Dec 17, 2011

Canederli | Knödel ~ South Tyrol matzah balls


Imagine lying on a flowery Alpine meadow while inhaling the resinous scent of mountain pine, and enjoying the salubrious effect of a chalice of local wine. This is a typical relaxation treatment in one of many wellness centers scattered in the mystical Alto Adige territory, and where for an entire summer week I took some time off to embrace the power of the mountains and nature.

In seven days of pure bliss my tense body was wrapped in damp hay, massaged from head to toe with balsamic ointments, emulsions made from freshly pressed apple juice and wrapped in cotton sheets soaked in salt and apple vinegar. An entire week of bathing in mountain pine waters and lazy soaking in tubs of whey sourced from the farmstead just around the corner. The renovation phase was finally topped with a "Vinotherapy" wine bath. This local – and now very popular – pamper supreme begins with an initial body scrub using crushed grape skins, followed by a brief nap wrapped in a crisp linen sheet, followed by a hot bath, a glass of red wine and a massage with grape-seed oil. Not to mention the food that comes with it all.

I'm a lover of all soups, whatever the season, and in the seven days of spa heaven, I OD'd on Knödel, or Canederli. These scrumptious dumplings made with leftover bread, are tremendously similar to Jewish matzah balls, likewise cooked and served in stock, and consumed preferably in front of a blazing fireplace.

200 gr (1 cup) stale bread
1 egg
20 gr (2 tbsp) butter
80 gr (5 tbsp) speck, diced (Optional)
1 small white onion
1 tbsp chives
50 gr (1/4 cup) unbleached flour
100 ml (3 fl oz) boiling hot milk
1 sprig fresh marjoram
1 pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Prepare good meat stock, important for best results. No bouillon cube this time, sorry.
Dice the bread and soak it in the boiling hot milk, allowing the crumb to absorb milk for 2 hours. It should bloat but still remain sufficiently pliable, not completely melt.

Finely chop the speck (if you're using it), onion and cut the chives and marjoram.
Wilt the onion in some butter, simmering it gently for a few minutes. Let it cool.

Mash the pulpy bread with the tines of a fork or in a food mill. Add the onions, flour, the chopped speck, part of the chives and marjoram, and the egg. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and knead well with your wet hands, shaping the mixture into several dumplings the size of golf balls, and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the skimmed meat stock with the remaining chives and marjoram. Toss in the canederli and cook for 6-7 minutes. Serve 4-5 balls in each individual deep soup bowl, swimming in the steaming clear broth.
Pair with a stuctured red.

At the above-mentioned spa in Val di Non where I was pampered for that divine week of nourishing treatments, the chef (who happened to be the chief masseuse’s husband) made his knödel as one single fist-sized orb instead of the usual several per bowl.


Dec 14, 2011

Seadas - Sardinian fritters


Seadas, or Sebadas, are traditional cheese filled fritters particular to the island of Sardinia.
They are the region's most famous dessert, but originally seadas were enjoyed as a main course, especially by shepherds.

The recipe for these remarkably original cheese fritter calls for a final drizzle of bittersweet corbezzolo honey. Corbezzolo is Italian for strawberry tree, an evergreen Mediterranean shrub whose flower nectar lends the signature bittersweet flavor to this specific honey.

Corbezzolo ~ Strawberry Tree
The pairing of these salty, crunchy, sweet and melty elements provides very interesting flavor and texture combinations.
Here's the recipe for sensational seadas:

200 gr (1 cup) semolina flour
500 gr (1.1 lb) all purpose flour
500 gr (1.1 lbs) Fiore Sardo or fresh Pecorino (not too aged)
Zest from 2 large organic lemons
250 ml (1 cup) water, warmed
3 tbsp white wine
50 gr (1/4 cup) butter, softened (ideally rendered lard)
2 tsp salt
1 egg white
Vegetable oil for frying
Organic corbezzolo honey
 
Dissolve the salt in the warm water, and in a large bowl, add it to semolina, flour, wine, butter (or lard, if you're using it) and knead well. Final result should be a soft and springy ball of satiny dough. Let it rest covered with a kitchen towel while you prepare the filling.

Blend the grated cheese with the lemon zest. This ingredient is what gives this traditional dish its siganture aroma.

