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If you love tomato sauce as I do, then you are always looking for a variety of ways of preparing it. Although this sauce takes a little cooking time, it is fast and easy to put together and except for tossing from time to time, you don’t have to worry about it much while it is cooking.
The difference in this sauce is that it has a rustic flavor. The skins char a little in cooking and gives it a woodsy aroma.
The quality of the tomatoes is always important in any tomato sauce. If at all possible purchase tomatoes that have ripened on the vine. If this is not possible, make sure that you let them stand out on your counter until they are ready to use. Taking tomatoes from the supermarket to the cooking stage is often not possible in most places except maybe Italy.
Italians are very proud and picky about their tomatoes and don’t believe that they are good enough to eat anywhere else in the world. I’ve had Italians tell me that we can’t possibly make good tomato sauce in the US because we don’t have good tomatoes. Since I have bought most of my tomatoes in Italy, I have to say that the sauce always tastes different then when I made it in the US. I more often will use imported San Marzano canned tomatoes then fresh, but in this case you need fresh tomatoes.
It is important that you ripen your tomatoes before cooking them. Tomatoes should never be stored in the refrigerator because they are sensitive to temperatures below 55ºF. Storage of tomatoes should be about 55º to 60°F. Anything below that will give a bland flavor.
When buying canned tomatoes, I always buy imported San Marzano tomatoes. They are sweeter and less acidic. Cosco sells a 6 lb. can of imported San Marzano tomatoes for under $4. I usually prepare a large pan of sauce and freeze it in meal size portions. Saves a lot of time and I have a meal ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta. I always make a simple pomadoro sauce with a little basil and then add other ingredients to it when I want something a little different, like lentils, Prosciutto or ham and peas etc.
Roasted Tomato Sauce
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Yield: 4 Servings
8 ripe plum or vine tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
2 sprigs basil
1 tablespoon oregano (if you don’t have basil)
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 small dried red hot pepper (optional)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red or dry white wine
Cut the tomatoes in quarters and put them in a large baking dish (do not remove the seeds or the skins). Roughly chop the garlic and onions and add them to the tomatoes. Put in the basil or the oregano, salt and pepper and toss the ingredients. Add the wine and toss again to be sure that all the ingredients are covered with the herbs. All the ingredients can be roughly chopped because they will be put through a food mill at the end.
Place the baking dish in the oven at 400ºF and cook for 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are thoroughly cooked.
The sauce will have a warm smoky flavor and can be served over any type of pasta.
Note: There is a variety of San Marzano tomatoes produced in the US and elsewhere, but always look for the Italian imported cans.
During the Christmas Holidays, Italians present Panettone to friends and neighbors as Christmas greetings. Stores and markets are stacked with colorful boxes of Panettone and restaurants have baskets filled with Panettone cups wrapped in colorful foil to give to their customers. We shop at a market in Como where they are baking Panettone day in and day out trying to keep up with the demand. It has become so popular that today you can find it year round, however not in the quantities seen during Christmas.
We have often received so many boxes of Panettone that we couldn’t possibly consume all of it. I freeze it and also make French toast, but my favorite is Panettone bread pudding. I use to make it the day after Christmas for a dessert, but I like to make homemade Panettone, so we now have it whenever I am into the mood to make it.
Panettone is eaten at anytime of the day and also with a glass of wine after dinner.
Panettone would make a great Christmas or New Years Day dessert.
Panettone Bread Pudding
Cook Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour @ 350 degrees F.
Yield: 8 Servings
6 cups homemade or store bought Panettone
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons Whiskey
1 cup confectionery sugar
1 1/4 sticks butter, softened (2 tablespoons for greasing the baking dish)
Other Things Needed
8” x 8” baking dish
In bowl beat the eggs, milk, cream, sugar and the vanilla extract and set it aside.
Grease the baking dish with 2 tablespoons butter. Remove any dark sections of the Panettone and discard them. Cut the Panettone into square chunks and put them into the baking dish. Pour the custard over the top and move it gently around making sure that all the chunks are covered with the mixture. Place it in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or overnight. It is very important that it has absorbed the custard otherwise the inside of the Panettone will be dry.
