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Cafe Capriccio Pasta Recipes

When I opened my first restaurant, Casa Verde, almost thirty five years ago, I decided to serve only pasta fatta in casa (pasta made at home) primarily because it can be cooked quickly. Busy chefs in Italian restaurants don’t have time to wait ten minutes for individual orders of pasta to cook and they sometimes take short cuts by cooking quantities of pasta in advance and then reheating it to order. This is why pasta in restaurants is so often soft and overcooked, and therefore disappointing.  

Students of Italian cuisine quickly discover that pasta made at home (typically with eggs added) is usually served for special occasions, often with cream or butter-based sauces.   It is also a regional specialty of Emilia Romagna, and its culinary center Bologna. Otherwise, Italians eat dried pasta made from semolina wheat, the harder the better. Pasta lovers in Italy and elsewhere love the firm texture of properly made and cooked semolina pasta. I’m one of those people and at the Chef’s Table I usually serve dried pasta. Of course, at the Chef’s Table I’m cooking for a group and not individuals, making the cooking-time factor insignificant.

Concerning brands and labels, there surely are differences in quality from brand to brand, but much of the differences relate to individual preference. My preference is for cooked pasta to be very firm, which some brands cannot achieve because, like minute rice, they are made to be "foolproof."  Cook them for a long time or a short time, it doesn't matter -- same soft texture. 

 Most of the Italian labels are superb. I especially like the pasta made in the Campania region (around Naples) along with some of the more famous labels from other regions: De Cecco and Del Verde from Abruzzo, for example. There are many great choices for pasta lovers and the process of investigation is a joy. Each of us is an expert in regard to her/his preferences; the ultimate ratings are therefore strictly subjective and the choices are practically endless. So let the investigation begin -- if it hasn’t already begun for you.

Despite my stated preference for dried pasta, this chapter will begin with a basic recipe for egg pasta which we use at Café Capriccio when we make it for ourselves.

Most of the recipes that follow will anticipate dried pasta but, of course, cooks can choose for themselves which type to prepare. Any sauce in this book will be fine with either fresh or dried pasta.

Recipes which follow will be for 10 diners, since this book is primarily about cooking for company. The portions are generous.

 - Jim Rua

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Basic Pasta Recipe (2 pounds, made in a mixer)

Ingredients:

2 pounds unbleached all purpose flour
6 medium eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt

For larger amounts of pasta, use the same proportions and technique below.

Procedure

Beat the eggs. Combine flour and salt in the mixer. Insert the dough hook attachment and start the mixer. Drizzle the egg into the bowl. Mix until ingredients are integrated. Remove dough after it is well mixed and comes together. Add flour as necessary and knead it with your hands for a few minutes. The texture should be sponge-like and slightly moist.
Cover the dough and let it rest in the refrigerator for ½ hour. This will relax the dough and make it easier to roll and cut.

Rolling and cutting the dough is an important aspect of pasta making.  Home cooks can buy small affordable machines that mix dough automatically and extrude it through dies.  Commercial pasta is also usually extruded, but commercial pasta is then dried and thus becomes firm.  Cooking replaces the water lost in drying, but if cooked properly the dried pasta remains "al dente," firm to the tooth.  Freshly made extruded pasta, not allowed to dry, is often soft, lacking substance and texture.  This is why I always recommend rolling and cutting fresh pasta, rather than using an extrusion machine.  The extrusion method is easier, but the results are not as good. 

Cut the dough into manageable portions. Pass it through the rollers of a pasta machine several times, each time reducing the thickness setting. The pasta is ready to be cut when the texture is perfectly smooth and rolled to the desired thickness. Cut the pasta. For ravioli or other stuffed pasta, the setting should be slightly thicker than for long pasta.   Stuffed pasta should be cooked quickly or frozen because the stuffing will quickly saturate the pasta if allowed to stand for more than a few minutes.  Frozen, the stuffed pasta will last for months.
Unstuffed pasta can be held in the refrigerator for at least one day, provided it is dusted with semolina to prevent sticking.  You may also freeze it, later cooking it from the frozen state.

Cooking time for stuffed pasta is several minutes; for unstuffed pasta only a couple of minutes in rapidly boiling salted water. 


Pasta with Tuna, Tomatoes, Olives, Anchovies, and Capers

For families who love pasta with the briny taste of olives and the seashore, this is a wonderful dish with roots in the south of Italy. Anywhere from Naples to Sicily, and always along the coast, a lucky traveler is likely to find variations on this kind of bountiful creation, especially in the small, family-operated trattorias ubiquitous throughout the south. The recipe below is suggestive of Puttanesca from Naples with the addition of canned tuna for which the Italians have high regard. Serve it with tossed salad, crunchy bread and a light dessert for a great late-afternoon Sunday supper.

