Sunday, December 21, 2014

Spaghetti wilth clam and Mussel Sauce (al Sugo di Vongole e Cozze).

The wonderful thing about the Italian kitchen is its versatility.  Fresh clams and Mussels are incredibly easy to use.  Just takes a little time to clean and prepare.  Many come already cleaned by your fish Monger.  For those of you of course, who just can't stand the thought.  All they really need is a gentle rinse.  Have your Fish store Advise you on proper care.  
  This is yet another tasty dish I love to make, especially in Summer, as it cooks up fast and will delight the most discriminating pallet.  Enjoy!
Ingredients for 4-6 people
One pound little neck clams or any small clam
One pound black mussels
Handful of fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic diced
4 tablespoons olive oil
One teaspoons salt
One teaspoon pepper
2 cups of fresh tomatoes and their juice (store bought canned is fine if fresh is not on hand)
1/2 cup white wine
One pound Di Cecco Spaghetti (or any good quality pasta)
Large pasta pot with 8 quarts water
One tablespoon plus 1/2 tablespoon salt

Method: If you are using fresh clams and mussels, make sure your shellfish is clean and ready. Gently remove any grit with a brush from the shells and place them in a chilled bowl.
In a large skillet, heat your oil.  Add your garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add your mussels and clams at the same time.  Quickly add your lid.  Wait 5 minutes and lift your lid from the pan.  You will begin to notice that most of your shellfish has opened.  Add your wine and place your lid back on the pan for 5 more minutes.  Remove your lid, turn your heat down and remove all your mussels and clams from the pan.  Do not worry if some of the liquid is going in the bowl too.  You will have about a half a cup. 
At this point add another tablespoon of oil to the same pan and heat.  Add your tomatoes (I like to puree mine in the blender), continue to cook until your tomatoes are fragrant and reduced (about 7-8 minutes on medium).
When you see a ring of oil iss formed around the pan, its time to add your shellfish back to the pan.  Give it a mix and let reduce 5 more minutes.

I like to remove some of my empty shells.   I leave about half intact for presentation and flavor.
Cook you pasta until just al dente, toss with your sauce add your parsley and serve. Buon Appetito

*Special Note:  If you are using frozen clams and mussels, the method is quite the same.  Your cooking time will reduce by about 5 minutes.  Give them a quick rinse and discard any shells you see cracked.  They will be surprisingly delicious. *

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lasagna Pugliese Style

If you grew up Italian and living in the United States or Canada, you know what I am talking about here.  It's just not Thanksgiving or any other Holiday without Lasagna as a first course.   The meat sauce is simple and is nothing but a typical meat sauce you would have on pasta every Sunday growing up.  You can make your meat sauce in advance. You can even double the recipe.  You can either freeze it or refrigerate it for a few days until you are ready to assemble your Lasagna.   The important factor to remember is to invest in a good quality dry pasta, if you can not make your own.  I have never understood, why some people insist on cheap quality pasta.  Spend a few extra dollars.  It is a Holiday afterall. 
I bought mine from William Sonoma Outlet.  

Forget the no boil Lasagna, unless you desire and prefer the taste of rubber.  It's all in the assembly.  Yes, it takes a little extra time but some things in life are worth it.   Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.  
About 5 cup of Meat sauce (If you choose to make the meatballs, crush them before assembly.  I added ground beef to my sauce recipe).  Follow the link for the sauce here.
One 13 inch x 9 inch heavy duty Lasagna tray
One tablespoon of butter to line the tray.
One pound plus half pound Lasagna sheets
One pound fresh mozzarella sliced (place your mozzarella in wax paper and then in the freezer for 30 minutes before slicing). 
8 ounces of Parmigano Reggiano cheese plus extra for the table
12 ounces whole milk ricotta 
pinch of nutmeg
Several cups of starchy water you can collect while the pasta sheets are cooking.
Follow the cooking instructions on your package.   It should be a little bit ahead of al dente.  Do not worry about this.  Keep in mind that the pasta will continue to cook, covered in the oven.   You need not overcook it. 
Drain and cool.  Don't forget to save some of the water. Separate the pasta sheets by draining them and letting them hang off the side of the colander.  
Collect your ingredients and get them ready for assembly.
 Mix your ricotta and Nutmeg.  Add a pinch of salt and set aside.
Cook your pasta in rolling boiling water.  Don't forget to salt your water before adding your pasta to the pot.   Follow package directions.  In the meantime, smear  the bottom of your lasagna pan with butter.  Place a about a cup of sauce mixed with ground beef or smashed meatballs on the bottom of the pan.  Begin lining your pan with the Lasagna sheets, Then sprinkle some cheese, layer some mozzarella across the bottom then add some sauce.   Follow with another layer of pasta going in the opposite direction.   Then, place several dollops of your ricotta mixture across the sheets.  Do not worry if they are uneven.   While the lasagna cooks, everything will melt some and spread evenly.   Just do your best to spread it across the lasagna sheets.  Repeat again with Parmigiano cheese then sauce.   Do not place mozzarella on this layer.   Place the sheets again over your sauce, then add a layer of mozzarella cheese.   Continue with each layer in the opposite direction until you reach the top.  If you layers seem uneven, keep a scissor handy or sharp knife to cut down your pasta sheet to fill in where you need to.  Be sure and keep the ruffled edge uniformed.  When it's cut, it will be prettier in the plate.   

 Cover tightly with aluminum foil.  I have not baked mine yet.  Refrigerate until ready to bake.   Be sure and remove it from the refrigerator one hour before you plan on cooking it.   Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.   Keep it covered and bake for 45 minutes with the cover on.   Remove the cover and cook for 15 minutes more.    Remove from the oven and let cool 15 minutes before serving.   
Buon Appetito!