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June 2011 - Dinner in Venice

Archives for June 2011

Tomato Sauce, and My Pet Peeves


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5857 salsa di pomodoro

For a while I resisted the idea of writing about tomato sauce. In fact, as a typical Italian living in the US, I’m often annoyed when Italian cuisine is identified exclusively with tomato and cheese-laden dishes. But then the spring arrived, persuading me to break the ice, and to use this post as an opportunity to dispel some myths!

Tomatoes first arrived in Italy for the first time during the 1500s. They were brought by the  the Spanish, who had encounterd them in the Americas. In particular, Jewish or conversos merchants of Spanish or Portuguese origins brought them to Livorno (Leighorn), and from there to the rest of Europe. However, at the beginning tomatoes were met with suspicion: after all, even in the Americas they were still considered poisonous, and enjoyed solely as a decorative plant. It’s not clear how long it took for people to realize what they were missing on: all we know is that for a while these myths about the poison lingered, or were replaced by others about magical or aphrodisiac powers. But without a doubt, nobody yet was thinking of pizza margherita!

The fact that in Italy the local Jews, always adventurous with vegetables, were among the first to bite into this forbidden fruit is suggested by the fact that many traditional Livornese recipes with tomato are named  “alla mosaica” (Moses-style) or “alla giudia” (Jewish-style). Meanwhile, the general population was also starting to experiment with the “pomidoro” (from the Latin “golden apples”), at least in some regions, and with the exception of the aristocracy, which waited much longer. (In France, au contraire, tomatoes were served at the Royal Court). In any case, it took a while to arrive at today’s dishes: the first written record of a recipe for pasta with tomato sauce only dates back to 1837!

Historical digressions aside, one of the reasons I’ve been wanting to write this post is to state clearly that pasta sauce is a dish, not an ingredient. It’s something that you can make easily and quickly to dress your pasta. It should not be used to add flavor to your brisket, or (my pet peeve!) to pizza. You are going to cook/bake your brisket and pizza anyway, so what’s the point exactly of adding a pre-cooked sauce? Use simple strained tomatoes and they will cook with the food. Trust me, nobody in Italy would ever put jarred marinara sauce on their pizza. For a realistic, minimalistic and perfect version of pizza margherita, check out the recipe and video by Mario Grazia for Academia Barilla.

And now on to the pasta sauce, in a couple of variations. You will notice that I use canned tomatoes. That’s because I live in Manhattan, and I find that the varieties that are sold here tend to be quite firm and have a lot of seeds: they are much more suitable for salads than sauces. Even when I was growing up in Venice we used canned tomatoes imported from the San Marzano area near Naples. However, if you are lucky to live in an area where the tomatoes are soft and juicy, go ahead and use fresh!

5878 Salsa di pomodoro

Quick Tomato Sauce - SouthernItalian Style

Ingredients

  • 1 large can strained tomatoes (simple pureed tomatoes)
  • 2 whole cloves garlic
  • 4 basil leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1large pinch baking soda (or sugar) to reduce the acidity
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Heat the oil, add the garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes stirring.

Add the tomato, the basil, salt, sugar or baking soda, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with pepper, discard the garlic and dress your pasta, which should be ready by now!

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/30/tomato-sauce-and-my-pet-peeves/

Slow-Cooked Tuscan Pommarola

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs fresh plum tomatoes, cored and cut into pieces, OR 1 large can peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • fresh basil or fresh parsley to taste, chopped
  • sea salt, about 1 ½ tsp or to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 to 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or to taste

Directions

Place the olive oil in a large, non-reactive heavy pot. Add salt and basil or parsley. Cook covered on medium heat stirring occasionally until the vegetables and tomatoes fall apart (this should take about 1 ½ hr with fresh peeled tomatoes and at least 1 hr with canned tomatoes).

Remove the pot from the stove and pass through a food mill, discarding the skin and seeds. It should be nice and thick (if too liquid, cook uncovered for about 15 more minutes). Adjust the salt and pepper, and enjoy!

You can pasteurize both types of sauce and store in clean mason jars for up to 1 year.

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/30/tomato-sauce-and-my-pet-peeves/

Tomato-lovers should also check out:

My Pappa col Pomodoro (Tuscan Tomato Soup)

My Leghorn-Style Red Mullet

Silvia’s Pizza

Frank’s How To Buy canned Tomatoes

Smitten Kitchen’s Slow-roasted Tomatoes

Academia barilla’s Tomato Focaccia

Tagliolini in Lemon Sauce


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Tagliolini in Lemon Sauce

Italian Jews have always been very fond of lemons, and incorporate their juice and zest into many recipes: just like those with vinegar, these dishes are described as “all’agro” (sour style).
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, they were apparently heavy lemonade drinkers – in most regions it was sweetened with honey or sugar, but in Rome it was seasoned with salt.*

Tagliolini in Lemon Sauce

serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound tagliolini, fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti
  • extra-virgin olive oil (1/2 cup to 2/3 cups) OR melted butter
  • grated Parmigiano (1/2 cup to 2/3 cups)
  • 2 large organic, untreated lemons
  • grated zest of one of these lemons, avoiding the white part
  • Salt to taste
  • White pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons of freshly chopped mint leaves

Directions

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring every couple of minutes, until "al dente".

In the meantime, mix together the olive oil (or butter),lemon juice, lemon zest and cheese in a large bowl, previously warmed.

Drain the pasta, but save 3/4 cup of its cooking water. Toss the pasta with the sauce and the reserved cooking water. Add the water a little at a time, only as needed 1/4 cup at a time as needed. Add salt and pepper, and the chopped mint leaves or chives.

