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You’ll want to avoid using too many strawberries in this, as they can intrude on the rhubarb’s pleasant mustiness. Just include enough to provide depth and sweetness. With the recipe as a starting point, judge the sweetness or sourness of your fruit, and balance the rhubarb-to-strawberry ratio accordingly.(Serves 4, or 6 if you spoon it over vanilla ice cream or sweetened ricotta)

5 or 6 stalks of rhubarb (try to find ones that are thinnish and mostly deep red; a little green won’t hurt, but you want them to be sweet)
About a dozen medium-size, sweet strawberries, hulled and cut in half
The juice from 2 blood oranges and the zest from 1 (if you can still find them in the market this late in the season; otherwise use regular oranges, though they don’t have the blood variety’s sour perfume, which marries very well with the rhubarb)
1/2 cup sugar
A generous splash of grappa (about 2 tablespoons)
A few generous scrapings of fresh nutmeg
A pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients into a large saucepan and cook at a medium boil, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is just tender, about 5 to 8 minutes (to cook the rhubarb only until it’s tender but still more or less in chunks, rather than reducing it to a thready consistency, which can happen before you know it, you must keep an eye on it; however, there is something to be said for the sauciness and lusciousness of mushy rhubarb, and it strangely doesn’t loose taste when cooked to that state, so the choice is really up to you). When the cooking is done, see if you need to balance the sweet and tart notes, especially if you’re not using blood oranges: Taste for a good balance between sweet and sour, adding a squeeze of lemon juice, a tablespoon of sugar, or some of both. Serve warm, as is, in a dessert bowl, or spooned over vanilla ice cream or sweetened ricotta (a cup of ricotta mixed with a tablespoon or so of powdered sugar and a pinch of cinnamon).

This dish keeps about 4 days and tastes, in my opinion, just as good cold, straight from the refrigerator. I also love it spooned over toasted Italian bread for breakfast, almost like jam.

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Costoletto alla Milanese is a famous Italian dish of pounded veal rib chops, trimmed so the long bone extends halfway off the plate. The veal is breaded and fried and served with a small salad on top. I love this mix of crispy, oily veal with a slightly astringent salad. I’ve given this dish a Southern Italian touch by making it with veal scaloppine, which is thinly sliced boneless veal, cut from the leg across the grain to keep it tender. The cut is a staple of fancy Southern Italian cooking. My mother used to make scaloppine all the time, but she called it veal cutlets. Piccata (with white wine and capers) and Parmigiano (with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella) were her two ways with it.Seasoning the breadcrumbs is your opportunity to give the mild veal added flavor. I use different flavorings when breading different meats or fish; with veal, I really like the mix of lemon zest and thyme.

(Serves 2)

1/2 cup Wondra flour (Wondra is finely ground and tends not to gum up when used for sautéing)
1/2 cup finely ground, lightly toasted breadcrumbs
Salt
Black pepper
The zest from 1 lemon
A few large sprigs of thyme, the leaves chopped
A few scrapings of nutmeg
A tiny pinch of ground clove
1 large egg, lightly beaten
About 3/4 pound veal scaloppine, either in a few small pieces or in two large ones
Extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:

A small bunch of tender young dandelion, stemmed, washed, dried, and cut into small pieces
1/2 pint sweet cherry or tear-drop tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 a small spring bulb onion, very thinly sliced, including some of the tender green stem
A handful of lightly toasted pine nuts
A small palmful of salt-packed capers, soaked in cool water for about 1/2 hour and rinsed
Extra virgin olive oil
The juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt
Black pepper

Pour the breadcrumbs onto a flat dinner plate. Season them fairly generously with salt and a little less generously with black pepper. Add the lemon zest and the thyme, a few scrapings of nutmeg, and a tiny pinch of ground clove (you just want a hint). Mix well. Pour the Wondra flour onto another flat plate.

