With the rain finally arriving in the Bay Area, it is starting to feel like winter, and thanks to the rain and cold we are able to make and cure our annual production of Calabrian sausage , that we typically produce in January when the weather conditions are ideal for curing sausage, cold and humid. In addition to the curing of sausage I love to prepare Friscatula, Calabrian polenta with savoy cabbage, during this time of the year.Read More
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One of the simplest and most satisfying soups I have ever made is Fasuoli cu l’accia, a bean and celery soup. This soup was unknown to me in Calabria, but my husband enjoyed it regularly as a child growing up in Palermo. You would find this soup in many of Palermo’s homes at this time of year, and it is considered a dish of the cucina povera (cooking of the poor). The thought of combining beans and celery seemed a strange and unusual combination to my Calabrian palate, but last week when we were discussing comforting fall dishes, my husband recalled how much he loved when his mother would make Fasuoli cu l’accia.Read More
I have decided to share with youthe recipes that did not make it into my first cookbook "My Calabria". I had tested and submitted too many recipes and at the end many had to be cut so the book didn't go over 400 pages. Here is the first recipe that I would like to share with you, Spaghetti with Fresh Artichokes. This is a simple recipe that I prepare during this time of the yearwhen you can find the small artichokes that are used in this dish. This sauce works well with long or short pasta and especially well with homemade pasta.Read More
Now is the time of the year when anchovies show up at the fish market. And it's also the time when wild fennel grows in California. During May and June I pick the fronds and use them in various dishes (here is a recipe that I prepared last year using wild fennel), but my favorite is a pasta dish that combines wild fennel with fresh anchovies. The recipe didn't make it into my book, so I can give it to you!Read More
Lots of things have kept me busy since I came back from my culinary tour in Calabria: my book launch happened last week and there is a book signing event every week from now until January. But I did promise everyone in the tour group that I would remake the dishes we cooked in Calabria and give them the recipes. So today, our first rainy day in the Bay Area, seems like a good time to start. Luckily most of the recipes that we cooked are in my book, but a few were new to me. The first cooking class of the tour was held at La Tavernetta restaurant in Camigliatello Silano, in the heart of the Sila mountains. This restaurant is one of the top restaurants in Calabria and its menu focuses on dishes based on local ingredients. We spent our first day foraging for wild mushrooms and for dinner, the chef and owner Pietro Lecce demonstrated two wonderful dishes using them. This week I will give you the recipe for the soup we had. Next week I will try the appetizer we made, roasted mushroom caps filled with ricotta and herbs.
This soup really showcases the simplicity of Calabrian cooking. We used the local potatoes that grow in the Sila mountains--our closest are the Yukon gold--and porcini mushrooms.
The two star ingredients of this soup, porcini and potatoes.
Cut the potatoes in small cubes, about 3/8 -inch by 1/2 -inch
Cut the porcini, cap and stem, into small cubes
Cook the potatoes in the broth until soft
Sautee the porcini mushrooms with a sprig of fresh thyme
When the potatoes are soft add the sauteed mushrooms and finish the soup following the recipe below. Yummy!
For a printable recipe, click here.
Zuppetta di porcini e patate (Porcini mushrooms and potato soup)
1.5 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut in small cubes, about 3/8 inch by 1/2 inch
Extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound fresh porcini mushrooms
Sprig of fresh thyme
3 cups or more Vegetable broth or chicken broth
Salt and black pepper
In a small pot, warm up three tablespoons of olive oil. Add the cubed potatoes. Stir to coat and then add two cups of hot vegetable broth. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked and soft, about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, cut the porcini mushrooms into small cubes including the stems. In a 10 inch skillet place 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Set over high heat add the mushrooms and a sprig of thyme . Add more olive oil if dry. Saute quickly until the mushrooms are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Once the potatoes are soft stir and press against the side of the pot to smash some of them. Add the mushrooms to the potatoes and another ladle of broth. Let them cook together until the potatoes are soft enough that some start breaking apart, about 5 minutes. Stir and smash enough potatoes against the side of the potto make a thick creamy soup. Add more broth if the soup is too thick.
To serve, place a couple of ladles of the soup in a bowl and add a swirl of extra virgin olive oil. Add a few croutons on top of the soup, if desired.
Serves 4 to 6
Here is one more recipe for you to use up all your zucchini. I created it back in the summer of 1983 for the first Zucchini Festival in Hayward, California. I knew that my pasta with zucchini and ricotta salata wouldn't be a good choice so I came up with a recipe made with pureed zucchini. It almost looks like a pesto sauce.
The recipe was so good that it won first place in the main dish category. Everybody loves this dish and it is especially popular with kids - they eat it not knowing that it is made with zucchini.
