Archive | December, 2012

Risotto allo Champagne (Champagne Risotto)

29 Dec

Are you ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve with an exceptional recipe?  Risotto allo champagne is a classic first course, easy and quick to prepare, very elegant and tasty, perfect for an important occasion such as New Year’s Eve or a special romantic encounter.  The simplicity of the ingredients is enhanced by the champagne aromas that give a touch of romanticism and an aphrodiasiac effect to this dish.  Champagne sparkling wine can only be called so if produced in the region of France bearing the same name.  In Italy however, we also produce excellent sparkling wines such as those from Franciacorta, Trento, Oltrepo’ Pavese and Asti. In an interesting study researchers pointed out that the effect of the scents present in certain dry champagnes, particulary blanc de blancs, replicate the female pherormones! Intriguing! Champagne’s delicate bubbles allow the alcohol to reach the blood stream more rapidly than still wine, contributing to quickly reducing one’s inhibition, so it’s no wonder that it is considered the ultimate symbol of celebration (no champagne, no party!!!).  Further, in small quantities, alcohol produces a stimulating effect, which is due to the high content of minerals such as potassium, zinc and magnesium, essential for both male and female sex hormone production.  Regardless of its aphrodisiac properties, champagne risotto is a exceptional dish to enjoy in the company of a special person or on a special occasion.  I suggest complementing this risotto recipe at the table with a nice flute of champagne.  I hope this coming year you will find happiness while cooking delicious meals and hosting joyful gatherings.  Cheers and Happy New Year!  Buon Anno!

RISOTTO ALLO CHAMPAGNE (CHAMPAGNE RISOTTO)
Preparation time: 15 minutes   Servings: 4

Risotto champagne small

INGREDIENTS
500 ml (approx. 2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
500 ml (2 cups) champagne, at room temperature
25 g (¼ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (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 250 ml (1 cup) champagne 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 9 minutes. Add the rest of champagne about 250 ml (1 cup). Cook for 5-6 minutes until the champagne is completely absorbed. It depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package.

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 30 g (2 T).

Remove your risotto 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, serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: My favorite champagne is Cristal, but I prefer to drink it rather than put it in my rice!  Actually for this recipe, you can also use any good Dry Sparkling wine, Italian, French or otherwise.  For more tips on cooking risotto and selecting the right rice, please also see the Pumpkin Risotto recipe.  -Paola

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Panettone con Crema di Mascarpone (Panettone with Mascarpone Cheese Cream)

24 Dec

Panettone is Italy’s cake for the Holidays, a delicious dessert somewhere between a cake and a loaf of sweet bread. It’s this cake’s dome shape that makes it uniquely identifiable. The dough is very soft and the ingredients very simple: flour, eggs, yeast, butter, sugar, candied orange and lime, raisins … but the taste is mouth-watering. Panettone was first made in Milan but now is eaten all over Italy to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Some legends say that panettone was a creation of love: A 15th-century legend attributes the invention to the nobleman Messer Ughetto degli Atellani, who was in love with the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. He disguised himself as a baker and prepared this sweet bread to conquer the lovely maiden. Instead, another, somewhat less-romantic legend says that during a Christmas lunch at the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan (15th century), the cook burned the Christmas cake he was supposed to serve. Seeing the cook’s despair, a scullion named Toni proposed to serve the sweet and simple bread loaf that he had prepared that morning. The dessert was enthusiastically received by all the guests present. The cook congratulated Toni and name the cake after him, Pan di Toni, Toni’s Bread. Since then panettone became the Christmas cake par-exellance, and nowadays many variations are available, such as with chocolate, flavored cream or dried berries. Panettone is served with sparkling sweet wine such as Moscato d’Asti and Passito of Sicily. You can enjoyed it with a cream of mascarpone cheese flavored with any one of a variety of liqueurs: fruity ones such as limoncello (lemon liqueur), mandarinetto (mandarin liqueur) and Gran Marnier, or perhaps Amaretto or rum. My favorite is Mandarinetto made of juicy Sicilian mandarins, exceptionally flavorful and refreshing.

