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Rotolo di Tacchino e Asparagi (Asparagus Turkey Roll)

9 May

A spring recipe, spectacular but easy to prepare.

This turkey roll,filled with an asparagus omelette is a tasty main course for a fancy dinner or for a Sunday lunch with family, as we usually eat it in Italy. Impress your mother with it on Mother’s Day this Sunday! The recipe is simple and does not requires particular culinary skill, but the result is quite spectacular, and it is definitely an impressive dish. The roll is made with turkey breast, enriched with an appetizing asparagus omelette (for more information about this tasty and healthy spring vegetable spring see tortino di asparagi e salmone affumicato)

You can cook your roll directly in the oven (at 180 °C, 350°F) for about an hour, until a meat thermometer reads 75 °C- 167°F or on the stove in a rosting pan, and then in the oven for just a few minutes. I prefer this second method because the meat remains tender but not dry. Since the turkey is lean meat with no cholesterol, if it is not cooked properly can be stringy and dry. In my opinion the stove top method enhances the flavor and quality.

ROTOLO DI TACCHINO E ASPARAGI (ASPARAGUS TURKEY ROLL)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours              Servings: 6

Rotolo di tacchino e asparagi

 

INGREDIENTS
850 g (30 oz) lean turkey breast
250 g (about ½ pound) fresh asparagus, cleaned (450 g, 1 pound uncleaned)
7 tablespoons of olive oil (Extra Virgin )
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 shallot, thinly sliced
4 eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
Vegetable broth (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Kitchen twine

DIRECTIONS
1. Clean the asparagus (as suggested in tortino di asparagi e salmone affumicato ). Cut into small pieces of about 1 cm (½ inch) length, keeping the head whole
2. In a pan sauté shallot at medium low heat until soft (4-5 minutes), add the asparagus, stir and cook over medium heat for about 5 min. Set aside.
3 . In a bowl beat the eggs, add Parmesan cheese and a pinch of pepper. Mix and add the asparagus. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Cook over medium heat, turning the frittata (omelette) once.
4 . Ground the turkey breast to a thickness of 1.5 cm (½ inch), place the frittata in the center of the meat, leaving 1 cm (½ inch) space around the entire perimeter. Roll it and secure with a kitchen string every 5 cm (2 inch).
5. Brown the roll in a roasting pan on all sides using 3 tablespoons of olive oil, add rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Add wine and cover with a lid. Cook for approx. 1 hour on medium heat, turning 2-3 times. If the wine dries up, add some vegetable broth
6. Preheat oven to 205 °C – 400 °F
7. Place the roast on a baking sheet, bake and cook for approx. 5 min. The roast should be golden on all sides .
8 . Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 min. Cut the twine, slice and serve with salad or honey caramelized carrots. Paola

 

 

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Pollo con i Peperoni (Chicken with Peppers)

21 Apr

This recipe is simple, but it teases your palate with its rich flavor.
Chicken with peppers, better known as chicken of ” Sora Lella ,” is a tasty main course (watch this interesting video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMRY2DFWBos). It takes its name from the renowned sister of the famous Italian actor Aldo Fabrizi (1905-1990). She used to prepare this recipe in her trattoria in Rome. It’s a tasty Roman dish that you can enjoy with mashed potatoes, polenta or basmati rice. The combination of peppers and the delicate chicken meat creates a truly inviting dish. The addition of chilli pepper gives a special bite to this recipe. The amount of chili is purely personal, if you want a really spicy dish you can add two chilli peppers. The chilli pepper adds flavor, and it is beneficial to your health (see also spaghetti alla puttanesca). You should not forget that it increases your metabolism and is therefore a good ally to help you lose weight!

Like many recipes, this one has a lot of variations. You can either add onions to the chicken or omit the tomatoes. The recipe that I am presenting is the one I like the most.

Peppers are very versatile vegetables, I enjoy them prepared in different ways. I would also suggest trying grilled peppers, a tasty appetizer or side dish .

