Tag Archives: pasta

When celebrity chefs feel the need to reinvent the wheel: Carlo Cracco and his infamous garlicky Amatriciana

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

Last month, the Italian culinary world has been shocked by the Amatriciana recipe suggested by one of our superstar chefs: Carlo Cracco.

While attending an Italian TV show, the famous chef listed a garlic clover as one of the ingredients of the worldwide known pasta dish!  Anyone who is only vaguely familiar with (authentic) Italian cuisine knows that garlic does not belong in the Amatriciana (for reference, check out our recipe for an authentic Amatriciana)!

As if the first slap in the face of Italian culinary tradition wasn’t enough, during an episode of the Italian edition of Masterchef, first Joe Bastianich and then Cracco himself suggested that one of the contestants use some onion when making “pasta alla Gricia”, the famous ancestor of the Amatriciana which doesn’t call for tomatoes and… most certainly does not call for onions either!!!

Enough was enough, so much so that specialized media, social networks, restaurant owners and even the Mayor of Amatrice “took the field” ready to crucify Cracco and his garlicky dish in defense of the one and only recipe. The Amatrice Culinary School went as far as to publicly invite Cracco to visit them so he can finally taste the real thing! Ouch!

I think one of the commentators hit the nail on the head: nobody can dispute that you can get creative in the kitchen and experiment as much as you like, but when you decide to add garlic to the Amatriciana, don’t call it that – because it’s not! As good as it may be with the addition of the extra ingredient, it’s simply another dish!

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

My reaction to all this fuss? One of kind of sadness and disappointment. Both Italian and non-Italian gourmands who happen not to be experts in my country’s cuisine often look up at celebrity chefs like Cracco to learn the Italian food gospel. I think that people who enjoy all that notoriety have the moral responsibility to… spread the word, and spread it right. How can I go on happily complaining about the oh so many restaurants in my adopted country that serve me Amatriciana with garlic and/or onion when one of our star chefs is teaching exactly that? 😉

Anyone who knows me a bit is well aware of my aversion toward social networks. However, in this case, I truly hope their popularity will help to set the record straight!

Curious about a third slap in the already bruised face of Italian culinary tradition? Another Italian hugely popular chef, Davide Oldani, recently declared that butter can be used in making pesto!!! I mean, butter. Seriously? I believe people from Genoa (including Stefano!) and the Liguria region in general must be incessantly calling the food police! Such an affront.

I’m telling you: if another Italian celebrity chef comes along suggesting that heavy cream can be used in making Carbonara, I’ll consider giving up my Italian citizenship!!!

Hope you enjoyed this little foodgate!

F. Xx

Those little "goodfellas": Brussels Sprouts and Hot Sausage Tortiglioni…

Brussel sprout and hot sausage tortiglioni

2 Servings

Brussels sprouts are not very popular in my country and they certainly weren’t on my family’s table. I don’t think I can recollect one time that I ate them in my house or anywhere else in Italy.

Things started changing a couple of years ago when I decided to host my first Thanksgiving’s dinner. During my “due diligence” period, in my quest for dishes traditionally served in the US for that holiday, I found out that Brussels sprouts were a must as a side dish, stir-fried or roasted, preferably with bacon or pancetta and even with raisins.

Little by little my acquaintance with these little guys turned into a beautiful friendship and now I’m totally in love with them for several different reasons.

Brussel sprout and hot sausage tortiglioni

First, their appearance – because no matter what they say, appearances still count! 🙂 Their vibrant green has the magical power to put me in a good mood and their shape reminds me of a mini peony bud, one of my favorite flowers. I wouldn’t mind arranging them in a vase. I’m sure they would look lovely on any table! 😉

Second, they are really good for our health: they are an excellent source of vitamins, essential minerals and fiber. Since I’m on a perennial diet, they are a winner in my book!

Third, these buds are super versatile. They complement meat or fish wonderfully, they can been thrown in any salad and they go beautifully with pasta.

Needless to say, pasta is always one of my first picks 🙂 especially on weeknights! “Dressing up” some pasta with healthy vegetables and a little flavor is very easy and requires very little time, with the additional benefit that your conscience is virtually clean because, after all, you are eating your veggies!

