Category Archives: Pasta

Pasta 101

Pasta 101

sophia-loren-spaghetti

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” – Sophia Loren (probably not true but should be)

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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Pasta with “Weeds”

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Everyone always said that my grandmother could cook weeds and make them taste good. Well, she really did cook weeds. This is true cucina povera – the land owners got the good produce and the poor got the rest.


Pasta with Dandelion Greens

dandelion

Dandelion greens can be somewhat bitter. A sprinkle of grated parmigiana offsets the bitterness.

dandelion flower

dandelion ingredients

Preparation:

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Trim and discard stem ends and cut greens into 2 inch pieces. Wash in a sink full of cold water to remove any sand. Place in boiling water for 10 minutes and drain thoroughly. Don’t discard the water.

Place pasta in the same water you used to boil the greens. Allow to boil for 8 to 10 minutes. In the meantime, heat the oil in a pan and add garlic, salt and red pepper. When the oil gets hot and the garlic starts to color add the greens and toss. When the pasta is almost done add to the pan and toss with the greens adding ½ cup of the pasta water. Serve with grated parmigiana.


Pasta with Kale and Plum Tomato Sauce

kale

Kale is good for you and very popular lately but it used to be something that only goats ate. If you really want too eat it, make it like this and it won’t be too bad. (For some reason, October 7th is Kale Day. Go figure.)

goat

Kale ingredients

Preparation:

In a large pan, sauté the onion, garlic, S&P and a little red pepper. Add the kale and tomatoes, tossing frequently. Add a little pasta water and cover so it steams. When the kale is wilted and the tomatoes soft, add the pinoles (pine nuts) and a little more pasta water. When the pasta is almost done add to pan and toss with sauce to finish cooking. Serve with grated cheese.


Pasta with Broccoli Rabe

Rabe

It’s still too bitter for some but over the years broccoli rabe has moved up from the weed category. It’s become trendy and you can find it on the best restaurant’s menus but it wasn’t always that way.

Heat chopped garlic in oil. Add washed broccoli rabe (or arugula or other greens) that are still wet and sauté with the garlic and oil. Add S&P, cover and steam. When it wilts, toss with pasta. This recipe also works with other greens. If you’re using something with hard stems like broccoli or bok choy, boil it until tender before sautéing. A little cheese isn’t bad on this.

Pasta con Bok CHoySpaghetti al Nero Sepia con Bok Choy

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Pasta alle Vongole – clam sauce

Pasta alle Vongole – clam sauce

clam sauce 2

Although I call this ‘pasta’ with clam sauce. It’s traditionally made only with linguine or spaghetti.

Start by sautéing some garlic in oil, like the basic Aglio e Olio recipe. Let it cool.

Steam 20-24 Little Neck clams in a 10 ozs. of water and when they open remove most of them from their shells but leave a few in their shells to decorate the serving dish. If the clams seem too large you can chop them.

clam sauce 1

Carefully pour the broth from the pot you steamed the clams into the pan with the garlic and oil. I say carefully because there’s sometimes a bit of sand at the bottom of the pot that can be avoided if you pour slowly. Now add the clams to the garlic & oil. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley. Simmer for a little bit and pour over 1 pound of linguini. Sprinkle with a little more chopped parsley and don’t even think about putting any cheese on it.

You can substitute cockles or mussels for the clams.

If you unfortunately happen to be someplace where you can’t get fresh shellfish you can use a can of clams (Doxie or Cento) and a bottle of clam broth (again, Doxie or Cento).   (I don’t recommend it but If you must have red clam sauce just add a couple of ladles of simple marina sauce before serving.)

 

gallo 5 (2)
Larry & Joey at a Senate hearing discussing the consequences of putting cheese on clam sauce. Kid Blast wasn’t subpoenaed.


