Marcella Hazans Spaghetti Carbonara

by Hilary Gauntt on October 18, 2016

This was the most requested dinner of my husband and son for many years. So after a stressful couple of weeks I wasn’t surprised when Casey asked for this favorite comfort food meal. Marcella Hazan was one of the foremost authorities on Italian cuisine, and I always liked her lighter Roman version that contains no cream.

The story goes that during the last days of WWII, American soldiers in Rome who had made friends with local families would bring them bacon and eggs; and they in turn created a pasta sauce to feed them. “Carbonara” means coal which perhaps refers to the black pepper that is a key ingredient.

This is just really crazy delicious and Marcella’s step of deglazing the pan with wine adds an extra layer of flavor.

As Federico Fellini explains, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta!”

Salt as needed

1/2 pound pancetta cut in 1/2 ” slices (or good slab bacon)

4 garlic cloves

3 Tbs. olive oil

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 1/4 pounds spaghetti

2 eggs

1/2 ounce Romano (or Pecorino) cheese, freshly grated

2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 Tbs. chopped parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile cut the pancetta or bacon into strips 1/4″ wide. Lightly mash the garlic with a knife handle, enough to split the cloves and loosen the skin; discard the skin. Place the garlic and olive oil in a skillet and turn the heat to medium high. When the garlic turns a deep gold, about 2 minutes, remove it and discard.

Place the strips of pancetta or bacon in the pan and cook until they begin to crisp at the edges, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and let it bubble away for one or two minutes, then turn the heat off.

Add the spaghetti to the boiling water, and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

Break the eggs into the serving bowl in which you’ll be tossing the pasta. Beat them lightly with a fork,then add the Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano, a liberal grinding of black pepper and the chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly.

Add the hot spaghetti to the bowl and toss rapidly, coating the strands well.( The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs) Briefly reheat the pancetta over high heat, and turn the entire contents of the pan into the bowl of spaghetti and toss thoroughly again. Finish with a little extra cheese and garnish with parsley. Serve at once. Six servings.

Note: Garlic lover that I am, instead of removing it I instead add chopped garlic at the end of cooking the pancetta right before adding the wine and leave it in. An extra egg yolk isn’t a bad idea either.



Dania’s Pasta Sauce from La Chuisa

by Hilary Gauntt on October 4, 2016

A highlight of our Italian adventure was a cooking class in Tuscany at locally famous La Chuisa; a lovely inn and restaurant high in the rolling hills near Sienna. Our teacher was Dania Lucherini, the owner and head chef, a thoroughly entertaining, glamorous blonde in high heels and a fairly low cut dress. (Italian women are amazing.) We made pastas, risotto, her special chicken dish and a rich caramel ice cream with fig compote for dessert. I loved when she looked at the clock and said “11:00! That’s white wine time in my kitchen!”

The last hour or so was spent on the gorgeous walled patio eating the fruits of our labors, plus a number of other dishes she wanted us to try; course after course. This was the only time in my life (other than when bedridden with the flu) that I didn’t have a bite of dinner!

This sauce she has tried to take off the menu, as she is tired of making it every night for 30 years, but people always request it. Fairly easy to make and usually served with the local specialty pasta shaped like a thick spaghetti, called “pici”. An important ingredient is Pecorino cheese, one of Tuscany’s treasured exports. It’s a strongly flavored sheep’s milk cheese that I found delicious in small doses. Famous New York restaurateur Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe) says “When you say Parmigiano here, it’s like saying Presbyterian in the Vatican.”

1 lb.2 oz. tinned tomatoes

5 oz. olive oil

5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped

1 bunch of basil

3/4 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

3/4 oz. Pecorino “stagionato”, grated

1 pinch salt


Pinch or more of red pepper flakes

Pasta of your choice

In a saucepan, saute the tomatoes in the oil for about 10 minutes on a low heat, season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes cook for a further 20 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, thin it down with a little boiling water.

Meanwhile pound the basil, a pinch of salt and a few drops of oil into a paste in a mortar.

Boil the pasta noodles in plenty of water to the “al dente” stage,drain it in a colander, and add it to the sauce in the pan and toss together for a few minutes. Then mix in the basil paste, the parsley, and the grated cheeses.

Transfer to warm plates. Garnish liberally with finely chopped parsley and serve at once.
Note: Photo by fellow traveler Dana Gabriel, who beat me to trying this recipe at home! She said she used more tomatoes and made it a bit spicier, which I agree are good ideas. Teacher Dania used her gorgeously ripe tomatoes from her garden, which of course is the best way to go if you have them.


Making Pici

Cooking class with a view!


Soppressata & Cheese in Puff Pastry

by Hilary Gauntt on September 10, 2016

I’m leaving for Italy with friends on Monday on a mission to take our college roommate Ludie out of the country for the first time to her #1 bucket list destination. Lucky us! I wanted to leave you an Italian recipe, and although this is hardly authentic it does contain spicy Italian salami and is insanely delicious. It’s from Ina’s “How Easy Is That” book and truly is just that. I usually avoid working with puff pastry as it can be a bit tricky, but this is so straight forward, includes only 5 ingredients and can be put together earlier in the day and baked when your guests arrive. I do suggest saving this for company because if you make just for yourself you will end up eating it all and be racked with guilt.