Put the dandelion, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, and capers in a small bowl, and set it aside (you want to have the salad ready so you can dress it as soon as the veal is sautéed). I use dandelion in this salad almost as if it were an herb, by chopping it small and using only a little. If you can’t find dandelion, or if you can locate only big, tough bunches, try flat-leaf parsley leaves instead. They won’t give you the elegant bitterness of dandelion, but parsley’s fresh herbiness goes very well with the capers.

Place the egg is a shallow bowl, and give it a good whisk.

Choose a skillet large enough to hold the veal in one layer, ideally without crowding it too much. Put the heat on medium-high and add enough olive oil to generously coat the skillet about 1/8 inch deep.

Dry the veal slices and coat them with the flour, shaking off excess.. Dip them in the egg until coated on both sides. Let the excess egg drip off, and dredge the veal in the breadcrumbs, coating them well on both sides.

When the skillet is hot, add the veal, and brown it quickly on one side. If it seems to be browning too fast, turn the heat down a bit (you’re going for a deep golden-brown color). Turn the veal and brown the other side. This whole operation should take only about 2 minutes (you want to veal to stay tender and moist, so quick cooking over high heat is essential). Grab the veal slices from the skillet with tongs and drain them briefly on paper towels to blot up any excess oil. Lay them out on dinner plates. Toss the salad with olive oil and lemon juice, and season it with salt and black pepper. I use a bit more lemon when making this dish than I normally would add to a salad, because the acidity balances very nicely with the crisp, rich veal. Top each portion of veal with salad, and serve right away. My feeling is that this dish should be served unaccompanied, but a pasta tossed with some sort of tomato sauce is ideal as a first course.

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Agnello alla Cacciatore

This spring lamb stew, flavored with garlic, anchovies, vinegar, and rosemary, is an example of Southern Italy’s ingenious way of blending together strong flavors for a subtle, mellow result. I like adding fresh fava beans, but you can use spring peas, which are a lot less work, or you can leave out the vegetables altogether and send the stew to the table with a generous scattering of flat-leaf parsley leaves stirred in at the last minute.Fava beans grow in thick, fuzzy pods. After you shell them, you’ve got individual beans encased in a slightly tough skin that needs to be removed. To do this, drop the shelled beans into a pot of boiling water, blanch them for about 30 seconds, and then drain them and run cold water over them. The skins should now slip off easily.

(Serves 4)

Extra-virgin olive oil
Flour for dredging the lamb (I use Wondra, which is finely ground and never gets gummy)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, cut into small dice
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice, plus a handful of celery leaves, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
2 small sprigs fresh rosemary
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup meat or chicken broth
1 cup fresh peas or peeled fava beans (see above)
3 anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons high-quality vinegar (a red-wine or sherry-wine vinegar is best)
A few large sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

In a large casserole fitted with a lid, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame. Dry the lamb chunks, coat them lightly with flour, and sprinkle them with the sugar (which will help the meat brown). When the pan is hot, add the lamb and brown it well all over. Season with salt and black pepper and add the onion, celery, and garlic. Sauté a few minutes longer to soften the vegetables, being careful not to let the garlic get too dark (lower the heat if you sense that this might happen). Add the rosemary, bay leaf, and white wine, and let the wine bubble until it reduces by about half. Add the broth, and bring the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the casserole, and simmer until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours. Skim the fat from the surface, add the peas or fava beans, and simmer, uncovered, about 5 minutes longer, until the vegetables are tender, but not so long that they start to lose their bright green color.

Mash the anchovies to a paste in a mortar. Add the vinegar to the mortar and stir it to blend. Pour the anchovy-and-vinegar mixture into the casserole and stir to blend. Taste for seasoning, adding a few extra grindings of black pepper and a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Add the chopped parsley. Serve with Sautéed Artichokes with Pancetta and New Potatoes, or with plain rice.

