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Pomeriggio di Pasta (An Afternoon of Pasta)

A tavola non si invecchia
At the table with good friends and family you do not become old.

Laureen's positive energy is contagious!

Laureen’s positive energy is contagious!

This last weekend, I enjoyed one of the finest stress-free parties I’ve ever thrown. What’s my secret? Read on for clues!

Recent trips to Italy have inspired me to excavate my pasta machine and crank it up. What better way to renew my acquaintance with this machine, than to invite other food lovers to share in the experience of making fresh, homemade pasta? The friends I made in Rome on a food tour were in San Diego for the weekend. Thus the inspiration for a pasta party with friends of all ages to gather, cook Italian and swap stories of Italy. I cranked up the Mambo Italiano tunes from Pandora and soon the spoons were stirring, hands were kneading and bodies were swaying to the beat of the music. Are we having fun? It was a blast!

Making spinach pasta - one of my favorites.

Making spinach pasta – one of my favorites.

Starting the kneading process.

Starting the kneading process.

Here’s our pasta featured lunch menu:

White lasagna layered with grilled veggies ala TV’s “The Chew”

Fettuccine with spicy Italian olive oil, fresh Pecorino cheese and black pepper

Spinach pasta ravioli filled with spinach, ricotta and Parmesan

Fresh greens from my garden

Homemade Ciabatta bread made by master baker Eva

Fresh strawberries with vanilla ice cream and my homemade limoncello

After a how-to demo of using your fingers to gradually incorporate the flour into the well of eggs and olive oil, I turned the mixing over to Laureen, the friend I met in Rome. The dough almost looks as if it is not going together but it’s important not to add more liquid at this point. Sometimes strong hands are needed to pull the dough into a cohesive mass. Laureen’s husband, Brent was our man.

Folding the pasta.

Folding the pasta.

His strong hands swiftly kneaded the mixture into a beautiful soft and smooth dough which we let rest for 20 minutes. Even though I’ve made homemade pasta many times before, I did some research and thought Guiliano Bugialli’s method for rolling out the dough was worth a try. First, feed the dough through the machine on the widest setting. Then fold the dough into thirds like a book.

Notice how this pasta dough is much coarser than the multiple roller pasta.

Notice how this pasta dough is much coarser than the multiple rolled pasta.

A more refined pasta.

A more refined pasta.

Feed it through the machine again on the widest setting and repeat folding and rolling on this setting eight more times. After the ninth roll, reduce the settings to move the rollers closer together. Feed the dough through each of the remaining settings once until the dough is almost translucent.

Our egg pasta is perfecto!

Brent’s egg pasta is perfecto! We made two batches of pasta. One pure egg and one spinach. The egg is made with 2 cups of flour, 2 eggs and 2 tsp. of olive oil. Simple.

With patience, Brent folded and rolled and I must say, the texture of the pasta was the best I’ve ever made. This technique is a keeper!

How much more beautiful does this get? Or do I just love food??

How much more beautiful does this get? Or do I just love food??

Our antipasto munchies. The butter is homemade by moi!

Our antipasto munchies. The butter is homemade by moi!

Everyone had a task. My friend Eva made a red sauce from tomatoes I canned last summer. Laureen carefully cut out raviolis, made from our homemade spinach pasta, and filled them with spinach and ricotta.

Laureen's classy raviolis.

Laureen’s classy raviolis.

Sliced veggies ready for their grill marks.

Sliced veggies ready for their grill marks.

My mom manned the BBQ grilling thinly sliced eggplant and zucchini to be layered into the white béchamel-sauced lasagna.

La mama hard at work.

La mama hard at work.

Mom's finished lasagne The secret ingredient is lemon peel and lemon juice stirred into the finished bechamel.

Mom’s finished lasagne The secret ingredient is lemon zest and lemon juice stirred into the finished bechamel.

Eva tossed a salad with greens from my garden, southern Italian olive oil and thick aged balsamic vinegar from The California Olive.

The salad maker Eva.

Eva gives a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the greens.

Eva showing off the eyes of her bread.

Eva showing off the eyes of her bread.

Lucky me for having a great friend who makes the best bread I have ever put in my mouth. Eva presented us with two huge loaves of crunchy Ciabatta with a chewy interior and perfect taste. She seriously needs to take this to the next level and sell her bread to all her fans.

Ciabatta made with love by Eva. Divine.

Ciabatta made with love by Eva. Divine.

This is one happy kitchen!

This is one happy kitchen!

The meal was coming together! A bottle of Prosecco and a toast celebrated our friendships. It was time to indulge!

Salute!

Salute!

Green garden salad.

Mangiamo!

Ravioli, fettucine and lasagne. Italian heaven.

Ravioli, fettucine and lasagne. Italian heaven.

The company IS the party!

The company IS the party!

È raccogliendosi a tavola che gli amici apprezzano la gioia di stare insieme.
 It is around the table that friends understand best the warmth of being together.

Delicioso!

Limoncello drenched ice cream and strawberries were the digestive.

Limoncello drenched ice cream and strawberries were the digestive.

If you haven’t thrown a spontaneous party recently, I highly recommend it. All you need is adventurous friends, happy, snappy, music, a few ingredients and a dose of quality time. It’s easier than you’d imagine and more fun too! Buon Appetito!

Thanks to Brent and Laureen for sharing some of their photos with me. Also, The California Olive is a great resource for local and delicious olive oils and balsamic vinegars: www.thecaliforniaolive.com

Abbandonati all’amore e alla cucina!
Love and cook with wild abandon!

