Friday, October 24, 2014

just one good ingredient

Some things need to be left as they are.  Raw.  Like these ovoli mushrooms.  With just a few more ingredients and the minimum of efforts you’ll enjoy an extremely simple dish that proves how just one good ingredient does it all.
Ovoli are the only mushrooms I love to use raw because I truly find they speak words of deliciousness.  I do realize that not everyone is lucky to come across these charms, I'm not even sure they can be found anywhere else other than Italy.  There are, however, a lot of mushroom varieties around that I don't even know about and that can surely substitute these precious ovoli.

The point is, they need to be fresh, wild, edible, earthy flavoursome mushrooms and immensely delectable the very moment you bite in to them raw.  
Ovoli Mushroom Salad

Clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth.  Slice, not too thin not too thick, add some greens like rucola or baby spinach, anything fresh and tender will do.  Add some parmesan scales, dress with freshly squeezed lemon juice and drizzle some good olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste.

It's Friday, enjoy the weekend <3

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

gnocchi di ortica, cacio e pepe

You would think that nettle is a spring harvest, and it is, but for some reason it's growing in my garden now, in fall. Believe it or not, tomatoes and eggplants are still producing this time of year. It's like having a greenhouse without a greenhouse, in summer that's not summer, yet it's fall but not fall ... you know what I mean? My vegetables are having an identity crisis! And so am I.  I'm sweating, wearing sandals and eating tomatoes in October as if it were July. 

Nettle has been growing wild and fastidiously, it proliferates between my tomato paths and cabbage trails, next to the kale and the eggplants and right in the middle of my misticanza (small mixed salad).  I've tried to eradicate it and it keeps growing, the more I rip, the more it grows, the more it grows, the more I'm stinged and the more I find myself with rashes. Then, while I was on the web searching for something that could alleviate my rash, I learned that nettle juice would have eased the stinging of the rash brought about by contact with the plant's own bristle leaves. Isn't that unbelievable?! Finally, I understood that this arm wrestling thing would bring nowhere. I needed to understand this herb, which I always thought was a weed, and get along with it. 

Lately, more and more people have begun to understand just how limited — in both variety and nutritional value — our "modern" diets have become. This realization has sparked a new and widespread interest in the culinary and therapeutic uses of herbs . . . those plants which — although not well-known today — were, just one short generation ago, honored "guests" on the dinner tables and in the medicine chests of our grandparents' homes.  Mother Nature News

When cooked, nettles lose their sting and have a similar flavour to spinach. They are a good source of vitamin C, iron, and calcium and also provide a surprising amount of protein. They can be eaten raw, although we certainly don’t recommend it, and a World Nettle Eating Championship is held every year at the Bottle Inn, Dorset, England. Young Veggie

Nettles were one of the main ingredients in English beer until the 1800s. Nettle beer, wine, champagne and cordial are all still commercially available. Young Veggie

Stinging nettles provide the only food for many species of butterfly larva. Young Veggie
Nettle is the secret green ingredient for my gnocchi.  Secret ... because you would never guess that I harvested nettle in fall. Of course you don't need to wait for spring to make these gnocchi, in lack of nettle, you can use chard, spinach, kale and whatever sweet green comes to your mind. They'll be just as good.

Young and tender nettle tips is what you're looking for.  Be sure to use gloves and scissors when you are in contact with raw nettle.  The stinging effect will cease only once it's cooked, and you can manage it safely with your bare hands.  Briefly boil the nettle for 1 minute and plung into ice water. Drain and chop roughly.  like to see the greens that stand out, this is why I prefer to chop them roughly.  Otherwise, you can cut the greens really thin and this will give your gnocchi a green uniform color.

To make perfect gnocchi, read this article from Food & Wine.
Once your gnocchi dough is ready, fold in the cooked and chopped nettle.   A handful would be enough in an amout of gnocchi dough for four people. 

The sauce. I find that cacio e pepe is definitely the perfect sauce for these gnocchi, it somehow enhances the flavour of the potatoes and brings out the grassy aromatic scent of the nettle.  My way of making cacio e pepe for any kind of pasta is easy.   

While the gnocchi are in the boiling water, preheat a large pan.  Place some freshly grated cheese, a mixture of parmesan and pecorino cheese, and half a cup of the gnocchi's cooking water in the pan and let it sit on low heat until the gnocchi are ready.  Don't let the gnocchi overcook, drain them as soon as they float on the surface and place them in the pan let the watery cheese mixture absorb in the gnocchi by moving and tossing the gnocchi with the pan and without the use of a spoon, keep rotating the pan, add some freshly ground pepper and more cheese. Keep moving the pan around.  This should take no more than a minute from when you drain the gnocchi and place them in the pan.

