Warm Farro Salad with Cranberry Beans and Red Beet Mousse

7376 Beet & Bean Farro

7376 Beet & Bean Farro

I think I already told you that I don’t mind a little extra padding in the winter: it’s way more practical than having to wear an extra puffer coat, and gives me a great excuse to overindulge in cheesy dishes. However, I’ve lost count of all the snowstorms we’ve had this year, and maybe – just maybe – I’ll start wiggling my way out of hibernation. This morning I even made it to a workout class, and no cheese tonight!

7379 Farro w beet and beans

Warm Farro Salad with Cranberry Beans and Red Beet Mousse

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb farro or spelt
  • 1 cooked beet
  • 1/2 lb cooked Borlotti (cranberry beans) (canned OK)
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 cup Greek Yogurt (OK to leave out for a dairy-free version, just add 1 more beet)
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the farro or spelt, and cook it in salted boiling water according to the package instructions (if you are in a rush, you can use the quick-cooking farro by Pedon).

Drain it, dress it with the oil, toss and set aside.

Peel the onion, slice it very thinly (I prefer to use a mandolin) and soak the slices in a bowl of cold milk or ice water until use (this step takes the bite out of the onion... and helps with onion breath!).

Dice the beet and place it in your food processor with the cream (or greek yogurt), salt and pepper. You can process until smooth, or leave it somewhat chunky.

Add the drained onion and beans to the warm farro, dress with the remaining oil. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and serve with the beet mousse

* the beet and yogurt should be kept at room temperature, not cold.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2014/02/27/warm-farro-salad-with-cranberry-beans-and-red-beet-mousse/

Silvia’s Fennel and Red Onion Gratin

Silvia Nacamulli at Relais dei Ciclamini
Photo by Ryan Bartley; Recipe by Silvia Nacamulli

Photo by Ryan Bartley; Recipe by Silvia Nacamulli

Today I have a special surprise for you: I am quite thrilled to introduce you to my friend Silvia Nacamulli. Silvia, who grew up in Rome, is a fellow foodie, who learned all her tricks from three generations of  talented Jewish nonnas. In London, where she lives with her husband and adorable daughters, she runs the successful cooking school La Cucina di Silvia – Cooking for the Soul, and caters very chic private parties (so chic, in fact, that she was featured in Elle magazine).

Silvia Nacamulli at Relais dei Ciclamini

Silvia Nacamulli at Relais dei Ciclamini

However, Silvia is probably most famous for her culinary vacations in Italy (she is now getting ready for the next one, coming up in June), during which English-speaking Italophiles from all over the world learn how to cook a variety of Italian, and Jewish Italian dishes while relaxing in the gorgeous setting of  Relais Nature La Tenuta dei Ciclamini.

City-dwellers, in particular, can’t get enough of the all-encompassing food experience that Silvia offers beyond the cooking lessons, including truffle or mushroom and chestnut hunts (depending on the season), lessons in cheese- and jam-making, fresh vegetable picking, and great wine. Luckily, the Relais has a giant gym and swimming pool where they can burn it all off!

Relais dei Ciclamini, Umbria (Italy)

Relais dei Ciclamini, Umbria (Italy)

Last September, Silvia and I were both part of a panel at the Museum of Jewish Heritage here in New York, organized by Jayne Cohen and including the über-talented Cara de Silva and Walter Potenza. Before the event we were exchanging favorite recipes, and I practically begged her to guest post this one on my blog. As you may have heard, Italians like to procrastinate – that’s how, between the two of us, it took about six months… but at last Silvia’s recipe is here,  in all its mouthwatering splendor!

Silvia’s Fennel and Red Onion Gratin

Ingredients

  • 3 large red onions
  • 3 heads fennel
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • 4 tbsp freshly minced flat parsley
  • 4-5 tbsp breadcrumbs or panko
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Preheat the fan (convection) oven to 375 F and line 2 large sheet trays with parchment paper.

Peel the onions and wash the fennel, eliminating the choke.

Cut the fennel in half thorugh its root and boil it in salted water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and cut again lengthwise: you will have 4 long slices for each head of fennel*.

