warmed serving bowl.
  11. Add the Parmigiano and Romano cheeses. Stir to combine.
  12. Remove ¼ of the boiling pasta-cooking water from the pot and stir into the pesto to loosen it.
  13. When the pasta is al dente, remove and reserve a cup of pasta cooking water.
  14. Drain the pasta. Do not rinse. Add the pasta to the serving bowl and toss to coat each strand.
  15. If the pesto seems a little thick, add a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta-cooking water.
  16. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.
  17. The finished dish.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Orecchiette with Broccoli and Anchovies

May 10, 2017

A few times in my life I’ve been lucky enough to cook with my husband’s Great Aunt Fidalma.  It’s always been in my kitchen, though I keep hoping to make a trip to Tuscany to cook with her in her kitchen.

Zia Fidalma speaks Italian and German.  I speak English.  Though I studied German in high school and college, and at one point was passably able to translate scientific German, my command of spoken German (and at this point, scientific German) is hopeless.  I studied Italian for a while too, but the best I can do is read a menu, order in a restaurant, and find out where the restroom is.

So, cooking with Zia Fidalma starts with a language barrier but it doesn’t seem to matter.  Somehow we communicate.

Mostly that means Zia Fidalma speaks slowly in Italian emphasizing the words I am likely to understand most.

Like the time we were in my kitchen in Santa Fe preparing dinner for twelve.  The first course was spaghetti al pesto.  A pile of basil stalks from my father-in-law’s (Zia Fidalma’s nephew) garden were on the kitchen counter.  Zia Fidalma was plucking off basil leaves one at a time, inspecting each one.  At one point, she looked up at me holding a leaf and said “è brutta” (it’s ugly), clearly wanting my agreement to discard the less-than-perfect leaf.

One day at our home in Chicago, she was making risotto for lunch.  It had a very similar flavor profile to this pasta in that it contained broccoli, garlic and anchovies.

Zia Fidalma cranked up the 15,000 BTU burner to high.  She sizzled some minced garlic for a moment.  There was a vague hint of smoke coming from the pan.  She added the anchovies and stirred them about.  Smoke started to billow up.  She smiled knowingly.  She added the broccoli, undeterred.  Smoke continued.  She stirred.  I stood there horrified.  Then she lightly charred the broccoli.  I was even more horrified.  At long last some liquid went in and the rest of the risotto-making followed a familiar pattern.

I try to avoid smoking oil at all cost when cooking.  I was more than a little concerned about how the risotto would taste.

However, I have never had anything but fabulous food from Zia Fidalma, so I had to trust that this would be OK, too.

This wasn’t her first rodeo.  She’d been making risotto since before I was born.

In the end, all I can say is that the risotto was wonderful.  It had layers of flavor.  It provided an important lesson about how techniques different from what one would typically use can create incredible flavors.

So, if you see wisps of smoke coming from the pan as you singe the broccoli for this recipe, don’t fret.  Just raise a toast to Zia Fidalma, and enjoy!

