September 30, 2008

Lac Saint-Jean and the Saguenay fjord



A wonderful region to visit in Quebec is Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, with its wonderful lake and the magnificent fjord which connects the lake with the Saint Lawrence river. A couple of weeks ago we had a quick getaway to this area, which is not terribly far from Quebec City. Driving up about 3 hours from Quebec City, and after taking a free ride in a ferry crossing the Saguenay river, you get to the nice town of Tadoussac. Once in Tadoussac you can take different cruises, either through the fjord or to watch whales if you prefer!

The whole area has plenty of attractions, but as I told you (and you can read about this here) this region is famous for its blueberries! And it’s also famous for the early 20th century and ultimate Québécois novel ‘Maria Chapdelaine – A Tale of the Lake St. John Country’ written by French author Louis Hémon:

“The forests of Quebec are rich in wild berries; cranberries, Indian pears, black currants, sarsaparilla spring up freely in the wake of the great fires, but the blueberry, the bilberry or whortleberry of France, is of all the most abundant and delicious. The gathering of them, from July to September, is an industry of many families who spend the whole day in the woods; strings of children down to the tiniest go swinging their tin pails, empty in the morning, full and heavy by evening. Others only gather the blueberries for their own use, either to make jam or the famous pies national to French Canada” wrote Hémon in his book. So, what better way could you think of to experience Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean than by baking one of these famous pies?



PS
Incredibly enough, it was my first time sailing through a fjord. Why is that so incredible? Well, because I grew up in Chile, which has plenty of fjords in its southern part. In fact, Chilean Patagonia is just one fjord after another, just like Norway!
Posted by Daziano at 9:07 PM | 6 comments  
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Maria Chapdelaine’s tarte aux bleuets


This is the ultimate Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean blueberry pie (or traditional tarte aux bleuets in French). Easy to make, wonderful to taste!

Ingredients
4 cups blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp butter
Pie dough (enough for one double crust pie)

Roll out just a little bit more than half of the dough over a pie mold enough to make a pie shell. Fill the shell with the blueberries. Sprinkle with the sugar and flour, and place some cubes of butter on top. Cover with the rest of the dough, making about 3 holes in the top of the pie. Bake in a 400F preheated oven for about 50 minutes or until the pie turns nice and golden brown.


Tip
This is a traditional Québécois recipe, but I’m sure people from Alto Adige in Italy would love my crostata ai mirtilli!

Posted by Daziano at 9:01 PM | 10 comments  
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September 28, 2008

Sword fish, oven roasted beets and sautéed beet greens


Ok. I know some people hate beets because they think beets taste just like dirt. If you’re one of these people, skip this recipe.

Ingredients
4 big sword fish steaks (about 1” thick)

4 large beets

1 handful fresh rosemary

1 Tbsp butter
Olive oil (about 3 Tbsp)
Italian parsley

Salt, pepper
2 lemons


Scrub the beets to clean them. Remove both ends, and cut the bulbs into wedges (about 6). Put the beets on aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil (about 1 Tbsp). Add salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. Wrap with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 400F oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until soft. During the last 10 minutes you can open the aluminum foil and put the beets under the broiler until caramelized. Once ready, peel the beets.


Wash the beet greens, dry them well and chop. About an hour after you put the beets in the oven, sauté the chopped greens with melted butter (1 Tbsp) and olive oil (1 Tbsp). Add salt and pepper.


To prepare the swordfish, season it with salt and pepper. In a saucepan with olive oil, sauté the fish over medium heat about 7 minutes per side.
Mix the beets and beet greens. Cut the fish into cubes and put the cubes over the beets. Drizzle with lots of lemon juice and a nice touch of olive oil. You can add some chopped parsley if you like.
Posted by Daziano at 8:33 PM | 7 comments  
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September 25, 2008

No sugar added golden honeydew melon yogurt gelato

A long name for a fabulous treat! Honeydew melons are so sweet and juicy I think you don’t need to add any sugar. Of course you can taste it and if you prefer you could sweeten this gelato just a bit.

