I just returned from a two week trip to Sicily with Daniel. It was great to get away, just the two of us. We walked, we ate, we walked some more. We looked at a lot of Greek and Roman ruins, absorbed the incredible history of Sicily, a country who welcomed many different cultures and managed to keep bits and pieces of all of them. Then we ate some more.
The seafood in Sicily is incredible. There is an endless supply of swordfish, sea bass, scorpion fish and crustaceans. One of my favorite dishes is Spaghetti Alle vongole Veraci. Vongole Veraci are small Manila clams. They meat is more delicate and sweeter than other types of clams and the shells are small and beautifully colored with purple.
I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we did, sitting at a table by the sea.
Ma Belle Mere and her sister Danielle made this salad for my family on a hot summer day in the Loire Valley where we were vacationing. The crunch of cucumber, soft and fruity tomatoes, the sharp tang of capers and lemon juice and fragrant olive oil and mint were refreshing and evocative of Algeria and Italy, where Marie-Paule and Danielle originate.
1 cup cous cous, (preferably fine grain if you can find it but medium grain will do)
The difficult and time-consuming process of rolling out fresh pasta by hand is a long lost art. Back in Italy, my great grandmother’s pasta making skills were renowned. When she arrived in America she stuck to her roots and rolled out her own fresh pasta by hand until the day she passed. As an ode to her memory, I decided to try my own hand at making fresh pasta. Italian blood runs through my veins and making fresh pasta really brought me closer to my heritage and the memory of my great grandmother.
Thankfully pasta machines have been invented which yield pasta just as good as hand rolled. With the pasta machine, it is simple to make your own pasta at home, which is exponentially better than the pasta you buy in a box at the grocery store. The difference between dried pasta and fresh is that dried is made of semolina and water while fresh is made of flour and egg. Fresh pasta is more tender and flavorful than its dried cousin.
To go with my homemade pasta I really wanted to make a sauce. I figured that it would be a shame to dump store bought tomato sauce on my fresh pasta. In my opinion ragus, a tomato based sauce with meat, are the best type of pasta sauces. Bugialli, who is the king of Italian cookbooks, inspired the ragu I made. I used rosemary, onion and pancetta to build a foundation of flavor for my sauce then added in lamb, tomato and chicken broth. I also added a little red chili flakes to add a little punch. The lamb slowly cooks in the sauce creating a stew, slowly getting tender and releasing its flavor into the sauce. The end product is so tasty you could eat it alone as a soup.
While there is art to pasta making, there is also an art to cooking pasta. Pasta is one of the most commonly served dishes in the world and is usually cooked incorrectly. The proper way to cook pasta is to cook it in very salty boiling water until it is 80% done, then drain it, and finish cooking it in sauce. By cooking the pasta in the sauce, it allows for some of the sauce to absorb into the noodles and cling to it. Anytime you have a bowl of pasta with a pool of sauce on the bottom, it was cooked incorrectly.
While making your own pasta and sauce at home is more time consuming then opening a box of dried pasta and a jar of store bought tomato sauce, the reward is well worth the effort and the process is fun.
1 ½ pounds boneless lamb shoulder ProTip: Have your butcher remove any silver skin and excess fat and to cut the shoulder into 1 inch cubes.
1 medium red onion diced
1 scant tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
5 ounces pancetta diced
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
14-ounce can tomatoes crushed ProTip: I like to use whole San Marzano canned tomatoes and then crush them by hand then drain off a majority of the canning liquid.