Beef Ragu over Cheesy Polenta
A rustic, belly-filling recipe from simple ingredients. The cook time from pan to table is under an hour, so it's great for a quick family meal during the workweek...
I remember one of the first times I had potato gnocchi (pronounced "NYO-kee"), was at a New Jersey, Italian-American restaurant when I was a teen. I wasn't impressed. They were gluey and heavy. Perhaps they were frozen, but more than likely they had lost something in the translation from the old country. Still today, people in New Jersey might still pronounce them, "Nocky". In our family, we didn't have gnocchi until I was older. I remember one of my sisters making them on occasion. We nicknamed them, "sinkers" because they were so heavy.
Well into my 30s, and after I had learned how to cook pretty well, I asked my mother to teach me to make gnocchi--especially after learning that her mother, Nonna Mariantonia, had taught her. When I asked why she never made them when I was a kid, she just shrugged and said, "Sure, with all the free time I had raising five kids plus working all day?" She's right. She worked in a factory as a supervisor her whole adult life, yet somehow still managed to put dinner on the table for us after she got home. Better late than never, and I was eager to learn...
Ingredients (for two batches: one for eating fresh, the other for freezing)
4 pounds of Yukon Gold or similar yellow potato--stored 1 week in a dark place before using
1 egg yolk
2 whole eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons sea salt
"00" Italian style flour - 1/4 cup per pound of potatoes (or more, depending on humidity)
("00" makes a more tender gnocchi.)
a Gnocchi board, or fork, fingers, or the back side of a cheese grater
(each makes a different shape/texture)
2 half sheet pans
(For drying and for freezing half the batch)
Potato ricer (Do not use a masher)
cotton kitchen towels or parchment paper
My Mom didn't use a gnocchi paddle, or rigagnocchi. She used her fingers and the back of a fork. She actually taught me two methods for two different shapes--the back of a fork and her first two fingers. The fork makes ridges on the back side---good for holding a thick ragu. The two fingers made a sort of cavetelli shape, by taking a small cylinder of dough and pressing into it while dragging toward herself on the work surface. This made one smooth side and a little cave in the other--good for cream and thinner sauces. I can still remember Mom's bent, arthritic fingers rapidly producing them one by one. In this recipe, I'll be shaping with a fork and gnocchi board.
As you shape your gnocchi, place them (not touching) on a cotton kitchen towel spread on top of a half sheet pan. Let them dry for 15 for about 1 hour before cooking. Then place them into a large pot of well-salted, rapidly boiling water, give a couple of gentle stirs, then cook until they all float to the top.
After all are floating, cook for another minute, then drain in batches using a spider, placing them into either a saucepan containing your preferred sauce, cooking and turning gently for a minute or two until the gnocchi have absorbed the sauce's flavors. Turn out into a pasta bowl, and top with your favorite cheese--Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, cacciocavallo, etc.
Freezing the Second Half of The Gnocchi
After the first half of your dough is finished, repeat and fill a second sheet pan, then let dry as with the first batch. The second pan can then be placed immediately into a freezer for a future meal. (If a half sheet pan won't fit, place the gnocchi on smaller trays that will fit).
After they are frozen rock solid (at least 10 hours), immediately place them into a large zip-lock plastic bag, squeeze to remove all the air and zip it closed. To prevent against freezer burn, place it into a second bag.
Once you hone your gnocchi-making skills, you can experiment with all sorts of different types--pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, ricotta and more. Gnocchi are great with both simple sauces (like butter & sage or olive oil, garlic and pepperoncino) or complex sauces like bechamel, pestos or even ragu Bolognese.
Enjoy, and don't forget to let me know how yours turned out!
Well... Almost. Canederli are bread dumplings found in the north-east of Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli, and part of the Veneto), typically served in beef broth, dry or with a sauce. They are made using stale bread, milk, onions, parsley, eggs and a little flour. Often they are stuffed with speck (a smoked prosciutto), cheese, mushrooms or pancetta. You can also serve them as a side with sausages.
Canederli with Speck
1/2 pound of stale bread
2 eggs, beaten
6 ounces diced Speck
1 medium onion, diced
6 cups milk
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon flour
Black wormy spaghetti, green monster eyeballs with bloody roadkill sauce... Yummy. Perfect for the little ghouls in your family.
