Paprika is critical to Hungarian cuisine and it adds a very special and unique flavor. Hungary’s climate and soil conditions produce nearly ideal conditions for growing the peppers that end up as paprika, and their paprika is preferred by chefs across the globe.
All paprika is made from hot chilies, and the piquancy level of the finished spice is dependent on how much of the interior pith (which contains almost all the capsaicin, the chemical compound responsible for spicy flavor) is left attached to the fruit of the pepper before drying and grinding. Hungarians love the entire paprika spectrum, from fully hot (all the pith left intact) to “sweet,” or mild (with all pith removed). Hot paprika is difficult to find in the United States, but the sweet variety is a part of nearly everyone’s spice rack.
Paprikash showcases paprika perhaps more than any other Hungarian dish. Pieces of meat (usually chicken but other types of meat can also be used) are braised in a brick-red sauce made simply from onions, tomatoes, and of course paprika, then finished with a bit of sour cream. Here is my version.
1 (1 pound) pasture raised pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Half a large sweet onion, cut into thin wedges
1 garlic clove, minced
1½ tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup bottled mild banana peppers, finely chopped
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons arrowroot or all-purpose flour
Trim fat and silverskin from the meat. Cut meat into thin medallions ( crosswise) and sprinkle lightly with salt; set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat and brown the slices on both sides, about 3 minutes. Remove the meat to a plate.
Heat the remaining oil and add the onions. Cook until tender. Stir in the garlic.
Sprinkle with the paprika, black pepper, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook and stir 1 minute more.
Add tomatoes, broth, and banana peppers. Bring to boiling; reduce heat to medium-low. Return the meat slices to the pan and cook, uncovered, about 10-15 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring frequently.
Reduce the heat to low. Stir together the sour cream and arrowroot in a small bowl; stir into the meat mixture. Cook and stir until very thick.
Serve the Paprikash over rice, cauliflower “rice” or wide noodles.
Roasted Acorn Squash
One 2 lb. acorn squash
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Seasoning mix: Combine ¼ teaspoon of each: chili pepper, brown sugar, lemon peel, orange peel, cilantro, and salt
1 garlic clove, minced
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Cut acorn squash into quarters and remove the seeds from the center of each quarter.
Slice each quarter in half and place in a baking dish. Pour the melted butter over the squash and turn the pieces over in the butter.
Sprinkle with the seasoning mix.
Roast the squash until tender, about 25 minutes.
Every few weeks I like to try a new cuisine, This week it is French.
French Onion Soup
3 large sweet onions, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
64 ounces (8 cups) beef broth
1 tablespoon dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
8 tablespoons freshly grated/shredded parmesan cheese
16 slices thin swiss cheese
1 tablespoon dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
8 (1-ounce) slices French bread,1/2-inch thick, toasted
Cut onions in half, then thinly slice.
In a large soup pot, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat and add the onions.
Saute onions for about 20 minutes, until limp and golden brown in color.
Add the beef broth and thyme and heat to boiling, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the sherry and salt and pepper to taste.
Heat the oven to broil.
Place soup crocks (the number will depend on servings) in a baking pan and ladle onion soup evenly among the soup crocks filling each ¾ quarters of the way.
Add one tablespoon of grated cheese to each crock and stir gently.
Place a slice of toasted bread and two slices of swiss cheese on top of each bread slice.
Carefully transport the baking pan with the crocks to the broiler and broil the crocks until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly, anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Serve the crocks on separate plates.
Chicken with Creamy Mustard Sauce
8 medium bone-in chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onions (2 onions)
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons dry white wine
6 ounces sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Remove the chicken skin or leave on depending on personal preference.
Place the chicken thighs on a cutting board, skin side up, and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the chicken with 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Turn them over and sprinkle them with one more teaspoon of salt.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large (11 to 12-inch) skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, place the chicken in the pan in one layer, skin side down. Cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes without moving, until the skin is golden brown. Turn the chicken pieces with tongs and sprinkle with the Herbs de Provence.
