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Cooking in a time of COVID

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With families beginning to feel the early stages of cabin fever, preparing a meal together can be one of the easiest and most enjoyable ofpastimes.

Starting this week, the Seaford and Wantagh Herald-Citizen newspapers invite readers to share their favorite recipes or meals — or their experiences cooking and eating together as their families sheltered in place.

To start the series, here is a longtime favorite.

 

Paglia e fieno alla ghiotta (Straw and wheat gourmand style)

Despite the elaborate name, this recipe is surprisingly easy to make and only takes about a half-hour start to finish. It is visually beautiful, delicious, and the name alone makes it sound as if the cook has been slaving over a hot stove all day. And even very young children can help in its preparation.

For four to six:

Ingredients

One medium white or yellow onion

4-6 oz. ham, pancetta, or other smoked or cured pork product, according to taste

1-2 cups white mushrooms

8 tablespoons butter

1-2 cups heavy cream

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 

One package each yellow and spinach fettucine

(Mushrooms, meat and onions should be in roughly equal proportions, but feel free to adjust quantities according to taste.)

Preparation

In an 8-quart stockpot, enough cold water to cook all the pasta. (If you are using fresh pasta, you will have to do the spinach pasta separately, because it cooks more quickly)

When the water comes to a boil, add salt to taste and all the pasta. Cooking the pasta uncovered and in as little water AS possible gives the cook better control over the final texture, which should be al dente — done, but firm to the bite.

When the pasta is done, add cold water to halt the cooking process and drain.

While the water is boiling, dice the onion, ham or pancetta and the mushrooms.

In a large skillet that can later hold all the ingredients, including the pasta, melt all the butter over medium-high heat. When the foam begins to subside, add the onions. Sauté until just translucent. 

Add the mushrooms and sauté for about a minute until they just begin to soften. Reduce heat and sprinkle lightly with salt. 

When the mushrooms begin to produce liquid, or “sweat” (which happens very quickly), turn up the heat.

Add the meat and cream. If the sauce needs thickening, add freshly grated cheese

To serve

Put the sauce in a bowl and set aside. Add all the noodles to the skillet and half the sauce. Mix thoroughly.

Pour into a serving dish. Make an indentation in the center and pour in the remaining sauce. Sprinkle liberally with freshly grated cheese and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Note: Pancetta is much saltier than most ham, so you may need to adjust the salt used in the recipe accordingly. Once you get the hang of this lovely dish, you can prepare the sauce in the time it takes to cook the pasta, while other family members prepare salad. Children too young to help with the chopping can stir the sauce or monitor the noodles.

In Italy, pasta is nearly always the first course in a multi-course meal that is eaten with the whole family at mid-day. This would go well with almost any roast or grilled meat dish, except very strongly flavored ones like petti di pollo alla senese. Served with a mixed salad, it can also be a meal in itself.

Enjoy!

Got a favorite? Send your recipes and any photos to tdenton@liherald.com.

Adapted from “The Classic Italian Cookbook,” by Marcella Hazan