Category Archives: pasta

Salsa Verde Pasta & Our Talladega Nights


A close cousin of French persillade, Argentinean chimichurri and German grune sosse, the classic Italian salsa verde (from Lombardia region) green sauce is a simple combination of herbs, greens, garlic, anchovies and olive oil.  It’s a wonderful condiment (enhanced with nuts and Parmesan, it turns into a savory pesto) to make your pasta extraordinary in a wink and/or to jazz up the flavor of the freshly barbequed meat, poultry, fish, pizza, salad dressing, etc. Salsa Verde is real must-have condiment for me at any given time or meal, as it is the way to almost anyone’s heart when applied to dishes.
 Lately we’ve been eating pasta a lot (at least three times in a last 10 days, wow) – all of them with green color hues of Salsa Verde (parsley, basil, arugula, oregano), and/or with quickly sautéed greens to praise the summer bounties like spinach, broccolini, rapini, green peas, asparagus, etc. Anchovies, nuts, Parmesan or Pecorino ingredients add tons of umami (see my previous post) to the dish with which they can’t get any better, or bore you, for that matter. In fact, I’m getting hungry for Pasta Verde again by just writing this… 
With days passing at a cosmic speed we couldn’t be any busier this summer: first Montreal’s Grand Prix; then the World Cup; then national holidays, then The Jazz Festival, now Week-ends du Monde and the International Fireworks Festival  – one can barely find time to catch up with all this hurly-burly hot summertime commotion.  So many things to do, places to go, things to watch or discuss over the supper, it’s overwhelming.
Certainly, the trap of the fast food dinner is always at the corner during such times, just waiting to strike. It’s so easy to reach for the plastic and call for Domino’s or St-Hubert or Chinese delivery and then happily re-enact the hilarious Talladega Nights movie ‘supper’episode
I totally don’t mind to have the Talladega night-style dinner from time to time. The problem is: a few dinners like that and the heartburn knocks in, the headache knocks on, the tummy knocks up and the mojo knocks off. We don’t want that. Pasta might not be the leanest or the most dietetic answer to the summer hustle, but it is a much healthier alternative to the junk. You can have totally wonderful wholesome and comforting Salsa Verde pasta dinner packed with good-for-you nutrients within less than 30 minutes. 
A good Salsa Verde is all about the fresh and quality ingredients: the freshest herbs available and the quality olive oil deliver the best result. Once you have a batch in your fridge sky is the limit: you can apply it to or transform it into so many things. The other day we were making BBQ dinner; I used it as a base adding more olive oil, freshly chopped parsley, a dash of fresh thyme, a juice of one lemon, few minced garlic cloves and a pinch of chili flakes to make a great Chimichuri sauce for grilled meat and veggies. It is really one worthy jar of greens with hundreds of dish possibilities. Try it for yourself and see where it takes you next. And it takes 5 minutes to prepare. 
The Salsa Verde pasta dish is a breeze to put together (a friend of mine asked me to put the measuring in ml, which I did below). Cook the pasta of your choice to al dente, drain, toss with salsa and its ready to be served seasoned with freshly ground pepper, drizzled olive oil and garnished with shaved Pecorino or Parmesan :
I like to also mix it with some sautéed greens (see the next few images) in addition. 
FYI, tubular pasta is especially good to absorb the sauce…Nothing however is more comforting to me than orzo or linguini…
Rapini, asparagus and fresh peas are my favorite inclusions for the sautéed greens…
Few simple steps while your pasta is cooking. When pasta is al dente, drain and add to the skillet to dry it  and mix with the green goodness.
And now it’s time to toss with salsa verde:
It’s a to-die-for healthy and comforting vegetarian dish, which I can devour hot, warm or cold anytime, anywhere – a perfect swoon.
 Enjoy the plate of dolce vita!
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SALSA VERDE (ITALIAN GREEN SAUCE) PASTA WITH SAUTEED GREENS
For Salsa Verde Sauce
2 cups (500 ml) fresh green herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, chives, arugula, oregano, marjoram, mint) mixed in any proportion*
2-3 cloves garlic
¼ cup (50ml) pine nuts or slivered almonds
3 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 tbsp (30ml) capers, drained
½ (100 ml) cup quality olive oil
¼ cup (75 ml) cup lemon juice or white wine vinegar
½ cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (optional)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
½ tsp sea salt
 *Note: If wish be, pre-saute the greens with olive oil for 1-2 minutes and cool before blending for a milder taste and longer shelf life
For Pasta Verde
1 lb (500g) pasta of your choice
1 cup (75 ml) Salsa Verde  sauce (see above)
Freshly ground pepper
For Sautéed Greens (optional)
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
2 cups fresh rapini, spinach, broccolini, Swiss chard or collard greens coarsely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of chili flakes
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp lemon zest
Sea salt to taste
Instructions:
Combine all Salsa Verde ingredients in a food processor or blender and give it a few quick 6-8 pulses until roughly chopped into a coarse puree.  Reserve what you need for the dish and keep the rest refrigerated in an air tight container for up to 6 days.
Optional sautéed greens: preheat the skillet to medium-high and add chili and garlic to infuse the oil for 1 minute. Add green peas and coarsely chopped greens and two tablespoons of water. Increase the heat to high and wilt the greens over the high heat during 1-2 minutes. Transfer to the bowl and put aside.
Cook pasta according to the package instructions in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain.
Place lightly oiled skillet over medium heat. Add pasta and cook tossing for 1 minute until it becomes dry. Transfer to large warmed serving bowl. Toss with Salsa Verde sauce and some extra sautéed greens. Drizzle with some extra olive oil, season with freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately garnished with shaved Parmesan or Pecorino and a dash of fresh mint.

