Paccheri with Mushrooms, Gorgonzola, and Mascarpone Cream

Paccheri are undoubtedly the most majestic kind of short pasta one can find! With a diameter of 1 ½ inch (4 cm), thick walls, and a rough surface, each guarantees an unbeatable bite, or two!

The Paccheri shape originates in the Campania region of Italy, which is also where you find Gragnano – a town near Naples recognized as the capital of dried pasta. As you can imagine, when I stumbled upon a box of Paccheri made in Gragnano, I couldn’t resist!

However, I was still waiting for inspiration for the right sauce that would bring out the fantastic character of this pasta. As a northern Italian, now that it’s colder outside, I naturally drifted towards creamy mushrooms. But that wasn’t enough. So I added Gorgonzola for a pleasant blue kick and Mascarpone for extra creaminess and depth. The resulting recipe is very straightforward, quick to make, and very forgiving in the amounts, even in the timing.

Ingredients for 2 servings

  • 5 oz Paccheri (150 g) (can also use Rigatoni or other short dried pasta of sufficient presence)
  • 1 Tbsp coarse salt
  • 5-6 chestnut mushrooms (about 100 g), sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine
  • 2 Tbsp Mascarpone (about 75 g)
  • 2 Tbsp Gorgonzola (about 75 g)
  • 1/4 cup double cream
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano, grated
  • table salt

Preparation

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a Tbsp of coarse salt per 2 liters of water.
2. In a large nonstick pan, heat up oil and butter, add the crushed garlic.

3. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan and roast them at high heat.
4. Continue sautéing the mushrooms until they have softened.

5. Start boiling the pasta for the time written on the box (usually around 14 minutes), which corresponds to an al-dente cooking level.
6. Add a splash of white wine to the mushrooms and let evaporate completely.

7. When the pasta is 5 minutes from ready, go back to the mushrooms, remove the garlic, and season lightly with salt.
8. Add the Mascarpone, Gorgonzola, and cream.

9. Still keeping very low heat, add ½ of the grated Parmigiano and mix everything into a creamy sauce. Note: should the sauce become too thick, add some of the pasta water.
10. When the pasta is ready, drain it quickly and add it to the pan with the sauce. Note: save some of the pasta water by draining the pasta back into the pan where it was boiled.

11. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for a couple of minutes, adding some of the pasta water to ensure the sauce remains silky smooth. This won’t overcook the pasta.
12. Plate gently into preheated bowls, then sprinkle with the rest of the Parmigiano.

Paccheri with Mushrooms, Gorgonzola, and Mascarpone Cream

Yield: 2 servings

Total Time: 30 minutes

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Paccheri with Mushrooms, Gorgonzola, and Mascarpone Cream

Ingredients

  • 5 oz Paccheri (150 g) (can also use Rigatoni or other short dried pasta of sufficient presence)
  • 1 Tbsp coarse salt
  • 5-6 chestnut mushrooms (about 100 g), sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine
  • 2 Tbsp Mascarpone (about 75 g)
  • 2 Tbsp Gorgonzola (about 75 g)
  • 1/4 cup double cream
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano, grated
  • table salt

Preparation

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a Tbsp of coarse salt per 2 liters of water.
  2. In a large nonstick pan, heat up oil and butter, add the crushed garlic.
  3. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan and roast them at high heat.
  4. Continue until the mushrooms have softened.
  5. Start boiling the pasta for the time written on the box (usually around 14 minutes).
  6. Add a splash of white wine to the pan and let it evaporate completely.
  7. When the pasta is 5 minutes from ready, go back to the mushrooms pan, remove the garlic, and season them lightly with salt.
  8. Then add the Mascarpone, the Gorgonzola, and the cream.
  9. Still keeping very low heat, add 1/2 of the grated Parmigiano and mix everything into a creamy sauce. Note: should the sauce become too thick, add some of the pasta water.
  10. When the pasta is ready, drain it quickly and add it to the pan with the sauce. Note: save some of the pasta water by draining the pasta back into the pan where it was boiled.
  11. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for a couple of minutes, adding some of the pasta water to ensure the sauce remains silky smooth. This won't overcook the pasta.
  12. Plate gently into preheated bowls, then sprinkle with the rest of the Parmigiano.
https://www.disgracesonthemenu.com/2021/12/paccheri-with-mushrooms-gorgonzola-and-mascarpone-cream.html

[Thoughts on the Table – 59] Introducing Australian Restaurateur Simon Pagotto

Join me to meet restaurant owner, and Italian food ambassador, Simon Pagotto. During the episode, Simon talks about his Italian roots, his deeply Australian upbringing, and how his discovery of traditional Italian food led him to embrace authenticity in his trattoria, even against the general expectations of his patrons.

