Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"Lidia's Italian Table" by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich - Christmas Eve Dinner - Bow Tie Pasta with Sausage and Leeks

Date I made this recipe: December 24, 2006

Lidia’s Italian Table by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
Published by: William Morrow & Company, Inc.
ISBN – 0-688-15410-7

Recipe: Bow Ties with Sausage and Leek Sauce (Farfalle ai Porri e Salsicce) – p. 136

People, you might think that having a huge cookbook collection would make it easy for me to select recipes for this year’s Christmas holiday, but you would be wrong.

Every day for the last two weeks, I pulled books off my shelf trying to figure out what on earth to make. Part of the problem is that I like to cook something I’m in the mood for at that moment, but given that grocery stores are closed on Christmas Day, that put the kibosh on fulfilling a last-minute craving. For once, and for all, I had to commit to cooking something even if I was nearly incapacitated by the thought.

Several dishes were considered – roast chicken, roast turkey, veal roast, pot roast, enchiladas (I don’t know why) – you name it, I have a recipe for it. I could have gone national (food from the northeast, mid-Atlantic, south, Midwest, west…) or international – “Siamese Cookery” (an actual title), Africa or Europe. I could have acknowledged Hanukah by cooking from several Jewish cookbooks, but finally decided to end the torture by following my family tradition by cooking Italian food on Christmas Eve (I’m half Sicilian).

Many Italians and Italian Americans make a meal of seven fishes on Christmas Eve but since I grew up far away from the east coast where most fish and seafood was unavailable, we went for the pasta approach. My family typically enjoyed spaghetti with meatballs or just spaghetti with tomato sauce for those times when the Catholic Church decided we could not eat meat during the holiday.

Now, I could have followed suit and made spaghetti and meatballs but I decided to forego that in favor of making a dish from the recipe collection so that I could blog about it. But therein was my next problem – whose food, out of all the Italian cookbooks I owned, would I deem worthy enough to serve up that night?

Like most people of ethnic backgrounds, somebody else’s version of Italian cooking never measures up to what I experienced as a child. And so for years, not only did I rarely dine out in an Italian restaurant (I don’t even think I tasted cream sauce until I was in my mid-thirties) but I was a real snob about cooking out of the Italian cookbooks I collected. As far as I was concerned, they were just there for the show.

And then along came Lidia and blew that snobbery all to hell.

Lidia Bastianich is a restaurant and cookbook maven who came to the US from the Istria region of Italy. Istria started out being part of Austria, then Italy, then Yugoslavia after WWII, and is now part of Croatia. Lidia’s cooking is Italian-based with bits of eastern European influence cropping up here and there.

Lidia started cooking from the moment she landed in the United States and never looked back. Her cooking show, Lidia’s Family Table, is featured on PBS, and I love to watch her, her children and her mother cook up these sumptuous dishes. I especially love to watch Lidia and her mother affectionately “go at it” in the kitchen as it reminds me of my grandma Vita and my aunt Rose’s relationship around food and cooking.

I actually met Lidia in 2002 when she came to a local Barnes and Noble to sign her latest book. At that time, Lidia was still a well-kept secret and one was still able to get a reservation at one of her New York restaurants. Inspired by hearing her talk about food and her restaurants, my husband and I took our New York friends to one of her restaurants, Becco, when we went to New York a couple of weeks later during our annual “pilgrimage” (or, as I call it, my cookbook buying trips). (Lidia even told me to tell the reservationists that “Lidia sent me” when I called in which I thought was just lovely.)

Let’s just say that dinner at Becco was memorable not only for the food, but for the “incident” that occurred while we were there.

All was well during the first half of the meal. We had an appetizer and then decided to go with a sampler plate of three pastas, one of which was pasta with wild boar sauce that was just out of this world. In any other instance, “wild boar” and “me eating it” would not have gone together but this time, I threw caution to the wind.

For the main course that evening, I had Joe’s Grilled Veal Chop (Lidia’s son, Joe, and his friend, chef Mario Batali, often collaborate on restaurants and other food adventures) and was floored by the enormous size of the chop. It was like Dino, the Dinosaur’s, bone from the TV show, The Flintstones. Still, I managed to pack it all away…or shall I say, shoveled it all away?

