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Bologna is a food city, well there are many other things to do and see, but it is known for its wonderful small restaurants, markets and some of the best food in Italy. While every region in Italy boast the best food, Bologna is a serious leader. There’s a special touch, a feeling, an inner sense and understanding of cuisine that is hard to describe. They expect the best quality and they can find it in Il Mercato de Mezzo everyday of the week. Bologna is not a fish town, meat and game are their specialty.
Alimentari Tamburini in the region of IL Mercato di Mezzo is one of Italy’s most celebrated food shops. They also have a cafeteria-style lunch packed with people everyday enjoying a large array of hot freshly made dishes continuously coming out of the kitchen and a large wood burning rotisserie producing juicy flavorful meats. This is no ordinary cafeteria, it is famous and I got to eat there every afternoon when I was studying Italian just down the street. I just couldn’t wait to be part of the atmosphere at Alilmentari Tamburini. Cafeteria-style restaurants are very common in Italy and serve good local specialties at very reasonable prices. But this combination of market and cafeteria is special as you can lunch there and walk out with an arm full of cheeses, freshly made pasta, vegetables, and a large variety of salumi for later.
On of my favorite little trattoria is da Nello al Montegrappa (via Montegrappa 2). Their signature dish is Torelllone or Tortellini Montegrappa. This pasta is served in cream-and-walnut (or meat) sauce with white truffle shavings on top. The restaurant is also known for its grilled Porcini mushrooms and one of our favorites stuffed zucchini flowers (zucca fritti) that are light and crispy, absolutely delectable. The restaurant is small with a room crowded with tables on the ground level, a down stairs dinning room and a very small outdoor dining area. You feel a little packed in at times and this might be very uncomfortable to some tourists who are not use to Italian restaurants at lunch time. Italians eat out and crowded restaurant are not at all unusual. Even though the restaurant is in the center of town where there are many tourists, locals swam da Nello. Some may consider it touristy but I’ve been going there for many years and have never been disappointed. The fried zucchini flowers are among the best I’ve had in Italy and their grilled Porcini mushrooms are succulent.
As you can see in the photo below, my granddaughter is in her glory with a dish of their fried zucchini flowers.
I have tried to recreate Tortelloni Montegrappa and came up with my own version. Of course I don’t have white truffles to my dismay.
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings as a first dish
2 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
12 oz. ricotta
1/2 cup walnuts, crushed
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Place the flour and salt on your counter or cutting board and make a well in the middle. Place the eggs in the middle and with a fork begin to combine the flour into the egg. The dough will be a little dry, but if you are using a pasta machine, it must be dry in order to roll the dough. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and set it aside in a kitchen towel for 1 hour to rest.
Cut a piece of the dough and roll it through the pasta machine beginning at the widest section. Roll the dough through each section until you have rolled it through the second to the last slot. If the dough is too moist, rub a little flour into it with your hands. The dough should be somewhat dry. Lay it out on the countertop and cut 2 1/2” x 2 1/2” squares.
Mix the ingredients until it is well blended and smooth. Taste for salt, it should be a little salty.
Place a full teaspoon of the ricotta mixture in the middle of each square and dot the edges with water then fold them over into a triangle. Dot the two ends of the back of the triangle with water and fold them to the back overlapping the ends. Fold down the top of the tortelloni slightly. The water acts as a glue and seals the pasta. But do not use too much or it will become slimy.
Note: The tortelloni can be frozen for up to a month; they take about 5 minutes cooking time if frozen. Do not place them on top of each other when putting them in the freezer. Once they are frozen you can remove them and put them in a plastic freezer bag lying them flat.
Walnut and Mascarpone Sauce
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4-6 servings
1 container Mascarpone cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, whole
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
3 tablespoons walnut oil
Slightly cook the walnuts in the walnut oil with the garlic. Remove the garlic when the walnuts have released their oils and are slightly toasted.
Place all the rest of the ingredients in a blender and pulsate just enough to blend well. Add the chopped toasted walnuts and place the sauce back into the pan and heat slightly.
Cook the pasta in a large pan of hot salted boiling water for about 5 minutes. Taste for doness.
Pour the sauce over the hot pasta and put a handful of whole walnuts over the top for decoration.
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.
This time of year when we are thinking about holiday menus, looking for something to add a new dimension to my Thanksgiving starts early. I almost always end up making the same thing because tradition is important to me. However the buildup to Thanksgiving has extended the holiday for the entire month of November. I like to make all those homey meals that highlight the autumn.
