Miz Chef

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Strozzapreti—Priest-Chokers with “Salsify” Sauce

Emilia-Romagna

Ah, caught your eye with that title, didn’t I? Strozzapreti, which literally means “priest-chokers” (strozza=to choke or strangle; preti=priest) is a type of pasta, and it stars in this week’s recipe in my 20 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).

Here’s the thing: Some pasta names refer to different shapes, depending on what region of Italy you go to, and so it is with strozzapreti. In some regions, strozzapreti look like twisted ropes, whereas in other regions, it refers to various shapes that are large and grow larger as they cook, and can easily be used to choke the local cleric. There are different theories for the origin of the name, from accidental choking to intentional suffocation, but it’s one of the best pasta shape names. (It seems to me that since this name is widespread throughout the country, choking priests must have been a common practice.) In Emilia-Romagna, they resemble what my people from Basilicata referred to as “macaroni.” I looked for something in the supermarket to replicate this and the closest I came was casarecci, or “house-style noodles.” You can also use gemelli, or anything similar. In the case of this specific recipe (i.e., according to the book), this pasta got its name from its white color, due to the lack of eggs, and reminiscent of priests’ collars.

Lischi/agretti

The recipe is from the nineteenth century, but the title of this recipe is misleading. When I first saw it, I assumed I’d be using salsifythat long, black-skinned root vegetable, called scorzanera in Italian (scorza=peel, nera=black). But I was wrong. What this dish actually requires is a marsh grass known in Italian as lischi, agretti or Barba di Frate. The authors of this book (or perhaps the translators) seem to think that lischi are the young leaves of the salsify plant, but I’ve researched it and I’ve come up with no evidence to support this. Maybe somewhere in the translation, they ran across lischi’s latin name, Salsola soda, and confused it with salsify.

Having said all that, lischi is almost impossible to get locally in the U.S., unless you’re lucky enough to encounter

it at a farmers’ market somewhere, grow it yourself, or order it online. The book suggests using Swiss chard leaves as a substitute, but that comes nowhere near replicating lischi. I scoured the many offerings of Asian markets, looking for something similar. Lischi have a grassy, slightly bitter taste, and are long. They look almost like Chinese long beans, only with an oceanic sheen to it, similar to algae, or seaweed. Neither of those things, however, seemed appropriate. In the end, I settled for chives. Not the smallish French, or onion, chives (the kind that you snip on top of your hors d’oeuvres), and not flowering chives, but long, flat-leaf chives, known as garlic chives. The garlicky flavor is very mild when it’s cooked, and it has a similar strand-like appearance to the lischi.

 

The result was pretty good, and definitely a change of pace from the typical pasta dish.

Flat-leaf chives

Strozzapreti

Priest-Chokers with Salsify Sauce

Makes 4 servings.

½ pound strozzapretti (or other short pasta)
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 ounces pancetta, diced
4 ounces lischi (or flat-leaf chives)
1 cup dry red wine, preferably Sangiovese di Romagna)
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, about 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the type you use. Drain well.

Meanwhile, place the lischi (or chives) in another pot and cover with water. Bring it to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until the the vegetables are tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well.Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium pan; add the pancetta and saute over low heat until the pancetta has lightly browned. Add the lischi and wine. Simmer over medium heat. When the wine has evaporated, add the cooked strozzapreti and the rest of the butter. Toss to heat. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

 


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Riso con la Zucca

Emilia-Romagna

Welcome back to my Regions Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). This is another stop in Emilia-Romagna, which, as I said last time, is in northern Italy. In the northern part of the country, they use rice a lot in their cuisines (pasta is more popular in the south). In fact, risotto was born in Milan, which a major city in the north (but not Emilia-Romagna). So, this time around, I offer you Riso con la Zucca, or Rice with Squash.

On the face of it, this recipe is squash risotto, which is not an usual recipe. I’ve made butternut squash risotto. You’ve probably made butternut squash risotto. But what makes this recipe different from typical risottos is that rather than using broth, it calls for milk. And instead of adding the liquid a little at a time, it’s added all at once.

The result is a thick, hearty dish. Personally I prefer traditional risotto (made with broth), but this was nice for a change of pace. And I get the feeling that this particular risotto will go over well with kids. The recipe is straightforward and pretty simple, so there’s nothing really to explain…except maybe one thing.