Place the pudding in the middle of the oven and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. After 45 minutes test it with a skewer, if it comes out dry and the top is a golden brown it is done. You might have to cook it for another 10-15 minutes.
Cool to room temperature before cutting.
Melt the butter and the confectionary sugar in a double boiler continually stirring. Remove from the heat and add whisky. You can use Amaretto if you prefer, but if you don’t want to use alcohol, serve it warm with crème anglais.
Keep the Panettone bread pudding refrigerated.
Note: You can also add chocolate bits and/or roasted almonds to the pudding.
Past Holiday Post Gift Ideas
Ciliegie Sotto Spirito
Crocante con Mandorle
A Pasta Roll is a beautiful way to begin a Holiday dinner. It takes a little effort but serving such a lovely dish will impress your guests.
My mother made this pasta dish and I rediscovered it when I stayed in Bologna for a month. I took a cooking course during that time, but this was not one of the dishes we prepared. It was recommended that I try Bologna’s pasta rolls. I was there for exactly that to learn and experience everyday life and all the marvels of Bologna. As in many regions of Italy, Bologna is said to have the best food in Italy. The pasta rolls were about double the size of the recipe I have posted and mainly made with a Bolognese filling. I think this recipe is not only delicious but is lovely for a Holiday or celebration.
Rullo della pasta
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: Pasta Roll, 20 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings as main course, 6 servings as a first dish
1 1/2 cups flour
A pinch of salt
A pinch of baking powder
Other Items Needed
Cheesecloth, 1 large piece or if you don’t have a big enough pan, you can make the pasta roll in 2 pieces. You will then need 2 pieces of cheesecloth.
Place the dough ingredients except for the water, into a food processor with the dough attachment. Process until the mixture looks like corn meal. Add a little water and when a ball has formed, remove it and knead it for 10 minutes. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel until you are ready to roll it out.
2 packages spinach cooked and drained
4 tablespoons chopped onions
4 tablespoons Portobello mushrooms
1 tablespoon creamed butter
4 tablespoons Mortadella (an Italian cold cut that can be found in the deli section of most supermarkets)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (mix with the spinach)
Cook the spinach for just 1-2 minutes and squeeze out all of the water. It should be absolutely dry.
Sauté the onions and the Mortadella in the butter for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms at the end for an additional minute. Allow the mixture to cool.
1 lb. Ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yoke
Salt to taste
Mix all of the cheese filling ingredients until it is well blended.
Roll the dough out to 10”x16”. Spread the cheese mixture over the dough leaving about 1” around the edges. Spread the spinach mixture over the cheese layer. Fold the side edges in and roll it length wise similar to a jellyroll.
Place the roll on the cheesecloth and roll it securing the ends with kitchen string. Leave a little room at the ends for the dough to expand. Place the pasta roll in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
In a pan large enough to hold the pasta roll, boil salted water. Turn it down to a gentle boil before placing the pasta roll into the water. Cook for 20 minutes.
Remove it from the water and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. Remove the cheesecloth. Warm the plates in the plate warmer section of your oven if you have one or turn your oven on to 180 degrees. Put a layer of sauce on the plate, and cut the pasta roll into 1” slices placing them on top of the sauce.
Note: Since the pasta roll is 10”x16” you need a poaching pan. If you don’t have such a pan, you can make the pasta roll in 2 pieces. If you have a casserole dish large and deep enough you may be able to use it if it can be put on top of a stove burner.
Note: Cheesecloth can be found in your Super Market, it may be called gauze. It is usually called cheesecloth in kitchen specialty stores.
Tomato and Béchamel Sauce for Pasta Roll
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes, 4 minutes for béchamel sauce
Yield: 4 Servings as a main course, or 6 as a first dish
1/3 cup each chopped carrots, celery and onions
1 lb. can kitchen ready tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 tablespoon sugar
Sauté the carrots, celery and onions until the onions are slightly soft. Place the remaining ingredients in the pan and cook for 1/2 hour. Salt to taste.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup warm milk
Melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour stirring constantly until it becomes a paste. Add the warm milk little at a time blending it into the paste. As the sauce becomes thick make adjustments adding more flour or milk depending on the consistency of the sauce. It should be a thick white sauce.
