Handmade Pici Pasta & L'aglione Sauce

 

Pici Pasta 

The origin of Pici pasta dates back to Etruscan times. Pici represents the essence of Tuscan Cucina Povera cuisine. Pici is very thick and irregular since they are handmade one by one. Although, there are many sauces that can be made with Pici, the classic sauce is “L’aglione, a tasty garlicky tomato sauce.




Handmade Pici Pasta

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 small egg, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 cup room temperature water, plus extra if needed 
Extra virgin olive oil and semolina flour for tossing 

Place the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the egg and stir in the water with a wooden spoon. If the dough does not gather around the spoon, add a little more water by the spoonful until a dough forms. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, or until very smooth and pliable; the dough should be somewhat soft but not sticky. Flatten into a disk and rub both sides with olive oil. Let rest, wrapped in plastic for 30 minutes or up to 3 hours at room temperature.

 

Rub a work counter with olive oil. Cut the dough into 1/2 inch wide strips and roll each into a long, thin rope, using the palms of your hands. Each rope should be 1/2 inch thick. Toss each rope as it is finished with a little semolina flour and place on a tray in curling nests until ready to cook (the pici can be held at room temperature, covered loosely with a dry kitchen towel, for up to 3 hours). If you find that the dough resists and/or sticks to the counter as you roll it out, rub the counter lightly again with olive oil.

 

Fresh Baby Tomato and Basil Sauce (My version of L’aglione)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced                                   

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Pinch red pepper flakes

1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise   

Freshly torn basil leaves

In large skillet add the olive oil and sliced garlic; cook 30-45 seconds on medium-low heat. Add tomatoes and raise the heat to medium-high. Season with salt and peppers. Allow tomatoes to cook undisturbed for few minutes before turning. Cook 6-9 minutes more until tomatoes slightly wrinkle and some are golden. Taste for seasoning; adjust as needed. When the sauce is ready, add in the fresh basil.

Assembly

Cook the pici in boiling salted water until al dente. Strain and transfer to the skillet with sauce. Gently fold in the sauce on low heat. Top with fresh basil and serve. Serves 4.

 

Regina Sesame Cookies

Elegant on the outside, simple and genuine on the inside… experience these traditional and delicious Sicilian sweets with Coffee or with a dessert wine.

Regina cookies (Sesamini)

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 pinch salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Zest 2 oranges

Juice of 1 ½ - 2 oranges

2 cups raw sesame seeds



1.     Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.     Dry ingredients: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3.     Wet ingredients: In another large bowl, add the softened butter and sugar; blend well with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the eggs, zest, vanilla, and juice of 1 1/2 oranges: blend again.

4.     Mix: Add the dry ingredients in three to four batches; continue mixing on low speed until the dough is fairly smooth. If the dough is a little dry, add a little more orange juice a little at a time and mix well. Refrigerate the dough about 20 minutes.

5.     Form: Pinch off a piece of dough and see if it forms a ball easily. Make small golf size balls first, then roll into an oblong shape, about 1 ½ inches long.

6.     Bake: Place the sesame seeds on a plate and roll the cookies into the sesame seeds, pressing them so the seeds stay on. Place the cookies on the baking sheets keeping the cookies 1- 1 ½ inches apart. Bake 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned at the bottom. Do not overbake or the cookies will be too dry.

7.     Cool, and store in airtight containers. Baking time depends on size of cookies. The sesame seeds on cookie should be slightly golden. Makes about 2 dozen depending on size.



Potato and Zucchini Polpettone for the Holidays

 

Potato and Zucchini Polpettone

An easy and tasty side dish that can be prepared ahead and baked right before serving. It’s a versatile dish that can be made with cooked zucchini, spinach, or even asparagus. I serve it instead of the regular mashed potato dish. 

