Getting Personal - December 2012
Posted: Saturday, December 1, 2012
Years ago, I traveled to Figline Valdarno, Tuscany, Italy, to learn at the hands of Claudio Piantini and work in his charming ristorante, il Torre Guelfa. While Chef Claudio spoke little English outside the kitchen, he understood most of my "kitchen Italian" (typically mixed with a little French – which I don't know either). For delightful, ever-smiling Chef Piantini, I would do practically anything – and did. I recall spending long days in his kitchen frying hundreds of squash blossoms, cleaning pounds of porcini mushrooms, rolling and hand-forming ravioli for hours and baking and re-baking cantuccini di prato (biscotti) until it was perfect. One of the highlights of my stage in his restaurant were daily trips to the farmer's market, where I learned to truly appreciate the simplicity of fresh foods, produced locally and enjoyed in season. With the best quality olive oil, fresh herbs from his garden and a light touch, we transformed simple things like eggplant, grapes, almonds and eggs into sumptuous, luxurious dishes.
The recipe I am sharing in this chapter of "Getting Personal" is literally the first one Chef Claudio taught me, as a way of illustrating that perfection is often found in the most simple of recipes. While Penne alla Caritierre (loosely translated to "cart-drivers" penne) has its origins in peasant cooking, it's found on a surprising number of restaurant menus in Italy, testament to its mealtime magnificence. In Chef Claudio's kitchen the pasta was cooked in the sauce, and it truly imparts a different flavor than similar recipes where the pasta is cooked separately. It doesn't hurt that it only leaves one pan to clean up, either. If you find it too spicy, you can edit out some of the peppers, garlic or even parsley, which lends a surprising amount of heat due to the amount used.
Chef Claudio's personal kitchen was also where I learned to properly make risotto, using the right kind of rice and without stirring it obsessively and anxiously the way most Americans do. "Non toccare!" he would yell to me whenever I would approach the pan too soon. Liberated from fear, I've been playing with risotto ever since and have come to regard it as a personal specialty, even teaching classes on making it properly. I hope you'll find success with my fuss-free method. You'll find it, and plenty of variations to inspire your own personal recipe in "Cooking Class: Risotto for Beginners" in this issue of In Touch with Kowalski's.
4 dried árbol chiles
Put first three ingredients in a food processor; process until finely minced. Heat olive oil in an extra-large sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté parsley mixture in oil until fragrant; do not allow garlic to brown. Add crushed tomatoes to the pan; increase heat to high and bring sauce to a boil. Add dried pasta to the sauce with enough water to just cover the noodles. Reduce heat slightly to medium-low. Simmer until pasta reaches desired tenderness (17-21 min.); continuing to add water as needed to keep noodles just barely submerged. Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve immediately, garnished with cheese. Serves 6.
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