Ingredients

2 cans San Marzano tomatoes (each 28 oz.)
3 cans tuna in water (each 5 oz.)
1 cup calamata olives, chopped
3 tablespoons capers
1 small can anchovies packed in oil
6 cloves chopped garlic
2 tablespoons dried oregano
Olive oil
Hot pepper flakes to taste (I use Utica Grind),
Chopped parsley
2 pounds penne rigate

Procedure 

Bring 4 – 5 quarts of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

Heat anchovies and the oil in which they are packed together with olive oil for 1 minute. Add garlic and sauté for about 1 minute, without burning the garlic. Crush the tomatoes, removing skins, stems and debris that may be in the can, add to the ingredients, stir, then combine everything else and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the pot and let the sauce rest.

Cook the pasta. This will take less than 10 minutes. Drain the pasta when it’s done to your liking, return it to the pasta-pot, and add the sauce, tossing to cover the pasta without drowning it. Allow the pasta and sauce to mingle for a couple of minutes so that the pasta absorbs some of the sauce. Pour the pasta into a large serving bowl and bring it to the convivial table.


Ragu of Boar (Cinghiale Fiorentina)

Ingredients

16 oz. ground boar (or pork if you cannot find boar)  

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 6 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup chopped fresh fennel
  • 8 oz. red wine
  • Parmigiano cheese, grated
  • 1 can San Marzano Tomatoes, 35 oz.
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • Chopped parsley
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 lbs pasta. Wide noodles are especially good for this preparation. Try pappardelle.

 
Procedure

  • Sauté the onion in olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the meat and vegetables and sauté for about 7 minutes. Add the wine and reduce it for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, herbs, and spices. Let the sauce cook slowly for at least one hour. When the sauce is finished, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water, then toss it into the sauce for a couple of minutes. Turn it into a serving dish and serve garnished with Parmigiano and chopped parsley.


Nero di Sepia
(Squid in Black Ink, also known as Calamari Neri)

Sepia (or cuttlefish) is a squid variety characterized by plump flesh, a true backbone and a large ink sac delicious in various sauces. Italian cuisine usually features sepia combined with rice in a dish called risotto con nero di sepia. Rarely does one find ink sauce served with pasta, although I have seen it in the deep south of Italy and in Sicily. At Café Capriccio, we have been serving calamari neri with pasta for our entire history. The best place to find sepia is in Asian markets. These fish are usually cleaned, however, and do not include the ink sacs, essential for this preparation. In recent years the ink has been sold separately in specialty stores and in some fish markets. Squid ink can also be found online from specialty purveyors.

Ingredients

12 ounces of cuttlefish, cleaned and cut into serving pieces
8 tablespoons squid ink
1 can San Marzano Tomatoes, 28 oz.
1 cup white wine
4 oz. tomato paste
1 small can anchovies
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small diced onion
1 small diced red pepper (sweet)
6 cloves chopped garlic
½ teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons capers
2 lbs pasta. Spaghetti is a good choice

Preparation

Saute onions and peppers in olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add sepia, sauté for several minutes. Add anchovies, tomatoes, squid ink, tomato paste, wine, coriander, and capers, and simmer for 15 minutes, after which the sauce should be rich and black. Cook spaghetti until al dente. When the spaghetti are cooked, toss with the sauce so that all ingredients are thoroughly integrated. Transfer to bowls and serve.  


Meat Sauce Bolognese Style

Ingredients

1½  lbs. chopped meat (veal, pork, and beef are a good combination) 

  • 2 oz. chopped pancetta (bacon from the pig's belly found in Italian delis)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 can San Marzano tomatoes, 28 oz.
  • 1 can tomato paste, 6 oz.
  • 8 oz. beef broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon fresh or dried sage
  • Parmigiano cheese
  • Chopped parsley
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pasta: fresh egg pasta would be a good choice, pappardelle or fettuccini. 

 Procedure

  •  
  • Sauté the onion and vegetables in olive oil and pancetta for several minutes, until the onion shows a bit of color. Add the meat and vegetables and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, broth, tomato paste, milk, herbs and spices. Let the sauce cook for a couple of hours at very low heat. When the sauce is finished, cook the pasta, then toss in the sauce and serve in a beautiful bowl with Parmigiano and parsley.