 

PASTA AGLIO E OLIO

Pasta Aglio e Olio (garlic & oil)

 

Spaghetti Olio e Oglio Aglio e Olio

 I’ll start with the simplest form, a basically 2 ingredient sauce. It’s very quick and easy to make – an inexpensive meal in a hurry.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic (more if you like), thinly sliced
  • Salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

Preparation:

Boil salted water in a 3 quart pot. When the water boils add the pasta and cook until al dente. As the pasta cooks, heat the garlic in oil. Add S&P and red pepper. Add about 6 ozs. pasta water to the garlic & oil. Toss pasta in the sauce. That’s it – pretty simple! And it’s the base for lots of other sauces including clam sauce.

Any left-overs are good for a Spaghetti Aglio e Olio Omelet. Cut the leftover pasta in 2 – 3 inch pieces. Brown slightly in oil, add some scrambled eggs, fold and it’s done.

Although it’s traditionally made with spaghetti or maybe linguine, you can also try it with Japanese buckwheat noodles (obviously not traditional but very good – don’t tell Grandma).

buckwheat noodle

You can add:  chopped parsley for a little color and/or chopped walnuts before adding the pasta to the sauce. If you want you can add a can (about 12) anchovies and dissolve them in the hot oil before you add the garlic. Also try about 3 table spoons of rehydrated golden raisins or currants.


Calabrese Aglio e Olio

My mother’s father was Calabrese. Calabrese housewives who ran out of preserved tomatoes during the winter could always come up with some tomato paste. Start same as above but add about 2 or 3 tbls. of tomato paste to the garlic & oil. Fry it for about 5 minutes and then add a cup of pasta water. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce. You can sprinkle with some toasted bread crumbs when serving.

paste


Basilicata Aglio e Olio

My father’s parents came from the town of Laurenzana in Basilicata which is where this recipe originated. When the garlic is frying add a heaping tablespoon of powered pepperoncini and 6 ozs. of pasta water. The sauce should be watery and pink in color. When the pasta is almost done, put it in the pan with the sauce to finish cooking. If you’ve put enough pepper the pasta should turn slightly pink.  Very spicy! Sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs.

pepper
Powdered red pepper Basilicata style.

Traditionally, these dishes are not served with cheese.


 

Pasta Piselli

Pasta Piselli

Pasta Piselli 

A simple recipe my mother made often as a first dish. Standard home cooking that I’ve never seen on a restaurant menu. Some of the peas nestle into the conchigliette all by themselves – a nice touch.

Ingredients:

  • 7 or 8 peeled, cored & sliced cipollini (or substitute ½ onion, chopped)
  • ½ tspn salt
  • ½ tspn black pepper
  • ¼ tspn red pepper flakes
  • 1 oz prosciutto, (2 or 3 slices cut into 1 inch pieces)
  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 14 oz. fresh, frozen or canned small peas
  • 1 lb conchigliette (small shells)

Preparation:

Pasta – Boil water in a 3 quart pot. When the water boils add the pasta and cook until aldente (approximately 7-8 minutes).

Sauce – Sweat the cipollini in oil with salt and black and red pepper in a pot on low to medium heat. Add the prosciutto and fry for a few minutes. Add the tomato and cook until it breaks down, about 8 minutes. Add 1 cup of the pasta water and the peas – fresh or frozen, cook for 5 minutes.

When pasta is cooked, toss with sauce. Add more pasta water to make it wet but not too soupy.

Colatura di Alici

Colatura di Alici

800px-Antonio_Sicurezza_-_Still_life_with_anchovies
Still Life with Anchovies,  Antonio Sicurezza

Lots of people think they don’t like anchovies. Maybe they really don’t, at least not straight from the can or jar. But they are commonly used as a flavoring and the anchovy haters don’t even know it’s there. You can dissolve 2 or 3 in some heated olive oil as the base of a sauce. It’s Italian umami.

Another way to get the flavor of anchovies (alici in Italian) is to use Colatura di Alici. It’s essence of anchovy and made by layering anchovies with sea salt in a barrel and then putting weights on top. After a time a hole is opened on the bottom of the barrel and this liquid is drained and bottled.

