April 29, 2008

Tomato Pizza Pie

I love picnicking, and since I’m spending some nice days south of the border we went to French Creek State Park, PA to have an Italian picnic! The place is really nice, and it's not that far from Philadelphia. There are two lakes, and you can go fishing or trekking in the various trails they have. And to get there you drive along a quaint countryside route! For my picnic I baked multiple things. In fact, when I go picnicking I usually bake a lot, so in the end it’s a bit of a carbs-and-starch picnic. But, imagine those carbs together with prosciutto, cheese, salame and tomatoes! I love tomatoes. It is spring now and tomatoes are beginning to taste just great! So one of the things I baked was my tomato pizza pie. It is super-simple and so yummy! And perfect for an Italian picnic!

Ingredients
Half of the recipe of Neapolitan pizza doughRipe tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
Olive oil
Herbes de Provence
Salt, pepper

Roll out the pizza dough shaping a flat disk. Transfer the dough onto a pie mold. Fill the pie with thick slices of tomatoes. If you’re using Roma tomatoes, 5 or 6 will do (discard the seeds of the tomatoes). Then season with salt, olive oil and herbes de Provence. If you don’t have herbes de Provence simply use what you have: rosemary, thyme, dried basil leaves, even oregano (but remember that using oregano is not as Italian as people usually believe. Not that herbes de Provence are Italian – they are French – but they have more of the Mediterranean Italian flavor than oregano, which has more of a Greek appeal to me). Fold the dough borders giving the pie a rustic look. Brush the borders with some olive oil, and bake in a preheated 400F oven for about 25 minutes until nice and golden brown.

You can serve my luscious tomato pizza pie hot, warm or even cold. So it’s very versatile and terrific for a picnic. Add a touch of fruity olive oil just before eating!

Posted by Daziano at 4:24 PM | 0 comments  
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April 28, 2008

Spinach and crunchy prosciutto salad


Ingredients
Prosciutto
Baby spinach
Sweet corn
Gorgonzola cheese
Eggs
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar

In this salad I combined different elements that you can easily transfer to any salad you want. First, crunchy prosciutto. As simple as putting small pieces of prosciutto in a preheated 400F oven for about 5 minutes. You want it slightly golden, but not too much, because once out of the oven it will get harder. Also remember that when you cook prosciutto its salty flavor gets more intense. Then, cooked sweet corn with crumbly gorgonzola cheese. I just love this combo! And for me another thing that never fails is spinach and soft boiled eggs with runny yolks. Boil some water in a small saucepan (enough to cover the eggs). Cook the eggs in the boiling water for about 4-5 minutes (for large eggs). Then put the eggs under running cold water to stop the cooking process. They will be soft boiled to perfection!

Posted by Daziano at 9:56 PM | 0 comments  
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April 21, 2008

Auguroni di buon compleanno, Roma!

Source: La Repubblica

According to legend Rome was found by Romolo and Remo on April 21, 753 BC. So today it’s the eternal city’s birthday! To celebrate this, each year there’s a parade with Roman soldiers, gladiators and vestal virgins marching around the Coliseum. How cool is that?

Romolo and Remo were the two sons of Mars, the god of war, and Rhea Silvia, a not entirely vestal virgin, daughter of the king of Alba Longa and a direct descendant of Aeneas of Troy, who was in turn son of Venus. Because vestal virgins were supposed to be… er… virgins, Rhea Silvia’s uncle – the king of Alba Longa after he killed Rhea Silvia’s brother – was mad, really mad. So mad was he that he ordered Rhea Silvia to be buried alive and the twins killed. Rhea Silvia loved her children, so she ordered a servant to put them adrift in the river Tiber. The god of the river drove the kids to a she-wolf, and the she-wolf took care of them and raised them. The she-wolf gave them milk and protection, and a woodpecker gave them figs to eat. Years later, the brothers took revenge by killing the evil uncle and founding a new city: ROMA.

