ITALIAN - Fall 2019 (Oct-Dec) Cuisine of the Quarter

We had a tight race this quarter between Mexican and Italian, but my love of Bolognese won out so I cast my tie-breaking vote for ITALIAN! I look forward to exploring all of what Italy has to offer with you fine HOs this quarter!

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I’ll kick things off with a pesto-related discussion - do you make it, and if so, how? I know the mortar and pestle is traditional but I am far too lazy for that. I used to make it in my food processor, but have recently switched to the Vitamix, which I find does a much better job of pulverizing the basil and really releases its flavor. I have experimented with blanching the basil to help it retain its bright color but I find that it lends a weird texture to the finished product, so I generally leave it raw and just put up with it browning.

Anyway, I recently discovered that Restaurant Depot sells 1-pound boxes of basil for around $6 - an absolute steal. I grow my own during the summer as well but RD’s product really can’t be beat for convenience and year-round availability. Each box yields 11-12 oz of leaves. I like roughly one part cheese and one part nuts to three parts basil by weight, so for each box I start by grating 4 oz of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the Vitamix, then I add 4 oz toasted walnuts (DH doesn’t like pine nuts) and 2 oz peeled garlic cloves. Give that a quick buzz and then add a teaspoon or so of salt, the basil and the olive oil (8-10 oz) - I usually have to do this in two additions just so that the jar doesn’t get overloaded. Blend until almost smooth and then taste for seasoning - I usually end up stirring in a bit more salt and oil plus a tiny amount of lemon juice for brightness. Basta! This ends up making about 3.5-4 cups of very thick (maybe the consistency of mayonnaise) pesto, which I can then thin down with more olive oil if desired. We usually use it as a condiment for grilled meat, though, so the thick consistency makes it nice for slathering.

So, pesto fans, what are your tips and tricks?

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I am a pesto fan but too lazy to be doing all that
I buy my pesto from Costco, reasonable , at $9-$10 for a jar and it keeps
I am never without pesto in my fridge
My 2 poms also love pesto with pasta.

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I used to buy Costco’s pesto but they changed their recipe a few years ago and I didn’t care for it anymore, so I haven’t bought any in a long time. I should check to see if they have revamped it again. The iteration I didn’t like had pecorino in it, which is delicious in and of itself but IMO does not belong in pesto. The flavor was overwhelmingly sheepy.

Yes, it does have pecorino but when I use pesto which is often on pasta, we always add freshly grated reggiano which my son use a so called shit lot of. I can never be without a block in the basement refrigerator aside from the block which is in a rectangular container from container store for a block of reggiano and a classic zyliss rotary grater. He uses reggiano for everything, for his eggs in the morning and goes on thru the day unless I am cooking asian food,

Dinner tonight was decidedly non-Italian chicken fricassee, but we enjoyed it with a lovely Italian wine, a Nobile di Montepulciano. I bought it thinking it was a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (made with the Montepulciano grape), but Nobile di Montepulciano is actually a Tuscan wine made with the Sangiovese grape. It was quite nice - medium bodied with plenty of red fruit flavors (cherry and plum), but also high acidity and dusty tannins on the finish. Apparently it hasn’t really caught on in America but I will be keeping an eye out for this wine going forward - very food friendly, and a nice non-Pinot option if you are in the mood for a lighter red.

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The hard way .Mortar and Pestle. If you make , suffer .Their is no machine on earth that is going to get the velvety texture of doing it by hand.

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I use roasted cloves vs raw garlic and add it at the end minced well. All too often pesto is ruined by too much garlic. This way, I can taste as I go.

I never add nuts or seeds to pesto but I have started adding a bit of avocado to the blender for a creamy effect when using for pasta. The avocado doesn’t chg the pesto flavor.

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Yesterday was Sunday Gravy day. Our family roasts a pc of pork, meatballs and sausage in the oven to the midway point. On the stove pot, 4 quarts of homemade jarred tomato puree and 2 pints tomato paste cook down. Then after 2.5 hrs the meat is added. An hour later garlic, herbs are added. An hour later the pasta pot gets going along with the garlic bread. Plenty of delicious leftovers.

For us, Italian begins with tomato sauce.

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Very true.