Add the onions and garlic to the pan,, moving some of the onions under the chicken, cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes more, stirring the onions occasionally, until the thighs are cooked to 155 to 160 degrees and the onions are brown. Transfer the chicken (not the onions) to a plate and allow to rest uncovered while you make the sauce. If the onions aren’t browned, cook them for another minute.
Add the wine and Dijon mustard and stir over low heat for one minute. Add the sour cream and heavy cream and stir for one minute. Return the chicken, skin side up, and the juices to the skillet and reheat. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with the braised cabbage.
White Wine Braised Savoy Cabbage
1 small head of Savoy cabbage, about 1 pound
2 large shallots, sliced thin
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 slice bacon
1/2 cup white wine
4 oz unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons butter
Cut the cabbage in quarters, remove the core and cut the cabbage into thin slices
Sauté the bacon in a deep skillet.
When done, remove and drain on a paper towel.
Add the cabbage and stir-fry briefly.
Add the wine and thyme, cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.
Add applesauce and butter, stir and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Crumble bacon and add to the cabbage. Stir well and serve.
According to Seafood Watch.org, Swordfish caught in the Atlantic with harpoons or handlines and hand-operated pole-and-lines and Western and Central Pacific with handlines and hand-operated pole-and-lines, or by U.S. fleets in the Atlantic with buoys, is a “Best Choice.” Swordfish populations are healthy, and there are no major bycatch concerns in these fisheries. This is the type of swordfish that I purchase.
1/4 cup olive oil
4 Swordfish Steaks, 1/2 inch thick, (about 1 1/2 Pounds Total Weight)
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Italian Flavored Panko Crumbs
Lemon Sauce, recipe below
Place the swordfish in a glass dish, scatter garlic over fish and then pour the olive oil over all.
Cover and refrigerate for several hours.
When ready to grill:
Remove the fish from the marinade and place on a plate. Pour the marinade into a measuring cup. Reserve.
Place a sheet of heavy foil on a baking sheet and poke a few holes in the foil.
Place the swordfish on the foil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle each lightly with panko crumb. Turn the fish over and sprinkle with panko.
Heat an outdoor grill to high. Slide the foil with the fish still on it onto the grill grates. Lower heat to medium. Cook about 15 minutes until the crumbs begin to brown the and the fish is cooked through. Do not turn fish.
Remove fish to a plate and pour the lemon sauce over the fish or serve on the side.
Add more olive oil to the oil in the measuring cup that was used for the swordfish marinade to equal 1/2 cup.
1/4 hot water
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon of dried oregano
Whisk and warm in the microwave when ready to serve.
Linguine with Pesto Cream Sauce
1 lb linguine
1 cup pistachio basil pesto sauce, see recipe
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
Cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions. Drain the pasta in a colander.
In the same pot add the pesto, cream, and Parmesan cheese. Warm over low heat and then add the cooked linguine. Cook for a minute or two. Pour into a serving bowl and top with freshly ground black pepper.
Cucumber Orange Salad
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded & sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
1 orange, cut into segments
1 jalapeno; ribs & seeds removed, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup Italian Vinaigrette
Combine the salad ingredients in a serving bowl. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Add the vinaigrette and toss. Serve immediately.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on the east; the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco on the south and the Mediterranean Island Countries of Cyprus and Malta. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same healthy ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the cuisine in the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. This series continues with the country of Libya.
Food in Libya is a very important part of family life. A well-known Libyan saying is “one must eat well”. Libyan cuisine is based on the traditions of the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Berber cuisines. Tripoli is Libya’s capital, and the cuisine in this city is especially influenced by the Italian cuisine. Pasta is common, as are many seafood dishes. Fruits, most often served, include figs, dates, oranges, apricots, and olives.
The sand in Libya gets so hot in the summer that walking on it with bare feet becomes unbearable. As a result, the Tuareg way of baking bread is to bury it in the hot sand, which is as effective as baking in an oven. The technique can also be used to bake potatoes and eggs by burying them whole in the sand and leaving them there for several hours.
