Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Purgatorio alla Calabrese

Calabria

This is the latest entry in my Regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine) as my guide. Today we are still in Calabria, which, as I said in my last entry, makes up the “instep” and toe of the boot of Italy.

The last Calabrian recipe featured eggplant as its main ingredient, so I had wanted to avoid additional eggplant recipes. But the name of this one intrigued me: Purgatory Sandwich. The book doesn’t explain why this is called Purgatory Sandwich, and I couldn’t find any information on it (I will say that my research was minimal). My theory is that whoever named this decided that if they had to stop in Purgatory on their way to Heaven and needed a snack, this would be it.

Anyway, let’s get to the recipe. This one had a couple of ingredients that were vague. Here are the items (as they are called for in the book) that I had issues with (the text in red are my comments):

2 eggplants (What size? Small? Medium? Or what weight? One pound? Two pounds?), cut into sections (What does that mean?) and soaked in salted water about 30 minutes (this should have been put at the top of the list and the first step in the instructions). I started with two small Italian eggplants and cubed them, but found that to be too much. So, in the end, I recommend 1 medium eggplant.

4 peppers, coarsely chopped (What kind of peppers? Bell? Italian? What color? I went with 1 large red and 2 smallish green bell peppers)

As for the tomatoes, I felt that it could have used one more. Also, the recipes calls for 4 young potatoes, quartered–I think they are referring to new potatoes here.

This is a very rustic, quintessential Italian recipe. The fact that it contains eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes just makes it scream Mediterranean. Continue reading

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Melanzane dai Cento Sapori

Calabria

Welcome back to my journey through the Regions of Italy, using La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine) as my guide. Today we are in Calabria, which makes up the “instep” and toe of the boot of Italy.

This first Calabrian recipe is called Melanzane dai Cento Sapori, or 1000-Flavor Eggplant. Eggplant plays a big role in the cuisine of Italy, so it didn’t surprise me that I found many recipes from all the 20 regions that are based on eggplant. Which is ironic because eggplants used to be believed to cause insanity. In fact, the Italian word for eggplant. melanzana, means “mad apple” (many “new” produce items introduced into Europe were referred to as “apples”).

Citron

What struck me as unusual was the addition of chocolate. Not that chocolate is a new concept in savory dishes, but it seemed strange to combine it with eggplant. And then I thought of caponata, an eggplant appetizer that is a specialty of Sicily and which traditionally includes cocoa powder. So…why not?

Another unusual element in this recipe is citron zest. Citron is a citrus fruit that is the color of lemons and has lemon-like flesh, but its rind is very thick and bumpy. It’s more aromatic than regular lemons, but it’s also extremely difficult to find in the U.S., unless you buy dried or candied citron. So just use lemon zest.

I didn’t know what to expect from this recipe. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised. It was slightly bitter, slightly sweet, and much more flavorful than I had anticipated. And more complex. A thousand flavors indeed. The ingredients are pretty basic, but combined, they really made for an unusual, delicious dish. It was deeply colored, very rich looking and unctuous. I would serve this hot by itself, or at room temperature on crackers. Continue reading


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Ossi di Morti

Basilicata

Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on the recipes of the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). This week I’m still in the home of my family, Basilicata, which is a gorgeous, mountainous region that sits on the “sole” of the boot of Italy.

This recipe is for cookies called Ossa di Morti, or Bones of the Dead. Traditionally made on the Day of Dead, November 2, they are usually meant to resemble bones; however, this recipe instructs that the cookies be shaped into figure 8s, so that’s what I did. But I get the feeling that I didn’t quite get what they were trying to convey.

As I made them, it seemed to me like they were a variation of taralli. One of the reasons I thought they were supposed to be like taralli is that the recipe calls for boiling the dough before baking them, which is what you do to make taralli, pretzels, and other similar snacks. But once I had the finished product, I realized that they weren’t meant to be anything like taralli. They’re too sweet to be taralli, yet the texture wasn’t quite that of a cookie. Furthermore, I did a little research (which I wish I’d done before I made these), they’re usually shaped more like bones (which, of course, makes sense). Continue reading


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Favette e Cicoria

Basilicata

Welcome back to my continuing journey through the Regions of Italy, using the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy as my guide. This week, I’m still in Basilicata, the homeland of my family. Today’s recipe is Favette e Cicoria (pronounced chee-KOHR-ee-ah), or Fava Beans and Chicory. It’s a delicious combination of seasoned fava bean puree and cooked chicory on toasted bread.

There’s some confusion about the term “chicory.” When Americans hear the word “chicory,” their minds often go to the root with blue flowers that is sometimes added to coffee (as in the classic New Orleans-style chicory coffee) or used as a coffee substitute. But for Europeans, chicory is a completely different thing. For Italians, it generally means what Americans refer to as dandelion. Yes, those weeds that grow wildly all over everyone’s lawns and gardens are not only edible, but widely consumed. (If you choose to pick your own, don’t use the poofy pompom part at the top. Do with those what Mother Nature intended us to use them for—make a wish and blow it away. Just use the leaves.) And because chicory root (the one that’s used in coffee) is related to dandelion, it’s sometimes called blue dandelion because of its blue flowers.