Cut the onions crosswise into 1 inch-thick slices.

Arrange the fennel and onion on the baking sheet as a single layer.

Sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic powder on top of each onion and fennel slice. Cover with breadcrumbs and parsley, and drizzle with the olive oil.

Bake for about 45 min or until golden. .

*If the fennel is large, cut it into more slices.

Distribute the onions and fennel slices

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/30/silvias-fennel-and-red-onion-gratin/

 

 

Spring Fling Pizza

Spring Fling Pizza by DinnerinVenice

Spring Fling Pizza by DinnerinVenice

The arrival of spring always inspires me to check out the neighborhood’s farmers’ markets and even community gardens in the quest for culinary ideas. After my FreshDirect-fueled winter hibernation, I crave flavors and colors beyond the boundaries of the chain grocery stores.

I’m embarrassed to admit that when I find anything new, or that I haven’t cooked in a long time, I simply stick it into a pizza or a calzone – at least the first time. The reason is very practical: my kids will eat positively anything if it’s deep-fried, or in the form of a pizza topping.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been on what my husband has deemed a “weed-spree”: no, that’s not what you think – I’m just referring to edible plants and herbs that sprout literally everywhere, on the side of the street and in your backyard; but while they are highly prized in Italian and French cuisine, here in the US most people never take advantage of them.

Borage-Collage-by-DinnerInVeniceGrowing up in Italy, I tried countless recipes with edible weeds. My mom made salads and frittatas with dandelion greens (the scourge of any lawn perfectionist!). One of our housekeepers, Pierina, would bring us baskets of  “bruscandoli“, hop shoots (yes – from beer hops) that literally invaded the street sides near her house in the suburbs of Venice: they tasted better than young asparagus and made fantastic risottos! My nonna, in Tuscany, would take me stinging nettle-hunting… armed with contractor’s gloves and “jungle boots”: her nettle soup and gnocchi were worth all the trouble. Finally, during a vacation in the Cinque Terre we discovered borage, which tastes like young cucumbers and the locals combine with ricotta in their traditional ravioli filling. Here in New York, most people consider it as a pest and will go to any lengths to get rid of it, bringing on the chemical warfare . They usually lose the battle, because borage and dandelions are among the most invasive plants. That’s why I recommend that, if you can’t kill it – you should eat it! (just make sure it’s not treated with any dangerous pesticides).

Spring Fling Pizza by DinnerInvenice 2

Spring Fling Pizza

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

1 hour

serves seres 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pizza dough (home-made or store-bought)
  • ¼ lb haricot verts
  • ¼ lb romano beans (wide, flat string beans)
  • ½ head red radicchio
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 cup (unpacked) borage leaves
  • 6 oz whole milk ricotta
  • 6 oz Italian Stracchino, OR cottage cheese
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

If using store-bought dough, take it out of the refrigerator (not freezer) and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.

Prepare the haricots (I snip off the ends and eliminate the “thread”, unless you buy them already cleaned); clean the romano beans. Steam both together for about 15 minutes. Drain and cut into pieces.

Cut the radicchio into thin stripes. Slice the onion thinly.

Heat the oil in a skillet, add the whole garlic cloves and cook for 1 minute; add the haricots, the romano beans and the radicchio, and little salt, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring. Discard the garlic and allow to cool. In the meantime, blanch the borage for 3 minutes in salted boiling water, remove with a slotten spoon and gently pat dry with paper towel.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta with the cheese until smooth, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Combine with the haricots, romano beans and radicchio.

