Feb 22, 2011

Ziti alla Genovese ~ a Neapolitan hallmark

This delectable pasta recipe is called "alla genovese," but it's not a dish particular to Genoa. This is a purely Neapolitan delight.


If you've been reading my posts, you'll know I always share a little bit of history. "La Genovese" is said to have been first prepared around the time when Columbus landed in the New World, by a selected group of Genoan chefs belonging to the rich and self-implemented Ligurian colony stationed in the Naples seaport district. It's the pasta condiment customarily made for Sunday lunch, and one of my all-time Napoli favorites. In detailing a Pasta primer a few months back, I had promised to post the recipe. Well, here it is.
Note: For its hearty and bold nature, weak stomachs and delicate appetites should abstain from consuming genovese in sight of a busy afternoon (or one that doesn't envision napping).

2 kg (4.4 lbs) of yellow onions
1 kg (2.2 lbs) of rump steak, chopped into stew size parts
250 gr (1 1/4 cups) unsmoked bacon, diced
250 gr (1/2 lb) pork spare ribs
1 carrot
1 celery rib
2 glasses of dry white wine
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
2 cups of Ziti (or Penne Lisce) type pasta


Tip: This recipe requires extremely long cooking time, the longer you stew, the softer the meat will be and tastier the sauce.
Image © porzionicremona.it

Dice the carrot and celery and place in the pot with the oil and the meats. Thinly slice the onion holding a chunk of bread in your mouth to avoid tears and add it to the other ingredients.
Cover and simmer over vivacious heat until the onions are translucent and all liquid evaporates. When the onion mash starts to dry, pour the first glass of wine and lower the heat to extremely low. Stir occasionally and stew for 50 minutes.
Then add the second glass of wine, salt and pepper to taste, and keep braising for 2 hours, being extra careful that the sauce doesn’t stick to the pot floor. The result should be a thick, dark velvety purée and a tender meat stew.

This heavenly salsa marries boiled al dente Ziti pasta, broken into 3-inch pieces, richly dressed and generously dusted with grated Parmigiano.
You can serve the stewed meat–or what's left of it after the long cooking–as your dinner entrée, alongside a fresh arugula and slivered fresh fennel salad. But remember, the star dish in the meal is the genovese.
Serves 5/6 big eaters.

Feb 14, 2011

Frittata alla Mentuccia | Peppermint Frittata

This is a first.
For years, I've been a cynical anti-Valentine advocate. I posted about my unsympathetic stand towards the lovers' holiday in this post. I still find the commercial exploitation revolting, but this year I decided to wipe away the cynicism and support the Amore occasion with the naïvety of a blushing girl's first crush.
And what better way than with a delicious demonstration of my feelings?

While throngs of lovers exchange sappy cards, gifts and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, I will break my celebratory embargo with an unconventional savory treat:


Frittata alla Mentuccia - Peppermint Frittata

50 gr (1/4 cup) bacon, cut in matchsticks
A bunch of fresh peppermint
1 clove of garlic, minced
Dash of Pecorino cheese, grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
6 eggs


Soak the peppermint in plenty of water and a fistful of baking soda to eliminate traces of field dirt and unwanted chemicals. Rinse several times and pat dry. Trim away stems and chop finely, to yield about 1/4 cup of minced leaves.

Film a large skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the bacon with the minced garlic. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave the bacon drippings in the pan, you'll be cooking the frittata in them. Yes, I know – I'm drooling too.

In a mixing bowl, break the eggs, add a fistful of grated Pecorino, and break the yolks with a fork. Stir, folding in the chopped peppermint and crisp bacon, and mix well. If the eggs are superfresh and thus rich in "gluey" albumen, I usually splash in a drop of milk to dilute the eggy mix. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and let it sit while you put the skillet back on the stove to heat the bacon drippings.
Pour the blend in the skillet and reduce the heat to low. Cook slowly for about 5 minutes, or until you can lift the bottom of the frittata off the the pan with a spatula. If you can flip omelets like a perfect French chef, go ahead. I slide mine from the skillet onto a flat, wide lid; and flipping that over the pan in order to cook the other side, accident-free, for another 2-3 minutes.

