Pennette al salmone

The Oscars are on tonight!  Movie stars, the red carpet, glamorous women in evening gowns, handsome men in black tie attire.  Even if you usually watch movies from Netflix or Red Box a year after they’ve come out, like we do, it’s still fun to crowd around the television to take it all in.

Nothing matches the allure of cinema italiano, though.  During the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Italian film makers, actors and actresses entertained audiences world wide with movies that are now iconic.  Federico Fellini gave us masterpieces such as La strada, Le notti di Cabiria, 8 1/2 and of course, La dolce vita.

Marcello Mastroianni & Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain in "La Dolce Vita"

The left-leaning and sometimes controversial Pier Paolo Pasolini, master of the commedia all’italiano Mario Monicelli, and Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) director Vittorio de Sica made memorable and award-winning Italian films, while comic actors Totò, and Alberto Sordi became household names in Italy and beyond by making audiences laugh.

Pier Paolo Pasolini

"Ladri di biciclette"

Alberto Sordi eating spaghetti in the film "Un americano a Roma"

Watch it here: Alberto Sordi – Macaroni io ve distruggo!

The Italian actresses, though, captured the imagination of viewers everywhere. Claudia Cardinale, star of Fellini’s 8 1/2, Monicelli’s I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street) and Luchino Visconti’s il Gattopardo (The Leopard), is still consideed one of Italy’s most glamorous actresses.

In 1961 Sophia Loren earned an Academy Award for her dramatic performance in De Sica’s film World War II film La ciociara (Two Women), the first actress to win that award for a foreign language film.

Like Loren, Gina Lollobrigida began her career in Italian film, and went on to make European and American films, including Never So Few with Frank Sinatra and Come September with Rock Hudson.

Claudia Cardinale in "Il gattopardo" (The Leopard)

Sophia Loren in "La ciociara" (Two Women)

Gina Lollobrigida and Rock Hudson in "Come September"

Watching these men and women of the big screen calls for an equally glamorous  Italian pasta.  Pennette al salmone is the perfect fit.  It’s easy and quick to prepare, but delicious and elegant in with its petite pasta and its creamy pink salmon sauce – the perfect accompaniment to a night at the Oscars.

Ingredients for 4
30 g (2 Tbsp) butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
70 g (1/3 cup) finely chopped onion
115 g (4 oz.) smoked salmon
1 large can (800 g or 28 oz) whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
100 g (just under 1/2 cup) crème fraîche*
1 bunch Italian parsley
1 package (500g or 16 oz.) pennette**
Dry white wine

*Crème fraîche is a cultured cream used for cooking.  In Italy, we use a similar product called panna, but it is not available locally.  If you cannot find either option, heavy cream will work.

**Pennette are smaller than the more commonly known pasta, penne.  Ours were made by Garofalo, an Italian pasta company, and were called Penne Mezzani Rigate.

Place butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add the smoked salmon, broken into small pieces.  Mince the Italian parsley.  Add a large pinch to the salmon, and set the rest aside.  Sauté the salmon and parsley for 5 more minutes.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to produce a smooth sauce.  Add a dash of dry white wine, salt liberally, and let simmer for 15 minutes.

While the sauce simmers, bring a medium pot of water to boil.  Toss in a handful of salt (preferably coarse), and add the pasta.  Cook to pasta al dente according to the time on the package.  While the pasta cooks, add the crème fraîche to the sauce, stir it in well, and turn off the heat. Taste for salt, and add if needed.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and return it immediately to the pot.  Pour in the salmon sauce, and stir well until all of the pasta is coated.  Serve right away with a sprinkling of Italian parsley on top.

Download a pdf of Pennette al salmone.

Cioccolata calda

There’s hot chocolate, and then there’s Italian hot chocolate.

The first time you taste an Italian hot chocolate, or cioccolata calda, you will be amazed by its dense, creamy texture and its deep, rich chocolate flavor.  Far from the watery, pale hot chocolate of many parts of the world, the Italian version is rich, velvety and creamy.  It’s the Maserati to our Chevrolet.  The Ferragamo to our Eddie Bauer.  The Caffe Illy to our Folgers.

It all starts with high quality ingredients – real dark chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar, whole milk.  A touch of cornstarch renders it thick and creamy.  The version below is intentionally light on sugar, to let the deep chocolate flavors resonate.  With a dollop of whipped cream, we think it is perfect.   But if you prefer it more sweet, add up to double the sugar.  You can also add a dash or two of cinnamon, or red hot chili powder for heat.  For an adult version of cioccolata calda, try it with a shot of dark rum.

