Pasta

Cooking in Italy: pasta for a jet lagged crowd

Pasta al tonno e pistacchi fredda

Pasta al tonno e pistacchi fredda

In the enchanting Panarea until the end of the month, and whenever I am in this part of the world, certain flavors inevitably beckon and inspire. This one of those pastas about which I so love to teach, the kind in a sauce that will be ready in the time it takes the water to boil and the pasta to cook, in other words, a perfect still-jet-lagged-but-starving solution.

And because you don't have to eat it scalding hot and it doesn't suffer from waiting a bit, it is wonderfully suited for the comings and goings of the varying circadian rhythms of a large group of people.

Lastly, should you jonesey for it in the winter, you can still make it with a few good canned Sanmarzano tomatoes.

Enjoy.

Definitely a room with a view

Definitely a room with a view


Pasta con pomodorini, tonno e pistacchi

Pasta with cherry tomatoes, tuna and pistachios

 

for 6 people

1/4 cup capers packed in salt

1/4 cup green Sicilian olives

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 cup fresh mint to taste

2 garlic cloves

24 ripe and sweet cherry tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 can tuna in olive oil pepper to taste

salt to taste

1 box short pasta of your choice (calamarata is in the photo)

 

Put a pot of water to boil. The pot should easily contain all the pasta and leave space for it to grow in size as it is cooking. The water should be salted enough to remind you of sea water.

Rinse the salt off the capers and soak them in warm water to finish expunging the salt.

Rinse the olives, crack them to eliminate the stone and chop them roughly.

Chop the pistachios.

Reserve 3 or 4 of the prettiest mint leaves for garnishing. Stack the rest, roll them and slice them in very thin ribbons.

Smash and peel the garlic.

Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Pour the pasta in the boiling water and give it a stir.

In a 12" sauté pan gently heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the garlic clove, half the mint and the oregano.

Drain the tuna off its packing oil and crumble it with a fork.

When the olive oil runs quickly and shimmers and you can smell the garlic fragrance, remove and discard the clove.

Raise the heat to medium high and add the tuna. Sauté for about 2 minutes.

Drain the capers.

Add the tomatoes, capers and olives to the tuna and keep sautéing over a lively flame until the tomatoes are wrinkly and tender and there is a bit of a sauce in the bottom of the pan, it should take 5 to 6 minutes.

Using a handheld strainer, fish the pasta out of the water and transfer it to sauté pan. Add about half a cup of pasta cooking water and continue cooking the pasta, until it has reached your desired doneness-this might require the addition of a bit more pasta water.

Finish with olive oil and adjust salt and pepper. Toss in the pistachios and the leftover sliced.

Garnish with the mint leaves and bring to the table.

NOTE:

This sauce has some rather flavorful ingredients so I suggest adjusting salt and pepper at the very end, when it is all done. If you want a little kick, you can swap black pepper for red. Lastly, keep in mind that the timing of this is calibrated on a pasta that takes 10 to 12 minutes to cook, you will need to adjust the timing to the type of pasta you choose.

Waste not want not, leftovers from an Italian Christmas

Though the quickly ending year is leaving quite a bit to be desired behind, all in all I can say that there were nothing but upsides this past December 25th. They are:

Christmas morning
Christmas morning
  • Spending Christmas morning in bed with the amore piccolo and the amore grande watching "The Interview"
  • Finding Christmas joy in cooking and hosting a meal for 30, and managing to sit them all
  • Knowing at least 30 people who understand that the first item on this list completely justifies delaying festivities by 3 hours
  • Discovering that the 12 days of Christmas START rather than end on Christmas Day (did everyone know that? If so, shouldn't someone have told me on by Day 2 or 3 of my Italian holiday table series??)
  • Having enough leftovers to continue the series for several days
Christmas dinner 2014
Christmas dinner 2014

First up: repurposing that lone octopus tentacle swimming in its own perfect broth. This one accounted for 2 meals, one of spaghetti-below and one of risotto-coming soon...


Spaghetti al sugo di polpo piccante

Spaghetti with spicy octopus sauce

 

for 6 people

lone octopus tentacle from recipe described here

1 garlic clove

1 handful basil leaves

2 tablespoon tomato concentrate

1 cup octopus stock olive oil

red pepper flakes to taste

splash dry white wine

salt to taste

 

Cut the octopus tentacles in very small morsels. Smash and peel the garlic clove.

Stack the basil leaves, roll them longitudinally and slice them in very thin ribbons.

Heat the octopus stock and dilute the tomato concentrate in it.

Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic clove and half the basil in a sautè pan. Gently heat everything until the fragrance of the garlic wafts to your nostrils.

Discard the garlic clove and add the cut octopus. Warm for a couple of minutes and deglaze with the wine.

Wait until the wine smells caressing rather than acrid then add the octopus stock with the tomato concentrate.

While it is gently simmering to slightly reduce, cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water.

Using a handheld strainer transfer the spaghetti into the sautè pan about 4 minutes before the suggested cooking time printed on the package.

Finish cooking by gradually adding small amounts of the water in which the spaghetti cooked. Be mindful to add the liquid in small amounts so that the pasta has a chance to absorb it. If too much liquid is added, one is bound to end with with either overcooked or soupy pasta.

When the spaghetti have reached the consistency most palatable to you, finish with a short stream of olive oil and serve immediately in a warm platter after garnishing with the remainder of the basil.

NOTES

  • You might have noticed that I omit the salt from this recipe except for what goes in the water for the pasta. That is by design in that the octopus stock is more often than not salty enough to carry it on to the rest of the dish, however, I do suggest that you try the sauce to make sure it is agreeable to your preferred level of saltiness

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 9: polpo

Today is fish day. No it will not be 7 fishes, rather just one veeeery long cooking octopus. Below are pictures of what is happening in my kitchen as I write.

Merry Christmas!

 


Polpo alla Luciana

Braised octopus

 

for 6 to 8 people

3 to 4 pounds octopus

salt to taste

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 handful parsley

1 ripe large tomato-if in season

OR 2 or 3 canned tomatoes

OR 2 tablespoon tomato concentrate

2 garlic cloves

pepper to taste

 

Lightly sprinkle salt on the octopus and place it in a Dutch oven. Add the olive oil and wine.

Rinse and add the parsley, stems off.

Chunk the fresh tomato or smash the canned one with your hands. Smash and peel the garlic. Add them to the rest of the ingredients-or add the tomato concentrate.

Season with pepper-or red pepper flakes if you want to give it a kick.

Seal the pot with a layer of parchment paper and tie it around its circumference with kitchen twine. Cover tightly with the lid and place over the lowest heat your stovetop can dispense.

Cook slowly and lovingly for 3 to 4 hours, or more if you have a big octopus, without ever opening and unsealing the pot.

Bask in the fragrance until you deem it ready.

Open and drain the octopus from its water. You can serve it as is, cool it and make a salad with it, mince it for a pasta sauce.

Whatever you do, keep the stock it has produced so we can use it for our days of leftover fun.

NOTES

  • This is an old Italian classic, there are versions that use onion and/or celery for a richer stock
  • I have made this also without wine, or using basil in the summer
  • A pinch of oregano adds a delightful dimension
  • The stock will be rather intense so do not add salt or reduce, otherwise you will not be able to use it
  • Lastly: a picture of my child and some of his cousins after having eaten spaghetti with a sauce from the recipe above last summer in Tuscany
Topini che mangiano il polpo della zia Viola
Topini che mangiano il polpo della zia Viola

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 8: pici al tartufo nero

My mom and dad loved a good party and New Year's Eve was, needless to say, the perfect occasion. The crowds were large and while the adults played baccarat and roulette in the upstairs salon (yes, Italians like a friendly gamble during the holiday season), we children ran around unchecked across the garden, in a storage room that had cleaned and heated for the night. Somewhere in the early 70's, I remember standing by a ping pong table outfitted to buffet, my senses glued by an enormous bowl of pici-a rustic, handmade spaghetti-graced by month old olive oil and little brown specks of what I knew to be black truffle.

tartufi
tartufi

That first encounter with a seminal holiday food remains a brick in the foundation of my house of food. I have since recreated and taught this dish in my classes and last night, after having ascertained of it kosherness, I made it for a 7th day of Hanukkah celebration at the home of dear friends.


Pici al tartufo nero

Handmade spaghetti with black truffle

for the pici

1/3 pound semolina flour

3/4 pound all purpose

pinch of salt

1 egg

warm water

 

for the sauce

2 garlic cloves

olive oil-preferably olio nuovo, the kind that has been pressed the previous November

salt and pepper to taste

1 handful parsley

1 black winter truffle

grated pecorino (optional)

 

In a bowl, mix the flours and salt. Add the egg, olive oil and start working the ingredients while adding a thin stream of water.

Work in just enough water to bring everything together into a shaggy looking, somewhat crumbly ball. At this stage the mixture should be moist and a little soft but not wet or tacky.