For this recipe, I decide to use some hot sausage to go with the Brussels sprouts. If you decide to cook it for your kids, you may replace it with some non-spicy sausage. Her Majesty is not into spicy food and your kid may not be either…

Brussel sprout and hot sausage tortiglioni

Ingredients:

1/2 Cup, Extravirgin olive oil
1 Carrot, finely chopped
1 Celery, finely chopped
1/3 Cup, finely chopped onion
2 Hot sausages (about 7 ounces), loose
About 10 ounces, small Brussels sprouts, rinsed and cut in halves
1/2 Cup, beef or vegetable stock
About 7 ounces, Tortiglioni
2Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt

Directions:

In a non-stick medium pot, pour the olive oil and add the carrot, the celery and the onion (in Italian, we called this mixture “soffritto“) and cook until the onion softens and becomes translucent.

Add the sausage and some salt (to taste) and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp. Using a strainer, transfer the sausage mixture to a bowl to drain. Put the sausage mixture aside, and return the drained olive oil to the pot.

Add the Brussels sprouts, some salt (to taste) and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the stock is almost completely evaporated. Transfer the sausage mixture back to the pot, toss to coat and let the rest of the stock completely evaporate.

In the meanwhile, put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and put it in the pot with the Brussels sprouts and the sausage and toss to coat.

Put the pasta into the serving plates/bowls and dust the top of each plate with some Parmigiano cheese.

I dedicate these little green buds to all the people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day! Hopefully the leprechaun will love them! 😉

Talk to you soon!

F. Xx

Glass statuette and flower composition with Brussel sprout backdrop

My goodbye to summer: tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiIt is time for me to let it go. Summer is my favorite season. It is when I feel my best. Every day I pick a pretty dress (preferably with a floral pattern) and a pair of ballet flats (I have way too many of them!) even if I just have to go grocery shopping. Oh by the way, is there someone out there that can explain to me once and for all why men (including my beloved husband) think that only women wearing high heels are sexy and feminine? How can’t they possibly understand that flats are very difficult to wear because they do not elongate the leg but it’s the leg itself that must be proportionate? Does the name Audrey Hepburn ring any bell? Wasn’t she feminine and chic with all her flats? I believe she was one of the most glamorous women on earth!

But I’m digressing. Back to summer. I drink lots of water and I eat tons of fruit and vegetables. I can easily follow a very healthy diet and lose a few pounds. This year I managed to lose about 14 pounds which – of course – I’m going to regain in the next few weeks because that’s just how my body reacts to the cold weather. I feel like mama bear preparing for going into hibernation, and I need a layer of fat to keep myself warm! 😉

Unfortunately, mother nature has her own agenda. Everything is turning brown and orange and temperatures are lowering. Don’t get me wrong: fall is a wonderful and colorful season, but I’d rather enjoy it from the warmth of my house. 🙂

So, I have decided to kiss my summer goodbye by sharing a recipe where tomatoes are the main character. I’m talking about those incredibly red tomatoes, so juicy and flavorful and whose scent is able to capture your nostrils from a distance. In Italy we called them “sauce tomatoes” and all by themselves they manage to turn the simplest tomato sauce into a winner! Of course, I couldn’t find sauce tomatoes in October, but the tomatoes that I used were really decent and so I said to myself: What the heck! Let’s draw the curtains over summer in style!. 🙂

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Ingredients:

1,5lb, fresh tomatoes
2 garlic clovers
5 Tbsp and 1/2 cup, extravirgin olive oil
10 leaves, basil
1/2 cup, black pitted olives, cut in half
6/7 oz, spaghetti
1 eggplant
salt

Directions:

Wash the tomatoes and cut them up into 1 inch pieces. Set aside.

Rinse the basil leaves and shred them. Set aside.

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiUsing a citrus zester, cut some strips out of the eggplant skin. Add some salt (to taste) and set them aside.

In a large skillet, heat 3 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, the garlic, the basil, some salt (to taste) and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the skillet and add the olives. Keep cooking on a low heat until the water from the tomatoes has completely evaporated. Remove the skillet from the stove and add 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Put a pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, in a small pot, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant strips and cooked them until they brown. Remove the strips from the pot and place them on some paper towel.

When the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the spaghetti, put them in the skillet with the tomato sauce and toss to coat.

Put the spaghetti into the serving plates and add some eggplant strips on top of each plate.

I wish you all a great end of the workweek and a wonderful weekend!

