Here’s one of my favorite spaghetti sauces that’s ready in the time it takes to cook the spaghetti. The recipe comes from the the small hill town of Amatrice in the Sabine Hills northeast of Rome.
You see spaghetti all’Amatriciana in all the trattorie in Rome. It’s a really popular pasta here in North Beach too. I get it whenever it’s on the menu at da Flora on Columbus.
Here’s my version of this simple sauce. It doesn’t have many ingredients. Make sure you use canned San Marzano tomatoes for this one. The tomato, onion and guanciale sauce is ready in about 20 minutes.
I like the sauce a little on the chunky side. It sticks to the spaghetti better. The onions enhance the sweetness of the tomatoes. The crispy little guanciale cubes add texture to every bite. I add some chili flakes to perk everything up.
Nothing better than a fat forkful of spaghetti all’Amatriciana. It’s a mouthful of flavor that packs a little heat.
In Amatrice they hold an annual August festival, Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, that celebrates their world-famous pasta dish. Here’s a video of the town and the festival devoted exclusively to this dish. Buon appetito!
Why go out for a “romantic” dinner on Valentine’s Day? The restaurants are crazy busy. Why tolerate the hassle of overbooked places and food pouring out of an overworked kitchen? All you’ll get is agita (heartburn).
Don’t go out. Stay home and cook Valentine’s Day dinner together. Start a new tradition. Enjoy your time cooking together and share food made with love.
Baked Ziti alla Sorrento is the star of this special dinner. It’s an Italian version of mac ‘n cheese from the sunny coast of the Bay of Naples.
The small pasta tubes are coated in creamy ricotta, soft melted mozzarella and marinara sauce then baked in the oven. I can’t resist picking off the nutty toasted ziti on top. Save the leftovers. Baked ziti is even better the next day. Aglianico, Nero d’Avola or Chianti go well with the ziti.
By making the marinara while the pasta water comes to a boil and the salad as the ziti bakes, dinner will be ready in about an hour.
And for dessert, top a big scoop of vanilla gelato with a shot of limoncello or your favorite liqueur. Who knows, after all that wine this might be just what you both need to get lucky.
Easy baked ziti is sumptuous. The pasta is coasted with creamy ricotta, mozzarella and marinara then baked in the oven until crispy on top.
Recipe type: Main
28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large branch of fresh basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 pound ziti
1 pound ricotta
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
3 cups marinara sauce
5 basil leaves
1 cup grated parmigiano, pecorino or grana padano
Before you get started put a large pot of well salted water to boil over high heat. (Use about 5 quarts of water and at least 1 tablespoon of sea salt for a pound of pasta.) Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Put the olive oil and garlic in a pan and over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic until it starts to take on some color.
Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano and salt.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir occasionally and cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
Set the sauce aside.
Cut the mozzarella into 1-inch cubes.
Put the ricotta in a strainer to drain.
Cook the ziti in a large pot of well-salted rapidly boiling water. Drain the ziti just as it reaches al dente, about 10 minutes.
Put the ziti in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, mozzarella, ½ cup grated cheese, 2 cups of marinara sauce and basil leaves ripped in small pieces. Mix to coat the pasta well,
Cover the bottom of a baking dish with marinara sauce.
Spread the ziti evenly in the baking dish.
Top the ziti with the remaining marinara sauce and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.
Bake in the oven until the top of the baked ziti starts to turn golden, about 30 minutes.
April Bloomfield just bought North Beach’s iconic Tosca Cafe on Columbus and will soon be serving her food there. She has a cult following at her restaurant The Spotted Pig in NYC’s Greenwich Village. I wondered what was in store for us when she arrives here in North Beach.
She describes her dishes as “British, but with Italian undertones.” I haven’t been to The Pig and I wanted to find out more about April’s British take on Italian food.
I came across one of April’s pasta recipes and decided to give it a go. I’m adding it to my list of dishes where the sauce can be cooked in the time it takes to boil the pasta. You can get these pasta dishes on your table in less than 30 minutes.
April first had the dish in Puglia, the southern most region on Italia’s Adriatic coast where it was served by a skilled home cook she was visiting. Her hostess made it with homemade orecchiette, small ear-shaped pasta. Quality dried orecchiette from Italia works well too.
Don’t be scared off by the anchovy in the sauce. Anchovy melts in hot oil and adds dimension to any dish. It’s an umami, like miso, a preserved ingredient that is known as a “5th taste”. The anchovy in this dish adds flavor and depth to the sauce.
