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.
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.
Zimino di Ceci
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.
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
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.
Hello again. Thanks for coming back to see where I am 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).
Again, I’m going to take a step back from Emilia-Romagna to Campania. This time, I made Palline di Castagne, or Chestnut Balls. They resemble chocolate truffles in appearance, but have a unique flavor.
I must say that some recipes benefit from a test run and a re-do, and this is one of those recipes, because the first batch I made was inedible, while the second batch was really good and worthy of serving to guests. But I did make one very important modification.
The recipe calls for 1 cup milk, which, as I discovered, was way too much. The resulting confections were much too wet. So much so that they couldn’t be rolled out into smooth balls, and the texture was very off-putting. I must confess that I made half the recipe (in other words, I used ½ cup milk). The ingredients are few enough and simple enough that halving the recipe wasn’t a problem, but I have to wonder if, somehow, it affected the end product. However, I don’t think this was the case. What I did with the second batch was to add a little bit of milk, a little at a time, just until the ingredients held together. In total, I used maybe a couple of tablespoons.
Here’s my personal tip: The original recipe says to pass the cooked chestnuts through a sieve. I tried this method and found that, because of their texture, some of the chestnuts gets trapped in the mesh of the strainer. I found it to be both messy and wasteful. Then I tried grating it, and the result was pretty much the same, if not worse. I found that using a food processor works best. It does the job quickly, with minimal mess, and the least amount of waste. It may not be traditional, but it’s the most effective.
I’m giving half the recipe here because it made 28, and I feel that’s a good number of confections to make. Of course, if you want to make a full batch, just double everything. But be careful with that milk!
Palline di Castagne
1 pound chestnuts 2½ tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon bitter cocoa powder 2 tablespoons rum or Marsala wine
¼ cup whole milk ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
Using a paring knife, cut an “x” in the flat sides of the chestnuts, or cut a little flap in the top part of the chestnuts. Place the chestnuts in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until the chestnuts are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel them.Pulverize them either by passing them through a mesh sieve, grating them, or pulsing them in a food processor. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl.Add the sugar, cocoa power, and rum or Marsala and stir. Begin adding the milk a little at a time just until the mixture holds together. Mix well.Spread the confectioners’ sugar out on a plate.
Take a tablespoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Make a few more and place them in the sugar. Roll them around to coat them fully and place them on a platter. Repeat with the remaining mixture.Arrange them on a plate and serve. You can make these a day or two ahead of time, but wait until the last minute to roll them in the sugar because the sugar will eventually melt.
Welcome back to 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).
This week on my journey, I’m taking a step back in the alphabet (last time, I was in Emilia-Romagna) and going to Calabria for Sformato di Ortaggi in Teglia, or Vegetable Timbale. The English translation they give (timbale) may not be helpful to you if you’re not deeply familiar with Italian cuisine because that word isn’t English at all. A timbale is a dish that’s baked in a baking pan or casserole dish.
This timbale turned out pretty good and I really enjoyed it. The only issue I had with the recipe was the listing for bread. The original called for “1 cup roughly cubed homemade bread crumbs.” Well, which is it? Cubes or crumbs? These are 2 different things. They are not interchangeable and never shall the twain meet. I decided to use cubes just for the hell of it, but it would probably work just as well with crumbs.
Sformato di Ortaggi in Teglia
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 cup bread cubes (made from anything but sliced white bread) ½ cup grated pecorino 1 tablespoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes 2 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely chopped* 4 large potatoes, peeled, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices 1 medium yellow onion, sliced ½ cup basil leaves Salt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 1½- to 2-quart casserole dish or baking pan with a little olive oil and set it aside.
In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, pecorino, oregano, and red pepper flakes.Cover the bottom of the casserole with half the tomatoes. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Then form of layer of potatoes, close together but not overlapping. Spread half the onion over the potatoes, then half the bread.
Lay a few basil leaves over this, then drizzle with a little olive oil.Make another layer of tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, potatoes, onion, bread crumbs, and olive oil (skip the basil). If the tomatoes released juices, pour it in slowly from the side. If there are no juices (or not much), add ¼ cup water.
Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until a golden crust forms on the surface. If the top starts to brown too quickly, cover it with foil.Serve hot or cold.
*To prep the tomatoes, wash them and cut an “X” into the bottom of each. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the tomatoes for about 30 seconds, or until you see the skin start to separate from the flesh. Scoop them out and set them aside to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, peel away the skin (they should slip right off, or use a paring knife to help you). Cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Chop them finely and place them in a bowl.
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.
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.
Welcome back to 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).
I’m skipping the second two recipes from Calabria for now because they require the oven and I just can’t do it in the middle of this New York heatwave. So, we move on to Campania.
The name of Campania means “countryside.” The region was originally referred to by the Romans as campania felix, Latin for “fertile countryside”. The capital of Campania is Naples, one of the most well-known Italian cities. In this region, you will find the iconic Mt. Vesuvius, the ruins of ancient Pompeii, and the coastline towns of Positano and Amalfi.
Orecchiette (“little ears”)
One of Campania’s regional recipes is Cavatelli Con le Noci, Cavatelli with Walnuts. “Cavatelli” in Italian means “little caves,” so called because of the little grooves in the center. Those grooves make this pasta perfect to use with thick or hearty sauces because it collects in the “caves.”
This is one of my favorite recipes in this project so far. It’s so delicious with minimal amount of work. Having said that, I did need to make adjustments to the recipe.
First, I cheated. The recipe gives ingredients and instructions for making fresh cavatelli. Making fresh pasta is not difficult, but it does require time, which is something I’m in short supply of. So, I took the easy way out and used dry pasta. That was alteration number one.
The second alteration was not my fault. I went to the store to buy cavatelli, and thanks to Murphy’s Law, they had every type of pasta you could possibly want except the one I needed, cavatelli. I had a bag of orecchiette at home, so I decided to just use that. Orecchiette means “little ears,” and also do a good job of catching sauces in their “cups.”Continue reading →
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 →
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”).
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 →
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!
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.