Friday, August 30, 2013

Domenica Marchetti and The Glorious Vegetables of Italy


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She's done it again. My friend Domenica Marchetti that is. Her newest cookbook has just been published and it's every bit as enticing as the last four: "The Glorious Pasta of Italy," "The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy," "Rustic Italian," and "Big Night In." The new book, "The Glorious Vegetables of Italy," contains so many delicious recipes that combine the flavors and techniques of Italian cooking with the array of vegetables that are available there and here in the states too. Interspersed throughout are mouth-watering photographs that could be on a gallery wall. 
We spoke recently about the new book, our common background as news reporters, and many other things. At the end of the post is a recipe from the book that's so simple to make yet so satisfying and delicious. 
Q. How did you transition from being a reporter to writing cookbooks?
A. I had written about health, fitness and nutrition and occasional pieces for the food section of the Detroit News. I always loved food writing and always coveted the food writer's job. After moving to D.C. (where her husband is deputy managing editor of the Washington Post) and writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, I decided to work freelance from home when I had kids.  I decided to write about food. I used my newspaper contacts to pitch stories and that's how I got into food writing. I went to the Food Writer's Symposium at the Greenbrier and that's where I met the cookbooks editor for my publisher, Chronicle books. I sent in a proposal for my first cookbook, The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy.

Q. What's your personal connection with Italy, and Abruzzo in particular?
A. Abruzzo is where my mother comes from. She was born and raised in Chieti. Since the time we were little, we would go back to Italy for the summer. We had a beach house on the Adriatic coast. That's where my affection for Abruzzo comes from – from spending many years there. I have wonderful memories, and friendships that I still have with people I used to hang out with at the beach as a teenager. 


Q. The book is not only about Abruzzese cooking, or vegetables that can be found only in Italy, is it? 
A. No, you can't assign a nationality to vegetables. I really mean vegetables in Italian cooking. The book is also not just Abruzzese recipes. My cooking has always been more eclectic Italian, rather than focused on one region. That's probably because my mother didn't just cook Abruzzese food. I grew up eating a variety of regional Italian cooking and so that's what I learned to do. My books are a mishmash of family recipes, regional recipes. They're classic, they're contemporary takes on classic, they're stuff I made up in my own kitchen – so they're "Italianish." I can't say they cling to any one part of Italy or they're just traditional, or just family recipes. They're a little bit of everything.

Q. What made you choose vegetables as the topic for this cookbook?
A. In 2008, we took a trip to the Veneto during Easter week, and I just remember the market under the Rialto bridge. I saw an incredible array of vegetables, from fat winter squashes from the north of Italy to tomatoes that were already ripe from the South of Italy. There were all kinds of artichokes, and all the different types of radicchio in the Veneto. It got me thinking.


Q. Do people have a misconception of Italian cooking?
A. I think we've come a long way in our perception and understanding of Italian cooking, but I do feel that people still have this "Olive Garden" view of Italian cooking - that it's spaghetti and meatballs, it's pasta, it's pizza, it's roasts, breads, starchy, and heavy. I honestly think that nothing could be further from the truth. When we were in Abruzzo in July, we stayed at an agriturismo. We got there right after lunch, and the owner put out a snack for us – cheese and charcuterie. Then she brought out a plate of tender green beans that had been boiled, past al dente. They were actually tender - because Italians aren't afraid to overcook their vegetables. That's one of the things I love about Italian vegetables is that they're not all crunchy. They were tossed with olive oil and the tiniest hint of vinegar and they were so good. I'll remember that plate of beans forever. I think Italian diets are much more vegetable-centric than people perceive in this country.

Q. What vegetables did you exclude from the book that you wished you could have included?
A. Cucumbers. The reason is I really never associated them much with Italian cooking and Italian food. I didn't eat them growing up. My dad had a slight allergy to them. They were never on our table. I don't ever remember having them in Italy. I do know a lot of Italian Americans grow them in their gardens. After being in Puglia last summer, I realized this might be a regional thing. Because in Puglia, they were everywhere. They had these amazing cucumbers that looked like very small personal melons -pale, pale green, and you cut them open and they were the same color as a honeydew melon. But they were cucumbers. They were slightly sweet but definitely in the cucumber family. At that point, I was in the final stages of the manuscript and I thought about trying to add cucumbers, just so I could talk about this Pugliese cucumber, but then I thought that would have unnecessarily complicated things. I have enough recipes to write another vegetable book, because there are an infinite number of ways that Italians use them - so many variations and riffs. I love just tossing pasta with fresh vegetables. People always think that pasta has to be sauced. The sauce is a condiment. There's nothing better than tossing fresh pasta with seasonal vegetables, a little olive oil and cheese.

