Passatelli in brodo is perfect for a cold winter night.
By Zester Daily contributors
The early part of the year tends to bring two culinary challenges -- It's cold, which makes us long for warm, hearty comfort food and we're broke, which makes us need to stretch our grocery budgets.
Fear not, because we have a trio of comfort food dishes that are filling, fun and frugal to get you through winter.
Thrifty Italian Bread Dumplings in Broth
Italy's traditional cuisines are full of helpful ideas for getting by with less, perfect for the heart of winter.
Take bread, for instance. Thrifty Italians have dozens and dozens of ways to use up old bread, including bread salads (panzanella), bread soups (ribollita), bruschetta and crostini, piled high with delicious things but fundamentally just slices of stale bread put to good use to support all the rest.
Passatelli in Brodo
Makes 6 to 8 first-course servings
To make the passatelli noodles, you will need a potato ricer or possibly a food mill with large holes through which you can pass the dough. Most traditional cooks turn the noodles right into a pot filled with simmering stock, but because it has to be done in three or more turns if you're using a ricer, some of the passatelli inevitably get overcooked. Better then to turn the noodles right onto a board, tossing them gently with flour or semolina, than to turn all of them at once into the stock pot.
About ½ pound Tuscan-style bread, crusts removed and cut into chunks, then grated in a food processor to make about 2½ cups
About ½ pound freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (to make about 2 cups)
¼ to ½ cup all-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
Ground red chili pepper, such as piment d'Espelette or Spanish pimenton (not the smoked kind)
A little semolina for the board, if necessary
8 cups clear flavorful chicken or beef stock
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the bread crumbs and grated cheese. Process those ingredients briefly to mix them well and further reduce the size of the bread crumbs.
2. Then, with the motor running, add the eggs, one after the other, and about ¼ cup of the flour.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste, plenty of nutmeg (there should be a discernible nutmeg flavor in the final result), and ground red chili pepper or paprika.
4. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured board. It will be much softer than regular pasta dough but should still hold together well. If necessary, knead a little more all-purpose flour into the mix but don't go beyond a half cup of flour in all. If the dough still seems a little too wet, add more grated cheese or bread crumbs.
5. Shape the dough into a ball and set aside, covered, for an hour or two.
6. When you're ready to cook the passatelli, bring the stock to a simmer. Using a potato ricer, take about a fourth to a third of the passatelli dough and press it through the ricer. You may press the little worms of pasta directly into the simmering stock, or spread a little semolina on a board and press the passatelli onto the board.
7. When all the passatelli are done, turn them into the simmering stock and let them cook for just 2 minutes. Then serve the hot soup immediately, passing more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if you wish.
Contributing: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
* * *
Looking for more good winter recipes?
* * *
Getting Gourmet with the Mac and Cheese
The European-style market, which anchors the east side of Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street and Park Avenue, supplies many of Midtown's food snobs with artisanal, organic, imported and always-fresh ingredients.
The budget-minded chef, however, risks brutal sticker shock just getting off the 4-5-6 train here. But with strategic selection, hard-to-find ingredients can, in fact, cost less at Grand Central than at the supermarket. Choose wisely, get a bit creative, and you can feed four for under $20.
Faux Gras Mac and Cheese
Serves 4 to 6
2 cups dry elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (2 percent or whole)
8 ounces of duck or goose liver pâté, chilled
1 small bunch chives, snipped finely
4 ounces plain goat cheese
8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly butter a medium-sized rectangular baking dish.
2. Cook the macaroni in boiling water to al dente, about 8 minutes, then drain and rinse.
3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour gradually, whisking to smooth out any lumps. When the mixture turns caramel brown, add the milk, stir well and bring to a simmer.
4. When sauce has thickened, remove from heat and slowly stir in the goat cheese and Cheddar, then the chives. Fold in the cooked macaroni until well-coated.
5. Add half the contents of the pot to the baking dish. Arrange ½-inch slices of pâté on top, then add a layer of the remaining macaroni.
6. Top with Parmesan cheese and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
7. Let macaroni and cheese rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing into squares. Garnish with snipped chives and serve with a simple green salad. (It's delicious with a fruity beer like Pyramid Apricot Hefeweizen or sweet Spanish cava.)
Contributing: Jess Kapadia
Simple, Frugal Tians
There are certain types of dishes -- frittatas and risottos, gratins and quiches -- that you can make the same way, no matter what goes into them. Just think of them as vehicles for produce, and the fact that you can make them by rote means that you never have to be anxious about what you're going to have for dinner, provided that you have certain basic ingredients (eggs, rice, milk, cheese) in your refrigerator and pantry. The core ingredients are always the same; what changes is the produce that gives the dish its name and the way the produce is cooked and seasoned.
Vegetable gratins are a case in point. A vegetable gratin is simply a vegetable casserole, baked in the oven (preferably in an earthenware baking dish) until the top and sides are browned, or gratineed. The French word grater means to scrape (that's where we get our word for grater), and if a gratin is properly baked, you will want to scrape the delicious browned bits off the sides of the dish and eat them.
This is a classic Provencal gratin, bound with rice and egg, it's great cold or hot, and if you have more summer squash than you know what to do with, look no further.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 to 3 large garlic cloves, to taste, minced
2 pounds zucchini or other summer squash, cut in ½-inch dice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
½ cup Arborio rice, cooked
3 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (¾ cup)
¼ cup bread crumbs (fresh or dry)
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Oil a 2-quart gratin dish.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, stir together for about 30 seconds, until it begins to smell fragrant, and stir in the squash. Cook, stirring often, until the squash is translucent but not mushy, 5 to 10 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in the thyme and rice, and remove from the heat.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Beat in ½ teaspoon salt and the cheese. Stir in the zucchini mixture and combine well. Scrape into the gratin dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top. Drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and the gratin is sizzling. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Contributing: Martha Rose Shulman
Also fresh on Zester Daily:>> The secret recipe for the world-class Chinese soy sauce.