Francesca Xx

From Italy to Iran with love: Pepper and Pancetta Tortiglioni

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioniI have been fortunate enough to be asked by lovely Azita to write a guest post that she has published on her wonderful blog, Fig and Quince. If you don’t know Azita yet, do yourself a favor: go check her blog out and enter her enchanted Persian world.

This is the original guest post that I wrote for Azita, which contains a few differences (in the story, not in the recipe!) compared to that which Azita published: in other words, this is the director’s cut, if you will. 😉

I have been lucky enough to get to meet Azita in person a few months ago. I don’t remember how we found each other on the blogosphere but I remember how I felt at the beginning of our “relationship”… cautious.

I have always been a big introvert and extremely good at keeping my distance from people – a huge disappointment due to a friendship that fell apart a couple of years ago didn’t help, and actually ended up making me even more skeptical, if possible, when it comes to meeting new people, either in person or over the internet.

However, when I started reading Azita‘s posts, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the cheerfulness, the lightness and the language richness of her writing style.

There is no doubt that her country, culture and culinary traditions are fascinating in and of themselves, but she is astonishingly capable to write about them in such an articulate and eclectic way that every time I read one of her posts I have the impression of reading one chapter of “One Thousand and One Nights”, where flavors, aromas, perfumes and ancient customs all blend in together to give birth to something magical.

And yet, her posts are always funny and cheerful and modern and colorful. Even her pictures and her compositions speak for the talented artist that she is. Her attention to details is impressive to say the least and her comments to other people’s posts are always brilliant with a touch of graciousness.

When I was about to meet her in person, I was nervous. I’m always nervous when I have to meet new people. It is simply not my thing! 😉 As soon as she stepped into my house, she came toward me and she hugged me and kissed me as if we had known each other for years. I will never forget that hug. Why? The warmth that her hug gave me as a human being was totally unexpected and yet so refreshing and fulfilling!

When I had to pick the dish to be published on Azita‘s wonderful blog as a guest post, I immediately went for a pasta dish with peppers. Why? Well, I’m Italian and pasta is one of the emblems of my culinary tradition. So no doubt there! 🙂 The reason I picked peppers is because I think they represent Azita in her fullness. Their color is so vibrant that they bring cheerfulness and happiness in your life as soon as you look at them and their taste is so strongly flavorful and overwhelming that as soon as you eat them your taste buds are literally pervaded by their richness the same way I was by Azita‘s hug that Sunday afternoon.

So from Italy to Iran – one way – with love!

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioni

2 Servings

Ingredients:

2 peppers
4 oz, chopped pancetta
1 leek
4 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
6/7 oz, pasta of your choice
2 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
four/five thyme stalks
Ground black pepper
Salt

Directions:

Peppers and pancetta tortiglioniPreheat your oven to 400F.

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Rinse the peppers under cold water, dry them and place them on a baking sheet (I always put some parchment paper on my baking sheet to be sure that nothing sticks 🙂 ). Bake for about 20 minutes (or until the peppers are cooked), take them out of the oven and, with the help of a knife and fork, remove the skin of the peppers.

In the meantime, cut off the green top of the leek and its root. Discard the outer layer. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse the halves well under water. On a chopping board, slice the leek thinly and evenly. In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add the leek slices, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add some water and stir occasionally until the water evaporates. Set aside.

In another skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, place the peppers, the leek slices, some thyme leaves and 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a blender or a food processor. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) and blend everything until you obtain a smooth sauce. Transfer the sauce to a pot and warm it on a very low heat.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and put it in the pot where you warmed the sauce and toss to coat. Add the pancetta and toss to coat.

Put the pasta into the serving plates, dust the top of each plate with some Parmigiano cheese and garnish the plate with some thyme leaves.

Love,

Francesca Xx

A second chance: asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

8 Servings

High school is over in our neck of the woods and last week we went to a graduation party of the son of one of our neighbors.

High school graduation ceremonies, proms and parties are totally new to us. In Italy, we do not have a graduation ceremony after our high school finals and, usually, there is no prom or party afterwards.