Olive oil is the main ingredient of nearly all Libyan dishes. Its use in North Africa goes back thousands of years, and its life-prolonging properties were well-known to the ancient Libyans and Egyptians.
There are four main ingredients in the traditional Libyan cuisine: olives (and olive oil), palm dates, grains, and milk. These are very ancient foods and they have been in the Libyan cuisine since Neolithic times when humans first began to make use of their natural surroundings. Grains are roasted, ground, sieved and used for making bread, cakes, soups, Bazin, and other dough-based dishes. Dates are harvested, dried and stored for the rest of the year. They can be eaten as they are, made into syrup, fried or eaten with milk for breakfast.
Garlic is also one of the most important Libyan foods, as it is usually added to most dishes that involve sauces or stews, especially those served with couscous and pasta.
One of the most important social occasions in Libya is getting together for tea drinking. This activity brings families together, to chat, laugh, discuss and gossip about the highlights of the day and about life in general. Talking in Libya is a very important social activity and it firmly bonds the family. Libyan tea is a very strong, thick, syrup-like black tea. After boiling water in a traditional teapot, a handful of red tea leaves are added, and the leaves are boiled for a long time (about twenty minutes).
Bazin is the most well-known Libyan dish. It is made by boiling barley flour in salted water to make a hard dough and then forming it into a rounded, smooth dome that is placed in the middle of a serving dish. The sauce around the dough is made by frying chopped onions with ground lamb, turmeric, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, fenugreek, sweet paprika and tomato paste. Potatoes may also be added. Hard-boiled eggs are arranged around the dome. The dish is then served with lemon and fresh or pickled chili peppers, known as amsyar. Batata mubattana (filled potato) is another popular dish that consists of fried potato pieces filled with spiced ground meat and covered with egg and breadcrumbs.
Make A Libyan-style Dinner In Your Kitchen
Recipes adapted from http://libyanfood.blogspot.com/
Lentil Soup With Fried Onions
2 cups lentils
5 cups water
2 garlic cloves
1 medium carrot
1 large tomato
1/2 -1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
2 medium onions
Oil for frying
For the Topping
Toasted bread, cut into cubes or triangles
Wash and drain the lentils; wash and cut the carrot; chop the tomatoes and onion. Put the onion, tomatoes, carrot, lentils, garlic cloves, salt and cumin in a soup pot.
Add 5 cups of boiling water. Cook, until the lentils, become mushy. Let cool, puree, and add more boiling water if a thinner soup is desired, stir well.
For the topping: Cut the 2 onions into thin slices and fry in a little olive oil stirring constantly until dark brown.
To serve: Place a handful of toasted bread in the soup bowl before ladling on the soup. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of cumin to each bowl. Top with a tablespoon of fried onions.
Libyan Couscous with Fish
500g couscous (ready-cooked variety can also be steamed)
1 cup of hot water + 3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 fish heads (washed, gills removed)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground cumin
Salt, to taste
1 1/2-2 liter boiling water
1 medium onion
1 medium size potato
1 medium size aubergine (eggplant)
1 medium size squash
1 medium-size red bell pepper
1 cup cooked/canned chickpeas (or fresh/frozen peas)
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 chili peppers
3-4 garlic cloves
For the Fish and Marinade
4-6 portions of firm-fleshed fish, grouper is the Libyan favorite
4 large cloves garlic
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 chili pepper chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
Olive oil to brush the fish before grilling
In Libya, steamed dishes are cooked in a kaskas, but any pot with a steamer insert is fine. When steaming couscous you can place a square of cheese-cloth between the pot and steamer if its holes are larger than the couscous.
Put all the ingredients for the stock in the steamer pot. Bring to boil then reduce the heat and cook over medium heat.
