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Agnolotti del Plin

Agnolotti, Pasta

Agnolotti del Plin (plin means pinch, which is how to form the shape of the finished product) are small pasta stuffed with roasted meat and spinach. This dish originates in Piemonte, a northwestern region of Italy. Traditionally the agnolotti is made with leftover roasted meat such as pork, beef, or chicken. You can, however, use freshly roasted meat just for the purpose of making the agnolotti.

Agnolotti are very similar to ravioli. This is why I think I was drawn to learning how to make them because ravioli are one of my family favorites. Growing up, my mother made ravioli only two or three times a year, and one of those times was Christmas day. One main difference between agnolotti and ravioli is that the agnolotti pasta, known as tajarin, is made with egg yolks only, and the egg/flour ratio is higher than that of regular pasta dough. Another difference is how they are assembled. Agnolotti are formed by one piece of pasta that is folded over and sealed, and ravioli are formed from two individual pieces of pasta placed one on top of the other and then sealed to form the ravioli. The tajarin pasta is typically served with a simple butter and sage sauce and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese. For a special treat you can shave fresh truffle over top (this is not really an option for most of us here in the USA), or you can use truffle butter, which can be found in many grocery stores.

Let’s start by preparing the roasted meat

Ingredients for roasted meat:

8 – oz. pork tenderloin
8 – oz. skinless chicken thighs
olive oil
1 – small onion
2 – cloves garlic
2 – sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 – cup chicken broth
salt
ground black pepper

You can roast the meat the day before to save time.  Preheat the oven to 425°F.  While the oven is heating, sprinkle a little salt and black pepper over the chicken thighs and pork tenderloin. Heat a little oil in a skillet with garlic cloves, and add the meat to brown it on both sides.  Transfer the browned meat and garlic cloves into a roasting pan.  Peel and cut a medium sized onion into 4 pieces and add them to the roasting pan.  Next pour in the chicken stock, and add the sprigs of rosemary and sprinkle a little salt and black pepper over everything.  Cover the pan with foil and roast for about 30 minutes or until the inside temperature of the chicken is 165°F.  

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.  If you roast the meat the day before, be sure to keep the onion and juices along with the meat in a covered container and refrigerate until you are ready to make the agnolotti.

Prepare the pasta dough

Ingredients for Tajarin pasta dough:

2 – cups all purpose flour
9 – large egg yolks only
2 – tbls olive oil
1/2 – tsp. salt
1/4 -1/2 – cup ice water

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the egg yolks, olive oil, ice water, and salt into the center of the well. Take a fork and whisk the egg yolks as if you are making scrambled eggs. Once the yolks are broken down, continue to whisk the mixture, and gradually incorporate some of the flour into it with the fork.

Once all the flour is incorporated, clumps will form. Add a few drops of water at a time as necessary until the flour and eggs start to adhere. The dough will be a little dry. Once the dough takes form, turn the dough out onto a floured, flat surface.

Rub a little olive oil on your hands and knead the dough until it feels smooth and soft. This will take about 5 minutes. Now form the pasta into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Set it aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you roll out the pasta.

Meanwhile, it’s time to prepare the filling

While the pasta dough is resting, prepare the filling for the agnolotti.

Ingredients for the agnolotti filling:

12 – oz. fresh baby spinach
1 – large egg
1 – tsp. salt
1/3 – tsp. grated nutmeg
1/2 – tsp. ground black pepper
1 – tbls. butter
1/3 – cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Roasted meat you prepared earlier

Put the butter into a large skillet, and heat on medium just until it melts. Add the baby spinach and sprinkle with a little salt. Mix the spinach so it all gets coated with the butter and cook until it wilts. This will only take a minute or two. Remove the cooked spinach to a strainer and let drain into a bowl.

Remove the chicken from the bone and slice the pork tenderloin into several pieces. Use a large knife to chop the meat and the roasted onion into small pieces and place it into a large bowl.

Squeeze the excess water out of the cooked spinach, and use a knife to chop it into small pieces.

