December 30, 2007

Italian Clam Chowder


In Italy tradition requires a very big dinner for Christmas Eve. One of the favorites starters is tortellini in brodo, which is a soup served with tortellini pasta. This year I didn't want to break the tradition, but since I had tons of absolutely Italian panettone and torrone I wanted to give an American twist to this Italian classic soup. I was thinking about an all-American soup that could go well with pasta, and I also wanted to use some fennel, so I had the wonderful idea of making an Italian version of New England clam chowder, which I like a lot. In fact, I love all the New England area, with its beaches, quaint towns and spectacular clam chowder.

Ingredients


1 pound cleaned clams
1 cup of clam juice
1 red onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
2 medium size potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 cup white wine
2 cups tortellini pasta
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 stick of butter
1 Tbsp flour
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Salt, pepper, peperoncino (Italian dried chilis)
Chopped chives for garnish

Melt the butter with 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, the fennel, salt, pepper, peperoncino and stir. After 2 minutes add the garlic and saute it stirring constantly for about 3 more minutes. Add the clams, stir. After 2 minutes, add the wine, stir and let the alcohol evaporate. Then pour in the clam juice, mixing constantly. When it begins to bubble pour in the heavy cream. Add the potatoes and let them cook over low heat for about 20 minutes. When the potatoes are ready, add the tortellini and turn back to medium heat. Usually it will take 11-12 minutes to have the pasta al dente, but check the instructions on the package. 5 minutes before the pasta is ready, add a cup of milk with 1 Tbsp flour dissolved into it. That's what will thicken your soup resulting in a luscious chowder. Before serving, garnish with some chives and a touch of olive oil.
Posted by Daziano at 6:44 PM | 0 comments  
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December 29, 2007

My pizza capricciosa


There are several versions of this pizza, but that's only because of its capricious nature. However ham and artichokes are always there. I like to make mine using prosciutto di Parma, marinated artichoke hearts with garlic and Italian spices, and, even if it's not Italian, I like to use a good Swiss cheese. Cave aged Emmental offers the right balance of sweetness and tanginess that when it melts creates a perfect gratin on top of your pizza.


Ingredients

Pizza dough (for one 15" pizza use half of one of these recipes)
3/4 cup of fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup passata di pomodoro (tomato sauce)
1 cup artichoke hearts
1 cup grated Swiss cave aged Emmental cheese
1 cup black olives
2 garlic cloves, chopped
5 paper-thin slices of prosciutto
4 oz extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh basil leaves
Salt, peperoncino (dried Italian chilis), freshly ground black pepper.

As always, when you're done with the pizza dough, place it on the pizza pan and spread the tomato sauce on top. Add about 3/4 cup of the grated cheese, then the marinated artichoke hearts cut in quarters. Add the olives, the tomatoes, the garlic and the rest of the cheese. Spread some olive oil, peperoncino, Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook the pizza until the crust turns golden brown (about 25 minutes in a 450°F preheated oven). When the pizza is ready add the basil leaves and the prosciutto slices.
Posted by Daziano at 6:04 PM | 0 comments  
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December 18, 2007

Cantucci Tiramisù

This one is a classic and as far as I can tell it's everyone's favorite. But Tiramisu is a relatively recent Italian creation. Some people claim that this savory dessert was born during the 60's in Treviso, however there's a more romantic version giving Venice the pleasure of its birth. But don't think about the glamor of Venice nowadays. Since tira-mi-sù means pick-me-up, some imaginative minds tell the story about a secret dessert made by Venetian courtesans in order to attract and satisfy their genteel clientele.

The more widespread recipe calls for ladyfingers cookies, known as savoiardi in Italian. However I tried almond cantucci instead. Cantucci are known in America as biscotti, those very crispy and golden Italian cookies; while in Italian, biscotti simply means cookies. But I'm sure I'm confusing you, so let's go to the recipe.

Ingredients (serves 6)

8 cantucci (biscotti)
8 oz mascarpone cheese
3 pasteurized eggs
1/2 cup + 2 tsp of sugar
1 cup of espresso
3 Tbsp cognac
cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Separate the yolks from the whites of the eggs using two different bowls. Beat the yolks with the 1/2 cup of sugar for 3 minutes and when it's light and bright yellow in color, add the mascarpone cheese. Beat for another 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Then beat the whites with a pinch of salt until firm and stiff peaks form. Mix both the creamy mascarpone and yolks and the whipped whites in a very very gentle way. Prepare 6 serving cups and add about 1 tbsp of the mascarpone mixture. Break the biscotti into parts and put a piece on each cup, then moisten them using caffè corretto (espresso + cognac + 2 tsp sugar). Make 2 or 3 layers repeating the same operation. Finish with the mascarpone mixture and sprinkle cocoa powder on top. Refrigerate at least 3 hours, but it tastes way better the next day!
Posted by Daziano at 10:47 AM | 0 comments  
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December 6, 2007

How to cook pasta

It sounds simple and sophisticated at the same time... pasta is cooked when it's AL DENTE. Wow! Classy, fancy and quite continental. But, what on earth does this little sentence mean?

