Tag Archives: Pasta

Bucatini alla Trappettara


Bucatini alla Trappettara – bucatini pasta with black olive paste, red onions and tomatoes

One of the loveliest days of my summer in Italy was a farm-to-table cooking class called Abruzzo Country Cooking that I co-hosted with some special friends.   It’s remarkable that I only met Giulia and Emiliana on Facebook less than a year ago.  Who would have ever thought that a few mutual “Likes” on a social media site could lead to intimate friendships across an ocean?

Born and bred in Abruzzo, Emiliana spent many years globetrotting.  Recently, though, she had an epiphany, realizing that she knew other parts of the world more intimately than her own land.  She vowed not to make another trip abroad until she fully discovered her native region.  Through her start-up Abruzzo4Foodies, which recently partnered with ToursbyLocals, Emiliana offers guided enogastronomic one-day tours of small towns in Abruzzo (I joined her wonderful tour of the picturesque medieval town of Guardiagrele) that combine sweeping vistas with local, artisanal products.


Emiliana with a tour group from Canada

Giulia, on the other hand, is a dynamo who married into Abruzzo.  Originally from neighboring Lazio, she and her husband’s family operate a magnificent country house in Manoppello with 360-degree panoramas and a farm-to-table restaurant.   She tirelessly and enthusiastically works each and every day to deepen her understanding of her adopted region and attract visitors to its myriad charms.

Giulia preparing bruschetta for some guests

Giulia preparing bruschetta for some guests

I posted photos and a recipe from Abruzzo Country Cooking a few months ago and my friend Sam Dunham just wrote a fabulous post about our pasta-making adventures on her new blog Midlife Mum.   Only one very special recipe remains to be shared – Chitarra alla Trapettara, a bold, in-your-face dish consisting of homemade spaghetti alla chitarra dressed with piquant black olive paste, sautéed garlic, garden tomatoes and fresh basil.

I’ve come up with a version of the dish, which was originally conceived by Giulia’s local frantoio (olive oil mill), that utilizes sweet caramelized red onions to round out the strong flavor of the olives, as well as canned tomatoes (since it’s November).  The star is a smooth and velvety Crema di Olive Nere that I brought back from Tocco da Casauria in Abruzzo.     The success of this dish really depends on using good-quality, imported olive paste.  If you can’t find one in your local specialty store, it’s quite simple to make your own.  Buon appetito!


Crema di Olive Nere from my friend Ettore’s farm – La Masseria di Villa Giulia in Tocco da Casauria (Abruzzo)

Bucatini alla Trappettara  (A Modo Mio)

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking (inspired by a recipe from Frantoio Oleario Ranieri, Rosciano)

Homemade spaghetti alla chitarra is an obvious choice for this rustic, earthy dish.  However, if you don’t have time to make fresh pasta, a sturdy cut of dried pasta works well.  I used Delverde’s Bucatini.

Serves 4

  • 1 pound bucatini or thick spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 4-5 tablespoons of black olive paste (See Note below)
  • Hot red pepper flakes (for serving, if desired)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  When the water is boiling, add the pasta to the pot and cook according to package instructions minus one minute (the pasta will finish cooking in the skillet with the sauce).

Meanwhile, to a wide skillet, add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and set over medium heat until the oil is shimmering,  Add the sliced red onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, over medium low heat until soft and caramelized, about 6 minutes.  Be careful not burn the onions – you want them to release their sweetness in order to round out the olive’s strong flavor.

Add the tomatoes to the skillet, quickly bring to a boil and then, with a ladle, add 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.  Allow the tomatoes to bubble gently until the liquid has absorbed and the tomatoes no longer taste raw.

When the pasta is ready, drain well and reserve an additional 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water in a separate bowl.  Add the pasta, cooking water and the black olive paste to the skillet and raise the meat to medium. Using tongs, toss the ingredients together vigorously to combine and allow to simmer for about 1 minute.  Turn off the heat and serve with hot red pepper flakes if desired.

NOTE:  If you’re able to find good quality, imported black olive paste online or in a specialty food store, then by all means, use it! However, don’t sacrifice the quality of the dish with a supermarket tube of black olive paste as it’s really quite simple to make on your own.  Simply add 1 cup of good-quality imported pitted black olives (not marinated), such as Kalamata or Gaeta, to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse to a smooth paste.  With the processor on, slowly pour ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil (or more if needed) until it has an even, creamy texture. Leftovers are great spread on toasted bruschetta.

Buon appetito!

