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May 2011 - Dinner in Venice

Archives for May 2011

Risotto Primavera


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Risotto Primavera

Risotto Primavera

We don’t know for sure how rice made its way to Italy, if through the Arabs of Sicily, the Crusaders, or Venetian merchants (or all of them independently).

In any case, after its arrival it was considered for centuries not a food, but a costly medicinal spice used for making digestive teas. 
In the fourteenth century the use of rice started expanding to desserts, but it was still uncommon and imported from abroad. Its cultivation was forbidden, due to the fear of diseases like malaria, linked to stagnant water. It took a long series of famines and the devastation caused by the great plague (1348-1352), which almost exhausted the production of traditional staples (spelt, millet, barley, etc), to persuade the local governments to invest in the production of this new cereal, which in Asia was already the main source of nourishment for millions of people.

Together with corn and potatoes – which were introduced after the discovery of the Americas – rice was critical to the rebuilding of human life and activities in Europe after the tragedies of the late Middle Ages. By the end of the fifteenth century its cultivation was blossoming, especially North of the Po river, in the Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto regions.  It’s not clear at which point someone came up with the idea of cooking rice with the patient and gradual addition of hot liquid, resulting in “al dente” grains enveloped in a mouthwatering, thick starchy sauce that gives the illusion of cream. In any case, once risotto was invented, it became to Northern Italy what pasta was to the South: the signature recipe that could make any ingredient, from vegetables to fish, from meat to cheese, into a perfectly satisfying meal!

Risotto Primavera

Ingredients

  • (serves 4-6)
  • ½ large onion or 1 shallot, chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 to 1 ½ pound total mixed spring vegetables diced (such as carrots, zucchini, peas, green beans, and if liked artichokes and asparagus)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2/3 pounds Italian rice (Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 to 2 qt hot vegetable broth
  • 3-4 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup (or to taste) grated Parmigiano or Grana cheese

Directions

Dice all the vegetables into small pieces (max 1/3”). If using artichokes, keep them in a bowl of water acidulated with lemon juice.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat; add the onion and cook for 3 minutes, stirring.

Add the vegetables (except for the asparagus tips), and cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the rice, and add the white wine.

Let the wine evaporate completely as you continue to stir.

Start adding the hot broth one ladleful at a time (the rice should almost absorb all the broth between additions), and cook the rice, stirring continuously.

After about 10-12 minutes add the asparagus tips, and keep cooking until the rice is al dente and the mixture still moist and creamy (cooking the rice takes between 18 and 30 minutes, depending on the type).

Stir in the butter and allow to rest covered for 3 minutes. Adjust the salt, stir in the cheese, and serve

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/05/29/risotto-primavera/

Tartines with Blue Cheese and Red Grapes


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Tartines with Blue Cheese and Red Grapes

Tartines with Blue Cheese and Red Grapes

Italian Jews have always enjoyed a wide variety of cheeses, both as a simple accompaniment to bread, and as an ingredient in our recipes. Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand,  historically had access to only a couple of kinds of the soft variety, and never developed a cuisine around them – or a real taste for them. In recent years, however, the kosher marketplace in Israel and (to a lesser degree) in the US has expanded to include an ever-increasing range of options.

The newer generations, in particular, have even learned how to appreciate more complex flavors. In this context, a reader emailed me last week to ask how she could serve blue cheese to her friends at a casual Golden Globes get-together, and the quick, easy recipe below (learned from a friend in Modena, who makes it with Gorgonzola) would be perfect for that type of party.
It also gives me the chance to chat about cheese pairings, which are a lot of fun because the possibilities are almost endless. Depending on their texture and flavor, cheeses can be accompanied by fresh fruit, dried fruit, vegetables, herbs, fruit preserves and compotes, and honey. Fruit and cheese, in particular, are a match made in heaven, because they highlight each other’s characteristics: the juiciness and fresh fragrance of fruit complements the creaminess and deep flavor of cheese, and vice versa.

Obviously, this perfect balance derives from the essence of these two foods – one, fat-free and sugar-based; the other, virtually sugar-free and full of fat, sort of a culinary Yin/Yang.
Some ideas of pairings with not-too-hard-to-find cheeses:
– Soft, creamy cheeses with strong, sharp flavor (like Brie, Camembert) with canteloupe or grapes;
– Soft, fresh cheese with bland, milky flavor (Cottage, Mozzarella): fresh tomatoes or oranges;
– Medium-hard and medium-strength (Asiago, Gouda, Edam, Cheddar): pears, apples, berries;
– Hard, strong (Parmigiano, Pecorino Romano, Cheddar): pears, red grapes, dried fruit, honey, preserves, fruit chutneys.
And now…..

