Thursday, October 22, 2009

Penne all'Arrostito

National Pasta Month continues!  This time around I have a zinger for you...roasted penne.  Okay, the penne isn't roasted, but the vegetables that you toss it with are.  I came up with this one by accident while using up some of the remnants in my sister's fridge, what my grandmother used to call an "icebox clean-up" recipe.

The sweet-smokey flavors that come out from roasting vegetables just screams "autumn" to me.  You can roast them all on the grill, or roast the tomatoes and onion in the oven, while doing the peppers over a flame or under the broiler.

2 ripe tomatoes, cored
1 bell pepper
1 or 2 green chiles
1 onion, halved
(You'll also need a clove of garlic later on)

Rub all the vegetables with a little olive oil and put them on the grill to roast.  When the pepper skins are blackened and puckered, remove them, put them in a paper bag or newspapers to steam for a few minutes.  When they are cool enough to handle, peel the skins off.  Roast the tomatoes until soft but not mushy.  The onion will take the longest; when it is browned and softened it is ready.

If you are using the oven, slice the tomatoes in half, salt them and put them cut-side down in a roasting pan to start; ditto for the onions.  Keep an eye on them; the tomatoes won't take very long.

Cool the vegetables, then chop them roughly and put them all together in a bowl.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and and some salt and freshly-ground pepper. 

Meanwhile boil a pot of water and start cooking the penne.

In a skillet, saute a clove of garlic (minced) in olive oil just until soft but not browned.  All the vegetables to the skillet and turn the heat to low.  Heat gently.

Drain the penne, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.  Put the penne in a bowl and add the vegetables, along with a little of water if needed to moisten it and bind it all together.

Top with freshly grated parmigiano and sprinkled with a little minced basil, if desired.

Photo credit: Miheco

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ragu Lucano

In honor of National Pasta Month, I'm posting one of my all-time favorite recipes.  It hails from Lucania, or what is now called Basilicata, in southern Italy, where my roots are planted on a rocky mountain top.  In those high altitude peaks, sheep are still an everyday sight, so lamb plays an understandably important role in the region's cuisine.

Ragu Lucano is just the basic "Sunday sauce" that you will find there, but makes use of lamb in a small quantity in keeping with the area's poor past; it is, simply, cucina povera that tastes like a rich man's dish!  In this area they call that type of cooking "la zuppa del Re", or the king's soup, meaning you take a humble dish and make it seem fit for royalty.

I've made this (and seen it served there) with chunks of boneless lamb, but also cooked with the bones just to give the flavor without any actual meat pieces (making it very economical).  I have made it with leftover pieces of roasted lamb, too.

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
red wine - about 1/2 cup
1 carrot, cut into 2 or 3 large pieces
1 celery stalk,cut into 2 or 3 large pieces
a small quantity of lamb - chunks of leg meat, stew bones, or roasted lamb
passato di pomodoro (tomato puree) - about 2 cups
vegetable or beef broth - about 1/2 cup
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, minced
a small branch of fresh rosemary, minced
salt and pepper

In a saucepan, saute the onion and garlic until soft.  Add the wine and cook a few minutes to reduce.  Add the rest, stir and bring just to the boiling point.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer it for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water or broth as needed.

When it has simmered and reduced, pull out the carrot and celery pieces.  Remove the bones, if any, and pick off any meat.  If using meat chunks, you may want to shred them.

Serve with freshly cooked cavatelli or orecchiette (traditional pastas for that area) or the pasta of your choice.  Top with freshly grated pecorino cheese.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

National Pasta Month!

Well, I don't know how the inauguration of this month-long event slipped by me, but I just discovered that October is National Pasta Month!  Not that I really need an excuse to eat more pasta; I don't know if it's possible to eat *more* of it than we already do ;)

But it certainly warrants a mention and a few recipes in its honor, don't you think?

To kick it off, we broke out the hand-crank cavatelli maker that I ordered from eBay.  The little macchinetta is a classic, conceived by an Italian immigrant to Cleveland, Ohio who started the Vitantonio Company and built a business of providing pasta-making products to the Little Italy community. 

It's a very simple contraption:  you make up the pasta dough, roll it into ropes, and feed it into the machine while turning the handle.  Out pop perfectly-formed cavatelli, ready to to be boiled and topped with sugo!

My cousin Celia turned me on to this little gem; she has become something of a cavatelli collector.  Her dad has a real beauty, one of the original cast iron oldies, still in perfect working condition.

Yesterday was the first trial run for our newly-acquired macchinetta.  It performed very well, I'm happy to say.  Cavatelli transport us right to the Motherland, as it is one of the most common pastas found in Basilicata.  They are made from farina di semola, hard durum wheat which is milled more finely than the semolina flour you usually find in the US, salt and water.  It's not an egg pasta.

What is your favorite pasta type or shape?