Q. What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?
A. One of my favorite recipes – and it's so easy – is the baked delicata squash with cream and parmigiano. This is one of the "Italianish" recipes. Delicata squash has a lovely golden flesh and it's sweet, with a dense texture. it's just brushed with cream and parmigiano and baked in the oven. It's so simple and easy but makes a great side dish for any roast. I really love the vegetable lasagna and the eggplant meatballs. You just can't imagine that they would be as good as real meatballs, but they are and a lot of people have been writing about them.

Q. I made your smashed potatoes and green beans with pancetta for dinner the other night. Tell me a little about your inspiration for the dish.
A. I ate it at La Loggia Antica – a little restaurant in Bisenti in the Teramo province. All of these little vegetable dishes were coming out of the kitchen. One of them was these green beans and potatoes. I never had it before. It's very simple - you boil green beans and potatoes together, smash them and add some pancetta, olive oil and seasonings. I would never have thought to do that. That's one of my favorite recipes in the book.



Q. Do you have a book tour set up?
A. I've sort of cobbled together a little tour, mostly in September. They're usually piecemeal because I still have kids in the house and I can't go away for long periods. I don't like to anyway. I'm really a homebody. But I'm going to the West Coast – Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. I have a couple of cooking demos and classes and talks. I'll be going to St. Paul, Minnesota to do a cooking class and then some local events in the D.C. area, near where I live. I'm also hitting Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  There's a wonderful huge kitchenware store with a wonderful cooking school, called “A Southern Season.” I love teaching there. I'm coming up to Dorothea's House in Princeton in November, but I would love to do more Northeast stuff, so I'm working on that leg of it.

Q. What's on the agenda for your next cookbook?
A. A book on biscotti, scheduled to be published in 2015.

You can also follow Domenica on her blog, Domenica Cooks.

Smashed Green Beans and Potatoes With Pancetta
From "The Glorious Vegetables of Italy" by Domenica Marchetti

1 lb./455 g. medium size yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut in half crosswise
1 lb./455 g. fresh young green beans, ends trimmed
4 oz./115 g. pancetta, diced
1/3 cup/75 ml. good quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Put the potatoes and green beans in a large pot and fill with cold water to cover. Set the pot over high heat and salt generously. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to medium high to maintain a lively (but not violent) simmer. Boil the vegetables until they are very tender, about 25 minutes.

While the potatoes and green beans are cooking, place the pancetta in a medium skillet (I use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet) and set over medium heat. Sauté the pancetta, turning it frequently, for about 10 minutes, until it has rendered some of its fat and has just begun to crisp and turn brown. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

When the vegetables are tender, drain them in a colander. Return them to the pot and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes and green beans together as you drizzle. What you're aiming for is a somewhat lumpy, textured mash -- not need to purée completely.

With a spatula or wooden spoon, scrape the pancetta and drippings into the pot and stir to combine with the potato-bean mash. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl and drizzle with a little more olive oil if you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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Winner of Giveaway


Thanks to everyone who left a comment on the last post celebrating my five year blogiversary. The winner of the $100 Amazon gift card is Carol Szafalowicz, chosen by a computer generated random number generator. Congratulations Carol. 

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ciao Chow Linda Celebrates Five Years with Thanks and a Giveaway


