June 26, 2011

Cannelloni with Chard

cannelloni with chard

The original title of this post was “manicotti with chard.” I never really knew the difference between manicotti and cannelloni but assumed they were simply two regional or dialectical names for the same thing.  I chose “manicotti” for this dish because I’ve always liked the way it feels to say it.  The combination of the open ‘o’ [ɔ] and the double ‘t’ [t.t] in the “-otto” suffix (plural -otti) is onomatopoetically tied to the meaning of the suffix – a meaning appropriate for this dish.  

If I may go off on a brief linguistic tangent, one of the many things I love about the Italian language is its use of diminutive and augmentative endings.  There are two primary augmentative endings in Italian: -one and -otto.  While -one purely means “big,” -otto connotes something slightly different: a rounder, sometimes chubby sort of largeness – just like it sounds!  The point is that I called this dish “manicotti” simply because I liked to the think of the stuffed tubes of pasta as chubby little “sleeves” (maniche=sleeves). 

In doing some research for this post, I was surprised to discover that there is absolutely no mention of manicotti in any of my Italian cookbooks.  This includes a number of books dedicated solely to pasta (and even detailing dialectical variations of pasta names).  My go-to Italian dictionary (Garzanti Linguistica) defines a manicotto as (1) a sleeve usually made of fur and open on both ends (i.e. a handwarmer) or (2) a cylindrical joint used to connect two tubes or to transmit rotary motion between two coaxial shafts.  There is no official culinary meaning of manicotti in Italian, and the accepted definitions don’t sound like something I’d want on my dinner plate.

On the other hand, Garzanti Linguistica defines a cannellone as a fat tube of stuffed pasta, dressed with sauce and baked. Cannellone is made up of the root word canna (meaning cane, reed, or tube) with both a diminutive (-ello) and an augmentative (-one) ending.  A bit simpler. And more appetizing.

You may argue that you have, in fact, eaten manicotti at an Italian American restaurant and that it wasn’t, in fact, a mechanical part or a winter accessory.  It has been Brian’s experience that Italian-American restaurants use the term cannelloni for meat-stuffed pasta tubes and manicotti for those stuffed with vegetables and cheese.  Others argue that the distinction is based upon whether or not the pasta is ridged or whether it comes as flat sheets or pre-made tubes.  Some say that one is savory and the other sweet or that manicotti are traditionally made with crepes rather than pasta (this may be specifically Southern Italian or Argentinian-Italian).  In order to avoid confusion, I’ll stick with reputable sources and go with the term cannelloni.

Now, on with the recipe…


I’ve been pleased to find chard (aka Swiss chard, rainbow chard, etc.) almost year round at the farmers market, so we’ve eaten a lot of it throughout the winter months and into spring and early summer.  I was recently looking for a new way to use chard and found myself with tub of local ricotta and all the ingredients for a baked pasta dish: a jar of my passata, a few eggs, some flour, and cheese…and ecco: cannelloni with chard! It’s a subtle but important variation on the often all-too-familiar baked pasta with spinach.

manicotti ingredients 

Cannelloni with Chard Cannelloni con Bietola

Yield 8 cannelloni. Serves 4.

6 ounces fresh pasta dough (~½ batch of homemade pasta all'uovo),
                                                                                cut into 8-10 6"x8" sheets
12 ounces passata (or tomato puree)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped (about 6 large leaves)
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

5-6 ounces chard
olive oil
1½ cup (about 14 ounces) ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 ounces whole milk mozzarella, freshly grated
2 ounces parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped (about 6 large leaves)
⅛ teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

½ ounce finely grated parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Preheat oven to 375°F.

Wash chard and allow to drain (but do not dry completely).  Roughly chop chard.  In a large skillet, heat a small drizzle of oil over medium heat.  Add chard and cook, stirring frequently until wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, stir together sauce ingredients and set aside.

In another medium bowl, stir together filling ingredients (including cooled chard) and set aside.

Salt the now-boiling water and cook fresh pasta sheets for 3 minutes, or until al dente.  (If using dried pasta, cook until al dente, according to package instructions.)  Drain and gently toss with a small amount of oil (to prevent sticking). 

In two 2-quart casserole dishes or one 9"x13" baking dish, spread about ¼ cup of sauce.


Working with one sheet at a time, lay pasta out on a flat surface (taking care not to tear it).  Spread with ¼ cup filling and, starting with a short end, roll the pasta into a tube and place in baking dish.