4 medium golden potatoes, unpeeled

1 large egg, lightly beaten 

1 small zucchini, small dice or grated

1 celery stalk, minced 

1 medium red onion, grated

½ - ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Salt and black pepper

Breadcrumbs as needed

1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ - ¾ cup sharp Provolone and or fontina cheese (or Gruyere), small dice

2-3 tablespoons minced Italian parsley

 


1.      Preheat oven 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil on surface.

2.      Place the potatoes in a large pan in cold water, boil until tender. Cool slightly, peel and mash.

3.      In a large skillet add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and onion, cook until soft and barely golden. Add the zucchini and celery; cook until barely golden adding more oil if needed. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

4.      Once the mash potatoes are cool, add the egg and season. Add the parsley, grated cheese, diced cheese, and little breadcrumbs to firm everything. Mix well before adding more breadcrumbs. Test the mixture by forming a meatloaf shape.

5.      With slightly damp hands give the potato mixture the shape of a meatloaf. I like to divide mine in two smaller loaves. Place on the baking sheet; drizzle a thread of olive oil on top and sprinkle lightly with breadcrumbs. Be sure to press it down.

6.      Bake about 30 minutes until just golden.


La Carbonara Pasta

 


Alba’s Spaghetti Carbonara Traditional Recipe -Spaghetti Carbonara is one of the most famous Pasta Recipes of Roman Cuisine, made only with 6 simple ingredients: spaghetti, guanciale (or Pancetta), freshly cracked black pepper, freshly grated Pecorino Romano, beaten yolks, and pasta water. All the ingredients must be of high quality to achieve a successful recipe. No garlic, no onions, no herbs, and no olive oil please!

The history of carbonara is relatively recent, and its origins are controversial, also because there is no written trace of it, or text of Italian or Roman cuisine that speaks of it. According to a first theory, Carbonara was born in 1944, during the Second World War, in a trattoria in Vicolo della Scrofa in Rome. According to another theory, the Carbonara would be the evolution of an ancient dish: "Cacio e Ova", that is, cheese and eggs, a dish prepared by the Carbonari when they went to the woods to make coal.

There are a few simple techniques to make a perfect Carbonara that I will point out.

 

La Carbonara

1 pound spaghetti

6 ounces of diced guanciale or diced pancetta

4 medium egg yolks, lightly beaten

1 ¼ cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Freshly cracked black pepper

Pasta: In a large pan boil water with 2 tablespoons of salt. When the water comes to a full boil, add the spaghetti. Stir for about 30 seconds so the pasta doesn’t stick. Cook until the pasta is al dente.  Remember before straining to save 1 ½ cups pasta water.

Eggs and cheese: While the pasta is cooking, place the yolks in a bowl and lightly beaten the yolks. Add the fresh grated cheese and mix together to form a paste.  Then scoop one ladle full of cooked pasta water into this bowl and quickly mix.  This is called tempering; it will prevent the egg yolks when added to the pasta to curdle.

Finishing the Sauce:

o   Put the guanciale or pancetta in a large skillet and cook until barely golden. Cook on medium heat.

o   Reserve your pasta water before straining. When the pasta is ready, transfer the pasta to the skillet with the guanciale or pancetta. Continue to cook on medium heat, Fold and mix well until the pasta is well coated.

o   Remove the skillet off the heat: Add the cheese and yolk mixture and quickly mix and fold to coat the entire pasta.  Add a ½ ladle of pasta water and mix again. If needed add ½ ladle of pasta water and mix and fold the pasta until just barely creamy. Lastly add freshly cracked black pepper.

o   Serve warm with more freshly cracked black pepper and a sprinkle of Pecorino grated cheese. This pasta is meant to be eaten right away. Enjoy it!

Pasta Al Profumo di Arancia 



Oranges are the coming together of two fruits, the pomelo fruit, and the mandarin. Oranges are native to China grown as early as 2,500 BC. When the Arabs conquered Spain in the 8th century they introduced oranges. Later they were introduced into Italy. In the 16th century, Spaniards took oranges to the Americas.  It was the Spanish Missionaries, and the Franciscans who began planting orange orchards in Arizona and California. Florida eventually became a big grower due to favorable conditions.

