Aug 30, 2010

Consommé and melon recipe

After a series of useful tool posts, I'd like to get back to the kitchen for some actual cooking, what do you say?

So what shall we make today? Sweet or savory? How about something agrodolce? There's another word for your Italian Language Culinary Terms. Agrodolce can mean, 'sweet and sour,' but also 'bittersweet.' I was thinking something along the lines of a restorative and refreshing Summer Consommé, elemental comfort food.

Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo.
An old hen makes the broth tastier.
(indicating the implicit qualities of older women)
–– Italian proverb

A clarified meat broth is about as sexy as soup can get. Consommé can be served hot or cold, and is variously used as a soup or sauce base. A 'double consommé' has been reduced until it is half the volume (hence having twice the flavor) of regular consommé.

In a stunning mountain resort in Valle d'Aosta I was fed this divine brodo on a very hot summer of a few years ago. The agrodolce flavor combination was overwhelming in its simplicity.

Tie your apron strings and assmeble:

Assorted beef bones
300 g (1 1/2 cups) veal rump
1/2 chicken
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 celery rib, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 potato, peeled and halved
1/2 cantaloupe melon

In a large stockpot, boil 4 quarts of lightly salted water with meats, bones and vegetables for at least 1 hour.

Drain using a cheesecloth-lined colander, and boil uncovered for an additional 45 minutes, or until the broth is reduced to half the quantity. You may have to remove some resulting fat off the surface with a skimmer, or not, if your chosen meat cuts were particularly lean. Correct seasoning if need be.

Carve mini balls out of the melon with the appropriate ball cutter implement and set aside, do not refrigerate and resist from eating.

When you're ready to serve the consommé, plunge the melon balls in the bowl and be blessed by the sweet cold fruit swimming in the savory warm restorative elixir.

Some idiomatic Italian phrases containing the b-word: 
  • Tutto fa brodo means "it's all grist for the mill," or every little bit helps (literally, you can make broth with everything). 
  • While another expression Lasciar cuocere qualcuno nel suo brodo, means to let someone stew in one’s own juice. 

Image credits: Binette & Jardin - Un chef dans ta cuisine

Aug 23, 2010

Italian language class (in the kitchen)

The gentle art of gastronomy is a friendly one. It hurdles the language barrier, makes friends among civilized people, and warms the heart.

–– Samuel Chamberlain

"Amor che nullo amato amar perdona…" I can't promise you'll be reciting Dante's prose while whisking up killer tiramisù. But I can point you in the right direction.

Some say learning a new language is best achieved through love. I learned Spanish thanks to a hot-blooded Argentine boyfriend who spoke nothing but Castilian. He won my heart with his melodious eloquence. And with asado and dulce de leche.

So since I love you, today I will teach you a little bit of Italian, and the lesson will be held in the kitchen. Terminology, cooking methods, culinary preparations, it's all here. This won't magically turn you into an Italian cook. But I can guarantee, once you get the words right, the rest is a piece of cake.

Lesson #1

Parla come mangi. Literally, "eat like you speak." Suggestion implicating the wisdom in keeping the words as simple as the food in one's plate. Figuratively, "cut the rhetorical crap."

TERMINI CULINARI - Italian cooking expressions

Some of the following terms, cooking methods and techniques are standard Italian cuisine language. The suffix "a," "al" or "alla" are all (according to gender) derivatives of 'in the manner of,' '–style' and way of treating or cooking the nominated foods. For example:

A bagnomaria [ah bañhomahREEah] Is the “bain-marie” cooking method that uses a double boiler (larger container holding hot water into which a pan is placed for slow cooking). Employed chiefly for the preparation of delicate sauces or, more often, to heat a substance without altering its taste or texture.

Affumicato [ahFFOOmeeKAHtoe] A term used to describe food that is smoked. The root of the word is fumo, which means 'smoke.'