Try to remember to thaw the puff pastry overnight in the refrigerator. I was ready to roll it out into a 10″ square as the recipe requires, and then noticed that the box Pepperidge Farm puff pastry contains 2 sheets that are already 10″ squares! Done! Just spread one with mustard, top with the salami and then the grated cheese and lay the second puff pastry sheet on top. After baking it is brown and puffed,the cheese is melted and it looks like so much more trouble to make than it was. Would be great for football appetizers cut into squares, or a cold weather main dish with a salad.

There’s a strong possibility I will return from Italy needing elastic waistbands and red wine stains on my teeth that need bleaching. At this age that’s just the sign of a good vacation!

1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, such as Pepperidge Farm, defrosted

2 Tbs. Dijon mustard

12 thin (not paper thin) slices soppressata salami (3 1/2 inches in diameter)

6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated

1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs. water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan.

Lay one sheet of puff pastry on a floured board and lightly roll into a 10 inch square. Place it on the sheet pan and brush the pastry with all the mustard,, leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange the soppressata in overlapping layers on the mustard and sprinkle the grated cheese evenly on the soppressata., also avoiding the border. Brush the border with the egg wash.

Lightly roll the second piece of puff pastry into a 10 inch square. Lay the pastry directly on top of the first square, lining up the edges.Brush the top with the egg wash, cut three large slits for steam to escape and chill for 15 minutes. (or more)

When the pastry is cold, trim the edges with a very sharp knife to make a clean edge. Bake the pastry in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, turning once while baking, until puffed and brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes, cut into squares, and serve hot or warm. Serves 6 for a first course, 8 for cocktails.

Note: Thank you to a website called “shopgirlmaria” for her photo as I seriously over baked mine , but still it was gobbled up!


No-Bake Strawberry Icebox Cake

by Hilary Gauntt on September 4, 2016

What a great dessert for hot weather! Easy enough to have a 3 year old help you, and is both beautiful and totally delicious. You simply layer graham crackers, whipped cream and strawberries 4 times, and top with more berries and a drizzle of chocolate ganache. As this sits in the refrigerator a few hours or overnight, these elements slowly merge into a moist creamy cake. And it serves 8 to 12 !

This and other old-fashioned treats (like a variety of puddings) come from a cookbook by Faith Durand called “Bakeless Sweets”. I am using her lovely photo as my enthusiastic helper must have found it hard to wait out the refrigerator time. When I went to retrieve it, I found all the berries and chocolate had been eaten off the top of the cake…Next time I’ll avoid the lower shelves.

2 pounds fresh strawberries, washed and patted dry

3 3/4 cups heavy cream, divided

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. rosewater, optional

4 sleeves (about 19 ounces, or 24 to 28 whole crackers) graham crackers

2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

Take out a few of the best-looking strawberries and set them aside for the garnish. Hull the remainder of the strawberries and cut each berry into thin slices.

With a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer, whip 3 1/2 cups of cream until it just holds stiff peaks. Add the confectioners sugar and rosewater (if using) and whip to combine.

Spread a small spoonful of whipped cream on the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan, or a similarly sized platter. Lay down 6 graham crackers. Lightly cover the top of the crackers with more whipped cream, and then a single layer of strawberries. Repeat 3 times, until you have 4 layers of graham crackers. Spread the last of the whipped cream over the top and swirl it lightly with a spoon. Add a few more strawberries.

To make the ganache, heat the remaining 1/4 cup cream until bubbles form around the edges, then pour over the chopped chocolate. Let it stand for a few minutes, then whisk until the mixture is thick and glossy. Drizzle this over the layered dessert with a spoon, or transfer to a squeeze bottle and use that to drizzle.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until the crackers have softened completely. Garnish with additional whole berries.

Note: If you are transporting this cake, probably best to make it in a pan. If it’s staying home, making it on a platter will make it look a bit fancier.

strawberry ice box cake



Parmesan-Dijon Chicken

August 28, 2016

I spent a frustrating hour trying to find this recipe that my Mother liked to make for company, and was so relieved when it appeared. Easy to put together, make ahead and pop in the oven later, and oh so delicious! She listed the ingredients for me but no amounts, but it’s pretty easy to […]

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Your New Favorite Pork Chops

August 21, 2016

I’ve read a few recipes over the last couple of years with this same intriguing title, and tried a few. Haven’t posted any. But this one from the March Bon Apetit lives up to it’s name in my opinion. Just thick bone-in pork chops sauteed in a skillet with sage, garlic and a bit of […]

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Turkey Cutlets Marsala

August 14, 2016

Elizabeth David was a scholarly British cookbook author who had a major impact on her country’s notoriously bland cooking, post World War II. After attending the Sorbonne in Paris she didn’t retain much of the course work but “What had stuck was the taste for a kind of food quite ideally unlike anything I had […]

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Another Anniversary

August 9, 2016


“The most desired gift of love is not diamonds or roses or chocolate. It is focused attention.” “I promise if you keep searching for everything beautiful in the world, you will eventually become it.” Tyler Kent White “Death is not an ending, but a symbol of movement along the path upon which we are all […]

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Fresh Peach Cake

August 6, 2016

The peaches are luscious now, and here is a wonderful way to use them! My assistant Hunter Kirby, age 3, decided this was the best thing we have ever made. (Everything we have made to date includes either frosting or whipped cream). You layer the rich batter with fresh sliced peaches and cinnamon sugar, and […]

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Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas

July 28, 2016

This is such an easy way to prepare fajitas, and you can throw it all together ahead of time (my favorite type of recipe.) Just toss all the ingredients together on the pan along with the spices, bake for about 20 minutes and then drizzle with lime juice and cilantro. Pile into warm tortillas and […]

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