Cacio e Pepe: Spaghetti with a No-Cook Pecorino & Black Pepper Sauce

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Cacio e pepe
Cacio e pepe is a minimalist Italian version of mac and cheese.

It’s ridiculous how a few quality ingredients can make such a sumptuous pasta dish. When in Rome cacio e pepe is one of two pasta dishes that I order at one of my favorite restaurants as soon as I arrive.

If you’re really hungry and want something simple to eat this no-cook sauce is for you. Boil well-salted water, cook the spaghetti and you’re almost done.

When the spaghetti is al dente, fish it out of the water and put it in a big bowl. Pour a cup of hot pasta water over the spaghetti, stir in the grated pecorino & freshly ground black pepper, toss and your ready to eat.

The silky zesty pecorino sauce clings to every strand of spaghetti and the black pepper explodes in your mouth. I couldn’t stop eating this one.

Be sure to buy the best spaghetti from Italy that you can. I prefer pasta from a small producer in and around Naples. This pasta could cost you 4 or 5 dollars but it’s worth every penny. Their durum wheat pasta extruded through a bronze die has a deep nutty wheat flavor and the rough surface holds sauce well. In a pinch I use De Cecco.

Buy a hunk of pecorino romano from Italy and grate just before using to maximize its taste. Buy quality black peppercorns and coarsely grind or crush them so that you fully enjoy their robust flavor and texture.

Oh, and that other pasta dish I can’t wait to eat when I get to Roma, spaghetti carbonara. Let me know if you want me to make that one in a future episode. Just leave a comment.

I often make a spaghetti pie when I have cacio e pepe left over. Just add beaten eggs, mix and bake it until the spaghetti strands on top are golden and nutty. It’s an easy way of getting a second day of enjoyment out of this tasty dish. You can make a spaghetti pie too.

Buon appetito!

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Cacio e Pepe: Spaghetti with a No-Cook Pecorino & Black Pepper Sauce
 
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Author:
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound (500 grams) spaghetti
  • 1 cup grated pecorino romano
  • freshly coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • sea salt for the pasta water
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. When the water reaches a rapid boil add the spaghetti. Toss the spaghetti to make sure it doesn't stick.
  3. While the spaghetti is cooking grate the pecorino, half on the coarse grate and half on the fine grate.
  4. Coarsely grind black pepper or crack them with a pan or a meat pounder.
  5. When the spaghetti is al dente fish it out with tongs and put it in a big bowl. (Save 2 cups of pasta water if you drain it in a colander.)
  6. Add a cup of pasta water to the bowl and toss to moisten the spaghetti.
  7. Add the grated pecorino and toss. If the pasta is too dry add more pasta water to form a silky sauce.
  8. Add the black pepper and toss the spaghetti well.
  9. Serve immediately. Have some pecorino and the pepper mill on the table for your guests to add more if they want.

 

North Beach’s Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar Opens

Salvatore, the pizzaiola at North Beach's new Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar
Salvatore, the pizzaiola at North Beach’s new Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar

A couple of months ago I told you about Il Casaro (the cheese maker), the soon-to-open North Beach pizzeria and mozzarella bar. Well it finally happened a couple of days ago and I stopped in to wish my friend Francesco “Buona Fortuna”.

He sat me at the end of the immense white marble bar. I almost cried when I opened the menu filled with Neapolitan street food (cibo da strada), fried rice balls, bacala cakes, potato crocchette. Then I saw the homemade and imported mozzarella, fior di latte, burrata and the pizza. It’s a tantalizing menu.

“Where should I start my first time here?” I asked Francesco. “Pizza” he said without missing a beat. As I glanced toward the tomato-red beehive wood-burning oven I saw that I knew the pizzaiola standing in front of it. That sealed the deal. “Pizza Norma” I told Francesco without missing a beat either.

It was Salvatore, who I knew. I waved and in his honor ordered pizza alla Norma topped with grilled eggplant. Salvatore is a very talented pizza maker. He checked my pie lifting it high in the oven a few times just before he pulled the pie out to make sure it was perfect, slid it on a plate and delivered his masterpiece to me himself.

Il Casaro's Pizza Norma with grilled eggplant
Il Casaro’s Pizza Norma with grilled eggplant

Francesco wasn’t wrong. The tender pizza came out of the oven with dark puffy blisters all around the edge. The sweet eggplant played against lightly salted homemade fior di latte mozzarella.

