Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: February 2014

The most common Valentine’s Day symbols are the heart, particularly in reds and pinks, and pictures or models of Cupid. Cupid is usually portrayed as a small winged figure with a bow and arrow. In mythology, he uses his arrow to strike the hearts of people. People who have fallen in love are sometimes said to be “struck by Cupid’s arrow”. Other symbols of Valentine’s Day are couples in loving embraces and the gifts of flowers, chocolate, red roses and lingerie that couples often give each other.

To celebrate this lovers’ holiday Italians give each other flowers, plan romantic dinners and present each other with chocolates, much like in the United States. The renowned Italian chocolate maker, Perugina celebrates this day by making a special edition of the Baci chocolate candies with a shiny red wrapper and a sweet red cherry and liquid center rather than the traditional hazelnut one. These chocolates are always a favorite and inside the foil wrapper there is a “love note” with a romantic phrase.

In some countries like Vietnam, there is a different way to celebrate it. Couples wear the same style and/or color of clothes.

Japan has its own interesting way, too. For them, there are two Valentine’s Days. On February 14th, girls give dark chocolate to the boys they like. On March 14th, boys give cookies or white chocolate to the girls they like.

In some parts of the Dominican Republic and El Salvador friends and family play games.

In Spain only people in love get and give presents. Friends or family don’t exchange notes or presents.

All over the world people celebrate Valentine’s Day by expressing love to sweethearts, spouses and special ones. However, customs and traditions of celebrating the festival vary in different countries due to social and cultural differences.

So where did the idea of giving chocolates on Valentine’s Day come from? From the moment chocolate was discovered it was considered valuable, divine and decadent, so what better gift to give a woman? The first chocolate candies (as we know them today) were invented in the 1860s by Cadbury, who was also the first to market them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day.

The brilliance of marketers have certainly helped sales and popularity, but its aphrodisiac effect is surely one of the dominating factors underlying its status as a gift of choice. In addition to the aphrodisiac effects, research suggests that there are many more health related benefits. A healthy component of chocolate is its high level of antioxidant polyphenols. These are the same compounds found in red wine, fruits and vegetables that are touted for their heart-healthy and disease preventing qualities.

A chocolate’s taste, its smoothness and its aroma takes over one’s senses. As a matter of fact, there are few foods that people feel as passionate about as chocolate, a passion that goes beyond a plain old sweet tooth. For the true chocoholic, just thinking about chocolate can evoke a sensation of pleasure. Chocolate is mood-enhancing and, when eaten in moderate amounts, it is harmless to your health.

tiramisu

Chocolate Tiramisu

Ingredients

Serves 10.

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for garnish
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese), room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 24 ladyfinger cookies (from a 7-ounce package)

Directions

In a medium bowl, mix cocoa powder with 1 1/2 cups very hot water until dissolved; set cocoa mixture aside.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, place 1/4 cup cream and chocolate; microwave in 1-minute increments and stir until melted. Cool to room temperature.

Transfer cooled chocolate mixture to a mixing bowl; add cheese and sugar. Using an electric mixer, beat until blended. Add remaining cream; beat filling until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Spread 1 cup of chocolate filling in the bottom of a 2-quart serving dish. One at a time, dip 6 ladyfingers in cocoa mixture, then arrange in a single layer in the bottom of the dish; spread with 1 cup of chocolate filling. Repeat with three more layers, ending with filling.

Cover tiramisu and refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days). Dust with cocoa powder or shaved chocolate before serving.

warm cakes

Chocolate Cakes with Apricot-Amaretto Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup apricot jam, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350° F and line 4 muffin cups with paper liners. In a medium heatproof glass bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the chocolate chips with the butter, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla. Stir until the chocolate chips are melted and smooth.

Remove the bowl from the saucepan and let the chocolate mixture cool slightly. Whisk in the whole eggs and the egg yolks.

Spoon the batter into the lined muffin cups. Bake for 10 minutes, until set around the edges and soft in the center. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the apricot jam with the Amaretto until smooth.

Invert the cakes onto plates and remove the paper liners. Spoon the apricot sauce around the cakes and serve.

