Anchovy Syrup

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Some of my Instagram friends may remember when I discovered anchovy syrup on Amazon one day and posted a photo of it. I’d never heard of it before, and there was lively discussion about how it compared to Asian fish sauce. However, it’s an Italian product.

I was so intrigued bought a little bottle of it, even with mixed reviews. It’s a 3-ounce bottle for $35.00, but you don’t use much.

It’s recommended for pasta, pizza, soups, in dressings, or sauces. Because I use anchovies quite often, I though this product could be quite handy as a pantry staple.

From Chef Shop: Colatura di Alici is the modern day descendant of an ancient and greatly prized Roman condiment called garum.

The method of making Colatura di Alici is the same now as it was then: by slowly curing Mediterranean anchovies with salt and extracting the liquid that drains from them. This part of the process takes 9-12 months to complete, a process that is as closely regulated as the DOC-controlled production of balsamic vinegar or champagne. The liquid is then aged in oak barrels for 3-4 years. It is then filtered and placed into jars.

Cetara, a small fishing village south of Naples, regards their Colatura di Alici as an heirloom food. It is an example of a foodstuff holding out against the modern age, and Slow Food Italy embraces it as an important regional specialty.

The IACA (whose Italian name translates as “Friends of the Anchovy”) is one of a few authorized producers of this heritage ingredient. It has only recently appeared in the United States, where chefs have enthusiastically taken it to their kitchens.

What especially intriguing about anchovy syrup is that although it’s made from anchovies, there’s no fishy-in-your-face quality to it, unlike fish sauce. In fact, it has a delightful aroma – truly. Anchovy syrup would be hard to identify it in a smell test.

To test the anchovy syrup, I decided to make a simple pasta with sautéed greens, topped with shrimp. Here’s what I did.

Pasta with Greens and Shrimp

4 ounces pasta, such as angel hair
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
5 ounces mixed greens, coarsely chopped
3/4 pound raw shrimp, cleaned, shelled

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet large enough to hold the pasta and sautéed greens. Add the shallot and cook for about 4-5 minutes. Then add the garlic and stir for a few seconds.


Add the greens and stir them into the aromatic oil, making sure all of the leaves are coated. Turn down the heat to the lowest setting and allow the greens to wilt. Then add the cooked pasta to the greens and gently stir to combine.

Add some anchovy syrup. I was going to get a pouring shot, but I can’t do anything with my left hand, and I can only use my camera with my right hand. (Where is my assistant?) So after I set down the syrup and camera I then put a little drizzle into the pasta and greens, and again stirred; set this aside.

Place the last tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet, and cook the shrimp, only about one minute per side, depending on how big they are. Transfer them to a plate, and finish cooking all the shrimp. Sprinkle the shrimp with a little salt and some cayenne pepper flakes.

To serve, place the pasta and greens mixture on plates, and top with the shrimp.

Well, I could barely taste the anchovy syrup, so I had to add more!

Wow, this stuff is amazing.

And I have to say that this recipe turned out great.

Oddly enough, I tasted the anchovy syrup, twice actually, and it’s basically salt. The flavor doesn’t match the aroma!

Basil Pesto

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Basil pesto is such a huge deal in my house. Mostly because my husband could eat it on ice cream, practically.

To me, pesto is an extremely versatile ingredient. This flavorful, emerald-colored paste can be added to soups, breads, meat, seafood, salad dressings, sauces, marinades, and so many other dishes.

The only thing is, you have to make it. You can buy prepared pesto, but it’s expensive; home made is better.

All you need are a few basil plants, some dirt, a little water, and lots of sun. I’ve been growing basil for over 35 years in Texas and Oklahoma, and I don’t end up with basil plants – I have basil bushes. And the weather in these states can be brutal. So trust me – there’s no green thumb requirement for growing basil.

Today I’m making a batch of traditional basil pesto based on how it’s made in the Ligurian region of Italy where basil grows in abundance, called pesto alla Genovese.

I’ve always heard that the best Italian pesto is made only from baby basil leaves, but I use the larger leaves as well, as long as they’re not “leathery.” And I just buy domestic basil plants locally.

The only other thing I do when I make a batch of pesto is not add cheese. Omitting cheese saves space in my freezer; it probably cuts the pesto volume by 50%. Then when I use pesto and want cheese, I freshly grate it.

Also, with having non-cheesy pesto, it is basically another ingredient than the cheesy version. For example, the non-cheesy pesto can go in soups, in a vinaigrette, or a marinade, where cheese isn’t a necessary component.

