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
Servings
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
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Ingredients
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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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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
Servings
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Prep Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
cups
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

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Roasted Sweet Peppers

October 2, 2017

Roasted peppers are a classic of Italian cuisine. They are a perfect example of ingredient-driven cooking. All that is required are good peppers, good olive oil, and a few minutes of scorching heat. There’s no way to hide bad ingredients, since there are only two (not counting salt).

A wonderful presentation is to prepare an array of roasted vegetables such as peppers, onions, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, and scallions served artfully arranged on a platter and anointed with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt.

It’s a “wonderful” presentation because it looks beautiful, it tastes great, it’s easy to prepare, and it can all be done in advance and served at room temperature. It makes an impressive antipasto platter in the winter and an inviting warm-weather side-dish in the summer.

But let’s not get carried away. Peppers are classic and work very well on their own. If you like how they turn out you can experiment with other vegetables.

The first time I got serious about making these was back in the late 1980s when we lived in Chicago. We had a four story townhouse. The top floor was the master suite with a very large deck. We had redwood planters made to encircle the perimeter of the deck. In addition, we added scores of pots and, when things got a little too crowded on our deck, we expanded to Billy and Carla’s deck next door!

We grew an amazing amount of produce on that deck. I can’t begin to remember all of it but it included tomatoes, tomatillos, sweet peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, a fig tree, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, and an abundance of herbs including enough basil to feed a small country. We installed a grape arbor but the grapes didn’t do well.

We bought an upright freezer and put it in the garage so that we could put up food from the garden.

One year I roasted peppers and conserved them under a layer of olive oil in the refrigerator. They were good but I subsequently discovered that the USDA recommends against this technique as the covering of oil creates an environment where anaerobic bacteria, like the one that causes botulism, can grow.

After that first year, I didn’t preserve roasted peppers in olive oil again but I did make flavored olive oils and flavored vinegars every year right up until we moved full-time to Santa Fe. The USDA has the same recommendation regarding putting herbs in oil but, for some reason, I chose to ignore the advice.

These days, when I want roasted peppers, I just buy fresh peppers at the farmers market, farm stand, or supermarket and roast them. Luckily Bell peppers are available year-round.

In addition to good-quality ingredients, scorching heat is required. The idea is to blacken and blister the skin quickly. If you do that too slowly the flesh of the pepper cooks too much and becomes mushy. For all practical purposes, you cannot blacken the skin too quickly. The flesh will always cook enough to be good. My usual method, as described here, is to use my gas grill on very high heat. If I only want to roast one or two peppers, I put them directly on the gas flame of my stove. Like I said, you cannot blacken the skin too quickly.

As good as the peppers are on their own, they can be used as ingredients in other dishes. Remember the uncooked tomato sauce I posted a few weeks ago? I said that the dish could be made with roasted peppers when tomatoes aren’t in season. Now that tomato season is coming to an end, consider roasting a few extra peppers and using them to make pasta later in the week.


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Roasted Sweet Peppers
Red, yellow, and orange bell peppers are sweeter than green ones because they are fully ripe. I usually use an array of different colored peppers. Many recipes suggest steaming the peppers in a paper bag after roasting. I don’t like using a bag as it absorbs the juice that comes out of the peppers. A heatproof bowl with a tight-fitting lid allows the peppers to steam and preserves the pepper juices.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Heat a gas grill on the highest setting for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Put the peppers on the grill. Cover the grill
  3. Keep the heat on high.
  4. Turn the peppers every few minutes until the skin is evenly blackened.
  5. You will probably have to stand the peppers on their bottom end to get that part blackened.
  6. When the skin is black, put the peppers in a heatproof dish with a tight-fitting cover.
  7. Cover and allow the peppers to cool and steam for 10-20 minutes. This will finish cooking the peppers and loosen the skin.
  8. Holding the peppers over the dish to catch any liquid, remove the blistered skin using your fingers. The skin should slip off easily.
  9. Split the peppers in half. Using the tip of a sharp knife, remove the fleshy ribs of the peppers. Remove the seeds.
  10. Slice the peppers lengthwise in ½ inch wide strips.
  11. Pour the collected juices over the peppers, straining out seeds and skin.
  12. Sprinkle the peppers with olive oil, approximately 1 tablespoon per pepper. Toss well.
  13. Cover tightly and allow the peppers to sit at room temperature for an hour or two.
  14. When ready to serve, toss again and sprinkle liberally with coarse sea salt.
  15. The peppers can be made a day or two in advance and refrigerated after tossing with olive oil. Allow the peppers to come to room temperature for an hour or two before salting and serving.
Recipe Notes

