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Savor the Intoxicating Flavors of the Rancho de Chimayó

Savor the Intoxicating Flavors of the Rancho de Chimayó

Long before I ever visited New Mexico, friends told me of the special red chile that comes from the town of Chimayó, which the locals would string together in ristras to dry in the sun.

Sharon Stewart’s photographs fill the cookbook.

That may seem odd given how many chiles, both red and green, are harvested throughout the state, but you’ll find Chimayó chile powder sold in in towns throughout the region and often at prices higher than others from across the state. That little extra is worth it to those who like the balance of sweetness, heat and intensity that marks the heirloom chile.

It’s also one reason that many travel to the tiny town each year to stock up. Another is the Rancho de Chimayó Restaurant, which the Jaramillo family has been running for almost 50 years. In honor of its approaching golden anniversary, Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison’s “The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook: The Traditional Cooking of New Mexico” (Lyons Press, $24.95) has been reissued and updated — and what a pleasure it is to have.

This was one of the Jamison’s earliest books, before they went on to write “Texas Home Cooking,” “Smoke and Spice” and others in a career that has earned them four James Beard Awards. For this edition of “The Rancho de Chimayó,” they have gone back to update their history of the restaurant, which Arturo and Florence Jaramillo, opened in 1965, and expanded on the number of recipes included.

rancho cookbook1The entire volume speaks to a culture that embraces its history in both the foods that are served and the methods used, from using chicos instead of pinto beans when available to secrets for making tamales. The Chile con Queso recipe is made with Velveeta, which may not seem traditional, but the Jamisons remind us that this processed cheese food dates back to the 1920s and quickly became a staple in New Mexican homes because it melts so easily and smoothly, so they still use it in this dish even as more and more cheeses are becoming available.

The authors also offer a fascinating story of the Chimayó chile itself. It seems that the chile was so sought after in the 1880s that residents would trade it for what they needed. In dealing with the folks from San Luis, “they would exchange 140 pounds of wheat or 16 pounds of beans for two of the scarlet ristras,” they write. “Their potatoes fetched far less, only a ristra and a half for a full sack.” The Depression hit Chimayó hard and the price of the chile took a nosedive, when a ristra went from about $1 apiece down to 35 cents.

rancho signIn the restaurant, you’ll find chiles in most every dish, which is one way in which it separated itself from the crowd and drew the attention of food writers and chile lovers alike. Most have taken to its signature dish, Carne Advocada, which takes a little time to prepare but is worth every step. The end result, whether you make it with Chimayó chiles or what you can find at the market, is rich and deeply satisfying. You control the level of the heat in the dish, by using chiles only as hot as you can handle.

This is a stew that tastes better a few days after you prepare it, so don’t be in a rush to eat it. Also, save a little of the adovada leftovers to be used for breakfast with a fried egg on top. Fans of New Mexican cuisine know that the fried egg appears on stacked enchiladas there, so this seems like a natural variation. Corn tortillas on the side of that bowl, to sop up every last bit of that thick sauce and any egg yolk, would also be a great idea.

A few other recipes I’ve enjoyed were the restaurant’s Classic Margarita, made only with tequila, triple sec and lemon juice (not lime). That’s right: No syrup, no agave nectar and no sugar to pollute the flavors. Plus, their Sour Cream Apple Pie with a streusel topping is both easy to made and disappears quickly, especially when you serve it with a scoop of ice cream on the side. The book recommends vanilla, but we tried it with both cinnamon and dulce de leche, both of which gilded the lily quite well.

By the way, the restaurant has its San Antonio connections, which extend beyond those of us who make regular trips there. Laura Ann Jaramillo Ross, the original owners’ daughter, and her daughter, Lauren Belen Jaramillo Ross, live in town. They, too, are said to visit Chimayó regularly. And who wouldn’t, when there are Chimayó chiles and Carne Adovado to be had?

