Oct 24, 2010

Gnocchi from scratch

You have to be patient.

Making gnocchi takes practice and persistance. At their best potato gnocchi can be delicate. At their worst, they turn ot dense, rubbery, or soggy. In the worst case scenario, the gnocchi fall apart in the boiling water before even meeting their condiment. I'm not trying to scare you off from making them, I just want you to know what you're in for. The trick is using a small quantity of egg to hold the potato/flour mixture together.

1 kg (2.2 lbs) russet potatoes
300 g (1 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

Boil the unpeeled potatoes 30-40 minutes (according to potato size) in lightly salted water, resisting the temptation to pierce them with a fork, this floods the potato structure with boiling water, thus damaging the dough.

Let the potatoes cool a bit then peel and mash them with a hand-powered mill or a ricer, straight into a bowl.

Once completely cool, mix them with the egg yolks and olive oil. Now sift the flour over the potatoes and mix it in with a wooden spoon. Do this with gentle movements, only until the flour is moist and the dough looks crumbly.

Pour the potato/flour mixture over a board dusted with flour and knead briefly as you would any other pasta dough.

Note: Over-kneading may make the dough tougher, so keep it to a minimum to obtain a uniform consistency, considering you'll be also dusting extra flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface.

Cut a fist-size piece and roll it into ropes about 3/4-inch in diameter and use a knife to cut each into 3/4-inch buttons. Use your thumb to make an indentation in each piece. This can be achieved with the help of the back of a cheese grater or the tines of a fork, and it gives gnocchi a rough surface in which the sauce finds refuge. As you produce the gnocchi, moves them on a plate and keep going, fistful after fistful, until all the dough is used up.
Image © Foodnuveau.com
Technically all this can be done in advance, but it is better not to let too much time pass between the making and the cooking. While you're cutting the gnocchi, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Once all the gnocchi are ready, toss a dozen of them into the water and wait until they all surface. This takes less than 2 minutes, so it is important that your attention does not wander. Use a skimmer (or a slotted spoon) to fish the floating gnocchi out of the pot and place them in a bowl covered with a tight lid or plastic wrap, so the gnocchi keep warm. Repeat the casting-fishing routine until all gnocchi are cooked.

For a splendid gnocchi tutorial, complete with extra information and a useful video, visit Foodnouveau – Merci, Marie!

Oct 22, 2010

Be my guest - Pasta con le sarde e finocchio

Earlier this week I wrote a guest post for Mangia Monday, a weekly column over at Wanderlust Women Travel, in which I spotlighted a secret Tuscan restaurant called Osteria il Vignaccio.

Today I welcome Wanderlust Women Travel's owner Lisa Fantino who will be launching our first installment of the 2010 be My Guest series. Lisa will be taking us to Sicily and introducing us to her Nonna0s rendition of a classic Sicilian dish, Pasta con le Sarde.

In Italy, this is a seasonal dish, one commonly made between March and September, i.e. the only time of year during which Sicilian pescherie (open air fish markets) carry the perfect size of fresh sardines; and when fields are most abundant with wild fennel just begging to be hand picked.

But let's hear how Lisa makes this delectable Sicilian treat.

Prego, Lisa. The toque is yours.

"Growing up in a Sicilian-American household my lunches consisted of mortadella sandwiches instead of bologna and capicola instead of ham. I also ate babaluci (snails) and vosteddi (spleen sandwiches) but one of my favorite dishes was Nonna's "Pasta Finocchio Sarde" (pasta with fennel and sardines). Now, don't roll your eyes or scrunch your face because I am about to share with you a bit of heaven that's really easy to make because it's partly ready-made.

Trust me, this dish is so easy that I have taught a native Jamaican woman how to make it and she's now speaking with a Sicilian accent. Also, you must know that Sicilians don't measure anything so everything here is an approximation.

5-6 cloves of garlic (or as many as you desire without scaring the neighbors) The garlic should be thinly sliced and not chopped
Handful of pinoli (pine) nuts
Handful of golden raisins (for some reason they taste better than regular raisins here)
Olive oil (extra virgin, first-pressed, certo)
1 can "Condimento per pasta con sarde"
Nonna's cast iron skillet if you're lucky enough to have one.
1 lb perciatelli pasta (some folks use thin spaghetti but I prefer perciatelli which allows you to make that sweet sucking noise as you savor this taste of heaven)

Start by boiling your pasta water so that it can cook while you prepare the dressing which only takes about 5-7 minutes. (BTW – the perciatelli should be cooked al dente. This is the wrong dish for mushy pasta!)

Heat the oil in your skillet until hot and toss in the garlic for a minute and then the pinoli nuts. Simmer until golden brown but do not burn them. Both of these ingredients are extremely delicate in that regard, and can both taste rancid if burnt to a crisp.

