May 26, 2010

Stuffed eggplant recipe

I'm on an eggplant binge. Some time ago I posted a recipe for eggplant crumble to which my readers responed with mixed emotions. This is a 100% southern Italian recipe for stuffed eggplant I learned to make in Calabria. It employs bread, mint leaves and Pecorino Romano cheese.

A Mediterranean summer solace.

4-6 large eggplants
Day-old bread, crusts removed and crumbled (for amounts see below)
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
50 g (1/4 cup) Italian flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
A sprig of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stem the eggplants but don't peel them, and blanch them briefly in salted water. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, and scoop out the pulp with a spoon, leaving about 1/2-inch from the skins.

Sliver the pulp–for each cup of chopped eggplant pulp you’ll need about 3/4 cup crumbled stale bread. Mix the slivered pulp with the bread, garlic, parsley, mint and cheese, a glug of olive oil and season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

Lightly grease the skins of the eggplant shells with a dab of olive oil, and place in a parchment paper-lined ovenproof dish.

Heap the shells with the mixture, drizzle with more olive oil, and bake at moderate temperature (190° C / 375° F) until done, roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour, oven depending.

Pop the cork off the chilled white Cirò and let the pleasure moans begin.

{Calabrian eye candy}

May 22, 2010

Zucchine alla scapece recipe

This recipe of Spanish origin (escabeche––the term that Neapolitans under Spanish domination in the 18th century twisted into scapece––means 'pickle' in standard Castilian) is one of Napoli's signature vegetable dishes. These zingy zucchini, known in Rome's Jewish quarter as concia, are commonly served as antipasto or as a side dish. Ideal along side grilled meats, zucchine alla scapece's primary characteristic is the mint-scented vinegar marinade they are steeped in.

I like to pair mine with fresh mozzarella di bufala and lots of warm crusty bread.

500 g (1.1 lb) fresh zucchine (preferably the ribbed "Romanesche" variety)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup white wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
1 sprig fresh mint
A bunch of fresh basil
Peperoncino flakes (optional)
Vegetable oil for frying

Soak the zucchine in water and baking soda to rid them of any chemicals or field dirt. Rinse well several times and pat dry. Thinly slice in discs and fry them in abundant oil in small batches, so that the oil doesn’t cool down.

As they begin to darken while frying, fish them out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl without blotting away the grease.

Marinade the fried zucchini in olive oil, vinegar, garlic and herbs directly in the serving bowl.

Season to taste and let the marinade sit overnight. It is common Neapolitan (and Spanish) knowledge that the zucchini benefit of the intensity of the 'scapece flavor in direct proportion to how long they steep in the marinade.

May 17, 2010

Pane Carasau recipe

Pane carasau is the traditional cracker-type bread from Sardinia. It's thin and very crisp, usually disk-shaped and nearly 2 feet wide. Traces of this bread were found in the nuraghi (traditional megalithic Sardinian stone structures) this means it existed before 1000 BC.

Image © Ars Alimentaria

Because of its long shelf life, pane carasau was used by shepherds during their long travels from place to place to find fresh pasture for their livestock. Properly baked carasau can last in the pantry for over a year.

Made from durum wheat flour (or semola di grano duro in Italian), salt, yeast and water, pane carasau is obtained through a complex process.

After kneading the dough, it has to be rolled out into very thin sheets that are then baked in a very hot oven (840 C° ~ 930° F) this makes the sheets puff up into a ball.

The puffed breads are then removed from the oven, and with great skill, cut along their circumference and divided into round leaves, which are then stacked one on top of the other, porous side up.

The sheets are then baked once again in order to obtain their hallmark crispiness and characteristic color, or carasatura. Finally the twice-baked pane carasau is left to rest covered by a linen sheet and held down by a brick or a heavy plank of wood, to avoid the rounds from curling as they cool.

Sardinians call carasau pane guttiau when sprinkled with salt and a thread of olive oil and then warmed on the grill for a few minutes. 

Another recipe employing carasau is pane frattau, in which the crisp disks are revived in boiling broth, served dressed with rich tomato or ragù sauce, dusted with grated goat cheese and topped with a poached egg.

These particular dressed carasau breads last very little. The minute after I serve them, they're already finished!

May 6, 2010

Book review "Breaking Bread in L'Aquila"

"When a project is conceived out of passion, its roots show."
This is the case with the new Italian trattoria-style cookbook, Breaking Bread in L'Aquila

A collection of recipes? Hardly just that.

Maria Filice is an ardent fan of the city and traveled many times to L'Aquila, the hometown of her late husband, Paul Piccone. On their numerous travels there, Paul introduced Maria to San Biagio, a small and charming homestyle restaurant, owned by two brothers–Andrea and Luciano Carlofelice–experts in making customers happy with their warm smiles and their fresh, local, and incredibly tasty dishes.

Breaking Bread in L'Aquila is inspired in part by those memorable meals, but even more so by a deep love for the joviality and warmth of shared hospitality. But above all, the book is inspired by the enduring love for Paul, the man who transformed Maria's life. Breaking Bread in L'Aquila is, essentially, a delicious love letter.

Maria was prompted to write her book when she visited L'Aquila a few months after her husband Paul passed away. As the book shaped itself, her visits intensified and in the aftermath of the April 2009 earthquake, Maria reports:

"When I was leaving L'Aquila on my short visit in September 2009, in the lobby sitting next to me was an older woman, relocated there from her crumbled home in the city. We made eye contact. I smiled, and she asked me what I was doing in L'Aquila. I told her that I was finishing my book and that I had wished to see L'Aquila once more before I could put closure on my book's introduction. She looked at me and gripping my hand, said, "Don't forget about us." I was moved. This deepened my resolve to complete the book, and release it on April 6th 2010–the anniversary of the earthquake–as a reminder to readers of the Abruzzo region's suffering. I promised the elderly lady that I would help by donating the net profits of my book to L'Aquila."

Breaking Bread in L'Aquila, whose recipes are inspired by those sampled over the years at trattoria San Biagio, includes Maria's favorite appetizers, main courses, side dishes, desserts and regional wines.

Bold, colorful, and easy to make, Breaking Bread in L'Aquila's Abruzzo-inspired dishes are as gorgeous to look at as they are to savor. The 49+ recipes, which are organized according to the days of the week, are made with ingredients available in anyone's local market.

In her practical and entertaining cookbook, Maria guides readers on a personal journey, complete with charming storytelling and tasty tips, to one of the most beautiful areas of Italy's countryside.

The net proceeds of this book will be donated to the earthquake restoration efforts of L'Aquila.

About the author: Maria Filice, a first-time author, food stylist and food blogger, is a first-generation Canadian-American Italian. Born and raised by immigrant parents from Calabria, Maria grew up following her family's Old World, old-school values. She learned her cooking skills from the best: her mother, grandmother, and aunts, whom she carefully studied from the time she could barely walk.

Join us in celebrating Abruzzo's fine food, wine and music at the "Breaking Bread in L'Aquila" Italy book launch with author Maria Filice

Saturday, May 15th 2010 at 5 p.m.
Sextantio albergo diffuso
Via Principe Umberto – 67020 Santo Stefano di Sessanio (AQ) Italy

Contacts for further accommodation info:
Tel. +39 0862 899 112