1/2 tsp black paste type food coloring (they come in small jars).
1 16 oz box of thick spaghetti or bucatini (if it's too thin, it won't have that wormy look)
4 quarts of water
3 tablespoons sea salt or Kosher salt
Large green olives stuffed with pimentos (Buy the fresh large ones, not bottled), or as an alternative, use buccatini (mozzarella balls) for use as eyeballs.
Spaghetti sauce, preferably a textured, meaty sauce, like a Bolognese.
You might even try using meatballs topped with halves of buccatini with sliced, pitted olives as the eyeballs on a bloody plate of spaghetti.
Enjoy... and keep an EYE OUT for monsters!
The Ligurian region of Italy lies along the border of France and is home to a very special fresh pasta called Corzetti. In this article, we will only discuss corzetti stampae, coin-like fresh pasta cut and embossed with various decorative patterns, one-by-one, using a special wooden stamping tool, itself specially hand-made by artisan wood craftsmen using both wood-turning chip carving techniques. They are typically made out of maple, or fruit woods like pear or apple. In the Genovese dialect these coin pastas are called curzetti. Making corzetti is very laborious and time consuming, and as such are typically made only during the holidays or for special occasions.
There are also a different type of Corzetti from the Val Polcevera, one of the principal valleys of the area of Genoa, that are made in "figure eight" shape and look nothing like coins.
In Latin, the word for cross is crux. Cröxe in Genovese dialect also means cross. So one might realize that the word croxetti (in Italian), might be referring to the "little cross"--gold coins that were made in the 12th century called Genovini d'0ro. It's no surprise that many refer to Crozetti as "coins".
It is also possible that during the Renaissance they were used for weddings with the coats of arms of both bride and groom, one each on either side. Some claim that one local family made corzetti to impress Maria Luigia of Borbone, just before leaving for France to marry Napoleon.
There are some very simple and traditional recipes corzetti sauces. One of the oldest sauces is from medieval times, a pesto made with marjoram, pine nuts, walnuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Another similar recipes uses melted butter in place of olive oil, and places the ingredients in the hot pan rather than mashing into a pesto. Here is another fantastic sauce made using walnuts...
Sugo di noci
1 ½ cups chopped walnuts
1 medium size clove garlic
1/2 cup of fresh ciabatta bread, cubed, soaked in a bit of milk, then squeezed nearly dry.
1/4 cup fresh marjoram leaves
3 -4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
a pinch of salt
Run all the ingredients in a blender until smooth, with some texture remaining.
This sauce can be used as any pesto, tossing with the pasta. If you like, you can also place the sauce into a large saute pan and heat along with the corzetti.
The ingredients for the pasta are for 4 persons.
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour.
5 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of white wine
I hope you take the time to make corzetti for your next special event or holiday meal. Let us know how it turned out!
Broccoli rabe (räp’ - eh) is actually a member of the turnip family (rabe in Italian means turnip). The stalks, leaves, florets or yellow flowers are all edible. The leaves and stalks are usually cooked to soften their toughness and the flavor can be described as nutty, bitter, peppery or spicy and reminiscent of mustard greens. Broccoli Rabe can also be called broccoli raab, broccoli rape, or rapini, although, botanically speaking, rapini is a different plant entirely.
Rapini and broccoli rabe are close cousins and their names are often used interchangeably. They are in the same subspecies as the turnip, hence they have the characteristically slightly bitter taste of this group. Neither Rapini or broccoli rabe form the large floret heads that are seen in broccoli. “Rape” is the Italian name for turnip.
Broccoli Rabe is not broccolini. Broccolini is a hybrid created in 1993--a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli. It has small florets, long stalks, and a few small leaves, where Broccoli rabe has large leaves. Broccolini stalks look like asparagus.
Native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia and one of the earliest cultivated crops, broccoli rabe (Brassica rapa) was first eaten for its roots and leaves. It can also be allowed to flower and go to seed, with seeds collected and crushed for their high oil content (40 percent), commonly known as rapeseed oil, or in today's cooking as canola oil. The oil, in its simplest form can be used as lamp oil and a lubricant, in the same way olive oil has been used throughout history. Brassica rapa may have been used as oil in Italy as early as the 13th century and was the major lamp oil in Europe by the 16th century. Botanically speaking, Brassica campestris, Brassica rapa and Brassica napus are identical.
