Friday, September 27, 2013

Mezzi Rigatoni With Sausage and Butternut Squash Sauce

When I was designated a "blogger ambassador" for  La Cucina Italiana magazine a few months ago, I wasn't sure what that entailed, but I soon found out when I received a package of goodies with several boxes of Del Verde pasta and a bottle of Lucini olive oil too.  Along with these products came an invitation to participate in a promotion called "Dish Your Blog with Delverde Pasta." I was already familiar with Delverde's pasta, which to me is one of the best commercial brands on the market.

A couple of years ago, I traveled to Fara San Martino, in Abruzzo, where DelVerde is located, although I never got to see the inside of DelVerde's manufacturing plant. The Maiella mountains dominate the landscape at this spot in the Appenines and the Verde river, whose waters are used to make this world-famous pasta, runs through here. 

 Del Verde's pasta has long been a favorite with me, so it was a pleasure to concoct a recipe for the contest.

I used the mezzi rigatoni variety, which to me cries out for a lusty sauce and hearty accompaniments. Sausage just seemed to fit the bill here, and butternut squash too, one of my favorite fall vegetables. The dish needed something to counter the sweetness of the squash, so I added some wild greens I had picked earlier this spring and tucked away in the freezer. Broccoli rape or Tuscan kale would work well here too.

Roast the squash in the oven for about an hour until it's soft enough to scoop out with a spoon. Depending on the size of the squash, you may need to use only half of it - or more, or less.

Sauté shallots and garlic, plus some sage leaves in a bit of olive oil. You'll later purée this in a blender or food processor with the squash and some chicken broth.

The greens were cooked in water, then drained and sautéed with garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. The sausage was cut into small pieces, then browned and drained of grease.

Then comes the fun part - mixing it all together (well, actually eating it is more fun). Sprinkle it with grated parmesan cheese and dig in. 

 Disclosure: "This recipe is posted as an entry in the Delverde DISH YOUR BLOG recipe contest. The winner receives a trip to NYC and the opportunity to prepare the dish at a GE Showroom in midtown, Manhattan. I received free sample products in addition to the opportunity to compete for the prize." 

Mezzi Rigatoni with Sausage and Butternut Squash Sauce

Printable Recipe Here

2 shallots or 1 medium onion, minced

2 T. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 sage leaves

1 butternut squash

1 3/4 cup chicken broth

1 lb. sausage, cut into small pieces

1 cup greens (wild greens, broccoli rape, swiss chard or kale)

a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for sautéeing the greens

1 clove garlic

salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

1 lb. mezzi rigatoni or other sturdy-shaped pasta

grated parmesan cheese.

Cut the butternut squash in half and smear the cut ends with olive oil. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until the flesh is soft enough to scoop. You will need about 2 cups of the butternut squash. Depending on the size of the squash, it may be half of the squash, or more, or less.

Sauté the shallots and garlic in the olive oil until limp. Add the sage leaves and cook for another minute or two. Remove three of the sage leaves, but leave one of them with the shallots.

Place the shallots mixture (and one of the sage leaves) and the 2 cups squash to a blender or food processor. Pour in the chicken broth and blend everything until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sauté the sausage pieces until browned, then drain any grease.

Cook the greens in water until wilted. Drain, then sauté the garlic in the olive oil until softened, add the greens and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta until al dente, then mix with the sausage, the greens and the butternut squash sauce. (If the butternut squash sauce has thickened too much, add some hot water or chicken broth to thin it a bit. If it has cooled while you've been preparing the other ingredients, then place it in the microwave to reheat before mixing it with the pasta.)

Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Clam Stew with Greens and Tomatoes

For the clam lovers in your life, this one is easy and anyone who tries it will be happy as a ...., well you know.  It's another recipe from Domenica Marchetti's recently published cookbook "The Glorious Vegetables of Italy." Domenica uses Tuscan kale and savoy cabbage in her recipe, but since I had swiss chard growing in the garden, that's what I substituted. It's my favorite of all the greens, and it worked perfectly here. 

