March 29, 2008

Insalata caprese


Salads are good for you, so you can eat as much salad as you want. Because of that, I won’t give precise quantities in my recipes for salads. The important thing when preparing a good salad is how you mix textures, colors and flavors. So, I’ll usually just put a list of ingredients, sometimes the proportions, but you are free to prepare as much or as little as you want to. Salads can serve as an antipasto, as a contorno or side-dish, or even as a main course or piatto unico.

In America, one of the most important things about the flavors on a salad is the dressing. However I’d be misleading if I put Italian dressings in my recipes, because we don’t have any. Olive oil and regular vinegar (not even balsamic which in Italy is a specialty reserved only for special occasions) is all that you get: right on the table and everybody adds them to their own salad when served.

In fact, salads in Italy are very simple and I must say Italian cuisine is not known for its salads. I would say the only exception is the lovely insalata caprese (there are other traditional salads, like panzanella, but insalata caprese has conquered the world), thus I’ll start giving salad ideas with this staple from Capri, an island in Campania.

Campania is the region where Naples, Capri and Pompeii are. And in Campania you enjoy nearly perfect weather. But Campania is the land of Mount Vesuvius too. However when a volcano explodes it brings out the melted soil from inside the Earth, a soil which is full of minerals and that will produce a land plenty of fertility. After a volcano explodes and you see all the destruction it provokes you wouldn’t say that’s true; however, wait a few years – maybe not that few – and you’ll have some of the most fertile soil anywhere. The Romans didn’t know that, but they knew that the bay of Naples was incredibly fertile and they cultivated the land growing everything but tomatoes. You probably know that tomatoes were brought to Europe from the Americas after Columbus’ travels, so the Romans didn’t have the good fortune to taste this perfect produce. Only centuries later, long after Vesuvius covered the city of Pompeii, Campania become the perfect land for growing the most succulent, tasteful and aromatic tomatoes you can find.

Capri is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, a beautiful island not too far from Naples. In Capri you can sense all the Mediterranean nature and landscape, with spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea and its incredible color. I understand why the Roman emperor Tiberius used to live there, and probably he would have enjoyed his stay even more if they had had tomatoes there at that time.

Insalata caprese is the most perfect match between simple ingredients: ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fruity olive oil and aromatic basil. It couldn’t be better. I know I’m getting a bit passionate about this, but when you have an insalata caprese you’re enjoying the best that Italian land offers you. The ingredients are simple, it’s true, but that’s why you have to use the best here. The best tomatoes, ripe and colorful, plenty of fragrance and savor. The best olive oil, where you can taste the fruitiness of the olives. The best basil, in order to capture all the aroma of the Mediterranean shore. And the best mozzarella, made fresh and using bufala milk, so that it melts in your mouth absorbing the juices of the tomatoes, mixed with the olive oil and basil. So much simplicity and yet so much perfection. Add the view of the sea from a terrace in Capri and you’ll experience paradise on Earth.

Ingredients
Ripe tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella
Basil

Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Tip

As always, one of the most important things about food is the quality of the ingredients. Try to get your vegetables at a local farmers market and try to use seasonal produce when they are in season. In doing so, you’ll get all the flavor and attributes of perfect produce.

Posted by Daziano at 7:16 PM | 0 comments  
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March 23, 2008

Amaretti Tiramisù


This is another variation on the traditional tiramisù, which is usually made using ladyfingers cookies. Again, as I did with my cantucci tiramisù, we'll use another type of Italian cookie just to give a sort of kick to the flavor. This time, we'll use amaretti cookies. Amaretti are made using (bitter) almonds and that's exactly the flavor you get in every bite. There are different kinds of amaretti cookies, but for this recipe we want to use amaretti di Saronno, which are dry and crunchy. Saronno is an Italian city from the North, in Lombardy. I guess you realized the name is like the most popular brand of amaretto liqueur (DiSaronno). Well, we'll be using amaretto liqueur here as well.

