Jun 29, 2010

Tonno ubriaco recipe

Tonno ubriaco means drunken tuna: a basic recipe originating in the seaport city of Livorno. It takes 10 minutes to make and can save the day in case of unexpected (and famished) dinner guests.

4 large fresh tuna steaks
3/4 cup of red wine
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 sprig of Italian flatleaf parsley, finely chopped – I use fresh basil because I can't eat parsley
1 cup unbleached flour
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the garlic in olive oil over medium heat and remove it from the frying pan before it browns. Add chopped onion and parsley/basil to the pan. 

Dredge the tuna steaks with flour and cook along with the onion for 5 minutes. Add the wine, crank up the heat and allow it to evaporate.

Serve the steaks with the resulting fondo, fresh garden greens and golden fried potatoes.

The wine? Pairs well with either white or red, as long as dry and somewhat chilled.

{the tonnara at Scopello, Sicily}

Jun 25, 2010

Torta al Testo recipe

If you're planning on visiting the Umbrian town of Perugia or its surroundings, this is a dish that I particularly recommend you try.

Perugia in Umbria
Image © Zyance

Although torta usually means cake, this particular bread is more like a focaccia or a piadina: a simple water and flour dough, which rears a slightly leavened flatbread baked on the testo, which is a round slab of refractory stone heated over burning coals.  I've seen torta al testo also baked on a flat, round iron griddle with legs that's placed over the coals.

This is very much a bread staple belonging to local cucina casareccia, family-style cooking, so remember how this means different families have their own recipes with slightly different variations. Here's one from downtown Perugia:

torta al testo from Umbria

500 g (1.1 lb) unbleached flour
1 glass of water
Extra virgin olive oil
1 leveled teaspoon baking soda (or brewer's yeast)

After building your heaped mound of flour, pour all the ingredients in the crater, and knead while singing softly. Never mind the sticky, messy onset. Once formed, both you and the obtained ball of dough will need a quick rest under cool linen sheets for 15 minutes.

Flatten out the risen dough into 9-inch disks, about 1/4-inch thick, and lightly jab with the tines of a fork.

torta al testo from Umbria

The traditional recipe establishes cooking the torta on the heated namesake testo in the fireplace, but a fine nonstick pan or griddle will do, provided you flip the torta every so often.

If you don't own a wide enough pan, cook your torta in two or more batches. It mustn't char, so remove it when just lightly browned and serve hot.

My dear friend and gourmet consultant for Umbria, author and journalist Enrico Vaime states that "è la su morte"––in his own Perugia argot, meaning that torta al testo's dignified death can only be achieved–by eating it right off the stone, cut into wedges while still hot, and stuffed with hand-carved slices of prosciutto.

The heat of the torta warms the prosciutto's porky goodness whose fat, as a result, melts a bit and becomes translucent. The combination is delicious beyond words. Add a nice bottle of red Torgiano, and you'll remain speechless.

torta al testo from Umbria

I'll be attending a dear friend's wedding in Umbria this weekend, which means lots of torta al testo for lucky me!

Jun 20, 2010

Love letter to the bulb

A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.
–– old New York proverb

Let's talk a little about my favorite ingredient, aglio.

Garlic {Allium sativum} is a fundamental pillar of Italian cooking, but up until the beginning of the 1950s, some seriously garlic-challenged folks overseas called it “Bronx vanilla.” Other diner lingo names for garlic included the derogatory “halitosis” and “Italian perfume.”

Highly reassessed element in the recent Italian food renaissance, the Noble Bulb has finally re-blossomed as the star in most home kitchens worldwide. Related to the lily family—along with leeks, onions, and chives—garlic, from the Old English word garleac, owes its powerful aroma to sulphur-based compounds. As a base for most Italian dishes, it sensually flavors cooking oils and other preparations, extracting the best side of almost any food.

Some culinarians use a garlic crusher, I don't.

Losing precious juices and splaying the charming clove is a pity. For instance, chef Anthony Bourdain (my boyfriend in many fantasies) calls garlic presses 'abominations' and in his genius exposé memoir Kitchen Confidential, Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, advises,

"Don't put it through a press. I don't know what that junk is that squeezes out of the end of those things, but it ain't garlic."

Personally, I find the delicious fragrance left on my fingers after chopping or mincing garlic, one of the most aphrodisiac aromas in nature. If the repercussions of eating garlic present a fastidious breath issue, do like the garlic-loving Middle Eastern, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cultures do: always keep a pinch of fennel seeds in your pocket. Chewing on them refreshes and works far better than breath mints.

