Archive | August, 2013

Piadina Romagnola

29 Aug

Piadina (in English “flatbread”), is one of the most popular dishes of the Emilia Romagna region, and it is certainly appreciated all over the country. It looks like a pastry disk, made of flour, lard, salt and water, and it is traditionally cooked either on a terracotta dish or metal griddle over hot coals. Piadina has an ancient history dating back to the Etruscans, who prepared a batter of cereals similar to piadina. For many years, this flatbread was considered a peasants’ meal because the ingredients are simple and easy to find. The traditional piadina is filled with Parma ham (prosciutto crudo), squacquerone or crescenza, fresh and tasty cheeses, quite soft and mild tasting, and of course with arugula (rocket) which gives the sandwich a zesty taste to munch on! It is also delicious when it is spread only with cheese and arugula, and a perfect foil for cold cuts or grilled sausages too; actually the choice is unlimited. It is up to you to decide how you prefer to enjoy it. It is an ideal dish for lunch, for a quick snack during the day. It can also be consumed as a substitute for bread to accompany various dishes. It is an excellent cookout bread. The homemade piadina, of course, has a distinctive flavor and aroma, but nowadays it is very common to consume pre-cooked piadina which is then heated on a griddle and then filled at the moment.

Preparation time: 40 minutes          Cooking time: 5-6 minutes          Servings: 4

Piadina Ripiena

500 g (3 cups) all-purpose flour
65 g (2,5 oz) soft lard
2 g (½) baking soda
6 g salt
200 ml (¾ cup) lukewarm water
200 g (7 oz) Prosciutto crudo
100 g (3.5 oz) squacquerone or crescenza cheese

1. Mix flour and baking soda in a bowl. Dissolve salt in the water
2. Make a volcano with the flour on the work surface, making sure to form a “crater” big enough for holding the lard. Mix well by slowly adding lard and water. Knead to a smooth and homogeneous dough
3. Cover with a cotton cloth and let rest for about 30 minutes at room temperature
4. Divide the dough into 4 balls of equal size. To roll out the dough flatbread you need a wooden rolling pin – about 80 cm (32 inch) long and 4 cm (1 ½ inch)in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and roll out the dough to a thickness of about 5 mm (⅛ inch) and make 4 discs of 23-25 cm (10 inch) in diameter. To obtain smooth edges use a wheel cutter with a smooth blade following the contour of a circular plate
5. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, wait until it is hot and place a disc of dough on the pan. Punch with a fork and cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side. It may puff up. If it does gently press the bubbles with a spatula
6. Spread with a thin layer of cheese, cover with a few slices of ham and garnish with arugula
7. Fold in half and serve warm.

Note: You can substitute lard with olive oil – about 110 ml (½ cup). The result will be a lighter piadina. You can also substitute water with milk; I personally prefer the taste of water. It is also possible to freeze piadina. Wait until it is completely cool, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.  Remove from the freezer, thaw and heat on a non-stick skillet.   -Paola


Caponata (Eggplant Stew)

20 Aug

Caponata is a delicious dish, typical of the Sicilian cuisine made with sautéed vegetables (mostly eggplants) and seasoned with sweet and sour sauce.  Sicilians are very proud of it because it is made only native Sicilian ingredients. It can be served cold either as an appetizer or as a side dish, but you can also enjoy it as a main course with a thick slice of homemade bread. It makes a perfect dish for a summer picnic because it can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  Actually, it is a handy dish to have ready in your fridge for unexpected guests or nights when you don’t know what to prepare. Like for all recipes, there is a basic recipe and many variations. I learned this recipe which contains peppers from a dear friend from Palermo (Sicily). The origin of this dish is uncertain -: The etymology refers to the Spanish language “caponata” which means “similar”.  According to the Sicilian tradition, the term caponata comes from “capone” which is the name of an expensive fish, served with a sweet and sour sauce, typical of caponata.  Poor people could not afford this expensive fish, therefore they replaced it with the cheapest eggplants.  According to other sources, the name derives from “caupone“, the name of the taverns, in which this dish was served. Regardless this recipe’s origins, the fact is that it is really tasty, definitely something to try!

Preparation time: 2 ½ hours   Cooking time: 30 minutes    Servings: 8

Caponata (2)

900 g (2 pounds) eggplant
2 medium onions, finely chopped
450 g (1 pound) celery, finely chopped
110 g (⅔ cup) pine nuts
150 g (1 cup) green olives
3 tablespoons cucunci capers (preserved in salt)
450 g (1 pound) peppers
450 g (1 pound) tomatoes S. Marzano, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
110 ml (½ cup) white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
5-6 leaves of fresh basil
Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Cut eggplants into pieces about 2,5 cm (1 inch) long, put them in a large colander and sprinkle with coarse salt. Allow to stand for at least two hours under a weight to remove their bitter liquid. To aid the removal of the liquid, try putting the colander in a slightly inclined position. After two hours, remove salt from the eggplant with a kitchen brush and dry by patting them with paper towels. Fry in hot oil olive. Set aside
2. In a pan with high sides, sauté onions, celery, peppers, capers, olives and pine nuts in olive oil for about 7-8 min. Add tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes over low heat until celery is tender
3. Add eggplants, basil leaves and sugar dissolved in vinegar. Mix well and cook over medium-low heat for about 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper
4. Let set for a few hours serve at room temperature.

