Posts Tagged ‘Pasta’

Spaghetti with Sicilian Meatballs

January 13, 2013

IMG_9502When we were in Italy, what struck me most is that there truly isn’t “Italian” food. Rather, their food is identified by the region you are in. Spaghetti and clams in the Italian Riviera. Boar in Tuscany. Pizza in Naples. That is why I was so intrigued when I saw a recipe for Sicilian meatballs in Bon Appetit.

The food of Sicily has a Greek and sometimes African influence, making it have more olives, capers and currants than you would find in the “boot.” So when looking at the meatball recipe, at first glance it seemed very traditional. Sausage meat (which was an interesting twist on the typical beef, veal, pork combo), breadcrumbs in milk, garlic, onion, etc. Yet, then they add pine nuts and currants to make it have a bit of nutty sweetness. They are baked, and then smothered in a traditional Italian red sauce.

This dish has that same warm, comforting result as typical Italian meatballs, but they do have an interesting sweetness to them that makes them have a “hmm, what’s that?” factor. It is a great alternative to a typical bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, and will be making its way to our dinner table as a great Sicilian (not Italian!) dish!

SPAGHETTI WITH SICILIAN MEATBALLS
Serves 4-6

Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Meatballs:
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 large egg
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons dried currants

1 pound spaghetti

For Sauce:
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Add onion; sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juices and 2 tablespoons basil; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until sauce thickens, breaking up tomatoes with fork, about 1 hour. Mix in 2 tablespoons basil. Season with salt and pepper. Set sauce aside.

For Meatballs:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil baking sheet. Mix crumbs and milk in medium bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Mix in Parmesan, onion, basil, egg, garlic and pepper. Add sausage, pine nuts and currants; blend well. Using wet hands, form mixture into 1 1/4-inch balls. Place on baking sheet. Bake until meatballs are light brown and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Add to sauce.

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Mound in dish. Bring sauce and meatballs to simmer. Mix with and spoon over spaghetti.

Homemade Fresh Pasta

May 22, 2011

There are certain things I just won’t cut corners on. I won’t make cookies from a box, bag or anything that says “break and bake.” I won’t ever buy marinara sauce from a jar. And I certainly wouldn’t dream of buying a pre-made cake.

But, before you think I don’t have a full-time job, multiple hobbies and a life outside the kitchen, let me tell you what I DO cut corners on. I will, every once in a while, buy a pie crust (my grandmother would cringe). I have been known to buy jams from a jar, salsa from a jar and – gasp – dips from a jar. But the one shortcut I did every week, every Thursday, without batting an eyelash, was buy fresh pasta. That is, however, until I went to Italy.

When I experienced a cooking class outside of Varenna with the talented Moreno, I had a new outlook on Italian cooking. Much like the view I have on cooking, Italians enjoy making the food as much as eating it. And, the more steps of the process your hands touch, make or mold, the more love you can put into the dish you will serve your loved ones. Dear Moreno made pasta from scratch. No attachments to mixers. No crank machines. Just his hands, a rolling pin and a few simple ingredients.

I would be fooling myself (and overestimating the size of my kitchen) if I thought I could make pasta with a rolling pin. But it did inspire me to make pasta. After all, I call it a sin to not make your own gravy, so why would I buy fresh pasta?

Step one was a pasta maker, and I was lucky enough to get one from my parents for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to try it. I searched back for Moreno’s recipe which had semolina flour (and I couldn’t find it anywhere) so I looked up a few recipes online for all-purpose flour. I cleared a Sunday afternoon, got out my machine, and went to work.

I would be lying if I told you the first time it was perfect – in fact, it was far from. The dough just didn’t feel right in my hands (sign one) then the crank number the recipe called for made the pasta feel too thin (sign two). But, it gave me enough hope to try again.

Four times, and four recipe alterations later, I finally got it. The perfect pasta noodle. While I am still mastering tagliatelle, I think ravioli might be a natural progression. However, anything more complex, I am buying from the store!

