Inside-out Ravioli.. or as they are called in Tuscany, Ignudi!

I had some delicious sauce left over from Sunday, so today I decided to make Inside-Out Ravioli.
My mom started making these many years ago when we still lived in St. Louis, and if I remember correctly, she had cut the recipe out of a Philadelphia newspaper before we moved to the Midwest from Philly.
This was a special occasion meal, but since I have been cooking for just two, I have been preparing meals that were once "special" because they took a long time to prepare. But when you are just cooking for a few, they really are not that time consuming to make!
I have also discovered that this dish has Tuscan roots! The original name for these ricotta and spinach dumplings - essentially the filling for ravioli, hence the name in English - is "Ignudi" which, in Italian, means "naked"! The perfect name for this delicious dish!

Ingredients (for 2 or 3 generous servings)
1/2 lb ricotta, drained (put it in a fine mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth over a dish for a few minutes to get rid of excess liquid); 1 egg
1/3 cup cooked, well drained, fresh spinach - chopped finely; 1/3 cup grated parmigiano cheese1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or put through a garlic press; about 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs;flour (I used buckwheat flour, but all-purpous white flour will do); nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients except for the bread crumbs and flour.
Mix well, add the breadcrumbs. Now you will have to let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes so the breadcrumbs have time to absorb the liquid in the mixture. It should be thick enough, so that when you drop a tablespoon of the mix into a bowl of flour, it holds its shape and can be handled delicately with the fingers to form a cylinder.

If, after 20 minutes, it has not reached this consistency you can add a little bit of flour. Don't go heavy on the flour or your "ignudi" will be heavy. Start with 1 tablespoon, wait 10 minutes and then test the mixture again.

To form the "ignudi" drop by tablespoon full into a small dish of flour. Delicately turn the portion of mixture in the flour to coat it and then form it into a cylinder. Roll it in the flour and place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet.
I generally get about 20 "ignudi" from this recipe.

Set aside at room temperature if you are going to cook them within 30 minutes. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Do not freeze raw. The ricotta gets watery and the "ignudi" will fall apart when you go to cook them after freezing. You can freeze them after they are cooked.

To cook the "ignudi", bring about 2 inches of water to boil in a large frying pan. It should not be a full rolling boil. Salt the water and cook the "ignudi" about 10 at a time using a slotted spoon to turn them frequently during cooking. They should cook about 1 minute if room temperature, 2-3 minutes if refrigerated. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon allowing them to drain well from the spoon before transferring them to a warmed serving dish. When all of the "ignudi" are cooked, season with tomato sauce and grated parmigiano cheese.
You can also season them with melted butter and grated cheese and put them under the broiler for a minute or two for "Ignudi Au Gratin".

Buon appetito!!


Pasta and Peas: the perfect spring meal!

When my mom was a little girl growing up on Iseminger St. in the heart of Philadelphia's Italian neighborhood, the week's menu was centered around pasta dishes. I think she once told me that Wednesday's menu was Pasta and Peas.
Today, I went to the open air market. Unlike most open air markets in Italy, the Lucca market has very few food stalls. But, as you turn onto Via dei Bacchettoni, the very first stall is run by a small local farm. As I walked by I noticed that they had fresh peas, so I stopped and bought about 3/4 of a pound. I also bought some strawberries!
So, even though it's Saturday... today we had Pasta and Peas and strawberries for dessert!

Ingredients for 2 portions
5-6 oz small macaroni
3/4 lb of fresh peas, shucked
1 fresh onion, or a small bunch of fresh scallions
Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, Parmesan cheese.

This is a real quick recipe. Shuck and rinse the peas. Then, before you start, put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

   Chop the onion and put it in a non-stick fry pan with about 2T of extra virgin olive oil. Saute over medium high heat just until they start to become translucent.

  When the onions are translucent, add the peas, a pinch of salt (don't over salt, the pasta will be cooked in salted water), freshly ground pepper and a 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover and let it cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

   By now the water is boiling. Salt the water as you usually do when you cook pasta. Throw in the pasta - I used a pasta called "Ricciutelle" - little pasta curls. You can use small elbows, shells or bowties. Cook until "al dente" - it should still be a bit firm. Drain and add the pasta to the peas. Add 1T extra virgin olive oil, about 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Turn the heat to high and toss to mix well. This whole process should take a minute or two.