The recipe says it makes up to 6 servings, but I guess we were gluttons. I've made it twice now, and both times as a main course. Two of us finished the whole thing - all four dozen clams. For more moderate eaters, or as a first course, it would stretch further.

Clam Stew With Greens and Tomatoes


  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil

  • 3 large garlic cloves, sliced paper thin

  • 8 oz./225 gr. Tuscan kale, coarsely shredded

  • 8 oz./225 gr. Savoy cabbage (use the dark outer leaves), halved lengthwise and shredded

  • fine sea salt

  • generous pinch of red pepper flakes

  • 1 cups/480 gr. chopped canned tomatoes, with their juice


  • 1/4 cup/60 ml. extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 T. minced garlic

  • generous pinch of red pepper flakes

  • 1 cup/240 ml. dry white wine

  • 4 dozen fresh littleneck or other small clams, scrubbed clean

4 to 6 thick slices bruschetta (toasted or grilled bread slices)

To make the greens: Warm the olive oil and garlic in a large saucepan or deep-sided skillet over medium-low heat. Cook until the garlic is soft and translucent, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the greens by the handful - as much as will fit in the pan. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the greens begin to wilt. Continue to add more greens to the pan and cook until they are all wilted. Season with salt and the red pepper flakes and cover. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover partially, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook at a gentle simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the tomatoes have thickened slightly to a sauce consistency.

To cook the clams: While the greens are cooking, warm the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Add the clams and cover the pan. Cook the clams at a lively simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they just open. Using tongs, remove the clams to a large bowl as they open; discard any that are not open. Once all the clams have been removed, strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve lined with damp cheesecloth into a small bowl. Pour the strained liquid into the saucepan with the greens, and then add the clams. Usinga large serving spoon, gently incorporate the clams into the greens. Heat briefly until the greens and clams are warmed through.

Place a slice of bruschetta in the bottom of four or six shallow rimmed bowls. Spoon the clams and greens, as well as some of the liquid, into each bowl and serve.

Pancetta variation: Put 1 to 2 oz/30 to 55 g. diced pancetta in the large saucepan where you will cook the greens. Do this before you add the sliced garlic. Cook until the pancetta is just crisp and has rendered some fat. Add the garlic, and 1 T. of oil if you like, and proceed with the recipe as directed.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fig Upside Down Cake

Yes, I know my last post was a cake and here I am back again so soon with another cake. Well, truth be told, I do have a weakness for cake. But more importantly, with figs in season for such a short time more, I figured you needed this cake recipe. Besides, swimsuit season is over -- go for broke. (OK, I can hear all you folks in the Southern hemisphere right now as you squeeze into your Speedos - Just eat a smaller piece, alright? Life is too short.) 

The figs in the cake were from my friend Ellie's fig tree. I wish I could say they were from my yard. But the fig below is, in fact, from my very own fig tree. It's the only ripe fruit I've harvested from it this year -- and it's a biggie. With any luck, the other figs will ripen before the frost hits. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I used a cast iron skillet to make this cake. If you don't own one, you should. They transmit heat so uniformly and they're such versatile pans, you can cook anything from omelets to cakes in them. Plus they last forever. This one is 42 years old. Yikes, that sentence just gave me the willies. I have pans older than most of my readers? Oh well, at least I'm still here to write about it. moving on.....

 Melt the brown sugar and butter and place the figs cut side down.

 Mix the batter (it will be thick) and place it carefully over the figs.

 Bake at 350 degrees and flip it immediately (and carefully) onto a large plate. This cake is best enjoyed when warm, so gather some friends around and dig in. 

For another great version of a fig upside-down cake, check out Greg's blog post on SippitySup here.

Upside Down Fig Cake

8 T. butter

1/2 cup sugar + 2 T.

2 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. ground cinnamon

a few gratings of nutmeg

1/2 cup milk

For the top part (it will become the top when flipped)

4 T. butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

figs, cut in half (the amount depends on how large they are - I needed about 1 1/2 dozen for this one)

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, melt the butter and brown sugar. Arrange the fig halves over the sugar and butter, cut side down. 

