Tuesday, October 6, 2015

this time of year and grapes

uva fragola
This time of year, in the Roman hilltops, better known as the Castelli Romani, the Sagra del Vino takes place.  It's a three day wine festival that comes during the last stage of grape harvest, in other words, right now! It's a big thing around here and pretty attractive, I mean how many fountains do you see with wine that flows from the tap?! A chaos of people, who've bent the elbow a little too much, tune roman songs as they walk in herds, one holding the other, more for the need to keep each other from falling then that of comradeship.  Warm biscuits and briosche made with wine must are sold off the streets, have you every tried one?  Gosh are they good!  But all of this, is not for me, except for the biscuits and briosche of course. I prefer what can be found just below Marino, where vineyards overlook Rome. It's quiet and fragrant, it smells all so good.  The only tune may come from my radio while I drive along those curvy streets, the car window is rolled down and bit of that misty air mixed with the scent of wine flow in.  My hair goes frizzy, my skin damp and that scent leaves a taste of fermented grapes on my tongue.  All of this makes me feel good as much as it smells good, it's me, just me and what I like best. 
A couple of years ago I asked my dad if he can help me build a tiny vineyard in the garden and for "tiny" I meant tiny (!!!). Four plants are enough, papa' said, and so, four tiny grapevines were planted in the garden the next day.  Last year, we got our first taste of fine grapes.  This year, the grapes multiplied, even quadruplicated to the point that the tiny vineyard has become fructuous, so fructuous, I mean, how much could you possibly eat in a day, a week, a month? I realized I had enough when my son saw me coming in from the garden for the umpteenth time with another basket full of grapes and said, Ma' it's time we move on to apple season.

The remaining grapes were gathered and reduced to a simple grape syrup.  A syrup I've used in so many different ways, on pancakes, in porridge and to accompany roasts, like this pork loin roast here. 
roast and concorde grape sauce
uva fragola
Pork Loin Roast
1 kg lean pork loin
pancetta, about 20 thin slices       
fresh herb mix (sage, rosemary, thyme etc.)
extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 glass white wine
cooking string

Ask your butcher to butterfly a piece of pork loin.  If you don’t have an option, it’s not difficult to do it yourself.  Start by laying a boneless piece of pork loin on the cutting board.  With a sharp knife, from one end to the other, cut a horizontal incision one inch deep straight down the middle of the roast.  As you cut, pull back the meat.  Return to where you began the incision and cut a light deeper into the meat as you pull back the meat.  Repeat until the loin is flattened out into a rectangular shape.

Finely chop a mix of fresh herbs, I find that sage, rosemary and thyme work well with pork but you can use the herbs you prefer.  Mix the finely chopped herbs with a tbsp. of butter, a pinch of salt and pepper to form a sort of paste.  Season the entire piece of loin with a little salt and pepper and in the exact middle of the meat place the paste of butter and herbs along a horizontal line from one end to the other.  Roll the piece of loin and wrap with thin slices of pancetta.  String the entire roast so that it keeps its shape while cooking.  

In a hot casserole pot for roast, add 2 tbsp. EVO oil. Place the roast in the pot and sear on all sides until golden brown.  Add un glass of good white wine.  Place the lid on the pot and lower the heat.  Allow the roast to cook for about 45 minutes on the stove or in a preheated oven at 190 ºC.

Grape Syrup
1 kg concord grapes
2 tbsp. honey

Pull the grapes from their branches and wash in abundant fresh water. Drain and place in a pot.  Allow the grapes to boil and then lower the heat and reduce to a simmer.  You will notice after about 10 minutes that the skins and seeds will separate from the pulp.  Use a wooden spoon to mix and press the grapes.  Allow to simmer for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the stove and pass the grapes through a sieve, pressing the grapes constantly against the sieve.  Discard the seeds and skins.  Place the grape juice back on the stove and add the honey.  Allow to boil on high heat for about 5/10 minutes so that the juice thickens and becomes a syrup.  Pour the juice in a container and allow to cool.  It stores up to a month in the fridge.

* The syrup diluted in fresh sparkling water becomes a juice.