You see, people, the friends we dined with hired, in my humble opinion, the babysitter from hell, who all but demanded our return before the clock struck 11 so she could hightail it home to the Bronx before she turned into a pumpkin. And as often happens, the reservation got backed up so that by the time we actually sat down to eat, we maybe had an hour, tops. We were doing just fine through the appetizer and pasta but whoa, Nelly, when the entrées came, we were out of the gates, wolfing down food faster than a hummingbird pumps its wings. To this day, I still get a knot in my stomach when I think about eating so quickly. One of these days, my husband and I are going back to pick up where we left off, sans anybody’s idea of a babysitter!

Getting back to the meal, dessert, as you may imagine, was out of the question. Our poor server tried everything to make sure we had a dessert which, silly us, we coveted at the beginning of our food service, but it was not to be. We flagged him over while still inhaling dinner to get the check and the poor guy practically put it on a flaming arrow to get it to us so we could exit, stage left, leaving a huge “guilt money” tip behind.

When we arrived back at my friend’s apartment the babysitter was there practically tapping her foot and blew out the door to a chorus of apologies from our friends (“We are not worthy. Please forgive us. We’ll never eat out again”). We won’t go into what my husband and I thought of the babysitter but I will say she made the evening memorable in more ways than she could have imagined.

Now, Lidia’s Bow Ties with Sausage and Leek Sauce was likely not one of the three pastas we sampled, but, and this is just a suggestion, it should be. This recipe is a far cry from my usual “red-sauce or bust” mantra but it’s very good, very easy and contains many of my favorite ingredients – leeks, peas and most importantly, Italian sausage.

Lidia ends her TV show by saying “Tutti a tavola a mangiare” (Everybody to the table to eat), but in my family (the rogue Sicilians), we like shortcuts; somebody yells “A mangia!” and we all come running. You’ll come running as well for this recipe, I guarantee it.

Bow Ties with Sausage and Leek Sauce – Serves 6

6 quarts salted water
2 large leeks (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 sweet (a/k/a mild) Italian sausages (about 6 ounces), casing removed
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 c. young peas, blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes, or defrosted and drained frozen baby peas
1 c. chicken stock (p. 80 of her book) or canned low-sodium chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound bow-tie pasta (farfalle)
½ freshly grated Parmigian-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving, if you like

Note: Lidia’s directions start with putting the water on to boil but since I had a feeling the sauce would take me longer to make than the pasta, I made the sauce first. It’s up to you.

Bring the salted water to a boil. Cover the pot to speed up the boiling time.

Meanwhile, prepare the leeks: Cut off and discard the top third of the rough green portion and the root ends. Remove any brown or wilted outer layers. Slice the remaining green and white parts into ½-inch-thick rounds. Rinse the leek slices in several changes of cold water, swishing them around to remove all soil and grit.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Crumble the sausage meat into the skillet and cook, breaking up the lumps, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the leeks to the skillet and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon (note, the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons total but you reserve the other tablespoon for later) of the butter, the peas, and stock. Heat to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, cover the skillet, and set aside.

Note: One thing you might want to do is separate the leek strands when cooking. I thought that they cooked a little bit better that way, but that might just be me. Also, if you can’t find prepared sausages in your grocery store, look for bulk sausage. I used bulk as my store didn’t have the sausages in casing and it worked out fine.

In the meantime, stir the bow ties into the boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, uncover the pot. Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, until al dente (tender, but firm), about 12 minutes. Drain the bow ties well and return them to the pot over low heat.

Add the sausage and leek sauce to the pasta and toss well until the pasta is coated. Remove the pot from the heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and the grated cheese, and toss well. Serve immediately, passing additional grated cheese on the side, if you like. (Note: I like!).

1 comment:

jensenly said...

This is a great recipe. I made it last night and could barely make myself stop eating the entire pan! (and this recipe makes alot!)

I ommitted the peas, just beacuse I don't care for them, and it was still a marvelous combination of flavors. The sauce really comes together with the final tablespoon of butter and cheese.