In a small bowl, add the egg, salt, nutmeg, black pepper, and Parmigiano cheese and whip with a fork until completely combined. Add the egg mixture and the spinach to the chopped meat and mix thoroughly.

Assemble the Agnolotti

Unwrap the pasta dough. It should be smooth and silky.  Cut the disk into four pieces.

Use a rolling pin to flatten one quarter of the pasta to put into the pasta machine. Cover the remaining pasta under a bowl to keep it from drying out. Sprinkle a little four onto the roll of the pasta machine, and set it to its widest setting (number 1).  Pass it through twice, then change the setting to number 2, pass the pasta through once, and continue to do the same with each consecutive number until you have rolled out the dough to its thinnest setting.  On my machine the thinest setting is number 7.

Place a small spoonful of filling on the rolled out pasta near the inside edge, spacing them about 2 inches apart.  Brush a little water on the outside edge of the pasta so that the dough will adhere better.

Start from the inside edge and stretch the pasta over the filling and press down the pasta to smooth out.  To form the agnolotti, use your thumb and forefinger to pinch together the dough between each of the spoonfuls of filling.  Next use a pastry cutting wheel, trim off the excess pasta by running the wheel along the entire edge of the dough.

Now use the pastry wheel to cut out each of the agnolotti.  Start at one end and cut in the middle of each agnolotti running the pastry wheel in one end and out the other.

Place the agnolotti apart on a floured surface until you are ready to cook them.

If you do not cook them the same day, flash freeze them on a cookie sheet for about 30 minutes.

Once they have set in the freezer, place them in a freezer friendly container. Line the container with parchment paper or waxed paper, and dust it with a little flour.  Place the agnolotti in single layers, separately the layers with the parchment paper, until the container is filled.  The agnolotti will last 4-6 months in the freezer.  Remember not to thaw them out before cooking.  They should be added to boiling water while still frozen.

Cook the Agnolotti

Fill an 8 qt stock pot about 3/4 full with water, and bring it to boil. Once the water is boiling add about one tablespoon of salt. Add the agnolotti one at a time being careful not to break them. Cook about 12 – 18 agnolotti at a time, so you do not over crowd the pot. You will need to cook them in batches. Once you have the first bunch in the water, use a wooden spoon to gently stir the agnolotti so they do not stick to the bottom of the pot or to each other. Once the water returns to a boil and the agnolotti rise to the surface, continue to cook them stirring occasionally so they do not stick together. Cook them for about 4-5 minutes. Test one to see if they are done before removing them from the pot.

Continue with each batch until you have cooked the desired number of agnolotti you want.

Prepare the Butter Sage Sauce

While the agnolotti are cooking, start to prepare the butter sage sauce. For 2 dozen agnolotti, place one stick of unsalted butter in a large skillet to slowly melt it. Once the butter is melted, add about 8 large leaves of fresh sage and cook on low heat to infuse the butter. Leave it on the lowest heat to keep it warm while you finish cooking the agnolotti.

Drain the cooked agnolotti and place them on a serving platter. Pour the butter sage sauce over them, and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serve immediately.

Buon Appetito!

Makes 5-6 dozen agnolotti
Serves 8




Stuffed Pork Tenderloin topped with Pancetta

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin, Pancetta

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin is one of the ultimate comfort foods. As a pork lover, this is tops in my book. The pork is delicious, the pancetta topping cooks up crisp, which adds a crunchy layer of texture, and it presents well too. It looks as though you worked so hard to make this roast, but in reality it is very easy.