Toss in the can of sarde mixture.

Add the raisins and simmer on low for approximately 5 minutes, or until the wrinkles come out of the raisins and they look plump.

Toss the entire mixture over the drained perciatelli and mix well. Serve with grated cheese and/or muddica (typical Sicilian toasted breadcrumb) to garnish.

The dish itself is of Arabic origin, as are many things on the island of Sicily, but don’t tell that to my family."

Grazie Lisa, this was wonderful.
I'm sure many native Sicilians out there are swooning with memories of this great dish.

Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist and attorney, and the Italy travel concierge and creative force behind Wanderlust Women Travel and the recently launched Amalfi destination wedding site, Wanderlust Weddings. Her love of the Amalfi Coast has also inspired her to gather sterling silver jewelry and gifts inspired by the beauty of the region at Amalfi Blu. She also writes travel features for MNUI travel insurance and blogs as Lady Litigator.

Interested in reading more about Sicily and its glorious food?

Check out my articles (with recipes) on Pasta alla Norma ~ Panelle ~ Caponata ~ Grilled Swordfish Steak ~ Orange Salad alla Trapanese ~ Gelo di Anguria

Image credits and © cateringadomicilio.it | Adriao via WikimediaCommons

Oct 18, 2010

As many of you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month worldwide.

The annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities and organizations every October works toward increasing awareness of the disease and raising funds for research into its cause, prevention and cure. Charities like Pink Ribbon aim to create a global community to support breast cancer patients, survivors and their families.

As well as providing a platform for breast cancer charities to raise awareness of their work and of the disease, this is also a prime opportunity to remind women to test with mammography and ultrasound for early detection.

Many native Italian and expat bloggers in Italy–as part of the 17th Nastro Rosa campaign–are blogging in pink today.

Our gracious hosts Barbara, Chiara and Carolina were the minds behind this important joint blog event. I am honored to participate, and I thank Rosa at Bell’Avventura for letting me know of this opportunity. Please visit Mamma Felice for a complete list of participants.

My contribution for today's worldwide effort to spread the word about breast cancer awareness is... you guessed it, a recipe!

Blushing Pink Strawberry Risotto
2 tablespoons minced onion (I use shallot)
3 tablespoons celery, julienned
50 g (1/4 cup) butter
400 g (2 cups) Arborio or Carnaroli rice
250 ml (1 cup) good quality dry sparkling wine, or prosecco
Simmering vegetable broth (chicken broth is OK too)
300 g (1 1/2 cups) firm strawberries, calyx removed and finely sliced
4 tablespoons Parmigiano, grated

Sauté the onion and celery until translucent in 2/3 of the butter, then remove with a slotted spoon and set them aside.

Toast the rice in the butter and cook over a moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes. Return the bruised onion and celery back into the rice, mixing to heat through, and add the bubbly. Continue stirring until the sparkling wine is completely evaporated; then start adding the broth, one ladle at a time.

The rice should be done in about 15 minutes: this is when you add the strawberries.

Cook stirring gently for one more minute, turn off the heat, and fold in the remaining butter and the cheese. Cover for a minute, and then serve in individual portions, with the four prettiest heart-shaped strawberries, placed on each. You can also garnish each bowl of risotto with a sprig of mint or fresh basil leaves.

Image © thechefisonthetable

Raise your pink champagne glasses with me and let's toast: SALUTE! To our health!


Come molte di voi sanno, ottobre è il mese della prevenzione del tumore al seno.

La campagna annuale organizzata da istituzioni benefiche nel mese di ottobre è volta a sensibilizzare la consapevolezza riguardo a questa malattia; e nella raccolta fondi per la ricerca, prevenzione e cura del tumore alla mammella.

La campagna mondiale è anche un'opportunità per ricordare a tutte noi donne di sottoporsi a regolari controlli ed esami di diagnosi precoce quali mammografia e ecografia, per sconfiggere sul tempo eventuali insorgenze.

In Italia, la campagna Nastro Rosa è organizzata dalla LILT, che da anni si dedica alla prevenzione del tumore al seno. La campagna non opera unicamente come raccolta fondi e nello svolgimento di varie attività benefiche, ma anche a sostegno attivo nell'offrire informazioni a donne affette da tumore al seno, alle sopravvissute e alle loro famiglie.

In occasione della 17esima edizione della campagna Nastro Rosa, molti blogger Italiani e stranieri della Penisola oggi si tingono di rosa. Grazie alle generose Barbara di Mamma Felice con Chiara di Ma Che Davvero e Carolina di Semplicemente Pepe Rosa–le tre menti dietro all'iniziativa del post collettivo–per averci dato modo di partecipare a questo evento internazionale di straordinaria importanza. Ringrazio inoltre Rosa di Bell'Avventura per avermi invitato a partecipare.

