I got this recipe from a Greek friend. When she first mentioned it to me, I assumed the ‘rusks’ were some kind of vegetable. Well, they aren’t. Rusks are dry, hard biscuits or twice-baked bread. You can make your own, you can use crumbled hard tack or pilot bread, or like I did, use Italian biscotti (not the sweet, cookie kind).
Fresh Tomato Sauce with Rusks Ingredients:
4 or 5 ripe tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves sliced garlic
Salt, black, and red pepper
1 -2 cups crumbled rusks
1/2 lb. pasta
Start by putting up a pot of salted water for the pasta. This is a quick, fresh sauce and can be made by the time the pasta is done.
Grate the tomatoes on the large side of a box grater and set aside. In a large pot, sauté the garlic in oil for a few minutes until it starts to color. Add salt, black and red pepper and the grated tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes. Some of the liquid will evaporate and the sauce will thicken. When the pasta is almost done the way you like it, add it to the sauce to finish cooking.
Using a mortar and pestle or the bottom of a small frying pan on a cutting board, crush the rusts to make about a cup full. Serve the pasta and pass the rusk crumbs as you would cheese.
Char poblano peppers on all sides over a gas flame until skin is blistered evenly all around. (If you don’t have a gas stove, char them under the broiler.) Once all of the peppers are roasted, place in plastic bag and let them sit for 5 minutes. This helps loosen the skin to make them easier to peel. When they’re cool to touch, rub the charred skin off with the back side of a knife blade. Remove stem and seeds.
While the peppers are sweating, bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until just shy of al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving about ½ to 1 cup of the starchy pasta water. Set aside.
While pasta is cooking, add 3 peppers, parsley, cumin, garlic, chicken stock and ½ cup heavy cream to a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Slice 2 remaining peppers into thin strips.
Once drained, add the poblano cream sauce to the pasta, along with the remaining heavy cream, minced garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and red pepper flakes. Sometimes poblanos can be very hot, so taste before adding any more pepper. Taste and add more salt or cumin, if desired. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until slightly thickened and the pasta absorbs some sauce, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the sliced peppers and cook until pasta has absorbed sauce. Stir to combine and give one final taste to see if you need more salt and/or pepper.
Here’s another recipe adapted from Melissa Clark at the New York Times, Pasta with Eggplant and Breadcrumbs. She never lets me down. I used Progresso Plain Breadcrumbs for this dish and Melissa made her own. Make them is you have time.
2 large eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
Salt, black, and red pepper
½ pound short pasta, such as shells or orecchiette
½ cup olive oil plus as much as needed to fry the eggplant, plus more for drizzling
Place the cut eggplant on some paper towels and sprinkle all over with salt. Wait 15 minutes and blot the moisture.
Start a pot of salted water for the pasta.
Heat ¼ cup of oil in a large pan. Add about a quarter of the chopped anchovies and all of the grated garlic. Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Stir in breadcrumbs and sauté until well blended, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with black pepper and salt. Scrape into a small bowl and set aside.
Wipe out skillet and add ¼ cup olive oil and put it back over medium-high heat until oil thins out in the pan. Add enough eggplant to fit in one layer without overlapping. Without moving them around too much, cook eggplant until brown on one side, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir and let them cook on the other side until browned and thoroughly soft, 3 to 7 minutes more. Use a slotted spoon to transfer eggplant to a large bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant, adding more oil to the pan as needed.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and stir in remaining anchovies, the sliced garlic and red-pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat and don’t let the garlic turn brown.
Stir in tomatoes and capers. Cook until tomatoes just begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggplant, pasta and ¼ cup pasta water. Toss well, adding more pasta water if it looks dry.
Stir in the parsley. Squeeze half a lemon all over the pasta and toss. Taste and add more red-pepper flakes, salt or lemon juice to taste. Generously sprinkle breadcrumbs on top of pasta and serve.
Pasta al Pomodoro Light is adapted from an Eric Kim’s recipe in the New York Times. This sauce is delicate and subtle. Its appearance is very plain although very tasty. You can dress it up with a sprinkle of parsley and some grated Parmigiana cheese if you’d like.
½ cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
3 lbs. plumb tomatoes roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper.
1 lb. spaghetti
Lightly sauté the sliced garlic for 5 minutes in a large pot. Don’t brown it. Add the tomatoes and raise the heat to medium high. Stir until the tomatoes start to release their liquid and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
Put the cooked tomatoes a few spoons at a time into a sieve over a bowl. Force them through with the back of a wooden spoon. You should have about 2 plus cups of sauce. Discard the tomato skins, seeds, and garlic.
Leave whatever liquid is left in the pot and add enough salted water to cook the pasta.
When the pasta is almost done drain the water and add the tomato sauce. Cook for another few minutes, tossing until the pasta has absorbed some of the sauce. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes to absorb more sauce.
Different people make Bolognese differently. My recipe is for basic Bolognese. I don’t used any garlic because the sofrito (carrot, onion, celery) is enough for the aromatics. Some people use pancetta, but with a mix of pork and beef it isn’t necessary. Often recipes call for chicken or beef stock but that’s not needed with a pound of chopped meat already in the sauce. Don’t be tempted to add and basil, oregano, bay leaf or any other herbs or spices. They’re not needed. On American menus you sometimes see “Spaghetti a la Bolognese.” Spaghetti should never be served with Bolognese sauce, only broad long pasta like mafalda, pappardelle, tagliatelle, fettuccine, and sometimes rigatoni.
