June 27, 2008

Gragnano Pasta- Stuffed Rigatoni

From the farm to the table in Gragna

On our day trip to Gragnano, where one of the BEST pasta's in Italy is made, our lunch was on a working farm.

Driving past the village itself, I saw the factory for the Faella pasta company right in the main part of town. The pasta from Gragnano is famous not only because of the quality of the wheat they use for the pasta, but the long slow drying of the pasta, which gives the pasta more flavor and body.

One of my favorites is a spaghetti packaged under the label VERACE

Other famous brands you may see are:

Here is a link to a list of some of the producers
from a festival they had to promote the Pasta from Gragnano, you will find the links to the websites of the producers.

Look for any of these pastas.
They come in a variety of shapes and forms, each one best with a certain type of sauce.
There is an article in the Washington Post on the pasta from Gragnano

When we arrived at the agritourismo, which means a working farm where you can also stay overnight,

the view from the main bedroom!

All the fruit trees were all bearing fruit, I also saw my first hazelnuts growing

After my last post on the Mac and Cheese day, I was asked for the recipe for the pasta I had at lunch.
here is the before foto

These are Rigatoni stuffed with ricotta cheese and breaded and baked.
They are served on a light tomato sauce

Here is the recipe:

First one must understand the cooking of the pasta.

Pasta 101

  • cook the pasta in salted water, use sea salt or kosher salt, this is very important part as the pasta absorbs the salt through osmosis during the cooking and adds flavor to the pasta.
  • Use a lot if water so the pasta has space to move around and not stick to itself while cooking.
  • do not add oil, the pasta is made of hard wheat flour, which contains gluten. The gluten in the pasta and the fact that they were extruded through bronze dies instead of teflon, creates a surface to hold the sauce to the pasta. Adding oil makes the pasta slippery and the sauce slides off.
  • DO NOT RINSE OFF THE PASTA, for the same reason as above, you want the starch from the pasta to hold the sauce on.
  • Keep some of the pasta water. Instead of adding cream to recipes or butter, some of the pasta water is the secret of all great chefs to the perfect sauce.
  • DO NOT DRAIN ALL THE WATER FROM THE PASTA. Again, same reasoning, you want a little of the water clinging to the pasta for the sauce.
DO NOT OVER COOK THE PASTA. You want the pasta "al dente"- this means with a little "bite" left in it. The pasta finishes cooking i the sauce.

OK, now you are ready to start cooking.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil
Add salt to taste (do not add the salt at the beginning, it takes longer to boil
and can spot the bottom of your pots).

Add the pasta and stir.

Control cooking time, usually 8- 10 minutes for this style of pasta, but depends in shape.

Most people use this time to make a light quick sauce.
Before draining the pasta reserve a ladle of the pasta water.

Drain the pasta, leaving some of the water on it and pour into sauce pan ( a large skillet)
and finish the cooking time.

If needed, add some of the reserved pasta water.
You can also add cheese now.

OK, now that you know how to cook the pasta, here is the recipe for the

Stuffed Rigatoni from the Casa Scola

Cook the rigatoni as above ( for this recipe they should be totally cooked, not al dente, but not falling apart)

Drain the rigatoni and rinse off to chill.

Separate the Rigatoni.

Stuff with Ricotta cheese( our ricotta is so flavorfull it needs nothing, if yours is bland add some grated parmesan and or a pinch of salt and or nutmeg.)
I use a disposable pastry bag to fill the tubes.

Roll the tubes in a beaten egg, covering also the ends, then in bread crumbs.

Place on a baking sheet, covered with baking paper.

Lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Bake at 350 in the middle of the oven until golden, 5-10 minutes depending on your stove.

When the tubes are golden, remove from the serving tray and serve as in the foto.

on a small ladle of tomato sauce and topped with shaved provolone cheese.


Your family will kiss you!

Baci from Gragnano!

June 21, 2008

Nocino- Nocillo

A local liquor, made both in Florence and in Naples, with unripe walnuts, picked on June 24th,St John the Baptist's day. He is the patron Saint of Florence and during the old pagan calender June 24th was the summer soltice!

France has their Vin di Noix, walnut wine, also made on the 24th.

I have found recipes using white wine in Italy to dilute the alcohol instead of simple syrup,
much like the French recipe which uses red wine.

When I was at my friend Kate's in France, I went to the pharmacy where I bought the ingredients for making a fabulous vermouth,
using the same principles. First steep the aromatics in alcohol, then add sugar and wine to create a fabulous aperitif!

In France, I used bitter orange zest and quinine bark with other aromatics.
It is still one of my summer favorites, served on ice.

So if you have access to a walnut tree, you have time to go and gather them
and make your own!

Nocino or Nocillo
Italian Walnut Liquor

Part 1
30 walnuts, green & unripe
1 liter of 95% alcohol, Everclear *

Part 2
the zest of 1 large lemon, in large pieces
use a potato peeler to zest the lemon.
2 cinnamon sticks
5 cloves
( 13 coffee beans, a new addition I got from Naples)

Part 3
Make a simple syrup by boiling together water and sugar

3-4 cups sugar ( I like mine less sweet so use 3 cups of sugar)
4 cups water

Clean the walnuts with a damp towel and cut in quarters.
(Be careful; they will stain your hands!)