Repeat with remaining pasta and filling.  Top cannelloni with remaining sauce and bake for 30 minutes.  Top with remaining parmesan and bake another 5 minutes.


Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.


June 16, 2011

Garlic Scape Pesto


One of the many wonderful things about shopping at the farmers market is that it inspires me to try new things.  I’m generally a rather adventurous eater, but the grocery store is so overrun with familiar products that I hardly notice the unfamiliar ones.  Faced with the comparatively small number of in-season selections at the farmers market, the unusual and unfamiliar catch my eye.  Chances are there’s someone at the stand who can advise me on how to use whatever I pick up, and if I forget to ask, there’s a wealth of information online. 


Among my culinary firsts this spring are garlic scapes.  A garlic scape is the stalk part that grows up from the garlic bulb, which is developing underground.  Apparently the stalk is cropped off in the spring so that all of the plant’s efforts can be concentrated into growing the garlic bulb itself.  It’s baffling to me that I’ve never seen garlic scapes in the supermarket.  I mean, a garlic plant is a 2-for-1 deal, so why isn’t anyone taking advantage of it?  My confusion was only compounded when I actually tasted the scapes. 


Garlic scapes are milder than mature garlic.  Every bite is infused with that wonderful garlicky flavor, but it won’t jump out and bite you if you get too close.  Chopped and pan-fried garlic scapes have the appearance and texture of cut green beans or cooked asparagus. 

But the best way to enjoy these curly green curiosities?  Pesto! 


Garlic scapes with a touch of basil and lemon.  It’s like a warm afternoon sun tempered by a cool spring breeze.  Try it.  You’ll see what I mean…


Garlic Scape Pesto

Serves 4

8 ounces pasta, fresh or dried
5 garlic scapes (about 3½ ounces/100g), plus 3-4 garlic scapes for garnish*
¼ cup almonds (1¼ ounces/35g)
small handful basil (½ ounce/14g)
½ cup freshly grated parmesan (1 ounce/28g)
½ teaspoon lemon zest
scant ½ cup olive oil
pinch of salt

*Note: Sautéed garlic scapes add additional texture to the final dish, but the pesto can be made without them.

Heat a dry skillet over medium heat.  Toast almonds, tossing frequently, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Remove and discard bulb and top of garlic scapes.  Chop five scapes into 1-inch pieces. In a food processor combine chopped garlic scapes, toasted almonds, basil, 6 tablespoons parmesan, lemon zest and olive oil.  Process, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed.  Stop before pesto becomes a smooth puree; it should still have a bit of texture.

For the garnish, heat a small amount of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Cut remaining garlic scapes into 1-inch pieces.  Add to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and well browned. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil.  Salt well and cook pasta until al dente.  Before draining, reserve ½ cup of cooking liquid. 

Add pesto to the now-empty pot and stir in half of the reserved cooking liquid, adding more as needed until pesto resembles a thick sauce.  Toss pasta with pesto over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.

Serve topped with sautéed garlic scapes and parmesan cheese.


June 14, 2011

Late Spring Fever: Fava Bean Crostini

I was first introduced to fava beans seven years ago at an Italian professor’s home on the outskirts of Siena.  We had them whole with young Tuscan pecorino and thick, partially-crystallized Acacia honey.  Since then, I’ve remembered fondly how the little bits of earthy springtime paired perfectly with the tangy, buttery pecorino and sweet honey. 

Although I’d encountered the mention of fava beans and recipes for their use over the past several years, my thoughts of them were merely passing fancies, and I never took the initiative to seek them out.  When we stumbled upon them at the farmers market Saturday, I jumped at the chance to take a few home and rekindle the old flame. 

I thought I’d dress them up a bit in the hopes of building something a little more lasting this time around.  (Luckily, my husband was all for it.)  The result was the following recipe for a refreshing fava bean puree, which we had as a main course on homemade whole wheat baguette rounds with 4 different types of pecorino*, alongside a salad of local red leaf lettuce, spring onions, and “sweet slice” cucumbers.

