Archive for January, 2012

Pasta From Scratch!

I recently added a recipe for ‘gravy and meatballs’ and promised some recipes for homemade pasta. There’s nothing like it. So, here they are. Now, a word about the addition of the water: Do not just pour it in the well all at once. Add it a little at a time. You may find you don’t need all 1/4 cup. You may find that you need a bit more. This isn’t an exact science. The idea is to make the dough smooth and elastic. Not crumbly. Not soggy. As Baby Bear said, it needs to be “just right.”

When it comes to mixing dough, you can either do it manually or use a machine. I have a Kitchen Aid with a dough attachment. It comes out fine either way. It’s just that using a machine saves some labor.

Basic Pasta Dough


4 cups all-purpose flour

4 eggs, beaten

¼ cup water

½ tsp salt

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil


Place flour in a mound on a large work surface. Form a well in the mound and add the eggs, water (in increments, please), salt and oil.

Begin mixing with the fingers of one hand while pushing the flour from the edges of the well into the egg mixture with the other hand. Continue mixing until the dough forms a ball. The idea for all pastas is to have the dough smooth and elastic, not wet and sticky. Knead the dough for 5 minutes or more until it has reached the desired consistency.

Cut the dough into three pieces, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. After chilling, allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes before rolling.

To finish by hand, roll using a rolling pin until 1/16 of an inch thick. Cut to your desired shape.

To finish with a pasta machine, cut dough into quarters and form them into a rectangular shape that will fit in the pasta machine. Lightly dust the dough with flour and roll it through the machine, starting at the thickest setting. Then fold the dough once and roll it through the machine using the next thinner setting. Repeat this process until the pasta is the right thickness. Cut to the appropriate shape using the machine cutters. I have a classic hand crank Imperia (shown in the picture). It works great. Fancy is not always better.

Basic Semolina Egg Pasta


3-2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1-3/4 cups semolina flour

5 large eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup water

½ tsp. Salt

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil


Follow the procedure for basic pasta above.

Lemon Scented Pasta


2-4 drops lemon oil

3-2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1-3/4 cups semolina flour

2 tbsp. dried dill

5 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup water

½ tsp. Salt

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil


Follow the procedure for basic pasta, adding the two additional ingredients to the well.

This pasta is amazing when used with white clam sauce.

Spinach Pasta


¾ lb fresh spinach

3-2/3 cup all purpose flour

1-3/4 cup semolina flour

4 large eggs lightly beaten

¼ cup water

½ tsp salt

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil


Clean, wash, and blanch spinach in boiling water for about 15 seconds or just until wilted. Remove spinach from boiling water and plunge it into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Drain thoroughly; squeeze dry in a kitchen towel and then puree in a food processor.

Follow the instructions for basic egg pasta above adding the spinach to the mixture in the well.

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Caramelized Chili-Citrus Wings

This is a major messy dish and several people I taught in my last cooking class whined about how sticky their fingers got because we did not separate the wings prior to cooking. Frankly, I have no idea what they were complaining about; the wings were delicious and it was well worth the messy effort.

If you must separate the wings, however, it’s fairly simple: Separate the upper part of the wing from the lower part of the wing at the “knuckle.” I simply use a cleaver. Both parts are used in the recipe. The wing tip is fairly easy to chop off. These are discarded. Or you can always buy the wings prepared this way. They are usually referred to as ‘party wings’ in the supermarket.


16 chicken wings*

Salt & pepper (to taste)

1 tsp. sesame oil

1/2 cup light soy sauce

4 tbsp. honey

4 tbsp. canola oil

1 tbsp. canola oil (reserved)

4 tbsp. Thai chili-garlic sauce

1 tbsp. Thai chili-garlic sauce (reserved)

¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

¼ cup fresh-squeezed lime juice

¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 tbsp each fresh orange, lime and lemon peel

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 garlic clove, chopped (reserve)

2 scallions, chopped

Black and white sesame seeds (reserve)


Mix all ingredients together (except those marked ‘reserve’) and whisk until well incorporated. Place the marinade in a zip-lock bag with the wings and seal. Shake until all wings are coated. Place the bag in the refrigerator to marinate. Three hours marinating time will do it, but I prefer to marinate mine overnight. The longer, the better.

These wings are cooked on top of the stove as opposed to in the oven. After the wings have been sufficiently marinated, place a wok on the stove top and add the 1 tbsp. reserved canola oil, the reserved tablespoon chili-garlic sauce, and the reserved garlic. Heat until the garlic becomes fragrant. Then add the wings (minus the marinade) and cook on medium-high heat to sear. Lower the heat and add the marinade to the wok. Cover and cook on low for about 25 minutes, turning occasionally. This will ensure that the wings cook through.

When 25 minutes is over, remove the cover from the wok and increase the heat to medium to stir-fry and  further brown the wings. Be sure to turn the wings frequently as the honey can burn as the heat is increased. As the wings cook, the marinade will thicken and give them a slick coating. Throw in the black and white sesame seeds at the end and turn to coat. Remove the wings from the wok and place on a serving platter lined with fresh Watercress. Eat immediately!






