Archive for the ‘2007’ Category

Nettuno Colatura.
Essence of anchovy in a bottle.

If you like anchovies (and who reading my site doesn’t?), you’ll love the elegant, stinky syrup called colatura. It’s made from the runoff from the anchovy salting process, which I guess doesn’t sound particularly elegant, but believe me this stuff is suave. When anchovies are salted for curing, they’re layered in wooden barrels, pressed, and weighted from the top to get rid of air and make a tight package. A little hole is made at the base of the barrel for the briney liquid that’s released to gradually drip out; this is colatura ( which actually means dripping or trickling in Italian). The little bottle I now have in my kitchen was produced in Cetara, a coastal village in Campania, by a company call Nettuno, which also, as you’d expect, turn out salted anchovies, very excellent ones too.

To my palate colatura tastes less fishy than anchovies. I can’t imagine why, but this clear, amber liquid, which resembles a light maple syrup, in looks only, has a very clean fish taste, not as fermented as Nuoc Mam, the Vietnamese equivalent, which is made from pickled fish, giving it that extra funkiness. Possibly colatura is closer to garum, the ancient Roman fish sauce that flavored so much of the food of antiquity, which is something I’ve always had a perverse romantic fascination with.

Colatura is often given as a gift at Christmastime in Southern Italy, families often making their own. And it makes a good participant in the traditional Southern Italian Christmas Eve fish dinner, being, as I discovered, an especially excellent ingredient in a fish-based pasta sauce, providing that extra jolt of flavor that makes certain dishes memorable. Last night I tossed up a pound of spaghetti with garlic, olive oil, and fresh hot chilies, adding a tablespoon of colatura and a handful of parsley leaves at the last minute. I’m sure you could toss in shrimp or calamari as well. On another evening, a few drops stirred into melted butter and drizzled over a grilled steak was absolutely delicious, and surprisingly unfishy as well; it just intensified the meatiness of the meat. I have yet to try it as a sauce for fish, but can imagine mixing a few drops with olive oil and herbs and lemon and drizzling it over scallop crudo. I’ve just started playing with this stuff and will no doubt come up with other interesting ways to work it into my cooking, but anywhere you’d be tempted to include anchovy (a Caesar salad for instance), you could try a hit of colatura instead. The aroma alone will be your guide to how much you should reasonably use, but just as an example, mixing two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil with about a teaspoon of colatura gave me a delicious, not too heady dressing for a simple salad . I’m very happy with my bottle, and soon I’ll order another one.

Nettuno colatura can be ordered from www.gustiamo.com.

Radicchio and Frisée Salad with Colatura and Toasted Almonds

(Serves 4)

1 medium head frisée lettuce, torn into small bits
1 small head round radicchio, cored and ripped into pieces
A handful of basil leaves, left whole
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, left whole
A palmful of sliced almonds, lightly toasted
10 good-sized shavings grana padano cheese
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon colatura
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the frisée and radicchio in a wooden salad bowl. Add the basil and parsley and almonds. Shave on the grana padano.

In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and colatura. Grind a generous amount of black pepper over the salad, and drizzle on the dressing. Toss gently, and serve right away.

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A lost lasagna revived.


Sweet Christmas Eve Lasagna

Dear Erica,

My father was born in Barile, Provincia di Potenza, Basilicata. His father was from Bari. My grandmother and my mother always made their lasagna with eggs mixed in the ricotta, and with sugar and cinnamon. We ate this with the meatballs layered in between, and with tomato sauce. I never liked this lasagna, and when I married I started making it without the sugar and cinnamon. I married a man from Naples who doesn’t like my family’s way of cooking.

I was wondering if this was a recipe that was brought over from Italy. My mother seems to think that my grandmother mistook nutmeg for cinnamon, and that we just carried it on. But why the sugar? I love trying to find out Italian customs. Thanks for any info.


Rita (more…)

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<i>Seasons of Sicily</i>.

I had the good fortune to be able visit Natalia Ravidà and several generations of her family several years ago when I took a trip to Sicily. I was a huge fan of her family’s estate-bottled extra-virgin olive oil. The exquisite, lush oil had been produced on the family estate, in Menfi, in southwestern Sicily, for hundreds of years, and for most of that time was used only by her family. Natalia started promoting the family oil in l991, and it is now available worldwide. I first picked up a bottle at a Williams-Sonoma store in Manhattan. Ravidà oil has gone on to win numerous awards.

