Monday, April 30, 2012

The Glorious Pasta of Italy

Who could resist a dish like the one on the cover of Domenica Marchetti's latest cookbook, The Glorious Pasta of Italy? It's been out for about a year, but I am finally getting around to perusing it and making some of the recipes, including the two I chose for this blog post.

It's not easy to decide what to make from this book, since there are so many tempting choices. I'm just going to have to work my way through the entire book, from the chapter "Pasta in Soups" to "Pasta on the Run" to "Showstoppers." There's something in here for busy families looking for a quick dinner, to fancy dishes you'd serve to the boss. Domenica has included traditional pasta dishes, along with some contemporary dishes of her own invention.

One of the dishes that caught my eye was whole wheat orecchiette with a sauce made using broccoli rape (rapini) and regular broccoli. Instead of using regular broccoli, I made the dish using broccoli rape and some cauliflower, since that's what I had on hand.

Normally, I shy away from whole-wheat pasta. Anytime I've eaten it, cardboard comes to mind. But then again, I'd never eaten home-made whole wheat pasta. That is, until Domenica's dish gave me the impetus. Besides, my dad --who's 90 years old and loves to cook -- was visiting for the afternoon and I thought it would be fun to make pasta together.

After preparing the dough and kneading it, you roll it out into long "rope" like shapes, then cut off little pieces from the rope and press down, while pushing away from the center.

It's easy to do, but it takes a little practice and your technique will improve as you work your way through the batch of dough. Make sure your dough isn't too dry though, or will crumble apart when you try to shape the little ears. If you're working as a team, you'll have enough for a meal in no time.

 Of course, there's no law that says you can't serve this sauce with dried, store-bought pasta. In the photo below, I served it with store-bought creste de gallo (rooster's crest). You may notice that the sauce here is also much less homogenized (and sparser) than in the other pasta dish (less time in the food processor). It's just as good either way.

Another recipe from the book I tried were these fluffy dumplings that reminded me a lot of the canederli I eat when I'm in the Trentino-Alto Adige region. But instead of being made with bread as canederli are, these dumplings are made with semolina. It's nearly the same recipe you'd use for gnocchi alla romana. The difference is these are shaped into ovals or quenelles, unlike round canederli. And rather than bake in the oven, you drop these little quenelles into hot broth.

After making the soup, I reserved some of the "dough," spread it in a small casserole and refrigerated it. The next day, I  arranged it in a buttered casserole with a little grated parmesan on the top and baked it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes and had my gnocchi alla romana. That's what I call versatility.

Start by cooking semolina flour with milk, eggs and butter. I used semolina from Italy that was sent to me by Olio 2Go. It was perfect for this recipe and I'm looking forward to trying it in other things.

After mixing everything together, use two spoons to push the dough back and forth and make a compact "football" shape.

Then just drop the quenelles into the broth and simmer over the stove for about five to ten minutes.

One last thing - Take a minute to drop by my friend Christo's blog - Chez What? for a guest post by yours truly on halibut with cannellini beans.

Orecchiette With Creamy Broccoli Sauce

printable recipe here

Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 batch Whole Wheat Pasta Dough or White Whole Wheat Pasta Dough (please see separate recipe), or 1 lb dried orecchiette

  • Semolina flour for dusting, if making orecchiette (optional)

  • Unbleached all-purpose/plain flour for dusting and for shaping the dough, if making the orecchiette (optional)

Whole Wheat Pasta Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

  • 3/4 cup 00 or unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 t. fine sea salt

  • 1 T. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed

  • 2/3 cup tepid water

Put the two flours and the salt in a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine. Drizzle in the 1 T. olive oil and turn on the machine. Begin slowly pouring the water through the feed tube, adding only as much as you need for the dough to form crumbs that look like small curds. Pinch together a bit of the mixture and roll it around. It should form a soft ball. If the mixture seems dry, add a few more drops of oil and pulse briefly. If it seems too wet and sticky, add additional "00" flour, 1 T. at a time, and pulse briefly.

(note, mine was too dry and I needed to add more water.) 

Turn the mixture out onto a clean work surface sprinkled lightly with flour and press it together with your hands to form a rough ball. Knead the dough: Using the palm of your hand, push the dough gently but firmly away from you, and then fold it over toward you. Rotate the dough a quarter turn, and repeat the pushing and folding motion. Continue kneading for several minutes until the dough is smooth. Form it into a ball and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap/cling film. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.

