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When looking for a quick but elaborate and unexpected first dish or even a main course, you don’t have to spend hours at the stove. Most Italian pasta dishes are prepared within twenty minutes with available ingredients in season. Pasta is almost always served as a first dish in Italy (primo piatto).
I like to serve pasta as a primo piatto because it is easy to make and most of the time you can pre-prepare the ingredients even if you are making the pasta fresh. Although you don’t often find foie gras on the menu in Italy, this dish is elegant and compliments meats that might follow. The rosemary gives it a smoky flavor and the richness of the foie gras makes this dish that special event star of the meal.
It can be served with red of white wine as the flavors are strong enough for either or if you really want to impress your guests serve it with a glass of Champagne.
Time: 20 minutes
3 baby artichokes, cleaned and sliced thinly
3 1/2 oz foie gras cut in medium size chunks
1/2 lb of spaghetti, boxed or freshly made
1/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 sprigs fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 medium size clove garlic, chopped
10 oz celery, thinly sliced
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pat unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper
Salt to taste
Remove the leaves from the artichokes until you come to the white leaves. Cut them in half, if they are baby artichokes they won’t have any hay in the middle, but if they do, remove it. Slice them thinly.
Sauté the shallots, celery and garlic for a few minutes in the olive oil. Add the sliced artichokes, wine and chicken stock and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add salt and taste.
In another pan, sauté the foie gras and rosemary in the butter for 1 minute and set aside.
Boil the water for the pasta; salt when it come to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
Sprinkle the basil over the top and lightly toss the ingredients well. You don’t want to over cook the foes grass, keep it on the heat just long enough to mix the ingredients.
Plate the pasta and grind black pepper over the and then enjoy the rich flavors you are about to experience.
You hardly feel like cooking on hot summer days and yet fish and shellfish seem so perfect for light summer meals. They are also very easy and fast to prepare. I have a husband who just didn’t like fish but would eat shellfish. I solved this problem by taking him to a cooking class in Italy where just about all the dishes we prepared were fish. There were 4 chefs from a 5 star restaurant and just the two of us. I didn’t expect this, as it was a class at a hotel that we had gone to many times and advertised as a class for a maximum of 6 people. Seems we signed up for the first class of the season that started the beginning of June. Along the Adriatic, this is not high season and we were the only ones to register. The chefs wanted to do the class in any case, probably to test it out, how lucky was that!
I wondered how my husband was going to deal with eating the meals we prepared, as he really hated fish. My husband is a diabetic and it was important for him to change his diet that consisted mostly of meat. This class was the cure and he totally enjoyed every dish we prepared. He still eats meat, but today we have fish at least two or three times a week. The message is that if there is something you don’t like, it is worthwhile to learn how to prepare it. Many times you can find recipes that you never knew existed and will satisfy your taste.
The following is an easy recipe that is great as it includes greens, shellfish and pasta, what is there not to like!
Strozzapreti con rucola, patate e cozze
Chef Franco, Vieste (Foggia), Italy
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
1 lb. strozzapreti, cavatelli or pasta of your choice
1 bunch arugula (rucola in Italian)
1/4 lb. of potatoes
1 lb. of mussels
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Wash the mussels thoroughly and let them soak for about 1/2 hour in cold water, changing the water a few times. Remove the beard that is between the shells. Steam them in a small amount of boiling salted water. This will take 3-6 minutes; discard any that have not opened. Strain out all the liquid and reserve it for the sauce. Remove most of the mussels from their shells, keeping about 5 per person for garnish.
Peel and cut the potatoes into small squares, par boil them in salted water. Set them aside.
In a skillet, sauté the oil and onions until they become slightly translucent. Add the garlic and pepperoncino and cook a few more minutes. Add the reserved mussel liquid and boil it down to about half. Add the cubed potatoes.
In a large saucepan, cook the strozzapreti in salted boiling water. Three minutes before the strozzapreti is cooked add the arugula in with the strozzapreti and cook until the strozzapreti are al dente. Drain them and toss them into the skillet blending them until they are completely covered with the sauce.
Making fresh pasta used to be a labor of love. Many Italians consider rolling out the dough by hand an art. I took a cooking class from a couple in Italy, Marco was a restoration architect and his wife Monaca was a child psychiatrist. They were passionate about food and their classes were a lot of fun. But anyone else rolling out the pasta dough was just out of the question as far as Marco was concerned, this was his and only his to make. This sounds unreasonable for a cooking class, but you have to understand how serious this is to Italians who consider rolling out the dough all-important to the quality of the pasta. After several classes, one of my classmates, a dentist from Michigan decided he just had to roll out the dough and proceeded to try to convince Marco to let him do it. We all sided with our classmate including Monica and won the battle, somewhat. Marco started the process and rolled the dough out to a huge size on the very large kitchen table and then let my classmate finish the process. Unfortunately for our classmate, he made a very small hole in the dough. It was a comedy I will never forget, as Marco just simply couldn’t deal with a hole in his dough. It took all of Monica’s humor and professional training to calm Marco down and convince him that the piece of noodle that had the hole in it would be discarded. We hand cut the fettuccini, but I’m sure none of us met his expectations. Never the less, it was delicious and we all left that evening with an appreciation of the importance of rolling out pasta dough.