Place in a large jar, with the alcohol and let sit for 24 hours in the sun, and cover with a lid.

Add the rest of the ingredients, part 2.
Shake the jar once a day for 40 days, leaving it in the sun!

Filter and add the simple syrup, cooled, part 3.

Let age for another month.

Serve in tiny glasses at the end of a meal.

I love to drizzle the liqueur over vanilla ice cream. Some people save the walnut pieces, cover them with sherry, and serve them chopped as dessert.

* Everclear in Italy is 95% alcohol which is 190 proof and not for drinking straight.
When I was in California, I found whole grain alcohol,
but it was 75% alcohol( 150 proof), not 95%.

This is why you learned fractions in school!
With the 95% alcohol,
if you cut the infusion in half by adding an equal part of the simple syrup,
you create a 47% nocino which is 95 proof and drinkable, like a 100 proof vodka.

Using the California whole grain, if I do equal parts infusion and simple syrup,
I get a 33% nocino, which is much lighter.

If you want to make it less alcoholic, increase the amount of simple syrup.

2 parts of simple syrup to one part infusion gives you a 33% alcohol nocino with the 95%
but with the Californian version would be 25%, very light.

Often recipes suggest using 100 proof Vodka in the states.
That only needs sugar added.
Here is my vodka version.

In doing my research I also found recipes that included: quinine bark, dried rose buds and orange rind.

Everyone has a version. I hope you enjoy creating your own.

Let me hear about your results.

My husband says I am a bit of a strega, witch, when I start making my potions,
but I adore the alchemy that has been passed on through the ages.

June 19, 2008

When Life Gives You Lemons!

I always say,

"When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello!"

our guide Sonia

lemons and oranges for sale inside the Giardini di Cataldo

How can one not adore lemons?
They are like liquid sunshine.

a slice of the famous lemons from Sorrento, notice the thick, but edible, pith

On my trip to Naples we were also lucky enough to be able to
visit a limoncello producer.

Salvatore Esposito has a fabulous story.

His family has cared for the I Giardini di Cataldo, since the 1800's.

Entrance to the Gardens

The Gardens now belong to the city.
When the gardens were private property, his family cared for them.
When the last owner died,Achille Lauro, leaving the gardens to the city,
his family maintained the rights to maintain and use the gardens
and the lemons and oranges grown there.

From the I Giardini di Cataldo site; Cataldo in the citrus groves

Salvatore named the gardens after his father, Cataldo, who took the citrus orchards to a new level, grafting the lemons to orange trees to increase production.

You may taste and purchase his products right there in the shade of the trees
or in Rome , P.zza Risorgimento, 11

We visited his workshop and then did tastings in the garden.

He produces Lemon Liquer ( he won't call it limoncello) as well as Orange, Wild Fennel, Walnut (Nocillo),
a fabulous Licorice flavored liquore made using the wonderful Licorice from Calabria and
also sells jars of lovely tiny Baba al Limoncello.

After we all went for gelato at his shop right in front of the entrance to the gardens.
What could have been more perfect?

There is a constant war going on as to where Limoncello began,

Capri, Amalfi or Sorrento.

Each has their own fabulous lemons,each a little different.

But call it limoncello, limoncino, lemoncello or liquore al limone.

The most important part of the recipe
is the lemon!

The lemons here are HUGE, so when a recipe calls for 5 lemons
you may need 10 smaller ones to get the same essence.

If you would like to make your own limoncello,
I have written a lovely little step-by-step book
which is illustrated by my friend Angie.

To order just email me!


Cost is $5 plus shipping

Don't forget to stop by and check out this weeks recipe from Barb in Umbria
for La Buona Cucina Americana

for Cole Slaw, a perfect summer salad now that summer has arrived!

June 13, 2008

American Food Friday-Mac and Cheese

The Diva ( center) with other writers on the Naples Trip

But it is American Food Friday!

Here is Bleeding Expresso's Friday Mac and Cheese
no matter where you live I think this is comfort food.

I like mine baked in the oven after to get a crunchy top,
with some breadcrumbs
and usually use rigatoni pasta.
Living in Italy we can certainly pump it up
with all the great pasta and cheeses we get here.
Think about creamy gorgonzola, mozzarella with cherry tomatoes, 4 cheese!

Here is a new version I just had outside of Sorrento
A very elegant ricotta stuffed Rigatoni ( called mezze-candele here)
lightly breaded and toasted or fried
laying in a light tomato sauce!
This is the next recipe I am going to work on for you!
let me know if you are interested!

A long way from the 4/$1 boxes with yellow powdered questionable cheese which was a comfort food even back then, adding peas and a can of tuna to dress it up!

Here in Italy, the softest melting cheese ( questionable too) are the sottilette, which Michele of Bleeding Expresso uses, BUT once again, they are a vital part of comfort food for Italians too.

We use them on our twice-cooked fennel and the beef braciole with garlic and capers
that both come from my hubbies mom's recipes.
Nothing like making Mom food here in Italy!

