Archive | April, 2013

Insalata di Farro e Verdure (Farro and Vegetable Salad)

28 Apr

The fresh vegetables make this salad a perfect and colorful dish to celebrate the flavors of spring.  Farro is an ancient grain, a variety of wheat called emmer.  It was used by the Etruscans, Egyptians and the Romans. Nowadays it is cultivated especially in northern Tuscany, in the province of Lucca. Farro has a delicious nutty and earthy texture that makes it a wonderful choice for entrees, soups, side dishes and salads. It is a versatile ingredient, as well as being highly nutritious. Farro is rich in proteins, dietary fibers and magnesium; it is a good source of vitamin A, C, E and vitamin B complex, and it is low in fat. It has a very low glycemic index, making it also suitable for diabetics. I use farro perlato (pearled farro, from which a portion of the outer bran has been removed) instead of whole farro for my recipes, because it cooks faster and does not requiring soaking. In fact, farro perlato cooks in only 20 minutes. This is a quick, easy and tasty recipe to prepare, something you can eat either warm or cold. The sautéed and sweetly flavored vegetables combined with the nutty farro make an irresistible vegetarian dish.

INSALATA DI FARRO E VERDURE (FARRO AND VEGETABLE SALAD)
Preparation time: 35 minutes                            Servings: 8

Insalata di Farro

INGREDIENTS
320 g (1 ½ cups) farro perlato
8 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 red chili pepper, finely sliced
3 carrots, finely cubed
1 red pepper, finely cubed
1 fennel, finely cubed
3 zucchini, finely cubed
250 g (2 cups) fresh peas (or frozen)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Parsley, basil or mint for decoration

DIRECTIONS
1. Rinse the farro in cold water and drain
2. Bring 4 cups of salted water (about 7 g,  1 ½  teaspoons of salt) to boil, add the farro, reduce heat and cook covered with a lid for 20 minutes (cook according to the directions on the package).  It should be firm and chewy
3. While the farro is cooking, in a non-stick pan sauté scallions, garlic and red chilli pepper in olive oil over medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring frequently
4. Add the carrots and pepper, toss for a few minutes
5. Add the fennel and zucchini, cook for 5 minutes. At this point add the peas and cook for additional 3-4 minutes stirring a few times to prevent burning. The cooking time for the vegetables can vary according to your taste: crispy versus soft and well cooked.  I go for crispy!
6. After 20 minutes drain the farro and add it to the vegetables. Toss to mix all the ingredients well! Add salt and pepper to taste.  You can serve it either warm or cold. Decorate with parsley, basil or mint.

Note: Instead of farro perlato you can use regular farro (cooking time is different) or any large grain. I would suggest brown rice for a gluten free version. -Paola

Advertisements

Focaccia Dolce con Crema di Cioccolato (Sweet Focaccia Filled with Chocolate Cream)

23 Apr

Sweet focaccia : a childhood memory! Something that my mom used to prepare for me as an afternoon snack after school, something da leccarsi le dita (literally to lick your fingers, to make your mouth water)! It is popular in some Northern regions, made simply like a regular focaccia (see post http://passionandcooking.com/2013/01/29/focaccia/ ) but with sugar in the dough and sprinkled with sugar, raisins, honey or almonds.  It is even tastier if you fill it with chocolate cream, a rich and creamy spread made mainly of dark chocolate and roasted Piedmont hazelnuts. Piedmont is very famous for its hazelnuts that are used in many chocolate confections, including spreadable creams, the ultimate chocolate ecstasy. The chocolate spread is something favored by kids but it also ranks high amongst adults as comfort food. It is delicious on toasts, crackers and bananas. Have you ever tried an Italian-American banana sandwich? Take two slices of banana and top one with chocolate cream and the other with peanut butter; put them together and pop the whole thing into your mouth. It’s something to die for!!!!

