Posts tagged ‘Italian’


I am not a religious person, but I do celebrate good food. This fact is perhaps no more apparent than at Easter.  When I was growing up, Easter ritual meant that it was time to get out the sugared coconut and construct “the bunny cake.” It also meant (and I know I’m not alone here) obsessively consuming Cadbury eggs, with their addictive sunrise colors and melting appeal, always a few too many, and ultimately, swearing off the sickly treat for the next 11.75 months of the year.

While this year I might just be tempted to bring back the bunny cake, last year we celebrated Easter dinner with something new, and decidedly more adult: egg raviolo. On the heels of my spaghetti carbonara kick, and feeling enamored by the possibilities of the uncooked egg, I recalled this daring dish. I had eaten a heart-stopping version of it once, while visiting a friend in DC.

So what the heck is an egg raviolo? For starters, raviolo in Italian is simply the singular of ravioli, thus indicating a single piece of filled pasta is served, rather than many, one to a plate. In this case, an over-sized mound of filled pasta hides a delicate surprise at its center: a golden, unbroken egg yolk. And just as freshly rolled pasta dough does the work of the egg shell, so too must something replace the whites. You guessed it: ricotta.


While there seems not to be too many rules of tradition to this dish (other than the fact of the egg yolk), most of the recipes I found employ a mixture of ricotta in which to couch the egg. This not only provides a necessary pillow, but also a mellow, creamy counterpart to the warm, runny yolk. One friend recently described a dreamy “souffle-like” egg yolk raviolo that she thoroughly enjoyed at a San Francisco restaurant, and I would imagine this could be nearing the pinnacle of perfection for this dish.

My filling was decidedly more dense, but it had just the right flavor, and provided a sturdy life preserver for the star ingredient. It contained a mix of ricotta, spinach, parmigiano, nutmeg, pepper, and a bit of lemon zest, which I blended in a food processor and then piped onto sheets of pasta. The fun part, of course, came next – dropping in the yolk.

Much like making carbonara, cooking the egg raviolo sounds far more precarious than it actually is. In fact, the next time I make it I will roll my pasta to the thinnest setting on my machine (I did the second thinnest and found it was actually too thick, and nowhere near danger of collapse when filled with cheese and egg). Ensuring a tight seal on the pasta is an essential and simple step for success; I traced an egg white circle around the ricotta raft before laying the sheet of pasta on top and lightly pressing along its edges. If you have a round biscuit cutter, this would be a great option for making neat pieces of pasta; however, I just cut mine out with a knife.

At this point it’s “go” time. In a saucepan I melted half a stick of butter before gingerly dropping my four ravioli into a pot of boiling water. Just before pulling the ravioli with a slotted spoon, I added a few tablespoons of pasta water to the butter. Although I have seen versions that include anything from bacon to truffle shavings to blood sausage to sage leaves, the butter and a fresh grating of parmigiano, in my opinion, is all the raviolo needs.

Plating them, one for each guest at our table, I felt that a new tradition had been started. Easter Egg Raviolo to open the meal and, who knows, maybe this year a bunny cake to finish.



SWEET MAIN SHRIMPWhen the ground has long since frozen solid, here in Maine we still have our ocean harvest. And this time of year the most rewarding prize is the tiny pink shrimp. Strangely, I got to know the Maine shrimp best when I was at the well-known East Coast Grill in Cambridge, MA. People took food knowledge seriously at ECG, and before each shift we joined for a family meal and a quiz about the dishes we were offering that day. While the tried and true menu was excellent, we always fawned over new dishes, and the Maine shrimp seemed to garner the most excitement each year.

“Sweeties” as they were called at ECG were often boiled, shell-on, in a sinful bath of old bay and Narragansset beer, sometimes topped with crumbly cornbread croutons. This is how I learned that Maine shrimp are just as delicious, albeit crunchier, with their exoskeletons left intact. But my favorite, and a dish we would sell out of almost immediately, was the “Sweetie Poke.” Get your mind out of the gutter – poke is Hawaiian preparation, a kind of seafood tartare or limeless ceviche, that incorporates sambal olek (a chili-based sauce), salt, and seaweed with raw fish (or, in this case, shrimp).

Understanding that fresh Maine shrimp were not only safe to eat raw, they were arguably better, changed my notion of how they could be prepared. The delicate texture and flavor of Maine shrimp benefit from a light touch – and as little cooking as is possible. In my own kitchen, I came up with a simple risotto that I think provides a good foundation for the star ingredient. I often wonder when inventing a dish that is Italian at its roots, whether or not the grandmothers of Italy would approve. Having cooked in a few different Italian kitchens, I’m acutely aware of their rules. And Italians do not like to break rules of the kitchen. I’ll list the recipe below, but first a couple of rules – some of which I break, and others that I honor.

Risotto rules

Never pair cheese with seafood.

It isn’t risotto if you didn’t stir it continuously.

Always stir in one direction.

