Genius: Pasta

Pasta With Fried Eggs lends itself to different shapes of pasta-www.tangledpasta.net
Pasta With Fried Eggs lends itself to different shapes of pasta-www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

One of the most versatile of Italian foods is pasta. Pasta comes in various shapes, each with its own unique taste. Two of my personal favorites are linguine and rigatoni. Quality of the pasta makes a difference. My own pastas of choice are De Cecco and Whole Foods’ Organic 365. A link to De Cecco’s recipes on its website offers up a number of its pasta offerings with seafood. The De Cecco family founded its pasta business in the Abruzzo region of Italy, along the coast of the Adriatic Sea where fresh catches were readily available.

http://www.dececco.it/us_us/ricettario

Most homemade pastas of yore found the freshly made pasta drying in the sun. Sun drying, coupled with high quality flour and eggs, made all the difference in the taste. Of course, now pasta manufacturers have invented techniques to dry the pasta for mass-market consumption, attempting not to sacrifice taste and quality. Certainly De Cecco pasta has succeeded in this regard.

One of my preferred go-to pasta recipes is from Mark Bittman, of the Cooking section of The New York Times. I usually make a recipe as is the first time, and then I add my variations on the theme. Bittman recently opted to consume less meat; now quite a few of his recipes work for vegetarians. Part of the beauty of pasta is that a cook can raid the pantry and refrigerator to concoct lunch or dinner. I even know those who eat pasta for breakfast! Italian pasta pretty much tolerates most ingredients a cook throws at it, although ketchup as a “sauce” may offend one’s cultivated pasta palate!

Spaghetti With Fried Eggs

By Mark Bittman [with my variations]

 Ingredients                                                  

Salt

½ pound thin spaghetti [or linguine]

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed [or onion granules]

4 eggs

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino [or Grana Padano] cheese[Green vegetable such as broccolini or broccoli florets or fresh spinach or peas]

Preparation

 Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta when the water boils. Follow the package directions for how long to cook the pasta until it is al dente.

Start making the sauce.

Combine garlic [if using onion granules, add these to the eggs] and 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the garlic and press it into the oil to release its flavor; it should barely color on both sides. Remove the garlic, and add the remaining olive oil.

Fry the eggs gently in the olive oil until the whites are about set and the yolks are still quite runny. Drain the pasta. Toss the pasta with the eggs [and onion granules if not using garlic] and olive oil. The eggs will finish cooking in the heat of the pasta. Season with pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Serve with the Italian cheese, and with a green vegetable.

Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.

 

 

Eating Through the Weekend

Pasta Carbonara is a classic Italian quick dinner to put together.-www.tangledpasta.net
Pasta Carbonara is a classic Italian meal that goes together quickly.- http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

As the weekend draws to a close, I am reminded that I did a fair amount of cooking, which is something I love to do. In a sense, though, we rather ate our way around a part of the world.

On Friday night we dined on Shepherd’s Pie, which is quite out of character for an Italian, but periodically, I like to eat outside of the box. There is something lovely and comforting about a British Isle food that is smothered with mashed potatoes on its top. Saturday morning I made Julie Child’s Quiche aux Oignons for brunch with fresh blueberries on the side. Delicious, if I do say so myself! Her Mastering the Art of French Cooking is one of my favorite cookbooks in my collection.

Much later that day we would up at O’Rourke’s Pub. It was overflowing with people, but we managed to snare table. After watching the servers carry plates of food past us several times, we settled on Angus beef burgers. I chose smoked Gouda cheese and sautéed mushrooms on mine. My daughter opted for Cheddar cheese on hers and the sautéed mushrooms. A post-hockey game crowd was drawn to the pub. It was loud, with music blaring, and multiple screens showing different games nationwide. After a couple of hours, I was ready to vacate the premises since I wanted to unbutton the top of my jeans from the effects of garlic-laced French fries and pretzel bun cheeseburger overload.

This sunny Sunday morning, I made buttermilk and honey pancakes because we apparently didn’t ingest enough carbs the previous day. I worked on book revisions yesterday and today, finally deciding we needed to partake of UV rays in the great outdoors. Tonight’s dinner consisted of Pasta Carbonara with Whole Foods’ as-pure-as-one-can-get bacon, half and half, Parmesan cheese, parsley, lemon, and olive oil. On the side we had spinach with olive oil and fresh lemon. All in all, we feasted on British, Irish [beer, anyway], French, and Italian food over the weekend.

I’m thinking we may need to order sushi for tomorrow….or Panda Express.

Ciao for now.

Italian Food Cravings

No matter which version one makes, Pasta e Fagioli is delizioso! - tangledpasta.net
No matter which version one makes, Pasta e Fagioli is delizioso! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Lately, I have had a penchant for the traditional Southern Italian food of my parents’ preference. Talk about cheap eats: pasta, fagioli [beans], greens [endive, mustard greens, chicory], marinara sauce, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, peppers, potatoes, asparagus, eggplant, sardines, anchovies, olive oil, and eggs, all add up to fabulous meals, and none with meat. In fact, it is food I rarely tire of because it is possible to reinvent Italian dishes using these deceptively simple ingredients.

I was sixteen years old before my gustatory senses were awakened to the fact that not all pasta was drenched in a red sauce. This revelation occurred when my parents took my brother and me to Italy for the first time. In Northern Italy I at pesto for the first time, as well as green lasagna with béchamel sauce. In Tuscany I feasted on Linguine with Clams, baked fennel with potatoes and cheese; all my previous notions of Italian food underwent a catharsis. By the time we arrived in Calabria, at my father’s family’s doorstep, I was back to pasta with marinara sauce, but it tasted very good after several weeks of Northern and Tuscan cuisine.

On this Sunday afternoon, I am making a Calabrese Pasta e Fagioli [pasta and beans]. There are numerous variations on this peasant classic. It may be as thick as a stew, my personal preference, or as thin as a zuppa [soup]. Some years ago, my brother was in Manhattan on business. When he saw Pasta e Fagioli on the menu at a swanky New York restaurant, his interest was piqued. He declared the purchased version inferior to our mother’s, and it was expensive to boot. Among its shortcomings: the restaurant version was like a thin soup. In my family, we like to cut our Pasta e Fagioli with a knife, for it is as thick as can be.

Pasta e Fagioli

2 tablespoons olive oil                               2 15-oz. cans Cannellini beans, drained

I medium onion, chopped                         8 oz. ditalini, or small shells, or elbows pasta

3 garlic cloves, chopped                                        Salt and pepper to taste

1 28-oz. can Italian crushed tomatoes                Grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon Italian herbs,                                       Italian bread

or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups chicken stock, or less for a thicker consistency

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil, and add the ditalini. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain pasta.

In a large, heavy pan, heat olive oil over medium heat, and then add onion and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Add tomatoes, oregano, and chicken stock. Cover and cook until heated through, 5-8 minutes. Add Cannellini beans and bring mixture to a simmer, approximately 10 minutes. Add ditalini, and then cook for 20 minutes to meld the flavors, and to finish cooking the ditalini. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the Pasta e Fagioli into pasta bowls. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and Italian bread on the side. Buon Appetito!

*Variation:  Add 1 small carrot, chopped; 1 rib celery, chopped; and 1 large dried bay leaf; saute the carrot and celery in olive oil until tender, then add to the pasta e fagioli.

Ciao for now.