La Pasta Fredda

La Pasta Fredda is a dish that calls to us over and over again in the summer months.  We’ve made this pasta salad hundreds of times, and each time we make it exactly the same way.  The only things that ever varies is the type of pasta we use in it.  The flavors, though, remain the same.  It is a dish that has become part of our identity.  We’ve served it at countless gatherings and events, and it is possibly the most requested and replicated recipe of all.  Friends and family ask us when we will make it again.

There are many variations of this pasta.  Some like to add olives or tuna.  We keep it simple: mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, salt, black pepper, and olive oil.  Find good mozzarella and use good olive oil.  Salt the water the pasta boils in well.  Be generous with the olive oil.

1 bag or box of short pasta.  Farfalle, Rigatoni, Penne, or Rotini work well.
4 ovoline di mozzarella. (In many cases, two tubs)
4 tomatoes.  Roma or Beefsteak work well.
1 bunch of fresh basil
Salt, coarse and fine
Black Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Place a large pot of water on the stove and wait for it to come to a rolling boil.  In the meanwhile, cut your tomatoes and mozzarella into 1/2 – 1 in. cubes and place them in a large serving bowl.

Chop your basil into small pieces and add it to the tomatoes and mozzarella.  A tip – we grab a bunch of washed basil in our fist, and use a kitchen scissors to snip the basil into the serving bowl.

Add salt, black pepper and olive oil liberally, and stir.  Look to see that your ingredients are coated in oil, and taste for the right degree of saltiness.

Let the mixture sit.  The juices of the tomatoes and mozzarella will combine with the olive oil to make a delicious sauce for the pasta.

When the water boils, add the pasta and let cook according to the time specified.  Taste on occasion, and once the pasta reaches al dente, cook another 1-2 minutes.  Drain the pasta into a colander and rinse under cold water for a minute or two.  Use your hands to mix the pasta, ensuring that it all cools to room temperature.  Strain the pasta well, and add it to the serving bowl with the tomato and mozzarella mixture.  Stir carefully, and let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Hint: the best pasta is found at the bottom of the serving bowl, because that is where the olive oil and tomato-mozzarella juices settle.


Prosciutto e Melone

Hello, Friends.  We’re back!  We haven’t posted for a while because a needed back surgery sidelined Cara for the better part of last week. We are home again and after a week of hospital food, ready to get back in the kitchen.

Today for lunch we had Prosciutto e Melone, or cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto.  This is another classic Italian dish, best in summertime when melons are sweet and fragrant.  The sweetness of the cantaloupe is offset by the saltiness of the prosciutto, and you are left wondering just who was the first to realize how perfectly these two flavors go together.

Use a ripe cantaloupe and high quality prosciutto.  Ask them to cut the prosciutto thin, but not so thin that it tears easily.  Be sure that they separate each slice with plastic or specially purposed paper.

1 ripe cantaloupe
8-12 slices of prosciutto crudo

Cut your cantaloupe in half.

Scoop out the seeds from the center.  Cut each side lengthwise into 4-6 slices, depending on the size of your melon.  Use a knife to remove the rind from the melon.

Remove one slice of prosciutto from its paper backing.

Wrap the prosciutto around the center of the slice of cantaloupe and place it on a serving plate. Do the same with the remaining prosciutto and cantaloupe.  Pick then up and eat them as finger food.

We served this the classical way.  You can be inventive, however, and wrap smaller pieces of melon in prosciutto and spear them onto a skewer, or simply serve the prosciutto and canteloupe side by side with a fork and a knife.

We drank a wonderful Sicilian white wine called Insolia, produced by Cusumano.  The Insolia grape is indigenous to Sicily.  The wine has notable aromas of tropical fruit, a good minerality, and a medium acidity that enhances the saltiness of the prosciutto and the sweetness of the melon.

The Butcher Block: Authetic Italian in Northeast Minneapolis

When we left Rome and moved to the States, well-intentioned family and friends often offered to take us to their favorite Italian restaurants.  Each time we were let down – the food was just not authentic.