Has it really been five years since I typed the words "How to create a blog?" in a Google search? Yep, it is, and believe it or not, that's how I got started back in August 2008. My first post was an easy one - an heirloom tomato salad.
Since then, I've posted hundreds of recipes, learned a lot more about blogging, and like many of you I'm sure, have had my share of highs and lows in life.
With the exception of a short hiatus now and then, I've kept blogging. Blogging about food, travel and restaurants has meant more to me than just blogging about food, travel and restaurants.
Maybe you already get it. Some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. But what I'm trying to say is that having a blog has almost been like having a therapist. No, better than a therapist, because I don't have to shell out $100 bucks an hour, and I get to eat some pretty good food (and some failures too) as a result of all the cooking I've done for the blog. Writing this blog has helped keep me moving through some of those tough times, particularly when I hear from readers through comments and emails. But it's also allowed me to celebrate some of the really happy times and wonderful food I've tasted too. And to share it with you. 
Through the blog, I've met some really wonderful people that I'd never have met otherwise - both here in the U.S. and abroad. Some of you have even become friends in real life. But whether we're friends in real life or just through the blogosphere, (and before I get too sappy) let me say that I'm really, really grateful to all the Ciao Chow Linda readers out there, whether you were with me from the start or just came on board recently.
Sooo, I'm offering a little giveaway as a way to show my thanks - a $100 certificate to purchase whatever you like through Amazon.com. Just leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post, up until the end of the day (midnight NY time) on Thursday, August 29. (if you receive this in email or through Facebook, you'll have to actually click on the blog and leave a comment to be eligible). The computer will pick a random number. You don't have to have a blog of your own to leave a comment, but you do need to leave me an email address, so I can contact you if you win. So go ahead, don't be shy. No jumping through hoops or sharing on Facebook or Twitter to enter (although I wouldn't mind if you did). Just leave a comment. Even if only to say Happy Blogiversary. Or to complain that your therapist charges $200 an hour. Or to ask a question -- like "How to create a blog?"  No wait, that's one for Google.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Grilled Shrimp with Pesto Pasta



My last post was long. Very long. But there was a lot to tell -- sorry if you tuned out.  If I l lost some of you on that you, you'll be glad to see this one is blessedly short. And it's about basil, everyone's favorite summer herb, and shrimp too.
 If you're growing basil, you've probably already had to cut it back at least once or twice and have made pesto a few times too. Here's another way to enjoy that pesto. It's not rocket science, but maybe you've never thought of putting the combo together. Just grill a few shrimp and you've transformed that ubiquitous pasta sauce into something a little special.
Don't forget to put some of that pesto away in the freezer for the cold winter months ahead. You don't have to use it only as a sauce for pasta (although that will be a nice reminder of summer when the January snows fall.) A tablespoon or two makes a wonderful addition to soups and stews too.

Grilled Shrimp with Pesto Pasta.

For two servings:
10 large shrimp (or however many you like)
4 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
springs of fresh thyme
salt, pepper

1 large plum tomato, peeled and deseeded and cut into strips (optional)

1/2 pound pasta (I used trofie, a classic shape for pesto)
about 1/2 cup of freshly made pesto alla genovese - directions below.

Grilled Shrimp
Buy large uncooked shrimp. Peel off the shells and devein the shrimp. Put the shrimp in a bowl with the olive oil, garlic, some salt, pepper and fresh herbs. I used thyme, but oregano would work too. If you want the shrimp to have a little kick, add some dried red pepper flakes. Let it sit for at least 1/2 hour to marinate.
Get the grill good and hot and rub the grates with a paper towel that's been coated with vegetable oil. This will help the shrimp not to stick to the grates.
Grill the shrimp for a couple of minutes on each side and add to the pasta that's been already mixed with the pesto.

For each portion, I also added strips of one large plum tomato that I had peeled and deseeded. (To peel easily, drop the tomato into a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes.)

Pesto Recipe - Get the full instructions with photos here

Pesto Alla Genovese
The amounts aren't exact. A lot depends on how firmly you pack the basil into the measuring cup, how large the garlic cloves are, and of course, your taste buds.

4 cups basil, loosely packed
2 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup Italian pine nuts, toasted, or pistachios (salted or unsalted), or toasted almonds or walnuts
extra virgin olive oil - as much as two cups, as needed to obtain a loose pesto.
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (or pecorino if desired)

If using a food processor: Tear leaves from stem, wash, dry and place in a food processor, along with the garlic, nuts and a small amount of the olive oil. Start with 1/2 cup and keep adding more until it flows smoothly when you dip a spoon into it, but not so thin that it falls off in a stream. Use your judgment.
Add parmesan cheese if serving immediately. If you're planning to freeze it, don't add the parmesan cheese until after you defrost it and are ready to serve.

If using a mortar and pestle, start with the washed and dried basil leaves, garlic and nuts and add a small amount of coarse salt to help break down the leaves. Pound with the pestle and slowly add a little bit of olive oil. Keep working the mixture with the pestle and add the rest of the oil as needed. The process takes a lot of patience and time.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Three days, 525 sheep and a hike through the Apennines


Caveat: Readers, this is a long one, so grab a cup of tea. I promise, there's a recipe at the end.
It was not just another hike in Italy's Apennine mountains. Not when you're leading 525 sheep through trails that have existed since Roman times. 
Not when you're climbing through pastures and ancient stone villages where tourism is as uncommon as Chinese food.
 