In our exchange, we touch on several hot topics including:

In the episode, Simon also mentions Marcella Hazan’s fundamental cookbooks on traditional Italian cooking.

The music in the episode is by www.purple-planet.com.

   

Disgraces on the Menu Turned Six – Time to Blow Out the Candles Again!

Another year has elapsed – this blog just turned six!! As usual, I’d like to stop for a moment and look back at the last twelve months of blogging and podcasting. Before I do that, I would like to thank all who have been supporting me by reading, by listening, and especially by sharing their thoughts via personal messages and comments. It means a lot to me, please keep sending your feedback!

Now, back to my “retrospective”, so to speak. Podcasting seems to have become my main focus. This past year, I have published ten episodes featuring amazing new and returning guests: Hannah Solomon, Diana Zahuranec, Rick Zullo, Gino De Blasio, Domenica Marchetti (twice), David Scott Allen, Silvia Arduino, Alida from My Little Italian Kitchen, and Giulia Scarpaleggia, thanks for participating and for putting up with me and my questions! Recently, I also began posting full transcripts of some of my favorite episodes, and narrations of meaningful articles, starting with Il Mercato – the Tradition of the Italian Street Market.

During the year, I posted seven new recipes for as many favorite dishes: some old staples (Valdostana Onion Soup, Squash Risotto, Passato di Verdure, Oven Roasted Vegetables Stripes), and some preparations I recently discovered and fell in love with (Pesto alla Trapanese, Spaetzle-style Passatelli, Chard and Spinach Gnudi).

I also wrote three articles on food and culture; two were published as guest posts: Dried Pasta vs. Fresh Pasta (for Experience Italy Travels) and The Basic Rules of Italian Food (for Once Upon a Time in Italy), which was written after consulting with several Italian food bloggers. The third article, which was published on this blog, deals with Personal Space and the Italians, a topic I have been meaning to discuss for a while. All three posts were great fun to write, I hope you enjoyed them.

I am also happy to have connected with five more bloggers who, like me, talk about the authentic food of continental Italy. Of course, I promptly gave them the Cannolo Award. David from Cocoa and Lavender, Luca Marchiori from Chestnuts and Truffles, Coco from Coco’s Bread & Co – Eating Healthy, Giulia Scarpaleggia from Jul’s Kitchen, and Viola Buitoni from Viola’s Italian Kitchen, congratulations again!

Finally, I’d like to add a note on a technical detail. Last October, this blog was migrated to WordPress! I can’t say it was a trivial task, but the process was much smoother than I initially thought – a testament to the platform and its amazing community. I hope you are enjoying the new layout and functionality.

All in all, year six has been a great year, with lots of new connections and ideas. I am very much looking forward to year seven with the same enthusiasm as when I started in 2010!

Thanks again and… Salute!

[Italy: Instructions for Use] Dried Pasta vs. Fresh Pasta

It has been a long time since my last post on the travel website Experience Italy Travel, but I continue to host a section called “Italy: Instruction for Use” where I talk about Italian food and culture, and where I share useful tips aimed at first-time travelers to Italy. In this informative post, I go over the difference between fresh pasta and dried pasta, explaining why there isn’t really a debate on freshness when deciding between the two. Interested to know more? Click here for the full article.

Vodka Pasta (Made Vegetarian)

I’ve been away for so long that I feel almost ashamed of myself! Luckily, this is not sufficient to stop me from posting again 🙂

As you can see from the pictures below, I’m cooking in a different kitchen 🙂 – this is part of the reason for my prolonged absence: we have moved to a new apartment and I haven’t been cooking much lately, let alone blogging!

This quick and simple pasta recipe (adapted from the Silver Spoon) is another Italian classic although it’s made with vodka, a classic Russian spirit. Vodka pasta traditionally contains ham, but it can be omitted without taking too much away from the original flavor. As always when cooking with liqueurs and spirits, it has to be noted that any alcoholic content ends up evaporating completely. What is left, however, is more than the drink’s flavor – alcohol as a solvent has the ability to extract aromatic compounds from other ingredients (including some that don’t mix with water), increasing the overall flavor of the dish.