POLLO CON I PEPERONI (CHICKEN WITH PEPPERS)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours                                         Servings : 4

Pollo con i peperoni

INGREDIENTS
1.2-1.4 kg (about three pounds) chicken, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 hot chili pepper
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
400 g (14 oz) canned tomatoes (San Marzano)
1 clove of garlic
4 average-sized peppers of different colors
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Clean, wash and pat dry chicken
2. In a skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil, saute the chicken on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until chicken is golden brown on both sides
3. Add rosemary and chilli pepper. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the white wine and cook for about 25-30 minutes with the lid. The meat should be tender
5. While the chicken is cooking, prepare peppers. Wash, cut in half, remove the seeds and white filaments. Cut into pieces of approx. cm 3 (1.5 inch) width. In a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat, saute – but don’t burn! – a garlic clove in 3 tablespoons of oil. Add peppers, raise the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes, sugar and salt, and cook with the lid on for approx. 15 minutes until the peppers are soft
6. When chicken is done, add peppers to the chicken, stir and serve warm. – Paola

 

Tortino con Patate e Scalogno (Potato and Shallot Pie)

3 Mar

An appetizing pie made ​​with potatoes, shallots and hard-boiled egg yolk to get a colorful, mimosa-like colorful effect. A different idea to celebrate Women’s Day on March 8th

This recipe is a simple, versatile and absolutely delicious one to enjoy either as an appetizer or as a main course accompanied by a fresh salad. The delicate but distinct flavor of shallots blends well with the starchy taste of potatoes. The addition of cream makes this pie velvety and inviting. The crumbled egg yolk is an additional decoration to create the mimosa effect and makes this pie perfect to celebrate Women’s social, economic ,and political achievements. This holiday was first celebrated in the United States in 1909 and arrived in Italy in 1922. The mimosa flower, with its intense and radiant color, was chosen as a symbol because it blooms in early March. The addition of boiled egg yolk is not essential and can be omitted, but this pie makes a savory version of the famous mimosa cake dessert.

TORTINO CON PATATE E SCALOGNO (POTATO AND SHALLOT PIE)
Preparation time: 45 min.  Cooking time: 20-25 min.   Servings: 8

Tortino con patate e scalogno

INGREDIENTS
800 g (28 oz) yellow potatoes, peeled
250 g (9 oz) shallots, finely sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin)
250 ml (1 cup)fresh cream
2 teaspoons oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper
230 g (8 oz) puff pastry , round shape
5 hard-boiled eggs

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 180 °C (350 °F)
1. Peel potatoes, put them in a pot and cover with cold water. Turn on the heat and bring to a boil. Cook for about 8-10 minutes ( the cooking time depends on the size of the potatoes) until the potatoes are cooked, but not soft. Remove from the water and allow to cool
2. While potatoes cool, in a saucepan over medium heat, sauté shallots in olive oil, stirring occasionally until it is tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes
3. In a bowl combine shallots, ​​potatoes (thinly sliced) and cream. Add the oregano and season with salt and pepper
4. Roll out the pastry into a ceramic pie plate (diameter 23 cm, 9 inch) , pour in the vegetable mix
5. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown
6. While the cake is cooking, prepare the hard-boiled eggs. Place the eggs in boiling water and cook for 10 minutes. Cool. Remove the shell, cut in half, remove the yolk and crumble with your hands
7. Remove the pie from the oven. Allow it to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Garnish with crumbled egg yolk and serve warm. – Paola

Cotechino in Crosta con Lenticchie (Cotechino in Puff Pastry with Lentils)

31 Dec

Happy New Year all my beloved readers. Buon Anno! Tonight I am going to serve cotechino in crostra with lenticchie. Cotechino (the Italian fresh pork sausage) in puff pastry is a tasty and appetizing idea to enjoy the traditional cotechino and lentils during the Christmas holidays, and particularly at New Year’s Eve. According to the tradition, it seems that this dish is a good omen for the new year, lentils are, in fact, symbol of abundance and fortune.

The preparation is simple, but requires a little patience. First cotechino is cooked in water, then covered with a delicious lentil puree, wrapped in a sheet of puff pastry and baked in the oven. The result is a crunchy topping with a tasty filling, full of flavor. The pork sausage with lentils is a simple dish that dates back to the farmers’ tradition. Cotechino owes its name to the pork rind and is prepared by filling the gut with pork rind, meat, fat, all flavored with salt and spices. It is a type of sausage that is eaten cooked. It originated from Modena, but nowadays it is spread all over the country with some variations in spices. It is commonly sliced thick and laid on a bed of lentils.  You can also enjoy it with mushed potatoes,  sautéed spinach or polenta.

