Archive | November, 2012

Ciambella allo Yogurt (Ring Cake with Yogurt)

26 Nov

The ciambella is a typical cake with a circular shape and a hole in the middle.  The classic one with coarse sugar on top is from Bologna (the Emilia-Romagna region’s capital city) and is linked to the traditions of the local farmers.  There is no village feast or banquet that does not end with a slice of ciambella dunked in wine.  Nowadays each region has a different variation of this classic version, for example with a chocolate icing or chopped hazelnuts on top.  For many years my mother prepared this delicious ring-shape cake for our breakfast. My kids love it too!  It is wonderful dipped into warm milk (the way we Italians drink milk, never COLD!) or caffè latte.  I love it with my morning cappuccino.  The addition of yogurt and lemon zest provides a lighter taste and an inviting flavor.  Ciambella is a must-have for any lover of gourmet sweets.  You may have heard the word ciambella in a sentence that has nothing to do with food: “Non tutte le ciambelle riescono con il buco” – Literally: Not all ciambelle come out with a hole in the middle!  This may be referred to the fact that in the past the ciambella shape was not perfectly regular, therefore we should not get depressed if something does not work as planned.  A similar English idiom might be “win some, lose some.”

CIAMBELLA ALLO YOGURT (RING CAKE WITH YOGURT)

Preparation Time: 1 ½ hrs                  Baking time: 50-60 min.

INGREDIENTS
170 g (¾ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
210 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
400 g (2 ¼cups) 00 flour
15 g (3 teaspoons) baking powder
250 g (1 cup) plain yogurt
Grated zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 pinch salt
Coarse sugar to decorate

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F) 

  1. Sift together the flour, the baking powder and the salt.  Set aside
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter.  Gradually beat in the sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one by one mixing thoroughly to incorporate
  3. Add the yogurt and lemon zest
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter cream, then add the milk
  5. Butter and flour a 24 cm (10 in) spring-form ciambella or Bundt pan.  Pour the cake mixture into the pan, and sprinkle some coarse sugar on top, covering the entire surface
  6. Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until the cake is done.  Test by inserting a wooden stick into the cake.  It should come out dry
  7. Let it rest for 10 minutes on a wire rack
  8. Unclip the side band and remove the cake from the pan turning it over twice so the sugar is on top.  Serve cool.

Note: You can store the ciambella in a cake container for about two days … if there is any left! In my household it barely lasts a day.  -Paola

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Tortino al Cavolo Nero (Kale Pie)

19 Nov

Italian savory pies have been around since ancient times, even Pre-Christian, and are linked to the farmers’ traditions.  They are made with simple and fresh ingredients available during the growing season.  If tomato is Italy’s summer vegetable, cabbage is definitely the winter vegetable.  Kale pie is a true veggie lover’s delight.  Tuscan kale, also called black leaf kale, dinosaur kale, Lacinato kale, or cavolo nero, appears in the markets in November and continues through spring.  It is one of the oldest vegetables in the cabbage family.  It is a leafy cabbage that resembles palm fronds with deep greenish black leaves and pronounced ribs.  It has an intense cabbage-y flavor, but is generally sweeter than other varieties.  It is the basic of ingredient of many other tasty dishes such as soups (i.e Tuscan Ribollita), stews and omelets, and it is delicious on crostini di pane, too.  You can enjoy it also raw in salads.  Kale is highly nutritional vegetable, rich in vitamin A and vitamin C, folic acid (if consumed raw) and potassium.  Kale pie can be served either as an antipasto (starter) or a main course.

TORTINO AL CAVOLO NERO (KALE PIE)

Preparation Time: 1 ½ hrs                  Baking Time: 40-45 min.                  Servings: 8

INGREDIENTS
Pasta brisee (Brisee crust)
250 g (1 ½ cups)  flour 00
120 g (about ½ cup, 4 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 egg yolk
60 ml (¼ cup) ice-cold water
¼ teaspoon salt

Filling
700 g (about  1 ½ pounds) kale
6 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 medium onions, finely sliced
2 cups water
120 g (¾ cup) goat ricotta cheese
3 eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 170°C (350 °F)

Pasta brisee (Brisee crust)

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt
  2. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs
  3. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time.  Add the egg yolk until mixture forms a ball
  4. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Filling

  1. Wash the kale, remove center ribs and stems, cut the leaves crosswise into ½-inch strips
  2. In a large skillet on medium heat sauté the onion with olive oil until onion is softened
  3. Add the kale, stir it to combine with the onion.  Season with salt and add 2 cups of water
  4. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally and adding some water if the pan begins to dry out.  Cook for about 35 minutes until kale leaves are tender.  Set aside and let cool
  5. In a large ball mix the eggs with the ricotta cheese.  Add the vegetable mix and season with freshly ground pepper.  Set aside.

Once the dough has rested, flatten it out on a lightly floured board, then transfer to a on a 24 cm (10 in) ceramic or glass pie or tart baking dish.  Gently pat the pastry dough in the pan to 4 mm (less than ¼ in) thickness, to line the bottom and sides.  The edge should have a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom, about 5 mm. 

Prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient), then spread with the vegetable mix and bake until golden, about 40-45 minutes.  It is delicious when eaten freshly baked and a little bit warm. 

Note: When purchasing kale you want leaves that are not too long (no longer than 50 cm, 18 in), firm and fairly, evenly colored without brown or yellow spots.  The most tender kale are the ones harvested in late autumn and early winter after the first frosts.  –Paola

Brasato al Barolo con Polenta (Braised Beef in Barolo Wine with Polenta)

13 Nov

The name brasato derives from brace (BRA-chay), the hot coals over which the meat was traditionally cooked.  Braised beef marinated in a fine Barolo wine is one of the most representative and classic dishes of the Piedmont region, a savory delight for a cozy dinner on cold nights.  The Barolo’s intense flavor gives an extra aroma and unique taste to the meat.  Barolo is a rich, deeply concentrated full-bodied wine, with pronounced tannins and acidity (and therefore ideal for marinating).  The tannins contained in the wine bind to the food proteins and, when used as a marinade, come across as softer.  In addition to the wine flavor, the aroma of herbs such as bay leaf and rosemary gives a special touch to this dish.  Rosemary and bay leaf are also known for their invigorating properties.  For example, rosemary, the delicious herb associated with Aphrodite the goddess of love, boosts blood supply and helps increase sensitivity of the skin.  You can enjoy brasato with either mashed potatoes or, like we Italians do, with polenta – “the Italian grits”.  Polenta is made from cornmeal and ranges in color from golden yellow to the white polenta from Veneto.  In the Roman times, a polenta made of crushed-grains (pulmentum) was the staple of Roman Legions.  Maize, however, was not cultivated in Europe before Cristoforo Colombo brought it back in the 16th century.  Then for hundreds of years polenta, the traditional food of the Northern Italian peasants, was known as the poor-man’s food.  Now, defying its humble origin, polenta has also been discovered by a new, sophisticated audience and is frequently found in gourmet restaurants.

BRASATO AL BAROLO CON POLENTA (BRAISED BEEF IN BAROLO WINE WITH POLENTA)

Preparation time: 12 hrs      Cooking time: 2 ½ hrs+40 min.        Serving: 4

INGREDIENTS
Brasato
900 g (2 pounds) cappello di prete, beef chuck roast
1 bottle Barolo wine
3 carrots
1 celery rib
1 yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 piece of cinnamon
3 pepper corns
3 cloves
40 g (3 tablespoons) butter
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt to taste

Polenta
1.6 l water (about 1-½ qts)
1 tablespoons kosher salt
400 g (2 cups) cornmeal
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)

DIRECTIONS
Brasato

You should start the day before you plan to cook the meat.

  1. Tie the meat with a cotton string so it keeps its shape
  2. Cut the carrots, the celery and the onion into big pieces, and put them in a large glass bowl with the meat and bay leaf, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves and pepper.  Add the wine.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a cool place (I suggest the refrigerator) for 12 hours.  This is important to reduce the proliferation of bacteria
  3. After 12 hours remove the meat from the bowl and dry it with some paper towels
  4. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, sauté the meat in the butter and olive oil for 5 minutes on both sides
  5. Add the vegetables, the wine and some salt to taste
  6. Cover and cook on low heat for at least 2-½ hours.  The meat should be so tender that it could be carved with a spoon
  7. Remove the meat from the pan.  Discard the rosemary sprigs and the bay leaves
  8. Blend the vegetables and liquid with an electric blender, and then reduce the sauce for 2-3 minutes
  9. Slice the meat when it is no longer too hot; it will be easier to slice.  Pour the sauce on the meat and serve either with polenta or mashed potatoes.

Polenta

  1. In a heavy sauce pan bring the water to boil.  Add the salt
  2. Reduce the heat to low and gradually whisk in the cornmeal to prevent lumps from forming
  3. Cover and cook for 5 minutes
  4. Remove the lid and stir constantly with a wooden spoon on high heat
  5. Continue to stir for about 40 minutes (according to package cooking time) until the polenta is thickened.  It should separate from the sides of the pan, and be able to support a spoon
  6. Add 2-3 T oil olive
  7. Pour the polenta onto a wooden cutting board, let it stand for a few minutes and cut it into slices using either a knife or, according to the peasant tradition, a cotton string.

Note: Barolo wine needs to be matched with food of similar weight such as meat dishes, heavy pasta and rich risotto, and it is excellent for marinating. In fact, marinades work their magic due to the acids in the wine which break down muscle tissue and soften the meat.  An appropriate Barolo substitute is Barbera or another full-bodied red wine.  Polenta is not difficult to make but needs a lot of attention and nearly constant stirring.  The best pan to use should be a copper pot surrounded by the cooking flame (a large gas-burner is ideal).  In the past – and indeed still today – farmers cooked polenta over an open fire, and this without doubt the tastiest version you can eat!!! -Paola

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini (Cep Mushroom Risotto)