Sample some of “The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook” with these recipes:


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Rancho de Chimayó’s Carne Adovada Is a Treasure for Chile Lovers

Rancho de Chimayó’s Carne Adovada Is a Treasure for Chile Lovers

“Connoisseurs generally consider the village of Chimayó’s heirloom red chile to the best available. Its flavorful balance of sweetness and heat is one of the secrets to Rancho de Chimayó’s signature dish, Carne Adovada,” write Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison in their updated “The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook” (Lyons Press, $24.95). “Not enough true Chimayó chile is grown today to use in all of the restaurant’s dishes, so it is saved for this specialty. Another variety of New Mexican red can be substituted in the recipe, of course, but the resulting flavor won’t be quite as complex. The dishes reaches a peak of flavor when the preparation is spread over two days, so that the pork can marinate in the red chile overnight. Carne adovada is among the spiciest and most popular items on the restaurant’s menu and, like the local chile, is considered nonpareil. Accompany the meat with beans and posole or chicos.”

Carne Adovada

Carne Adovada

Carne Adovada

Chile Sauce and Marinade:
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces (about 25) whole dried New Mexican red chile pods
4 cups water
2 tablespoons diced yellow onion
1 tablespoon crushed chile pequin (dried hot New Mexican red chile flakes)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried Mexican oregano

3 pounds thick boneless shoulder pork chops
Shredded romaine or iceberg lettuce and diced tomato, optional

Warm the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until just golden. Immediately remove from the heat.

Break the stems off the chile pods and discard the seeds. It isn’t necessary to get rid of every seed, but most should be removed. Place the chiles in a sink or large bowl, then rinse carefully and drain.

Place the damp pods in one layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes, watching carefully to avoid burning them. The chiles can have a little remaining moisture. Remove them from the oven and let cool. Break each chile into two or three pieces.

Purée in a blender half of the pods with 2 cups of water. You will still be able to see tiny pieces of chile pulp, but they should be bound in a smooth, thick liquid. Pour into the saucepan with the garlic. Repeat with the remaining pods and water.

Stir the remaining sauce ingredients into the chile sauce and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce will thicken but should remain a little soupy. Remove from the heat. Cool to room temperature.

Trim the fat from the cut and cut it into 1- to 2-inch cubes. (If you plan to use the meat in burritos, the cubes should be on the small size.) Stir the pork into the chile sauce and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Oil a large baking dish that has a cover.

Transfer the carne adovada and its sauce to the baking dish. Cover and bake until the meat is completely tender and sauce has cooked down, about 3 hours. Stir once about halfway through. If the sauce remains watery after 3 hours, stir well again and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more.

Serve hot, garnished with lettuce and tomato, if you wish.

Ahead-of-time note: Carne adovada is a perfect make-ahead dish. It will keep improving for at least several days. Add a couple of tablespoons of water before reheating in the oven or on the stove.

Variation: Chicken adovada can be made in a similar fashion. Use 3 pounds of chicken breasts cut into cubes as above. Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until very tender.

Makes 6-8 servings.

From “The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook” by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison

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A Sour Cream Custard Is a Welcome Addition to Apple Pie

A Sour Cream Custard Is a Welcome Addition to Apple Pie

Sour Cream Apple Pie

Sour Cream Apple Pie

You might not think that you can improve on apple pie, but this recipe from the Rancho de Chimayó Restaurant in Chimayó, N.M., makes a powerful argument. The streusel topping alone will be enough to entice some, but it’s the custardy filling with eggs and sour cream that really takes it over the top.

The recipe is one of many in Cheryl Alter Jamison and Bill Jamison’s 50th anniversary edition of “The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook” (Lyons Press, $24.95). They explain its harvest-time appeal, when apples are at their freshest: “Chimayó cooks need a supply of tasty apple recipes for the period in late summer when the orchards are brimming with fruit. This streusel-topped pie needs no accompaniment, though a bill ball of vanilla ice cream can gild the lily if you wish.”

Cinnamon and dulce de leche ice creams also work beautifully. And apples at any time of year will make this pie a welcome treat.

Sour Cream Apple Pie

Pie Crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, well chilled, cut in small cubes
4 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening, well chilled
3-4 tablespoons ice water

1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided use
3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup flour, divided use
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 – 1 1/4 pounds tart or tangy baking apples
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, well chilled, cut in small cubes

Sour Cream Apple Pie with a streusel topping.

