There’s been a chill in the air so I decided to make my first soup of the fall season.
Minestrone was at the top of my list. It’s easy to make, delicious and good for you.
The most difficult part of this recipe is chopping the vegetables. Otherwise, you just let the minestrone simmer away for an hour and a half, stirring from time to time.
The flavorful kale is a perfect companion for the tender meaty borlotti beans surrounded by bits of cabbage, potatoes and zucchini floating in the full-bodied vegetable broth. If you get lucky you may get a piece of nutty pancetta in your next spoonful.
Slice some crusty bread and you’re ready for a hearty lunch or serve minestrone as a substantial first course for your next dinner on a chilly eve.
Leave out the pancetta for a vegetarian version. Either way minestrone is even better the next day so make sure you have some leftover.
I promised to make a lasagna for our office potluck lunch Thursday. As I got ready for a trip to LA I tried to beg off making the lasagna.
I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood to make a lasagna because I was flying back Wednesday night. My office mates wouldn’t let off the hook.
I was stuck. After I unpacked I dashed off to the market to get everything I needed.
I was making a “lazy” lasagna. No homemade pasta sheets. No long-cooked sauce. This puppy is in the oven in a half-hour.
Don’t be intimidated. This is a simple recipe for a weekend meal or even for a leisurely weeknight dinner.
I used no-boil lasagna sheets, sausage browned out of its casing and a ricotta, mozzarella and pecorino filling. Canned San Marzano tomatoes made the quick tomato-basil sauce a snap. Leave out the sausage and you have a delicious vegetarian lasagna.
First start the sauce. It will be ready in about 30 minutes. Cook the sausage at the same time. In the meantime whip up the ricotta and mozzarella filling. When the sauce is ready assemble the 3-layer lasagna and bake it in a hot oven for about a half-hour.
How easy is that? You’ll be ready to eat in about 60 minutes start to finish.
The ricotta filling encased in tender pasta sheets is creamy and rich. The perky sausage layer bathed in the sweet tomato-basil sauce is a zesty counterweight. I savored every bite. 2 of my lucky mates snagged the leftover lasagna for their lunch the next day.
Serve the lasagna with a simple salad and a bold red wine. Have some crusty bread handy to wipe up the sauce left on the plate. You won’t have to wash that dish before you put it back on the shelf.
Just before I left for a wonderful birthday celebration with friends in Provincetown on Cape Cod and Boston I learned that Marcella Hazan, the extraordinary Italian cook and teacher had passed on September 29.
Marcella was one of my early teachers. She opened up a world of authentic Italian cooking using a few choice ingredients and simple methods.
I remember well the sunny Sunday morning many years ago when Marcella visited my restaurant in Providence. We were all on pins and needles. The woman who taught America how to cook and eat Italian would soon be here.
Marcella was in town for a food editors conference and we were hosting a reception at the restaurant the next night featuring her dishes.
Marcella stepped out of the car with her husband Victor and son Giuliano, a cigarette with an incredibly long ash dangling from her lips.
After sidewalk introductions, we walked into the restaurant. I asked what she would like. “Jack Daniels on the rocks,” Marcella replied in her unmistakeable raspy voice. As I poured her bourbon we all sighed and relaxed. We spent 2 incredible days in the kitchen with the giving La Cucina Italiana master.
In honor of a remarkable woman, here’s my riff on one of my favorite recipes from her ground-breaking first book, The Classic Italian Cookbook: The art of Italian cooking and the art of Italian eating. I cherish the soiled copy she inscribed for me those many years ago. I hope you enjoy this pork loin braised in milk as much as those at my table do.
The delicate flavor of the tender, moist pork loin is enhanced by the clusters of nutty brown pan sauce. Add your favorite sides and dinner is served. I served mine with baby spinach sauteed with extra virgin olive oil.
Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground pepper all over the loin. Pat it in with your hand.
Put the butter and oil in a enameled or heavy-bottemed pot that fits the loin snugly over medium-high heat.
When the butter foam subsides add the meat fat side down.
