Category Archives: Pasta

PASTA alla PANNA WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS…WITH PANCETTA AND GREEN ONION

1185030_266441590190815_42477728_nBrussels Sprouts are enjoying comeback over the last 10 years.  Once shunned by some home and professional cooks and those they cook for, these colorful little cabbage like marbles came into the own over the last 10 years.  Inventive ways of cooking them or even shaved raw into a slaw or salad they are a fall thru Spring staple.  Hardly an American Thanksgiving table anymore without a home cook’s interesting version of brussels sprouts especially ones that are caramelized with onions and maybe something sweet added.  Popular additions are onions, garlic, various nuts, Balsamic vinegar glaze, cured and/or smoked meats.  They are pan roasted, seared, oven roasted, blanched, oh you get the picture. My sainted Mom, she was an amazing home cook but Brussels Sprouts in the 1960’s home kitchen were a brutal affair and her’s were terrible.  In season she’d buy those nice little pint cups of them and out of season they came in a frozen square block (not even sure that frozen vegetable type is still around) and she would boil them until every article of clothing in the house reeks of the sulfuric cabbage stench.  Some how the cold outside and steam heat from the radiators in our house only intensified that stink in the middle of the winter. The end result were off colored mushy, tasteless, watery disasters.  Dislike.  Now I’m not picking on Mom….Brussels Sprouts and two other dishes out of the tens of thousands she made were the only 3 #fails in her kitchen.  So if she were still here with us I’m sure she’d not be too offended.  For a recent dinner at home for time’s sake I like to add the starch with the vegetable when it makes sense (AFO RULE: NOT EVERY MARRIAGE IS A GOOD ONE!!! I’m talking, in the kitchen of course!).  I had a pint of brussels sprouts, there’s always lots of macaroni in my pantry and there was green onion and pancetta in the fridge. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I used what’s labeled as GNOCCHI, it comes from Italy, dried pasta in 1 lb. It’s perfect for this dish.  Don’t confuse it with the potato or ricotta gnocchi which are totally different.  Medium Shells would be a good substitute if you can’t find the dry pasta Gnocchi.  I looked in the fridge again and saw the Parmigiano-Reggiano and heavy cream.  DONE.  Combine them all into a side dish (which can also be served as a pasta entree).  Let’s cook, enough of my bla bla bla.

PASTA ALLA PANNA (CREAM)  WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS, PANCETTA AND GREEN ONION

  • 6 ounces PANCETTA, diced fine or thinly sliced and diced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1  cup homemade or low-sodium /99% fat free chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup DRY WHITE WINE, preferably Italian
  • Coarse orKosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 16oz ( 1 lb) DRY MEDIUM SHELLS or DRY PASTA GNOCCHI (different from the fresh)
  • 1/4 cup HEAVY CREAM, ORGANIC would be best.
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO, have extra on hand for serving
  • 3 thin sliced GREEN ONIONS (SCALLIONS)
  1. Heat a  large skillet over medium heat. Add  1 tbs of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil then then pancetta until crisp, up to 5-7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer to a paper-towel-lined sheet . Add another tbs of oil  to  the bacon fat in skillet  Add the sprouts and  cook, stirring occasionally until  golden Takes  about 3 minutes. Add the stock and season  to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10-12 minutes until all the liquid is pretty much evaporated.  Add the cream and coat the sprouts with it. Cook for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

  2. Cook the Dry Gnocchi (Secchi) or shells just till al dente. Drain but reserve 1/8 cup of the salted cooking pasta water.  Add the gnocchi back to the pot.

  3. Stir in sprouts  and cream mixture and  the cheese. Gently blend well.  If too thick add some of the reserved pasta water.  Add the pancetta and 1/2 the green onions and 1 tbs of the olive oil. Gently blend well. Serve with more Green Onion, Black Pepper and Parmigiano on top.

    Makes 4-6 servings for an entree, up to 8 for side dish.  Not too hard right?  Looks and tastes like you put out much more work.  BUON APPETITO….sorry Mom for throwing you under the bus for those nightmarish Brussels Sprouts you use to make. Everything else was amazing!!!