Al forno [ahl FOHRnoh] Expression used to describe foods baked or roasted in the forno (oven). Pasta al forno is a spectacular layered timballo, much like lasagna as it uses partly cooked pasta, but of a shorter shape. Patate al forno are roasted potatoes, one of the many foods whose effect can be associated with that of religious ecstasy.

Al funghetto [ahl foonGHEYtoe] Vegetables cooked thinly sliced or diced, sautéed and then flavored with parsley, garlic and tomato. The best-known application of this method is for a Nepolitan eggplant recipe, Melanzane al Funghetto.

Al cartoccio [ahl carTOHtcho] Oven-baking method by which foods are wrapped in an aluminum foil or parchemnt paper envelope. Excellent for baking fish, meats and vegetables. Foods benefit from this process because minor need for condiment is required and very little dispersion of juices and aroma occurs during cooking.

Are you getting hungry?

Al dente [ahl DENteh] Phrase literally meaning 'to the tooth' intending the correct point of cooking hardness, and used to describe pasta or other food that is cooked only until it offers a slight resistance when bitten into. The opposite of soft or overdone. Mostly referred to pasta cooking, however applicable to all cooked foods. Vegetables cooked al dente conserve more taste and nutrients.

Al vapore [ahl vahPOHreh] Steaming foods is very heathy. The crunch of lightly cooked green beans under our teeth makes us feel wholesome and fit. In Italian cuisine foods are however seldom eaten "just" steamed. Unless of course one is recovering from indigestion. In that case a steamed fillet of sole and a sad looking peeled carrot are the only items on the menu. Otherwise the "vapor-method" is usually an initial step to more complex and further flavored cooking operations.

Alla bolognese [ahlla BOHlohÑHEseh] In the Bologna-style, this expression indicates a series of dishes typical of the cuisine of the city of Bologna. These are part of broader classic Italian cuisine heritage, like minced beef ragù, tagliatelle, tortellini and lasagne.

Alla cacciatora [ahlla KAHtchahTOHrah] Translates "in the manner of the hunter;" usually a food preparation indicated for chicken, hare and rabbit. The meats are stewed with garlic, vinegar and rosemary. Many variations exist according to region.

Alla diavola [ahlla DYAvohlah] Literally, "cooked in the devil’s fashion," God knows why. Way of roasting chicken, in which the bird is opened along the middle, brick-flattened and marinated in salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice, then roasted over burning hot coals.

Alla giudia [ahlla jewDYA] The popular method of frying artichokes in Rome’s Jewish community, to which this technique ows its name. The artichoke is deep fried whole, completely immersed in boiling hot oil. In the process it opens like a flower, acquires a splendid copper hue and becomes crisp and fragrant.

Alla milanese [ahlla MEElahNEHseh] Meats and vegetables dunked in beaten eggs then dredged in breadcrumbs, and fried. The most famous application of this cooking method is cotoletta alla milanese, a delicious lean and wafer-thin boneless cutlet of veal or pork, usually taken from the leg, pounded flat, breaded and sautéed in a combination of frothy butter and olive oil.

Alla parmigiana [ahlla PARmeeJAHnah] A preparation suitable for any vegetable, the most famous being the trademark Eggplant Parmigiana. The vegetables are sliced, fried and then layered with tomato sauce, grated Parmigiano cheese and fresh basil. The gratin is sometimes added with diced Mozzarella cheese.

Alla piastra [ahlla PYAStrah] Foods cooked on the heavy flat iron piastra are griddled. Italian meats, fish and vegetables are frequently broiled on the red-hot surface and then seasoned with only salt, olive oil and sometimes mint leaves and breadcrumbs, cherry tomatoes, olives... somebody stop me.

All’acqua pazza [ahll’akwah PATZah] Literally “in the manner of the crazy water.” This cooking method is commonly applied to white fish stewed in spicy tomato, olive oil and garlic. The recipe belongs to the ancient Napoli fisherman-food tradition. It became very popular in the upscale touristy island of Capri in the 60’s. Sometimes black Gaeta olives and capers are added, but I'm not too in favor of those additions. Jussayin'

All'arrabbiata [ahll’ AHRahbBYAtah] The "enraged" sauce is one commonly cooked in a saucepan with plenty spicy peperoncino or Cayenne pepper, and tomato. Only one pasta shape is contemplated for true all’arrabbiata, and that’s penne.

