Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

I’m not sure if I’ve made it clear yet, but I am somewhat obsessed with saffron. It started when I was about 10 and read somewhere that in ancient Persia, saffron threads were woven into royal textiles, and ritually offered to divinities. The fact that Gualtiero Marchesi, the star Italian chef of those years, was pairing it with real gold leaves in his signature risottos, just added to the mystique, as did the fact that it takes thousands of flowers and many hours of labor to gather together just a pound of stems.

saffron by dinnerinvenice.com

This sounded so special to me, so classy, that one of the first dishes I learned to make on my own and would treat my friends to in junior high, was the traditional Risotto Milanese. My experiments did not end here, unfortunately. As a teen-ager, I even tried using a saffron infusion as a face toner, to give my skin a beautiful golden tint. While this is said to have worked wonders for Cleopatra, the only result I obtained was that my then-crush asked me if I had jaundice (I have since limited my use of spices to food).

Saffron diluted by Dinnerinvenice.com

Adolescent traumas aside, I still think that there is something magical about saffron, with its unique, metallic honey-like aroma, and  luminous yellow-orange color. From India to Persia, from Turkey to Spain, and of course Italy – it’s constantly a symbol of prosperity and holiday.

Here is how to make it even more festive….

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

55 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup Arborio or other risotto rice (Vialone nano, Carnaroli)
  • 3 leeks
  • 1/2 tbsp saffron threads
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Slice one leek very thinly into rings (I use a mandoline), and cook it in 2 tbsp butter until soft. Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and allow it to evaporate. Add the saffron, diluted in 3 tbsp hot broth, and start adding hot stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring almost continuously. As soon as the stock absorbs, add more hot stock. Cook until creamy and "al dente" (about 18 minutes).Add the remaining butter and cheese, and season with salt and pepper.

Slice the 2 remaining leeks length-wise into strips. Blanch the strips for 1 minute in boiling salted water. Use tongs to transfer into a bowl of ice water. Drain and dry on paper towel.

Brush muffin or creme caramel pans with oil (or use silicone ones), line them with the leek strips leaving about 1" hanging out. Press the risotto into the pans with your hands or a spoon, and close the leeks over the risotto. You could also "tie" the packages with chives (blanch first). Bake for about 15-20 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 350 F. Turn out carefully and serve warm.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/12/06/gift-wrapped-risotto/

Another special presentation here

Symbols of Plenty – Symbols of Tears

Autumn mini pumpkins

The Thanksgiving table is exquisitely symbolic. Aside from pumpkin, and of course turkey, which clearly represent bounty, some other harvest symbols are fraught with ambiguities – and not only in American culture.

Read about them in my latest column for the Jewish Week:

Autumn mini pumpkins

Bruscadela – Bread and Wine Trifle

Bruscadela.Collage.by.Dinnerinvenice

At the end of Yom Kippur there is a widespread custom to break the fast joyously, since a Midrash (Jewish homiletic story) describes a heavenly voice speaking at the end of the fast with these words from Ecclesiastes:

“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine …..” (Kohelet Rabbah 9:7).

The Jews of Piedmont, Italy, take this quite literally!

Find out how in my new article for The Jewish daily Forward

Bruscadela.Collage.by.Dinnerinvenice

Italian Lamb Fricassee

Agnello in Fricassea - Italian Lamb Fricassee

Italian lamb fricassee - fricassea

In French, the term Fricassee refers to some kind of stew, usually with a white sauce, in which cut-up meat is first sauteed and then slow-cooked  with the addition of liquid. However, ask any Italian (or Greek!) and they will tell you that to them “fricassea”  is any type of meat or poultry served in a traditional egg-lemon sauce. The Tuscan side of my family used to make this sauce to recycle meat (usually veal) that had already been boiled. We would make soup with the broth, serve the meat boiled with a side of green sauce, and the next day we would turn the leftovers into a creamy egg-lemon fricassea. There are several regional versions of this quick and easy recipe, some made with chicken and others with a mix of different types of meat, including liver. In Rome, however, the ingredient of choice is lamb, a symbol of the spring holidays (whether you choose to celebrate Easter or Passover), often with the addition of seasonal vegetables, such as baby artichokes. Serve accompanied by your favorite starch: potatoes or rice are great.

lemon

Italian Lamb Fricassee

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 lb cubed lamb
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp freshly minced parsley, if liked

Directions

Rinse the lamb and pat dry.

mince the garlic and chop the onion and carrot.

heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic, onion and carrot, and cook for about 3-5 minutes on medium heat. Add the lamb and brown it on all sides for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Pour in the wine and allow it to evaporate on high heat. Lower the heat and allow to cook covered for about 30 to 40 minutes or until done. if there is a lot of liquid, towards the end of the cooking uncover the lamb and allow most of the liquid to evaporate.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the lemon juice until emulsified. remove the lamb from the heat, adjust the salt and pepper, and pour in the egg lemon sauce, stirring quickly. If you like, you can add some fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/28/italian-lamb-fricassee/

This recipe was included in
This American Bite’s roundup of lamb recipes.

