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.


Click HERE to join our mailing list and you’ll never miss a recipe again!

Print Recipe
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.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
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.

Share this Recipe

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!

Print Recipe
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.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
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.

Share this Recipe

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.

Print Recipe
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.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
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

 

 

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

Share this Recipe

Rapini with Olive Oil, Garlic, and Red Pepper

February 13, 2017

On the whole, Italians like bitter greens.  In fact, Italians like bitter flavors in general.  For example, consider classic Italian digestifs of Fernet Branca and Ferrochina Bissleri.  Less bitter drinks include Cynar.

Rapini is a bitter green.  As with many foods, names vary.  Rapini can also be called Broccoli Raab, Broccoli Rabe, and Cime di Rape.  While some authorities say that Broccolini and Baby Broccoli are also Rapini, I have found that in American markets, these greens are usually less bitter than Rapini.  I suspect that a different variety of green is marketed under these names in the US.

Greens with olive oil, garlic and red pepper is a classic combination.  With the addition of some anchovies, it makes a wonderful sauce for pasta, especially orecchiette.

In 1989 I moved to Chicago to assume the position of Medical Director of  Chicago-Read Mental Health Center.  At the time, it was the second busiest psychiatric facility in the country.  (Only New York City had a busier psychiatric facility.)  The hospital was on the northwest side of Chicago close to both Italian and Polish neighborhoods so lunches with co-workers were always gastronomically rewarding.

I remember one lunch, early on in my tenure as Medical Director, at a nearby Italian restaurant.  The executive leadership team when out.  I ordered Rapini with Garlic and Oil for my antipasto.  What I got was an Italian-American sized portion of greens in a garlicky, surprisingly spicy broth with lots of bread on the side.

It was glorious.

This version is more restrained.  It is what we serve at home.  However, feel free to amp it up with more olive oil, garlic and red pepper if you’d like.  You can also leave a little more liquid in the dish to sop up with bread, if you’d like.

Print Recipe
Rapini with Olive Oil, Garlic, and Red Pepper
This dish can be made with Rapini, Broccoli Rabe, Cime di Rape, Broccolini, or Baby Broccoli. In the United States, Broccolini and Baby Broccoli seem to be less bitter than Rapini. Which to use is personal taste. It doesn’t take long to cook the greens in the boiling water. It is best to undercook them rather than overcook them as they get a second pass at the heat and can be cooked more if needed. Once the rapini are in the serving bowl I like to douse them with a few tablespoons of spicy extra-virgin olive oil for flavor. Heating olive oil tends to dull its flavor so it is almost always a good idea to add an extra bit of uncooked oil at the end.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Course Sides, Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Sides, Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. The starting point: rapini from the market.
  2. Cut the very ends off the rapini stems.
  3. Find the part on the stem where it begins to branch in a major way. Cut crosswise at this point.
  4. If there are any little offshoots below the cut, remove them. Combine the little offshoots with the tops. Keep the bottom stems separate from the tops.
  5. Remove the outer layer of the peel from the bottom stems. To do this, look at the bottom of the stem. You’ll see a dark green layer surrounding a lighter green center. Insert a sharp paring knife into the stem just where the dark green ends.
  6. Grab the peel between your thumb and the knife and pull down to remove.
  7. Cut the peeled bottom stems into pieces approximately 1 ½ inches long.
  8. You do not need to peel or cut the tops.
  9. Bring three quarts of water to the boil. Add three tablespoons of salt.
  10. Put a bunch of ice cubes in a large mixing bowl add cover with water. Set the ice water aside.
  11. Add the stems to the boiling water. Return to a boil. Cook for 3½ to 4 minutes if you are near sea level but up to five minutes if you are at high elevation. They are done when they are toothy but have lost their crunch.
  12. Using a perforated ladle, remove the stems from the boiling water and put into the bowl of ice water to stop cooking.
  13. Add the tops to the boiling water. Return to a boil. Cook for about 2 minutes if you are near sea level but up to three minutes if you are at high elevation.
  14. Using a perforated ladle, remove the tops from the boiling water and add to the bowl of ice water along with the stem ends.
  15. Thinly slice the garlic crosswise and reserve.
  16. In a large sauté pan, heat 1/3 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, turn the heat to low, and sauté gently until the garlic is golden. Add crushed red pepper and continue to sauté until the garlic is light brown.
  17. Add the wine. The dish can be made ahead to this point. If doing so, immediately remove the garlic-wine mixture from the stove. The addition of the wine will stop the garlic from over-cooking. When resuming, or if you’re not taking a break at this point, bubble away the wine over medium heat until only oil is left in the pan.
  18. Drain the rapini.
  19. Add the rapini to the garlic and oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and cook briefly until heated through.
  20. If the rapini are not cooked enough to your taste, cook a bit longer. If necessary add a tablespoon or two of water.
  21. Adjust seasoning.
  22. Pour into a serving bowl and drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