Asparagus and pancetta baked pastaYoung Italian girls and boys abruptly transition from being high school teenagers to wannabe adults 😉 at university (in the sense of postgraduate school, like Law School, Med School, etc.) without any particular celebration or event to be remembered by. We think it is kind of sad and we are starting to enjoy this American tradition thinking that, one day (far, far away in time! 🙂 ), Stefano and I will proudly be going to Her Majesty’s graduation ceremony. 🙂

Anyway, my neighbors really like this asparagus and pancetta baked pasta. So I decided to bring it to the party to put an Italian touch on their buffet. 😉

This dish was my first pasta post on this blog.  Looking back at the photo of the dish that I asked Stefano to take almost two years ago, I have to admit I wasn’t very pleased with my presentation. This pasta deserves so much better! 🙂

I have been wanting to retake the picture with a different setting for more than a year but I’m a very lazy person, some may go as far as to call me the queen of postponement! 😉

This graduation party was the perfect occasion to shake my royal status away, make this pasta again and work on a different presentation. I like this presentation much better than the old one and I hope you will agree with me.

To make your life easier in case you decide to give this dish a try, I decided to republish the recipe, so you won’t be driven crazy by links going back and forth!

Asparagus and pancetta baked pasta

Ingredients:

2 lb asparagus
¼ cup extravirgin olive oil
¼ cup beef stock
1 lb of ¼ inch thick pancetta
7 cups of Bechamel sauce
2 cups each of two shredded cheeses of your choice (4 cups total)
1.6 lb dried ziti pasta (1 ½ packs)
1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Wash the asparagus spears and cut off the woody ends. In a large pot, heat some water until it boils, add the asparagus and keep boiling for 3-4 minutes. Strain the asparagus, rinse with cold water and cut into ¾ inch pieces. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Add the beef stock and stir occasionally until the stock evaporates. Set aside.

Asparagus and pancetta baked pastaCut up the pancetta into small pieces and cook in a non-stick skillet until crispy. Wait for the pancetta to cool down and get rid of the grease. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the pasta is cooking, put the shredded cheeses into the pot with the hot Béchamel Sauce and, over very low heat, stir until the cheeses are completely melted.

Drain the pasta and put it again into the pot.

In a 9×13 inch casserole, spread some of the sauce to keep the pasta from sticking. Save 2 cups of the sauce for later and add the rest along with the asparagus and the pancetta to the pasta and toss to coat. Put the pasta in the casserole, ladle the rest of the sauce that you had previously set aside over the pasta, spreading it evenly, and scatter the grated Parmigiano over it. Bake for about 20 minutes covering the pasta with aluminum foil for the first 10 minutes.

Let me know what you think!

F. Xx

Because spring is a state of mind: lemon tagliatelle

Lemon tagliatelle2 Servings

That’s it! I can’t take it anymore and I’m officially putting the word “end” to this long, freezing winter. I hate winters. I know… I should not say the “H” word but here I’m saying it loud and clear!

Five long months of total hibernation, of postponing projects, of being cold all the time, of stopping buying shoes because I didn’t feel like going anywhere (well, actually Stefano and our bank account were very happy about that! 🙂 ), of just wanting to spend time under the warmth of the covers hoping that the next day would bring along milder temperatures… That’s how I have been feeling during the past months and that’s why I’m saying: enough!

I consider this dish my personal propitiatory dance to spring.  Lemons need lots of sunshine and warm weather to ripen. They remind me of my childhood summers spent at my grandparents’ beachhouse in Sicily where the heat was so suffocating that we used to spend the entire day on the beach eating nothing else but lemon granite and gelato.

I’m offering this dish to the gods, hoping that they will answer my prayers and send us the spring goddess. 😉

After all, it’s just a matter of believing in it. 😉

Ingredients:

1 lemon
3 Tbsp, butter
3/4 cup, heavy cream
7/8 oz, tagliatelle (or linguine), preferably fresh
2/3 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
6/7 parsley leaves, chopped
white ground pepper
salt

Lemon tagliatelleDirections:

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.

While the water is warming up, wash the lemon under running water and dry it. Zest the lemon and place the zest into a non-stick medium pot.

Squeeze the lemon and put the juice aside.

Add the butter to the zest and cook on a very low heat until the butter is completely melted (make sure not to burn the butter 🙂 ).

Add the heavy cream and after a few minutes pour the lemon juice. Keep cooking on a very low heat, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, when the water comes to a boil, cook the tagliatelle stirring occasionally and drain them a couple of minutes before they are al dente. Put the tagliatelle into the pot where you have been warming the lemon sauce and toss to coat. Add 2 Tbsp of Parmigiano cheese and toss to coat. If the sauce is too thin, add more Parmigiano (not too much though otherwise the sauce will dry) and keep tossing, on a very low heat, until the sauce thickens.

