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Chickpeas and Pasta

19 Oct

Chickpeas and Pasta

“Just go away.”  I have uttered this often to my teenage students, in a variety of contexts, over the last twelve years since I started teaching high school English. I’ll say it as I attempt to take roll and a student asks me for the fortieth time if they need to skip lines when writing an essay, even though I have a large poster at the front of the room that clearly asserts, “Yes! Skip lines!” I’ll say it as I am but three words away from totally explaining the most impassioned and profound concept, which will alter their lives invariably thereafter, when one kiddo raises his hand and asks if he can go to the bathroom. I’ll say it when everyone is taking a final exam and the antsy, gregarious, loquacious student who finishes first asks me what I’m cooking for dinner that night. Loudly.

But truly, the context in which I most often say “just go away” relates to what they do after high school. I tell them to travel, to get away from their familiar environs, and just go away. You want to see South America? Good! Just go. Castles where knights rose and fell? Go. You want ninjas? Go. Where Napoleon died? Why? Never been to San Francisco? Go. You want to see hot Spanish chicks and dudes? Go. Make it happen and don’t wait.

Usually this is precipitated by me sharing about my backpacking trip around Europe when I was 23, fresh out of college. For two months, my best friend Pat and I went from Ireland, to Spain, to Germany, to Austria, to Czech Republic, to Netherlands, back to Spain, to France, and then home. We partied every night, slept on the floors of trains, saw Europe before it was the EU and before the internet localized the world, partied more, ate stuff that I still can’t identify, and basically changed our lives for good.

Physically, mentally, economically, or realistically, I cannot and will not ever be able to do this type of trip again. It was once in a lifetime, and I try to instill this in my students. “Do it now, kids, because you won’t be able to later. Trust me.” No money? I didn’t have much either. It took me until I was thirty to pay it off, but it was interest well bought. Just get out of town. Just go away.

As usual, I tangentially bring this up because, until that trip to Europe, chickpeas were something I refilled in the salad bar at Straw Hat pizza in my teens, not something I ate knowingly. Amsterdam changed that. Without going into details, I will posit that Amsterdam’s “coffee” shops are intentionally and strategically located next to shwarma and falafel stands (and KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, for that matter), so patrons succumbing to the munchies have no choice but to belly up to some serious grub on every side of them. They’ve got you by the balls convincingly. Before this time, I had never even heard of falafel, which is ground chickpeas and spices rolled into balls, deep fried, and then served in a pita with veggies and sauces. But after leaving a coffee shop and letting the holy grail of street food create new universes in my expanded mind, I ate them every day for a week. Sublime.

As the Food Network Empire and Darth Rachel came to power, chickpeas (garbanzos, or if you’re a pretentious prick, ceci, pronounced che’-chee) started getting some coverage in a variety of contexts. Unbeknownst to me, “chickpeas and pasta” are an Italian staple all over the boot. Although I personally had never had the dish, Darth Rachel’s scratchy voice assured me that it is “yum-o,” which of course comforts me in the recesses of my mind, Sand People pursuing or not.

In any case, this is a Weight Watcher’s recipe and I took only a few liberties with it. A good-size portion is a mere 7 on the old system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off frenetically). It’s vegetarian, filling, and good for you. It’s easy as hell to make, too, so it’s a perfect weekday dinner. And you will see that, as you eat this, you will tell people to just go away.

Chickpeas and Pasta

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups serving is an old Weight Watchers 7

Ingredients:

4 tsp. olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly

1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or a teaspoon dried, I’m guessing)

2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, divided

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 14 1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 16-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed well

1/4 tsp. each of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 zucchini or yellow squash, peeled and made into ribbons (I used the peeler to make thick ribbons, but only shave the meaty parts rather than the seedy parts)

2 cups cooked pasta, like rotini, penne, or ditalini

1/4 cup parmesan

Makin’ It:

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Saute the garlic for a minute and then add the carrots, rosemary, red pepper, and 1 tablespoon o’ the parsley. Saute this for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the tomatoes and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Start cooking the pasta about halfway through this.

Then, add the chickpeas, salt, pepper, and squash.  Simmer this for another 5 minutes, stirring here and there. Add in the pasta, parmesan, and the other tablespoon of parsley. Divide into four bowls and serve. Bob’s your uncle.