Grazie Michele!

I have just returned from my Naples tour!
WOW... what a whirlwind trip.

Was fabulous to be on the recieving end of a tour for a change
I was part of a press trip with a group of British writers
and we saw Naples, Positano, Amalfi and my new love Sorrento!

the Giardini Di Cataldo production center in Sorrento

I had visited Amalfi when I first moved here,
and it may have been having a truck almost run me off the road
( we were run into a guardrail and it crushed the bumper into the tire
and gave us a flat tire and we were stuck on the curve!)
or perhaps just feeling carsick, that trip,
but even this trip,
Amalfi is the most touristy of the towns we visited.

I did find fabulous candied lemon zest, dipped in Chocolate at the Andrea Panza chocolate shop
in Amalfi,
along with the delicate limoncello filled crystalized candies which were too delicate to travel.

I also adored my Cremosa di Caffe, which is replacing Granita in many shops.
Think of a cappucino granita,
coffee with cream and ice.
Rich but refreshing.

Thanks to Ulysse for insisting!

I am still digesting most of what I saw,
had to give you a taste!

I had so much fun and learnt so many more new things,
I am sure I will be taking my Divina Cucina friends on a Southern Italy
tour next June!

June 7, 2008

Off to Naples- not Florida

Green Acres,
the constant daily rain
is creating a palate of green in the hills
in Chianti

Getting ready to head down to Naples on a press trip,
now that I have a monthly column, I am a journalist!

I have written in the past for the local English language paper,
The Florentine, for Dream of Italy, Sally's Place
and other small publications.

Soon I hope to be able to get some articles in larger publications too!
My column appears in The American Magazine,
which is distributed with the International Herald Tribune here in Italy.

In preparing to leave, it means preparing food for my husband, Andrea.

I cannot go wrong if I make SUGO, Florentine ragu.
This time I turned it into a large tray of Tuscan silky lasagna.

If you have not had lasagna here, you are really in for a surprise.


Just light layers of pasta with ragu, bechamel sauce and grated parmesan cheese.

I use the use the dry pasta and do not preboil, making it easy to assemble.
You MUST make lasagna this way at least once,
it will change your life!

and for dessert
a cake called Mantovana, from Prato
I had it when I went to Da Delfina and my husband loved it.

It is a very simple cake, but needs the best ingredients.
When I was picking up some veggies, I told my husband to go and get eggs.

We scored!
Paola our vegetable lady in town with the shop, who has the farm at the bottom of our hill
also has eggs from her chickens.

the color is from the yolks

Here are two treasures I found at the Panzano flea market the first Sunday of the month.
Good score!!!

I am seeing a chocolate champagne bottle

and a really eclectic Panna Cotta in the mold on the right!

hope to write from Naples too
the program looks fabulous.

I first went to Naples when I moved here in 1984,
heading down to the Amalfi Coast and ended up in a car accident.
Damage to the car, not me!
Since I have returned several times,
I adore the Island if Ischia, with it's hot springs.

Pompeii was overwhelmingly larger than I expected.

One of my favorite experiences was when we went down to Naples
for the Christmas Creche festival in San Gregorio area of town.
I hope to see what it is like now, preparing for the holidays.

Of course FOOD!
Will try a new pizza place, more baba and sfogliatelle

and down to Sorrento, which means LIMONCELLO!

Ciao a dopo!

June 6, 2008

Wonderful Week

Our table with a view for our cooking class.

Sometimes in Italy, there is so much to do and really so little time.
This week was one of those weeks.

I began my new three day programs,
with a day in Chianti
followed by a cooking class

a market day with lunch and shopping in Florence.

This week we had a class with a view!
Overlooking the Forte Belvedere

The weather held out until dessert, when we went inside to enjoy our Cassata.
Nicola, our teacher, is from Catania and does both Tuscan cooking and Sicilian,
which is great as I am hooked on Sicily now too.

Nicola, our teacher

What's not to love in Italy?
There is still space available for my Sicily tour in October.

As summer kicks in
markets are really jumping.
This is San Ambrogio which is over by Cibreo restaurant.

San Ambrogio Market

Fresh Porcini to eat the caps grilled with nepitella, a wild mint and garlic
lightly floured and fried

fresh porcini, 24€ a kilo, which is 2.2lbs

Fresh Borlotti beans for Steve

if you are lucky you can buy beans already shelled too, but the color is fabulous

and since it is Friday!!!
Cherrye has written about her Good American Food
which is Tex-Mex!

If anyone needs a recipe on making your own flour tortilla's let me know!
In one of my many past-lives here in Florence,
I hand-made 50 flour tortilla's a day for the first Tex-Mex place here!
What was I thinking!

At the beginning of this week, the other mom cat showed up with two more kittens
now we have 9!

and last but not least...

I attended a book signing for my friend and assistant for the last 4 years
Perla Trambusti!

She and Miriam published a collection of short stories
for SoleOmbra

Life in Italy is never dull!

I hope you can come and experience some of the intense life that has inspired
so many great people
and begin your own personal renaissance, where it all started!