Pasticcio of crêpes, zucchini and ricotta to fill the hearts…

and stomachs of your guests, friends and family! Spring and summer offer many occasions to cook dishes that can stand alone as a light lunch, as a side dish at a barbecue, or at a potluck. Zucchini is beginning to abound once again, so here is a dish I have been tinkering for a while – a “pasticcio” of crespelle or crêpes with zucchini and ricotta. The term “pasticcio” literally meaning mess is a term attributed to many baked dishes or casseroles. This recipe is like a lasagna which is made with flat strips of pasta layered with meat, vegetables, cheese, and besciamella (white sauce). But no pasta here! The recipe calls for crêpes instead!

You can make all the components ahead of time, then pull them together and bake quickly.

Pasticcio di Crespelle con Zucchine e  Ricotta

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in La Cucina Italiana (Febbraio 2002)

First, make the crêpes following your favorite recipe or this one I have on my blog. Crepes and follow #2. Set the crêpes aside as you work on the other ingredients.

Filling

4 large zucchini (600 gr) , sliced thinly

1 large onion, cut in half then sliced thinly

½ cup grated parmigiano

1 egg 

1-2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoons chopped parsley

1-2 tablespoons  butter

2 cups ricotta (I prefer whole milk for this recipe, but lowfat works as well)

1/2 – 1 cup milk (depending on the thickness of the ricotta)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. In a pan, lightly sauté the garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until slightly golden. Add the zucchini slices, salt and pepper, stir and cook until gently soft for about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, then set aside.

I cut the zucchini in rounds and very thinly.

2.  In another pan,  sauté the sliced onions in a tablespoon (or two depending on taste) of butter (I also added a tablespoon of olive oil).  Season with salt. Add a ¼  cup of water on the bottom of the pan and watch the onions carefully as they can burn easily. Cover if necessary and lower the heat until the onions have softened. Then cool and set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, the egg, the milk and stir until smooth. Season with salt and a little pepper. Add 1/4 cup of the grated parmigiano.

The Assembly!

  1. You can use either a 10 inch round glass pie pan or a an 8×11 rectangular pyrex dish. I have use both and either works well. Lightly grease the pan with softened butter. Form the bottom layer of the lasagna by placing one crêpe in the center and working around the dish place the other crêpes so that their edges overflow the dish.
  2. Add 1/2 of the zucchini and onion mixture and smooth it equally over the crêpes. Add the ricotta mixture enough to moisten, but not overwhelm the zucchini. Dust with a bit of grated parmigiano.
  3. Add another layer of crêpes, this time not worrying about the edges. Repeat with the remaining zucchini mixture and ricotta mixture.
  4. Top with the crêpes and the remaining ricotta mixture. You can add more grated parmigiano and a sprinkle of chopped.thyme. I also experimented with a little grated monterey jack or mozzarella. Fold over the crêpes drapped over the edge to finish. Cook in a 350 (F) or 200 (C) degree oven for 30 minutes. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving or serve lukewarm.

The resulting dish is light, yet satisfying. Enjoy at room temperature or even cold from the fridge!

A dish good enough for summer or any time of the year!

Some New Thoughts about Cold Pasta Salads

Years ago when my eldest son Alex asked for a cold pasta salad, I thought it was a sacrilege to even consider a dish of pasta served cold like a salad. I would never admit it to my mother or my Italian relatives that I should even consider making such a dish. Stealthy, secretly, I followed Alex’s instructions as to what he wanted in it and made him a dish made with raw carrots cut in matchsticks, black olives, some cubed cheddar cheese and chopped broccoli. Pretty good, I decided for a first try, and so did he.

Since then, however, things have changed and the Italian magazines I read today all offer various recipes of cold pasta salads, lauding the freshness and simplicity of the dishes. I’m astounded by the variety. They are tasty additions to summer buffets, barbecues, and picnics. Above all, during the summer I like to keep some handy in the fridge for a quick lunch or a side dish for dinner. As I experimented lately with different recipes and ideas, I have found some simple truths to avoid common pitfalls which may render the pasta too cloy or inedible the next day.