*When using the syrup for meats, add a little salt.  When using the syrup for drinks add a little sugar or honey to your taste before adding to sparkling water or liquor.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

not just any bread

nut and seed bread
I just found out about this recipe in the Green Kitchen Travels cookbook by Green Kitchen Stories and I'm so enthusiastic about it.  At first I thought it was just normal bread with seeds and nuts, the kind with flour, yeast and water, but then, as I read through the recipe, I realized it was what it said to be, a seed and nut bread.  That's it! Seeds and nuts are basically the only ingredients, except for a pinch of salt, some extra virgin olive oil and ..... Psyillum Husk Powder.
nut and seed bread
When psyillium husk comes in contact with water, it swells and forms a gelatin like mass.  This mass is kneaded in the seed and nut mixture with your hands until it becomes an actual dough in just about 30 seconds. If you let the dough stand for an hour, it will slightly grow and in the oven it grows a tiny bit more.  Not that this bread needs to rise, but it's amazing how it does even without the use of yeast.  If you wish, you can substitute the psyillium powder with 5 eggs, but I didn't like the idea of a bread that would have an eggy taste.  Pysillium is tasteless and doesn't interfere with the rest of the flavors.

Where can you find it?  I found it in the health food store and guess what?  It's often sold as a colon cleanser!!  I know, it doesn't sound very appetizing.  It is, however, very well known in gluten-free baking, so you may also find it in a specialized store or online.

You can enjoy this bread with just about everything, I chose a sweet combination of ricotta, figs and honey.
 nut and seed bread
Seed and Nut Bread - from the cookbook Green Kitchen Travel
The bread is also delicious with added shredded vegetables, like carrots, zucchini, beets, apples or bites of chocolate, raisins, etc.
2 tbsp psyllium husk powder + 1 1/2 cup /350 ml water
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g almonds
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g hazelnuts
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g sesame seeds
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g sunflower seeds
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g flax seeds
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g pumpkin seeds
1-2 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp /50 ml 
cold pressed olive oil or melted cold pressed coconut oil + extra for greasing the pan 
[1 handful raisins or chopped dark chocolate (optional but delicious)]

Preheat the oven 175°C. Mix psyllium husks powder and water in a bowl and set aside for 5 minutes, until thick gel consistency.
Meanwhile measure out all nuts and seeds and place in a bowl, add salt and oil and stir. Add the psyllium gel and knead it in the seed and nut mixture with your hands.
Set aside for 1 hour (This step is optional but the end result will be better).
Place the dough into a greased loaf pan (12 x 4,5 inches / 30 x 10 cm) and bake for 60-70 minutes. 
Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing. Store in a kitchen towel in the fridge for up to a week. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

a souvenir from the south

There's no relationship between that lady up there and I, but there is a sort of connection.  That gaze into nothingness and her relaxing posture was the same as mine when I looked up and noticed from the piazza beneath, that someone was resembling my mood.  The mood that beautifully, and perhaps unwillingly, insinuates in you like only the south knows how.  Unable to capture my own state of mind,  I captured hers, to show you, what would otherwise be underestimated if said in words.

The first time I went to Puglia was for a summer vacation with my family a few years ago.  Last year we went again and this year too. We always drive to go down and while our GPS tells us to go one way, we eventually detour the other.  Off the beaten path, the surroundings were immersed in our eyes as we drove through hectares and hectares of century old olive trees neatly arranged on fields of fresh ploughed red earth.  All at once the sight of the sea, and everything that comes with it, appears on the horizon and as we get closer and closer we're left speechless each time, we knew what to expect but there's no getting used to it.

