Peperonata

Mens sana in corpore sano.  A sound mind in a healthy body.

This Latin phrase, which originates from the 1st century Roman poet Juvenal’s  Satire X and is attributed to the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales, reflects the symbiotic relationship between physical health and mental acuity.

Regrettably, Italian food in the U.S. has garnered a reputation for being the least healthy of our myriad of ethnic cuisines.  Worse than Mexican, Chinese, or Middle Eastern.  Italo-American food is too often characterized by pasta, cheese and tomatoes, rich sauces, cured meats and heaping bread baskets.

This is simply not what authentic Italian food is all about.  Each region of Italy specializes in foods native to its land.  Food is locally sourced, and quality is valued.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are staple foods.  Pasta is balanced by rice and other grains, and seafood and legumes are valued sources of protein, while meat is consumed more sparingly than it is stateside.  Processed food is much less common, and homemade meals are prioritized.

With this in mind, this week’s recipe is a healthy, vegetable-based dish that Stefano’s mom Maria often makes.  Although it is a simple recipe, peperonata is a flavorful and beautiful marriage of red and yellow peppers, potatoes and onions, cooked slowly until the vegetables yield and release their lovely flavors.

Ingredients
serves 6-8

1 red pepper
1 orange pepper
1 yellow pepper
3 medium potatoes
1 small onion
1/2 cup strained tomatoes, such as Pomi
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and Pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper, if desired

Directions
Peel the potatoes and chop them into half-inch cubes.  Core and seed the peppers and cut them into one-inch square pieces.  Chop the onion into half-inch to one-inch pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the vegetables and sauté for 5 minutes.  If you like a bit of heat, add a dash of crushed red pepper.  When the onions and peppers soften pour in the white wine and strained tomatoes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and let cook for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.  If needed, add a little water to the peperonata to prevent it from sticking, and turn the heat down.  Remove the lid for the final five to ten minutes in order to allow any excess liquid to cook off.

Serve hot or at room temperature.  Peperonata stores well in the refrigerator and can be reheated easily for several days.

Download a pdf of the recipe Peperonata

Pesce spada al cartoccio

Some Due Spaghetti followers try each of our recipes diligently.  They email questions about ingredients, quantities, and procedures.  They tell us about memories they have of eating those same foods, and sometimes they share their family’s version of them with us.  Other readers just enjoy reading our posts, admiring the photos, learning about Italian food and culture and living vicariously through the blog, which is perfectly fine, too.

If you fall into the latter category, you might, just might, want to give this recipe a try.  It is truly exceptional.  Even if this is the one Due Spaghetti recipe that you ever make, it will be worth it.  It is elegant, pretty, creative, and absolutely delicious.  It can be prepared in advance and kept warm in the oven, making it ideal for a dinner party.  It’s both filling and nutritious.  It’s sure to be a hit with your guests.  What more can we say?  We’ll likely never post a better recipe.

We wish we could take credit for this dish, but we can’t.  We don’t have a story to to tell  about how Stefano grew up eating it, his grandma having taught his mom, who in turn taught us.  Until today, we had actually never even had it before, at least not exactly like this.  We simply came across the recipe in Il cucchiaio d’argento, or The Silver Spoon, Italy’s most authoritative cookbook.  There is a gorgeous full-page photo of it on p. 744 that caught our attention, and we flagged the recipe to try someday.

You see, we love seafood.  Touched by four seas (the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian, Adriatic, Ionian), it’s not surprising that fish are an important part of Italian cuisine.  Pesce spada, or swordfish, is one of the most prestigious.  There are six different swordfish recipes in Il cucchiaio d’argento, but the recipe pesce spada al cartoccio, featuring swordfish steaks accompanied by fresh clams, mussels, shrimp and the colorful southern Italian mix of tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, red chili peppers, basil and flat leaf Italian parsley, steals the show.

This foto of three fishermen, Daniele, Gaetano and Andrea, can be found on the Italian fishing website http://www.biggame.it/story/year-2004/palamito-pesce-spada-01a.htm, along with the story of how they caught their pesce spada after an entire night of waiting.

The al cartoccio method of cooking fish is healthy and renders the fish incredibly flavorful.  Cartoccio means parcel or pouch in English.  There is not an English phrase to describe this cooking method; we’ve borrowed from the French en papillote.  It means  to wrap the fish in parchment paper or aluminum foil, or sometimes both, and bake it until cooked.  It requires little to no oil, and renders the fish moist, tender and bursting with flavor.

