Americanized Pasta alla Pastora and Crostini

Pasture Pasta

A literal translation for Pasta alla Pastora would in fact be pasture pasta, but the usual translation is Shepherd’s Pasta. This dish was developed by Italian shepherds, who needed food that could be prepared while out in the pastures, and so the cuisine that developed around quick food made from a few simple, portable, ingredients became known as “alla Pastora.” I made this one even simpler by using common off the shelf, supermarket ingredients.

I formerly made my own ricotta cheese and Italian sausage, but soon enough got tired of the effort that went into something that is supposed to be simple. Here’s the result.


1/2 pound Country Sausage, aka Breakfast Sausage

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

Penne Pasta

Pasta Water

8 ounces Cottage Cheese

Grated Parmesan

Salt and Pepper

Make it Brown

First, thoroughly brown the Sausage in the olive oil, adding salted pasta water to form a sauce. This takes about as long as it takes to cook the pasta. When the pasta is to your liking, add it to the cooked sausage. Stir it a couple of times, and turn off the heat. It’s that simple.

Next, add the two cheeses, and stir until they melt into a creamy sauce. Taste for seasoning, and you’re done.

I also make some quick and dirty crostini, with homemade baguettes and some pre-blended Irish garlic and herbs butter. This whole thing is easy enough to make with one eye on the food, and the other one on the sheep.

Masonry Stove, aka Potager, Stew Stove

New, but not Improved

The old school outdoor kitchen just got even-older-school, as I just finished this potager, or French style masonry oven. It’s a simple enough device, with two fire chambers with holes at the far end, through which the heat escapes, and the food gets cooked. I call this French style because it most resembles existing ovens from the Continent. Check out the parody of the French cook in the English cartoon below.

English Satirical Cartoon, 1772

It is good to know that the severe case of cooking envy that afflicts the Brits is centuries old, but this cartoon’s claim to fame is the potager stove that the snuff snorting dandy is cooking on. The most efficient way to use one of these stoves is to shovel in hot coals from a fire, say, from a brick oven or fireplace. Snuff and a sword hanging on the wall are optional.

Drying Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Twenty Hours Later

This time of the summer is so hot that my outside labor is essentially done by ten or eleven in the morning. The rest of the day I am huddled in my workroom, or, such as today, staring at a computer monitor. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t outside work that I can’t do while I’m inside.

That would include dehydrating vegetables. My big pepper shaker full of dehydrated hot peppers has lost some of its zing since last year, and needed some help. When I saw these scotch bonnet peppers at the Festhalle, there was my answer.

Scotch bonnets are not to be trifled with. With a Scoville range of between 100,000 to 350,000 units, they are closing in on the blistering level. (Pepper sprays, for example, start at 2,000,000 Scoville.) Therefore, I wore gloves when I cut these in half and removed the stems and seeds. Then I threw them into the drying tray, and put them in our dehydrater.

After a couple of hours of drying without much result, and of thinking of how much carbon pollution was being produced by Alabama Power, at the same time, I decided to switch gears. Out to the solar panels they went.

UV Rating—Extreme

The peppers were propped up on clay pot feet supports for around a total of 18 hours, spread out over three days. The air circulation helped create the crunchy feel that a well dried pepper has, and these are the best I have seen. The only thing left to do is to grind them, and bring out the pizza.

Sourwood Mattarello (Rolling Pin) and Hanger

Honking Big Rolling Pin

A Matterello is a specialty Italian variety of rolling pin, used primarily to turn out wide sheets of pasta. Generally, the sizes run from two to four feet long, the longest widths used by professional pasta makers (Sfoglino). The one I made is a more overall useful length of about two and a half feet long.

The reason I chose to make one out of sourwood is two fold. The first is that it turns easily while green, like many hardwoods; the much more important one is that it has a very low T/R ratio, which means it is unlikely to split while drying–even at the pith, or center of the tree or limb.

The T/R ratio is the ratio of tangential to radial shrinkage, which for wood working purposes, should be as close to one as possible. This info is easily obtained for most species via a simple Google search. Species with very low T/R ratios are usually little used or non-commercial woods, such as Southern (evergreen) magnolia, and sourwood. Evergreen Magnolia has a T/R ratio of 1.2, and sourwood is 1.4.

My original intention was to make just a straight cylinder, until I realized that such a tool would be difficult to store. I finally realized that the more traditional design with a knob on each end is to hang the mattarello vertically. So I made a hanger as well.

Nice Fit

The hanger is Virginia juniper/red cedar, with juniper being a more accurate name. I drilled a one inch hole, sawed out the sides, trimmed the business parts with a paring chisel, and finished off with a carving knife. The finish of the mattarello is walnut oil wax, which makes it both exceptionally long and exceptionally fragrant.