1. The Type of Pasta

  • The type of pasta you choose does make a difference. Size and shape matters. Avoid a large size such as rigatoni, for example. It requires more sauce with bold flavors. The half-size (if you can find it) is preferable. Regular-sized penne may  work well if the sauce has a kick to it. Any small pasta such as orzo will absorb the flavors more readily. Smaller-sized penne with grilled vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers allow the flavors to meld  and complement each other. Dice the vegetables finely, add julienned basil, maybe some chopped Kalamata olives and a light drizzle of olive oil (see photo below).
  • Choose a good quality pasta. Cheap brands ultimately taste funny and fall apart. Find the best quality possible because you want to taste the grain and the pasta will not become gummy.
  •  Use spaghetti cautiously. Thin spaghettini or linguine become mushy and and have a tendency to either float in the dressing or become too dry. It is often difficult to eat  buffet style or as a side.
  • When thinking about the type of pasta, think of what ingredients you will use with it. Shell pasta, for example, works well with tuna or other seafood. Rotini with slivers of zucchini complement each other.

2.Condiments Matter

What you add to your pasta salad is important, making sure that all the elements work together. Included should be one element (for example, vegetables – even multiple ones) that gives the cold salad its identity and appeals to the palate in a distinct manner. The most flavorful are raw or grilled/roasted vegetables,

Here I grilled thin slices of one zucchini, a yellow squash, a red pepper, and  eggplant on the barbecue. I brushed them with a mixture of olive oil, crushed garlic, parsley and basil. I chopped all the vegetables together after they had cooled (a good way to use leftover grilled vegetables). I tossed them in the pasta with some cubed mozzarella, a little more basil and a little drizzle of more olive oil.

cubed ham, diced chicken, slivers of salmon, tuna, anchovies in olive oil, hard-boiled eggs, mozzarella, gentle dollops of ricotta, Kalamata olives, marinated artichokes….it’s up to your imagination! I always limit to three elements and I pay attention to how they interact with each other. The idea is to enhance the flavors so they dance well together. I also pay attention to freshness, especially when using raw ingredients.

3. Dressing the Salad

It is a salad after all, so what it is dressed with also matters greatly. Bottled dressings kill pasta salads. They don’t have the correct balance of acidity, salt, spice, and fat that only you can create with simple ingredients. Bottled dressings have too much sugar and other favors that disturb  the interaction of flavors imparted by the other ingredients. Good olive oil, lemon, occasionally vinegar, are usually the best. Beware of mayonnaise, use sparingly,  as it is usually too heavy and masks other flavors. Lastly, always taste to make sure the balance of flavors is correct. Sometimes you have to add a little bit of this or a little bit if that!

4. Fruit?

Yes, fruit works well….as long as it pairs with the other ingredients. Mango with shrimp, blueberries with goat cheese and chopped arugola, finely diced apple and a hard sharp cheese. Dried fruit like chopped apricots or white raisins may give a hint of sweetness where you want it. I’m not nuts about nuts in pasta salads. Too much competition with the pasta. Again, the idea is to enhance the flavors, being careful not to overwhelm the palate. Dressing the pasta salads that have fruit in them should be light and refreshing with lemon and one other herb such as mint or basil.

5. Yes, Herbs!

But only one at a time. In all the recipes I have read in Italian cooking magazines and books, only one herb is used. Of course basil reigns supreme. Its aroma lifts the palate and soars. Parsley is also commonly used. I like it chopped finely with garlic, a little lemon peel and basil (I know I said only one – but this acts as one!). This combination becomes rather potent if used too liberally. Thyme, mint, sometimes origano or even rosemary can enhance a salad and bring it to new heights. Generally speaking though….only one at a time and finely chopped.

6. Cooking the Pasta

Cook the pasta according to package instructions, not “al dente” which will make the pasta chewy, or,  overcooked which will render it mushy. When you drain the pasta, dash with cold water to stop the cooking, then lay the pasta out on a clean towel to cool, allowing it to dry out a bit..

Place in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. It is now ready for the other ingredients!

Here is one recipe I developed last month as I was looking for something refreshing, yet satisfying.

Raw Vegetable Pasta Salad

2 cups ditalini (uncooked) (you can use an entire box, just augment the other ingredients)

1 zucchini

1/2 yellow squash

1/2 sweet red pepper

1/2 red onion

1/2 cup  of olive oil + more for dressing as needed

First dice the raw vegetables finely about the same size as the pasta (or smaller). Place in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup of olive oil and let the vegetables macerate for half an hour to an hour. This way they will give out a bit of their own liquid.