Dust the dough with flour, and also flour a work surface. Start by pressing out the dough using your fingers, and once it’s thinner and more malleable roll it out on a sheet of parchment with a floured rolling pin, to a thickness of about 3 mm. Distribute the dough in a parchment-lined baking pan (you can use a square “half-sheet pan” or experiment with other shapes. Build up the edges (the “crust”) with your fingers. Cook the "pizza crust" in your pre-heated oven at 400 F for 10 minutes without any topping, then take it out, spread the ricotta/vegetable mix on top, and decorate with the red onion rings and the borage leaves. Brush with a little olive oil, sprinkle with pepper, and bake for an additional 15 or 20 minutes or until golden. If the topping starts to brown too much, cover it with aluminium foil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/24/spring-fling-pizza/

Italian Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables

After almost twenty years in America, I have come to terms with the fact that here barbecue is an expression of national pride. Barbecue expresses American identity through food as accurately as jazz does through music. It’s simple, honest, and… manly. I ’ve come to love it.  However, to stay true to my origins, I always make room on the grill for some vegetables! Italians (with the exception of Tuscany) are not so big on barbecuing meat, but grilling is a favorite cooking method for everything else! Besides the obvious advantage of being quick and easy, it preserves most of the ingredients’ nutritional qualities while enhancing their flavor. The secret of a good vegetable “barbecue” is the grilling temperature, which needs to be inversely proportional to the size/thickness of the food: the thinner pieces should be grilled quickly on high heat, and the thicker/larger ones should be cooked more slowly on lower heat. We don’t usually marinate the vegetables before grilling. In order to enhance (rather than hide) their flavor and texture, we just brush them quickly with a little oil while on the grill. Each vegetable needs some individual attention: eggplants, for example, tend to dry out a bit during grilling; besides, it’s best to salt them first, to cut down their bitterness, but this also removes some moisture.

salting eggplant

For this reason, they should be sliced pretty thick (about1/2 inch) and cooked longer. Zucchini are delicate and should be sliced thinner and cooked very quickly. If you use a mandoline or your food processor disc, you will be able to set your desired thickness and cook the vegetable slices more uniformly. Tomatoes are quite watery, and should be seeded, salted and allowed to drain for twenty minutes before cooking. They should only be grilled on the side of the peel, or they’ll fall apart. Just make sure you give all your veggies some TLC and individual attention!

Italian Grilled Vegetables

Italian Grilled Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 2 bell peppers, seeded and halved or quartered
  • 2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
  • 1 or 2 Japanese eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 1 head red radicchio or/and fennel, halved or sliced lengthwise (depending on the type and size)
  • ** you can also useother vegetables, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, asparagus etc.
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 to 2 tsp freshly chopped Italian parsley
  • (optional) chopped basil leaves,or rosemary and sage

Directions

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat (or feel free to use your barbecue). If using eggplant, salt the slices and leave them to sweat out the bitter juices for half an hour before you grill them. Rinse them and pat them dry before grilling. Right before placing them on the grill, brush the vegetables with oil. Grill one type of vegetable at a time, because depending on their texture and thickness (see intro) they will require different temperatures and cooking times. Working in batches, cook the vegetables until tender and lightly charred (about 8 minutes for the eggplants and peppers; 5 minutes for the zucchini; 4 minutes for the radicchio, fennel or onion). Don't shift them or turn them frequently or the grill marks will look too irregular. Arrange the vegetables on a platter and drizzle or brush them with more oil. Add salt, pepper, minced garlic and herbs to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/04/italian-grilled-vegetables/

Artichoke Sformatini

sformatini di carciofi

sformatini di carciofi

Behind a tough, thorny covering, the artichoke hides a tender and fragrant heart. Through the centuries, this contrast has inspired a number of literary productions, from Greek legends to contemporary poetry. And with all due respect to my Israeli friends, the artichoke’s reputation  in this sense even precedes that of the “Sabra”! While we think of the artichoke as a vegetable, it is technically the edible and tasty bud of a flower, which makes it even more romantic – not to mention the satisfaction of finally eating something that it took us two hours and a couple of knife accidents to clean.

In Italy, we are all notoriously obsessed with local food, and we all insist that our particular regional variety is the best (note to my Roman friends: please don’t even bother to comment and criticize under this post, our differences on the topic can not be reconciled!). Italian Jews like me are possibly even more passionate than the others about this topic, given that until at least the 1800s in Northern and Central Italy the Gentiles would not go anywhere near artichokes, which were considered some crazy Jewish ingredient.

