When you are looking for “true” Italian recipes of any kind, you may become very perplexed over numerous versions of the same recipe. Which one is the right one? Which is the “classic?” Let me try to shed some light on this quandary: In Italy, each person or restaurant, puts a personal spin on a recipe. The variations depend on personal taste, family background, specific area of Italy and what is easily available and very fresh in that area. Italians are notorious for being fiercely independent, even when it comes to recipes.

Using a musical analogy: Many musicians can play the same piece of music but it is the interpretation that makes one stand apart from another. Each recipe has a personal interpretation. To make it even more complicated, Italians will hardly ever be able to give you a precise recipe: It’s “A handful of this, a pinch of that” as cooking is often learned from watching other family members and done “a occhio” (by eye-balling) quantities. Cooking is not a chemistry formula, it is an artistic experience; it is a way to express your creativity, enjoy all the steps of the process and render a wonderful result. (http://toscanamia.biz/blog/)

Itaiian Chefs – Modern Yet Classical

Anna Dente Ferracci is preserving Roman cooking traditions at her cozy family restaurant, serving perfect versions of well known Lazio pastas like carbonara.

The small town of San Cesareo sits on rich farmlands on the Via Labicana, an ancient road connecting Tusculum and Praeneste –  two important towns of the Roman period. The chef at Osteria di San Cesario, Anna Dente, is known as the “Queen of Matriciana”. She not only makes the pasta and sauce herself, she draws on her family’s four decades in the butchering business to make her own guanciale (cured hog jowl).

Anna was born in 1943 in the small rural hamlet of San Cesareo near Zagarolo in the province of Rome (Lazio), a rich agricultural zone. Her mother and father ran a local butcher shop or ‘norcineria’, as well as, a few hectares of land producing grain, fruit and grapes, while her grandfather worked as a young man in the slaughterhouse of Monte Compatri. Her grandmother was a ciambellaia or biscuit maker and introduced Anna to the use of wild country herbs for use in bread, cakes and liqueurs. From an early age she would also frequent the kitchen of her Aunt Ada’s osteria. Not surprisingly, a passion for traditional Roman dishes and cooking soon took hold of young Anna.

Anna grew up helping her mother and father run their butcher shop and garden in San Cesareo, where she learned about fresh meats and vegetables. At a young age, she began cooking alongside her aunt in their family-run osteria in Rome. An osteria (Italian pronunciation: osteˈria) in Italy was originally a place serving wine and simple food. Lately, the emphasis has shifted to the food, but menus tend to be short, with an emphasis on local specialities such as pasta, grilled meat or fish and often served at shared tables. Ideal for a cheap lunch, osterie (the plural in Italian) also serves meals for after work or evening refreshment.

She learned to cook quality food with generations-old recipes that included fresh herbs and ingredients. Today, her family’s osteria guarantees the same quality of home-produced meats and vegetables with the aim of preserving traditions from generations past.

The lifetime culinary experience of the family was consolidated in 1995 with the opening of a restaurant in San Cesareo with emphasis on preserving the preparation of traditional dishes and, in particular, those originating from a zone between the Castelli Romani or Roman Hills and Prenestina. The restaurant was named after an osteria in the town dating from Roman times called ‘Lavicanum Caesaris’ when it was an important stop along the Via Labicana connecting Rome to Capua. It was also the site of the country villa of Julius Caesar.

Anna’s cuisine soon gained national and, then, international recognition from publications, such as, Gambero Rosso, Il Corriere Della Sera, L’Espresso in Italy, The Michelin Guide, Travel and Leisure and Italian Cooking and Living Abroad. Heinz Beck, three star Michelin Chef of La Pergola in Rome, even describes ‘Sora Anna’ as the ‘Queen of Roman cooking’.

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Chef Ferracci”s recipe for Rustic Vegetable Soup with Salt Cod

Ingredients

  • One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes—tomatoes chopped, juices reserved
  • One 3/4-pound salt cod fillet
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced crosswise 1 inch thick
  • 2 pounds fresh cranberry beans, shelled (2 cups), or canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 pound kale—stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped (3 cups)
  • 1/2 pound escarole—large stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped (3 cups)
  • One 1/2-pound baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Salt
  • Four 1/2-inch-thick slices of country-style bread

Directions

In a large bowl, cover the salt cod with cold water. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 2 days. Change the water three times a day.

In a large, enameled casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the zucchini, beans, onion, kale, escarole, potato and tomatoes with their juices. Add the water and crushed red pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 50 minutes. Season lightly with salt.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°. Set the bread on a rimmed baking sheet. Generously brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Bake for about 12 minutes, until browned and crisp.

Add the cod to the casserole and simmer over moderately low heat until the cod is heated through, about 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, gently break the cod into 2-inch pieces. Set the toasted bread in shallow bowls. Ladle the soup over the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Gennaro Esposito, chef at Torre del Saracino, where local Amalfi Coast favorites, such as, ricotta soup with red mullet and sea urchin are served.

“I was truly fortunate to have a mother who taught me all about genuine food products and our traditional regional cuisine. She and her father were tenant farmers, so in our house I grew up knowing the importance of organic foods. It was our way of life to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, those cultivated without pesticides. These experiences are still of the utmost importance to me when I’m inventing a menu, because I always put these concepts and flavors in my new dishes. One of my uncles, the husband of one of my mother’s sisters, is a pastry chef. I began working in his shop when I was nine years old. It was thanks to this experience that I chose to remain in the kitchen.”

Gennaro Esposito was born at Vico Equense on the beautiful Amalfi Coast. There were two determining moments in his professional development, as Esposito explains: “an internship with Gianfranco Vissani, one of Italy’s top chefs and a coincidental encounter with Alain Ducasse during one of the many times “il maestro” had come to Positano on vacation.” Before he knew it, Esposito found himself in Ducasse’s kitchens at the Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo and at the Plaza Athénée Hotel in Paris. “In both,” he likes to tell, “I learned the exact meaning of perfectionism and of fanatic attention to detail. What’s particularly special about Ducasse is that he’s like a teacher during the Renaissance in that he brings out the aptitudes of his interns. He doesn’t impose his style; he proposes it very subtly but incisively. He encourages and supports his interns’ abilities through his wide experience. I was especially moved by his love for Mediterranean cuisine which he enriches with the grand tradition and competence of French cuisine.”

“From Vissani, I learned to use many unconventional ingredients. He broadened my awareness of ingredients and my skills. He also taught me that creativity combined with familiarity and skillfulness knows no limits in the kitchen and that I could create combinations unthought-of until then which would give my future guests unique experiences. That was my goal then and it still is.”

Back in his beloved home region in 1992, with his wife Vittoria, who is the pastry chef and in-charge of the dining room, he opened the restaurant, La Torre del Saracino.” I think that today top chefs must be cultured. They have to have time to expand their general knowledge, to learn more about local cuisine and food products and to invent their very own style. Secondly, they have to be creative, but must also have a solid base in traditional cuisine on which to build this creativity. Thirdly, they must know how to motivate and stimulate their staff, their team and must be able to transmit their passion for this profession.”

gennaro-esposito

Chef Esposito’s recipe: Risotto with tomato sauce, candied lemon and squids stuffed with smoked buffalo provola cheese

Ingredients for 2 people

For the squid

  • - 4 squid
  • - 60 g (about 2 oz. or ½ cup) DOP smoked buffalo provola cheese from Campania

For the risotto

  • - 200 g (about 1 cup) Carnaroli rice
  • - 200 g (about 1 cup)“cuore di bue” (Italian heart shaped) tomatoes (cut into big cubes)
  • - 6 squid, finely chopped
  • - 20 g (about 2-3 tablespoons) DOP smoked buffalo provola cheese from Campania
  • - 30 g (1/4 cup) candied lemon
  • - 2 litre (8 cups) of seafood and vegetable light broth
  • - 100 g (7/8 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • - 10 g (3/4 tablespoon) butter
  • - 10 basil leaves
  • - 1 teaspoon of chopped onion
  • - the juice of half a lemon
  • - a clove of garlic
  • - salt and pepper to taste
  • - Garnish with tomatoes cubes and basil

Directions

Stuff four squid with the smoked provola cheese cut into pieces, close with a toothpick and bake at 100°C (210 F) for about 2 minutes.

Heat the broth to boiling.

Toast the rice with about half the oil and add the onion in a large saucepan. Finish toasting and add the boiling broth.

In the meantime brown a clove of garlic in half the olive oil in another saucepan. Add the tomatoes, the basil and the salt and cook for about 3 minutes. Add to the rice.

Cook the risotto until slightly underdone, stirring often, and add the finely cut squid. Continue to cook until rice is cooked to your taste and add the candied lemon.

Turn the heat off, add pepper, butter and the lemon juice to balance the sweet and sour taste.

Put the risotto in the center of the plate and place the cheese stuffed squid without toothpicks on it. Garnish with pieces of blanched tomatoes and basil leaves.

Paolo Lopriore, chef of Tuscany’s Il Canto Tuscany’s, reinvents classics, like cacio e pepe (pasta with pepper and cheese) as twisted rigatoni filled with black-pepper gelée.

Lopriore was born in Como in 1973 and his earliest inspiration was in his mother’s kitchen – a woman who was a self-taught and passionate home cook and one who instilled a strong sense for cooking with local, quality, seasonal ingredients. Chef Lopriore at a very young age, had discovered that he had a passion for food and cooking, so he approached Italian Chef, Luciano Tona, who taught him the basics in cooking. However, it was in 1990 that his real culinary training occurred. He went on to work at the Sole di Ranco under Chef Gualtiero Marchesi (a renowned Italian chef, considered to be the founder of modern Italian cuisine), and he stayed there for two years, learning the techniques and perfecting his own style, before leaving the restaurant to complete his military obligations.