Vodka Pasta (Made Vegetarian)

Yield: 2 servings

Total Time: 25 minutes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Vodka Pasta (Made Vegetarian)

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup cream (33% fat)
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 2 cups penne rigate (dried pasta)
  • salt and pepper

Preparation

  1. While bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil, finely chop the parsley.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan, then add the tomato paste and the parsley.
  3. Cook for 10 minutes at low heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, start cooking the pasta.
  4. Mix in the cream and the vodka, then continue cooking until the vodka evaporates completely and the sauce thickens again. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. When the pasta is a couple of minutes from being ready, drain it quickly and finish cooking it in the sauce. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley.
https://www.disgracesonthemenu.com/2012/09/vodka-pasta-made-vegetarian.html

Handmade Tagliolini with Mushrooms

Most Italians would be perfectly happy to eat pasta every day, and some probably do! Everyday pasta is normally dried durum pasta, delicious when of good quality and properly cooked, and also convenient as it can be stored for months in the cupboard. Fresh pasta, on the other hand, is generally regarded as more sophisticated, and it’s more likely to be found on restaurant menus. This recipe describes how to make ‘tagliolini’ from scratch without a pasta machine, and then serve it with a simple wine mushroom sauce. ‘Tagliolini’ is a kind of ‘tagliatelle,’ and is similarly named from the verb ‘tagliare,’ to cut.

Fresh pasta has a different texture and flavor than dried pasta also because of the different ingredients. Eggs are frequently added (most fresh pasta is labeled: ‘pasta all’uovo’) and all-purpose flour is often used instead of durum wheat flour. This is especially true when fresh pasta is made by hand since durum flour is harder to work into shape.

Handmade Tagliolini with Mushrooms

Yield: 2 servings

Total Time: 1 hour

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Handmade Tagliolini with Mushrooms

Ingredients

     For the tagliolini

    • 100 g (3/4 cup) of flour
    • 1 egg
    • a pinch of salt (1/16 of a tsp)

     For the mushroom sauce

    • 2 cloves of garlic, each peeled and cut into 2 or 3 pieces
    • 5 or 6 medium-sized cremini mushrooms, sliced
    • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
    • a splash of white wine
    • 1/2 cup of double-cream
    • salt & pepper

     For the plating

    • 1/8 cup grated Parmigiano
    • a handful of Italian parsley leaves, minced
    • black pepper, ground

    Preparation

       For the tagliolini

      1. Using your hands, mix the ingredients together (2).
      2. Add just enough warm water (2 o 3 teaspoons) to form a compact, hard ball.
      3. Kneed for a couple of minutes (3).
      4. Have the dough rest, covered in plastic wrap, for 30 minutes at room temperature.
      5. As the dough rests, start bringing a large pot of salty water to a boil (see Cooking Pasta 101) and prepare the sauce.

       For the mushroom sauce

      1. Roast the garlic in the olive oil at medium heat (a) until golden.
      2. Add the cremini mushrooms. Roast them until they soften and start to release some liquid (b).
      3. Add a splash of white wine and wait until it evaporates fully.
      4. Remove the garlic and add the cream. Season with salt and simmer for a few minutes (c).
      5. Turn off the heat and put a lid on the pan to keep the sauce warm and moist.
      6. Mince the parsley and grate the Parmigiano in preparation for the plating.
      7. Unwrap the dough and proceed to roll and cut the tagliolini as shown in the video below.

       To complete the dish

      1. Warm up the sauce adding some pasta water to rehydrate it if necessary.
      2. Boil the pasta for 2 minutes stirring gently (it'll start floating in about a minute).
      3. Drain the pasta quickly and toss it into the pan with the sauce. Mix gently.
      4. Serve in bowls, sprinkle with Parmigiano, parsley, and some ground black pepper.
      5. Enjoy!
      https://www.disgracesonthemenu.com/2012/03/handmade-mushroom-tagliolini.html

      Note: This traditional technique makes use of the rolling pin to stretch the dough, as opposed to just pressing it. This process takes a bit of time to master, but it’s easy when making a small batch of noodles. Preparations like ravioli and tortellini are a lot harder to do by hand because they require a thinner dough.