Chickpeas and Pasta 7

Now just go away.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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Chicken Marsala

11 May

Chicken Marsala 2

One of the best family stories I have (and it will somehow segue into a Chicken Marsala recipe) involves my dad emigrating to the U.S. from Naples, Italy. I called him to verify this, but he told me it was too far back to remember.  Still, whether it’s true or not, it’s a classic story.

Rumor has it that before my pop came here on the boat, he was told how to order apple pie and coffee in English.  It was pretty much all he knew how to say in English when he took the train to Gardena, California, where the family was waiting for him. Now this was in the 1950’s, so we’re talking about a long train ride from New York to LA.

Every time he ordered, it’d be, “Whaddaya want, Mack?”

“Apple-a pie-a and-a coffee.”

“Again? Jeez.”

After a week of apple pie for every meal, he never wanted to see or eat it again. It’s like a story in the “Welcome to America” mythology:  “As a new American, you should know that nothing’s as American as apple pie. So welcome to America, and here’s as much fucking apple pie as you can handle, rookie.” Whether it was my pop or a relative, it still must have happened to someone.

As I have written numerous times, I am lucky to be first generation when it comes to Italian food. I embrace it now, but I don’t think I understood it’s depth until I got into my twenties.  We never went to Italian restaurants when I was growing up.  Why would we?  Even now, if I find a good one, I will go there only to order something that I simply would never make at home because it’s a pain in the ass. Moreover, no Italian restaurant can hold a candle to what anyone in my family makes. So, the first few times I went to an Italian restaurant, I vaguely remember looking at some of the dishes (i.e. Chicken Marsala) and wondering what the hell they were.

I have found Chicken Marsala on almost every Italian restaurant’s menu, yet I never had it growing up. And in my experience, chicks dig this recipe. Before I had ever tried it, it would come up in casual conversation, usually on a first or second date, as we chatted about the Italian food with which I grew up.

“So your dad’s, like, from Italy? Like, from there? I love Italian food. You should, like, make me some one night.”

“I know.  It’s a trip that my dad’s from there. He’s got an accent and everything.”

Really? Oh my god, I love Chicken Marsala. I bet your family, like, makes the most rad Chicken Marsala, right? Oh my god, I’m, like, making myself soooo hungry.”

“Right on. What are you going to order?”

“Like, a California roll. And those edie-mommy beans. They’re, like, totally good for you.” I dated a lot of girls who spoke in italics when talking to an Italian, obviously.

In any case, the first time I tried it, I loved it. It’s relatively easy to make and, truth be told, it’s not that fattening, either. On the old Weight Watchers, half a chicken breast is a 7 (Points Plus and 360° can both fuck off wantonly). You could probably save a few points by subbing non-fat cooking spray for the butter, but you would sacrifice flavor, I’m afraid.

This recipe is straight from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook with few modifications.

One note: use Marsala wine.  It’s cheap, and substituting a dry sherry or Madeira just doesn’t work out as well. I’ve tried. I know.

Chicken Marsala

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp. dried marjoram

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cups sliced mushrooms

4 green onions, sliced into 1/4″ pieces

3 tbsp. butter or margarine

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup Marsala wine

Sliced green onions for garnish

Hot cooked pasta, like angel hair or linguine

Makin’ It:

Place each chicken breast between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a mallet or a small skillet, pound them into 1/4″  thickness and discard the plastic. On a flat plate or in a wide shallow bowl, combine the flour, marjoram, salt, and pepper. Coat each breast on both sides and shake off the excess. Set it aside for a bit.

In a large skillet, melt ONE tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add in the mushrooms and green onions and cook them until they’re tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove them from the skillet and set them aside for a bit.

In the same skillet, melt the two remaining tablespoons o’ butter. Add in the chicken breasts and brown them evenly, turning once, about 6 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat and put the mushrooms and green onions back in it. Add the broth and Marsala to the skillet, return it to the heat, and get it boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer it, uncovered, for about 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt and pepper.

Place a 1/2 cup hot pasta on a plate and place a chicken breast on it. Spoon the mushroom sauce over it all and serve. If you’re sexy, you’ll garnish it with a few more sliced green onions. Bob’s your uncle, and my uncle, come to think of it.

Chicken Marsala 5

You’ll agree that it’s, like, totally bitchin’.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Sesame Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

13 Apr

Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

I have mentioned many times that joining Weight Watchers yields some exemplary recipes and materials.  What’s interesting, though, is that a lot of their published recipes do not seem to be made by people who cook a lot.  Timing and portion sizes, particularly, are often off a bit, which is fine if you know how to adjust accordingly…or if you read Dinner with Jonny, which seeks to ameliorate those deficiencies.

