I live in Italy and New York City. Going from a small medieval village in the heart of Umbria to the noise and excitement of NYC leads me to all sorts of good things to eat.
Ciao anonymous! Are you sure you don’t mean ‘sugo’? That’s an Italian catch-all word for various types of red sauce. (What you call a dish depends on where you live in Italy.)
The most common way to serve polenta is with a good size dollop of meat sugo on top. In Umbria, in the fall, it’s traditional to serve it with a wild boar (cinghiale) sugo, other times of year an oca (goose) sauce is very tasty.
All so true! Aperitivo is something we dearly miss when it’s time for our annual trip back to the States. Drinking without something to nibble on just seems so wrong.
And yes...going to the bar for aperitivo is a family affair. It’s everyone’s kick back time at the end of the day. The bar in the neighborhood is the meeting point for everyone...the kids do their homework together, the old guys play cards, the moms pop in for a coffee, and everyone shares some gossip.
Typically, a ‘spaghetti’ noodle is a dried pasta, not a fresh pasta. If you want to make a dried pasta...no problem, but you have to take a look at the flour that you are using. You need a hard grain, ‘grano duro’ flour. All purpose will give you mush.
Grano duro flour does not need any oil or additional protein, just water. 2 parts flour to 1 part water.
In the US, it’s tricky to identify the type of flour that you are using, but any Italian grocery store will stock grano duro. “Grano tenero, tipo 0 or tipo 00 does need egg.
Make the pasta as described, hang it over rods to dry and voila, you have spaghetti noodles!
Ciao Deborah! I live in NYC and in Italy so I see both peppers. I buy shishito peppers at the Japanese grocery store by me in Soho, and we plant the frigarelle in our orto in Italy. Slight difference but basically the same thing: delicious!
And now that I think about, when I was in culinary school in Italy, one of the Japanese students was trying to tell me about the peppers. When your only common language is bad Italian, lots of things are subject to interpretation! Didn’t matter, we fried and ate a lot of them, quite happilyl
A valid argument for cooking at home. There are so many factors in play here.
Generational loss of cooking skills means people don’t know the fastest, easiest way to peel carrots or chop vegetables.
Frustration could be a factor if food isn’t turning out looking like it does in a magazine.
Relentless marketing use of the words “Quick” “Fast” “Easy” have the effect of making us think cooking is difficult and slow.
You are right, we need to embrace and revel in the pleasures of the kitchen.
What is the emergency, go-to, secret weapon that I try to keep in my fridge at all times? And it’s not ketchup, although mustard takes second place. First place goes to:....Veal Stock! If Merlin the Magician waved his wand in your kitchen, he would give you this Secret Weapon. It’s the painter’s white canvas, it’s the keyboard to your computer, it’s butter on your toast.
Michael Ruhlman compares it to turbo charging your Mitsubishi... your kitchen is now faster and more fuel efficient.
It’s a flavor bump, adding depth and intensity to a sauce. It’s the umami bridge that literally blends the components of your dish together.
There is a toll to be paid in order to enjoy all this fast freedom: you need to make some veal stock.
I hear you.. where can I find veal bones? At your butcher, you should be patronizing a butcher anyway.
They’re expensive compared to chicken bones. Correct! But, you’ll get extensive use from the bones, it’s worth the $$.
It takes hours to make it. Correct again, but it’s not like your standing next to the oven, frozen in time, while the bones are roasting.
The How-To of Making Reduced Veal Stock Kitchen Magic:
4-5 lb veal bones
1 large carrot
1 large onion
3-4 ribs of celery
Peppercorns, salt, vegetable oil, herbs(rosemary, thyme, sage)
1/2 can canned tomatoes
4-5 good sized glugs of white wine, enough to cover the bottom of the roasting pan
In a large roasting pan, lay out the bones and lightly salt and pepper them. Roast the bones for about 1 hour at 350F/180C. Remove from the oven when they are toasty brown and the smell is intoxicating.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the peeled carrot, celery and onion. Add a little vegetable oil to the bottom of a large stock pot and add the chopped vegetables, another sprinkle of salt, a small palmful of peppercorns, and a bit of rosemary and thyme.
Saute until the vegetables are a little burned, this caramelization adds color and flavor to the broth.
Add the roasted meat bones to the stock pot.
Using white wine, deglaze the veal bone roasting pan, dissolving all the tasty browny bits and add the wine and meat juices to the stock pot.
