Monthly Archives: August 2012

Pasta Frittata

Ingredients:

1 c. cooked spaghetti or other left-over pasta

3 eggs

1/4 c. grated Parmigiano cheese

1/4 lb. Italian sausage, cooked and sliced

4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

1 t. sausage drippings or 1 T. olive oil

 Directions:

Cut cold, cooked spaghetti into small pieces.  Beat eggs, stir in spaghetti, cheese, sausage, cheeses.  Heat olive oil in an 8-inch non-stick skillet.  Pour in spaghetti mixture.  Fry five minutes or until brown and crisp.  Slide out of pan into plate; turn back into pan and fry other side for five minutes.  Cut into 4 wedges.

 

Lotsa Pasta

The Chinese made noodles as far back as 3,000 B.C . An excavation of a fourth century B.C. Etruscan tomb shows drawings of natives making pasta. Pasta has been a staple for Italian families for generations.  Marco Polo is credited with bringing pasta to Italy after his exploration of the Far East in the 13th century.

A virtually fat free and salt free food, pasta is low on the Glycemic Index (GI). The Glycemic Index is a ranking of carbohydrates and the effect they have on our blood glucose levels. A low GI carbohydrate is digested more slowly and satisfies hunger longer without increasing blood sugar levels. Pasta is relatively inexpensive to purchase and prepare.

Dried pasta is made using semolina flour, which comes from grinding kernels of durum wheat. Sometimes the semolina is mixed with other flours. It is then mixed with water until it forms sticky dough. Additional ingredients are then added to the pasta, like eggs to make egg noodles, or spinach or tomato to make red or green colored pasta.
The dough is kneaded until it loses its stickiness and is pliable, but not stiff. Then it is fed through a dough sheeter to make flat pasta, like linguini, fettuccini or lasagna noodles.  Or, the pasta is pushed, or extruded, through a die, a metal disc with holes in it. The size and shape of the holes in the die determine what the shape of the pasta will be. For instance, dies with round or oval holes will produce solid, long shapes of pasta, such as spaghetti. Sharp blades rotate beneath the die and cut the pasta to the proper length. Afterwards, the pasta is dried for about 5 or 6 hours using large dryers which circulate hot, moist air and then it is packaged for distribution.

On the day that Brandi and I went to the market, we also stopped at a local grocery store so she could buy some baking supplies.  I noticed that most of the women in the checkout lines were purchasing several types of dried pasta for what appeared to be a week’s worth of groceries.

Most of the pasta we used in the restaurant kitchen was also dried, except for the ravioli, cannelloni, linguine and fettuccini which we made fresh.  One of the shelves above the counter where I usually worked was stacked with packages of the following types and shapes of pasta:

Alfabeto—tiny alphabet letter pasta

Agnolotti—shaped like half moons

Anellini– little rings

Anolini—ravioli in half-moon shape with ruffled edges

Bucatini—long, fat hollow strands like spaghetti

Capelli d’angelo—angel hair pasta; very fine long strands

Castellane—rigid shell shape

Conchigliette- little conch shells

Ditali—small tubes like “thimbles”

Farfalle—bow-tie or butterfly shapes

Fusilli– shaped like a corkscrew

Gnocchetti—small oval dumplings

Maccheroni—little elbows

Mezzi Tubetti—larger hollow tubes

Millerighe– large rigatoni with ribbed sides

Orecchiette—shaped like little “cups” or “ears”

Paccheri– very large tubes

Penne piccolo– small narrow tubes with ends cut on diagonal

Rigatoni—big hollow tubes

Rotelle—small wheels

Rotini– small corkscrews

Sedanini—thin, hollow tubes

Spaghetti—long strands

Spellete- little stars

Tagliarini– similar to linguine with a flat side, but thinner

Vermicelli– similar to spaghetti, but thinner

 

Generally, you should use thinner pastas with thin sauces and thicker shapes with thicker sauces as the sauce will coat the shape and cling to it better.  Always cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water to keep it from being sticky.  Never add oil to the water or you inhibit the ability of the sauce to cling to the pasta.  Also, it is not necessary to drain the pasta after cooking unless you are going to serve it cold in a pasta salad.  We never drained the pasta we cooked in the restaurant.

One classic pasta sauces is Bolognese (sometimes referred to as Ragù) which may have originated in Bologna, but has spread throughout much of Central and Northern Italy.  It is a rich pasta sauce made primarily from veal, beef, pork, or chicken cut into small pieces. Marinara sauce is made with tomatoes, garlic, onions, parsley and olives but doesn’t use any meat. Another classic sauce is Arrabbiata Sauce which is a spicier tomato sauce made with chile peppers.  Alfredo Sauce is composed of heavy cream or half and half mixed with butter, grated parmesan cheese, pepper, and occasionally nutmeg.