COTECHINO IN CROSTA CON LENTICCHIE (COTECHINO IN PUFF PASTRY AND LENTILS)
Preparation time: 60 min . Cooking time: 45 min. Servings: 4

Cotechino fetta
INGREDIENTS
500 g  (about 1 pound) fresh or pre-cooked cotechino
Aluminum foil
1 roll puff pastry (240 g, about 8 oz)Cooked lentils (see Lentil Stew)

DIECTIONS
1 . The cooking time of fresh cotechino is longer than pre-cooked.For fresh cotechino. Pierce the sausage skin with a toothpick in a few places, wrap with aluminum foil making sure it is well sealed. Place in a large pot, cover with cold water. Bring to boil over medium heat, reduce to medium-low, cover and simmer for about an hour. After this time, change the water  completely (replacing it with hot water so the sausage will be less salty) and continue cooking for about an hour and half. Remove from water and aluminum foil. Allow to cool
For pre-cooked cotechino, dip the foil package in plenty of cold water and cook according to the cooking time, usually 20-25 minutes
2 . For lentils see post Lentil Stew
3 . Preheat oven to 180 ° C
4 . Take 2 tablespoons of lentils and reduce in puree by blending in a mixer. Cover the sausage with lentil puree all around (top layer about 7-8 mm). Transfer the sausage on the puff pastry, cut in the shape of a rectangle. Close cropping the edges of excess dough. It is important to seal well. Bake on a baking sheet covered with some baking paper for about 20-25 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Wait 5 minutes, cut into thick slices and serve with the lentils. -Paola

Cotoletta alla Milanese (Milanese Cutlet)

13 Oct

Cutlet is one of most typical dishes from Milan, sharing the stage with Milanese risotto and “panettone”. It is a veal cutlet, coated with egg, covered with bread crumbs and then fried in butter with sage. The sage gives a special aroma to the meat, a real delight! There are two variations of cutlet: one thicker, the meat is more tender and a thinner one, in which the crunchy breading is more prominent. The latter version is sometimes called elephant ear, because of its shape. It should not be mistaken for Weiner Schnitzel from Vienna. The Milanese cutlet includes the bone, whereas Viennese does not. In addition, the Milanese is dredged only in bread crumbs, instead the Viennese both in flour and bread crumbs and then fried in lard. As you will often find in these cases, there is a debate about where this dish comes from. So far there is no definitive answer, but being Italian, I should say that it is Italian … and we are proud of it! It can be served as a main dish served with potatoes or a salad. It is something that I often prepare for a family dinner. My kids love it, especially when I serve it with homemade potato croquettes.

COTOLETTA ALLA MILANESE (MILANESE CUTLET)
Preparation time: 15 minutes                            Servings: 4

Cotoletta alla Mil

INGREDIENTS
4 veal cutlets (about 600 g, 1 ½ pounds)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
400 g (about 2 cups) bread crumbs
70 g (5 tablespoons) butter
2 sage leaves

DIRECTIONS
1. Lightly beat the eggs with salt in a deep dish
2. Spread out the bread crumbs on a plate
3. Dip each cutlet first in the egg and then cover with bread crumbs, making sure that both sides are well coated
4. In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter, add sage and then cutlets without crowding. Cook, turning only once, for about 6-8 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with a wedge of lemon. The lemon juice add a special zest to the fried meat. -Paola
Paola

Coniglio alla Ligure (Ligurian Rabbit)

14 Sep

This summer I was cooking for some American tourists staying on Lake Como and one asked me to cook rabbit, so I thought it may be a good addition to the blog.The, coniglio alla ligure, Ligurian rabbit, is an appetizing second course from region of Italy’s Riviera; in fact, for a long time this region was home to many rabbit farms. Nowadays this delicious recipe is enjoyed throughout the entire country. It makes a perfect dinner for family and friends. I recommend roasted potatoes as side dish or if, you prefer something lighter, steamed potatoes . The delicacy of this dish is due to the mixture of the mild taste of rabbit flesh, the sweet and fruity flavor of the Ligurian olives and the gentle taste of pine nuts. Rabbit meat is rich in protein but also low in cholesterol, so it is particularly suited for low-calorie and low-fat diets. I prefer stewing instead roasting rabbit; since it’s lean meat, you need to use extra fat to keep it from drying out when roasted. In this recipe I cook the dish until the liquid is reduced to a thick coating, not at all soupy.  Did you know that the rabbit is native to Africa ? It was later imported to Europe, especially to Italy and France. The Italian name coniglio derives from the Latin word cuniculus, referring to the ability of this animal to dig warrens with many tunnels (cunicoli).