Adjust seasoning, slice in large wedges and stuff in warm ciabatta bread. Pack the sandwiches in a picnic hamper, along with a bottle of wine, some aged cheese, juicy pears, and a thermos of piping hot espresso. Take the rest of that day off, folding spacious blanket underarm, ready to go make out in the park with your significant other. And not just because it's Valentine's Day.

Feb 9, 2011

Capesante alla Veneziana ~ Venetian-style Scallops

After two consecutive pastry posts, I felt it was time for some savory seafood.

Capesante–Italian for Coquille Saint-Jacques–have long been the attribute of pilgrims traveling on foot to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, on the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James. The English name of these mollusks is in fact 'pilgrim scallops.'

Their bivalve shell is also often linked to the image of Venus, the Roman Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility. In the famous Botticelli painting, a stunning blonde Venus is born emerging from the sea, standing naked on a scallop shell.



12 capesante ~ scallops
A bunch of Italian flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
100 gr (1/2 cup) breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper


Open your scallops using an oyster-shucking knife, or by sliding the blade of a sharp paring knife in the slit, and delicately forcing the valves open. Save the more concave half shells, discard the flat ones.

Remove the slimy, brown membranes and separate the yellow/orange coral part from the white fleshy disc. Rinse the scallop meats and corals in cold water and pat dry. Then dredge them in the breadcrumbs.

Rinse and thoroughly dry the 6 half shells, they will be your serving vessels.

Sauté the garlic and parsley in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add the scallops and cook briefly, until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Dribble with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place 2 molluscs and corals in each valve, daub with the cooking juice, and serve at once. Keep the chilled bottle(s) of Pinot Grigio handy.

 

Buon appetito.

Feb 5, 2011

Happy World Nutella Day!

Every year I anxiously await February 5th to break open my giant tub of Nutella and celebrate with fellow hazelnut-chocolate addicts in what many feel is the year’s sweetest occasion. But don’t be fooled into thinking I only eat Nutella on this date. No. I consume indecent amounts of Nutella, eaten straight off my finger all year round, and guilt never factors in any of these episodes.

A big grazie from the Nutellaholics of the world goes to Michelle from Bleeding Espresso and Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy for annually hosting my favorite blog party at World Nutella Day, and providing us with many creative tributes to the dreamy spread.




As this year’s contribution, I made crostata. Calling it an open-top tart is offensive, mainly because baked Nutella tends to dry out and burn. At least in my crazy oven. The cookie-like crust is pastafrolla–which is the Italian version of shortcrust pastry, or the French pâte sucrée–and the filling is usually jam, sliced fruit or custard with pine nuts.

I love the appealing chewy crunch of coconut and the enveloping, sexy embrace of Nutella, it was only natural the two should become one in my flaky crusted, sliky smooth

Crostata Cocco & Nutella ~ Coconut and Nutella Tart

Ingredients
350 gr (1 3/4 cups) flour
150 gr (3/4 cup) coconut flour
200 gr (1 cup) confectioner’s sugar
300 gr (1 1/2 cups) salted butter
4 egg yolks
pinch of salt (only if you’re using unsalted butter)
The star ingredient, Nutella


Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F).

Shortcrust pastry is somewhat of a challenge. If the dough is overkneaded and too cold, it will be too firm to roll; if too warm and soft, the dough could fall apart during baking. Temperature is key, so work away from the hot stove, possibly on a marble surface and using chilled bowls and utensils. I run my hands under the cold water before kneading the ingredients together. Ready?

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the regular flour and the coconut flour. Add the sugar and, using two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture. Roll up your sleeves, remove any rings and bracelets, and get in there pinching and breaking up the butter chunks further with your fingers until the texture resembles coarse oatmeal, and the butter pieces are no larger than peas.

Drop in the yolks, and knead just until the dough pulls together. You want to obtain a silky texture, so don’t be tempted to add flour.