Add enough cold water to the stock pot that you cover the bones.
Lightly simmer for about 2 hours. That means little bubbles gently swimming to the top of the pot. Skim off any of that icky foam.
After two hours, first remove and discard the bones. Then strain the stock through a fine mesh colander and pour the strained stock back into the pot. (It’s much easier to strain the stock if you pull the big bones out first, less mess and less weight to deal with. Reserve the bones for a worthy dog.)
Add 1/2 cup canned tomatoes, turn up the heat to a slow boil, and start reducing the stock.
After boiling for about an hour, strain the liquid once more and move to a smaller pot. Continue reducing until the stock liquid become thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, and the boiling bubbles look like syrup.
Reducing time will depend on how much water was in the stock pot to begin with and the temperature you are using to reduce the stock, but plan on a few hours.
Be careful, because at this syrupy stage, you could burn your precious elixir and that would be a real drag.
When you have the stock reduced to about 1 1/2 cups of liquid, carefully pour it into a very clean jar.
Let it cool, then refrigerate the stock. The fat will come to the top and you can remove it later. What’s left, is Veal Kitchen Magic. It will keep in your fridge for 3-4 weeks; just be sure to use a clean spoon every time so no other food particles can contaminate it and encourage mold.
What to do with Veal Kitchen Magic:
Saute a a piece of pork, a piece of codfish (yes, it works very well with a meaty fish), chicken breasts, turkey bits. Whatever protein strikes your fancy. Remove the protein from the sauce pan, keeping the meat or fish on a warm plate, add flavoring like chopped mushrooms, a splash of wine and a teaspoon or so of Veal Kitchen Magic to the saute pan. Swirl these ingredients around in a pan, voila!, you have your sauce a la minute.
Pork chops with green peppercorns: Once the pork chops are cooked, add green peppercorns, mustard, your veal kitchen magic and a shot of whiskey to the pan. Cook for 45 seconds, remove and pour over the pork chops.
Lemon Chicken breasts: Remove the cooked chicken breasts from the pan, add veal kitchen magic, a glug or two of white wine, deglaze the pan, finish with the juice of a fresh squeezed lemon. Add capers if you are feeling happy.
Codfish Delight: Remove the codfish from the pan. Add chopped mushrooms, veal magic, lots of fresh pepper, a little white wine. Cook until the mushrooms are soft, finish with a squirt of lemon juice.
It all builds off the basic saute and stock. It’s like a painter’s white canvas, it’s like playing jazz in your kitchen. It’s your secret weapon.
This blog post was inspired by a class I gave on Saturday. I hope you guys had as much fun as I did!
Even the most casual wine drinker probably knows the difference between a chardonnay and a white zinfandel. If this is the case, why don’t the most passionate chefs or home cooks know more about their olive oil? Maybe the chefs know a brand name, but do they know what variety of olive is used?
The concept of terroir or terrain or terreno (French-English-Italian) is frequently discussed with grapes and wine; why not with olive oil? If sun, soil and climate affect a grape, it stands to reason it would affect the flavor of an olive and it’s oil.
Yesterday, I had a unique opportunity to discuss just this subject with Nicola Bovoli, a world renowned olive oil maker and oil taster. Nicola’s Vicopisanolio was selected by Gustiamo to be included in our Aroma Cucina CookVook Pantry Basket, so I jumped at the chance to listen to what he has to say about the oil he produces.
Nicola’s Vicopisano oil is made exclusively with the ‘frantoio’ olive. Frantoio olives are as identifiable with Tuscany as the sangiovese grape and Chianti wine. The frantoio is a medium to large olive, known for producing a fruity aromatic olive oil. It could be considered a ‘global’ varietal as its grown in diverse places such as Australia, Argentina and California, but according to Nicola, don’t expect it to taste the same. In fact, Nicola thinks the oil from Mendoza would probably taste more like Tuscan oil than the same oil produced in Umbria because of the difference in climate.
Vicopisano, located between Lucca, Livorno and Pisa enjoys a particular micro climate where it benefits from the sea breezes, generally congenial weather and not a lot of natural pests like flies. That being said, in December of 2009, Nicola lost 30% of his olive trees in two hours due to intense cold. So, like any other natural harvest, it’s subject to the whims of Mother Nature.