A 'scapece [ah skaPEHcheh] Typical Neapolitan recipe for zucchini. The zucchini are initially fried then marinated in vinegar, chopped garlic and peppermint leaves. The method’s name, contrary to popular belief, is not after someone's surname; Mr. Scapece–who according to some purportedly invented the dish–never existed. The term is of Spanish origin. During the Aragonese domination of the seaport city of Napoli, many Castilian words came into common Italian speech patterns. The Spanish verb "escabechar" means 'to pickle,' to 'marinade' and this method is precisely that.

Arrosto [arROHStoe] Onomatopoeic adjective describing foods that have been oven-roasted. Pollo arrosto, arrosto di maiale, patate arrosto… don’t these sometimes obscure terms simply make your mouth water?

Besciamella [BEHshahMELlah] Also called by its original French name, béchamel. This basic white sauce is made by stirring milk into a butter-flour roux. The thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of flour and butter to milk. Often used in oven baked pasta timballi and lasagne al forno.

Bocconcini [BOHkohnCHEEnee] Two definitions: 1. Small nuggets (about 1 inch in diameter) of fresh Mozzarella di Bufala. Bocconcini are generally sold packed in whey.
2. Diminutive term for "small mouthful," referring not so much to size, rather to the appetizing appeal of dishes described in this manner. Therefore, in Italian cookery, the word bocconcini may be attributed to many dishes. For example, bocconcini di vitello in bianco is a rich mouthwatering preparation of veal chunks cooked with wine, flour and pickled baby vegetables. {Recipe to be posted soon. I promise.}

Bollito [bohLEEtoe] A food that has been boiled, for example hard-boiled eggs, vegetables, pasta, etc. When used as a noun, bollito however refers to the complex Piemontese recipe where 7 different cuts of various meats are boiled tender in broth, served sliced and dressed with several sauces.

Brasato [braSAHtoe] The verb translates into "braised," but in Italian cuisine, brasato is a dish made by searing meat which is then immersed in bold red wine and simmered slowly for hours. The most famous application is Brasato al Barolo.

Carpaccio [kahrPAHTcheeoh] Carpaccio consists of thin shavings of raw meat, which may be drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, often topped with Parmigiano flakes. It is generally served as an appetizer. The term carpaccio though has in recent years been applied to almost every raw fleshy food other than beef fillet, such as veal; or all kinds of fish fillets, mollusks, smoked swordfish, tuna, etc. The original recipe was invented in the '50s by Giuseppe Cipriani (owner of Harry’s Bar in Venice) and dressed with a creamy dressing.

Carpione [carPYOneh] Sautéed olive oil, onion and sage leaves, diluted with water and vinegar. This marinade is then poured boiling hot over vegetables, fried fresh water fish, particularly eel, trench or carp.

Chitarra [keeTAHRrah] Contrary to what the translation would imply, this is not a musical instrument, but a similar shaped implement belonging to the Abruzzo tradition of homemade pasta making. This chitarra is a wooden frame upon which metal strings are tightly fitted. The pasta dough is flattened over the taut strings and by falling through them, is cut into thick spaghetti strands. So when referring to spaghetti alla chitarra, this is not the name of a pasta recipe, rather that of a pasta type.

Cotto [KOHtoe] Past participle of 'cooked.' The term can be applied to a specific food, as in prosciutto cotto for example, which is ham. Or simply define, as in ben cotto something which is cooked well done (literally, 'well cooked'); poco cotto: underdone; troppo cotto: overdone; cotto a puntino: cooked properly (literally, 'cooked to a dot').

