olives and capers

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.


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.


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.

Italian summer cooking: moscardini and cicale di mare

It's 9pm, still light, the crickets rub their limbs to a tune that melts with the song I'm playing on the iPad from which I'm writing this. My 13 year old nephew is untangling a fishing line, my child is drowsily narrating his day on a boat through the window, a nanny is getting the 6 and under set ready for bed after a day of sun, sand and sea. Somewhere sisters and cousins are plotting an ice cream and alcohol run after the kids are asleep. These are the cherished sounds of summer life in Ansedonia. I have been coming here all my life and I love it, I love the sensations I experience nowhere else. Tonight, it's a favorite dress scented with the braising of moscardini and my mouth gently cut by wrestling with a plateful of cicale di mare.

Cicale di mare or canocchie are mantis shrimp: flattish shellfish, about the size of a prawn, light grey in color when raw, with a soft but peskily spiky shell, their sweetness is unrivaled in the category. They have a limited season during which their flavor and desirability changes depending on how close they are to being laden with eggs. You don't eat cicale, you ungracefully suck them out of the shell. The race to brave the thorny shells is part of the fun: at the end of the meal, he with the highest mound of empty carcasses and the most shredded lips wins.


I like cicale simply prepared, as their flavor needs no intrusion. I season a pot of water with 1 or 2 lemon slices, a fistful of parsley, a splash of white wine and a handful of coarse sea salt. When the water boils, I drop in the cicale, cover them and turn the heat off. I leave them for about 10 minutes then drain the water, arrange the cicale on a plate and douse them with lemon juice and olive oil.

Moscardini or musky octopus are a spotted brown rather than mottled dark grey with a smaller, stouter head and shorter tentacles lined with only one row of suction cups. Their flavor is less invasive than that of regular octopus, their flesh tasting undefinably of the waves and salt in which they float.


I braised the moscardini in tomato with basil, garlic, olives and capers. Of the kilo I made, not a speck was left, mostly thank to my 6 year old nephew's appreciation. I have made similar recipes back in San Francisco, my other home, and though it might not be as poetically loaded, the yield is still delicious.

Moscardini in umido con olive e capperi Tomato braised moscardini with olives and capers

for 6 people 1.5 pounds moscardini (or baby octopus or fresh squid) 1/2 pound sweet small tomatoes (sugar plum or very ripe cherry) 2 garlic cloves 1 generous handful basil leaves salt to taste olive oil splash dry white wine 2 tablespoons tomato concentrate 1/2 cup black olives 1/4 cup capers packed in salt pepper to taste

If you are in Italy, the fishmonger will clean your moscardini for you. Should you be somewhere with no such luck, then you will need to clean your critter of choice as follows.

Octopus: turn the head inside out and remove the innards, rinse and turn back over. Turn the tentacles around, you will see a little beak in the center of the tentacles, squeeze it out. I like leaving the eyes in, as I feel no guilt in being looked at by my food, but if you are squeamish, then either poke and squeeze free the eyes or carefully cut them out with scissors.

Squid or calamari: divide the body from the tentacles, turn the tentacles around and squeeze out the beak. Treat the eyes as above. Remove the bone and the guts from the body and rinse clean.

In either case do not remove the skin, it is a decidedly non-Italian thing to do.

Cut the tomatoes in half or quarters, depending on their size. Peel the garlic and mince it with the basil leaves and a generous pinch of salt. Rinse, pit and half the olives. Wash the salt off the capers and soak in warm water until ready to use them.

In a shallow sauce pot gently soften the garlic and basil mince into some olive oil without burning. Add the critters and sauté over high heat until they start changing color. Season with salt and deglaze with wine.

Add the tomato pieces and sauté until the tomatoes start to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the concentrate then add some warm water, just so that it covers the bottom third.

20130704-182742.jpg Mix in the olives and capers and turn down the heat. Braise slowly, adding warm water only when necessary. They will need to cook for at least 45 minutes and up to over an hour, depending on the size of the selected cephalopod, they should be fork tender.

