Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nana's Tomato Salad

My grandmother used to make this recipe in the summer when tomatoes are abundant. Here in Italy we're still finding ripe, fresh tomatoes in the market so I'm still throwing this simple dish together. It's good on it's own with fresh, crusty bread to soak up the sauce. But I've found it's also good used as a salad dressing by splashing in a little bit of balsamic vinegar and then pouring it over lettuce.

2 or 3 ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped (or sliced if you prefer)
3-4 thin slices of onion
1 small clove of garlic, minced
salt and pepper
oregano, fresh or dried to taste
a bit of basil to taste
a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil
Mix it all together and let sit at room temperture for about 20 minutes for the flavors to mingle and the juices to develop.

copryight 2006 Valerie Schneider

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Menu To Remember

A couple of weeks ago we traveled into remote Basilicata accompanied by two cousins. It was an astounding trip in many respects, not the least of which because we connected with distant family members there in my great-grandfather’s hometown. Michele and his wife Milena, generous and welcoming, treated us to a feast the likes of which I had never experienced before. This was a meal to remember which lasted for three and a half hours. We sat and dined for three and a half hours! Such gluttony! I felt like we’d stepped into the film, Big Night (a worthy rental if you’ve never seen it). Platters laden with food arrived constantly. It was amazing! So, without further adieu, here is the menu.

Prosciutto and coppacolla. Grilled veggies delicately seasoned. Anchovy-stuffed hot peppers that put a fire into even my mouth, a seasoned New Mexican chile-eater. Air-dried sweet peppers that were fried to a crisp in olive oil. Another type of prosciutto and a seasoned lard (the only piece of food that day that I didn’t care for), cured sausages laced with fennel. Olives, three cheeses, and semolina bread. And that was just the antipasto!

Out came a heaping bowl of cavatelli, the pillowy-soft pasta melt-in-the-mouth delicious, topped simply with those air-dried peppers, breadcrumbs and peppery olive oil. More forks and a bowl of ravioli, the ricotta cheese having been made that morning “or last night at the latest,” Melina informed us, slightly laced with mint and the lightest of tomato sauces. More forks and a huge platter of stewed lamb over top of oven-roasted and perfectly seasoned potatoes. All of this was, of course, accompanied by home-made wine and bottles of water that came from Monte Vulture, probably the food item that traveled the longest distance to reach our table. More forks and I was about to roll out of my chair when Michele assured us it was simply for fruit, not a heavy dessert. “Just fruit” was an enormous platter of the most beautifully arranged, luscious produce that it should have been placed on a banquet table in front of a dignitary. I later realized that we were considered the dignitaries, the American family come to Basilicata.

Cousin Rose reminisced throughout the meal, as each plate brought a childhood memory and her face showed the joy of it all. We reveled in these dishes, which sound so simple but were so utterly delicious, I’d make the trip again in a heartbeat just to taste the goodness of those items.
Read more about the trip in my monthly column on Slow Travel and on my 2 Baci blog.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Una Bella Frittata

A frittata in Italy is basically an omelet, mixing in a generous helping of meats, cheeses, and/or veggies to make a substantial meal. But this one is a bit difference as it is a Frittata di Maccheroni. An ingenious use of leftover pasta, it is simple and satisfying. Leave it to Giorgio to come up with this meal!

I made it using leftover ziti con lenticchie and a handful of cooked tortellini I had not used up yet. Whatever type of leftover pasta you have will work fine.

In a large skillet heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil, split open a clove of garlic and fry it lightly to scent the oil, then remove the garlic and throw it away. Add the cooked pasta and saute it in the oil until it is well heated. In a bowl beat 4 eggs with a tad of milk, season as you wish with salt, pepper, any herbs you have a fancy for, and pour it evenly over top of the pasta. Add a generous dusting of grated parmigiano cheese and shake the pan to get the egg distributed to cook evenly. When it has set on the bottom, slide it out onto a plate, invert it back into the pan and cook the other side. Serve topped with some more parmigiano.

Coupled with a veggie dish, this makes a very easy lunch.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tuna Salad Italian Style

Tuna Salad Reborn

This simple salad takes basic pantry ingredients and turns them into a refreshing summer lunch.

1 can tuna, packed in olive oil
1 can cannellini beans, drained
½ onion, sliced thinly
red chile flakes
salt and pepper
1 to 2 fresh ripe tomatoes, sliced
5 or so fresh basil leaves

Combine the tuna, beans, onion, and seasonings together and put in the middle of a bowl. Arrange the tomatoes around the perimeter. Tear the basil leaves and sprinkle them on top. Serve.

How easy is that? You can drizzle on some balsamic vinegar if you like, too.
copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Strange Panino

Salty-Sweet Panino
With summer in full swing, our friends’ garden is bursting with flavors – golden tart apples, plump plums, and fleshy figs. With a basketful of the exotic, sweet fichi in the house, Francesca proposed a lunch of “pizza con fichi e prosciutto”. Okaaay, pizza with figs sounded a little odd to me, but I’m willing to try anything once. What she meant was pizza bianca, plain already-baked pizza – what we would call focaccia in the US- split open to form a panino with the fillings. She peeled and sliced up the figs and smashed them onto the bread, then layered the very thinly-sliced prosciutto on top and closed the sandwich up. We munched away and the result was a salty-sweet concoction, not unlike prosciutto and melon but on a bun, so to speak. A true Mediterranean lunch ready in minutes; oh the simplicity of Italy!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Spaghetti con Salsiccia

Spaghetti con Salsiccie
Sausage figures widely in Italian cooking. It is grilled, marinated and baked, sautéed and crumbled into sauces. This dish uses it as the base for a pasta sauce. You can vary the spices to make it sweeter-tasting or more piccante, as you prefer.

½ onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 hot Italian sausage link
1 sweet Italian sausage link
4-5 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
a splash of red wine
1 tsp. thyme
a good dash of red chile flakes
salt and black pepper to taste

In a saucepan, sauté the onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil. When they are soft and translucent, add the sausage (removed from the casings) and use a fork to break it up while you brown it. When it is browned, add the tomatoes, wine, and spices. Stir well; cover and simmer about 15 minutes. Serve on spaghetti or any other pasta shape, cooked al dente.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Lasagne

Since childhood Easter has always meant spring dresses (usually with parkas over them), a forsythia branch decorated with egg ornaments, and lasagna. I knew nothing else; my Italian-descended family always made lasagna, and my friends in the strongly-Italian town I grew up in also had the same tradition. When I first got married, Bryan asked what we were doing for our first Easter together. I responded that I thought I'd make the traditional Easter meal. "Great," he responded, "I love ham!" Ham?! What? Who on earth has ham on Easter, I sputtered. "No, lasagna is the traditional Easter dish." Now it was Bryan who was dumbfounded. "Lasagna?" Clearly he had no idea of real traditions. We looked at each other quizzically. We explained our respective holiday menus and activities with amusement and settled on the lasagna. I was cooking, after all. I continued to shake my head; "Ham. That will never catch on," I said.

My Easter lasagna goes something like this:

about 2 pounds of the freshest ricotta cheese you can find
a couple good-sized, fresh balls of mozzarella, chopped
about a cup of freshly grated parmigiano cheese
an egg
salt and pepper
a clove or two of minced garlic
Mix it all together.

about 3-4 cups of marinara sauce (I make my own, of course)
1-2 boxes lasagna pasta (don't even bother with the no-boil variety; I've tried them and they turn to to mush when they bake.)

Cook the lasagna noodles just until they're bendable. Don't cook them to al dente or they'll be mushy after the baking time. Layer marinara sauce, pasta, and cheese, ending with sauce on top of a pasta layer. You can add a layer of ground meat (mixture of sausage and ground beef is best) if you desire, but I usually forgo it on Easter as we serve a meat course. Cover and bake at 400 for about an hour, uncovering about half-way through. Remove from the oven and let set about 15-20 minutes before cutting and serving.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider

Monday, March 13, 2006

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata is found on many menus in America. Lemony sauce with capers is the trademark of this simple dish.

Boneless chicken breast cutlets
1 clove garlic
white wine (about 1/4 - 1/3 cup)
lemon juice (2 lemons)
chicken broth (about 1/3 cup)

Lightly dust the cutles in flour, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute in hot olive oil. When they are browned on both sides, add the chopped garlic and saute lightly until soft, then splash in a bit of dry white wine. When it's evaporated some, add the lemon juice and chicken broth. Keep on a high simmer until the sauce begins to thicken. Sprinkle on a couple teaspoons of capers and a light dusting of fresh, chopped parsley and serve.

c 2006 Valerie Schneider

Friday, February 17, 2006

Polpettine (Meatballs!)

Homey and comfort food at its best, the aroma of meatballs on the stove brings back feel-good memories. Italians do not serve them atop a bed of spaghetti, as Americans do, however. Pasta is one course, meat is another, so polpettine are served either as an appetizer (when made in bite sized balls) or as a main course. Cooking them in broth keeps them so moist and give them a rich flavor not masked by heavy tomato sauce. I like to pair them with a green vegetable and a bean side dish, such as the beans with radicchio (in the May, 2005 archives).

1 pound ground beef, turkey or combination
1 Italian sausage link
a handful of parsley, chopped
lemon zest of half a lemon
2 handfuls of dry breadcrumbs
1 to 2 eggs
Broth and/or wine

Combine everything except the broth or wine. Mix well and form into balls.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Fry the meatballs til browned on all sides. Add a splash of wine or broth, let it steam and evaporate, then add more to come up about halfway on the meatballs. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until the liquid thickens and the meatballs are cooked through. Serve with a drizzle of the pan juices over top.

c 2006 Valerie Schneider

Combine all

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pesto and Parmesan Salmon

This simple (and simply delicious) dish combines the sweetness of basil pesto and the nutty, melty goodness of parmigiano cheese. Oh-so-easy but nice enough for guests. Done in 20 minutes!

4 salmon fillets
1/2 cup basil pesto (I usually make my own, but you can use store-bought if you prefer)
1/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Oven 425.

Put the pesto in a dish and coat each salmon fillet on both sides. Lay in a baking dish. Top each fillet with a generous helping of parmesan, patting it onto the fillet to help it stick, covering the top.

Bake for about 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the fish is cooked through.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Insalata Grigliata

Grilled Salad. I've made this several times this winter when entertaining and it always receives rave reviews. You can use just use the chopped-up veggies, or toss them all in a bed of leafy greens. It's good with a little gorgonzola sprinkled on top, too.

2 zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise
1 small onion, peeled, cut off core and slice lengthwise
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise

Rub all the above with olive oil. Grill until tender but not charred or mushy. Let cool.

Cut the peel and all the white pith from an orange, then slice across into rounds. Place on top of bed of lettuce greens (if using lettuce). Add sliced celery and shredded carrot if desired.

Roughly chop the grilled veggies and add to the salad bowl.

Drizzle on balsamic vinegar and olive oil, toss and serve.

2006 Valerie Schneider