Natalia has now gathered her family recipes and stories in a beautiful new book called Seasons of Sicily: Recipes from the South of Sicily (New Holland Publishers, 208 pages, $29.95). From it you’ll learn the history of La Gurra, the family’s ancestral estate and olive grove, and you’ll enjoy recipes for Sicilian classics such as pasta con zucchini e fiori di zucca (with zucchini blossoms); spaghetti con pesto di mandorle fresche (fresh almond pesto); frittella, a springtime stew of favas, artichokes, and peas; shrimp sautéed in the island’s famous Marsala wine; and gelo di melone, a chilled watermelon pudding flavored with pistachios, cinnamon, and jasmine flowers, all legacies of Sicily’s Arab past. All the recipes are both traditional and personal, with little family touches that have a history of their own but impart a contemporary, fresh feel. And the book is loaded with gorgeous photos of the Ravidà estate and olive trees, and of course the food. If you love Sicilian food (and I know you do, since you’re visiting my website), you’ll find this book to be a real treasure.

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Cavicionetti all’Abruzzese.


Cavicionetti all’Abruzzese

Dear Erica,

I am a big fan of your books, and having discovered your wonderful “Lost Recipes Found” feature, I decided to see if you could help me out. I spent a few years in Abruzzo about 14 years ago. Around Christmas, I recall, a friend of my host mother made wonderful little pastries stuffed with a spicy (clove, cinnamon) and orange-flavored (maybe) dried-fruit filling (prune for sure). The pastry was a bit like pâte brisée in texture. However, maybe my memory is twisting the reality a bit. Have you ever encountered anything like this either in your travels or among your books? It would be great if you could help me out.

Thank you very much in advance!

Best regards,

Victoria (more…)

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Fresh cardoons for Felice’s lost recipe.


Pumpkin Agro Dolce with Vinegar and Mint
Batter Fried Cardoons with Anchovy Tomato Salsa

Hi Erica,

I am second-generation Italian, my maternal grandparents coming from the hills of San Fratello in Sicily and my paternal ones from the mainland around Naples. My mom’s mother (I’m her namesake) was the only grandparent I met, and I recall two recipes from when I was small that I wish I could reconstruct.

She passed away when I was a teenager, and of course during the 1970s being Italian, or eating Italian regionalized foods, wasn’t cool, so I never paid much attention to how things were prepared. I was, however, a closet Italian-food eater, and I absolutely loved the foods grandma made . . . just not in front of my more American friends!

There are two recipes that I wish I could reconstruct, since I have very fond memories of them. Unfortunately, in those days, everything was done without measuring and was committed to memory, not paper. Anyway, here goes: (more…)

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Trippa alla Romana at Il Posto Accanto.


Tripe with Rosemary and Cacio di Roma

I love tripe Italian-style, with wine, tomatoes, herbs, and a topping of pecorino cheese. I love the taste of tripe in general; it’s really unlike any other food, in looks, for sure, but also in flavor. To me it makes the most tender, full-bodied, delicious stew, soaking up all the wine and herbs and onion and garlic it can, so by the time you’ve finished simmering it, you’ve got something really special in the pot. I know many people in this country don’t feel this way, not even in New York, where people will eat just about anything in the name of rustic trendiness. I guess tripe has not yet had its day, or possibly it tried having its day about six years ago but most people just couldn’t deal with it (it did seem to be on more trattoria menus a few years back; I guess many chefs just gave up trying to convert people). (more…)

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Orange and herring salad with almonds and frisée.


Orange and Herring Salad with Almonds and Frisée

I recently came across a reference to a recipe called “Mackerel, Almond, Orange, and Fennel.” The combination sounds great, but I can’t find an actual recipe. Do you have one?

Herbert D.

When I first read this intriguing but vague request from one of my readers, I immediately thought of a hot dish of mackerel roasted with fennel and orange zest and then garnished with toasted almonds. Delicious. But then I remembered that this flavor combo was familiar to me in another incarnation. About eight years ago, on my first trip to Sicily, I ate dinner at a place in Palermo that specialized in traditional Sicilian dishes (most places in Palermo specialize in traditional Sicilian dishes, but this one seemed to do so in an especially antiquated and formal way). I unfortunately can’t remember the name of the place, but I recall an interesting dessert, a watermelon gelatina, poured into a pastry shell and decorated with fresh jasmine blossoms. The gelatin itself was flavored with cinnamon and rosewater, and dusted with cocoa, a strange but delicious combination with obvious Arab lineage. Another dish I ate that evening was an antipasto, a salad of smoked fish, which may have been sardines, herring, or mackerel-something strong-with orange slices and toasted almonds. The taste was startling, in a not altogether good way. Something about the fish and orange mingled to produce the aroma of low tide. But I thought about that dish when I got home and somehow felt the combination had potential. (more…)

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My new take on a classic I learned years ago.


Eggplant and Ricotta Gratinée

Many of the recipes I attempted when I first got serious about cooking many moons ago have left me with the sweetest nostalgia, even more than some of my beloved childhood dishes. It must be because they are foods I was drawn to and first learned to cook completely on my own. The culinary romance that was brewing in my head took me to the lands of Mediterranean flavors. Being a Southern Italian by heritage, I wasn’t surprised to find myself going in this direction, but at first my snobbism sent me looking for something more glamorous than my grandmother’s meatballs. (Now I think of her meatballs, studded with raisins and pine nuts, as the height of glamour.) (more…)

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Fresh summer ingredients for Pete’s ciambotta.


Ciambotta with Fried Capers

Dear Erica,

I love your “Lost Recipes Found” feature, and for months I’ve been trying to think of an old family recipe that nobody seems to know how to make anymore. With the eggplants, zucchini, and tomatoes coming up from my next-door neighbor’s garden (and some winding up on my porch), I realize what it is: ciambotta. This was a big vegetable stew my family made often but only in the summer, with vegetables from my father’s own backyard garden. I never paid much attention to the garden when I was a kid, but I loved ciambotta. I unfortunately also never paid much attention to what was going on in the kitchen, but I can tell you this stew contained zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and probably other things. I think we added oregano. My sister remembers olives, but I don’t think that’s correct. But I remember something sharp, possibly capers. It was thick and very rich. I recently tried my hand at it, but the texture was very watery and it really didn’t have much taste. I added garlic, but now I’m thinking my father used some sort of red scallion he grew. I’d love to taste a good version of this again. I know it’s a well-known thing, but I imagine families all have different versions that make it special for them. (more…)

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Pasta with clams.

Spaghetti with cockles, tomatoes, fresh chilies, and sherry.


Spaghetti with Cockles, Tomatoes, Fresh Chilies, and Sherry.

Linguine with clam sauce is a classic Southern Italian pasta that evokes two contrasting basic memories for me. Primarily it was a Christmas Eve dish my mother often made as part of our traditional, if pared down, fish dinner. But it was also a summer pasta, something we’d cook up when my father went clamming on the LILCO-polluted beaches of Long Island, where we lived. The power company used to spill huge amounts of a purple fluorescent oil into the water on a regular basis, and where it went in was, according to my father and his buddies, the best spot for clams. Mostly we ate them raw. I never got sick once, but who knows what the future has in store for me. On a lighter note, when my mother made linguine with clams from those LILCO clams on those warm summer nights, it was to me one of the most beautiful dishes I ever ate, glistening with oil olive and smelling of wine and sea.

We always called the dish linguine with clam sauce, whether made with spaghetti, bucatini, penne, or with actual linguine, as was occasionally the case. There are of course two standard ways to construct this genius dish: red, with tomatoes, or white, with garlic, oil, white wine, and parsley. But there also existed in my family an in-between version made with cherry tomatoes, not a full-on tomato sauce but just dots of tomato punctuating the classic white sauce. This was my favorite way, and it was often our family’s summer way, since we always had cherry tomatoes growing in my father’s little garden.

When I first moved out of the family home, my attempts at linguine with clams were not very appealing, mainly because the results were greasy and garlicky. I wasn’t grasping the finesse. I finally learned to add more clams to produce more clam broth and to add lots of lemon juice and white wine and boil everything down with olive oil until I had a briny, lemony emulsion; this was the base for my white sauce, and with the sprinkling of red pepper flakes we always added, my sauce finally tasted just like my mother’s. It took me longer to get the feel of the cherry-tomato version, since it seemed more elusive in construction, but once I figured it out, all it really involved was adding a few halved cherry tomatoes to my white sauce and there it miraculously was. (My brain can sometimes play tricks on me in the kitchen, making a simple concept seem very difficult. Even after decades of cooking, this still happens on occasion. I wonder if it isn’t all those LILCO clams catching up with me.)