In Venice, we buy the purple artichokes that come from Sant’Erasmo, the largest island in the lagoon. In the spring, if you are lucky, sometimes you can find the cream of the crop, the first tiny artichoke to grow on each plant, out of more than one hundred: these are called  “castraure” (kas-tra-OO-reh), because they are “castrated” (cut off ) in order to encourage more to flourish. I have seen my fellow Venetians get into violent fights at the Rialto market over these treasures, which are prized for their relative lack of pricks and their tender, melt-in-your-mouth interior.

While it’s not the same as eating the real thing along the canals of Venice, you can find pretty good artichokes right here in the U.S (my favorites are the ones from Montrey County, in California). Ever since the Italian immigration wave in the early 20th century, artichokes quickly became popular, and started selling for a high price. In the 1920’s, even the mafia invested in them, and when Ciro Terranova, “the Artichoke King”, took the artichoke wars to such extremes as to terrify produce distributors all over the country, Fiorello La Guardia, the legendary mayor of New York, declared illegal “the sale and possession of artichokes” iin the City. The ban was lifted after only one week: it seems that La Guardia, himself the son of Jewish Italian immigrants, admitted that he loved the vegetable too much to prohibit it!

artichokes.001

Sformato is a kind of savory custard, but fluffier, almost soufflé-like and usually including pureed vegetables. The name (sfohr-MAH-toh) means “unmolded” in Italian — from sformare, to turn out. It’s a very traditional recipe, found in many Italian regions and in most classic cookbooks, from “Il Talismano della Felicità” to “Il Cucchiaio d’Argento”. Tuscans, like my mom, are particularly fond of it and make it with every vegetable they can find!

Artichoke Sformatini

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

1 hour, 15 minutes

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 artichokes (or 2 lb frozen artichoke hearts or bottoms)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 large eggs
  • For the Bechamel Sauce:
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp grated parmigiano or grana cheese (or more, to taste)

Directions

Clean the artichokes, eliminating the outer tough leaves and the chokes. Slice them. In a saucepan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil with a thinly sliced shallot for 2 minutes. Add the artichokes and barely cover with water or vegetable oil. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until soft and until the water has been fully absorbed. Adjust salt. Blend in your food processor until smooth.

Make the béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a heavy pot over low heat. Add the flour, whisking continuously to prevent clumps. Cook on low heat until the flour disappears into the butter, without letting the butter turn brow. Start adding warm (not hot!) milk to the mix, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring the sauce to a simmer, add salt and pepper and keep whisking almost constantly for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Taste, and add more salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. If you still ended up with some lumps, strain through a sieve. Remove from the heat, cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and allow to cool before combining with the eggs.

Whisk 2 eggs lightly in a bowl; stir in the béchamel sauce and artichoke puree and parmigiano cheese, and combine until smooth.

Butter the ramekins (you can use 6 6-ounce ramekins, or 4 larger ones, or 8 smaller. Baking time will vary depending on size). Dust with bread crumbs. Pour mixture into ramekins, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 25 to 40 minutes (depending on size), or until a light golden crust forms on top and the sformati are nice and firm. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, unmold and serve.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/02/27/artichoke-sformatini/

MORE IDEAS WITH ARTICHOKES:

Madonna del Piatto’s Artichokes & Lemon Salad

Academia Barilla’s Artichoke Fricassee

Jul’s Omelet with Artichokes

Lidia’s Stuffed Artichokes

JOK’s Artichoke Chicken

Barbara’s Lamb Shanks with Artichokes

Bread and Spinach Dumplings – Strangolapreti

s-58-00-gnocchi_canederli-di-spinaci1

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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.

Carrot Cream Soup – cream-less and dairy-free

Creamy Carrot Soup with No Cream (Parve)

Creamy Cream-Less Carrot Soup (Parve) GF

In Italy, creamy soups – or “vellutate” – are not usually made with cream (an ingredient that we like to leave to the French): the texture is given by the addition of a simple potato or a handful of rice.

