Archive for the ‘Skinny Guinea’ Category

Recipe: Tagliolini with Oyster Mushrooms, Prosciutto Cotto, and Sage

I recently went hunting for oyster mushrooms in Dutchess County, New York, with my friend Toby. He finds them almost every year, growing shelf-like from half dead trees in the woods around his house. This year he had so many that after trying to peddle them off to a local restaurant (they were swamped, too), he asked me for a few recipes. I suggested making a simple bruschetta, just sautéing them in a bit of garlic, olive oil, thyme, and brandy, and then putting them on toast, which he did and served at a family dinner. His 93-year-old mother had the violent pukes for three days afterward. She has recovered, but I felt kind of guilty, although I’m sure it was the mushrooms, not my innocuous recipe.

The things do look a bit iffy. Sometimes they’re white or cream-colored, which seems pretty tame, but more often they’re a very light peach, which is what we found this year. Occasionally Toby has found bright butter yellow ones, looking like butterflies that have mated with a dreadful fungus. They look the most menacing, but they are delicious and quite harmless, I guess, unless you’re really old. You can get wild ones from mushroom sellers at farmers’ markets now, or buy cultivated oysters in supermarkets. Just make sure any you wind up with aren’t waterlogged. Those don’t sauté up well and can have a lightly mildewy odor. For that reason I try to avoid supermarket oysters that are packaged in plastic. I always buy loose ones.

As nice and sickening as that bruschetta was, here’s a recipe for something more involved, although by no means complicated. For this pasta you’ll want to purchase good prosciutto cotto di Parma , the cooked form of air-cured prosciutto, something I wouldn’t use in a cooked pasta sauce, since it’s delicate and when heated loses most of its charms, both in taste and in texture.

Oyster mushrooms in Toby’s woods.

Tagliolini with Oyster Mushrooms, Prosciutto Cotto, and Sage

(Serves 2 as a main course)

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, cut into small dice
½ pound tagliolini or spaghetti
¼ pound oyster mushrooms, roughly sliced, the thick stems cut away
A few big scrapings of fresh nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
A splash of dry vermouth
¼ cup homemade chicken broth
4 or 5 slices proscuitto cotto, cut into thin strips
1 heaping tablespoon crème fraiche
About 6 sage leaves, cut into thin strips
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly chopped
A chunk of grana Padano cheese

Set up a pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil with the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, and let them soften, about 2 minutes.

Add a generous amount of salt to the pasta water, and when it comes back to a boil drop in the tagliolini or spaghetti.

Add the oyster mushrooms to the skillet, and sauté until they’ve softened, about 3 minutes or so. Season with the nutmeg, a bit of salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble away. Add the chicken broth and the prosciutto cotto, and warm through. Turn off the heat.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it and pour it into a warmed serving bowl.

Add the crème fraiche to the mushroom sauce, and stir it in. Pour the sauce over the pasta. Add the sage and parsley, and grate in about a tablespoon of grana Padano. Toss gently, adding a bit more salt or black pepper if needed. Serve right away, with extra grana Padano if you like.

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Still life with leeks, Chaim Soutine, 1893-1943.

Recipe: Pappardelle with Cockles, Leeks, and Saffron

It’s time to take the tomatoes out of your pasta. Don’t you think?  Although I haven’t resigned myself to cranking open the canned stuff quite yet. There’s always this in-between period for me, after a summer of fresh tomatoes (especially this summer, when their flavor was so deepened by the strong sun). Before I head straight for the can opener, I like a no-tomato pasta sauce, with its flavor anchored by a substantial soffrito of aromatics; here I chose leeks, celery, garlic, and thyme. And then, with that flavoring in place, you can go ahead and add vino, maybe a splash of broth, and in this case, all the juices the cockles give off once they open. This is a gentle, elegant, and herby version of spaghetti with clam sauce. Nice for a change.