My years of eating this pasta in various restaurants and homes here and in Italy have been, for the most part, disappointing. Most cooks don’t get it right. Too greasy, too garlicky, too dry, overcooked clams, bad clams, overcooked pasta. This dish should have a lightness about it that I almost never seem to encounter in other people’s hands. Southern Italy has made me happy with it on several occasions; once in Ischia, and once in Ceglie Messapica, a little town in the Trulli district of Puglia. But it’s so true that emotion and circumstances can have a profound effect on one’s enjoyment and memory of food, and this was the case when the perfectly cooked spaghetti with clams I ordered in Puglia turned into a turn-off. My husband was suffering from a flare-up of a serious intestinal disease, and he barely had an appetite. He’d order something plain and hardly touch it. I’d try to order things that seemed safe and normal (no raw sea urchin), hoping these dishes would entice him. But I was in Puglia, and I needed to taste this food. One night I settled on spaghetti with clams, very standard, very familiar and unthreatening, I figured. What I ordered turned out to be a textbook version of spaghetti with white clam sauce, so beautiful, with shiny blue-tinged shells, lightly soupy and acidic from white wine, but it wasn’t the thing for Fred, to say the least. His penne with tomatoes sat untouched, and so, for the most part, did my gorgeous clams. It was a sad night. How could he be in this wonderful place and unable to enjoy the food? It seemed so unfair. I felt sorry for both of us. Even now, four years later, I’ve pretty much stayed away from this white version, since it just reminds me of illness, even though Fred is fine now. It’s interesting that many Italians, including my grandmother, always spoke of white food (that is, food without tomatoes) as fare for sick people, but since I’m not a person to give up on a great thing just because of a bad memory, I’ve learned to alter this great dish, concentrating instead on the red and semi-red versions, which don’t remind me of sick times at all. And luckily my husband is now doing so well he eats anything put in front of him.

I’ve been tinkering with the semi-red type of linguine with clam sauce this summer, coming up with a version that is ever so slightly un-Italian, since it includes fresh chilies (not dried flakes), a good shot of fino sherry instead of the dry white wine that was customary in our house, and marjoram (which I love with shellfish), in addition to the abundant parsley my mother always added and the tiniest pinch of pimenton, the Spanish smoked paprika, which along with lemon zest gives it a appealing paella-like quality, making my familiar childhood linguine with clams unfamiliar in a very good way. A fresh start.

Spaghetti with Cockles, Tomatoes, Fresh Chilies, and Sherry

I usually prefer Littlenecks or Manilas for this, since they’re what my family used, but New Zealand cockles remind me of the little clams I ate in Ischia, and they also have the advantage of opening up quickly and all at the same time, and they’re almost sand-free.

(Serves 5 as a first course)

1 pound spaghetti
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus an extra drizzle
1 small, fresh red peperoncino, seeded and minced
3 summer garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
2 pounds cockles, well rinsed
The juice and zest from 1 large lemon
1/8 teaspoon Pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
1/2 cup fino sherry
5 sprigs marjoram, the leaves chopped
A handful of Italian parsley, the leaves lightly chopped

Have all your ingredients prepped and ready by the stove.

Bring a large pot of pasta cooking water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Drop in the spaghetti.

In a very large skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium high heat. Add the peperoncino and garlic, and sauté a minute, just to open up the flavors. Add the cockles, tomatoes, lemon zest, pimenton, and a pinch of salt, and sauté a minute. Add the sherry and lemon juice and cook, uncovered, until all the cockles open, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat. You should have about 1/2 inch of fragrant briny boozy broth in the skillet.

When al dente, drain the spaghetti, saving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and place it in a large, warmed bowl. Drizzle with a little fresh olive oil and add the marjoram and parsley, giving it a quick toss. Add the cockles with all the skillet liquid, and toss again gently. Add a splash of cooking water, if needed for moisture (there should be about 1/2 inch of liquid in the bottom of the bowl). Add a little salt, if needed. Serve right away.

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