Italian Food in a Tube

Pasta, Please

Having received three books on Tuscan cooking for Christmas, I am now even more against processed or imported food than before, and in favor of nothing but local food. However, there is always an exception to every rule, and these Italian ingredients in a tube are mine. The packaging is minimal, the product stays fresh forever, and these will turn any bland dish into something tasty.

The Pesto paste is basil, sunflower and olive oil, salt, pine nuts, and garlic. Having made pesto in the past with sunflower kernels instead of pine nuts, due to the cost of pine nuts, this is a winner. A small amount of this is all that’s needed in most pasta sauces.

The Garlic puree is, well, pureed garlic with oil. I grow garlic, but sometimes a tube snatched out of the fridge is much easier than chopping and smashing. It is also very inexpensive, and there is no jar to clutter up things.

My favorite, however, is the tomato paste in a tube. Even our local supermarket carries one brand of this. The triple concentrated version in the picture is a superb product. I use it to fortify sauces made from our sometimes watery local tomatoes, instead of cooking the sauce down for an inordinate amount of time. The double concentrated paste will work as well, but has less of a punch.

So there we have the Italian flag, which is often referred to as basil, garlic, and tomato, because of the colors of three favorite Italian ingredients (sometimes mozzarella is used instead of garlic). All this just makes me crave for a pizza margherita.

Tortelli alla Maremmana

A Healthy Plate of Pasta

Having become fascinated with the parallels between Tuscan and Southern cooking, I decided to make a dish that has entire food festivals dedicated to it–tortelli, or tordelli. They are made in a bewildering number of fashions, and with many local fillings, so I ad libbed and made my own version, with some honking big tortelli, with a sauce approximating a Tuscan meat sauce. The result is incredibly rich and tasty.

Meat Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes

This is a typical meat sauce, and the quantities are determined by how many tortelli you need to sauce. I only had four, so I used fewer tomatoes, and piled on the meat. Saute some onion and pepper in olive oil, and then add the fresh tomatoes (I milled mine in a food mill, so they were peeled and seeded at the same time). The Tuscans would use chopped meat in a sauce like this, but I had homemade Italian Sausage, and some hamburger I ground myself, so I browned those in a skillet, and added those to the sauce. My customizing was to add some oregano, and two actual Italian ingredients, both of which come in tubes like toothpaste tubes, which are tomato paste and garlic paste. Naturally, there is also salt and pepper in it.

Fall Greens

The filling for the tortlli is as simple as you want to make it, but I used the traditional greens and ricotta combo. The Tuscans use everything from spinach to thistle, but we had fresh kale at the Festhalle farmer’s market, so I went with that. I wilted it in olive oil, shredded it, and added it to some homemade ricotta.

Lots of Filling

The judgement call comes when you decide how big to make the tortelli, and in what shape. I went by the Tuscan saying that tortelli should have a “wide footprint,” so I made mine big enough that just two would cover a plate. I also used a technique that I had never seen before, that was on an Italian website. I started with homemade sheet pasta.

DIY Tortelli

I cut fairly wide strips of this pasta, about twice as long as wide. The next trick is to put a spoon full of filling on one side, and then fold the pasta over itself. This eliminates the fiddly business of cutting the pasta into squares, making the tortelli, and then trimming them yet again with ravioli cutter. I just put water around the bottom edge, and used the back of a fork to form a waterproof seal. Tortelli should be boiled in water as salty as the sea for ten to twelve minutes, strained, plated and topped with sauce. Add some grated parmesan, and have your own festival. We did.

Southern Vegetable Soup

Southern Vegetable Soup, Just getting Started

Here’s an old family recipe, created out of the necessity of eating only vegetables. As it so happens, it turns out to be, and I am actually understating this here, unbelievably good. Our vegetables play well together.

I have Died, and Gone to Vegetable Heaven

Create your own version out of whatever you have, but this is ours. Using what you got is the secret to good food. Quantities are based on how much you have.

Ingredients

Chicken Stock

1 Vidalia Onion, diced

Butter Beans

Field Peas

Tomatoes

Okra. sliced

Sweet Corn, cut from the cob

Salt and Pepper

Except for the seasoning, ingredients are cooked in that order. This is truly a dish of high summer, when all these things are in season at once. I now mill my tomatoes in a food mill, so the okra seeds get to be the star. The kicker is when all this is cooked, add:

Wide Egg Noodles

The extra starch does some magical something or other, and adds a little who knows what. Wait, that’s called flavor. Ideally, serve with a hot piece of:

Corn Bread

We’re talking a real melting pot here, Southern Cucina Povera. We freeze some for the winter, and days when you think it will never be warm again. Freeze it without the noodles, and add those only when you cook it. This soup is the boss, the mac daddy, and the kiss my butt on twentieth street shut your mouth cheap talk at the table stopper. That last one is something of a Birmingham thing.

Italiano

Believe it are not, according to latitude, we are farther south than Italy. However, Italian food can be simple and complex at the same time, just like Southern. Much of our cuisine is also based on la cucina povera, or poor people’s food. So here’s a Southern take on a few Italian classics.

P.S. Buy that book.