 *gnocchi secchi picture courtesy of Google Images

TOASTED SPINACH GNUDI WITH A SAGE AND PUMPKIN SAUCE..GNUDI CON SALVIA E ZUCCA

002GNUDI!!!  pronounce it  NYUU-DEE, an Italian food from Tuscany is as it’s name implies, sort of a Nude Ravioli.  It’s a dumpling made with ricotta, eggs, spinach, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and just enough flour to bind it so it’s not quite a gnocchi but close.  Italian cooking is wonderfully full of dishes that closely resemble each other but nuances in ingredient amount or region make them separate and unique.  Fantastic!!  Let me give a foodie PSA here while I have your attention.  You know that TUSCAN recipe or dish you are eating in a restaurant or making at home?  You know, that ULTIMATE TUSCAN soup, chicken, whatever?  It’s more than likely NOT TUSCAN.  Drives me crazy.  As someone who shares food ideas and knowledge calling something TUSCAN when it’s not drives me insane.  Imagine this for a minute…in Italy…at a restaurant or supermarket/store selling American foods…there’s an item called….NEW YORK CAJUN GUMBO….or KANSAS LOBSTER…or MIDWESTERN CLAM CHOWDER….clearly you get my drift.  Louisiana gets the gumbo…Maine gets the Lobster…New England or Manhattan get the Clam Chowder.   The term TUSCAN gets placed on any dish someone (usually a corporate boardroom) wants to for marketing purposes. People are attracted to that term thinking it’s bona fide Tuscan food, or the implication is that all Italian food is Tuscan, or that the American created dish is Tuscan.  Let me do my part to promote real Tuscan influenced food by giving you this recipe I came up with using a Tuscan dumpling and some of the more common Tuscan ingredients..spinach, pumpkin, sage.

Gnudi can be eaten out of the pot, or with butter, or pan toasted, or lightly sauced with butter based sauces, or tomato sauce. A recent batch of gnudi I made, after poaching them i let them “dry” for 2 hours then toasted them in butter till they took on a golden brown crust then simply sauced them with sauteed onions, pumpkin puree, butter, sage, parmigiano-reggiano or Grana Padano, black pepper, and Vin Santo (Spanish sherry makes a decent substitute if you can’t find the Vin Santo).

serves: 4                                          time: 3 hours (which includes the time to let the gnudi dry)

First, the GNUDI

1 CUP  WHOLE MILK RICOTTA, DRAINED

1 CUP CHOPPED FROZEN SPINACH, THAWED AND SQUEEZED VERY DRY (important!!)

1 CUP FRESH GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR GRANA PADANO

3 LARGE EGG YOLKS (ORGANIC WORK BEST) at ROOM TEMPERATURE

1 CUP SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR OR TIPO 00 from ITALY

1/8  TSP EACH OF  FRESH GRATED NUTMEG, KOSHER SALT, FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

2 TBS UNSALTED BUTTER

You can use a food processor or bowl for this.  Mix together the Ricotta, Spinach, Parmigiano, and yolks.  Pulse or mix till blended.  Add the nutmeg, salt and black pepper.  Mix.  Now gently add in the flour until fully incorporated. Let sit for 5 minutes.  NOW to form the GNUDI.  Some are made in the small oval shape like I do and some are made in the same size, just under 1 inch, in a ball. Keep the size and shape uniform for consistent cooking. As you make them, lay them onto a kitchen towel covered baking sheet.  Bring a large pot of water to the boil.   When you have finished the gnudi and they’ve rested, gently drop them into the boiling water. Let them cook  and as they are ready, they will float to the top of the pot.  Takes up to 5 minutes.  I use the 5 minute mark as my gauge.  Using a slotted spoon or kitchen spider transfer the drained gnudi to a parchment paper lined sheet pat.  Leave these to dry out now for no less than one hour.

SAUCE:

1 MEDIUM ONION, DICED FINE

6 TABLESPOONS UNSALTED BUTTER (EUROPEAN STYLE OR EUROPEAN WORKS BEST)

2 TBS OF VIN SANTO OR SPANISH SHERRY

1/2 CUP PURE PUMPKIN PUREE (PUMPKIN ONLY)

1/8 CUP RESERVED GNUDI COOKING WATER

2 SAGE LEAVES, WHOLE

FOR GARNISH:

4 CHOPPED FRESH SAGE LEAVES

FRESHLY GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR GRANA PADANO TO TASTE

SLIGHT GRATING OF FRESH NUTMEG AND /OR BLACK PEPPER

In a wide heavy bottomed pan melt the butter and then add the onions…bring to medium and let them slowly get soft. Takes about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the 2 sage leaves.  Now add the Vin Santo or Sherry.  Let cook for 2 mintues then stir in the pumpkin puree.  Add the reserved cooking water and bring pan to  boil then reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for 5 minutes.   Now back to the GNUDI.

