Tuesday, November 24, 2015

vegetable surprise

veggie wraps
There's nothing mysterious concealed within this parcel.  Pull the string, take a whiff of the steam as it gently unfurls and in an instant every single ingredient will be revealed at the sight, smell and taste of each.  In just the palm of a hand, the beauty of fall and winter seasons are condensed and translated in food.  Food that cooks in a mingling of flavors that are absorbed and released through its own sweet juice.  The final result will make your heart skip for a second and all five senses will sing soundly. To start, get a hold of good ingredients, you’ll be inspired as you handle them.  The rest is just chopping, slicing, and dicing, in a rather rustic but thoughtful way. I’ll never tire to say that good food depends almost entirely on great ingredients especially when there's really no recipe involved. That's all there is to say.   
veggie wraps
Vegetable Wraps
serves for 4 people

1 medium size butternut squash, peeled and diced
4 medium size Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced longwise in quarters
4 big oyster mushrooms, it would be better if you can get a hold of porcini mushrooms
4 fresh spring onions
1 big fennel
12 large size chestnuts, peeled and boiled for 10 minutes
fresh thyme
fresh dill
extra virgin olive oil
parchment paper and baking string

Rinse and peel the vegetables.  Dice the butternut squash, slice the fennel, divide the Jerusalem artichokes in quarters, divide the spring onions in half.  Slice the bigger oyster mushrooms in half and leave the smaller ones whole.  Peel the chestnuts from their outer skin.  To remove their inner skin, boil the chestnuts in water for 10/15 minutes, this will also pre-cook the chestnuts so they can cook equally with the other vegetable.

Place all the vegetables in a big bowl and season to taste with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.  Give it a mix with your hands coating all the vegetables with the seasoning.

Divide the parchment paper in 4 pieces, 60 cm long. Place a sheet of the parchment paper in a small bowl, this will help you wrap the vegetables.  Place the vegetables within the bowl covered with parchment paper, add the fresh thyme, dill and a last drizzle of oil.  Pull the 4 extreme corners of the paper and bring them above the center, gather the middle with your hand to form a tight package, see the top photo.  Tie the package tightly with baking string. Place the four parcels on a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 200ºC for 20/25 mins.
 No fuss. Oven baked wrapped veggies. You're wondering what veggies, right? Coming soon. Happy sunday folks :)

Friday, November 13, 2015

I did a video

Fregola con Vongole

Gather some flour, we're making fregola today.

Yes, I did a video to show you how to make it.

Let the flour run through your fingers, feel its rustic texture as small amounts of cold water and saffron are added. Use a coarse, stone ground, durum wheat flour. Movements should be continuous and circular, one hand adds the flour and water, the other, moves it around. Your fingertips press delicately against a large wide ceramic plate, with a smooth and slippery surface. The flour and water will merge and suddenly a resemblance of tiny golden nuggets will form. The fregola is made. The corners of your mouth now raise and that big smile on your face will be the result of a proud accomplishment.

This kind of pasta builds as you add flour and water, a little of each, a little at a time.  The reason why I don't use specific measurements, although I'm sure there must be a recipe that does.  The video shows you a handful of flour, and a few drops of water (or a tablespoon would be more accurate); as the flour absorbs the water, another handful of flour and some more water.  Keep going until you get the amount you want.  Consider one heap handful of fregola per person, again it's very approximate, my handful will never be your handful, but you got the message.

Wait...we're not done yet.

Place the fregola on an oven tray lined with baking paper, cover with a clean cloth and allow it to air-dry for a couple of hours (even less if you can't wait).  Every once in a while, move it around so that it doesn't stick  Now, place the tray in a preheated oven at 150ºC for 20 minutes.  This step will absorb any remaining humidity and most importantly, it will toast the fregola. You'll know it's ready when you move it around with your hands and it makes the sound of dry pasta.  You can store it in a sealed container up to a month.

...we're still not done. Wait.
Fregola con Vongole
Fregola with Clams
Serves 4 people

Fregola pasta
1 kg clams
250 gr tomato puree
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 cups saffron broth, made with hot water, saffron and a pinch of salt

Place the clams in a bowl of fresh water, add a tbsp of salt.  Leave the clams in the water for a couple of hours allowing them to discharge any remaining sand.

For the sauce
In a preheated medium size pot, add 5 tablespoons of EVOO and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves. Add the clams to the pot and cover with its lid. Once the calms are open, remove them from the pan, leave the juice they released in the pot. Add the fresh parsley, the tomato puree and season to taste.

Remove most of the shells from the clams and keep just a few with their shell to decorate.