CONIGLIO ALLA LIGURE  (LIGURIAN RABBIT)
Preparation time : 1 ½ hrs           Cooking time : 1     Servings: 4

coniglio 5_2 ok

INGREDIENTS
1.6 kg (3 pounds and 9 oz) rabbit
5 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 medium shallot , finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 sprig of rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
230 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
140 g (¾ cup) Taggiasche olives
40 g (⅓ cup) pine nuts
500 ml (about 2 cups) vegetable broth warm
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Cut the rabbit into pieces by removing the head and entrails; to save time ask the butcher to do it for you . Wash and dry with kitchen paper
2. In a large skillet, heat the oil and sauté shallots and garlic over medium-low heat. Add rabbit, rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. Cook over medium heat until meat is golden
3. Deglaze with white wine and add olives, pine nuts and a ladle of broth. Cover with a lid and cook on medium-low heat for about an hour until flesh is tender (it will separate easily from the bone). Moisten occasionally with a ladle of broth. Serve warm !

Notes: When buying rabbit make sure that the meat is fresh, with a pale or intense pink color, depending on the variety. The color of the fat should be white and that of the liver uniform.  Paola

Insalata di Pollo (Chicken Salad)

11 May

How about a refreshing summer salad made with grilled chicken breast, carrots, red pepper, celery, pickles and delicious Taggiasche olives?  The dressing is prepared with Greek yogurt, mayonnaise and flavored extra virgin olive oil.  The addition of olive oil lends a special taste to this salad, a Mediterranean touch.  Chicken is a healthy choice, in fact it contains less fat than beef or pork, and it is rich in vitamins and minerals; it is  therefore is an excellent choice for a light and nutritious diet .  In addition its milder taste complements a lot of dishes. This salad may be served on top of lettuce, tomatoes  (or the combination of them) or in a sandwich, and it is an easy dish to take on a summer picnic.  Try it cold or at room temperature, as an appetizer or main course.

INSALATA DI POLLO (CHICKEN SALAD)
Preparation time: 20 minutes                                       Servings: 4

Insalata di pollo piatto

INGREDIENTS
500 g (18 oz) grilled chicken
3 carrots, peeled and julienned
1 medium red pepper, julienned
3 celery stalks, diced
7 medium pickles, julienned
2 tablespoons Taggiasche olives

1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sweet mustard
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Pound the breast chicken to 1 cm (½ in) thickness . Grill the chicken for about 3-4 minutes each side but not too long otherwise the meat will dry out. Let it cool and cut into strips 1 cm (½ in) wide and  6 cm (2 ½  in) long
2. Clean and wash  all fresh vegetables.  Julienne the carrots, the pepper and the pickles. Dice the celery. Pour all vegetables and chives in a large bowl.  Set aside
3. In a small bowl mix well the yogurt, mayonnaise, the mustard, salt and pepper.  Then slowly add the olive oil until well blended
4. Combine the vegetables and the chicken. Mix well and toss with the dressing
5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Note: I partially substitute mayonnaise with Greek yogurt because it makes the dressing lighter. You can use a variety of mustards. I like sweet mustard, but you can substitute with your favorite one.  -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

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

Tortino di Asparagi e Salmone Affumicato (Asparagus and Smoked Salmon Pie)