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Orecchiette with Broccoli and Anchovies
My husband’s Great Aunt Fidalma, who lives in Tuscany, showed me how to cook the broccoli in this manner. Previously, I parboiled the florets and added them and the beans to the sautéed garlic and anchovies. This method adds layers of flavor that cannot be obtained by just boiling the broccoli. I prefer to use home-cooked kidney beans following my recipe for Cannellini alla Toscana. You can use either red or white (cannellini) beans but the red ones add more color contrast. As an alternative you can use one 15 ounce can of beans. Do not discard the liquid in the can as it will improve the body of the sauce.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
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Instructions
  1. Put 3 quarts of water and 1/3 cup salt in a 5 quart stockpot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the thick stems off the broccoli just below where the stems start to branch into individual florets.
  3. Cut the individual florets off the broccoli by cutting lengthwise through the stalk from top to bottom.
  4. Cut off any remaining stalk just below the floret. These tender stalks can be cut crosswise into one-half inch pieces and added to the florets.
  5. You can use some of the thicker stalks as well, if you wish. To do so, use a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer skin. Dice the peeled stems into 1/3 inch cubes. Reserve these diced stalks separately from the florets and diced tender stalks.
  6. When the salted water comes to a boil, add the diced, peeled stalks, if using. Return to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes until they just begin to get tender. Using a spider or large slotted spoon, remove the stalks from the water and plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. When cool, drain in a colander.
  7. Keep the water on low heat so you can return it to a boil quickly when needed to cook the pasta.
  8. In a heavy-bottomed pan large enough to hold the finished dish, sauté the garlic over medium high heat until it turns fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  9. Add the anchovies and their oil and continue to sauté, breaking up the anchovies till they turn to a paste.
  10. Continue to cook until the anchovies darken slightly, about 1-2 minutes.
  11. Add the broccoli florets and diced tender stems. If using, add the partially cooked peeled stems. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  12. Sauté on high heat, stirring very frequently, until some of the broccoli florets just begin to singe, about 5 minutes.
  13. Add the crushed red pepper. Stir to combine.
  14. Add the wine and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook over medium high heat till the florets are cooked through but not mushy, shaking the pan occasionally.
  15. If all the wine evaporates before the broccoli is cooked, ladle in a bit of the pasta cooking liquid and continue.
  16. When the broccoli is cooked, add the beans and their cooking liquid along with the oregano. Bring to a simmer over gentle heat.
  17. Meanwhile, return the pasta-cooking water to a rolling boil and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is slightly shy of al dente. The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce.
  18. Put about ¾ cup of pasta cooking liquid into the beans. Reserve another cup of the liquid.
  19. Quickly drain the pasta and add to the beans. Stir well. Bring to a gentle boil, uncovered. Cook stirring occasionally until the pasta is al dente. Add as much of the reserved pasta-cooking liquid as needed to have enough sauce to coat the pasta and broccoli.
  20. The starch in the pasta-cooking liquid will add body to the sauce. One way to incorporate more of the pasta-cooking liquid is to cook the pasta over higher heat so that you can add, and boil off, more of the liquid, leaving the starch behind.
  21. When the pasta is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Taste and adjust salt after adding the cheese.
  22. Stir in the finishing extra-virgin olive oil. This will make the sauce glossy and add additional flavor.
  23. The starch from the pasta water and bean-cooking liquid along with the cheese should create an emulsion with the oil. You may need to add more of the reserved pasta-cooking liquid to loosen the sauce.
  24. Serve immediately. Pass extra Parmesan cheese at the table.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Farfalle con Salsa di Piselli (Bowtie Pasta with Peas)

April 13, 2017

I’ve been silent for a while.  It wasn’t planned or anticipated.  Life just got in the way.  Mostly it was good stuff, though.  For example…

My husband’s birthday…a momentous one that ends in a zero…held at Trio Restaurant in Palm Springs.

A wedding (complete with a photo shoot using vintage hats!)  Congratulations Suzanne and Bob!!

A visit to the Trinity Site on one of the two days per year that it is open to the public.

Cooking at Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival.  Yep!  I got to cook at the Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival!!

That was a hoot!

The main events of the food and wine festival are held in a series of large tents on the top of a parking garage in Palm Desert.  The festival starts off on Friday with a multi-course, wine-paired James Beard Luncheon prepared by celebrity chefs.  The festival continues on Saturday and Sunday with The Grand Tasting and Chef Demonstrations.  There are other related events, such as special dinners, in the area, too.

There are three tents devoted to chef demonstrations.  Each demonstration runs for about an hour.  One demonstration per hour in each of three tents for two days is a lot of demonstrations.

Local chefs bring their own ingredients for their demonstrations and also prepare samples of the finished dish for about 100 audience participants.  Mostly what the local chefs really bring is their restaurant kitchen staff to do the work.

Celebrity Chefs have a whole different deal.  They submit their recipes.  The ingredients get purchased.  The commercial kitchen, set up in a tent on top of the parking garage, preps all the ingredients for their demonstrations and also prepares between 75 and 175 portions of the dish to be distributed to the audience.

