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An Authentic Italian Dinner

Pasta 101

In the Kitchen with Stefano Picciocchi, Picciocchi’s Pasta, Clarks Summit, PA

Sponsored By Fidelity Bank, Dunmore, PA

What foods are served in an authentic Italian dinner? Pasta making with Stefano Picciocchi Picciocchi's Pasta gives you the information you need.
Featured Chefs from Around the World, a free service I offer to restaurants and chefs, highlights the culinary accomplishments of some of our finest and most creative cooks. Fidelity Bank, Dunmore, PA, and I teamed up to bring you this Pasta 101 feature with Stefano Picciocchi, Picciocchi’s Pasta. Scroll down to find important links.

What’s An Authentic Italian Dinner?

So you’ve invited guests for dinner. Congratulations. After more than a year of isolation, you’re finally able to share an authentic Italian dinner with some of the important people in your life.

What will you serve?

Pasta reigns as the go-to food in Italy and if you want to treat your friends and family to an authentic Italian dinner, pasta should be at center stage. But not just any pasta. Fresh pasta.

Fresh Pasta Rules!

Yes, forget the pizza for this meal. While pizza ranks high on American tables, you’ll be surprised to learn it’s not AS popular in Italy – at least it’s not as important as pasta.

According to Stefano Picciocchi, founder and owner of Picciocchi’s Pasta, Clarks Summit, PA.,

Throughout Italy, Stefano said, “We, Italians, eat pasta every day. I eat pasta every day.”

Stefano Picciocchi

But Is Pasta Healthy?

Like most other carbs, moderation is the key.

Try fresh pasta if you want to avoid that heavy feeling in your belly, Stefano said.

In fact, he swears by pasta made from simple fresh ingredients without additives as a healthy choice that won’t leave you feeling “stuffed.” Of course, that depends on how much you eat.

Inside Stefano’s Kitchen

In this Featured Chef from Around the World demo, Stefano takes you inside his commercial kitchen for a close-up view of his pasta room, (also known as his “bunker”) where he gives you pasta-making tips. He emigrated from Genoa, Italy, a few years ago and he and his wife, Kristy, set up their pasta business in a busy strip mall in the Abingtons where they offer a dine-in and take-out lunch and dinner menu. Customers can order entrees and side dishes throughout the day. But if you visit the store, I guarantee your mouth will water when you gaze at the selection of prepared lasagna (pesto lasagna caught my attention), pasta, parmigiana, and dessert displayed in the refrigerated section in the front of the store.

Ingredients Make the Difference

Although Stefano was trained to make pasta by hand, he relies on a variety of commercial machines to keep up with the demand for his products. He produces pounds and pounds of pasta every day with varieties that range from linguini to tagliatelle and ravioli. You’ll find his comment about one of my favorite varieties, angel hair, surprising.

Meanwhile, you might wonder if you can capture the flavor and texture commonly associated with handmade pasta with commercial machines. Stefano says, “Yes, you can. However, the ingredients are important.” He’ll demonstrate the process he uses.

Finest of Kitchen Memories

Throughout most of our video interview, his mixing machine was preparing the dough for the outrageously delicious focaccia bread he makes from scratch. I had a chance to sample a slice before he brought a small plate of spaghetti with his 4-Cheese Sauce for me to taste. I was in heaven with fleeting flashbacks from my childhood in my maternal grandmother’s home kitchen. She came to the U.S. from Avellino around 1917 and most of our family gatherings were centered on the homemade pasta she rolled with a broom handle. Fettucine and ravioli were her specialties. You can read more about my love for Italian food and culture in the first edition of my newsletter, “This and That & Whatever Strikes Me.”

Stefano Picciocchi’s spaghetti dressed with a 4-Cheese Sauce. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

Menu Guide

Kristy Picciocchi took the time to provide you with her guide to a traditional Italian dinner menu that will impress your guests and keep you on course as you plan your dinner.

“This is for a typical Italian dinner,” Kristy said. “All of these items come out one by one, in small portions and in this order. The menu will always stick strictly to either fish or meat.”

Antipasto is the first course of a traditional Italian meal
Begin your Italian meal with an Antipasto brimming with cured meats, olives, pepperoncini, mushrooms, anchovies, various cheeses, pickled meats, and vegetables. Oil and vinegar are most commonly used as a dressing.

What and When to Serve

  • Antipasto
  • Cold Antipasto platter consisting of mixed cold cuts such as prosciutto (cooked Italian ham), prosciutto crudo ( raw cured ham) mortadella, salami, etc, assorted cheeses, marinated vegetables, olives, etc
  • Primo piatto (first plate)
  • Plate of pasta or ravioli with sauce (70-100grams of pasta) 
  • Secondo piatto (Second plate)
  • A piece of chicken (roasted chicken or chicken cutlet) or meat (meatballs, pot roast, steak)
  • Contorno (side dish)
  • Salad or roasted, steamed, or fried vegetables 
  • Dolce (dessert)
  • Fresh fruit, pastries, or cake 
  • Espresso coffee 

What’s on Today’s Menu?

Picciocchi’s Pasta is located at 100 Old Lackawanna Trail, Clarks Summit, PA. Order your next meal by calling 570-319-5167 or visit their website for more information on authentic Italian food you can serve at your next gathering.

HOURS

Mon – Thur:  9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Fri –  Sat: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Many thanks to my sponsor, Fidelity Bank, and Stefano and Kristy Picciocchi for sharing their passion for Italian food.

Read more about Fidelity Bank in an exclusive feature.

Stefano Picciocchi and Pasta Making 101 – Featured Chefs from Around the World

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Lifestyle Recipe

Refried Beans Kosher-Style

Pasta making

Southern Jewish Cooking with Ken Horwitz

Learn how to top off a quesadilla with homemade frijoles refritos and prepare to have fun while watching Ken Horwitz create this healthier version from his Texas kitchen.

Featured Chefs From Around the World logo by Joan Mead-Matsui.

This Frijoles Refritos video and recipe come to you straight from Texas where Deep Flavors author, Ken Horwitz, turns his favorite foods into flavorful Kosher recipes. Be sure to watch the video on my landing page.

Deep Flavors A Celebration of Recipes for Foodies in a Kosher Style
Buy your copy of Deep Flavors, a cookbook that celebrates traditional and non-traditional Jewish food you can prepare in your kitchen with help from Kenneth M. Horwitz. Deep Flavors is available in hard copy and on Kindle. Click on the image or scroll down to the amazon.com link to buy a copy of Ken’s book.

We hope you enjoy our first Chefs Creations From Around the World video presentation featuring “Deep Flavors” cookbook author Ken Horwitz. Scroll down to view the Refried Beans Kosher-Style recipe with cooking tips.

The Perfect Frijoles Refritos

Frijoles refritos Refried Beans are a common item on almost every plate in a Mexican restaurant, at least in Texas, and are common in many, if not most, Mexican households as a staple item. However, at the risk of being accused of blasphemy, I will state that they are, for the most part, so bland as to be inedible without substantial enhancement, at least to my taste.

In restaurants, I frequently mix in the spicy salsa to add flavor, if I eat them at all. However, at home, it is possible to make a much more enticing product that is worthy of the effort and quite delicious. It has the additional advantage of being a very inexpensive and healthy dish, although do not confuse beans with low-calorie diet food.

Quesadilla are a staple in Mexican cooking.
Vegan quesadillas with avocado and red pepper served with tomato salsa. Add a layer of homemade refried beans and you’ll have another shot of protein.

Despite the translation of the name refried beans, frijoles refritos can be made deliciously without any frying, with very little oil, and without any degradation of flavor (although that is not common practice among Mexican cooks, at least in Texas, who use Crisco, which is kosher, or lard, which is not kosher). The process is quite simple and produces a tasty and flavorful result that is not only kosher but is worthy of being eaten as a side dish or used as an enhancer—not just a filler—in soft tacos of every sort, as well as in Quesadillas (Chapter 12), Seven-Layer Dip (Chapter 5), and more.

7-Layer Dip is a favorite at parties. Homemade taste enhances the flavor of the dip with a homemade twist.
Package leftover refried beans in air-tight containers and freeze them. You’ll be glad you did when you have a hankering for a quick Mexican specialty meal.

This recipe can be easily multiplied. I make extra Refried Beans Kosher-Style with the plan to freeze the unused portion since this is a useful and delicious ingredient.

You can cook your own dried beans from scratch, but for this purpose, I think it is hardly worth the effort. Buy canned beans that have no additional flavorings at all. If you purchase already mashed refried beans, make sure that they are not flavored other than with salt and do not contain lard or other fat. Read the label carefully because many of these products use pork lard and other undesirable ingredients. A kosher product should not be hard to find. There are many brands with vegetarian refried beans available in their product lines.

Ingredients:

2 (1-pound) cans plain whole beans (I prefer black beans for this use, although pinto or red beans are certainly good)—or ½ pound dried beans

1 small onion, diced

3–4 large cloves garlic

1 teaspoon commercial chili powder (I prefer McCormick’s flavor, but it is a matter of taste. Penzeys has a chili powder blend with a delicious flavor profile similar to McCormick’s, albeit somewhat more spicy, and two even more potent chili powder blends.)

1 teaspoon ancho chile powder, or to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste

1 teaspoon thyme, or to taste

1 teaspoon oregano, or to taste

¼–½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder or some canned chipotle in adobo (extra can be frozen in a glass container and thawed for later use)

fresh chile such as jalapeño (optional)

1–2 dried guajillo chiles (optional), reconstituted in hot water, drained, seeded, and chopped, reserving the liquid to substitute for the water needed in the cooking process

about ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

salt

freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

If using canned whole beans, put the beans into a strainer, and rinse thoroughly.

Lightly sauté the onion and garlic in a minimal amount of olive oil (less than a tablespoon). Add a commercial chili powder blend, ancho chile powder, chipotle chile powder (or canned chipotle chile in adobo), salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, and thyme, all to taste. Cook very slightly to “bloom” the flavor of the spices.

A fresh, finely minced jalapeño is also a good addition. Remember to remove the seeds and ribs inside the pepper unless you want the heat, noting there is no lack of opportunity to add heat with other ingredients. Serrano chiles are somewhat spicier than jalapeños but have a significantly different flavor that I do not like. Chipotles (either as chile powder or canned in adobo) are delicious but quite spicy and should be added carefully. Ancho chile powder is less spicy and has a nice fruity flavor. Chipotles are, in essence, smoked, dried jalapeños and add a wonderful, very different smoky flavor to the dish but are spicier than fresh jalapeños. For 2 cans of beans, I never use more than 1 or 2 chipotle chiles if I use the canned version rather than powder. Taste as you add because chipotles are quite spicy.

Different chiles have very different flavors, not just different heat levels. Some TV chefs will use bell peppers (which are, of course, a type of chile) in substitution of, for example, poblano peppers, but the bell pepper flavor profile is just wrong for most Mexican food.

Next add the drained and washed canned beans (or, if you are cooking dried beans, your freshly cooked beans) to the pan with the spices. Add some filtered water—perhaps ½ cup or as needed. Mash with a potato masher to the desired texture. A blender or food processor would produce a wrong texture. Cook the mixture at medium heat to the desired thickness. If it is too thick, add water; if it is too thin, keep cooking, stirring constantly, evaporating water until it reaches the desired thickness, and adjusting as needed. Be careful to not burn the beans, as they will do so if you leave them unattended on the heat.

When desired texture is reached, add some finely chopped cilantro stems, and cook just to heat. I know that some people, such as my daughter, do not like cilantro, but it really adds a nice flavor that does not taste as cilantro in the final product. The finely chopped stems are soft and edible and have the same flavor as the leaves, some of which should be reserved for a more refined use such as a garnish or as a raw condiment in soft tacos.

I assure you these beans are anything but bland and are quite delicious.

Go Deep in Flavor

Deep Flavors is a perfect idea for that last-minute gift: sensational and detailed recipes such as the familiar but reimagined favorite, Deconstructed Turkey, designed to produce a perfectly cooked bird with bountiful sauce and stuffing every time, or the different, but delicious, Texas State Fair Blue Ribbon Winning Mushroom Spinach Lasagna, to unique and delectable desserts like Lemon Coconut Custard Cherry Pie, or a German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake, to advice on how to enhance ingredients (from asparagus and mushrooms to nuts), plus the many other eclectic recipes and ideas, all combine to make award-winning Deep Flavors a valued gift for your loved ones or friends who love to cook. See also the review of Deep Flavors in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/07/dining/deep-flavors-book-kenneth-horwitz.html

Tips to Season to Perfection:

1.         Use mushrooms, especially wild porcini, trumpet, chanterelle, and morel mushrooms. There are many delicious domesticated mushrooms, from button mushrooms to shitake to portabello, etc., but yet do not have the same intensity of flavor. I buy dried wild mushrooms by the pound on the internet and while it may seem expensive to spend $35.00 on a pound of mushrooms, the reality is that you only use a couple of ounces at any one time (and mix with exotic, domestic or even plain button mushrooms), so the cost per recipe is really only a couple of dollars.

2.         Use herbs and spices generously in your cooking. The more you cook and the more you use herbs and spices, the more you will become familiar with their flavors and how they combine with other flavors. Dried herbs frequently have a much more intense flavor than fresh herbs: use both. For example, sweet basil is easy to grow and the flavor of fresh basil in a tomato sauce, on a salad, and elsewhere is incredible. There is nothing like fresh herbs to add flavor to fresh food. Just remember that many dried herbs have a more intense flavor, so use about 1/3 or so of the dried herbs as the fresh.

3.         Asparagus is an incredibly flavorful vegetable, and great to eat. However, it should be peeled to remove the stringy outside of the stem. Starting about two inches down from the tender tip peel towards the cut tip of the asparagus with one swipe of a vegetable peeler, turning the asparagus until you have gone completely around. Then, break off the bottom inch of the stem which remains woody. The entire asparagus is now delectable, and can be used with a minimal amount of cooking so that it stays green and succulent.

4.         Flavor can be created by browning ingredients before you assemble the recipe. For example, meats, mushrooms and vegetables like (onions and carrots) acquire great flavor by browning. The brown bits on the bottom of your pan are not burned, but are pure flavor. After you brown your meats or vegetables, use a liquid of your choice such as wine or stock to deglaze or remove the brown bits from the bottom and carry those flavor bits into the sauce that will be served with the dish.

5.         Always taste the dish as you proceed, adding salt as you go along, so that when the dish is served it will have a wonderful flavor. This is essential for many foods, but particularly grains, because if you do not salt as you are cooking, the salt will not get into the grains and you simply cannot add enough salt at the table: it is too late. Similarly, if you are going to cook a large piece of meat, salt the meat and allow the salt to be absorbed into the meat over a period of time. So, for example, if you are making a steak, salt the meat, put it into the refrigerator, and allow it to rest for several hours as the salt permeates throughout the meat. Again, simple, easy, and all it takes is a little bit of foresight.

Deep Flavors is a book celebrating recipes for foodies and vegetarians in a kosher-style. The emphasis is on how to cook for flavor while kosher, so the question may be raised by many readers who are not Jewish: Well, is this for me? Of course! Essentially kosher means food with (a) no pork; (b) no mixing milk and meat; and (c) no fish that does not have fins, scales, and gills, so no shellfish. That leaves a lot of possibilities! Learn more about Deep Flavors at www.deepflavorscookbook.com.

Need more cooking tips from Ken Horwitz? Read this companion article with more tips on how to make all of those Jewish recipes you had growing up.

Watch the video.


Learn Video Editing with Wondershare Filmora, the software I’ve used for years and trust.


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