      Baked Shells Pasta with Ricotta and Spinach

      As mentioned in the Pasta 101 article, baked pasta has an important role in Italian cuisine. For this cooking style, larger cuts of pasta are layered or stuffed with filling and baked in a pan along with a sauce. The most known examples are lasagna (sheets of egg noodles, layered with Bolognese sauce and Parmigiano), and cannelloni (pasta tubes with ricotta and spinach or meat filling, covered in béchamel and/or tomato sauce). Baked shells pasta, however, would come in at the third place 🙂

      Baked pasta dishes can be made with either dried or fresh pasta. When dried pasta is used, it often needs to be partially pre-cooked by boiling it briefly in salted water. For big cuts like lasagna sheets or cannelloni, this is quite time-consuming as the pieces need to be cooked a few at a time or they tend to stick to each other. Alternatively, “oven-ready” pasta can be put directly into the oven as long as the sauce is sufficiently watery (the excess moisture will be absorbed by the pasta as it cooks). Fresh pasta never needs pre-boiling.

      To ensure proper cooking, it’s often recommended to cover the baking pan tightly with tinfoil, and then remove it part way through the cooking. This is especially necessary when using oven-ready pasta.

      Texture-wise, baked pasta is very different from boiled pasta. Because of the prolonged cooking times and the higher temperatures reached in the oven, the parts that are covered in sauce turn softer, and those that are exposed to the air become gummier or even crunchy. These modifications and the blending between the pasta and the sauce and filling result in a completely different pasta experience.

      Unlike boiled pasta, baked pasta reheats very well – and reheating sometimes even helps develop more flavor (some Italians purposely bake their lasagna the day before!)

      Baked Shells Pasta with Ricotta and Spinach

      Yield: 4-6 servings

      Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

      Prep Time: 40 minutes

      Cook Time: 40 minutes

      Baked Shells Pasta with Ricotta and Spinach

      Ingredients

      • 250 g quality, dried conchiglioni (big shells)
      • 300 g fresh spinach (frozen spinach can also be used)
      • 500 g fresh ricotta
      • 700 g strained tomatoes
      • 50 g heavy cream
      • 100 g Parmigiano
      • 1 egg
      • 20 g unsalted butter
      • salt and pepper

      Preparation

      1. Cook the spinach in a large pot, covered with a lid, at medium-high heat, without any water for 5-8 minutes.
      2. If using frozen spinach, just thaw them and heat them up.
      3. Mix ricotta, egg, Parmigiano, plus some salt and pepper.
      4. Then add the cooked spinach, chopped and squeezed, and mix.
      5. Meanwhile, boil the pasta in salty water for 2/3 of the cooking time on the box. If using fresh pasta, skip this step.
      6. Drain and let the pasta cool off on a towel, then stuff every shell with a tablespoon of filling. Lay them on the baking pan previously coated with butter.
      7. Mix the strained tomatoes with the heavy cream and some salt, then pour on the pasta. Add the butter in small chunks.
      8. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 °F (180 °C) covered in tin foil, then for another 10 uncovered. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmigiano.
      https://www.disgracesonthemenu.com/2011/10/baked-shells-pasta-with-ricotta-and.html

      Bell Pepper Pasta

      Italians rarely get tired of a good tomato sauce, but when they do they often resort to a tomato sauce variation. This recipe is based on the simple addition of roasted bell peppers, and of chili for some heat. The resulting sauce is great on pasta, but it also doubles as a tasty dip for toasted bread. The peppers are sliced, roasted in olive oil and then added to a tomato base. If the skins are unwanted or if a smoother texture is desired, the cooked peppers can be strained in a food mill.

      Bell Pepper Pasta

      Yield: 2 servings

      Total Time: 40 minutes

      Prep Time: 5 minutes

      Cook Time: 35 minutes

      Bell Pepper Pasta

      Ingredients

      • 1 cup tomato sauce
      • 2 small bell peppers, red or yellow (seeded and sliced)
      • 1 tablespoon olive oil
      • half of a fresh chili (minced) or 1 teaspoon of chili flakes
      • 140 g dried pasta (e.g.: farfalle, fusilli, rigatoni)
      • a sprinkle of Parmigiano (freshly grated, optional)
      • salt

      Preparation

      1. In a non-stick pan, roast the pepper in olive oil along with the fresh chili (if using it) for 5 minutes at high.
      2. Lower the heat, add the chili flakes (if using them) and cook for 15 minutes covered, adjust the salt.
      3. Strain the peppers in a food mill.
      4. Collect the pulp and discard the skins.
      5. Put the pepper purée back in the non-stick pan and add the tomato sauce.
      6. Cook for another 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
      7. Meanwhile, boil the pasta in salty water for the time indicated on the box.
      8. When the pasta is ready, drain it and serve it with the sauce and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano (optional).
      https://www.disgracesonthemenu.com/2011/08/bell-pepper-pasta.html

      The Magic of Autogrill – Highway Restoration, Elevated

      If you are Italian, or if you have driven around Italy, you are probably familiar with “Autogrill” as a chain of restaurants that serve the highways all throughout the country.