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

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Tiella (Southern Italian Vegetable and Pasta Casserole)

September 18, 2017

When I was growing up, we mostly socialized within the extended family plus a very few close family friends (that’s you, Joe and Betty Slivosky!).

It was a time (the 60’s) and place (small-town Western Pennsylvania) where it was rare to call in advance of a visit. One just showed up. This usually happened in the evening after dinner, though almost never on Monday or Thursday when the stores downtown were open until 9 PM and we dressed and went shopping after dinner.

Everyone would sit around (usually in the kitchen) drinking coffee (with caffeine), chatting…and smoking. Oh, the smoking! Occasionally the men would drink beer but unless it was a holiday or celebration of some sort, hard liquor was a rarity.

On Sundays, visiting frequently occurred (or at least started) in the afternoon and there might be two or three stops before heading home.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard the same stories. It’s one of the ways I developed a connection with family members, like my maternal grandparents, who died when I was very young.

To be sure, sometimes my cousin Donna and I would abandon the adults and pursue some childhood activity but we still hung out in the kitchen much of the time.

Often times the conversation would veer towards food; things my grandmother would make, the huge platters of cannoli one of my great aunts would make, what was eaten on holidays, and on and on.

There was the oft-repeated reminder of how my grandfather could come home late at night with a group of friends and how my grandmother would cook for them near midnight. There were stories of my grandmother cleaning and cooking chicken feet. My mother would talk about the time she killed a chicken in the basement and it got away from her and ran, headless, around the room. My father would remind everyone that the only food he didn’t like was gnocchi.

Food was a central feature of our lives.

So was conversation.

There were also times I would just sit in the kitchen and chat with my mother for hours. Relatives and food were common topics of conversation. There were dishes my grandmother made that I heard about over and over but never tasted because my mother never made them for some inexplicable reason. One of them was a quickly sautéed veal chop with a pan sauce made of the drippings in the pan, crushed canned tomatoes, peas, and seasonings. Back in the days when I cooked veal, I actually made it. Now I do it with pork chops.

The other dish that stands out in my memory from these conversations is Tiella. My mother talked of it frequently but never made it. The instructions were basic, a layer of pasta, a layer of potatoes, a layer of zucchini, and a can of tomatoes crushed by hand and poured on top. The whole thing was then baked. There wasn’t much of a discussion of which seasonings to use or proportions of ingredients. It was just assumed it would have garlic (of course it would have garlic) and the herbs that were commonly used in our family. Proportions…well…it just needed to look “right.”

For the number of times my mother rhapsodized about this dish, I can’t figure out why she never made it.

The first time I tried to make it was in the early 1990’s at our little house on Griffin Street in Santa Fe. That first time around, it didn’t live up to the hype, for sure, but it christened the house in an odd way.

In November 1992 my mother, my husband’s mother, and my husband’s grandmother traveled to Santa Fe with us for Thanksgiving week. We looked at property and fell for a little (1151 square foot) house on Griffin Street. My mother was terminally ill at the time. When we got back home, my mother insisted that we use her money for the down payment, which we did. She kept saying that she wanted to live long enough to return to that house in the spring. It didn’t happen. She died in early January.

All of the kitchen gear, china, and glassware for the house on Griffin came from my mother’s house. So, it was fitting that I should make this dish for the first time using my mother’s kitchenware in a house that we owned thanks to her.

It took me many years of working (off and on) on the seasonings and proportions to get it to taste great. (Well, I think it does.) The only real liberty I took with the dish is to use fresh tomatoes rather than canned when I make this in the summer.


