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Recipe: Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano

3 Mar

Sometimes, you need comfort food. While home today with a very sore throat and not much food in the fridge, I wondered what to make for lunch. It needed to be soft. It needed to make me feel better. It needed to be made from the few items I could scrounge up, and it needed to be prepared quickly. There was only one possibility: Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano, a double dose of sheep-milk heaven — and ready in less than 15 minutes. Perfect.

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Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano

This is a free-form recipe; you can adjust any of the ingredients to suit your tastes. The quantities below are for one hungry pasta lover, but this dish could serve two people if part of a multi-course meal.

  • 113 gr./ ¼ lb. spaghetti (or fettucine, tonnarelli, or other pasta)
  • 1 tbsp. /14 gr. butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼-1/3  c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • fresh, coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
  • 65 gr./ 2 ¼ oz. sheep’s-milk ricotta, crumbled or cut into small pieces (* use the best, freshest ricotta you can find)

Preparation

  1. Start boiling lightly salted water in a generously sized pot. When the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti and cook just until al dente—often that’s about 1 minute less than indicated on the package.
  2. Meanwhile, place the pieces of butter in an unheated skillet or large bowl next to the pasta pot. Add the Pecorino Romano cheese,  grind black pepper over  top (to your liking), and sprinkle 2 tbsp. cooking water around the sides of the skillet or bowl.
  3. When the spaghetti is done, quickly scoop it out of its cooking water with a pasta ladle and drop it into the skillet or bowl. Don’t shake off all the cooking water; it is an essential ingredient. Stir and swirl the spaghetti vigorously to melt the butter, the Pecorino Romano cheese, and the cooking water into a light sauce. Add more cooking water if the pasta appears too dry.
  4. Check the seasonings (adding salt and more ground  pepper if needed), gently fold in the ricotta, and serve immediately, with additional grated Pecorino Romano on the side.

Recipe: Coda alla Vaccinara (Oxtail Stew) with Rigatoni

2 Dec

One of the pleasures of being in a new place is tasting local dishes and then trying to figure out how to make them. In Italy, part of the fun lies in consulting butchers, greengrocers, cheese purveyors, wine merchants, and really, any Italian who eats, because they are all happy to offer advice. As soon as the days grew cooler, I knew what I wanted to make: Coda alla Vaccinara (Oxtail Stew) served over rigatoni–an old-style dish appearing on many Roman menus.

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In previous times, the slaughterhouse workers of Testaccio (the vacccinari) were given offal and oxtails to pad their slim salaries. Their wives rose to the challenge and created dishes that made the most of the available ingredients. In Coda alla Vaccinara, the oxtails are braised in a sauce made with pancetta, lots of celery, onions, carrots, tomatoes, wine, and spices, though the stew is open to interpretation; everyone I asked prepares the dish in a slightly different way. Some people make it with red wine instead of white, some add water, some forego the carrot, some add raisins. Large pieces of celery are de rigueur, but in a rebellious break from tradition (and knowing I wanted to turn the entire stew into a sauce), I finely diced all the celery and survived to tell the tale.

However, I did not escape looks of shock and dismay on the faces of two Italian friends when I mentioned I had added a pinch of cinnamon to the stew. “Cinnamon? CINNAMON? No. NO.” But I say “Yes.” In addition to cloves, cinnamon very frequently appears in recipes for Coda, which is meant to have a warm-scented, delicately sweet undertone. So here is the resulting recipe, a hearty interpretation perfect for autumn and winter. And following on the advice of Alessandro Volpetti (and I’m happy to take the word of anyone at Volpetti’s), I topped the Coda with grated Ricotta Salata cheese, one of my favorites. But omit the cinnamon if you prefer, top with Parmesan or Pecorino Romano instead–this dish is yours to interpret.

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Rigatoni with Oxtail Sauce (con Coda alla Vaccinara)

1-2 tbsp. olive oil
2.2 lb. (1 kg.) oxtails
salt and pepper
4 oz. (about 112 grams) pancetta, cubed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely diced (or coarsely grated)
5 stalks celery, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/8 -1/4 tsp. chili flakes
4 whole cloves (or 1/8 tsp. ground)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1.5 tbsp. tomato paste
1.5 c. white wine
1 large (28 oz./800 grams) can peeled Italian tomatoes
fresh parsley and marjoram (or oregano)
tiny pinch sugar

