Monday, July 27, 2015

Flatbread Pizzas


Every time I 'm in the supermarket, I see new products -- and I often think to myself, "Why not try something new each week?" I never manage to follow through on that thought, but a few days ago, I couldn't resist the urge. I saw this package of flatbreads flavored with rosemary and olive oil and knew they'd make the perfect base for a lunch I was preparing for visiting family members.
The package contains six flatbreads, so I made two of each of the following, using veggies from my garden as inspiration. On top -- a base of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and herbs, topped with thinly sliced zucchini, zucchini blossoms and more mozzarella and basil; middle -- corn, tomatoes and shishito peppers, topped with mozzarella; bottom (and my favorite), caramelized onions, anchovies, olives and parmesan cheese, sprinkled with thyme (I left out the anchovies on one for those who don't eat anchovies {they don't know what they're missing}).
I followed instructions on the package, which said to heat the flatbreads in the oven for two minutes at 375 degrees before adding the toppings, then to bake another four minutes. I would recommend baking much longer, maybe doubling the time - both before and after adding the toppings - to crisp up the bottoms. Or use your grill and watch carefully so they don't burn.
I'm heading back to the store to buy several of these packages to store in the freezer. Everyone loved them and they were a snap to make. I got my family involved in assembling the flatbreads, making it a fun family activity. The hardest part was caramelizing the onions (it took an hour and a half), which I did the night before. Let your imagination run wild with all the possibilities of toppings. But don't use frozen corn or supermarket tomatoes. It's essential to use good quality ingredients since they'll be the star of the dish. 

Flatbread Pizzas - 
each recipe is enough for two flatbreads

Bake the flatbreads plain, in a 375 degree oven for four minutes; top with the following, then bake another six to eight minutes or until crispy on bottom, if that's how you like it. (Some people preferred the non-crispy bottoms)
Or place them on your outdoor grill, carefully keeping an eye on them so they don't burn.


1. Zucchini and Cheese - Mix 1 cup ricotta cheese with 1/4 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Chop up a bunch of herbs (I used parsley, basil and thyme) and mix with the cheese. Spread on a flatbread that's been baked a few minutes. Then thinly slice some zucchini (I used a mandoline to slice but if you don't have one, just slice as thinly as you can.) Break up some zucchini blossoms and scatter them on the top, then sprinkle everything with grated mozzarella cheese and fresh basil.
  
2. Corn and Tomatoes -  Boil two ears of corn for two minutes. Drain, let cool, then slice off "planks" of corn. Use cherry tomatoes, as I did, or thinly slice regular tomatoes. Layer the flatbread with the corn and tomatoes. Thinly slice shishito peppers (or whatever kind of peppers you have). Scatter them across the top, along with some mozzarella cheese and fresh basil.

3. Caramelized Onions, anchovies and olives - This is nearly the same as making a pissaladière, a Provençal pizza. I used two large sweet onions, sliced and sautéed in about 2 T. olive oil at slow to medium heat. It took an hour and a half to get the nice, rich brown caramelization. If you hurry the process, they're likely to burn or cook unevenly. Spread the onions over the flatbread, layer with slivers of anchovy, then slice some pitted green olives in half and place on top. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bits of fresh thyme.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Grilled Swordfish in Lemon Caper Cream Sauce



People sometimes ask me where I get my inspiration for the recipes on this blog and the answer is, it comes from various sources, like family recipes, meals I eat in restaurants, and from other food bloggers. In this case, it came from Roz, who writes a wonderful blog called "La Bella Vita Cucina". She lives in South Carolina, but has family in Emilia Romagna, the same region where my mother was born and where I still have relatives.
Swordfish is one of my favorite seafoods but it's frequently overcooked by home cooks. It doesn't take long before it's dried out and tasteless. Roz' instructions to grill it for two minutes on each side are spot on. The fish will be perfectly moist and tender. 
Roz' recipe calls for smearing olive oil over the swordfish, but I also brush on some soy sauce, grated garlic and minced thyme. Let it sit for a few minutes, then dredge it in the bread crumbs and grill.
Don't worry if some of the breadcrumbs fall off on the grill. You're bound to lose some, even if you grease the grates.
 The delicious lemon caper sauce covers up any spots that stuck to the grill, and  delivers such a flavor punch, you'll be tempted to lick the plate.
See more of what goes in Ciao Chow Linda's kitchen on my Instagram feed. Just click here to connect with me there: Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram 

