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.


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  
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.


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  
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  
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  
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!

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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