PANETTONE CON CREMA DI MASCARPONE (PANETTONE WITH MASCARPONE CREAM CHEESE)
Preparation time: 10 minutes

Crema mascarpone small

INGREDIENTS
Mascarpone cheese cream
225 g (½ pound) fresh mascarpone cheese
55 g (⅓ cup) powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons Mandarinetto or other liqueur

DIRECTIONS

1. Place the mascarpone and sugar in a medium mixing bowl
2. Use an electric mixer to beat for 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Stir in the liqueur. Depending on the type of mascarpone cheese, you might have to add 2-3 tablespoon of cream to make the mascarpone cream smoother. You can serve the mascarpone either on top of the Panettone slice or aside, decorating with some mandarin or orange zest.

Note: Panettone should be served warm. In Italy it is customary to set it on the radiator for half an hour or so before serving. Panettone is a simple cake but the preparation is laborious because the raising time occurs in different stages and the temperature of the room is very critical. It is very common and easier to buy the Panottone rather than make it at home, unless you are a pastry chef!!! Unfortunately I am not! There are so many good brands available on the market and each bakery produces its own panettone, called “Panettone Artigianale”, Artisan Panettone. -Paola

Lasagne alla Bolognese (Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce)

17 Dec

Lasagna has a long history (see the Lasagne al pesto post) but the Lasagne alla Bolognese recipe, typical from Emilia Romagna, traces its origins no further than the start 19th century when some restaurants in Bologna (Emilia Romagna) began serving this dish to their clients. It was an instant hit! Since then this recipe has been one of the symbols of Italian cuisine and is very popular all over the world, and in my family it is always on the table at Christmas. To prepare good lasagna alla Bolognese the most important thing is the choice of the ingredients: first of all the Bolognese sauce (ragù) should be made using half beef and half pork meat, the tomatoes should be very juicy and tasty, and homemade pasta certainly gives this dish a special flavor and texture that you will not experience using pre-packed pasta. Making fresh, homemade pasta is not too difficult; it’s fast and lots of fun!!! I remember that I loved to make fresh pasta as a kid with my mom, my aunts and my grandmother. It was so much fun kneading the dough; it’s something creative, productive and educational to do with your kids on rainy days and to keep them away from video games and tv reruns. You can enjoy this recipe either as a first course or a main course, and it is also a perfect party dish to serve at family gatherings.

LASAGNE ALLA BOLOGNESE (LASAGNE WITH BOLOGNESE SAUCE)
Preparation time: 1 hr+30 min. baking time                          Servings: 4

Lasagne ragù 1 small

INGREDIENTS
Bolognese Sauce (“Ragù“)
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
80 g (½ cup) cured pancetta bacon (not smoked)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped or diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
225 g (½ pound) ground beef chuck
225 g (½ pound) ground pork
120 ml (½ cup) red wine
240 ml (1 cup) beef stock
1 can (about 250 ml) peeled whole tomatoes
5 tablespoons cream
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Homemade Pasta
330 g (2 cups) Italian Grade 00 flour
3 large eggs

Besciamella Sauce
1 l milk (approx. 4 cups)
100 g (⅔ cup
) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

DIRECTIONS
Bolognese Sauce
1. In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the butter and the pancetta for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion, and when it begins to soften add the other vegetables. Sauté over low heat for 8 minutes until golden, stirring constantly
2. Add the ground meat and continue cooking for about 10 minutes
3. Add the wine and increase the heat to high to evaporate the alcohol
4. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 1 hour stirring occasionally until thick
5. Remove from heat and add the cream
6. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

Homemade Pasta
Place the flour in a volcano-shaped pile on a work surface (wood is the traditional material) making sure that the “crater” provides a large enough well in the center to receive the eggs. Wash the eggs under running water and crack them into the well. Beat the eggs with a fork for 1-2 minutes, then gradually blend the flour into the eggs, starting from the inner wall of the well and continuing until all the flour and the eggs are completely combined. You have to add flour until the dough is no longer sticky (you may have to use extra flour depending on the absorption characteristics of the flour and on the temperature of the room). Knead the dough for about 15 minutes to form a smooth and elastic ball. This procedure helps develop the gluten in the flour, so your pasta will be springy and al dente when it is cooked. Place the dough in a clean cotton dish towel to rest for about 20 minutes at room temperature. Divide your pasta in 4 equal parts and roll out one part at a time (keeping the rest in the dish towel until ready to work).

