La pasta al forno di Nonna Pierina (Nonna Pierina’s Oven-Baked Pasta)

Nonna Pierina was, among many things, a very good cook.

Pasta al forno

Pierina was was born in 1922 into a poor, farming family in Piglio, a small village in the Apennine mountains about 50 kilometers east of Rome.

PiglioShe married Nonno Mario in 1943,  wearing a simple dress and home-made shoes constructed of cardboard, which unfortunately did not hold together in the rain that fell.  World War II arrived a few years later and Nonno Mario was often away, having joined other pro-Ally partigiani, partisan fighters in the Italian Resistance Movement opposed to the occupying German forces and the Italian Fascist regime.

During that period of hardship, when food was scarce and medicine was simply unavailable, Nonna Pierina lost her first two children during their infancy.  Later, she was blessed with the birth of two daughters, Stefano’s mother Maria, and his aunt Ivana.  In the early 1960s, when Maria was nearly a teenager, Pierina and Mario moved to the outskirts of Rome, and began life in the city.

Nonna Pierina

All along, Nonna Pierina cooked.  Her style was simple and rustic.  She made homemade fettuccine and gnocchi and dressed the with a simple ragù, or a with a sauce made with the wild fowl and game that Mario hunted.  She knew how to identify edible forest mushrooms and made sauce with those, too.  She knew all of the field greens native to her birthplace, like cicoria, cime di rape, ramoracce, and others that would require a field guide to identify and translate, and could cook them up like none other.  Later, when she and Mario bought a small plot of land in the pianura pontina, reclaimed marshlands about a kilometer away from the Mediterranean Sea south of Rome, she gathered snails and cooked them in a savory sauce.

pasta al forno

On special occasions, Nonna Pierina prepared pasta al forno.  There are tens of hundreds of baked pasta recipes across Italy, but hers was special.  She always used rigatoni, enriched her meat sauce with peas, and added pieces of hard boiled egg and prosciutto cotto (ham) along with the usual mozzarella and parmigiano.  It was always baked perfectly, with a crisp and chewy top.      

For the sauce
Two 28 0z. cans of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 and 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 medium carrot
1 celery stalk
1/2 of a medium yellow onion
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bag frozen peas, 1 lb or 500 g
Salt to taste

Rigatoni, one box
Deli ham, approximately 1/2 lb, or 250 grams
4 hard-boiled eggs
2 ovoline of fresh mozzarella, in water (one tub)
1 cup grated Parmigiano*
A large baking dish

*Buy a wedge of real Parmigiano Reggiano, and grate it finely.  Alternatively, you can use pre-grated Parmigiano Reggiano, sometimes sold in tubs.  Bags of Parmesan sold in supermarkets are typically not authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, and please no green Kraft shaker parmesan!

Prepare the sauce
Chop the carrot, celery and onion and put them in a saucepan along with the olive oil.  Sauté over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until the onion becomes translucent.  Add the ground beef, along with salt to taste.  Allow the ground beef to brown slowly, stirring frequently so that the beef crumbles and cooks finely.  Add the tomatoes, preferably passing them through a food mill to produce a smooth sauce.  Bring to a simmer, and then add the white wine. Cook uncovered for 45 minutes or more at a low simmer, stirring occasionally. If the sauce should thicken too much, a small amount of water can be added. When done, remove from heat, allow to cool slightly.  While still warm, taste for salt and add if needed. Set aside.

Prepare the cheeses, egg and ham
While the sauce is cooking, drain the mozzarella and cut it into small pieces, place it into a bowl and set it aside.  If your parmigiano is not grated, do so now and set aside.  Cut the hard boiled egg into small pieces, place the egg into a bowl, and set aside.  Do the same for the ham.

Cook the rigatoni
Bring a large pot of water to boil, toss in a handful of salt, and cook the pasta for slightly more than half of the cooking time specified for al dente  on the box.  Drain the pasta well, then return it to the pot.  Stir in a few ladles of sauce, to keep it from sticking.

pasta al forno

Assemble and Bake
Arrange your workspace so that the sauce, pasta, cheeses, egg and ham are within easy reach of your baking pan.  Preheat the oven to 180° C, or 350° F.  Using a ladle, spoon a shallow layer of sauce at the bottom of the pan.  Add a layer of rigatoni, and cover again with sauce.  Add 1/3 of the egg, ham, mozzarella and parmigiano.  Add another layer of rigatoni, cover again with sauce, and then again add  another 1/3 of the egg, ham, mozzarella and parmigiano.  Repeat for one final layer.

pasta al fornopasta al forno

Bake for approximately 25 to 30 minutes, until the cheeses on top are brown and the rigatoni on top is crispy.  Allow the pasta al forno to sit for 15 minutes before serving.  If you prefer, the assembled pasta al forno can be frozen unbaked.  Allow it to thaw before baking.