Note: The caponata can be stored in the refrigerator for several days in a glass or ceramic container closed with a lid. Before consuming, leave it at room temperature.  -Paola





Crostata di Pesche Noci (Nectarin Tart)

14 Aug

The nectarine tart is a variation of a classic jam tart. It is a flavorful summertime dessert, prepared with pasta frolla and fresh nectarines (a type of peaches), which can be substituted with canned peaches during winter, but this will of course alter the tart’s taste and aroma! Peaches are, in fact, typical summer fruits, juicy and rich in water, therefore perfect for a summer diet! Peaches are highly satiating, keep hunger at bay for longer periods, so they are a good choice to incorporate into a weight-loss diet. The addition of a few crushed amaretti cookies gives a delicious flavor to this dessert. The almond taste of amaretti blends well with the sweet flavor and fragrant aroma of peaches. This peach tart is a perfect finale for any meal, from an casual picnic to a formal dinner.  It is delicious all by itself, but it can also be made even more enticing by adding a scoop of homemade gelato alla crema . In Italy we commonly enjoy these simple fruit tarts for breakfast or as a snack (with far fewer hydrogenated fats and processed sugars than industrially-produced breakfast foods and snacks), and they a true delight for kids and adults!

Preparation time: 1 ½ hrs   Baking time: 35-40 minutes  Servings: 6-8

Crostata di Pesche

Pasta frolla (see basic recipe pasta frolla )
3 large nectarines
100 g (1 cup) crushed amaretti
4 tablespoons sugar
Juice of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 170°C-180°C
Prepare the pastry according to the basic recipe
1.While the pasta frolla is resting, wash the peaches under running water. Cut into slices with a thickness of 5 mm (2 inch). In a large bowl mix peaches, sugar and lemon juice, taking care not to break the peaches. Set aside
2. Coarsely crush the amaretti cookies. Set aside
5. Once the dough has rested, roll the dough (4-5 mm thick, 2 inch) to cover the bottom of a ceramic baking dish, 25 cm (10 inch) in diameter. The dough around the edge should be slightly thicker, about 5-6 mm (2 inch). Prick bottom of dough with the tines of a fork (four or five times is enough). Sprinkle the crushed amaretti cookies evenly over the dough and cover with peaches in a circular pattern or as you prefer
6. Bake the tart until golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Let cool on a rack.  It is good fresh, but you can also enjoy it next day if stored in a ventilated container for sweets.

Note: Nectarines are smooth-skinned peaches. When you buy them, make sure that they are ripe: soft to the touch (but not mushy), fragrant and with an intense color. Paola

Insalata di Lenticchie (Lentil Salad)

7 Aug

This lentil salad with fresh vegetables is a refreshing, summertime dish that you can enjoy either as a main course accompanied by cheese, or served as a side dish. This is a recipe you can prepare in advance and stored in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. It is quick and easy, in fact, it is not necessary to soak the lentils for several hours before cooking them.  It is best served fresh, “just made”, at room temperature, but you can also refrigerate it and enjoy it cold the next day. Surely this salad is healthy and nutritious. Lentils, in fact, like all legumes, are an important nutritional source of proteins and carbohydrates (in the past they were known as “la carne dei poveri” the meat of poor people), but they are also low in fat. They are also rich in iron, potassium, phosphorus and dietary fiber which are important to keep your cholesterol levels in check. Lentils are ancient legumes, consumed by the Egyptians and present in different quotations from the Bible. In the past, they were peasants’ food because of the high nutritional value and low cost. These tasty and versatile legumes, often found in vegetarian cuisine, are good in salads, soups and other recipes. Do not forget that lentils are a symbol of luck and wealth, therefore let’s eat them in abundance!

Preparation time: 30 min. Cooking time: 20 min. Servings: 4

Insalata di Lenticchie
280 g (10 oz) dry lentils
1 bay leaf
300 g ( 11 oz) cherry tomatoes
1 cucumber, diced
1 white onion, diced
1 medium pepper, diced
1 bunch of basil
4 tablespoons of olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Rinse the lentils under running water, put them in a pot with the bay leaf and plenty of water, and boil until they are crisp, about 18-20 minutes. A few minutes before they are done, add some salt. The cooking time should be indicated on the packaging. Drain and allow to cool
3. While the lentils are cooking, cut the tomatoes in half, dice the cucumber. Mix together in a bowl and let stand for about 15 minutes at room temperature to remove the water
4. Drain the tomatoes and cucumber with a strainer. Cut the onion and pepper. In a large bowl mix all the vegetables
5. In a small bowl prepare the dressing with olive oil, salt and pepper
5. Add the lentils and some basil leaves to the vegetable mix, toss well with the dressing. Leave for 10-15 minutes and serve at room temperature.   -Paola

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