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Look at these sweet napkins Genevieve made for Hip Nana!

Thanks Genevieve—Extra limoncello for you!


Hip Nana Gets in the Mood

Did we say homemade sausage-stuffed tortelli with sage browned-butter sauce? When friends came to visit us in Italy, it was one of our favorite dishes to make. Here’s why:






It was great meeting everyone at Saturday’s dinner. We had 11 people, 8 liters of “secret” wine, and five courses of southern Italian food. I wasn’t sure what I expected from Hip Nana’s first dinner, but I sure got it. Paolo, an Italian winery worker, closed his eyes and took a deep breath when the sweet potato mezzelune (half-moon pasta) with spiced brown butter sauce was served; he looked as though he’d been transported home. Kristin and I were also transported — to southern Italy, where some of the best restaurants are operated out of people’s homes. The table felt warm, and this was just what we were hoping for.


Here is the recipe for the 3rd course of the night: Involtini di Carne, lovingly re-entitled “beef rolls” by my homie Chris (can I call you that?).

One of the most popular meat dishes in Puglia, involtini di carne are thinly sliced pieces of meat rolled around parmesan and parsley. Traditionally, the meat used is horse. Horse meat is the most commonly found meat in Puglia, and when we were taught this recipe it was with horse meat. Since this totally freaks out most Americans (including Kristin, until she tried it), this recipe will substitute thinly sliced beef. One of the kindest and most gracious women I’ve ever met in my life taught us how to cook involtini di carne in her home in Puglia. Reflecting Puglia’s cooking style, the recipe focuses on the ingredients, without any hoopla.

Involtini di Carne
(serves two)

Ingredients:
1 lb thinly sliced, tender beef (if you have a tenderizing mallet you could use it)
.15 lbs Parmesan
1/3 cup white cooking wine
1/2 bouillon cube
2/3 of 6 oz can of tomato paste
some parsley
salt
pepper
olive oil
toothpicks

Directions:

1. Cut your meat into rectangles roughly 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches (you should have 5-7 small involtini). Cut pieces of parmesan to put inside the meat. I try to put one big piece of parmesan in each involtini.
2. Place cheese on the meat, in a place that’ll make it easy to roll it up. Add a sprig of parsley, salt, and pepper. Make sure you don’t forget to add salt and pepper before rolling.
3. Roll up and secure with toothpicks. You want the rolls to be pretty tight or else all of the cheese will melt out. Try to wrap the cheese up with the meat very tightly at first, then roll it the rest of the way. Use 3-7 toothpicks per involtini (I know, it’s a lot, but that’s how I’ve always seen it done).
4. Saute in olive oil in a deep pan until brown on all sides. Add wine and simmer until reduced by half.
5. Add tomato paste and 1/2 bouillon cube, then refill tomato paste can 3-4 times, or until involtini are mostly covered.
6. Bring to a simmer, then cook for 30 minutes.

This recipe actually creates two courses! Italians always serve the Primi (pasta) course before the secondo (second course), and involtini di carne are a secondo. The extra sauce produced by this recipe isn’t wasted: cook up some pasta and use the sauce with it. Serve the involtini di carne immediately afterwards.

We were surrounded by olive trees in Puglia. Some were newly planted — a gift to the generations to come — while others were planted 500 years ago. The oldest, now split down their centers, were planted in 1000 AD, when Puglia was ruled by the Byzantines and marauding pirates terrorized its coastal cities.

Kristin and I recently cured our own olives. The U.S. isn’t known for its olive trees, so we were pretty surprised when Kristin’s mom brought us a bag full of fresh green olives (they had been shipped from Greece). In general, fresh olives taste disgusting. They are very very acidic and their juice is white and viscous. Though some Italian nonne (grandmas) cook with fresh olives, it is pretty uncommon.

Curing them is supposed to be easy, but we totally failed. The olives taste almost as acidic as they originally did. We have some guesses as to what went wrong; I’ll include them, along with the recipe that we followed, below.

There’s no success like failure, and failure’s not success at all.—Bob Dylan

This recipe came from Barbur World Foods (a great market that has wonderful wine tastings). The fresh olives also came from there.

Directions:

1) Crack the olives using a stone (we used a rolling pin)
2) Prepare salted water at a ratio of 1 quart water to 1/2 cup pickling salt.
3) Wash olives in cold water, then let them sit in a cold water bath for 2 days (change the water twice a day)
4) Put into a jar
5) Add seasonings: salted water, lemon, garlic
6) Top the jar with 3 TBSP olive oil before sealing
7) Age two weeks before eating

We suspect that we let the olives get a little old before starting the process; they sat in our refrigerator for several days. Also, some say that you should let them sit in the cold water bath for two weeks, to get all the bitterness out. We might try that next time.