Tip: use a kitchen scissors to cut through the top layer of cheese and pasta, and then use a spatula or a knife to cut through to the bottom or the pan.

Bucatini all’amatriciana

Se magna pè campà, no’ pe’ crepà. One cannot always renounce good food, especially Stefano’s bucatini all’amatriciana.

l'amatricianaAs Romans, we were appalled to discover recently that Due Spaghetti was missing a recipe for l’amatriciana, one of Rome’s three quintessential pasta dishes, along with cacio e pepe and la carbonara.   Che vergogna.  How embarrassing.

Ironically, there is a debate around whether l’amatriciana even originates in Rome.  Some maintain that it comes from the city of Amatrice, located near the border between Lazio and Abruzzo.  There are also variations on its name – some dropping the “a” and simply calling it matriciana, as was the case in Stefano’s childhood home in Rome. Regardless of it’s history, it’s a Roman classic now, on the menu of every traditional osteria and trattoria in the Eternal city.

There are a few rules about l’amatriciana that simply cannot be broken.

  • No onions and no garlic.  Don’t you dare.  Actually, some do use one or the other, but the original recipe calls for neither.
  • Use guanciale, not pancettaGuanciale is an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks. Its name is derived from guancia, Italian for cheek.  This is why you don’t need onion or garlic – you get all the flavor you need from the guanciale.  Check your local Italian deli for guanciale, or order it online.
  • The only acceptable pasta to accompany l’amatriciana are bucatini, spaghetti or rigatoni.  We’re not sure why this is important, but it is.  Bucatini are our favorite – a thick spaghetti with a hollow center, known as the buco or hole.
  • Top with pecorino, not parmigiano.

For a truly authentic experience, enjoy your amatriciana with a glass of red table wine from Lazio such as Roma, from Castello di Torre in Pietra, a blend of Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Cesanese grapes.  You may even want to play some traditional Roman music, like this.


(Serves 4)

Whole canned tomatoes (approx. 1 kg or 28 oz), preferably San Marzano
Olive oil
Half a glass of dry white wine
Red chile pepper flakes
One package (approx. 500g or 16 oz.) bucatini.  (Or, substitute spaghetti or rigatoni)


Dice the guanciale into pieces of approximately .5 cm (1/4 inch) thick, 2.5 cm (1 inch) long.  Set aside.

Fill a medium size pot with water, and put on heat to bring to a boil.
Pass the canned tomatoes through a food mill to eliminate seeds and pulp.  If you don’t have a food mill, blend the tomatoes in a blender to render it smooth and free of chunks.

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the guanciale.  After a few minutes, add red pepper flakes to taste.  When the guanciale takes on a golden brown color, add half a glass of white wine, and let it cook off.


Add the tomatoes, and salt to taste.  Let cook for 10-15 minutes until the sauce thickens and takes on a deep red color.


In the meanwhile, when the water boils, toss a handful of salt into the water and add the bucatini.  Cook to al dente according to the directions on the package.

When cooked, drain the pasta well, and then add it to the skillet with the sauce.  Stir together over low heat.  Serve hot with pecorino grated on top.

l'amatricianaQuando se magna e se beve semo tutti uguali.  When we eat and we drink, we are all equals.


Spaghetti con pesce spada e pistacchi – Swordfish Spaghetti with Pistachio

For seafood lovers like ourselves, our recent trip to Sicily was culinary nirvana.  At Bed & Breakfast Mammaliturchi we feasted on one amazing meal after another, each authentically with passione and orgoglio by hosts Cico and Lola.

We devoured:

  • Spaghetti al nero de seppia (Spaghetti with Black Squid Ink)
  • Spaghetti alle vongole (Spaghetti with Clams)
  • Pasta ai gamberi rossi (Pasta with Shrimp)
  • Cozze al pomodoro (Mussels in tomato broth)
  • Ostriche gratinate al forno (Baked oysters with breadcrumbs)
  • Spigola arrosto (Grilled Sea Bass)
  • Grigliata di pesce (Seafood on the Grill)
  • Gamberi rossi al pomodoro (Shrimp in tomato sauce)

One of our favorite dishes, Spaghetti al pesce spada con pistacchi (Swordfish Spaghetti with Pistachio), captured the essence of Sicily, with the uniting of freshly caught swordfish with ground Sicilian Bronte pistachios.