Pappardelle with Cockles, Leeks, and Saffron

(Serves 2)

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, well cleaned and cut into medium dice, using the white and only the tenderest green parts
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
About 8 thyme sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
2 tablespoons  unsalted butter
½ cup dry white wine
1 pound New Zealand cockles, well scrubbed
About 12 saffron threads, dried and ground
½ cup warm chicken broth
Black pepper
A generous pinch of Piment d’Espelette pepper
½ pound fresh pappardelle
A small handful of tarragon leaves, lightly chopped
A slightly larger handful of flat leaf parsley, lightly chopped

Set up a pasta cooking pot filled with water, and bring it to a boil.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame. Add the leeks and the celery, and sauté until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and the thyme, and let them sauté for about a minute. Add the butter, and let it melt. Add the white wine, and allow it to bubble for about a minute, to throw off its alcohol. Add the cockles, and give them a stir. Dissolve the saffron in the chicken broth, and add it to the skillet. Add the black pepper and the Piment.

Add a generous amount of salt to the pasta water, and drop in the pappardelle, giving them a little stir to prevent sticking.

Cook the cockles, uncovered, until they open, about 4 minutes or so. Taste for salt, adding a little if needed (often cockles are salty enough, but they vary).

When the pappardelle is tender, drain it well, and place it in a serving bowl. Pour on the clam sauce. Add the tarragon, parsley, and a generous drizzle of fresh olive oil, and give everything a gentle toss. Serve right away.

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Recipe: Spaghetti Carbonara My Way

It’s the mid-1970s, and I’m out to dinner in “the city” with my sister Liti, my good friend Barbara, and a few gay boyfriends, driving the 30 minutes or so, depending on traffic, from our Nassau Country ranch house to a place called the Grotta Azurra, in Little Italy, a Neapolitan restaurant bathed in a shade of turquoise that can make even a 19-year-old’s complexion look haggard. Kind of a cozy place, though, since it’s down below street level and actually feels a bit like a grotto. I’ve been there a few times with my parents. The food was never great at the Grotta, but the Naples-inspired décor was all-enveloping, and just being in Little Italy appealed to me (of course, now the real neighborhood is gone and replaced by a Disneyfied stand-in).

I order spaghetti carbonara, something my mother never makes at home. She probably thinks it’s fattening. I order it because it’s famous, and supposedly a dish has to be famous for a good reason. I’ve had pasta carbonara before, though, usually when out to dinner with my parents, and it has never seemed to me to merit any excitement. Thought I’d give it another shot.

Tonight my spaghetti carbonara is extremely smoky, emitting almost a Liquid Smoke aroma as it comes to the table, and it’s very thick with cream. On top of that it’s lumpy. Not only is the sauce clotted, but the spaghetti is fused together in places, and I can tell from having eaten pasta at home that it’s tragically overcooked. Worst of all, it just doesn’t taste good. It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t understand all the rubbery pieces of bacon coated with clotted cream. A mood is creeping up, a withdrawal. It can’t be this stupid pasta dish. I must have brought the mood with me. But occasionally when I’m in a mood, bad food can push me to feeling out of control.

I’m having a glass of nameless white wine that’s pretty good. I’m with my friends. Life is beautiful. But I’m overcome by deep disappointment. My eyes fill with tears. I’m not sure anyone notices. Everything is disappointing. I feel extremely bony, my speaking voice too low-pitched. I don’t understand how those waiters carry all those plates at the same time without letting them crash to the floor. I could never ever do that job.

Then I make a big discovery: I don’t like cream in pasta. Period. “I never like cream in pasta.” I announce.

“Why did you order it?”

“Because I don’t understand what carbonara is supposed to be.”

That evening I drink white wine, red wine, and Sambuca, all to try to work the cream through my body. Everyone carries on, having a good time, not seeing what I’m feeling, most likely because I’m not showing what I’m feeling. Finally I’m feeling only one thing, and that’s drunk. Liti, I notice, orders a cannoli. I order one too, and another Sambuca.

I interpret that drunken evening as a call to figure out the right way to make pasta carbonara. Having tasted it only in New York restaurants, I’ve assumed it was a Neapolitan dish. Wrong. I grabbed the only Italian cookbook we had in our Long Island house, The Talisman Cookbook, by Ada Boni, which was a great book, the first real Italian cookbook available to Americans. I looked all through it but couldn’t find spaghetti carbonara—until I realized she had listed it in the index as “Spaghetti with Bacon.” I turned to the recipe and it was titled “Spaghetti Carbonara (with bacon).”