Rebecchini – Fried Polenta Sandwiches

Rebecchini- Fried Polenta Sandwiches
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Rebecchini- Fried Polenta Sandwiches

Maize polenta is creamy, delicious and filling, and for centuries represented the main staple in the poor, everyday cuisine of a large part of Northern Italy. Once it cools off and hardens, it can be recycled into a variety of dishes, from a “pasticcio” with meat or cheeses, to a cake, to these savory fried sandwiches (a classic Jewish Italian recipe, and perfect for Hanukkah). If you don’t like anchovies ( I LOVE them!), you can replace them with smoked cheese.

If you have never made polenta before, check out these detailed instructions on one of my favorite Italian food blogs in English, Memorie di Angelina.

  • 1 cup polenta (finely ground or quick cooking)
  • salt (about 1 tsp)
  • water to make polenta (follow instruction on the package, or about 3 cups)
  • 12 anchovies (salt packed is better, but oil-packed is OK))
  • 4-5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil to make anchovy paste
  • 1 clove garlic (whole)
  • dredging flour
  • 3 eggs
  • olive oil for frying

 In a large heavy pot, boil water and add salt. Pour in the corn meal in a thin stream whisking vigorously (use a whisk, not a spoon, to avoid clumping) and cook for about one minute or two before switching to a wooden spoon as the polenta thickens. Keep stirring until the polenta is fully cooked  (about 30 minutes for regular polenta, and 3-5  minutes for “instant” polenta). Pour onto an oiled marble surface or cookie sheet or parchment paper. Spread out flat in a layer that’s about 1/4-inch thick, and allow to cool completely.

In the meantime, rinse the anchovies (removing any bones). Heat olive oil in a small skillet on medium heat with the garlic clove. When the garlic is light brown, discard it and add the anchovies, stirring until they melt into a paste. Set aside.

Pour about 2” oil into a heavy-bottomed wide pot with tall sides (I use my le Creuset Dutch oven) or into your deep fryer. Heat the oil until it forms many tiny bubbles around a piece of bread or cracker thrown into the oil. If you have a candy thermometer, or are using a deep fryer, the right temperature is about 355 to 365 F.

Using a knife or a cookie cutter, cut the polenta into regular triangles or rounds about 2” wide.

Spread half of the polenta pieces with the anchovy paste and cover with a second piece, making “sandwiches. Dredge the sandwiches in flour and then in the slightly beaten eggs, and fry for about 2 to 4 minutes or until golden brown, making sure to maintain the temperature of the oil and to flip them only once (if you keep turning them, they absorb more oil).

Drain on a triple layer of paper towel and serve hot.

Bread and Spinach Dumplings – Strangolapreti

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In contrast with today’s rampant carb-phobia, bread was considered for many centuries the most sacred of foods. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, bread was always a symbol of God’s generosity toward mankind and of the fecundity of the earth- it’s still the center of countless religious rituals, not to mention superstitions and everyday idioms.

As a consequence, in many cultures there was always a stigma associated with wasting it or throwing it out, not only among the poor, but even in wealthier households; which is how bread became the main protagonist of the history of sustainable cooking.

Growing up in Italy, I learned how to store bread in paper bags so it wouldn’t become moldy. Rather, it dried out: after a couple of days it could be soaked in water, milk or broth and turn into thick soups or bread cakes, or add fluffiness to meatballs. If we waited a bit longer, we would simply grate it into crumbs. Each region has its traditional recipes, but it was during my vacations in the Italian Alps that I discovered what became my personal favorite.

In northeastern Italy, mountains and glaciers soar to almost 13,000 feet, contributing to a panorama so majestic that some say it makes you feel closer to God. My dad loved rock-climbing, and ever since I was a little girl, he would take me along for his more leisurely hikes. This was our special time together, while my mom would wait for us down in the chalet because she suffers from vertigo! That would give her plenty of time to experiment with the local cuisine, which she learned from the local women, in particular the phenomenal Nonna Plava, an old lady who used to run a small hotel with her son and daughter-in-law, and loved sharing her recipes. One of the best is the Strangolapreti, gnocchi-size stale bread and greens dumplings that are served with melted butter and cheese.

In the Italian Alps, especially in the Trentino region, you can find many different versions of dumplings made from stale bread; the most famous are canderli (similar to knoedels, and to matzah balls), and strangolapreti.  This curious name, which literally means “priest-stranglers” (!) is also used to describe different types of pasta and dumplings in other regions. When I was little, I thought that the recipe must have been invented by some anti-clerical, communist grandmother!

I later learned that after the Council of Trent (1545-1563) prohibited the consumption of meat on Fridays, this became one of the traditional dishes for that day, and the legend goes that the clergy enjoyed it so much that they almost choked on it. Who could blame them? These dumplings are simply addictive, and I’ve risked the same fate more than once.

The most important thing to remember when making them (as with potato gnocchi) is to keep a light hand with the flour, and add it only a little at a time; if you add too much, rather than with priest-stranglers, you’ll end up with weapons.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Swiss chard or fresh spinach, hard stems removed
  • 8 ounces stale bread, coarsely chopped in the food processor
  • 1 ½ cup  milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 to 6 tbsp white flour
  • 2 pinches grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons butter, or to taste
  • a few fresh sage leaves

Instructions

Place the bread in bowl, cover with the milk, and mix.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt and the greens, and blanch for about 3 minutes. Drain, and dip in ice water to preserve the green color. Drain and squeeze well trough a colander and chop finely.

