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February 2012 - Dinner in Venice

Archives for February 2012

Swiss Chard Ravioli


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Swiss Chard Ravioli

Concealed identities and hidden truths are the markers of the Jewish holiday of Purim, both in its exterior celebrations (the costumes) and in its deeper meaning.  Much like a Shakespearean Comedy of Errors, on the surface the Megillat Ester is deceivingly simple and seemingly random in its sequence of events. The protagonists are assimilated, “comfortable” Jews living in a foreign land (Persia), afraid to reveal their identity, and it is the only book in the Tanakh (Bible) that makes no reference to God. Purim is the plural of the Persian term Pur (lots),those lots that Haman had cast to determine the fate of the Jews – as if to imply that our fate is a game of chance. On the other hand, this story seemed so relevant to our sages that it was included in the Biblical Canon, while the heroism and miracle of Hanukkah were left out. One of the greatest Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, Rambam (Maimonides) even maintains in his Code of Jewish Law that in the Messianic Age “All the books of the prophets and the sacred writings in the Bible will be annulled, with the exception of the Book of Ester” (Hilkhot Megillah 2:18).

The story of Purim is not easy to decipher: adding to the tease is the fact that the Queen’s name itself, Ester, comes from the word “saiter”, ‘conceal’, while the name of the book, Megillah, derives from the root “galal”, which means ‘to roll’, since we read it in a scroll, but also “to reveal”, as if to say that the very act of wrapping, concealing, was really meant to reveal some mysterious truth. Talking about concealments: even the Hebrew name for ‘World”, olam, comes from “alum“: ‘hidden’. The traditional interpretation is that all these apparent riddles playing with the idea of concealment are meant to remind people that it’s up to them to discover the true miracle of God’s presence in apparently random events and everyday things. In this sense, Ester’s fasting and finding the courage to reveal her identity to the king and ask him to save her people – was just as big a miracle as the parting of the Red Sea.  The fascination with this motif was always so strong that Jewish culinary traditions all over the world have mirrored it in their holiday dishes, creating foods that hide (usually pleasant) surprises below the surface.

One of our Italian answers? Of course… ravioli! I am posting a version with ricotta both because I always prefer dairy, and because there is a custom to skip meat on Purim: the Talmud relates that that was what Queen Ester had to do in the palace of Ahasuerus, since she had no access to kosher meat (her husband the king was not Jewish). However, the carnivores among you can just scroll down toward the end of the recipe, and see how to make a meat version.

 

Swiss Chard Ravioli (Dairy OR meat)

Ingredients

  • Serves 4
  • Filling
  • 1 lb swiss chards or a mix of greens
  • ½ lb whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • salt
  • nutmeg to taste
  • To dress:
  • ¼ cup butter
  • a few sage leaves
  • freshly grated parmigiano to taste :
  • To make the fresh pasta
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs

Directions

Discard the stalks or any white parts from the chard, and cook it for 2 or 3 minutes with a few tablespoons of water (you can also microwave it on high on a covered platter for 1 minute): drain, squeeze to remove excess liquid, and chop finely.??

Heat the olive oil in a pan, add a clove or two of garlic, cook for one minute, add the chard and a little salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Place the ricotta in a bowl, add the chard and the parmigiano, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

Add a walnut-size amount of ricotta and chard filling at regular spacings on your fresh pasta sheet. Press around the filling with your fingers and seal with the tongs of a fork. Since it’s Purim, cut the ravioli with a fun-shaped cookie cutter leaving the filling in the center of each.

You can also cut the dough into triangles (in honor of Haman’s Star-Treck ears) with a sharp knife.

Cook the ravioli for about 5 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water; drain with a slotted spoon and serve drizzled with butter cooked for one minute with a few leaves of fresh sage, and grated parmigiano to taste.

*** to make the pasta, shape about 2 ½ cups of 00 or all-purpose flour into a well on your work surface; . add 3 eggs in the center and knead into a smooth dough. Allow torest for about 20 minutes covered in plastic wrap. Roll the dough into a thin sheet with a rolling pin or pasta machine.

*** for a meat version, replace the ricotta with about 8 ounces ground veal or beef (or a mix). While you are blanching the chard, heat a little oil in a pan and add a “soffritto” (“mirepoix” of minced 1/2 carrot, 1/2 onion, 1/2 celery stick); cook briefly, add the meat and little white wine, cook for a minute or two, add the chard and cook for a couple more minutes.

Allow to cool, “tie” with a couple of eggs, flavor with nutmeg and little salt, and use this mix to fill the ravioli.

Skip the parmigiano, and instead of dressing with butter, stick to a rich sugo d’arrosto (roast meat sauce).

Buon Appetito!

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/02/29/swiss-chard-ravioli-dairy-or-meat/

 

 

 

“Orzotto” with Vegetables – Barley “Risotto”


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“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)

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

Buricche


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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.

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

Pappa col Pomodoro – Tuscan Bread & Tomato Soup


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Pappa col Pomodoro

We just came back from ten days in Italy, mostly spent in Venice hanging out with my mom and childhood friends. But my husband and kids had never been to Florence, and I decided to treat them to a couple of days in the cradle of the Italian Renaissance. The highlight of our stay was a lunch at our friends Alberto and Giordana’s apartment, with a breathtaking view of Fiesole and the Tuscan hills; followed by rides on the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica for our two kids! The food in Florence and in all of Tuscany is fantastic, simple and elegant, and justly famous. If you are not planning a trip any time soon, why not try this easy and delicious soup in your own kitchen? Pappa col Pomodoro is a perfect example of Italian “comfort food”, and of Tuscan peasant cooking. Bread soups were born of necessity: people could not afford to throw away stale bread, and devised ways to make it not only edible, but wonderfully tasty. Be warned that American-style soft sliced bread would just turn into a slimy and sticky mess: you will need artisanal bread with a firm, rough crust. The best types are Tuscan or Pugliese loaves. I live in Manhattan, and love Tribeca Oven.

For tons of authentic Tuscan recipes, and cooking classes in Tuscany (with vegetarian options), visit Giulia at  http://en.julskitchen.com/

For kosher cooking classes in Florence, email my friend Chiara at Chiara105@gmail.com

 

Pappa col Pomodoro (Tuscan Bread & Tomato Soup) (Parve)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons cold pressed extra-virgine olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 large can (12 oz.) peeled whole tomatoes (I like Italian tomatoes, San Marzano type)
  • ½ medium loaf, or 1/3 large loaf of Italian-style bread, 2-day old
  • 1 cup water or vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A pinch of sugar
  • 10 to 15 fresh basil leaves

Directions

Slice the bread. In a heavy pot, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the garlic.

After a couple of minutes discard the garlic, and add the can of tomatoes, breaking them with your hands into the pot.

Add salt, pepper, sugar and water, and stir with a wooden spoon.

Shred the bread into bite-sized chunks with your hands (if it’s too hard/dry cut it into cubes with a bread knife), and add them to the pot.

Do not stir too aggressively, because you don’t want the bread to melt into the water completely: the texture should be somewhat chunky.

You should stir gently using an upward motion, and not too long.

Cook on low heat for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Shred the basil leaves and add them to the soup; drizzle with more olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per person), lightly toss, serve.

This soup tastes even better reheated: it will be so thick that you will be able to eat it with a fork. Enjoy!

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/02/05/tuscan-bread-tomato-soup/