Ingredients
3 cups golden honeydew melon
2 cups plain yogurt

Combine the melon with the yogurt using an electric blender. Then pour the mixture into your ice cream machine and let the machine do its work. Wait… that’s it? Sure! It can’t get any easier than this!
Posted by Daziano at 9:26 PM | 11 comments  
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September 24, 2008

Tortellini al ragù express

This one is a quick and easy recipe to get closer to pasta the real Bolognese way. In Bologna, fresh pasta is always accompanied with a rich and thick sauce called ragù in Italian, which in a way is more like a stew than a sauce. In this recipe, I’ll use an Italian secret to prepare a wonderful meal: we’ll use the meat of Italian sausages instead of ground meat. What’s the deal? The sausage contains spices which give a lot of flavor without the fuss!

Ingredients
1 pound tortellini (I used spinach tortellini)
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 ½ - 2 cups unpeeled Italian sausages (veal and pork would be great)
½ red onion, chopped
½ cup red wine
2 ripe tomatoes, cubed
1 small can San Marzano tomatoes (about 13 oz), crushed
Salt, pepper, peperoncino
Olive oil (about 1 Tbsp)
Grana Padano cheese, grated for serving

First, peel the Italian sausages: we want what’s inside them. In a saucepan, sauté the sausage meat until slightly brown. Remove the meat but keep in the saucepan the grease that came out of the meat while it was sautéed. Sauté the onion, the celery and the carrots, making a soffritto. Add salt, pepper, and some peperoncino (you could use hot Italian sausages, but if you use the mild ones, you can control how spicy you make your ragù by adding peperoncino or Italian red pepper flakes). Put the sautéed meat back in the saucepan. Stir, and after a couple of minutes add the red wine. Add the tomatoes. Simmer for about 15 minutes and then add the crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Cook for about 30 minutes over medium heat and stirring occasionally.

Boil the tortellini in salted boiling water until al dente (about 5 minutes for fresh tortellini). Drain the tortellini and pour them into the saucepan with the ragù. Give a quick stir and serve with Grana Padano cheese.

Tips
When cooking with celery, always add a bit of the celery leaves, chopped. It adds more flavor. In this recipe I even put some chopped leaves on top!

Why did I call this my express ragù if it’s not ready in less than 30 minutes? Well, everything will be ready in less than 1 hour. And real Bolognese ragù takes about 4 hours!
Posted by Daziano at 9:18 PM | 9 comments  
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September 23, 2008

Crostini capresi

Why is it that the combination tomato-basil-mozzarella is so recurrent in Italian cuisine? Because it’s like the perfect abstract of the Italian approach: simplicity tastes awesome! You can find this combination cold – as in a traditional caprese salad – or hot – as in a traditional pizza margherita. Hot or cold, it always recalls Campania and the Neapolitan love for tomatoes. And with such a simple combination, you’ll never forget another lesson: Italian cuisine calls for the best ingredients. Use finest and sweetest fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh and creamy mozzarella di bufala campana, sweet small-leaved basil and high quality Italian extra-virgin olive oil and you’ll taste a piece of heaven. Use bad ingredients, and you’ll be condemned to taste plain mediocrity.

An excellent way to make a twist on caprese salad, is by preparing my crostini capresi.

Ingredients
1 loaf of a nice bread, like a basil and parmigiano sourdough bread
Ripe grape and cherry tomatoes, different colors and sizes
Fresh mozzarella di bufala campana cheese
Basil
1 garlic clove
Olive oil

Slice the bread into ½ - 1/3 inch slices. To make your Italian toasts (called crostini), drizzle the slices with a nice touch of olive oil and grill or bake until the bread turns nice and golden brown (about 8 minutes in a 400F oven – I used my Panini grill for about 5 minutes). Meanwhile, quarter the tomatoes, cut the mozzarella cheese into cubes, and mix them both with some basil leaves. Add a nice amount of olive oil, salt and pepper to this caprese salad. When the bread is ready, rub the garlic on the bread. Put the crostini on a serving plate and then put the caprese salad on top. With a fork (or your hand), slightly crush the tomatoes over the crostini: we want the crostini to absorb the tomato juices and the olive oil. Enjoy!
Posted by Daziano at 8:41 PM | 8 comments  
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September 17, 2008

Italian hotdog


Is there such thing as an Italian hotdog? I’m sure your answer will be something like “no way”. Then I have to tell you that in Northern Italy, especially around Bolzano in Alto Adige, you can find German Italians. And they love their Würstel, which are German hotdog sausages. In any piazza in Alto Adige you’ll always find a kiosk with a grill selling grilled Würstel, sometimes in a bun especially made so you can insert the sausage without cutting the bread! And mustard and sauerkraut are always the best companions for a Würstel.