Ciao for now

Maria

 

 

 




Nicola Cooks Tuscan

The chef Nicola in his element.

The chef Nicola in his element.

My friend Nicola is a cook, gardener, artist, historian and proud  Lucchese – a person born in Lucca. Angela, of La Mimosa, introduced us while gathered around her rustic wooden kitchen table, a fire blazing in the open-hearth to warm us during a fall rainstorm. She was in the midst of preparing rabbit stew for lunch and we were the observers. I was drawn to Nicola’s enthusiasm and knowledge of traditional Tuscan foods, their heritage and cultivation.

I learned that olive oil from Lucca is lighter and softer than the spicy southern version I usually cook with. Tuscan bread is unsalted. The reason being, during the medieval times a high tax was levied on the salt and the bakers decided to go without. Romans used faro before wheat, so in keeping with their roots, many Tuscans use it in salads and soups. Tuscan foods have more of a French influence than other parts of Italy.

To become more familiar with typical, local ingredients, I asked Nicola if he would cook with me in my barn kitchen and teach me his family secrets. He eagerly agreed.

Here is his menu:

Antipasto of Artichoke Hearts, Olives and Pickled Onions

Pumpkin Risotto

 Faraona stuffed with vegetables and braised on the stove top

Rutabagas, cubed and cooked with butter, sage and garlic

A medley of sautéed greens, shallots, garlic and white beans

Unsalted Tuscan bread

Salad greens from Nico’s garden, dressed with local olive oil

Tuscan country wine

Our antipasto and my table decoration of all things nature gathered outside at La Mimosa.

Antipasto nestles between my Tuscan table decoration of all things nature gathered outside at La Mimosa.

When I saw the abundance of groceries overflowing on my countertop, I wondered how we would be able to eat it all. Good thing Angela and Davino were joining us!

Faison is a type of guinea fowl. typical of the region.

The Faraona, a guinea fowl,  is stuffed with leeks, garlic, carrots and celery. It is then trussed and wrapped with a layer of lard. According the the famous Italian culinary writer Artusi, the Faraona is native to Numidia and considered to be the symbol of brotherly love in the ancient world. How appropriate!

Ummm. Lard. It gives the bird flavor and makes everything taste delicious. I loved this paper it was wrapped in.

Ummm. Lard. It gives the bird flavor and makes everything taste delicious. I loved the photo on this paper it was wrapped in.

The trussed, larded bird is browned in a heavy pot on the stove. Water and wine are added during the cooking process and the lidded bird cooks slowly.

The trussed, larded bird is browned in a heavy pot on the stove. Water just to coat the bottom of the pot, sage, garlic, pepperoncini and wine are added to braise and the lidded bird cooks slowly.

The artist, Nico, set to work creating dish upon dish so effortlessly. It was as if he were floating through time, not rushed, just enjoying the moment. I watched (and helped) in amazement as each dish came together.

Nicola artfully balances four burners full of food all going at once: The Faraona, rutabagas, pumpkin risotto, chopped greens with white beans.

Nicola artfully balances four burners full of food all going at once: The Faraona, rutabagas, pumpkin risotto and chopped greens with white beans.

While the bird cooks, Nicola starts the pumpkin risotto. Italians call squash, “pumpkin.” Butternut squash is cubed and cooked in a pot of boiling water until tender but not overcooked. In another saucepan, sauté what else but olive oil, two minced garlic cloves, and  three chopped shallots until soft.  Add two handfuls of rice (arborio) for each person and water to cover. Stir and add water as needed. Drain the almost cooked pumpkin and add to risotto. When risotto is almost done, add white wine as the last reduction and salt to taste. Do not overcook!The secret is to cook al dente.

My kitchen was an infusion of mingling aromas – shallots, garlic, sage and roasting bird. In a soft tone, Nicola describes each step, keeping rhythmn with the courses. Rutabagas, which add a color contrast and bright flavor to our meal,  are cubed and cooked with garlic and sage in a small amount of water.

More olive oil, shallots and garlic are sautéed with a mixture of chopped greens, mostly spinach, that you can purchase ready-made at the store. This is all heated together, then white beans are stirred in. Very delicious and healthy.

Il primo. Creamy and al dented, it gets Davino's approval.

Il primo. Creamy and al dente, it gets Davino’s approval.

Tigre in a trance, dreaming of the bird that fills his senses. Of course, he will be the lucky recipient of tender morsels at dinner time.

Tigre in a trance, dreaming of the bird that fills his senses. Of course, he will be the lucky recipient of tender morsels at dinner time.

Il secondi. Now this is a dinner created with love!

Il secondi. Now this is a dinner created with love!

Angela with Tigre upon lap enjoying the camaraderie.

Angela with Lily upon lap enjoying the camaraderie.

Everything is perfect and so very delicious. The Faraono is delicate and succulent. Angela, Davino and Nicola ate it with fingers, devouring every morsel off the bones.

The conversation (and wine and Prosecco) continued until 12:30am. I will always remember this dinner, the new friendships formed and the enjoyment cooking brings when shared with others. By the way, do all Italian men know how to cook like this? I am impressed!

All the activity wore Gilda out!

All the activity wore Gilda out!

So that’s my friend Nicola. The best part of traveling is meeting new people, discovering their artistic talents and sharing the journey. I wish you art and love everyday in your life.

Note: The photos in this story are off color. I had difficulty with the indoor lighting. They are not my usual standard!

Ciao!

Mary aka Maria