August 30, 2008

Grilled tuna with mâche salad

A nice way to celebrate this Labor Day weekend is by hitting the grill one more time before the end of summer. Tuna is perfect for grilling, and it takes almost no time to prepare.

Ingredients
4 Tuna steaks

Juice of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 lemon, cut into quarters
Italian parsley
Salt, pepper


Wash and dry the tuna steaks. Prepare a quick marinade using the lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Let the tuna steak marinate for about 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper, and grill the tuna for about 2 minutes per side if you like it rare. Serve with a grilled lemon wedge and chopped Italian parsley. You can use the lemon quarters to add fresh juice over your tuna steaks.


You can serve it with a grilled watermelon and mâche salad. Mâche is a very popular green in France. In fact, it was king Louis XIV who loved it and made it a must in French cuisine. For this salad, grill some nice watermelon chunks for a couple of minutes, and then put the warm watermelon on top of the mâche. Dress simply by adding lemon juice and olive oil.


Tip

Tuna is very popular in the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Posted by Daziano at 9:06 PM | 4 comments  
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August 28, 2008

Peach yogurt gelato


This recipe is incredibly tasty, and so easy to make! In fact, you don’t have to cook anything!

Ingredients
3 cups sliced peaches
1 cup almond syrup
2 cups yogurt

Slice 3 nice fresh peaches. In an electric blender put the yogurt, 1 cup of orzata or Italian almond syrup, and the sliced peaches. Blend for just a couple of seconds. Then make the yogurt gelato using your ice cream machine! A nice serving idea is to put a dollop over a peach or apricot ciambella or Italian doughnut.

Almonds pair exceptionally well with the flavor of peaches or apricots. The reason is simple. Have you ever seen an almond tree or the fruit from where almonds are extracted? Maybe you’ve seen the nut-like thing that you can find inside the pit of an apricot or peach – or maybe you’ve heard of apricot kernels… Well, almonds, peaches and apricots are extremely closely related because they are all part of the same botanical family. But in the case of almonds we want to eat the nut, which is not really a nut, and in the case of apricots and peaches we want to eat the fruit.

Tip
Look for orzata and ciambelle in your local Italian store.
Posted by Daziano at 8:37 PM | 3 comments  
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August 19, 2008

The Chilean lake district

If you ever visit Chile, one of the things you have to do is go south. One of the most impressive parts of Chile is Patagonia, and the gate to Patagonia is the Chilean lake district. Germans were the first Europeans to settle in the lake region in southern Chile around 1850. They transformed this wild area – covered by a dense temperate rainforest – into a very productive land, where dairy products became a staple. The weather is like Seattle or Vancouver, and the landscape reminds you a bit of Switzerland: there are gorgeous mountains, majestic lakes, cute German-like towns… and snow-capped volcanoes! There are plenty of things to do, especially outdoor activities – hiking, trekking, kayaking… – because an important part of the temperate rainforest is still there, and it’s the only place in South America where you can find that!

And if it’s raining, a very likely event to happen (just ask someone from Vancouver), the best thing you can do is to have some Kuchen. I love Kuchen, which is like the Chilean crostata or pie. If you know some German you surely know that Kuchen means cake in German, so it’s kind of funny that the ultimate Chilean cake has a German name. Kuchen is so popular you can find it everywhere in Chile, even in every supermarket and of course in every bakery. But if you want to have the real thing you must eat it in places like Frutillar, Nueva Braunau, or Puerto Octay, where the historic houses still evoke the German colonization.


Tips

Another thing you have to know is that when it’s summer here in the northern hemisphere, it’s winter down there. Pretty obvious, but just in case…


Branching Out
Italian-Chilean peach Kuchen
Posted by Daziano at 9:50 PM | 4 comments  
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Italian-Chilean Peach Kuchen


You can experience the tradition of Chilean Kuchen with this recipe, which is based on an Italian filling for crostata.

Ingredients
1 pie shell

Filling
4 cups sliced peaches
1 stick butter, room temperature
½ cup flour
2 Tbsp corn starch
½ cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks

Beat the butter with the sugar. Add the egg and egg yolks and mix until everything is incorporated. Add the flour and the corn starch and mix well. Pour this batter into the pie shell. Add the peaches and bake in a 325F pre-heated oven for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Chileans always eat Kuchen cold, but you also can eat it warm and with ice cream!
Posted by Daziano at 9:29 PM | 4 comments  
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August 15, 2008

Peach picking

OK. Blueberry picking is fun, but a couple of weeks ago I was in Virginia and I went peach picking. This brings back so many memories to me. When I was a child, we had an enormous peach tree in our garden. My mom and I used to put a ladder next to the tree and we climbed together to select the ripe peaches and cook a lot of good stuff: jams and preserves, pies, fruit salads, smoothies... And we ate peaches all summer long, and we had so many peaches – because our tree was so big – that we were able to give boxes full of peaches to our neighbors. So for me nothing says more the-peak-of-summer than peaches!

