Fall Treat: Pumpkin Gnocchi
Oct 4th, 2012 by
A small plate of gnocchi can be served as an appetizer or as a main course.

A small plate of gnocchi can be served as an appetizer or as a main course.

In most anything in life, you have to work with what you have. And in cooking, the seasons dictate what ingredients are best or available. On a recent trip to Calareso’s Farm Stand in Reading, Mass. I was intrigued by one pound packages of pumpkin gnocchi.

Now I’ve cooked gnocchi before, usually in a tomato sauce, but the savory pumpkin flavor needed something else. So I brainstormed. Pumpkin pie is good with whipped cream so I opted to go with a cream sauce and a little hint of nutmeg.

But this wasn’t going to be dessert. I had to keep it (dinner) real. Cheese would help keep the dish on the savory side and I decided the nutty taste of fontina, combined with some freshly grated imported parmesan cheese would do the trick.

I then imagined all of this gooey, sweet, savoriness melting in my mouth, but it was missing something: a healthy clean foil to the heavy richness. I decided it needed some greens. I had some broccoli rabe on hand and decided to give it a go.

The result was a sweet, savory, gooey piece of heaven, offset by the bitterness of a good healthy green vegetable. The icing on this savory cake? Thinly sliced almonds.

Here’s the recipe:


  • Pumpkin gnocchi (1 pound)
  • Fontina Cheese (4 ounces, chopped up)
  • Imported parmesan cheese (1/3 cup or to taste)
  • Heavy cream (About 1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • Scallions (About five or six, chopped)
  • Broccoli Rabe (1 small bunch, cleaned of leaves and stems. Keep only about an inch or two of stem after the floret. Cut florets in half length-wise.)
  • Almonds (About 1/8 cup, sliced thin)
  • Nutmeg (A small dash, just a few specks. Be careful.)
  • Salt, pepper (to taste)

What I did:

Steam broccoli rabe until done, but not soggy. Don’t overcook. It should have some bite. (I used a large pasta pot with a colander insert and steaming basket. It’s one of my favorite and most used cooking tools. )

Cook gnocchi in a large pot of boiling water for about three minutes (just until they float). Don’t overcook.

In a saute pan cook the scallions until translucent and then add the cream, heating it up, but don’t let it boil. Add a small dash of nutmeg: we’re talking a few specks here. Nutmeg is very strong and can easily overpower a dish. Taste it. You just want a hint of nutmeg flavor. You can always add more if you like, but once you put it in, you can’t take it out. Be careful!

Add cream sauce, fontina cheese, parmesan cheese, sliced almonds, and broccoli rabe to the cooked gnocchi and stir until cheese melts and everything is well blended.

Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with a side salad.

Serves three to four people as a main course. Gnocchi is very filling. You don’t need much for each serving.

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Marco’s Fuscilli
Sep 21st, 2012 by
This dish takes only about 15-20 minutes to make: as long as it takes for you to boil a large pot of water and cook the pasta.

This dish takes only about 20 minutes to make: as long as it takes for you to boil a large pot of water and cook the pasta.

This is a quick, easy pasta dish I created several years ago (probably 10 or more). It’s an old favorite around the RootsLiving kitchen. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long to make its way to the website. But good things come to those who wait.


  • Fuscilli (1 pound box)
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes (1 pint, chopped)
  • Fresh oregano (About 1 tablespoon; or 1/2 teaspoon if using dried oregano)
  • Dried basil (About 1/2 teaspoon)
  • Wine (A healthy splash, about 1/4 cup. I usually use red wine, but white would be fine too.)
  • Olive oil (About 1/4 cup)
  • Butter (About 1/4 – 1/2 stick)
  • Marinated mozzarella cheese (8 oz.; I use the one at the top of this page made with garlic and red pepper. It’s available at most supermarkets, including Johnnies Foodmaster and Stop & Shop).

What I did:

Cook fuscilli in a large pot of salted water. Drain, put in a bowl and add butter, oil (about 1/8 cup), salt and pepper (to taste).

Chop up tomatoes, put in a small bowl. Add olive oil (about 1/8 cup), salt, pepper, fresh oregano, and a healthy splash of wine. Mix it up.

Add mozzarella pieces to pasta and stir, letting it melt evenly.

Pour tomato mixture over fuscilli. Add dried basil and stir. Add salt and pepper if needed.

Serve with a salad.

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Pasta Carbonara
Mar 18th, 2012 by
You can use bacon or pancetta. I used pancetta here.

You can use bacon or pancetta. I used pancetta here.

So you’ve had your fill of corned beef and cabbage. And probably eaten too much Irish soda bread or drank too many beers.

It’s time to travel south to explore some Italian cuisine and this dish is an old standard: as warm and fuzzy and comfortable as a glass of brandy on a cold day.

I got this recipe from Rita’s Catering. They used to have a small private restaurant, by reservation only, in Chelsea, Mass. where they served multiple course dinners at a set price. They now have their headquarters in Everett, Mass.  and I’m not sure if the dining hall in Chelsea is still open.

Whatever the case may be this recipe can’t fail to please. It’s easy to make, doesn’t take much time, and is delicious (although a bit fatty). It’s perfect for a cold, rainy day in March.


  • Butter (1 tbl.)
  • Linguini (1 lb.)
  • Bacon or Pancetta (minced, 1 lb.)
  • Onion (1 small)
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese (grated, 2 tbl.)
  • Eggs (2, large)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Parsley (a small bunch, minced)

What I did:

Saute the onion in butter until soft, just turning color.

Add minced bacon or pancetta and saute until soft, not crisp.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook linguini until “al dente.”

Beat 2 eggs, add grated cheese and mix well.

Add pepper and 1 tbl. of minced parsley to bacon and onion in the pan. Stir to cook.

The rendered oils from the bacon or pancetta are a major flavor ingredient of this recipe so do not remove the oil from the saute pan.

Quickly drain the linguini and place in a large heated bowl.

Add egg-cheese mixture to saute pan (removed now from heat) and stir well.

The heat of the ingredients and the pan will cook the egg somewhat, so keep the mixture moving.

Taste, add salt if needed.

Add mixture to linguini and serve immediately.

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It’s Time For Bolognese
Sep 3rd, 2011 by
Here a bolognese sauce is paired with pasta and meatballs (aka: polpette).

Here a bolognese sauce is paired with pasta and meatballs (aka: polpette).

I’ll admit I made bolognese sauce a couple of times over the summer. But this rich, thick, meaty sauce is usually more appropriate with cooler times.

One way to look forward to the cooler seasons approaching is to think of all the seasonal delicacies you can make. And bolognese should top the list.

Here’s a recipe I adopted from my “Biba’s Taste of Italy” cookbook. It takes a couple of hours to cook but it isn’t very difficult. I chop up the vegetables and the pancetta separately, using a food processor. And feel free to experiment with the meats you use. I always have plenty of ground veal on hand, but if you don’t, you can use just ground beef and ground pork.

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • Extra virgin olive oil (3 tbsp.)
  • Unsalted butter (2 tbsp.)
  • Yellow onions, finely minced (1/4 cup)
  • Carrots, finely minced  (1/4 cup)
  • Celery, finely minced (1/4 cup)
  • Pancetta, finely minced (2-3 ounces)
  • Ground beef (2/3 pound)
  • Ground veal (1/3 pound)
  • Ground pork (1/4 pound)
  • Red wine, medium body such as a Chianti (1/2 cup)
  • Tomato paste (3 tbsp.), diluted in meat broth (see next entry below)
  • Meat broth (3 cups. You can used canned meat broth or even canned chicken broth)
  • Whole milk (1/2 cup)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What I did:

Heat the oil and 1 tbsp. of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

When butter foams, add the minced vegetables and minced pancetta.

Cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture has a nice golden color (about 5 minutes).

Add the ground meat, raise heat to high, and break up the meat with a wooden spoon while stirring.

When the meat and vegetables have a rich brown color and the bottom of the pan is glazed (about 7-8 minutes) add the wine. Stir until most of the wine has evaporated.

Stir in the diluted tomato paste and season with salt and pepper.

When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 2 hours. Continue to stir and check the sauce every 10-20 minutes.

The sauce should end up being thick, with an appealing nutty brown color and just slightly liquid. Add a bit more broth or water if the sauce looks dry.

Add the milk, partially cover the pan, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Add the sauce to freshly cooked pasta. This goes wonderful with thick macaroni bands. I usually use the dry pasta made in italy that resemble small bird nests.

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Easy Weeknight Pasta, Part Two
Nov 30th, 2010 by
My friend Michael enjoyed a plate of this updated pasta dish on a recent visit to the RootsLiving kitchen.

My friend Michael enjoyed a plate of this updated pasta dish on a recent visit to the RootsLiving kitchen.

Tweaking basic recipes with some of your favorite ingredients keeps things exciting, fresh and new.

This basic pasta recipe from the bible of classic Italian cooking, the Artusi, was featured in a post here a year ago. I recently upgraded it to include one of my favorite ingredients: eggplant.

