Italian traditions: Pasta e Fagioli, Bolognese Ragu' and Chicken Milanese

Paula Duffy's picture

Italian cuisine varies greatly by regions of the country. Here are some meals that typify Tuscany, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna.

Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell on the Food Network put candidates for an executive chef position through their paces creating Italian dishes from different regions of the country.

At the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, NH owner Joe Faro has made his fortune in homemade pasta and distinctive dishes from all around Italy.

Mandating that the job applicants use traditional regional ingredients and produce dishes that typify the regions of Italy where they were created, Faro and Anne devised ridiculously difficult challenges to weed out the weak and produce one winner from four chef candidates.

While the eager chefs tried their best to jump through hoops, the winner of Faro's coveted position was Chef Anthony.

He impressed both Tuscan Kitchen's owner and Burrell as he showed himself to be a good kitchen manager as well a creative Italian chef.

Tuscan Pasta e Fagioli

Courtesy of Food Network - Rachael Ray

A traditional soup dish, Pasta e Fagioli is both hardy and filling

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 pound (about 3 slices) pancetta, chopped
  • 2 (4 to 6-inch) sprigs rosemary, left intact
  • 1 (4 to 6-inch) sprig thyme with several sprigs on it, left intact
  • 1 large fresh bay leaf or 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans
  • 1 cup canned tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups ditalini (can use elbow macaroni if you prefer)

Preparation

Heat a deep pot over medium high heat and add oil and pancetta. Brown the pancetta bits lightly, and add herb stems, bay leaf, chopped vegetables, and garlic. Season vegetables with salt and pepper. Add beans, tomato sauce, water, and stock to pot and raise heat to high. Bring soup to a rapid boil and add pasta. Reduce heat to medium and cook soup, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is cooked al dente. Rosemary and thyme leaves will separate from stems as soup cooks. Remove herb stems and bay leaf from soup and place pot on table on a trivet. Let soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes.

Serve with grated cheese and use crusty Italian bread for dipping.

Lombardy is the region of northern Italy that includes the city of Milan. Meat cutlets are a typical Milanese dish.

Chicken Milanese with Argula Salad
Courtesy of Martha Stewart

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges, for serving
  • 5 ounces baby arugula
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss breadcrumbs and oil until well combined; spread on sheet. Cook, tossing once, until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Place flour and eggs in separate bowls; season with salt and pepper. Place a rack on another rimmed baking sheet.

One at a time, place chicken breasts between two large pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet or bottom of a small heavy pan, pound until 1/2 inch thick. Coat chicken on both sides with flour (shaking off excess), then dip in eggs (allowing excess to drip off); dredge in breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to adhere.

Bake chicken on rack, without turning, until opaque throughout, 10 to 15 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together remaining 2 tablespoons oil and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Add arugula and onion; toss. Top chicken with salad; serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Emilia-Rogmagna is the region that includes the city of Bologna. It is famous for its Balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Bolognese pasta sauce.

Pasta Bolognese

Courtesy of Anne Burrell and Food Network

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 3 cups hearty red wine
  • Water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preparation

In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.

Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food tastes good. Don't rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.

Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don't be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and

During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn't matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pot and reserve.

Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining ragu. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano and a generous drizzle of the high quality finishing olive oil. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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