FOCACCIA DOLCE CON CREMA DI CIOCCOLATO (SWEET FOCACCIA FILLED WITH CHOCOLATE CREAM)
Preparation time: 2 ½ hours           Baking time: 15-20 minutes     Servings: 6-8

Focaccia con Nutella Fetta

INGREDIENTS
Basic recipe
500 g (3 cups) high-gluten flour (Manitoba)
250 ml water (1 cup + 5 tablespoons) + 100 ml (7 tablespoons) skimmed milk at 45°C, 110 °F
130 ml (9 tablespoons) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
5 g (1 teaspoon) salt
80 g (6 tablespoons) sugar
1 package (7 g ;1 heaping teaspoon) dried yeast or 1 cube (25 g; about 1 ounce) fresh yeast
Granulated sugar

Filling
Chocolate cream

DIRECTIONS
1. In a small pitcher mix water and milk. Stir in salt until dissolved, then add 40 ml (3 tablespoons) olive oil.  Mix well, then dissolve sugar in it.  Sugar is the so called “nourishment” for yeast 
2. Pour the liquid in a large glass bowl and combine with half of the flour.  Stir well until you have a smooth batter
3. Add yeast to the batter, stirring well.  Remember never add yeast directly to salt, because it  prevents the yeast from rising
4. Add the remaining flour to the batter.  Mix well until you have a smooth and even dough, but still a little bit sticky
5. Remove the dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly for about 1-2 minutesDo not add too much flour otherwise the dough will get tough
6. Lightly oil (with about 3 tablespoons) a 25×35 cm (10×14 in.) baking sheet; place the dough in center of the pan and cover with a cotton towel.  Let rise in a warm, draft-free place (about 30°C, 86°F) for about 60-90 minutes until doubled in size
7. Preheat oven to 220 °C (425°F)
8. Pat the dough into the baking sheet, filling it completely.  Brush the dough with oil.  Let it rise for about 30 minutes at 30°C until increases its volume
9. Press some deep holes into the dough with your finger tips, covering the entire surface
10. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons oil olive (cover all areas of the dough) and wet the top with some water, using a spray-bottle, to keep focaccia soft.  Sprinkle with some granulated sugar (2-3 tablespoons)
11. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden
12. Remove from oven and cool on a grid. When it is cool fill it with the chocolate spread. I would recommend to fill only the piece you are going to eat. It is especially tasty if you eat it warm.

Note: The type of water is very important; the pH should be around 6.  I usually use bottled drinking water to avoid having too much chlorine in the dough. The rising temperature is critical too, therefore place the dough in a warm draft-free place and do not open the oven during baking.  Another important piece of information is to never mix salt and yeast directly, because salt inhibits the action of the yeast.  Focaccia can keep for about two days wrapped in plastic wrap without filling, but I suggest eating it fresh, just out of the oven, to fully enjoy its fragrance.  -Paola

Insalata di Polpo con Patate (Octopus and Potato Salad)

16 Apr

Octopus and potato salad, a refreshing and light dish that reveals the exquisite taste of the octopus.  It is a Mediterranean delight to enjoy either as an appetizer or a main course, served either warm or cold and accompanied by a glass of dry white wine.  The simple dressing made with olive oil and lemon juice brings out the flavor of the octopus and the potatoes. This is a lovely way to eat octopus, a low-calorie and lean seafood, and is an ideal way to get protein, minerals (especially iron), vitamins and antioxidants, without taking in too much fat.  The name of octopus derives from Greek,  octo eight and pous piede, with eight feet. Octopus is delightful, but it can be tricky to cook it, with possible results ranging from soft and tender to tough and rubbery.  The cooking time is critical for the best results, and I would recommend tenderizing it with a meat hammer (see note) before cooking.

INSALATA DI POLPO CON PATATE (OCTOPUS AND POTATO SALAD)
Preparation time: 1 h       Cooking time: 40 min.               Serving: 4

conchiglia con polpo

INGREDIENTS
1 whole octopus, about 900 g (2 pounds)
1 carrot
1 celery rib
1 yellow onion
2 bay leaves
1 black pepper corn
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
8 medium size potatoes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoon capers, washed and dry
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Wash and clean the octopus, removing the ink sack and the internal parts
2. Prepare a pot of a vegetable stock with plenty of water and the carrot, celery, onion bay leaves, black pepper corn and vinegar.  Bring it to boil, and dip in only the tentacles (holding the head) 4-5 times to curl and soften them.  Then drop the whole octopus into the water, cover and cook on low heat for approx. 40 minutes
3. Meanwhile cube the potatoes and cook until tender in salted water
4. When the octopus is done boiling, remove it from the water with tongs, chop off the head (there is not a lot of good meat in it) and cube the tentacles in small pieces 2, 5 cm (1 in)
5. In a small bowl prepare the dressing by combining olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsley and garlic
6. In a large bowl combine the octopus, the potatoes and the capers and season with the dressing.  Place it on a serving plate or in a shell.  You can either serve it warm or cold. You can, alternatively, also set the potatoes on a serving dish and place the octopus in the center, then add the dressing on top.