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Even though all the flavors in this dish are classically Sicilian, I got the idea for its basic braise of tuna and artichokes from Richard Olney’s cookbook Provence the Beautiful. I added mint pesto because I’ve loved tuna with mint ever since I discovered the pairing in Palermo, but the dish is good without it, although a little mellower and less punchy. As far as I’m concerned, there are two ways to cook tuna; either searing it over high heat, leaving it slightly pink at the center, or slow-cooking it over a low flame or in a low oven until it is gently heated through and tender. Anything in between will give you dry fish. Both ways are traditional Sicilian preparations.To trim the artichokes Italian-style (the way big artichokes are always done in Italian restaurants), first set up a bowl of cold water plus the juice of a large lemon. Working with one artichoke at a time, rip off and discard all the tough leaves until you get down to the tender, light green ones (be scrupulous about this so you don’t wind up with any tough bites). Slice off the tough stem end, leaving about 1/2 inch of tender stem. Slice about 1/2 inch off the top, leaving just the bottom section of the leaves. Peel the tough skin off the stem. Quarter the artichoke lengthwise and cut out from each piece the fuzzy choke and any spiky, purplish leaves. You should end up with four arched, hollowed out artichoke pieces. Drop them in the water and repeat with the other artichokes.

(Serves 4)

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds tuna steak, about 1 1/2 inches thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
The zest from 1 lemon
3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
Freshly ground black pepper
2 thin slices pancetta, chopped
4 large artichokes, trimmed and quartered (see above) and placed in a bowl of cold water with the juice of a large lemon
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
Salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (use canned ones if you like, but make sure to drain them)
1/2 cup chicken broth

For the pesto:

Leaves from a few large mint sprigs (about 1/2 loosely packed cup)
A large handful of basil leaves (about a cup)
1 young (unsprouted) garlic clove
A small handful of whole, blanched almonds
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt

Marinate the tuna: Place the tuna in a shallow glass or ceramic bowl (sometimes metal can give fish an off taste). Pour over it about 1/4 cup of olive oil, enough just to coat the fish well all over. Add the bay leaf, lemon zest, garlic cloves, and grind on a generous amount of black pepper. Mix the whole thing with your hands so the flavors are evenly distributed. Refrigerate for up to a few hours.

Make the pesto: Set up a medium-size pot of water and bring it to a boil. Drop in the mint and basil leaves and blanch them for about 30 seconds. Scoop them from the water with a large strainer spoon and place them in a colander. Run cool water over them to stop their cooking and to preserve their green color. Squeeze all the water out of the herbs. This blanching will prevent them from oxidizing and turning dark as the pesto sits, always a problem with pesto. Place the garlic and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until they’re roughly ground. Add the blanched herbs and enough olive oil to create a rich texture (about 1/2 cup). Season with a little salt and pulse a few more times until everything is blended but still has a bit of texture to it. Transfer the pesto to a small bowl (you can make it a day before and refrigerate it if you like, but it will lose freshness if made to far ahead). Return the pesto to room temperature before serving.

Choose a large skillet that has a lid and is big enough to hold the tuna and artichokes in one layer. Over medium heat, add the pancetta and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and sauté until the pancetta is crisp, about 4 minutes. Drain the artichoke pieces well and add them and the onion to the skillet. Season with a little salt and sauté until both vegetables are lightly browned, about another 10 minutes. Add the tuna chunks and all the marinade and sauté on one side until lightly golden. Turn the tuna pieces, season with a bit more salt, and add the white wine, letting it boil away. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth and heat through. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking, covered, until the tuna and the artichokes are tender, only about another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the dish sit for about 5 minutes before serving (this gives all the flavors a chance to blend).

Serve in soup bowls with a generous spoonful of pesto on top of each portion. Accompany with toasted baguette slices that have been rubbed with garlic and brushed with olive oil.

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Young green garlic, made up of immature shoots that haven’t yet even formed cloves, appears in the New York greenmarkets around May. It looks like thick scallions and has a sweet, mild garlicky taste, with no bitterness. It can be chopped just like scallions and cooked or added raw to salad or sauces.

