orecchiette cacio e pepe with parsnips

orecchiette, parsnips cacio e pepe recipe

When I first made classic pasta cacio e pepe – with cheese and pepper – I referred to a recipe by Mario Batali in Molto Gusto, which calls for 1/4 cup black pepper to sauce one pound of spaghetti.

Whoa, baby! I like it hot, but turns out that was too much pepper for me. It felt harsh; like my tongue was sweating and my throat burning like a white hot piece of smoldering charcoal.

While I was moving things around on my spice shelves in search of black pepper, an avalanche of other containers came raining down. I started to put everything back when my hand landed on a jar of green peppercorns. They’re such a pretty color, unlike the color you usually find in a basic black peppercorn, and I rarely find myself needing to put green peppercorns in anything.

Why not? It was one small Eureka! moment in a sea of not so many. I located some whole white pepper to make a trio of color, along with fennel seeds. The mix turned out much more palatable; perfect for the pasta I was planning to make with roasted parsnips.

parsnips-cacio e pepe-recipe

I love orecchiette pasta, “little ears’ in Italian. Their cute shape serves as a cup to hold whatever they’re sauced with; in this case chunks of crusty, caramelized parsnips in peppery-sharp, creamy sauce.

The fennel seeds in my peppercorn rainbow remind me a little of the crunchy pepper biscuits I find in bakeries when I visit home in Rhode Island. I’ve made taralli that came close to duplicating their flavor; minus the black pepper. I always find myself packing bags of pepper biscuits to take back with me, stashed in the freezer to tide me over until my next visit.

tre-pepe orecchiette-little ears

Cacio e pepe is a dish with deep roots in ancient Rome; the production of Pecorino Romano cheese dates back more than 2,000 years and black pepper was a commodity in the early days of the spice trade.

Fun fact: It’s said that Attila the Hun demanded over one ton of black pepper as ransom while he ransacked the city of Rome. You kind of get the feeling he’d have gladly tucked into a super-sized plate of spaghetti, seasoned with a pound of pepper. If only spaghetti had existed yet.

orecchiette-parsnip-cacio-e-pepe-recipe

orecchiette cacio e pepe with parsnips

Serving Size: serves 4

Ingredients

  1. 2 or 3 small parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  2. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  3. Salt
  4. ½ pound orecchiette pasta
  5. 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  6. ½ teaspoon each whole green and white peppercorns (or use an additional teaspoon black pepper)
  7. 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
  8. 2 tablespoons butter
  9. 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional for serving
  10. 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
  11. Lacinato or Tuscan kale leaves; about a handful, torn into pieces

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Put the parsnips on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast until tender and lightly browned, 15 -20 minutes.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add 1 or 2 tablespoons salt and the orecchiette; cook until al dente.
  4. While the pasta is cooking, put all the peppercorns in an electric spice or coffee grinder and pulse until coarsely ground (if you don’t have a coffee grinder dedicated to spices, crush the pepper in a manual pepper grinder or a mortar and pestle – it will build up some muscles).
  5. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; when the pan is hot, add the peppercorns and whole fennel seeds and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir together until the butter melts, then remove from the heat.
  6. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the pasta to the sauté pan along with the parsnips and both cheeses; toss it all together. Add some of the reserved water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the cheese melts into a creamy sauce; you might not use it all.
  7. Stir the kale leaves into the hot pasta to wilt them. Serve with additional cheese on the side.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/orecchiette-cacio-e-pepe-with-parsnips/

spaghetti and meatballs: familystyle

Spagetti and meatballs, familystyle

I experience New Year’s Day with mixed emotion. As much as I love holding a new calendar fresh with possibilities for the year ahead, at the same time my head is spinning trying to process the one that just sped by, seemingly faster every time. What’s up with that?

I can only think it’s what happens when we’re living a full life – each day a series of events that unfolds onto the next. But in the middle of the daily process of work and school; relationships with family, friends, dog…it becomes like a monotonous ride. Some mornings I feel like a character in Groundhog Day.

Italian parsley and Parmigiano cheese

spaghetti

Which is why I’m grateful for the few weeks in December when I can make a plan to unplug; to spend time to nourish myself and my family, with things like mornings without an alarm clock and a schedule with absolutely nothing on it.

