Pasta Arrabbiata

pasta_arrabbiata

 

Ever have one of those people in your life that just knows everything? Yup, you do. I know you do. Like that friend of a friend, who upon hearing I had a food blog about Italian recipes took up five minutes of my life telling me pasta was Chinese.

Sigh. Yes, there are Chinese noodles. They are similar. In fact, most cultures have some semblance of a pasta-like dish (spaetzle, anyone?). I’m sure most cultures have their version of salad or bread too.

It’s not a matter of who came up with what dish first – each has evolved. But pasta – made with durum wheat or semolina – is completely Italian. Durum gives pasta a high gluten content, and semolina isn’t highly absorbent – both qualities that give pasta the ability to be dried and last long, but also give that al dente bite when mixed with sauces.

And if you ask me, it’s not pasta “noodles” that I focus on as Italian so much as the sauces. The fresh vegetables and herbs, thrown together straight from the garden; quick mixtures with fresh olive oil or pasta water that coat the pasta in numerous tasty variations. In fact, so many times it is the pasta that takes longer to cook than the sauce. Those fresh flavours, that’s Italian.

And this recipe for Pasta Arrabbiata is a great example of it. It was one of my grandfather’s favourite meals if just for the sheer speed of it. Put the pot for the pasta and the pan for the sauce on at the same time and about 20 minutes later you can dive in. This recipe is so quick that it’s now a tradition to have it when we get home from trips. When I land at the airport, a quick call to my mom and she puts on the pot to boil and by the time we’re in the driveway, it’s ready to eat.

Arrabbiata means “angry”, referring to the fiery dried hot peppers, but in our dialect, we call it “’ragata”. It can be made with penne or spaghetti, but be sure to get great tomatoes for the sauce. Serve it up extra hot for your know-it-all friend!

pasta_arrabbiata_recipe_traditional

Pasta Arrabbiata
400g pasta (or 1 full standard package of 454g to 500g)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
150 g (2) cured sausages, sliced (or the equivalent in soppresata, or in pinch, bacon)
1L crushed tomatoes
crushed hot pepper flakes
salt
grated Parmiggiano Reggiano

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By |16/08/2017|Primo, Recipes|0 Comments

Fried Smelt

Fried_smelt_with_light_flour

My grandfather was a trouble maker.

He was the youngest of seven children and I can safely say he never lost his mischievous and child-like streak. He was a prankster, a laugher and a storyteller. My sister loves to tell the story of when, as I was reading in a hammock in our backyard, my grandfather snuck out of the garden where he was tending to his tomatoes and got on this hands and knees to crawl under the hammock to knock me out of it from below. He was in his late 70s and was giggling during the entire episode.

My grandfather was always active too, constantly on the go. For many years when I was a child springtime meant late night trips to go smelt fishing. We’d drive to a pier on a lake north of the city, unfurl a square net and dip it into the water and pull it up full of wriggling small fish. We’d usually run into family or family-friends in the same location. It was a fishing tradition that my grandparents had took part in ever since they had landed in Toronto. Gathering food in any way that was traditional (and money saving) like fishing, mushroom hunting or collecting dandelion leaves for salad, were regular occurrences. In fact, in the 1970s my grandfather would go with extended family to Lake Ontario, near Ashbridges bay, to fish for smelt at night. And ever the jokster, he would slip live fish into his sister’s pockets when they weren’t paying attention.

As I got older, the smelt started to disappear. I remember the few times we would go fishing at 1 or 2 in the morning only to come back with just a few. The population crashed in Lake Simcoe in the mid-1990s and a series of invasion species are suspected to keep their populations at bay. I haven’t had smelt in years so when I found them at a local grocery store, I snapped them up.

