“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian”- David Rocco


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Baked Pasta alla Norma....Sausage, ricotta and penne, OH MY!


 
Day 1 of “The Box Project.” In case you missed my last post, for the next month or so I am on a mission. That is…A Box Project Mission. What’s the Box Project? Well, it’s a box of delicious treats I brought back from Italy and am always saving “for something special.” I finally decided, what am I waiting for? On top of it, I have a bad habit of food shopping too often and I hate to say it, but sometimes things unfortunately go to waste. The idea with the Box Project is to use ingredients that I already have on hand and add necessary proteins, dairy or vegetables. So…day 1.

Pasta al Forno.
 
 

Pasta al Forno is basically an Italian baked pasta dish made with a pasta, cheese and preferably meat/vegetables. Well, I had a lovely can of tomatoes that I actually got last year that the real estate agent left in our kitchen “goody bag”, (when I was in Florence, Italy, the real estate agent had a bag full of groceries, ahem, and some wine in the kitchen for our arrival). Along with the tomatoes, I also had a jar of Pesto Rosso with basil that I purchased at Conand. Conand is a supermarket chain in Italy and I swear, every time I go in there, I come out with 6 bags…and that’s on a  good day.  Also on hand was a jar of San Marzano tomato paste, penne and ricotta (yes, when I can’t make my own ricotta or get to my usual cheese guy, I have to settle for supermarket ricotta). The extras I purchased for this dish were some parmigiana, eggplant and hot sausage links. So without further adeu…
 

Baked Pasta alla Norma
 
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 pack of hot sausage links
1 large eggplant (properly prepared, see below)
2 tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
1 can of tomato paste
6 tbsp. tomato pesto
2 tbsp. fresh basil, torn (NEVER CUT BASIL!!)
1 tbsp. oregano
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
1 box of penne
2 cups of ricotta
½ cup of parmigiana, grated

Set a medium size pan over medium/high heat. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil. Uncase your sausage links (I do this simply by wetting the link and cutting the case with a knife to remove it). Tear out all of the sausage into little pieces and add in the pan. Cook for 30-45 minutes (this depends on how well you like your sausage of course). Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl to cool.
Prepare your eggplant. First off, clean it. Then cut it into slices and layer them in a colander, sprinkle on some salt. Let the eggplant release some liquid. Then rinse the eggplant, squeeze it with your hands and pat it dry. I know this seems like a lot of work, but trust me, it’s worth it. I picked up this technique when I was studying cooking in Italy. Not only does it make the eggplant less bitter, but by releasing the liquid, it is easier to fry. After you have rinsed and dried the eggplant, chop it coarsely. Add to the pan that you had the sausage in. I basically used the fat that the sausage released to fry the eggplant in. Not the healthiest I know, but delicious nonetheless.
 
 
Fry the eggplant until a little golden and crispy. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. By this point, you should have water boiling. Add your garlic to the pan and let it fry until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and remove all of the excess oil and fat from the pan. Put the pan back over medium heat.  Add the tomato paste and let it “toast” slightly. Add 6 tbsp. of red pesto (basically, tomato pesto), a splash of pasta water, the basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it very briefly. Six minutes top. Strain the pasta and add it to the tomato sauce, along with the sausage and eggplant. Let it cook over low heat while the tomato sauce reduces slightly. In the meantime prepare your ricotta.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, whip 2 cups of ricotta with the parmigiana. Add the fried garlic. You will want to get out a casserole dish to prepare the pasta in. Add one layer of the pasta and then add dollops of the ricotta mix. Continue doing so until filled. Put the pasta in the oven and bake for 30 minutes to one hour. Remove, let it cool and then DIG IN!!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Box Project


Ciao a tutti! I know it’s been a while since I posted, but I am definitely going to get back to posting delicious recipes and photos for the summer. The truth is, there has been a lot of wonderful and exciting developments in my life and I can’t wait to share them with you all soon. In the meantime, I will be sharing wonderful and exciting recipes!

