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Ciambotta

Basilicata

I’m now entering the second region of Italy in my Regions of Italy project. I’m going to come back to Abruzzo for my fourth recipe from that region when one of the ingredients I need is in season.

The second area is called Basilicata, and it’s familiar territory because it’s where my family is from.

As I looked through the myriad recipes from Basilicata, I realized that I knew many of them, and since the goal of my project is to explore the cuisines of Italy, I skipped over the family favorites to dishes that sounded new to me.

So, one of the recipes I chose was Ciambotta, or Vegetable Stew. I sounded really good. It’s a stew of peppers, potatoes, and eggplant. Similar to ratatouille, it differs from the French version in that the eggplant is sliced and sautéed until browned first before going into the stew, and tomato puree is added. And really not much else.

After it was cooked, I sat down to eat it…and immediately my memory banks flew open. This tasted so familiar, I figured I had to have had it before. But I couldn’t remember my mother making a dish that had those three specific ingredients together. I called my mother and asked her if she’d ever made such a stew, and she said, “Yes, of course. We called it ciambotta in our dialect.” And then she proceeded to tell me how to make it, even though I’d told her that I’d already made it, and what else I can add to it.

Yep, I knew those flavors very well. Even though I hadn’t remembered them initially, the taste and aroma brought it all right back. How can you forget the things you ate while growing up in a house with an Italian mother who put her entire self-worth in the foods she prepared for her family?

You can’t. It comforted me. It warmed me in a way that the heat of summer outside couldn’t. I gobbled it up.

So, here’s the recipe for Ciambotta from La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy, with my adjustments, because, as usual, the instructions (and some of the ingredients) are vague.

Have this thick, hearty, delicious stew with crusty Italian or French bread. Enjoy!

Ciambotta

Vegetable Stew

Recipe adapted from La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). Published by Rizzoli Publications.

Makes 4 servings.

½ pound Italian eggplant, sliced into ¼-inch-thick half-moons*
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ pound red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
½ pound potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1¼ cups tomato puree
1 large garlic clove, minced

Place the eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon salt. Toss to coat all the eggplant. Let this sit for ½ hour. Quickly rinse them under running water and dry them thoroughly.

Heat half the oil in a wide pan. Add the eggplant and a pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat until browned.Meanwhile, in another large pan or Dutch oven, heat the remaining oil. Add the peppers, potatoes, and a pinch of salt and sauté until the potatoes start to take on color. (This could take anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of your pan and how spread out the potatoes are. In my case, it took longer because I chose to make the stew in my 2-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven, which is my new favorite pot and I look for any reason to use it. One of these days, when my ship comes in, I will splurge on that 5-quart Le Creuset.) Stir frequently, as potatoes want to stick to pots and pans. Add the puree and stir to combine.Mix in the eggplant. Add the garlic and continue sautéing another minute. If the bottom of the pot looks like it’s burning, add a little liquid (water, broth, wine) and scrape the browned bits up. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and cook until a thick stew forms, about 40 to 50 minutes. Stir often and scrape up brown bits from the bottom of the pot as it forms. Taste for salt and add more, if needed.Serve this stew with fresh, crusty Italian or French bread.

*Cut the eggplant lengthwise in half, then each half in half. Then slice each piece in half-moons.

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Chieti Cookies

Abruzzo

This is the third recipe in my Regions of Italy project. It’s a cookie that comes from the town of Chieti in Abruzzo. It is unique in that it calls for dry red wine.

I really want to say that these cookies are awesome. Unfortunately, this recipe was a complete disaster right from the start. Here’s why.

The original recipe said to make a well with flour, and in the well, to put sugar, oil, and salt. Then, you start adding wine to form an elastic dough. This couldn’t possibly make an elastic dough because it’s basically a sugar cookie. There’s no yeast, no rising, no kneading involved. Bread dough is elastic. Pizza dough is elastic. Cookie dough is not elastic. But I thought, maybe they just used the wrong word in the translation. What they really wanted to say, I surmised, was a dough that comes together, that stays together as a whole. Continue reading


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Pallotte Cace e Ova

Abruzzo

This is the second installment in my Regions of Italy project. It’s Pallotte Cace e Ova, or Cheese and Egg Fritters.

The original recipe called for extra virgin olive oil for deep frying. I find this a bit nutty. In the first place, extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, which means that the risk of burning is quite high. (You can argue with me about that if you want, but I’ve seen olive oil scorch way too quickly, so I stick with that belief.)

Second, extra virgin olive oil so expensive that the thought of filling a pot with 3 or so inches of it makes me dizzy. Also, the general belief is that so much of the flavor of extra virgin olive oil is lost when it’s heated, and so it’s not worth using to cook, which is why I use regular olive oil even for sauteing. So, for deep frying, I prefer to use peanut or some other cooking oil. But I’ll leave that choice up to you.