So I was thinking about a revisited version of the Würstel you can find in Bolzano. First, instead of a hotdog or frankfurter, what could be better than an Italian pork and veal sausage!? Choose hot or sweet, and try the very long ones for a super hotdog. Grill your sausage to perfection (for about 10-12 minutes). For the bread, find a sourdough baguette, which you’ll open and grill for a couple of minutes. Moisten, rubbing it with halved tomatoes.

And substitute radicchio for sauerkraut. Serve with mustard and a grilled peach and plum salad!

Grilled radicchio
2 small heads of radicchio, quartered
Red wine vinegar (about 4 Tbsp)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Brush the quarters of radicchio with some olive oil and grill for about 2 or 3 minutes. Shred the radicchio and let it cool in the vinegar.

Grilled peach and plum salad
Fresh picked peaches and plums, halved or quartered
Your favorite greens

Grill the peaches and plums on each side for about 3 minutes. Serve warm over the greens, together with a mustard-based vinaigrette.

Vinaigrette
3 Tbsp wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp mustard
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper


Tips

Interestingly enough, in Chile they have their own Italian hotdog, which has mashed avocado, tomato and mayonnaise. So, why is it Italian? Is it the tomatoes? Well, not quite... avocado is green, tomatoes are red, mayo is white (kind of)... Got it? It’s because of the colors of the Italian flag! A regular Chilean hotdog has sauerkraut and beer mustard (again the German influence).
Posted by Daziano at 9:24 PM | 7 comments  
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September 13, 2008

Frutti di bosco jam – or how to make raspberry jam without pectin


I told you that in Italy people don’t add pectin to their jams, because fruits have their own pectin that will naturally thicken your jam. But you can’t do that with raspberries. Don’t ask me why, because I have no idea why. At least I know that if you try to make raspberry jam the Italian way, you’ll finish with raspberry syrup. However, one lovely way to make raspberry jam without pectin is to use raspberries combined with other fruits. Brilliant, isn’t it? Plus, you’ll have Italian frutti di bosco jam!

Ingredients

7-8 cups of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries
3 cups sugar


For this jam use about 2½ cups of raspberries and any combination you like of strawberries and blueberries until you reach about 7 cups in total. In a bowl, put the blueberries, then the raspberries and finally quartered strawberries. Add the sugar and put in the fridge overnight. The next day, gently stir the fruit and you’ll see that the natural juices are dissolving the sugar. And without any water added!

Pour the mixture in a saucepan over medium heat, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes or until the desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a sterilized jar and let it cool.
Posted by Daziano at 8:46 PM | 13 comments  
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September 11, 2008

Crostata di fragole

This strawberry crostata is one of the simplest pies you can make!

Ingredients
Crostata dough enough for 1 pie shell
1 ½ cup amaretti cookies, crushed
2 cups strawberries, halved
2 Tbsp sugar

Roll out the dough over a pie mold. Crush the amaretti cookies with your hands and fill the pie with them. Set the strawberries on top of the cookie layer. Sprinkle with sugar and bake in a 375F oven for about 45 minutes or until the edges of the pie become nice and golden. The strawberry juices fill be absorbed by the cookies, so the strawberries might look a bit dry. If that happens, you could brush them with a bit of strawberry jam dissolved in a little bit of warm water.
Posted by Daziano at 8:56 PM | 11 comments  
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September 7, 2008

Italian Cheese Kuchen

I told you that in Chile there’s a long tradition of German pies or Kuchen. Well, in Southern Chile there’s a cheesecake called “Kuchen de quesillo” in Spanish, which is the Chilean version of the German Käsekuchen. So, even if in North America you really know how to make luscious cheesecakes, I wanted to create my own version of the German-Chilean cheesecake, adding that extra Italian touch I love. What you finally get is an Italian-German-Chilean cheesecake, or Italian-American-Chilean Käsekuchen… or Italian Cheese Kuchen… or put simply, a scrumptious treat!

Ingredients
1 graham cracker pie shell
8 oz mascarpone cheese
½ cup blackberry jam
1 can condensed milk
2 egg yolks
1 egg


In a bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese until creamy. Add the condensed milk and stir well. Add the egg and the egg yolks. Stir until everything is incorporated. Add the blackberry jam and give a quick stir. Pour the mixture into the crust. Bake in a 350F preheated oven for about 45 minutes. Broil for a couple of minutes until the top of the Kuchen turns golden brown. Enjoy!
Posted by Daziano at 9:36 PM | 3 comments  
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Blackberry Jam


For an express blackberry jam, follow the same instructions as for making my express blueberry jam, but substitute blackberries for blueberries. If you use the blackberry jam for my Italian Cheese Kuchen, I suggest you use 3 cups of sugar.
Posted by Daziano at 9:00 PM | 1 comments  
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September 6, 2008

Fiori di zucca

Zucchini flowers are not just pretty. They are so incredibly pretty that some Italian thought we should eat them. And he or she was totally right: these flowers are gorgeous and edible! And their flavor is awesome. Since Italians love fried food, one of the best ways to eat zucchini flowers is by sautéing them in a generous quantity of oil. You can use an egg-based batter, but I think they get even crispier when using only flour!

Ingredients
Zucchini flowers (3 or 4 per person is a good number)
Flour
Coarse salt
Olive oil (about ½ cup for 12 flowers)

Wash the flowers and without drying them put the flowers directly into the flour. Roll to coat. In a frying pan with the olive oil, sauté the flowers in batches, 3 or 4 at a time. Fry for about 1 minute or until golden. Let them dry over paper towels and sprinkle with salt.


Posted by Daziano at 8:28 PM | 7 comments  
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September 2, 2008

La crema poverina: true and fake espresso



It is always easy for an Italian to recognize a good espresso. It has to be full of flavor and aroma (aroma, corpo, gusto and retrogusto), and it has to have hazelnut-colored foam on top. This foam is called crema in Italian. When your espresso has crema, it means that the barista (the guy who works in an Italian bar with the necessary skills to make a flawless coffee) did a good job: the temperature and pressure on the espresso machine was set in order to perfectly extract the natural oils present in the coffee beans. These oils are extracted only with the right high pressure and temperature combo, which ensures emulsification of the coffee in a very quick brewing process. And these oils are the real difference between espresso and a regular cup of coffee. It’s not how concentrated it is, or how tiny the shot is: it’s all about the oils. And when the oils are present, the crema is there too!

I’m always surprised when I see that some corporate cafés in America offer espresso that are huge and – worse – without crema!

Well, all these things being said, I already told you that nobody in Italy has a huge and expensive espresso machine in their homes (well, maybe some do), but Italians always have their moka pots! One of the FAQs about moka pots is how to obtain crema in your espresso. And I told you. You can’t. Some people have tried everything: hot water instead of cold water, mineral water, pressing the coffee in the funnel, more coffee in the funnel, less coffee in the funnel… And no, you can’t. I know it can be very frustrating. Above all, because when the coffee is coming out, you can actually see some crema coming out. But this crema is too weak to survive, poverina!



So, you have to learn to live with the fact that stovetop espresso doesn’t have crema… OR you can use a little Italian trick to trick yourself. In an espresso cup put some sugar (about 6 tsp for 4 shots of espresso). Use the first drops of coffee that begin to come out in your moka pot. Pour a couple of drops in the cup with the sugar. Stir quickly until a dense caramel-colored cream forms (the sugar has to partly dissolve, use another couple of drops of coffee if you need to). When your coffee is ready, use this cream to sweeten your coffee and to give a nice touch of fake crema!
Posted by Daziano at 8:40 PM | 9 comments  
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