Category Archives: Pasta (i primi)

Lasagna: From the Old Country to You

Sundays were always a special day when I was growing up– it was a time for our family to get together and spend time enjoying each others company.  Of course, that always meant a large meal, usually where tomato sauce was involved and a several course meal.  Perhaps no other dish screams Sunday afternoon or special occasion such as lasagna.  In episode 20, we share one of my most beloved recipes, hand delivered to you from how I remember it from my mother and the stories from the old country in Italy.  My granddaughter, Maléna, joins me in cooking up this lasagna– her special touch adds a lot!

malena cooking

Mama Lombardo cooking with her granddaughter, Maléna

My lasagna takes about 1 hour to prepare.  The recipe I share is for a large lasagna pan, approximately 22 inches long, 10 inches wide and 3-4 inches deep.  You can make the lasagna any size you’d like– simply modify the amount of the ingredients.  I like to have left over lasagna since it stays well and makes for a great meal anytime.

You’ll need the following ingredients for this recipe:

  • tomato sauce and meatballs (see episode 1 for the full recipe)
  • 1-2 pounds of lasagna pasta, cooked al dente
  • 2 pounds of ricotta cheese
  • 6-7 tablespoons of grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4-5 long sprigs of Italian parsley, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozarella cheese
  • salt and pepper

Put the ricotta cheese in a large bowl.  Mix in the eggs, chopped parsley, a couple tablespoons of romano cheese and salt and pepper.  Mix together thoroughly, then set aside.

lasagna

Mama Lombardo’s lasagna

Cover the bottom of the pan with tomato sauce.  Layer the cooked lasagna pasta length-wise, covering the bottom of the pan. Using a large spoon, place spoonfuls of the ricotta cheese on top of the lasagna pasta.  You want enough so that you can spread it out with a spoon, covering all of the pasta.  Add 1-2 ladels of tomato sauce on top of the ricotta.  Using a fork, mix the ricotta and sauce, spreading it out evenly on top of the pasta.  Next, break up 2 meatballs with a fork into large chunks.  Spread the meatballs in with the ricotta and sauce mix on top of the pasta.  When completed, place another layer of pasta on top, completing covering the ricotta, sauce and meatball mix.  Repeat the same process with the ricotta, sauce and meatballs until you have enough layers to reach the top of the pan.  At the end of the final layer, spread the shredded mozzarella cheese on top, then place another layer of pasta on top of that.  This is your final topping.  Spread some tomato sauce over the top, then sprinkle some grated cheese.   You are now ready to put it in the oven!

Place the finished pan of lasagna into the oven at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when the top layer starts to look slightly browned.  Take it out of the oven, let it cool off for 10-15 minutes, then serve!

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Zucchini italiani

Summer is full of fresh vegetables that are coming from the garden, including basil, dill, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and many others.  One of my favorite and perhaps most versatile of them all is zucchini.  Zucchini comes in many variaties and can be served in many different ways.  In episode 18, we share with you zucchini italiani, which is a zucchini cooked as a soup with different vegetables.  We prepare it in three different ways: plain, with potatoes and with egg.  You can serve it in any of the three ways or just pick one.

Mama Lombardo preparing zucchini italiani

You will need the following ingredients for this recipe:

  • 1 large zucchini, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 3-4 large fresh tomatoes
  • 2 large stalks of fresh basil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • olive oil
  • 2-3 cups of water
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup of fresh cut spaghetti pasta

Preferably all of these vegetables can come from your  garden (or a neighbors).  if not, you can use veggies from the grocery store or market.

Prepare the soups

Coat a small pan with olive oil and heat.  Place a quarter of the diced up onion into the pan and wait until the onion is translucent, stirring constantly.  Add the diced potatoes and about a cup of water.

While the potato is cooking, peel the tomatoes, take out the seeds the best you can and then cut up into small pieces, placing into a bowl.   Add one of the tomatoes in with the potatoes and stir.  Add salt and pepper to season.

Now you will want to prepare some plain zucchini (without potato).  Saute some onion in olive oil in a pan.  When they are translucent, add the diced up zucchini.  Add 2 cups of water as well as another sliced up tomato.  Add salt and pepper to season.  Cook until the zucchini is soft, which should be about 5 minutes.

Once the potatoes and the zucchini are soft, you should add some fresh basil into each pan.  Then take some of the zucchini and mix it into the potato mix.  This is dish #1, potato and zucchini.  Sepaprate the zucchini into 2 pans.  One of the pans is dish #2, plain zucchini.  For dish #3 (zucchini and egg), you will now add 2 eggs into one of pans with the plain zucchini.  Do so while the zucchini mix is boiling.  The egg with solidify and make a nice addition to the soup.