Tartines with Blue Cheese and Red Grapes

Ingredients

  • 8 to 12 slices of crunchy bread, depending on the size (pugliese, Ciabatta or Baguette)
  • ½ pound blue cheese
  • 1 ½ tablespoons mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • a small cluster of pale red grapes

Directions

Remove the crust from the bread slices (optional) and toast them in the oven or on a grill until crunchy.

In the meantime, cut the blue cheese into small pieces and mash it with a fork. It works perfectly on its own if it’s creamy. If it’s drier and crumbly, you can add a couple of tablespoons of greek yogurt or ricotta to it.

Spread the toasted slices with the blue cheese, and decorate with the sliced grapes.

Blend the mustard with the honey and drizzle over the top; end with a touch of black pepper.

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/05/22/tartines-with-blue-cheese-and-red-grapes/

Traditional Pasta Sauce


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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.

Riso Giallo del Sabato (Yellow Rice for Shabbat)


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Riso Giallo del Sabato (Yellow Rice for Shabbat)

Riso Giallo del Sabato (Yellow Rice for Shabbat)

The usual preparation for risotto, adding hot broth a little at a time releases so much starch that the rice must be eaten right away or it will clump. This pilaf version, on the other hand, can be prepared in advance and reheated, and is a traditional Friday night dish of Sephardic origins in both Venice and Ferrara. This dish can be made Parve, Dairy, or Meat.

Riso Giallo del Sabato (Yellow Rice for Shabbat)

Ingredients

  • (serves 6-8)
  • 1 quart hot vegetable or chicken stock
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 small packages of saffron powder, or a few stems
  • 2 cups Carnaroli type rice (or you can use long grain)
  • ½ cup of plumped raisins (OPTIONAL)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • salt to taste

Directions

Bring the stock to a boil and leave it to simmer on the stovetop

Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof pot (non-stick or cast iron), add the onion and 2 tablespoons water and cook for 10 minutes on low heat.

Stir in the rice and cook, stirring, until all the grains are coated in oil and “toasted”

Pour in the wine, raise the heat and cook till the wine has evaporated.

Stir in the raisins, previously softened in hot water, if using.

Stir in the saffron, revived in 2 tablespoons hot water.

Pour in all the hot stock and stir.

As soon as the stock starts simmering again, cover the pot and transfer to a 350 – 375 F oven where you will leave it alone to cook for exactly 18 minutes.

Take the rice out, add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil of “oil from a roast beef”, stir, and add salt if needed.

Let it rest covered for another 10 minutes. It can be eaten right away or reheated for Shabbat.

If the rice was made with vegetable stock and will be used in a dairy meal, you can add some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/05/11/riso-giallo-del-sabato-yellow-rice-for-shabbat/

Tuna Loaf


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Tuna Loaf

Tuna Loaf

Move over, Gefilte Fish! In Italy, we have our own not-so-refined and yet delicious comfort appetizer…
Tuna Loaf. I don’t know if I can call this recipe historical, because it’s made with canned tuna 😉 but it’s been around long enough that a couple of versions are included in a G. A. Vitali-Norsa’s “classic” ‘La Cucina nella Tradizione Ebraica” (1970).  Of course, many more variations are enjoyed often – especially in the warm seasons – on countless Jewish Italian tables. Here is mine:

Tuna Loaf

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 cans (about 9 ounces) Yellowfish Tuna, packed in olive oil, plus 2 anchovies
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • a pinch of nutmeg (if liked) OR 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley
  • * if you don't follow the Sephardic prohibition against mixing fish and dairy, you can add a couple of tablespoons of grated parmigiano reggiano

Directions

Drain the tuna very well and pulse it in a food processor till smooth

Add the eggs, the bread crumbs, spices (and cheese if using)

Shape it into a long loaf, and wrap it tight in a cheesecloth, tying it at the ends with kitchen string

place it in a wide pot of boiling water (enough water to just cover it) and cook for 25 minutes

Allow to cool, unwrap, slice, and serve with mayonnaise or any other lemon-y or tangy sauce

(if you prefer a crunchier version, you can bake it for 30 minutes at 200 F instead of boiling it)

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/05/01/tuna-loaf/