And for all you last minute wanna-be travelers to Italy: There are still a couple of spots available in  the memoir writing retreat Kathryn Abajian and I are leading in September in dreamy Lake Como. You don't have to have any writing experience, just a desire to learn. Come write, eat, and meander through Varenna - one of the most beautiful places on earth. You'll be lodged here at Villa Monastero, with gorgeous views of the lake and mountains, and world-famous gardens to explore. For more info, click here, on "Italy In Other Words."



Grilled Swordfish with Lemon Caper Cream Sauce
From "La Bella Vita Cucina" 
printable recipe here
Ingredients
  • 8 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4 Swordfish Steaks, cut 1" thick
  • 4 T. soy sauce
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 cup Italian-seasoned panko crumbs
  • Garnish: Fresh-cut sprigs of Italian parsley
  • Garnish: Sliced lemons
  • Creamy Lemon Caper Sauce:
  • 8 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • ½ stick of high quality butter
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • Juice of 1 medium-sized lemons
  • Zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1-½ cups minced fresh-cut Italian parsley
  • 4 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 Tablespoons fresh-cut oregano, finely chopped
  • ½ small jar of capers (if salted, rinse thoroughly)
Instructions
  1. Drizzle each swordfish steak with olive oil and spread the oil evenly over each steak on all sides. (I also drizzled some soy sauce on top and spread some minced garlic and thyme over it all)
  2. Using a shallow mid-size bowl, pour in the Italian seasoned bread crumbs and panko crumbs.
  3. Place each oiled swordfish steak onto the bread crumbs and panko crumbsand then turn over, making sure that the steak is covered on all sides.
  4. Get the grill heated.
  5. Prepare the sauce:
  6. While grill is warming up, heat all of the sauce ingredients in a saucepan.
  7. Place on a very low simmer to keep the sauce warm while grilling the swordfish steaks.
  8. Grill the steaks on a medium-low heat for 2 minutes on each side until the bread crumb coating is a nice gold-brown color.
  9. The thicker the steak, the longer the time necessary to cook through, keeping in mind that the steaks should not be cooked to the point of being dry, but rather they should be moist and tender inside.
  10. Pour a little bit (about a tablespoon) of the creamy lemon caper sauce on top of each steak.
  11. Garnish with sprigs of fresh-cut Italian parsley and slices of lemons.
  12. Pass the remainder of the sauce around to guests.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Penne Pasta With Mussels


Summertime's great not just for the fresh produce in farmer's markets, but for the abundant local seafood here in New Jersey -- including mussels that I love to serve with pasta in a red sauce. But this isn't just any pasta and this isn't just any red sauce. 
The tomatoes are from Italy and really do taste superior to the canned tomatoes grown in the U.S. They'll cost you more, but it's worth it. The ones I used were flavorful pomodorini from the Campania region, labeled as cherry tomatoes, but I'd say they are slightly larger than cherry tomatoes. You can buy them online from Gustiamo.com.
And don't expect to pair your glorious tomato sauce with insipid, limp pasta. Get something that has some bite to it and really tastes like wheat. In this case, I cooked with pasta from Benedetto Cavalieri, an artisanal pasta company that began more than 100 years ago in Puglia, Italy.
I met the fourth generation pasta maker in the family - Andrea - at New York City's Fancy Food Show last month, and he proudly described the methods that are used in the production of their durum semolina pasta.
The pasta is made using what's called the "delicate method" which means kneading the dough at cold temperatures, pressing it slowly through molds made of bronze alloys and drying it at low temperature. "This is very, very important," he said, "Because with the delicate method we can preserve the typical taste of the wheat." 
The pasta really does hold up well to an assertive sauce and has a fine, toothsome bite and distinctive wheat flavor.
Benedetto Cavalieri pastas can be purchased at Sur La Table or other fine food stores, as well as through Amazon.com, among other places.

