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.

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Meat Daffodils

Spring is finally here, days are longer, sky is blue, the sun is mild and a nice breeze is coming from the see. I feel like celebrate it with something cute and cheerful.

A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

daffodil
Courtesy of http://blog.terminologiaetc.it

A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretch’d in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: –
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company!
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought. (William Wordsworth)

When I was a child, daffodils were the first flowers to blossom in spring, we lived in the Tuscan countryside there were wild daffodils near everywhere. We used to pick them up and bring them to school, our primary school was an old country school with about 20 students, that has been dismissed soon after moved to middle school.

Now I live a very different life, in a metropolis, I speak a different language and I can only travel from time to time to Tuscany. I still believe myself very lucky because my flat’ windows  (I would say my kitchen‘s) overlooks a large garden full of spring flowers and the see, but still I miss the smell of daffodils, and late in June, the smell of lime trees that grow in my parents’ garden.

So, to keep up this spring spirit, today for dinner I prepared those meet daffodils: they are very popular those days in family cooking in Tuscany and you can buy ready to put in the oven in any supermarket. But they are very easy to prepare and there is no need to buy them ready, especially because you can’t choose the meet, the cheese and the sausage you want use.

Meat Daffodils 1

Ingredients

500 gr. of veal medallions sliced in 12 thin slices

150 gr of fontina cheese or cheddar, thinly sliced

3 cottage sausage cut in four piece each

Olive oil, salt and pepper to season

Directions

In a 12 capacity muffin tin line paper cups and line them with the thinly sliced meat, cover with cheese slices as if they were petals and put a piece of sausage in the middle as show in the slides above.

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Gently remove from the tin, wrap the middle of the meet with a cooking twine, so that each of them will resemble a flower and place again in the paper bag in the tin.

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Tied with twine and ready for the oven

Season with salt, pepper (if you like) and a bit of olive oil, put in a 180′ C. pre heated oven for 20 minutes and serve it hot.

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In the plate, ready to be eaten

Enjoy!

The Mediterranean Waltz Bulgur Pilaf

The Mediterranean Waltz is an almost prophetic novel written by Buket Uzuner a powerful Turkish writer not only very talented but with the gift of foresight. Why do I use big words like “prophecy” and “foresight”?51Av2aohV6L._SL500_SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

It is because in the mid-nineties, in a period of relative peace and prosperity for Turkey and the global world, Buket Uzuner wrote a novel about a civil war in Turkey where all the terrorist movements (Islamic, Kurdish etc.) joint together to attack Turkey. The novel ends with a general saying that next global war will not be fight only with guns but through the internet… Fitted in the framework of this civil war there is Duna, an Istanbulite high school teacher (and mind that the civil war thing maybe only his own delusion) and his impossible love for Ada. The other main characters of the novel are Turkey and Istanbul.

To honour this novel that I really love, I decided to prepare a classic Turkish food, Bulgur pilav, but instead of using wheat bulgur, I used spelt bulgur. If you can’t find spelt bulgur in your area, traditional bulgur will give similar results.

This recipe, as all traditional foods, is very healthy and provides all the nutrients to make it the perfect one-course meal.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup of spelt bulgur
  • 150 gr. of chopped beef
  • half a cup of cooked green lentils
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 Tbs of olive oil
  • 2 cups of broth or water
  • Turkish red pepper flakes

Directions:

  • Sauté the garlic lightly in the olive oil for a couple of minutes and the add the meat and keep on sautéing for about 15 mins then cover and cook on low heat till the meat releases its moisture and reabsorbs it and becomes tender.
  • Add the diced tomato and when the moisture is reabsorbed add the bulgur and mix it for 5 minutes
  • Add the green lentils, mix and cover with broth or water. Keep on stewing at low heath until all the broth have been reabsorbed.
  • Dress it according to your taste with red pepper flakes.

 Enjoy!

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Cottage Pie (The Jane Austen Challenge)

I haven’t post in my Jane Austen Challenge for a while. Spring is a very busy moment for my family and me. It is mid-term exams period for my students and my kids. Kids have to practice intensively because the regatta season starts, and I have to balance between job, home and shuttle the kids to the practice spot nearly every day. I felt I need some comfort food, and my mind went back to my early teens, when I first went to UK to improve my English. I discovered there the Cottage Pie, a very humble pie, when compared to others but tasty and very easy. You would say that there is no mention of Cottage Pies in Jane Austen’s work, and you would be right, but that very summer, our English teachers gave us “Emma” as one of our summer readings and it was love at first sight both with Jane Austen and UK.

I have travelled extensively in my life and lived in different country, but whenever I go to UK I have the same sensation than I get in Italy: “home”.

The recipe I suggest you, is my own recipe, the one that I developed in the years. The topping is prepared with the same procedure my mom was using to prepare her “potato pure” and enriched with cottage cheese. I hope you will enjoy this small Italian contamination of a traditional English recipe. Let me know.