Adjust salt and pepper and serve warm to room temperature with some toasted crusty bread. You can add some heat by using red pepper flakes rather than black pepper.


Feeding the Revolution

Making cappuccino pork tenderloin with Valeria, Alexandra, Antonella and Barbara Didn't make the cut off age to march for women's rights and my last name put me squarely, though not ideologically, on the wrong side of the fence of labor movements. But finally my time has come to join the revolution. The great Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day.

Le Forchette Tricolori, a group of lively Italian women residing in the Bay Area who love to cook and be together and of which I am lucky to be one, are taking over the Italian Consulate (thank you Consul General Mauro Battocchi) and cooking up a storm for 50 lucky guests. You can find more details here.

The event's proceeds will be devolved to Food Revolution in support of Mr.Oliver's continuing efforts to "keep cooking skills alive". By the way, if you want to more know about the scope of the initiative, listen to Jamie's own words about Food Revolution Day.





This is the menu and the Forchettine (as we like to call ourselves), clad in aprons and armed with spoons, will "cook it, share it, live it" to change the world one forkful of great Italian food at a time.



Here is a sneak preview of  some of the deliciousness we will be offering. Tune in next week for more recipes and some gossip on the outcome of the evening.

Thank you to Jamie Oliver for the inspiration he gives daily to so many, I am proud to be part of your Revolution.


Sangria di Aperol e prosecco con ciliegie e gelsi~ Sparkling sangria with Aperol, cherries and mulberries

The drink that will set the lively mood of our Food Revolution

for 1 bottle of prosecco: 1/2 bunch mint1 cup cherries 2 ripe peaches 1 cup mulberries juice of 1 Meyer lemon 1/4 cup raw sugar 1/2 cup dry rum or other dry hard liquor 1 cup Aperol

Pick the leaves off the mint sprigs, stack them and roll them along the longer side. Cut them in very skinny ribbons with a very sharp knife.

Stone the cherries and peaches. Slice the peaches and combine them in a bowl with the mint, mulberries, lemon juice and sugar. Muddle using a pestle or the back of a wooden spoon, ensuring the sugar dissolves.

Cover with the rum and Aperol, mix well and let stand in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. This step can be done the previous evening.

Right before serving, add a few cubes of ice and slowly pour in the prosecco. Stir gently and serve.


  • Aperol, a light alcohol drink reminiscent of Campari can be substituted with Campari if unavailable. Remember to adjust sugar and lemon juice to balance the extra bitterness
  • Mulberries are not always easy to find. Though they have been all over farmers' markets here in NorCal, should they not be available where you are, swap them for blackberries


Bruschette di piselli alla menta ed aglietto con profumo di limone e ricotta salata Mint scented English peas and green garlic bruschetta with Meyer lemon and ricotta salata

for 6 people 2 pounds unshelled shelling, English or snap peas 1 or 2 green garlic stalks. 1 Meyer lemon 12 to 14 mint leaves 12 slices of bread extra virgin olive oil salt and pepper to taste 1/2 cup shredded ricotta salata

Shell the peas. Clean the garlic stalks. Zest the lemon and cut the naked fruit in wedges. Stack and roll half the mint along the longer side and slice into very thin ribbons. Mix the mint and zest.

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and drop the peas, all the green garlic except for 1 small piece and the remaining mint leaves in it. Cook until the peas are quite tender but still bright green, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, brush the bread with olive oil and toast until crunchy outside but still soft in the middle. When ready, rub lightly with the saved garlic while still hot. Keep warm.

Drain the peas, mint and green garlic and blend into a smooth spread with a bit of olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper.

Spread over the toasted bread. Dust with the ricotta salata. Top with the mint and zest and finish by squeezing a few drops of lemon juice on each bruschetta.


Pescespada alla livornese Livorno style swordfish

This recipes appeared last month on this very blog. Click here for it.