Squeeze any excess milk out of the bread; combine with the greens, eggs, flour and nutmeg until the mixture holds; if necessary, add more breadcrumbs rather than flour, but the mixture should be very wet. On a floured surface, divide the dough into 5 pieces. Dust your hands with flour, and  roll the pieces into 1/2 inch thick logs. Cut the logs into 1-inch lengths, and place the dumplings onto a floured pan or parchment..

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add salt, and cook the dumplings in batches without overcrowding them.  They are ready when they  rise to the surface; remove them with a slotted spoon, and place on a sheet pan (in a single layer).

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the sage leaves and cook until the butter begins to brown. Remove from heat, toss the dumplings, and serve, garnishing with the whole sage leaves. Drizzle with remaining butter and top with little black pepper and abundant grated cheese.

Italian Hot Chocolate (Cioccolata Calda)

Cioccolata Calda (Italian Hot Chocolate)

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Most of us know that the Mayas and their ancestors were already gobbling unsweetened hot cocoa 2000 years ago. Some historians believe that we also have to thank the Jews – for introducing sweet, hot chocolate drinks to Europe. In fact, many Conversos fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition ended up in South America in the early 1500s, where they learned how to grow and process the cocoa beans, which they started exporting to the Old Continent, together with cane sugar. Hot chocolate and coffee were both such a hit In many parts of Europe, that they put many wine bars out of business. In Venice alone, where the first coffee house in Europe was opened around 1645, some 400 (!) more sprouted in the next 150 years. However, while most could afford coffee, because it was imported directly from Arabia, chocolate (which came from the Americas and had to pass through many intermediaries) was expensive, and for a while it remained an exclusive habit enjoyed by the aristocracy, the wealthy merchants and the high clergy.   I hope I’ll make you feel just as fancy as you slowly sip a cup of this thick Italian-style cioccolata!

  • 4 oz bitterweet chocolate (or 4-5 tsps unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
  • a small pinch of sea salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon potato starch

With Cocoa: Place the cocoa, potato starch, salt  and sugar in a small and heavy or non-stick saucepan. Add the milk very slowly, whisking continuously (use a whisk, not a spoon to avoid clumps). Move the saucepan to the stovetop, and bring to a boil on low heat, stirring continuously; allow to simmer for about one minute or until it thickens and serve accompanied by small cookies.
With Chocolate: use only  high -quality dark chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa – the more, the merrier!); place  a saucepan with the chocolate  in a large pan of shallow warm water, and bring the water to a gentle simmer on top of a range until the chocolate has melted. Add the milk, sugar, salt and potato starch to the chocolate very slowly, stirring continuously; discard the pan of water and place the saucepan with the chocolate on the flame; on low heat, bring to a boil and allow to simmer until it has thickened to perfect creaminess.

 

Fish in Saor – Venetian marinated sweet-and-sour fish

S 87 970 SARDE IN SAOR

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Most American Jews love to mark the end of the Yom Kippur fast with a spread of smoked fish, lox, whitefish, herring, and of course bagels and coffee.

In this spirit, last year I had posted a recipe for a simple fish with raisins, which is served in several Italian communities on the same occasion. However, this year I couldn’t resist sharing with you a more elaborate option, one of my favorites: Fish “in Saor”.

Saor” means  “flavor”, in our dialect, and indeed this sweet-and-sour preparation bursts with such flavor that over the centuries it has become THE signature dish of Venice: it’s served as “cicheti’ (tapas) in the many osterias, and as hoers d’oeuvres in the finest restaurants, or passed from boat to boat under the fireworks at the traditional Redentore festival in July.

Many Italians believe that the raisins and pine nuts in savory dishes (as in our stewed carrots, or our spinach frittata for Passover, and dishes with salt cod) always betray Jewish origins. However, Saor was known in Venice long before the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy, as witnessed by a recipe in the Libro per Cuoco, compiled by an anonymous Venetian at the end of the 14th century. Obviously it’s still possible that the recipe was introduced by some Jews who passed through venice before the expulsion, but it’s not the only explanation.

Venice after the Crusades (1069-1270) had become the most prosperous city in Europe thanks to international commerce. At the peak of its power, it had more than 3,300 ships: the merchants would bring spices from India and China, olive oil from Southern Italy and Greece, sugar from Sicily, unusual fruit from North Africa, and Venetians in general were experimenting with culinary “fusion” like nobody else in Italy or Europe!

The fact that it made fish last for weeks without refrigeration made the Saor a huge hit with the Venetian merchants/mariners, who spent months at a time at sea. As to the Jews, they might have known it from the countries they had to leave, and may have contributed to its increasing popularity in Venice. Besides featuring some of their favorite ingredients, Saor could be made in advance and eaten cold for Shabbat and the holidays!

HERE IS A STEP-BY-STEP:

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lb. large sardines, OR small soles; scaled, cleaned, gutted (heads off! :-)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup olive oil for the marinade
  • more olive oil for frying
  • 2 lb. white onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts

INSTRUCTIONS

Ask your fishmonger to wash the sardines (or soles) accurately, gut them, scale them, take the heads off. At home, rinse them in fresh water and lay them well on paper towel.

Soak the raisins in the wine for at least 30 minutes. Heat oil in a 4-qt. pan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until browned, 10–12 minutes. Add vinegar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until soft, 6–8 minutes. Stir in raisins, nuts, and salt and pepper; let cool.