Pour 1 cup of hot water and the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the couscous, mix well. Put the couscous in the steamer, then place it above the stock pot. Lightly rake over the top layer only with a spatula a few times during the first steaming, so it gets steamed properly.
After 45 minutes, remove the steamer and put the couscous in a deep plat; pour about 5 ladles of hot stock onto the couscous.
Mix well, then return the couscous to the steamer for another 45 minutes. Stir lightly but thoroughly 2-3 times during the second steaming to break up lumps.
Put all the ingredients for the fish marinade in the food processor, then use this paste to coat the fish on both sides. Cover the fish with cling film (plastic wrap) and set aside.
Cut the onion, eggplant, potato and bell pepper into thick slices.
Prepare the vegetable sauce by putting olive oil, chopped onion, chopped chili and whole garlic cloves in a pot, then stir until they have softened. Add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes, cover and cook on low heat. Add the peas or cooked chickpeas and about 3 ladles of strained fish stock, so the liquid is just about covering the vegetables and cook for 15 minutes more.
Brush the cut vegetables generously with olive oil and grill until almost cooked. Remove the vegetables from the grill and cut them into cubes. Add the grilled vegetables to the sauce pot.
Grill the fish and keep warm to serve with the couscous.
Remove the couscous from the steamer and place in a serving dish, arrange the vegetables from the sauce on the couscous, spoon some of the remaining sauce around the vegetables. Serve with the grilled fish and lemon wedges.
Date Filled Semolina Cookies
3 cups semolina
1 cup flour
1 cup oil
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon orange blossom water added to a ½ liter of warm water
750g date paste
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoons grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup sesame seeds (lightly toasted)
4 cups boiling water
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 lemon slice
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
1/2 cup sesame seeds (lightly toasted)
Prepare the syrup by simmering all the ingredients except the orange blossom water over moderate heat for 30 minutes or until a syrupy consistency is reached. Add the 2 tablespoons of orange blossom water and set aside to cool. For a richer taste, add 1 tablespoon of honey while the syrup is still warm. Set aside.
For the dough: Mix the semolina, flour, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and mix. Cover and let rest for at least one hour.
For the filling: Cut the date paste into small pieces and knead. Add some olive oil if the paste is not soft enough to be kneaded. Add cinnamon, grated nutmeg, sesame seeds and knead them in. Roll out the sesame date paste with your palm into 4 long ropes or sticks.
Divide the dough into 4 portions, take one portion of the dough and add the orange blossom flavored warm water a little at a time. Knead well until the dough becomes smooth and easy to shape. The dough will also become lighter in color. Form the dough into a furrow or trench shape and place one of the date rolls in the dough. Pinch closed and smooth the dough over the date roll.
Cut the roll into small pieces and arrange on a baking sheet. Place in a preheated oven at 425 degrees F/220°C until golden, for about 12 minutes. Place the cookies in a single layer in a deep dish. Pour the sugar syrup over the warm cookies.
Turn the cookies every 15 minutes, so they soak in the syrup on all sides. Remove the cookies from the syrup and place in a sieve to remove the excess syrup. Place the drained cookies on a platter and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Let rest overnight before serving.
This past weekend, I had friends visiting us from Switzerland. I wanted to make a special Italian dinner for them. One that was not a typical Italian-American dinner but a dinner with dishes that are particular to Tuscany; one of their favorite places to visit. Dinner was big hit.
Italian Red Onion Soup with Parmesan Crisps
- Parmesan crisps, recipe below
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 8 cups vegetable broth
Melt the butter in a soup kettle and cook the onions, covered, for 10 minutes.
Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Add the salt, pepper, honey and wine and heat until the wine reduces a bit.
Add the broth, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 2 hours. Serve in individual bowls garnished with the crisps.
Makes 6 crisps
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat oven to 350 °F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Do not use cooking spray.)
Mound 3 level tablespoonfuls of cheese in 5 inch long strips about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
Bake until the cheese is melted, soft and a very light golden color, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place the baking pan on a cooling rack. Do not disturb the crisps until completely cooled and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.
