Friday, February 18, 2011

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe

This recipe is easy, tasty and a perfect example of how traditional Italian food can be healthy too: you have your greens, your complex carbs ( just watch how much pasta you throw in!), your fish oil and the spices to keep you satisfied. It is traditionally made in the Apulia region ( think the heel of the boot) and it is made with Orecchiette pasta, literally "little ears". If you can't find Orecchiette, use another kind of short pasta, like Pipette from Barilla.

INGREDIENTS

2 Bunches of broccoli rabe
2 cups of short pasta
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 anchovies or 1 teaspoon of anchovy paste
2 tablespoons of plain bread crumbs
red pepper flakes 
salt
Pecorino Romano


PREPARATION

Cut away all the stems from the broccoli rabe then cut the leaves in 1 inch thick strips.
In a large pot of boiling water throw in a fistful of salt. 
Once the water boils again throw in the pasta and the broccoli rabe.
In the meantime in a skillet warm up the oil and throw in the chopped garlic, the anchovies or the anchovy paste and the red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic is cooked but not burnt.
Add the breadcrumbs and cook until browned.
Once the pasta is "al dente" drain the pasta and the broccoli.
Throw the pasta and broccoli in the skillet with the oil-garlic mixture and cook with the fire on high for 2 minutes or until the pasta is thoroughly coated with green.
Serve with grated Pecorino to taste.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Minestrone

This is a vegetarian version of minestrone, which traditionally includes some pancetta or bacon. The great trick that makes this minestrone super tasty is the Parmesan rind, and it is one of those grandma's tricks that I love because they were invented at a time when throwing out something that could still be edible was considered a shame and so people found a use for all kinds of leftovers in the kitchen. So, if you have bought a piece of Parmesan cheese and you are left with that dry piece of rind in the fridge, or even if you have a piece of Asiago or Romano that dried out in your cheese box, do not throw it out! Throw it in your soup instead! Then of course discard it before serving the soup, but the rind will add creaminess and flavor and "bring together" your soup so to speak. I used the vegetables that I had at home in that moment but there is a number of variations you can do, according to season and taste. If you want to add pasta, choose the kind called "ditalini" and add at the end of the cooking process.


INGREDIENTS
1 leek (white and light green part, chopped)
2 stalks of celery
2 large carrots scrubbed and chopped
1 parsnip
1 medium yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
4 Roma tomatoes
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of rainbow chard, stems and leaves separated
1 can of Cannellini beans, drained
2 cups of vegetable broth ( or more)
the rind of a hard cheese (preferably Parmesan Cheese)
1 Turkey bay leaf
salt
pepper

PREPARATION

For this recipe it is important to chop the ingredients quite small and all at about the same size. Chop the first 6 ingredients and the stems of the rainbow chard and toss in a large pot with oil.
Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft, stirring to avoid sticking (about 20 minutes).
Add broth and bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low.
Add beans, chard leaves, cheese rind and bay leaf and simmer over medium heat until leaves are cooked through.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Discard rind and bay leaf before serving. It can be served with a splash of extra virgin olive oil.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pasta with Tuna

This is a dish I could make with my eyes closed. It is a sort of comfort food in my family, and it is made with ingredients that are always available in an Italian pantry, so you could make it when there is "nothing" in the fridge. The same maybe is not true of an American pantry, since anchovies have a very bad reputation around here and I don't think many people has even ever tasted capers. You can use any kind of canned tuna, or, if you want to have an Italian experience, go to an Italian supermarket and find Mediterranean Tuna in a jar, like Callipo, but at about 10$ a can I don't know that I would recommend it for such a simple recipe. As for the tomato sauce, I like the sauce that comes in a glass bottle, when I find it, and that is just tomatoes, no onions, no herbs, no other aromas. Otherwise I just buy a tomato puree, like Defratelli or any other regular brand. I did not indicate the exact amount of tomato sauce because it depends on your taste: some people like it more "white" others like it swimming in sauce, I am for something in between. As for the pasta, the rule in Italy is about 3.5 oz per person. I like using spaghetti grossi from Barilla, which is a kind of spaghetti that are slightly thicker than the average, but of course any spaghetti would work.

