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

Ingredients
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.

Directions
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

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

Fettuccine ai funghi porcini

Alas, 2012 is behind us.

Photo from Corriere della Sera

Photo from Corriere della Sera

CAPODANNO: IN 300MILA A CONCERTO FORI IMPERIALI A ROMA

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!

Ingredients
(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

Directions
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

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

Spaghetti alla puttanesca

It’s been two weeks now since the fire.  We’ll spend one more week in the hotel, but we’ve found a house to rent not far from home and are eager to move in next weekend.  It is a perfect house for us while our own is under repair.  The best part: our landlords, Lisa and Paul, have decided to have a gas line run into the kitchen in order to replace the old electrical coil stove with a gas one!

Demolition has begun on the interior of our fire-damaged house.  Even though the fire itself was contained to the upper floor, water and smoke infiltrated the ceilings, walls and floors of the rest of the house and those will need to be stripped down to the struts. It was overwhelming at first, but we’ve come to terms with it all and are even beginning to think ahead to a few improvements we can make when rebuilding (a kitchen with more natural light for better food photography is one priority).

We haven’t done much cooking lately, and eating out is becoming tiresome.  With the weekend upon us, we decided that it is time to roll up our sleeves and see what we can produce out of our hotel room kitchenette.  There was once an Iron Chef competition on the Food Network channel that required contestants to prepare enough food for a block party using a just small outdoor grill.  Then, when the producers arranged for a downpour of rain, the chefs had to finish cooking their food on the engine of a car.

We don’t have it that bad, but that’s a little like what it feels like to prepare a meal in our kitchenette.  We have two little burners, two (dull) knives, two pots, one spatula, and one small glass cutting board.  It’s not exactly a chef’s kitchen, but we can make do.

So, we decided to make something delicious, but simple.  La puttanesca is just that – a tangy, flavor packed sauce that is quick and easy to make but that packs a punch.  It’s a perfect “Famose due spaghetti” solution, and was a good reminder that no matter what the circumstances or where we are, we can still whip up a pretty good plate of pasta.

The world has embraced the Puttanesca sauce without knowing what its name actually means.  Puttana is not exactly a nice word in Italian; it’s a vulgar reference to a lady who engages in “the oldest profession.”  The -esca suffix turns a noun into an adjective, just like the -esque suffix does in English (adopted from French).  Think picture and picturesquePuttana and puttanesca. 

How did this traditional sugo from Naples acquire such a saucy name?  There are quite a few theories on this.  Some say that it was a quick and easy pasta to prepare for the patrons of a local brothel, but there are other theories, too.  What doesn’t change is the ingredient list: garlic, capers, anchovies, and black olives in a tomato sauce.  Is your mouth watering yet?

Ingredients
1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 cloves of garlic
One cup black olives, pitted*
6 anchovies
1 Tablespoon capers
1 dash of crushed red pepper
1 bunch of flat leave parsley
5 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt, coarse and fine
1 lb spaghetti

*Use an Italian black olive such as liguria, gaeta or lugano, but avoid those that come packed in rosemary or other herbs.  A Greek kalamata olive will work nicely, also.

Directions
Crush or finely dice the garlic.  Rinse the capers and anchovies quickly under running water and pat dry.  Cut the anchovies into small pieces.  Sauté the garlic, capers, anchovies and red pepper in olive oil over medium heat.  If your olives have pits remove them.  Cut the olives into pieces and add them to the saucepan.  Sauté the mixture until the anchovies have deconstructed and the garlic is golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.

Add your tomatoes, preferably passing them through a food mill in order to acquire a smooth sauce.  Let the sauce cook for 20-30 minutes, adding salt to taste.  In the meanwhile, rinse and pat dry the parsley.  Chop the parsley finely and add to the sauce about 5 minutes before it is ready.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  When it boils, add a handful of coarse salt and the spaghetti.  Cover and cook to al dente according to the time specified.  When ready, drain the spaghetti and return to the pot.  Add the puttanesca sauce to the pot, and mix until the pasta is evenly coated.  Serve immediately.

Wine Pairing
We paired our spaghetti alla puttanesca with a 2009 Sangiovese Rubizzo by Rocca delle Macìe.  This wine has a strong acidity and a nice earthiness that balances the pungency and spiciness of the puttanesca sauce.

