There is no more appropriate time than now to think about how and why we cook. Food is a way of connecting with the people who surround us. Through it, we communicate emotions like love, compassion and understanding, and there is no better opportunity to communicate with our children than at the table. It’s where we can discuss our values of life that are important to us as individuals, as a family and as a part of the world in which we live.
As overconsumption and greed have come to haunt us, now is a time for reflection. We should be looking back at the generations before us to understand their approach to the table. Growing food, shepherding animals, foraging for the gifts of nature is all part of respecting food. Nothing needs to be wasted. Bread can be recycled and used in soups, casseroles, lasagnas and desserts. Water is carefully conserved as in the pasta recipe I share below where the same water in which vegetables are cooked is used to cook the pasta that follows, and then that is saved for soups or for making risotto.
When one respects the food we prepare, it also leads to a more sensible and balanced intake of proteins, legumes and vegetables.
So “waste not, want not” and make it delicious!
FRESH CAVATELLI WITH CAULIFLOWER
Maccarun ch’I Hiucc
Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables, and I regret that many people don’t sufficiently appreciate its unique flavor and nutritional value. This is not the case in Molise, where it is cooked often and creatively, as exemplified by the following two simple vegetarian pasta dishes. The first recipe, maccarun ch’i hiucc, is zesty with garlic and peperoncino.
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
7 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 large head cauliflower, cut in small florets
1 batch (1½ pounds) Fresh Cavatelli (preceding recipe), or 1 pound dried pasta
1 cup freshly grated pecorino (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, for a milder flavor)
Recommended equipment: A large pasta pot; a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12 inch diameter or larger
Fill the large pot with salted water (at least 6 quarts water with 1 tablespoon salt), and heat to a boil.
Pour the olive oil into the skillet, set over medium-high heat, and scatter in the sliced garlic. Let the garlic start to sizzle, then toss in the peperoncino and parsley; stir and cook for a minute. Ladle in a cup of the pasta cooking water, stir well, and adjust the heat to keep the liquid in the skillet simmering and reducing gradually while you cook the cauliflower and pasta.
With the pasta water at a rolling boil, drop in the cauliflower florets, and cook them for about 3 minutes, until barely tender. Drop in the cavatelli, stir, and return the water quickly to a boil. Cook another 4 to 5 minutes, until the cauliflower is fully tender and the pasta is al dente (if you are using dried pasta, it will, of course, take longer).
Lift out the florets and cavatelli with a spider or strainer, drain briefly, and spill them into the skillet. Toss well, to coat all the pasta and vegetable pieces with the garlicky dressing, then turn off the heat, sprinkle over the skillet the grated cheese, and toss again. Heap the cauliflower and cavatelli in warm bowls, and serve immediately.
CHOCOLATE BREAD PARFAIT
Pane di Cioccolato al Cucchiaio
This recalls for me the chocolate-and-bread sandwiches that sometimes were my lunch, and always a special treat. And it is another inventive way surplus is used in Umbrian cuisine, with leftover country bread serving as the foundation of an elegant layered dessert. Though it is soaked with chocolate and espresso sauce and buried in whipped cream, the bread doesn’t disintegrate, and provides a pleasing textural contrast in every heavenly spoonful.
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces country-style white bread, crusts removed
½ cup freshly brewed espresso
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ cups chilled heavy cream
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Recommended equipment: A large rimmed tray or baking sheet, such as a half-sheet pan (12 by 18 inches); a spouted measuring cup, 1 pint or larger; 6 parfait glasses or wineglasses, preferably balloon-shaped.
Put the chopped chocolate in a bowl set in a pan of hot (not boiling) water. When the chocolate begins to melt, stir until completely smooth. Keep it warm, over the water, off the heat.
Slice the bread into ½-inch-thick slices, and lay them flat in one layer, close together, on the tray or baking sheet.
Pour the warm espresso into a spouted measuring cup, stir in the rum and sugar until sugar dissolves, then stir in half the melted chocolate. Pour the sauce all over the bread slices, then flip them over and turn them on the tray, to make sure all the surfaces are coated. Let the bread absorb the sauce for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, whip the cream until soft peaks form, by hand or with an electric mixer.
To assemble the parfaits: Break the bread into 1-inch pieces. Use half the pieces to make the bottom parfait layer in the six serving glasses, dropping an equal amount of chocolatey bread into each.
Scrape up some of the unabsorbed chocolate sauce that remains on the baking sheet, and drizzle a bit over the bread layers. Next, drop a layer of whipped cream in the glasses, using up half the cream. Top the cream layer with toasted almonds, using half the nuts.
Repeat the layering sequence: drop more soaked bread into each glass, drizzle over it the chocolate sauce from the tray and the remaining melted chocolate. Dollop another layer of whipped cream in the glasses, using it all up, and sprinkle the remaining almonds on top of each parfait. This dessert is best when served immediately while the melted chocolate is still warm and runny.
The above is an excerpt from “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes” ©2010 Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali, authors of “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes”
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich is the author of five previous books, four of them accompanied by nationally syndicated public television series. She is the owner of the New York City restaurant Felidia (among others), and she lectures on and demonstrates Italian cooking throughout the country. She lives on Long Island, and can be reached at her Web site, www.LidiasItaly.com
Tanya Bastianich Manuali, Lidia’s daughter, received her Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance art history from Oxford University. Since 1996 she has led food/wine/art tours of Italy. She lives with her husband and children on Long Island.