August 30, 2009

Spaghetti con le vongole in bianco


Spaghetti con le vongole – spaghetti with clams, a specialty from the region of Campania – is one of the easiest Mediterranean dishes you can think of. This is my favorite version of the dish, called in bianco because no tomatoes are added. With this dish, tasting the flavors of the Mediterranean Sea is guaranteed!

Ingredients
1 lb spaghetti (or vermicelli)
2 lbs small clams
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 Tbsp olive oil
1 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Discard any clams with broken shells or any clams that are open and that do not close when you firmly try to close them with your fingers. Rapidly wash the clams and then let them soak in abundant cold and salted water for at least 1 hour (you can let the clams soak in the fridge overnight).

In a saucepan, heat 4 Tbsp of olive oil. After you begin to cook the pasta, add the garlic to the saucepan with the heated olive oil and sauté the garlic over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add the clams and some salt and pepper. Cover the saucepan with a lid and let the clams cook for about 3-4 minutes, until all the clams are open. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss it over the clams. Add some parsley and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Give a quick stir and serve.

Tips
Mediterranean clams are tiny and flavorful. In North America, use Manila clams.

Posted by Daziano at 7:24 PM | 15 comments  
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August 20, 2009

Doughnutella mini Krapfen


Krapfen is a typical doughnut, usually filled with jam, from the Italian region of Südtirol. My doughnutella mini Krapfen are a tiny version of this northern Italian treat, filled with Nutella of course! Since they are smaller than regular Krapfen my mini Krapfen are also more sophisticated and perfect for chic cocktail parties – just ask Donatella Versace about my doghnutella ;) !

Ingredients (30-40 mini Krapfen)
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk (+ 1 tsp sugar)
1 stick of butter (softened)
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
pinch of salt

Peanut oil for frying
Nutella for filling
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Dissolve the yeast in sugared warm milk and let it double its volume. In the meantime, put the flour in a bowl and make la fontana (a hole in the flour, where you'll mix the other ingredients). Then add the dissolved and active yeast, the sugar, the butter, and the 2 eggs and begin to stir with a fork, gradually incorporating the flour. When everything is incorporated, knead the dough with your hands for about 8 minutes. Then, let the dough rest for at least 45 minutes inside the bowl and covered. When the dough has doubled its volume, punch it down and knead the dough for 2 minutes. On a well-floured surface and using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle of about 1/3 inch thick. Cut out the dough using a round cookie cutter. Let the cutouts rest for about 15 minutes before frying.

Heat the oil in a big but not too high skillet. When the temperature is around 350 F start frying your mini Krapfen. Fry them in batches until golden brown, turning them once. Drain on paper towels and allow your mini Krapfen to cool before filling them with Nutella (cut on the side for filling or use a pastry nozzle). Dust with powdered sugar. I bet you can’t have only one!

Posted by Daziano at 12:42 PM | 21 comments  
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August 18, 2009

Lemony spaghetti

This is a stress-free recipe for a simple dish that just tastes like summer.

Ingredients
1 pound spaghetti
2 organic lemons
2 ½ - 3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt

Cut one lemon in half and put one half in the salted water you’ll use to cook the pasta. Grate the peel of the remaining 1 ½ lemons. Bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta. Just a couple of minutes before the pasta is al dente, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the lemon zest and some salt to the melted butter and give a quick stir. If you prefer, add a touch of olive oil to avoid burning the butter. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and pour the spaghetti into the lemon-scented butter sauce. Give a quick stir, and if you like add another touch of olive oil, and serve.


