pasta e fagioli for pasta lovers

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When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool - That's amore -(Dean Martin, 1953)

Italians have always been bean eaters. The bean is cheap protein after all.

Greeks ate lentils. Romans consumed  garbanzo beans and black-eyed peas daily. Commons beans arrived in Italy from America with Colombo and returned to America with Italian emigrants and their “pasta fazool”.

As for myself, I have had some bad bean experiences. The nuns at kindergarten fed us industrial amounts of a mushy porridge of rice and beans. Fatty pork rinds and overcooked macaroni have been looming in my father’s dinners. He’s the most Etruscan of the family.

As a consequence, I have become a bean snob, I only eat perfect beans. For that, I need good quality beans either fresh or dry, not canned. I need fresh herbs and good extra virgin olive oil. Last but not least, I do not mistreat my pasta. I use fresh egg pasta not ditalini or broken spaghetti. I cook it separately so it’s al dente. This way I get a heart warming, flavorful, wholesome dish. Just like it should be.

Recipe

  • 3 lt (3 quarts) cold water
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 medium whole onion, peeled
  • 1 medium carrot, scrubbed
  • 1 celery stalk, leaves removed
  • 1 sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) fresh tagliolini (narrow fettuccine) per person
  • 250 gr (8 ounces) borlotti or cannellini beans

Soak beans overinight in cold water, rinse and transfer in in a tall  saucepan. Add onion,  carrot, tomato, celery, herbs and water. Cover and simmer slowly until beans are tender. Season with salt and black pepper.

Pure half of the beans and return to pan. Cover to keep warm. Cook pasta in plenty boiling hot water until al dente. Fresh tagliolini will take no more than one minute.  Just before serving, ladle beans into bowls, add pasta and drizzle with good EVO oil.

Variation:chop 1 clove garlic and 30 gr.  (one ounce) pancetta or guanciale. Cook the garlic and pancetta in 2 tablespoon olive oil  until fragrant and add to the beans.  Stir and serve. Decorate bowls with chopped cherry tomatoes.

This recipe is from my friend Roberta, owner of Trattoria degli Umbria a lovely restaurant in the centre of Assisi.

the antimafia and other very good pasta

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anelletti pasta

bronze drawn anelletti pasta from Palermo

“GO BUY  ME A KILO PASTA, WILL YOU?????”

This Italy here  is a crazy country and always will be, but important priorities are respected. A good bowl of pasta is  hardly ever refused. So easy,  so good, so comforting. It’s in our genes, in our blood, it’s the mother of foods. Pasta comes first, not for nothing we call it primo.

Eating store-bought dried pasta is so fundamental to Italian life that we have gotten organized. And I don’t mean grandma rolling fettuccine for the kids, I mean industrial amounts.

In Gragnano, South of Naples, artisan pasta makers have been producing high quality pasta for as long as 500 years. Until relatively recent times the whole town was decorated with kilometers of noodles hanging to dry outside the pasta workshops. In the late XIX century the town was even granted the right to open a train station to be able to “export” their product to Northern Italy.

From then on, industrially produced pasta became the cheap and convenient food that by now appears on the tables of a large portion of the world’s population.

If you look for good dried pasta make sure that what you buy  is made with 100% durum wheat semolina, not with tender wheat flour which is used for bread, fresh pasta and general cooking.

To make the pasta, semolina is first mixed in a dough and then extruded through a die -named trafila in Italian -  to obtain the desired shape. Dies are made of teflon or bronze.   Standard pasta is teflon drawn, it’s quite smooth and yellow. High quality pasta is bronze drawn – trafilata al bronzo – and has a lovely powdery surface like that one in the picture above.

The bronze extruder makes the surface of the pasta more porous so that the sauces clings to the uneven surface of it rather than slipping away.

Bronze drawn pasta is widely available in Italy. However, there is one brand, which in our house has been nicknamed the “antimafia”, that sums up all goodness of flavor and thinking.

The Libera organization produces organic bronze-drawn pasta using wheat that is cultivated on estates confiscated from the mafia lords. Volunteer work by young people who believes in future.

So next time you come on holidays you know one more thing about this country.

