Monday, December 10, 2007

pasta with white truffles = $$$

It is our annual indulgent event: lunch at Felidia's during white truffle season. After a fabulous classic turkey and dressing Thanksgiving this year, on the following Tuesday we headed for Felidia's. We were not disappointed. Not a bit. Wife Carol, daughter Sarah, and yours truly settled ourselves in the warm and delightful first floor dining section at Felidia's on East 58th St. (Lydia herself was having lunch in the back corner of the dining room with Christoher Kimball of Cook's magazine.)

The menu took almost no browsing time. As announced, this was white truffle season at Felidia's and we were on. We each ordered the same: the recommended tagliatelle as the base. Simple, perfecto.

We started by sharing an excellent grilled octopus presentation, in oil. For the wine, we took the somelier's advice and had the Livon Chardonnay "Braide Mate" -- label above.
The tagliatelle was the home made variety using extra egg yolks. So it was wonderfully rich. It was presented with perfect texture in a simple butter sauce.

Then the white truffle expert came over with the jewel. He reported that the white truffles this year were maybe not quite as wonderful as last year's perfections, but they were still fabulous. He took his peeler and sliced an abundant array of this delicacy on each of our pasta dishes, while we just kept silent and inhaled, each in our own rapturous worlds.

The eating was everything we had dreamed about all year. Just tasting, eating slowly, ah'ing and oh'ing, and with conversation at something of a minimum, we cherished each bite.

Some cappucino to finish and our heavenly day was complete. The bill was $598 with tax. The pasta specials -- the tagliolini -- were $25 each, and each truffle addition was $110. Worth it.
We learned that a very large white truffle, found by an Italian truffle hunter near a pine tree near Pisa, was sold at a charity auction at Macao, in China, two weeks ago. The truffle was 1 pound, 10 ounces, and sold for $227,000. A record.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Zoe loves Bolognese

Zoe, just turned three, loves her Grandpa Pietro's Bolognese sauce. Rather than the usual tagliatelle or fettuccine as her pasta with her favorite sauce, Zoe prefers her ragu on farfalle. "I like the bow ties," she said, as she emptied her pasta bowl in rapid order.

To create this absolutely mouth-watering sauce, one of our favorites, go to the classic pasta web site: and then click on sauces and then ragu.

We believe, no matter what your age, you'll agree with Zoe. "The best," she says.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

tortellini presto

Many of us are lucky enough to be able to buy fresh,home-made egg pasta from a local source (we are not talking supermarket here). For those of us who are that fortunate, we, therefore, have available an almost instant dinner that ranks high among the stars in taste delight. Our tortellini is usually cheese filled (with four cheeses). Therefore we add the pancetta to the sauce. For a meat-filled tortellini, add or omit the pancetta as you wish. This is a recipe for two people:
  • 48 - 60 tortellini (give or take either way)
  • four tablespoons butter
  • one tablespoon chopped shallots
  • one tablespoon chopped pancetta
  • one-half cup cream
  • salt and pepper
  • maybe a dash of nutmeg
  • one-quarter cup freshly grated parmesan.

Put three quarts of water to a big boil. Add a tablespoon of salt. Add the tortellini.

Meanwhile in a saute pan, over medium heat: add the butter and let it melt. Add the shallots and pancetta and cook for a few minutes, until the shallots are soft, and the pancetta is cooked through (not brown). Add a half teaspoon of salt, some twists of the pepper mill, a dash of nutmeg if you choose, and then add the cream.

Cook until the cream is reduced -- maybe in half, but mostly judge how much sauce you want to coat the tortellini. Then take off heat. (This whole operation requires a minute or two to chop and about four to five minutes to cook!)

Meanwhile, test the doneness of the tortellini by taking one out, clipping off a tiny edge, and tasting. When the texture is truly al dente, drain. We find we can cook tortellini longer than we generally think we can. It does not get too soft for a while. Under-cooking seems to be more of a tendency because we are so tuned into keeping flat pasta totally al dente.

Put the tortellini in the sauce, which you have reheated. Add the parmesan. We then cover the pan and cook over high heat for one minute, to get the pasta very hot and steaming.