We used a little less oil than the original recipe called for, a little more garlic, and we added a little dry, white wine.  Otherwise, we followed the Cucchiaio d’argento recipe exactly.  Buy the freshest seafood you can find, and the most colorful herbs and vegetables.   It will turn out perfect.

Ingredients for 4
4 swordfish steaks
250 grams (9 ounces) mussels
250 grams (9 ounces) clams
150 grams (5 ounces) raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 medium tomatoes
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red chili pepper (alternatively, crushed red pepper)
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley
1 bunch basil
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 dash dry white wine
Salt to taste

Directions

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C).  Typically, shellfish today comes already scrubbed clean.  However, if yours aren’t, scrub the clams and scrub and de-beard the mussels.  If any clams or mussels are open, shut them.  Discard any that do not shut, or that reopen after you’ve shut them.  Mince the garlic.  Chop the tomatoes coarsely.  Cut the pepper lengthwise into strips 2 or 3 cm. wide.  Chop the chili pepper finely.  Preserve as many of the seeds as you wish – the more seeds you use, the hotter it will be.

Cook the shellfish
Place the garlic and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a wide saucepan with a lid.  Sauté the garlic in the oil until it turns a golden color.  Pour in a dash of dry white wine, add the clams and the mussels, and cover.  Let the shellfish cook covered over medium until the clams and mussels open up, approximately 4 minutes.  Uncover, turn heat down and let simmer one more minute, and then remove from heat.  Discard any clams or mussels that did not open.  Separate the shellfish from the liquid, preserving both.  Set aside.

Cook the shrimp
Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a new pan.  You will eventually be adding the shellfish, their liquid and the vegetables, so choose a pan that can accommodate these.  Add the shrimp, and cook over medium heat until they turn pink, rotating them so that both side cook.  This will take just a few minutes.  Watch them carefully, turn them as soon as one side is pink, and avoid over-cooking so that they do not become tough.  Add the mussels, clams, yellow pepper, chili pepper, basil and parsley, and pour in the liquid from the shellfish.  Simmer covered for 5 minutes and uncovered for an additional 3 minutes, adding salt to taste.

Sear the swordfish
Add the final tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet and bring it to temperature over medium heat.  Add your swordfish steaks to the skillet, and sprinkle salt on top of them.  Cook for about 3-5 minutes, and then turn, salt the cooked side, and let the bottom side cook for another 3-5 minutes.  The outside will be cooked to a golden sear, but the inside will still be rare.

The final step – preparing the cartoccio
Tear four long, rectangular strips of aluminum paper, each long enough to contain a swordfish steak and the fish topping.  Position the foil lengthwise on a counter top.  Place a swordfish steak in the center of the foil, and top with 1/4 of the seafood.  Bring the long sides of the foil together at the top, and fold one side over the other, creating a seal.  Then, take one end of the foil, carefully fold it over and roll it towards the center of the parcel.  Do the same on the other end, creating a neat foil package.  Place each package onto a baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 10 minutes.

Serving the pesce spada al cartoccio
If helpful, the pesce spada al cartoccio can be left unopened in a warm oven for up to 30 minutes, or perhaps even longer, before serving. When you are ready to eat, place each parcel onto a serving plate, and carefully open the foil up, revealing the delicious seafood inside. Eat the fish right out of the foil, with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the delicious juices. Don’t forget to place an extra dish or two on the table so that your guests can discard their clam and mussel shells.

Download a pdf of the recipe Pesce spada al cartoccio

La pizza dolce (Rustic Olive Oil Cake)

“Olive oil,” Stefano’s dad Andrea used to tell us, “is good for you.”  He didn’t qualify his claim, or finish his proclamation with …in moderation.  It was simply, unconditionally, good for us.

This was a lucky thing, since we never wanted for olive oil.  The olive trees on the family’s two different plots of land were prolific producers of olives, and in turn, the nuts of that fruit yielded enough oil for Andrea and Maria’s household, our household, and Stefano’s brother Marco’s household, with more left over for the friends and relatives that had helped with the olive harvest.