Tips
Just think how good this recipe is when you use lemons from Sorrento! Having this dish on a terrace facing the Mediterranean Sea is an indulgent way of enjoying the pleasures of summer!
Posted by Daziano at 8:40 PM | 17 comments  
August 16, 2009

In search of fresh mozzarella


On your way to Paestum, from Salerno to Battipaglia, the best thing you can do is to stop at a caseificio and buy some fresh mozzarella. And I mean the real thing: mozzarella di bufala campana DOP. After tasting this it’s so hard to accept that the yellowish-and-gummy cheese you buy shredded for your pizzas can be sold as mozzarella. Made from domestic water-buffalo’s milk, mozzarella cheese is so good that some call it ‘regina’ (queen) of Mediterranean cuisine or ‘oro bianco’ (white gold). Nobody knows how water buffalos ended up in Italy (they live in swampy regions of Asia), but what really matters is that water buffalo’s milk is dense and tasty and it has a higher content of both protein and fat than cow’s milk. Because of this higher content of fat, mozzarella cheese has a creamier texture and flavor than ordinary cheese.
Mozzarella is creamy and soft, light and fresh. In a way, real mozzarella summarizes Italian cuisine: it’s simple and yet perfect because of the high quality of the ingredients. You don’t need anything fancy to taste perfection: just fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of good olive oil and that’s it! Or add some tomatoes from Campania and basil from coastal zones of Italy and you get the most famous Italian salad: insalata caprese.


Tips
The name mozzarella comes from the Italian verb mozzare (to cut), because of how the cheese-makers cut the cheese with their hands to shape the mozzarella.

Branching out
Insalata caprese
Caprese salad in Technicolor
Crostini capresi
Pizza margherita
Posted by Daziano at 9:29 PM | 13 comments  
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August 14, 2009

Paestum


If someday you’re somewhere around Naples or the Amalfi Coast, please go to Paestum (about 62 mi / 100 km SE of Naples). Often neglected by foreigners, Paestum is the classic Roman name for the city of Poseidonia, a Greek colony founded in the 7th century BC. Close to the sea, Paestum was dedicated to Poseidon (hence its Greek name) but Hera and Athena were greatly worshipped there too. Because of the fertile soil and strategic position, Paestum rapidly became a large and prosperous city. Grandiose temples were built, and Paestum also became an important place of procession and devotion. In 550 BC a temple was built to honor Hera. A century later, another temple was added to create a huge complex devoted to the goddess. Thousands of offertory statues of Hera were made for the people who came to praise the wife of Zeus. Not too far away, a temple dedicated to Athena was erected (500 BC). All three temples can be seen today. In fact, these temples are ranked among the best-conserved Greek temples in the whole world. Only one temple in Greece is actually said to be better preserved than Paestum’s temples. In addition, the second temple of Hera is considered by some specialists as the most perfectly executed Doric temple in the world because of its architectural details and perfect proportions. The defensive walls and the Heraion, a temple outside the city limits, are worth a visit too.


Beyond the glorious temples that are enough to take your breath away, the archeological site has even more to offer. Whereas in Pompeii you can enjoy the magnificence of Roman wall paintings, in Paestum you can discover the enigmatic Greek frescoes. Roman frescoes were inspired by the art of the Greeks, and some say the Roman copies never attained the level of mastery of the Greeks. However the remains of Greek painting beyond vase-art are almost non-existent. The paintings in Greek temples vanished (actually every Greek statue was painted in vivid colors) and no volcano covered a city as Vesuvius did with Pompeii. Whereas Etruscan frescoes were preserved because they painted the walls of underground tombs, the Greeks did not have the custom of painting the insides of tombs. But in Paestum, because of the contact with Italic peoples, the Greeks acquired this custom of painting the insides of tombs.


Good for us, because in 1968 a tomb was found in a small necropolis in Paestum. The tomb of the diver (tomba del tuffatore) dates from the first half of the 5th century and is “the only example of Greek painting with figured scenes dating from the Orientalizing, Archaic, or Classical periods to survive in its entirety. Among the thousands of Greek tombs known from this time (roughly 700–400 BC), this is the only one to have been decorated with frescoes of human subjects” (Holloway, The Tomb of the Diver, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 110 n. 3, 2006). The frescoes found inside the tomb were first thought to be Etruscan because as I told you there is no evidence in Greece of painted tombs. Also the diver in this enigmatic fresco is a subject that is absent in other expressions of Greek art such as pottery painting, but there are some examples of this subject in Etruscan art. The fresco that covered the lid of the tomb depicts a diver in the act of jumping, and there’s a huge debate about what it represents. Some say it is a representation of the deceased jumping into the afterlife. On the walls of the tomb, scenes of a symposium were depicted.