Using a thin spatula or knife, lift the crackers from the baking sheet.
Make Ahead Tip: Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Sourdough Cheese Rolls
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup sourdough starter (at room temperature)
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 egg
- 1 cup grated Italian cheese (half grated parmesan and half shredded mozzarella)
- 2 teaspoons salt
Combine 2 cups of all-purpose flour, yeast, sourdough starter, sugar, butter, egg and salt in an electric mixer bowl. Beat 3 to 4 minutes.
Add baking soda to the whole wheat flour and blend into the flour-yeast mixture. Add cheese and remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth (5 to 8 minutes).
Place in a greased bowl; turn once. Cover; let rise until double (1 ½ to 2 hours). Punch the dough down. Cover; let rest 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil 2 baking sheets.
Divide the dough into 24 pieces and shape into balls. Place on the oiled baking sheets. Cover; let rise until double (25 to 30 minutes).
Bake at 375 degrees F about 20 minutes.
Grilled Italian Sausage with Grapes
- 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage grilled and cut into 2 inch serving pieces
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound seedless red grapes, halved lengthwise
- 4 shallots sliced thin
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
- 2 teaspoons excellent quality balsamic vinegar
Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the grapes, shallots and broth and heat.
Stir pepper and salt into the grape-onion mixture and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the grapes are soft but still retain their shape, 3 to 5 minutes longer.
Reduce heat to medium, stir in the grilled sausages, wine and oregano and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the wine is reduced and the sausages are hot.
Arrange the sausages on a serving platter and spoon the grape mixture over the top. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and serve.
Quick Creamy Polenta
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, if using water
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup quick cooking polenta
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Bring the broth and cream to a boil. Add salt and butter, then while stirring, slowly pour in the polenta.
Stir until there are no lumps, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer. After 5 minutes, stir in the Parmesan and turn off the heat. Cover the pan until ready to serve.
Italian Style Peas
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 16 ounces frozen green peas
- 1 tablespoon chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic; cook about 5 minutes. Add frozen peas, and stir in stock. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover, cook until the peas are tender, about 5 minutes and serve.
Ricotta Cheesecake with Cherry Sauce
- Soft butter for the pan
- ½ cup crushed Amaretti cookies
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 pounds ricotta cheese, drained
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 6 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur
- ¼ cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups fresh or frozen dark sweet cherries, pitted
For the cake:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Set an oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Butter a 9 inch springform pan. Sprinkle the pan with amaretti cookie crumbles to cover the bottom and sides of the pan.
Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the ricotta, orange zest and sugar. Mix to combine. Beat in the flour.
Add eggs, 1 at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the amaretto liqueur and salt.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the oven for about 75 minutes, until a light golden color.
Make sure the center is firm and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator until chilled, overnight or at least for 2 hours.
Remove the sides of the pan and serve with fruit sauce.
For the sauce:
Combine the water, lemon juice, amaretto, sugar, salt and cornstarch in a small pot. Whisk until smooth.
Add the cherries and stir. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool.
If you want to serve it warm, you may do so; simply let it cool until it is warm, not hot or cover and refrigerate to store.
When I was growing up, my maternal grandparents lived in the same city as I did in New Jersey. They had a large house ( because they needed it for 7 daughters) and a large yard. My grandfather was a great gardener and he loved it. He could make anything grow and was eager to share his bounties with you. He had row after row of stunning roses, gladioli and lilies of the valley. Whenever I went to his house, he would send me home with a big bunch of whatever flowers were in season or a bag of zucchini and tomatoes. I loved that my grandfather had such a gift. After my husband and I bought our first house that was not too far from his house, he would come over and spruce up my yard for me. He saved a great, little magnolia tree in the center of my yard and, boy, did my tomato plants thrive. Wish I could remember, now, what he did to those tomatoes to make them so fine.