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

Share this Recipe

Pollo all’Uccelleto (Chicken Little Bird Style)

January 23, 2017

I first tasted this dish in Tuscany in the little hill town of Benabbio, in September 1996.  My husband’s great Great Aunt Fidalma, Zia Fidalma, made it with little birds, sparrows actually, that her husband, Faliero, had shot.

That was one of my most memorable meals in Italy.  My husband and I had traveled to Italy with his parents.  We stayed in a little hotel in the town of Fornoli where my father-in-law grew up.  We alternated meals at the homes of numerous relatives throughout the area.

It was wonderful sitting in Zia Fidalma’s kitchen watching her put together components of the meal in that seemingly effortless way that happens in homes throughout Italy.  We had sautéed mushroom caps.  Zia Fidalma foraged the mushrooms.  I remember them sitting in a shallow box on the kitchen counter.  She plucked a few out of the box, cleaned them.  They were quickly sautéed and seasoned with salt, pepper, and nepita.

I can’t get a consensus on the spelling of nepita.  I’ve seen it as gnebita, gnepita, and nepeta, among others.  It is a variety of catmint.  Zia Fidalma uses it to season mushrooms.  It is a magical combination.

We smuggled nepita seeds back from Tuscany on that visit, along with heirloom tomato seeds, both from Zio Faliero’s garden.  We’ve grown both ever since.  For 20-plus years we’ve had nepita; first in our garden in Chicago (at the Rohkam House, where we lived starting in January 1996) and then subsequently at Villa Sentieri, in Santa Fe.

The Rohkam House when we lived there.
The Rohkam House shortly after it was built in 1887.

There are only three components of that meal that I remember clearly, the mushrooms, the little birds, and the wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano brought out at the end of the meal for us to eat with fruit.  I know there was a pasta but I can’t remember what it was.  The same is true for the side dishes (contorni, in Italian).

My mother-in-law was in heaven with the little birds.  She was sitting across the table from me. The meal had become languorous by then and it wasn’t, somehow, inappropriate for me to pull out my video camera.  Remember those?  I’m talking about dedicated video cameras with cassettes for recording, not phones or cameras with video capability.

As she was reveling in her little birds (uccelleti, in Italian) I used my video camera to focus in on her.  First on her face, but then ultimately on just her lips.  Her lips filled the screen like the lips in the opening moments of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  There were those lips, sucking in little bird parts then extruding cleaned bones.  Every now and then there was the occasional bit of bird shot that needed to be eliminated.

To this day, that video footage is a kind of kompromat in our family.  Thanks to President Trump for making that term common knowledge.  My mother-in-law hates that video footage.  I occasionally mention its existence and (vaguely) threaten to allow it to surface…as I did for this post but, in the end, in the interest of domestic harmony, did not.