I ate the whole thing starting with a knife and fork that I soon abandoned. Fold the slice in half and pick it up with your hands. It’s much easier and fun that way.

Those Calabrian peppers are small but deadly. Just the right addition to the last 2 slices of Pizza Norma.
Those Calabrian peppers are small but deadly. Just the right addition to the last 2 slices of Pizza Norma.

That single pizza was a wonderful trip around southern Italy. I started with a Neapolitan pizza that swung by Sicily to pick up the classic alla Norma eggplant topping and finished in Calabria after Francesco doused my last 2 slices with that tiny red-hot Calabrian pepper and its oil.

Before I left Francesco gave me a plate with ribbons of shaved raspadura, a delicate, nutty, young grating cheese. Once the paper cups arrive you can get curly shavings to eat while you roam North Beach. If you sit where I did you can watch them shaving the big cheese wheel with a special thin metal band.

I’ll return to Il Casaro soon. I gotta continue eating my way through the menu. Wanna join me? 5 stars so far in the early Yelp reviews.

If you’re inspired to make pizza at home my Pizza Margherita episode will show you how.

Did you see my new pasta primavera episode we released yesterday? You gotta make this easy, simple spring vegetable pasta dish part of your kitchen repertoire.

Buon appetito!

Pasta Primavera: Bow tie pasta with early spring vegetables

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Pasta Primavera
Pasta primavera is spring on a plate.

I love this time of year when the first of the early spring vegetables start to hit the market. Pencil-thin asparagus, tiny peas, and tender fava beans are among my favorites, so I just had to make pasta primavera with these spring farmers’ market beauties.

But the nice thing about pasta primavera is that it’s versatile enough to work well with all kinds of produce. Asparagus not looking so good? Use artichokes instead! Are those gorgeous ramps on sale this week? Use those! Just pick whatever’s fresh and delicious in your market and you can’t go wrong.

This dish is inspired by the original Spaghetti alla Primavera from Sirio Maccioni, co-owner of Le Cirque restaurant in New York City–it’s a real Italian-American classic. I’ve lightened the dish up by using no butter and less cream, and this keeps the spring vegetables in sharp focus. Instead, pasta water creates a flavorful broth as the base of the sauce and bow tie pasta instead of spaghetti guarantees you get some veggies with every bite.

I prefer the more robust ricotta salata flavor instead of parmigiano as a finishing note, but different strokes, right? And extra virgin olive oil does put some fat back into this really healthy, full-flavored taste of springtime, I’ll give you that, but come on, a little ain’t gonna kill ya.

I made farfalle alla primavera a few years ago at my cooking demonstration and tasting at The Villages in San Jose. I was cooking for 50 Italian-Americans and wannabes and I needed a boat-load of vegetables, so while setting up for the show I enlisted a dozen of my students to shell the peas and fava beans and cut the asparagus. When all the work was done, one of my prep helpers said “Next time use frozen!” Well, of course you can, but it won’t be as good as using fresh from the farmer’s market–the extra work means extra flavor and who don’t want that?

The full flavor of the spring vegetables rule this simple, uncluttered pasta dish that is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta.  After you shell the peas and fava that is. Just make sure none of your helpers throw them pea pods at ya.

And if you like this, also try my recipe for spring asparagus frittata. It’s another great way to get spring on a plate.

Buon appetito!

