madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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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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potato gateau

crispy potato gateau

SAVORY POTATO PIE a.k.a. GATO’ DI PATATE.

There are moments I so miss my mother  presenting one of her meals with that special look in her eyes. She had it when she knew she had made something really delicious. She would never compliment herself though, she was too modest for it.

She would simply mention offhandedly “è molto condito” meaning “it’s rich”. Then we knew she liked it.

And even if rich, her food was balanced. Always cooked to perfection with no ingredient dominating the others, a marriage of quality and skills.

In my life I have had the opportunity to travel the world and taste all sorts of delicacies. Nevertheless, she is still my absolute measure. I don’t need to make sophisticated dishes. If I can make a simple home recipe like she did, then I have achieved something. Her gateau was the best.

The gateau is a potato savory pie of Neapolitan and Sicilian tradition. Just like sartu, the potato gateau is a dish developed in the XVII century by French cooks employed at the Bourbons court in Naples .

For me it’s family food through and through. It has a smell of togetherness which brings me back to childhood and happy summer dinners . You only need a salad with it and a handful of cherries as a dessert.

A perfect Italian meal.

Recipe

  • 1.5 kg (3 lb) potatoes, preferably new.
  • 60 gr ( 2 oz) grated Parmesan
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper to taste
  • 250 gr (9 oz) mild cheese (e.g. caciotta), sliced
  • 120 gr (4 oz) cooked ham
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon bread crumbs or gluten-free equivalent

Place potatoes  in a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and cook until tender. Drain, then mash the potatoes. Use preferably a mouli or potato ricer to obtain a soft and airy mash. Mix with the eggs, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper and a couple of tablespoon olive oil.

Preheat oven at 180 °C / 350 °F.

Butter generously a 10 inch wide ovenproof dish and dust it with breadcrumbs. Line the dish with a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick layer of potato mash. You need to make sure that the potato layer is compact enough on the sides so that it will hold the filling. Layer half of the cheese and ham on the bottom of the potato shell. Add an additional 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick layer potato mash over it. Add the rest of ham and cheese and top with the rest of the potato. Dust the top with breadcrumbs, a good sprinkle of grated Parmesan and a few curls of butter.

Bake for 30 min until slightly golden. Allow to rest for at least 10 min before serving.

Serves 6 as a meal, 8 as an appetizer.

PS. You can make the potato pie easily vegetarian by substituting the ham with chopped blanched spinach which you have quickly saute in olive oil and garlic to dry them and infuse with extra flavor.


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sartù alla napoletana

the sartu rice timbale

the sartu, a spectacular rice timbale

The  Neapolitan SARTU’ is a sophisticated  timbale of rice filled with cheese, vegetables and meat.  The name Sartù originates from a silver table centerpiece or surtout, used by the Naples’ nobility to serve the most important dish of a formal dinner.

Rice, imported into Italy by the Spaniards in the XIV century, had been snobbed by the pasta-eater Neapolitans as tasteless and only good for curing stomach illness.

They took until the end of 1700 to be convinced otherwise. By then rice was all the rage in France, the Bourbons ruled Naples and French cooks ruled the kitchens of aristocratic  families. They made it complicated – as French style commands – as well as acceptable to the locals using popular ingredients such as tomato sauce and mozzarella.

Beyond its gallic construction however, Sartù is an encyclopedia of Italian cooking, if you make that you can practically make everything else.

The traditional recipe involves the use of lard, aged pecorino cheese and a thick meat ragout with chicken livers. I prefer a light tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. It’s rich enough like this and feeds a small army. Remember,  it’s so delicious that if you make it once for your family, they will ask it over and over again.

If you really like to “strengthen” the sauce, cook the sausages in it, rather than grilling them.

Recipe

For the rice “shell”:

  • 1 recipe tomato sauce with basil
  • 450 gr. (1 pound) vialone nano, arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg

For the filling:

  • 1 recipe polpettine (mini meatballs):
  • 1 recipe  piselli al prosciutto (peas with ham)
  • 1 recipe funghi trifolati (sauteed mushrooms)
  • 1 and 1/2 cup Béchamel sauce
  • 200  gr. (7 ounces) fresh mozzarella,  diced
  • 100 gr. (3 ounces) fresh pork sausage, fried (or grilled) and sliced

Prepare shell and filling:

Make a basic tomato sauce. Cook rice in plenty boiling hot water or stock for half of its cooking time, strain. Add egg, Parmesan cheese, tomato sauce, season with salt and pepper. If possible prepare the rice and sauce mixture one day in advance, it’s much easier to handle if it is cold.