For example, in Italy “chicken cacciatore” is not a pasta dish.  In fact, we don’t eat chicken in pasta.  We don’t eat it on pizza, either.  Ever.  We also don’t like big pieces of garlic in the food we eat.  Who wants to bite into a piece of garlic?  And, believe it or not, Stefano had never heard of alfredo sauce until he came to the States.

In short, there’s Italian food, and Italian-American food.  Don’t get us wrong – we aren’t here to criticize Italian-American food.  It is its own cuisine with its own rich history, and it should be appreciated accordingly.  However, it is not the same as Italian food, and when you are new to this country and nostalgic for the tastes from back home, the worst thing to do is to is to go to an Italian-American restaurant.  So we pretty much gave up on Italian restaurants, until we met Filippo.

Filippo Caffari is from our hometown of Rome, where he was a master-butcher until he and his family moved to the United States and Filippo began working in restaurants in New York and Minneapolis/St. Paul, and quickly became known as one of finest Italian chefs in the Midwest.

Filippo is now co-owner of The Butcher Block, a vibrant trattoria-style restaurant on Hennepin Avenue in northeast Minneapolis.  Full disclosure: we are biased. Filippo has become a dear friend, and Stefano can often be found on weekends helping out at the restaurant and serving wine to customers.  In Due Spaghetti, our intention isn’t to write objective restaurant reviews, it is to share the places we love with you.

Filippo’s dishes are authentic Italian, rustic in nature but refined and creative in execution.  The desserts prepared by Kristin, also a Butcher Block co-owner,  are comforting, but imaginative and elegant at the same time.

Perhaps the best part of dining at the Butcher Block is the way Filippo interacts with his clients.  He is a common presence in the dining hall, talking with customers, explaining his dishes, and seeking their opinions.  His is passionate about food, and he takes great satisfaction in providing pleasure to others through his meals.  His exuberant personality and quick sense of humor make his visit to your table a memorable one.

There’s a new menu out at the Butcher Block.  Here’s what we’re eating:

Stefano’s dinner – Savory Roman Classics
Antipasto: Salumi
Primo Piatto: Rigatoni Pajata
Secondo Piatto: Veal Liver Marsala
Wine: Sergio Barale Langhe Nebbiolo
Dolce: Crème Brulee

Cara’s dinner – Summertime at the Sea
Antipasto: Grilled Octopus
Primo Piatto: Black Monk Ravioli
Secondo Piatto: Pan Seared Ahi Tuna
Wine: Santa Tresa Rina Ianca
Dolce: Tiramisu Lemoncello

The Butcher Block
308 East Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55414-1016

The Butcher Block’s dinner and wine menus





Today Due Spaghetti reached 1,000 hits!  Thanks to everyone who has visited our blog these past few weeks.  We are having fun sharing our favorite food, wine and all things Italian with you, and we hope you will continue to follow us.

To celebrate this milestone, we made the quintessential Italian dessert, tiramisù.  The name tiramisù is derived from the verb tirare, the pronoun mi, and the direction , which when put together means “pick me up.”

The sweet and creamy mascarpone cheese, liquor, espresso and Lady Fingers are used in this traditional recipe.

6 large eggs, with yolks and whites separated
1 cup sugar
16 oz. mascarpone*
2 cups espresso, cooled**
1/2 cup milk
4 Tbls. brandy or cognac
1 bag Savoiardi (Lady Fingers)***
Baking cocoa

Combine 6 egg yolks, 2 Tbls. espresso, sugar, and brandy into large mixing bowl.  Beat with electric mixer 2-3 minutes.  Add mascarpone and beat 3-5 minutes until consistency is smooth. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine 6 eggs whites and a pinch of sugar.  Beat until mixture forms stiff peaks.

Gently fold egg whites into mascarpone mixture.

Pour the rest of the espresso and ½ cup milk into a different bowl.  Submerge lady fingers into the espresso and milk one by one, and layer on bottom of pan.  Soak the lady fingers just enough so that they are not crunchy.  Do not soak too much.  The lady finger should absorb the espresso without getting soggy or breaking.

