Eduardo’s Chimichurri

October 20, 2017

We’ve been to Argentina at least three times. Once as part of a trip to explore wine country in Chile and Argentina, once as part of a trip to Antarctica for which the ship left from Tierra del Fuego, and once with my in-laws to visit relatives who lived in Patagonia.

Tierra del Fuego, the starting point for our Antarctic adventure!
Penguins
Icebergs really are blue!

On each trip we spent some time in Buenos Aires, some more than others. And on each trip we did the Argentine thing of eating copious quantities of meat.

Eateries abound selling meats of various types cooked over live charcoal. The less fancy, but no less good, ones are often outdoor affairs with pots of chimichurri on each table. Often, the maestro de parrilla (grill master) is standing just feet away tending several large parrillas (grills) brimming with various cuts of meat. One of our most memorable meals of grilled meats was at just such a place in the suburbs of Buenos Aires with a friend from the States who married an Argentine and moved to Buenos Aires.

I developed a true appreciation for the extent to which Argentines love meat, however, at several family dinners at my husband’s Great Uncle Duilio and Great Aunt Juliana’s house in Puerto Madryn, Patagonia. Duilio is Fidalma’s brother. I’ve mentioned Fidalma several times in this blog.

We spent a week in Puerto Madryn and had two Sunday dinners with Duilio’s family (daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren).

To accommodate large family gatherings, one of Duilio’s daughters converted an outbuilding to host bacchanalian feasts. There was a large indoor parilla with grill racks, an iron cross to hold an entire lamb near the charcoal, and a hook to hold a cauldron over the heat. There was another parilla just outside the door, in the courtyard. The rest of the interior space was given over to a very, very long table and chairs.

Indoor parilla with a whole lamb and sausages

When we arrived for the second Sunday dinner, Eduardo, one of Duilio’s sons-in-law was frying 15 kilos (that’s 33 pounds!) of calamari in a large cauldron set over a fire in the indoor parilla. This was just to keep us from getting restless and hungry as the rest of the meal was prepared.

Outdoor parilla with chicken and brochettes

When we sat down to eat, the first course was grilled chicken. The grilled chicken course was followed by grilled sausages. The grilled sausages were followed by grilled lamb. The grilled lamb was followed by grilled beef.

Yep, each course was a different meat!

Truth be told, there were some vegetables on the table. But that doesn’t mean they were eaten by most of the family and the quantity certainly paled in comparison to the herd of animals that made its way onto the table in succession.

The seating arrangement was in strict age progression. Duilio and Juliana sat at the head. On either side of them sat my husband’s parents. Next to them on opposite sides of the table was where my husband and I were seated. After that came Dulio and Juliana’s daughters and their husbands. The remainder of the table was filled with grandchildren.

The vegetables started at “our” end of the table. Duilio and Juliana, as well as my in-laws and the two of us actually put vegetables on our plates. Duilio and Juliana’s daughters took a bite or two, as I recall. The sons-in-law and grandchildren wanted nothing to do with anything that was suspiciously related to a root!

And there you have it. Course after course of meat, no veggies for the “true” Argentines, a bit of dessert, and the obligatory cup of mate passed around the table.

Eduardo cooked all the food magnificently. This is his chimichurri recipe. It contains a few ingredients that might seem unusual but since his family has been in Argentina for many generations who am I to argue?

In addition to serving as the typical condiment for grilled meat, chimichurri is also as a marinade for the same meat. It will keep a week in the refrigerator so be sure to make enough to both marinate the meat and serve as a condiment.