Well, al dente means to the tooth... Not helping? What if I say "tender on the outside but firm on the inside, so that you can fully feel the texture of each bite of pasta with your very own teeth"... Oh boy, pretty impressive, isn't it?

OK, but let's get practical. What I learned from Mom (a directly-imported-from-Italy lovely and charming person) is:

1) There is no prespecified time... it all depends on too many factors (not a great help either, but please continue reading)
2) The time you read on the cooking directions of the pasta you bought is always very helpful
3) Try to buy real Italian pasta. The wheat is just different and cooking times are more precise, and...

4) YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO TASTE IT, beginning 1 minute before reaching total time cooking according to the directions you read (following Step 2). It's ready when you think it's reached the texture you and your family like.

So, remember: YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO TASTE IT; and forget burning your fingers trying to throw pasta on the wall.

In bocca al lupo! (Good luck!)

Posted by Daziano at 7:18 AM | 0 comments  
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December 4, 2007

Luscious Pannacotta


Panna Cotta and Tiramisù are the best known Italian desserts and it's easy to find out why. Their creamy texture and indulgent flavors are the best way to end a perfect meal. Panna cotta means "cooked cream" and cream is about 80% of the final result. So despite that fresh and light impression it really is a very very rich dessert. But don't get anxious about calories, it's dessert time!

Ingredients
5 gelatin sheets
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
4 cups heavy cream
Vanilla extract

Panna cotta is super-easy to prepare, but there's one big problem. Personally, I don't like to use gelatin powder when preparing panna cotta because I find that the final result is just not the same. Gelatin sheets are known as colla di pesce in Italian but in America are incredibly hard to find. I couldn't find them at Di Bruno Bros in Philadelphia, but thank God I got them in Fante's Kitchen Wares Shop, right on the Italian Market. If you know where to get gelatin sheets in your city, please feel free to post a comment here.

Ok. Let's start. In a medium size pot, stir the cream with the milk and sugar. When the sugar is dissolved set over medium-high heat. Put the gelatin sheets in a bowl and then pour on some water in order to cover them. Watch the pot and stir constantly because we don't want to boil it. After 5 minutes when it's warm and beginning to steam, take the sheets, shaking off the water, and dissolve them, stirring on the cream. Remove from heat after another 3-5 minutes or when you notice that some bubbles are forming around the edges. Add some vanilla extract and wait 10 minutes. Pour into serving cups, cover with plastic film, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Like Tiramisù it tastes much better the day after.
Posted by Daziano at 7:20 AM | 2 comments  
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November 26, 2007

Pizza Margherita


Nothing is simpler than the pizza Margherita: tomatoes, basil and mozzarella are the ultimate ingredients in Italian cooking and they are all that you need to get the perfect Neapolitan royal taste. I'm sure you've heard this story about a thousand times: back in 1889 Raffaele Esposito was a well-known cook and owner of a pizzeria in Naples. He received an invitation from the King to impress his wife, who loved Neapolitan specialties and had already heard about this novelty called pizza. Esposito surprised the Reggia di Capodimonte and the Queen Margherita di Savoia herself with a simple yet delicious pizza depicting the colors of the Italian flag.

Ingredients
Pizza dough (for one 15" pizza use half of one of these recipes)
1 cup of drained canned diced tomatoes
6 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh basil leaves
Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Once you're done with the pizza dough and you've rolled it out, place it on the pizza pan and spread the tomatoes on top. Add some olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread the mozzarella over the tomatoes and cook the pizza until the crust turns golden brown (about 25 minutes in a 400°F preheated oven). Just before serving add the basil leaves (about 12 nice tiny leaves will do).

Some basics: First, if you're using fresh mozzarella (and really you must) you have to drain it for about 5 minutes after you slice it in order to get rid of the water used to preserve it. Never grate fresh mozzarella! Second, there are some ingredients you never want to put in the oven when topping a pizza. In this recipe you have to add the basil leaves when your pizza is ready: you want to add some freshness and that's why you don't want to cook the basil (actually, it will turn brown if you do). Another Italian secret is to always add a little bit of olive oil just before serving: the unheated olive oil just keeps its fruity flavor and gives your pizza a simple touch of perfection.
Posted by Daziano at 10:45 AM | 0 comments  
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November 25, 2007

The perfect pizza dough

Everybody loves pizza and a homemade gourmet pizza is SO easy to make. There are several recipes you can try, each one with slightly different results. The Neapolitan tradition for making pizza calls for fewer ingredients than the recipe I chose for this post, but it requires a little more mastering of some "dough skills". So, we'll try the classic one later. Now let's go to the ingredients.

