Whore’s Pasta

October 25, 2010

Bet that got your attention. Bad, bad Kathleen, especially since this isn’t going to be true Pasta all Puttanesca.

I’ve had the real thing many times, and it’s great. But I didn’t have a recipe on hand the first time I wanted to make it, so I made it up as I went along. Turns out I liked my version better than actual Puttanesca. Blame it on bacon. Or blame it on me because I just love pork bellies too much. Anchovies (the ingredient in true Puttanesca that I’ve replaced) are great too, but bacon is better.

Kathleen's Puttanesca

Like Spaghetti all Carbonara, I love this pasta because I almost always have the ingredients on hand. It’s also quick. Since I don’t add much of the liquid from the tomato can, I can whip up this sauce in the time it takes to boil water and cook a pound of penne rigate.

For a vegetarian version, you can omit the bacon completely. Won’t be as tasty, but it ought to be perfectly edible.

Side note: Ever heard of Bacon Marmalade? Me neither before last week. A friend in New York sent me a YouTube link to this young chef who overcooked some bacon and ended up creating Bacon Marmalade. The stuff sounds fantastic — in fact, two jars are on their way. I’m already imagining all the ways I’m going to love it — starting with right off the spoon. Next I might try it with goat cheese on puff pastry appetizers. Bet it’s crazy good with grilled tomatoes on bruschette. Ever had one of those bacon chocolate bars? Out of this world. I’ll definitely be experimenting. Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait. Promise to tell you all about it.

Kathleen’s Puttanesca

makes about 4 servings

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, sliced medium/thin
  • 1-4 dried red pepperoncini, crumbled
  • 1 28 oz. can Italian San Marzano tomatoes (or the equivalent of fresh sauce tomatoes from your garden)
  • 2 tablespoons capers, strained
  • 2 dozen imported olives – just about any strong flavored olives will work, as long as you like them. I prefer a colorful mix.
  • 1 pound Italian penne rigate pasta (True puttanesca calls for spaghetti, but I prefer penne; they carry this hearty sauce well.)
  • freshly grated pecorino

Start your water boiling in your pasta pot. Add a small handful of rock salt. As I’ve mentioned before, the salt in your pasta is what brings your dish to life, so don’t skimp. Remember that you’ll only be eating the small amount of salt that’s in the water your pasta is absorbing. Still hesitating? Okay, think of it this way: without salt, pasta is basically hardened paper mache goop.

Stack the bacon and slice into 1/2-inch wide strips. Saute on low to melt the bulk of the lard. Do not crisp. Do not worry if it does not look completely cooked — you’ll be finishing it off in the sauce.

Meanwhile, saute the garlic slices in olive oil over medium heat until they just start to color. (I would usually use a little more olive oil than this in a tomato sauce, but the bacon will add some, so 4 tablespoons olive oil is plenty.)

Gauge how many pepperoncini to use by how hot you like your food. Crumble and add to the oil as the garlic starts to cook. (I’m currently using pepperoncini that my husband and I bought at least 10 years ago in Milano. They’re about 1/2″ long and look a lot like those Italian good luck horns people wear. Yes, our peppers are old. They look faded and sad, but the damn things keep getting hotter and hotter as the years pass!)

If you’re using fresh tomatoes, clean, quarter, and squeeze them over the sink to remove most of the soft center pulp and seeds. If it bothers you to find tomato skin in your pasta bowl, blanch them first to remove the skins.

If you’re using canned tomatoes, pull them out of the can with a slotted spoon, quarter, and let them drain for a few minutes in a colander. Save the pulpy liquid in the bottom of the can for now–you may need it.

Once the tomatoes have drained, add them to the olive oil and garlic and cook over medium heat. You’re shooting for a pleasant bubble, not a rapid boil.

While the tomatoes are cooking, pit your olives, quarter, and add to the sauce. Add the capers as well, being careful not to add any of the vinegary liquid they’re usually packed in.

While the bacon is still warm, remove it from its oil with a slotted spoon and add it to the cooking sauce. Leave the bulk of the grease in the pan, but do not fret if a spoonful or two gets into your sauce. It will only add to the flavor.

