Rainy Day Sandwich

Contrary to popular opinion it DOES rain in sunny Italy!! This is the view from my window.. I can hardly make out the mountains through the clouds!
Sometimes you just want a good sandwich.. and today is one of those days!
But.. I had no sandwich fixings in my fridge!! This is where living in the city is a real boon!
Fortunately - for me - there is a great Deli across the street so... I ran across the street in the middle of lunch time traffic and in the rain to Pasquale and Ida's Pizziccheria (the colloquial tuscanism for Deli which literally means - a place to pick, as in "I'll just pick"!)...

Fortunately - for me - there is a great Deli across the street so... I ran across the street in the middle of lunch time traffic and in the rain to Pasquale and Ida's Pizziccheria (the colloquial tuscanism for Deli which literally means - a place to pick, as in "I'll just pick"!)...

and this is what I came home with! 1 etto (that would be 100 grammi - that whole decimal think in the 60s and 70s paid off for me!) of delicious boiled ham, 4 slices of aged Fontina cheese, (yep, I can buy my lunch meats and cheeses by the slice if I want!), A piece of fragrant freshly baked focaccia, a tube of mayo (yep, they sell may in a toothpaste sized tube here - haha tricks you into thinking that you won't eat too much, I guess!) and a bag of the latest in San Carlo potato chips - lime and pink pepper (superb, I might add!).

I added some sliced tomato between the ham and the cheese, slathered on the mayo... like that old rye bread commercial... "it makes a nice sandwich"

Added some chips... and... Buon Appetito ,,,,

and here's to a sunny tommorrow in Lucca! The sun is already peeking out trhough the clouds and I can see my mountains behind the church cupola and steeples!!


Eggplant, Olive and Tomato Sauce - Today's Quick Recipe

Eggplant, Olive and Tomato Sauce
 for pasta or rice

Today was a "take a look in the fridge and see what I can come up with " day! I saw that I had an eggplant and spicy green olives - my wheels started turning and here is what I came up with!

Ingredients for 2

1 medium eggplant
about 1/2 cup of green olives, if you can find the spicy kind - good, otherwise the ones stuffed with pimiento will work fine.
about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce or canned Italian plum tomatos
1 clove garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
freshly grated parmigiano cheese

First cut the eggplant in quarters lengthwise and then slice each quarter in half again lengthwise. Now cut each wedge into about 5 chunks so that each piece had one side with the skin still on it - this keeps the eggplant from falling apart in the sauce! Coarsely chop or slice the olives.
Saute the eggplant in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with the garlic clove in a large non-stick frying pan. Stir from time to time so that all sides of the eggplant chunks get browned.

** Does it really make a difference if I don't use extra virgin olive oil? the answer, in my book, is YES!! I would even go as far to say that using Spanish or Greek or Californian olive oil will change the taste. Which is not to say that these oils are equally delicious. However oils from different olives or different regions DO taste different and different grades really do make a difference. If you prefer a lighter, less "olivy" taste - go ahead and use olive oil in the place of the extra virgin.**

When the eggplant is nicely browned on all sides. Add the chopped or sliced olives olives and toss to mix. Now add the tomato sauce. If you are using the plum tomatoes you don't have to blend them, I just kind of squish them through my fingers (wash your hands!) right into the pan. Check for salt and pepper and correct the seasoning. Turn the heat to low and let the sauce simmer. It will be a thick and chunky sauce, not liquid.

Put a pot of water on to boil for your pasta or rice. I made both today, my husband wanted whole grain rice, I wanted rigatoni pasta! When the water boils, cook the rice or pasta. (This is a great way to use left over white rice, even if it's left over from the Chinese take-out you had last night!)

Drain and add the pasta or rice to the frying pan with the sauce. Turn up the heat for a couple of minutes and toss the pasta or rice with the condiment so that the flavor soaks in! That's it! Transfer to plates and serve with freshly grated parmigiano cheese!

Buon appetito!


Tired of the same old noodle??

Well! It has been a long, hot summer here in Lucca with temperatures in the high nineties and even 100° for the last 2 and a half months!
I really do not do well in the heat... and so I have sorely neglected my blogs and have been spending most of my time sitting on my sofa in my cool living room knitting!

