Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Day

Italians are a very superstitious people. This is particularly evident on the first day of every year. Everything that happens or that you do, could be potentially reflecting on the type of year you are going to live. The first phone call you receive... The first person you see on the street... And of course, the first meal you have. The traditional dish in Italy on January 1st is a pig leg called Zampone (=big leg) or Cotechino (which is basically the same thing without the pig foot at the end of it). For how awful they may sound, they are actually delicious since what you are really eating is a cooked, juicy, soft salami. Here is a photo I found on the internet.

I usually bring one with me from Italy as they are vacuum packaged. Unfortunately, this past Fall I did not go there and therefore this is the first time in years that I have to do without. Instead I made a small pork roast cooked slowly on a stove top in milk. As you can see from the photo I just posted, the Zampone is served with mush potatoes (optional) and lentils (mandatory!). Lentils represent money. The more lentils you eat on New Year's Day, the more money you will make during the year. If I am correct, such tradition derives from the biblical account of Esau selling his birthright to his younger twin brother Jacob for a bowl of porridge (and the folklorist version is that the bowl of porridge was indeed a serving of lentils). Of course, I made plenty and ate as many as I could possible handle. Here is my recipe for lentils (great as a side dish or as a soup):

- a package of dry lentils (1lb)
- one small carrot, one small onion, two celery sticks
- 2 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 4 TBSPs extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 slices of bacon
- 2 bouillon cubes (I prefer the vegetable based flavor from the Knorr brand that you can find in the ethnic section of the grocery store)
- 1/2 TBSP of Paprika
- Pinch of black pepper
- 1 small can of tomato paste
- water

In a food processor mince finely carrot, celery and onion (soffritto). Sautee in a large saucepan or pot with olive oil and garlic. Cut bacon in small pieces and cook it with the vegetables for a couple of minutes. Rinse the lentils in cold water, drain and pour in the pot. Add black pepper, cubes, paprika and cover with water. Add tomato paste. Stir occasionally and cook covered on low heat for approximately one hour. Check from time to time stirring regularly and adding more water if necessary (it depends on how "soupy" you would like the end product to be. I don't like mine watery). The lentils are ready when they are soft. Have a prosperous 2010!!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pasta "Amore" for New Year's Eve

We usually don't do much on New Year's Eve. Since we have been married, Jenna and I have traditionally fed and put the kids to bed at their regular bed time and then I would make a candle-light seafood dinner for the two of us with some sort of sparkling juice and/or San Pellegrino mineral water. However, this year we have been invited by Jenna's cousin to attend a party in Heber City to welcome home her son from his two-year LDS mission in Chile, as well as celebrating the end of 2009 and the arrival of 2010 together. I was asked to cook the main dish for the evening, specifically to make the same pasta dish I prepared last August at Jenna's family reunion. This is a fairly simple dish, very tasty and very rich that I came up with during the past year and it has now become a family (and apparently also an extended family) favorite. I don't have a name for it, so for the time being I will just call it "Pasta Amore". Any suggestions for a better name are welcome! :)
For this occasion I made 6 pounds of pasta and of course the three photos below reflect the amount of ingredients necessary to feed 30-50 people (there were other food available at the party). The following ingredients are for the typical one pound pasta packaging and it would feed approximately 6 people.


- 1lb Pasta. I prefer the Farfalle (bow ties) shape from either Garofalo (Costco) or Barilla (many grocery stores carry it), but even Penne or other pasta shapes would do it;
- 3/4 cup sundried tomatoes (I get mine at Costco);
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced (depending on taste);
- 1 TBSP of dry basil leaves or a couple of fresh ones;
- 1 bouillon cube;
- 1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream;
- 1 lbs of cooked, tail off medium or large shrimp (I get mine frozen in a 2lbs bag at Costco);
- 1 cup of fresh mozzarella cheese (I prefer the Belgioioso Pearls at Costco or any fresh diced mozzarella would do it).

Cook pasta following the directions on the packaging. In a non-stick fry pan, sautee the sundried tomatoes in their oil with the bouillon cube, garlic, and basil. Do not overcook. When the tomatoes look softer, add the whipping cream and continue to cook over low/medium heat. In the meantime, thaw the shrimp (if frozen) under lukewarm water, drain and place in a bowl. If you are using a larger mozzarella loaf or ball, dice in cubes approximately 1/4 inch in size or smaller. Set aside. When the pasta is al dente, remove from heat, drain, and mix with the sundried tomatoes sauce. Add shrimp and fresh mozzarella. Toss and serve immediately.