So, the other day I realized I still had my “food box” from Italy. What is my “food box”? Well, I’ll tell you. When I was in Italy last winter I brought and shipped back A TON of food products. Rice, pasta, oil, balsamic vinegar, pesto’s, sauces, taralli’s, chestnuts, special flours, candy, you name it, I bought it. I realized I hadn’t used a lot of it and that I am always “saving” it and then I finally realized, what am I saving it for? USE IT NOW! So, over the next month or so I am going to be hosting what I have deemed “The box project.” I am going to try to use a lot of these beautiful ingredients to make my meals over the next month or so. I won’t just be using my Italian ingredients. In fact, this morning I made a point of going through my kitchen cabinet and seeing what else I had on hand. Beans, zuppa di faro mix, yellow rice, quinoa, faro, etc. What I am going to do is use all of these ingredients as a base and of course, shop for fresh produce and protein. The goal here is to use what I have instead of over shopping for groceries every single week. So the lineup is……


Pizzoccheri with Artichoke Pesto, Crispy Artichokes & Lemon Meatballs

*What I have already: Pizzoccheri + Artichoke Pesto (all purchased in Italy)

*What I’ll be adding: White wine, garlic, a little cream, a little butter, lemon, artichokes + ingredients for Meatballs

Zuppa di Faro with Kale & Hot Sausage

*What I have already: Zuppa di Faro Mix, Chicken Broth (mix purchased in Italy)

*What I’ll be adding: Kale + Sausage links

Risotto with Chestnuts, Nutmeg, Dried Mushrooms & Fresh Mushrooms

*What I have already: Chestnuts, Nutmeg + Dried Mushrooms (chestnuts + nutmeg purchased in Italy)

* What I’ll be adding: Risotto + Fresh Mushrooms

Black beans, Yellow Rice + Chorizo

*What I have already: Black beans, chorizo

*What I’ll be adding: Yellow rice

Chestnut Gelato with Candied Chestnuts

*What I have already: Sweet Chestnut Spread & Chestnuts (purchased in Italy)

*What I’ll be adding: Gelato custard base

Asian Stir Fry

*What I have already: Tofu, quinoa & faro

*What I’ll be adding: Fresh vegetables + red curry paste

Pistachio Gelato

*What I have already: Pistachio liquor (purchased in Italy)

What I’ll be adding: Gelato custard base & pistachios

Nero Fondente Gelato

*What I have already: Bars of dark chocolate (purchased in Italy)

What I’ll be adding: Gelato custard base

Pasta al Forno

*What I have already: Pesto rosso, penne, canned tomatoes & ricotta (pesto & tomatoes purchased in Italy)

*What I’ll be adding: Eggplant, sausage, parmesan 

I’ll be photographing all of the ingredients before they are used and OF COURSE, photographing the final dishes! STAY TUNED!!

Friday, June 6, 2014

A True Blood Dinner Event in NYC on June 28th, CONTEST TO WIN A TICKET!!


Ciao a tutti!! I’m here to announce a CONTEST!!! As many of you know, I recently started Magic & Pasta Events based in NYC. I host stylized dinner events held in a beautiful commercial kitchen/dining space. My events are limited to just 16 guests to give a very intimate and personal experience. This next event is of course no exception…drum roll please…A True Blood Dinner Event on June 28th at 8PM in NYC. The menu will be “trailer park chic” with a mix of creole/southern cuisine. Beer, iced tea, lemonade and a V Cocktail will be served. Want to join us!! Perfect!! You can see the full ticket information at this link:

You can also ENTER THIS CONTEST TO WIN A FREE TICKET TO THE EVENT!! That’s right, A FREE TICKET, valued at $70 dollars. So here’s the deal. If you share the link on your FB page, FB group, blog, twitter, google + page, etc. you will automatically be entered in a raffle to win a ticket to this event. Click here to share this link, along with a little blurb about the event and you’ll be entered. Please comment on this post with the link so I can keep track. Good luck!! Contest ends on June 11th.
 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Quiche alla Italiana- Pancetta and Fontina!!



