Saturday, November 1, 2008

Basilicata (part two)

Welcom back to Basilicata -- #17, below, the arch of the boot, between Calabria to the south and Puglia to the north, with waterfront on both seas, east and west. The key to the culinary pleasures -- the pasta -- of Basilicata is the nature of the flour: this is the finely ground semolina durum wheat flour that is the prize ingredient in so much of the pasta in the south. One of the most common shapes, of course, is the classic orecchiette, the ear-shaped. One of the more unusual and site-specific pastas of the region, is that shown below. This is the scorze de mandorle, shown below. This is almond-shaped pasta, made in a similar manner as orecchiette by creating hand-made rolls of pasta; then cutting the roll into one-inch wide pieces, and molding the pieces to the shape one wants. This pasta can be either just the semolina durum, or it can have almond flakes added to the pasta dough. Very special!

Another specialty of Basilicata is the Senise pepper (below). Writing in a Gourmet magazine article on Basilicata in 2006 (from which the pepper photo is taken), Evan Kleiman describes the pepperone de Senise: "named from one of the southern towns in which it is grown, it is long, thin-walled, and deep red when mature. Even the sweetest among them have the depth of flavor associated with a spicy pepper. In season, they are used fresh, bu the dried version, the paprika, is used in many of the regional dishes. When they are dried they are also made into crunchy cruschi peppers, which are quickly deep-fried, then cooled." You can't eat just one, he says.

All of the fresh pastas are normally served with a tomato-based sauce (peppery, frequently, as above), and topped with a regional pecorino.

An excellent regional dish can be found at, just click on "pasta" then on "orecchiette" and on "orecchiette with cauliflower and tomato". This is a classic.

Here is an unusual combination, adapted from the same Eric Kleiman in Gourmet:

Pasta with an arugula pesto and cherry-tomato sauce

Prepare the pesto:

  • six cups of roughly chopped arugula
  • two tablespoons of pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • one-half cup extra virgin olive oil
  • four tablespoons freshly grated pecorino

    Put the pine nuts in a blender or food processor, and pulse until finely ground, but not too fine. Add the arugula, the olive oil, the pecorino, a teaspoon of salt, and pulse again until almost smooth.

the tomato sauce:

  • three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • three garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
  • six cups of cherry tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • one teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in a saute pan over moderate heat, add the garlic and cook until the garlic just starts to sizzle. Add the tomatoes and the salt, and cook over light heat, stirring regularly, for about fifteen minutes. The tomatoes should just be starting to break down.

For the pasta: one pound of the aforementioned scorze di mandorie, if one can find it, or make it; or orecchiette; or, most usually, a fettuccine of the south -- dried -- made by hand with just water and semolina. Cook the fettuccine in five quarts of boiling water (with a tablespoon of salt) until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta liquid. Return the pasta to the pot, add the arugula pesto and stir to get well-coated. Add some reserved liquid if too dry.

Transfer to pre-heated bowls or plates, top with the tomato sauce and some extra pecorino, and serve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

another of the less well-known Italian paths: Basilicata (#17)

Welcome to Basilicata . . .

This is one of the twenty-two guest rooms of the Locanda di San Martino, in Matera, the major city in the southern province of Basilicata. Basilicata is wedged between Campania, Puglia and Calabria. It is known as one region, two seas and a gastronomic melting pot. And it is also well known as the region chronicled in that masterpiece of Italian literature: Christ Stopped at Eboli, by Carlo Levi.

The Locanda lies in the heart of the "Sassi" (stones) historical district of Matera, and it provides an experience unlike any other. Inhabitants of this region, for perhaps thousands of years, lived in cave dwellings, carved into the hills. The rooms of the Locanda are also basically caves carved into the rock, but, obviously from above, they are beautifully adapted to the comforts of modern living. Another inn, the Locanda del Palazzo, in nearby Barile, is also a cave-hotel.

For a better understanding of this region, I commend you to Carlos Levi's classic. Levi, exiled to this region by The Fascists in the mid '30's, described the poverty, hardships of living and the topography of this incredible malaria-infested country in heart-breaking detail.

In the next blog, we will visit the gastronomic specialties and delights of Basilica. For the moment, it is important to note that the region is the home to one of the new stars of Italian wines: aglianico. The Etruscans planted the first vines of the region (Ellenico) and today the wines from this grape are gaining, finally, International renown. The best of these wines come from the volcanic soils of Mount Vulture, in the northern section of Basilicata. Paternoster is one of the major producers.

