christmas pasta

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 2: Tortelli di Silvia al baccalà e ceci

When it comes to showing holiday spirit, the table is the altar at which my family has always prayed. Food and the cooking of it have always been somewhat of an obsession for us, and no time of the year is marked by planning, discussing, concocting, experimenting as much as this. In this vein, my sister Silvia, who has already started making the cappelletti for which she's famous and sells throughout the month of December, found the inspiration in a central Italian specialty-baccalà e ceci-for a pasta dish to satisfy the requirement of a meatless Christmas Eve.

These tortelli are simply amazing. Grazie Silvia!

The pictures, by the way, are courtesy of my wonderful students.


Tortelli di Silvia al baccalà e ceci

Silvia’s codfish and chickpeas tortelli

 

for the filling and sauce

1/2 pound salted codfish (or fresh true cod)

2 cups chickpeas

1 small onion

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 bay leaf

3 black peppercorns

1/2 bunch parsley

1 lemon

2 eggs

1 garlic clove

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

for the pasta dough

5 large eggs (or 3 to 4 duck eggs)

500 grams flour (1 pound + 1.5 ounces)

salt

This recipe needs some advance planning. Three days before you plan to make it, wash the codfish to remove the surface salt and soak it in cold water.

The water on the codfish will need to be changed 3 to 4 times a day over the course of 3 days. Note that you can use fresh codin a pinch.

Place the chickpeas in cold water to soak for 24 hours.

After the chickpeas soaking period, clean and chunk the onion, carrot and celery and place them in a pot of water with the bay leaf, 2 to 3 parsley sprigs, the peppercorns and 2 tablespoons of salt.

Bring the water to a boil and add the drained chickpeas. Lower the heat to medium and cook the chickpeas until they are soft enough to be easily smashed with a fork. It will take about an hour.

To make the dough, salt the flour and mound it in a well on a wooden board. make a well in the center and add the eggs and a pinch of salt. 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 or working it with 2 bench scrapers in samurai like motions.

When you have a somewhat shaggy ball of dough, start kneading by stretching the top third of the dough with your fingers up and away from you, folding and pressing it into the middle third with the heel of your hand and finally bringing everything into the bottom third. Turn the dough 90˚ or 1/4 hour and repeat the motions described above.

The folding and pressing motion will slowly turn the dough inside out and outward in, ensuring that all of it is kneaded. 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 relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

In the meantime, prepare the filling.

Bring the water to a boil and put in the codfish. Lower the temperature to a simmer and poach the fish for about 20 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, mince the parsley and grate the zest off the lemon.

Smash the fish and half the chickpeas with a fork and mix well with the half the parsley, the zest, 1 egg and 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk an egg with 3 tablespoons of water.

Using a pasta machine or the KitchenAid pasta attachments, roll the pasta into strips thin enough for you to be able to see the outline of your hand through them.

Lay the strips of pasta on a lightly floured surface and using a pastry wheel cut them into squares about 2x2". Spoon a small mound of filling in the center of each square.

Dip a small pastry brush in the egg wash and wipe off excess liquid. Very lightly brush the top and left sides of each square.

Fold one square into a triangle and seal it by matching the bottom right corner onto the top left one and lightly pressing along the 2 longer sides, paying mind to pushing out excess air.

Grab the 2 smaller corners of the triangles in between your thumbs and index fingers and lift it off the table-the 90˚ angle should be pointing down

Bring the 2 tips towards each other until they kiss. Slightly overlap them and press them together.

Repeat the process starting from the rolling of the pasta strips until you have finished the filling and/or the dough.

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.

Drop the tortelli in salted boiling water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes after they float to the surface.

In the meantime, process the remaining chick peas and the garlic clove with a few spoonfuls of the tortelli cooking water and enough olive oil to yield a rather runny, shiny purée. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Douse the bottom of a warm serving platter with 1/3 of the chickpeas purèe.

Drain the tortelli with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the platter. Douse with the sauce, dust with the remaining parsley and sprinkle a few drops of lemon juice. Serve immediately.

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.