Brown the loin thoroughly on all sides. Lower the heat if the butter turns dark brown.
Slowly add the milk to the pot.
When the milk comes to a boil reduce the heat to medium-low or even low to keep the milk at a low simmer, cover the pot with the lid a bit askew.
Cook the loin slowly until the meat is fork-tender, about 1½ to 2 hours.
Turn and baste the loin occasionally and if needed add more milk.
By the time the loin is cooked the milk should have coagulated into small nut-brown clusters on the bottom of the pan. (If it is still pale remove the loin, uncover the pot, raise the heat and cook briskly until the milk bits darken.)
Remove the loin and let it rest for about 5 minutes before slicing.
Skim all the fat from the pot. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan and scrape up all the residue on the bottom of the pot as the water evaporates. Taste the pan sauce and add more salt and black pepper if desired.
Cut the loin into half-inch slices and arrange them on a serving platter.
Spoon the pan sauce over the slices and serve immediately.
The large artichokes at the farmers market were beautiful. I grabbed 3, heavy and still tightly closed.
Should I stuff them, bake them, steam them? Nope. I wanted something quicker to prepare so I decided to make artichoke soup instead.
The hardest part of this recipe is cleaning the artichokes. You want only the tender white heart. Then your about an hour away from eating this delicious simple soup.
In an enameled or heavy-bottomed pot sauté the potatoes and aromatics. When the leeks are soft and the thyme and shallot give off a wonderful aroma add the water and bring the pot to a boil.
Add the artichoke slices and with the pot lightly simmering cook until the potatoes are soft and falling apart and the artichoke slices are tender, maybe an hour or so.
Stir in the chopped fresh parsley and sprinkle each bowl with grated cheese and you’re ready to eat.
The thyme and shallot flavored broth is thickened by the crumbly potatoes. Each spoonful brings the clean and distinctive taste of artichoke, creamy potatoes and sweet leeks splashing over your palate.
A thick soup with fresh thinly sliced artichokes, potatoes and leeks in a clean thyme flavored broth.
Recipe type: Soup
3 artichokes (or in a pinch use frozen artichoke hearts)
Juice of one lemon
¾ pound potatoes, peeled and curt into ½-inch cubes
1 leek, white and pale-green parts, sliced, washed well
2 shallots, chopped (about ¼ cup)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
2 quarts cold water
1 tablespoon fresh Italian flat parsley, chopped
Grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
Clean the artichokes.
Put enough water in a big bowl to cover the sliced artichokes. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze in the juice of one lemon. Put the lemon halves in the water too. (This acidulated water will keep the artichokes from darkening after you clean and slice them.)
Starting at the bottom, snap off all the tough dark green outer leaves. When you get to the light yellow-green leaves stop.
Cut off the dark top of the remaining leaves. (A serrated knife works best.)
With a paring knife cut off the stem and peel away any tough green on the bottom of the heart. You just want the tender white part.
Cut the artichoke in half and scoop out the choke (the hairy part in the center of the heart) with a pointed spoon or cut out with a paring knife. (You now have a cleaned, tender artichoke heart that is white and light green in color.)
Peel the dark tough skin from the stem.
As you clean each artichoke lay the artichoke heart on a cutting board cut side down. Cut each half vertically into ½ inch slices. Slice the peeled stem into slices too. Put the artichoke slices in the acidulated water.
Put the olive oil in an enameled or heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium-high heat.
When the oil is hot add the potatoes, coat with the oil and cook for about 3 minutes.
Add the leeks and shallots, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaf and sea salt to taste.
Cook until the garlic is fragrant, about a minute.
Pour in the water and over high heat bring to a boil.
Drain the sliced artichoke hearts and add them to the pot. Bring the soup to a vigorous simmer.
Lower the heat to medium-low and cook the soup uncovered until potatoes and artichokes are tender, about an hour. (The potatoes should have broken down a bit to thicken the soup).
Stir in the chopped parsley.
Top each bowl of soup with a sprinkle of grated cheese.