INGREDIENTS
(for 4 people)

14 oz of Tuna packed in water
Tomato Puree
1 big head of garlic
2 anchovies
2 teaspoons of small capers
1 tablespoon of fresh Italian parsley
salt
red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon of paprika 
about 1 lb of spaghetti grossi
1 tablespoon extravirgin olive oil

PREPARATION

Fill a large pot with water and start boiling.
While the water is warming up, in a medium skillet heat up the olive oil and the peeled garlic clove.
Add the anchovies and smash them with a wooden spoon while cooking so that a sort of anchovy paste is created.
Add the drained tuna and keep stirring with the spoon for about 3 minutes.
Add the tomato sauce, the paprika, the red pepper flakes ( to taste) and a pinch of salt.
Bring to boil then reduce the heat to medium and let simmer until the sauce is thickened ( about 10 minutes, it depends on the amount of sauce you added).
Add the capers, stir to warm up about 1 minute. Turn off the heat. Discard the garlic clove.
When the water is boiling add a fistful ( yes a fistful is the right technical italian measurement for salt when it comes to pasta!) of salt then stir and wait for the water to boil again.
Add the pasta and cook until al dente (follow instructions on the package).
Drain the pasta, shake the excess water away then immediately toss the pasta in the sauce.
Turn the heat back on and toss the pasta for about 3 minutes.
Add the parsley and toss the pasta, reserving some parsley as a garnish.
DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT SERVE WITH PARMESAN CHEESE.
IN ITALY IT IS CONSIDERED A CAPITAL OFFENSE.

Honey-Orange Pork Chops

I created this recipe today on a whim. I had some oranges that were getting old and that were not very good to eat like a fruit, they were juicy but very small, so basically to get a glass of juice I had to squeeze at least four of them and found myself too lazy to do all that work for a glass of juice. Plus, I like pork chops and I think that if they are good pork chops, like the organic ones I buy in the summer at the Woodstock Farmers Market, they don't need much fancy addition to it: just grill them or pan fry them with salt and pepper and maybe some rosemary. The problem is that the store bought pork chops instead have almost no flavor at all, I can't even imagine the miserable life those porks live and the amount of antibiotics and hormones they go through. That being said, in the winter there is no Farmers' Market, I live too far from a Whole Foods, I can't purchase a whole or half organic hog because I wouldn't know where to put it, so I have to buy regular meat. And pork chops are usually pretty inexpensive too, plus, if you don't eat the fat ( which, alas, I always do) they are quite lean and can even fit into a diet.
If you want to sound fancy you could call this a "honey marinated pork chop with orange gremolata". Gremolata is a word adapted from Italian ( I never heard it in Italy, but I think it's from the Milan region) and it means a condiment that traditionally include lemon zest, garlic and parsley. In America they use it to refer to any mixture of herbs and fruit zest though. I think the reason they use it is that is sounds fancier than saying with "grated orange zest and rosemary" for example, plus it is shorter, but that's really what it is.

INGREDIENTS (for 2 people)

2 small oranges or 1 regular one
2 pork chops
2 teaspoons of honey
1 teaspoon of fresh chopped rosemary
1/4 cup of white wine
salt
pepper
olive oil

PREPARATION

Grate the zest of one of the oranges and reserve.
In a bowl combine the juice of the oranges and the honey. Immerse the pork chops in the liquid and let marinate for 1 to 2 hours covered in the fridge.
Heat up in a pan enough olive oil to coat the pan (about 1 teaspoon).
Take the pork chops out of the marinade ( do not discard the marinade) and season with salt and pepper.
Cook the pork chops about 5 minutes on one side, then turn and cover and cook at medium heat until cooked through ( you can use a meat thermometer to see if they reach the temperature of 160 degrees), about 8 minutes.
Remove the pork chops from the pan and keep them covered.
Add the reserved marinade and the wine to the pan, scraping any browned bits. 
Cook for about 3-5 minutes, until the sauce becomes thick and brown, like a syrup.
In a little bowl combine the grated zest with the finely chopped rosemary.
Plate the pork chops, cover with the syrup and then sprinkle with the gremolata.



