Who doesn't love pasta?!?
Last night we cooked out of Pasta et Cetera. Josee di Stasio's newest book recently translated into English. Full of classic Italian pasta recipes like Bolognese, Carbonara, and Pesto.
Besides the fact that I'm a big fan of the author, the recipes are very simple to read with lots of full colour pictures throughout. On a recent visit from Josee in the fall for a book signing, we prepared the Bolognese sauce, rich with wine, milk and ground veal and pork, as well as the white bean bruschetta and fig-chocolate sausage.
This is what we made last night.
Basic Tomato Sauce
As easy as it sounds, most people don't know how to make a basic tomato sauce from scratch. So i figured being that it's a pasta class, teaching people the basics should be on the menu. The recipe does state the truth, it is definitely basic. Basic ingredients, basic techniques, and basic flavours. To me, in order to make a proper tomato sauce, it's all in the type of tomatoes you use.
The recipe called for garlic, canned tomatoes, parsley and basil. We started by slowly cooking thinly sliced garlic in olive oil until golden. Then added in a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes. If you have never used San Marzano tomatoes in a tomato sauce, you should start. The great thing about these tomatoes is the balance of acid and sugars. In other canned tomatoes, the acid content is rather high. That's why most people will add in a bit of sugar into their sauce to balance the acidity. When useing San Marzano tomatoes, you don't need to do that.
After adding in the tomatoes, we allowed it to simmer for about 20 minutes, ollowing some of the water to cook off and thicken. For some added flavour, I added in the rind of a piece of parmesan. The rind will become soft and give the sauce a little extra boost of flavour.
Earlier in the afternoon I made some fresh spaghetti by using the pasta attachment on the Kitchen-Aid. The pasta only took seconds in the boiling water and then tossed with the sauce. Some freshly chopped parsley, basil and grated parmesan to finish and it was done.
So simple and satisfying.
A couple notes on the recipe. I followed along pretty well. I didn't change anything about this recipe. Usually I add onion into the sauce, but I thought I would stick to it and not add it in. I like the idea of adding some onion to the sauce and you can if you decide to make it yourself. By the time we were eating it though, we forgot it didn't have any. So I guess it's good either way.
I also have to apologize for the empty plate. We ate it all up before I could take a picture. We were just so excited and hungry to dive into it, taking a picture wasn't at the top of the list. At least it was only Spaghetti and Tomato Sauce. Just imagine the best spaghetti and tomato sauce possible and that was it :)
Next was the Pesto. I think this was my favorite of the night. I liked that it was a different kind of "pesto". Perfect for this time of year when basil isn't really in season. Again, rapini isn't a vegetable a lot of people go for. But if given the chance, the combination of sauteed rapini, garlic and pepper flakes is a thing of joy.
To start, we blanched the rapini for about 1 minute. Drained and then refreshed in cold water to stop the cooking and keep that bright green colour. After chopping it coarsely, I added it to the food processor along with a few cloves of garlic, some toasted pecans, olive oil, zest of a lemon, and a bit of anchovy paste. Pulsed it until it was coarsely chopped and seasoned with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, I boiled some veal tortellini I bought at the pasta place at Atwater Market. I addd the pesto into a large pan with some olive oil. Cooked it a bit so the anchovy and garlic flavours start to come out. The smell was amazing. The colours were so vibrant. I was drooling.
I added the tortellini to the pan, seasoned with a little salt and pepper and it was done.
I liked this dish. It was done in 20 minutes. Like I mentioned, the lemon zest and anchovy gave this dish something really special. You don't taste the anchovy, but you get the saltiness from it. I consider anchovy a seasoning, along with salt, pepper, chili and acid. It's there to accentuate the flavour of your food.
This dish would be the perfect weeknight meal. Little preperation, few ingredients, and really hearty.
Then it was the big one. We made the Eggplant-Ricotta Lasagna. Making lasagna in class sounds a bit much, but I planned it out pretty good. And I'm glad we did make it because it was really impressive.
In order for this lasagna to be cooked in the time we had, I had to prepare all the ingredients before hand. Earlier in the afternoon I started with the sauce. The recipe called for a double recipe of the Basic Tomato Sauce. Sinece I was making that sauce already, I figured we could make it a little different by adding some meat. So I purchased a couple of beef shank cuts from the butcher. Ones with a good size bone and a fair amount of meat. I seared them off in a pot, removed them and continued making my basic tomato sauce. Once the tomatoes were in, I added back the meat and allowed it to simmer for 2-3 hours until the meat was tender. Shank meat takes a really long time to tenderize. Once tender, I removed the meat, broke it up with a fork and added it back into the sauce. This meaty, rich sauce is a great alternative to using ground beef.
I also prepared the eggplant by cooking slices of it under the broiler. Very simple.
We assembled it at the beginning of the class. Layers of sauce, fresh lasagna noodles, a cheese mixture of provolone, parmesan, and mozzarella, and a Ricotta mixture with egg, parmesan and nutmeg. We placed it in the oven for 1 hour at 375* and she came out amazing.
I've made lasagna one other time in m life and it took me all day. This one was quick. It would be faster if you don't use the mean like me and keep it vegetarian. I also think using fresh pasta really makes a difference. The texture as well as the taste really makes it. You can buy flat lasagna noodles at the pasta guy at Atwater Market.
To finish off the evening we made the Fig-Pistachio Sausage. The name of it doesn't sound the most appealing, but after you taste it, you'll forget all about that.
It was really simple to mix together. Some melted bittersweet chocolate mixed with some dried figs, pistachios, and Rice Crispies, then rolled into a log shape and chilled.
The hardest part is rolling it though. The mixture is poured onto a piece of plastic wrap and molded and rolled into a tube. It has to chill for a couple hours to set. Once chilled, we rolled it in icing sugar to give it that sausage look. It looked like a sausage all right. It was a little difficult to slice. It crumbled a bit, but we got some good slices. The crumbled bits would be great over ice cream. The picture I took doesn't really do it justice. Also the fact I forgot to take a picture of a full plate of it. There was one lonely piece left once everyone left. But it was chocolaty, crispy, and sort of tasted like a fig newton. If you have this book, you should make it.
Josee di Stasios' Pasta et Cetera was pretty fun to cook out of. The recipes are really easy to follow. I of course made some alterations by using fresh pasta and adding meat to the lasagna. I wanted to try and make it a bit more complicated. But if you follow the recipes, you could have prepare a great meal in no time. These classic pasta dishes really represent the basis of Italian cooking, simple.
Next class: Ad Hoc at Home