Carbonara Sauce is made with cream, eggs, Parmesan cheese, bacon and peas. Madeira sauce is made from Madeira wine and broth. Puttanesca Sauce is made with garlic, bits of dried chile peppers, capers, and anchovies as key ingredients, and Vodka Sauce typically contains tomatoes, cream, vodka, olive oil, garlic, onions, and pecorino or Romano cheese.

Leftover pasta can be tossed in pesto sauce, olive oil and garlic or can be used to make a frittata.

Olive Oil

Olives have been enjoyed in the Mediterranean for thousands of years and are thought to have originally come to Italy from Greece. Italy now produces nearly one-third of the world’s olive oil.  Benefits of consuming olive oil include reducing cholesterol, improving the functioning of the cardiovascular system and, because of its phenols, protecting the heart. Olives are also high in Vitamin E and have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Olive oil varies like wine.  Its character is determined by the type of tree, the soil on which it grows, the position (on hill, plain or coast), the weather, when and how the olives are harvested and how quickly they are pressed and by what means.   Highly prized extra virgin olive oil, which tends to be more expensive, comes from hand-picking and under ripe olives It is dark green oil with a fruity aroma and full flavor.  More mature olives produce oil of a lighter color.  Great nets are sewn together and held up with stakes to catch falling olives. If the olives get bruised, they spoil quickly.

Traditionally, olive oil was made by crushing the olives and pits to form a paste and then placing the paste in sacceti (flat cloth bags) and squeezing it in a press to extract the oil.  There are still a few regions where stone crushing and mat pressing is still used, but most commercial olive oil production uses a centrifuge to spin the heavier flesh and pits to the side and to tap off the water and oil from the center.  The oil and water is put into tanks where they separate by gravity.

Cold-pressing produces a higher quality of olive oil which is naturally lower in acidity. When purchasing olive oil, it’s important to check labels for the percentage of acidity, grade of oil, volume, and country of origin. The level of acidity is a key factor in choosing fine olive oil, along with color, flavor, and aroma. These oils are best within a year of the harvest, since flavor slowly fades.

The production of olive oil in Italy is governed by standards established by the International Olive Oil Council. By law, olio extra vergine di oliva must come from the first pressing of olives by mechanical (not chemical) means and must contain less than 1 percent of oleic acid (the key measure: the lower the acidity the better). Olio vergine di oliva may have a maximum of 2 percent acidity; what is called simply olio di oliva may be rectified and de-acidified.

In the Campania region of Italy, the production zone includes 82 town districts from the AmalfiCoast to Cilento.  Olive oil from the Cilento and Sorrentine peninsulas as well as those from the hills of Salerno, east of Amalfi, carry the prized label Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (Protected Denomination of Origin or DOP)  This is a regulated and controlled qualification that verifies the characteristics and authenticity of the product. Another classification is Indicazione Geografica Protetta (Protected Geographical Indication or IGP) which denotes that the product comes from a specific geographical area but does not dictate how it is made. Some of the varieties of olives grown in the Campania region are Minucciola, Rotondella, Carpellese, Frantonio and Leccino.

Olive oil tastings are often available where oil is made at a tasting bar where little plastic cups and cubes of bread are supplied. Appreciating a good olive oil starts with looking at color and consistency. Then warm the cup of oil between your palms and breathe in its aroma. Next, quickly suck the oil over your palette with a lot of air, so it evenly coats your mouth and doesn’t settle on your tongue. This is easier to explain than to execute.  Terms describing the characteristic aroma and taste of olive oil include buttery, nutty and peppery (desirable) to burnt, metallic and moldy (undesirable).


Potato Dumplings with Bacon, Fava Beans and Pearl Onions

Ingredients:

Gnocchi (See previous recipe)

2 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped

1 10-oz pkg. pearl onions, fresh or frozen

1 t. sugar

1 c. chicken broth

1 c. peeled fava beans or frozen baby lima beans

2 t. cornstarch

1/4 c. sweet Marsala wine

1 t. minced fresh marjoram

 Directions:

Saute pancetta in heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp.  Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.  Reduce heat to low, add onions, sprinkle with sugar and sauté

until brown and tender, about 25 minutes.  Transfer onions to bowl.  Add broth, beans and cornstarch to skillet.  Simmer until beans are tender, about 5 minutes.  Using slotted spoon, transfer beans to onions in bowl.  Cook liquid until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.  Add 1/4 c. Marsala and marjoram; return onions and beans to liquid.  Serve over gnocchi.

