Pollo alla romana (Roman-style chicken)

Pollo alla romanaToday’s post is for my friend and colleague Julius, who cooks for his lovely wife Alexis on Thursdays. I promised him more chicken recipes on Due Spaghetti, as he’s already cooked his way through pollo alla cacciatora, pollo alle olive and pollo alla griglia.  (What is it with guys and chicken, anyway?)

It’s also a tribute to men everywhere who cook, care for children, fold the laundry, and vacuum the rugs.  Many an Italian man lifts not even a finger at home, but I’m fortunate that Stefano is among the enlightened ones. I’m also lucky that he is masterful at preparing chicken, evoking the methods and flavors he recalls as a child, when his mother would butcher a pollo ruspante, or free-range chicken, and cook it on the stove top.  It was one of Stefano’s favorite dishes, and one he still he requests when he returns home to Rome.

The tomatoes, peppers, capers and oregano make this a classic, roman-style chicken dish.  As is so often the case with regional recipes, everyone has their variation.  This version has its origins in the cookbook Cucina Romana by Sara Manuelli.  We’ve adapted it over the years by adding more peppers and tomatoes, and cooking it slower and longer, until the meat comes off of the bone.

It’s not a glamorous dish, but more like soul food, comfort food – rich and hearty, but complex in its flavor also fairly healthy.  It’s a guy’s kind of recipe, but sophisticated enough to serve to his significant other.

Ingredients
1 free range chicken, with the breasts  3-4 cut into pieces.
Olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced.
A small handful of capers, quickly rinsed under running cold water.
Oregano
2 cups dry white wine
1 large can (28 oz. or 1 kg) whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
3 red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers, cored, de-seeded and sliced.
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Cover the bottom of a large saucepan (big enough to hold the chicken tomatoes and peppers) with olive oil.  Add the garlic, capers, a few sprigs of oregano (or dashes if using dried oregano), and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat the oil, and gently fry the chicken pieces, turning them occasionally, until seared on all sides.  Pour in the wine and let it cook off, approximately 15 minutes.

Pollo alla romana

Toss in the peppers.  Add the canned tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first to produce a smooth purée.  If you don’t have a food mill, you can blend the tomatoes before adding them.  If you prefer, you can also leave the tomatoes whole.

Pollo alla romanaPollo alla romana

Cover partially to allow some vapor out, and cook over low heat for approximately an hour. Taste for salt after 30 minutes, and add more if you wish.  Stir from time to time to prevent sticking, and add white wine if more liquid is needed.  The chicken is done when or the meat comes off of the bone and the sauce has thickened.

Serve hot with a generous spoonful of sauce on top.

Pollo alla romana

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.

Ingredients
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

Directions
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.

Gnocchi

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.

GnocchiGnocchi

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.

Gnocchi

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.

Gnocchi

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.

Gnocchi

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

Ingredients
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
Salt

Other
Parchment paper

Directions
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

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

Polenta con funghi, salsiccia e brie

Polenta was a special treat at Stefano’s mom’s house in Rome.  She made a huge pot, and Stefano’s father was in charge of stirring it, which he did with a strong branch from one of their olive trees that he’d cleaned and whittled for this purpose.

Instead of using plates she poured it over a spianatoia, or spianatora as it’s referred to in Roman dialect – a large, wooden board set on top of the dining room table.  Lifting the board from side to side and corner to corner causes the polenta to spread smoothly over the top, and the wood absorbs excess water, helping it set.

She topped the polenta with a delicious sauce, usually either  sugo con la spuntatura di maiale (tomato sauce with short ribs) or sugo con baccalà (tomato sauce with salt cod).  We all sat around the table, forks in hand, and ate that wonderful polenta straight from the spianatoia, gradually working our way from the edges of the polenta to the center,  always ready to ward off the person sitting next to us in defense of our personal portion of polenta.

Another classic from Italy’s cucina povera, polenta originated in northern Italy and has become an Italian culinary tradition.  Made from cornmeal and water, polenta can be served in countless ways.  Thicker or softer, with a coarser texture or creamier, and with many different types of toppings.