The instructions say to cook the rice until it’s all’onda. Since this term is not as ubiquitous as al dente, you may not be familiar with it. Onda means “wave,” so something cooked all’onda is “wavy.” When you tilt the pan, the rice should ripple like waves in the ocean. What that essentially means is that it’s creamy—moist but not liquidy.

You can use any type of hard winter squash, including butternut, kabocha, sweet dumpling, pumpkin, etc. Regarding the rice, it specifically calls for Carnaroli, which is a short-grained rice. I’m not sure why they call for that specific strain of rice, but if you can’t find it, you can substitute Arborio, Vialone Nano, or even sushi rice. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of sugar. I don’t really think it’s necessary because winter squash is sweet on its own, but it’s up to you if you want to include it or not.

Riso con la Zucca

Rice with Squash

Makes 6 servings

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
2¼ pounds winter squash (butternut, kabocha, etc.), peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped
3 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra
1 tablespoon sugar
6 cups milk
1½ cups Carnaroli rice
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and sauté until it’s soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes.Add the squash, 3 teaspoons salt, and sugar. Mix and cook, stirring occasionally over medium-low heat until the squash “cooks to a puree.” (Note: the squash will not break down into a puree on its own. Basically, you want it soft enough so that when you stir it, it falls apart.) Stir the squash around and break it up, but don’t mash it; you want it somewhat chunky. This should take about 20 to 25 minutes.

Pour in the milk and bring it to a boil. The moment it comes to a boil, add the rice and stir. Cook over low heat, partially covered, until the liquid has been mostly absorbed and the rice is creamy and smooth. If the liquid is absorbed and the rice is still not fully cooked, add water, a little at a time, until it is cooked.Turn off the heat. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano, black pepper, and the remaining butter (optional). Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Serve immediately.

The rice will thicken as it cools and will become stiff. To heat up leftovers, stir in some water to loosen it up.


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Pesche Ripiene–Stuffed Peaches

09

Emilia Romagna

Hello again. Welcome back to my Regions Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). This week on our journey, we stop in Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy. The capital of Emilia-Romagna is the well-known city of Bologna, but it’s also home to Modena, which is best known as the place of origin of balsamic vinegar. The recipe I have for you today come, in fact, from that city of black gold (balsamic, that is).

The technical aspects of this recipe weren’t too bad, but there were a couple of points that made me scratch my head. The first thing was the bread. The original recipe called for the “bread of 1 roll soaked in milk and squeezed dry.” What kind of roll? How big? Crust included or just the crumb? How much milk? My conclusions are in the recipe below.

The second thing was in the instructions where it said to whip the egg whites and fold it into the mixture. Well, whip them to what stage? Soft peaks? Stiff peaks? Just until thickened? In the end, I went with soft peaks.

The headnote on this recipe says that in place of the almonds, you can use finely crushed amaretti, which are Italian almond cookies. I haven’t tried this alternative yet, but I’ll bet it’s even better than the original.

Pesche Ripiene

Stuffed Peaches

1 hero roll
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 large ripe peaches
3 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup blanched almonds, finely ground, or 1¼ cup almond flour
Confectioners’ sugar

Remove the crumb from the hero and place it in a bowl. Pour the milk over it and let it soak about 5 minutes.(I used the crust as well, but only because it was really soft.)Place the bread in a mesh strainer and press it with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula and squeeze out as much milk as possible.Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Grease a large baking sheet or casserole with the butter.

Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. Scoop out as much of the flesh as you can, leaving a thin layer, so that you get a shell. Depending on how ripe your peaches are, this may be more or less difficult. If the peaches are very ripe and mushy and you can easily scoop it out with a spoon, then just put the pulp in a bowl. If you have to use a paring knife and the flesh is still solid, place the flesh in a food processor or blender (a mini would be perfect here!). Process until it’s mostly pureed, then transfer it to a bowl.Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and thick, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add this to the peach pulp. Add the drained bread and almond flour. Mix well.Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form, about 4 to 5 minutes. Fold it into the peach mixture.Fill each peach shell with the filling and place them on the baking sheet. Bake until peaches are tender and filling is somewhat firm, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Let them cool slightly. Dust them with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm.

 

 

 


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Giant Pear Squash with Cannellini

The squash family has many variations. There are the well-known types, such as butternuts, sweet dumplings, kabocha, spaghetti, zucchini, pattypan, and numerous others. But there are so many lesser know varieties, some you would never see except when they appear in neighbors’ gardens.