It’s also nice to write about this today, because today is ferragosto (the August holiday, or the fairs of Augustus from Latin feriæ Augusti), the peak of summer in Italy, when the church celebrates the assumption of the Virgin, and Italians empty the cities and crowd the beaches. While for the Catholic Church this date commemorates when Mary fell asleep and then the angels took her into Heaven, for Italians this date marks the end of hard labor in the fields – like peach picking – and the time to have a getaway, swimsuit always included.


Branching Out
Italian-Chilean peach Kuchen
Peach yogurt gelato
Posted by Daziano at 10:03 PM | 4 comments  
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August 13, 2008

Ricotta blueberry muffins


Have you ever had ricotta muffins? Ricotta is a cheese, but ricotta muffins aren’t cheesy at all. They are moist, soft and tender. And ricotta is a very good match for blueberries, so why not give my ricotta blueberry muffins a try?

Ingredients

1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp baking soda

¾ cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 stick of butter, room temperature
2 tsp orange blossom water
Lemon and orange zest
Pinch of salt

Mix the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In another bowl, make a batter with the sugar and the butter. Add the eggs to the batter one by one, and then add the ricotta, the lemon and orange zest, and the orange blossom water. Mix the flour and the batter together. Add the blueberries and mix with care: we don’t want to turn our batter blue by mashing the blueberries. Preheat the oven to 350F. Use some cooking spray on your muffin pan, and then scoop the batter into the pan. Sprinkle some sugar on top. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the muffins turn golden.
Posted by Daziano at 10:26 PM | 15 comments  
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August 10, 2008

Blueberry picking

It’s not news that I love blueberries. And by an odd coincidence I moved from the largest producer in the southern hemisphere – Chile, to one of the largest producers in the world – Quebec. Quebec as a whole is the largest producer of wild blueberries, while Maine holds first place as the largest world producer. The “problem” with Quebec is that fruit season comes really late. But, the further south you go from Quebec city, the sooner you can pick blueberries. In fact, I picked some nice blueberries in Vermont at the very beginning of July, about a month before the blueberry festival in Dolbeau-Mistassini, QC. This latter city, which is located in the Lac Saint-Jean area north of Quebec City, is known in the province of Quebec as the blueberry capital of the world. In fact, people from that region are known as bleuets, which is the word in Canadian French for blueberries. The lac Saint-Jean area is just gorgeous, and the impressive lake is connected to the Saint-Lawrence river through the Saguenay fjord. The area became prominent in blueberry production because of an accident. There was a big fire that destroyed the trees. But after the fire, blueberries bushes – which grow very fast – appeared everywhere around the lake. So, wild blueberries became the staple of the region’s economy.


Blueberries are called mirtilli in Italian, and people in the north of Italy (especially in Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli, and Valle d’Aosta) use mirtilli in jams and preserves, usually mixed with other berries in what Italians call “frutti del bosco” (forest fruits).

Branching out
Blueberry jam
Blueberry gelato
Ricotta blueberry muffins

Crostata ai mirtilli
Frutti di bosco jam
Posted by Daziano at 11:57 AM | 5 comments  
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Express blueberry jam


In Italy, jams are widely known as marmellate, and they are not quite the same as what you find in America. Here in America, jams always – or at least very very often – have a jello texture to me. I found out that usually you make jam adding more pectin than the fruit naturally has. We don’t do that in Italy. We just mix fruit and sugar (often in a 1:1 relationship!), and let the natural pectin in the fruit work. The result is more intense and richer, and often more sweet, than standard American jam.

Ingredients

7 cups blueberries

4 cups sugar (3 cups if you want a less sweet version)
1/3 cup water


Put the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and stir. Cook for 5-10 minutes or until a very subtle golden caramel is obtained. Add the blueberries and cook for at least 30 minutes. Usually Italian jams don’t use water, but you have to mix the sugar and fruit together and let the sugar dissolve into the natural juices of the fruit. With blueberries you have to crush the fruit and let the sugar act overnight. Once you’ve done that, cook for about 30 to 40 minutes over medium heat. Since I used water, I was able to make the jam right away – that’s why I called it my express blueberry jam. You can also add lemon juice instead of water. To test the jam, put a dollop on a cold plate. If the jam doesn’t spread and it gels, it’s ready.

