Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


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Torta Salata di Zucca (Squash Cake)

Lombardia

Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

As I write this, the world is in the thick fog of the pandemic COVID-19, or coronavirus. With so many of you in quarantine (or more diplomatically referred to as shelter in place), you’re trying out all those recipes you’ve been wanting to try. Well, now’s a great time to journey with me through Italy.

Today, we’re in Lombardia and I’m offering one of that region’s specialties, squash cake. Although it’s called cake, it’s actually more like a savory loaf with a sweet edge, kind of like corn bread.

What makes this recipe unusual is that it calls for mostarda di Cremona. Also known as mostarda di frutta, it’s candied fruit packed in mustard syrup. (Mostarda di Cremona, from the town of Cremona, is a particular blend of whole or large pieces of various fruit, and is the most well-known variety of mostarda.) If you taste it right out of the jar, you get hit with an unmistakable mustard flavor, reminiscent of yellow mustard, with only an undertone of sweetness. Once incorporated into a dish, the flavor blends in seamlessly and you end up with a complex recipe with an interesting flavor that you can’t quite pinpoint (but it’s the mostarda!).

Anyway, try it out. I hope you like it.

By the way, the note in the original recipe says it’s best to make the mixture a day ahead, but I missed my opportunity to do that. I made it the same day and it was fine.

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Pignoccata al Miele (Honey Cookies)

Calabria

Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

This week, I stepped away from the middle of the list back toward the beginning, to Calabria, for this sweet treat, Pignoccata al Miele, or Honey Cookies.

As usual, I made some adjustments to the ingredients (for example, I substituted butter for the called-for lard) and the instructions. Most particularly, the original recipe instructed to roll out the dough ½ inch thick. I found this to be too thick when cooked. Not only did the outside cook far too quickly while the inside remained raw, it also resulted in a denser, heavier cookie. So I would go with ¼ inch thick on the dough. At ½ inch thick, it yielded 64 cookies; it will, of course, yield more if you roll it out at ¼ inch.

In the end, these treats reminded me a lot of struffoli, except that they’re square instead of round. The cooking process is the same, the flavor profile is the same, and the texture is the same. (If you don’t know what struffoli are, they’re a traditional holiday treat made up of dough cut up into little balls or nuggets and dropped in oil. Then they’re drizzled with honey and decorated with sprinkles and/or candied fruit.)

Two things I want to note: I thought these cookies were a little too sweet. If that’s your thing, fine. But if, like me, you prefer things not cloying, eliminate the sugar in the honey mixture.

Enjoy.

Pignoccata al Miele

Honey Cookies

2 oranges
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
½ cup orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Cooking oil
3 tablespoons honey

Grate the zest of one orange. Peel the second orange and cut the peel into strips about ½ inch thick. (Use the flesh of the oranges for something else, or eat it!)

Whisk together the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, yeast, cinnamon, and salt. Add the liqueur and grated zest. Whisk these together to blend. With an electric mixer, combine this mixture with the eggs, melted butter, and softened butter until a dough forms.

Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the dough rise for 1 hour.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Roll it out into a sheet (I recommend ¼ inch thick), then cut it into 1-inch squares.Heat about 3 inches of cooking oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Line a platter with paper towels and set it by the stove.When the oil is very hot, place a few of the squares into the oil and fry until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drain them on the paper towels. Repeat this until all the cookies are cooked.Heat the honey with 1 tablespoon sugar (if using) and orange peel in a large skillet. Add the fried squares and stir them around to soak up the honey (do this in multiple batches if necessary).Arrange on a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature.

 


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Zimino di Ceci

Liguria

Hello. This week for my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine), I’m in Liguria. Liguria sits in a crescent along the Mediterranean coastline on the west side of Italy.

My first recipe for this region is Zimino di Ceci, or Chickpea Stew. This is a pretty easy recipe, and quick, if you don’t count the overnight soaking time. The ingredients list calls for a few items that require prep (although minimal) before using them in the recipe. So I’ve moved the prep instructions for these items to the recipe itself. The other thing I did was to add the mushroom soaking liquid to the stew, which gave it a nice depth of flavor.

Enjoy.

Zimino di Ceci

Chickpea Stew

Makes 4-6 servings.