Add a spig of parsley and serve. Presto!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

spaghetti with spinach and lemon

Spinach, that wonderful vegetable that disappeared, rightfully, from the markets for a while, is back, fresh and pure. We are into some wonderful pastas that are simple to prepare, combine ingredients perfectly, and are wonderful taste treats. Here is one of those: with fresh spinach, lemon and capers.

for the sauce:

  • four tablespoons of olive oil
  • five cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • two tablespoons of capers
  • one-half teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • four tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • two teaspoons of grated lemon rind
  • four cups of chopped fresh spinach
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • one quarter cup freshly grated parmesan

    one pound spaghetti

In a saute pan, over medium heat, add the garlic. As soon as it starts to sizzle, add the capers and the red pepper flakes. Cook two minutes. Add the lemon juice and rind, one teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Stir and cook for another two minutes.

In five quarts of water at a raging boil, add two tablespoons of salt and the spaghetti. Cook until just short of al dente. Set aside one quarter cup of the pasta liquid. Drain.

Re-heat the sauce. Add in the spaghetti and stir. Add the chopped spinach and stir. Add the parmesan and stir. Check for salt. If too dry add some of the reserved pasta liquid. Cover and cook for one minute over medium high heat.

Serve immediately.

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007


    The new fall menu at Il Fornaio last night included a trofie all'amatriciana. It was perfectly done and reminded us how wonderful an intro into the fall season this classic pasta recipe is. The normal presentation is with bucatini, a thick, hollow spaghetti. But trofie, the twisty, spiral little pasta shapes, usually associated with Liguria, worked fine.

    It is a boldly flavored, highly-spiced dish from the town of Amatrice, near Rome. It is both simple to prepare and infinitely rewarding in its perfect combination of flavors. Here is our favorite version:

    bucatini alla amatriciana

    for the sauce:
    • three plus one tablespoons olive oil
    • one medium red onion, finely chopped
    • 8 ounces of pancetta, or slab bacon, about one-quarter inch thick, roughly chopped into squares 1/4 to 1/2 inch in size
    • one teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
    • 2 cups canned, imported Italian plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
    • salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
    • one-half cup freshly grated pecorino Romano (Parmigiano works, but pecorino is better)
    for the pasta:
    • one pound bucatini or spaghetti (or trofie)
    Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, for about eight minutes, until it is lightly browned and almost crisp. Use a slotted spoon and transfer the pancetta to a separate plate (or paper towel).

    If there are more than two or three tablespoons of fat left in the pan, drain off the excess. Add the onion to the saucepan and saute for about 3 minutes, until soft. Add the red pepper flakes, salt and the freshly ground pepper, and saute for another thirty seconds.

    Add the chopped tomatoes, simmer (uncovered) for about twenty minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Set aside.

    Meanwhile, bring a large pot (4-5 quarts) of cold water to a heavy boil, add a couple of tablespoons of salt, drop in the pasta, stir it around, and cook to al dente (tasting regularly to check for doneness).

    One of the tests as you mix the sauce and pasta is to make sure the sauce is moist enough to coat the pasta beautifully. The sauce might be a little thick. Therefore, before draining the pasta, take one cup of the pasta liquid and reserve it. Drain the pasta. Turn up the heat on the sauce and add the pancetta and stir. Add the pasta, add the extra tablespoon of olive oil, and stir well. Heat for thirty seconds, covered.

    Add the pecorino, stir and serve on hot plates.

    For spaghetti all'arrabiata, another wonderful fall pasta dish with spicy overtones, go to:, click on pasta and then spaghetti.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

    zucchini with garlic, lemon and mint

    This is one of three superb, simple zucchini preparations that we love, especially when wonderful, sweet small zucchini are available fresh in the various Farmer's Markets. Zucchini is such a wonderful "fall-back" vegetable for special dinners, as well as being a main-stay in stay-at-home and-love-it evenings.

