Tag Archives: Parmesan cheese

Crocchette di Patate (Potato Croquette)

6 Oct

Potato croquette is a small breaded, fried potato roll, usually shaped into a cylinder. It is an Italian classic that can be served either as a tasty appetizer or a fancy side dish. A plate of croquettes becomes something a bit more special when stuffed with cheese or ham, and it can even be served as a main course, delighting both kids and adults. My kids love when I prepare them, they disappear in a blink of an eye!  The term croquette originates from the French croquer “to crunch”.  Croquettes are easy and quick to prepare, but in spite of this the result is spectacular. The use of simple ingredients, such as mashed potatoes, eggs, Parmesan cheese and spices, provide a soft texture and a delicate and appetizing taste. Of course, frying adds an extra mouth-watering flavor.

CROCCHETTE DI PATATE (POTATO CHROQUETTE)
Preparation time: 40 minutes                            Servings: 8 Crocchette di patate

INGREDIENTS
800 g (28 oz) potatoes
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
Grated nutmeg, a pinch
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 eggs
Breadcrumbs
Oil from frying

DIRECTIONS 
1. Cook the potatoes until just tender either by boiling or baking.  The potato flesh for croquette 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
2. Put the warm potatoes through a potato ricer (never a mixer) into a bowl, season to taste with salt, nutmeg and pepper. Add the egg and Parmesan, mix just enough until the dough is formed
3. Take an abundant tablespoon of dough and make a cylindrical shape. In a bowl beat the eggs, one at a time pass each croquette in the egg then in breadcrumbs . Continue until all the dough is finished
4 . In a frying pan (better in a deep fryer ) heat plenty of peanut oil to 180° C (350° F) . If you do not have a cooking thermometer to check the temperature, you can test with a small piece of bread . If after 60 seconds is colored, the oil temperature is perfect. Put 3-4 croquettes at a time into the pan, in this way you prevent to lower the temperature of the oil 5 . When they are evenly gold, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate covered with paper towels. Serve hot.

Note: The type of potatoes is crucial (I strongly recommend to use patate farinose, rich in starch) as well as the potato ricer. – Paola

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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

Pasta allo Zafferano (Pasta with Saffron)

17 Jan

We probably all recognize that pasta is a highly versatile ingredient for preparing quick and delicious meals and can be served at both simple and elegant dinners.  The addition of saffron, the king of spices (the most expensive spice in the world by weight!!!), makes your pasta dish something you will remember and want to make again and again.  It is an easy and fast first course that brings a smile to my children’s faces.  Saffron adds an inviting intense golden-yellow color (don’t forget that we first eat with our eyes!!!) and a special honey-like taste to your recipe.  In fact, the word saffron originates from the Latin safranum, which in Arabic signifies yellow.  Saffron comes from the stigmas of the flower Crocus sativus (commonly known as Saffron Crocus), cultivated in Asia Minor even before the birth of Christ, then later brought into many Mediterranean countries.  Egyptian physicians already cultivated this plant as early as 1600 BC.  Today the largest crops in Italy are located in Abruzzo, Sardinia, Tuscany and Umbria.  The Aquila saffron or zafferano d’Aquila (Abruzzo), cultivated exclusively in the Navelli Valley, is one of the best saffron in the world for its distinctive thread shape, unusual pungent aroma and intense color.  Saffron can be used in many recipes such as rice, pasta, meat, soups and sweets as well.  Last, but not least, it is a MUST for a superb Risotto alla Milanese!!!! In addition to its culinary uses, saffron has also many therapeutic properties such as anti aging, anti depressant, anti cancer and cardiovascular effects (contributing, of course, to an increase of sexual vitality).  Add saffron to your recipe and put some extra sunshine on your table and into your life!

PASTA ALLO ZAFFERANO (PASTA WITH SAFFRON)
Preparation Time: 20 min.                           Servings: 4