Sour Cream Apple Pie with a streusel topping.

Grease a 9-inch pie pan.

Prepare the pie crust. In a food processor, pulse together the flour and salt, then scatter the butter over the flour and quickly pulse several times just to submerge the butter. Scoop the lard into small spoonfuls and scatter them over the butter-flour mixture; pulse again quickly several more times until they disappear into the flour, too. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of the ice water and pulse again quickly, just until the water disappears.

Dump the mixture onto a work surface. Lightly rub the dough with your fingers, adding more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed. When the dough holds together when compacted with your fingers, it’s ready. Pat the dough into a fat disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin on a floured work surface into a thin round about 2 inches larger than the pie pan. Arrange the crust in the pie pan, avoiding stretching it. Crimp the edge evenly, and refrigerate the crust for at least 15 additional minutes.

Preheat the oven to 357 degrees.

Prepare the filling. Whisk together in a medium bowl the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, 1 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, nutmeg and salt until smooth. Peel and core the apples, then slice them very thin. Arrange the apple slices in the pie shell. Pour in the sour cream mixture, coating all of the fruit.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until the filling is puffed and golden and the apples are tender, 40 to 45 additional minutes.

While the pie bakes, stir together in a small bowl the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup flour with the cinnamon and pinch of salt. Blend in the butter with your fingertips until the topping mixture forms small clumps.

Remove the pie from the oven. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Scatter the topping evenly over the top of the pie and bake until browned lightly, 8 to 10 minutes.

Cool the pie on a baking rack for at least 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 pie serving 8 or more.

From “The Ranch de Chimayó Cookbook” by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison


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Capturing the Flavor of Texas Mexicans on the Page and on the Plate

Capturing the Flavor of Texas Mexicans on the Page and on the Plate

When Adán Medrano was growing up in San Antonio, the food in his home was not really the type of food that was being served at Tex-Mex restaurants catering to tourists along the River Walk.

Adan Medrano

Adan Medrano

For one thing, “you’d never find cumin in our food,” he said.

Let that sink in a little, especially if you grew up with one of the many American cookbooks that told you a dash of cumin would add a Mexican touch to your cooking. Even the original “Joy of Cooking” suggested you add it to your “beans, rice dishes and enchiladas.”

So, Medrano, who started the city’s Chicano Film Festival back in the 1970s, felt the need to capture the story of his people’s food on paper. The end result is “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes” (Texas Tech University Press, $29.95), which is a savory combination of social history and cookbook.

This Thursday, San Antonio can get a taste of what Medrano is talking about when Nao, the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant at the Pearl Brewery, showcases his dishes in a special meal that includes a meet-and-greet with the author as well as an autographed copy of the book.

It’s a homecoming in a number of ways for Medrano, who left San Antonio in 1985. After living in a number of other places, he settled down in Houston, where he works in the communications business. In 2010, he returned to his home city in order to get his certificate from the CIA. As part of his school work, he studied the cuisines of Argentina, Peru and other countries of Central and South America. He also took Iliana de la Vega’s course on the foods of the various regions of Mexico. He learned a great deal, he said, praising the CIA for being “a very strong program.”

It wasn’t always easy. Going through any of the institute’s various programs requires “rigor,” he said, “not just in the kitchen with ingredients but intellectual rigor.”

Still, for as much as he learned, he noticed that something was missing. “I didn’t see anything written about my people and what my people ate,” he said in a recent telephone interview.

So he decided to fill in the gap himself. He used the determination he cultivated at the school during the three years it took to research and write “Truly Texas Mexican.” To help him, he started Adán’s Blog, in which he writes about food, people and culture as well as providing a series of mouthwatering recipes, such as a vegan posole that calls up the days before Europeans brought pigs to the New World.

Medrano reaches back thousands of years to examine what the indigenous people of the area ate and how they prepared it. Their use of roasting, grilling, boiling and curing as well as their hunting and gardening techniques tell of who they were and how they lived in the region, which he sees as running largely from Eagle Pass to San Antonio and Victoria and on down to Brownsville.

Truly Texas MexicanThe foods evolved when the Spaniards and other Europeans brought ingredients such as onions, garlic and cows to the table, and they were eventually incorporated into the dishes made with duck, turkey, rabbits and deer, not to mention corn, that were already in abundance here, Medrano said.

Somehow that food remained in the homes of Texas Mexicans, while Tex-Mex food, with its processed cheese and heavy accent on frying, grew popular in restaurants. Today, you’ll find a mix of both styles of cooking in places, such as Mi Tierra, which have longstanding family ties as well as roots in the community, he said. If Medrano has a soft spot for the landmark restaurant, owned and operated by the Cortez family, it is because he can remember eating there after selling produce at the market when he was just 6 years old.

Tex-Mex has had its story told in the works of writers such as Robb Walsh. Now it is time for the Texas Mexicans to have their foods and their heritage acknowledged, which is what Medrano’s book provides. The 100 recipes are laid out in easy-to-follow instructions that could very well challenge your notion of what an enchilada is all about (hint: it’s not the melted Velveeta or ground beef at the center).

Medrano knows that many people who pick up his book will likely think it’s about Tex-Mex. He hopes that when they start trying the recipes or reading the stories behind the dishes that they’ll learn about the differences and why preserving that heritage is so important. He’s received a great deal of praise from chefs who love the distinction the Texas Mexican name brings; the list includes local favorites Diana Barrios Treviño and Johnny Hernandez.

At this point, however, Medrano is largely a one-man ambassador of his cause. He seems to enjoy the mission, whether he’s addressing an academic gathering or talking with people at a dinner like the one planned for Thursday, because he gets to share ideas, stories and even recipes with anyone interested.

“I’ll have an opportunity to talk with the guests,” he said in anticipation of the Nao feast. “That will be really nice.”

The Adán Medrano dinner at Nao, 312 Pearl Parkway, begins Thursday at 5:30 p.m. with a reception with the author, followed by dinner at 6:45 p.m. The evening includes the meal, the chance to meet the author and an autographed copy of his book for $80. Call 210-554-6484 for reservations.

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Author Leon’s ‘Brunetti’s Cookbook’ a Mystery Lover’s Find

Author Leon’s ‘Brunetti’s Cookbook’ a Mystery Lover’s Find

Those who are passionate about serious detective fiction (the kind without cats as main characters) know the name Donna Leon as one of the best writers around. Set in Venice, Italy, her books are literate and witty. Her main character, Commissario Guido Brunetti, is very smart, a crack investigator with a quiet, inexorable approach to taking down killers.

Brunetti's Cookbook coverBrunetti also has some endearing traits — and the one that endears him to foodies is that he (and his family) savors the simple but deftly created meals that come from his wife Paola’s kitchen. Literal-minded, intellectual and outspoken, Paola is also a university professor — and suffers no fools gladly.

Leon was born in the United States, but has lived in Venice for decades. So, her award-winning Brunetti series is grounded in her direct experience of the fascinating city. Yes, it is known for its history, architecture, winding canals and boats and corner shops offering the best of Italian pastries and espresso, seasonal food and a strong culinary culture.

She also mixes in the blemishes that tourist brochures avoid: the garbage that floats in the canals, the mobs of unruly tourists and the tacky shops that cater to them. But most of all, crime.

The mobsters, murderers, serial killers and others who make up the bad guys in this vividly and intelligently written series would seem to be so rampant as to require a small army to keep them at bay. And Guido Brunetti, a sort of one-man army against this lot in Venice, can’t fight on an empty stomach.

Brunetti's Cookbook illusNevertheless, says Leon in the first of six essays included in the book, she never intended to write a cookbook — her characters ate the way Italians eat, with an expectation that the food would be excellent and meals luxurious.

“Though many Italians have read the books and remarked on them to me over the years, none has ever mentioned the presence of food: For them, as for me, Brunetti’s meals are simply a part of the received culture. How would people be expected to eat?” she says.

“Brunetti’s Cookbook,” (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95) is the second printing of the book, which originally was published in Great Britain in 2010 as “A Taste of Venice: At Table with Brunetti.”