Mix the two sauces together when using this recipe for the pasta roll and place a layer of the sauce on a warm plate, then placing slices of the pasta roll on top.
Some may think that cannoli is the ultimate Italian pastry, but for me it is sfogliatelle. I have traveled long and far to purchase them. When studying Italian in Bologna, there was a pasticceria across the street from the apartment I rented. Every morning they make them fresh, and I was there when they came out of the oven to enjoy a warm sfogliatelle for breakfast – I still dream of those mornings.
One Easter on our way to Genoa we stopped at an Agip highway restaurant for an espresso and they were giving them out free for Easter, what a wonderful surprise.
In Genoa they had stalls in the outdoor market selling them in huge quantities filled with variety of fillings. We bought several as I wanted to try all the assortments, but I still prefer the traditional sfogliatelle.
The Villa Crespi is a magnificent Middle Eastern style, 4 star luxury hotel with a 2 star Michelin rated restaurant overlooking Lago di Orta. A merchant who traded in Iraq built the Moorish style villa. You can have a massage in your huge room beautifully appointed with antiques or relax in the garden on lounge chairs with views of the lake. It is a short walk to the village where you can visit the shops or take a boat to the island. Visit the many vineyards of the Piedmonte region where you can taste wines such as Barbaresco, Baarolo, Muscato and Asti Spumante . Nebbiolo is the main grape grown here in the Piedmonte, which is one of Italy’s largest wine growing regions.
The chef, Antonio Cannavacciuolo runs the hotel and elegant restaurant serving creative, artistically presented cuisine that is a dream to eat. The chef made sfogliatelle every afternoon and served them with espresso for a late afternoon delight. They were smaller then the typical ones you find in the bakery and light. Filled with the traditional ricotta filling, I was there in the garden waiting every day during our relaxing visit.
Orta is a small picturesque village along the lake in the Piedmonte west of Lago Maggiore. It is one of the smallest and least known towns along the lakes. If you have spent your vacation visiting the Lakes region and want a few days of relaxation before returning home, spend them at the unique Villa Crespi. The hotel is only 45 minutes from Milan’s Malpensa International airport and a perfect hotel to wind down.
This recipe was taken from one of the chef’s antique cookbooks and I translated it into English.
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 15 minutes @ 400º F, 15 minutes @ 350º F, 5-10 minutes @ 250º F
Yield: 16 large or 32 small pastries
8 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 cups suet or lard
1 3/4 cups cold water, more if needed
2 tablespoons fine salt
1/2 cup honey
2 cups semolina
1 3/4 cups whole milk ricotta
2 cups confectionary sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup candied fruit, chopped
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 pinches cinnamon
7 oz. distilled water, as needed
Salt to taste
1 egg, beaten with the water
1 tablespoons water
Other things needed
Melt the honey with water.
Put the flour into a food processor and add the suet, salt and mix until it crumbles. Add the honey/water mixture a little at a time until the dough forms into a ball. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.
If making the dough by hand, put the flour in a large bowl or on a wooden board. Make a well in the middle and add the suet, salt, honey and water. Mix with your hands until you form a ball. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
Roll out thin strips of the dough in the pasta machine. Make several equal strips in length of at least 40”. The strip should be the thickness of 1/16” or less.
With care, lightly but lavishly brush the suet onto each strip. In doing this, you must be very careful that the strips are not stretched or torn. Never use flour.
Place 3 of the greased strips on top of each other. Tightly roll up the strips toward you. You will find that the fat will begin to melt. Continue with this process until you have rolled up all the strips.
You will then have a coil of approximately 12” in length and 3” in diameter; you will find that the suet has melted somewhat. Cover the cylinder with plastic wrap. Put it in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
If using a pasta machine your strips are not going to be the same size, they will be the width of the pasta machine. This is not a problem; just follow the recipe directions in the same way.