Once his duty to his country was fulfilled, he went to work in Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri and eventually returned to work at Sole di Ranco. There, he completed his training under Chef Marchesi and went off once more to search for work in some of the finest restaurants in Italy. He found work at the Ledoyen and La Maison Troisgros. In 1998, Chef Lopriore met Norwegian Chef, Eyvind Hellström, and he went to work with him at the Bagatelle in Oslo for three years. However, something seemed to be calling him back home and, whether it was a challenge or a sense of nostalgia, he really cannot tell, but he found himself returning to his first teacher, Chef Marchesi. The relationship they had blossomed into more than just your typical master-and-apprentice relationship. What was developed was a friendship that has ample space for dialogues and debates, which inspires and promotes personal growth. Today, the two remain good friends. Chef Marchesi considers Chef Lopriore his brightest pupil and Chef Lopriore considers Chef Marchesi as a great influence in his culinary career.

In 2002, Chef Lopriore came to Certosa di Maggiano and became the executive chef of Il Canto, where he finally had the freedom to show his culinary style and ingenious way of presenting his dishes. Although he experiments with new ingredients, he always makes it a point to only use the freshest and finest ingredients and produce from his land’s very fertile countryside. in Il Canto can you enjoy exemplary non-native dishes made with wasabi or curry. Not long after he became the head chef, he began receiving awards and titles for his culinary accomplishments: 2011 Chef of the Year and The S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011.

Lopriore

Chef Lopriore’s recipe for Elicoidale (Tube Pasta) with Black Pepper and Pecorino Romano

Ingredients:

  • 40 large rigatoni (tube pasta)
  • 40 g (1/3 cup) pecorino romano
  • 300 g (1 ¼ cups) water
  • 30 g fresh chili pepper, cut in half
  • 5 g agar agar
  • 25 g (1/4 cup+2 tbsp) olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions:

In a large pot, combine the water with half the chili pepper, bring to a boil; remove from heat and leave to infuse for approximately 30 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Return the infusion to the heat and bring it back to a boil; thicken with the agar agar and, after bringing it to a third and final boil over very high heat, cool it while stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove the pepper half.

Once cool, add the oil and whisk the mixture as if it were mayonnaise. Finally chop the remaining half pepper and incorporate into the preparation. Blend at the highest speed possible in a blender for 5 minutes. Refrigerate overnight.

Separately, cook the pasta in an abundant amount of salted water; drain, lightly dress with remaining oil.

Using a pastry bag, fill pasta tubes with the black pepper “mayonnaise”.

Heat the elicoidali in the microwave a few minutes and distribute onto 4 plates. Top with grated pecorino romano.

Serves 4.

Nadia Santini has been named the Best Female Chef 2013 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

The Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef award was presented by the British magazine, Restaurant, to Nadia Santini.  It celebrates the work of an exceptional female chef whose cooking excites the toughest of critics. Santini is the head chef at the Dal Pescatore Restaurant located in the small village near Mantua in Lombardy. The family-run restaurant opened as a trattoria in 1925 and Santini took over the running of the restaurant with her husband in 1974. She made history in 1996, when she became the first Italian woman to gain three Michelin stars for a restaurant and Dal Pescatore has retained the rating ever since. It is famous for its mix of traditional cuisine and modern influences.

Born in San Pietro Mussolino in the Veneto region, Santini was an extremely bright student, studying food chemistry and political science with sociology at the prestigious University of Milan, where she met future husband Antonio Santini. The couple married in 1974, soon returning to Antonio’s parents’ simple osteria alongside the river Oglio in Mantova, Lombardy, just south of Verona. Under the careful tutelage of Teresa and Bruna, Antonio’s grandmother and mother respectively, Santini learnt to cook traditional Mantuan cuisine: delicate handmade pasta dishes and home-cured meats and fish.

Signature dishes include tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, amaretto, Parmesan and mostarda, as well as turbot with a garnish of parsley, anchovies and capers in olive oil. Santini told Restaurant Magazine: “The cuisine is refined but not changed. Dal Pescatore is an expression of the evolution of the food on our table and the surrounding environment.”

In 2010, German filmmaker, Lutz Hachmeister created a television documentary called, “Three Stars”, in which Santini appeared with other chefs from Michelin starred restaurants. Her appearance in the documentary stood out, being described by critics as a “radiant personality and gentle, Old World approach to the nurturing of recipes, colleagues and clientele that provides the counterpoint to frenetic, confrontational kitchens run by scientist-chefs”

santini

Pasta à la Nadia Santini

The ingredients you will need for this is are:

  • 500 grams (about 1 ¼ pounds) spaghetti or pasta of choice
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 700 grams (7 cups) of tomato sauce
  • Non-refined salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Water
  • Fresh basil, finely chopped

Directions

Boil water in a large pan.

Chop the onion and the garlic finely.

Once the water is boiling, add salt and the spaghetti and cook for half of the time as described on the package.

Simultaneously heat another pan.

Add in four tablespoons of olive oil.

To the hot oil add the chopped onions and sauté them at medium heat.

Once the onions are translucent add in half of the garlic, then the tomato sauce.

Add a cup of the pasta water and, then, add salt to taste and cover the pan and bring to boil.

Once the spaghetti has cooked for half  the time, drain and add to the tomato sauce. Cook it for the remaining time listed on the package in the tomato sauce.

Once the pasta is cooked add in the rest of the garlic, black pepper and fresh basil.

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