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Italian Comfort Food: How to Make Baked Pasta

There is something so comforting and satisfying about a baked pasta recipe. I guess it reminds me of home, when Mama used to make it for the family almost weekly. I also used to order it at restaurants in Milan, but it originates from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. This particular dish is so easy to make and can feed a hungry crowd that will be so pleased once they bite into the pasta with creamy besciamella and light ragu. When you’re short for time, you can also make this ahead and freeze it, then bake it when your guests arrive. If you leave out the ragú, it is still delicious and will satisfy any of your vegetarian guests.

Buon Appetito!

Francesco

Penne alla Besciamella & Ragu

Ingredients

1 pound penne pasta

For the ragu:

12 oz. ground beef

1-14 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup Vermentino-Chardonnay

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Besciamella sauce:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 tablespoons all purpose flour

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano – plus 4 tablespoons for sprinkling on top

4 1/2 cups milk, simmering

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions: 

For the ragu:

Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook until soft, about 12 minutes.

Add the meat and sauté, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, stir until browned, about 10 minutes.

Add the wine and stir until it evaporates completely. Scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot and add the San Marzano tomatoes, stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the Besciamella:

In a large non-stick skillet melt the butter over medium heat.

Stir in the flour and incorporate. Cook for 2 minutes.

Gradually add the simmering milk and whisk to combine.

Whisk continuously, when the sauce is creamy and smooth, turn off the heat and add the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and set aside.

For the pasta:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water.

Add the penne and cook for about 5 minutes, it will not be cooked, but will finish in the oven.

Drain in a colander.

Return pasta to the pot and add the besciamella and the ragú sauces, mix well until all the pasta is thoroughly coated.

Pour the pasta into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or use parchment paper for easy pull up) and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until bubbling and the top turns golden.

Remove from oven and sprinkle the reserved Parmigiano on top. Let rest for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Francesco

Influenced by memories in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother, Italian-born Francesco Romano is the man behind the food blog, Coco de Mama. He shares recipes and culinary knowledge with Mazzoni fans each month.

Here’s a Genius Way to Reinvent Leftover Pasta

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Leftovers are a fact of life, but what are we to do with leftover pasta?

Every Sunday morning, my mother would make a four-egg batch of pasta dough and usually cut it into tagliatelle. She also prepared a pot of tomato and meat sauce. At lunchtime, she cooked all the tagliatelle, knowing that half would be left over. The day after, she prepared them ripassate in padella, meaning she heated some olive oil in a skillet and tossed the cold pasta in it, sautéeing it until it was nice and hot. What I liked about the result was that some strands became crisp and the sauce acquired a deeper flavor.

For my first vacation away from my parents, when I was 16 years old, I spent 10 days or so in the Calabrian city of Rossano. One day, my host prepared spaghetti, and I noticed that she set some of it aside, then dressed the rest and brought it to the table. The day after, she made a frittata with the spaghetti she had set aside. It was a revelation.

I kept that memory with me until I started making my own version of  frittata di pasta, usually with pasta left over from a meal, hence dressed. The nice thing about it is that the frittata is a bit different every time, depending on the kind of pasta and how it was dressed. For the rendition shown here, I used some tagliatelle verdi with ricotta, made according to the recipe in my previous post. A portion was eaten right away and the following day I used the rest to make the frittata.

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Consider the below as more of an invitation to be creative with what you have available than a recipe.  Adjust the number of eggs and pan size to the amount of pasta at hand and choose a cheese that you think pairs better with the pasta (whose original dressing may include some cheese, something to take into account in the planning).  A wedge of the frittata served with a simple heirloom tomato salad makes a lovely summer lunch.

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Frittata di Pasta

Serve with Mazzoni Vermentino-Chardonnay

Ingredients: 

Leftover pasta

Extra-virgin olive oil

6 eggs, possibly from pastured poultry

3 tablespoons water

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 ounce piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated; for other kinds of pasta, 1 ounce wedge of caciotta, or similar cheese of choice (e.g., Monterey Jack or Colby, plain), thinly sliced

Preparation:

Oil a 10-inch oven-proof skillet and warm up. Add the leftover pasta. Warm up the pasta and lightly sauté it for a couple of minutes, stirring every now and then.