 What about the orange skin, the zest? 

The skin of the orange contains three times the vitamin C compared to its pulp.

Zest of orange is widely used in Italian recipes. Orange zest can be used to give an extra touch of flavor, and a different scent or aroma to everyday dishes. Of course, only the orange part of the peel (zest) should be used, because the white part has a bitter taste. The most common use for orange zest is to add it to cakes, custard, salads, pasta dishes or risottos, on fish or seafood, stews, in salted sauces or sweet creams, and tea infusions. The only time the orange and white part of the orange skin is used is to make a delicacy of candied the orange rinds.  

Here is one of my favorite recipes to make with orange zest and juice, “Pasta al Profumo di Arancia”. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Pasta al Profumo di Arancia There are endless preparations for pasta dishes.  I love to vary and experiment with new combinations or ways to present it. This is a simple, aromatic, and delicious dish, ideal to prepare for an improvised dinner or for a holiday.

Pasta al Profumo di Arancia

½ pound Tagliatelle or Parpadelle pasta 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 medium shallot, finely minced

Zest in strips of 2 organic oranges (julienne style)

Juice 1 organic orange

4 fluid ounces heavy cream

Salt, freshly cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes

Minced Italian parsley for topping


1.        Cook the pasta according to package directions in salted boiling water. Reserve ½-1 cup of pasta water right before draining.

2.        Cut the orange peel into thin strips, avoiding the white part because it is bitter.

3.        In a large skillet, and the olive oil, butter, and shallot on low heat. Cook until the shallot is just golden.  Add the orange peels and cook 1-2 minutes until softened. Raise the heat to medium-low and add juice of 1 orange, cook until reduced by half.

4.        Add the cream and ½ cup of warm pasta water.  Cook 5-8 minutes until well blended and creamy.

5.        When the pasta is ready and drained, add to the skillet with the sauce and mix well. If too dry add a little more pasta water a few tablespoons at a time. Finish with lots freshly cracked black pepper and minced Italian parsley on top.



Procello e Gelato

 




Limoncello is usually enjoyed as a digestive, at the end of the meal, but it can also be served as an aperitif.  The origins of limoncello are unclear; the authorship of the recipe of this famous liqueur is, in fact, contested between three splendid places in Campania; Amalfi, Capri and Sorrento. These places are famous because of the abundance of fragrant lemon trees and for a production of Limoncello handed down for generations. There are several popular stories and legends that tell the birth of this famous liqueur.


The origins of limoncello date back to the early 1900s, in a small guesthouse on the Azure Island of Anacapri. On this island Mrs. Maria Antonia Farace cared for a garden rich in lemons and oranges. A relative opened a catering business and presented Limoncello as the specialty of the house made with the ancient recipe of the grandmother. Later a small artisan production of Limoncello was registered as a brand. Also simultaneously, in Amalfi and Sorrento were born the first legends and the first stories about the traditional production of this famous yellow liqueur. The story in fact tells that the great Sorrento families never let guests miss a taste of the then experimental limoncello. In the city of Amalfi there are even those who claim that the origins of limoncello are even older.

This legend tells that limoncello was used by fishermen and peasants especially in the morning to fight the cold. Finally, there are those who claim that the first recipe was born inside a monastery to delight the friars between prayers. Beyond all these narratives, limoncello has now become a pride of Campanian and Italian culture. Furthermore, in order to defend against imitations, its name has been guarded by the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Therefore, the real and original limoncello is the one produced in the Sorrentino territory and only in some areas of Campania.