Drench the sardines in flour (I do this by placing flour in a plastic bag. I add the fillets and shake the bag), and fry them in hot oil for about 3 minutes or until slightly golden. Drain them well on  paper towel and salt them.

When both the fish fillets and the onion marinade have cooled off, start layering them in a serving pan: start with a layer of onions, then a layer of fish), then again onions, fish, etc to end with the onions.

Seal with plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate for al least 1 or 2 days before eating. It actually tastes even better before 4 or 5 days, and I’m told that with this preparation you could even forgo the refrigeration……

BOLLO – FRUIT CAKE TO BREAK THE YOM KIPPUR FAST

Bollo

Bollo is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet bread with raisins, candied zest, and/or anise seeds (depending on which city you live in), served in many Italian and Sephardic communities to end the Yom kippur fast.  Its name means simply “cake” in Spanish and Portuguese, a sign that we need to thank the Iberian exiles for  yet another yummy treat!

In Venice, we are literally handed a slice as we are walking out of synagogue at the end of services, on the steps. Obviously, even a piece of cardbord would taste great accompanied by a tall  glass of lemonade after 25 hours without food or water! However, this cake keeps being served over and over all through the fall holidays, upon entering the sukkah and until Shemini Atzeret. By then, we are usually stuffed, and I still love it – especially with jelly, for breakfast.

The Bollo is also one of the key elements of the “Tavola dell’Angelo” (the Angel’s table), a ritual table setting that several Venetian families prepare on the eve of Yom Kippur in their homes. The table is dressed in white, and decorated with harvest symbols such as pomegranates, flowers and corn. Jewish ritual objects, like prayer books Kiddush cups and candlesticks are also present. Finally, many families use sprouting wheat grains to write auspicious messages such as “Shana Tova”, or to draw symbols (like hands with the fingers spread out for the priestly blessing).

The center of the festive table are always the bollo and a cup or pitcher of water: a tease to humans during the long fast, these treats are in fact strictly reserved to a mysterious “angel”, in case he/she decides to pay a visit: Yom Kippur is, in fact, the holiest day in the Jewish year, the “Shabbat Shabbaton”, and… you never know!

If you happen to be in Venice around the fall holidays, don’t forget to try the bolo from the local kosher bakery, Volpe . You can also pop into the Giardino dei Melograni kosher hotel (by the Hosteria del Ghetto kosher restaurant) and check out their beautiful Angel’s Table.

But back to the Bollo….

  • about 5 cups flour (a little over 1 lb of 00 or all-purpose)
  • 25 gr fresh yeast, or use dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (mix 1/2 cold water and 1/2 very hot water)
  • 1 scarce cup sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 large eggs (if they are quite large, use 3 yolks and 2 whites)
  • 1/2 cup mild olive oil or seed oil
  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in warm water or brandy and drained
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp candied lemon or orange zest (optional) OR aniseeds (optional)
  • 1 shot brandy, cognac or grappa
  • 1 egg yolk or more to glaze the surface

In a bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water and only about 1/4 of flour and 1/4 of the sugar . Mix well, cover with foil and allow to rest in a warm place for at least 1 hour (even overnight) or until doubled in size.  If your apartment is cold, you can turn the oven on and then off: once the oven is warm but not scolding hot, place the bowl with the mix inside, covered with aluminum foil.

Once the mix has more or less doubled in size, add the rest of the flour, the sugar, 3 eggs, and mix well by hand or in a stand mixer. Cover again and allow to rest again in a warm place for 2 hours or until it doubles in size again.

Add the rest of the ingredients and knead again for a few minutes, then shape it into two oval breads.

Cover again with a towel and allow to rest and rise for at least 2 more hours or until light and fluffy and doubled in size.

Brush the top with the egg yolk (slightly beaten with very little water). If your oven tends to be dry, you can also spray lightly with a fine mist of ice water (to prevent it from darkening too much), and add a small pyrex pot or pan full of water in the oven, to keep the air moist. Your oven should be preheated at 450F. Bake at this temperature only for the first 5 to 7 minutes, then lower to 360 for another 35 or 40 minutes. Baking time varies depending on your oven.

***P.S. if you are not much of a baker, there are quicker ways to break the fast Italian-style: try quince paste with any simple cookies, or – if you can tolerate alcohol – the Piedmontese “Bruscadela“: layers of toasted challah soaked for a few hours in mulled wine (simmered with cinnamon, cloves and sugar). I had this once and it made me sleep for 13 hours.

Fluffy Honey and Orange Cake

Fluffy Honey Cake (Dairy or Parve)

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In Italy, “Miele” (honey), is classified as compulsively as cheeses and olive oil – by area of origins, type of flower, and depending on whether pieces of honeycomb were included… we have strawberry-tree (corbezzolo) and Eucalyptus honeys from Sardinia, chestnut honey from Piedmont, millefiori (thousand flowers) from Tuscany, orange blossom from Sicily, acacia from the Pre-Alps, and many more. Every fall, I take a trip to Zebar’s or Eataly where I stress out about which kind will grace my cake this Rosh HaShana!

