Halloween Dinner II: Black Spaghetti with Garlic, Parmesan and Sun-dried Tomatoes

Wickedly quick, creepy good Halloween pasta!  Black spaghetti starts showing up in some markets and grocery stores just in time for Halloween.  (I buy extra as I think it’s also a classy pasta to serve for New Year’s Eve as well.)  But for this year’s Halloween dinner, I revisited my Momma’s Fettucine making a few changes, like adding in herbs, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic to ward off the vampires. Continue reading “Halloween Dinner II: Black Spaghetti with Garlic, Parmesan and Sun-dried Tomatoes”

Momma’s Fettucine Alfredo

Are you ready for the most effortless, creamy rich intensely flavored sauce?  It’s true an Alfredo Sauce is one of the simpler sauces to make but this one beats them all!!

My mother’s handwritten recipe book, the one with vague measurements and loosely written instructions, included a recipe labeled Fettucine Alfredo.  For many years, I would flip past this recipe as it just didn’t make sense to me.  She listed unsalted  room temp butter, freshly grated parmesan cheese, dash of nutmeg, fettucine, toss.   Okay, so where was the cream I’ve seen in other recipes?

Since I was a teen when she passed away, I didn’t see all that she cooked and baked in the kitchen.  Many times, dishes just appeared magically and gracefully out of the kitchen onto the table.  I know I had eaten small bowls of pasta in a creamy, rich  sauce.  And then I remembered.

I was searching online for Italian sauces and found this description from Wikipedia, ‘Fettuccine Alfredo is a pasta dish made from fettuccine pasta tossed with Parmesan cheese and butter. As the cheese melts, it emulsifies the liquids to form a smooth and rich coating on the pasta.’ Continue reading “Momma’s Fettucine Alfredo”

Pumpkin and Amaretti Gnocchi

Coming together for a holiday certainly revolves around the food we eat; especially in Italian families and for all those food lovers out there!  But there is also another important part that truly makes the holiday special.  And that is family; those that will be sharing this meal with me.  My daughter is coming home next week and I can’t even tell you how excited I am to see her!  She may be only an hour plus away and I may chat with her several times a day, but to have her back home with me makes me so very happy!

So while I’m planning ahead for Thanksgiving, I’ve also given some thought to preparing a few special meals for her and my son.  The night before Thanksgiving I really want something quick, easy and comforting.   Pasta is comfort food to me so I thought I’d prepare a batch of gnocchi to freeze ahead.  Of course, I can’t just make potato or ricotta gnocchi during pumpkin season!

Making gnocchi takes a bit of time and practice to get the texture of the dough just right but I always feel it’s worth the effort.  The roasted pumpkin puree should be drained well so that the dough will come together without adding in an excess of flour; a dryer puree makes for a lighter gnocchi.   The Amaretti cookie crumbs add a gentle sweet taste to the gnocchi and should be processed fine to not create a “crunchy” taste in the gnocchi.  I use a fork to roll my gnocchi but have heard of others using a box grater or a whisk to create the familiar grooves.

The pumpkin can be roasted a day ahead; normally when I’m roasting other things and will make the dough making day go a bit quicker!  It’s hard to be exact in the quantities of the ingredients as it truly depends on the moisture of the pumpkin whether to add more or less flour.  You will want the dough not sticky, but soft and light.  To create the light pillowy soft gnocchi make sure again that your dough is neither too wet nor too overworked. 

Just a small bowl of comfort, a mixed greens salad, a glass of wine and lots of laughter and love!! 

Pumpkin and Amaretti Gnocchi

For the gnocchi:

About 2 cups roasted pumpkin puree, squeezed/drained dry

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon Amaretti Liquor

1 ½ – 2 cups flour, I used white whole wheat flour

½ cup finely processed Amaretti cookie crumbs

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoons salt

For the sauce:

¼ cup organic unsalted butter

10-12 sage leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, mix the egg yolk and Amaretti liquor into the puree.  Combine the flour and Amaretti crumbs and add to the dough, mixing with a wooden spoon to combine.  Sprinkle a little flour on your board and knead the dough just until it’s smooth adding small amounts of flour as needed.   Do not overwork as the gnocchi can become tough.  Cut the dough into four sections and roll into long pencil shapes.  Cut every ½ – 1 inch and roll into small balls.  Mark the gnocchi by rolling it down the back of a fork or grater using your thumb to roll down then up forming the concave pillow shape.  Place the gnocchi on a large lightly floured baking sheet.  If freezing, place the baking sheet in the freezer and when frozen place in a freezer baggy for later use. 