The differences between the original recipe, called “Neapolitan-Style Macaroni II” and this updated version are as follows:

  • I added eggplant. Buy a firm, dark eggplant. Cut off the bright green top. Take a vegetable peeler and make vertical stripes from the top to the bottom of the eggplant. Cut thin slices (less than a 1/4-inch thick). Dip in an egg scambled with a splash of milk and dredge in bread crumbs. Fry in olive oil and drain on a plate with a paper towel.
  • I substituted penne for the thick macaroni that is packaged like small bird nests inside a plastic bag.

Cut up the eggplant and add with the other ingredients to the pasta.

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(Note: If you’d like to print this recipe, click on the headline on this post and then use the print button at the bottom of the post. In other words, print from the “permalink” not from the homepage.)

Little Ears Filled With Eggplant & Sausage
Feb 5th, 2010 by
You can't go wrong with impromptu pasta dishes made with fresh ingredients you already have at home..

You can't go wrong with impromptu pasta dishes made with fresh ingredients you already have at home..

I can’t pass up a good-looking eggplant. If I see one at the grocery store I buy it, regardless of my dinner plans for the week. This is because a good eggplant is not always easy to find. I’d say there’s about a 50/50 chance of finding a good one.

And what does a good one look like? It should be a deep, dark purple (nearly black with lighter highlights revealing themselves under the bright grocery store lights). The skin should be blemish free, smooth, and taut. It’s also a good sign if the stem end is a bright green or at least shows signs of recently being so. And it should be heavy when you pick it up so that when you rap it gently with a closed fist it produces a low dull thud.

I won’t buy a lesser eggplant. I’ll change my dinner plans if I can’t find one. And that’s because eggplants of a lower quality are bitter and are responsible for giving all eggplants a bad name. This has resulted in cooks doing crazy things with eggplants, such as slicing it, putting it into a colander, salting it, and letting it sit until the juices run out. In my earlier cooking days, I tried that and found it resulted in an eggplant that still is much bitter than using a fresh one without all of this nonsense.

The key is using a good, fresh eggplant, and doing what you will to it quickly after peeling and slicing it. Don’t let it sit around getting brown.

I also partially peel my eggplants before slicing them. I do this by cutting off the stem end and then using a vegetable peeler to vertically peel strips off the eggplant from stem end to the bottom. This creates an eggplant with purple stripes. And then I slice it thinly — about a 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch or less.

Since cooking eggplant is often an impromptu act for me, I often come up with interesting recipes based on what I have on hand. This recipe came about on one of those occasions.

(This is a good dish to make if you have a little leftover tomato sauce. The Italians use a sparse amount of tomato sauce on their pasta, usually only enough to color it a deep orange, not a heavy red.)

Ingredients/Shopping List

  • Orecchiette pasta (or small conchiglie, also called shells). (1 pound). Orecchiette comes from the Italian for little ears and in fact looks like little ears.
  • Eggplant (1 or 2 firm and fresh specimens; chosen, peeled and sliced as described above.)
  • Sausages (3 sweet Italian links)
  • Tomato Sauce (about 1 cup, your favorite or mine.)
  • Olive oil (enough to coat the eggplant slices and 2 cookie sheets)
  • Salt (I use Kosher salt for everything.)
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/2 cup grated, or to your taste)

What I did:

Bring a large pot of salted water (use a good amount of salt) to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente.

While water is being brought to a boil, peel and slice an eggplant as described above. Put slices on an oiled cookie sheet and brush olive oil on top of each slice. Make sure both the tops and bottoms of each slice have a thin layer of olive oil on them. Sprinkle slices with Kosher salt and cook in a 350 degree to 400 degree oven until brown on each side. Turn slices over half-way to make sure each side is a golden or dark brown. (Don’t worry about overcooking them. The thin slices will have a crisp paper texture and will taste great. Just be sure you don’t burn them!) Cook 2 cookie sheets of eggplants in this way.

When eggplant slices are done, cut them into quarters.

Crumble the sausage links into a hot frying pan with a light coating of olive oil. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over them. Cook until done. And then transfer to a dinner plate lined with a paper towel to drain off the excess grease.

Heat the tomato sauce up over the stove.

Drain the pasta into a colander and then pour it back into the empty pot. Add sausage and stir. Add the eggplant and stir. Add the tomato sauce and stir. Add grated parmesan cheese and stir. Serve hot.

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(Note: If you’d like to print this recipe, click here or on the headline on this post and then use the print button at the bottom of the post. In other words, print from the “permalink” not from the homepage.)

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