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Contest: Win Gluten Free Catelli Macaroni for a Year

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Late last year I started experimenting with using gluten-free pasta so that I could share some of my favourite family pasta recipes with guests who have diet restrictions. Catelli shared a sample of their new gluten-free pasta with me and I used it with a classic Sicilian Anchovy Pasta. Having just launched a new cut to their pasta collection – macaroni – Catelli has generously offered to give one Italian-Canadian Life reader one-year supply of Catelli Gluten Free Macaroni (open to Canadian residents only).

I received news of this great contest just last week with the launch of the pasta at George Brown College, hosted by Chef John Higgins, Director of George Brown Chef School, former personal chef to the Queen Mother and a judge on Food Network’s Chopped Canada. Chef Higgins demonstrated a variety of recipes that use Catelli Gluten-Free Pasta including a flavourful Ginger-Edamame Macaroni Salad and Moroccan Macaroni Bowl (pictured above, courtesy of Catelli). But the best part of the presentation, to me, was a great discussion on how to cook pasta properly. Gluten-free or not, cooking pasta well makes all the difference to a recipe. His top tips:

* For dry pastas, cook according to the directions on the pasta box. For me, an al dente consistency is preferred (an al dente consistency has some bite and a pleasing resistance to the chew – not gummy or sticky) so you can usually cut one to two minutes off the cooking time on the package.

* When cooking pasta, use a large pot.Using a large pot will give the pasta room to boil and not stick together.

* Over-seasoning the water with salt – bringing it almost to the taste of the sea – will substantially enhance the flavour profile of the dish. As a rule of thumb, use 10 grams of salt for one litre of water and 100 grams of pasta.

* Never add oil to the water when cooking pasta. It does not keep it from sticking together. In fact, the oil creates a coating that prevents the sauce from adhering to the pasta. This is undesirable because you want the pasta to soak up the sauce.

I don’t buy gluten-free pasta frequently and had heard that gluten-free pasta has a different taste and texture. But with this experience now, I can tell you that if you follow the rules above (as you should for any pasta!), you won’t notice a difference. So it’s time for you to give some gluten-free pasta a try. I’m excited to share this opportunity with my readers – the only thing better than pasta is free pasta!

What’s more – Catelli is also offering a coupon to everyone: get a $1 off coupon from Websaver. Coupons are available while quantities last. Thanks Catelli! 

— CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNER HAS BEEN NOTIFIED —

Win a one-year supply of Catelli Gluten Free Macaroni (open to Canadian residents only). Keep reading…

Myths and realities about the Italian diet

Traditional Italian Easter Recipe Roundup

Recipe: Easter Ciambelle (or Chiambrelle)

Easter Chiambrelle Recipe

With Easter around the corner, sweets to celebrate this holiday are in order. These chiambrelle are traditional for Easter and are a perfect recipe for springtime as they feature eggs heavily in the ingredients. If you are familiar with Italian, you’ll notice the odd spelling of “chiambrelle”: the word ciambelle is used to describe any manner of ring cake and the unique spelling you see here is a reflection of the Calabrese dialect and communities that this recipe comes from.

My mom remembers these as a child at her uncle’s wedding in Italy, as people traditionally got married in the spring. My mom prepared them for my own wedding as well and they are a must-have at Easter. In Italy they were baked in outdoor stone ovens.

This isn’t a super-sweet dessert, but rather a good accompaniment to an after-dinner coffee. This recipe has a icing sugar coating, but originally, when sugar wasn’t readily available, they would have been coated with stiff-beaten egg whites mixed with a bit of regular sugar.

Easter Ciambelle (or Chiambrelle)
12 eggs
2 ounces milk
2 ounces vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking power
5-6 cups all purpose flour

Icing
6 ounces milk
2 tsp butter
4 cups of icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon zest

Easter Chiambrelle Recipe

The secrets of Italian recipe interpretation

My grandfather’s process for making bread, or my favourite breadsticks, taralli, had one crucial step: get up early. When the sky was still dark blue, if not black, the dough would be formed and he could get in breakfast, a check in on the garden and maybe a nap while waiting for it to rise.

When my family and I insisted that we learn how to make taralli from him – and that meant really measuring out the ingredients and writing down the steps that were all in his head – he said “no.” I’d never be able to get up early enough he told me. We would start too late and the whole day would be lost. I made him promise to at least do the recipe on a Saturday, which he agreed to (and kept that promise, he was liable to just pick any day he felt like), and I did my best to surprise him by arriving on time. Even on time, we knocked on the door, our eyelids still heavy, and he was already done his second coffee for the day. Evidently, we were already behind.

As much as I may have surprised him by my dedication to get up early, when he took us down to the basement kitchen to start the process, we got our own surprise. We insisted on measuring the ingredients, not once but twice to be sure. If he said a “handful of fennel seeds” we made him fill his hand full then pour it into a measuring cup. When we asked how much flour, he said proudly that he does measure the flour. He pulled out his measuring cup. He used an empty margarine container to scoop out the flour! My mother and I looked at each other, each with the immediate thought: how many cups in a margarine container? And so the measuring, and re-measuring continued.

I get so many emails from readers saying how thrilled they are to see old recipes here on the blog and those still searching for recipes or trying to translate them from the Italian they remember. Nonno or Nonna might still be able to tell you a recipe or you may have inherited the scribbled, stained notebook from a kitchen. Either way you’ll most likely hear one of these:

un pizzico / a pinch

circa… / around…

nu pugnu / a handful

quanto ne prende / whatever it takes

Recipe: Pasta Piselli in Bianco

Recipe for Pasta Piselli in Bianco

Today I’m hoping for spring. The newscaster on the radio yesterday said that by this point in this crazy winter, we’ve shovelled more than 100cm of snow. And this weekend the big melt is on. There’s a puddle the size of an Olympic swimming pool at the end of my driveway, we nearly lost the dog in it.

While I don’t trust that winter is over, the water tells me spring is on the way and that means sunshine, more time outdoors and fresh spring vegetables. The best of those is peas, and while I prefer them raw, sweet and small right out of the pod, they are a great addition to meals as well, like in pasta piselli in bianco (pasta with peas in a “white” sauce).

When I was a kid, I could make myself sick on raw peas. Early on a Saturday morning, my mom and grandparents would disappear for a few hours and come back with bushels of peas in their bright green pods. We would sit in the shade of the front porch, metal bowls in our laps, shellling the pods one by one and listening to the peas hit the bowl with a satisfying “ping, ping, ping.” At first I would be excited to help: I was usually eating more raw peas than were making it into the bowl. But an hour into it, the conversation waned, my stomach was full and my fingernails were lined with green. I would squirm in my seat, hoping to be excused. No such luck – this was a family affair, through and through. When we were finally done, we would freeze the peas and have them for the whole year – there was nothing better.

These days, I go to a nearby farm where they do the shelling for you and flash freeze the sweet peas. A few weeks ago, I shared a pasta piselli recipe that was traditional to my family, using tomato sauce. Now, here’s another common recipe also employed by parents and grandparents as a quick dish that kids generally love: pasta piselli in bianco. “In bianco” means “in white”, or in a white sauce, without tomatoes. While you can use frozen peas, fresh peas are always the best. The recipe is quick, easy and fresh: to be served in the bright sunshine of spring.

Recipe for Pasta Piselli in Bianco

Pasta Piselli in Bianco
200g mini shell dry pasta (100g per person)
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 medium onion, chopped
50g pancetta (or bacon. Use however much you have around.)
olive oil
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated