Tag Archives: italian foods

Seafood Pasta Paglia e Fieno

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I’m embarrassed to say that, after so many years of cooking Italian food, I have never experimented with using whole live clams!  I think it was because I felt intimidated by them….and afraid that I wouldn’t be able to tell if they were good or bad.  But I decided to put my fears aside and be brave!  If others could do it, so could I!  And then, the internet is such a good resource for doing anything!  I’m sure I could find out what to do with clams!!    So, I went to my trusty fish market and bought about 9 beautiful large manila clams!  I knew enough to ask the fish monger if they had a lot of sand in them and what to do to clean them.  He informed me that they had already been cleaned, but to just put them in a bowl of cold water and swish them around a bit.  The recipe I was using told me that to insure there was no sand left in them, to bring them to a light boil and allow them to just open.  At that point you can inspect them to make sure there isn’t any sand left in them.  This is also a good time to discard the ones that do not open.  This is definitely the sign that it is not a good clam!  The recipe called for straining this water I just cooked the clams in (I used a coffee filter inside a strainer to do this).  I put the clams and water aside and proceeded with the next step.

The next ingredient to prepare was shrimp or prawns.  I used the prawns from Trader Joe’s in the freezer section.  I thawed them and rinsed them under cold water before drying them thoroughly.  Once dried, I dredged them in a tiny bit of flour and then used some fine bread crumbs to coat them.  The coating should be VERY light!

I placed about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of good extra virgin olive oil in a pan and sauteed a couple of sliced garlic cloves along with about an 1/4 cup of minced parsley  and some pepper until the garlic was just browned (be careful not to burn it!).  To this, I added the shrimp and browned them on both sides until they were golden.  At this point, I added about 3/4 cup of white wine and let it reduce a bit (about 3-5 minutes).  I then added my clams and about 2 tablespoons of clam juice, cooking this for a couple of minutes.  It’s a bit difficult to mix everything up with the clams in there, so while it was cooking, I spooned some of the liquid into the clams to flavor them.  I tasted and adjusted the seasonings.

While all this was cooking, I cooked about 250 g of egg noodles in a separate pot.  I used a mixture of green spinach noodles and white egg noodles to create the “paglia e fieno” – straw and hay – effect.  This pasta cooks very rapidly – usually about 3 minutes in boiling and salted water.  DO NOT OVERCOOK THE PASTA!!!

When the pasta was ready to mix with the seafood, I removed the clams from the shrimp mixture and put them aside.  I then removed the pasta with a large wire pasta strainer like this one:

I put the pasta into the pan with the shrimp.  Don’t worry if some of the pasta water comes with you – that’s OK.  Once all the pasta was in the pan, I cooked it all together with the shrimp mixture until the pasta was well coated.  This doesn’t take much time – just enough to coat everything.  If the pasta is still a little dry, add some of the pasta water to moisten it.  I then placed the pasta mixture into a serving dish and placed the clams into the dish.  Voila!  A beautiful presentation for a delicious Seafood Pasta Paglia e Fieno!

Parties And More

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Sorry for the delay in keeping my promise to blog almost every day, but our social calendar has been absolutely overwhelming. We have had at least two invitations every day! We are just so popular!!!! Ha! Ha!

The day after my last post was the whole reason for our trip – the town’s giant birthday party for all the 80 year olds in town!!! And what a shindig it was! The day started off with a a special blessing to the Class of 1931 during the Sunday liturgy! Along with the many 1931’ers present, there was even a wedding at the same Mass! It was the strangest thing I have ever seen!

The entire congregation was seated for the beginning of Mass, when in walked the bridal procession!!! Nothing like having the entire church community celebrate with you!

After the very crowded Mass, we all piled into cars to be whisked away to La Fornarina…an excellent restaurant which has become the town’s favorite. The food was incredible…and it kept coming and coming! We started off with a huge assortment of antipastos including prosciutto and melon, coppa, salame,and parmesan crisps filled with tuna. Then came the first pasta dish – fettucine alla panna con porcini (fettucini with cream and porcini mushrooms)! This was followed by another pasta dish – spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Both of these dishes were delicious, but two pasta dishes? Unheard of!

And if that wasn’t enough, the main course was still to come!!! I forget what the other choices were, but I ordered Pesce Persico (perch). This fish is very special here because it is a specialty of Lago Maggiore, since it is commonly fished in the lake! It was served with french fries. What I noticed here is that vegetables are not a common occurence on the menu – you have to make a real point to order them! Whereas in the home and everyday menus of the Italians, vegetables are always present – but when they have guests or are hosting a special meal, they are never present! Very strange! After this main course, we had the dessert! It was a San Honore cake! This is THE cake whenever there is a special occasion – even in San Francisco we order these cakes for those times. It is made usually with rum, cream puffs filled with cream, and a bit of chocolate! No calories in this one!

In addition to all this food, the alcohol was freely flowing! Wine with the meal, and choices of limoncello and grappa with dessert! Coffee with grappa – making it “correct” – finished off the meal! Wow! And do you know how much all of this cost???? Only 30 €!

Well….that was what we had for lunch…but dinner was yet to come! We were invited for dinner at my cousin’s place! He prepared a pasta made with lots of various seafood – which was delicious! He gave me the “secret” recipe, so I will post it once I try it at home. He also prepared a carpaccio of swordfish – DELICIOUS! I am going to have to see if my fish monger will slice the fish so paper thin to be worthy of this recipe! Needless to say, we were a bit full that day! But the generosity of all our family and friends has been limitless! Italians are the most giving people there are!

The following day was crystal clear and I took advantage of the weather to head on down to the lake for a peaceful stroll along the promenade! This spot on Lago Maggiore is absolutely heavenly – I even found a classical villa for sale along the lake’s edge! What a dream it would be to own such a piece of Lago Maggiore’s history! I wonder how much it is?

After my stroll, we headed off to spend some time with the newest member of our family – 6 month old Clarissa! As if we hadn’t had our fill of food the day before, we were invited yet again to another cousin’s house for dinner! This one’s house sits on a hill and has a view of Lago Maggiore! It is absolutely stunning! Here they prepared some ravioli with butter and sage sauce and pork cutlets served with melted cheese and prosciutto! Another delicious meal!

And now we come to yesterday!!! What a fun filled day filled with all my favorite things- sightseeing, shopping, and FOOD!!!! Again, the day was crystal clear and there was not a cloud in the sky for my shopping trip to Ponte Tresa. This town sits on the border between Italy and Switzerland, and it is on the shores of beautiful Lake Lugano. The lake very much resembles the lakes of Austria around Salzburg!

The verdant woods surrounding the lake, with the tall mountains in the background, were just stunning. Because I was with locals, they knew of the perfect spot to take me to! Lake Lugano is like two lakes connected by a river. This spot is called Lavena Ponte Tresa…and it is so picturesque. There is a small promenade with little boats moored to the shore and tiny outdoor restaurants! It is quiet and peaceful…and SO beautiful!

We came to Ponte Tresa because there was a Campisa purse store here. I was really excited at first because I thought I was getting a great deal on some name brand purses. Don’t get me wrong – the purses are well made and really stylish. The prices are great, and they are trendy and fashionable! They are also extremely popular! But…and this is a big but for me….they are not leather!!!! I really want a leather purse from Italy, and I was disappointed that I didn’t find it. Hopefully, I will get the opportunity to find one!

After a day of shopping, dinner at another cousin’s was still to come! She, also, lives on a hill and has a gorgeous view of the lake!

They all have such beautiful homes! She prepared a risotto dish made with gorgonzola cheese and sliced apples! What a wonderful combination of flavors! So creamy, yet spiked with the unique flavor of spicy gorgonzola cheese…and then sweetened up with the small apple slices! Yummy!

This particular cousin has become the custodian of all the family photos handed down from one generation to the next. She shared with me any photo which I wished to have. I have such treasures of my grandparents and my dad as a little boy! I can’t wait to go home and sort them out!

There hasn’t been enough time in each day to truly savor all these delicious delicasies prepared with such loving care – I think I have to spend at least a month to truly appreciate each of these invites on an individual basis. But just spending time together has been incredible, and truly unforgettable!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Ispra and Ponte Tresa

Trying something new….

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Last night I tried cooking something that I had never cooked before! Most people aren’t going to believe me when I tell them what it was – after all, it is a VERY common dish in Italy. Even here in San Francisco, those transplants from Italy grow this in their gardens and are thrilled when ’tis the season!

I recently signed up for a “farm fresh to you” service which delivers organic vegetables directly from the farms. Of course, you are getting what is currently being grown in nearby farms…but it is great because I am trying those vegetables that I never ventured to buy before.

Ok, ok….I know that you are all dying to find out what this mystery vegetable is, so I guess I will spill the beans and quench your curiosity!!!

FENNEL….finocchio in Italian….and why it has this particular name, which is also a slang term for a gay man, is a mystery to me (and BTW, which name came first, I really don’t know)!!!

Fennel is grown alot in Italy, especially in Tuscany and the Southern regions, but my family did not grow up eating it. Every once in a while, some friend would share a bulb with us….but I remember not being particularly fond of it. It was one of those things like liver – it’s OK to eat sometimes, but I couldn’t make it a regular on my menus. So, needless to say, I never really paid any attention to it at the supermarket.

But, lo and behold, it showed up in my crate this past week and so I decided to give it a try!  I searched some recipes, and as I always enjoy the simple ones the best, I chose the following recipe.  The result was a success!  My husband and I both enjoyed it very much, and have now become fans of this delicious bulb!

Baked Fennel

1 fennel bulb, cut into strips

1 T. chopped fresh rosemary

1 T. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Wash and cut the fennel and place in an oven bowl.  Mix the herbs with the olive oil and pour over the fennel, making sure the fennel is well seasoned.

Turn the oven to broil, and place the bowl in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until the fennel begins to brown.  Remove from heat and serve warm.