Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Liquore al Caffe'

The after-dinner hit of our Italian Thanksgiving feast was the liquore al caffe' that I made to serve as a digestivo.  Italians take their digestion quite seriously, and a little hit of booze to close the meal is said to aid the process.  I just know that it tastes good!  This recipe hails from a nearby town, Laurenzana, where my great-grandmother came from.  In fact, it was rather famous and -say the townspeople-the recipe was sold to Borghetti, a corporation based in northern Italy, which distributes coffee liqueur all over Europe.

Liquore al Caffe di Laurenzana

1/2 liter of freshly made espresso (made in the Moka pot)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 liter grain alcohol (or vodka)

Put the sugar in a heat-proof container that closes tightly; pour the hot espresso over it and stir to dissolve.  Let cool.  Add the vanilla and alcohol.  Let sit for a few weeks to mellow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Panino di Melanzane

Eggplant Sandwich

Don't start thinking that this is an ordinary veggie sandwich.  Oh, no.  You should know me better than that by now!  Instead of plopping some grilled or fried eggplant between bread, the eggplant becomes the delivery mechanism while the oozy-fresh, melty mozzarella is sandwiched in between.  Just a couple of ingredients make this a fast lunch option or a delicious appetizer.

Eggplant, sliced
fresh mozzarella, sliced
a bit of marinara sauce
basil leaves

If you have young, really fresh eggplant you can use them freshly-sliced.  Otherwise, slice them, salt them and leave the slices to draw out the bitterness for about 1/2 hour.  Then rinse and dry well with paper towels.

Lightly coat the eggplant slices in flour.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Fry in olive oil until golden brown and drain on paper towels.

Heat the sauce.  Spread a little bit of sauce on a slice of eggplant, then top with mozzarella to cover the eggplant.  Sprinkle a couple of basil leaves, then top with another slice of eggplant.  Press together and eat!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Agnello Ammollicato

I'm back in Basilicata and enjoying the down-home flavors of the Motherland.  Lamb features heavily in these mountain areas.  It is prepared in a variety of ways and it is so tender and flavorful.  One of my favorites that comes from the central mountain zone is called agnello ammollicato, or lamb with bread crumbs.  It uses the mollica di pane recipe that I've shared with you previously and makes a humble but delicious dish.

Lamb chops or pieces (best with a bit of bone)
mollica di pane
olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
peperoncino (chile flakes)

Rub the lamb pieces with a bit of olive oil and place in a baking dish.  Sprinkle on the mollica di pane, the garlic slices, the oregano and peperoncino flakes, along with a bit of salt and pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Bake at 400 for about an hour, until the lamb is tender and the breadcrumbs are golden.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pasta e Pesto

It's basil season and that means fresh pesto!  I love the smell of the fresh-picked leaves, and adore that sweet-peppery burst of flavor when it's ground into pesto.  This recipe incorporates two pestos - basil, also known as Pesto alla Genovese, and sun-dried tomato.  Both can be made ahead and stored in the fridge. 

Pesto alla Genovese
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper
dash of red chile flakes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pulse everything in a food processor or blender, adding more oil as needed to get a smooth consistency and to emulsify it together.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
1 jar sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup red wine
1 tsp. fresh oregano
salt and pepper
Blend everything together until smooth.

Cook any type of pasta you want al dente.  In a saucepan, heat equal amounts of the two pestos, adding a bit of cooking water from the pasta to thin it slightly.  Drain the pasta, stir in the sauce, top with grated parmigiano or pecorino, and sprinkle on some toasted pine nuts.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Poor Man's Parmesan

Much is made lately of the "cucina povera," or peasant cooking.  It's become rather trendy and even rather costly in restaurants for the typical "poor man's" dishes that sustained the tenant farmers and working classes through the centuries.  It's a quest for authenticity and simplicity that has brought it into vogue.

In Italy, most of these dishes never died off.  They were passed down from la nonna for years.  While certain recipes have gone national, it is the regional cooking that offers the most variety and flavor, changing from one region to the next.

In Basilicata, a quintessential element is the mollica di pane, which is often used instead of cheese to top pasta dishes.  It reflects the past poverty of the region; cheese was eaten fresh as the primary protein source, rather than being saved and aged.  They couldn't afford to reserve and "waste" their cheese for sprinkling on pasta, so they came up with this rather ingenious (and tasty!) condiment made from breadcrumbs.  The local wood oven-baked hearty bread made from semola flour is perfect for this.

Mollica di Pane

2/3 cup coarse bread crumbs (preferable homemade)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 handful of parsley, minced
1 leaf sage, minced
2 peperoni crushi, crumbled (or a sprinkle of chile flakes, if you want it a little piccante)
olive oil

In a saute pan, heat a little olive oil.  Add the garlic and saute lightly until softened, then add the other herbs and the breadcrumbs.  Saute, stirring, until lightly golden brown.  Add in the crumbled peperoni if you have some.  Set aside until cool.  Prepare cavatelli, orecchiette or pasta of your choice in whatever method you prefer, then sprinkle the mollica di pane over top and serve.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bruschetta with Rapini

Bruschetta con la rape

What we call rapini is cima di rape in Italy (rah-pay).  It's a cool weather green that has little broccoli flowerettes peaking through the stalks.  While my husband Bryan doesn't like broccoli, he will eat la rape.  It is often boiled and served with a drizzle of olive oil and a squirt of lemon juice as a refreshing side dish to the main course, or sauteed and served with orecchiette.  I put it to work as an antipasto, too.  It's always a hit, even with my veggie-picky husband.

You'll need:
a generous bunch of rapini
a clove of garlic
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
freshly grated parmigiano
crusty bread

Clean the rapini and strip the leaves and broccoli flowers from the stems.  Roughly chop them and put them in a large saucepan with a bit of water and salt.  Bring it to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes.  Drain well, squeezing the leaves in a tea towel or paper towels to extract the moisture.  (Reserve the stems, which can be trimmed and added to soups.)

Make the bruschetta:  Slice the bread and drizzle on a bit of olive oil.  Broil or grill until golden brown.

In a skillet or saucepan, heat about 2 tsp. olive oil.  Add the minced garlic and saute until softened but not browned.  Add the rapini and stir well, coating it in the olive oil, adding another drizzle if needed.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar.  Combine well.  Top the bruschetta with the rapini.  Sprinkle on a little parmigiano cheese and serve.

Photo Credit: Uprising Seeds, where you can buy seeds to grow your own rapini.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Ratafia - Cherry Liqueur

This delicious wine-soaked cherry liqueur hails from the Abruzzo region, where we tasted it in a family-run trattoria in a splendid town called Sulmona.  Local Montepulciano and wild cherries were marinated together to create the perfect after-dinner digestivo.   The owner put the bottle on the table and invited us to help ourselves, then brought crunchy cherry-studded biscotti to dip into it.

I have learned that creating delicious liqueurs depends on the Biblical principle of 40 days and 40 nights - leaving the fruit and liquor to macerate that proverbial period of time draws out all the fruity goodness and makes luscious liqueurs!

Ratafia di Ciliegia

1 1/2 pounds pitted cherries
1 bottle Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
1 cup grain alcohol (or high-proof, good quality vodka)
1 stick of cinnamon
1 vanilla bean
a big glass jar or bottle that will seal well

Split the vanilla bean open and put it in the jar, along with the other ingredients.  Give it a shake and put it in a dark place for 40 days and 40 nights, shaking it gently every few days.  After the maceration period, strain it.

Combine 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan, bring to a gentle boil, stirring well to dissolve the sugar, then turn off the heat and let it cool.  Add it to the liqueur, stirring well.  Divide into bottles and keep in a cool, dark place. 

We prefer the pretty gasket-topped bottles as they seal better and make a nice presentation for gift-giving.

photo credit: Faynor Orchards

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Aparagi con le Uova

Asparagus with Eggs

I've seen this simple dish in various cookbooks, and the combination of asparagus and eggs just seems very "Spring" to me.  It is also called asparagi alla milanese, as well as asparagi alla bismarck, though I'm not sure that it is truly regional and I have no idea where Bismarck would fit into the Italian equation.  Either way, it's delicious and easy.

Wine or broth
Pecorino cheese
Salt and pepper

Clean the asparagus and line them up in a skillet.  Add about 1/2 cup of wine or broth (or water), sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover and boil a couple of minutes.  Uncover, add a tablespoon of butter and shake the pan to distribute it.  Break the eggs carefully over top of the asparagus, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, then cover and cook about five minutes (or until the eggs are the desired consistency for you).  Sprinkle on some freshly grated pecorino and serve.

Photo credit:  Moon Angel

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cacio e Pepe - Absolute Simplicity!

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

Seriously folks, it doesn't get any easier than this!  Three ingredients is all it takes, but those three little elements combine to a big flavor combo.  This is a well-known Roman dish, and the real star is the well-aged Pecorino Romano cheese, so be sure to get the best quality chunk you can find.

You'll Need:
about 2/3 freshly grated Pecorino cheese
about 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Cook the spaghetti in salted water.  Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water. 

Put the cheese in a bowl and add 1/4 cup of the cooking water.  Stir it with a fork until it becomes creamy.

Drain the spaghetti and add it to the bowl.  Toss well, adding the pepper and a little more cooking water if necessary to make it moist and creamy.

Serve, topped with an extra grating of cheese and another twist of the pepper grinder.

Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan / Public Domain Image

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Cicoria alla Materana

Matera-style Greens

Southern Italy has a way with vegetables.  They take fresh, simple ingredients and turn out a flavorful dish that allows the real taste of the veggies to come through.  Everything seems to burst with freshness there.  I have enjoyed a few variations of this cooked greens dish; some cooks like to add pancetta or a diced tomato to the mix so feel free to jazz it up at will.

Chicory is a popular cool weather vegetable there but harder to find in the US.  I substitute chard or mustard greens, or even spinach on occasion.

*Wash a bunch of greens and boil them in salted water for about ten minutes.  Drain well.  Set aside.
*Slice an onion and mince a clove of garlic.  Saute on low heat until tender and golden; you want to bring out the sweetness of the onion.
*Add the cooked greens to the pan and combine well.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a dash of red chile flakes. 
*Add about 1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable broth.  Partially cover and simmer until the broth is mostly evaporated.
*Sprinkle in about 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese and grind some freshly-cracked pepper into it; serve.