ROLLING OUT BY HAND. To roll out your pasta you need a wooden pin – mattarello – (about 80 cm long and 4 cm diameter, 37 x 2 in). Dust each piece lightly with flour and roll out to the desired thickness; you should be able to see your hand through it. Work fast because the pasta dries much quicker than you might think. Cut the pasta into rectangular sheets (20 x 10 cm; 8 x 4 in) and let them rest for about 10 minutes on a cotton dish towel.

ROLLING OUT BY MACHINE. A hand-cranked pasta machine is the best to use. Kids especially love this part. Start out using the widest setting. Run the pasta through for about 6-7 times until the dough is smooth. If the sheet tears dust it with flour. Continue to run each sheet through the machine, reducing the thickness a notch at a time, until you reach the desired thickness and you can see your hand through it. At this point follow the same procedure as for rolling out by hand.

Besciamella Sauce
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth. This will prevent any lumps from forming. Add the salt
2. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
3. Lower the heat as soon as the mixture reaches a slow boil and then continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly to the right thickness (smooth and creamy). Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn.
4. Add butter and stir until melted

In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of besciamella. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the besciamella in the bottom of the baking pan (about 2 lasagna sheets). Cut the pasta, if necessary, to make a complete layer from side to side. Spread some of the ragù (about ⅓) evenly on top of the pasta, followed by a layer of besciamella (about ⅓), some parmesan and another layer of pasta. Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of pasta and finish with the remaining ragù and besciamella. Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is brown and bubbly. Let it rest at room temperature for about 8-10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle some freshly-grated parmesan on top and serve warm.

Note: I recommend starting this whole process by preparing the ragù first. While it is cooking you can make the pasta and then the besciamella sauce. If, instead, you use dry pre-packed lasagna, just refer to the baking time suggested on the package.

Saltimbocca alla Romana

10 Dec

The saltimbocca (literally “jumps in the mouth” from the skillet, referring to the fact you have to eat it hot off the stove) is one of the flagships of the Roman-style cooking. This tasty dish is made of veal slices lined with prosciutto crudo (dry-cured ham) and sage leaves, cooked in butter and flavored with white wine. The origins of this recipe are uncertain. In any case, Pellegrino Artusi (a well-know Italian writer and gourmet in the 1800s) reported that he enjoyed saltimbocca in a historic trattoria (tavern) in Rome; after this event the dish started being served in several other taverns in the Capital and became popular throughout the Lazio region. Other sources, however, indicate that the origins are from Brescia (a Lombard city). Who really knows? The most important thing is that today, all over the country, we enjoy this fast-to-prepare and appetizing dish either as a second course or as main course. You can serve it with baked or mashed potatoes, or grilled vegetables.

SALTIMBOCCA ALLA ROMANA
Preparation time: 30 minutes                             Servings: 4

Saltimbocca 3 small

INGREDIENTS
12 veal slices (scaloppine) 14 cm long and pounded to less than 1 cm (¼ inch) thick
12 thin slices of prosciutto crudo
12 large sage leaves
60 ml (¼cup) white wine
70 g (2.5 oz) unsalted butter
60 g (⅓ cup) all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
To save time ask the butcher to pound the veal meat for you.

1. Cover the entire surface of the meat with on slice of prosciutto. Then place a sage leaf on top of the prosciutto. Stick a toothpick through the meat to secure the prosciutto and the sage
2. Flour the scaloppine only on the meat side. Shake off the excess of flour
3. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and place the scaloppine, floured-side down, without overlapping
4. Cook for 5 minutes without turning, until golden
5. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add some salt and freshly ground pepper. Prosciutto crudo is pretty salty, therefore do not add much salt. I personally do not add it at all
6. Place the saltimbocca on a serving dish, keep warm. Cook the wine sauce for about 2 more min. Pour it over the meat and serve immediately. Saltimbocca is very tasty when eaten warm, right away!

