Posted in Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy

An Italian View of Zucchini

zucchini

Fritters, sun-dried, zucchini flowers fried and stuffed (Fiori di Zucca), sautéed with olive oil and Italian herbs. Italians love zucchino, the diminutive of zucca “squash”. When grown properly it is tender and palatable. The thin skin need not be removed like its invernale (winter squash) cousin and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Italians love it. Every garden grows zucchini and depending on where you are in Italy they are at their height and plentiful all three months of the summer. Italians use zucchini in many ways: on top of pizza, inside lasagna, baked into focaccia, in soups and as a contorno, side dish. Our Nonna made them simply with onions and tomatoes sautéed in olive oil with basil and oregano.

Italians literally relish in the natural verdant flavors of zucchini and typically don’t feel compelled to turn this vegetable into something it is not such as a dessert mixing in cocoa and chocolate in a sneaky attempt to get their kids to eat more vegetables. They don’t feel the need to conceal its texture, treat it as a second class ingredient or masquerade its flavor. They like it and accept it as it is. There is not one recipe in The Silver Spoon, Italy’s most iconic cookbook, that uses zucchini as a dolce. Perhaps the closest interpretation may be as an ingredient in Verdure Agrodolce, a sour and sweet mix of vegetables in a vinegar and sugar base flavored with herbs and garlic.

However when zucchini is baked into something sweet, like this recipe from a family feast for Italian Cinnamon Zucchini Bread  from Boston’s famous North End, pretty much anyone can get behind this Italian summer squash.

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Posted in Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy

Artusi’s Solemn Sacred Less Than Penitential Menu for Good Friday

Good Friday (venerdi santo) is a solemn, sacred day in Italy and when it comes to food the menu for a ‘pranzo di quaresima‘, a luncheon meal for this final Lenten observance has a long and important tradition that goes back to the recognized bible of Italian cooking, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi. Generations of  Italians have grown up with the book of Artusi as a main guide to cooking. Written in 1891 with over 700 printings it is one of Italy’s most read books, together with Pinocchio, and a copy was present in almost every Italian home. Today there is a center in Artusi’s hometown of Forlimpopoli dedicated to his work.

book artusi

Artusi wasn’t a chef but a merchant from Romagna who after a successful career decided to retire and dedicate his time to his hobbies –  writing and cooking. He collected and compiled recipes and insights on the culinary and cultural traditions of regional Italian food from various sources, friends and relatives codifying and classifying the tradition of Italy’s domestic cuisine gathering together hundreds of regional Italian recipes and experimenting with them. He recognized the long and important tradition of foods eaten on holidays and seasonal celebrations especially those at Easter time and those eaten just before Easter. On the last few days of Lent when only “lean” foods were to be eaten, ones that Italians call “magro”.

The menu for “il pranzo di quaresima”  doesn’t seem to be so lean or penitential as the ingredients are quite rich and lavish in this day and age. The meal begins Minestra  –Zuppa alla Certosina, (Carthusian Soup) a fish and tomato soup that originated in a Tuscan monastery, the beautiful Certosa del Galluzzo which sits on top of a hill just outside Florence on way to Sienna.

artusi-book

This is followed by a course Artusi refers to as the Principii, –  Baccalà montebianco con crostini di caviale , pounded codfish with cream, a garnish of raw truffles and croutons or crostini of caviar. Followed by Lesso –  boiled/poached Pesce con salsa genovese, fish with a Ligurian pesto sauce.

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Gnocchi alla romana

Then an interposed Tramesso of Gnocchi alla romana, discs made from semolina flour topped with butter and melted cheese. Next an Umido (stew) of Pesce a taglio followed by Arrosto grilled Anguilla (Comacchio eel).

eel
Grilled Comacchio eel

For dessert, Dolci of Pasticcini di marzapane e gelato di pistacchi, marzipan filled pastry tarts and pistachio ice cream.

A Lenten feast that gives real and lasting joy in sharing ourselves at the table.

Posted in Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy, Travel, Videos

Italian Bread Winners

The fascinating story behind two legendary Italian breads.

Coppia Ferrarese,a bread whose twisted shape was first served at the ducal banquet tables of Ferrara.

pane coppia-ferrarese

Coppia Ferrarese is a regional bread particular to the province of Ferrara in Northern Italy.  With IGP (protected geographical indication ) status similar to Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma you know it must be special. The name comes from the shape of the bread made by the coupling of two pieces of dough  twisted together to form the distinctive four-point X shape.