The following day proceed with filling and baking them. Remove the cylinder from the refrigerator. Cut the cylinders into slices the thickness of 1”.
You must transform the slice into sfogliatelle flakes. On the cut side, using your fingers, gently push in the folds from the center inwards. Making the inverse movement on the outside, from the edge towards the larger end. Gently spread the larger end outwards, so that it looks like a clamshell with grooves.
Continue with the same treatment for the other slices. Then, maneuvering delicately and flattening them to take the shape again working in the shape of a clamshell with a point on top and wide at the base creating what looks like a shell; finally the sfogliatelle is ready to be filled.
Another possibility is to take each 1” slice and sprinkle a little flour on a board and a little on the slice. With a rolling pin, roll from the center out to the right and the left. Again place the rolling pin in the middle of the oval and roll down forming an oval shape. Pick up the oval and fill with the filling in the middle. Seal the wide part of the oval and place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
This process does not create the typical shell shape but is acceptable.
Place all the ingredients in a bowl except for the water. Beat by hand until you have blended all the ingredients. Begin to add a little water at a time beating it in until the filling is just a little fluid. This is a thick filling and you just want to add enough water to make it smooth.
Hold the shell in the hollow of your hand, put a spoon full of filling inside the center; seal the edges, but don’t pinch them together. Carefully lay them down on your cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush each one with an egg wash or melted suet or lard whatever you choose to use.
Prepare all the sfogliatelle. Bake in a 400º F oven for 15 minutes. Brush with the lard and reduce the heat to 350º F and cook for another 15 minutes. Brush with an egg wash and cook for another 5-10 minutes at 250º F. When they are a beautifully golden in color, remove them from the oven.
Sprinkle them with a veil of powdered sugar when they are hot out of the oven, and serve them warm if possible.
NOTE: A special machine is used in bakeries to form the pastry and this can’t be effectively reproduced at home even when using a pasta machine. They are delicious even though the pastry isn’t as fine.
NOTE: Sfogliatelle do not stay well. It is best to make the dough and rolls the day before and the next day bake and serve them.
The basil of Liguria is intense in aroma. They produce small leaf basil that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The essential oils of basil are in the veins of the leaves. I was told that making pesto requires patients and love. The motion of the wooden pestle against the stone mortar brings out the oils. Add the leaves a little at a time, listen to the sound of the pestle as you move it against the mortor. The aroma is intoxciating. I love the way Italians talk about food, it is always so sensual.
I make Genovese pesto without cheese, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it for soups or sauces. I store it in a glass jar, topped with olive oil and refrigerate it. Top it off with oil each time to assure it doesn’t oxidize. It is at my disposal whenever I want to add it to a dish such as chicken salad or drizzled over fish and always ready for pasta.
Often in Liguria the cheese is left out and used to flavor many other dishes. Soup, sauces, vegetables, topping for pizza, tossed with pasta, drizzled on fish, salads, a little pesto wakes up the flavors.
Mix the pesto with cheese such as Ricotta or Pecorino are also used. One of my favorites is a soft fresh chèvre with freshly ground pepper tossed with pasta. There are some lovely formaggi di capra made in the Alpe Liguri.
Trofiette Liguri is the traditional pasta with pesto and is served in every restaurant and household. Thank goodness you can buy trofiette packaged because hand making this pasta would truly be a labor of love.
Yield: 4 Servings
4 oz. fresh basil
4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pinoli nuts (pine nuts)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (light in flavor)
Salt to taste, (Don’t use large grain salt)
Wash the basil leaves in cold water and dry them on a towel. With a marble mortar and wooden pestle pound the garlic into a paste. The garlic should not overwhelm the basil. Add some salt and grind it into the garlic paste. Add the basil a little at a time and with a gentle swirling motion grinding it into the garlic. You get the best taste by gently grinding the leaves. At this point add the pine nuts, a handful at a time. When the nuts are soft and incorporated start adding the cheese. Begin to add the extra virgin olive oil. It is important the flavor of the oil is light so that it doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the basil. The light olive oil of the Luguria blends perfectly with the basil mixture.
The preparation should be done at room temperature and as quickly as possible to avoid oxidation.