And this opera-like story marks the beginning of the city whose destiny was to rule the world. In fact, when Aeneas visited the Underworld escorted by the Sybil, he saw not only the souls of the men who were destined to be glorious in Roman history: Romolo – the first king and founder of the city, Augustus, and Marcellus, but he also met Anchises – his dead father, who revealed to him the future mission of Rome:

"Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento; hae tibi erunt artes: pacique imponere morem, parcere subiectis et debellare superbos" (Roman, let your concern be to command the nations; your skills shall be these: to impose the rule of peace, to spare the submissive, and to crush the proud). Fabulous!

Posted by Daziano at 9:18 PM | 0 comments  
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Spaghetti salame carbonara

I know this is not the traditional recipe. However, it’s still nearer to the traditional one than the widely known recipe using cream for the sauce. The difference here is that I’ll be using salame instead of guanciale (a kind of bacon). Just because. Well, just because I love salame so much. Salame and prosciutto are by far one my favorite things on Earth. Buy me an entire salame that I can cut myself and eat as much as I want, and I’ll be the happiest person ever. My love for salame is so big that even if I love the traditional spaghetti alla carbonara, I couldn’t help but trying a version with salame. And the result was good. Extremely good.

Ingredients
1 lb spaghetti
5 oz salame, diced
4 oz pecorino romano cheese, grated
4 egg yolks
1 egg
Olive oil
Salt, pepper

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the entire egg. Gradually add the cheese while vigorously whisking. Cook the pasta. In a saucepan heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil with pepper and a little bit of salt, then sauté the diced salame until the salame is golden and crispy. About 1 minute before the pasta is cooked al dente (according to the cooking time on the label instructions), add 1 scoop of the cooking water to the egg mixture. Does it sound familiar? We are tempering the eggs, just as we did when making gelato. Add the salame to the egg mixture. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss it directly into the bowl with the egg mixture. Yes, the eggs were raw, but the heat of the pasta will cook them. Serve with more grated pecorino romano cheese.

Tip

This a dish from Rome, so it's perfect to celebrate Rome's birthday. And because it's a Roman dish we use pecorino romano cheese. Pecorino romano is made from fresh sheep's milk in the Roman countryside, and then aged for about 8 to 10 months.
Posted by Daziano at 9:06 PM | 0 comments  
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April 20, 2008

Blackberry Gelato


Ingredients
3 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks, room temperature

Prepare the gelato custard. Puree the blackberries using a blender. Add the blackberry puree to the cool custard and stir. Make the blackberry gelato using your ice cream machine. And that's it!
Posted by Daziano at 6:50 PM | 0 comments  
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April 17, 2008

Gelato

I can bet that if you have met anyone coming back from a holiday in Rome, one of the first things he or she mentioned was how good the ice cream was. And it’s true. Italian ice cream is so good that here in North America it is known with its Italian name: gelato. And no Roman holiday is complete without taking an afternoon passeggiata in a piazza eating gelato. Ok, I’m writing Itanglish. Passeggiata is the ultimate Italian social ritual. After work, people gather together, walking through public spaces (typically an Italian square or piazza, usually with one fountain and a spectacular Renaissance sculpture on it), wearing the latest fashions, fancy shoes and über-chic sunglasses – even in winter. To see and be seen is the order of the day. They talk together, they answer their cell phones constantly, and men call their moms for the daily update. People meet their friends, and they drink espresso, eat pizza, and have gelato. As Italians often say: it’s all about conviviality. And what could be more convivial than having gelato!

Going to a gelateria in Italy is quite an experience. They have so many flavors to choose from: amarena, fragola, limone, melone, pesca, nutella, panna cotta, tiramisù, cappuccino, zuppa inglese, cioccolato, nocciola, ananas, pistacchio, frutti di bosco. And they are all SO good. And then the cones: multiple choices here too. Even if there are some gelaterie that are better than others, it is almost impossible to go wrong.

