Castagnole di ricotta

It's already the end of February -- 2017 really is flying -- meaning that its time for another round of Cucina Conversations! This month our theme is Carnevale, ("carnival" in English) those festive few weeks leading up to the Catholic season of Lent. Carnevale in Italy is characterized by festivals, parades, and costume parties -- especially in Venice -- along with traditional dishes and sweets that are on the indulgent side, giving you your fill of all things rich, delicious, and prohibited in the sober 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. Here are a few examples, prepared by my fellow Cucina Conversations bloggers as part of this month's theme:
Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma has prepared fagioli grassi

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet is sharing her recipe for bomboloni;

Lisa aka Italian Kiwi has made one of my very favorites crostoli alla Nutella;

Carmen at The Heirloom Chronicles has chosen baccala fritta con peperoni cruschi;

Flavia from Flavia's Flavors is sharing frijole veneziane;

Last but not least Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made polpette di carnevale al sugo di pomodoro.

My personal favorite Carnevale fare are the dolci frittior fried desserts, because if you'll be fasting and not eating meat for over a month, you might as well go all out and eat your desserts fried, no? Carnevale treats include the above mentioned bomboloni and crostoli, plus ciambelle, frappe, bugie, and the star of today's post, castagnole.

If you're not familiar with these little gems, I think they can best be described as the Italian version of a doughnut hole -- little rounds of fried dough -- but even better, lighter and more flavorful and with many preparations, each more delicious than the next. I've seen them filled with chocolate, dipped in alchermes or honey, or -- my favorite -- made with ricotta. As you'll remember from this lemon, ricotta, and olive oil cake and this ricotta pound cake, I'm no stranger to baking with ricotta, an ingredient I find so-so as is but spectacular when used as an ingredient in desserts, where it lends a lightness and fluffiness. These castagnole are no exception, rendered cloud-like after a good dose of ricotta, tinged with fragrant, sunny orange zest, perfect rolled in a bit of sugar, excellent served warm or at room temperature. I'll keep the description short here because let's be honest: this is fried dough. You can never go wrong with fried dough.

...except maybe you can, because fried dough is, well, fried! I know what you're probably thinking, and I get it! If there's one form of cooking I used to tiptoe around and avoid, it was frying, as we're dealing with a pot of bubbling hot oil -- intimidating, to say the least -- and besides that, frying not done right equals soggy, heavy food or food burned to a crisp. But relax! Frying isn't so scary. Here are a few helpful tips that I've picked up over the years that have freed me from my frying fears:

-Use the right kind of oil! Vegetable, peanut, canola, sunflower, and corn oil are good for frying as they have a neutral flavor and high smoking point.

-If you want to be sure the oil is the exact right temperature, invest in a kitchen thermometer (they look like these) which only cost a few dollars and can be found in most kitchenware shops (or In the case of these castagnole, I do a fry test by throwing a little bit of batter in -- if it starts cooking when it hits the oil, I know its ready. However, a good kitchen thermometer is good to have on hand and will be useful in all our future frying endeavors.

-Make sure you have a large pot with high sides -- that way, if the oil gets a little bubbly, its sure to bubble right up the pot and not on to your stove top or you. Make sure that you have about 3 inches or so of side once you've poured the oil in. Woks, Dutch ovens, or big saucepans with high sides are usually suitable.

-Don't crowd the pot when frying, as this will lower the temperature of the oil and give you soggy fried food. For example, you should fry these castagnole 4-5 at a time, in batches. 

-Be sure to lower whatever you are frying slowly -- no splashing! -- in to the oil using tongs or a slotted spoon. Be sure to wear an apron, too.

-To remove your castagnole (or whatever you are frying) from the oil, you can use a slotted spoon. If you want to be fancy, there are also these bamboo skimmers that work well and are cheap, but I doubt most people have them in their kitchens.

-Last thing: keep in mind that this is a shallow fry, not a deep fry (with a deep fry, your fried food is floating in the oil). Here, the castagnole are submerged in oil, but we're only working with a few inches of it. Phew!

