green ravioli with zucchini, ricotta, lemon-butter and honey

Standard

oh, joy!

oh, joy!

I fell in love with colored pasta this summer. May be because I have had so many adorable children taking part at our cooking classes. They love surprises.

I have had giggling babies who obviously did not cook but seeemed to enjoy every minute of the action. One slept peacefully in a sling on the back of his mum while she was rolling the pasta. I have had 6 years old London from Los Angeles who screamed in delight at the sight of fettuccini being born out of the pasta machine.

For the 3rd time in 3 years, I have had S. who is Belgian, speaks fluently English and Spanish and will teach you how to greet in Arabic. He’s 7 and makes ravioli like a pro.

I have had a bunch of youngsters who can chop and stir like TV stars. Like Ian who equals flavors to colors because he’s a painter. And wolfs down cave-aged pecorino like it was a Mars bar.

I am in love with every one of them. They are so gentle, so competent, so intense when they cook. And note, I don’t do children classes, they do grown ups food.

I really am fortunate for sharing so many happy moments in my kitchen. So many smiles of families who come and go and bring away  a little piece of my heart with them. I treasure all my little (and no so little) friends.

Green pasta dough:

  • 60 gr cooked (3 tablespoon) spinach
  • 320 gr (1 and 3/4 cup) 00 flour
  • 3 large eggs

Ravioli filling

  • 2 medium zucchini (approx 400 gr) diced
  • 120 gr (4 oz) ricotta
  • 3-4 tablespoon grated Parmesan
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2-3 leaves basil

Lemon butter sauce

  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon heavy cream
  • a 2 inch-long strip lemon zest chopped very finely
  • 2 tablespoon  lemon juice
  • 2  tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley to garnish
  • 2 teaspoon honey to drizzle

For the ravioli filling:

Sautè zucchini in 1 tablespoon olive oil until just starting to become golden. Take off the heat, add one finely minced garlic clove and a few thorn basil leaves. Set aside to infuse. When at room temperature,  pulse chop in a food processor together with the ricotta and two tablespoons Parmesan until creamy.

For the pasta dough:

Steam or boil spinach, drain and make sure to remove all excess moisture from the leaves by squeezing really hard in your hands. Whisk  eggs in a bowl and reserve.

In a food processor blend the flour and spinach at high speed until you have a light green powder. Add eggs to the mixture until it forms a ball. You might not need all the eggs. In fact, depending on the size of the eggs and moisture of the spinach it might be necessary to regulate the amount of liquid in order to obtain a firm dough.

Alternatively purè the spinach first in a blender, then mix all ingredients on a lightly floured surface,  knead the dough, incorporating additional flour as necessary, until smooth and flexible, minimum 20 minutes. The dough can be used immediately but may be made in advance and covered with a cotton tea towel. A resting period relaxes the gluten in the dough and makes it easier to roll it.

Make the ravioli:

Roll the pasta dough into rectangular strips as explained here

fascinating, isn't it?

Put teaspoons of the zucchini and cheese filling about 5 cm (2 inches) apart on the sheet so that you can make a “parcel” by folding over the pasta sheet. Using a ravioli wheel cutter seal each parcel by cutting on three sides (the fourth is the fold).  Carefully place the ravioli on a dry cotton towel taking care that they do not overlap otherwise they will stick to each other.

green ravioli2

Cook and sauce:

Heat the butter, zest and juice in a saucepan pan over low heat until the butter is melted. Add cream and remove from heat.

Cook the ravioli in salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Strain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water and transfer in the saucepan on medium heat.

Briefly stir to absorb the sauce. Add the Parmesan and a 1/2 ladle  of the reserved pasta water and stir some more on high heat until the liquid is absorbed. See also my video to know to cook and sauce pasta the Italian way.

Plate, sprinkle with chopped flat leaf parsley, a drizzle of your good olive oil and few drops of raw artisan honey.

Serves 4.

beautifully green and light whith just a touch of lemony sauce

beautifully green and light whith just a touch of lemony sauce

the chicken whisperer

Standard
view of my hometown Perugia from my parent's place (photo T. di Luca)

view of my hometown Perugia from my parents place (photo T. di Luca)

CHICKEN ALLA CACCIATORA a.k.a HUNTER STYLE or  CHICKEN CACCIATORE.

I spent my youth in a huge house overlooking my hometown Perugia. My parents where civil servants and in their free time took care of the large garden, the olive trees and the pets.

