October 30, 2010

Homemade Pici Pasta

I love to make homemade pasta, but I will admit it can be time consuming and labor intensive! If you have a little bit of time, though, you can make the pasta, freeze it, and when you are ready to put dinner together, it boils in a flash and is quite a delicious and elegant meal! When I started making pasta from scratch, I started with the standard pasta verde, green pasta, which contains spinach. What I found was surprising to me- the pasta dough that contained the vegetables was actually much easier to work with than plain pasta dough. This got me thinking... what if I want to use a different vegetable other than spinach? It was fall at the time and the store shelves were well stocked with pumpkin and butternut squash puree. I bought several cans and this delicious recipe was born!

Pasta Dough with Vegetable Puree:
7 oz. pureed pumpkin or butternut squash (from a can or homemade)
generous pinch sea salt
3 cups flour (unbleached all -purpose)
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon olive oil
As a rule, when you make something like homemade pasta or you are baking, your eggs should be as close to room temperature as possible. I wear disposable plastic gloves when I make pasta dough. Not the kind you use to wash dishes, but the kind you see at the doctor's office. You can buy them at the drugstore- you should get them because they are excellent for making pasta dough, bread dough, and cutting up hot peppers.
To make the pasta dough, use a large bowl. Place the flour in the bowl and create a well in the center. If you are able to beat the eggs together before pouring the eggs into the well, that will be helpful. If that's not convenient, just make sure you either pierce the yolks with a fork or your fingers so they will combine well with the other ingredients. Add the salt, olive oil and vegetable puree. With your gloved hands, combine the ingredients together. There's no graceful or attractive way to do this, this step is a complete mess. That's why I do it in a bowl wearing gloves instead of the traditional way on a flat surface. Combine the ingredients as well as you can, if you have a lot of dryness and a lot of the flour isn't being incorporated, add some water and keep doing so until the dough is coming together sufficiently. Knead the dough until it is smooth. I now wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for about an hour.
This next step will depend on what type of pasta you wish to make and what type of equipment you have. Don't have a pasta maker? That's ok! Your new best friends are your rolling pin and your hands!
Scenario 1: Pici
You are about to embark on a very exciting journey into the world of Pici! Pici is wonderful, the shape is a long, slightly irregular tube shape that is created by rolling strips of pasta dough with your fingers. Pici originated in Tuscany and I recently learned to make it in Montelpulciano. It was actually first made with no eggs- meaning that it was a very 'poor' pasta. It's now made with at least one egg typically. (So we weren't here making traditional Pici dough, but you will be making the Pici shape)
To make Pici, take some or all of your pasta dough (this recipe makes A LOT of dough), and on a floured work surface, such as a large cutting board or clean counter, using a rolling pin, take the dough down to roughly 1 inch thick. Now, using a sharp knife, cut the dough into vertical strips, making the strips about 1/3 of an inch wide. Take one strip, position horizontally and using both hands palms down, roll up and down, which will begin to elongate the strip horizontally. Move your hands between the outer part of the noodle and the interior, to keep the long noodle as uniform as possible. Set aside and repeat with each strip of pasta dough.

Fresh pasta cooks in boiling (salted, please!) water in just a few minutes! Taste test a noodle to see if they are nicely al dente. (When boiling water for cooking pasta, or potatoes, don't salt your water before it is close to boiling. If you add the salt while it is cold, it gets stuck on the bottom of the pan and it is both difficult to get off the pan but doesn't dissolve in the water as you'd like it to.)
If you don't plan to use your Pici right away, group it into little circular piles (as shown in the picture) and dust lightly with flour. You may freeze the noodles this way. Don't wait too long to shape the noodles into the little piles, if you wait too long the noodles will be too brittle to bend.
If you're interested in a more traditional and plainer pasta dough, use 3 cups of flour, one egg, a pinch of sea salt, two Tablespoons olive oil and use generous amounts of cool water to help bring the dough together. If it still remains too dry, use cool water and olive oil in small increments to bring it together.
Pici is traditionally paired with a very simple tomato sauce. This sauce just contains garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, strained tomatoes (or pureed), and salt and pepper. Couldn't be simpler! Here's the quick recipe:

Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Hot Pepper Flakes
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves
1 tablespoon (or more) red pepper flakes
28 ounces (roughly) strained or pureed tomatoes (such as Pomi brand)

Here is how to peel and smash your garlic very quickly and easily!

Once you've prepared your garlic cloves, either put them through a garlic press or chop finely. Add to the olive oil in a dish or a jar and allow the flavors to meld together. You can actually make garlic infused olive oil this way and keep it in your refrigerator. In the refrigerator, this keeps well for up to one week. When you're ready to make your sauce, heat a dutch oven or sauce pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, it should be fragrant but not so hot that the garlic is already turning brown. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for a few minutes more. Add the tomato puree and stir well to combine. As the mixture heats, you may need to keep stirring it to combine the oil and the tomato sauce. Salt and pepper liberally, tasting it to see if you need any more red pepper flakes or salt.