This recipe a goddamn keeper because of it’s versatility.  It can be a main dish served warm or, served cold, an easy crowd pleaser for a pot luck or a side in an Asian feast.  It’s best if you put it together and let it get happy in the fridge for a while so the flavors mingle and intensify. I love doubling the recipe, portioning it out, and eating it for lunch during the week.  It’s light, filling, and packs wonderful flavors.

The booklet from which I gleaned this recipe gives each portion a 5 on the old WW points system (Points Plus and 360° can fuck off) if you use 2 oz. of noodles.  The noodles are the best part, so I double the noodles and add 2 points, making it on or about a 7. Serve it with a green veggie of some sort to round it all out. Easy as a porn star with a car payment due.

Sesame Chicken Soba Noodle Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients:

5 oz. buckwheat soba noodles (any thin noodle will do, even spaghetti, but adjust the points accordingly for WW)

1 tbsp. rice vinegar

1 tbsp. honey

3 tsp. soy sauce

2 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1 tsp. sriracha (optional)

1 tsp. sesame oil

1 grilled or roasted boneless chicken breast, sliced

1 bunch green onions, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into very thin coins

2 tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional)

1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Makin’ It:

Boil the noodles according to the package.

While the noodles are a-boiling, in a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, honey, soy sauce, ginger, and sriracha (if using). Set it aside.

Drain the noodles and quickly toss them with the sesame oil.  Add in the vinegar mixture, the chicken breast slices, the carrots, and the green onions. Toss with well and make sure you get the veggies mixed in there thoroughly (it’s a bit tough to do, as you’ll see). Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and cilantro (if using).

Chicken Soba Noodle Salad 4

This is a perfect spring or summer dish, and it’s virtually guilt free.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

The Sauce

30 Mar

The Sauce

I can think of no better picture to accompany this blog post than the one above.  It truly says volumes about my heritage, my blood line, my handsomeness, and the true essence of Italian food.  I believe this was the first or second time Tony had eaten my sauce, and he has always done so with gusto, as should everyone.  Funnily enough, this scungillio is a picky eater (unlike his uncles and his pop), but when it comes to my sauce on pasta, he’s at the table waiting with fork in hand as we put the plates together.

I have posted two tomato-based pasta sauce recipes on here before, and in both posts I made sure to note that they aren’t MY sauce.  I have also said that most Italians have their own version of sauce (again, I never heard the term “Sunday gravy” until I saw The Sopranos), which is most likely derived from their mom’s or nonna’s recipe. I am no different in this regard.  My mom taught me how to make sauce eons ago, and after screwing with and tweaking the recipe for years, I finally got to my version which tastes like no other I’ve had anywhere.  I didn’t even write it down until about 5 years ago; a student wanted to make her boyfriend dinner and asked if I knew how to make spaghetti and meatballs.  Writing it down was the tough part because I always had just made it, kind of like singing a tune you’ve known for years under your breath as you work away.

In any case, I truly think that an Italian’s sauce mirrors their soul to a degree, and ’tis true concerning this one.  Me?  I’m sanguine, sweet, complex, thick, and intense.  And so is my sauce.

Another essential element of a good sauce is this:

The Pasta Pot

The pot (and the readiness) is all.  Notice how it’s not perfect like a Martha Stewart ad: it has chips in it, it’s discolored, the lid handle’s a bit loose.  Yet I swear by this cast-iron beast and it’s importance in making a good sauce.  My mom swore by hers, too, which was an ugly olive green monster of a pot that weighed 15 pounds at least.  A good pot cooks everything evenly, so go to T.J. Maxx, drop $20, and you’ll have this buried with you when the time comes. It’s a must.

Half of the time, I make a Bolognese-style sauce, which is with browned ground meat in it; the other half of the time I make a marinara, which is sans meat.  With either one, you can make some meatballs or sausages, of course, which will add to the overall flavor of the sauce.  Personally, I rarely eat pasta because I prefer to make a meatball or Italian sausage sandwich on some good bread.  Make a salad to round it all out and everyone’s happy.