You simply can’t go back home from Rome without a photo of you eating an ideal gelato with the stunning Fontana di Trevi behind you. And if you get your photo with the Fontana di Trevi, and the gelato, and you, throwing coins into the fountain, then you got it all.

Making gelato custard

Preparing homemade gelato is quite easy – once you get familiar with the technique. Gelato is a kind of ice cream, so all you need is an ice cream maker. They are so inexpensive, and nobody wants to do it in the old way (breaking the ice crystals each half an hour I don’t know how many times). So buy one, it’s totally worth it. Then, you have to know how to prepare custard for gelato. It could be a bit tricky, but practice makes the master.

Ingredients
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks, room temperature

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Then add ½ cup of the heavy cream and beat until a creamy white mixture forms. In a saucepan heat the milk and the remaining heavy cream over medium heat. When bubbles begin to form at the edges, turn the heat off and take ½ cup of the heated milk. Then slowly pour this ½ cup of hot milk over the yolk mixture, while stirring the mixture constantly. This process is called tempering the eggs. You know what happens when eggs are heated: you get scrambled eggs. But have you ever heard about scrambled egg gelato? No, because we don’t want scrambled eggs here. That’s why we are tempering the eggs: we are preparing them for the otherwise terrible shock of heat. Once the eggs are tempered, turn on the heat again, pour the custard into the saucepan with the milk and continue cooking.

You thought that was the trickiest part? Well, no. Now you have to decide when to stop cooking. At this time you have to stir constantly using a wooden spoon. NEVER boil your custard. Check if the custard is getting thick enough. Here is the test: the custard must coat the back of the wooden spoon and when that happens wipe it with your finger. When you notice a clear trail, you’re ready. Ready to quickly pour the custard in a bowl, over another bowl with ice. We want a cold shock in order to stop the cooking process. At this point and if you didn’t curdle your custard, you can start breathing again. Wait until the custard cools down, and then put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours, covered with plastic wrap. Sounds scary, I know: the imminent risk of curdling the custard and obtaining scrambled eggs is always present. But – just as with the purchase of your ice maker machine – this process worth it. Once you have your own homemade gelato, you’ll forget all the fuss. And then you’ll become an expert.

OK. When the custard is cold, it’s ready for the ice maker machine. Then follow the manufacturer’s instructions and in about 30 minutes you’ll have gelato!

Why all the fuss? The custard has to be thickened in order to have the correct texture. What if you overcook it? Then you’ll have scrambled eggs, sorry. What if you undercook it? Then you’ll have a harder texture. And what if you tried – you really tried, but you curdled it? Then quickly put the custard over the ice, as if nothing happened and whisk as vigorously as you can, while praying to our Lord. In most cases you’ll be able to save your custard.

Gelato uses more milk and less cream than American ice cream. Even if at first it might seem that because of this it will be less creamy, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Because it’s lighter the final result is creamier. Nice, right?

Finally. I have to admit that although homemade gelato is really good, it’s not as good as real Italian gelato artigianale. But it’s almost as good, and you made it! So it’ll be better!!! (The difference is that homemade gelato has a tendency to get harder when frozen. You can use some special and hard-to-find sugar to avoid this, but when using regular sugar just remember that it works really well if you take the gelato out of the freezer about 15 minutes before serving).

PS: Juan, thank you for the photos of the gelateria in Rome! Rolf, looking good with the Fontana di Trevi behind you, and we can see a little bit of your gelato!


Posted by Daziano at 11:45 AM | 1 comments  
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April 15, 2008

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Here is another staple from Campania. It is funny that a lot of Italian dishes have an utterly obscure and inglorious name – alla puttanesca means something like in the way whores do. Although this recipe seems to be very traditional, apparently its name is fairly recent. And nobody knows exactly why it is called that or what its exact origin is. In fact, some people claim it’s a Romanesco dish (from Rome) and not from Campania. I could imagine Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani’s character in the homonymous film by Pasolini) preparing this dish in the Mussolini-built Roman suburbs. Well, Naples and Rome are pretty near so they share a lot of ingredients in their respective regional cooking.