Rather than blaming this on my all-Italian obsession with ingredients, you should try for yourselves! After all, when the Almighty promised our forefathers that they would be freed from Egyptian bondage, the Promised Land was described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus. 3: 17, etc.) – and not with “milk and sugar”!

In this cake, the orange balances out any excessive sweetness of the honey.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium/large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup oil (canola oil or 1/2 light olive 1/2 almond oil)
  • about 300 gr (3/4 a medium/large jar) liquid honey
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 1 1/2 cup 00 or all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp orange liqueur (like triple sec) or brandy
  • zest of one organic orange
  • 1/4 cup of the orange juice
  • 1 package (16 g) baking powder
  • a pinch of salt

Directions

Using a hand mixer, beat the yolks with the honey until frothy and thick (about 3 minutes). Very slowly add the oil, and beat until creamy. Add the honey, the potato starch, orange zest and the liqueur. Now add the flour (mixed with the baking powder) a bit at a time, alternating it with the orange juice.

In a separate, clean and degreased bowl, or in your stand mixer, beat the whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Now combine the egg whites with the batter, with the help of a spatula, using upward movements.

Pour into a 9.5″ or 10″ Savarin or bundt pan (well greased and dusted with flour). Since honey cakes tend to darken more than sugar-based ones, I prefer these cake pans, with a hole, because the inside will cook faster, before the outside has time to darken. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 30-35 minutes, or until done when tested with a toothpick. To keep the color lighter, you can cover with aluminium foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.


Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)
Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (scarce) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bunches arugula (thicker stems removed)
  • 1/2 pound radishes, thinly sliced (use a mandoline if possible)
  • 1/2 pound green apple, peeled and sliced thin (or hearts of palm)
  • (if liked, 6 ounces goat cheese)

Directions

Wash and dry the arugula, and toss it with the radishes and apple together.

While it’s not very “Italian”, I always crave hearts of palm (it all started with my second pregnancy), and like substituting them for the apple in this recipe.

Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, shallot, salt and pepper, and toss the salad with this dressing right before serving.

** If you are not serving this as a side, but having it as a very light summer meal , you could add some goat cheese and serve with warm multi-grain bread.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/07/24/insalata-tricolore-three-color-salad/

Gelato in a Phyllo Nest

GELATO ALLA VANIGLIA CON MACEDONIA DI FRUTTI DI BOSCO

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One of the things that don’t cease to surprise me, after 18 years in the US, is how strongly, deeply, philosophically anti-air conditioning my fellow Italians can be. It’s not only about being more ecologically aware than our American counterparts – we really hold on to our grandmas’ belief that artificial cooling can cause a plethora of maladies, from headaches to stomach congestion (whatever that is), to pneumonia. Of course, when it’s 100+ degrees outside, we have our own cooling methods.

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1)    (also called: Italian air conditioning) leave your windows open from about 10 pm to 7 am, to allow the cool breeze to come in. Keep them shut during the day. Grab a fan.

2)    Limit “real food” to dinner time; the rest of the day, eat mostly fruit and vegetables and indulge often in frozen desserts.

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To those of you who are cringing at the idea of daily ice cream, I’d like to point out that Italian gelato is made with milk instead of cream. Not only that, artisanal gelato includes real eggs, real fruit: it’s definitely more “real’ than a box of mac & cheese! On the other hand, in this land of advertising and additives, it might sound about as interesting as broccoli to the younger ones. Try to explain to your 4 and 5 year olds that home-made is better than the  treats from the local ice cream cart with its hypnotizing chime.

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Even when I can convince mine to forgo the colorant-laden packaged Dora stuff, they still demand at least cones. This has been a problem for me when trying to serve them my home-made gelato…. I was not thrilled about storing wholesale quantities of cones in my Manhattan apartment, and the idea of what could happen to our Persian rugs gave me the shivers.

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My “Eureka” moment came when I saw something that my talented and sophisticated friend Lucilla served at a dinner party…. gelato in edible cups! It made me realize that, for my two demanding little customers Gabo and Bianca, it was all about being able to polish off every possible trace of their dessert. Lucilla was kind enough to share her secret, and here it is. Enjoy your Summer!

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RECIPE INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 lb phyllo dough (home-made or store-bought)
  • 1/2 lb vanilla gelato (home-made or store-bought)
  • 1/2 lb bittersweet or dark chocolate (grated, or use chips)
  • 1 basket berries
  • milk and butter

DIRECTIONS

Cut the phyllo into 16 squares. Place 4 of them into 4 muffin pans lined with parchment, and brush the top with melted butter. Top each square with another square (without making the corners overlap), and repeat with 4 phylo squares for each muffin pan, brushing with butter in between. Bake in a pre-heated 360 F oven for about 10 minutes or until slightly golden. While the phyllo nests are baking, melt the chocolate in a saucepan on low heat with a few tablespoons of milk (enough to make a smooth but thick sauce). Allow the nests to cool off before unfolding them. Before serving, place a large scoop of vanilla gelato in each nest, and decorate with warm chocolate sauce and red berries. Enjoy!



Grandma’s Eggplant and Apple Jam

S 01 02 I MARMELLATA DI MELE E MELANZANE

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Few things are more American than a PB & J sandwich. However, jelly itself has been a staple all over the world since antiquity, when someone figured out that even quince (a fruit that looks like an ugly apple, and that’s too hard to be eaten raw) could taste delicious when slow-cooked with honey (incidentally, the word Marmalade derives from the Portuguese Marmelo (quince). Unlike our American children, spoiled by constant sugary snacks, it seems that people back then actually PREFERRED fresh fruit, because they didn’t attempt to make jelly with anything other than quince for centuries!