A few tips when you make pasta:
1. Don’t cut short kneading the dough. If you don’t do it for at least 10 minutes, the dough won’t be right. You will be tired, and wonder why, but you feel it in your hands when the dough takes form.
2. Don’t forget to let it rest. It needs this time after being needed for so long. At least for 3o minutes.
3. Don’t be afraid to use flour once the noodles are made in order to separate them.
4. Go into the process knowing you will tweak your recipe many times before finding one that works.
5. Allow yourself at least an hour for the process (if not a little more).
6. It tastes better and is much more fun if you make it while sipping red Italian wine and listening to Italian music.

I would love to give credit to someone this recipe but I used one I found online and changed it so much, I don’t even recognize it anymore. So, I suppose I should credit myself (although there surely are many duplicates out there).

So in Italian fashion, when I make pasta, the whole meal tastes of the love I put into it. I recently revisited my pistachio cream pasta the time I finally nailed my noodle recipe. It was almost like a different dish – a dish entirely made from scratch. No shortcuts. But lots of love.

HOMEMADE FRESH PASTA
Serves 2-3

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs, plus one egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon olive oil
½ Tablespoon warm water

Put flour on a marble, wooden or smooth countertop and create a “volcano” and create a well in the center. In a bowl, mix the eggs, salt and olive oil. Pour the egg mixture into the well and slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs, pulling flour from the area around the well. You might have to add the yolk in multiple phases in order for it to fit in the well without spilling over.

As things begin to get incorporated, keep kneading (even if your well breaks) and add the water if necessary. This will be messy, but keep going! Once you have the mixture in a ball form, begin kneading the dough. Fold it in have and press against the counter. Start a timer and knead for no less than 10 minutes and you will see your dough begin to take shape.

Once your 10 minutes is up, cut your dough in half to form two little balls. Put them in a bowl (or two separate bowls) and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

If you are using a crank machine, take the first ball and press onto the counter to push into a flat pancake. Make sure your pasta maker is on the widest setting (mine is 7) and crank the dough through. Keep flour on the dough to keep it from getting sticky. Keep changing the setting every time until you get the thickness you want (for mine the perfect thickness is level 3). Then, crank it through the cutting side, keeping it floured and you have fresh pasta! This pasta can also be frozen, I am told, but I have yet to do it.

The flour with the well of egg mixture in the center.

My husband demonstrating how to knead the dough!

The balls of dough after they have been kneaded.

Passing the dough through the pasta press.

Cutting the pasta. The last step!

Dinner!

Spaghetti with Anchovy Carbonara

April 17, 2011

For those who have been reading this blog, there is no need to reiterate my love for carbonara. When you put pasta and bacon together, let’s face it, you just can’t go wrong.

It isn’t surprising that when we spent a few weeks in Italy last spring, this was the dish I was seeking out most. It is more common in the Umbria and Rome area (although you can find it many other places). So I knew when we arrived in that region, I wouldn’t need to look at menus very long.

We had spent a few days in our Villa by Spoleto and had decided to take a side trip to the religious mecca of Assisi (45 minutes away). It is a beautiful town, filled with amazing stone buildings, commanding views, and a spiritual aura. We had just visited Minerva and someone must have been scouring down on me because (I am convinced), because it was the one time on the whole trip that I didn’t cover my shoulders in the church. As we exited the building and went down the marble steps my clumsy feet just couldn’t get it together – and I slipped down the stairs. O Madon! No matter what country you are in – when you fall onto marble, it hurts like nobody’s business. So, after going to the pharmacia and showing the clerk, who got us appropriate bandages and some neosporin looking stuff (at least we think that is what it was), I needed a pick me up.

My husband joked that for me, carbonara, a glass of wine and a scoop of gelato will make anything better! (the truth is, he is right!) So we set out down some less traveled paths to find the perfect resting place. We saw a little restaurant, unassuming and filled with locals, and knew we had found the place.

The carbonara in Assisi, Italy

This was my first official carbonara of the trip and I barely needed to look at a menu to know what I would have. I took one bite and knew it was the best carbonara I had ever tasted in my whole life. The sauce wasn’t overly creamy, it had an amazing saltiness, and was filled with pancetta. There was something intangible in that dish – something that set it apart. Not sure if it was the state of shock I was in from my fall, the glass of wine I had to wash down lunch or the food itself.