In a skillet heat the 2 tbs of butter and gently toast the gnudi on both sides, taking care not to overload the pan.  You may need to do this in 2 batches.  TOO MUCH CROWDING IN A PAN CREATES STEAM AND YOU LOSE THE BROWNING AND EVERYTHING IS RUINED!!!!!! When you have a nice color on the GNUDI like this:156142_2992380330921_1304531591_32200242_158577316_nyou are now ready to sauce them.  Bring the pan of Pumpkin Onion Sage sauce up to medium heat and gently add the gnudi and make sure you coat all the gnudi with the sauce.  TAKE NOTE: I’m saucing it in the Italian manner…as Lidia tells us..”Sauce is merely a CONDIMENTO, the star is the pasta!”…You always want the pasta to shine through, however I understand that most Americans are used to much more sauce on their pasta then they would have in Italy.  Want more sauce on this? Simply double the recipe. Tutti i gusti son gusti!! (Everyone to their own tastes)…back to my recipe.  After you’ve coated all the gnudi and it’s heated thru for a good 3 minutes remove from the heat and garnish with the chopped sage, nutmeg and grated cheese to taste.  Serve.  I’m starving now as I type all this.  It’s such a tasty dish.  0041As always, thank you for letting me into your kitchens….enjoy this little bit of Tuscany, I actually think the region around Siena is noted for their gnudi.  BUONA CUCINA!!

 

 

 

 

 

FRITTATINE, “SPAGHETTI CROQUETTES” FROM NAPLES, ITALY

frittatine-010Back to Naples for some inspiration and ideas, there is just so much there to choose from that become magic and a feast in your kitchen and dining room.  FRITTATINE is one of those glories of the CUCINA NAPOLETANA.  Basically it is a SPAGHETTI or MACARONI CROQUETTE, the cooked pasta is bound with a BESCIAMELLA Sauce, cheeses, enhanced with vegetables and cured meats, then formed and coated in a light batter and fried. Many versions add a bread crumb coating over the batter.  My version is the breadcrumbed one. Why?  Because anything fried in breadcrumbs usually rocks and it’s SO GOOD with this creamy molten center that you’ll agree after one bite to continue to use the breadcrumb version.  Some background on this treat—-I’m always talking about my strong Napoletana heritage as it’s the city where my maternal grandmother lived for 10 years of her life, from 10 to 20.  The New York City region is heavily influenced in it’s ItalianAmerican culture by the immigrant Napoletani culture and foods, take spaghetti, take Pizza, take Sausage and Peppers, take Mozzarella, take Zeppole…you get the idea. However, FRITTATINE never really made that leap across the Atlantic like many other Napoletana dishes did.  Strange.  Now Potato Croquettes (or as the Napoletane called them PANZAROTTI) definitely made the jump, think of all the restaurants that serve them as a side dish, or how many of our own kitchens recreate that treat.  FRITTATINE? Never heard of them.  Apparently I missed them on a trip to Naples as they are one of the most beloved and popular FRIED SNACKS in the Napoletana Fry shops known as FRIGGITORIE, the best places to sample Naples’ famous street food.  One night in NYC at one of the the new wave of Pizzerias to hit the US, the PIZZERIE NAPOLETANE, pizzerias that adhere to a prescribed formula for making the unique Pizza Napoletana (of which the American NYC Pizza is based on) I encountered FRITTATINE.  Don Antonio by Starita in Manhattan is a palace of simple Napoletana foods and pizza.  A host of other pizzerie have opened in the last 7 years that follow the same certified formula.  I ordered the FRITTATINE and was in love.  Absolutely love croquettes and this creamy macaroni version made me swoon.Of course I needed to recreate them in my own kitchen and here we are.frittatine-008 Aren’t they beautiful?  They taste as good as they look.  Ones containing prosciutto cotto and peas, provolone and spaghetti or bucatini are the most popular.  This is one of those recipes where, AS LONG AS YOU STAY WITHIN WHAT WOULD ORGANICALLY FIT INTO THE RECIPE, you have some wiggle room. Fine dice of cured italian meats….italian greens….italian cheeses…..that’s what’s allowable.  I used Finely chopped chard and sopressata in mine.  Spinach works too.  Provolone, Caciocavallo, Scamorza, PrimoSale, Parmigiano, Mozzarella, Pecorino, Asiago some of the cheeses that work in this.   No balsamic vinegar, sun dried tomatoes, or gorzonzola please, and no chicken.  please. no chicken. One more rule..lol…No dipping sauce.  No side of Marinara.  They are rich and creamy and full of complex textures and flavors..no dipping sauce.  Overkill.  Let’s now fly over to sunny NAPOLI or just stay in your own kitchen and COOK WITH ME!  Time to make the FRITTATINE, translates as small fried things, or Fried Pasta Cakes.  Frittatine sounds best. FREE-TAH-TEEH-NAY.

