Archive for the ‘Pastas’ Category

RAVIOLI STUFFED WITH SQUASH, MACAROONS AND MOSTARDA

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

        This is “that pasta with cookies” which is turning up in every Italian restaurant in sight. It is a bit sweet, the veg, cookies and mostarda di frutta scarcely coming under the savory heading, and it must be restrained from turning into Total Dessert; this is where the grated cheese and sage butter come in.

        Now making ravioli from scratch is a dreadful bore, and buying sheets of pasta for cookie-cutting into ravioli wraps is not always practical. Besides, the sheets tend to be too thick for the purpose. So I suggest you use the greatest new toy I’ve found in my old age: won ton wrappers, available in most supermarkets (above the broccoli at ours). You simply spoon your stuffing onto the middle of wrapper 1, run a watery finger around the edge, fit wrapper 2 on top and press the edges together, and voilà, a perfect sandwich.

        And as we near the end of a chapter devoted in large part to Italian delights I must draw your attention to a high school commencement address by the delightfully quirky columnist Adair Lara who, besides telling the seniors of a Sonoma county school, “do not supply the rocks that are to be thrown at you [in life],” she exhorted:

        “Go to Italy. I can’t stress this enough.”

 

De-seed 1 small butternut squash, brush on a little canola oil inside and outside, and place the squash upside down in an ovenproof dish, surrounded by a 1/2 inch deep pool of water; bake at 350° for an hour or a little more, until the squash is nice and mushy and beyond the need of a blender or food processor’s services.

Scoop out the flesh and combine it with:

about 1/2 cup of crushed almond macaroons

about 2/3 cup of chopped mostarda di frutta from the jar, with              some of its syrup

3 or 4 tablespoons of grated dry jack or parmesan cheese

a pinch of nutmeg

a fairly generous amount of grated orange peel

(and toasted breadcrumbs will do no harm)

Spoon stuffing onto won ton wrappers as explained in the adjacent spiel. Boil the completed ravioli for no more than 4 minutes (in batches if they stick together in the water) and serve with browned butter rather liberally punctuated with sage. As always in our house/bistro/trattoria, pass extra grated cheese.

LASAGNE BOLOGNESE ALLA NOSTRA MANIERA

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

        Another staple on which a book might be written concerning recipe variations. You could, for example, substitute ground veal for the beef and add a little white wine before the milk. You could add chicken livers along the line, cream, balsamic vinegar, ricotta, peas! I don’t know if I’ll ever settle on a definitive version of this one — the gastronomic equivalent, so to speak, of Giulini’s Bach B minor Mass or Tilson Thomas’ Schumann Rhenish Symphony. Meanwhile the light and meaty little number on this page satisfies me, and it isn’t dunked in Coit Tower sauce, no question about that.

        Lasagne Bolognese we didn’t try in Bologna, that comprehensively arcaded city with its dazzling per capita array of restaurants and barber shops and unvisited by many American travelers hypnotized into Tuscany next door. But we did feast on beet pasta flamed in brandy at the trattoria just behind the gas pump across from the Teatro Communale.

        This intimate old opera house (you could fit two and a half or three Communales in the Met) is where we came in very close contact with Verdi’s Forza del Destino one Sunday afternoon, in the company of a thousand somberly dressed Bolognans who might have been attending a funeral: well, Forza isn’t exactly cheerful stuff. The thump of the overture with its howling strings, electric brass and manic cymbals came straight up through those delightful eighteenth century floorboards, giving one the feeling of sitting, tibias all-a-tremble, smack on top of a first-class earthquake.

        We were happy to be sitting, an imperious pinstriped godfather having informed us shortly before curtain time — he could have been one of those rulebook gods in an opera seria — that we were in his posti. Well, as Dickens wrote in Pictures from Italy, “there is a grave and learned air about the city, and a pleasant gloom upon it . . .”