As some of you know, this is the first post I have written in quite some time. My family and I were busy moving. We downsized from our home of almost 30 years to an apartment. We moved in just in time to celebrate our first Christmas in our new home, and it was truly wonderful. We spent the day together as a family, and my son and I prepared the entire meal together. This pork tenderloin was the highlight of the meal. We also made from scratch, taglietelle, and an apple tart to finish off the meal. Working with Andrew is always a pleasure. Well enough about us, let’s get to the recipe.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 lbs – pork tenderloin (butterflied)
Salt
Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp. Herbes de Provence
4 oz. Baby Spinach
Olive Oil
Bread Stuffing (see below)

Ingredients for Stuffing:
1 1/2 cups italian seasoned bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp. Herbes de Provence
2 tbls. Olive oil
1/2 tsp. Ground black pepper
1/4 cup Fresh Parsley
3 tbls. water

Directions:
In a medium sized bowl, combine all the ingredients and 2 tablespoons of water. Mix well.  Add more water a little at a time until the mixture is moist, but not wet, and holds together when you squeeze it in your hand.

It should hold together in your hand

Set aside until you prepare the pork tenderloin. 

Let’s prepare the pork . . .

When you buy the tenderloin, ask the butcher to butterfly it for you.  Before you stuff it, use a mallet or small heavy bottomed pot to pound it out a little just to make an even thickness throughout.  

Pork Tenderloin

Sprinkle both sides of the pork with salt, black pepper, and the Herbes de Provence.  Spread the bread crumb stuffing over the pork, leaving a small border around the edges.  Drizzle a little olive oil if you think it needs it. 

pork tenderloin, bread crumb stuffing

Top off with spinach and sprinkle with a little salt (optional). Now it is time to roll it up into a log.

Start at one end with both hands and roll tight. Continue to roll being careful to keep all the stuffing inside by tucking it in on the sides as you go. 

Top off the tenderloin with thin slices of Pancetta, overlapping the slices as you go down the length of the roll.

Use butcher’s twine to tie the rolled tenderloin before roasting it.  There are several ways to tie the twine, but I find it difficult to explain in writing how to do it, so I have supplied this link to various Youtube videos that do just that.

Drizzle a little oil on the bottom of a roasting pan and place the roast in the pan.  Bake in a preheated 375° oven for about 45 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145°.  All ovens are different, so I suggest you start checking the internal temperature at the 35 minute mark. If it needs more time don’t worry. As long as the internal temperature comes up to 145° it will be moist and delicious.

Let the roast rest about 4-5 minutes before slicing it, then serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.




Pizza with Proscuitto and Arugula

Pizza, Proscuitto, Arugula

 

 

Who doesn’t like Pizza? My favorite is Napolitano style Pizza with Proscuitto and Arugula. Living in New York City, pizza is available practically on every corner.  Some of the best pizza in the world can be found here, but my favorite style is Napolitano. Even though New York pizza is so good, I sometimes prefer to make my own.  This way I can control the quality of the ingredients, and the result is a lighter, healthier pizza.

I tried for years to make my own pizza, but I was never satisfied with the pizza dough.  It was never quite right, until my friend, Roberta, gave me her recipe.  It is easy to make, and it comes out perfect every time for me.

Give it a try! Be creative–use any toppings you prefer.

Ingredients for pizza dough:
4 – cups all purpose flour
4 – tbls. olive oil
3 – tbls. sugar
1 1/4 -cups water
1 – envelope of dry yeast*
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Toppings:
Marinara Sauce
1/2- lb. Proscuitto (thinly sliced)
1 – lb. fresh mozzarella
3 – tbls. Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)

*I use an Italian brand of yeast called Livieto di Birra, by Paneangeli. This is the secret to my success with pizza dough. If you can’t find the yeast, however, you can substitute any brand you prefer.

Directions:
In a large bowl, add 4 cups of flour, and make a well in the center. Add the package of yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil, and 1 cup of water.

Mix with a fork to incorporate the ingredients and add the rest of the water if needed to bring the flour together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and soft about 4 minutes.

Rub a little oil in the same bowl and place the ball of dough in the center. Top with a drizzle of oil on top of the dough to prevent it from getting hard.

Cover with a towel and set in a warm area to rise for two hours.

After about 2 hours, the dough should at least double in size, then you are ready to make the pizza.

Doubled in size

Time to Assemble the Pizza:

Place a ceramic pizza stone in the oven and preheat it to 500° (Use the Convection setting if you have it).

Divide the dough into three equal portions.  Spread a little flour on a board or countertop, and with a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a 12″-14″ roundshape.

Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper.  Spread a little marinara sauce, sprinkle with a little pecorino romano cheese (optional), and place small pieces of fresh mozzarella all over the surface.

Using a pizza paddle, slide it under the parchment paper and place it  in the preheated oven on top of the pizza stone.  Cook until the crush starts to brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Do not leave the pizza unattended.  It cooks quickly.  It takes about 4-6 minutes depending on your oven.  Using the pizza paddle, lift the edge of the pizza to check the bottom.  It should be browned lightly.

Napolitano Pizza, Mozzarella

Remove the pizza and place it on a cutting board.  Place thin slices of prosciutto over the pizza and top off with arugula.  It’s ready to serve!

Buon appetito!

Pizza, Napolitano, Proscuitto, Arugula

 




Stuffed Zucchine with Riced Cauliflower, Spinach and Sausage

Zucchine and cauliflower are two wonderful summer vegetables.  What better way to enjoy both than to stuff one into the other.  This recipe is easy, nutricious, and delicious.

Riced cauliflower makes the perfect base for the stuffing because it easily absorbs the flavors from the ingredients you add to it.

While this recipe is heavy on vegetables, it is also enhanced with flavorful Italian sausage.  You can easily make this a vegetarian dish by substituting the sausage with beans for added protein, and use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock.

Ingredients:
2 – medium zucchini (approx. 8″ long)
1 – small head cauliflower
1 – cup chicken broth
8 – oz baby spinach
3 – cloves garlic
1 – tsp. Adobo Seasoning
1 – tsp. oregano
1/4 – tsp. salt
1/2 – cup pecorino romano cheese
3 – italian sausage links
Olive oil
Ground black pepper

Directions:
Rinse the zucchini and pat dry.  Cut off the ends and slice it down the middle lengthwise. With a spoon, scrape out the seeds in the center to make a pocket to hold the stuffing.

Place the zucchini halves in a baking dish and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt, ground black pepper, and oregano.  Place in a pre-heated 375° oven to pre-cook for 15 minutes while preparing the stuffing. Remove from oven until stuffing is ready.

While the zucchine pre-cooks, remove the leaves from the cauliflower, rinse and cut into small pieces. To turn the cauliflower into rice sized pieces you can either grate it on a box grater or use a food processor with the grating blade.

Once the cauliflower is riced, add it to a pot with one cup of chicken stock, the Adobo, salt, and oregano. Bring to a boil and cook on a medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until tender. Turn off heat and set aside.

While the cauliflower is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet and sautè the garlic cloves until they start to brown.  Add the spinach and stir to coat all the leaves with the oil. Sprinkle with a little salt and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.

When the spinach is ready, remove it from the skillet and set aside.

Remove the sausage from its casing and add a little olive oil to the same skillet.  Crumble the sausauge and cook until no longer pink.

Now combine the cauliflower, spinach, sausage, and pecorino cheese and mix well.

Stuff the zucchini with the cauliflower mixture. Sprinkle the top with some more pecorino cheese.

Return to the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the zucchini is fork tender and the top is lightly browned.

You can serve it with a side of marinara sauce, but it is not necessary.

Serve immediately.




Frisée Lardon Salad

Frisée Salad, Bacon, Egg

Frisée Lardon Salad

Serves: 4

Frisée Lardon salad is a popular item in French Bistros and one of my favorite salads. This is a recipe from Petit Trois, Los Angeles, California that I found on the website “Bon Appétit”. It is easy to make, and delicious. If you are a fan of this salad, you will agree that it is the real deal.

Ingredients:
2 – tbls. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 – oz. slab bacon
1/3 – cup diced shallot
1/2 – cup red wine vinegar
4 – eggs
1 – tbls. distilled white vinegar
2 – large heads of frisée salad
Salt
White ground pepper

Directions:
Put a small pot of water on the stove to boil and add the white vinegar. In the meantime, wash the salad, cut to desired sized pieced, and let dry off.