MAKES: about 20 2 inch Frittatine                                       TIME: cooking and prep: 3 hours

10 tbsp. UNSALTED BUTTER
1 12 cups TIPO 00 FLOUR, or SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR
4 1/2  cups WHOLE MILK
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. DRIED  IMPORTED FROM ITALY SPAGHETTI OR BUCATINI
4 oz. PROSCIUTTO COTTO, or SALAME or SOPRASSATA, finely diced
8 oz. SMALL DICE OF PROVOLONE, or MOZZARELLA, or SMOKED MOZZARELLA
1/4 CUP FINE CHOPPED BLANCHED SPINACH OR SWISS CHARD, or COOKED PEAS
3 TBS. PARMIGIANO REGGIANO GRATED

 1/8 TSP. FRESHLY GRATED NUTMEG
OLIVE OIL FOR FRYING (or CANOLA, or VEGETABLE, or PEANUT)

2 cups UNSEASONED ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS

Gently melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add 1/2 cup of the flour and while stirring cook for 2 minutes.  Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, gently whisking (gently or you will splatter the hot milk/flour everywhere).  Once it’s boiling reduce to a simmer and let it cook until thickened, takes about 5 minutes.  Make sure to frequently stir so the flour doesn’t collect on the bottom and scorch.  Now set this aside, cover the pan with plastic wrap.
If using Spaghetti or Bucatini, break them half. Cook the pasta you are using just till al dente according to the package directions.  Drain and shake well to make sure all the water evaporates.  Add all the other ingredients except for the besciamella sauce and the breadcrumbs. Mix with the cooked pasta.  Now pour the sauce over it and mix well.  Press the mixture into a lightly greased baking pan and cover with plastic wrap.  Keep in the Refrigerator for no less than one and 1/2 hours.frittatine-001frittatine-002frittatine-005 You can use a 2 inch round cutter OR do what I did, and hand form about 20 of these frittatine.  Once they are are formed, place back into the fridge for 10 minutes.
 Make the batter by Whisking 1 cup of flours with 1 cup of water to make a batter.  Set aside.  Pull the Frittatine out of the fridge and dip first into the batter, then into the plain breadcrumbs. Line on parchment paper over trays till they are all coated.  Heat a heavy pan or saucepan with 2 1/2 inches of your oil until the thermometer reads 325 degrees F.  Now gently add a few of the frittatine at a time into the pan.  Fry till golden on each side.frittatine-006

When they are golden on both sides and somewhat firm to the touch, drain on paper towels or paper bags or racks.  SERVE immediately..you want them to be very creamy.  frittatine-007

Serve with an Arugula Salad with parmigiano, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and lots of fresh lemon juice.

frittatine-009Seriously, how good do they look???  Make them even smaller for a party appetizer or passed hors d’ouevres.  Just break up the pasta smaller or use small pasta for it

What fun it is to cook with you…..can’t wait to see your FRITTATINE!! BUONA CUCINA!!!

