Pasta Fagioli

January’s finally here – which means that two of my favorite shows are back on TV with new seasons – Worst Cooks in America and MasterChef Junior. While one leaves my speechless at the ability of 8-13 year olds  (some of whom can barely look above a prep table without the help of a stool) to whip up delicious, and in some cases, highly technical, restaurant-quality dishes in short periods of time, the other leaves me speechless about how bad some people can actually be at cooking. Watching Anne Burrell on Worst Cooks in America is a real treat – she is one of my favorite celebrity chefs and there is nothing more entertaining than seeing her trying to teach cooking to someone who only cooks meatloaf in the shape of animals, someone who always burns meats because that means at least it’s cooked, and someone who made a pot roast and ended up….poisoning her dog. Suffice to say, people who are nominated on this show by their friends and family are nominated not just for their lack of cooking skills, but because they have also actually succeeded in making their loved ones fall quite ill with their food.

In between gaping disbelievingly at  one of the episodes this week, I  was reminded that I owned one of Burrell’s cookbooks (Cook Like a Rock Star) and I decided to flip through it to get some ideas for weekly lunches. I settled on pasta fagioli, a traditional Italian dish consisting of pasta and beans – it turned out to be a delicious, filling and an inexpensive and easily portable lunch. This particular version recommended using chives, but in my opinion, they didn’t add much to the dish, so for next time, I will prefer using basil.

Pasta Fagioli

Recipe adapted from Anne Burrell’s Cook Like a Rock Star

Directions

  • 1/4 pound pancetta, cut into quarter inch dice
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 2 gloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, mostly pureed with a few chunks (or according to your preference)
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 12 oz ditalini pasta
  • Freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Basil, chopped, for garnishing
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper

Directions

  • Heat olive oil in a wide pot and add pancetta. Over medium heat, cook the pancetta until it’s crisp (4-5 minutes).
  • Toss in the onion and season with salt, red pepper, oregano, and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and 1 and 1/4 cup water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 15 minutes
  • Add the cannellini beans and chickpeas to the pot and cook for 20 minutes more.
  • Boil water in a well-salted large pot to cook the ditalini, which should be cooked only two-thirds of the way, being fairly hard in the middle.
  • Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta and the water to the pot with the tomatoes and beans. Cook until pasta is done, for about another 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if need be.
  • Serve sprinkled with Parmesan and chopped basil.

Aperol Spritz

A semester of living in Charlottesville is complete and I am looking forward to slowing down from dissertation mode and sitting back and relaxing a bit. I am also thankful to Nora Benedict for introducing me to Aperol, an Italian orange-red liquor often used as an aperitif – it is slightly bitter and has a citrusy flavor.

Though this Aperol Spritz (a spritz is technically a wine-based cocktail made with bitter liquor and a splash of soda) is more of a summer drink, the bright color is perfect for perking up a chilly fall or winter evening as well. It also includes my favorite, Prosecco, which gives it a nice kick of acidity. And for those who prefer more traditional holiday drinks, check out this Eggnog!

Aperol Spritz

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces Prosecco
  • 2 ounces Aperol
  • 1 ounce club soda
  • Orange slice
  • Ice cubes

Directions

  • Fill a glass with ice cubes
  • Add Prosecco, followed by Aperol and club soda. Stir.
  • Serve garnished with an orange slice.

How to Make Fresh Pasta

I’m in Seattle for Christmas and one of my favorite places in Seattle is Pike Place Market – full of small shops selling jewelry, arts & crafts, handcrafted foods, flowers, fresh fish, books, vintage stores – I could spend an entire day here. One of my favorite places there is the Papardelle’s store next to the Fish Market. They have a range of fresh-made pasta including basil garlic fettuccine, artichoke lemon tagliatelle, dark chocolate linguine (!), orange szechuan linguine and so on. You can check out the entire list here, they also have some excellent oils and vinegars! That place made me want to try making fresh pasta from scratch, especially because I have some time this week as I’m taking it easy on the work. We ended up making pasta dough using half-semolina and half-all purpose flour. Though I didn’t flavor it this time, next time I intend to use some basil and oregano in the dough as well. More excitingly, I can’t wait to try and make fresh ravioli!