So, when I started seeking out the perfect carbonara recipe upon my return, I did lots of research on the traditional way Italians make it. Much to my surprise, a common ingredient is anchovies – and I knew at that moment that it was the little fish that had made it into my dish that day.

Now, my husband claims to not like anchovies, yet I knew when you cook them in olive oil they actually disintegrate so you don’t bite into them, yet they infuse your sauce. So, I gave it a whirl.

Hands down it was the best carbonara I have had outside of Italy. I made my own tagliatelle (my new favorite past time) but you could surely use any spaghetti or fettuccine you would like. I also added a bit of pancetta – because let’s face it, everything is better with pancetta.

So nothing can quite compare to the throbbing pain in my knee, the refreshing wine out of a jug, the views of St Francis and the Italian language surrounding me. But, this dish at least transports me, just a little bit, to the land that invented carbonara.

Thanks to Food and Wine for this amazing rendition of an Italian classic. If you don’t like anchovies, still give it a whirl – just cut back on the amount a bit. They might just surprise you!

SPAGHETTI WITH ANCHOVY CARBONARA
Serves4

12 ounces spaghetti
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 2-ounce can flat anchovies, drained and chopped
Pinch of Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
Pancetta (optional)
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 large egg yolks
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil with the garlic and anchovies and cook over moderately high heat until the anchovies have dissolved, about 2 minutes. (If using pancetta, add and cook until cooked through.) Add the red pepper, zest, oregano and parsley, then add the pasta and toss to coat. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolks with the reserved cooking water and add to the pasta. Cook over low heat, tossing until the pasta is coated in a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Pimiento Mac and Cheese

April 4, 2011

Everyone has their own comfort food – the indulgence you turn to when you have had a bad day, the weather is glum or you just want to ignore calories and common sense. For some people it comes from a classic dish their mother made, for some it is the food of where they grew up. For me, it is the food that just makes me feel warm and cozy inside. Pasta. Spaghetti with a gravy that has simmered all day long or baked mac and cheese makes me want to put on my pjs, open a bottle of wine and watch terrible TV. And the best thing about comfort food, is it makes all of that ok – no guilt. Well, at least not until the next day…

So it is surprising, really, that I only have one version of mac and cheese on my blog so far. It has always been a go to – many types of cheeses with the salty richness of pancetta. But when I saw this unique version from Bon Appetit, I thought I would try it in hopes of finding another treat for the days I need a pick me up.

Oh. My. Goodness. There is something in this dish that is special – not your average mac and cheese. Yet it isn’t so gourmet that it loses the simple heartiness that makes the dish what it is. You taste this amazing pimento flavor, with a hint of heat and rich, gooey cheese.

Peppadew peppers are easy to find once you know where to look. In my grocery store they were with the pickles – but check around for where they might be at your store. There is something about the shells vs. elbows, as well, that really catch the rich sauce.

So, next time I have a bad day, the skies open up with some nasty weather or I just want to eat an amazing dinner, this one will be on my list.

PIMIENTO MAC AND CHEESE
6 Servings (although I think it is less)

1 7- to 8-ounce red bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces 2 garlic cloves, halved, divided
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3/4 cup drained mild Peppadew peppers in brine, 1 tablespoon brine reserved
1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chiles
1 1/4 cups (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella
8 ounces medium shell pasta

Bring 1/2 cup water, bell pepper, and 11/2 garlic cloves to boil in small saucepan. Cover; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pepper is soft, about 15 minutes.

Toast panko in skillet over medium-high heat until golden, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to bowl; cool to lukewarm. Rub 1 tablespoon butter into crumbs to coat. Mix in 1/4 cup Parmesan.

Transfer bell pepper mixture to processor. Add Peppadews and 1 tablespoon brine, 2 tablespoons butter, ground chiles, and 1/2 garlic clove; then add cheddar and 1/4 cup Parmesan. Blend until sauce is smooth; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter 8-cup baking dish (or 6 individual dishes). Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain; return to pot. Stir sauce and mozzarella into pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta into dish. Sprinkle with crumb topping.