Pasta con le Sarde

Lo Jacono: Palermo; Fonds Ancely: Arrivée des marchandes de sardines; Old Map – Wikimedia.

This post will conclude my bolero with sardines. By now you are probably no longer surprised with my most strange obsession (especially considering how many people hate this fish), thinking: ‘’The woman went nuts and is probably now walking the fish market daily whispering to sardines…’’ or that I might soon become like this guy
The truth is simple though. We recently visited new Sicilian restaurant Scarpetta (at 4525 avenue du Parc in Plateau, Montreal) and I was very much impressed with their food and service, especially with chef’s (Monick Gilles) Pasta con Sarde alla Palermitana.  It was really different, exotic and tasted nothing like any pasta I ever tried before.  Inspired, I googled for the classic recipe of the dish and soon found myself in the kitchen gutting a pile of fresh sardines again (see the tips in sardine: part I). 

And, since I promised you to post this recipe during my last sardine adventure, here you are. This is an authentic Sicilian dish created during (over 200-years) invasion by Saracens (Moors). It combines typically Sicilian ingredients including: pasta, sardines, pine nuts, wild fennel and saffron in an extremely tasty and different twist.

In the island of Sicily they add some briny cured fish roe (from tuna, swordfish or grey mullet) called bottarga to spice up the dish, which in our case, is substituted with anchovies. Upgrade your pasta to whole wheat if you want or, for gluten-free version, feel free to use gluten-free pasta, crumbs and fish dusting. The result will still be uber-delicious, since the devil is in the sardine-fennel sauce.
I wholeheartedly recommend this dish to any curious, open-minded and adventurous cooking enthusiast (and/or sardines’ lover).

Lois- Auguste Veillon: Les pêcheurs de la région de Naples – Wikimedia

Buono Appetito!
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PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with Sardines)
Yields: 6-8 servings.
Ingredients:
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
4-6 tbsp olive oil
6 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
1 lb (500 g) fresh sardine fillets
2 tbsp plain flour or semolina, for dusting fish
½ cup sultanas (small raisins)
½ cup pine nuts
Pinch of saffron
50 ml dry white wine
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ tbsp. tomato puree
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
1 lb pasta, such as bucatini, maccheroncini or spagetti
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Few springs of fennel greens (or parsley) for garnish
Instructions:
Soak saffron in white wine.

In a large frying pan heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil, add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring until golden, for about 5 minutes. Remove the crumbs and toss with Parmesan. Set aside.
Bring a big pot of water (8 cups) to boil and boil sliced fennel for about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve the boiling liquid.
Dust half of the fish with semolina or flour (I used cornmeal). Heat the skillet with 1tbsp. olive oil and fry sardines turning once until browned. Set aside for garnish.

Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet and sauté anchovies and onions over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until anchovies start to turn into paste and the onions become translucent. Add fennel and sauté for 5 minutes. Add pine nuts, raisins, salt and pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
In a separate skillet, heat the remaining olive oil to medium high and add the rest of the sardines. Crush them in chunks with spatula as they cook. After 2 minutes, add saffron with wine, garlic and parsley. Mix well, stir for another 2 minutes and add salt and pepper. Set aside.
Boil pasta until aldente using fennel water (add extra water for boiling as per instructions of the package). Drain. Put in the bowl and dress with half the sardine sauce.
Put a layer of dressed pasta in an ovenproof casserole. Top with a layer of sardine sauce, layer of fennel sauce and then another layer of pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan breadcrumbs. Cover and bake for 15 minutes at 350F. Serve hot or cold garnished with extra fried sardines, fennel springs or chopped parsley.

