Dec 31, 2010

Addio, 2010!

Farewell old 2010, I've had enough of you. So I'm glad to see you go.
You've been nothing but trouble and disappointment. Your 365 days gave us more wars and horrible renewed conflict in many countries, the earthquake in Haiti, the BP oil spill, floods in Pakistan, Europe's near-simultaneous debt crises, terrorist and drug traffic attacks, the eruption of Iceland's Eyafjallajokull volcano, the Polish air tragedy, WikiLeaks, and the departing of many dear friends. This is your legacy.

I maintained my resolutions, but you haven't. You promised great things, and none happened.

The only good obtained has been through hard work, sacrifice, stubborn optimism and pondered choices. All of which reside uniquely within ourselves. We've matured out of the difficulties that 2010 presented. On a personal level, the hardships of the past year allowed me to find my voice, and through its expression, I have grown. I don’t feel belittled, dear 2010, instead I feel stronger and more confident. So for that I thank your obstacles and bad turns, because through many of them I have been elevated, empowered and emancipated.

Tonight I will welcome 2011 with a smile, red knickers and lots of champagne. I will eat lentils (carriers of money) and 3 white grapes at midnight for good luck. I will toast to my family, the rock upon which all my steadiness stands. I will thank God for his love and constant attendance to my prayers. 

I will bid farewell to Tessa, Renee, Mario, Corso, Piero, Aldo, Pietro, Suso, Tiberio, Claude, Mario, Arthur, Tony, Sandra & Raimondo, Angelo, Furio, Tom, Lynn, Jill, Dino, Dennis and Blake and all the many others that left us during 2010. And I will shoot fireworks, hoping they might see them from heaven.

Addio, 2010...
Benvenuto 2011 !

Dec 17, 2010

Salsa verde (and salsa rossa) recipe

Elemental foods can greatly benefit from a condiment. Just think how a roasted shank of lamb can find an excellent partner in a gentle complementary pomegranate sauce, or how piquant vinaigrette does justice to fresh garden greens, or even how much grilled zucchini and pumpkin love to bask in the simplicity of a bath of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

There are also dishes that cannot be called complete without their supportive sauces and condiments, among these bollito misto and Fondue Bourguignonne immediately come to mind. The different flavors that pair with each morsel of tender cooked meat, make each bite essentially a different dish.

Rich, flavorful bollito misto is a traditional Northern Italian dish, particular of the Po River Valley. The mixed boiled meat feast is a regular winter evening offering at (mostly Northern) restaurants, where it’s wheeled out on a warmed cart and carved at the table.

Traditionally, bollito misto is made of seven cuts of meat, seven vegetable side dishes and seven sauces. Families make it on weekends to celebrate special occasions. In my home, it's a Christmas Day lunch staple.

Today I'm sharing my Nonna Titta's two traditional Piemontese meat seasoning condiments, Salsa Verde and Salsa Rossa: the keystone elements of the complex bollito misto ceremony. 

While your large chunks of meat cook in seasoned broth until tender enough to be eaten with a fork, you can assemble the following:

Salsa verde
This spectacular sauce also goes by the name bagnét vert, or little green bath. 

1 hard boiled egg yolk
1/4 pound of parsley
1 garlic clove
2 salted anchovies
2 slices of stale bread, crusts removed
2 small mild pickles (without dill would be better)
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed
A little less than 1 cup of red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Soak the bread in the vinegar. Bone and wash the anchovies. Mince them along with the parsley, garlic, egg yolk, and the pickles. Gently wring the bread to drain it, and add it to the mixture; continue mincing with a mezzaluna for a couple more minutes, then transfer the blend to a bowl.

Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir in the olive oil, working the mixture well to obtain a fairly fluid, emerald green sauce.

Tip: Best if prepared one day prior to serving.

Bagnét ros
Keystone number two. Jazz up your bollito misto by adding this red sauce to boiled beef, chicken, veal, cotechino, tongue and testina (calf's head).

1 kg (2.2 lbs) ripe tomatoes
400 g (2 cups) onions
2 medium carrots
1 celery rib
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Coarsely chop the tomatoes, onions, carrots and celery, and put them all in a pot with half the oil. Bring the vegetables to a boil, reduce the heat to a minimum, and stir in the sugar.

Simmer uncovered for about an hour.

Purée the vegetables through a foodmill into a bowl, stir in the remaining oil, and add salt to taste.

Buon Appetito!

Dec 10, 2010

Timballo di capellini recipe

timballo di capellini - baked pasta flan recipe

This is a very showy dish. Baked pasta always looks elaborate, when in fact it's not.

I often make this angel hair timballo for important multi-course dinners and every time it's a success, always guaranteeing a bella figura.

When serving yours, don't let the compliments and moans of pleasure lure you into revealing it's made with few simple (and affordable) ingredients.

Essential equipment needed for this recipe:
1-quart capacity ring mold
Double boiler (or 2 stacked pots) for baking en bain marie

150 g (3/4 cups) capellini d'angelo (angel hair pasta)
1 lt (1 quart) whole milk
1 egg + 1 yolk
50 g (1/4 cup) Parmigiano, finely grated
50 g (1/4 cup) butter, softened
More butter and breadcrumbs to coat the mold

Preheat the oven at 180° C (350° F).

Boil the pasta in the milk until all the liquid is absorbed (al dente rules don't apply here). Set aside to cool.

Once the pasta is lukewarm, stir in the egg and additional yolk, butter, and Parmigiano. Adjust seasoning, and pour in a greased mold, coated with breadcrumbs.

Bake en bain-marie (double boiler, the bottom pot filled with water) in the oven for 35-40 minutes until a golden crust forms on top.