 

Gnocchi (Potato Dumplings)

Ingredients:

2 lbs. potatoes, cooked and put through ricer

1 1/2 c. flour

1 1/2 oz. parmigiano, grated

1/2 c. potato flour (pure di patate scelte granulare)

4 egg yolks

Salt white pepper

 Directions:

Put potatoes in center of counter.  Pour flour on top (potato flour keeps gnocchi from being tough).  Make well.  Add egg yolks, salt and pepper.  Wearing disposable gloves, mush together incorporating flour to make dough.  Sprinkle 2-3 times with additional potato flour.  Knead until smooth.  Form into a ball.  Using a bench scraper or knife, portion out a section and roll into a long 1/2 inch roll.  Cut gnocchi into little “pillows” about 1/2 inch square using the bench scraper or knife.  Toss with semolina flour or potato flour so they don’t stick together.  Spread on cookie sheet and freeze .  Store in Ziploc bags until ready for use.  To prepare for serving:  Boil in salted water for 3-5 minutes until they float.

Gnocchi

One morning as I got on the bus, there was an older Italian man standing in the bus doorway checking everyone’s bus tickets.  He was tall and tanned with a handsome face and a thick head of graying hair. I showed him my monthly pass and proceeded down the aisle to a seat on the right hand side of the bus so I could watch the sea while we traveled to Amalfi.

He followed me to my seat and sat down next to me.

Dovete riempirli destinazione ed il vostri nome e compleanno (You have to fill in you destination and your name and birthday)”, he explained.  No one had ever mentioned this to me before.  He removed a pen from the pocket of his blue shirt and handed it to me with a big smile. I dutifully did as he asked. Then he took the ticket out of my hand and examined it.

Siete cinquantotto (You are 58)!” he said with a nod of his head.  “Sono cinquantotto anche (I am 58 also),” he beamed.

I just sat there and smiled sheepishly.  I think he was trying to pick me up!

Alessandro was draining a huge pot of steaming potatoes when I entered the kitchen.

“Today I teach you to make gnocchi,” he said.  He loaded the potatoes into the ricer by the sink and instructed me on how to use the machine so I could take over.  The potatoes were strained through a sieve and looked like mashed potatoes (without any lumps) when they came out the other end.

We cleared off a section of the wooden counter top and dusted it with flour.  Then Alessandro looked at my hands and pulled two disposable gloves out of a box labeled “small” sitting on a shelf above the counter.

“Put on,” he instructed.  “Is very messy.”  Alessandro scooped potatoes onto the counter, sprinkled them with flour and punched a well into the top of the mound.  Then he separated eggs and put the egg yolks, salt and pepper into the well.  He let me mush it all together, adding more flour until the dough was stiff.  He kneaded the dough until it was smooth and then sectioned off a portion and rolled it into a long rope.  Using the bench scraper, he showed me how to cut the rope into little “pillows” to make the potato dumplings.  Then he told me to finish shaping the rest of the dough into the gnocchi for the restaurant.  It was going to be used that evening for a dish with onion, bacon and fava beans as the sauce.

Today, I got off early and there wasn’t a bus scheduled to leave for Positano for a couple of hours.  Alessandro was taking his break and offered to drive me, but he only took me as far as the bus stop at Priano – the town before Positano.  I didn’t know how to tell them that I’d still be stuck there until a bus came along, so I just thanked him and decided to walk the rest of the way.  I’d forgotten that the roads were sloped – what a workout! My face was sunburned, but I made the 11 km walk in only 1 hr 45 minutes!

Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce

Another great dessert using rum which can be made from stale, leftover bread or baguettes!

Ingredients:

1 loaf of French bread, dried out and torn into chunks

1 qt. milk

2 c. sugar

2 T. vanilla

3 eggs

1 c. diced apples

½ c. raisins

½ c. pecans, chopped

3 T. melted butter

 

Rum Sauce

½ c. butter

1 c. brown sugar

1 t. vanilla

1 egg

3 T. dark rum

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350oF. Soak bread in milk for 30 minutes.  Mix eggs, sugar, vanilla, raisins, nuts and apples and combine with bread chunks.  Spread melted butter on bottom on 13” x 9” baking dish.  Add bread mixture and bake at 350oF for 30-35 minutes, until bubbly and hot. For sauce, cream butter and sugar.  Add vanilla.  Stir in rum and egg.  Transfer to sauce pan and heat over low heat for 5 minutes or until warm.  Serve over pudding.