Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant was one of those foods that I would always pass over on restaurant menus and supermarkets alike.  It just never appealed to me for the longest time.  Then, one fateful day, I decided to try an eggplant Parmesan somewhere and have been a fan ever since.  I don't necessarily do a lot of cooking with it at this point, but I now know that, despite its less-than-savory name (even though I knew it didn't taste anything like eggs - which disgust me), it is a very versatile and tasty vegetable.  Bread it and fry it up with cheese and pasta just makes it that much more appealing!

This vegetarian meal can be made in less than an hour.  You can halve that if you use pre-made marinara sauce in place of the basic tomato sauce below.

  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 4 tomatoes, quartered
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 1 package linguine or spaghetti pasta
  • Flour
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 c. bread crumbs
  • 2 fresh mozzarella balls, thinly sliced
  • Fresh Parmesan cheese
  1. Slice the eggplant width-wise in 1/4" discs
  2. Lightly salt both sides of the eggplant slices and place in a colander and let sit.  This will draw out some of the water from the vegetable.
  3. In a sauce pot, sauté the garlic and onion with extra virgin olive oil until tender
  4. Toss in the tomatoes and a few shakes of red pepper
  5. Stir the tomatoes for a couple minutes then add 2 cups of water
  6. Bring to a boil
  7. Salt and pepper to taste
  8. When the tomatoes soften, remove the pot from heat and blend with an immersion blender.  A standard blender will work also if you don't have an immersion blender.
  9. Return the pot to the stove and reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally
  10. While the sauce is reducing, start boiling the pasta in a separate pot
  11. At this point, the eggplant slices should have had time to dehydrate a bit (you'll see a small puddle of water under the colander)
  12. Setup an assembly line on your prep surface with the following items: 1 plate with flour, 1 plate or shallow bowl with the eggs, 1 plate with breadcrumbs and 1 empty plate (for the prepped eggplant slices)
  13. To bread the eggplant slices, dredge each side of the slice through the flour first, then the egg (allowing excess to drip off), then finally the bread crumbs and place it on the final plate
  14. Coat the bottom of a large sauté pan with extra virgin olive oil and bring to medium-high heat
  15. Gently place the eggplant slices in the pan
  16. Flip the eggplant slices after the first side browns
  17. Add a slice or two of mozzarella to each eggplant slice as the bottom side cooks
  18. When the bottoms have browned, transfer to a paper towel covered plate (to absorb the excess oil)
  19. At this point, the pasta should be ready for plating.  Strain the pasta and add some to the serving plates, followed by a couple slices of eggplant, followed by a ladle of sauce topped off with freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tortellini al Ragù di Salsicce

Tortellini are stuffed pasta shells akin to ravioli.  As such, they can be used in much the same way.  I was originally planning to make a simple marinara sauce for these tortellini, but ended up throwing the extra sausage into the pot after I got tired of folding the shells - thus another ragù recipe.  Ragù, I have found (thanks to Becky), simply means "meat sauce" so there is really no true ragù recipe.  Feel free to use your favorite pasta sauce in place of this ragù as well.

If you start the sauce before the pasta, the sauce will be nice and thick by the time the tortellini are ready.  If you happen to have a stick blender - and if you prefer a smoother sauce - purée the sauce before adding the sausage.  A double batch of fresh pasta dough recipe yields around 40 tortellini so you will be busy for a couple hours - unless you can find someone to help you out.

  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled, cored and finely chopped
  • Handful of basil leaves, finely chopped
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 c. Chianti
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, separated
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 batches fresh pasta dough
  1. Toss in the carrot, onion and garlic into a pot on medium-high heat with some extra virgin olive oil, cooking until tender
  2. Mix in the tomatoes and basil with about a cup of water
  3. Add the black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
  4. Bring to a boil
  5. Add the wine and reduce heat to a simmer
  6. In a separate pan, brown the sausage through
  7. Transfer the cooked sausage to a paper towel covered plate to strain out the excess grease
  8. When the sausage is cool enough to handle, transfer to a cutting board and mince
  9. Combine 3/4 of the sausage, egg and parmesan cheese in a bowl, mixing well
  10. Add the remaining 1/4 of the sausage to the simmering sauce
  11. To make the pasta, roll out a small piece of dough very thin and cut into 2" squares (fig. 1)
  12. Add a small portion of the sausage filling to the center of the pasta (fig. 2)
  13. Fold the pasta in half diagonally and seal the edges with your fingers (fig. 3).  Keep a cup of water nearby to help seal the edges if your pasta is too floury or dry
  14. Place the pasta between your thumb and forefinger with the triangle tip up and fold the two wings around your thumb, sealing them together (fig. 4)
  15. Tuck the tip down into the folded wings and gently flour before placing with the rest of the tortellini (fig. 5)
  16. To cook the tortellini, gently place them one by one into a boiling pot of water, making sure to give each of them plenty of room
  17. Remove when they float to the surface (2 - 4 minutes)
  18. Serve in a bowl with a ladle of sauce and a fresh grating of parmesan cheese

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pappardelle al Ragù

Think of pappardelle as really wide fettucine.  Unlike its thinner sibling, pappardelle goes best with chunky, meaty sauces.  Here in Tuscany, it is common to see pappardelle in restaurants served with a wild boar ragù.  However, wild boar is much less accessible than Italian sausage - which I used for this sauce.  Becky rolled the pasta slightly thicker than that of fettucine which complimented the heartiness of the sauce perfectly.