1½ cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight*
½ teaspoon sea salt, plus extra
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
3 or 4 ripe plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
¾ pound Swiss chard, chopped
Toasted bread (optional)

Drain the chickpeas and rinse them. Place them in a large pot and cover them with fresh water by about 3 inches. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and bring to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until they’re tender, about 2 to 2 ½ hours.

Meanwhile, soak the mushrooms in water for about 15 minutes. Drain them and pat them dry with paper towels or a kitchen towel. Chop and set them aside.Bring a pot large enough to fit the tomatoes and fill with water. Cut an “x” into the top of the tomatoes and place them in the water for about 10 to 15 seconds (until you see the skin splitting apart). Scoop them out and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel off the skin, remove the seeds, and chop them. Set them aside.Drain the chickpeas in a colander set over a bowl and reserve the liquid.Wipe out the pot. Add the oil and heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic, and mushrooms (reserve the liquid), and ¼ teaspoon salt. Sauté until onions and celery are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes (and any liquid they gave off). Then add the chard. Cook 2 minutes.Add the chickpeas and cook 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of the reserved chickpea liquid. Carefully pour in the reserved mushroom liquid, making sure to leave any sediment in the bowl. Cook another 5 minutes. If you want it more brothy, add more of the chickpea liquid until it reaches the consistency you like. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if needed.Serve with toasted bread, if desired.

*Place the chickpeas in a bowl and cover them with water by about 3 inches. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.

 

 

 


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Ertuti—Beans and Grains

Lazio

Hi there. This week on my journey through the Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). I’m once again in Lazio, this time making a soup. This soup is called Ertuti. I wasn’t able to find any information on this dish, or why it’s called ertuti, but it’s rustic fare at its best. A quintessential peasant dish, it’s bulked up with beans and grains with some cured meats thrown in. (You can omit the meats if you like; I used only a small amount of prosciutto.)

Now, as far as the beans and grains themselves are concerned, the original recipe calls for a pound of mixed legumes, and they included farro in this ingredient. Why, I don’t know. Farro is not a legume; it’s the grain in this beans-and-grains combo. So, in order to make the ingredients list less confounding, I’ve split each legume called for in the original and the farro into separate and equal items. However, if you prefer one more than others, go ahead and change the quantities. Or change out the types. You can also change the grain, if you like. Farro is a hearty whole grain and can be substituted with barley, wheat berries, spelt berries, kamut, triticale, or any hard berry.

Finally, while this is a fairly simple recipe, the instructions were somewhat vague and assumed a certain level of understanding of cooking. I’ve expanded on the instructions to make everything a bit clearer.

Ertuti

Beans and Grains

¼ pound dried chickpeas
¼ pound dried lentils
¼ pound dried fava beans
¼ pound farro
1 tablespoon finely chopped prosciutto
¼ cup finely chopped pancetta
1 small piece salame, chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Slices of whole wheat bread

Soak the chickpeas, lentils, fava beans, and farro separately in water, covered, overnight. Pour out the water and place each in a separate pot. Fill with enough water to cover by 3 inches.Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until tender (each one will vary in time). When tender, drain each legume and farro and reserve some of their cooking liquid (you can use liquid from one pot or combine them).In a large pot, heat the prosciutto, pancetta, and salame until they start to brown.Stir in the tomato paste. Work it in until it’s well blended.Add the beans and farro and stir. Add about ½ cup of the cooking liquid and stir. Cook 20 minutes to combine the flavors. You can add more bean cooking liquid as needed if the pot dries out, or if you want a looser consistency.Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Serve with the whole wheat bread.


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Carcofi alla Giudia

Lazio

Hi there. Welcome once again to my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). I’m now entering the region of Lazio, whose principal city is Rome. Rome, of course, is the capital of Italy and the heart of the ancient Roman Empire.

Rome is home to one of the oldest Jewish populations in Europe, and artichokes feature prominently in Roman Jewish cuisine. Carciofi alla Giudia is an iconic dish of the region. The artichokes are smashed open and cooked in oil so that the leaves are crispy and the interiors are tender. As you can see in the photo above, I didn’t do a very good job of keeping the leaves open, but they were delicious anyway.

Here’s a tip: Make sure you use a saucepan that is just big enough to hold the artichokes upright. If there’s too much space in the pan, the artichokes may flop over. (Then again, if you do a better job of keeping them open than I did, maybe it won’t be a problem.)

