Over the Labour Day long weekend, I spent a wonderful Sunday evening with my pal James, hosting a group of our friends together at my home to our famous “Italian Night”.
For the past three years I always look forward to March and September when my dear friend James returns from Italy to Canada for a short visit; we have a semi-annual standing ” Italian cooking date”, a tradition which has a very special place in my heart.
Cooking and sharing with family and friends is the most beautiful way to celebrate relationships and bring people together.
That night we talked, we laughed, we cooked, we learnt and we shared; the memories we created together are priceless…
To my friends who joined us this time (you know who you are), it was great seeing you all and catch up, Grazie! And to our dear friends who missed the gathering this time (you also know who you are), we missed you.
To my dear friend and teacher James, I look forward to our next “date” in March, hope to continue this wonderful tradition for many years to come and one day we will be able to cook together in Italy…Alla Prossima…xxxooo
Remember the most important ingredients you will need to create a beautiful meal….Patience + Love + Kindness + Gratitude
Bagna Cauda: an aromatic “hot bath” for fresh vegetables and bread
Have you ever had Bagna Cauda? It is a dish originally from Piedmont, Italy.
Fresh market vegetables, both cooked and raw, are dipped into a flavourful warm sauce, made of anchovies, olive oil, garlic and butter, enjoyed with scrumptious chunks of bread; this makes a wonderful sharing and wine-pairing dish for any dinner gathering, particularly during Fall Harvest Season.
I’ve only had this dish in restaurants twice here in Vancouver, once a few years ago enjoyed a Japanese “miso” version at Rajio (Izakaya on West 10th Avenue in beautiful Vancouver), and most recently a beautiful rendition at Osteria Savio Volpe.
It sounds very good already right? The even better part, it is not difficult to make.
The key to make a beautiful bagna cauda is having the freshest ingredients and you are already halfway there; the rest involves a lot of meticulous cleaning and chopping! Oh one more thing… a fondue pot will be handy to keep the sauce warm. I actually didn’t have the pot, so I just heated up the sauce right before dinner starts so it was ready to go when we were ready to eat!
I have roughly based the sauce recipe on Epicurious; for my version I have reduced the quantity of the butter and anchovies (trying to be more health conscious by reducing the fat and salt intake). Once you type in “Bagna Cauda”, you will be able to find many different versions for this classic Italian recipe (see also Food52 detailed write-up on its background and recipe).
Ingredients for dipping sauce: 1/2 cup – 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature), 6 – 8 cloves of garlic (chopped), 8 – 10 anchovies fillets.
Preparation: Blend the anchovies, garlic and olive oil in the blender until smooth.
Pour mixture into a medium saucepan and over medium low heat, cook the sauce for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, you must pay lots of attention garlic burns easily, you don’t want to brown it. Before removing from the heat, stir in the butter until blended nicely.
Taste and season with pepper (if you like) and sea salt (if necessary, remember anchovies are quite salty).
Serve raw or cooked vegetables and bread; I prepared a tray of fresh vegetables (picture below) purchased from the farmer’s market: a selection of beans, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, cauliflower and peppers.
Stringozzi with Peas, Pistachios and mint sauce
We put all our friends hard at work this time making Stringozzi together!
Stringozzi is an Italian “peasant” pasta, the shape of the noodles resemble shoelaces; all you need is water and some finest Italian “00” flour (we used “Caputo 00 flour” – see Saveur’s magazine article)
The noodle making process involves everyone’s participation; our “pasta master” James mixed the flour and water and we help a little to knead the dough. The dough is then put in the refrigerator to rest (wrapped in plastic wrap tightly, rest for about 30 minutes to an hour). We then take turns pulling the dough until it smooth (this is the most physically demanding part) and you can feel the “elasticity”. When the dough is ready, we cut into small pieces and divided it amongst our group to “roll” out the pasta by hand. We have to sprinkle a little flour on the noodles when we gather them together to keep them from sticking together. The noodles are actually quite delicate and a bit chewy, my friends said they resemble a little like ‘handmade’ udon.
Prepare a large pot of salted boiling water to cook the pasta, the noodles actually cook quickly (just a few minutes) and you have to stir a little while cooking. Do not “crowd” the pot by putting too much noodles all at once.
When the noodles are cooked 3/4s of the way through, transfer to the large pan already filled with the sauce of your choice, toss gently together and let the noodles to finish cooking through. Please DO NOT toss out the pasta water, you will need to use it to adjust the thickness of the sauce.
My friend James created a “pesto” sauce – a mixture of sweet gorgonzola, peas (we used frozen), basil and pistachios, all blended together smoothly in the food processor. The sauce was transferred and cooked in a very large pan, use the pasta water to adjust the thickness of the sauce, when pasta was almost ready toss them into the pan and mix well, let the noodles cook through.
In the past we have created Stringozzi all’amatriciana (click to see recipe on Serious Eats – Tomatoes (preferred San Marzano), guanciale, red pepper flakes, wine and pecorino romano cheese ) which is one of my all time favourite.
Unfortunately I don’t have a specific quantity for this pasta recipe; I came across a general recipe which is very similar to what we have created on this blog: Madonnadelpiatto
If you are ever interested in learning how to make pasta, my dear Italian friend Peter (Pastaboy) is a wonderful teacher, click on his name for more details.
Some of my go-to shopping places for Italian foods/ingredients in Vancouver: Cioffi’s, Bianca Maria (2469 E. Hastings, Vancouver), Les Amis Du Fromage and Oyama Sausage Co.