pasta with baby artichokes (orecchiette con carciofini)

May 9, 2013 § 37 Comments

The majority of my dinner inspiration occurs while taking a stroll through the produce area of the market.  On this visit I came to a halt in front of the baby artichoke arrangement.  Instantly I knew I was going to try them in a sauce for pasta.  IMG_1962

Never having prepared baby artichokes before I knew with a little trimming you may eat the whole thistle.  After a little research I found it is very necessary to soak your trimmed artichokes in lemon water, otherwise they turn an unsightly brown hue.  I read a couple of appetizing sautéed baby artichoke recipes and came up with an idea. Shallots instead of onions.  Herbs from the garden.  And one of my favorite pasta sauce ingredients, pancetta.

This is very simple and not too rich.  The three herbs really give it a fresh spring-like flavor.  For this dish I chose orecchiette because it is my son’s favorite.  He calls them hard hats.

Ingredients

  • 12 baby artichokes, cut the tops and stems off and pull off any thicker outer leaves
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 4 shallots finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, diced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta
  • handful parsley, finely chopped
  • handful mint, finely chopped
  • handful basil, finely sliced
  • freshly shaved grana padano parmesan

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Method

Squeeze your lemon into a large bowl of water and drop the lemons in too.  As you are slicing your artichokes add them to the bowl so they do not turn brown.

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.

In a large skill, over medium heat add your olive oil and pancetta and cook until brown.  Add shallots and garlic and cook another 4 or 5 minutes.  Drain the artichokes and add them to the skillet.  Raise the heat to medium high and cook until the edges have turned a nice golden brown.  Add wine and reduce.  Cover pan, lower the heat to simmer and cook another 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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While pasta is cooking chop the parsley and mint together.  Slice the basil into little strips.

After your pasta has cooked and before you drain, reserve 1/2 cup of your pasta liquid.

Stir the reserved pasta water into your artichoke sauce and bring to a soft boil.  Add drained pasta and parsley to the sauce and toss to combine and coat well.  Turn off heat.  Serve right away topped with cheese and basil.

Serves 4

buon appetite.

spaghetti aglio e olio stuffed tomatoes (ripieni di pomodoro)

April 26, 2013 § 10 Comments

Long ago I had a friend from from Vicenza Italy who was one of my greatest cooking influences. Every sunday several of us would gather around his table to enjoy perfectly prepared northern italian meals.  Undoubtedly I was inspired by his delectable dinners, however, he didn’t “teach” me a thing about cooking.  As a young aspiring cook I wanted so badly to be involved in his kitchen.  I think he wanted to keep his ingredients secret because he wouldn’t allow anyone near while he was cooking.  He would chase you out as soon as you made an appearance.  Although he didn’t teach me about cooking, I learned a great deal about food and cookery just by being present around his table.

This recipe features spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, also known as spaghetti aglio e olio.  I vividly remember having spaghetti aglio e olio for the first time.  I was mesmerized.  Up until that point spaghetti for me was tomato sauce with ground meat either cooked in the sauce or made into meatballs.   The simplicity of this sauce makes it so easy to throw together.  Most of the time I already have all the ingredients in house.  In my opinion, the sauce relies on a good quality spaghetti.   Try to buy the best brand from Italy you can find.

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Aglio e olio is profoundly satisfying served in a large bowl with freshly grated parmesan.  Or, ripieni di pomodoro is a pleasing arrangement for guests as a side dish.  If you choose to make the tomato stuffed recipe it is best to buy capellini, also know as “angel hair” pasta.

Agio e olio

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • a few pinches of red chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • sprinkling of fine parmigiano-reggiano

Method

Fill a large pot with cold water and bring to a roaring boil over high heat and add the spaghetti.  Cook for 9 minutes stirring occasionally.

While spaghetti is cooking, Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, and chili flakes.  Cook until golden and turn off the heat.

Drain the spaghetti and place it into the skillet.  Carefully toss the pasta until every strand is coated well.  Add the parsley and continue to toss until well incorporated.

Divide into large serving bowls, sprinkle with parmesan and serve right away.

Serves 4.

Follow this recipe if you choose to make the stuffed tomato version.

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ripieni di pomodoro

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound capellini
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • a few pinches of red chili flakes
  • 3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • sprinkling of fine parmigiano-reggiano
  • 4 large beefsteak tomatoes

Method

Heat the oven to 300°.

Fill a large pot with cold water and bring to a roaring boil over high heat .

While you are waiting for the water to boil chop all your ingredients and set aside.  Cut the tops of the tomato off 1/4 way down.  Scoop out the inside. Set aside.

When the water boils and before you add the capellini, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, and chili flakes.  Cook until golden and turn off the heat.

Now add the capellini to the water and boil for 2 minutes.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.  Drain the capellini and place into the skillet.  Carefully toss the pasta until every strand is coated well.  Add the parsley and continue to toss until well incorporated.  If your pasta seems to be dry add a little of the cooking water to loosen it up and to moisten.

Fill each beefsteak tomato with your capellini aglio e olio. Put the tops back on and bake for 15 -20 minutes until the tomatoes are tender and cooked.  Serve promptly with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan.

Serves 4.

buon appetite.

for the love of garlic…

March 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

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I love garlic and I buy at least a head of it every week.  It hit me yesterday when I was at the market.  There really is a technique for picking out a good head of garlic.  The bulbs need to be large and plump!  Pick a head that feels dense and heavy.  Juicy garlic is fresh garlic!  You want your garlic nice and firm to the touch.  The papery cover should be intact and not peeling off too much.  Make sure it appears white.  If the garlic is spongy, yellow or grayish it is not fresh.  If it feels light and looks shriveled, it’s a sign of dryness and age.  Once it has aged it loses its sweetness and becomes very sharp and pungent.  A number of times I have only been able to find “aged” garlic.  It is still good to cook with, however, you may have to use less.  And try not to be tempted to use the already peeled or chopped garlic available.  If you take the extra few minutes and peel your own,  it can really makes a difference in the outcome of your cooking!

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