Cook your sauce on medium. If you haven’t added too much of the tomato liquid, it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to cook, so wait a few minutes and toss your penne into the boiling pasta water. If you’ve used fresh tomatoes and don’t know just how much water they’ll produce in the pan, let the sauce get well on its way before tossing your pasta in the water as the last thing you want is pasta sitting in a colander, turning to glue as you wait for your sauce to finish cooking.

As it’s cooking, break the tomato quarters into smaller chunks. I like small pieces of tomato in my sauces, so I never puree my tomatoes. You can, and should, prepare them the way your prefer.

Your sauce is done when the tomatoes lose their pink color and the olive oil starts to pool. Never let your tomato sauce cook so long that it turns as thick and darkly hued as ketchup. (The sauce is just a couple minutes away from ready in the photo below.) If your sauce looks too dry, add some of the pulpy liquid from the tomato can, just a spoonful or two at a time, until the sauce looks right.

Almost Ready!

When the penne are al dente, strain well and toss with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated pecorino; some good, crusty bread; and nice bottle of red.


I love making good food, but there’s a real soft spot in my heart for good food that somebody else makes for me. The good food I have in mind right now is grilled oysters,  and the somebody is none other than Chef Adam Bernstein of Adam’s Sustainable Table in Eugene, Oregon. And it was all for a very good cause.

Bubbles, Bivalves, Birds & a Bake Sale was the fundraiser’s official name, but I’m thinking Oyster and Champagne Heaven is more apt.

The purpose was to raise money for Slow Food Eugene’s delegates to this year’s Terra Madre meeting in Torino, Italy. Domaine Meriwether of Veneta, Oregon, hosted the afternoon, and Buzz Kawders kept our glasses bubbling with the very perfectly paired 2000 Captain Clarke Vintage Cuvee.

Chef Bernstein and Liu Xin of Oregon Oyster Farms shelled oysters as easily as if they were shelling peanuts, and they kept the serving dishes full of raw Pacific, Kumumoto, and Olympic oysters. My next visit to Newport, Oregon, will definitely included a shopping spree at Oregon Oyster Farms. (Not local? They ship next day air!!)

Oysters, oysters, and more oysters!

I wasn’t counting, nor could I have counted after all that champagne, but I’d be very surprised if I ate fewer than 2 dozen of these gems. As much as I love a good raw oyster — and ohh, those tiny Kumumotos were as sweet as can be — it was the grilled Pacific oysters that made my taste buds soar.

Out of the three types of grilled oysters, my favorites were the Oysters Rockefeller and the Oysters with Maitre D’Hotel butter. I was too busy eating to think to ask for recipes during the event, and I’m sure Adam has his hands full this week getting ready for his excursion to Italy, so the recipes I’m sharing here are not Adam’s. Not to worry. If you take a good oyster and add butter, herbs and heat, the end result just has to be good.

There are many, many versions of Oysters Rockefeller out there. After perusing a dozen or so online, this one gets my vote. Apologies that I haven’t tried it at home first.


I found just as many recipes for Hotel Butter, but I was specifically looking for one that incorporated shallots, as Adam’s did. According to what I read online, a stash of this butter is great to have in the refrigerator or freezer to perk up seafood, meat, pasta, vegetables, or just about anything else.

Maitre D’Hotel Butter

Grilled (or broiled) Oysters with Hotel Butter

  • 1 1/2 to 3 dozen large oysters (4 – 6 per person is safe, although my husband could easily eat 2 or three dozen in a sitting)
  • Hotel butter per above link

You’ll also need one or more of these:

  • tray of rock salt
  • heavy gloves
  • sturdy tongs

Seriously suggested:

  • a bottle of Champagne or Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine

Mix the butter as detailed in the link above. If making ahead of time, roll into a log and chill. It’s also fine to use it soft. Depending on how much butter you like on your oysters, this is enough for 1 1/2 dozen up to 3 dozen.

Preheat your barbecue (very hot) or broiler. Open your oysters and discard the top shell. (If you can’t open an oyster without either stabbing yourself or splintering the shell into a hundred shards, see below.**)

Divide the butter between the oysters — less than a teaspoon each isn’t enough, and more than a tablespoon IS A LOT OF BUTTER. Not that that’s a problem, but it will likely spill and get wasted anyway, so why not save it for more oysters. Place them either directly on the grill if you can keep them flat on the grate. If not, nestle them into a tray of rock salt.  Grill/broil for about 5 – 6 minutes, just until the edges of the oysters start to curl. Keep a close eye as they’ll overcook in a flash.