Type “O” soft wheat flour, pure pork lard, extra virgin olive oil, yeast, salt and malt are used to make this golden-crusted, aromatic bread. The history of bread making in Ferrara dates to 1287. Historical references in the late 1600’s talk about the bread of Ferrara, highlighting its goodness and strange shape, types of flour used for the special process and the contribution that it gave to the fame of regional gastronomy.

 

 

Pane Carasau, also known as Carta di Musica (sheet music) because of its extremely thin paper-like quality.

pane carasau

The inhabitants of the island of Sardegna eat a fiber rich diet of fava beans (high in folate) and a type of nutritive wafer-thin flat bread known as Pane Carasau or  Carta da musica. The bread is named for its cracker-like crispness (in the Sardinian dialect  “carasare” means toasting) and its large and paper thin shape similar to a sheet of music.  Remains of this type of bread were found in archeological excavations of nuraghi (traditional Sardinian stone buildings) dating to before 1000 BC. Traditionally a bread of shepherds, who carried it in their saddle bags, it could be preserved in the long months (up to one year) they were away from home. Here is a link to a remarkable documentary of the making of Pane Carasau.  The bread is baked in 7 stages and requires 3 women  to make it. The ovens used in the baking must be at 840°-930°F to achieve the characteristic puffiness and flavor.

State side versions (although not as authentic) were once available at Trader Joe’s  as Pane Guttiau – Sardinian Parchment Crackers or you can make them with the following recipe.

Pane Carasau – Sardinian Crisp Bread

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 cups semolina flour
  • 1 12teaspoons salt
  • about 1 13cups lukewarm water
  • about 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
  • sea salt, to taste
  1. Combine first 3 ingredients in large bowl. Slowly mix in enough lukewarm water to form moist soft dough. Knead in bowl until dough is no longer sticky. Knead dough on lightly floured work surface until smooth, about 15 minutes. Cover with plastic and let stand at room temperature at least 20 minutes and up to 1 1/2 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 450°F Very lightly dust 2 large baking sheets with whole what pastry flour. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Pat 1 piece into disk (keep remaining dough covered). Roll out disk to 13-inch round, lifting and turning often. Transfer to baking sheet. Bake until edges begin to turn up and bread is still malleable, about 3 minutes. Turn bread over and bake until bread bubbles in spots and is golden in places, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer to rack.
  3. Brush oil over bread. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Repeat with remaining dough.

Yield 8 sheets. Serves 16-32.

Sardinians call pane carasau – pane guttiau when sprinkled with salt and a drizzle of olive oil and then warmed  for a few minutes.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy

Italy’s Aqua Cottura

pasta boil

A key ingredient common to all Italian pasta dishes is l’acqua di cottura, the residual water that was used to boil the pasta. Literally translated to mean “the water of cooking” or cooking water which they consider to be liquid gold. The water used to boil your pasta is makes your pasta dish more delicious and helps the sauce adhere to the pasta better while also improving the flavor and texture of the sauce. L’aqua cottura adds moisture and makes the pasta creamy without adding too much oil or grease.

The magic of pasta water is due to the starch the pasta releases as it cooks so its important to use a good quality artisan pasta. Use only as much water as you need to cover the pasta as it boils (typically 1 pound of pasta to 4 quarts of water at a rolling boil). As long as you give the pasta a few vigorous stirs during the first two minutes of cook time the noodles will not stick together. This is essential because it is at this moment when the pasta can clump together as the first layers start to soften and release starch. Time according to package instructions and when the pasta is done the starch content will be concentrated in a ghostly glaze in the pasta water.

Drain but retain a few tablespoons of the water to add to the pasta as you finish it with the sauce in a separate pan. The sauce will adhere to the noodles in a beautiful marriage of the two and you will have a flavorful pasta with a thick, creamy sauce.

Posted in Art and Design, Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy, Travel

A Venetian Shadow

venice canaletto-veduta-del-canal-grande-

Just returned from from Venice whose fatal charm is still as strong as ever despite the crowded vaporetti and tourist hype. The reflected light off the water still shines as unique and beautiful reflecting onto the colors of the buildings and still magically morphs into shadows. The light of Venice is legendary. Canaletto’s 18th century scenes of  Venice’s Grand Canal play on the reflections of light and shadow. In Venice the Italian phrase bere un’ombra means “to drink a shadow” and un’ombra, “the shadow”, they are referring to is a glass of wine.

venice san marco

In the past, Piazza San Marco was filled with vendors of all kinds. At the foot of the massive Campanile across the square was a wine seller. During the day, he used to adjust his stand to stay in the shadow of the bell tower and soon “let’s go in the shade” became an in-the-know way of saying “let’s go have a glass of wine”.