Once you have a satisfactory shaggy ball, that has gathered as close to all of the ingredients as possible, is soft enough to knead but with some resistance, is not too wet and giving, but not so hard that it can barely be pressed together, start kneading.

Grabbing the top third of the ball with your fingertips and pull it up and away from the center. Now use the heel of your hand to press the top third into the middle third. Lastly, still using the heel of your hand, vigorously fold everything into the bottom third.

Turn the dough a quarter hour and repeat the pulling/pressing/folding motion until the dough is smooth and elastic and springs back quickly when poked with a finger.

The pulling/folding/pressing motion will slowly turn the dough inside out and outward in, ensuring that all of it is kneaded, rather than just some parts.

The process will take 10 to 15 minutes at the end of which the dough should be cool and slightly moist to the touch but not tacky. It should also spring back into place quickly when poked.

You can also use a mixer with a hook attachment, just place the ingredients and mix on medium until everything comes together nicely and the dough looks homogeneous and elastic.

Wrap tightly and let the dough relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce.

Clean the truffle: loosen dirt by brushing vigorously with a clean nail brush, then rinse under running cold water while still brushing until you've removed all the dirt. Dry well with a clean paper towel.

Roll the dough to sheets about 12” long and 1/4” thick. Cut each sheet into long strips about 1/2” wide.

Take the first strip and separate it from the rest. Grab one end, fold it and pinch it shut between your thumb and index finger.

Hold up the pinched end and roll the strip of dough back and forth between the palm of your free hand and a wooden surface. Exert light pressure otherwise you will not be able to roll.

Keep rolling toward the opposite end of the strip while gently tugging the pinched side to stretch the spaghetto.

You will yield a long, thick, uneven noodle that can be dipped in semolina then placed on a sheet pan to slightly dry.

Repeat the operation until you have finished all the dough.

Drop the pici in boiling salted water.

While the pasta is cooking, pour about half a cup of the olive oil into a warm serving bowl, add 4 to 5 spoonfuls of the water in which the pasta is cooking and whisk into an emulsion. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper.

The pic will take about 10 to 15 minutes. When done, strain from the water using a handheld strainer or tongs and transfer it into the bowl. Toss to coat evenly.

Using a microplane zester, grate the truffle over the pici. Toss well, adding some more olive oil and pasta cooking water if it appears too dry.

Serve immediately with the grated pecorino on the side.

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 1: Timballo di pasta

Holiday cheer is uncharacteristically late in our household this year. Decorations just appeared this morning and the tree is yet to be trimmed-or purchased, for that matters. I figured I can at least be timely with gifting. My gift to all of you, the marvelous audience who has supported me from the inception of my teaching career and still cheers me every step of the way, will be a recipes every day between here and Christmas to give an Italian flair to the table of your winter holidays.

From the rapid and simple to the lengthy and laborious, these dishes are born from the marriage of traditions and creativity always at work in my Italian kitchen in California and they are the flavors without which the joy of Christmas just does not taste as it should.

Let's start the journey with timballo di pasta alla napoletana, an elaborate pie filled with egg pasta in a richly flavored ragout. It was part of last Sunday night's program at 18 Reasons and I posted a picture of it on instagram. I got so many requests for the recipes, it became the inspiration for these series of posts, thus the obvious choice for day 1.

This stunning dish shows up in many different incarnations in Neapolitan cuisine. I chose this version because it houses both animals found in Italian holiday meals: the pig and the chicken. The chicken moves sideways, plucking the last crumbs, making way for the pig that forges ahead, undeterred symbol of renewal and the advent of a new season.

Enjoy and share.

 


Timballo di pasta alla napoletana

Neapolitan style pasta pie

 

for a 9 to 10" spring form

for the shell

400 grams flour

200 grams butter

3 eggs

2 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt

 

for the filling

1/2 cup dried porcini

1 small onion

1 small carrot

1 small celery stalk

2 mild Italian sausages

1 pound mixed wild mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

lard (or olive oil)

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup marsala

1/2 cup chicken livers

1/4” thick ham slice

1.5 quarts whole milk

3 tablespoon flour

3 tablespoon butter

1 pound egg tagliolini (or other egg pasta)

1.5 cups grated parmigiano

 

Make the dough for the shell by mixing the flour, diced butter, 2 eggs, salt and sugar. Work quickly. Divide it into 1/3 and 2/3 giving each piece a thick disc shape and let rest for about an hour wrapped in the fridge.

Soak the porcini in boiling water. Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery. Take the sausages out of the casing and crumble it with a fork. Clean the mushrooms and slice them thinly. Strain the porcini and set the soaking water aside. Chop them roughly.

