Cooking lessons

Aglio, olio & peperoncino, the trinity of midnight spaghetti.

When thinking to pasta the first that comes to my mind is spaghetti, and when thinking to spaghetti the first is with tomato sauce, but the second is Aglio Olio e Peperoncino, because is the recipe good for any occasion, is the pasta that feed everybody and make everybody happy, and most important is the pasta that you can make when your pantry is empty.

That’s why if you ask any italian about this pasta, it will recall memories of an unexpected visit and improvised meal, a late night “spaghettata” after a hangout with friends or the everyday pasta when you don’t have time or you don’t want to cook anything too sophisticated.

The Ingredients

When your pantry is empty and your fridge is lonely, when you live in Italy, you still have a bottle of olive oil, a clove of garlic forgotten somewhere, dry chilly pepper or powder and of course spaghetti!

Like for any simple recipe it’s essecial the quality of the ingredients and the quality of execution, here we are talking about extravirgin olive oil and pasta al dente.

– serve 4 people

  • 6 tablespoon evoo
  • 2 clove of garlic
  • 1 chilly pepper
  • 400gr spaghetti

The Procedure (watch the video)

In a pan warm up the oil togheter with the cloves of garlic crashed and the chilly pepper at taste, turn off the heat just before the garlic brown, to avoid the bitter taste.

In abundant boiling water add one handfull of salt and cook the spaghetti, strain one minute before the timing reported on the package and put your pasta in the pan with the hot olive oil, saute for a minute adding a cup of the pasta water. as the sauce reduce  little bit is time to serve.

Now there are several versions and opinions on the last garnish, never forget it’s a pasta made with what you have at home, so you can add fresh parsley or parmigiano on top, at your taste.

An honourable mention goes to the spicy mix made in Tuscany from a friend, you add 2 teaspoon of this dry mix to the oil and the job is done, we tried last weekend and is very surprising and hot!

Buon Appetito

Panzanella – Traditional Tuscan bread salad

Ingredients for 6 people

600 g of two-day old Tuscan bread

6 Ripe but firm tomatoes

1 Red onion

1 Cucumber of your favorite kind

A handful of basil leaves

6 Spoonfuls of red wine vinegar

3 Four-finger pinches of salt

The secret to get a good Panzanella lies in knowing how to soak the bread having good olive oil extravirgin and excellent vinegar.

but if you follow my instructions you will all become master panzanella makers!

 

PREPARATION

On the table in front of you, from left to right (if you are right-handed, otherwise do it the opposite) put: the old bread cut in slices one finger high; the basin full of cold water, and the empty salad bowl.

Soak the slices one at a time for 5 seconds, then use your hands to squeeze all the water out.

Then break the bread up into big chunks in the salad bowl.

The bread must be wet, but also soft and spongy; if you keep it in the water too long, you will end up with a pulp which will not blend well with the fresh vegetables.

Now you have done most of the job! Cut the tomatoes into thumb-sized pieces, slice the onion into thin rings, break the basil with your fingers, peel and cut the cucumber into thin round slices.

Now you just need to add the seasoning – oil, salt and vinegar.

Mix softly using your hands, so as not to spoil the texture.

Let it cool off in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving.

Farmers used to make this dish during the harvest season to refresh themselves, and it was often brought directly to the fields by their wives, not to waste time going back home for lunch.

A poor dish, often accompanied by wine diluted with water, was good to slake thirst without being heavy. The recipe is very old: 700 years ago, Giovanni Boccaccio, poet of our town, used to call it “Pan lavato”, “washed bread”. Tomatoes were added after the discovery of the new world. The name seems to be a combination of “pane”, bread and “alzanella”, an old word for large salad bowl.

P – for Pasta: fresh, handmade & delicious

Raise your hand if you’re a homemade pasta lover!

One thing I have noticed throughout the years, is that usually making fresh pasta is the favorite part of my cooking classes for our guests. I mean, let’s admit it, everybody loves the italian-style fresh pasta, and if you’re visiting Italy, pasta is one of the reasons why you’re here! So delicious, savory and somewhat chewy, fresh pasta can be complemented with almost everything from cheese to vegetables, meat, fish and even chocolate! Plus, if cleverly accompanied by the right wine, it makes the perfect Italian meal.

It’s been decreed one of the healthiest and most nourishing dishes worldwide, as part of the mediterranean diet, so why be limited to just eating pasta at the restaurant every once in a while, when you can make it from scratch at home, whenever you wish.

Now, I know from my experience that cooking a dish of fresh pasta could sound rather intimidating for those who’ve never tried before, or have only seen it on TV. But I have some good news for you all, and according to my experience again, I can guarantee you that even a ten-year-old can do this, and you’ll never go back to buying fresh pasta again.

There’s something magic about making pasta at home the old way, that no one has yet managed to figure out. I myself have been doing it for years now, and every time I still have fun just like the old days.

It could be the marvel of feeling the dough coming together between your hands, or maybe the relaxing process of kneading and shaping, but as soon as you get your hands on and start doing it, you’d never want to stop. Then as you go, your fantasy gets lighten up and you begin experimenting all different kind of shapes and fillings for your dough, and before you know it, you find yourself inviting your friends over for a meal and getting all the compliments and “aaaw”s and “oooh”s for your fresh Italian-style dishes.

