madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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creamy pumpkin lasagna

delicously creamy pumpkin and pork lasagna

deliciously creamy pumpkin and pork lasagna

I clearly remember the first time I have seen someone cooking pumpkin, it was in 1979. I was with my family visiting friends during a summer holiday on the magnificent Lipari island, off the coast of Sicily. A teenager girl, only a little older than myself, was frying those brilliant orange slices in olive oil. We ate no pumpkin in Umbria then, but Sicilians use the sweet “delica” pumpkin in all sort of fabulous dishes, including candy and preserves. I did not get to try those beauties, but I guess she was making  “zucca in agrodolce” (sweet and sour pumpkin) whereby the slices would have been finished in a sauce of vinegar, sugar, mint and garlic to serve – later in the day – as a side dish.

In contrast, I don’t remember when “zucca” arrived in Umbria. In our small rural region people used to be opposed to novelty, but it must have happened around the mid ’80s. Now we have pumpkin by the truckloads during the whole winter. We also have a clumsy version of Halloween when the kids don’t know what to do except dressing up and terrorize the bewildered village elders who have no idea what’s this new Carnival about. Only a few of them know you are supposed to give them candy when they turn up screaming at your door.

Of course we all think that pumpkin is for eating, not for those quaint porch lanterns. We are Italian after all, we have a fixation with food.

Recipe

  • 1 kg (2 lb) orange pumpkin or squash, cleaned and cut into cubes
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 1/2 kg (1 lb) fresh pork sausage
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 120 gr (4 oz) grated Parmesan
  • 250 gr (8 oz) fresh ricotta
  • 300 gr (11 oz)  young cow’s milk cheese like caciotta or provola, thinly sliced
  • 500 gr ( 1 lb)  fresh lasagna sheets

First of all organize your worktop so to have ample space to work. Please read my notes about making proper lasagna.

Prepare  condiments:

  1.  Stew pumpkin and onion in 2 tablespoon olive oil until soft and falling apart. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir and transfer into the bowl of a food processor together with the ricotta. Process until thick and creamy.
  2. Remove casing from sausages and saute in a heavy pan over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up large pieces with a fork, about 10 minutes. Add fennel seeds, stir for one minute, then deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine.  Switch off and set aside.

Umbrian fresh sausages are liberally seasoned with black pepper and garlic. If you can’t find a similar sausage, add 2 cloves of finely minced garlic and a good sprinkle of black pepper just before deglazing with wine.

Assemble lasagna:

  1. Preheat the oven at 200 °C (400 °F). Butter generously a 40 x 30 cm (16 x 12 inch) roasting pan.
  2. To blanch the pasta sheets, place a shallow pan, half full with water on the heat and bring to the boil. Using a slotted spoon, deep one or two lasagna sheets at the time in the boiling water until just soft, approx 30 sec, strain and place in one single layer in the buttered tin.
  3. Once the bottom of the tin is covered by lasagna sheets, pour 1/4 of the pumpkin/ricotta mixture over the pasta sheets and spread it in a thin layer. Top with 1/3 of the sliced cheese, 1/3 of the cooked sausage and 2 tablespoon of grated Parmesan. Repeat two more times using all the sausage and sliced cheese and 2/4 of  the pumpkin mixture reserving 1/4 for the top layer.
  4. Top with one last layer of pasta sheets, cover thinly with the rest of the pumpkin mixture, sprinkle with 2-3 additional tablespoon of Parmesan and bake for 25 min or until bubbly and golden around the sides.

Serve 6-8 as a main

For a vegetarian version substitute sausage with smoked cheese, gorgonzola or saute porcini mushrooms.

 

Lipari's main square during a festival

Lipari’s youth in their beautiful festival clothes

PS. If you want to visit and carve one of those beautiful lanterns for me I will make you lunch.


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

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


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cappelletti pasta with kamut

cappelletti, winter delight of every Umbrian home

I have been keeping this post for one of those rare days when I have enough time in my hands. I wanted quiet and concentration to explain in sufficient detail what might be one of the best pasta recipes in the world. To tell you that cappelletti, the Umbrian diminuitive version of tortellini, is pasta Nirvana.

Well. We are snowed in. We have no car because it has seriously broken down just before the storm. Most of Italy is under the snow so the replacement parts will not be arriving for a while. The rare phone call is of friends wanting to know if we are all right. The next shop is 8 km downhill on a windy road presently covered by ice and almost a foot of snow. We are not going anywhere.

The term cappelletti, means little hats. In Umbria they are generally made for Christmas. I know families who make a few thousands of them and keep them in the freezer to enjoy during the winter months. They are better served in a chicken or capon stock. However, I am not opposed to a dressing of truffle shavings in olive oil or a good porcini sauce.

In my quest of wheat free alternatives, I have made these cappelletti  with organic kamut flour also named khorasan. The recipe works as well, if not a little easier, with regular flour. To choose the right type of flour, please make sure to read my flour tips here.