The puree is so lush that most people think it contains butter and cream. It has neither. My original recipe did include butter, as an attempt to appeal to Americans, but over the years I dropped it and the dish remains sufficiently rich. You can make it several hours ahead and it also freezes well.
It is an easy recipe to make; the sauce has only zucchini, onion, garlic, parsley, basil and a bouillon cube that gives it its very rich taste.
In the 80s it was very popular in Italy to throw a bouillon cube into everything--that's how I happened to put it in this sauce. I tried making the dish without it once and the taste just wasn't the same. I use the Knorr chicken bouillon cubes, butyou can use their vegetable flavor if you prefer .
Saute the onion and garlic until soft:
Add the zucchini, parsley, basil and crumbled bouillon cube:
Cook at low heat until it is very soft and smashes easily:
Then puree it in a blender until you have a smooth sauce:
Put the sauce in a skillet, add some cheese and add the drained pasta to the sauce. Toss the pasta until well coated.
Let me know what you think of it.
Pasta con crema di zucchine
(Pasta with zucchini and herb puree)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 pound zucchini, halved or quartered lengthwise, then sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 chicken bouillon cube (preferably Knorr brand), crushed
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for passing
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lb of Rigatoni, Penne or other type of short pasta
Grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese to taste
1. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add the zucchini, basil, parsley and the crumbled bouillon cubes.
2. Cook, uncovered, over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the zucchini are fully cooked and soft. If the zucchini seem dry, add a small amount of water to continue cooking until soft. It should look like a mush of zucchini. Taste for salt. If needed add salt to taste. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
3. When the zucchini are cooked, place the mixture in a blender and puree until you have a smooth sauce.
4. Bring the water for the pasta to a boil, add salt to taste, and cook the pasta until al dente.
5. While the pasta is cooking, place the sauce in a large sauté pan, and add the grated cheese. Mix well.
6. When the pasta is ready, drain, and add to the sauce, raising the heat and stirring until the pasta is well coated. Sprinkle with more cheese and serve at once.
Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.
Here is another recipe where you can put your zucchini to use. We made this pasta dish at the all-zucchini cooking class on Saturday.
You can prepare everything while the pasta cooks. The key ingredients are zucchini and a flurry of grated ricotta salata. I was lucky to have a nice ricotta affumicata that my parents brought back from Calabria, but either will work well with this dish. Even fresh ricotta will make this dish flavorful.
My aunt used to prepare this dish; the ricotta salata melts when it hits the pasta, and by adding a little hot water from the pasta pot, you can create an almost creamy sauce. Some people prefer to sauté the zucchini, but I think the fried zucchini have more flavor. And some would say peperoncini (hot peppers) are optional, but not in my house!
Slice the zucchini in 1/8 inch rounds:
Sprinkle them with a teaspoon of salt and toss. Fry the zucchini slices in batches until golden on both sides.
Leave a couple of tablespoons of oil in the pan when you are done frying the zucchini slices and add the garlic, fried zucchini slices and chopped basil. Cook for few minutes to infuse the flavors.
Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the zucchini. Toss well and add the ricotta salata. Add some pasta water to make a creamy sauce.
Pasta with Zucchini and Ricotta Salata
1-1/2 pounds zucchini, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
Extra virgin olive oil for frying
1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
1 or 2 small fresh green or red chilies, minced (optional)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup finely grated ricotta salata cheese, plus more for garnish
Put the sliced zucchini in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Toss to coat.
Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a frying pan over moderately high heat until it sizzles when you insert the end of a wooden skewer or chopstick (about 365ºF). Add the zucchini in batches and fry, turning with a fork, until lightly colored in spots. Transfer them as they are done to a plate.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
Just before the pasta is done, finish the sauce. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the frying oil and reduce the heat to moderately low. Add the garlic and chilies and cook briefly just to soften them; do not let them burn. Add the basil and zucchini, toss gently, and cook briefly just to infuse the zucchini with the seasonings.
Set aside 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the warm pot. Add the zucchini and the cheese and toss well, adding reserved water as needed to moisten the pasta and make a creamy sauce. Serve immediately, topping each portion with a little more grated cheese.
Serves 4 to 6
Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.
This is the time of the year for wild fennel fronds. Thank goodness that my parents moved to Northern California. I don’t know what we would have done without our wild fennel!
The wild fennel that grows here in Northern California is the same variety, finocchietto selvatico, as the one that grows on the coastal areas of Southern Italy. I foraged for some yesterday while hiking on a trail with my husband.
Wild fennel grows in empty lots, meadows, roadsides--just about everywhere. During the spring the green fronds sprout from the old roots of the previous year. They then grow throughout the spring and summer into tall cane-like stems. By July the plant blooms with yellow "flowers", that are, in fact, immature seeds that some people use to make “fennel pollen”.
Wild fennel is not the same as the fennel that you buy at the farmers' market or at the produce store. In fact, wild fennel doesn’t resemble it in any way at all. The domesticated fennel has a large edible white bulb, which is wonderful raw in salads and cooked in many different ways. Its fronds have very little flavor. Wild fennel, however, does not produce a bulb. Its edible parts are the springtime fronds and the summertime seeds. It has a very distinctive flavor of sweet anise.
When foraging for wild fennel don’t collect from the roadside or other locations where the plants are exposed to car exhaust or dogs. Go in the back of a lot or in areas where people don’t walk their dogs. Also take only a few fronds from each plant. Don’t remove an entire plant. I'll let you know how to forage for the seeds later in the summer when I have some photos.
Many of you have eaten pasta con sarde, a dish from my husband's hometown of Palermo that requires wild fennel fronds. But Calabrians also eat the fronds. My grandmother would throw them in a delicious minestra made with various wild greens. And we use the seeds to flavor our cracked green olives, our cured black olives, and of course our homemade Calabrian sausage, both fresh and cured.
I had included a pasta recipe in my cookbook that required wild fennel but it was removed because I was told that nobody outside California has access to it. Is this true? Those of you who live elsewhere, please let me know if you have seen wild fennel. I would think that it would grow on any coastal areas with mild weather. If indeed it doesn’t grow where you live you can buy the seeds from Seeds from Italy and grow your own wild fennel. But whether you have foraged for wild fennel or grown it from seed, give this quick pasta dish a try. Don’t replace it with domesticated fennel fronds as they don’t taste the same.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil the cleaned fronds for 10 minutes. Drain the fronds well, reserving the cooking liquid, and finely mince them as shown on the right side of the picture below.
Remove the sausage from its casing. Break the sausage into small clumps with a knife. I used my homemade fresh Calabrian sausage, but you can use any sweet or hot Italian sausage.
Brown the sausage with some olive oil.
Add the minced cooked wild fennel. Season with salt.
Cook the pasta in the reserved water that the fennel was cooked in. Drain and toss with the sauce.
Here is the finished dish. So simple--only three ingredients--and yet so good!
Pasta con Finocchietto Selvatico (Penne with wild fennel and sausage)
1/4 pound (115 grams) wild fennel fronds, leaves and slim, tender stems only
3/4 pound (350 grams) fresh sweet or hot Italian sausage or Fresh Homemade Fennel Sausage Calabrian Style
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil
1 pound (450 grams) penne rigate or rigatoni
Wash the fronds well in hot water as they can harbor small insects. Bring 5 quarts (5 liters) of water to a boil in an 8-quart (8-liter) pot over high heat. Add the fronds and boil 10 minutes, then lift them out of the water and into a colander, reserving the water to cook the pasta. Drain the fronds well and finely mince. You should have 1/2 to 2/3 cup minced greens.
Remove the sausage from its casing. Break the sausage into small clumps with a table knife.
Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch (25-centimeter) skillet over moderately high heat. Add the sausage and cook until it is no longer pink and begins to brown lightly. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, breaking up the clumps into smaller bits. Add the fennel greens and stir well to distribute them and coat them with the oil. Season with salt. Reduce the heat and keep warm.
Add 1/4 cup (35 grams) salt to the water in which you cooked the fennel. Return to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Set aside 1 cup (250 milliliters) of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the skillet with the sausage and fennel greens. Cook, stirring, over moderate heat for a minute or two to flavor the pasta, moistening it with some of the reserved pasta water. Serve immediately.
Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.
Here is the second recipe I promised you from my August cooking class menu, the one that uses eggplant from appetizer to dessert. This dish is a clever way to combine eggplant, pasta, and cheese in a beautiful presentation. It was supposed to be in my cookbook, but I already had too many recipes, so you're in luck. The recipe calls for frying the eggplant slices, which is how I had it in Calabria, but for the class I decided to grill them instead, and I've grown to like it better that way. You can also bake the slices, if you prefer. For this dish, I use large globe eggplant. Here is what the slices look like on the grill:
Once they are done you place on each eggplant slice some spaghetti that has been lightly tossed with tomato sauce, and then you top it with a piece of cheese:
Roll the eggplant slice around the pasta and cheese. You now officially have an involtino:
Then you finish with some more tomato sauce and grated cheese, such as ricotta affumicata (ricotta that has been smoked) or grated pecorino. This is what the involtini look like in the baking dish:
And here they are, ready to eat. Yummy!