Cico served the pasta with a Sicialian white wine, Inzolia della vineria Principe di Corleone.  He generously shared his recipe with us to pass along to our Due Spaghetti readers.

Spaghetti pesce spada e pistacchi

one package of spaghetti
2 fillets of swordfish, preferably fresh caught
Olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
One large cherry tomato, or several smaller ones
One bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
Ground black pepper
Sea salt
Crushed red pepper
Dry white wine
Toasted bread crumbs*
Ground Bronte pistachios**

*Quickly toasted plain, unseasoned breadcrumbs on the stove top in a small amount of olive oil, minced garlic, and grated tuna roe.  Remove from heat, let cool, and store in an air-tight container.  (Tuna roe, also called bottarga di tonno, is expensive and difficult to locate in the U.S..  Bottarga di muggine can be substituted, or it can be omitted entirely.)

**Bronte pistachios are a high quality Sicilian pistachio grown in the region of Bronte. If needed, regular pistachios can be used and ground at home in a food processor.

Dice the swordfish into small cubes.  Set aside.

Mince the garlic and the parsley.  Add each to a large skillet (big enough to accommodate the cooked spaghetti), along with a few tablespoons olive oil, a half-cup of water, a few dashes of ground black pepper, a few dashes of salt, and crushed red pepper to taste.  Sauté over medium-low heat for several minutes. Add the cubed swordfish and the white wine and simmer for about 5 minutes, adding more white wine only if needed.

Remove the swordfish and set aside.  Slice the cherry tomato(es) and add them to the skillet.  If you have dry grated tuna roe, add a pinch or two.  Let cook for 5-10 more minutes, pressing on the tomato until it deconstructs.  Add more white wine and simmer to make a sort of reduction sauce.  Add a tablespoon or two of crushed pistachios and another tablespoon or two of toasted bread crumbs, and a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Return the swordfish to the skillet, mix everything well, and turn off heat.

Cook the spaghetti in salted, boiling water according to the directions on the package.  When al dente, remove immediately and drain well, saving one cup of the cooking water.  Add the spaghetti to the skillet, turn the heat to high, and toss the pasta with the swordfish mixture, adding the cooking water gradually if needed to provide moisture.

Serve immediately with a dusting of bread crumbs and ground pistachio.

Spaghetti pesce spada con pistacchiSpaghetti pesce spada con pistacchi

Buon appetito da mammaliturchi!

~Cico e Lola

Pasta alla norma

We’ve been trip planning. This July we will return to Italy, stopping in Rome to visit family and then proceeding on to Sicily.


The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily has been at the crossroads of Western civilization for over 2,500 years, due to its strategic location in the middle of Mediterranean trade routes.

Ruled at different times in history by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Germans, Spanish, and finally Italians, Sicily boats a spectacular cultural heritage evident today in its architecture, music, and of course, its cuisine.

Image from

Image from

Sicily has a stunning variety of landscapes to match its cultural richness: inland mountain ranges, desert-like expanses reminiscent of the Middle East, the lava-spewing volcano Mount Etna, and pristine white sand beaches with merging with the sparkling green-blue sea.

EtnaFrom Catania to Palemo, and the cities and villages in between: Syracusa, Ragusa, Agrigento, Sciacca, Marsala, Trapani, San Vito lo Capo.  We’ll soak in the sun on some of the world’s most amazing beaches, visit stunning ancient ruins such as the Valle dei Templi and the Tempio di Segesta, and (of course) sample Sicilia’s unique culinary splendors.

Among the delicacies on our list are arancini, panelle, cous cous, insalata d’arance, caponata, ‘mpanata, pasta con le sarde, granite, paste di mandorle, cannoli, and cassata.  And obviously, seafood.  Tons and tons of it.

We capped off our afternoon of vacation planning with a Sicilian classic, pasta alla norma.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

Two medium eggplant
1 large (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons diced onion
Dry white wine
Ricotta salata (approx 200g)
Olive oil

Slice the eggplant about 3 to 4 mm, or  1/8th inch thick.  Place them in a strainer one layer at a time, sprinkling a dusting of salt over each layer.  Place a dinner plate on top or something similar that adds weight to help press the bitter liquids.  Let them degorge for about an hour.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

While the eggplant is resting, prepare the sauce.  Dice the onion and garlic, and sauté it in olive oil.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to render them smooth.  If you do not have a food mill, you can blend the tomatoes.  Let simmer for 45 minutes, salting to taste.  After about 30 minutes, add a dash of dry white wine.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