There have been encyclopedias written about garlic; and come July, the California garlic-growing capital of the world, Gilroy, celebrates the Bulb with an annual garlic festival. The famous Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, serves an all-garlic menu in honor of the "stinky rose," with everything from a garlic-laced antipasto to garlic ice cream. The same happens at The Stinking Rose Restaurant in San Francisco. 

braids of garlic in an Italian market

When buying aglio, look for bulbs that are plump and compact with several layers of dry, papery husk. A heavy, firm bulb indicates that the garlic will be fresh and flavorful, whereas a bulb that’s too light is probably old. Avoid damp or soft bulbs and those that have begun to sprout, as well as any that have dark, powdery patches under the skin, which are the signs of a common mold that will eventually decay the flesh. Remove the bitter greenish core inside the garlic clove to avoid a slightly bitter taste in your final cooked preparation.

Garlic has a tendency to sprout, which diminishes its pungency and flavor. To prevent this, keep garlic hung in a braid or stored in a loosely covered container and put it in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and heat.

Tip: To easily peel garlic, separate the cloves from the bulb and place them on a cutting board. Lay the flat side of a kitchen knife on top of one clove at a time. Tap the knife with a closed fist. A fairly gentle impact is all that's required to split the peels without smashing the clove. Also, be careful not to burn garlic when sautéeing; it will turn bitter.

I like to rub a fresh garlic clove on lightly charred slices of crusty bread for bruschetta, enjoy it immensely added in tomato salads, used in pasta condiments, liberally sliced over cinnamon-dusted oranges, minced in seafood recipes, or mixed with breadcrumbs for tastier shellfish au gratin.

I love garlic and I love the fact that no guilt is involved when I eat it. Garlic is delicious and good for your health. The cardiovascular system benefits from regular garlic intake, it is also key in cholesterol management, a potent anti-fungal, powerful antibiotic, and renown blood pressure regulator.

Roasting whole garlic bulbs wrapped in foil will mellow the flavor and transform the cloves into a spreadable, creamy purée that can be added to bread, mashed potatoes, butter or risotto, clear a raspy throat and keep vampires away for a week or two.

Jun 16, 2010

Frittura di calamari, fried calamari recipe

Calamari are a very popular food in Italy. The bodies, sliced into rings and deep fried along with the curled tentacles, are a classic summer meal.

I sometimes get lazy and prefer to eat calamari alone, sparing myself the hassle of having to peel, bone and pick through small prawns, other assorted crustaceans and the (however tasty) bony reef mullet, which are all typical frittura mista staples.

Here's a recipe for a simple summer seafood frittura di calamari.

500 g (1.1 lb) absolutely fresh baby calamari, cuttlefish, squid or any small octopod mollusks
100 g (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
100 g (1/2 cup) polenta flour (cornmeal)
Peanut oil for frying
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lemon for juice

Cut the calamari in ringlets, leaving the tentacle clusters whole. If you've caught them yourself or the fishmonger didn't clean them, be sure to trim away ink sacs (if any) and remove the indigestible parts, like eyes, innards, cartilage, beak and quill nestled in the center of the head.

There's a video HERE that can help you learn how to do this easily. 

Combine the polenta with the flour, a dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper in a gallon-size zipper seal freezer bag and add the calamari pieces. Seal closed and give the bag a vigorous shake, to coat the pieces well.

Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Remember, temperature shock is key for proper frying.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan, the more the better. When the oil is piping hot, but not quite smoking (that means its burning!), remove the dredged calamari from the fridge and out of the bag, frying it in small batches in the olive oil. Small batches avoid the oil to maintain its hot temperature.

Fry these small quantities for no more than a minute. The oil will bubble up and cook the calamari all over, so there will be no need to turn. The result will be a lightweight crunchy crust and a tender, sweet fleshy inside.

Rest your fried calamari to dry briefly on a paper towel, dribble with lemon juice and eat with your hands, sensually burning fingers and tongue.

Jun 14, 2010

Frollini, Italian shortbread cookie recipe

I love it when you dunk a cookie in a hot cup of tea or a chilled glass of milk and just as you’re bringing it to your mouth for a sensual devouring kiss, it drops messily back in the liquid, attracted more by love for the beverage, than gravity pull. 

frollini, shortbread cookie recipe

This happens especially with those shortbread-like, buttery cookies commonly called frollini in Italian.  Ignoring the disastrous milk-spattered battleground around my mug, I fish the sunken frollini out with my spoon. They are completely reduced to a mushy, almost liquid state. The smaller crumbs that swim effortlessly at the bottom of my cup, swirl back into my mouth, as I drink the last sweet drops of the cloudy cookie soup.