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Tiella (Southern Italian Vegetable and Pasta Casserole)
This is a wonderful late summer dish when tomatoes are at their peak. If you make it at other times, use a 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes in place of the tomato puree and fresh tomatoes. Pour the liquid in the can over the potatoes instead of the puree. Crush the tomatoes by hand, add the seasonings described for fresh tomatoes, and arrange the crushed tomatoes on top.
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Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
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Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine the olive oil and crushed garlic in a small sauté pan. Sauté garlic until lightly browned. Remove the garlic and reserve the oil.
  3. Put the raw ditalini in the bottom of a deep, circular casserole, approximately 10 inches in diameter. The pasta should form a single layer with a fair amount of extra room for it to expand.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, ¼ of the minced garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil and mix well.
  5. In a bowl, toss the sliced potatoes with half the rosemary, ⅓ of the oregano, ¼ of the basil, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, ¼ of the minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
  6. Arrange the potatoes neatly in overlapping layers on top of the ditalini. Do not wash the bowl.
  7. Season the tomato puree with salt and pour over the potatoes.
  8. In the same bowl used for the potatoes, toss the zucchini with the remaining oregano, ¼ of the basil, the remaining rosemary, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, ¼ of the minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
  9. Arrange the zucchini on top of the potatoes. Do not wash the bowl.
  10. Neatly arrange half the tomatoes on top of the zucchini. Season with half the remaining minced garlic, half the remaining basil, and salt and pepper.
  11. Arrange the remaining tomatoes on top and season with salt and pepper as well as the remaining garlic, basil, and all the parsley.
  12. Put the tiella in the preheated oven.
  13. Remove the crusts from several slices of day-old Italian or French bread. Whiz the bread in a food processor to make coarse crumbs.
  14. While the tiella bakes, toss the breadcrumbs with the remaining garlic oil in the bowl used for the potatoes and zucchini.
  15. After the tiella has baked for 90 minutes, sprinkle the oiled crumbs on top and bake till golden, approximately 30 minutes more.
  16. Allow to rest at least 30 minutes before serving. The tiella can be served warm or at room temperature. It can also be reheated in the oven briefly before serving, if desired.
Recipe Notes

Here’s the link for my recipe for homemade tomato puree (passata di pomodoro).

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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
people
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.

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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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Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese

June 12, 2017

I am writing this sitting on a beach in Akumal, Mexico about an hour south of Cancun by car.

On the beach in Akumal
Iguanas enjoying the beach in Akumal

Just a few days ago, I was at home in Santa Fe where the weather was just beginning to turn spring-like.  The week before that I was in Hawaii.

The view from our lanai in Kauai

By the time you’ll be reading this, I’ll be in Palm Springs, where, even today, the temperature is hitting 100°F!

On the patio in Palm Springs before the heat of the day

Needless to say, my sense of seasonality is out of whack at this point.

No matter the temperature or the weather, asparagus says spring!

Just a few days ago, I was eating grilled asparagus in Santa Fe.  Days before that I made an asparagus frittata, before that I cooked the asparagus that is featured in this post.

Asparagus isn’t something I remember much of before college and usually it was the mushy white stuff out of a can.  White asparagus can certainly be a delicacy but when it comes out of a can that’s an impossibility as far as I’m concerned.

College was a time of incredible culinary growth for me.  Growing up I ate wonderful food as my mother was a great cook.  Mostly, though, it was Italian, Slovak, and the American dishes that every kid in the United States grows up eating.

I didn’t learn to cook until freshman year in college.  I was lucky enough to live in a college house at the University of Pennsylvania that was housed on two floors of an otherwise upper class dormitory made up of apartments with kitchens.  The typical freshman dorms either had no kitchens whatsoever or had the most rudimentary cooking facilities shared by large numbers of students.  Since I had a kitchen, I only took out the minimum required meal contract: 10 meals per week.  Usually this meant I ate lunch and dinner in one of the dining halls Monday through Friday.  On weekends I cooked…and baked!