The starches in the rice are slowly released during the cooking, and act as a thickener and an emulsifier at the same time. Slowly-released starches are what gives creaminess to authentic risottos, and also the reason why we add the pasta cooking water to our sauce (the starches released by the pasta turn the cooking water into an emulsifier, and a thickener). Better than fairy dust! This method obviously helps limit saturated fats, but it’s also a great resource for the dairy-intolerant, or the kosher cooks who need dairy-free dishes to serve with meat.

If you love smooth textures, you can turn any vegetable soup into a vellutata simply by throwing in a boiled potato and some water and processing everything in the blender. An easy way to recycle your second-day minestrone!

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6):

  • 2 pounds carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 ½ quarts vegetable stock or to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 or more tablepoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup Italian rice (short grain – Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley (or basil/parsley mix)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Peel the carrots and slice them thinly.
Chop the celery, onion and garlic very finely.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy pot and cook the mix of celery, onion and garlic ( “il soffritto“) on medium/low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and the bay leaf and cook for 5 more minutes. Add 2/3 of the hot stock and bring to a boil, then add the rice, lower the heat, cover almost completely, and allow to simmer for about an hour.
Discard the bay leaf, process with a hand mixer, add the rest of the hot stock and the herbs, and allow to simmer uncovered for 5 more minutes, stirring continuosly. Drizzle with 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and serve.

Orzotto: Barley “Risotto”

“Orzotto” with Vegetables – Barley “Risotto” (Parve or Dairy)

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Last fall I gave a demo on healthful and elegant Italian cuisine at the JCC Manhattan during their Fitness for Everybody Fair. One of the ingredients I presented was barley, a grain with many beneficial properties. Unlike wheat, it contains a high amount of soluble fibers (betaglucans), which have a positive effect on cholesterol and provide an immediate sense of satiety – something that will be appreciated by those of you who are trying to keep their weight in check. It’s full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and has been shown to help liver and kidney function. What’s not to like? This way of cooking barley, with the same technique that Italians apply to rice in risottos, is typical of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in the North-East, and I tried it in dozens of variations when I was a student in Trieste.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 a large onion, finely chopped
  • 1½ cups pearl barley
  • ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 6 cups hot vegetable stock or as needed
  • 1 cup total diced vegetables (you can use 3 or 4 of your favorites, such as carrots, peppers, asparagus, zucchini, green peas, corn…)
  • about ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana cheese (optional, for a dairy version)
  • salt and pepper

Directions
Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed or non-stick pot over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until translucent, adding a tablespoon of water if it starts sticking to the bottom. Add any of the vegetables that require a longer cooking time, such as carrots, peppers or potatoes, and cook stirring for 4 minutes. Add the barley, and cook for 2 minutes on higher heat, stirring . Add the wine, and allow it to evaporate. Season with salt and pepper, and begin adding the hot stock ione or two ladlefuls at a time, stirring frequently, and adding more stock as soon as the liquid is absorbed. After about 10-15 minutes add the diced zucchini and/or asparagus (or any quick-cooking vegetables) and keep cooking, stirring and adding hot stock, until al dente, about 30-35 minutes. It should be creamy and not too thick: add enough liquid. When cooked, remove from the heat, season with more salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of your best extra-virgin olive oil. If you are eating dairy, add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmigiano or grand cheese, and serve immediately.
(At the JCC I made this dish with onions and fennel, added at the start, and an exotic touch of saffron)

Minestrone – Italian Vegetable Soup

S 55 01 STEP 1 MINESTRONE

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The word minestrone derives from the Latin verb  ministrare, which means ‘to administer’.
Maybe because, as any Italian mother can witness, it is the most efficient way to administer lots of healthy vegetables to picky children, with few complaints!

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In many households, minestrone is made at least weekly and (thanks to the fact that it tastes even better when reheated), served several times as a primo piatto (first course) with both dairy and meat meals. I usually serve it plain on the first day; on the second day, I reheat it with some leftover cooked rice, pasta or even spelt. If it’s cold outside, or I’m simply too busy for multiple courses, I just throw in some beans to transform this light soup into an earthy meal. At the end of the week I add a boiled potato and turn the leftovers into a creamy passato (blended soup) with my hand blender.