I have to admit; I have also taken great pride in making dough, rolling it out to the thinnest sheet, and cutting it by hand. However, I am also a fan of kitchen tools that make cooking easier and allow us to still get good results in the least amount of time. Today we are not all at home worrying about how thin we can roll out our dough, or even making pasta by hand at all. But with a few tools we can cut the time down and make it by hand more often. Fresh pasta has a quality and flavor that you just can’t get with boxed pasta. Having said that, I feel that in the case of spaghetti, a good quality boxed spaghetti is often better then handmade.
I use to have a hand cranked pasta machine but have invested in an electric machine. I have a Puglian Chitarra (the spaghetti comes out better on this then the machine) and you can make troccoli, taglatelle and fettuccini. There was a time when you could only find these in Puglia Italy, but today I have seen them in Sur La Table and Surfas. I’m sure other kitchen supply stores carry them. It is an inexpensive simple box with wire strings strung across the top. You roll the dough out and then run it over the strings with a rolling pin and watch the pasta fall in strips into the holding tray. Kitchen Aid mixers have a dough rolling attachment. These tools and a few pasta cutters (I search for old pasta cutters in flea markets and Italian markets) along with a food processor give very good results. It takes very little time and the quality far surpasses anything you can buy.
The following is a recipe for garganelli, and some examples of other types of pasta you can prepare when rolling sheets of dough. The dough ingredients will vary according to the type of pasta you are making.
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 3-5 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
2 cups flour
Tepid water (if necessary)
Mix the dough either by hand or in a food processor. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes. The dough should be dry, or it will not go through the pasta machine without adding flour. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel so that it doesn’t dry out when you are working with it. Cut a piece of dough off the ball and roll it through the pasta machine in each slot until you have rolled it though the second to the last slot. Cut 2” squares with a clean-cut cutter. You can use a pizza cutter for example or a knife. I find that the pizza cutter works very well.
Using a spindle or the end of a round handle, fold each square from one corner to another. Roll it over the back of a folk or a grooved tool, which are sold in kitchen supply stores especially for this purpose. You can also leave them without grooves, but the sauce adheres better to the pasta with grooves.
Allow the garganelli to dry. Cook them for about 3-5 minutes; the pasta should be al dente. Fresh pasta cooks faster then boxed pasta so watch carefully and don’t over cook as they will be very soft.
For me there just isn’t any other pasta that is as good as old fashion ricotta ravioli. My grandmother was the expert in our family and thank goodness she loved to teach us all how to cook. I often wonder when I read stories by chefs or others who write blogs about food how it is that everyone mentions their grandmother as being their inspiration. Whatever happened to their mothers? My mother was a great cook also and we loved making cookies and ravioli with her. It was a family affair in the kitchen as we only made them for holidays. Today I make them very often and with different filling. I love when my children and grandchildren join in and I can continue the roll of the grandmother who inspires them to cook. I have put all these recipes on a CD for them to carry on the traditions and heritage that I treasure.
We always have some Italian dishes during our holidays. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or Easter there is always ravioli on our table as a first dish. We set up an assembly line with all of us pitching in to make hundreds of them before Thanksgiving so that we could have them for Christmas also. They freeze very well, but don’t ever defrost them before cooking them. Put them into a large amount of salted boiling water directly from the freezer.
My grandmother made them very big, not like the little ones you find today in many restaurants. These are “the old country” ravioli and I love them. She had a small white sideboard with a roll top and made all of her cookies and pasta on this little pull out counter.
Use whatever tomato sauce recipe you like the best. Hers was always a meat-based recipe cooked for hours.
Prep Time: Dough 10 minutes, filling 20 minutes, 40 minutes forming the ravioli’s
Cook Time: 10-15 minutes and test them
Yield: 35 Ravioli
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Warm water to mix
2 lb. whole milk ricotta
1 teaspoon or more of salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste (slightly over salt)
Add finely chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese and the eggs to the ricotta, taste before adding salt. Slightly over salt the filling. Set the filling aside.
Place the flour on a board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and salt with a little water as needed. Use a fork and beat into the well the flour a little at a time. Form the dough into a ball and knead until it is smooth and shiny. Let it stand for at least 15 minutes to rest. If you are using a pasta machine to roll out the dough, keep the dough dry by adding less water. When using a pasta machine, roll the dough in the different slots until you come to the second to the last slot. This consistency is the desired thickness. As you roll the dough through the different slots, it will also knead the dough. If you are using a rolling pin, roll the dough out so that it is thin enough but not so thin that it would break. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, (large enough to fold over the filling) in an envelope style.
Place a tablespoon of filling along the middle of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling forming the envelope. Press down on the edges and also along the sections forming the squares. Be sure to cup the filling with your hands so that you remove as much of the air inside the envelope. Cut into squares (whatever size you wish). Prick the edges with a folk to keep them from opening while cooking.
The ravioli can be frozen at this point on a platter, and then removed when completely frozen to freezer bags. They can be cooked fresh in the same way as stated below.
Take them directly out of the freezer and place them in boiling salted water. When the water comes to a boil again, turn the heat down and let them cook at a light boil. They will float to the top when they are done. Test one to be sure they are done before removing them from the water. Remove them very carefully so that they don’t break. It is best to let them stand for a few minutes to let the water drain out completely.
Note: Other fillings such as spinach, squash, meat, or fish such as lobster or crab fillings can be used with the basic dough recipe.
Note: They can be served with a tomato sauce or butter and sage.
Note: If serving for a first dish, serve 3 ravioli. If serving for a main dish about 5 to 8 is a good size serving.
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.
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.