Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pasta all'Amatriciana

                                                                                
   
By now, the whole world knows about the devastating earthquake in central Italy last week, centered, but not limited to the town of Amatrice, famous for its eponymous dish of pasta all'Amatriciana.
Relief efforts have been ongoing in Italy around the clock since the tragedy struck. So far, the death toll has climbed to 291, but is expected to rise further as more bodies are retrieved from the rubble. Thousands of people are left homeless as entire towns have been nearly completely flattened.

What can those of us, who live far away and feel helpless, do for those in need?
There are plenty of organizations accepting donations for the victims, including NIAF and the Italian Red Cross. Cookbook author and friend Domenica Marchetti has written a post here listing more organizations involved in the relief effort, as well as a lovely memory of a visit there and a recipe for the dish.
Additionally, many restaurants across the country, including Philadelphia's Le Virtù and Brigantessa, are holding fund raising dinners featuring the dish, donating part of the proceeds to the cause.
But you don't even have to leave your home to help. People around the world are making pasta all'amatriciana as a tribute to the victims, and donating funds to help those affected, then posting photos on social media of their "virtual sagra." (A sagra, for those who don't know, is a town-wide feast celebrating a particular food - from chestnuts to cherries - and they are held all over Italy.)
Frank Fariello, who writes the excellent blog, Memorie di Angelina, has written a thorough post on pasta all'Amatriciana and I recommend you read that here to learn even more about the dish.
Yesterday, I made a bowl of it using Domenica's recipe, and also made a financial contribution to the cause. Although the most common pasta used for the dish is bucatini, a fat spaghetti with a hole down the center (a buco), I used these curly fusilli pictured below. You can use rigatoni or any kind of sturdy pasta. Something as light as angel hair pasta wouldn't be appropriate though, since the robust sauce needs something equally assertive.  
                                                                   
The dish requires very few ingredients and can be put together in practically the same time you boil the pasta. With so few ingredients, it's important that they be of the highest quality, so don't scrimp and buy bargain brand tomatoes, pasta, pecorino cheese or guanciale, made from the pork jowl. If you can't find guanciale, use pancetta, made from the belly of the pig.
With so many tomatoes ripening right now in my garden, I put some of them to good use in this recipe.

Cut the guanciale into small bits and fry it until it starts to release some of its fat. Don't let it get too crispy though, and don't drain that fat off. It adds a lot of flavor to the sauce.
Add some white wine, red pepper flakes and the tomatoes and let it simmer while the pasta cooks. 
About 10-15 minutes is all that's needed.
Drain the pasta, mix with the sauce and add a good handful of pecorino cheese. 
It amazes me how easy it is to put together, and with so few ingredients how delicious this dish can be. There's no basil, no salt, no black pepper, but it's one of the best dishes ever to come from the region.
If I closed my eyes, it was almost like being in Italy.

Pasta all'Amatriciana
(recipe from Domenicacooks.com)
Ingredients
  • 5 ounces guanciale (cured pork jowl), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 dried peperoncino, crushed, or a generous pinch of crushed red chile pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes (fresh or best-quality canned)
  • 1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Instructions
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt it generously.
Put the guanciale in a large, dry cast-iron pan or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Saute until the meat has begun to render its fat and turn brown, about 10 minutes. Add the peperoncino and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Cook at a lively simmer until most of the wine has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour in the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook at a gentle simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot and spoon in about 3/4 of the sauce. Toss in a handful of pecorino and stir to combine. Add a splash or two of the reserved cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Transfer the dressed pasta to individual bowls and spoon a little more sauce on top. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Creamy Corn Soup


Sweet corn is one of summer's gifts in many parts of the country, including New Jersey, where I live. There's no other time of year when it tastes as good. I've tried freezing it for colder months but it never tastes as crisp as when it's first plucked from the stalks in July and August.
 Still, I couldn't resist buying a dozen ears when on a trip last August to upstate New York, where we passed many country farms such as this one.
We ate some of them after we got home, but with most of them, I scraped the kernels from the cob.
The bags went straight into the freezer without cooking. The cobs went into another pot with water, and after cooling, that "corn water" went into the freezer too.
That is, until last week, when I made this creamy corn soup. Just a warning -- it's very rich, so if you prefer a lighter soup, use milk instead of half and half, and/or add more water than I did.
Either way, it's a great way to extend summer's flavors, long after the swaying green sheafs of corn are a distant memory.


Serves about six people


2 T. butter
1/4 c. chopped onion
2 c. corn kernels (from about 4-6 ears)
1/4 c. white wine
1 large potato, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups corn cob broth (or water)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme, 
salt, pepper
fresh thyme for garnish
1 pint half and half (or milk if you prefer a less rich soup)

Scrape the corn kernels off the cob and set aside. Boil the cobs in at least five cups water for 1/2 hour.
Melt the butter in a pan and saute the onions until wilted. Add the corn kernels and toss in the butter for a minute or two. Add the white wine, then the rest of the ingredients, except the half and half. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 1/2 hour. Remove the bay leaf and sprig of thyme and puree the soup, either using a blender or stick blender. Add the half and half and taste for seasoning. Add water if the soup is too thick or too rich. Garnish with thyme. 

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pasta Alla Norma


It's easy to be inspired to cook in the summer, with all the fresh, seasonal produce available from farmers' markets and backyard gardens. 
It's also easy to be inspired when a company like Olio2go sends you some outstanding extra virgin olive oils from Tuscany.
This trio arrived in the mail the other day and I knew exactly how to start using them, after harvesting a ripe eggplant from the garden.
It had been at least a year since I made pasta alla Norma, the iconic Sicilian dish with eggplant, named after Bellini's opera. It was time once again.
You don't have to peel your eggplant, and I was sorry I had, since the skin was so thin and the purple color would have made a nice contrast to the sauce. Slice the eggplant (about 1/2 inch thick - any thinner and the pieces will fall apart in cooking), then cut into cubes.
I spread the cubes on paper towels and salted them. It's supposed to help remove the bitterness and some of the water. I'm not so sure it's necessary when the eggplant is so young and fresh, but I do it anyway if I have time. I let the cubes drain on the paper towels for at least 1/2 hour.
Many people grill or broil the eggplant, rather than fry, since eggplant is notorious for soaking up oil.  I've done it myself and it works just fine. But it's just not as flavorful as cooking it in oil and if you cook it in a nonstick pan, it minimizes the amount of oil needed.
 I chose to cook the eggplant using the Guadagnolo Primus extra virgin oil from Olio2go. This is an intensely spicy oil that comes from pressing of the earliest ripening olives. I thought it would hold its own with the tomatoes and eggplant, and it did. But I didn't want the eggplant laden with oil, so I limited myself to four tablespoons, enough to grab the flavor of the oil without overly drowning the eggplant. I also added a drizzle at the end to finish the dish.
A nonstick pan (I love the ones from ScanPan) is almost essential in keeping the cubes from attaching to the bottom of the pan.
Toss them around until they're cooked through and golden brown.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. I used fresh tomatoes from the garden, cooking them for only about 1/2 hour, to keep the sauce nice and light. Feel free to use a good canned variety. Gustiamo.com sells fantastic ones, including these Piennolo tomatoes from Mt. Vesuvius.
A crucial ingredient to pasta alla Norma is ricotta salata cheese - a dry, salty ricotta cheese that can be found in Italian specialty stores or supermarkets.
 Can you make this dish without it? Yes, you can use parmesan or pecorino, but it won't be the same. So search out ricotta salata if you can.
Toss the pasta (traditionally rigatoni) with the sauce and eggplant, top with the ricotta salata, a drizzle of a little more olive oil, and a basil chiffonade.
 It will make you wish summer could stay all year.

Stay tuned for more recipes using these fantastic olive oils from Fattoria Ramerino.

 Don't forget to check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Pasta Alla Norma
printable recipe here
(serves two or three)

1 medium eggplant, peeled (peeling is optional)
salt
4 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

for the tomato sauce:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup minced onions
2 small, or 1 large clove garlic
5 fresh ripe medium tomatoes, peeled and diced (or use about two cups canned tomatoes with juices)
salt, pepper to taste
fresh basil, about a half dozen leaves
pinch of crushed red pepper

1/2-3/4 cup shredded ricotta salata

1/2 pound rigatoni pasta

a drizzle of olive oil to finish

Peel the eggplant, if desired. Cut into cubes, about 1/2 inch square. Sprinkle with salt and let them drain for a half hour or longer.  Place the olive oil in a nonstick pan and toss in the olive oil, cooking until softened and lightly browned. Set aside and make the sauce.

For the sauce, peel the tomatoes by placing in boiling water for a minute or two. Slip off the peels, core and dice. Pour the olive oil into a saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, cooking until softened. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and basil. Cook at low to medium heat for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.