Serve hot and dust with more cheese and some more freshly grounded pepper.    

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

*****torta di mele

IMG_1375apple cake
If you open my mother’s recipe book, you’ll find it is composed of 77 handwritten pages, with an index and glossary.  You’ll find recipes from friends, like Mary’s cookies or Anna’s meatloaf, and 6 versions of Panettone, classified in rank order of preference. Roasts or pastas, which I clearly remember were served on big platers and passed around tables of 20, 30, sometimes 50 people, are all documented in her recipe book. Some recipes may have a star indicating, I presume, good feedback or something she liked best and proposed more than once. You'll also find photos that were cut out from magazines. Like the photo from homemaker’s magazine of chef Carol Bink’s prizewinning Neapolitan Gateau. It's not easy to guess how Carol's gateau is assembled by only reading the recipe, but with the photo you know exactly how it's done. She used to make the gateau on special occasions and only when it was strawberry season, she marks it with 5 stars. We are talking more than 20 years ago, I don't even know who chef Carol Bink is but her Neapolitan Gateau remains my favorite. 

The book has clear signs of use, each page has a stain or a bent corner, words have blurred, notes fly loose and there are some torns here and there.  It's not immaculate, that's for sure. Nonetheless, it's accurate, organized and each recipe is garantueed success, especially the ones with the stars.  And when you need to find something , there's a precise index too!

Sunday my sister was over at my place for lunch and while we were having coffee and going down memory lane we needed one of mom's cakes.  I grabbed the recipe book, opened it on page 21, sure to find mom's apple cake.  The recipe is scribbled down quickly, half in italian and half in english, rather concise, somewhat telegraphic but if you follow the few essential words, you can’t go wrong. No stars were there, but my sister and I give it a 5 star plus an extra bonus star because mom is mom and her apple cake is the best in the world.

Here's mom's recipe for the torta di mele. I fixed the guidance on the procedure to make it less telegraphic and more user friendly.

Torta di Mele {apple cake}

4 eggs
1, 1/2 cup oil
4 ounces
1, 1/2 cup sugar
2, 1/2 cup flour
5 teaspoons bakingpower 
5 medium size apples
3 teaspoons cinnamon
Icing sugar

Mix the sugar and eggs, add the oil and water, mix, add the flour and baking powder, mix. Butter and flour a spring form pan or line with parchment paper. Pour in half of the batter, cover with half of the apples that you have previously washed, peeled, sliced thinly and covered with cinnamon and a tablespoon of flour. Pour the other half of the batter and place the other slices of apples in a vertical position so that they stand up in the batter. Place in a preheated oven at 180ºC for circa 45/50 minutes. Use the toothpick method to see if it is done.  Half way through baking time, place a piece of parchment paper on top of the cake so that the apples don't burn. *I usually wet the parchment paper first and wring it like a towel before placing it on top of the cake.  Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

an unexpected vineyard

Last year, this time around, we planted some grapevines in the garden.  Never would I have thought that one year later we'd be picking our first grapes off the plant. Black tiny berries of sweet, juicy nectar that need nothing but hands to pick and mouths to eat.

With my surprise the plant expanded quickly and vigorously, it now covers almost the whole wooden structure that supports its weight.  A beautiful green foliage and bouquets of deep purple strawberry grapes fall from above. What was initially supposed to be a shaded eating area has become our private little vineyard, if four grapevines in row can be defined as suchObviously nothing like the vineyards we've seen in the movie "The Good Year" with Russell Crow, but definately a miniature resemblance of that same feel of serenity and quaint.

Very few grapes came this year but plenty enough to feed the family with fresh, healthy, untreated fruit.  Next year, I'll probably be making jams and jelly and then the year after, who knows, maybe some wine.  

For now, I've attempted to make this bread.  Grape bread.
This bread is soft, fragrant and releases a perfume of fall.  It's what you want to eat this period of time and is perfect to usher in the fall season.

All you need is a basic bread recipe.  Like this one here. Flatten the dough with your hands, de-seed some grape berries and spread them on top of the flattened dough.  Sprinkle with some raw sugar.  Roll the dough to form a rope, pinch the edges and fit the dough in a previously greased loaf pan.  Cover with some plastic film and let it rise, over night, in the fridge.  Remove the loaf from the fridge and let it rise at room temperature 1 hour before baking.  Place some grape berries on top of the loaf and sprinkle with more raw sugar.

Bake in a preheated oven for about 40 minutes.  Slice when the bread is cool.

This is excellent for breakfast, toasted and smothered with butter.

Oh...just out of curiosity, did you know that grape seeds are edible and full of antioxidants?