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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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