Sauce Bechamel (The Italians call it Balsamella)

This is a basic cream/flour/butter sauce that is particularly good when combined with vegetables or seafood such as shrimp and scallops. It can also stand on its own and serve as a simple sauce for pasta.

1 quart milk
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons butter
Salt
Parmigiano cheese
Chopped parsley

Procedure

  • Combine flour, milk, butter and salt in a pot. Bring the contents to a simmer, stirring all the while. When all ingredients are integrated and the sauce is smooth, the béchamel is finished, in about ten minutes.

Cook 2 lbs of pasta in boiling water until al dente.
Drain the pasta, toss with the béchamel, finish with Parmigiano and parsley. Turn into a bowl and serve.


Pomodorini (Fresh Cherry or Grape Tomatoes)

Ingredients

2 pounds cherry tomatoes, cut in half
6 cloves minced garlic
5 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh basil, chopped
Parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Parmigiano cheese
2 lbs. thin spaghetti, particularly good with this light sauce.

Procedure

  • Saute the garlic for a minute. Add tomatoes and salt and cook for only a few minutes more. Add the basil at the end.
  •  
  • Cook the pasta in plenty of water and toss into the sauce at the end. Finish with plenty of chopped fresh basil and parsley with Parmigiano for those who wish it.


Clams with Olive Oil & Garlic (alle Vongole)

Ingredients

3 dozen littleneck clams
3 oz. olive oil
6 cloves chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon hot pepper
Juice from 3 lemons
2 tablespoons chopped basil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 pounds pasta, linguine works just fine

Procedure:

Scrub the clams. Place clams in a large sauté pan without stacking them. If you must lay them on top of each other do so, but the pan will be crowded when the clams open and the final stages of preparation will be  more difficult. Add olive oil and cook covered over moderate heat.

After about three minutes, when the clams begin to exude their juices, add the garlic, shake the pan, and cover again. Continue cooking for approximately five minutes, until most of the clams are opened. The freshest clams will produce the most liquid, and will take longer to open. Be vigilant to monitor progress. If the clams you use do not contain much liquid, or if you cook them too fast, the clam juice will evaporate and your sauce will be disappointing.

Add the herbs when most of the clams are open, reserving half of the  parsley. Herbs should not cook for more than a few minutes, after which they rapidly lose their potency. When the clams are open, add the lemon juice to the broth. It is best to allow all clams to open naturally in the pan, rather than to force them open. This is because partially cooked clams will not consolidate in their shells and thus won’t present the same plump and juicy texture as their companions.

Before tossing pasta in the sauce, place the clams around the rim of individual platters. Add a splash of broth and a sprinkle of parsley to each clam. Cook the pasta so that it comes out at about the time the sauce is ready. Toss the cooked pasta in clam broth, allowing the pasta to absorb as much as sauce as possible. Serve the pasta in the center of the platter, clams surrounding it, with parsley generously applied; add lemon wedges for garnish.


Puttanesca

This is how I observed maestro Gaetano Fazio prepare puttanesca in his restaurant on the island of Ischia, where puttanesca is said to have originated. There is some controversy about the origin of this sauce, named after ladies of the night. Some say that its name derives from the quick and easy method of preparation favored by “working girls”; some say it is hot and spicy like its namesake; some refuse to speculate, preferring merely to enjoy it.

Ingredients

2 cans San Marzano tomatoes, each 28 oz., cores and skins removed, coarsely chopped
8 cloves minced garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
Anchovies -- at least two per person – mashed
2 tablespoons capers
1½  cups Mediterranean olives, such as calamata, chopped, with pits removed
Crushed red pepper to taste (Utica Grind is always my choice)
Chopped basil
Chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
2 pounds pasta. Ziti or penne are good choices.

Procedure

Sauté garlic in olive oil with anchovies for a minute. Don’t burn the garlic. Add tomatoes, capers, olives, crushed pepper, and half of the fresh herbs and stir. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, uncovered. When the sauce is ready, it should be fairly thick, and a little dark from the olive influence.

Cook the pasta and drain it. Return the drained pasta to the pot in which it was cooked, ladle some sauce over the pasta and toss it thoroughly so that the pasta is coated. Now place the pasta in a serving bowl, spoon a little sauce on top with parsley. Serve extra sauce on the side. No cheese.


Frutta di mare
  (Mixed Fish & Shellfish)


Frutta di mare is a festive dish, which can include a variety of fish and shellfish. This is a dish to serve on Christmas Eve when the theme is fish and shell fish.