A couple more notes: I used ricotta di mucca (cow's milk ricotta) from my local cheese shop which was a drier variety. Ricotta in Italy tends to be a bit drier than the ricotta in the U.S, so if you're in the States making these, you might want to drain off any extra moisture from the ricotta by letting it drain in a sieve over a large bowl, kept covered in the fridge, for about two hours. If you're wondering what to do with the oil after you've used it, Bon Appetit Magazine taught me that you can strain the oil into a glass jar to remove any fried bits, then storing it in a cool, dark place. It can be used 3 or so times more, depending on what you've fried (if you've fried seafood, for example, best to discard the oil). Pour the oil in to a container, let it soldify a bit, and then toss it. Finally, if you're looking for other pre-Lenten treats, may I remind you that there are also these Danish Fastelvansboller on the blog!



1 cup (225 grams) ricotta
5 tablespoons (60 grams) sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from 1 orange (or lemon, if you prefer!)
1 cup (130 grams) flour, plus a little extra for shaping the castagnole
1 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons (6 grams) baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt 

500 ml oil (I used peanut oil)

Sugar, for dusting

1.) Drain your ricotta for about two hours in a sieve placed over a bowl if you have ricotta that has more moisture (see note above). In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg, sugar, orange zest, and vanilla until the mixture is smooth. 
2.) In another bowl sift together the salt, flour, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the ricotta mixture a little at a time, stirring until a thick batter starts to form. If the dough seems too soft, add another tablespoon or so of flour. Next, flour your hands (note that you'll need a bit of flour on your hands each time you roll a castagnole). Break off bits of dough and roll the castagnole into balls, and place them on a large plate. You should have 25-30 balls of dough.
3.) Heat the oil in a large pot with high sides until it reaches about 170 degrees celsius (if you have a kitchen thermometer to test this, great -- otherwise just throw in a small piece of dough. If it starts frying the dough right away, you're ready to go). Fry the castagnole about 5 at a time, turning them with a slotted spoon. Let the castagnole cook until browned and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. 
4.) Remove the castagnole to a paper plate lined with wax paper or paper towels to let the excess oil drain off. Continue with the remaining castagnoleRoll the castagnole in sugar while still warm. You can also dust these with powdered sugar, which is pretty, but note that the powdered sugar is eventually absorbed by the castagnole and disappears. remove to a serving plate, and eat warm or room temperature. Makes 20-30 castagnole.

Recipe adapted from

Scarola e fagioli

Is it just me, or are baking and cooking just kind of magical? Think about making a cake, for instance. You start by measuring out a bunch of completely different ingredients, potion-like -- powdery flour, grainy sugar, unctuous butter, a few rather slimy eggs, a drop of fragrant vanilla, a bit of all-mighty baking powder, its leavening power all contained in a mere teaspoon -- combine them, place the mixture in a pan and then into the oven, and voi! What was before a bowl of gooey, nondescript batter has transformed into a tall, proud, and hopefully delicious cake. Or how about this one? You take a few potatoes -- brown, unremarkable, akin to a pile of rocks, covered in dirt -- give them a bit of washing, toss them with some olive oil and salt and pepper, and leave them to roast in the oven, where they transform into gems of deliciousness, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, redolent of garlic and rosemary (that's how I do my potatoes anyways). And don't get me started on onions! What begins as a pungent, tear-inducing vegetable becomes sweet, mild, and candy-like when slowly cooked with a little butter (and patience) over low heat. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is this: even after all my years of cooking, I still marvel at these little transformations, changes, and shifts that occur in the kitchen, and I think that baking and cooking is probably the closest I'll ever come to having magical powers. Step aside, Hermione Granger. 