But the temps are down and today while I was making some tagliatelle for lunch I decided to experiment with "decorating" my pasta!
It is really quite simple... after you have rolled out your pasta to the thickness you want, arrange some basil leaves (or parsley, or sage or any other herb leaf) on half of a sheet of pasta. I discovered that this works best if the leaves are face down, if they are face up they tend to curl.
Then fold the other half of the sheet over the leaves, gently tamp it down and pass the folded sheet through the rollers of your pasta machine one or two more times on the same thickness. The result is beautiful!!

I went ahead and cut the sheet into tagliatelle, but you could use these sheets of pasta to make beautiful first dishes. You might want to try cutting them in 6" - 8" lengths. Then gently boil, spread with a ricotta filling, roll them up and bake in a hot oven 400°F for about 10 minutes to set the filling and serve with a cream sauce and freshly grated parmigiano cheese or even with a delicate tomato sauce.
Or you might try making a vegetable lasagna with a light bechemel sauce.

I am thinking about trying this with edible flower petals! Rose, violet or nasturtium petals in a variety of colours in tagliatelle served with a delicate shrimp and cream sauce. Sounds delicious to me!

Use your imagination and have fun!!

Here are a few photographs illustrating the steps.

 Roll out your pasta to the thickness you want.
Arrange the leaves FACE DOWN on half of the sheet  - I took the photo before I realised that they would curl and I did turn them over before proceeding.
 Fold the other half of the sheet over the leaves and gently tamp it down to set the leaves. Now pass it through the rollers on the same thickness you used before. I passed it through twice (on the same thickness)
And that's all there is to it!
Have fun!


Sunday Dinner on a Wednesday Afternoon

 When I was a child, growing up in Missouri, our classic Sunday Dinner (served when we got home from Church at about 1pm) was spaghetti with sauce made with meatballs, sausage and braciole. I can vaguely remember my Italian grandmother Paolina making homemade tagliatelle and seeing them hanging on a broomstick supported between two chairs! This meal brings back great memories - just the aroma of the sauce cooking makes me feel at home wherever I am!
This is my version - I think each of us takes our mother's recipe and we add our own special touches! My mom is a great cook and her good meals are appreciated by all who eat at her table! I learned to cook from her and I appreciate all the things she has taught me - in the kitchen and out of it!!

So here we go! I start by making my braciole (called "brajols" by the "americani" in South Philly!)
I use slices of young beef, I put some fresh garlic, parsely, grated parmigiano cheese and freshly ground pepper on each slice, then roll it up and secure with a toothpick.

Next I make my meatballs. I use lean, good quality ground beef. Here I used about 1/2 pound of meat, 1 fressh egg, about a cup of grated cheese (we like our meatballs cheesy!) about 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs (unseasoned!), fresh chopped parsely, 1 garlic clove finely chopped or pressed through a garlic press,  freshly ground pepper. I generally don't put salt, as the cheese is already salty enough!

I mix it all together with my hands - fundamental! and then make smallish meatballs - about the size of a golf ball.
 I also use fresh pork sausages. Here in toscana they are seasoned with salt, pepper and a mix of spices they call "droga" here. ;)
 When all the meat is ready, put a couple of tablespoons of extravirgin olive oil in a large saucepan along with a small onion or 1/2 large onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. When it starts to sizzle I start adding my meat, keeping the heat at medium to prevent the meat from sticking.
 Slowly brown the meat and if you want, add a splash of white or red wine at the end of the browning. Next blend  1 large can of plum tomatoes - if you can find San Marzano Italian tomatoes, use them! Add the pureed tomatoes to the browned meat along with several leaves of fresh basil.
 When it comes to a boil, lower the heat to simmer and cover but not tightly. I usually rest a wooden spoon across the top of the pot and rest the lid on it.
 Now it's time to make the pasta! For the four of us I used 3 eggs, about 2 and a half cups of semolina, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of extravirgin olive oil. Mix into a firm, "silky" dough and allow to rest for about 10 -15 minutes. Then, if it is sticky, knead in a bit more flour. I use a manual pasta machina - you can see this recipe for the method

By the time you are finished making the pasta, the sauce should look about like this. The whole process took me about 2 hours from starting with the raw meat to getting it on the table!

 Take the meat out of the sauce to serve with the pasta or after the pasta with a tossed saled.