It’s a perfect treat to make for your loved ones, on Valentine’s Day or any other day.

for two mugs

50 g (approx. 2 oz or 4 Tbsp) dark chocolate*
25 g (approx. 1 oz or 2 Tbsp) unsweetened cocoa powder
25 g (approx. 1 oz or 2 Tbsp) sugar**
10 g (approx. 1/3 oz or 2 1/4 tsp) cornstarch
500g (2 cups) whole milk

*We used Ghirardelli Intense Dark Midnight Reverie, with 86% Cacao.  Any dark chocolate of your choice will work, however.

**Add up to 50 g (2 oz. or 4 Tbsp) of sugar for a sweeter beverage.

Unwrap the dark chocolate and place it into a food processor.  Pulse the chocolate repeatedly until it is finely ground.  Set aside.

Add all of the dry ingredients to a small mixing bowl and stir together.  Warm half of the milk in the microwave.  Add the warm milk one tablespoon at a time to the cocoa-sugar-cornstarch mixture, stirring well so as to prevent lumps from forming.  Slowly incorporate all of the warmed milk into the dry ingredients.

Pour the remaining milk into a saucepan and place it on the stove over medium heat.  Add the milk and cocoa mixture, and then the ground dark chocolate.  Stir continuously with a wire whisk until it thickens and boils.  Let it boil for 1 minute, and then remove from heat.

Serve hot with a dollop of whipped cream.

Download a pdf copy of Cioccolata calda

Pizza con le patate (Rosemary Potato Pizza)

A stop by our local panificio, where bread is made and sold, nearly always ended in a piece or two of pizza al taglio along with our loaf of bread.

Rome is famous for its pizza al taglio, and there are pizza shops that sell literally dozens of varieties.  Panifici, however, typically sell just a few types – perhaps pizza bianca with no toppings at all except olive oil and sea salt, pizza rossa with just crust and tomato sauce, pizza con le zucchine with grated zucchini and mozzarella, and one of our favorites – pizza con le patate, or rosemary potato pizza.

We’ve recreated that pizza at home, and love to make it on a lazy weekend, for family gatherings or for parties.  It is delicious right out of the oven, but it tastes great at room temperature too, so it can be made ahead of time.

In our version,  paper thin slices of potato and grated fresh mozzarella cheese are layered on top of a thin pizza crust, and the whole thing is adorned with fresh rosemary leaves, sea salt and ground black pepper.  A drizzle of olive oil is the final touch.

The potatoes cook along with the crust, the mozzarella melts and turns golden brown on top, and the rosemary releases its fragrant aroma.  Gotta run – ours looks and smells done!

for one 9×13 in pan

Pizza crust
320 grams (2 and 1/2 cups) flour*, plus extra.
8 grams (1 and 1/2 tsp.) salt
20 grams (5 tsp) active dry yeast
250 ml (1 cup) warm water
olive oil

Potato Pizza Topping
1 and a half medium potatoes
1 tub of fresh mozzarella (226 grams, 8 ounces)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1-2 cloves of finely minced garlic (optional)
ground black pepper
olive oil

* If possible, use Italian type 00 flour, found in specialty stores and online vendors.  We use King Arthur Italian Style flour.

Mix the flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl.  In a separate container, add the yeast to the warm water.  Stir until the yeast is fully dissolved.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Slowly pour the water and yeast in, and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is well mixed.  The dough will probably be sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a smooth, well-floured work surface.  Mix the dough by hand, incorporating more flour as needed to keep it from sticking.  Knead by hand for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy.

Clean the bowl you mixed the dough in and drizzle olive oil inside it.  Gather the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl, rotating it so that it becomes coated with oil on all sides.  Cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm location to rise for one hour.

While the dough rises, prepare your toppings.  Drain the mozzarella and grate it through the largest holes of a grater.  Wash the rosemary and pull the leaves off of the stems.  Peel the potatoes and slice them very thinly.  We use a vegetable slicer at 1/16th inch to help achieve thin, regular slices. Rub a thin layer of olive oil on the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan.  Preheat the oven to 350° F, 180° C.

When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Punch it down and stretch it into a rectangular shape.  Place it on the baking tray, and using your fingers and the heel of your hand, press it evenly into the baking pan, working it towards the edges and corners while maintaining a consistent thickness.

Layer the potato slices over the entire surface of the pizza, overlapping the slices only slightly at the edges.  Sprinkle the mozzarella over the top of the pizza. If you choose to use garlic, add it now.  Salt and pepper liberally, and then toss the rosemary leaves on top. Complete your pizza with a thin drizzle of olive oil on top.

Bake at 350° F, 180° C for approximately 20-25 minutes, until the mozzarella browns and the crust turns golden brown.

Download a pdf of the recipe Pizza con le patate