You might compare it to Vietnamese Nước mắm pha but it’s more complex than that. It’s  closely related to garum, a fish sauce used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

A sprinkle of it on some cooked greens or vegetables or a salad adds a bright note. Try a little on Summer Tomato Salad.

How I like it best is as a simple, uncooked pasta sauce.

Spaghetti con Colatura di Alici Spagetti con Colatura di Alici

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz (4 tbsps) Colatura di Alici
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  •  ½ cup chopped parsley,
  • Crushed red pepper to taste
  • 1 pound spaghetti (no additional salt in pasta water)

Preparation:

While the pasta water is coming to a boil mix all ingredients except spaghetti in a serving dish. When pasta is done, add to serving dish and coat well with the sauce. No cheese on this dish.

If you can’t find Colatura di Alici in stores just Google it – lots of places to get it on line.

Pasta con Sarde

St. Joseph is the patron saint of Sicily and March 19th is his feast day. This recipe is in honor of all my Sicilian friends who celebrate his day with this traditional dish. This is a basic recipe and I’m sure everybody’s grandmother makes it a little differently but if you’ve never made it before this is a good start.

For a variation on this recipe and a funny story about cooking rivalry, click here – La Cosa Nostra.

Sarde 2

Pasta Con Sarde

ingredients

Sarde 1

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20141113_194656 aa

Preparation:

Boil the fennel in 4 quarts of salted water for 10 minutes then drain, saving the water to cook the pasta, chop the fennel and set aside.

Fry onion in oil with salt, black and red pepper. Add anchovy to onions and dissolve. Cook onions at a low heat until soft but not brown. Add fennel to onions and mix thoroughly. Add pinoles and rehydrated raisins to sauce.  Keep heat low.

Dissolve saffron in ½ cup of warm water. Add some to pasta water and the rest to the sauce.

Cut the filets into four pieces, raise heat, add to the sauce and cook for a few minutes.

For the pasta:   Cook the buccatelli in the water that you used to boil the fennel. Add the cooked pasta and 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the sauce and toss gently so you don’t break the fillets.  

Place pasta in a large serving bowl and top with some of the toasted bread crumbs (click here for recipe).  No cheese on this pasta!

Pass the crumbs and extra sauce.

pasta sarde 5

SUNDAY GRAVY

6SUNDAY GRAVY

Happy Sunday – This is about the Sunday gravy I grew up with. It’s tomato sauce with meat but really much more. My mother started it in the morning and simmered it on a very low heat until the last of the family was home from the 12:30 Mass. My father and I went to the 9 o’clock mass and brought home something for breakfast – usually Danish, crullers and jelly donuts. After we ate, my father would grate enough parmigiana for the meal and my mother would begin by browning the various meats in lard – usually meat balls, sausage, short ribs and beef braciole. It would vary sometimes with ox tail or a pig skin braciole called cotechinata or in my family’s Napolitano dialect – gaudiga. It wasn’t my favorite. I always imagined I was eating a cooked football.

On her way to Mass as the gravy was simmering.
My mother, Connie, on her way to Mass as the gravy was simmering.

After talking to my sisters Nicki and Rochelle I came up with the following preparation for one pound of pasta:

Heat some olive oil (or lard if you don’t mind high cholesterol) and lightly brown whatever meat you’re using adding salt and black pepper. Do it in batches so it browns and doesn’t get crowded and steam. Remove the meat, add and lightly brown garlic (no onions) in the same pot. Return the meat and add one large can each, crushed tomatoes and tomato puree and stir.  Add two small cans (6 oz.) tomato paste.  Fill the two cans with water (you can use red wine instead although my mother never cooked with wine)to remove any paste remaining in cans, add to the sauce and stir until it’s smooth.  Add 3 or 4 basil stems with leaves, either fresh or preserved in oil, some red pepper flakes and simmer for as long as it takes for the toughest meat to be done.