Here is the recipe:
INVOLTINI DI MELANZANE RIPIENI DI PASTA
Eggplant rolls filled with pasta, mozzarella and tomato sauce
In Calabria, caciocavallo cheese or provola is typically used in place of mozzarella, for their stronger flavor. The eggplant can also be grilled as a light alternative to fried.
2 eggplants (1 pound each)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Olive oil for frying
3 cups of fresh tomato sauce
1/2 pound of spaghetti
20 fresh basil leaves, chopped
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino crotonese or ricotta salata
1. Slice the eggplants lengthwise into 3/8-inch thick slices. You should get 8 slices from each eggplant. Lightly sprinkle the slices with the salt on both sides and set aside. Heat enough olive oil in a 10-inch skillet to come 1/2 inch up the side of the pan.
2. Pat the eggplant slices on both sides with a paper towel, drying thoroughly.
3. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle, add a few slices of the eggplant and fry until soft and golden on both sides. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked eggplant to a plate lined with paper towels. Add the remaining eggplant to the skillet and fry as before. Set aside the cooked eggplant.
4. Prepare the tomato sauce using your favorite recipe.
5. Bring the water for the pasta to a boil, add salt to taste, and cook the pasta until al dente, slightly undercooked, as it will continue to cook in the oven.
6. When the pasta is ready, drain, and toss with half of the tomato sauce and half of chopped basil, stirring until the pasta is well coated.
7. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
8. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce. On a plate or a cutting board lay flat a slice of the cooked eggplant. Place a few strands of spaghetti on top of the eggplant slice; the strands should drape over the slice on both sides. Add a slice of cheese over the pasta and make a roll of the eggplant slice around the pasta and cheese. Place the roll in the baking dish, making sure each roll sits snugly next to its neighbor. When all the rolls are in the baking dish pour a little of the sauce over them and place another slice of cheese on top of each roll. Dot the top of each roll with a little more sauce, sprinkle the remaining basil, and dust with grated pecorino or grated ricotta salata.
9. Bake for 20 minutes until the cheese melts and forms a light, golden crust.
10. Serve carefully with a spatula so that each involtino doesn't unroll.
Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.
My cooking students always ask me this question. This time of the year is a transition period. I am finishing picking winter vegetables such as escarole, chicory and cabbage.
I also pick borage, which grows wild in my garden. The broccoli rabe is gone.
I had enough escarole last night to make scarole e fagioli, one of my favorite comfort foods, with dried borlotti beans from the garden. You can probably still find escarole at your farmers' market. But the soup is even better with chicory.
The other vegetables not quite ready to be picked are fava beans, peas and sweet red Italian onions from Tropea, a resort town on the west coast of Calabria. (Yes, I actually brought the onion seeds from there.)
And of course my herb garden has beautiful Italian parsley, rosemary, oregano and thyme that thrive all year long.
My dad just started the seeds for the tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. I will share some of his gardening secrets when he starts preparing the dirt.
And here is my recipe for scarole e fagioli
Scarole e Fagioli
Escarole and Bean Soup
In Calabria, my mother would make this winter minestra (thick soup) with wild greens, such as the dandelions and various chicories that grew everywhere. Nowadays we make the dish with escarole from our garden.
Typical of Calabrian minestre, this soup is thick, not brothy, with just enough liquid to bathe the beans and vegetables. The escarole should be very soft, offering no resistance. We leave the whole hot peppers in the soup and enjoy them in small bites.
1/2 pound dried cranberry (borlotti) beans, or dried cannellini beans or about 3 cups of cooked beans Kosher salt 2 pounds escarole, both ribs and leaves 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 to 3 small dried hot red peppers, tops removed and slit 3 cloves garlic, halved
Soak the beans 8 to 12 hours in water to cover generously. Drain and place in a large pot with fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, then adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook uncovered until the beans are tender, 45 minutes or more, depending on their age. Season the bean broth with salt, stirring well to dissolve the salt, then let the beans cool in the broth. You should have about 3 cups cooked beans. You can prepare the beans to this point a day or two ahead, cover, and refrigerate.
Stack the escarole leaves and cut crosswise at 2-inch intervals. Fill an 8-quart pot half full of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the escarole, pushing it down into the water. Cook until the white ribs are very tender, about 5 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Taste a piece to check for doneness. Drain and return the escarole to a clean pot. Add the olive oil, hot peppers, garlic, 3/4 cup bean broth and 3/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat and simmer briskly for 3 minutes. Add the beans, leaving the bean broth behind, and simmer 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt. Serve hot or warm