Potato Gratin with Mushroom and Aged Cheese

This recipe takes time, but it doesn't take much skill and it has a very tasty result that can satisfy even the most hardcore meat eaters. It is not a "light" recipe, but eating less meat makes sense for many reasons besides health, one of which is protecting the environment. With Meatless Mondays becoming a global movement supported by VIPs like Oprah and by awesome people like me, this recipe it's a great way to skip the beef with happiness. Let's face it, whenever you combine potatoes with cheese and cream you get something comforting and satisfying that makes you feel warm and happy inside. This recipe moreover has mushrooms: mushrooms are among the foods rich in "umami", one of the five flavors, a japanese word used to describe the earthy, savory quality of foods like smoked meats ( think bacon and smoked salmon!), truffles and aged cheeses. So think of mushrooms and aged cheeses ( like the Gruyere in this recipe) as a wonderful substitute for bacon and that meaty flavor that your meat-eaters family members crave.

INGREDIENTS
6 large potatoes
3 large leeks
1 pint of heavy whipping cream
1.5 pound of mixed mushrooms ( I used pre-cut  Portabella and white mushrooms)
1 cup of grated aged cheese (I used Gruyere if you want to save some money use an aged cheddar )
2 garlic cloves
salt
pepper

PREPARATION
Peel and cut the potatoes into thin slices ( about 1/8 of an inch thick). You can use a slicer if you have one.
In a large pot pour the whipping cream and add the potatoes. Bring to boil and then simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
Turn on the oven at 375 degrees.
While the potatoes cook, cut the white and light green part of the leeks and add to a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, cook until softened.
Add the pre-cut mushrooms , add salt and cook for about 15 minutes, until soft.
Add the garlic to the mushrooms and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper.
Uncover the potatoes and cook an extra 3 minutes stirring to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom.
Brush a large baking dish with oil.
Put half the potato mixture on the bottom of the baking dish, then add a layer of the mushrooms, than top with the other half of the mixture.
Top with the cheese.
Cook covered with tinfoil for 30 minutes, then uncover and cook for another 20 minutes or until the top is brown.
Rest 10 minutes before serving.

Pork Roast with Hard Cider

I have found this recipe on an old edition of BonAppetit ( pretty much my food bible these days, I know..) and it turned out very good. I followed the recipe exactly, but I do think that there might have been a simpler way to achieve the same result, so for those of you who don't want to dirty a million different bowls and plates to do one single recipe and that don't want to spend 1 hour just doing prep work, here is my shortened and simplified version of it! The result is really worth it, if you want a slightly leaner version don't use the bacon and just cook the vegetables in a tablespoon of olive oil instead. Also choose a lean cut of pork. I used pork shoulder ribs and it was way too greasy, I think I would have preferred something leaner, like a pork loin diced into 1 inch cubes. I used Woodchuck regular Hard Apple Cider but I would like to try it also with their Granny Smith Cider, which should be more tangy.

INGREDIENTS

30 frozen pearl onions,  slightly thawed
5 slices of bacon cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick strips
3 and 1/2 pound of pork stew meat (pre-diced)
1 medium onion
1 medium parsnip
1 box of fresh sage
2 cups of low salt chicken broth
1 12oz bottle of hard apple cider
1 and 1/2 pound of baby red potatoes
2 large Granny Smith Apples
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 tablespoon of Dijon Mustard