Traditionally, polenta is cooked in a paiolo, or large copper pot, for an hour or more.  It needs to be stirred continually.  Fellow blogger Paola of An Italian Cooking in the Midwest, a true Bergamasca from the north of Italy, is a polenta expert and even owns an electric paiolo with a motorized blade that stirs the polenta for you!  It was from Paola’s post on polenta that we learned the trick of adding the polenta slowly and stirring it in before the water boils to avoid it turning out lumpy.  Until we have an electric paiolo of our own, we will use quick-cooking polenta, as we did for this recipe.

We wanted to make a sophisticated polenta, one that could be served as a part of an elegant holiday meal.  We added brie to the polenta durante la cottura (during cooking) to give it a rich and creamy quality, and topped it with wild mushrooms and sausage sauteed in garlic, olive oil and white wine.

Ingredients for 4 small servings
Instant polenta*
1 cup Brie, rind removed and cubed into 1/4 in. pieces
1/4 pound ground pork
4 cups mushrooms**, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley
Olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
Salt
Crushed red pepper – optional

*Look for Italian instant polenta, the dry kind, not pre-cooked. If you cannot find an Italian brand, there are several American brands of polenta, and even Quaker cornmeal will suffice if needed. The general guidelines for dosage is 1 part polenta to 4 parts water. We used 1 cups polenta in 4 cups water, but follow the directions on the packaging.

**We used Porcini, Shiitake, Oyster, Portobello and White mushrooms, but any variation is just fine. The Porcini and Shiitake were dried, and in that case need to be rehydrated before use.

Directions
Wash and thinly slice the mushrooms. Add olive oil and butter to a large saucepan, and place it over medium heat. Mince a clove of garlic and chop the parsley, and sauté them in olive oil and the butter. Add the mushrooms, white wine and salt. Let cook over medium heat until the mushrooms release their juices and become dark brown and tender, and the liquids concentrate.

While the mushrooms are cooking, mince the other clove of garlic and in a separate pan, sauté it in a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the ground pork, 1/4 cup of wine, salt, and if you wish a dash of crushed red pepper.  Let simmer until the pork is no longer pink and the wine has cooked off. Stir frequently so that the pork crumbles into small pieces.  Mix the pork and mushrooms, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to boil.  When the water is hot but before it reaches a boil, gradually add the polenta, stirring continually with a wire whisk to prevent lumps from forming.  Add the Brie, and stir continually until the polenta thickens.

Pour the polenta onto small plates, top with the mushrooms and sausage, and serve hot.

Download a pdf of the recipe Polenta con funghi e salsiccia

Wine Pairing
We paired our polenta con funghi e salsiccia with a Sauvignon Blanc by Fattori. It’s a well-structured wine with a crisp acidity that compliments the complex flavors of this polenta dish well.

Penne alla Vodka

Every once in a while we spike the tomato sauce.

You should try it sometime.  What is better draped over pasta perfectly al dente  than a tangy, velvety vodka sauce?   Our friends and family tell us that no vodka sauce is as intoxicatingly delicious as ours, and we believe them.

Onions and pancetta sautéed in butter is part of the secret.  The mild sweetness of the cream juxtaposed with the heat of crushed red pepper is another.  A perfectly smooth tomato sauce is a must, but there is another ingredient yet that makes our vodka sauce special – brandy.

We have our sister-in-law, Valentina, to thank for the brilliant decision to add brandy to vodka sauce.  We’re not sure why she has always added it, but we know that it makes the difference between a good vodka sauce and a great one.

Most of us are attracted to vodka sauce because of the sophisticated, slightly risque image it solicits (pasta sauce risque??).  There is functionality behind the fashion, however.  Tomatoes have flavor compounds that are alcohol-soluble, meaning that they are released by alcohol.  While the sauce simmers, the vodka and brandy tease these intense flavors out of the tomatoes.  The alcohol cooks off (mostly) in the process, leaving just a hint of boozy undertones.