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It was the Persians or the Arabs, who had been producing sugar from cane, who finally came up with the idea of syrup and started using it to manufacture various preserves, experimenting with pectic fermentation and creating the first citrus fruit marmalades. With the conquest of Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy, the Arabs introduced all their confections, changing the European palate forever, much to the joy of children and… dentists.

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Preserving fruit or vegetables in syrup, just like drying or pickling, also prolonged their shelf life; this became critical in the Age of Discovery, starting in the 15th century, for the sailors, merchants and pirates (!) who had to spend months at sea with no access to fresh produce.

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However, jam makes me think of far more familiar adventures, such as climbing up my grandmother’s fig, apple and peach trees as a child. I didn’t mind a scraped knee if I could feel that I was part of our little production line: I picked the fruit, nonna stirred the jam, my mom (the pharmaceutical chemist) jarred it, and my dad kept stealing spoonfuls from the pot.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 pounds small (Japanese) eggplants
  • 3 small golden delicious apples (or 2 large)
  • 1 medium orange
  • 1 organic lemon
  • 6 cups sugar

DIRECTIONS:

peel the eggplants, cut them in 2-3 pieces each, and pierce them with a fork. Place them in a bowl of salted water for 1 hour. Rinse and cover with fresh, unsalted water. Let rest for another hour. Drain and lace in a large (it will froth up like crazy) copper or stainless steel pot, with the peeled and sliced apples, and the orange and lemon juice and zest. Add the sugar and 2-3 tbsps water,bring to a boil, and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. remove from the heat and pass through a food mill or sieve 9even a potato masher will do!). return to the pot and simmer for 30 more minutes, or until it has thickened. Pour into sterilized glass jars and close them tightly. Store in a cool, dark place.

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Gratin Tomatoes

POMODORI RIPIENI

Ask any Southern Italian, or Italian American, to imagine cooking without the color and the fragrance of tomato, and they will probably tell you it’s impossible.

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However, the use of tomato spread in European kitchens fairly recently: although it was first introduced in the 16th century, the vast majority of people treated it as a pretty, but possibly poisonous, decorative plant for at least the next two hundred years. In Peru, Mexico and Chile, where it originated from, the natives also treated it as unedible.

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While nobody was stirring Marinara, alchemists were concocting plenty of potions featuring the new fruit, which was believed to have aphrodisiac powers when ingested in small amounts. This accounts for the romantic names the plant was given, from England and France (Love Apple, Pomme d’Amour) to Italy Pomo d’Oro, Golden Apple) .

It’s still unclear where and when, in Baroque Europe, someone first tasted the mysterious fruit. Maybe it was a brave and hungry farmer in Southern Italy, in times of famine. Maybe the Sephardic merchants of Livorno, who had first imported the seeds (this may be the reason why many tomato-based local dishes are called “Jewish-style” or “Moses-style”). Or it could have been a bored aristocrat in France, where tomatoes were only eaten at the Royal Court until well into the 18th century.

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In any case, once Europeans actually bit into it, there was no way back! According to Neapolitan screenwriter Luciano De Crescenzo, “ The discovery of tomato represented, in the history of food, a revolution comparable to what the French Revolution constituted in social history”.

Gratin Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • GRATIN TOMATOES
  • 8 medium tomatoes, firm (on the vine)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing
  • 1 1/2 cup to 2 cupsplain bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsps freshly chopped parsley, or 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3-4 minced anchovies (oil-packed, or salt-packed and rinsed) (optional)
  • salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon or less)
  • black pepper
  • pine nuts, olives or basil leaves to decorate

Directions

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, scoop out the seeds and pulp, sprinkle the inside with salt and drain upside down for 30+ mins. Save the pulp.

In a food processor, mince the garlic, anchovies and herbs, and blend with the tomato pulp that you had set aside. Add the olive oil and the bread crumbs. Add the bread crumbs gradually and stop once the mix holds together without being too firm.

Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture, brush the top with little more oil, and bake for 35-40 minutes in a pre-heated 400 F oven.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/06/28/gratin-tomatoes-12/

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Lemon and Lavander Tart

iStock_000020172830XSmall

Lemon Lavander Tart by DinnerInVenice

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town” (Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses).

One of my first olfactory memories features a lemon lavender crostata, baked by my grandmother on a summer afternoon about four decades ago.

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When we think of lavender fields, most of us conjure up images of Provence: maybe because they were often depicted by French impressionists. However, this plant (a member of the same family of savory herbs which also includes sage, thyme, and oregano) is cultivated all over the world, from England to Brazil, from Russia to Japan and new Zealand – and of course, Italy.

My grandmother lived in Pistoia, a town about 30 minutes North-West of Florence, and just over an hour drive from the Chianti region and its stunning landscapes of rolling hills lined with cypress trees, vineyards, olive groves and (surprise!) lavender fields, in a patchwork of incomparable natural beauty. That’s exactly where my parents and I used to pick our flowers. Only after a generous tip to the farmer we would be  allowed to leave with a large bundle.