When ready to cook, heat a large skillet and melt the butter.  Add the sage leaves and cook for several minutes.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the gnocchi in batches if necessary for about 3-5 minutes or until gnocchi floats to the top.  Fresh gnocchi will obviously cook faster than frozen. Taste to check for doneness.  Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon to drain well and add to the large skillet.  Gently toss and to combine well with the sauce; sometimes I will lightly sauté the gnocchi for a touch of crispness.  Serve immediately in warmed bowls with Parmesan cheese and a few grinds of black pepper.  Makes about 8 small servings.

A Halloween Dinner 7 Deadly Zins Pasta

7 Deadly Zins is my favorite Zinfandel wine. It’s a full bodied red which seems to surprise a lot of my friends as they normally know Zinfandel to be a blush or a White Zin.  And normally the reaction to a White Zin is that it’s sweet and cheap!  Red Zinfandel, and in particular, 7 Deadly Zins is a mix of grapes from seven vineyards.  Actually they state they use the grapes from the oldest vines of seven vineyards to produce a wine resulting in a blackberry/cherry, peppery and spice earthy blend.  The back label lists its Zins in the following amusing poem:

 I’m raging with ire, an ocean of fire,
My Wrath is the path to all I desire.
Oh Lord, forgive me my Zins.
I’m inflated with pride, near-bursting inside,
A self-centered repenter, Vanitys’ bride.
Oh Lord, forgive me my Zins.
I’m mired in mud, inert as a slug,
Sloth is the cloth that’s woven my rug.
Oh Lord, forgive me my Zins.
I eat day and night, consuming all in my sight,
A Glutton with nothing but a huge appetite.
Oh Lord, forgive me my Zins.
My will I ignore, my Envy’s a chore,
Over zealous and jealous, I want so much more.
Oh Lord, forgive me my Zins.
I’m ravenous to feast, an insatiable beast,
I concede to the Greed demanding release.
Oh Lord, forgive me my Zins.
I hunger for trust, my craving’s a must,
My sin is the Zin enslaving my Lust.
Oh Lord, forgive me my Zins.

–       Kevin Phillips

I’ve always wanted to have a Halloween dinner party where everyone would bring a different “Halloween” wine to sample.  Vampire Wines has their Vampire and Dracula wines and Elk Creek Vineyard has their Ghostly Wine Chardonnay and Bone Dry Red Cabernet.  Honestly I don’t choose my wine based on the label but for Halloween it’s all for fun!

Since I wasn’t as familiar with those wines as I am with 7 Deadly Zins, I decided to use the wine I knew would be to my liking in this pasta.  I first heard of this pasta dish from Michael Chiarello and his Red Wine Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe.  Instead of the broccoli rabe, I chose to sauté chopped walnuts and a topping of gorgonzola cheese.  The blood red pasta is perfect for a Halloween dinner.  The taste will obviously follow along with the wine you select as the pasta simmers in the wine turning deep red and absorbing its flavor.  Truly a unique pasta dish, the walnuts and gorgonzola add crunch and a creamy bite.  Think wine…cheese…and nuts.

7 Deadly Zins Pasta

Recipe adapted from Michael Chiarello

1 lb. bucatini or spaghetti

1 bottle (750 ml) Zinfandel or a dry red wine of your choice

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup chopped walnuts

¾ cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

In a large pot, boil the pasta in salted water for only 5 minutes.  Drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water just in case you need it.  Return the empty pot to the stove.  Add the wine and sugar to the pasta pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce to medium and cook until reduced by half, about 8-10 minutes.  Add in the pasta and gently stir with tongs until well coated and simmer in the wine until most of the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente about 4-5 minutes.

While the pasta cooks in the wine, heat a large deep skillet over medium high heat.  Add the olive oil, reduce the heat to medium low and add the garlic, crushed red pepper, walnuts, salt and black pepper.  Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally; do not allow the garlic to burn.  Add ½ cup of reserved pasta water or more if needed and stir to combine.  Stir the pasta into the skillet, toss gently add in the gorgonzola cheese, plate and serve.  Makes about 4-6 servings.

Fresh Tomato and Basil Spaghetti with Ricotta Salata

If I told you I make this at least once a week through the summer months, would you think I was kidding?  I kid you not.  This to me is summer on a plate.  My memories of garden fresh tomato salads simply dressed with basil, salt, pepper and olive oil and served with fresh baked Italian bread for mopping up the juices brought me to this simple pasta dish.  I cannot imagine this any fresher tasting, unless I made the pasta myself.

