Saturday, January 26, 2008

Penne with sausage and rapini

For those of you who can't appreciate the bitter, tart, astringent, acrid, and otherwise vile taste of rapini on their own, mixing them with pasta is a great way to get a dose of these healthy, leafy greens. Now maybe I'm being a little too harsh on rapini, but you would be to if your father had spent most of his life trying to shove them down your throat.

I boil the rapini in the same water I boil the pasta in to save time, and I like to think it adds some taste to the pasta. As for the sausage, I like to buy sausage meat out of its casing, which I buy at Inter-Marche R.D.P.(7472 Maurice-Duplessis) If you can't find sausage meat out of its casing, you can remove it yourself -use a pair of scissors to cut opened the sausage, then scrape out the meat. Using the meat this way gives the dish a different texture, as some of the meat caramelizes crispy while the larger nuggets stay juicy.

  • 1 onion-diced

  • 6 cloves garlic-left whole

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (use the good stuff here ie.first cold pressed)

  • 1/4 cup white wine

  • 2 plum tomatoes-diced

  • 1 bunch of rapini, ends chopped off.

  • 1 pack of short pasta (500g) such as penne.

  • 2 cups of loose sausage meat-out of its casing.

  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs.(optional)


Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Heat the garlic in the oil being careful not to burn it. The garlic should begin to gently simmer in the oil, this will give the oil a beautiful garlic bouquet. When the garlic begins to brown evenly remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and reserve. Raise the heat to mediun high and throw in the onion. Cook for about 8 minutes until translucent. Add the sausage meat and cook until meat cooks through- about 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, check your pot, when the water begins to boil, add the rapini. Boil the rapini for no more than 5 minutes. Scoop out the rapini with a handled strainer and let it drain-squeeze out as much water from the rapini as you can. Add the pasta to the boiling water.

When the sausage is cooked, add the wine and raise the heat to high until alcohol evaporates, about 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add the tomatoes and the reserved cooked garlic. Place cooked rapini on a cutting board, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and coarsely chop, don't cut the rapini too small. Add rapini to the pan. Scoop out the pasta 1 minute before recommended cooking time indicated on the package and add to the pan with all the rest of the ingredients. Heat well and incorporate everything together. If the pasta seems a bit dry, add some of the pasta water.(If you've dumped the water, use some chicken stock)

Empty the pan into a big beautiful pasta bowl. Keeping the heat on medium, add the breadcrumbs to the pan. This is an old italian technique. The breadcrumbs soak up any remaining oil and other goodies stuck to the pan. Cook the breadcrumbs until toasted.

To serve, scoop pasta into a bowl, top with the toasted breadcrumbs, parmiggiano cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Minestra is neither soup nor stew. It has nothing to do with minestrone or ribolita, and can be eaten both hot and cold. Minestra is a "zuppa" in its original sense. The term zuppa has now come to be a generic term encompassing all types of soup, but its original meaning was quite distinct. The word Zuppa derives from the verb, inzuppare, which means to absorb or soak up. Bread in a variety of forms, was, and still is used to soak up liquid. It was a good way of making thrifty meals more gratifying as well as a novel way to use up old bread. No doubt born from necessity, the use of bread as an absorber is still used throughout all of Italy in a variety of ways.
In Italian, Minestrare is a verb meaning to "hand out" or "to distribute." A patriarchal custom whereby the head of the family would hand out the first course of the meal. A staple of cucina povera, minestra is a dish known through out all of Italy. The ingredients are not set in stone but the fundamentals are the same. Take a bunch of leafy greens, mix with some beans, serve it atop some old bread, bring it all together and you’ve got a classic minestra. Italians love to eat left over minestra cold, right out of the fridge; I’m not one of them. The fundamentals of the traditional recipe are respected but the addition of meat, and employment of classic cooking techniques enhances the flavour exponentially.

Minestra Con Carne
  • 2 bunches of swiss chard, stems discarded and coarsely chopped

  • 2 cans white kidney beans

  • 2 large carrots, chopped

  • 2 large potatoes, cubed

  • 1 lbs veal stewing meat with bone

  • 2 onions, sliced

  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed whole

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil

  • 3 to 31/2 cups of chicken stock

  • some old bread

Heat the olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Cook until translucent. Create a hot spot by pushing the onions to the sides and add the meat to the center of the pot. Brown meat on both sides. Deglaze all of the brown goodness stuck to bottom of the pan with 1 cup of chicken stock. Scrape the bottom of the pot with your wooden spoon. Add the rest of the chicken stock (2 cups) and bring to a boil. When the stock comes to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and carrots, cover and continue and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the swiss chard (stuff your pot, don't be afraid the swiss chard will shrink considerably but it will also release some water, I hope you listened and got a large pot) and cover until wilted. Stir it occasionally. Add the beans, liquid and all, don't rinse them, this is one recipe where the goop is good, providing the right consistency for the dish. (If you're a purist and insist on using dried white kidney beans then you must create the goop by boiling the beans in just the right amount of water so it thickens properly, but I'll save it for another article.) Stir well and heat through. Your Minestra should not be too watery, (if it is, simmer uncovered for awhile until it thickens up a bit. Stir it frequently making sure the bottom doesn't burn.) When the minestra has a consistency like that of oatmeal, its perfect. Remove from the heat. Serve it on top of some sliced day old bread. I like to lightly toast the bread, then I rub it with garlic and drizzle some olive oil over top. Ladle a heaping of minestra over the bread, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano.
Note: Minestra, like many stewing meals, is better the next day. Just bring it back to a gentle simmer while stirring frequently. It also freezes well in freezer bags.

Monday, January 7, 2008



Although Cardoons may look like celery, let me assure you, they definitely don't taste like celery. Cardoons are members of the artichoke family. The taste of a cardoon has a lot to do with the way it's cooked; eaten raw, the cardoon at first has a very bitter taste, its aftertaste however is nothing short of refreshing. It will leave you with that "just back from the dentist feel."

In Italy, eating raw cardoons at the end of a meal-with salt and olive oil over top-is considered healthy, as it cleans and refreshes the palate and digestion. (the same is believed of fennel) It was also believed to have aphrodisiac properties (not that Italians would need any.)

Cooking Cardoons will alter the taste considerably. Most recipes call for the cardoon to be boiled in salted water for 45 minutes to 2 hours before you bake or fry them. I found this recipe from the quintessential Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon, which has a section dedicated to cardoons.

Note: If you can't find cardoons, you can substitute with celery, fennel, carrots, or radishes. Better yet, use them all.

Cardoons with Bagna Cauda

  • juice of 1 lemon, strained
  • 2 1/4 pounds of cardoons
  • 2/3 cup butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 10 anchovy fillets in oil, drained *If you don't like anchovies, please leave my web site.
  • 1/2 cup Parmegiano cheese, freshly grated.
  • salt

Pour 9 cups water into a large pot and add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Cut the ends of the cardoons, cut the inner stems into 3" lengths and remove all strings, immediately dropping the stem pieces into the pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter. Drain the cardoons well, then tip into the prepared dish. To make the bagna cauda, (which is a sauce typical to the Piedmontese) melt the butter in a small pan, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes until lightly browned, then remove and discard. Add the anchovies to the pan and cook, mashing with a fork until smooth. Pour the anchovy-flavored butter over the cardoons and sprinkle with the Parmegiano. Bake for 30 minutes and serve.