I remember that I would often come back with a bee sting, promptly treated by the local pediatrician, Dottor Federico: lush lavender shrubs are  always humming with fuzzy bees, and the product of this romantic relationship is the most elegant of all honeys.

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My grandmother was never a remarkable  cook or baker, but somehow this particular tart, made using her next-door neighbor’s recipe, and almonds and lemons from her own orchard, always came out so delectable that it was gone in five minutes – however, its exquisite memory has lingered on for over 40 years….Image

Ingredients:

  • 1 disc puff pastry or short pastry, home made or purchased
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup (heaped) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (heaped) potato starch
  • 2 1/4 cups 2 % milk
  • juice of 2 small lemons, or 1 large lemon
  • zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender

Grease a springform pan (about 9″ to 9 1/2″) and line the bottom with parchment. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees if using puff pastry, 360 if using short pastry.

Roll out pastry and transfer pastry to the prepared springform pan, trimming edges using a paring knife

Prepare the custard: beat the egg yolks with the sugar until foamy. Add the lemon zest and juice.

Dissolve the potato starch into the warm milk, adding little milk at a time. Once combined, add it to the egg mix. Cook in a Bain Marie over low heat, whisking frequently, until the custard thickens. Add 1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms/petals to the custard.
Pour the custard into the crust, and sprinkle a little more lavender on top. Bake at  400 (for puff) or 360 (for pastry dough) for 30 to 45 minutes or until the crust is golden. You can also use mini-pans and make individual size tartelettes.

Shabbat Meals: Red Mullet Livornese-Style

4103 TRIGLIE ALLA MOSAICA

… and the Cosmopolitan Cooking of the Jews of Livorno.

This article and recipe appeared in The Jewish Forward.

Click here to view it.

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Buricche

Buricche
Buricche

Buricche

Buricche

Ingredients

  • Pastry:
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or as needed)
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Directions

1 - FISH BUREKAS (Parve)

chop 1/2 pound cooked leftover fish (or cook 3/4 lbs. white fish fillets in some extra-virgin olive oil and garlic till opaque, and salt); add 4 chopped anchovies (oil- or salt-packed, and rinsed) 1 large egg yolk, a touch of nutmeg and a tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley, pepper to taste and more salt if necessary. You can add a small amount of breadcrumbs, only if the mixture is too soft and doesn't hold together. If too dry, add another 1/2 egg yolk.

Fill the discs of pastry with this mixture, fold them, seal them, and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

2 - MEAT BUREKAS

cook 3/4 lbs of ground beef or lamb in olive oil with 1 small chopped onion (cook the onion first until soft before adding the beef). With the beef, add salt, pepper, 1/3 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, a clove of garlic. When cooked, discard the garlic and let cool. If you like, you can add 1/4 a cup of pine nuts and 1/4 cup of raisins (soak the raisins in hot water or brandy for 30 minutes and drain before using). Add a beaten egg, and if necessary some bread crumbs and more salt. Stuff the burekas with this mixture and bake for 30 minutes at 350 F.

3 - VEGETARIAN

cook 1 chopped onion in 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 1 lb chopped eggplant (previously salted and drained in a colander for an hour, rinsed, and patted dry), 1/2 lb of peeled and diced tomatoes, well drained (canned are fine), salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon of freshly minced parsley. Cook until the vegetables are so soft that they fall apart. Break down further with a fork or use your mixer.

Let it cool and add some bread crumbs if the mixture is too liquid. Fill the burekas and bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes (if making a dairy meal, you can add 4 tablespoons of grated parmigiano to the filling).

TO MAKE THE PASTRY:

In a large bowl, combine the oil, warm water, salt, and gradually the flour (you will likely need between 5 and 6 cups to end up with a workable dough).

The dough should be elastic. Knead well, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece at a time, as thin as possible, and cut out rounds with a 3" cookie cutter or cup.

Place 1 tablespoon of filling on each round, fold into a half-moon and pinch the edges to seal. Place the rounds on a greased baking sheet lined with parchment paper; brush with the egg yolk, beaten with 1 or 2 tablespoons of water.

Bake at 350 F in a pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes or till golden.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/02/06/buricche/

Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs

Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs
Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs

Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs

My husband and I are almost vegetarian, meaning that we tend to forget about meat and to serve it only when we have guests who expect it. But a few of you have been asking for a winter-appropriate meat dish, and here you go! You are going to love this slow-cooked recipe, because it’s very simple and yet elegant. Perfect for a date! As always with Italian cuisine, don’t skimp on the ingredients. Use a wine that you would actually enjoy drinking – it will cost more, but it’s totally worth it! Just think of this as a special occasion dish. Wines that work well are dry and with a lot of body: Barolo, Chianti, Super-Tuscans, Bordeaux, etc. The meat should be cut into approx. 1″ cubes.

Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs

Ingredients

  • (serves 4-6)
  • 2 pounds beef for stew
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch
  • 6 cloves garlic, each cut into 4 lenghth-wise
  • 1 carrot
  • a small rosemary sprig
  • a few sage leaves
  • 4-5 juniper berries
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Directions

With a sharp knife, make a small cut in each cube of meat and insert a piece of garlic in each cut. Marinade the meat for 24 hours with the wine, vinegar, garlic, juniper berries and herbs.