The Sauce

One batch will serve 4 to 6 people, usually

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 lb. ground beef, pork, or veal (turkey would work too, although ‘twould be sacrilege), browned and drained (optional)

5 cloves garlic, peeled

2- 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes (or whole peeled tomatoes crushed with your hands)

1 1/2 cups red wine

1 1/2 cups water

(*or enough red wine and water to fill one of the big cans, which is what I do)

2- 6 oz. cans tomato paste

1 tbsp. salt

3 tbsp. sugar

1 heaping tbsp. dried basil

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, depending on your spice-whimsy

and about 3 hours of time

Makin’ It:

In a large pot (like the one mentioned in my preamble), heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the onions. You need to get them brown, and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to do it.  This is the most important part, really. It’s where the flavor of the sauce comes from.  When they’re brown, throw in the garlic cloves and, if you’re using it, the browned meat.

Carefully pour in the tomatoes.  Pour the wine and water into the cans and swish it around to get as much tomato as possible from the cans.  (Note:  I wrote 1 1/2 cups of each liquid above, but I guesstimated because I usually use the equivalent of one large tomato can o’ wine and water, as noted above.) Stir.

Stir in the tomato paste, salt, sugar, basil, and red pepper flakes well.  Raise the heat to high and get it boiling.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 or 3 hours until it’s thick and happy.  Scrape the sides of the pot every 15 minutes (or so) so the sauce doesn’t stick to the sides.  Taste for salt, dip some bread in there and mangia while you cook-a.

If you’re making meatballs or sausages, put them in during the last hour of cooking and serve them on the side.  Pour the sauce over your favorite pasta and pass the parmigiano.  Pour some vino, raise the glasses, say it loud, and say it proud:

Acqua fresca, vino puro,

Fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Butternut Squash and Pasta (Pasta e zucca)

15 Feb

Pasta e Zucca 2

Today’s recipe post is all about love.  ‘Tis Valentine’s Day, of course, so it follows that whatever I post needs to effuse passion and desire.  Squash and Pasta is it for me.  Out of all of the dishes with which I grew up, this is my favorite. On my birthdays, my mom would ask me what I wanted for dinner, and this is usually what I requested, even after I had moved away from home.

This is another dish that when I made it for my wife the first time, although I was a bit shy about serving it, she just stopped after the first bite and said, “Oh my god.” Now we both can’t wait for fall to begin so this can be on the menu again. I remember one time that we were expecting company and I thought about making this for guests.  I had called my mom that day for whatever reason and told her what I was making.  Her reply was, “Jon, you don’t make that for company.  That’s peasant food. It’s comfort food.”  And it’s true.  I think I’ve made it for one or two people and that’s about it. I don’t want to exaggerate, but this dish is me, pure and simple.  No matter the circumstances, this cheers me up and satisfies me to the core.

This is purely vegetarian, even vegan, come to think of it, but it still sticks to the ribs.  It’s also a fall/ winter dish and most Neopolitans will serve this regularly during those seasons.  Just like so many Italian dishes, it takes simple ingredients and makes them magical.  It’s also very healthful in that its only fat is olive oil, and you’re getting a good serving of veggies with it.  Although one might think it overkill to eat this with a good hunk o’ bread, that one person should fuck off because this sauce on warm bread is pure indulgence.

The recipe below is from Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz, but it tastes EXACTLY like my mom’s, who learned it from my nonna.  Like I said, this dish is love, so make it for that special someone and thank me later for the shenanigans after the meal and wine.

Butternut Squash and Pasta (Pasta e zucca)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 lbs. butternut squash, cubed into 1″ pieces (see below) (you can also use acorn squash)

1/3 cup olive oil

5 cloves garlic, smashed

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 tsp. salt or to taste

5-6 cups water

1/2 spaghetti, broken into 1 1/2″ or slightly longer lengths (it’s peasant food, so it doesn’t have to be perfect, wise guy)

1/3 cup finely cut parsley, or 1 tbsp. dried

Parmigiano to serve

Makin’ It:

In a 3 quart or larger pot over medium-low heat, combine the oil and the garlic.  Cook the garlic until it’s soft and barely browning on both sides.  Press the garlic into the oil with the edge of a wooden spoon to get the flavor into the oil. Remove the garlic.

Add the cubed squash (again, see below) and the red pepper flakes.  Sprinkle this with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and raise the heat to medium-high.  Saute the squash, stirring fairly often, until it’s soft and starting to brown.  It almost gets gooey and stringy on the outside. This takes me about 12 to 15 minutes.  Some of the squash will stick to the bottom, which is okay, but don’t let it burn.