15 Mar

Every season has a flavor all its own. Spring should arrive soon with its delicious vegetables, and asparagus is one them. Actually it is available year-round, but Spring is the best season to enjoy fresh asparagus. Asparagus comes in different colors and varieties: green, white, violet or purple, wild. These varieties are interchangeable in recipes; the major difference is the color of the final dish. This pie is an elegant, impressive, colorful (don’t forget that we enjoy food first with our eyes) and flavorful dish made with fresh asparagus (violet-purple variety, typical of Italy), leeks and smoked salmon. It is a delectable dish to serve as a starter or enjoy as a main course accompanied by a salad. The mild onion-flavor of the leeks blends well with the distinct taste of asparagus and the tangy, intensive texture of smoked salmon. Asparagus has been considered a delicacy since ancient times (3000 BC), being used both as a vegetable and a medicine (diuretic). It is low in calories, and it is a good source of vitamins (B1,B6, A, C), minerals (zinc, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium) and dietary fibers. It is one of my preferred Spring vegetables; I can eat it with just about anything! In fact, it is a versatile vegetable which can be prepared in a number of ways as an appetizer, vegetable side dish, main dish accompanied by eggs, fish or first course with pasta, risotto and soups. Let’s enjoy asparagus for the next few months!

TORTINO DI ASPARAGI E SALMONE AFFUMICATO (ASPARAGUS AND SMOKED SALMON PIE)
Preparation time: 55 minutes      Baking time: 20-25 minutes     Serving: 6-8

Tortino di Aspar-Salmone_small

INGREDIENTS
Pasta Brisee
330 g (2 cups) flour 00
160 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 egg yolk
80 ml (1/3 cup) cold water
¼ teaspoon salt

Filling
1,350 g (3 pounds, or 3 bunches) asparagus
4 large leeks, white part only, finely sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
300 ml (1 ¼ cups) heavy cream
200 ml milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
280 g (10 ounces) smoked salmon, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 170°C – 180°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 an elastic ball
4. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Filling
1. Wash the asparagus under running water. Trim ends (see note), bind in bunches (7-8 asparagus each) and blanch in a pan of boiling water or in the microwave with 2 tbsp water on high for 3 minutes. Test doneness with a fork. It should be tender but not mushy. Cut in 1-inch pieces keeping 4 cooked asparagus for decoration
2. While asparagus is cooling, in a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté leeks, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes. Add ½ cup of water and cook for about 10 minutes until leeks are soft. Cool for about 10 minutes
3. In a sauce pan mix cream, milk and flour with a whisk. Bring to boil stirring continuously for about 6-8 minutes until it starts to thicken. Cool and set aside
4. In a large bowl mix the leeks, the asparagus, the salmon and the cream mix. Season with salt and pepper
5. Flatten the chilled dough on a lightly floured board, then transfer to a 30 cm (12 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 mix, decorate with some asparagus on top (I like to slice the 4 stalks in half, lengthwise, and arrange them like spokes on the pie)
6. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until custard is set and golden on top
7. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for about 10-15 minutes before serving
8. Serve in wedges with salmon slices and fresh dill

Note: Look for asparagus with firm heads, stem should be firm but not dried up. Try to bend the stem, you will notice that at certain point it will not break, that’s the point where the stem begins to be tough. When shopping for leeks look for ones 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. -Paola

Frittata al Forno con Zucchine (Baked Zucchini Frittata)

8 Mar

Frittata is an Italian-style omelette made with beaten eggs and milk, and enriched with various ingredients such as vegetables, cheese, ham, pasta and herbs. For example in the Neapolitan tradition frittata is commonly made with left over pasta (spaghetti, angel-hair, etc.), ham and cheese. The word frittata comes from the Italian verb “friggere” to fry. In fact, the egg mixture is usually fried in a frying pan on the stove, but nowadays there is a baked version as well, like my recipe below. Actually, I prefer this method because makes the frittata lighter on the stomach (no frying) and therefore easier to digest. The addition of zucchini makes this recipe a tasty, dietetic and nutritious dish. Zucchini is a rich in water, vitamins (E, C and folic acid) and potassium, while the eggs are highly rich in proteins. With eggs being one of the most readily available and low cost ingredients, frittata has long been a humble dish. Frittata di cipolle (onion frittata) was a typical workers’ lunch. You can serve it warm as a complete meal, at room temperature or even enjoyed cold the next day for a quick lunch or picnic. There is a technical difference between frittata and omelette: the omelette’s ingredients are placed on the omelette while it is cooking, while when making a frittata you must mix the eggs and the other ingredients together before cooking. You may have heard the expression “hai fatto una frittata” … perhaps understandably, that means you made a mess! This expression comes the fact that frittata is usually made at the last minute with the ingredients available in the fridge, left overs, too!! So the result is not always guaranteed!!!