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Eduardo's Chimichurri
While a few of the ingredients may seem unusual, Eduardo’s family has lived in Argentina for several generations so I don’t doubt the traditional nature of this recipe. Make extra and use some to marinate the meat before cooking. Pass the remainder at the table. You can use either red or white wine vinegar but I prefer white as it does not dull the bright green color of the herbs.
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Prep Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 3 hours
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Prep Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
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Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid large enough to hold the finished sauce, combine the mustard and water.
  2. Allow the mustard-water mixture to stand approximately 7-10 minutes to develop the mustard’s flavor.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small blender jar, combine the garlic and one-half of the olive oil. Blend until garlic is finely minced.
  4. Add the basil to the garlic-oil mixture and blend again until basil is finely chopped but not pureed.
  5. Add the garlic-oil-basil mixture to the mustard mixture.
  6. Combine the remaining oil and parsley in the blender jar and blend until parsley is finely chopped but not pureed.
  7. Add the parsley-oil mixture to the herb mixture.
  8. Use the wine to rinse out the blender jar and then add it to the herb mixture.
  9. Add all other ingredients. Mix well.
  10. X
  11. Cover and allow the chimichurri to sit at room temperature for approximately three hours to develop flavor.
  12. The chimichurri can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to a week.
Recipe Notes

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

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Calabacitas: A New Mexican Classic

August 21, 2017

Talk about a dish that simply wouldn’t exist in any recognizable form without new world crops, calabacitas is it! Squash, corn, and chile are all new world plants.

Calabacitas is Spanish for zucchini but is also the name given to a dish of zucchini, corn, and (usually) green chile.

Often served as a side dish, calabacitas makes an awesome burrito, too. Accompany it with some frijoles (and probably a tortilla or three) and you’ve got a great high-protein vegetarian dinner. Leave out the cheese and it’s vegan! Truth be told, I’m plus-minus on the cheese in any case. When serving this for company I usually sprinkle cheese on top as in this recipe, but if it’s just for “us,” cheese isn’t usually even a thought.

This is the time of year to serve the most sublime calabacitas possible as zucchini, corn, green chile, and tomatoes are all in the farmers’ market. But calabacitas is too good to be had only a few weeks a year and, honestly, versions made with frozen corn, canned tomatoes, and roasted green chile that you’ve squirreled away in your freezer along with the ever-present zucchini in the produce aisle are too good to pass up any time of year.

For me, calabacitas shares a serious failing with succotash. They are both great ideas in my estimation but the execution often falls flat.

When I set out to finally perfect a version of calabacitas that I felt comfortable serving, I thought back on all the less-than-perfect renditions I’d had since I first set foot in New Mexico in 1991.

The litany of offenses includes being too watery, being too rich, having huge chunks of zucchini that seem mismatched next to corn kernels, being under-seasoned and being aggressively seasoned.

That set out a plan of action for me. The zucchini should be cut approximately the same size as corn kernels. There needed to be a minimum amount of liquid in the finished dish. Loads of cream or butter or cheese were out of the question. The seasoning should complement the vegetables, not assume control of the dish.

Zucchini (the namesake vegetable) and corn were a given. Pretty much everything else was up for grabs. Tomatoes, which are sometimes included, seemed right for color and a bit of acidic brightness that the zucchini and corn lack. They have the added bonus of being another New World crop. Roasted green chile, also sometimes included, was right for several reasons. It screamed “New Mexico,” it would add a bit of complimentary smokiness to the blend, and, honestly, I’m a chile-head.

My preference was for hot or extra-hot chile. This is wrong for several reasons. First, calabacitas is not traditionally a spicy dish. Second, after one of the dinners where I tested out my evolving recipe, one of the guests said that it was unfortunate that the entire “calabacitas conversation” that evening centered on how hot it was and not on how good it was.

In cooking I prefer to bow to tradition but if there’s ever a place where I butt heads with tradition, it’s in making dishes spicy. But I decided there and then that I should follow tradition and use mild chile in my calabacitas.

Finally I was on to the aromatics and seasoning. Onion and garlic are my go-to combination unless there is some compelling reason for one or the other (usually based on tradition). The herbs eluded me for a while. I really wanted to use Mexican Oregano (which isn’t actually oregano) because of its New World origins but it just seemed to overpower the dish. In the end, I decided that a modest amount of Mediterranean Oregano played best in the sandbox with the other ingredients.

Let me know what you think of my rendition of a New Mexico classic.