Put the tagliatelle into the serving plates, dust the top of each plate with some Parmigiano cheese and white pepper and garnish the plate with some parsley.

May the spring be with you! 🙂

Mint and zucchini tagliatelle: Italian beauty!

Zucchine and mint tagliatelle

2 Servings

Hello everyone! 🙂

Let me thank a couple of people before I share this wonderful recipe with all of you.

First: the photo setting. Do not get any fancy idea. The red roses are not from Stefano. The last time he gave me red roses we weren’t even dating!!! 😉 Haven’t you noticed that flowers are one of the first things to disappear into thin air in the course of a long-term relationship? But I’m digressing. Back to the roses: they are the gracious present that Anatoli from the wonderful wine blog Talk-a-Vino and his lovely wife brought me last time they came over for dinner. You don’t know him? You don’t know what you are missing. His blog offers a wealth of knowledge on anything wine-related and is a pleasure to read: go check it out and decide for yourselves! 🙂

Anyway, for some reason, whenever I see a red rose, I get to think about the “famous” scene from the movie American Beauty. So, finding myself with all those gorgeous and vibrant red petals I couldn’t resist putting them to good use by recreating that scene in a… food context, so the photo setting for this dish was a real no brainer. Thank you, Anatoli and Victoria!!! Hope you like the photograph. 🙂

My second thank you note goes to my aunt Pia, my mother’s sister. She came over to visit us and we found a little time (but not much!) for cooking. She was born and raised in Southern Italy but she has been living in Liguria (a region in the northwest of Italy) since forever, so her cuisine is a combination of the two Italian souls. During her stay, she taught me how to make some of her signature dishes including the one I’m sharing with you today. Dear aunt, thank you so much!!! I hope you’ll find that the image makes justice to your recipe! 🙂

But enough with the cha cha, and let’s talk food.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1 Tbsp, butter
2 zucchini
2 Tsp, harissa
4 mint leaves
Half pack of tagliatelle
1 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt

Directions:

Wash the zucchini under cold water. On a chopping board, cut about 1/4 inch off each side and slice the zucchini thinly and evenly.

In a large non-stick skillet, put the olive oil and the butter and let the butter melt. When the butter is melted, add the zucchini and some salt (to taste), toss to coat and cook on low heat. After 10 minutes, add the harissa and keep cooking until the zucchini are simmered.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the tagliatelle and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the tagliatelle are cooking, shred the mint leaves with your hands, add them to the zucchini and, on a very low heat, toss to coat.

Drain the tagliatelle, setting aside some of the water where the pasta has been cooked. Put the tagliatelle into the skillet with the zucchini and toss to coat. If the zucchini sauce is too dry, add some of the water you put aside.

Put the tagliatelle into the serving plates and, if you wish, dust the top of each plate with the parmigiano cheese.

Buon appetito!

PS: isn’t it unbelievable that Annette Bening didn’t win the Oscar for her role in American Beauty? She was magnificent! And she didn’t win it for Being Julia either!!! I can’t help but wondering: what were the Academy people thinking?    

The artichoke quest and the marriage with saffron linguine

Saffron and artichoke linguine4 Servings

Artichokes are my favorite vegetables. I would eat them from breakfast to dinner (sort of…)! When I moved to our neck of the woods, I started testing the quality of the local vegetables and I have to admit that the benevolence of the gods was not on my side in my quest for my beloved veggies. All the artichokes that I tried tasted like soap (blah!!!) and the inside was so full of hairs that it was like eating a hairball (double blah!!!) After trying for over a year, I decided I was just wasting my time and my money, so I simply stopped buying artichokes. Sad.

However, as the saying goes, good things happen when you least expect it. Last week, Stefano took me to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Never been there? You do not know what you are missing if you are a lover of Italian food and authentic Italian products (we’ll talk more about Arthur Avenue in future posts). Anyway, while I was strolling about the market, the green beauties caught my eyes. Mindful of my past experience, I was about to pass, when the grocer called me. He was Italian and we started chatting in my mother tongue. He swore on his mother’s grave (Italian grocers do that!) that the artichokes were excellent and I would not be disappointed. I trusted him (after all, swearing on someone’s grave has got to mean something, right?!?) and that Italian grocer is the reason why I’m sharing this recipe today.