It also isn’t risotto if you added your liquid all at once.

I abide by all of the above rules except one: Always stir in one direction. It’s never made sense to me, and anyway, this is cooking, not the DMV. In regard to those I obey, cheese and seafood don’t really do much to complement one another, but rather compete for the spotlight; and the creamy texture of a good risotto is product of a faithful cook who is willing to stand above a steamy pot, stirring and adding broth slowly as it is saturates the rice. Not such a bad job on a chilly winter night.

My take on risotto gamberetti

Heat up six cups of good broth; I usually use chicken, but vegetable, seafood, or a mix of any of the three will work. In the meantime, put on your ski goggles and dice about a half a cup of white or yellow onion, or a fresh leek or two works nicely as well. Use a microplaner, or something like it, to finely grate about two tablespoons of lemon rind (keep separate from the onion or leek). Chop a few tablespoons of parsley as well; add to the lemon rind and set aside for later.

Give your cleaned shrimp a rinse in a strainer (tight mesh if possible) that can fit into your broth pan – you are going to give them a quick steam using the broth so as not to waste any flavor. When you see the shrimp begin to change color, remove the strainer and set the shrimp aside. I usually give them about one minute in the hot broth.

Once you have prepped your shrimp, cut the onions, and your broth is hot, you are ready to start stirring. You’ll need some dry white wine handy for cooking and drinking. First, add three tablespoons of butter to a stockpot, and melt over medium heat. Once melted, add your onion and cook until translucent. Now you are ready to add two cups of good quality Arborio rice. Stir the rice into the butter-onion mixture and cook for a minute or two.

Next, add a half a cup of your white wine, stir and cook until evaporated (this will only take about a minute). Add a cup of warmed broth to your rice and get stirring, but at a leisurely pace. The goal is to slowly simmer the rice while stirring, adding about a cup of broth at a time when the rice has effectively soaked up what was in the pot. Timing will depend partially on your rice, but you don’t want this to be happening too quickly, so adjust your burner as necessary. Basically what you are after is a nice, calm simmer.

The stirring part should take somewhere in the ballpark of 25 minutes; you want your rice to be fairly firm (think of the quality of al dente pasta) but it should not be chalky or hard. If you boil off all of your broth but the rice is still too hard, use water to fully cook the grain using the same stirring method (adding more broth will make your dish too salty). I usually have some warm water in a teapot ready just in case.

Once you feel your rice is almost done, add about one cup of peas (frozen is fine!) and salt and pepper to taste. Finally, once the peas are heated through, turn off the burner and add your grated lemon zest first, followed by the reserved shrimp. Mix everything thoroughly, but gently.

That’s it! Now you are ready to enjoy your fresh Maine shrimp risotto.


Fresh sausage cooked and served in saucy white beans, in my memory, is something common in Italy. Instinct told me that it was exactly what a cold January night called for, and so I armed myself with some links and dried beans from Rosemont Market. While it doesn’t take a genius to ad-lib a dish of sausage and beans, I wanted to work from the authentic recipe. But when I turned to my most trusted Italian cookbooks, I was peeved to find that not one offered a recipe that came even remotely close to it.

I almost began to doubt myself, thinking that perhaps the dish is not as prolific as I remembered. Maybe it was simply a specialty at the Florentine restaurant, where I clearly remember fighting Justin for the last forkful of fagioli cloaked in a naughty robe of sausage-juice infused tomato. Il Cantinone del Gallo Nero, as it turned out had my answer on their webpage: fagioli all’uccelletto con salsicce was what I was after.

Beans of the bird with sausage

Fagioli, beans; salsicce, sausage. Okay. So what was the heck was the bird (uccelletto) doing here? Unless you’re using chicken sausage, there actually isn’t any bird in this dish. However, there are the ingredients sage and garlic, which are typically used when cooking fowl in Tuscany, which is where our bean and sausage dish originates. Therefore, “beans of the bird with sausage.”



As with all Italian cooking, the success of this dish depends largely on the quality of your ingredients, and a cornerstone to this one is using dried, rather than canned, beans. A firm bean is half the point of this dish – it’s the canvas onto which the salty, smoky satisfaction will be added. Since canned beans are about one minute away from pasty mush (just consider the gummy goo at the bottom of the can if you need any further convincing), dried beans are essential since this dish depends on a process of cooking down to bring the flavors and textures rightfully together.

I soaked about a pound of flageolet beans overnight (any kind of medium-sized white bean will do). Note that if you aren’t able to soak the beans overnight, usually an hour of soaking and a longer boil time will make up the difference. When you are ready to start cooking, boil the soaked beans with a little salt until they are tender, but still underdone, somewhere in the ballpark of 30 minutes. Before straining, you will want to reserve one cup of this water.



Sweet Italian sausage is ideal for this dish, but really any sausage, as long as it’s freshly packed, will be good. I tossed in a couple of chicken and rosemary links so my dish would have, in fact, the uccelletto.

