Pasta 101

Pasta 101

sophia-loren-spaghetti

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” – Sophia Loren

Cooking – Let’s start with the basic cooking of pasta – you boil it. First, use more water than you’d think you’d need, about four quarts for one pound. Add a lot of salt, at least 2 tablespoons (it can only absorb so much) and don’t pay attention to what the celebrity chefs say and add a few drops of oil if you want. Some people think it keeps the pasta from sticking together as it cooks and others think it prevents the sauce from adhering to it. Make up your own mind. Pick a pasta shape that compliments the sauce. Cook it until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen. If you have room in the pot you can finish cooking the pasta in your sauce. Save a cup of the pasta water. You can use it if you need to thin the sauce.

Secca vs. Fresca

pasta-secca 1
Pasta secca
fresa
Pasta fresca

 

One isn’t better than the other, they’re just different. Secca is the most common one. It’s the dry pasta you find in every grocery store – think Ronzoni or Buitoni. It’s made with semolina flour (hard durum wheat) and water and can handle the mechanical process required to make it. It lasts for months. Secca is more popular in the south of Italy, it’s cheaper than fresca and can be used with heartier sauces. Fresca is made from bread flour and sometimes eggs. It lasts about 5 days in a refrigerator. It’s tender and absorbent and works with light sauces – try sage and butter.

Cavatelli

My mother used almost only secca but on special occasions she would make fresca. Cavatelli, which she pronounced in the Salernitano dialect gav-a-deel, was so simple that I would often help. I’d roll out a snake-like section of her dough, cut it into one inch pieces and then sort of smear them with my thumb. Mine weren’t as pretty as hers but still not bad.ravioli

On very special occasions we’d have ravioli. My mother, aunts and grandmother never used anything but a ricotta mix for stuffing. Since we never ate in Italian restaurants I didn’t know they could be made with meat or anything else (pumpkin?) until I was almost an adult. My family’s ravioli were square, large, sealed by crimping with a fork and laid out on a clean sheet on the bed to dry before cooking. You can get good ones at Piemonte on Grand near Mulberry Streets or Pastosa.

Pasta Asciutta – Not a very common term but it’s nice to know. That’s pasta served with sauce as opposed to minestra, a soupy pasta with vegetables i.e. Pasta Piselli , or Minestra and Zuppa

Noodles – There are American egg noodles and Chinese rice noodles but as far as I know there are no Italian noodles.

sophia
Sophia – che bella!

Grated cheese – Since cheese is so closely associated with pasta I’ll mention it here. Use Parmigiana, Loccatelli, Romano or whatever you like but don’t think you can put it on everything because it can overpower a delicate dish. If you really want cheese, eat a piece of cheese. Instead of the hard grating cheeses, try dry ricotta salada sometime or maybe a tablespoon of fresh ricotta in your dish before you put in pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of any grated cheese at all, try toasted breadcrumbs. And remember – never, never put cheese on seafood.

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Escarole, Broccoli & Cardoons

Escarole, Broccoli & Cardoons

Three green recipes –  simple and cheap.


Escarole

Usually a side dish but it makes a great vegan sandwich. 

escarole (2)Escarole ingredients

Preparation:

Cut of the base of the stem off 2 heads and cut the leaves in half. Soak in sink full of cold water.

Place leaves in a pot, cover with cold water and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large pan with 1 tsp salt, black pepper and garlic. Drain the leaves and add to the pan while they’re still slightly damp. Toss and simmer for a few minutes. Remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon. Drizzle with a little more oil in its serving dish.

escarole sandwich


Broccoli Salad

broccoli salad

Broccoli Salad ingredientsRinse broccoli & trim florets and stems. Boil in a salted water until stems are tender and drain.

Add salt and black pepper, thickly sliced cloves of garlic, oil and lemon juice and toss. Chill and serve.


Cardoons

(This is for Bea)

growing wild

This is a rare edible weed that you seldom find commercially, even at the best markets. Whenever I’ve eaten it, it was only because someone went to a rural area in New Jersey or upstate New York in spring and picked it where it grew wild.like celery

It’s a leafy plant that grows close to the ground. The leaves are inedible. It’s the stems that you want. When cleaned they look something like a stalk of celery but don’t attempt to eat them raw. They have to be boiled to soften them with the thicker ones split down the middle to make them all about 1/2 to 3/4 inch width.

Dry them and dip them in an egg wash. Then coat them with bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper and maybe a little finely chopped parsley. Fry them until golden brown in olive oil. They are worth the troublefried

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Caffé Roma

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I grew up in Manhattan’s Little Italy and was fortunate enough to be able to walk to two very good pastry shops – Ferrara on Grand St. and Caffé Roma on Broome St. Caffé Roma was a little more homey but I liked them both.

seats

A few years ago, when Easter was approaching I stopped into Ferrara to see if they had started making pizza con grana*, an Easter specialty.

I asked the manager, “Do you have pizza con grana yet?”

He replied, “If you want a slice, go to the pizzeria across the street.”

I lost my temper and said “What’s wrong with you? Do I look like somebody who would go to a pasticcera for a slice of pizza? I asked for pizza con grana.”

“Senor, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand. We don’t make that any more.” As he indicated the crowds of tourists eating pastry with their early evening cappuccino** he said, “These people who come here don’t know what that is.”

So they decided to cater to their tourist customer’s pedestrian tastes instead of attempting to show them something different and traditionally Italian that they might like. That was the last time I ever went to Ferrara.

I left and walked up a block to Caffé Roma, which still hasn’t been Disneyfied with the rest of Little Italy. They had some of their tables pushed together and covered with freshly baked pizza con grana. They also still have zeppole di San Giuseppe around his feast day in March and struffoli at Christmas. They remain old school.

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Caffé Roma is a classic so don’t order like you’re in Starbucks. They serve excellent espresso, tea and even hot chocolate. For cold drinks they have the standard Italian sodas and orzata: gelato too. But it’s the pastry & biscotti you should go for, baked daily and right there. It’s been run by the same family since 1881 and I hope they keep going.counter 2

They’re located in what’s left of Little Italy at 385 Broome St. on the corner of Mulberry.

* Pizza con grana – a sweet pie made from wheat berries, ricotta and orange flower water, traditionally served at Easter time.

** from Wikipedia – cappuccino is consumed only up to 11 a.m., and Italians consider it very “strange” to ask for a cappuccino after that hour.  Espresso with milk is for little kids and breakfast. I suppose you can drink it any time, just like you can have corn flakes for dinner if that’s what you want.

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