Recipe: Pasta e fagioli all’isolana

Here is the recipe I mentioned a few days ago. It’s a fairly quick and hearty one-pot meal that I’ve adapted from a classic recipe I found in the October 1989 issue of La Cucina Italiana. It’s a bit unusual in that the pasta is cooked in the pot along with the sauce, which if I hadn’t read it in an Italian magazine I would have dismissed as an almost heretical technique. But hey, perché no?

The recipe calls for cannellini beans, which are essentially (but not exactly) white kidney beans. I’m a big fan of this glorious bean, and I recommend using the real thing if you can find them. By that I mean beans imported from Italy. (For more information on that topic, go here.)

The original recipe used dried beans, and yielded six servings. My version uses canned beans and yields two servings. You can easily adapt this recipe for four, six, or eight by multiplying accordingly. Note, however, that my quantities are all approximate, due to the conversion, the use of canned beans, plus the fact that a bit more or a bit less of any ingredient won’t ruin the dish; it will just make it a bit different.

I’ve only made this once so far (a few days ago), and my adapted recipe is taken from my memory of what I did then. (I didn’t take notes.) Over time I will return to this recipe and will modify it if I find the quantities aren’t quite right. The most iffy thing is the amount of water to use; you want enough for it to cook, and be absorbed by, the pasta, but not so much that you’ll end up with a soup. The main thing is to keep an eye on it for the last ten minutes or so and to add small quantities of water if it seems like it’s getting too dry.

pasta and cannellini beans, 2011

Pasta e fagioli all’isolana

Ingredients

  • About 50 g (almost 2 oz) pancetta, cut into smallish pieces
  • A bit of olive oil
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely diced
  • 1 generous pinch of chili pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • About half of an 800 ml (28 oz) can of whole Italian tomatoes
  • 8-10 basil leaves, cut into fine ribbons
  • 400 ml (14 oz) can of cannellini beans (or white kidney beans), drained and rinsed.
  • About 60 g pasta of your choice (I recommend some kind of tubes, such as penne, cannelloni, or interneti. Or you could follow the original recipe and use a mix of styles)
  • About 30 g (1 oz) grated pamesano reggiano cheese
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • About 750 ml (3 cups) of water

Method

  1. Gently brown the pancetta in about a tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. When the pancetta is starting to get crispy, add the celery and the pepper flakes and cook for another few minutes.
  3. Turn up the heat a bit and add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute (be careful not to burn the garlic).
  4. Add the tomatoes. Stir, and use the spoon to break them up. Add a pinch of salt (to taste, but remember that the pancetta is already adding salt). Add about 500 ml (2 cups) of water and the basil, and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the beans. Return to a light boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for another 10 minutes. (The mixture will seem way too watery at this point, but don’t worry; that will change when you add the pasta.)
  7. Return to a boil and stir in the pasta. Keep uncovered and at a low boil, stirring regularly until the pasta is cooked al-dente. It will probably take a bit longer than if you were boiling it in plain water. If the sauce thickens up too much before the pasta is cooked, add more water, a few spoonfuls at a time.
  8. When the pasta is cooked and the sauce is very slightly wetter than you want, remove the pot from the heat. Stir in half of the grated parmesan cheese. (This will add yumminess and a bit of thickening.) Check the seasoning and add a bit of salt if necessary.

Serve topped with a bit more grated parmesan cheese and some freshly ground black pepper. Traditionally, this dish is served either hot or at room temperature, depending on the season (i.e., hot in the cold months).

Blork’s Own Huevos Rancheros

I love huevos rancheros, but I hate lining up with hipsters to overpay for underperformed ones at the various brunch spots in Montreal. So I applied my usual solution: I made it myself.

Before we move on, I should state that there is no one single definition of huevos rancheros (or more specifically, if there is it has been lost to time, evolution, and Americanization). Every restaurant seems to have its own variation, and sometimes the variations are almost beyond recognition. My inclination is that if your variation is too far off the mark, you should call it something else, as is done with huevos motuleños or huevos divorciados. But if it’s essentially just eggs on tortillas with a tomato-chili sauce and some fixings, then you’ve got huevos rancheros.

Note that traditionally, the eggs are either fried, or poached right in the tomato-chili sauce. But I like mine poached separately, so that’s how my recipe works.

First a photo, and then the recipe:

Blork's Own Huevos Rancheros

Food porn version here (Flickr members only)

Blork’s Own Huevos Rancheros

(Serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • 3 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 red or green sweet pepper, diced
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced (add more if you have a very high tolerance for heat, but be careful because you don’t want to overwhelm the eggs)
  • 1/2 cup of beef or chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 cup grated Monterrey jack or similar cheese
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

To serve:

  • Guacamole
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa (fresh made, or from a jar)
  • A bit of chopped fresh cilantro

Method

(1) Make the Tomato-chili Sauce

In a saucepan, sauté the onion and sweet peppers in the olive oil for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so.

Add the cumin and stir until fragrant (20-30 seconds).