    • three tablespoons olive oil
    • one and a half pounds of fresh zucchini
    • two medium garlic cloves, peeled and diced
    • one small onion, thinly sliced
    • pinch or two of red pepper flakes
    • one tablespoon lemon juice
    • salt and freshly ground pepper
    • one-quarter cup mint or basil, finely chopped

    Wash the zucchini in cold water. Cut off the ends, and then dice into about one-quarter inch squares.

    Heat one and a half tablespoons of the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, and then thirty seconds later add the onion. Cook until translucent, about two minutes.

    Add the zucchini and the red pepper flakes, and cook until the zucchini squares are just tender, stirring reglarly with a wooden spoon. (This is a matter of taste; we like the zucchin still a little firm, but if you like them soft cook until slightly brown).

    Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, a teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper, and tthen the mint or basil. Stir a touch and serve.

    For several other terrific and simple zucchini recipes, go to, click on extra pantry" and then "verdure". Enjoy!

    Wednesday, July 18, 2007

    Trofie pasta with pesto

    We had the good fortune to discover a small food, cheese and wine shop in the Portrero Hill section of San Francisco recently, where we were able to buy authentic trofie pasta from Italy. There are certainly other shops in the U.S. where trofie can be found (as well as on-line) but we had been carrying ours back in our suitcases, buying it at Carlucci's in Covent Garden in London.

    The trofie we purchased in San Francisco is Saporia di Liguri, from La Bella Angiolini, made in a facility near to the original location of the oldest pastificio in Italy (so they claim) in Savona in the heart of the Ligurian Riviera.

    Trofie, or trofiette, are thin strings of pasta, about one to two inches long, twisted into a corkscrew shape. They are generally made with durum wheat flour, but they can also be made from all-purpose flour. Trofie are frequently called Ligurian gnocchi.

    This being the heart of wonderful fresh basil season, it was a perfect time to have the trofie and pesto, a marriage made in Ligurian heaven. Here is the recipe for a simple trofie and pesto dish, which takes almost no time to make.

    Some recipes have made the making of pesto time consuming and difficult, by over-working the chopping of the fresh basil. No need. A blender, which is what most Italy uses now, works perfectly. Nothing lost in taste.

    for the pesto sauce:

    • two cups fresh basil leaves

    • one-half cup olive oil

    • three cloves garlic, peeled and roughly diced

    • two tablespoons pine nuts

    • salt (a teaspoon or to taste)

    • one-half cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

    • two tablespoons freshly grated pecorino, Romano or Tuscano (or whatever)

    • two tablespoons butter

    for the pasta

    • one pound trofie, durum wheat preferred but go with what you can get

    Using a blender (pesto was traditionally made in a mortar and pestle, hence the name), put in the basil and garlic and mix for a few seconds. Add the pine nuts and olive oil and salt, and blend at a high speed until the sauce approaches creamy (not too creamy, however, as a little roughness in the texture is wonderful).

    When the blending is completed, transfer the sauce into a mixing bowl and stir in the two cheeses. Presto, done!

    Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water (4-5 quarts), until it is al dente. Stir regularly while cooking.

    Reserve a cup of the pasta liquid. Drain and toss with the pesto sauce. Add the butter and a tablespoon or two from the reserved liquid to assist in the tossing and mixing.


    Thursday, June 14, 2007

    chicken marsala

    Last night we did one of our favorite, easy, wonderful treats: chicken marsala. We evolved this recipe from our original forays with the always fabulous veal scallopine, either marsala, or piccata. Evolved because veal was a lot more expensive than chicken!

    We want to share our version of this oft-used recipe. But before we do, we have to confess that we googled "chicken marsala" and discovered a torrent of entries. Amazing. One site is just "". Italian Chef, All recipes, and of course the Food Network all have versions. One site "" yielded hundreds (I think, I quit counting) recipes all for chicken marsala.

    Undaunted, here is ours:

    • four chicken breasts. About a pound. (See note).