Chocolate bark w/nuts & seeds. A101201 Food & Wine Chef's Diet March 2011

Dark Chocolate Bark with Roasted Almonds

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent cacao)
  • 1 1/4 cups roasted whole almonds
  • 3/4 cup salted roasted pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds

Directions

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a sharp knife, finely chop the chocolate. In a bowl set over a saucepan of gently simmering water, heat the chopped chocolate, stirring occasionally, until it is about two-thirds melted; do not let the bowl touch the water.

Remove the bowl from the saucepan and stir the chocolate until it is completely melted and the temperature registers 90° on a candy thermometer. If the chocolate has not melted completely and is still too cool, set it back over the saucepa of simmering water for 1 or 2 minutes longer, stirring constantly; do not overheat.

Stir the almonds and seeds into the chocolate and spread onto the prepared baking sheet in a 1/2-inch-thick layer, making sure the nuts and seeds are completely covered in chocolate. Refrigerate the bark for about 10 minutes, until hardened. Invert the bark onto a work surface. Remove the parchment paper, break into 25 pieces.

MAKE AHEAD The broken bark can be stored in an airtight bag or container at cool room temperature for up to 10 days.

68565-cocoa-cookies-h-2

Chocolate Oat Cookies

Yield: 2 dozens

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup ground almonds (or nuts of choice)
  • 1 1/4 cups ground oats (grind in a blender)
  • 1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 pinch salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine ground almonds, ground oats, flour, cocoa, salt and chocolate chips in a mixing bowl.

Combine maple syrup and oil and mix with the dried ingredients until well combined and forms a dough.

Scoop out heaping teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes; cookies should be just set. Remove to a cooling rack.

sherbet

Chocolate Sherbet

Ingredients

  • 7 ounces 60-percent-cacao chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup whipping (heavy) cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Directions

In a medium saucepan stir together chopped chocolate, sugar, water and cream. Bring to boiling, whisking constantly. Boil gently for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Cover and chill overnight.

Freeze mixture in a 1-quart ice cream freezer according to manufacturers directions. Store in the freezer for a few hours before serving.

To serve, scoop into small glasses or dishes and garnish with pomegranate seeds.

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pantry

THE ITALIAN PANTRY

A well-stocked pantry makes cooking delicious Italian meals a snap. Countless dishes can be made from ingredients on hand, especially on snowy days.

High-quality ingredients are essential to Italian cooking: the better your olive oil, tomatoes and cheese, the better your meals will be. In most Italian kitchens, you will find the following items in the pantry:

OLIVE OIL – One of the essential ingredients of Italian cooking, olive oil is used not simply as a cooking oil but for the flavor it adds to a dish. For this reason, it’s important to use only extra-virgin olive oil for garnishing dishes and salads– it has the most flavor. If you splurge on any one item, I would suggest you buy the best you can find.

DRIED PASTA – Use pasta imported from Italy such as Barilla and De Cecco. Generally, any imported pasta products made from semolina flour are good choices. For egg pasta, avoid the “fresh” pasta sold in refrigerated cases. Either use homemade or buy the dried noodles packaged in nests.

TOMATOES – Use good canned tomatoes (unless the recipe specifically calls for fresh). Tomatoes come whole, peeled, chopped, crushed or strained. Use imported Italian tomatoes if you can find them; they’re the best. Tomato paste in a tube is very handy when you only need a tablespoon or two.

ONIONS AND GARLIC – Generally, white onions for cooking and red onions for salads and dishes that do not require cooking because they are milder. Garlic is a must have.

SUN-DRIED TOMATOES – Buy tomatoes packed in olive oil – they have more flavor than the dried. You can even use the oil to add flavor to delicate dishes.

ARTICHOKES – Jarred artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers add delicate flavor when tossed with pasta, salads or as a topping for pizza.

LEGUMES – Keep dried cannellini beans, borlotti beans, ceci and lentils on hand to use in soups, stews or as a side dish. Farro and barley are good for soups, salads and risotto-like dishes.

CORNMEAL – Use a medium textured cornmeal to make polenta. Keep it in a tightly closed container and it will last for months. I also use cornmeal to dust my pan when making pizza.