Nicola tends to harvest his olives in early October which gives a totally different flavor than if they are harvested more mature. His oil has notes of artichoke, just cut grass, with a lovely balance of bitter and ‘piccante’. Piccante means spicy, but to me it means that pleasant little tickle you get at the back of your throat when you taste this oil.
For his Vicopisano extra virgin olive oil, he uses only the frantoio olive because he feels that mixing olives gives the oil an ‘artifical’ flavor. He calls mixing the olives an ‘artificial intervention’. As he describes it, he wants his oil to be exactly what nature wants to give us. Each year it will taste different, and each year he’s convinced it’s the best he ever tasted. This is pure zest for life speaking, an understanding that comes from sharing the seasons with the olives. There is something ‘connected’ about knowing that you’ve shared the same heat, rain and fog with these olives. Unlike wine that needs time to be aged, the oil is at its peak of flavor as soon as it’s pressed.
While this obsession with olive oil might be considered another example of food elitism, it’s not elitism as much as an expression of place and time. Nicola Bovoli has the good fortune to be in a place that produces extraordinary olive oil, and he wants to share his good fortune and have people understand what they are tasting. If that’s elitism, I’m all for it.
Next post: the nuts & bolts of harvesting, storing and using extra virgin olive oil.
Nicola’s Bovoli’s Olio Novello from the 2010 harvest is now available at Gustiamo.com and is part of the Aroma Cucina Pantry Basket that is filled with premium quality ingredients that will have you Cooking Simply: The Italian Way!
Lemon Creme Brule`
I’m not a dessert girl, but Valentine’s day is coming up, so you might want to think about a tarted up sweet for your sweetie. And besides, you get to play with a blow torch.
500ml/18fl oz double cream
1/2 vanilla pod
100g/4oz extra fine sugar
6 egg yolks
zest of 2-3 lemons
Additional sugar for top crust
Kitchen Stuff you’ll need
small oven proof ramekins (those little single serving dishes)
a baking pan big enough to hold all of the ramekins
mini blow torch (or you could use the broiler, not as much fun, but effective)
A sauce pan, a stainless steel mixing bowl
A whisk & a pair of tongs
1. Pre-heat the oven 325F/165C. Put a large kettle of water on to boil because you are making a ‘bain marie’, which means a water bath to cook the custard.
2. Pour the cream into a saucepan. Using a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream. Toss the vanilla pod skin into the cream as well.
4. Bring the cream to the boiling point, lower the heat and simmer gently for two minutes. You can remove more of the vanilla pod seeds if you let the pod steep in the hot cream, but then you wind up messing around with a hot pod, so this your decision. Remove the pod. You can dry it and store in your sugar bowl for a little vanilla aroma, or toss the pod.
Separate the eggs. Reserve the whites for something fun like a frothy cocktail (we are prepping for Valentines day, after all.)
Using a whisk, beat the sugar and egg yolks together in a stainless steel bowl until pale and creamy.
6. While whisking continuously and chanting love spells, add warm cream to the egg mixture. Add the lemon zest and return to medium heat for 2-5 minutes. You want to see the custard start to thicken. Take care to whisk thoroughly because you won’t be able to strain the mixture because of the lemon peel.
8. Using a ladle, fill the ramekins 3/4 full and place in the roast pan. Add hot water to the pan until it is about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
9.Carefully place the roasting pan in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the custards are just set firm but with a little bobble in the center.
10. When the custards are done, being super careful not to pour hot water on yourself (can you tell I’ve done this a few times??) remove the roasting pan from the oven and then using tongs remove the ramekins and allow to cool.
Wrap each ramekin tightly in plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you are ready to serve. When it’s time to serve, add a little fresh lemon zest to the surface, then cover the surface with a thin layer of extra fine sugar. Now, either go at it with the blow torch, or place under the broiler for a minute or so until the sugar melts, bubbles and caramelizes.
What you do after dessert is your own business.
From tree to table: Our very own olive oil
First we hand picked 146.1 kilos of olives. It took 3 days of climbing trees, spreading nets and schlepping crates of olives. It was glorious to be out in the sun, sliding olives off the tree, my hands feeling smooth and soft at the end of the day. It felt good and right and pagan to be out there harvesting olives. If we had Etruscan ancestors, we were connecting directly to them as we talked to the trees, gave thanks for the fruit and sang songs. OK, we chose to sing chain gang and railroad hobo ditties, but you get the vibe, right?
