Tagliatelle gorgonzola e noci

My sister-in-law, Lakshmi -- problem the most in gamba (in English: overall cool) person I know -- is, among many things, an excellent cook. Though she only really started to cook when she moved to the U.S back in 2013 -- both because she was a student and because cooking for herself was the easiest way to access good Indian food -- but she is so very brava that I find it hard to believe she hasn't been cooking for much longer than that. She has introduced us -- her very lucky family -- to dishes like chicken biryani and pappadums, lemon rice and coconut rice, and everything from shrimp to egg to goat curry. She's taught us that naan bread is redundant (naan already means bread) and the same goes for chai tea (idem) and that, on a non-food related note, the Himalayas are pronounced not him-uh-LAY-uhs but actually him-AHL-yuhs (who knew?!) 

Having said this: in the same way that I find Indian cuisine intimidating (what with its many spices, marinades, and unfamiliar ingredients) my sister-in-law used to find Italian cuisine (what with its characteristic cheese, pasta, and many pork products, from prosciutto to guanciale to pancetta) equally intimidating. This surprised me at first -- after all, Italian cooking is known for its simplicity and straightforwardness -- but it's all a matter of what you're used to, what you've grown up with, isn't it? At the beginning, when she was first expanding her culinary horizons to Italian food, I fielded many a question from her, their arrival announced by the ping! of my cell phone; was it normal that the sauce the meatballs were cooking in was bubbling so very furiously? was she cooking them the right way?! If one was used to cooking with things like curry leaves, fresh ginger, and turmeric, how did western herbs like basil, rosemary, and oregano compare? Why did a recipe for pesto call for just 1 clove of garlic -- was that a mistake? After all, an Indian recipe would call for at least 5 or 6! 

It would seem that my sister-in-law truly does have a knack for cooking, as she has quickly familiarized herself with and subsequently conquered Italian cuisine just as she once conquered Indian cuisine, learning to, in her own words: season with a lighter hand, discern the differences between Italy's many cheeses, observe how my mother and I cook, and not be afraid to ask questions. She now makes not only dishes from her own country but also from the one of the family she married in to, mastering dishes like roast lamb with red wine and and a fit-for-Christmas Eve sugo di pesce, adding classic dishes like pasta con le sarde, pasta e ceci and crostata di ricotta to her repertoire, and regularly consulting the cookbooks of Marcella Hazan. All of this has left me positively bursting with pride, and also more aware of the fact that I should really make more of an effort to learn about Indian cuisine, to fully close the culinary circle (late addition to my list of 2019 resolutions!)

So! What does all this have to do with today's dish, tagliatelle gorgonzola e noci? Not so long ago Lakshmi was telling us about her newest adventures in Italian cooking, and while I don't quite remember the details, I do remember that at one point in a conversation about our favorite cheeses, my sister-in-law mentioned my brother's preferred formaggio, or rather, gor-GAHN-zola, which rolled off her tongue in a very knowledgeable, matter-of-fact sort of way. The correct pronunciation of this cheese is, of course, gor-gon-ZO-la, and the whole thing was so endearing and so very amusing that I can't help but think of my sister-in-law every time I spot this cheese at the shop -- and now every time I prepare this recipe. So! This dish is one of those wonderful rarities that manages to be special and fancy and quick and easy at the same time, and really: does it get any better than pasta tossed in a super luxurious cheese sauce with a hint of warming sage and toasty garlic and crunchy, buttery walnuts to boot?! I didn't think so. Gor-GAHN-zola for the win. 

A couple of notes: You can use any long flat pasta you want here -- fettuccine or pappardelle would also be nice. I remember when I was little my mom had a similar dish in her repertoire, where she used penne, which were also delicious. Next time I make this I might up the quantity of sauce and bake it in the oven with a shorter pasta...stay tuned/let me know if you get around to trying this before me!