At this point, add the 5 to 6 cups of water, stir it well and scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan.  Cover the pot, raise the heat to high, and get it to a rolling boil.

Stir in the pasta and recover it until it returns to a boil. Once boiling uncover it and cook the pasta according to your taste (10 minutes normally for spaghetti).  As it cooks, stir it once in a while and smash some of the squash cubes against the side of the pot to thicken the water .   You can do this a lot and make it like a stew, or do it a few times and make it soupier…whatever blows your hair back (obviously, there’s no draining pasta in this dish).

Stir in the chopped parsley, and it looks like this:

Pasta e Zucca 3

Pass the parmigiano.  Serve it hot, like this:

Pasta e Zucca 4

Note:  Reheating this is good, but in the microwave, cover it and stir it every few seconds because it will pop and crackle like a mofo.

Cubing a Butternut Squash:

Lay the squash on its side and cut off the ends.  Slice it into 1″ thick disks (or close to it…it’s peasant food, dude), like this:

007

Scoop out the seeds of the disks that have them, and then peel each disk, like this:

008

Then, slice this into cubes, like this:

009

Bob’s your uncle. Do I get exactly two pounds of squash?  No.  I get a good size one and use all of it because I like a lot of squash.

If you try this and enjoy it, let me know.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Meatballs and Sauce #2

27 Jan

Meatballs and Sauce #2 006

Nothing says “I love you” like sauce and balls, except maybe when you say “I love you” out loud.  Go figure.

As I have said previously, I have a few versions of Italian sauce with meatballs.  The meatballs in this recipe are mine; I winged it (I wang it? I had wung it?) based on my go-to recipe, and I came up with a keeper.  Like a lot of Italian cooking, it’s a matter of talking to people, trading ideas, yelling to some degree, drinking more wine, and then putting it all together to get a kick-ass meal for which everyone wants to give you a reach around.

The sauce recipe is from a book my brother bought me for XMas called The Meatball Shop Cookbook (http://www.themeatballshop.com/).  Like all of the cookbooks I get from my brother, it’s exceptional.  And today is his 105th birthday, so I figured I’d make it a tribute of sorts.

The wife and I are in the midst of doing Weight Watchers, so most good Italian food is out the window.  But, for tonight, I made a low-carb veggie pasta, and the sauce and balls aren’t bad.  We controlled the portions, so we won’t be too off for indulging a bit.

The Sauce (basically the “Classic Tomato Sauce” from The Meatball Shop Cookbook):

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 tbsp. tomato paste

2 28 oz. cans whole, peeled tomatoes, chopped with their juices

Makin’ It:

(Note: I have a big-ass cast iron pot/ Dutch oven that I got at T.J. Maxx that does the trick for everything, especially sauce).

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions.  Cook them for a few minutes, and then add the bay leaf, oregano, garlic, salt, and red pepper.  Cook this for 8 more minutes until the onions are soft and translucent and happy, stirring fairly often.  Add the tomato paste and cook this for a few more minutes, stirring often.  Add the chopped tomatoes and get this to a simmer.  Lower the heat and cook it for another hour, stirring every so often to keep it from sticking to the pot.  If you want to time it right, have the meatballs done after 45 minutes of the sauce cooking, and have the pasta cooked by the time the hour’s up.  Taste the sauce for salt before you serve it.  Pass the parmigiano.

The Balls:

1 lb. ground beef (I even used 90% lean and it was awesome.)

3 cloves garlic, minced well

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. dill

1/2 cup parmesan

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 tsp. dried parsley

1/2 cup to 2/3 cup dried bread crumbs

a drizzle of olive oil

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 450°.  In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the meat and the breadcrumbs.  Add in the meat, and then add in 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs.  Wash your hands and then mix this with your hand by squishing it all together with reckless abandon.  The key is this:  meatballs need to be wet, to a degree.  If it’s too dry, add some water or milk.  If it’s too wet, add more breadcrumbs.  If it’s right, your hand should be wet a bit after you squish…you’ll know when you feel it.  If it feels paste-y, it’s too dry.

Take a 9″x 9″ baking dish (or something like it),  and spray it with cooking spray or grease it.  Take about a 1/3 cup of the meat mixture and roll it into a ball, about the size in between a golf ball and a baseball.  Keep a glass of water near you to moisten your hands as you do it.  Repeat this until you’ve rolled all of the balls and have them fairly snug in the baking dish.  Drizzle them with olive oil.  Bake this for 20 minutes.