Crudo [CREWdoe] Italian adjective for "raw." Prosciutto is also just called 'crudo,' and so is the vast array of raw shellfish and mollusks simply referred to as "crudo di pesce." An addition of drizzled raw olive oil in recipes is defined as olio a crudo.

Dorare [dohRAHreh] Literally 'to gild,' the meatphoric transitive verb in Italian cooking means 'to coat in egg and flour and lightly brown.' Alici dorate is a yummy southern Italian recipe for "golden" anchovies.

Fondo [PHONEdoe] Is the partly caramelized fat and juice exuding from meat during cooking that forms at the bottom (hence the Italian name) of the cooking pot. Diluted with water, stock or wine and heated, it is transformed into a 'deglazed' tasty gravy that can be poured over the sliced meat, or served separately in a sauceboat.

Fuoco [FWOkoe] Is fire. When a recipe calls for foods cooked over a particular heat range, they are accordingly a fuoco basso (low heat), fuoco medio (medium), fuoco alto (high), fuoco moderato (mild), fuoco vivace (lively), fuoco minimo (very low) etc. A little bit like in music tempo.

Fritto [FREEDtoe] Deep fried foods also play an important role in Italian cuisine, whether they be part of a more complex preparation like that of Parmigiana di Melanzane, 'Scapece marinades, or as stand-alone fried foods, such as Arancini, croquets or Olive Ascolane (meat-stuffed green olives, breaded and then deep fried).

Giardiniera [JARdeeneeERA] Mixed baby vegetables, principally cocktail onions, carrots, cauliflowers, bell peppers, and pickles preserved in a vinegar brine. Italian giardiniera is different from the American condiment called with the same name, which usually uses other assorted vegetables, such as peppers, olives and pimentos marinated in vegetable oil.

Impanare [EEMpahnAREH] From the word pane–which means bread–this term refers to dredging food with an outer coating. It literally means dipping or rolling food in seasoned breadcrumbs. The food can be dipped into beaten eggs before being dredged with the dry mixture commonly called a panatura. Coating food in this manner usually precedes frying.

In cagnone [een cahÑHOneh] Boiled rice, seasoned with butter sautéed sage and garlic, and then served with lots of grated Parmigiano.

In salmì [een saulMEE] Way of preparing wild game, particularly hare. The animal is cleaved into sections, marinated for a couple of days in wine and spices, and then stewed in a Dutch oven.

In umido [een OOMeedoe] Meat, fish, chicken or rabbit cooked in a 'humid' tomato sauce, seasoned with olive oil, parsley and wide variety of spices.

Macedonia [MAHcheyDOÑah] Mixed fruit salad, made with both chopped fresh or canned fruits, seasoned with lemon juice, orange, sugar and optional liqueur.
Macedonia varies according to season. During the winter months, the choice is slim, therefore it can be enhanced with raisins, nuts and dried figs. In spring and summer refreshing and colorful macedonia can be served à la mode. Or drowned in champagne.

Mantecare [MAHNteyKAHreh] The action of whipping foods and cheeses or sauces together in order to combine all elements into a creamy blend. From the Spanish root 'manteca,' for butter.

Mazzetto guarnito [matzEHTtoe gwarNEEtoe] From the French term bouquet garni for garnished bouquet. A bundle of aromatic herbs bound together to avoid dispersion during cooking in sauces or other preparations. The Italian aromatic mazzetto (small bunch) is made with parsley, basil, thyme and bay leaves, but can vary and include celery, sage and other herbs according to taste. Usually wrapped in a cheesecloth, muslin or gauze. I use the knotted end section of a nylon pantyhose.

Mostarda [mosTAHRdah] The piquant condiment made with mustard seeds, pepper and other spices in Italy, however is a much broader term.
Mostarda di Cremona, for example, is a tangy mixture of candied fruits soaked in honey-mustard syrup, seasoned with rosé wine. It can vary from mild to pungent, and it is usually served to accompany boiled meats in the bollito entré, or with aged cheeses. Mostarda from Veneto is similar, and the one made in Mantova uses exclusively candied apple.