I called home every Sunday from the day I went away to college.  Occasionally there was a lapse, like the time when I was 31 and hadn’t called home in a couple weeks.  The first words out of my mother’s mouth when she heard me on the other end of the line were, “I was just about to put your picture on a milk carton.”  Point made!  [You may or may not know that “back then” the pictures of missing children were put on milk cartons in the hope that someone would recognize them and call the authorities.]

Besides just catching up on our lives, I got advice.  My father gave me advice on how to handle alcohol, what to do if I had too much (don’t lie down and don’t close your eyes, for example), sex, and other topics.

My mother walked me through the steps of how to cook whatever it was I planned on making for dinner that evening.  By the end of freshman year, I was a credible cook.

My gastronomic circle was not very big, however.  Early my freshman year the resident advisors, Dennis and Martha Law from Hong Kong, took a group of us to dinner in Chinatown.  It was exciting, having grown up in a town without a Chinese restaurant.  The tastes, however, were so…well…foreign that I didn’t like much of what was served.  I tasted everything but rarely had more than one bite till something landed on my plate that struck me the right way.  The serving platter made it down the table past two or three other people till Dennis saw me eating.  He commandeered the plate and put it in front of me to be sure I had enough to eat.

By the end of the year I was not only eating, and loving, Chinese food, I had developed a rudimentary understanding of the regional differences and learned the basics of Chinese cooking from Martha.

After my taste buds got over the shock of Chinese food, I started exploring other cuisines.  A favorite became Indian food at Maharaja just a few blocks from my dorm.  It turns out the restaurant was owned by the aunt of someone I now work with!  I believe it was the first Indian restaurant in Philadelphia.

Sophomore year I was not in the college house but had one roommate in a similar upper class dorm with a kitchen.  Meal contracts were only required of freshmen and I saw no point in eating in the dining hall.  The arrangement I struck with my roommate was that I would cook and he would clean up.  It turns out he would eat, and like, most anything so I was free to explore and experiment.

That set the stage for my junior year when I was admitted to another college house, the International Residence Project.  Half of the students were from the USA and half from anywhere else in the world.

My roommate, and best friend for many years, Ray Hugh, hailed from Guyana.  Valrie Tracey from Jamaica became the third member of a triumvirate that was pretty much inseparable for the rest of college.

Two married couples were our resident advisors, Ambrose and Najma Davis, and Reginald and Nanacy Rajapakese.  Ambrose was from Jamaica, Najma from Bangladesh, and Reggie and Nanacy from Sri Lanka.

Nanacy taught me how to make Sri Lankan food and I’m almost as comfortable making that as I am Italian.  I remained close friends with Nanacy and Reggie, even making several trips to Sri Lanka with Nanacy in the last few years, after Reggie’s death.

Ray and I have reconnected on Facebook which is rekindling many memories of the trips I made to Guyana and my experiences in learning to make Guyanese and Chinese food from Ray and his mother.  Ray’s grandparents on both sides emigrated from China to Guyana in the 1800’s.

Ray and I packed an incredible amount of cooking power into a tiny dormitory kitchen.  Without enough cabinet space to store ingredients, we had stacks and stacks of plastic milk delivery crates packed with an unimaginable assortment of ingredients from international food markets.

Our apartment became known as the place for midnight snacks and folks always came knocking on the door around then to see what we’d whipped up to nibble on.

That was the year I discovered that my stovetop Corning percolator made a serviceable stand-in for an asparagus steamer.

 

Asparagus steamer in a pinch!