  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • 3 large tomatoes, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 c. Chianti
  • Black pepper
  • Fresh pasta dough (see recipe)
  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in extra virgin olive oil for a couple minutes
  2. Remove the sausage from its casing (if it has any), chop it up and toss it in the pan
  3. Once the sausage has browned, add the tomatoes and wine, mixing well
  4. Make a few turns of freshly ground black pepper to the sauce
  5. Reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 - 20 minutes or until saucification is complete
  6. While the sauce is simmering, you can begin rolling out the pasta dough into a large sheet.  Make sure that you are following the flour, roll, flip, repeat method so as to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling surface and rolling device
  7. After you have rolled out the dough into the desired thickness, you should have a decent sized sheet of pasta
  8. Flour the top of the pasta sheet once more, making sure to evenly spread the flour to all corners
  9. Gently roll the sheet into a snake and place it on a cutting board
  10. Using a non-serated knife, segment the snake into 1/2" pieces.  These pieces will unroll into long, (relatively) straight pappardelle noodles
  11. Toss the unrolled noodles with flour so they do not stick together
  12. The fresh noodles will take only 2 - 3 minutes to cook
  13. Add the cooked noodles to the sauce and gently mix with tongs
  14. Serve immediately with a fresh grating of parmesan cheese

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tubetti di Formaggio con Sugo Piccante (Cheese Tubes with Spicy Sauce)

I used the extra pasta dough from here and extra ricotta from here to create these cheese sticks.  These are a homemade replacement for mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce.

  • Homemade pasta dough (see recipe)
  • Ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 red onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and finely diced
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  1. After the pasta dough has been made, the tubes are a snap - simply roll out small portions (pasta thickness) into small oval or rectangular shapes (approximately 5" wide by 4" high)
  2. Spread a small dollup (~1 t.) of ricotta along the edge closest to you, leaving about 1/2 inch on either side
  3. Carefully roll the pasta into a tube
  4. Seal the ends with the tines of a fork
  5. The tubes can either be placed aside or refrigerated while you prepare the sauce
  6. In a small sauce pan, sauté the garlic and onions with extra virgin olive oil until tender
  7. Add the tomatoes and a good dose of black pepper
  8. Add the red pepper flakes (the amount of red pepper you use is your decision, but I prefer this sauce spicy)
  9. Add a bit of water for the flavors to saucify in
  10. Mix in a splash of balsamic vinegar
  11. Reduce heat to a simmer, mixing frequently, until the sauce has achieved its desired consistency
  12. Bring out the tubetti from wherever you were storing them
  13. Cover the bottom of a large sauté pan with extra virgin olive oil and bring up to medium-high heat
  14. One by one, carefully lay the tubetti in the hot oil, seam side up
  15. After one or two minutes, the bottom of the tubetti should be brown and crispy, flip them over and cook the other side
  16. Lay out the cooked tubetti on a plate covered in paper towel to absorb the excess oil
  17. Serve immediately with the sauce for dipping

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

Ravioli are a very versatile pasta - you can fill them with just about anything.  However, by keeping the ingredients simple, you have a larger selection of sauce and entrée pairings.  These ravioli will go just as well with a tomato-based sauce as they would with a simple drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a grating of fresh parmesan cheese.

  • Homemade pasta dough (see recipe)
  • 1 c. ricotta cheese
  • 1 lb. fresh spinach
  1. Boil 1/4" water in a large stock pot
  2. Remove the stems from the spinach and toss into the pot until properly steamed - this only takes a couple minutes
  3. Strain the spinach well, pressing as much of the excess water out of it as is possible, then let it cool
  4. Finely chop the spinach
  5. In a bowl, thoroughly mix together the spinach and ricotta, this will be the ravioli filling
  6. Take a small portion of the dough (roughly ping-pong ball size) and roll it into a thin, roughly rectangular shape on a floured surface.  I have found that the best way to do this and to avoid making a mess out of your rolling device (rolling pins and empty wine bottles work well for this) is to flour the entire piece of dough, smash it down with your hand, flour it again, roll it out on one side, flip it, flour it, roll it out, flip it, etc.
  7. Using a non-serrated knife or pizza cutter, cut off the rounded sides so you have a nice rectangle - this should be 6" wide by 8" high or so
  8. Make another single cut through the middle of the dough width-wise, creating two 6" x 4" pieces
  9. Add a fork-full of filling to the right half of one of the ravioli shells and spread it across toward the three edges, leaving enough room to seal it in the next step (see top image)
  10. Fold the left half over the right and seal by gently pressing the tines of a fork around the open edges of the raviolo
  11. Flour a cookie sheet, plate or any other mobile surface for the finished ravioli - be careful if you stack the ravioli as they will stick together if not thoroughly floured
  12. To cook the ravioli, gently slide a few of them into a large pot of boiling water taking care not to overcrowd them
  13. When they are finished cooking, they will float to the top (2 - 3 minutes)
  14. 4 or 5 ravioli are large enough for a single serving

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fresh Pasta Dough

Fresh, homemade pasta is incredibly simple to make - if you have the time to devote to it.

  • 1 c. flour
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the egg and flour until the result is roughly doughy (I do this initial mixing with a fork), adding water if necessary
  2. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for a couple minutes until smooth and elastic
  3. If you aren't going to use the dough right away, store it in an airtight container
That's it! You have just made pasta dough.  Obviously it isn't in edible form yet, but that's where the creativity comes in.  You can use a rolling pin, empty wine bottle, or (if you're lucky enough to have one handy) a pasta machine to shape your dough into the shapes of your choice.  Cooking time will depend on the thickness and shape of the pasta you make, but it will be less than the boxed counterparts (because of the freshness).