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June 2012 - Dinner in Venice

Archives for June 2012

Gratin Tomatoes


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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.

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

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How to Dress a Salad, Italian-Style


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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!

Lemon and Lavander Tart


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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.

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Salad


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Zucchini and Goat Cheese Salad

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 head curly endive
  • 1 pound goat cheese (I used Natural and Kosher goat cheese log)
  • pink peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • green peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • chives, finely minced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste

Directions

With a wet melon ball cutter or with your wet hands, shape the goat cheese into little balls .

Roll 1/4 of them into the freshly grated green peppercorns, 1/4 into the chives, 1/4 into the pink peppercorns and 1/3 into the grated carrot, then place the cheese balls in the refrigerator to harden.

Wash the pepper and zucchini; cut the pepper into thin strips after discarding the seeds and white membranes; cut the zucchini into thin slices lengthwise (with a mandoline if possible).

Grill the zucchini and peppers on a heavyweight grill pan (I like this ).

Wash the endive and cut it into pieces.

Gather all the ingredients in a large bowl and dress with the olive oil mixed with a little salt and pink pepper.

Stir gently and serve in individual bowls or cups.

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/06/25/zucchini-and-goat-cheese-salad/

Edible Mosaic with Yogurt Sauces


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Edible Mosaic by DinnerinVenice.com

Growing up in Venice, I was always fascinated with glass mosaic – an ancient art that can create, through the careful rhythm of colored enamels and gold leaf, a magical world where time seems to stand still.

Edible Mosaic by DinnerinVenice.com 1279

Why not experiment with summer fruit? Your kids will love this project!

Edible Mosaic by DinnerinVenice.com 1287

Edible Mosaic with Yogurt Sauces

Ingredients

  • watermelon
  • cantaloupe
  • white melon
  • mango or pineapple
  • kiwi
  • 3 small containers or 1 large container plain yogurt
  • brown sugar and honey to taste
  • mint, lemongrass or lavender, lemon and lime juice
  • 1/2 container blueberries
  • cocoa and cinnamon to taste

Directions

Dice the different types of fruit into pieces, all the same size. If using white fruit, drizzle with lemon to prevent it from darkening.

Make layers of fruit cubes on a serving platter, alternating the different colors, and even creating patterns if you feel particularly artistic.

Decorate with fresh mint.

Serve with at least 3 different yogurt sauces made by blending yogurt with any of the following:

1) blueberries and sugar; 2) honey and fresh mint; 3) lemon or lime, brown sugar and lemongrass or lavender; 4) cocoa powder, cinnamon and sugar....

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/06/24/edible-mosaic-with-yogurt-sauces/

Shabbat Meals: Red Mullet Livornese-Style


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… 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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