Return to the eggplant.  Rinse and pat the slices dry.  Dust them with flour, and then gently fry them in hot olive oil, just until golden brown.  Let them cool on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

Cut the eggplant into thin strips about 1 to 2 cm, or  1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.  Set aside a handful of eggplant, and add the rest to the sauce, along with a about 1/4 cup of grated ricotta salata.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Pasta alla Norma


Pasta alla Norma

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Toss your short pasta of choice – penne or rigatoni perhaps – into the water, along with a generous handful of salt.  Cook until al dente.  Transfer the pasta to a large pan.  Add the sauce (saving just little), and grate a little more ricotta salata over it all.  Stir over medium heat until the cheese melts.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla NormaPasta alla NormaServe in pasta bowls adorned with a few strips of eggplant, another grating of ricotta salata, and a dollop of sauce.

Pasta alla NormaPasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma






Gnocchi al sugo di fagiano

We are, undisputedly, children of the ’80s.  3 decades ago, here in the States Cara wore leg warmers, jelly bracelets and Swatch watches, while a continent away in Rome Stefano sported Levi 501 jeans, Doc Martins, and a prized Charro button-down shirt with pearl buttons.  On opposite sides of the Pacific, we both listed to Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, and practiced the moonwalk across the living room floor with our younger siblings.

Stefano 80sIgnoring the fact that the 80s have made a fashion comeback and today’s teenagers are styling in big, round-rimmed glasses and high-tops, we recently joined the 40+ crowd at a Depeche Mode concert and spent more money than is reasonable to see Minneapolis native Prince live, in a small hometown venue.  It’s no surprise, then, that the 80s station is the official satellite radio station in Cara and Stefano’s Fiat 500.

Family in Fiat copyLuckily, Luca is still too young to complain about having to listen to mom’s music, so he and Cara were rocking out to Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus on the way to school last week.  Hilariously though, Luca was convinced that, instead of Amadeus, the lyrics were actually “hot potatoes.”

Try it: listen to the song, and insert “hot potatoes” whenever they say Amadeus.  Hot potatoes, hot POTATOES…hot POTATOES.  Hot potatoes, hot POTATOES…hot POTATOES.  Hot potatoes, hot POTATOES…oh oh, hot potatoes!

It was fitting, since hot potatoes have been a topic of discussion around our household recently.  We’ve been making gnocchi, for which the cooking method and temperature of potatoes is key.

Gnocchi al sugo di faggiano

Some argue that it is best to bake the potatoes, in order to keep the moisture level low.  We boil the potatoes whole, skin on, and then place them into a warm oven to dry out any water they may have absorbed.  If the potatoes are too wet, you will need to add extra flour to keep them from being too sticky, but the extra flour will overpower the delicate texture and flavor of the potato gnocchi.  Keeping them in the oven has the added benefit of keeping the potatoes hot, and as Giorgio Locatelli, restauranteur and author of one of our favorite English language Italian cookbooks, Made in Italy, maintains, if the potatoes become cold, your gnocchi will turn out gummy and chewy.

Unlike fashion trends, gnocchi are timeless.  In Rome back in the 80s, gnocchi-making was a special treat for Stefano, his brother Marco and his sister Debora.  After rolling out the dough and cutting it into small pieces, their mamma solicited the siblings’ help by asking them to push their index finger into each gnocco, thus creating the gnocchi’s characteristic indent.  Stefano, Marco and Debora raced each other to poke their finger into the soft cushions of potato dough, and later when it was time to eat the gnocchi they did so with gusto, drawing satisfaction from having participated in their production.

Before we begin, a word on pronunciation.  The “gn” sound in gnocchi can be difficult for anglophones to pronounce.  It is most similar to the [ɲ] sound in canyon, or the Spanish ñ in señor.  Let’s try it:  gnocchi.  For a more in-depth study of the pronunciation of the “gn” sound in Italian, check out Lucrezia’s YouTube audio/video lesson.

For the gnocchi
1.1 kilos (2.5 lbs) potatoes.*
2 eggs
250 grams (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour, use more or less as needed
Pinch of salt
*Use a high starch potato such as Russett, and choose potatoes that are uniform in size so they cook evenly.

For the sugo al fagiano (pheasant sauce)
The meat of one or two pheasants, cleaned, deboned and cut into pieces
Mirepoix (minced carrots, celery and onion
Dash of red pepper flakes
One large can (1 kg or 12 oz) of whole red tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

Wash your potatoes and leave them whole with the skin on.  Place them in a pot and cover them with cold water.  Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn the heat down and allow the potatoes to simmer for 45 minutes to one hour, until soft.  While the potatoes are boiling, preheat your oven to 110 °C/225°F.