Fresh Pasta

Letting the pasta air dry before cooking it

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups semolina flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

  • Put all the ingredients in a stand mixer and follow your respective mixer’s instructions regarding speed and time to mix the ingredients.
  • Knead the dough, divide it into two discs and store it in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The dough is kneaded when it forms a smooth elastic ball and has very few air bubbles when cut. At this point, the pasta dough can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. Let it come back to room temperature before rolling.
  • Once the disc is cold, take it out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle flour on a surface and divide the disc into quarters.
  • Now take the quarters one by one and flatten one piece of dough into a thick disk between your hands and feed it through the pasta roller set to the widest setting.
  • Begin changing the settings on your roller to roll the pasta thinner and thinner. Roll the pasta two or three times at each setting, and don’t skip settings. Roll until the pasta is as thin as you’d like it.

    pastadough2_opt

    Roll out the pasta dough as thin as you’d prefer before putting it through the noodle cutter

  • If cutting into noodles, switch from the pasta roller to the noodle cutter, and run the sheet of pasta through the cutter.
  • Bring water to a boil in a large pot, then add 4 teaspoons salt. Cook pasta until tender but not mushy, 1 to 8 minutes depending on thickness. Drain immediately and toss with your favorite sauce.

Cheaper Pesto: Multiple Ways!

I’ve been wanting to make pesto for a while now, but I kept forgetting to buy pine nuts. When I did realize how expensive pine nuts were, I figured it would be worth trying to make pesto with other kinds of nuts. So I tried toasted walnuts and the pesto came out just as perfect! The following recipe makes 3-4 servings and creates a really rich pesto. So if you don’t like your pesto that rich, you should probably try and substitute some of the olive oil with some other liquid.

Ingredients

2 and 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

2 cloves garlic

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Directions

1. Heat a skillet and toast the chopped walnuts for around 3-4 minutes.

Toasting the walnuts before putting them into the food processor

2. Put the basil leaves, toasted walnuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, lemon in a food processor. Pour in olive oil as the ingredients are getting mixed. Put in salt and pepper to taste.

And the pesto’s almost ready!

Pesto Recipes

Pesto Pasta

Pesto Pasta

Boil some pasta of your choice according to package’s directions. Toss it in some pesto and cherry tomatoes or chopped tomatoes on the vine. Enjoy!

Caprese Pesto Sandwich

Caprese Sandwich with Pesto

Take a loaf of French bread and cut it in half. Having rubbed butter on both sides of the load, lightly toast it on the skillet. After lightly toasting it, rub pesto on both sides. Cut some fresh mozzarella slices. Top it with fresh chopped tomatoes and basil leaves and oregano. Enjoy!

For more suggestions on what to make with your pesto, check out Food Network’s link. It has some great ideas including Pesto Pizza, Pesto Potato Salad, Pesto Frittata and a Pesto-Tomato Soup

Caprese Pasta Salad

Besides mangoes and melons, the other foods that scream summer for me are fresh basil and fresh tomatoes. Given that there are three grocery stores down the street from me, all owned by Italians, I’m always looking to incorporate their fresh mozzarella in as many recipes as I can. This one’s perfect for a summer afternoon.

The following recipe creates 3 servings:

Ingredients

  • 7 oz (220 grams) whole grain penne pasta (you can use regular pasta as well)
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup fresh mozzarella, shredded
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • 3/4 tomatoes on the vine, cored and sliced into half-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced and roasted
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Dried oregano, to taste, optional
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, optional

Directions

1. Whisk the olive oil, balsamic vinegar (if using) and roasted garlic in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.  Add the tomatoes and gently toss. Marinate at room temperature, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs. Drain in a colander.

3. Add the pasta and mozzarella to the tomato mixture and toss. Stir in the basil, and season with oregano. Refrigerate, tossing occasionally, until serving. [Tip: Wait for the pasta to cool down completely before mixing in the mozzarella. Melted mozzarella is no good for this recipe]

Caprese pasta salad – Perfect for a summer afternoon!

 

So what are you favorite summer foods/recipes?

New Haven Pizza: The History of Wooster Square via food

Standing in a long line and waiting for food may not be anyone’s favorite thing to do. But if you’re standing outside either Frank Pepe’s or Sally’s Apizza, the two famous pizzerias in New Haven, you can feel the anticipation in the air, making you even more hungry and excited. Located in Wooster Square, these two restaurants can make anyone proud to be a resident of New Haven, of being able to boast about the thin, crunchy and yet-so-light New England style pizza. With a rich history, a walk down this neighborhood is bound to be more than just a foodie’s paradise.