Russian Slutsky Says Yes to Grain, No to Peace

From the website Deutsche Welle, the Voice of Germany, yesterday, comes this story about Russian politician/negotiator Leonid Slutsky, and his attempts to help make the Russian Federation fascist again. Here’s the quote:

“Russian negotiator rules out peace talks with Ukraine

Leonid Slutsky, a Russian lawmaker who took part in peace talks with Kyiv, said agreements over grain export from Ukraine will not lead Russia to resume negotiations with Ukraine over a possible cease fire.”

This is a food blog, and so any story about grain during an international shortage is fair game, especially if the only source is a Russian named Slutsky. Apparently DW could have used any of the negotiators for the story, but they picked the one whose first name is a yearly meteor shower, and whose last name is Slutsky.

They are so clever.

Brick Oven Rebuild, Part Five–Completed Masonry Work

Bigger is Better

The masonry work on the re-built brick oven is finito, and the oven has been getting a work out. We have cooked a few roasts, re-seasoned some cast iron, and churned out multiple pizzas, including six one day during the weekend of the fourth. And we still have that big stack of firewood on the west wall.

I haven’t shown all three walls, as the two side walls are identical, and the back wall is just a smaller version of the other two. The east side is an entirely different story. Here’s picture worthy of a contest.

A Brick Hutch for Giant Rabbits?

There are actually two projects going on over here. One is actually attached to the brick oven, but is not part of it. It is to serve an altogether different function. The old steel wood stove is soon to be attached to another part of the outdoor kitchen. Needless to say they all involve burning wood.

Anyone who can nail the purpose of each of these two units will be awarded an honorary certificate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Southern Using What You Got. I’ll add a heavy hint–think of something that Monticello and Mount Vernon have in common, and I don’t mean the Presidents.

A Box of Soup Tomatoes

Peas Sold Separately

“Soup Tomatoes” was an unknown term to me until a few years back, when I asked a vendor at the Festhalle what variety of tomatoes she was selling, and she responded “soup tomatoes.” Soon enough I found out that those were specially priced tomatoes for home canning, not a particular variety of tomatoes intended for soup. Now we look forward to the arrival of soup tomatoes every year.

Why? These are really just tomatoes that have an odd shape or blemish of some variety. They won’t fetch the premium price of perfect slicing tomatoes, which can go for as much as a buck a pound. Used for canning, prettiness is second to taste, and since none of these will ever live to the entrance age of Miss America Tomato, quantity is the key. All tomatoes look the same, after being run through a food mill.

The bottom line to this story is that this twenty five pound box of tomatoes went for ten bucks. All skin flints such as myself immediately see a mental image of a sign that says twenty five cents a pound. Through the food mill they go, and the puree, with salt and fresh basil added, goes into the jars, and gets topped off with some olive oil. Then we have a superior product at about 1/5 of the cost of a commercial one. Forget inflation–don’t worry, be happy, and buy some soup tomatoes.

Rain Lilies and Cyclamen

What a Summertime Downpour Can Do

June was a good month for rain, if you like it all at once. All but a fraction of our rain came in two days, followed by fryingly hot weeks of no rain at all. Near the first of the month we had a day of practically non-stop rain, with four+ inches recorded here (Birmingham had an all time record of seven+ inches that same day). Then we had two weeks without rain. Then one night after a day where every storm missed us by just a few miles, the rain came all at once, with .7″ in the space of thirty minutes or so.

Some sleepers awoke after that. Here are two who had a good drink at the same time–a Rain Lily and some Cyclamen. Both are my kind of bulbs, in that you plant them and then forget about them. No fertilizer needed, no irrigation needed. Just act surprised when they finally bloom.

Rain Lilies, members of the species Zephyranthes that bloom after a drenching, are all plants from the Americas. The pink variety is a native of Cuba, and thus benefits from a hurricane or two every summer, which as well benefits from our increasingly sub-tropical climate (nine months out of the year). We also grow the Southern native Atamasco Lily, a spring blooming plant that will naturalize in most areas of the South.

The Eurasian hardy Cyclamen is a whole other story. I planted the two most common species, along with some very fancy cultivars, beginning some twenty years ago, and they have surrounded two sides of our house. Technically they grow from plate-like corms, instead of scaly bulbs, and they grow larger and larger for upwards of a hundred years. In fact, just to the left of the pictured bloom, you can see the black surface of the corm, which appears to be at least eight inches wide. Their green leaves in the winter are an added benefit to the unexpected outbursts of blooms.

Another drenching is finally headed our way today, and besides the rain and cooler air, I have to guess what, when, and where, the next blooms will be.


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