Ingredients
(serves 6)


About 40-50 amaretti cookies
8 oz mascarpone cheese
3 pasteurized eggs
1/2 cup + 2 tsp of sugar
1 cup of espresso
1 Tbsp amaretto liqueur
cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Basically, follow the same instructions as if you were making my cantucci tiramisù. The only difference is that you don't have to break the cookies because they are already small, and that in order to prepare the caffè corretto we'll use the amaretto liqueur. One great idea for serving is to use nice coffee cups. I use my cappuccino cups, so make about 3 layers with the mascarpone mixture, using about 3 or 4 moistened amaretti cookies between each layer.

Tips

Amaro in Italian means bitter. And bitter almonds are used to make amaretti cookies. And amaretti cookies are small and cute, so instead of amaro we use the diminutive form: amaretti or amarettini.

There are also amaretti di Sassello cookies. Sassello is also a city, and also in the North but this time near the sea, in Liguria next to Genoa. Amaretti di Sassello are soft and tender, and they are like Italian macaroons.
Posted by Daziano at 7:01 PM | 1 comments  
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March 20, 2008

Easter French Toast

In Italy you always know what to do with leftovers. And when you widen your horizons beyond Italian cuisine with American cuisine, then the possibilities are even larger. For example, this is my version of French toast using colomba pasquale leftovers: a sensational treat for a lovely breakfast after Easter. In fact, if we were in Italy it would be a perfect idea for breakfast during pasquetta. Pasquetta is the Monday right after Easter, a holiday in Italy, and the perfect occasion for Italians to forget their mild winter and take advantage of the warm and placid days of the incoming spring. If you’re in Quebec, like I am now, you can enjoy them for the holiday of Easter Monday too, but dreaming of when all the snow will eventually melt.

Ingredients (serves 4 for breakfast, 2 for brunch)
About 10 thin slices colomba pasquale
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 handful blanched almonds

In a bowl, mix the eggs, the milk, the honey and the vanilla. Dip the colomba slices into this mixture. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Use some non-stick cooking spray (you can always use butter if you prefer) and cook until golden on each side.

Giada’s light syrup
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey

Put the water in a little saucepan and dissolve the sugar into it. Heat it to a simmer, then remove from the heat. Add the honey, stir and it’s ready!

Tip

Serve with mascarpone cheese and your favorite jam.


Vi auguro in anticipo una felice pasqua a tutti!
Posted by Daziano at 12:46 PM | 0 comments  
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March 18, 2008

Steamed Mussels Soup - Fancy Zuppa di Cozze

If you’re raised as a Roman Catholic, you have the tradition of not eating meat during Fridays of Lent. So, seafood becomes a staple of Good Friday. And mussels are one of my favorite kinds of seafood. On the other hand, one of the things I love about Prince Edward Island is the magnificent mussels you can get there. They are big, tender and sweet, with no sand but all the flavor.

Ingredients (serves 4)
2 lb PEI mussels
3/4 cup white wine
2 shallots, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1½ cup heavy cream
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
Peperoncino (red pepper flakes)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper

Clean the mussels. Wash them and remove the brown fibers (if any) between the two shells. Submerge the mussels in cold water for about 20 minutes. They should be closed, so discard any open mussels that don’t close if you press them with your fingers. You should also discard any broken ones.

In a saucepan over medium heat sauté the shallots with olive oil, the garlic, salt, pepper and peperoncino (making a soffritto). Rinse and drain the mussels, then toss them over the soffritto. After a couple of minutes, add the wine, cook uncovered for about 2 minutes and then cover the saucepan until the mussels begin to open. When they are all open, add the cream and the parsley, give a quick stir and enjoy.

Posted by Daziano at 10:49 PM | 0 comments  
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March 14, 2008

Castagnole

They look like hush puppies, but they are not. They are castagnole or little Italian fried pastries. In Naples there’s a similar version called zeppole, while in Sicily you can find sfingi di San Giuseppe, this time filled with ricotta cheese. Castagnole are usually made for carnival days and also for Saint Joseph’s day on March 19, which is actually Father’s Day in Italy.