For most people this is a big meal but we ate it between an elaborate ante pasta and a roast meat and vegetable course. Sunday dinner was served at 2 PM so at about 7 or 8 in the evening my mother would serve re-heated lunch leftovers.

A few words about tomatoes and pasta…

It’s more than acceptable to use canned tomatoes if they are San Marzano and there are no other ingredients (spices/flavorings) added to the can.

If you want to use fresh you have to peel and seed them. Put them in boiling water and wait until the outer thin skin cracks.  Run them under cold water and peel with your fingers. Cut it on the equator and take each half, squeeze and shake out the seeds.  Cut off the stem end and remove some of the core. Chop and you’re ready to cook.

For the pasta use more water than you’d think you’d need.  Add a lot of salt (it can only absorb so much). Some chefs say no oil in the water because it is absorbed by the pasta and prevents the sauce for adhering. Others say a few drops of oil helps prevent the pasta from sticking and adds a little flavor. I’ll leave it up to you. Cook until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen.

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 dinner fork, then laid out on a clean sheet on the bed to dry before cooking. If you’re in New York you can get good ones at Piemonte on Grand near Mulberry Streets or http://www.pastosa.com/.

4
Store bought ravioli

 

 

Pasta e Patate (pasta and potatoes)

Pasta e Patate (pasta and potatoes)

Pasta e Patate
Pasta e Patate

This is just about the height of La Cucina Povera. What’s less expensive and more filling than pasta and potatoes to feed a hungry family? My mother made this fairly often because it was a family tradition but would never serve it to guests – it wasn’t good enough. She pronounced it in Napolitano dialect as basta badon. It’s really a minestra, that is, sort of a soupy pasta with vegatables.

A quarter pound of meat for a little protein and extra flavor – some parsley to give a bit of color to a white on white dish, and there you have it. Recently my teenage granddaughter Molly came for dinner with a group of her hungry friends. We served six or seven courses with this as the pasta course. Of course it didn’t have the traditional poverty connotation for them and they said it was their favorite course of the dinner. Food doesn’t have to be expensive to be good.

 

Pasta e Patate Ingredients
Pasta e Patate Ingredients

Ingredients:

  • ¼ lb pancetta (or prosciutto) cut into small pieces
  • 1 medium onion
  • olive oil
  • 4 small tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
  • 3 Idaho potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1 lb small pasta
  • 5 oz parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Pasta e Patate Cooking
Pasta e Patate – almost ready

Preparation:

Sautee the pancetta and chopped onions until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and stir until they release their juice. Add potatoes and mix. Cover just barely with water and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are almost done. Remove about 1 cup of the soup, puree it and return it to the pot.

Drain the pasta when it is almost done, saving the water. Add the pasta to the soup to finish cooking and also add as much pasta water as you need to make a soupy consistency. Mix in the cheese. Sprinkle with parsley for a little color and serve with additional parmesan cheese.

Raw Puttanesca

Raw Puttanesca  

lena
Aunt Lena in Miami in 1936

My Aunt Lena got this recipe from a chef in Salerno.  He told her the idea was that a woman could be out with her boyfriend all day and serve this to her husband when he got home – with him thinking that it took her all day to cook it when it wasn’t cooked at all.

Ingredients:

  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped basil
  • ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • Salt & coarse black pepper
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1lb spaghetti

putanesca

Preparation:

Put the tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes until the skin cracks, then run cold water over them and peel off their skin. Cut them in half across the core and squeeze out the seeds.  Finely chop and put them in a large serving bowl.  Add garlic, basil, parsley, salt & pepper and cover with ½ cup of olive oil.

A few optional additions:  chopped anchovies, drained capers, chopped olives.

The ingredients should all be at room temperature before mixing with 1 lb. just cooked spaghetti.  The heat from the hot pasta will be all it needs.

Raw Puttanesca  is kind of a light and delicate summery sauce that’s almost a salad, so no cheese unless you must.