The little pasta hats capture the sauce. The anchovy and garlic sauce is mellowed by the sweet cauliflower with a rosemary accent.
I love this pasta and can’t wait for April Bloomfield to wow us with more of her food at the revived Tosca Cafe. Try my riff on her recipe to get a preview of what’s coming to North Beach.
My friend Susan called from Jersey and the subject of her renowned cavatelli with broccoli came up during our conversation. Actually, we talked about “gavadeal” and broccoli, as cavatelli is known in the Jersey southern Italian-American argot.
The broccoli in my fridge had to be used soon. After sharing recipes with Susan, I had to make a broccoli and garlic sauce for the gemelli pasta sitting on the shelf.
Gemelli means twins and it got its name from the two strands curled around each other to form the pasta. Use gemelli, cavatelli, or your favorite short-cut pasta.
Pasta in a broccoli and garlic sauce packed with flavor is ready in the time that it takes to cook the pasta. The garlic and olive oil enliven the mellow broccoli. The pasta absorbs the sauce and echoes all the flavors. The chili pepper flakes give you a little hot sparkle with each swallow.
I like to dissolve an anchovy fillet or two in the hot oil to deepen the sauce’s savory flavor. It’s your choice to add anchovy or not. If you don’t like hot, leave out the crushed red pepper flakes too. Make pasta with broccoli and garlic your way.
Add this basic pasta sauce technique to your repertoire and you will open the door to a dozen variations. To spark your imagination, here’s a look at cavatelli with 2 sauces, broccoli rabe and a vodka cream sauce, that we made when “Cavati Carol” was in town with her special pasta machine. Carol hails from Rhode Island where cavatelli are known as cavati. Here’s another twist on this basic pasta sauce using arugula and cavatelli.
If you’re hungry and in a hurry, use dried pasta imported from Italia and this dish can be on your table in way less than an hour.
1-2 tablespoons sea salt for the pasta water plus salt to taste for the sauce
¼ cup grated pecorino
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
Cut the florets in bite-size pieces.
When the water is boiling add the florets and cook them to your desired doneness. I like mine just as they are knife tender. Take them out earlier if you like a crunch.
While the florets are cooking, in a skillet large enough to hold the cooked pasta add the EVOO, anchovy if using, the garlic and red pepper flakes. Over medium-high heat saute the garlic until it is translucent and the anchovy has dissolved into the sauce, about 2 minutes.
With a spider take the florets out of the boiling water and add them to the saute pan and mix to coat the florets well with the oil.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.
With a spider drain the pasta and add it to the sauté pan. You want some of the pasta water for the sauce so don't drain the pasta well as you add it to the sauce. (If you drain the pasta instead of using a spider, reserve a cup of the pasta water.)
Mix the pasta and broccoli together well to coat everything with the sauce. (If the sauce isn't wet enough add some of the pasta water. The pasta will absorb the sauce as it finishes cooking in the saute pan so it won't be watery when you serve the pasta.)
Off the heat mix in the grated cheese.
Place the pasta on a serving platter. Drizzle with a good finishing EVOO and a sprinkle of grated pecorino.
Pasta and beans was a staple in my childhood Jersey home. My mom made this soup often and we all loved it. A fan asked for the recipe.
Pasta and beans is a healthy and inexpensive peasant dish. You can have this one-pot meal that packs lots of flavor and goodness on your table in less than an hour. My version is from Campania and we call it pasta fazool in Neapolitan-American slang.
I fondly remember my last visit to Casserta Vecchia, a medieval village high in the hills overlooking the Bay of Naples. As we took in the view, the winds picked up. A dark storm was sweeping up from the bay.
We ducked into an ancient inn to have lunch as the blustery, fast-moving storm passed by. I was warmed by a bowl of pasta and beans in a terra cotta bowl, followed by grilled sausage, both cooked in a huge open hearth in the dining room with old stone walls and hand-hewn wooden beams overhead.
Pasta e fagioli is made all over Italia and varies from region to region. One big difference is that mine has no meat. Up north they usually add pancetta to the aromatics as the base of the soup. Some people like to add tomato puree. Some people don’t add tomato, they like a white pasta fazool.
Mine has a light pink hue. I use a little tomato puree. Make it any way you like it, just don’t make it the way they do at Olive Garden.