Pasta Primavera: Bow Tie Pasta with Early Spring Vegetables
 
Bow tie pasta with fresh spring peas, lava beans and asparagus in a light cream sauce.
Author:
Recipe type: pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 1 cup fava beans
  • 1 pound or 500 grams Farfalle dried pasta
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 spring onions, cut in 1-inch slices
  • 8 thin asparagus spears, cut on a bias in 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup shelled fresh peas
  • 10 ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 5 basil leaves, ripped by hand
  • ¼ cup grated ricotta salata or grated parmigiano
  • sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and finishing olive oil to taste
Instructions
  1. Remove the fava beans from the pod and blanch them in the hot pasta water for a minute or two. Take the fava beans out of the water and when cool remove the wrinkled skin from the fava.
  2. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil over high heat.
  3. Add the farfalle to the boiling water and cook until just al dente.
  4. In the meantime, put a large saute pan over medium-high and add 2 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil and add the garlic.
  5. When the garlic starts to give off its aroma add the spring onion.
  6. When the onion is translucent, add the asparagus and fava beans sprinkle with sea salt and sauté for a minute or two until the asparagus takes on a deeper green color.
  7. Add a cup of the pasta water to the sauté pan and cover the pan. Cover the pan and cook for 2 minutes or until the asparagus and fava are tender.
  8. Add the peas and cherry tomatoes, another cup of pasta water and cook until the peas and tomatoes are wrinkled, for a minute or two more.
  9. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the cream and mix well. Cook to reduce and thicken the sauce.
  10. Drain the farfalle when just al dente and put them in the pan. Stir the farfalle well with the primavera sauce. (Add more pasta water if the sauce is too dense.)
  11. Stir in the basil.
  12. Off the heat add a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and the grated cheese.
  13. Drizzle the farfalle with your finishing extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.

 

Celebrate St. Joseph’s Day

The dessert of Italian Father's Day.
The dessert of Italian Father’s Day.

Move over St. Patrick. The Feast of St. Joseph, Father’s Day in Italy is this Wednesday.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe is one of my favorite Neapolitan pastries.

But I only make these pastry cream filled puffs topped with an Amarena cherry once a year, on March 19.

Watch me make zeppole 2-ways so you can make zeppole this year too..

Here’s a quick, light menu for Wednesday so you have room for zeppole at the end of the meal. Serve a traditional St. Joseph’s Day spaghetti followed by my early Spring asparagus frittata.

Pair the fritatta with a simple mixed green salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. Some crusty bread and you’re all set.

Then get ready for a stupendous finish, your homemade zeppole.

Buona festa! Buon appetito!

Spring Asparagus Frittata

Spring Asparagus Frittata

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Spring Asparagus Frittata
Pencil-thin asparagus is just barely held together by egg in this spring frittata.

I made this asparagus frittata last spring while in Rome. Allesandro, my friend and produce vendor in Campo de Fiori, the huge open air produce market in the historical center of Rome, showed me wild asparagus he had foraged the night before. It took him all night to collect 2 kilos.

That’s Allesandro in video episode showing me those skinny wild asparagus that quickly went into a frittata for my mates back in our apartment near Piazza di Spagna.

I found some really thin asparagus at the farmers market. They reminded me of the frittata I made in Rome and I had to make it here in San Francisco.

I roasted the asparagus with olive oil and sea salt to intensify its bright flavor. This is a thinner frittata than I usually make because I want the egg mixture to just hold the asparagus together and let the concentrated springtime flavor shine.

Watch me make a sausage and potato frittata and see another asparagus frittata recipe where I don’t roast the asparagus but cook it in the same pan that I use to cook the frittata.

Serve frittata as a part of your antipasti or as a light lunch or dinner with a salad and a hunk of crusty bread. When I’m not in the mood to cook frittata is my go to recipe. It’s ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. Buon appetito!

Asparagus Fritatta
 
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Author:
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 8-10 asparagus spears
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino, parmigiana or grana padano
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Put the asparagus on a cooking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Toss the asparagus to cover them all with the oil.
  3. Roast in the oven until the asparagus begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Turn them at least once.
  4. Take the asparagus out of the oven and when cool cut them on the diagonal in 2-inch pieces. Set the asparagus aside.
  5. Add the eggs to a large bowl and beat them well.
  6. Add the asparagus, parsley, grated cheese, ½ teaspoon sea salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and mix all the ingredients well.
  7. Put a 9-inch cast-iron or saute pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Swirl the olive oil so it coats the sides of the pan well to avoid the sides of the frittata from sticking.
  8. When the oil starts to ripple the add the egg mixture to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
  9. As the frittata begins to set stir the bottom of the frittata with a fork. With a spatula lightly pull the edge of frittata away from the side of the pan. Genly slide the spatula under the frittata. Be sure the frittata is loose and moves easily when you shake the pan.
  10. Place a plate over the pan and flip the pan so the frittata ends up on the plate.
  11. Slide the frittata back in the pan.
  12. Finish cooking the frittata until it is solid.
  13. (If you don’t want the flip the frittata, finish cooking it in a 375 degree oven until the top sets and browns.)
  14. Slide the frittata onto a serving plate and serve immediately or at room temperature.