Note: Prosciutto crudo’s taste depends on the ageing time and the amount of fat present in the pork. Prosciutto di Parma (from Parma in Emilia-Romagna) has a distinct flavor due to the longer ageing time when compared to Prosciutto S. Daniele (from Friuli), sweeter and lighter in texture, while Prosciutto Toscano has a much stronger and decisive taste because of the spices used to cure it.  -Paola

Pizzoccheri

3 Dec

Pizzoccheri is a homey dish for the cold months, linked to the traditions of the Alpine farmers.  The original recipe comes from a small village named Teglio in Valtellina (Lombardy), a well known ski area in the heart of the Alps.  The name pizzoccheri seems to derive either from the root of the word, piz (pezzetto, piece of pasta) or from the word pinzare (to staple – to press) referring to the shape of the pasta (short and thin strips).  In fact, pizzocheri are a type of short tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta made of 80% buckwheat flour, a brownish-gray flour with a nutty flavor, and 20% wheat flour.  The rustic flavor of the pasta pairs well with the smooth taste of vegetables such as Savoy cabbage, potatoes and the intense flavor of the Valtellina’s cheeses, such as bitto and casera DOP (Protected Geographical Status).  Casera cheese is made from partially-skimmed cow milk, and its origins date back the sixteenth century.  It has a nutty and sweet taste; instead bitto cheese has a stronger and more intense taste due to the presence of goat milk (about 20%).  Pizzoccheri is by no means a light dish, but at the same it is a hearty and tasty treat, especially after a strenuous day on the ski slopes.  It is an excellent vegetarian dish (it does contain dairy products, though).  You can enjoy it as first course or as a main dish.

PIZZOCCHERI

Preparation time: 30 minutes                     Servings: 4

Pizzoccheri 3 piccola

INGREDIENTS
225 g(½ pound) Savoy cabbage, finely chopped
225 g (½pound) potatoes, peeled and chopped in small cubes
100 g (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 whole garlic cloves
5 fresh sage leaves
340 g (12 oz) pizzoccheri pasta
70 g (2.5 oz) bitto cheese, thin slices
130 g (4.5 oz) Valtellina casera cheese, thin slices
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large pan the boil 3 l salted water, add the cabbage and boil for 5 minutes.  Drain well and set aside.  Add the potatoes to the same pan of boiling water, cook for 5 minutes or until tender.  Drain well and set aside, reserving the water to cook the pasta
  2. Sauté one garlic clove in half the butter in a large skillet over a medium-low heat.  Add the cabbage, potatoes and sauté gently.  Cover to keep warm and moist
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the vegetable water, according to package cooking instructions (12-15 min.).  Drain well and add to the warm vegetable mix in the skillet.  Cook for less than 1 minute, stirring very gently
  4. Heat the remaining butter with the sage and the other garlic clove in a small pan over a medium flame.  Remove the garlic clove.  Put half the pasta and vegetable mix in a heat resistant serving dish.  Cover with half of the bitto and half of the casera cheese.  Pour half the butter and sage on top, then sprinkle with half of the parmesan cheese.  Season to taste with freshly ground pepper.  Repeat this step with the remaining products.  Serve hot!  It is important that the pasta and the vegetables are hot to melt the cheese.  To melt the cheese thoroughly you can also put the pizzocheri in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) for 4-5 minutes.

Note: You can substitute the cabbage with either Swiss chard or spinach.  If you cannot find either casera or bitto cheese , I recommend  to use fontina cheese, another mountain cheese from Valle d’Aoasta.  You can buy either dry pizzoccheri, but fresh pasta might be available in specialty stores, too. The cooking time is slightly different, check the directions on the packaging.  -Paola

 

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