Ada Boni explained that this was a Roman pasta. How about that? With very few ingredients and, sure enough, no cream. Not a drop. I felt vindicated. Eggs! The creaminess came from eggs. A revelation. There had been definitely no eggs in the Grotto Azzura reproduction.

How could I get eggs to become creamy without ending up with scrambled eggs? Well, I learned from Miss Boni that if you work with care, the heat from the spaghetti can gently cook the eggs without curdling them, producing a soft sauce. Now, I’m sure Miss Boni knew that smoked bacon wasn’t the correct meat to use for carbonara. I had heard rumors of something called pancetta from a neighbor whose family came from the Abbruzzi mountains of central Italy, but that woman couldn’t find pancetta in 1970s Long Island, so Miss Boni surely had no choice when translating the dish for American readers in a cookbook first published in 1950.

Here’s how Ada Boni instructed me to put together my first spaghetti carbonara in, I’d say, 1974: First you start boiling your spaghetti (Ronzoni, she suggests). While it’s cooking, you sauté chopped-up bacon until crisp. In a bowl, add pecorino Romano or Parmesan (spelled just like that) cheese to a few beaten eggs (you can, she says, if you like, add a little white wine to the mix as well, which I did, because it sounded fancy). Drain the spaghetti, and then return it to the pot it was cooked in. Pour the egg mixture over the top. Add black pepper and some of the hot grease from cooking the bacon, and toss. That grease, plus I assume the heat from the pasta pot, she says will provide sufficient heat to cook the eggs. Now pour everything into a serving bowl, and scatter the crisp bacon on top.

Well, I tried that a few times, and it wasn’t bad, but I found there was too much residual heat in the pasta cooking pot, and the first few times the eggs did curdle. Even so, it was a much better dish than the cream-laden carbonaras I had choked down before.

I did finally locate pancetta and learned it is the same cut as bacon but unsmoked, just cured with nutmeg, black pepper, salt, and sometimes other spices. I consulted my newly acquired The Classic Italian Cook Book, by Marcella Hazan. She didn’t discuss carbonara, but she did mention other uses for pancetta, such as as a flavoring for sauces, pasta fillings, vegetables, and roasts. I did, however, discuss the subject again with my Abruzzese neighbor, and she insisted that pancetta was a beautiful thing. So I went ahead trying to perfect my carbonara and learning how to cook pancetta so it came out neither burnt nor flabby. A success.

In 1979 I made my first visit to Rome. Spaghetti carbonara was on every trattoria menu, sometimes made with pancetta and sometimes made with a meat called guanciale, a cured pork jowl, as I learned. Wow, wacky. Pork jowl. The thought of that disgusted me at first, but of course like most disgusting things it eventually exerted a fascination. It even eventually grew to be an ingredient that I cherish. It tastes rich and gentle, even suaver than pancetta. I learned that guanciale was a dignified way to go. Pancetta was for lazy people and amateurs, meaning Americans. But I didn’t locate any guanciale for another ten years or so, even in sophisticated Manhattan, where I ended up living.

Guanciale is a must for me now when I cook spaghetti carbonara, and I understand why the dish at its best is so great, so well balanced, with a wonderful texture and gentle blend of flavors. For years I made it totally straight—why mess with perfection? Then I started experimenting, making a few personal adjustments. A Roman might object to my now including parsley, a touch of garlic, a quick grating of nutmeg, and the splash of dry Marsala I use to deglaze the skillet (Ada Boni beats a little white wine into the raw eggs, which is nice but doesn’t pull up all that great skillet flavor).

And since I learned  that returning the spaghetti to the pot it was cooked in can occasionally curdle the eggs. I  now mix the eggs and cheese in a warmed serving bowl, give the drained spaghetti a quick toss in the skillet that I sautéed the guanciale in, and then add that to the egg and cheese mixture. The texture that results is perfect, creamy, custardy. Wow, that took long enough to figure out.