FRITTATA AL FORNO CON ZUCCHINE (BAKED ZUCCHINI FRITTATA)
Preparation time: 35 minutes     Baking time: 15-20 minutes     Servings: 4

zucchine frittata small

INGREDIENTS
200 g (2 medium) potatoes, boiled and diced
450 g (4 medium) zucchini, thinly sliced
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
50 g (½ cup) Parmesan cheese
6 eggs, separate egg yolk from egg white

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 160°C -170°C (325°F -350°F)
1. Wash potatoes under running water. Put potatoes 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, wash zucchini under running water and trim ends and slice
3. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté onions and zucchini in olive oil, stirring frequently for about 10-15 minutes. Stir in parsley and potatoes
4. In a large bowl beat egg yolks, add the vegetable mixture, Parmesan, salt and pepper
5. In a medium bowl beat the egg whites
6. Combine egg whites with vegetable mix and pour it in a 24 cm (10 in) ceramic or glass pie or tart baking dish previously covered with baking paper (see note)
7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until custard is set and golden on top
8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for about 7-8 minutes. Serve warm. You can enjoy the frittata cold too.

Note: Baking paper is very convenient to use. I will tell you a small trick. Cut the paper (bigger than the baking dish), wash under running water and wring the water out. Place the paper in the baking dish. Let the edges go partially up the side of the pan to keep any batter from slipping into the baking dish. This method allow a better adhesion of the paper to the dish wall. Frittata should be stored in an airtight container as water and humidity can alter the texture and taste. If you add greens or vegetables you should first sautee to enhance the flavor. 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

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta with Beans)

21 Jan

Pasta e fagioli, comfort food during cold winter days, is one of the most traditional, widespread and appreciated Italian recipes.  In fact in the Mediterranean diet, beans are commonly used to prepare nutritious and healthy dishes, and for this reason they are known as “the meat of the poor people”, rich in carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, soluble fibers, as well as being low in fat.  Like many other Italian recipes, this one started out as a peasant meal made of easily available and inexpensive ingredients such as beans , garlic, onion, carrots, celery, potatoes and tomatoes.  Further, it was common to use spicy cured lard, prepared seasonally each autumn during pig-slaughtering season, to add some extra flavor.  Because of its popularity, there are many variations all over the country: for example some do not include tomatoes at all; some use vegetable stock and avoid lard (making this particular version a suitable dish for vegetarians); some recipes are more soupy while others are thicker.  The type of beans may vary as well, usually either borlotti beans or cannellini beans, fresh or dried.  I prefer borlotti beans because of their nutty sweet flavor and creamy texture.  These light brown beans with red marks are a variety of kidney beans commonly cultivated in Italy but originally from America.  Italians enjoy these types of beans in summer as well, preparing an excellent cold bean salad flavored with fresh sliced onions, ground pepper and tossed with olive oil.

PASTA E FAGIOLI (PASTA WITH BEANS)
Preparation time: 12 hrs.               Cooking time: 1 hr                 Servings:4

pasta e fagioli 2 small

INGREDIENTS
300 g (1 ½ cups) dried borlotti beans
1 whole garlic clove + 1 sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 bay leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
40 g (¼ cup) spicy cured lard or bacon, diced
1 medium size onion, finely sliced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1 ½ l (about 5 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
280 g (10 ounces) ditaloni or small pasta (artisanal pasta)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Day 1
You should start the day before you plan to serve the pasta e fagioli.
1.Rinse the beans under running water, then place in a large glass bowl with 1 garlic clove, 1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves.  Fill bowl with plenty of water to cover generously (about 5 cm, 2 inches above the level of the beans).  Cover with a lid and soak overnight.
Day 2
1.In a large heavy pot with lid, sauté the lard (or bacon) on medium heat with the sliced garlic, onion, carrots, celery and potatoes in olive oil for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently
2.Remove the excess water (if there is any), discarding the garlic, rosemary and bay leaves as well, then add the beans, the fresh herbs (1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves) and tomato sauce to the pot.  Cover with stock, bring to gentle simmer.  Cover pot and cook for about 35-40 minutes, until beans are tender
3.Add the pasta, stir and cook for 10 minutes until pasta is just al dente (follow the package cooking direction).  Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle soup in the serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil.