(Serves 4)

Extra-virgin olive oil
3 shallots, thinly sliced
2 green garlic shoots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 pounds mussels, soaked in cool water and debearded if necessary (with cultivated mussels this is not usually necessary, but wild ones can be a little hairy; unless you get mussels from a fisherman, they’re most likely cultivated)
1 heaping tablespoon mascarpone
A large handful of spring herbs, stemmed but very lightly chopped so they retain all their flavor (a mix of parsley, chives, mint, chervil, and tarragon is a good choice, but add whatever you can get, concentrating on gentle, leafy herbs and avoiding strong, spiky flavors like rosemary or savory)
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt, if needed

Look over the mussels, throwing out any that don’t close tightly when you tap on them (meaning they’re dead). Choose a very large pot (a big pasta pot is a good choice), or two smaller pots. Over medium heat, add about 1/3 cup of olive oil to the pot. Add the shallots and the garlic and sauté until they give off fragrance, about a minute. Drain the mussels and add them, along with the white wine. Cook, uncovered, stirring the mussels around occasionally until they have opened. This should take only about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the mascarpone, a few grindings of black pepper, and all the herbs. Give it all a good mixing. Taste the broth for saltiness, adding a bit of salt if necessary.

Serve in large bowls, giving each person a good amount of broth. Italian bread is pretty much essential, so you can sop up all the juices.

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This dish should be voluptuous; to make it so, keep the eggs soft and runny so the yolks can mingle with the saltiness of the olives and the rich olive oil. Choose thick, juicy asparagus, and peel the stem ends so they’re tender all the way up.Olivata is Italian-style olive paste, very much like France’s tapenade. This recipe makes more of it than you’ll use, but it will keep well in the refrigerator for about a week, and it tastes good on many things. You can use it on grilled or roasted seafood, for instance, or on grilled lamb chops, or spooned onto crostini (little toasted bread rounds) for an appetizer. I especially like to toss it with spaghetti. If you do that, add the olivata to your al dente spaghetti and then moisten it with a few tablespoons of cooking water and a generous splash of fresh olive oil to loosen the sauce, and add a handful of chopped basil at the last minute.

(Serves 2 as a first course or a brunch dish)

1 cup Gaeta black olives, pitted
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
A palmful of salt-packed capers, soaked in cool water for about 1/2 hour and rinsed
2 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed of excess salt, filleted, and rinsed again (and soaked in cool water for about 20 minutes if they are excessively salty)
The zest and juice from 1 small lemon
A few thyme sprigs, the leaves only
A tiny splash of grappa or brandy
A teaspoon of Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
10 fairly thick asparagus stalks, the stems trimmed and peeled
2 very fresh eggs, preferably organic
Salt
A handful of basil leaves, cut into thin strips

To make the olivata, place the pitted olives, garlic, capers, anchovies, lemon zest, and thyme in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a few seconds until you have a rough paste. Add the grappa or brandy, mustard, a few grindings of black pepper, and about 1/2 cup of good extra virgin olive oil. Add enough oil to lubricate all the ingredients so the texture is no longer crumbly.. Pulse a few more times, just until everything is mixed but the texture is still chunky. I don’t like my olivata smooth, but I do like it luxuriously oily. Because of all the salty things you’ve added here, you won’t need extra salt, but do taste for balance; depending on your preference, you may feel you need a little more garlic, or lemon flavor (a squeeze of lemon juice might be just the thing). You can transfer the olivata to a small bowl and refrigerate it for a few days, or you can use it right away. If you do refrigerate it, make sure to bring it to room temperature before using it, so the finished dish can be warm and runny with no hard edges.

Put up a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Drop the asparagus into it, tips up (it’s okay if the ends of the tips stick out of the water a bit). Blanch until just tender, no more than about 4 minutes, depending on how thick it is. Scoop the asparagus from the water with a large strainer, and lay it out on paper towels to drain. Arrange the asparagus on two small plates, all pointing in the same direction. Sprinkle it with salt, and drizzle it lightly with olive oil.