That's it! If you like pepper, add a little more freshly ground pepper and... BUON APPETITO!

   And... don't forget to serve strawberries for dessert!


Strawberry and Mascarpone Sundaes

Happy Easter!Easter is the most important and oldest holidays of the Christian Church. It is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and falls between March 21st and april 25th, on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern spring equinox.
In my family,  we really never followed the Italian tradition of "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi" - Christmas with family, Easter with friends. It was always a family hoiday - and still is. I have lived far away from family now for over 28 years and so Easter was spent with our children. This year for the first time in many, many years, my husband and I spent Easter alone. So I kept dinner pretty simple.
But this morning I decided that I couldn't really fudge on the dessert so I invented this quick, easy, delicious dessert! I didn't sugar the strawberries for Franco's "sundae", I sugared lightly sugared them for mine. It really is quite simple to make, and if I do say so myself, scrumptious!!

Ingredients for two Sundaes:
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese (cream cheese will do if you can't find mascarpone)
3 tablespoons of Limoncello (I used homemade Limoncello!)
the grated rind and juice of 1/2 a lemon
6-8 large strawberries, washed.
Lemon zest curls or grated lemon rind

Slice the strawberries, leaving two whole with their stems attached for garnish
Place the mascarpone, Limoncello, lemon rind and lemon juice in a small bowl and beat with a fork until well mixed, It will not be fluffy.
Now in a sundae dish, layer the sliced strawberries and mascarpone mix. I lightly sugared the layers of strawberries for mine. 
Top with a whole strawberry and garnish with lemon zest curls


Gnocchi with Black Tuscan Kale (Cavolo Nero)

 I am always looking for new ways to serve "cavolo nero" - a leafy vegetable that is very popular in Tuscany, it is in the kale family.Right now, it is in season and very reasonable - I get about 2 lbs for $1.50. It is very good  for you.  Today, I decided to try fixing it with gnocchi -  it came delicious! 
I jut boiled it in a small amount of water (do not drain the cooking water, I used it to cook my gnocchi), chopped and seasoned it with salt, pepper, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. 

Then I made gnocchi (my recipe is very easy - 4 parts potato, 1 part white flour - no eggs). I used about 1 lb of potatoes, weight raw. So I added about 1 cup of flour. The dough should not stick to your fingers but should be soft. Do not add too much additional flour or your gnocchi will be heavy. Here's is the procedure: boil the taters in their jackets, when they are cooked (poke them with a fork which should easily pierce the potato but not split it open), cool slightly, peel and mash. You can use a potato ricer, but I just used a fork to mash them well. Then add the flour a little at a time, using your hands to mix it in after each addition. Once you have added all of the flour, knead the dough lightly. It should be soft but not sticky. At this point wash your hands and dry them well. Dust your hands and the cutting board with flour. Roll out into cylinders about the diameter of your index finger. Cut into 1/2" pieces. You can stop here - but if you want to get fancy, hold a fork with the tines down and touching your work surface and the back of the tines facing outwards. Now pick up a gnocco, and with your index finger, gently press it against the backs of the tines and roll it down and off the fork onto the surface. 

This will give you the classic gnocco with a concave inside and nice ridges on the outside to "grab" the sauce or condiment! To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil (I added more water to the water drained from the cooked greens). Drop the gnocchi in a few at a time. By the time you have added all of the gnocchi, they will start floating to the surface, this means they are cooked.

Do not overcook or they may break up. I do not drain them in a colander because they are very tender and delicate. Instead, remove them a few at a time with a slotted spoon as they float to the top and transfer them to a large non-stick frying pan with the seasoned chopped greens. When all the gnocchi are cooked and have been transferred to the pan, toss delicately (these gnocchi are very tender and very light, so be gentle!) to coat with condiment. 

Serve with freshly grated parmigiano cheese and freshly ground pepper. Buon appetito!!