*I am admittedly a bit infatuated with pecorino. (Can it still be considered infatuation if it’s been going on for close to a decade?) When the grocery store was out of my favorite – Santa Teresa Pecorino Sardo (a young pecorino aged 30-40 days) – I picked up a few others just for fun.  They were: Pecorino Romano, Fulvi (aged 10-12 months), Pecorino Toscano (slightly younger, aged 6 months), and Cacio de Roma (another young pecorino aged about 30 days).  We had a bit of Santa Teresa left in the fridge, so we were able to compare all four.  Although Santa Teresa is still my favorite, I thought the 6-month-old pecorino toscano went best with the fava bean puree.

fava bean puree

Fava Bean Crostini

Yield about 32 crostini.  Serves 8 as an appetizer or 4 as a light main course.

for the bread
1 whole grain baguette or other rustic loaf (about 12 ounces)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove

for the puree
14-16 ounces shelled fava beans (1 cup shelled and peeled)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium garlic clove
2 teaspoons fresh mint or fresh basil, chopped
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt

for serving
4 ounces pecorino (young or aged), thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Slice the bread into ¼- to ½-inch thick diagonal slices.  Peel garlic clove and cut in half.  Rub cut side of garlic onto the top cut side of each slice.  Brush slices with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet.

Bake for about 5 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to boil.  Add fava beans and cook for 2 minutes.  Drain and immediately submerge beans in ice water until cool.  Drain beans and peel off the tough outer layer.  (The easiest way to do this is to carefully pinch off the outer layer of one end of the bean and squeeze the opposite end so that the bean pops out.)

In a food processor, combine peeled fava beans, ¼ cup olive oil, garlic, mint or basil, lemon juice and zest, and salt.  Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl, as needed.

Divide the puree evenly between the slices of bread (about 2-3 teaspoons per slice).  Serve topped with a small slice of pecorino.

June 9, 2011

back to basics: homemade pasta all'uovo

Some of my earliest and most cherished memories of my grandmothers revolve around their homemade pasta.  It’s no wonder, then, that I love making my own. The smell of flour mixing with fresh eggs, the feel of the soft, smooth dough, the thin, silky ribbons that fall from the plates of the pasta machine.  And the taste.  There is absolutely no comparison between fresh egg pasta and dried pasta from the supermarket.  Brian says (and I would agree) that one of the best things about homemade pasta is its mysterious ability to melt in your mouth while remaining perfectly al dente. 

There are lots of things that can be done with a basic pasta recipe.  From spaghetti to fettuccine, lasagne to cannelloni, farfalle to orecchiette.  You can play with adding spices and herbs to the dough.  I love the combination of black pepper fettuccine with scallops in a white wine sauce.  Saffron pasta is a Milanese classic and squid ink pasta a Venetian tradition.  I’ve even seen pasta made with cocoa.

Although the main ingredients are always the same (flour and eggs), the proportions can vary significantly.  I’ve seen recipes that call for as many as nine egg yolks or as few as one egg per cup of flour.  Much depends on the type of flour and the desired consistency of the pasta. After years of experimenting, I’ve found the proportions that I like best.  Give it a try and feel free to adjust as you see fit.

This explanation is fairly long.  Use the links below to jump to different points within the recipe:

Making the Dough
Using a Pasta Machine
Rolling and Cutting by Hand

Pasta all'uovo, fatta in casa (Homemade Egg Pasta)

Yield 1 pound pasta (dried).  Serves 8.


3 (375g) cups all-purpose flour (or “tipo 00” if you can find it), plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
4 large to extra-large eggs (The fresher the better; if you can get free range eggs from a local farmer, do!)

Making the Dough
Measure the flour onto a clean countertop.  Using your fingers or a fork, mix in the salt.  Form the flour into a mound and make a well in the center.



Crack one or two eggs into the well.


Use a fork to gently beat and incorporate, drawing flour from the insides of the well, taking care not to break through the wall completely.  (Don’t worry if you don’t get this right the first time.  I spent plenty of time chasing egg across countertops before I got it right.)


When the egg resembles a thick paste, add the next one and repeat, incorporating it with the egg and flour from the sides of the well until the mixture resembles a thick paste once again.  Repeat with the remaining eggs.



When the final egg has been mostly incorporated, use your hands to gather the dough and any remaining flour into a ball.  Knead.  If the dough is too dry, add water, a few drops at a time until you’ve incorporated all the dry flour.



Continue to knead for 4-6 minutes, until dough is smooth and homogeneous. (It won’t be very elastic at this point.)  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.


After resting, the dough will be supple and elastic.  Cut the dough into fourths. Set aside one fourth of the dough and rewrap the remaining 3 pieces.