In the meantime, break the eggs in a bowl and whisk them lightly until just blended. Add the salt and whisk briefly. Add the water and whisk lightly to incorporate. Add the grated cheese to the eggs and whisk lightly to incorporate. If you use the sliced cheese, hold on to it until later.

Turn on the broiler. If your oven allows it, choose the “low” setting, otherwise, move a rack to the lowest position.

Pour the eggs slowly into the skillet. With a fork, gently arrange the pasta so it is evenly distributed. Cook over low heat. After the edge is set, run a spatula under it and shake the frittata gently to ensure the bottom does not stick to the pan. Evenly distribute the sliced cheese on the surface.

When the eggs are set, place the skillet in the oven, leaving the door ajar, for 3 minutes. Take the skillet out of the oven (don’t forget that the handle is hot) and let rest of a couple of minutes, then slide the frittata onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve.

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6a00d835508b1869e201a511871f44970c-150wiWith a specialty in handmade pasta, Simona provides detailed, accessible tutorials teaching readers to cook like an Italian right from home on Live Like an Italian as well as on her own blog, briciole.

Here’s What You Should Be Drinking on Your Summer Holiday

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The month of August means it’s summer holiday, or ferragosto, in Italy. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true; nearly everyone in the country takes a vacation for two weeks to a month in August. Shopkeepers and restaurant owners close their businesses, and the city streets are quiet as families flock to the beach, the mountains, or the countryside to relax, recharge, and prepare for the autumn ahead.

Even the Mazzoni team takes time off from their work in the vineyards and the cellar. Mazzoni winemaker Alessandro Bindocci and his staff are on holiday until August 17, and will be back just in time to begin harvest.

As for the rest of us here in the United States, we can’t all be so fortunate to take a long vacation this month. We’ve been celebrating the end of summer with smaller moments, like delicious meals shared with family and friends, or a relaxing evening in the backyard.

MZI Vermentino Food Pairing

Of course, we’ve also been drinking lots of wine. Summer is the perfect time for seafood and sharing boards of charcuterie, so Mazzoni Vermentino Chardonnay has made several appearances on the patio this month. A perfect pairing with oysters, mussels, and medium aged cheeses, this wine is an elegant, savory, and balanced choice to finish out the summer. Aromas of ripened pear and apples along with mineral and spicy notes recall the Italian origin of this Vermentino, and make you feel like you’re almost sitting in the Tuscan countryside, enjoying your very own ferragosto.

So what’s your favorite Mazzoni to drink in the summer? Have any good recipe ideas to pair with Vermentino-Chardonnay? Let us know in the comments below!

Italian Recipe: Sicilian Braciole

There are few things better than tender meat stuffed with fresh mozzarella cheese and herbs. These delicious rolls are a Sicilian recipe that I remember having when I was a little boy, growing up in the beautiful city of Messina. I was inspired to make these tasty little jewels while eating carpaccio in a restaurant in Los Angeles.

My family owned a Michelin-Star restaurant in Italy named after my Nonna Sara, and this recipe is from that menu. While they are simple to make, as with most traditional Italian recipes, make sure you use the freshest and best quality ingredients.

Serve them at your next dinner party and watch how a few simple ingredients can taste so incredible, and impress your guests!

Buon Appetito!

Francesco 1

Francesco 2

Sicilian Braciole Recipe

Cook time:1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Serve with Mazzoni Barbera

Ingredients:

1 Pound round steak (sliced 3/8-inch)

5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic (minced)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)

3 Tablespoons Parmiggiano Reggiano (finely grated)

2 Tablespoons Pecorino Romano (finely grated)

1 1/2 Cups breadcrumbs

1 cup mozzarella (freshly grated)

Directions:

For the filling:

Combine in a bowl the half the bread crumbs, Pecorino, Parmiggiano, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil.

Mix until the mixture is smooth and becomes a paste. Set aside.

Grate the mozzarella cheese and set aside.

Assembling and cooking:

Lay the steak slices on a wide surface and using a small silicone spatula, spread 1/2 teaspoon of butter on each slice.

