Fettuccine al Burro

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I didn’t grow up with Italian cuisine, which is interesting, considering my French mother cooked various global cuisines over the years, like Ethiopian and Chinese, as well as French. Somehow, Italian got overlooked.

It could have been on purpose now that I think of it. Her first husband, my father, was from Sicily. That marriage didn’t end well.

Fortunately, thanks to the comprehensive Time-Life Foods of the world set of cookbooks that my mother gave me when I got married, I gradually learned about the world of Italian cuisine.

My exploration taught me quickly that the cuisine was not anything like Americanized Italian food that I’d experienced at “bad” Italian restaurants.

Creating Osso Buco and Scaloppine al Marsala, and discovering pesto, were revelations. But one recipe really stood out in “The Cooking of Italy” cookbook, and that was Fettuccine al Burro.

It was and is still for me one of those “to die for” recipes. Practically equal parts butter, cream and cheese melted into fettuccine. What’s not to love?

This recipe is probably what’s better known as Alfredo sauce, but I’ll always call it by the name I first learned, which translates to fettuccine in butter.

Fettuccine al Burro
Egg Noodles with Butter and Cheese
Slightly adapted

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream, plus a little more
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
12 ounces fettuccine
1 canned white truffle, sliced very thin, optional
Extra freshly grated Parmesan

Cream the softened butter by beating it vigorously against the sides of a large, heavy bowl with a wooden spoon until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the cream a little at a time, and then, a few tablespoons at a time, beat in 1/2 cup of grated cheese. Set aside.


Bring the water and salt to a bubbling boil in a large soup pot. Drop in the fettuccine and stir it gently with a wooden fork for a few moments to prevent the strands from sticking to one another.


Boil over high heat, stirring occasionally until the pasta is tender. Use the package instructions for guidance.

Immediately drain the fettuccine into a colander then transfer it at once to the bowl the toss until every strand is well coated.

Taste and season generously with salt and pepper. I use white pepper.

Stir in the optional truffle, if using. I know for a fact that 30+ years ago I never used truffles because I was pretty confused as to why one would put chocolate in pasta!!! I also could never have afforded them…


Serve the fettuccine at once.

Pass the extra grated cheese in a separate bowl.


If the fettuccine dries up a little before serving, add a little more cream, cover the bowl, and let the pasta sit.

Some day it would be fun to add some lovely slices of white truffle to this pasta, but it’s certainly rich and satisfying as is.

note: I typically buy a 4-5 pound chunk of Parmesan Reggiano at Whole Foods and store it for when I need to freshly grate some. For some odd reason, this really irks them, and I have no idea why. But how people can be happy with little 3 ounces plastic-wrapped chunks of Parmesan that are obviously cut along the rind is beyond me. So I break down my large chunk when I get home, store it in cheese bags, and grate as needed.

I love this gadget that I got at Amazon, of course, and it’s easier on the hands than a traditional grater. It’s a manual rotary cheese grater with 3 different graters. Just FYI.

Stracciatella

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My husband and I first experienced heavenly stracciatella at the restaurant Manzo, which is located in Eataly, New York City. It was served to us for lunch simply drizzled with olive oil, alongside grilled bread. We also ordered prosciutto for our antipasti.

Stracciatella, we learned, is the inside of buratta. It’s the creamy goodness that spills out when you cut into the ball of buratta. If you love buratta, and haven’t yet experienced stracciatella, just wait. You will think you’ve gone to heaven.

After the wonderful lunch at Manzo, I found stracciatella in Eataly, but didn’t buy it because we were a few days from flying home.


When I got home and searched for stracciatella, I had some trouble. Turns out, according to Wikipedia, “Stracciatella is a term used for three different types of Italian food.”

1.Stracciatella (soup), an egg drop soup popular in central Italy
2.Stracciatella (ice cream), a gelato variety with chocolate flakes, inspired by the soup
3.Stracciatella di bufala, a variety of soft Italian buffalo cheese from the Apulia region

I ordered stracciatella from Murray’s cheese recently, since I can’t get it locally, and I’m so glad I did. But how did I want to serve it?