In a sautèe pan heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of lard. Add the onion, carrot and celery with the cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt. Soften them until golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the sausages and mushrooms. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes over lively heat, stirring them often to ensure they do not stick to the bottom of the pan.

While the sausages and mushrooms are cooking, chop the pistachios finely and add half of them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Deglaze everything with half the marsala and when the alcohol no longer smells acrid, adjust salt and pepper, transfer to a large bowl and set aside

Wash the chicken livers well with water and vinegar, rinse them and dry them carefully with paper towels. Generously season them with salt and pepper. In a skillet over lively heat, brown them in 3 tablespoons of very hot lard.

Deglaze with the remaining marsala. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes, until the livers are fairly firm to the touch and slightly pink inside. If they seem too dry during the cooking process, add small amounts of hot water to moisten. Chop them roughly and add them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Dice the ham quite finely and add it to the chicken livers, sausages and mushrooms. Set everything aside.

To make the béchamel, start by heating the milk.

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, toast the 3 tablespoons of flour for about 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it continuously.

Still whisking, add the 3 tablespoons of butter in it and cook for about 5 minutes into a golden and fragrant roux.

Slowly whisk in the hot milk, pouring it into a thin stream. Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce starts thickening. It will come to a boil and then shrink back as it thickens.

Cook for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, never letting up on the whisking. Now taste it: you should not detect flour, if you do, cook the sauce a little longer. Adjust salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Line the bottom of the spring form pan with a circle of parchment paper of the same diameter as the pan. Brush the sides of the pan with butter and dust them with flour. Move around to ensure they are well coated in flour then shake off the excess.

Roll out the two discs of dough to about 1/4”. Use the largest one to line the pan. Place the smallest on a plate and put them both back in the refrigerator.

Cook the pasta VERY al dente in salted boiling water, about 3 to 4 minutes less than the suggested cooking time.

Drain loosely and transfer to a bowl. Dress with the meat sauce, 2/3 of the béchamel and half the grated parmigiano. Toss well and pour into the spring form pan. Cover with the smaller disc.

Seal and crimp all along the edges of the pie. Whisk the remaining egg with 3 tablespoons of cold water and use it to brush the top of the pie. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes in a 350˚F preheated oven.

Let stand for 10 minutes before springing it out of the form. Serve while still piping hot with the extra béchamel, grated parmigiano and pistachios on the side.

Greek inspiration: burnt wheat pasta with pecans, sage, lemon and feta

Pasta pecans e feta
Pasta pecans e feta

I took a Greek hiatus during my Italian summer. The bustle of Athens first, followed by a few magical days on Sifnos-one of the Cyclades, to celebrate my sister-in-law Susan joyfully embracing the half century mark. The islands of Greece are all the magic that one imagines them to be, and then more. The sun drenched flavors I enjoyed have been a source of inspiration in these first weeks back from the Mediterranean summer. Last week, I put together a pantry staples pasta that I have made 3 times since to much acclaim from family and friends, big and small.

Atene 2014
Atene 2014

I used burnt wheat pasta, a long lost flavor from the peasant tables of Puglia, where poor farmers recovered what was left after the burn-and-turn of wheat fields, then ground it into flour. Burnt wheat pasta-pasta di grano arso-has recently made a timid comeback. It carries a scorched, almost dirt-like flavor that holds up well to the bright, brine and tang in this recipe.

 


Pasta di grano arso al profumo di salvia e limone con pecans e feta

Sage and lemon scented burnt wheat pasta with pecans and feta

for 6 people

2 garlic cloves

salt to taste

8 to 9 sage leaves

grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon

olive oil 1/2 cup pecans

1/2 cup sheep's feta

pepper to taste

1 bag burnt wheat pasta

 

While the water for the pasta is coming to a boil, smash and peel the garlic cloves. Add a generous pinch of salt and mince the garlic into a paste.

Stack the sage leaves, roll them tightly longitudinally and slice them in very thin ribbons.

Place the garlic, sage leaves and half the zest in a skillet with 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil over gentle heat.

Slowly soften the garlic, being mindful not to burn it by stirring often and keeping the nose open for harmonious, non-acrid smells.

In the meantime,  roughly chop the pecans and crumble the feta with your hands.

Add the nuts to the garlic and sautée for about 5 minutes without raising the heat. Season with pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta in the salted boiling water until quite al dente, 3 to 4 minutes less than the time suggested on the packaging.