Looking for other super simple pasta recipes? I've got this spaghetti with quick cherry tomato sauce, this cacio e pepe, this rigatoni with eggplant, these three pestos (almond, basil, pistachio), this pici with sausage ragu', this penne alla vodka, and this fettuccine with brie, tomatoes, and basil

Recipe from Rachel Roddy via The Guardian
Serves 4

1 pound (500 grams) dried tagliatelle
2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced 
6-8 sage leaves
75 grams (2.5 ounces) gorgonzola dolce
1/2 cup (100ml) heavy cream
A big handful of chopped walnuts

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook as per packet instructions. Have all the ingredients for the sauce ready to go.
While the pasta cooks, take a small pan and, over a medium-low flame, melt the butter, and add the sliced garlic and sage leaves, leaving it all to bubble for a minute.
Add the cubed gorgonzola, cream and a few grinds of black pepper, then stir until the cheese has melted. Continue cooking for another minute. Taste and add salt, if needed. 
When ready – tender but with a slight bite – drain the pasta (saving a little of its cooking water) and tip it into a warm bowl. Pour over the cheese sauce, add half the walnuts and toss quickly, adding a little pasta cooking water if it seems at all stiff. Divide between bowls, sprinkle over the remaining walnuts, and immediately serve.

Homemade Mascarpone

We're more than halfway through February now and I'm taking stock of my New Year resolutions, partly to keep my mind on other things, and partly because there is nothing I relish more than consulting a well-made list (it's just who I am, okay?!). Said list looks more or less something like this:

-Find a new apartment!!!
-Pick up ballet again? 
-Read more, watch TV less 
-Redesign blog -- new colors, look, name??! 
-Cheese-making! Ricotta, mascarpone, mozzarella...burrata?! ricotta salata? etc etc 

While I'd love to take you through how I plan to achieve all my goals this year (that third one will be tricky, what with the last season of Game of Thrones on its way) I'll spare you and have us just skip to #5, the one about cheese, because formaggio is always the most interesting person in the room, isn't he? As you may recall, my grandfather was a cheese-maker, making and selling countless quantities of cheese -- mainly ricotta and mozzarella -- in the 57 years in which he ran his own business and not so long ago it dawned on me that I, too should give the art of cheese-making a shot. I'm not quite sure why I didn't think of this before -- after all, I love cheese, I love to cook, and I love my nonno, my nonno loved cheese -- but now that the idea is in my head, I'm pleased, inspired, intrigued. Meglio tardi che mai, or better late than never, right?

A little research has confirmed what I already more or less knew -- that the making of most cheeses is a tricky thing, the process requiring things like aging over long periods of time at specific temperatures in specific environments (!!!) Needless to say I'm not quite at this level, not yet anyways, therefore I've been starting small, with my cheese-making training wheels on, so to speak. First up was this first with this ricotta -- unbelievably simple -- and now this mascarpone, which is a tad more complicated, but still sits squarely in the "beginner" category of cheeses. First things first: mascarpone, if you're not familiar, is one of the most luxurious of all cheeses (in the same family tree as burrata, I'd think) with a mild, almost sweet flavor and a decidedly rich texture (this tends to happen when you're a cheese made with purely heavy cream). It is known mainly for its role as the cream layered between the coffee-dipped savoiardi of a tiramisu, but is also quite versatile, delicious paired with fruit, drizzled with honey, sprinkled with chocolate, dolloped onto desserts, served on toasted bread with jam, used in crepes, or spread on crostini. It is sublime when in ice cream, in cheesecake, in tarts, or in frosting, too. 

So! The verdict for this mascarpone, made completely from scratch in my very own kitchen?! It was was everything I'd hoped for and more, silky and rich and creamy all at once with a mild, vaguely lemony flavor, as content dolloped on top of a bowl of berries with honey (pictured here) as it was on toasted bread with raspberry jam. The recipe was undeniably straightforward and completely doable, but still complicated enough to make me feel accomplished, once it was all said and done (maintaining the same temperature for 3 minutes requires some attention and care!) My grandmother teared up when I told her about what I'd made during one of our ever more frequent calls on Skype -- but in her tears I detected more pride than sadness, followed by a promise that I'd make her some mascarpone as soon I was home next, maybe baked in to a pie, or cheesecake, or in a tiramisu, or perhaps just served simply with strawberries and honey, as my nonno would have liked

A couple of notes: You will definitely need a kitchen thermometer for this recipe; they don't cost very much (just a few dollars/euros in my experience) and once you have one, you can make not only mascarpone but also ricotta and sweets like fudge, toffee, marshmallows, etc! In short: if you like to cook, it's a good investment. That's about it!