Now that we had our crates of olives, we still hadn’t solved our olive oil press problem. The picturesque mill we’ve used before wasn’t an option. They got a little carried away with ‘straneiri extortion’, that’s when they charge the foreigners more money than anyone else. For as long as we live in Italy, we will forever be stranieri, but that doesn’t mean we don’t understand what’s going on. And the proprietor lady of the mill is mean, mean, mean.
Word had it that a new mill in Gualdo Tadino was the place to go, except they had a 280 kg minimum, and that’s a lot more olives than we had. I called anyway, told her our sad story, and she said, OK, come tomorrow at 6:30, took my name, and that was that.
Directions and map in hand, we drove the winding road (what do you call a road that has a curve every 25 meters? writhing snake road?) with rain pelting down and the smell of fresh olives filling the car. We finally find the mill, and it’s brand spankin’, shining new. We walk in at 6:14 and a smiling man says, “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Huh? There posted on the wall is a time chart, with my name on it, and they’re right on schedule. It’s a miracle, could we still be in Italy?
Our olives are going to get combined with another family’s olives so we can meet the minimum. We introduce ourselves and surreptitiously sneak peeks at each other’s olives. Politely, we ask, “Where are you from?” . “Where are your olives from?” “Hand picked?” “Any hail damage?” Their olives look a lot like our olives, and they seem like fine upstanding people. Both sides are satisfied and we agree to be co-pressed, co-mingled, and co-oiled.
The process begins! We take pictures and laugh and carry on, and everyone around us laughs along. The mill is spotless, stray leaves and stems are swept up immediately, the staff wear blue lab jackets, the machines are stainless steel magnificent with a high-tech control panel. The owner explains, “We eat this oil, of course it’s clean!”
The fork lift comes and takes away our hard earned olives and dumps them into the shaker machine and that’s the last time we see the olives until they come out as oil. The shaker machine is the first step in removing any stems and leaves. The olives are then washed and carried into the GENIUS machine.. The GENIUS has three compartments with a huge auger screw, similar to a wine press, and it mashes the olives into pulp and somehow extracts the pits. The pulp is so loose and liquidy that it can be pumped out in a hose about 3 inches wide, where it goes into the ELEPHANT, which is a centrifuge that extracts the oil and the water and pumps the left over pulp out the back door. That pulp gets sold on the secondary market for lower grade, processed olive oil. Our extra virgin olive oil will be the first pressing of good quality olives, no heat, no chemicals, just olivey goodness.
Since this who process takes awhile, the mill owners have set up a waiting room. A fire is burning, which is a welcome sight on a chilly, rainy night. Better yet, there are strips of grilled guanciale (like pancetta, but from the cheek of the pig, tender, salty, bacon X 10) ready to be eaten on wood fire toasted bread, literally drenched in fresh olive oil. A bite of the bread and the oil is running down my arm like juice from a burst peach. It’s a sensory overload, washed down with a fresh white wine. Now, this is a waiting room!
The bigger issue was the smell of all those olives being pressed was making everyone hungry, and that guanciale was even more of an appetite opener. It was the most exquisite torture waiting for our oil, but everyone is in a good mood. We stand around watching a man filling his cans with oil, and we all stand around mesmerized at the wondrous oil. Finally he looks at me and says, “Bello. Molto bello ogni volta.” “Gorgeous. Gorgeous every time.” I think there is something that gets released into the air as the olives are pressed, it’s like naturally occurring lithium at a hot springs. Everyone smiles.
Finally, the oil is pumped into one last centrifuge and the spigot opens and out comes our oil! The oil is measured in kilos and we watch the scale, hoping we’ll get 50 kilos, the oil flow slows to a trickle and we top out at 54.65 kilos of oil. Woo hooooo! More smiles all around.
We all troop into the office to pay up, and the mill boss is a sweet woman who very carefully divides up the bill between us and our new oil friends. Then she heads outside to personally divide up the oil so there won’t be any disputes. Everyone is happy. We get a short, well meaning lecture about having plastic jugs and we promise to take the oil out of the plastic as soon as we get home. Satisfied that we will treat our oil properly, everyone shakes hands, trades kisses and we head out the door with our oil.
We even find a decent pizza place to finally get something to eat. All in all, a fine night’s work.