Bake pasta until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes (15 for individual). Let stand 10 minutes.

Pasta with Basil Pesto

November 18, 2010

Until spending time in Cinque Terre, Italy, I hadn’t had much pesto in my life. Not sure if it was the intimidating color, the name’s meaning (means “to pound,” yikes!) or the fact that my husband claimed he was never a big pesto fan.

Yet, on our first night in Vernazza, sitting at a restaurant on the sea, we followed an antipasti plate of fresh fish with a big, heaping bowl of spaghetti topped with the greenest, freshest, most flavorful sauce I have never had. And it was, of course, pesto.

As you can imagine, upon returning from the trip when I contemplated making my own pesto, I had no arguments from my husband. We had found a new love and new appreciation for this sauce that originates in the Ligurian coast of Italy.

I pulled this recipe from La Cucina Italiana (have I mentioned I am obsessed with this magazine?). Seemed simple and authentic – pine nuts, basil, parmigiano reggiano and pecorino romano, garlic, sea salt and olive oil. But the mistake I made was trying to make it the authentic way – without authentic tools.

Pesto is made is a mortar and pestle. Why not? If that is how the Italians do it, then that is how I will do it. The small problem (well big problem) was, that I didn’t have one. My substitution was a muddler, and it was a sad replacement. So, alas, my pesto ended up in a food processor. The result tasted fantastic, but it made me put a mortar and pestle (authentic marble, of course) on my Christmas list so I can be a true Ligurian next time I indulge in this green goodness.

Authentic tools or modern luxuries – either way I encourage you to try this simple sauce next you want to vary your color palate and your culinary palate.

PASTA WITH BASIL PESTO
Serves 4

¼ cup pine nuts
2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed, peel removed
Coarse sea salt
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb pasta of your choice

Place pine nuts in a medium skillet and heat over medium-low heat. Cook, occasionally shaking the pan back and forth over the heat, until nuts are toasted, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer nuts to a plate to cool completely.

Rinse basil and gently, but thoroughly, pat dry with paper towels. Place in a mortar with cooled pine nuts, garlic and pinch salt. Using the pestle with a rotary movement, grind ingredients against the wall of the mortar, until ground to a paste. Add both cheeses and grind into mixture to combine.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl. In a slow and steady steam, add oil, whisking constantly.

Pesto is best used the same day but keeps, its surface covered with a thin layer of olive oil and tightly covered, chilled, for 3 days.

To dress pasta, dilute pesto with a tablespoon or two of pasta cooking water, toss with hot pasta (just cooked and drained), add a tablespoon or two of butter and toss again. Serve at once.

Gemelli with Sausage and Saffron

September 18, 2010

I have to be honest, I always have a bit of sticker shock when I buy saffron. Spices themselves are quite pricy, but saffron normally runs over $10 and there is just a little envelope in the jar with a few strands of it. I know a little goes a long way, but does it really have to cost so much?

So, I did a bit of research and – ok – I will admit, I think it should cost more than it does! The spice comes from the saffron crocus flower. A pound of dry saffron requires the styles and stigmas of 50,000-75,000 flowers – an equivalent of a football field’s area of cultivation! Forty hours of labor goes into 150,000 flowers (only 2 pounds of dry saffron). Ok, I get it. This stuff is tough and time-consuming to produce. I can see why the spice is $500+ per pound.

So, I have a bit more appreciation when a recipe calls for a small amount of saffron – giving it a honey, grassy almost hay-like flavor (not to mention an amazing color). When I saw this pasta recipe in La Cucina Italiana, I thought I would try it, since I had never used saffron in pasta.

I don’t know if it was the San Marzano tomatoes (essential!), the unique shape of pasta (it called for malloreddus but I couldn’t find it so used gemelli instead), the sausage, or the amazing taste of saffron, but this pasta became one of my favorites in just one bite. There is so much favor – a spiciness (I added a few red pepper flakes) with the fennel in the sausage, that flavorful saffron taste along with the sweetness of the San Marzanos. Not to mention a great flavor and sweetness from the onions.