Slice the bacon into 1/2″ strips.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet. Add the bacon and cook it on high until it is crisp on the outside, but be careful not to burn it or to let it dry out. When the bacon is almost done, turn down the heat to medium and add the diced shallot.

Sauté about 2 minutes, stirring often. Turn the heat off when ready.

Now it is time to poach the eggs. I use a little trick to poach the eggs. Place a 3″ high stainless round mold into the boiling water. It should stick out above the water. Carefully add one egg into the mold, being careful not to break the yolk.

Use a slotted spoon to gather the egg white to help to form the poached egg. Let cook about 2 minutes and carefully remove the egg with the slotted spoon and place it on a plate and set aside. Continue and cook the other 3 eggs in the same manner

When the last egg is being poached return the bacon and shallots to the heat. When the temperature of the mixture starts to come up, deglaze the pan with the red wine vinegar. Add a little salt and white pepper to taste. Reduce the heat and cook about three minutes to reduce the vinegar by half. Turn off the flame and add the frisée and stir to coat all the leaves with the bacon and vinegar dressing.

Remove promptly to serving plates. Top each with a poached egg and serve immediately.

Enjoy!




Pappardelle alla Bolognese

Pappardelle, Ragù alla Bolognese, Pasta

Pappardelle is a long, broad, flat, hearty noodle that makes it perfect for a bold ragù alla Bolognese.  This ragù originates from Bologna, Italy, and is typically served with tagliatelle, but any wide noodle works nicely with it.  It is also used for traditional lasagna alla Bolognese.

This sauce is satisfying and delicious.  It is easy to make and freezes well too.

Ingredients for the ragù:
1 – lb. ground pork
1 – lb. ground beef
1 – medium onion
2 – carrots
2 – stalks of celery
2 – cloves garlic
1 – cup red wine (can also mix ½ red and ½ white)
1 – 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 – tsp. salt
1/2 – tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/2 – cup whole milk

Other Ingredients:
1 – lb. pappardelle pasta
1/2 – cup pecorino romano cheese (plus more for serving)

Directions for the ragù:
Peel the carrots, garlic and onion and cut off the tops of the celery stalks and rinse in cold water.

Now make the soffritto.  Cut the vegetables in quarters and add them to a food processor to finely chop them (you can finely dice everything by hand if you do not have a food processor). Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy pot on medium heat, add the soffritto. Cook on a medium flame for about 7 minutes until tender, stirring often to avoid it sticking to bottom of the pan.

Push the soffritto to one side of the pot and add the ground meat. Break it up with a wooden spoon and cook it on medium heat until lightly browned, stirring often.

Once the meat is brown, combine the meat with the soffritto and add the wine. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the alcohol has cooked off and the liquid has reduced by about half.

Add the whole peeled tomatoes to a blender and blend until smooth. Then add it to the meat mixture and stir. Add salt and black pepper.

Heat to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered approximately 1 hr. Stir occasionally to make sure the sauce does not burn or stick to the pot.

Now add the milk and stir to incorporate it thoroughly, and cook another 40 minutes.

Prepare the Pasta:

About 20 minutes before the ragù is finished, put on a large pot of water to boil.  When the water is boiling add 1 teaspoon of salt and add the pasta.  Stir to separate the pasta so it does not stick together.  Cook until al dente (a little bite) or according to the package directions.  Drain the pasta thoroughly.  In a large bowl add about half of the ragù, add the pasta and mix through.  Add more sauce if you want and about 1/2 cup of pecorino romano cheese.  Mix thoroughly.  Serve immediately.

Buon appetito!




Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Herbs de Provence and Cumin

img_1099Pork has so much flavor whether you cook fresh cuts or cured meats such as bacon or ham. Years ago it was necessary to cook pork very well, which sometimes made it dry. Today, however, it is no longer necessary to overcook the pork. A minimum internal temperature of 145° and a maximum of 160°, with resting of 3-5 minutes before serving is all that is needed for perfectly cooked moist and tender pork.

