Cacio e Pepe

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Utterly simple yet supremely satisfying, Cacio e Pepe is  the quintessential pasta dish from Roman cuisine. “Cacio e Pepe” means “cheese and pepper”.  Because the recipe is so elemental, it depends on using only three highest-quality ingredients possible. As the name suggests, the ingredients of the dish are very simple and include only black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese, and pasta such as a long, thin spaghetti like tonnarelli or vermicelli.  A true cacio e pepe recipe does not needs any oil, cream or butter.

The cacio e pepe recipe is one of the most ancient Italian dishes. The legend of this recipe dates back to the days of  the Roman Empire. For centuries, cacio e pepe has been the perfect meal of the Roman shepherds. Dried pasta, aged pecorino and black peppers are easy-to-carry ingredient and hard to spoil.

One of the things I learned  from experienced cooks is that the most difficult recipes are the simply ones – the ones with less  ingredients.

If you were to watch a practiced hand make cacio e pepe, you might think the instructions were as simple as this: Cook spaghetti and drain. Toss with grated Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper. Serve. But we all know that the simplest recipes can often be the most confounding, and so it is with cacio e pepe. The most important steps to be taken in preparing this dish is to leave some of the hot cooking water with the pasta and speed: If the water cools before melting the cheese, the sauce will clump.The heat melts the cheese, while the starches in the water help bind the pepper and cheese to the pasta, creating a creamy, emulsified sauce that coats each strand of spaghetti with flavor.

Serves 4 to 6
Ingredients:
Sea salt
1 pound spaghetti or tonnarelli
2 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano

4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Directions:
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a small ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste.

When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a creamy sauce that completely coats the pasta.

Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Cook’s Notes:
And if you really want the full Roman traditional experience of eating cacio e pepe, make a crispy Parmesan bowl. Simply spread 3/4 cup Parmesan in a thin layer on the bottom of a non-stick saucepan and cook for three minutes, or until it becomes pliable. Remove the cheese sheet from the pan with a spatula and use a ramekin or small bowl to mold it.Arrange the cacio e pepe in its cheese cradle and top with more cheese.

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Fall Vegetable Lasagna

This hearty lasagna is perfect for that transitional time, when late-summer produce is winding down and the first fall vegetables appear at farmers’ markets. Combining yellow squash, zucchini, and mushrooms, the dish comes together quickly, with a ready-to-use pasta sauce. In this dish, I used butternut squash pasta sauce being offered by the local grocery store and the results were spectacular. Please feel free to use whatever store-bought sauce that you like for this satisfying dish.

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients:
One pound whole milk ricotta cheese
1 Tablespoon julienned fresh sage
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
1 medium egg
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 Parmesan cheese, grated
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 yellow summer squash, cut into rounds 1/4-inch thick
2 zucchini, cut into rounds 1/4-inch thick
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1-3 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
One pound baby portabello mushrooms, sliced
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
One 24-ounce jar of butternut squash pasta sauce (click here for the resource)
12 sheets dried ruffle-edged lasagna noodles, cooked until al  dente
1/2 pound Italian fontina cheese, shredded
1/2 pound Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 pound plain goat cheese, crumbled

Directions:
Preheat an oven to 450°F Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a bowl, stir together the ricotta, Parmesan cheese, egg, sage, 3 tablespoons of the parsley. oregano, garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the yellow squash and zucchini with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and season with thyme, salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl, toss mushrooms and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and season with thyme, salt and pepper, Place in a large cast iron skillet and transfer to the oven and roast until tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in an Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add the yellow squash zucchini and mushrooms. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F .

Spread 1/2 cup  pasta sauce in an even layer on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Arrange a single layer of lasagna noodles on top, tearing them as needed to fit. Spread 1/2 cup ricotta mixture on the noodles and scatter 1 cup vegetable mixture on top. Spread 1/2 cup  pasta sauce over the vegetables and sprinkle 1/2 cup fontina, 1/2 cup mozzarella, 1/2 goat cheese on top. Layer the noodles, ricotta, vegetables, sauce and cheese three more times, omitting the sauce and cheeses on the last layer. Top with the remaining noodles, sauce and fontina.

Transfer to the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted and browned, 45 to 50 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon of  parsley on top. Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes before serving.


Uovo Ravioli il sugo di burro salvia

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I first had this dish while traveling through Italy years ago. This gorgeous oversized ravioli is filled with a ring of creamy seasoned ricotta surrounding a perfectly intact, perfectly runny yolk. They are so rich, so delicious, and so beautifully served . This type of showstopping dish is perfect for a Sunday Brunch that will impress your family and friends.

Uovo Ravioli il sugo di burro salvia
(Egg Ravioli in a Sage Brown Butter Sauce)

Serves 5

INGREDIENTS:
For the Ravioli:
5 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
One ounce freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fresh juice from 1 lemon
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 recipe Classic fresh egg pasta (click here for the recipe)
10 large eggs

For the Pan Sauce:
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 teaspoons fresh juice from 1 lemon, divided
1 bunch of fresh sage leaves

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:
Pasta machine, a 3 1/2-inch round cookie cutter

DIRECTIONS:
For the Ravioli: Lay a clean kitchen towel or a triple layer of lint-free paper towels on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread ricotta evenly over surface of towels. Top with a second clean kitchen towel or triple layer or paper towels. Press with hands or a second rimmed baking sheet and let stand until excess moisture has been absorbed, 5 minutes. Transfer ricotta to a medium bowl.

Stir Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice into ricotta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. With a spoon, transfer filling into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch round tip or a zipper-lock bag with a 1/4-inch hole cut from a bottom corner. Refrigerate.

Meanwhile, divide dough into 2 even sections. Working one section at a time, with remaining section tightly wrapped in plastic, roll dough through machine until sheet is just under 1/16th of an inch thick. Cut sheet in half to create 2 pieces of dough roughly 15 inches long and 5 inches across.
Lay dough sheets out on a lightly floured surface. Using a 3 /12-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles as close together as possible; you should have 10 rounds of dough from the 2 sheets. Cover 5 of the dough rounds with a kitchen towel to keep moist and discard any remaining dough scraps.

Use pastry bag to gently squeeze out a ring of filling approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto each of the 5 uncovered dough rounds. Then pipe a second ring directly on top of each of the first ones.

Working one at a time, separate 5 egg yolks from whites and gently slide yolk into center of ricotta fillings.

Remove towel from the other 5 dough rounds, and, working one at a time and using a pastry brush dipped in water, very lightly wet the edge of each dough round. Set dough rounds on top of each raviolo, moistened-side down. Slowly working your way around each raviolo, press and stretch the top dough rounds to make the edges meet with bottom dough rounds. Press down gently on each filling to remove air bubbles, being careful not to press on yolks themselves, then press edges to seal. Transfer ravioli to floured parchment paper, cover with kitchen towel, and repeat Steps 3 through 7 with remaining portion of dough.

For the Pan Sauce: Bring unsalted water to a boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, add the 1/2 of the butter, stirring, for about a minute until golden brown. Add a few torn the sage leaves and saute for 30 seconds. Add half of wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until wine is almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

When water is boiling, gently slide ravioli into pot. Boil for 1 minute 30 seconds. Note that the ravioli will be slightly undercooked. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water. Meanwhile, return the skillet pan to low heat and melt half of butter in each.

Evenly divide lemon juice, pasta water, and ravioli between both skillets. Swirl pan gently to until sauce is emulsified, approximately 1 minute. Add more fresh sage leaves
Transfer 2 to 3 ravioli to each plate and spoon pan sauce on top and serve.