The movable wine shop is no more but “drinking a shadow” remains the traditional phrase for drinking a glass of wine in the seductive city of Venice.

 

wine and venice

However un’ombra is not a typical bicchiere di vino, (glass of wine) drunk with a meal but a small glass typically ordered with *cicchetti, an assortment of appetizers or tiny snacks served at a Venetian bàcaro, a tavern or wine bar unique to Venice. Un ombra typically is an inexpensive, young wine ( vino sfuso)  sold for around 1 euro a glass in bars  served with a delicious cicchetti it is an essential Venetian ritual for a person’s health and well-being.

Small Bites in the Shade

crostini and pesto

Pesto Genovese & Sun-Dried Tomato Crostini

8 ounces Mascarpone cheese, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup La Bella Angiolina Ligurian Basil Pesto
1 jar Italian Sun-Dried Tomatoes packed in extra virgin olive oil
1 loaf of rustic Italian bread
In a mixer or with wooden spoon, blend softened cheeses until smooth. Gently fold in pesto or place a dollop on top. Spread on bread slices and top with a piece of  roasted or sun-dried tomato.

polenta and cod

Grilled Polenta with Cod Fish Mousse

10 oz. dried salt cod
4 cups milk
1 medium yellow onion, halved
1 rib celery, halved
1 clove garlic, crushed
1⁄2 cup olive oil, plus more
1 1⁄3 cups Biancoperla white corn polenta
24 small radicchio leaves
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley

Place cod in a 2-qt. saucepan, and cover by 2″ with cold water; boil for 20 minutes. Drain cod, return to saucepan, and repeat process twice more. Transfer cod to a 6-qt. saucepan and add milk, onion, celery, garlic, and 10 cups water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until cod is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain cod, reserving 1⁄4 cup cooking liquid; discard vegetables and skin and bones from cod. Process cod and cooking liquid in a food processor until smooth. While processor is running, drizzle in 1⁄2 cup oil; continue mixing until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper; chill cod mousse.

Cook polenta according to package instructions. Transfer to a greased 12″ x 9″ rimmed baking sheet; smooth top and chill until set. Cut polenta into 2″ x 3″ rectangles; brush with extra virgin olive oil. Grill polenta, turning once, until slightly charred, about 4 minutes. Top each rectangle with radicchio leaf and a dollop of cod mousse; sprinkle with parsley. (adapted from a recipe at Saveur Magazine)

*the word cicchetti is derived from the Latin ciccus meaning very small

Posted in Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy, Travel

Let’s Get Smashed in Bergamo

bergamo 2You like polenta right?  . . . and you like cheese.

Then you’re ready to smoosh the two together in a Northern Lombardian dish from Bergamo called schisola (schisol) which means “squished” in the Bergamascan dialect. Bergamo is located in the scenic Italian foothills, a 45 minute train ride from Milan. The town is both modern and medieval. Bergamo Bassa, (Citta’ Bassa -the lower city) is the modern part of the town. Bergamo Alta (Citta’ Alta – the upper city) is the evocative ancient part with a panoramic view of the Italian Alps.

Preserved in time, rich in its medieval heritage of art and history, Bergamo is known as the polenta capital of Italy using the ingredient in both savory and sweet dishes. Polenta e Osei,  individual cakes shaped like mounds of freshly turned out polenta decorated with tiny pecking marzipan birds (osei) on top, is a pasticceria specialty of the city.

To make schisola roll the polenta into balls, squish pieces of cheese inside (a Northern Alpine cheese is preferred) and then broil or bake them. No time to make these polenta meatball then try polenta taragna, another “enriched” version of polenta made with a mixture of buckwheat flour, which gives the dish a typical dark color. When polenta  taragna is nearly cooked sizable bits of fresh alpine cheese (Branzi, Bitto or Fontina) and butter are added and then served topped with melted butter, sage and garlic.

Recipe for Schisola polenta Schisola

2 cups cooked polenta
4 ounces Italian Alpine cheese, divided into 12 pieces
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus some for greasing the pan
¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
8 sage leaves

1. When the polenta is ready, let it cool, wet hands and form with the help of parchment paper 12 balls of polenta, each 1 to 1½ inches in diameter. Make a depression in each polenta ball and press a piece of cheese into the dimple. Form the polenta around the cheese, rolling it between your wet palms into a neat ball. Place on a parchment-lined tray, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

2. Preheat the oven (convection if possible) to 500 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with some of the butter. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter, arrange the polenta balls on the sheet and brush each one with butter. Bake until the polenta lightly browns and the cheese just starts to melt inside, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 5 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat in a small skillet and add the sage leaves. Cook until the sage lightly browns, the butter turns golden and the milk solids fall to the bottom of the pan and turn light brown, 6 to 7 minutes.