PREPARATION
Take the pearl onions out of the freezer, put them under running  cold water to thaw.
Put the bacon in a large pot and cook until slightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and put on some paper towels to dry.
In the bacon grease, pour the onion and the parsnip and cook covered for about 15 minutes ( until the vegetables are softened)
Add the meat and stir until the meat is browned.
Add the broth and the hard cider and return the bacon to the pot, then cook covered for about 1 hour, until the meat is soft.
While the meat is cooking, wash and brush the potatoes and cut them in half.
Add the pearl onions and the potatoes. Cook covered for another 30 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, wash the apples, peel them, core them and dice them.
Add the apples to the mix and cook another 20 minutes, until the potatoes are completely cooked.
In a small bowl mix the butter and the flour creating a paste.
Add the flour paste and the mustard to the pot and simmer uncovered until thickened.
Serve with your favorite hard cider!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ravioli di Spinaci e Ricotta - Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

My friend Ruth asked me for a recipe for homemade ravioli. To be honest I haven't tried making my own ravioli yet. I have tried making homemade pasta before and my problem usually is that it turns out too thick, which can be fine if you are making fettuccine to be served on a hearty meat sauce, but it's not acceptable when it comes to ravioli or tortellini. So, dear Ruth, here is a recipe that I took from a wonderful Italian book of traditional recipes:  "Ricette di Osterie d'Italia" by Slow Food, a collection of 600 of the best pasta recipes taken from the best Italian Osterie. Be warned though: you will need to work your dough pretty hard and well and get it to be as thin as possible. Italian grandmas do it without a sweat, but then again if you were ever slapped by an Italian grandma you would understand why! You could also resort to a pasta machine, but that just wouldn't be as cool, so if you do, just don't tell anyone! I have translated the recipe and tried to make it look as simple as possible. For the sake of my American blog readers I have also converted the quantities in cups and tablespoons, according to the conversion chart I found here, hopefully it is accurate!
This recipe comes from the Abruzzo region ( in central Italy, south-east of Lazio, which is the Rome region) where this ravioli are prepared with a kind of wild spinach called "orapi", but they can be made with regular spinach. The quality of the ricotta is very important, so try to find the freshest ricotta possible as well as a good piece of fresh Parmesan cheese (grate it yourself, it will taste so much better!)

INGREDIENTS
(for 4 people)

Dough:
3 and 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
4 eggs
1 tablespoon of extravirgin olive oil
salt

Filling:
2 lbs of spinach
2 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups of Ricotta
1 tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
salt
pepper
nutmeg

Sauce:
butter
sage
Parmesan Cheese
salt

PREPARATION

Mix the ingredients for the dough and work the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 15 minutes.
Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
With a rolling pin, roll the dough in a thin layer ( not too thin or it will break while cooking but not too thick or it won't taste good!) then divide it in two layers and let rest.

Wash and cook the spinach in boiling water with a pinch of salt for a few minutes, until completely wilted.
Drain the spinach, run under cold water and then squeeze well to let all the excess water out.
Put the spinach in a food processor or cut very finely.
In a medium bowl, mix the spinach with the eggs, the ricotta, the parmesan cheese and the nutmeg ( to taste) then season with salt and pepper.

Form little balls of filling and space them evenly on one of the dough layers.
Put the second layer on top of the first one and press with your fingers in between the layers to make them adhere well.
Cut the ravioli squares with a knife, or, better, with a ravioli cutter ( it looks a little like a pizza cutter but with irregular edges).

Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water until done then season with melted butter, fresh sage leaves and salt. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dragon Tongue Beans With Peach

Raw Dragon Tongue Beans
Yesterday at the farmers' market in Woodstock we bought dragon tongue beans. They are multipurpose beans that can be used for shelling or, if picked early enough, they can be eaten with the whole pod. I think these are the same beans we have in Italy, except there we only use them for shelling. I was very surprised to discover that you could eat them raw and they have a pungent and fresh flavor that makes them a very good snack. Today however I wanted to try cooking them to make a side dish for the wonderful organic pork chops we bought at the market, but I couldn't find any recipe that I really liked online. Since we also had previously bought a couple of Illinois Peaches from a farmstand that is down the road from our house and they were starting to spoil, I decided to use both ingredients.
The result was surprisingly tasty and me and my husband loved it. The peaches, once cooked, were not as sweet as I would have imagined, and the overall taste of the plate stayed fresh and spicy. I only had ground ginger in the house but I am sure the plate could improve with the use of fresh ginger instead.