ANOTHER ITALIAN PASTA SAUCE..FROM BASILICATA,SUGO L’INTOPPO

004There couldn’t be a more appetizing picture for me than a pot of any  of Italy’s many tomato based pasta sauces.  Add a regional spin to them and now I’m even more excited.  Today is Sant’Innocenzo Day383468_3036299628876_1304531591_32215781_825528770_n in my paternal grandfather, INNOCENZO SCARAMUZZI’s Southern Italian town of his birth.  He lived in Grassano, Matera, Basilicata until he immigrated to NYC at the age of 25 in 1915.  What better day than September 22 to share a sauce that comes from his region?  FYI, not sure if he ever made this as Basilicata is a region with 2 provinces, Potenza (West) and Matera (East) and this sauce is made in and around both Provinces. Potenza is probably where it’s native to. It’s called in proper Italian… SUGO L’INTOPPO….in Basilicata or Lucanian dialect it’s called ‘NTRUPPC.  Sidebar here for a second…reasons why Italians are always arguing that THEIR version of any is the right one is because there’s never ONE definition, word, or pronunciation ,let’s just nod our heads and say, “I got it.”  Please do not call it a meat sauce or Bolognese or Ragu’Napoletano because there are many similaries in method and ingredients but there are some differences that make it a wonderfully unique regional sauce.  I will, on this patronal feast day remember my grandfather 156142_2992380330921_1304531591_32200242_158577316_n by blogging a wonderful sauce from his region.  What better way for a grandson who cooks and reveres his grandfather’s memory then to blog a new recipe for you all?  Right?  I thought so…Let’s cook.

 

SUGO L’INTOPPO   or  LU ‘NTROPPC…..SAUCE WITH OBSTACLES or A HITCH…what does that mean?  no idea…i’ll guess maybe all the meats in it are being called obstacles SINCE, most Pasta dishes in Italy serve the meats from their sauce as a secondo. Here the meats are served in the pasta so, they are “obstacles” to the pasta…That’s my thoughts and I’m sticking with them. ENJOY!!

1 1/2 LBS SWEET ITALIAN FENNEL SAUSAGE sliced or removed from their casings

1/2 LB STEW BEEF, MINCED

1/4 LB VEAL STEW, MINCED

6 14 oz CANS OF IMPORTED ITALIAN POMODORINI (most come from Potenza which is probably where this sauce originated), or 3 28 oz Cans of San Marzano DOP tomatoes.

1/4 cup OLIVE OIL

2 DICED MEDIUM ONIONS (Don’t even think of adding garlic)

1 TSP PEPERONCINO (DRIED RED CHILE FLAKES)

SEA SALT

HANDFUL OF FRESH BASIL

In a large heavy stock pot heat a 1/2 the olive oil and sear all the meats until they are nicely browned on all sides. Remove to a bowl or platter and add the rest of the olive oil to the pan.  Add the onions and rapidly stir them around..why?The liquid in the onions will release all the nice caramelized bits from the meats at the bottom of the pan.  It will also give the onions some color and flavor.Add some sea salt and the peperoncino.  Slowly cook this until the onions are soft, NOT BROWNED.  When the onions are soft, should take about 10 minutes…then add the tomatoes.  Stir.  Bring to a boil then add the meats, bring down to a simmer.  Add some basil.  Pinch of salt.  Let this simmer for 3 hours stirring occasionally.  Drop in the remaining basil leaves and let the sauce sit for about 2 hours before using. Done.

Now what pasta is most traditional?  STRASCINATI which you can make or buy in good Italian markets and pork stores.  It’s a flour/semolina and water rustic pasta that resembles a stretched out orecchiette or cavatelli.  BTW, in lieu of STRASCINATI orecchiette or cavatelli are fine .plenty of PECORINO ROMANO over the servings.003The finished dish using STRASCINATI I bought in a local Salumeria (Italian Pork Store).  Fantastic!!!

The recipe yields enough sauce for up to 3 lbs of Pasta.

Enjoy this view I snapped while coming down the road from Grassano in 2008.