RICE – Arborio is the most common rice used in making risotto, but other varieties, such as Carnaroli or Vialone Nano, which are just now becoming available in America, are perhaps even better. One characteristic they all share is a translucent, starchy exterior that melts away in cooking to give risotto its distinctive creamy consistency.

BALSAMIC VINEGAR – There are a variety of different balsamic vinegars. Depending on its age, it can be extremely expensive. You can use an inexpensive one for salads, as long as the quality is good. Red wine vinegar is also essential for a good salad dressing.

ANCHOVIES – Keep a jar or can packed in oil to add a zip to certain dishes. You can also find anchovy paste in a tube, which is milder in taste and is quite convenient.

DRIED PORCINI MUSHROOMS – Look for packages that have large slices of mushrooms. They add a wonderful rich flavor to risottos, pasta sauces and stews, and can infuse cultivated white mushrooms with their robust flavor. Although they can be an expensive item, a little goes a long way and, if kept in an airtight container, they’ll keep for a long time. Keep the water used to rehydrate them. Strained, it will add a depth of flavor to many soups, sauces and stews.

CAPERS – You can find two types of capers. The smaller ones that are pickled in vinegar and the larger ones that come packed in salt. The larger ones are very flavorful, require rinsing of the salt before using and tend to be a little more difficult to locate. A few chopped capers can add a punch of flavor to dishes that seem to need just a little something.

OLIVES – Both the black and green varieties are good, if packed in brine and imported from Italy even better. They can be added to pastas and salads for great flavor.

HERBS AND SEASONINGS – Generally fresh herbs are preferred in everyday cooking, but it is also important to keep dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil and sage available. Whole black pepper, sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes are also important seasonings to have on hand.

FLOUR – All-purpose flour, bread flour and white whole wheat are needed for pizzas and breads. Semolina flour is also very useful for some bread and pizza doughs.

BREAD CRUMBS – Italian seasoned crumbs come in handy for quick toppings.

TUNA IN OLIVE OIL – a must have for a quick pasta dinner. Canned sardines in olive oil are another good addition.

Although these are the bare basics to have in an Italian kitchen, stocking these basic staples in your pantry will ensure that you can create authentic tasting Italian recipes. All you’ll need to add are a few fresh ingredients and you’ll be all set.

ceci_pasta

Tomato Soup with Chickpeas and Pasta

Canned tomatoes provide the flavor here, so you can make this warming soup any time of year. If you’d like to use an herb other than sage, either rosemary or marjoram would be a good choice.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 7 cups canned tomatoes with their juice (two 28-ounce cans)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup ditalini or other small pasta
  • 2 cups drained and rinsed canned chickpeas (one 19-ounce can)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

Directions

In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatoes with their juice. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic.

Add the pureed tomatoes, the sage, broth, water and salt to the pot. Bring to a boil. Stir in the pasta and chickpeas. Bring the soup back to a boil, then reduce the heat. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the parsley, pepper and the 1/3 cup grated Parmesan. Serve topped with additional Parmesan.

Note: Look for high-quality canned tomatoes for this soup, such as plum tomatoes from the San Marzano region of Italy.

easy-polenta-with-tomato-sauce

Easy Polenta with Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups store bought spaghetti sauce, or your favorite recipe

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch square baking dish.

In a large pot, combine the milk and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When it is at a rolling boil, gradually whisk in the cornmeal, making sure there are no lumps. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly until thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.

Pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish and spread the spaghetti sauce over the top.

Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven or until the sauce is bubbling.

Note: This dish can be topped with mozzarella cheese or sauteed peppers or sausage or any topping you like. It also makes an excellent side to meatloaf.

Pasta with rosemary

Pasta in Rosemary Garlic Sauce

This dish is also good with the addition of sauteed mushrooms or canned tuna in olive oil.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 (16 ounce) package bucatini or thick spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions; cook and stir until they turn a light brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Mix in the chicken stock and rosemary and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until reduced by a third, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, add 3 quarts of water and about 2 tablespoons salt and bring to a full rolling boil. Add the spaghetti, return to a boil and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander and add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the cheese; mix well until the butter is incorporated. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serve in a big bowl or on 4 individual plates.