Anthony Riccio explains that at the beginning of the twentieth century, Wooster Square was home to many wealthy aristocrats and merchants from Ireland, Poland, Lithuania and so on. The influx of Italian immigrants, especially from Amalfi, at the turn of the century, changed the composition of the neighborhood. This had a lasting impact on the neighborhood, on the history of Italian Americans in New Haven, and naturally, on the food sold in New England.

In a conversation with Pino, owner of the grocery store P & M Orange Street Market, I asked how the restaurants in Wooster Square had changed over the years. His reply, which many other Italian-Americans in the neighborhood have also echoed, was, “Some of them are exactly the same, especially the pizza places – Pepe’s, Sally’s. In fact I went to Pepe’s last month and they might have gotten better. Maybe it’s because the oven just cooks better when it gets old. Even Libby’s, it’s always been the same. But you know, Ferucci’s – that always wasn’t there. There used to be this Cavalier’s Market over there – it was owned by 2 brothers – they had the best sausages I had ever eaten! And my grandmother shopped there 5 days in a week. But then they got old, one of the brothers got cancer and died. So they just sold the place.”

Reminiscing about his childhood, he further told me about festivals that would take place on Wooster Street until the 90s. “When I was a child, Wooster Street would be blocked during such festivals, no traffic could go through. People would just be on the street selling pizza, fried dough, Italian ice. There’d be Italian music playing in the background. And then there would be a stage at the end of the street, there would be a different band every night. And this would last a week.”

Frank Pepe’s was born out of this changing composition of Wooster Square that began at the turn of the previous century. Established in 1925, its claim-to-fame is its coal-fired brick oven that they still use to make their pizzas. One of their most loved pizzas is the white clam pizza (which unfortunately, I cannot comment on in an unbiased manner, since I’m not a fan of seafood).

Frank Pepe’s, Wooster Street, New Haven

When Frank Pepe first began selling his ‘tomato pies’ on Wooster Street in the early 1920s, the only varieties were plain and marinara. Riccio, in a brilliantly-research oral history of Italian-American community in the city, recreates the memory of how Frank Pepe finally saved enough money to buy a wagon, and then started selling his ‘tomato pies’ from that.

Later on, Pepe invented the ‘white clam pie’ which contained olive oil, oregano, grated cheese, chopped garlic, and fresh littleneck clams

The famous white clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s, New Haven (Photo courtesy:http://theilladelph.blogspot.com/2009/08/will-stephen-starrs-pizza-restaurant.html)

My personal favorite, the ‘summer’, is a tomato, basil, mozzarella and roasted garlic pizza that is only available for a few months in a year.

The ‘summer’ at Frank Pepe’s – tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and roasted garlic.

The legacy of Frank Pepe’s continues. Many have included the restaurant in their list of must-eats while on a road trip  (Frank Pepe’s is really close to I-95). In 2009, The Guardian declared the restaurant as the ‘best place to have pizza in the world’.

The title of the best pizza on the earth however, might be hotly disputed by those whose allegiance lies with Sally’s Apizza. In 1938, Sal Consiglio, a nephew of Frank Pepe, started his own pizzeria, Sally’s, in a bakery building on Wooster Street. My allegiances however lie with Frank Pepe’s because even though Sally’s might be just as delicious, their service does leave a lot to be desired. For a longer history of Sally’s, check out this link, and do try out the mozzarella tomato pie (my favorite toppings being onions, peppers and mushrooms)

Sally’s Apizza, Wooster Street, New Haven

So drop by Wooster Street the next time you’re in New Haven, or just driving by Connecticut. And in case you don’t have time to wait in a line, doesn’t mean you don’t try out the famous New Haven pizza at all. Drive over to Modern Apizza, or Bar, which does a mean mashed potato-bacon pizza (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t even like pork or bacon!)

And for those who might be historically inclined, do check out Douglas Rae’s 2003 City: Urbanism and its End and Anthony V. Riccio’s 2006 The Italian American Experience in New Haven, especially the chapter titled ‘Meat, Markets, Pastry Shops, Bakeries and Pizzerias’. Happy eating and reading!