**Don’t worry. I can’t open an oyster either. Here’s what to do: Place them on the grill unopened. After about a minute, they should open on their own. Remove, and pry the shell the rest of the way open, and discard the top shell. Add butter and return to grill. Cook about 5 more minutes — just until the edges of the oysters start to curl.)

Mmmm… just writing this down makes me want to eat more oysters! Too bad we already polished off that lovely bottle of Domaine Meriwether I brought home…

Enjoy ~

Pesto alla Genovese

October 10, 2010

The sky is gray, and leaves are twirling down from their trees, rustling underfoot and reminding me that fall has arrived. This chilly air makes me crave hearty winter meals. Risotto with radicchio and smoked mozzarella… Chicken cacciatore over polenta… Fresh minestrone… But it’s not quite winter yet. Tomatoes and squash are still ripening in the garden, and the basil is just begging to be gathered before an early frost turns its gorgeous green leaves to brown. Yes, yes, yes, it’s PESTO TIME!

First, I’d like to share a little something that those Google folks did in honor of John Lennon’s birthday that made me smile just now. Doubt their video banner will still be active by the time I post this, so here’s the clip on you tube. Thanks, John, for the melodies and the memories.

~ ~ ~

Pesto alla Genovese

Caprese Appetizers

I love basil. It’s as if summer is giving me a kiss every time I smell its essence.

There must be hundreds of ways to use this herb, from a hint of fresh leaves in a salad, a garnish in an appetizer, or front and center as a pasta sauce.

Some form of Pesto has been around since Roman times, but the northern town of Genova and the surrounding Ligurian countryside lays claim to its most beloved form, Pesto alla Genovese. Now there are probably as many methods of making pesto as there are inhabitants in Genova (over a million), but I’m going to stick with the basics. First, a recipe with set measurements, using either with a blender, food processor, or a marble mortar and pestle, adapted from one of Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks. Second, the all’occhio method (eyeball) — as in you start with some of this, add some of that, and mix until it looks and tastes just right. I probably would have stuck with the set measurements had we not recently hosted visitors from Liguria. On their last morning here, Marilena took the time to share her pesto recipe with me, and I learned a couple of things I’ve never read in any recipe book. Adhering to my belief that recipes are best when they’ve evolved, I prefer the all’occhio method — as in: the measurements are only a guide, so tweak it until it suits your palate.

If you want set measurements, this recipe’s for you:

1 pound of spaghetti (or fettuccine) – Usually serves 4 to 5, but I’ve seen a party of two devour this dish in a flash, so servings depends on who’s eating.

2 cups lightly packed, fresh basil (rip larger leaves in half to measure accurately)

½ cup olive oil

2 T pine nuts

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 t salt

1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 T freshly grated Pecorino Romano

4 T room-temperature butter

Mortar Method:
Add the basil, nuts, garlic and 1/3 of the salt to the mortar and crush it against the sides by turning the pestle in a circular motion. Keep crushing until the mix turns into a paste. Add the cheese and crush until evenly blended. Add the olive oil a spoonful at a time and continue mixing with a wooden spoon until all the oil has been added and the pesto is evenly blended.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta al dente. Strain and reserve 2 T of the water. Put the pasta back in the cooking pan, add the butter and stir to melt. Add the pest and stir. If it seems too dense, add the hot cooking water, a bit at a time, until it coats the pasta well.

Garnish with freshly grated cheese.

Blender/Processor Method:
Put in the basil, oil, nuts, garlic and salt and mix on high, occasionally pausing to scrape the sides. When evenly blended, pour into a bowl and mix in the cheeses by hand.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta al dente. Strain and reserve 2 T of the water. Put the pasta back in the cooking pan, add the butter and stir to melt. Add the pest and stir. If it seems too dense, add the hot cooking water, a bit at a time, until it coats the pasta well.

Garnish with freshly grated cheese.

All’Occhio Method

I call this method All’Occhio (eyeball) because Marilena doesn’t measure a single ingredient. She pinches salt and cups basil and streams olive oil until the mix looks and tastes just right. While she scooped pine nuts out of their bag, I waited with a tablespoon so I could at least offer you a starting point. (The garlic and salt, for instance, are 1/4 of what’s called for in the above recipe. Adjust to suit your taste.) And once Marilena cupped the quantity of basil she wanted to add in her hands, I had her dump it onto a food scale, which seemed more accurate than a measuring cup.