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a heavy pot, add the sliced onion and cook for 2-3 minute.

Drain and dry the meat, dip it in potato starch, and brown it on all sides.

Remove the meat and set aside; cook the onion on medium/low heat for 10-15 more minutes or until soft, adding a couple of tablespoons of water if necessary to prevent it from burning.

Return the meat to the pot (you can also use a slow-cooker) with at least ½ of the marinade liquid, add salt and pepper, and simmer for at least 3 hours or even longer on low heat. It can take closer to 4 hours, depending on the cut of meat: when it's ready, it will fall apart easily if you test it with a fork.

Enjoy with potatoes or polenta, or some crunchy Italian bread.

Some people prefer to remove most of the rosemary and sage leaves before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/29/fragrant-stew-with-wine-and-herbs/

How to make the Perfect Pasta

How to make the Perfect Pasta
How to make the Perfect Pasta

How to make the Perfect Pasta

My friends at CookKosher just posted my special tips on How to Cook the Perfect Pasta, including when you need to reheat it for Shabbat!

Are you ready to start eating like a Real Italian? Click here!

Bigoli in Salsa

Bigoli in Salsa

Bigoli in Salsa

Bigoli are a kind of thick, hand-made whole-wheat spaghetti typical of Venice, my hometown. This delicious white sauce with onions and anchovies has Jewish roots, but has become popular across the religious spectrum. This recipe can also be made using regular whole-wheat spaghetti.

Bigoli

Ingredients

  • (serves 6):
  • . 1 pound package whole-wheat spaghetti (I like De Cecco or Barilla)
  • - 5-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • - 2 large white onions, minced thin
  • - a 3-ounce can of oil-packed anchovy fillets (even better, 10 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed), minced
  • - half a cup of dry white wine, like a Pinot Grigio or Riesling
  • - salt, pepper
  • - toasted bread crumbs, if desired.

Directions

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta 'al dente'.

Meanwhile, in a saute' pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame.

Add the minced onions and a couple of tablespoons of water and lower the flame.

Let the onions cook, stirring, till translucent, adding little water if they start to dry out.

In the meantime, you will have minced the anchovies; once the onions are translucent add the anchovies and wineto the onions and keep cooking on low heat, stirring, until they 'melt' completely into the sauce.

Add black pepper to taste, and use this sauce to dress your spaghetti.

Some like to add grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (in a dairy meal), or toasted bread-crumbs and parsley; but the classic Venetian way to eat this pasta is without any additions.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/12/bigoli/

 

Traditional Pasta Sauce

Traditional Pasta Sauce (Meat)

Traditional Pasta Sauce (Meat)

A quick and traditional pasta sauce used for Shabbat in many communities in Northern Italy is the juice
left over from roasting lean cuts of meat.

Use high-quality Italian olive oil, a couple of garlic cloves (whole), rosemary, salt and pepper.

Serve some of this sauce with the roast meat, but use what’s left to dress egg noodles (tagliolini or fettuccine).

A cold version of this pasta is the Agresto, or Bagna Brusca, in which lemon juice and egg are added to the meat juices after the pasta has been allowed to cool off. In this case, serve at room temperature.

Chestnut and Leek Soup

Chestnut and Leek Soup
Chestnut and Leek Soup

Chestnut and Leek Soup

Chestnuts were central to the traditional Italian diet, especially in the mountains and among the poor. This simple soup is extremely satisfying when it’s cold outside, especially if you accompany it with a nice glass of a dry, fruity white wine. For an ever richer soup, you can substitute half the vegetable stock with milk. 

Chestnut and Leek Soup

Ingredients

  • (serves 4)
  • 2 leeks
  • 1/3 pound fresh chestnuts (or 1 cup
  • cooked and peeled chestnuts)
  • ½ pound potatoes
  • 4 tablespoons butter, or olive oil
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Blanch the chestnuts for about 15 minutes and peel them (you can also use pre-cooked and peeled chestnuts, but you will lose some flavor).

Clean the leeks, discarding their outer leaves and green parts, and slice them thinly.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into small dice. In a skillet, heat the butter or oil, and saute’ the leeks for 5 minutes;

add the chestnuts and potatoes, salt, and add the wine.

Allow it to evaporate, then add the stock, and bring to a boil; lower the heat, and cook for 45

minutes to one hour, or until the chestnuts and potatoes are fully cooked.

Puree’ the soup with an immersion blender or your food processor. Add more salt and pepper if liked, and serve hot.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/03/24/chestnut-and-leek-soup/

 

Marinated Zucchini

marinated zucchini

marinated zucchini zucchine in marinata - Lazio

Marinated Zucchini

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh, small and firm organic zucchini
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsps white wine vinegar
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes, or 2 chili peppers, cut into 3-4 pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 tsps coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 4 tsps coarsely chopped fresh parsley or mint leaves
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Using a mandoline or your food processor disc to make them even, cut the zucchini lengthwise into slices ¼-inch thick.

Place the slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt and place at the bottom of your sink to drain for 1 hour.

Drain, rinse, and dry with paper towel. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt and and the chili.

Place the zucchini slices flat in the jar, a few at a time, pouring some of the marinade, garlic slices, basil and mint between each layer.

Cover and marinate for at least 12 hours before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/03/13/marinated-zucchini/