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Just keep in mind, if you plan on stretching your soup over the course of a week, that you should skip tomatoes or it will spoil too quickly. In Italy we have countless regional and seasonal variations for this soup, depending on the local produce! Just to give you a few examples, the Genoese minestrone is flavored with pesto; my Tuscan grandmother liked to add rosemary, and the Lombard one preferred Arborio rice in it.

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The only key rules are that all the ingredients should be very fresh and the oil high quality; the soup should be cooked very slowly, on low heat; and finally, the vegetables should be chopped very small, Israeli salad-style…. other than that, have some fun!

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Ingredients (serves 8-10 as an appetizer, 6-8 as a main course)

  • vegetable stock, 1 1/2 quarts
  • 2 whole cloves garlic (optional)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 6 leaves of kale or Swiss Chards, chopped
  • 1 large slice of butternut squash or pumpkin
  • 1/2 a small cabbage (1/4 if large)
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 small (or 1 large) zucchini
  • 1 cup peas
  • OR asparagus tips, or green beans
  • 1 small or medium potato (optional)
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra-virgin olive oil (I use a low-acidic, mild Ligurian or Tuscan)
  • fresh rosemary or parsley, if liked
  • (tip: if you rarely make it to the green market…. it does work even with frozen vegetables!)

Peel the carrots and potatoes with a vegetable peeler and wash and clean all the vegetables, discarding any outer leaves and inedible parts. On a chopping board, cut all the vegetables into regular dice max 1/2″ (except for the peas, obviously). In a large pot with a heavy base, heat 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the minced onion and the whole garlic cloves and cook until the onion is translucent. Discard the garlic (if using – I usually don’t),  add the vegetables and little salt, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes on medium/low heat, making sure they don’t burn or change color. Cover the vegetables with the vegetable stock and cook, in a partially covered pot and on low heat, for about an hour or until the vegetables are  soft and the liquid has absorbed all their flavor. If using asparagus tips, add them later, about 15 minutes from the end. If you are pressed for time, you can also cook minestrone in a pressure cooker (it should take less than 15 minutes). When ready, pour into individual bowls, drizzle with some more extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a touch of freshly ground black pepper. It also tastes great with some freshly grated parmigiano on top, if you are in the mood for cheese!.

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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How to Dress a Salad, Italian-Style

INSALATA E OLIO

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As much as I love America, there is one thing food-wise, that I haven’t gotten used to in almost twenty years: salad dressings! Besides the fact that most store-bought dressings include a lot of processed ingredients, I find that most of these concoctions (even when home-made) combine so many different flavors that they hide, rather than enhance, that of the salad itself. Another issue is texture: most dressings are so thick that, rather than enveloping the leaves, they sit on them.  In Italy, we dress salads very simply with oil and vinegar, or oil and lemon,and in some cases just oil and salt, in a similar way to the French.  The proportions are simple: one part of vinegar or lemon to 4 of oil for a milder dressing, or one part of vinegar or lemon to 3 parts of oil (and some salt) if you like tart flavors. Most Italians don’t actually measure, but you should calculate about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons oil per person, or just 1 if you are on a diet. Skipping oil altogether and going fat-free is not as healthy as it sounds, because some of the vitamins in vegetables are lipo-soluble and can only be absorbed when accompanied by a fat. Choosea nice extra-virgin olive oil, and not the cheaper, “light” varieties. As for vinegar, balsamic is very popular these days, but its complex flavor works only with very flavorful vegetables and can be overpowering on simpler types of lettuce. Simple white or red wine vinegar is much more versatile, as is lemon juice. Other great options are apple cider vinegar, and rice vinegar.  I must confess that most of us don’t even bother to blend the ingredients for our everyday meal. Right before eating the salad, we just sprinkle with salt, and pour some oil and then vinegar straight from their bottles. But this is not necessarily the best method, and you should blend the ingredients first for a better result.Everybody knows that vinegar and oil do not emulsify well and tend to separate. The best way to combine them, reducing them into micro-droplets, is in a blender. Honestly, I only do this if I have guests. For everyday, I just put the salt in a stainless or glass bowl, add the vinegar or lemon (do not add the salt after the oil, or it won’t dissolve), and combine well with a whisk or simply a fork. Gradually add the oil, whisking well, and use immediately to dress a salad. The ingredients should be at room temperature, and never cold, or they won’t blend well. Remember that you should never dress salads in advance, except for very “resistant” vegetables such as cucumber or radicchio – delicate salad leaves tend to react to vinaigrette and wither. Sometimes, when I want my salad to be really special, or if I need to plate it for a picture, I add a touch of honey to the dressing: honey stabilizes the emulsion for a long time,  so that the oil and vinegar will not separate all over the plate.If you do use your blender and add honey, it’s actually best to let the vinaigrette rest for a few minutes or even an hour before using it, so that all the flavors can meld; but don’t refrigerate it!Last, but not least: even if you are using bagged salad, always rinse it first – not only because… you never know!!! but also because if the salad is too dry you will end up using way to much dressing.

