October 27, 2008

Fresh and tangy shrimp, olive and arugula salad


This is another extremely simple idea for a salad.

Ingredients
Fresh shrimp, cleaned
Stuffed green olives
Baby Arugula
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt

Cook the shrimp in salted boiling water over medium heat for about 3 minutes until the shrimp turn pink. Let the shrimp cool. To create your salad, just mix the cooled shrimp with olives and arugula. Add a touch of coarse salt, and drizzle with a nice quantity of olive oil and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Tip
Stuffed green olives are a very common snack in Italy and Spain. Usually they are stuffed with red peppers, almonds or anchovies!
Posted by Daziano at 7:44 PM | 16 comments  
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October 23, 2008

Luxurious duck and chickpea salad


This is an incredibly chic salad that’s ready in no time. Preparing duck is very easy, but you have to eat it rare or medium rare. I know how afraid North Americans get when it comes to eating nearly raw food. But trust me, you’ll just love duck!

Ingredients
2 duck breasts
2 cups mixed mushrooms (crimini and oyster)
1 can chickpeas
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Olive oil
Thyme, salt and pepper

Before cooking the duck, with a sharp knife cut the duck breasts on the skin side in a crisscross pattern. Your cuts must be deep enough to almost get into the meat, taking care to not actually touch the meat. We want the duck to lose the fat in the skin while it’s cooking, but we don’t want to lose the juices. Sprinkle the skin side of the duck with some coarse salt and pepper. In a skillet, sauté the duck with a light touch of olive oil for about 3 minutes over medium-high heat, on the skin side first. When the skin is nice, golden and crunchy, sprinkle some salt on the meat side and turn the duck. Sauté the duck breasts for about 7 minutes over medium heat. In the meantime, drain and wash the chickpeas. To warm them up, use your microwave oven or quickly sauté them in a skillet (you can even rinse them using hot water).

When the duck is ready, take it out of the skillet and wait for about 2 minutes before cutting. Use the same skillet to sauté the mushrooms until nice and golden brown. Cut the duck into nice chunks, and put these on top of the chickpeas and mushrooms. Drizzle with a generous quantity of olive oil and lemon juice, and some salt and fresh thyme.

Tip
Even though you could eat this salad cold, you can appreciate the flavors better when it’s eaten warm.
Posted by Daziano at 6:12 PM | 13 comments  
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October 20, 2008

Piquant prosciutto crudo, ricotta, limone candito e rucola panini


French baguette is an all time classic for a sandwich, even in Italy. But if you’re using classic bread, a nice idea is to let your creativity work on choosing what to put inside. Prosciutto crudo (simply called prosciutto in North America) has a savory quality that pairs well with creamy ricotta cheese. Arugula gives freshness and peppery flavor. Finally, canditi di limone or Italian candied lemon peel completes the sandwich with an interesting zing.

Ingredients (for 2 sandwiches)
1 medium sized baguette
6 paper-thin slices prosciutto
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp candied lemon peel

Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. Mix the ricotta cheese with the olive oil and candied lemon peel. Simply put the slices of prosciutto on one half of the baguette. On top, spread the ricotta mixture. Add the arugula and a touch of coarse salt. Close your sandwich.
Posted by Daziano at 9:19 PM | 21 comments  
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October 17, 2008

Italian-Canadian picnic

When fall colors are at their best and you’re lucky enough to have a sunny day, you then have the perfect setting for an Italian-Canadian picnic. We went to gorgeous Parc National de la Mauricie in Quebec, about an hour and a half from both Montreal and Quebec City.


So, what are the staples for an Italian-Canadian picnic? Please take note:

Fresh and tangy shrimp, olive and arugula salad
Luxurious duck and chickpea salad
Piquant prosciutto crudo, ricotta, limone candito e rucola panini
Wholesome prosciutto cotto e formaggio panini
Bright and pungent crostini with black olive tapenade
Crostini with melt-in-your-mouth French paté de foie
Luscious French brioche bread with strawberry and blueberry jam
At least 3 different kinds of cheese
A whole salame, salty almonds, hazelnuts and Italian chips
Decadent and chocolaty crostata al cioccolato
Smooth, full-bodied and fruity French-Canadian ice cider






Posted by Daziano at 9:32 PM | 17 comments  
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October 15, 2008

Whole wheat penne alla boscaiola, Lombardy style


In Italy, fall is a synonym for fresh mushrooms. In the forest, under the falling leaves, the best mushrooms – usually Porcini mushrooms, the ones that we can find dried in North America – are waiting to be picked and eaten. When you use mushrooms in a sauce, in Italian we call it boscaiola, because it reminds you of the bosco or the gorgeous northern Italian forests.