Roll the dough flat with a rolling pin, or with a pasta machine, about 1/8-inch thin. Using a saucer or a cookie cutter, obtain 3-inch discs. Depending on how thin you manage to roll the dough, I'd say you'll come up with about 10-15 discs.

Divvy up 3 tablespoons of the cheese and lemon mixture onto half of your discs.

Wet the outer rim of each prepared disc with some egg white and lay the remaining discs to cover. Crimp down the edges with the tines of a fork or with a crinkled pastry wheel.

Fill a large cast iron skillet with vegetable oil for frying, and heat. Fry 2 seadas at a time until slightly golden. To make the floating pastry pocket puff up, carefully ladle some of the boiling oil on it.
When the first bubbles appear on the surface of the fried dough, remove with a slotted spoon and rest on paper towel to blot.

Warm the corbezzolo honey (I take the metal cap off and nuke the jar in the microwave for 30 seconds), drizzle on the seadas, and serve at once.


Buon appetito.

Dec 12, 2011

Winter carb fest

Chilly weather is the Italian invitation for starch-dependent menus. Though they're consumed with abandon year-round, winter gives carbs an even bigger welcome mat.
Some pasta dishes are particularly well suited to the colder months, most not necessarily dependent on seasonal ingredients. They include hearty grain and vegetable soups, richly dressed ragùs, and the best of all gourmet comfort foods, risotto.

Here are three of my favorite stalwart winter primi piatti, with a little bit of history and recipes.
Continue reading ➔

Dec 3, 2011

Carpaccio - Harry's Bar, Venice

Carpaccio was for a long time the most popular dish served at Harry’s Bar in Venice. It is named after Vittore Carpaccio, the Venetian Renaissance painter known for his use of brilliant reds and whites in the minute detail of his infinite perspective landscapes.

Giuseppe Cipriani, the Bar's historic owner, invented and named the dish in reference to the Venetian painter, because the colors of the dish reminded him of his paintings. It was 1950, the year of the great Carpaccio exhibition in Venice.


The Harry's Bar Carpaccio dish was inspired by capricious Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo, a local regular at Harry's Bar. Her doctor had put her on a strict diet recommending she eat only raw meat.
The original Harry's Bar delicacy is still made by covering a plate with the thinnest possible slices of raw beef and garnishing them with a secret dressing that is drizzled over the beef in a crosshatch, Kandisnsky-style pattern. It is proverbially called the "universal sauce."


I was raised on a strict Harry's Bar diet of Carpaccio and Risotto Primavera, myself. Those were the days when going to Venice for the weekend was a given, and money wasn't an issue. The source of our family's financial ease was the talented work and infinite generosity of my grandfather Vittorio De Sica.


My fondest memories of him are not glamourous, nor show business-related, they are personal. The vivid images and toasted coffee aroma of our Sunday afternoons spent together still linger in my mind when I think of him. Nonno would nap after having lunch with us, wrapped in a brown cashmere plaid throw, lying on the day bed in what later became my bedroom. I'd be the one to wake him, softly tiptoeing in the dimly lit room, carrying a tray with a small demitasse of espresso, which he'd sip quietly.

The bottom of the cup was my prize, a tiny ring of coffee-tinted sugar that had not quite melted. I'd draw the drapes open and we'd play for a half hour, during which I would frequently show him my latest dance coreographies. My clumsy pirouettes, that would usually land me on my rear end, would obviously make him chuckle, but he never showed it, giving my performance the professional judgement of an unbiased director. Nonno would often tell me where to improve or applaud the less disastrous ones. Then he'd leave, cloaked in his grey flannel suit, elegant and smelling of blue Pantène hair cologne and weathered leather, like his gloves. A wink and a smile on the doorstep and he was gone, 'til the following week.

My grandfather's successful career ended too soon. Cinema lost one of its greatest modern film making artists in 1974 to lung cancer, and my playful Sunday afternoons with Nonno were no more.

with mom and Nonna Titta on the Grand Canal

I don't care if I don't go to Venice for the weekend any more. I've never been a fool for fancy clothes or elegant hotels. I love to travel and eat, and I still do that, on a shoestring. And since I could charm my way through a restaurant kitchen from age five, I managed to snatch the secret Carpaccio recipe. For free.