Whatever your level of cooking expertise, gnocchi are so easy to make that just about anyone including kids can make them. I prefer Ricotta gnocchi because they are lighter then potato gnocchi. Adding squash or pumpkin is perfect for an autumn version. You can just serve them with butter and you have a handmade pasta dish that will satisfy your family or guests. On the other hand, with just a few ingredients such as pine nuts and sage, you can make a condiment that brings out the flavor of the squash and adds that WOW dimension to this dish.
When planning a meal for a large group such as Thanksgiving, Ricotta gnocchi are a good choice because they can be frozen. With all the preparation that is required for a Thanksgiving dinner, this gives you a little head start.
I also serve them as a side dish with turkey, venison, chicken and pork instead of potatoes.
Gnocchi di zucca
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 2 minutes
Yield: 6 Servings
4 cups flour, sifted
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt
2 lbs. ricotta
1/2 cup squash, mashed (frozen, canned or fresh squash or pumpkin)
Place the ricotta on a board or in a large bowl and add the squash. Add grated cheese and taste to determine if more salt is needed. Over-salt it as the salt is released into the water when cooking. However, you can’t remove salt if you have too much; add a little at a time and taste. Put the eggs in the middle of the ricotta, then begin to mix adding only enough flour as needed to form the dough into a ball.
Cut off a piece of dough and make tube shaped rolls about 1/2’ thick and as long as you want. Cut them about 1/2” long. At this point, press each gnocchi over the back of a fork pressing your thumb in the middle as you roll it down the folk. This will form the grooves down the gnocchi. This step is optional. You can cut 1/2” pieces and eliminate rolling them over a folk.
Note: Ricotta and squash might vary in liquid content. You add a additional flour if necessary. Also keep some flour for dusting you surface when rolling out the gnocchi.
Salsa di pignoli e salvia
Sage And Pine Nut Sauce
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 6-7 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
12 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup pine nuts
Several leaves of fresh sage
Salt to taste
In a deep pan, boil salted water and cook the Gnocchi, it will take a few minutes to cook, so keep testing them until done.
While the water is heating up, prepare the sauce.
In a saucepan, melt the butter and the oil. Cut the sage leaves lengthwise and place them in the saucepan along with the pine nuts. Sauté them watching the pine nuts very carefully as they will brown very quickly. Remove them from the stove as soon as they start to turn golden brown and allow them to finish browning in the hot butter. If the sauce needs more liquid, add a little boiling water from the pasta.
Drain the gnocchi and toss them in the sauce and then enjoy.
Cookouts are being planned for July 4th and summer outdoor celebrations. Tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil and pasta are all that is needed for this fresh pasta salad that you can prepare a day ahead.
I got this recipe from a small restaurant in Rome called Santo Padre many years ago. The key is to allow the aroma of basil, finely chopped garlic, olive oil and the pasta meld together overnight. The next day when you are ready to serve it, remove the basil and add freshly chopped basil and chopped tomatoes with the pasta and salt to taste.
Now of course I never do things the easy way, I like to make my own farfalle. A good store brand works well also. The fresh pasta flavor does make a difference and also it looks so much prettier when you make them a little larger then the store bought.
4 cups flour (all purpose, or half all purpose and half semolina flour)
Pinch of salt
4 medium eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Water (tepid) as required
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 (if needed). Begin to stir the flour from the outside 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, it should just stick together and the kneading should allow you to make a ball. 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 rest covered with a clean kitchen towel at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 7 minutes
Yield: 6–8 Servings
After allowing the dough to rest, cut a piece off large enough to roll out to about 1’ long and 6” wide (these measurements are only a guideline, you can make it larger, this size is easy to work with). Roll the dough out until the dough is thin. Try to get a feel for the dough as you are rolling it out. Rub just enough of flour to allow you to work with it if it is too sticky. If you are using a rolling pin get a sense of the thickness by feeling the dough. Repeat the same thickness with each section that you roll out. Because there is egg in this dough the pasta will swell when cooking.
A pasta machine works very well as the consistency will always be the same. The process of rolling the dough through the different thickness settings also kneads it.
Cut strips about 1 1/4” wide with a clean cut lengthwise (you can use a pizza cutter). Make vertical cuts about 1” wide with a cookie cutter which has a fluted edge. When you have all the cuts made, pinch the middle of each one forming a bow.
When ready to cook, place the farfalle directly into salted boiling water. Fresh pasta takes only a few minutes to cook check after 3-5 minutes. The time will depend on whether you cook them fresh or dried. Remove them when they are al dente. Drain them and run them under a little cold water if you are going to use them for pasta salad.