17recipehealth risotto

Herb Risotto

Use dried herbs if fresh are not available. When substituting dried herbs for fresh the ratio is 1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons butter
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Heat oil and butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons basil, 1 1/2 tablespoons parsley, 1 tablespoon rosemary and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Saute, stirring, until onion is slightly softened (about 2 to 3 minutes).

Stir in rice and saute while stirring until rice grains are oil-coated (about 3 minutes). Pour in wine and stock and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, or until liquid is almost absorbed and rice is tender but firm. (Note: Stir once or twice while simmering.)

Remove the pan from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining herbs and lemon zest, then add lemon juice and cheese. Cover saucepan with waxed paper and let stand 8 to 10 minutes before serving.

Omelet Open 2

Mediterranean Omelet

Makes 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 canned, drained, water-packed artichoke hearts, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 ounce (about 2 pieces) roasted, drained red bell peppers, diced

Directions

In a small bowl, beat eggs well. Add cheese, stirring to mix. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 10-inch, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add artichokes; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until artichokes begins to brown. Add roasted red peppers and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes more, until liquid has evaporated. Add garlic and stir about 30 seconds. With a rubber spatula, transfer artichoke pepper mixture to a small plate; keep warm.

Return the skillet to the heat. When the pan is hot, add egg-Parmesan mixture, tilting pan and lifting eggs as they begin to set with a spatula to allow uncooked portions to flow underneath the omelet. Cook 1 or 2 minutes, until omelet is almost set. Spoon reserved artichoke-pepper mixture onto half of the omelet. With a spatula, carefully fold omelet in half to cover filling. Let cook 2 minutes more or until set.

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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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basketAlmost every Italian city and town has its specialties and there are regional specialties also; the end result is a huge number of local cuisines rather than a single national cuisine. However, there are some dishes that you will find almost everywhere and that are now standards among the many Italian communities scattered across the globe.

Vegetables play a large part in Italian cuisine because the fertile soil, especially in the south, provides bountiful amounts of vegetables and herbs. A typical cold salad might include raw or cooked vegetables tossed with herbs and cheese. Other popular dishes are cianfotta, a stewed dish of eggplants, peppers, zucchini and onions with basil and olive oil that is served cold. Pepperoni imbottiti stuffs red and yellow bell peppers with breadcrumbs seasoned with black olives, capers, garlic and anchovies and, of course, the famous parmigiana di melanzane or eggplant parmigiana.

There’s an old saying that “good cooking begins in the market” and never is this more true than with Italian cuisine which relies heavily on fresh produce. The most commonly used vegetables include tomatoes, garlic, onions, bell peppers (capsicum), eggplants (aubergine), cabbage, zucchini (courgettes), artichokes, fennel, mushrooms, celery, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and lettuce. These vegetables are traditionally chopped and added to baked pasta dishes, risottos and pizza or turned into salads, soups, appetizers and side dishes.

Vegetables can easily be the highlight of a meal. For example, a grilled mushroom cap filled with arugula bean salad, roasted vegetables paired with creamy polenta or a vegetable laced risotto offer substance as a main meal. With a little crusty bread and some aged cheese on the table, you also have a healthful meal. Here are some vegetable main dishes you might find on the Italian table.

1111_1fd5wy_FarroPilaf

Warm Farro Pilaf with Dried Cranberries

Serves 6

An Italian wheat grain, farro is chewy and tender, like barley but with a milder flavor. Pearled or cracked farro cooks much faster than whole regular farro and it doesn’t require soaking before it’s made. The farro in this recipe can be made a few days ahead or even frozen.

Ingredients

For the Farro

  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot, cut in half
  • 1 celery rib, cut in half
  • 1/2 small onion in one piece
  • 1 ¼ cups pearled farro
  • 4 cups vegetable broth

For the Pilaf

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (2/3 cup)
  • 1/2 lb kale, center stem removed, chopped (4 packed cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

To make Farro:

Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add carrot, celery and onion. Cook 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables start to brown. Add farro and stir well. Pour in broth, and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook 20 minutes or until just tender; drain. Discard carrot, celery and onion. Cool Farro.