According to Eric Asimov, writing in the New York Times, the aglianico grape is somewhat tannic, but not as much so as nebbiola. The wines can, therefore, improve with five or more years of aging. According to Asimov: the subtlety of the fruit and the fact that the wine can be dry and intense without being heavy, makes it a good companion to a variety of meat, poultry and pasta dishes.

Next: the pasta (and other food delights) from Basilicata.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

less well-known Italian paths -- four in the south

True, it is fall. Travel time is generally past. However it is, perhaps, the perfect time to do a little armchair traveling -- to prepare for next year. So off we go: in the somewhat out-of-the-way category, here are four lovely regions in the south of Italy that have recently been featured in major magazines, that we want to share. (The map above is not necessarily a test, but you can make it so if you wish).

The first stop is in Campania (#15).

The Campania region is certainly hardly unknown, as anyone challenging the cliff-side roads of the Amalfi coast will attest. It is the very frequented home of Positano, Ravello, the eponymous Amalfi, and friends.

Writing in the August issue of Travel + Leisure, T&L's European editor, Maria Schollenbarger, takes us to a much less well-known area of Campania: the Cilento coast -- 45 miles south of Amalfi, and a very much untouched world. "This part of Campania is unique," she says. "Everywhere we went, the locals made sure we knew how proud they were to have the clean ocean, the regional delicacies and the ancient Greek ruins."

The Cilento coast is generally perceived as starting in Paestum in the north, and going to the border of Basilicata in the south. The region reeks of its Greek heritage. Paestum has some of the best-preserved Greek temples in Italy. Maria also reports in the article that the Cilentran villages are some of the most historically intact and culturally unchanged in the mezzogiorno.

Michelin lists several hotels and restaurants near C
astellabate, sort of the center of this part of the coast, and of course at historic Paestum. Check the Travel + Leisure article for Maria's special recommendations, and a more complete tour of this delightful coastal region.

For us gastronomies, there is even a more special reason for visiting the Cilento coast. This is the home -- the denominazione -- for mozzarella di bufalo. In theory only the cheese made from buffalo should be called mozzarella. (Cow's milk is fior di latte). Mozarrella di bufalo ideally should be eaten within 24 hours of being made, dripping with its own buttermilk. It is pure white with a wonderful taste all its own -- delicate and fragrant, and very fresh. It will squeak when you cut it. Af
ter the mozzarella? the wonderfrul figs of the region.

Our recipe for the region? Very simple. The best, most flavorful tomatoes you can find this year. Slice them. Add slices of mozzarella di bufalo, topped with some basil and drops of olive oil. Perfecto!

Next visits: Basilicata, Puglia and Molise.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

a parmesan appetizer

We had the pleasure of working with our good friends, Ron and Nina, to create an Italian dinner they would serve as a fund-raiser for their church. The centerpiece, so to speak, would be the pork loin brased in milk, Bolognese style (see Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan)

The prima, the pasta, would be: mezzaluna with a rich meat filling. Go to and click on pasta, and then ravioli, to find this terrific dish.

For color, the verdura, we chose zucchini with onion. Also in Go to extra pantry, click on verdura, for this (and other) great zucchini presentations. In the presentation, we centered the sliced pork loin in the middle of the serving plate, and put a small portion of the zucchini above and below it. Gorgeous.

The appetizer was something new for us. We found what we thought would be a wonderful, light, and contrasting appetizer: parmesan onion puffs. It was all we had hoped, and more. Herewith (this makes about twenty):


  • one-quarter cup mayonnaise
  • two ounces, about three-quarter of a cup, of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • one tablespoon minced onion
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • ten slices of good, firm, white bread

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put rack in upper third of oven. Stir together the parmesan, mayonnaise, onion and cayenne. Cut out two circles from each slice of bread, using a circular cookie cutter, and arrange the circles of bread on a baking sheet. Bake the toasts until the tops are crisp and just golden, about five minutes. Take the sheet out of the oven and let the toasts cool. Keep the oven on.

    When the toasts are cooled slightly (just slightly), top each toast with a mound of the cheese mixture, probably using just short of a teaspoon of the filling on each toast. Spread the mixture with a knife so that it goes to the edge of the toasts.