The success of an impeccable limoncello lies precisely in the quality of lemons that, on the Amalfi coast, abound and are characterized by large dimensions, an elliptical shape, a wrinkled, thick, fragrant, and bright yellow skin. The skins are rich in essential oils that give limoncello its scent and unique and decisive taste. It’s important to pick the first

flowering lemons because they are richer in flavor, collected preferably at dawn when the scents are more concentrated. Limoncello is made with untreated lemon peel whose alcohol content ranges between 20% and 32% vol. A sweet liqueur, with a characteristic yellow color, which is obtained by letting the lemon peels macerate in pure alcohol with the addition of a syrup based on water and sugar.

 


Prosecco is one of the most loved Italian white wines in the world. Suitable for celebrating important holidays and occasions, Prosecco is today considered an excellent accompaniment for any meal, thanks to its fruity aroma and slightly sweetened flavor. Prosecco owes its name to a small town near the city of Trieste where it is grown, and the former name of the region's primary grape variety. The main grape used to make Prosecco is a white grape called Glera which gives Prosecco its characteristically fresh and aromatic flavor. A thin-skinned green grape grown in the Veneto and Friuli regions of northern Italy for hundreds of years. The Glera base wine may be mixed with a small quantity of other grape varieties to give further complexity to the final product. All Proseccos must be at least 85 per cent Glera grapes blended with other local grape varieties such as; Verdiso, Perera, and Bianchetta, or even Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. Most Proseccos are blends, but after a really exceptional harvest some winemakers produce ‘pure’ Prosecco, made from 100 per cent Glera grape.

Prosecco sparkling wine may have only been catapulted to fame in recent years, but it has a history going back many hundreds of years. North Eastern Italy has produced wine for millennia and many of its vineyards were already well established when the area was colonized extensively by the Greeks around 800 BC. The Glera grape is believed to be of Slovenian origin and was probably cultivated in the vineyards of the Italian village of “Prosecco” in Trieste which shares a border with Slovenia. It is believed to have been referred to by the Romans of the area, as far back as 200 BC, as “Pucino”. The first documented mention of Prosecco comes in a poem written in 1754 by Aureliano Acanti.

On the nose Prosecco has fruity and floral notes; in the mouth it is dry and decisive, excellent to taste with antipasti of prosciutto, salami, and cheeses. Prosecco can also be used to make cocktails, to cook savory dishes especially risotto, and to be enjoyed as is.

Limoncello and Prosecco are always available in my refrigerator.  I love to experiment using them in savory dishes and sharing these dishes with my students or clients. Here is a simple drink or it can even be considered a dessert that can be made any time of the year. I have named it “Procello e Gelato”, enjoy it!

 

Procello e Gelato

1½ ounces Limoncello

3 ounces Prosecco

1 scoop of lemon gelato or Sorbet

1 slice lemon

Sugar for garnish, optional

Prepare sugar rim by rubbing the rim of a chilled martini glass with lemon juice, then dipping it in sugar.

Scoop the gelato or sorbet into chilled glass.  Add a shot of Limoncello, and slowly top with prosecco. Serve with a spoon.

EASTER IN ITALY – TORTA PASQUALINA

Torta Pasqualina 


Easter is one of the most celebrated holidays in Italy. The Sunday before Easter, families return home with blessed olive branches from churches (in the absence of palm trees).  Holy Week begins. Thursday commemorates the anniversary of the Last Supper. Good Friday is the day of the Way of the Cross where streets light up with torches and processions. On Saturday, at midnight, bells toll to announce the Renaissance. Sunday the most important day, eggs, sweets, and chocolate are shared. Easter Monday became a holiday on the national calendar during the post-war period, to prolong the spring break.

Here are some of the traditional Italian Easter Pastries and cakes:

La Columba:

La Columba (The Dove) is a traditional classic Italian Easter cake. It is a rich fluffly cake made with high-quality flour, farm fresh eggs, sugar, butter, and natural yeast that takes at least 30 hours to rise. After rising, the dough is then baked into the iconic dove shape and lastly topped with pear sugar and almonds. The dove represents the symbol of peace.

