Tag Archives: Italian Cooking

Marcella Hazan and My Life as a Lawyer

The late great, Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, who passed away at 89 years old last weekend, had a profound effect on the way Americans approached Italian food.  I’m no exception.

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Throughout my life, despite efforts (and threats) by my Italian-born mother and grandmothers, I was completely indifferent to cooking.  I loved to eat.  I loved good food.  I especially loved good (as in real) Italian food.  However, I had no idea how to cook and little interest in learning.

I became engaged to my husband while I was in law school and like two kids in a candy store, we abused our  “zapping gun” and registered for the best kitchenware and gadgets Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel had to offer – Le Creuset, All-Clad, Wustof, Mauviel, etc.  I recall hearing my dad’s cousin Dora remark at my bridal shower, “Wow, she got a lot of kitchen stuff.  She must really like to cook.”  I then heard my mother sneering behind me.

Right after our honeymoon, my new husband and I moved into an apartment in Chelsea and I started my job as a first-year associate at a large Manhattan law firm.  I began working 70-hour weeks in a stressful post-9/11 economy and it didn’t take long before I felt jaded by the long hours and lack of personal fulfillment of corporate law.   My beautiful new kitchen equipment remained untouched as I ordered take-out to the office nearly every night.

At the same time, however, any time I needed a break from document review and SEC compliance checks, I found myself surfing the Internet for Italian recipes.  One day, I searched, “best Italian cookbooks” and that’s when I discovered Marcella Hazan.  I ordered “Essentials of Italian Cooking” online and had it delivered right to my office.  I remember the day it arrived – its light green cover, which has since become oil-stained and tattered, was shiny and creaseless.  No glossy, over-styled photos – just a few diagrams and illustrations to support Mrs. Hazan’s meticulous instruction and fluid prose.  I carried that volume back and forth to work every day and read it on the subway, during lunch breaks and at bedtime.  Mrs. Hazan, with her insistence on simple techniques and fresh ingredients, got through to me in a way that my poor mother never succeeded despite their shared cooking philosophy.

I finally broke out the new cookware, with Marcella as my guide.  Cooking – Marcella Hazan’s brand of honest regional Italian cooking – became my singular release from a stressful, unsatisfying career (a career I would eventually give up years later to do the very thing she taught me to love).  For one of the first dinner parties I ever hosted, I prepared Mrs. Hazan’s “Braised Carrots with Capers,” a side dish I’ve served at every holiday and event I have since hosted.  Simple, thoughtful Italian food – the very epitome of Marcella Hazan.  La ringrazio dal cuore, Signora Hazan.  Riposi in pace.

Sweet carrots slowly braised in olive oil and a bit of water and finished off with salty capers - I call these, "carrots, elevated"

Young, sweet carrots slowly braised in olive oil and water and finished off with salty capers – I call these, “carrots, elevated”

Braised Carrots with Capers

From Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (verbatim)

For 4 servings

  • 1 pound choice young carrots
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt
  • Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
  • 2 tablespoons capers, soaked and rinsed if packed in salt, drained if in vinegar

Peel the carrots and wash them in cold water.  They ought to be no thicker than your little finger.  If they are not that size to start with, cut them in half lengthwise, or in quarters if necessary.

Choose a sauté pan that can accommodate all the carrots loosely.  Put in the olive oil and garlic and turn on the heat to medium high.  Cook and stir the garlic until it becomes colored a pale gold, then add the carrots and parsley.  Toss the carrots once or twice to coat them well, then add 1/4 cup water.  When the water has completely evaporated, add another 1/4 cup.  Continue adding water at this pace, whenever it has evaporated, until the carrots are done.  They should feel tender but firm when prodded with a fork.  Test them from time to time.  Depending on the youth and freshness of the carrots, it should take about 20 to 30 minutes.  When done, there should be no more water left in the pan.  If there is still some, boil it away quickly, and let the carrots brown slightly.