In the meantime, finely chop 5 basil leaves and a small handful of parsley and combine with the zest of one lemon.

Make the dressing by mixing 1/2 cup of olive oil, one pressed garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon of anchovy paste and the juice of one lemon.

Cook the pasta as described above, drain, and give it a quick splash of cold water. Lay the pasta on a clean towel to dry a bit, then add it to the vegetable mixture in the bowl. Add the dressing very slowly while you mix the pasta. You may not need it all and can reserve some of it for later if the pasta dries out too much or for another salad. Add the herb mixture, then salt and pepper to taste.

This salad is versatile as you can add different vegetables, such as finely cut string beans. If you are diabetic or have other dietary restrictions, add more vegetables and cut down on the pasta. Or you can add small shrimp or tuna….It holds up well on a buffet table. It gets better the next day! Pasta salads have indeed changed since my first foray in making them years ago and that’s a good addition to our kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crush the Zucchini Glut!

It’s that time of year again when zucchini abounds and we begin to pull out all our recipes that have lay dormant for a year. Yesterday my friend Eileen dug into her thick file of recipes cut out of magazines and printed off favorite food sites. It was fun to see the vast array of ways to cook zucchini, from breads, salads, soups to enchiladas, pastas…risotto. If you are a vegetable lover, this one never disappoints, it’s so versatile. I wonder how many recipes are out there in the internet?!? Well here’s one more and a few ideas to boot.

The Italian word for zucchini is actually “zucchine” or small squash, the plural form of little “zucca.” One popular way to serve them is breaded and fried lightly…as I did a few nights ago.

A few “zucchine” ready for the frying pan!

But one of my other favorite ways to cook zucchini is to stuff them. Sounds like a lot of work on a hot day? Not really…remember cooking in the kitchen can also be a zen experience in which you forget about the heat outside. It was 103 degrees, 42 degrees centigrade registered on my thermometer hanging in my patio. Hula! It’s hot…let’s make stuffed zucchini!

Zucchine Ripiene (Stuffed Zucchini)

3-4 moderately large zucchini, halved

2 potatoes (I use yukon gold potatoes so I don’t have to peel them) – sliced thinly.

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup grated parmigiano cheese

1/2 – 3/4 cup grated monterey jack (or mozzarella) cheese

1 slice of rustic (such as ciabatta or sourdough) bread

1/4 cup of milk

1 egg

2-3 Tbl. olive oil

2-3 Tbl. tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

basil or other herb like thyme (optional)

Blanch the halved zucchini in boiling salted water for about 3-5 minutes (depending on size). Remove the the zucchini and place face down on a paper towel to cool.

While the zucchini halves are cooling, crumble the bread in a small bowl with the milk. Massage it gently to remove any big lumps, If it looks like you have too much milk, remove some so the mixture is not too soupy.

Scoop out the central portion of the zucchini forming a little boat. Continue to place the scooped out zucchini face down to drain. In the meantime, finely chop the scooped out zucchini, the chopped onion and add to the bread and milk mixture. In Liguria, finely chopped mortadella is also added – I want to try that version!

Add the egg, 2-3 tablespoons of parmigiano, and 1/2 cup of monterey jack.

Here you can see I placed a few strips of roasted pepper inside the boats.

Prepare a pyrex dish by coating it with a  little of the olive oil. Optional (and this is a version “alla ligure” from the region of Liguria: Take the thinly sliced potatoes and place them around the dish, overlapping slightly, as if you were making scalloped potatoes.

Salt and pepper them slightly. Place the zucchini face up on the potatoes and fill each boat with the mixture.I like to dribble some tomato sauce down the middle and then top with monterey jack and a sprinkling of parmigiano. Optional:  some slivered fresh basil or thyme on top.

Salt, pepper, and a little drizzle of olive oil, cover with aluminum foil. I baked mine in a Breville oven at 375 degrees – that’s why I didn’t fear a hot kitchen on a hot day!  If using a conventional oven, 350 degrees is sufficient. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and lower the temperature to 350 for another 15 minutes. These stuffed zucchini boats are delicious served at room temperature. But… I also like them cold for lunch the next day! Sono molto gustose!