For the cake batter, beat the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs. Sift dry ingredients together. Beat half of dry ingredients into creamed mixture and beat in half of milk. Repeat, beating well. Batter will be thick.

Pour into the pan over the fig/brown sugar/butter mixture. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes. Serve warm if possible.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Mint Cake in Sulmona

I don't normally eat mint cake with chocolate frosting for breakfast. But I don't normally eat breakfast sitting on a rooftop patio in Sulmona, Italy surrounded by the Maiella mountains either. Luckily I did both of those things earlier this summer when I stayed at Il Marchese Del Grillo, a wonderful bed and breakfast owned by Marta Carrozza and Alessandro Maceroni.

A bountiful table of treats - from fruits and yogurts - to cheeses, salumi and cakes - was set out each morning. For me - a diehard cake lover - it was hard to limit myself to one cake only. So I did what any self-proclaimed glutton would do - I took a slice from all of them - the mint cake, an orange cake, and an apple cake.

Marta was kind enough to provide me with the recipe for all three cakes - made by her mother and mother-in-law, and I recently made the mint cake, my personal favorite.

 The recipe calls for mint syrup, but in the absence of any, I used crème de menthe, which was already in my pantry. There is barely any alcohol taste in the cake, so if you can find mint syrup, you might as well save yourself some money and use that.

I took it a step farther than Marta's mother-in-law's version, making sugared mint leaves for decoration. Just whisk some egg whites and paint mint leaves with it, then dip the leaves into sugar and place them on some waxed paper to dry out a bit.

Speaking of sugared things, the town of Sulmona is known throughout Italy for its production of confetti, sugar coated almonds that are always offered as favors to guests at weddings. 

They're always presented in groups of five and are meant to symbolize health, happiness, long life, prosperity and fertility.  Sulmona's streets are jam packed with store after store showcasing confetti wrapped in many creative ways, from flowers to peacocks:

Aside from confetti, Sulmona is known as the birthplace of Ovid, the 1st century Roman poet. A statue of him dominates one of the city's main squares:

Also notable is the 13th century aqueduct running through the middle of town (and a great gelato shop just opposite the aqueduct). The majestic mountains provide a spectacular vista from anywhere you walk.

 The Marchese Del Grillo is located within walking distance of everything and has only about four or five rooms. Most of them are on the third or fourth floors, and are traditional with plaster walls and antique furniture. But my room on the ground floor was renovated in elegant simplicity, with stone walls and vaulted ceilings providing a rustic backdrop amid lovely antiques and the classic, translucent, Phillipe Starcke ghost chair. 

 My visit to Sulmona seems like a distant memory, but recreating food from my trip is one way to keep the memory vibrant. I plan to make the other cakes at some point, but this mint cake turned out so well that it's bound to be part of my permanent repertoire of desserts. I took it to a Labor Day picnic and everyone loved it. Even the planter lady on my deck seemed to express approval:

And maybe you will too. Try the recipe and see for yourself:

Mint Cake - recipe from Marta's mother-in-law

Versione Italiana sotto.

Printable recipe here

11 tablespoons of softened butter (1 stick plus 3 T.)

3/4 c. sugar

3 eggs

pinch of salt

2 1/4 cups plus 2 T. flour

1 T. baking powder

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup of mint syrup or crème de menthe

In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy, then add the eggs and beat for a few minutes until smooth. Whisk together the salt, flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture, alternately with the milk and the crème de menthe. Pour into a cake pan (I used a 9 inch springform pan) and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Let cool and cover with chocolate glaze. I used a ganache made by melting over a double boiler 4 ounces dark chocolate and 1/4 cup heavy cream. Blend until smooth, then let it cool a couple of minutes to thicken up a bit. Pour over the cake.

Torta di menta

150 gr. burro o un bicchiere di olio di semi (circa 170 ml)

150 gr. zucchero

3 uova

un pizzico di sale

250 gr. farina

una bustina di lievito

175 gr. latte

10 o più sciroppa di menta

Cuocere per 1 ora e 15 minuti a 180 gradi. A cottura ultimata fare raffredare e coprire la torta con glassa al cioccolato.

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