Spread 1/2 of mascarpone mixture on top of the lady fingers.

Using a small wire strainer such as a tea strainer, sprinkle a light layer of cocoa over the mascarpone mixture.

Add a second layer of lady fingers, and top with another layer of mascarpone mixture and cocoa.

Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.


* We use Bel Gioioso Mascarpone, which is sold in 8 oz. tubs.

**We make espresso at home with our machinetta, or stove top espresso maker by Bialetti.

***We use Alessi brand Savoiardi.

La Pizza Rossa a Campo de’ Fiori

When you visit Rome, you will of course stop by Campo de’ Fiori, one of the most colorful and lively piazzas of the ancient city.  Its name means field of flowers, because during the middle ages it was a meadow.

Now, it is home to a bustling fish, vegetable and flower market each morning except Sunday, and to a vibrant night life in evenings, with bars, cafes and trattorias lining the piazza and its side streets.


Campo de’ Fiori has a more popular feel than other Roman piazzas. Historically it was a commercial piazza, with the market drawing daily crowds and the main streets that lead to the piazza named after artisans – Via dei Baullari (coffer-makers), Via dei Cappellari (hat-makers), Via dei Chiavari (key-makers) and Via dei Giubbonari (tailors).

At the center of Campo de’ Fiori is a statue of Giordano Bruno, an Italian philosopher and Dominican Friar who was accused of heresy and burned to death in the piazza by the Roman Inquisition.  The monument was originally supposed to be positioned so that Bruno’s face would be illuminated by the sun, and his back turned to the Vatican.  In response to protests by the Catholic Church, city officials agreed to turn the statue so that Bruno faced Vatican City.  As a result, his face is shadowed all day, adding to his ominous, scowling expression.

Visit the piazza in the early morning hours and peruse the open-air market. Take in the vegetables and seafood that are foreign to many of us, and listen with amusement at the locals exchange small talk and friendly jabs at one another.

Come back in the evening for a light meal and a glass of wine or two, and fantastic people-watching during a stroll through the piazza.

In between, be sure to stop by the storied Forno Campo de’ Fiori for a piece of pizza rossaForno translates to “oven” but means bakery, and is where Italians buy bread and other baked goods.  Usually, a forno will sell a few simple types of pizza.  Piazza bianca (“white” pizza) is just pizza crust with salt and olive oil on top, while pizza rossa (“red” pizza) has a thin layer of tomato and a dash of olive oil on the pizza crust.


Forno Campo de’ Fiori is in a far corner of the piazza, behind the fountain.  Follow Giordano Bruno’s gaze, or if you happen to come when the baking is happening, just follow your nose.  It is packed at all hours of the day, a tribute to its fame and the quality of its baked goods.

Pizza is baked on long trays, and then cut into pieces as large or small as the customer requests. When it is your turn, hold your hands up in the air parallel to one another, approximating the size of pizza you want.  You may be asked if you want your pizza aperta (open) or pieghata (folded).  It is easier to handle and less messy when folded.  It will come served to you in butcher paper for easy eating.

Source: Boots in the Oven

Pizza rossa is another perfect example of the simplicity of Italian food.  Just a few ingredients artfully put together make a delicious mid-day snack.


La Caprese

Do you remember Homer’s story The Odyssey, when Odysseus ties himself to his ship’s mast in order to not succumb to the call of the Sirens?

Reportedly, Odysseus was near the dramatic cliffs of the south coast of Isola di Capri, the fabulous isle located in Italy’s Bay of Naples, when the enchanting Sirens tried to lure him into those cliffs as they had many a sailor.

A different delicacy from that part of Italy, mozzarella di bufala, has been calling out to us lately, and unlike Odysseus we have succumbed with little restraint.

La Caprese, which takes its name from Isola di Capri is a classic dish that can be used as an appetizer or a second course.  Good mozzarella and flavorful tomatoes are a must.