Raffreddare [RAHfrehDAHreh] Intransitive Italian verb for 'to cool' or 'cool down.' The derived term essere raffreddato applied to a person (and not a food in this case) means 'to have a cold.'

Ragù [rahGOO] The term derives from French, it is however the ultimate Italian pasta sauce. The Bolognese ragù is prepared with minced meat; in the southern recipe the meat is left whole and cooked with tomato, oil and spices for hours.

Rosolare [ROEsoLAHreh] Italians love to sear. Cooking quickly over high heat, causing the surface of the food to turn brown while the interior stays moist, is a method that not only gives food an appetizing color, but also a rich flavor. Searing is usually done on top of the stove, but may also be achieved under a broiling unit.

Salmoriglio [SAHLmoeREEjlyo] Sicilian condiment made with olive oil, lemon, parsley, oregano and a tablespoon of salted water. It usually dresses thick brabecued swordfish steaks.

Saltare in padella [sahlTAReh een pahDELah] Saltare means to jump, which is the root of the French term sauté. This technique is used to cook foods (usually greens) in heated garlic-flavored olive oil, seasoned with spicy peperoncino and a dash of salt. The derived green oil and delicious tasty pan-fried greens are a gift of Nature. Especially if paired with crusty warm bread.

Sbollentare [SBOHlenTAHreh] To blanch. Blanching, or preparing foods (generally vegetables, nuts or fruits) for further cooking is obtained by immersing them briefly in boiling water. This is a very useful procedure. Blanching helps peeling tomatoes, for example. Use a paring knife to slice a tiny X on the bottom of each tomato; drop it in boiling water for about 20 seconds; then use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a bowl of ice-cold water to stop it from further cooking. Skins should slip right off.

Soffritto [sofFREEtoe] Mirepoix - a mince of onions, carrots and celery chopped with a heavy knife and sautéed in olive oil to flavor the initial phases of cooking. Sometimes lard, pancetta or prosciutto are added to this holy trinity fundamental base for stews, sauces, soups and ragù.

Scaldare [scalDAHreh] The opposite of raffreddare, scaldare is 'to heat.' When a recipe calls for olive oil heated in a skillet with chopped garlic, for instance, it simply says scaldare l’olio con l’aglio.

And that immediately makes me want to go to the stove.

Reference: Il Cucchiaio d'Argento ~ The Silver Spoon
Images courtesy of: Linda Carter Holman - - - - - - - Sara Maternini - profumidallacucina

Aug 14, 2010

Tuscan street food

Image © AT Casa

I wrote a post on Panelle some time ago, providing the recipe for the typical Sicilian street food fritter made with chickpea flour.

But I had completely forgotten about Cecina! During a recent weekend escape in Lunigiana, I was pleasantly reminded of this local delicacy. And I indulged in the reminder several times a day, to be honest.

Although very similar in its composition to Farinata–from Liguria–and Panelle, Cecina is not fried like its Sicilian counterpart, rather it is traditionally baked in a large copper pan called 'teglia' measuring over 1 meter in diameter (3 feet). Cecina is commonly baked in a wood-burning oven, but you can also make it at home. La cecina is a simple mixture of water, chickpea flour and salt. The rather liquid batter is poured with a jug into the special teglie and baked for a few minutes until crisp and golden, yet remaining incredibly soft and fluffy on the inside!

It is best eaten piping hot with only a sprinkling of ground black pepper. Its unique crisp/tender texture melts in your mouth and pleasurably scratches your throat at the same time. You can find Cecina sold as a snack all along the Tuscan riviera, in Lunigiana but also in Pisa, Livorno, Lucca and Massa Carrara.

Illustration by Olga Bruno ©

This made me think of other Tuscan street food examples.

I ignorantly thought Rome held supremacy over tripe, but I was wrong. Toscana boasts a long tradition of offal dishes, and a long-established custom of selling them in roadside kiosks.