So, while the book is not a new release, the recipes, the stories and charming color illustrations by Tatajana Hauptmann are timeless. The recipes are accompanied by text from Leon’s novels and the recipes were created by Roberta Pianaro.

I didn’t know this book existed until I had read many of the books in Leon’s Brunetti series. The recipes sounded simple and every book had me convinced I’d soon be making such wonders as Paola’s Seafood Antipasto, or Monkfish Cutlets with Peppers or Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger.

One day, while reading, it occurred to me that of course, someone must have thought to present a cookbook project to the author. And if not, I’d be the one to do it. I went to Amazon and there it was: A cookbook embracing all of that beautiful food and also quite wonderful — excerpts from the books to accompany them, to provide context for many of the dishes and to display samples of Leon’s writing prowess.

It was hard to choose just a few recipes to share, too. But I chose them based on what I’d found most enticing. And yes, I still plan to cook them.

If you wish to enter into Brunnetti’s world, I’d suggest finding the book list for Leon’s series, start with No. 1 and make your way through the two dozen or so books. Another suggestion: Don’t chomp your way through these carefully crafted police procedurals, take your time — there is much to savor!


Chicken Breasts with Artichokes (Petto di pollo al carciofi)

Swordfish with Savoury Breadcrumbs (Pesce spada al pangrattato saporito)

Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger (Risotto di fiori di zucca e zenzero)


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Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger

Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger

Brunetti's Cookbook illusSquash blossoms are another item that will be in season soon, and a great place to find them is in farmers markets. This is an unusual recipe for risotto and it would be good with either of the other two recipes we’ve shared from “Brunetti’s Cookbook.”

Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger

3/4 pound squash blossoms

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

2 crushed chicken bouillon cubes

2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

1 3/4 cups risotto rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano

1 ounce butter

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Wash the squash blossoms. Keep the pistils and cut the petals. Heat the oil in a non-stick casserole and fry the shallots lightly together with the salt and 2 tablespoons of water. When transparent, add the squash blossoms and pistils and 1 cup water and cook for 15 minutes. Add the crushed stock cubes and 1 teaspoon of the ginger. Add the rice and cook, adding 4 cups of boiling water, 1 cup at a time. Cook for 20-30 minutes until al dente, then add the remaining ginger and mix well. Add the butter and Parmesan, and serve.

From “Brunetti’s Cookbook” by Donna Leon and Roberta Pianaro




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Swordfish with Savoury Breadcrumbs

Swordfish with Savoury Breadcrumbs

Flat-leaf parsley

The seasonings for Swordfish with Savoury Breadcrumbs include capers, Parmesan cheese, garlic and fresh parsley. Simple, but a good way to prepare this meaty fish.


Swordfish with Savoury Breadcrumbs (Pesce spada al pangrattato saporito)

1  1/2 pounds swordfish (fillets cut into four pieces)

1/2 cup breadcrumbs, plus extra to finish

1 sprig of finely chopped fresh parsley

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon capers preserved in salt, washed and finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

2 medium eggs

1 pinch of salt

Wash the swordfish and dry with kitchen paper. Place the breadcrumbs in a mixing bowl with the parsley, oil, capers, garlic and cheese. Mix well. In another mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the salt. Dip each swordfish slice in the egg mixture and then into the breadcrumb blend. Arrange them side by side on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Cover each swordfish slice with more breadcrumbs for an even tastier result. Place in a preheated oven (375 degrees) and bake for 15-20 minutes.

From “Brunetti’s Cookbook” by Donna Leon and Roberta Pianaro



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Hey, Do-It-Yourselfers, Georgia Pellegrini’s Got Some Easy Advice for You

Hey, Do-It-Yourselfers, Georgia Pellegrini’s Got Some Easy Advice for You

You know those dandelions you have growing in your yard? Those are edible.

Georgia Pellegrini

Georgia Pellegrini

That’s right. You can toss them in a salad and chow down. If you haven’t sprayed them with some sort of noxious weed killer, that is.

And the purslane spreading across the ground? No only does it taste great — reminiscent of spinach or watercress — it’s loaded with omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients. Just use it the way you would spinach, in anything from a stir-fry to a smoothie.

