Archive | February, 2013

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Spaghetti Puttanesca)

26 Feb

Spaghetti puttanesca is a tasty and piquant dish. It is one of the more popular recipes of Italian cuisine, originally from Lazio and Campania but now spread all over the world. This recipe, fast and simple, is prepared with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olives, anchovies, capers and red chili pepper. The moderate amount of anchovies gives a slight fishy taste to this recipe without overpowering the distinct flavor of the other ingredients. The term puttanesca comes from a legend in which the “brothels” served this appetizing and aphrodisiac dish to attract customers. In fact, you may already know of the stimulating, vasodilator and aphrodisiac properties of red chili pepper (Capsicum annum). In addition to these effects, this spice has other healthy benefits: it is an antibacterial and antifungal agent, it is rich in vitamins C and E, it helps digestion, and it is a strong antioxidant. This plant is indigenous to America and was used by the natives there in ancient times (5500 BC) in several dishes. In Europe, the red chili was brought back by Christopher Columbus and it is now one of the main spices of the Mediterranean cuisine. It is used especially in Italy’s southern regions to prepare various recipes, adding flavor and spiciness to many dishes. In fact, the name Capsicum, seems to come from the Greek word “kapto“, to bite, referring to one biting his tongue because the strong taste.

SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA (SPAGHETTI PUTTANESCA)
Preparation time: 20 minutes           Cooking time: 10 minutes            Servings: 4

Spaghetti Puttanesca

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) spaghetti (artisanal pasta)
600 g (21 oz) ripe tomatoes, S. Marzano or Roma (peeled and diced)
75 ml (5 tbsp) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
110 g (¾ cup) black olives or green olives (pitted and sliced)
3 tablespoons Taggiasche olives
3 tablespoons capers (preserved in salt)
8 anchovy fillets (preserved in salt, coarsely chopped)
1-2 dried red chili pepper (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon parsley (finely chopped)

DIRECTIONS
1. Blanche the tomatoes in boiling water, peel and cut into cubes
2. Rinse capers and anchovies under running water. Pat dry with paper. Cut anchovies coarsely
3. Cut black olives into slices
4. In a saucepan, bring 3 liters of salt water to boil
5. In a non-stick skillet on medium-low heat sautè with olive oil garlic, olives, capers and anchovies. Add the tomatoes and red chili pepper, and cook over medium heat for approx. 15 minutes. Add the parsley
6. In the meantime, while the sauce is cooking, boil the spaghetti for approx. 10 minutes (according to the instructions on the package). Drain the spaghetti and pour into the pan with the sauce, heating all together for a few seconds, then serve. If you prefer you can also add the sauce separately to individual plates of spaghetti.

Note: The traditional recipe calls for black olives from Gaeta but I prefer to replace them with green olives and Ligurian Taggiasche olives that have a sweet and delicate flavor. You can choose the type of olives that better suites your taste. The Neapolitan recipe omits anchovies. In addition you can substitute to regular olive oil with olive oil infused with hot chili pepper. This makes your dish even hotter!!! -Paola

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Pasta

23 Feb

Pasta, the queen ingredient of the Italian cuisine, appreciated all over the world, is a mixture of durum wheat flour and water, which is dried and cut into various shapes. It can also be produced with other grains or cereals, and eggs may be used instead of water. Therefore, pasta should be divided in two major categories: dried pasta (pasta secca) and fresh pasta (pasta fresca) prepared with type-00 flour and eggs. The eggs enhance the yellow color and improve the elasticity (especially necessary for long pasta shapes such as tagliatelle), and they reduce the stickiness, too (for my fresh homemade pasta recipe click on https://passionandcooking.wordpress.com/?s=lasagne+alla+bolognese&submit=Search). Most dried pasta is made industrially in large quantities, but a few artisanal producers still make it the way it was produced in the past. This method uses the bronze extrusion dies (perforated plates for shaping), and the pasta is dried slowly at low temperatures. Consequently, artisanal pasta has a rough and porous texture which sauces can cling to better, and it usually “mantiene bene la cottura” (keeps its “al dente” texture longer). This method makes the Italian pasta something unique, differing in quality and taste from pasta produced in other ways and in other countries. The quality of the ingredients, the methods of production, the variety of formats and the countless tasty sauces available make our pasta something that we Italians are very proud of. It is important to pair the ‘right’ pasta shape with the ‘right’ sauce. For this purpose, I would suggest grouping pasta shapes into five categories:

1. short pasta (penne, farfalle, fusilli, maccheroni, orecchiette, etc …)
2. long pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, linguine, noodles, angel hair, tagliatelle etc …)
3. filled pasta (tortellini, ravioli, cannelloni etc. ..)
4. lasagna
5. pasta for soups (thimbles, bells, rings, etc …).