 

Cardi Fritti: Fried Cardoons

Crunchy fried cardoons that taste like its artichoke cousin.
Crunchy fried cardoons that taste like its artichoke cousin

In the spring when I was a kid in Jersey I went foraging for cardoons with my Uncle Frank in the “wild” West Orange hills. He married Aunt Florence, my Mom’s sister, and they lived downstairs from us.

Uncle Frank was born in Calabria and didn’t speak much English but he knew how to forage and I loved trapezing through the woods with him.

Back home with our cardoons, Aunt Flo fried them until golden. I’d always steal one hot out of the oil and I’d always burn the roof of my mouth as I scarfed it down.

I don’t see cardoons in the market often but when I do I grab some. I found these at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. The guy I bought mine from said nobody buys his cardoons but chefs. “Nobody knows what to do with them,” he said.

Don’t be afraid of cardoons. Now you can be in on a culinary secret ingredient that I grew up with. Cardoons can be scary looking but they’re really easy to cook up once you know how. Here’s how my Aunt Florence did it.

Blanch the cleaned cardoons and bread them after a dip in egg wash. Fry them until golden all over. Give the cardi fritti a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt and you’ll be in for a rare treat.

Cardoons are cousins of the artichoke and that’s the flavor you bite into after you get through the crunchy exterior of my cardi fritti.

Serve cardi fritti as part of your antipasti or as a side with meat or chicken.

Oh, and those SF chefs  who buy up all the cardoons at the farmers market, here’s Aziza’s Mourad Lahlou’s cardoon salad recipe. So what if it’s not Italian. It’s delicious.

Buon appetito!

Cardi Fritti: Fried Cardoons
 
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Cardoons taste like their artichoke cousin. They're easy to prepare once you know how.
Author:
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 pound cardoons
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup flour
  • breadcrumbs
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • canola oil
Instructions
  1. Put on a pot of water to boil.
  2. Cut off the leaves on the cardoon so you're left with only a clean stalk.
  3. Trim both ends of the cardoon.
  4. Pull off the tough strings or remove them with a veggie peeler.
  5. Cut each stalk into 4-inch lengths.
  6. Put the cardoons in the boiling water and cook until tender.
  7. Drain the cardoons and set aside to cool.
  8. Put the eggs, parsley, grated cheese and sea salt and black pepper to taste in a bowl and beat well.
  9. When the cardoons are cool tear the larger cardoons strips in half.
  10. Dredge the strips in the flour and coat well, put the strips in the eggwash and then in the breadcrumbs. (Some of the strips will stick together to form "patties" and some will be single stalks.)
  11. Put a cast iron or heavy-bottomed pan over high-heat and add an inch of the oils (half olive/half canola) .
  12. When the oil ripples lower the heat to medium and fry the breaded cardoons until golden on both sides.
  13. Drain on paper towel.
  14. Serve immediately with a light squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt.

 

 

 

Risi e Bisi: Venetian Rice & Spring Peas

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Venetian Rice and Spring Peas
Risi e bisi is the perfect first course to celebrate early spring vegetables!

In the run-up to Ash Wednesday earlier this week Venetians ended their 12-day Carnevale celebration. It was their last raucous blow-out before the arrival of Lent and 40-days of fasting.

The traditional festivities and the arrival of the first of the spring vegetables in the market compelled me to make this simple yet elegant rice and spring pea Venetian classic. Wearing my Venetian Pulcinella mask in the kitchen didn’t hurt getting in the mood either.

Risi e bisi is best made early in the spring when the peas are small and sweet. You can make this dish with larger peas later in the season or frozen peas too but it’s at it’s best when those first shiny green pea pods first appear in the market. This is not a risotto it’s a very thick soup.

Vegetarians don’t miss out on this one. Just switch out the beef broth for vegetable broth. You won’t be sorry, I guarantee.

You can eat it with a fork but I prefer a spoon so I get some of the creamy broth in each bite. The slightly firm center of the Arborio rice lends just the right textural balance to the soft, sweet peas. The earthy beef broth adds remarkable flavor depth to the dish. A sprinkle of nutty grated parmigiano and the simple but complex risi e bisi is ready to start your eating celebration.