0041

 

 

 

 

LEFTOVER SPAGHETTI, THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT…PAN FRIED SPAGHETTI

14232416_644181959083441_9086273294542237012_nLeftovers…they CAN be one of your most delicious dishes. Do you ever have leftover sauced Spaghetti? I hope you said yes because If you do not do this already I will now become your new best friend.  Reheating leftover spaghetti in the microwave should be a criminal offense.   Maybe that’s harsh, and….maybe not. The ultimate goal of eating to to keep the body fueled and functioning.  Why make everything quinoa puffs and kale? There’s no shame in making food that tastes exceptional.  Nature gave us taste buds that help us to enjoy    the various foods and dishes that mankind has developed over our history.  A bowl of leftover spaghetti can become an even better dish (and I know you loved it when you made it) the next day, with a little help..and I mean, a little.  First of all, and I do research a dish before I blog my own version of it, you can’t make this fresh.  Food undergoes chemical/physical changes and for some reason, if you fry the spaghetti in a pan after you’ve just cooked the dish is a fail.  Epic fail.  You’ve wasted a pound of good spaghetti. Your spaghetti needs to sit at least one night in the fridge and I think the texture and taste actually get better if you make it a few days after it’s first been made.

Some history…My Mom and countless other  ItalianAmerican mothers or fathers and grandparents have made this for generations.  It’s what we do with our pasta/macaroni leftovers.  Every bite of this dish is a trip back into my childhood kitchen in Staten Island, NYC where my mother reigned as queen of her kitchen.  Ever miss a loved one who has passed on?  Make a dish that connects you to them and you’ll never eat without them ..again!!

So how do you give a “recipe” for a dish that is really already cooked?  here’s how…Simply take your leftover spaghetti and let it come to room temperature.  In a heavy wide cast iron skillet preferably, add 2 tbs of olive oil.  No measurements here because…you’ll never know how much you have, they are leftovers!!! In the pictures on here I used just under 1/2 lb of cooked, sauced left over spaghetti.  Add this to the pan and make sure you hear a strong sizzle. DO NOT MOVE THE SPAGHETTI AROUND!~!  After 6 minutes sprinkle 2 tbs. of PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS (no seasoning)over the top…mix that into the spaghetti. Flip the spaghetti and let this cook on that side for 5 minutes or longer, looking at it to see it there’s caramelizing going on. If not, let it be…this dish is not good if it’s simply heated in the pan. You want to see THIS:14202621_644181965750107_7802179799922542959_nsee those spaghetti strands getting toasty?  It’s fantastic.  Side note, do not confuse this with the other very popular Southern Italian or ItalianAmerican FRITTATA DI SPAGHETTI, or Spaghetti Frittata, Spaghetti Pie.  That has eggs beaten into it to create a pie like dish that can be cut into slices.  That’s for another blogpost.  If you have leftover meatballs, by all means, smash them into the pan too…continue to flip this spaghetti until it’s somewhat toasty on all sides.  Easy.  Now…how to serve it?  Grate lots of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano over it and place a side of Ricotta next to it.  Sprinkle with peperoncino to taste and you are ready to eat.

SIDEBAR:  When saucing the spaghetti  on the day you actually made it DO NOT OVER SAUCE!!! Too much sauce creates a soft less crispy dish.  I know you’re saying you like the extra sauce, but hold off before storing the leftovers in the fridge.  It will never really caramelize if it’s too wet.  Happy Cooking…Happy Eating!

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STUFFED ESCAROLE NAPLES STYLE gone ITALIAN-AMERICAN

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Here is a dish that brings together all the mutlicultural flavors that make up the area of Italy known as Naples.  This city was ruled by the Spanish, the Greeks.the Italians, the French, and others and each group left its mark on the city’s architecture, style, and cuisine.  A land of garden treasures,with the gifts from the sea and the mountains, help make this Italian regional food so full of bold and striking flavors.  One of the most popular vegetables in the area is Escarole..or as it was called in my home, “Scharole'”.It was eaten as a side dish, chopped with garlic and oil, or with anchovies, breadcrumbs, hot pepper, raisin and pignoli. It found its way in many soups, notably the Minestra Maritata( Grandma’s meatball soup), or with beans in the famously popular ‘Scarole and beans…This Baroque filled plate stars all of Naples’ finest ingredients…pecorino romano, garlic, raisin, pignoli, anchovy, San Marzano tomatoes, good olive oil, Gaeta Olives(make sure you are using CURED black olives, not ones packed in brine), ground meat and soaked Italian bread..all served over Naples’  popular Pasta Secca…or dried pasta…in this case,
Ziti.