Note: When you buy the octopus, you can verify the freshness from its color; it should be bright and intense.  The octopus meat is soft and tender, but it can also rubbery depending on the preparation.  Traditionally, the octopus was beaten on the rocks to tenderize its meat.  If you don’t have a rocky coast just outside your kitchen door, you can tenderize it with a kitchen hammer for 10 min.  -Paola

Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa (Orecchiette Pasta with Broccoli Rabe)

10 Apr

Orecchiette with broccoli rabe or rapini is one of the most representative dishes of Apulia (especially of the Bari area), and symbolizes the region’s so called “cucina povera” (peasant cooking).  It is a tasty and healthy dish made with orecchiette pasta and broccoli rabe.  The slightly bitter flavor of this leafy dark green vegetable blends well with the starchy taste of pasta and the hot bite of fresh chili pepper.  Orecchiette means “little ears” because of their shape; they are little concave disks.  Orecchiette are made with semolina, flour and water.  They are prepared by pressing a small amount of dough with one’s thumb pressure to create the characteristic depression. According to some legends, their shape also recalls the roof of the trulli constructions, the typical Apulian houses. The best orecchiette are, of course, homemade, but good ones also produced by some Italian pasta makers. The broccoli rabe, a leafy green vegetable and typical of Southern Italy, is very tasty and suitable for several pasta recipes.  There are mainly two types, one from Bari with a tough stalk and a lot of leaves and another one from Naples  (also known as friarielli) with a more tender stalk. If you prefer a milder taste you might use broccolini or regular broccoli. I personally love the bitter taste of broccoli rabe.  Apulia is not only known for its delicious food, but also for its traditional ceramics. You can admire the artistic decoration of the ancient plate (more than 100 years old) shown in the picture below.

ORECCHIETTE CON CIME DI RAPA (ORECCHIETTE PASTA WITH BROCCOLI RABE)
Preparation time: 25 minutes    Cooking time: 20 minutes         Servings: 4

Orecchiette Piatto_small

INGREDIENTS

600 g (21 oz ) broccoli rabe
450 g (16 oz) fresh orecchiette pasta
6 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 garlic gloves, coarsely chopped
2 fresh hot chili peppers, seeded and finely sliced
4 salted anchovies, rinsed and coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino
Salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Wash the broccoli rabe, trim away the stalk, conserving the blossoms and leaves.  Cut the leaves into 5 cm (2 ½ inches) pieces
2. Bring about 3 l of water to boil.  Add 1 ½ tablespoons cooking salt, add the broccoli rabe.  Stir well and cook for about 10 minutes.  Remove the broccoli rabe with a fine mesh strainer.  Set aside
3. Bring the broccoli water back to boil and add the pasta.  Cook for about 5-6 minutes (until “al dente”)
4. While pasta is cooking , in a large frying pan over medium-low heat, sauté garlic, chili peppers and chopped anchovies in olive oil for 1 minutes. Mix in broccoli rabe and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to mix all the ingredients well
5. When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the vegetable mix.  Toss it for 1 minute
6. Place the pasta on a serving plate and serve with freshly grated pecorino cheese.

 Note: When you buy broccoli rabe make sure that the bottoms of the stems are relatively firm and green.  If you prefer using dry pasta instead of fresh, you should reduce the amount to 350 g (12.5 oz).  -Paola

Datteri Ripieni con Mascarpone e Noci (Stuffed Dates with Mascarpone Cheese and Nuts)

6 Apr

This is a simple, simply delectable recipe that you can make as a tasty appetizer to serve in a special occasion.  This is certainly a Mediterranean-inspired dish, a succulent combination of flavors, creamy and caramely, that you can easily get addicted to. The date tree originated around the Nile and Euphrates rivers of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.  Now, however, the date palm grows in warm climates on all continents.  Wonderfully delicious, dates are one the most popular fruits, packing lots of fibers, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals; they are an excellent source of iron.  I love dates: by themselves, stuffed or in sweets.

