Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tarts

Cheese Herb Tarts
cheeseaperitivo

The end of 2012 is quickly approaching, it’s time to evaluate the year, take inventory, and plan ahead...mmmh...planning ahead is really not for me, I’ve stopped planning ahead and learned to live day by day, to be patient, to enjoy the wait because really, that’s what life is all about. 

Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.  Seneca.

But today - and not to contradict myself - I’m proposing a "planned ahead" aperitivo for the end of the year dinner.  You know how the scenario is, your guests have just arrived, you're still fiddling in the kitchen with final touches...a chat...some laughter...some music.  You want to keep this atmosphere and keep your friends from starving until things are ready.  This is when an aperitivo fits in perfect.



Setting up canap├ęs for an apertivo takes time, especially if they need to be baked.  This one in particular has some work involved, I prepare it a few days ahead and store it in the freezer.  Cheese Herb Tarts.  Heat them in the oven a few minutes before everyone arrives.  Let them cool and serve with a Bellini drink (my favorite).
flour, tarts, spices
cheese tarts
Ingredients

Shortcrust pastry dough
250g flour
140g butter
pinch of salt
1 egg
rosemary and thyme finely chopped

Filling
100g of ricotta cheese (or fresh goat cheese)
salt
pepper
lemon zest (or paprika, or red pepper)
pine nuts (optional, I didn't use them this time)

Chop the herbs and add to the flour.  Cut the cold butter into small pieces, and add to the herb flour, add salt and rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips.  The idea is to coat all the little pieces of hard butter in the flour. Add 1 egg and knead until you form a small ball. Roll out the dough and place in your pastry tins.  Mix the ricotta cheese to soften (make sure it is completely drained from it's liquid) add, the salt, pepper and lemon zest, don't overdue it with the lemon, you'll need just a dash.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 180°C.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Strangolapreti

Strangolapreti, Speck and White Sauce
strangola preti
December 27, 2012.  I'm starting my detox week today, after all that Christmas eating I honestly need a break from food.  I am literally stuffed!  Stuffed to the gills...overly, overly stuffed.  This will be a week of sad (so sad) raw vegetables and smoothies.  Sometimes it's just necessary to compensate.

On a different note...
Christmas for my family is made of family reunions and traditional Italian recipes.  It's hard to get to the very end of the meal leaving nothing out, that's why I assemble dishes in small portions.  Needless  effort...still, second rounds are due and still, everybody manages to get to the end eating everything no matter what.  So my theory in these cases is to stick to how it has always been, that's what makes our Christmas a true Christmas.  Traditional and abundant.  I remember last year being the same and the year before that, really nothing changes except for time that flies and family that grows.  

This year I decided to give it a tweak, not a big deal of a change but something slightly different.  My entree dish was "Strangolapreti", translated:  Priest Chokers.  There are several legends to explain this awkward name but the one I find most curious is that once priests were known for their insatiable gluttonous appetite and as they frenetically gobbled down this tasty delicacy they risked to choke, sometimes to death.  Self-explanatory indeed!  This recipe catched me unprepared for how the few simple and poor ingredients, surprisingly and brilliantly combined, can turn out to be a meal fit for a king.

The original recipe uses a sauce made of melted butter simmered with sage and topped with grated cheese.  I wanted to make a cheese sauce and give it a crisp touch with bits of prosciutto speck.  
You might want to try this recipe on New Year's, if you do, your 2013 will start in the right direction.

Ingredients:

500 gr of stale bread (no more than 3 days old)
400 gr of fresh spinach
3 uova
bread crumbs
300 gr of milk
150 gr of grated grana (or parmesan) cheese
5/6 slices of speck (or prosciutto, or bacon)
200 gr fresh liquid whipping cream

Cut the bread in small pieces and place in a bowl with warm milk until soft.  Wash the spinach and place in a pan to simmer with a small amount of butter and a dash of salt. Squeeze the spinach to drain from its juice and finely chop. Squeeze the bread to drain from the milk.  By hand, mix the bread with the eggs, the spinach, the grated grana (or parmesan) cheese, some salt and add bread crumbs as needed, just enough to manage the dough. It needs to be soft yet solid.  

Cut the speck (you can also use prosciutto or bacon) in thin julienne slices.  Place the speck in a non-stick pan without oil. Let it cook to crisp.  In the meantime, place the fresh liquid cream in another pan, add the grated cheese and a dash of salt. Let the cheese dissolve in the cream.  Keep warm until serving.

Roll the dough in long ropes, and cut in medium size pieces.  Bring a large amount of salted water to a boil and gently place the strangolapreti.  When they float on the surface, gently pull them from the water with a draining spoon.  