To make Pilaf:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté diced onion 5 to 7 minutes. Add kale and cook 5 to 7 minutes or just until wilted. Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic and Aleppo pepper. Cook 1 minute, then add farro, and sauté 3 to 5 minutes or until warmed through. Remove from heat and stir in dried cranberries and pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve warm.

butternut squash

Parmesan-Butternut Squash Gratin

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash (2 1/2 lb)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. Peel, halve lengthwise and seed squash; cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange with slices overlapping slightly in the bottom of baking dish.

In a 2-quart saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Add garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft and butter is infused with garlic flavor. Do not let butter brown.

In a small bowl mix bread crumbs, cheese and 1 tablespoon of the butter-garlic mixture.

Brush squash slices with remaining butter-garlic mixture. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and bread crumb mixture.

Bake uncovered 30 to 40 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with fork. Increase oven temperature to 425°F; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until the squash is lightly browned. Before serving, sprinkle parsley over top.

vegetable casserole

Roasted Vegetable and Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 pounds cipolline onions, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, trimmed and peeled
  • 1 bulb fennel, cored and cut lengthwise into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cups cooked dried cannellini beans or equivalent canned, rinsed and drained
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the potatoes, onions and fennel in a roasting pan. Add the olive oil and toss well to coat.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Roast, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and beans and roast another 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes and cipolline are fork-tender and golden brown. Garnish with thyme.

spinach pizza

Deep Dish Spinach Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh spinach, thoroughly washed and stemmed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Cornmeal
  • 1/2 recipe quick whole-wheat pizza dough (recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup freshly shredded Provolone cheese
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/4 cup thick tomato sauce (recipe below)

Directions

Heat oil in a large skillet and add garlic; saute for 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from heat. Chop spinach.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9-inch round baking pan 1 1/2 inches deep and sprinkle the bottom of the pan lightly with cornmeal. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle and fit into pan. Dough should just cover the bottom and sides of the pan with no overhang.

Mix cheeses together and spread 1 cup of the cheese mixture over the bottom of the dough in the pan. Spread the spinach over the cheese, covering the cheese completely. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of cheese over the spinach layer. Spread the tomato sauce over the spinach.

Bake in the preheated oven 20 minutes. Take the pizza out of the oven and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the pizza. Return the pizza to the oven and bake 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the filling is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before cutting.

Yield: one 9-inch deep-dish pizza, serving 6 to 8.

Quick Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

Directions

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup of water, stir in olive oil and set aside until bubbly.

Combine the all-purpose flour with the whole-wheat flour and salt in a food processor bowl. Process for a few seconds to blend. With processor running, slowly pour yeast mixture through the feed tube and continue to process until a firm, smooth and elastic ball of dough forms. If the mixture is too dry, you may have to add another tablespoon or so of warm water. If it is too soft, add a little more all-purpose flour, one tablespoon at a time.

Remove dough from the processor bowl, divide in half and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate half the dough for this recipe for at least 10 minutes or up to one day. Freeze the other half of the dough for another use.

Yield: dough for two 9-inch deep-dish pizzas or two 12-inch flat pizzas

Thick Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 16-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch crushed red pepper

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add onion and garlic and cook over medium low heat, stirring, until the onion is soft but not brown. Add remaining ingredients including liquid from the tomatoes. Crush tomatoes with the back of a spoon.

Adjust heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is very thick and no longer liquid, about 30 minutes. Stir sauce from time to time to prevent sticking.

Yield: 1 1/4 cups

stuffed peppers

Slow Cooked Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 6 large sweet bell peppers
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 3 small tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup canned red beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 cup cubed Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 can (4-1/4 ounces) chopped ripe olives
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup meatless spaghetti sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Directions

Cut tops off peppers and remove seeds; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the rice, tomatoes, corn, onion and beans. Stir in the Monterey Jack cheese, olives, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. Spoon into peppers.

Combine spaghetti sauce and water; pour half into an oval 5-qt. slow cooker. Add the stuffed peppers. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.

Cover and cook on low for 3-1/2 to 4 hours or until peppers are tender and filling is heated through. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.