Americans also label curly endive as chicory or frisée, both of which are incorrect. To confuse matters further, other vegetables are categorized as “chicory.” What Americans know as Belgian endive also goes by the name witloof chicory, Belgium chicory, blanching chicory, Dutch chicory, and chicon. 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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Release of World Party!!

World Party Front CoverAt long last, I can finally announce the release of my latest cookbook, World Party: Vegetarian Appetizers, Hors d’oeuvres and Party Plates.

Thai Peanut Dumplings

Thai Peanut Dumplings

This is both an excitement and a relief because this book has been on a long and arduous trip. I first got the idea for it, and began researching recipes and cuisines for it, in 2002. I spent many years testing and developing recipes to duplicate the dishes I’d read about and sampled, but in such a way that they would stay true to the originals as much as possible while making them meatless.

M'Baazi

M’Baazi

I started with a list, and that list grew and grew. Over the years, I added recipes, deleted recipes, changed recipes, and in a few cases I was so determined to make a particular recipe work that I just kept testing and testing until I came up with the right result. Sometimes a recipe simply didn’t work and I tossed it. Occasionally I would discover that I’d confused one dish for another, and sometimes I had a recipe that I couldn’t find the proper name for in its originating culture. In those cases, I researched high and low on the internet and in books and magazines, asked friends and coworkers if they knew, asked friends to ask their friends and coworkers if they knew, posted questions in special interest groups on Facebook, etc. I found out the answers to some, and found out that I had others all wrong.

An Indian Feast

An Indian Feast

As I met and talked to more and more people from different cultures, my list expanded but, oddly, also shrank. So many cultures have more common threads than we imagine, and as I started to examine my recipes, I began to realize that there were more similarities than differences. It was a fascinating and educational journey I went on.

Pot Stickers

Pot Stickers

The one thing I’ve learned from this project, if nothing else, is that no matter what clothing people wear, what religion they practice, what rituals they perform, what kinds of jobs they hold, or how much money they have, we are more similar than we are different. You can see this in the very similar dishes that are shared between nations, with maybe just a spice or two, or a cooking method, differentiating them.

Arepitas with Black Bean-Corn Salsa

Arepitas with Black Bean-Corn Salsa

Eating is the one thing that every single human being on earth must do to survive, so it’s no wonder that food is the common bond across the planet. No matter where you go in the world, a signal that you are welcome is the offer of food. When you are a guest at someone’s home, it always gives your hosts tremendous pleasure to feed to. It is the global sign of hospitality, and many customs and rituals were created around food. In some places, to refuse food is an insult, or to not finish it all is a sign of poor manners. Some cultures expect you to belch loudly when you’re done to show that you are satisfied.

Food always brings brings people of the world together.

Australian "Roo" Burgers

Australian “Roo” Burgers

It’s my hope that through food, we can find common ground and sit at the table together to share a meal.

So take a trip around the world. If you can’t do it physically, do it in your kitchen and at your table. Try new recipes and explore new flavors, and invite your friends and loved ones to share in the journey. Most of all, enjoy it. Peace.

A Spanish Feast

A Spanish Feast

 

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Cookbooking

World Party Front CoverI haven’t blogged much in the past few weeks because I’ve had so much going on. Part of that busyness is that I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my soon-to-be-released cookbook, World Party: Vegetarian Appetizers, Hors d’oeuvres and Party Plates. Dara Bunjon, Social Media Administrator of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, was awesome enough to have me as a guest blogger at her blog, Dining Dish. I give a little bit of background on the book and a special recipe from it.

There’s so much that goes into creating a cookbook:

  • Writing/developing the recipes
  • Testing the recipes multiple times
  • Setting up photo shoots and taking the photographs (not as easy as you might think)
  • Designing
  • Layout
  • Cover design
  • Writing “other” copy (introduction, acknowledgements, head notes, tips, index, source lists, etc.)
  • Proofing and revising
  • Proofing and revising
  • Proofing and revising (yes, again and again)

And then there’s the marketing, which is a whole other job unto itself.

It’s a lot of work. Creating a cookbook is the kind of thing you really, really want to do. It’s a labor of love.

And I do love it. I just wish I could make real money from them. That’s hard to do because there’s a lot of competition out there. But I do the best I can because I believe in my books, in my food, and in what I can offer people who love to cook and eat.

Also in the works is the new editions of my older cookbook, Vegetarian Italian: Traditions.  I will be re-releasing this book, and what was supposed to be volume 2, as ebooks. I hope to get that done by the end of the year. I’ll be posting updates as I go along.

In the meantime, go to Dining Dish and see what international recipe I’m offering (hint: it’s Cuban!).

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