The creamy beans and pasta are bathed in a savory light broth enhanced by the sharpness of the pecorino and the mellow olive oil. Pasta fazool will warm you and fill you up all winter long.
3 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight or two 15 oz. cans
8 cups water
½ pound ditalini or another short-cut pasta
1 teaspoon dried oregano
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
If you are using dried beans soak about 1¼ cups overnight or for at least 12 hours. They will expand and should yield about 3 cups of soaked beans for the soup.
Roughly chop the onion, celery and garlic.
Put the EVOO, onions and celery in a large enameled pot.
Over medium heat, sauté the onions and celery until translucent, about 5 minutes. (You do not want them to pick up any color.)
Add the garlic and bay leaf and sauté for another minute.
Add the cannellini beans and mix well.
Add the water and tomato puree to the pot. Stir well.
Put the cover on the pan and simmer over medium-low heat stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the soup thickens. (If you are using canned beans that should take about about 20-30 minutes. If you are using dried beans soaked over night that could take 60 minutes or so. You want the beans to be tender but not mushy.)
Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes more.
Shut off the heat and add the parsley. Mix well.
Serve in bowls immediately with a sprinkle of pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO.
Actually it’s called ragu alla Bolognese. It’s a long-cooked meat sauce from Bologna, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, the culinary heart of Italy.
The ragu is traditionally served with tagliatelle in Bologna, a flat pasta a bit narrower than fettuccine. The pasta’s shape is perfect to maximize the sauce captured on its surface.
Spinach tagliatelle is the favorite in Bologna. I grabbed fresh spinach pasta at Molinari’s Deli on Columbus so I could focus on the ragu.
The ragu has to simmer at least 3 1/2 hours, even longer. I like to make it Sunday morning to eat for lunch or dinner. The aroma will fill your house all day.
You’re building layers of flavor here. Saute minced onion, celery, carrot and pancetta in EVOO and butter. Add the meat and mix them together. Cover it all with wine. Cook off the wine and add milk and nutmeg. Cook those off too, then add the tomatoes and simmer, simmer, simmer. You end up with a thick brick-red ragu with tons of flavor.
When the sauce is done, boil some well-salted water and cook the fresh tagiatelle. That will take about 3 minutes. Put half the sauce in a large bowl. Drain the pasta when al dente and put it in the bowl and mix well with the ragu. Place a serving of pasta on a plate and top with a big spoonful of the ragu. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano reggiano and eat!
The fresh tagliatelle is silky and coated with the ragu. The long simmer intensifies the complexity of the sauce and melds all the flavors together. The dusting of parmigiano reggiano completes this homage to Bologna.
This ragu is for a pound of tagliatelle, fettuccine or your favorite pasta.
When I don’t have time to make my own, one of my favorites in North Beach is Graziano’s ragu alla Bolognese at his Caffe Puccini on Columbus.
I was hosting a 4-course birthday dinner for a friend. I asked her what she wanted. “Nothing special. You come up with something. It’s always good,” she told me. But the next morning she sent me an email. “Can you make sweet potato gnocchi? I’ve been craving them.”
How could I say no, but the pressure was on. Everyone at my dinner loves the puffy, light sweet potato gnocchi at da Flora, one of our favorite North Beach restaurants. Would mine pass muster with this exacting crowd?
I use both russet and sweet potatoes here. Sweet potatoes can be wet so I roasted the potatoes instead of boiling them in their jackets to keep them as dry as possible.
The sweet potato gnocchi were light little pillows that just about melted on my tongue. The sage butter sauce is classic in its simplicity and adds richness to the gnocchi’s sweetness. The grated parmigiano really balances the flavors and adds to the complexity of this dish.
This recipe made over 100 gnocchi. Lucky for me I had more than enough for dinner so some could be frozen to enjoy another day. Just spread them out on a cookie tray and put them in the freezer. When frozen store them in a freezer bag. Drop the frozen gnocchi right into the boiling water. They’ll take a bit longer to cook through. Frozen gnocchi are good but fresh gnocchi are better.
Flavor memories of my Mom’s hunter-style braised chicken overwhelmed me. I headed down the hill to get what I needed to make this easy, rustic dish.
I’m a breast man but go ahead and include all of your favorite chicken parts. The breasts take less time to cook so just simmer dark meat pieces a bit longer. Use bone-in and skin-on chicken for more flavor.