Escarole, if you hadn't heard, also possesses magical properties. Known as scarola in Italian, it is a winter green, part of the endive family, with pale green leaves that have a slightly bitter flavor (though not as bitter as cicoria). So, why is escarole so magical, you might ask? Escarole (like spinach, kale, and other greens) pulls a bit of a vanishing act. Its astounding, really -- what starts as a great big bunch of leafy, unruly greens (so unruly in fact that they occupy nearly a whole shelf of your refrigerator, leaving you certain that you'll have escarole to last you the whole week) disappears, transforming itself in to a small bunch of greens the moment they begin to cook, shrinking to nearly half their original size, instantly. This tiny bit of alchemy never ceases to amaze me -- seriously, that little pile of escarole there was a whole pound of greens! -- which brings me to today's recipe, escarole served with white beans, or rather, simple, rustic Italian cooking at its best. With only four ingredients, scarola e fagioli may not seem like much, but it would be a mistake to underestimate it. Here we have slow-cooked (magical) greens turned silky once they spend a bit of time sizzling in a bit of olive oil, all the while taking on the spicy, sharp flavor of the garlic (as greens have a way of doing) balanced nicely by the mild, creamy white beans and jolted awake with a little hot pepper. Served with a little bread and potatoes or sausage on the side, its become my new favorite week night meal. Bonus: its nutritious and takes no time and minimal effort to prepare, no wand required. 

A couple of notes: When buying escarole, choose a bunch that seems firmly packed, with vibrantly green, unblemished leaves. Like I said, I usually eat this dish with some bread (pizza bianca or ciabatta!) on the side, and a little dusting of not-traditional but still delicious freshly grated Parmesan cheese over the top, but if you want to make this a bit more substantial, you could also pair it with sausage, potatoes, or both. If you want, you can also add chicken broth to make it more of an escarole and white bean soup. Feel free to thinly slice the garlic if you want a stronger garlic flavor (as usual I leave the cloves whole then remove them at the end). I used white beans from a can as it is a bit quicker, but feel free to use dried beans and soak and cook them ahead of time, if you prefer. Want another variation on escarole? Leave out the beans, and add in handful of raisins and pine nuts at the end of cooking. Yummm.

Looking for other vegetable-y dishes? Check out these Green Beans with Pancetta, Caramelized Shallots, and Lemon, this Cicoria ripassata alla romana, these Squash and Sage Pancakes, these Herb Roasted Purple and Orange Carrots, this Sicilian Eggplant Caponata, this Chickpea and Kale Soup, this Asparagus with Parmesan and Prosciutto, or these Zucchini, Cherry Tomato, or Butternut Squash tarts.  


Olive oil
Red pepper flakes
2 pounds (about 1 kilo) of escarole
3 cloves garlic
1 can (400 gram can) of white beans, drained

Cut the leaves from the base stalks and rinse them under cold water to remove any bits of dirt that may still be hanging around. Place in a bowl (it's okay if there is still a little water clinging to the leaves) and chop or tear the leaves into coarse pieces.
Heat the olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the skillet generously) in a large skillet over medium heat and add the garlic and red pepper flakes, to taste. Let the garlic flavor the olive oil for 2 or so minutes, then add the escarole a few bunches at a time, adding more escarole as the leaves do their disappearing act and cook down. Let the escarole cook until wilted -- this will take about 15-20 or so minutes -- and until any water still on the leaves has evaporated. Season to taste with salt. Add the beans to the escarole mixture, and stir until heated throughout. Taste and season again with salt, if needed. Serve immediately, with bread on the side. Serves 4.