Today, you can read the Italian word confettura on imported labels, which also means ‘jam’. There is no difference between confettura and marmellata. Marmellata was widely used, but today according to artificial European Union standards marmellata (marmalade) is made of citrus fruits (like orange marmalade), while confettura is reserved for other kinds of fruit.
Posted by Daziano at 11:36 AM | 3 comments  
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August 9, 2008

Everything Italian tastes better

Well, I’ve been posting for a while, but I’ve never introduced myself. I’m a PhD student, writing my dissertation on Discrete Choice Econometrics. But I’m also passionate about food and a devoted home cook.

Why do I love Italian cooking? First, I personally believe that everything Italian tastes better. I know it is a strong and debatable phrase, but still I’m pretty convinced it’s true. If I have to describe Italian cuisine I would say something like: the best simple food through the quality of the ingredients. Yes, Italian cuisine is simple and really far from being pretentious. In Italian cuisine you don’t use a lot of ingredients, but you use the best of them.

Currently everyone is interested in organic food and local produce. Well, in Italy it has always been like that. You have your local street market with fantastic local produce, produced in the same way for centuries and made perfect by generations of artisanal farmers and producers. That’s why I really think that traditional recipes can’t be beat: classic recipes call for the best of the best, using local artisanal produce (that nowadays can be extremely expensive, but in Italy it was how ordinary people ate: in Lombardy ossobuco is the ultimate comfort food, while in the rest of the world it became a fancy dish). And Italian cuisine can be simple, but it is always made from your heart. Everything in Italy revolves around eating, because it’s by eating that people in Italy socialize and it’s by cooking that you show your love. And I love that.

Another thing you need to know about Italian cuisine is that it’s extremely regional. You’ll discover this throughout this blog. Dried pasta is something from Rome to the south, while in the northern regions they use fresh pasta. Pesto is from Liguria, prosciutto is from Parma – as well as parmigiano reggiano cheese – and risotto comes from Lombardy and Piemonte. Don’t try to get a good risotto in Rome, because you won’t. Instead try spaghetti alla carbonara, which is the ultimate Roman dish. Even if I think that traditional recipes can’t be bettered, I’m not saying that you cannot try new flavors. I mean, I’m always trying new dishes. Actually when I came to North America I discovered a lot of new things, including traditional Italian-American cuisine, which has lots of traditions that are lost in Italy now: I never heard about the “feast of seven fishes” before coming to America, and we don’t have such a thing called pepperoni in Italy, just in the same way you won’t find marinara sauce or even meatballs. I think that today we’re seeing an interesting changing point in Italian-American cuisine. Together with the globalization process, Italian products began to come to America. And by this, Italian-American cuisine met Italian cuisine, giving a continuous and vigorous development of what we can call a kind of international Italian cuisine. Just to mention an example, think about the use of pesto which exploded in America in the late 80’s, or the use of balsamic vinegar during the 90’s – even if I have horrible doubts about the industrial one that is available everywhere nowadays.

Finally, thinking of Italian-American cuisine, I must say I really like the idea of Italian immigrant cuisine. People flew from Italy in incredible huge quantities. I mean really huge. In fact, there are as many Italians with an Italian passport living abroad as Italians living in Italy. They discovered a new world, just in the same way Columbus did it first, and so they adjusted their culture of food in order to meet the new reality they were facing, but always keeping the essence of Italian cuisine: its simplicity.

I also like the idea of Italian immigrant cuisine because I myself come from a family of Italian immigrants. I grew up in Chile, with a Mediterranean climate and landscape that recreated the land of my ancestors exceptionally well. My family worked in the Chilean vineyards just as they had before in Italy. And I am an immigrant in North America now, with both Chilean and Italian passports. So the recipes I’ll share with you reflect this process. You’ll find traditional Italian recipes, as well as traditional Italian-American recipes, and some of my – let’s say – signature dishes (and also some nice recipes I like from around the world, always with that extra Italian touch). So your whole experience will be Italian cuisine absorbing elements from America – the continent, experiencing Italy through American flavors but keeping the Italian point of view and approach. What you’ll get is Italian culture working at its best: by food.

Posted by Daziano at 10:17 PM | 15 comments  
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