madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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orecchiette pasta in a creamy zucchini and saffron sauce

orecchiette, little ear shaped pasta from Southern Italy

orecchiette, little ear shaped pasta from Southern Italy

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.

Recipe

Dough

  • 200 gr ( 2 cup) semolina flour
  • 80 ml (2/3 cup) water
  • 2 teaspoon olive oil
  • a pinch of salt

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.

use a round tipped knife and work on a wooden board

use a round tipped knife and work on a wooden board

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

  • 2 medium zucchini, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • a pinch of saffron to taste
  • 2 tablespoon heavy cream or ricotta
  • 2 tablespoon grated Parmesan

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.

Serves 2

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.


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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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bandiera

"bandiera", a fragrant stir fry of Italian summer vegetables

This is my mum’s version of the Provençal ratatouille. A dish like this one – basically a stew of summer vegetables – must exist all around the Mediterranean.  Because of its vibrant colors, in Umbria it’s called “bandiera” meaning “flag” . In Basilicata it’s known as ciambotta or cianfotta. It’s a close relative of the Sicilian caponata, another miracle of Southern peasant cooking.

I have with the bandiera the same love-hate relations that others have for custard. If you get the wrong version is awful. Particularly when the veggies have been cooked in tomato sauce until mushy and unrecognizable. My family’s recipe is crisp and fragrant. The trick is to cook vegetables separately and quickly combine them with just a hint of tomato and onion. Keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of days, it will be slightly softer and mellower, perfect picnic food.

Recipe

  • 1 eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch strips
  • 1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 plum tomatoes peeled and cubed
  • a few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Chop all ingredients before starting to cook. Prepare a bowl where to keep the cooked vegetables. Take a large non-stick pan preferably a wok, heat one tablespoon olive oil and shallow fry the potatoes until crispy. Transfer in the bowl.

Increase the heat to medium-high, add one additional tablespoon olive oil and stir fry  the eggplants until golden and tender. Transfer in the bowl with the potatoes. Repeat separately for the zucchini and peppers.

Lower the heat, add a little more olive oil if necessary and soften the onions until translucent. Increase the heat to maximum, add all the cooked vegetables and the tomatoes and stir fry quickly until the tomatoes are absorbed by the vegetables. Season and transfer back into the bowl. Serve at room temperature or cold, better if the next day.

The dish is fantastic prepared like this but it’s work intensive. If I am pressed for time, I cook the potatoes and onions and then I stir fry them with a bag of mixed grilled vegetables and a two tablespoons of tinned tomatoes. Of course this is also a delicious way to use left over grilled vegetables from your last BBQ.

Serves 4-6


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carpaccio di zucchine

marinated zucchini

crunchy and lemony, marinated zucchini

This is actually a great summer dish. I could be investigated by the food police for preparing it out of season. Despite the risk however, I do make it throughout the year, because it is good, fresh, light and very very easy. I know my  Canadian friend Sandra will agree.

Recipe

  • 1 medium zucchini
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 tablespoon EVO oil
  • 3 tablespoon pine nuts (pignoli) or toasted almonds
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed in not too small pieces

The zucchini used in this recipe are uncooked. Slice zucchini paper-thin using a cheese slicer or mandolin. Salt lightly  and place in a colander taking care not to break the slices.  After a while the slices will start loosing some liquid. Dry with kitchen paper and arrange the zucchini in a thin layer on a shallow serving dish. Top the slices with the  garlic and  nuts. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and let the zucchini marinate, covered and chilled for at least 30 min.

Serves 2-3 as a part of an antipasto misto, mixed appetizer.

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