Pollo alla cacciatora in bianco

Recently, my friend and fellow blogger Flavia (of Flavia's Flavors) started up a thread on Facebook where she asked other Italian food bloggers/enthusiasts to add to her list of Italian dishes and ingredients with odd names. The more responses I read, the more I realized that actually, Italian cuisine is packed with odd or peculiar names, some of them best not translated. For example: there are pastas whose names in Italian mean things such as "little ears" (orecchiette,) "little worms" (vermicelli,) "priest stranglers" (strozzapreti,) or "little tongues" (linguine) among others (appetizing, no?!) There are also dishes with stranger names, like calzone (pant leg,) the leafy vegetable agretti (friar's beard,) cookies like dita degli apostoli (yes, apostles' fingers) occhi di bue (bull's eye) or baci di dama (lady's kisses,) not to mention spaghetti alla puttanesca (whore's pasta) and spaghetti alla carbonara (coal-miners pasta). While the translations can be a bit strange, I certainly do appreciate the quirkiness of these names and how a few of them must have a story behind them. After all, I can't quite say the same of American cuisine, where the standbys -- chicken and dumplings! apple pie! meatloaf! chocolate chip cookies! -- are terribly self-explanatory, no guesswork about what you might be eating or making to be found. 

Today's recipe for pollo alla cacciatora in bianco (the “in bianco” part refers to the lack of tomato sauce in this version) is another such dish with an odd name, translated in English to "hunter's chicken." I figured out the translation of this dish's name – what we in the U.S had always called chicken cacciatore  around when I started learning Italian and cacciare (to hunt) was one of the verbs on my vocab list. I found the name instantly charming, reasoning it was called Hunter’s Chicken because it was hearty, filling, just the sort of fare a hunter would want after a long day of, well, hunting, which, I imagined, was a tiring, slightly stressful activity, especially if your livelihood (and perhaps even the livelihood of your children!) depended on it. Realistically, I figured that the aforementioned hunter was sort of rugged, graying and bearded probably, weathered and worn around the edges (like I said, hunting must be exhausting) but ideally, I imagined he could also look a bit like Chris Hemsworth when he played a huntsman in that movie with Kristen Stewart, you know, where the hunter looks like this (for Chris Hemsworth, I would make pots upon pots of pollo alla cacciatora). But wait! I realized something else. The name in Italian is cacciatora, which is female. Was the hunter actually a woman, a fierce female hunter with a husband who stayed at home with the kids, a bit of a rebel, gossiped about among the other non-hunter housewives?! This idea also intrigued me, but nearly as much as my next musing, that that perhaps chicken herself was the hunter -- the name does leave room for interpretation -- decked out with a jaunty hunting cap, a bow and arrow, and hunting boots that were a bit too big on her skinny chicken legs. Chickens, of course, are vegetarians and thus would never hunt, but now I've provided you with an adorable mental image -- a lady chicken hunter wearing a tiny cap! -- and so we can proceed on to our recipe.

So, the real meaning between pollo alla cacciatora? The sources I've read seem to think it refers to the hunter's wife, who would prepare such a meal as fuel before a big hunt (so I was sort of right). Wikipedia claims that this dish was named after Antonio Cacciatore, a poet, though I mysteriously have found no other sources claiming this, nor can I find any trace of such a man (it is Wikipedia, after all). The origins of the name pollo alla cacciatora may be foggy, but the verdict on this recipe is crystal clear: its delicious and it belongs in your repertoire. Here we've got chicken cooked crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, ultra flavor-packed after a long simmer in a bath of wine, rosemary, sage, and garlic, livened up with a handful or two of briny green olives as a finishing touch. It was lovely served alongside roast potatoes and fennel, a nice change of pace from my usual pasta, not to mention a quick jaunt outside my carb-heavy culinary comfort zone. Hunter or not, you'll want a big plate of this for dinner this Winter.

A couple of notes: I used chicken thighs here and a cut that in Italian is called the sovracosce (no idea what these are called in English -- anyone know?!) but you can use any chicken pieces you want. Be patient when browning the chicken skin! It may take a bit of time but don't turn the chicken over until the skin is nice and crispy, and try not to move the chicken around too much in the pan while the skin is browning. Finally, don't be like me and be sure to check that your green olives are indeed pitted (whoops!) 