Start out by sautéing the onion and garlic in olive oil until softened, then add the jar of tomatoes, breaking them up slightly with a wooden spoon.
Add the white wine and seasonings and let simmer on low to medium heat for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour. Meanwhile, steam the mussels in another pot and remove them from the pot as soon as they start to open. When the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove most of them from their shells, leaving some still in the shell to decorate the top of the pasta bowl. Save the liquid the mussels cooked in, then strain it and use put some of that into the tomato sauce. When the sauce has thickened to the proper consistency, (and while the pasta is cooking), add the mussels you removed from the shells to the tomato sauce and simmer for a couple of minutes.
Drain the pasta, then add it to the pot with the sauce and stir to blend the flavors.
Serve in warmed bowls or plates.

Penne Pasta with Mussels

1 lb. pasta (preferably Benedetto Cavalieri pasta or a similar artisanal, Italian brand)

for the sauce
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jar Maida Pomodorino Corbarino (or a 23.9 ounce jar of tomatoes)
1/4 cup white wine
salt, pepper
a good handful of fresh basil leaves, minced
a shake of hot red pepper flakes

to cook the mussels:
2 T. olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine
3 to 4 dozen mussels

Start by making the sauce. Pour the olive oil into a pot, and add the onion, cooking them on low heat until softened. Add the garlic and sauté until softened. Add the tomatoes, breaking slightly with a wooden spoon, then the wine and seasonings. Keep some basil aside to use at the last minute to sprinkle over the top at the end. Let everything simmer for a half hour to an hour, while you cook the mussels.

In a separate pot, add the olive oil and cook the onion and garlic until slightly softened, over low heat. Turn up the heat to high when the onion and garlic are softened, pour in the white wine and add all the mussels. Place a lid over the mussels, and in a few minutes, they should start to open. Take off the lid, and using a pincers, remove the mussels that have opened to a bowl. Continue to do so until you have removed all the mussels. Save the liquid. Some of them may not open, even after five minutes. Throw those out. Let the mussels cool to a point where you can handle them, and remove them from the shell, keeping some intact to decorate the bowl with later.  Strain the liquid through a coffee filter (or paper towels) and pour some of it - maybe 1/2 cup to a cup) into the pot with the tomato sauce. Turn up the heat and cook a little longer to thicken the sauce.

When the sauce is cooked enough to the proper consistency and the pasta is almost finished cooking, add the mussels that you have extracted from the shells and let them simmer in the tomato sauce for a few minutes while you drain the pasta. 
Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to combine flavors. Serve in warm bowls or plates with some of the mussels in half shells on top.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Octopus, Beet and Citrus Salad


Cooking octopus in a home kitchen may be daunting to some of you out there, but it's no harder than cleaning and cooking squid. (What, you've never cooked squid either? Well then, check out this post and get going!)
After a fishing excursion off the coast of Sardinia years ago, where I helped haul in octopi and other fish, Ignazina and Gemi, the owners of the boat, moored on a deserted island and prepared a Lucullan feast, which included the thrashing of octopus on rocks before cooking the writhing creatures in a galley kitchen and turning it into the most transcendent octopus salad I've ever eaten. Here's a shot of Ignazina trying to corral the octopus into submission.