The main purpose of different pasta shapes is just to hold the sauce better, which also depends on the roughness of the dough. The pasta shapes differ greatly from north to south, and this is due to the different sauces prepared with the ingredients available in different climates. In the south, where the climate is warmer, olive oil and tomatoes, fresh vegetables, olives, capers and seafood are staples. The classic recipes are, for example, spaghetti con aglio, olio e peperoncino, spaghetti puttanesca, spaghetti carbonara. In the north, however, where the climate is colder and more humid, cheese, butter and cream are frequently used to prepare the sauces (for example maccheroni with gorgonzola sauce, penne allo zafferano (for my saffron recipe, click on https://passionandcooking.wordpress.com/?s=pasta+allo+zafferano&submit=Search). Smooth sauces are fine for long pasta (like spaghetti) where the sauce flows around the noodles, while chunky sauces call for concave shaped pasta or one with holes (like penne, maccheroni). Certain short pasta (farfalle and fusilli) are also good to be served cold (like in pasta salad); it keeps its texture for a long time. Pasta dishes are served as a first course (primo), and the portions are small because the servings are often followed by a second course (secondo, which by itself might often be considered a full meal in other countries). Sauce should be served in equal amounts of pasta and should not smother the pasta.

Pasta

HOW TO COOK PASTA
The cooking time depends both on the format and the type of pasta. It is usually 11-12 minutes for pasta secca, because the pasta needs to rehydrate, while the time is shorter for fresh pasta (for example, tagliatelle will take about 2 minutes, ravioli 3-4 minutes). For every 100 g of pasta (3.5 oz), you need 1 liter of water, and pasta should be cooked in a large pan, since the dough tends to stick during cooking in small pots. The normal portion per person is about 80-100 g (3 – 3.5 0z). The ratio of salt to water is very important. In general, you need 10 g (2 teaspoons) of salt for every liter of water. If the pasta sauce has a strong seasoning, the amount of salt should be reduced proportionately. It might be that no salt is necessary, for example, if the pasta is served with pesto, which can be quite salty by itself. The ideal time to add salt to water is after it starts boiling; if you add salt to the cold water, the time to boil will be longer. To prevent pasta from sticking add one or two tablespoons of oil to the water during cooking. Pasta should not be soft or mushy when it is served. Cooking should be “al dente” (literally translated as “to the tooth”), which means that the cooked dough should be firm and have a bit of resistance when you bite into it. Just halve your macaroni and view the inside: when the color is homogeneous your pasta is right al dente, instead when the inside is still white the pasta is not cooked enough. You should take into account that pasta will continue to cook for a while after it is drained. I would recommend to drain your pasta while it is still just slightly ‘underdone’ for your taste, making it perfectly al dente when you eat it. -Paola

Tortino di Porri, Patate e Triglie (Leeks, Potatoes and Red Mullet Pie)

17 Feb

This is a simple, versatile and absolutely delectable recipe.  It is a tasty dish to serve as a starter or enjoy as a main course accompanied by a salad.  The distinct but mild onion- flavor of the leeks blends well with the starchy potatoes and the delicate texture of the red mullet, a light-pink fish found mainly in the Mediterranean sea.  Leeks were used in Egyptian cuisine as early as from the second millennium BC, both as vegetables and as aromatic herbs.  In Roman times Emperor Nero loved leeks in his soups believing that they improved the resonance of his voice.  Nowadays we still enjoy leeks in our soups, risotto, pasta, frittata (omelets), or just raw and finely sliced in salad vinaigrettes.  Leeks are often used to flavor dishes such as fish, pork and lamb.  For example, you can use them as “ natural container” to wrap up food (especially fish) during cooking, to give it an enhanced flavor.  Leeks can be served as delicious vegetable side dish, boiled and then baked with butter and cheese, or simply seasoned with oil and lemon.  In addition, leeks are a nutritious and healthy vegetable, rich in water (over 90%), in vitamin A and C, as well as containing moderate amounts of B vitamins and few calories.  We should not underestimate the aphrodisiac aspect of the leeks, a commonly known since ancient times.