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Generally, authentic Italian stews have similar ingredients to vegetable soup, but they tend to have larger chunks of meat and vegetables and sometimes have a thicker sauce. Some Italian stews are simply meat simmered in broth or wine. In Italy stew is usually a main dish and is often served in a bowl or on a plate alongside bread, polenta or rice. Some stews are served over polenta.

Stews are generally easy to prepare, store well in the refrigerator and taste better reheated. A perfect make ahead dish. In countries other than Italy, particularly in the United States, some dishes labeled as Italian stew are simply pasta dishes with Italian seaoning that have been converted into stews by reducing the broth or thickening the sauce in the mixture. Usually, this type of stew contains small, hollow noodles like macaroni or shell pasta.

Many Italian stew recipes that are the most popular in Italy did not actually come from there. Since the cuisine of Italy has been influenced by other nearby cultures, some common Italian stews may have originated in border areas, like Hungary and Croatia. The Italian stew called jota, which contains beans and bacon and is often cooked with garlic, potatoes and meat, originally came from Croatia.

In general, Italian stews are cooked using similar, low-heat methods, but they can contain a variety of meats and vegetables. They can be made on the stove, in the oven or in a slow cooker. Vegetables cooked in this type of stew can vary, but usually include carrots, celery and fennel. Potatoes, onion and garlic are also common. The typical Italian stew contains beef, but it can also contain other meats like chicken, pork or veal. Rabbit is a highly popular stew meat in Northern Italy. Sausage is also a common meat, especially in the south.

pork stew

Italian Pork Stew

My adaption of Marcella Hazan’s recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups low sodium beef or chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound Cipollini onions, peeled
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds boneless Boston butt pork roast, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, divided
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
  • 1 1/2 cups (1-inch) slices carrot
  • 1 cup potatoes diced

Directions

Bring broth and mushrooms to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 20 minutes or until tender. Drain mushrooms in a colander over a bowl, reserving broth.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Spoon onion mixture into a large bowl.

Place flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Dredge pork in flour, shaking off excess. Heat remaining oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add half of pork mixture; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Add pork to onion mixture. Repeat procedure with remaining pork mixture, 1/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Add wine to the pan, scraping the pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in reserved broth, pork-onion mixture and sage; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes or until pork is almost tender.

Stir in carrot and potato. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Stir in mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and simmer 10 minutes.

128-oxtail-stew400

Roman Oxtail Stew

In Italy and elsewhere in Europe, the custom of raising beef for meat, as opposed to raising oxen for plowing and transportation, is relatively recent. That’s why, in English, we still refer to the tail of a steer as “oxtails” and not to “beef tails”. There are few true oxen left anywhere in the Western world and modern farming techniques have replaced their work. Most butcher shops and supermarkets in America actually sell the tail cut as “beef oxtails.” Oxtail stew tastes best, if made a day ahead and then reheated. This is a popular stewing cut in Italy and is often served over pasta.

Ingredients

  • 1 beef oxtail (2 1/2-3 pounds)
  • 6 celery stalks, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 medium-sized white onion
  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 2 heaping tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Italian dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 6 to 8 cups boiling water
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf

Directions

Rinse the oxtail under warm running water and eliminate any fat or gristle with a paring knife. Chop it into sections along the vertebrae. Pat them dry with paper towels.

Mince 1 celery stalk and reserve the rest. Mince the garlic with the carrot and onion. Mince the pancetta; you should have 3/4 cup. Combine the minced vegetables and pancetta with 1 heaping tablespoon of the parsley.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add the minced vegetable-and-pancetta mixture and sauté, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula until the onion becomes translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the oxtail pieces, a generous pinch of salt and several turns of the peppermill. Brown thoroughly, stirring, for about 15 minutes.

Pour in the wine and boil to evaporate it, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and tomatoes, crushing and stirring. Add just enough of the water to completely submerge the oxtail meat.

Wrap the cloves in cheesecloth and tie it closed with kitchen string, leaving about one foot of the string attached. Lower the purse into the stew and secure the string to a pot handle. Drop in the bay leaf and stir.

Lower the heat to minimum and simmer, partially covered, for 2 hours.

Slice the remaining 5 celery stalks into 2 inch sticks. Add them to the stew and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes.