How We Roll

Empty wine bottles used to depress me. I started using them as candle holders, which helped a little. Then I discovered their true purpose. It was 2009. Mattie and I were spending a few days in a little town on the Amalfi Coast, in a hostel that included breakfast in the price: cappuccino and deliciously flaky homemade croissants. “You made them?” we asked the guy who served us breakfast. “Yes, yes!” he said. Then he said something in Italian while making rolling motions. We thought he was telling us that he drank wine while making croissants. After a while we figured out that he uses wine bottles to roll out the dough.

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Well, what’s good for the croissant is good for the pasta, so when we wanted to try our hand at making linguine and found that we lacked a rolling pin, we grabbed a couple of the wine bottles that were lying around the house. Maybe you think making pasta is hard. Maybe you’re under the impression that it requires a pasta machine. It isn’t. It doesn’t. All it takes is flour, salt, water, a table, and someone willing to polish off a bottle of wine. In fact, many, many things require only these ingredients. I’ve used wine bottles to roll out dough for croissants, pies, biscuits, pasta — the only kind of dough I can’t roll out is the kind that buys stuff.

Would a rolling pin make the job easier? I’m not going to lie to you: I’ve got a rolling pin now, and I use it. It’s nothing special, just an old-fashioned wooden rolling pin, but it gives you more leverage, or torque, or something. But if you’re making pasta with three friends and you only have one rolling pin, don’t worry. In fact, it’s better that way. Break out the wine and get rolling.

Pasta for 2:

1 ½ c. all-purpose flour*
pinch of salt
½ c. warmish water (give or take)

1. Make a flour volcano and toss in a pinch of salt. Pour in a little water and mix it in with your fingers. Continue to add water and mix it into the flour until you can form it into a ball. Knead dough until smooth and silky, but not sticky. If it feels sticky, sprinkle a little flour onto it and knead it in. If it feels dry, dip your fingers in water and continue kneading. It takes practice to get the right texture, but it’ll happen. And your pasta will taste good even if it’s a little too wet or dry.

I find that warm water helps to get the dough softer faster. You can make the pasta directly on a tabletop (that’s what I like to do), but if you want to contain the process, put the flour in a bowl or on a dinner plate.

2. Let the dough sit for ten minutes (I don’t always do this and that’s OK).

3. Roll out your dough. Use plenty of flour so it doesn’t stick to the table. Try to get it as thin as possible. If it stops stretching or if you get tired, just cut it into thinner strands in step 4.

4. Cover the dough in flour and roll it up. This is important: if you don’t use enough flour, it will stick to itself and make you crazy. Slice and unroll the individual strands. If you’re not cooking the pasta right away, try to spread it out so that it doesn’t stick together.

5. Cook! The pasta is done when it rises to the top. Taste to make sure.

*Using half all-purpose flour and half semolina makes for a chewier, slightly better pasta. In Italy flour costs around 30 cents a pound; it can be more expensive here, especially semolina. Winco sells it in bulk at prices on par with Italy’s. But if you’ve only got all-purpose, that works more than fine.

Kristin and I decided to make our own limoncello. This was the first time we’d used this recipe, so it was a bit of an experiment.

Limoncello is a powerful, lemon-infused liqueur made famous by the Amalfi Coast, where K and I spent many hours sampling the local wares. The libation was always present in Puglia, too: Whenever a long meal came to an end, our host would pull out a bottle of homemade limoncello. Other homemade infusions included mandarin orange-cinnamon-cello and black cherry-cello. Another popular concoction is a bitters made with herbs, aka amaro [e.g., Fernet-Branca, Campari]. The best we ever had was at Casareccia Restaurant in Lecce. It was a 24-year-old bay leaf infusion and looked like poison.

You can make your own limoncello at home. It saves you money while allowing you to indulge in one of the finer things in life.

Ingredients:

1 750ml bottle of Everclear
7 medium-sized lemons
1.9 cups of sugar
750ml of water

Since this was our first time making this, I thought I’d include photos to help document our potential mistakes. First, we peeled the lemons using a regular ol’ vegetable peeler. The peel is what gives the limoncello its flavor; we squeezed out the juice from the peeled lemons and froze it, so we’ll always have lemon juice on hand. It’s important not to include much of the pith, the white part of the lemon, which makes limoncello bitter. I don’t think that we included very much pith, but we’ll be able to tell when we drink it.

Next, we poured in the booze, water, and sugar. We stirred it up thoroughly, and that was it. Not all of the sugar had dissolved, but it did dissolve over the next three days. We will continue stirring it for about a week. Afterward, we’ll let it sit, untouched for a month, then strain it. This means it should be ready for our first supper club, in November.

Total cost: $18 (made two bottles)
Cost of a single bottle of limoncello: $30

You do the math. Bay leaf bitters is next on the list…

Coming Soon