Frank's Boiled Whole Wheat Rotini

If you would prefer to use white pasta instead of the whole wheat (of course, multigrain is another option), feel free to do so. Just watch the cooking times, though. White rotini cooks a lot faster than the whole wheat or multigrain varieties. And remember. . .you want the texture al dente.

Enough water to boil the rotini (about a gallon or so)
3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds whole wheat Rotini pasta
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a large pasta cooker with the insert strainer in place, bring a pot half-full of water to a rolling boil. Then immediately stir in the sea salt and the extra virgin olive oil. The water will stop boiling. . .but when it returns to a 'roll' stir in the rotini and continue to stir uninterruptedly for at least a minute to prevent the pasta from sticking together.

Then time the boil you want the rotini to cook for 9 to 11 minutes or until it reaches a texture that's very slightly undercooked yet tender to the tooth.

When it's done, strain it but do not wash it in cold water. Then toss it thoroughly with the remaining quarter cup of extra virgin oil and serve while hot. When you're ready to eat, ladle it with the sugo and sprinkle it liberally with the Parmesan cheese.

Crispy Pan-Sauteed Portabella Mushrooms

Remember what I've taught over and over, time and time again. . .mushrooms, regardless of the variety, must be sauteed in a heavy, hot skillet using a mixture of olive oil and butter, a few at a time in order to bronze properly and retain their flavor and texture. And sprinkle them with the salt, pepper, and Sicilian seasoning only after they have been transferred to serving platter.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 stick salted butter, cut into pats
3 large Portabella Mushroom caps, 1-inch diced
Sea salt and coarse ground black pepper, to taste
Frank Davis Sicilian Seasoning as desired
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

In a heavy, 12-inch, non-stick skillet over high heat, add a small amount of olive oil and butter. Then agitate the pan until the two oils combine, immediately drop in a healthy, single handful of mushrooms, and toss the pan to coat the 'shrooms with the butter-olive oil mixture. From this point on, continually toss or stir the pan to 'sear' all the sides of the cut mushrooms evenly.

Then when the mushrooms take on a rich, deep, golden color, add another single handful of 'shrooms and still over high heat stir them into the 'already bronzed' mushrooms. You might also want to add a skosh more olive oil and another pat of butter with the new addition.

Continue to repeat the addition/sauteing process until all the mushrooms are done. Note: Depending upon how many 'shrooms you're cooking, you might have to remove some of the mushrooms from the skillet from time to time but do not remove them all. To maintain the bronzing action some sauteed 'shrooms must remain in the pan.

When they've all been cooked and placed on a serving platter, it is then time to season them with the salt, black pepper, and Sicilian seasoning. After that, they can either be individually sprinkled over the pasta or mixed into the sugo and served by the ladlefuls over the rotini.

The most difficult part of this recipe is refraining from eating the bronzed mushrooms as they come out of the skillet!

However you serve them, be sure to sprinkle the rotini liberally with Parmesan cheese before service.

Mary Clare's Sicilian Sugo (Italian Red Gravy)

Nobody, but absolutely nobody, can make a Sicilian red gravy like my wife. Whether she's using it to smother meatballs, simmer chicken, cook down the perfect Italian sausages, or just looking for a sauce to ladle over a hot plate of pasta and Portabella mushrooms for a Lenten meal.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 small cans tomato paste
6 tomato-paste cans filled with vegetable or chicken stock
2 teaspoons dried sweet basil, (3 tablespoons, if fresh)
2 teaspoons Frank Davis Sicilian Seasoning
2 whole bay leaves
Sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

In a heavy 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil to medium high. Then drop in the chopped onions and the garlic and stirring constantly lightly saute them together until they just soften (it is not necessary to brown the onions and you don't want the garlic to burn). About two to three minutes should do it.

When the onions and garlic are ready, add the tomato paste to the pot and rapidly stir it into the mix. Remember that you don't have to fry the tomato paste for eternity to make good red gravy. Actually, if you fry the paste for much longer than 5 minutes you will increase the acidity of the tomatoes and the gravy will be strong, harsh, and bitter. You want it to come out light and sweet, so just cook it a few minutes or so until the paste, onions, garlic, and olive oil are mixed well.

At this point, add the vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if you're not cooking for a true vegetarian) to the tomato paste and stir again until the mixture is silky smooth. Keep in mind that the secret to making real Italian gravy the right consistency is to use three cans of stock for every one can of tomato paste.

When the sauce is thoroughly mixed, add the basil, the Sicilian Seasoning, and the bay leaves and season the gravy with salt and pepper to your taste. Now you're ready to drop in the cucuzza. You can also add sausage, chopped chicken, meatballs, pork chops, boiled eggs, peeled eggplants, or whatever you're doing as a main entree, to the gravy and serve it piping hot.


Chef's Note: Oh just for the never add sugar to authentic Italian gravy. Prepare it properly and it will be light and naturally sweet.

The Focaccia Bread

Instead of buying pre-made focaccia bread at the grocery, make your own. Just pick up a couple of thin-crusted pizza breads from the bread rack at the store, remove the plastic wrappers, and place them on a large sheet pan. Then dress them with the following ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil, brushed on evenly Melted butter, brushed on evenly Coarse ground black pepper, sprinkled on evenly Frank Davis Sicilian Seasoning, sprinkled on liberally and evenly Granulated garlic, sprinkled on evenly but sparsely (to taste) Dried sweet basil, evenly sprinkled over the top Three or four-cheese blend, sprinkled liberally and evenly over the top Parmesan cheese, sprinkled over the top after the bread comes out of the oven.

Using a large knife or a pizza cutter, slice the bread into generous pie-shaped or rectangular-shaped pieces. Then serve them right from the cutting board, piping hot from the oven, and eat them with the 'shrooms and pasta. A nice glass of red wine on the side completes this Lenten meal. Mangia, mangia!