And certainly not you're when you're eating a second breakfast at 10 a.m. of foccacia, freshly made sheep's milk cheese and Montepulciano wine. 
In what was truly a unique travel experience, I spent nearly three days with a trio of shepherds, a half dozen sheepdogs and 25 friendly and generous people, hiking through mountains and small villages in the Central Italian region of Abruzzo, transporting sheep to higher pastures.
It's a trip I've been wanting to take for several years ever since I first learned about the transumanza and how important it was to this region. Transumanza means "crossing the land," and twice a year for centuries, shepherds did just that. Large flocks of sheep were traditionally led in a seasonal migration from the higher hills and mountains of Abruzzo to the warmer, coastal plains of Puglia. The wool trade was the economic lifeblood of Abruzzo, especially during the Renaissance, when fine wool derived from Abruzzo sheep was used for the ornate clothing worn by the Medici and other wealthy families in Italy and throughout the world. The transumanza died out in the 1950s after changes in land use laws, when farmers started housing their sheep indoors for the cold months.

The series of ancient sheep trails, called tratturi, stretch for hundreds of miles through Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia. On the largest trail, or tratturo magno, shepherds would take at least ten days to complete the transumanza and reach the plains of Puglia from the Abruzzo highlands.  I got the chance to experience a mini-transumanza his year, when I signed up with my niece Ming.

The three-day transumanza hike is the brainstorm of Nunzio Marcelli, a sheep farmer and cheese maker who lives just outside the Abruzzo National Park.
He's the owner of La Porta Dei Parchi in Anversa degli Abruzzo, and together with his partner Elettra Rinaldi, they organize the hike and run an agriturismo.

Nunzio, who, has an economics degree from a Rome university, decided that sitting behind a desk was not his calling. What he wanted instead, was to help revive a tradition that was in danger of dying out. "I didn't want to be the last person to leave this area," he said, referring to the exodus of young people from small towns and villages in central and southern Italy. 

Nunzio knew nothing about raising sheep or making cheese. "I learned everything from zero," he said, adding that he garnered a lot of knowledge from "i vecchi pastori," or old shepherds. He's also traveled as far as Afghanistan to learn more and to impart what he knows about cheese making to shepherds there. His cheeses, which include a juniper smoked ricotta and traditional pecorino cheese, have won awards and are served in the U.S. at places like Philadelphia's Le Virtù and New York City's Del Posto, two of my favorite restaurants. They can also be bought at Eataly in New York City and through his distant cousin, Bob Marcelli, who sells some of his cheeses and other Abruzzese products online here.

After rising at 6:00 a.m. and eating breakfast on the first day, we set off from the farm in Anversa with about half of Nunzio's flock, or about 525 sheep. Nunzio offers the three day trip a couple of times a year - when his flock is moved to higher altitudes early in the summer, and when they're ready for the return trip to the farm later in the season. Three shepherds, not Italian but from Macedonia, were doing the real work, while the 25 or so of us amateurs took our cues from them, whistling or tapping the sheep on the backside to lure any stragglers back to the path. The sheepdogs were essential too, corralling any stray sheep that wandered from the flock.

To call it a hike in many instances is a bit of a stretch, since we ambled at the leisurely pace of hungry sheep, who paused continually to nibble on wild herbs and grasses or drink water at a rushing stream.
Still, it was not exactly a walk in the park, especially the first day, which was nearly all uphill through a considerable amount of rocky terrain.

We walked through the scenic "Sagittarius gorge" up the mountain until we arrived at Castrovalva, a town memoralized by the Dutch artist M.C. Escher.




Here's also where we stopped for that second breakfast and took a break from the strenuous uphill climb.

I was huffing and puffing all the way up the mountain and was seriously beginning to doubt whether I could continue for two more days, let alone the rest of the first day. Fate intervened and almost made a decision for me. Just as we were starting another ascent, my hiking boots literally fell apart, the sole separating from the rest of the boot. Nunzio attempted to wrap some cord around my boot, but it was too risky to continue climbing with such a makeshift solution. Instead, Elettra, whose shoe size was the same as mine, came to my rescue, driving me back to her apartment in Anversa, where she had a closet-ful of hiking shoes and boots for me to try. The hand-made pair she handed me fit like they were made just for me. There was no way I could fink out now.
And boy am I glad I didn't. The rest of the trip was a rare opportunity to participate in an experience that demonstrated the beauty of nature, of human generosity, and of my own abilities to appreciate both with a bunch of strangers who soon became friends. And the food was pretty darn good too. There were plenty of cheeses, meats, pastas and desserts too, all along the trail and at each stop we made for lunch or dinner. All washed down with local wine or beer (more on that later).