Here’s my recipe for a batch of pesto, when you have an abundance of fresh basil. There’s no exact recipe, and you’re welcome to alter it to your own tastes.

After I pick the basil branches in the morning, I set them outside to let the creepy-crawlers escape. I don’t know if it really works, but it makes me feel better.

Basil Pesto (Cheeseless)
Makes about 72 ounces

4 ounces of pine nuts, I toast mine
Approximately 10 ounces of good olive oil
2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
Basil leaves – from a giant armful of branches

Place the pine nuts, olive oil, and garlic in a large blender jar. Blend until smooth. This is an important step so the rest of the pesto-making process is only about adding leaves.

Then begin adding leaves, making sure they are soft, and void of damage, bugs, or webs.

There’s a point when you can barely blend in the last leaves, as in the photo above. If you must, add a tablespoon of oil, and play with your blender to get the pesto nice and smooth. Then you will end up with this.

Spatula the pesto into sterilized jars. The pesto can be refrigerated but I freeze until needed, and thaw one jar at a time.

Now to the pesto pasta. Choose a 1-pound package of pasta, and cook it to the package directions.

Drain the pasta, then place it back the still-hot pot. Add some pesto, I used about 1 cup of what I’d just made, but we like it strong. Add about the same amount of grated cheese, or to your liking. Then gently stir.

Serve the pasta while it’s nice and warm and the cheese has melted. You can also add some evaporated milk, goat milk, or cream to the pesto for a creamier pasta dish.

If you’ve never made pesto, this one would be a good recipe with which to start.

Pesto oxidates easily, but just on the surface area. Stir it up and the pesto will still be emerald green.

To prevent this in the jar, pour a little olive oil on top of the pesto.

Once you get the hang of pesto, it’s fun and easy to switch out the herbs, and use different nuts and even seeds, to create unique pestos.

Here are some other ways I’ve made and used pesto.

Trottole Trapanese

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This is a pasta post, based on my discovering the cutest twirly pasta ever, called Trottole. I purchased the spinach variety, for color.

As is my pattern, apparently, I purchase a unique pasta, then figure out what sauce to put on it. For the trottole, I decided to again make a Sicilian pasta sauce I wrote about five years ago. It got some attention, but not enough.

This sauce is so crazy wonderful and different than anything I’ve ever come across on other food blogs, that you folks need to discover it, too. So here it is again.

The sauce, called Pesto Trapenese, is an uncooked, Tunisian-influenced tomato sauce, that originated in Trapani, Sicily. The sauce is ready before the pasta has finished cooking. I discovered it in Nigella Lawson’s cookbook called Nigellissima.

Ms. Lawson uses fusilli lunghi when she makes Pesto Trapanese, otherwise called telephone cords, but I think these trottole will be a perfect substitute.

Trottole with Pesto Trapanese
Or, Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Almonds, and Garlic

1 pound fusilli lunghi (or other pasta of your choice)
salt for pasta water (to taste)
9 ounces cherry tomatoes
6 anchovy fillets
1 ounce golden sultanas
2 cloves garlic (peeled)
2 tablespoons capers (drained)
2 ounces blanched almonds
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan
1 small bunch fresh basil (approx. 20g / 1 cup, to serve)
Cayenne pepper flakes

Put abundant water on to boil for the pasta, waiting for it to come to the boil before salting it. Add the pasta and cook according to packet instructions, though start checking it a good 2 minutes before it’s meant to be ready.

While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce by putting all of the 7 ingredients through the olive oil into a processor and blitzing until you have a nubbly-textured sauce.

Tip the drained pasta into your warmed serving bowl. Pour and scrape the sauce on top, tossing to coat (add a little more pasta-cooking water if you need it).


Serve immediately and strew with basil leaves.

Grated Parmesan and cayenne pepper flakes are optional.

I’m so in love with the trottole. And they hold their shape beautifully.

And you can bet I’ll keep making pesto Trapanese. At first you taste the bite from the garlic, then the saltiness from the anchovies, then the tang from the capers, and then some raisin sweetness, and finally, the texture from the almonds. The tomatoes are hardly noticeable, yet provide a good base for the goodies.

Try this sauce!!!

 

 

Easy Peasy Pasta

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There are some specific criteria to being a successful home cook. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to have food in the house! That may not sound very profound, but no one, not even Gordon Ramsay, can prepare food without basics in the pantry and refrigerator. It’s just impossible.

It’s not only necessary to have ingredients available, it’s so much less expensive to cook with those ingredients, instead of going out for restaurant food or contacting a delivery service.

