Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese

Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese  More than thirty years ago Marcella Hazan almost single-handedly popularized this amazingly flavorful comfort dish from the Alpine valley of Valtellina in Lombardia north of Milano.  The pasta department at Fairway not only stocked the special buckwheat pasta calledpizzoccheri, but posted Ms Hazan’s recipe on take-away sheets as a marketing tool!  At least the dish was popular for a minute in New York, though I doubt it ever really caught on in the rest of the US.  Today it has rather vanished.Saraceno, Italians call buckwheat—Saracen wheat.  Did the Saracens really bring it to Lombardia over the mountain passes from northern Europe?  Maybe.  And it never really caught on in any other part of Italy, remaining pretty much a regional one-off (though it seems Venetians use some buckwheat for noodles, or at least they used to).  This pasta dish is perfectly at home in its Alpine surroundings, with its nutty-tasting noodles, lots of cheese and butter, and the more modern addition of potatoes that probably dates only as far back as the Austrian potato love affair, which scarcely predates 1800.  It is also a delicious wintery dish here in New York, and nicely balanced—rich but nutritious.One aspect of this dish that makes me giggle (I have been called weird before) is that it contains Swiss chard, a beet green with no particular claim on Switzerland.  And yet, in this case Swiss chard combines perfectly with the very Swiss combination of cheese and starch to complete a most satisfying Italian combo.  I often see a whole history lesson in a baking dish, so thanks for indulging me.  I think of this one now and then when the weather begins to turn cool and I want something with substance that I can set up ahead of time and bake off at serving time.  Or at least I bake my pizzoccheri, while it seems that most cooks combine the just-cooked ingredients and serve immediately.  I am always looking for dishes that I can assemble ahead of time, and this one works fine for me.  Just make sure the pasta mixture is not too carefully drained.You must make some choices about cheese, because you will probably not find bitto or casera Valtellina or another Valtellina cheese in your local shops.  Most people I know use fontina—the real one from Val d’Aosta—which is another mountain cheese but from farther West.   If you can find a nice fontina and still have anything left in your budget for the rest of the ingredients, great.   I tend to settle on yet another mountain cheese, from the East this time, called montasio.  It can be delicious and not break the bank.  It is also made from the milk of herds that graze in Alpine meadows, but in Friuli this time.  If you have a choice, get the younger one, and some hard grating cheese—grana—too.I couldn’t find any buckwheat pasta in shops in New York right now.  Of course you could order it online.  I thought about making it.  I love to make pasta, and this one doesn’t even require a pasta machine, though you might use one if you find the rolling easier.  But I thought, I want to get supper on the table, and I bet you do too.  Do let’s use a dried pasta that we can just drop into boiling water and get on with it.  I decided on whole wheat pasta.  It has some of the nuttiness we are looking for.  And it is quick, nutritious, and delicious....more

Shrimp and Pasta for a Sunday Night Supper

Shrimp and Pasta for a Sunday Night Supper I don’t cook shrimp very often.  If I lived in a Southern port city where the wild catch is landed every day during the season, I might well pop down to buy some, or better still, eat some shrimp freshly boiled dockside.  They would have to be whole, mind you, so that I could suck the richness out of the heads, crunch the tail-meat free from the shells, talk, laugh, drink beer.Lacking a pleasant scenario like the above, Hubby and I are both sort of lukewarm to the concept of shrimp.  However, I always have a 1-pound bag of easy-peels (26-30s or 21-25s) in the freezer in case inspiration or necessity strikes.  Most shrimp on the market are frozen anyway, farm-raised in Mexico or Thailand or neighboring countries, then processed and block frozen in four- or five-pound boxes.  If you can use that much, then buy a box in Chinatown or the equivalent and pay a great low price.  If you only need a pound or so, then buy them from a market that does a brisk business so that what you buy will be freshly defrosted.Another option is the easy-peel shrimp I mentioned above.  My supermarket sells them in one-pound bags that are often on sale.  The cut up the back and the deveining that have been performed on these individually-frozen guys will truly speed things up without sacrificing much flavor.  The convenience of having a bag or two on hand for occasions like this is enormous.  And the fact of their only having been frozen once (provided they are handled properly through the supply chain) means they will be more flavorful than anything you organize in advance and store in your home freezer for supper occasions like this one.  Just run cold water over individually-frozen shrimp, and they will defrost in a few minutes.  But do not be tempted to buy a shelled and frozen shrimp product.  Shrimp can take freezing, but not freezing naked.Here is one of those dishes, a Sunday night supper kind of thing that uses ingredients one already has on hand.  So it is great for snow-ins and sloth-ins as well as those occasions when a shrimp craving surfaces.    Add a salad and you are all nourished and ready for reruns of Downton Abbey.  Add a few toasts rubbed with garlic and tomatoes and well-drizzled with good green olive oil, and you might decide to tuck this dish into your weeknight lineup too.I normally adhere to the elegant Tuscan dictate about no cheese with seafood pastas.  But I can imagine a situation where I might suddenly decide that I must crumble a bit of feta on top of this one, or add a dusting of a really nice aged pecorino.  I’m not saying it needs it, or that you should follow my whim, just that I always want readers to feel free to indulge their fancies as well as mine. ...more

Positano Seafood Pasta

This was one of my favorite dishes that we had in Italy. It comes from the famous Buca di Bacco restaurant in Positano. This restaurant has served countless Holywood stars and american politicians over the years including Ronald Reagan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Denzel Washington and so many more. Buca di Bacco is renowned for its refined Italian dishes and this seafood pasta is one of them. Here's my take on this delicious dish....more

Chinese Style Spaghetti & Meatballs

A new twist on a classic favourite, Chinese Style Spaghetti and Meatballs is a hot and spicy feast that is packed full of flavour.Spaghetti and Meatballs Chinese StyleINGREDIENTS:...more
I've never heard of soaking bread for meatballs before. Sounds like a fun twist!more

Pancetta & Garlic Linguini

Brand new to this site and still trying to figure it out!!  So how about I share my latest post on the blog?  Pancetta and Garlic Linguini!  We just finished out pasta week for National Noodle month and this was the grand finale!  ...more

Quick Macaroni & Tuna Salad

Takes only 15 minutes and you have got lunch/ dinner ready without a hassle. It is easy to make, delicious and keeps your tummy happy :) I make this very often for a quick lunch when I have not done any meal prep for the next day and when I am tired to make a big lunch. I make it spicy for my husband and me. Before adding the chili to the pasta in a separate bowl I leave some for my son....more

Orecchiette with Pancetta, Cauliflower and Bread Crumbs

This pasta dish is simple, rustic and so good.  Orecchiette with pancetta and cauliflower, in a sauce thickened with bread crumbs.  Delicious way to make cauliflower, the hot veggie right now. http://thehungrybluebird.com/recipes/orecchiette-with-pancetta-cauliflow......more

Macaroni and Cheese