    Bake the toasts until the topping is puffed and golden, about six minutes. Wow!

Friday, September 5, 2008

fettuccine and mushrooms

Last night, after watching the convention speeches, and needing comfort sustenance, with what was on hand, we prepared one of our simple favorites: fettuccine with mushrooms (and peas). It takes but a few minutes, and then, presto! All the comfort we were longing for.

for the sauce:
  • three tablespoons butter
  • two tablespoons olive oil
  • six ounces mushrooms (crimini or others)
  • three ounces of pancetta or prosciutto
  • one cup frozen peas (fresh if you have them!)
  • one-quarter cup white wine
  • two tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • one-quarter cup heavy cream
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • one-quarter cup freshly grated parmesan
for the pasta
  • one pound freshly made fettuccine (or tagliatelle)
Trim the stems off the mushrooms. Slice them into thin quarter inch slices. Slice the pancetta or prosciutto into thin slices.

In a saute pan over medium heat, place the butter and olive oil. When warm add the garlic. Cook thirty seconds. Add the mushrooms. As soon as they start to get soft (about three minutes) add the pancetta. Cook for two minutes. Add the white wine. Let the alchohol evaporate, about two minutes. Add the defrosted peas. (If fresh peas, add them with the pancetta). Add a teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Stir. Add the cream, and stir. Cook until the cream reduces slightly.

In the meantime, get five quarts of water up to a boil. Add two tablespoons of salt. Add the fettuccine. Stir. Cook until al dente (or just short of). Reserve a cup of the pasta liquid. Drain.

Add the pasta to the re-heated sauce. Add some of the reserved water if needed to keep moist. Add the parsley and stir. Add the parmesan and stir. Serve on heated plates.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

pasta primavera

our favorite -- ditalini with vegetables

We have not been overly fond of the American creation "pasta primavera". Frequently it seems to be throwing a variety of vegetables into some cooked pasta, without regard to how the tastes meld or how the vegetables work with the pasta. Sort of a warm pasta salad.

Here is a primavera we first tasted in a trattoria outside of Bologna. It uses ditali, the small pasta that does meld well with the vegetable slices. It is simple, beautiful in presentation, and has all the tastes we treasure in a well-conceived pasta.

for the sauce:

  • one garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • two medium size yellow bell peppers
  • two medium zucchini
  • eight ounces of green beans
  • two medium carrots
  • one tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • one cup extra virgin olive oil
  • one quarter cup freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper

for the pasta:

  • One pound Italian-made ditalini. Use the large size, not the small ones that are primarily for soup. We also use pennette lischia, the very small version of penne, which works well.

Soak the zucchini in cold water for sifteen minutes. Scrub and dry. Slice into thin slices.

Heat the yellow pepper over a flame to scorch the skin, and then peel the pepper. Dice it into quarter-inch dices.

Pel the carrots and either slice in thin slices or dice. Blanch the carrots in hot water for two minutes. Drain and set aside.

Trim the ends of the green beans. Cut in half. Blanch in hot water for two minutes, drain and set aside.

Over medium heat, put in a half cup of the olive oil. Add the garlic. After thirty seconds add the pepper and cook for two minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for another minute. Add the blanched carrots and green beans, stir, and cook for two minutes. Set aside.

Get five quarts of water up to a raging boil. Add two tablespoons of salt. Add the ditalini. Cook until al dente. Reserve one cup of the pasta liquid. Drain.

Return the vegetables to heat, and add the drained paste to the sauteed vegetables. Add the additional half cup of olive oil. Add a half easpoon of salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper. (if dry, add some of the reserved liquid).

Add the parsley. Stir. Add the parmesan and stir again. Cover the pan and turn up the heat, for one minute, to get the pasta steaming hot.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

first of the season

the first of the fresh tomatoes this season . . .

. . . this means that it is time for our favorite summer classic:

spaghetti with garlic, tomato and basil

(normally you would use fresh, plum tomatoes for this presentation. But we are lucky to get some organic, incredibly delicious "early girls", that are full flesh and sauce ready).

for the sauce:

  • five tablespoons of olive oil
  • 5-6 medium cloves of garlic
  • one pound fresh tomatoes, roughly diced into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
  • 30 or so large fresh basil leaves (about one cup), torn into small pieces
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese

for the pasta

  • one pound of spaghetti

Start by putting the plates in the oven to get them warm.

