HAM AND WHITE CREAM FUSILLI: a fast, easy, tasty and family friendly Italian style pasta

My American friends often ask me how it is that we never get tired of eating pasta. The truth is that of course during the week I try to alternate “pasta dinner” with “alternative meals” (meat, seafood or cheese), AND we have such a variety of dressings and so many different shapes of pasta that it is really hard to get bored eating it. A few of these different kinds of dressings have already been mentioned in my blog (pasta all’amatricinana , pasta alla carbonara, pasta with vegetables, fresh tomatoes sauce pasta, pasta aglio olio e peperoncino, prosciutto and tomaotes sauce pasta) and many more will be the subject of my future posts: ragu’ pasta, leeks and sausage pasta, tomato sauce pasta, tuna and tomatoes sauce pasta, ricotta and parmesan pasta, four cheese pasta, pasta with eggplant, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, and… well, I could just keep going on and on!!!

Today I would like to share with you one of my “SAVE DINNER” recipes, one of those meals you can fix in 20 minutes or less, and for which I always keep the few necessary ingredients in the pantry! I have to be clear that, in Italy, we have an ingredient called “panna da cucina” which is a kind of cream used very often for pasta sauces, risotto, and other dishes, and that, here in the U.S., I have learnt to substitute with something quite similar called “MEDIA CREMA” that can easily be found in the Mexican food department of any groceries store.

As I’ve already mentioned, this meal requires not more that the cooking time of the pasta (I would say between 15 to 20 minutes), it’s very rich, and is usually loved by kids. The flavor of the ham is amplified by the “crema”, and the pasta is creamy and appealing to even the pickiest eater.

 4-5 servings INGREDIENTS

1 pack fusilli (about 1 lb.)

1 pack boneless ham steak

3 tbs. olive oil

1 small can (225 ml. or 7.6 Fl. oz.) Crema Media

optional: 2 cloves of garlic peeled

black pepper

grated parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

Start heating a pot of salted water to cook the fusilli (if you want to be sure to cook your pasta in the authentic Italian Style, follow these easy directions).  In the meanwhile, cut the ham into small cubes.

When the water reaches boiling, toss the fusilli in to cook. Then, in a pan, add the olive oil and the garlic cloves. When it looks warm, add the ham cubes and sauté at medium heat for about five minutes, or until it looks lightly browned.

At this point, take away the garlic cloves, and add the “media crema”, stir and let it cook for a couple of minutes, always at medium heat until it gets dense. Switch off the heat and wait until the fusilli are completed cooked.

When the fusilli are cooked, drain them very well in the colander, but set aside a few tbs. of the hot water to mix with the sauce if, in the mean time, it has became too thick or dry (it must keep a creamy consistency). Then add a handful of grated parmesan cheese.

Pour  the fusilli in the sauce pan, mix very well to dress all the pasta evenly, and serve it, suggesting your guest to sprinkle a pinch of black pepper and another dust of parmesan cheese!

Easy, isn’t it?

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

TIPS: for my post I picked the fusilli shaped pasta, but every kind of short shaped pasta (penne, farfalle, maccheroni etc.) would fit perfectly with this sauce.

Here how penne would look like:-)

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

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Butternut Squash and Porcini risotto

In the five years I’ve lived in eastern Iowa, I’ve never found dried porcini mushrooms anywhere. So, I hesitated to post this recipe, since it felt wrong to be publishing a recipe that not all my followers could cook. However, the other day at the grocery store, while I was walking trough the veggies department I found many varieties of dried mushrooms, porcini included!

So finally I can share with you this amazing recipe, absolutely delicious and perfect for the fall (both in taste and in color!). And just to make it clear, even if your kids don’t like mushrooms, they will love the delicate sweet taste of this risotto (even if they will probably eat it by setting aside on the plate the porcini 🙂 ).

Just to satisfy some curiosity you may have, in Italy finding mushrooms is pretty easy: mushrooms love moist, temperate climes, and since Italy has plenty of mountains (Alpi and Appennini) we can proudly grow about a large variety of mushrooms. Aside from porcini, other famous species are chiodini (honey mushrooms) and finferli. Plus there are many more! If you like risotto, I definitely suggest you try this one; you’ll be pleasantly surprised with its “goodness.” 🙂  It takes not more that 30 minutes to make, with the only foresight to dump the dried mushrooms in water at least 20 minutes before you start cooking.

4 servings INGREDIENTS

2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

1 pack or 60 gr. dried porcini mushrooms

1/2 medium sized butternut squash peeled and chopped in small cubes

1/2 medium sized white onion

4 tsp. rosmary (better if fresh)

1 cloves garlic

about 5 tbs. olive oil

1 tsp. nutmeg

5 tbs. parmesan cheese

pepper to taste

salt to taste

about 64 oz. hot chicken broth (better if homemade) or vegetable buillon

optional: 1 Tbs. butter or mascarpone cheese and 1 handful of parmesan cheese  for the “mantecatura” (click here for the meaning)

Grated Parmesan cheese for dusting.