Adapted from: Sicily Food and Cookery, Phaidon, 2013

Say Sardine: Part II

This is one of my all-time dinner favorites: Canned Sardines Pasta Bolognese.  Easy, inexpensive, utterly delicious + HEALTHY (quick reminder: not only sardines are a super-food, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, iron and B vitamins; because they are short-lived, they don’t accumulate pollutants in their bodies). A little tribute to the humble canned sardines which seem to be making their come back in the last few years. 

Yesterday we had one of those nights when everyone was just zombie-dead exhausted:  time when it’s good to make a nourishing familiar dish you’re so used to cook you can almost make it blindfolded. I have a short list of such dishes and this one is one of them.  I’ve been doing it for so long I don’t even have to switch on my brain: my hands kick into gear for me! 
The origin of the dish table travels me straight to Tuscany. It was one of those summers, which almost never happens in a normal human’s life. When all we had to do (with my best friend) was wandering around the hottest Italian destinations, trying exotic food and practicing the basics of Italian. Almost like Eat, Pray, Love, except we were students in our early twenties and money or responsibility was not an issue (or so we thought) and we did not pray much.  We settled in the picturesque town of Livorno in one of those cute houses on Piazza Grande next to Duomo. 
One day we decided to cook a rabbit with olives and white wine, but forgot to lower the oven temperature and left for a day to visit the Capri Island (what were we thinking?) …  When we returned six hours later, there were a lot of pompieres (firefighters) around the house. One carabiniere(policeman) was carrying out with an outstretched hand our charred skillet with almost crystallized pitch black rabbit emanating a lot of smoke. We wondered whether to laugh or cry… Fortunately, there was no other damage (otherwise I would probably be now writing this in Italian), except lots of smoke in the house.  
Photo Credit: Irene Sirenko
We stayed up late moving our stuff to the other part of the house which was not touched by the smoke. Everything was already closed and our stomachs were growling.  The lady of the house had a pity on us and made us this quick canned sardine pasta Bolognese which she served with some cheap red wine. Our ‘’soiree’’ kicked off at 11p.m. and this was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in life. I couldn’t believe that one can actually turn a can of plain sardines into this blissful fishy extravaganza! Naturally, I took notes of the recipe and have been making the dish for many years, although I haven’t seen it in any books of Italian recipes so far.
This is exactly a 15 minutes prep dish, which you can upgrade using whole wheat pasta and number of additions like: lemon zest, capers, olives, toasted crumbs, etc. I noticed even non-pescetarians quite often love this dish.

But what if you are a proud Sicilian or just a bit finicky to eat this quick adaptation and would still prefer the real pasta con le sarde?  Then you will have to read my next post. Cheers!

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CANNED SARDINES PASTA BOLOGNESE
Ingredients:
1 pound spaghetti (or your choice of pasta)
2 cans of sardines in olive oil, drained and mashed with fork
¼ cup olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
6 anchovies, rinsed and minced
½ cup tomato coulis (or tomato sauce)
1-2 teaspoons chili pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Zest & juice of ½ lemon (optional)
1 tbsp capers (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions:
Cook pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Meanwhile, heat the skillet with olive oil, add chili flakes and garlic and cook on medium high for 1-2 minutes. Add minced anchovies and give them a stir mashing them with spatula for 1 minute. Add parsley and mashed sardines. Once the mix sizzles, add tomato coulis (or sauce) and sauté for another few minutes. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and capers and mix well. Reserve some sardine sauce to garnish. When pasta is done, drain and add to the skillet with the sardine mixture. Toss well and serve immediately garnished with extra sauce and parmesan or pecorino and toasted bread on a side. Enjoy!

Fiddlehead Ferns Spring Pasta


I wanted to try this Martha Stewart’s recipe ever since I saw that spring al fresco image with fiddleheads pasta dinner served with a glass of white wine on a crisp white table cloth with some lilac flowers in the background. It has turned out to be an amazing vegetarian recipe with some new ingredients (fiddleheads and dandelions), so next spring I’ll be doing it again. Here is my tribute to it.

Fiddleheads make a great spring addition to our nutrient-deprived menus. They are low in calories (only 10 calories per ounce), contain the antioxidant beta-carotene and omega fatty acids. They are rich in niacin, potassium, vitamin C and dietary fibre. Rule of thumb: fiddlehead ferns need to be cooked for consumption, or they can cause a stomach upset. They can be blanched, roasted, sautéed, grilled, pickled or frozen.
Here are some interesting facts you may not know about fiddlehead ferns:
  • Fiddlehead ferns are known to be eaten in Australia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan and USA.
  • They are used for beer making in Norway and Siberia.
  • First Nations people used fiddleheads not only for food, but also as a medicine against worms and parasites.
  • There is an annual fiddlehead festival in Maine, USA.
  • Maliseet Indians of New Brunswick, Canada, where known to use fiddlehead fern as medicine against malaria and believed it was good to eat it to pure the body of toxins and impurities.
  • New Brunswick is abundant in fiddlehead ferns and Canadian village Tide Head bills itself as ”Fiddlehead Capital of the World”.
  • In Europe fiddlehead ferns are used as a preservative for wine. 