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Ragu, which probably means as many sauces as there are Italian grandmothers. I loosely follow Marcella’s recipe. There is a household joke that any leftover protein -> ragu, from steak, roast beef, pork, lamb, poultry if you must. It became a weekly staple project when our first grandchild was born. Having a quart of ragu on hand meant that there was dinner. As she began to eat solid food, it became the perfect food, combining meat, vegetables, milk. And she loved it, wolfing it directly off a spoon.

This sauce is both very forgiving and very lending to inspiration and variation. I made a pork roast that was seasoned with cinnamon. We hated it, but I refused to toss several pounds of cooked pork. Rinsed as much surface seasoning as I could, tossed it into the food processor and => ragu. It was very interesting, with just a mysterious hint of spice. At the time, I had extended an offhand invitation to a noted French chef/restaurateur, who did happen to come to town and did call to accept our offer. Aaarrrggghhh. What to do serve someone like that? Something simple. Homely. RAGU. DH was appalled. But we went with it. And she loved it! Asked for seconds and the recipe.

So I blow a bacio to RAGU, in all its myriad manifestations.

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My son hates cinnamon when I used it for cooking Greek eggplant moussaka. I had to eat the whole casserole by myself.
Here is a favorite Italian Ragout ( ragu) using wild boar from D’artagnan.
I seldom cook it because I am now allergic to red meat as well as the fact that our grocery store does not seem to carry the mini wild boar roast , informing me it is seasonal for the last months.
I bet it will be great with pork or other meat.

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@emglow101 Wholeheartedly agree with you. I recently made pesto (and a chimichurri) in my mortar and pestle and there was something more “soulful” about both. And clean-up was much easier afterwards.

I agree, and on the occasions that my laziness doesn’t win out, I do make it by hand. Usually only a small quantity for immediate consumption, though. For stocking the freezer, the Vitamix does a terrific job.

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The correct way to cook spaghetti or linguini or tagilatella is a definite ! And then how to twirl on fork, and forget the twirling in a spoon ( in public at least – this is a dead give away that someone is a tourist and not a local ! ) …

I once “lunched a lot” with a woman who was an excruciatingly slow eater. Waiters used to hover over her and she’d abandon her plate a third touched. I read about this time that two strands of spaghetti were a proper twirl and bite. And found that they really were.

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This is going to be a rough thread for me - so much of what I cook on weeknights is heavily Italian influenced. Last night was chicken thighs braised with onion, garlic, peppers, basil over thin spaghetti.

Its going to be hard to think “oh this dinner is worth posting about” . . . . but I’ll try to participate!

To chime in on pesto . . . I love pesto but have a few friends who have nut allergies and they all feel differently about pine nuts (don’t know if it is a fear things, a tree nut thing, etc) - so I rarely make pesto with nuts anymore because I just never know who will be coming over - and if I freeze any - so I only add nuts now when I know it is just “us” and everyone will be safe/happy.

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Remember that tomato was not introduced to Italy until the mid sixteenth century. Bolognese sauce was more like a Texas chili before then.

Lasagna: ricotta or bechamel? Both are authentic. Lasagna is relatively modern.

Classics for me: chicken piccata, chicken marsala, linguini and clam sauce, pesto, ratatouille. These are now considered ‘Northern Italian’ as they predate the introduction of tomatoes.

That is not to say that I don’t greatly enjoy spaghetti with meat sauce (I made two gallons of pasta sauce last week) or lasagna (one 9x13 and four 8x8s in the freezer).

Food history is illuminating. Change is interesting.

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Just don’t call me late to dinner!

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Tomato sauce to me is more of an Italian-American thing than a strictly Italian one. That’s not to say that I haven’t had wonderful tomato-based sauces in Italy (nor that we shouldn’t include Italian American cooking on this thread, because we should!), but as @Auspicious notes, many Italian classics pre-date the introduction of tomatoes to Italy.

Bolognese STILL SHOULD BE more like a Texas chili! It is NOT a tomato sauce, it is a MEAT sauce! This is a pet peeve of mine, in case you couldn’t tell :grin: My favorite versions are those that use tomato paste only (not crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce or any other tomato product), and just enough paste to give the sauce a touch of color and acidity. I typically use one 6 oz can of paste for three pounds or so of meat.

I also make and enjoy American style “meat sauce” with a lot more tomatoes, but it is in no way the same thing as true Bolognese! It is fondly referred to as Fauxlognese in my household. :rofl:

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