We had a celebratory dinner the next night, featuring our extra, extra virgin olive oil. It’s extra extra virgin on the very first night that you taste it, after that it’s just extra virgin. Still fabulous, but never like the first time. We had to start with more grilled guanciale on fire toasted bread with oil. This satisfies every primal craving you’ve ever had: crunch, salt, oil, pork, wood smoke, only this time we washed it down with cold Prosecco.
And then to guild the lily, shrimp broiled on a bed of salt, finished with shaved white truffles and a generous drizzle of our new oil. Does it get better than this? Buon’appetito indeed!
Fish soups are called ‘brodetto’ in Italy and every Adriatic coastal town has their own version. Brodetto di San Bendetto is flavored with green tomatoes, Brodetto di Porto Recanati with saffron, alla Fanese with tomato puree, and in Ancona with puree AND fresh tomato. I don’t live near the coast, I like the French Provencal style of fish soup and I don’t have to play by the rules, so here is Brodetto di Montone.
Warning: it is messy to make, it takes time, the words slow, fast and easy do not appear anywhere within this recipe. However, the words delicious and worth the effort do appear.
The soup has three parts: the soup base, the crunchy garlicky toasts, and the saffron aioli.
1/2 kilo or 1 lb of small, whole fish
1 chopped carrot
1-2 stalks chopped celery
1 chopped onion
4-5 plum tomatoes
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup brandy
Salt, pepper, olive oil
1/2 kilo of mussels, or shrimp or clams
Saute the carrot, onion, celery in a few tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot. A little brownage is OK, but not too much. Add a 1 1/2 liters of water to the pot, bring to a boil, and toss in the whole fishies.
Now, if you can’t get an assortment of small fish, get whatever non-oily fish that you can find that still has it’s head on, or at least has bones. Under no circumstances use frozen fish fingers. Bones are flavor. If you use a fish filet you wont’ get the the depth of flavor. Oily fishes are too strongly flavored, so avoid fish like salmon or mackerel. Let simmer for about 20 minutes and then turn off the heat.
While the stock is cooking, make the aioli.
Lemon Saffron Aioli
1 medium egg, yoke only
1 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 small-medium lemon
1 T mustard
1 medium size HOT chili pepper, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
In a heavy bowl, add the egg yoke, mustard, garlic and chili pepper. In a little dish, steep the saffron in the lemon juice. Now, slowly, slowly, in a thin thread, whisk the olive oil into the egg yoke, mustard, garlic & chili pepper. You are making an emulsion, so the oil must be incorporated fully before you can add more oil. You’re not making that much, so don’t bother with the food processor, a little whisking is excellent aerobic and upper arm exercise, quite whining. If the sauce breaks, which means it doesn’t look like mayonaise, it looks like oil globs in a sea of egg yoke, consult Harold McGee for repair instructions. When you have finished incorporating the oil, add the lemon juice and saffron. Blend completely.
Store the aioli in the fridge while you finish making the soup.
Strain the liquid from the soup and put it back in the soup pot. What’s left in the colander is the vegetables, the fish meat and bones. Pick through the pile, reserving the meat and vegetables, tossing out the bones and skin. This part is yucky, messy and hot. Get over it.
Put the fish meat and vegetables back into the soup and then either using a stick blender or a regular blender, puree the soup, adding in the tomato puree. Return to the heat, add the brandy and let it gently simmer. The soup is done. Bravo! Brava!
Crunchy Garlicky Toasts
1 stale baguette
2 cloves garlic
1/2 or more of a HOT chili pepper
1 T Oregano
1 T fresh chopped parsley
1/4 cup Grated parmigiana cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
Slice the stale baguette...if you only have a fresh baguette, slice it and stick it in a warm oven until the pieces are hard.
Blend all the other ingredients until you get a fluffy, mousse like consistency. Spread a bit of the mousse on each slice of bread and bake at a medium oven heat 300F/150C until the mousse is brown, melted, bubbly. Take out of the oven and let cool. Make more than you think you should because these disappear immediately.
When you are ready to serve the soup, toss in the mussels or shrimp or clams or whatever you want. When the mussels or clams are open, serve immediately with the toasts and the aioli.
The soup base freezes well, so make a big enough batch that you can freeze it and then you can have this delicious, worth the effort soup, anytime you want. Buon’appetito!
Fennel & Bay
There is an unexpected synergy between these two flavors that surprises me. They get along like Nick & Nora Charles of The Thin Man films, feisty, combative but ultimately they very elegantly get the job done.
