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April 2013 - Dinner in Venice

Archives for April 2013

Silvia’s Fennel and Red Onion Gratin


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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

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

 

 

Spring Fling Pizza


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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.

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

Puff Slices with Dandelion Greens and Cheese


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Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese - DinnerInVenice

This week, the nice weather inspired me to check out my neighborhood “community gardens”, and I found a few fun things to cook with. Of course, if you live in the suburbs, you might already have a lot of these interesting greens growing in your own property.When it comes to that stubborn backyard weed… why kill them when you can eat them?

Dandelion greens, for example. They make a great addition to a salad, but you can also try something fancier. They pair perfectly with cheese. Make sure they are not treated with toxic chemicals. And stay tuned – more “weed” coming soon! Next is borage…..

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese 2 - DinnerInVenice

Puff Slices with Dandelion and Cheese

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 puff pastry sheet
  • 1 cup (unpacked) dandelion leaves
  • 4 to 6 ounces semi-soft, ripened cheese such as taleggio, Brie or Camembert
  • extra-virgin olive oil to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F. Wash the dandelion leaves and pat dry.

Roll out the puff pastry and cut it into rectangles. Arrange them on a baking tray lined with parchment, leaving some space in between because they'll raise. . Brush with little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Decorate with the thinly sliced cheese and the dandelion. Drizzle with little more oil and add a touch of black pepper. Bake at 350 F in a pre-heated oven for about 25 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden. Enjoy immediately.

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/22/puff-slices-with-dandelion-greens-and-cheese/

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna


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Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna by DinnerInVenice.com

Eggplant Ricotta Lasagna

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 60 minutes

serves 8

Ingredients

  • A little over 1 lb freshly made lasagnas OR just under1 lb dry lasagna (not the pre-cooked type)
  • 2 1/2 lb fresh eggplant
  • 2 lb strained tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 8 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • extra frying oil (olive or grape seed)
  • 1 1/2 lb whole milk ricotta (if you find salted ricotta, mix 1 lb fresh ricotta with 1/2 lb crumbled salted)
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano cheese, or to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • baking pan, about12 x 9 1/2 inches

Directions

Slice the eggplant into regular slices. For best results, slice vertically: when sliced in this direction, the eggplant fibers soak up less oil when fried. Cover with coarse salt (more than you think you need), and place in a colander in your sink, to sweat out their water or bitter juices (30 to 60 minutes). This is important because if they are too juicy inside, they’ll soak up oil like crazy when fried. In the meantime, heat 8 tbsp oil in a saucepan, add 1 clove garlic and the tomato, salt, and cook on low/medium heat for 10 minutes until thickened, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Cook the pasta according to instructions and dry the sheets on kitchen towels. After allowing the eggplant slices to “sweat” for at least 30 minutes, rinse them very well, one by one under running water, rubbing them, and then rinse again (more than you think you need). Now dry them (again… more than you think you need!) with paper towel. Heat the frying oil in a deep pan (I know it’s scary, but use a ton of oil. Like, close to 1 quart. The less oil you use, the more oil the eggplant will absorb – because the oil temperature will be more likely to drop when you drop the slices in). If you like using food thermometers, heat the oil to about 330-340F, or just do what I do: test it by dropping a tiny cube of bread or eggplant into it, and if lots and lots of tiny bubbles form around it, you are good to go. Fry the eggplant slices in batches (do not overcrowd the pan, or you’ll lower the temperature of the oil, ending up with greasy soggy slices). Oh, and I almost forgot: use tongs to put the slices in the oil, they are too heavy to be dropped in without getting splashed with hot oil. Fry on both sides until golden, and dry them on several layers of paper towel. Feel free to press the paper towel into the eggplant if you want to remove even more oil. Chop finely, setting only 4 or 5 whole slices aside. Brush a baking pan with little oil and start with a thin layer of the tomato sauce. I like to use earthenware but other materials also work, and as far as size you can go with something about 12 x 9 ½ in. Combine the rest of the sauce with the chopped fried eggplant. Alternate layers of lasagna, eggplant sauce, and ricotta, dusting each layer with little grated cheese. Decorate the top layer with the whole fried eggplant slices and extra grated cheese. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 30 minutes.