Trofiette Liguri is served everywhere and is a specialty of this region. Boil the water salting it sufficiently and drop in the trofiette. It will take longer then most pasta to cook, about 19 minutes. Toss it well with the pesto and serve the grated cheese either Parmesan or Pecorino on the side. Drizzle the same light extra virgin olive oil over the top.
Fresh artichokes start showing up in the market usually in May and in September. From September through Christmas I prepare many different artichoke dishes, but stuffing them is one of my favorite preparations.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Yield: 6 servings
6 large globe artichokes
1 lemon, cut in half
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 stick pepperoni, half chopped finely, the other half in thick slices
5 cups loosely packed white bread crumbs, chopped very fine
4 tablespoons flat leaf Italian parsley
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 large egg
1/2 cup pine nuts
Salt and ground pepper to taste
Cut the pointed tops of the artichokes with a scissor and rub the entirely with the lemon. This prevents the leaves from turning brown. Remove the smaller lower leaves, and cut the bottom stem so the artichokes are flat.
Combine the breadcrumbs, finely chopped pepperoni, garlic, grated cheese, parsley, pine nuts and salt and pepper together. Taste the mixture to make sure you have enough salt. Add the egg and some olive oil to the mixture and mix until the mixture holds together in you hand when you squeeze it.
Stuff between each leave. If you chose to just stuff the middle, you must clean out the leaves and hay in the middle of the choke and fill the cavity. In our family we always stuff each leave.
Place them in a very large pan of water reaching up to just below the first set of leaves. Add the chunks of pepperoni, salt and pepper.
They will take at least 45 minutes to 1 hour cooking time on medium heat. They are done when you can easily pull a leaf out of the coke. Be sure they are completely cooked, as the bottom of the leaves will be hard if undercooked.
When visiting a restaurant this time of the year in Italy, I always know exactly what I will order as an antipasto because zucca fritti is on the menu. The editable flowers of squash are stuffed with various ingredients such as mozzarella, anchovy or ricotta. They are fried in very hot oil and usually eaten as appetizers, although in my family it isn’t unusual to have them for a main course. Large platters of golden, crisp batter coated flowers are served and eaten with your hands. Accompanied with a glass of Prosecco or cold white wine, this dish is a delicacy. My grandparents grew zucchini in their garden and my grandmother made these all through the summer.
The US is a large producer of pumpkins (any type of squash flowers can be used), however it is difficult to find flowers for sale anywhere. I once approached a pumpkin grower and asked if I could buy the flowers and he looked at me very confused. Needless to say, he didn’t sell me the flowers. Since the female bloom produces the squash, the male bloom is sold for cooking in Italy. They are also used in stuffing for ravioli, and made into a delicious sauce for pasta.
Squash are grown all over the world and the flowers can also be purchased off-season, but are very expensive. Prices are lowest in season. If you are lucky enough to find them, choose only large fresh good quality flowers with stems. The flower is very delicate and must be handled with great care not to break the petals. You must first gently spread the petals and remove stamina. Gently place the stuffing into the middle and roll the petals at the top. Rolling the tops closes the opening and holds the stuffing inside.
The flowers must be completely dry before dipping them into the batter. I like to drip off some of the batter making sure that they are not to heavily coated. The oil must be very hot and dip only a few at a time.
The recipe below was given to me by a chef in Vieste, Foggia (Puglia, Italy).
Fried Zucchini Flowers
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 3-4 minutes each
Yield: 14 flowers
14 large zucchini flowers with stems, cleaned
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white wine, beer or water with gas, cold
Pinch of paprika
Pinch of salt
14 cubes mozzarella, small
Sea salt for sprinkling over the fried flowers
Mix the flour, paprika and salt. Pour in the cold beer or carbonated water and blend until the batter is the consistency of pancake batter.
Remove the stamina in each flower and set it aside. Open the flower very gently and put a piece of mozzarella in each flower and twist the top closed.