I’m not talking about fresh fennel, but dry stalks of wild fennel, steeped in liquid, along with bay leaves. We encountered this intriguing flavor combination in the Gargano region of Puglia and I dug through my Puglia reference books to see if this was a classic pairing but there is no mention of putting these two flavors together. There are plenty of recipes that incorporate bay with seafood in Adriatic fish cooking, but nothing about combining bay and fennel. I went to kryros.org where they live and breathe unique flavor combos, but again I came up empty. As a last resort, I went low brow, and checked the ingredients for Old Bay seasoning, but no fennel. Hmmmm......
Wild fennel is a staple in central and southern Italian cooking. You can find it growing on the side of the road, in a field, just sprouting in the garden. Fennel pollen is an essential flavor in Umbrian meat preparations. Massive fennel stalks are bound together and are roasted inside whole pig porchetta. In fact the Italian expression ‘in porchetta’ means cooked with fennel.
It’s not a pretty sight, you are literally cooking with dried out fennel weed stalks, but the flavor is subtle, almost sweet, earthy, and pervasive. Now add the pungent bay leaf, this is brash Nick to elegant Nora’s fennel. (If you don’t know who Nick & Nora are, YouTube to the rescue.)
If you can find some fennel weed, try this:
Fennel & Bay Shrimp
1-2 stalks fennel weed
2-3 bay leaves
1 cup tomato puree
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 chili pepper, optional, not too hot, you want gentle warmth...not HEAT
3/4 cup white wine
Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper
1 pound of shrimp, with their shell, head on if you can find them
Preparation: Add about 2T of olive oil to a pan large enough to hold the shrimp. Toss in the fennel weed, bay leaves and chili pepper. Let the oil get warm, no sizzle, warm enough so if you hold your hand over the pan it feels pleasantly hot. Now add the tomato puree, white wine and garlic and let simmer at low heat for about 10-15 minutes. You can now let this sit until you are ready to cook & serve the shrimp. Go have a glass of Prosecco with your guests and let the flavors in the pan all mingle and relax.
When you are ready to cook the shrimp, remove the fennel weed and place on a serving platter. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook the shrimp for a few minutes until they are done. Arrange on a platter and spoon the sauce over the shrimp or serve the sauce on some pasta or with big pieces of crusty bread. Have paper towels handy, because this is a finger licking good recipe.
If you can’t find fennel weed, try this with some Old Bay, and tell me how it is.
On our honeymoon, on the sun bleached Greek Island of Lesbos, I was served the most delicious stuffed grape leaves sitting in a puddle of lemon sauce. So romantic, si? Actually Lesbos is a pretty tatty island, it has that penal colony feel to it, with lots of square concrete buildings with ragged curtains in place of windows. But we did have this amazing lunch there, and if my memory serves me, there was an outrageous talking parrot that entertained us. Flavor memories stick with me, the other stuff, not so much.
Fast forward to today, where we have some very nice grape leaves growing in the orto and on our roof. Just looking at the grape leaves made me hungry for some stuffed grape leaves. Is that weird? Should looking at a beautiful grape vine make you want to run to the local Hallal lamb butcher and beg for chopped lamb?
We decided on an experiment with the leaves, so we gathered some moscato grape leaves from the roof, where it looks like we are going to have a bumper crop of grapes. I see a bird battle in my near future…the damn birds picked us clean last year…just as they got ripe. And some “American” grapes from our orto, that’s what they’re called, I don’t know why.
When we piled up the two stacks of leaves, the moscato leaves were much too tough and leathery, while the Americani were soft and supple. No dilemma there, the moscato leaves could be decoration and the Americani were going into the pot.
Stuffed Grape Leaves Alla Lesbos
24-30 fresh, young grape leaves, or a jar of brined ones
500 g freshly ground lamb
200g cooked barley (I was out of rice, so decided to try the barley and like it much better, more toothsome)
1 fennel frond if you have it
2 cracked, whole cloves of garlic
1 cup chicken stock
salt, pepper, sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
Combine the ground meat, cooked barley, an egg and the spices. Squish it all around with your hands, much better than trying to do it with a spoon.
Clean the grape leaves and clip the stems. If you are using brined grape leaves, wash the leaves.
Put about a tablespoon of the meat mixture into the center, underside of the leaf. Now make a neat roll of it. Mine come out square, they still taste good.