Serve the cooked Pici noodles with this sauce and it will be delicious!

October 28, 2010

Sausage, Fennel and Cream Pasta Sauce

This rich pasta sauce is great for fall, it has delicious sausage, the gorgeous taste of toasted fennel seeds, fresh herbs and cream.

2 Tablespoons fennel seeds
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove
1-2 carrots, chopped
2-3 celery ribs, chopped
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
3/4 lb. hot Italian sausage
3/4 lb. mild Italian sausage
1 cup white wine
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Heat a small pan, such as a small cast iron skillet, over medium heat.  Once the pan is hot, add the fennel seeds and toast for just one minute, they will almost immediately become brown and fragrant.  Stir or shake the pan while they are browning to promote even cooking.  Pour the seeds into a small dish and set aside to cool.

In a large dutch oven or similar pan, heat the oil and unsalted butter over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute until translucent and wilted, about five minutes.  Add the garlic, either finely chopped or using a press.  Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for another five minutes.  Add the carrots and celery and cook for another five minutes.  Add the herbs and saute for 1-2 minutes. 
Next, you will add the sausage.  If the sausage is in casings, remove the meat from the casings and discard the casings.  Add the sausage to the pan and increase the heat to medium.  With a wooden spoon, use an up and down motion to break apart the sausage as it browns and cooks.  This will break it up into small, crumbled pieces.  Cook the sausage until there are browned bits on the bottom of the pan and some of the sausage meat has browned and caramelized.  Depending on your stove, you may need to increase the heat to medium high to accomplish this type of browning.  Add the wine, and cook until more than half of the liquid has reduced, this will take a few minutes. 

Meanwhile, open the can of whole peeled tomatoes.  Reserving the liquid, coarsely chop the tomatoes, removing and discarding the stem portion at the top.  Once the wine has reduced, add the tomato juice, chopped tomatoes and fennel seeds.  Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.  Taste the sauce, season generously with salt and pepper.  I prefer to use sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  Add the cream and stir to thoroughly combine.

You can serve this sauce with a variety of pastas, it would be best, however, with relatively short shapes with some hollow or concave dimensions, i.e. penne, orchiette, fusili and farfalle.  These types of shapes will hold small portions of the sauce.  This sauce may be frozen and eaten at a later date!  The freezer is your friend, it is the way you can eat home cooked meals when you don't have time to make them!  I love my freezer.

October 27, 2010

Veal Scallopini, Your New Weeknight Favorite!

I love veal scallopini!  I used to think it was probably difficult or at least time consuming to make.  Nothing could be farther from the truth!  It is an incredibly simple recipe, cooks very quickly, we have had it frequently in the last few weeks and I plan to keep it in pretty constant rotation.  Little baby boy enjoyed a few bites of it, too!  When he's big enough, I'll start buying him his very own piece.  The recipe that follows is for two servings, to make more, multiply the sauce components as needed.

2 veal scallopini
olive oil
sea salt
pepper (fresh ground)

Sauce components:
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 Tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (or other light vinegar)
3/4 Tablespoon capers, drained
flat leaf parsley (optional for garnish, either one leaf or chopped)

Spread roughly 1/4 cup of flour on a plate and dredge the veal in the flour.  It should be thoroughly but thinly coated.  Sprinkle one side with salt and pepper.  I prefer to use sea salt and freshly ground pepper for all salt and pepper uses in my kitchen.  Heat roughly 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat, this will depend on your stove.  I have a gas stove and I usually use by largest and strongest burner.  On that burner, I would use medium heat.  If it were a smaller burner, I would use medium-high heat.  Wait until the oil 'shimmers' before adding the meat.  This means that if you look at the heated oil in the pan, it should look uneven in terms of its surface.  Add the meat with the side you have salt and peppered down.  Cook this side for 2-3 minutes, depending on how hot your pan is and how browned you like your meat.  While this side is cooking, take this opportunity to salt and pepper the other side of the meat.  Turn the meat over and cook this second side for an additional 2-3 minutes.  Remove the meat from the pan and set aside. 

Next, add the unsalted butter to the pan.  I always use unsalted butter, I prefer it to salted butter because it has a cleaner, sweeter taste.  It is also predominantly what is called for in things that I bake, so it is easier to just buy one type of butter.  Allow the butter to melt and slightly brown.  Add the vinegar and capers, stirring to combine.  Return the meat to the pan and heat for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Place the meat on individual plates or a serving platter and pour the sauce over the meat.  You may garnish the meat with sprigs of flat leaf parsley, although this is optional.

You will not believe how simple, fast and delicious this is!  I promise this will surprise and delight you and your husband will be very appreciative!  Possibly you little baby also!