So, next time you wonder why you are paying so much for saffron, remember the process to cultivate it, and make this pasta. One bite, and you just won’t care how much you spent to make it!

GEMELLI WITH SAUSAGE AND SAFFRON

One pound sweet Italian sausage
Heaping 1/8 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 (28-ounce can) whole peeled tomatoes with juices, preferably San Marzano
1/2 cup dry white wine
Fine sea salt
500 grams (1.1 pounds)  fresh malloreddus or dried malloreddus (available at some supermarkets and specialty stores) or one pound of Gemelli pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese plus more for serving

Remove sausage from casing; break meat apart a bit. Combine saffron and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat; add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 6 minutes. Add sausage, reduce heat to medium and cook, breaking meat apart with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices and wine; cook, breaking up tomatoes, for 5 minutes. Add saffron mixture and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently simmer sauce until thickened and flavorful, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente (about 6 minutes after water returns to a boil for fresh malloreddus). Meanwhile, gently warm sauce. When pasta is al dente, drain pasta, transfer to a large bowl, immediately add sauce and toss to combine. Add cheese and toss once more. Serve immediately, passing extra cheese at the table.

Bucatini alla Gricia (Bucatini with Guanciale)

September 5, 2010

Ever since spending time in Italy, I have found a true love for bucatini. I have written about it in other recipes, and there is a reason – it is a heavier noodle, because of the hole, and if you have a sauce, it gets caught in the middle, giving the dish more flavor. Now, this particular dish could be made with spaghetti, of course, but I just love the bucatini for something different.

I got this recipe from one of my favorite magazines – La Cucina Italiana. It was a “pasta issue” so I am sure you will be seeing some more pastas soon.

I would love to say I made this recipe with guanciale, but it is a tough find here in Cincinnati (if anyone knows where to get it, let me know!) so I substituted the good old standby – pancetta. I will admit, this is a pretty basic recipe, but is a great one if you want something a bit lighter (no heavy sauce) and something full of flavor!

BUCATINI ALLA GRICIA (BUCATINI WITH GUANCIALE)
4-6 Servings

Salt
7 ounces guanciale, cut into 1/8-inch slices (or pancetta)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 whole dried arbol chilies, crumbled, or red pepper flakes to taste
1 pound bucatini or spaghetti
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut guanciale into 3/4-inch pieces.

Line a plate with paper towers. Combine guanciale and oil in a large nonstick skillet; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer guanciale to paper towels to drain.

Add onion and chiles (red pepper flakes) to skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente.

Return guanciale to skillet and stir to combine; remove from heat. When pasta is al dente, drain pasta and immediately return to pot. Add guanciale mixture, scraping skillet with a rubber spatula to add all of the pan contents to pot with the pasta. Toss to combine. Add cheese and toss once more. Serve immediately.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Chicory

July 25, 2010

As you may know by now, every Thursday my husband and I have “pasta and wine night.” It is a treat because I am only allowed to make pasta once a week (per my healthier husband) and we get a glass of wine to celebrate the start of the weekend the next day.

In the summer it is tough to find pasta that feels right for the hot, sticky nights. No 5-hour tomato sauce, no baked ziti, no homemade macaroni. So, I am on a constant search for summer pasta.

I found this one in Food & Wine (by Michael White) and thought it looked light, yet flavorful. I was also curious about the chicory/escarole because I will admit, I had actually never cooked with it before. I also thought the mint was an interesting twist…I always trust Food & Wine, so I thought we should give it a try.

The sauce is light – the chicken broth melds with the sausage drippings and olive oil into a flavorful coating. The escarole adds a nice flavor (and healthy component). And the mint, just seems to work – can’t describe why!

So, I recommend making this one on a hot summer night when you want some light pasta without sacrificing the flavor. I know we will eating this one a few more Thursdays this year!