I thought of the typical ways buratta is served, like with salads, on pasta, or over grilled vegetables. But I wanted to experience it again just like we had a few years before, simply with grilled bread.

What I purchased for the cheese is a Tuscan loaf. White and plain, and perfect for grilling.

Stracciatella is so soft it’s pourable.

I grilled bread and got together a few goodies to highlight the stracciatella.

And I drizzled the stracciatella with good olive oil, just like at Manzo, except that my left handed pour job sucked.

I included dried apricots, walnuts, and Prosciutto on the antipasti platter along with the grilled bread.

There is an experiration date on stracciatella so pay attention to that when you purchase it.

It was as good as I remembered it. Even my husband joined in on the fun!

The cheese is a little messy because it’s so soft. We didn’t care! I’m just so glad I know where I can find this delicacy!

Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

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There an adorable young Italian woman whose blog I follow. Her name is Alida, she was born in Friuli in North Eastern Italy, and her blog is My Little Italian Kitchen.

I follow her on Facebook as well, because her daily food photos make me happy. Like these. So colorful and enticing!

Although now living in London, Alida travels often throughout Italy, visiting artisanal bakers and cheese makers, and has also won cooking competitions. Let’s just say she knows what she’s doing, and is passionate about Italian food.

To quote Alida, “Cooking is an expression of who you are and your personality. You have to put your whole self into it: your passion, feeling and experiences all go into the food and you become part of the recipe.”

In the spring of 2017, Alida posted a recipe for Asparagus Ham Lasagna that I couldn’t ignore. “Traditional” lasagna is so wonderful, but I love other varieties as well, even meatless varieties. It’s my idea of comfort food.

Fresh pasta sheets, bechamel, a purée of asparagus, ham, asparagus pieces, and Parmesan, all layered and baked to perfect deliciousness! I can’t believe I’ve waited a year to make it. Plus, it was an excuse to finally use my Kitchen Aid pasta rolling attachment.

Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

Ingredients
fresh lasagne sheets – 400 g – about 15 sheets
fresh asparagus – 700 g – 6 cups
grated parmesan cheese – to sprinkle
ham – 240 g – 1 + 2/3 cup
olive oil
salt
butter – knob

For the bechamel sauce:
milk – 1,5 Liters – 1.58 qt
butter – 100 g – 1/2 cup
plain flour – 80 g – 3/4 cup
grated nutmeg – pinch
salt and pepper

The pasta dough I started with included 3 eggs plus 2 yolks, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Whisk the eggs and olive oil together and gradually add flour until a dough forms. Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead a minute, then wrap up in plastic wrap and let sit at least 30 minutes to rest.

Roll out the lasagna sheets to the desired thickness. They can be a little thicker than sheets you would use for making ravioli. I used #6 on my attachment.

Cut to 13″ lengths and set aside.

Clean and peel the asparagus if they are large. Remove the thicker ends and cut the tips off. Cut the asparagus in small pieces and cook them in salty water. I cooked the tips first just to keep it simple.

Whiz the stems into a purée and set aside.

Make the bechamel and set aside; I’ve included a link to my own in case you’ve never made it before.

Have the grated Parmesan and ham handy.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.

When you’re ready to prepare the lasagna, add some bechamel to the bottom of the baking dish and cover with a few lasagna sheets.

Add some asparagus purée, ham, cheese, and more sauce. Cover again with lasagna sheets.

Continue layering. On the top, make sure there is bechamel, ham, cheese, and the remaining asparagus.

Bake, covered, for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes.


Let the lasagna sit for about 30 minutes before cutting up the servings.

The lasagna actually sliced very well while it was still warm.

You can see the lovely layers on white sauce, ham, asparagus puree, and asparagus tips.

I sliced the asparagus tips lengthwise after they had cooked and cooled, because I felt they were quite thick.

I love traditional lasagna, but this is definitely second best! And in spite of the bechamel, this lasagna doesn’t seem as heavy as traditional, probably because the only meat is thinly shaved ham. I’ll definitely be making this again!