DIRECTIONS

Soak the porcini in about 1 cup of warm water at least 15 minutes before to cook them. Or, if the directions on the packaging indicate something different, it is best to prepare them accordingly.

Clean the butternut squash, removing the skin and the seeds, and cut it into very thin cubes.

 

Drain the mushrooms, but keep some of the water used to soak them. Strain it through a fine mesh sieve or even coffee filter to avoid sand. If some mushrooms looks too big in size, feel free to cut them in two with a kitchen scissors. Warm up the broth for the risotto (or the water, in case you decide to use a vegetable bouillon).In a skillet heat 2 tbs. of olive oil, then add garlic, rosemary and the chopped onion and cook them until the onion becomes translucent (be careful not to burn). At this point, add the porcini, a pinch of sea salt and 1 tsp. nutmeg. Let the mushrooms cook for about ten minutes at medium heat, being careful not to burn them, stirring once in a while. You’ll know they are cooked once they become tender.

In the meanwhile, in a pan, add 3 tbs. olive oil and when the oil gets hot, add the chopped butternut squash, 2 tsp. rosemary and a pinch of sea salt and cook until  becomes brownish and tender. It would take about  ten to fifteen minutes at medium heat, stirring occasionally, and always be careful not to burn.

(At this point the broth in the other pot should have reached the boiling point. Lower the heat and keep it on hand, you will use it soon!). Now that mushrooms and squash are cooked, move the squash into the mushrooms skillet. Start the heat, and when it seems the mix is hot, add the risotto rice and let “fry” for about 2 to 3 minutes.

Try  not to stir immediately. Only when it seems like the mixture starts sticking to the pan, add 1 ladle of porcini soaking water. As a rule for a perfect risotto “al dente” I start the 20 minutes cooking timer in the precise moment I add the first ladle of liquid to the rice. Once that water has been absorbed, add salt as desired, and keep adding broth (best 1 ladle at a time until liquid has been absorbed by rice.) and  repeat until there are just three minutes left on the timer. At this point, switch off the heat, add another ladle of broth, the butter (or mascarpone cheese) and the parmesan. Stir ingredients together and then cover the pot with a lid until the end of the 20 minutes, for the MANTECATURA phase. This process will make your risotto creamy and dense, in other words “all’onda”. At the end of the twenty minutes, serve your risotto still warm, and suggest your guests to sprinkle some grated parmesan on the top of it, if they like.

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

 

Orange creamy butternut squash soup, energize your mood and satisfy your palate!

When fall approaches, I always feel the urge to start decorating my house and front door with pumpkins, hay, cute fall-colored ribbons and wreaths, scarecrows, and corn. I love this period of the year, when all the leaves change and nature gives its last blast of colors before winter comes.  I also start finding more pleasure in cooking warm and comforting food, and bringing some of these colors to the table! Orange, especially, is a lovely bright color that represents strength and endurance. The spectrum of this sunny color can enhance a bright and energizing mood as well as richly warm the comforts of home. And the healthy aura of orange doesn’t stop there – thanks to the plethora of nutrients associated with orange-colored fruits and vegetables, consuming them can help your overall health.  The abundance of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients in orange foods are good for your skin, eyes and heart, and they may also decrease your risk of cancer.

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If I haven’t convinced you to try this recipe by listing all the good effects of orange food (here more specifically, the 10 reasons orange food is good for you), well, at least try this soup for the following two reasons:

  • because after Halloween, or rather, in between the Halloween candy and Thanksgiving pie 😉 you will need to depurate yourself or perhaps just like to look and feel your best going into the Christmas holidays, and eating this low carb (but absolutely delicious) soup will help cut down the daily calories. (This soup would be perfect to alternate with my other favorite vegetable soup to achieve this health goal.)
  • because it is really delicious, creamy, quick and easy to make, and, especially this time of the year, absolutely cheap, with squash and other such vegetables in-season!

About the cooking time: to cook the vegetable soup takes no more than 30 minutes, but you’ll need a little bit of extra time before, to chop the veggies.

INGREDIENTS for a 1/2 gallon pot

1 big sized white onion, finely chopped

1 big carrot

2 medium sized yellow squash

1 medium sized butternut squash

2 tbs. olive oil

sea salt  to taste

2 tsp. dried or fresh rosemary (plus a pinch to dust each serving)

1 vegetable bouillon (you can find it in the organic section of the grocery store)

parmesan cheese (for dusting)

1/2 gallon of water

optional: 1 Tbs. cream cheese per bowl

DIRECTIONS

Start by washing and cutting all of your vegetables. Peel and chop both the onion and carrots. Clean up the butternut squash by taking away the hard skin (being careful not to cut yourself!), scooping out the seeds, and cutting it into little cubes. Leave the peel on the zucchini and chop these as well.

In a big pot (I use a steel one), heat about 2 Tbs. olive oil on medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent, and then add the chopped carrots.

Wait a little until the carrots brown with the onion, stir a few times and then add the chopped yellow squash and butternut squash.

Let the vegetables cook few minutes and then cover with the water, add the vegetable broth seasoning (buillon), and the rosemary .

Cover the pot with the lid and as soon as the water starts boiling, put the pot at lower heat for not more than 30 minutes.

Your soup is ready!

Actually, since the best characteristic of this soup, in my opinion, is its velvety consistency, before serving, I recommend blending it with an immersion blender to make it nice and creamy…

Considering the amount of water you use, and all the vegetables, you will obtain enough soup to eat all week (unless you are a 10-person family ;-)). If refrigerated, this soup can keep up to a week, and can be frozen too.

When you serve it, remember to offer at least one tablespoon per soup bowl of the best grated parmesan, and (for whom like the idea), a dusting of black pepper.

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LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

TIPS: – If you are not struggling with calories, once you’ve blended the soup, dish up what you wish to eat immediately, add 1 Tbs. cream cheese, and let it melt before serving the soup. It will turn the soup into a sweet, irresistible cream!!!

– What is really great about this soup is that you can make it anytime of the day, and just reheat it before your meal.

-Even if I prefer my soup just dusted with parmesan cheese, when dinner time comes close I usually cook inside the soup some small pasta (i.e. rigatini, small soup shells, or Acini di pepe) so it will be more sustaining for the rest of the members of the family (men’s bellies are not so easy to fill up!) ;-).

– Be aware of one thing: once frozen and thawed, the taste of the soup won’t change, but it won’t be as creamy and velvety as it was fresh.

 

            I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

FRESH TOMATO FETTUCCINE: Bring on the tomato bounty!

Summer is coming to an end, which means two things: the kids are back in school, and gardens are overflowing with a favorite Italian staple-tomatoes! If you have your own garden, or have a kind friend or neighbor who shares their garden bounty with you, right now you probably have more beautiful, meaty, red tomatoes than you know what to do with! It can be an overwhelming blessing when all those tomatoes ripen at the same time- especially if canning is not an option, or an option you prefer. ITALIAN GOODNESS TO THE RESCUE 🙂 !!

Just a few days ago a dear friend gave me a bag of fresh organic tomatoes so perfect, I couldn’t help but take a picture! So I decided to make one of my favorite pasta recipes- one that calls for up to a pound per person of fresh tomatoes, and creates a delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, and family-friendly dinner. If you think you may like my idea, harvest your tomatoes and get ready to cook!

 

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Just two warnings: 1) if you want this dish to come out best, use only fresh, firm tomatoes (just picked very recently)  2) this recipe requires just 30 minutes to create, but tomatoes need to be cleaned and drained at least *three hours* before cooking.

INGREDIENTS for 2-3 servings

2/3 pack of fettuccine or spaghetti (about 300 gr.)

about 2-3 lb. fresh tomatoes

1/2 finely chopped medium sized white onion

1 clove garlic

1 pinch of crushed red pepper

2 tsp. rosemary (fresh or dry)

2-3 leaves fresh basil (or a couple of pinches dry basil)

              olive oil (enough for the pan)

              sea salt (to taste)

DIRECTIONS:

At least 3 hours before cooking:

Wash the tomatoes, take away any green parts, cut them in two, and squeeze them to eliminate all the seeds. Put the tomatoes in a drainer until it is time to cook the pasta. I know, it will look like a tons of tomatoes, but believe me, after few minutes on the stove they’ll halve their volume.

 

At dinner time:

Cut the tomatoes in cubes. In a big pan (the biggest you have, so all the tomatoes will touch the olive oil at least on one side), pour enough olive oil to evenly cover the bottom of the pan, and at medium heat, brown the onion and the clove of garlic. In the mean time put the water pot for the spaghetti (or fettuccine) on the stove to boil.

As soon as the onion become translucent, add the fresh tomato cubes. The best sauce will be obtained if the tomatoes saute’ in a single layer, not stacked upon each other. If they don’t touch the hot oil directly, they will instead become boiled. Keep the tomatoes at high heat: they should release their water which will prevent them from burning. In about ten minutes the tomatoes should start getting dry. This will be about the time the pot of water for the pasta starts boiling and you are ready to add in the pasta and salt. And, about this time, you will be inebriated by the appetizing smell the sauce will emit all around your kitchen! 😉

At this point, flip the tomatoes cubes upside down, and let them cook (always at high heat) until all their water is absorbed. You’ll notice that once you’ll flip the tomatoes cubes, they will release water again which will prevent your tomatoes from burning to the pan. It will take about ten more minutes.

