Category Archives: Pasta

Pasta Bolognese

A couple months ago, I was fortunate enough to wander into a tiny osteria (just 6 tables) in the lovely village of Cernobbio on Lake Como in Italy. We were the last to sit for lunch and by the time we were finished eating, the only ones left in the place. The owner/chef/waiter sat and chatted with us for a good half hour, during which the subject of a correct Bolognese came up. He had a pretty string opinion about what Bolognese is and is not; a meat sauce, not a tomato sauce. He shook his finger at me and said, “Only add enough, er, tomato, er”, (insert many gestures of trying to squash something between your hands here) “paste,” says I, “tomato paste!”. “Yes, yes, tomato paste. Only enough to make the color pleasing; all the meat makes it gray. Not pretty to look at.”
So, based on the tip and a few others, here is my most delicious take on a Bolognese ragu.
In a large stockpot, Soften 1 cup chopped onions, 1 large carrot, chopped finely, 3 cloves of garlic and 1/2 cup of celery and 2 bay leaves in 2 T olive oil and 2 T butter.
Meanwhile, cook until just crisp 3/4 lb. of thick cut bacon (use pancetta if you like, I had bacon on hand) that has been cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Drain the fat and add to the veggies.
Brown 1 lb. stew beef and add to the large pot. Brown 1 lb spicy Italian sausage and 1 lb. ground venison and add to the pot.
Add 3 T tomato paste, 1 C beef broth, 1/2 C red wine, stir well and bring to a bare simmer. Add 1 C milk, I used low fat, but any sort will do. Add salt and pepper to taste and just a couple light sprinkles of ground cloves. Trust me on this, it adds some great depth of flavor. Simmer very gently until the meat is tender, about 90 minutes, maybe two hours. A crockpot will work for this if you prefer, just cook on low for 4 to 6 hours.
Serve over fresh pappardelle with some freshly shaved parmesan.


Risotto with Roasted Garlic and Tomatoes

I had, if not the best tasting, the most creative presentation of risotto in Siena, Italy last month.
We had ordered our meal and finished the antipasti. Time for the pasta course! A lovely young girl placed a plate of carbonara in front of my guy as another wheeled a cart up to the table. On the cart was a large wheel or parmesan.
What the heck, I wonder.
The wheel was cut horizontally, about 1/3 of the way down; like a round box with a lid. She lifted the lid, and, much to my delight, inside was my steaming risotto! She stirred and scraped for a couple minutes to incorporate the cheese into the risotto, then plated it and topped it with a few hard scrapes from the top of the cheese as a garnish. Fabulous! Hot and creamy, cheesy and perfectly textured. A little bowl of heaven. Which I can recreate at home. Well, I’m trying.

Risotto. Stir it or don’t. Add liquid a cup at a time… or all at once. Toast the rice… or not. Heat the liquid before adding to the rice, or keep it at room temp. Does it take 45 minutes or 18? So many questions, so many variables. I’m still on the quest for the perfect risotto, but I do learn something new each time I make it. Let’s get on with the ingredients and then talk about technique:

1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 C dry white wine
4 1/2 C chicken broth or stock
1/2 large sweet onion (Vidalia or Mayan), minced
5 cloves roasted garlic, chopped
1/3 C roasted tomatoes (I got mine at the deli counter, packed in garlic and oil
3/4 C freshly grated parmesan cheese

Sweat the minced onion in a bit of olive oil until it becomes translucent, then add the roasted garlic.

Add the rice and cook until it starts to get translucent, stirring all the while. You don’t want it to brown.

Add the white wine and start to gently stir until the liquid is almost all absorbed. Add the broth, a cup or ladle at a time, stirring all the while, only adding more when the liquid is just about absorbed.

Test the rice for doneness after about 17 minutes. Depending on the cooking temp (and who knows what other factors) it can be nearly done, or still need another ten or so minutes. It should be soft, but still al dente. You do not want mushy risotto.

Right at the end, stir in the roasted tomatoes.
Remove from heat and quickly stir in the parmesan.


Now, on to what worked and what I will change.

  • Risotto is all about the starch. Using a short grained rice is imperative. Arborio is good, I hear Vialone Nano is better, but not available for me locally. I do plan on ordering some on line, just to give it a go.
  • Some cooks say that constant stirring breaks down the starch and gives the risotto its creaminess. Others say the starch is all on the outside of the grain and a few stirs will release it. I’ve seen people swear by toasting the rice and others who say it messes with the starch and the risotto won’t be as creamy, though it does add a nice color to the dish.

My next test will be to wash the rice in the broth I’ll be using, strain it, toast the rice, then, as I add the broth, the starchiness will be added back in, therefore giving me both color and creaminess. Worth a try, right?