Take the Panino col Lampredotto sandwich, for example. Although widespread throughout the entire Tuscan region, this peasant preparation actually comes from Florence. The fourth and final stomach of common bovines, stewed in a seasoned broth, is shredded and stuffed in a bread roll. When asked if you want your €2,50 sandwich bagnato (wet) you should always say "Sì!" The trippaio preparing it will dunk the top portion of the bread in the lampredotto cooking sauce, and will therefore be served to you juicy, wet and dripping with tasty sauce.

Add on: Thanks to Oriana from Tuscanycious, who reminded me of the mandatory green sauce topping. Here's the recipe. You can also watch their fun video that graphically explains how to make Lampredotto sandwich.

Image © S-Punti di vista

Image © consumazione obbligatoria

Or the Insalata di Trippa, a cold plate made with boiled calf's tripe, sliced oranges, celery and seasoned with olive oil and cracked black pepper. It contends the title for best tripe dish with local Trippa alla Fiorentina, in which the meatier or spongy, honeycomb part of the stomach lining is cut it into very thin strips, stewed with battuto and tomato and then sprinkled with grated Parmigiano cheese before browning it in the oven for five minutes.

Other trippai specialties (kiosks that sell these snacks) include fried brains–which shortly after the popular cannibal movie saga was aptly renamed "the Hannibal"–nervetti (chopped up tendons and meat from the calf's foot), lingua (tongue), pan co' grifi (a sandwich made with stewed pork muzzle. The chopped meat is ladled into a deep bread pocket called "orcello", used like a soup bowl, and comfortably eaten with a spoon, during your passeggiata. Grifi, or musetto can also be ground into a sausage or used to add flavor to stews and soups); and Animelle, which according to the Italian Culinary Foundation are defined as, "sweetbreads, or the thymus glands of veal and lamb." The testicles (that's what they are, essentially) are skinned and soaked in chilled water for 2-3 hours before being fried and served in paper cones.

Another typically Tuscan snack is ranocchi fritti, or fried frogs (this is turning into a post not suited for those with a delicate stomach). This peasant dish is native to the watery lowlands of western Florence, and the best hunters for the main ingredient were notably kids, who took the chore as a game. The skinned amphibians are left to marinate in beaten eggs, lemon and salt, and then deep fried in vegetable oil.

Mau & Tamara, the trippai in Piazza Mercatale, Prato
A few favorite places in Florence banchini dei "trippai" where you can find the dishes mentioned above:

- Mario in Piazzale di Porta Romana
- Lorenzo in Piazza Artom
- Marco on Via Gioberti (near piazza Beccaria)
- Alessio on Via Aretina (on the corner of Via Casaccia)
- Orazio at the Loggia del Porcellino
- Sergio on Via de' Macci (on the corner of Borgo la Croce)
- Leonardo on Viale Giannotti (corner of Via Paradiso)
- Lupen e Margo (used to be called La Trippaia), on Via dell'Ariento (on the corner of Via Sant'Antonino)
- Simone in Piazza de' Nerli
- Il Trippaio di Firenze on Via Maso Finiguerra (corner of Via Palazzuolo)
- Maurizio, "il Molisano" on Via dei Cimatori
Image © Big Map

Buon FERRAGOSTO a tutti!

Aug 11, 2010

La dispensa, the Italian pantry

Dark, musty and cool. Walking in the typical Italian family larder would often evoke fear and mystery. Children were seldom allowed entrance. Selected females were granted access and only for retrieving specific items. Otherwise the family matriarch–usually the grandmother–had full control of the stocked supplies and was sole holder of the keys to the food cellar.

Image ©

Preparing and stocking up food in ancillary capacity was a necessity in times of post-war restoration and pure common sense. No supermarket down the street for last minute grocery shopping. Produce was generally always home grown, consumed according to season, and had to be pickled, canned and bottled in order to last the entire year.