Using a handheld strainer, remove the pasta from the water and transfer it to the skillet with the other ingredients. Raise the heat to lively and finish cooking the pasta by gradually adding small amounts of pasta cooking water.

When the desired tenderness is reached, remove from the heat and finish with the crumbled feta and a splash of olive oil. Toss well and garnish with the remaining zest.

Serve immediately.

NOTES

  • I used dry sage from Greece for this recipe, which you can substitute with fresh sage, however if someone you know is heading to Greece, have them bring you some sage back, it's amazing
  • Pecans can be switched for other softer fleshed nuts like pistachios
  • If you are curious to try the burnt wheat pasta, my favorite Italian food importer Casa de Case carries it
  • Also, see my friend Simona Carini's musings on grano arso on her great blog, Briciole

Cooking in Italy: linguine with limpets

Panarea viewThis is what I have been waking up to in the last 4 days. Ernesto and I are staying with friends on the splendidly choreographed island of Panarea, part of a volcanic archipelago called Eolie off the northwest coast of Sicily. The inches where water and stone meet all around the island's coastline are dotted with limpets-patelle in italian-prehistorical looking, ridged, cone shaped shells that stick to the rocks hiding an oval of flavor and texture equal to only its own. I have never seen limpets in a fish market, but in times much past, my mother taught me to forage them.

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 9.02.52 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

She showed me that by wedging the tip of a small knife under the shell then slowly wiggling it, one can kindly break the kiss between rock and limpet, then catch the valve as it falls, and-she told me-the patience required by the task would be well worth it in taste. As it happened, I got lost in how "far patelle"-gathering limpets ate my summer afternoons in the sweetest of way, motions and sounds of ebb and flow could hold my focus for hours.

The reward for my efforts lay in watching my mother dose her kitchen skills to shape the bittersweet springiness of patelle into one more brick for the house of my memories.

Yesterday afternoon I found out that patelle magic still holds, when I passed the secret on to my child and his friends, with the same motherly promise that their harvest would find new purpose through pots and pans. The children harvested until 7pm, at 8:30, I kept my promise.

 

Linguine alle patelle Linguine with limpets

for 6 people 2 pounds freshly harvested limpets salt to taste 1 pound linguine 1/2 handful basil leaves 1 to 2 garlic cloves 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil pepper to taste

Rinse the limpets several times under running water. Limpets live on rocks, so usually a few vigorous rinses are plenty to scant any grit they might contain.

patelle in cucinaPlace a colander in a bowl filled with salted cold water-sea water is ideal if you have easy access to it. Pour the limpets in until you are ready to use them.

Mince the garlic into a paste using a generous pinch of salt. Stack the basil leaves and roll them lengthwise. Slice them into very thin ribbons.

Place the olive oil into a saute pan with the garlic and basil mince. Heat gently until the minced fragrances are kind of melting. In the meantime, drain the limpets.

Place the linguine into a pot of salted boiling water.

Throw the limpets into the pan and saute over lively heat no more than 4 to 5 minutes. You will see the limpets becoming slightly smaller and some of them detaching from their shells.

 

Taste the linguine, they should be about half way through cooking, meaning they will fold without stiffness but will still have quite the uncooked soul inside. Remove the pasta from the water using a set of tongs and add it to the limpets.

Turn the heat back on and finish cooking the pasta by adding small amounts of cooking water to it and letting it absorb before adding more while moving the pan around almost constantly to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom.

Linguine alle patelleWhen the preferred doneness is reached, add a last splash of cooking water and the remaining olive oil, turn off the heat, toss well to give a creamy mouth feel and serve immediately.

The children will gobble them up, I promise.

Truffles and chocolates

When I asked Ernesto what would he wanted for breakfast Saturday of last week, he answered: "Spaghetti al tartufo, mamma-Spaghetti with truffle, mommie". And yes, he was serious. Tartufi marzolini

The first week in March, both Ernesto's current school, Miraloma Elementary, and his former pre-school, La Scuola Internazionale di San Francisco, hold their yearly auctions and every year, my truffle guy ships a generous in-kind donation straight from Italy to contribute to the success of the events.

As he's a stickler for quality, Piero Cipriani always puts in a sample for Ernesto and me to test. This year, we were blessed with 300 grams of bianchetti or marzolini, white spring truffles bursting with uncomplicated earthy flavors that I find best brought out by the subtle addition of anchovies.

By the way, Piero will ship directly from Italy truffles that are dug by cousins of his. Should you be interested, I would be happy to put you in touch with him.

 

On the chocolate front, I have been putting my training at Perugina's Scuola del Cioccolato to good use...