1.3 kg (3 lb) beef sirloin, whole
3/4 cup homemade mayonnaise
1–2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, adjust quantity to taste
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2–3 tbsp whole milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

First of all, make the carpaccio "universal sauce," which is the focal point of this dish. The above-mentioned quantities yield about 250 ml (1 cup). Any leftover can last about 3 days, stored chilled in a closed container.

Put the mayonnaise in a bowl and add the Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice, and blend with a whisk.

Add enough milk to thin the sauce, so it just barely coats the back of a dry wooden spoon. Taste and adjust seasoning, with more Worcestershire sauce and/or lemon juice if necessary.

OK, now the tricky part.
According to tradition, the best carpaccio is made with beef sirloin, and the flavorful meat must never be frozen before slicing. Of course it's easier to slice barely thawed beef, but we're not taking any shortcuts today.

Carpaccio can also be made with beef tenderloin filet, which has a milder flavor than sirloin and is much easier to handle. Ask the butcher to trim the meat for you. You may even be able to convince him to slice it, but do so only if you plan to serve your carpaccio an hour or 2 later, tops.

If you decide to slice the meat yourself, please be careful, I nearly lost a fingertip once.
Trim every bit of fat, gristle, sinew from the sirloin, leaving a small cylinder of tender, lean meat.

Chill the meat for 30 minutes, then using a long-bladed razor-sharp knife, slice the meat paper-thin and arrange the slices on individual salad plates, covering the surface completely. Makes about six servings. Some folks like to sprinkle some shaved Parmigiano at this point. I don't, preferring to maintain the flavors and simplicity intact.

Drizzle the universal sauce decoratively over the meat, and serve immediately.


I quite like this with a properly stored Valpolicella: light in body, low in tannin, and redolent of tart red cherries.

Buon appetito.

Dec 1, 2011

Mayonnaise | Maionese

Image © ecosalon.com
Homemade mayo rocks. Better tasting and definitely wholesome compared to the crap commercially sold in a jar or worse, in a tube.

The difficult part in making it at home is not having it separate while you add the olive oil as it thickens. In Italian we say our mayonnaise is impazzita, "gone crazy" when that happens. 

To avoid this, some experts suggest to make it alone, without exterior noises, or disturbances. Some even push it as far as saying not to make it during your menstrual cycle. 

Nonsense, I make it all the time, with kids playing soccer in the living room, or with heavy metal blaring in the background. Here's how I prepare it, foolproof and craziness-free.

1 egg yolk
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 pinches dry mustard
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
150 ml (3⁄4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon

olivewood thingy
Put the egg yolk, vinegar, mustard, and a little salt and pepper in a medium mixing bowl and whisk until foamy and thoroughly blended. I use one of these ➸   
but a silicone whisk works well too

Tricky part.
Add 50 ml (1⁄4 cup) of the olive oil, a few drops at a time, whisking constantly. 
Gradually add the rest of the oil in a thin, steady stream, continuing to whisk as the mayonnaise thickens. 
Add 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice, and adjust seasonings if necessary. But the less you mess with mayo, the better.

Nov 27, 2011

Remembering Tessa

Image © An Aerial Armadillo
Almost a year ago I lost a good friend. I had actually never met her in person, but she was among the closest, most generous and understanding brave women I have ever known. I had the joy of knowing Tessa Edwards thanks to blogging, and I will forever be thankful for that.

I'm honoring her sweet memory by sharing again one of her lovely recipes, and paying it forward to the community of adventurous and sophisticated women travelers that constitute The Travel Belles, a group I am very proud to be a part of.

The recipe is her own hometown's bobotie, a curried ground meat and egg custard dish, typical of the Cape Malay.
Continue Reading ➔

Nov 18, 2011

Tasting Tajarin

It felt like being in my Nonna's birthplace, the room smelled like wine, cheese and truffles. My Piedmontese roots came alive last night when I was invited at a lovely tasting event. Thanks to Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi for hosting, and Katie Parla for pulling the evening together, I had the chance to taste tajarin (a traditional Piedmont egg and flour long-strand pasta) in 7 ways, down divine French white wines, and even taste Barolo and Barbaresco, in the company of friends.

Mauro Musso has a terrific story, one that starts with him pulling off his supermarket employee uniform, and following the whim to create Casa dei Tajarin, an artisan pasta workshop he runs out of the ground floor of his parents' home in Alba.

