November 19, 2009

pasta al forno

One of the things I like best about autumn (and there are many) is that the cool days signal a return to comfort food and nothing spells comfort to me like pasta al forno, or baked pasta.

Like so much of my cooking, this dish brings me back to my childhood when every Sunday, rain or shine, snow or scorching heat, our extended family would set out on a picnic. But no sandwiches for us, thank you very much, and pasta al forno made a regular appearance on our picnic table with us kids fighting over who would get the corners with the crusty bits!

So when I was invited to a potluck recently there was no question as to what I would bring!

I decided to use paccheri, a large tubular shape which is traditionally Neapolitan. You want a large pasta shape for this dish so that it holds up to the heat of the oven and, while you can use rigatoni or even penne, paccheri maintain a nice chew after baking.

I parboiled the pasta and added it to a simmering pot of tomato sauce with tiny meatballs. While the pasta was cooking I made a b├ęchamel sauce - this is totally optional but it adds a nice creaminess to the finished dish and it's a cinch to make.

After that, all that was left was to layer - first the sauced pasta, then the b├ęchamel, finally a little grated mozzarella (not too much) and repeat.

Bake in a 375°F oven, covered with foil, until hot and bubbly (30-45 minutes depending on the size of your dish). Remove the foil and increase heat to 425°F until the top is browned. Don't scrimp on this last step because the crusty bits around the edges are the best part!

Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes before serving then stand back and reap the praise!

Pasta al forno is my contribution to this week's Presto Pasta Nights hosted this week by Kait of Pots and Plots. Visit Kait's blog on Friday for some weekend pasta inspiration from this week's roundup.

November 17, 2009

changing the face of famine one cookbook at a time

The BloggerAid Cookbook

A few months ago I joined Blogger Aid - Changing the Face of Famine, a wonderful group of bloggers coming together to make a difference. The members of BloggerAid have now published a cookbook where 100% of the proceeds target children and education through the World Food Programme's ("WFP") School Meals.

The WFP is the United Nations frontline agency mandated to combat global hunger and the WFP's vision for the School Meals programme is that no child should be hungry at school. According to the WFP's site:

❖ School meals can be used to effectively tackle hunger, nutrition, education, gender inequality and broader development issues. They transfer much needed income to food insecure households.

❖ Just US$0.25 will fill a cup with porridge, rice or beans and give a monthly ration to take home. With US$50 a child can be fed for an entire school year.

❖ WFP now provides meals to an average of 23 million children in school, about half of whom are girls, in 70 countries, at a cost of almost half a billion US dollars.

Food bloggers from across the globe have contributed their favourite recipes, truly making this cookbook an impressive international endeavour:
Through these recipes they share their traditions and insatiable curiosity about new flavours. They pay tribute to the home cooking of our grandmothers, while celebrating the exoticism and richness of a world brought closer together by their hopes to make a difference. With recipes such as Tomato-Cheese Ravioli with Eggplant Sauce, Spicy Serundeng Tuna and Peanuts, Serrano Ham Paella with Oyster Mushrooms, Raspberry Mascarpone Bites and Triple Layer Orange-Passion Fruit Tart we are doing our part to say that bloggers can change the face of famine.
If US$50 can feed a child for an entire school year, just imagine the possibilities if we all unite together to support this worthy cause! If you would like to purchase the cookbook and do your part to change the face of famine please click here.

November 15, 2009

breakfast in rome

Pizza BiancaImage by scottpartee via Flickr

When in Rome, do as the Romans. This is especially true when it comes to the breakfast sandwich of choice: pizza bianca con la mortadella (or "mortazza" as its affectionately known to the Romans).

I have very fond memories of staying with my uncle and his family in Rome and waking up to the smells of fresh "white" pizza from the bakery down the street and mortadella sliced so thin you could see through it, the fat melting into the hot dough. Oooooh, so good.

But my mortadella consumption was not limited to my stays in the Eternal City. The sandwich of my youth was mortadella and a mild semi-soft cheese on a crusty roll. I like Havarti even though it's not very Italian but provolone or Friulano (a Canadian cheese similar to Montasio) is just as good. You could always pick out the Italian kids in the cafeteria at school where mortadella made a regular appearance and there wasn't a slice of white sandwich bread in sight!

My cousins used to love to torture me with stories of mortadella being made of donkey meat. In fact, mortadella is a large sausage made with finely ground pork, spiced and shot through with whole lardons (traditionally from the neck) and peppercorns. Other ingredients can also be added to the sausage and I am particularly partial to pistachios. The flavour is incredibly delicate and it's best when sliced as thin as humanly possible.

Next time you're in Rome do as the Romans and order the pizza bianca co' la mortazza!