The symposium, the all-male drinking and debate party, was a Greek social institution and therefore is a familiar scene in Greek art; for example Greek pottery of that time showed similar scenes. The symposium scenes and the techniques employed advocate a Greek manufacture of the tomb (not to mention that the tomb was built during the Golden Age of the Greek city). It is known that Paestum kept commercial contacts with the Etruscans, so it’s not that strange that they were influenced by them in some aspects.

If you visit the National Archeological Museum of Paestum, which is next to the temples, you can take a look at this tomb together with other frescoes of later tombs dating from the period of the Lucanians (a native people from the mountains that conquered the city by the end of the 5th century). I was so impressed by the frescoes that I had to sit and admire them for a long while. Sometimes I think it’s hard to really impress me, but Paestum certainly did with its glorious temples and truly amazing frescoes.


Tips
Because archeology is hard work, sometimes it is not easy to know what the thing you’re excavating was for. So, don’t get confused if you see that the first temple of Hera is sometimes called the Basilica, that the second temple of Hera is sometimes called the temple of Neptune, and that the temple of Athena is sometimes called the Temple of Ceres. It’s just that for example the temple that now seems to be dedicated to Athena was first thought to be dedicated to Ceres.

The temples survived because in the middle ages this area was a big swamp and people were afraid of malaria!
Posted by Daziano at 10:45 PM | 11 comments  
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August 12, 2009

Jump-in-mouth Saltimbocca alla romana


After the unification of Italy, Pellegrino Artusi established the basis for an Italian national cuisine when he became the first cookbook author writing a single book with recipes from every Italian region. Artusi was also a food critic. Around the end of the 19th century, Artusi described a delightful dish he had had in a trattoria in Rome. This dish included veal, prosciutto and sage. And it was such a delectable dish that it just jumped into your mouth: saltimbocca alla romana (which is Italian for jump-in-mouth, Roman style).

Ingredients
8 veal cutlets
4 oz prosciutto crudo
8 fresh sage leaves
3 Tbsp butter
1 cup white wine
1 big handful flour
Salt, pepper

Using a meat pounder, pound your cutlets until they get really thin. While you pound the meat sprinkle it with some salt and pepper. Set the flour in a shallow bowl and then coat the veal cutlets with flour. Atop each cutlet lay a piece of prosciutto crudo and then a sage leaf. Fix the prosciutto and sage leaf into the meat by using a toothpick. Heat the butter in a large skillet. When the butter is melted add the veal, prosciutto side up. Sauté the veal until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Carefully turn the veal and cook for a minute, taking care not to burn the prosciutto or the leaves. Take the veal out of the skillet and place it in a serving plate, prosciutto side up. Pour the wine into the skillet, give a quick stir and let the alcohol evaporate for a minute. Pour the thin wine sauce on top of the veal, serve and let the veal cutlets jump in your mouth (remove the toothpicks first)!

Tips
Chicken saltimbocca? Nice idea, but when in Rome do as the Romans do (which means using veal for your saltimbocca)!

If you have read my previous posts on Roman cuisine you already know that Romans like recipes that are simple, easy and delicious. Saltimbocca alla romana meets all these criteria. But Roman cuisine is also a poor one, so the use of butter (an ingredient almost inexistent in southern Italy) puzzled me. Last time I was in Rome I asked my butcher (a lovely genuine Roman lady) and she confirmed to me the use of butter. So, even though olive oil would be a more Roman ingredient, follow this recipe and use butter.

Butter is not the only odd ingredient in this recipe. Veal cutlet is a pretty nice cut of meat and certainly not among the cheapest. It is true that Roman cuisine is a cucina povera, but it’s also true that in Rome you also find Vatican City. And as Romans say “Chi se vo' impara' a magna', da li preti bisogna che va” (if you want to learn how to eat, you have to go to see the priests). In other words, for centuries while common people struggled to prepare something to eat, the Pope enjoyed a splendorous cuisine where meat and dairy products were served frequently.
Posted by Daziano at 8:56 PM | 18 comments  
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