Some staples I must have in my pantry include pasta, grains, and legumes.

Canned products are essential, especially canned tomatoes. I also love canned beans because I feel they’re a quality ingredient, and I always have canned tuna on hand.


I like to keep milk products like canned coconut milk, evaporated milk, and goat milk on hand as well.

Besides canned products, it’s necessary to have staples such as oils and vinegars, or at least one of each! Plus sweeteners and unique pastes.

Refrigerated items that are important to me are sauces and condiments. If I want to make any kind of dish with Asian ingredients, like a quick noodle soup, I can simply reach for hoisin sauce, smoked sesame oil, fish sauce, soy sauce, and Gochujang. But if you only want mayo and mustard, that’s fine too!

The refrigerator is also where I keep my nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. Butter, eggs, and cheese are definite refrigerator staples for me, as are demi glaces. But cream, yogurt, and even ricotta can help in a pinch, whether you’re cooking an Italian dish such as a pasta, or an Indian curry.

The freezer comes in handy, also, for storing frozen vegetables and stock.

Which brings me to this pasta dish. It’s a perfect example of preparing a quick and easy meal with just a few basic ingredients. It’s a dish that can be made on a weeknight after work, or after a vacation when you’re too tired to put much effort in to whipping up a meal, and have no fresh produce.

Easy Peasy Pasta
printable recipe below

12-16 ounces pasta, a pretty shape or color
1 – 15 ounce carton whole-milk ricotta, at room temperature
12 ounce package of frozen peas
Parmesan, optional

Boil a large pot of salted water, and cook the pasta according to the package directions. Meanwhile, scoop the ricotta cheese into a large, heatproof bowl; set aside.

Gently heat the frozen peas in the microwave. I place a little folded paper towel in the bottom of the bowl for excess liquid, but drain them if there’s a significant amount of water.

Drain the pasta when it’s cooked, then add it hot to the bowl with the ricotta. Stir gently.

If necessary, thin with a little milk or cream, or even a little butter. (All staples!) Or, use a little pasta water.

Add the peas and incorporate. Taste for salt and pepper.

Place the pasta in individual bowls or a serving bowl. Sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired.

I used a few toasted pine nuts on top of the pasta for some texture. And that’s it! (Also another staple of mine.)

This recipes shows how good a very simple and basic cooking can be, using what you have in your kitchen.

Now, for a heartier meal, you can add some garbanzo beans from a can… from your pantry! I love the heartiness of pasta and beans in the same dish.

Also, rotisserie chicken or even smoked salmon would be wonderful added to the pasta. Or, canned tuna.

Cooking truly isn’t difficult, and it definitely doesn’t have to be time consuming.

Keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked with basics. That way, you’re naturally creative in the kitchen, not wasteful, and can cook in a pinch!

 

Nigella’s Pasta with Squid

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In May, my refrigerator died. I was without a refrigerator for 12 days. It was awful.

So what did we do? My husband and I went out to eat, a lot. We had to. It’s quite challenging to come up with ideas for meals when no refrigeration is available and it’s hot outside.

At first, it was fun for me, because it was a nice break from cooking. Until going out really got old.

To make things worse, I kept coming across more and more recipes that I wanted to prepare, and started to really miss cooking.

I never divulged that to my husband. Instead, I would make obnoxious comments, like “Hey, this is what most Americans do. They go out to eat! All the time.”

I guess when I think I might starve because I have no refrigerated food, pasta really appeals to me.

Specifically, there was a pasta recipe in Nigella Kitchen that got my attention.

It was simple, made with squid ring-shaped pasta, and containing squid rings!

I would have thought that no Italian would actually make such a dish, but Nigella actually had it at a restaurant along the Amalfi coast.

She does refer to the pairing as a “culinary pun,” but hey, if it’s served in Italy, she can put her recreation of it in her cookbook!

The calamari=shaped pasta I found is called Pasta di Gragnano; Gragnano is the area where Nigella had the pasta dish.

In any case, it’s now December and I’m finally getting to this recipe, which is actually good timing, because it’s totally festive! I might make it again on Christmas!

Quick Calamari Pasta
Slightly adapted

1 pound pasta, calamari-ring shape
Salt
1 pound cleaned squid, sliced, tentacles left whole
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 green onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh red chile peppers, sweet
1/2 cup vermouth
1/4 cup pasta cooking water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Handful of chopped parsley
Cayenne pepper flakes, optional

Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Add the green onions for one minute, then add the garlic and red chile peppers.


Stir well.
Add the squid rings AND tentacles and cook for about 2 minutes.