Buon appetito, and let me know how it goes!

“Orzotto” with Vegetables – Barley “Risotto”

“Orzotto” with Vegetables – Barley “Risotto” (Parve or Dairy)

“Orzotto” with Vegetables – Barley “Risotto” (Parve or Dairy)

I just gave a demo on healthful and elegant Italian cuisine at the JCC Manhattan during their Fitness for EveryBODY Fair. One of the ingredients I presented was barley, a grain with many beneficial properties. Unlike wheat, it contains a high amount of soluble fibers (betaglucans), which have a positive effect on cholesterol and provide an immediate sense of satiety, which will be appreciated by those of you who are trying to keep their weight in check. It also contains many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and has been shown to help liver and kidney function. What’s not to like? This way of cooking barley, with the same technique that Italians apply to rice in risottos, is typical of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in the North-East, and I learned it during my year in Trieste.

“Orzotto” with Vegetables – Barley “Risotto” (Parve or Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 a large onion, finely chopped
  • 1½ cups pearl barley
  • ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 6 cups hot vegetable stock or as needed
  • 1 cup total diced vegetables (you can use 3 or 4 of your favorites, such as carrots, peppers, asparagus, zucchini, green peas, corn…)
  • about ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana cheese (optional, for a dairy version)
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed or non-stick pot over medium heat.

Add the onion, and sauté until translucent, adding a tablespoon of water if it starts sticking to the bottom.

Add any of the vegetables that require a longer cooking time, such as carrots, peppers or potatoes, and cook stirring for 4 minutes.

Add the barley, and cook for 2 minutes on higher heat, stirring .

Add the wine, and allow it to evaporate.

Season with salt and pepper, and begin adding the hot stock ione or two ladlefuls at a time, stirring frequently, and adding more stock as soon as the liquid is absorbed.

After about 10-15 minutes add the diced zucchini and/or asparagus (or any quick-cooking vegetables) and keep cooking, stirring and adding hot stock, until al dente, about 30-35 minutes.

It should be creamy and not too thick: add enough liquid.

When cooked, remove from the heat, season with more salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of your best extra-virgin olive oil.

If you are eating dairy, add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmigiano or grand cheese, and serve immediately.

(At the JCC I made this dish with onions and fennel, added at the start, and an exotic touch of saffron)

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/02/20/orzotto-with-vegetables-barley-risotto-parve-or-dairy/

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/

Gratinated Tomatoes

Gratinated Tomatoes
Gratinated Tomatoes

Gratinated Tomatoes

Gratinated Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • (serves 6)
  • 8 medium tomatos, firm
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 heaped tablespoons plain bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsps freshly chopped parsley, or 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2-3 minced anchovies (oil-packed or salt-packed and rinsed)(optional)
  • salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon or less)
  • black pepper
  • pine nuts to decorate

Directions

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

In a bowl, mix the plain breadcrumbs, with the parsley (or oregano), olive oil, minced anchovies, salt and pepper to taste, and enough of the pulp that you saved to make a smooth and moist filling (it should be about as firm as ground meat).

Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture and bake for 40 minutes in a 400 F oven.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/02/20/gratinated-tomatoes/