Images © Katie Parla

His tajarin are made with rare flours from ancient autoctonous grains and cereals, only the best in biodynamic and GMO-free staples sourced from Mulino Marino, Italy's premier heritage grain supplier, and organic eggs. Mauro spoke briefly before the carb-fest that followed, and passionately told us how his main focus was to provide a healthy, all-natural version of the traditional pasta of Piedmont's Langhe region, with digestibility taking first place, even before flavor. But I can assure you that the taste of his tajarin is exceptional. The dressings were very mild and subtly brought out the different flavors of the flours used in each different tajarin kind we tasted.

Here's the menu:


Tajarin made with einkorn flour, dressed with Taggiasca olive oil and cracked black pepper.
No wine was paired with this dish in order to avoid interference with the flavor of the "Enkir" pasta.



Soft wheat tajarin called 'Gentil Bianco' dressed with Beppe's Alpine raw milk butter, and white Alba truffles. We drank Champagne Brut Chauvet Carte Blanche with this one.



Soft wheat tajarin called 'Rosso delle Langhe,' dressed in a mild stockfish sauce. The 2009 southern Burgundy Chardonnay Domaine des Fossiles Brinonnais was a pleasant first for me.



White rye eggless rolled pasta salad, with toasted nuts, and three varieties of cubed cheese (goat's–, sheep's– and cow's milk). We paired these to a 2007 German Weingut Tesch "Unplugged" Riesling.



More Einkorn flour tajarin tossed with mixed vegetables and thyme. The wine was a 2004 Friulano "Galea" by I Clivi di Corno di Rosazzo.

Next up was "Sapori Antichi" tajarin, a blend of Einkorn, spelt, kamut, and rye dressed in a rabbit ragù. I gobbled it up so fast, I forgot to take a picture. With the meat sauce, we switched to a 2004 Barbaresco "Montestefano" of Cantina Baldo Rivella.

The triple "Khorasan" flour tajarin with a 3-meat ragù was the last sample, and by this time I was tipsy, so I only had a sip of Barolo Cantina Giulio Viglione (2004).

The platter of mixed cheeses that followed, had a smear of organic fig jam, pomegranate kernels and walnut meats. Oh, and a slice of fresh pear. The Robiola, Torretta di Capra and the Toma were my favorites.

At midnight my babysitter started freaking out, so I sadly had to skip dessert, which was the typical Piedmontese Panna Cotta. I'm sorry I couldn't stay and chat with the other participants sitting in the other rooms, and mostly that I couldn't say good-bye to Mauro, the tajarin master.
It was great to learn about his small pasta operation, and it was a treat to share the meal and wine with such a wonderful group of friends, all with one thing in common: love for good food.

Flash cut to today at noon. I'm meeting a fellow blogger/foodie friend visiting from out of town at Bonci's Pizzarium, and guess who was delivering three crates of assorted tajarin to be sold at the famed pizza shrine?
Needles to say I managed to say good-bye this time.

Nov 14, 2011

I made the papers!

There was a lovely article about my food blogging in the Rome issue of Corriere della Sera this weekend. It talked a bit about my childhood, my family, how I came to blogging, and how my career has evolved out of film and into food writing. It was a very well written article, and condensed the friendly, hour-long chat I had with columnist Maria Egizia Fiaschetti, who penned the story.

HERE is an online version, without photos (thank you Alex!)
Definitely going into my book proposal package to publishers!


Nov 11, 2011

Bigné


When I say the word, I can actually smell the sugary aroma of the three squared beignets in my plate at Café Du Monde. I don't think I have ever tasted anything quite like it.

Italian bigné are different. Some are fried, as in the case of the Zeppole di San Giuseppe fritters, but normally bigné are light choux pastry puffed balls that are baked in the oven. These cream puffs are also the base for Profiterole, filled with whipped cream or gelato, and drizzled with lavish amounts of melted dark chocolate.

Bigné were introduced in France by Caterina de' Medici, wife of Henry II of France, who brought with her from Tuscany lots of recipes, including choux pastry. Leave it to history that the name traveled from Florence all the way to French New Orleans...

I fill my bigné by slicing off the top, filling with a spoon, and then reassembling. It can obviously be done by injecting with a pastry bag and a narrow piping tip, but that always turns out a mess for me.