Croxetti with Smoked Salmon

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Last April when my husband and I visited New York City for my birthday, we went to Eataly. I could have spent much more time there, but my “other half” has limited patience shopping. We checked out the whole place, which requires a map if you want to do it in an orderly fashion, and then ate an incredible lunch.

My husband convinced me to shop online at Eataly.com instead of dragging groceries back home in my suitcase. In retrospect I think it was a trick to keep me from really shopping, but nonetheless I did grab a few Italian goodies.

One was Croxetti, a beautiful embossed pasta that I’d never seen before. I have since learned that the spelling can vary, but these “pendants” are Ligurian in origin.

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Over the many years of Croxetti development, the “traditional” designs have varied. The following photo is an example of a wooden stamp used for embossing, taken from the blog A Path To Lunch.

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I highly recommend reading the blog post I highlighted above. The blog’s authors, Martha and Mike, describe and photograph a meeting with the craftsman Mr. Pietro Picetti, who custom designs croxetti stamps in his workshop in Varese Ligure, Liguria.

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For the croxetti, I chose a light cream sauce with smoked salmon, hoping it would be a delicate enough sauce to not destroy the integrity of these delicate pasta discs once cooked.
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No real recipe is required. The pasta is cooked according to the package directions.
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I sautéed a few minced garlic cloves in hot olive oil, just for a few seconds, then added cream to the pot. Pour enough in the pot to lightly coat the pasta, about 12 ounces of cream for the 1.1 pound of croxetti.

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Julienne thin sliced of smoked salmon or lox, and add them to the cream. Heat through.

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Gently add the drained pasta discs to the cream and let sit, stirring once or twice as necessary to allow the cream sauce to coat the croxetti and get absorbed.

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Serve warm and sprinkle with capers, if desired.

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If you would prefer a thicker sauce, consider adding a little Marscapone or ricotta to the cream.
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Other options for this simple recipe would be to use butter instead of olive oil, and one could include clam juice with the cream for a fishier yet less rich sauce. Also, lemon zest would be a nice touch.

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If you happened to have fresh dill, a few leaves would be pretty on the pasta, but I only had dried dill leaves.

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The croxetti actually didn’t end up being as delicate as I assumed they would be. Of course I treated them gently as well. They were really fun to eat!

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Cacio e Pepe

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Cacio e Pepe is an Italian pasta dish that translates to cheese and pepper. It’s a long-time standard of Roman cuisine.

Recently my daughter asked if I’d ever made it, and I never have. As much as I love and respect the simplicity of authentic Italian dishes, this one probably never intrigued me enough because of the lack of “goodies” in it, like a little Prosciutto, or smoked salmon.

But I decided it was about time to make Cacio e Pepe and embrace the perfection that is a traditional pasta dish.

When I started researching the recipe online, it was like opening up an Italian Pandora’s box. There were so many criticisms of recipes, techniques, and so forth. I’ve always found that the Italians are the most passionate about their traditional recipes remaining traditional.

I personally don’t mind variations on the original, but nonetheless I closed the box and decided on the recipe I would use. The important goal of making Cacio e Pepe is a creaminess that is created without using butter or cream.
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Here’s what I did.

First I grated 8 ounces of Pecorino Romano cheese and set aside.

Then I place a large pot full of salted water on the stove over high heat. I chose basic spaghetti, 16 ounces, for my pasta.
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When the water boiled, I added the pasta and timed 9-10 minutes.
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After the pasta was cooked, I poured some of the pasta water in a bowl, drained the pasta, and returned the pasta to the pot. I had a stirring spoon on hand, and immediate added some of the pasta water to the pot, stirring gently.

I then added about 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground pepper and the grated cheese, along with more pasta water as needed. Vigorous stirring was necessary to create a creaminess and incorporate the cheese.


Serve immediately, preferably in warmed pasta bowls.
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I added more coarsely-ground pepper.
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This dish is so much about the pepper!

I can now understand why this simple pasta dish has endured for centuries. I’ve always loved and respected the simplicity of many Italian dishes, but I think this one takes the cake.
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However, as wonderfu as Cacio e Pepe is, tomorrow I’m adding some Prosciutto or smoked salmon.