I don’t think I ever saw Stefano’s mom, Maria, cook with any oil other than olive oil.  Her salads and vegetables glistened in it, her sauces simmered in it, and her meats nearly bathed in it.  She sometimes fried in it.  She even baked with it.

It was perhaps Maria’s olive oil cake that Stefano missed the most when we moved to the U.S.  There simply weren’t other breakfast options here that worked for him.  Yes, olive oil cake is a breakfast food.  It’s not only

a breakfast food – it works very well with afternoon coffee – but it is very special as a breakfast food.  So, after a few weeks of trying out boxed cereals, muffins and other pastries, we called Maria and asked her to give us the recipe for la pizza dolce, or sweet pizza, as it is called in Italy.

There are hundreds of variations of la pizza dolce, which is sometimes also called la pizza dolce di Pasqua or la pizza di Pasqua, reflecting its association with Easter.  This recipe is simple and pure.  Flour, sugar, eggs, and olive oil.  Something to help it rise.  Stir it all together by hand, gently.  Before you know it, the kitchen is filled with the sweet, earthy aroma of this golden-hued, humble cake.

Maria used to serve it in the morning before school to Stefano and his siblings, together with latte and just a splash of caffè.  On Easter morning, as a special treat, they enjoyed it with uova sode (hard-boiled eggs) and salame corallina.

Epilogue: As we write this, our oldest son, Sean, comes in from outdoors.  Seeing the pizza dolce cooling on the cupboard, he says, “Hey mom, can we have that for breakfast tomorrow?” 

Ingredients
3 eggs, the best you can find.
300 g (approx. 2 and 1/2 cup) flour
300 g (1 and 1/2 cup) sugar
250 ml (1 cup) milk
100 ml (approx. 1/3 cup) olive oil*
1 pouch of Pane degli Angeli, or substitute with 1 Tbsp. baking powder

*you can reduce the oil to 1/4 cup for a lighter version of this cake.

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C) and butter and flour a 9 in. (20-25 cm) round cake pan.  Crack the eggs into a medium mixing bowl and beat by hand.  Add the milk and the olive oil, and whisk together until well mixed.

Add the sugar, and stir well.  If you are using Pane degli Angeli, pass it first through a small hand strainer to remove any lumps, and add it to the flour.  If you are using baking soda, add it directly to the flour.  Mix the flour into the batter, stirring gently with a wire whisk.

Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan, and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan.  Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.

Download a pdf of the recipe La pizza dolce

La pasta fatta in casa

This week, Due Spaghetti reached and surpassed 25,000 hits!

When we started Due Spaghetti last May, we really didn’t know what it would bring, or even how long it would last.  We just knew that a lot of people were curious about Italian food, wine and culture, and that we enjoyed sharing our experiences with them!  Over the past 9 months, through Due Spaghetti we’ve thought about food differently.  We’ve researched recipes and marveled over regional variations.  We’ve expanded our own repertoire and established an even higher standard of quality for our dinners.  We’ve very likely learned as much as we’ve taught.

We’ve also found a community of people from all parts of the world who share our passion for Italian food and wine.  Some of them are Italian food bloggers that we now follow regularly, others have roots in Italy just like we do, and can relate to the recipes that we post and the memories we write about.  And then, there are family, friends and colleagues whom we see and interact with everyday, who every once in a while surprise us by mentioning something they saw or a recipe they tried on Due Spaghetti!

“How should we celebrate,” we asked on our Facebook page?  Due Spaghetti follower Lisa, who spent summers in Rome as a child and now lives in the U.S., very appropriately responded, ‘na spaghettata!

It was good advice.  Our inaugural post, Spaghetti al pomodoro e basilico, featured spaghetti.  Shortly thereafter, we asked Rome-born chef Filippo Caffari of the Butcher Block in Minneapolis to explain to our readers exactly what Due Spaghetti means, and he told us, molto emphatically, with lots of gestures.  It’s fitting, therefore, that we commemorate 25,000 hits with a mouth-watering plate of pasta.

We didn’t choose spaghetti, though.  Instead, we used our Sunday afternoon to show our readers how to make homemade pasta, or pasta fatta in casa.  Many Italian food bloggers and cookbook authors have broached the subject with readers.  We consulted our favorite cookbooks, checked the recipes of our fellow bloggers, and of course, called Stefano’s mom, Maria.