Print Recipe
Pollo all'Uccelleto (Chicken Little Bird Style)
I first had this dish in Tuscany. It was made, literally, with little birds (blackbirds) bagged by my husband’s Great Uncle Faliero. Since little birds are not easily available in the US, I rendered the dish using chicken after returning from the 1996 trip to Italy. I called it “Chicken Little Bird Style” or “Pollo all’Uccelleto.” Much to my surprise, years later, I discovered that Italians do, in fact, refer to this preparation as “all’Uccelleto,” and use it on things other than little birds (chicken, for example). What simply started out as Uccelleti, “Little Birds,” became for me "Pollo all’Uccelleto," or “Chicken Little Bird Style.” From Great Aunt Fidalma’s kitchen to you is Chicken Little Bird Style. If you actually have little birds, by all means, give them a try. If not, chicken thighs are a great, if less gamey, substitute. Use good quality olives for this dish. If you don’t have access to an Italian market, I suggest using olives from the olive and antipasto bar that is common in many supermarkets these days. I usually use half oil-cured black olives and half green olives, such as castelvetrano. I prefer using olives with pits.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Course Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Remove the leaves from the rosemary and oregano.
  2. Mince the sage, rosemary, and oregano leaves. Reserve.
  3. Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and any large pieces of fat.
  4. Using the broad side of a chef’s knife, bruise (smash, really) the garlic cloves.
  5. In a heavy skillet large enough to hold the chicken thighs in a single layer, heat the olive oil.
  6. When the oil is hot, add the chicken thighs and garlic. Season the chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  7. Brown the chicken, turning several times. As the garlic cloves get dark brown, remove and discard them before they burn.
  8. When the chicken is brown, and all garlic has been removed, add the tomato sauce, bay leaves, minced herbs (rosemary, sage, and oregano) and crushed red pepper.
  9. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally and turning chicken over every 30 minutes or so, for approximately 1 hour.
  10. If the sauce gets too dry add a little white wine (or water) from time to time.
  11. After an hour, add the olives, cover, and continue cooking over low heat, stirring occasionally and turning chicken over every 30 minutes or so, for approximately 1 more hour.
  12. Taste and adjust salt and black pepper during the last half hour of cooking. The olives will be salty, so it's best to wait till they've cooked a while before adding more salt.
  13. When finished, the chicken should truly be “fall-apart” tender and the sauce should be mostly a red colored olive oil with just a tiny bit of tomato sauce.
Recipe Notes

I don’t usually use canned tomato sauce. I prefer to use tomato paste and water. For this dish I use tomato sauce because so little is needed and it’s consistent with what Great Aunt Fidalma did. If you want to use tomato paste, mix 1½ tablespoons of tomato paste with 6 tablespoons of water and use in place of the tomato sauce.

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

Share this Recipe

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans)

January 18, 2017

Talk about comfort food!  Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans) hits the spot (for me, at least!).

There are endless variations.  White kidney beans, red kidney beans, chick peas, butter beans, fava beans, for example.  Ditalini, mezzi rigatoni, lumaconi, orecchiette, linguine, and more.  Not to mention the possibilities of tomato sauce, anchovies, broccoli, rapini, and escarole.  I could go on but you get the point.  You could mix and match just those ingredients and come up with hundreds of different combinations.

Growing up, my mother made only one version that I recall.  It featured butter beans, tomato sauce and ditalini.  The amount of liquid was equivalent to pasta with a red sauce.  My Aunt Margie, my mom’s sister, made hers with chick peas and ditalini, no tomato sauce, and it was definitely more of a soup.  My guess is that my grandmother made both versions, and probably others, but my mom and my aunt each settled on one for their cooking repertory.

Then there’s a version that I learned from a work colleague, Louis Evangelista, more than thirty years ago.  He learned it from his Sicilian grandfather.  It features linguine, red kidney beans, escarole, red pepper, and an abundant amount of garlic.

Then there’s orecchiette with kidney beans, broccoli and anchovy.

But we’re not making any of these today.  We’re doing a simple version with kidney beans and lumaconi.  The others will make their appearance in the coming months.

Lumaconi is a wonderful pasta shape for pasta e fagioli.  Lumaconi means snails.  Look at the picture below and you’ll see the resemblance.  What’s so cool about using lumaconi is that the beans naturally slip inside the cooked pasta for the perfect mouthful of beans and pasta!

If you use red kidney beans rather than white, the contrast between the bean and pasta will look startlingly like real snails.  This might not be a good thing depending on your audience!

I strongly encourage you to start with dry beans rather than canned.  Follow the recipe for Cannellini alla Toscana using either white or red kidney beans.  For something as hands-off as putting a pot of beans in the oven you’ll be rewarded with enough beans for two, if not three, meals plus a taste profile that is infinitely superior to canned beans.

This last point was hammered home to me a few months ago.  We were in Alamogordo with Pat and Becky, friends from Santa Fe.  We spent the day at White Sands National Monument sledding down the dunes followed by lunch in Ruidoso before returning to our little house in Alamogordo (the house is another story for another day).