Season the pasta with the sauce and transfer to a large serving tray. Fix a gravy bowl with extra sauce in it for those who like more sauce on their pasta! Serve with lots of freshly grated parmigiano cheese and as Julia Child might have said had she spoken Italian instead of French... BUON APPETITO!

ps - instead of dessert I served fresh pineapple and strawberries after the meal!


Meatloaf an American classic.... or Polpettone un classico tutto italiano???

Although I am sure I could eat pasta every day and never tire of it because of the wonderful variety of types of pasta and pasta recipes... we do NOT eat only and exclusively pasta at my house! Tonight's is a meat and potatoes meal! I usually don't blog meat recipes or casseroles because they are very "American" and my audience is prevalently American! But... tonight I am adding a mediterranean twist to an old American standby!

If you are American or have lived in the US for any period of time, you have eaten meatloaf! When you were a kid you either loved it or hated it.. and now that you are a mother, you probably fix it for your kids whether you belonged to the "loved its" or "hated it". Why? Simple, it's the base for an economical week-day meal!

Well, guess what!? I think almost every country has its version of meatloaf! I have eaten it in Germany where it's called Falscher Hass. And, I have eaten it in Italy where it's called Polpettone.
Some recipes really dress it up with hardboiled eggs, cheese, vegetables, ham and who knows what else hidden inside, so when you slice it you see the surprise filling. I personally prefer a more simple approach, using spices and other ingredients to change the taste of my meatloaf based on my culinary mood! When I am in a real American mood I add some ketchup and chopped onions to the mix, maybe even a tablespoon of prepared mustard. But... when I am in an Italian mood, I go for a mediterranean taste!
Tonight's meatloaf definitely has a mediterranean twist!

Ingredients for 2 servings
about 1/2 ground meat (I used lean chianina beef, but you can use lamb, veal, pork, turkey, chicken or a mix of several meats)
1 large egg
3 T fine bread crumbs
3 T Quaker's oats (ok, not really Italian but adding oats to your diet is good for your heart!)
3 T grated parmigiano
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 tsp mediterranean spices
I got a jar of mixed mediterranean spices as a gift from Anna, a lovely lady I met in Sardinia. Basically its a mix of dried oregano, rosemary, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, myrtle and savory.
The grated rind of 1 large lemon
1 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
A small oven proof casserole dish

Mix all of the ingredients - go ahead and use your hands!
Tonight with my polpettone I am also serving oven fried mediterranean potatoes and wild asparagus. The asparagus is easy. Wild asparagus is much thinner than the cultivated type and as a more nutty flavour. We prefer it to the cultivated variety. Snap off the tough ends of the stems, wash well in cold water. 

Sauté with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, about a 1/4 cup of water - over high heat for about 10 min. Keep warm.

For the potatoes: 1 large potato, washed but not peeled. Salt and pepper to taste, mediterranean spices, garlic salt to taste, 2T extra virgin olive oil
Slice the potato into 1/8" slices, toss with the other ingredents. Arrange in a non stick baking dish.
Bake the meatloaf and the potatoes in a 375°-400°F oven for about 1/2 hour

When the potatoes and meatloaf are done, remove from the oven and arrange on a serving dish. Pop your asparagus - covered with foil - into the hot oven for a few minutes to heat while you are fixing the serving plate.

And as Julia Child would have said had she spoken Italian....BUON APPETITO!!