Just bear with me a few more seconds. When I made this dish I used an Italian heavy cream called “Panna Chef” by Parmalat. Panna Chef is much ticker than the heavy cream I buy locally. It is like a paste. So far, I have never seen Panna Chef on any shelf of any American grocery store or market I have been to. I usually have family and friends bring me some packs over when they come to visit. When I do not have any Panna Chef left, I buy a small pack of local heavy cream and I beat it the same way you beat egg white to make meringue. That’s the kind of thickness you want to achieve to make this dish.

Ingredients:

4 artichokes
1 lemon
1/3 cup & 1 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
1/2 cup, white wine
1 & 1/2 cup, beef stock
3 slices of bacon or pancetta, ¼ inch thick
1/3 cup, chopped onion
6 Tbsp, Panna Chef
2 sachets of powered saffron
14 oz linguine (a little less than a pack)
2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese (optional)
Salt
Ground black pepper

Saffron and artichoke linguineDirections:

Put some cold water into a large bowl. Squeeze a half lemon and put the juice and the half lemon itself into the bowl.

Break off the tough, outer leaves of the artichokes until you reach the tender, lighter-green inner leaves. With the help of a knife, cut off the top of the artichoke (between 1 and 1 1/2 inches), some of the stem (leaving about 3/4 of an inch) and then trim away the outer layer of the stem. With the other half lemon, rub all the cut surfaces (this will prevent them from browning).

Cut the artichoke halves into quarters and put them into the lemon water.

Cut up the bacon or the pancetta into bits. In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil, add the bacon or the pancetta and fry for 2/3 minutes. Add the chopped onions and stir occasionally until the bacon or the pancetta gets golden and crispy. Set aside.

Put 1/3 cup of olive oil and the garlic in a large non-stick skillet and brown the garlic. Add the artichokes, some salt and pepper (to taste), toss to coat and cook for a few minutes. Throw the garlic away and add the wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine completely evaporates. Add the beef stock and cook, stirring occasionally, until the stock completely evaporates.

Add the bacon or the pancetta and the onions into the skillet with the artichokes, toss to coat and set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the linguine and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the linguine are cooking, in a small pot, put the panna, 1 Tbs of the boiling water from the pot where you are cooking the pasta, and the saffron and cook until the mixture gets hot.

Drain the linguine, put them into the skillet with the artichokes and the bacon or pancetta and toss to coat. Add the hot saffron mixture and toss to coat again.

Put the linguine into the serving plates and, if you wish, dust the top of each plate with the parmigiano cheese.

Buon appetito!

Pasta alla Norma: Finding a Good Grocer is Like Finding a Good Friend

Pasta alla Norma

4 Servings

I usually welcome the spring season by cooking pasta alla norma. The reason? Spring brings fresh tomatoes, which are key to the success of this dish. If I close my eyes and dig into my childhood memories, I can still smell the aroma of fresh tomatoes and onions simmering on the stove of my grandmother’s house in Sicily. Actually, this is one of the very few happy memories I have about my vacations in Sicily due to the very… (how do I put this?)… rocky relationship between my grandmother and my mom.

Anyway, whenever I go on a “hunt” for the right ingredients for this recipe, it is one of those moments I miss my country and, especially, my grocer the most. The place where I live is a supermarket kingdom: everything is beautifully displayed in these endless aisles but, when you approach the people who work there and start asking questions about a particular produce you are looking for, they look at you in astonishment. No, it’s not my accent… I’m pretty sure about that. 😉 The point is they have no idea what I am talking about. Such a different experience compared to the great feeling I had when I put my
foot into my grocery store in Italy in contemplation of the wonders expecting me.

Let me be honest here. I truly believe that finding the perfect grocer, as well as finding the perfect butcher, is like finding a good friend. Let me explain my metaphor a little more in detail, will you?

You are looking for someone you can totally trust and that is going to give you the best he can offer. It’s not an easy quest and, inevitably, you will encounter a few disappointments down the road but what a fulfilling feeling when you realize that you have found the one. He starts smiling at you when he sees you coming down the street and when you explain him what you are planning on cooking, he knows exactly what you need. Most of the time, he is even a better cook than you are, so he shares tips and cooking skills with you, little secrets that you are going to treasure forever. He goes out of his way to pamper you and make you happy to make sure that you come back over and over and the friendship endures. Do you see my point now?