Heat the oil until it is very hot. Dip a few flowers into the batter. Let the batter drip off the flour a little. You don’t want the flower to be to have a thick coating. Drop the flower a few at a time into the hot oil and let it fry turning it several times until it is golden and crisp. Remove them to a rack or paper towels and lightly sprinkle salt over them. Continue a few at a time until you have fried all the flowers.
Serve them warm as part of an antipasti (appetizer).
NOTE: A small piece of anchovy can be substituted or added. Other fillings such as ricotta can be used.
My father’s family came from the town of Vieste, Foggia Italy. The Region is Puglia (Apulia, Apulien) in the southeast of Italy. It is located on the tip or spur of the boot-shaped peninsula called Gargano.
It is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, a unique landscape of naturalistic beauty and known as a melting pot of foreign populations. The characteristic Apulian architecture of the 11th–13th centuries reflects Greek, Arab, Norman, and Pisan influences.
Olives, olive oil and both mountain and sea typical food products are mainly produced in this region. As you can imagine fish is an important part of their diet and a large variety of recipes using fish, vegetables and also cheese can be enjoyed in many of the small restaurants throughout the region. The myth that cheese and fish are never prepared together is exactly that, a myth. Italy produces cheese such as ricotta, mascarpone and mozzarella di bufala, which are very light in flavor and are easily combined with fish.
I have visited Vieste many times learning a little about my heritage and the recipe below was given to me by a chef in Vieste at a private cooking program we took on one of our visits. I have translated it and hope you enjoy it.
Ricotta, Zucchini, Eggplant & Scampi
Ricotta, zucchini, melanzane & salsa di scampi
Chef Marco, Vieste (Foggia), Italy
Prep Time: 20 (part of which is done during the cooking of the pasta)
Cook Time: About 15 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of a pan)
2 cloves sliced garlic
1 small zucchini, deseeded
1 small eggplant, deseeded
4 oz. arugula
9 leaves of sage
1 jigger of brandy
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups of cream
8 oz. ricotta
20 medium shrimp, cleaned (the original recipe calls for scampi, which have harder shells, but are difficult to find in the US).
Salt to taste
1 lb. pasta fresh or store bought, such as rigatoni
Remove the shells and vein of the shrimp and set them aside.
Cube the unpeeled zucchini and eggplant and sauté them until they are just cooked but not too soft, about 4-6 minutes.
In a saucepan sauté the oil and garlic for a minute. Add the shrimp, sage and cook for a minute, then add the brandy and flambé it until all the alcohol has evaporated. The flames will burn out when that happens. Be sure to remove the bottle away from the stove when you are doing this step. Add in the arugula, wine and sage at this point and allow the arugula to cook for a few minutes until it is limp. Put in the ricotta until it is well mixed into the sauce and add in the cream. Taste for salt.
If the sauce seems to be too thick, add in some of the pasta water and mix. You may have to do this again, if the sauce is ready before the pasta is cooked.
Boil salted water and cook the pasta until it is al dente. Add the sautéed zucchini and eggplant to the sauce. Drain and mix the pasta into the sauce, allowing it to finish cooking. Toss it thoroughly coating each piece of pasta.
During WWII while my father was fighting in Europe, my mother supported us by working at the Table Talk Pies Inc. Located in Worcester, Massachusetts and established in 1924. Like many other business of that time, they started as a very small neighborhood business and sold their pies in horse drawn carriages around town. Table Talk still exists today with distribution and production all around the country.
My mother perfected her pie baking and was the expert among our family and friends. She sold her pies in our family business “Turo’s Market” on Shrewsbury Street, Worcester MA. (no longer exists). We moved to the country in a house my parents built in the middle of an apple orchard. Every Sunday she would baked all sorts of pies of the season and family and friends filled our house for coffee and pie. When the fruit was first in season she would make us all our own pie and set it down in front of us for one big start of the season pie feast. She made a large assortment of pies but two were always the most popular and that was blueberry and apple pies (apples picked in our backyard).
To this day everyone in our family remembers these Sunday afternoons with such fond memories. Besides always having a huge crowd around our house on the weekends, the sent of fresh baked pies in her country kitchen still lingers with me today. Everyone in our family tries to create the very same flavor that she perfected. Somehow we never are able to recreate the same taste, but that is probably because we just can’t duplicate those wonderful times that went with friends, coffee and a piece of pie with ice cream. Pies are still a large part of our family get-togethers and she still fills our discussions as we compete for the title of best family pie baker.