And just for the record, I recently looked up Grotto Azzura’s latest menu. They still serve spaghetti carbonara, and they still describe it as spaghetti with a Parmesan (same spelling) cream sauce, but with pancetta. At least they finally got rid of the bacon.

Spaghetti Carbonara My Way

(Serves 5 as a first course)

3 extra-large organic eggs
¼ cup fresh grated pecorino Romano cheese (try to find one that’s not too sharp)
½ cup fresh grated grana Padano cheese, plus extra for the table
Several large scrapings of nutmeg
A large handful of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves very lightly chopped
Coarse black pepper, freshly ground
1 pound spaghetti (an artisanal one, cut to catch the sauce, Latini, for instance)
Extra-virgin olive oil
¼ pound guanciale, cut into medium dice
2 small garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
½ cup dry Marsala

Bring to a boil a large pot of pasta cooking water. Add a generous amount of salt.

Place the eggs, the pecorino, the grana Padano, the nutmeg, a generous amount of black pepper, and the parsley in a large, warmed serving bowl, and mix everything together well.

Drop the spaghetti into the pot, and give it a quick stir to make sure it doesn’t stick.

In a medium skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the guanciale, and cook it slowly until it’s very crisp and has given off much of its fat, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and sauté about a minute, just until it gives off fragrance. Add the Marsala, and let it bubble for about 30 seconds; you don’t want to boil it away completely but just enough to loosen all the caramelized skillet bits, so you can incorporate them into your sauce.

When the spaghetti is al dente, drain it, saving about ½ cup of the cooking water, and add the spaghetti to the bowl with the egg mixture. Toss well. The heat from the pasta will lightly cook the eggs. Add the guanciale and all the skillet juices, and toss again. Add an extra drizzle of fresh olive oil, a few more grindings of coarse black pepper (black pepper is a main player in this dish), and a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce, if needed. Taste to see if it needs more salt. Serve right away, with extra grana Padano brought to the table if you like.

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A fish mosaic from Pompeii, 79 A.D.

Recipe: Farro Tagliatelle with Shrimp, Pancetta, and Leeks

Farro pasta, I’ve come to realize, can be a beautiful thing, especially if you buy a great artisanal brand such as Latini. Figuring out proper sauces to match farro’s robust flavor can be a bit tricky at first. Anchovies are a classic with this pasta, in Northern Italy, and I do love a simple anchovy and garlic condimento with it, but I’ve been discovering that lots of gentler mixes can work too. You just have to kick them up a notch (that tired expression is almost starting to sound fresh again to me). I chose shrimp for this recipe. You might not  think shrimp would be a good match for such a strong pasta, but I added a few fortifiers, for instance leeks, which have a strong flavor, and black pepper. At first I tried adding a few anchovies as well, but somehow the anchovy overpowered the shrimp, adding a fishy taste, so I went with pancetta instead, and I believe I came up with a winner.

I found that a simple shrimp broth, made with the shrimp shells and some of the herb and vegetable trimmings, helps immensely to distribute all the flavors. It’s well worth the ten minutes you’ll need for the dish to get a really well rounded flavor.

Farro Tagliatelle with Shrimp, Pancetta, and Leeks

(Serves 2 as a main course)

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 ⅛-inch-thick round of pancetta, diced
3 medium leeks, trimmed and well rinsed, cut into medium dice, using only the white and the tenderest green (reserve some of the trimmings for the shrimp broth)
6 or 7 large sprigs of thyme, the leaves lightly chopped (reserve a few stems for the shrimp broth)
4 allspice, ground to a powder
Freshly ground black pepper
A big splash of dry white wine
3 round tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and chopped
½ pound farro tagliatelle
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¾ pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined (reserve the shells for the broth)
A handful of flat leaf parsley, lightly chopped, reserving a few stems for the shrimp broth

To make the shrimp broth:

This requires the usually discarded stems and such that I direct you to save in the ingredients list.