La Pastiera:

The emblematic Neapolitan Pastiera sweet cake originating in Naples and known and appreciated throughout Italy. La Pastiera is made with short crust pastry, ricotta, eggs, orange blossom, and durum wheat cooked in milk to create a custard like consistency. It is prepared on Thursdays and Fridays of the Holy Week.

La Scarcella:

In Puglia, the local tradition offers Scarcella, a typical round-shaped cookie type dessert.  A white or colored hard-boiled egg is incorporated or woven in the dough with a white glaze on top. In ancient times the egg was considered a symbol of the union between earth and sky attributing to it the cosmic meaning of the symbol of new life.

La Torta Pasqualina:

The Ligurian Torta Pasqualina was established in the early 1400s as a savory preparation associated with Easter symbolism. It is a savory cake filed with eggs prepared to celebrate Easter and spring. It is one of the most famous and ancient recipes of the Ligurian cuisine. The pastry dough was originally composed of 33 layers, a reference to the years of Jesus. The eggs represent renewal, a wish for fruitfulness and the awakening of nature.


Alba’s Torta Pasqualina (Easter Pie)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 ½ pounds fresh Swiss chard or spinach, blanched

1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram

1-pound whole ricotta, drained overnight

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano

2 pieces ready-made puff pastry (thawed in frig)

6 whole eggs, divided

 

1.        Blanch the Swiss chard or spinach for a few minutes in salted boiling water. Strain well and squeeze any remaining liquid with your hands.  

2.        In a large skillet, add 3 tablespoons olive oil, the minced garlic; cook about a minute on low heat.  Add the Swiss chard or spinach, salt, pepper, and marjoram. Cook 2-3 minutes on medium heat until the vegetable is completely dry.  Cool slightly.

3.        In a large bowl, whip the strained ricotta with a wooden spoon about a minute. Add the vegetable mixture; mix well and season with salt and pepper.  Add half of the grated cheese in the filling mixture.

4.        Place a piece of parchment paper on a work surface. Add a little flour on top and with a rolling pin; stretch each puff pastry to fit the size of your pie pan.  Place the first puff pastry on the pie pan.  Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork. Add the ricotta mixture.  Top with remaining grated cheese. Make 5 indentations with a tablespoon around the pie to make room for 5 whole eggs.  Crack a whole egg and place one in each indentation.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Drizzle a drop or two of olive oil on top of each egg.

5.        Place the second puff pastry dough on top of the pie. Before cutting the extra puff pastry that is extending over the baking dish, leave about ½ inch hang.  Fold the bottom and top puff pastry layers toward the inside of the pan, closing the entire pie.  Cut a tiny hole in the middle of pie.

6.        Beat remaining egg and lightly brush over the top of the pie. Bake about 50 minutes in a preheated 350F oven.  The pie should be golden on top.  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes before serving.  

 Chef Tip: be sure the puff pastry is cold when you work with it.


 

 

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Valentine Risotto al Prosecco Pere e Pecorino

 


 

There are two differing folk tales about St. Valentine according to legend and history. One of them was about a priest and martyr from the ancient Roman Empire. The other was a martyr and a bishop in Terni, Italy (Valentino da Terni).

The first legend, a priest dared to defy the order of Roman Emperor Claudius II. The emperor declared that Roman soldiers should not marry because he believed that single men made better and stronger soldiers. St. Valentine, a priest felt this decree was unjust.  He defied the emperor by performing marriage ceremonies in secret for Roman soldiers. This act of defiance angered the emperor, and he beheaded Valentine on February 14th.Valentine's faithfulness inspired many Roman men to marriage and in honor of him, they drew names of eligible ladies out of an urn during this holiday. Then the couple would pair off and spent the year getting to know one another, which often led to marriage. This custom spread across Europe.