Divide the paste mixture equally among the steak slices. Add 1 teaspoon of mozzarella cheese to each.

Roll up the slices to enclose the filling, tucking in the ends. Secure the rolls inserting them onto a skewer. 4 rolls per skewer.

Put the remaining bread crumbs in a shallow dish and pat the rolled meat into the bread crumbs, creating a crust.

Grill each skewer for 2 minutes on each side or until medium-rare and the cheese is melted.

Take the rolls off the skewers and serve immediately.

FrancescoInfluenced by memories in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother, Italian-born Francesco Romano is the man behind the food blog, Coco de Mama. He shares recipes and culinary knowledge with Mazzoni fans each month.

How to: Make Tagliatelle Verdi (Green Pasta)

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Tagliatelle verdi owe their bright color to the inclusion of spinach in the dough. The green pasta plays the role of fieno (hay) in the classic combination paglia e fieno (straw and hay), with the role of straw played by tagliatelle all’uovo.

I like tagliatelle verdi, yet cooking the spinach before making the pasta sometimes is not practical. Some years ago, I tried Deborah Madison’s recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: her spinach variation for egg pasta involves the puréeing of fresh spinach and eggs, which eliminates the spinach cooking step. It worked perfectly: I easily combined the resulting paste with the flour to obtain pasta dough of a beautiful green color.

While my attempts at growing spinach in my small vegetable garden have produced disappointing results, kale sprouts everywhere easily and grows year round in the climate where I live, which constantly motivates me to find ways to consume it. Most of my kale is of the variety Red Russian, and the rest is cavolo nero (a.k.a., Tuscan kale). If you are considering growing some of your food, try kale. My gardening skills are quite limited, yet kale thrives, generously providing me with large quantities of tasty and nourishing dark green leaves.

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I particularly like the tender leaves of baby kale, and it was easy to think of using them instead of spinach to make tagliatelle verdi. Appreciation of baby kale has increased in recent years, so until you can harvest your own, you should be able to purchase it.

As usual when I write recipes for homemade pasta, I recommend you start small. Then, when you become familiar with the process, you can multiply the amount of ingredients to satisfy a larger number of guests. (Of course, if you are already comfortable with the pasta-making process, you can skip the initial baby steps.)

Note on flour: to make egg pasta, I like to use King Arthur Flour’s Perfect Pasta Blend, which includes semolina flour, durum flour and all-purpose flour. (I don’t have any business relationship with the company: this is in truth what I use.) Alternatively, you can use a blend of 50% semolina flour and 50% all-purpose flour or your preferred flour blend.

Tagliatelle Verdi

1 cup lightly packed baby kale leaves, tougher part of the stem removed, 15 g / 1/2 ounce

1 large egg, preferably from pastured poultry

3 1/2 ounces  / 100 g King Arthur Flour’s Perfect Pasta Blend OR a blend of 50% semolina flour and 50% all-purpose flour OR your preferred blend of flours for pasta — plus more as needed to obtain the dough

A pinch of fine sea salt

4 ounces / 113 g fresh [homemade] ricotta

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Wash the baby kale leaves and pat dry. With your hands, break them into pieces and place in a beaker or similar container (mine came with the hand blender). Add the egg and process with the hand blender until the kale is very finely shredded.

Weigh the flour in a bowl. Pour the blended egg and kale into the bowl. (Make sure you scrape the beaker well.) Stir with a small fork. Add the salt and stir some more until you have a cohesive dough. Empty the bowl onto a kneading board (again scraping the container well) and start kneading the dough with your hands.

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Add a bit more flour blend as needed to obtain a dough that is not sticky, but should not feel hard when kneaded. I usually add 5-10 g. Knead for 8-10 minutes, folding the dough on itself towards you and pushing it away from you with the heels of your hands in a fluid motion that should feel relaxed and meditative. Cover well and let rest for about an hour.

Roll the dough by hand or with a pasta machine. You may find it easier to cut the dough into 2 equal pieces, flatten both with a rolling pin and then roll each piece with a pasta machine until you are down to the last but one notch. Sprinkle the dough with all-purpose flour as needed to prevent sticking.