So, go ahead and add some hooch to your tomato sauce from time to time.  You’re sure to become addicted.

Ingredients
1 lb package of penne or pennette
1 28-oz. can of whole tomatoes*
3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 of a medium onion
6 oz. pancetta
1/2 cup panna da cucina (or substitute crema mexicana, crème fraiche or heavy whipping cream)
1/2 C. vodka
1/4 C. brandy
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
Salt
Parmesan


Directions
Cut the onion into large pieces that can be removed once sautéed.  Dice the pancetta into small cubes.  In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onion and pancetta and sauté until the onions are translucid and the pancetta is crispy.

Place the food mill on top of the saucepan and pass the tomatoes and their sauce through it, producing a smooth tomato sauce.  Add the vodka, brandy, crushed red pepper and salt.  Allow to simmer for 45 minutes.  Remove from heat, and add the panna da cucina and stir well.

In the meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil.  Add a handful of salt (possibly coarse salt) to the water, and add the pasta.  Cook to al dente according to the time on the package.

Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and pour the sauce over it.  Serve immediately topped with grated parmesan.

Pappardelle con ricotta e fiori di zucca

We’re back to writing about zucchini blossoms.  They are just so pretty, fragrant and delicious that we couldn’t stop with just one summer dish, especially when we ran across this recipe for Pappardelle with Ricotta, Zucchini Blossoms and Basil Oil in the New York Times recently.

Usually we write about our own recipes, or those that come from our family and friends in Italy.  Every once in a while, though, a published recipe catches out attention, and we decide to try it.  The ingredient list of this recipe captivated us.  Fresh ricotta, zucchini blossoms and basil oil – what an ingenious combination!  And there isn’t a more delightful pasta to host it than loopy, ribbon-like pappardelle.

Our intuition was correct.  The pasta turned out wonderful – delicate and balanced, perfect for a late-summer dinner.   We made a few changes to the recipe, adding additional zucchini flowers and ricotta, and sautéing the zucchini for longer than called for in the original recipe, as we prefer them more tender.  We chose the sweeter and milder flavor of cow’s milk ricotta over ricotta made from sheep’s milk.  Go out of your way to find high quality fresh ricotta.

The timing of this recipe was perfect, as we have submitted it to this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, a weekly roundup of pasta dishes prepared by food bloggers around the world.  Presto Pasta Nights was created by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast, and this edition, the 226th, is hosted by Simona of Briciole, whose homemade ricotta and pasta recipes we will attempt the next time we make Pappardelle con ricotta e fiori di zucca.

Ingredients
Serves 4

For the basil oil
1 bunch of basil
1 clove garlic
Zest of a quarter lemon
1/2 C olive oil
Salt and Pepper

For the pasta
1 lb pappardelle
2 small zucchinis
1 cup fresh cow’s milk ricotta
12-18 zucchini blossoms
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Pecorino cheese

Directions

Prepare the basil oil by chopping the basil and mincing the garlic finely, and adding it to the olive oil.  Grate the lemon zest and add it to the oil.  Salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

Place a large pot of water on high heat, and while waiting for the water to boil, prepare the zucchini and blossoms.  Slice the zucchini thinly and set aside.  Remove the stems and stamen or pistils (read here for more about zucchini flower gender) and rinse the flowers carefully under water.  Pat dry, and then cut lengthwise into strips.

When the water boils, throw a handful of coarse salt into the pot, and add the pappardelle.  Cook until al dente according to the time specified on the package.  While the pasta cooks, sauté the zucchini slices in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, salting and peppering the zucchini to taste.

Drain the pasta when cooked, retaining 1-2 cups of the cooking water.  Return the pappardelle to the pan with the zucchini slices.  Add the zucchini flowers and the ricotta, and stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, adding the pasta’s cooking water as needed to render the ricotta creamy and the zucchini flowers soft.

Serve immediately with a a drizzle of basil oil and a dusting of pecorino cheese on top.