Auguri! Happy Holidays and peace to all my friends and family. A special thought to all those who are alone, or ill or feeling sad. May the future bring you kindness, hope and relief.
Letizia and family from Assisi in Umbria, Italy
Pasta al forno (baked pasta) is to Italy what macaroni and cheese is to the rest of the world. In the good, homemade, festive way, not – heaven forbid – in the Kraft dinner way. I was amazed to discover that the recipe was originally imported to the US by no less than President Thomas Jefferson in 1802. He even had Parmesan and pasta imported from Italy as he was not satisfied with locally produced ingredients. Note: pasta and Parmesan, no Cheddar. Sadly the upper class appeal of pasta baked with cheese and butter disappeared already in the middle 1880s. My guess is that it kept in a free fall until today’s microwavable abominations.
If you live in North America, you probably know all the above. As for myself, I can’t wrap my brain around the idea of a neon-orange dry cheese-flavored sauce in a prepackaged pasta mixture. The only idea gives me brain fog.
Hopefully you are here because you want to know how to make an authentic baked pasta, one that you will find in many Italian houses, particularly when in need to feed a crowd, from a summery garden-party to Christmas or other holidays.
It’s a great recipe because you can change it with the seasons and you can prepare it in advance which is always a bonus when you have guests. It actually improves if you bake it until warmed through, cool off and refrigerate. Just finish it the next day before serving.
As you see from the recipe I use a modest amount of meat as a flavor enhancer. Pork can be substituted with stewed game or a slow cooked beef ragu with no tomato. You can also easily make it vegetarian by using some smoked or blue cheese or a little black truffle.
Over low heat and covered, saute onion in a large pan until slightly golden. Increase the heat, uncover and deglaze with a few tablespoon of white wine.
Add peas and 1/2 cup water and boil quickly until they are cooked through but still bright green. Remove from heat and add the chopped ham.
Make a fairly thin Béchamel using my quick microwave method, see here.
Cook pasta in plenty salted boiling water until half of the cooking time. Drain and toss with half of the Béchamel, 2/3 of the grated cheese and all the peas and ham.
Line a ovenproof pan with oiled parchment paper. This pasta tends to stick even in non-stick pans. Make layers of the pasta mixture and the mild cheese ending with a layer of pasta, a layer of Béchamel and a generous sprinkle of grated cheese.
Bake at 200 °C ( 390 °F) until slightly golden on top.
Pasta is my favorite food in the world.
Pasta is sublime and comforting in its many forms, colors and textures. For an Italian cook, making pasta represents the very essence of cooking. It’s not only a habit, a tradition, a requirement. It’s deeper than that. It’s art. It’s in our genes.
Changing from a cornucopia of variety and flavors to gluten-free foods has lead me on a path of many twists and turns. Especially so for pasta.
Store bought GF pasta has finally improved but lots of what I have tasted has gone into the bin. And it does not help that I live in rural Umbria where strange and “fashionable” products are slow to appear on the shelves.
Ever since I discovered being wheat/gluten intolerant, I have sorely missed homemade fresh pasta.
For quite a while, I have researched, I have made experiments, I have discarded failures until today’s noodles. They are the real thing. As real as gluten-free pasta can get.
They have a neutral taste, they cook without falling apart even though they are almost as thin as wheat noodles. You can sauce them as you would do any pasta and you can roll them with a fork and pull them up from the plate in one single string, not in miserable bits.
Gluten-free pasta dough is more difficult to handle as it breaks easily and – being not as flexible – is not as forgiving as gluten pasta. If you cook for others who eat gluten, I advice you to try to make regular pasta a few times to get the hang of the method. Then make gluten-free pasta for yourself.
*you can also use rice, corn, buckwheat, basically any GF flour that you like to use to flavor the dough
Making the GF dough:
In a food processor blend all ingredients until the mixture begins to form thick crumbs. Meanwhile heat 1/2 cup water. Depending on the size of the eggs, you will need to add a variable amount of liquid in order to obtain a firm but pliable dough. With the blade running, add the hot water, one teaspoon at the time, until the dough forms a ball. You might need up to 3 tablespoon.