Cook your pasta

In a separate pan, cook the pasta.  I like to use cut up spaghetti pasta (either buy it that way or buy spaghetti and break it apart).  Once the pasta is cooked up, you should mix it with the soup mixes.  Of course, you can choose not to serve the soups with the pasta.

Zucchini italiani ready to serve. Buon appetito!

Serve!

Now you are ready to serve.  Simply scoop the soups into a bowl and serve hot.  I always like to serve it with some fresh, crusty, white Italian bread, which is fantastic for dunking into the soup.  You can also add some freshly ground parmigiano cheese if you’d like.

Enjoy!

La Festa dei Sette Pesci: A Christmas Tradition

Christmas is a time of year that is full of tradition.  In my family growing up, Christmas wasn’t just one day, but an entire season full of spending time with family and eating different foods.  The festivities culminated with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Fish was (and remains) the food that plays a central role for the Christmas holiday.  For many Italian families like mine, on Viglia di Natale (Christmas Eve), it’s about La Festa dei Sette Pesci (The Feast of the Seven Fish), where we serve seven types of fish (along with lots of other side dishes), typically served in one at a time in seven different courses.  La Festa dei Sette Pesci is common in Italy, particularly in southern Italy where my family came from.  The tradition draws its roots from our Christian faith around abstinence, or refraining from eating dairy or meat products on Friday or holidays, including Christmas time.  Instead, fish was eaten, typically fried in oil, baked or served with pasta.

Buona Natale! Mama Lombardo enjoying calamari ripieni and clams casino with her family

The reason seven fish are served tie back to Christian tradition as well, specifically to the frequency at which number seven is referred to in the Bible, with seven representing perfect completion.  Baby Jesus’ birth on Christmas represents this perfect completion, and seven fish are served for this reason. Seven, however, has evolved to many different numbers– 9, 11, 13, etc., so many families serve more.  It makes for a longer meal and more time with family and friends!

The fish can be any type of fish, including baccala, scungilli salad, calamari salad, baked cod, stuffed baked lobster, and many other types.  In my family, La Festa dei Sette Pesci usually consists of fried smelts, shrimp cooked scampi style with pasta and/or fried shrimp, baked scallops with breadcrumbs, fried grey of sole,  haddock prepared pizza aeola style (see Episode 5: Pizza Aeola), and the two recipes we share in this episode: clams casino and calamari ripieni (stuffed calamari) in tomato sauce served with spaghetti.

Clams Casino

I usually serve clams casino as an appetizer, but it can also be served a main course.  It’s an incredibly simple recipe, which only takes about 15 minutes to make.  The ingredients you need to make 6-7 clams on a half shell include: 1.5 pounds of fresh minced clams, 1 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs (see Episode 1- Classic Tomato Sauce and Meatballs for how to make the breadcrumbs), 1/4 cup of olive oil,  1/2 cup of tomato sauce, and oregano.

La Festa dei Sette Pesci: Clams Casino

Spread out your half shells on a baking sheet.  Evenly distribute the 1.5 pounds of minced clams across the shells, including some of the clam “juice” in the shell.  Add the olive oil to the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly.  Once mixed, spread breadcrumbs on top of the clams, covering the entire surface of clams.  Next, spoon some tomato sauce on top of the breadcrumbs, then spread it out with a fork evenly over the surface.  Sprinkle oregano on each and then place in the oven  on a broil at 375 for about 10 minutes.  Once golden brown on top, you’re done!  Serve hot.

Calamari ripieni in tomato sauce

Calamari (or squid) is a common type of seafood used in Italian cuisine, particularly in Sicily where the culture and cuisine is so tied to the Mediterranean Sea.  There are many different ways to prepare it: fried, marinated in a salad, al forno, among others.  My favorite is in tomato sauce and served with pasta.  The calamari provide a rich, unique flavor to the sauce.  I also stuff some of the calamari, bake it in the oven (al forno) and then add it to the sauce as well.  You can serve it al forno style without adding it to the sauce, which is the way I typically make it, but my family likes it in the sauce as well, which is what I’m going to show you today.

La Festa dei Sette Pesci: Calamari tomato sauce

The ingredients you will need for calamari ripieni in the tomato sauce are: 1 pound of fresh calamari (the whole calamari), 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs, 28 ounce can of tomato sauce, 1 clove of garlic, a 1/4 of a white onion, 1 celery stalk (the inside, tender stalks in the celery bunch), salt and pepper.

Start off by cleaning your calamari thoroughly.  Most fish markets sell the calamari already cleaned, but you want to make sure you check it over, washing it and removing any additional parts that may have been missed.  Once cleaned, get the long, tubular bodies of the squid and cut with a scissors into about 1/2 inch sections.  Cut up the tentacles as well. Place these sections aside for now. You will be adding these sections to the tomato sauce.

