Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style

The thing about Pasta Alfredo is that it is basically well known only outside of Rome and especially in North America.  There are two restaurants in central Rome that that can lay claim to the origin of this recipe and it became famous because famous foreigners got to enjoy it, including early Hollywood film stars.  If you have a little gander around google you will encounter scores of articles to enlighten and amuse you.  If you haven’t got the time or patience, I would advise you to click on the links below for two excellent articles and video on the history and the recipe written by Elizabeth Minchilli and by Frank Fariello.

For my part, I can say that most Romans – if they are going to make a simple butter and parmesan pasta at all – will not use fresh pasta (fettuccine) but dry pasta instead.  The recipe is sometimes dubbed as the dish that is made for the man whose wife cheats on him (“la pasta del cornuto”); having squandered her time away from the kitchen in pursuit of forbidden pleasure and frippery, she will not have the requisite time to prepare a ‘proper’ pasta sauce.  What else can a poor unfaithful wife do but resort to a quick and easy “pasta burro e parmigiano” that she can prepare in no time at all?  As if.  Anyway, I got a craving for this dish when I was pregnant the first time – so it was very amusing for me to discover that the original chef Alfredo who ‘invented’ this concoction did so in order to improve the appetite of his pregnant wife!  There you go.  Nothing to do with being unfaithful whatsoever.  Also, it is the pasta to make after one has been ill for whatever reason.  “La pasta in bianco” it is called (white pasta) and sometimes olive oil will be substituted for the butter.  In Umbria they call it the Englishman’s pasta. I wrote a post about this some years ago: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/english-pasta-spaghetti-burro-e-parmigiano/.

But back to today and the new pasta Alfredo I want to tell you about.

The Alfredo in question is Alfredo Minardi Baldoni who runs his family’s nine-generation vineyard and olive farm near Frascati.  The vineyard and farm house/cellar couldn’t be prettier and more picturesque, with breathtaking views of the rolling hills of the Castelli Romani area, the peak of the ancient town of Tusculum,  the town of Monteporzio, as well as the hills north of Rome and the seashore to the left.

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I have been collaborating with Alfredo and his tours and wine tasting since last September, and our conversations are always about the history (and a bit of gossip) of where we live, wine (naturally!), olive oil and food.  It didn’t take me long to discover that he likes his nosh, has a fine palate and is a dab hand in the kitchen.

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I was telling him about that incredible pasta sauce I had enjoyed in Tuscany back in October, consisting of only three ingredients: sausages, mascarpone, and parmesan cheese (salt and pepper too). When we were discussing what two pasta dishes to offer our guests one Sunday, we decided go for a traditional Roman dish (Amatriciana) and to do a take on the famous (or infamous considering the ‘heavy’ ingredients) of the sausage-mascarpone-parmigiano recipe.  And this is the result.

“What are we going to call this dish?” I asked him, minutes before serving the guests? He started prattling on about the ingredients and I shook my head.  “No, we shall call this dish Pasta Minardi, after the vineyard!”  I can take no credit for the tweak on the trio of ingredients, the ideas were all Alfredo’s (except maybe for the addition of mint).  And hence, some time later, I reckoned it was a good idea to name this dish “Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style”.

INGREDIENTS

Italian sausagues, mascarpone, freshly grated parmesan cheese.

A handful of almonds, a glass of white wine (Frascati naturally!), some olive oil and as much or as little garlic as you prefer.

METHOD

Use a knife to finely chop the sausages after having skinned them.  Then brown the garlic in the olive oil, taking care not to actually ‘brown’ them.  They ought to be a golden colour. Remove the garlic afterwards (or keep it in the sauce, if you like it).

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Add the chopped sausage to the pan and use a wooden spoon or spatula to break it up as much as possible. Careful not to overcook the meat otherwise it will tend to go all hard and chewy.

You can slice the almonds with a knife or you can do what I did.  I covered them with parchment paper and used a meat pounder to crush them.

When the meat has just stopped turning pink, pour a glass of white wine into the pan (not directly on the meat) and turn the heat up to let the alcohol evaporate.

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Now add the almonds.  Stir.