Switch off the heat, sprinkle with sea salt, and stir in the crushed red pepper, rosemary, and basil.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained well, add it to the pan of tomatoes, and stir gently to distribute the sauce evenly.

And that’s it!! Your colorful, aromatic, extraordinary dish is ready to be enjoyed! So easy, and SO delicious!

 LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

Tips:– In my personal experience, this recipe appeals to all the family members’ tastes…but it can happen that the kids eat just the spaghetti and push the tomatoes cubes aside. That is fine: you can use the leftover to make a special bruschetta!

– As I already mentioned in the recipe, spaghetti and fettuccine are perfect for this kind of dressing, but almost any noodle would be ok. However, I personally would avoid short shaped pasta like maccheroni and penne, because they wouldn’t give justice to the taste of the sauce.

 

Spaghetti alla CARBONARA: one of the most famous Italian pasta dishes

Although the target audience of this blog is intended to be Americans and those not already familiar with Italian cooking and customs, a consistent part of my audience is, in fact, Italian! And it has been a while since my Italian followers made fun of me because I haven’t yet published the recipe of Carbonara Pasta. You see, together with “Spaghetti al pomodoro, bucatini all’amatriciana, e tagliatelle al Ragu”, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the most famous pasta dishes in Italy! So now that the taunting has subsided, 😉 I will share with all of you the recipe for this Italian classic!

Like many other popular Italian dishes, this pasta dish requires just few fresh ingredients (bacon or better- pork jowl, eggs, spaghetti and parmesan cheese).  It’s super-easy, quick to prepare (ready in 20 minutes), and would be perfect for any kind of occasion. It is absolutely “kid friendly” (my daughters love it), appealing to even the pickiest eaters. I mean, who- especially in the U.S.- doesn’t love bacon and cheese?!?

Just like the Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, the main ingredient of this sauce should be pork cheek or jowl (“guanciale”). However, it could be hard to find or a bit expensive. So since bacon here in the U.S. is really DELICIOUS, you have my blessing to go ahead and make it with bacon! Even Italians often make it simply with bacon! Whichever you choose, I assure you that by making this spaghetti sauce you will for sure bring a breeze of Italy to your table!

Since this recipe is pretty popular, before writing my post, I pried on some American cooking websites to see how knowledgeable the American audience is of how to make an authentic Carbonara. Well, no matter what you may read, Italians don’t use any parsley, onion, peas or tomatoes in this recipe. The only variant I’ve known (typical from Rome’s area) is that you can use Pecorino cheese instead of Parmesan.

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4 serving INGREDIENTS

1 package spaghetti

3 egg yolks (of medium-sized eggs)

1 medium sized egg

about 10 slices bacon (approximately half a pound)

1 tsp. black pepper

3 handfuls of parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

Start heating a pot of salted water to cook the spaghetti (if you want to be sure to cook your pasta in the authentic Italian Style, follow these easy directions).

In the meanwhile, cut the bacon into small cubes.

When the water reaches boiling, toss the spaghetti in to cook. Then move the bacon into a pan (no oil or butter, just let the bacon cook in its own grease) and saute at medium heat for about five minutes, or until it looks crisp and the fat is rendered.

Drain the fat from the bacon, throwing away the grease.

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In a good sized bowl (you will need to fit all the spaghetti and bacon in it) beat the yolks and the egg. Add the parmesan cheese and the black pepper and mix altogether, stirring very well. Honestly, when I cook for my family, I avoid the black pepper at this stage, and instead my husband and I just add it on top of our spaghetti once it’s plated.

When the spaghetti is cooked, drain well. Then, while the pasta is still very hot, mix it into the bowl with the egg mixture using a fork. The heat of the pasta will cook the raw eggs into a creamy sauce. (Be sure you do NOT do this in the pot or on the stove or you will be eating “Spaghetti alla Frittata” 😉 instead of Carbonara!) Add in the bacon and continue mixing quickly, until the eggs thicken.

That’s it!

Serve your Carbonara with some extra parmesan cheese and black pepper on the table (in case somebody would like to add a bit more) and Enjoy!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

Tips:

– Prepare the dressing while the pasta is cooking,  to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready at the same time as the dressing.

– It is very important that the pasta is still very hot when you add it to the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs, and just as important, that the beaten eggs are never combined with pasta on the stove because the eggs would cook too quickly on the bottom of the pot, ruining the creaminess of the sauce. The eggs MUST be mixed with the drained pasta, in the bowl where they were beaten.

– This pasta is very rich- both in taste and calories- so it would work perfectly as a complete meal.

– If you enjoy having a breakfast of bacon and eggs, this could also be considered as a “parachutes” choice when you have no idea what’s for dinner, or a way to use some leftovers.

 

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia