Auntie Rita’s wonderfully simple spumante risotto

I came in Italy for a few days, not a very happy occasion actually, as my beloved nana has passed away at age of 99. She was my first cook teacher, she taught me to pick wild herbs to cook and serve in salad, she even showed me how to prepare farm cheese. She was a WWII survivor, born just one year after the end of WWI. She decided to be buried in a country churchyard in Umbria, in the village she was born and she never forgot. 

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But Umbria is also the place where my untie and godmother Rita lives (not a novel character but a flesh and bone honest food lover untie). She prepared this risotto for me and I thought to share with you because it is very easy but it makes the perfect Valentine dish given the fancy presence of Spumante (you can use Champagne if you wish) that add perfume to the Risotto.

Ingredients

Serve 5/6 people

  • ½ white onion
  • 1 l of hot vegetable stock
  • 75 gr of butter
  • 2-3 spoonful of cream
  • half a litre of dry spumante
  • ½ kg carnaroli or arborio rice
  • Grated parmesan to taste
  • Ground black pepper only if you like

Directions

  • Chop the onion very finely. Melt half of the butter in a wide saucepan and cook them gently until softened. In another saucepan, pour the spumante and in another one all of the stock, and keep on a very low simmer nearby to your risotto.
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  • When the vegetables are soft, pour in the rice and turn in the butter until it is glossy. At medium heat, pour one ladle champagne and, stirring all the time, let it be absorbed.
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  • Alternate a ladle of stock and a ladle of spumante, letting one ladleful be absorbed before adding the next, keeping on stirring.
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  • Once the rice is cooked, put some butter and the Parmesan and the cream mix and cover to give time to absorb for about 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!
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Simple Muggle Family Lasagna

Every Italian muggle family has it own traditional lasagna. This is my humble one.

Lasagna seems to be a muggles food, there is no mention in Harry Potters as a food in the wizarding world. The only information I could gather about lasagna and J.K. Rowling’s world is that Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone has been written in The Elephant House, downtown Edinburgh, where they serve also Italian food. Harry Potters adventures take place in the British wizarding world, I suppose in the Italian school of magic they have lasagna every Sunday. For the Italians lasagna is the traditional Sunday meal, every muggle family has its own recipe and this is my own. We like lasagna with a lot of béchamel sauce and Parmigiano but you can experiment also in the way my mum does: she melts a mozzarella in the béchamel so that the sauce is more thick with a much marked milky taste.

Ingredients:

Bolognese sauce (you can find the recipe here)

1 packet of egg lasagna (no pre cooking needed)

Parmigiano cheese at please

salt

For the Béchamel sauce

1/2 l.  whole milk

30 grams butter 

30 grams corn starch

Kosher salt, to taste

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour. Cook, stirring, with a wooden spoon, for 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture bubbles. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. Season with salt and nutmeg. Cool before you use it.

Assemble the lasagna

 Preheath the oven at 180 C. To assemble, spread a few tablespoon of Bolognese sauce in the bottom of baking dish. Arrange the sheets of lasagna and pour over meat sauce. Spread with some spoon of béchamel sauce. Top with as much Parmigiano as you like. Repeat layers (at least 3), and top with remaining Bolognese, Béchamel and Parmesan cheese. 

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes (depends on how many layers you have). 

Is nice hot and warm!

Zuppa toscana di magro alla contadina Tuscan vegetarian peasant soup

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A recipe to celebrate Artusi, the first gourmet of newly made Italy, here the link for another recipe from Artusi’s book.libro artusi

Artusi, highly patriotic, with his “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well” aimed to contribute to the makings of the national culture. Although this book includes recipes mainly from Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, Artusi made reference to varied local Italian cuisines. Artusi clearly wanted to celebrate the gastronomic richness of the recently united Italy

Storia di un libro che rassomiglia alla storia di Cenerentola (Story of a book similar to Cinderella, Artusi in the introduction of the 6thedition,1902)

Artusi recipes’ manuscript was reject by a number of publisher and so he had to resort to publishing it at his own expense in 1891. But as Cinderella at the ball it was very well received, not only by the ladies who had first encouraged him, but also by very influential figures such as Paolo Mantegazza, a well known anthropologist and senator of the newly born Kingdom of Italy who publicly praised and supported the book and its author thus: « in giving us this book you have done a very good thing and I therefore wish you one hundred editions».

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The recipe I present is very similar to the one included in Artusi original book, but as person who lived the first 23 years of her life in Tuscany, I propose the version that my mother used to prepare for me on rainy days as comfort food.

INGREDIENTS

To prepare the beans

300 gr dried Cannellini

1 spring thyme

1 bay leaf

1 spring rosemary

 

 

For the soup

250 gr Lacinato kale leaves

1/4 Green or Savoy cabbage

1 potato

1 carrot

1 stick celery

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

8 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup (200 g) tomato puree

1 tsp black pepper

to taste table salt

 

 

btrINSTRUCTIONS

  • Soak the beans 12 hours into fresh water, then rinse and boil into a pot covered with water about 1 hour, along with 1 bay leaf, rosemary and thyme. Cook the beans until perfectly soft. Remouve, bay leaf, rosemary and thymeTake a cup of beans and with a blender, blend the rest of the beans in their broth.
  • Prepare the Soffritto: the basic Italian sautéed vegetables. Peel and cut the onion into halves, then reduce into thin slices. After that, peel and slice the carrots, then peel and crush the cloves of garlic. Finally, slice the stick of celery.
  • Pour all these vegetables into a thick-bottomed heavy pot, along with 4 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil. and sauté over medium heat, stirring as needed, until the vegetables become tender and translucent.
  • Reduce the Lacinato kale and the cabbage into flakes of different sizes. After that, peel and dice the potato.
  • Once the Soffritto is ready, add the potato, kale, and cabbage, and sautè 10 minutes. Then, add the tomato puree, the thyme, the beans broth.
  • Cover with the lid, set the flame to let the Ribollita simmer very gently, and cook 2 hours. If necessary, add more broth a ladle at a time.
  • Finally, add the the whole beans, and cook 30 minutes more, stirring as needed. Add salt to taste.
  • Serve with pouring a generous amount of olive oil

Enjoy!

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Bacon crust torneados on a bed of pureed broccoli and burrata

Today I am going to celebrate one of the finest Italian composer, Gioacchino Rossini who wrote beloved operas like The Barber of Sevilla, Cinderella, William Tell.  Rossini was not only a composer, but a foodie as well, that is way I intend to remember him with a recipe of my invention.

rossiniBorn in Pesaro (Central Italy) in 1792, he spent most of his creative life in Paris, without forgetting the Italian specialties that he got directly form Italy: Gorgonzola, Panettone and truffles, he was crazy for truffles.

Rossini was also an excellent cook and in his time in Paris he became very close to Antonin Carême the greatest chef of his time.

Most probably chef Careme was the one that invented the famous tournedos Rossini, an elaborate, cholesterole bursting dish that involves filet mignon, bread fried in butter and foies gras.  The filet mignon that I present here is more healthy and even suitable for diet if you don’t use the pancetta.

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Bacon crust torneados on a bed of pureed broccoli and burrata.

Serving 4

 

Ingredients:

4 Tournedos, 150 gr. each

8 slices unsmoked bacon

500 gr.  broccoli

200gr. burrata

1 tablespoon of whole milk

4 spoonfuls of olive oil

garlic

salt

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  • In a food processor, combine the burrata with the milk and blend until smooth.
  • Steam the broccoli until  is tender, than blend to a smooth purée with two spoonful of olive oil and keep it warm while you are preparing the tournedos.
  • Wrap bacon slices  around the circumference of each tournedos; tie with kitchen twine.
  • Heat a large cast iron skillet with two spoonful of olive oil over high heat until it starts to smoke. Season tournedos with salt and pepper and place in skillet. Cook, without moving, for about 2 minutes. Rotate tournedos and cook for two more minutes. Repeat process two more times until bacon is well cooked.
  • Plating instructions: on a warm plate, prepare a bed of broccoli puree where you carefully set your tournedos. Place dots of burrata sauce using a small spoon or a piping bag.

Enjoy!

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The Art of Eating Well’s Fricassée

I am sure that fews of my English speaking friends has heard of Pellegrino Artusi and his “The Art of Eating Well”, but for as Italians is a classic as for the Americans is “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child. Pellegrino Artusi was a wealthy Italian business man, born near Bologna in 1820 and died in Florence in 1911.  Believe or not it is the first cookbook written in Italian, using metric measures understandable by all the inhabitants of Italy. Before him, cookbook writers used to express quantities with non metric measures and not to explain step by step the procedures. If you try one of the recipes in Artusi’s book you are certain of attaining the expected, yummy result. He doesn’t only give the recipe but also explain the necessary tips to obtain a professional-like result.

Artusi’s fricassés is a light one, do not make  use of milk or cream like other recipes I sow, instead he uses the binding property of the yolk to add creamy consistency to the sauce adding a slight citrous flavor without overriding the natural taste of the meat.

Ingredients:

  • 500 gr. of veal breast, cut in to pieces
  • 50 gr. butter
  • 1 tb. of flour
  • a  bouquet  garni made of slices of onion and carrot; parsley, basil and celery sticks all tied together so that they will not melt in the fricassee.
  • 2 egg’s yolks
  • juice of half a lemon

Directions:

Melt half of the butter in a casserole and add 1 tablespoon of flour, mix it with a wooden spoon until the flour take a hazelnut color.

Slowly add some hot water (not boiling), the bouquet garni and season with salt and pepper

When the sauce starts boiling, add the left butter and the meat, cover the casserole and simmer over medium heat for 45 minutes until the veal is tender.

Discharge the bouquet garni and beat the yolks with the lemon juice.

Turn off the heat and pour the yolk mixture in the casserole, gently mixing with the spoon until it is very creamy.

Put the fricassee in a hot platter along with toasted bread.

Pesto alla Genovese

Eugenio Montale became a Nobel laureate poet in 1975, the Swedish Academy awarded him despite his modest poetic production (5 books in 50 years of work), declaring that Montale was ”one of the most important poets of the contemporary West”.

montaleGlory of expanded noon
when the trees give up no shade,
and more and more the look of things
is turning bronze, from excess light.

Above, the sun—and a dry shore;
so my day is not yet done:
the finest hour is over the low wall,
closed off by a pale setting sun.

Drought all around: kingfisher hovers
over something life has left.
The good rain is beyond the barrenness,
but there’s greater joy in waiting

translated by Jonathan Galassi (forpoetry.com)

Montale was born in Genoa, in 1896 and died in 1981 in Milan. In his poems the focus is on the landscape, sunny and desolate, stone walls surronding vegetable gardens and cultivation of olive trees. In the inclement sun everything appears hard and cruel. Those poetic descriptions are very far from the turistic leaflets of Portofino or Cinque Terre. True is that Liguria used to be an hard and poor area and many it inhabitants migrated before and soon after II World War.

Pesto alla Genovese is a very tasty sauce, you can use for your pasta, on toasted bread as a snack, is wonderful with boiled potatoes. But mind the ingredients, they have to be fresh (sometimes I found basil that went to seed in the supermarket and it is too hard to get a real nice pesto), prefer pine nuts produced in the Mediterranean area (they are long and thin) rather the Chinese variety that is cheaper but they don’t taste the same (they are bitter). The original recipe traditionally,  is made in the mortar.  You can do pesto in the food processor, but with mortar the green essential oils contained in the basil leaves come off and  the marble of the mortar that is cold and prevents the oxidation of basil.

Ingredients:

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tablespoon of pine nuts
  • 1 cup of leaves of fresh basil
  • a pinch of rock salt
  • 2 tablespoon of parmesan cheese, grated.
  • 1 tablespoon of pecorino cheese, grated.
  • 5 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions:

  1. Wash the basil leaves in cold water and put them on a canvas to dry . They must be perfectly dry before starting the preparation of the pesto.
  2. Put a clove of garlic in the mortar,  Add 1 tablespoon of pine nuts and  crush until cream. Scoop out the garlic cream from the mortar and put aside. You will add it later.
  3. Put the remaining pine nuts in the mortar, half a cup of the basil leaves and few grains of rock salt.
  4. Smash the basil leaves with a rotating movement along the interior walls of the mortar. Add the remaining leaves, some more rock salt grains  and continue smashing.
  5. Then add cheeses. Amalgamate and taste. Adjust with salt if necessary.
  6. Finally, add the oil and stirr gently. Keep the pesto under a light layer of oil to prevent oxidation.