Thursday, October 28, 2010

"In the Kitchen with Love" by Sophia Loren - Baked Pasta

Date I made this recipe: October 24, 2010

In the Kitchen with Love by Sophia Loren
Published by: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1972
Recipe: Baked Pasta I – p. 42-43

A week ago Monday was my Aunt Rose’s 92nd birthday. Wow—what an accomplishment. She’s closing in on her mother’s record (her mother being my Grandma Vita who lived to be 97 years old). In her later years, my grandmother forgot how old she was and locked and loaded on age 85 (or 86 or 87) depending on when you asked her. “Grandma, how old are you?” we asked. “You believe-a me? Eighty seven. You believe-a me?”

Like we were going to tell her we didn’t!

At any rate, I felt like I should cook something Italian in honor of my aunt (technically, we are Sicilian) and although I have quite the collection of Italian cookbooks, most just didn’t do much for me when I looked through them—at least as far as birthday-appropriate recipes went. But then I saw the cookbook (one of two) written by actress Sophia Loren and thought “Perfect!”

My aunt, like Sophia Loren, is beautiful inside and out. And call me biased but in the cooking department, there is no comparison. Oh, I’m sure Sophia is no slouch but she’s not my aunt.

Now had I really wanted to pay homage to my aunt, I would have made her sauce recipe or at least one of her pasta dishes from our family cookbook. But as simple (and delicious) as her sauce recipe is, I’m not ready to share that yet. So you have to accept Sophia as your substitute du jour. It bites, I know!

Another thing that my aunt and Sophia have in common is that food coming out of their kitchens is made with love—just like the title of Sophia’s book says. As I’m writing this, I am harkening back to all the fabulous meals we ate when we visited (my grandmother lived with my Aunt Rose and Uncle Alex). Why I wasn’t 1000 pounds is beyond me. (My grandma always encouraged us to eat – “mangia, mangia” – because in her eyes we were too skinny – ha!). But contrary to popular belief, most of the food Italians eat is not fattening. Delicious, yes; fattening, no. Of course, how much you eat in one sitting makes all the difference!

Sophia’s cookbook has a range of delicious-sounding dishes but in the end, I decided that simple was better and so settled on baked pasta. Oh, I toyed with making a dish with vermicelli noodles (my last name, Verme, means “worm” in Italian and “vermicelli” means little worm) but didn’t really like the rest of the ingredients.

The number one dish I really wanted to make, and have for years, is a pasta and eggplant recipe. You see years and years (and years and years ago), this recipe was featured in and article and photo shoot about Sophia in Good Housekeeping Magazine. For whatever reason, that photo and recipe stuck in my head, particularly the noodles since they are long and crimped and I had never seen anything like that before. But as much as I would have loved to make that dish, my husband is not fond of eggplant and so there went that. (But let me just say that this dislike only means that every Christmas when my family breaks out the caponata (an appetizer containing eggplant) that’s all the more for me!)

Sophia’s recipes are all written in prose and so creating a shopping list was a little challenging. As it is, the first grocery store I went to was out of fresh basil and I completely forgot about it at the next store and so used dried. And to my amazement, Sophia didn’t include garlic in her sauce recipe. I mean – what the heck is that all about? (For the record, Aunt Rose uses garlic but one must be careful. If you move beyond sautéing it to browning it, it will become bitter).

So anyway…belated birthday wishes, Aunt Rose! (Of course I sent her a card—I mean, as if…). This recipe is good but still pales in comparison to your cooking.

As grandma would say “Mangia, mangia!”

(By the way, one of my favorite episodes of I Love Lucy was when Lucy and company were in Italy while back in New York, Little Ricky celebrated his birthday. Lucy, of course, was upset at missing Little Ricky's big day. In an attempt to cheer Lucy up, one of the little boys who shined shoes at the hotel announced “She’s-a my birthday, too.” Lucy then decided to throw him a party complete with presents. Well, deciding if some is good, more is better, the little boy recruited all of his friends to come to the party where they all announced “She’s-a my birthday, too!” I have seen this episode a hundred times and it is always funny - always!) (And just so you know, for me, October 9th was "She's a my birthday, too!")

Baked Pasta I – serves 6 or so
1 onion, minced
1 large can diced tomatoes (I used Pomi a boxed, chopped tomato)
1 8-oz ball mozzarella
Fresh basil leaves (or a handful of dried if you don’t have fresh)
½ teaspoon of sugar (or more, to taste)
Pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper
1 pound penne pasta (or rigatoni or ziti)
Olive oil (for sautéing)
Grated cheese, preferably pecorino but Parmesan is okay (about 4 oz or so)
Bread crumbs (for sprinkling over the top—maybe a couple of tablespoons)
Small chucks of sausage (If desired—although note, she doesn’t say whether the sausage should be cooked or not and so I passed on using it.)

Sophia says to use 1 tablespoon olive oil to sauté your minced onion. I think that’s too much. I always just coat the bottom of the pan with oil and then put in the onion.

Heat the oil over medium heat then sauté (or brown but I prefer sauté) the onion. Then add tomato pulp (Sophia recommends you run whole tomatoes through a sieve but I tend to go with diced tomatoes for less fuss, less muss). She says to use ½ to 2/3 cup per person; I used 1 large box (24 oz) of chopped tomatoes as it just seemed easier. This makes your sauce a little thicker so adjust according to your taste levels (i.e. you might want to use a blender or Cuisinart to puree the tomatoes).

Add the salt, pepper and sugar and cook over moderate heat for about 20 minutes.

When the sauce is ready, cut the mozzarella into thin short slices then prepare the basil leaves by rubbing them with a clean, dry cloth.

Boil the pasta as directed and then drain. Add a little bit of the sauce to the pasta and stir.

Grease the bottom of a fireproof casserole with oil or butter (or lard, if you have it) and dust with bread crumbs. Add one half of the pasta to the casserole, then more of the sauce, then mozzarella, then some of the basil, grated cheese and sausage if you decided to use it. Cover this with the remainder of the pasta, pour over the rest of the sauce, add a little more cheese, a “veil” of breadcrumbs on top, and finish off with a few drops of oil or a pat of butter or lard.

Put in a hot oven (I set mine to 350) for a few minutes, so that the mozzarella will begin to melt and “bind everything to perfection.” I started with 15 minutes, but the cheese wasn’t melted, so I went another 10 and then decided enough was enough – let’s eat!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can you please give me the recipe for sophia loren's meat loaf, that is in the book called "In the kitchen with love." I would really appreciate it. Can you e-mail me the recipe at: Thank You