Buongiorno mei amici! Today, I will be sharing a yummy favorite of mine, Homemade Quiche!! I know, I know, it’s not very Italian, but the filling sure is. Pancetta and Fontina, I mean, how good does that sound, right? I love quiche; a nicely flaky buttery crust filled with cheesy fluffy eggy deliciousness mixed with smoky pancetta….mmmmm. The key to a homemade quiche for me is really making a homemade quiche. Don’t wimp out on me and purchase a ready made crust, because once you have a homemade crust, you’ll never believe you ate the other stuff!! I also added some ramps in this recipe because ramps are only in season very briefly and I like to use them whenever I can!!! Enjoy!!

Quiche alla Italiana


Crust

2 ½ cups of unbleached pastry flour (As I’ve said, I only use King Arthur)
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tbsp. dried Italian herb mix
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 stick of cold butter
½ cup plus 1-2 tablespoons ice water

In a medium bowl whisk your flour, salt and herb mix. Cut in the shortening until it’s broken down to small pieces, almost resembling peas. Dice the butter in ½ inch pieces and cut into the mix, again, until it is broken down into small pieces. Add the water, only a few tablespoons at a time, mix with a fork. When the dough is moist enough to hold it together, transfer to a piece of floured parchment paper. Fold the dough over itself three or four times to really bring it together. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes have passed, begin to roll and put the crust in an 11 inch quiche pan. You want to crust to be around a quarter of an inch thick. Bake partially for 10 minutes on 350 degrees. Remove from the oven and let it rest while you make your quiche filling…..


Quiche alla Italiana

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. garlic, minced very finely
8 slices of pancetta, roughly chopped
1 bunch of ramps, cleaned and chopped (I have to admit, I like my ramps raw, but if you want to blanch them before adding, I’ll understand!!)
5 eggs
3 egg yolks
½ cup of cream
2 tbsp. dried Italian herb mix
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
½ cup of fontina

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a medium size pan over medium heat. Add you olive oil and garlic, cook until slightly roasted. Add the pancetta and let it crisp up, around 10 minutes. While the prosciutto is cooking, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, cream, Italian herb mix, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Make sure it is thoroughly whisked. Take your pie pan and spread the prosciutto/garlic mix in the pie crust. Next, add the chopped ramps. Add the egg mix and sprinkle with the fontina. Bake for an hour or until the top is set and slightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. Remove the quiche from the pan and serve. I love to have this for brunch with a side of endive with a balsamic reduction. Buon Appetito!! 

Friday, May 2, 2014

What do True Blood, Alice in Wonderland and The Beatles have in common? FOOD!!


Ciao a tutti! I apologize for not posting much, since launching my own business, things have been wonderfully busy and I thought I would fill you in.
Since launching "Magic & Pasta" in March, things have been going beautifully and I am so very grateful. I hosted my first official event, "A Venetian Carnevale Celebration" which was SOLD OUT! You can view pictures of the event here. I also co-hosted a "Saint Joseph's Day Feast" with Bar Eolo in Chelsea and even got some coverage for the event in Our Town!! And if that's not enough, I was the chef last week for a corporate event for DOLE Salads and this week I cooked for a wonderful event inspired by Michelangeo with Feast on Innovation. Needless to say, I am very happy with the way everything is going, which brings me to Magic & Pasta’s upcoming Summer Season in NYC.

From June-August 2014, Magic & Pasta Events is pleased to announce our upcoming Summer Season. Dinners will include "A True Blood Trailer Park Party on Saturday, June 28th",  "A Mad Hatter's Tea Party on Sunday, July 20th" and  "A Meet the Beatles Dinner on Friday, August 15th" (in honor of the 49th anniversary of their historic Shea Stadium Concert.) If you're an early bird, you can already purchase tickets for the True Blood and Mad Hatter's Tea Party (tickets for The Beatles Dinner on sale soon), but I was so excited about these dinners, I couldn't keep it to myself anymore and just had to let you all know! All of these dinners are held in a beautiful space in midtown Manhattan and are limited to 20 guests giving you a very personal and intimate feel.   
You can see the full menu for each event at the above links. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at magicandpasta@hotmail.com or comment on this post. I hope to see some of you soon!! Ciao ciao for now!