I bought a head of cabbage intending to make an Italian-American cole slaw. It didn’t happen. Now what?
As I looked in the fridge for something to eat when I got home from a long day at work the cabbage caught my eye. Next to the cabbage was a fat slice of house-cured pancetta from my butcher. Bingo!
In less than a half-hour those 2 ingredients and a hunk of crusty bread became my light dinner.
Saute small cubes of pancetta in a pot with a little olive oil. When the pancetta is golden-brown add the cabbage and toss the cabbage with the pancetta. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add a little water, cover the pot and let the cabbage steam until it is soft and tender, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook the cabbage until the water is almost all gone.
Put the cabbage on a serving plate and drizzle with olive oil and your done.
The mellow sweet cabbage strewn with salty, meaty pancetta is a complex taste and texture treat, simply delicious. So much flavor from just 2 quickly cooked ingredients.
Serve the cabbage as a side for meat and fish or eat it up for a light meal.
I’m cooking dinner as a birthday gift for a friend and I’m in the mood for this calamari salad as part of the antipasti.
The steamed calamari is sweet and tender bathed in the zesty olive oil and lemon dressing. The celery and onion add a crunchy textural note. The mellow roasted pepper strips and buttery Castelvetrano olives fill out the flavor palette.
You can make calamari salad in about 20 minutes. Just chill it in the fridge and you’re ready to eat.
Sweet tender calamari with a zesty lemon-olive oil dressing with celery and onion adding a crunch.
Recipe type: Appetiser
3 fresh bay leaves
The whole peel and juice of ½ lemon
1½ pounds calamari bodies and tentacles, cleaned and bodies cut into ½ inch rings
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ red onion, minced
½ cup pitted Castelvetrano or other green olives, cut in slivers
4 celery stalks with leaves, sliced thin (I like to use the tender, pale green inner stalks.)
½ cup roasted red bell peppers, cut in strips
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian flat parsley
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon dry oregano
¼ teaspoon hot chili flakes
Put 2 inches of water in a Dutch oven or pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
Add the bay leaves and lemon peel and boil for a few minutes until they release their aromas.
Set a colander or steamer over but not touching the water.
Add the calamari rings and tentacles into colander or steamer lower the heat so the water is simmering. Cover the pot and cook until calamari is just cooked through and is opaque, about 5 to 6 minutes. (I taste the calamari to ensure that I take them out when they are cooked but tender. Don't over cook the calamari or it will toughen.)
In the meantime in a large bowl combine the onion, olives, celery, roasted pepper, parsley, salt, oregano, peperoncino, olive oil and lemon juice.
Add the cooked calamari to the bowl and mix well with the other ingredients and olive oil and lemon dressing.
Fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs and creamy potatoes braised in a fresh rosemary-sage broth.
Recipe type: Entree
1 rack babyback ribs, about one and a half pounds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 potatoes, peeled and cut in one-inch cubes
¼ cup dry white wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Season the ribs on both sides with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cut the babybacks into individual ribs and remove any excess fat.
Put a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.
When the oil starts to ripple put in the ribs and cook until you have a golden crust on all sides, about 6-8 minutes.
Remove the ribs to a plate and set aside.
Discard excess oil in the pot leaving just enough to saute the onions.
Add the onions to the pot and saute until they are soft and take on a golden hue, about 5 minutes.
Add the fresh herbs and mix well with the onions.
Add the tomato paste and mix well with the onions. Cook for about 1 minute to toast the paste.
Raise the heat to high. Put the ribs back in the pot and add the wine and simmer vigorously until the wine is almost entirely evaporated. Scrape up all of the brown bits on the bottom of the pot to incorporate the flavor nuggets in the liquid.
Add the potatoes to coat with the onion mixture.
Add the broth and bring the pot to a boil.
Turn down the heat to a low simmer, partially cover the pot and braise until the meat is tender and falls off the bone, the potatoes are partially falling apart and the gravy has thickened, about an hour or so. Stir the pot from time to time.
Put the ribs and potatoes on a serving platter and spoon the gravy on top garnished with a rosemary sprig or 2 and a few sage leaves.
Tomatoes overflow the farmers market. I bought fresh organic San Marzano tomatoes with this pasta dish in mind.
I’m in the mood for rich and creamy so I’m mixing ricotta with the quick-cooked tomato sauce and serving it with giant dried pasta tubes.
The classic Neapolitan Paccheri con Ricotta e Salsa di Pomodoro is a late summer treat.
Paccheri means “slaps” in Italian. Gentle face slaps not hostile ones.
The fat tubes collapse on themselves. The pasta makes a slapping sound when picked up with a fork because of the creamy sauce trapped inside.
Paccheri are a big mouthful of pasta so you need a sauce that will hold up to them. This one fits the bill.
I usually just add basil to a quick-cooked fresh summer tomato sauce. But I remembered that sometimes my Mom added oregano to her tomato-basil sauce so I did too.
The mellow creamy ricotta-tomato sauce coats the fat pasta inside and out. Add a dollop of the tomato sauce on top. The fresh basil and oregano shine behind the sweet tomatoes. The freshly ground black pepper lightly tingles your tongue. You won’t believe the flavor wallop from so few ingredients quickly cooked.
If you can’t find paccheri use rigatoni, ziti or penne instead. If you can’t find San Marzano tomatoes use the ripest tomatoes available in your market. In a pinch use a 28-ounce can of imported San Marzano tomatoes.
How often do you get to put something inside someone’s body?
No this ain’t a sex post but it’s close.
I just returned from 3 weeks in Italy when I sat down with my friends at Hungry Village. Cameras rolling I riffed on what draws me back to Italy each year and what fuels my passion for sharing my food with family and friends in my home and with you on my blog.
I hope you enjoy a short video of my time living in a Roman neighborhood and my Italian-American lifestyle in San Francisco’s North Beach.
Are you afraid of squash blossoms that are flooding farmers markets now?
Don’t be. The blossoms are versatile and easy to cook up. Grab some if you can.
Stuff the blossoms with mozzarella and anchovy and fry them coated with a light batter. Use them as a topping for a tomato-less pizza. Or make this really simple pasta cream sauce that will be on your table in the time it takes to cook the pasta.
Slice the blossoms into 1-inch ribbons. Saute the shallot with butter and extra virgin olive oil. When the shallot is translucent add the blossom ribbons and saffron. Finish with heavy cream and cook until the sauce thickens.
Add the cooked pasta and toss with the sauce to finish cooking. Shut off the heat. Add grated parmigiano and a sprinkle of grated black pepper and toss well.
That’s it. Sit down and eat.
Most of the sauce will be absorbed by the pasta and some will coat it too. The yellow-orange blossoms pleasingly speckle the saffron-tinted pasta and add a hint of zucchini flavor. Mild shallot deepens the flavor of the mellow parmigiano cream sauce.
Every eye-pleasing bite is a mouthful of delicate complex flavor. So simple and so delicious.
1 pound or 500 grams fresh tagliatelle, linguine or fettuccine. Or use a long dried pasta. I used fettuccine here
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
12 zucchini blossoms, sliced into ribbons
Pinch of saffron
¾ cups heavy cream
¼ cup grated parmigiano
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put a big pot of well-salted water on to boil.
Cut off the dark green base of the squash blossom and the stem. The pistil should fall out. Discard the pistil and stem piece.
Slice the blossoms horizontally into 1-inch ribbons.
Put the butter and olive in a large saute pan over medium heat.
When the butter begins to bubble add the shallot and cook until the the shallot is translucent, about 1 minute.
Lower the heat to medium-low.
Add the sliced blossoms and sea salt to taste to the pan and stir to coat the blossoms with the butter and oil.
Cook until the blossoms soften and become fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the saffron and mix well.
Add the cream and cook stirring well until the cream begins to thicken.
