Apr 132014

With spring in the air, my thoughts turn to the Italian Easter pie, torta pasqualina, a festive puff pastry dish customarily prepared for consumption on Easter Monday for marauding guests. The tart is more often than not stuffed with ricotta and spinach or chard—the classic greens used for ravioli and such. Emilia-Romagna and Liguria take credit for having invented it (though it seems plausible that country people anywhere would think to put spring greens, foraged or cultivated, into a pastry casing). The torta has been an anticipated ritual for me every season, but this year, I’m making it with a traditional American-style pie crust.

A new take on Italian torta pasqualina—rapini pie. | Photo: Nathan Hoyt

A new take on Italian torta pasqualina—rapini pie. | Photo: Nathan Hoyt

The idea to use rapini in a pie came to me when a big styrofoam chest filled with those freshly harvested greens (aka broccoli rabe in America) on ice arrived at my doorstep, courtesy of the D’Arrigo Brothers (Andy Boy) growers, with whom I have partnered recently to figure out ways of getting Americans to eat more of this astonishingly nutritious (and tasty) vegetable.

Andy Boy rapini fields in Salinas, California. | Photo: Courtesy D'Arrigo Brothers/Andy Boy

April fields of rapini, or broccoli rabe, on the D’Arrigo farm in Salinas, California. | Photo: Courtesy D’Arrigo Brothers/Andy Boy

With a prodigious supply of rapini at hand, my dreams of Easter pie were realized. Four of us gobbled one in no time two days later (it keeps well, covered, in a refrigerator for up to five—just warm it in a medium oven  for twenty minutes or so, cover off, before you are ready to eat). I’m going away to visit my children for the holiday and I had better bake two pies to take with me. One never knows when unexpected guests will arrive. How lovely to eat it for brunch the day after the big feast. We’ll have a glass of wine, perhaps a rustic red Negroamaro from Puglia or a minerally Greco di Tufo from Campania. Continue here for Easter pie details, and the step-by-step recipe in my new article for Zester Daily.

Slice of rapini pie. | Photo: Nathan Hoyt

A slice of rapini pie. | Photo: Nathan Hoyt

Mar 242014

My last post featured cupola di bucatini, bucatini dome, a recreation of a historic timballo (aka timpano). It was created by Francine Segan, a food historian and author of Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), to celebrate the appointment of the new Italian Trade Commissioner, Pier Paolo Celeste. ”This recipe dates to 18th century Naples, and was rediscovered and modernized by Giorgia Chiatto and Carmela Caputo, who run Naples’ first…cooking school, Cucinamica,” she says. She learned how to make it on site from Garofalo, one of the city’s oldest and most famous pastificci, headquartered in Gragnano, home of some of the best dried pasta in Italy.

Francine Segan's "cupola di bucatini." | Photo: Francine Segan

Francine Segan’s cupola di bucatini. | Photo: Francine Segan 

Because so many readers wrote asking how to make it, I asked Francine for the recipe. It was a real show-stopper, but, she says, don’t get intimidated. “This architecturally magnificent–and delicious–dish is actually quite easy to create.” The trick is to use bucatini, thick, long and hollow pasta that keeps its shape as you coil it into a bowl. Also essential is to use high quality imported Italian pasta, which will hold up to being cooked twice—first boiled on the stove and then baked in the oven. Here’ how to make it, step-by-step photos and all.

Step 1

Using one strand and starting in the center of the prepared domed container, twirl the pasta around itself to form a coil.

Image 4

Line the pasta with slices of caciocavallo cheese, pressing the cheese firmly against the pasta.

Image 1

Put in half of the vegetable-pasta mixture, pressing firmly into the bottom and sides of the bowl to remove any air pockets.

Image 5

Put in half of the vegetable-pasta mixture, pressing firmly into the bottom and sides of the bowl….Top with cheese slices.

Image 2

Remove the foil and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes, until golden and set.