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Calabacitas: A New Mexican Classic
Traditionally calabacitas is not a spicy dish so it is best to use mild roasted green chile unless you and all your eaters are chile heads. Bacon fat gives a great flavor but olive oil or other vegetable oil is fine, too. Frozen corn works well as there are so many other flavors in the dish but using fresh corn cut off the cob is a definite treat. I prefer to thaw frozen corn before cooking. Ice crystals can sometimes carry a "freezer" taste and rinsing them off can eliminate it. Also, it is easier to time the cooking of the corn in combination with other ingredients if it is not frozen when cooking starts. Rotel packs tomatoes in 10 ounce cans and they’re a bit of a Southwestern classic in and of themselves. In a pinch feta cheese can be used instead of Cotija
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Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
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Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
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Instructions
  1. Dice the zucchini.
  2. Thaw the corn under running water.
  3. Roasted New Mexico green chile.
  4. Peeled and seeded chile, ready to be chopped.
  5. Sauté the onion until translucent.
  6. Add the garlic and continue to cook until the onion is golden but not brown.
  7. Add the zucchini and sauté until the zucchini is hot.
  8. Add the corn, green chile, tomatoes, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  9. Simmer until the liquid has evaporated and the zucchini and corn are cooked, about 10-15 minutes, depending on your preference.
  10. Adjust oregano, salt and pepper in the last few minutes of cooking.
  11. Serve sprinkled with crumbled Cotija cheese.
Recipe Notes

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

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Auntie Helen’s Roman Chicken Cacciatore

Pollo alla Cacciatora (Chicken Cacciatore, in English) means Chicken Hunter’s Style and there are as many styles as there are hunters and cooks.

I grew up eating a Southern Italian version in a red sauce with peppers and mushrooms.

This recipe, using anchovies and no vegetables, is from Rome and goes back to the late 1800’s at least.  I learned it from Auntie Helen.  Auntie Helen was actually the aunt of Eugene (Gene) d’Aquili, my undergraduate advisor at the University of Pennsylvania and the psychiatrist with whom I set up my psychiatric practice in Philadelphia many years later.

Gene’s grandparents left Rome around the turn of the 20th century and moved to Trenton, New Jersey with their four children, Guido, Helen, Louise and a fourth daughter who died shortly after the move.

Gene’s father, Guido, was an artist and part of what was sometimes referred to as the New Hope School after a town of the same name in Pennsylvania on the New Jersey border.  He painted a series of Old King Cole murals similar to the ones Maxfield Parrish painted for the St. Regis in New York City.

Those murals ended up on the walls of my dining room in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.  For several years, from early medical school until partway through my internship, I rented the carriage house on the d’Aquili estate in Berwyn.  The murals were installed in the dining room after the d’Aquili family purchased them from the social club in Trenton that had originally commissioned them.

Here are some pictures of the murals.

There is a blog that features the murals and information about them, if you’re interested.

Here is a picture of my parents, standing in front of one of the murals in my dining room.  I believe this was taken in May 1981 when I graduated medical school.

Auntie Helen and Auntie Louise never married.  They both became school teachers and lived in Morrisville, New Jersey until the early 1980’s when they moved into the carriage house on the d’Aquili estate that I vacated after I bought my first house.

Auntie Helen was a wonderful cook.  This recipe for pollo alla cacciatora came from her, and before her, from her mother.  Don’t let the anchovies put you off, even if you don’t like anchovies.  The “fishiness” cooks away leaving a savory, umami flavor.  I will bet you that none of your guests will guess that there are anchovies in this dish.

In addition to her other wonderful Italian specialties, including brodetto, panpeppato, and cheese bread, the last of which unfortunately I do not have a recipe, among others, Auntie Helen made some American dishes that were fashionable at the time including Impossible Tuna Pie!

I want to give a shout out to Julie Paradise for reintroducing me to Impossible Pies.  Julie is the master of the genre and her pecan version is going to end up on my table soon!