These are just two examples of easy foraging that Georgia Pellegrini addresses in her new book, “Modern Pioneering: More than 150 Recipes, Projects and Skills for a Self-Sufficient Life” (Clarkson Potter, $24). The Austin-based author, whose earlier books “Girl Hunter” and “Food Heroes” have earned her a dedicated following, doesn’t believe in waste. That may seem anathema to a world in which too many things are made to disposed of, but she doesn’t want to play by someone else’s rules.

Instead of throwing out that empty lip balm tube you may have finished, why not make your own and refill it? Pellegrini teaches you how to do that and much more in her book and on her website,

“”I want people to get back to the land, even if the land is a patio,” she said in a recent telephone interview. So, the skills she offers are universal, regardless of your situation. You may not have a backyard in which to grow herbs, but you can create an herb garden easily using flower pots.

Every coffee lover ends up with leftover coffee grounds, for example. Don’t pitch them. Turned them into a body scrub, Pellegrini says.

modern pioneer_coverThese tips have not only sold books, but they have driven more than 2 million visits a month to her website. She’s also been featured on numerous TV programs, including “Iron Chef America,” “The Today Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

“This is not a hard-core foraging book,” she said, adding that was more of a roadmap on how to change your life so that it’s simpler and yet more rewarding.

She describes “Modern Pioneer” as featuring a 50/50 breakdown of recipes for food and recipes for living. Often the items she calls for can be found in your pantry, she says.

“People seem to be really excited,” she said of the response the book is generating. “They like the variety — gardening, home cooking, do-it-yourself stuff. It’s all useful information.”

Here are two recipes of Pellegrini’s from her website:





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Italy Cooks: Tastes and Flavors of Abruzzo

Italy Cooks: Tastes and Flavors of Abruzzo

Photos and story by Emily Reynolds

Domenica Marchetti cooks at Central Market Cooking School

Domenica Marchetti cooks at Central Market Cooking School

The long strands of pasta hung like fresh white sheets of linen drying in the spring wind. There was a waft of sweetness in the air, the kind that only a fine Italian pasta sauce could create. Who knew traveling to Italy would be so easy?

Now through Thursday, Central Market has become “Centro Italia,” offering a wide variety of imported foods and cooking classes that focused on the art and soul of Italian cooking. The classes have ranged from making seafood to making pizza and everything in-between. Yes, there is something for everyone, from the experienced cook to the curious newbie.

Last week, the well-known cookbook author and food journalist Domenica Marchetti visited from the Washington, D.C., area to demonstrate how cooking appears, as seen through a lens from the Italian region of Abruzzo.

Marchetti has written five acclaimed cookbooks on traditional and contemporary Italian home-cooking. Although she claims her greatest teacher is her mother, who was born and raised in Chieti, Italy, she pulled out all the steps and stops in making an Italian inspired home-cooked meal.

She brought her passion for hand-stretched pasta dough and a wide array of knowledge of classically Italian cooked vegetables and stews to San Antonio’s Central Market kitchen. Although cooking and wine tasting were the main part of the class, Marchetti told lovely tales of Abruzzo between the courses.

Abruzzo is a region in central Italy with three national parks, a plethora of mountains and beaches on the Adriatic sea. It’s known for having “mountainous cuisine” with a heavy influence of lamb and a large amount of seafood dishes from tiny beach villages. Thus, it’s gained the reputation of being the “land that has everything,” according to Marchetti.

Marchetti started the evening by layering a sizzling pot of sunflower oil with batter-coated zucchini sticks and sage leaves. The sizzle of the pan and the smell of crisp vegetables were inspired by Marchetti’s book, “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.” This being a typical dish of the Adriatic area, it is something one might make after a trip to the farmers market, as a light appetizer or snack before a larger meal. Marchetti recommended using sparkling water instead of still in the batter to add softness. She also recommended not crowding the pan. You can substitute zucchini with baby artichokes, if you please.

'Chitarra' means 'guitar,' and in this case it's an instrument for making pasta.

‘Chitarra’ means ‘guitar,’ and in this case it’s an instrument for making pasta.