I’ve seen many versions of this dish; Maris (In Good Taste) recently did a similar no cook pasta sauce, and I’ve seen cheeses ranging from feta to parmesan to mozzarella.  I prefer to use ricotta salata as the taste is very gentle and mild and does not distract from the aromatic fresh tomatoes.   Recently I have switched to corn spaghetti instead of semolina or wheat.  The corn spaghetti works amazingly well as it layers another dimension of flavor to this dish.  Think of a fresh tasting corn, tomato, scallion and basil salad!

When I find a variety of heirloom yellow, orange and red tomatoes, the dish really pops with flavor and color!  I prefer to not remove the tomato seeds as I don’t mind the appearance of the seeds and I like to have as much juice as possible in this “sauce”.  A truly light, great tasting olive oil also works best since the olive oil’s flavor is not heated or altered in any way.   The tomatoes are only marinated for about an hour; just enough time for me to change out of my work clothes, play with my pups, pour a glass of wine and get the pot of water boiling for the pasta.  In that one hour, the flavors marry, the salt brings out more juice, the basil remains bright and a perfect fresh sauce is ready.

The “recipe” should be prepared based on the quantity to serve as this is not a dish that stands up well for leftovers.  Therefore, based on appetite and guests, roughly chop up the tomatoes (about 2 small, 1 cup per person), seeds and all, season with chopped fresh basil, thinly sliced scallion (white part and just a bit of green), minced garlic (optional for raw garlic lovers), Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Drizzle on great tasting light olive oil and allow to marry and marinate for at least one hour, but no longer than 2, at room temperature.  Pour the marinated tomatoes over just cooked al dente corn spaghetti, sprinkle on crumbled ricotta salata, adjust to taste with a finishing of freshly ground pepper, sea salt and a light drizzle of olive oil!

Linguine with Clam Sauce

Every now and then I like to post a classic recipe for my daughter.   It’s found in almost every Italian restaurant.   A dish that can be easily pulled together on a week night when hosting a few friends or a special someone or just when you want to treat yourself!  Of course, fresh clams would make this dish awesome in appearance but I truly feel that the taste is just the same.  This is one time when a canned product actually can be used just as successfully in taste and flavor.   And to be totally honest, when I see fresh clams at my fish market, I purchase just a few to mainly use for garnish on the dish!
The basis of this dish is similar to the Italian pasta dish with garlic, olive oil and parsley.  Again, a classic pasta dish with the additional of crisp white wine, chopped clams, claim juice (from the drained clams) and good parmesan cheese.  I believe when making simple dishes to always use the best quality ingredients.  I prefer to purchase artisanal pasta and pay a bit more as the taste and texture to me is superior.  Sauces seem to cling better and al la dente takes on a whole new meaning to the taste and density of these pastas.  I find also that I will use and eat less of this pasta as it is more satisfying and filling.  
Fresh herbs are equally important to add brightness and freshness to the dish.  I have been trying to get my daughter to grow some fresh herbs, which would be year round down here in Florida, but she insists taking on the responsibility of watering a plant would be too much for a college girl’s lifestyle.  Then again, she wants a dog??  Imagine that!
I follow the recipe below in specific steps for a reason.  Mixing the ¼ cup clam juice, parmesan cheese and parsley together creates a thickener for the sauce.  I add the clams in only at the end so that they do not overcook and become chewy.  And I save some pasta water just in case the pasta needs a bit more wetness.  The amount of oil and butter may seem a lot, but it is so necessary for great tasting flavor.  The dish comes together quite quickly so it’s best to have all ingredients prepped and ready! 

Linguine with Clam Sauce

1 lb linguine pasta  (I used bucatini in the photo dish above!)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup white wine

4 garlic cloves, minced

Pinch crushed red pepper

3 6.5 ounce cans chopped claims with juice

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon wedges, optional

 Drain clams, saving the clam juice, set aside.  Mix ¼ cup of clam juice with the parmesan cheese and parsley together in a small bowl and set aside.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Save ¼ cup pasta water just in case it’s needed at the very end.

While pasta is cooking, begin to prepare the sauce.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter.  Add in the garlic cloves and crushed red pepper and simmer gently for about 2 minutes.  Do not allow the garlic to burn.  Add in the white wine and remaining clam juice, simmer for another minute.  Add in the pasta, clams and parmesan cheese/clam juice/parsley mixture.  Using tongs, lift and stir the pasta together well with the sauce and gently heat the clams.  Serve immediately with lemon wedges.   Serves 4.