National Pasta Month – Orecchiette

Handmade Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and anchovies

Handmade Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and anchovies

October is National Pasta Month and many would agree that pasta is Italy’s preeminent contribution to the culinary world.  Italian food scholar Oretta Zanini De Vita writes, “To me, this heritage is an Italian gift to gastronomic culture on a par with what the Florentine Renaissance gave to art.” (Professor De Vita also dispels the widely held belief that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy. In fact, evidence of pasta exists in Sicily around 800 AD, nearly 500 years prior to Marco Polo’s return from China.)

Italy’s regional pasta tradition mirrors the peninsula’s socioeconomic history. The prosperous North is home to the delicate egg-rich “tajarin” of Piemonte and the rich meat-filled “tortellini” of Bologna while the struggling South nourished its peasants with “orecchiette” in Puglia and “sagne” in Abruzzo, made with only flour and water. While prosperous Northern Italians had the means to enjoy pasta as a “primo” between the appetizer and the meat or fish course, as a teenager, my father used to devour half a kilo of pasta for lunch every day because that’s all his family could afford. (I often wonder how many pounds of pasta I’ll need to cook for my own family when my three boys are teenagers.)


A humble dough made of only semolina (Durum wheat) and water

Years ago, my husband and I dined at the acclaimed and utterly fabulous Cibreo in Florence. Lauded for its creative spin on Tuscan cooking, the restaurant is also known for the chef’s intentional omission of pasta from the menu. Although we thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated our dining experience, we couldn’t help feeling as if something was missing among the elegant courses. After all, what is a truly great Italian meal without even a small dish of pasta?


Orecchiette con le Cime di Rapa

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Fresh orecchiette – Puglia’s famous little ear-shaped pasta – have a toothsome texture and unique hybrid flavor between dried and fresh pasta (they’re made from semolina, water and salt – eggs, once considered a luxury, are not used in traditional pasta-making in Puglia).  The most classic condimento – and my personal favorite – is broccoli rabe (also known as rapini or cima di rapa in Italian), garlic and anchovies and topped with toasted breadcrumbs (cheese was another luxury for Southern Italian peasants).

Serves 6

For the orecchiette:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1½ teaspoons of sea salt
  • 2½ cups semolina flour (Durum wheat flour)
  • All-purpose flour for the work surface

For the condimento:

  • 2 lbs broccoli rabe, stems trimmed, and cut into 2-inch pieces (leaves and florets)
  • 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing at the end
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 3-6 salt-packed anchovies (depending on how strong an anchovy flavor you’d like)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Toasted breadcrumbs or grated cheese for serving

MAKE ORECCHIETTE:  Stir together water and salt in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer) until the salt has dissolved.  Add semolina in a stream, beating with an electric mixer at medium speed until a stiff dough forms, about two minutes.  Transfer dough to a lightly-floured (with all-purpose flour) work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Cover with a large overturned bowl for at least 30 minutes.   Line 4 trays with dry kitchen towels (not terry cloth) dusted with semolina.  With a knife, divide dough into 10 pieces and leaving the remainder of the dough covered, roll one piece of dough into a long rope about ¾ inch thick.  Cut the rope into ¼ inch pieces.  Dust your thumb with some flour and press down on each piece of dough, pushing away from you and twisting (flicking) your thumb slightly to form an indented curled shape like a little ear.  Transfer formed orecchiette to the lined trays and repeat with remaining dough.  Allow the orecchiette to dry for at least 30 minutes before cooking or freezing.  (They freeze extremely well.  Place the trays directly in the freezer and transfer the orecchiette to ziploc bags.)


PREPARE ANCHOVIES:  Hold the anchovies under cold running water and gently rub off the salt with your fingers.  Pat them thoroughly dry with paper towels and transfer them to a cutting board (preferably not a wooden board so that the smell won’t permeate the wood).  Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, make a small incision along the bottom side and run your knife along the length of the anchovy.  Gently peel back the top portion of the anchovy to reveal the backbone on the bottom portion. With the tip of your knife, gently remove the backbone and cut off the tail.  Finely chop the anchovy fillets or mash them to a paste in a mortar and pestle.Condimento

If the flavor of salt-packed anchovies is too strong for you, you can soak them in milk for a few hours in the refrigerator after rinsing them to remove the salt.  Rinse the anchovies again to remove the milk before filleting them.