One morning, Domenico, who was a participant on the trip several years ago, but was now employed to make sure we and the sheep stayed well and accounted for, offered us his traditional concoction to get the day started on the right foot: freshly made ricotta cheese mixed with some grappa and a bit of sugar. I was doubtful at first, but became a quick convert.
Another important member of our group was the horse Dollaro, who gave the children an occasional ride, but who more importantly came along in case someone was injured and needed relief from walking. Fortunately, I never needed to succumb, although I was grateful to lighten my burden and sling my backpack on his saddle more than once. At one point in our ascent, Domenico saw I could use a helping hand, so he instructed me to wrap my palm around Dollaro's tail and let him pull me up the mountain. I thought it was crazy, but Domenico insisted it wouldn't hurt the horse, and it sure helped me through some tiring climbs. 
The trip was literally an assault on all the senses. The sheep trampled through fields of wildflowers and nibbled on nepitella, an herb that is kind of a cross between mint and oregano and is part of the reason that the cheeses and meat derived from the sheep are so distinctively delicious. It's what terroir is all about.  As ethereal blue butterflies flitted about, the aroma of nepitella wafted through the air, and I was determined to buy some seeds upon my return to the states. I found them online here and you can read much more about nepitella, or calamint, here in my friend Adri's blog.
Yellow ginestra plants were also in full bloom, with their sweet fragrance hanging in the air as we walked other paths.
Amid the sounds of bleating sheep, tinkling bells and barking dogs, you can also add the sounds of a centuries-old rushing waterfall we paused to admire, a waterfall that still powers a grain mill we saw in action.
Cows mooed as we walked by and the sheep grazed in the distance.
The countryside scenery was spectacular and we stopped one night right near this lake.  
We also detoured through a couple of towns too, including Villa Lago, where two members on our trip attracted attention with their horses.
But it was nothing like the attention that the sheep attracted when we reached Scanno, a picturesque medieval town. 

The sheep entered the town through a narrow arched stone stairway. The pushing and shoving and fluidity of their movements reminded me of salmon trying to swim upstream through a narrow gateway.
Please look at this short video to give you an idea. I promise it will put a smile on your face.


Once in Scanno, there were more surprises in store, like the wedding taking place in the central piazza:
And the bagpipers playing traditional Abruzzese music:
Like many Italian villages, you'll invariably find a group of men sitting in the town's piazza solving the world's problems:
And you're likely to get a glimpse of a quietly elegant woman dressed in traditional garb:
If you want to spend a little money on jewelry, Scanno jewelers like Di Rienzo's can help you pick out just the right piece. They're noted for their filigree work and other traditional pieces like this L'Amorino, that brings good luck to brides on their wedding day, as well as to their families:
Back on the trail, we still had some territory to travel before reaching our final destination, the piano delle Cinque Miglia. We hiked through woods, with the crackling sounds of leaves and branches beneath our feet, and made our way to a spot where the winter snows still had not melted, even though it was June. Domenico led us to a cache of a half dozen beer bottles chilling in the snow. It was another surprise set up for us, and we were happy for the cold and unexpected refreshment. 
 We stopped for lunch at an agriturismo, and it was to be my final meal with the group, since Ming and I were leaving a bit early to make sure we got our rental car back to Rome in the daylight. But not before eating a meal that included these zucchini preserved in oil - a wonderfully delicious way to use up some of that bounty growing in your garden. See, I told you there was a recipe at the end.
Grazie mille to Nunzio for his vision, to Elettra for her friendship (and hiking boots), to Domenico for his kindness and to the numerous people who befriended me and offered conversation and a helping hand (and a walking stick - thanks Marjorie) when I needed it.
It was a trip that allowed me the luxury (and necessity) of slowing down and enjoying the voyage, not the destination. It was a chance to learn more about the traditions of a region, to really observe, to really feel in synch with nature and with my fellow travelers. It was a trip made even more special because my dear niece Ming eagerly joined me in the adventure. It was a trip that will stay with me for a lifetime.
If you want to participate in a future hike and are skeptical because you don't speak Italian, fear not. Even though nearly all the travelers were Italian, many spoke English, as do Nunzio and Elettra. You don't have to stay in a tent and sleeping bag either, if you don't want to. The first night is spent at Nunzio's farm, with options to stay at an agriturismo or apartment the second and third nights. For more information, click here. There's even an "adopt a sheep" program where you can buy sheep products, like wool, meat and cheeses. Funds go toward preserving the natural environment and raising awareness of the need to preserve time-honored traditions surrounding sheep-raising.