If you never tried fiddleheads before, the taste is like a cross between asparagus, spinach and artichoke with perhaps a little more accentuated earthiness. The loamy taste of fiddlehead ferns can easily put some people off, so if you never had it before I suggest you begin with a very small batch. Most people I know, however, find their taste and zesty crunch agreeable and exotic, so it’s really a very individual experience.

The recipe calls for the fiddleheads to be steamed, but you can boil them instead for 2-3 minutes. Then they are sautéed with leeks and tossed with dandelion greens, lemon juice, olive oil and linguine. It is as simple as that.
Serve immediately in a hot plate. I topped mine with some shaved parmesan and few anchovies and added them as optional in the recipe. A real no-brainer to throw a little al fresco party in your backyard.
Store any extra of the sauté in the fridge in a plastic container for a few days and use it with another pasta, rice or mashed potatoes some other time. Or just sprinkle with your favorite vinegar and extra olive oil and bring the box with you for a lunch or picnic to have with a toast or crackers: crunchy, refreshing and full of flavours.
FIDDLEHEAD FERNS SPRING PASTA
Ingredients:
1 pound linguine
1/2 pound fiddleheads
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound leeks, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups dandelion or sorrel greens washed
shaved parmesan to garnish (optional)
few anchovies to garnish chopped (optional)
Instructions:
Clean the fiddleheads by soaking them in a cold water with a teaspoon of salt and some lemon juice. Push them down several times to clean them well. Transfer them to steamer rack in a saucepan and steam covered for about 4-5 minutes.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the linguine until al dente. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
In the meantime, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leaks and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Add fiddleheads and cook for 1-2 minutes more, until golden. Stir in dandelion greens. Toss the mixture with the pasta, season with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
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Recipe adapted from Whole Living.

In the Mood for Italian Wedding Soup

Last night we watched Woody Allen’s delightful new movie “To Rome With Love” and, somehow it put me in the mood for “Minestra Maritata”, an Italian Wedding Soup. No, the movie does not feature any particular Italian recipe or food and, no, I am not always thinking about food when I watch movies. Well, once in a while maybe. Perhaps it was a combination of a cold November night, the burst of “Volare!”(“Oh!Oh!”) and one of the short stories featuring a young couple on their honeymoon all of which prompted me to cook some Italian comfort food next day. Whatever it was, I woke up this morning determined to cook this dish for supper.

For years I have been cooking different variations of this soup (which I used to call “Soup With Meatballs”) using my grandma`s notes without actually knowing it was “Minestra Maritata”. Until a trip to an Italian wedding has opened my eyes to the official name of this soup, which translates to “married soup” so many assume this is a traditional Italian dish for weddings. In reality, the name of this soup stems from an excellent marriage of its ingredients: a mixture of meat, heavy broth, green vegetables, and pasta. This soup is hearty and filling and with this added protein it becomes a complete and balanced one-course meal.

This is my personal twist on a classic dish, which takes around 45 minutes to cook, however, you can speed it up to 30-minutes simple “student version”, when you poach meatballs and pasta directly in the boiling stock, then add spinach (or kale, swiss chard or arugula) skipping other steps or ingredients. I prefer baking the meatballs rather than poaching them because it gives additional layer of flavour to the soup even if it takes more time to prepare. Also, the wine/apple cider vinegar part is essential as it gives this soup a very special flavour.

For the meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground veal (or chicken, or turkey, or sausage meat without casings)
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder (or two minced garlic cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus extra for serving
  • 3 tablespoons milk (or water)
  • 1 large egg
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg

For the soup

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 cup minced yellow onion
    • 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots)
    • 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks)
    • 10 cups homemade chicken stock (or commercial)
    • 1/2 cup dry white wine (or 3 table spoons of apple cider vinegar)
    • 1 cup small pasta such as orzo or stars
    • 12 ounces baby spinach, washed, trimmed and chopped (or 1 small pack of frozen spinach wilted)
    • pinch of chilli flakes, oregano and thyme (to your taste)

    Instructions:

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
    For the meatballs, mix the ground veal, bread crumbs, garlic & onion powder, parsley, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl with a fork. With a teaspoon, drop 1 meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.
    In the meantime, heat the olive oil over low heat in a soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine (or apple cider vinegar) and bring to a boil. Add meatballs and pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted.
    Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle each serving with Parmesan if desired.

    Buon Appetito!