Looking for other non-pasta, dessert, or overall carb-y dishes? Check out this Salmon with Mustard Glaze, this Salmon with Strawberry and Avocado Salsa, this Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Peppers, this Swordfish with Tomatoes, Pine nuts, and Olives, these Avocado Cheddar Cheeseburgers, this Saltimbocca alla Romana, this Polpettone al forno, and these Meatballs in Tomato Sauce.  


8 pieces of chicken (see note above)
Olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic
1 cup (8oz or 240ml) white wine
3 sage leaves
3 sprigs of rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 cups (about 200 grams) of green olives, pitted
Chicken broth (low-sodium kind) as needed

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat enough olive oil to generously coat the pan in a large skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. Let the garlic brown a little to flavor the olive oil, then add the chicken, skin side down.
Let the chicken cook for a bit, or until the skin is brown and crisp (don't move the chicken around too much or you won't get the skin nice and crispy!) Turn the chicken pieces over when the skin is browned and let brown on the other side too. When the chicken is browned on both sides, add the herbs to the pan, then add the wine.
  Let the chicken cook for about an hour, or until it is cooked through, adding a bit of broth to the pan as needed if the wine evaporates too quickly, turning the chicken a few times. Add the olives and stir until heated through.
Season the chicken to taste again with salt and pepper and serve with a side of roasted potatoes. Serves 4.

Project Rome + Lemon, Ricotta, and Olive Oil Cake

As per usual, I have a new recipe for you today! But before I get to that, I also have info about an organization here in Rome that you should all know about. First things first -- let's talk about Project Rome!

Project Rome is a self-funded initiative started by Mary Stuart-Miller and Steven Barnes, two British expats living here in the Eternal City. What started as a small project in 2013 to help Rome's homeless -- just Mary and Steve serving home-cooked food and providing basic essentials like shoes and warm clothes -- has since expanded. Along with a team of 20 volunteers, Project Rome now feeds upwards of 150 men and women every Tuesday, as part of their "Tiburtina Tuesday" dinner service (you can get more information about Tiburtina Tuesday and how you can participate by clicking here). In addition to preparing meals, Project Rome also offers free haircuts and shaves, helps their men and women find jobs and apartments, and has started other activities to help support their work. These include: a wish list (sleeping bags, tents, toiletries, among other things) for those who wish to donate an item online; a gift drive at Christmas; and a project to sponsor a hen, whose eggs are used in the meals prepared by the organization (my family has already sponsored 3 -- Beatrice, Belinda, and Betsy). In short, the main aim of Project Rome is to serve others "with kindness, generosity and genuine human compassion." Sounds good to me. 

Project Rome has mostly recently organized a February Food Drive, in order to collect the following items:

Olive Oil
Canned Tomatoes
Rice (Thai par-boiled preferred)
Pulses, farro, lentils, orzo
Vegetable stock cubes
Jars of passata (crushed tomatoes)
Plastic plates (the deeper, sturdier kind)
Plastic cups

If you live in Rome and want to participate, you can drop any of the items at the following addresses:

Scholar’s Pub (Via del Plebiscito 101b)
The Beehive Hostel (Via Marghera 8)
Offices D813 (my office) or C434 (the office of Sangita Dubey) for those who also work at FAO.

You can find out more about the Food Drive by clicking here

Project Rome has also organized a Bake Off this February, where volunteers can either donate cakes to be served on Tiburtina Tuesday or at their Sunday meal services, or sell their cakes and then donate the profits to Project Rome. A slice of homemade cake may seem like a small thing, but I think a little dessert can go a long way to brighten someone's day. If you're interested in participating, you can find all the details of the Bake Off by clicking here. I'll be baking some cakes to donate for the Bake Off, and will also be baking a few cakes per month to donate to Project Rome going forward -- if you want to join me, do feel contact me ( or Mary directly to coordinate! 