Pasta con zafferano small

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) penne or bow-tie pasta (artisanal pasta)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
200 ml (¾ cup)  heavy cream
¼ teaspoon saffron threads or 1 package of saffron powder
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1.In a non-stick skillet melt the butter on low heat and then add the cream.  Mix well and add the saffron powder or threads (see note for preparation)
2.Bring to boil a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta for about 10-11 minutes al dente (read the cooking time on the package).  Drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet, toss gently.  Before serving sprinkle with ground pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Note: The quality of ingredients used is very important for the outcome of any recipe.  With regards to pasta in particular, I would suggest artisanal pasta such as Faella or Martelli versus a more industrial brand.  In fact, artisanal pasta has rough and porous texture which sauces can cling to better, and it usually “mantiene bene la cottura” (keeps its “al dente” texture longer).  If you can’t find artisanal pasta, then I would recommend buying commercially available durum wheat semolina pasta – rigorously made in Italy, though!  Saffron threads versus saffron powder:  Saffron exists in two forms: threads and powder. The threads are the whole stigma while the powder consists of ground stigma.  The threads are tastier and more genuine while the saffron powder loses its flavor rapidly and is very easy to contaminate with other, less-expensive powders of similar color such as turmeric.  If you prefer to use the powder, you have to trust the brand you are buying.  In case you are using threads, soak the saffron threads for 15 minutes in 5 teaspoons of liquid (hot –not boiling–  water, broth or your cooking liquid) for every teaspoon of saffron.  Then add the solution to the your dish.  Generally speaking ½ teaspoon of saffron threads = ¼ teaspoon of saffron powder, so as a rule use one half the amount of powder as you would threads…-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.

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

 

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini (Cep Mushroom Risotto)

7 Nov

The term rice refers to the seed of the Oryza sativa plant.  The Chinese were already cultivating this plant 12,000 years ago!  It spread slowly to North Africa and Europe.  This cereal arrived in the North America, first in South Carolina around 1700, probably from Madagascar.  In Italy the first rice farmers were monks in the Piedmont region, and this grain was initially used as a medicine for to maintain the normal digestive functions.  Rice is an excellent source of fuel for our body.  It is easily digested and so the energy it supplies quickly becomes available to our working muscles, brain and body organs, like the heart and liver.  In fact, rice is rich in starch (more than 75%), in vitamins (mainly B group) and some minerals (calcium and iron); instead, it contains few proteins (only 6-7%).  Much of the Italian harvest is used for making risotto, a starchy rice, in the northern regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto.  Risotto is a versatile dish, and its character changes depending on what you add to it.  For example, zucchini flowers make a wonderful spring-time risotto.  Cook a champagne risotto, with passion!, for a special romantic encounter.  This recipe, with porcini mushrooms, is a classic Autumn dish, and it has a rich, aromatic and delicious flavor.  You prepare the mushrooms the same way for both this risotto and the roast filet.

RISOTTO AI FUNGHI PORCINI (CEP MUSHROOM RISOTTO)

Preparation Time: about 40 min
Cooking time:            10 min + 15-20 min.                         Servings: 4

INGREDIENTS
Porcini
450 g (approx. 1 pound) Porcini mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)

Risotto
1 liter (approx. 4 cups) chicken stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Clean the porcini (see Tips, below), and slice the mushrooms vertically into 2 mm (⅛ in) strips.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat sauté the olive oil and the garlic.  Stir in the mushrooms, salt to taste, cook approx. 7 minutes over medium heat.  Continue to cook for 1-2 min. over a high flame.  Add the parsley and set aside.

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
  2. In a large saucepan heat 4 T of butter.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions.  (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.)  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed
  3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 12 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
  4. Set aside a few spoonfuls of mushrooms and add the rest.Cook for about 2 more minutes.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 2 T.

Remove your risotto and mushrooms from the heat.  At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter.  You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes.  Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, place the remaining mushrooms on top and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: To clean the mushrooms, I suggest to wipe them off with a moist cloth and to use a knife, if necessary, to remove any remaining soil.  Many say not to wash them with water, but I prefer this. If you do so, do it immediately before slicing and cooking.  It is important to use either a non-stick or steel pan, because other metals in contact with the porcini can release toxic compounds.  Porcini are well suited to drying, and actually the flavor of dried mushrooms is more intense.  Before using, soak them in hot, but not boiling, water for about twenty minutes; the filtered water can also be used for cooking, enhancing the flavors of other recipes.  For more tips on cooking risotto and selecting the right rice, please also see the Pumpkin Risotto recipe  -Paola

Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)

23 Oct

Eggplant, also known by its French name aubergine, is a vegetable long prized for its beauty as well its unique, pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture.  It originates from Asia, and the first one imported in America was round and with a yellowish-white color (like an egg!).  The Italian name melanzana means” mela insana” (insanity-apple), because when it was first introduced in Italy (around 1500) people thought that this vegetable was noxious and could cause mental and intestinal disorders.  Notwithstanding this dubious start, eggplant is, in any case, a delicious vegetable that can be enjoyed grilled and marinated, stuffed, roasted or fried.  I like to cook and eat “insanity apples” in a wide assortment of recipes.  In addition being an important source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, eggplant also contains phytonutrients, many of which have antioxidant properties and protect us from a variety of diseases. 