Lay the finished rolls in a saucepan. Add the cracked garlic and lay the fennel frond on top of the rolls. Add the chicken stock and gently poach the rolls in a covered pan for about 15-20 minutes. The whole house will smell delicious. Resist the urge to eat the rolls right out of the pan. OK, try one, you know, just to be sure they are edible.
Lemon Bechamel Sauce
50g of flour, or about ¼ cup
50 g of butter, about 4T
1 ½ cups of milk
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Your basic béchamel: put the milk in a saucepan and warm it until you start to see tiny bubbles around the edge. Meanwhile, melt the butter and add the flour, whisking the whole time. Slowly incorporate the milk. When the milk is fully incorporated, add the lemon zest and juice and about ½ cup of the cooking liquid from the grape leaves.
Arrange the stuffed grape leaves in a small oven proof casserole, add the lemon sauce and place in the oven at 325F/165C until everything is bot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Time enough to make a salad, set the table, pick a wine, and change into an appropriate outfit for a recipe from Lesbos. I’ll leave that to your imagination.
Serve piping hot with some lemon wedges and any remaining sauce. A crusty piece of bread might be good to have around. Or some Greek music playing in the background…..
How can I write a risotto recipe that starts with “Roast 1 flock of chickens? Reserve juices.”??
I recently had to roast a lot of chickens, a whole flock of them, and as they cooled, there was all this lovely chicken juice in the bottom of the pans. I put it all in a container, not really sure what I would do with it, but certainly not letting it go to waste. As far as I’m concerned, the best part of the chicken is the burny, toasty brown stuff that gets left on the roasting pan. It’s pure essence of concentrated chicken.
Lunchtime rolled around the other day, and getting Chinese food delivered to Montone is clearly not an option so I needed to figure out something that we could eat. Right about now, I’d kill for some good Chinese dumplings, but instead, we took a vote and decided on risotto instead of pasta. It’s tough when there are only 2 people voting, who is the tiebreaker? Yeah, you’re right, it’s the chef. It’s good to be the chef.
I decided on a classic risotto Milanese with peas, and then I remembered my magic chicken juice in the fridge. What good luck!
2-3 cups Magic Chicken Juice (diluted 1 part chicken juice: 2 parts water)
½ cup freshly grated parmigiana
½ cup peas
1 good-sized knob of butter (why do they call a hunk of butter a knob? Is it more dignified?? Not if you’re British…)
2 cups Arborio rice
½ teaspoon saffron
1 medium sized glug of white wine
1 minced shallot
Your standard risotto technique:
1) Toast the rice in a dry pan
2) Start adding your liquid, bit by bit. Adding more as it absorbs. I add the wine near the end. Add the shallot near the beginning of the cooking process. Just toss it in the pan.
3) Butter poach the peas. I take frozen peas (pea season is over, whatcha gonna do?) in a small crockery dish, with that good sized knob of butter, and over very low heat, I let the butter melt and the peas poach. This technique is marvelous; use it whenever you want decadent peas.
4) When the rice is done, combine the saffron, cheese and peas…in that order.
5) Now eat.
If there is a moral to the story it has to be that if something looks good enough to keep, keep it, and figure out what to do with it later. Now I have to wait until the next time there is a flock of chickens needing to be roasted before I can get more of the Magic Chicken Juice. If roasting a flock of chickens is not in your future, use good home made chicken stock from a roast chicken, and it too will make you happy.
It’s fava time in Italy, and pretty much everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere. Italians are passionate about fave because it means spring has officially arrived when those giant pods show up in the market.
Fave beans. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee raw.
I love thee in salads.
I love thee paired with soft white cheeses.
I love thee as ‘maro’.
And just to clear up any fava - fave confusion: fava is one fava bean, fave (fav-ay) is more than one fava bean. Italian is pluralized with an “i” or “e”, depending on whether the noun is feminine or masculine. And there is your Italian lesson for today.
I love thee raw.
As I’ve learned, eating a pile of raw fava beans is an Italian spring tradition. Peel and eat, with a small pile of salt for dipping.
I love thee in salads.
If serving your guests a pile of raw beans pods doesn’t make your heart go pitter-pat, try tossing them into a garden salad.
I love thee paired with soft white cheeses.
A small pile of warm, peeled fava beans with some melted soft, fresh young cheese is a little pile of spring indulgence.