I love to have risi e bisi as a first course or as a side for fish and meats. And if you have any left over make my suppli al telefono, fried rice balls with a surprise in the center.

Before you go, have a listen to Wynton Marsalis’ Carnival of Venice. I hope you’re inspired. Buon appetito!

Riso e Bisi: Venetian Rice & Spring Peas
 
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Author:
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 pounds fresh unshelled peas
  • 3½ cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
  • ½ cup grated parmigiano
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Put a enamel or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the butter and when melted add the onions and saute until the onions take on a light golden color.
  2. Add the peas and sea salt to taste and saute for 2 minutes stirring frequently.
  3. Add 3½ cups of broth and cook at a rapid simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the rice and parsley and stir. Cover the pot and cook at a rapid simmer until the rice is tender but still firm, about 15 minutes stirring occasionally. The rice and peas should still be a bit soupy. Add a bit more broth if necessary.
  5. Off the heat add the grated parmigiano and stir well into the rice and peas.
  6. Add a grind of black pepper and sea salt if necessary and stir well.
  7. Put the risi e bisi in individual bowls or a large serving bowl, top with a sprinkle of grated parmigiano.
  8. Pass additional grated parmigiano at the table in case your guests want a bit more.

 

Torta di Riso: Sweet Orange-Scented Rice Cake

Torta di Riso

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Torta di riso for Lent, by Gianni.tv
Torta di riso is the perfect thing to eat just before giving up sweets for Lent.

As a kid I pigged out this time of the year. I knew I’d have to give up stuff for Lent and usually that included a favorite sweet.

So if chocolate was on the 40-day “don’t do” list I ate as much chocolate as I could during the run-up to Ash Wednesday.

If you observe Lent and you’re giving up sweets you gotta make this special rice cake right away. You only have 4 days before Lent starts.

It really doesn’t take much effort to make and you get a huge payoff that will hold you over until Easter.

Just boil the rice in milk flavored with a vanilla bean, lemon and orange zest. When the rice is cool mix in raisins, orange zest and egg yolks spiked with orange liqueur. Then fold in fluffy beaten egg whites pour it into a baking pan and stick it in the oven. How easy is that?

The orange and vanilla bean scented arborio rice is tender, light and moist. The plump raisins add a touch of sweetness and the orange zest a fresh perky note. The golden crustless edge is an extra tasty treat. A dollop of whipped cream finishes the cake in style.

If you love rice pudding this cake will take you to a whole new level of ecstasy.

Rice cake is even better the next day so make sure you make enough. That way you’ll be sure to satisfy your craving and have a leg up on making it through Lent.

I usually didn’t. I cheated.

If you do make it all the way through be sure to watch me make my classic Neapolitan Easter treat, pastiera so you’ll be ready when Easter rolls around and your fast finally ends.

Buon appetito!

Torta di Riso: Sweet Rice Cake
 
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An easy sweet rice cake flavored with vanilla bean and the zest of orange and lemon.
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1½ cup arborio rice
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 lemon, just strips of the peel
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
  • 1 orange, just the zest
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • butter and flour for the baking pan
  • powdered sugar
  • whipped cream
Instructions
  1. Butter and flour an 8-inch springform cake pan.
  2. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.
  3. Put the milk, the vanilla seeds, sugar and lemon peel in a pot over medium heat, stir to dissolve the sugar and slowly bring the milk to a rapid simmer.
  4. When the milk forms little bubbles around the edge of the pot add the rice, stir so the rice doesn't stick, cover and simmer about 40 minutes or until the rice is tender stirring occasionally.
  5. Put the cooked rice in a bowl to cool. Remove the lemon peel.
  6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Separate the eggs.
  8. Beat the yolks with the orange liqueur.
  9. Whip the whites to a stiff peak.
  10. When the rice is cool zest about ¾ of the orange peel into the bowl, add the yolks and raisins and mix well.
  11. Add the whites and fold gently into the rice mixture.
  12. Pour the rice batter into a springform pan and bake until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out dry, about 60 minutes.
  13. Let the rice cake cool for about 10 minutes then take it out of the pan.
  14. Shower the top of the cake with powdered sugar and a sprinkle the rest of the orange zest on top.
  15. Serve at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream.