Bring on the Pasta

Ever since my knee operation over a year ago, the “good” Sheila has been holding back on the pasta and other carbs to keep my weight in check to aid in the recovery.  Other than fatigue, erectile dysfunction and periods of  deep melancholy and incontinence, I have not had any life-threatening reaction to my “pasta-free” diet.   Some would say that I have become somewhat more irritable, but I think that is caused by aging and spending too much time watching Wolf Blitzer.

Grapevines and Olive BranchesOn occasion of our upcoming trip to Italy, Sheila has decided to make a few pasta dishes to loosen my stomach muscles.  She immediately turned to Nina Rizzo Renda and Leslie May Rodwick’s delightful cookbook, Grapevines and Olive Branches, which has been kept under lock and key for several months.  In this cookbook, Nina shares some family recipes from the Bernardo Winery aided by Leslie’s mouth-watering photography.   If you need a little taste of the old-country and don’t have much time, this is a “must-have” cookbook for every harried home cook that needs to prepare a great meal without a lot of time or a dash to the supermarket.

I would be remiss in stating that this cookbook only contains pasta dishes, but like a starving dog I decided to turn my back on the salads and antipasti bar and leap into some of the delectable pasta recipes.  Furthermore, there are some great entrees , such as, lamb and fava bean stew and that traditional southern Italian favorite “Chicken Cacciatore.”  Among my favorite pasta dishes is penne with pesto sauce shown below:

Penne with Pesto Sauce


  • 1 lb penne or other short pasta
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pignoli nuts (pine nuts), lightly toasted
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbs of salt


  1. In a blender, place the basil leaves, pignoli, garlic cloves, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.  Pulse until the pesto is smooth.  (This can be prepared beforehand and preserved).
  2. Bring a large pot of water (4 quarts) to a boil.  Add salt and pasta and cook until the pasta is “al dente” – normally 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Drain the pasta and coat with the pesto mix until well coated.
  4. Serve immediately.

It doesn’t get much better than this and my “abs of steel” have now been replaced by a rotund bulge more fitting of a patrician in Rome.  Love pasta!

More Ramps: Ramps with Poached Eggs

bon appetit poached eggsThey say that getting to like ramps is an acquired taste, but for me it was love at first smell. Short of a nice cup of coffee, there is nothing better than the smell or ramps gently sautéing in butter in the kitchen. This delightful recipe for Ramps and Poached Eggs served over toast comes from a recent Bon Appétit.   The recipe is quoted in its entirety below, but just follow the hyperlinks and you can see how they do it on an embedded video:

Poached Eggs on Toast with Ramps


  • 1 pound ramps
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 slices ½”-thick country-style bread
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 4 oz. fresh goat cheese, room temperature
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)


  1. Cut dark-green leaves from ramps and slice crosswise 1” thick; slice bulbs and red stems crosswise ¼” thick.
  2. Heat butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add bulbs and stems, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, 5–8 minutes. Add tops and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 3 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 2” water to a boil in a large saucepan; reduce heat so water is at a gentle simmer and add vinegar. Crack an egg into a small bowl, then gently slide egg into water. Repeat with remaining eggs, waiting until whites of eggs in water are opaque before adding the next egg (about 30 seconds apart). Poach until whites are set but yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggs to paper towels as they are done.
  4. Toast bread, brush with 2 Tbsp. oil, and season with kosher salt. Spread toasts with goat cheese and top with ramps and eggs. Drizzle with more oil and season with sea salt and pepper.

Editor’s Note:  If you have issues with goat cheese, you can substitute it with something more to your liking, however, the goat cheese is a nice counter-balance to the ramps.  Also, we generally use Ezekiel bread which is lower in carbs and can generally be found in the frozen goods section at most Whole Foods.

Press 1 for Spanish: A Primer on Immigration Reform

For someone who is experienced around a hot stove, Gourmay’s International Correspondent has been asked to opine on the emotive issue of “immigration reform”  in the United States.  For common-folk, the question(s) is/are generally framed as follows:

  • “Are you opposed to illegal immigration?” –  This is a particular favorite of Wolf Blitzer and the New York Times in an effort to forceTea Party activists to show their true colors.
  • “Will McDonald’s suffer if illegal immigrants are deported?”
  • “Can you get a decent paying job in Florida if you only speak English?”
  • “Does busing illegal immigrants to schools really improve our neighborhoods?”

In answer to the question:  “Are you opposed to illegal immigration?”  –  I would often respond that I am opposed to anything that is “illegal,”  but, more to the point, was strongly in favor of “legal” immigration.    Sadly, after my daughter’s fiancee was nearly deported for overstaying his visa, I have been forced to reconsider my position.   I find it ludicrous that U.S. immigration laws are so Byzantine  that my daughter was forced to emigrate from the United States to marry an Englishman.     Needless to say, I am strongly in favor of  “immigration reform” and with laws and regulations that are easily understandable to anyone who speaks English, Spanish or some other language (reading in these languages is optional since iTunes will be mandated to carry an audio version).

I have lived in enough countries where “gaming the system” was necessary to “get ahead,” and in many cases, “just survive.”    I still vividly recall some helpful representative of the Brazilian Department of Tourism showing us the “most expensive home” in Guaruja (a beach resort area near São Paulo):  The home was owned by the local tax collector.   Indeed, a brief sabbatical in government (formerly referred to as “public service”) is now seen as a stepping stone for bigger and better corruption in the private sector in both the United States and Brazil.

In a fascinating article published by the Pew Research Center entitled From Germany to Mexico:  How America’s Source of Immigrants has Changed over a Century, the two authors point out how radically the nationality of immigrants have changed by State in the last 100 years.

Pew Research Immigration

Now I have no idea if Pew Research is a PAC and is pushing some political agenda, but I am certainly glad I speak Spanish. I was not surprised at the overall immigration patterns, but felt New York is far better off after substituting the Russians with immigrants from the Dominican Republic – Do they all live in New York City? (Editor’s Note: I prefer to eat Plantains from the Caribbean than Borscht from Russia). Also, I wonder why immigrants from El Salvador have displaced the English in Virginia. Are they working as immigration reform lobbyists?

Other than the plight of my daughter (not an insignificant issue, particularly for one who doesn’t have a corrupt politician in his pocket), I have no particular axe to grind on the issue of “immigration reform” other than having a relatively simple law that most people can understand regardless of their nationality and without the help of an immigration lawyer. Nevertheless, one thing that really pisses me off is listening to an automated telephone prompter suggest that I “Press 1 for instructions in Spanish.” I guess I live in a country where “English is a second language.”