Image 6

Put a serving plate on top of the bowl, and invert it.

Cupola di bucatini

From Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy, by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013)

Serves 8

14 tablespoons butter, plus more for the pan
5 to 6 slender zucchini (about 2 pounds), minced
3 medium carrots, minced
3/4 pound haricot verts or very thin string beans, minced
1 1/4 pounds bucatini, preferably Garofalo brand
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
Black pepper
3/4 pound deli-sliced high-quality provolone or sliced caciocavallo cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180 C. Very generously butter an 8 to 9-inch dome-shaped oven-safe container such as a Pyrex or metal bowl.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan and add zucchini; fry until soft. Put the zucchini into a large bowl. Using the same pan, cook the carrots and string beans in 1 tablespoon of butter over low heat, covered, until tender, adding a few drops of water, if needed. Stir into the bowl with the zucchini until well combined. Set aside 1 cup of this vegetable mixture as garnish for later.
3. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 2/3 of the package’s recommended time. Drain and divide, putting 3/4 of the pasta into the large bowl of vegetables and the remaining 1/4 into a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of butter. Set aside; the small bowl, it will be used for the outer part of the dome.
4. Add 9 tablespoons of butter to the pasta-vegetable bowl and stir until the butter melts, then stir in the beaten eggs, pecorino cheese, and freshly grated black pepper. Using kitchen scissors, cut into the pasta mixture so it is broken up a little. Set aside.
5. From the plain buttered pasta, using one strand and starting in the center of the prepared domed container, twirl the pasta around itself to form a coil. Continue the coil with another strand of pasta starting where the last strand ended so it is in one continuous line; continue with additional strands until half way up the pan. Line the pasta with slices of caciocavallo cheese, pressing the cheese firmly against the pasta. Put in half of the vegetable-pasta mixture, pressing firmly into the bottom and sides of the bowl to remove any air pockets and densely pack the filling. Top with cheese slices.
6. Continue coiling the plain pasta around the dome to the top, adding a strand at the exact spot the last ended. Line the sides with more cheese slices and top with the remaining vegetable-pasta mixture and slices of cheese. Press the pasta down firmly with a spatula or wooden spoon. This is key to getting a nice compact dome that stays together nicely when sliced. Cut the remaining plain buttered pasta with scissors and press on top of the mixture.
7. Cover the bowl with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes, until golden and set. Let rest 10 minutes, then put a serving plate on top of the bowl, and invert it. Hit with a wooden spoon to help the pasta release from the pan, and, using the tip of a spoon or butter knife along the bottom edge of the bowl, begin to remove the bowl from the pasta. Serve garnished with the reserved cup of minced vegetables.

Mar 212014
A Tipple, a Tid-Bit, and Delights Discovered at the Italian Trade Commission

Spring is in the air everywhere, not least at the Italian Trade Commission in New York City, the Italian government agency charged with promoting and educating about Italian products abroad. Always on the job, at a special reception this week for the newly appointed Commissioner and Executive Director, Pier Paolo Celeste, I turned up some discoveries, old and new. One, panettone gastronomico, or unsweetened panettone, a fairly recent phenomenon in Italy for making little bar sandwiches, and new to most Americans. It was carved up into a layered tower of delicious “tramezzini,” triangular sandwiches with various fillings of genuine Italian products. Francine Segan, a [...more...]

Mar 192014
St. Patrick Had His Day, Today is St. Joseph's!

  Did you know that today is St. Joseph’s Day, or la Festa di San Giuseppe, Fathers Day for the Italians? Because my paternal grandfather’s name was Giuseppe, Joseph, there was always a celebration with special foods, and a favorite pasta dish of their region, orecchiette with rapini (rapine in Italian). Just as Irish immigrants changed the recipe for their storied St. Patrick’s Day soda bread, so my grandparents, once in America, were forced to adapt the pasta dish using broccoli. Cime di rapa, or rapini (“broccoli rabe” as it has come to be known here) were not grown in the United [...more...]