Carciofi alla Giudia

Jewish-Style Artichokes

Makes 4 servings.

1 lemon, cut in half
4 large globe artichokes
Salt and pepper

4 cups extra virgin olive oil

Fill a large bowl with water and squeeze the lemon into it (this is called acidulating the water). Save the lemon shells.

Remove the tough outer leaves from the artichokes. Cut the stems, leaving only 1 inch, then use a paring knife to trim the tough outer layer of the stem and the bottoms of the artichokes. “At the end, each artichoke should be similar to a flower.” (That’s in the original recipe. I decided to leave it in because, while not very helpful to a novice cook, it’s a lovely description.) Rub all the cut edges of the artichokes with the cut sides of the lemon shells as you trim each one, then place them in the acidulated water.Remove the artichokes from the water and dry them with a towel. Turn each one top down on a hard surface and press firmly. Then spread open each one with your hands. You want to expand the leaves to create an open-flower effect. Sprinkle the insides with salt and pepper.
Fill a saucepan with about 3 inches of oil and heat it over medium heat. When it’s hot, immerse the artichokes, stem up, and cook about 10 minutes. With a pair of tongs (two, if you have them), carefully turn them over and arrange them stem down for another 10 minutes.
Remove them from the pan and drain them on paper towels. Sprinkle them with a little water to draw out the oil and make them even crisper. Serve hot.


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Paparot—Spinach-Cornmeal Soup

Fruili-Venezia Giulia

I’m just barely one-third through the regions of my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). I skipped a few recipes because of seasonal availability of ingredients, but I’ll get back around to those later. Right now, I’m in Fruili-Venezia Giulia, at the very high point of Italy.

This is another simple but unique recipe. Cornmeal is a common ingredient in this region of Italy, and it figures heavily in a traditional soup called Paparot. It’s a thick, hearty soup, but made properly, it’s silky and luxurious. Although it is traditional to serve it with crusty toasted bread, you can also add some rice or noodles.

Paparot

Spinach-Cornmeal Soup

Makes 6 servings.

2 pounds spinach, washed, large stems removed
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 or 2 large garlic cloves, peeled but whole
¾ cup all-purpose flour
8 cups broth
2/3 cup fine cornmeal
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Boil the spinach in a large pot of water with ¼ teaspoon salt just until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain well and squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop the spinach and set aside.

In the same pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic and saute until golden on all sides. Remove the garlic and add the spinach. Whisk in the flour. Pour in half the broth, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. If any lumps form, work them out with the back of a wooden spoon.Pour in the remainder of the broth, then whisk in the cornmeal. Work out any lumps that form with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook over medium-low heat 30- to 40 minutes, stirring frequently and pressing out lumps, until the soup is thick. Season with salt and pepper.

 

 


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Minestra di Zucca

Fruili-Venezia Giulia

Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). This week’s recipe moves us into Fruili-Venezia Giulia, which is in the most northeastern corner of Italy. It borders Austria and Slovenia and it’s cuisine is influenced by those cultures. It uses a lot of root vegetables and hearty grains. The first recipe from the region I offer is a very simple one: butternut squash soup.

You’ve had butternut squash soup before, right? So have I. It’s a pretty common dish. There’s something a little different about this one, though. After the squash is cooked, a cup of ricotta is stirred in, creating a unique soup. The recipe is straight-forward and I don’t have too much to say about it, except for one thing. The original recipe instructs to “squeeze dry” the squash. I don’t know what they mean by this, but I put the squash in a sieve and pressed on it with a wooden spoon to release excess water. I further tweaked the instructions for clarity, and I thought the soup needed salt (not given in the original recipe). Other than that, it’s all pretty easy. Give it a try. Enjoy.

Minestra di Zucca

Squash Soup

Makes 6 servings.

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup ricotta
1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Pinch ground cinnamon
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the squash in a pot large enough to hold it all and cover with water. Add ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil; lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the squash is tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the squash into a sieve set over a bowl to catch the water. Press the squash to release as much liquid as possible. Reserve the cooking water.Return the pot to the heat. Combine the oil and butter, and heat until the butter has melted. Add the garlic, then whisk in the flour.Add the squash and mash it with a potato masher or a stick blender. Stir in the ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, cinnamon, pepper, and salt. Stir in some of the reserved cooking water until it reaches a consistency to your liking. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.