We have some really good pasta. Sometimes we have some real courage.

antimafia pasta

organic pasta made by the Libera organization

tagliolini al pesto e fave

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tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

TAGLIOLINI WITH PESTO AND BROAD BEANS. Umbrians love broad beans, fave. As soon as it’s spring, crates of the long green pods start to appear in markets and shops. Those who are lucky enough to have a vegetable garden will pick the young and tender ones and give bagfuls to their neighbors as a gift. The fave are eaten fresh, just out of the pod, often accompanied by a slice of young pecorino cheese.

Spring basil is tender and flavorful enough to make pesto alla genovese, that is the real pesto with basil and pine nuts (pignoli). Summer basil is of course much better for the pesto but then the fave are finished!

Recipe

  • 200 gr (7 ounces) dry egg tagliolini (very narrow fettuccine)
  • 1 cup broad beans (yields 6 tablespoon shelled broad beans)
  • 1 garlic clove very finely minced
  • grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

For pesto alla genovese:

  • 1 bunch of fresh basil leaves, about 4 tablespoon
  • 2 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon EVO oil

Blanch broad beans in boiling hot water for 5 min or until some of the skins start to split. Drain and refresh under cold water. Remove shells. This will take some time but brings the dish from ordinary to quite amazing. Reserve.

To make the pesto I just blitz all ingredients in a bowl using an immersion blender. If you are a purist however, please make it with mortar and pestle. Make sure to make the pesto at the last possible moment before using it in the sauce. This way the pesto does not oxidize and as a consequence all flavor is retained. While making the pesto, cook the tagliolini in plenty salted boiling water according to package instructions.

In a pan large enough to hold all the pasta, saute garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 30 sec. Add broad beans and cook briefly to infuse them in the garlic oil. Take off the heat and add 2 tablespoon pesto.

Drain the pasta reserving 1/3 cup pasta water. Transfer the pasta in the pan that holds the sauce on high heat. Add some pasta water and quickly stir so that the sauce is partly absorbed by the pasta. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese.

Serves 2

the delciate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this light sauce

the delicate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this fragrant sauce

fettuccine al limone

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ingredients for a lemon butter sauce

simple ingredients

FETTUCCINE IN A LEMON BUTTER SAUCE. There are days when having a good dinner it’s easy. Being a diligent cook, you will have  some homemade fettuccine stashed in the freezer. OK, store bought ones is fine but of the fresh type, please! Now open the fridge and look for the following:

Recipe

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon heavy cream
  • 1 inch-long strip lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the butter, zest and juice in a little pan over low heat until the butter is melted. Add cream but do not cook it.

slowly melt the butter

slowly melt the butter

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Fresh fettuccine should cook no more than 1 min, 2 min if frozen.

Strain away the water using a colander and return the noodles quickly to the hot pan on medium heat. Add the sauce and briefly stir.

Add the Parmesan and a couple of tablespoon of pasta water and stir some more until the liquid is absorbed.  Serve  immediately, it must be eaten very hot.

so easy, so good

so easy, so good

norcina

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preparing a Norcia-style sauce

preparing a Norcia-style sauce

NORCIA is a marvelous medieval town in Southeastern Umbria, blessed by fresh mountain air and by the breeding of pigs. Already in the IX century the delicious animal represented a main source of income for the locals. One can modestly say that they have a long standing expertise in making the best sausages of the world. This simple and hearty sauce is available in most restaurants in Umbria and prepared regularly in Umbrian home kitchens.

Recipe

  • 1/2 kg (1 pound) sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 medium onion finely sliced
  • 4 tablespoon heavy or whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound short pasta like fusilli or penne
 or homemade stringozzi
  • 4 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • Optional:  1 teaspoon grated truffle or preserved truffle paste

Sauté onion and sausage in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up large pieces with fork, about 10 minutes. Deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine. Add cream and  set aside.

Cook the pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Return to the same pot to keep it warm. With the heat on, add the sausage and cream mixture, stir quickly, add truffle. If the pasta appears too dry, add some cooking water and stir some more to coat and absorb the excess liquid.  Serve immediately with the Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 4

fusilli with Norcina sauce

fusilli with Norcina sauce