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Roman Chicken Cacciatore
As an alternative to cutting up a whole chicken, chicken parts can be used. Thighs work particularly well for the long, slow cooking technique. If using chicken parts, use about 3 pounds. This chicken goes well with polenta. I suggest using yellow cornmeal for a color contrast with the dark sauce. A link to my polenta recipe can be found in the Notes section following the recipe.
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Course Mains, Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
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Ingredients
Course Mains, Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Cut the chicken into pieces, legs, thighs, and breasts. You can cut the breasts in half crosswise if you like. Reserve the back and wings for another use.
  2. Remove the skin from the chicken.
  3. Bruise the garlic with the side of a chef's knife.
  4. In a skillet large enough to comfortably hold the chicken, and that has a lid, heat the olive oil until it is almost smoking.
  5. Add the chicken. Do not disturb the chicken until it is crusted and releases easily from the pan, 4-5 minutes.
  6. Turn the chicken over. Add the bruised garlic to the pan. Brown the other side of the chicken, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the olive oil from smoking.
  7. If the garlic starts getting dark brown, remove it before it burns. Reserve the browned garlic, however.
  8. When the chicken is well browned on all sides (legs don’t really have “sides” so you will need to turn them around a bit), add the anchovies and their oil. They will splatter a bit.
  9. Work the anchovies with a spoon so they start to disintegrate.
  10. Have the cover ready. Turn the heat to low. Add the water and quickly cover the pan to reduce splattering. Wait 2-3 minutes until the rapid sizzling has slowed down.
  11. Turn the chicken. Add the vinegar and return the browned garlic to the pan if you removed it earlier. If the water has evaporated when you remove the lid to add the vinegar, add another two tablespoons of water along with the vinegar and garlic. Add oregano and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  12. Braise covered for 1 ½ to 2 hours on gentle heat, turning every 20-30 minutes. Add water, two tablespoons at a time, whenever the liquid in the pan has evaporated.
  13. Add an extra grinding of pepper before removing the chicken from the heat. Adjust salt if necessary.
Recipe Notes

Here is my recipe for Polenta.

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
Servings
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Ingredients
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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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Green Beans with Tomato Sauce and Bacon

February 27, 2017

Earlier this month I wrote about my “crunchy vegetable” phase of cooking back in the 1970’s.  One of the dishes I was reacting to was my mother’s green beans with tomato sauce and bacon.  Honestly, though, I can’t tell you why.  It was, bar none, my favorite vegetable dish growing up.  Why, when I started cooking in my late teens, I thought I could make it better by cooking the beans until they were just crunchy is beyond me.

Chalk it up to youthful indiscretion.

Americans served a lot of mushy vegetables back then, no doubt, but the reaction shouldn’t be to turn every vegetable crunchy.  But I was just learning to cook and had a lot to learn, not only about technique, but about understanding the essence of a dish.

The essence of this dish is the silky texture (most definitely not mushy) of the beans cooked for a couple of hours in tomato sauce.  The textural change is accompanied by a flavor change that is unobtainable by quickly cooking the ingredients.

It’s actually pretty difficult to turn these beans mushy unless you boil them too long before adding them to the tomato sauce.  The tomato sauce reacts with the beans to somehow inhibit the development of mushiness.  I’m not sure, but it think it might be the acid in the tomatoes.

That first four minute boil is critical, however.  One time, thinking I could eliminate a step, I tried putting the cut up beans in the sauce without parboiling them first.  Mistake!  Four hours later the beans were still not cooked properly!

Green beans cooked in tomato sauce is a classic Italian combination.  The use of bacon clearly signals that this is Italian-American, however.  Italian recipes might use pancetta but not bacon.  Smoked foods are uncommon in traditional Italian cuisine.  The few that appear really stand out.

Pancetta and bacon are made from the same cut, pork belly.  Both are cured but only bacon is smoked.  Although I’ve made other versions of green beans in tomato sauce that are traditional Italian, rather than Italian-American, I keep coming back to this one as my favorite.