DATTERI RIPIENI CON MASCARPONE E NOCI (STUFFED DATES WITH MASCARPONE CHEESE AND NUTS)
Preparation time: 10 minutes                                       Servings: 4

Datteri con mascarpone2_small

INGREDIENTS
10 large dates
150 g (about 6 oz) fresh mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon whisky or bourbon
10 pecan or walnut halves

DIRECTIONS
1. Make a slit in the center of each date.  Remove the pit
2. In a medium bowl combine mascarpone and whisky
3. Fill center of each date generously with the mascarpone cheese mixture and place a pecan halve over the filling.

Note: I think that Middle Eastern dates are the best, and I prefer large dark dates to the smaller, pale-brown ones that are commonly found.  You can store dates in a cool place, in an air-tight container, where they keep well for several months.  You can substitute the mascarpone cheese and whisky with either sweet Gorgonzola or brie, for a non-alcoholic version that is just as tasty.  -Paola

Arista di Maiale Ripiena al Forno (Stuffed Roast Pork Tenderloin)

2 Apr

Roasted pork tenderloin stuffed with dried fruits soaked in Marsala wine, ham and almonds: an elegant and delicious recipe for a family get-together or a special occasion … something to impress your family and guests! You will love how beautiful the colors of the ingredients look when you slice it – we all know that we eat first with our eyes!!! The mingling of dried fruit, almonds and Marsala is mouth watering and recalls Sicilian flavors. In fact, Sicily is one of the most important producers of almonds in the world. Almonds, the symbol of good fortune, were first cultivated in the Middle East, then introduced in Sicily before 1000 BC. Further, Marsala, a fortified sweet wine similar to Port and Sherry, is produced in the region surrounding the city of Marsala in Sicily. This wine is a perfect complement to sharp cheeses, nuts, desserts or cooked meat (chicken Marsala is one of the most common dishes). The sweetness of Marsala gives this pork dish a fabulous and unexpected flavor.

ARISTA DI MAIALE RIPIENA AL FORNO (STUFFED ROAST PORK TENDERLOIN)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours    Baking time: 50 min.        Servings: 4

Arista Fette small

INGREDIENTS
1 kg (approx. 2 pounds) boneless pork tenderloin
50 g (3 thin slices) ham
110 ml (½ cup) Marsala wine
8 dried apricots
6 pitted prunes
30 g (2 tablespoons) toasted almonds
70 g (5 tablespoons) butter
5 blood orange slices
1 sprig of rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 205 °C (400°C)
Before cooking the roast, let stand unrefrigerated until it reaches room temperature.
1. Prick holes in the dried fruit and soak in Marsala for 30 min.  Keep the Marsala for cooking the meat
2. Toast the almonds for about 5 to 6 minutes on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) or stirring constantly in a non-stick skillet on the stove. Set aside
3. Cut a lengthwise slit down the center of the loin, stopping at about 2.5 cm (1 inch) from the other side. Open the loin so it lies almost flat
4. Completely cover the inner (cut) surface of the loin with the ham. Arrange the soaked dried fruits and the almonds in a line down the center. Wrap the loin around the fruit and place the orange slices and the rosemary sprig on top. Tie the roast at 5 cm (2 inch) intervals with kitchen string
5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place it in a roasting pan with butter and Marsala
6. Bake uncovered at 205 °C (400°C) for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 180 °C (350 °F), cover with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 40 min. Use a meat thermometer to determine when it reaches your preferred level of doneness (70°C/160°F for medium). Uncover and place under broiler to brown the top for about 5 min.
7. Transfer to a cutting board. Let it stand for about 10-15 min. Remove the strings and slice it. You can serve with baked potatoes, mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables.

Note: You can substitute apricots with dried figs to make this recipe even more Mediterranean. -Paola

%d bloggers like this: