Roast Red Peppers and Parmesan

3 large red peppers
3 cloves garlic
Cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2  pound block Parmesan, Asiago or aged provolone cheese

Wash and dry the whole peppers. Rub a little olive oil on them. You can either grill them or broil them, but the technique is the same. Let them blacken on each side and turn. When the skins are completely blackened, let cool on a plate for 15 minutes or more. Do not place them in a plastic bag or cover, as some cooks advise. They will steam and become mushy.

To peel the peppers, simply rub the skin off. It will slide off easily. Do this over a plate to keep the juices from becoming messy. Pull the stem out and divide the pepper into 4 or 5 sections. Use a paper towel to wipe the seeds off the pepper pieces. Don’t rinse them. Place the peppers on a separate plate as you do.

Slice the peppers into long strips about 1/4-inch wide and slice each strip lengthwise in half. Place in a shallow bowl, alternating with thin slices of garlic and coarsely ground black pepper. Add a little olive oil and let marinate. Serve at room temperature. Use a cheese slicer to add a thin slice of cheese to each crostini.

Dates and Chorizo

This is adapted from Penelope Casas’ Tapas

1 package Linguica or Chorizo sausage
1 pound pitted dates
1 pound bacon
Toothpicks

Either sausage is available in area supermarkets. If you are using Chorizo, cut one sausage in 1/2-inch wide circles and cut each circle in half. If you are using Linguica, cut one sausage into 3-inch sections, then cut each section lengthwise into quarters. Cut the quarters into 1-inch lengths. Your goal is to have a  sausage piece that fits inside the date.

Cut the bacon slices into thirds.

To assemble, slice each date lengthwise to open it. Don’t cut the date in two pieces. Put a piece of sausage into the date and wrap with a piece of bacon. Use a toothpick to hold the bacon in place.

Heat your oven to 425 degrees. Place the dates in a Pyrex or ceramic baking dish and cook until the bacon is brown. Turn the pieces every 5 minutes so they brown evenly. Let the pieces cool on a plate.

To serve, place the pieces in a baking dish and heat at 375 degrees until the bacon is sizzling, about 5 minutes. Place in a ceramic serving dish. Warn your guests that the dates are hot.

Stuffed Calamari

1 pound calamari
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 egg, slightly beaten
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
ᄄ cup dried bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (if canned, drain them first)
1/2 cup white wine
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Most supermarkets sell the calamari cleaned. If not, rub off the purple skin, pull out the insides and the quill and wash thoroughly. Cut the tentacles off and wash well.

Chop the tentacles into small pieces and place in a bowl. Chop the garlic and add to the bowl. Mix with the oil, egg, cheese, bread crumbs, parsley, and salt and pepper. Spoon the stuffing into the calamari and use a toothpick, skewer or kitchen twine to close. I have a carpet needle that works great with kitchen twine. Do not overfill the calamari–the stuffing expands as it cooks.

Saute the sliced garlic cloves in the oil until they are fragrant. Add the calamari and saute until they are browned. Add the tomatoes and the wine, bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. You can stop at this point and reheat the calamari just before serving.

To serve, cut off the ends with the toothpicks or twine and discard. Slice the calamari into bite-sized pieces and either spear with a toothpick or serve with toothpicks. You can drizzle the pieces with the sauce, if you like.

A New Way to Cut Pasta

While I was at the CIA, I learned a great way to hand-cut pasta. Roll the dough out until it is a rectangle. Align with the long side facing you. Gently roll the dough towards the center and stop when you are there. Turn the dough around and repeat on the other side. It will be rolled up like a scroll. Slice the scroll into strips. When you are done, slide your knife under the roll to the center. Twist upward and lift. The strips will unroll on your knife. Pretty cool.

Mary DeFelice’s Tomato Sauce

This is the simplest tomato sauce I know and is complements a side dish of pasta like nothing else. I learned it from a woman I worked with in Cambridge a long time ago. You can mess with it, but try it as described below. It makes a perfectly clean-tasting sauce and is an especially good base for a red mussel or clam sauce.

Marcella Hazan talks about cooking a tomato sauce until the oil separates. If you watch, in about 15 minutes this sauce will develop a film of olive oil droplets. When it does, the sauce is done.
(Makes enough for four servings.)