To be precise, my father took care of breeding the pets and my mother fought against the proliferation of pets. We had a dog and a cat and the occasional gold-fish of course. Even a guinea pig once.

That was fine with my mum.

The dog and the cat were actually treated to pasta al ragù just like us. Even with a sprinkle of Parmesan on top.

The problem was, my father had pet chickens. They were allowed to do anything they wanted. He talked to them.  They kept each other company. They – the chickens – ravaged the geraniums.

We never ate them. You don’t kill your pets do you? Occasionally he would deem one of the oldies suitable for a meal. They were so tough they were invariably only good for stock. For a roast or a stew like this one, she went to the market and bought a good freeranger from her favorite butcher.

And planted new geraniums.

Recipe

  • 1/2 free-ranging chicken cut into serving pieces
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers,
  • 4 tablespoon spoon good quality olives, not pitted
  • 1 sprig rosemary,
  • a handful sage leaves
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • zest of 1/4 lemon
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil

Using a large thick bottom or non stick pan, sear chicken pieces in one tablespoon olive oil until golden on all sides. Good quality chicken should not produce any fat, but if it does drain it and wipe clean the pan before proceeding.

Turn heat to low, return chicken to the pan, add onion and stir frequently until caramelized.  Add minced garlic cloves, capers, olives, rosemary and sage leaves.

Please don’t use the inexpensive, pizza style, bland black olives. They are generally unripe green olives that have been dyed with iron salts (ferrous gluconate) after artificial ripening.

Season with just a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

When everything is fragrant add one cup of wine, cover and simmer very slowly until the chicken is tender. This might take 45 min to 1 and 1/2 hours depending on size and quality of the bird. Add some water if the sauce gets too dry while simmering.

When ready to serve add the lemon juice and zest and balsamic vinegar. Taste and add more lemon if desired as it brings out the flavor of all other ingredients.

This dish is lovely with a side of steamed greens dressed with a fruity extra virgin and a splash of lemon juice if you like. If you need your starch, accompany it with homemade potato puree or polenta. Italians would never serve it on pasta or rice.

Serves 3-4 depending on initial size of chicken.

add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant

add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant

roasted eggplant ricotta dip with fresh zucchini salad

Standard

the crunchy zucchini salad makes a wonderful contrast with the soft and silky eggplant puree

Eggplant. It’s been good to have you through this cruel summer, the hottest and dryest in decades.

Sweet, firm, smooth, full of the flavor of Arabian nights. We did a lot of nice things together, hot things.

But now it’s over.

This is the last time. In a short while you will be spongy, seedy and quite frankly, limp. I don’t want you in the winter. Please don’t call me, I will ignore you. But thank you, you’ve been nice, lovely actually.

Recipe

  • 5 eggplants (about 2 kg /4 lbs total weight)
  • 2 onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 250 gr / 1 cup ricotta
  • a handful fresh basil leaves or mint
  • 4 tablespoon toasted almonds
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 zucchini

Pierce eggplants several times with a fork and place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake  in preheated oven at 220 C (430 ° F) until very soft. Turn them around every 20 min so they cook evenly. Let them cool, peel, chop roughly and transfer in a colander with a weight on top to drain the excess moisture. I bake the eggplants the night before, place them in a colander to drain and finish the dish a day later so the rest of the preparation is quick and convenient.

Chop the onions finely and saute in two tablespoons olive oil until translucent. Add the chopped eggplants and cook uncovered for 10-15 min. This will dry them further and bring out the flavor. Stir occasionally.

Add the minced garlic and torn basil leaves, cook for further 5 min, season with salt and black pepper to taste and let it cool.

Transfer in a food processor, add the ricotta and toasted almonds and puree until smooth.

Just before serving, shred the uncooked zucchini and toss with olive oil, salt and a squirt of lemon juice.  Arrange the zucchini shreds in a ring shape on a serving plate.

Pile the eggplant puree in the centre of the zucchini ring, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh basil. Serve with toasted crusty bread, pita or as a side vegetable to roasted meat.

It’s great party food, a sort of Italianized baba ganoush that might please even the unlucky few that don’t love eggplants. I adore them, in the summer.

Serves 10

Italian whole-grain salad

Standard

this wholesome salad is easy, nutritious and adaptable to all sort of whole-grains

Dear Tomato I want to thank you for existing.

For being a fresh, juicy, sweet, fleshy fruit.

Ask any Italian “what do you eat during this exhaustingly hot summer”? Tomatoes – they will say – it’s a national obsession.