Il mio contributo per la campagna è una ricetta... tutta in rosa!

Risotto alle Fragole

2 cucchiai di cipolle tritate (io uso lo scalogno)
3 cucchiai di sedano, affettato a julienne
50 g burro
400 g riso Arborio o Carnaroli
250 ml buon vino frizzante secco, o prosecco
Brodo vegetale (ma anche quello di pollo va bene)
300 g fragole, private della corolla, e affettate sottilmente
4 cucchiai di Parmigiano grattugiato

Salta la cipolla e il sedano in 3/4 del burro fino a farli appassire. Togli dalla pentola e tieni da parte. Tosta il riso nel burro e cuoci a fuoco moderato, mescolando per 5 minuti. Aggiungi la cipolla e il sedano appassiti e riscalda. A questo punto versa il prosecco, mescolando fino a farlo evaporare del tutto. Un mestolo alla volta, aggiungi il brodo caldo, man mano che il risotto lo assorbe in cottura.

Il riso sarà cotto in circa 15 minuti: a questo punto aggiungi le fragole affettate.

Ultima la cottura mescolando dolcemente per un altro minuto appena, togli dalla fiamma, e incorpora il restante burro e il Parmigiano grattuggiato. Fai riposare coperto per un minuto e poi servi in porzioni individuali decorate con spicchi di fragola (tieni da parte le 4 più belle a forma di cuore) ed eventuale fogliolina di menta o basilico fresche.

In alto i calici di champagne rosé e brindate con me: ALLA NOSTRA SALUTE!


Oct 13, 2010

Chocolate ravioli recipe

Yes, chocolate.

While lazily shopping for staples in a new supermarket a few days ago, I came across a famous Italian brand of commercially sold fresh pasta–not the dried variety, nor the kind extruded through precious metal dies–but one that actually fulfills one of my biggest fantasies. Chocolate pasta.

I'm not talking about a vague flavoring, or a slight a beige hue, no. This is serious choco-mania material. Large percentage of fair trade cacao mixed into the dough, and a decadent chunky hazelnut chocolate filling.

The term ravioli just went up a notch.

chocolate ravioli

What follows may not be a crowd pleaser. But my name is Eleonora and I am a chocoholic. So bear with me on this one.

The manufacturer calls these "tortelli" given their exotic filling, even if in this particular case they're square-shaped and stuffed, like what I'm more comfortable calling 'ravioli.' For more on pasta shapes and types, please read my La pasta! post.

The box suggested the pasta be served as a quirky dessert, and offered a number of original cooking ideas. But I had to experiment with flavors, and take my chocofantasy all the way.

So I boiled the ravioli in salted water.

I prepared a basic dressing. What you normally do when employing star ingredients that need to shine, like white truffles, garden sage or a special stuffed pasta, like in this case.

This every day elemental dressing is salted butter and very good quality, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Fresh pasta needs very little cooking, the box said 2 minutes.

I drained the ravioli, saving a little starchy cooking water. I poured them into my bowl with 1/2 stick of butter and generous fistful of grated Parmigiano, and stirred gently to coat evenly. I then added a splash of cooking water for creaminess.

As a final touch, I dusted a minimal amount (about a tablespoon) of chocolate caviar, another sinful item I picked up some time ago and cannot seem to do without lately. I normally use it over gelato, fruit salad or tiramisu; but I've had days when it was perfect sprinkled over pizza bianca, or dropped liberally in my morning cappuccino and evening Irish Coffee.

Chocolate is so versatile, that it can very well be used in savory preparations. The soft smoothness of the chocolate elements, and the salty notes of the grated cheese and melted butter offered a very interesting flavor combination. The glass of full-bodied and voluptuous Amarone I drank with it also contributed.
sweet~savory chocolate ravioli for lunch

This post is is one of many submitted worldwide for Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust & Lipstick.

Head over to Beth's to learn more about ethnic (and unconventional) cuisine from around the world.

Oct 9, 2010

Pizza di Scarola rustic pie recipe

Originally a Christmas dish, this savory Neapolitan vegetable pie is an Italian mealtime classic. In the Napoli hometown, the stuffed pie crust has a hint of sweetness and needs yeast and lard. I use regular bread dough for a lighter outcome. It's a different way of eating greens, puts smiles on children's faces and gratifies your taste buds with a piquant filling surprise.