The fritters can be eaten by themselves, but are often served with tomato sauce. Having said that, I found that a spritz of lemon made them taste fabulous. Enjoy! Continue reading


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Pasta con le Fave

Abruzzo

The first recipe in my Regions of Italy project is Pasta con le Fave, or Pasta with Fava Beans. This dish is typical of the Vomano valley of Abruzzo. Although the original recipe calls for marjoram, fresh marjoram can be difficult to find. Oregano is related to marjoram and is more readily available. Note that it’s also stronger in flavor, so you may want to cut back a little on it, if strong herb flavor isn’t your thing.

The pasta called for here is maltagliati, which literally means “badly cut.” They are flat, very wide, short noodles that look like someone got drunk, took a pair of scissors, and went crazy on some dough. You may have a difficult time finding this pasta (although it may be available where specialty Italian products are sold), so you can improvise: cook some pappardelle, place them in a bowl, and use kitchen shears to snip them into squares.

The original recipe did not indicate how well the onion should be sautéed, so I decided on soft and translucent. It also said nothing about whether or not to skin the fava beans. Now, here’s the thing about fava beans. When you remove fresh favas from their pods, they have a skin, or jacket. Although this skin is edible, it can sometimes be tough and cause gas. It’s a much more pleasant experience to eat favas without their skin. The creators of this recipe may have assumed that the readers know to remove the skins, but that’s not always the case. So, I’ve included that step in my instructions.

This is very much a peasant dish, but it’s regal in its simplicity and respect of ingredients. Enjoy! Continue reading


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The Regions of Italy Project

Hi, all. I’ve been on a bit of hiatus the past several weeks because…well, life. But I’m jumping back in with a new project.

Several years ago, I purchased a massive book called La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine), published by Rizzoli Publications. It’s a compendium of thousands of recipes from the 20 regions of Italy.

I had this idea to work my way through this bookfiguratively through Italybut it’s an impractical goal. In the first place, many of the recipes call for regional or Italy-specific products that would be impossible to get here, even with the internet.

Second, many recipes hinge on the inclusion of products that I simply wouldn’t use, whether I can get them or not. I will not cook, for example, organ meats. And since I keep my meat intake in general to a minimum, many of these dishes would be just too much.

Third, it would take me years to make all of them.

So, I took a practical, reasonable, and (for me) enjoyable approach to this little venture. I decided to choose four recipes from each region. I based my decisions not just on dishes that I thought I would enjoy eating, but those that seemed different in some way from my everyday fare, those that sounded intriguing in some way, or those that take a different approach to a familiar dish.

Although I can’t share the recipes with you word for word (because that would be copyright infringement), since these are traditional regional recipes, I can share the ingredients with you and some basic preparation instructions, according to what I believe they should be. And I say that because…

As I started working with the recipes, I began to see a problem, which is that the instructions are, here and there, somewhat vague. I wasn’t always sure how long I should cook something, or what result I was supposed to be looking for. For example, one recipe says to heat olive oil in a pan and to sauté pancetta and onion, but it doesn’t say to what point. Is the onion just supposed to soften and get translucent? Is it supposed to get lightly brown? Deeply brown?

So I realized that I had to just use my instincts on some of these recipes, and I will share will you what I feel are the most suitable preparations.

The 20 regions represented in the book are Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Fruili-Venezia Guilia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Molise, Puglia, Sardegna, Sicilia, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria, Valle d’Aosta, Veneto.

I’m going to go through the regions alphabetically, starting with Abruzzo. However, another thing I realized is that I was going to have to make some of these recipes out of order based on the seasonality of the ingredients required. So, later on, while I’m in the middle of alphabet, perhaps in Lombardia or Molise, a recipe from Basilicata might come up. Or perhaps while I’m in the midst of doing Toscana or Umbria, recipes from Lazio or Puglia might surface.

This is a project I’m doing for fun and to indulge my love and passion for Italian food, so I’m not holding myself to any hard-and-fast rules. My only goal here is to capture the essence of each recipe, sample these regional foods, and maybe introduce you, dear readers, to the cuisines of Italy.

I hope you try these recipes, too, and keep the traditional foods of the Old World alive.

 


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Zucchini-Mozzarella Frittata

I love making frittatas. They are soversatile, and you can make them with just about anything.

Frittatas can be made with 2 methods. The first is the flip–you cook the frittata on one side, invert it onto a plate, and slide it back into the pan to cook on the other side. That’s the method that I’m going to venture to say is most common with most home cooks.

I think the other method is more common in restaurants, and that is where the frittata is cooked on the stove top, then placed in the broiler to cook the top. The frittata I offer today must be done using this method because the top layer is mozzarella, and if you flip that over…well, you’re just going to end up with a pan full of mozzarella.

This dish is loaded with Italian flavors. Enjoy!

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Red Bean-Vegetable Chili

There are so many ways to make a vegetarian chili. Some people, of course, will argue and say that unless there’s meat in it, it can’t be chili, that it’s just a vegetable stew. Whatever. If it tastes like chili, then it’s chili. Or call it vegetable stew. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it tastes good. And this dish does.

It’s also another example of what can be done when you have a little of this and a little of that left over in your fridge and pantry. But trust me, this is worth going out and buying the ingredients for.

Enjoy! Continue reading