This meant the dispensa, or pantry, had shelves upon shelves of oil preserved sausage, pickled vegetables from the garden, syrup soaked fruits, whole legs of prosciutto and foot long salami hanging from the beams. Sacks of dried beans, chick peas and lentils. Demijohns of home made pommarola tomato preserve, bunches of dried herbs hung on wire racks, salted meats, dry goods of all sorts like flour, polenta, semolina. Barrels of grains and cereal. And gallons of wine, emanating alcoholic fumes that permeated the shadowy secret rooms.

Heaven, essentially, in a half dozen square foot enclosure.
Image ©

This however is the Third Millennium, so pantries and alimentary storerooms have succumbed to walk in closets. Slingback Manolos have dethroned Salame Milano. Mason jars are used more as decorating accessories than for storing. Canning and pickling are obviously more labor intensive than just driving down to the supermarket.

But frugality in times like these has become a necessary way of life. A well-stocked storeroom or kitchen pantry actually helps you cook faster, allows you to waste fewer ingredients, offset your carbon footprint, and save money.
Image © simple-green-frugal-co-op

I've decided to adopt my family's ancient pantry tradition by clearing out a broom closet. It's my project for this fall. I will stock my newly inaugurated pantry with jams and preserves made this summer with fruits and vegetables picked fresh from the garden; I'll shop weekly and in season. I'll buy in bulk, and keep crucial supplies constantly topped up.

I'll be a little ant.

If you have any small storage space at your disposal, you too could easily convert it into a pantry. OK if it’s filled with old toys, clothes or broken utensils. All you need to do is a little feng shui clutter clearing and be motivated by this persuasive Aesopic logic: prepare and stock up.

The items listed below, I feel, should never be missing from the kitchen. They are, in my glutton opinion, the bare necessities.
Image ©

Load freezer/refrigerator, cupboard, balcony and create your own Italian dispensa with:

Frozen free range chicken breasts, individually wrapped
Frozen white fish fillets, individually wrapped
Frozen puff pastry sheets (you can find frozen puff pastry sheets in any supermarket freezer case. I’ve produced lots of puff pastry made from scratch, but it’s an arduous process requiring two days of rolling, pounding, letting the dough cool and rest, then rolling and letting rest again, and then freezing it in batches. Keeping the frozen variety on tap for when I need it in a hurry is easier)
Mixed salumi (prosciutto, salami, bacon, mortadella etc.)
Cheese (at least 2 types, eg. Fontina and Gorgonzola, plus steadfast grated Parmigiano)
Milk (whole or skimmed; nonfat is not milk)
Eggs (at least 6)
Lettuce, arugula, mesclun, etc. (entry may include pre-washed salad)
Lemons (unwaxed organic)
Fresh basil by the ton
Onions (at least 3 types, white onions, red and scallions)
Potatoes (if you store them along with an apple, they won't bud)
Celery (copious amounts)
Salt (rock, Kosher, Himalayan, black, sea salt: the more the merrier)
Black pepper (best bought whole, and then freshly ground in a pepper mill)
Peperoncino (Italian hot chili peppers, in flakes or whole)
Extra-virgin olive oil (the best quality you can find)
Dried mushrooms (porcini are a good investment)
All purpose flour
Cake flour
Cornmeal (coarse ground polenta)
Farro (barley is a good substitute)
Dried beans (2 types)
Pesto sauce
Pommarola tomato preserve
Canned tomatoes
Chicken broth (best if homemade from scratch: stock freezes beautifully in quart containers, ice cube trays or in ziploc© storage bags. Otherwise, you can opt for low-sodium chicken stock cubes or granulated formula; those labeled "organic" contain no MSG)
Pasta (a minimum of 2 types, eg. spaghetti and penne), at least 500 gr each
Arborio rice, at least 500 gr
Bread (a good quality loaf plus some sliced sandwich bread, stale bread can be recycled or ground into crumb)
Oil packed tuna
Anchovies (the best-quality are those packed in salt; they need to be be rinsed very well before using, and may need deboning. If salt-packed are not available, look for oil-packed anchovies in little glass jars)
White wine for cooking (a minimum of 2 bottles)
Red wine for emotional rescue (minimum 4 bottles)

Image ©

What's never missing from your pantry?