To freeze, place them individually on floured plastic trays until hard, then transfer into sealed bags or tupperwares so you can scoop as many as you need. Boil in plenty stock or salted water for 3 min. slightly less if fresh.

Recipe

For the filling

  • 120 gr / 4 oz. each of ground turkey breast, lean beef and pork
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 60 gr / 2 oz. each charcuterie boiled ham, mortadella, grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • a pinch nutmeg, salt, black pepper

Heat a shallow heavy-bottomed pan, add  two tablespoon olive oil and saute the ground meats on medium-high heat until just starting to brown. If you cook the meat too slowly it will release liquid, loose flavor and feel like sawdust.

Increase heat to maximum, deglaze with white wine, season with salt, nutmeg, a pinch of black pepper and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse the cooked meat, ham, mortadella and grated Parmesan until finely ground.

For the pasta dough:

  • 3 eggs
  • 300 gr kamut flour (khorasan)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil

Using the ingredients above, make my food processor pasta dough and roll it into thin sheets using a pasta machine. Cover the sheets with a cotton tea towel. Kamut pasta sheets dry quickly and tend to break, so you need to work faster than when using regular flour.

Now follow the instructions in the photo captions below. Click on one of the picture to start the slideshow.

This recipe makes 350 cappelletti. You will need about 25 per person, so you either have a feast or freeze 3 heavenly family dinners for 4 and 1 tete a tete.

kamut cappelletti on the left, wheat cappelletti on the right


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white lasagna with zucchini

light summer lasagna filled with goodness. It almost counts for vegetables ;)

LASAGNA BIANCA ALLE ZUCCHINE.

You are looking for a zucchini recipe, are you? Are you getting weekly gifts of zucchini from your gardening friends? What should you do with it? Everybody is looking for a zucchini recipe at this time of the year.

Zucchini are exploding right now, growing at light speed, overflowing the market stalls.  I never tire of them though,  crispy and delicate, they can be used to add crunch and lightness to almost everything.

This is a fabulous recipe – and a very easy one – that can actually be adapted to all sort of greens like asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, whatever the season brings you.

Before starting however, please read my basic lasagna recipe. I will briefly remind you that to make good lasagna you need fresh lasagna noodles which must be blanched in boiling water before layering them with a modest, and I repeat modest, amount of condiments. Love yourself and don’t listen to Kraft telling you to take shortcuts.

Making a proper  lasagna might seem intimidating and time consuming, but it’s actually a breeze if one has good ingredients and follows a logical order in the preparation. In addition, lasagna freezes really well, so you can make it in advance and give some to your gardening friends as a gift :) .

Recipe

  • 450 gr / 1 lb zucchini sliced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3-4 leaves fresh basil
  • 100 gr (3.5 oz) grated Parmesan cheese plus 2 tablespoon
  • 1 and 1/2 cup Bechamel sauce
  • 250 gr (1/2 lb)  young cows milk cheese like caciotta, thinly sliced
  • 250 gr ( 1/2 lb)  fresh lasagna noodles
  • 120 gr (1/4 lb) ham, finely sliced then shredded

First of all empty your worktop so to have ample space to work.

Prepare  condiments:

  1.  Sautee zucchini in 1 tablespoon olive oil until slices just start to become golden . Make sure to use a relatively large non-stick pan so the zucchini will cook quickly and don’t boil in their own water. Add a pinch of salt, one finely minced clove of garlic and a few torn basil leaves, stir quickly and as soon as it is fragrant transfer into the bowl of a food processor .
  2. Make 1 and 1/2 cup of fairly liquid Bechamel sauce, season with salt and a pinch of nutmeg.
  3. Pulse chop the cooked zucchini until finely diced, add 2/3 of the Bechamel and 100 gr (3.5  oz)  grated Parmesan.

Assemble lasagna:

  1. Preheat the oven at 200 °C (400 F). Butter generously a 30 x 22 cm (12 x 8 inch) roasting tin.
  2. To blanch the pasta sheets, place a shallow pan, half full with water on the heat and bring to the boil. Using thongs, deep one lasagna noodle at the time in the boiling water until just soft, approx 30 sec, strain and place in one single layer in the buttered tin.
  3. Once the bottom of the tin is covered by lasagna sheets, pour 1/3 of the zucchini mixture over the pasta sheets and spread it in a 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) layer. Top with  1/3 of the sliced caciotta and 1/3 of the shredded ham. Repeat two more times using all of the zucchini mixture, ham and sliced cheese.
  4. Top with one last layer of pasta sheets, cover thinly with the rest of the Bechamel, sprinkle with two tablespoon of Parmesan and bake for 25 min or until bubbly and golden around the sides.

Serve 4 as a main 6 as a primo  ( first corse)

For a vegetarian version substitute ham with smoked cheese or gorgonzola.


