I think in a former life I must have been Italian. I have a love for Italian food like no other. I could watch Mario Batallicook forever. I love the way he uses ingredients from the Italian region he is cooking from. His depth and breadth of Italian food knowledge is amazing. My husband and I traveled to Italy a few summers ago and spent about 7 days in the Lazio Region which is home to Rome. Nowadays, the Lazio Region is the hub of industrial activity in Italy. We were also able to visit the island of Capri in the Campania Region. The Campania region is of course where Pizza comes from, specifically from the city of Naples. The Campania region is where tomatoes got their start as well. Neopolitans were the first to use tomatoes in food. And although Limoncello, a delicious lemon liquor, originally got it’s start in the Sorrento region, Capri Island is very well known for its production of beautiful lemons and thus Limoncello.
I have always enjoyed making my own italian food at home. Of course italian food goes far beyond spagetti and pizza and I have made a number of dishes. Today I am going to start you with two simple dishes that are familiar enough, with just a little twist, so that you will hopefully try these out yourself.
First we are going to talk about handmade pasta. You can actually make all kinds of pasta at home with very few ingredients and very few tools. Pasta can actually be made with just your hands, a rolling pin, and a knife. Of course a pasta machine is a great tool to have. I have two types of pasta makers.
The first is a Ronco Electric Pasta Machine. It looks like this:
I also have a traditional stainless steel pasta roller.
(click the picture to purchase one through Amazon)
Bothmachines are great. The electric machine comes with all sorts of dies for making different shapes of pasta but is a little loud and a little difficult to clean. The hand crank machine is limited to spaghetti, fettuccine, and sheet pasta like lasagna, ravioli and tortellini. For this recipe I will be using the hand crank machine but you can make it without it.
Sweet Basil Noodles
1 1/2 – 2 cups of fresh basil leaves
3 cups organic all purpose flour
3 organic eggs
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. water
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Using a food processor, process basil until it is finely chopped. Add the flour and process until blended. Add eggs, oil and water and process until a dough ball forms. Remove and knead on a floured surface for several minutes. The dough will seem very tough and kindof rubbery which is fine as long as it isn’t too dry. If it is too dry add a little water. Cover dough and allow it to rest about 30 minutes. Divide into four balls.
If using a hand crank pasta machine, process the dough beginning on setting one. I usually run the dough through setting one 8-10 times folding the dough between each pass. You will now run it through each setting in one long sheet until desired thickness is achieved. I ran mine through to setting seven. Repeat with all four balls. At this point I usually like to lay the sheets out to dry for another 30 minutes. I find this helps keep the noodles from sticking later on. After the sheets have rested you can cut them into manageable lengths and run them through the wide noodle cutter on your machine. If you have a pasta drying rack you need to drape the noodles and dry at least one hour. I do not have a pasta rack so I looselypile my noodles on a cookie sheet and toss with a little flour to prevent them from sticking.
If you do not have a pasta machine simply roll your dough to a 1/16th inch thickness on a floured surface. Roll up jelly-roll style and cut into 1/4 inch strips. Repeat same drying process listed above.
When you are ready to cook the noodles bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the noodles. Stir slightlyand then cover to bring back to a boil. Fresh noodles cook in a fraction of the time and only need to boil for 4-5 minutes so watch them carefully. After draining the noodles, toss with butter or olive oil to prevent sticking.
Sweet and Spicy Sausage Sauce
2 tbs. olive oil
1 Medium onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
2 Links – sweet Italian sausage
1 link – hot Italian sausage
1 28 oz. can San Marzano Whole Tomatoes (Cento is a good brand)
1 14. oz can dice fire roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen is a good brand)
1/4 cup Red Wine (can be omitted)
Salt and Pepper
2 Bay leaves
1 large bunch of basil, chopped
Red Pepper Flake to taste
In a large pot heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until translucent. Remove the casing from the Hot Italian sausage and break into small pieces. Add to the pot and break up further with a wooden spoon. Leave the casing on the sweet sausage and slice into bite size chunks. Add to the pot. Cook until sausage is cooked through, stirring frequently. Add about 2 tbs. of tomato paste and stir. De-glaze the pan using 1/4 cup of red wine. Add both cans of tomatoes. Using the wooden spoon break up the whole tomatoes. Continue breaking these down throughout the cooking process. Add 2 bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste and and red pepper flake to taste. Allow sauce to simmer at least 1 hour stirring every 10-15 minutes. Immediately before serving add the chopped basil and a sprinkle of fresh ground parmesean cheese.