Today I'm sharing the recipe for a savory hors d'oeuvre version, loaded with a creamy 3-cheese filling, that yields about 24 assembled bigné

Ingredients for the choux pastry:
250 ml (1 cup) water
150 gr (1 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
75 gr (1/3+ cup) butter
4 eggs

Ingredients for the filling:
100 gr (3/4 cup) flour, sifted
100 gr (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
500 ml (2 cups) whole milk, boiling
100 gr (1/2 cup) Fontina cheese, diced
100 gr (1/2 cup) Pecorino Romano, grated
200 gr (1 cup) Parmigiano, grated

Start by making your bèchamel, which is the base of the filling.
Melt the butter in a stainless steel pan over low heat. Gradually sprinkle in the flour, and stir well with a wooden spoon until smooth. Cook gently until the mixture becomes a light golden color. Add the boiling hot milk gradually, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Cook for another 15 minutes (at least) while stirring constantly.

When the bèchamel becomes rich and creamy in consistency – not too thick and not to runny, rather forming ribbons on the surface as it dribbles off the wooden spoon – remove from the heat, and dilute with a little more milk. Don't pour it in all at once, rather use it to blend the cheeses as you add them, and they melt and bubble.
Fold in the pecorino and parmigiano first, leaving the fontina last.
When all the cheeses are blended and well incorporated, let the mixture stand to cool while you make the choux pastry.
Pour yourself a drink, by now you've totally earned it.

Preheat oven at 180° C (350° F).
Heat the water with a pinch of salt. When it begins to tremble, right before reaching boiling point, add the butter and let it melt. Sift in the flour, remove the pot from the stove, and stir constantly until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball (this will take about 5 minutes, have faith: it will happen). Let it stand to cool briefly.
Once the dough is lukewarm, start adding one egg at a time and mix with a wooden spoon until it reaches a smooth, paste-like thickness. I cheat and give it one last whir with a food mixer.

Spoon the bigné dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Again this can be done with a pastry bag, I use two spoons...
Bake the bigné for about 15 minutes, until golden and well-puffed, time greatly depending on oven force. The trick to perfect puffing bigné is to keep the temperature quite low and steady. Ventilated ovens are the best. Mine isn't...

Once your bigné have completely cooled down, using a sharp serrated blade, slice the bigné open as you would a bun, and slather 1 tablespoon (or more) of the creamy cheese filling in each, reassembling as you go along. Any leftover filling can be employed as dip for crudité, or spread on crostini, bruschetta, etc.

Serve at room temperature, or slightly warmed (20 seconds in the microwave) and pour the red wine with profuse abandon.


Another easy filling (which doesn't need cooking) is a blend of equal parts cream cheese and Gorgonzola. Dreamy.

Go ahead, take one more...

Nov 7, 2011

Risi e Bisi ~ Venetian bliss

We're talking gourmet comfort food. This is a rich Venetian springtime soup made with the slow cooked technique needed for making risotto, and freshly harvested tender baby peas. I learned how to make Risi e Bisi during one crazy edition of Regata Storica, a few years back. Venezia's historic scull race aboard vintage gondolas, mascarete, sandali and other beautifully ornate antique boats, annually falls on the first Sunday in September, usually messing up Film Festival boat traffic, and leaving stars and publicists stranded on the Lido peer, hopelessly waiting for their Riva motorboat taxi.


The entire city of Venice and inhabitants of the six sestieri wards infact forget all divas and snob cinema flair, participating instead in loud hollering cheers, drinking and unplanned diving in canals from parked boats, madly rooting for their colorful team of upright rowers.
Here’s the Risi e Bisi basics, as handed down by Angelo, the gondolier who kissed me:

1 onion
50gr (1/4 cup) pancetta, finely minced
400gr (2 cups/14 oz) Arborio or Vialone Nano rice
70gr (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
70gr (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
1.5kg (3.3 lbs) fresh baby peas, unshelled Note: don’t discard the shells!
Freshly grated Parmigiano

Begin making a green pea broth by cooking the saved shells of the peas in lightly salted water and then saving the strained liquid. For a richer outcome, Angelo suggests to boil the pea shells in chicken broth instead of water.