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Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese
Asparagus is best cooked in an asparagus steamer. This small-diameter, tall pot allows the bottom of the asparagus spears to boil in the water while the tender tips cook by steaming. When I was a college student and didn’t have an asparagus steamer I used my stovetop Corning Ware percolator. If you don’t have a steamer, or a reasonable substitute, I find it preferable to cook the asparagus in a microwave oven rather than to boil them. After rinsing off the asparagus, put the spears and whatever water clings to them in a microwave-safe dish with a cover. Cook in 1-2 minute increments, moving the spears around after each bout of zapping, until cooked but still a little “toothy” (and certainly not mushy).
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Course Sides, Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
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Ingredients
Course Sides, Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Trim the tough ends off the asparagus. The “Notes” section below contains a link to a blog post describing how to do this.
  2. Crush the garlic with the side of a chef’s knife.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan over low heat. Add the garlic and sauté slowly until brown, pressing down on the garlic occasionally.
  4. Discard the garlic. Reserve the oil.
  5. Cook the asparagus until toothy, neither crunchy nor mushy. If you do this in an asparagus steamer, put about two inches of water in the bottom and bring to a boil. Lower in the basket with the asparagus. It will take 5-10 minutes, depending on the asparagus and your elevation, to cook the asparagus properly.
  6. Put the cooked asparagus in a warmed serving bowl.
  7. Add the garlic-infused olive oil and mix.
  8. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and the salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Mix well.
  9. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve.
Recipe Notes

You can find videos of prepping asparagus here.

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

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Risotto with Asparagus

May 29, 2017

Risotto is not a Southern Italian dish.  Neither is polenta, for that matter.

I never had either until college when I started cooking from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook published in 1973.  I still use the dog-eared copy I bought in college the year it was published.

It was a magnificent introduction to Northern Italian cooking which I knew little about as a kid of 18 from a small town in Western Pennsylvania in my sophomore year of college.

My knowledge of Northern Italian cooking expanded rapidly though.  Marcella was only the beginning.  There was a true restaurant renaissance in Philadelphia in the 1970’s.  Not only magnificent French restaurants like Le Bec Fin and La Panetiere, but wonderful Northern Italian restaurants like the Monte Carlo Living Room and a bevy of others whose names I can’t recall.  I ate at all of them…often.  I still remember one dinner at the Monte Carlo Living Room where, after being served a very simple spaghetti with garlic and oil, the waiter (they weren’t called servers back then) came by with a black truffle and shaved large quantities of it onto my pasta.  Heaven!

I also learned about Northern Italian cooking from the aunts of my college advisor Eugene (Gene) d’Aquili.  Well, it was Roman cooking, actually, which is in central Italy but still pretty far north from where my mother’s family hailed.

Auntie Helen (Zia Elena) and Auntie Louise (Zia Luigia) (they Anglicized their names after coming to America) were born in Rome in the early years of the 20th century.  They came to America as children.  Of the two, Auntie Helen was the cook.  From her I learned to make many classic Roman dishes.  Some of Auntie Helen’s dishes are slated to make it into the blog, including a Roman Chicken Cacciatore flavored with anchovies.

So, by the time I got absorbed into my husband’s Northern Italian family (his father is from Tuscany and his mother from Friuli) I had a good grasp of Northern Italian cooking.

We have risotto often.  Probably at least once every two weeks.  It’s usually made with a vegetable, though occasionally I’ll make Risotto alla Milanese flavored with saffron and not a vegetable in sight.  In the spring risotto usually includes asparagus or peas.  In the summer it is likely to be zucchini.  The fall brings butternut squash risotto and mushroom risotto.  Mushroom risotto pretty much carries us through the winter, too, with the occasional risotto made with meat sauce.

Since it’s spring, I’m doing risotto agli asparagi, risotto with asparagus.