Cook the pasta, drain into the tomato sauce, and add the eggplant. Toss all together, then top with the ricotta salt, more minced basil and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Palacinke with stewed plums





It seems like nearly every country has its version of American pancakes - France has its crepes, Mexico has its tortillas, Norway has its lefse and several countries in Central and Eastern Europe have palacinke.
I first learned about palacinke while watching a cooking show by Lidia Bastianich, the noted cookbook author and restaurateur. It's a dish she ate many times while growing up in Istria, a peninsula that's now part of Croatia, but once belonged to Italy.
Palacinke were ubiquitous on every breakfast menu on our recent trip to Croatia, but they were also commonly found in Ljubljana, Slovenia's charming capital, where we also spent a few days.
They were served many different ways, including with maple syrup and a swath of jam smeared on the plate.
  
At a street fair in Ljubljana, you could order them stuffed with mango, Nutella or even Snickers candy bar.

Abundant and delicious food choices are just one of the reasons to visit this city.
 The streets in the old part of Ljubljana are jammed with tourists enjoying a drink or dinner at one of the many bars and restaurants lining the river banks.

Ljubljana's old town has become a not-so-secret hip place to visit. Walk along its medieval streets and gaze at its beautiful architecture with clay tile roofs and you'll hear a multitude of languages being spoken, including English.

The city's triple bridge, consisting of a main stone bridge with balustrades, and two side bridges, is a well known landmark and popular meeting place.
 Dominating the city though, is Ljubljana castle, most of which was built in the 16th century, following a devastating earthquake.
Inside the castle, you can climb the 19th century watchtower, tour the 15th century church of St. George, or just enjoy lunch or an ice cream cone in its central courtyard.

The gift shop features beautifully decorated cookies:
 And lovely hand-painted boxes with traditional Slovenian designs.
 Music is everywhere in the city, performed at various venues, including the neoclassic opera house, home to the Slovenian National opera and ballet companies.
We were lucky enough to find ourselves in Ljubljana on the eve of the country's 25th anniversary of its independence from Yugoslavia, and discovered we had front seats, from our hotel room, to a fireworks display above the castle. 
The anniversary also meant we had to navigate the way to our room past armed guards outside our door, since four European presidents were staying at our hotel during the festivities.
You may not be able to get to Ljubljana any time soon, but you can pretend you're there when you dig your fork into these palacinke. 
I serve them here with poached plums, my new favorite topping for yogurt, cooked oatmeal or ice cream. Spoon some inside the palacinke, then ladle on a bit more on top. If you really want to gild the lily, serve with whipped cream. 


 Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 


Palacinke
recipe from Lidia's Italy, by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich


    • 2 eggs
    • 1 tablespoon dark rum
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 1/3 teaspoon salt
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 8 tablespoons melted butter ( or more)
    • 2 lemons, zest of, finely grated.
      To make the palacinke batter, whisk together the eggs, 2 cups water, the rum, vanilla, sugar, and salt in a large bowl, until well blended. Sift the flour on top, a bit at a time, whisking each addition in until smooth. Drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, whisking until the batter has slightly thickened, with the consistency of melted ice cream. Finally, whisk in the lemon zest. Put the remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter in a small cup and keep it warm.
      Set the crêpe pan or skillet over medium-high heat until quite hot. Pour in a couple tablespoons of the reserved melted butter, quickly swirl it all over the pan bottom, then pour excess butter back into the cup, leaving the bottom lightly coated with sizzling butter. (If the butter doesn't sizzle, heat the pan longer before adding the batter.) Immediately ladle in a scant 1/3 cup of batter, tilt and swirl so it coats the bottom, and set the pan on the burner.
      Stewed Plums
      Cut 4-6 plums in quarters, discarding pits. (I use any kind, from Italian prune plums to Santa Rosa plums). Place the plums in a saucepan with three tablespoons of water, two tablespoons sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Let come to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cook over love heat for about ten minutes, or until fruit has softened. 



