Monday, May 17, 2010

Bertolli's into the heart of L.A. - Farmer's Market & Rocco DiSpirito's pasta with vodka sauce

Bertolli Foods certainly planned well. After a breakfast feast where I ate enough to feed the family I left behind in Minnesota, we were off to the L.A. Farmers Market. It was established in 1934 - during the depression. A dozen local farmers parked their trucks on the field of a dairy farm - and voila! - L.A.'s Farmers Market was born.
I love the word "market." It is so specific - it is not "grocery shopping" or "food shopping." It is searching for fresh and local ingredients.

And okay - maybe a hat. But - a fresh and local one!

I brought home Vegetable Chips because... it just said "L.A." to me. The dried string beans are the best. My son likes the beets. No one's sure about the taro.

And brought home dried mangoes - because they don't sell them in Minnesota.

This is what my daughter wanted - the macarons. "Why didn't you bring home those," she asked a bit indignantly.
I went into Marcel's - an import store - mostly French. I am immediately compelled to look at every jar. I am a magnet to little verrines of olives, pimentos, pickled vegetables. I must gaze. I must touch. And then I heard squeals behind me. I had to look. Christine and Pat were chattering over the salt samplers. That's when I knew I was with the right "pack."

And we all bought some. My sampler contains Coconut black salt - for curries and fish. Preserved lemon salt for couscous, chicken, tangines and clementines! Genmaicha salt for pork, endamame and melon. Fennel pollen salt for roasts and grilled meats. And lavender salt for fish, flatbreads, tomatoes and desserts. We hit the salt jackpot. And I am an herb-nerd - I barely salt my food!
Meanwhile, more and more bloggers gathered into the store. Artisan chocolate was debated. Jenny from Zucola group was lugging a huge bag filled with waters. The bag was half her size. She was able to get rid of most of them in Marcel's. Grateful bloggers warmed by the sun and cooled by the water. Happy utterances filled the air - not for a Hollywood star - but for little jars of flavor.
We went back into the light - my camera was fussy. It had been in the dark with me all winter; it did not react well to the bright. But I did. I took over-exposed photos and soaked in the sun. I smiled. A lot. It felt good.
Our next stop would be the astonishing street food trucks of L.A. followed by the most amazing gelato concoctions from Scoops. This Italian cook was in the midst of a journey of taste. Of sweet, of fiery, of tang.
Before I leave, take a look at Rocco Di Spirito's Penne with Vodka Sauce (sans vodka, sans cream). It's from his cookbook Now Eat This! and oh yes, you must try this! It uses bottled sauce and is not from scratch - and I am a "from scratch" cook, but these days - I am directing a play, editing a different play, writing still another play and my children's theatre summer program starts soon - so some fast meals that are not fast-food are in order. And you can always use your "from scratch" tomato sauce for this.
Rocco recommends Greek yogurt - but I had Stoneyfield in the house so I used it. Gather 1/2 pound (so, shoot me - I used a pound - there is no way 1/2 pound would feed my family of 4) of multi-grain or whole wheat pasta - I used Ronzoni - they finally came to MN - the dried pasta of my childhood. A container of non-fat Greek yogurt. A fistful of basil and bottled marinara sauce. (He recommended his low-fat sauce - I used - what else - Bertolli!).
Cook pasta according to package directions. Warm the tomato sauce. Add some dried red pepper flakes. (I forgot to mention that.) Simmer 8-10 minutes. Put a ladle of the warmed sauce into a bowl with the yogurt. It tempers the yogurt and so the yogurt will not curdle when added to the sauce.
Chop or shred your basil. I love that it's May and basil is back growing in my yard,

Add the yogurt-red sauce mixture to the simmering tomato sauce. Looks just like the creamy version doesn't it? And as Rocco notes - vodka is a tasteless liquor - so you do not miss it in the sauce.

Mix your penne with the sauce. Cover it with the shredded basil. Don't be afraid of grating a hefty dose of Parmigiano Reggiano (I know, I do go overboard with cheese - I am part mouse) - but really it is pretty low fat.

Serve. And savor. My family all thanked Rocco - telepathically of course.

Thanks for joining me on the Market Tour. I have very much appreciated your good wishes. Next up, I will cover the astonishing bloggers I shared my trip with and the street trucks and gelato - truly a dessert from the gods. Part 1 of Into the Heart of L.A. is here. Some beautiful photos of the trip can be found at Mille Fiori Favoriti, The Picky Palate and Kevin and Amanda.
Bertolli Foods did pay for my entire trip (meals, transportation, hotel) and if you know me, you are well aware that all opinions and reporting is very much my own.


tasteofbeirut said...


Your mention of the salts and how you even bought some! made me chuckle! Why I bought some Himalayan salts (rock) from Le Bon Marché in Paris and never used them! What is this salt craze anyway~ salt is supposed to be bad for you is it not?