Note: Dried beans versus canned beans.  You can reduce preparation time by using canned beans  (one pound of dried beans = about 6 cups of cooked beans).  I personally prefer dried beans, although it is more time consuming, the results are worth the effort!!!  Dried beans come out being tender and flavorful, not at all mushy and dull as can be the case with canned ones.  Important tip:  Add salt only at the end when the beans are tender, because salt will prevent them from absorbing water, which will, of course, then slow down the cooking process.  -Paola

Pollo alla Cacciatora (Hunter’s Chicken Stew)

14 Jan

In past centuries, peasants used the vegetables cultivated in their fields and the animals raised on their farms to prepare their meals.  Pollo alla cacciatora is one of these peasant recipes and seems to have originated in Tuscany.  Typically for Sunday dinner, chicken, a readily-available animal, was used to prepare a fine and festive feast.  The addition of fresh vegetables such as garlic, carrots, onion, celery, rosemary, tomatoes – as well as a good dose of wine – enhanced the flavor of the meat.  The name pollo alla cacciatora makes reference to the ingredients like garlic and rosemary, used by hunters (cacciatori) when cooking game.  Today we enjoy this delectable dish throughout the peninsula as a second course or else as main course accompanied by either mashed potatoes or polenta (for the polenta recipe, see Brasato con polenta).  I like this recipe because it is so versatile, and there are many adaptations of the classic recipe (please refer to the notes below for some suggestions).  I personally love to add the delicate flavor of Taggiasche olives to my Pollo alla cacciatora; with their fruity-sweet bouquet and delicate mellow taste, they blend very well with the vegetables and the wine.  These small dark-green olives are typically from Liguria (Western Riviera) and were originally planted and cultivated by the monks on their land overlooking the sea.  Travelling in different countries I have realized that this delicious Italian dish is also well-known and appreciated abroad (no doubt why!!!) and is commonly called Chicken Cacciatore!!!

POLLO ALLA CACCIATORA (HUNTER’S CHICKEN STEW)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours                                   Servings: 4

pollo cac. 3 small

INGREDIENTS
1 kg (about 2¼ pounds) chicken, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely sliced
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
270 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
450 g (1 pound) canned tomatoes (S. Marzano)
200 g (1 cup) pitted Taggiasche olives in Extra Virgin olive oil
130 ml (½ cup) chicken stock (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Clean, wash and dry the chicken
2. After heating the oil olive in a large non-stick skillet, fry the chicken on medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes until the chicken pieces are golden brown on both sides
3. Add the rosemary and the vegetables.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook for 4-5 minutes.  Add the white wine and cook for additional 5 minutes
4. Add the tomatoes and the olives.  Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.  Remove the lid and cook for additional 20 minutes until chicken is tender, stirring occasionally.  If the liquid evaporates add some chicken stock
5. Add a little salt and/or pepper to taste if desired.  Remove the rosemary sprig and serve immediately.

Note: Here are some other ingredients you can use when preparing Pollo alla cacciatora:
1. Wine.  You can substitute white wine with red wine.  Although I prefer to cook chicken in white wine, some people use red wine because it adds a stronger taste to the meat. 
2. Olives.  You can substitute Taggiasche olives with either the pitted black or green olives that you like the most
3. Peperoncino. Cook the chicken with love, passion and add some fresh or dried peperoncino to spice it up a bit!
4. Mushrooms. You can add 200 g (about ½ pound) champignon mushrooms.  Finely slice the mushrooms and add them before the vegetables.  You can also use dried mushrooms instead of champignons.  Dried porcini mushrooms (about a handful) give a special and woodsy taste to this dish, too.  Before using dried mushrooms, soak them in hot – but not boiling – water for about twenty minutes; some (a few tablespoons) of the filtered water can also be used for cooking, to enhance the flavors of your recipe.  If you add mushrooms you have to use white wine and avoid olives. -Paola
 

Gnocchi di Patate al Pomodoro (Potato Dumplings with Tomato Sauce)