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/16/eggplant-ricotta-lasagna/


Zucchini Flower and Strawberry Savory Tart


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Savory Tart with Zucchini Flowers Asparagus and Strawberries by DinnerInVenice

Seven years ago, when I was planning my wedding and the florist asked me what I would like to put in my bouquet, I joked that my favorite flowers are those that I can eat. If I ever end up stranded on a desert island with only one food, I hope it’s artichokes! Second in my top-ten list of edible flowers are zucchini and squash blossoms. They are gorgeous and ethereal (back to that wedding bouquet idea!), and quite popular in the cuisines of the Eastern Mediterranean, from Greece to Turkey and, of course, Italy.

Here in the US  they used to be pretty hard to find, but lately I have seen them at farmers’ markets and large organic supermarkets, and don’t think I’ve ever been able to pass them up. When I was growing up, my mom would serve them as a special treat stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies and then battered and fried. That’s probably still my favorite way to enjoy them, but I can see how some of you would prefer something lighter, and quicker.

Zucchini flowers (actually, any kind of squash produces this type of blossoms) have a delicious subtle flavor, slightly sweet and herbal, that will remind you of young zucchini, and a chewy texture. That’s why you will love them raw, as a colorful addition to salads, or in pastas and soup. They also make a wonderful topping for pizzas and savory tarts (tarts – not pies! Why hide something this pretty?). Make sure to check the inside of the flowers well before you add them to your food, since some bugs can also appreciate gourmet ingredients!

zucchini.flowers.by.DinnerInVenice

Zucchini Flower and Strawberry Savory Tart

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet unsweetened frozen puff pastry (or make your own!)
  • 1 basket large ripe strawberries
  • 12 asparagus
  • 1 zucchini 4 to 6 zucchini blossoms/flowers
  • 3 eggs (only 2 if extra-large)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano or grana cheese
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Pre- heat your oven to 375 F (do NOT use your convection setting).

Eliminate the hard bottom part from the asparagus stems. Blanch the asparagus for 2 minutes in slightly salted boiling water, drain them and place them in an ice bowl to preserve their green color.

Cut the zucchini and the strawberries into thin slices.

line a 10 x 7" or a 9 x 9" baking sheet with parchment. Roll the puff pastry into a rectangle , place pastry on a baking sheet, trimming the edges with a sharp knife. leaving about 1 extra inch from the sheet edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork or a toothpick, pierce dough at 1/2-inch intervals. Arrange the strawberries (set a few aside for later), the asparagus, the zucchini and the blossoms on top of the tart. Lightly beat the eggs with salt, pepper and the grated cheese, and pour over the tart. Decorate with the strawberries that were set aside.Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes or until golden, and serve warm accopanied by a simple arugola salad.

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/11/zucchini-flower-and-strawberry-savory-tart/

Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad


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Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad

“Interesting” salads are not exactly what Italian food is famous for, I know. However, some time in the 1980es, when I was a high school student, many firms and stores in Italy gave up the traditional long midday break, and large salads with more than just vegetables started popping up in the local trattorias as a quick and healthy lunch option.

Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad

The other day I posted instructions for grilling vegetables, and since these keep so well I couldn’t resist giving you an idea of what you could do with them, besides serving them as a side.

Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad

Grilled Vegetable Chicken Salad

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb chicken breast
  • 1 bell pepper (red or yellow)
  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 zucchini
  • 2 slices bread
  • 8 tbsp (to taste) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Peel the garlic, and place it (whole or minced, it's up to you ) in a cup with the oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Allow to rest for a few hours. Cut the chicken breast into chunks or strips. Cut the eggplant into 1/2" slices (with a mandolin) sprinkle them with coarse salt and place them in a colander in your sink for at least 30 mins. to sweat out any bitter juices. Seed the pepper, remove any white membranes, and cut it into slices. Slice the zucchini sideways, thinner than the eggplant. After 30 minutes of salting, rinse the eggplant slices well and pat them dry with paper towel.

Remove the crust from the bread, cut it into cubes, and toast it in the oven for about 5 minutes or until golden. Grill the chicken and the vegetables on a cast iron grill pan or on the barbecue, one type at a time (see my post on grilled vegetables for different cooking times and temperatures), brushing them with the prepared oil and turning them only once or twice. Arrange in a platter and serve warm, with the toasted bread cubes, and drizzled with the remaining flavored oil.

https://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/04/08/grilled-vegetable-chicken-salad/

 

Italian Grilled Vegetables


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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.

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