Monday, May 31, 2010

PASTA E CECI: Hot & Cold

Romans love their pasta e ceci so much they’ve figured out a way to make this cold weather comfort food work for them in the heat of the summer.  They call it pasta e ceci freddo, the exact same dish served, well, not exactly cold, but at room temperature.
With that in mind, one very hot day here in Florida, I decided to ignore the 90 degree temperature outside and cooked up a pot of this classic Roman soup  using the bag of ceci I had just brought back from Rome.
At the end though I set the AC at 65, threw on a jacket, and ate it steaming hot. The next day - because it really does get better as it sits - I just took the chill off in the microwave, topped with a dollop of olive oil and a few spoons of grated parmigiano-reggiano, and found the flavors to be even more intense and satisfying in this mildly warm state.

Call them ceci, chickpeas, or garbanzos, if you look at these little legumes (or pulses) closely and use some imagination, you'll see that they resemble little ram heads which is how they got their Latin name, cicer arietinum, from aries, meaning ram.

If you're not going to Italy any time soon, you can order exceptional Umbrian chickpeas (they really are better than what you'll find in your grocery store) at Gustiamo.

(pasta and chickpea soup)
2 cups dried chickpeas
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 large garlic cloves, one whole, one minced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
2-3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 cup canned plum tomatoes, chopped
8 oz. (or slightly less) dried pasta (spaghetti broken in pieces or quadrucci)
1 chili pepper (peperoncini) (optional)
salt to taste
Cover chick peas with cold water and baking soda and soak 8 to 12 hours.
Drain and rinse chickpeas.  Put chickpeas in large pot with about 6 quarts water and one whole garlic clove.  After it comes to a boil, lower heat, partially cover and cook until tender, about 2 hours. Drain chickpeas and reserve the cooking water for later.
Puree about 3/4 cup of the cooked chickpeas.
Return pot to stove, add olive oil, minced garlic, rosemary, and minced anchovies and saute gently over medium heat, being careful not to burn - about 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes and one cup of cooking water. Add the peperoncino and a few teaspoons salt to taste and cook until tomatoes are softened, about 15 minutes.
Add chickpeas, the pureed chickpeas, and enough cooking water to just cover the ingredients.  Stir occasionally while cooking for about another 15 minutes.  Add the pasta and cook only until it becomes al dente.  Check for salt, adding more if necessary.
Pour into individual serving bowls, top each portion with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and grated parmigiano-reggiano to taste.
This soup is even better the second day - or even the third - hot or cold.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Sicilian Import: Filippo La Mantia at the Hotel Majestic

Ingredients are Sicilian (minus garlic and onions), ambience is modern hotel elegance, buffet lunch an ensamble of Chef Filippo La Mantia's own creations.

While Lo Chef and Raul Bova (star of Under the Tuscan Sun) were chatting by the window, Susan Van Allen (author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go) and I, unfazed by such luminosity,  had one of everything.

Here a seasonal favorite, and on the menu of almost every restaurant in Rome at this time of year, fava beans presented as a thick luscious soup.

Sicilian desserts truly take the cake in my book for best Italian dolci.  On my plate - and it was all mine -torte di mele (apple cake), strawberry frappe, cream of pistachio (consistency of pudding), a true cannolo, and then the mini cassata - veramente la ciliegina sulla torta.

Now I can only imagine what it must be like in the evening for dinner.