People in Italy are highly devoted to Saint Joseph, partly because during medieval times it was Saint Bernardino of Siena – one of the most beloved Saints in Italy – who promoted the veneration of baby Jesus’ father. And also because according to legend, again during medieval times, Saint Joseph heard the prayers of little Sicilian children and he sent rain after several months of a terrible drought. People from Sicily brought this festivity to America, and now it’s one of the best known Italian-American traditions.

Ingredients (about 50 castagnole)
2 cups flour
2 eggs
6 Tbsp butter, room temperature
½ tsp baking powder
¼ cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of salt
4 Tbsp Confectioner’s sugar
Peanut oil

In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder and a pinch of salt. Add the eggs, the butter and the orange zest. Mix using your hands and shape mini balls. The dough is a bit sticky, so put some flour on your hands while shaping the balls. Deep-fry in enough peanut oil (at least 4 cups depending on the size of your saucepan), over medium heat, until nice and golden. Drain off the excess of oil using paper towels. Put the confectioner’s sugar inside a paper bag, then put the fried mini balls inside the bag, shake and enjoy!

Posted by Daziano at 10:20 PM | 0 comments  
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March 13, 2008

Simple penne rigate

Trust me. This recipe is extremely simple to make, but the result is amazing. I guarantee you’ll obtain a flawless sauce with all the creaminess you can find in a gourmet pasta sauce without the fuss.

Ingredients
1 lb penne rigate pasta
1½ cup shrimp, cleaned
2 cans tuna (6 oz each)
30 oz passata di pomodoro or tomato sauce
2 cups gorgonzola cheese

In a saucepan put the tomato sauce with the drained tuna and shrimp. Cook the sauce over medium heat. Cook the pasta. When the sauce is warm, add 1 cup of gorgonzola cheese and stir until it melts. The gorgonzola cheese is salty, so check the salt after you add it to the sauce and then season according to your taste. When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and toss over the sauce. Give a quick stir and serve with 1 cup of crumbled gorgonzola cheese.

Posted by Daziano at 10:16 PM | 0 comments  
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March 8, 2008

Mezze penne with sugo freddo di salmone

Pasta calda sughi freddi (hot pasta with cold sauce) is a great combination that brings you a little taste of summer. And we need that these days with the blizzards and storms telling us that winter is not over yet.

Ingredients
1 pound mezze penne pasta
2 salmon filets

12 oz cherry tomatoes
1 cup artichoke hearts
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper, herbes de Provence

Season the salmon filets with salt, pepper and herbes de Provence. Bake in a preheated oven at 400F for about 20 minutes. In a nice serving plate, place the tomatoes cut in half and the artichoke hearts, both at room temperature. Add some olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook the pasta. Add the lemon juice over the baked salmon, and then cut the salmon into bite-sized pieces. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss directly over the serving plate. Give it a quick stir, add the salmon and serve warm.

Posted by Daziano at 5:48 PM | 0 comments  
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March 7, 2008

Double chocolate nutella gelato

The texture of this gelato is so rich and creamy that you don’t even have to use an ice cream maker.

Ingredients
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
12 oz nutella
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 large egg yolks

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Add the nutella and mix all together. Once you’re ready, pour the liquids into a saucepan over medium heat. When the mixture has almost arrived to a boiling point, pour the chocolate in and stir until the chocolate is melted. Take half a cup of this warm mixture and add it slowly to the egg and nutella mixture, whisking constantly. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan, over low heat, and stir for a couple of minutes until it thickens but without bringing it to a boil. Place it over an ice bath and stir occasionally until it cools. Put the mixture in the refrigerator for half an hour, and then put your ice cream maker into action. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, just freeze. In that case, take it out of the freezer about 20 minutes before serving. The photo actually shows you the result of this magnificent gelato even when made without the ice cream maker.