      Do you blog about authentic Italian food? You may qualify for the coveted Cannolo Award! Check out the details.

      But even if you are unaware of Autogrill, every time you travel you are actually exposed to the Autogrill Group, a catering giant that runs several licensed franchises (including Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks) in the airports, train stations and ports of over 40 countries worldwide (including USA, Canada, and Australia).

      Even though the Autogrill Group is based in Italy, to most Italians “Autogrill” is just the generic name of the restaurants located on the highway – even of the ones that are run by the competition (e.g.: Chef Express, Ristop), or that are branded differently because of their size (e.g.: Ciao, Spizzico). And this despite the fact that Autogrill restaurants are nowadays common also in major city centers. The Autogrill name is so universal that in the rest of this article we will also use it as a synonym of highway restaurant.

      Italians like Autogrill because it’s familiar and reliable, because it’s good value for money, and because it can be conveniently accessed without leaving the highway. This detail is particularly important, given that most Italian highways are toll roads and exiting them requires the drivers to go through the time-consuming pay booths. Foreigners like Autogrill because it involves very little interaction with (Italian speaking) staff, and because of the high quality of its food, especially compared to the greasy North American road-side restaurants.

      The bridge-style Autogrill (above), from the inside.
      The bridge-style Autogrill (above), from the inside.

      All Autogrill are located in regular service stations. The smaller ones may consist of just a coffee bar and are generally only moderately busy. The larger Autogrill, and particularly the bridge-style ones (which go across the entire highway and are accessible from both travel directions), can instead attract large amounts of customers, especially around lunch and dinner time. They are structured for maximum efficiency and divided into three main sections:

      • A mini-supermarket with snacks and regional foods (such as olive oil, dried pasta, wine, cheese, cured meats), over-the-counter drugs, toiletries, batteries, newspapers and magazines; tobaccos and pre-paid phone cards can be purchased at the cashier.
      • A coffee bar which sells espresso drinks, pastries, and (often) grilled sandwiches (‘panini’, in Italian, plural of ‘panino’), such as Camogli (made with focaccia, Italian ham and swiss), Rustico (with pancetta, smoked provolone and tomatoes) and Fattoria (with speck and fontina cheese).
      • A separate cafeteria-style restaurant.

      The restaurant is, in its turn, divided into two sections: the actual self-service (which ends at the cashier), and a sitting area where the purchased meal can be consumed.

      A meal for two: penne all'arrabbiata, linguine al pesto, cheese plate, red wine, sparkling water, and bread.
      A meal for two: penne all’arrabbiata, linguine al pesto, cheese plate, red wine, sparkling water, and bread.

      When entering the self-service, each diner takes a tray and loads it with what they prefer. Drinks (including beer and wine) are directly available for pickup, and so is a fairly large selection of cold dishes (appetizers, sides, fresh and aged cheeses, freshly baked bread, fruit, and desserts). Hot courses are instead plated to order by an attendant. Most Autogrills offer a choice of two or three first courses (e.g.: pasta and risotti) and a couple of second courses (e.g.: meat and fish). After filling the tray, the customer brings it to the cashier who often offers to add an espresso to the bill (the coffee is meant to be had at the bar after the meal). The sitting area is basic but comfortable. The tables are kept clean by staff (though racks for used trays are provided to the customers), dressing and condiments (oil and vinegar, salt and pepper) are available, as well as cutlery and additional napkins. Occasionally, microwaves ovens for re-heating are also provided; if they are missing, plastic heat-keeper domes may be available to help keep plates warm.

      In conclusion, Autogrill is dear to the Italians and very much part of their collective imaginary. Every aspect of this Italian icon reflects the spirit of Italy, from the mini-supermarket that resembles the neighborhood shop, to the traditional coffee bar, to the family-style food served in the cafeteria. For those rushing through Italy in their first European trip, Autogrill can give a pretty good snapshot of Italy and of the Italians and shouldn’t be missed.

      For more information, check out the official webpage of Autogrill.