Remove and discard the cloves and the bay leaf. Stir in the remaining 1 heaping tablespoon of parsley. Serve in soup bowls.

sausage-beans-and-greens-24066-ss

Sausage, Escarole & White Bean Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 12 oz. hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 small head escarole, chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces, washed and lightly dried
  • 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Heat the oil in a heavy 5- to 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the sausage, raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring and breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula until lightly browned and broken into small (1-inch) pieces, 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the escarole to the pot in batches; using tongs, toss with the sausage mixture to wilt the escarole and make room for more. When all the escarole is in, add the beans and chicken broth, cover the pot, and cook until the beans are heated through and the escarole is tender, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with the vinegar and salt.

Transfer to bowls and sprinkle each portion with some of the Parmigiano. Serve with toasted Italian country bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

vegetable stew

Italian Vegetable Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant (about 12 oz), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 (26-ounce) container POMI chopped tomatoes
  • 2 zucchini (8 ounces each), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 red or yellow bell peppers or a combination, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup shredded fresh basil

Directions

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add eggplant, onion and potatoes and sprinkle the vegetables lightly with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant and potatoes begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Push vegetables to one side of the pot; add 1 tablespoon oil and tomato paste. Cook paste, stirring frequently, until brown, about 2 minutes.

Add the broth and the chopped tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and gently simmer until the eggplant is soft and the potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Add zucchini, bell peppers and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove pot from the heat and cover the pot. Let stand for 20 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste; serve. Add crushed red pepper to taste, if desired.

Tuscan chicken

Tuscan Chicken Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 4 ounces baby spinach leaves

Directions

Heat oil in large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook and stir until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken from skillet. Add onion, garlic and fennel seed; cook and stir on medium heat about 5 minutes or until tender.

Stir in beans, tomatoes, red wine, basil, rosemary, salt, oregano and pepper. Bring to boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 3 minutes. Return chicken to the skillet  and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in spinach. Cover and cook 5 minutes longer or until spinach is wilted.

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What goes great with pasta? Fish! Pasta makes an excellent companion for seafood for many reasons. Percatelli, a thick spaghetti, goes especially well with a spicy tomato sauce made with clams, mussels and shrimp. Fettuccine is superb served in the classic Southern Italian-style, topped with little neck clams in a red sauce flavored with hot crushed peppers. Thin spaghettini is delicious with a garlic sauce made with mussels, parsley and white wine. All these are easy supper dishes for chilly winter nights. They are substantial and restorative, yet easy on the digestion, because they are high in carbohydrates.

Today’s healthy pasta meals have roots that stretch back to ancient times. Thousands of years ago, people ground wheat, mixed it with water to make a wheat paste, dried it and then boiled it to go with meat. Today’s diners welcome pasta to their tables for its versatility and convenience, just as nutrition scientists now recognize pasta meals for their place in healthy diets. A healthy pasta meal features two key factors: what you pair with your pasta and how much pasta you put on your plate. Pay attention to serving portions in healthy pasta recipes, as a guideline to how much you should eat.

Pasta is an ideal partner for healthy ingredients such as vegetables, beans, herbs, fish, nuts and extra virgin olive oil and pasta’s versatility allows for almost endless preparations. Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean way of eating reduces the risk of heart disease. It’s generally accepted that in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, people live longer and suffer less than most Americans from cancer and cardiovascular ailments. The not-so-surprising secret is an active lifestyle, weight control and a diet low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat and high in produce, nuts and other healthful foods.

Some of the most delicious seafood dishes in the world—from spaghetti with mussels to tagliolini with shrimp and radicchio—can be found in Italy. Regional recipes for salt-water fish—and sometimes for fresh-water fish from Italy’s many lakes, rivers and streams—are some of the most celebrated dishes in Italian cuisine.

It is well known that eating fresh fish is one of the healthiest ways to make sure you and your family are getting your daily supply of proteins and minerals; so serving fish and fish-based pastas are always a wise choice. Fish is relatively economical—especially when part of a pasta dish. Many fish pasta dishes are delicious, visually appealing and, yet, very easy and quick to prepare.