Baci e Cioccolato 1On Valentine's Day, 50 people at San Francisco's Italian Cultural Institute learned how to say "I love you" the Italian way by making and eating Baci Perugina. We all had a blast and went home happily covered in chocolate.

Over the next 2 month, at La Scuola di Eataly in Chicago on Saturday 4/5 and in New York, on Saturday 4/12 and 5/10, during 3 classes on Baci, I will make them, chat about their history, use them as ingredients in two of my original creations, chat about how my family shaped Perugina from a high end confectionery shop in the heart of my hometown into the world wide brand it is today, and share memories of growing up under this delectable legacy.

I have worshiped at the altar of anything associated with Lidia Bastianich since my first risotto at her NYC's legendary Felidia Ristorante in the mid 80's, so I am thrilled beyond what words can express at the thought of teaching at Eataly, a place I consider the ode to all I hold sacred in my chosen field.

Click on my event calendar for details on registering for the Perugina chocolate workshops. I hope to see some of you there and, if you are reading from Chicago or New York, spread the word.

Spaghetti con salsa di tartufi bianchetti Spaghetti with March white truffles (aka: Ernesto's favorite breakfast)Spaghetti ai marzolini

for 6 people: 100 grams March white truffles 5 olive oil packed anchovies fillets 1 to 2 teaspoons green garlic (or 1/2 clove regular garlic) olive oil salt to taste black pepper to taste 1 pound bag of spaghetti 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Clean the truffles as follows: loosen the dirt with a new nail brush. Finish removing the dirt under running water while scrubbing each truffle with the brush. Dry well with a paper towel. Note that this needs to be a very quick operation, the truffles shouldn't be in the water flow for more than a couple of minutes.

Keep the smallest truffle (or a piece of truffle) whole and place the rest in the bowl of a food processor with the anchovies and green garlic.

Adding the olive oil in a stream, grind into a loose paste. Add black pepper to taste, and salt if necessary, though the sauce should be salty enough from the anchovies.

Place the truffle sauce in a warm, shallow serving bowls.

Cook the spaghetti very al dente in boiling, well salted water. If using, chop the pine nuts roughly.

Fish the spaghetti out of the water with tongs and transfer them into the bowl with the truffle sauce and toss well to coat thoroughly with the truffle sauce.

If they appear a little too dry, add a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce.

Shave the reserved truffle on top and serve immediately as it is or dusted with the pine nuts.

NOTE:

  • I find that truffles are best kept well wrapped in a paper towel then placed in an airtight container.
  • Keep the dirt on them until you are ready to use them, it helps preserve them longer.
  • I have eaten well kept truffles up until after 2+ weeks of having received them from Piero and they were still delicious, though they had lost a bit of fragrance and the texture was a little softer.
  • Should you wish to freeze them, clean them as outlined above then wrap them in paper towel and aluminum place them in an airtight container and freeze them.
  • Better to use them frozen, without defrosting.
  • Note that frozen truffles are better used in sauces rather than shaved.

The comfort of anchovies

Occasionally, I have a difficult day. No sizable reason, just a cluster of them large enough to carry an antsy undercurrent of unease. On days like this, I tend to remain hidden in bed through familiar morning rituals, rising only to thieve my computer unseen, so that I can find solace in mainstream entertainment. I opt to shut out the world and ignore responsibilities for a few hours and let the unease work its way out of me, a task better achieved with the aid of a comforting snack. A chocolate bar, cookies or a pint of gelato might seem like the obvious choice, except that comfort tastes savory to me. Savory, salty, silvery, briny and high in calcium at that.

Yes, you guessed it: anchovies are what pulls me out of a funk. In fact, when heaped on butter-slathered toasted bread they can dry my bitterest tears.

I hold little loyalty to any particular food. I favor eats because they suit an impermanent mood or they are of the season, because they assuage fear or they pique curiosity. But cornered on a desert island, a loaf of bread, a slab of butter and a jar of salt packed anchovies are what I would want with me. Well, that and my new iPhone 5S with a solar power charger.

And it's not just that anchovies are delicious as a stand-alone food, they are also a game-changing ingredient to deepen the flavor of any dish. I use them in pasta sauces and roasts, in fillings and  salad dressings. And have you ever eaten them fresh? They are perfect grilled or pan-fried, but their most sublime, crispiest death is met breaded and dropped in scalding hot oil.

From late spring into summer and at times into fall, they slither copiously in the waters of Monterey Bay and often make their way to fish counters around San Francisco.