 

 

 

 

 

What do I do with this? Romano Beans

“What do I do with this?” is a common question I hear shoppers ask when I circulate among the stalls at the Davis Farmers Market.I hear it especially when it is directed towards produce that is exotic or unfamiliar. I often ask the question myself as I eye some of the vegetables used in Asian cooking. Vendors generously offer tips and advice about prepping and cooking. Sometimes, when a question comes up regarding vegetables commonly used in Italian cooking, I like to offer my own tips and recipes. Market-goers are open to new ideas; it is so much fun to see their expressions of surprise and gratitude. So I’m starting a series in which I will focus on my findings at the market, usually about produce whose preparations are not commonly known, but come from the heart of my background growing up in Italy with a mother who is a fabulous cook.

This week I finally found Romano beans, you know – those flat, green beans with a gnarly look!
I love these beans and I wait for them all year long! This year they have taken a while to come to market. When I asked one of favorite vendors why the wait, she said the rabbits kept nibbling away at them. So much for competition! So what do you do with them?

A number of different preparations are possible, mostly simple, from a salad with red onions, cranberry beans, and vinaigrette to a minestrone. Let me show you one of my favorite ways – one preparation my mother used to make when I was a girl. It reminds me of lazy summer luncheons under the olive tree at our beachfront summer villa in Terracina.
Ingredients:

1 – 1 1/2 lbs. green beans ( you could really use any – even the asparagus beans)
1 Cup onion – or one small onion – diced
1 8 oz. can diced tomatoes or 3 fresh and peeled tomatoes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
8 oz. pancetta or guanciale (optional)
1 7 oz. can tuna, preferably the Italian bran, drained (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Wash the beans and cut them into 1 inch pieces. In a saucepan or skillet with a one inch border, add the oil and the butter. Once it sizzles, add the onion and saute’ until tender and slightly golden. If you are choosing to put pancetta or guanciale, add it at this time and stir until fragrant. Add the beans and stir again until blended. Cook for about a minute or two, then add the tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add approximately a cup of water so that the beans remain slightly submerged as in the photo below.

Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the beans are tender. You have to add more water if the mixture looks a bit dry and the beans aren’t quite cooked through. Cook a little longer if necessary. At this point, it’s done!

But here’s the twist! Add a can of tuna (make sure you drain it!) into the mixture while it is still warm. This is the part of the dish I like so much. The tuna makes it tangy and oh so yummy!

I usually make this dish without the pancetta; I either like it with tuna or simply vegetarian. Experiment with whatever option – all are excellent! We usually serve this as a side dish or as a salad, cold on a hot summer day (my favorite). The favors blend and get better the next day or the next if there is any left! It keeps well for about a week. Serves 5-6

Summer Farro Salad

One of my favorite grains is farro, thought to be the most ancient going back 5,000 years. The Roman legions consumed it in their journeys as it is nutritious and satisfying. It was considered virtually sacred among the Latins, the Umbrians, and other regional people of ancient times. Italians commonly use farro in soups, salads, even desserts. It is nutty, sturdy, wholesome, and utterly delicious! Try this summer salad either as a side dish or part of a buffet.

Summer Farro Salad

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

-1 1/2 cups farro

-2 cups cherry tomatoes

-1 cup pitted kalamata olives

-1 cup crumbled feta (or less if you prefer)

-1/2/cup finely chopped red onion

-1 cup very finely chopped curly kale

-1/2 cup raisins

-1/2 cup olive oil

-1/2 lemon

Directions

1.Cook the farro. You can either cook it the traditional way by adding 4-6 cups of water in a pot. Let it come to a boil, then add a teaspoon of salt. Add the farro and cook it for about 25 minutes or until soft and the consistency you prefer. You can also cook it in the Instant Pot (especially nice to do on a hot day!). The ratio of farro to water is about 1:2. I prefer a bit more water to avoid the farro becoming too sticky. Add a teaspoon of salt , close the lid and set it on Manual for 10 minutes. Allow a natural pressure release of 5-6 minutes, then   a quick release. Drain the farro in a colander and allow to cool. 43162670411_17e3f4bd08_o 2.While the farro is cooling, prep the other ingredients. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. If they are particularly small, leave them whole. 28293328167_b8dafbddca_o Slice the kalamata olives and set aside. Prepare the red onions and kale by chopping them finely. Once the the farro has cooled, add all the ingredients including the raisins. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Dress it with olive oil and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Start with this amount and then increase to suit your taste. Cover and refrigerate.

