madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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spinach and pasta soup

emerald goodness

This is a healthy, refreshing and quite good-looking soup. It’s one of my desperation recipes, meaning that I make it when desperately needing a nutritious and light meal in hardly any time. I often keep a bag of pre-washed spinach in the fridge, but I would not snob some good quality frozen ones, possibly organic.

I often use fresh pasta leftovers which I dry on a towel for a day or two and then roughly crush them with my hands to give it a rustic look. Bought fresh egg-noodles of any shape you like will do just fine, no crushing needed.

What makes the dish is that drizzle of olive oil at the end. The fruity creaminess of the oil brings out the herby intensity of the spinach.

This is a perfect occasion to open that bottle of olive oil you bought during your last holidays in Umbria.

Please don’t be tempted to cook the pasta in the soup, it will be chewy, you want it silky. Fresh noodles cook in no time so it’s not an effort.

If you are gluten free, this is a good recipe to use boiled rice leftovers too. As a further alternative,  you could substitute the pasta with two tablespoon cooked cannellini beans per person. Just warmed them first in a pan with a little garlic and olive oil before gently float them on the soup.

Recipe

  • 1/2 kg (1 lb) spinach
  • 1 onion
  • 1 lt ( 1 quart) boiling water or stock
  • 1 teaspoon flour or corn starch
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) fresh pasta noodles per person
  • 2 teaspoon freshly grated Parmesan per person
  • a good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Dice the onion and soften it in two tablespoon olive oil in a  saucepan which must be large enough to hold the soup. Add the cleaned spinach leaves, cover and simmer slowly until the greens are wilted. Add flour or starch and stir. Add the boiling water or stock, simmer 3-4 more minutes, season and puree until smooth. Cover to keep warm.

In a separate pan cook the noodles in plenty salted boiling  water until al dente. Fresh tagliolini will take no more than one minute.  Drain and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil. Now quickly ladle the spinach puree into bowls, add the pasta, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan, drizzle with good EVO oil and serve immediately.

Serves 4

here, with your sprinkle of cheese


22 Comments

meat and spinach cannelloni

authentic Italian cannelloni, a feast

Warning: mistreated recipe! If you have any intention of using those chewy curly no-boil lasagna,  lumpia/wanton wrappers, manicotti tubes, tortilla, frozen crepes or other horrors please don’t even read this recipe. In fact, you might want to go out for dinner or make mac n’ cheese.

Like lasagna, this is a labor-intensive pasta recipe. It’s a dish of sublime goodness which deserves to be revered and prepared with loving care for the appropriate (grand) occasion. The effort will be totally worthy, I promise you.

The success of this dish is based on high-quality ingredients, a restrained amount of sauce, a relatively dry but wonderfully savory filling. By the time it is ready to eat, the pasta should remain al dente.

Recipe

  • 700 gr (forty 6- by 4-inch) fresh pasta rectangles or thin dry lasagna noodles
  • for soffritto: 1 onion, 1  celery rib, 1 carrot, all finely chopped
  • 700 gr (1.5 lb) good quality ground red meat. I use a mixture of pork and beef.
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 200 gr (7 oz)  sliced ham, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 500 gr (1 lb.) fresh spinach, blanched, dried and chopped
  • 60 gr (2 oz) finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano plus two tablespoon for sprinkling.
  • 350 gr mozzarella or mild cow’s-milk cheese, sliced
  • 2/3 cup Bechamel sauce
  • 1.5 lt (6 cups) basic tomato sauce flavored with a handful of basil leaves

Schedule:

  1. Make tomato sauce and Bechamel
  2. Blanch spinach
  3. Slice ham, cheese and soffritto vegetables
  4. Make filling
  5. Blanch pasta sheets
  6. Assemble the cannelloni (see the full process here)
  7. Bake

If you use your own pasta sheets you will need to triple my basic pasta dough recipe. Make them the day before, let them dry completely, covered with a thick kitchen towel so they will not curl up and break.  Storing at room temperature is OK for one day, otherwise freeze the individual sheets and keep in a freezer box until needed.

As an alternative buy the thinnest possible lasagna noodles. Preparing the tomato sauce and blanched spinach in advance also helps with time management.

To make filling:

In a shallow heavy-bottomed pan saute onion, carrot and celery with two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. This is called a soffritto. When the vegetables are translucent, increase heat, add ground meat and saute quickly until just starting to brown. Deglaze with white wine, season with salt, nutmeg and black pepper and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse ham, spinach and grated Parmesan until finely ground. Add to cooked ground meat together with 2-3 tablespoon tomato sauce. Do not use frozen spinach, they tend to retain too much water. If the filling is too moist the cannelloni will fall apart during cooking.

To assemble the cannelloni:

Bring a large pot of salted water to rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Boil pasta 10 pieces at a time in a large pot, stirring lightly to separate, until just tender, about 1/2 minute for fresh pasta or about 3 minutes for dry noodles. Drain in a colander. Using thick rubber gloves gently transfer the pasta sheets on a clean work-top and lay them flat to cool. Preheat oven to  200 °C (400°F).