In the meantime, when the water is at a rapid boil. add the fresh or dried pasta (Fresh pasta should take less than 5 minutes to rise to the surface and be perfectly al dente. Follow the package directions for dried pasta. Cook until al dente.)
While pasta is cooking warm the sauce over low heat.
Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste and the grated parmigiano. Mix well to coat the pasta evenly with the sauce and cheese.
Serve immediately with extra grated parmigiano on the table for your guests.
Rows of fish packed on ice sparkled in the morning sun as we searched the open-air fish market for the perfect catch for dinner.
I almost bumped into this guy in the picture below swinging a long stick with neon orange plastic strips on the end to keep the flies moving.
With this heat we’d cook on the grill when we got back to our house in Ortigia on the Ionian coast.
We settled on 1-inch steaks cut from a huge swordfish just out of the sea.
To finish the dish I made Salmoriglio, a light uncooked sauce with fresh oregano and parsley, extra virgin olive oil, lemon, and garlic popular throughout southern Italy and perfect for grilled swordfish steaks.
Mix up a batch as you get the fire going. I takes about 5 minutes to make the sauce. Let it sit for about 30 minutes so the flavors meld.
Lightly brush the sauce over both sides of the swordfish steaks and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.
Grill the steaks over medium coals or medium-high heat in a grill pan. Grill the first side giving them a quarter turn halfway through to create the hatched grill marks, about 4 minutes total. Finish them quickly on the second side so that they are still moist and tender when you take them off the grill, about 3 minutes more.
Put the swordfish on a plate and drizzle with the Salmoriglio sauce. Put the extra salmoriglio in a sauce bowl so you guests can add more if they want.
The firm and moist swordfish steak is smoky from the grill. The fresh oregano and parsley are front and center in the clean and light lemon and olive oil sauce with garlic and hot red pepper in the background. A wonderful combination that lets the fresh briny swordfish shine.
Here’s one of my favorite dishes that’s easy and quick to make for a weeknight dinner. You’ll be eating in a half hour or so.
Roast the sausage in a hot 425 degree oven until they’re golden brown.
While the sausage is roasting steam/saute the broccoli rabe in a big covered pot with garlic, red pepper flakes and extra virgin olive oil.
The broccoli rabe is infused with garlic and the hot chili flakes add a perky sparkle as you swallow.
I chose two Little City Meats homemade sausages to diversify a bit. One is the mild Sicilian with fennel seeds the other a hot Calabrese with dried chili.
Sometimes I want to extend the heat and I’ll grab a hot Calabrese. Sometimes I want to calm it all down and go for the mild Sicilian instead. Either way with a crusty chunk of Italian bread you’ll be in heaven.
For a vegetarian alternative I often just have a bowl of broccoli rabe with a hunk of crusty bread to soak up the cooking broth.
Either way quick, healthy and delicious. Your dinner all on one plate.
I scored the first of the organic San Marzano tomatoes from Happy Boy Farms at the Thursday Galleria farmers market in San Francisco’s financial district.
I was lazy and wanted a simple sauce so I didn’t cook it at all. This pasta can be on your table in about 30 minutes.
Just pop the San Marzanos in boiling water to loosen the skin and peel them. Roughly chop the tomatoes and let them marinate with extra virgin olive oil, basil and garlic for 30 minutes while the pasta water comes to a boil.
When the pasta is cooked add the marinated tomatoes and toss to coat the pasta well. Top each serving with a ripped basil leaf, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a light shower of grated parmigiano and eat.
You can use any fresh tomato for this pasta sauce. As long as they’re ripe and sweet, cherry, pear or heirloom tomatoes work well too. The heat of the pasta will bring out their full sweet flavor.
I didn’t make my own pasta. I bought some fresh pappardelle at the market but you can use long or short dried pasta too. Make it with penne or another short dried pasta and serve it at room temperature or slightly chilled and you have an Italian pasta salad for your summer buffet table.
I love the pure raw flavors of the sweet tomatoes and basil bathed in the garlic-infused olive oil. The toothsome pappadelle captures it all and adds a nutty wheat note to every bite.