Finely slice the onion and sauté it in oil and butter with the pancetta in a large pot.
When the onion tans, add 1 handful of rice + 1, per each person, and cook, stirring constantly. Do this until the rice is translucent (about 5 minutes).
Here comes the fun part: add the green pea broth one ladle at a time, stirring constantly. When you see the rice has given off some starch and looks half done, add the peas.
When the rice is al dente, remove the pot from the stove, stir in una noce di burro (a gob of butter the size of a walnut) and a few tablespoons of grated Parmigiano. The recipe calls for flecks of flatleaf parsley, but if you've been reading this blog long enough, you'll know I'm not super keen on the herb.

In this recipe the rice should be cooked all'onda (behaving like a wave), in other words creamy and moist, rather than pudding-like firm, like regular risotto. You eat it with a spoon rather than a fork...

Image © Rachel Roddy

Oct 31, 2011

Burger obsession

The dream starts with me ordering an Original at Louis' Lunch in New Haven.

It's 1 a.m. and the place is still bopping. The smell of sizzling meat wafts from the grills. As I sink my teeth in the warmth of the bun and meet the juicy Black Angus ground sirloin, short rib, and brisket combo with its flavor-lending 20 percent fat, slow motion droplets of rare beef drippings fall with a silent splash on the plate before me.

I wake with a gasp. Dream over.
Sad to say, I am in Rome, where no burger tastes as ambrosial.  Continue reading ➔

Oct 27, 2011

Mozzarella fritta | Fried Mozzarella

Image © PiccanteDolce
Fried food.
I can't get enough of it.
Rome is big on fried things, and my favorite diet sin is ordering fritto misto all'italiana and doing serious damage to my arteries.
I've posted recipes of many of the elements that compose this fabulous deep-fried dish: Mozzarella in Carrozza, Arancini, Panelle, Zucchini blossoms, Olive Ascolane, fried sage leaves and even fried custard.
But there's one component of fritto misto all'italiana that I love above all else, and that's fried mozzarella. A crisp, cunchy golden crust that conceals a hot, melty and milky filling. Just writing about it makes my mouth water.

When I get the craving for some mozzarella fritta there are two things I can do: hop down to the trusted pizzeria next door and get two orders to go; or fry some myself. Here's how I do it.

2 bocconcini of mozzarella di bufala (bocconcini are the 3-inch balls)
2 eggs, beaten
Flour for dredging
Breadcrumbs mixed with a small pinch of polenta (cornmeal)
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt

Beat the eggs in a bowl, and heat oil in a large frying pan. If you are the lucky owner of an electric fryer, I envy you.
Cube the mozzarella and dredge in flour. Then dunk in the egg wash, coat well with breadcrumbs, and fry until golden.
Drain on paper towel, dust with a pinch of salt, and serve immediately.

Delizioso!

Oct 23, 2011

Picchiapò

Image © Gina Tringali
I recently had the pleasure of meeting with work buddies Gina and Brette over a hearty plate of this fabulous stew during what was supposed to be a serious business meeting. We roared with laughter, downed a mezzo litro of the house wine, burned our lips with the fiery red peperoncino flavoring the sauteed cicoria ripassata, and sopped our plates clean with warm chunks of pizza bianca.
Of course we were planning future gastronomy tours and comparing past culinary travel experiences, so food was the recognized topic at the center of our conversation.

Picchiapò has a funny name, it could easily translate to "beat just a little" but I'm guessing the etymology lies elsewhere. This is a typical Roman cucina povera dish, and one that naturally involves recycling of leftovers, namely bollito. Each family makes their own, so there is no official recipe. This is the one I've always known, shared by true trasteverini Romans.
If you remember seeing the 1974 Ettore Scola masterpiece C'eravamo tanto amati, friends Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi and Stefano Satta Flores eat picchiapò at a trattoria.

After boiling beef muscle with bone for 3 hours with celery, carrots, onions studded with cloves and whatever else you add in your bollito to make good meat stock; and then letting it rest overnight, you can proceed to making your own personal variation of picchiapò. Here's mine.

500 gr (1.1 lbs) leftover boiled beef or veal, possibly not too lean - roughly chopped
2-3 yellow or red onions, finely chopped
400 gr (2 cups) canned tomatoes, crushed
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 peperoncino chili pepper
1 bay leaf
Extra virgin olive oil
2 glasses of dry, white wine
Salt to taste

Wilt the onions with 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide saucepan. Pour in the wine and let it evaporate while the onions turn a nice golden color.
Add the tomatoes and spices/herbs, and let cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sauce should reduce somewhat.
Fold in the leftover chopped meat and let it simmer gently for another 7-10 minutes.
Serve hot alongside mashed potatoes, or sauteed seasonal greens.
Buonissimo.