Add pepper and the capers, and toss the carrots once or twice.  Cook for another minute or two, then taste and correct for salt, stir once again, transfer to a warm platter, and serve at once.

Pappardelle with Roasted Butternut Squash, Pancetta, Mascarpone & Sage

Photo with package

A few months ago, my friend, the wildly talented food blogger, Adri Barr Crocetti, sent me the link for Delverde’s “Dish Your Blog” recipe challenge. The artisanal pasta company is based in Fara San Martino, on the other side of the Majella mountain from my village of Salle.  Delverde has been my preferred pasta brand for years and I commonly see packages of Delverde pasta lining the pantry shelves of my discerning neighbors in Abruzzo as well.Delverde badge

Inspired by a pasta dish I enjoyed in Florence this past summer, I selected Delverde’s Pappardelle Nests and paired the wide pasta ribbons with a condimento of sweet roasted butternut squash, salty pancetta, sautéed shallots and fresh sage. I finished the dish with a little trick I learned from a trattoria on the Oltrarno – a dollop of mascarpone. The Italian cream cheese gently marries the sauce to the pasta without the weightiness or “milky” taste of heavy cream. It’s a lovely and luscious homage to fall flavors and would work equally well with Delverde’s Rigatoni or Mezzi Rigatoni.  Buon appetito!

Photo with ingredients

Pappardelle with Roasted Butternut Squash, Pancetta, Mascarpone & Crispy Sage

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Serves 4

  • One 1½ pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into a 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 12 whole sage leaves
  • 1 package of Delverde N°83 Pappardelle Nests (250 g)
  • 3 ounces diced pancetta
  • 2 shallots, very thinly sliced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of mascarpone
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°. On a medium, rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone liner or parchment paper, toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Roast for 15-20 minutes, tossing once, until lightly browned and tender.

While the butternut squash is roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. At the same time, in a large skillet over moderate heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the sage leaves and fry until crisp, about 20 seconds. Gently transfer the sage leaves with a fork to a plate lined with paper towels, sprinkle with sea salt and set aside.

    Crispy, fried sage leaves give a slight crunch to this creamy, luscious pasta dish

Crispy, fried sage leaves give a slight crunch to this creamy, luscious pasta dish

To the skillet, add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, stirring often, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta from the skillet and set aside.  (Doing so will prevent the pancetta from becoming too chewy.) Next, add the shallots, ½ teaspoon of salt and several grindings of black pepper to the skillet and cook until the shallots are soft and caramelized, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the reserved pancetta and roasted squash to the skillet and set aside while you cook the pasta.

Skillet

When the pasta water reaches a boil, cook the Delverde Pappardelle Nests for 5 minutes (two minutes less than indicated by the package instructions as you’ll finish cooking the pasta “in padella” – in the pan – along with the sauce). Drain, reserving one cup of the cooking water.

To the skillet, add the pasta and reserved cooking water and cook over moderate heat, tossing gently, until the sauce is thickened and the pasta is al dente, about 1-2 minutes; season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Turn off the heat, stir in the mascarpone and gently toss until it is incorporated throughout. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl or to individual bowls and top with the crispy sage leaves.  Serve the pasta with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Buon appetito!

Bowl

This recipe is posted as an entry in the Delverde DISH YOUR BLOG recipe contest to try to win a trip to NYC.  Some entrants may have received free sample products in addition to the opportunity to compete for the prize.