Monday, March 31, 2014

"Magic & Pasta" presents "An Italian Spring Soiree" April 12th, 7PM in NYC




Ciao mei amici! We are finally starting to feel the beginning of Spring; next week will have highs in the 60s!!  With lovely spring weather comes all that Spring has to offer, and for me, that means lovely vegetables.

With that in mind, my next
Magic & Pasta event will be "An Italian Spring Soiree" on April 12th, 7PM at a beautiful apartment in Chelsea, NY (the address is revealed once you purchase tickets.) This dinner is limited to just 9 lucky guests. To purchase tickets via Bookalokal please click here.


This meal will be centered around seasonal spring ingredients, featuring beets, asparagus, zucchini and more.

Here is the full menu to entice you:


 

STARTERS

Roasted Beet & Ricotta Salad

Thin roasted beets layered with homemade ricotta and a drizzle of beet greens pesto
 

Poached Shrimp in Zucchini Nests

Poached Shrimp served in a zucchini nest with a lemon reduction
 

MAIN COURSE

Romanesco Risotto
Risotto made with a romanesco puree, shaved asparagus, leeks and peas

Fennel Pork Loin
Fennel-Garlic Crusted Pork Loin with Homemade Carrot Chips


 DESSERT


 
Ricotta Cupcakes
(picture shown is for my ricotta olive oil pound cake, click here for the recipe!)
Ricotta Olive Oil Cupcakes with Fluffy Lemon Frosting

A selection of wine will be served
 
$65.00 per person
 

 
 
The goal with my Magic& Pasta events is to give you an experience. Some people may start out as strangers, but when you have good food, wine and music, by the end of the night, you're all friends. Food brings people together and works in mysterious ways. My Italian Spring Soiree is limited to just 9 guests, so you will be in for a very intimate dinner. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at magicandpasta@hotmail.com. I hope to see you there! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

An Interview with Florence Restaurateur Umberto Montano of Alle Murate


Buongiorno mei amici! During my recent stay in bella Firenze, I had the pleasure of meeting with Umberto Montano, owner of Alle Murate, Osteria del Caffe' Italiano, Pizzeria Caffe Italiano, SUD and The President of the historic Mercato Centrale. 
I had the chance to sit down for lunch with Umberto at Alle Murate, which is like dining in a fine museum. To give you a little history before we get to the interview, Alle Murate is located in Palazzo dell'Arte dei Giudici e Notai which houses fourteenth century frescoes and archaeological excavations from Roman times to the Renaissance. The frescoes include the oldest documented portraits that exist of Dante and Boccaccio, which was quite exciting to see. Being in Alle Murate is really like going back in time; it is an experience not to be missed.
 
With Umberto at Alle Murate
During my stay, Umberto was kind enough to invite me to the groundbreaking ceremony of the new first floor of the Mercato Centrale.

The building for Mercato Centrale was built sometime between 1870 and 1874 by architect Guiseppe Mengoni. It is a beautiful market with dozens and dozens of vendors selling fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, bread, pastries, seafood and spices. If you’re as passionate about food as I am, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store walking through here. It’s absolutely incredible. As I mentioned, Umberto is the President of Mercato Centrale and he will be doing a complete renovation of the first floor, adding new shops and a cooking school. At Alle Murate, I got to try the mozzarella that will be sold at the Mercato and I have to be honest with you…this mozzarella put all other mozzarella to shame. It was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. I can’t quite explain it because no words could do it justice, you will just have to go the Market or Alle Murate and try it for yourself! I can’t wait to return to Italy later this year, when the new first floor should be up and running. In the meantime, I’ll just have my beautiful memories to fantasize about until then…without further ado, I give you my full interview with Umberto Montano.