We didn’t feel like going out, not that there are many places to go out to in Alamogordo unless you count Chili’s, which, inexplicably, is my husband’s favorite restaurant in town.  Besides, we made the requisite pilgrimage to Chili’s the night before.

So, a couple of cans of kidney beans later, I was making pasta e fagioli.  It was good, no doubt.  But it had been a very long time since I had used canned beans (even though there is an entire phalanx of canned beans in my pantry).  I was actually startled by the difference in taste and texture, having grown so accustomed to using home-cooked beans.

However, by all means, if using canned beans is the difference between trying this dish, and not.  Go for it!  You might want to throw an extra bit of herbs in the pot at the beginning, like a bay leaf and some sage, but it’s not really essential.

Let me know what you think of the recipe.  And for those of you who have your own favorite version of pasta e fagioli, let me know what it is.

Print Recipe
Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans)
The difference in taste and texture between home-cooked beans and canned beans is dramatic. I recommend cooking either red or white kidney beans using the Cannellini alla Toscana recipe. While I always keep canned beans on hand for emergencies, my freezer is also always stocked with a variety of cooked beans. Whenever I make Cannellini alla Toscana, I freeze leftover beans in portions of 1 ½ cups of beans covered in whatever cooking liquid is left. I never discard any of the cooking liquid. Ideally, you should have enough cooking liquid to cover the beans for the first part of the cooking, before adding the pasta and some pasta-cooking liquid. If you are using canned beans, two 15 oz. cans of beans is the right amount. Do not discard the liquid in the can. It will help to thicken the sauce.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Combine the beans and their liquid, onion, basil, and red pepper, and freshly ground black pepper to taste in a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to contain the cooked pasta and beans. If the bean cooking liquid and wine does not cover the beans, add water to just cover.
  2. Simmer, partially covered approximately twenty minutes. Taste for salt after about 10 minutes. Remember that the pasta will be well salted and you will be adding Parmigiano so best not to over-salt at this point.
  3. Meanwhile, bruise the garlic with the side of a knife.
  4. Sauté the garlic in the olive oil very slowly until browned. Garlic should be quite brown but not burnt which would make it bitter. Remove and discard garlic. Reserve the garlic-flavored oil.
  5. Cook pasta in 4 quarts of abundantly salted water. The pasta will finish cooking with the beans, so there should still be a small core of hard pasta in the center.
  6. Just before draining the pasta, scoop out and reserve about two cups of the pasta cooking liquid.
  7. If you will not be serving the pasta e fagioli in the cooking pot, pour some of the cooking water into the serving bowl to warm it while you finish cooking the pasta and beans.
  8. Drain the pasta but leave some water clinging. That is, there is no need to shake the colander. Add the pasta to the bean mixture. Stir to combine. Add the garlic oil. Mix well.
  9. Cover tightly and cook over very low heat for approximately 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally until the pasta is cooked through but still ad dente. Add a little of the reserved pasta water from time to time if needed. When the pasta is finished there should be just enough water remaining to create a sauce.
  10. Off the heat, stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano.
  11. The combination of the cheese and the starch from both the bean cooking liquid and the pasta cooking liquid should create a glossy sauce.
  12. You might want to stir in an extra tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil both for the flavor and to help emulsify the sauce. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.
  13. If not serving the pasta in the cooking pot, drain and dry the warmed serving bowl and pour in the pasta.
  14. Serve the pasta e fagioli with additional freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and crushed red pepper.
Recipe Notes

More than other seasonings, quantities of dried red pepper are mere suggestions. Different types of red peppers vary in their heat and flavor profile. Different people have different tolerances for the heat of peppers. If I were making this dish for only myself, I would add at least a teaspoon of crushed red pepper and I’d probably still add more at the table. The suggested ¼ teaspoon is a modest amount that should not cause difficulty, even for individuals with a low tolerance for spiciness. However, make sure that you use one of the more traditional types of crushed red peppers, or even the whole dried Italian peppers that I used in this recipe. Do not make the mistake of using a dried version of one of the super-hot peppers (like bhut jalokia or naga jalokia or even Habanero or Scotch Bonnet) without understanding the heat level they pack!

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

Share this Recipe