After 20 minutes, put the clams back in the same in the pot of tomato sauce. Add the broth of hot water and saffron. Bring to a boil.  Add the fregola pasta, consider a heap handful for each person. The fregola cooks within 5 minutes.  Add some extra saffron broth if necessary.  The idea is to keep this a little liquid. If desired, add some more fresh parsley.  Serve.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dear Barbara...

che zuppa
Dear Barbara,

The first time I saw your cookbook was that day we went out for lunch together.  Remember?  You handed it over to me with a smile that went from to ear to ear.  Coincidentally, we ordered soup, spoonful after spoonful, I realized that your book, che zuppa, was what I flavored most that moment. Flipping through...burrata cream with peppers and anchovy crumble, spinach and farro broth with veal meatballs, zucchine and seafood soup with pasta grattata, made me want to jump into those pages and taste every single thing.

A few years ago, at a cafe' across the street from where we used to work, I noticed a big ciambellone was put out on the counter that day.  Far from any industrial kind you would expect to find in a common cafe', I knew it was homemade only looking at it. Curious, I ordered a slice to go with my cappuccino, one bite and it was, damn is this good...only years later I found out you made that ciambellone.  Today, while we were having our double cappuccino at another cafe' close to where we now work, in front of me was a beautiful talented woman.  Secure and passionate of what she does yet discrete and humble as she moves forward with success and as the author of a cookbook, that's clean, filled with texture and warmth.

Even if I didn't know this book was yours, I would have recognized it to be so, only by looking at it, just like that damn good ciambellone that day, in that cafe'.

Your friend,
Elvira xxoo
che zuppa
The original recipe calls for diced sweet potatoes,  I varied by using the sweet potatoes to make gnocchi which I then added to the soup.

Zuppa Speziata di Patate Dolci e Cavolo Nero - Spicy Sweet Potato and Kale Soup
adapted from the cookbook Che Zuppa! Pane & Burro

1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 hot pepper
3/4 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp ground coriander
600 g sweet potatoes
1/2 liter vegetable broth  or chicken broth
400 g peeled tomatoes
230 g kale
extra virgin olive oil

In a pot on medium heat add the onion and garlic finely chopped, as well as 2 tbsps of evo oil and a hot pepper. Simmer until the onion is traslucent..  Add the cumin and coriander.

Add the sweet potatoes that have been previously washed, peeled and diced in the pot. Roughly crush the peeled tomatoes in a bowl with a fork, add to the pot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  On a low flame, cook for 5 minutes, stir occasionally.

Add the broth, as soon as it reaches a boil let it cook 30 minutes.

Rinse the kale and remove the middle hard stalk.  Cut into stripes and add to the soup, continue to cook the soup for a further 5-6 minutes.

Serve with a light drizzle of evo and fresh ground pepper.

*you can top the soup with roughly crumbled feta cheese

*if you prefer to substitute the sweet diced potatoes with sweet potato gnocchi, click here for a basic gnocchi recipe, simply use sweet potatoes and flour.

Friday, October 9, 2015

a perfect combination of ingredients

patate riso e cozze
If there's a combination of ingredients that go well together, it would be riso, patate e cozze (rice, potatoes and mussels). So well, that the ingredients name the recipe, Tiella Riso, Patate e Cozze. Don't be fooled that it's as simple as that. There's a whole lot of talking behind this recipe, each family has their own way, it can trigger serious discussions, if not, family arguments in which, some can go days without speaking to each other.  I'm not kidding!

Every nonna makes it better than the one next door, reason for which the discussion starts and ends who knows where, who knows when. Some, add an extra ingredient depending on the season, like slices of zucchini, but the lady next door would probably say that's wrong.  The aunt may add mussels without their shell, but her cousin in the apartment two floors down, would criticize that because she adds them with the shell.  Nonna Maria uses the mussels with the shell and opens them raw before she adds her rice, whereas nonna Michela prefers to add them previously cooked with the shell. Some soak their rice in water before adding it to the tin, others think it's not necessary. The tiella itself (baking tin) needs to be of the right kind, some rigorously use the aluminum one, others, the clay cooking pots.

Go figure!

I followed mamma Carolina's recipe on youtube.  With the only difference that I steamed the mussels previously, just enough to open them.  This way, I was able to identify the rotten ones that remained closed so I can toss them away. Mamma Carolina opens them all by hand and puts them in raw before baking. I was afraid of that because I wouldn't have noticed any of the rotten-dead ones if not through the procedure I used above.
patate riso e cozze
I thought it was easier to show you how the tiella is made through mamma Carolina's video.  She explains in Italian but shows you step by step, so it's easy to follow.