4. Sprinkle schisola with grated  Parmigiano cheese, drizzle with brown butter and garnish with the sage leaves.

Adapted from Eating Italy by Jeff Michaud

Posted in Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy, Travel

Meet Hugo – The Alpine Spritz

hugo

A recent trip to Ikea for a bottle of elderflower syrup was needed to complete my reminiscence of Hugo.  If you’ve traveled in the Trentino- Alto Adige region of Northern Italy you’ve probably met up with him at an aperitivo bar where he can always be found making everyone happy.  He is refreshing and light, popular and charming. Hugo is a palate pleasing aperitivo from Italy’s Sudtirol, a cousin of the edgy Venetian Spritz. Both are made with prosecco or white wine, sparkling mineral water (soda) and a flavor variant. In Venice that would a bitter aperitif like Aperol, variations made with Campari or Cynar.

elderflower

But Hugo (pronounced Ugo in Italian) comes from the Italian Alps that border on Austria and Switzerland where cultures collide in a tri-lingual mix of German, Italian and  Ladino, an ancient language spoken by about 30,000 residents. Alpine valleys are sprinkled with elderflower blossoms and made into a syrup used as the main ingredient for a Hugo, the Alpine Spritz.

Add ice cubes to a tall wine or water glass. Mix in 1 part sciroppo di sambuco (Elderflower syrup) with two parts sparkling mineral water and three parts prosecco . Stir gently and serve. Garnish with mint.

You might also want to try a new version of this Italian classic trending the internet this summer.

Elderflower Cordial Cocktail
1 ounce elderberry flower syrup
1 ounce Citadel gin
2 thick lemon slices – one to squeeze and one to garnish
6-8 ounces chilled soda water

Pack a 10 or 12 ounce glass with ice. Pour in the syrup and gin and squeeze one lemon slice over. Stir and top off with chilled soda water. Sip through a straw and godete – enjoy!

 

Posted in Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy

A Bundle of Rosemary and Red Wine

 

rosemaryred wine glass

It’s almost summer and that means a day at the grill. Italians love to cook over an open flame. Wood-fired pizza, the infamous Tuscan T-bone (bistecca alla fiorentina) and one of Italy’s all-time favorite dishes arrosto di porchetta allo spiedo (spit roasted sucking pig).

This recipe is right up my grill, a regional preparation from the town of Arezzo, located in the middle of four valleys in southeastern Tuscany. The locality and customs of cooking make it an evocative setting for sapori della Toscana, the flavors of Tuscany. The recipe is a grill friendly version of the traditional spit roasted whole suckling pig and uses the holy trinity of medieval spices (cloves, nutmeg, coriander and black pepper). Basting the pork with a bundle of rosemary and red wine as it grills prevents the meat from drying out and if a few needles fall into the fire or onto the coals, it adds a fabulously herbaceous smoke.

Porchetta con Spezie Medievali

(Garlic Studded Pork Loin with Medieval Spices adapted from The Italian Grill cookbook by Micol Negrin)

6 garlic cloves, peeled

1 ½ t coarsely ground sea salt

¾ t coarsely ground red and black peppercorns

1/8 t ground cloves

1/8 t ground coriander

1/8 t freshly ground nutmeg

2 fresh rosemary sprigs (leaves only) + a bundle of fresh rosemary sprigs for basting

3 pound boneless pork loin (with a layer of fat on top)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup red wine typical of Tuscany

Using a mini food processor or a mortar and pestle crush garlic with ½ t salt, ¼ t peppercorns, nutmeg, cloves, coriander and rosemary leaves until a paste forms.  Using a sharp paring knife, strategically make a series of tiny slits into the top portion of the pork loin (6-8 in total). Using your fingers, press a small amount of the spice mixture into the slits. Rub the outside of the loin with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and the remaining spice mixture.

Heat the grill to a medium flame. Grill pork loin until that outside is browned and cooked all the way through to an internal meat temperature of 175 degrees.  While grilling baste the meat with the bundle of fresh rosemary dipped in the red wine, anointing the pork every 10-15 minutes. Remove the pork to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil to rest for 10 minutes. Slice on the diagonal.