The final result: Dragon Tongue Beans with Peach
INGREDIENTS:


  • 2 cups of Dragon Tongue Beans
  • 1 Peach
  • 1 Medium Onion
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Salt
  • A dash of Cognac or Brandy for flavoring
  • Olive oil



RECIPE


  1. Chop beans in pieces about 1/2 inch long discarding the tip of the beans
  2. Chop the onion 
  3. Peel and cut the peach in cubes of about 1 inch
  4. In a large fryer or in a wok pour enough olive oil to coat the pan and then cook the beans and the onion, stirring every once in a while, until the beans have lost their color and the onions are soft and translucent
  5. Add the peaches to the fryer and a dash of cognac, keep stirring to avoid the vegetables sticking to the pan
  6. Add the red pepper flakes ( to taste), the ginger and the salt
  7. Once the cognac as cooked off make sure that the beans are tender enough and the dish is ready. It can be eaten hot or cold. It works very well as a side dish to pork chops or with brown or wild rice.

Mixed Grain and Quinoa with Zucchini

As we are going to eat less meat in the future I am trying to do more vegetarian recipes. Traditionally in Italy we use mostly pasta or rice, but I am trying to add more whole grains,  to our diet. My sister also introduced me to Quinoa and to the nutritional benefits of eating it. It seems like the perfect food to substitute meat, for its high protein and iron content:

 "this crop has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source among plant foods.[4] It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest." (Wikipedia)

Sometime ago I also bought a box of a  organic hot cereal with 4 grains plus flax but when I tried having it for breakfast I thought that, even adding fruit to it, it was way to gooey and tasteless for me. So today I decided to do something different with the vegetables we had in the fridge and the ones we bought at the farmers market.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Italian Zucchini
  • 3 baby carrots
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 box of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of golden raisins
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of Red Quinoa
  • 1/2 cup of 4 Grains plus flax hot cereal
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons of grated caciocavallo cheese

RECIPE

- In 2 separate saucepans cook the Quinoa and the Mixed Cereals following the instructions
- Dice the carrots, the onion, the zucchini and the tomatoes.
- Pour about 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large pan and saute the carrots and the onion until the onion is golden
- Add the zucchini and the tomatoes and keep cooking, stirring every now and then, until the zucchini and the tomatoes are soft
- Add the spices and the raisins
- Mix the grains in with the vegetable mix, adding extra olive oil if necessary
- Add the grated cheese and serve warm

Red Cabbage Risotto

The Red Cabbage cut in half


We got a red cabbage from our CSA this week and I have to admit we were initially a little scared by it. I tend to associate the word "cabbage" with something with a foul smell and a pungent taste. We were determined to do the best we can with anything we got in our weekly box, so I started my online research of recipes. First of all I had to make sure of exactly what kind of cabbage we were talking about. If you Google red cabbage you get the picture of this shiny red cabbage and that is not how our cabbage looked like. Our cabbage was surrounded by dark purple-blue leaves, but once cut in half it revealed its characteristic purple and white wavy pattern. Most of the Italian websites recommended cooking it as a simple risotto and since I had at home a good organic brown basmati I decided to give it a try. Here is my recipe:

