Monday, February 24, 2014

Kale and Conchigliette (Shells)

[not as ambitious as what I wanted to present (homemade pasta), but we'll keep that one for when I get it right]

This one's easy, but definitely worth the trouble, and while not spaghetti a decent follow-up to our last time excursion into the world of pasta history. (speaking of which, I've found a really fun infographic discussion pasta shapes. It's helpful for knowing the names of the wide variety out there: - It's how I knew what shells are actually -are-)

Kale and Shells
by Amy (inspired by a pasta casserole recipe in Cheesy Cheesy Quick and Easy)

[What You Need]
1 bunch lacy kale
1 package shell pasta
2 eggs
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 egg
8 oz ricotta cheese
16 oz sauce of choice (I used a garlic and leek marinara)
mozzarella cheese for sprinkling

[What to do]
  1. cook pasta according to instructions (one thing I've learned from this process is that pasta times vary)
  2. mix egg, parmesan, ricotta, and kale (torn into small pieces) in a bowl
  3. layer sauce, cheese mixture and shells in a well greased "lasagna" pan
  4. cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour
  5. remove cover and bake for 5 more minutes.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Waxing Rhapsodic on Spaghetti

I don't have a recipe for you this week. I was kind of embarrassed about that, honestly. I've been under the weather and in a bit of a funk when it comes to cooking lately. I still want to write something though, and I thought, since this blog isn't strictly about recipes, but learning about myself and my family through food, what better place to start than writing about the most ubiquitous and controversial Italian food: spaghetti.

I mean that. People can vicious when it comes to their opinion on proper spaghetti.

I think there's a reason for that. At least for me and mine. Unlike polenta, which I stated before was not a traditional food of my Sicilian heritage, spaghetti does indeed, historically, belong to the island my bisnonna originally called home. We all know the story of Marco Polo bringing macaroni back from China, and while the Chinese were indeed creating pasta as early as 1100 BCE, pasta worked into long forms was recorded by geographer/cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi in his descriptions of Sicily during the 12th century over 100 years before Polo's journey.

The tomato sauce is a little harder to pin down. I think I might be weird in the Sicilian-American food department as my family never referred to it as gravy, but it's something I'm picky about. Good sauce can make or break a dish of spaghetti. Historically, of course, tomatoes were not introduced to Europe until the 1400s, but there are some recipes for sauces involving apricots and figs. Can you imagine what those medieval marinaras must have tasted like? One of the oldest known recorded recipes is for Roman pesto. Mmmm. Pesto.

It's funny now, looking back, that nutritionists at the turn of the century were -horrified- by the food the Italian immigrants brought to the United States. They determined that garlic and tomatoes were were of no nutritional value and far too expensive for people of lower class means. Social workers tried to teach immigrants how to "cook properly", luckily...they were mostly ignored.

I know that's really digging into the details, but there's something about the history of food that I find fascinating. Food roots us into who we are, and who we think we are.

For me there is a sense of identity in spaghetti.

Making it is a meditation. Not like continually stirring a double boiler of honey meditation, but more ritual meditation: coming home from work, salting water and putting it on the stove to let it reach a boil, adding the noodles, cooking them until they are just the right ratio of wiggly to al dente, trying to get as much of the pasta water into a jar for later reuse and failing miserably, add the perfect amount of marinara and grated romano cheese.

Spaghetti was the first thing I relearned how to cook. Spaghetti was my bridge from sodium-rich noodle packages nightly (A box of cheap low-quality spaghetti a local store was about comparable in price to 5 packages of noodles) back to myself .

It's funny because I was always a little bit of a pasta snob, turning up my nose when offered anything out of can, but cheap dry pasta actually gave me a lot. My roots are there: just the right ratio of wiggly to al dente.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ricotta Pie -or- Salvaging a Cassata fail

[I know, I've been so bad about posting lately. It's no excuse, but it's been a busy month and I haven't gotten much decent cooking done. I'll hopefully be better in the coming year.]

My plan was to use up extra ricotta from the lasagna to make cassata. As you can see, that did not work out for several reasons.

The other layer and filling were already done though! What's a girl to do, stuck with all this filling and only one layer of sponge cake?

The resourceful girl "invents" Ricotta Pie.

Ricotta Pie
by Amy (inspired by Bisnonna's Cassata recipe, which, hopefully, I'll eventually make correctly)

[What you need]
1 sponge cake (I used this recipe pretty much exactly, my madre's trick; however, is to buy one. If I had done that, I might actually have a Cassata to show you, so...tread carefully.)
1 lb ricotta
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped almonds and/or pistachios
1/2 tsp cinnamon

[What to do]
1. Bake or acquire sponge cake. Carefully (look at my disaster above to see not carefully) place in a pie dish.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together, spread carefully over the cake in a pie like fashion and everything will work out in the end.