The cook's primary objectives are:

1. To coordinate the cooking time of each fish so that none is undercooked and none overcooked when the pasta is ready to be served;
2. to produce a sauce whose texture is appropriate for pasta, rather thick and not soup-like.

Ingredients

1 dozen littleneck clams. Choose smaller clams for this recipe because you will need space in your pan for other ingredients
1 dozen black mussels, beards removed and shells scrubbed
10 large sea scallops
8 oz. calamari, cleaned. Cut the body into rings and chop the tentacles
10 large shrimp, cleaned, with the tail segment left on the shrimp. Shrimp should be sliced down their back to remove the vein and to create a "butterfly" effect when cooked. Slice through about one quarter of the shrimp's body. The size of the shrimp should be no smaller than fifteen to the pound
3 cups San Marzano tomatoes, cores and seeds removed, coarsely chopped
6 cloves chopped garlic
Chopped basil
Chopped parsley
1 teaspoon of hot pepper (Utica Grind)
2 tablespoons capers
½ cup pitted olives chopped
2 pounds linguine, tagliatelle, or fettuccine.

Procedure

In a pan large enough to hold the fish and the sauce, sauté garlic in olive oil for about one minute over moderate heat. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the clams in their shells; cook covered for about four minutes. Add the mussels, calamari, and scallops and continue to simmer uncovered for three minutes. Add the shrimp and herbs (reserve some parsley for later) and cook until the shrimp are brightly colored and firm, about three minutes.

Time your pasta so that it is cooked al dente about two minutes after the shrimp are firm and bright. Meanwhile, during the last two minutes of pasta cooking time, arrange the shellfish around the perimeter of  a large serving platter. Reserve some sauce on the side, toss the pasta in the sauce, place the pasta in the center of the platter with shrimp, scallops, and calamari on top. Sprinkle with parsley and basil all around.


A Parade of Pestos

Following are several pesto preparations that will glorify your chef’s table. Pesto is often associated with the basil sauce from Genoa, pesto alla Genovese, but imaginative cooks can create endless pesto variations to adorn their pasta selections. The ingredients for recipes that follow will include vegetables and herb combinations, usually, although not always, with nuts or seeds to provide crunch. Pesto needs crunch.

The term pesto is based on the Italian verb pestare which means to pound, or to grind, a process that occurs in a mortar and pestle -- the traditional method for preparing pesto sauce. Today I use a food processor to prepare many varieties of pesto for Chef’s Table dinners.

My food processor is a basic Cuisinart with two functions: a high speed that will puree virtually anything with moisture content and a pulsating function that is just right for pesto. Pesto should always possess a substantive texture with its individual ingredients recognizable. The texture of pesto should never be puree.        

Once prepared, pesto is not cooked, or heated on the stove.  It is added to steaming pasta and tossed vigorously to integrate it thoroughly. I sometimes add a little heavy cream to facilitate integration of whatever pesto I have created.  If cream is added, I heat it first.  The cream disappears and is primarily intended as an aid for distribution so that all of the pasta served is evenly dressed with its pesto adornment. One can also add some of the salted water in which the pasta was cooked to facilitate the pesto-saucing process.

The recipes that follow will assume that 2 cups of finished pesto will be sufficient for 1 pound of pasta, 4 cups for 2 pounds. Unlike with liquid sauces, once the pasta is dressed with its pesto sauce, additional pesto is not added. Be sure therefore to adequately dress the pasta you serve.

When feeding a crowd at your chef’s table I recommend selecting short cuts of pasta that can be easily handled by guests and whose shapes will accept the sauce. Recommended pasta shapes for pesto include farfalle, gemelli, small shells, short fusilli and mini penne rigate. Larger cuts such as rigatoni or standard penne rigate are less desirable and spaghetti, while perfect for groups of two or four, are unwieldy for a crowd of ten.

Cooking pasta for pesto preparations

Cook the pasta to the desired texture. Drain the pasta, then return it to the still-hot pot in which it was cooked, leaving a bit of salted hot water in as well. This will facilitate distribution of the sauce. Toss the pesto into the pasta and stir vigorously. When the pesto and pasta appear as a conjugal couple, turn it into a bowl and serve. The preparations that follow can be served hot or warm and are also good at room temperature.

All pesto recipes that follow will produce two cups of finished pesto, enough for one pound of pasta. Adjust ingredients proportionally for larger quantities.


Pesto alla Genovese

Ingredients

4 cups packed basil leaves
½ cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano
Olive oil

Procedure

Toast the pine nuts until they show a little color. This can be done in the oven or in a sauté pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Do not burn the pine nuts. Neither should you use them raw, as they are then quite bland.