-This salad is best made the day before. You may want to adjust the seasoning and the dressing after letting it sit for a bit and the flavors will meld.

-Instead of the “summer” option with tomatoes, try an autumnal option with cubed roasted butternut squash.

Yum
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Fresh Garbanzo Beans

I’m inaugurating my return to writing my blog at the beginning of summer with an exciting discovery I made at the market this morning -fresh garbanzo beans! As I approached the bench filled with vegetables, I noticed a huge pile of scraggly weeds looking half wilted and with fuzzy light green pods dangling from its branches. Intrigued, I glanced at the vendor who chuckled saying simply, “Garbanzo beans! Take them out of the pods, boil or eat them raw with a little salt!”At 2.50$ a bunch I took one home knowing I couldn’t go wrong. It took a bit of patience to remove the pods, then shelling them. 

The tender chickpea inside, a green wrinkly thing, tasted earthy and sweet, a bit like edamame.
It took a bit to shell, but it was rather enjoyable….give a gentle squeeze to the pod and it would softly pop open. Plop the pea into the bowl and grab the next one.

This is what it rendered…a chic bowl of emerald gems!

Looking at the two cups worth of chickpeas I had before me, I thought I would make a pasta – pappardelle as they are tender, yet wide enough to sustain a simple sauce with other vegetables. So this is what I came up with…

Pappardelle with Leeks, Zucchini, and Fresh Chickpeas

1 lb. or 250 gr. pappardelle (commercial brand). I made my own pasta with 3 eggs, 300 gr. of flour, and water. This probably yielded more than a pound.

2 cups fresh chickpeas. I roasted these in my Breville oven with some olive oil and salt until they were slightly golden.

1 large leek thinly sliced and sauteed until tender in some olive oil, and 1/2 cup of white wine which was reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper.

3 zucchini finely diced and sauteed in olive oil and a tablespoon of butter. Add  a little water (from the cooking pasta) to keep it moist and a bit soupy. This will form the sauce you will use for the pasta.

While the water is heating up to a boil, prepare the vegetables and cook them separately. I have become fond of layering flavors, cooking ingredients separately with their individual seasonings, then adding them to the pasta after it is drained. Reserve some of the water in case the pappardelle become dry. Once all the ingredients come together, add some butter or olive oil, grated parmigiano cheese and stir. Optional is a little cream which would add to the richness of the dish. I didn’t because  I’m trying to limit the amount of fat I add to meals. And  the pasta was delicious without it!

I even managed to sneak in another little bowl the next day!

 

 

 

Mazzamurru

Every cook has, at one point or another, a colossal disaster in the kitchen to talk about. Knowing how to deal with it shows quick thinking, creativity, and experience…and an ability to deal with the disaster with a certain sang-froid. Emblazoned in my memory was the time my mother, hosting and cooking an elegant, multi-course dinner for twelve guests in our apartment in Rome. The table was beautifully laid out with the best china and silver, flowers, crystal glasses, and waiters circulated with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. For that occasion, my mother had brought back from Pisa some beautifully cut and tender filet mignon steaks (Tuscan beef being renowned for its high quality) and had placed them in the broiler to be supervised by the wait staff. In the course of the dinner, she was frantically summoned to the kitchen by a horrified server. The scene is seared into my memory of my mother approaching the stove and beholding the blackened lumpy remains of charred meat. Without missing a beat, she turned to the refrigerator and pulled out some veal steakettes, directed one of the waiters to cut the meat in thin slices, flour them and saute quickly in butter with a little added wine. She returned to the dinner table as if nothing had happened and later received high compliments from her dinner guests for the lovely veal dish, how original and tasty it was!. It was a powerful cooking lesson for me about how to manage a disaster…that there is always a solution in the kitchen. And so it happened a week ago when I forgot the bread baking in the oven. I had timed it so that it would be baked and ready to serve with dinner, but  I got distracted by the cheerful banter around me and getting food on the table. We had dinner outside al fresco as usual and as I came inside to clear the dishes, I smelled the familiar aroma of burnt bread. Oh no! IMG_0116