Ingredients
1 pound spaghetti
25-30 oz passata di pomodoro
(tomato sauce)
4 anchovy fillets
1 Tbsp capers
2 garlic cloves, chopped
12 black olives, chopped
1 bunch Italian parsley
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, peperoncino

In a saucepan sauté the chopped anchovy fillets with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and peperoncino and continue sautéing for a couple of minutes, until the garlic is slightly golden. Add the passata di pomodoro (uncooked and lightly seasoned Italian tomato purée), the olives and the capers. Bring it to a simmer.

Cook the pasta following the label instructions. When the pasta is al dente, drain and toss over the sugo alla puttanesca (the sauce). Stir, serve with chopped parsley and enjoy.

Tips

When sautéing the anchovies you’ll obtain a kind of paste. So you won’t have any of the fishy flavor or the texture that some people dislike about anchovies. Don’t even think about adding parmigiano reggiano cheese. Here cheese would overpower the flavors and all the fishy taste will eventually come back directly into your mouth. If you’re not completely convinced about the anchovies, try at least anchovy paste. If you can’t find passata di pomodoro you can use San Marzano canned tomatoes instead.


Capers aren’t seeds or fruits. Capers are flowers, before they open (buds). The best capers come from the Isole Eolie (Aeolian Islands), a volcanic archipelago formed by seven islands northeast of Sicily. They are called that because of Eolo (Aeolus), the ancient king of the wind. And if you sail there you’ll understand why the ancient Greeks associated this island with Eolo. In fact, it is not at all uncommon to be unable to sail because of mare troppo mosso, that is to say, too much wind and waves on the sea. The beaches here are spectacular with a turquoise sea color that I have never seen before, and the weather is nearly perfection. In the island of Salina they have the most wonderful capers. They are tangy, perfectly formed and so flavorful. Actually it is in the Isole Eolie where you can find Italians who eat capers in their salads: there they just love capers and they use them in everything. In the rest of Italy they are often used in tangy and spicy sauces, like sugo alla puttanesca.

Posted by Daziano at 7:54 PM | 0 comments  
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April 14, 2008

Chicken Broccoli Calzone

This is a great way to use roasted chicken leftovers.

Ingredients
Pizza dough (use half of one of these recipes)
2 Tbsp tomato sauce
1 chicken breast, cooked
1 cup broccoli, cooked al dente
1 cup cheese
Egg wash (1 egg + 1 Tbsp water)

Prepare the dough according to one of my previous recipes for pizza. When the dough is ready, roll it using a rolling pin almost in the same way as if you were making a pizza. The only difference here is that we want it to be thin all the way around; including the edges (here we don’t want the cornicione).

In the center of the calzone, spread the tomato sauce, and then alternately put in the chicken and the broccoli. Add the grated cheese (I used Jarlsberg cheese) and close, folding the dough in half. To be sure that it won’t open, brush the edges with egg wash when closing the dough. Then crimp with your fingers in a free-style decorative way. Brush the top of your calzone and bake it in a 400 F pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes until golden brown.

Tips

Just as with pizza toppings, you don’t want to use warm or hot fillings on your dough before cooking it. It will distort the final rising process.

I used salted water when cooking the broccoli, and the chicken was already salted too, so it wasn’t necessary to add more salt.

Posted by Daziano at 9:40 PM | 0 comments  
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April 12, 2008

Strawberry sauce

My strawberry sauce is perfect for gelato or panna cotta. You really really have to try this. And when you do you’ll never stop making it again and again.

Ingredients
3 cups strawberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup pomegranate juice
¾ cup strawberry jam

Wash the strawberries and cut them into thin slices. Cover with the sugar and let them rest for at least 1 hour. In a saucepan whisk the jam with the juice, and cook over medium heat. Add the sugared strawberries (they will be very juicy) and continue cooking until it comes to a simmer. Serve cool, accompanying your dessert.