1 lb. (500 grams) rigatoni
Ricotta salata cheese, grated

Preparation
1. Lightly season the oxtail pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven, then brown the oxtail pieces, turning them on all sides. Remove from the pot and place in a bowl.
2. Add the pancetta to the pot and cook until mostly crispy and the fat has rendered; do not drain the fat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook until soft, deglazing the pot as you go. Sprinkle the onion mixture with more black pepper, add the garlic and bay leaf, and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chili flakes, cloves, and cinnamon and cook for a minute or two while stirring. Add the tomato paste and the wine. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes to reduce the liquid slightly.
3. With clean hands, take a peeled tomato from the can and crush it into the stew; repeat with all the tomatoes. This is a very satisfying technique—but moderation is key; if you are too enthusiastic, you may end up shooting tomato bits across the kitchen. If you prefer a slightly less visceral experience, you can cut the tomatoes while in the can, or remove them and dice, adding all the tomatoes and all the tomato sauce/juice from the can to the pot.
4. Mix in the pinch of sugar, nestle the oxtail pieces into the vegetable mixture, pour in any liquid from the bowl they were in, sprinkle with more black pepper, and then scatter some of the herbs on top.

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5. Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender when pierced with a fork (it may take longer depending on the oxtails). Remove the oxtails, place on a dish, let cool, then pull off as much meat from the bones as possible (this will require some patience). Return the shredded meat to the sauce; keep warm.
6. Cook the rigatoni according to package instructions until al dente, drain, return to its pot, and then mix in the Coda sauce. Scatter more fresh herbs on top and serve with the grated cheese.

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Recipe: Spaghetti with Chicken Chorizo, Zucchini, and Pine Nuts

5 Aug

Let me count the ways I love this dish:

  1. It is incredibly quick and easy,
  2. It is bold and zesty thanks to the spicy chicken chorizo and the tangy Pecorino Romano,
  3. It isn’t a typical tomato- or cream-based pasta dish,
  4. It contains pine nuts (a heavenly food, but one to be used sparingly because of the cost), and
  5. It is another way to use up some of that bumper crop of zucchini (… if you’ve had your fill of Chocolate Chunk Zucchini Squares).

I made this tonight in about 20 minutes–and yes, I did add the pine nuts, but they all went into hiding at photo time. If you have a bit more chorizo than you need for this recipe, add it to a delicious egg scramble in the morning, maybe with some poblano chilies, onions, and mushrooms. Mmmm.


Spaghetti with Chicken Chorizo, Zucchini, and Pine Nuts
Serves 4

3-4 tbsp. olive oil
2-3 links spicy chicken chorizo, removed from casings (about 2/3-1 lb.)
1 large zucchini, diced into small cubes (about 3 cups total)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 lb. spaghetti
1 tbsp. butter
1 c. Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparation

1. Start preparing spaghetti according to “al dente” directions on the package (check for doneness about a minute before the minimum time listed).
2. While water is coming to a boil, cook chorizo in olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until chorizo is no longer pink, breaking up the chorizo as it cooks. Add zucchini and cook until it has softened and the chorizo is golden. Add garlic during last five minutes of cooking time. If chorizo/zucchini mixture seems dry, add a bit more olive oil.
3. Push chorizo/zucchini mixture to one side of the skillet and sprinkle pine nuts onto the cleared space; cook the pine nuts for a couple minutes or until they turn golden. Incorporate them into the chorizo/zucchini mixture. If the pasta is not yet done, turn off the heat under the chorizo mixture and keep warm.
4. Just before draining the spaghetti, remove about 1/2 c. of the cooking water (or dip a glass measuring cup right into the pasta pot); reserve the water.
5. Drain the spaghetti, toss the drained spaghetti with butter, then pour the chorizo/zucchini mixture on top of the spaghetti and mix in well. If the mixture seems a bit dry, add a small amount of pasta cooking water to moisten.
6. Mix in the Pecorino Romano cheese, add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Recipe: Pasta in Cream Sauce with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano

18 Jun

With three children away from home, and the fourth frequently out and about, my husband and I are adapting to eating dinner by ourselves. It is a necessary exercise; in one more year, we will be empty nesters. We have made some adjustments, but not all recipes for six translate easily into a meal for two, so I am beginning to rethink my approach to dinner. Luckily, this recipe is very adaptable and can easily be scaled down (or back up).

It’s also quick, which makes it perfect for a busy week night. But more importantly, it will satisfy proponents of the two different schools of thought on pasta cream sauces. When this dish is first put on the table, the cream sauce will be fairly thin (as in the photo). In our family, there are staunch supporters of a thinner cream sauce; they say a more liquid consistency allows for maximum “soppage” with a nice piece of crusty bread. Other family members prefer a thicker sauce, which coats the pasta very nicely. Luckily, it’s possible to have it both ways: thinner-sauce aficionados can dig right in; thicker-sauce advocates can nibble on salad or bread and let the sauce cool a bit. Regardless of their sauce philosophies, family members agree on one thing: this is good to the last bite, thick or thin.