When cooked, drain the potatoes, arrange them onto a baking sheet, and place into warm oven.  One potato at a time, remove from oven, peel it, and pass it through a food mill or a sieve.  If you have neither kitchen tool, you can mash the potato with a potato masher.


You can place your potatoes into a large bowl, or directly onto a clean work surface.  Make a well in the middle of the potatoes, and add about 3/4 of the flour, the eggs, and a pinch of salt.


Mix gently by hand just until the dough comes together, adding more flour only if you need to to keep it from being too sticky.  The dough will be very soft.


Dust a clean work surface with flour.  Cut the dough into uniformed sized discs, and with your hands dusted with flour, roll it out into a long, cylindrical shape about the width of a cigar.  Using a sharp knife, cut the strip of dough into gnocchi sized to your preference.  Our gnocchi were about 2 cm (3/4 inch) long.

Gnocchiuniform GnocchiGnocchiGnocchi

If you have a gnocchi paddle, roll each gnocco onto it to create the characteristic ridges, or create the same effect gently a fork over each piece of dough, causing it to curl around itself.  Alternatively, you can use the finger-poke method that Stefano and his siblings used, and that our two boys now have fun with.


Transfer the gnocchi onto a baking sheet dusted with flour, and repeat the above process with the rest of the dough.  Shake the gnocchi around on the baking tray from time to time and add more flour to keep them from sticking.


Cook your gnocchi right away, or freeze them for future use.  If you choose to freeze them, place the entire baking tray of gnocchi in the freezer.  Once frozen, transfer the gnocchi into freezer bags.  Spread them back onto a baking tray or other smooth surface to thaw before cooking them.

We served our gnocchi with sugo al fagiano, a homemade red sauce with pheasant meat.  Sauté a mince of carrots, celery, onion and a dash of red pepper flakes in olive oil.  Add the pheasant meat, cleaned, deboned and cut into small pieces.  Brown the meat, then add a splash of dry white wine and allow it to cook off.  Add whole canned tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds.  Simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until the sauce was dense and a deep red color and the pheasant meat is tender.

Sugo al faggianoSugo al faggiano

To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Toss in a handful of sea salt, and add the gnocchi.  The gnocchi are done when they rise to the surface of the water, which only takes a minute or so.  Lift them carefully out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon and into a serving bowl, dress with sauce, and serve hot with a dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Gnocchi al sugo di faggianoGnocchi al sugo di faggiano

Risotto alla zucca (butternut squash risotto)

It’s that time of year again.  The leaves have turned to brilliant hues of red, orange and gold, and the succulent late summer vegetable harvest has given way to Minnesota’s own Honeycrisp apples and earth-toned, odd-shaped squash.

Those of you who’ve followed Due Spaghetti for some time know that we are not big squash fans.  We are traditionalists, and prefer a clean distinction between savory and sweet dishes.  We tolerate limited sweetness in recipes outside of desserts, and squash is just a bit too sweet for our palate.

The exception, though, is butternut squash.  Once a year, we slice one open, roast its bright orange flesh, and incorporate it into a splendid autumn dish.  Last year it was butternut squash gnocchi with a creamy taleggio sauce.  This year it was butternut squash risotto, or risotto alla zucca.  Comfort food, stile italiano.

Risotto alla zucca

Risotto alla zucca

1 medium butternut squash
400 grams (2 cups) Arborio or Vialone Nano rice.
1/2 of a medium onion
1 liter vegetable broth
100 g (3 1/2 ounces, or slightly more than 1 cup, grated) Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup dry white wine
50 g (approx. 4 Tablespoons) butter
Olive oil

Parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.  Using a strong, heavy knife, slice the bottom and the top off of the squash, and then slice the squash in half lengthwise.  Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and innards.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place the squash flesh side up onto the baking tray, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt.

Risotti alla zuccaRisotto alla zucca

Turn the squash upside down so that the flesh is down and the skin is up, and place into hot oven.  Roast for 45 minutes or longer, until the skin is blistered and browned, and the flesh is tender, dark orange and caramelized around the edges.  When cool enough, remove the skin and set the roasted squash aside.

Risotto alla zuccaRisotto alla zucca

Dice the onion finely and saute it in a few tablespoons olive oil inside large, heavy skillet.  When the onion is golden brown and translucent, add the rice and stir so that all grains are coated in the onions and oil.  Add the roasted squash and continue to saute over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Add the white wine and allow it to cook away, increasing heat if needed.