Olive Oil
Ground black pepper

Slice your mozzarella 1/4″ thick.  Do the same to your tomatoes.  Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella, one overlapping  another, on a large plate.  Use a kitchen scissors to snip small pieces of basil, and sprinkle them liberally over the tomatoes and mozzarella.  Salt liberally, and grind black pepper on top.  Drizzle plenty of good extra-virgin olive on top.   Enjoy with good, crusty bread.

We paired our Caprese with a wine from the Campania region, where mozzarella di bufala is also from.   Fiano di Avellino is a white wine with a bright acidity.  The Fiano grape grows in the area’s volcanic soils, giving the wine a distinctive minerality.


Tonno e Fagioli

Too hot to cook!  103° degrees Farenheit (nearly 40° Celcius) in Minneapolis today, and dinner needed to be something simple and light. 

Tonno e fagioli, which our boys call Tuna-Bean Salad in English, was our answer.  The tuna and beans provide texture and substance, while the lemon juice, green onions and parsley add a light, fresh flavor to the salad.

4 5-oz. cans tuna in olive oil (not in water)
2 19-oz. cans of Cannellini beans
3 green onions, chopped
1 bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
Olive oil

Drain the excess oil off of the tuna, and place it into a large salad bowl.  Strain and rinse the Cannellini beans well.  Add the beans to the tuna in the salad bowl.  Add the chopped green onions, the parsley, the juice of two lemons and 3-4 generous pinches of salt.  Add enough extra virgin olive oil to render the salad moist, approximately 1/4 cup.  Stir until the salad is mixed well and the tuna has broken into small pieces, taking care to not damage the beans.  Let stand for 10 minutes, and serve.

Go the extra mile to find tuna packed in olive oil – it makes a difference.  Our favorite brand is Genova Tonno, which we find at Cub.  Any brand of Cannellini beans will work fine.  Don’t try to substitute other white beans, however.

No wine pairing tonight!  With this heat, we opted for iced tea.

Cena di Pesce

Summer finally arrived in Minneapolis, and the gorgeous, hot weather had us craving seafood.  A zuppa di pesce appetizer with prosecco, followed by spaghetti alle vongole as a the first course, gamberi alla griglia as a second course, and white wine from the south of Italy, made for a perfect summer evening dinner.

Zuppa di Pesce
Zuppa, as it sounds, means soup and pesce is Italian for fish and seafood.  A slice of bread toasted on the grill placed at the bottom of the dish absorbs the delicious broth.

Approximately 2 lbs. Seafood Medley, fresh or frozen.  Look for shellfish like clams and mussels, shrimp, squid, scallops.  Avoid crabmeat.
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup fish stock
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
3 pinches salt
Red Pepper
Olive oil
White wine

Cut the clove of garlic into 6-8 pieces, and sauté in olive oil until golden brown.  Add the seafood, butter, tomato sauce, fish stock and wine, salt and if you like a dash of black and red pepper.  Let the mixture simmer for 5-7 minutes, and then turn off heat.

Toast slices of rustic bread in the oven or on the grill.  Place one slice of bread at the bottom of a shallow soup bowl, and spoon the zuppa di pesce over it.  Sprinkle chopped parsley on top.  Serve hot.

Spaghetti alle Vongole
This is one of our all time favorite dishes.  Vongole is the Italian word for clams.  Clams from the Mediterranean are smaller than their cousins in the found in the Atlantic, off of the east coast of the United States.  If you can, buy the Mediterranean ones – they are a little more flavorful and delicate. If you can’t find Mediterranean clams, Littleneck clams work just fine.

2 lbs. clams
1 clove garlic
Olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup clam stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 pinches salt
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 lb. spaghetti

Rinse clams in cold water, and examine them to verify that they are all closed.  Discard any clams that are open; this is a sign that they are bad.  Set clams aside.  Cut the clove of garlic into 6-8 pieces, and sauté in olive oil until golden brown.  Add  clams, clam stock, wine, butter and salt.  Let simmer until all of the clams have opened up and some of the liquids have evaporated, approximately 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat.