Smelts were a treat – not a full meal, but a full plate that we would share after a plate of pasta. Other than the frying, they weren’t dressed up in any way. Just fresh fish, fried to a crisp. So my pictures for this recipe don’t have a sprinkling of parsley, or a gremolata for added colour. This is just pure fish, how they were enjoyed. The only thing missing is my Nonno, eating the fried smelt with the heads still on, head first into his mouth with a gleam in his eye, knowing it would gross me out. It always gave him a good laugh.

fresh_smelt_fish

Fried Smelts
1/2 pound fresh smelts, cleaned and patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
Canola oil for frying

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By |27/03/2017|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|0 Comments

Rapini with Potatoes

rapini_with_potatoes_impanata

Every once and a while my mind wanders to dark, winter nights in my grandparent’s kitchen, where the stove had already been on for hours by the time I got there. This was a time of quiet comfort. The windows reflected our actions in the dark outside and the TV played Wheel of Fortune in the other room. The air was warm with cooking and echoed the quiet shuffle of my grandparent’s slippers on the tile floor. We never bothered to set the whole table for dinner, but threw a tablecloth on half and used a jumble of mismatched glasses and forks with our food.

While so many of the meals served at Nanna and Nonno’s house were familiar, my grandfather also tried new things whenever he felt inspired. Though the one consistent was the food was cooked low and slow. I highly suspect that this recipe is one of his experiments that stayed a regular feature for us (or maybe a few other children of Italian immigrants can prove me wrong). We loved rapini as winter vegetables, their bitter hardiness appearing on our plates for most of the winter. When I was younger, rapini were a bit of a harder taste for me except when presented this way: fried up with mashed potatoes. The creaminess of the mashed potatoes, fried to a crisp on the outside, mellowed the taste of the rapini. Sometimes we’d pair this “impanata” (the name given to something breaded or encased) with a protein, or sometimes just eat it on it’s own. Now it’s more often the dish I use to introduce people to rapini, before they get a full-blown taste of it.

The inside of this dish was always piping hot, burning your tongue almost, while the winter winds blew outside and the snow gathered against the back door. It was, and is, comfort food.

rapini_with_potatoes_ingreidents

Rapini Impanata
1 half bunch rapini, washed and chopped
4 to 5 medium potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
salt (as desired)
hot pepper flakes (as desired)

potato_ricer_for_potatoes_and_rapini

Wash and peel the potatoes. Place into cold water in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil until just cooked through (a fork or knife inserts easily). Drain and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, clean and chop the rapini (for detailed instructions on that, click here). Chop the rapini into inch-long pieces.

rapini_cut_up_for_rapini_with_potatoes

After the potatoes have slightly cooled, mash them finely or put them through a ricer.

In a medium frying pan, heat the oil at medium heat. Add in the rapini, garlic, salt and hot pepper flakes (if desired). Cook the rapini until they are slightly soft. Add the potatoes to the frying pan and stir to fully combine, mashing the potatoes into the rapini.

rapini_with_potatoes_how_to

Smooth out the top of the potato mixture and turn the heat down to medium-low. Allow the potatoes to cook until a crust forms on the bottom, which could take up to 20 minutes. You can check the bottom with a thin spatula but also by shaking the pan slightly to see when the potatoes release from the bottom.

rapini_with_potatoes_complete

When the bottom is browned, remove the potatoes to a plate and then flip it over while returning it to the frying pan to brown the other side, again for another 15-20 minutes.

Remove to a platter when done and cut, in pie slices, to serve.

potatoes_with_rapini_complete

By |19/01/2017|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|0 Comments

Vegetable Tiella

tiella_potato_vegetable_bake_recipe

My grandfather used to sit out on his back patio, his legs stretched on a wobbly plastic chair, and “survey the land” (as I used to call it). After a long day working in his rather large backyard garden, there seemed to be nothing better than to enjoy the cool air of dusk, and the purple sky, while watching the garden shadows grow long.

And gardens do take a lot of work. Well, at least managing it the Italian way. We seed, prune and pluck, water diligently, tie and support, all to get the best out of our plants. My grandfather, and now me, never seemed to be the type of person to just “throw some seeds” and see what came.

And the result of all that work: a lot of vegetables. The first few tomatoes and peppers seem to come slowly and with great excitement surrounding their arrival. Then suddenly, sometime in August, it’s like the plants explode and the kitchen table is covered in vegetables and I’m scrambling to figure out what to do with them all. Here is one recipe that comes in handy during the summer bounty: tiella.