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Green Beans with Tomato Sauce and Bacon
These long-simmered green beans in tomato sauce with bacon are an Italian-American favorite. The long, slow cooking is really essential to achieving the right texture and flavor. Although I've specified the amount of water in cups, when cooking with tomato paste my mother always measured water by the can. This dish would have had five tomato paste cans of water. She didn't quite fill them to the top so each can held about 5 1/2 ounces of water, or a little over three cups total. You may need to add more water, or to boil some away, to get a thick sauce.
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Course Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Servings
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Course Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Servings
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Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Cut the bacon into matchstick-sized pieces.
  2. Mince the garlic.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed pot, large enough to ultimately hold the beans, gently sauté the bacon until golden brown.
  4. Add the minced garlic to the bacon and bacon drippings and sauté until fragrant and just beginning to turn golden, about one minute.
  5. Add the tomato paste and sauté until it turns a shade darker and smells sweet.
  6. Add the water, stirring to combine. Cover and bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce to a simmer. Add salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste, oregano and sugar. Simmer, partially covered, for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Meanwhile, cut the tips off the beans at a diagonal. Cut the beans into pieces about 2 to 2 ½ inches long, also on the diagonal.
  9. Wash the beans in several changes of cold water. Cover with water and allow the beans to soak for 15 to 20 minutes, to fully plump up with water before cooking.
  10. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water (at least 4 quarts of water and ¼ cup of salt) to a boil.
  11. Drain the beans, add to the boiling water, and return to a boil as quickly as possible.
  12. Boil until the beans are just beginning to get tender, approximately 4 minutes. They will cook much longer in the sauce so be careful not to overcook them at this point.
  13. Drain the beans and add to the tomato sauce, which should have been cooking for 45-60 minutes by this point.
  14. Simmer until the beans are silky, but not mushy. This can take 2 hours, plus or minus. Go by texture, not time. The beans should be silky but still have some body.
  15. Taste once or twice while cooking and adjust salt, pepper and, if you wish, oregano.
Recipe Notes

You can make the sauce and partially cook the beans in advance. After the beans have been boiled, quickly chill them in a bowl of ice water. Cool the cooked sauce to room temperature.  Drain and add the partially cooked beans to the sauce.  Refrigerate until ready to complete cooking.

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
Servings
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Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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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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Pasta ai Funghi (Pasta with Mushrooms)

January 27, 2017

Growing up, pasta was almost always served with a long-cooked Southern Italian ragu.  Yes, there was the occasional sauce of vegetables sautéed in olive oil till they softened enough to make a sauce but those sauces were the exception to the rule.

These days, a long-cooked ragu is still the epitome of pasta cooking for me but far more often I make quicker sauces.  Pasta with mushrooms is one of them.

In my last post, I introduced nepita, an herb used in Italy that is really not commonly available in the US.  Nepita pairs really well with mushrooms.  The nepita that I use is from plants that we grow from seeds we brought back from Italy in 1996.  I’m so concerned that one day our nepita won’t make it through the winter and reappear in the spring that we’ve taken to backing it up the way other folks back up their data.

Over the years we’ve gifted nepita plants to friends who like to garden.  Should a disaster ever befall our nepita, there should still be a clone of it somewhere with enough seeds that we can germinate another plant or two.  For an herb that I’ve only known for 20 years, it’s become an integral part of my kitchen.

While there’s no real substitute for nepita, there are lots of herbs that go well with mushrooms.  In this rendition, I’ve called for basil and oregano, the combination that I usually use when I don’t have nepita.  Marjoram also works well, with or without a pinch of thyme, but marjoram is a relatively uncommon herb in Italian cooking.

Herbs are not a major player in this dish.  Though nepita is distinctive, there are so many layers of flavor from the dried porcini, onion, garlic, and marsala that the lack of nepita isn’t really a big deal.  Basil and oregano work well and, in fact, are what I used before that 1996 trip to Tuscany where I discovered nepita.

Pasta ai Funghi was one of the courses I served at my father-in-law’s birthday dinner last week.  Here are a couple of pictures of that dinner from our home in Palm Springs.