*For more on this topic, A. Toaff, Mangiare alla Giudia, Bologna 2000, Societa' Editrice Il Mulino, p.109 (also available in Hebrew)

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/23/tagliolini-in-lemon-sauce/

All About Olive Oil


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Olive Oil

Olive Oil

BUILD AN OLIVE OIL WARDROBE
Oils and fats do not just add texture, but flavor in Italian food; that’s why, if you want to eat like a REAL Italian, you should use different ones depending on the type of food you are cooking and the result you are trying to achieve. Butter and seed oils are more traditional than olive oil in Northern Italian cuisine (goose fat used to be popular as well!); and in general, for risotto, for frying fish, and for desserts, some people prefer sunflower oil, grapeseed oil or even canola. Some dishes like risotto taste best with butter, but you prefer to limit saturated fats you can start with a canola or sunflower oil, and just add some butter at the end with the parmigiano, to give it flavor and sheen.
Most generic Italian olive oils, even when extra-virgin, are made with blends from different regions (by the way, always buy extra-virgin for the best flavor: plus they are cold-processed and therefore do not require a hechsker according to most authorities). This makes them too strong for certain dishes, and not always pleasant to the palate.
I prefer to have a few extra-virgin  oils on hand: a very delicate one from Liguria (Imperia or Alghero, in the North-West) for fish; a medium Tuscan (slightly bitter) or Umbrian (fruitier) for salads, vegetables and meat dishes. For earthier dishes like pastas or specialties containing a lot of tomato, garlic and spices, a stronger oil like a Sicilian or Pugliese can be recommended.
If you can only get one bottle, pick an oil from Tuscany or Umbria, which will go with most dishes, and a smaller bottle of Ligurian oil, which will taste wonderful drizzled on steamed fish.
I always buy one bottle of extra-virgin olive oil labeled “Olio Novello”, “Di Frantoio” (fresher oil, from the mill); this is more expensive, but of much higher quality. For cooking, I use my regular-quality extra-virgin olive oil; before serving the food, I drizzle it with a few drops of the higher-end Olio Novello, to add depth to the flavor!
Please don’t buy any ‘light’ or ‘blended’ kind, but look for EXTRA-VIRGIN, COLD-PRESSED olive oil. This is the only type that is unprocessed (and naturally kosher – according to most authorities, it doesn’t need a hechsher because it’s made by simply pressing cold olives).
Make sure it’s labeled ‘EXTRA’-virgin, not just ‘virgin’. Virgin oils are still extracted without chemicals, but after repeated pressings of the olives- which makes their acidic levels higher, and their taste more pungent.
If it doesn’t even say ‘virgin’,  don’t buy it! It has been produced by chemical heat pressing, which makes it  harsher-tasting, less healthy, and not kosher unless certified.
Olive oil is not just meant to grease up foods: it makes food taste better. If you really shudder at the idea of pouring abundant quantities of oil directly from a bottle into your pots and pans, you can always put it into a spray bottle. But remember that consuming olive oil may reduce your risk of heart disease and make your skin look great, not to mention the fact that it will remind you of the Hanukkah miracle, making you smile.

Bigoli in Salsa


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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.

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

 

Savory Beet Pie with Ricotta, Radicchio and Leeks


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Beet Radicchio Leek and  Ricotta Pie

Beet Radicchio Leek and Ricotta Pie

Beets are native to the Mediterranean, but for a very long time people ate only their leaves, while the root was used in medicine to treat a variety of ailments. It was only in 19th century France that the beet’s culinary potential was discovered, while at the same time the Germans proved that it could produce sugar , making it an easy local alternative to the tropical sugar cane.

Beets are in season from June through October , but they are easy to find throughout the year because, like other root vegetables, they store well. Their flavor is deep, sweet, hearty and rich, making them ideal for cold-weather recipes like this one. Cooking the beets whole is the best way to retain most of their flavor and nutritive value. In particular, roasting intensifies the flavor, and makes the peels easy to remove. Just cut off any greens, (you can cook them and eat them separately), scrub the beets clean, place them on a large piece of aluminum foil, fold and close the foil,  and bake in a preheated oven at 375 F for 25 minutes to 1 hour (depending on the size).

Beet radicchio Leek and Ricotta Tart

Savory Beet Pie with Ricotta, Radicchio and Leeks

Ingredients

  • One puff pastry or brisee' pastry sheet, home-made or frozen
  • 1/2 pound whole milk ricotta (it's naturally very low-fat, don't get the fat-free type, the texture is funny)
  • 1 large beet, baked (you can also use the pre-cooked kind but they are less flavorful)
  • 2 small leeks, cleaned and sliced very thin
  • 1 head of red radicchio, sliced thin
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 small or medium egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Bake the beet till soft . In the meantime, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil, add the leeks and cook the leeks for about 5 minutes.

Set 1/2 of the leeks aside, and add the radicchio to the pan.

Cook most of the radicchio (save a little for decorating) with the remaining leeks for about 10 minutes, adding 1/4 cup of red wine if it's sticking to the bottom (or drizzle with little balsamic vinegar).

Process the cooked beet with 1/2 the cooked leeks, the ricotta, egg, cooked radicchio, salt and pepper to taste, and one tablespoon olive oil.

Pre-heat your oven to 360 F; grease a baking pan or line it with parchment; roll out the pastry, cut it in a circle about 1.5" wider than the pan and place it in the pan.

Fill the pastry with the mix of ricotta and vegetables, and add the remaining cooked leek on top. Fold the edges over, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden.

Before serving decorate the top with the remaining radicchio.

* For an even richer flavor you can add 2 tablespoons of grated parmigiano to there filling.

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/05/savory-beet-pie-with-ricotta-radicchio-and-leeks/