Add the tomatoes and chipotle pepper, and stir-cook for 1 or 2 minutes.

Add the stock/water and tomato paste, lower the heat and cook for 5 or 10 minutes until thick and fragrant. Season with salt & pepper. Add a bit of water if it gets too thick. (It should be the consistency of  a chunky/saucy ketchup.)

(2) Cook the Eggs and Tortillas

Poach the eggs in a large sauce pan with 2-inches of almost-boiling water (with a tsp of white vinegar added). It should take about 3 minutes (longer if  you like them less runny).

While the eggs are poaching, warm up the tortillas in a large non-stick pan, moving them around so they don’t dry out and each one has a turn at the bottom of the stack.

(3) Assemble

Put two tortillas (overlapping) on each plate.

Put a generous couple of spoonfuls of the tomato-chili sauce on top of each pair of tortillas.

Divide the cheese and sprinkle over the warm sauce.

Place two poached eggs on top of each pair of sauced tortillas.

Place a big blob of salsa between the two eggs on each plate.

Add a blob of guacamole and sour cream on the side.

Sprinkle with a bit of chopped fresh cilantro.

Enjoy!

A New Pizza Classic, Chez Blork

Yes, I hate the term “new classic” too, but what the heck. This pizza is destined to become a classic, chez nous.

It is composed of (in order, from bottom to top):

  • Standard Blork San Marzano pizza sauce
  • A dusting of dried oregano
  • A respectable portion of conventional grated full-fat mozzarella cheese
  • Baby spinach sautéed with a clove of garlic
  • Crimini mushrooms, sautéed.
  • Proscuitto
  • A sprinkle of grated aged asiago cheese — applied after the pizza came out of the oven.

The result:

Kaapow!

The only thing missing is a name. Any suggestions as to what I should call this glorious pie?

Update: here’s a video of me flipping the dough that I used for this pizza:

Blork Flips Out from Ed Hawco on Vimeo.

Dinner on a too hot day (peperonata)

Here’s a wholesome and satisfying dinner idea for a too-hot day like today (31°C!). Make peperonata, but make it outside, using your grill (BBQ) as a flat-top. Even better — make it the day before.

Peperonata in progress (on the grill/BBQ)

Peperonata is basically stewed sweet peppers. It’s an Italian dish that is similar to ratatouille, except that it uses sweet peppers instead of zucchini and eggplant. There is no single “authentic” recipe. Like ratatouille, it’s as flexible as you want it to be. (For example, I used zucchini in my recipe, below, just because I had some and I though it might thicken it up a bit.) You can eat it hot, cold, or at room temperature (preferred).

You can have it straight up as an appetizer (antipasti), or you can have it with couscous, or tossed with pasta. Today’s recipe uses room-temperature peperonata tossed with hot, freshly cooked pasta to create a warm (not hot) and satisfying dinner for a hot day. Note that you can cook the peperonata a day in advance if you know a stinker is on the horizon.

Blork’s Peperonata with Rigatoni

Makes enough for two mains, or four appetizers.

Suggested Ingredients:

  • 3 sweet peppers of varying colors (I used red, orange, and yellow) seeded and cut into strips (about 1/2 inch wide)
  • 1/3 of a big sweet onion (fresh white, vidalia, or red), cut into 1/4-inch thick slices (3 or 4 rounds)
  • 1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch thick half-moons (optional)
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 big fat tomato (or 2 small ones), seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 handful of fresh herbs chopped (I used thyme, chives, parsley, and basil) — you can also use assorted dry herbs if you don’t have fresh, but go light and add them earlier
  • Olive oil, salt, and pepper

Method:

  1. Spark up your gas grill (or, as we call it in Canada, your BBQ). Light enough burners to heat a 10-inch saucepan. Warm the pan to medium heat.
  2. Drizzle a good few glugs of olive oil in the pan and add the onion. It should be at a low to moderate sizzle. If it’s too hot, lower the burners. Sauté for 2 or 3 minutes.
  3. Add the zucchini and sauté for 3 or 4 minutes.
  4. Add the peppers and the garlic, and salt & pepper to taste. Sauté for about 5 minutes, then lower the heat and simmer (covered), stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. It should not dry out (if it looks like it’s drying out, lower the heat and add a few spoons of water).
  5. By now the peppers should be soft but still holding their shape.  Tip in the chopped tomatoes and simmer (covered) for another 15 minutes.
  6. When everything is pretty soft (but not mushy) and the tomatoes have mostly dissolved into a nice sauce, tip in the chopped herbs and remove from the heat.

Finished peperonata, ready to eat!

At this point you can let it cool and stick it in the fridge for tomorrow, or simply let it come to room temperature while you cook some pasta (rigatoni is suggested by the Blork Board of Appropriate Pasta).

Toss the room-temperature peperonata with the hot (drained but not rinsed) rigatoni. A light dusting of Parmesano Reggiano is nice, but not necessary. Serve with a chilled Pino Grigio and a crispy salad.