 

In a large skillet soften 2 heaping tablespoons each of minced onion, carrot and celery with about 12 little dice of thick cut or slab bacon, stirring frequently — you should put in the bacon a minute or more before the vegetables to produce some cooking fat.

gt30_opera_scene_bologna.jpg

Then add 2/3 pound of ground beef (or the more willowy veal!) and, over higher heat, sauté it just until the look of rawness is gone, along with a fistful of thick-sliced brown mushrooms.

Now lower the heat and add 1/4 cup of milk and a turn or more of the nutmeg mill; cook, stirring constantly, until the milk is almost evaporated: this will take very little time. Then add a 14-ounce can of tomatoes and a few rosemary needles,* bring all to a boil and simmer, mostly covered, for 30 minutes or more, stirring often.

Meanwhile boil a little less than 1/2 pound of lasagne: it will take about 6 minutes longer than fettuccine, say 18 minutes. When all the components are ready, toss the lasagne gently with the Bolognese sauce (which in our current interpretation emerges almost more a hashy topping than a sauce) and grated dry jack or parmesan cheese . . . And this is as good a place as any to tell you it’s fun to scoop up grated cheese in your hand from a big bowl and let it shower therefrom over your pasta. Sensuous indeed.

* I added them, then found out it’s a Tuscan tradition in the preparation of “Bolognese” sauce.

MOCK CANNELLONI

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

        Well, I was trying to approximate the unctuous enchiladas we ate in Carmel fifty years ago, the work of a friend’s faithful Mexican retainer and always delivered to our rented house in a pyrex dish that seemed to contradict the luxuriance of the savory oblongs nestled inside.  But inadvertently I used flour instead of corn tortillas, and came up with something remarkably like cannelloni, squishy, comforting, and no pasta boiling necessary.

        Our friend was in cattle ranching and could dine at the Ritz, but enchiladas fit her humility to a tee. She had a squeaky voice, and a world class collection of cowbells in her rambling white Victorian that tinkled (sopranos) and thunked (altos) — hearing them as a child meant I was in my vacation paradise.

        Ever generous, Miss Doud would take us to a pretentious restaurant in a charming adobe in Monterey where we ate the steaky 40s fare surrounded by well-whiskied swells just off the course at “Pebble,” Pebble Beach that is. The proprietor answered to the aristocratic name of Gallatin Powers and his maitre-d’ stood at a rather forbidding lectern, but he was not about to turn away Miss Doud.

        Her extended circle of friends on the Monterey peninsula rather resembled a  cast for Rebecca: tweedy Englishmen driving exotic roadsters, eccentric spinsters, maybe a rake or two, and count in actors, painters and priests as well.

        My parents came to know the Doud family about 1928 when my father the internist apparently “saved the life” of Miss Doud’s baby sister.The family was eternally grateful and showered us with thanks whether in the form of the annual enchilada haul or the occasional gift of a painting by the wonderful painter Arthur Hill Gilbert whose poetic, powdery cypresses can make you weep with pleasure.

        Little ones like me were not forgotten and I remember as a child of eight being taken by another Doud sister for lunch – grilled cheese sandwiches, I’m sure – by the side of the pool at the spiffy Del Monte Hotel. Transportation was via a roadster straight out of MGM.

        Our last visit with Miss Doud I was thirty-five or more years older. She was beginning to mix up the various female Bloomfields, but she was still such a stately, and warm, figure – a grande dame, almost, out of A.J. Liebling.

 

First, make a tomato sauce with chopped onion and puréed tomatoes, simmering it for only 5 minutes. Also grate coarsely 1 cup of white cheddar cheese and slice 3 tablespoons of black olives. And very briefly fry 3 to 5 flour tortillas in a little olive oil (one at a time in a large skillet) until they begin to crisp.

Now in a baking pan lay out the tortillas one by one and spoon cheese and sauce onto ’em, then roll them up. Cover the “cannelloni” with more sauce, shower with olives and bake in a moderate oven for 10 or 12 minutes. Sprinkle with grated dry jack or parmesan cheese before serving.

FULLER DRESS VERSION: Abandon the olives and add shrimp, avocado, cilantro.