My latest addiction are green olives stuffed with anchovies and capers by my friend Maria Luisa Manca, a native of Catania who lives in Morgan Hill. Last December, she offered them for sale at the annual Mercatino di Natale-a holiday market offering the crafts of Italian women in the Bay Area held at The Italian American Museum of San Francisco.

And one more thing...look at how good anchovies are for you!

These little pets put me in such a good mood. Here are a few ways I have enjoyed them over the past couple of weeks alone.

Before I leave you with some cooking ideas, please take the time to check my calendar for upcoming 2014 classes and events.

Pizzette di polenta bianca White polenta mini pizzas

I took white polenta leftover from my polenta class at 18 Reasons, shaped it into 6 disks about 3" in diameter and 1" in height, pan-fried them in a bit of olive oil, spread each with half a tablespoon of tomato paste, then laid a slice of fresh mozzarella and 2 olive oil packed anchovy fillets. Right before placing them in 325˚F oven for about 10 minutes I sprinkled my makeshift pizzette with dry Sicilian oregano. They and a salad made for a very happy lunch to which I invited 2 friends and a bottle of prosecco.

shapes and flavors of comfort

 

Pane burro e acciughe Bread, butter and anchovies

Here's the picture of what put me in a good mood. The anchovies I used are from Cetara, a small town on the Amalfi Coast. They came packed in salt. I washed, cleaned and re-packed them in extra virgin olive oil. The butter is Clover organic, unsalted of course. The bread is from a bag of six lovely par-baked ones I buy from Berkeley Bowl and pop in the oven when in need of crusty, steaming bread.

 

 

 

Orecchiette piccanSpigarielloti con spigariello, aglietto fresco e acciughe Spicy orecchiette with spigariello, green garlic and anchovies

Spigariello is a broccoli family curly little leafy green. The tender leaves grow around a small rapini like flower which will keep sprouting after it's cut. Its bitterness is more delicate and subtle than that of other brassicas and the leaves are tender enough to be a salad. If you do not find it, you can substitute it with rapini, broccoli rabe, romanesco, or even with good old broccoli, you will just need to cut them in small pieces and adjust the cooking time to make your green of choice quite tender.

 

 

 

 

for 6 people 3 stalks green garlic salt to taste 5 to 6 anchovy fillets in olive oil 1 pound spigariello 1 pound box orecchiette 1⁄4 cup olive oil 1 pinch red pepper flakes grated pecorino

Clean the green garlic as if they were scallions, by eliminating the root, removing 1 outer layer and eliminating the fibrous green part at the very top. Cut 2 of the garlic stalks  in chunks, add them to a large pot of salted boiling water and let cook for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, mince the remaining green garlic and the anchovies together.

Add the cleaned spigariello to the water and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Using a strainer, fish the garlic and greens out of the water which will be reserved to cook the pasta.

Chop the greens and garlic quite finely and set them aside.

Bring the greens cooking water back to a boil and drop the orecchiette in it.

In the meantime, heat the minced garlic and red pepper flakes in the olive oil in saute pan over medium heat.

When the garlic is soft and translucent, add the chopped greens and saute for about 5 minutes.

When the orecchiette are still quite toothsome, transfer them to the pan using a strainer or a slotted spoon.

Gradually add small quantities of pasta cooking water, as much as it is necessary to bring to the desired tenderness. Finish with a splash of olive oil and serve immediately with the pecorino on the side.

 

Pecorino di fossa con olive paradisiache di Maria Luisa Cave aged pecorino with Maria Luisa's heavenly olivesPecorino di fossa e olive di Maria Luisa

For this heavenly snack, you will need me to cajole Maria Luisa into making her olives for you. Then I can try to track down another friend, Tiziana owner of Un Po' Pazzo Selections, who has been importing the sheep cheeses of La Parrina, an early adopter of organic and sustainable agriculture in the Maremma region, which happens a stone's throw away from where my family spends the summers about which I wrote back in July and August. Maybe I can convince Tiziana to sell some of this coveted, scarce cave aged sheep cheese. Lastly you will lounge on your couch, listening to your favorite music, nibbling on your pecorino and olive and meditating on how lucky you are to have Italian connections in the Bay Area.

My Italian Thanksgiving: tortelli or risotto. Or maybe both...

The richness of my life humbles me into thankfulness year round. Right now, for example, I am thankful that I get to write my first Thanksgiving blog entry. On Thursday I will be even more thankful to choose between pumpkin and amaretti tortelli OR risotto with squash, sage and taleggio. Maybe I even get to eat them both, and that will make me thankful the most.