I usually make my frollini in the evening, letting them cool overnight so I can eat them first thing in the morning–paired in twos–in a back-to-back dive in my steaming pint of breakfast caffelatte. This makes a large batch.

500 g (1.1 lb) all purpose flour
180 g (1 scant cup) sugar
100 g (1/2 cup) butter (I use salted)
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp. whole milk, warmed
2 tbsp. organic honey
1 tsp. baking powder
Salt (if your butter is unsalted)

Preheat oven at 180° C (356° F).

Work the butter and sugar with a fork into a frothy fluff. Add the beaten egg, the honey and a pinch of salt, mixing with your fingers.

Dissolve the baking powder in the warmed milk, sift in the flour and add it all to the mixture, kneading gently into a smooth ball.

Flatten with a rolling pin to 1/8-inch and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter. 
Sprinkle with sugar. Bake on a buttered cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes.

It's dark outside and it smells wonderful in the kitchen.

frollini, shortbread cookie recipe

Jun 7, 2010

Swordfish steak recipe

Catania’s fish market is an incredible place, just around the corner from the city's cathedral. The stalls are scattered over an impressive area, under the Carlo V walled tunnel, the open Piazza Alonzo di Benedetto, stretching as far as Piazza Pardo. And although it's called a fish market, 'a piscarìa sells everything.

From 5 a.m. to about noon, the market is always crowded and busy. The overlapping voices of the vendors yelling at each ear–pushing their merchandise in front of your eyes baiting you to buy more, and clients bargaining prices, make you feel like you’ve been sucked into an Arabian souk.

During my sojurn in Catania, what I would go to the Pescheria looking for was, say, a ball of butcher’s twine; and I’d regularly leave with an abundance of fresh produce, herbs, dried fruits, amazing oranges, almonds, and huge swordfish steaks. So flabbergasted by the whole whirlwind of confusion, the assault on the senses with cacophony of sounds, rainbow of colors and assortment of smells, I hardly remember how that would happen.

Swordfish steaks must be eaten super fresh, grilled and cut about 1-inch thick. The slices need to be cooked with the skin intact, as this keeps the scaly flesh well compact. If you don’t want to barbecue, grill the steaks on a hot griddle or in a non-stick oven pan over the hot stove. Heat is key, but no oven please.

Ingredients for 4 guests:

4 swordfish steaks, 1-inch (2 cm) thick
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, torn
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Baste the swordfish with the mint leaves and garlic in olive oil and white wine vinegar, marinading them briefly before cooking.

Heat the cooking vessel over fierce heat (in this case induction stoves may be too mild) and cook the steaks either on a hot griddle or over the coals, turning them to brown on both sides. Occasionally baste with the marinade.

Cook the swordfish steaks until well seared on the outside, and still tender but not rare on the inside. Slit a small gash in the flesh to check for doneness.

Lightly salt, sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve at once. Oh, and pass the peppermill, please.

My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. 
Unless there are three other people. 
–– Orson Welles

Jun 3, 2010

Costata alla Pizzaiola recipe

As you may have noticed, Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino has undergone a few changes. Thank you for being patient while I sorted through links, updated my recipe index, promoted new features and introduced a series of fresh new activities.

Do you wish to keep up to date with Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino's brand new topics, articles, posts and tasty meals? Just sign up for our mailing list in the sidebar! You'll receive a weekly newsletter with our latest activity, plus offers, give-aways, cooking tips, wine notes and upcoming food events.

But enough talk, let's get right to business. Today we're making Costata alla Pizzaiola, a hearty Nepolitan beef rendition that involves the use of oregano enriched pizza-style tomato sauce (hence the name) oozed over a sizzling rib eye steak. Fussy vegetarian-prone children and voracious lovers equally adore.

Ingredients for 4 guests:

4 entrecôtes (steaks cut from between the 9th and 11th rib), or rib eye beefsteak
2 cups canned cherry or Roma tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Oregano (here you can go crazy)
1 teaspoon organic brown sugar

In a wide saucepan, sauté the garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When it begins to tan, add the tomatoes, a dash of salt, fat pinch of oregano and the sugar. Cook uncovered over medium heat until sauce is no longer watery, about 10-15 minutes.

Heat a griddle to fiery hot and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Trim only a little fat off the steak, nick the nerves and broil the meat for a few minutes to rare.

Pour the Pizzaiola sauce over the steak on the griddle and crank up the heat for another minute or two. Spattering will ensue, so be careful.

Transfer to a warm plate and wait 10 minutes before devouring. Keep bread handy for mandatory scarpetta *

* The custom in which a small piece of hand-held breadcrumb mops up any delicious food residue in plate and is eaten on repeat until plate is sweeped clean.