It may not look like a disaster…but it was pretty toasted! I packed the pagnotta in foil  and threw it in the cupboard in disgust. But one thing I hate the most is to throw away food…so I had to find a solution. And I did in ….mazzamurru! It is a Sardinian dish that hails from the Cagliari area, a poor food to be sure, that makes use of scraps of old bread and turns it into a lovely dish that resembles a cross between a bread pudding, a panzanella, and a lasagna. It is a layered bread dish with tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. Use a bread that has some heft, such as a focaccia loaf or sourdough. Cut into slices (I took off the crust which was too burnt for use – that will go to feed the chickens) about 1/4 inch thick and soak in milk.

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Tomato Sauce

4 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped coarsely

3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup small diced onion

salt and pepper

Make a light tomato sauce, preferably from fresh tomatoes (I used 4 large). Scald the tomatoes and remove the skin. Chop coarsely. In a heated pan with olive oil and butter, add the onion and saute lightly. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper, and about a half a cup of water. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is no longer watery. Place one layer of bread soaked in milk in a well oiled baking dish, top with sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

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The original recipes call for pecorino, but I used whatever stumps of cheese lay about in my refrigerator. Grate it coarsely (about 2 cups). Layer with more bread, sauce, cheese. I made three layers, but two will work. Bake in a 350 oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden in top. Let it cool a bit before serving.IMG_0131

Some additional thoughts: I think adding some basil leaves or even black olives would work well in this dish.I noticed that some recipes added it to the layers. I wanted to stay as close to tradition as possible. Substituting broth for the milk would work too.

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As you can see, the layers are pretty pronounced. The dish makes an excellent side to meat, chicken, grilled vegetables…easy on a buffet or an idea to use when you are cleaning out your refrigerator!

 

 

Fusilli Vegetariani

   Fusilli with Carrots and Zucchini

Fusilli con carote e zucchine
Fusilli con carote e zucchine

What to make quickly when guests arrive on short notice, it is blistering hot outside, and the garden is overflowing with zucchini!? This was my conundrum last night. Try a pasta that can satisfy hungry appetites and go along well side-by-side with grilled meats and vegetables. The lovely part of this recipe is that you can use “the sauce” as a condiment for pasta or use it as a base for risotto, which I prepare often. The other lovely part of the recipe is that the carrots and zucchini are shredded (just like you would for a carrot salad). This not only cooks quickly, but the fine cut of the vegetables flavors the pasta intensely. I shred them in a food processor on a medium shredding blade, but you can also grate them by hand. And zip…. the prepping is done.

Ingredients

3-4 shredded and peeled carrots (about 2 cups)

1 -3 shredded zucchini (depending on size) (again about 2 cups – a little more ok)

½ onion sliced thin (I quarter the onion first then slice)

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

½ teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

a handful of fresh basil, chopped  or julienned

1 pound box of fusilli or penne (a short pasta works best)

grated parmigiano

Directions:

1. Put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Pour the olive oil in a wide 12 inch skillet over medium heat.Once the pan is hot, add the onions and cook until soft about five minutes. Add the carrots, stir, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the zucchini and stir again. Salt and pepper the vegetables and cook them until they turn soft about 10 minutes. You may have to add a little water if the vegetables need more moisture. Do not dry out too much because you will then add the pasta and you will need that liquid.

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At this point, if you are making risotto (and if you are, it is advisable that you cook it in a pot instead), add the Arborio rice (about 1 ½ cups) and proceed as you normally would by adding broth and stirring and so on.

For the pasta, instead, cook it according to package instructions. As you drain it, reserve some of the water to add to the pasta if it should look dry. Add the pasta to the vegetables and stir all over high heat for a minute. Adjust the seasoning and give it a last stir. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle the top with fresh basil and a generous handful of parmigiano. Serves 5 as a first course or 8 as a side with grilled meats and a salad.

Potato Focaccia with Cherry Tomatoes

I made this unusual focaccia several years ago and quite forgot about it until I came across this photo I had made of it. I remembered its light, airy texture and immediately had to remake it.

pizza e focaccia #2
Here you see it next to one my pizzas!!