Image © giallozafferano.it

For the crust:
500 g (2 1/2 cups) flour
125 ml (1/2 cup) milk
60 g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
125 ml (1/2 cup) lukewarm water
12 g (1 tsp) active dry, or brewer's yeast
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar
40 g (2 tbps) extra virgin olive oil
1 egg yolk stirred with a little milk for brushing

For the filling:
1 large or 2 medium heads of escarole (broad-leaved endive) washed and chopped
A fistful of Gaeta olives (or small purple Kalamata olives) pitted
A pinch of salted capers, rinsed
2 garlic cloves, halved
1 spicy red peperoncino
1 oil-packed anchovy (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

To make the crust, first melt the yeast in a small vessel with the milk, lukewarm water, very little salt and a tsp of sugar.

Now place the flour in a large mixing bowl with the softened butter, olive oil and incorporate the yeasty blend. Mix well with a wooden spoon to obtain a moist ball, pouring the lukewarm water in slowly.

Turn the oily dough onto a clean surface, and knead briefly, just until it becomes smoother, about a minute. Cut the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap each piece in plastic, and let rest in a warm place, for about 2 hours. The dough pieces will double in volume.

Preheat oven at 180° C (350° F).

Boil the chopped escarole for 2 minutes in plenty of water. Drain and wring away excess water.

Meanwhile, lightly film a large pan with olive oil, and heat over medium-high. Brown the garlic and peperoncino to release their flavors, and discard when the garlic begins to brown. According to your taste you can decide to leave in the peperoncino. The original recipe calls for an added oil-preserved anchovy too, you're free to omit it but it does give the whole recipe a punch without ever noticing the actual anchovy flavor.

Sauté the parboiled escarole for 5 minutes in the flavored olive oil with the pitted olives, capers and a pinch of salt. Let it cool 10 minutes before the next step.

Roll the two dough disks or squares out; given the greasiness of the dough, no flour is needed, but just in case, you can line your baking pan with some parchment paper.

The larger dough piece should be bigger than your 9-inch pie shell. Drape the larger rolled dough over the lined pie shell leaving some overhang all around.

Fill with the cooked greens and cover with the second dough piece.

Trim away a little of the excess dough, crimp the edge all the way around to seal the pie, and cut 4 small slits in the top, or pierce the surface with the tines of a fork.

Brush the surface with some egg wash and bake 20-30 minutes (depending on oven vigor).

Let the pie rest on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before serving.

Cut generous slices and serve paired with the rest of your meal, generously washed down by big Aglianico wine. Otherwise you can enjoy it cold the next day, with a chilled beer.

Oct 2, 2010

Amatriciana recipe

After a section on the myriad types of pasta available in Italy, I just couldn't stop myself from posting the recipe for one of my favorite starchy dishes.

The famous Amatriciana sauce––made with guanciale, tomato and Pecorino––is commonly associated with Lazio and Rome, but is actually from the town of Amatrice, that, after the unification of Italy, was initially part of Abruzzo, and then annexed to the Lazio region only in 1927.

"Amatrice" is also an adjective meaning, 'expert lover woman.' You draw your own conclusions as you savor the assertive gusto of these killer bucatini.

200 g (1 cup) guanciale (or unsmoked pancetta), diced
400 g (14 oz) whole canned tomatoes, crushed
1 small white onion, finely chopped (yes, I make mine with onion – big debate will ensue among my Amatriciana-fundamentalist friends)
1 peperoncino (or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
1 glass of dry, white wine
3 fistfuls Pecorino Romano, grated
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
500 g (1.1 lb) bucatini type pasta

Render the guanciale in a pan, over low heat until golden and crisp.

Add the onion, and sprinkle the peperoncino flakes. When the onion is translucent, splash with the wine and boil to evaporate it. Add the tomatoes and cook uncovered for 10 minutes, and set the heat to low to keep the sauce warm while the pasta boils.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add some salt and plunge the bucatini (or the thickest spaghetti available, if you have trouble finding bucatini). Shortly before the pasta is ready, scoop up a little bit of starchy pasta cooking water.

I tend to go easy on the salt, given the flavorful punch lent by both the guanciale and Pecorino, but do adjust seasoning to your taste.

Drain the pasta while it's still quite al dente and pour it in the tomato sauce skillet, add the grated cheeses and a demitasse of pasta cooking water. Cook a few minutes more, mixing and rocking the skillet to coat the pasta evenly. Serve piping hot with more grated Pecorino if necessary.

Buon appetito!

Note: This recipe derives from a much older sauce called Gricia. Shepherds in isolated pastures used to make Gricia by gently sautéeing diced guanciale, and adding freshly boiled pasta, a healthy dusting of black pepper, and grated Pecorino Romano. This would result in a creamy grayish sauce, hence the recipes name, gricia, which is a Roman dialectal switch on the word "grigia" (gray).

Image credits Andrea Di Lorenzo