My recipe includes my father’s “secret” ingredient. He always added a sweet vinegar pepper to his chicken cacciatore. If you’re really energetic make my easy vinegar pickled peppers. (If you don’t have vinegar peppers use a dozen vinegar-brined capers or just a few drops of red wine vinegar. The acidity balances the sweetness of the peppers.)
I served the chicken cacciatore up with creamy polenta so I didn’t lose any of the sauce on the plate. Boiled rice works well too. You can also use the sauce for pasta.
The chicken is moist and tender, bathed in the chunky, sweet tomato-pepper sauce. I like to get a piece of bell pepper with each bite of chicken. Sometimes when I’m lucky, I get a piece of the piquant vinegar pepper too. Heaven!
I was navigating through the crowd waiting for the bus outside of Cavalli Cafe on Stockton and didn’t notice the hand-written sign in the window. Owner Santo Esposito saw me passing by and ran out to tell me that black truffles (tartufi neri) had just arrived from Umbria. My heart raced as we hurried inside.
Santo opened the box with the black beauties inside. The truffle aroma wafted across the counter. I was overwhelmed and had to have one. I knew exactly what I would do with the tartuffo I was holding in my hand, my take on a classic Umbrian pasta.
I had chestnut flour in my cupboard so I made fresh pasta and served it with a simple black truffle sauce. Set a plate of pasta before each guest and shave truffle on top. The aroma of the Umbrian forest fills your head as you go in for your first forkful. The tender pasta has a delicate, sweet chestnut flavor that blends nicely with the woodsy truffles. (You can find chestnut flour at Italian delis and at many supermarkets or just substitute spaghetti or your favorite imported Italian dried pasta.)
Friends in Italia supply Santo with the best products all year: Tuscan EVOO from last fall’s first press; dried porcini mushrooms; chestnut flour; white and black truffles depending on the season. These black truffles were harvested just a few days ago. Don’t delay, get fresh black truffles at Cavalli Cafe now @ $2/gram.
A classic from Catania on the eastern shore of Sicily, this wildly popular pasta took on its name in honor of favorite-son Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma 180 years ago. You’ll find it on menus all over Sicilia now.
A couple of you asked about this dish so I thought I’d make it. It’s almost 2 years since my last exquisite week in Sicilia and I’m in the mood for a taste memory of that beautiful island.
The shiny black-purple eggplant in the market are superb. Get the firm small to medium ones. They don’t have many seeds. Even though it’s July we won’t have good local Bay Area tomatoes for about 6 weeks, so I used imported San Marzano tomatoes from Campania.
My Rigatoni alla Norma is inspired by my Catania cousins-in-law. The creamy tomato-eggplant sauce coats each fat pasta tube. The grated salty ricotta salata (dried ricotta cheese) sprinkled on top balances the sweetness of the sauce. Celebrate summer with this easy 2-step recipe. It brought me back to the heat and sun of Sicily’s Ionian coast eating Pasta alla Norma al fresco with a glass of Nero d’Avola wine.
If you’re enjoying a summer bounty of local tomatoes at the height of flavor here’s my fresh San Marzano tomato sauce video. San Marzano tomatoes are best but you can use local Roma or other tomato varieties to make a great sauce in place of one made with imported canned San Marzano tomatoes.
A Roman friend’s son Luca shot a video of Claudio, the chef/owner of Osteria Dar Bruttone making spaghetti alla carbonara, a classic Roman pasta dish. I had to share it with you.
Claudio is passionate about Roma and about its food. His osteria in the San Giovanni neighborhood where he serves simple traditional Roman fare is popular with locals and tourists alike.
Claudio beams as he talks about the virtues of the most beautiful city on earth and Roman culinary tradition, a vital part of Roman life. Walk with Claudio as he shops in the markets near his osteria for the food that he will cook at his restaurant that day.
The spaghetti alla carbonara video is in Italian but even if you don’t speak the language watch it anyway. The shots of Rome, the markets and the kitchen techniques are priceless. Everyone I know who watched the video, fluent in Italian or not, had to make spaghetti alla carbonara right away. Here’s my translation of Claudio’s recipe for you to enjoy in your kitchen.
Spaghetti alla carbonara only has 4 ingredients and is ready to eat in the time it takes to cook the spaghetti. Search out guanciale. It’s integral to the dish. (In a pinch you could use pancetta.) Use a dried durum wheat pasta extruded through bronze dies imported from Italy so the sauce will cling to its rough surface. Don’t be shy with the black pepper. Use pecorino for it’s more robust flavor, not parmigiano.