Fill a shallow saucepan with water and bring it to a very gentle simmer. Add a little salt to it. Gently crack an egg into a small cup and release it smoothly into the water so the yolk isn’t jarred. Do the same with the other egg. Let the two eggs poach, without moving them around at all, until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny. This should take about 3 minutes. Gently scoop them from the water, one at a time, and drain them on paper towels. Place one egg on each serving of asparagus.

Spoon a generous spoonful of olivata onto each egg. Give each dish a squeeze of lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper. Garnish with the basil and send to the table right away. Serve with good Italian bread, toasted, if you like (if you do choose to toast it, you might as well go all the way and rub the toast with raw garlic, brush it with olive oil, and finish it with a pinch of salt).

I like serving this with or after a plate of thin-sliced prosciutto, accompanied perhaps by buttered Italian bread.

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Whole wheat berries are used in Southern Italian cooking to make all sort of salads and for cuccia, a mix of wheat berries, ricotta, and a sweetener such as sugar or cocoa. I love serving wheat berries warm, tossed with seasonal vegetables almost the way you might compose a pasta dish. Make sure to buy hard wheat berries (usually label “hard spring wheat”). The soft winter wheat cooks up a little too mushy. You’ll most easily find wheat berries at health food stores and Middle Eastern markets.Zucchini blossoms should be very fresh and unwilted when you buy them. They are quite perishable and will keep for only about a day, so plan to use them right away. Sticking their stems in a small glass of water in the refrigerator can prolong their freshness for perhaps one additional day. To clean the blossoms for this recipe, open each one and pinch off its stamen, checking while you do this for any dirt that might be trapped inside (just wipe it off with a damp paper towel). Cut off the stem and quarter the blossom lengthwise. I try not to wash zucchini blossoms (they easily become waterlogged). If they are really dirty, dunk them very briefly in cool water, lift them out right away, and drain them on paper towels. But I usually find that wiping the surface with damp paper towels cleans them well enough.

(Serves 4 as a first course or side dish)

1 1/2 cups hard wheat berries
1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 thin slices of pancetta
4 or 5 scallions, thinly sliced, using some of the tender green part
5 tiny young zucchini, cut into small cubes
About 6 zucchini blossoms (cleaned, see note below)
A splash of white wine
The zest from 1 lemon
A handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
A handful of basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1 cup fresh ricotta

Place the wheat berries in a large pot and cover them with about 4 inches of cold water. Add the bay leaf and bring the water to a boil. Adjust the heat to medium-low and cook the wheat, uncovered, at a low boil (a bit more vigorous than a simmer but not a rolling boil), for about 45 minutes to an hour. Add hot water if the water level shrinks to less than an inch above the wheat. When done, the grains will have swelled to about twice their size and will be tender to the bite with just a bit of resistance. Some of the grains will have started to burst. Drain well and pour the wheat berries into a large serving bowl. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil and season lightly with salt and black pepper. Gently mix.

In a large skillet, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame. Add the pancetta and sauté until crisp, about 4 minutes. Add the scallions and the zucchini and sauté until the zucchini is just tender, about 5 minutes (really young, tender zucchini will cook especially quickly). Season with salt and black pepper. Add the sliced zucchini blossoms and sauté very quickly, just until they wilt, about a minute. Add the white wine and let it bubble for a few seconds (the wine will loosen up juices on the bottom of the skillet so they can be incorporated into the wheat, adding a lot of flavor). Add the zucchini mixture, with all the skillet juices, to the wheat berries. Add the pine nuts, lemon zest, and basil. Add a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and toss everything gently. Taste for seasoning. You might want to add a little fresh lemon juice to pick up the flavors.

Serve warm in a small pasta bowl with a dollop of ricotta on top of each serving.

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