Using a Hand-crank Pasta Machine
Secure the pasta machine to your countertop and set the roller plates to the widest setting.  Flatten the dough as much as possible, using your hand.  It should be no more than ½-inch thick.  Dust both sides with flour.


With one hand, feed the dough through the roller plates of the pasta machine, turning the crank with the other hand.


Fold the dough into thirds (like a letter) …


…and feed through the pasta machine(with folds perpendicular to the rollers).


Repeat the process of folding and turning 2 to 3 more times, until the dough is smooth and about the width of the rollers.

Decrease the thickness setting one notch.  Roll the pasta through again. 

Repeat this process (no folding), decreasing the thickness setting one step at a time, until you reach the desired thinness. (For most shapes, the thinnest setting works best.  However, I’ve found that for spaghetti, the next thicker setting is best.)

If the dough gets tacky at any point, dust it with flour.


As the pasta gets longer and thinner, it becomes more and more of a juggling act to feed the dough, turn the crank, and catch the dough as it comes out.  However, with a bit of practice, you’ll find what works best.


Before rolling to the final setting, dust both sides with flour.  I usually cut the dough into shorter lengths (2 or 3 pieces) to make it easier to handle.   It will approximately double in length, so keep that in mind when deciding how to cut it.


The final dough sheet(s) should be smooth, elastic and almost translucent. Dust the dough lightly with flour and cover with plastic wrap, wax paper, or a damp, lint-free towel while you proceed with the remaining three pieces of dough.


If making lasagna, manicotti, or cannelloni, cut dough sheets into 9-12 inch lengths, depending on  your preference (and pan size).  Proceed with drying

Cutting a Basic Shape: Fettuccine
Prepare a place to dry the finished pasta.

Once you’ve rolled out all the dough, attach the fettuccine-cutting plate to the machine. 

Uncover one sheet of dough, trim to desired length (10 inches is standard but we like ours a bit longer), dust both sides with flour, and carefully feed it through the machine. (Don’t throw away the scraps.)





Hang to dry (or toss with flour).  Proceed with remaining dough.


Using a Rolling Pin

Although a pasta machine makes the process easier and the results more consistent (and is a great investment if you plan to make pasta fairly regularly), having one is by no means a requirement.  A rolling pin and a sharp knife work just fine.


Dust ¼ of dough with flour and roll away from you with rolling pin, extending and flattening the dough.  Rotate the dough 90 degrees every few strokes.


If the dough shrinks back, cover with plastic and allow to rest for 5 minutes.  (Resting allows the gluten to relax.)  Resume rolling.  Repeat resting period, if necessary.


The final hand-rolled dough will not be quite as thin as can be achieved using a pasta machine.  (Mine were about 1/16- and 1/32-inch, respectively.)


However, the dough should still be elastic and fairly translucent.


Cutting Fettuccine by Hand

Dust dough with flour and roll as tightly as possible into a cylinder.


Using a very sharp paring knife, cut dough into approximately ¼-inch pieces.


Unroll, toss with flour, and set aside to dry. 



Drying the Pasta

You can buy a rack specifically for drying pasta, but there are also a number of ways to improvise a drying rack. 

My grandmother used a clean broom handle suspended between two chairs. 

I use plastic clothes hangers suspended from a pot rack or kitchen cabinets.  (If not cooking immediately, after about and hour, remove the pasta carefully from the clothes hangers and lay out on a cooling rack to finish drying.  If left on the hanger longer, they become too brittle and break in half when removed from the hanger.)



You can also simply toss the pasta with flour and spread it out over a floured surface.  (A lint-free towel over a cooling rack works well.)


Cooking the Pasta

Allow pasta to dry slightly before cooking (to prevent sticking).

Cook fettuccine for 3 minutes in well-salted boiling water.  Hand-cut pasta should be cooked 1-2 minutes longer. 

Hand-cut pasta on left.  Machine-cut pasta on right.


Storing the Pasta

Pasta must be completely dry before storing.(Depending on thickness and drying method, I usually let mine dry 8-48 hours.)

Store at room temperature in an airtight container. The dried pasta will break easily, so it’s best to store it in something rigid (i.e. an airtight food storage box or a zipper bag inside a shoebox).  The pasta will keep this way for a few months.

The Scraps

There will inevitably be trimmings and other bits of dough aren’t long enough to serve as fettuccine.  These scraps are great for soups!  Dry and store as above.