Getting the right consistency is crucial. Too wet and you will not be able to roll it through the pasta machine. Too dry and it will break making it impossible to shape it.
Now wrap the dough in clingfilm and let it rest at least 30 min. This resting period hydrates the dough and makes it easier to roll it.
Rolling the GF dough:
Set the smooth rollers of a pasta machine on widest setting. Cut the dough into golf-ball size pieces. Flatten one piece of dough into a rectangle with a rolling pin and feed it through the rollers. To prevent sticking, dust with any fine gluten-free flour you have.
Roll the dough as thin as possible and as quickly as possible. Don’t fold it like you would do with wheat flour. Make sure to keep your pasta sheets relatively short, max 20 cm (8 inch) otherwise they will break in the middle. Minimal manipulation is key to success with this beast.
I roll each piece of GF dough 3 times using the widest setting, an intermediate setting and one before the thinnest setting. The dough tends to shred if it’s too thin.
For example if the settings of your machine are numbered from 1 to 6, roll it at 1, 3 and 5 with 1 being the widest.
Place the pasta sheets on a wooden board or cotton towel to dry. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner. The pasta should dry – at least 10 min. – before cutting so it will be more robust. You should however prevent it from becoming brittle.
Feed the sheets through a fettuccine cutter and return your beautiful gluten-free noodles to the kitchen towels to dry until ready to cook.
What an exciting and busy time this is! Summer is finished and fall has descended on us with all its gorgeous beauty. Olive harvest is well underway. This year we are gifted by the much needed help of friends who have come all the way from Singapore for the event, how delightful!
It’s a lot of work but we are having a fabulous time. Beside picking, we have been doing a great deal of laughing, chatting, cooking and drinking. We’ll probably be ready in one more day and then we’ll need to wait until next week for the pressing and bottling to enjoy our emerald liquid.
The only and real “Alla Madonna del Piatto olive oil“.
The last few B&B/cooking guests will be arriving this week-end for our first – of I hope many – Pasta and Vino Tour. We should actually call it Pasta and Vino and Olive oil tour as it will be heavy on the bruschetta ;).
This is an extraordinary time to be here, wineries are buzzing with activity, there are food festivals and farmer markets in many of the hilltop villages. Olive mills are running 24/7, everybody is out and about with nets and ladders to pick olives until dusk. And if that was not enough, there are mushrooms, truffle, thick farro soups, polenta, pumpkin, fresh fennel and cime di rapa to add to the cornucopia of incredible foods available just now. Add the salami and life is perfect.
Last night, tired after a day of trodding up and down the hill, we prepared a light dish of homemade gnocchi with pesto and these cookies. The term ciambelline means small ring cookies. They are as “seasonal” as a cookie can get as they are made with wine and olive oil. One can while the night away with a tray of these and a good bottle of sweet wine to deep them in.
Preheat oven at 160 °C (340 ° F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place all dry ingredients – except the white sugar – in a food processor bowl. Using the blade at high speed, add the oil and wine and blend until most of the mixture forms a soft ball of dough, about 2 minutes.
If you don’t have a food processor or mixer, make the dough in a large bowl by hand and transfer on a lightly floured worktop.
Sprinkle the white sugar on a large flat plate or cutting board. On the worktop, roll the dough into 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) thick cylinders. Cut each cylinder into 10 cm (5 inch) pieces and roll them into the white sugar to coat.
Pinch the ends of each cylinder together to form a ring.
Carefully arrange the rings on a the baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 min until just golden around the sides.
Cool on a wire rack and serve with sweet wine like a vinsanto, passito or marsala or a big mug of herbal tea.
Makes approx. 36 ciambelline.
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:
Lemon butter sauce
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
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.
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.
I find making fresh pasta an incredibly relaxing activity. I could fashionably say it’s therapeutic but I don’t feel the need to have therapy as often as having pasta. My latest passion in “pasta relaxation” is orecchiette, meaning little ears, a semolina pasta traditionally made in Puglia.
It’s the sort of thing that gives a good excuse for gathering friends around a table and while away an afternoon. Do watch the video at the end of this post to see what I mean. That woman must have made so many orecchiette that does not even need to look at what she’s doing. It’s magical.
I can’t produce them quite so fast, but it’s actually easier than it looks if you make sure to obtain a firm dough, use a round tipped knife and don’t get discouraged if the first batch of ten will look a little lopsided. As you get the hang of it you will wonder why you ever found it difficult.
I make all doughs in the food processor as explained here . You can also make the dough by mixing all ingredients by hand until smooth and elastic as shown in the video below. It’s most important that you allow the dough to rest at least 20 min and up to one hour. This way the gluten absorbs moisture and makes the dough pliable and easy to shape.
Once your dough has rested, transfer it onto a work-top. A grainy wooden cutting board or pasta dough helps grip the dough.
Divide the dough into fist-size portions, and cover them with a cotton kitchen towel. Roll 1 portion of dough into a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick rope.
Use a knife to cut and drag a 1/3-inch piece of dough from end of rope facing you.
Holding the knife at a 45-degree angle to the work surface, press and roll dough around the tip of the knife toward you. You will obtain something similar to gnocchi but empty in the middle.
Now turn out each piece of dough over your thumb in the opposite direction to form a concave shape, and transfer onto the pasta board or a tea towel. Repeat with remaining dough. Orecchiette can be stored at room temperature in a single layer overnight.
While the orecchiette dry, start boiling your pasta water and prepare this quick sauce in a saucepan which must be large enough to hold all the pasta once is cooked .
Zucchini and saffron sauce
Saute zucchini and onion in one tablespoon olive oil until just starting to become golden. Add cream (or ricotta) and saffron and simmer briefly until just warmed through. Cook pasta in plenty salted boiling water, drain, transfer in the sauce pan and toss with the sauce over high heat as explained here. Finish with grated Parmesan and a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.
Any extra unccoked orecchiette can be frozen. First, freeze them in a single layer on a plastic tray, then transfer them to a resealable plastic bag and return them to the freezer. Boil directly from the freezer.
I have had friends who wouldn’t invite me for dinner because they thought I was a better cook then they are. Actually, I really adore it when someone cooks for me. I don’t care if it’s perfect. Cooking for someone is an act of love and I love to be pampered. Don’t we all do? Make me a fried egg, please, I’ll love you for anything you cook for me.
There’s another fact. I hate to be a pain in the neck when someone invites me for a meal. However, I have all sorts of food intolerances. They even change with the time which is quite confusing for hosts who think they know my problems. I’ve been dairy free for 10 years. Now I can have dairy in moderate amounts but I can’t have wheat.
Conversely, and because I do cooking classes, I have found myself in the position having no idea what to give to someone as because of their health or their choices they just can’t be “normal” (like me :) )
This recipe is a life saver for modern stomachs and desperate cooks. Not only it can be prepared in advance. It can also be made vegetarian by skipping the ham and gluten-free by substituting the flour. For the gluten-free version I use my GF cake-flour mix which works fantastic. In fact you don’t even know there’s no wheat.
for the crêpes:
for the filling:
For the crêpes, mix the liquid butter, eggs and milk in a bowl. Add flour, salt, nutmeg and whisk. Brush a 15 cm/6 inch , non-stick frying pan with melted butter and set over medium heat. Pour a small ladleful of the batter (about 3 tablespoon) in the pan and swirl to make the thinnest possible pancake. Cook for 1-2 minutes each side then remove and set aside. Repeat, to make 14-15 pancakes. I only butter the pan once at the beginning.
In a separate pan, heat the garlic briefly in 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, add the cooked spinach, salt lightly and warm through to infuse with the garlicky oil. Transfer in a food processor together with ricotta, the ham and two tablespoons Parmesan. Process briefly until smooth.
Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350 °F and lightly grease a 22 x 30 cm baking dish with butter or olive oil
Distribute the spinach mixture in the centre of each pancake. Spread filling all over the pancake then roll like cannelloni. Place in the baking dish. Spread crepes with Bechamel and sprinkle with two more tablespoon of Parmesan. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden and bubbly. Serve hot.
Serves 5-6 as a main dish