Oct 17, 2011

Carne Cruda all'Albese | Veal Tartare

Image © cookalmostanything

When I pronounce the word veal, I see my US and UK friends' and clients' faces twitch just a bit. Even the hardened carnivores find it sometimes hard to stomach.

Foreigners associate veal with the horrid, inhumane treatment and cruelty perpetrated on young male calves. While in Italy, veal is a very common staple meat product, almost more so than beef.

This typical fall/winter Piemontese recipe, which comes specifically from Alba – land of prized red wine and exquisite white truffles – is designed to be made with veal. If you absolutely cannot stand the idea of veal, you can make this very easy and simple tartare with beef.









400 g (14 oz) veal breast or beef tenderloin (have the butcher carve the meat wafer thin)
1 garlic clove, peeled
The juice of 1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & black pepper
White truffle (optional), shaved

Finely chop the meat with a very sharp knife.
Season with with salt and cracked black pepper.
Dress with a thread of olive oil, and some freshly squeezed lemon juice
Using the tines of a fork, pierce the clove of garlic and use that to toss the seasoned meat.
If you're lucky enough to have some white truffle standing by, shave some on top.
Serve quickly before the lemon marinades and "cooks" the meat.
Good with warm toasted bread, a crisp arugula salad, and a waterfall of fruit-forward red wine.

Oct 13, 2011

Shopping with the chef


Last week we launched the second episode of the video-interview series "Cibando presents" in which I get to spend quality time in some of Rome's best restaurant kitchens, to study and learn what happens backstage.
This month's installment features a whole day spent with Angelo Troiani, Executive Chef of renown Rome dining institution Il Convivio Troiani.

We met at his fishmonger's shop, and learned where the catch of the day and wonderful seafood served on the Convivio's menu is sourced, as well as an impromptu snack of fresh Tsarskaya oysters. I had never eaten oysters at 10 am before, let alone in summer. But this variety is cultivated in cold Brittany sea waters, and their pulpy marine flesh is exceptionally well-balanced with a sweet aftertaste, and totally milk-free.

Then we proceeded to meet Angelo's trusted purveyors at the Roma Farmer's Market, and learned about wonderful local varieties of tomatoes, beans, broccoli, and other produce from Azienda Agricola Paolo Giobbi, plus interesting conversations with producers of locally pressed olive oil, amazing artisan salumi and cheeses.

Heavy with bulging canvas shoppers and stacked crates, we headed to the restaurant kitchen where we met the team and witnessed the early stages of the day's work. Bread being made, a meeting during which the day's menu is designed, tasks and chores are assigned. As we observed the phases of many signature dishes, seeing them come to life in the able and caring hands of the chef and his brigade of young assistants, we drooled with delight.

We parted as the last crates were being delivered, and the first reservation calls for the dinner service were ringing the phone off the hook.

Watch the interview ➔

Oct 9, 2011

Cooking around the world...

When friend and inspired editor Margo of Travel Belles invited me to participate in her once a month column featuring a recipe from around the world, I immediately and enthusiastically accepted. For my first submission, I wrote about Tunisian Couscous...

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Oct 4, 2011

Positano for the weekend



It's October, I should be pulling out scarves, sweaters and rain gear; polishing apples and sweeping dried leaves from the doorstep, stowing away summer clothes and beach towels..
Not me.
I'm rubbing aftersun lotion on my brown shoulders after a spectacular secret weekend escape in Positano with my little boy.

We packed a small tote, left on the hush hush and spent two fabulous days swimming, relaxing in the sun, eating seafood and meeting friends in what is said to be the warmest Fall season in 150 years.

We like to catch the Laurito shuttle early, before the crowds. It's a 5 minute sail south of Positano, and the red fish ferries its lido patrons every half hour, despite what's painted on the fish (every 60 mins.)

We found a spot on the rocky beach and waited for Laura to arrive from Amalfi. It was a real treat to finally meet in person after almost two years of knowing each other via web.