The spaghetti takes on a golden hue. Creamy, silky sauce coats every strand. Rich pecorino flavor plays off salty, crispy guanciale and black pepper tickles your throat with every bite.
The farmers markets are overflowing with early spring vegetables so I just had to make Pasta Primavera, farfalle (bowtie) pasta with just-arrived asparagus, fava beans and sweet peas.
Pasta Primavera is a classic Italian-American dish concocted by Sirio Maccioni and made famous at his Le Cirque restaurant in New York City in the 70s.
I adapted the classic recipe to lighten up the cheesy sauce. Sirio used spaghetti but today I chose farfalle to ensure that every forkful has some pasta and vegetables for a full flavor explosion in every bite.
This is a glorious bowl of springtime. The sweet fresh vegetables are bathed in the light cream sauce and their fresh taste shines through. The farfalle absorb the sauce full of spring vegetable flavor. The ricotta salata grated on top ties the dish together and kicks it up a notch.
I had an ulterior motive for cooking up the dish today. I’m making Pasta Primavera at a demonstration and tasting for 50 San Jose fans later this week. I wanted to make sure I still had it right this season.
Here’s the Farfalle with Spring Vegetables recipe just in case you get inspired at the market. Use my spring veggie trio or use whatever spring vegetables turn you on. Just don’t use more than 3 vegetables or the flavors will get muddled.
You can make the primavera sauce in the time that it takes to cook the pasta. Buon appetito.
I scored some beautiful small Italian eggplant at Union Street Produce so I just had to make caponata. I love this flavor-packed sweet-sour eggplant side dish (condimento) from Sicilia.
Usually I make caponata during the summer when the eggplant and tomatoes are at their prime. I was surprised to see the early crop of Italian eggplant in late January but it’s been a really mild winter in the Bay Area. The tomatoes were hot house vine-ripened on the stem.
Caponata is easy to make. Most of the work is cutting the eggplant and vegetables. Caponata is cooked in stages and married at the end with agrodolce, a sweet and sour syrup. Eggplant is the star so choose well at the market. The eggplant should be shiny black and firm to the touch. The small Italian eggplant are my favorite for caponata but if you can’t find them any eggplant will do.
If you’ve never had caponata try some from a shop like North Beach’s new salumeria (Italian deli) Geppetto to get a taste of how this dish is supposed to be and then make your own. Caponata will keep in the refrigerator for about a week so I usually have some on hand to add to an antipasti platter, as a side dish for grilled or roasted meat or fish, as pasta sauce or as a topping for bruschetta or crostini.
I love this time of the year in Italia. You get to enjoy black truffles shaved over pici, a rustic home-made spaghetti, or white truffles shaved atop fresh fettucine, or either, shaved atop golden veal scallopine. You may not believe it but black or white truffles shaved on top of eggs fried in olive oil is heavenly, too. I don’t know what excites me more, the truffle aroma that fills my head as the dish arrives or the first bite.
We’re in luck this year. Santo of North Beach’s Cavalli Cafe is selling white and black truffles from Piemonte and Umbria along with fragrant and meaty porcini just dried in the Tuscan sun, and an extra virgin olive oil from a small mill pressed 2 weeks ago. Quite a score for Santo. Bravo!
As of today these truffles are five days out of the ground. Santo’s prices are very reasonable and the quality is excellent. Treat yourself. It’s the holidays – eat some fresh truffles while you can.
The truffles will last about a week wrapped in paper towel and stored in a paper bag in the fridge. If you don’t use them all you can freeze what’s left in butter. Just scoop out what you need. That should last you until next year’s harvest.
But don’t delay because the just-pressed extra virgin olive oil sold out in a day. I’ll save my tasting notes until the next shipment arrives. It ain’t cheap, but you’ll want to get some of this fantastic, fresh finishing oil before the next shipment sells out, too. I’ll let you know when it arrives.
Here is a white truffle pasta recipe and a black truffle pasta recipe to get you started. I suggest you either make fresh pasta or use a very good Italian dried durum wheat pasta. If you use my fresh pasta recipe just pass the pasta sheets through the fettucine or tagliatelle cutters on the pasta machine, or tightly roll up the pasta sheets and cut them in 1/2 inch ribbons. Buon appetito!