MAKE CONDIMENTO:  Set olive oil over medium-low heat in a wide skillet until shimmering.  Add the cloves of garlic, stirring occasionally until the garlic is browned on all sides.  Remove the garlic from the oil and discard or reserve for another use.  Add the chopped anchovies to the oil, lower the heat and, stirring frequently, allow them to cook until they seem as if they’ve dissolved or become part of the oil.  Turn off the heat and add the crushed red pepper, if you’re using it.  Reserve until you’re ready to dress the pasta.

COOK AND DRESS THE ORECCHIETTE:  Place a large pot of salted water to boil.  When the water has reached an active boil, shake the excess flour from the orecchiette in a colander, add the pasta to the pot and return to a boil.  (Meanwhile, set the skillet containing the anchovies over medium-low heat.) With a ladle, reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water (even if you don’t use it all).   After the pasta has cooked for 4 minutes, add the broccoli rabe to the pasta pot and allow them to cook for one minute.  Drain the pasta and greens and add them to the skillet that contains the anchovies, along with about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water (or more if it appears too dry).  Toss well and allow it to simmer for about minute.  Turn off the heat and transfer to a large serving bowl.   Drizzle with some more olive oil and serve with grated cheese or toasted breadcrumbs.   Buon appetito!

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.


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!


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.

Tomato Crazy


If you’ve been following me on Facebook over the past few weeks, you probably know that I’ve been in the throes of making and jarring homemade tomato sauce since I returned from Italy.  The other night, I actually dreamt I was stirring a giant cauldron of bubbling tomato sauce and when I paused to rest my arm, the sauce continued to stir itself, as if possessed by some rogue force.  I suspect that plowing through 3,500 pounds of tomatoes (yes, that number is correct) over 8 days has made me a bit batty.


Farm-fresh New Jersey plum tomatoes

Throughout my life, things always felt askew during tomato week.  As a child, I resented my parents’ utter preoccupation, the transformation of our basement – my playroom – into a sauce-making factory, and my grandmothers’ constant bickering in Italian over whose method was better (“Signora, put the olive oil in now,” said Nonna Irma.  “No, Signora, the sauce will turn black if you add the oil too soon,” responded Nani – it’s significant to note that although good friends and in-laws, my grandmothers addressed each other as “Signora” their entire lives).


The Ferrari of “passa pomodoro” machines

Southern Italians take their tomato sauce very seriously. My mother strictly forbade me to ever share my family’s recipe (as if anyone needs a recipe based on 50 pounds of tomatoes – I’ve included a more practical, small batch recipe at the end of this post).  For Italian immigrants, the sauce was not only a pantry staple, but a way of preserving their identity in this strange new world.  My dad, who immigrated to the United States with his mother, father and younger brother in September 1966, told me that prior to his family’s arrival, his aunt, Zia Assunta, made extra sauce for them since tomatoes would be out of season by the time their ship came in.  Two beds, a couch, a small table and chairs, a few pots and pans and 100 jars of tomato sauce – those were the contents of their first American home.

Cases of Jars

Every August, in Queens, New York, you can spot throngs of Italians crowded in front of their neighborhood garden centers as they anxiously await the arrival of the tomato delivery truck from local New Jersey farms.  Many swear it will be their last year of fare i pomodori – it’s too much work, our kids don’t help, our “American” friends expect us to give jars away – BASTA.  These are the usual complaints, but lo and behold, these lamenters’ garages fill up with wooden crates of tomatoes the following August.  It is said that the world would be populated with only children if mothers remembered every detail of the birth of their firstborn.  Well, it’s the same with making tomato sauce – you willingly forget the back-breaking work while you enjoy the fruits of your labor all year long.

Tomato Crate

When I was a kid, I had a T-shirt that said, “Siamo tutti pazzi…are you pazzo too?” (“We’re all crazy…are you crazy too?”).  I have a memory of passing an elderly man standing over blankets covered with tomatoes on a sweltering August day in my mom’s hometown of Caltabellotta, Sicily.  He read my shirt, laughed, and pointing to the tomatoes, said, “Si, siamo tutti pazzi…guarda stu’ casino!” – “Yes, we’re all crazy.  Look at this madness!”


The machine is like a gargantuan, motorized food mill that separates the tomatoes’ pulp and juices from their skins and seeds.

Last year, a friend who cans tomatoes with her grandmother told me I was crazy when she learned I had ramped up my usual production in order to offer jars to my catering clients.  I guess I am a little crazy, as is she – anyone who throws their lives into this back-breaking upheaval is indeed a little crazy during those few days or weeks.  However, it’s a matter of legacy and if we don’t preserve it, something immeasurably more precious than jars of tomato sauce will be lost.  So to all of you unsung artisans who have continued this crazy/beautiful tradition of fare i pomodoriEVVIVA!!

So far, I’ve made 800 jars of this ready-to-use Salsa di Pomodoro Fresco this year which I’m currently labeling and getting ready to deliver/ship (and of course, stocking my pantry).

Here are a few ways in which Italians can tomatoes: 

Salsa Pronta – This is what I do.  It’s a finished tomato sauce that has been slow-cooked with onions, garlic, sea salt, olive oil and basil.  Simply open, heat and dress your pasta.  I also use it as a base for quick tomato-based broths, soups and stews and on pizza. Most Italians prepare passata or pelati (see below), but “salsa pronta” has always been a tradition in my mom’s family and as a result, I’ve never (voluntarily) eaten store-bought tomato sauce.

Passata di pomodoro – The most common canned tomato preparation is passata,  a quickly cooked tomato puree that is strained of seeds and skins and then jarred for later use.  Unlike salsa pronta, passata is typically unseasoned or minimally seasoned with a bit of salt and basil.  The onions, garlic or other seasonings are added later, when you prepare a finished sauce using the passata as a base.

Pomodori Pelati – Similar to passata in that the tomatoes are quickly blanched, pomodori pelati are whole, peeled tomatoes that are canned or jarred. This is what you typically find in supermarkets here in the US, the best of which are imported San Marzano tomatoes from the region of Campania.  In addition to salsa pronta, my family also jars “pelati” for use in various pasta sauces, soups and stews.

Salsa di Pomodoro Fresco (Small Batch)

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©


  • 3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 whole fresh basil leaves
  • Sea salt, to taste

Using the point of a paring knife, cut out and discard the stem bases of the tomatoes and then lightly cut X-shapes on the tomatoes’ opposite ends.

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan, drop in the tomatoes, and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the skins appear to be breaking. With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to a colander and briefly run cold water over them.

Position a food mill over a large bowl and pass the tomatoes through the food mill to “weed out” the skins and seeds.  Reserve the pulp and juices of the tomatoes and discard the skins and seeds. (If you don’t have a food mill, remove the skins and seeds by hand.  Crush the tomatoes by hand for a slightly chunkier consistency, or in a food processor for a smoother sauce).

In a nonreactive saucepan, lightly sauté the onion in two tablespoons of the olive oil over medium low heat, stirring often (be careful not to burn them). When the onions are soft and golden, add the minced garlic and sauté for one minute, until almost golden.  Add the reserved tomato pulp and juices along with the basil and raise the heat until the tomatoes reach a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and salt to taste and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.  Adjust the seasonings and serve with your favorite pasta shape.  Any unused sauce may be stored in a vacuum-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Buon appetito!

Farm to Table Spaghetti

Farm-to-table fare at Country House Casale Centurione-Manoppello

Whether you’re a professional chef or an amateur home cook, there’s nothing quite as inspiring as cooking with garden or farm-fresh ingredients.  Last Saturday, in the bucolic countryside of Manoppello, Country House Casale Centurione, Abruzzo4foodies and I co-hosted an event called Abruzzo Country Cooking, at which our guests picked vegetables from the plentiful, organic garden of the lovely Casale, which is owned by my friend Giulia Scappaticcio and her family, and together, prepared a delicious farm-to-table meal.

Of the dishes we prepared, for me, the velvety spaghetti alla chitarra with zucchini and pine nuts was the highlight.  Giulia’s mother-in-law, the energetic Francesca, a talented cook who also happens to be a marathon runner (she ran the New York City Marathon in the late-90s), taught the group how to make this fresh summer dish using just-picked zucchini and a few other basic ingredients.  Similar to a pesto, but much creamier, the zucchini are pureed with oil, toasted pine nuts and fresh basil.  If you’re able to prepare the dish with fresh homemade spaghetti, as we did, you’re in for an extra-special treat, but good-quality imported spaghetti is a fine substitute.