Aug 5, 2010

Parmigiana di Melanzane – Eggplant Parmigiana recipe

OK, I feel it's time we have a serious talk about this dish.

I've heard people overseas call it "Eggplant Parmesan," and learned that there are variations of it, the most popular of these involving breaded meat cutlets, named "Veal Parmesan." This particular recipe sounds awfully like a regional specialty called Cotoletta alla Bolognese or Cotoletta alla Petroniana. But I don't know where "Chicken Parm" was developed, because I've never heard of it here in Italy. It must be an American-Italian dish.

But, back to the eggplant. I am presently obsessed with this vegetable, and have posted other recipes that use it, like stuffed eggplant, or vegetarian meatballs and eggplant crumble. I was saving this one for summer, since the best, sweetest and slenderest melanzane grow between July and October.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana is a wonderfully complex, versatile and satisfying vegetarian preparation. I have been making batches on batches of it recently, and there never seems to be enough of it!

Down south in the Campania region, birthplace of this dish––and where I've had the best Melanzane alla Parmigiana ever––there's a curious dyslexia name issue: the dish is in fact commonly known as "Parmigiana di Melanzane," with the adjective becoming the noun, and vice versa.

Whatever its name, the city of Parma has no claim on this dish. The only component present in this dish from the northern Parma territory is Parmigiano cheese, a key element of this preparation. The remaining ingredients are 100% southern Italian.

This recipe has traveled far, broken boundaries and can be found imitated all over the world.

You can prepare it in roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes. For it you'll need:

4-5 eggplants (not the round kind, better use the teardrop shaped, purple ones)
2 cups of canned tomatoes, crushed
2 garlic cloves, minced
A fistful of fresh basil leaves
2 eggs
5 fistfuls of flour
1 medium mozzarella (around 4 oz), diced
1/2 cup Parmigiano, grated
Vegetable oil for frying
Olive oil for sautéing
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F).

Slice the eggplant lengthwise, no thicker than 1 cm (1/2-inch). If the eggplants are large, "purge" away the bitter juices by sprinkling the slices with sea salt and placing them in a colander weighed down between two plates for about 10 minutes.

Brush off any leftover salt, and dredge the eggplant slices in flour and set aside, while you heat a generous amount of vegetable oil for frying in a large skillet.

Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl and dip the dredged eggplant slices in it briefly. Fry them in the skillet for about 3 minutes on each side, then rest them on a paper towel to absorb excess grease. (You could skip this step entirely, and use grilled eggplant slices instead, but who are we kidding? The fried version is ridiculously better tasting. And the real thing. A good compromise id frying the eggplant without the egg dip, for a "lighter" result.)

If you'll be using mozzarella di bufala, you'll want to set it in a colander or a sieve to lose some of its liquid, which could compromise the structure of your dish.

In a saucepan, sauté the minced garlic in 5 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. When it begins to tan lightly, add the tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes. Add a dash of salt and some fresh basil leaves. I always add 1 leveled teaspoon of sugar... for superstition. Don't ask.

In a greased deep oven dish, alternate layers of the tomato sauce, fried eggplant slices and diced mozzarella. Sprinkle each layer with a generous dusting of grated Parmigiano and more basil leaves. Repeat the layers and top with a final blanket of tomato sauce, fresh torn basil leaves and lots of grated Parmigiano. 

Bake in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes. Allow the Melanzane alla Parmigiana to cool for 10 more minutes, then cut in 2" squares and devour.

Note: I've classified this recipe as a complete meal, bearing in mind that its filling nature can constitute a feast in itself. But consider that it normally rates as either an antipasto, or on very special holiday occasions, served as a side order!

Melanzane alla Parmigiana can be stuffed in a sandwich, or can be eaten cold straight out of the refrigerator to soothe all kinds of nervous symptoms. This is a marvelous midnight snack, and a potent antidepressant.

Buon appetito.