Thursday, February 19, 2015

bread crumb stuffed artichokes

stuffed articokes
Before I stuffed these artichokes, I boiled them.  While they were left to cool, I enjoyed a few by pulling off each leaf and sliding the tender part in between my teeth. Not before dipping one by one in a pizzimonio made of oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. A mechanical and continuous, pull, dip, eat took place, as I worked my way through the leaves to the core and most tender part. Sopping the heart of the artichoke with the remaining pizzimonio, made the big last succulent bite end in a satisfying finger lickin' gesture. 

Perfect timing, the artichokes are now cool and I'm ready to start stuffing.
stuffed articokes
Stuffed Artichokes
adapted from The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone 
by Deborah Madison

serves 6 stuffed artichokes

6 boiled artichokes
400 gr fresh bread crumbs
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp of Parmesan cheese, grated
3 hemp tbsp herbs (mint, parsley, thyme), freshly chopped
3 tbsp olives (I used olive taggiasche, but black or green olives work well too), chopped
3 tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tbsp vinegar
1 glass of water with a squeeze of lemon juice

Remove the steams from the artichokes cutting them 1 cm from the base.  Rinse them under cold water and leave them whole (without removing any leaves). Place the artichokes in a pot and cover with fresh water.  Boil for 15 minutes or until the bottom is tender but firm.  Check by sliding the tip of a knife at the center base of the artichoke. Let the artichokes cool off. 

Make an artichoke containers by reaching inside each artichoke and pulling out the center leaves helping yourself with a spoon.  Put the tender leaves aside because you will put them in the bread crumbs later.   Leave the rest of the leaves attached, even if they are tough they will help keep the artichoke together and can be removed later.

Make your own fresh bread crumbs with a food processor.  Leave them roughly chopped.  Toss the bread crumbs in a preheated pan with 4 tbsp of oil until crisp  and golden.  Remove the bread crumbs from the pan and place in a big bowl.  Add the herbs, garlic, cheese, olives, capers, chopped inner artichoke leaves that were removed previously, and vinegar.  Salt and pepper to season.  Firmly pack the bread crumb mixture in each artichoke.

Place the artichokes in a baking pan large enough to hold them comfortably, drizzle with the remaining oil, 1 glass of water and dust the top of each artichoke with some extra grated Parmesan cheese.  Cover with some parchment paper and then aluminum foil.  Bake until heated through for about 30 minutes in a preheated oven at 190ºC.  Remove the cover and brown under the broiler.

Since the harder leaves have not been removed, allowing the artichoke to work as a solid container, it's time to remove them now.  Remove the external harder leaves and begin to eat the artichoke from the inside-out.  Slide the tender bottom part of each leaf in between your teeth, and discard the tougher part and most external leaves. Enjoy the center filling most and it's flavoured heart-a-choke.

Friday, February 13, 2015

gli gnocchetti di nonna

A type of pasta I often find myself making, is this one here. Gnocchetti. A tiny version of the gnocchi-potato type but without the potatoes, made solely with flour and water.

My grandmother is the one who taught me how to make this pasta.   She'd be balancing the ingredients with handfuls and I'd be asking, how much flour? She'd add the water and I'd still be asking....but much nonna?  Her answer was always the same: just look.  Once she finished kneading, she'd hand me the dough and urge to touch, feel, poke.  In three words, it was smooth, soft, elastic.  She'd then take the dough back, wrap it in a damp towel and say, now you know how to make it.  

That's it.

Not really.

It took some time before I figured it out.  There was always something that just wasn't right. I would do exactly what she would do, I didn't have any other choice if not her simple way of adding a little more of this a little more of that, until finally I got it right.  The problem was that the next time never turned out like the last. 

Through that blunt lesson of dough making, my grandmother taught me more than what I only understood later in time. Balancing flour and water has become, for me, intuitive, rather than a dosage of specific measurements in grams and millilitres.  My hands rely on what they feel as being the right texture through a sort of kneading-memory where hands and dough move in symbiosis and remember.
Today, I can say I've learned how to make this pasta dough.  For how simple it may seem to gather the only two ingredients of flour and water, it's less easier than an egg pasta dough but with a few things in mind it's also less complicated than how I may be describing it myself.

The dough
The gnocchetti can turn out hard even after they're cooked, which doesn't mean, al dente.  They'll still taste good, you might not even notice the difference but you'll have them lying in your stomach for the rest of the day like rocks. This is why my grandmother taught me to mix "hot water" with the flour.  Durum flour (farina di grano duro) to be more precise. Adding the hot water to the flour pre-cooks the flour before it becomes dough and once the gnocchetti are made they are cooked again in a pot of boiling water just like any other type of pasta. When they float, let them boil an extra few minutes and then drain.  They will be, al dente, and most of all digestible.

