Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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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


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Cannellini Ragout

Italian cuisine is known as rustic, hearty fare, but even its finer dishes tend to be comforting and satisfying. This recipe is a perfect example. It’s got the filling protein of creamy cannellini beans and the fresh tartness of tomatoes, but just a bit of wine gives it complexity and elevates it to an elegant dinner option. But it’s also perfect for everyday meals. A piece of toast made with rustic bread makes it a filling, flavor-filled lunch or dinner.

Enjoy!

Cannellini Ragout

Makes 4 servings.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
¼ cup white wine or vegetable broth
4 cups cooked cannellini (fresh cooked or canned, rinsed and drained)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup chopped plum tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
4 slices rustic bread, toasted
¼ grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a medium Dutch oven or saucepot. Add the onion and sauté over medium-high heat until they’ve softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the bell peppers and continue sautéing until the peppers are soft, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste. Stir until it’s well blended. Pour in the wine or broth and stir it in, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add the beans, salt, pepper, and the broth. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and let it simmer until the mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook another 3 to 4 minutes to soften them. Stir in the parsley and remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Place a piece of toast in the bottom of each serving bowl. Place equal amounts of the beans on top of the toast. Sprinkle the Parmigiano, then drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over each.

Serve hot.