In Italy, there can be different names for it: in Naples it is known as friarielli; in Rome broccoletti; in Puglia, cime di rapa (literally meaning "turnip tops"). It is also known as i broccoli friarelli and sometimes broccoli di rape, rapi, or rapini (little turnips).
How to Use Broccoli Rabe
How to use broccoli rabe in Italy depends on the region... in northern Italy, they will throw away the florets and use only the leaves, while in southern Italy, they will throw away the leaves and each only the florets. It is a cool season crop, so you will find it locally--and fresh--during late fall, through the winter and into early spring. In U.S. supermarkets, you can usually find it year-round, grown in other countries and flown in.
Broccoli rabe contains tons of nutrients: 3-1/2 ounces provides half your daily requirement of vitamins A and C. It’s also a good source of folate, potassium, fiber, and calcium. It's also high in antioxidants, protecting you from cancer, inflammation and coronary disease.
Make sure you are buying fresh broccoli rabe. Look at the base of the stalks for a cream color (not dark). They should be crisp, not floppy. The leaves should not be floppy or dried out and the buds should be bright green. If they are yellowed, pass them by.
It's natural bitterness is lessened with cooking and pairs well with strong flavors like pork sausages or starchy things, like pasta, rice and potatoes. If you like it milder, just cook a bit longer, or after blanching in very salty water (the way you cook pasta), remove from the water, drain and then saute in olive oil. (In Puglia, they tend to omit the blanching in water). As for the stalks, if they are large, peel them first before cooking, they same way you would peel asparagus. If you are using the florets, throw them into the pan after stems or leaves... they are tender and cook fast. If you are growing your own and your plants have started to bolt and produce yellow flowers, it's not a total waste (see below about plants "bolting"), just snip the edible flowers to toss into soups or salads or to top off your plating.
How to Grow Broccoli Rabe from Heirloom Seeds
The only difficulty is that the seeds are very tiny. You can sow them directly in the garden, but then thin the seedlings as soon as possible to 4 - 6 inches apart. You can use the seedlings right away by washing and tossing into your salads and soups.
When to grow broccoli rabe is up for debate. While it is considered a cool weather crop, like turnips, lettuces or radishes, many old Italians will tell you that they grow it all year long--even when the weather turns hot. You can plant seeds right after the last frost, but need to grow smaller and faster growing varieties... and remember to cut and harvest just as the florets are forming... not after.
Interestingly, varieties might have numerical names that correspond to their growing cycle, such as Quarantina (40 days), Sessantina (60 days) or Novantina (90 days), but regardless of the name, you need to pay attention to the plants and harvest immediately as soon as you see the florets forming... and all varieties tend to form flowers earlier than the seed packets claim. Wait too long--a day or two--and your plants will bolt (stop growing leaves and put their energy into producing seed). If this happens, this bitter plant will instantly turn into that proverbial bitter pill.
Stalks will store in your refrigerator for about 10 days, so it's best to stagger the planting of your seed into batches a week or more apart to ensure a fresh supply during the growing season.
One warning about growing broccoli rabe from seed... they tend to cross pollinate with other braccias like broccoli, turnips and even it's distant cousin, mustard. Don't plant braccias too close to each other.
If you want an authentic way to make the famous dish from Puglia, Cime di Rapa, check out this video with Gennaro Contaldo, from the Two Greedy Italians cooking show from BBC... Favoloso!
Here is a great little recipe video from our friends at Cucina Fanpage... Standing Rigatoni in a Mug. This version backs the mug in the oven, like an individual casserole. There is another version done in a microwave, but I prefer this baking method.
Click on the photo above to see the video.
If you want to see how to make a larger version for a large gathering, try our recipe, Torta Rigatoni Piede Bolognese al Forno (baked Standing Rigatoni with Bolognese).
When I was a boy, my father would often cook when my Mom was out with her "lady friends" to take in a Broadway show or an evening in a Manhattan night club. His style of cooking was something very different from my mother's... He would look into our old Philco refrigerator, see what was leftover or what vegetables we had, and somehow--without a recipe--whip something up to satisfy us for dinner.
