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Last weekend we had a post Thanksgiving dinner party. Since everyone was pretty well stuffed with Turkey, we wanted something completely different -- a crowd-pleaser on a cold night. So we went for a dinner that's 'tutto italiano' from main course to desert. Now baked pasta dishes are a risky business. Those giant pans of baked ziti come to mind. I remember going to a long ago dinner party when one wag, seeing that very dish on the sideboard, described it as being “like having dinner at Riker’s” (New York City’s jail). But the recipe for Baked Rigatoni was intriguing because its author, Tyler Florence, not only has a last name in common with Italy but a very deft hand at making wonderful Italian Food. What’s nice about this dish, from Tyler’s Ultimate series, is the way the top gets completely crusty while what lies beneath is layers of pure flavor—of mozzarella, sausage and eggplant and the pasta itself moist and delicious. Served with a really beautiful green salad, this dish was a big hit.
|Keith's Green Salad was a big hit|
Finally, Andrew topped off the meal with a truly wonderful and very Italian dessert. It’s a “Crostata di Miele e Pignoli”, a honey and pignoli nut tart that combines a sweet and slightly salty filling with honey and pine nuts. Now this recipe has a great pedigree. It is from Gina di Palma, whose “Dolce Italiano” is a treasure trove. Ms. di Palma is the pastry chef at “Babbo”, Chef Mario Batali’s first big hit restaurant in New York. Her cookbook is described as being ‘for those home cooks who, like Gina, lie awake at night in bed dreaming of the perfect dessert’. I haven’t noticed Andrew losing sleep over his desserts and this one is so good, you wouldn’t. Andrew described it as a kind Italian pecan pie. I adore pecan pie but I’d have to say, I actually liked this better. And we got to use our fabulous “Bee’s Needs” honey that’s made in the Hamptons by my friend, Mary Woltz. This pie, topped with a tiny scoop of Vanilla Gelato, was completely devoured by our guests. Not one slice was left.
If you want to make a wonderful and (almost) all Italian meal, I highly recommend this one.
Recipe for Tyler Florence’s Baked Rigatoni with Eggplant and Sausage
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 links sweet Italian sausage sausage (about 1 pound)
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large can (28 ounces) peeled whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
Leaves from 1 small bunch basil
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound fresh mozzarella
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for the pasta. Get yourself a 9 by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.
2. Heat a 2 count of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and toss in the hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes, you want them nicely browned on the outside but still rare on the inside. Put the sausages in the baking dish.
Turn the heat down to medium. Add a generous 1/3 cup of oil to the skillet and get it hot. Add as many eggplant pieces as you can comfortably fit in a single layer and sprinkle well with salt. Cook, turning, for 7 to 8 minutes, until the eggplant is nice and browned,crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Use a spatula to put the eggplant into the baking dish with the sausage. Cook the rest of the eggplant pieces, adding more oil to the pan, as needed, and putting the finished eggplant into the baking dish.
4. Add another 2 count of oil to the skillet, then your onion and garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until translucent. Put the whole can of tomatoes and their juices into a bowl and crush the tomatoes with your hands to break them up; add that to the pan with the basil and cook it down until pulpy and relatively thick. This will take about 15 minutes.
5. By this time your pasta water will be boiling. Add the rigatoni, give it a stir, and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, it should be slightly firm as it will cook further in the oven. Ladle out 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve; the drain the rigatoni.
6. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Chop the sausages into nice big, bite-size chunky pieces and return the pieces to the baking dish. Add the tomato sauce, rigatoni, and the reserved pasta water. Break up half the mozzarella over the mixture, season with salt and pepper, and gently mix with your hands or a spatula. Dust with the Parmigiano and drizzle with more olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes. Spread the remaining mozzarella in an even layer over the top and continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.
7. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes. Serves 10-12.
Recipe for Parmigiano Cheese Bread
You can prepare this, cover it with plastic wrap and cook it once you take the Rigatoni out of the oven. Simply lower the oven temperature to 350, bake it for 8 minutes then shoot it under the broiler til the cheese bubbles and it browns slightly.
1 loaf of Ciabatta bread, sliced into two halves horizontally
6 ounces of unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cups grated Reggiano Parmigiano cheese
1. In a large skillet, melt the butter and add the olive oil. Then add the onion and cook very gently until the onion is translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for two minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Spread the onion garlic mixture evenly over both halves of the bread.
Put it in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes, then put it under the broiler for another two minutes til the top bubbles and the cheese browns slightly. Slice it crosswise and serve at once. Serves 10-12.
Recipe for Gina di Palma’s Honey and Pignoli Tart
Makes one 10-inch tart, 8 servings
Sweet Tart Crust (see below)
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks/8 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups pine nuts
On a floured board, roll the tart dough into an 11-inch circle 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch tart pan with fluted sides and a removable bottom by rolling the dough around the pin like a carpet and then unrolling it onto the pan. Press thedough into the bottom and sides of the pan, then trim it so it is flush with the top of the pan. Chill the tart shell while you make the filling.
Preheat the oven to 325°F and position a rack in the center.
To make the custard: Place the honey, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and stir to combine them. Add the butter, place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl; allow it to cool for 20 minutes. Whisk in the heavy cream, followed by the egg and egg yolk.
Distribute the pine nuts evenly over the bottom of the tart shell and pour the custard into the shell until it reaches the top of the crust. Place the tart on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake for 30 to 55 minutes, or until both the crust and the filling have turned light golden brown and the custard is set but still jiggly. Allow the tart to cool completely on a rack before carefully removing the sides of the pan.
Serve the tart while still slightly warm, or cool it and serve at room temperature. Wrapped in plastic, leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.
Sweet Tart Crust (Pasta Frolla)
“Pasta frolla is the short, moist, sweet pastry dough used for most tarts, or crostate,in Italian homes as well as pastry shops. I think you will love this version, which I have worked hard to develop. I am always pleased when a customer comments on the tastiness of my tart dough—it is a compliment I take very highly.” -- Gina di Palma
Pasta frolla is a simple dough to make and easy to roll, flaky yet substantial and flavorful. This recipe makes slightly more dough than you need for a 10-inch tart. After rolling out and trimming your tart shell, you can gather the scraps together and freeze them for up to 2 months; combining the scraps from two batches will give you enough dough for another tart shell.
Makes one 10-inch tart shell
2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon or 1 small orange
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks/6 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream
A few drops ice water, if necessary
Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and citrus zest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to combine the dry ingredients. Add all of the cold, cubed butter to the bowl and pulse to process the mixture until it is sandy and there are no visible lumps of butter.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, vanilla extract, and heavy cream. Add the wet ingredients to the food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times, or until the dough comes together. If necessary, add some ice water, a few drops at a time, to make the dough come together.
Remove the dough from the food processor and work it with your hands to even out any dry and wet spots. Form the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic,and chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours, before rolling it out. (You can also freeze the dough, well wrapped, for up to 2 months.)