Mar 172014
 Teaching the Irish (Immigrants) How to Make Soda Bread

If you think you’ve eaten real Irish soda bread, you probably haven’t. So says Darina Allen, queen of Irish cooking. “Real Irish soda bread doesn’t have any sugar or caraway seeds in it,” she said, “That’s the emigrant version.” She ought to know. Her dominion is the world-class Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, but her pupils are scattered the world over. If they haven’t been initiated into fine Irish cooking under her personal tutelage, they have learned what she calls “the forgotten skills of cooking” by virtue of her knowledgable books (her last one, Irish Traditional Cooking, when re-issued two years ago, [...more...]

Mar 052014
Upcoming Culinary Tours to Italy with Stars as Your Guides

Many a tourist has been hustled along the deep-rutted routes of Venice-Florence-Rome-home, yet some travelers got off the highways and criss-crossed the countryside, writing about the cities, small towns and byways. One such traveler is former New York Times staff writer, Zester Daily contributor, author, and Tuscany resident, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who has savored Italy with great learning and a deep and abiding love. Today, previously overlooked regions that she has captured masterfully in her writings are popular destinations for the American traveler interested in the glorious food of Italy, and there is hardly a better guide. Nancy has announced two upcoming tours to [...more...]

Mar 042014
Heart of Nicaragua: Grace and Magic in a Corn Masa Cookie

Travels with Julia || Nicaragua Maybe because growing up in a family that endured the last world war in Italy, often hungry, my journey as a writer is concerned with food. For me, everything about it fascinates—growing it, harvesting it, cooking it, understanding its cultural trajectory. The recipes are metaphors, albeit edible ones. When I traveled to Nicaragua recently to meet up with my daughter and make our way together to a remote village in the country’s highlands, I learned such a recipe, one that has come to have meaning for me far beyond the discovery of a new dish. [...more...]

Feb 272014
Cooking with Julia: Master Class on Rapini at Eataly - April 25th

Here’s an announcement for my next class: Chef’s Kitchen: Cime di Rapa: One Ingredient, Infinite Recipes with Julia della Croce Friday, April 25, 2014 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM (Eastern Time) La Scuola Grande at Eataly 200 Fifth Avenue – New York, New York 10010 (212) 539-0204 ext.304 $110 Class Description Cime di rapa; broccoletti; rapini, rape, friarielli…here is a vegetable dear to the hearts of the southern and central Italians. Loved for its pungent and spicy character, its brilliant pairing with pork or lamb; its affinity for pasta, potatoes, polenta, and egg dishes; or solo, sauteed simply in garlic [...more...]

Feb 242014
The Magical Gluten-Free Cookie: A Rosquilla Lesson, Step-by-Step

Following up on my recent story in Zester Daily about delicious corn masa cookies I discovered in Nicaragua, we took photographs of the method in hopes that you’ll find them as easy to make as I did. Sweet rosquillas are Nicaragua’s answer to shortbread, but wheat-free. Both sweet and savory versions of mass-produced rosquillas are ubiquitous in the markets and on street corners all around the country. Peddlars hawked them at the bus terminal where we started our journey but they are not the same as those I learned to make in El Lagartillo. I have no doubt that the national obsession with this [...more...]

Feb 212014
Julia's Sweet Potato Gnocchi Recipe Airs on NPR

If you missed it, click on the logo below to hear my broadcast on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” The lead: For 27 years, Julia made her gnocchi with sweet potatoes, mixing an American staple into the classic recipe. “Here I was, one foot in the new world and one foot in Italy, where my family is from, and they seemed perfect for gnocchi. Why not?” And in all that time, her dumplings were sweet, served with a hazelnut butter sauce, and — most importantly — a lovely shade of orange. This is one way I serve them–American style–alongside roasted duck. [...more...]