Serves 4-6

Posted in Recipes, The Foods of Italy

Bravo Brodo

brodoThis post is all about the pleasures of a well-made brodo. In Italy brodo means broth and in its most basic form is an icon of Italian cooking. A foundational stock that is made from bones of beef, veal or chicken or the shells/ bony skeletons of seafood infused with fresh vegetables and aromatics. The most favored being cappeletti in brodo, a classic Northern Italian comfort food traditionally served around Christmas or New Year made with caps of fresh pasta swimming in a homemade chicken broth.

Recipes for a basic broth are culinary landmarks on the Mother Road of world cuisine. Anthony Bourdain calls it a blank culinary canvas, an enchanted liquid. He refers to meat brodo as the “dark universal stock”, a broth of bones that can be magically manipulated into soups (yes there is a difference between brodo and zuppa), stews, sauces and the hydrating medium for an Italian risotto.

Brodo di manzo (beef broth) starts with the roasting of  beef bones. Slightly rub beef bones with  a little olive oil, place them in a heavy roasting pan. Roast the bones for about 20 minutes; adding in a chopped onion and continuing to roast for 30 minutes more, or until bones brown. Roasting bones vs not roasting bones is a preference although most cooks/chefs believe that the initial roasting of bones caramelizes them and deepens the flavor.

Concerns about the fat content of roasted bone marrow? It’s been noted that marrow is 69% unsaturated fat. It’s also very nutritious, containing iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, trace amounts of thiamin and niacin and contains substances that boost and maintain our body’s immune system and helps our body stay healthy.

If you are bothered by all the fatty bits found in your brodo you can skim off the fat or let the stock pot cool and remove the fat on top. Or you can serve it alla stracciatella by quickly whisking an egg into the stock. Stracciatella is Italian for “little strands” and  whisking the egg forms little tail-like strands that attract all the fatty bits and other solids, drawing them out of the liquid, “clarifying” it, and making even the cloudiest stock clear to the bottom of the bowl.

As “bone broth” is in the news today, being beneficial for improving your skin, joints, immunity, digestion etc, having a stock pot of Italian brodo brewing in your kitchen is an old world tradition for a nourishing  and restorative winter.

 

Posted in Lifestyle, Recipes, The Foods of Italy, Travel

The Rovigo Ermine Turkey – An Italian Inspired Thanksgiving

turkey-featherPart of our Italian family is from the Veneto and although Thanksgiving is not an Italian holiday I can imagine that, if it was, the Rovigno Ermine turkey would be at the center of the table. Tacchino, turkey in Italian, is eaten in Italy but it’s not prepared nor sold the same as in the US. I did have an excellent turkey dish in Emilia at a cooking lesson with my friend Rita made with a rolled turkey breast but a traditional Thanksgivingesque turkey is most likely only to be found on an American expat November holiday table.

rovigoThe Rovigo Ermine turkey (Ermellinato di Rovigo) came into being in 1958, a result of a cross of local birds to the American Narraganset. It differs from the Italian Common Bronze turkey (Comune Bronzato) by its flesh-colored legs, white skin, and ermine color. Although very rustic, the color and design of the bird make it more stately and unique. Well-imagined as stuffed, displayed, feathers and all at a a medieval banquet. Our intention would be little less dramatic and our presentation more in keeping with the traditional Thanksgiving bird. Trussed, stuffed, dressed and served with the usual side dishes but with a decidedly Italian twist.

Sweet potatoes and pumpkin replaced with Marina di Chioggia, chioggia-sea-pumpkinthe sea pumpkin of Chioggia near Venice, a bumpy, misshapen Italian heritage cultivare of pumpkin with yellow orange flesh and a fantastic taste that lends itself to many preparations. Cranberry sauce morphed into an Italian mostarda (recipe below) and brussel sprouts roasted with prosciutto and balsamic. Parmigiano Reggiano mashed potatoes piped Duchesse style, in homage to Caterina de’Medici, the great granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent whose marriage to King Henry ll brought Tuscan food customs to the tables of France.

All brought together with family and friends and the belief that preparing a well-laid table to share and enjoy with your family and friends in a relaxed and tranquil manner is a lost pleasure that must be found again and a reason to be thankful.

Amarena Cranberry Mostarda (Serves 6-8)

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup Morello Austera Wild Cherry Jam
1/2 cup Maletti aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dried sour cherries
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon fresh marjoram, finely minced

Add all the ingredients, with the exception of the fresh thyme, to a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to bring the mix to a simmer, and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occassionally, until thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the fresh marjoram and let cool slightly before serving.

from CosituttiMarketPlace