Spread about 2 tablespoon filling in a line along the diagonal of 1 pasta rectangle, top with a slice of mozzarella…..

homemade lasagna sheets used for cannelloni ready to be rolled

……then roll up to enclose filling.

cannelloni rolled nice and tight, ready to be placed in a baking dish

Transfer them to a baking dish arranging snugly in 1 layer. Spread cannelloni with a thin layer of tomato sauce, drizzle with Bechamel and sprinkle with 2 tablespoon  grated cheese. Bake in the middle of the oven until the sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.

Let them stand 5 minutes before serving. Cannelloni are  ideal to serve a crowd, each piece just lifts out of the baking dish in a perfectly sized portion. In addition they can be frozen uncooked. Just make sure to thaw them completely before baking.

Serves 12-15.

heaven in a roll


12 Comments

gluten free ravioli

they look like the real thing, don't they?

they look like the real thing, don’t they?

There is so much good food to discover and enjoy.  A lifetime is not enough to fulfill this scope. Even though I have food intolerance, I love to make food for others. I make all sorts of foods, even those I can’t eat and I do it with joy.

In fact – probably more than others – people with intolerances know that having good, fresh, healthy food is a privilege, something to treasure and respect every day.

When I first wrote this article, over 3 years ago, I had lots of digestive issues but I did not know I was wheat intolerant. I made these for someone who wanted to attend to one of my cooking classes and watch others making ravioli without being able to eat them. “No my dear – I said – you also must eat”.

Years later and after a lot of pondering, mistakes and experiments, I have come to accept that I’m among the many that can’t eat wheat anymore. It’s OK really, there’s lots of wonderful food to be had.

Now that I start to know a new way of cooking – gluten-free cooking – I can have as much pasta as I want, just like before. And make it for others. None can stop me, not even the gluten.

Recipe

for ravioli

  • 200 gr (7 oz) gluten-free cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (6 gr) psyllium husks
  • 1 teaspoon (4 gr) xanthan powder

for the filling

  • 120 gr. (4 oz) spinach or swiss chard
  • 60 gr (2 oz) ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan or pecorino

For the filling, blanch spinach or other leaf vegetables in boiling water for 3 min. Drain. Cool under cold water and squeeze very dry. Chop greens finely and transfer to a bowl. Mix in ricotta and grated cheese.

For the dough, you can also use a commercial GF flour. Note that each flour mix absorbs a different amount of liquid, so adjust accordingly. If you use a commercial GF flour mix, omit the xanthan and psyllium as most likely there is already a binding agent in the mix.

You can make gluten-free pasta using approximately the same method of fresh regular pasta (please see pictures here and a video here).  The main difference is that the dough is soft, tears easily and dries very fast so you need to speed up the whole process.

Not only do you need to roll the dough quickly, you must keep the sheets a little thicker than those made with regular wheat dough. If the pasta sheet is too thin it will  tear. When the sheets are ready, make the ravioli as soon as possible. If they dry you will not be able to fold and to seal them.

In a food processor blend the flour, oil and egg until the mixture just begins to form a ball. Depending on the size of the egg, it might be necessary to add a little hot water in order to obtain a soft but not sticky dough. Transfer the dough onto a worktop but keep it covered under a plastic bowl.

Set the rollers of a pasta machine on the widest setting. Cut a golf-ball size piece of dough and  flatten it quickly into a square with a rolling pin.  Feed it through the rollers. Fold the square in half and feed it through the rollers again to give it a regular shape.

Each time you fold it, dust with rice flour to prevent sticking. Don’t overwork it or it will start breaking apart.

Turn dial down to an intermediate (narrower) setting, dust with rice flour and feed the dough through rollers without folding. See details on how to do with the machine settings in the pasta dough article.

Turn the dial one last time, reducing the space between the rollers until the second to the last of the narrowest settings. Roll one last time.

Cover the sheets with a cotton tea-towel to prevent drying. Arrange a sheet of pasta on a large wooden board. Place teaspoons of the filling about 5 cm (2 inches) apart on the sheet so that you can make a “parcel” by folding it over.

spoon filling on the pasta sheets, make sure to leave enough space to seal

Using a pasta cutter seal each parcel by cutting on three sides (the fourth is the fold). Dust a large tray or your worktop with flour and carefully place the ravioli on it taking care that they do not overlap.

a zig-zag cutter is essential to seal the ravioli

Cook in salted, boiling water until al dente, 1 min. Taste them and cook max. one additional minute if necessary. GF pasta dough overcooks easily so you must be careful. Drain and toss ravioli with butter and lemon or a tomato sauce. Distribute onto 2 plates, top with grated Parmesan (or pecorino) if desired and drizzle with a fruity extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 2-3

delicious ravioli made with gluten free flour

delicious ravioli made with gluten free flour

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