Narrow streets, steep stairs, laundry blown dry by the gentle warm breeze, a lady who arranges fresh mint just off the doorsteps of her home, secret gardens within courtyards, poems written on stairs and views ... infinite views of the sea and its waves splashing against rocks; and the open calm deep blue that lures you to walk on water.  Fumes, scents, aromas of food that roam through windows and run across alleys are torture to our hungry stomachs.  The clock says 8:00 pm and while others are ready for an apertivo, we're ready to sit down to eat in one of those restaurants a friend told us about. Although I would have much more preferred to knock on that lady's door up there and invite myself to dinner ... something tells me she's a good cook.
Every time I come back from Puglia I try to recreate the food I had when I was there,  in a way it extends that southern mood a little longer and helps soften the nostalgia.  I had these melanzane ripiene (stuffed aubergines) in a restaurant in Monopoli. They served authentic home cuisine, no fancy frills, just fresh, genuine food, the big family reunion kind, the kind that makes you lick your fingers and clean the plate with a piece of bread. So instead of buying myself a magnet to stick on the fridge or a tea towel with Puglia's map stamped on it, I brought back moments I impressed in my mind, some I clicked with my camera and a culinary taste of the south I experienced and enjoyed right then and there.  I also brought back the paper napkin I used to scribble down the ingredients I was given by the owner, the same napkin I used to wipe my mouth while I was eating those delicious aubergines.  Consider it a souvenir from the south from me to you.
Passer-by, sin beyond any sin 
Is the sin of blindness of souls to other souls.
And joy beyond any joy is the joy
Of having the good in you seen, and seeing the good
At the miraculous moment!
[Edgar Lee Masters]

Melanzane Ripiene - Stuffed Aubergines

serves 4 

2 long shaped aubergines
4 slices of fresh bread, 1 inch wide.  A day old.
5 steep tbsp grated parmesan
1 egg
3 tbsp capers
lemon juice
1 tsp vinegar
tomato sauce
Extra virgin olive oil (evoo)

Wash and dry the aubergines.  Slice each in half, lengthwise. Scoop the inner flesh with a spoon and reserve on the side. Brush the aubergines with lemon juice so that they don't darken.  In a preheated pan, add 2 tbsp of evoo and fry the aubergine flesh you reserved previously until golden brown, season with a small amount of salt.  Leave it aside to cool down.  Meanwhile, place the slices of bread in a food processor and pulse until breadcrumbs form, add the parsley, capers, parmesan, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Add the egg and mix until it is completely absorbed within the mixture. Now add the aubergine flesh you previously stir fried. Mix thoroughly. Fill the aubergines with the mixture.  

In a previously heated pan, add enough evoo to fry the aubergines.  Place the aubergine open side down and fry until golden brown, flip the aubergine and fry on the the other side.  It takes approx 1 minute on each side.  Do the same with each filled aubergine.  

Place some tomato sauce in a baking pan and place the aubergines in the pan.  The sauce must not cover the aubergines but should be enough to fairly reach the sides.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 40 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, serve warm, not hot.  Dust with some extra parmesan cheese.
BQ8A1468-2  Senza titolo

Friday, July 24, 2015

refreshing food

prosciutto e melone
Summer in Rome is dead hot! I can say that the heat is so dense and thick that it can be physically touched by hand. The feeling is like being pulled by Dante into the Inferno with no return, if you know what I mean.  This has brought me to lose my sleep, my energy, my mental stability but, for no reason in the world, did I lose my appetite.  Although the appetite is always strong, I do, however, prefer light refreshing food like a cold sliced melon, wrapped with prosciutto, preferably under a cool breeze, and in lack of such, a full blast air-conditioner will do as well.  

Here’s a different way to put some melon and prosciutto together.  It will make you feel good and full and you don’t need to cook over hot flames, which is an optimal solution for everyone these days.
prosciutto e melone
Melon and Prosciutto Gazpacho
adapted from the Italian magazine Sale & Pepe

3 slices bread, only the crumb
1 small red onion
3 tbsp apple vinegar
1 melon (any variety)
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 cup of plain yogurt
Extra virgin olive oil

Place the bread crumb in a small bowl and let it soak with the apple vinegar.  Put the melon, red onion, cucumber, plain white yogurt in a blender and blend until puréed.  Squeeze the vinegar from the bread crumb, discard the vinegar and add the soaked bread in the blender.  Add salt, pepper and basil to taste and blend again until smooth.  Refrigerate until chilled and serve with fresh melon and prosciutto, some more chopped basil, a drizzle of EVO and a dash of pepper.