I love thee as maro`, a type of fava and mint pesto.
Maro, Fava Pesto
1 pound or 1/2 kilo fresh fave beans
1 chunk of pecorino cheese, fairly fresh, not overly aged
4 cloves of garlic
8 mint leaves
Olive oil, salt
Shell the fave beans. This is somewhat labor intensive and has the potential of burning your fingers, but its still worth the trouble.
Bring a medium size pot of water to boil. The pot should be big enough to fit a colander because you are going to steam the fave in their pods. This makes them easier to shell. Working in small batches, squish the fave out of its thick pod, then remove the tough outer shell of the fave, leaving only the bright green inner kernel.
If the pods are too long to fit in the colander, snap them in half.
While you are shelling the fave, place the unpeeled cloves of garlic in a small roasting dish and roast at 325F/165C for about 20 minutes. Which is about how long it takes to shell a pound of fave.
Take your raw fave beans and place them in an overproof dish and toss with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, let them roast for about 10 minutes.
At this point, you can set the table, slice some prosciutto, take a sip of wine, but don’t check your email, because it totally ruins the vibe.
Once the fave have roasted a bit, add them to the blender, with the now peeled roasted garlic cloves, the mint leaves, the pecorino and another glug of olive oil. Puree until smooth. If you are totally feeling the ancient roots vibe of this recipe you could pound the ingredients smooth with a stone mortar and pestle, but I’ll let you make the call on that one.
Use a soft egg noodle pasta like fettucine, not a regular spaghetti pasta.. Its a very delicate sauce and it needs the gentler egg pasta and a wider noodle.
Cook your pasta and toss with a few tablespoons of the maro` sauce. Serve with lots of fresh cracked pepper.
A note on the cheese: it’s really hard to find fresh, Italian style pecorino in the States. But an Italian chef friend of ours says that manchego makes a good substitute and its easy to find in the US.
In case you have some leftover maro`, you could spread it on a cracker and be very happy munching away on this springy treat.
Or you could try pairing it with baccala, which is what we did the other night. We sauteed a few pieces of baccala, laid it on top of room temperature maro` and finished it with a few fave beans and some lemon zest. I’m sure this would work well with any other dense meat white fish like fresh cod or halibut.
This is the moment for fresh fave, so what are you waiting for? Add them to your market list and have some fun.
Risi e Bisi is an old dish from the Veneto region in Italy, and it means it is springtime if you are eating risi e bisi. It’s made with rice and fresh peas, and depending on whose recipe you are following it can be a soup, a risotto or a kind of warm rice and pea salad. Early May is the heart of fresh pea season, and I like rice, don’t get me wrong, but I really like farro and since I had a delicious load of fresh peas in the house, it seemed like a natural idea to riff off the ol’ risi e bisi.
Mostly, I just like to say risi e bisi (ree-see eh bee-see) and if said properly my cat is highly amused.
This is a soup version that takes advantage of delicious, sweet, fresh, spring peas. Can you tell I like peas? The hard part is shelling them and not eating them as you shell. Sort of like raspberry picking, two for me, one for the bowl.
Farro and Spring Pea Soup
1 cup of farro (you could also use barley)
1 1/2 cup fresh peas, not the shells, just the peas please
3-4 cups good chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
1 small onion, yes, finely chopped
1-2 T heavy cream to finish
olive oil, salt, pepper
In a ceramic pot, or heavy saucepan, gently saute in a small bit of olive oil, the carrots, onion and celery until they are soft and relaxed. Add your chicken stock and bring to a gentle boil.
While its coming up to a boil, shell the peas. You’ll have to figure out how much you need because I have no idea how many peas you’ll eat before you cook them.
Shelling peas is sort of mindless work, so this is a good time to start singing ‘risi e bisi’ in falsetto and entertaining the cat or annoying the dog.
Bring the stock and the vegetables up to a low simmer and add the farro. Let cook until the farro is soft, about 20 minutes. And unless you are one slow pea shucker, all your peas will be sitting in a bowl ready for the soup. Add the peas and let simmer for 1-2 minutes. If your peas are fresh, that is all it will take. If you have not-so-fresh peas, it will take longer, if the peas in the market look like they’ve seen better days, use frozen peas. Add 1-2 T heavy cream to add a little smoothness to the soup and you are good to go.
Perfect spring soup!
We had our soup with a little rose wine at lunch and I have to say that worked very well.
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