Red Cabbage Risotto

Ingredients for 4 people
  • 1 medium red cabbage
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 cup of brown rice ( I have used Organic Basmati)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of butter  ( not for vegan or lowfat version)
  • 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese ( not for vegan or lowfat version)
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 2-3 cups of vegetable broth ( as an alternative you can also boil the discarded leaves of the cabbage with one extra onion )
Raw Diced Red Cabbage and Onion
Preparation
  1. Remove the outer darker leaves of the cabbage until you get to the dark red and harder core
  2. Dice the cabbage and the onion
  3. In a large fryer or in a wok, pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom and add the onion and the cabbage
  4. Saute' the vegetables until the onion is translucent and the cabbage is softening
  5. Add the rice to the fryer, stir until the rice is translucent than add the white wine and let it evaporate
  6. Add enough broth to cover the rice and then let the rice simmer covered until the liquid has evaporated
  7. Add more broth and repeat the process of letting it simmer until the rice is done
  8. Once the rice is done and all the liquid has evaporated add the butter and finally the Parmesan cheese ( for a vegan  or a low-fat version, just skip this passage)
  9. Add salt as needed and serve ( I like adding the salt at the end because that way I can dose it better, depending on the saltiness of the broth and other ingredients.
The Result
The final result was not only delicious it was also beautiful to look at! The rice and the onion turned as pink as the cabbage itself, the cabbage was soft and slightly sweet at the taste, I think a good variation would be adding a "smelly" cheese like a Gorgonzola or a Taleggio or even a Brie. My husband loved it and went back for seconds, we are definitely happy we tried this new vegetable that is going to become part of our everyday diet.  It is also a good dish from a nutritional standpoint, the rice is a good source of whole grains, while the red cabbage, according to the website Nutrition Data, is 

 also a good source of Thiamin, Riboflavin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Selenium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.










Risotto ai Fegatelli - Rice with Chicken Liver

We bought a whole organic chicken and I was determined on the idea of using the whole animal. First of all because it is so expensive that throwing even some of it away would be a huge waste, secondly I am against wasting food in general, especially animals that died to become our food, not to end in the garbage. The recipe is very simple and quick and even my picky american husband liked it. The flavor is much more delicate than you would expect, not too strong at all. For a good rice it would have been better to have at least 2 livers, but every chicken only comes with one, so not much we can do about it. I did eat the heart and the kidneys too ( those were a little too much for my husband though). I had had heart before in Brazil, where they are commonly grilled among other meets in the churrascarias ( Brazilian steakhouses). The heart is a muscle, so it really just tastes like a red meat, and except from the shape that is clearly that of a heart there is nothing about it that reminds of entrails. The kidneys instead are really chewy and hard. Maybe if you slice them very thin they are edible, but they have a very distinct flavor and texture. The livers instead go beautifully in the sauce, making it a rich and flavorful tomato sauce, with a meaty aftertaste.It is important to notice that while liver is a very good food from a nutritional standpoint, slightly high in cholesterol but particularly rich in iron, vitamin A and C, it is not recommended eating it from a non organic chicken. The reason is that the liver acts as a filter for the blood and that is where all the heavy metals, the antibiotics and other chemicals will accumulate the most. The same applies to any kind of liver.  I took the recipe from an Italian website and here is my English version.

Ingredients

  • 1 Chicken liver
  • 2-3 tablespoons of tomato sauce
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • Olive oil
  • Brown rice
  • Parmesan Cheese





Instructions

  1. Dice the onion and cut the chicken liver in small pieces
  2. In a medium pan fry the onion in some olive oil until it is yellow and soft
  3. Add the bay leaf and the liver to it and quickly brown it while stirring it
  4. Add the tomato sauce ( careful not too add too much) and let simmer for about 15 minutes
  5. In the meantime cook the rice as instructed on the package. If you can, use chicken broth instead of water
  6. Once the rice is done, add it to the sauce and stir in the Parmesan cheese