Risotto alla zucca

Now, begin adding the broth, one ladle at a time.  The key to a good risotto is to add the liquid slowly, stirring gently and allowing the rice to fully absorb that liquid before adding more.  Proceeding in this manner, it will take 20 minutes or more for the rice to absorb the full liter of broth.

Risotto alla zucca

Toward the end of the cooking time, taste the rice for doneness.  Like pasta, rice is cooked al dente – the grain of rice should be tender with just a slight firmness in its center.  2 or 3 minutes before the rice is done, stir in the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Risotto alla zucca

Serve hot with grated Parmigiano on top.

Risotto alla zucca

Fettuccine ai funghi

Sometimes, on a whim, Stefano brings home flowers, or dark chocolate, or a great, musty-smelling French cheese.  His most recent find, however, was a triumphant one.  Morels.  Spugnole in Italian.

MorelsThese crinkly, cavernous, conical mushrooms emerge in spring and are harvested into early summer.  Their texture is meaty and their flavor nutty, yet delicate at the same time.  Morels are best in delicate recipes that afford them center-stage.

MorelsStefano’s “find” was reminiscent of his childhood, when his mom and dad and aunts and uncles brought the children along to andare per funghi, or search for mushrooms, in the selva di Paliano, a protected natural park near his father’s hometown of Paliano, in southern Lazio south of Rome.  Stefano’s aunt Elena’s brother-in-law Pietro knew which mushrooms were edible and which weren’t.  To be sure though, Stefano’s parents Maria and Andrea always ate any dishes prepared with hand-picked wild mushrooms first, and waited until the next day to let Stefano, his brother Marco and his sister Debora try them.

Fettuccine ai funghiFettuccine ai Funghi

for 4-6 servings

Morels, or any mushroom of your choice
2 cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Dry white wine
One package of fettuccine, preferably egg-noodle (approx. 500 g or 16 oz)
Flat leaf Italian parsley, diced

Rinse the morels quickly, only if needed. Chop the stems and caps into large pieces, and set aside. Cover the bottom of a sauce pan with olive oil. Quarter the garlic cloves lengthwise, sauté them in the oil over medium-low heat until golden brown, remove and discard them.  Add a generous dash of dry white wine the mushrooms.  Allow the mushrooms to simmer uncovered for 5 minutes over medium heat.  Add a bit more wine and 1/4 of a stick of butter.  Cover and allow to cook for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off heat and let rest.

Fettuccine ai funghiBring a large pot of water to boil.  Add a heaping handful of salt, and the fettuccine.  Cook to al dente according to the instructions on the package.  Drain well and return to the pot.  Pour the mushrooms and liquid over the pasta and mix well.  Serve in pasta bowls with a sprinkling of flat leaf Italian parsley on top.

Supplì al telefono

We’ve had this recipe and accompanying photos ready for a week now, but the time and more importantly the inspiration to write a post around them have been missing.

Supplì al telefono

It arrived last night in the form of an 11-month-old bundle of smiles, curiosity and drool named Penelope.  She was our guest at dinner, along with her parents Veronica and Lauren, and our mutual friends Emily and Ben.  It was a brilliant evening to benefit the amazing students and teachers at Cara’s school, with a menu of some of our favorite seafood dishes:

Antipasto misto di pesce (Mixed seafood appetizers)
Riondo Prosecco
Pennette al salmone (Pennette in a creamy salmon sauce)

Lageder Pinot Nero
Pesce spada al cartoccio (Baked Swordfish with seafood)

Falanghina Terredora
Insalata mista (Baby Salad Greens)
Tiramisù al limoncello (Limoncello Tiramisù)

Caffè e Digestivi (Espresso and Digestif)

But, back to Penelope.  She was busy and happy.  She explored the living room, engaged playfully with the adults, and snacked on food from her own little portable, spill-proof bowl. Her parents took turns holding her, and before any of us realized it, 5 hours had passed.

It reminded us of when our oldest, Sean, was a baby.  We still lived in Rome then, and didn’t think twice about bringing him out with us where ever we went.  He was content to observe the world from his stroller or ride along in the baby carrier worn by his mamma or papà.