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Monday, July 25, 2016

Paella with Fideos on Korcula Island



So there we were, relaxing at the water's edge under the shade of a thatched umbrella -- our own private beach by the Adriatic, along with guests from the other five rooms at our hotel (who seldom made an appearance.) 
Our hotel room - in a 15th century converted stone church - even included the bonus of a rose window, along with the balconied doors opening to a vista of the sea. It was a quiet, idyllic spot, and the perfect way to beat the heat or catch up on some sketching and painting. 
So what could lure us to leave this gorgeous location, even for a few hours? 
Drumroll for Facebook, and a private message from a former classmate at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, who had seen some photos I posted on the social media site while in Croatia. 
"Where in Croatia are you?" queried Mellissa, whom I hadn't seen in 21 years. "We have a vacation house on Korcula island. Please come visit if you're anywhere near us.
The New York Times had just listed Korcula as one of the "52 places to visit in 2016."
Moreover, Korcula town, a charming fortified town and popular tourist destination on the island, was only a 15 minute ferry ride from Orebic, the town on the Peljesac peninsula where we were staying. 
It's also where Marco Polo was supposedly born, although Venetians vehemently dispute that!
Any one of those reasons was enticement enough to visit. 
But the idea of reconnecting with my former classmate and her husband Paul on a beautiful Croatian island was even more delicious.
We had no idea just how delicious a trip it would be until we arrived at their lovely, spacious house along the Adriatic. It was difficult to tear ourselves away from this gorgeous view. 
But we didn't have to, since Melissa served drinks and this savory mushroom cheese tart on the terrace overlooking the sea.
Mellissa outdid herself on the main course - this exquisite dish of paella with fideos, - a short thin pasta that took the place of the more commonly used rice. A Spanish friend introduced me to fideos decades ago, and in fact they're typically found in Catalan cuisine, and are generally toasted in hot oil, then cooked with a simmering liquid, similar to risotto. If you can't find fideos, use angel hair pasta, but first break it into short pieces.
Mellissa's paella was outstanding, and included these gigantic shrimp-like crustaceans.
The key to a really flavorful dish is to use a broth made from the fish heads, Mellissa said. If your market doesn't sell shrimp with heads, remove the shells from the carcass and boil those in some water.
Meanwhile at their outdoor oven/grill, Mellissa's husband Paul prepared the chicken that would get layered into the paella. He used the bottom of a peka to cook the meat, the name of a domed, iron  vessel and a signature dish of Croatia. Peka is typically cooked for long, slow periods of time at an outdoor fire, and can made with chicken, octopus, lamb, vegetables, or whatever you like.
Mellissa finished cooking the dish at the kitchen stove, adding chorizo sausage and peas. She served it with a couple of side salads. It's a filling dish, and we nearly ate the whole thing!
Nonetheless, we found enough room for a slice of this outstanding fruit tart she made.
We finished off a perfect evening walking to the water's edge to watch the sunset from their "back yard." How would you like to gaze at that nightly, with a glass of wine in hand?
Thank you Mellissa and Paul, for giving us the opportunity.
Mellissa's recipe for paella with fideos is below, but first, a few photos from Korcula town, starting with the gate at the entrance to the old city:
An old cannon at the fortress, overlooking the harbor
 St. Mark's cathedral
 St. Michael's church
 glittering mosaics in a Catholic church

 Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Paella with fideos 

250 grams or 8 ounces fideos (thin noodles)

1 onion, chopped

½ large red pepper, chopped

2 chorizo sausages, sliced into 1-inch pieces

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

1 tsp fresh ground pepper

pinch of saffron

1 cup dry white wine

4-5 cups fish or shellfish stock *

6 chicken thighs, skin on and bone-in

1 pound large head-on prawns (deveined and heads removed from half of them) *

chopped parsley

good olive oil


For the stock:

Heads of half of the prawns

¼ cup vermouth

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tsp whole peppercorns

8 cups water


Heat 1 TBSP olive oil in a large pot until not quite smoking.  Add the prawn heads and get a good heat on them for about 1-2 minutes.  You want them to sear and brown a little.  Add a large pinch of salt.  Deglaze the whole works with the vermouth.  Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, carrot, bay leaf, and peppercorns.  Stir for a couple minutes until the vegetables start to soften and the onions start getting translucent.  
Then add about 8 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer until you have about 6 cups of stock.  
Strain and set aside.

For the paella:

Pour the reserved stock into a saucepan and add the saffron threads.  Bring to a gentle simmer and keep hot.  

Salt and pepper the chicken thighs generously.  Heat 2 TBSP of olive oil in a paella pan over high heat and add the thighs skin-side down.  Sea for about 3 minutes on each side and remove from pan.  Turn the heat to medium and add chopped onions and red pepper.  Cook until they start to soften, then add the noodles and turn the heat up to high and brown for a minute.  Add the smoked paprika, salt, and pepper.  Stir for a minute to combine, then add the chorizo and stir again.  Deglaze with the white wine and stir until it is reduced. 
Add the noodles back in and stir to mix.  Then nestle the chicken thighs into the noodles, skin-side up.  
Start adding the stock, like you would when cooking risotto, allowing the noodles to absorb the liquid ladle by ladle.  Depending on the noodles, you may or may not need all the stock, but judge for yourself how al dente you like them.  

Meanwhile, salt and pepper the rest of the shrimp.  If you have a grill pan or a barbeque, grill them on high heat a couple minutes on each side, until they turn pink.  If not, throw them into a pan with a splosh of olive oil on high heat.  

Arrange the shrimp over the noodles and sprinkle with parsley and a good drizzle of olive oil before serving.

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