Posted by Daziano at 7:08 PM | 1 comments  
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March 6, 2008

Pecorino scones

Some days you just want to keep it simple. And one of the things I’ve learned in North America is that you love convenience. It’s not that you can’t find the same behavior in Italy, but it’s different. While it’s true that nobody in Italy – unless they’re really passionate about cooking like me – would ever try to bake a homemade panettone and instead what you do is simply go to your favorite and wonderful local bakery to get one, it’s still an Italian tradition to go home for lunch, even on weekdays, and to eat a tasty dish of pasta with a savory sauce made from scratch.

A little bit seduced by these practical mixes in a box where you only have to add water, I prepared some delicious scones. Actually they were pretty good, but I couldn’t keep myself from adding an Italian touch. I don’t know what a Briton would say about my scones, but for me they were just perfect.

Ingredients (12 scones)
1 package of home-style scone mix (19 oz)
¾ cups + 2 Tbsp water (according to baking instructions)
½ cup + 2 Tbsp grated pecorino romano cheese

Just follow the baking instructions of your scone mix, but add the pecorino romano cheese when kneading the dough. Shape the scones and sprinkle some more cheese on top of them. Bake until slightly golden and enjoy!

Posted by Daziano at 8:44 PM | 2 comments  
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March 3, 2008

Buenos Aires shrimp muzzarella pizza


In Argentina there are lots of people of Italian descent. I mean, it’s impressive. About half of the population has Italian roots. In fact, if you look at the phonebook in Buenos Aires you might really imagine that you’re in Italy because of the huge number of Italian last names. However even if there’s a clear Italian influence present in Argentine cuisine, it’s not as big as you might imagine. And the same thing happens with other aspects of the culture. While it’s true that you can recognize some Italian gestures and intonation in Argentine speech, Argentine Spanish is not at all just Spanish with an Italian accent – as people from other Spanish speaking countries usually believe. And the number of Italian words that remain in Argentine Spanish is very restricted. One of the reasons is that Italian immigration occurred very early, starting about 1850, when Italy wasn’t unified yet. Immigrants spoke their own dialects, prepared their own local specialties, and didn’t interact that much with Italians coming from other regions.

One of the biggest Italian communities in Argentina was the Neapolitan one, and that’s why pizza is one of the Italian traditions that became Argentine. Argentine pizza differs from the original Italian one because of the huge quantities of cheese used. Usually the dough will be covered with pummarola, a tasty tomato sauce, and then fully covered with cheese, so that you can’t see the tomato. This could hardly ever happen in Italy, and in Naples the red of the tomatoes is always the protagonist of pizza toppings. People in Argentina also love to toss dried oregano and Argentine parmesan cheese on top.

The most typical pizza in Buenos Aires and everywhere in Argentina is pizza muzzarella. Yeah, spelled like that because that’s the way people in Naples say it in their own dialect. So, what you get is almost like a Margherita, with a thin crispy crust, topped with tomato sauce, grated mozzarella cheese, olive oil and oregano.

Here’s my version of muzzarella pizza but also topped with Argentine shrimp.

Ingredients
Pizza dough (for one 15" pizza use half of one of these recipes)
1 cup of tomato sauce
10 - 12 oz mozzarella cheese
15 large shrimp, cleaned
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper, oregano

Prepare the pizza dough according to one of my previous recipes; spread your favorite tomato sauce on top of the pizza dough, then add the coarsely grated mozzarella cheese, the shrimp, salt, pepper, oregano and some olive oil. Cook in a pre-heated oven at 450F for 25 minutes until golden brown and the shrimp are fully cooked.

Tips

Don’t expect fresh mozzarella in Buenos Aires. Not because you can’t find fresh mozzarella there, but you need a firmer and less creamy cheese than fresh mozzarella because of the quantity you use. So, if you want to try Argentine pizza, feel free to use domestic mozzarella cheese. I mean just the regular one you can buy at your local grocery store.

Argentine pizza is very popular is the Southern Cone. Certainly that’s what you’ll find in Uruguay. In big cities in Chile, usually the Italian-style pizzerias compete in popularity with the Argentine ones.

Posted by Daziano at 7:51 PM | 1 comments  
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