Some of our favorite spots to take him were Campo de’ Fiori, where we could content him with a piece of pizza rossa, the hill-town of Frascati in the Castelli Romani, or the village of Nemi, perched high above the volcanic lake Lago di Nemi, just south of Rome.  Nemi is famous for its berries, frutti di bosco, and especially the miniature wild strawberries that are bursting with flavor.  In summertime, it was a cool reprieve from the heat of Rome.  We’d take a stroll through Nemi’s narrow streets, stopping for a gelato alla crema with berries on top.  We’d bring along a banana and some Biscotti Plasmon, Italy’s quintessential baby biscuits, and ask the barman to add milk and blend up a smoothie for Sean.

Closer to home, Pizzeria Pizza & Fichi, at Via Alenda, 26 in Rome’s Giardinetti neighborhood was a favorite spot for Roman-style pizzas, filetti di baccalà and supplì, made by our friends Fabrizio, Massimo, Carmela and their mom at the family business.  We’d choose an outdoor table underneath a broad umbrella, order our pizzas, and feed Sean while we waited for our food.  Like clockwork, he would fall asleep by the time our pizza arrived.  We’d recline his stroller seat, place him back into it, and enjoy our pizza while he slept.

Supplì al telefono are a rice croquette fritter found on the antipasti menu in pizzerie all across the city.  The rice is cooked with a bit of tomato sauce, sometimes with ground beef, and let to cool.  Then, it is molded into an egg-like shape, and a piece of mozzarella is pushed into the middle of it before it is breaded and fried.  When the supplì is broken open, the melted mozzarella stretches from one piece to another, resembling the cord on an old-fashioned telephone.

for 8 supplì

500 grams Arborio, Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice
1 large can of whole tomatoes (500 grams or 28 0z)
Ground beef, approximately 250 grams or 1/2 lb.
Olive oil
Fresh mozzarella
4 eggs
Vegetable, peanut or olive oil for frying

Prepare the sauce by dicing 1/4 of a small-medium onion, and sautéing in olive oil over medium heat.  Add the ground beef and brown it slowly, using a spatula to crumble the meat finely.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill.  Add a splash of water or red wine if too thick, and allow it to simmer for at least 45 minutes.  Salt to taste.

Cook the rice in abundant boiling water with a handful of salt tossed in, just as you would cook pasta, according to the cooking time on the package.  When the rice is done, drain off the water using a strainer.  Add the rice to the sauce and stir well until it is evenly coated.  Place onto a baking tray or into a large baking dish and spread it out in order to facilitate cooling.

Once the rice is cool, you are ready to assemble and fry the supplì.  Add your oil several inches deep into a pan suitable for frying, and place it over medium heat.

Supplì al telfono

Fill a dish with flour, another with breadcrumbs, and a final one with the eggs, which you will beat slightly.  Cut 8 small pieces of mozzarella to stuff inside the supplì.

Wet you hands to make it easier to handle the rice.  With your hands, scoop enough rice to make an egg-sized supplì.  Mold it into an oblong shape, and using your thumb make an indent in the center.  Fill the indent with a piece of mozzarella, and then enclose the mozzarella with rice so that it is tucked well inside.

Supplì al telefono

Dust the supplì in flour, dip it into the egg and rotate it so that it is well-coated, and then finally roll it in the breadcrumbs.  Some recipes suggest repeating a second coating of egg and breadcrumbs.  We tried it both ways and preferred a single layer, but you may wish to experiment and decide which option works best for you.

Supplì al telefonoSupplì al telefono

Gently place each supplì into the hot oil and fry until it takes on a rich brown hue.  Remove from the oil and set on absorbent paper towels.  Allow to cool slightly, and enjoy with a Birra Moretti.

Supplì al telefono

Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino; and a variation on the theme

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is an Italian classic.  When someone says, “Facciamo due spaghetti,” or in Roman dialect “Famose du’ spaghetti” more often than not he or she intends spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino – spaghetti cooked al dente and coated with a soffritto of garlic and crushed red chili peppers sautéed in olive oil.  It’s quick, inexpensive, and quintessentially Italian.

aglio, olio e peperoncino

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is prepared from the North to the South, with slight regional variations.  Some add chopped flat leaf parsley, while others include bread crumbs.  There are differing opinions on whether pecorino romano cheese should be sprinkled on top; our version includes it.

aglio, olio e peperoncino

From time to time, it’s fun to dress up spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino.  We recently had some left over ricci di mare (sea urchin in English, and perhaps better known to some by its Japanese name, uni).  Added to spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino, ricci di mare provide a sublime, delicate flavor and a slightly creamy texture to the dish, turning a simple and humble recipe into an elegant plate of pasta.

aglio, olio e peperoncino

Ingredients for 4 people
One pack of spaghetti
2 cloves of garlic
Crushed red pepper, approximately 1 teaspoon or to taste
1 cup olive oil
Sea salt, preferably coarse grain, such as Kosher salt.