Transfer the dough to a work surface, pat into a ball and flatten into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Butter and dredge a 12-inch tart pan (or you can line it with parchment paper like I did). Lightly dust your rolling pin with a suspicion of flour, and roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch in thickness. Use a paring knife to cut away excess dough, and save extra bits for decoration or cookies.

Blanket the tart pan with the flattened dough, push well into the edges of the pan, and poke with the tines of a fork, so it will not deform during baking. Another way to avoid forming of uneven air pockets in the crust is to cover the raw dough with parchment paper and use weights to keep it from rising. I scatter two fistfuls of dried beans to cover the entire surface, but I’ve heard of many other weights, like marbles, uncooked rice, bearing balls, or washed pebbles.

Pop the crust plus any spare bits in the hot oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until golden (my oven bakes it in just under 10 minutes). Remove weights and let the crust cool briefly.

Enter the diva. Warm the jar in a pot of hot water before liberally slathering a generous layer of Nutella on the baked crust (don’t be afraid to overdo) and decorate with leftover dough shapes, if you like. Licking the instruments clean is greatly encouraged.

Cut large slices, serve with champagne and field marriage proposals as needed.



 How do you enjoy your Nutella?

Feb 1, 2011

A carnevale ogni scherzo vale... Frappe!

Which translates to, "During carnival season, all pranks and practical jokes are allowed."
And so is eating fried pastries, dressing up in colorful costume, throwing confetti and being silly at any age. This year, carnevale has been pushed forward, because of the late Easter. But my annual revelry has already begun.

Image © mammafelice.it
Carnevale is a traditional Christian holiday celebrated in the two-week period that precedes Lent. Traditionally festivities are most lively between Maundy Thursday (giovedì grasso) and Shrove Tuesday, known here as fat Tuesday, martedì grasso, in French, mardi gras. That’s when the streets become dangerous. Especially around lunchtime, when school is out, and kids are armed and dangerous. Strolling down the street you can find yourself caught in the cross fire of projectile warfare. However this only constitutes a serious hazard to clothes and hairdos, since the designated ammo is usually only eggs, shaving cream, water balloons or stink bombs.

As a child back then and equally as a mother now, I look forward to the advent of carnevale not only because dressing up in costumes and make-up is fun, but also because at this time of year we are blessed with the traditional pastries called frappe.



What I grew up calling frappe go by an absurd variety of other regional names. Frappe means 'tassels,' but in Toscana they are called cenci, 'rags.' Southern chiacchiere means 'gossip,' nastri are 'ribbons,' bugie are 'lies,' lattughe means 'lettuce leaves.' Other local names include cròstoli (in Ferrara, Veneto, Trentino, Friuli), gale or galàni (in Venezia and Padova), intrigoni, lasagne, pampuglie, rosoni or sfrappole (in Emilia Romagna), cioffe (in Sulmona and central Abruzzo), and sfrappe in the Marche region. In the English speaking world I've heard them called lovers' knots.

These particular holiday fritters are crisp ribbons of rolled dough, dusted with powdered sugar. And just like their multiple names, the different incarnations are cut and shaped differently before being fried. Some are squared, diamond or irregular-shaped, some are tied into a loose knot. Some are light as a feather, others chewy and baked rather than deep-fried.


I’m warning you though–whatever their name, size or shape–frappe induce chain eating.

300 gr (2 1/2 cups) flour, possibly "00" + more for dusting
100 gr (1/2 cup) butter, softened
100 gr (1/2 cup) sugar
2 eggs
Pinch of salt (if you're using unsalted butter)
1 packet of vanilla extract
Oil for frying
Confectioner’s sugar


Mix the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt and shape into a volcano mound. Drop the eggs, butter and the vanilla extract in the crater and begin working the ingredients with your fingers to obtain a soft, supple dough.

Roll out the dough on a wooden work surface dusted with flour and a rolling pin, flattening it out to 1/8-inch in thickness. Cut flattened dough into strips using a sharp paring knife, or a pastry cutter, and deep fry small batches in plenty vegetable oil.

Remove from the frying oil with a slotted spoon and rest them on paper towels to absorb excess grease. When completely cool, dust them with confectioners' sugar, and serve wearing a domino mask.

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