Although there are many different cuts of pork, the pork chop is one of my favorite because it is quick and easy to prepare. In this recipe I have combined the savory spices of Herbs de Provence with the warm, earthly spice of cumin. Serve the chops with Garlic Mashed Potatoes for a great meal.

Ingredients:
4 – 1 inch thick center cut pork chops
Spice rub (see below)

Ingredients for Spice Rub:
1 tsp. – Herbs de Provence
1/2 – tsp, ground cumin
1/2 – tsp. salt
1/2 – tsp. Ground black pepper
1/8 – tsp. Cayenne pepper

Directions:
In a small bowl, mix all spices together. Season both sides of the pork chops with the spice rub. Use all the rub, dividing it equally among the four chops.

In a large iron skillet, or if you do not have one use a non-stick skillet, heat 2-3 tablespoons of Canola oil. Once it is hot, add the pork chops and check that the flame is on medium. Cook about 8-9 minutes on one side, checking it to make sure it does not burn. It should get golden brown. Turn the pork chops over and cook on the second side for 8 minutes. Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. It should be 145° F. Let the chops rest for about 5 minutes before serving.




Baked Ham with Brown Sugar, Pineapple and Beer Glaze

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Baked ham is definitely a crowd pleaser, and it is delicious and easy to make. My Mom made it two or three times a year for holidays or special occasions. She glazed it with brown sugar and pineapple juice, and baked it with the pineapple slices on the top. I have added beer to the mix as it is a nice addition to the glaze.

I remember on several occasions growing up when my friend, Pam, and I would fight over the crisp skin that covered the top of the ham. The top was golden brown and the pineapples were caramelized; it was so tempting to us.  Mom would get so angry with us because we would pick at the crispy skin, and if she did not watch us carefully the entire top of the ham was stripped away before she served it.

There are so many ways to enjoy the ham.  You can eat it by itself, on a sandwich or fried with eggs the next day. Leave a little ham on the bone, and it makes a great ham and bean soup or split pea soup. We like it best served the first day with Mom’s homemade french bread rolls, but it is delicious no matter how you choose to eat it.

Ingredients:

1 – shank or butt portion ham with bone in (fully cooked, 1/2 ham about 5-7 lbs.)
1 – 20 oz. can pineapple slices
1/2 – cup beer
1/2 – cup brown sugar

Directions:

Place the ham on a rack in a shallow baking pan, flat end down. Score the top surface of the ham with a knife, making 1/4″ cuts. Make criss-cross score marks 1/4″ deep and 1 1/2″ apart on the entire top surface of the ham.

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In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the juice from the can of pineapples, brown sugar and 1/2 cup beer. Pour the brown sugar mixture on top of the ham and be sure to let it seep into the score marks. Place the pineapple rings on top of the ham, holding them in place with wooden tooth picks.

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Add about 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan to help prevent the juices from drying out.  Cover with aluminum foil and place in a pre-heated 325° oven. Cook for 15-18 minutes per pound or according to the package instructions.

When the ham is about half way cooked, remove the aluminum foil and baste it with the juices in the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking until done. Baste the ham two to three times more before it is finished to keep it moist. The top should become golden brown.

Let it rest 15 minutes before carving.

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The pineapple is also worthy of fighting over.

Enjoy!




Polenta with Tomato Sauce and Sausage

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Polenta con sugo di pomodoro e salsiccia

Polenta is cooked corn meal, and  when cooked properly it is a creamy, delicious accompaniment to many dishes.  It can be used in place of potatoes, rice or noodles.  A creamier, looser consistency can be used to lap up sauces or a firmer consistency can be sliced and fried or grilled.  It can be made plain or with various herbs and cheeses.  All you need to start with is a basic corn meal, whatever brand you prefer.  There is no reason to buy any special polenta mix or the ready made polenta.  Fresh made from corn meal is the best, and it is easy to do.  I am sharing with you the polenta that my family made.  We only ate this once or twice a year, but it was so special to us that it became our tradition for New Year’s Day.  I still carry on the tradition today.

