Risotto with Butternut Squash

February 22, 2018

Risotto isn’t really a recipe.  It’s a technique.

Yes, there are a few quintessentially classic risotti for which precise instructions are needed (like Risotto alla Milanese) but, in general, you can adapt the technique to use an array of vegetables and other ingredients.

Risotto with Asparagus is a good example of a risotto where the vegetables are pre-cooked and added near the end.  The same can be done with both peas and mushrooms, for example.

Risotto with Butternut Squash is an example of a risotto where the vegetables are added at the beginning and complete their cooking as the rice cooks.  Though you wouldn’t think it would work, Risotto with Zucchini works the same way, as long as the zucchini are cut into thick slices.


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In a traditional Italian meal, risotto, pasta, and soup are all considered the same course:  the first course (Il Primo Piatto).  The first course follows the antipasto (which means, literally, before the pasta).  Il Primo Piatto is followed by the second course (Il Secondo Piatto), consisting of fish, meat, or poultry and accompanied by several side dishes (contorni).  The first and second courses have almost equal weight in an Italian meal; very different from an American meal.

While restaurants often par-cook a risotto so that it can be quickly finished for service, I find that cooking a risotto at home is best done “in the moment.”  That means I only make risotto for a small group when everyone can hang out in the kitchen during the 45 minutes, or so, that it takes to cook.  That pretty much consumes the cocktail hour.  Because of this, for me, risotto is a dish for family or very close friends.


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Risotto isn’t something I grew up eating.  It is traditionally a Northern Italian dish.  I also don’t remember Auntie Helen, who was from Rome, making risotto either.

As with much of Northern Italian cooking, my first introduction was through Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook.  Beyond that, my Italian repertoire grew based on trips to Italy, cooking with Italian friends, and ultimately, marrying into my husband’s very Northern Italian family.

Risotto with butternut squash is a wonderful dish for late fall and winter.


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


It is important to use what the Italians would call “riso per risotto” (rice for risotto).  The rice used for risotto is short-grained.  It can absorb a lot of liquid, turning creamy in the process while still maintaining the ideal “al dente,” (toothy) quality at the very core.  The most commonly available types of rice for risotto are Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone Nano.   Far and away, Arborio is the most common.

Since creaminess is the goal, rice used for risotto shouldn’t be washed.  The little extra starch on the grains will improve the texture.

A well-made risotto gets almost all of its creamy texture from the cooking method, not from the addition of butter, cheese, or cream.  To be sure, a bit of butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese are almost always added at the end but this should be for flavor, not to compensate for poor technique.

My most common quibble with risotto made in the United States is that it is overly rich with butter and cheese and (heaven forbid) sometimes cream.

To coax creaminess out of the rice, broth is added in small amounts and completely cooked off before the next bit is added.  In general, the amount of broth I add each time is no more than 1/3 the quantity of rice I start with.  For example, if I’m using one cup of rice, I add no more than 1/3 cup of broth each time liquid is needed.  The rice should be stirred frequently, but not constantly.

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Risotto with Butternut Squash
Broth for risotto should be light in flavor, not a heavy stock. The broth should add the barest amount of background flavor but allow the other ingredients in the risotto to shine. Risotto uses a lot of broth. It is important that the broth have minimal salt so as not to result in an overly salty dish. I never salt my homemade broth for this reason. If it seems that you will run out of broth before the risotto has finished cooking, put some water on to heat. It is important that all liquid added to the risotto be at a simmer.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
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Instructions
  1. Bring the broth to a simmer.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a three or four quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil.
  3. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic.
  4. Sauté, stirring frequently until the onion softens and turns translucent. Do not brown the onion. You may need to reduce the heat.
  5. When the onion is soft, return the heat to medium high and add the butternut squash.
  6. Sauté, stirring often, until the squash starts to soften, about five minutes. Be careful not to brown the onion or garlic.
  7. Add 1/3 cup of wine and immediately cover the pot. Cook another five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Remove the cover and cook off any remaining wine.
  9. With the heat still on medium high, add the rice.
  10. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the outer portion of the rice becomes translucent while the inside remains opaque white.
  11. Add the remaining 2/3 cup of 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, not a large quantity of butter, cheese, or cream.
  12. 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.
  13. Stir frequently, but not constantly, until the broth has evaporated.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Add the sage after about 20 minutes of cooking.
  17. Begin tasting the rice for doneness at the same time. 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.
  18. Continue cooking, adding simmering broth or water as needed, until the rice is al dente. Once the rice is cooked, add another 1/2 cup of simmering broth, stir, and then immediately remove the rice from the heat.
  19. Off the heat, stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese.
  20. Stir in enough additional simmering broth or water to create a creamy “sauce.” The starch that you have coaxed out of the rice, plus the modest amount of butter and cheese, should allow you to add at least another ½ cup of liquid, possibly more.
  21. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Recipe Notes

Check out the introduction to my recipe for Risotto with Asparagus for more information on making risotto.

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

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Roman Beans and Kale

January 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

A bunch of kale

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

Roman beans

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

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

Anasazi beans

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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Spaghettini con Acciughe (Spaghettini with Anchovies)

January 1, 2018

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

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

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


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Purchased pasta sauce was something that NEVER entered our house!

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

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

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


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

 

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


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


 

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

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Cannellini and Fennel Soup

January 3, 2018

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

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

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

But they’re tough!


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


 

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

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

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

November 8, 2017

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

Precious few, I would guess!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brand of pasta that I really like

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


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

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

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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

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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
people
Ingredients
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).

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
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
Servings
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
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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

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