Orecchiette con broccoli e salsiccia

We contemplated the name orecchiette as we made dinner tonight.  Orecchie means “ears” in Italian, and the -ette suffix renders a word diminutive.  So, orecchiette means “little ears”.  One look at this rustic pasta and you will agree that its name suits it well.

Linguistic humor is a good thing.  Puns, spoonerisms, idioms, lexical ambiguity and double meanings keep things interesting and add fun to the mundane tasks of daily life.  This is especially true when you are new to a country and just learning its language.  We’ve had some pretty good laughs about English language phrases and expressions that Stefano has mangled.

The first couple of years we were in America he thought that baseball players waited their turn at bat in the dog house, then he learned it is actually called the dugout.  “Tuesday” and “Thursday” were hard ones at the beginning, too.  It’s that darn “th” sound.  Until he became better at pronouncing it, those two days of the week came out sounding alike.  To compensate, he’d schedule appointments and meetings for “Thursday, the one that comes after Wednesday.”

Cara has also had her share of linguistic mishaps in Italian, although perhaps because it has been so long, or perhaps because she happens to be the one writing this particular post, none are coming immediately to mind.

Some pasta names did surprise her when she lived in Italy, though.  This was especially true for pasta that pokes fun at the Church.  Strozzapreti are one example of this.  Prete, (preti in the plural), means “priest,” while strozza means “choke.”  You put it together.  I mean, can you imagine telling a waiter, “I’d like some priest chokers with bolognese sauce, please.”

Compared to this, orecchiette, or “little ears” is actually kind of cute.  That is, until you learn that in some parts of Italy, they are actually called orecchiette del prete, or “priest’s little ears.” There is something not quite right about that name.  Orecchiette are earthy, with a rough texture and a firm bite.

I just made it worse, didn’t I?

Forget about the priest’s ears part, and just focus on the pasta, because it is one of the most delicious forms.  It pairs perfectly with broccoli and sausage for a hearty, flavorful meal.

Ingredients for 4-6 servings
500 grams orecchiette
1 lb ground pork
1 medium head of broccoli
3 cloves garlic
Salt
Olive oil
Grated Parmigiano
Crushed red pepper, optional

Directions
Cut the crown of the broccoli into small pieces, and boil in salted water until tender.

While the broccoli is boiling, dice the garlic and sauté it in olive oil in a large frying pan until golden brown.  If you like heat, add a sprinkle of crushed red pepper.  Add the ground pork and let it simmer, crumbling it as it cooks.

When the broccoli is tender, drain and add it to the ground pork.  Allow it to simmer together, stirring from time to time until the broccoli becomes soft and deconstructs.  Salt to taste, if needed.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and add a handful of coarse salt to it.  Boil the orecchiette according to the directions on the package for al denteOrecchiete are a firm, heavy pasta, and cooking time may vary according to taste. Drain the pasta and return it to the pan.  Add the broccoli and sausage, and stir over heat until the pasta is evenly coated.

Serve immediately, with grated Parmigiano on top.

Pasta e ricotta

Really good food does not need to be complicated.

On occasion we are drawn in by the allure of a sophisticated dish,  but more often we love the challenge of creating something delicious and genuine out of humble ingredients.  Certainly, fancy kitchen utensils and advanced cooking methods are useful, but there is a lot to be said about starting with simple, quality food and knowing how to put the right flavors together.  And if we can do this in just two or three steps, all the better.

Pasta e ricotta is a simple but delicious recipe, perfect for times when a quick meal is in order.  Use a good, Italian pasta that cooks to al dente well, and fresh, quality ricotta.

Ingredients
(serves 4-6)
1  lb. short pasta, such as penne or rigatoni
1/2 lb (225 g) fresh whole milk ricotta
Salt
Pepper
Parmigiano

Directions
Bring a pot of water to boil.  Toss a heaping handful of coarse salt into the water, and add the pasta.  Cook the pasta al dente according to the time specified on the package.  Drain the pasta, preserving two cups of the cooking water.

Transfer the pasta back into the pot, and add the ricotta to it.  Mix the ricotta into the pasta, slowly adding as much of the preserved cooking water as is needed to achieve a creamy sauce.

Serve immediately with a grating of Parmigiano and, if desired, freshly ground black pepper.

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.