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Della Piana’s Homemade Gravy with Meatballs

I grew up in an Italian household, and every Sunday we had ‘macaroni and gravy.’ We never called it ‘pasta sauce.’ There’s also the false belief that you absolutely have to use fresh tomatoes. You do not. With canned tomatoes, someone else does all the hard work. This is not marinara; this is thick. It cooks slowly for about 8+ hours. So, here’s my original recipe for ‘gravy.’


4 tbsp. olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

1 can tomato puree

2 can crushed tomatoes

1 can whole tomatoes

4 cans tomato paste

8 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 sweet (Vidalia) onion, chopped

6 Italian sausages (I prefer hot; you can use sweet or hot, or a combination of both)

3 boneless country-style pork ribs

Homemade meatballs (recipe follows)

4 tbsp. dried oregano

4 tbsp. dried basil

2 tbsp. dried parsley

6 bay leaves

1 tsp. salt (I prefer sea salt)

1/2 cup ‘old’ red wine or 1/4 cup red wine vinegar


Put olive oil in a very large sauce pan (and I’m not kidding about the size) over medium high heat. Add chopped garlic cloves and chopped onion. Sauté until transparent and/or slightly browned and you get the aroma. Add Italian sausages and boneless country-style pork ribs. Brown on all sides, turning intermittently. Add ‘old’ red wine or red wine vinegar. (I don’t know about you folks, but I can rarely down a bottle of red wine in a couple of days. However, it doesn’t have to  go to waste. Set it aside. It will age and develop a bit of a ‘vinegar’ essence. I keep all my old red wine and routinely use it for cooking.)

Allow this concoction to simmer for about 15-20 minutes over low heat, then it’s time to add the canned tomatoes. Add all four cans plus one can of water. Start simmering over medium heat, but move it to low and simmer for about an hour. It’s important that you stir this continuously so that nothing gets stuck and burns on the bottom of the pan.After an hour, you’ll add the meatballs (recipe follows this) and simmer for another 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, add the first two cans of tomato paste. Again, you’ll add one can of water after. You can use the water to rinse all of the paste out of the two cans. Simmer for 20 minutes more, then add the last two cans of tomato paste, repeating the rinsing process. All in all, you’ll be adding two cans of water to four cans of paste. Then, please taste the gravy and adjust the seasonings. I’m giving you measurements for the seasonings (parsley, oregano, etc.), but you should add more to suit your flavor preference. There is no magic formula here.

Once the paste is added, you’re going to put the cover on and leave the gravy and meatballs on a low simmer for a few more hours. Again, it’s not necessary to simmer for the full 8 hours, but I made this at Christmas and basically let it simmer on low for the full 8 hours, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing burns to the bottom. It’s worth it. As it cooks, the paste helps it to thicken. Remember, this is not marinara. Thick is better. I always buy an extra can of paste in the event that I want to add more. That’s a good policy.

By the way, it’s a good idea to taste your gravy several times during it’s creation. It’s never too late to adjust your seasonings.

Now, here are a couple of myth busters: It is not necessary to add sugar to your gravy. I never do. Some people insist this takes the acidity out of the tomatoes. Not necessary. The process of simmering will take care of that. And, when it’s time to cook your pasta, you absolutely should not put a teaspoon of olive oil in the water. A lot of people recommend this to prevent the pasta from sticking together. This doesn’t happen if your water is at a high rolling boil and you keep stirring it (or if making spaghetti, moving it around the pan with a spaghetti implement). Adding oil will prevent the gravy from sticking to the pasta. That’s not what you want. If using commercial pasta, I love Orichiette (often referred to as ‘pigs ears’), Cavitappi (often called ‘corkscrew’), Farfalle (or ‘bow ties’) or Medium Shells. On the ‘spaghetti’ side, I love Fusilli (the long version; not the short) and Linguine. They hold the gravy so well..

Homemade Meatballs

Meatballs can be made with ground beef, a combination of ground,beef and ground pork, turkey or chicken. For Christmas, I made mine with ground turkey.


1 lb. ground beef, pork, turkey or chicken or any combination of the four

3 tbsp. minced garlic (feel free to buy this in the jar)

1 tbsp. oregano

1 tbsp. thyme

1 tbsp. dried basil

1 tbsp ground parsley

1 tsp. sea salt

1 tbsp. ground black pepper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 to 1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs

2 large eggs (add more if needed)


This is an uncomplicated recipe. Simply mix all these things together in a big bowl. Yes, use your hands (but wash them first). Size is relative. I don’t like mine too small or too large. The ones in this photo are the right attitude.

Many people bake their meatballs in the over before putting them in the gravy. I only do this if I’m making them to be added to ready-made gravy for the kids. Otherwise, carefully put them in the gravy you’re making on the stove and allow them to cook slowly. Nothing special needs to be done. They will be absolutely delicious.

Cook’s Note: In the next few days, I’ll be putting up several recipes for home made pasta. Keep an eye out!

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