It can get really fun and become a social activity to share with your kids too; and don’t worry about the flour dust, streaked aprons and flaky bits of dough crusted on the kitchen counter. It doesn’t have to be a demanding work, so don’t loose heart if you don’t get it the first time. Just go for it and then keep trying. All you need is “an open heart and a positive attitude”, as my son Luca always says to our guests.

pasta-fresh-handmade-flour

We don’t need another pasta recipe

If you google fresh pasta you’ll find loads of recipes and every one will be different from the others, because every family has its own tradition when it comes to making pasta. So my intention isn’t just to give you one more fresh pasta recipe, but rather some helpful tips that I always share during my cooking classes.

My guests always appreciate the little tricks and tips I reveal and become more confident as they go, letting loose and having so much fun, which in the end, is the main purpose of this experience, don’t you agree?

So what’s really important is to have the right type of flour. My fail-proof recipe is based on the high-protein, finely milled “00” wheat flour, but if you have issues finding it, you can just go with the plain flour, or mix 2 parts of it with 1 part of semolina flour: this will add that slightly rougher texture that’ll help seasonings stick better to your pasta.

On a wooden or marble counter, start building a so-called “fountain” and break the eggs right in the middle, making sure they are well contained by the flour around them. Then add just a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of extravirgin olive oil. Use a fork to break the eggs and start mixing them reaaally slow, keeping everything inside the flour fountain, until everything is fully incorporated and you get a smooth uniform texture.

Now here comes the fun part! I know in modern times you may be used to getting things done quickly and with an extra help from your stand mixer, but kneading by hand is another story. It really makes you feel the dough coming together and it somehow connects you to the whole process. All you have to do is press and push with your wrist, then fold the dough over and again press and push. Just go ahead and knead it like this until it’s smooth and firm, it’ll take no more than 10-12 minutes.

Using hands gives you the chance to check when your pasta dough is ready – if you feel it’s still sticky, just dust the counter with more flour and keep kneading until firm and dry.

Another important step in making pasta, is to give your dough the necessary time to relax and loose elasticity; that’ll keep it from shrinking or pull back as you stretch it, making it easier for you to roll it flat and shape it. Let’s say about 10 minutes at room temperature, covered by a cotton cloth, should be enough. This’ll also give you the time to reorder the kitchen counter and prepare the pasta machine for shaping, or get the filling ready if you’re into making filled-pasta.

Common forms of fresh pasta have long shapes, such as tagliatelle, fettuccine, spaghetti, linguine or our specialty Tuscan pici, flat shapes such as maltagliati, or sheets for lasagna, short shapes like orecchiette, cavatelli, farfalle, trofie and filled or stuffed shapes such as cannelloni or ravioli, cappelletti and tortellini.

Of course Italy has a very deep-rooted tradition for pasta dishes, and that is why every region has its own traditional pasta shapes and names, that can be totally different from the common ones you are used to. I always suggest to search for and taste the local and regional specialties while visiting any part of Italy, because you’ll never find the same dish cooked alike from one place to another.

Cutting the pasta in the desired shape is also an important part of the process, as you have to pay attention to spread it as thinly as possible and always keep some flour handy, so you won’t get a sticky bundle instead of your tagliatelle nest… I always say to my guests, we want them to be fluffy, fluffy, fluffy, it makes them laugh a lot, but in the end is the one thing they remember the most. So to get that, you need to sprinkle some flour over the shaped pasta and then jiggle it with your hands.

When making filled pasta like ravioli, the most important trick is to press the edges well with your fingertips or a fork to seal the dough, so they won’t open while boiling. And of course, flour again to prevent them from sticking together when cooked.

If you’re not cooking pasta immediately, just let it dry on a baking sheet for a few minutes, sprinkled with flour, then fold it gently to form the nests. You can let it dry some more and then wrap it up and store in the fridge for no more than 2 days. However, I do advise you to taste it fresh, as you make it.

Cooking pasta is another important step of the process, as you need to pay attention to the time: it will only take 5-7 minutes to cook fresh pasta, unlike the dried one, which needs considerably more boiling. Dip your shaped pasta into a pot of plentiful salted boiling water and add just a touch of olive oil, so the strands won’t stick together. For fresh filled pasta, always use a gentle flame and keep the water simmering instead of boiling, so your ravioli won’t break.

One more thing that I always recommend, is to taste everything you cook; so to make sure it has reached the perfect cooking poin and has a good balance with the salt, just pick a piece of boiling pasta with a fork or some tongs, and give it a bite. Careful though, don’t get burned!

Needless to say that pasta is at its best when cooked “al dente”, so as soon as you feel it’s tender but still firm when bitten, just drain it. At this point, you should keep the sauce or chosen condiment on hand, because pasta needs to be seasoned and stir-fry immediately.

Now all you need is your family and friends gathered around the table and a good glass of wine to go with your wonderful fresh homemade pasta. Enjoy!