The thing about homemade pasta, though, is that no recipe is the same.  Flour and eggs – that’s all that’s called for.  But the ratio of flour to eggs varies from recipe to recipe, because factors such as temperature and humidity vary from location to location and from season to season.  The homemade egg pasta we make in Minneapolis in winter will require less flour than the pasta fatta in casa that Maria makes in Rome in summer.

The most comprehensive explanation of variations in pasta fatta in casa recipes is in Giorgio Locatelli’s cookbook, Made in Italy.  However, the best description of how to mix, knead, roll out and cut pasta comes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  The recipe that works the best for our climate is straight from Il Cucchiaio d’Argento, or the Silver Spoon.

Ingredients for 4
2 eggs
170 grams (1 and 2/3 cups) flour, plus more as needed

If possible, use an Italian type 00 flour, such as King Arthur Italian-Style
flour. Otherwise, use all-purpose, unbleached flour. And, buy the best eggs you can
find. Farm fresh eggs are superior in taste and add a beautiful yellow color to your
pasta.

Preparing the dough
Pour the flour onto a clean, smooth work surface. Form the flour into a mound, and then create a wide, deep well in the center. Crack the eggs into a small container and beat lightly with a fork. Pour the eggs into the center of the flour, and use a fork to mix, gradually drawing more flour into the eggs until the eggs are no longer runny. Set the fork aside and continue mixing with your hands until the dough is smooth. If needed, incorporate more flour – the dough should be smooth, but not sticky.  Set the dough aside, wash your hands and clean your work surface.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes, using the palm of your hand to press the dough down. Fold the dough and press again, turning the dough in the same direction. Press, fold and turn.

After 10 minutes, the dough will be smooth and elastic. Cover it in plastic wrap, and let it sit for an hour.

Making Pasta
After an hour, your dough will be ready to be pressed and cut into pasta. You can either use a pasta machine, or you can roll and cut the pasta by hand. We opted to roll and cut by hand.

If you use a pasta machine, separate your dough into four equal pieces. Attach your pasta machine to the edge of our work surface, set out dish clothes to place your pasta on, and prepare some flour to have handy. One part of your pasta machine is designed to produce smooth sheets of pasta, and the other side is where you cut the sheets of pasta into fettuccine or the square-shaped spaghetti alla chitarra. You will first make smooth sheets of pasta. Set your pasta machine on the widest setting, and feed the pasta through the press. Fold the pasta sheet in half, and run it through a second time at the widest setting. Set this pasta sheet onto the dish cloth, and repeat for the remaining three pieces of dough. Sprinkle flour onto your sheets of pasta if needed to prevent it from sticking.

Once you have finished pressing all four pieces of dough, narrow the press by one notch, and run each piece of dough through the press again. Continue narrowing the press and passing the dough through until it is the thickness you prefer. Then, take each sheet of pasta and run it through the opposite end of the pasta maker, whatever width you prefer. As the fettuccine or spaghetti alla chitarra come through the machine, set them onto a cutting board or other surface, using your fingers to arrange them into a bird’s nest shape.

If you decide to roll out and cut your pasta by hand, sprinkle flour onto a broad, clean
work surface. Separate the dough into two or four pieces, depending on how large your work surface is. Use a rolling pin or a dowel, roll out the dough into an oblong form, flipping it over from time to time and using as much flour as you need to keep it from sticking. When the sheet of pasta is as thin as you like, set it aside and roll out the next piece.

After all of the dough has been rolled into pasta sheets, it is time to cut the pasta. Take a sheet of dough, and fold it loosely into a flat roll about three inches
wide. Using a cleaver or a similar rectangular, smooth chef’s knife, cut the roll into
ribbons of pasta. Use your fingers to lift and separate the pasta, and arrange it into a
bird’s nest shape.


Cooking your pasta
Cook your homemade egg pasta right away in boiling, salted water. The pasta will cook quickly, in 2-3 minutes. Drain the pasta carefully and dress it in your favorite sauce. We used a ragù sauce left over from meatballs that Stefano had made earlier in the week.

Find a Sunday afternoon, equip yourself with good flour, quality eggs, a clean work surface, and either a pasta maker or a rolling pin, and give it a try.  It’s not that hard, if you follow the tips we’ll give you below.  And there is simply nothing like a plate of pasta fatta in casa.

Download a pdf of Pasta fatta in casa