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asparagus 101

.

spring on the plate: soft scrambled eggs with fragrant wild asparagus

With all the running around, worries and excitement about the new house I forgot to post my April article in The American in Italia magazine featuring another of my favorite recipes, Parmesan and asparagus eggs.

Please remember that if you don’t have wild asparagus or the season is over, you need to choose fairly thin green asparagus and use them as soon as possible so they stay fresh and crunchy. Remove the woody part of the stem, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil per 1/2 pound asparagus and broil them for 15-20 min until just cooked through and slightly charred.Remove from under the grill, add some crushed garlic, cover and let them infuse for at least 10 min.

I use this method of preparation as a lovely side dish and for most of my asparagus recipes like risotto, spaghetti, and beef. I also chop them, mix them with equal weight of fresh ricotta and a couple of tablespoon grated Parmesan to use as a filling for ravioli or as a spread on crostini.

The picture below has nothing to do with the recipe. Its an Apsara, a heavenly dancer I got to know about during our winter trip in Cambodia. It’s just that I have this crazy name association between their name and my favorite vegetable. It’s becoming an obsession, but I promise, no more asparagus until next year!

An Apsara, a heavenly dancer of Hindu Mithology


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no-cook pasta sauce with tuna and cherry tomatoes

strozzapreti pasta with tuna, cherry tomatoes, olives

This pasta is good for:

  • when there is no time to make dinner but you still want real food
  • the pantry is empty (or almost)
  • it’s Monday
  • you are on low cal
  • before leaving for holidays
  • returning from holidays
  • unexpected informal dinner guests
  • whenever

This pasta has a sad version and a happy version. To make the happy version you must:

  • always have some bronze-drawn durum wheat pasta or frozen fresh pasta and really good extra-virgin olive oil
  • use high quality tuna packed in oil, even better if it’s in olive oil (I use Rio Mare)

Neglecting all the above will result in the sad version. Keeping a bunch of cherry tomatoes in your freezer is a life saver.

Recipe

  • one 200 gr (6 1/2 ounce) can imported Italian tuna in olive oil, drained and separated into chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 250 gr (1/2 lb) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 300 gr/ 10 ounces spaghetti
  • a pinch sugar, salt

Optional:

  • 100 gr (3.5 oz) pitted and chopped Kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers preserved in salt, washed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 fresh chili pepper

Using a shallow pan – a frying pan with high sides is ideal – saute the garlic in 2 tablespoon olive oil over very low heat. Do not brown the garlic, you only want to flavor the oil. Add the tuna chunks and stir until just warm. Add olives and/or capers if using. Increase heat, add tomatoes and saute quickly until they are only warmed through. They should not cook and lose their shape. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar, add chili pepper if using and turn off the heat. The whole preparation should not take more than 5 min.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package instructions, or 1-2 min if using fresh pasta. The sauce is light and relatively dry, so it is suitable for spaghetti or short pasta shapes like the strozzapreti I used for the photo. It does not work well with fettuccine and the like.

When the pasta is cooked, turn the heat under the sauce pan to high. Drain and transfer to the sauce pan.  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. Sprinkle with parsley and drizzle with fruity extra virgin olive oil. Serve on warm plates at once.

Serves 2-3


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“priest chokers” made with farro flour

here they are, peasant beauties, the stranged named strozzapreti

STROZZAPRETI.  Priest stranglers? Isn’t this a crazy name? Sounds like a recipe of the Swedish Chef .

The origin of the name is unclear but it is surely evocative of our farmers’ long suffering under centuries of papal domination. Having to part with hard earned food as a tax, they wished the greedy clerics to choke on it.

The strozzapreti are short, eggless noodles, not dissimilar to the Umbrian stringozzi. They are simply made with flour and water and rolled by hand to obtain irregular pasta curls. This is a nicely rustic, wheat-free version I made today with farro flour. You could also use spelt, whole wheat or regular wheat flour or a mixture of any of the above.

Recipe

  • 300 gr (3 ) farro flour plus additional for kneading
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pinch salt

To make the strozzapreti dough use the same food processor method which I have explained for egg pasta. The dough must be firm but pliable so you might need to adjust the amount of water depending on the type of flour you are using.  Roll the dough with a pasta machine until it’s thin, but not transparent, one setting before the last one. While the pasta is still soft, cut the dough into 1.5 cm (1/2 inch)  ribbons, then…

...take a pasta ribbon on the palm of your hand....

....roll the pasta ribbons to make it curl....

....like this.

With a sharp knife cut the ribbons into 5 cm (2 inch) long pieces and set them on a floured worktop or cotton towel to dry.

Cook in salted boiling water for one minute, they overcook fast! Toss with sauce and a little pasta water as as explained here. Serve immediately.

The strozzapreti need a robust sauce like ragù , a Norcina or a porcini mushroom sauce. In Romagna they serve them with seafood. YUM.

Serves 2-3 as a main.

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