Italians have had a very close relationship with food throughout history, but the famine endured by most Italians during World War II, shaped their cuisine into a more simple and inexpensive one. The hardship of war meant that Italians grew vegetables in their own backyard gardens, even if the garden was only 10 yards across. Owning land and the cultivation of a vegetable garden have always been popular for Italians and a right they have taken full advantage of in Italy and in the US.
My grandfather certainly espoused that philosophy and most of his yard was dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables. He even grew grapes – for wine, of course. The grapes, he grew, were white and light red, but I don’t recall what kind of grapes they were. He would cut off a bunch, usually the white ones, with his pocket pen knife and hand them to me for a snack. I would eat a couple but they tasted awful – tart and full of seeds. I would eat a few because I did not want to hurt his feelings. He was very proud of those grapes.
The grapes were grown on a trellis that overlooked a large bench he had for sitting in his yard. The trellis was impressive and I would sit there under all those grapes and feel quite cozy in what felt like another world. My grandfather did make wine with those grapes and he would bring the wine to Sunday dinner, usually in a big jug. My father would put the jug on the floor near his feet and occasionally hoist the jug up and fill the glasses on the table – not mine, of course. You may have heard that European children drink wine with dinner, but not in our house. Wine was for grown-ups. I remember my mother passing on my grandfather’s wine, saying, it was a bit too strong for her, but my father and grandfather enjoyed it.
Using Wine in Your Recipes
The function of wine in cooking is to intensify and enhance the flavor and aroma of food – not to mask the flavor of what you are cooking but rather to fortify it. Use wines in your cooking that you would drink for dinner. Wines, labeled cooking wines, are not quality wines and they often contain salt and food coloring.
When you take some of the fat out of dishes, you usually need to add another ingredient to replace the lost moisture. Here are some examples of how wine can do just that:
- Instead of sauteing veggies in butter or oil, you can saute them in a smaller amount of oil plus some wine for flavor and moisture.
- Instead of making a marinade with 1/2 cup of oil, decrease the oil to 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup wine.
- You can add wine to the pan while fish is cooking or drizzle fish with a tablespoon or two of wine and bake it in a foil package
- For certain types of cakes, using wine or sherry in place of some of the fat not only lightens up the cake but adds flavor.
Italian Octopus Stewed in Wine and Tomatoes
This is a recipe for Southern Italian stewed octopus with white wine and tomatoes. Octopus requires long, slow simmering over low heat to keep it tender. Serve with crusty bread. This recipe serves 4.
- 1 lb small octopus
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves finely chopped garlic
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes or peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons capers
- Salt and pepper
Cut the octopus into pieces and saute in olive oil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and saute for another minute or two.
Add the wine and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir well and let it cook down for 3-4 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and chili flakes and bring to a simmer.
Add the salt and the honey. Mix well, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, add the capers and half the parsley.
Check the octopus — sometimes small ones will be tender in just 30 minutes.
If they are still super-chewy, cover the pot again and simmer for up to another 45 minutes.
When you think you are about 10 minutes away from being done, uncover the pot and turn the heat up a little to cook down the sauce.
To serve, add the remaining parsley, basil and black pepper.
Zuppa di Cipolle: Italian Onion Soup
- 5 large yellow onions
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced
- 6 cups beef stock, low sodium
- 3/4 cup dry red wine
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 slices country-style bread, about 1/2 inch thick
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated or shaved
Peel the onions and cut in half. Thinly slice the onions crosswise.
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add in the diced pancetta and cook for about 3-5 minutes until some of the fat has been rendered.
Add in the sliced onions, stir. Cover the pot. Lower the heat to medium low and slowly cook the onions until tender, about 15 minutes. Stir often.
Stir in the stock and wine. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Toast the bread slices. Rub the toasted slices with garlic. Place the bread slices in individual soup bowls. Pour the soup over the bread.
Either sprinkle grated cheese or shave cheese over the soup. If your bowls are oven proof, you can then place them under the broiler until the cheese melts.