You can use strawberry juice, but I think that the pomegranate juice suits the strawberry flavor perfectly. It even makes the flavor more intense.

Posted by Daziano at 9:42 PM | 0 comments  
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April 11, 2008

Garlicky roasted chicken

I love the idea of having roasted chicken for a weekend lunch. This is an excellent and super-easy recipe, with just the right amount of garlic.

Ingredients (for 2 chickens)
2 chickens
6 garlic cloves
½ stick of butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper, peperoncino, dry oregano

Thoroughly rinse the chicken and then dry it using paper towels. Season the chicken with salt. Don’t forget to also put some salt in the interior of the chicken. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Add the olive oil and slightly sauté the garlic cloves for about 12 minutes. You want to infuse the butter with the flavor and aroma of the garlic. The olive oil will prevent the butter from burning. When you feel the garlicky aroma all over your kitchen, put 3 of the sautéed garlic cloves inside of each chicken. Pour the melted butter on the chicken. Add more salt, pepper, peperoncino and oregano. Cook in the oven for about 80 minutes. Then broil for about 5 minutes.

Posted by Daziano at 8:30 PM | 0 comments  
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April 10, 2008

Caesar-like salad


This is not the traditional Caesar salad, but does anyone really know the original recipe? Also, I didn’t want to make a Caesar salad, but the result was quite near to that, so let’s say this is a Caesar-like salad.

Ingredients
Romaine hearts
Grilled chicken breasts
Avocado
Sourdough bread
Olive oil
Garlic
Tomato
Parmigiano reggiano cheese

Dressing
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp Olive oil

Grill the chicken or simply put ready-to-cook frozen chicken strips in the oven.

Instead of croutons, I used bruschetta. So, I toasted some bread under the broiler – I used red onion sourdough bread, which is perfect to make bruschetta or crostini. When the bread is golden brown, rub some garlic over it (cut a garlic clove in half and just rub it over the bread), rub some tomato over the bread (in the same way you did it with the garlic), then add some olive oil and salt.

Put the clean romaine leaves onto a serving plate, add cubes of avocado, the strips of grilled chicken breast – I like the chicken warm – and then toss the dressing over the salad. In order to make the dressing, simply whisk all the ingredients together until creamy and homogeneous. Top with grated parmigiano reggiano cheese.

Note that the original Caesar salad was conceived of by an Italian-born Mexican, so the idea of not chopping the lettuce – which allows you to eat it with your fingers almost like a fajita – and the idea of adding avocado both seem pretty fine to me.

Posted by Daziano at 7:57 PM | 0 comments  
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April 7, 2008

Delicious clam and shrimp spaghetti

As you can see throughout my recipes I simply love shrimp, so I add them to almost everything. This is my version of spaghetti alle vongole which is Italian for clam spaghetti; but I added shrimp too. So it would be something like spaghetti con vongole e gamberetti. It’s really easy to make, very Italian, and I love it because it reminds me of the bay of Naples. You have to remember, dried pasta like spaghetti, tomato based sauces and seafood – they all conjure up Southern Italy, and by that we mean south of Rome.

Ingredients
1 pound spaghetti
24 clams, medium size
1 can tomato sauce (about 30 oz)
1/3 cup white wine
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch baby arugula
2 cups shrimp
Salt, pepper, peperoncino
2 Tbsp olive oil
Parmigiano reggiano cheese

Submerge the clams in salted cold water for at least 1 hour. In a saucepan make a soffritto sautéing the minced garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper and peperoncino. Add the tomato sauce, and when it comes to a simmer add the rinsed clams. Add the white wine and the shrimp, and cook for a couple of minutes. Cover the saucepan with a lid and cook until the clams are all open. Cook the pasta. When it is al dente, drain and toss over the sauce. Add the arugula, give a quick stir, pour in some grated parmigiano reggiano cheese and serve.

Posted by Daziano at 8:23 PM | 1 comments  
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