For the sauce

  • 1 head broccoli, about 1 lb, stalks trimmed and reserved for another use or discarded and head separated into florets (I used cauliflower here)

  • 1 bunch rapini, about 1 lb, tough stalks discarded

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

  • 1/2 tsp kosher or fine sea salt, or to taste

  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

  • 1/2 cup homemade vegetable broth, homemade chicken broth, or best-quality low-sodium, fat-free commercial vegetable or chicken broth

  • 1/4 cup heavy/double cream

  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino romano cheese for serving


Mix the pasta dough as directed and let it rest. Lightly dust a work surface with semolina. Place a small bowl of all-purpose/plain flour nearby. Dust a rimmed baking sheet/tray or clean tablecloth with semolina or all-purpose flour. Pinch off a golf ball–sized piece of dough and rerwrap the rest so it does not dry out. Using your palms, roll the piece of dough on the dusted surface into a rope the thickness of a pinkie finger. Cut the rope crosswise into small pieces, each about the size of a hazelnut (1/4 to 1/2 in thick). Working with 1 piece at a time, roll it between your palms to form a ball. With the thumb of one hand, press the ball into the middle of the palm of your other hand to form a deep depression in the dough. Rotate the dough and repeat the pressing once or twice, rotating the dough after each impression. You want to create a small, deep saucer. If the dough sticks, dip your thumb into the bowl of flour. Place the finished shape on the flour-dusted baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough until you have shaped it all.

(If you plan to cook the orecchiette within a day of shaping, you can leave them out until it is time to cook them.)

To make the sauce: Bring water to a depth of about 1/2 in to a boil in a steamer pan placed over medium-high heat. Arrange the broccoli florets on the steamer rack, place the rack in the pan, cover, and steam the broccoli for 4 to 5 minutes, or until bright green. Transfer the florets to a bowl and set aside.

Check the water in the steamer pan, and add more as needed until it is 1/2 in deep. Bring to a boil, put the rapini on the steamer rack, cover, and steam for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the leaves and florets are wilted. Transfer to the bowl holding the broccoli.

Warm 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the garlic in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Add the broccoli and rapini and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the vegetables and garlic are very tender. Stir in the salt and cayenne pepper and raise the heat to medium-high. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, or until some of the wine has evaporated. Remove from the heat and let the vegetables cool for about 10 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables and their cooking liquid to a blender or food processor, add the remaining 1/4 cup oil, and puree until smooth. Gradually add the broth, about 1/4 cup at a time, and process until the puree is the consistency of a thick sauce. You should have about 3 cups sauce.

Return the sauce to the sauté pan and place over low heat. Stir in the cream and heat until warmed through.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the orecchiette and stir to separate. If using fresh pasta, cover the pot until the water comes back to a boil, then uncover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until al dente. If using dried pasta, cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.

Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl and spoon about two-thrids of the sauce over it. Toss gently to combine the pasta and sauce thoroughly, adding a splash or two of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Spoon the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with the cheese. Serve immediately.

Simplify: The orecchiette may be made in advance and frozen (uncooked). Arrange them in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets/trays dusted with semolina and freeze for 1 hour, or until firm. Transfer them to a zipper-lock freezer bag or a tightly lidded container and freeze for up to 1 month, then cook directly from the freezer.

Fluffy Semolina Dumpling Soup

printable recipe here 

Makes 4 servings

2 cups whole milk or half-and-half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (didn't use it due to allergies)
2/3 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 cups homemade chicken broth (I used homemade vegetable broth)

Combine the milk, butter, salt, and nutmeg in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then very slowly add the semolina in a constant stream, whisking all the while as you pour. Cook, stirring constantly, until the semolina is thickened and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. This should take about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a bowl, using a spatula to scrape the sides of the pan. Stir in the 1/2 cup of Parmigiano and parsley. Working slowly and stirring as you go, carefully pour in the eggs, taking care to incorporate them immediately so they don’t begin to “cook” and curdle. Set aside while you prepare the broth.

Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Using two standard-size coffee spoons or dessert spoons, scoop up about 1 tablespoon of the semolina mixture and form it into an oval. This is easier than it sounds: you will see the oval naturally take shape as you transfer the mixture from one spoon to the other a few times. As you shape each dumpling, gently drop it into the boiling broth. You should have 20 to 24 dumplings in all. Reduce the heat to medium to allow the dumplings to simmer without the broth boiling over. Simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the dumplings have floated to the surface and puffed up considerably.