Remove from the oven and allow the flan to cool completely, then flip it onto a platter and serve garnished with either a thick ragù, stewed peas, or a porcini and tomato sauce, overflowing from the hollow middle.

Hardly ever a let-down.
timballo di capellini - baked pasta flan recipe
Image ©

Dec 5, 2010

Biscotti book review

Biscotti is a book on how a cookie can save your life. Baked and written by Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti
Biscotti book cover

I had never been to the American Academy in Rome. I missed the Alice Waters visit in spring and never followed up on the insisting advice of friends, fellows and bloggers to sit down at the AAR table and and enjoy the fruits of its collaborative dining program. I'd been putting off savoring the delightful fares prepared by Executive Chef Mona Talbott and her busy staff of assistants, interns and supporters of the Rome Sustainable Food Project for too long.

So yesterday I broke the spell. I walked through the heavy gates of the Academy's monumental main entrance, and timidly followed my steps as they echoed in the stunning courtyard lined with marble busts and bas reliefs.

Memories of teenhood naturally occupied my mind as I noticed the house next door. A beautiful two-storey townhouse nestled in a corner of the Janiculum Hill, where my mates Claudia and Joana once lived with their parents Celeste Maia and Robert during their stay in Rome. Growing up here, and living in apartment buildings, it's rare to experience a "house" in the middle of the city. Sloped roof, wooden floors, personal handrail on the stairs, children's height measurements etched in a door frame, back door, garden... a house. I loved that house. Most of all I loved the olfactory impact it had on me each time I first walked in: the aromas of Maia's Mozambique/Portuguese fusion cuisine mixed with the adorable smell of oil paint oozing from small metal tubes and unfinished canvases in her studio.

Peeking through the hedge as I neared the Academy's main building, I took a moment to observe the house. Not so big as I remembered it (funny how size and scale invert as you grow up). It's undergone a little renovating, gotten a fresh hand of paint and a lazy gardener has let the surrounding lush forest slack a bit. But it still exercises its fascinating charm on me. I continue straight ahead.

End of digression.

Light drizzle of rain. Warm lighting invades the cold winter from the cozy salone to the right of the main staircase. I catch a glimpse of Mona Talbott tending last minute tweaks to the buffet table laden with trays of spiced and nutty cookies, turning a perfect salver of minuscule fig-newtons clockwise by 2 degrees, brushing a crumb from the white linen tablecloth...

Downstairs, the panel is ready. The room is packed, interns proudly occupy the front rows. Kids high on sugar and beauty, giggle behind door jambs. The room falls silent. Mona Talbott introduces the book BISCOTTI, written and baked a quattro mani–four hands for a magic duo. Fifty recipes. Fifty love letters to the palate. Each memorable little cookie infused with the history and conviviality of la cucina romana, rich Sicilian confectionery art, Chez Panisse, American childhoods, tall glasses of milk, and solid international friendships. All coconut kisses, pistachio morsels and sesame Reginas aside, the best part of the afternoon tea and book presentation, is meeting Mona's co-author, Mirella. A shy and graceful donna del sud.

Sicilian-born Mirella Misenti worked in the Academy's kitchen as dishwasher. As told beautifully in Mona's introduction of BISCOTTI, Mirella was never a professional cook. But like many of us Italians, grew up cooking and baking alongside her mother, nonna, aunts, etc. Possessing the passion, pride, and perfectionism necessary to qualify as pastry chef, she was "promoted" in the field by Mona. Happily wearing a different apron, Mirella began making her native island's biscotti, and not just for fun, or for staff snacks. Mona describes Mirella's Sicilian pastry knowledge and cookie contributions as elegant and inspired. They took their rightful place in the American Academy's daily production.

Biscotti book presentation

As I drive back home, the rain has subsided. I smile at the pleasant irony of having bumped into many friends, made new ones and worked out extraordinary coincidental acquaintances and schoolmates from my academic past in a setting like the Rome American Academy.
Signed copy of the book and stash of biscotti tucked in my handbag, I linger on Mona's kind words, "Without Mirella there would be no Rome Sustainable Food Project Biscotti book––she was the key ingredient."

That's why I believe this is not only a committed and socially involved recipe compendium. It's a book about friendship, love, and how a cookie can indeed save your life.

Image © Annie Schlechter

Dec 3, 2010

Pasta alle noci recipe

A couple of weeks ago I posted a recipe for a Ligurian specialty, focaccia stuffed with cheese, a sinfully tasty delight. Today I want to tell you about another typical recipe from that blessed region: salsa alle noci.

Ligurians dress their pansotti (herb-stuffed ravioli) with this creamy walnut sauce. It is however also excellent daubed over spaghetti, ribbed penne, mafalde or linguine (or any other pasta type that "grabs" the condiment).

Traditionally salsa di noci was called tocco de nux and prepared with walnuts harvested during the autumn months. To make your own nutty concoction, assemble:

150 g (3/4 cups) husked walnut meats (you can blanch them to make peeling easier)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pinch of dried marjoram
100 g (1/2 cup) fresh ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper

Using a mortar and pestle (or thrown in a blender), reduce the walnuts, garlic, marjoram and a pinch of salt to a fine powder, diluting with a thread of olive oil. Work in the ricotta with a fork, and blend well.

Use 2-3 tablespoons of the obtained sauce to dress your pasta. Always remember to save a small amount of starchy pasta cooking water for a creamier effect.

The completed dish can be dusted with finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano, a spin of the pepper mill, and garnished with a fistful of coarsley ground walnut meats. Serve lava-like hot in contrast with the chilled bottle of stand-by white wine...

Note: For those who have trouble with garlic, in this dish, it can be substituted with less pungent chives.