Start this escarole dish with a cleaned head of ‘scarole.  To accomplish this, you must open the head up without breaking any leaves off.  In a large bowl 1/2 filled with cold water submerge the escarole head stem side up.
For some reason, more so than any other fresh vegetable I have cooked with, escarole captures an ungodly amount of grit, sand, dirt deep within its green and white crevasses.  You must let this sit for 15 minutes, then in a colander, rinse the head under running cold water. Empty the bowl, you will see the sand and dirt in it. Fill it back up 1/2 way, and repeat this process 3 times.  Maybe 4.  Give it a final rinse. Then, in a large pot of salted
water, bring it up to a boil then place the escarole in it stem side up and bring to a low boil.  Cook this for a good
20-25 minutes.

Now let this cool in the colander for about 15 minutes.  While
it is cooling, let’s make the filling…a celebration of Naples’ best ingredients.  The choice of the ground meat is up to you…veal is my preference, then pork, lastly beef.  This dish is called in the Napoletana dialect, I MUCILLI, meaning little kittens and you stuff the whole head in the center with the leaves, then tie it all up.  My version is more like Eastern European Stuffed Cabbage, par cooked leaves, turned into individual rolls that are baked in sauce….but we call it Stuffed “Scharole”..   For 1 head of escarole which makes about 20 bundles, use 1/2 lb.ground meat, 1/3 cup grated Locatelli Romano, 1/8 cup raisins, 1/8 cup pignoli, 1 finely minced garlic clove, 1 tsp.red wine, 2 slices of bread, soaked in water and squeezed dry, 2 eggs, beaten, 1/8 cup chopped pitted Gaeta olives,
1 anchovy filet, 1/8 fresh chopped parsley, 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, and 1/2 tsp. chili pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp. salt.
Mix this all together well and let it sit for 10 minutes.

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you will need 1 lb of cut ZITI, cooked till  al dente. Best to make this after the Stuffed Escarole have finished cooking. While you are waiting for the escarole to relax in it’s sauce, just make the macaroni as normal, drain well, make sure it’s, as always, al dente!

Why are we letting this sit?  Flavor melding, it give a chance for the ingredients to give up some of their essential oils and
makes for a tastier end result.
Now take the cooled head of escarole and hold it by the stem, gently, with a knife, cut around the core to release the leaves.
lay them out on a flat clean surface and add about 1 tbs. of the mixture to the stem end of the leaf, then roll them up tuckingthe sides in on the way.  Lay them into a large oiled deep pan.  Continue till you are done. When you are done rolling the “mucilli” bundles, pour some olive oil over them, then 1/2 cup of white wine or stock, then 2 cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes.  A little salt, pepper, 1 clove of garlic, a sprinkle of oregano,and a shake to the pan.  Cover and bring it to a boil , then lower to a simmer and let cook for 40 minutes on a lowflame.  This will further soften the escarole and let all the flavors get happy.  You can also bake this in a 350 degrees F oven, tightly covered for 1 hour 15 minutes, just check mid way thru that the liquid isn’t drying out.
The mucilli will soak up some of the sauce,not an overly liquid dish when it’s finished, great concentrated flavors…important tip here…DON’T SERVE IT IMMEDIATELY.
Let it sit for about 15 minutes. Serve 3 of the mucilli over a pasta portion, ziti my preference…that has been tossed withpecorino, olive oil and black pepper…pour some of the tomato over it as well…If you are looking for a more authentic Italian dining experience, dress the pasta with some of the sauce and serve first, then have the stuffed escarole rolls as a “secondo”.  (I will depart from authenticity right here..the dish is much better all served together, imho).

Just an afterthought…the reason I like the veal the best is because it’s so very mild that it really tastes like the sauce through and through and allows the ingredients in the filling to be stars of the show as well.  Purely my taste buds.  Another postscript here…the most “authentic” or traditional stuffed escarole contain no meat..it’s pretty much the same ingrdients I’ve used but..no meat.  Feel free to make them that way for a vegetarian/meatless dish…it’s very delicious either way.  Classify mine Italian-American Napoletana.  There’s a mouthful!!  HappyCooking!!