Spaghetti con zucchine e pinoli

Spaghetti con zucchine e pinoli

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking © as adapted from Country House Casale Centurione-Manopello

Serves 4

  • 1 lb fresh or dried spaghetti
  • 1 lb zucchini, ends trimmed, sliced into ½-inch thick rounds or semi-circles (depending on the thickness of the zucchini)
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more, if needed
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted*
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6-8 basil leaves, stems removed

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a wide sauté pan, add the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the garlic to the pan and sauté for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic begins to color. Add the zucchini, season with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir frequently and cook until the liquid released by the zucchini has evaporated and the zucchini are quite soft.  Transfer the zucchini, oil, garlic , half of the toasted pine nuts and the basil leaves to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth and velvety. If the mixture appears too thick or lumpy, add additional olive oil, one teaspoon at a time. Adjust seasonings to your liking with more salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain well and toss the pasta with the zucchini purée and the remaining toasted pine nuts.  Serve with grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano.  Buon appetito!

*To toast pine nuts, place them in a dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until they are golden in spots, about 3 minutes. Immediately transfer the pine nuts to a bowl to cool.

Spring Candles


Candele from Pastificio Faella in Gragnano, a town south of Naples and purportedly the birthplace of dried pasta-making. Pasta from Gragnano was awarded IGP status in 2010.

Candele from Pastificio Faella in Gragnano, a town south of Naples and purportedly the birthplace of dried pasta-making. Pasta from Gragnano was awarded IGP status in 2010.

Last week, I ventured across the bridge to visit the Bronx warehouse of Gustiamo, a purveyor of artisanal Italian foods sourced from small producers that continue to stay true to traditional methods.  I purchased several bottles of new harvest extra virgin olive oil and a rather intriguing package of 21-inch candele pasta produced by Pastificio Faella, a family business that has been making pasta since 1907.  Candele, named for the long, thin white candles once used in liturgical processions in Southern Italy, are extruded through bronze dies and dried for a whopping 60 hours at a very low temperature.   Prior to the emergence of modern machinery that facilitated the cutting of smaller shapes,  all tubular and strand pasta, including candele and spaghetti, were left to dry in long forms and broken into smaller pieces prior to cooking.

The charming founder of Gustiamo, Beatrice Ughi, informed me that I was the first person to bring home the slightly rough-textured candele and assigned me the task of creating an Abruzzese-inspired recipe for this unique pasta shape. My initial thought was to prepare a spring lamb ragu’, but when I realized I’d forgotten to defrost a package of baby lamb that I had frozen from Easter, I decided to consult the brilliant Encyclopedia of Pasta by preeminent Italian food historian Oretta Zanini De Vita for inspiration:

[C]andele is considered more or less synonymous with ziti or zite [but] the latter is the term most frequently adopted by the modern pasta factories.  In reality, ziti are slightly thinner.  Candele are broken up for the preparation of some typical dishes, such as timballi or pasticci with a crust.”

Artisanal Faella pasta is available at www.gustiamo.com

Artisanal Faella pasta is available at http://www.gustiamo.com

Taking my cue from Prof. De Vita, I foraged my refrigerator and created a baked spring pasticcio (quite literally, a mess) of asparagus, leeks, tomatoes and a blend of cheeses.  Buon appetito!

Pasticcio di Candele agli Asparagi

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

  • 1 pound of candele pasta
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 leeks, trimmed, white and light green parts only
  • 1 32-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed in the food processor or by hand
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb of mozzarella (I used what I’d characterize as a “semi-fresh” mozzarella. The texture and firmness were somewhere in between the processed Polly-O stuff and the still-quivering fresh mozzarella from my local Italian deli.)
  • 3 large eggs (or 2 jumbo eggs)
  • 2 lbs pencil-thin asparagus, ends “snapped” at their natural breaking point
  • 1 pint of grape of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • A handful of torn basil leaves
  • 1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Prepare Sauce and Filling

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Slice leeks in half length-wise and rinse under cold water to remove the grit.  Dry with a clean kitchen towel and chop crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces.  In a heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat until shimmering.  Add leeks and a pinch of salt and stir frequently, until the leeks are soft and caramelized, about 8 minutes or so.  Add the tomatoes and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil (slosh the bowl that contained the tomatoes with a half cup or so of water and add to the pot as well).  Reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, until slightly thickened.  Turn off the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, add the mozzarella and eggs to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture becomes a creamy paste.

Cook Pasta

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Break each candela into four equal pieces.  Add the broken candele to the pot and allow to cook for 5 minutes.  (The candele should be very al dente since they will continue to cook in the oven.)  Thoroughly drain the pasta and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent them from sticking while you’re assembling the pasticcio.


Assemble Pasticcio

Lightly grease a 9X13 ceramic or metal baking dish with butter or olive oil and ladle enough tomato sauce to coat the bottom.  Insert an asparagus stalk in each candela and add the filled candele to the dish in a snug single layer, as pictured below, rolling in the sauce as you go.