Ingredients
1 pound whole wheat penne
4 cups crimini mushrooms
2 cups fresh cherry tomatoes
2 shallots
1 garlic clove
1 bunch fresh rosemary
½ cup red wine
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
Grana Padano cheese

Clean and quarter the mushrooms. Mince the shallots. In a saucepan with olive oil over medium heat, sauté the shallots for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic clove, minced. Add the mushrooms and sauté them for about 5 minutes until nice and brown. Pour the wine into the sauce. Add the tomatoes. Season the sauce with salt, pepper and the rosemary. Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes. Cook the pasta. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss into the saucepan. Serve with Grana Padano cheese.
Posted by Daziano at 9:32 PM | 19 comments  
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October 5, 2008

Traditional Panzanella salad


So, what do our beloved Queen of Canada and Italian cuisine have in common? Well, in Italian cuisine we hate to throw things away, just as HCM Elizabeth does (or as she commands – have you ever heard about how lovely she finds it when new dishes are created using leftovers in Her royal kitchen?). So, did you roast a chicken? Use the bones to make chicken broth! Do you have leftover risotto? Make arancine! Do you have stale bread? Make a Tuscan panzanella salad!

Ingredients
About 4 thick slices of old bread
½ red onion, sliced
2 large ripe tomatoes
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 cucumber, sliced
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove (optional)
Basil
Olive oil
Salt, pepper

Traditionally, the bread is soaked in water for about 20 or 30 minutes (a step you could skip if your bread is just 1 day old). I personally don’t like that, since I don’t like the idea of tasting water in my salad. So, I prefer to quickly moisten the bread under running water. Then the bread will wonderfully absorb all the flavors of all the different ingredients, especially the tomatoes and the olive oil.

Using your hands, crumble the softened bread and put it in a bowl. Over the bread put the tomatoes, cut in wedges. Add some salt and the vinegar, and stir. Add the sliced cucumber, onion and celery. Add olive oil, and a touch of salt and pepper. Stir and put the salad in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Serve with basil.



Tips
I used a nice basil and parmesan bread. It gave more flavor.

Branching out
Fancy panzanella salad

PS
Please note there's one more thing in common. HCM stands for Her Canadian Majesty. And me, I write about HCM in my dissertation... however, my HCM stands for Hybrid Choice Models... God save the Queen!
Posted by Daziano at 8:56 PM | 16 comments  
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October 3, 2008

Pesto alla Genovese



There’s nothing more Genovese than pesto. This specialty from Liguria calls for sweet basil, spicy garlic, strong tasty pecorino cheese, nutty parmigiano cheese and crunchy pine nuts. Then, every ingredient is carefully pounded in a mortar (pestare in Italian means to pound) and emulsified with fruity olive oil. The Italian Consorzio del pesto Genovese is fighting to obtain the DOP label for pesto. They decree the rules for pesto Genovese, which include DOP Genovese basil (especially the one cultivated in Pra’ – a neighborhood in Genoa), Ligurian olive oil (olive oil from neighboring regions is also OK), DOP cheeses (Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, and Pecorino Sardo, Romano, Toscano or Siciliano), and Mediterranean pine nuts. A pesto which doesn’t follow the rules exactly should not be referred to as pesto Genovese, but it could be called pesto alla Genovese (pesto in the style of Genoa).

Following the official traditional recipe, here’s my pesto alla Genovese

Ingredients

3 cups fresh small-leaved basil

3 Tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
3 Tbsp Pecorino Sardo cheese, grated

2 cloves of garlic 1 Tbsp pine nuts
½ - ¾ cup olive oil

Pinch of coarse salt


In a marble mortar, crush one garlic clove using a pestle. Add some coarse salt and continue crushing until creamy. Add about 1 handful of the basil, and pound the pesto with careful circular movements. Add the second clove of garlic, crush it, and then add another handful of the basil. Continue pounding and adding the basil by handfuls. When the basil gets a vivid green color, add the pine nuts. Once the pine nuts are incorporated into the pesto, add the grated cheeses and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the olive oil in a thin steady stream and continue stirring.