TORTINO DI PORRI, PATATE E TRIGLIE (LEEKS, POTATOES AND RED MULLET PIE)
Preparation time: 45 minutes          Baking time: 20 minutes              Serving: 6

tortino porri e triglie 3 small

INGREDIENTS
4 large leeks, white part only, finely sliced
1 medium yellow scallion (or small onion), finely sliced
5 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
120 ml (½ cup) water
4 medium sized potatoes
900 g (2 pounds) skinless, boneless red mullet filets
250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
230 g (½ pound) puff pastry sheet
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F)
1.Wash the potatoes under running water.  Put them in a pan and cover with cold water.  Turn on the heat and bring to boil.  Cook for about 6-8 minutes until potatoes are done but not soft.  Cool, peel and dice them
2.While potatoes are cooling, in a large saucepan over medium heat sauté leeks and scallion in olive oil, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes.  Add ½ cup of water and cook for about 10 minutes until leek mixture is soft.  Cool for about 10 minutes
3.In a large bowl mix the leek mixture, the diced potatoes and the cream.  Season with salt and pepper
4. Place puff pastry in a 30 cm (12 in) baking dish, pour in the vegetable mix
5. Bake for about 20 minutes or until custard is set and golden on top
6. Remove from the oven and arrange the fish filets on top of the pie
7. Bake for additional 5-7 minutes until fish is done
8. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for about 10-15 minutes before serving.

Note: At the time of purchase, I would suggest to look for leeks with straight and firm stalks, dark green leaves without yellow spots (a sign of lack of freshness).  Leeks can be kept in the fridge for about two weeks.  Before using leeks, trim the dark portion of the leaves down to the light-green white part.  Clean carefully to remove any dirt.  You can also substitute red mullets with salmon fillets cut into thin and small pieces.  -Paola

Torta al Cioccolato e Barolo Chinato (Barolo Chinato Chocolate Cake)

10 Feb

This delicious dark chocolate cake flavored with Barolo Chinato and served with whipped cream and raspberries is a truly romantic treat for an amorous occasion such as Valentine’s Day.  Chocolate, the so called natural “love drug” and one of the top ten aphrodisiac foods, is definitely an excellent choice when celebrating this holiday.  The feeling eating chocolate produces is the same you feel as when falling in love so … let’s eat more chocolate!!!  In fact, several compounds present in chocolate have been linked to one’s mood and pleasure, such as phenyl-ethylamine which has amphetamine-like stimulating properties and tryptophan, related to serotonin, a substance associated with ecstasy and happiness.  In addition to its “love effects”, dark chocolate – rich in antioxidants – provides other beneficial properties such as reducing your levels of free radicals, which are responsible for cellular damage, aging and cancer.  This delicious food is obtained from the tropical tree Theobroma Cacao, which has been cultivated in central and south America for at least three millennia.  The Aztecs thought it gave strength and power to their warriors. In the past chocolate has been considered more medicinal, rather than the delicious treat it is today.  In this recipe, the chocolate’s aroma blends well with the distinct flavor of Barolo Chinato, a Barolo wine flavored with a variety of herbs and spices, including quinine bark (china in Italian, pronounced KEY-na), and sweetened with a touch of sugar.  As a dessert wine Barolo Chinato is a perfect match for rich sweets, especially those with chocolate like this superb cake.  So when making the cake, save a glass (better yet, save 2!) to enjoy with your cake.  And now, food meets art!  Chocolate is not only a delicious treat; some artists use it as an expressive material in their work.  If you like video performances please take a look at my dear friend and great artist, Ciriaca Erre’s video “Can I have another question?” A passionate and emotional modern Medea.  Enjoy it!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORCWRiQ7_tM&feature=player_embedded  
www.ciriacaerre.com

TORTA AL CIOCCOLATO E BAROLO CHINATO (BAROLO CHINATO CHOCOLATE CAKE)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours                              Baking time: 45-50 minutes

Torta al cioccolato fetta small

INGREDIENTS
250 g (1 cup +2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
260 g (1 ¼ cups) granulated sugar
30 g (8 tablespoons) cocoa powder
250 g (1 ½ cups) flour, type 00
15 g (1 tablespoon) baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs separated
150 g (5 ounces) dark chocolate (70%)
240 ml (1 cup) Barolo Chinato
250 g (2 cups) raspberries
250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 165°C (325°F)
1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.  Set aside
2. In a large bowl cream the butter with sugar and cocoa using an electric mixer.  Beat in egg yolks one at the time
3. In a double boiler, heat wine slowly and melt chocolate.  Cool for about 5 minutes.
4. Add the wine-chocolate mixture to the butter and mix well with a spoon
5. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth batter
6. In a medium bowl, using clean beaters, beat egg whites until firm and glossy
7. Gently fold whites into the batter using a spatula until there are no more white streaks
8.Grease and flour a 24 cm (10 in) spring-form pan
9. Pour in the batter and bake for about 45-50 minutes until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean
10. Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack
11. Wash raspberries under running water.  Gently dry them with paper towels.  Set aside
12. In a medium bowl combine cream and powdered sugar, and beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Decorate the cake with whipped cream and raspberries.