The meat looks really ‘brown’ in the above photo but that’s not what it looked like in real life.  Anyway, I added 4 tablespoons of mascarpone and mixed it in.  I then added a fifth tablespoon to loosen up the sauce somewhat.  I tasted it (delicious already!) and added a little bit of salt.  Pepper (freshly milled) I always add at the end.

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The pasta was boiling away (doesn’t look like it in this photo, I know). I used roughly 700g of pasta.

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I transferred the sauce to a larger pan.  A pan that I would use to finish off the pasta.  At this point I added a few teensy mint leaves that I found on my balcony.  Dried  mint can work too, I suppose.

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The pasta was almost ready, so I turned the heat on.

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I had added some pasta water to the previous pan, to soak up whatever got left behind. I poured this into the new pan and then drained the pasta directly into the pan.

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Here I am finishing off the pasta in the pan, adding more pasta water (as needed) and tossing and or stirring the pasta.

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Pepper and parmesan last.  Give it a good stir and serve.

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A lovely wintry recipe,  my appreciative guests commented as they enjoyed Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style a few evenings ago.

I should think so so too.  This might not grow hair on your chest, but you will find yourself breathing better as you savour the richness of the texture, the crunch of the almonds, the saving grace of a faint hint of mint and the rounding off of a parmesan-mascarpone finish.

http://memoriediangelina.com/2013/05/19/fettuccine-alfredo/

http://www.elizabethminchilli.com/2017/02/how-to-make-fettuccine-alfredo-video/

Ribbons of Delight – Le Frappe di Carnevale

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“It’s still Christmas in Frascati,” I thought to myself as I walked home last night.  The fairy lights that had been put up back in November by the town’s famous café, the Bar Belvedere (or Bar Brega), were still twinkling away most fetchingly. (And by the by, Bar Brega is famous for its top notch ice cream should you ever venture to these parts).

Opposite the café, looking somewhat forlorn, still gleamed the minimalist garland decoration on a Christmas tree.  But hey ho let’s not knock it too much,  stripes of light continued to shine from the tree and brighten up a Winter’s evening.

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Is it too late to wish everyone a Happy New Year? It’s still  January, so I am hoping it is not.

Not that January is most people’s favourite month of the year, not unless one likes skiing or skating.  Hunkering down with hot drinks or wine in front of an open fire or in an otherwise warmed-up cheery surrounding (candles anyone?) can of course be very romantic and soul soothing, as can reading a book all tucked up on a sofa, or watching a rerun of a much loved TV series.  Winter slows us down and so it should. We are mammals after all and a lot of mammals go into hibernation wherever the colder climes are meteorologically normal for this time of year (we won’t mention climate change).  I read somewhere that our metabolism tends to slow down in Winter which is a good excuse for us to put on some more weight and blame it on biology.

All this to say that I do indeed see why a crisp Winter’s day or a cosy evening indoors can be most enjoyable and atavistically rooted even in our biology.  It’s just that January, following weeks of festivities starting with Thanksgiving in the USA and ending with New Year’s Eve for most of the rest of the world,  starts off with expectations and a bang and then degenerates somewhat into either a lull or downright despondency.   Have you ever heard of anyone enthusiastically exclaiming “Yay! I can’t wait for January!” ???  I thought so.  Rhetorical question.

In Italy, some holidays based on ancient Roman tradition, on the Church and its cohorts of saints do a good job of keeping people’s pecker up.  The last Christmas holy day of 6th January (Twelfth Night as it is known in English) is officially called “l’epifania” (Epiphany) and celebrates the occasion of the Three Kings presenting baby Jesus with precious gifts.  Until the 1960s all Italian children received their Christmas gifts on this day, and not on the 24th or 25th December.  The presents were brought by a somewhat witchy crone, called “La Befana”, who steals into people’s houses in the thick of the night, riding on a broom and wearing stockings that are in dire need of darning.  She delivers nice presents to ‘good’ children and charcoal to those who have been deemed naughty.  La Befana is quite spooky and pretty ugly if you’ll excuse the oxymoron.   Should someone call you a Befana, please understand that it is definitely not a compliment   (Very odd indeed, this Befana figure, a little reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth witches, all be she much more benign).  The Epiphany, Twelfth Night, comes to put an end to festivities.  “L’epifania tutte le feste porta via” goes the proverb.  And we are supposed to feel … what? Recharged? Raring to get on with the new year? Sigh.

Thank goodness that the celebration of Carnevale (carnival) follows on fairly quickly after January  6th, usually within a few weeks.  And with Carnevale comes the season for lots and lots of regionally typical sweets and biscuits and what have you to cheer us up (so many of them are fried in hot oil these days, in lard way back when, some decades ago).  The root of the term must surely come from the Latin “adieu to meat” (carnis = meat, and Vale is Latin for farewell) but the requisite fasting for Lent isn’t enforced until Carnevale comes to an end, and that is on Ash Wednesday.  This year it’s going to fall on St Valentine’s day, oops!  What are people to do?  I reckon some poetic licence will have be called upon this year, so as to kick off the Lenten season exceptionally on a Thursday.  At any rate, let us enjoy what Carnevale can offer us by way of a fried almost cracker-like sweet called a “frappa” in the singular, and “frappe” in the plural.  (That’s what they called here and in Rome.  In other parts of Italy they are known as “chiacchiere”, pronounced “kee-yak-kyay-ray”).

I got the recipe from my next door neighbour, Rossella.  It’s from Ada Boni’s book, “Il Talismano della Felicità”.  I never got around to buying a copy for myself because my mother has promised me hers, which was given to her circa 1952.

INGREDIENTS

500g flour

30g lard (I didn’thave any so used butter instead)

2 egg yolks

1 whole egg

1 tablespoon sugar and 1 pinch of salt

White wine (Ada Boni didn’t mention how much was required, so you are going to have to make this up as you go along)

Groundnut/peanut oil for frying

Icing sugar (powdered sugar)

The idea is to make a dough using the flour, eggs, salt and sugar and add enough wine as is needed.  I thought 1 glass would do the job  but it wasn’t enough, so I added some rum (I had run out of wine would you believe ! horror upon horror, almost unheard of in this family.)  I placed all the ingredients in a processor and blended them, adding the wine/rum last.  The dough then has to rest, for half an hour or so.

That’s the butter on the left.  Flour, wine and eggs on the right (ignore the baked apples in the dish).

And the addition of the butter, the egg yolks and the whole egg, pinch of sugar and spoonful of sugar.

I whizzed away but the dough was too crumbly after adding the glass of wine, so had to add the rum.

Now we were talking! The consistency of the dough was just right (moist but not too sticky) and I shaped it into a ball and covered it with clingfilm (saran wrap/glad wrap …. how many names for this film of see-through plastic !).  Let the dough rest for about half an hour.

Then let the rolling begin.  Dust the surface with plenty of flour before you start with the rolling pin.  The dough has to be stretched/rolled out to the same sort of thickness as when you are  making fresh pasta.  Fairly thin, less than half an inch say.

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A very useful gadget …. a wheel that rolls and cuts.  If you haven’t got one never mind, just use a knife.

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Wheeeee. Roll and cut, roll and cut, roll and cut.

13aFry the frappe in plenty of hot groundnut oil or other vegetable oil of your choice (although I don’t  advise you use other vegetable oils, except for olive oil, because the smoke point is much lower and hence not at all healthy for us).  The ribbon of delight will puff up and present some ‘bubbles’ as it fries.

14See?  Drain and set aside on some kitchen paper to absorb any oil there might be (fortunately, there was hardly any).

15Since this is the season for snow, add plenty of sugary snow (icing sugar/powdered sugar) to the frappe.  Make sure there is a real avalanche of sweetness.  Some of the sugar falls off, in any case, when you go to pick up the frappa with your eager hands.

15aI fried half the amount of dough after having attempted to bake the other half of the frappe in the oven.  People swear that frappe baked in the oven are just as good as fried ones.  As a fried-food-fanatic (FFF) I can only say that I strongly disagree with them.  If you are going to be naughty and eat sugary foods in the first place, you may as well go the whole hog and eat them the way they are supposed to be cooked, and that is fried. Half-baked solace is no solace at all, say I.

Buon anno! Happy New Year!