When I'd ask what we were going to have for dinner, he just say a dialect word which to my ears sounded like "ba-BOOK-ya", with the "ya" part trailing off becoming nearly imperceptible. I knew the adventure was about to begin...
Recently, I was determined to research this word, even though I was unsuccessful in finding out its meaning in past attempts. But this time, I asked the friendly people in the I Love Molfetta Facebook page... and hit pay dirt!
As it turns out, the word is papocchio...
(or papocchia), pronounced "pah-POH-kee-yo". Now that I see it spelled out, I can picture my father pronouncing the "P"s almost like "B"s, with his soft-mouthed, mumbling Molfettese manner of speaking. Words are blended in his dialect. The end of words sort of trail off. So, "ba-BOOK-ya" fits perfectly with my memory!
Papocchio can have multiple meanings: Intrigue, cheating, trickery, a mess. Shockingly, I have even discovered that the word was used by northern Italians to refer to someone messing up a situation, in the "typical Southern Italian style", or "papocchio". Wow! Northern Italians had many such words and idioms that denigrated the Southern Italian. So, in this context, a "papocchio" is described as a screw-up not worthy of being considered a Northern Italian.
The sarcastic use of the word was used as the title of the 1980 comedy film Il Pap'occhio--the Pope's Eye. They took the meaning of the word "papocchio" and added the ' between the "pap" and "occhio" forming the compound word for Pope's Eye. It was such an irreverent look at the corruption of the Pope and the church that the film was shut down with two weeks of its release.
What does all this have to do with Dad's "ba-BOOK-ya" recipe? Not much, but it does give a lot of historical perspective to the word papocchio. When I asked my Dad for its meaning, he motioned with his hands with his fingers stretched out with a twisting movement, "When I was a kid we'd put everything in one bowl or pot... (hands twisting) all mixed up".
He told how his poor immigrant family would gather around the table for the family meal, each having their own fork but only one big bowl in the middle of the table. He said that they would use whatever they had that day to make the meal... a tomato or two (if in season, grown in their tiny Hoboken backyard), some ramps (wild onions picked near the railroad tracks), broken up pieces of stale bread, potatoes, smelt or eel or crab (if he or his brothers caught any that day on the river), a bit of cheese, some salt and olive oil. Sometimes he would fry the leftover ingredients to heat everything together in a large pan. Other times he would make a sort of cold rice or pasta salad. He also liked to make a frittata using eggs as the base for all the found leftover ingredients. Mom had her mainstay recipes, but with Dad, it was as if he was a stand-up comic doing an improvisational skit--being able to handle whatever the audience threw at him.
Ecco... Ba-BOOK-ya... Papocchio!
Recipe? Not really...
Here is the simple method of how my father, Sal might have thrown a papocchio together for a weekday meal.
If you have small bowls, portion out the dish. Otherwise, everyone grab a fork and dig in, but no fighting! Serve with crusty bread and a glass of red wine on ice mixed with 7-Up.
That's the way Dad would have done it...
Who Says There's No Such Thing as Spaghetti and Meatballs in Italy? - Discover Pallottine from Abruzzo
In the province of Teramo, in Abruzzo there is a recipe that rivals the Sugo of the Neapolitan tradition: Chitarra con Pallottini. If there is any ancestor of Italian-American style "spaghetti & meatballs" (a dish that doesn't exist in Italy), then this is it...
Let me explain the name first. Chitarra means guitar in Italian, but in this case it refers to the pasta making tool called a chitarra because it's wire strings resemble a guitar (OK, perhaps it looks more like a zither or auto-harp, but let's not quibble.) The chitarra is used to make a type of spaghetti with a square edged profile, called Pasta alla Chitarra. A thin sheet of fresh pasta is laid on top of the chitarra and a small matterello pin is rolled over the pasta to squeeze it down and through the wires, creating the square sides. The pasta falls below, picked up and dried or cooked fresh. Kids would love to help make this pasta. The name of this type of pasta has taken on the name chitarra.