Note: You can substitute Barolo Chinato with another sweet or fortified red wine such as Marsala, Port or Sherry.  -Paola

 

 

Chiacchiere (Sweet Carnival Fritters)

3 Feb

Carnevale, Carnival or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), is a huge Catholic festival celebrated forty days before Easter, before Ash Wednesday, with masquerade balls, parades and public street parties.  Masks, or maschere, are one of the most important parts of Carnival, and cities all over Italy celebrate this festival in one way or another, although Venice is certainly the most well-known Italian city for its traditional Carnival masks and parties.  The streets are full of people dressed in costumes, and all over town artists and singers entertain with performances and songs.  It is a unique adventure worthy of the experience!  This festive event is also celebrated by eating special treats prepared only during this season.  Chiacchiere (literally “chit-chat” or “small talk”, pronounced key-AH-ker-ay) are crispy fritters made with flour, sugar, butter, eggs and liquor, although this last ingredient may be eliminated during Lent.  Chiacchiere are known by different names depending on the region from which they originate.  For example chiacchiere and lattughe (because they recall the appearance of lettuce leaves) are found in Lombardy, cenci (meaning rags) and donzelle in Tuscany, frappe in Emilia Romagna and bugie (meaning “lies”) in Piedmont.  Whatever you call them, they are delicious, delicate pastries that both adults and kids love.  I remember making this special snack with my grandmother; this was part of our annual carnival celebration.  We had a lot of fun making them, and I delighted in eating them – it is still a very memorable occasion.  I now make chiacchiere each Carnival season with my kids too, part of our family cooking tradition!!  Chiacchiere trace their origins from ancient Roman times when they were called frictilia, tasty sweet dough fried in lard, the most common frying fat available at the time.

CHIACCHIERE (SWEET CARNIVAL FRITTERS)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours                                      Servings: 6-8

Chiacchere sigla 4 small

INGREDIENTS
500 g (3 cups) flour 00
70 g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
7 g (1 heaping teaspoon) baking powder
1 pinch salt
60 g (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature and diced
3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
30 ml (2 tablespoons) dry Marsala (grappa, brandy)
Oil for deep frying
Powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS
1. In a large bowl sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt)
2. Add the butter and mix with a pastry cutter.  In a small bowl beat the eggs, then add the eggs, vanilla extract and Marsala to the dry ingredients, mixing well.  Blend the dough well with floured hands until it is smooth and elastic
3. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it for about 10 minutes on a floured surface.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 30 minutes in a cool place
4. Divide the dough in four equal parts and roll out one part at the time (keeping the rest in the plastic wrap until ready to work).  Rolling out chiacchiere is just like rolling out pasta dough.

ROLLING OUT BY HAND.  To roll out your dough 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, about 2 mm.  Cut the dough into rectangular strips using a table knife or a serrated pastry wheel (10 x 5 cm; 4 x 2 in) and let them rest for about 5 minutes on a cotton dish towel.  Make two parallel cuts down in the middle of each strip about 5 cm (2 in) long, taking care to leave the ends of the strips intact.

ROLLING OUT BY MACHINE.  A hand-cranked pasta machine is the best to use.  Kids especially love this part, so I usually have some help!  Start out using the widest setting.  Run the dough through for about 5-6 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. I use setting number 5.  The dough should be very smooth.  Once you reach the desired thickness, follow the same procedure as above for cutting the dough.

5. In a heavy skillet gradually heat some frying fat to the required temperature of about 180°C (350 °F).  If you do not have a thermometer use this easy test.  Drop in one cube of bread (about 2.5 cm, 1 in).  If the cube browns after 60 seconds, the fat will be ready for frying.  Fry the strips for about one minute until golden on both sides, turning them once
6. Remove them from the skillet and let rest on a grid covered with paper towels to absorb the excess oil
7.Sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar when they are cool. 

Note: Deep frying is a dry heat cooking method.  Choose your cooking fat carefully.  Fats with high “smoke points” are the best.  Peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and canola oil are good choice.  Lard is very good frying fat too, because it withstands very high temperatures.  It was commonly used in the past in many cuisines, but it is used less now because it has a strong, distinct taste that can cover the food’s flavor.  -Paola

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