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.