ORECCHIETTE WITH SAUSAGE AND CHICORY
6 Servings

1 pound orecchiette
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound chicory or escarole, coarsely chopped and washed
Kosher salt
1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/4 cup grated pecorino, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons shredded mint

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain well.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook over moderately high heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate.

Add the garlic, crushed red pepper and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicory with any water clinging to the leaves and season with salt. Cover and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Uncover and cook until the chicory is tender and the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes longer.

Add the pasta to the skillet along with the sausage, chicken stock and pecorino and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the liquid is slightly reduced and creamy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the mint and serve right away, passing extra cheese at the table.

Spaghettata Picante

July 11, 2010

It isn’t a surprise that when we were in Italy we tried to bring back some food. Some things were difficult like olive oil and balsamic vinegar (and unfortunately wine), but we did run into a plethora of spices when we were in the Cinque Terre. They were so simple – a bag of a unique blend of spices that you cook with olive oil to infuse it, then toss with pasta and top with cheese. It seemed so simple, yet like everything we experienced in Italy, the simple foods were in so many ways the most amazing.

So, we tried this at home with some bucatini and it was amazing. Perfect for summer, too, since it wasn’t too heavy. I know it might seem silly to blog this since the ingredients aren’t readily available here, but I will do two things to help. 1) I will translate the ingredients so you can make a similar spice mixture and 2) I will include the Web site of the company who makes the spies in the Liguri region (and I have an email into them to ask about shipping to the US).

Bon Appetito!

SPAGHETTATA PICANTA
Serves 2

1/2 pound bucatini or pasta of your choice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons spice mixture
Handful of cheese (parmigiano or whatever you like)

Boil water and cook pasta according to directions. Heat olive oil in skillet until it is hot but not smoking. Add the spices and cook on low-medium heat for a few minutes, until it is infused. Drain pasta and add to spice mixture. Toss to coat and top with cheese.

Antichi Sapori Liguri (spice mixture is called Spaghettata Picante)
http://www.antichisaporiliguri.com

Spice mixture contains a variation of: chili pepper, powdered garlic, dried parsley, salt, chervil

The Cullinary Trip of a Lifetime – Part 4 (Umbria & Rome)

July 10, 2010

View from our villa

As we left the wineries and cypress trees of Tuscany behind, we entered the rolling hills, and less traveled area of Umbria. You don’t hear of many people visiting this area, due to its more popular sibling – Tuscany – but I fear it is overlooked based purely on lack of publicity. Our time in Umbria felt more rustic than any place on our trip and we encountered more pure culture and non-English speakers than I ever could have imagined. We called it our “cultural immersion” part of the journey. No Rick Steves guidebooks here.

Although the cuisine is similar to Tuscany, there are a few regional specialties worth noting. Perugia is known for its chocolate, so the delicious sweet treat is easy to come by in these parts. Truffles are also popular and abundant. This area is also supposed to have the best salumi (which we later confirmed).

So our first stop (which we got to via our Fiat Cinquecento and first interesting driving experience) was Orvieto. This small hill town is known for its amazing duomo (the most beautiful I have ever seen) and its wine called, of course, Orvieto Classico. So, not in order of importance, we visited the duomo, then tried the wine with lunch.

Pancetta Panini with a glass of Orvieto Classico

In Cinque Terre the light wine felt right with the seafood and sea views – but here, I will admit, it was a bit odd. The food in this region is very pork, boar, tomato-sauce focused so it felt ripe for red. But, when we found a restaurant on the square with a view of the duomo and ordered a panini, the white, light wine went perfectly.

After our short lunch stop in Orvieto we proceeded (sans GPS, unfortunately) to our villa. We were fortunate enough to have a work friend who knew an old coworker with a cluster of villas just outside of Spoleto (http://www.borgoacquaiura.it/borgoeng.html). We knew it would be off the beaten path and absolutely amazing. We were not disappointed.

The villa was situated on a hill, overlooking nothing but trees, flowers and a few small hill towns. Our villa, La Casetta, was the perfect home base. To add to the ambiance, we were greeted by the caretaker, Nicu, who knew absolutely no English. Remember how we called this our cultural immersion?