Sagra della Zucchina: Focaccia with Zucchini and Fried Zucchini Fried Flowers

Fresh Zucchini Flowers

Last Saturday at the Woodstock Farmers' Market I could not resist buying a bag full of zucchini flowers (from Salute! farm and vineyard) and a nice big zucchini from a wonderful organic vendor of which unfortunately I didn't catch the name, but I will make sure to do that next week. I love zucchini, they are very versatile as I can make them with rice, pasta, quinoa or really with any kind of cereal, I can make zucchini frittata or just have them as a side dish, they are always good. Even more than zucchini I love zucchini flowers: first of all they are just beautiful with their bright orange color, they are one of those things for which you wait all year long, for they are available only for a short period of time, and since they spoil very fast you also have to cook them very quick. They are very popular in the roman cuisine, either stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy and fried or on pizza with mozzarella ( no tomato please!) they are always delicious. I think looking forward to have a food only on a specific time of the year is something beautiful that the industrial food culture is destroying. In Italy, even with supermarkets, we still appreciate the fact that there is a season in which some fruits are just not available, and in which some vegetables that are available all year long ( like tomatoes) just taste so much better. Moreover if I had fried zucchini flowers everyday I would get bored with them, having them once or twice a year makes them special, and it becomes a reason to celebrate. Another Italian food tradition that I miss here is that of the "sagra" that is exactly a celebration of a food that is in season or that is traditional from a certain town or area. For example in spring there are many "sagre" of the strawberry, or in the fall are very common the "sagre" of chestnuts. During these festivals many stalls sell products and dishes made starting from the ingredient that is being celebrated, and there is really no limit to the inventiveness of the Italians when it comes to food! Everything is of course accompanied by music, wine and more food. So, today I decided to have my own "Sagra della Zucchina" and I made a Focaccia with zucchini and onion and deep fried zucchini flowers. Both recipes are quite simple and very tasty!

Focaccia with Zucchini

Focaccai with zucchini before going in the oven
Ingredients


  • 300 grams of flour
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 packet of active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 medium-large zucchini


Instructions


Last slice of Focaccia with Zucchini
  1. Mix the yeast the water and the sugar and let the yeast get activated for a few minutes
  2. Pour the yeast mix in the flour and the salt and mix. The resulting dough has to be a little sticky and not too easy to work with
  3. Let the dough rise for 1-2 hours in an oiled bowl ( turn the dough in the bowl once to coat evenly with oil)
  4. In the meantime dice the onion and slice the zucchini and cook them in a spoon of olive oil until they are soft and tender
  5. When the dough is ready, spread olive oil on a pizza pan and then gently smash the dough on it working it with your fingers to form the typical depressions of the focaccia. Brush lightly with olive oil and salt.
  6. Let the focaccia rise covered for another 30 minutes
  7. Spread evenly the zucchini-onion mix on the focaccia and put in a pre-heated oven at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the dough looks ready
  8. Take the focaccia out of the oven and brush it lightly with a mixture of olive oil and water.
Fried Zucchini Flowers
Fried Zucchini Flowers

Ingredients

  • Zucchini flowers
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • salt
  • vegetable oil






Instructions

  1. Take the pistil out of the flowers being careful not to brake them (some people take the stem out too but I prefer leaving them since they are very handy when it comes to dip the flowers in the batter and even to eat them)
  2. In a large bowl mix water, flour and salt. The resulting mixture should have no lumps and it should be liquid enough without being too thick or too runny
  3. Put the mix in the fridge for at least 20-30 minutes
  4. In a large fryer heat the vegetable oil ( it has to be enough to deep fry the flowers). A trick to know if the oil is warm enough is throwing a little piece of bread in it: when the oil starts bubbling around the bread then the oil is ready.
  5. Grab a flower by the stem, dip it in the batter then shake the excessive batter and put the flower in the frying pan. Repeat until the fryer is full.
  6. Using a pair of tongs gently turn the flowers once while cooking
  7. When the flowers feel "crunchy" remove them from the pan using the tongs and shaking the excess oil out. Place the flowers on a paper towel to dry the excess fat. 
  8. Repeat the last three steps until the flowers are all fried.

Pasta Primavera : with Tomato Medley and Fresh Onions



Saturday at the Woodstock Farmers' market I bought this lovely box of mixed tomatoes from an organic vendor. The sign said there were up to 10 different kind of tomatoes, I am pretty sure I recognized 5 different kinds, I have no idea of their names but I have to say the orange ones tasted the best as they were very juicy and sweet. The same vendor also had a very perfumed basil and we had fresh onions from our weekly CSA box, so I decided to make "Pasta Primavera" , a recipe that to me tastes a lot like home. Very simple yet so flavorful if the ingredients are just right.