I got to prepare food for The Beekman Boys, Stuart O’Keeffe, Zac Young, and Aarti Sequeira, among others.  The Beekman Boys, Josh and Brent, were gracious enough to come into the kitchen and chat with me during their Facebook Live post!  The post is below.

Hey everyone…we're live at the Palm Desert Food & Wine Show. Come take a peek behind the scenes…

Posted by Beekman 1802 Boys on Saturday, March 25, 2017

 

So, while I wasn’t posting recipes, for which I apologize, I was further pursuing my cooking goals.

After being in Palm Desert, where it was definitely spring, and returning to Santa Fe where it was definitely winter, I felt the need for something spring-like.  This pasta, with a sauce of spring-like peas, was exactly the thing!  Unless you have absolutely glorious peas from a local farmers’ market, I suggest using frozen peas.  This is exactly what I did to create a taste of spring in the Santa Fe winter!

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Farfalle con Salsa di Piselli (Bowtie Pasta with Peas)
If you have access to fresh peas from a farmers’ market please give them a try. If not, frozen peas work well. I’ve never had good luck with the “fresh” shelled peas in the supermarket. They always seem too starchy, and sometimes even musty tasting. Each pound of peas in the pod yields about 1 cup of shelled peas. For the 2 ¼ cups of peas needed for this recipe, I’d start with at least 2 ¼ pounds of peas in the pod. The vermouth adds an herbal quality and its slight bitterness balances the sweetness of the peas.
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Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
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Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
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Instructions
  1. Combine the peas, thyme and water. Season with salt. Bring to a boil. If you are using frozen peas remove from the heat as soon as the water comes to a boil and continue with the next step. If you are using fresh peas, cook until the skins pop when bitten into and the peas are just cooked. This will take just a few minutes. The time is dependent on the peas so you’ll have to taste a pea about every 30 seconds so that you don’t overcook them.
  2. Remove ½ cup of the cooked peas from the cooking liquid. Rinse the peas under cool water to stop the cooking. Reserve the peas.
  3. Puree the remaining peas with the cooking liquid in a blender. Reserve the pea puree.
  4. Cut the pancetta into ¼ inch dice.
  5. In a wide, heavy-bottomed pan large enough to hold the cooked pasta comfortably, cook the pancetta over medium-low heat until crisp and brown. If the oil from the pancetta starts to smoke reduce the heat and add a tablespoon of water to quickly lower the temperature. It is important to brown the pancetta well, and to create browned bits in the bottom of the pan (without burning) to build flavor for the sauce.
  6. Remove the pancetta and reserve.
  7. Thinly slice the onion.
  8. Add the butter to the pan you just used to cook the pancetta. leaving in the rendered fat and browned bits. As soon as the butter melts, add the thinly-sliced onion and sauté until the onion is soft and golden brown.
  9. Add the vermouth to the sautéed onions. (Note, the recipe can be prepared several hours in advance up to this point. If doing so, as soon as you add the vermouth, remove the pan from the heat and cover tightly.)
  10. Bring the onion-vermouth mixture to a boil and boil rapidly until the vermouth has evaporated.
  11. Add the pureed peas, reduce heat to low, and gently warm the onion-pea puree mixture.
  12. Meanwhile cook the pasta in three quarts of heavily-salted, rapidly-boiling water. When the pasta is al dente, remove one cup of the cooking liquid and reserve.
  13. Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the warm onion-pea puree mixture.
  14. Increase heat to medium. Add the whole cooked peas, the pancetta, freshly ground black pepper to taste, and enough of the reserved pasta cooking liquid to make a sauce that just clings to the pasta. Cook for a minute or two to allow the sauce to bubble and thicken, stirring occasionally. Add more pasta cooking liquid as needed.
  15. Off the heat, add the Parmesan cheese. Stir well. Add a bit more pasta cooking water if the sauce becomes too thick after adding the Parmesan cheese.
  16. Add the fruity extra virgin olive oil, if using. Stir. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.
Recipe Notes

Browning the pancetta and onions is critical to building flavor for the sauce.  It is better to use low heat than heat that is too high.  The starch in the pasta-cooking liquid helps to add body to the sauce.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Mom’s Pasta e Fagioli (Mom’s Pasta and Beans)

February 22, 2017

We didn’t eat a lot of prepared foods growing up.  In fact we almost never did.  OK, there were a few times in the early 60’s where I got to try out those recently-invented “TV Dinners.”