Marilena’s tips:

  1. Never wash basil leaves under running water. Sure, your faucet may rinse away some dust, but it will also wash away the flavor-producing oils. Marilena carefully wipes the leaves with a damp paper towel, taking care not to bruise them as that would release the oils. (If your paper towel turns green, you’re over-achieving.)
  2. True pesto is served crudo, or raw, so never allow your basil to overheat either when preparing the sauce or mixing it with the pasta. If you’re mixing by mortar and pestle, you don’t need to worry. However, if you’re using a blender or food processor, do not mix for more than 30 seconds at a time. Always lightly rinse your cooked pasta with cool (not cold) water.

The Recipe:

1 pound spaghetti (usually serves 4)

This sauce will make from 4 – 8 servings, depending on how drenched you like on your pasta. (Drizzle a coating of olive oil over leftover sauce and store in an airtight container int he refrigerator for up to 1 week.)

1/4 t fine salt

3 T pine nuts

1/2 clove fresh garlic

2/3 cup good olive oil

3 ounces cleaned basil leaves

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano

2 T melted butter

2 T cooking water from the pasta

Boil salted water for your pasta, and cook al dente. Meanwhile, make your sauce.

Crush garlic and blend in food processor with the salt, pine nuts, and a couple of tablespoons of oil until it is nearly a paste. Do not worry about overheating.

Add 1/4 of your basil to the garlic paste. As you start to blend, drizzle in just enough oil to keep the mix moving. Do not mix for more than 30 seconds at a time, and rest for 15 seconds between blending.

Once the mix starts to swirl,  add another clump of basil and a bit more olive oil. Continue intervals of adding basil and a bit of olive oil until all the basil is added. Only fine chunks of basil should still be visible in the mix. Add approximately 1/2 cup of grated cheese and mix until just blended. (If you’re planning on freezing some of the sauce, wait to add the cheese until you’re tossing everything in the serving dish.)

Pour melted butter into your serving dish, add 2 tablespoons of pesto per serving, and mix.

When your spaghetti is al dente, scoop out a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water, and then strain the pasta. Rinse briefly with cool (not cold) water to cool the pasta and to keep the basil from “cooking.” Toss with the sauce in the dish. (Don’t forget to add the appropriate ratio of cheese if you haven’t already.) If necessary, add a bit of the cooking water at a time until the sauce evenly coasts the spaghetti.

Serve with a light side dish such as a selection of fresh, sliced tomatoes.

Mamma's Pomodori


Pesto is also great on pizza, potato gnocchi, drizzled on bruschette, or eaten straight off the spoon. Marilena also shared another typical Ligurian pasta and pesto recipe, which I have yet to try:

6 – 8 ounces fresh green beans

3 medium or 6 small red potatoes cut into 1/2″ cubes (app. 1 cup when cubed)

1 pound trenette (flat pasta made without eggs)

1 batch pesto sauce

Wash the green beans, and break into 1 inch sections. Fill a pasta pot with enough cold water to boil your pasta, add the green beans, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, peel your potatoes and chop into 1/2″ cubes. After the beans have boiled for 2 or 3 minutes, salt the water as you usually do for pasta, add the pasta and and the potatoes and boil until the trenette are al dente. Save a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water, strain the pasta, beans, and potatoes, and mix with butter and pesto in your serving dish as described above.


Storing Pesto

Place extra sauce in a small glass (preferable) or plastic airtight container. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Freezing Pesto
Before adding the cheese or butter, freeze in either:

  • portion-size Ziplocks, making sure to force all the extra air out of the bag. Defrost without opening the Ziplock (so it won’t turn brown). Speed up the defrosting by soaking the ziplock in lukewarm water.
  • cubes by placing 2 -4 tablespoons in each section an ice tray. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and freeze. Store frozen cubes in Ziplock bags. When it’s time to use, consider 2 tablespoons for each serving of pasta (100 – 125 grams, or app. 1/5 to 1/4 pound).

Stir in the cheese at the last minute and toss with buttered pasta.

If you’d like to save extra basil without making it into pesto, click on the pizza link above in Variations for my preferred method.

Buon Appetito ~