This salad is a way to make a wholesome meal or substantial side dish out of a classic tomato salad. Healthy food does taste good if you know how to treat it. The salad also looks beautiful as it’s presented in layers rather than mushing up everything together.

You can tweak the composition to your taste but there’s a few rules to keep the Italian character of the recipe:

  1. Keep it rustic, use whole grains. I generally use farro which is abundant in Umbria and has a lovely nutty taste but you could use barley, wheat berries, bulgur or wild rice. What you see in the picture is my gluten-free version made with the splendid black rice from Northern Italy.
  2. Keep it light. Use only one type of cheese in modest amounts. I use shavings of Pecorino or Parmesan or fresh mozzarella. Feta? No, it’s not Italian. Blue cheese? No, it’s heavy.
  3. Keep it seasonal. I use cherry tomatoes in the early summer and then switch to whatever marvelous variety is at its best when I need it. I use crispy thin salad leaves like rucola (arugula, rocket), lamb’s lettuce or a combination of mixed salad greens. I don’t make this salad with glasshouse tomato. There is no point if they have no flavor.
  4. Last but most importantly, please no pre-made dressings, only top quality extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. A little goes a long way.

Recipe

  • 200 gr ( 7 oz) farro
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 250 gr (1/2 lb) ripe tomatoes, sliced or quartered if small
  • 2 cups light salad leaves
  • 3 tablespoon cheese shavings
  • extra virgin olive il, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper
  • optional: a handful basil leaves and 1-2 spring onions diced very small

Cook farro or other grain in plenty boiling water according to package instructions. Drain, rinse under tap water and transfer into a bowl. Add one crushed garlic clove and stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cover, set aside and let it cool and infuse with the garlicky oil for several hours. You can also refrigerate it until the next day.

When ready to serve, slice tomatoes, add basil leaves and onions if using. Dress with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper.

Slice or shave the cheese.

Wash and spin dry the salad leaves, dress with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt, then make a bed of leaves on a serving plate with some space in the centre where you will make a mound with the cooked grains. This way you will have a pretty border of salad leaves around the grains.

Top the farro with the tomatoes and dressing juices. Sprinkle with the cheese shavings and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.

Serves 4-5

spaghetti with salmon and brandy

Standard

spaghetti in a light cream and tomato sauce with a dash of brandy

I am born in a time – early 60s if you are curious – when food was not too fashionable.

I still remember the arrival of cream in my life. My mum did not use cream, she was Sicilian. By her law, a sauce is red and must be made with tomato and olive oil. A stick of butter lasted easily a couple of months in our fridge as she had no use for it. Cake was for winter and gelato -4 or 5 flavors, not 30 like now – was for summer. A simple life.

Then the 70′s and ’80s exploded with all sorts of sophistication. Tortellini with cream and ham, crepes rolled with Bechamel and champignons, tiramisu, pannacotta. White was the new red and it was everywhere.

This recipes is oh so ’70 that is almost forbidden. Modern pasta is often naked, no tomato, no cream, a few extravagant ingredients scattered on top of some mysterious watery juice. Alchemic, interesting, but rarely suitable to real life.

This one is good for any day, my husband loves it. Please note the quality of the ingredients and the modest amounts of condiments which are necessary to achieve balance.

Recipe

  • 250 gr  good quality spaghetti (possibly bronze drawn)
  • 1 small onion, diced very finely
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus extra for finishing.
  •  300 gr (10 oz) canned diced tomato (about 2/3 of a can)
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2-3 tablespoon brandy
  • 100 gr (3 oz) smoked wild salmon, diced
  • 1 fresh red chili pepper, sliced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

Using a shallow pan – a frying pan with high sides is ideal – saute the garlic and onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil over very low heat. If the onion starts browning deglaze with a little white wine. Add the diced tomato, cover and simmer until a little thicker, about 5 min. Add salmon and cream, bring back to simmering temperature and switch off, you don’t want to cook the flavor of the salmon away. The whole preparation should take no more than 7-8 min.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to package instructions until al dente. When the pasta is cooked, turn the heat under the sauce pan to high. Drain the pasta and transfer into the sauce pan.  Add chili pepper now, if using.

Stir the pasta quickly into the sauce as explained here. Add some pasta water – up to one tablespoon per person – and stir some more until the excess liquid is absorbed. Add a generous dash of brandy  and stir again to incorporate. Sprinkle with parsley . Serve on warm plates with a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 2-3

voilà, one my favorite summer pasta