Pecorino romano, OR
Approximately 2 oz. or 50-60 grams sea urchin and flat leaf Italian parsely

*Purchase sea urchin fresh or frozen at a seafood specialty store.  In the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, it can be found at Coastal Seafoods.

Ricci di mare (Sea urchin in English, Uni in Japanese)

Ricci di mare (Sea urchin in English, Uni in Japanese)

Place a large pot of water to boil over high heat.  When the water boils, toss a handful of salt into the water, and add the spaghetti.  Cook the spaghetti to al dente according to the directions on the package.

While the spaghetti is cooking, mince the garlic and place the oil into a large pan.  5 minutes before the spaghetti is done, sauté the garlic and red pepper in the olive oil over medium heat, paying careful attention to not burn the garlic.

Drain the spaghetti, preserving one cup of the cooking water.  Return the spaghetti to the pan with the garlic, oil and red pepper.  Add the water, and stir it all together over medium heat for a couple of minutes.

If you are having the traditional recipe, serve hot with grated pecorino romano on top.

If you opt to dress it up with sea urchin, add the sea urchin with the garlic and crushed red pepper sauté, gently breaking it up with a fork or wooden spoon.  Skip the pecorino romano in this version, but if you wish you may add a single sea urchin to the top of each plate.

Aglio, olio e peperoncino con ricci di mare

aglio, olio e peperoncino con ricci di mare

Fettuccine ai funghi porcini

Alas, 2012 is behind us.

Photo from Corriere della Sera

Photo from Corriere della Sera


Photo from Corriere della Sera

Although our celebration was more subdued than that of the Romans who filled  the streets for the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration, we nonetheless welcomed in 2013 with good company, a lot of laughs, and the obligatory midnight consumption of lenticchie e cotechino, lentil soup with a special, fresh sausage made of pork, which heralds good fortune in the coming year.

2012 certainly had its ups and downs!  We spent much of the year displaced from our house, while it was being rebuilt following the fire.  Rebuilding took enormous time, energy and patience, but happily we have returned, are nearly settled, and best yet, our turn-of-the-century Minneapolis home now has more closet space and a new kitchen to cook in.

Family in KitchenSummer of 2012 also marked a visit back to Rome, and a spectacular road trip through the northern Italian wine regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, La Valpolicella, and Piedmont and Le Langhe.  The trip ended as all trips should, with a few days at the sea in the Cinque Terre, with its amazing views and delicious seafood.  We really can’t complain.

2013 began just as pleasantly, on a cold Minneapolis day warmed by the visit of a friend and her charming baby daughter, a plate of fettuccine ai funghi porcini, paired very nicely with a glass of 2006 Martinenga Barbaresco, and a few leftover lentils thrown in for good measure.

Fettucine ai funghi porcini

Much more could be written about funghi porcini – their earthy texture and nutty flavor, their simple yet elegant quality.  However, on this New Year’s Day we chose to just enjoy them.

Buon Anno a tutti!

(for 4-6 servings)

Approx. 85 grams (3 ounces) dried porcini mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
1 stick (115 grams, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
Flat leaf Italian Parsley – optional
One package (approx. 500 grams) egg pasta – fettuccine, tagliatelle or pappardelle.  Or, make your own.
Sea salt

Pasta fatta in casa

Rehydrate the porcini mushrooms according to the instructions on the package.  We soaked ours in three cups of hot water for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Funghi Porcini

Funghi Porcini

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Slice the garlic lengthwise into quarters and sauté it in the butter.  Remove the mushrooms from their liquid and add them to the skillet with the butter and garlic.  Preserve the liquid from the mushrooms, and set it aside.  Add the white wine, and let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes until the mushrooms become soft yet still firm, and the sauce turns creamy.  Remove the garlic.

Fettuccine ai funghi porcinifettuccine ai funghi porcini

In the meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Toss a heaping handful of sea salt into the water, and add the pasta.  Cook until al dente according to the instructions on your package.  If you made your own pasta, the cooking time will be about 3-4 minutes; homemade egg pasta cooks much faster than store bought pasta.

Drain the pasta, and return it to the skillet with the mushrooms.  Stir together until mixed.  If needed, you can add a little of the water used to rehydrate the mushrooms.  Serve the pasta hot with a sprinkle of chopped flat leaf Italian parsley.  (We didn’t have any parsley on hand, and since it was New Year’s Day and stores were closed, we simply omitted it).

Fettuccine ai funghi porcini