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Risotto with Asparagus
Risotto is a classic Northern Italian dish. The goal is to have rice grains that are still al dente (but not crunchy) in the middle surrounded by a creamy liquid. More often than not I find that risotto served in America is overly rich with butter, cheese, and sometimes cream. An Italian-style risotto should be creamy from the starch in the rice, augmented with a very modest amount of butter and cheese. Risotto rice is a short grain rice that cooks slowly, making it much easier to achieve an al dente texture because it takes a while to actually overcook it. The three types of rice for risotto are Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone Nano. Arborio is the easiest one to find though the other two are more forgiving than Arborio when it comes to overcooking. I recommend buying good quality rice imported from Italy. It really isn’t priced that differently from domestic. Do not wash the rice. I don’t buy shallots unless I have a specific recipe in mind. Since risotto is often something that I make with little advance planning based on the fresh vegetables that are in my refrigerator, I usually use onion and garlic in place of shallot. I honestly don’t think one could reliably tell the difference so feel free to use onion and garlic as noted in the recipe if shallots aren’t handy.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
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Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Trim off the tough bottom of the asparagus spears. The standard way to do this is to bend the spear and let it crack naturally where the spear is less tough and woody.
  2. Finely dice the shallot.
  3. Cut the tips off each spear, approximately the top 2 inches. Reserve the asparagus tips.
  4. Cut the remaining spears into 1 inch pieces. Reserve the cut spears separately from the tips.
  5. Bring the chicken broth to a boil.
  6. Cook the asparagus tips in chicken broth for 2-4 minutes. They should be “toothy” but not crunchy.
  7. Using a spider or large slotted spoon, remove the tips from the boiling broth and put them into a bowl of ice water to stop further cooking.
  8. Cook the cut asparagus spears in the chicken broth for 4-6 minutes. Like the tips, they should be toothy but not crunchy.
  9. Add the partially cooked cut spears to the ice water with the tips.
  10. Reduce the heat so the broth remains at a simmer.
  11. Heat a two or three quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil.
  12. When the oil is hot, add the finely chopped shallot (or onion and garlic if you are using that instead).
  13. Sauté, stirring frequently until the shallot softens and turns translucent. Do not brown the shallot. You may need to reduce the heat.
  14. When the shallot is soft, return the heat to medium high and add the rice.
  15. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the rice starts to smell toasty. Do not brown the rice.
  16. The outer portion of the rice grains will get translucent while the inside will stay opaque white.
  17. Add the wine. Stir frequently, but not constantly, until the wine has totally evaporated. You will begin to see some starch leaching out of the rice. More and more of the starch will leach out as you cook the rice. This is what will make a creamy sauce.
  18. When the wine has evaporated, add a scant ½ cup of simmering broth. Stir thoroughly paying particular attention to loosening any spots where the starch seems to be sticking to the bottom of the pan. You don’t want to brown (or worse yet, burn) the starch.
  19. Stir frequently, but not constantly, until the broth has evaporated.
  20. If the broth is unsalted, as I recommend, you can add a teaspoon of salt to the rice as you begin to add broth. If the broth contains salt, I recommend not adding salt until the end.
  21. Keep repeating the process with a scant ½ cup of broth, cooking, stirring, and loosening any spots that are sticking until each addition of broth evaporates. The heat should stay as close as possible to medium high. The moderate boiling of the liquid will coax starch out of the rice to create the creaminess that is the hallmark of a good risotto.
  22. While the rice is cooking, drain the partially cooked asparagus.
  23. Begin tasting the rice after about 20 minutes of cooking. It will probably still be quite crunchy at the very core. Until you get the hang of it, I suggest testing a rice grain each time you add more broth so you develop a sense of how quickly the texture changes.
  24. When you think you’re only one or two additions of broth away from having perfectly al dente rice, add the partially cooked asparagus.
  25. Continue cooking, adding simmering broth or water as needed, until the rice is al dente.
  26. Remove the rice from the heat and stir in enough simmering broth or water to create a creamy “sauce.” The starch that you have coaxed out of the rice should absorb at least ½ cup of liquid, possibly more.
  27. Stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese. This will probably thicken the “sauce” so you will need to add a bit more simmering liquid to loosen it.
  28. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  29. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

I think the standard method used to decide where to trim asparagus wastes too much.   For a quick tutorial on how I prep asparagus, check out my Preparing Asparagus post.

It will likely take more than 4 cups of broth to cook the rice. If you don’t have more broth, just use plain water. I do that very frequently. Except for the initial addition of wine, all liquid added to the risotto should be simmering.  As I’m getting near the end of the broth, I always put a couple of cups of water on to boil so that I have simmering water to add if needed.

Although the broth used for risotto should be flavorful, it should not be overly concentrated. The flavor of the asparagus should come through and not be muddled because the broth tastes assertively like chicken or herbs. Because you will be cooking down a fair amount of broth, it is best that it not be salted otherwise you run the risk of the risotto being too salty.

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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Ingredients
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
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

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