Note: Feel free to substitute Parmesan cheese for the Pecorino Romano, and bacon for the pancetta (I used bacon this time, after discovering at the last moment that the pancetta I thought I had in the freezer was a figment of my imagination).

Pasta in Cream Sauce with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano
Serves 2-3

1/2 lb. pasta (I used gemelli)
2 oz. cubed pancetta (in the U.S., Trader Joe’s sells a 4-0z. package*)–or 4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small clove garlic, sliced
1 c. half and half, which is half light cream and half milk (or you can use all light cream or heavy cream–the heavier the cream, the thicker the sauce)
small pinch salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan)

Preparation

1. Bring an ample amount of water to boil in a medium pot and cook the pasta just until it is al dente.
2. While the water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan and cook the pancetta/bacon until crisp; remove the pancetta/bacon, place on a paper towel to drain, and set aside. Leave about 1/2 tbsp. of oil/drippings in the saucepan; discard the rest. Add the sliced garlic to the pan and cook just until golden (you do not want the garlic to burn). Remove the garlic and discard. Turn heat to low and add the half and half (or cream). Grind black pepper over the surface of the sauce. Add a small pinch of salt (be conservative at this stage because you’ll be adding salty bacon and cheese to the dish; you can adjust the seasonings afterward). Keep the sauce warm without letting it boil.
3. When the pasta is done, drain it well, return it to the pot, and immediately toss with the cheese. Add the reserved pancetta/bacon, mix well, and then pour the cream sauce over. Stir well and adjust the seasonings (I usually add more pepper at this stage). The sauce will appear thin at first, but will thicken as it cools.
4. Serve with salad and crusty bread.

*I stock up on packages of cubed pancetta and freeze them. Then, I add the cubed pancetta directly to the hot oil. It cooks (and crisps up) beautifully, and is oh-so convenient.

Recipe: Lasagna Roll-Ups with Spinach and Ricotta

8 Dec

Sometimes, you want something fairly simple for dinner, but still want it to have a little flair. This dish meets that need. It is a different take on an old favorite: lasagna. Instead of layering the lasagna, you roll it up. It is fun to make, and a pleasure to eat.

Lasagna Roll-Ups © G. Stansbury

Lasagna Roll-Ups with Spinach and Ricotta
Makes 10-12
[Updated  Dec. 9, 2012]

15 pieces lasagna from a 1-lb. box
16 oz. ricotta cheese
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (10-oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1 egg, lightly beaten
1.5 c. shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 c. grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
3/4 tsp. salt
freshly grated pepper to taste

pasta sauce of your preference (at least 24 oz./4 c. — may need more)

Preparation
1. Cook lasagna al dente in large pot of boiling water according to directions on package. Drain, and rinse with cold water to cool.
2. While lasagna is cooking, combine ricotta, garlic, spinach, egg, 1/2 c. mozzarella, Pecorino Romano/Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper. Mix well.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray, then pour about 2 c. pasta sauce into pan, spreading evenly. Add more sauce as needed to ensure there is a healthy layer of sauce in bottom of pan.
4.  Lay out a lasagna noodle and spoon about 1/3 c. filling in an even layer down the entire noodle (you can also spread the filling on the noodle with very clean fingers). Roll the lasagna noodle up as tightly as possible, and nestle into sauce in pan. Repeat with remaining noodles–you will end up with between 10-12 roll-ups  (the extra noodles are back-ups in case of any breaks or tears). Pour remaining sauce over and in between roll-ups.
5. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Remove aluminum foil and sprinkle remaining 1 c. mozzarella over the roll-ups. Broil until golden, and serve immediately.

Recipe: Meatballs for Spaghetti

21 Nov

On Thanksgiving and by long tradition, 15+ family and friends join us to eat an almost equivalent number of dishes. This means that on Thanksgiving Eve, things can get a bit nutty. I usually have various items scattered about in various stages of preparation,  and it’s hard to think of what to make for dinner–or muster up much enthusiasm for cooking it on top of everything else. Enter one great husband, who this year chose and prepared a classic Italian dish far removed from the traditional Thanksgiving offerings: Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Except Spaghetti and Meatballs isn’t a classic Italian dish, since most Italians would never eat meatballs with pasta. In fact, we have Italian friends who would rather stab themselves with a fork than contemplate such a gastronomic travesty.  But those friends weren’t at our house this evening, so we were free to enjoy what is for many Americans a match made in heaven–one made even more heavenly by the fact that I had no hand in preparing it on this night of all nights. These fresh-tasting meatballs are adapted from the timeless New York Times Cookbook, by Craig Claiborne.