MELANZANE ALLA PARMIGIANA (EGGPLANT PARMESAN)

Preparation time: 2 hrs.                  Baking Time: 40 min.                        Servings:4

Melanzane alla Parmigiana, a symphony of Italian flavors, is a appetizing main dish made of eggplants, tomato sauce, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and is flavored with fresh basil.  It is not know if the name Parmigiana means “melanzane all’uso di Parma” (eggplant from Parma, the city of Parmesan cheese), or if it comes from Parmiciana (par-mee-CHA-na), a Sicilian word referring to the louvered shutters made of overlapping wooden strips, recalling the arrangement of the eggplant slices in the pan.  As far as I know, Sicily is where you can enjoy the most delicious and authentic eggplant Parmesan.

INGREDIENTS
900 g (2 pounds) eggplant
Kosher salt
½ small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil (Extra Virgin)
600 ml (about 2 cups) tomato sauce
1 sprig of basil
300 g (2 cups) diced Mozzarella cheese (see note, below)
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Wash the eggplants under cold water.  Cut off the ends and slice them vertically into thin (4 mm, ¼ in) slices.  Arrange one layer of slices in the bottom of a large colander and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Repeat this procedure until all the eggplants are in the colander.  Weigh down the slices with something heavy, (for example three plates) and let them drain for at least one hour.  This step helps release some of the moisture before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F)

  1. In a large sauce pan over a medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the tomato sauce, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  (I personally do not add salt because my cooking is low in salt, but this depends on your taste).  Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.  Set aside.  I recommend using a dense tomato sauce rather than a liquid one
  2. When the eggplants have drained, press down on the slices to remove the excess water, wipe off the excess salt, and dry with paper towels
  3. Heat about 1 cm (½ in) olive oil into a large, deep skillet.  When the oil is hot, fry the eggplants until light golden brown on both sides.  Drain well on paper towels
  4. In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of tomato sauce.  Arrange the eggplant slices side by side, covering the sauce in the bottom of the baking pan.  Spread some of the tomato sauce(about ⅓) evenly on top of the eggplants, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, some basil leaves and Parmesan cheese (about ⅓ cup) and some pepper to taste.  Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of eggplants and finish with the remaining tomato sauce and parmesan (no mozzarella) 
  5. Bake covered with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes.  Remove the aluminum foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Let it rest at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before serving.  Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese on top and serve.

Note: Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size.  Their skin should be smooth and shiny.  Eggplants are sensitive to both hot and cold temperatures.  You can leave eggplants at room temperature for a day or two with no ill effects.  After that, refrigerate them, but not for too long, at about 10°C (50°F).  Also, do not use fresh mozzarella cheese in this recipe, it has too much liquid in it.  I would suggest using a pizza mozzarella, if you can find it.  Caciocavallo cheese and Provolone cheese are good substitutes for pizza mozzarella.  Also, if you do not want to fry the eggplants, you can grill them (but I would recommend the fried ones, they are much tastier and more appetizing!).  -Paola

Lasagne al Pesto (Pesto Lasagna)

11 Oct

Lasagne, one of the most popular Italian dishes, has a long and interesting history.  A popular tradition traces its origin to the ancient Greeks. In fact, the name “lasagna” is actually not Italian at all!  It comes from the ancient Greek language and means dish or bowl, but over time, the term lasagne has come to refer to layers of thin pasta that are cooked with and separated by different ingredients such as meat, fish, vegetables or cheese, as well as besciamella, or béchamel, sauce, of course.  You have may tried the traditional Lasagne with Bolognese sauce, but maybe not the Lasagne al pesto that I am going to present today.  The pesto sauce makes lasagna even more special and delicate, a tasty delight for your palate, and is an excellent vegetarian dish (remember, however, that it does contain eggs and dairy products).  You can enjoy this dish as a first course (like we Italians do) or as a main dish.