In a small pot, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells, the leek trimmings, the stems from the thyme, and the parsley, and sauté until the shrimp shells turn pink. Now add about a cup of warm water, and let it bubble away until you’ve got about ½ cup of broth. Strain it into a small bowl.

Bring a large pot of pasta cooking water to a boil.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and sauté until it’s just starting to crisp. Add the leeks, seasoning them with thyme, allspice, salt, and black pepper, and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the white wine, and let it boil away.

Add a generous amount of salt to the pasta cooking water, and drop in the tagliatelle.

Add the tomatoes to the skillet with the leeks, and sauté for about 2 minutes. Now add the shrimp broth, and let it simmer for about 2 minutes longer. Taste for seasoning, adding a little more salt and black pepper if needed.

In another large skillet, over medium heat, heat the tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil . When the skillet is very hot, drop in the shrimp, seasoning it with salt and black pepper. Spread it around, and let it cook without moving it around much. When you see it’s getting dark pink at the edges, turn it over and sauté the other sides. This should take no longer than about 2 minutes. Add the leek mixture to the shrimp, and turn off the heat.

When the farro tagliatelle is al dente, drain it into a warmed large serving bowl. Drizzle with fresh olive oil, and add the parsley. Give it a toss. Add the shrimp with all the broth, and toss again, gently. Serve right away.

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Cicerchie after soaking.

Recipe: Minestra with Cicerchie, Lamb Shank, and Rosemary

Cicerchie are small dried beans that look to me like old rotten teeth but are in fact an older, more primitive form of ceci beans. Aside from looking like beaten, yellowed teeth, what they most resemble, in the bean department, are miniature dried favas, or even posole, the Southwestern American preserved corn kernels, if you’re familiar with those. In Umbria, Campania, and Puglia cicerchie have long been associated with la cucina povera, which is primarily why they appeal to me. Until recently they had almost disappeared in Italy, but like other heirloom foods that have been rediscovered by chefs and farmers, they’re now available again, although at slightly higher cost.

Cicerchie don’t taste much like ceci to my palate. I taste a mix of dried favas and posole, with a bit of split pea thrown in. The taste is richer than your run-of-the-mill ceci. Cicerchie make a great soup and look a lot prettier once they’ve been cooked. You can also use them in salads, adding small chunks of salami, roasted peppers, and herbs, for instance, or you can mash them and reheat them with some extra rosemary, garlic, and olive oil to use as a topping for crostini. I also like serving cicerchie as a side dish, with braised broccoli rabe or escarole folded in.

I get my cicerchie from www.gustiamo.com. They’re produced by La Valletta, a family-run organic company in Umbria that uses sustainable methods to produce the highest quality heirloom grains and legumes (check out Gustiamo to see what other great stuff La Valletta produces). The company is run by Alessandro and Rosalba Cappelletti, a brother and sister team dedicated to preserving plants native to the border of Umbria and Marche. I’ve been served these beans in Umbria and also in Puglia, where they’re also gaining in popularity again.

Minestra with Cicerchie, Lamb Shank, and Rosemary

(Serves 4 as a main course soup)

1 pound cicerchie
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large lamb shank, about 1½ to 2 pounds
A pinch of sugar
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 Vidalia onion, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 small branch rosemary, the leaves chopped
6 allspice, ground to a powder
A generous pinch of Aleppo or another medium hot dried chili
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry Marsala
1 quart meat or chicken or vegetable broth,  not too heavy
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

Soak the cicerchie overnight in a large pot of cool water.

Drain the beans, and put them in a pot of fresh water to cover by at least 5 inches. Bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer, partially covered, until the cicerchie are just tender but not falling apart. The La Valletta brand I cooked took about 1½ hours, but test from time to time to make sure. When they’re tender, add a generous drizzle of olive oil to the pot, and season with salt. Turn off the heat, and let them sit for about 20 minutes (I find this helps them soak up extra flavor). Now drain the beans into a colander, saving about 2 cups of their cooking water. Transfer them to a bowl, and give them another drizzle of olive oil and a gentle toss. Set them aside.