A traditional Southern Italian dish, tiella is a sort of baked casserole which, in some regions also includes mussels or some sort of seafood. In my family’s version though, vegetables are the star of the show. How else to best showcase all that hard work? Whether you just finishing picking in your own garden, or had a really successful shopping trip to the farmer’s market, break out your casserole dish and warm up the oven to have the best of summer all in one forkful.

tiella_vegetable_bake_recipe

Vegetable Tiella
4-5 medium tomatoes or 1 small can of plum tomatoes
1 eggplant
1 medium zucchini (or two small zucchini)
1 red or yellow onion
4 medium potatoes
8 ounces flat green or yellow beans
fresh parsley or basil
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil

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By |14/07/2016|Primo, Recipes|1 Comment

Piselli Fritti (Fried Peas)

fried_peas_recipe_instructions

I’m about to offer you one of the simplest – and best – of all my family recipes. It’s peas. Fried peas.

This recipe is so simple, and so second nature to me, I’ve been consistently forgetting to include it on the blog. But this spring, with fresh peas around the corner, I stuck a sticky note on the fridge to make sure I remembered to write this recipe down.

Now there’s two ways you can end this recipe: by making the peas juicy and moist (which most Nonna’s prefer) or by crisping up the peas just slightly for some texture (which is what my sister and I always preferred – though my mom complained we were burning them!). How you want to end it is up to you, but they will both taste great. Fresh peas or frozen will work just fine.

Fried peas were a go-to recipe for my sister and I growing up. Other than my sister’s tried and true pasta she always – ALWAYS – made when she was looking after me. We paired the peas with chicken cutlets or chicken fingers, or steaks. This is actually the only way I eat peas, other than raw, straight out of the pod which is my absolute favourite spring treat. I’ve never boiled them or steamed them, that seems rather boring. Or mashed them, what’s up with mushy peas?

At the same time, I’m aware some people might think – why fry peas? I’ll tell you why: flavour. Layered Italian flavours. Try them just once, and you’ll need to have them again. To this day, if fried peas are served at any family gathering, I always take the leftovers.

Piselli Fritti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped onions
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 garlic cloves, minced or 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 cup water or chicken stock (1/2 cup if you’d like the peas a little wetter)

fried_peas_prep

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By |15/06/2016|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|0 Comments

Orecchiette with Rapini

pasta_rapini_finished

It’s been a while since I posted and for the first time, I’m re-doing a recipe. Not because the first version was wrong, but because now I can do it better. Pasta with Rapini was the first recipe I posted nearly 5 years ago and I posted it because it is my absolute favourite dish. Comfort food at it’s best. Simple Italian cooking. And it’s from my Dad’s hometown of Monteleone in Puglia. When I posted it, I had many people comment on how much they love this dish but also others that were excited to try it. And yet, it is still one that I only serve to immediate family – rapini (or broccoli rabe) can be hard to love if they are too bitter.

But mostly I’m posting this recipe re-do because back then, I was afraid to use the word “orecchiette” (the ear-shaped pasta featured in the pictures) and just called it “pasta.” I thought it would turn readers off but now I regret it – that’s the name of the dish and it’s authentic. Back then, I used a food processor to pulse together the garlic and anchovies that help flavour the recipe – partially because it was easier and partially because it was easier to explain. Now, I love doing things by hand, the way they were originally done. I don’t mind my garlic a little chunkier and I do love putting the little bit of work in. Also back then my photography skills were just emerging. I’ve come so far – and yet, am by no means professional – in showcasing the ingredients that find their way into my kitchen and it makes me much happier. This dish needed new photos desperately.

pasta_rapini_raw_pasta

And finally, back then, my readers were mainly friends and family. With thousands of new blog readers a day and more than a thousand getting my recipes by email, it was time to make this favourite recipe a star of the show again. So if you haven’t had the chance to go back in the recipe archives, here’s the opportunity to see one of the best and give it a try. This is an Italian classic and it’s the reason I started this blog.