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TOASTED RAVIOLI FROM ST.LOUIS

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American cuisine is a mashup of practically every food culture on Earth.  There’s nowhere else that can boast so many layers of immigrant cuisines that make up the very complex notion of the United States of America.  Take one immigrant group..the Italians.  They came in droves to the USA in search of better lives and many times fleeing abject poverty and oppression.  Wherever the Italian settled in the USA there was lots of employment and it  certainly did not stop in NYC or the other usual suspects.  Italian immigrants settled all over the US and one midwest city, St. Louis, Missouri was certainly no exception.  Italians from the far North, from Milan and Lombardia  were the majority but there were sizable immigrations from Sicily and other parts of the south.  The Milanese settled in the area still called the Hill and the southern Italians settled along the river.  Eventually the river area was fully claimed for warehouse and businesses and the old Italian enclave there was destroyed and scattered the rest of St.Louis’ downtown Italians around the area.  Notable St.Louis Italians are Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, American Baseball greats.  Many of the displaced Italians moved up to the Hill which is still a great place to walk around and sample some of St.Louis’ particular brand of Italian-American food.  Like the TOASTED RAVIOLI.  It’s just a fried ravioli served with sauce.  I’m sure you’ve seen them in places other than St. Louis, but here they are called TOASTED rather than Fried (which is what you’ll see elsewhere). They are generally a locally or house made meat, parmigiano, spinach and other vegetable filled small square.  One of the finest versions, and the one used in many of St.Louis’ eateries is made by the Mama Toscano Company.  They contain an old family recipe of Beef, pork, spinach, carrots, onions, celery, Parmigiano and eggs and they are fantastic.  For those outside of St.Louis you can order on line.

http://mamatoscano.com/store/

Back to the Toasted Ravioli story…During an evening in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s the new cook at Oldani’s, now called Mama’s on the Hill mistakenly dropped some ravioli into hot oil. The owner tried to salvage them with some Parmigiano on top…and so the story goes, and so the legend goes.  I love to have my Toasted Ravioli (they are on EVERY MENU in St.Louis, Italian and non-Italian restaurants) at Charlie Gitto’s “Pasta House” downtown.  It’s the epitome of an old school Italian American restaurant.  It’s a movie set.  It’s just perfect.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Now doesn’t that say old school?  Family owned, local workers and a mix of traditional Italian American food with the St.Louis twist.  Meat Ravioli with that greens and beef filling are more “Northern”.  To “Milanese” a dish is to flour, bread and fry it.  So you see those characteristics here in the “toasted” ravioli.  The addition of the Marinara to dip in is most likely a Southern Italian influence.  Together they make a fantastic appetizer, a party food, a first course or an entree.  More importantly the dish is a living legacy of an immigrant story coming to the United States.  Let go to St.Louis now and make some TOASTED RAVIOLI.

SERVES: 4-6                                TIME: 45 minutes-1 hour

3/4 to 1 pound small  square  FROZEN MEAT Ravioli
3 large  organic eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk or half n half
2 cups  plain breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh  Italian parsley
1/2 tsp. oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Mix the cheese with the breadcrumbs, oregano and parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

1/2 cup sifted flour
Marinara sauce, for dipping. about 3 cups

Lay out in pans or trays one with flour and one with the breadcrumbs. Dust the ravioli with the flour, then into the egg letting excess run off, then fully coat in the breadcrumbs completely covering them.  Lay them out on a baking tray.  When completely done place them into the fridge to stay cold.  Heat a heavy pan with high sides, a cast iron pan works great for this, with about 2 inches of oil.  Bring to 400 degrees if you have a thermometer or test with a cube of bread.  It will “dance”  (i love that..lol) and start to toast immediately if the oil is at the right temperature.  Make sure you have pans with paper towels or racks over them and take the ravioli out of the fridge.  Now start frying.  This should take about 1 1/2 minutes total..and they need to be turned after the first minute to make sure they don’t burn.  Only add about 5 at a time or you will reduce the oil temperature too much and then they don’t cook evenly. Serve with extra chopped parsley and Parmigiano over them along with a small cup of warm Marinara.

 

There…done.  Just like Charlie Gitto’s, Mama’s, Kemoll’s, and all the other classic and new restaurants in St.Louis do.  Enjoy this recipe.  SIZE IS EVERYTHING.  Stick with the meat…stick with the regular square size, not the big round ones or the tiny soup ones.

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Buon Appetito!!