For me, some of my favorite memories involve food. What are some of your favorite food memories?
I’m full of fond food memories. I worked in the kitchen for fifteen years and while I was working I tried to extend what the people would really like. The best dish you’ve ever had in your life…it’s connected with the history, the memory. It’s always a dish that comes from the background, the family. Food with character is the secret in the dish.

Are your menus a combination of regional Italian cuisine or do you showcase a specific region?
Our chef is born in Southern Italy. (The chef at Alle Murate , Giovanna Iorio.) She makes the food from the South and Tuscany. It gives us a creative cuisine with strong character and very tasty dishes. What I don’t like is food to be prepared to be shown. I think it’s more important for food to be tasted. Italian food is so high on smell and taste, to make it beautiful is to give too much.

What makes dining at each of your restaurants its own unique experience?
The fresco of Dante at Alle Murate
Alle Murate is filled with passion. The frescoes, to discover the face of Dante…between the art and the food, it is a complete experience. To see the passion that passed through the walls and then the food, it is beautiful. At Caffe' Italiano you get to have the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, you can choose between three different steaks. It is some of the best steak you will find.

What first got you interested in the restaurant business?
When I was fourteen, I studied restaurant business in Switzerland. My best experience is teaching, I learned a lot. To teach well, you need to know. You need to be a critic. Sophisticated culture for what you’re talking about.

Do you have a favorite dish from each of your restaurants?
Osteria is pomodoro in the summertime, in winter, ribollita. When the tomatoes are fresh…there is a special touch that makes each one unique. Alle Murate makes the best pasta in the world. She (Chef Giovanna Iorio) uses fresh peas in the pasta, pumpkin gorgonzola. I think the pasta is impressive. They are dishes that work. At the pizzeria, the pizza Margherita and Napoli. At SUD, we prepare classic southern specialties, like a fava bean puree sandwich with extra virgin olive oil.

What advice would you have for someone looking to get involved in the restaurant industry?
Do it, but with a lot of love and attention. Take care of every little thing. Stay there, be present, you want to touch people’s hearts. Every single detail is important.

Do you have any tried and true cooking tips you wouldn’t mind sharing?
You should never cook if you don’t have a strong feeling inside. Never go in the kitchen if you don’t want to stay there. If you want to make great food, do it when you’re strongly happy. Food needs sentiment.

Are any of the dishes served at your restaurants family dishes?
Yes, mostly. Everything comes from the culture when Giovanna grew up. She refuses to be called chef, she says, “I am a cook, not a chef. I come from the school of my mother and my mother was not a chef.” Giovanna is the best example of cucina rustica..rustic kitchen.


At the groundbreaking ceremony of the new first floor of Mercato Centrale
 
Were you approached to renovate the first floor of Mercato Centrale or was it your idea?
I am in partnership to build up the market. The difference between this market and the others is to create a partnership. To bring the people from the farms, to give them the opportunity to have a shop. Give them marketing and advertising. I bring people from the south of Italy to make the mozzarella. I organize a way to give the farmers a way for them to the come to the town and have their own business.
If you weren’t in the restaurant industry, what would you have been?
I don’t know. I would have like to have been an artist. The biggest satisfaction is when I can realize things through creativity.

What would your last meal be?
It’s not food…but the lips of my wife.

What is some of the best food you have ever eaten?
A puree of broth beans, chicory and extra virgin olive oil, made by my great grandmother. Prepared in a terracotta pan in the fireplace. Often the ingredients can be very simple to make something incredible.

After the broth beans, a meal I shared with the family that makes the mozzarella for the mercato. The 94 year old man had some beautiful tomatoes. We all sit there with a piece of bread, take out the mozzarella with our hands in the water. The farmer with the tomato cuts them with a knife in his hand. Some of the best food I have had in my life.