INGREDIENTS:

– 3 1/2 cups bread flour or all purpose is fine too
– 2 medium potatoes (or 1 1/2 cups of cooked, peeled, mashed potatoes)
– 1 package dry yeast + – a pinch sugar
– 2 cups water
– 1 1/2 tbsp. salt
– 1/2 cup olive oil
– 20 approx. small cherry tomatoes
– 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) dry oregano

METHOD:

1. Boil the potatoes until tender (about 20-30 minutes). Peel while still hot and put them through a potato ricer. If you don’t have a ricer, mash the potatoes with a fork until fine. Set aside in a bowl.

2. In a mixing bowl, dissolve a package of active dry yeast (fast acting is ok) in 1/2 cup of warm water. Sprinkle a pinch of sugar and let it sit for about five minutes until light and foamy.

3. Add 1 1/4 cups of water and one cup of the flour. Mix well (I use the paddle attachment to my mixer). Add the salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Slowly add three more cups of the flour, cup by cup mixing well after each addition. Add the potatoes and mix until blended. Turn out onto a floured board and incorporate the rest of the flour, judging how sticky or dry it is. Knead it until elastic and firm. Form a soft ball and placed in an lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled.

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4. In a 10 inch pan (I used a springform pan…probably not the best choice – but all that I had), pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil. You may need more to coat the bottom, the sides, the top of the foccaccia. Place the dough inside the pan gently, slightly dimpling the surface with your fingers. Place the cherry tomatoes all over the top. If some are too large, cut them in half. Brush some more olive oil on the surface, sprinkle generously with the oregano and let it rise until the dough reaches the brim of the pan.

5. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 45-50 minutes. Allow the foccaccia to rest for about 10 minutes before trying to take it out of the pan. Serve it at room temperature.

 

 

See the high border...it has risen well!
See the high border…it has risen well!

A close up detail
A close up detail

The consistency of the dough is light, soft, and airy. Great for a light dinner with a green summer salad  or as an antipasto alongside some asiago, prosciutto or sliced coppa.

Buon Appetito!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Una giornata nel mio giardino

One day in my garden…a glorious morning, a sunny afternoon, and an evening reaping the bounty.

Fiore di Zucchina……Pepperoncini piccantini………San Marzano verdi…..

Fior di Zucchina
An early walk in the garden, a zucchini flower in full bloom. Hours later, the bloom tightens, closing itself to the heat.

Una giungla di pomodori!
Una giungla di pomodori!

Peperoncini piccanti
Peperoncini piccanti  – a burst of color in the midst of green

More green… and evening bounty

San Marzano verdi
Finding refuge in shade from the heat of day.

And in the evening, a small bounty of goodness.

Evening bounty
Evening bounty

Fettucce Giardiniera

This is a fast pasta dish that splits the preparation into two parts (I’m rather fond of doing this so the flavors remain distinct).

1-2 zucchine (one if large, 2 small) sliced thinly lengthwise

1/2 C olive oil

1-2 garlic cloves chopped

1-2 fresh peperoncini (small red chili peppers)

1/2 chopped tomato

1 pound fettuccine preferably the De Cecco brand

3/4 pound large, peeled and deviend shrimp (optional)

1/4 C white wine

Chopped basil

Grated parmigiano

1. Thinly cut the zucchini lengthwise. If you prefer you can salt it for an hour (this makes it easier to grill – no splattering and huge reduction of size. I use a Breville panini press to grill the zucchini. Brush a little olive oil on each side of the zucchini, then grill the slices until slightly brown.  Set aside.

2. Fill the pot of water  and put it on the stove to boil! Julienne the basil and set aside.

3. In a saute’ pan, heat the rest of the olive oil. Add the garlic and the chopped red chili peppers. If you want, add tomatoes. Then add the shrimp. Saute’ quickly, add a little wine if you choose!

4.  Once the water boils, add the pasta! While it cooking, take the zucchini and cut into strips. Set aside. You will add this to the pasta after you drain it.

5. Drain the pasta, add the zucchini, the shrimp mixture, and julienned basil. Add a little more olive oil if you like…and some grated parmigiano.

Buon appetito!