Place the strangolapreti in each serving plate, add the cheese sauce and decorate with the speck.   



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spicy Hot

Octopus with Tomato Fillets
Polpo piccante ai filetti di pomodoro
Our summer vacations always include at least one week at the sea.  Everyday of that week I go for an early morning jog towards the shore, where I find fishermen coming back with their fresh catches.  As a seafood lover, I concentrate and satisfy all my desire for fish in that one week.  Francesco, a timid, reserved fisherman, etched by the sun and by the salt, appearing to be older than his actual age, displays his daily selection of fish.  He passionately suggests which I should choose and how I should cook it best.  He then wraps it up in newspaper and hands it to me with his scarred, rustic hands.  Not once did I miss to follow his suggestions, not once did I miss to follow his recipes, not once did his advice fail to meet expectations.  Today, on this cold December day, as we approach the Christmas season, I have a nostalgic summer sense and Francesco comes to my mind with one of his recipes.  Here I am to share it with you, "Polpo Piccante ai Filetti di Pomodoro".

Ingredients

1 kg octopus

8 peeled tomatoes (or canned tomatoes)
3 garlic cloves
2 hot chili peppers
taggiasche olives (or small black olives)
basil
extra virgin olive oil
salt


Place the octopus in a pressure cooker with 3 cups of cold water, cook for 15 minutes.  If you don't have a pressure cooker, place the octopus in a pot with cold water and boil for 45-50 minutes, until tender. Do not add salt.

In a saucepan, add some extra virgin olive oil and 2 garlic cloves.  When the oil is hot, add the whole peeled tomatoes (this will make your stove a mess!).  Don't squish the tomatoes, leave them whole.  Add the olives.  Turn the tomatoes so they can cook on all sides, lower the heat. Add one leaf of basil and salt towards the end. Cooking time: 15 minutes.

At this point, your octopus will be done (if you are using a pressure cooker).  Remove the octopus from the pot and divide the tentacles from one another.  Heat a separate pan with extra virgin olive oil, one garlic glove and a chili pepper, add the tentacles and sear on all sides.  This will take 5 minutes.

Assemble your dish as you please.  Done.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bread

Crunchy Good Bread
homemade bread

I received a package in the mail today, a big package, actually a big box. Kilos of flour!  Of all things a woman would want (diamonds?), I go head over heels for flour.  This flour is not just any flour, it's a unique stone ground mixture of soft wholewheat, incomparable, balanced taste, fibre rich, flour.

I ordered it online and it was delivered in two days.  The wonders of shopping online.  No waste of time in the car, no waste of gas, no pollution thanks to the no waste of gas, no squeezing through people and carts at the supermarket, no temptations in the junk food aisle, no bumping into who you'd rather not want to bump into, no line ups...can you imagine lifting kilos of flour from the cart to the trunk of your car?  And then lifting them again from the trunk in your house?  Just hit the "proceed to payment" button and that's it.  I know this contributes to laziness but how gloriously EZy is it?!

Anyway, back to the flour.  I purchased this flour mainly to bake my own bread, I also use it for everything else.  The more you knead the dough, the more elastic it will be and the more elastic it is, the more it will rise and turn out to be a crunchy crust, soft crumb, masterpiece.  Of course you can use a machine to knead the bread but since you saved time with the online shopping at least the kneading will leave your consciousness clean for not being lazy all the way through.   Kneading by hand: 10-15 minutes.  


When the fragrance invades your home and when you open the oven, your heart will fill with joy. Straight away...rip a piece off and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (if you want it sweet, drizzle with olive oil and dust with brown sugar). You can easily eat a whole loaf all by yourself in just a blink of an eye. Double the dose.
Bread



















Ingredients

500 gr whole wheat flour
500 gr white flour
650 gr water
25 gr fresh brewer's yeast
20 gr salt

Dissolve the yeast in luke warm water (18-20 °C).  In a bowl, add the water with dissolved yeast to the flour, then add the salt.  Knead, just enough, to form a ball, then move the dough on a floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes, you should obtain a smooth and elastic dough.  If you press your finger in the dough, the dough will bounce back in shape, this will prove it to be elastic.  Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic film and let it rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours.  Knead the dough again for 2-3 minutes and shape it to your pleasure. Place the loafs on a tray covered with parchment paper, let the dough rise again for 1 hour. 

Bake in the oven for 1 hr at (200 °C).

Tip:  You can add olives or walnuts to the dough;  sprinkle with sesame, pumpkin or sunflower seeds.  Your taste.