I was well into adulthood before I had a real appreciation for the quality of the homemade food that was put on our table every day.

My mother made putting great food on the table seem effortless.  I remember many Sunday mornings when I’d wake up to find her making ravioli from scratch for our big midday meal: cooking the beef and spinach filling, preparing the dough, rolling and filling the ravioli, all the while a big pot of tomato sauce bubbling away on the stove.  It was just a family Sunday dinner!

Weekday meals were usually less elaborate but no less delicious; maybe homemade sausage, pan-fried potatoes, and a vegetable or two or maybe pasta with sauce leftover from Sunday.  It was always fun to walk into the kitchen to find her making something I’d never had before; something that her mother used to make.  Sometimes that wasn’t even at a defined meal time.

Now I think I understand.  My mother died in 1993 and I bet I didn’t make her version of pasta e fagioli for 20 years after her death.  Then one day, the desire for it just struck me and there I was, in the kitchen, cooking.

It’s become part of my regular routine again after that long hiatus.  Sitting down to a bowl of my mother’s pasta e fagioli is comforting; almost as comforting as if she had made it for me.  There’s just something about the combination of pasta, beans and red sauce that I can’t explain.  It triggers an emotional bridge to what feels like an earlier time in my life.  I’m guessing something similar prompted my mother to occasionally whip up dishes from her youth that she hadn’t made in decades, if ever.

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Mom's Pasta e Fagioli (Mom's Pasta and Beans)
Follow the directions for Cannelini alla Toscana but use dried lima beans instead of cannellini and substitute ½ teaspoon of dried oregano and a sprig of fresh rosemary for the sage. There will be leftover beans that you can freeze or refrigerate for another use. You can also use two 15 ounce cans of Butter Beans in place of the home-cooked lima beans. Mom always used ditalini for this dish. These days, when you can find them (and it can be challenging) they have usually been upgraded from ditalini to ditali, though they are exactly what she used. More frequently, I use a slightly larger, but still rather small, pasta such as the mezzi rigatoni shown here.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
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Instructions
  1. Finely dice the onion. Sauté the onion in ¼ cup of olive oil until soft and golden.
  2. Add the crushed red pepper and sauté another minute.
  3. Add the tomato paste and sauté, stirring frequently until the tomato paste turns a shade darker and smells sweet, 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the water, oregano, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well to fully incorporate the tomato paste.
  5. Bring to a very low boil, partially covered, and cook 30-45 minutes stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning as needed, tasting several times as the sauce cooks.
  6. Meanwhile, sauté the garlic in the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil very slowly until browned. Remove from the heat and reserve.
  7. The dish can be cooked several hours ahead to this point.
  8. Bring three quarts of water and three tablespoons of salt to a boil.
  9. While the water is heating, add the beans and their liquid to the tomato sauce, return to a simmer, and cook, partially covered till the pasta is ready.
  10. Cook pasta until it still has a small bit of chewy center. It will cook more in the sauce. Scoop out and reserve two cups of the pasta cooking liquid.
  11. Drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the tomato-bean mixture. Add the browned garlic and olive oil. Stir well, cover and cook on very low heat until the pasta is cooked but al dente and the sauce has thickened. Add some of the pasta cooking liquid as needed from time to time to create a smooth sauce.
  12. Off the heat stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  13. It is not unheard of for me to add an extra glug or two of olive oil at this point to get a luscious sauce. Stir and decide if another dash of pasta-cooking water is needed, as well.
Recipe Notes

Mezzi Rigatoni

 

 

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