Occasionally my family would make the polenta and invite our friends and neighbors over to join us.  It was a special occasion to make the polenta.  My father cooked the corn meal, and my mother made the tomato sauce with Italian sausage to put on top.  The special thing about our polenta was the way in which we served it.  Once it was ready, Dad spread the polenta onto the pasta board that was placed in the middle of the dining room table.  The board measured about 3’x 4′.  On top of the polenta Mom spread the tomato sauce and in the middle of the board she would place the chunks of Italian sausage.  It was always a race to the middle to get the delicious prize.

Serving the polenta on the board was a tradition that my father’s family brought from Abruzzo.  This is the way he grew up eating it.  The board was the perfect vessel for it because the wood would absorb the moisture of the polenta, which made it set up perfectly to hold the sauce and toppings.  Eating the polenta in this manner was a memorable experience.  Dad was  a stickler for making us try to form the map of Italy out of the polenta (we were not always successful). It was also important to keep the board clean.  He would demonstrate to us how to eat it.  “Take the fork and slice through the polenta like this”, he would say.  “Then pick it up and be sure to get it all.  Use the side of the fork and clean up any remaining polenta.”  It brought the family together (and at times even friends).  As children we thought is was fun eating this way, and I still see the same enthusiasm and excitement in my great nieces and nephews when we serve it today.

Ingredients for polenta:

2 – cups yellow corn meal
7 – cups water
2 – tsp. salt
1 – tbls. olive oil

Ingredients to top the polenta:

Tomato sauce made with Italian sausage (use 2 lbs. of sausage for this recipe)
Pecorino Romano Cheese – to taste

Directions:

Bring the water and olive oil to a boil in a large pot. Once it is boiling, gradually sprinkle in the corn meal while whisking vigorously to avoid lumps until all the corn meal is incorporated. Reduce the heat to medium, add the salt and continue whisking while the corn meal cooks and begins to thicken. This should only take about 5-6 minutes. Continue cooking for about 30 minutes, stirring often so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add more water if it starts to dry out. Cook until the corn meal is thick and creamy and tender to the bite.

Pour out the polenta onto a large wooden board (you can serve it on individual plates if you prefer),

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and spread it evenly to about 1/3″ thick.

img_0787Spread the tomato sauce on top of the polenta.

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Slice the sausage into bite-sized pieces and add them to the polenta, distributing them evenly. Top off with pecorino-romano cheese.

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Serve immediately.

All you need is a fork to enjoy this delicious meal.  Make a slice with the fork, then slide the fork underneath to lift it up.

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Makes 4-6 servings

Buon appetito!




Penne alla Vodka

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Penne alla vodka is a popular Italian-American dish.  The sauce is rich, creamy and delicious.  I like to use pancetta to give it a little extra flavor, but you can also use prosciutto.

Ingredients:

1 – medium onion diced
3 – cloves garlic smashed
4 – oz. pancetta finely chopped
1 – 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 – tsp. pepperoncini (red pepper flake)
2 – tbls. butter
1/3 – cup vodka
1/4 – cup heavy cream
1 – lb. penne pasta
4 – fresh basil leaves
2 – tbls. fresh chopped parsley

Directions:

Put on a large pot of water to boil.   Dice the onion and peel the garlic.  Heat 2 tbls. extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the diced onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

Slice the pancetta in small, very thin pieces.  Push the onions and garlic to one side of the skillet and add the pancetta and cook it until it begins to brown.  Add the pepperoncini and cook one minute more.

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Pour the vodka into the skillet to deglaze the pan.  Use a spatula to loosen all the browned bits and stir until mixed well.  Lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by one-quarter  Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, black pepper, basil and parsley.  Continue cooking about 10 minutes.

At this point the water should be boiling.  Add salt to the water and the pasta.  Cook until al dente (a little firm to the bite).  Continue cooking the sauce until the pasta is ready.

Just before the pasta is ready, remove the garlic from the sauce and add the cream and butter, stir to mix into the sauce.

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Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce and mix.  Top with parmigiana-reggiano cheese and fresh parsley.

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Serve immediately.

Buon appetito!