Ingredients (2 15" pizzas)
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 pkg active dry yeast
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup warm water
3/4 cup warm milk
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

Warm the water in the microwave for about 40 seconds (you don't want it hot, just warm enough). Dissolve the sugar in the water and then add and dissolve the yeast. Wait 5 minutes and check if it's active (it should double its volume). While you're waiting put the flour in a bowl and make la fontana (the fountain: a kind of hole in the flour, where you'll mix the other ingredients). Then add the active yeast, the olive oil and the egg and begin to stir with a fork, gradually incorporating the flour. When everything is mixed together you'll notice that it's quite dry, so now add some warm milk and the salt. It's also time to begin to work the dough with your hands. Actually this is the part I love to do because it's so much fun. Think you're giving the dough a massage, use your fingers and press hard with your palms. After 5 to 7 minutes and when it's smooth and elastic your dough is ready to wait. Yes, because you have to let the yeast do its work. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest at least 45 minutes. When the dough has doubled its volume, make two dough balls. If you want only one pizza, you can leave one ball in the fridge up to 3 days (or you can even freeze it for months). Sprinkle a bit of flour over the ball you'll cook and press it down, making it look more like a pizza and less like a ball. I do that directly on the pizza pan with my fingers, from the inside out, sprinkling flour and rotating the pan with my other hand. You'll notice the dough is elastic and it tends to resist being extended after a while. Turn the dough and let it rest for a minute and then continue until you cover the pan with the dough. Preheat the oven as hot as possible and cook with your favorite topping. At 450°F it should take about 25 minutes to be nice and golden and then you'll know it's ready.

Posted by Daziano at 7:29 AM | 1 comments  
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November 20, 2007

The keep-it-simple panini


Sometimes you simply don't feel like trying new food and you only want to have ham and cheese. This is the perfect keep-it-simple panino for those occasions: prosciutto, mozzarella, some olive oil and cheese focaccia rolls are all you need. The result is the mouth-watering Italian version of the classic French croque-monsieur. I got some wonderful cheesy focaccini rolls at Trader Joe's and Italian fresh mozzarella cheese at Di Bruno Brothers. I put 3 slices of paper-thin prosciutto on each roll, then two not too thin slices of mozzarella, some olive oil and that's it. Well, I couldn't keep myself from adding some basil. I set my panini grill at medium temperature and I grilled the panini for about 5 minutes. The focaccini rolls have this cheesy layer on top, and when grilled they turn golden, crispy and even cheesier. So, for this Italian-French experience what you need is:

Ingredients

2 rolls of cheese focaccia bread sliced in half
4 ounces prosciutto
4 ounces mozzarella cheese
Some basil
Olive oil

When I visit Paris, I love to start my day with a café au lait and a croque monsieur sitting on a lively terrace. This simple panino reminds me of that, with a magic Italian touch.
Posted by Daziano at 7:30 AM | 0 comments  
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November 5, 2007

Prosciutto and figs panini


OK. This was my first experience with my new panini grill. I got two rolls of olive and cheese focaccia, some figs, Italian fontina cheese and baby arugula. I began with some slices of cheese on one half of each sliced focaccia bread, then prosciutto (about 3 paper-thin slices per roll), baby arugula just to add some green, some cheese again and finally two very very thin slices of fig. While I was doing that I plugged in the panini grill, I set it at medium temperature and then it just tells you when it's ready to cook. So, when the green light was on, I put the rolls on the grill and I closed it pressing the lid down on the panini. After about 5 minutes the cheese was melted and the panini were ready-to-eat.

The fontina cheese has a great nutty flavor with a yummy buttery texture, and when melted it's just heaven. It's sweeter than other cheeses, so it goes very well with the figs. Actually, it was a very good combination. The prosciutto added the saltiness and the baby arugula some great spicy taste. So, first experience and it was great!

Ingredients

2 rolls of focaccia bread sliced in half

4 ounces prosciutto
4 ounces fontina cheese
1 handful of baby arugula
1 fig thinly sliced

Enjoy!


Posted by Daziano at 7:24 AM | 2 comments  
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November 4, 2007

PANINI GRILL


I just got a DeLonghi Retro Panini Grill. It's super cheap, easy to use and clean, and it's sooo cute. I'll be posting some delicious recipes soon.