 Cottage Pie 2

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 1 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 chopped stalk of celery
  • 700 gr beef mince
  • 300 ml homemade beef stock
  • 1 tbs white flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a pinch of thyme
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp oil

 

For the topping

  • 750gr potatoes, boiled or steamed and peeled
  • 3 tbs butter
  • 150 ml milk
  • 100 gr. of grated cheddar cheese

 

 

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Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 190’ C
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, the celery and carrot and cook over a medium heat until soft (the onion should be translucent).
  3. Add the minced beef and cook very well until is brown.
  4. Dissolve the flour in the warm beef stock and add it to the mince along with bay leaf and thyme.
  5. Cover and let it simmer for 30 minutes, it will be ready when the gravy has a creamy consistency.
  6. Meanwhile, to make the topping, mash the potato in a pan heat the butter over low heat
  7. Add the mashed potato to the butter, mix well and add the milk.
  8. When the milk is absorbed add the cheddar and stir until completely dissolved in the mash. season with salt and pepper.
  9. Spoon the meat into an ovenproof dish (I used single-serve oven proof cups). Top with the mash and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.
Cottage Pie 9
Golden Brown topping that melt in your mouth
Cottage Pie 8
The spoonful of flour in the mince adds texture to the gravy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nidi di spaghetti (Spaghetti nests)

Gustare un piatto fatto come Dio comanda è uno dei piaceri solitari più raffinati che l’omo possa godere, da non spartirsi con nessuno, manco con la pirsona alla quale vuoi più bene. (da Gli arancini di Montalbano)

To savor a meal prepared like God intended is one of the most refined solitary pleasures that a man could possibly enjoy, not to be shared with anybody even the person you love most. (You will excuse my translation, but English is not my native language and Camilleri’s language is difficult in itself)

montalbano, the shape of water

One of the most outstanding peculiarity of Inspector Montalbano is for sure his appreciation for food. Traditional Sicilian food prepared by his faithful governess Adelina or enjoyed in one of the “trattoria” in the fictional city of Vigata. Andrea Camilleri, Inspector Montalbano’s “father” has created a language of his own, a mix of Italian and Sicilian, the dialect spoken where the action take place, Sicily. Stories are interwoven with irony, suspense, social comments, introspections and a lot of amazing description of the food.

Today, I felt like preparing a dish that recall the Mediterranean flavors, something that even a sophisticated palate like Montalbano will not disdain. So I started with a tomato sauce rich in oregano, garlic, basil and chilli, and I end shaping the spaghetti like a nest and decorating with a small mozzarella, as we are in Easter season. The result was a tasty main course that also the kids loved.

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Ingredients:

(4 people)

320 gr. Spaghetti

500 gr. of peeled tomato

80 gr. of Cailletier olives

2 tablespoons of capers

6 tablespoons of olive oil

6 cherry mozzarella

Bread crumbs

2 cloves of garlic

15 gr. basil leaves

oregano,  chilli (pepperoncino) and salt to please

This is how it looks before been grated in the oven

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Directions:

  • Grease a small oven pan with olive oil and sprinkle with bread crumbs
  • Peel the garlic and remove the bud if necessary, then grossly chop, put in a small pan with the peeled tomato, oregano, pepperoncino and salt. Let it cook with very low heat for half an hour. Don’t mix them.
  • Roughly chop cailletier olives, basil and capers
  • After half a hour crush the tomato with a wooden spoon, then add the olives, the capers and 4 spoonful of olive oil and put on very low heat for another 15 minutes
  • Meanwhile cook the pasta, and when still very “al dente” (bit hard), drain it an cool with cold water
  • Mix the sauce with the spaghetti, then with the help of a fork and a spoon, prepare six nests, carefully placing them in the greased pan, put a cherry mozzarella in each one.
  • Sprinkle the preparation with more bread crumbs and two spoonful of olive oil, put in the oven at 180’ C. for 10-15 minutes and serve hot.

This is just out of the oven:

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And this how it looks like after eating a generous portion:

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Easy Salmon Skewers

For those who have seen the film “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” the book will come as a surprise, but those who love late Paul Torday will acknowledge that it is a masterpiece.

The novel is a satire on the absurdity of British foreign policy in the early years of this century and the unwitty means used by the govern press agency to diverge attention from the real problems in the Middle East.  The main character, Fred is a civil servant that is in charge of the mission of facilitate the breeding of salmons in a river in Yemen. All the characters are there, lovely Harriet, her soldier fiancée, Fred’s cold wife, but the story in the film diverges a lot from the one narrated in the novel. I stop here to avoid to became a spoiler.

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The recipe of today is very easy and it is one of my children favoured (which is a miracle if you consider that my daughter doesn’t like fish). Probably because the soya sauce and the fresh grated ginger marinade take away part of the smell of the fish, while sesame seeds add a crispy texture to the recipe.

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Ingredients:

1 kg. Skinless salmon fillet

½  glass of soya sauce

20 gr. grated fresh ginger

a few tablespoon of sesame seeds

 

Directions:

 

  1. Cut the salmon fillet in cubes as regular as possible
  2. Put the cubes in a bowl and then add soya sauce and grated ginger and let it rest for a couple of hours in the lowest part of the refrigerator
  3. Heat the oven at 180’ C.
  4. Take the bowl from the fridge, add the sesame seeds and mix well so that the cubes will be covered with sesame seeds.
  5. Tread salmon onto skewer and put it in the oven for about 15 minutes.
  6. Serve them hot on steamed rice.

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