To give you an idea of the portions: the amount of water used is half the amount of flour used.  Keep in mind that it all depends on how much water the flour absorbs.  Therefore, adding the water a little at a time is the right way to go.  From here, the procedure is that of a homemade egg pasta, form a well in the center of the flour, add the hot water in place of the eggs.  Use a fork to mix the hot water and flour until it's manageable with your hands.  

Once the dough is made, divide it in several portions and roll out long ropes the size of a finger.  Cut small pieces, 1 cm wide, and poke your index finger in each while you roll the piece in your direction.

Just about any sauce can go well with this pasta but the one my grandmother traditionally used is a tomato tuna sauce and it's the one I suggest you use too.  

This is the result.
...and that serving plate used to be my grandmother's.  Old, faded and ruined but it was hers and I love it.

The sauce

500g canned peeled tomatoes (preferably homemade jarred tomatoes, they always taste better)
250g conserved tuna fillets
2 garlic cloves
3 anchovies
hot pepper (optional)
evo oil

In a preheated pan, add 3 - 4 tbsp of evo oil and garlic.  Once the garlic has flavoured the oil, remove it from the pan and add the anchovy fillets.  With the help of a wooden spoon, swirl the anchovies so that they dissolve in the oil.  Add the peeled tomatoes and squish with your spoon.  Salt to taste.  Cook for 20 minutes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

the scent of citrus spreads

seville orange marmalade
A few days ago my husband came home with a bucket full of oranges and dirty shoes on his feet. The shoes, those, were blocked by my explicit look that refrained any further steps into the house; and the oranges, those, were observed with a raised quizzical eyebrow.  It was obvious they were picked from some tree but it was impossible, to even imagine, that my husband would ever go fruit picking.  

In fact, someone else picked the oranges, but my husband did his share "holding" the bucket.  All of this, under the rain, while his feet were sunk in the earth, which explains the dirt on the shoes.  The thought of him soaking wet with a bucket full of oranges made me hug him so tight that he'll never forget that squeeze of gratitude :)

After squeezing my husband, I went on squeezing the Seville oranges that were waiting to become a marmalade.  It's not easy to find Seville oranges around here, you know?! But now we have our tree, found in a secret place, somewhere in the campagna romana, abandoned, left to grow wild, untreated, absolutely organic, which fruits make one heck of a marmalade.  The bittersweet type, my kind of thing.
Seville Orange Marmalade
Making jams or marmalades are worth it if the fruit you use is worth it. I mean, you can't just go buy some fruit at a supermarket because you want to make your own jam.  Well, you can, but what's the point when you may as well go for a good brand of store bought jam. There are plenty out there, some that I really like too. But when you decide to make jam, you need your fruit to be special, untreated, possibly grown in your own garden or from the garden next door, maybe somewhere up high in the mountains or in the countryside. You should pick it, smell it, taste it, love it and then put it in a pot, boil it and conserve it in jars.  A few months later, when you open up a jar, you'll enjoy the season you've captured in a sweet nostalgic taste, that's why making your own jam has that extra something that makes it so special.  

While I was at it, I used the extra amount of marmalade that didn't fit in the jars to make a crostata.

This crostata.  
Crostata with Seville Orange Marmalade
Two recipes in one, just for you.

I used Nigel Slater's recipe for this orange Seville marmalade. I like the fact that he cuts the peel of the orange the size of a match stick.  Nigel prefers the peel to be thinly sliced, and so do I, this way it stays on your slice of bread. If you cut it in chunks or bigger slices, like many prefer to do, you'd be more occupied in picking up the pieces rather then enjoying the bite. Peeling the orange first to leave the flesh free from its peel allows you to deliberately squeeze the juice and the job becomes stressless. 

Here's where you can find the link to Nigel's Seville Orange Marmalade Receipe:

300 g plain flour
60 g sugar
110 g cold diced butter
2 egg yolks, 1 whole egg
pinch of salt
pinch of baking powder
1 lemon zest
orange Seville marmalade (or any other kind you prefer)

Place a bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes so that it chills.  Wipe off any humidity with a towel before you use it.  Add the flour, sugar, pinch of salt and pinch of baking powder in the bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients and then make a well.  In the well, add the eggs, cold diced butter and lemon zest. Incorporate the ingredients and knead to form a dough.