Posted by Daziano at 7:22 AM | 0 comments  
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November 1, 2007

Buttery grilled asparagus and prosciutto farfalle


Farfalle is bowtie-shaped pasta and because of its shape combining it with creamy sauces is a great idea. One of the simplest sauces in Italian cooking is melted butter and here I add to that sauce one of my favorites: grilled asparagus with prosciutto.

Ingredients

1 pound farfalle
1 bunch asparagus
5 slices prosciutto chopped
3/4 stick butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt, pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot with boiling salted water. Stir occasionally. Combine the asparagus with the olive oil. Add salt and pepper and grill the asparagus for about 5 minutes. I used my panini grill to grill them. Once they're done, chop them and reserve. In a saucepan, melt the butter. When the pasta is ready, drain in a colander and mix it into the butter sauce stirring carefully. Add the asparagus, the prosciutto and the Parmesan cheese. You can add a bit of unheated olive oil just before serving.
Posted by Daziano at 7:32 AM | 0 comments  
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October 8, 2007

Yummy apple panzerotti

Panzerotti are like tiny calzone. Both of them are essentially semicircle shaped folded pizzas. Panzerotti can be savory or sweet, baked or fried. Since we went apple picking I tried to make a sweet version of panzerotti using apples, and the result was extremely yummy.

Ingredients (for 8 panzerotti)
Pizza dough (use half of this recipe)
4 apples

1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp unbleached flour
3 Tbsp ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
lemon juice

Peel the apples and cut them into thin slices. Add the cup of sugar, the juice of half a lemon, the cinnamon and mix it all together. In a pot, melt the butter. Once the butter is melted add the honey and the apple mix. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. After that remove the pot from the heat and add the flour. Stir and let it cool. Prepare the pizza dough and when it's ready, form 8 tiny balls. Roll the dough, forming 5-6" pizzette (little pizzas). Sprinkle some sugar over each panzerotti. With half of the apple sauce fill the panzerotti and then fold each, creating a semicircle-shaped covered pizza. You can seal it pinching the edges together, with each pinch making a slight twisting motion. Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for about 25 minutes until they're nice and golden brown. Serve hot with the remaining half of the apple sauce.
Posted by Daziano at 7:34 AM | 0 comments  
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October 6, 2007

It's apple season

This weekend we went apple picking on the Île d'Orléans, a 20 minute drive from Québec city. The Île d'Orléans is a quaint, still largely agricultural island and the historic center of French cultural identity in North America, since one of the first French colonies in Canada was settled there back in the 16th century. It's a year-round destination, but autumn intensifies its charm with the magnificent foliage colors and the apple season. Apple picking is so much fun: while you're driving on the Chemin Royal you see a lot of farms offering autocueillette which means they give you a bucket and you just enter and pick apples directly from trees. Each tree had a colored ribbon so you can identify what cultivar you're picking: McIntosh, Cortland, Spartan and Yum were the ones we chose. We got so many apples that I can tell I'll be posting some apple-based recipes for a while!

Posted by Daziano at 11:33 AM | 0 comments  
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October 2, 2007

Thin crust oven pizza at Lucky Bones



When I go to Cape May NJ, I love to eat at Lucky Bones Backwater Grille. Great ambiance, very nice staff, and the best Italian-American cuisine taken to the next level. One of my favorite dishes is the Maine mussels. It's kind of a more indulgent version of the classic Italian zuppa di cozze (steamed mussels) but with the fabulous idea of adding sweet gorgonzola dolce to the basil and tomato sauce. Luscious! But Lucky Bones is widely known for its fantastic pizza. For about $8.50 you can order the simple yet delicious Margherita pizza. Following the Neapolitan tradition it has just the right balance of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella... just so crispy and yummy!
Posted by Daziano at 7:24 AM | 0 comments  
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September 23, 2007

Au Pain Béni

Today we had some wonderful weather in Québec City. As autumn begins and freezing winters begin to dangerously threaten mild weather memories, these last warm days become the perfect occasion to lie under the sun, enjoy the parks and, why not, indulge yourself with good food. We went to le Pain Béni restaurant in the middle of le vieux Québec, just across from the Château Frontenac. Actually it is one of my favorite restaurants up here, it's not over-prized and I'd say they make good Italian fusion cuisine in a very French way. You can have panini, pizza and courses made especially with produits du terroir (local products, such as maple syrup, obviously). It's there where I remember having the most perfect escargots I've ever had, mixed with rice vermicelli and mushrooms. Today I ordered shrimp ceviche as a starter, perfectly dressed with pineapples, and for an entrée I had lamb ravioli (ravioli d’agneau au Migneron de Charlevoix) with a very interesting curry-apple sauce. Brilliant! By the way, the restaurant belongs to the Auberge Place d'Armes, a nice hotel with reasonable prices.

Posted by Daziano at 11:34 AM | 0 comments  
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