Glorious Vegetable Fritto Misto

In the spring, cookbook author Domenica Marchetti paid tribute to one of her culinary idols on her blog.  Today, it’s Domenica’s turn to take the spotlight.  A brilliant home cook, eloquent writer and proud (fellow) daughter of Abruzzo, my friend Domenica’s latest cookbook, The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, is stunning.Cover photo

I was fortunate to witness Domenica in action this summer when our families spent a food-filled day together on Abruzzo’s fabled Costa dei Trabocchi.  Domenica is as thoughtful in her cooking as she is in her writing.  Now, I’m admittedly a bit of a chiacchierona (chatterbox) and become particularly gregarious in Italy, where a double dose of adrenaline kicks in the moment my plane touches down.  During our seafood cookery class on a trabocco, a spider-like fishing platform that juts into the Adriatic Sea, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Domenica secretly wished she could ask me to please pipe down as I babbled and gesticulated excitedly throughout our lesson (see proof below).  However, Domenica good-naturedly endured my prattle while she instinctively cleaned briny mussels and diced sun-ripened tomatoes. (Domenica’s solicitousness has been passed down to her two teenagers who willingly entertained my three little boys all day).

Recovered Autosave-001

Work and play in the trabocco kitchen – Can you tell who’s who? (And Domenica, are you smiling in the bottom left photo because you finally have a moment of peace?)

Later that evening, we were treated to a pre-dinner baking lesson with our friend Fabrizio Lucci’s mom and godmother. Admittedly, neither of us was able to keep pace with Rosa, who nimbly and effortlessly shaped the delicate cookies called celli ripieni into perfect crescents.  Towards the end, however, I began chit-chatting with Mamma Anna Maria while Domenica – who, by this point, was feeling the effects of jetlag – diligently persevered until she mastered the technique.

So it comes as no surprise that the recipes in The Glorious Vegetables of Italy are both meticulously detailed and infinitely inspiring.  The book’s gorgeous photography and Domenica’s engaging prose are truly, in her words, a “love letter to the Italian way with vegetables.”  Although the volume is worthy of display on a coffee table, I know that before long, my copy will take its place, dog-eared and oil-stained, among my favorite cookbooks – although in my house, it will likely always be called “the vegetable book that Nick and Adriana’s mom wrote.”

Tray

Vegetable Fritto Misto from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy available on Amazon

So here’s to you, Domenica, one of my culinary idols … auguri infiniti.

Vegetable Fritto Misto

Recipe adapted from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy by Domenica Marchetti

I looked to my garden for guidance in choosing my first recipe to try from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.  This may be my last week for zucchini blossoms (“fiori di zucca”) and in my opinion, there’s no better way to enjoy them than battered and fried.  In her recipe, Domenica also recommends adding baby artichokes to the fritto misto (which I didn’t have on hand).  I did, however, have the fresh sage leaves she suggests and trust me, this ingenious addition to your fritto misto is a must.

Raw Veg

Makes 4-6 or more servings

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sparkling spring water, such as San Pellegrino
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 6 zucchini blossoms, with stems, rinsed and patted dry
  • 6 large fresh sage leaves, with stems, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 small zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
  • Vegetable oil (or your oil of choice) for frying
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges for serving
  • Coarse sea salt for serving

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, water, egg, and fine sea salt to make a smooth batter about the consistency of heavy cream.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for 20-30 minutes.

Pour enough oil into a medium skillet to reach a depth of ½ to ¾ inches.  Place over medium-high heat and heat the oil to 375 degrees F (190 C) on a deep-frying thermometer (if you’re using another type of oil, adjust the temperature if needed).  To test the oil temperature, drop a small amount of batter into the hot oil.  It should sizzle and float to the surface immediately, and quickly turn golden.

Have ready a paper towel-lined baking sheet for draining the oil.

Drop the zucchini blossoms in the batter (stems up) and then transfer them immediately to the hot oil.  Fry the blossoms in batches, taking care not to crowd the skillet, for 2 minutes, use a fork to turn and fry for another 2 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the blossoms to the prepared baking sheet.  Fry the zucchini wedges and sage leaves in the same way, turning them once as they cook.

Platter

When all of the vegetables have been fried, transfer them to a serving platter and sprinkle a little coarse sea salt over them.  Arrange the lemon wedges on the platter and serve immediately.

Buon appetito!

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