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Let the rolled dough rest for a short while. Sprinkle the dough with a bit of all-purpose flour, then cut each piece into tagliatelle (long strips that are 1/4-inch / 6 mm wide) with the machine attachment or by hand. In the latter case, fold a 3-inch strip of pasta lengthwise away from you. Continue to fold the strip until the entire pasta sheet is folded into a flattened roll. With a sharp knife, cut across the flattened roll. Unfold the cut tagliatelle immediately.

Lay out the tagliatelle in such a way that they don’t stick to each other until you are ready to cook them. You can dress the tagliatelle as you prefer. For the batch in the photo, I chose fresh homemade ricotta. Burro e parmigiano is always an option, or a light tomato sauce (especially now that tomatoes are in season).

Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil, add some coarse salt, stir and then toss the tagliatelle in it. Bring water back to boiling and keep it there. The time needed to cook the tagliatelle is not long, so don’t wander away.

Since the pasta takes only a short time to cook, prepare the ricotta as the water comes to a boil. Put the ricotta in a bowl and mash it with a fork to make a cream. If it is on the dry side, add to it a teaspoon or so of the pasta cooking water.

When the pasta is ready, remove from the heat, pour a glass of cold water in the pot, stir and then drain the pasta, leaving a bit of water clinging to it. Toss pasta and ricotta. Depending on the ricotta and on personal preference, a bit of salt may be added during the tossing. Plate and serve immediately.

The recipe makes a bit more than two portions (served as Italian first course).

6a00d835508b1869e201a511871f44970c-150wiWith a specialty in handmade pasta, Simona provides detailed, accessible tutorials teaching readers to cook like an Italian right from home on Live Like an Italian as well as on her own blog, briciole.

7 Things Italians Think About Americans

As Italy-lovers, it is easy to come up with a list of traits we admire about Italian life, but after celebrating the good old US of A on the Fourth of July, we wanted to take a look at what Italians think of Americans.  The stereotypes that live on in the eyes of Italians are sometimes half-true, and a few are very funny.

  1. Americans work too much.
    14 days of vacation a year? Working 8-6 every day? Americans are officially hard workers. Italians both admire this trait (and the American economy), but at other times they recoil in fear at the prospect of so few holidays and time with family.
  2. America has the best honeymoon destinations. Did you come to Italy, or dream of visiting for your honeymoon or anniversary? Well, Italians dream of going to the U.S. for their post-wedding trips. America is a top honeymoon destination, with the most popular itinerary being a tour of California, a stop at the Grand Canyon, ending up to close the trip in Las Vegas.
  3. Americans like Italian food that is a little bit weird. It is. Meat and pasta together?? Meatballs should be served as a second course on their own, after pasta. Chicken Alfredo? Not a thing in Italy! And don’t get Italians started on cheese/peperoni/hotdogs inside pizza crusts. Italians are pretty sure Americans are doing a lot of things wrong in the food department.
  4. Americans get everything to go. Why get a take away coffee? Why eat dinner in your car? Italians see Americans as leading a more frantic lifestyle and always being on the move. Give yourself a break during the day for a moment of calm, instead of constantly running to the next commitment.
  5. Americans move houses, a lot. In Italy, the most typical kind of lease is called a 4+4. That’s four years, renewing automatically for another four years unless something goes wrong—so an 8-year minimum lease on an apartment! It is also more common to stay in the place you were born and raised. Italians watch Americans go off to college, often far from their hometowns and families, and wonder why we transfer ourselves to cities so far away.
  6. Each American eats a whole turkey on Thanksgiving, by themselves. Americans have the TV show Friends to thank for this one, but many Italians have heard rumors about Thanksgiving and the feast that goes along with it. One rumor that lives on is that Americans eat a lot on this day—an entire turkey to each person, rather than a turkey per party!
  7. Americans are hard to stereotype because the country is so big and the culture so varied. Sure, there are stories of loud-talking tourists, but overall Italians see America as a land of great opportunity, with motivated and professional people, funny food, but also very unique from each other!

Did we miss any Italian thoughts on America??

181231_636233323070687_1494790961_n Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides accessible Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.

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