The next part of the class was about making homemade pasta and classic sauces. Marchetti demonstrated the use of the chitarra (guitar) — a unique instrument meant for making pasta not music. The outcome is a thicker noodle, and the fun is rolling the dough over the strings. This old-fashioned style is unique to the Abruzzo region. She also mentioned that a time-saving tip to the often-grueling task of homemade pasta making is using a food processor.

What is a good pasta without a wonderful sauce to complement? The gorgeous sheets of pasta were complemented with a rich and textured “ragu,” which led to the naming of the dish: Maccheroni alla Chitarra with Ragu’ Abruzzese. The sauce was rich with flavor, as the tenderness of the meats within the sauce were cooked for three hours. Although there was beef chuck, pork shoulder and lamb shoulder all used within the sauce, there can be variations.

“I always think recipes are just guidelines, and should be tailored to your particular tastes,” Marchetti says.

Our third course was a hearty lamb and potato stew adopted by Marchetti’s book, “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy.”

“The culture of Abruzzo is strongly linked to pastoral farming traditions. In the mountaintop villages and into he countryside, sheep’s milk cheese and dishes made with lamb (and mutton) abound. This stew is just one example, perfect for a chilly evening in the spring,” she said.

Handmade pasta with a hearty ragu, typical of Abruzzo, Italy.

Handmade pasta with a hearty ragu, typical of Abruzzo, Italy.

Although a “chilly evening in the spring” is rare in Texas, there is always a good reason to have a stew on the stove. A timeless comfort food, this recipe captures the soul of the mountains by using lamb as the meat of choice. Served with some of Marchetti’s sweet and sour peppers with oil-cured olives, which use a bit of white wine vinegar plus a pinch of sugar to sweeten the bite, the savory sensations of the stew are complemented with a divine pop of sweetness.

The evening closed with a beautifully airy and light Lemon-Ricotta Costata. “A lovely dessert to welcome spring, this rustic crostata would be made with sheep’s milk in Abruzzo, the region where my family is from,” Marchetti explains in her book. The not overly sweet crostata was complemented by mascarpone cheese to add a silky cream-like texture layered between the airy crust. Marchetti warned the class to be sure to have all your ingredients at the same temperature or the filling may curdle. Another trick is to pass the ricotta through a sieve to add additional light and creaminess to the center of this dish.

Traveling to Italy came to an end on a high note played by a chitarra and accompanied by a well-versed composer. Marchetti pulled out all the stops for her students, and we can only hope that she will come back to San Antonio soon to take us to Italy for another evening. In the meantime, you can find one of her five cookbooks on Amazon or read her blog at She is also taking a few lucky travelers with her to Abruzzo this summer and fall; check out her website for more details.


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Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style meat sauce)


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Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style Meat Sauce)

Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style Meat Sauce)

Handmade pasta with a hearty ragu, typical of Abruzzo, Italy.

Handmade pasta with a hearty ragu, typical of Abruzzo, Italy.

A ragu with three flavorful cuts of meat and an abundance flavor.


Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style meat sauce)

3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
6 ounces boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
6 ounces of boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
6 ounces boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds chopped canned tomatoes, with their juice (about 7  1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped — you can also add a few garlic cloves finely chopped

Warm the vegetable oil in a large dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot, place over medium heat. Season the pieces of meat with a little salt and pepper and add them to the pot. Brown for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the pieces to brown the other side, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pieces to a deep plate or bowl.

Pass the tomatoes through a food mill fitted with disk with the smallest holes. Discard the solids. Set milled tomatoes aside. (In summer season, you can grate the fresh tomatoes with a box grater.)

Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and add the extra virgin olive oil. Stir in the onion, reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is shiny and beginning to soften. Pour the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Return the meat to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover partially and let the sauce cook, stirring it from time to time, for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thickened. Add a splash or two of the water if the sauce thickens too much before the meat is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if you like.

Turn off the heat. Remove the meat from the pot before using the sauce. Serve the meat as a second course, or shred it and return it to the sauce.

Note: The ragu may be store in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Makes about 1  1/2 quarts

From “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” by Domenica Marchetti

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