Country Style Pork Ribs in Italian Sauce

I am not a “slow cooker” gal.  I own a crockpot but it’s used for specific dishes.  Those that add a bit of convenience to my life; such as making stock when I don’t have the time to stay in and watch my stock pot or making chilli and being able to keep it warm through a football party and coming home after work to simmering French Onion Soup.  Gently simmered Country Style Ribs is another favorite for my crock pot. 

I love how pork sweetens tomato based sauce; it’s always a key ingredient in my Italian Sauce.  When my mother added pork neck bones to the sauce, it was the first I would grab for.  My mother, always watching her figure, would limit me to taking just one as they did contain that meltingly good fat!  Funny how I find myself now stopping my daughter with the same reasoning when she get’s excited to grab a neck bone!   My Italian Sauce is always made in my extra large stock pot, not ever in a slow cooker, as it needs to be stirred lovingly throughout the long five-hour process.  But these Country Style Ribs, after an initial searing in a skillet, can be placed in my crockpot with sauce and seasonings and simmered slowly without a need for stirring.  I love to prepare this on an early Sunday morning having it slowly cook all day while I bike ride or run my errands and come home to wonderful aromas in my kitchen and a meal ready to go!

Chunks of tender pork in a sweet Italian sauce is a rustic, comfort meal.  The pork will just fall off the bone and I serve it mixed in spaghetti or topped on spaghetti squash (my mother definitely instilled in me those healthy habits).  The ribs do contain some fat and I trim off a bit of it, but the little fat on it is truly necessary to making these ribs so tender.  Lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese and I’m in heaven.

Country Style Ribs in Italian Sauce

6 meaty country style ribs

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

1 tablespoon mixed dried Italian seasonings (basil, oregano)

1 medium onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves chopped

¼ cup red wine

3-4 cups of homemade sauce or 1 jar prepared tomato basil sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional, for a spicy version)

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt, pepper and Italian seasonings. Place as many ribs as possible in skillet, without crowding or touching. Sear each side until nicely browned and remove to place in slow cooker. Add onions and garlic to skillet and sauté for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the wine and tomato paste and cook, scraping up the bottom the pan. Pour the onion and garlic mixture over the ribs and add in the tomato sauce and seasonings. Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours or until the meat is tender and coming away from the bones. Discard any loose bones and bay leaf  breaking up larger pieces. Pour over spaghetti and serve hot.

Pasta alla Simmered Norma, i.e., Spicy Tomato Eggplant Sauce

I always follow the chef rule, first in, first out when planning my meals.  The FIFO rule is to use the foods in the order they were purchased and with fruits and veggies, I look at those peaking at their ripeness.  Sharing more of my quirkiness, I keep a list of all the fruits and veggies I purchase just to ensure they all get used and not sit forgotten in my frig!  Not only do I have one refrigerator, but I use and fill two !  And it’s just my son and I living together!!

So I have an eggplant.  And it’s going to be my dinner.  Somehow, someway.   Gluten-free, no animal products, sugar or alcohol.  I can think of several dishes, then I consider my cravings…pasta!  I am liking this cleanse as I seem to be eating more carbs!  Gluten-free, of course.

Spaghetti alla Norma is a tomato based pasta dish topped with fried eggplant slices.   The use of olive oil is permitted on my cleanse, but I opted to not fry and keep my dinner very healthy.  I prepared a basic marina sauce and added chunks of eggplant to slowly simmer and melt into the sauce.  Adding crushed red pepper is optional as it made the sauce nice and spicy, as I like it.  I used a gluten-free brown rice pasta, which to my surprise tasted very good with the eggplant sauce.  And I didn’t miss not topping my pasta with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano!

Pasta alla Simmered Norma

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion finely chopped

1 28 oz can crushed tomato sauce, I used Organic Muir Glen

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed, about 4 cups

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon dried basil

2 cloves garlic minced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

1 cup gluten-free brown rice pasta (or your choice or pasta)

In a medium –large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the onions stirring often to soften, but not color the onions.  Add the sauce and remaining ingredients, except the pasta.  Simmer on medium low for about 45 minutes or until the sauce thickens and the eggplant cooks and softens into the sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare the pasta in plenty of boiling water until al dente.  Drain pasta and add to the eggplant sauce.  Serve immediately.