    • three tablespoons butter (to start)

    • three tablespoons vegetable oil

    • about a half cup of flour

    • salt and pepper

    This gets us started. Spread the flour on some waxed paper. Add salt and pepper. Put the oil and butter in a saute pan (equipped with a lid to use eventually). Medium high heat. When oil is hot, roll the chicken breasts in the flour, shake off excess flour, and put in the saute pan (which should be large enough to hold the chicken breasts without overlapping). Brown the chicken breasts, usually about three minutes a side, and then cover and turn the heat to medium. This is because we find the chicken breasts cook more evenly by cooking under cover rather than getting the breasts done just by continually sauteeing.

    Watch the chicken breasts closely. Ideal is to take them off just before they are completely done -- a tiny touch of pink. Worst case is to overdo the chicken: tough and tasteless. When done remove the chicken breasts to a plate and keep warm in the oven.

    Note: we do not pound the chicken breasts. We like them in their full glory. And let's face it, we always seem to get different sizes and shapes, depending. Sometimes this requires cutting the chicken breasts in half. Sometimes we just remove the "extra" pieces on the side. Whatever works. Ideally we get free-range, organic chicken breasts, skinned, deboned and halved, quite thick, and then we go from there.

    Now the sauce:

    • four tablespoons butter

    • one-quarter cup white wine

    • one-half cup marsala

    • one-quarter cup chicken stock

    • couple tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

    • one teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (optional)

    • one-half cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)

    First: drain the saute pan of the fat accumulated. This is key. It is not necessary to drain all the fat and certainly not the wonderful brown bits and stickings from the sauteeeing. But get rid of most of the fat. Otherwise you get a fatty sauce!

    Turn the heat to high. When hot add the butter. As soon as it starts to melt, add the white wine which should steam and immediately de-glaze. Add the marsala. Add a half teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add a tablespoon chopped parsely. Stir. You don't want the sauce to get too thick, but you don't want soup either. Probably add the chicken broth to create enough broth.

    When the sauce is just about the right consistency, bring back the chicken breasts, and add them, and their juices, to the saute pan. Turn them over a couple of times to get them well coated.

    If the sauce is too runny, thicken by adding a little more butter.

    Serve, putting the chicken breasts on the plate, spoon the sauce over, add a touch of parsley for garnish.

    On the oregano option, just add it after you add the marsala.

    On mushrooms: we ordinarily do not add mushrooms to the dish, but they can be delightful. As soon as you add the marsala, add the sliced mushrooms. They should be done just right as the sauce thickens. (some recipes call for a cup or two or three of mushrooms, which we think is overkill, and takes away from the great taste of the marsala.)

    Remember: watch the chicken carefully (checking by cutting into it with a sharp knife). Do not overcook. And get rid of all the fats in the saute pan before starting the sauce.

    Sunday, June 10, 2007

    pasta with sausage

    We received some outstanding sweet Italian sausage recently (more on this on a later blog), and indulged ourselves with two back-to-back incredibly delicious pastas. Which we want to share!

    Rather than repreating these two excellent recipes on the blog, we would like you to go to for the details, as usual presented in clear and complete, easy-to-use, form.

    Under the heading "penne and other short tubular pasta", you will find garganelli or penne with sausage. Try this one first.

    Under "tagliatelle" you will find tagliatelle with sausage, lemon and nutmeg. This more delicate sauce is a wonderful follow-up.

    Let us know if you find these pasta and sausage recipes -- which we think define the wonderful combining delights of pasta and sausage, combinations made in an Italian heaven -- perfectly.

    Monday, June 4, 2007

    the best lamb ragu ever

    This is the sauce we made for our imported (by us) pinci from Montalcino at a dinner we prepared last weekend. Naturally the sauce transports easily to other pasta: pappardelle, penne and tagliolini for example.

    For the sauce:
    • three tablespoons of olive oil
    • eight ounces of ground lamb
    • eight ounces of mild Italian sausage (casings removed)
    • two cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
    • one medium onion, finely chopped
    • one stalk celery, finely chopped
    • one medium carrot, finely chopped
    • one-half cup red wine
    • one tablespoon tomato paste
    • one bay leaf
    • two sprigs oregano
    • two sprigs thyme
    • one sprig rosemary
    • two cups beef broth
    • two cups imported peeled Italian plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped (see note)
    • salt and freshly ground pepper
    • one half cup freshly grated parmesan
    for the pasta:
    • one pound of pinci, pappardelle, fettucine, or penne

    Note: if you are lucky enough to have truly ripe and tasty plum tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes, dice them and use two cups of them rather than the imported variety.

    Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and lamb. Add a half teaspoon salt and some freshly ground pepper. Brown the meat -- cooking it until it is brown all over. Throughout the browning, constantly work the chopped meat with a wooden spoon to break it up as much as possible (in fact make sure it is truly all broken up).

    Remove the meat and set it aside. Drain the fat, most of it anyway (leaving all the good brown bits) from the pan.

    Add the third tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and cook until golden, about four minutes. Add the garlic, and then a minute later add the celery and the carrots. Cook another three minutes; the carrots should start to get soft. (add more olive oil if you need it).

    Have the heat high, and add the wine, to deglaze the pan. Cook for about two minutes until the alcohol is dissipated and the wine reduced by about half.

    Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the browned meat. Add the bay leaf, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Stir. Add the tomatoes and then add the beef broth. Stir, bring to a boil and then cover and lower the heat to a simmer.

    Note: you can reduce the time involved in making this sauce by reducing the amount of beef broth added to one cup. By cutting the beef broth amount, you will get a sauce of the right consistency in about thirty or forty minutes.

    We love the long simmer, since it isn't any work anyway and the kitchen smells wonderfully for a long time. We put the cover slightly askew, and simmer away, maybe several hours, to get a sauce with a great consistency: moist with just enough liquid to meld with the pasta.

    When the sauce is done, remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf and sprigs. Add several grinds of pepper and a half tespoon of salt. Stir, taste, adjust.

    Meanwhile bring 4-5 quarts of water to a boil. Add two tablespoons of salt. Drop in the pasta and stir. Continue cooking until al dente. If using pinci, they seem to take about twenty minutes. Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain.

    Re-heat the sauce, add the pasta, and stir (or mix). If not moist enough add the reserved pasta water as needed. We find that by covering the pan with the pasta with its sauce, and turning the heat up to high for about two minutes, we can guarantee a truly hot and steaming presentation, with the pasta staying hot longer.

    Serve with ample parmesan (and more on the side) plus some chopped parsley. The best lamb ragu ever, right?

    For a version with lamb cubes, see, under sauces.

    Thursday, May 31, 2007

    pinci (pici)

    When we were in southern Tuscany recently, we enjoyed (among many things!) the special hand-made non-egg pasta of the region called pici (or pinci). These are long spaghetti-like strands, thicker than spaghetti. They were originally hand-made, with water, flour and a dash of olive oil. The pasta is rolled out in a less than half-inch sheet, and then cut into small cubes. The cubes are flattened, and then rolled out first by the heel of the hand, and then fingers, until one gets a long round strip, like spaghetti, maybe nine inches long and about one-quarter inch in diameter.

    This lovely, slightly chewy pasta is generally served with a strong ragu, duck or lamb primarily. It is just a special treat as a change-of-pace pasta base.

    We brought back a pound of pinci that we purchased in Montalcino, and last night we broke it our of the pantry and enjoyed a wistful return to Tuscany.

    For the sauce we made a wonderful lamb ragu, which we modestly call "the best lamb ragu ever". We will provide the ragu recipe in our next post.

    If one wants to make the pinci from scratch, Giuliano Bugialli, in "Bugialli on Pasta" gives the best directions. We found that we could buy the pasta on-line at

    The best lamb ragu ever coming next!

    Thursday, May 17, 2007

    making the ravioli and the sauce

    Following up on the previous blog, here is what we did after creating the filling.

    Using fresh egg pasta sheets, either purchased from our local pasta-maker, or made by hand: we took about a pound of the sheets. We took a circular cutter (like a cookie cutter) about two inches in diameter and cut out a lot of circles. We then put about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle. We moistened the edges of the circle (very important) and folded it over in half to make a half-moon shape. Sealed it. Eccola: a mezzaluna.