Pasta e Fagioli made with fresh buckwheat noodles

I used to think that making home made pasta ("homemades" if you were raised in South Philly) was really a long and drawn out process, but I realised that the long drawn out part was related to the quantity of pasta you have to make! Now that my kids have flown the coop and it's just Franco and me, making home made pasta is really a snap. Usually 1 large egg and about 1 cup of flour is more than enough for the two of us. And if you are really lazy you can throw the ingredients into a food processer - et voilà - your dough is done in about a minute! And if you have a pasta machine, it really only takes 30 minutes or less from start to finish. I am not talking about electric extruder type machines that can cost over a hundred dollars, but one of those stainless steel manual machine that rolls and cuts your dough into either narrow (tagliolini) or wide (tagliatelle) ribbon noodles. You can buy one in the housewares section of most department stores. 
What I love most about cooking, aside from the delicious results, is the creativity! 
Once you learn the basics, you can pretty much wing it and mix ingredients and ideas to come up with your own particular twist to an old recipe. Today I decided to bring together two really traditional dishes to create my own version of pasta and beans, using pizzoccheri instead of the more traditional durum wheat pasta.
Pasta e Fagioli - pasta and beans - is a traditional meatless Italian dish. Very hearty and very healthy. It can be fixed in a variety of ways, depending on the regional recipe you choose. It can be rather brothy and eaten with a spoon, or quite thick in consistency and eaten with a fork. My father-in-law, being from Campania, followed the Neapolitan tradition and cooked the pasta with the beans, resulting in a thick, hearty one dish meal. I prefer my pasta and beans "in bianco" - that is with no tomato sauce added. I season it with extra virgin olive oil, lots of garlic and chopped fresh parsely. 
I love home made pasta. I particularly love "pizzoccheri" which are short ribbon noodles made with buckwheat flour and are typical of the Lombardia region of Italy, more specifically the Valtellina. It is a traditional pasta with a very long history, probably dating back to the mid 1500s when buckwheat was first introduced into the Valtellina area. Buckwheat is grano saraceno in Italian, used to make buckwheat flour - furmentùn or farìna négra - in the local dialect. Now the traditional recipe for using pizzoccheri is very rich and includes cabbage, lots of butter, 2 or 3 types of fatty local cheeses and potatoes. But today I am making them with beans!

So let's get started.
If you are starting with dry beans, you should start the night before and soak the beans overnight. Then the next day, cook them until done. Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic and parsely. If you are using canned or fresh beans, they don't need to be soaked over night.

Rather than the typical pizzoccheri made with white flour, buckwheat flour and warm water, I opted for making them with 2/3 cup buckwheat flour, 1/3 cup semolina flour, 1 large egg, 1 T olive oil, and water as needed. I mixed together the flours, the egg and the oil to obtain a rather stiff dough. I added about a tablespoon of warm water as I was mixing because the dough was a bit too stiff. You need to work the dough about 5 minutes by hand. If you have a food processor or kitchen-aid go ahead and use it to make the dough.
Let the dough rest for about 10 min.

I cut my dough in several pieces before I start rolling it out, to save time as I go along. We are looking for a rather thick noodle. 

My pasta machine can roll the pasta out to 8 thicknesses. 
For these noodles I stopped at the 5th thickness setting. I usually roll all the pieces on one setting, and then go on to the next, and so on. This way I don't have to keep resetting the thickness.

The sheets of dough should be "translucent" and about 1/4" thick. 

When all of the sheets have been rolled out to the right thickness, cut the sheets in to about 4"  lengths. We are looking for a short noodle that will amalgamate well with the cooked beans. 
I usually let the sheets of dough dry for about 10 to 15 minutes before cutting them so the noodles don't stick together. At this point put a large pot of water on to boil. 

I don't cook the "homemades" together with the beans because the results would be too starchy. I cook the noodles separately for about 1 minute - that's all fresh pasta takes - and then add them to the beans and cook for about another 30 seconds so all of the flavours blend together.

Drain the noodles and add to the beans, stir over high heat for about 30 seconds, taste and correct the seasoning. You may need to add some more extra virgin olive oil. That's it! 

And as Julia Child would have said had she spoken Italian... BUON APPETITO!


Pizza! no dairy with broccoli di rape and sausage

Sunday night supper! Non dairy pizza and calzone with broccoli di rape and sausage.
How to: 
Heat your oven to 400°F (if you have a ventilated oven, do NOT use this option)
If you are lucky enough to live near a pizzeria that will sell you some dough, buy enough for a couple of pizzas. Or you can purchase par-baked or frozen pizza shells.... or you can make a batch of pizza dough!
Clean and cook your greens. If you can't find broccoli di rape, spinach is a delicious substitute! Swiss chard would also work well.
When it is cooked, drain very well and chop it coarsely; sauté a couple of garlic cloves in some olive oil. Add the greens and let them cook a few minutes to absorb the flavour of the garlic and to allow the liquid to evaporate.

In the meantime, take the sausage out of its casing (I used 2 sausages and about 2 cups of cooked greens) and fry it slowly in a frying pan. When the fat is rendered, pour it off. Now mix the sausage in with the greens.
Oil your pizza pans or cookie sheets and prepare your pizza, calzone or both like I did. I made 1 pizza and 1 calzone. 
Put the pizza and/or calzone into the hot oven. Place one pan on a rack very close to the bottom and the other on the middle rack. After about 10 minutes, switch pans and cook another 5 minutes or until done.