Osso Buco is another traditional dish that uses veal, in this case, veal shanks. There are many recipes for Osso Buco that also use pork, beef or lamb shanks. Turkey thighs are not traditional but create the same effect and contain less fat than shanks.
Turkey Osso Bucco
- 6 turkey thighs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 ½ cups dry white wine
- 5-6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
- 2 large sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Pat the turkey with paper towels to dry and ensure even browning. Season the turkey with salt and pepper and dredge the turkey in the flour to coat.
In a heavy roasting pan large enough to fit the turkey thighs in a single layer, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the turkey and cook until brown on both sides, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer the turkey to a plate and reserve.
In the same pan, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Season vegetables with salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and simmer about 3 minutes.
Return the turkey to the pan. Add enough chicken broth to come 2/3 up the sides of the turkey. Add the herb sprigs, and bay leaf to the broth mixture. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove the pan from the heat. Cover the pan tightly with foil and transfer to the oven.
Braise until the turkey is fork-tender about 2 hours, turning the turkey after 1 hour. Serve this dish over risotto or polenta with a side of green peas.
Broccoli Sautéed in Wine and Garlic – Roman Style
Makes 6 servings
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 3 pounds broccoli, cut into spears
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Grated zest of 1 orange
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil with the garlic over medium-high heat until just sizzling. Add the broccoli and cook, tossing frequently and gradually adding the wine to keep the garlic from browning until the stalks are tender 8 to 10 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes lemon and orange zest and toss well.
Biscotti, means twice-baked, and these cookies have grown to become an Italian classic. As its name implies, the cookies are baked twice, first in the form of a log. They are then baked again after the log is sliced into diagonal strips. The crisp, crunchy cookie is perfect for dipping in coffee or dessert wine or even simply for snacking. Because they don’t need to be moist, biscotti are naturally low in fat.
It is said that biscotti were originally created as a provision for Venetian sailors and businessmen who went to sea for long periods of time and required foods that wouldn’t spoil. Many Italians eat the cookies as part of their breakfast with café latte. The varieties of biscotti differ throughout the many regions of Italy, but they are famous for their classic anise, almond or hazelnut flavor.
Vin Santo ( the wine of saints) is a late-harvest wine from Italy, generally Tuscany. It’s usually made from white grapes, namely Trebbiano or Malvasia, that are semi-dried before being pressed and fermented; then the wines are stored in small barrels for up to 10 years, usually in attics which turn hot and cold with the seasons. There is a wide diversity in styles, from sweet dessert versions to dry, sherry-like styles, and quality varies.
Biscotti al Vin Santo
Makes about 20 biscotti
- 1/2 cup (3 oz) sliced almonds
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cups sugar
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup (4 oz butter), cut in small pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 3/4 cup sweet white wine, (substitute a sweet Madeira or sweet Marsala for Vin Santo, if unavailable in your area)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Let them cool.
Mix the flour with the baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir in the sugar and lemon zest. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, then stir in the almonds. Make a well in the center and add the wine and almond extract. Stir gradually drawing in the flour to make a smooth soft dough that holds together. If it seems dry, add a little more wine.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and shape the dough into a log about 1 inch thick, 4 inches across and 12 inches long. Wrap it in plastic wrap, then flatten it slightly. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours and longer if you wish. The dough can also be frozen.
For the first baking:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Unwrap the log, set it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until lightly browned and firm on the outside 35 to 40 minutes. A skewer inserted in the center should come out clean. Let the log cool on the baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
For the second baking:
When cool, cut the log with a serrated knife into 1/2-inch slices – they will be quite soft, almost cake-like in the center. Space the biscotti on the parchment lined baking sheet and bake, turning halfway through, until they are dry and lightly browned on the cut surfaces, 20 to 25 minutes. Let them cool on a rack and store them in an airtight container.
- A Renaissance of Sicilian Wines (williams-sonoma.com)
- PRIMER: How To Choose Wine During The Summer (businessinsider.com)