Fruit pies are very simple and only require the minimum amount of ingredients. Sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest, butter, a little flour or cornstarch and that is it. If you try to complicate it, you will affect the fresh flavors of the fruit. Fresh fruit pies are not about being creative, but about the clean flavors and the juices of ripe fruit -and there is the key, ripe fruit.
Make sure when you are buying blueberries that they are firm, plump, fragrant, and dark blue. Remove stems and any berries that are green or not ripe. Most of us today use cultivated berries and they can also be bought frozen. We always went blueberry picking at farms and collected large quantities that we froze and had blueberry pies all winter. They freeze beautifully and are great just to pop a few in your mouth as a snack frozen. You can put them into your pie frozen and you wouldn’t know that they had been picked months before.
Blueberries are also well known for their health benefits. Enjoy my Moms recipe!
Basic Pie Crust
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cold solid vegetable shortening (one cup of shortening if you eliminate the butter)
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (the butter makes the crust flaky)
2/3 cup ice-cold water (as needed)
Other Items needed
Mixer or rolling pin
9” pie plate
DOUGH USING A MIXER OR PROCESSOR
Mix the flour, shortening, and salt until it looks like a crumb mixture. Add the butter to the crumb mixture. The mixer or processor does a good job of crumbing the mixture. The butter should only be pulsated a few times to assure it isn’t over processed. The original recipe calls for a total of 1 cup of shortening; you can use a mixture of butter and shortening. Remove it from the mixer or processor and mix 2/3 cup of ice-cold water a little at a time until the dough forms. You may not need the entire amount of water. DO NOT OVER PROCESS OR KNEAD THE DOUGH. Once you have brought all the ingredients together, cut it in half and form a disk shape by patting it with your hands and put it in plastic storage bags. Refrigerate them for at least 1/2 hour.
If you are mixing the dough by hand, place the flour in a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Cut the shortening into small pieces and crumble it either with you hands or with a fork. Cut in the butter, in larger chunks. Add the ice-cold water and bring it together into a ball, the same as the directions above.
NOTE: You can add a little cinnamon, lemon zest or sugar if you like into the flour mixture.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 52 minutes, 12 minutes at 420º F, 40 minutes @ 350ºF
Yield: 8 servings
6 cups fresh blueberries, enough to fill a 9” pie plate
3/ 4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 lemon (zest only)
1/8 pound butter, cut into cubes
Other Things Needed
3 ziti pasta
Roll out one half of the dough and place it into a 9” pie plate. Refrigerate the other half for the top.
Put the blueberries into a bowl and add the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and zest and toss the berries until they are completely covered with the ingredients. Pour them into the uncooked piecrust and dot the top with butter. Roll out the second piece of dough and cover the top of the pie. Even out the dough around the rim and crimp the edges. With a knife, puncture at 3 holes and stick in a piece of ziti pasta in each hole. The ziti will act as little chimneys and let out the steam.
Bake in the middle of the oven at 420º F for 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350º F and cook for another 40 minutes. Remove the pie when it is brown on the top and put it on a rack to cool. Once at room temperature, put it in the refrigerator.
Serve cold with vanilla ice cream.
NOTE: You can brush the top of the piecrust with an egg wash or cream to give it a more golden color or sprinkle a little sugar on the top.
La Chitarra (pronounced key-tahr-rah) is a pasta maker believed to have been invented in Chieti, Abruzzi Italy around the 1800’s. No one seems to know who invented it and until recently pasta made with the chitarra was mainly found in the Apulia and Abruzzi regions.
Since I’ve never been able to find a story behind this unique simple pasta maker, I made up one.