Then continue by immediately heating the water - 4 to 5 quarts of cold water. To a raging boil. Add two tablespoons of salt. Drop in the pasta and stir. Drain, saving a quarter cup of the liquid.

Meanwhile, put the oil into a saute pan, large enough to hold the spaghetti. Medium heat. Add the garlic. When it starts to sizzle add the chopped tomatoes, plus a teaspoon of salt and a few twists of freshly ground pepper. Cook for about four minutes. The tomatoes should sort of retain their shape, just starting to break down if they were quite ripe. Stir in the basil. Check for salt.

Ideally the spaghetti should be done just about this time. Add the pasta to the sauce. Add the reserved liquid. Stir well. Add the grated parmesan and stir again.

At this point we like to cover the pan, turn the heat to high, and get a great steam going, so the pasta as presented will be truly "steaming" hot.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

pasta meets mussels

We are always looking for a pasta dish with fresh seafood. Finding one that uses mussels is a bit of a challenge. But here is one: mussels with an anise flavor -- simple, beautiful and tasty.

This recipe is adapted from a lovely article in Food and Wine that featured not only the pasta dish but the lovely celadon-glazed porcelain bowls (as shown).Perhaps Pernod is not the most Italian of flavorings, but what works, works. Note: we do not use a full pound of pasta for a four-person serving -- the smaller portion seems to strike a proper balance.

for the sauce:
  • two tablespoons olive oi
  • one medium onion, peeled and diced
  • two garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • several sprigs of fresh thyme
  • hree-quarters cup white wine
  • one-quarter cup Pernod
  • thirty-six small mussels, about two pounds
  • three-quarter cups heavy cream
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • one tablespoon chopped tarragon leaves

for the pasta

  • three-quarter pounds freshly made tagliatelle (home-made linguine also works fine)

In a large saute pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and garlic. After fifteen seconds, add the onion. Cook until softened, about five minutes.

Add the sprigs of thyme, the wine and the Pernod. Add the mussels, cover and cook until they are all open. (check under the lid regularly to make sure -- should be about five minutes). When the mussels are all open (there might be one or so tough ones who refuse to open) transfer the mussels to a bowl. Throw away the non-openers. Boil the remianing liquid to reduce it about half. Toss out the thyme. Add the mussels (gently) along with their juices, and the chopped tarragon. Add a half teaspoon of salt and a few twists of the pepper mill. Stir again -- gently.

Bring five quarts of water to a big boil. Add two tablespoons fo salt. Add the tagliatelle. Cook until almost al dente. Drain. A little moisture will not hurt.

Add the tagliatelle to the re-heated sauce. Toss so that the pasta is well coated. Cover and cook over medium high heat for one minute to get steaming. Serve with tarragon leaves as garnish.

Here is another pasta plus mussels recipe: go to Click on pasta then tagliatelle, and find "tagliatelle with mussels and fresh peas".

If you have some Pernod left that you would like to use, here is another:, click on "extra pantry" and find "veal stew with fennel and tomatoes".

Thursday, February 21, 2008

italian white wine

In my web site:, in the wine section, I made the basic generalization that, in general, Italian white wines were best when drinking them in a trattoria near where they were grown. They did not transport that well, I claimed, and the quality did not generally justify the price for those wines purchased here. I admit I included a couple of "possible exceptions", but not that many.

I have had to "eat crow" a couple of times, as one may note on the updated web site, most notaby after drinking a Terredora Greco di Tufo Loggia Della Serra 2005 recently. From the Campania region, in the hills near Avellino, this wine from the greco family, is a delight. Its producers do caution that it is a wine to drink now, but what a lovely, floral treasure.

Chapter Two in the "eating crow" department occurred last week, when I had the pleasure of visiting a relatively new wine ship, Biondivino, in the Russian Hill section of San Francisco. The proprietor is the charming, incredibly knowledgeable Ceri Smith. Her beautifully designed store is devoted to Italian wines, and especially unusual, hard-to-fine, specially crafted wines. Every region of Italy is represented, and mostly all from small producers. Biondivino is truly a worthy Temple of Italian wine.