Since then, I've noticed that here in the Northeast U.S., octopus has become as ubiquitous on restaurant menus as tiramisu was in the 80s. Not that I'm complaining, because I love it and almost always order it when I see it. But it's almost always served the same way -- grilled in a salad.
But recently I ate an octopus salad at Trattoria Lucca in Charleston, S.C. that veered from the standard grilled fare. It was served with yellow beets and citrus fruits - a refreshing combo for a summer's day that I couldn't wait to duplicate once I got home. My version is not exactly the same as Lucca's, since I added way more octopus, beets and everything else, but I took my inspiration from the dish I ate at that wonderful restaurant in the Holy City.
Instead of roasting the beets, I boiled them and let them cool before attempting to peel. Maybe it's because I've forgotten about them and overcooked them in the oven, but I find it easier to peel boiled beets rather than roasted.  I used both yellow and pink and white striped Chioggia beets. You don't need to use a mandolin - hand slicing is fine.
I bought this whopper of an octopus at my local fish market - Nassau Seafood and it came frozen. The ones I buy are usually from Spain or Portugal.  Let the octopus sit in the refrigerator for two days or so until it's completely thawed out and what you have is something like this:


Expect a lot of shrinkage after cooking. Let it cool, then with your fingers, rub off any extraneous outer pink "skin."
Cut away the head and beak and discard. Then separate the "legs" with a knife.
At this point, I trimmed off the suckers from the tentacles, not something I always do, but in this case I made an exception.
It's not necessary, but with an octopus this large, the tentacles are also large and they're rubbery, a texture I'm not crazy about.
Once the octopus is cooked and trimmed, slice it on the diagonal and lay the pieces over the beets.
Then place sections of grapefruit and orange on top and a handful of watercress leaves in the center. Pour salad dressing on the top, shake some salt and pepper on top and add a final sprinkle of chopped edible flowers for color. (optional).


It's perfect for summertime entertaining.

If you'd like a recipe for octopus and potato salad, a typical combination found in seaside restaurants in Italy, click on this post.

And if you're yearning for an excuse to travel to Italy, how about joining us for a memoir writing retreat on gorgeous Lake Como? We have a few spots left, so don't delay. You don't have to have writing experience, just the desire to learn and improve. There will be time for afternoon excursions, relaxing, shopping and plenty of delicious eating too.
Check out Italy, In Other Words for more details.


Octopus, Beet and Citrus Salad

1 - 2 1/2 -3 pound cooked octopus (directions below)
about three four beets, cooked in water until tender, then peeled and sliced about 1/8" thick (use the yellow or Chioggia variety, (not the dark red variety)
1 grapefruit, cut into sections (do this over a bowl and save the juice for the dressing)
1 orange, cut into sections (do this over a bowl and save the juice for the dressing)
salt, pepper
for decoration:
watercress leaves
chopped up pansies, or other edible flowers

dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
juice from the orange and grapefruit used in the salad
white wine or white balsamic vinegar, to taste (the amount will depend on how much juice your have from the orange and grapefruit, but I like a proportion of about 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar)
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Mix everything in a jar and shake until everything is combined.

To cook an octopus
There are many ideas on how to cook octopus so that it's not tough - - from slow simmers in water, to putting a cork in the water to tenderize the octopus. Others say cooking it in water can "seize up" the octopus and toughen it. This method I outline uses no water, but rather lets the octopus cook in its own liquid. It works perfectly and produces a succulent octopus. Just don't buy baby octopus. They're too small and chewy and you won't get large enough pieces.
Start by gently heating about 1/4 cup olive oil in a large, lidded pot that can also go into the oven. (If you don't have one, cook the octopus in a lidded pot on the stove, then transfer to a glass or pyrex dish (covered) and place that in the oven. ) Place the whole octopus in the pot and cook at low heat for about 20 minutes. Remove from the stove and place in a preheated 300 degree oven for about an hour. Remove it from the oven and let it cool a bit. It will be very purple in color and will have shrunk significantly. Cut off the top of the head and the little pointy sharp beak and discard. Peel away the purple skin. Some of the suckers will peel off but many won't. You can leave them or not. I've served it both ways, but if it's a large octopus, the suckers are also large - and rubbery, so for this salad, I like to slice them off. Rinse under cool water and pat dry. Cut into bite-sized pieces on the diagonal.

Assemble the salad by slicing the beets in a pretty circular fashion on a platter, then layer the octopus and citrus pieces on top. Place a bunch of watercress in the center. Shake some salt and pepper all over the salad, then pour on the dressing. Decorate with minced edible flowers, like pansies.

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