Orecchiette with Rapini
1 16oz package semolina orecchiette
1 bunch of rapini, coarsely chopped
3 anchovy fillets
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil as needed
grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese to taste
ground hot peppers (if desired)

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By |23/04/2016|Primo, Recipes|0 Comments

Fritto Misto di Mare (Mixed Fried Seafood)

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It’s the week of Christmas and of all the things to look forward to – family, gifts, cookies and Christmas trees – I’ve got my eye on a different prize: seafood. Crazy, right? This is one of the few times of the year my family whips up a massive batch of Fritto Misto di Mare (Mixed Fried Seafood). Christmas Eve is all about fish and while I’ve heard of it called the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” by Italian-Americans recently that’s not how I’ve known it. I do know that as part of religious observance, Fridays, particularly holy Fridays, and Christmas Eve, called La Vigilia di Natale (The Vigil of Christmas, literally, or the Eve before Christmas), we avoid meat products.

I can’t say that we’ve ever had exactly seven dishes on Christmas Eve, but one we always have is Fritto Misto di Mare (and baccala (salted cod fish) but that’s a recipe for another day). Fritto Misto is by far a crowd favourite, there isn’t anyone who passes on this dish no matter how full you are from the antipasto or pasta. Pipping hot, crispy and tangy from a squeeze of lemon, it wouldn’t be Christmas without fried seafood. Below is how my family gets it to the table. I’ve done shrimp and squid here, but we would typically also have scallops. They can be prepared and cooked the same way as the shrimp. But to be honest, I strongly dislike scallops – it’s a texture thing – but don’t avoid having them at your table! If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where all this seafood can be bought fresh that should be your preferred purchase and you can just ignore my instructions on defrosting, a necessary evil for those of us who are landlocked (save for a large, great lake). Merry Christmas everyone! May your Christmas eve be full of Fritti Misti and fun!

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Fritto Misto di Mare

500g shrimp (size 31-40 or the larger, the better!)
400g scallops
400g cleaned, frozen squid
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon salt plus additional for seasoning after frying
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup cornmeal
canola oil for frying
lemon slices for dressing

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By |20/12/2015|Recipes, Secondo|0 Comments

Cartellate (Honey Pinwheels)

Italian_cartellate_honey_pinwheels

So many readers write to me about “secret” family recipes, the things only Nonna made, or Mom developed from a previous recipe. Our most revered foods are often from the minds and hands of those we love, and this is even more heightened during the holidays.

This blog has been going for just over four years now and there’s still a favourite, secret recipe I haven’t shared with you…until today. My absolute-favourite-it’s-not-Christmas-without-them “cookie”: cartellate. These honey jewels originate from Puglia, the region that holds my dad’s home town of Monteleone, but it’s my mother who has perfected the recipe to the point that I cannot control myself around them. In my family we called them “crispelle,” but they are more commonly known as cartellate (or pinwheels). We coat them in honey, or sometimes a dusting of icing sugar, but other families soak them in vin cotto (cooked wine) or a combination of vin cotto and honey. Others still create ones that are rolled with a filling of nuts and dried fruits.

cartellate_recipe

What just boogles my mind about cartellate, and a few other Italian cookies, is just how complicated the process of making them can be to explain. As usual with traditional Italian recipes, the ingredients are simple – flour, eggs, oil – but getting to the final, delicious product will take a few steps. So be forewarned – there’s a lot of pictures in the post so you can see the full process! And here’s an interesting tip from this recipe, the one small oz of liqueur in the ingredients can add flavour to the dough, but it’s real function is to keep the oil from foaming when cooking these treats.

Cartellate
Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 a cup for kneading
4 large eggs
1 oz Italian liqueur – Anisette, Amaretto or, if preferred, Rum. If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute in vanilla.
2 tablespoons of canola oil
1 tablespoon of sugar

Finishing:
Canola oil for frying
1 1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon water

how_to_make_cartellate_dough

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By |09/12/2015|Dolce, Recipes|5 Comments

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto Recipe

The last year has been all about change. With the arrival of our little one, everything in life changed. And then jobs changed and even how we spend our free time. I’ve been thinking about change a lot lately and find myself making small changes everywhere these days, even in cooking. And when it comes to food I’m the type of person who wanders grocery aisles to find new products and ideas. When I go on vacation, a must stop is always the grocery store. From trying something completely new to taking a twist on an old favourite, that’s the best part of cooking.