Ingredients
1 can (28 oz.) ground peeled tomatoes
6 cloves garlic
Several TBS olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a 2 qt. saucepan over medium heat. Peel the garlic and flatten it slightly with the side of a knife. When you can smell the olive oil, toss the garlic in the oil. Sauté until the garlic is browned on both sides and remove.  Put the tomatoes in the saucepan and stir. Cook fifteen minutes. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

You can add fresh basil, cut into strips, and a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes. You can also add 2 lbs of mussels or clams, cover and cook until the shellfish are open. The sauce will get a little watery from the juice that the shellfish release so you want to serve it in bowls.

Alfredo Sauce

A white sauce, it is rich and creamy and goes extremely well with fresh noodles. The originals are made with cream and are delicious. However, I have made it with half and half or whole milk and it is also good. Sometimes you have to indulge and this is a good way to do it. If you are going to the trouble of making this, use freshly grated parmesan rather than the boxed “shaker cheese.” You really will taste the difference. Time this so that the pasta is cooked and drained by the time the sauce is ready.
(Makes enough for 4 servings)

Ingredients
1 ½ cups of milk, half and half, or light cream
3 TBS butter
3 TBS flour
salt
nutmeg
½ cup freshly grated parmesan
more cheese for serving.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to mix. Cook the flour until it is slightly yellowish. You don’t want it to brown, just to lose the raw taste. Add a little of the milk or cream and stir. Add a little more and mix until the roux is incorporated. Add the rest and bring to a low boil. Add salt and several gratings of fresh nutmeg (1/4 tsp of ground).

Immediately turn the heat down and let the sauce bubble and thicken for 10 minutes or so. Stir in the parmesan and stir. Add some of the cooked pasta and stir to cover the pasta with the sauce. Keep adding pasta until you have added it all or reached the limits of your pan.  Dump the sauce and pasta into a large bowl. Add any remaining pasta and stir. Serve immediately with additional parmesan.

In Search of Fresh Pasta: Homemade Pasta without a Machine

Cookbooks divide food into two categories: savories and sweets. Savories are protein—appetizers and entrees, meats and vegetables, lunches and dinners. Sweets tend to involve dough. Some claim that savories cooks are artists, improvising freely, while sweets cooks are scientists, measuring everything. This is as true as any generalization, but it did scare me away from making dough.

However, all my recipes for Bolognese Sauce asked for fresh tagliatelle. My family loved pumpkin ravioli and kept asking me to make them. I was not about to buy a pasta machine. (Didn’t Thoreau say, “Beware of recipes that require expensive equipment that you’ll never use again.”) Instead, I researched fresh pasta. I wanted to do the “real” stuff, the pasta that Italian grandmothers have been making for centuries with nothing but a rolling pin and a cutting board. The rolling pin should be long and straight, nothing tapered and not the kind with handles that roll separately. The cutting board should be wooden and as large as you have.

Marcella Hazan had a good recipe—flour and eggs, nothing more. She gave the proportions and a little trick to rolling out the dough. It seemed authentic and it required learning a technique rather than buying equipment. My first batch was stiff and nearly unrollable and looked more like fat Chow Foon noodles when it was cooked. It was, however, tasty, and I was encouraged. Every Sunday night, in preparation for the Sopranos, I made a different Bolognese Sauce and fresh tagliatelle. I could not master Marcella’s technique and longed for an Italian grandmother to teach me the tricks.

In October 2002, during Books and Cooks (a United Way fundraiser in which celebrity chefs cook from their latest cookbooks in conjunction with local restaurants), I asked both Mario Batali, and Lidia Bastianich how they made fresh pasta. Mario shrugged and asked about my machine. “Only a rolling pin and a cutting board” I said. He brightened visibly and started talking. “You give it a little push at the end to stretch it,” he said, demonstrating. “I made two kilos of fresh pasta every day for six months,” he told me, “And then I knew how to make it.”

Lidia had a different technique, but she, too, demonstrated on an imaginary rolling pin. “Always use a wooden rolling pin and cutting board,” she said. “They give the pasta some texture.” Both techniques involved pushing the dough to stretch it once it was rolled thin. Both suggested a teaspoon of oil and salt and adding drops of water until the dough was right.

Success! The oil helped tremendously and my hands finally understood what pushing and stretching the dough felt like. I wouldn’t want to go mano a mano with an authentic Italian grandmother, but I can hold my own. I can whip out a double batch of tagliatelle in a little over an hour of work. And for Thanksgiving this year, I made pumpkin ravioli with a Sage-Butter Sauce.

Originally published, Daily Hampshire Gazette, January 31, 2003

Recipes 

Fresh Pasta

Bolognese Sauce

Alfredo Sauce

Mary DeFelice’s Tomato Sauce