Monday, November 26, 2012

Timballo di Lasagne

One of the most magnificent of Italian dishes must surely be the timballi or pasticci that served as the famous centerpiece in the movie BIG NIGHT with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalloub.  I tested my timballo di lasagne alla ferrarese and it was declared the best thing ever made by my son, a phrase he uses anytime he's over for dinner.  It is a centuries old preparation famous in Ferrara where they make it for Carnevale.  It's homemade egg and green lasagne layered with meat ragu and porcini mushrooms and a layer of Bechamel sauce made with Parmigiano-Raggiano cheese and truffles baked in a short dough crust that is sweet with orange zest.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Weekend of Cooking

A weekend of cooking for me is a weekend of recipe testing from the provincial cuisines of Italy.  And feeding the kids and their friends is ideal. Here's what I'll be testing: larduocchi, a casserole cooked pork belly pieces with garlic, olive oil, and peppers in vinegar from Molise, penne alla lenticchie, from Umbria is a dish of lentils cooked with carrot, onion, and celery seasoned with tomato puree, garlic, chile, and parsley, pollo alla marengo, and old dish people have heard of but never eaten, supposedly created after Napoleon's Battle of Marengo in Piedmont.  It is chicken with mushrooms, tomatoes, wine, and crayfish.  Gnocchi all'Ossolana are potato-pumpkin-chestnut flour gnocchi with a mushroom and cream sauce.  Gallina col riso is a Sicilian dish of boned whole chicken stuffed with rice, tomatoes, eggs, and mozzarella.  And more...maybe I'm doing too much.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Socca and Farinata

[Photo: Jennifer Pickens on Flickr]
Socca (in Provence) and farinata (in Genoa) are the same thing, a chickpea crepe batter cooked in a very hot pan like a pizza.  It's served as a snack and is true stret food in both Nice and Genoa. 
In Provence, socca and cade (another name) go back at least to 1860.  Cade de Toulon, probably the more ancient of the two, was made from corn flour and the socca de Nice that evolved from it is made from chickpea flour.  There is a version in Marseilles made with a mixture of flours which they call tourta tota cada, meaning “hot tarts.”  It was mentioned in 1879 by Frédéric Mistral as gâteau de farine de maïs qu’on vend par tranches à Marseille (corn flour cake sold by the slice in Marseilles).  Socca was a favorite morning meal for workers who bought them from itinerant socca sellers who cooked them from wagons fitted with charcoal ovens while they cried cada, cada, cada or socca, socca, socca caouda.   The traditional socca is made on a copper tin called a plaque a round cooking surface about 2 feet in diameter that sits in a very hot wood fired oven.  It cooks until the top is golden in about 5 minutes.  The batter should be thinner than crêpe batter, almost like milk.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chicken and Zucchini

There is a very simple, and quickly made, dish from the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy that is nothing but strips of chicken breast and zucchini cooked in balsamic vinegar the name of which indicates it all, Straccetti di Pollo al Balsamico.  A chopped garlic clove is heated in olive oil, then in goes the chicken breast until it turns color in 2 minutes, then the four julienned zucchini, some wine, and finally the balsamic vinegar.  From start to finish takes about 7 minutes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sicily: Architecture and Cuisine

My first cookbook was titled Cucina Paradiso: The Heavenly Food of Sicily, a cookbook about the Sicilian folkloric cuisine known as cucina arabo-sicula (Arab-Sicilian cuisine).  This was not a cuisine that existed during the Arab presence in Sicily (827 – about 1230), but was a contemporary Sicilian cuisine believed to be dishes composed by what Sicilians took to be Arab influence.  A professor friend many years ago said when I mentioned I was writing such a cookbook: “that sound more like a dissertation topic than a cookbook.”
The idea for the book came to me years before that, when I was in Palermo and became enchanted by the architecture of some of the older palazzi and churches that I later learned could be described as examples of Arab-Norman architecture.  This led to an even greater fascination since I had never heard of any architecture described that way.  I remember though the church that set me on this road.  It was the Chiesa di San Cataldo in Palermo.  The Normans flourished in Sicily from 1060 to 1194 and the pre-existing Arab population flourished with them under relatively tolerant rule. 
The church was built around 1160 by admiral Majone di Bari.  The three red bulbous domes, the arches, and various cubic forms were typical of Islamic architecture while the combination of Arab and Norman builders, architects, and workmen is seen not only in the façade but in design aspects such as the simple forms derived from Norman military experience.
It was only a small leap from this church to some fabulous food.
[Photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pizza and its Cousins

One of my favorite dishes are all the variety of pizze and pizza-like preparations from every region in Italy. Crostata is one, a pizza made with pasta frolla, that is, short dough. This particular one,  crostata con cipolle, is topped with a luscious mixture of caramelized onions and anchovies and a bit of cream and is from Emilia-Romagna.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Where's the Veal?

I lament the disappearance of veal which is increasingly hard to find.  When I was growing up veal scaloppine was always on the menu and a veal scaloppine hero was a wonderful treat.  One ordered veal piccata or veal marsala in one's favorite restaurant.  Today, it's difficult to find veal.  I often hear the complaint that people "don't eat veal."  It's a wonderful meat though: tender, light, flavorful and versatile.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Grilled Duck

Grilling duck, while delicious, is not a casual matter.  One must consider what happens to all that fat that will drip out and most importantly that it does not drip onto the coals which will simply ignite it and incinerate your duck.  So there's two steps which will assure a good grilled duck.  It might be easier to split the duck in half lengthwise then place it cut side down in a deep casserole and bake it at 375 degree F in your oven until you have at least 3/4 cup of fat.  Build the charcoal fire in your grill's firebox to one side and place an aluminum drip pan on the other side.  Take the roasting duck from the oven and place the duck over the drip pan in the grill, use the cover, and grill until the duck has a deep smoky mahogany color.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Beccute, a Biscotto from Marche

Biscotto is singular and it is, basically, an Italian cookie or biscuit (same meaning: twice cooked).  Decided to test today the beccute from the Marches popular in Ancona.  It's very easy to make: mix flour, sugar, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, dried figs, raisins, and water, form little rolls and bake.  That's it.  Very nice.