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Sumptuous Pastas That Summon Up Fond Memories

December 7, 2011 By:
Linda Morel | JE Feature
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On a recent trip to Rome, I witnessed something I'd never seen before. A waiter spun hot capellini inside a wheel of pecorino romano cheese, coating each strand. Turning the capellini onto a plate, he finished it with plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

"I must have that," I said. "What is it?"
 
"Cacio e Peppe," my husband David said.
 
From my first mouthful, I became an ardent fan.
 
Being that rare combination of Italian and Jewish, David has traveled extensively throughout Italy and is quite familiar with local cuisine.
 
We adore Italy for its stately architecture and graceful ruins, for its glorious scenery and musical language. But most of all, we cherish its range of pasta sauces. Each region of Italy is famous for a distinct dialect and at least one pasta dish, which travelers will find on menu after menu.
 
Several years ago, in Liguria, the Italian Riviera, I became smitten with this region's most renowned dish, pesto sauce. I was euphoric because each restaurant prepared this miraculous sauce, perfumed with basil, in a slightly different way.
 
"You're amazing," David said by our third night, incredulous that my enthusiasm hadn't waned.
 
A few years later, we drove across Sicily with friends. During our first lunch in Catania, I discovered Pasta alla Norma, a heavenly combination of tomato sauce and fried eggplant. As soon as I shared it with David and our friends, we asked for another order on the spot. We then sampled this dish at every restaurant. While the Greek ruins in Sicily were breathtaking, we all agreed our favorite part of this charming island was Pasta alla Norma.
 
Needless to say, I've come home from each excursion to Italy with a new favorite pasta dish to recreate.
 
"All of these pastas bring back fond memories," said David over a bowl of spaghetti with garlic and olive oil. "It's enough to make me plan another trip."
 
The time involved in preparing these sauces ranges from last-minute prep to labors of love.
 
Rome's Cacio e Peppe
(Dairy)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese at room temperature. (Note: Miller's Grated Romano Cheese is certified kosher)
2 Tbsps. sweet butter, cut into pea-sized pieces
1 lb. capellini (angel hair) pasta
freshly ground pepper to taste -- the more the better
 
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of cheese across a pasta bowl. Dot the butter pieces on top of it.
Prepare capellini according to package directions. In a colander, drain the capellini very briefly so it is still wet. Quickly turn the capellini into the pasta bowl.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese on top. Grind a generous amount of pepper over the cheese. With long-handled spoons, toss the ingredients until well combined. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate all the cheese. Add more pepper, if desired, and stir again. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6.
 
Pesto Sauce From Liguria
(Dairy)
 1/2 lb. penne
4 cups basil leaves (from about 1 large bunch)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup plus 1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts (pignoli)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, loosely packed or stirred to fluff with a fork (Note: Miller's Grated Parmesan Cheese is certified kosher)
dash of kosher salt
white pepper to taste
 
Prepare penne according to package directions.
Rinse basil leaves under cold water to remove sand. Place leaves in a salad spinner to dry. Using a sharp knife, chop basil on a cutting board. Reserve.
Into a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place garlic, 1/3 cup olive oil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, salt and white pepper. Process until blended.
Add the reserved basil leaves and pulse until leaves are combined. Slowly add the remaining 1/3 cup of olive oil -- you may not need it all. Pulse on and off until ingredients form a smooth sauce
Serve immediately over penne.
Makes about 1 cup of pesto sauce. Serves 2 to 3.
 
Sicily's Penne alla Norma
(Dairy or Pareve)
This recipe is traditionally served with ricotta salata cheese, but a delicious pareve version can be achieved by omitting the cheese topping.
3 Tbsps. plus 6 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed
1 onion, diced fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 Italian plum tomatoes, diced
kosher salt to taste
2 Tbsps. plus 2 Tbsps. basil leaves, chopped
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 baby eggplants
1 lb. penne pasta
chunk of ricotta salata cheese, optional (Note: BelGioioso brand of ricotta salata cheese is certified kosher)
 
Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and saute onion and garlic until sweating, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle with salt. Stir occasionally until the tomatoes give off some sauce. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of basil and stir.
Pour in the canned tomato sauce and red wine. Stir until combined. Cover pot and simmer on a low flame, stirring occasionally. Lower flame to the minimum, if sauce is reducing too quickly.
Meanwhile, with a vegetable scraper, peel the skin off the eggplants. Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise. Slice each half into pieces 1/4-inch thick, which will look like half circles.
On a low flame, heat the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Place eggplant pieces in the skillet. Sprinkle with salt and stir. Saute until eggplant browns, adding more oil if pieces stick to the skillet. Stir often and flip pieces over. It may take 30 minutes to brown.
Spoon the eggplant into the tomato sauce and simmer on a low flame. Boil water for penne and prepare according to package directions. Drain penne in a colander and place in a pasta bowl.
Pour the tomato-eggplant sauce over the penne and stir to combine. Sprinkle on the remaining 2 tablespoons of basil. Generously grate ricotta salata cheese over penne, if using. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6.
 
Spaghetti With Garlic and Olive Oil From Naples
(Pareve or Dairy)
1/3 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced fine
 kosher salt to taste (but use sparingly if you'll be sprinkling on parmesan)
1 lb. spaghetti
grated parmesan cheese to taste (optional) (Note: Miller's Grated Parmesan Cheese is certified kosher)
 
Place the oil, garlic and salt in a small sauce pan. Heat on a low flame until the oil barely simmers, about 2 minutes. Remove from flame. Do not overcook garlic as it quickly browns and turns bitter.
Drizzle garlic and oil mixture on top. Using two long-handled spoons, toss until oil is well incorporated.
Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, if using. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6.
 
Turkey Bolognese From Bologna
(Meat)
3 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced fine
2 lbs. ground turkey
kosher salt to taste
black pepper to taste
2 carrots, diced fine
2 stalks of celery, diced fine
1/2 lb. mushrooms, diced
6 Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely diced
1 tsp. dried basil leaves, or more, if desired
1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves, or more, if desired
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
2 cans (6 oz.) tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 beef bouillon cube
1 lb. linguini, prepared according to package directions
 
Heat oil in a large pot on a medium flame. Add the garlic and onion and stir to coat with oil. Simmer for about 2 minutes, or until sweating.
Break turkey into chunks and add to the pot. Sprinkle on salt and pepper. Sear turkey, stirring often until it browns. As you stir, break up turkey until it crumbles.
Add the carrots and celery and mix until combined. Then add the mushrooms and stir again. Saute until the vegetables wilt.
Add the tomatoes, basil, and oregano and stir to combine.
Once the tomatoes begin giving off sauce, add the canned tomato sauce and tomato paste. Fill each can of tomato paste once with warm water and pour into the sauce. There will be two cans worth of water in all. Add the wine and bouillon cube and stir to combine.
Cover the pot and bring to a simmer, then turn the flame to low. Stir every 15 minutes or so. If the sauce is becoming too thick, add a bit more water or wine.
After an hour, check sauce for seasoning and add more salt, if needed. Simmer for two hours before boiling water for the linguini. Continue simmering the sauce until linguini is ready.
Drain linguini and place in a pasta bowl. Cover linguini with the sauce. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6.
 
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at: lindam212@aol.com.
 

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