And food, of course. There aren’t many things that connect us like time shared around the table, especially when a large platter of spaghetti and meatballs is sitting on top of it.

I’ve shared my personal attempt at my mother’s meatball recipe on this blog before, but this latest version has become all my own. If my mom were here to sit at my table, I think she’d approve.

spaghetti and meatballs familystyle

Spaghetti and meatballs: familystyle

Serving Size: Serves a table of 6

Ingredients

    Meatballs:
  1. 1 ½ pounds ground beef
  2. 1 ½ pounds ground pork
  3. 1 onion
  4. 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  5. ½ cup fresh bread crumbs *
  6. 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  7. 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano, Romano or Asiago cheese
  8. 2 eggs
  9. 3 teaspoons salt
  10. 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  11. Large pinch crushed red pepper
  12. Olive oil
  13. Gravy:
  14. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  15. 1 onion, finely chopped
  16. Salt
  17. 2 or 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or finely chopped
  18. 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  19. 1 container Pomi strained tomatoes
  20. Pinch sugar
  21. Fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. To make the meatballs, put the ground meats into a large bowl. Grate the onion over the bowl on the side of a large box grater. Add the remaining ingredients (except the olive oil) and mix together with your hands or a large fork until thoroughly combined. Form into 2-inch diameter balls and arrange on a large baking sheet.
  2. Heat a large, deep sauté pan (12 – 14-inches in diameter) over moderate heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan completely and heat for a minute or two before adding the meatballs. Cook until nicely browned on one side; carefully turn the meatballs with tongs or a spatula to brown the other side. Transfer the meatballs to a platter.
  3. Drain the fat from the pan. (Note – if you don’t have a large sauté pan with at least 3 inch sides, fry the meatballs in a sauté pan, in batches if necessary so you don’t crowd the pan. Make the sauce in a separate wide saucepan or soup pot.)
  4. To make the gravy, place the pan back over moderate heat. Add the olive oil, onion and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook the onions until they become very soft. If they begin to brown, add a few tablespoons of water, lower the heat and cover the pan until they’re ready.
  5. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, sugar and more salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook 15 minutes.
  6. Put the meatballs into the pan, cover and continue simmering for another 10 minutes or so.
  7. Serve the sauce and meatballs over hot spaghetti or pasta, with plenty of cheese grated over.

Notes

*To make fresh bread crumbs, trim the crust from a large hunk of crusty peasant bread. Cut the bread into large pieces and toast 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Grind in a food processor to form fine crumbs. Keep extra crumbs in a covered container in the refrigerator or freezer.

http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/spaghetti-and-meatballs-familystyle/

Toasted Orzo Salad with Lemon and Chickpeas

Toasted Orzo Salad with Lemon and Feta

I could cook pasta every night of the week and make everyone happy. But at the same time I like to make a meal that falls under my definition of “healthy” and “delicious”.

Orzo is familiar as a side dish or floating in soup, but I find that toasting it first and mixing it with lots of vegetables makes it ten times more complex and interesting.

I’ve played on the Greek heritage of orzo in this recipe and borrowed from the Mediterranean pantry by using chickpeas, cumin, lemon and tangy feta cheese. I would serve this on a pile of arugula and call it lunch or dinner.

Toasted Orzo Salad with Lemon and Chickpeas

Serving Size: serves 4

Ingredients

  1. 1 cup orzo pasta
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  4. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  5. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  6. ½ teaspoon salt
  7. Freshly ground black pepper
  8. 1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
  9. 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  10. ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
  11. 1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  12. 1/2 cup chopped seedless or Persian cucumber
  13. Baby arugula greens

Instructions

  1. Warm a dry 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat; add the orzo and toast until golden brown and nutty-smelling, about 10 minutes, tossing the pan frequently. Remove from the heat and cool.
  2. Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil and cook the orzo until al dente. Drain and transfer to a bowl along with the butter, stirring until butter melts completely.
  3. Whisk together the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper; pour over the orzo. Add the chickpeas, pine nuts, dill and cucumber to the bowl and gently toss together. Top with the cheese and serve over the arugula.
http://familystylefood.com/2012/05/toasted-orzo-salad-with-lemon-and-chickpeas/