Divide the dough in two, roll out a round disk with one portion of the dough and place it on a round flat tray, add some marmalade or any type of jam you prefer.  Spread the marmalade on the disk from the center to the edge leaving about 1 cm of space from the edge.  Roll out the other half of the dough and make long stripes that will go on top of the crostata.

Note: before you bake the crostata, place it in the freezer for 10 minutes or in the fridge for 30 minutes, this way it will chill up the butter again making the crostata more crisp and fragrant.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 35/40.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Le Caccavelle

The view is spectacular, isn’t it?  Just a few days ago, I was there, heading towards Sorrento.  The drive along the coast was of distracting beauty and made it difficult to keep eyes steady and concentrated on the road.  As we approached each curve, instinctively, we held our breaths before the precipitous cliff-edges, the infinite vistas over the deep blue waters, the gardens full of lemon trees, the villas terraced on the hillsides and the crazy drivers that were coming the opposite lane.

After several stops for pictures, sight-seeing, coffee, food and more pictures, we arrived in Sorrento.  Again, there were more pictures, more coffee, more eating and lots of wandering around. The evening came, and just before going back to the car, this time, with our gps heading home, I spotted a cute little corner shop that sold specialities from the area. Across the window I saw an incredible huge shape of pasta, a type I’d never seen before.  I walked right in.  

The shop was very well organized.  Walls were stacked with many varieties and brands of pasta that you wouldn’t find in a supermarket.  Right next to the pasta, there were shelves with different types of canned tomatoes, so many extra virgin olive oils, from tiny to large, from scented to classic, hot peppers, Italian spices.  There was an incredible selection of limoncello in beautiful bottles, wines, vinegars, candies, cookies, pastries.  Everything divided by section, brand and quality.  

The owner of the shop noticed my stop in the pasta section and must have noticed how I kept going back and forth to the huge pasta that had brought me there in the first place.  The man came closer, and with a very strong Neapolitan accent said:  chelle sò le Caccavelle (those are Caccavelle).  Right there and then, I didn’t pay attention to the name of that type of pasta, even though it was clearly printed on the package, but the shop owner continued and explained that Caccavelle in Neapolitan, means pot.  Now, I was looking closer at the pasta and noticed how it wasn’t shaped like the shell-shape I had thought it was. It had handles, was rounder on the sides and flat on the bottom.  Indeed it was a pasta shaped like a pot.  From shelf, to cashier, to bag, to trunk, to home they went.
As I was washing some greens, I thought I would give them a stir fry with some extra virgin olive oil.  Then use the stir fried greens to fill the caccavelle, together with a sauce made of blanched garlic. Something in between aglio, olio & peperoncino, and orecchiette con cime di rapa, which is not so Neapolitan but still from the south and, most importantly, very good.

Blanching the garlic is a technique I have been using alot lately, because it maintains the garlic's flavor, lessening the piquant and sharp garlic notes. The garlic assumes more of a mild delicate taste, it's easily digested and doesn't leave you with that strong breath that sticks around for the next two days. 
Caccavelle with Stir Fried Rapini and Blanched Garlic Sauce

Caccavelle pasta
Rapini greens
8 cloves garlic + 1 clove to stir fry
hot pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan slivers

Split 8 garlic cloves in half and remove the garlic germ in the center. In a small sauce pan, add the garlic and enough cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil and drain the garlic.  Repeat the process 4 times.  Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the previously washed greens for 10 minutes.  Drain the greens and place them in a bowl with iced water so to maintain their green color.  Drain the greens from the iced water.

Add 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil , 1 garlic clove and a few flakes of hot pepper in a pan and let them sizzle for 1 minute.  Add the greens and stir fry until most of the humidity evaporates.

In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a bowl and cook the caccavelle.  No more than 4 caccavelle at a time.  While the pasta boils, remove some of its cooking water and add it to the blanched garlic. With a food processor puree the garlic until it forms a creamy liquid texture, if necessary add more cooking water, add some salt to taste.

Once the pasta is cooked.  Place one portion of caccavelle on a plate, add the stir-fried greens in the center of the pasta and pour the garlic sauce in and around the pasta, pour more on the inside of the pasta.  Add some hot pepper flakes, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a few slivers of Parmesan cheese.  Serve warm.

*Note: What makes this pasta so good is the blanched garlic sauce and what makes it so unique is the pasta shape.  Of course, if you don't have this type of pasta, any type will do.  You can use a smaller type of pasta.  Mix the pasta and greens together with the blanched garlic sauce, sprinkle with cheese and it will be just as good.