I know that in Liguria each
casalinga (housewife) has her own recipe of pesto. So the proportions of cheese, pine nuts and garlic vary from one house to another. The same thing happens with some of the techniques. However, based on the DOP standards, I’ll write some facts about pesto that will destroy common misleading conceptions:

1. Too much garlic is not OK. I’d say this is the most common error when people prepare their own pesto, and it’s also true for the pesto made by many store brands and Italian-American restaurants. Pesto is above all a basil-based sauce. Garlic should be there, but it shouldn’t be the protagonist of this story.
2. Other-herbs-pesto pesto-like sauces are not real pesto. Spinach pesto? Parsley pesto? Sun dried tomato pesto (very common nowadays in America)? None of them are known in Liguria, and none of them would be named pesto in Italy. I’m not saying they aren’t good, because they are. But they are not pesto, but rather pesto-like sauces.

3. Pesto does not call for toasted pine nuts. It’s true that by toasting the pine nuts you enhance the flavor: but this is exactly the problem. You don’t want to enhance this nutty flavor; you want to add texture and the delicate taste of untoasted pine nuts, which will soften and neutralize the strong taste of garlic.
4. Pesto is a cold sauce for hot or warm dishes. Pesto should always be served cold on hot dishes. The heat of the pasta or soup will activate the aromas present in the basil and cheese (and will partially melt the cheese, resulting in an even creamier texture). Traditional pesto can be strong, garlicky, oily and slightly bitter if it is eaten cold, and you don’t want that.
5. Lemon juice on pesto?! Sometimes people outside Italy do that, especially in a salad. This step is not necessary because pesto should be eaten warmed (not cooked), as stated before.

6. Not every basil is suitable for pesto. The traditional recipe calls for DOP Genovese Basil, which grows under certain conditions (of the soil, of the humidity that comes from the shore, and of the Mediterranean sun) and has particular chemical properties. You should avoid basil with leaves that are too big, but above all avoid mint-tasting basil!
7. Pesto is made combining grana cheese (like Parmigiano Reggiano) and pecorino (sheep) cheese. Some recipes of non-Italian chefs suggest using only Parmigiano Reggiano, as if it were the only Italian cheese. But people from Liguria, who were sailors, had commercial contacts with the island of Sardinia, so they brought Pecorino Sardo cheese from Sardinia to Genoa for centuries. So the addition of pecorino cheese has both historical and practical implications. The strong salty flavor of Pecorino Sardo will mix very well with the nutty flavor of Parmigiano Reggiano, resulting in a perfect pesto.


Tips


If you use your food processor, use just a few pulses because if you warm up the basil it will cause oxidation and the basil will taste bitter, and we don’t want that.

Posted by Daziano at 9:34 PM | 18 comments  
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DOP and DOC what?



In Italy, now there’s a tendency to define the original and true recipe of Italian staples: the original recipe of pesto Genovese, the true and only one ragù alla Bolognese recipe, the ultimate Neapolitan pizza, and so on. In its very conception, this search is a contradiction with the soul of Italian cuisine. In fact, it’s impossible to choose only one recipe because in Italy each region, each town, each village and each mamma has their very own recipes.

However, and as an undesirable consequence of its globalization, Italian cuisine has suffered immensely from the worldwide appearance of veritable impostors that don’t do any justice to the real McCoy. As a way to respond to this deterioration that harms the reputation and – more important – the taste of Italian traditional recipes, some groups claim they have the original and unique recipe and they fight to impose this way of producing as being the only one. When this happens, you’ll see the famous Italian labels DOP and DOC. DOP means Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin, mostly used for local produce of a specific region as well as for traditional processed products), while DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Controlled Designation of Origin, which is used mostly for wines).

What I like about this idea is that they do indeed set the standards for industrial production, ensuring that even if you’re in America, Canada or anywhere else outside Italy, you can be sure you’ll be purchasing something that’s very close to the thing that mamma Giuseppa and aunt Ernestina prepare following their own traditions, and that uncle Carmelo grows in his garden.

Some DOP Italian products:

Modena Balsamic vinegar, Emilia Romagna
Genovese Basil, Liguria
Chianti Classico Olive Oil, Tuscany
Gorgonzola cheese, Piemonte and Lombardy
Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, Campania and Lazio
San Marzano Tomatoes, Campania
Prosciutto di Parma, Emilia Romagna
Parmigiano Romano Cheese, Emilia Romagna and Lombardy
Pecorino Romano Cheese, Tuscany, Lazio and Sardinia

Mozzarella and Neapolitan pizza are both considered STG (specialità tradizionale garantita or guaranteed traditional specialty), which sets traditional standards for a product that are associated with a specific region, while the production itself is not restricted to that region.

The Consorzio del pesto Genovese is fighting to obtain the DOP label for pesto.

Tip
There’s also DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – Guaranteed Controlled Designation of Origin) which has higher standards than DOC. I know it’s complicated.
Posted by Daziano at 9:27 PM | 4 comments  
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