    Very important: while preparing the ravioli, keep the pasta sheets moist. Do not let them get dry. Keep under cover of moist towels. We did not try to use the whole pound of sheets at once. Use one sheet, make the mezzaluna, then go to the next sheet which you have kept moist with the wet towel. And so on.

    For the other pound of pasta sheets, we made agnolotti (squares in the Piedmont style). We did not try to mass produce these. Again we took one sheet of pasta at a time. We cut it into rectangles one and one-half inch by three inches. We put a teaspoon of filling in the center of the lower half of this rectangle, moistened the edges well, and then folded the top half over and sealed the edges. Eccola: a one and one-half inch square agnolotti.

    for the sauce:

    (This is sauce for about twenty-four of the ravioli, not all 100 or so!)
    • four tablespoons butter
    • one-quarter pound crimini mushrooms, sliced thinly
    • two tablespoons chicken stock
    • salt and pepper
    • one-quarter cup fresh parmesan
    In a saute pan over medium heat, heat the butter until it starts to sizzle. Add the mushrooms. add a teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add the chicken stock. Cook until the mushrooms are soft.

    When we cook the ravioli in plenty of boiling, salted water, until done: we remove them with a slotted spoon, so as not to damage them, and drop them right into the heated saute pan with the sauce.

    Add parmesan and some chopped parsely and serve.

    If you want to make your own fresh pasta, one of the best instruction sets can be found at Click on how to make your own, etc. It is worth it.

    Is this one of the tastiest raviolis you have ever had?

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    a rich ravioli (or agnolotti)

    Continuing our ravioli riff: in our last post we talked about a very simple, cheese only, ravioli. Now to do a 180 degree turn, here's our favorite "rich" ravioli.

    Before that, however, an observation. We bought some ready-made ravioli last week at the A. G. Ferrari Foods store on Mission in San Francisco. This was their "agnolotti Piemontese" (more on Piemontese later), and consisted of 48 small raviolis, about one inch square at the most.

    The ingredients list on the package said that the ravioli filling consisted of:
    "choice beef, onion, potato flakes, parmesan, italian plum tomatoes, pancetta, carrot, celery, egg, red wine, olive oil, sea salt, garlic, porcini mushrooms, canola oil, black pepper, herbs and spices."

    That seems to us to cover just about everything possible ingredient-wise! The filling had been well processed, into a paste really. It was tasty, but getting a taste of the ingredients, the overtones, was impossible, even though the overall flavor was fine. While very good, we felt it lacked a little zing.

    Here is our "rich" favorite. It also comes from the Piedmont area: hence the identification of the shape as "agnolotti", the Piedmont designation for a meat-filled ravioli. We have adapted this recipe from "Molto Italiano" by the super-chef Mario Batali.

    The ingredients, which should make about 100 ravioli,each about one and one-half inch square:
    • eight tablespoons of unsalted butter
    • one medium onion, finely diced (one cup plus)
    • six ounces of boneless chicken breast, finely diced
    • four ounces of sweet italian sausage, removed from casing, finely chopped
    • two tablespoons ricotta
    • one quarter cup of grated Italian Fontina
    • three tablespoons of fresh goat cheese
    • one quarter cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
    • two tablespoons fresh marjoram (or one teaspoon dried)
    • one quarter teaspoon nutmeg
    • one egg
    • salt and pepper

    Heat the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. After a minute add the onion and cook for four to five minutes, until soft. Add the chicken and sausage and cook until totally browned, about ten minutes. During this time, stir regularly with a wooden spoon to break up the meat into as small pieces as possible. Remove and let cool.

    In a food processor, put in this meat mixture and pulse until it is finely chopped (not quite a paste!)

    Put the pulsed meat into a bowl. Add the egg and stir. Add the Fontina, the goat cheese, the ricotta, nutmeg, marjoram, parsley, a teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper, and mix thoroughly. Taste for salt and pepper and set aside ready to fill the ravioli.

    Just taste this filling! See if you don't think it might be the "best ever".

    In tomorrow's post we will talk about constructing the ravioli themselves, and also a sauce to complement the rich taste. To get more complete details on making and serving ravioli, see: and click on pasta and then ravioli.