Pour in the vermouth and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the squid is tender and the vermouth reduced.

Add the cooking water and butter, then add the drained pasta to the squid and stir together well.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve!

I added a little more salt, and also included some cayenne pepper.

The next time I make this, I might remove the squid and vegetables before continuing with the liquids. That way it’s insured that the squid doesn’t overcook.


Plus, I’d love to try it with a little tomato paste and cream.

But it’s a delightful recipe, and classically Italian in its simplicity.

Pasta with Sausage and Fennel

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I’ve never been a huge fennel fan, and for just that reason, I planted two fennel plants in my garden. I figured that if I could harvest it personally, I could figure out how to showcase its unique flavor.

Ideally, if one loves the anise/licorice flavor, fennel is eaten raw, shaved in a salad, for example. But I thought that gently sautéed and caramelized in olive oil, with pasta and sausage, would still highlight this unique plant properly.

Harvesting the fennel is just a matter of pulling it out of the ground. I read that the fennel bulb should be the size of a tennis ball.


The recipe is not mine – I found it on Epicurious.com, and adapted it slightly.

Orecchiette with Sweet Italian Sausage and Fennel

1 fennel bulb, about 7 ounces, plus some fronds
12 ounces orecchiette
Salt
Olive oil
16 ounces sweet Italian sausage
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
White wine
Freshly grated Parmesan


Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside, along with 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until lightly browned and cooked just through.


Remove the sausage to a bowl and set aside.

Add the fennel slices and saute them in the remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel softens, about 5 minutes.

Continue to cook, adding a little wine as necessary to prevent the fennel from sticking to the skillet. You might have to do this a few times. The resulting fennel should be soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes more.

Add the cooked pasta and reserved liquid to the skillet, along with the sausage. Stir well and let cook, until the liquid has reduced to a creamy sauce, about 4 minutes.


Add Parmesan and season again if necessary.


Also sprinkle some of the fronds over the pasta.

The fennel still reminded me of Pernod, which I dislike, but it was better slightly caramelized and cooked in the wine.

The Parmesan wasn’t in the original recipe, but I felt like it needed cheese.

Heavy cream would also be a fabulous addition!

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.

Antipasto Pasta Salad

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This pasta salad recipe isn’t remarkable on its own, being that there are hundreds of pasta salad recipes, but this is remarkably good!

Inspired by my favorite antipasto platters, I used Italian dry salami, Prosciutto, Provolone, Fontina, plus olives and pepperoni. Then I added pasta and fresh vegetables to create an easy pasta salad that is definitely extraordinary.

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My vinaigrette is classic, made with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and garlic.

Feel free to make this salad your own. It’s one of those “use what you like” recipes. Change up the meats and cheeses, add sun-dried tomatoes or marinated artichokes, chives or shallots, or your favorite dressing. It will all be delicious!

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Antipasto-Inspired Pasta Salad
best served at room temperature

16 ounces pasta of choice, I used rotini
Olive oil
Salt
10 ounces dry Italian salami
8 ounces Provolone
8 ounces Fontina
6 ounces Prosciutto
12 ounce jar peperoncini
6 ounces Greek Kalamata olives
6 ounces pimiento-stuffed Spanish green olives
12 ounces spinach
Fresh cherry tomatoes
Fresh basil leaves
Vinaigrette of choice

Begin by cooking the dry pasta based on the package directions. Drain well, then return to the cooking pot. Stir in a few tablespoons of olive oil and a little salt; set aside to cool.

Cut up the salami and cheeses in a sort of julliene shape. Place in a bowl and set aside. Chifonnade slices of Prosciutto, or alternatively, slice in to bits. Set aside.

Place the drained pepperoncini and olives in the jar of a food processor and pulse until in pieces. Set aside.

Chifonnade fresh spinach leaves and place on a large platter or pasta bowl. Add the cooled pasta on top.

If you don’t want a “composed” salad, all of the ingredients can alternatively be tossed in a large bowl.

Add the salami and cheese mixture, plus the Prosciutto.

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Add some of the pepperoncini-olive mixture to the center of the pasta salad.

Sprinkle generously with coarsely-ground black pepper and cayenne pepper flakes.

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If desired, add some cherry tomatoes, and basil leaves.

Serve with the vinaigrette.

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note: I would normally have added a little vinaigrette to the cooked pasta, but I’m always wary about guests not liking vinegar. But all components of this salad could first be tossed with some vinaigrette, including the spinach, if the salad will be served immediately. If your guests also don’t like pepperoncini and olives, the mixture could be served on the side.