Ladle additional sauce onto the candele layer until it is covered. Scatter half of the tomatoes and some of torn basil leaves onto the sauce.


Next, with a spatula, spread half of the mozzarella cheese mixture evenly over the sauce and sprinkle 1/3 cup of Parmigiano over it.


Repeat, layering again, first with the asparagus-filled candele, followed by the tomato sauce, then the tomatoes and basil and then the remaining mozzarella and another 1/3 cup of Parmigiano.  Add a final thin layer of sauce and sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano on top.

Place the tray in the middle rack of the oven and allow to bake for about 35 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the top of the pasticcio forms a nice golden crust.  Remove from the oven and let “rest” for about 10 minutes prior to cutting.  To serve, cut along the length of the candele, into rectangular servings consisting of two layers of six or so candele .

Buon appetito!


Pasticcio di Candele ed Asparagi

Pasticcio di Candele agli Asparagi

Ordering Information:  You can order Faella candele and other exemplary Italian products at http://www.gustiamo.com.

I Heart Saffron

Pasta Con Zucchine e Salsiccia

My take on Ristorante Nino’s pasta with zucchini, sausage & saffron

A few years ago, I enjoyed an incredible pranzo at the lovely Ristorante Nino in Chieti, a small city perched on a hilltop between the mountains and sea. The highlight of my lunch was a riff on the Abruzzese classic, Spaghetti all’Aquilana, a regional specialty which prominently features prized Zafferano Dell’Aquila from Navelli, as well as zucchini and its blossoms. The addition of raw egg yolks and grated cheese at the end of cooking produces a rich yet delicate sauce that beautifully coats the pasta (this technique is found in many dishes in the Central Italian regions of Abruzzo, Le Marche and Lazio). Nino’s version also included crumbled sausage, which gave the dish a rusticity that is perfect for home cooks who wish to serve a hearty pasta dish as a piatto unico for dinner. My take on the recipe is set forth below. Buon appetito!

Additional Information:

The tradition of cultivating saffron in Navelli began in the 13th century and Zafferano Dell’Aquila, named for the region to which the village of Navelli belongs, is considered by many chefs to be the best in Italy. Awarded DOP status by the European Union in 2005, the saffron trade in Navelli consists of a cooperative of families who have been harvesting the spice for generations. My friends at Life in Abruzzo wrote a wonderful article about Navelli’s saffron harvest: http://www.lifeinabruzzo.com/navelli-saffron-queen-the-power-bling/

Saffron threads from Navelli

Saffron threads from Navelli

Pasta con Zucchine e Salsiccia

From Majella Home Cooking ©

Serves 4 as a main course

  • 1 pound pasta (virtually any shape, long or short, will work)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 lb Italian pork sausage, casings removed
  • 1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 pound zucchini, trimmed, and cut into one inch discs or half-moons, or, if you’re using a longer pasta such as spaghetti, into matchsticks, approx. 3 inches long and ¼ inch thick
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon of saffron threads, crushed in a mortar & pestle and soaked in 1 cup of hot water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 egg yolks from very fresh eggs, whisked together with 1/4 or more of grated Pecorino (traditional in Abruzzo), Grana Padano or Parmigiano cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a wide sauté pan, add one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the sausage and break up any large pieces with the back of a wooden spoon, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. When the sausage is browned, about 6-8 minutes, using a slotted spoon, remove sausage, to a bowl. Add the other tablespoon of olive oil, lower heat to medium low, and add the shallots to the pan, along with ½ teaspoon of salt, stirring often. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until the shallots are golden, then add the zucchini, season with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir frequently and cook until the liquid released by the zucchini has evaporated. Add the reserved sausage and its accumulated juices to the zucchini as well as the white wine and turn the heat up to high, stirring often, until the wine has evaporated. Add the saffron-infused water and allow to simmer on medium-low heat until the liquid has reduced by about half. Turn the heat down to low until the pasta is ready. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook according to package instructions minus one minute. While the pasta is cooking, add 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water to the egg yolk-and-cheese mixture and whisk rapidly. Set aside. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water, and add both the pasta and reserved water to the zucchini and sausage mixture and stir well. Raise the heat and continue to simmer until the water has evaporated and the pasta and sauce are well-combined. Remove from the heat and add the egg yolk-and-cheese mixture to the pasta, tossing quickly and vigorously until the pasta is fully coated. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese and salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. Buon appetito!

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