Spoon the dumplings into warmed shallow, rimmed bowls, dividing them evenly, and ladle some broth over them. Sprinkle with additional Parmigiano and serve immediately.

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  1. I always love dumpling, your semolina dumpling soup look so delicious and tempting.

  2. I love this book! The recipes it contains are fabulous.

    Lovely orechiette and dumpling soup! So scrumptious looking.



  3. Stunning post Linda!have a wonderful week, cheers....

  4. Adoro la pasta e tutti questi piatti sono per me irresistibili. Un abbraccio, buona settimana Daniela.

  5. cara Linda, ho letto il tuo gentile commento nel mio blog, ho trovato una ditta vicino a Pescara che vende on line i semi per piantare gli agretti, prova a contattarli, puoi pagare con carta di credito e anche paypal, spero possano spedire negli Stati Uniti, un abbraccio !

  6. I am in carb heaven. Both look grand and I'd like to try my hand at making the wheat pasta. (Which is much improving over the years - I use it more and more.)Dumplings in soup - I can (and do) have that for breakfast. Your father looks so beautiful!

  7. My mouth is watering! What a great post to wake up to! those fluffy dumplings and the gnocchi alla romana, looks to die for, but the best part is your cute dad making pasta with you, lucky you!

  8. it would take me ages to make that pasta! but it would be worth it, the soup looks delicious!

  9. Grazie mille, Linda! Thank you for the shout-out. It makes me happy to know that you have cooked from my book. :) I LOVE that photo of your Dad! How wonderful that you are still cooking together. Thank you for writing about the book and for sharing your delicious improvisations--I would not have thought to put cauliflower in that sauce, but it's such a great idea. I look forward to trying your version.


  10. My mother made a very similar German soup called Groesse Knockerln. I never got that recipe, before she passed. I think I just found it. This soup is pure comfort food, and so delicious. I'm intrigued with trying the whole wheat pasta recipe, as I've had the cardboard experience that you've had. I love orechiette and I recently learned how to make them. Pretty easy, and fun to do. Sweet picture of your Papa.

  11. First of all your dad is just adorable. love Domenica's book and everything I've made from it has been a success.

  12. What a beautiful cookbook! I really want to try the whole wheat Orecchietti, Linda. Your Dad looks so happy kneading the pasta dough :)

  13. Every recipe looks delicious but those semolina dumplings have captured my attention! I can't wait to try them.

    Great shot of your father :)

  14. This is awesome! I can't wait to visit Italy one day and eat all the delicious foods!

  15. What a wonderful post, Linda. You are so blessed to have the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen with your dad. My mouth is watering for a bowl of your dumpling soup. The weather here is nasty and soup is definitely on the menu.

  16. Your dad is adorable! And you two did such a fine job with those pasta dishes. Domenica's "The Glorious Pasta of Italy" is indeed wonderful. Thanks for writing about it.

  17. This looks like a great cookbook, if these recipes are any indication! I've had pretty good luck with whole wheat pasta (although homemade would be even better!).

  18. Linda...everything you have made looks right up my alley! I am sitting here drooling over your gorgeous pics! I have never made orecchiette by hand and I am so inspired to try now. This looks like a fabulous book...i must put it on my wish list! The sauce with the broccoli rabe will be on our table this coming week for sure! Your Dad is a real cutie!

  19. I just knew you'd enjoy this book Linda, and am so glad you've "found" Domenica. How wonderful to see you cooking with your Dad, a great way to keep familial bonds tight. As always, your results are mouthwatering!

  20. Hi Linda, What a really wonderful post. I have made such good use of Domenica's book - lots of mileage out of that treasure. Her recipes are so clearly written, and easy to understand, and the photography and food styling are total knockouts. I love seeing it get "virtual" ink. And you sure did a terrific job with the handmade orecchiette. How wonderful to see your father in on the action. Kudos to you both! It is good to see the two versions of the sauce - processed and not so heavily processed. Darn smart of you to give folks a choice and to afford them an opportunity to see variations on Domenica's recipe. Again, I love that you have presented two variations on the second recipe. The dual ideas go such a long way to making recipes, and cooking in general, accessible to people by encouraging them to not be utterly constrained by a recipe. This really is an inspiring post. Brava!

  21. What an array of pastas, Linda, but my favorite is the one your sweet Dad is making. You're lucky to have him! I could go for a bowl of that tortellini right now. Yum!