We ate lunch on the terrace at Da Adolfo, and it was laid back and delicious as usual. I always have the house specialty, a mozzarella antipasto, which is grilled on wild lemon leaves... very tasty. We also slurped zuppa di cozze, sopped up the juices with a loaf of crusty bread and downed a caraffe of chilled white wine with chopped peaches bobbing in it.

After saying arrivederci to Laura, we were swept away on a friend's motoscafo, and we laughed in the sun, giddy with acceleration and high on beauty. 

More snorkeling and swimming at "il germano," a rock formation said to resemble a German soldier's profile. The water is deep deep blue, with patches of emerald green, and the mountains reflect on the surface.

 We returned to Positano in time for aperitivo and...




...fireworks!! My son couldn't believe it, and neither could I. Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" tune kept ringing in my ears.

...and dinner of course!! Paccheri are a regional type of broad, tube-like pasta whose name means "slaps." These were made with sautéed scampi, and just a few fresh tomatoes thrown in the pan. The Buca di Bacco holds cooking classes in the restaurant kitchen, taught by the charming Executive Chef Andrea Ruggiero. I'd like to join one before the hotel closes for the winter.

One last swim before heading back home yesterday. I have to keep reminding myself it's October.

 Ciao Positano, a presto!


Please head over to Ciao Amalfi! for Laura's exquisite reportage of our Laurito rendezvous...

Sep 28, 2011

Malloreddus

The stunning island of Sardegna bears the marks of outsiders, from Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans to the seamen of Genoa, Pisa, and the Savoys who proclaimed the Kingdom of Sardegna. But Spaniards, who ruled for centuries before, lent the most pronounced accents to the language, food and wines. As a sum of all these influences, the cooking of Sardegna still remains as eccentric as the nuraghe, the prehistoric stone towers whose origins are still a rocky enigma.

Sardegna folks consume interesting quantities of dried pasta, in the familiar forms of spaghetti and maccheroni, though they also make the singular ravioli-like Culurgiones, toss Fregula buttons in their soups, and roll homemade semolina gnocchi called malloreddus, commonly described as the region’s most typical dish.
Here's the recipe to make them from scratch. Otherwise you can purchase them here.

800 g (4 cups) semolina flour
300 g (1 1/2 cups) warmed water
1 tsp powdered saffron
Salt

Mound the semolina and poke a hole in the top. Pour in the water, salt, and saffron in the crater, and using a fork, beat them together. Now begin to incorporate the semolina, starting with the inner rim of the volcano. When half of the semolina is incorporated, the dough will begin to come together. OK, now start kneading the dough, using the palms of your hands, mostly.

Discard any stray dried bits of dough and continue kneading for 10 more minutes, dusting the work surface with more flour if necessary. The dough should feel springy and a little bit sticky. Cover the dough with a clean cloth and allow to rest in a dusted bowl for 30 minutes at room temperature before using.

Cut the pasta into 4 parts. Roll each into a 1-inch snake, and cut into bolt-sized nuggets. Roll each piece on this tool, or down the back of a fork with your thumb to give it the characteristic ridges, and set aside on a floured surface until ready to cook.

Image © giallozafferano


For the sauce:
400 g (14 oz) canned tomatoes, crushed
200 g (1 cup) Italian sausage, peeled and minced
1 white onion, thinly sliced
A bunch of fresh wild fennel (can be substituted with fennel seeds if necessary)
Extra virgin olive oil
Abundant Pecorino or Fiore Sardo cheese, grated

Film a large skillet with a thread of olive oil, and lightly brown the sausage, when evenly colored, add the onion, and simmer over a low flame until translucent.
In a bowl, steep the chopped wild fennel in 1/4 cup olive oil and set aside.
When the onion and sausage have married, add the canned tomatoes and cook over mild heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally: do this for the pleasure of fogging up your glasses and inhaling the aroma. As every passionate cook knows, when you cook with love and pleasure, flavor and final outcome profit.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil, cook your homemade malloreddus, and drain quite al dente. Drop the pasta into the pan with the tomatoes, blending and tossing until well coated. Stir in the fennel marinade, and simmer over vivacious heat for another 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle 3 handfuls of grated cheese, and stir some more. Serve straight from the cooking pan onto hot plates, dusted with more grated Pecorino or Fiore Sardo, and a large smile on your face.

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