Use about 4-5 (or more if you prefer) of the tubular body sections to stuff.  Mix the olive oil with the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly.  Stuff the breadcrumbs into the calamari, making sure you get it well-packed.  You need to seal the top of the calamari so the stuffing doesn’t fall out, so pin it shut using a toothpick.  Place the stuffed calamari into a casserole dish, and set aside.

Prepare the tomato sauce by heating a sauce pan on medium heat with some olive oil covering the bottom of the pan.  Once heated, add the clove of garlic (whole is fine, but you can also mince it), along with the white onion diced up.  Saute the onions until translucent.  Once done, add in the tomato sauce, a bit of water, and sprinkle in salt and pepper.  Let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes.

Next, add the sliced up calamari rings and tentacles to the tomato sauce.  Slice up the tender celery stalk into small, diced pieces and add to the tomato sauce as well.  The calamari needs only 3-5 minutes to cook, and you don’t want to overcook it since it can become rubbery.  So watch it carefully!  Once cooked, set aside.

Next, take some of the tomato sauce and spread it over the stuffed calamari in the casserole dish.  Place it in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.  You can tell it’s done when you can stick a fork through it easily.  Once done, remove from the oven and place in the tomato sauce.

Cook your spaghetti (or if you prefer linguine or fettuccini, you can use that instead) al dente.  Add the calamari sauce to the pasta and spread it evenly throughout.  Serve topped with grated pecorino romano or parmiggiano cheese. The calamari tomato sauce is best served right away for the best flavor.

Clams casino and calamari ripieni in tomato sauce served with spaghetti

Buona Natale!

Clams casino and calamari ripieni in tomato sauce served with spaghetti are just two of the types of fish you can make for Christmas Eve.  I hope that you will give them a try and make it part of your Christmas tradition.

From my family to yours, I wish you a heartfelt Buona Natale or Merry Christmas!

Healthy Summertime Dish: Pasta Con Aglia

The Sicilian kitchen is all about using the seasonal items available from the land– the fresher, the better.  This time of year, fruits, vegetables and spices are in full bloom, and nothing beats using a fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil combination from the garden.  That’s what we do in Episode 12, where we share with you pasta con aglia or in the Sicilian dialect I grew up calling this dish, pasta cu aglia. In English, it’s simply pasta with garlic.

There is perhaps no other ingredient more Italian than garlic, which is healthy and tasty.  I grew up on the stuff, and raised my kids on it as well.  I use it in so many dishes, and pasta con aglia really emphasizes its flavor and beauty as an ingredient.

This is a dish that’s very quick to prepare (about 10 minutes), which is why my mother used to make when someone stopped by unexpectedly (unexpected guests were always welcome and fed well) and she needed to pull something together quickly.  She used to make it for large family gatherings as well since it was so easy to prepare and did not require lots of work.

Pasta con aglia is very healthy, and not too heavy– perfect for the summer time. I highly recommend giving this recipe a try, and eating it outside under the beautiful sun with a glass of wine.

Preparing the sauce

The ingredients you will need for the pasta con aglia are: 14 ounces of fresh, crushed tomatoes, 4 large cloves of garlic, about 1-1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, a handful of fresh basil, and about 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  You will also need a mortar and pestle which you will need to crush the mix.

You can use fresh tomatoes from the garden or fresh whole tomatoes in a can (I like Kitchen Ready brand), which is what I do when I don’t have fresh garden tomatoes to work with.  Start off by crushing the tomatoes in a bowl. Place them aside.

Next, take the four, large peeled cloves of garlic and slice them up into the mortar bowl.  Add more garlic if you like lots of garlic and want a stronger flavor.  This is pasta with garlic after all!  (Just don’t plan on kissing your significant other for the evening if you do use extra garlic!).  Use the pestle to crush the garlic.  Crush until it’s mashed into a small pieces.  Add the salt, and continue to crush.  Once crushed down, chop up the fresh basil, and add that to the mortar bowl.  Crush the basil.  Once it’s in a fine paste, add the olive oil, and mix.

Take the mixture, and add it to the crushed tomatoes.  Mix with a spoon.

While you’re preparing the sauce, you can cook the pasta.  Follow our directions for cooking pasta, making sure you keep it al dente.  The classic pasta to use with this recipe is spaghetti.  You can use another pasta if you’d like, but I’d stick with long pasta, such as fettucini, if you do substitute for the spaghetti.

Before draining the pasta, use a scoop to take some of the water from the pasta and place it aside.  You will use this water to add to the pasta mix when completed.

Once you’ve drained the pasta, place it in the pan you cooked it in, then add the sauce.  Mix thoroughly.  The pasta will absorb the sauce, so you should add some of the water you took from the pasta into the mix.  This will help make a nice “juice” with the sauce– something you can dip fresh bread into!

That’s it!  You are ready to serve!  Get your family and friends together, place a large plate of pasta in a bowl, add some grated percorino romano or parmesan cheese on top, and mangia!