Angie's Recipes said...

Coconut black salt!! And Genmaicha,fennel pollen, and lavender, and...and really fantastic!
Gotta try your tomato-based yogurt red creamy, so irresistible and so can't-wait-to-try!

La Bella Cooks said...

The salts sound very interesting and I look forward to seeing what dishes you enhance with them. Sounds like a wonderful trip.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Rocco's low fat penne vodka looks really good, Claudia! I earmarked this recipe to make it in the future. Since I've been home so much has been happening that I have not had time to cook.... reality will be back soon, I'm sure.

I hope you do get a chance to use your salt collection. A little sprinkle here and there during grilling season should be heavenly!

PS: I wish you and I had a room service party like those young 'uns!

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

I'm here via Pat's blog...looks like you all had such an amazing time! Thank you for sharing :D

Maureen Brady Johnson said...

I am reading this blog voraciously! I am saving up to buy Rocco's book...I looked for it yesterday at a bookstore! You are such a wonderful writer! Everything comes alive with humor and underlying tenderness for your heritage! Family! It's what cooking is all about.

Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

wow love all those colorful macaroons, never had one gotta try them sometime, everyhing looks great

janet said...

The farmers' market is my favorite part of your trip, just love it!!
I am so glad you are having a wonderful time.
And your pasta is calling to me, a great food blogger (named Claudia) once said "everything's better with basil" ;-) So true!

janet said...

The farmers' market is my favorite part of your trip, just love it!!
I am so glad you are having a wonderful time.
And your pasta is calling to me, a great food blogger (named Claudia) once said "everything's better with basil" ;-) So true!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I can just picture you, Pat and the others giggling over the salts and it's not surprising. Turn a food blogger loose in a place like that and you know it's like a kid in a candy store. Love the pasta dish too.

Lyndas recipe box said...

What fun you had! I love your shots of the farmers market as I've always heard so much about it.
The pasta is making me hungry, even tho I already ate breakfast!

Barbara GF said...

What fun, Claudia. Good food makes me giddy, too! I love your tales of fun in the sun in LA. And that pasta! Oh, yes, I will be cooking that up soon. Looking forward to reading more.

Antonietta said...

This trip looks amazing! They really did plan everything!
The past looks great too!

Mary Bergfeld said...

What an adventure. The market sounds wonderful and your lightened pasta is to die for. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Kim said...

I'm so happy for you to be going on such a wonderful trip with good foodie friends. The market looks full of delight and I love the salts you bought! I know I would've been flipping out and squealing in delight had I been there.

You made Rocco's pasta look terrific! I'll have to try using the greek yogurt to lighten up this vodka sauce.

OysterCulture said...

I'm having so much fun following you on your adventures. What a trip and look forward to seeing what you do with all those delicious sounding salts.

Monet said...

This penne vodka looks amazing and so much healthier than using straight cream. I love farmer's markets and artisan food shops...unfortunately we don't have many in the town I live in. Thank you for sharing...I'm living vicariously through you!

3 hungry tummies said...

Oh I want to die in the salt heaven! Coconut black salt sounds heavenly!
Your pasta dish looks wonderful too! :)

chow and chatter said...

i second sophie and great food your mum taught you how to be a fab cook

Anne said...

I'm getting so hungry reading about all the food. I love going to Farmers Markets because you always find different kinds of things that you wouldn't find in a regular store.
What an adventure!

Reeni said...

What wonderful salts! And macarons - I would of said the same thing! My cat loves those dried string beans. And the pasta? Delicious! Especially with the basil to freshen it all up.

Mary Bergfeld said...

Claudia, feel free to report on the recipe. It really is a tresure. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary


I love to meander through the farmer's market. There's always something interesting to bring home! This looks delicious!

Amanda said...

It was so great to meet you Claudia! I definitely wished we could've stayed longer at the Farmers Market, don't you?? :) Rocco's Penne alla Vodka looks delicious! :)

Amber said...

I love taro chips! But then I am from LA!

I'm so glad you enjoyed your time there. The year round produce does make it heaven for chefs and foodies.I love my city.

Looking forward to your next installments.

danyell said...

This is FANTASTIC!!!! I love pasta and great for the veggie diet (although it is obvious why I can't ever lose weight eating the no meat diet). I will try soon....

denise @ quickies on the dinner table said...

"I am part mouse" ROFL Claudia - you never fail to make me chuckle!

My goodness! And here I thought I was so exotic because I had Himalayan Pink Salt and French Grey Salt from Noirmoutier in my kitchen LOL

Sounds like an amazing food odyssey! Thanks for sharing it all with us :)

Proud Italian Cook said...

I love the pasta idea and I always have the 0%fat Greek yogurt in my fridge. The stars are aligned for you Claudia!