    Friday, May 11, 2007

    ravioli simple

    We were served a simple, but wonderful, ravioli dish last night as an appetizer. Interestingly, the restaurant was French: Chez Papa in the Portola Hill area of San Francisco. We believe the chef was surely from the French Riviera, near Nice, which would explain his ravioli expertise, since that part of France is really Italian anyway.

    The ravioli were round. (Since "mezzaluna" are ravioli in a half moon shape, we could call them "luna" I suppose). They were about one and three-quarter inches in diameter. The pasta dough was not real thin: about medium in thickness. The filling for the ravioli was simple: pure ricotta, about a teaspoon.

    The serving bowl had three luna in it. On top of each luna was a teaspoon of pesto, a teaspoon of toasted pine nuts, and several shavings of fresh parmesan. The pesto was made with just garlic, basil leaves, and olive oil (no cheese or butter added).

    When the teaspoon of pesto was dropped on top of the hot ravioli, it released some of its oil. An additional two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil were added to the dish. The pine nuts were dropped on top of the pesto, roughly, and the shavings of parmesan added. That was it. Ravioli with a simple cheese filling, pure pesto, pine nuts, parmesan and some added olive oil.

    So simple and so prefect.

    To make the pesto, see, click on sauces, and then pesto. Use that recipe with just the garlic, the basil and the olive oil (and salt). That's it.

    Friday, May 4, 2007

    risotto "easy"

    In his article in The New York Times this week, Mark Bittman says: "Almost every cook believes (incorrectly) that risotto must be stirred constantly while your're making it."

    He goes on to say that he learned, to his delight, that he could walk away from the simmering rice for minutes at a time, and the results were still terrific. He suggests that you need to stir only occasionally, just after each ladle of stock is added and just before that liquid evaporates and you get ready to add another ladle.

    Test it for yourself! It worked for us (we think).

    Several decades ago Vincent Price, the movie star, and his wife created a leather-bound cook book called "A Treasury of Great Recipes." One of the recipes, which came from famous chefs around the world, was for risotto, and came from the then chef of the Danieli in Venice. This method also required minimum stirring. In fact, almost none.

    The recipe and technique in the Vincent Price book can be found at, under the heading "risotto - easy stir".

    We would be delighted to hear from any of you on your perceptions of these risotto easy methods, and how they worked for you.

    Thursday, May 3, 2007

    risotto with asparagus

    Welcome back! We were going to start our return with a riff on ravioli, but first a little sidetrack, following down the risotto path again.

    It is late spring, and asparagus is in season. Risotto with asparagus has always been one of our favorites: the flavors meld so well together. Here is a variation courtesy of Mark Bittman and Mario Batali. We adapted this recipe from them.

    Our basic asparagus risotto favorite, along with detailed instructions on making risotto, can be found at

    The difference here is that the risotto contains asparagus tips, and also is finished with an asparagus puree.

    • two cups arborio rice
    • one and one half pound fresh, thin green asparagus
    • six cups chicken stock
    • three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • one small onion, diced
    • one-half cup dry white wine
    • salt and pepper
    • three tablespoons butter
    • one-half cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
    Cut off the lower stems of the asparagus. Peel them. Cutt off the tips. Cut the remaining asparagus in half-inch pieces.

    In a pot of boiling water, put half the asparagus pieces (not the tips). Cook about five minutes until tender. Drain and run the pieces under cold water. Put the cooked asparagus in a blender with a tablespoon of water and puree until smooth. Set aside.

    Bring the stock to a simmer in a pan next to the risotto pan. In a thick-bottomed pan, the risotto pan, over a medium-high heat: add the olive oil and then the onion. Cook until soft.

    Add the rice and stir until each grain is coated with oil. Add the white wine. Cook and stir until it is absorbed by the rice, about two minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper.
    Now add the hot stock, ladle by ladle, only adding another ladle when the previous ladle of liquid
    has been absorbed, stirring almost all of the time.

    After about fifteen minutes, add the uncooked asparagus pieces and the asparagus tips. Stir. Continue adding ladles of stock until the rice is properly done: twenty minutes or so. Determine proper doneness by tasting regularly. The rice should be a touch al dente, tender with a bit of crunch: a little creaminess.