The other legend, Valentino became a martyr because he wanted to protect others. During  the third century, Christians were being imprisoned, tortured, and beaten and sent to Roman prisons. Valentino could not bear to see this happen, so he plotted and succeeded in freeing many of these prisoners. This led to his imprisonment, where they decided to put   him to death. Before his murder took place, he met and befriended the jailer's daughter.    Legend says Valentino healed her from blindness and was capable of performing many   other miracles. He fell madly in love with this woman, and before he died, he wrote her a   letter and signed it, "from your Valentine," which took place in mid-February in A.D. 270 and   is believed to be why we endorse our cards this way today.

 Around the Middle Ages is when things began to evolve, it is believed that courtly love gained influence throughout Europe. Some celebrants found a more chivalrous and   cheerful way of explaining why Saint Valentine’s day should be a time to think about   romance. Romantic phrases and poems were written.

During the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century, the production of mass quantities of  consumer goods began to appear with greeting cards with romantic phrases and images  appearing on greeting cards. Cadbury’s heart-shaped boxes of chocolates emerged in the  1860s, Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, and Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards in 1913. All of which have still continued the Valentine’s Day traditions.

Valentine's Day 2021 offers the opportunity to celebrate this occasion with our loved one in a thousand different ways, but all linked to wanting to express feelings of love that binds   us to a special person. It is no coincidence that many choose to declare themselves on Valentine’s Day to amaze the person they love. There are also those who choose to make a marriage proposal and there is certainly no better day than Valentine's Day to ask your   sweetheart to marry you.

For a Valentine's Dinner at home, you can order something special from a takeaway restaurant, or choose to prepare a dinner together on that evening. You do not need to organize a complicated dinners to be romantic. I would like to treat you to a romantic dish that I hope you will prepare without too much fuss. This will leave more time for conversations and je ne c’est pas quois apres!  


Risotto is a traditional Italian rice dish made from a short-grained starchy variety of rice called Arborio rice. A well-cooked risotto should be soft and creamy. It shouldn't run across  the plate, nor should it be stiff or gluey. While not too difficult, I am adding essential detailed instructions that will make it easier to prepare this restaurant-worthy risotto in your kitchen.  The first step is to gather all ingredients and read all the instructions before beginning.

Risotto al Proseco Pere e Pecorino

Risotto al Prosecco Pere e Pecorino 

5 cups chicken stock, warm 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)

1 medium shallot, minced 

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

3/4 cup Prosecco (or dry white wine)

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

2 pears with skin on (1 diced, 1 sliced for decoration)

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

1 tablespoon roughly chopped Italian parsley

You will need: 1 wide thick-bottom pan, 1 wooden spoon, a medium broth pan, a ladle

Warm the broth: In a medium saucepan, heat the stock to a boil and immediately set the heat on low to simmer, so the stock stays warm while you cook the risotto.

Cook the shallot: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a wide thick bottom pan over low heat. Add the minced shallot; cook for 5 minutes or until softened and barely golden. Season.

Add the rice: Turn the heat up slightly; add the rice to the pan stirring it briskly with a wooden spoon to coat the grains with the oil and melted butter. Sauté stirring for 2-3 minutes until there is a slightly nutty aroma. The rice should be translucent. Do not let the rice turn gold or brown.

Add the wine: Add the Prosecco or wine and cook while stirring until the liquid is fully absorbed. When it is fully absorbed/reduced you can begin adding the broth.

Add the broth: Add a ladle of hot stock to the rice and stir until the liquid is fully absorbed (almost disappears). When the rice appears almost dry, add another ladle of stock, and repeat the process. Stir only when you add the stock, not constantly. Continue adding stock, a ladle at a time, for 15 minutes.

Add the pears: Add the diced pears; cook another 5-10 minutes or until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite, without being crunchy.

Finish the risotto: Off the heat, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the grated cheese, and parsley. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Divide into serving dishes, decorated with a slice or two of pear and freshly cracked pepper.


Chef Tip:
Should you run out of stock and the risotto is still crunchy, finish cooking it with hot water. Add the water a ladle at a time, stirring while it's absorbed.