I still remember the first time I decided to try out this recipe not long ago in Italy. With the list of ingredients based on my dad’s memory, I went to my grocer. I had no idea what to pick but, of course, he came to my rescue and told me that I needed “sauce tomatoes”, i.e., tomatoes that are so juicy and flavorful that not using them to make a sauce would be tantamount to a crime. Then he directed me toward the right type of eggplant to be used and, finally, he made me try this divine ricotta salata coming directly from his trusted farmer. When I came back home and the tomatoes on the stove started spreading their
aroma all over, I was taken back in time to a vacation at my grandmother’s house in an instant and I took a fidelity oath to him. Something like “until death do us part” but less dramatic and permanent! 😉

Enough with the chit chat. This pasta dish originates in the Sicilian city of Catania and, allegedly, it was named after “Norma”, an opera by famous composer Vincenzo Bellini. The ingredients are few: tomato sauce, fried eggplants, basil and grated ricotta salata (a hard, saltier and drier version of ricotta). The tomato sauce takes about three hours to make, so if you are in hurry to put a meal on the table, maybe this is not the right dish. Everybody knows that perfection takes time and the taste of this pasta is heaven.

Pasta alla NormaIngredients:

1 eggplant
6 lb, fresh tomatoes
half, red onion
10 leaves, fresh basil
1 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1 cup, grated ricotta salata
1 lb rigatoni
salt

Directions:

Cut the eggplant into slices (about 3/4 inch thick). In order to remove the excess water from the eggplant slices, place a big colander on a plate, put some sliced eggplants in the colander and salt them. Put another layer of slices on top and salt them. Keep going until all the slices have been layered and salted. Then place a plate on top of the eggplant slices in the colander and put some kind of weight on top of the plate (I usually use peeled tomato cans). Let the slices rest for a couple of hours.

In the meanwhile, remove the stem ends of the tomatoes, cut them in halves and cut each half in 4 quarters. Cut the onion into slices.

In a large non-stick pot, put the tomatoes, the onions and some basil leaves, put some salt (to taste) and cook on a low heat for about three hours, stirring often, or until you obtain a sort of tomato mixture (the water from the tomatoes must almost completely evaporate).

Dice up the eggplant slices. In a non-stick skillet, pour 3/4 cup of olive oil and fry the eggplant cubes. When the cubes are soft and brown, remove them from the olive oil and place them on an oil-absorbing paper tissue.

Run the tomato mixture into a food mill, place the tomato sauce back on the low heat, put the eggplant cubes and the rest of the basil leaves into the sauce and simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the rest of the olive oil on the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add the rigatoni and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the rigatoni and toss them to coat with 3/4 of the sauce.

Put the rigatoni into the serving plates, pour some of the remaining sauce on top of them and dust each dish with the grated ricotta salata. Serve right away and enjoy!

I wish you all a very Happy Easter!

Pasta alla Norma

A catering event and Nemo: what more could you ask for?

A client's 50th birthday party catered by Flora's Table

Tomato BruschettaDo you remember Nemo? No, not the adorable clownfish from the famous Disney movie but the major blizzard (with record amount of snowfall) that hit certain areas of the East Coast (including ours!) the second weekend of February?

Well, needless to say, that weekend, we were supposed to cater a dinner party for 22 guests in Fairfield County, Connecticut… The occasion? The 50th birthday of the husband of the hostess. Everything had to be perfect and the planning was going really smoothly until we saw the weather forecast at the beginning of that week. It was national alert all over the news and the governors of the States and the mayors of the towns on Nemo’s way were urging people to get ready to face the storm and, above all, to stay home. Not exactly the ideal situation to host a party…

Penne alla VodkaYou can only imagine all the phone calls, emails, text messages (along with the emotional distress) that my client and I exchanged before, during and after the storm! Many important decisions had to be made in a short timeframe. To make a long story short, willingness and collaboration made it possible to have the party on Sunday night and everybody seemed to have a really great time!

Now that Spring is around the corner (hopefully at least… it’s been such a long and cold winter!) and Nemo is just a memory, I thought I would share with you photographs of some of the food that we served at that birthday party. Of course, these pictures have not been taken during the actual party because it would not have been appropriate for us to take pictures while on a job, but this is some of the food that got served.

Hope you enjoy it as much as our client and her guests did!  🙂

Francesca's Chicken MarsalaFrancesca's Tiramisu