7 Nov

The term rice refers to the seed of the Oryza sativa plant.  The Chinese were already cultivating this plant 12,000 years ago!  It spread slowly to North Africa and Europe.  This cereal arrived in the North America, first in South Carolina around 1700, probably from Madagascar.  In Italy the first rice farmers were monks in the Piedmont region, and this grain was initially used as a medicine for to maintain the normal digestive functions.  Rice is an excellent source of fuel for our body.  It is easily digested and so the energy it supplies quickly becomes available to our working muscles, brain and body organs, like the heart and liver.  In fact, rice is rich in starch (more than 75%), in vitamins (mainly B group) and some minerals (calcium and iron); instead, it contains few proteins (only 6-7%).  Much of the Italian harvest is used for making risotto, a starchy rice, in the northern regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto.  Risotto is a versatile dish, and its character changes depending on what you add to it.  For example, zucchini flowers make a wonderful spring-time risotto.  Cook a champagne risotto, with passion!, for a special romantic encounter.  This recipe, with porcini mushrooms, is a classic Autumn dish, and it has a rich, aromatic and delicious flavor.  You prepare the mushrooms the same way for both this risotto and the roast filet.

RISOTTO AI FUNGHI PORCINI (CEP MUSHROOM RISOTTO)

Preparation Time: about 40 min
Cooking time:            10 min + 15-20 min.                         Servings: 4

INGREDIENTS
Porcini
450 g (approx. 1 pound) Porcini mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)

Risotto
1 liter (approx. 4 cups) chicken stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Clean the porcini (see Tips, below), and slice the mushrooms vertically into 2 mm (⅛ in) strips.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat sauté the olive oil and the garlic.  Stir in the mushrooms, salt to taste, cook approx. 7 minutes over medium heat.  Continue to cook for 1-2 min. over a high flame.  Add the parsley and set aside.

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
  2. In a large saucepan heat 4 T of butter.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions.  (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.)  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed
  3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 12 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
  4. Set aside a few spoonfuls of mushrooms and add the rest.Cook for about 2 more minutes.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 2 T.

Remove your risotto and mushrooms from the heat.  At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter.  You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes.  Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, place the remaining mushrooms on top and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: To clean the mushrooms, I suggest to wipe them off with a moist cloth and to use a knife, if necessary, to remove any remaining soil.  Many say not to wash them with water, but I prefer this. If you do so, do it immediately before slicing and cooking.  It is important to use either a non-stick or steel pan, because other metals in contact with the porcini can release toxic compounds.  Porcini are well suited to drying, and actually the flavor of dried mushrooms is more intense.  Before using, soak them in hot, but not boiling, water for about twenty minutes; the filtered water can also be used for cooking, enhancing the flavors of other recipes.  For more tips on cooking risotto and selecting the right rice, please also see the Pumpkin Risotto recipe  -Paola

Spaghetti al Pesce Spada e Capperi (Spaghetti with Swordfish and Capers)

1 Nov

Pasta is a great ingredient for preparing quick and delicious meals and is a real treat to make for someone special.  Spaghetti with sword fish, capers and cherry tomatoes is a tasty first course to enjoy before your non-pasta secondo (like we Italians eat it), or as a solitary main dish, fast and easy to prepare.  It is made of fresh and flavorful ingredients from Sicily, land of sea, sun and an extraordinary food tradition.  Since Italy is a country with thousands of miles of coast, it is understandable that fish is a big part of our diet.  This particular pasta sauce blends the delicate taste of sword fish with the intense flavor of the capers, either the edible flower buds or the fruit (cucunci in Italian, pronounced cu-CUN-chi) of a Mediterranean plant found in rocky terrain.  The best capers, the ones I love with my Martini (!) and like to use in my recipes, are the cucunci from the Pantelleria and Salina islands, which are preserved either in salt or vinegar.  They are used to season or garnish salads, pizza, pasta sauces, meat dishes and fish dishes. 

SPAGHETTI AL PESCE SPADA E CAPPERI (SPAGHETTI WITH SWORDFISH AND CAPERS)

Preparation Time: about 20 min.        Cooking time: 7-8 min.           Servings: 4

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) spaghetti (Faella Pasta)
450 g (1 pound) swordfish filet
450 g (1 pound) cherry tomatoes
90 g (½ cup) capers (sotto sale, preserved in salt)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
80 ml (⅓ cup) dry white wine
2 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and set aside
  2. Remove the stem from the cucunci capers (the flower bud capers are stem free)
  3. Wash the capers under running water to remove the salt and set aside
  4. Wash and dry the filet with paper towel.  Remove skin and dice
  5. Drop the pasta in boiling water at this time (see below)
  6. In non-stick skillet on high heat sautè the garlic with olive oil.  Add the fish filet and cook for 3 min on high heat, add the wine
  7. Add the tomatoes and cook on medium heat for 5 min
  8. Add the capers, some salt and  fresh ground pepper to taste.

In a large pot of salted water, at the same time you are cooking the sauce, cook the spaghetti al dente (for about 7-8 min, read the cooking time on the package).  Drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet, mix gently.  Before serving garnish with the parsley.

Note: If you cannot find capers from Pantelleria, make sure to choose the biggest ones you can find, as they taste better and make a better visual impact in the sauce.  You can also substitute the spaghetti with linguine, a flat, spaghetti-like pasta from Liguria, which is often served with pesto or with seafood. -Paola

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