    When it is done, stir in the asparagus puree. Remove from heat. Add parmesan and stir. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the three tablespoons of butter and stir again.

    Let it sit, covered, for a minute or two. It should be fairly creamy. Serve immediately on warmed paltter.

    Thursday, February 22, 2007

    Italian wines in Santa Barbara

    Traveling through the Santa Barbara region last week, we were delighted to find two wineries that are featuring wines from Italian varietals. If you want to try the risotto al Barolo of the previous post, here are two places to get those Piedmont grapes in the U.S.

    One of the wineries is Palmina: Chrystal and Steve Clifton craft some very special and highly regarded wines from their Italian grapes. They do a Savoia -- a combination of Nebbiola, Barbera and Syrah, plus a Nebbiola and a Barbera by themselves. And lovely Dolcetto.

    Mandolino, the other winery, is in Solvang, "Sideways" country, and they actually do a pinot nero, using the Italian name. Their wines can be found at www.LLwinecom. They do a beautiful set of varietals: Barbera, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, and a fine Nebbiola. Plus a lovely pinot grigio. We used their Dolcetto in the risotto recipe, and it was truly mouth-watering.

    Perhaps Santa Barbara county is where Italian varietals might finally make their mark in this country.

    The evening before the wine excursion, we had a lovely pasta dinner in Santa Barbara, at a small, charming trattoria, Bucatini. Located on lower Ocean in Santa Barbara, it is within a block or two of the ocean, and is well known, deservedly, for its fresh mussels. We had mussels and spaghetti in a tomato sauce: simple, perhaps, but the perfection and quality of all the ingredients made it memorable.

    The mussels, as fresh as could be, were arranged in a circle, pointing toward the center, around the outer edge of the serving plate. The spaghetti and sauce, steaming, were in the center of the plate. The wonderful treat was that the tomato sauce was a sweet, buttery one, not a sharper marinara. It was the kind of sauce we call Marcella #3, and can be found at, under sauces. The buttery/sweetness seemed a perfect choice with the fresh, fresh mussels.

    Give the sauce a try. And if you are in Santa Barbara you know where to find your pasta dish. And Italian wines.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    risotto al Barolo

    This time of year one looks for and loves the warmth and comfort of a hearty dish. A risotto that takes this incredibly satisfying basic dish made with the arborio rice of Lombardy, combined with the deep and elegant Barolo wine of neighboring Piedmont, certainly solves this winter dining problem.

    For a basic risotto al Barolo, one needs:

    two cups of Arborio rice
    five cups of meat stock
    one small onion diced
    three tablespoons of olive oil
    one and one half cups of Barolo (or your red wine of choice)
    one-half cup freshly grated parmesan chese
    one tablespoon of butter
    salt and pepper

    (confession: this dish was popular probably before the price of Barolo, the most elegant of Italian wines, reached astronomical proportions. We substituted a lovely Dolcetto)

    Bring the stock to a low simmer in a pan next to the risotto pan. In a thick-bottomed pan, (the risotto pan), over medium heat. add the olive oil. Add the onion. Cook until soft. Add the rice and stir until each grain is coated with the oil. Add a teaspoon of salt.

    Now add the hot stock, ladle by ladle, only adding another ladle when the previous ladle of liquid has been absorbed. Continue stirring almost all of the time. After the second lable, add one cup of Barolo. Continue adding the ladles of stock and continue stirring until the rice is properly done: twenty minutes or so. Just before it is perfectly al dente (firm in tooth), add the remaining Barolo and continue stirring.

    Determine proper doneness by tasting regularly. When your risotto is just al dente, with a little creaminess, it is ready. Take off the heat. Stir in the parmesan. Add the tablespoon of butter. Taste for salt. We let the risotto sit, covered, for a minute or two to gather in all the taste. Serve and enjoy!

    We also have another risotto al Barolo recipe using herbs, pancette and ground beef to the above. To see this recipe, and also a detailed, illustrated guide to cooking risotto, go to