1 diced carrot
1 diced medium onion
2 diced celery stalks
½ lb. each – beef and pork
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white or red wine
salt & black pepper to taste
Dice the onion, carrot, and celery. That’s the sofrito, the base for many Italian sauces. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir. Cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the sofrito to a bowl and set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot and brown the meat, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks. Return the sofrito to the pot. It’s fine if some of the meat is still a little pink.
Now add the wine and deglaze the pot. Stir and cook for 5 minutes and then pour in the crushed tomatoes and 2 cups of hot water. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 2 hours. If the sauce gets too thick as it simmers add more water. While the sauce is simmering, start a pot of boiling water for the pasta. I’m using fettuccine. Drain the pasta when it’s done and save a cup of the pasta water.
To serve, put a sauté pan on low heat. Put some of the sauce in the pan, add some pasta, and stir with a little pasta water. Place in a dish and sprinkle with Parmigiana cheese.
This is a simple and quick recipe similar to aglio e olio. You can make the sauce in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes has a fresh light taste so I wouldn’t recommend any cheese on this one.
1 lb. spaghetti
¼ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, sliced
Salt, black pepper
Red pepper (from a pinch to a tablespoon)
½ cup chopped parsley
1 pint cherry tomatoes
Start a pot of water for the pasta and begin to cook the pasta.
Slowly cook the garlic in the oil in a large frying pan. Add the seasoning (salt, black and red pepper) and the parsley. Stir and then add the tomatoes (half of them cut in half). Cook over a medium heat until the pasta is almost done.
Add a cup of the pasta water to the sauce and then add the almost cooked pasta to finish cooking. Add additional water as necessary to keep it moist.
I can’t remember how old I was when I first ate spaghetti with a fork and spoon. I learned that technique because I grew up in America. If I’d have grown up in Italy, I wouldn’t have been able to use the spoon because it’s considered poor etiquette. Either way, it doesn’t matter much to me how you eat it as long as you don’t cut it with a knife.
ITALIAN CURIOSITIES: SHOULD YOU OR SHOULD YOU NOT USE A SPOON TO EAT SPAGHETTI?
You know Italians are passionate, sometimes even too much. You just need to look at them when it comes to soccer. In the kitchen, if there is something likely to start up a heated discussion around the table – besides soccer, of course – it must be the way you eat your spaghetti (and long pasta in general) . . .
I know that lots of people don’t like broccoli and this recipe is for them. Roasting it gives it a crisp flavor that makes the difference. This is adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe in the New York Times.
2 ½ lbs. broccoli cut into bite sized florets
2 tbsp. olive oil plus more for drizzling
Salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes
12 oz. small pasta
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. lemon zest
12 oz. whole milk ricotta
Pre-heat your over to 425o.
In a bowl, toss the broccoli, 2 tbsp. oil, salt, black, and red pepper. Place it in a large sheet pan and roast for about 10 minutes, toss and roast for another 10 minutes until edges start to lightly brown. Remove, set aside, and set the over to broil.
This baked ditalini (Budino di Ditalini) is adapted from Lydia Bastianich’s recipe.
Ditale in Italian means “thimble,” and hence the name of this delightful little tubular pasta. It is great in soups, but even better when baked. This dish is like a pasta pudding—a savory dish with all the luxury of dessert.
1 tsp. butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp. dried breadcrumbs
½ tsp. salt, plus more for the pot
1 lb. ditalini
4 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1½ cups grated Parmigiano
Preheat the oven to 350o and butter a 4 quart rectangular baking dish. Coat it with the breadcrumbs, tapping out any excess.
Bring a largepot of salted water to a boil, add the ditalini, and cook until al dente, drain and let cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and salt. Add the cream and milk slowly and whisk until smooth. Stir in the pasta, peas, and 1 cup of the grated cheese.
Spread the mixture into the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle with the remaining half cup of grated cheese. Bake until the custard is set about 35 – 40 minutes. Let rest about 10 minutes before serving.
Here’s another tinned fish recipe. I think this one might be a family recipe since I’ve never seen anything like it except when my friend Vinnie’s Sicilian grandmother made it. The first time I had it I was in my teens and eating dinner at Vinnie’s . It seemed strange to me then compared to my mother’s tomato sauce. But as I grew older, I often asked Vinnie’s grandmother to make it. There are some intense flavors here and even if you aren’t crazy about anchovies (anciova in Siciliànu), you should give this a try.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium low heat. Empty the cans of anchovies with the oil they’re packed in, into the pan. Add the sliced garlic, stir, and simmer on low for 8 minutes. The anchovies will eventually dissolve so don’t worry about breaking them up.
Add the tomato paste, raise the heat, stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 ½ cups of water and half of the parsley, blend, cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.
While the sauce is simmering cook the pasta until almost done. Using tongs put the pasta in the sauce to finish cooking. Stir in the rest of the parsley and serve. Pass the toasted breadcrumbs to be sprinkled on the pasta.