On the question of Italian whites, Ceri said in an interview in the Chronicle: "I love the Italian whites. People know Pinot Grigio, but there's so much more to Italian whites. They are so complex, and they have so many layers and subtleties and nuance and elegance. If someone wanted to change their mind about white wines, they should try Kerner -- it's a hybrid produced in Trentino-Alto Adige."

So I did. I bought three whites (above). On Ceri's recommendation we had the Kerner with a cheese course. Perfecto! The second selection was a Biondi: "Gurna" from the base of Mt. Etna. It is a blend of Caricante, Cataratto, Minnella, Malvasia and Moscadello Etna. (This one is still to be tried). We filled out the triad with a different Greco: from Benito Ferrara.

In addition, we also picked up, on Ceri's further recommendation, a Castellum Vetus Montepulicano d'Abruzzo, Colline Teramane. I had picked up some superb hand-crafted bucatini at a nearby Italian market, and the menu for the next evening was to be a favorite: Bucatini d'Amatriciana. (see two of the posts below for this special treasure). The Castellum Vetus was absolutely perfect with this dish. Thanks Ceri!

Friday, January 25, 2008


Here it is: where we get our guanciale, to make the perfect all'amatriciana (see the previous posts)

This is the storefront of Salumi, in the southern part of the city of Seattle. It is owned by Armandino Batali, father of Mario, and specializes in salami and cured meats. I was in the shop/restaurant a week ago, for a lovely and typical Salumi lunch: a minestrone with a wonderful assortment of cured meats as a welcome additive, and then a plate of mixed, cold salami and other cured meats. Fourteen different varieties on the plate. A delight, and a wonderful change of pace for lunch. The store/restaurant serves soups, pasta specials, sandwiches (with their meats of course) and plates of either cold or hot salami and other meats. Open for lunch only.

They are located at 309 Third Avenue South, just north of the Seahawks stadium. And best of all, they sell their wares on line. So this is where you can get your guanciale.

On the web: Details for buying on line therein.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

amatriciana (part two)

This is an image from a wonderful article in the New York Times of January 16, by the superb food writer Florence Fabricant. The subject is a favorite of ours: bucatini all'amatriciana. (You can check our previous post on this dish below) and is headlined as "The Meat of the Matter in a Pasta Debate."

In the article, Florence rightly claims that true Amatriciana must be made with guanciale, which is cured, unsmoked pig jowl. She rightly says that the great cook books in America almost always call for bacon or pancetta, rather than guanciale. But, in defense, she reports that it was by necessity: guanciale (which means pillow in Italian, which describes its shape) was simply not available here.

She also describes the fine points in the ongoing debate between Rome and the village of Amatrice on whether the dish should have onions (Rome, si; Amatrice, non), olive oil, and how much pecorino. And whether the pasta should be bucatini, or thick spaghetti, or even some penne. The debate on the fine points, and the hearty opinions, alla Italiana, are great fun.

But, wonders of wonders, guanicale can now be found in the United States. (more on this in our next post). So in keeping with our demand for authenticity, not to mention the shear taste delight of the "official" amatriciana, here is the recipe, WITH guanciale. (compare it with our original recipe posted earlier).

For the sauce:
  • two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • one medium onion, thinly sliced
  • three cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • one-quarter pound guanciale, sliced in one inch length slivers, one-quarter inch thick
  • one 28-ounce can San Marzano peeled plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
  • one-half teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • one-half cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese

  • one pound bucatini
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic. When it starts to sizzle, add the onion. Saute for five minutes. Add the guanciale, and saute until it just starts to brown. Roughly chop the tomatoes, and add them to the saute pan. Continue cooking at a lower heat, uncovered, for about fifteen minutes, while regularly breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. The sauce should be relatively smooth (not lumpy). Add the red pepper flakes, a twist or two of freshly ground pepper, a half teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of pecorino. Stir and set aside.

Cook the bucatini in a large pot (4 to 5 quarts of water) of salted, boiling water. Cook until al dente. Drain (reserving one cup of the pasta liquid) and add to the saute pan of sauce, which you have now reheated. Stir and meld together. Add the cheese and a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta water if the sauce is too thick to meld well with the pasta. Cover, turn up the heat for two minutes to get it really hot. Serve with extra pecorino on the side.

Note: more on guanciale in the next post