LASAGNE AL PESTO

Preparation time:  1 ½  hrs.          Baking Time:  30 min.
Servings:  4

 

INGREDIENTS
1 l (approx. 4 cups) besciamella sauce
180 g (¾ cup) pesto
6 sheets of Lasagne pasta (20 x 10 cm; 8 x 4 in)

Pesto
3 medium sized garlic cloves
60 g (2 cups) fresh Sweet basil
40 g (⅓ cup) pine nuts
70 ml (⅓ cup) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
50 g (½ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt to taste (optional)

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
Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F)

Pesto (makes about 1 cup)
1.Toast the pine nuts 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
2.Wash the basil and dry it.  Drop the garlic in a running food processor.  Add the basil and pine nuts until it becomes a grainy mixture
3. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on to reach the desired consistency
4. Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse until blended.  Add a pinch of salt to taste and set aside.

Besciamella Sauce (makes about 4 cups)
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth.  This will prevent any lumps from forming
2. Add the salt
3. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
4. 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).  Add the butter.  Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn
5. Remove from the heat.  Mix well the besciamella sauce with pesto.

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

Note: Pesto is not too difficult to make, but tasty and fresh basil is not easy to find all year round.  Pesto is a pasta sauce which originates from Genova, in the Liguria region of northern Italy, and is made with fresh Sweet basil (Mediterranean basil) and pine nuts.  If you don’t want to make fresh pesto, then look for a  good Italian brand in the grocery cooler or with the canned sauces.  One final word of caution!  Make certain that the ingredient list on the package specifies “olive oil”!  –Paola

Risotto di Zucca (Winter Squash Risotto)

6 Oct

IT’S PUMPKIN SEASON!

Fall has arrived, nature has changed its colors from green to yellow, red, brown and ochre, we have exchanged our summer wardrobes for the winter ones and changed the types of food on our tables. It’s pumpkin season!  Winter squash is a very nice vegetable, suitable for preparing a variety of recipes ranging from risotto to ravioli, soup to pasta sauce, cakes to croquettes – and even all by itself.  Fall’s famous vegetable, in addition to being a tasty part of many recipes, is a very good and healthy choice of food, an excellent source of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), a good source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate, magnesium and manganese.  Pumpkin is low-calorie and contains lots of water, thus a perfect ingredient to use when slimming down.

RISOTTO DI ZUCCA (WINTER SQUASH RISOTTO)

Preparation Time: about 2 hrs       
Cooking time:            1 ½ hrs + 15-20 min.                   
Servings: 4

Squash or pumpkin risotto is extremely popular in northern Italy during the cold months. Little wonder, because a good winter squash has a delightful tangy sweetness to it, while the risotto has a splendid creamy texture, perfect on a cold, gray winter day with a nice glass of Italian wine!  There are several varieties  of winter squash you can use; the one I like the most is zucca di Mantova (Cucurbita maxima, Kabocha).  It takes its name from Mantova, a city in northern Italy, where it grows.  It has a very sweet, tender flesh, tasting like a cross between sweet potato and pumpkin.  It is large, round and squat, dark green and mottled, often with bumpy skin.  A good alternative is butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) that also has  sweet and nutty taste.  When you choose your pumpkin make sure it is firm all the way around. 

INGREDIENTS
Zucca di Mantova (half) about 750 g (1 ½ lb)
1 liter vegetable or chicken stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 200°C (390-400°F).  Cut pumpkin in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds and stringy material.  Wash in plain cold water.  Place the pumpkin halves on a baking sheet and bake for about 1-1/2 hours or until the flesh is very tender when pierced with a fork.  Don’t worry if the edges are browned. The natural sugars actually caramelize and give it a richer more complex flavor.  When it is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mush it with a fork.  Set aside half of the puree. You can freeze the other half in a plastic bag or air-tight container for another risotto.

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
  2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) butter.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions.  (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.)  Add the wine and stir until is completely absorbed
  3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 15 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
  4. Add the squash and cook for about 2 minutes.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly  tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about  30 g (2 T).

Remove your risotto from the heat.  At this point, stir the risotto vigorously to blend in the cheese and butter.  You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: Cooking pumpkin is much easier than you think.  There are different methods: Boiling, Steaming and Roasting.  Roasting is my favorite one because it give a richer flavor.  You can roast the pumpkin some days in advance and freeze it until you are ready to use it. This process will speed up your risotto preparation time. 

It is important to know about rice when buying for risotto; choose short-grained round or semi-round rice, rich in starch; among the best rice for making risotto are Italian Arborio and  Carnaroli.  Don’t forget that risotto requires a great deal of attention and continuous stirring!  Risotto is a perfect gluten-free dish.  -Paola

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