Using a food processor, grind the garlic and pine nuts together using the pulsing function. Add basil and other ingredients, including the olive oil.
Pulse the food processor until all ingredients are blended and form a substantial texture. I recommend pouring a cup of olive oil into the food processor at this stage of preparation. Add more oil if necessary as you proceed. Let the pesto stand for at least 1 hour, after which it is ready to use.

Cook 1 pound of pasta and toss with pesto as described previously.


Pesto with Arugula, Spinach, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Feta

Ingredients

2 cups packed arugula
2 cups packed spinach
1 cup unsalted almonds
3 cloves garlic
¾ cup feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
1 cup olive oil

Procedure

Using a food processor, grind the garlic and almonds together using the pulsing function. Add arugula, spinach, basil and other ingredients, including the olive oil. Pulse the food processor until all ingredients are blended and form a substantial texture. Add more oil if necessary.
Let the pesto stand for at least 1 hour, after which it is ready to use.
You should be able to see tiny bits of sun-dried tomato along with the colors of the other ingredients.

Cook one pound of pasta and toss with pesto as described above.


Olive/Pepper Tapanade Pesto

Ingredients

4 large red bell peppers
1 cup calamata olives, pitted
1 small can anchovies
4 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup capers
Pinch of hot pepper
¾ cup olive oil

Procedure

Roast the peppers. Burn the skin by cooking them over a gas fire. When the skin is black, cool the pepper then run under cold water, removing the skin and core. Place all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse to integrate all ingredients. Let stand for at least one hour, after which the pesto is ready to use. The color should show the dark olive aspect, but also the color of the peppers.

Cook one pound of pasta and toss with pesto as described above.


Sweet Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

Ingredients

5 large red bell peppers
4 cloves garlic, chopped
¾ cup Pecorino Romano, grated
½ cup pistachio nuts
Chopped parsley
Pinch of hot pepper (Utica Grind)
Olive oil

Procedure

Roast the peppers. Burn the skin by cooking them over a gas fire. When the skin is black, cool the pepper then run under cold water, removing the skin and core. Place all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse to integrate all ingredients. Let stand for at least one hour, after which the pesto is ready to use.

Cook the pasta and toss with pesto as described above.


Pesto di Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale)

Note that the kale is steamed first in order to tenderize it.

Ingredients

4 cups Tuscan Kale, large stalks removed, leaves separated, and roughly chopped
½ cup salted sunflower seeds
4 cloves garlic
1 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
1 cup olive oil

Procedure

Steam the kale for 5 minutes until it is quite soft. Let the kale cool.
Using a food processor, grind the garlic and sunflower seeds together using the pulsing function. Add kale and other ingredients, including the olive oil. Pulse the food processor until all ingredients are blended and form a substantial texture. Let the pesto stand for at least one hour, after which it is ready to use.

Cook the pasta and toss with pesto as described above.

 
Tomato Pesto with Unsalted Nuts

Ingredients

6 oz. tomato paste
3 cups San Marzano tomatoes
½ cup unsalted nuts
4 cloves garlic
¾ cup ricotta salata, grated
Additional ricotta salata for dressing the finished pasta
Chopped basil
Chopped parsley
1 cup olive oil

Procedure

Crush the tomatoes, removing skins, stems and debris that may be in the can.  Grind the garlic and nuts using the pulsing function. Add all other  ingredients and process until blended. The finished texture should be firm but not stiff. Let stand for 1 hour.

Cook 1 pound of pasta and toss with pesto.

Finish with grated ricotta salata cheese, basil and parsley.


Radicchio Rosso Pesto with Potatoes and Green Beans

Ingredients

2 heads radicchio rosso, chopped
½ cup salted pumpkin seeds
4 cloves garlic
¾ cup Pecorino Romano, grated
1 cup olive oil
8 oz. French style green beans
2 red skin potatoes
Chopped parsley

Procedure

Steam the green beans until cooked, about 3 to 4 minutes. Set them aside.
Dice the potato in bite-sized pieces. Steam the potatoes until tender, about 3 minutes. Set aside with the green beans. In a food processor, grind the garlic with pumpkin seeds. Add the radicchio, Pecorino and olive oil.
Process until all ingredients are blended using the pulsing function. Set the pesto aside for at least one hour.

Cook the pasta, then toss in the pesto and distribute evenly. Add the beans and potatoes. Turn onto a platter (or into a bowl) and top with Pecorino.

 

 


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Cafe Capriccio 49 Grand Street, Albany NY 12207 - Phone: 518-465-0439

 

 

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