Meatballs for Spaghetti
Serves 8

Meatballs
1.5 lb. ground turkey
1 c. dry breadcrumbs (seasoned breadcrumbs are nice)
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp. half-and-half, or cream
4 tbsp. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
4 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon rind
salt and pepper to taste

olive oil
spaghetti sauce
1 lb. spaghetti

Preparation
1. Mix all the meatball ingredients and blend well. Shape into about 24 meatballs.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet and brown meatballs, making sure not to crowd them (if necessary, cook in batches). Add sauce to skillet, and cook meatballs in sauce for about 15 minutes. (Or put sauce in a large saucepan, and add the meatballs to the sauce.)
3. Prepare spaghetti al dente, according to directions on package.
4. Serve meatballs with spaghetti and more Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Recipe: Spaghetti Bolognaise

3 Oct

This is a recipe whose origins trace back to Bologna, in Northern Italy. But one of the reasons Italian food is is so beloved around the world is because it is so incredibly adaptable–and Spaghetti Bolognaise is a great example. You can add what you like, subtract what you don’t, and the result will be something you’ve made your own that still speaks the language of its birth.

This recipe is more of a guideline: I like to make this with ground turkey, but other ground meats (or none at all) would work well, too; in fact, this can easily be made into a vegetarian dish by substituting chopped mushrooms for the meat and adding zucchini or other veggies. Sometimes I discover I don’t have tomato sauce, so I add more tomato paste and wine. Occasionally, I run out of fresh garlic and resort to garlic powder. No matter how much I tweak this recipe, it always turns out well, and for that reason alone it is a true keeper. As a final note, you can easily double this recipe to feed a crowd or to freeze the extra so you can have some on hand for busy weeknight meals.

Spaghetti Bolognaise
Serves 6

1 pkg. ground turkey (1-1.25 lb.)
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, shredded
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
3 bay leaves
1/2-1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 c. red wine (I use Chianti if we have it; if not, I grab whatever is at hand)
1 (14.5-oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce
1/2 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar (optional–I add it to heighten the flavor of the tomatoes)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb. spaghetti
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or my favorite, Pecorino Romano)

Preparation
1. Cook the turkey in a lightly oiled skillet until no longer pink. Remove from the skillet, drain, and set aside in a covered bowl.
2. In a large saucepan, cook the onion and carrots in olive oil over medium heat until onion is soft and beginning to brown at the edges. Add the garlic, bay leaves, and basil, and cook for a couple minutes more.
3. Add turkey to saucepan and stir in 1/4 c. wine. Cook until most of the wine has reduced. Stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, remaining 1/4 c. wine, and sugar (if using). Season with salt and pepper.
4. Reduce heat and let sauce simmer uncovered for about half an hour, stirring periodically. Check seasonings and add more salt, pepper, sugar, or basil as needed. If sauce is too thin, stir in more tomato paste. If sauce is too thick, splash in a bit more wine.
5. Cook spaghetti in a large pot with plenty of lightly salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain, and toss with a small amount of olive oil to keep from sticking.
6. Serve the spaghetti with the Bolognaise sauce and with grated cheese.

Recipe: Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil

18 Jul

This dish has two advantages: First, it is another fantastic meal for hot summer days since the only part of it that requires cooking is the pasta. Second, it is a very nice way to use up some of that bumper crop of cherry tomatoes or basil from the herb garden.

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil
Serves 6

1 pint cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, or Roma cherry tomatoes
1 tsp. salt
freshly grated black pepper, to taste
1 7-8 oz. container bocconcini or ciliegine (baby mozzarella balls), drained
1 large clove garlic, very thinly sliced
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. finely shredded basil (can use an entire .75-oz. pkg from the store)
1 lb. trofie, gemelli, or any spiral pasta
1/3 c. grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese

Cut tomatoes in half and place in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add sliced garlic and olive oil; mix well and let marinate.

Cut the mozzarella balls into quarters (bocconcini) or halves (ciliegine). Add to tomatoes, folding in gently. Stack the basil leaves, roll them up tightly lengthwise, and slice finely, starting at one end of the roll and continuing until all the basil is nicely shredded. Sprinkle the basil on top of the tomato/mozzarella mixture.

Bring a large pot of water to boil; add a sprinkle of salt and the pasta and cook according to package directions just until pasta is al dente. Shortly before pasta is ready, remove about 1/2 c. of the cooking water and set aside.

Call all guests to the table; pasta waits for no one.

Drain pasta and return to pot. Pour tomato/mozzarella/basil mixture over drained pasta in pot and mix in the Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese. If pasta seems dry, add reserved cooking water, 1/4 c. at a time. Check seasonings; add more salt/pepper if necessary.

Serve immediately.