Pasta Primavera

Ingredients ( for 2 people)

  • 1 small box of Fresh, local, naturally ripened cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of fresh onions
  • 5-6 leaves of fresh basil
  • 200 gr. of linguine
  • Olive oil
  • Parmesan Cheese

Instructions

  1. Cut the onions discarding the green part
  2. Cut the tomatoes in half or in quarters depending on the size of the tomatoes
  3. Place everything in a medium pan with olive oil and cook on medium fire until the tomatoes are soft but not completely melted. Add salt to taste.Turn off and add the basil finely cut.
  4. In a pot of boiling salt water, cook the linguine until "al dente"
  5. Drain the linguine and add them to the pan, turn on the fire and keep stirring the linguine in the sauce while adding some Parmesan cheese. The key is to let the gluten of the pasta and the cheese "tie together" the sauce.
  6. Serve with another spoon of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Underground Soup with Apple and Gruyere

I forgot to take pictures of this one, but my husband loved it so much that I had to put the recipe online. As the weather is getting colder everyday we really feel like having soup, which is great as there is no end to the number of healthy soups you can make with vegetables, especially in the fall with so many squashes around. This time though I was in the mood for some roots, so I went to the supermarket ( yep, the CSA boxes are over unfortunately!) and bought all the roots I could put my hands on and made soup.
INGREDIENTS
Celery root and parsnips
3 parsnips
3 parsley roots
1/2 celery root
3 turnips
3 potatoes
1 sweet potato
Nutmeg
1 apple
a couple of slices of gruyere cheese
RECIPE FOR THE UNDERGROUND SOUP
It is very easy, just peel the potatoes and the celery root then dice all the roots and put in a stock pot covered with water and salt. Cook until all the roots are soft and then use an immersion blender to create a cream.Add nutmeg. Pour the soup into a mug or one of those tiny soup pots they use for french onion soup and add some of the diced apple to it. Top with the slices of gruyere cheese and put in the microwave for one minute or until the cheese is melted and serve.

I served it with pork chops that I had stuffed with apple and gruyere and with a side of pureed parsnips with apple, so that the dinner was all "apple-themed". I bet cider would have been very good to drink with it. My husband loved it and it really felt very homey and heart-warming, but at the same time it was not as starchy as a potato soup or as sweet as a carrot soup. The celery root, the parsley root and the parsnips have a earthy but fresh taste and they really don't need much more spices or herbs added to them to achieve an awesome taste. I think it could be a good thanksgiving soup. The addition of sweet potatoes is important to have a beautiful orange color, otherwise I think the soup would be whitish and less appealing to the eye.

Black Olive Bread

About 5 months ago I bought a West Bend High Rise bread machine. It just broke. Thankfully the warranty was still valid and we are going to get a replacement in a month, but now I don't know that I would recommend it to anybody. Up until the breaking though it was a great bread machine and I made many wonderful loaves with it. I took most of my recipes from the book The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger which has hundreds of bread recipes, some great and some decent but I yet have to find one I truly don't like.
The one I am going to post here is absolutely my favorite, the only warning that I want to give you though is that this bread is so good you are just going to eat too much of it too quickly! 

INGREDIENTS FOR A 2 POUND LOAF
A
1 1/3 cup of milk
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon of honey
3 1/4 cup of bread flour
3/4 cup of rye flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of gluten
3/4 teaspoons of salt
1 tablespoon of bread machine yeast
1 1/4 cup of pitted black olive pieces

PREPARATION

Place all the ingredients in the pan except the olives. 
Set the machine for the French cycle and the crust on medium.
When the machine beeps add the olives.
When the machine is done take the loaf immediately out of the pan and let it cool before eating ( if you can wait that long!)