Apr 30, 2011

Panna Cotta recipe

The other day, when I pointed out panna cotta to one of my clients during a foodie walk, he returned a puzzled look.

Panna Cotta is a silky, light textured dessert from Northern Italy. It is served chilled and usually drizzled with wild berry sauce, caramel or melted dark chocolate.
panna cotta in a pool of chocolate and fresh raspberries

The name literally translates to, "cooked cream," it's ridiculously easy to make and can be prepared up to two days ahead, as long as kept well-covered and chilled. Some suggest to actually make ahead for added flavor.

To impress your guests with authentic panna cotta, here's what you need to do with:

500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin (I find it in sheets. I use 3, the equivalent of 6 grams)
150 g (3/4 cup) confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Ramekins, parfait or custard cups, muffin pans, Martini glasses, or shot glasses

Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove the saucepan from the stove, and stir in the vanilla extract. Purists can on the other hand scrape the inside of a vanilla bean.

Soak the gelatin in a medium bowl with cold water for 5-10 minutes.

Pour the hot cream mixture over the gelatin, and stir until dissolved. If you're using sheet gelatin, first soften the sheets in 4 cups of cold water for 5-10 minutes. Wring the sheets out, discard the water and stir the softened sheets into the hot panna cotta mixture, whisking until blended.

Pour the mixture in individual serving containers, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 4 hours or until set.

When ready to serve, dip the bottom of each container into a bowl of very hot water for a few seconds. Place a serving plate on top and turn over to easily dislodge.

Decorate your panna cotta with mint leaves and either a thin raspberry coulis, warmed caramel sauce or melted dark chocolate. 

If you're in a rush, pour the panna cotta mixture into Martini goblets so you can serve them without unmolding; sprinkled with only a few chocolate shavings and a dash of cinnamon.

Apr 26, 2011

Apr 20, 2011

Analogue memories

In this age of digitalized photography, technology used to obtain a vintage grain on pictures captured by a phone, and retro image rendering, I thought I'd post these photographs taken in Positano with a Kodak Instamatic camera, in the summer of 1977.

I scanned the originals so I could post them here, but didn't tweak the levels. The prints actually look just like what you see: rounded edges, cool cross-processed, funky '70s feel (and slanted horizons).

No App could ever match this.

This precise spot on this very beach is where I plan to spend lots of time during the Easter holidays, enjoying a few days off with family.  Possibly doing handstands in the water.

Buona Pasqua!

Apr 14, 2011

Insalata di Spinaci recipe

The Italian word for vegetables verdura, is an inaccurate term which poetically translates to 'greendom.' The farmers' markets these days are in fact a colorful feast for the eyes and imagination. The palette offered by the spilling stalls features tender mauve artichokes, Ferrari-red tomatoes of every size and shape, curly, spiked and ruffled field sprouts, pearly spring onions, opulent purple eggplants and lush Jamaican flag bell peppers.

With the heat of the season and colorful abundance offered by the markets, I find myself consuming ridiculous quantities of fresh green verdura. The salad I'll be making today is a rich and tasty Insalata di Spinaci, a warm spinach salad: the 80's in a salad bowl.

The heated pancetta drippings wilt the fresh spinach leaves, and along with the crumbled hard-boiled egg, provide a subtle diversity of flavors and textures.

Here's what you need for 4 eaters:

10-12 oz triple rinsed baby spinach leaves, stems removed
50 g (1/4 cup) minced red onion
2 soft-boiled eggs, 1 chopped, 1 sliced
5 strips of pancetta
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. white vinegar
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. water
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Place the dry spinach leaves in a large bowl, add the chopped onions and refrigerate, tightly covered.

Fry the pancetta until crisp. Save the drippings, but remove the strips to a paper towel and set aside. In a small jar or measuring cup combine the pancetta drippings with sugar, vinegar, water, salt and pepper, and give it a good shake. Refrigerate all ingredients until just before serving.

When ready to serve, microwave the dressing on 'high' for 30-45 seconds, or until the mixture boils. Toss the chopped egg with the spinach, then pour the hot dressing over everything; tossing again lightly to coat well. Top with sliced egg and crumbled bacon.

Image © kids vs produce

Apr 6, 2011

Carbonara recipe

I'm going to quote myself.

I know, it sounds boldly presumptuous. But I'm going to do it in order to introduce a recipe–which is the topic of my quote–and thus invalidate my quote. Convoluted much? Please, keep reading.

Two years ago I wrote a post listing the most off-limits foods to serve at a meal, taking into account everyday ethical choices, idiosyncrasies, eating whims and food snobism. One of the items on that list was Carbonara.

Here's the quote. I described it as, «Easy dish but so hard to make well. The danger between obtaining "scrambled eggs" and "quick setting cement" walks a very fine line.» One other fact I failed to mention is that the eggs in properly prepared carbonara are essentially raw.

That said, I'd like to share the recipe as one of my culinary strong points, and overrule my carbonara embargo. I should do this because some folks have never tasted the real carbonara (I've heard of chefs that make it with heavy cream, b├ęchamel... mayonnaise, even!). Others don't cook it because they can't overcome the anxiety of figuring out correct heat and timing, factors that divide carbonara into "good" carbonara, and "awful" carbonara. And some people simply freak out about the raw eggs.

I'd like you to read on, and possibly make some at home tonight. The ingredients for carbonara are not hard to find.

Make some, and then you can decide to ratify or reject the carbonara moratorium.

In the meantime, the usual historic note. I'll make it short.

Carbonari were 19th century freedom fighters called 'charcoal burners' perhaps because of their camouflage black face paint (carbone = coal). The revolutionary secret society's goals were patriotic and liberal, and they played an important role in Italy's Risorgimento.

Some believe that the dish was once popular with these fugitives who lived on the mountains near Rome, because the ingredients were easily portable and cooking was fairly uncomplicated. Some others attribute the birth of carbonara to American allies putting breakfast of bacon and eggs on pasta.

Whatever the origin, this dish is a cucina romana stalwart.

To make the real rebellious carbonara for 4 you'll need:

500 g (1.1 lb) spaghetti, I also make it with rigatoni or any thumb-length, ribbed tube pasta
200 g (1 cup) guanciale, cubed or thinly sliced in strips (can be substituted with unsmoked pancetta or bacon)
1 egg + 4 yolks
1/2 cup each Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a gallon of cold water to a rolling boil, adding a fistful of salt when the surface of the water begins to tremble. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Do. Not. Overcook.

While the pasta boils, sizzle the strips or cubes of guanciale in a hot skillet for about 10 minutes over a low flame, until the fat is translucent, crisp and barely browned. Remove skillet from the stove, discard the rendered fat, blot the cooked pork on kitchen towels and keep aside.

In a large serving bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, grated cheeses and pepper. Blend well into a yellow paste. I use a fork for this.

Tricky part.

When the cooking timer rings, using tongs, fish out the pasta from the boiling water, and immediately toss it into the bowl with the eggy mixture, place the bowl over the pot of boiling water and blend vigorously using your fork. This way you're cooking the egg AND coating the pasta, clever you! 
You don't want the egg to set with the heat of the pasta (that's frittata) you want to evenly coat it, while cooking. 
If you see the sauce is too dry you can add a slug of starchy cooking water and keep blending the silky delight. Taste and add more salty cheese and ground black pepper, if necessary. 
Garnish with the fried pork. Done.