Tortelli di zucca e amaretti Pumpkin and amaretti ravioli

kneading the dough

for 8 people Dough 5 eggs 1 generous pound flour salt

Filling 1 medium size squash or pumpkin with dense flesh and nutty flavor (butternut, kabocha, sugar pie, cinderella all work) 4 or 5 amaretti mostarda di frutta (see notes) grated zest of 1/2 an orange 1 egg 2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano ReggianoMaking tortelli zucca I nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste

Dressing 1/2 stick of butter 1 handful grated Parmigiano Reggiano 1 amaretto 1 pinch grated orange zest

Salt the flour and mound it in a well on a wooden board. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Using a fork, start working the eggs gradually incorporating the flour while keeping the well from falling and the eggs from running.

When the dough and flour become too dense to work with a fork, bring the dough together by pressing it with your hands.

When you have a somewhat shaggy ball of dough, start kneading by stretching the dough, folding and pressing it into itself. Continue kneading until the dough is somewhat smooth and elastic and quickly snaps back into place when pulled. It will take about 15 minutes.

You can also use a mixer with a hook attachment, just place the ingredients and mix on medium until everything comes together nicely and the dough looks homogeneous and elastic.

Wrap tightly and let the dough relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, sprinkle with salt and place in the oven to roast cut side up. Roast until it can be easily pierced with a knife. Scoop the flesh out into a bowl, mash and let cool.

Crumble the amaretti. Take a small piece of fruit out of the mostarda and mince finely. Combine the pumpkin, amaretti, mostarda, egg and parmigiano. Season with nutmeg salt and pepper to taste.

Roll the pasta into strips, they must be very thin, so that you are able to see the outline of your hand through them. Line small mounds of filling just above the center line of each pasta strip, 1” apart from each other.

Dip a pastry brush in water or egg wash. Brush in between each mound of filling and above the whole row.

the tortelli will look like this

Fold the strip of pasta in half and seal along the top where you brushed with water. Starting from one end and moving toward the other, seal in between the filling, paying mind to pushing out excess air.

With a fluted pastry wheel cut along the top edge, leaving a half inch margin of pasta, then cut in between each little ball of filling to obtain square ravioli.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Arrange the ravioli on it so that they do not overlap. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

To cook, drop the tortelli in boiling salted water. When they float to the surface, give them 3 to 4 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the butter, crumble the amaretti and mix it with the parmigiano and zest.

Douse about half the butter on the bottom of a warm platter. Drain the tortelli with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the platter. Douse them with the remaining butter and dust the dressed parmigiano all over them.

Serve immediately.

NOTES:

  • Mostarda di frutta is candied fruit in a mustard sauce. It is a condiment typical of some Northeastern areas of Italy, typically served along side salumi, boiled meats and aged cheeses. It has a spicy and sweet character, reminding of a chutney. This is a good one for this recipe and Formaggio Kitchen happens to be one of my favorite online places for difficult-to-purvey ingredients for my Italian pantry

 

Risotto alla zucca con taleggio e salvia al profumo di arancio Squash risotto with taleggio and sage with hint of orange

for 6 people 1 small acorn squash 6 to 8 sage leaves 1/4 pound taleggio cheese (see note) 2 quarts stock (chicken or vegetable) 3 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons minced onion grated zest of 1/2 an orange 7 handfuls of risotto rice splash of dry white wine 1 small handful of grated parmigiano salt and pepper to taste

Split the squash in half. Place one half on a sheet pan cut side up and sprinkle with salt. Roast until it can be easily pierced with a fork. Scoop out the flesh and puree it.

In the meantime, peel and dice small the remaining half of the squash. Stack the sage leaves and cut them in very thin ribbons. Dice the taleggio. Bring the stock to a boil and keep hot.

Soften the onion in the butter with the grated zest with half the sage. Add the diced squash and braise for about 5 minutes. Add the risotto and toast it.

Deglaze it with the wine. Stir in the squash pure and some stock.

Stir continuously while adding stock until the risotto is ready, generally 20 minutes from when the rice first touches heat, adjust salt and pepper as you move along the cooking process.

When ready, remove from the heat and quickly stir in the cheeses. Garnish with the remaining sage and serve immediately.

NOTES:

  • Taleggio is a delicious creamy cheese from Lombardia which is fairly easy to find in any well stocked cheese counter
  • If you are in San Francisco, Rainbow Grocery carries a good farmhouse one, or a less expensive one can be found at Lucca Ravioli on Valencia at 22nd. Any Whole Foods is likely to carry it