I was born and raised in Kansas and learned to cook alongside my mother. Now, along with my wonderful husband, I have taken the plunge into the city life in New York. These are my food adventures: in my own tiny kitchen, and in the many restaurants of the city.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Italian Feast: Mushroom Bruschetta, Orecchiette, Sardines, Panna Cotta

Sometimes I desperately wish that I had that woman in my life who taught me how to make gorgeous bread or pasta from scratch as a very young child. Don't get me wrong--my mom made so many things homemade--egg noodles for chicken soup, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, and always let me help and learn, but she isn't descended from a long line of Italians who passed down the tradition of beautiful ravioli or thin tagliatelle that is made without even having to measure out the ingredients onto the counter top. And I never moved to Italy and found an "adopted grandmother" who would show me her trade, patiently guiding my clumsy hands through the work over and over again until they finally found the pasta rhythm.

Therefore my homemade pasta tends to turn out thick and oh-so-indelicate. You can't see the filling through the ravioli because I haven't had the patience to let it rest so it actually rolls out thinly (instead of just shrinking back to its thicker self as I roll it out too soon). My hot hands make the orecchiette stick to my fingers instead of rolling smoothly off, making every shape in the world besides the ear shape they should be.

But these downfalls don't keep me from trying. I figure eventually practice will have to win out and someday I won't feel ashamed to host a dinner party featuring a pile of my own handmade pasta as the centerpiece. Someday.

Unfortunately that day is not today. After reading Gabrielle Hamilton's raw, honest Blood, Bones and Butter I wanted nothing more than to prepare an Italian feast--complete with homemade pasta. Since we had no dinner parties to speak of coming up, it was a special weeknight dinner prepared for just two.

The farmer's market gave me the initial inspiration with all of the flavorful sausages available at this time of year and the mounds of kale. Traditional orrechiette it was. The mushroom stall also called my name and I couldn't resist the oyster and maitakes, which would become a simple bruschetta appetizer. In my search for lobster the other week, I noticed Whole Foods had some really nice looking fresh sardines, so they went onto the list as well, with my plans to top them with the pesto I had made and frozen this summer. The whole meal was finished off by a simple and clean panna cotta topped with a freezer strawberry jam I also packed away during the warmer months.

The orrechiette making ended up being a bit of a disaster. I used an all-purpose flour from the farmer's market, which I thought would be nice, but it has more whole wheat which actually made the pasta dough too thick and not as smooth. As I said before, my hot hands also make shaping the little ears very difficult. I ended up with a lot of very thick, just barely concave disks but went through with the pasta course anyways. Despite it not being quite right and too chewy, the dish still tasted incredible--spicy from the sausage and just enough crispy bite from the kale.

The rest of the meal though was just right. Not too much (I actually somehow made small enough quantities that we had very few leftovers) and the flavors were harmonious in their simplicicty. The sardines were even delicious--we don't eat a lot of oily, fishy fish and I am trying to break us in. Topped off with this spiced pesto is the way to go if you are trying sardines for the first time! And panna cotta is always a wonderful way to end a big meal as it is light and never too filling.

It was a meal I feel my imaginary Italian nonna would be proud of. And one day, I know my orecchiette will roll off my fingers as easily as they do hers.

Mushroom Ricotta Bruschetta

French bread
1/2 c. ricotta cheese
zest from 1 lemon
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. pepper

1/2 lb mushrooms (mixture of oyster and maitake), chopped
4 TB butter
1 clove garlic
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 t. fresh rosemary, chopped

Slice the French bread into slices about 1/2-3/4" thick and lightly toast. Set aside.
In a small bowl mix together the ricotta, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, add the chopped mushrooms. Saute, stirring occasionally until they are nicely browned. Then add the butter and garlic to the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes until the butter is melted and the garlic is fragrant. Then add the salt, pepper and rosemary to the pan and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Spread the toasted French bread with a bit of  the ricotta mixture and top off with a good heap of the sauteed mushrooms and serve.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Kale

Homemade Orecchiette Recipe Here
Here's a video of a woman making beautiful orecchiette
(I doubled the Orecchiette recipe above to make enough for leftovers)
4 hot Italian sausage links, meat removed from casing
4 c. chopped kale
1 clove garlic
1/2 stick of butter
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Boil the orecchiette according to directions.
Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage meat and saute until cooked through, breaking the meat up into small pieces as it cooks.
Add the chopped kale to the pan and cook until slightly crispy, about 4 minutes (before adding the kale you may need to add a tablespoon or so of olive oil to the pan if the sausage did not release a lot of its own fat).
Add the garlic and butter to the pan and cook until the butter melts and the garlic is fragrant. Then toss the whole mess with the cooked orecchiette. Top off with a bit of Parmesan cheese if desired and serve.

Fresh Sardines in a Spicy Pesto
serves 2

4 fresh sardines, cleaned
salt and pepper
1/4 c. pesto
2 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 t. paprika
1/4 t. red chili flakes
1 TB fresh lemon juice

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
Pat the sardines dry with a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside while making the sauce and allowing the skillet to heat up.
In a small bowl mix together the pesto, extra virgin olive oil, paprika, chili flakes and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.
Once the skillet is hot, add the sardines in a single layer. Sear and cook for about 3 minutes or so per side, until the skin is charred and the flesh is just cooked through. Then carefully remove the sardines to a platter and top off with the pesto sauce to serve.

Panna Cotta
For easy, fast, simply delicious panna cotta use David Lebovitz's recipe Here


That Girl said...

My pasta was similarly thick until I started having the patience to roll it out again and again and again till it's thin enough.

Patricia Scarpin said...

I cannot believe you made orecchiette from scratch! I bow to you, Sarah! ;)