In a separate pot, add spaghetti to boiling, salted water.  (See Methods section for more information about how to salt the pasta water).  Cook until al dente.  Drain.  Return to pot, and add the clam mixture.  Stir gently.  Serve in pasta plates garnished with a sprinkle of parsley.  Remember to put an empty plate or two on the table for the clam shells.

Gamberi alla Griglia
Skewered, grilled king tiger prawn were an easy and delicious end to our seafood dinner.

1 lb king tiger prawn, or fresh, uncooked jumbo shrimp (approximately 20)
Juice of 1 lemon
Wooden or metal skewers

Rinse prawns in cold water.  Place in a bowl.  Squeeze the juice of one lemon over them, and let marinade for approximately 20 minutes.

If you are using wooden skewers, soak them in water before using them to prevent them from burning on the grill.  Place prawns onto skewer by piercing them through their middle.

Place prawn skewers on grill at medium heat for approximately  5 minutes on each side, brushing the remainder of the marinade on them from time to time.

Remove from heat and serve.  You can use fancy silverware to remove the head and shell, or if you are at home with family and friends, just pull it off with your fingers and enjoy.

We began the dinner sipping a nice prosecco called Sergio, from the Veneto region of Italy.  Extra dry and crisp with green apple and citrus aromas, it complimented the shellfish and seafood with its minerality.

Next, we opened a bottle of Falanghina, a wine made in Benevento, in the Campania region of Italy that boasts a long history of seafood cuisine.  Falanghina has quickly become one of our favorite white wines, and this particular 2009 Falanghina from the Cantina del Taburno label was exceptional.   It is slightly sparkling and minerally, with a crisp acidity that allows the wine to pair beautifully with shellfish and crustaceans.

Pollo alla Griglia e Insalata di Rucola e Pomodorini

June 2 was the 150th celebration of the Festa della Repubblica Italiana, a national holiday commemorating the birth of Italy as a democratic nation.  It was on this date in 1946 when Italians flooded to the polls to vote for a republic form of government over a monarchy,  marking the fall Fascism and the exile of the reigning Savoia family to Switzerland.

Heads of state from all over the world were in Rome today to celebrate this event.  Among the events scheduled for them was a pranzo at Palazzo del Quirinale, home of the President of the Italian Republic.  I wonder what was on the menu?

We held our own celebration here at home with an appetizer of Taleggio and Roquefort cheese with blueberries, chicken on the grill, and arugula and cherry tomato salad.

Taleggio, made from cow’s milk, is one of the oldest Italian soft cheeses.  It has a mild flavor and creamy texture, which is wonderful spread on crackers.   Taleggio stands in contrast to Roquefort, a strong, tangy French blue cheese made from goat’s milk.

Chicken on this grill is an easy favorite of ours.  Buy a whole chicken in pieces, remove the skin, and once on the grill splash on a marinade of olive oil, wine, rosemary, garlic and salt.  See the Methods section for more information on the marinade.

The highlight of this meal, however, was the arugula and cherry tomato salad.  I’d had arugula on my mind every since reading a StarTribune article about fresh arugula available at a local farmer’s market.  Stefano’s mom used to grow arugula at her house by the sea, and we’d eat it all summer long.  This salad is one of the simplest and most delicious ways to serve arugula.  The sweet and tangy cherry tomatoes balance the sharp, peppery flavor of the arugula, while the olive oil adds a smooth, earthy flavor that pulls it all together.

If you can’t obtain fresh grown arugula, store-bought works just fine.  Add arugula to a salad bowl.  Throw in quartered or halved cherry tomatoes.  Sprinkle sea salt liberally over the salad, and drizzle plenty of olive oil on top.  Stir with salad tongs, and serve.

We opened a bottle of 2008 Italian Sauvignon blanc from the producer Villa Chiopris. The crisp acidity and fresh green fruit flavors of this wine paired well with the salad and chicken, and were quite interesting with the cheeses and blueberries as well.