When ’tis done, remove the dish and put the balls in the simmering sauce for another 15+ minutes.  To serve, remove the balls to a separate dish and top with some of the sauce.

These are great for sandwiches or for pasta, so knock yourself out.  Pass the parmigiano.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Pasta Genovese, or Genoise

11 Jan

Genovese 012

Throughout the years that my wife and I have been together, I have loved the times where I’ve busted out a dish with which I grew up, only to have her give me that “Holy Shit!” sort of look that one gets when tasting something unforgettable and required regularly from that point forward.  What titillates me even more is that she lived in Italy for some months, studying abroad in Florence, so she is far from naive about Italian food, having indulged in her travels.  She was there and I’ve never been.  But I got the father from the old country, so I have some tricks up my sleeve that travelers might not get to experience.  Genoise, a pasta sauce made primarily of onions flavored with beef, is one such dish.

Genoise, or Pasta Genovese, is as Neopolitan as it gets.  I have never learned why it’s called Genovese  after the city of Genoa.  I know that my nonna was originally from Genoa, and she made this often, and she taught my mom to make it regularly as well.  But the region of Campania, of which Naples is a big part, claims this dish as their own.  I doubt my  nonna was the reason for this, but she would probably claim it if she were alive, the tough, proud lady that she was.  In any case, this is yet another dish I had every week or two until I was a big boy.  I have never made it for anyone except my wife, and I know of no one outside of my family who has tasted it.  Of course, I’m from California, so first generation Italians are about as common as nuns at a rodeo.  In New Jersey or New York, many probably know Genoise.

I learned to make Genoise from my mom and my pop both.  As usual, there is a book I have read, called Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz (http://www.amazon.com/Naples-at-Table-Cooking-Campania/dp/006018261X).   The first time I read this book, it validated that my family is indeed from Naples because it has a great deal of the recipes I have enjoyed since I could hold a fork.  One of its recipes for Genoise is almost identical to my family’s.   It’s peasant food.  It means to take the little meat a family could afford and make it go a long way to feed everyone, which is what Italians do best.  It’s good for you, too. Besides the fat on the meat flavoring the dish, no oil or butter is used to make this, just good ingredients and love.

Without further ado, I give you a taste of me and my family (not literally, of course).

Genoise or Pasta Genovese

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

2 lbs. chuck steak, or a chuck roast tied (you can use stew meat, too, if you’re in a pinch)

4 lbs. onions (yes, 4 lbs.), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 12 to 14 cups)

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper (freshly ground always kicks everything else in the nuts, you know)

2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, or 2 tsp. dried parsley

1/2 tsp. dried marjoram

8 cups water

1 cup dry white wine (I used flat, dry sparkling wine, which is wonderful)

1 tbsp. tomato paste

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. ziti or penne, cooked to your liking

Lots of parmigiano (parmesan, wise guy)

Makin’ It:

Place the meat on the bottom of a big ol’ dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot that can hold 8 to 10 quarts. Surround and cover this meat with the onions, carrot, celery, salt, pepper, parsley, marjoram, and the 8 cups o’ water.  It looks like this before I put in the rest of the onions and the water:

Genovese 001

Get this to a slow boil, lower the heat to medium/ medium-low, and simmer it steadily, uncovered, for about 3 hours.  Stir it every 20 minutes and turn the beef so that it cooks evenly.

After three hours, most of the liquid will be evaporated, and the meat should be somewhat tender.  The onions will be very broken down and silky looking.  Remove the meat to a separate dish and keep it warm (like, cover it in foil, dude).

With the pot full of the onions, raise the heat to medium high and add the white wine.  Boil this and stir it often for about 10 minutes until the wine evaporates (and thus leaves the sauce with its kisses).  Continue to boil this for another 10 to 20 minutes and stir it almost constantly.  When it’s done, it should be thick enough to where you can almost see the bottom of the pan when you run a spoon through the sauce.  Add the tomato paste when it’s like this and stir it for another minute or two.

Taste for salt.  I usually add another 1/2 teaspoon or so.  Add lots of black pepper to taste.

Spoon the sauce over the pasta and serve with more pepper and parmigiano.  Slice the meat and serve it on the side with some of the onion sauce on it.  It should look like this:

Genovese 008

And thus I share with you a bit of my life and heritage.  Welcome to a bit of true Neopolitan cooking and enjoy.

Acqua fresca, vino puro,

Fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013