Today's Lemon, Ricotta, and Olive Oil Cake was one of the cakes I prepared and donated for the February Bake Off. The recipe comes from blogger and cookbook author Rachel Roddy, by way of my friend Flavia Scalzitti, who shared this recipe on her blog Flavia's Flavors. I have adapted the recipe just barely, adding some vanilla extract and a bit more lemon zest, and the results were outstanding -- a fluffy, airy, and intensely lemon-y cake that is perfect with a dusting of powdered sugar, one of those cakes good at breakfast, snack, or dessert. I hope that the group that Mary, Steve, and their team are feeding today agree. 

A few last things I wanted to share! Mary has recently been recognized by the Guardian for her wonderful work, named as one of the eight heroes of 2016 in this article here. If you want to get involved in Project Rome, click here to contact the organization directly. Note that Project Rome also has an Italian version of their website. 

Looking for recipes for other cakes to make and donate for Project Rome? Check out the ones I have in my Recipe Index here under "Desserts." I also made this Best Ever Apple Cake, and this Nutella Swirl Cake, as well as a Honey Loaf Cake and a Chocolate Bundt Cake (recipes not yet on the blog). Note that "sturdier" cakes without any frosting or other layers are easiest to transport, serve, and eat. 


2 cups flour (260 grams) 
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar (200 grams)
Pinch of salt (a heaping 1/8 teaspoon, roughly) 
1 cup ricotta (205 grams)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (224 grams)
4 large eggs
Zest of 3 lemons (orange zest works well too!)

Powdered sugar, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350°F (170 degrees Celsius). Butter a 9-inch diameter bundt pan, tube pan, or loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk together the ricotta and olive oil until smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until they are fully incorporated and the batter is smooth. Add the vanilla. Pour the ricotta mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until the ingredients are combined and the batter is thick and smooth. Fold in the lemon zest using a wooden spoon.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. 
Cool the cake completely in the pan before inverting it out onto a platter. Dust with powdered sugar. Serves 12-14.

Anti Valentine's Day: Spaghetti with Garlicky Greens

Not long ago, a friend of mine went on a date with a seemingly promising guy she met here in Rome. When I asked her how the date had gone, she groaned and said "Oh, dinner was awkward. We didn't have much to talk about, and besides that I ordered cacio e pepe, and the pasta was too long and hard to eat, and...well, first and last date." As we discussed the details of her not-so-successful dinner, we also compiled a list of all the foods that should be avoided on a first date, or in any romantic situation at all. After some careful thought and consideration we nixed: anything green, like spinach or parsley, which could easily get stuck in your teeth and remain there until hours later, when, horrified, you discovered the offending leafy green; smelly cheese, like gorgonzola or taleggio, whose pungent odors were perhaps not so welcome on a first date; onions, especially raw ones (see: smelly cheese); anything messy and difficult to eat, like a burger or tacos or the previously mentioned long pasta, like tonnarelli; garlic, because, well, garlic. The safest option, we determined, would be a piece of grilled chicken; plain, colorless, unoffensive, easily eaten with a knife and fork, but all the same, a bit boring.

So, where am I going with this?! I posted the requisite Valentine's Day recipe earlier in the week, which would be these Red Wine Chocolate Truffles, thus doing my duty for the month of February for anyone celebrating Valentine's Day. But I'm not one to leave people out! What if you're not with someone this year? What if you were with someone and you're currently heartbroken? What if you were with someone and you're currently celebrating your new found singledom? What if you haven't been in a relationship in a while and are a feeling a little bitter about all the cupids and hearts you're seeing this month?! What if you're single and are 100% fine with that, but also happen to appreciate good food?

You may not have a significant other this year, but on February 14th, you can indulge freely in any or all of the delicious items in my above-mentioned list, including today's Garlicky Green Spaghetti, which:

-Has long pasta, for guaranteed unattractive eating;
-Has an abundance of leafy spinach, to up the chances of giving you a big green-teethed grin;
-Has onions, lots of onions;
-Has garlic, lots and lots of garlic;
-Is finished off with a good dose of cheese, which doesn't give anyone good breath;
-Has a pancetta, because pancetta makes everything 100 times better, all day every day.