 

My father-in-law (left) and mother-in-law. Good friend, Gino Barcone is in between.
From left to right, John Berl, Bill Hoadley, and Bob Bauernschmitt.

 

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Pasta ai Funghi (Pasta with Mushrooms)
While many mushroom-based sauces for pasta contain cream and butter, this one uses only olive oil. It creates a beautiful, glossy sauce. The mushrooms can be prepared several hours in advance making this an ideal dish if you are cooking for company.
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Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
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Ingredients
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Soak porcini in enough warm water to just cover. When soft, about 15 minutes, squeeze excess water out of the mushrooms. Reserve the liquid. Finely chop the porcini.
  2. Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a damp cloth.
  3. If you are using common white mushrooms, slice off the very bottom of the stem as it is usually a bit dry. There is no need to remove the rest of the stem, though.
  4. Turn each mushroom upside down and cut into 1/8 inch thick slices. If the mushrooms are really large, you might have to make a crosswise cut as well.
  5. Slice or cut other mushrooms into similar sized pieces. For example, cut large portobello mushrooms into long strips approximately 1/8 inch thick and then cut each strip into smaller pieces.
  6. If you are using oyster and/or enoki mushrooms cut them into slightly larger pieces and keep them separate as they require less cooking than most other mushrooms.
  7. Finely chop the onion and reserve.
  8. In a sauté pan large enough to hold the mushrooms and cooked pasta, heat the ¼ cup of olive oil, over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the finely chopped porcini. Sauté a minute or two until the porcini becomes aromatic, being careful not to burn them.
  9. Add the reserved porcini soaking liquid. Over high heat, quickly evaporate the liquid, stirring often.
  10. Once the liquid is evaporated, add all the cut-up mushrooms to the sauté pan, except for quick cooking types like enoki and oyster mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms, still on high heat, stirring often until they have absorbed all the olive oil.
  11. Season liberally with salt and reduce the heat to medium low.
  12. Stir the mushrooms often until they begin to release their liquid. When they do, turn the heat to high and cook until all the liquid is evaporated, stirring often. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  13. Continue sautéing the mushrooms until they just begin to brown. Now is the time to add any quick-cooking varieties of mushrooms, such as oyster and enoki, you may be using.
  14. Continue to sauté until of the mushrooms are nicely browned.
  15. When the mushrooms are brown, add the onion and crushed red pepper.
  16. Over medium heat, cook until the onion is soft and golden.
  17. Stir in the garlic and sauté for about one minute until it becomes fragrant.
  18. Stir in the oregano and basil, or, if you are lucky enough to have a stash, about 1 teaspoon of fresh nepita or ½ teaspoon of dried. Add the marsala. It will evaporate almost immediately.
  19. Remove the sauté pan from the heat until the pasta is ready. The mushrooms can be made several hours ahead to this point.
  20. Cook the pasta in well-salted water until al dente. Meanwhile gently warm the mushrooms if they were made ahead.
  21. When the pasta is cooked, remove about 1 cup of pasta-cooking liquid and reserve. Quickly drain the pasta. Do not rinse. Add the pasta to the warm mushrooms along with about ¼ cup of the reserved pasta-cooking liquid. Cook over low heat, stirring often for about one minute.
  22. Remove the pasta and mushrooms from the heat. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and stir to combine. Add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and the truffle oil, if using. Stir to combine. The cheese and the starch in the pasta cooking liquid should help to emulsify the olive oil and water, creating a glossy sauce.
  23. If the pasta is too dry, add more pasta-cooking liquid, just don’t make it watery. The cheese, olive oil and water should hold together.
  24. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.
  25. Serve immediately, preferably in warmed pasta bowls. Pass additional freshly grated Parmesan cheese at the table.
Recipe Notes

I most often make this with ordinary white button mushrooms, especially if I am going to add the truffle oil. Using an array of different mushrooms, such as cremini, baby bella, oyster, and enoki makes a visually and texturally interesting dish, however.

When I make pasta, I always pour some of the pasta-cooking liquid into the serving bowl to warm it.

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