Looking for other recipes for things that you would normally buy in a store, but can actually totally make at home? Knew it! I've also got: this ricotta, these gnocchi, these taralli, this ice cream, these bagels, this focaccia, these Pop-Tarts, this hot chocolate, this hummus, these popsicles, this challah bread, this hot fudge sauce, these granola bars, these soft pretzels, these castagnole di ricotta, this butterscotch sauce, this crema di caffe', these pumpkin doughnuts, and this pizza bianca.

Recipe from Food52 -- makes 2 cups. 

2 cups (480 mL) heavy cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice 

In a saucepan, slowly bring the heavy cream to a low simmer (the temperature should reach 180° F or 80° C and the goal is to try to keep it around there). Let simmer at 180° F for about 3 minutes then add in the lemon juice. Simmer for another 3 minutes, then remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Fill a small strainer with several layers of cheesecloth (I use three) and put a small bowl under the strainer. Pour the cooled mascarpone mixture into the cheesecloth and stick the entire bowl in the fridge overnight (mine only strained a few tablespoons of whey, but the mascarpone came out thick and creamy in the morning). 

Lentils with sausages + mustard vinaigrette

Without going too much in to detail -- not sure I have the energy or the strength for that -- the events of the past two or so weeks have turned what has been a fairly unassuming start to the year into a decidedly painful one. While I'm trying my best to hold on to any and all positive thoughts in the midst of the gaping hole my nonno's passing has left -- the remarkable legacy he left behind and all he achieved in his nearly a century (!!!) of life, how the deep sadness my family is experiencing is simply a testimony to how much he was loved -- I am struggling. As always, I've turned to cooking and baking as a way to keep me distracted and occupied, comforted, at least fleetingly. If I've said it once I've said it a hundred times -- I haven't yet come across a situation that a little time in the kitchen can't remedy, and lately cooking has once again come to my rescue, a brief antidote to grief. For that I am grateful. 

Today's recipe for lentils and sausages is comfort food in its purest form, nourishing and sustaining in exactly the way a person requires when riding out the waves of a loss. It is a familiar, humble dish -- lentils, onions, carrots, a little celery -- and yet exactly the kind of thing I that has kept me going in these past few days. As I write this, it comes to mind that it is just the sort of dish my nonno would have approved of -- filling, wholesome, welcome to a grating or two of Parmesan, his favorite cheese -- any of the countless times he inquired via Skype what was for "supper" (always supper, never dinner). 

I'll be back soon with some new recipes, hopefully a few more for homemade cheese (graduating from this recent ricotta to mascarpone, then hopefully to mozzarella?) in honor of my nonno, the cheese-maker in the family. In the meantime, do me a favor and give your grandparents a phone call of even better, a hug, and make this dish for them, if you can, and tell them how much you love them. 

A couple of notes: You can make this vegetarian and serve these lentils with burrata over the top instead of sausages, a nifty idea I got from Deb Perelman. Any green or brown lentils will do here.

Serves 4.

2 cups French green lentils (13 oz), picked over and rinsed
6 cups (1500mL) water
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon (a generous pinch) dried thyme
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Black pepper
A handful of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 sausages, cooked (I used prosciutto sausages)
Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
Bring lentils and water to a boil in a large saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, then simmer lentils, covered, until tender but not falling apart, 3 to 5 minutes.

While lentils simmer, sauté over medium heat the onion, carrots, celery, garlic cloves, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just softened (this will take 8 or so minutes). 

Make your vinaigrette -- whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few more grinds of black pepper in a bowl. Add remaining 1/2 cup oil in a slow stream, whisking until blended well.

Drain lentils in a colander and add to the vegetable mixture in the skillet. Remove the garlic cloves and discard. Add the vinaigrette to the lentils and vegetables. Cook over low heat, stirring, until heated through. Stir in the parsley. Serve the lentils on a platter topped with the sliced sausage and a flurry of Parmesan, or burrata if you prefer. Dig in.