In short, whatever category you fall in to, this is just the sort of pasta that would be a nightmare to eat in a romantic setting, and a breeze to eat anywhere else. Above were the bullet points, here are the details: here we have spaghetti served in a silky, olive oil-y sauce that shines in all its unapologetically garlicky splendor, exalting and transforming what were previously mild and rather unremarkable spinach leaves into something truly tasty and crave-worthy. Garlic and greens aside, the spaghetti is dressed up with rich, savory pancetta, a hit of bright lemon zest, slow cooked onions, and a generous amount of salty Pecorino Romano cheese, all of which come together to make pasta that will quite possibly make you grateful you're single this year. Make a big batch of this spaghetti and dole it out to your fellow single friends for dinner on Valentine's Day, reveling in its (delicious) and romance repellent qualities!

A couple of notes: Okay, so this may seem like a lot of garlic, because it definitely is, but that's the point! The garlic here actually isn't overwhelming, just pleasantly spicy and fragrant and goes awesome with the olive oil and greens (olive oil, garlic, and greens are a match made in flavor heaven). Note that for my first "draft" of this pasta, I left the garlic cloves in larger pieces (I thought it would flavor the olive oil enough and then I could remove them later, as I usually do with garlic) but I found that the garlicky flavor wasn't strong enough, and on my second round left the cloves in thin pieces, as you'll see in the below recipe. Therefore, the garlic you see in the below photos should actually be cut much finer. This is a fairly flexible recipe: you can use Parmesan instead of the Pecorino, if you wish, leave out the pancetta for vegetarians, use any kind of winter green you like (kale, for example) or use any kind of pasta you want (longer pasta is the most fun here though). 

Want some other recipes that could present problems in a romantic setting? Check out a few other green dishes, like: Cicoria alla romana, this Chickpea, Kale, and Sausage Soup, or this Pasta with Basil Pesto. You might also like a messy and/or difficult to eat dish, like: Avocado Cheddar Burgers, this Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe, this Pappardelle with Porcini and Pumpkin, or this Bucatini all'amatriciana. Want some dessert? I recommend these Lemon Squares, if you're feeling a little sour this February 14th, or this Tiramisù, whose cocoa powder is bound to end up all over your teeth and face. Hurray!


4 ounces (112 grams) pancetta (optional) 
1/3 cup (about 6 tablespoons) olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Red pepper flakes, to taste 
16 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
16 cups (500 grams, or 1 pound) of spinach leaves, torn, tough stems removed 
Zest of 1 small lemon
12 ounces (340 grams) spaghetti
1 cup (150 grams) Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti.

If you're using the pancetta: cook the pancetta in a tiny bit of olive oil (just so it doesn't stick at first) in a small skillet over medium heat. When the pancetta is brown and crisp, drain it on a paper towel. Set aside. 
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the onion and red pepper flakes. Saute the onions until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic (I add the onions before the garlic as the garlic tends to cook faster). Let the garlic and onions cook until they began to soften and brown. Season the onions with a little salt and pepper. Next, add the spinach, a handful or two at a time, and let it cook down (you'll see that 16 cups really isn't as much as it sounds as it cooks down really fast). Continue until all the spinach is in the pan and has cooked down. Taste and season the onions, spinach, and garlic again with some salt and pepper if necessary. Add the pancetta and lemon zest and mix to combine. 
In the meantime, add the spaghetti to the boiling water (salting it well) and cook according to the package instructions, reserving 1/2 a cup or so of pasta water before draining the spaghetti. Add the drained spaghetti to the skillet and toss with the spinach, onions, and pancetta, then add the Pecorino cheese and a little pasta cooking water (about a tablespoon at a time) to help the sauce come together. Toss well, as you were instructed when we discussed the technique for Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.
Serve the pasta immediately with a little freshly grated Pecorino cheese on top. Eat with gusto and revel in your singleness. Serves 4.