Giant pear squash

If you visit farmers’ markets, you can find some other squash varieties, but you won’t generally find them in most stores. However, every once in a while, an unusual type will show up in my local produce market. And that’s exactly what happened with the giant pear squash.

Giant pear squash is so called because…well, take a look at it. It’s aptly named. (Yes, it really is as big as it looks in the photo. The photo is not distorted in any way.) It has a very mild flesh, somewhat similar to yellow summer squash. It can easily be used in any dish that requires a mild squash, or as a substitute for zucchini.

You want to cut out the spongy core of the giant pear squash. Not because it’s inedible, but because it contains seeds that are too hard to eat. They kind of look like chulpe, a Peruvian dried corn (see photos below).

Squash seeds, fresh

Squash seeds, dried

Chulpe corn

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Tomato Tagliolini with Fresh Peas, Asparagus & Squash Blossoms

The fun thing about pasta is that it comes in many shapes, sizes, and flavors. You can play around with it almost endlessly. When I saw this particular pasta, I was drawn by its beautiful red color, which comes from tomatoes. Once it’s cooked, it retains a soft reddish color and a mild tomato flavor. Continue reading


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Husk Cherry Salsa

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So, what exactly are husk cherries? That’s what I wanted to know when I spotted them at the Union Square farmers’ Market in Manhattan. At first I thought they were gooseberries because they looked exactly like gooseberries—they were golden globes covered in a paper-thin, skin-like husk.

But the sign said “husk cherries.” Naturally, I bought some.img_6445

Native to the New World, husk cherries are not cherries at all. Sometimes also called husk tomatoes, Cape gooseberries, and ground cherries, they’re a type of flowering plant belonging to the nightshade family.

Their flavor is quite unique. It’s like a cross between a tomato, a papaya, and a pineapple. Sweet and savory at the same time. The easiest and no-brainer way to use them is in a salsa, which is exactly how Native Americans peoples used them, as well as eating them out of hand.

I think if food-loving people were smart, they’d introduce themselves to husk cherries and make them better known to the world. They’re really a great little fruit/vegetable. If you ever see them, buy a small bagful and give this recipe a try.

Enjoy!

img_6456

Husk Cherry Salsa

Makes approximately 1½ cups.

1 cup husk cherries
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced chile of your choice
¼ minced cilantro
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Remove the husks from the cherries by peeling the husks back and twisting them off. Rinse the cherries in cool water and set on paper towels to drain. Cut the cherries in half and place them in a bowl.img_6451Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve with tortilla chips or pita bread, or use as a relish for fish, chicken, pork, or vegetables.img_6455

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Oat Noodle Salad with Umeboshi Plum Dressing

IMG_6054

Yes, I’m still on a noodle kick. This time I’ve created a recipe using oat flour noodles. The nice thing about gluten-free noodles is that they’re lighter than wheat noodles, but like wheat noodles, they can be used in a variety of ways.IMG_6043

For some reason, these noodles are sold in packages with the odd weight of 13.4 ounces. I don’t know how or why they came up with that number, but it makes it awkward to create a recipe. (They probably started with 380 grams and it just happens to convert to 13.4 ounces, but why 380?) Well, I used approximately 10 ounces, which is three of the bundles that come in the package in the photo.

In this recipe, I’ve paired oat noodles with string beans and Japanese yams (although, if you can’t find Japanese yams, you can use sweet potatoes). The noodles and yams will soak up the dressing very efficiently, so if the salad is too dry for your tastes, you can add a little more olive oil, but the salad will not be oily in the slightest.

Ume Plum

Ume Plum

For the dressing, I used an umeboshi plum. Umbeboshi plums, a Japanese specialty, are ume plums (but more closely related to apricots) that have been salted and fermented. In the world of natural healing, umeboshi plums are considered miracle workers. If you divide foods into acidic, alkaline, and neutral, umeboshis are alkaline and can adjust imbalances in your body. It’s been used in Asia, particularly, Japan, China, and Korea, for centuries for a variety of ailments, including fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, colds, indigestion, headaches, and hangovers, among other things. Samurai soldiers were given umboshi as part of their field rations. They not used the plums to help them battle fatigue, they also used them to flavor foods such as rice and vegetables. Umeboshis also acted as a water and food purifier. Continue reading