I have so many stories to tell about this portion of our trip, but I will try to limit it to our food experiences. Our first night, we didn’t know where we

Antipasti at Palazzo del Papa - not surprisingly lots of salumi and truffle mushrooms

should drive for dinner. We knew how to get to Spoleto, but didn’t know much about what was there. In broken Italian, we asked Nicu who kindly offered to drive us to a restaurant called Palazzo del Papa, which was down some windy roads opposite of Spoleto. To boot, he said when we were finished to tell the wait staff and they would call him to come pick us up.

So our first course was, of course, the antipasti of the house – again, it was interesting to see the difference. Of all the places we had been, this was the most robust and hearty antipasti we had ever eaten. In some ways, it could have been its own meal. But, there was just too much good food to stop there!

Truffle pasta at Palazzo di Papa

For our primi, I got a truffle pasta (although I actually ordered something else – but the language barrier was a blessing since it was amazing!). Rob had a tomato pasta then we both had pork cutlets (his with lemon and mine with truffle – that time ordered on purpose!). The food was to die for, and when we had the restaurant call Nicu, the bartender gave us a gratis after dinner drink while we waited. An amazing night.

The next night was a special one – and I won’t bore you with ALL of the mushy details. My husband and I renewed our vows. No, it wasn’t a monumental anniversary, but we had always wondered what it would be like if we had eloped to Italy, and got married in a chapel – just us. Now, at the end of the day, having our friends and family with us that day was so important to us, we never would have done it. But there was something about a romantic moment, just the two of us, in a foreign place that always tugged at me. So, when the coworker who put me in contact with the villa owner said he renewed his vows there, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity.

Nicu broke out the “popemobile” which in fact WAS the same type of car

The church in Torrecola where we renewed our vows

as the popemobile. He drove us to a church in Torrecola – population 24. Electricity had to be run from a neighboring house, the townspeople came to join us (none of whom we knew) and the entire ceremony was in Italian. But I can honestly say, there was something so surreal about that moment, that I felt not only a romantic and religious connection to my husband, but also to the land of Italy. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Now, the food. So no event like that is complete without a celebration. So after Nicu took out us, his friend Angelica and her husband Francesco out for a “chin

Wine at Il Capanno

chin” nearby, we had dinner reservations at a place we had been hearing about ever since we got there – Il Capanno (http://www.ilcapannoristorante.it/). Now you can’t be fooled by the dirt road that gets you there, and the fact that it isn’t near much of anything (except our villa). We went there the night before – Nicu took us to make sure it was “acceptable” for our celebration. They gave us wine, antipasti and we tried to communicate with the adorable girl Raquella who was there with the family. We knew it was good, and we knew it was a gem that not enough people had discovered.

We tried a regional wine from Montefalco that special night. I can honestly say the only reason we knew it was regional is we had seen a sign for the exit close to the villa. For our antipasti, we of course ordered “of the house” and were not disappointed. Rob got a delicious ravioli for his primi (which we shared). Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing – it all was – but what I remember most about this meal, other than basking in the glow of our vow renewal, was the steak. Oh my goodness, the

Best steak of our lives - salt crusted with rosemary

steak. I feel like in my life I have had some pretty good steaks, all over the country. But this steak had some sort of unique salt crust, and it blew you away. I could never reciprocate it no matter how hard I would try. We both agreed it was hands down the most amazing steak we had ever hand in our lives. For dessert, we got a chocolate mousse with a pistachio creme that was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Needless to say, during our time in Umbria we went back to the delicious Palazzo del Papa for dinner, this time getting a pizza and confirming the legend that Umbria does indeed have the best salumi and cured meats. Hands down, best pizza I have ever put in my mouth.

Spaghetti Carbonara in Assisi

Another memorable meal was in Assisi, where we visited for a day of sightseeing. Those who know me well, know carbonara is my favorite pasta dish. As a child, my father and I would beg my mother to make it as much as she could. The whole trip I knew that certain dishes were only available regionally. And although there were some exceptions (my husband had a mean carbonara in Venice), I knew in Umbria and Rome, we had entered “carbonara country.” So, for lunch in Umbria, I ordered my first plate of this heavenly pasta. It was a drier carbonara – less of that heavy creamy sauce – which was perfect for lunch. The bacon was like none I have ever had. All and all, an amazing dish, and worth the long wait to experience it in its regional birthplace.