Take risotto for example: I’m used to the way we’ve always made it, like this Asparagus Risotto. Then there’s this knock-out super-traditional and ultra-technical Milanese Risotto. But small changes to either of these recipes can bring you something completely new. So when a pile of mushrooms went on sale at the store, I tried a few new ones that I wouldn’t normally use in Italian cooking, like shiitake, and went to the rice aisle for another small change: carnaroli rice.

Mushroom Risotto Recipe

You’ve seen me use Arborio rice for risotto, but there’s actually a few other types of Italian starchy rices like carnaroli and Vialone nano. Carnaroli rice is preferred for risotto is some regions in Italy. It is shorter and wider than Arborio, but can be used much the same. Trying it out for this recipe, I found that the grains held their shape more in the end dish, but it wasn’t necessarily creamier than the usual Arborio.

It’s a small change but often that’s how you find your perfect recipe. Like when Nonno started using Yukon Gold potatoes to make colluri, he claimed they made the doughnuts fluffier. A little tweak never hurts (though I wouldn’t change the colluri recipe, ever!). What small change have you made to a recipe only to find it made it even better? Let me know in the comments!

Mushroom Risotto Recipe

Mushroom Risotto
6 cups chicken stock (or 3 mushroom bouillon cubes dissolved in 6 cups of water)
2 cups cannaroli rice
4 cups mixed chopped mushrooms
1 minced onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

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By |28/10/2015|Primo, Recipes|0 Comments

Autumn Vegetable Pasta al Forno – and a CorningWare giveaway!

pasta-al-forno-with-autumn-vegetables

While the trees on my street are turning colours of orange and yellow, there’s just one maple tree down the road that is a vibrant, almost neon, red. I love it. The colours are a wonder during fall and even my son, cozy in his stroller, is staring at the trees to take it all in. With the last few vegetables of the season, those colours are in the kitchen too – deep purple, vibrant reds and pinks and bright yellows. Today, I’m using all those colours to make one of my staple dishes this time of year – pasta al forno with eggplant and beans.

Of course, when World Kitchen sent me this crazy-coloured 4-Pc Bakeware set from CW by CorningWare, I thought, what a great opportunity to add even more colour into the kitchen and give my readers a chance to win one of their own! I am so happy with the colour of these dishes, practically all the bakeware I have is white (go ahead and look back at my other recipes!) and I don’t see why everything needs to be white. Certainly our vegetables and trees aren’t that boring. If you want to make your kitchen colourful – scroll to the bottom of this recipe for all the details on how to win a  2.5 Quart Vermillion Baker from CW by CorningWare (Retail value $21.99).

Pasta_al_forno-recipe

You might be thinking: “but autumn vegetables are butternut squash and pumpkin.” That’s certainly what you’ll see on many food blogs this time of year, but for Italians autumn is also the bounty of the season, bushels of all our favourite vegetables abound. We’re still enjoying and preserving eggplants, tomatoes and romano beans, in fact these vegetables in the photos came out of my garden just this week. This dish is kind of a take on the Sicilian traditional dish of “pasta alla norma” which involves fried strips of eggplant and ricotta. In this version the eggplant and beans add a creamy texture to the pasta, making it rich and filling. Baking pasta also means a crispy and cheesy top layer – that’s the bits we fight over at this house, everyone wants the crispy pasta.

If you haven’t tried pasta “al forno” (baked), now’s the time. And scroll to the bottom to find out how to be entered for your own colourful CorningWare!

Pasta_al_forno_for autumn

Autumn Vegetable Pasta al Forno
7 medium tomatoes, peeled and seeded OR 1 796 ml can of peeled tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Sicilian eggplant, peeled and cut into cubes
250g romano beans, shelled
500g pasta
100g mozzarella, shredded
30g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste

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By |08/10/2015|Primo, Recipes|18 Comments