Over 100 years ago, our grandparents arrived in this country from Italy, leaving family, friends and traditions behind in search of a brighter future. I can only imagine what the long journey was like aboard those ships bound for America. The fear balanced against the hope must have brought forth an incredible mix of emotions. All bound for a new life; all Italian immigrants simply trying to find their place in the world. And build a life they did – lives certainly not hardship free but lives that allowed both families to grow and prosper. My brother Joey and Mark recently visited from California and we were fortunate enough to be able to spend time with family from both our mother’s and father’s side. It was a weekend rich with appreciation and gratitude for the family that surrounds us and all the traditions, stories and memories of growing up Italian American. Although the families each had their struggles over the years – the Great Depression, deaths of spouses and hard times, what shines through are the stories of love and hope; laughter and kindness. Memories of a simpler time in the world where piling in the tiny kitchen for espresso or singing opera at a family reunion were what really mattered.
With Joey and I together on the same coast, it gave us the opportunity to cook to our hearts delight. We have cooked many times together over the years but this summer, we were asked to be part of the La Cucina Italiana blogger ambassador panel. So very exciting especially given the impact that the magazine (both English and Italian versions) have on our cooking and our lives. (I blogged about this earlier in the year.) A few months ago, a mystery box arrived. I was delighted to open it to find 3 types of Delverde pasta (mezzi rigatoni, bucatini and tagliatelle). We were asked to select our favorite shape and create a recipe and submit to the Delverde ‘Dish Your Blog’ recipe contest. Well, dish we did! What great fun to have Joey alongside me as we created, discussed, debated various ingredient combinations for each dish. Should we stay classic or perhaps add a twist? Seafood or meat? Rustic or refined? We discussed and debated for hours – all over a nice bottle of Brunello, of course – which helped the ideas flow. In the end, it was our mezzi rigatoni with a saffron crème, Tuscan kale and crispy prosciutto that seemed to win the hearts of our family, friends and Facebook fans. Joey mentioned perhaps doing a take on the classic pasta with peas and prosciutto. And we rolled from there – the peas morphed into fresh seasonal Tuscan kale, the prosciutto into a crispy topping and the sauce evolved into flavorful saffron-infused cream sauce. Recipe and results below!
As we cooked together side by side, I couldn’t help but wonder what our grandparents would think of our creations and how due to their sacrifices, we are able to live the amazing lives we have today (#incrediblygrateful). It truly reinforced for me just how important it is in today’s hectic world to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and to surround ourselves with those we hold so dear. Love you, mio caro fratello.
Mezzi Rigatoni with Saffron Cream, Tuscan Kale and Crispy Prosciutto
- 4 slices of prosciutto, thinly sliced (but not paper thin)
- ½ cup white wine
- A large pinch of saffron
- 1 large bunch of kale, preferably Tuscan or Dinosaur)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Juice from ½ lemon
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large shallots, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 pound Delverde® Mezzi Rigatoni
- Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Place a large skillet over medium heat. Carefully arrange the prosciutto slices on the skillet and cook till prosciutto is crispy on one side. Flip over and crisp the other side, about 8 minutes total. Remove the prosciutto to paper towels to drain. Reserve the pan with the prosciutto drippings. When cool and crisp, crumble the prosciutto for serving later.
- Heat the wine in a small pan or in a microwave oven until just warm. Add the saffron and let steep for 15 minutes.
- Using a sharp knife, remove the kale leaves from the stems by carefully cutting along the stems. Discard the stems.
- Line up the prepared kale leaves on a cutting board and cut into thin ribbons. Place in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and lemon juice. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Massage the dressed kale, for about 3-5 minutes with your hands until it begins to soften.
- In the same sauté pan used to crisp the prosciutto, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium-low heat. Add the minced shallots and garlic. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.
- Slowly add the cream, stirring into the vegetables to combine. Slowly cook for 5 minutes. Slowly add the wine and saffron mixture, stirring to combine. Slowly cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the Delverde® Mezzi Rigatoni and cook per the package directions but undercook by just a minute or two as you will be finishing the pasta in the sauce.
- Using a spider or handle-held colander, remove the pasta to the sauté pan with the saffron cream sauce. Reserve about ½ cup of the pasta water. Over medium-low heat, toss the pasta in the sauce to combine for 1 minute. If the pasta is too dry, add a little pasta water to create a smooth, creamy sauce.
- Pour pasta with sauce into a warmed serving bowl. When you are ready to serve, add a large handful of the prepared kale to the pasta and toss to combine. Top with freshly grated parmigiano and crumbled crispy prosciutto. Serve and enjoy. Buon appetito!
Disclosure: This recipe is posted as an entry in the Delverde DISH YOUR BLOG recipe contest to try to win a trip to NYC. Some entrants may have received free sample products in addition to the opportunity to compete for the prize.