Once we left the peaceful lands of the villa and entered clustered, noisy, crowded Rome, I will say we both experienced a bit of a culture shock. It took many different directions (GPS still broken) and near misses with other traffic to make it to the Hertz station to drop off our car. To boot, it was raining. Although, I have to admit, this was the first real rain of the trip (minus about 1 hour in Tuscany) so neither one of us was complaining. Once we got settled at our B&B, we realized it was pouring rain and we were starving. It was time for one of those typical 2 hour Italian lunches, while the rain would hopefully pass through.

We ducked into a little place in an alley by our B&B – looked like it was filled with locals (good sign), looked crowded (also a good sign) and looked very unassuming (the best sign). We sat down, shook out our umbrellas and dug into the menu. For an antipasti, we got baccala (cod fish) that was fried. Despite its popularity in Italy, it was actually the first baccala we had on the trip. It was crispy and delicious.

Bucatini in Rome

For our main meal I got, not surprisingly, carbonara. Rob got a bucatini (the spaghetti like strands with a hole in the center like a long tube), which has now become one of my favorite types of pasta. It was served traditionally, with a tomato sauce. They were both so flavorful, and the pasta was cooked to perfection. It seemed the perfect lunch in a cozy restaurant, while watching people trudge past in the rain. Then, we topped it all off with an espresso, to give us the energy to trudge in the rain ourselves.

Our last evening in Italy, after a visit to the Trevi Fountain, we decided to eat in a popular area with outdoor restaurants, street performers, and amazing food. I will admit, I ate more food than I ever thought possible. But I realized that this time the next day, I would be getting whatever Delta airplane food they put in front of me on a plastic tray, so I had to load up on the good food while I could. We did both primi and segundi and I had a craving for traditional spaghetti with a meat sauce. Yes, it sounds simple for my last meal, but I wanted to have that one, comfort food that I always think of when I think of Italian food. I wanted something traditional, after all of the amazing specialties we had throughout the trip. Rob got a gnocchi and we both got breaded veal for our main dish. We held off on dessert, knowing we could find some good gelato nearby. We were right.

Gelato in Rome

We literally followed the people with cones into what might be the closest thing I have ever seen to a gelato palace. The place was huge, more gelato than I have ever seen in my life, and there was a system. You pay first. Of course, as clueless tourists we waited about 10 minutes before realizing the system, but once we did and got our cones, we knew it was worth the wait. Maybe it was because it was our last night, or maybe it was because I was eating ice cream that tasted like a candy bar, but it was the best gelato I have ever had in my life.

The cuisine of Umbria and Rome was not only memorable because I was able to experience carbonara, but because it was yet two more regions, with their own specialties. Umbria felt raw in its culture, Rome a bit more metropolitan. In Umbria, it was all home grown food prepared in traditional ways, in Rome you could get some pretty good Chinese food, I am sure. They both had their own personalities, and it was necessary to experience both to appreciate the differences. This part of my trip has a sentimental meaning to me. Not only because I renewed my vows with my amazing husband, but because it was my last few days in a country where I know I will be returning.

Below are a few more food photos of our time in Umbria and Rome:

Rob in the butcher shop in nearby Spoleto where we bought our meats and cheeses for the villa

Lunch on our patio at the villa - meats, cheese and bread from the butcher shop in Spoleto

The antipasti at Il Capanno

Ravioli at Il Capanno

Chocolate mousse and pistachio cream at Il Capanno

Wine at Trattoria Al Camino Vecchio in Assisi

Gnocchi in Assisi

Best pizza I have ever had at Palazzo del Papa outside of Spoleto

Fried baccala in Rome

Carbonara in Rome

Spaghetti with meat sauce the last night in Rome

Gnocchi in tomato sauce in Rome

Last meal in Italy


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