7 Jan

Gnocchi di patate (potato dumplings) is an Italian classic. These dumplings are small pieces of potato dough, usually round or oblong in shape, which are boiled in water and then served with various toppings such as tomato sauce and fresh basil, oil olive and grated Parmesan cheese, Bolognese sauce or even Brasato al Barolo sauce. I personally like gnocchi (pronounced gnawk-KEY) with tomato sauce because the fresh taste of the tomato and basil blends well with the starchiness of the potatoes. The texture is soft, and the simple ingredients are just potatoes, flour and egg. The taste, though, is delicate and inviting. Gnocchi is an easy, fast and light recipe to prepare, although you do need to take care in minimizing the amount of flour used. You can enjoy this dish as first course (like we Italians do) or as a main dish, if you prefer. It is an excellent vegetarian dish (it does contain eggs and dairy products, though). I grew up making gnocchi al cucchiaio (a typical Lombard recipe) with my mom, especially on Friday. It was part of our Friday meal, as it is in Verona, especially during the Carnival. In fact, gnocchi is considered a weekday dish; in Rome it is frequently served on Thursday. In Naples, though, it is known as a festive dish on Sunday. At the time the Americas – and potatoes – were discovered by the Europeans, some varieties of dumplings were already present in the Old World, especially in Lombardy. They were prepared by mixing bread crumbs, milk and almonds and were called Zanzarelli. In the seventeenth century, however, the original recipe underwent some changes in both the composition of ingredients and in its name: it took the name of malfatti and flour, water and eggs were used instead of almonds and bread. With the introduction of potatoes from the Americas, the popularity of potato gnocchi spread and slowly some of the previous varieties disappeared.


GNOCCH DI PATATE AL POMODORO (POTATO DUMPLINGS WITH TOMATO SAUCE)

Preparation time: 1 h tomato sauce + 20 min. gnocchi           Serving: 4

Gnocchi small

INGREDIENTS
Tomato sauce
900 g (2 pounds) ripe S.Marzano or Roma tomatoes peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stock, finely chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
5-6 basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Gnocchi
900 g (2 pounds) unpeeled potatoes (Patate a pasta gialla di Avezzano, Yukon Gold potatoes)
240 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt to taste
Greated Parmesan cheese to serve

DIRECTIONS
Tomato sauce
1. In a large, heavy sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the all vegetables except the tomatoes for about 2-3 minutes
2. Add the tomatoes and the basil
3. Cover with a lid and cook for about 30 minutes; remove the lid and cook for additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally
4. Puree the sauce with a blender. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

Gnocchi al cucchiaio (Gnocchi using the spoon method)
1. Cook the potatoes until just tender either by boiling or baking. The potato flesh for gnocchi should be dry, therefore it is better to boil the potato in the skin to prevent water absorption. Drain well and set aside until just cool enough to remove the skin. The potatoes should be warm, otherwise the flour and the potato puree will not bind with the egg
2. Put the warm potatoes through a potato ricer (never a mixer) into a bowl, season to taste with salt. Add the egg and olive oil, incorporate the flour and mix just enough until the dough is formed. Be careful not to overwork it; the dough will be lighter and the texture softer if you are able to minimize the flour used)
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a slow boil. Drop teaspoon-sized balls of dough in the boil water
4. The gnocchi are done as soon as they float to the top, after only about 10-15 seconds (no longer or they will fall apart in the water!!). Remove with a slotted or spider spoon and place on a preheated serving dish. Repeat with the remaining dough and toss gently with the tomato sauce and grated Parmesan cheese.
5. Before cooking the whole batch, I recommend making a couple of test gnocchi to see if the dough holds together. The cooked gnocchi should be firm but not tough and should not fall apart in the water. If they fall apart, you should add 1-2 tablespoons of flour. If they are tough, then you’ve used too much flour! I find that the spoon method is easier and requires less flour in comparison to the rolling method, thereby allowing you to make very tender gnocchi.

Note: The type of potatoes is crucial (I strongly recommend to use patate farinose, rich in starch), as well as the use of a potato ricer, which lets the steamy moisture out of the hot potatoes. In case fresh tomatoes are not available, try using S. Marzano canned tomatoes. One final note of caution … make sure you don’t mispell or mix up the term gnocco (singular of gnocchi) with gnocca, which means a “hot woman”!!!! 😉  -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

 

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

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