Prepare meatballs, peas with ham, sauteed mushroom and Béchamel  sauce.

Assemble Sartu’
Preheat oven at 200°C (40o°F).
Butter generously a round 30 cm (11 inch)  ovenproof dish and dust it with breadcrumbs. Line the dish with a 2 cm (3/4 inch) thick layer of rice. You need to make sure that the rice layer is compact enough on the sides so that it will hold the filling.

Layer all other ingredients in the rice “shell” starting with the mini-meatballs and sausages and ending with the white sauce. Cover with the rest of the rice. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, a couple of tablespoon Parmesan and dot with a butter. Bake for 20-30 min until slightly golden. Allow to rest for at least 10 min before serving.

Serves 8


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piselli al prosciutto

peas and ham, a classic Italian side dish

peas and ham, a classic Italian side dish

PEAS AND HAM.  Spring brings wonderful ingredients, fresh peas, asparagus, broad beans, strawberries. It seems hardly necessary to cook as everything is so bright and flavorful you can eat it as it is. Fresh shelled peas are delicious and can be used as a low calories snack. This is a very traditional side dish that can be transformed into a pasta sauce by adding two tablespoon each of cream and Parmesan  and a squirt of lemon juice.

Recipe

  • 1  onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 and 1/2 cup frozen or shelled fresh peas
  • 2 tablespoon water
  • 4 ounces (120 gr) cooked ham, cut into thin strips
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in EVO oil until translucent and slightly caramelized, add ham and cook briefly. Add peas and 1-2 tablespoon water and cook until peas are tender but still bright green. In her new cookbook , my  friend Judy Witts adds a pinch of sugar to the peas. This is a particularly good idea if the peas are frozen or just a bit starchy.  Season and serve warm or at room temperature

Serves 2-3


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lasagne

homemade lasagna, worlds apart from imitations

homemade lasagna, worlds apart from imitations

LASAGNA. In Italian a “lasagna” is one sheet of rectangular pasta used in the famous baked pasta recipe. The correct name of the dish refers to the plural  “lasagne” indicating the use of several sheets of pasta layered with delicious condiments and sauce.

This is one of those dishes that evokes dreamy eyes and remembrance of happy family Sundays. Of moments in life when everything is so good and so simple.

One the other hand this must be one of the most mistreated recipes in the kingdom of ugly culinary shortcuts. This is because making real lasagne involves work. If you are not prepared to devote some time and effort to it, please eat spaghetti!

Our cooking class guests are often surprised at how light is a good homemade lasagna. For best results it is essential  to precook the pasta sheets, to use fresh mozzarella – not ricotta – and modest amounts of condiments on each layer. My friend Sandra explains it better than I do and has several pictures.

Recipe

  • 1/2 kg (1 pound) fresh lasagna sheets
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) Parmesan cheese grated
  • 200 gr (7  ounces) good quality ham torn in small pieces
  • 400 gr (14 ounces) fresh mozzarella cubed
  • 200 ml/ ¾ cup Béchamel sauce (white sauce)
  • 4 to 6 cups ragu‘ sauce

Precook the lasagna sheets in boiling hot salted water for 1 minute if fresh, 3 min if dry. Drain and place individual sheets on the tabletop to cool.
Build up the lasagne layers starting with a ladleful of sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof pan. Alternate pasta sheets, mozzarella, ham, Béchamel, ragu’, Parmesan. Drizzle approx. 3 tablespoon of the red sauce and 1 and 1/2 tablespoon of the white sauce on each layer. You need just a sprinkle of cheese and ham. Spread the top layer evenly with the ragu’, add 1-2 tablespoon of Béchamel and finally sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoon Parmesan.

Lasagne can be made in advance and frozen. Make sure to defrost completely before cooking as otherwise they will become soggy.

Cook in moderate oven at 200 degrees C (400 F) for 1/2 hour. Serves 6.

PS. in the unlikely case you ave leftovers, you can freeze them but make sure to heat it in the oven or microwave for the shortest possible time otherwise the lasagna will overcook.

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