A long time ago, a young boy by the name of Michele, watched his mother making pasta every day, toiling over kneading the dough, rolling out it out into huge thin sheets and cutting it with a knife into thin stands. This is how Michele’s mother earned a living. Michele loved music and often sat on the steps of his simple stone home located along a narrow street of the village playing his beloved chitarra. He played for his mother while she worked – it seemed to make her life a little easier. As he was playing, he had an inspiration that the musical strings of his instrument would be perfect for cutting the dough. He removed the strings and placed them over a simple oblong box – he was going to miss his chitarra. He brought it to his mother and together they cut the pasta on his invention. To their amazement, as they rolled the dough over the musical strings, the pasta fell below the box in perfectly cut strands. The musical strings not only worked perfectly for cutting the pasta, but the beautiful sounds of the chitarra filled the small kitchen as they ran their fingers across the strings. From this point on they called her pasta “pasta chitarra”. Well of course this is my story, but every time I use my chitarra, I think of Michele and his mother.
There are two sides of the chitarra; one side cuts thin strands the size of spaghetti and the other Taglatelle and Fettuccini. The dough should be rolled out a little thicker to make troccoli, which is famous in Apulia. There are screws at one end, which are tightened to make them taut when rolling the spaghetti and loosened when it is not being used. Roll the dough the width and length of the chitarra and place the dough on the strings. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough over the strings. Run you fingers along the metal strings to loosen the cut strands and the cut pasta will fall into the box below.
During a trip to Vieste, Foggia, I visited a little restaurant in the old village called “Enotecca di Vieste”. Here I met the owner who brought me into the kitchen to show me how to make her mothers recipe for troccoli with chickpeas, eggplants and zucchini. After we enjoyed this hearty pasta dish with these lovely people, she handed me a bag filled with all the ingredients to make the dish at home myself. In Vieste restaurants have large balls of dough on a table covered with a kitchen towel. When you order troccoli, they cut off a piece of the pasta dough and roll it over the chitarra. You can’t get pasta any fresher then this.
La Chitarra is possible to find in some specialty kitchen supply stores.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 minutes
Yield: 4 servings as a main course, 8 as accompaniment
4 cups all purpose flour
2 pinches salt
4 medium eggs
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Tepid water (if necessary)
Place the flour mixture on a pastry board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs, olive oil, salt and a small amount of water (you can always add more water if the dough is too dry). Begin to stir the flour from the outside part of the well into the wet ingredients. Continue this process until the dough holds together in a ball. The dough should seem as if it is too dry, but once it is rolled out in a pasta machine it will hold together. If the dough is too wet, rub a little flour on it, as it will be difficult to handle and too sticky to roll through the pasta machine.
Knead the dough for at least 10-15 minutes, and allow it to stand covered with a clean kitchen towel at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
ROLLING THE PASTA DOUGH
Start with a wider slot when rolling it out on your pasta machine. Roll it out a few times on each level until you have reached the second thinnest level. You will have to develop a feel of the thickness of the dough.
Once the dough is rolled out, cut it the length and with of the Chitarra. The dough should be a little thicker then if you were cutting it for fettuccini or spaghetti.
Pressing down with a rolling pin, roll the pin over dough. Run you fingers across the exposed strings at the end of the Chitarra and the pasta will fall to the bottom of the box.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
10 sprigs fresh basil
3 ripe large tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1/2 cup dry chick peas (soaked overnight)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cube beef bouillon, dissolved in water (1 cup per cube)
1 small eggplant, cut into 1” chunks
1 small zucchini, cut into 1” chunks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
10 sprigs Italian parsley, chopped
1 pepperoncino, soaked in olive oil
1 green pepper, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
If you are using dried beans, place 1/2 cup beans in water overnight, they will double in size. Put them into the sauce for the last 15 minutes of cooking. If you are using canned beans, add them at the end only for a few minutes.
Place the olive oil in a pan and sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the chopped pepper, zucchini, pepperoncino and eggplant and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, basil, and bouillon in the pan and cook for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked. You can add a little wine, more bullion or a little pasta water if required. In separate pan cook the troccoli in salted water for 3 to 5 minutes until al dente.
Mix the sauce with the troccoli and sprinkle parsley over the top of the pasta before serving. Put a nice piece of Parmesan cheese on the table for people to grate over the dish.