The secret to a perfect plate of pasta is often in its simplicity and in using a very small number of ingredients. Combine just a few really good—meaning fresh, locally produced ingredients, cook them quickly and you’ll always get great results. The few basic ingredients for some of the best Italian recipes are extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parsley, tomatoes and often dry white wine and chili peppers. When these essentials of Italian cuisine are combined with beautiful fresh fish, you can be sure that a delicious dinner is waiting for you.

fettuccine-with-baby-artichokes-and-shrimp-R082429-ss

Fettuccine with Artichokes and Shrimp

4 servings

Ingredients

Shrimp Broth

  • 3 cups water
  • Shells from 1 pound of shrimp
  • 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 slice lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pasta

  • 8 ounces whole wheat or whole grain fettuccine
  • 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and halved lengthwise
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound shrimp in shells, peeled and deveined (reserve shells for broth)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup Shrimp Broth
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh Italian parsley
  • 4 slices Italian country loaf bread or other hearty bread, toasted
  • Lemon halves, and or wedges

Directions

Shrimp Broth

In a large saucepan, combine water, the reserved shells from the 1 pound of shrimp, parsley, lemon and ground black pepper. Bring to boiling over high heat; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Strain and set aside until serving time.

Pasta

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

In a large skillet heat oil and cook garlic for 30 seconds. Add artichokes to the skillet and cook for 1 minute. Add shrimp and wine to the skillet. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Stir in tomatoes, red pepper, shrimp broth, lemon peel, salt, nutmeg and cooked pasta; heat through. Mix in the parsley.

To serve, place bread slices in 4 shallow soup bowls. Divide pasta mixture among 4 bowls. Add additional shrimp broth, as desired. Squeeze lemon over pasta mixture.

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Salmon with Whole Wheat Spaghetti

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen (defrosted) skinless salmon fillets, cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 medium yellow and/or red sweet bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup snipped fresh basil

Directions

Rinse salmon; pat dry with paper towels. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a 15x10x1-inch baking pan combine pepper pieces and tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with half of the rosemary, the salt and black pepper. Toss to coat. Roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions; drain and keep warm.

Remove baking pan from oven. Combine wine and balsamic vinegar and stir into vegetable mixture. Add salmon pieces to the baking pan and turn to coat in the wine mixture. Return to the oven and bake about 10-15 minutes more or until salmon flakes easily when tested with a fork.

To serve, divide pasta among four plates. Top pasta with vegetable mixture and sprinkle with basil. Place salmon on vegetables and sprinkle with remaining rosemary.

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Tuna Puttanesca

4 servings

Ingredients

  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 ounces whole wheat or whole grain penne
  • 5 to 6 oz. can Italian tuna packed in oil, not drained
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sliced black and/or green olives 
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups homemade or store bought marinara sauce
  • Small bunch fresh basil leaves, torn into large pieces

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente.

Pour tuna oil from the can into a saucepan and heat. Flake tuna and set aside.

Add garlic and onion to heated oil; saute until onion is soft. Add tuna, capers, olives, crushed red pepper and marinara sauce. Stir to combine and heat to a simmer; adjust salt to taste.

Drain pasta and return to pot. Add tuna mixture; toss gently. Sprinkle with basil.

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Linguine with Red Clam Sauce

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 oz whole wheat linguine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups homemade or store bought marinara sauce
  • 4 (6 oz.) cans chopped clams, undrained
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Directions

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook linguine, stirring often, until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain thoroughly in a colander.

Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in red wine and boil until syrupy, about 4 minutes. Stir in marinara sauce and clams with their juice and heat until simmering, about 10 minutes.

Add cooked pasta and parsley to clam sauce in skillet. Toss to coat pasta thoroughly.

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Scallops and Pasta in Lemon Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 12 large scallops
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup plum tomatoes, diced
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 8 ounces whole grain thin spaghetti

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.

Pat scallops dry with paper towels. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallops to the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste; cook 3 minutes on each side. Remove scallops from the pan; keep warm.

Add the remaining olive oil, garlic and shallots to the skillet; cook 15 seconds. Add wine and the next 3 ingredients to the pan. Allow to simmer over low heat for about 3 minutes. Add parsley and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Add cooked pasta and toss. Place pasta in serving bowls and top with scallops.

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