When your beans are close to finished boiling, brown the sausage in a Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pan that can be used for the remaining stages of the dish, and that can accommodate all of your beans and sausage. Once browned, removed the sausage and set aside.

Add a one or two tablespoons of olive oil and a few cloves of chopped garlic to your pan. Once aromatic, add several canned or preserved plum tomatoes (it is January, after all), breaking them up as they cook for several minutes. Now add in the beans, with your cup of reserved water.

Tear apart six or more leaves of sage and toss into the pot, allowing the mix to come to a simmer. If the beans are still far underdone, give them some time over the heat alone, otherwise add in the sausage, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the ingredients have bonded, and the sauce is silky and thickened.

Although it shouldn’t require any salt, adjust the flavor to your liking before serving with some lightly sauteed kale or a green salad and a spicy Italian wine. And there you have it: Fagioli all’uccelletto con salsicce. Buon appetito!

salsicee e fagioli


Of all the popular Italian dishes in America, spaghetti carbonara is among the most misunderstood. Practically synonymous with “pasta and cream sauce” here in the states, the traditional Roman recipe relies solely upon raw egg and grated cheese for its silky coating. Juicy cubes of smoky pancetta, fresh parsley, and black pepper finish off the dish, a perfect balance that is all at once bright, rich, and nourishing.

And it’s exactly what I’ve been craving this spring. These sunny April days with their windy, thin air seem to demand a boost of yolk-yellow protein. Though it is relatively simple to make, carbonara is initially intimidating in that it requires the cook to add steaming hot spaghetti to the raw egg mixture, quickly whisking it so as to coat the pasta in luscious sauce.

I had seen the dish made several times by the expert hands of Italian grandmothers, but had always avoided it myself for fear of producing a lumpy scrambled-egg sauce. However, I knew that if I wanted real carbonara, the dish described by my favorite food writer, Calvin Trillin, as “heretically tasty,” I was going to have to make it myself. It was time.

Carbonara’s sort of American roots

In semi-nervous preparation, I read up on the traditional technique in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Interestingly, I learned that carbonara was inspired by American bacon and eggs during World War II, somewhere around Rome. While there are varying accounts of how our troops’ rations found their way into Italian bowls of pasta, the bottom line is that carbonara was a wartime creation, born out of creative necessity.

For my rations I visited the Portland Indoor Farmers’ Market to pick up the freshest, yolkiest eggs I could find. Gina Simmons of Common Wealth Farm in Unity recommended duck eggs, as they have larger, fattier yolks than chicken eggs. I’d add that they were also “orange-ier.” As an added bonus, duck eggs are richer in nutrients and have viscous, protein-rich whites. Perfect for my quest.

I whisked two of these lovely eggs together, added about ½ a cup of grated parmigiano, several tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley, and a few grindings of black pepper. Although it will depend on the size of your eggs, density of your grated cheese, and personal pasta-to-sauce ratio preference, I found the portions described here to be best with about ¾ pound of dried spaghetti.

As my pasta water came to boil, I fried 4 whole, crushed cloves of garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Once slightly brown, I removed the garlic and added my cubed pancetta, house cured by Rosemont Market (bacon or guanciale, made from pork jowl, can also be used). When the meat started to crisp I added ¼ cup of white wine, simmered for another couple of minutes, and removed from the heat.

Assembling the dish comes in two quick stages: adding the drained pasta to the egg mixture, then tossing the meat mixture into the coated pasta. I put my game face on, started by adding small amounts of pasta, and did some intense whisking. Not a clump of egg to be found! Just a gloriously shiny nest of pasta that turned out to be unbelievably satisfying.

Carbonara alla “Picnic”

Newly liberated by my carbonara foray, I began testing variations based on the principle method of tossing raw egg into hot pasta. For instance, one night I wanted carbonara, but didn’t have any white wine or cured meat on hand. No matter, it was the egg I was after. After whisking the egg, cheese, pepper, and parsley together I cooked a bit of onion in truffle oil and olive oil, making a kind of vegetarian alternative to the traditional recipe. It was delicious.

Another time I skipped the heated oil stage altogether. I simply added the olive oil directly to the egg-coated pasta and topped the dish with thin bits of proscuitto that I had lightly crisped under the broiler. It might not be traditional, but the heart of Italian cooking lies in resourcefulness, making due with what’s at hand.

The other guideline, of course, is that nothing should be wasted. To that end, we repurposed the spaghetti carbonara leftover from a large batch using a concept I discovered at Dominic’s Italian Bakery and Deli in Waltham, Massachusetts: the pasta frittata. We buttered a small loaf pan, packed in the leftover spaghetti carbonara, topped with parmaggiano, and baked at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Also known as “picnic pasta,” it can be cooled, cut into slices and, presumably, transported to a springtime meadow for consumption.

My next foray into the uncooked egg will be egg yolk ravioli – stay tuned!