Zucchini Sott'Olio
from "My Calabria" by Rosetta Costantini



INGREDIENTS

  • 5 pounds (21/4 kilograms) large zucchini, preferably 2 to 3 pounds (900 grams to 1.4 kilograms) each
  • 1/2 cup (70 grams) kosher salt
  • 3 cups (750 milliliters) white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 5 garlic cloves, sliced crosswise
  • 3 or 4 small fresh hot red peppers, or to taste, sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil, plus more for topping



DIRECTIONS

Cut the zucchini crosswise into 3-inch (8-centimeter) pieces. Cut each piece in half lengthwise, then cut out all the seeds and spongy pulp from the center. Slice each section crosswise 3?16 inch (41/2 millimeters) thick. (A mandoline or other manual vegetable slicer is helpful for this.) 

Make layers of sliced zucchini and salt in a large bowl, then toss well. Macerate for 12 hours to draw the water out of the zucchini. Drain the zucchini, then squeeze a handful at a time to remove excess water. 

Place the zucchini in a heavy nonreactive pot and add the vinegar and 1 cup (250 milliliters) water. The liquid should barely cover the zucchini. 

Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir to redistribute the zucchini, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the zucchini slices are cooked through but still whole, about 5 minutes. Do not allow them to break apart. Smaller zucchini will take less time. 

Drain the zucchini and put them in a large colander. Top them with a heavy weight, such as a pot filled with water, to squeeze out the liquid. Let the zucchini drain under the weight for 15 minutes. 

Lay several clean kitchen towels on a table covered with cardboard. Arrange the zucchini slices on the towels, spreading the slices apart. Let dry at room temperature until they feel a little leathery and are no longer damp, 24 to 48 hours. They will shrivel considerably. 

Place the zucchini in a bowl and toss with the mint, garlic, hot peppers, and the 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) olive oil. Taste for salt and let the mixture marinate at room temperature for a day. 

Transfer the zucchini to a 1-pint (1/2-liter) glass jar. Pack them in tightly, pushing them down with a fork or spoon to remove any air gaps. Top with olive oil so they are completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 weeks before sampling to give the zucchini time to absorb the seasonings. 

Bring them out of the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to serve them to allow the oil to liquefy. Return any leftover zucchini to the refrigerator, topping with oil so the zucchini remain completely submerged. If kept submerged in olive oil and refrigerated, the zucchini will last for up to 6 months.
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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Swiss Chard Stalk Ricotta Fritters


It's always fun to cook with my dad, a 91 year-young guy who's got a zest for life and the energy to go with it that outpaces people half his age. He's right at home in the kitchen and in the garden, where he grows a variety of vegetables including Swiss chard.  A couple of weeks ago when he visited, I put him to work using some of the Swiss chard from my garden, thinking of the Swiss chard stalk fritters my mom used to make when she was alive. That delicious recipe is here. This time, however, I wanted to incorporate some ricotta that was in the fridge waiting for a home. Why not make fritters with it, I thought? My dad was eager to help out. 
Later, we moved outdoors to a side burner on the grill to fry the little munchies and keep the kitchen from overheating on a hot day.
 Alongside an Italian tuna sandwich, they made a great lunch. They'd also be a wonderful appetizer or side dish.

Swiss Chard stalk Ricotta Fritters
printable recipe here

6 to 8 large Swiss chard stalks (about 1 cup), cut into small pieces (1/2" inch)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup pecorino or parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
salt, pepper
2 T. fresh thyme
3/4 cup flour

Boil the swiss chard stalks in water until almost tender, about five minutes. Drain and cool. Place the Swiss chard stalks in a mixing bowl and add the remainder of the ingredients, mixing everything well. It should be thick and sticky.
Drop by large spoonfuls into a skillet where you have heated up some cooking oil. There should be enough oil to reach the top of the fritters when you drop them in. Fry over medium high heat, turning once until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with more salt.

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