  • I’ve had really nice risotto where all the liquid was added at once and it was left alone until the last 5 minutes, then stirred until done. I don’t know that it really makes a difference. Liquid is absorbed as quickly as it can be; no more and no less. Does it matter how much is swimming around the grain? I think the thing is the process. I rather enjoy fussing over the pot, watching it all come together. Just know that if you have other things you need to prepare, you really can step away from the stove for a few minutes without ruining your risotto.
  • I cooked this batch at a higher temp than usual; I generally go with a slow simmer, but bumped it up to medium heat. It was done in 18 minutes, give or take, rather than 45. I like this.

I served this risotto with spicy Italian sausage and roasted fennel, and we finished things off with a simple salad.

Era deliziosa!

Homemade Pasta with Shrimp and Artichokes

Life’s too short to eat bad pasta

Sunday is usually pasta day here, and since our first vacation in Italy, that means making it fresh and serving it with a sauce made from a few simple, good quality ingredients.

I encourage you to give this a try. There is nothing tricky about it and the difference between fresh and store-bought dried pasta is well worth the effort.
I have read through many, many recipes and auditioned at least ten before deciding what works for us. “Making Artisan Pasta: How to Make a World of Handmade Noodles, Stuffed Pasta, Dumplings, and More” by Aliza Green is one of my favorite books on the subject. It encompasses all kinds of pasta, not just what we think of as the Italian types, and is awfully pretty to look at as well.

Because we are trying hard to work more whole grains into our diet, rather than all semolina, I am now using half semolina and half white whole wheat flours. The semolina gives the pasta a lovely, toothy al dente that, IMO, regular white flour cannot, no matter how briefly you cook it. The white whole wheat is a whole grain (semolina is not), but lighter textured than regular whole wheat, which makes a too heavily textured noodle for my taste.

The Pasta

  • Mix 3/4 cups each semolina and white whole wheat flours
  • Mound it right on the counter and make a depression in the center. Make a volcano.
  • Crack two eggs and drop them right in the depression. Add no more than a tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Have about a half cup of water handy.

Start mixing things with your fingers, adding enough water as you go to make a very stiff dough. You want it wet enough to hold together, but not much more.
If you are accustomed to making bread, forget everything you know about texture; this will be far more dense.
Knead for ten minutes. Don’t skimp on the time here. It is very important to work the dough thoroughly.

Form it into a flattened ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Let it sit for an hour or two.

When you come back to it, you will find that the dough has loosened up by about 25% and is much more pliable than when you left it.
Now the fun begins.
Work the dough through a pasta machine according to instructions.
I run each section through on the thickest setting about four times, folding in half each time, before starting to thin it out. It seems to hold together better.

We prefer a thicker pasta, so I stop at number 3 or 4 of the 6-1 settings on my pasta machine.
Depending on the shape and length I make, I either use a drying rack or toss the pasta on a baking sheet with some cornmeal or masa to keep it from sticking. The cornmeal will fall away to the bottom of the pot when you cook it.
Today I feel like a narrower pasta since we’ll be having it with a light lemon/artichoke sauce with shrimp.

The Sauce

  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon
  • I can artichoke hearts in brine, drained and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes ( I used dried-in-a-bag ones, so reconstituted in a little boiling water)
  • a couple tablespoons of good quality olive oil
  • 1 T butter
  • 12 large shrimp, or more, if you like (I use cooked, frozen shrimp and thaw before using)

Saute the garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil, add the artichokes and tomatoes, squeeze in a tablespoon of lemon juice, add the butter, and let things warm up over a low heat.

This is where I enlist the help of my partner in food.
Things happen very quickly from here on in, so it helps to have an extra pair of hands. Preferably, hands attached to a body that will obey barked orders quickly and efficiently.

He is great at cooking the pasta to the perfect degree of tenderness, so He dumps the pasta into a large pot of rapidly boiling water that has been seasoned with a copious amount of salt. No salt in the pasta dough, so here is where it gets a little flavor.
Meanwhile, I put the thawed shrimp in the pan with the sauce and turn up the heat to medium. Since they are pre-cooked, I don’t want them lingering in there too long getting tough. If you use raw, you have a couple minutes for cooking time.
As soon as the pasta starts to float, He taste tests a strand, declares it ready and drains it well, saving a cup of the starchy hot water.
He dumps the pasta into the sauce pan, where I mix it all together, add some of the reserved pasta water and grate some pepper, then zest a bit of lemon over top. Add a little more olive oil if you need it to coat all the pasta.
Plate it up and shave some slivers of good Parmesan on top. This should render about four servings, depending on your idea of a portion size of pasta. There is enough sauce to coat the pasta, but not enough to puddle on a plate. No puddles on the plate. This is really about the pasta; the sauce is almost a garnish. This should serve four.
Sit down and enjoy with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc and finish things off with a second course of this simple salad:

The Salad
(for two)

  • 1 heart of Romaine chopped
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan.
  • Whisk together 2 T of your best olive oil with 1T white balsamic vinegar, 1t lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt,
  • Dress the greens, top with a few croutons and that’s it. Simple and delicious.