As for the Pallottini... palla means ball, the "-ini" ending means they are small. Small isn't the word. These Abruzzo meatballs are absolutely tiny. When I made this recipe, it took me well over an hour to make 268 tiny pallottine from about 3 pounds of minced, lean chuck. (Yes, I counted them). I should have waited until my son, Lucas came home from school to help me! While making them, I discovered that it was difficult to make the pallotine as small as the ones I found in authentic Abruzzese recipes. Mine came out around 3/4 inch in diameter... instead of the 1/2" or smaller seen in Abruzzo. The problem was trying to pinch a small enough bit of meat in between the tips of my fingers. Perhaps using a 1/4 teaspoon measure would have worked better. Tiny fingers and hands of young children would be perfect for the task, but knowing how tedious this task is, more than likely it would be considered as child labor.
On Sundays, when Neapolitan nonnas and mamas are making their Sugo, the kitchens in Abruzzo are filled with similar scents of Nonnas making their Sugo, pasta alla chitarra and pallottine. Traditionally, the dish is accompanied by a rich meat and tomato based Sugo rather than a simple marinara sauce. The sugo is slow-cooked all day with lamb, beef, and pork added to a large pot of crushed tomatoes. The sauce isn't finished until the meat easily falls or shreds apart and can be mixed into the sugo. In my recipe, I slow cooked the pallottine with crushed tomatoes and spices, leaving out the other meats. My thinking was that 3 pounds of tiny meatballs will still add loads of meaty flavor to the resulting sugo.
Some claim that Chitarra con Pallottini is a dish from the Piedmont region in the north from the early 20th century. In Abruzzo people have been making and eating pallottini since the early 1800s, a full 100 years earlier. To add to the confusion, a recent report by an Italian expert in archeological gastronomy discovered a Piedmont recipe in a monk's cookbook dated 1344 that described tiny meatballs used in a rice and pork blood dish. Wherever it stemmed from, this dish is unique and well worth making...
Since I didn't have a Chitarra when I made this recipe, I used some 3/4 inch wide tagliatelle for my dish. I also changed up the recipe a bit from the originals I found. They tend to use nothing but ground beef, one egg and a sprinkle of nutmeg to make the pallottini. I wanted to add a bit more flavor, so I added a very small minced of garlic (in a jar, imported from Italy) and since these meatballs were SO tiny, I couldn't use fresh diced onions as I do in normal sized polpette. Instead, I used dried onion flakes, knowing they would re-hydrate when added to the meat mixture.
I won't get into the recipe for the traditional Sugo here, but if you like, you can make my recipe HERE. Otherwise, for a fresher sauce, make a quick marinara with crushed tomatoes, a bit of sugar, and a decent amount of dried basil.
3 pounds of lean, chopped (minced) chuck/beef
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
2 teaspoon minced garlic (in jar)
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
40 cracks fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 beaten egg
In a large mixing bowl, mix the minced chuck with the beaten egg, the minced garlic and all the other dry spices. Get in there with your hands and mix really well, until you are certain that each and every tiny meatball will get an assortment of garlic, onion flakes and other spices.
Lay out several sheets of wax paper on your work counter and start making the pallotine. If using your bare hands, barely pinch a little bit of meat mixture in between the tips of your thumb and two forefingers. Roll the meat into a ball shape between your palms. As I mentioned, the pallottine should be less than 3/4 inch around. If you want to try a 1/4 teaspoon measure, this might help to measure out a smaller amount.
Once you finished making all of the pallottine, heat a large saute pan with light olive oil filled to a depth of 3/4 inch deep. If you would like to brown the pallottine a bit more, you can use half the amount of oil, but you will have to pay much more attention to turning them as they brown. These tiny balls cook quickly!
Cook them in batches and remove with a slotted spoon, then place on a large baking tray covered with several layers of paper towels to drain.
When completed, you can place them in your marinara or Sugo and slowly simmer for about 1-1/2 hours or longer if you are adding them to a Sugo with several other meats.
So, the next time someone claims there is no such thing as Spaghetti and Meatballs in Italy, try winning a bar bet with your knowledge of Pallottine!
P.S. When I get my Chitarra tool, I'll update this article with photos of the Pallottine on top of fresh made Pasta alla Chitarra.