While you’re cooking the cicerchie you can start on the rest of the soup. In a large soup pot, fitted with a lid, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the lamb shank, and season it with a pinch of sugar. Brown it on both sides. Now add the carrot and the onion, and sauté until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic, the rosemary, the allspice, the Aleppo, some black pepper, and a little salt, and sauté a few moments to release their flavors. Add the Marsala, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Add the broth and enough water to just cover the lamb. Bring to a boil, and then add the tomatoes. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer very gently until the lamb is falling-off-the-bone tender, about 2 hours or possibly a bit longer.

Pull out the lamb shank, and let it sit until cool enough to handle. Skim the soup.

Add about 3 cups of the cicerchie to the soup (for ideas on what to do with leftover beans, see above).

Pull or chop the lamb into small pieces, discarding any fat. Add the lamb to the soup, and reheat it gently. Check for seasoning, adding more salt, hot or black pepper, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, if you like. If the soup has become too thick, add some of the bean cooking liquid (the texture is up to you, of course, but I like this soup a little loose).

Serve with crostini that have been toasted, rubbed with garlic, brushed with olive oil, and sprinkled with a little salt.

And in case you feel like dancing and singing while making this soup, check out this old Umbrian folk dance. Kind of rocks, no?

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Caper flowers, plus a few buds.

Recipe: Cavatelli with Sicilian Tuna, Capers, and Celery Leaves

Here’s a pantry pasta of the highest order, using two of Sicily’s best products, tuna preserved in olive oil and salt-packed capers from the white hot island of Pantelleria. This particular pasta gave me the chance to use up the last of the big pear-shaped Calabrian tomatoes La Marchesa Calamari grew this summer in her compact manure-laced beds (tomato beds, that is) in Delaware County, New York—not exactly a Southern Italian clime, but she’s just some kind of tomato wizard, able to get the taste of the Mediterranean in what you’d think would be a very hard environment.

Both the Sicilian islands of Lipari and Pantelleria grow excellent capers, which most of you Italian cooks out there know to be the buds from a Mediterranean shrub that when left to blossom produces pretty little white flowers with violet stamens. Not many of those buds are left to flower. The capers I used for this I got from Gustiamo, the great Italian food importer I’ve talked about many times. They are preserved in Sicilian sea salt and packed with care by Gianni Busetta. They are amazingly floral, with a nuanced tang.

When I’m using Sicilian oil-packed tuna for a pasta dish, I don’t go for an absolute top-of-the-line product; even though I add it at the last minute, it warms through, and that takes the edge off its delicate charm. The exquisite Tre Torri bluefin tuna I sometimes purchase from Gustiamo (do all the best things come from Gustiamo?) is nicest used as part of  a very simple antipasto, maybe with just some olives and slices of raw fennel. Usually when I add canned tuna to pasta I take it down a notch or two. Flott is a reliable Sicilian brand that has very good flavor but that I feel I can toss with a warm sauce without committing a huge crime (well, maybe a misdemeanor, but what can you do?).

For me the mingling of the floral capers with the slight bitterness of the celery leaves really seals this dish. If you can still find sedano, the Italian celery grown for its intense leaves, use that (I still see it at the Union Square market in Manhattan). Otherwise regular celery leaves will be fine.

And just to get you in that dreamy but rugged Sicilian frame of mind, here’s the Sicilian folk song “Vitti Na Crozza,” sung soulfully by Roberto Alagna.

Cavatelli with Sicilian Tuna, Capers, and Celery Leaves

(Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a first course)

Extra-virgin olive oil
A small piece of fatty prosciutto end, chopped (about ½ cup)
2 small, tender inner celery stalks, cut into small dice, plus a handful of celery leaves, stemmed but left whole (you’ll want about ½ cup)
1 small onion, preferably a fresh summer type
About a dozen fennel seeds
A tiny splash of Pastis, such as Pernod or Ricard
4 large end-of-summer tomatoes, peeled and diced, or 1 35-ounce can of plum tomatoes, well chopped, with the juice
A pinch of Aleppo pepper or another medium hot, dried chili
1 pound cavatelli pasta
1 can oil-packed Italian tuna, drained
A big palmful of salt-packed Sicilian capers, soaked for about 10 minutes, rinsed, and dried
A handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted

Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water over high heat, and bring it to a boil.

In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the prosciutto, the celery, the onion, and the fennel seeds, and sauté until everything is soft and fragrant. Add the pastis, and let it boil away. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and Aleppo pepper, and cook, uncovered, at a lively bubble for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water, and then drop in the cavatelli, giving it a stir to make sure it’s not sticking.

When the cavatelli is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a large serving bowl. Drizzle on a generous amount of fresh olive oil, and add the celery leaves. Give it a quick toss. Add the tuna, caper, and pine nuts to the sauce, leaving the tuna in  chunks. Gently toss again. Serve hot.

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Still Life with Plums, by Georges Braque.

Recipe: Italian Plum Tart with Cardamom and Basil

As all my cook friends know, this was an incredible summer for fruit. There was so much heat that the sugar content went through the roof. I’ve just started tasting this year’s apples, and they are amazing—firm, heavily perfumed, and just packed with flavor. Global warming is, sadly, good for something.

I’m still finding plums at my Greenmarkets. My favorites to cook with are the pointy dark purple Italian variety. You’ve only got maybe a week left to find those gorgeous things in the New York area, so I say get ’em while they’re hot or you’ll have to wait another year to make a plum tart. I’ve done a little flavor mix with cardamom and fresh basil for this version, putting a bit of the two ingredients in both the pastry and the filling. Wow, what a beautiful combination. With the dark, almost electric-looking purple juice that runs out of these plums, it’s regal.

You’ll need a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Italian Plum Tart with Cardamom and Basil

(Makes 1 9-inch tart)

For the pastry:

1¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling
¼ teaspoon ground green cardamom
A generous pinch of salt
A few quick grindings of black pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
1¼ sticks unsalted butter, chilled
¼ cup dry white wine, maybe a bit more


About 14 or 15 purple Italian plums, cut in half lengthwise and pitted
A splash of Kirsch
¼ cup sugar

For the custard:

½ cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons honey
⅛ teaspoon ground green cardamom
A few quick grinds of black pepper
3 small very fresh basil leaves, minced

Put the flour, cardamom, salt, black pepper, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse briefly to blend. Add the butter bits, and pulse quickly two or three times, just to break them up. Drizzle on the white wine, and pulse once or twice more, just until you can squeeze a bit of the dough with your fingers and it holds together. If it’s still dry, add a drizzle of white wine or cold water, and pulse again. You don’t want to pulse until it forms a ball. The texture should be crumbly. Turn out the dough onto a work surface, and bring it together with your hands into a big ball. Give it a quick one-two knead, just to make sure it’s holding together. Cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Take the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Give it a few whacks with a rolling pin to get a flat surface going. Now roll it out, adding a little more flour if it starts to stick, until you have a round about 2 inches wider than your tart pan. Drape the dough into the pan, pressing it into the sides. Run the rolling pin over the top to cut off excess. Build up the sides a bit, so the dough extends a little past the edge of the pan. Give the bottom a bunch of light pricks with a skewer or pointy knife.  Stick the tart shell back in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes, or until the oven heats up.

Now you’ll want to blind bake the tart crust. Cover it with a big piece of aluminum foil, and load the foil with dried beans or those little ceramic thingies some people buy just for this purpose, to hold it down. Bake for 20 minutes. The tart’s edges should be very lightly golden. Take the tart shell from the oven, and let it sit on a rack for a few minutes to cool off.

While the tart shell is baking, place the cut plums in a bowl. Drizzle on a splash of Kirsch, and add the sugar. Give them a good toss.

Whisk all the ingredients for the filling together in a bowl.

Line the tart shell with the plums, cut side up, working in a circular pattern. Add any plum juice left in the bowl to the custard mixture. Slowly pour the custard over the plums, making sure none of it seeps in between the pan and the dough (if you have a little extra, just leave it in the bowl, or drink it). Place the tart on a baking sheet, and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the top is set.  Let the tart rest for about 30 minutes before slicing.

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